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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.

Thursday, January 28

Trump & National Anthem

There’s just no escaping the man. There are at least two or three mentions of him every day in the news, both comments supporting him and comments telling us what a bad choice he would be should the GOP choose him as their nominee for president. Yeah, I’m talking about The Donald. I just saw a listing of 19 celebrities who are endorsing him, and the character and mentality of the 19 say something about the others in our country who are also supporting him. Make that 20 if you include Arizona’s Joe Arpaio. Here are the others: Cher, Mike Tyson, Gary Busey, Charlie Sheen, Kenny Rogers, Hulk Hogan, Mark Cuban, Terrell Owens, Ted Nugent, Dennis Rodman, Lou Ferrigno, Chuck Yeager, Mike Ditka, Tom Brady, Stephen Baldwin, Tila Tequila (Who?), Gene Simmons (of Kiss), Dan Blizerian, Willie Robertson (of Duck Dynasty), and Jesse Ventura. I’m not sure I’d trust the judgement of any of the people listed above, most of whom are one kind of nut cake or another. When, oh when, are we going to see the man take his final pratfall in 2016 and we can get on with the serious business of selecting our next president? Soon, I hope.

I’ve had nearly a week to recover from the pain of watching the Cardinals look like stumble bums against the Panthers in the NFC championship. They give a whole new meaning to the word “debacle.” But I’m now over it for the most part and look forward to a new season this fall. But I must comment on something from the Broncos/Patriots game that preceded the Cardinals game: the singing of our National Anthem. Andy Grammer, supposedly a platinum-selling recording star, gave us just an awful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why do the people who arrange such pre-game details seem to choose such bad singers? I realize that Whitney Houston, in 1991, set the bar way too high for most performers, but couldn’t they get someone who could come close? In case you’ve never heard the Whitney Houston version, here it is.

Wednesday, January 27

Brooklyn

Move over Brie Larson; move over Cate Blanchett. I’ve just seen the face of Ireland and her name is Saorise Ronan. If she doesn’t win the Oscar for best actress, it will be a quiet, Irish shame. Saorise Ronan gave us a quiet, quite remarkable portrayal of the Irish immigrant in mid-century America. More precisely, mid-century Brooklyn. I’ve lived in nine different decades, two centuries, two millenniums, and I couldn’t believe how different the world of 1951-52 was from what I remembered it being. The clothes, the hairstyles, the automobiles, the behavior of most people, especially the young people. Did I and my 1951 classmates really look and act that way? Were we really as innocent and nice and naïve as the girls and boys in Brooklyn? I hope so. The operative word for Brooklyn is the one I used twice above, “quiet.” It’s the story of Eilis Lacey, a young, not quite beautiful woman who chooses in 1951 to come to America to find a better life than what she had in Ireland. Her life there isn’t bad, sort of middle-class or even upper middle-class, but she wants more than it can offer, especially when what it was offering was working at a part-time job in a shop run by a truly nasty woman. Her sister Rose wants her to have a better life and saves enough money to send Eilis by ship to the land of plenty. Everything has been taken care of for her—a room in a nice boarding house, a job in a Brooklyn department store, even enough money provided by the Catholic Church to pay for night school at Brooklyn College, where she takes classes in bookkeeping and accounting. She and her fellow boarding house buddies attend weekly dances at a nearby hall, hoping to stave off their boredom, maybe meet a nice man. The dances involve the hokey jitterbugging I was never able to master in my youth, and the foxy two-step I managed to fake. The dresses are, for the most part, painfully and tastelessly colorful, the lipstick that garish red that was so popular back then, the hairstyles long and netted. The furnishings in the boardinghouse are also painfully old-fashioned, with floral wall paper and odd little end tables, lamps with shades no one today would consider. Even her job in the department store brought back a memory I didn’t realize I had, the old tubes that salespeople used to send the cash upstairs with the return by tube of the change. No cash registers back then, at least not in the Penney’s from my Midwestern youth. Eilis meets Tony Fiorello at one of the dances, a nice Italian boy out of place in this predominantly Irish dance hall. They dance, they converse, he walks her home. And often walks her home from work or classes or dances, never any romantic advances, no kissing, not even s parting embrace. Just two young people getting to know each other. How refreshing. How innocent. We have comic elements and real-life elements—practicing the art of spaghetti eating before her meal with Tony’s family, the awkward donning of bathing suit on the Coney Island beach, the growth from innocent Irish immigrant to confident young Irish woman who chooses new world over old, just as many emigres from Europe did in the last century. When sister Rose unexpectedly dies, Eilis returns to comfort her widowed mother. Before she goes, Tony, afraid she may not return, talks her into a secret marriage. She agrees, and the night of the ceremony, she takes him into her basement room (the one with the outside entry because the boarding house owner believes Eilis is the only one trustworthy enough) and they have their first virginal sexual encounter. It was the most chaste sexual act I’ve seen in the past fifty years of cinema sex. Silent (because the house mother would evict her if she heard any moaning), almost fully-clothed, quickly concluded (as I remember nearly all such 1950’s encounters to be). The rest of the story plays out in her decision to stay in Ireland or to return to Tony and Brooklyn. There are no spoiler alerts here because none are needed. This movie doesn’t depend on suspense; all it needs is Saorise Ronan giving us a quiet, lovely Irish-American girl. Or should that be an American-Irish girl? It was a quiet, feel-good film that nicely evaded any soap-opera elements or tear-jerking dramatics. Good for you, Saorise Ronan. Good luck in the upcoming Oscars.

