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

Monday, June 19

Baseball & Active-Reactive Sports

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

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

Tuesday, June 13

Trump vs Comey

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

Monday, June 12

Tonys 2017

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

Friday, June 9

Inogen One G2

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

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

Wednesday, June 7

Oxygen & Tv Westerns

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

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



Tuesday, June 6

Tiger's Fall

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


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

Saturday, June 3

Quality Television

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 1

A Quiet Passion

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

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

Tuesday, May 30

Donald Trump, U A

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 29

Airline Scuffles & Big Brother

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


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

Sunday, May 28

Emily Dickson & Julie Harris

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25

Life on Oxygen

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

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

Wednesday, May 24

The Voice, Season 12

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23

Hello Again, Hello Again

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

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

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

Saturday, May 6

Happy Valley & Oxygen

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

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

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

Saturday, January 21

Punny Names

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Again

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 31

Farewell to 2016, Welcome 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 29

Lion

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28

Open Letter to President Obama & President-Elect Trump

Open Letter to the President and First Lady

Dear Mr. President and Mrs. Obama,

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

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

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

Open Letter to the President-Elect and First Lady

Dear President-Elect and Mrs. Trump,

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

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

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

Friday, December 23

Bublé & Bennett Specials

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

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

Tuesday, December 20

America's Got Talent Christmas Special

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

Monday, December 19

Song Writing Dilettante

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

Here’s one that’s about halfway done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15

Merry Christmas 2016

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

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

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

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

"Jerry & Rosalie Over the Holidays"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14

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

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

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

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

Apple Pie Cake

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

Overnight Sticky Buns

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

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

Buster Bars

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

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

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