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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.

Wednesday, September 30

Hell Expanded

I was rummaging around in my files of saved material and came across this, a truly comical bit that was sent out on the Internet. You may have seen it before, but it bears seeing again.

Hell Explained by a Chemistry Student

The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well:
Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.

The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct..... leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God!"

THIS STUDENT RECEIVED THE ONLY "A."

Tuesday, September 29

Hair & Quantico

I know I’ve ranted about this subject before, but here I go again. It’s hair, body hair, and especially facial hair. What I say won’t have much to do with most women, since most women don’t have a big problem with body hair. Some men don’t have a problem either. They may not grow much hair or they don’t care. I see men with enough hair sprouting from their ears that it could be braided, and they don’t care. I do. You’d think that much hair might mute sounds like a blanket covering a cave entrance. But then, a lot of what we hear isn’t worth hearing. I’ve done battle with ear hair for over two decades. I dutifully pluck hairs from both lobes and the immediate inside and on the edges and top of both ears. But hair nearly always wins this battle. When I turn down the top of my ears, I find long hairs blossoming, almost as though they’d taken a wrong turn from my head and wound up on this aural cliff. Now and then when the light hits it just right, I find an impossible long hair, as long as an inch or more, growing from the edge of an ear. How did I miss it long enough for it to grow to that length? I don’t know. Then there’s nose hair. I realize that we need hair inside our noses to protect us from breathing in germs and other ugly stuff, but does it have to grow so fast? Why not just retain a protective length and let us breathe without that tickling that comes from a nose hair touching the edge of a nostril? I don’t know. I’ve never had this problem, but I’ve seen men with one or two long hairs growing out of the tips of their noses. Do they not see them when they look in a mirror or do they think they’re really attractive? I don’t know. So I battle hair on that front as well as on the ears. Beards are another thing. We’re currently in a time when a bunch of men are sporting beards, some neatly trimmed and some just growing helter skelter, but most with that two or three day haggard look, as though they’d wanted to shave but were too busy fighting crime or a hangover to get it done. Why would they cultivate that look? Why would women find that look attractive? How do they manage to keep it at that same unattractive length? I guess they must have an adjustable electric razor. I say, “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”

A quick comment on too many of the new television series. Too often the dialogue sounds like the speakers have marbles in their mouths. I may be old, but my hearing is still excellent, and I just can’t follow what’s being said and I’m not very good at reading lips. Case in point: The first episode of Quantico had a bunch of new FBI recruits going through their paces. And I couldn’t understand what they were mumbling to each other, to such an extent that I turned it off after only half an hour. There’s too much good stuff, understandable stuff, on the tube that I don’t need to waste my time with unintelligible stuff. I can hear and understand everything said on Blue Bloods The Good Wife, and Madame Secretary. Don’t the creators of Quantico realize what a mistake they’re making? I guess not. It will be interesting to see how long that show lasts before enough of us shut it off because we can’t hear the dialogue.

Monday, September 28

Lost

It’s been both a good and a bad weekend for me, bad because ASU and UA got thumped by USC and UCLA, and I mean really thumped, but good because the Cardinals really thumped the 49ers. And the Bills won big over the hated Dolphins. Oh happy day. Jordan Spieth, my new Tiger on the links, held off Henrik Stenson in the FedEx Championship to get back to number one in the world and player of the year. So, my three sports idols—Jordan Spieth, Larry Fitzgerald, and Paul Goldschmidt—all gave young athletes someone they can model themselves after. Television bad was highlighted (or should that be lowlighted?) by the two-hour final episode of CSI Las Vegas. The show went out on a really stinky story about people blowing themselves up and Sara Sidle and Grisson getting back together again. It should have been better. And we watched the super harvest blood moon rise in the east, then go into a total eclipse and turn orange. That too was a little disappointing in that the eclipse occurred so low in the east that we could hardly see it.