Tuesday, January 26

Room & Oscars

I finally got to see Room and was more impressed with the acting of the young Jacob Tremblay than that of Brie Larson. I can see why Larson is the front runner for best actress, but I still think young Jacob might have easily been nominated for best supporting actor for what he did in this movie. It’s a two-act story, Act I with the two of them in their tiny (11’ x 11’) world. Joy (Brie Larson) has made it as large as she could for her five-year-old son Jack, teaching him about fantasy and reality with the aid of the tiny television set that shows them the world. We see the interior of their room from the boy’s perspective—the stove, the wardrobe where he sleeps, the sink and toilet, chair one and chair two, the small table, and the bed Joy shares with their captor “Old Nick.” What he sees seems to be larger than it actually is. This is the only world he’s ever known. It’s an ironic domestic situation with the man arriving in the evenings with groceries, with Jack spying on them through the slats in his wardrobe door. Joy has been held in this tiny room for seven years since she was taken by the man when she was coming home from her senior year in high school. Instead of going insane at her situation, she has made it a complete world for her son. Act II begins when she finally devises a scheme to gain their freedom and the two of them have to adapt to a world much larger and more complex than the one they leave behind. Jack adapts well; Joy not so well. Lenny Abrahamson directs and is a nominee for best director, but he won’t win despite his admirable telling of the story.
Brie Larson might well win for her performance, but she plays second fiddle to the acting job of her young co-star, Jacob Tremblay.

And speaking of the upcoming Oscars, here are a few of my observations. First, I don’t understand why so many people are praising Steve Jobs, why Michael Fassbender or Kate Winslet should be up for their roles in that movie. It seemed to me to be a series of nearly shouted monologues at each other. I love Matt Damon and The Martian, but neither will win. I love Leonardo DiCaprio and what he’s done with Hugh Glass in The Revenant, and I hope he wins (although I’ll still be rooting for Matt Damon). Then there’s Eddie Redmayne in another really fat role as the transgendering Danish Girl. He might just sneak in there to make it two in a row. I think Spotlight should win for best picture, but it probably won’t, with The Revenant winning and The Martian coming in second. Brie Larson will probably win best actress, but one must always be aware of (and be wary of) Cate Blanchett in the rearview mirror. I love Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight and Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies and hope either of them wins best supporting actor, but the Academy loves surprises and will probably reward Sylvester Stallone for reprising his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed. Alejandro Iñárritu should have a lock for best director. There. Now I’ll probably be wrong on all counts. But who cares? It’s fun to do my own Oscar picks.

