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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 in 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, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Thursday, December 14

South Pacific

Another night at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, this time to see Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. And another excellent production of what I now consider the best of the Rogers and Hammerstein collaborations, better than Carousel, Oklahoma, The King and I, and better than even The Sound of Music. The story is familiar to nearly everyone, based on James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. There they were, Nellie Forbush, Emile De Becque, Luther Billis, and the best Bloody Mary since Juanita Hall made her so famous almost seventy years ago on Broadway. But the score is also so familiar to everyone. For the past week, every night when I found myself awake at my 3:00 a.m. witching hour, I would listen to those songs in my head. Way back when I was a boy, my sister took me to Chicago to see the first road show of South Pacific, and I was so entranced that I bought the album and memorized all the lyrics. Now, sixty-eight years later, I still know nearly all of them: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right outta My Hair,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” In this strange 2017, with its renewed ugliness of racism and division, the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," indicates that we still have a long way to go. Nellie at first decided she couldn't marry De Becque because of his fathering two children by a Polynesian woman. Lt. Joe Cable felt he couldn't marry Bloody Mary's daughter Liat and sings that we have to be taught to hate others who are unlike us, that bigotry and racism aren't attitudes we're born with but are carefully taught by those who should have done better by us. Are you listening, President Trump? The sets were simpler than what ABT usually puts up, but made effective use of netted curtains and various props. The only thing missing, something I wanted to see, was the image of Bali Ha’i on the blue backdrop as Bloody Mary sings “Bali Ha’i.” They could have easily used a scrim to slowly bring up the black outline of the island as Mary sings of the desert island's mystery that calls to us. The voices of the principals were all very good, especially that of Sean David Cooper, who played the French planter De Becque, and Kate Marshall, who played Nellie. From what I remember of that first Broadway cast, these two were as good as, maybe even better than, Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. The only weakness in this production was the choreography. Everything else, though, was spot-on. I might even consider going back to see it again.

Tuesday, December 12

Possibilities for 2037

A friend recently sent me a copy of what the CEO of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler Benz, said in an interview (July 2017) with Plebiscite Naija. He predicted what we might see in the next twenty years, and what he said can be either frightening or wonderfully comforting. Here is a summation of what he predicted:

1. Law as a profession will be out because of the many less expensive places to find legal advice; there will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future.
2. By 2030, computers will be more intelligent than humans.
3. In the near future, no one will own a car and accidental deaths will drop significantly. Since there will no longer be a need for parking, such space in cities could be used for parks. Auto insurance agencies will go out of business because there will be so little need for such insurance.
4. There will be a significant increase in solar energy and a similar decrease in the use of fossil fuel for energy. Cars will be run on electricity, thus minimizing noise and pollution. With cheap electricity, plentiful drinking water will be obtained by desalinizing sea water.
5. By 2027, with cheap 3-D printers available to nearly everyone, 10% of all products will be 3-D printed.
6. By 2037, 70% to 80% of all present-day jobs will be gone.
7. We will soon be using insects as a source of protein for many of our food products.
8. By 2036, almost everyone will live well over 100 years.
9. By 2020, 70% of all humans will have a smart phone with internet access, making education a personal process.
10. Bitcoin may soon become the default reserve currency. 

So, does this frighten or comfort you? If we can somehow avoid destroying the world in these next 20 years, I consider his predictions very comforting. But what he said about bitcoin only confuses me. What the hell are bitcoins, anyway?

Wednesday, December 6

A Very Slow Day

            For want of anything better to say today, here are some clever bits I stole from the Signals catalog. In case you can't read what the picture of Tiger says, "Even the boys are bibliophiles."


Tuesday, December 5

Some TV Observations

First, probably the dumbest, most offensive commercial any company has ever put before us is the Sanderson Farm bit in which they sing a song about all their happy chickens and then show us thousands and thousands of their happy chickens just before they kill them and then cut them up for our consumption, all of them bunched together in their happy happy barns. It’s a little like saying all those calves on too many farms are twinkly-toe happy to be living in those tiny little boxes until they can be killed and cut up for veal parmigiana.
The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special was fun to watch but painful to see how all those people we remember from the past now look so old. And we all missed the two funniest guys from that old show, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, who must have been too old and ill to make it to the reunion. I guess Vicki Lawrence’s presence made up for their absence. We got to see some of the truly funny bits from the past, Carol’s Mrs. Wiggins to Tim’s boss with the funny dialect, the parodies of soap operas (“As the Stomach Turns”), the takeoffs on famous movies like The African Queen and Gone with the Wind, and the weekly fights between Carol, Harvey, and Vicki as Carol’s “mamma.” They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Quick comparison between the two twin military thrillers The Seal Team and The Brave. Odd that CBS and NBC would both come out with such similar shows. Both have lookalike hunks playing the team leaders (David Boreanaz and Mike Vogel), both have similar-sized teams, both include one really capable, attractive woman on the team (Toni Trucks and Natacha Karam), and both rely heavily on new surveillance technology for resolving their plot issues. The Seal Team splits into two divergent plot elements, a practice that makes me weary; The Brave has only one. Both are good. The Brave is better.
And last but possibly best, Seth McFarlane’s oddball Star Trek parody, The Orville. Most of the comic jabs at Star Trek and Kirk and company are belly-laugh funny.  I love science fiction and I, like Sheldon and his nerdy friends on The Big Bang Theory, loved the tv Star Trek and all the filmed Star Treks that spun off the original series. How could anyone not love Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley)? The technological premises forty years ago (teleportation, warp speed, other intelligent species, instantaneous medical cures, and wildly divergent life forms—Isaac, an R2-D2 spinoff from Star Wars, and, wildest of all, Yaphit, a gelatinous blob of green stuff) may have seemed unlikely back then but now seem not only possible but probable. Oddly, though, the weekly plots are also quite exciting and surprising. Both my wife and I really enjoy this show. Apparently, the same is true for enough viewers that Fox is renewing a second season. Good. Too bad each season is so short, only eleven shows.

Monday, December 4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

We saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, last week and I’m still trying to figure out what to say about it. It was good, it wasn’t so good. It was good because of the three main characters and those who portrayed them. Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson seem to be always good; Sam Rockwell is new to me so I can’t say he’s always good, but in this, he’s very good. Back to my dilemma, in the 60’s and 70’s we had black humor—films, novels, and plays that were tragically funny, putting a finger on man’s need to laugh instead of cry at life’s ironies. Now it’s called dark comedy so that no one might mistake the “black” as a reference to the shtick of Tyler Perry and his madcap Madea. Three Billboards was in the same vein as Fargo or any of the other Coen brothers’ films, funny and not so funny. McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a tough, recently divorced mother of Angela (Kathryn Newton) who was abducted on her way home, set on fire, and then raped as she was dying. After too many months of no progress solving this heinous crime, she decides she needs to goad Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) into action. She rents three billboards on a quiet stretch of highway near her home: “Raped While Dying,” “And Still No Arrests,” and “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Ebbing reacts. The citizens are divided because some think she’s wrong to attack their police chief this way and some agree with her about his inaction. Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), second in command to Willoughby, goes out of his way to get her to take the billboards down, even beating nearly to death Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), who had rented the -billboards to Mildred, and then throwing him out the second-floor window of his office. Officer Dixon is a Missouri bigot who doesn’t mind letting everyone know it, especially any blacks he may encounter. He thinks his badge lets him do and say anything he wants. The plot shifts back and forth between those who want action and those who don’t. In fact, this shifting is what I found not so good. It seemed like there were too many places where the story could end, but it didn’t. And when it finally did, it was unresolved and I was left unsatisfied. As I first said, half tragic, half humorous, with the humor winning out. One example of the humor will suffice: Mildred has agreed to a dinner date with James (Peter Dinklage), the town midget (but really a dwarf), because he has supplied her with an alibi when the police station was fire-bombed. He excuses himself from the table, saying to Mildred, “S’cuse me, Mildred, I’ve gotta go to the little boys’ room.” Not a great laugh, maybe, but you had to be there to appreciate it. It was a good film but not quite as good as I wanted it to be. I’m sure that all three—McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell—will be considered for Oscars, with Rockwell the most likely winner, but the director, Martin McDonagh, and the film will not.

