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.

Tuesday, January 31

Extremely Loud & The Grey

I’ve seen two rather impressive movies in the past few days, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Grey.

Although both Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are in Extremely Loud, it isn’t their show. Both are good but are only there as support for the performance of Thomas Horn, the young man who virtually steals it from his two super stars. The boy, a year after his father has died in the 9/11 tragedy, finds a key he believes his father has left him as a test of the boy’s ingenuity. With the help of the Renter (Max Von Sydow) the boy searches for the answer to the key, a search that takes him all over the Burroughs of New York. The Renter is a mute old man who rents a room from the boy’s grandmother. We never learn exactly why he is mute, but it makes for an interesting angle to the search and the plot. Finally, he comes to a man who realizes what the key is, the key to a bank deposit box the man’s father had left to him but which he had inadvertently given away in a blue vase he sold to the boy’s father at a garage sale. Whew! Ugly sentence. The mystery is solved, the boy has fulfilled what he believed was a test his father had given him. And all the people the boy had interviewed in his search are moved and emotionally affected by the thank you letter he sent to them. I guess it comes close to melodrama, especially as it deals with the tragedy of 9/11 that many people are still not ready to confront. But it’s well worth seeing if only for the amazing performance of its young star in his acting debut.

Then there’s The Grey, with Liam Neeson. If I thought the opening scenes in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me feel cold, I felt freezing all throughout The Grey. Neeson is working at an Alaskan oil refinery, a protector of the workers mainly by killing wolves. Many, including Neeson, are flying home during blizzard conditions, conditions that bring the plane down in the wilderness with only seven surviving. The seven scavenge the wreckage for clothing and wood and whatever else they might need to survive. And then they discover they’ve come down close to the den of a pack of wolves that resent their intrusion into their world. So, the seven flee from the wolves, trying to make it to the safety of a distant forested area. And one by one, in varying ways, they fall to the wilderness. This could have been a standard “B” flick, predictable action adventure stuff. But it went way beyond that. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a cinematic plane crash as vivid and frightening as this one was. The film makes use of what I call a chaotic camera for its effects of not only the plane crash, but also the attack of the wolves, and the falling from a high ledge into a stand of pines. We’re not only watching the action, we’re also participating in the crashing and beating off of wolves and falling through the branches to the ground. What especially takes it beyond the typical is the question of faith and the will to survive against insurmountable odds. Death, he tells one dying victim of the crash, is like a floating over, and then warmth. How does he know this? He learned it from his dying wife, who keeps telling him in his dream states, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.” Neeson’s father had written a four-line poem that Neeson takes to heart: “Once more into the fray, / Into the last good fight I'll ever know. / Live or die on this day. / Live or die on this day.” And he decides he will go “once more into the fray.” A good, frightening, naturalistic film.

Exploring the Net

I keep learning about what one can do on the Internet, the information available, the storage space for all kinds of creative efforts, the sharing of such efforts or thoughts with the millions of people now on Facebook and Twitter. For example, I wanted to see if I could insert an audio player widget onto my blog, so I did a search and stumbled onto SoundCloud, a site that allows me to join and then download music from my files, or record music or sounds or spoken text which I can then insert onto my blog. And there doesn’t seem to be any limit in terms of space I can use. The ether seems to be limitless. And almost all of the six billion of us think we have something important to contribute to the rest of the world: deathless prose or musical creations or feats of legerdemain or amazing athleticism. That seems to be what YouTube is all about, a place to download audio or video files that we hope others will see and exclaim over. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame, right now, and then fifteen more. I’m still trying to figure out how to use the SoundCloud download, but I did find a pretty good MP3 player from Amazon that I put in near the top of Doggy-Dog World. Any visitors might want to turn it on for a musical sound bite while they read. Oh yes, and while I was visiting SoundCloud, I tapped in to one of the blogs that was using it to display their musical efforts. Here is Kyle Mooney performing one of her creations, "Miami Sky." I love all that sound equipment, the keyboards and synthesizers, and she seems to be enjoying herself immensely.

All right, I figured out how to insert my SoundCloud player. See that bar at the bottom of your screen? And the orange "play" button and a button for "next track" or "previous track?" I seem to have a number of tracks by a group called seams. Try it out and listen to all the New Age music there. And next time, I'll be able to put in some of my favorite tracks.

