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

Thursday, September 29

A Few More Reviews

Moneyball was funny ball, with Brad Pitt starring as Billy Beane, ex-baseball player, now the general manager of a sick franchise in Oakland in 2002. The story, based on a book by Michael Lewis, is all about the new use of statistics to predict what might help the A’s win more than when the scouts went by intuition about players and their abilities. It showed how the big city sites, with lots of money to spend, could win pennants and championships by simply buying them, the New York Yankees in particular. And Beane and his computer nerd Peter Brand (played like an mvp by Jonah Hill), showed the league that the most important stat of all was how often a batter got on base, not on how well he hit. Walks were as important as hits. Brad Pitt showed us again what a good actor he is, in this quiet film about baseball possibilities. And it was much better than its predecessor, Field of Dreams.

More on this season’s tv shows.

Terra Nova spent $20 million on the two-hour premier, most of which was well spent. The set and the dinosaurs were terrific, the story a little weak. But maybe it will get better in coming episodes. It looked like it was trying for a sci-fi mystery like Lost, with all kinds of odd possibilities for plot strands. But it will have to try harder if it expects to come up to the mysteries of Lost.

The Good Wife, The Mentalist, and Blue Bloods all picked up nicely from where they left off at the end of last season. Harry’s Law didn’t fare so well. The oddball shop with oddball occupants from last season were replaced with a busy, bustling law office without most of the oddballs and without the shoes. It looked like just another lawyer show, and who needs another one of those? Two-and-a-Half Men, even with Justin Timberlake, still looks like a loser, still too unfunny and raunchy to survive. Good riddance to Charlie, good riddance to the now three men. Then there’s the awful debut of Charlie’s Angels. Farrah Fawcett must be spinning in her grave, and Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith grinding their teeth. This one will be cancelled within a dozen shows.

Wednesday, September 28

A Few Thank-You's

I recently asked anyone who might be reading these blog posts to recommend me to friends. And it seems that some of you have done just that. I thank you. If I don’t have any readers, then it’s a pointless pursuit. It’s ego driven, I know, sort of like a little kid screaming in an empty forest, “I’m here! I’m here!” But we’re all so alone in the universe that we need some answering call, a psychic pat on the head. I’d like to think that the words themselves are enough, a totally unselfconscious relating of my ideas. But that wouldn’t be true. A suspect who’s alone in a police station interview room knows the mirrored wall is a two-way and that someone is probably watching. But he can’t be sure. Brenda Leigh Johnson might or might not be there. So he self-consciously looks around, facial tics jumping all over the place. That’s me, minus the facial tics.

This blog site, blogspot.com, is really unusual. I don’t even remember how I first found it. Probably by doing a search for blog sites, and there it was. I just now did a search and found dozens and dozens of them, each one with millions of bloggers, each of us crying, “I’m here! I’m here! Is anybody there?” We all need an audience, or what’s the point? Even a writer of a private journal or diary is assuming that someday a child or grandchild will find it and read it. So he has to be careful not to say anything too outlandish, still has to guard against those facial tics. Henry David Thoreau wrote compulsively, but his words couldn't have been just for himself. He must have assumed an audience of some kind, even if only his fellow transcendentalists. How could he have guessed that the entire world would one day read and admire his words? On blogspot I can track my audience to see where my readers are located and I was amazed to discover that quite a few are in other parts of the world. How did they find me? Does a blog reader meander around blogsites looking for ideas, like a shopper in WalMart hunting bargains? Or does a word search lead him to me? In September, the pageviews from various nations are Russia 19, UK 8, Singapore 6, Germany 5, Malaysia 5, India 3, Algeria 2, France 2, and Italy 2. That’s simply weird. But I’m thankful for them, whoever they are. And I’m thankful for all the pageviews by readers in this country, 350.

Thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, September 27

Dogs & Cats

If you’ve never been owned by a cat, you don’t know what you’re missing. They’re as night to a dog’s day. A dog may be more companionable, but you also have to walk them, greet them whenever and every time you come home, wipe the slobber from your face after each greeting, talk to them, pet them, say, “Good dog, gooood dog” each and every time they do something good or clever. Dogs require much more of your time and attention than cats do. We owned one dog in our married lives, a miniature collie we named Benjy after the character in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, because he, like Faulkner’s Benjy, was an idiot, making our lives a living hell with his need for attention, his driving away any visitors with leaps and barks and bites. After Benjy we went to cats exclusively, some nine from then to now. The two we now have are Dusty and Squeakie. Garfield is the iconic comic cat, but the one in Pickles is also good. Here he/she is, explaining his/her occasional help around the house.

And here’s Squeakie doing her bit, guarding our suitcase and my shoes. She’s such a good little helper.