Thursday, January 21

Black/White Again & Palin/Trump

Black/White issues again. This time we have Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee boycotting the Academy Awards because they feel that Blacks have been slighted in this year’s award nominations. A repeat of last year, they say, when it too was an all-white nomination list. This year, they point to the absence of Will Smith for his role in Concussion and Idris Elba for his role in Beasts of No Nation, for the absence in the best film category of Creed and Straight Outta Compton. Is it possible that there were other male and female actors—White, Blue, Red, Green, or Ochre—whose performances were better than that of Will Smith and Idris Elba? Is it possible that neither Creed nor Straight Outta Compton were as good as those other films nominated? For that matter, the definition of racial Blackness is no longer very clear in today’s world in which we have all shades of white and brown. What exactly is a Black? How Black must one be to be considered Black? In the very old ugly days, even one drop of Negro blood in your system made you black even though you appeared whiter than that Disney girl named Snow. I ask again, what exactly is a Black? There are currently 6200 Academy Award voters—94% white, 77% male. Many in the industry feel that’s an unfair distribution, not enough females, not enough “people of color.” (What a cute, inaccurate euphemism!) All right, so, should the numbers reflect the actual percentages of women in the country or women in the movie industry? The percentage of Blacks in the country or Blacks in the industry? And if we use these parameters for nominating actors and films for the Academy Awards, maybe we should do the same for the NFL and the NBA. Only 13% of professional football and basketball players can be Black; the other 87% must be made up of “People of Other Colors.” I think it will be nice when we finally get to the time when skin hue is no longer considered in any aspect of society.

Sarah Palin is now stumping for Donald Trump. Whoa, now there’s a match made in heaven. At least, Saturday Night Live would think so. Wouldn’t SNL be delighted if Trump were nominated and he chose Palin as his running mate? Tina Fey would be dancing at the thought. John McCain learned what a mistake she was, but Trump probably doesn’t even remember that political fiasco. I also noted in the news that the British would like to ban Trump from ever entering their country. Let him build his great, high wall not just to keep aliens out but to keep him in.

Wednesday, January 20

Cats & Blogs

I think in past blogs I’ve included all these comic statements on cats and blogging, but I thought it was time to put them all together. First, various comments on cats (for cat lovers, these are all self-explanatory).
And six comments on that strange art form, blogging.

Monday, January 18

The Closing Flower

I love my back room with all my books and my computer and all the “stuff” that defines who I am. I can’t quite call it an office. It isn’t a library. Not a den. It’s sort of a combination of all those things.

I have pictures on the walls that I love—a print from Signals about a tall stack of books, one with a tabby cat admiring a lion in a mirror, a long one with seven kittens posing in top hats, a huge Jim Hansel print of an autumn scene called “At the Crossing,” depicting three pheasants near railroad tracks in back country South Dakota.

I have trinkets and knickknacks on bookshelves that have meaning only for me—a baseball from a game I played in almost seventy years ago, all the players and their positions listed with the date and score (We lost 3-2.); three ebony African figures we got with Green Stamps when we first got married; two soapstone horsehead bookends we bought in California fifty years ago; the brass coffee mug I was given when I retired from teaching; two ebony turtles we bought on an ill-advised trip to Mexico a decade ago; the trophy I won in a C-Division racquetball tournament when I was in my fifties; the signed photo of Arnold Palmer a student gave to me way back when; and too many other tiny things too insignificant to catalog.

