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

Tuesday, April 28

Lazy Afternoon

Another lovely day here in Paradise. The air is fairly calm, just enough breeze to set our elephantine arbor vitae rocking and rolling, the temperature around 80 degrees at midday, climbing to near 90 by late afternoon. I’m here with the boys—Charlie, Tiger, and Tuffy—listening to Diane Reeves by way of Spotify, waiting for Rosalie to return from her morning at the pool. Diane just sang her version of the old Minnie Ripperton classic, “Lovin’ You.” Diane’s version didn’t attempt the four-octave range of Minnie. But then, who could match Minnie? The kitties are all being very good right now. They’re all asleep, part of their 18-hour daily sleepathon. Diane is now doing anther old classic, “Midnight Sun,” lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It’s the only song you’d ever hear rhyming lips like a “ruby chalice” and “alabaster palace” and “aurora borealis.” I first heard this song done by June Christy on her Something Cool album in 1954. Oh, my, that was over sixty years ago. Where did the time go? Where are all the old jazz classics that I know and love? I guess they’re all being kept safe and sound by the young jazz singers out there, those who haven’t fallen into the hip-hop rapper cesspool that’s too evident on the charts today. I sound just like an old fogey, don’t I? I guess I am an old fogey who still knosw good music and bad. I’d rather listen to the good. One of our two yellow swallowtail butterflies just fluttered by, dipping and swooping and then up and over the arbor vitae. Doesn’t he ever get tired? And how long will he stay here with us? The two of them have been here for well over a month and I almost never see either of them resting on a branch. Just another of nature’s miracles. And speaking of nature and weather, the news is still reporting such awful weather conditions across most of the U. S.: torrential rains, hail big as softballs, flooding, tornadoes. And although not related to weather, Mother Nature has raised her punishing hand with the volcano in Chile and the horrific earthquakes in Nepal and the Himalayas. My wife and I feel so fortunate to have found this safe haven in Arizona, in this Valley of the Sun, in this retirement paradise. I wish we had room enough for everyone residing in those calamitous areas. But that’s not possible. Rosalie just got home. The arbor vitae have stopped dancing. The swallowtails have disappeared. And the boys are now awake and waiting for their afternoon treat of Fancy Feast. Life is good, for us two humans and our three boys.

Monday, April 27

LGBT

The Bruce Jenner story is all over the news lately. Remarkable how far we’ve come in the last twenty or thirty years in our attitudes toward what was once thought of as deviant sexual behavior.
Bruce Jenner was the All-American boy back when he won the Olympic decathlon in the 1976 Games. He was handsome, he was built like the ideal Olympic athlete, he was adored by millions of young American women. And now he’s openly discussing his desire to become a woman. His openness is amazing and admirable, and his decision is amazingly accepted by most Americans. Not all, certainly, but by way more than would have accepted it thirty years ago. I heard one newscaster say that there are over 700,000 transgenders in the U. S. today. Wow! Thirty years ago few had ever even heard of trasngenders and transgendering. But it goes hand in hand with our modern views on sexuality. Very soon now, every state will recognize the legality of same-sex marriage. Most people now accept gay men and women and their right to live together, to marry, to adopt children, to even have their own children through surrogate mothers or sperm donors. In the not so distant past, homosexuals were reviled, ridiculed, despised, tormented, bullied, beaten, killed. Most, to avoid the harassment, hid their sexuality, married opposite gender spouses, had children, probably lived out unhappy lives. Some committed suicide. Then along came Will and Grace, Modern Family, and Glee—to show and discuss, laugh at, laugh about openly gay relationships. Many tv shows had minor plot lines relating to LGBT themes (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), but the three mentioned above made these themes their main plot line. Ellen DeGeneres came out both on her early sit-com Ellen and on her talk show that she was gay. On Glee, Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson not only withstood the bullying over their gay relationship, they got married and on the Glee finale were about to have a child thanks to Rachel’s surrogate pregnancy. The 1992 movie The Crying Game forced viewers to consider and then reconsider exactly what constitutes love between men and women, between man and what we thought was woman. And then Brokeback Mountain in 2005 forced viewers to consider and then reconsider the sexual relationship between two men, the love between these two men. And in 2010 movie viewers were asked, in The Kids Are All Right, to consider the complexities of a lesbian marriage and the effects that might have on the two children they had by way of unnamed sperm donors. Julianne Moore and Annette Benning are the lesbian couple, and Mark Ruffalo the sperm-donor father of Laser, their young son. And, yes, the kids were all right.

