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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, 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 per capita: 112.6 guns per person. 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 person. I guess one tenth of a gun would make it like a bb gun. 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.”

Thursday, August 24

Trump in Arizona

The big eclipse is now in the rear-view mirror and I can get back to Trump-baiting. I’m surprised he didn’t lay claim to this solar phenomenon. You know, “The sun rises and sets on me and my accomplishments, so I must also be able to tell it when to shut itself off.” He was in Phoenix three nights ago and delivered an awkward, megalomaniacal eighty-minute speech during which he repeated many of his campaign promises without ever explaining where the money would come from to accomplish these grandiose plans. It was a speech filled with the typical adjectives and adverbs he loves—“splendid,” “great,” wonderful,” “very” to name only a few—filled with the thumb-index finger gestures he too often uses. He completely ignores the polls that show him with a 75% disapproval rating. Only the hardest of his hard-core backers are still with him. And, once again, he stirred the pot of divisiveness. I had originally intended this to be the opening section to a letter I was writing to a friend, and then it turned into another of my Trump tirades. So,I thought I might as well stick it in here, stick it to Trump, stick it somewhere. It's impossible for me to ignore what he's saying and doing and what others are saying about him. I guess that might qualify as one of my obsessions. The man is like a giant scab I can’t stop picking.

Monday, August 21

Solar Eclipse & the Solheim Cup

My wife and I must be cut from different cloth than most. We watched CNN this morning for coverage of the total eclipse and heard about all the people from around the world who had converged on the U.S. for a spot on that 7—mile–wide band from West Coast to East where the eclipse was total. Australia and Ireland were two such lands of travelers who came to experience that two-and-a-half minutes. That’s a lotta miles and a buncha bucks. Their buckets lists must be quite a bit different than ours. Neither of us would even consider traveling thousands of miles and spending a good chunk of our earnings for an experience lasting less than three minutes. A three-minute orgasm, maybe, but not a three-minute view of the darkened sun. Maybe if it helped save my life as it did for Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I vaguely remember reading this Twain novel about a modern man being transported back in time where he was about to be executed. But then—miracle of miracles—he remembered that on that very date and time, the earth would experience a total solar eclipse. So he did a little mumbo jumbo like he was an all-powerful Oz who could extinguish the sun and when the sun seemed to be disappearing his executioners fell down in awe at this magic. Twain was stretching the laws of probability about as far as they could go, but this was Twain and Twain could do no wrong. Connecticut Yankee isn’t even close to as good as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but this little science-fictiony experiment with time travel is sort of fun to read.

I spent most of my weekend watching—what else?—golf. It was time for the LPGA’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup in which the American ladies are matched against the European ladies. Their format is exactly the same as that of the men—morning foursomes and afternoon four-balls on Friday and Saturday, then twelve singles matches on Sunday. Foursomes are when a team of two hit alternate shots until it’s holed; four-ball matches are when each twosome plays their own ball with the best score on each hole counting. So, on Friday and Saturday they’re playing for sixteen points, and on Sunday for twelve points. To win the cup a team needs at least fourteen and a half points. They were playing in Iowa at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club. Beautiful course, gorgeous weather, colorful outfits on lots of the spectators, really beautiful outfits for the American women to wear. And all who were watching were treated to some of the best golf in the history of the game. The Americans won 16½ to 11½ but that was almost incidental. The ladies on both sides kept hitting ever more sensational shots, sinking ever more putts in clutch situations. I’m a big fan of Lexi Thompson and she didn’t let me down. In her singles match against Anna Nordqvist, she pretty much stunk it up in the first nine holes, losing the first four holes and still down by four when they finished the front. Then—WHAM!—a switch turned on and she won the first four holes on the back, with the killer shot on one of the par-5s. Nordqvist was already on the green with a near kick-in putt for birdie. Then Lexi hit her third from wedge range . . . and knocked it in the cup to win the hole and completely switch the momentum over to her and the rest of the U.S. team. The whole weekend was exciting with both teams playing very good golf. Now I can’t wait to see what they do in 2019 when they play it in Europe.

