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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, January 31

Hilary Kole & Calvin

I seem to be in a musical mode these past few days, searching around on YouTube for singers I have in my files. I looked up Hilary Kole to see what she looked like. I already knew how she sounded but I like to put faces with my music. And just look what I found, another really good-looking jazz singer. Where in the world do they all come from? Give a listen, give a look.

And they all seem to be piano players.

In looking through my files, I came upon these three strips that said something about my career as a teacher. I was never a Mr. Kneecapper, but I do love meatloaf.

Sunday, January 30

Botti & Friends

And while I'm at it, I'd like you to listen to Chris Botti playing behind Sting and Josh Groban. They're singing "Shape of My Heart" and it just doesn't get much better than that. You can view it full screen by clicking on the little four-dot symbol at the botton right of the video.

Friday, January 28

Karrin Allyson

I don't know if Karrin Allyson is the best singer I've ever heard, but she's damn close. And I can honestly say she's the best scat singer of all time. Ella was always considered the best at scat, but she could never do what Karrin can do. Just find and listen to Karrin's version of "Parisian Thoroughfare." Her mouth is going about 150 mph, matching the speed of the band behind her. And listen to what she does with "The Little Boat" ("O Barquinho").

Amazing what one can find on YouTube in terms of music videos. There must be five or six more featuring Ms Allyson. An exceptional one is a duet with another jazz scat singer almost no one is familiar with, Nancy King. Give a listen to "O Pato" (The Duck).

Wednesday, January 26

Best Picture 2010

The Oscar nominees were announced last night. This year, ten films are up for Best Picture instead of only five as in the past. It’s hard enough to come up with a winner from five. Choosing from ten may thin out the voting for any one picture, but I fear The Social Network will win instead of several other more deserving films: The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, and True Grit.

What are the factors that determine a best picture? It seems to me that a picture has to be great in nearly all categories to win the whole enchilada—best performances by the actors and actresses, best story, best cinematography. I’m not sure how a best director is determined, so I’ll leave that out of the mix. Whenever I look back to films that have stuck with me the longest, nearly all of them are memorable for all three of the above criteria. Look at Shakespeare in Love, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, Dances with Wolves, Rocky, Midnight Cowboy, On the Waterfront, From Here to Eternity, and Gone with the Wind. These are some of the ones that most stick in my memory and all of them for all three reasons. There are even some that never won but could have: The Wizard of Oz, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Singin’ in the Rain, to name only a few.

Using these three criteria as my guide for this year’s pictures, I can eliminate Inception because all I remember about it is the awesome technical tricks in the filming; The King’s Speech because it was at most only a really interesting bit of acting between the two principals, Colin Firth (the likely winner of best actor) and Geoffrey Rush (the probable winner if Christian Bale doesn’t win for best supporting actor); 127 Hours because the story is too thin; The Social Network because despite the immediacy of Facebook and the acting of Eisenberg, the story of its beginning just isn’t memorable for me; and I never got to see the other two, Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone, so I’ll just skip them.

That leaves me with True Grit, The Fighter, and The Kids Are All Right. True Grit was great for the acting of all three principals—Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and the newcomer, young Hailee Steinfeld—for the story, and for the gorgeous background in which it was shot; but it won’t win even though it’s deserving. The Fighter was great, especially for the acting of Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale (these last two the probable winners of best supporting actress and actor) and for a great story, and it could very easily win. And the one I’m most pulling for, The Kids Are All Right, is great for the timeliness of the story, but especially for the acting of all the characters, nearly all of whom could be considered for either best actress (Annette Benning) or best supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo) or best supporting actress (Julianne Moore) and even the two kids, who are better than “all right.” I especially loved and will always remember the scene when they are all together for dinner, Ruffalo there but without the blessing of Benning until he talks about his favorite album and they then sing a little a capella duet of Joni Mitchell's "Blue." In my mind, it's a winner.

I think I’m ready for Oscar Night.