Now it seems that Bruce Jenner’s kids are all right with his transgendering from Bruce to Belinda.
I certainly hope so, and I hope that the next twenty or thirty years will completely erase any remnants of animosity toward the LGBT community in this country as well as in most of the other countries of the world.

Sunday, April 26

Linguistic Changes

Yesterday I saw Ex Machina, the movie about AI, or artificial intelligence. No, this isn’t going to be a review of the film (I’ll save that for later), just a direction or misdirection my thoughts took based on that film. When I bought my ticket, I said I wanted to see Ex MA-kina, pronouncing it with the “k” sound instead of the “sh.” And I wondered if the young person who sold me the ticket was wondering why I pronounced it that way. I also wondered how many of those who went to see the film pronounced it as I did and how many the other way. Language is obsessively interesting in the way it keeps twirling around in ever-new dance steps, evolving, changing, whether we want it to or not. I reflected on my study of Greek tragedy wherein I learned that “deus ex machina” was a dramatic device in which a deity was lowered to the stage by a machine to resolve a conflict that couldn’t be resolved any other way. It was pronounced as “MA-kina.” And now I see that in modern dictionaries, with words like machinate and machinations there’s a trend to pronounce them with the “mash” that we see in machine. Is this trend good or bad or indifferent? Who knows? Who cares?

I care.

I’ve been involved in the study of language, especially English, for my entire life, and I’m still not certain what my views on linguistic change are. I know change is inevitable. When a language doesn’t change or grow, it stagnates and dies. Dead old Latin today survives only in the Catholic Church, and even that is giving way to English. Pronunciation is an important element of language. William E. Umbach, in an essay on etymology said, “To know how to pronounce the word correctly could give the user power over the thing or being, a principle of great importance in the exercise of witchcraft.”

Yes, witchcraft. In my memory, I carry with me incidents burned onto my psyche like cattle brands, times when I mispronounced words, and my embarrassment and chagrin at being corrected. Years ago I remember conversing with a fellow English teacher about “virility,” and I pronounced virile as “VY-ril” (like DIE-rul). She said, “Are you sure that’s how it’s pronounced?” And I, arrogantly, said yes. I found out about my arrogant error later, but to this day I cringe whenever I think what she must have thought of me in light of my ignorant arrogance. I guess she might have shunned me as though I had a virus and thought I might infect her with my “virality.”

Because my linguistic experience is mainly based on the written and not the spoken language, I made two other pronunciation gaffes that haunt me. I was conversing with a fellow English teacher about the trend of suing people or companies for almost any real or imagined harm. I said, “We’re living in a litigous (I pronounced it “LIT-i-gus”) society,” and she promptly corrected me to “lit-IJ-us.” That embarrassment led me to examine all the words related to litigation, like “litigator” and “litigate” and “litigant,” all with the hard G sound. So, why shouldn’t the adjective be spelled “litigous” instead of “litigious”? Another time I was talking about our English department having the burden of teaching young people how to read and write correctly. Yeah, you can hear it coming. I said, “We have the onus of this task,” and I pronounced it “AW-nus” instead of “OH-nus.” Again, because I’d only read this word and never heard it pronounced, I fell into this pronunciation mud puddle, and oh, was I ever quickly corrected by my peers.

Sort of in this same vein, once in one of my classes, I was commenting on a student essay in which she’d said how much she liked a current rock band, Bon Jovi. I pronounced it as in French “bone-zhow-VI,” and you should have heard the class howl. That gaffe leads me to the modern “hoe,” the word one of my students used orally to describe an F. Scott Fitzgerald character we were discussing, at which I promptly landed on him with both shoes, telling him that she wasn’t at all a whore. He didn’t respond, but he gave me a very strange look. Later, I found out that this slang expression for young people is a general female insult, describing a woman of loose character, a skank or even a slut, but not necessarily a prostitute. No wonder he felt confused by my reaction to his comment. Another language change of which I hadn’t kept abreast.