Tuesday, November 28

Sexual Harassment Part III

            I want to take another look at this question of harassment that’s now so
prominent in the news. Last season on Madam Secretary, Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) went to the Philippines to meet with the madman president, who was known for his misogyny and his too frequently inappropriate behavior. When she turned her back on him for a moment, he grabbed her buttocks with both hands. She whirled and decked him with a wonderful right to the nose, breaking it and blackening both eyes. It was a perfect statement for these imperfect times.
             This current upsurge in women coming forward with complaints about sexual misbehavior by male politicians and entertainers is a healthy sign that we may actually be approaching true gender equality. It certainly will make all men more cautious in their relations with women. They may not yet believe in that equality but they’ll certainly respect it. Now, ladies, I must point out what I believe is a major mental difference between men and women. Many men (maybe even most) wouldn’t consider it as harassment for a woman to pat him on the ass as he passes by or stroke his leg at a dinner engagement or even proposition him. He’d consider the ass pat as a compliment, the leg rub as enticingly interesting, and the proposition as acceptable. What offends most women doesn’t offend most men. Men are such pigs. I don’t think most men are misogynists; I think they’re philogynists who would welcome any come-ons from almost any (but not all) women. Oink! Oink!
             I‘m happy to say that I’m not one of them. I love women just as I love my fellow man, but I wouldn’t welcome any sexual advances from just any woman. She’d have to be someone I already love, not just anyone for whom I might lust. I seem to be digging an ever deeper semantic hole for myself. Help! These are such confusing times. May we soon get to that place where we love all people, regardless of gender, race, or religion. All I ask is that we not lose hugs. I love hugs. I believe in the efficacy of hugs that heal, not hugs that harass. So, men, today I’d like for every one of you to give your wife, your children, your friends, even your enemies a big hug and tell them how much they mean to you. Hugs are good; gropes are bad.

Wednesday, November 22

Carnivals in the Past

         Before the written word, the past had to be preserved by assigning its details to a tribesman (or woman) who became the repository for the tribe’s history. And he (or she) would pass on that memorized history to a younger successor. This system was awkward and prone to the sort of errors we used to see in the children’s game of “Pass It On.” You remember how different the word or phrase was when it finally got to the last person in line? Only when these memories could be written down did we have a nearly flawless system for preserving the past.
          I was born and raised in Mobridge, South Dakota, a small, rural, farming and railroad community near the banks of the Missouri River, so my most vivid memories are there from my first seventeen years. If I don’t commit them to paper, they’ll slip away and vanish along with me when I die.
          As an exercise in memory, I’m going to recreate what I remember about the carnivals that came to town over Fourth of July celebrations, either a combination of all those carnivals or maybe just the one when I was twelve or thirteen.
          In the 1940’s, the carnival was set up on the south end of Main Street.  Its boundaries were the railroad tracks to the south, the Mobridge Wholesale House to the east, the White Horse Hotel to the west, and the Moose Club to the north. The Tilt-a-Whirl was always the first thing you bumped into when you approached from the north. It was about even with the Moose Club. What an evil ride it was. Young people today would laugh at me for calling it evil because they’re more accustomed to much more frightening rides now. I remember it as evil because I’d be called a sissy if I didn’t ride, so I did . . . and hated it every time. As I remember it, there were nine cars, each holding three or four people. You got in, pulled down the retaining bar for holding you in and for you to hold onto, and away you’d go, each car independently spinning in various directions as the whole ride whirled around. The severity of the spins depended on the combined weight of the riders in each car, the more of you there were, the more awful the ride. I think I closed my eyes during most of the ride and I hazily remember the pain in my upper leg when I’d be pinned to the side of a fellow rider. All I ever wanted to do was somehow get off without falling down dizzy or throwing up the hot dog I’d just eaten, the hot dog I’d just bought at the stand near the White Horse that also sold cotton candy. But I was wise enough never to eat any cotton candy before my potentially regurgitating ride on the evil, painful Tilt-a-Whirl.
          Close to this ride was the Penny Pitch, a flat, square board close to the ground, roped off, maybe six by six feet with small painted squares designating how much you could win if you landed on the square without touching the line. As I remembered it, you could win amounts up to a dollar. Did you win very often? No. I remember going there with both pockets full of the Indian head pennies my older brothers had been saving. I pitched both pockets empty without winning much, but the young woman running the game very carefully pocketed all my Indian heads, my brothers’ pennies. I wonder how much they’d be worth today.
          The middle of the carnival grounds held most of the arcade games, side by side along the north and south borders—a balloon pop where you threw darts at blown-up balloons hanging on the back wall, the baseball toss where you threw baseballs at a wall with fringed dolls sitting on shelves, a nickel pitch where you tried to get a nickel to stay in one of the pieces of glassware you could win (almost impossible to make the nickel stay in the vase or dish, and why would anyone, let alone a twelve-year-old boy, want to win some cheap glassware?), the basketball free throw, and the stand-alone challenge where you tried to ring the bell with a sledge hammer (and the guy running it would also try to guess your weight). One of my favorites was the crane you operated with a round handle that you turned to move the crane into position above various small stuffed animals or above that tempting tray of dimes. You then dropped the crane and hoped the metal jaws would grab an animal or a jawful of dimes. Then you carefully lifted the crane and navigated your bounty to the exit chute where you would drop your prize. Most often, though, the crane never latched onto anything or you dropped your prize before you got it to the chute.

          I remember only three rides besides the Tilt-a-Wheel—the Merry-go-round on the west side, the Ferris Wheel somewhere in the middle, and the swings on the east side near the wholesale house. I never rode on the swings because they looked so dangerous, just you strapped in a little seat attached to a long chain attached to a big metal ring that whizzed around in a circle, swinging the riders way out and around. I always imagined the chain snapping and sending the rider in a long toss like a stone out of a slingshot. No thanks.
          Somewhere near the east side, they always had a long trailer called the Fun House or the House of Mirrors. It couldn’t have been very scary because the trip from one end to the other, even though divided into narrow, back and forth passageways, couldn’t have been more than fifty feet. But you went through it in semi-darkness with warped mirrors along the way to show you as really short or tall, skinny or fat. I don’t remember any other little tricks there were along the way, but I suppose there was eerie music and screams piped in.
          And, finally, somewhere near the back of the grounds there would be a tent housing the freak show. The carny barker would announce each show about every half hour. “Step right up! Step right up! Come on in and see some of the strangest things you’ve ever seen! We got the bearded lady, the fattest lady in the world, the tattooed man, the man who lies on a bed of nails, the snake lady. She walks, she talks, she crawls on her belly like a snake! All kindsa freaks and geeks! Next show in ten minutes and all of for just a quarter, one skinny fourth of a dollar!” I don’t think I ever went into this tent, maybe because they had an age limit. I just don’t remember anything but the opening spiel.
          Sometime in the 50’s the carnival was moved and set up near the rodeo grounds. I don’t know why. Maybe some people complained about the congestion on Main Street and the mess that was always left behind. But the sights, the sounds, the smells of those carnivals on lower Main are etched in my memory, frozen there by my putting them down on paper. What are your carnival memories? Some probably the same as mine, some different. Just let your mind wander back to that time in your youth and see what’s there.