Sunday, January 29

Figure Skating

For lack of anything better on the tube, last night we watched the two-hour coverage of the U. S. women’s figure skating championship. Ashley Wagner, the “close but no cigar” skater, finally made it all the way and beat out Alissa Czisny and Agnes Zawadski for the title. I make it sound like we weren’t very interested, but, in fact, I’ve been a fan of figure skating for as long as I can remember. I was even old enough to remember when Norway's Sonja Henie won several Olympics and went on to star in skating movies in the Thirties and Forties. I have many memories of moments on the ice for one skater or another. Peggy Fleming, who won Olympic gold in 1968, was then and still is one of the classiest skaters and women I’ve ever seen. Most of the ones I best remember are women. I guess I just like to see beautiful women make beautiful moves on the ice. But I do remember Brian Boitano, who, in 1988, perfected the move called the Tano, a triple lutz during which he raised his right arm overhead throughout the jump. And, of course, Scott Hamilton, the charismatic baldie with the first ever backward flip on ice, a move that wasn’t legal when he first did it. But the women: Dorothy Hamil 1n 1976, with her wedge haircut that influenced many young women in the Seventies; Katarina Witt, the tough German lady who won gold in 1984 and 1988; Kristi Yamaguchi, with gold in 1992; tiny Tara Lipinski in 1998, who sped around the ice like a bullet and stole the gold from Michelle Kwan. And who could forget Nancy Kerrigan and her battles with Tonya Harding. Remember? In 1994, Jeff Gillooly (should be Jeff Gill-Looney), Tonya’s ex-husband, hatched a plot to break Nancy Kerrigan’s leg just before the U.S. women’s championships. And Tonya went through a number of really odd incidents throughout and after her skating career (broken skate strings, loose blades, unhooked skating outfit, caught in traffic, etc.) and released a sex tape involving her and Gillooly and finally wound up in a boxing ring. But from Tonya’s classlessness to the most classy lady of all, Michelle Kwan, who was never quite able to win Olympic gold although she won nine U.S. and five world titles. Last night, Brian Boitano introduced her as she was inducted into the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Hall of Fame. And finally, one of the most moving and memorable segments I've ever seen, Torvill and Dean in the ice dance in 1984, bringing me and the audience to its feet as they danced to “Bolero.” Beautiful. I've inserted the video of their dance for your enjoyment.

Hard to believe my memories cover over half a century of figure skating.

Saturday, January 28

Abu Dhabi Tiger

It was nice to see Tiger possibly getting back to his old form at Abu Dhabi. On the golf course, that is. His form off the course doesn’t need to be revisited. He seems to be swinging pain free, and without most of the uglies that have plagued him these last two years. His putting in the third round looked solid, unlike the not-so-solid putting in the first two rounds. I know how a lot of viewers complain about all the tv coverage Tiger gets, but the truth is, the other lot of us WANT to see him play. I know my interest level jumps to about 100% whenever he’s in the hunt, and when he isn’t, or when he isn’t even entered in a tournament, my interest drops to about 5%. I’ve even discovered that Charlie loves golf, and he especially loves to watch Tiger. Yes, Charlie, that really is Tiger's name up there on the leaderboard.

Now and then, when Tiger’s ball is in flight, Charlie will try to help it along. But he loves watching just about anybody, and he's quite a student of the game.
So, Tiger, both I and Charlie wish you well. And welcome back to the leader board.

Thursday, January 26

We Bought a Zoo

How about another movie review? We Bought a Zoo was a nice, feel-good two hours. Not a great movie but certainly good enough for me to recommend it to anyone sick of explicit sex and raunchy language. Besides, I’ve been in love with Matt Damon since he was that brilliant but poor Bostonian in his debut film, Good Will Hunting. And, of course, I’ve been in love with Scarlet Johnnson since she was in Japan with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. The story was nice and predictable with some really cute animals, especially Spar, the aging and ailing tiger who had to be put down. And Buster, the grizzly bear that took a short escape stroll. And all the others willing to stand still for a few shots of them doing funny, clever things. Cameron Crowe directed, and we were introduced to a delightful little girl who'll probably be around charming us for a long time to come, Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie Mee, the daughter of Benjamin Mee, the new owner of the zoo in the title.

This movie made me feel good, and what’s even better, I won’t have to remember this one. Go see it for a nice two-hour escape from your daily humdrums.

Tuesday, January 24

School Dreams

In and out of school dreams last night. What set them all off was an opening dream in which I was attending an English faculty meeting, the old guard and the new guard arguing about the English curriculum for the following year. New guard wanted it to be much more open-ended, allowing all the teachers to teach anything they thought appropriate within language and literature areas. Old guard pooh-poohed that, saying we still needed to teach the various literatures at appropriate times and language skills like reading and writing and speaking just as they’d always been taught. For some reason, I was transferring to another school and didn’t really care one way or the other. So I sided with the new guard.