Now, back to my old fight with users and mis-users of “forté.” Almost no one today, especially sportscasters, when they speak of someone’s strength, as in “Reading putts is his forté,” pronounces it as one syllable, as in “fort.” They just love “for-TAY.” And we then lose the rich history of these two words, one derived from French and one from Italian. “Forté” (fort) and its antonym “bête noire” (literally, black beast)come from French, meaning “strength” and “weakness, or something you hate.” “Forté” (for-TAY) and its antonym “piano” come from Italian, meaning the musical directions “loud” and “soft.” My bête noire is hearing someone pronounce it “for-TAY” instead of “FORT.”

I hear almost everyone saying “err” (air) instead of what I learned as a young man “To urr is human, to forgive divine.” It makes sense that since we pronounce “error” as “AIR-er,” we should also pronounce “to err” as “to air,” but the first, or preferred, pronunciation is “to urr.” Language change, language growth, whether we like it or not. Also, the first or preferred pronunciation for “prestigious” is “pres-TIJ-us” even though “pres-TEE-jus” would make better sense in light of “prestige” pronounced as “pres-TEEZH.”

English is just loaded with curious word pairs that confuse non-English speakers: quash and squash, tortuous and torturous, principle and principal, maudlin and Magdalene, to name only a few. English is curious as well as changing. I guess that means it’s in good health instead of being moribund. I hear more and more people using “cliché” as an adjective instead of a noun, as in “To dance the Twist is so cliché today"(synonymously meaning trite or passé, both adjectives). The times, they are a-changin’, and the English language is alive and well and not even close to moribundity. I can hardly keep up with it.

Sunday, April 19

Under the Skin

A few weeks ago I wrote a short review of maybe the strangest yet most beautiful film I’d ever seen—Under the Skin, based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name. It was strange because I could only guess at what the story was about, a combination science fiction concept of alien invasion and a mystery/thriller involving male abduction. It starred Scarlet Johannsen, so naturally I watched it carefully even though confused. I carefully watch anything starring Scarlet Johannsen. For her acting ability, of course.

I decided I had to read the book to find some explanation for my confusion. Whoa! Or maybe more appropriately, “Oink!” The novel is stranger than the movie, but where the movie never explained itself except in the most symbolic way, the novel was quite clear as to Faber’s intended meaning: The aliens think nothing of harvesting male vodsels (humans) to process and butcher for meat to be sent back to the wealthy elite on their home planet, just as we think nothing of fattening up cows and hogs and turkeys to make the meat more tender when we butcher them and package their byproducts for our consumption. Normally in a sci-fi novel or story about alien visitation of earth, the aliens are super-scientific and scoop up humans to take to their ships to study them. Here, they want only to ship vodsel meat back home as a very expensive but very tasty food item.

Here are several examples of Faber’s writing style, which helps demonstrate the beauty of his language as well as the filmaker’s attempts at recreating that beauty. “The days were lengthening fast: only 8:24, and the sun was already off the ground. The sky was bruise blue and flesh pink behind a swaddling of pure white cumulus, hinting at the frigid clarity to come.” “In the world outside, the sun’s rays intensified abruptly as if some responsible agency had just noticed they were shining at half the recommended power. The windscreen lit up like a lamp and beamed ultraviolet rays onto Isserley and the hitcher, pure heat with the nip of breeze neatly filtered out.” Nice, yes?