Friday, August 18

Trump & America's Got Talent

Well, he’s no longer the buffoon that late-night hosts make fun of, no longer just the insensitive misogynist, no longer the leader who leads only himself. Now we see him as dangerous . . . and frightening. This is the man who refuses to take advice from his advisers. This is the man with his finger on the button that could start a war that might destroy the earth. Leaders around the world must find him as frightening as we now should. People of all countries must wonder how we could have chosen this man to be our president. What were we thinking? We now see him in light of his core supporters, the alt-right racists and white supremacists, the resurgent KKKers, the separatists who, if they can’t annihilate all non-whites, would like to have separate regions where they could get away from them. This is the Donald Trump whom we elected. And we should now find some way to get him out and get him out quickly. Let the impeachment proceedings begin.

This year’s America’s Got Talent has an unusual group of contestants. Last night, seven of the twelve made it to the semi-finals, and I’m satisfied with most of them, but not all. The best of the lot was Darci Lynne Farmer with her singing mouse Oscar. I remember Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. The bits were funny but the ventriloquism wasn’t very good. Bergen’s mouth was flapping all over the place. Then there was Sharri Lewis and Lambchops. Lewis was very good. Well, Darci Lynne Farmer is every bit as good and she’d only thirteen. Also going through are Angelica Hale, the tiny singer with the big voice; othe brother/sister skating daredevils, Billy and Emily England; the Air Force acapella singing group "In the Stairwell"; the standup comedian Preacher Lawson; the young singer Christian Guardino; and Yoli Mayor, the singer that Simon has sort of taken under his wing, praising her voice for more than is really there. I guess I’m saying that I don’t think she should be in the semis. And the skaters will go by the board next time. I mean, what can they do that’s anything different than what they’ve already done? And we will have seen the last of the Air Force group. They’ve flown as far as they can. It's a fun show that gets us us through to this falls new shows.

Tuesday, August 15

Kidnap & Spitting

Well, now I know at least one person I’d never want to piss off—Halle Berry, the mother whose son was abducted in Kidnap. She screams near the end of the movie, “You took the wrong woman’s son!” and oh my, did they ever find it out the hard way. There’s not much so say about this relatively forgettable movie: 1. Don’t screw with Halle. 2. Despite the near-record number of holes in the logic of the plot, it was a fun ride along with Halle as she pursues her son’s kidnappers. 3. Halle Berry, even covered in her own blood, is still one of the most beautiful women in the world. Was it worth seeing? Yes, even if only to watch Halle Berry in action for almost two hours. Would you need to feel bad if you missed it? No.

I’ve already expressed my thoughts on the expectorating in modern sports (5/26/2011 & 2/20/2012), most obvious in baseball, a habit which seems to be an extension of the old days when nearly all ball players had a “chaw” in the cleek. “Expectorating” is the nice word for “spitting.” Some spitting is more acceptable or less disgusting than other spitting. Most of the major league baseball players who still spit aren’t as disgusting as someone who snorts vigorously and then spews a big green blob on the ground for all the world to see and shudder at. I rank it right up there with those who do the handkerchiefless nose blow with tilted head and finger holding one nostril closed while the other exudes the snot, then the reverse. It’s almost as bad as a public defecation. I went on to say that most sports don’t have any spitting—basketball (Where would one do it?), football (Well, maybe in the chaos of a gang tackle but the viewers don’t see it.), tennis (too genteel a sport for such behavior), hockey (You’d think a sport called “hockey” would allow hocking on the ice but the players are much too busy beating each other bloody to take time out To hock a big one), soccer (Maybe, but the players are all too far away for us to see any spit flying.), golf (Nah, it’s a gentleman’s sport and gentlemen don’t spit. Or do they?). After this this past weekend’s PGA Championship, I have to revise my views on golf. Quite a few of the young guns were seen on camera letting loose a streak of saliva, Justin Thomas, the winner, the most obvious. Why, why, why wouldn’t a friend or relative watching on tv tell him that the cameras follow the front runners in vivid close-ups? Why wouldn’t someone tell him it looks bad, so very inelegant? I’m sorry to say that Tiger may have opened this can of worms, and the young guys today think if Tiger can do it, then they can too. Anyway, Justin Thomas, congrats on your gutsy win. But please, in the future, keep the saliva inside.