I used to have many more books than I now have. I decided a year or two ago that I no longer needed all the books I’d accumulated, kept accumulating. So I sold a bunch during a painful garage sale, gave away a bunch to golf friends—all the books by authors I loved: the accumulated 87th Precinct series of Ed McBain, the Spensers and Jesse Stones and Sunny Randals of Robert B. Parker, the Harry Bosches of Michael Connelly, and even the most beloved of all, the Travis McGees of John D. MacDonald. And that’s naming only a few of my favorites. I also put out for sale most of the books I’d used when I was teaching. I don’t know why I’d transported all of them from New York to Arizona. Was I ever going to use them again? For one year I taught at Glendale Community College, but after that never again to teach English, never again to need books I’d used for that endeavor. There were the dozen or so books on the development of the English language, all the collections of poems by favorite poets and the books about poetry, all the collections of essays about authors (mostly American, a few English). Among the many books by and about Ernest Hemingway, I had a large volume of Hemingway’s collected letters. What to do with that? Who in the world but I would have any need or desire for it? I boxed up most of them and tried to give them to the English department at a nearby high school. They didn’t want them. Oh, that was painful. How could they not realize their value? Did they even know about the old Thrall and Hibbard Handbook to Literature? How could they teach English without it? Did they have the Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes? Or Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage, in which they could learn that the group name for leopards is “a leap,” a “dampness” of babies, a “surplus” of lawyers, a “wobble” of bicycles? Couldn’t they use F. E. Halliday’s A Shakespeare Companion or The Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, & Literary Allusions? Had they ever heard about the collection of parodies in The Antic Muse? Did they ever get their students to laugh at James Russell Lowell’s spoof of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales? “His Indians, with proper respect be it said, / Are just Natty Bumppo daubed over with red . . . / And the women he draws from one model don’t vary, / All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie.” Oh well, it’s their loss. Or maybe it’s their students’ loss.

All those books and all those years I taught are now behind me. Sad. I look around at the books I still have. Here’s one I bought in 1958, The Praeger Picture Encyclopedia of Art. It’s a little worn, just like me, and it weighs about ten pounds, and it holds absolutely everything anyone would ever need to know about art. I have a lovely coffee-table book called The Art of Andrew Wyeth, and every now and then I take it out to look at Wyeth’s New England, especially that poignant image of Christina and her puzzling yearning for something on that distant horizon. I have copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake that I’ve had for at least sixty years, neither of which I’ve ever gotten around to reading, neither of which I’ll ever get around to reading. Why do I still have them? They’re a part of what it means to be a bibliophile. A true book lover can’t explain why he loves books, why he needs to have them even if he never gets around to reading them. Sounds a little obsessive/compulsive, doesn’t it? I have all of Hemingway’s novels, all of which I’ve read except for Islands in the Stream, posthumously published in 1970. Will I ever read it? I don’t know. But I might. And I can’t get rid of it in case I ever feel the need for Hemingway’s last novel.

I look around my den/library/office at all the books and little artifacts I’ve collected over my lifetime, and I feel a sense of completeness tinged with a sadness that all of it is so transient. Just as I’m also transient. I always read Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” as really titled “Intimations of Mortality.” The older I get the more mortal I feel. I’d love to believe in immortality, but all signs seem to be against it. Wordsworth says, “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, / The earth, and every common sight, / To me did seem / Apparelled in celestial light, / The glory and the freshness of a dream. / It is not now as it hath been of yore;— / Turn wheresoe'er I may, / By night or day. / The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” I realize that Wordsworth goes on to suggest that we will experience a return of that passion of our youth, that life really is a continuous process even after we, like Hamlet, “shuffle off this mortal coil.” But I can’t feel it. Everything that once seemed so important now seems so inconsequential. Even my wife and my children aren’t as important as they once were. I don’t love them any less. I just don’t need them as much as I once did. And I more and more identify with Eliot’s Prufrock when he says, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” I’m now measuring out my life with things as equally mundane as coffee spoons. Every three weeks I reload my medicine holders with the many prescriptions I take, and they seem to empty much more rapidly than 21 days. Every night I put my dentures into a glass of water with one Polident tablet, each tablet coming from a sheet of six. And the sheet expires much more rapidly than six nights. And the box of 14 sheets of 6 tablets is emptied much sooner than 84 days. The relativity of time.

I now own more shirts and pants than I’ll ever wear out, a suit that I’ll never again wear. I find that I’m buying less and less of the canned and packaged goods for our pantry than I once did, simply because I can’t be sure how much I’ll need before I die. Friends and relatives are receding from me, either dying or simply moving away from my thoughts for them or theirs for me. Even the connections I once had here in Sun City West are disappearing as my activities diminish. It’s as though the world is folding in from the edges, growing smaller and closer like a flower shutting its petals with nightfall.

