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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.

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 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 Bibles.org)
• 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!”
farewell

Thursday, December 29

Lion

I remember vividly how Pusan, South Korea, smelled when I disembarked there in 1953. It was the stench of poverty and exotic foods and too many people displaced by a senseless war. I could smell it again when we went to see the India of 1987 in Lion. It was the same as it was in Slumdog Millionaire, a country filled to the brim and overflowing with people. Children playing and bathing in a mud-brown Ganges River, children and adults scrounging each day to get enough food to keep them alive. And the smells.

It’s the story of a boy accidentally transported by train over a thousand miles from his home and family to a place where he knew no one and didn’t even understand the language. Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) are out stealing coal from a train to trade for two packets of milk to take home to his mother. The young Saroo is the living embodiment of the expression “cute as a button.” He wants to prove to his brother that he is strong enough to help him in his daily scrounging. But then they are separated when Guddu leaves Saroo sleeping on a bench in a train station. Saroo awakens and goes looking for his brother, boarding an empty passenger train about to leave on a destination far to the west. For two days he travels on the train, and when he finally escapes, he has to live on the streets with the many other street children. He is finally picked up by the police and put in an orphanage right out of Dickens, but he is eventually adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), a couple from Australia. The adult Saroo (Dev Patel) has forgotten his life before he was adopted. But he begins to have brief flashbacks to that childhood and is soon obsessed with trying to find his lost family. He uses Google Earth to try to find his birthplace, giving up his job, his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), and even his closeness to his adoptive mother.

It’s a story of love and familial connection. In many ways, it’s a beautiful film, rich with scenes of Australian countryside and overhead Google views of the India Saroo is searching. But it also makes a statement about overpopulation. The 2013 census tells us that there were 1.25 billion people in India, about one sixth of the population of the world. Sue Brierley explains to her grown son Saroo why she adopted him and his adopted brother, another of the lost children of India. She and her husband had decided that there were already too many people in the world, thus, their decision to adopt and save two children who otherwise would have simply disappeared into the sea of India’s people. The credits at the end of the movie tell us that every year there are 80,000 children in India who are “lost,” just like Saroo and the other children we see living on the streets of Calcutta. That’s a frightening statistic.

Despite the critical acclaim this film has gotten, with the probable Academy Awards nominations for Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, for director Garth Davis, for the film as one of the best of the year, I don’t think any will go on to win. It’s a beautiful film making a beautiful statement about the need for love and family, but it’s not quite beautiful enough.

Wednesday, December 28

Open Letter to President Obama & President-Elect Trump

Open Letter to the President and First Lady

Dear Mr. President and Mrs. Obama,

Too soon, you’ll be leaving your home of the last eight years, and I feel, in light of the recent election, that you may need some words of encouragement on your way to a new life. Thank you for your eight years of service.

In only a few more weeks, I would have been able to send this letter to Barack and Michelle, two people I’ve come to know and admire over the last eight years, admire for your class, your charm, and your dignity as you both attended to the difficult and often thankless jobs you’ve held. Mr. President, you’ve earned each of those gray hairs that now adorn your head. Mrs. Obama, you’ve earned the respect and admiration of all the people you’ve helped along the way. Your beauty and elegance have made us proud of the image you presented to the world.

Someday, history will rank you two as a great President and a great First Lady. I already rank you there. Again, thank you for showing us a dignity in our highest office that we may not see again for a while.

Open Letter to the President-Elect and First Lady

Dear President-Elect and Mrs. Trump,

Too soon, you’ll be staying in your Trump Tower, which costs about a million dollars a day to secure, and I feel, in light of the recent election, that you may need some words of direction for the next four, not eight, years you will be in office.

I can only hope that you, Mrs. Trump, will display to the world the same class and dignity that Michelle Obama did. I also hope that you can guide your husband to that same level of dignity to show to the world. In only four years, I may be able to address a letter to you as Donald and Ivanka Trump. I can only hope that these four years will not have seen us descend into another kind of swamp similar to that which you have vowed to drain. I can only hope that any nuclear buildup you now believe we need does not lead us into another cold war with Russia. I can only hope that the same level of prosperity and unemployment that we’ve seen in the last eight years will be maintained in the next four years. I can only hope that people seeking safe refuge will continue to find it in our country. I can only hope that racial equality will improve in these next four years and not go back to the pre-1960’s.

Someday, history will rank you as either a great, a good, or a bad president. I hope for your sake as well as ours that it’s at least a good rating.

Friday, December 23

Bublé & Bennett Specials

It was several evenings ago that we feasted on a one-hour Michael Bublé special and a two-hour celebration of Tony Bennett’s ninetieth birthday. Damn, what good music, what good singers. Bublé sounded just like the same wonderful modern-day Sinatra he’s sounded like for the past decade, and he looked like he’d lost some of that baby fat he was wearing a year or two ago. He seemed a little sleazy a few years ago, but on this special he seemed more contrite and likeable as a person. That may have been because his son Noah was diagnosed as having cancer of the liver. And, of course, he can still sing songs from the Great American Songbook better than almost any singer today. No, I mean better than any singer today.

The tribute to Bennett was maybe the best special of this and the past ten years. Even Kevin Spacey sounded surprisingly good. And Lady Gaga again showed how comfortable she is singing standards instead of the odd pop songs that made her a name for the last few years. She sang a sensual “La Vie En Rose” with a French accent that would have made Edith Piaf proud. I still hear what she did on a past Bennett special, singing “Lush Life” better than anyone else has ever done it. And then Leslie Odom jr. sang “Autumn Leaves” that made my hair stand up. Odom is one of the Hamilton stars, and I can now see why he’s a star. This was followed by Bob Dylan sort of making love to the microphone stand as he sang “Once Upon a Time.” I must be in a minority of one who doesn’t think he has a very good voice. And I’m still incensed by his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. He looks weird, he sounds weird, he acts weird. So, where is the musical greatness everyone keeps awarding him? A great tribute to Tony, who just seems to go on and on. At the conclusion, he sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and hit high notes I didn’t think he still had in him. He’s testimony that numbers of birthdays don’t mean a thing. He’s ninety, but he looks and sings like he’s sixty. What a great show it was.