Monday, September 26

The Terrible Trio

Many seniors these days are pissing and moaning about their increasing costs for Medicare, or, as too many like to call it, Obamacare, blaming Barack Obama and this administration for all the fiscal shortcomings of our health program. I say, look at the exploding charges by doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies. Look also at the high cost to Medicare for maintaining the health of seniors who are more prone to expensive illnesses and surgeries and monthly prescriptions than the junior populace. I know what it costs because I’m one of those expensive seniors. I’ve tried to approximate how much I’ve dipped into Medicare in the past six years, six years in which I’ve had a multitude of medical problems. I’ve had six surgeries to excise thirty-three separate squamous cell cancers from my legs. For six years I’ve been monitored for a condition called myelodysplasia. For six years I’ve been monitored for an abdominal aneurism. I’ve had two series of radiation on my left leg, both of which resulted in radiation wounds. I’ve had two years of weekly care at the wound center, forty sessions in a hyperbaric unit. I spent six days in the hospital for a kidney blockage, followed by surgery to place a stent. My prescription cost to Medicare in six years is about $18,000. Altogether in the last six years, I’ve cost Medicare approximately $138,000, or $23,000 a year. And because we’re almost never apprised of what the Terrible Trio is charging beyond what we pay, I’m certain I’ve underestimated these costs by as much as 100%.

So, pissing and moaning seniors, look to your own infirmities as part of the cause of rising medical costs, rising Medicare premiums. And please stop pissing and moaning. We seniors piss enough throughout the night, and we moan enough over all our aches and pains and infirmities.

A Few Reviews

I decided to see a movie, but skipped the two I really wanted to see, Moneyball and 50/50, because I thought Rosalie would like to see them. So I opted for one I was sure she wouldn’t want to see, a rough and tumble Killer Elite with Robert De Niro, Jason Stratham, and Clive Owen. Lots of banging around and car chases, and a most confusing plot involving Stratham and De Niro finding and killing three ex-British operatives who had gunned down three sons of the shah of Oman. The shah, who had kidnapped De Niro as a way to get Stratham to do his bidding, wanted his revenge, and it required that the three who had killed his sons also be killed, their deaths to look accidental (why?), their confessions recorded and sent to the shah (why?). Clive Owen was sort of a guardian of the secret committee of ex-operatives and takes it on himself to stop whoever is killing the three. Are you confused? I certainly was. The entire audience probably was. What I most object to in this kind of film is the physical violence the characters can withstand, the fights with judo kicks and fist smashes to the face and body and savage blows with steel bars or chair legs or anything else that comes to hand, the falls from prodigious heights.. And the combatants never seem to show any physical damage. Dumb. That’s my assessment of the whole thing—dumb.

Sunday, September 25

Poetic Forms

I loved teaching poetry. I guess that may be the songwriter side of me that’s always been intrigued with poems and poetry. And I, like Frost, never cared much for free verse. Not that there aren’t many good poets who used free verse—Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, e. e. cummings, to name only a few. What most appeals to me about traditional methods and forms is the challenge they entail. I’m most pleased by a poet who finds a clever or insightful idea and then fits it into the confines of a set form.

The most obvious traditional poetic form is the sonnet, both Italian and English. The Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet consists of 14 lines of iambic pentameter (ten alternating unaccented and accented syllables) usually rhyming abbaabbacdecde. The poem breaks into two parts, the first eight lines (the octave), which states a question or a situation or a problem, and the last six lines (the sestet), which answers the question or explains the situation or solves the problem. The English (or Shakespearean) rhymes ababcdcdefefgg, breaking into four parts, three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with the first twelve lines stating variations of a question, situation, or problem, and the couplet answering, explaining, or solving.

Here are two of the best known to show each, Shakespeare’s "Sonnet XVIII" and William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us”

Many poets in the early Twentieth century turned to the most untraditional form, free verse, which freed the poet from nearly all of the traditional requirements of patterned rhythm or rhyme. But a lot of poets as well as many working in other creative forms wanted to break away from tradition, but not completely. Examples: Stravinsky in classical music, Picasso in art and sculpture, Constantin Brancusi's Dadaist sculpture "The Kiss," Tristan Tzara's Dadaist play The Glass Heart, Martha Graham in modern dance.

In poetry, there was an attempt to create new forms based on the old. This odd sonnet, "An Aeronaut to his Love," uses both tradition and freedom to make its point.

This was published anonymously sometime in the Twenties, but I can't understand why. I'd have felt honored to have written such a clever poem. It sticks to the Italian sonnet form for the most part, using the octave and sestet (question and answer), but uses the English couplet at the end. And, of course, the line length goes from ten syllables to only one per line. Clever.



Saturday, September 24

Paul Harvey says . . .