Saturday, August 12

Science Fiction Reality & Memory

I seem to be living in a science fiction novel. Too many of the dystopian elements in science fiction are now happening. Our amateur president, Donald Trump, may have the world in a Doctor Strangelove or Fail Safe situation with his braggadocio and saber-rattling for the idiot in North Korea, Kim Jong-un. A disastrous war is one thing to make me shiver, but I also felt a Big Brother shiver when I read that some companies are considering implanting microchips in their employees’ hands, thus doing away with keys or identification protocols within the companies. That at first sounds like an innocent reason, but it also smacks of Orwellian possibilities. Would employees agree to this in fear of losing their jobs? And what would this lead to? Tiny GPS chips to show their locations 24/7? Chips that could hear and record their every conversation? Whoa! I just felt another shiver. I also read an article about Amazon’s Echo with Alexa to do our bidding and answer all our questions. The article went on to suggest that Alexa may also be listening to, recording, and evaluating our conversations. This business giant Amazon already keeps track of our on-line purchases and searches and automatically dangles similar items when we visit the Amazon site, hoping to tempt us into buying their wares. Many of the futuristic predictions that science fiction writers envisioned have already come true or will be true in the near future. Houses that take care of themselves was seen in Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Artificial intelligence, robots, and androids were seen in Asimov’s I Robot. The dangers of overpopulation were seen in Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!” which was later made into the movie Soylent Green. Our reliance on mood-altering drugs was seen in Huxley’s Brave New World. And all these scientific and technological advances (or maybe “regressions”) have happened in my lifetime. I can’t even imagine what other mind-blowing things might be here in the next five or six years. Yeah, we’re all living in a science fiction novel.

I’m now old enough to be worried about dementia and Alzheimer’s, probably the ugliest way to slide down that slope toward death, to remain alive but totally without memory or even physical abilities. So far, I haven’t experienced too many memory lapses, although I do every now and then lose a word or an old friend’s name or the title of one of my favorite movies. Usually, after a head shake or two, it comes back to me. And sometimes I have to search on-line for an answer. Thank you, Wikipedia and IMDb. One of my check points is to see how often I can remember the name of the classical composer of the music that was used for the Broadway musical Kismet. It was Alexander Borodin. I keep it in my memory for that time when it comes up on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, that bit of trivia that will astound my wife and any friends who may be around. Remembering the lyrics to the songs of my youth is another way to test my memory. One curious aspect of the way the mind and the memory works is that in a semi-asleep state, my memory is much clearer than during the light of day. I wonder if that means I’d be better off in a slight daze during the day. My wife might say that’s a usual state for me.

Wednesday, August 9

The Big Sick

I’ve been wrestling with my reactions to a movie I saw recently. Why am I wrestling, you ask. I’m reacting two ways, one extremely positive and the other just confused. I’ll give you my positive review first and then try to explain why I’m confused and conflicted.