Monday, January 17

Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He was born on January 15 but we observe the day on the Monday closest to it. President Regan, sort of against his will, signed it into law in 1983. So, on this day we have no school, no banks, no mail. But other than that, most whites don’t do much to observe this day. I’m probably going to anger some people by what I say next, but here goes. I was opposed to this day when it was first signed into law, and I still am. I feel it was a sort of left-handed way to placate the blacks in this country. Why should Dr. King deserve a day set aside for him any more than any number of other famous and deserving people in this century? Because he was a martyr to a cause? So were the two Kennedys. Because he was a great religious inspiration to his people? So was Billy Graham. Because he helped to bring about needed social change? There must be at least a hundred equally deserving people who did that same thing. There are only 365 days in a year. Perhaps we could compromise and designate February 29 every four years as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But now I’m being just silly. Silliness aside, we ought to continue to reserve our calendar days for only very special occasions and people.

Sunday, January 16

Nicki Minaj & Others

A singer I’d never heard of was recently a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Nicki Minaj, a strange-looking woman with flowing blond hair like a horse’s mane. I say strange-looking (although quite attractive) because she was decked out in a way that forced the viewer to regard her as strange, much like too many other musical stars today who try to win followers with their bizarre behavior and dress (Lady Gaga, to name only one). I remember first seeing Bette Midler on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show a bunch of year ago. Bette’s schtick back then was to say and do the most outlandish things to call attention to herself. I guess it worked then just as it seems to work now. I call Nicki Minaj a singer, but I don’t really believe it. She’s one of the rare female rappers. I don’t know if Ellen brings such people on her show because she truly admires their singing abilities or because she wants to expose them to the public for what they are. In either case, Nicki Minaj then performed for us, with two backup singers/dancers, scantily-clad, with flowing blond locks tipped with pink, the two of them simply flying around, doing pelvic bumps and flinging that blond pink-tipped hair around in circles. I don’t remember what Nicki sang/rapped because I don’t remember a single word of it, or didn’t understand a word of it. Which brings me to another observation: that too many current female singers engage in the pelvic thrusts of Nicki Minaj and her backups. Why do they have to say to their viewers and fans that they’d love to sexually hump them? Did this begin with Madonna? Or Britney? I look at BeyoncĂ©, a truly beautiful woman, performing or doing a commercial for Pepsi or her fragrance line Heat, doing her very provocative pelvic moves. Does she need to do that? Are they classy moves? I try to imagine really classy singers from the past doing the same—Lena Horn, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand—from the present—Diana Krall, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift. Nope, can’t imagine them doing it or needing to do it. So, BeyoncĂ©, please stop doing it. You’re too beautiful a woman and too good a singer to need it.