And then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I lay there thinking about new directions not only for English but for an entire high school curriculum. What about a school without any formal structure except what the teachers and students gave it? No grade levels, just students operating at whatever speed and skill levels they had. Teachers designing units according to the students’ needs, like having a class build stage scrims to see what effects they could create, designing entire sets for plays by famous playwrights or for their own plays, like teaching a unit about the Civil War in Spanish or French or German, making everyone (students and teachers) use nothing but that language to make points. And teams of teachers getting together to teach units that cross over from one educational field to another, like a unit combining math and biology and ancient history, or one combining psychology and philosophy and classical music. The combinations could be endless and endlessly provocative. Grades would be eliminated. Graduation would be determined by a student conferring with a group of teachers to see if that student were ready and prepared to leave school. There would be computers and tablets and televisions all over the place for research and learning. Teachers could use students as teacher aides to help others not up to speed. What an exciting place that could be, a place where both teachers and students looked forward to going there and were reluctant to leave. I think I’d like to have taught in such a place.

With these thoughts spinning around in my late-night brain, I finally went back to sleep, only to have another school dream, but one of the dreaded kind, where I had a classroom full of students who couldn’t focus on anything but themselves, who paid no attention to anyone but themselves, whose only desire was to hear the dismissal bell ring. Oh, how I hate that dream. All my desires to return to teaching—to share my knowledge and experience with my young, enthusiastic charges—is muted when I remember what those ugly classes were like. Maybe in my next life I’ll be involved in an open-ended school such as the one I imagined between dreams. I’d like that.

Monday, January 23

Playoff Football

I watched the two NFL playoff games yesterday, and I must say the score was Kristen Chenoweth 52, Steven Tyler 0. How could anyone have thought it a good idea to get Steven Tyler to sing our national anthem in front of the first game between the Ravens and Patriots? Must have been a Raven, because he sounded much more like a raven than a songbird. Sorry, Aerosmith fans, the man may be able to scream heavy metal lyrics, but he can’t sing anything else, especially not the national anthem. Of all the folks who have ever been invited to sing on national television for one sporting event or another, Tyler was the worst. And there have been a bunch of really bad ones. Now back to the football. The Ravens should at least have gotten the game to overtime, but the kicker pulled a chip shot left in the closing seconds to give it to the Pats. Although it wasn’t the Super Bowl, it was important enough that kicker Billy Cundiff will never live it down. Reminds me of another kicker who missed a similar chip shot in Super Bowl XXV when the Bills lost to the Giants 20-19. Oh, the pain. Scott Norwood, wherever he was relocated in the Witness Protection Program, is a name Bills fans will always remember as "Wide Right Norwood," will always remember with a shudder. Another who will be shunned by fans and fellow players for quite a while: Kyle Williams, the 49ers punt returner who let a punt bounce off his knee in the fourth quarter. Any punt returner knows if he isn't going to catch the ball, knows he must get the hell away from it. But Kyle didn't. The Giants recovered and scored a touchdown to go ahead by three. Then the 49ers managed a field goal to tie it in regulation. But in overtime, the 49ers held the Giants on their first possession, made them punt it away, and Kyle Williams coughed it up around the twenty-yard line to allow the Giants to kick a field goal to win it 20-17. Welcome to the Witness Protection Program, Kyle. I’ll be glad when this season is finally over. I’m like a football addict who has to watch it all, even though he doesn’t give a rat’s ass which team wins. One game to go. Good. Then I can start looking forward to next season. Come on, you Cardinals!

Sunday, January 22

New Year Television

In my youth, when television had only three networks producing shows—CBS, NBC, and ABC—the season got started in early September and ran until the end of April, nine months with most shows having a 28 episode season. And with only three networks, it wasn’t hard to find eight or ten must-see shows a week. The only reality show that was popular enough to last for half a century was 60 Minutes, and that was a news show, not what we think of today as a reality show. And I guess all the game shows would be called reality shows as well as the late-night talk shows.