Tuesday, December 20

America's Got Talent Christmas Special

Christmas is streaking to the wire, with nearly every tv series doing a holiday theme and more Christmas specials than any sane person could watch. Even that oldie but goodie Seinfeld in which George’s father renews his old Festivus shtick. But last night we watched the America’s Got Talent Christmas Special and it was probably the best special we’ve ever seen. Nick Cannon, the best host of all tv hosts, announced all the acts. The most special bits were the Silhouettes doing their shadow story-telling with The Sons of Serendip’s Micah Christian singing the background “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the AcroArmy doing their unbelievable acrobatics. We also got to hear the grownup Jackie Evancho and a growingup Grace VanderWaal.
And we had the magic of Piff the Magic Dragon, Penn and Teller, the Clairvoyants, Mat Franco, and Jon Derenbos. The show began with the first season’s winner, Terry Fator outdoing Edgar Bergen with his ventriloquism (His lips simply don’t move!). Dog lovers, even cat lovers, had to love the act put on by the Olate Dogs. Almost the entire two hours was wonderful. I say “almost” because I could have done without The Regurgitator coughing up Christmas tree ornaments and Professor Splash diving into ten inches of eggnog. If you didn’t get to see it, go to NBC and watch it on your computer or tablet. And tonight we have a feast of Michael Bublé for an hour and Tony Bennett for two hours. Can’t wait.

Monday, December 19

Song Writing Dilettante

This will be an indication of just how far down in the bottom of the barrel I've come for blog ideas. I’ve fiddled with songs, both lyrics and music, for my whole life, starting about when I was fourteen or fifteen and continuing off and on to the present. What an odd endeavor, and so frustrating because, except for a very few, they’re never been heard by anyone but me, and then only in my head. When I was in New York in that youthfully abortive attempt to write and sell songs with my friend Chuck, we had a demo recording made of two songs we wrote, and many years later I paid for a demo tape of another song I’d finished. But those were the only times my songs ever actually came to life. And also for my entire life, whenever an idea for a lyric would pop into my head, I’d dutifully write it down and then try to complete it. Most of the time I can get a song finished, but many just remain as ideas that I swear one day I’ll get around to finishing. But, as I said, how frustrating. To what end do I finish these songs that will never be heard by anyone? I have no idea. Just another side to my compulsive, obsessive character, I guess.

Here’s one that’s about halfway done.

“Never talk about what might have been,
I don’t want to know the why or wherefore.
All I want to know is you still care for me.
Never ask me for profound commitment.
I could never take the ball-and-chaining.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining,
But you and I are way too much the same.
You and I have no one else to blame.”

Once upon a time, the following song was actually complete. But then I misplaced it or it somehow wound up with “The Borrowers,” and except for this first chorus I couldn’t find the rest in my mushy memory:

“The world was made for living
And life is such a beautiful song,
So if you really truly love me,
I‘d be so happy if you sang along,
In two-part harmony.”

Here are some of my unfinished businesses, some about halfway, most just tiny ideas that never got expanded.

“I like the give and take of living,
But there’s a whole lot
More taking than giving.
I like the bump and rub of loving,
But there too little rubbing
And too much shoving.”

“You can turn a sunny day cloudy,
You can turn a blue sky to gray—
All you have to do is
Tell me that we’re through,
That’s all you’d really have to say.
So why do I
Keep thinking about you,
Feeling sad without you?”

“You can’t hurt me any more
Than I’ve been hurt
Too many times before.
So take your best shot, Baby,
This heart’s been broken
By better gals than you could ever be.”

“Every little day I get a little older,
Get a little older, feel a little colder.
Every little day I get a little older.
Where in hell will it end?
Every little week I feel a little weaker,
Feel a little weaker, life’s a little bleaker.
Every little week I feel a little weaker.
Where in hell will it end?”
(Other verses might be: Every little month, then year, the world’s a little duller, or maybe My hair’s a little thinner, or My skin’s a little looser, etc.)

I keep coming up with hooks and catch phrases that are clever enough to be made into a song, but then I can’t take them any further. For example, “I don’t love you anymore, But I sure as hell don’t love you any less.” “The harder you hang onto love, The more it always seems to slip away.” “Each time I see you, I see you for the first time.” “We must be the most unlikely lovers.” “Woe to man is woman.” “Hold onto your dreams, But don’t put your dreams on hold.” “Sad hearts grow sadder, Empty hearts grow emptier, But full hearts will always fall in love.”

Obsessive? Oh, yes. Compulsive? Yes again. With me, it must be like it is with people who compulsively do crossword puzzles, or like my wife who’s completely obsessed with Sudokus.

Thursday, December 15

Merry Christmas 2016

To my Russian readers who have been surprisingly many, Спасибо and Hristos Razdajetsja. To my many readers in French, Merci and Joyeux Nöel. To my many readers in Spanish, Gracias and Feliz Navidad. To my many readers in German, Danke and Fröliche Weihnachten. And to all others, in all other languages, Thank you and Merry Christmas.

This has been such a surprising year that I can hardly wait to see what 2017 will bring: the likelihood of life on other planets, a stock market that is surprisingly bullish, crazy technological advances, medical breakthroughs, and, of course, the election of Donald Trump. Bring it on, 2017. Surprise us even more.

Two bits of Christmas doggerel verse to help me get through the season. (The first one is new, the second and third from a few years ago.)

Christmas time again.
It seems like it was
Just awhile
Since we sent out our last year’s cards—
And here it is again—
Christmas time, and then,
A New Year coming,
Barack out and Donald in.
We won’t know until next year
How good or bad he’s gonna be,
But Santa knows,
And I suppose
A lump of coal is what the Don will see.
So Ho! Ho! Ho! to us and you,
And a merry (not a scary) New Year too.

"Jerry & Rosalie Over the Holidays"

Life is a bowl of cherries,
But sometimes it’s just the pits.
We’re a pair of sedentaries
Who move in starts and fits.
We’ve now got liver berries
Instead of pubescent zits.
We shop at cash and carries,
Never dining at the Ritz.
We listen to Frank’s and Perry’s
And ignore all the hard rock hits.
And Christmas at Rosalie’s and Jerry’s
Now involves two feeble wits,
Trying to say many Christmas Merries
Before we call it quits.
So here it is:
Merry Merry Merry Christmas!

I looked back over some of my Christmas essays from the last fourteen years and decided that some of what I said back then is worth repeating.

In 2002 I spoke about Time and Love. “We usually don’t realize just how good we’ve all got it. We sometimes complain about the weather (What? In Arizona?! Never!), about the state of affairs in our state (What? In Arizona?! Never!), about the state of the Union (What? In this good old U.S.A, with the leaders we have?! Never!), with the way our coffee tastes or the way some old guy tries to cut us off at the light or the number of times some telemarketer calls us during cocktail hour or the number of putts we miss or the number of putzes on the road with cell phones glued to their ears or the fact that time seems to be swooping in some kind of nose dive headed for eternity. Whoa! Let’s not go there. We think you get our drift, and we don’t mean a snowdrift. Count the days as precious. Give the gift of love to those you love, and give it to those you don’t love, just to see how uncomfortable it makes them feel. Maybe they’ll reciprocate. Wouldn’t it be nice if our adversaries in the Middle East felt that way? And it doesn’t even have to have anything to do with Christ and Christianity or Muhammad and Islam. Let it just be about the simple gift of love, a gift that doesn’t cost much and doesn’t need to be wrapped. And you can send it in a second or a minute or an hour if the receiver isn’t near. It’s a gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving.”