Some exposition: a female named Isserley has spent four years at her job of searching out and abducting appropriate males to take back to the Ablach Farm, where workers take them inside a barn for processing. She roams the highways of the Scottish Highlands looking for hitchers, whom she picks up and finds out if they’re proper specimens (no skinny ones, no sick ones, no females). If no, she drops them off along the highway; if yes, she hits a toggle switch that springs two needles up through the passenger-side seat, injecting icpathua, a drug that puts them out immediately. The car, an old red Toyota Corolla, has been tricked up by Ensel, the manager of the farm workers, by inserting the drug switch as well as a switch that darkens the windows so no one can see what’s going on inside the car. We get this information in bits and pieces, at first only following Isserley on her foraging for hitchers. Slowly, information about her is hinted at: the pain she feels in her back, the overlarge green eyes that have to be hidden behind thick glasses, the scarring of her hands, her huge breasts she uses to entice men into the car. She has been physically altered by plastic surgeons back on her home planet so that she can look human (or vodsel, since she thinks of herself as human and the earthlings as lowly animals, or vodsels). We learn later that she’s had her tail amputated and her spine shortened, her sixth finger on each hand removed, her nose altered from her natural snout to a tiny vodsel nose, her small natural breasts removed and replaced by breasts copied from a magazine that Ensel had found, Playboy, I would guess. Esswis, also having been altered to pass as a human, is the token owner of the farm. We never learn exactly how the purchase of the farm was accomplished, only that the farm is visited regularly by a transport ship, sent there to bring back the “meat.” The interior of one of the barns has been altered by digging out huge spaces below ground, four levels connected by a lift, or elevator: dining and recreation level; men’s sleeping quarters; transit level; and at the lowest, the vodsel pens. Isserly lives by herself in the decrepit farm house, her electricity supplied by a long cord from the barn. She hears from Ensel that their employer’s son, Amlis Vess, will be arriving on the transport ship to inspect their operation. She is angered, hating the owner of Vess Incorporated, a man with unimaginable wealth, hating his son even though she’s never met him. She is a product of the lower social levels on her home planet, having to work with other lower class members below ground in the New Estates, working on huge, deep ponds filled with some sort of vegetation that produces oxygen for the elite class who live above ground. We learn that their planet is harsh and ugly, with oxygen and water in short supply, with little vegetation. Thus, when Amlis Vess arrives, he finds a planet with blue skies, rain that falls from above, trees and plants everywhere, and a body of water that takes his breath away (the North Sea). When Isserley first sees him, we finally get a complete description of what their race looks like: she says he’s the most beautiful human being she’s ever seen, his nakedness covered by beautiful black and tan fur, a tail for balancing whenever he needs to stand erect, a perfect snout. Ensel wakes her up in the middle of the night with the news that Amlis Vess has just set free four of the “monthlings” (so named because they’ve been processed for a month), naked, pink vodsels that have been fattened for the slaughter house. She and Ensel track them all down, kill them, and bring them back to the farm before any earthlings can see them and wonder what they are. Amlis Vess, it seems, is an animal rights activist who doesn’t believe any animals should be used as food. He tells Isserley when she confronts him about his releasing the vodsels, “We’re, all the same under the skin.” Yes, and that leads us to our own feelings about the processing of food animals for our cuisine. We keep calves in tiny enclosures until they’re ready to be turned into veal; we fatten cows and pigs on special foods and hormones to make them more tender when we turn them into chops and steaks and roasts; we create turkeys never intended to fly, only to develop huge breasts for our Thanksgiving delight. We even disguise our meanings when we have different names for such animals differentiating the live animal from the food product: calf and veal, pig and pork, cow and beef. I won’t say any more about the novel’s plot because of spoilers. If anyone decides to read Under the Skin, I’m sure you’ll find it as strange as I did. And you, like I, will probably think twice about digging into that succulent ribeye or Thanksgiving turkey breast or leg.