Wednesday, November 15

What's in a Name?

What’s in a name? Finding a first name for male babies is difficult, especially if you want to avoid all the old, white, traditional names, like John, Thomas, Joseph, or Peter. Thus, so many black parents choose names that echo Biblical and Muslim names but vary the spellings to make them original, often doubling up on vowels to make them singular, names like Rashaan,  Jabaal, Kawaan, Elijhan, Ifeanyl, Tyvon, Derwynn, Demaryius, Devontae, Kaelin, Daeshon, or Demetrious, to name only a few. In the past, Michael was often the most popular name but has since fallen way back, as have the other popular names like David, Jason, Jacob, and Tyler. And just look at what’s happened to the then popular Richard. It used to be shortened to “Dick,” but the slang term for penis got popular and anyone named Richard had little recourse except to go to Rick or Rich, but never Dick. Some first names can also be last names, often confusing people who don’t know to whom they’re speaking. For example, George, Michael, James, David, Anthony, Jackson, and Henry, and a slew of others can all be flipped to front or back. I was named after my father, Floyd Travis. “Floyd” back then was sort of a Depression first name. One can almost picture me as a young Floyd in the Thirties, wearing bib overalls and a hand-me-down Hooligan Snap Cap, maybe some earmuffs if it was winter. Until the last several decades, no male was given Travis as a first name, but now it’s all over the place. There aren’t many people with the last name of Floyd, but still a few. I remember when my wife and I would take golf vacations to Fayetteville, NC. One of the courses we played was owned by the father of well-known professional golfers Raymond and Marlene Floyd. We were signed in as Travis, Floyd and wife. Everyone working there thought we were Mr. and Mrs. Travis Floyd, and oh, did we get treated royally. The other oddity about my name is that my parents, to avoid confusion, called me by my middle name, Jerry, and for the rest of my life I have to explain why I’m Jerry but officially I’m Floyd. What’s in a name? Our given names are as important as anything else we name. So, think long and hard before assigning such an important label on your newborn boy or girl.

Monday, November 13

The Midnight Line, by Lee Child

       I just read Lee Child’s latest Reacher, The Midnight Line. It was typical Reacher in style and plot. That’s not a negative comment because most of us hooked on the series enjoy the style and plot similarities. The style always uses sentences that begin with the subject, almost never any introductory information. Most are short, primarily using Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, geometrically precise, just like Reacher himself. Child uses a shifting point of view, mostly Reacher in first-person, shifting briefly to third-person whenever he goes to other scenes not involving Reacher. Thus, the brevity of the Reacher sentences. When he’s in third-person, the sentences are more typically normal than when we’re hearing it from Reacher. Whenever he’s about to engage in a fight with one or more opponents, we get the arithmetic considerations of what he will do, in what order, and in how much time. All this goes click-click-click in his mind before the fight begins. The plots are often the same, involving Reacher heading for new country, wherever the wind takes him. Reacher is a loner by choice and he chooses to wander the county letting fate lead the way. He either takes a bus or he hitchhikes and fate often has him passing through strange little towns with strange little problems. And Reacher, being Reacher, just has to help. In The Midnight Line, he finds a West Point ring in a pawn shop in a tiny Wisconsin town. Why would a West Point graduate pawn this most prized possession? Reacher just has to scratch this itch. He buys the ring for $40, finds Jimmy the Rat, who sold it to the pawn dealer, learns who Jimmy got it from (after the typical geometrically precise fight with eight ugly bikers). That information takes him west to Rapid City and Arthur Scorpio, the unsavory fellow who got the ring from one of his unsavory employees. From there, the trail led him to Wyoming where he hoped to find the tiny woman who had given her ring away. The ring and the plot hinge on illegal drugs, primarily fentanyl and opioids. Typical Reacher, typically a good read.
          In light of all the current news about the rise in deaths from opioids, especially fentanyl, I was intrigued by what Child said about these drugs. He says that an opioid high is almost indescribable, so high and so pleasant that the one hooked will do anything, anything to continue that high, requiring ever higher doses as the body adjusts. Child tells us the history of drug use and abuse, beginning with opium and its derivatives used in many medicines sold routinely for minor aches and pains, for restless babies, for headaches and toothaches and belly aches. From the Civil War up to the present, morphine was used for wartime injuries without regard for dosages or frequency until those injured found themselves hooked. And now we have the same problem with fentanyl and the opioids, indiscriminate use for military injures, indiscriminate prescriptions written for any and all kinds of pain with millions addicted and hundreds of thousands dying from overdoses. Makes me wonder where it all will end, makes me curious about this high that’s higher than any other. Makes me think that pot-heads may not be so bad compared to opioid-heads.

Thursday, November 9

Man of La Mancha

I’m not sure I have enough enthusiastic adjectives in my vocabulary to say how much I enjoyed our recent trip to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see Man of La Mancha. “Fabulous” will have to do. My all-time favorite musical is Into the Woods, but La Mancha is certainly in a tie with several others for second. We first saw this show in L.A. about fifty years ago. It was at the recently opened Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and it had Richard Kiley in the lead role of Don Quixote. We were young, dirt-poor teachers living in Barstow, but we just had to see this show. Our poverty got us two seats in the upper balcony where we feared either nose bleeds or an accidental tumble from our steep cheap seats to the ground floor. I can’t remember who played Sancho Panza, but it was a funny fat fellow that might have been Buddy Hackett but was more likely James Coco, who played it in the film version in the next decade. Even with all the research help on the internet, I couldn’t find much about this West Coast version of the play. It was a fabulous performance fifty years ago and equally fabulous in 2017 at the ABT. The score is dominated by “The Impossible Dream” which concludes Act I and is reprised at the start of Act II and twice more before the final curtain. What a perfect lyric to define knighthood’s definition of chivalry and romantic love—to protect the weak and defeat evil, to hold woman in highest regard, to defend her honor against all who would diminish her. How fitting that this musical should include a scene depicting the brutalizing of Aldonza, or Quixote’s Dulcinea. Fitting in that we’re in the midst of all these prominent men now being accused of assaulting or harassing so many women. From 15th century Spain and its inquisition to 21st century USA, some of our attitudes toward women have gotten better but not nearly enough better. Six hundred years and we still have the inequality of the sexes, still have episodes of man’s brutality toward women.

The voices were all exceptional, especially that of James Rio who played Cervantes/Quixote. Jessica Medoff as Aldonza/Dulcinea was a bit screechy at times, causing her to sharp a few notes. But she fit the character perfectly—the tough, sharp-tongued whore Aldonza and the softer, sweeter Dulcinea when she finally accepts Quixote’s image of her. All of the action takes place on one set, the underground prison where the men and women were being held for the trials by the Inquisition. Again, I’m amazed at what his dinner theater can accomplish in such a small venue, with such a small stage. The set had six entrances, the most dramatic of which was the descending passage along the back to the wide ramp lowered and raised by chains, lowered for the soldiers of the Inquisition, raised to contain the prisoners. When Cervantes joins them, the others mistrust him and would put him on trial in their own kangaroo court with jurors (the prisoners) stacked against him. Cervantes defends himself by telling them the story he has written about the would-be knight Don Quixote. And thus, the story within a story. If you get a chance to see this musical at ABT or anywhere else, take it. You’ll laugh and weep a bit just as I did.