Anybody who comes to our country wanting to stay should be willing to learn our language. To come to the United States, accept its hospitality and its privileges but continue to speak some other language is like a man keeping his first wife’s picture in his second wife’s bedroom. Do you know that we have a lot of public schoolteachers in Chicago who cannot speak English? So-called “bilingual education” in our schools has become a $400-million exercise in cultural chauvinism. Instead of helping minorities learn English, it is helping minorities remain minorities—unabsorbed, unable to speak the language of their adopted country. There are second- and third-generation Mexicans in the United States who are still strangers in a strange land; they remain Latin in their customs and their speech, thus disadvantaging themselves. No wonder many can’t get good jobs and frequently remain permanently on welfare. Senator S.I. Hayakawa (R.-Calif.) believes that using our schools to preserve a minority language “results in an almost deliberate neglect of the first duty of any immigrant—to learn the language of his chosen country.” Chicago public schools have 22,000 students learning in 16 other languages! And the Chicago School Board just accepted another $2.4 million of your federal tax money to perpetuate the program. And the board is under a federal government mandate to expand the program. Earlier generations of immigrant-Americans—many of them poverty-stricken Europeans—undistracted by bilingual programs, promptly learned to speak and write English. They assimilated themselves and melted into the melting pot, enhancing it with their cultural gifts and strengthening it with their undivided allegiance. Whereas the now generation of immigrants, tending to resist homogenization, tend to remain hyphenated Americans. However well-intentioned bilingual teaching may be, it tends to inhibit a command of English; it retards full citizenship and restricts opportunities. For our government to support this retardation is unconscionable. This is not to say that anybody’s ethnicity should be neutered. It is crosspollination which has enriched us all. But a friend of mine, a man of accomplishment and means, remembers that “If I were still back in Poland I would still be living in half a house, with livestock in the other half, without even an outhouse. I am so grateful for the limitless chance to better myself and my family, I just cannot imagine any immigrant not wanting to be ‘all-American.’ ”

Paul Harvey wrote this in 1978, thirty-three years ago. Relevant then, even more so now.

Friday, September 23

Danaeism & New TV

Rick Perry and Danae seem to be on the same page, not the newspaper page, same page philosophically. Flexible dogma, indeed.

Quick comment about the Thursday tv shows. The Big Bang Theory remains funny, with Sheldon as oc as ever, obsessing over a chair that Penny has found abandoned on the street, obsessing about all the germs and other beasties that may be inhabiting the chair. And Leonard is trying unsuccessfully to carry on sexually with Priya via Skype. Funny people, funny show. Then there's the premiere of Person of Interest, which I found personally uninteresting. Jim Caviezel (best known for his portrayal of Christ in The Passion of the Christ) teams with Michael Emerson (the creepy fellow in Lost, equally creepy here) to prevent crimes before they happen. An interesting premise, but this first episode had too many holes in the logic. I can't see it lasting any more than this first season, maybe into the toilet even sooner.

Wednesday, September 21

Bits & Pieces

2012 will be upon us before we know it. And the race for the presidency is heating up. Unless something dramatic happens to lower the unemployment rate and slow the economic slide, Barack Obama cannot win. And that leaves us with a bunch of odd ball Republicans, any one of whom could be our next president. I’m reasonably certain it will come down to Rick Perry and Mitt Romney duking it out for the honor of leading us into . . . what? Of the two, I’d rather see Romney win it. Rick Perry scares me nearly as much as Sarah Pallin scares me. Anyone who has doubts about the scientific veracity of evolution scares me. I know he isn’t among that group of creationists who believe in and support the Creation Museum in Kentucky (which suggests that Adam and Eve lived alongside dinosaurs only 6500 years ago), but he has stated that he thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in our public schools along with and equal to the theory of evolution. I thought we’d put that to bed with the Scopes trial nearly a century ago. Intelligent Design is fine as a religious concept, but it should be taught in some of our churches, not in our schools. I’m sure this will be brought up in future debates among the candidates, and we’ll see which side of his mouth he uses then. Or, as one of the characters in Dick Francis said, he only opens his mouth to change feet.

The new television season is here. We, along with millions of other curiosity seekers, watched the Sheen-less Two-and-a-Half Men. Ashton Kutcher may just save the show after all. I just hope they decide to forego all the humor based on farting, masturbation, and drunkenness. 2 Broke Girls (just the two of them equal the 2½ men) looked promising. Glee wasn’t as gleeful as in the first two seasons, but maybe it will get better. Sue Sylvester has begun to grate on my senses, like nails on a blackboard, even though I’ve loved Jane Lynch in her roles in The Forty Year-Old Virgin, Julie and Julia, and Two-and-a-Half Men. Hated her as the mc for the Emmy Awards. Who in the world talked her into wearing those hideous gowns? New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel, looks as promising as 2 Girls. We’ll see. And Unforgettable was very close to forgettable, and Poppy Montgomery may just get lost “Without a Trace.” I’m skipping over all the reality shows because I just don’t want to watch them. I know a bunch of people tuned in to Dancing with the Stars just to see how Chaz Bono would do, but when I watch people dance, I want to watch people who can really dance. That’s why I’m one of the minority viewers of So You Think You Can Dance.