I chuckle when I remember a poem by William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis,” in which he tells us that even though we have to die, we should be consoled by the thought that everyone else from the beginning of time to the end of time has already and will forever share our fate. Everyone has to die. Small consolation, I say. “So live, that when thy summons comes to join / The innumerable caravan, which moves / To that mysterious realm, where each shall take / His chamber in the silent halls of death, / Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, / Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed / By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, / Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” Pleasant dreams indeed!

So, I take refuge in my den/library/office and shake hands with the books I could never give away, admire lovingly the knickknacks on my shelves that transport me back to the time when I first acquired them. And I’ll keep counting out my days with coffee spoons and Polident tablets and prescription refills. Someday before I die, maybe I’ll even find a solution for the flower-closing universe. Get it to open up and allow me into some kind of immortality.

Thursday, January 14

Black/White & Kitty Title

I don’t think anyone who knows me would ever accuse me of being a bigot, a racist, a redneck. However, I, like almost everyone else who watches a lot of sports, wonder why so many college and NFL football players are black. Are they more athletically gifted than white players? Are they racially equipped with physical and mental abilities not found in white athletes? Or are they simply more motivated than white players? The most recent census shows our nation to be 67% white to 13% black. NFL stats show 68% black to 28% white. Whew! Sixty-eight percent of NFL players come from only 13% of the population. That’s a huge difference. It’s about the same in the NBA—75% black, 23% white. What accounts for that disparity? Discounting the argument that blacks are better athletes as silly, I’m left with desire, motivation, and expectation as the only reasonable explanation. Black kids often come from lower income families and see athletic success as a way to achieve financial success, to climb higher on the social ladder than that of their parents or grandparents. They also view successful black athletes and simply expect that they too might be athletically better than white athletes. Or maybe this is all hogwash and they really do have an extra tendon in their calves that allows them to run faster and jump higher than their white counterparts. Nah! That last reason is just plain silly and was discounted years ago.

Last night I had an odd thought somewhere in that 3:00 a.m. wasteland: If I’m fonder of cats than dogs, how could I change my blog title from Doggy-Dog World to something similar about cats? I thought of Cataclysmic World, and that led me to Kittyclysmic World, then Kittyclawsmic World. Will I switch blog titles? No, I already have a blog I call The Caterwaul. But it’s an interesting thought.

Wednesday, January 13

Powerball & State of the Union

A very long time ago lotteries were illegal. They were called “The Numbers Racket,” run by shifty neighborhood mobsters, and appealed mostly to the people who could least afford to spend that buck to get in. Even as late as the turn of this century, “Researchers at Duke University reported that American households spent an average of $162 per year on lottery tickets, but low-income households spent $289 and those with less than $10,000 in income spent $597. Higher lottery purchases also were associated with lower educational attainment and ethnic minorities.” And now we have another frenzy to buy tickets for a ridiculous chance to win a ridiculous sum of money. By the time the powerball numbers are drawn tonight, the total is estimated to be 1.5 billion bucks. That’s a 1 and a 5 with eight zeroes tagging along. I was just at Safeway to pick up a few groceries. There must have been twenty old codgers standing in line to buy one or more powerball tickets. Why? I have no idea why they’d be doing that. Why would anyone, young or old, rich or poor or somewhere in between, need that much money if they won? Prestige? Buy a city? Buy an NFL football team? According to 2005 figures for GNP, that amount of money would be more than the gross national product of 58 nations. Granted, that was ten years ago, and I can’t find any numbers for 2015, but still . . . 58 nations? In 2005, Central African Republic had a GNP of 1.4 billion, then sliding down to Greenland with 1.18 billion, and down again to Liberia with 0.44 billion, and all the way to the bottom with Tokelau having a rip-snorting 0.01 billion (that’s 10 million, a drop in the bucket next to that powerball total). I say, why not throw away the red powerball and just stick with five numbers drawn in any order, then split the 1.5 billion up among whoever has the five numbers. That would make a bunch of people happy with what would probably be well over a hundred million apiece. Who needs more than that?