Just look at us now, almost a hundred networks, half of which with too many reality shows. I still can’t figure out why so many people are so fascinated with shows like The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser, Big Brother, The Real Housewives of one place or another, one kind of Apprentice or another (Who really wants to watch Gary Bussey rant and rave? Who really wants to see the Trumpster’s pursed lips and ridiculous pompadour?), one kind of angry chef or another, one Kardashian or another. And there are now so many good series every week that we don’t have enough time to watch them all. I DVR-ed all ten shows of American Horror Story, watched the pilot yesterday, and decided that despite the rave reviews, it was just too strange and x-rated for my taste. I DVR-ed all the episodes of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, watched five of them yesterday, and decided that despite it grittiness, dirtiness, muddiness, and bloodiness, it was a realistic look at that time in our history when The Union Pacific was grinding along laying tracks that would eventually meet the tracks laid by the Central Pacific to form the first transcontinental railway. The Western as a film genre isn’t always very realistic, but this one seems to be, much as was Deadwood of a few years ago. I can’t wait to see the rest of this first season, and look forward to season two. Then there was all the hype about Alcatraz. We watched thirty minutes of the pilot and decided it just wasn’t going to make it. Too much silliness involving time travel and the mysterious disappearance of prisoners on the island before it was closed forever. Even the background music had too many echoes of Lost. Thirty minutes was enough. We have enough favorites each week that we don’t need to get involved in everything that comes down the pike—Blue Bloods, The Mentalist, Harry’s Law, The Good Wife, Glee, Person of Interest, Grimm, Southland, The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles. Have I missed any? Oh, yes, The Big Bang Theory. I know I’m passing over a bunch of shows that others like, but I just don’t have enough hours in the evenings to watch everything. I notice that Kiefer Sutherland is starring in one that looks interesting—Touch, about a single parent raising a mute son with amazing gifts of prescience. I hope it’s as good as it sounds.

Friday, January 20

War Horse

We finally got to see War Horse. I think what I said about it in my Oscar prognostications was right, that movies about horses don’t win awards. Forgive me, Flicka, The Pie (National Velvet), Black Beauty, Ruffian, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and any other horses I may have offended. Although this was a good movie, it wasn’t a great movie. The early twentieth century English countryside looked just too fake for my tastes. And the village and the farmhouse where Albert and his parents lived looked too much like something out of Disney. Not that Disney doesn’t put out great films, but often their sets are almost too pretty to be believed. Although the bond between Joey the horse and Albert the boy was touching, heart-warming, it stretched my imagination to think that they were as tuned into each other as the story would have me believe. The British cavalry charge on the German encampment was brutally realistic and well done and the depiction of trench warfare, with its barbed wire no-man’s-land and its mustard gas was equally well done. But then there was the moment when the English soldier leaves his trench to help the wire-entangled Joey. A German soldier comes out to help the Englishman cut the horse loose. He has a wire cutter, but the Englishman tells him they need a second wire cutter to successfully free Joey. The German shouts back to his trench mates for another wire cutter and suddenly about eight such tools come flying through the air. It was a play for laughter and it seemed totally out of synch with the horrors of WWI warfare. Am I nitpicking? All of us would like to think our pets are special, intelligent, loving creatures. We anthropomorphize them, just as Albert did with Joey. But realistically, it just ain’t so. The movie was sentimental, tear-jerking, and heartstring-tugging. The movie was good. But it certainly wasn’t the best picture of the year.

Wednesday, January 18

Arizona Broadway Theatre

Last night we had the pleasure of going to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see Singin’ in the Rain, and what a treat it was. For one thing, much of the score was familiar to us from that time way back then when we saw Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelley, and Donald O’Connor do their things on the only screen we knew about back then, the screen in a movie theater: “Fit as a Fiddle,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “All I Do Is Dream,” “Make ‘em Laugh,” “Lucky Star,” “You Were Meant for Me,” “Moses Supposes,” “Good Morning,” and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain.” I hoped they’d try to do the rain dance we remember when Kelley joyfully splashed around and spun on that streetlight. And they did. They used a Los Angeles street scene in the background with a raised street that acted as a catch for the water, then a sprinkler above for the rain, and Don Lockwood danced and sang exactly like Gene Kelley. Great set designs, great costumes, great singing from the whole cast, and really great dance numbers. I’m always surprised at how well the Arizona casts can dance. The numbers featuring Don and Cosmo and Kathy were especially good. I think Kelley, O’Connor, and Reynolds would have been proud and might even have said they couldn’t have done it better. We’re really fortunate to have this great dinner theatre so nearby.

Tuesday, January 17

Academy Awards

Now that the Golden Globes is in the past, it’s time to pick the Oscars. I know, I know, it's way too early to be hazarding guesses, and I still have quite a few of the movies up for consideration yet to see, but I can make some predictions based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard about the others.