Friday, November 3

Harassment, Part II

A female friend of mine pointed out to me a few things I’d overlooked in my essay on harassment, and I find them so relevant I have to share them with you.  Harassment is all about power, she said—physical power as well as the power of handing out jobs or promotions or grades. First, and most basically, most men are bigger and stronger than most women, and they can use that power to force themselves physically on women, women they know or work with or complete strangers. The result is either assault or rape or both. No confusion there. That seems pretty cut and dried. It’s when you get to power other than physical that it gets confusing. We’re still living in a patriarchal society, and even though we’re getting closer to gender equality, we still have a long way to go. Right now, men hold more corporate, political, and educational authority than women, and with that authority comes the power of quid pro quo, “I’ll give you ____ (job, promotion, grade, raise, etc.) and you’ll give me a sexual favor.” The reverse is “If you don’t do it, I’ll _____ you (fire, demote, fail, ridicule).” “If you report me, I’ll _____ (deny it, laugh at you, belittle you, make your life a holy hell).” She mentioned a comic she’d heard make this useful observation about harassment:
“All right, guys, don’t do anything or assume anything about a woman that you wouldn’t do to or assume about Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. You probably wouldn’t tell Dwayne that shirt he’s wearing makes him look really sexy. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable stroking one of his tattoos for no good reason. If the Rock asked you to meet him privately to discuss a work issue, you probably wouldn’t assume he was coming on to you. In every case if you did those things, the Rock would probably hand you your head. So, guys, treat your female friends and colleagues as though they’re all Dwayne Johnson and you’ll never fall into the harassment trap.” Another tip she gave me: Men shouldn’t do anything to a woman that they’d feel uncomfortable with if a man did that to them in prison.  And you can imagine all the nastiness that thought brings to mind. Good advice. All right, I’m much less confused now.

Saturday, October 28

Harassment

A long time ago, when harassing first gained national attention, we were all told it was pronounced “HAIR-uh-sing,” but now everyone goes with “hair-ASS-ing.” What’s in a word? Well, it seems there’s a whole lot in this word. Today’s times are confusing times and one of those times that I find most confusing is this latest flurry of men being accused of or charged with (or maybe just painted with) sexual harassment. Granted, we have the unsavory Bill Cosby and the unsavory trial and mistrial and retrial for his supposed date-rape-drug accusations. And now the unsavory stories about the unsavory Harvey Weinstein groping and propositioning quite a few women in show business with whom he came in contact (no pun intended). Both cases against these men seem to be irrefutable because of the testimony of so many of their accusers. But then, consider the ripple effect of the Weinstein allegations. Now there are all kinds of men from low level film producers to ex-presidents like George H. W. Bush (and even sitting presidents) who are being tagged as sexual abusers. I can’t even keep track of all the terms used to describe bad sexual behavior: predators, rapists, abusers, stalkers, assaulters, harassers. There must be more but I can’t think of them. My confusion is about the degree of harassment, not in the case of Cosby or Weinstein or the many Catholic priests who abused boys and girls in their care. Let’s consider a linear scale from zero to ten, zero being absolutely no sexual harassment or misconduct and ten being the charge of rape. A one on the scale might be a pat on a woman’s back or asking for a date several times after being turned down the first time. Both examples of a one are pretty innocuous yet both might be considered harassment. A two on the scale might be the telling of an off-color joke to a mixed group of fellow workers or students. How off-color must it be to move it to a three? You see where I’m going with this? The degree of harassment, the degree of illegality, is quite subjective. At what point on the scale do we go from a reprimand to a day in court? What sort of physical touching is allowable and what is not? For example, we have a man and a woman at her front door. It’s their first date. She kisses him on the cheek. He turns her head and kisses her on the mouth. She pushes him away. He pulls her to him and kisses her again. Her “no” is implicit in her push, so he’s guilty of harassment, right? Same two people in bed, naked, kissing and touching and moaning. He rolls to the top of her and is about to enter without knocking. She moans, “Nuh, nuh, nooo!” He enters anyway. He’s guilty of rape, right? You see why I’m confused? The scale is so very subjective and there are so many possibilities for false accusations and resulting grievous harm. Too much testimony involving “he said/she said.” How many accusers are looking for justice and how many for a payoff? If there are payoffs, does that mean the payer is guilty as charged or is he just trying to get rid of the accusation? And why are ninety-nine out of a hundred aimed at men and only one in a hundred at women? Aren’t women just as capable of telling an off-color joke to a male colleague or patting him on the ass? I’m not defending Cosby or Weinstein or Bill O’Reilly or any of the others now in the predator limelight. I’m just trying to disconfuse myself.

Thursday, October 19

Memory and the Loss Thereof

Loss of memory is the least serious stage of senility, the simple loss of the names of friends, acquaintances, even relatives, the loss of names for people in the news or in history books or in current entertainment, names that we once knew and can now not quite get off the tips of our minds. Also the loss of vocabulary words we once knew and used. This is senility in its simplest form. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are more about the physical decay of our brains than of our memories. I think that when we reach what we consider very old age, we simply no longer need these names and words, so we dump them alongside the roadside like empty Coke cans. Once upon a time we needed these names and words to show the world we weren’t losing our marbles, so we memorized them, committed them to memory with a mnemonic trick or two: “Never assume because it makes an ass of you and me,” “Thirty days hath September . . .,” “HOMES equals the Great Lakes,” and so on. But finally there comes a time when we’re no longer ever going to get on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or have a reunion with friends, acquaintances, or relatives. They’re all dead. We no longer need the words because we’re no long communicating with anyone. They’re all dead. Old memories from our past we hang onto for the times we talk to ourselves, but the short-term stuff we let go because we no longer have anyone to share them with. They’re all dead. All the stuff we accumulated during our lives is no longer important to us, all the books we thought we wanted to keep forever, now superfluous, all the little knickknacks we purchased to put in shadow boxes or on shelves, now superfluous, all the papers and forms for our birth dates or home ownership, college transcripts and medical records, now superfluous. As we age, we wither like untended flowers in a garden we once cared for but no longer need. The flowers are all dead. Now that’s an image I’ll probably remember forever. But my forever is now more like fornever and isn’t nearly as long as it used to be.

Tuesday, October 17

The Handmaid's Tale

I’ve been bingeing on episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. What a strange yet intriguing story. A long time ago we had 1984, George Orwell’s tale of a Big Brother dystopia. We called such a view an Orwellian society. Now we have Margaret Atwood’s version. I’d want to call it an Atwoodian society but that doesn’t sound right, so I’m revising both words—Orwellen and Atwooden. In 1984, Winston Smith lives in Oceania, watched night and day by the Party’s telescreens to guard against all thought crime, or any expressions of individuality. The Party is led by a mysterious figure known as Big Brother. The Party not only keeps all its citizens under an omnipresent eye, it also controls their thoughts with a kind of brainwashing doubletalk called Newspeak. For example, “2 + 2 = 5,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Goodsex is chastity,” this last example meaning that intercourse, especially for women, shouldn’t be pleasurable but only for procreation. They even employed a system in which the past could be changed by simply changing it in all books and papers. Their belief: the past doesn’t exist except as we create it. Sort of like Donald Trump’s concept of fake news. Today, we seem to be embarking on our own brand of euphemistic doublespeak—IED (bomb), downsize (fire, as in disemploy), person of interest (suspect), pre-owned (used), terminate (kill or disemploy), to name only a few. But you get the drift.