In 2004, I wrote about the current technological advances. “I remember what seems like only a few years ago when Alvin Toffler wrote his best-seller Future Shock, a book about how technology was moving so fast that most of us would go into shock over all these rapid developments. It was written in 1984. I’m sure that now, some twenty years later, Toffler must be spinning in his grave even more rapidly about the surge of futurism. Even he couldn’t foretell how fast technology was going to develop. Nanotechnology comes up with new toys almost daily—smaller and smaller, less and less expensive, more and more powerful radios, cameras, tv’s, computers, data storage units, artificial organs, etc. I even read recently they’re developing a magnetic microchip with so much storage capacity that one could have one implanted and record every scene, every word said throughout one’s entire life. Why would one want to do that? This one wouldn’t. Many events in our lives are worth remembering as they actually happened, too many aren’t. And don’t we appreciate the way we can “water color” our memories to make them more palatable? The future is as exciting as it is frightening. I fear that these technological advances are also creating bigger and more powerful weapons of mass destruction. I fear all the nincompoops into whose hands these weapons might land—and not just our enemies, also our “leaders.” May we all pray that the next years may bring us back to sanity, to make all this new technology good and not evil. Another year in front of us.”

In 2006 I wrote about what the future may hold for us. “We can’t seem to get over the biological hazards of hatred and bigotry and misguided religious zeal. Granted, we still have too many crimes of passion right here in our own backyard, but the same could be said of nearly every other spot on earth. The world is a dangerous place in which to live these days but we don’t really have any better place to go. We need to get through these next sixty to a hundred years without doing permanent damage to this place we love, this place where we live. We need to solve our environmental problems, our racial misunderstandings, our impoverished millions, our porous boundaries. Lots of problems, all of which can be solved it we really pay attention. First, we need to trust the scientific community and the technologists and the world economy. Technological advances will continue to get us closer and closer to that day when no one will need to be concerned about food and shelter. Population will stabilize. Crimes other than crimes of passion will be minimal because everyone’s physical needs will be met. Devastating illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease will be reduced or eliminated entirely. The various religions will have a meeting of the minds and world peace will reign. All this will be possible if we can stop ourselves from either killing us all outright or blighting or destroying our planet. Sixty to a hundred years. Let’s all do all we can to bring this new era about.”

In 2007 I again ranted against cell phones. “I’m still among the ever-decreasing number of holdouts in the cell phone revolution. I just can't think of that many reasons for owning and using a cell phone. Only two reasons come to mind. While traveling by car, one would be useful in case of an accident or a breakdown, but I say, don’t have any accidents and make sure your car is always ready and able to roll. Or if I’m out in the boonies and I have some life-and-death message I need to get to someone, it would be better than sending up flares or screaming at the top of my lungs. But when I search through my life experiences, I can think of only two or three times a cell phone would have been handy. And I’m still here. Those aren't reasons enough for buying one. I think there must be in this country at least 98% of all adults and young people (and my definition of young people is down to ten years old) who now own a cell phone. I see people talking on them everywhere, especially while operating a car. Or shopping for groceries. What could they possibly be talking about? The airwaves must be crammed with empty words, the cell users babbling to a captive audience. At airports, if one needs to use a cell phone, he should be required to go to a room to stand shoulder to shoulder with the smokers, lots of talking and talking and coughing and coughing. But even that isn't a potential solution since we have now sent all smokers, like pariahs, outdoors, at least twenty-five feet from the nearest entrance. Okay, then, still assign a separate room for cell phone users. And not just at airports, but also in restaurants, theaters, malls, or any public area where most of us don't want to listen to other people on their cells babbling about nothing on their cells, all doing it too loudly, as though the rest of us are really interested in their nonsensical non-thoughts. Soon, I'm sure, they'll have phones that fit directly into the ear, about the same size as hidden hearing aids. They’ll be entirely voice-activated. Just ask it to dial someone on your speed-dial list and bingo. Then we'll have a nearly entire population driving and walking around with lips moving rapidly, eyes glazed. That used to be a sure sign of madness. And, I guess, it still would be.

In 2009, naturally, I had to write about where we were during Barack Obama’s first year in office. And, next year, whether we like it or not, we’ll get to see where we’ll be during Donald Trump’s first year. “2009 is best characterized by the Obama Presidency. Love him or hate him, he’s the star our nation is hitched to. He stepped into the deepest mess any president has had to slog through since FDR and the Depression and WWII. He’s been in office less than a year and his popularity in the polls is going down, just like that runaway escalator. A year is too short to accurately judge a presidency. We need to give him more time either to solve our economic woes or to make them worse, to see some light at the end of war’s tunnel or to continue fighting futile battles, to unite us as a nation or to break us into 308,061,931 pieces (the latest U.S. population clock numbers). Wall Street seems to have recovered nicely, Main Street not so nicely. A health care plan may soon be in place, love it or hate it. New jobs will be created sooner or later. I read somewhere that in 2019, half the jobs then don’t even exist today. Some of that stimulus money needs to provide jobs building new bridges and highways. We need to get control of inflated hospital, doctor, medical insurance, and pharmaceutical costs. We need to have a more sensible and universal plan for dealing with illegals.”

In 2010 I had more to say about future technology. “According to an article I read in the AARPS magazine, we may soon have a pill that could restore our brains to their youthful vigor. With the aid of artificial limbs and organs, the next generation could live up to 200 years. Supercomputers might one day store our minds and memories, allowing us to live virtually forever. Automobiles may give way to super trains, or autos that drive and steer by computer with us just going along for the ride. These are exciting steps to contemplate. But first we have to come to a united world with united goals.”

In 2011, cell phones again. “In the near future the phones will turn themselves on when a call or text message comes in. In fact, in the near future, the phones will be turning their owners on, telling them what to say, what to do, where to go. The science fiction idea that someday machines might take over the earth, take over the human race, isn’t all that far afield. When I see hundreds of people, thousands, all hunched over, thumbs working like mad, completely tuned out of what’s going on around them, completely incognizant of the world and its natural beauty, I shudder to think that the
takeover is already upon us. But enough about cell phones and their addiction.”