President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union speech last night. Once again I have to admire his composure and his oral skill. I realize that most of his words are penned by his speech writer, but the ideas he wanted to express were his. The only other president I can think of who delivered addresses every word of which I understood was that other Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. Thank you, Barack Obama, for giving us nearly eight great years. You saw our country escape from near financial disaster, you gave us some much needed legislation, you helped us grow in racial, religious, and sexual understanding. I’m sorry your hair has gone decidedly gray. You’re still married to the best-looking first lady since Jackie K, maybe even lovelier than Jackie. In another twelve months you’ll be able to heave a big sigh of relief as you step out of your role as President of the greatest nation in the world and move on to other kinds of service to our country.

Monday, January 11

The Revenant

I’d been looking forward to seeing The Revenant for over six months—with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the mountain man Hugh Glass, a character I’d read about a long time ago in a novel by Frederick Manfred called Lord Grizzly. I at first thought the word “revenant” must have been related to "revenge," but it means, according to the dictionary, “a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living.” And though the main character doesn’t actually die, he certainly rises from his grave to terrorize his enemies. The story centers on an encounter Glass has with a female grizzly in which he is mauled by the bear while fighting it with a knife, a scene that's remarkable even though there are a few moments when the bear seems a little too digitally created. He's abandoned by two of his fellow trappers, Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald, who assume he will soon die anyway. He doesn’t, and he then crawls back to Fort Kiowa, where he plans to get revenge against the men who left him. Powerful story, powerfully told by director Alejandro González Iñárritu. I was happy with the stunning scenery through which the trappers moved and through which Hugh Glass crawled to get back to Fort Kiowa. But I was unhappy with the many liberties the movie took with the facts of the story.
The scenery was wondrous but nothing at all like where the story actually took place, prairie country from northwest South Dakota to about 200 miles southeast to the fort on the banks of the Missouri River. The scenery in the movie, like much else in the story, had a dream-like quality, beautiful but unreal, with snow-covered mountains soaring overhead, rushing streams and rivers the party of trappers wade through, towering trees often shown from camera angles looking straight up. First, there are no such mountains or trees anywhere near the story’s actual location, no such rivers and streams exist anywhere in the world, and any wading in the footwear the men would have available at the time (1823) would result in frozen feet. Many scenes showed campfires, burning unrealistically bright, as though with natural gas and not wood. At one point, Glass falls into a rushing river and doesn’t drown, even though he’s suffering from near-fatal bear wounds and wearing a huge buffalo robe that would have taken him to the bottom like a stone. At another point, while under attack from Native Americans (never clear which tribe), he shoots with a pistol and kills an attacker and then immediately shoots another. I didn’t think in 1823 they had pistols that fired more than one shot at a time. Picky, picky. But the mixture of reality and fantasy sort of clouded the film’s effectiveness. There were flashbacks that didn’t make sense. Or were they really only reflections of Glass’s fevered mind? Was it necessary for him to remove all his clothes before climbing inside the body of his dead horse to stay warm or was it simply an added detail to the death-rebirth image when he climbed out the next morning? Iñárritu's attention to realistic detail was noteworthy, especially the depiction of Fort Kiowa.
Then there’s Leo, who has risen from his beginnings as Johnny Depp’s younger brother in the 1993 What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, making his way across the Atlantic in Titanic, howling at the moon in The Wolf of Wall Street, and now growling and crawling for vengeance in The Revenant. He’s become one of Hollywood’s best actors. If only to see him do his Hugh Glass thing, this movie would have been worth it.