Atwood must surely have been influenced by 1984 when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. The society that parallels Orwell's Oceania is known as Gilead. According to the leaders of this new society, God has chosen to punish mankind for our mistreatment of Earth by making all but a very few women sterile, with the likelihood that nearly all of mankind will soon be gone except for the few children born to the handmaids, those few women still able to become pregnant. Sharon, or Offred as she is now called in Gilead, is one of the few fertile women. She and the other handmaids are kept like prisoners, punished severely for any improprieties. One of them had her eye “plucked out” for not being religiously pious during one of the training periods. One of the Aunts (an older woman incapable of giving birth but an avowed follower of Gilead and its new society) regularly used a cattle prod to burn any misbehaving handmaids.

The female categories are all marked by the color of their apparel—green for the wives of party leaders, brown for the Aunts, gray for the Marthas (those who performed the housekeeping for party leaders), and red for the handmaids. Offred has been assigned to the household of commander Waterford and Mrs. Waterford, where she does menial household chores like shopping and once months engages in “The Ceremony,” Gilead’s solution for dispassionate intercourse. On the night of The Ceremony, the handmaid lies on a bed between the legs of the wife, who holds the handmaid’s arms while the husband performs the oh so very dispassionate insemination. All is for the welfare of the society, the procreation of children, and none for the pleasure of intercourse.

Much of the filming is done in shades of white and black, with most of the scenes dominated by red, gray, green, and brown. The story is told in the present with flashbacks to the time before the uprising of Gilead, back to Sharon and Luke’s marriage and their life with a daughter, back to the pre-Gilead lives of all the characters. It seems like they could never run out of plot strands with that many potential flashbacks, very similar to what we had with that other successful series, Lost. The most relevant thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is Elisabeth Moss as Offred, I remember her when she was the president’s daughter Zoe on The West Wing. Now she’s all grown up and one of the best actresses in the business. She recently won the Emmy for best female actress in a television drama, and The Handmaid’s Tale winning for best television dramatic series. And what I find most curious of all, she’s not particularly attractive, willing to show herself to the audience in full-facial close-ups without cosmetic magic, with all warts and blemishes showing. She did this same superior acting in Mad Men and both Sundance originals of Top of the Lake.

After I finish my binge, I’m going to read the novel to see what changes were made for the television version.

Thursday, October 12

Hazing in Fraternities

On the last episode of Bull, Jason Bull signs on to help a young black prosecutor trying fifteen college students, pledges at one of the fraternities who either willfully or accidentally allowed one of their brothers to die during their “Hell Night” hazing. It draws an immediate parallel to what happened not long ago on the Penn State campus and again more recently on the LSU campus. I would have thought such barbaric practices were no longer allowed by national fraternities. But sadistic boys will be sadistic boys, so apparently they continue.

It took me back sixty-six years to the time when I was a 17-year-old who had pledged to one of the fraternities at my alma mater. I don’t need to say what my alma mater was or what fraternity I joined. But I would like to describe what my initiation was like, what was then called “Hell Week” even though it lasted only an agonizing 72 hours. The only element in the hazing on Bull that wasn’t a part of mine was the forced consumption of alcohol. Thank God for that. On the Bull episode, the sixteen pledges were all forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol and then swim in a nearby river. One of them didn’t make it back. The alcohol level of the Phi Delta Theta pledge who died in Louisiana recently was a lethal .495.

In the fall of 1951, I was a pledge at one of the fraternities on our campus. Sometime before the end of the year we were subjected to a senseless, brutal, sadistic, dangerous series of actions to “prove” to the brotherhood our worthiness to join them. First, each of us (twelve in my pledge class) had to make a wooden paddle for our pledge father, the paddle to be used on our posteriors whenever the father said “bend over.” The pain level of such paddling depended entirely on the degree of sadism in the paddler. Hell Week probably began on a Friday so that not too many classes would be missed, and then went on to midnight on Sunday.

I don’t remember in what order most of these indignities happened, but I do remember what happened on Sunday night. Along the way through Friday and Saturday, we were not allowed to sleep, were made to eat double or triple doses of Xlax, were made to take a pill that turned our urine blue, were paddled whenever anyone felt like we needed a swat or two, were required to memorize the Greek alphabet and be able to say it in less than ten seconds. Any stumbles or taking more than ten seconds resulted in more paddling. Sleep deprivation, like waterboarding, is a mainstay in torture techniques. I’m surprised our tormenters didn’t waterboard any of us, but maybe waterboarding didn’t come along until years later. By Sunday we were all so groggy we weren’t sure what we were doing or why. Sunday evening we were led to the basement dining hall, made to strip, made to apply peanut butter liberally to the insides of our buttocks, made to get on hands and knees and form a circle, each of us to put our noses into the butt crack of the one in front of us, then made to crawl in a circle, each of us a unit of that circle, each unit connected by nose to butt. I don’t remember how long that ignominy lasted. Not long, I’m sure, for even the most sadistic of our tormenters would grow bored after ten or fifteen minutes. Then we were forced to swallow two or three spoonfuls of a disgusting concoction our “brothers” mixed for us—eggs (shells and all), water, cereal of some kind, curry powder in huge amounts, and, probably, a bit of one or more of our brothers’ urine. If we gagged or vomited, we were made to keep eating until we managed to keep it down. To this day, any smell or taste of curry takes me back to that time in 1951. We were then allowed to put our underwear back on and then led outside where we were blindfolded and taken by cars on a long, circuitous trip to a riverbank (or so they had us believe). We got out of the cars, still blindfolded, and told to leap feet first into the river. I made the sorry mistake of diving headfirst. I landed on my stomach and face on the watered grass behind our fraternity house. I didn’t kill or injure myself, but I could have. The brotherhood, who had all gathered in a circle around the place where we were to dive, all had such a good laugh at this last indignity. And finally, Hell Week was over. I often wondered if all of them thought this hazing was all right or if some of them, like me, hated it but were too intimidated to say so. I should have quit the fraternity right then and there, but I was only seventeen and still too stupid, too spineless and without convictions. I remained in that fraternity throughout my college years but I never ever engaged in any of the “fun” activities of Hell Week for other pledge classes. I stayed as far away from that three days as I could.

Sunday, October 8

The Black Card

In the midst of all the current unrest about race relations, mainly black and white relations, especially the brouhaha over blacks in the NFL choosing not to stand for the national anthem, I must point out that some blacks do more to hurt race relations than to help it. I’m talking about those in television who keep playing the black card because they want to show other blacks that they’re cool, they’re still in the street rappin’ “gangsta” black club. In one of my blogs, I’ve already mentioned Steve Harvey on Family Feud and his deliberate caricature of black speech patterns and physical mannerisms when he has a black family as one of the contestant groups. He falls into a broad black vernacular, rolls his eyes like Steppin Fetchit, and glad hands the young black males in intricate high-low-in-between fives. Young impressionable blacks will watch him do it and take it as acceptable, and he’s doing them a grave disservice by perpetuating those very stereotypes that most whites as well as most blacks object to. And now I see Jennifer Hudson on The Voice doing the same thing. One minute she’s this refined woman who sings like an angel and acts like an Oscar winner (which she is). And then she resorts to a stereotypical woman doing the Steve Harvey moves. Too many of the black NFL color commentators on television do the same. Too many in the music industry do the same, especially black rappers. They seem to want to continue a black fraternal order that bans whites but they also want to protest what they consider racial discrimination. Just look at the blacks who wouldn’t be caught dead playing the black card—Michael Strayhan, Mike Tiriko, Larry Fitzgerald, Michelle and Barack Obama, and the list could go on and on. I do believe that we should all cherish our racial and ethnic identities but that we shouldn’t display them when the outcome might be detrimental.