Of those up for best picture, I want to eliminate The Tree of Life because it was just too unsatisfyingly confusing; The Help because it was just too Disneyish; Hugo because it was too 3-D-ish; and Midnight in Paris because, although it was very good, it was still too light in the loafers. I haven’t yet seen War Horse, but I don’t think it will win simply because films about horses just don’t ever win. That leaves me with The Descendants and The Artist. I had been saying all along I thought Clooney and this movie would be the winners. But now after seeing The Artist I’m no longer so sure. It’s going to be one or the other, and of the two I’m betting on The Artist.

Of those up for Best Actor, I’m eliminating Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar simply because he never should have been cast as Hoover in the first place; Brad Pitt in Moneyball because although it was a great role, the movie itself was too uninspiring to carry him there; Michael Fassbender in Shame only because this is one of those I haven’t seen and most of the critics think he’s in over his head. Again, that leaves George Clooney in Descendants and Jean Dujardin in The Artist. This one will be close, but Clooney will outsmile the Frenchman for the Oscar.

Maybe the best and closest race will be for Best Actress (I wonder how much longer we’ll retain this division between men and women. Seems kind of sexist to me. Why not simply Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor regardless of sexual persuasion?) I’m eliminating Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin simply because she’s too gauntly ugly. The other four are all nearly equal. I love Michelle Williams for what she’s done in the past and I can bet her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe must have been sensational. But she won’t win. And Glenn Close is a close second to Maryl Streep as our premier female actress. I haven’t seen her as the odd little man in Albert Nobbs but I’m sure it’s interestingly strange. But she won’t win. And Viola Davis in The Help was quietly, exhaustedly great, but the movie was too thin for her to win. I guess that leaves me with Meryl Streep, the iron Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

For Best Supporting Actor, I don’t have a clue, since I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, or Albert Brooks in Drive, or Christopher Plummer in Beginners, or Mark Von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. That leaves Jonah Hill in Moneyball, but he won’t win simply because of his inconsequential fat man comic roles in the past. So I’ll guess at Christopher Plummer.

For Best Supporting Actress, I’m eliminating both Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer because of the lightweightedness of their film The Help; eliminating Melissa McCarthy because of the lightweightedness of Bridesmaids. I haven’t yet seen Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs, so I can’t say much about her. But I can say something about Bérénice Bejo from The Artist: She was wonderful, and will win this Oscar.

I can never figure out who a best director will be. I’d like to see Clooney win it for Ides of March, but he won’t. I’d like to see Woody Allen win it for Midnight in Paris, but he won’t. Nor will Terrence Malick for Tree of Life, nor Alexander Payne for The Descendants, nor Tate Taylor for The Help. That leaves Steven Spielberg for War Horse, Michael Hazanaviclus for The Artist, and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. I’d love to see Hazanaviclus win it for The Artist, for its radical shift in expectations, but he won’t win. Of the other two, I’m guessing that Scorsese will win it over Spielberg, but either could win it just on the basis of their past performances


Picture—The Artist (The Descendants my alternate)

Actor—Clooney (Jean Dujardin my alternate)

Actress—Streep (Michelle Williams my alternate)

Supporting Actor—Plummer (Max von Sydow my alternate)

Supporting Actress—Bejo

Director—Scorsese (Steven Spielberg my alternate)

There, now just watch me fall on my face.

Monday, January 16

Dr. Pepper, Tim Tebow, and The Artist

What in the world could the folks at Dr. Pepper have been thinking? Over half the population of the U.S. are women, and they decided to insult the whole bunch? Even the men who have seen the ad for Dr. Pepper 10 are angered but for different reasons than the women. Heads must be falling even now at the Dr. P. place, and deservedly so. Gun metal gray can with industrial rivets, indeed. How dumb.

All this talk about Tim Tebow and Tebowmania. Is he good or just lucky? Is he going to continue to be the starter in Denver next year? Am I the only one who can see what’s wrong? I haven’t read a single word about it or heard anyone on ESPN mention it. The guy needs to shorten his stroke. His left-handed windup is too long and takes too long to leave his hand, thus hurried throws and balls knocked loose. NFL quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of that extra half-second. Shorten the stroke, Tim. You'll be a Bronco yet.

We just got back from seeing a most delightful, completely charming movie—The Artist. And now I know what everyone has been raving about, and I can join in the rave. Before I saw it, I kept thinking it couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone said. I mean, a black-and-white silent film in 2012? Nah, can’t happen. Well, I was wrong, and whoever first came up with this radical idea has to be nuts or clairvoyant . . . or both. What we have here is a black-and-white, silent movie about the making of black-and-white, silent movies, starring two people most of us have never heard of, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, and a dog named Uggie that could be Frasier’s dad's Eddy or Eddy’s son. I guess I’m just fickle, but I’m now taking back my vote for The Descendents as best picture and casting it instead for The Artist.