Saturday, January 9

Hugs & Shades of Blue

I’m a great believer in the emotional value of a hug. A kiss is good, but it’s not as true a gauge of real love as an embrace. A kiss can be a peck on the lips or cheek, or it can be a lengthy spit-exchange. But the latter is more an expression of lust than love. A hug, on the other hand, can offer comfort, affection, solace, peace, satisfaction, security. You’ve seen that empty Continental double air-kiss that’s considered good manners in some parts of the world, but it isn’t an expression of love. You’ve seen that false embrace of contestants and caddies on the LPGA tour at the end of a round. You know, the bend at the waist, shoulders forward, and the double pat on the back, maybe even a quick smile just before or just after the fake embrace, but it isn’t an expression of love. A love-hug is non-discriminatory and can involve any combination of people (even an occasional animal), any race or religious preference, any political persuasion. A love-hug is full-bodied with arms tight around each other’s back, words of advice or support or affection or comfort into the neck, a hidden communication between hugger and huggee. And the hug lasts an appropriate amount of time, usually five to ten seconds. Any longer and it becomes embarrassing. Any less and it isn’t even a hug. Next time a friend is standing there in front of you, teary-eyed, lips quivering, you’ll know what to do. Right. Arms extended in invitation. A hug begins.

We’ve had a slew of tv cop shows with the word “blue” in the title—Blue Bloods, Hillstreet Blues, Rookie Blue, NYPD Blue, Dark Blue, and the oldie The Blue Knight. And now we have the latest: Shades of Blue with Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. Lopez plays a Brooklyn detective named Harlee Santos, Liotta as her boss Lt. Bill Wozniak. Although I like both Lopez and Liotta as actors, this time I just didn’t want to see another show depicting cops on the take. I realize the temptations of extra money would be great for some cops and is probably true too often on major city police forces, but I don’t need it in my televised versions of those police forces. Give me the admirable (although unlikely) Reagan family in Blue Bloods. We won’t be watching any more Shades of Blue. Sorry about that, JLo and Ray.

Thursday, January 7

State of the Union

Dream Oddity. Last night I dreamed about how complex the English language can be, and for some reason this came to me. How to make a desert pie: Take a pie tin and fill it with several cups of desert sand, garnish it with a few desert pebbles, then place on top, right in the center, a wax candle shaped as an “S.” Light it. There, now you have a desert dessert.

State of the Union. Or should that be “State of the Disunion?” The stock market has taken a number of dives in the past week, not yet disastrous, but a bit scary. I have faith that it will bounce back by July. Scary North Korea is at it again, this time waving a hydrogen bomb at us and the rest of the world. Even China, North Korea’s long-time ally, has voiced its displeasure at this nuclear threat by Kim Jong-un, NK’s fat, megalomaniacal president. Unemployment is down around 5%, but some would warn us that this number is deceiving and doesn’t truly reveal the actual number of people who are out of work (discounting those who have simply given up their job search). And they say President Obama is lying to the nation when he boasts about this unemployment mark. Okay, so it’s not absolutely accurate, but when he began his second term, unemployment was over 10%. That’s a big improvement no matter how it’s figured. Crime and gun violence? Yes, we seem to have a big problem with cops killing young Blacks without justifiable cause, and the protesters are marching with “Black Lives Matter!” Yes, but I’d go on to say, “All Lives Matter.” And we still can’t seem to make any headway on controlling guns and gun owners. NRA members and other gun advocates are still screaming about the government trying to take away their Second Amendment rights. Did the Founding Fathers, when they penned the Second Amendment, ever foresee the kinds of guns and weapons we now have and did they ever think every American should have the right or the need to carry these weapons of mass killing? And then we have ISIS and their attempts to terrorize us and the rest of the world. I’m still scratching my head over that insanity. Let’s hope 2016 sees the end of the ISIS threat. And that leads me to that other Division in our State, the “Running of the Bulls” as the primaries begin and those running show their true colors as November approaches. How long will Donald Trump ride that bull he’s on? It seems to me that the sooner the GOP decides to talk him down from his high horse/bull the better chance any Republican will have of defeating Hillary Clinton. But even a better chance won’t be good enough. Hello, President Clinton and your First Lady Bill (Can’t bring myself to call him a Gentleman).