In 2014, life in the United States and all we have to be thankful for. “Nationally, we should all be thankful for living in the United States, this wondrous nation, at a time when the quality of life for nearly all our citizens has never been higher. We should all thank our lucky stars that we averted that looming recession (maybe even depression) only a few years ago, that nearly all of us can again find gainful employment. We should be thankful that we’re free to worship any way we want to any kind of creator we envision, that we can say almost anything we want without fear of reprisal from a totalitarian government, that we can go almost anywhere we want now that gas prices are tumbling, that we can listen to anything we want no matter how rappishly bad or classically good, that we can almost endlessly speak to friends and relatives via our ubiquitous cell phones, that almost all of us can go to bed every night without feeling the pangs of an empty belly. And the people of the world should be thankful that in the United States they have a nation strong enough and willing enough to protect them from the bullies and thugs and fanatics who would like to kill anyone and everyone who doesn’t think or believe as they do. The world should not despise us for the bounty we have but should thank us for that protection we provide, for the money we give to help them economically, for the food we provide for those who are starving, for the medicine we provide for those who are dying.”

That should do it for my 2016 Christmas blog. I hope that, I wish that, life was as good for all others as it is for my wife and me. It should be, but it still isn't. Maybe in a better future.

Wednesday, December 14

The Voice Results, Trump's Cabinet Choices, & Holiday Recipes

The Voice finale disappointed me in the results. I did get one right, Josh Gallagher in fourth place, and I had the right order for Wé McDonald and Billy Gillman. But the winner? Sundance Head as the best voice? Not even close. I also now know why Sundance won. As Donald Trump often said before he was elected, “The system is rigged.” That’s also the case with The Voice vote. The results weren’t based on voters trying to pick the best voice. It was based on how many ITunes downloads each of them got. In other words, popularity rather than vocal quality. The Voice producers put way too much emphasis on ITunes, thus skewing the results. If popularity was the main criteria for finding a winner, then Weird Al Yankovic or Tiny Tim might have had a chance at the title. Yankovic’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy” has had 8,445,413 views on YouTube, and Tiny Tim’s 1968 version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” has had 6,512,161 YouTube views. Does that mean either of them has a great or even a good voice? No, no, and no. If you’re not familiar with Tiny Tim, you should hear him on YouTube. Spooky. I may have to give up watching The Voice.

And while I’m at it, why not a few words about Trump’s cabinet choices? He seems to be loading up on very wealthy businessmen with little or no experience in diplomacy or government, as, for example, his choice for Secretary of State, oil multi-millionaire Rex Tillerson, who has financial ties with Putin and Russia. And far too many of his other choices have experience only in the private sector or in Trump’s campaign. It seems to me that we may be led for the next four years by a president and members of his cabinet who are political novices. The jobs are too complex and important to be handled by amateurs.

Since it’s nearly Christmas, you may want to try three of my wife’s favorite sweet-tooth recipes. The Apple Pie Cake is really simple and makes a dessert that I’ve never seen or tasted anywhere else. Sticky Buns are the easy answer to cinnamon rolls for picking up a family morning get-together. Buster Bars are all of our children’s and their children’s favorite, especially over the holidays.

Apple Pie Cake

1 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 egg
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. hot water
⅛ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1tsp.vanilla
½ cup crushed walnuts
2½ cups diced raw apples
Mix all together.
Bake uncovered in 9” pie tin at 350º 45-60 minutes.
Top each serving with scoop ice cream or Kool Whip.

Overnight Sticky Buns

15 or 16 frozen dough for dinner rolls
1 small pkg. vanilla pudding (not instant)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup pecan or walnut pieces (or a combination of the two)
1 stick butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
Separate dough (still frozen) and place in Bundt pan (Doesn’t everyone still have a Bundt pan
somewhere hidden away in a cupboard?).
Melt butter and pour over rolls.
Mix dry pudding, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts and sprinkle over rolls.
Cover and let rise on counter overnight.
Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.
Let cool for 30 minutes, then turn onto cake plate.

This recipe will serve six to eight people . . . or two very hungry people . . . or two pigs. Each serving would probably be about 1500 calories, so one should not make it more than two or three times a year. Any more often than that and you’d have a family of Pillsbury Dough Boys.

Buster Bars

Mix together:
24 crushed Oreo cookies
½ cup melted butter
Put in 13x9 inch pan.
Chill for 1 hour.
Soften ½ gallon vanilla ice cream and spread over
crust. Return to freezer.
Boil together for 8 minutes:
½ cup butter
2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

When lukewarm, pour over ice cream. Top
with small can of Spanish peanuts and more cookie
crumbs. Keep frozen until ½ hour before serving.

Tuesday, December 13

The Voice Finale

Tonight we find out who wins this season’s The Voice. The four finalists last night sang three times—a duet with their coaches, a song either written by them or for them, and a song of their choosing. The order in which each sang their three was a little unfair in that there was no order. The each should have begun with the duet, then the song by or four them, and then the song they each chose. Instead, Billy Gilman began the show with his biggie—“My Way, written by Paul Anka for Frank Sinatra—and Gilman’s version was at least as good as Sinatra’s, maybe even better. But it was a disadvantage for him to sing it at the top of the show, leaving almost two hours for the voting audience to forget how great it was. I was delighted to see that three of the finalists went way back for the songs they chose, back to the good stuff half a century ago: Gilman’s “My Way,” Sundance Head’s old Etta James standard “At last,” and Wé McDonald’s “Don’t Rain of My Parade” from Funny Girl. Head’s version of “At Last” was excellent, but McDonald’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” was almost as good as Barbra’s. I say “almost” because nobody, nobody can sing anything as well as Barbra sings it. How could this 17-year-old have presumed to take on the Funny Girl show-stopper? I have no idea. But she did it, in a flame-red pantsuit, and looked and sounded like no 17-year-old I’ve ever known. If the voters do as they should, Gilman will win, McDonald second, Head third, and Josh Gallagher a very distant fourth. If the results are any different than that order, then the voters got it wrong. Gilman’s voice is always crystal-clear, powerful, and with absolutely perfect pitch. Wé McDonald is simply surprising in her delivery and range. In her duet with Alicia Keyes, “Ave Maria,” she went up an octave into an operatic soprano. Surprise, surprise. I can see her future—she’ll lose about thirty pounds, become even more beautiful, and be a star on Broadway. Sundance Head will become Country’s next big star (but please, Sundance, remove that godawful beard); Gilman will become a pop star male equivalent of Taylor Swift; and Josh Gallagher will make it halfway on the Country scene.