What a delightful film. The Big Sick should have been called The Big Love because it was more about the inexact nature of love than the oddity of life-threatening bacteria. If what I just said makes no sense to you, you’ll just have to go see this movie to get my point. Love is like quick silver, so brilliantly attractive yet so hard to pin down. Kumail Nanjiani is a standup comedian who just happens to be Pakistiani. Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan) is in the audience at the Chicago comedy club where Kumail performs his five-minute routine at the mike. During his set she lets out an exuberant “Yahoo!” to which Kumail responds by telling her how rude it is to heckle a comedian. She tells him that she meant it as a positive reaction to his humor. He goes on to say that even a positive reaction during the piece is still heckling and rude. Later, he approaches her at the bar and they continue this good-natured banter, after which they end up in his bed. I guess I’m still not in tune with this generation’s sexual freedom. It seems like young people who meet in a bar just automatically end up in bed. No big deal. Just a bang that may or may not lead to a second or third bang. This one has multiple bangs with both Kumail and Emily suggesting that it probably won’t continue. But it does. The problem is that Kumail’s Pakistani parents are devout Islamists who would never approve of a non-Muslim, non-Pakistani girl for their son. At their dinners, they keep inviting drop-in visits from a variety of eligible young Pakistani women for Kumail to choose from. But Kumail keeps telling them he isn’t interested in any of them and deposits their pictures into a cigar box he calls his X-files. When Emily finally realizes that she will never be acceptable to Kumail’s parents, she breaks off their budding relationship. Okay, that’s the setup for an obvious conclusion. But it’s the way they get to that conclusion that’s so delightful. I fell in love with these two characters. The humor was subdued and clever and the audience’s reaction was unanimously good. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents who finally accept Kumail as the right man for their daughter. A really excellent film with the four lead roles all excellent. I give it six stars out of five. Go see it.

A day later, I read a few reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and discovered that Kumail Nanjiani was a real person playing the lead role, and that Emily really was his wife in both film and reality. The script was written by them, basing the story on their real romance. And that’s when I became conflicted. My delight at what I thought was a fictional romance lost some of its luster when I found that it was real. I guess I like romance in novels, plays, and film to be fictional, where the loving couple ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. However, I know that true, lasting love and affection in real life is a rarity. I want Kumail and Emily’s love to last forever, but the odds against that are about a hundred to one. I don’t want to read in a few years that they’re getting a divorce. A real life breakup of these two would break my heart. The couple in the film will never get a divorce because their story ends on that “happily ever after” curtain.

As I said earlier, love is such an elusive animal. All too often in real life it doesn’t last a lifetime. But just look at all the films where two people find their love by movie’s end and how good it made the audiences feel to see this romantic connection and not have to suffer through a later disconnection: An Affair to Remember, Gone with the Wind, Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Apartment, Pride and Prejudice. And the list goes on and on. Now you can add The Big Sick to that list.

Wednesday, August 2

Saturday Night Fever

I’m pleased to report that Saturday Night Fever was much better than I’d anticipated. The dancing was almost non-stop, the main vocalists were all excellent, the staging, as always, was surprisingly complex. The meal was, also as always, excellent. The young man who played Tony Manero was a hunk who looked so much like John Travolta he could do a creditable impression. The young woman who played Stephanie Mangano was a slender looker who could dance and sing as well as anyone on Broadway. The Bee Gees music was a nice reminder of the kind of music we listened to in the seventies. Before the curtain to Act I, we were entertained by disco music on the speakers. I’d forgotten how that disco beat can make a listener shoulder-dance to the music without even being aware of the movement. We were all doing the shoulder move as we conversed over cocktails. A young audience (and that would be anyone born after 1970) wouldn’t even know what disco was, would probably have never heard of the Bee Gees, wouldn’t have a clue who John Travolta was unless they were fans of Pulp Fiction. But my wife and I and the couple we were with were taken back those forty years to the days of the Disco with its addictive beat, the spinning disco ball overhead, and the music of Donna Summers, the Bee Gees, The Village People, and Michael Jackson.