Now I'm looking forward to Harry's Law, CSI (How will Ted Danson do?), The Big Bang Theory, Person of Interest, and The Mentalist.

Monday, September 19

Commas

How about a short course in punctuation? Do you feel like a student in a tiresome English class, taught by a tiresome English teacher? Well, buckle up, kids. I don’t care.

But first, how about another Ole & Lena joke to lighten the load?

Ole went to the Sons of Norway Hall one night and finally won the door prize, which was a toilet brush. He was so excited that he won he brought it home and used it often. Someone asked him during the next meeting what the prize was and if he liked it or not. Ole replied, "Yeah, I like the toilet brush okay, but I think I'm gonna go back to usin’ paper."

"Uff da!!"

For those of you who aren't familiar with this Norwegian expletive, I'll illustrate: Ole was out in the chicken coop gathering eggs. He opened his mouth to breathe and his gum fell out on the floor. He picked it up and put it back in his mouth and said, "Uff da!"

There, now you know.

The comma is such a useful mark, but too often careless writers think that anywhere there’s a pause in the sentence, a comma should be plunked in. Not so. There are a set number of places for this mark. They’re like little road signs for the reader, and if the writer and the reader are operating on different signals, the poor reader will go over a cliff to the right because you had directed him there. First, there are commas working singly to mark off items in a series or introductory word groups you want to set off from the main S-V-O. For example, there are series like 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and introductory word groups, like 1-o's, 2-o's, 3-o's, 4-1-o's, and adverb s-v-o's.. Second, there are commas working in pairs to mark off word groups that are dropped into the sentence, sort of interrupting the normal flow of the sentence. The problem? The reader can’t immediately tell if the first comma is working alone or is the first of a pair working together. What we need is a backward comma to tell him that this is the first of two, sort of like a tiny parenthesis. We all know that parentheses are a paired mark. You say, but would the reader really notice that it’s a backward comma? I say, yes. Readers worth even a pinch of salt gather an amazing amount of information in an amazingly short time. What, you say, are the kinds of word groups that are set off in pairs, the ones that sort of interrupt the flow of the sentence? The answer: appositives; parenthetical expressions (of course, well, for example, therefore, as a matter of fact, etc.); adjective s-v-o’s that aren’t essential to the meaning of the main S-V-O but only add information about the nouns they’re describing; adverbial word groups that are dropped in between the S and the V; the names of people or things the writer is addressing as though he is speaking directly to them.

Look at these examples.


Sunday, September 18

Tough Guy

I'd like you to meet Tough Guy. You like him? You better . . . or else.

I have so much free time on my hands that I constantly fiddle around with pictures to use as my computer wallpaper. Tough Guy is my latest.

I seem to be in the minority in my review of Contagion. Lots of people who wrote in to Rotten Tomatoes said they really liked it, found it more frightening than Psycho. Well, I guess being reminded of how susceptible we all are to another bubonic plague or some equally ugly virus is certainly frightening. But I still need a plot to get it across. Ah well, there must be better films just down the road. Here's what one responder on Rotten Tomatoes had to say: "Contagion is a strong film to kick off the end of summer . . . just make sure you know who you're sharing your popcorn with!" And, I might add, try not to touch too many door knobs.

Hey, readers, I need more readers. Could you recommend me to any friends or acquaintances? I'd appreciate it. I realize it's only punctuated graffiti, but I think I have my moments . . . and a few funny bits, and maybe even a few insightful comments.


Saturday, September 17

ES3 Again

My system for examining sentence structure ignores all the words that don’t contribute to a sentence’s complexity—all articles (a, an, and the); simple adverbs that tend to cluster around a verb or verbal; adjectives, which usually come ahead of the noun they’re describing; helping verbs that precede the key verb (“could have been dreaming”); and conjunctions, which just act as glue between two or more items. English, unlike most languages, depends on word order rather than inflectional endings, and knowing the order in which grammatical units are placed helps a writer put his sentences together. In English, we have a limited number of such units, but when you consider how many different ways they can interact and on how many different levels, the number of sentence structures is almost infinite. I say “almost” because there’s always a limit to everything. Even that monkey banging away on a typewriter could one day write Hamlet, but it’s highly unlikely.