Monday, December 12

Henry David Thoreau

Last night, I woke up at my usual time, 3:30 a.m., that black hole in the night when sleep is impossible and the mind wanders up and down darkened, unfamiliar avenues. And I thought about Christmas and how much we as a nation spend on things to give to ourselves and to each other. That led me to my own changing thoughts about the things in my life and how much less I value them as I age. And that led me to Henry David Thoreau and what he had to say about “stuff.” “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” he said. “I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” Also, “The cost of a thing is the amount of which I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.” And, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” Now, back to Christmas and the obtaining of these things he was referring to. We all seem to be driven to buy things, and the companies and corporations that sell them pound us with commercials to drag us, drive us, to the checkout. We’re called “consumers,” a word that describes us so very well: We consume things, gobble them up like Big Macs and fries. Your cell phone is a year old? Well, here’s an even better one, so you’d better buy it. Your refrigerator isn’t working anymore? Well, naturally it’s not, since we have built-in obsolescence to get you to buy another on a regular basis. We no longer build things to last forever because then you wouldn’t be spending enough, consuming enough. We build and we buy and we throw away, and that keeps the economy thriving. Thoreau would be appalled. But then, Thoreau wasn’t living in a time when it’s become nearly impossible to simplify life down to his standards. I’m sure that today, Thoreau would be one of our homeless people, living in a cardboard box and diving into dumpsters for sustenance. At Walden Pond, he built a small, one-room cabin with a bed, a table, and three chairs, “One,” he said, “for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.” He lived there for over two years, observing nature and human nature and then writing about them. So much of what he said is as true today as it was back then, but is now too impractical or impossible to apply to the modern world. He never married, never had children, never had a need for much except a few changes of clothing, a small cabin for shelter, and a benevolent nature to provide sustenance. He left the management of the nation and the world to others. And though it would be nice if it were possible, “That government is best which governs least, and the best government of all is no government.” This sounds good but is an impossible viable alternative. No government is the same as anarchy, or pandemonium, a state of affairs which results in all (pan) overrun by demons (demonium). By the time I got to this last mid-night observation, I fell asleep. Now I’m trying to piece these thoughts together again. And while I’m at it, Thoreau also said, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.” Time, that bastard thief, keeps tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of his shallowness. I wonder what I’ll think of at 3:30 tomorrow morning.

Sunday, December 11

A This 'n' That Sunday

This was a do-nothing day, a day for catching up on the news, for watching too much football, for putting some finishing touches on my Christmas blog, for considering what the rest of the year holds for me.

In the news, an Egyptian woman is reported to weigh 1100 pounds, a new record for obesity. That doesn’t seem possible, and the medical people who were told about her couldn’t believe she could even still be alive. How does one become that much overweight? When will we get to the time when no one will be that obese, or even obese at all? In the U.S. we have an epidemic of obesity, but 1100 pounds is ridiculous.

John Glenn has died. Not sad. Just newsworthy to note his passing. He was a man for the ages, a man to emulate. A pioneer on our next frontier, space. Go well, John Glenn.

Fake news stores on all the social media sources, and a possible, probable, reason for Donald Trump’s election. And today I read what he said about not needing to go to daily security briefings: "I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years." Eight years? Has he already assumed he’ll be reelected in 2014? Heaven help us.

NFL football: I just watched the ugliest game I’ve ever watched, the Dolphins vs. the Arizona Cardinals. It rained torrentially in Miami and effected the game from the opening kickoff to the end. And the Cardinals found a new way to lose a game: They had an extra-point kick go wide left because of a bad long-snap; they had a chip-shot field goal hit the right upright and kick out; they had another extra-point blocked with a Dolphin running it back for two points. Thus, they gave up seven points and lost by three on a last-second field goal by Miami. I think I may never watch another NFL game.

And a few odd comments: Always give 100% (unless you’re donating blood).

English is weird. It can be understood, though, through tough, thorough thought.

Thursday, December 8

Hacksaw Ridge

And I thought Saving Private Ryan was as bloody as a war film could get. Wrong. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge out-bloodied Private Ryan by three- or four-fold. If I didn’t know that Desmond Doss was a real person who performed nearly unbelievable feats of bravery and stamina, I’d have said that Gibson overdid the horror and idiocy of war. If I didn’t know that Doss actually saved 75 lives on that bloody Okinawa ridge, I’d have said, “C’mon, Mel. Aren’t you overdoing it a bit?” But apparently he didn’t embellish on Doss’s heroism nor on the number of those he saved, earning for Doss the first Congressional Medal of Honor for a conscientious objector serving as a medic in an infantry combat unit. If Gibson wanted to demonstrate the blood, horror, and idiocy of men killing each other in a senseless war, he succeeded admirably. “Carnage” takes on a whole new meaning. As awful as that battle on Hacksaw Ridge must have been, I can’t believe it was actually that awful. I hope not.

In the first half of the film, we get to know Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the young Virginian who met and fell in love with nurse Dorothy Schultte (Teresa Palmer). We learn about his reasons for never touching or firing a weapon. We learn about his unshakable convictions that prompted him to enlist in the army even though he swore he would never carry a weapon. We saw the brutal way he was treated by his fellow trainees and the way he stuck to his beliefs no matter what they and his superiors did to him. The second half of the movie was almost entirely devoted to the battle on Hacksaw Ridge, with the artillery bombardment from off-shore ships, with hand-to-hand combat with rifles and machine-guns and bayonets, with mortar shells and hand grenades and napalm, with countless wounded and dying men from both sides. It was bloody awful.

Why do nations engage in war? Why do men and women agree to participate? What did Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito hope to gain? Domination over all the people of the world? To what end? What would the world be like today if the Axis had succeeded in this war? To what end do the men and women of ISIS hope to accomplish, and what would the world be like if they should succeed? We need a worldful of people like Desmond Doss who want only to save lives, not take them. I hated the violence of Hacksaw Ridge, but I needed to see it. You need to see it too.

Wednesday, December 7

Day of Infamy & Teaching Careers

December 7, 1941. FDR described it as a Day of Infamy. Now, here we are, seventy-five years later. I read an article today that reported Churchill’s reaction to this attack by Japan, that he was exhilarated by the news. Why exhilarated? Because up to this day, America was continuing its isolationist stand: "Let Great Britain and the rest of Europe take care of their own business," pretty much the same as in WW I, when we said the same thing. We entered the First World War in 1917, three years after its start in Europe in 1914, when we realized that the next stop for the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey) would be here as well as there. Isolationism in 1914 was as impossible then as it was in 1941 and as it is now. Churchill’s exhilaration in 1941 was his response to our entering the conflict over two years after it had begun in Europe. And the world somehow barely managed to escape domination by Germany and Japan. So, as awful as that sneak attack on Honolulu was, it forced us to join Great Britain and most of Europe in a battle to defeat the Axis Powers, the evil triumvirate of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Without this Day of Infamy, the world might be considerably different than it is now.