We’ve been racing through the first season of Lost on Netflix. Rosalie swears she’s never seen this show and from the number of episodes that I didn’t remember, I guess I’d only watched it now and then. What a mistake that was. The rest of the country watched it avidly each week. To be able to see it without commercials and without the week between episodes, the plot complexity becomes apparent, the island and its secrets most intriguing. The complexity lies in the number of principle characters and all the flashbacks and back stories sprinkled through each episode. There are three, maybe four, main players: Jack (Matthew Fox) is a disenchanted surgeon who takes on the role of leader of the group of forty-eight plane crash survivors. Kate (Evangeline Lilly) is a good or bad lady who was being escorted to the United States in handcuffs for some undisclosed crime she’s committed. Neither Jack nor the viewers know which it is, good or bad, but we’d all hope her crime was a mistake. In its six seasons there were hundreds of characters introduced with only eight going from start to finish. The writers must have had a ball dealing with all the possible directions the plot could take on the surface, but when you add in all the back stories, the possibilities became almost infinite. Everyone has secrets that are revealed only in bits and pieces—Sawyer (Josh Holloway), abused as a boy and a con-man later; Hurley (Jorge Garcia), who won the lottery using a mysterious sequence of number that seem to be cursed; and John Locke, whose father tricked him into a kidney transplant and who somehow regained the use of his legs after the crash. Then there’s the Korean couple, Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Junjim Kim), who are trying to make their marriage work despite her father, a Korean mobster. And Sayid (Naveen Andrews), a former Iraqi communications expert who is trying to find his lost love Nadia. And Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), a minor rock star and heroin addict who tries to help the very pregnant Claire (Emilie de Ravin). The list of characters goes on and on, each with some kind of back story that links them to the others. Back to the writers. They were wise to give up on the rather silly introduction of polar bears and a black smoke thing that lurked in the jungle. But now we have the enigmatic habitat under the hatch and the group called the Others. Lots of ways this story can go. Can’t wait to see Season Two. If you’ve never seen this show, you should do so. It beats anything and everything on television today.

Wednesday, September 23

Travis McGee & The Black Widow

I just finished rereading my last novel, The Black Widow, which I hadn’t looked at for a long time. I was trying to see if it was any good after this long cooling off period, and, I’m happy to say, it was still pretty good. Not great, but still good enough to have served as the last episode in the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. MacDonald, as part of his style in the McGee series, would insert little essays on topics that reflected McGee’s views of life. I think a couple of them are good enough to put here on my blog. See what you think.

This first one states McGee’s views on God and man and the universe. He’s explaining how he feels to the woman who hired him, Sarah Wilson, the black widow.

I could never understand the need for some intermediary between me and God, whatever sort of God there may be. Or even if there is a God. I’m not an atheist, but I’m certainly an agnostic. I just don’t know if there is or isn’t a God. And if there is, he or she or it isn’t some deity in human form. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. Science tells us about the immensity of the universe, of the numbers of stars and star systems, too many to comprehend. How can we believe that we’re the only intelligence in this immensity? And how can we think some creator or creative force is looking down on us benevolently, waiting for us to grow up and come to our senses? I believe in the principles Christ taught, and in my own way I follow them to the letter. But I don’t need a church to govern me into following those principles. I’m a realist and because science has convinced me that we, and our earthly home, are an infinitesimally tiny speck in the total scheme of things, I have to believe that somewhere out there, there must be a nearly limitless number of potential planets that sustain life that would develop on an evolutionary track similar to ours. I don’t mean that other forms couldn’t become the dominant species on one of these planets. But it seems logical to me that life can only begin on a planet with just the right conditions, like just the right temperatures and with the existence of water. Look at our own system and the planets we have. Earth seems to be the only one with these necessary conditions. No form of life could exist on Mercury, let’s say, or Venus from what the scientists tell us about conditions there. And most unlikely on any of those further out except Mars. I don’t think most people realize the philosophical implications of our discovering water on Mars. If it’s true, and that’s what they’re now saying, these scientists involved in the Mars missions, then they could also discover some form of microscopic life on Mars. That tells me that in the vastness of our universe, there would be many many solar systems with circling planets, some of which would have conditions similar to ours. And, therefore, not only the potential for life, the probability of life.

This second one is built on an extended metaphor for the way life moves from beginning to end.