The grammatical units in English are main clause (S-V-O and S-V-S), adjective, adverb, and noun clause (s-v-o and s-v-s), prepositional phrase (1-o), infinitive phrase (2-o), present participial phrase (3-o), past participial phrase (4 plus usually a 1-o), appositive (a noun or noun phrase repeating the noun it usually follows), and nominative absolute (an odd unit made up of a 2, 3, 4, or adjective with its own subject that loosely attaches itself to a sentence and moves around like an adverb and sort of modifies the whole sentence).

Whew! That sounds much more complicated than it does when we put it in the perspective of my system.

These units can add ideas to our sentences by stringing them along on the same level, adding them in a series on the same line. For example, S - S - V - O - O - O, or S - V - O, and S - V - O. Or they can be added on second, third, fourth, and even fifth levels below the main line. I guess a writer like Faulkner could go deeper than a fifth level, but the deeper the structures go, the more likely the reader would get lost in the maze. But that often happens in Faulkner’s writing. Was he consciously going that deep or did his mind simply function that way? There’s a sentence in “The Bear” that goes on for several pages, using all the grammatical units in helter-skelter fashion, but also parentheses and brackets to go even deeper in the message.

I hope I haven’t lost any of my few readers by this time. Be patient, and you’ll soon see what it’s all about.

Here’s an example of how a sentence can go down four levels:

Okay, so it's a dumb sentence, but it shows how we can use adverb and adjective s-v-o's.

To lighten the load of what I just said, how about another Ole and Sven joke, this one echoing the ridiculousness of all the Viagra and Cialis commercials:

Sven is late for work. The boss finds him in the bunkhouse, and Sven explains that he has an erection and can't get his overalls on. "OK, Sven, you need to go in the barn and get a shovelful of nice hot horse manure and pack it around there. That'll take down the swelling and you can come on and get to work." Sven goes to the barn and opens his fly and gets the shovelful of manure ready. At that moment, the boss's wife walks in. "What the hell are you doing, Sven?" Sven explains what he is doing. "Yumping Yeesus, Sven, don't do that!" she says as she pulls up her dress. "Stick it in here!" "What?" says Sven. "The whole shovelful?"

Friday, September 16

South Dakota Yum Yummies

I return to my South Dakota roots for a look at some of the peculiar foods from my youth.

I haven’t seen any halva since I left my hometown well over sixty years ago. Halva was an odd confection that my father sold in his grocery store. It arrived from somewhere, wrapped in wax paper and refrigerated, a block of chocolate or vanilla granular stuff that we sold from the meat counter, cutting off slices to be weighed. The block, as I recall, was about two feet long, maybe eight inches square. After purchasing your slice, about an inch thick, you bit off a corner and it sort of dissolved in the mouth. I think a Snickers bar would be better. I thought halva probably derived from Germany or Norway or Sweden, the three most prominent nationalities that live in and around Mobridge, but when I looked it up on the Net, I found that it was a Middle Eastern delight.

Another treat still made and sold in Mobridge is kuchen, a German pastry sort of like a pie, with a thick pie crust filled with sweet custard and some sort of fruit, mainly apples or cherries, but as I remember it, also prunes. Maybe this last was made specifically for our older population. The best kuchen maker in town was Pearl Scott, whom my father commissioned to make kuchens for him to sell in his grocery store.

As I recall, I ate lefse only once when I was in my early twenties. Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread usually made from potatoes, milk or cream, and flour, rolled out in thin sheets and scored by a special rolling pin, then baked. One ate it with butter or any number of other ingredients rolled up in it. I guess it would be like a soft Norwegian tortilla shell, served mainly around the holidays. I remember it as being quite good, but then, I think I can get along without ever eating it again.

And finally, a food peculiar to our region, but one I’ve never eaten, maybe because I used to have to sell it in my father’s grocery store and it looked and smelled so disgusting. Lutefisk, or lutfisk, depending on whether you were Norwegian or Swedish, is a whitefish, mostly cod, soaked in water and then in a lye solution for days and days until it was juuuust right. Then dried and sold to people who wanted a special treat for the holidays. Yum yum. Garrison Keillor, in Lake Wobegone Days, said, “Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, ‘Just have a little.’ Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.” And finally, sticking to the Scandinavian theme, the punch line from an Ole and Lena joke, so very popular in my old hometown: “Well, we tried the lutefisk trick and the raccoons went away, but now we've got a family of Norwegians living under our house!”

Thursday, September 15

More Graffiti

Our heat has abated. I may even consider trying that damned game again. Golf, that is. And if all goes if not well but at least somewhat okay, I may even consider playing the damned game more than once a week. If all goes really bad, I may consider giving it up forever. Or at least until my Dick Francis books run out.