A quick comment on teaching as a profession. I saw on the internet (Should or shouldn't “internet” be capitalized? Can we trust all that we read on the Internet?) that New York had the highest average annual teaching salaries (about $78,000) and South Dakota had the lowest (about $42,000). That’s a staggering difference of $36,000. And Arizona was only a little better at a $45,500 average. And we wonder why so many young teachers choose to leave South Dakota and Arizona? I was born and raised in South Dakota and taught there for three years before fleeing for greener pastures, then concluded my career in much greener New York. A career like two bookends, the low on one end and the high on the other. I guess I’m surprised that South Dakota and Arizona have ANYONE teaching in their schools. Or possibly those who choose to stay in either state must either be financially independent or they’re just not very good teachers. That’s a scary thought, and please forgive me, teachers in either state, for what I just said about you. But why are you still there or here?

Tuesday, December 6

The Voice Again

Last night we watched the semi-finals on The Voice, with the last eight still standing (still singing?). Only two of the eight have a lock on making it to next week’s finals, Ali Caldwell and Billy Gilman. Caldwell soloed with Dolly Parton’s song and Whitney Houston’s best-known recording of “I Will Always Love You.” She could very easily have fallen on her nose with this song, but she didn’t. It was a show-stopper for her, and she’s a cinch to make it to the final four. Gilman covered Celine Dion’s “I Surrender,” with a final note that seemed to go on forever. I think he’s not only a cinch to make it to the final four, but will very likely win it all in the finals next week. Who will be the other two? They will probably be two of these three: Christian Cuevas, Wé Macdonald, and Sundance Head. Josh Gallagher, Brendan Fletcher, and Aaron Gibson will very likely be going home. I’d like to see Wé and Christian make it, but Sundance, the bearded wonder, may be the spoiler. He has such a powerful voice and seems to have the voting audience behind him.

I wish I had a say in what Billy Gilman chooses for his final song. I’d have him sing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. I realize he’s not even close to being the agéd knight Don Quixote, but he doesn’t have to be. Talk about a show-stopper. I can hear him, doing the first eight bars acapella, then a quiet drumbeat accompaniment for the next eight bars. Then a modulated eight bars of the bridge, and then a building toward the final eight bars with a key raise and volume increase to that emotional ending “the unreachable star” with him holding that final upper-register note for an impossible length. He would literally raise the roof, hit it out of the park, win the whole shebang right there. But will he do it? No. He’ll sing something powerful but probably not something I’m familiar with.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, popular songs today aren’t what they used to be; the lyrics are less important, the rhythm more important. And most of them no longer adhere to what most songs of the past did—32 bars of 4-4 or 3-4 rhythm in an AABA or ABAB pattern. “The Impossible Dream” uses 32 bars in an AABA pattern, just like nearly everything else written before 1970. Most of the songs from the Great American Songbook were written for Broadway musicals, by writers who weren’t also performers: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, to name only the best known. Others were written by big band leaders like Duke Ellington’s “sophisticated Lady.” There were also a ton of songs written before 1970 that were only radio fodder, not very complicated or meaningful, some just plain silly, like “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” or “Come On-a My House” or “The Purple People Eater,” some not so silly but still pretty meaningless, like “I’m Walking Behind You” or “That’s Amore” or “The Little White Cloud that Cried.” These were written by professional Tin Pan Alley people, who needed only a few hours to write them and cranked them out by the dozens, played over and over again by the many radio disc jockeys in the pre-television days, performed by the many pop singers of those long-ago decades.

Today, most of the songs are written by singers, who also perform them, and don’t seem to conform to any set length or pattern, and too often don’t depend on much meaning or substance. Ah, well, I still have the many great songs of the Great American Songbook. Now, if only Billy Gilman would sing “The Impossible Dream” for his knock-it-outta-the park final solo next week.

Monday, December 5

Lee Child, Night School

I'm in the slow process of reading Lee Child’s Night School, his latest Jack Reacher, and the reading is like slogging through a field of molasses, or possibly a rain-drenched South Dakota country road with each step in gumbo. I’ve really enjoyed the previous Reachers, but this one feels too much like something he wrote a long time ago and then decided to throw in here as his twenty-first in the Reacher series. It’s set in 1996, with a much younger Reacher still a major in the military. He’s been selected to serve on a small governmental security unit to figure out why an army non-com stationed in Germany has gone AWOL and is selling something to someone for a hundred million, which in 1996 was a bunch of money. Is it something physical, like one or more nuclear warheads, or is it some kind of intelligence that could be equally dangerous to our nation’s security? And who is he selling it to? That’s what he and the other team members are trying to figure out. Thus, we have Reacher and an old army buddy Frances Neagley (who is tough as nails but beautiful, thus one of the female foils for the occasional Reacher love-making, in this case Dr. Marian Sinclair). Together, they surveil and surveil all over Hamburg, trying to find the AWOL Wiley, trying to spot the messengers who deliver the details of the amount of money to Wiley and then back again to whoever it is that wants to buy whatever it is that Wiley is selling. Are you confused? I certainly am. All this surveillance without much action except for the obligatory fight or two that Reacher has with three or four bad guys. The writing style is strictly Lee Child but the plot is static. The style is a reflection of Reacher’s character—short, declarative sentences with almost no description or literary tomfoolery that go from point A to point B to point C, and so on, as Reacher logically works out what might be going on. He’s like a .45 automatic as opposed to an AK-47: blunt, serviceable, deadly without any frills. And one sentence I noticed that was totally un-Reacher-like, un-Lee Child-like: "Then more gunfire, four rounds, then five, very faint but louder because of the open window, and then more sirens, two different tones, probably ambulances and cop cars, and then a furious volley of gunfire, impossibly fast, like a continuous explosion, like a hundred machine guns firing all at once, like the best firework show the town park ever had, and then there was the muted concussive thump of a fuel explosion, and two more handgun rounds, and then nothing but sirens, the scream of cop cars, the yelp of ambulances, the deafening bass bark of fire trucks, all blending in a howl that sounded more like sorrow than help. A sentence of 110 words, maybe the longest sentence in any of the Reader series. The fights are also typical Reacher, with him figuring out in mathematical precision exactly what each opponent will do and when they’ll do it and how he’ll counter each move. The details of his thinking take up three or four pages; the details of the fight take only four or five seconds. Typical Reacher. And the reader always knows he’s going to demolish whoever he’s fighting, no matter how many of them there are. But that’s it for any action, and that doesn’t do much for the plot except to placate blood-thirsty readers. So, I’ll slog on through the last third of the book, wishing I were already at the finish so I could get on with other, more satisfactory books waiting in line.