Saturday, January 15

Angiogram

Another of life’s little lessons. Yesterday I was admitted to the hospital for an angiogram to see if I needed a stent put into the artery leading to my left kidney. It was an experience I’d rather not have to repeat, much more complicated and awkwardly painful than I thought it would be. I did my registration paperwork at 7:30 Friday morning, was taken to the prep area at 8:00, stripped and into one of those ridiculous hospital gowns, a bp cuff attached to my right bicep, a catheter tube inserted into the back of my left hand for a saline drip, lines attached to chest and one leg to monitor my respiration and heart activity, my groin shaved. Then another set of questions and answers about past medical history and current prescriptions. My main nurse was a young woman, a very attractive woman named Denise. I wondered again why nearly all the nurses in Del Webb and Boswell were young and attractive. Dr. Rai, my nephrologist, had once explained to me that the work load for most nurses was such that the average burnout rate was about ten years, thus the youth. But what about the beauty? At 8:40 I was wheeled into the operating room where Rod and Colleen got me ready for Dr. Agarwal, the cardiologist who would perform the angiogram. I had expected to be anaesthetized through my catheter tube, you know, the wonderful sleep during surgery. But no, just a local shot at the site of the tubal insertion in my right groin. Colleen, the surgical nurse, said it would feel like a bee sting when the tube was inserted into the femoral artery. Yes indeed, a very large bee. Dr. Agarwal then sort of manually manipulated my belly and upper thigh all through the procedure, which lasted almost an hour. Then I was slid back onto my bed and taken back to the prep room, where I would lie motionless on my back until the tube in my groin could be removed, after which Denise applied two-handed pressure on the site for fifteen minutes until a clot was formed. Dr. Agarwal stopped by to tell me that he had placed a stent into my left kidney artery, that there was a 95% blockage, but nothing even close to that in the right side. Good news, but also the possibility that the right side might have to be taken care of sometime in the future. Yikes! His good news was that he wouldn’t be keeping me overnight, that I could go home later in the afternoon. By this time, it was 12:30 and I was told that I’d have to remain motionless on my back for another four hours. Four hours! And this on a bed so narrow it was hard to find a comfortable place for my arms. And I had to pee. Really bad. I finally asked Denise if I could have a urinal, thinking I’d be able to turn on my side enough to get the job done. She brought a urinal, put it on my belly, positioned my penis in the opening, and said, “Okay, let ‘er go any time.” Oh, yeah, me on my back, a lovely young lady holding my penis, and I’m going to “let ‘er go.” I don’t think so. Without gravity, there’s no way I was going to be able to urinate while lying on my back. I finally told her it wasn’t going to work. She said, “Well, you know your alternatives—either pee in bed or let me insert a catheter.” Since I didn’t think the first alternative was even a choice, I told her I’d take the catheter. This was another experience I think I’ll pass on in the future. She told me to relax, that it might hurt a little, but the more relaxed I was, the easier it would be. She put it in and I felt my back arch, the muscles in belly and back and arms and shoulders about as unrelaxed as possible. Oh, my, the pain. But it was in and I could feel my bladder go to work. About half an hour later, Denise showed me the bag with what looked like nearly a half gallon of urine. She removed the catheter just before it was time for me to get dressed to come home, and it was as painful coming out as going in. She wanted me to use the bathroom to see if everything was still working but I told her I’d wait till I got home. She warned me that there’d be some bleeding and pain for a while. I found out when I got home just how true that was. My instructions were to limit my movement, to avoid straight chairs, to take my Plavix and baby aspirin once daily for three months, to remove the groin bandage the next day and clean the site thoroughly. My reward for being a good boy, a large chocolate DQ shake on the way home. Rosalie had filled my prescription for Plavix before she picked me up—ninety pink pills, for $120. Damn these pharmaceutical companies.

Thursday, January 13

Tucson Tragedy

The news from Arizona has to be about the tragic shooting in Tucson last Saturday. And that leads me to two aspects of the shooting. First, we’re back to gun control. Proponents of gun ownership keep citing the need to have an armed population to defend our nation against any and all invading enemies. Any gun control would also, they say, be an infringement on all the hunters who need and have their constitutional right to their guns to hunt small and large game. To counter the first, I say, we’re not living in the eighteenth century when an armed militia was used to defeat British invaders. And to counter the second, I ask, why does a hunter need a 9-milimeter Glock with a 30-round magazine, or an ak47 rifle that also takes a 30-round magazine? What, exactly, would one be hunting? A charging elephant? A mob of grizzly bears? The second aspect of the Tucson tragedy has to do with the media coverage. “Coverage” doesn’t begin to describe the way the networks milked the situation, searching high and low for someone, anyone, to interview. It didn’t seem to matter who you were or what your connection to the shooter was. If you had ever known Jared Loughner in any capacity whatsoever, you warranted an interview. The same is true of any of the victims, especially Gabby Giffords. You voted for her? Okay, let’s hear what you have to say. You were a classmate of Christina Taylor Green? Well, you must have something important to say. You say you knew Daniel Hernandez when he was a boy? That’s good enough for us. Just step this way and speak into the mike. I don’t mean to belittle the victims of the tragedy or to downplay the heroism of those who tried to save lives. I’m criticizing the blanket coverage by the newscasters who nearly licked their chops over this opportunity to appear in front of the cameras. The same can be said of the people who organized the memorial service on Saturday. First, there was the truly strange and over-long opening blessing by the feather-waving Carlos Gonzalez, followed by too many others with the same overlong agenda to appear on national television: the AU president, Daniel Hernandez, the Tucson mayor, the Arizona governor Jan Brewer (looking simply dreadful in her bleached blonde attempt to look twenty or thirty years younger), head of homeland security Janet Napolitano, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and finally president Barack Obama, who delivered a stirring tribute to the victims. It was a speech that will probably raise his popularity by quite a few percentage points and demonstrated once again that he is simply the best presidential orator since Ronald Regan.