I’m now into my 15th, In the Frame, about a painter of horses who gets involved in a plot involving a group who burgle fancy houses for their antiques and artwork. Same main character, just different name and occupation. And same stoicism and impunity to pain. It’s a formula plot, I know, but one can learn a lot from all the research Francis had to do about the various occupations. And they all come out for the best. And they’re all so damn much fun to read.

I still haven’t heard from any reader who might send me a complex sentence to examine. So I’ll find one of my own and show you how it could be pulled apart.

This from Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream. “The chauffeur, whom Thomas Hudson disliked very much for his general misinformation and stupidity, his conceit, his lack of understanding of motors, and his atrocious care of the cars and general laziness, was being very short and formal because of the reprimand about coasting.” Normally, Hemingway’s style is considered short and simple. But this sentence is 45 words long, still not very complicated, though, using quite a bit of parallel structure for its length.

The main clause is an S-V-S-S (the last two S's being predicate adjectives describing the subject, the chauffeur); the subject (chauffeur) is modified by an adjective clause (whom Thomas Hudson disliked very much); the first prepositional phrase with the six objects explains why Hudson disliked him; the fourth object (lack) is modified by a prepositional phrase with a gerund phrase (of understanding of motors) as its object; the fifth object (care) is modified by a prepositional phrase (of the cars); and the main verb (was being) has a prepositional phrase telling why he was being very short and formal; the object of that prepositional phrase (reprimand) has a prepositional phrase modifying it, using a gerund (coasting) as its object.

There, now isn't it easier to look at the pattern than to hear a purely grammatical explanation?

Wednesday, September 14

Contagion, Arizona Rain, & Taylor Swift

We just saw Contagion with Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and I must say the film wasn’t contagious. There just wasn’t much of a story, with a plot hanging by a thread to Damon and his wife’s and sons’s deaths early in the worldwide contagion. The rest of it showed us how the disease spread to catastrophic proportions with panic and looting in the major cities. I like all those actors and was hoping this film would be worth seeing. It wasn’t. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this disappointed by a movie. The only memorable quote: “Blogging isn’t writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.” So, I guess I’m graffitiing and punctuating as I go.

Yesterday, our skies were dark with wind blowing and clouds scudding across from south to north. And then it rained a bit. A typical Arizona rain, about three hundred drops rattling off our patio roof, then subsiding to twenty or thirty a minute. Then gone. Our rains here are mostly in such rapid cells that nothing much happens. A low will form off the Pacific over Los Angeles or San Diego, then circle in to Arizona with winds swinging counter-clockwise, picking up additional moisture as it passes over the Sea of Cortez, then swooping up from the south. Almost never a gray-dripper such as we were used to in western New York. Now, that was rain . . . and rain . . . and rain. I guess I’d like to have something in the middle of those two extremes. Someday, we’ll be able to control the weather enough that I could have my wish.

I’ve written about this young woman before, but we just saw her again on Ellen’s opening shows for her ninth season. Taylor Swift is the young woman. She impresses me more each time I see her. Not for her singing, although she’s very good. It’s for her presence. She seems like such a capable and unassuming person, still in a sort of gangling, coltish way. I’ve already said I thought she was going to be the next super star and I want to say it again. She looks remarkably like a young Grace Kelly; she has the same charisma that Barbra had when she was first doing that series of television musicals; she has the same charm and likeability as we saw in Julia Roberts when she hit us in the face with Pretty Woman. Taylor Swift will soon hit us in the same way, only not in the musical business—in film. Just wait and see.

Monday, September 12

9/11 & Sports Sunday

A new set of wingdings more appropriate to the peace of 9/11/2011:

I’m happy to say that nothing ugly happened yesterday. (Well, the Kansas City Chiefs might argue that their loss to the Bills was pretty ugly.) Without a single quiver from Al-Qaeda or any other group of kookoobirds, their silence may be a sign that either our security measures are working really well or Al-Qaeda and its lookalikes are weakened to such an extent that they may never recover. Does that mean we can lessen our vigilance? Not on your life, or maybe I should say, not if we intend to live.

And I had a nearly perfect Arizona sports Sunday: On Friday the ASU Sun Devils pulled out a win that should have been a loss to Missouri; the Diamondbacks won on Saturday; the Arizona Cardinals pulled out a win on Sunday that should have been a loss to a Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers; and then the D-Backs lost a close one to the Padres on Sunday. A nearly perfect sports Sunday. And though I didn’t really care, Serena Williams got entirely out-played by Sam Stosur in the finals of the women’s U.S. Open tennis championship. Where has American tennis gone? Gone in the same direction as women’s professional golf—far to the west. If I thought Serena’s build, with shoulders out to here, is like a brick wall, Sam Stosur’s build, with shoulders out to there, is like a steel wall. And one final note about the Cardinals’ game, I refer you to an oldie by Ogden Nash:

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn’t been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don’t anther.