Life is like film reeling forward into the future with the past gathering on an enlarging reel, suggesting that our lives are predetermined from birth to death, the length equal to the amount of film each of us has on his reel. It also suggests there’s a writer or director, someone responsible for the story-line other than the main character. I’m not sure I like that assumption. I’m not an atheist but if there is a God, he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to individuals or their fates. I’d rather think that each of us, to some extent, is our own filmmaker, creating a story that’s satisfying to us. But we don’t have control over the scenes we’re shooting, and sometimes the camera gets bumped, or even takes on a life of its own. And there are no retakes. The present is like a thin line, representing only a nanosecond. That brief moment immediately becomes part of the past, collecting on a reel as film that becomes more and more warped and wrinkled, torn in some places, some passages so distorted or sepia-brown that you can’t figure out what they show, some scenes brilliantly vivid but with exaggerated, unrealistic colors and details. When we were young, time seemed to move in slow motion, the film gaining speed almost imperceptibly as our lives proceeded. And in the twilight of our lives, that film looks more like Charlie Chaplin strutting down the street, the frames herky-jerky and moving faster and faster until finally the film ends in tragedy, a quiet scene in a hospital room with loved ones gathered around or an accidental or purposely violent, bloody car crash into a bridge abutment. And the only sound is loose film flapping against the reel, the audience silently shuffling out of the theater, a few tears maybe, but certainly no applause.

There. Those are my views as seen through a character named Travis McGee.

Tuesday, September 22

Sports Weekend & Learning to Drive

We had a satisfying sports weekend in the Valley. The Cardinals won big over the Bears with Larry Fitzgerald showing his old stuff by catching three passes for tds. And the other three teams in their division—the 49ers, the Rams, and the Seahawks—all lost. Hooray! The Phoenix Mercury looked like a team that might just repeat as WNBA champs. And the American ladies won the LPGA’s Solheim Cup in Germany. It was a most satisfying victory with a come-from-behind win of 8½ to 3½ points in Sunday’s singles matches. And Norway’s Suzanne Petterson will never hear the end of her decision to stick to the letter of the rules when she declared that Allison Lee should be penalized for picking up her ball before either Petterson or her partner Charlie Hull said they had conceded the putt. It was a grievous display of gamesmanship instead of sportsmanship, and most of the golfing community (American as well as European) will never forgive her for what she did. So Sunday’s win was doubly satisfying for me and other American golfers.

We just saw a quiet movie with only a little blue language and only a little explicit sex. That was a happy switch from some of the other movies lately. It was a two-person character analysis called Learning to Drive, with Sir Ben Kingsley as a Sikh cab driver/driving instructor, and Patricia Clarkson as a non-driving woman whose husband has just left her. The two of them bond during the many lessons Wendy (Clarkson) receives from the philosophical instructor Darwen Singh Toor (Kingsley). The film uses the driving lessons as a metaphor for how we learn to live, and both Wendy and Darwen need a life lesson, Wendy as a single woman who no longer needs a husband to give her life direction, and Darwen as a man trying to adjust to an arranged marriage with a woman from his village in India. There is a nice relationship between them that in a less truthful film might have brought them together and had them ride off (in a cab, of course) into the sunset. It was a nice, quiet way to spend the afternoon with these two nice, quiet people.

Saturday, September 19

Golf Jokes

It's a slow day so I thought it would be a good time for some oldies but goodies, golf jokes, that is.

A woman goes to the local newspaper office to see that the obituary for her recently deceased husband is published. The obit editor informs her that there is a charge of 50 cents per word. She pauses, reflects, and then she says, well then, let it read "Fred Brown died." Amused at the woman's thrift, the editor tells her that there is a seven-word minimum for all obituaries. She thinks it over and in a few seconds says, "In that case, let it read, "Fred Brown died. Golf clubs for sale."

A 75-year-old woman went to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor told her she needed more cardiovascular activity and recommended that she engage in sexual activity three times a week. A bit embarrassed, she said to the doctor, "Please tell my husband." The doctor went out into the waiting room and told the husband that his wife needed sex three times a week. The 78-year-old husband replied, "Which days?" The doctor answered, "Monday, Tuesday, and Friday would be ideal." The husband said, "I can bring her on Monday, but on Tuesdays and Fridays I golf, so she'll have to take the bus on those days.”