Saturday, January 14

Charlie, Loan Lies, & Tinker Tailor

Charlie update: Charlie has settled in and now owns us completely—lock, stock, and barrel, and anything else he cares to take over. We’ve never known anyone more personable than Charlie, completely self-assured at such a young age, completely trusting and loving of and by his new parents, charming enough to win over anyone’s heart. Our sister-in-law Doris and her granddaughter Claire visited us a few days ago. Doris admittedly is not a cat person. Anyone who knows cats knows that cats can spot people who are uncomfortable around them, spot it in their eyes, and will then invariably choose that lap to leap upon. And Charlie did just that to Doris, on the lap, then stretching out in contented sleep. About an hour later, Doris was still stroking the back and legs, completely charmed out of her socks by this little charmer.

I've noticed an irritating tv commerical lately (not that "irritating" doesn't describe nearly every tv ad). Presto Auto Loans comes on smilingly to tell us that a $2000 loan from Presto after 14 months of $200 payments would be paid off. But anyone who took out a competitor's loan, same length of time but $300 a month, would still owe $2000 after fourteen months. Just how stupid do the Presto people think we are? Their loan would be for about 25% interest, a little more than even the highest credit card rate. In any state that rate would be considered usurious. Then there's the loanshark competitor. Their interest rate apparently would be about 210%, reminiscent of the mob and its money lenders, with a vig practically no one could come up with, making for a bunch of broken legs and arms and heads. How, then, can Presto continue their ad campaign? Isn't anyone in law enforcement watching the cookie jar?

I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy yesterday and came away completely confused. I guess I'd consider it a good movie. But I'm not sure. Like a lot of other viewers who might not want to admit their confusion, I feel that I should call it good and then shut up. It seemed to be a series of unrelated images, interesting images, but without any apparent connection. And then there were the typical English offices and apartments, barely half-lit, as though no one in England can afford an electric bill. And the flashbacks and scene repeats, never explained or connected. The plot was fairly simple: There was a mole in the British secret service, someone high up, someone who needed to be uncovered. That's what happened . . . I guess. If anyone out there goes to see Tinker and understands it better than I, please explain it to me.

Wednesday, January 11

Electoral College vs. Popular Vote

I seem to be on a political kick lately. Not hard to understand with all the news about the GOP hopefuls and the national interest in the upcoming duel between Obama and his Republican opponent. All this coverage of Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina nominating results. All this talk about the influence of the swing states, the states that political pundits are saying will decide who wins, who loses.

And that talk leads to the debate over the electoral vote vs. the popular vote to decide the next president. According to the latest Gallup poll, 62% (more Democrats than Republicans) of American voters are in favor of an amendment to do away with the Electoral College and to use the popular vote to decide who should be president. Granted, most winners with the 270 electoral votes have also had a majority of the popular vote. But three times in our history, people were elected who did not have the majority of the popular vote: Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000. Bush, with that strange Florida recount, beat Al Gore but lost the popular vote by 543,816. Gore had a valid argument then and the voters today have an equally valid argument against the outdated method instituted by the Founding Fathers as a compromise between those who wanted Congress to select a president and those who wanted it decided by the people.

Besides the unfairness of the above three examples, there’s another reason why we should use the popular vote: In states that seem to be already decided based on past voting (non-swing states for either nominee), too many voters might be discouraged from voting simply because they’d feel their vote wouldn’t matter. And it wouldn’t. The electoral votes in California, for example, are already decided ten months ahead of time. A vote for anyone other than Barack Obama wouldn’t matter. Might as well tear up your vote and throw it to the wind, maybe even skip voting entirely. A vote in South Dakota for anyone other than a republican wouldn’t matter. Throw that one to the wind as well, maybe even skip voting entirely. But, you say, they’d have other races to decide on a state and national level, so they’d still come out to vote. Yes, the dedicated and politically aware voters would still vote. But what about the millions of not so dedicated or not so politically aware, the semi-apathetic? Hmmm, the argument would be that we don’t want those millions deciding anything so important anyway, an echo of our Founding Fathers’ reason for not wanting a popular vote to decide such an important matter, their fear of giving too much power to the riffraff. Or as Ron Paul said in his 2004 essay “The Electoral College vs. Mob Rule,” “The Electoral College system represents an attempt, however effective, to limit federal power and preserve states’ rights. It is an essential part of our federalist balance. It also represents a reminder that pure democracy, mob rule, is incompatible with liberty.” So, Ron, who decides who the mob is? So, Ron, we should keep an elitist system for making this decision and not put it at least partially in the hands of the mob, the riffraff, the rabble, the great unwashed . . . the people? I don’t think so.