Thursday, April 16

Irritating Day

Yesterday just wasn’t a good day. One of those days where nearly everything goes wrong and the irritation builds and builds. I drove the twenty miles to Midwestern Dental Institute for an 8:00 appointment, only to find out that my appointment was for May, not April, right day, wrong month. Grr! So on my way home I stopped at Black Bear Diner for breakfast. Pulled in, got out, found a yellow strip across the door, sort of like a crime scene strip, but in this case announcing the apparent death of Black Bear. Grrr! So I tootled on down the road and breakfasted at a place in Sun City. The coffee was luke warm. Grrrr! The wind was blowing fairly hard and I was glad I was golfing in the afternoon. But when I got to the course at noon when it was fairly calm, it took only a few holes before the wind got up again, and up, and up, gusting up to 35 mph. Grrrrr! Television in the evening: NCIS and NCIS New Orleans. I’ve written about this in the past but here I go again. These two shows seem to think that we viewers need a heavy musical background to help us with our feelings, to make sure we “get” the emotion of the scene, relying most heavily on quivering violins. But NCIS has always had music that was so intrusive one could hardly understand the dialogue. And now its New Orleans cousin has begun to do the same. Why do the producers of these two shows feel that music is necessary? And I’m not talking about a recognizable score, like the music behind that famous old film The Red Shoes or almost anything from Alfred Hitchcock or Alfred Newman’s theme music from Captain from Castille, that wonderful “Conquest.” Now that was music I can live with. This NCIS stuff is just irritating noise behind the scenes. It’s like the old tv comedies that felt it was necessary to have a laugh track to let us poor dumb viewers know what was supposed to be funny. Grrrrrr! At 10:00 we went to bed, both of us happy that this irritating day was over.

Wednesday, April 15

2015 Masters

Nearly a week has gone by since this year’s tournament in Augusta, and I can now safely write about it. I’ve watched every Masters since it was first televised in 1954, and I have so many images floating around in my head it’s hard to keep them all straight: Jack’s tongue-extended putt for eagle on 15 in 1986; Curtis Strange’s dunking it in Rae’s Creek on 13 and again in the pond fronting 15 in 1985 to virtually give it away to Bernhard Langer; poor Greg Norman’s loss in extra holes to Larry Mize when Mize made an impossible chip-in on the second playoff hole; the anguished look on Roberto Devicenzo’s face when he learned in 1968 that he’d signed his card with the wrong score; Freddie Couples’ ball somehow hanging onto the side hill fronting the 15th green in 1992; the Nike swoosh showing its face to the world when Tiger chipped in on 16, the ball going well past the cup, then slowly turning back and teetering on the edge before dropping in; that oddly unathletic leap of Phil Mickelson when he made the winning putt on the 18th in 2006; too many more memories to recount here. Now I have another, Jordan Spieth making putt after putt to simply walk away with the 2015 green jacket. What a remarkable young man he is--a remarkable golfer at only 21 but also a remarkable young man who seems to epitomize what a gentleman in this gentleman's game should be.

The first tv coverage was in black and white, showing only the last four holes, not permitting us to see the unnatural beauty of the Augustan landscape. Each year that landscape becomes more and more beautiful, looking as though every flowering plant and bush and tree has been lovingly watered and trimmed by hundreds of caretakers, each blade of grass cut by hand, one blade at a time. And it was only in the last twenty years that we’ve been allowed to see the front nine. “No, no, no,” the Augusta National board members indicated, wagging a cautionary finger at us, “You can see only what we allow you to see, and watch only about three hours daily, regardless of what some of the players are doing when the cameras are not on. And you must never never make jokes about our course.” Jack Whitaker got a 5-year suspension from the CBS coverage for calling the gallery “a mob.” And jokester Gary McCord got a lifetime suspension for suggesting that the speed of the 17th green made it look like it had been “bikini-waxed.” And heaven help the gallery slob who screams out “MASHED POTATOES!” or “GO IN THE HOLE!” at someone’s tee shot. The Augusta police force would be on the miscreant immediately, escorting him in handcuffs to the nearest exit, warning him never ever again to darken the doors of their hallowed halls of ivy. I love this tournament, but the sacrosanctity of everything about it is annoying. All players and ticket holders seem required to bow and scrape as they enter down Magnolia Lane. And then we hear over and over about the Eisenhower tree, the Hogan Bridge, Amen Corner, the Crow’s Nest, Rae’s Creek, the ceremony of the Green Jacket, the par-3 tournament on Wednesday, and the ceremonial opening drives by past winners now so infirm they can hardly stand up. Arnold Palmer was this year’s infirm driver, nearly topping a low squibbler to the left. So, will I continue to watch this tournament despite my annoyance at the sobriety and sanctity of the tournament directors? You bet I will. And I’ll hope for either a second Jordan Spieth victory next year, or a rejuvenated Tiger’s fifth win, fifteenth major.