Thursday, December 1

Tiger's Return

Tiger’s return had a little rust on it (well, judging by his finish in the first round, a lot of rust) but overall it was a positive sign of what it might be in 2017. These next three days will be the true test of where he’s at. Too often he tried to hit driver fades that didn’t fade. But the short game looked all right. We didn’t see him hit any of those painful bladed chips that we saw on his last comeback attempt. And the putter looked good. Granted, he’s in a field of only eighteen, but the other seventeen are all in the top 40 world ranking. A Tiger finish anywhere in the middle would indicate that he could not only play on the tour again but also win again. I hope so. Most people who understand golf also hope so. The number of viewers on the course and on television would go up by about 25% at least. That’s how much the Tiger rooters as well as the Tiger haters want to see him back in action.

I appreciate this Baby Blues by Kirkman and Scott with their comment on the sorry state of writing today. Too much social media with too many bland thoughts and lazy comments. I love our language and hate how poorly too many young people now write. What does that say about how they think? Bland and lazy thoughts? I hope not.

Could I possibly write a blog without at least one swipe at Donald Trump? No. I still wonder when, or even if, we’ll see his tax returns. What is he hiding? And this Non Sequitur by Wiley is a comic comment about what our president-elect may deliver instead of what he promised to deliver.

Tuesday, November 29

Loving

We saw Loving yesterday. It wasn’t a film I’d normally want to see, but it was similar to Twelve Years a Slave, both films I had to see. I’ve said before how many remarkable changes I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, and this film showed me another of those changes, a change wrought by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. How far we’ve come in the last fifty years in recognizing how all people, no matter what their color or ethnicity or religious beliefs, deserve to be cherished. But we still have a long way to go, and I fear that the recent presidential election may send us a few steps backward instead of forward. Loving, based on a true story about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere, showed us two people, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who got married and simply wanted to live their lives in Virginia among their friends and families. But interracial marriage was illegal and if they didn’t divorce or move out of Virginia they would be arrested and sent to prison. Their plight was finally brought to the attention of the ACLU, who represented them in bringing their case before the Supreme Court. This was almost a totally actionless film, deliberately quiet and actionless by director Jeff Nichols. It simply showed us the normal, quiet lives of this couple who only wanted to be left alone, not persecuted for their union. We see Richard at his brick-laying job, with the symbolic level he uses to make sure his bricks are straight and even, just as he tries to keep his life and the life of the woman he loves straight and even. His stoicism shows all through the film, his quiet acceptance of their situation. Even when the local police come in the middle of the night to arrest them, he doesn’t fight them despite the awful injustice of it all. We see Mildred at home with her family, quietly (although not quite as quietly as Richard) accepting their situation until she’s finally told she should write to Bobby Kennedy, then Attorney General under brother John F. Kennedy’s administration, for help to overturn the Virginia anti-miscegenation law. We also noted the rope tossed over a branch to make a swing for the Loving’s children, the suggestion that a rope over a tree branch was too often used to lynch a black man who had the audacity to look too long at a white woman. This was a story I had to see. But it may have taken about twenty minutes too long to tell it. I find it hard to believe that in the 50’s and 60’s we still had white supremacists who so despised anyone non-white they could disallow all interracial marriages. These were the good ol’ boys found mainly in the South but also to a lesser degree in all parts of the country. These were the good ol’ boys who believed that a woman’s place was in the kitchen and the bedroom, cookin’ for ‘em and providin’ sexual satisfaction for ‘em whenever they wanted it. They also believed that all blacks emitted a distinctive bad odor, that blacks were descended directly from apes, unlike whites who were the children of God. These were the men who donned white robes as they attended their KKK meetings, who bombed black churches, who strung up uppity blacks, who disallowed any blacks from swimming in white pools because they would somehow infect the water, who disallowed blacks from eating in white restaurants or sleeping in white hotels, who made blacks sit at the back of busses, drink at separate drinking fountains, stay in their black ghettos. It was a film I had to see. And, oh, how too many Trump supporters would hate it, how one of Trump’s key advisors, the Alt-Right Steve Bannon, would hate it, how the anti-Semites and anti-Muslims would hate it, how all the neo-Nazis would hate it, how current KKK members would hate it, how those who advocate that we should have separate, white-only sections of the country, maybe with a fence all around, or even a twenty-foot wall would hate it.

Sunday, November 27

Football

College football is winding down to what seems like about a thousand bowl games and the three games that really matter, the four-team playoffs. And the NFL season is chugging to a climax. I say chugging because this year has seen such mediocrity among so many teams, only the Patriots and the hated Cowboys looking like winners. I won’t even mention what the Arizona Cardinals look like.

Football on all levels has become a silly game of penalty flags flying all over the place, making most games mud-slow, with victories and defeats too dependent on the referees. It’s been said by football pundits that offensive holding could be called on every play, that defensive holding or pass interference could be called on every pass play. The referees have too much influence on who wins or loses. What can be done about it? Don’t call any offensive holding. Let the linear combatants do battle. Best man wins. Don’t call any defensive holding or pass interference. Let the receivers and defenders do battle. Best man wins by catching it, intercepting it, or knocking it down. There would still be penalties for unnecessary roughness in case the combatants got unnecessarily unruly. But at least it would reduce the role of the referees and their penchant for throwing yellow flags.

What about football injuries, especially concussions? The game at all levels now involves players who are gargantuan compared to people of average height, weight, and muscle mass. A man (or boy) who is six feet tall and weighs 175 can, with a weight program, pump himself up to 225 or more, with arms and legs like tree trunks. Then you put him on a football field and have him try to knock opponents out of the game—concussions, broken ribs, torn acl’s on knees. The game has become so fast and furious that players suffer injuries that affect them for life, even cause early dementia or thoughts of suicide. How can the game be made less dangerous? How about touch football? No more tackling, no more knocking the quarterback down, no more injuries. As a nation of fans of violent sports, the more blood we see, the happier we are. But now in football we see a much needed attempt to curtail concussion injuries. Good. Now, what about boxing and kick boxing? How can football be so concerned about concussions and these two barbarisms be so unconcerned? Aren’t boxers as susceptible to concussions as football players? I see a future not that far down the road when football and boxing are as extinct as dinosaurs. No football, no boxing of any kind, just quietly intense chess matches.