Wiley, I love you. This Sunday you did it again, humorously take a swipe at Trump and his adoring fan club. "Knowledge just ruins everything."

Saturday, October 7

Mini Television Reviews

In the old days, when television was limited to only three channels (CBS, NBC, ABC), the various series almost all had a main season of about 28 episodes shown from early fall to late spring. Then we had the re-run season through the summer, during which the networks could also introduce a few new shows to see how they’d fare. All shows were pretty easy to keep track of. I mean, three networks with a limited number of shows that didn’t require half our waking hours for viewing? We actually had a life outside of television. Not so today.

There are now hundreds of channels all vying for our attention, and there are no longer any discernable seasons. A season for some may involve only ten or twelve episodes, and some, called mini-series, might have as few as three and as many as six episodes. Now, quite a few shows actually adhere to a schedule that begins in late fall and goes for a varying number of episodes before calling it quits for a while. And that’s sort of where we are now.

Although I don’t watch everything on the tube (Who could? You’d need to have a hundred pairs of eyes to come even close to seeing everything.), I watch what tickles my fancy and skip what doesn’t, even though many go on to successful runs without me. I think of The Last Ship, How to Get Away with Murder, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Black List, Empire, and This Is Us, to name only a few. I regret not watching This Is Us because most of the reviewers thought it was the best show of the year, but I missed the first half of Season One and decided I didn’t want to play catch up.

Now I’d like to write some mini-reviews of the new shows I like, the new shows I’ve rejected, and the new shows about which I haven’t yet decided.

The Good Doctor is an interesting examination of an autistic savant, in this case the young Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore. He’s been admitted to the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital as a surgical resident, supported by his mentor Dr. Aaron Glassman and opposed by nearly everyone else on the staff. The first two episodes show him at his savanty genius best, saving several lives when others have misdiagnosed them. The only problem I have with this show and Freddie Highmore is that I can’t help but remember Highmore as the strange boy Norman Bates in The Bates Motel. So, part of me sees him as Norman, making me cringe at what a Norman Bates might do in a large hospital. But I hope soon to get over that disconcerting reminder. I’d rate this show four out of five stars.

The Orville, Seth McFarland’s send-up of the many Star Trek shows and all the Trekkie fans, is surprisingly good. It’s supposed to be a parody of Star Trek, laughing at all the technology and alien oddballs we first saw on the original series. But the laughs aren’t as slapstick as in normal parody, and the science fictional technology is more interesting than laughable (Warp Drives, teleportation, limb regeneration, black holes and worm holes). Four stars.

The Brave and Seal Team could pass as twins as both tackle the problems we face in our battles with ISIS, both shows almost exactly like what we saw in Zero Dark Thirty. Both were exciting, interesting, action-packed and worth watching. Both four stars.

Then there are the ones I’m not going to watch: Me, Myself, and I, Will and Grace, 9JKL, Young Sheldon, Better Things, and Law and Order: True Crime. Will and Grace isn’t nearly as funny as the original, relying pretty much on the same shtick as what we saw then, not so funny now. Young Sheldon is okay, but I think I get enough of Sheldon on Big Bang and don’t need a junior version.

Here are my undecideds: Wisdom of the Crowd, Ten Days in the Valley, The Gifted, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Liar, and The Deuce.

With the newbies and all the oldies I enjoy, I think I have enough to watch without spending half my waking hours viewing them (maybe only a quarter).

Thursday, October 5

Gun Control

After what happened in Las Vegas last Monday, anything I say with even a hint of humor would be totally inappropriate. There’s enough negative news these days that I can easily find one to write about. Yeah, gun control.
We’re back to the battle of the guns and how to control them. The Second Amendment was first adopted at a time in our nation when we needed an armed citizenry to protect our borders. And now, 226 years later, we have a powerful military to shield us from invaders. Our Founding Fathers wrote this amendment so that our citizenry would have guns to protect themselves and our nation from invaders. Gun ownership now should depend on our legitimate uses of them and not on our need for national defense—hunting, target shooting, and the unlikely need for self-protection. Let’s face it, the odds are greater that we’ll be struck by lightning or crushed in an avalanche than by bumping into someone who wants to do us bodily harm. Does anyone need an AK47 for hunting or target shooting? What kind of game would we be hunting with a “nearly” full-automatic rifle? A herd of dinosaurs? A flight of pterodactyls? And what sort of target would we fire at to prove our marksmanship? A thousand beer bottles strewn over the ground a thousand yards ahead? A target with a diameter of a hundred feet for us to shred? As a precaution against personal danger, an AK47 would be too large to carry in one’s pocket. A hand gun would be more practical. And why would we need an inexpensive bump stock ($100 to $300) to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a killing machine capable of spraying out bullets at a rate of 9 per second? In the time Usain Bolt runs the hundred meter dash, a psychotic gunman could get off 90 shots. Slide Fire, one of the companies that make and sell bump stocks, says in its promotional literature, “The command and control behind the Slide Fire stock will create an exhilarating experience that keeps you smiling for days.” Whoa! Is that ever a scary image. Some whack job goes to the range and gets an “exhilarating experience” that has him “smiling for days.” Is that how Stephen Paddock felt up in that room high above the concert crowd, exhilarated and happy? He owned at least 47 guns and had more than twenty with him on Monday night. NRA members all over the country must be applauding that his rights of gun ownership weren’t infringed upon. I think the first step toward slowing and then halting mass murder would be to outlaw the weapons used in mass murders like what we saw in Las Vegas three days ago.

Tuesday, September 26

Stand or Kneel?

I’m not sure where I stand or don’t stand on the stand-or-kneel question now in the news. It’s a little like the eyes-down-and-closed or the eyes-up-and-open, the kneel or stand, when we’re asked to pray or recite the Lord’s Prayer in a church. Personally, I think it’s a matter of personal choice. If I choose to keep my eyes open or choose not to kneel, should it be sinful enough that God would say, “Kick the son-of-a-bitch out!” No. God is too dignified to do that. And if NFL players and coaches choose to kneel or stand with locked arms during the playing of the national anthem, is it so disrespectful of our country and flag that our president shouts to an assembly in Alabama, referring to Colin Kaepernick, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!” It seems to me that Donald Trump is being disrespectful of his role as president of the United States when he uses such unpresidential and divisive language and, in turn, disrespectful of our nation’s First Amendment rights of free speech. Granted, he has the same right to say what he said, but not when he’s the leader of our country, not when we and the rest of the world need a leader who can bring the world together with his dignity and leadership. “Dignity,” now there’s a word that simply doesn’t apply to Donald Trump. The people of this country need to get together to fire him, get him off the field before he brings down the flag, the national anthem, the country, and the world. There. I guess I really do know where I stand on the question. I guess I’ll kneel.

Sunday, September 24

Facebook & Some Not Nice News

Facebook is a useful place for finding and reconnecting with old friends, but it can also be a place where you reveal to anyone and everyone more about yourself than you should. And your words are there forever, uneraseably stored in one of those mysterious clouds above. Emily Dickinson, over a century and a half ago, wrote about the dangers of being too public—too many deplorables in the bog, pretending admiration. Remember, all you Facebookers, the whole world is watching. Emily, in 1861, wrote, “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody—Too? / Then there’s a pair of us. / Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know! / How dreary—to be—Somebody! / How public—like a Frog-- / To tell one’s name—the livelong June— / To an admiring Bog!”