One day a man came home and was greeted by his wife dressed in a very sexy nightie. "Tie me up," she purred, "and you can do anything you want." So, he tied her up and went golfing

“The Yukon Department of Environment advises golfers to take extra precautions against bears, while playing on golf courses in Whitehorse, Annie Lake, Dawson City and Watson Lake. They advise golfers to wear noise-producing devices such as little bells on their clothing to alert, but not startle, the bears unexpectedly. They also advise you to carry pepper spray in case of an encounter with a bear. It is also a good idea to watch for signs of bear activity. For example, golfers should be able to recognize the difference between Black Bear and Grizzly Bear droppings on the golf course. Black Bear droppings are smaller, and contain berries and possibly squirrel fur. Grizzly Bear droppings have bells in them, and smell like pepper spray.”

Joe was trudging off the course after what was his worst round in years and years. He’d hit three ball out of bounds, had four penalty strokes in one pond or the other, and had so many 3-putts he couldn’t even count them. He passed a dumpster at the back of the clubhouse, took each club out of his bag one at a time, broke each across his knee and deposited the pieces in the dumpster, then followed with the bag. He went in the locker room and sat wearily on the bench by his locker. He found an old single-edge razorblade on the shelf and slashed each wrist. At that very moment, Charlie came through the door, saw Joe and shouted, “Hey, Joe, I’m getting up a group to play tomorrow. You interested?” Joe stood up with wrists crossed tightly and shouted, “What time?”

A young man with a few hours to spare one afternoon figures that if he hurries and plays very fast, he can get in nine holes before he has to head home. As he is about to tee off, an old gentleman shuffles onto the tee and asks if he can join him. Although worried this will slow him up, the younger man says, "Of course." To his surprise, the old man plays quickly. He doesn't hit the ball very far, but it goes straight. Furthermore, the old man moves along without wasting any time. When they reach the ninth fairway, the young man is facing a tough shot. A large pine tree sits in front of his ball, directly between it and the green. After several minutes pondering how to hit the shot, the old man says, "You know, when I was your age, I'd hit the ball right over that tree." With the challenge before him, the young man swings hard, hits the ball, watches it fly into the branches, rattle around, and land with a thud a foot from where it had started. "Of course," says the old man, "when I was your age, that tree was only three feet tall."

Wednesday, September 16

Odds and Ends

So You Think You Can Dance just finished its twelfth season and this year the viewers got it right, naming Gaby Diaz their favorite dancer with the Czech cutie JaJa coming in second. Gaby also happened to be the best dancer. This year’s finale was two hours of showing us the judges’ and the four finalists’ favorite routines, something like fifteen or sixteen numbers. I’ve often waxed ecstatic about this show, but the dancing just keeps getting better and better. What news did we get this year? Cat Deeley is pregnant, Travis Wall is gay, and Jason Derulo stinks as one of the judges. They need to go back to having guest judges, some of the chorographers or others from show biz who know what they’re talking about, like Misty Copeland. Maybe even bring back Mary Murphy for one or two shows. When I first heard about the new format, street dancers versus stage dancers, I didn’t see how it could work. But it did, with the stagers learning how to do street and the streeters learning how to do stage. Now we’ll see how next season works out.

I’m not opposed to adding new words to the English lexicon, but how is “hashtag” an improvement over “pound sign?”

The first real week of the NFL is behind us and we found a few surprises. The talking heads are now all saying that the AFC East is the strongest division with all four teams winning—the Bills, Pats, Jets, and Dolphins. But look at the NFC West with the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers all winning and the Seahawks, losing in overtime to the Rams. The Seahawks were nearly a unanimous pick of sports commentators to win this season’s Super Bowl. I’d have to say the NFC West is the strongest division.

Kim Davis is out of jail and back to her post . . . sort of. She still refuses to sign any gay marriage applications but she won’t interfere with her underlings who do sign them. Some of her supporters are hailing her as a hero for her stand, likening her to Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King. Bah! Humbug! We need to define more exactly what heroism means. I heard the label “hero” applied to the Customs and Border Control officer who shot and killed Richard Matt. What in the world is heroic about a police officer shooting and killing an apparently drunken Richard Matt?