Thursday, April 9

Crime Headlines

“GUILTY!” the headlines screamed, as though the verdict was a surprise in the too-long trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, younger of the two brothers in the Boston Marathon Bombing. I say too-long because there was never any doubt about his guilt on the 30 counts, so why should there be this media shout? And now begins the second phase in this trial—death or life imprisonment. It will take only one juror to hold out for life imprisonment, and the people in this country are 50-50 on this issue. So it will be no surprise when they come up with life imprisonment. At a cost of about $50,000 a year for possibly sixty years, which equates to about three million of today’s dollars. Tsarnaev’s Chechen mother says that Americans are the terrorists, not her son. If the same crime had been committed in Chechnya, the bombers would have been hastily put to death, with never a question about taking care of them for life. So, would the death penalty be a deterrent to future terrorists in the U. S.? Certainly not, since so many of these terrorists are more than willing to strap on a suicide bomb and take a hundred or more innocent people with them. But we are a humane society and we will clothe, feed, house, and provide health care for this young man for the rest of his life.

And while I’m at it, what about Michael Slager, the South Carolina cop who gunned down a fleeing Walter Scott, saying he, Slager, “feared for his life?” How absolutely thoughtless, how absolutely stupid was Slager in this age of ubiquitous smart phones that can record every action at any time? It doesn’t matter what Walter Scott had done or how many previous crimes he may have committed, or how the two of them may have struggled for Slager’s Taser, it’s obvious from the video that officer Slager was never in any life-threatening danger, especially not when he gunned down the fleeing Scott. Our police forces around the country are here to protect us from crime and criminals, but not to take vigilante justice into their own hands.

Saturday, April 4

Hello Again

I’ve been away for a while, over a week. I just had nothing that struck my fancy to write about. But now I think I’ll ramble about butterflies and news items and weather and Tiger’s committing to the Masters.

This morning in Arizona is simply gorgeous with clear skies, calm air, and temperature right at 70 degrees. Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie are out on the patio enjoying it, watching birds and rabbits and the two big yellow and black butterflies that live in our arbor vitaes. I went on-line to see what they were and the best I could find is a yellow swallowtail. They’re a little larger than a monarch and they seem to spend all day flying around and over and sometimes right through the trees on our back property line. Don’t they ever get tired? I know I would. And when I look out at this gorgeous day, I think about the terrible weather in the east, all the continued snowfall, the hailstones, the flooding, the high winds and tornadoes. How lucky we are that we live here.

The main news item has to be about Andreas Lubitz, the German pilot who brought the Lufthansa passenger jet down, killing himself and the other 149 people aboard. The media goes on and on about it, mostly talking about the airlines’ failure to act on Lubitz’s known medical problems, his issues with depression that was brought to light nearly six years earlier. You can bet your bippy that steps will be taken to prevent this from ever happening again. What I keep coming back to is the horror of his act. I keep imagining myself in that plane during the nearly ten minutes before impact, of realizing for ten minutes what would be my last moments on earth, hearing the screaming of my fellow passengers, feeling the nose-down descent and the increased speed, knowing for ten minutes that I was about to die. All right, so he was depressed and suicidal. But did he have to take 149 others with him? His action ranks right up there with the horror of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers. Right up there with the worst serial killers in history. Right up there with Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever want to board another airline.

I was happy to hear that Tiger will return to Augusta next week. He would never agree to enter if he didn’t think he could win his fifth green jacket. And the golfing world will be watching to see which Tiger shows up—the old fist-pumping, growling cat or the chip-chunking pussy cat we watched with disbelief and horror in his Waste Management outing here in Phoenix. You just know that somewhere in the back of his mind he’ll be remembering some of those chunks and blades. But if there’s anyone who could resurrect his game, it’s Tiger. The Tiger haters will be salivating at the possibility of a Tiger embarrassment. The Tiger lovers will have all fingers and toes crossed that he will not only not embarrass himself but will be in the final group on Sunday, maybe even winning that elusive fifteenth major. I’m in the latter camp. I want him to get that nineteenth major before I die.

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