Not Nice News:

Puerto Rico looks like an island ravaged by war, where bombs and artillery leveled cities and countrysides. But the war was a mean lady called Maria. And the same amount of rebuilding will be required as that of the bombed-out European cities in WWII or the Iraqi cities Mosul and Fallujah. The news reports that power on the island won’t be restored for three to six months. In this day and age, how do nearly three million residents exist for that long without power?

In the next century (maybe even sooner), the oceans will rise by six to nine meters as polar ice caps melt faster and faster. What will happen to coastal cities and low-elevation islands when the seas rise that much? The world’s heaviest populations are located in coastal cities. Millions and millions of people will have to relocate inland and upward. Low-level islands will disappear. What happens to Japan, Ireland, England, Polynesia, the Philippines, Guam, the Caribbean islands? And what can we do to slow or reverse this trend? Stop all industries from using carbon-fossil fuels for power, acknowledge that we’re to blame for this dramatic climate change.

Last Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was struck in the head by a foul ball liner going 105 mph. Yankee third baseman Todd Frazier hit it and when he saw what had happened, he bowed his head hoping it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. And the girl is recovering. But this incident once again shows us the dangers of close stands along the foul lines, especially if one isn’t paying attention, especially if one is too young to get out of the way. There will probably be more plans by all stadiums to extend the netting farther down both lines. Breakable bats is another danger for the fan. A bat can act like a spear when it flies like a helicopter into the stands. Solution? That’s easy. Require unbreakable bats, aluminum or something equally light, just like they use in colleges. Batters would complain that the feel isn’t the same. But that’s tough, boys. Just do it, commissioner.

Another comment in my feud with the NRA and gun owners: According to Wikipedia, the U.S. leads all nations in the number of guns legally owned 101 guns 100 people, or one per person. It goes on to point out that only one in three households have guns, which means that those household have an average of three guns. Wow, that’s a lot of guns. Is there a true need for that many? The next closest to us is Serbia with 58.21. Tunisia has the fewest at 0.1 guns per 100 residents, or about one gun per thousand people. Also according to Wikipedia, over thirty thousand deaths happen by firearms in the U.S.—about 20,000 suicides, 11,000 homicides, and 500 accidents. Okay, the suicides would probably find another way if they couldn’t find a gun; the homicides could be reduced by stricter laws about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun; and the accidental deaths would go down to zero. I think the numbers make a resounding case for stricter laws.

Friday, September 22

Whistling

I wonder what ever happened to the art of whistling. I don’t mean whistling for your dog or calling for a taxi or the two-finger version to applaud or get someone’s attention. I mean whistling a song, whistling as with an invisible musical instrument, played with the lips like an absent harmonica. In the old old days we didn’t have IPads and IPods and Smart phones to provide us with music as we worked or walked, so we had to provide it for ourselves. I guess humming and singing softly to oneself are also activities of the past. When I was a young man of ten or twelve, I whistled all the time. Or so my older sister would have me believe. She always called me Elmo when she heard me tootling away. I only learned what she meant when I was in high school and one of the top-ten songs was “Heartaches,” whistled by Elmo Tanner, a member of the Ted Weems band. I’m not sure if girls whistled back then or if it was forbidden because it was too un-feminine. Back then, boys and girls weren’t allowed to swear or mention bodily functions or talk back to parents or skip school or stay out after the ten o’clock curfew whistle sounded on the village siren—just one up-and-down alarm for the curfew. It was a continuous alarm for fires and a single whistle for blizzardy mornings to tell us we didn’t have school that day. Oh, the joy of hearing that whistle. It almost made me want to whistle when I heard it, but usually I just went back to sleep. We did lots of things back then, and had lots of things forbidden to do. Back then we all remained in our strictly delineated boy and girl roles, even though we may have wanted to escape. Just as those barriers have now dissolved (the lines between boy and girl, man and woman), so too has the art of whistling disappeared. In the arts, the three most memorable mentions of whistling are Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio telling us, “When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong, give a little whistle, give a little whistle! Not just a little squeak, just pucker up and blow”; Anna when in Siam singing, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid”; and that most famous of all, Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not telling Humphrey Bogart, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Everyone in the theater knew she was talking about something other than whistling, but back then we weren’t allowed to mention it. Now, in a world that keeps getting more and more confusing led by a man who keeps getting more and more confusing, I think we should all take up the lost art of whistling. Just pucker up and blow.

Wednesday, September 20

The Browning of America, Part II

A long time ago (January 2013) I wrote a blog entitled "The Browning of America." It seems to be even more relevant today than back then, so I'm going to post it again. In 2017 we have more divisiveness about skin color and racial and ethnic identity than ever before. Under the Trump administration we are seeing more and more groups actively promoting racial separation, whites separate from blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, or any combination thereof. How fruitless. They should surrender to the inevitable--We really will become that melting pot envisioned so many years ago, the national race which is a combination of all those races who have immigrated to this country, all of us some shade of brown, all of us Americans. What I'm saying will offend a lot of people but soon enough we'll see their passing and a more liberal generation will replace them. Can't be soon enough as far as I'm concerned. Here is what I said four and a half years ago:

A bit of news last year that most people didn’t notice or didn’t acknowledge. As of May 19, 2012, in this country there were more babies (under 1 year) of color than white. The media called it “The Browning of America,” a label that says a lot about the future of our country. Demographers also predict that by 2042 we will have no ethnic majority, just a majority of brown-skinned folks of mixed ethnic backgrounds. I remember reading something by Phillip Wylie half a century ago in which he said he looked forward to the day when we’re all a little tan. Well, fifty years later he’d be happy to see his wish coming true. Since our very beginning, the U. S. has been known as the melting pot, meaning we were a nation of immigrants amalgamated into one new nationality. Well, now we’re seeing us as a melting pot of ethnic diversity, a mixture of races too diverse to be labeled. Amazing that as recently as 1967 there were still anti-miscegenation laws in most of our Southern states. What idiocy. One of my nieces, as pale as virgin snow, married a man as black as Columbian coffee. And they have a lovely daughter who is latte tan. She will grow up in a society that no longer looks askance at children of mixed ethnicity, may even marry someone also mixed and have children even more mixed. And who will care? I hope no one. Tiger Woods has described himself as Cablinasian, a mixture of Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian. But we don’t need to invent new labels to describe ourselves. I look forward to the time when we no longer need labels for anything—not our religious preference, not our political persuasion, not our ethnic makeup. Especially not our ethnic makeup.

Tuesday, September 19

Happy Valley & Bits of News

Classmates, friends, fellow Gamesters, Doggy Dog followers,

Just after my extended stay in the hospital and another extension being pretty much confined to my home, I finally finished a book I’d begun over ten years ago. It’s a story about a retiree living in a place very much like Sun City West. I’d love to have anyone who might be interested to buy it at Amazon, either as a Kindle e-book ($1.99) or a paperback ($10.00). If and when you read it, would you write a brief review of it for Amazon, giving it as many stars as you think it deserves? I’d be thankful even if you rated it only one star. What the hell, one star is better than a pitch black night with no stars. Here’s where you can go, Happy Valley on Amazon.

What’s newsworthy lately?

The Arizona Cardinals played what I consider the ugliest NFL game I’ve ever seen when they beat the Colts last Sunday. This might prove to be a very long and ugly season for the Cardinals. Or maybe it was just a temporary aberration and next week they’ll play great against the hated Cowboys. We’ll see. It’s really too early to leap off the Cardinal bandwagon.