I think Ant-Man, the latest in the films put out by the Marvel Studios, has more appeal for an audience of ten- to twenty-five-year-olds than for anyone older. It was a silly but fun way to spend two hours without having to clutter my mind remembering it. Michael Douglas plays Dr. Hank Pym, a scientist who has developed a way to shrink things and people down molecularly, making them tiny but powerful. I found it amusing that the first shots of Douglas were in a thirty-year flashback, with Douglas actually looking thirty years younger. Kudos to the makeup staff. He and daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to stop Dr. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from misusing this shrinking process. I knew when I saw Hope that I knew her from somewhere. Then—BAM!—I remembered her as the main female lead in Lost. Welcome back, Evangeline Lilly. Loved you then, love you now. Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a nice guy burglar who gets recruited by Dr. Pym to help him in his plan to foil Dr. Cross. He becomes Ant-Man and we have a comical series of confrontations between the tiny/then big Ant-Man and the tiny/then big Yellowjacket. Fun flick but most forgettable. It seems likely that there will be more Ant-Men down the road but I think I’ll skip them.


Sunday, September 13

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods might better have been called Tame (as opposed to Wild). Unlike Wild, Walk was supposed to be a comedy, but the laughs were few and far between, none of which were worthy of a belly laugh, maybe only a quiet chuckle or two. And Robert Redford, as travel writer Bill Bryson, is certainly no comic. He may have come close to comedy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but that was a long time ago. Now, when they shoot a closeup of his face, he looks like he should be carved on a mountain, with all the crags and bumps a mountain would provide. It's a face much better suited to his role in All Is Lost. The two men, Bryson and his long-ago friend Katz (Nick Nolte), take on the impossible task of hiking the 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The story is strung out in a series of comic vignettes, tied together by the trail and the people the two men meet along the way. We have the obligatory lone pain-in-the-ass hiker Mary Ellen (The Last Man in the World’s Kristen Schaal, who plays the role exactly as she does in Last Man); we have the obligatory sexual encounter between Katz and a bountiful lady he meets at a laundromat, followed by the obligatory husband chasing after Katz; we have the hint of a sexual relationship between Bryson and a motel owner (Mary Steenburgen); and then the obligatory tumble off the side of a cliff to a shelf below where the two men comically try to find a way to get back on the trail. As I said earlier, this was a nice stroll in the park, not very funny, not very original, but filled with breathtaking scenes along the Appalachian Trail. And it had a nice PG-13 rating. I’d give it a quiet two and a half stars out of five.

Saturday, September 12

Writing Style

As an old English teacher, I often notice a writer’s style, especially when the style is noteworthy for one reason or another. Michael Dirda, in "Style Is the Man," defines it thus: "Beauty, I learned, grows out of nouns and verbs, and personal style derives from close attention to diction and sentence rhythm. When Yeats decided that his poems had become too ornamented and flowery, he took to sleeping on a board. Before long, he’d put the Celtic Twilight far behind and was producing such shockingly blunt lines as 'Nymphs and satyrs copulate in the foam.' "

Style is a combination of word choice, sentence type and length, descriptive accuracy, images that either bore us or surprise us, and a few other characteristics that are hard to explain. But I can recognize good style from bad. Most writing doesn’t need to do anything unusual. It simply needs to communicate whatever its message is. That’s what most non-fiction does or should do. I call it an invisible style, just doing its work without bothering or confusing the reader. Maybe the best and best-known American writer who wrote invisibly and yet managed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was John Steinbeck. A good, maybe even a great writer, but not a stylist. Some writers love jargon and obfuscation and don’t want to admit they don’t know what they’re talking about. These are writers one should avoid. They’re bad and their styles are bad. Romance writers often use a purple style, lots of flowery images and sexual innuendo. It’s an easy style to spot and one you would do well to avoid.