Sunday, January 8

More Politics

Couple of stats I find interesting. MSNBC reports that thus far $160 million has been spent on negative campaign ads, and $17 million on positive ads. Hmmm, seems a little disproportionate to me. And this regarding the numbers who question Barack Obama’s citizenship (You remember the Trumpster’s claim?): 17% of the American people, 23% of registered Republicans. I wouldn’t have thought we had that many truly stupid people living here.

And as long as I’m being politically offensive, I might as well repeat what I said a few months ago. If Obama loses this year and is a one-term president, then whichever GOP nominee wins, he too will be a one-termer because he too won’t have fixed our nation’s ills. And guess what will happen in 2016: Hillary Clinton will become the first female president in U.S. history. There, write it down.

Friday, January 6

Negative Politics

Now we begin the election process leading to November, 2012. This process, sadly, involves too much negative campaigning. Why can’t all the candidates simply tell us what they’ll do if elected instead of telling us what their opponents have done wrong in the past. Also, sadly, these negative ads sway the voters to such an extent that they’ll wind up voting against someone instead of voting for someone. Another aspect of this process is the amount of money each candidate has to spend. It seems that the more money each has, the more money spent on television ads both positive and negative, the more likely this candidate will win. So one can buy an elction. If you’re really wealthy and also have the means to raise huge contributory funds, you can out-shout your opponent. Why can’t we put a spending limit on candidates as they do in England? The Supreme Court, in 1976, held that to do so would be a violation of free speech. So we’re stuck with the battle of the bucks. And we’re going to be stuck with way too many mud-slinging television ads for the next ten months. I guess I’ll do with them what I do with tv commercials: dvr everything and then fast-forward through the trash.

I hope we don't become Calvins and simply not vote.

Side note on Charlie. Charlie still rules the house and Squeakie is still hiding out. I know they'll call a truce sometime, but it looks like it may be quite a while before that happens. Can't you just see the devil oozing out of those green eyes?

Charlie reminds me of that too funny Garfield strip:

Thursday, January 5


Yes, we went back to PetSmart to look at Ashleigh, but the volunteer from Four Paws thought she was too shy and probably wouldn’t get along with another female cat. So we decided on Charlie, a 4-month-old black and white short hair male. Here he is, and doesn’t he look like a little devil?

We didn’t realize what we were getting. Charlie has to be the most active little person we’ve ever known, completely uninhibited. And before much longer he will own us as well as Squeakie. Squeakie is presently hiding behind the tv in our Arizona room and refuses to come out. But she will eventually. And eventually she and Charlie will become best friends. That may take awhile, though. Like most of 2012.

Charlie came home with us at 3:00. Squeakie, when she first saw him, went up and touched noses, after which her tail blew up like a balloon and she would have nothing more to do with him. "Where's Dusty" she must have been thinking. "I don't want a substitute Dusty." Every time Charlie approached wherever Squeakie was hiding, we would hear a growl. And the threat would send Charlie off on another romp through the house, romps which continued until it was time for us to go to bed. We had no more than got in bed when we felt this tiny black and white presence with a man-size purr, back and forth across our blanketed bodies, nuzzling whatever hand was out, telling us he wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep. Finally, though, he did, and slept between us for the entire night. Now we just have to figure out how to talk Squeakie out from behind the television set.

Tuesday, January 3

Dusty & Friends

Painful it was, but we got through it. And I didn't even blubber when I handed Dusty off to the vet. He asked me as he held Dusty if I wanted to sit down with him to discuss what would be going on. I said, "Oh my, no. We just need to leave as fast as possible." And leave we did, to come home to sit silently and stare out the window, checking to see if Squeakie was all right. She may miss Dusty even more than we do. She was a tiny kitten when she came home with the 3-year-old Dusty, and they were father/daughter, brother/sister for just over thirteen years.

I feel much as I did thirteen years ago, when we had to do the same thing for our Stephanie. I went into my journals to see what I'd said back then. I think it's appropriate enough to say it again. This, from August, 1998.