Wednesday, January 5

The Oscars

We’re in an Oscar countdown and this year I think I’m ready. I’ve seen more of the contenders this year than normal, and I think I’m ready to make my predictions.

Starting with best picture and working backward, there seem to be at least thirteen movies that could win the big one: The Fighter, The Town, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan, Winter’s Bone, Toy Story 3, Get Low, and Rabbit Hole. The last four I haven’t yet seen, partly because that damned Harkins brings them into the Valley exclusively at only one Harkins site, some of which never get to any other theatres. I’ll try to find Winter’s Bone and Rabbit Hole sometime before the awards show. The other two have come and gone, whoosh. Of the other nine, I think I can eliminate The Social Network, 127 Hours, and Inception simply because I didn’t come out after seeing any of them with that feeling of “Wow, what a good movie!” All three were good, but not good enough for me. I’ve already professed my dislike of Black Swan, so that one’s not even part of my consideration, nor should it be of any of the voters. And taking out the four I haven’t seen, I have five left. I loved The Town and was so happy to see Ben Affleck finally shake off the ugliness of Pearl Harbor and Gigli, both as actor and director. But his picture won’t win. I also loved The Fighter, especially the performances of the three up for consideration for best actors and supporting actors—Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo. But it won’t win. That leaves True Grit, The King’s Speech, and The Kids Are All Right. I especially appreciated the way the Coen brothers treated the novel by Charles Portis, and the film was not just good, but very good. Still not a winner, though. We just saw The King’s Speech and were most impressed with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and what they did, making a film about the relationship between two people and very little else. A very good movie, but not a winner. That leaves The Kids Are All Right, a film I came out of practically shouting, “Wow, wowzee, what a great movie!” The story was great, the characters all really fine, nearly all of them worthy of consideration for best acting. This one should win it all. At least that’s the one I’ll be rooting for.

That brings me to the best male and female actors. Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, Robert Duval, Jesse Eisenberg, and James Franco seem to be the five most people would list. I’d think it would be between Bridges and Firth, with Firth probably winning simply because Jeff Bridges seems to have the role of grizzled drunk down pat and won just a year ago for Crazy Heart. Not that he isn’t worthy of winning, but the voters will skip him because of last year’s win.

The women mentioned are Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, and of these five, I’ve seen only two—Bening and Portman. But of these two, Annette Bening should be head and shoulders above Portman. Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Williams (Blue Valentine) are both too young to win, not that they shouldn’t win, but simply because the voters tend to take such things as age into consideration. And Kidman is my sleeper because I haven’t yet seen her performance in Rabbit Hole. So I’ll say Bening will win, with Kidman as a possible second.

Best supporting actor. Skip all the others, this one is all about Mark Ruffalo (Kids), Chritian Bale (The Fighter), and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech). Ruffalo was so surprisingly good in Kids that it would be nice to see him win. But he won’t. I’d call it a tie between Christain Bale and Geoffrey Rush, but I think Bale will win it.

Best supporting actress. This one is closer because the ones nominated aren’t as well known. I’m guessing Amy Adams and Melissa Leo from The Fighter will be among them. But Adams is noteworthy simply because this role is so different from her others where she’s this quiet little prim girl playing a housewife or a nun. She won’t win. Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech) was just too much a fringe person to win. Mila Kunis from Black Swan was a hateful character in a hateful film and I sincerely hope she doesn’t win. Hailee Steinfield, the young narrator of True Grit was excellent in an excellent film, but she won’t win because she’s just too young. Guess what? That leaves as the last woman standing, Melissa Leo from The Fighter. But I wouldn’t discount Julianne Moore from Kids. She’d be my second choice.

There, that’s it from me. I can’t guess at best director or the other awards because I just don’t understand what criteria the voters use for their votes.  See you at The Oscars.

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