Our president is still at it, trying to insult and bully as many people and nations as he can—the “Rocket Man” tweet about Kim Jong-un , the comment to the UN General Assembly about making the UN great but not great again, his continued denial that we are responsible for the climate changes now hitting the world with hurricane force, his fight with what he calls the “fake news” on MSNBC and the “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mike Brzezinski, the fake news on CNN and in the N.Y. Times and the Washington Post, his continual assault on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And it goes on. And it will go on for as long as he’s president.

The opioids epidemic, the thousands dying from overdoses. I guess I’m confused by all of it. How many of the thousands are accidental, how many purposeful? If it’s accidental, why do that many people feel a need for lethal doses of the drug? If it’s purposeful, why do we need to keep people from taking their own lives by whatever means they choose? In a world fast approaching seven billion population, we don’t need to keep people alive against their will. I’m confused. If, for whatever my reason, I want to take my own life, why should it be anyone else’s business? Allow me to define my own life and death.

That’s enough tough questions for the day. Maybe I’ll come up with a few others for tomorrow.


Thursday, September 14

9-11, Practical Jokes, & Telephone Peeves

I wrote this blog several days ago and never got a chance to post it because I had temporarily lost my internet connection. So I hope my mention of 9/11 doesn’t confuse you.

Time has a way of speeding up for me. What seems like something happening only a week or so ago is really almost a month. We get our cats nails clipped when they need it and keep track of the cutting dates. Tiger jumped up on my arm this morning and, naturally, drew blood. But it told me we were probably behind in our schedule. Sure enough, it had been seven weeks since they were last there. Seven weeks and it seemed to me to be only two or three weeks. Same thing is true about this day. Sixteen years ago today the Twin Towers in New York were brought down by terrorist cowards. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but there it is—sixteen years. Lest we forget. Lest we forget. I read in the paper this morning a letter suggesting that September 11 be designated a national day of mourning. I think that’s a splendid idea. We never ever want to forget what happened to us on that fatal day sixteen years ago. It would be nice to have a reminder on our calendars to prevent our ever forgetting.

I recently got a letter from the Arizona Dept. of Transportation about renewing our golf cart license. I wrote them a check, folded the return form along its length, and then discovered that the return envelope was about half an inch too short for the form. So I cut it down to make it fit. And when I moistened the return flap to seal the form and check, the glue didn’t work or was never there in the first place. I could imagine someone in charge of printing forms and envelopes laughing their butts off as they pictured all those recipients trying vainly to make the form fit the envelope, trying vainly to make the flap stick. Okay, so it wasn’t intended as a practical joke, but how much it epitomizes too many of our faceless agencies that can’t do much of anything without screwing things up. A long time ago, when I was in the army, we had a word for it—SNAFU—situation normal, all fucked up. It’s like the Catch-22 “put on hold” that fills our ears with noxious hold music and messages we patiently listen to for twenty or thirty minutes until we get a busy signal and a computer voice telling us, “Your call could not be completed. Please hang up and try again.” GRRR! We seem to have a growing number of snafus in our society today, of which the biggest of all is sitting in the White House. How appropriate for one who loves to blow his own horn that it be a trumpet. Too bad he never learned to play it with a mute.

Another joke of some kind, either practical or unintentional. We just switched out TV, internet, and land-line phone bundle from Dish Network to Direct TV. One of my obligations was to wait for the UPS delivery of a shipping container for returning all of the Dish hardware. The shipping stuff arrived, one small box for the modem and connecting lines, power line, and two phone filters; and one large box for DVR’s, remote controls, and the hardware attached to the outside dish. The directions for packing were extremely specific, showing me exactly where to put each piece in the bottom and top plastic shelves. The box was about 2’ x 3’ x 1’. Most of the equipment went easily into the designated places. But when I tried to pack the LNBF (whatever that is), there was no way for it to fit in the place they said it should go. No way. I fought it for longer than it deserved and then finally cut the hard plastic form to make room for the piece. I’m a reasonably intelligent man who can usually follow instructions for assembling desks and tables and dressers even though the instructions were probably written by someone in a furniture plant outside of Beijing. Someone in the Dish corporation had to be doing a number on customers who bail on them.

And while I’m at it on pet peeves, let’s go back to the phone. Many of us today often need help with one or the other of our digital devices. So we call for technical support. Let’s say you have a problem with your internet connection. The first number you dial gets you to a gigantic answering service located somewhere far far away. You wade through menu after menu of computerized voices telling you where to go. Finally, you hear a human voice. You then go through the ritual explanation of who you are, where you are, and why you’re calling. The live human tells you he/she must transfer you to the department that handles such problems. Hold. “Dum de dum de dum,” you hum for ten minutes until another human voice comes on the line. Again, the ritualized giving of information. Again the need to transfer you to another department. Again, the hold. Again, the new voice asking for the same identifying information. And then, finally, after several hours, you get an answer to your question. Nearly every human voice you’ve worked through speaks too fast or in too heavy a dialect for easy understanding. I’m always left wondering why so many of our technical support experts are from another country, mainly India. Are there no Americans who could do tech support or are we all too stupid?


Tuesday, August 29

Hurricane Harvey, Whitney Houston, Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump

Houston and surrounding areas just received a near-knockout blow from Hurricane Harvey. I say “near-knockout” because these areas will be rebuilt just as they were when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans twelve years ago, at a cost of well over one hundred billion. Harvey will be even more expensive. But the size and intensity of Harvey should be a red flag to those who still deny our responsibility for climate change. Fifty inches of rain. My mind can’t grasp the enormity of that much rainfall in only two or three days. It would be like having lakes and lakes of water pour down on your head, not in drops, but in solid lakes of water. Yes. We’re now seeing and will continue to see ever more horrific evidence of nature and our environment gone awry—category 4 hurricanes like Harvey, drought conditions in the Southwest, flooding and mudslides in California, the increasing number of tornadoes, forest fires too large to contain, ice sheets at both poles shrinking as chunks the size of Vermont break off and drift away, the rising ocean levels as these icebergs melt, leaving coastal communities that must sometime in the future pull back and rebuild. And Trump wants to build a wall and have us go back to using coal as a power source.

And now an awkward segue from one Houston to another. Last week Showtime presented Whitney: Can I Be Me, a Whitney Houston retrospective that was heart-rending but wonderful as we watched the rise and fall of this beautiful woman with the voice of an angel. Her rise to fame was spectacular; her fall from grace by drugs and alcohol was tragic. I still can’t understand how the makers of this film were able to find so many bits and pieces of her life on film and then put them all together in a fair but understandable way. If you missed seeing it, too bad. You missed a good one.

Another awkward segue—this time from Houston to Trump. But then, any move in Trump’s direction would be awkward. Last weekend he was in Phoenix, when, sometime in the course of his eighty-minute pep rally, he hinted at his pardon of his good friend, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for the crimes Arpaio had committed in his dealings with the Arizona Latino community. Joe Arpaio had been unfairly treated, he told his audience. Everybody in Arizona loves Sheriff Joe. He doesn’t deserve to be convicted, Trump insisted, even though Arpaio had already been found guilty of disregarding a court order to stop racial profiling. A loose estimate of what Arpaio has already cost the state in legal fees and judgements against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office comes to about 83 million. Yes, that’s an 83 followed by six zeroes. And now, guess what, he is sending out appeals for donations to help him pay for his recent legal fees. Oh, the temerity, the hutzpah of the man. Why doesn’t he just go to his good old “birther” buddy Donald Trump and ask him to pay these legal fees? What do you suppose the Donald would say to him? “Sorry, Joe. We might be good buddies but I can’t start giving out my good money to every Tom, Dick, . . . and Joe who asks.”

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