"We decided that we weren’t doing Stephanie any favors by keeping her here with us. Tomorrow we make the arrangements. I’m considering going in with her to wait for her death, to comfort her as she’s going. But I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that. I weep at Hallmark commercials. What will I do as I hold Stephie’s hand? She’s been such a good friend to us these past six years. I so much regret not being closer to her in her first twelve years, while she was sort of Mike’s cat, while she sort of slunk down from the upstairs, carefully avoiding Tweakie, going outside, then sneaking back in and upstairs again. Right now I don’t know if I want another cat. I think maybe we’ll have to wait on that one.

We sat around all afternoon waiting for the 4:00 appointment. And then, finally, it was time to go. Rosalie drove and I held Strephanie and she didn’t even get big-eyed, just like she knew what was going on. I carried her into the clinic and one of the girls there asked me what was wrong, meaning what was wrong with my cat, and I literally burst into tears. Like a baby. And I said I didn’t think I would be staying there with her until she died, I just wasn’t strong enough. She patted me on the back and told me it was all right, that they’d be very gentle with her. And I blubbered a thank you, signed the euthanasia certificate, wrote the check, and got out of there. Oh, Stephanie girl, we’re going to miss you so. We got home, both tearing (both meanings of tear appropriate in this context) all over the place, and without a word we both started picking up all her things, all the papers, all the accumulated drinking glasses, the food dishes, the litter box. I immediately thought of one of the Dickinson poems about death: “The bustle in a house / The morning after death / Is solemnest of industries / Enacted upon earth. / The sweeping up the heart / And putting love away / We shall not want to use again / Until Eternity.” Were we ever bustling around, and sweeping up our hearts. Now I have a headache and feel like I could go to bed and sleep for a week. Rosalie said this afternoon that Stephanie came out of the bedroom and threw up again . . . on the papers. That’s the fourth time she’s spit up on the papers we had in the hall, just like she knew why they were there. Well, she did. No dummy, Stephanie. So we’ll cocktail, just as we always do, and we’ll supp on a salad. Then we’ll tv a bit until we fall asleep in our chairs, then stumble off to bed to dream of Stephanie. And maybe weep another silent tear into our pillows."

I went to PetSmart this afternoon . . . just to look. And there was a 6-month-old gray tabby named Ashleigh, who looked at me with Dusty eyes. I nearly brought her home with me. But maybe I can talk Rosalie into going there tomorrow . . . just to look.

Monday, January 2

New Year Obligations

Today was a day for putting away all the Christmas decorations, for beginning resolutions, for deciding what we were going to do about our Dusty, our poor old bag of bones who just keeps going downhill. Rosalie spent the morning putting stuff away and getting the house in order. And I mostly just stayed out of her way. But I did figure out what to do with the framed print we got from sister Bonnie. I moved the Sitting Bull picture and the tomahawk and peace pipe to a spot near the patio door. Some might wonder where we got an authentic tommahawk and peace pipe. They belonged to Rosalie's father, Bill Zimmer, who got them from somewhere on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation early in the twentieth century.

Then I put the print where Sitting Bull used to be. It’s such a large thing and we seem to have run out of blank walls. It’s a 29 x 18 print in a 39 x 28 frame, called “At the Crossing” by artist Jim Hansel.
We have no idea what it might be worth, but it looks good on our wall. Then I went to the Fitness Center at Beardsley Rec Center and spent some time trying to figure out all the machines. I felt silly trying to set the seats and weights correctly and then do the exercises. I guess I’ll have to sign up for a personal trainer to show me what to do. Then I went to the animal hospital to arrange for what I didn’t want to arrange, the paperwork and payment for euthanasia and cremation for Dusty. I set it up for Tuesday morning. And, oh, how painful that’s going to be. But it would be too selfish of us to keep him any longer. Quality of life is what determines when that times comes, for pets as well as owners, and his life has had no quality for these past six months. So, we’ll do it. And we’ll weep at what we’ve lost. And then we’ll go to Four Paws and bring back two kittens to replace Dusty, two new buddies for Squeakie to look after.

Sunday, January 1

Quail Block

It takes all kinds. My wife works at Ace Hardware and she comes home with some of the strangest stories about customers. Yesterday, a woman brought a quail block to the checkout. A quail block is a 15-pound block of bird seed and binder.

She plopped it on the counter and told my wife she just couldn’t stand all those dirty little birds that paraded through her yard. Now, quail as we know them in Sun City West are some of the funniest, most charming little birds we’ve ever seen.
They scurry along the ground, taking to the air only when they have to. And every spring, we see families go by, mom and dad and up to twenty tiny little walnuts following along. And this woman wanted to keep them out of her yard. So she thought buying a quail block and putting it where the birds entered her yard would keep them out . . . block them, that is. Like I said, it takes all kinds.

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