Saturday, September 10

Q33NY

We’re on the eve of the tenth anniversary of one of the most awful moments in our history, the day when two planes were flown deliberately into the two towers in New York City. And all of us are sitting around today, fearful of what some group of fanatics might come up with to underscore our agony. Granted, New York or Washington could be the site of such an attack, but I think the security measures there would prevent it. Why, though, wouldn’t an Al-Qaeda cell somewhere in the United States consider any act that could kill a large number of Americans as being nearly as effective as an attack on New York or Washington? Consider the possibilities: a biological assault on the water supply of any region, large or small; blowing up a dam at one of the larger reservoirs, like any of those built on the Missouri River, with billions of gallons of water surging across the inhabitants below; one or more truck bombs driven into any large building where several thousand people might be located, or even into a stadium hosting an NFL game tomorrow; a group of six or more suicidal fanatics, armed with assault weapons, targeting any large gathering of people tomorrow (football game, baseball game, pop concert, political rally, Mall of America, Disney World, etc.) and indiscriminately killing as many as possible; bombing any of our national treasures, a blow not necessarily against a large number of people, but a blow to our national pride—Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, Old Faithful, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Mount Vernon or Monticello, the Carlsbad Caverns.

Let’s hope and pray such a fanatic group would be unable to pull off any of the above possibilities. Let’s hope and pray our increased security measures can successfully guard us against any such attack.

Thursday, September 8

American-Americans

We lived for twenty-three years in Jamestown, NY, a community heavily populated by people with Italian and Swedish heritage, and one of the annual golf tournaments in town was The Italian-American Member-Guest. It always annoyed me that they put “Italian” in front of “American.” Why not the American-Italian, I thought. They formed a sort of band of Italian brothers, basking in their Italian heritage, calling each other “goomba” and delighting in using broken Italian swearwords, some apparently practicing for an audition for Godfather 6 or 7 or 8. Clinging to one’s cultural heritage is fine as long as it doesn’t override our own American heritage.

But that leads me to all kinds of speculation about the ways we designate racial and ethnic and national origin among our citizens. We say Asian-American, Mexican-American, Native-American, African-American, but we don’t tend to say European-American, Jewish-American, Catholic-American, or Irish American, to name only the most obvious among the possibilities. “Native-American” may be the only sane way to describe people from the many Indian tribes in this country. Most Native-Americans don’t want to be called Indians because they didn’t arrive from India, and the old film designation, “Redskins,” was just too demeaning. But even “Native-American” isn’t necessarily accurate, since they too arrived here by way of the Aleutian Archipelago. The other choice is to call them by the tribal designation from which they descended—Sioux, Hopi, Apache, Blackfoot, Mohican, etc. But that too would be amazingly complicated.

“African-American” has ascended from a long line of terms for our Negro citizenry, an odd ascendency, I think. Let’s start with Caucasian and Negro, white and black. I’m Caucasian, but if I had one drop of blood from some distant Japanese forebear, would I be considered Japanese or Asian? If I had one drop of Negro blood from some distant forebear, would I be considered Negro? From the eighteenth century, Negro slaves were considered to be Negroes, then with a slight pronunciation slip, it went to Nigras, then to that most unfortunate term, Niggers. And then to Coloreds. What an odd label to give Negroes. Colored could mean pink or red or green or purple or blue or yellow or even colorfully striped. Then for a long time it went to Blacks. But many Negroes objected to that term because not all blacks are black, and instead wanted African-American, the term now considered to be politically correct. And now we’ve come full-circle. Why do African-Americans insist on claiming an origin that isn’t true except for those who emigrate to this country from one of the African nations? My ancestors came from England and Germany, but I don’t consider myself an English-American or a German-American.

Why not simply designate anyone who was born in this country as American? Why not reserve all those other ethnic, or racial, or national terms for those who were not born here but who choose to live in this country. Why can’t the vast majority of us simply be Americans?

Wednesday, September 7

ES3 Again

Here are a few more examples of my system for showing sentence structure.


I never intended for my system to ask students to write to predetermined patterns. That would be silly. But if they're able to see what makes good writing tick, they can more easily emulate that writing. With this system, I can untangle even the longest of Faulknerian sentences, showing all the little hidden nooks and crannies Faulkner so loved to insert. If you don't believe me, find the most complicated sentence you can find, send it to me, and I'll show you what the pattern is. At least, I hope I can. (That's called hedging one's bets.)