Tuesday, August 1

TV Sports & Saturday Night Fever

I know, I know. It’s just too soon to be making football noises, but the Cardinals are playing the Cowboys this Thursday in the Hall of Fame game that always kicks off a new season. It will be a totally meaningless game as are most of the exhibition games, this one even more meaningless than the others. I and millions of other rabid fans, however, will be watching it as though the fate of the universe hangs on the outcome. Without televised sports, my life would be unbearably dull. Right now I have baseball and almost too much golf, and soon the start of NFL and college football. The golf coming up includes the PGA, the President's Cup, the Solheim Cup, and all the tournaments leading up to the FedEx Cup finale for the men. The LPGA has the women’s Open this weekend, the final major of the year with the Evian Championship in France, and their parallel to the FedEx for the men, the CME Group Tournament Championship. That’s a lotta golf. Will I be watching most of it? You bet. And if I run out of golf, baseball, or football, I can still catch U.S. Open tennis. I never played tennis but I find that it’s a very watchable sport. And now that I understand what’s going on, I’ll even watch the soccer matches leading to the World Cup. About the only things I won’t watch are auto racing and hockey. Hockey seems to move too fast for me to know what’s going on and auto racing still defies my understanding why so many people think this is a good spectator sport. And millions of auto racing fans would just love to slap me down with their reasons for watching it. Ah well, to each his own. They probably wouldn’t be golf fans either.

Tonight we’re going to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see Saturday Night Fever. We’ll be back to the Disco era and the Bee Gees with their “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” And no, Travolta won’t be starring but I’m betting the choreography will be great. This won’t be even close to one of my favorite musicals but the food will be good and their production of this show will be excellent. Every season seems to conclude with two or three shows that aren’t very good. It’s a matter of how much the booking cost is. Season thirteen opens with Man of La Mancha and South Pacific, two biggies that probably cost quite a bit to book.But Saturday Night Fever will hold me over until next season.

Saturday, July 29

Gray Skies, Dark Thoughts

In an earlier blog post, I said that I was running out of topics. So much can still be said about Donald Trump, but others are saying it better than I can. I’d just be repeating myself by calling him a misogynistic idiot. For me, that says it all. I then said that I would use the blog as a journal or diary, writing more for myself than any readers who stumble onto the site.

Now that I’ve resigned myself to 24/7 oxygen, my world has shrunk to the house except for the occasional journey out for dinner, movies, and the all-too-often doctor appointments. It’s as though the in-home concentrator is an ankle bracelet and I’m under house arrest. This physical restriction has brought on a lessening of interest in almost all the things that in the past always piqued my interest. I used to read two or three books a week. Now I can’t get back to reading often enough to keep the characters and plot straight. And I don’t care. I used to listen to the Great American Songbook stored on my computer. Now it’s been almost two months since I last put an MP3 into my Bose. And I don’t care. I used to maintain close ties to friends and relatives by e-mails and phone calls. Now I’d rather sit on razor blades than converse with anyone on the phone. Just too much one-sided tiny talk that goes on and on . . . and on. Besides, I don’t really have much worth talking about. Now that I’m no longer golfing, my golf pals have disappeared. Or maybe it’s me who’s disappeared. Yes, I’ve disappeared into the confines of my oxygenated home. Long distance friends, like classmates and fellow teachers, are becoming fewer and fewer as we all age and succumb to the grim one. I remember my mother, when she was in her nineties, saying that every one of her friends was now gone and she was the last one still standing. I’m the last of the Travises of my generation—all aunts and uncles, all siblings, all cousins now gone. The same is true for Rosalie except for her sister Kaye.

My disinterest leads to dark thoughts. If I no longer care much for all that I once thought were important, then why should I worry about dying? I don’t. I’d rather not rush to the grave but I’m not going to follow Dylan Thomas’s dictum that we should “not go gentle into that good night,” that we should “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I may not go kicking and screaming but I also won’t welcome death with open arms. Let him hug people like Kim Jong-un or Basha al-Assad. I’ll let him know when I’m ready. And who knows? Maybe my interest will find new flames to burn in my soul.

Saturday, July 15

Quotas or Abilities?

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

Saturday, July 8

Night Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, July 6

Hotdogs & Baby Driver

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

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

Tuesday, July 4

Fourth of July 2017

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 2

Trump Tweets

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

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

Saturday, July 1

Phone & E-Mail Scams

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

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

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

Thursday, June 29

Baseball Records & Jazz


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

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

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

Wednesday, June 28

McEnroe vs Williams

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

Tuesday, June 27

This 'n' That

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25

Obesity & Bill Cosby

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

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

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

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