Friday, November 25

Gluttony & Gullibility

First, the Gluttony, Pope Gregory’s sixth of his seven Deadly Sins, right after Avarice and right before Lust. After reading about the meals most American had yesterday and all the Back Friday shopping stampedes, I think Gluttony and Lust should both be moved up to the head of the line. My wife and I were part of the food lust with a delicious but maybe too bountiful a meal at our daughter’s house. If the bird felt stuffed with stuffing, so did we. I know I ate about four times as much as my stomach normally allows. The overeating might be forgiven if it came only once a year, but the number of really fat Americans suggests that overeating happens almost every day. What can’t be forgiven is what happens on this truly Black Friday, the lustful buying and buying of “stuff” that we Americans feel not only that we need but also that we deserve. I just read that the average American will spend nearly a thousand dollars on holiday shopping. What? I thought in my review of The Edge of Seventeen that people from other countries might mistakenly believe we’re all as rich as Croesus. Our Black Friday shopping only reinforces that image. We need to practice the sixth of the Seven Virtues, Temperance in food and drink and shopping for “stuff.”

Now, the Gullibility. I got an e-mail a few days ago supposedly from James Comey, head of the FBI. I’ll reprint only the first two paragraphs to show you how ridiculously written this letter is. And it makes me wonder if there are really people out there who would fall for this scam. They would be my best example of Gullibility. Here it is:

Attention: Beneficiary

We hope this notification arrives meeting your good health and mind. We the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) Washington, DC in conjunction with some other relevant investigation agencies here in the United STATES of America have recently been informed through our Global Intelligence monitoring network that you have an over-due payment in tone of US $25 million USD with Federal Reserve, NY which was fully endorsed in your favor accordingly by the UNITED NATIONS (UN).

It might interest you to know that we have taken our time in screening through this project as stipulated on our protocol of operation and have finally confirmed that your payment/transaction with Federal Reserve is 100% genuine and hitch free from all facets and of which you have the lawful right to claim your fund without any further delay. Having said all this, we will further advise that you go ahead in dealing with the Federal Reserve, NY accordingly as we will be monitoring all their activities with you as well as your correspondence at all levels.


It goes on to say we should contact samson.potter2@aol.com. I’m sure if I went there, Mr. Potter would want me to confirm my bank account number so the $25,000,000 could be transferred. Or maybe he would need my social security number to verify my identity. Is it actually true that there’s a sucker born every minute?

Thursday, November 24

The Edge of Seventeen

I’m not sure what to say about The Edge of Seventeen, the recent movie about the angst of adolescence. I wasn’t particularly fond of that age when I was there. I loved the performance of Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, the friendless teen, still on the edge, not quite there. I especially loved the performance of Woody Harrelson as her care-less, caring history teacher.
I wasn’t fond of Kyra Sedgwick’s role as Nadine’s mother. She had enough hair on her head to make a hibernating bear proud. Two things I need to get out of the way: these teen/high school films always seem to show high school as much more awkward and painful than I remember it; and they always seem to depict an America as much more affluent than we really are. Anyone from a foreign country watching them must assume that we’re all wealthy beyond a foreigner’s dreams. We’re not. Just ask all the Trump supporters. Back to the movie. Seventeen, or pre-seventeen as the title suggests, can be awkward and painful as we all try to discover who we are, what we want, what we need. God, growing up can be so awkward and painful unless we’re one of the lucky ones in the non-descript middle ground. But middle-groundedness wouldn’t make for an angsty plot. Nadine has only one friend (even though she seems to be an intelligent, lovely young woman), her bestie from second grade on up, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Her other best friend, her father, dies of a heart attack when driving the 13-year-old Nadine home from school, and her life will never be the same again. Or so she thinks. But when her perfect older brother (“perfect” is Nadine’s assessment) begins dating Krista, she feels betrayed by both her brother and her best friend. Oh, wahhh! She almost totally ignores Erwin, who so obviously has a crush on her, in favor of Nick, the sleazy senior hottie she thinks she could win by sexually gobbling him up. She'd like to do it in the fish section of Petland where Nick works. She even accidentally sends him a provocative text telling him what she'd like to do to him. It's a funny but painful examination of that time of life when we all think it will never end and we will never find true love. The funniest scenes are between Nadine and Mr. Bruner, who tolerates her frequent interruptions during lunch hour and even tells her he likes her. In one scene, Nadine has fallen asleep in his history class and Mr. Bruner, after the class has left, wakes her up, telling her she's just had brain surgery . . . to make her pleasant and agreeable. Even if your adolescence was painless, this is a movie you may not identify with but will still find entertainingly funny. Four out of five stars.

Music Past & Present

We’ve been fans of The Voice for the past three seasons, and both my wife and I think the vocal quality on this show is much better than that of most of the contestants on American Idol—less emphasis on performance, more on voice. We also watched part of the American Music Awards show last week. I say “part of” because we couldn’t stand to watch the whole thing. Too much inelegance, distastefulness, unclassiness, too much glitter and glitz, too many people trying to be as outlandish in style and behavior as possible.
And most of the music was too dependent on electronic amplification, the performers too involved with intricate dance steps and pelvic thrusts, the lyrics lost in speed and volume and audience noise. I sound like an old codger. I AM an old codger. And I know that musical style changes with every generation. But most of the music in the current pop scene relies more on rhythm and choreography than on lyrics. Where are all the songs from The Great American Songbook, with lyrics I can hear and understand? Audiences today seem to be made up of young people who scream and whistle and sing along with the performers, more interested in their own voices than the singer on stage. They seem to know all the lyrics that to me are incomprehensible. I love The Voice and the four judges, but their audience does the same—scream and whistle and sing along and wave their silly out-of-time arms. When the camera shifts to Miley or Alicia, they’re also singing along with the contestant. Blake and Adam don’t, leaving that trick to the ladies. The judges and contestants dip into the past for song choices, but don’t dip more than a toe or two, back to 1975 for “What I Did for Love” and the early 80’s for “Rosanna” and “9 to 5.” The musical genre that’s changed the least over the last fifty years is Country, with a capital C. Oh, yes, and Jazz, with a capital J. But that’s because most of the current jazz singers, male and female, seem to favor songs from The Great American Songbook. Jazz singers like Karrin Allyson, Jackie Allen, Michael Bublé, and Bobby Caldwell are the polar opposites of singers like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Bruno Mars, and Justin Bieber. All have great voices, but what they sing and how they sing it are like night and day. Lady Gaga seems to be straddling the fence now that she’s shown us her Sound of Music and “Lush Life” side. I wish that more of the pop singers today would do the same. I guess I’m saying that the musical scene has passed me by without so much as a “Toodle-oo” or a farewell wave. I miss the old days, but those days are as dead as Sinatra and Ella and all the others who sang the songs I once knew and understood.

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