Since I’m much fonder of fiction than non-fiction, I’ll stick to writers of fiction. The two I always cited in my English classes were Hemingway and Faulkner, polar opposites stylistically. Hemingway was what I’d call a plodder. His sentences came at you like a somnambulistic heavyweight, one simple sentence after another, sometimes two simple clauses in a compound sentence, the words agonizingly chosen. In real life he exuded machismo, and he wanted his writing to do the same, to be a plodding tough guy. Often he might get only one or two saved pages after a full day at the typewriter. Writers who followed Hemingway and tried to duplicate his style most often fell flat on their faces. It may appear simple but its looks are deceptive.

Then there’s Faulkner, who drives us crazy with his complexity. I’ve often wondered if he was actually aware of how complex his sentences were or if it simply came naturally to his ear. There is that sentence in “The Bear” that goes on and on for several pages, going ever deeper in the layers of subordinate thought, hooking word groups together with colons and dashes and parentheses. And the poor reader is swept along with him, hoping to find shore before drowning. Faulkner is more admired in the writing than in the reading. Most readers just don’t have the patience to figure him out. Of the current writers, James Lee Burke comes closest to Faulkner in both style and Deep South setting.

Some writers caress the reader with their style. Fitzgerald is a good example. Although he wrote many short stories for The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s, stories he wrote hurriedly and without much revision, he was still one of the most elegant writers our nation has ever produced. Listen to Nick’s thoughts at the end of The Great Gatsby, thoughts about the dead Jay Gatsby and his dream: “Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” Elegant.

The modern writer with an elegant style is Kate Atkinson, who is the most quotable writer today. Nearly every sentence she writes is new and elegant and quotable. Two examples from One Good Turn: “Gloria didn’t believe in heaven, although she did occasionally worry that it was a place that existed only if you did believe in it. She wondered if people would be so keen on the idea of the next life if it was, say, underground. Or full of people like Pam. And relentlessly, tediously boring, like an everlasting Baptist service but without the occasional excitement of a full immersion. . . . He thought he was invincible, but he’d been tagged by death. Graham thought he could buy his way out of anything, but the grim reaper wasn’t going to be paid off with Graham’s baksheesh. The Grim Reaper, Gloria corrected herself. If anyone deserved capital letters it was surely Death. Gloria would rather like to be the Grim Reaper. She wouldn’t necessarily be grim, she suspected she would be quite cheerful (“Come along now, don’t make such a fuss”).”

Gloria remembers a time when Graham had been stopped for speeding, drunk, speaking on his cell phone while eating a double cheeseburger.

“Gloria could imagine him only too well, one hand on the wheel, his phone tucked into the crook of his neck, the grease from the meat dripping down his chin, his breath rank with whiskey. At the time, Gloria had thought that the only thing lacking in this sordid scenario was a woman in the passenger seat fellating him. Now she thought that that was probably going on as well. Gloria hated the term 'blow job' but she rather liked the word 'fellatio,' it sounded like an Italian musical term—contralto, alto, fellatio—although she found the act itself to be distasteful, in all senses of the word.”

And that leads me to a writer I’m fond of, Lee Child. I and millions of others have read all the books in his Jack Reacher series. I just finished the latest, Make Me. If ever a writer had a distinctive style (without judging it as either good or bad), Lee Child is such a writer. I’d compare his style to a slap in the face, or if Reacher were doing it, a violent head butt. It’s characterized by lengthy descriptions of time and distance and weapon calibers and statistical analyses. The style typifies Reacher more than Lee Child. For example, in Make Me, Reacher is confronting a hit man who has come to take out him and his female companion. The faceoff is in a shabby apartment building hall and lasts from start to finish about three minutes, but it takes ten pages for Reacher/Child to explain exactly what will take place—the moves, the countermoves, the kind of blows he will need to deliver to foil the shooter. Reacher is obsessed with facts and details, and the style shows it. And as I earlier said, it’s neither good nor bad, just distinctive.