Tuesday, September 6

English Sentence Structure Simplified

For nearly my entire teaching career, I used a simplified system for explaining the structure of English sentences. It was sort of a reverse of the old "diagramming" that I and most others of my generation grew up with. And it could explain how very complex sentences work much better than we could show with diagramming. And I keep fearing the system will die with me. I put together a book explaining it called ES3 (English Sentence Structure Simplified), but the circles and arrows and symbol layers were so hard to create in a manuscript that the only place I could get it published with all its complications was on Lulu.com as an e-book. And now I'm asking, begging, anyone who has an e-reader and who might be interested in seeing how it works to go there and buy it for $2.99. And if anyone reading this knows an English teacher, please pass this news on to them. I don't want this method to get lost in the Ethernet, lost with my brain waves as they exit the solar system. To give you some idea of how it can explain complexity, look at this sentence:

There wouldn't be enough room on a hundred blackboards to diagram that sentence.

In ES3 I tried to eliminate most of the old grammatical terms that so confused (and probably still do) English students. When I say "most," not "all," I discovered that I still had to use subject, verb, object, noun, and appositive, but those are all pretty simple to begin with, and didn't require much explanation. I eliminated all the old grammatical bugaboos like subordinating conjuction, relative pronoun, subordinate clause, nominative absolute, gerund, infinitive, past participle, present participle, prepositional phrase, predicate noun, and predicate adjective, and substitued numbers. To show "understood words" and appositives I used parentheses, and I simply circled word groups used as objects, or "O" 's. For example, 1 = preposition, 2 = infinitive, 3 = present participle, 4 = past participle, 4a = adjective used as past participle. Simple, right? Let me give you some simple examples:

I'll demonstrate some simple uses of noun, adjective, and adverb clauses tomorrow.

Monday, September 5

Purple Hearts

Arizona drivers have over 65 license plates from which to choose, all different colors and designs. I would think that diversity would be a handicap for anyone trying to tell police about a car that was involved in an accident and then decided to run. I can’t really think of any reason one would need that many choices. Even the vanity plates could be given on a standard plate. But the plates I really wonder about are the POW and Purple Heart plates. I don’t know why anyone needs to announce to the driving world that he/she was a prisoner of war or a recipient of the Purple Heart. Neither condition necessarily says anything about bravery in battle. One could be a hero before or after becoming a prisoner, one could be a hero and wounded in action. Or one could be a captured coward; one could cut a hand opening a can of C-rations or “accidentally” shoot himself/herself in the foot and receive the same Purple Heart as the one given to the hero. Stephen Crane wrote a novel discussing the very nature of courage in battle, The Red Badge of Courage, suggesting that any wound might or might not be a sign of bravery. Henry Fleming, the young Union soldier, beat a hasty retreat from his first encounter with the enemy and was later struck in the head by a fellow runner, receiving his “red badge.” And would Henry Fleming then buy a Purple Heart car license? Probably. He would remind me of all the blowhards I’ve encountered in one American Legion or VFW, who sit around nursing a drink as they relive fantasy adventures in one American war or another.

Maybe we should have both a Purple Heart and a Yellow Heart to distinguish between heroic and non-heroic wounds.

Sunday, September 4

Tragic Memories

Traumatic events in our lives tend to freeze-frame the moments in our memories. And usually these moments aren’t reshaped or softened as so many of our memories seem to be. They’re just there in all their jagged pain. The year 1963 held three such moments for me, all involving the passing of people I loved and admired. I’d known death before, but only from a philosophical distance, the people not particularly close to me.

That changed when I got a phone call from my brother, telling me that my father had died in Florida, where he and my mother had lived in a trailer park near the ocean. I was called to the office from my class and I remember stumbling through the day, teaching woodenly, thinking all the while that I held a secret that none of my students could begin to guess. My father was dead. My father was dead. I whispered the news to Rosalie when I saw her in the boiler room where all the teachers gathered to steal a cigarette between classes. I wept, but only much later, after we had gone home.

In the fall, after we had gone to Greeley where I began working on a masters degree, I got the news that Blanche, my brother’s wife, and their youngest son had been killed in a small plane crash. Blanche, ten years my senior, had been a sister/mother to me. I remember the hazy, sunlit afternoon on campus, and the dullness of my spirit. And it will always be linked to the news of JFK’s assassination on November 22. I shared my grief and shock with the nation.

And now, a week from the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack in New York, we all look back at the moment when we heard the news of the Twin Towers dropping. It was a Tuesday and I was working the women’s league at the golf course. One of the ladies came in to announce in a loud voice what had happened, and I said, “That f---ing Bin Laden!”

Now we’re all looking back on that day when so many died so horrifically, so needlessly. Many of you may have seen this oddity regarding that day, but it’s worth repeating here. Type Q33NY, the designation of one of the planes that hit the towers, then enlarge it to 24 point, then switch the font to Wingdings. Here’s what comes up:

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