Monday, September 7

Kim Davis Redux

No, Kim, “redux” has nothing to do with your religious beliefs or your sexual orientation. It simply means I’m going to revisit your situation. Mike Luckovich’s cartoon sums up his and my opinions about your stand against gay marriage. The First Amendment protects our rights to say anything we want as long as it doesn’t break any libel or slander laws. The First Amendment also protects our rights to believe any form of religion we choose. In an 1879 decision (Reynolds vs the United States) regarding the prosecution of a polygamist under federal law, The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment was read by the court as protecting our religious beliefs, not our religious practices that run counter to neutrally enforced criminal laws. See, Kim, that’s the problem. You’re claiming that your religious beliefs are being infringed upon, but no one, not the public nor the courts, is telling you what you may or may not believe. It’s telling you that you can’t decide not to sign applications for marriage licenses because you don’t like the applicants’ sexual orientations. Not too long ago, we had a case against a bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because the owners didn’t believe in gay marriage. Their stance was that the couple could always go to another bakery. Let’s see now, that argument was also used fifty years ago when restaurants refused to serve blacks. What ever happened legally to that stance? Could I also refuse service to anyone I considered gay? What about transgenders? What if Caitlyn Jenner wanted to get married in Kentucky and came to your window for a license? Would you refuse because of your religious beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and a woman? And what Biblically is the definition of marriage, the reason for a male/female union? It seems to me to be all about procreation for the protection and continuance of mankind. But is that still a valid interpretation of the need for marriage only between a man and a woman? The world doesn’t need more rampant procreation. But even if having children is still a valid reason for marriage, can’t gay couples have children? Our modern concept of what defines man and woman has become hazy and indistinct. Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. said “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” It seems to me, Kim, that your fist has gone a bit too far when you refused to sign gay marriage licenses.

Saturday, September 5

News Observations

Now we have an example of the old argument about where your religion and mine collide and who should win in any fight about who is infringing on whose religious freedoms. A Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk has decided she should have the ultimate decision about who should and shouldn’t be issued a marriage license, a decision based on her religious beliefs. Kim Davis is now spending time in jail for her decision and she is being supported by some of those Republicans now seeking the nomination for president, making noises about religious freedom in this country. She and they say she has the right to refuse to issue a same-sex marriage license because it goes against her beliefs. Let’s see, she was elected to this post and must have signed something about obeying the laws of the land even if those laws conflicted with her beliefs. What if I were elected to that same post and then decided that my faith didn’t allow for inter-racial marriage or inter-faith marriage or June/December marriage? What if I believed that divorce was against the word of God and that anyone who was divorced should not be allowed to give it another try? So, Kim Davis, thrice divorced, can’t be fired or impeached and she refuses to resign. What a silly conundrum she’s given us, what a silly picture she paints for the state of Kentucky and for all the silly Bible Belters who support her and her views. There, I guess I’ve insulted enough people—Kentuckians, BBers, and GOP politicians who should know better.

A curious thing happened to The Diary of a Teenage Girl last week. After being in the local theaters for only two weeks, it simply disappeared overnight. Hmmm, I wonder if Dan Harkins, owner of the string of Harkins theaters in Arizona, got enough calls complaining about this movie that he decided to ship it out. Just as curious is the fact that he then put it back into two of his theaters. I guess they must be located in a more open-minded section of Phoenix, where folks don’t mind quite a bit of explicit on-screen sex.

Donald Trump continues to dominate the news, and not in a good way. He’s almost running out of people he can insult publicly. What he seems to be doing is giving the rest of the world a twenty-first century version of Burdick and Lederer’s Ugly American. You know, the pretentious, bombastic, ostentatious, jingoistic, chauvinistic fellow who thinks that all those “furiners” should learn to speak ‘Merican ‘stead of that stuff he can’t understand. We have fourteen more months of this campaign-trail bs. I wonder how many of those months we’ll have to see The Donald’s scowling face on every news item and tv story. I hope no more than another one or two.

I read that the syfy channel is producing a six-hour miniseries based on Arthur C. Clark’s Childhood’s End, scheduled to be out in mid-December. Childhood’s End has to be my favorite science fiction novel of all time. But it sounds like the tv adaptation may portray the aliens and their intentions as being sinister. I’ve always read Clarke’s meaning as very positive, the end of mankind’s childhood before he/we can move on to some higher level of existence. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I hope it’s at least a half-full glass.

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