Tuesday, January 5

NFL Football Statistics

I know this topic will be a real snoozer for many readers, but if you’re a sports fan you might find it interesting. Ever since the movie Moneyball, we’ve all become acquainted with metrics (originally called “sabermetrics,” a term that applies only to baseball) to determine how good or bad a team is, how good or bad a specific player is. But metrics, what we used to call statistics, is now used extensively in other sports, gaining a certain mystique about its efficacy. Take football, for example, especially that of the NFL. We judge a quarterback by how many yards he’s realized via the pass, how many completions compared to incompletions, how many touchdowns, how many plays he’s involved with that result in negative yardage. Take that first one, yardage gained by passing. He gets credit for all the yards gained on a play even if he only flipped a little screen pass with which the receiver then ran 85 yards and a score. The quarterback gets credit for all 85 yards as a pass as well as a pass for td? That makes no sense, and metrically it really skews the results (or screws up the results). How about interceptions? A quarterback throws from the opponents’ one-yard line and it’s intercepted (think Mark Wilson’s baddie in last year’s Super bowl, or Kurt Warner’s really baddie in the 2009 Super bowl, an interception that was run back a hundred yards for a score). How does one metrically equate those two examples with an interception from mid-field on a third-and-long that gets picked at the goal line? It’s not at all painful or disastrous since it’s almost exactly the same as a punt that went fifty yards. No foul, no harm. But the quarterback gets stuck with a metrical interception. Rush yards: a running back gets credit for yards gained only when it isn’t a pass. But what about all the yards he gained after a reception? A team’s rushing yardage and its gain per rush? How does one figure in three or four kneel-downs at the end of a half or the end of a game? Each kneel-down loses a yard, each is called a play from scrimmage, yet metrically all they do is skew (or screw up) the rushing statistics. How about sacks? There are sacks and there are sacks, but not each one is equal metrically. A sack of the opposing quarterback for a fifteen-yard loss should weigh more than a sack of only one or two yards. And why should a defender get credit for a sack if it’s only because he was the nearest one when a quarterback runs out of bounds for a short yardage loss? There are other statistical considerations that might tell us how good or bad a game was, but one doesn’t really need a stat sheet to know who’s winning or losing. He just has to watch the game.

Monday, January 4

The H8teful Eight

Before I decided to see Quentin Tarantino’s The H8teful Eight, I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it. Almost three hours later, I still wasn’t sure. I knew I enjoyed it and knew it would be a film I’d remember for a very long time. It was funny (in an epically banana-peel way), it was visually interesting, and it was oh so bloody. It also alluded to several other works: 1960’s The Magnificent Seven, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the old board game Clue. It also seemed to be looking back at Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Tarantino may have said, “So, you think you had blood? Well, take a drink at my blood well.” As in most of his films, Tarantino loves to go to extremes. If violence offends you, then he’ll give you so much violence it becomes comical; if the “n-word” offends you, then he’ll have his characters say it so often it turns your brain numb; if bloody scenes disgust you, then he’ll show you so much blood it becomes meaningless. But back to the allusions. If the seven amigos in The Magnificent Seven were magnificent and admirable in their fight against evil, Tarantino’s eight are truly hateful and evil. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None had characters stranded in an island mansion, dropping inexplicably dead one at a time, with the final explanation coming at the very end. Just like in H8teful Eight, bad-ass folks dropping one at a time, sort of as in Clue—“The big guy did it with poison in the kitchen.” Act One (Tarantino loves to give his films a stage play feel) opens with a stagecoach racing through a brilliantly white Wyoming landscape, about a decade after the Civil War. It’s been snowing for days and a blizzard in on its way. The stagecoach is heading for Red Rock but hopes to make it to Minnie’s Haberdashery before the storm catches them. Pristine snow everywhere, the sound track a nervous high pitch underscoring an as yet undefined tension. Slow pan out from a snow-covered stone Christ hanging on a stone cross. The stagecoach comes to a full stop because the roadway is blocked by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the bodies of the three outlaws whom he’s taking to Red Rock for the $8,000 bounty. His horse gave out in the storm and had to be put down. Inside the coach, John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is taking his $10,000 bounty baby to Red Rock, the killer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). But this killer lady is certainly no lady, her left eye black as a raccoon’s, her face bloody from a broken nose delivered by her captor’s elbow when she talks too much. The major is allowed into the coach, his three bounty bodies are loaded on the top. Rush and Warren know each other, since they both have earned reputations as successful bounty hunters. The journey continues until the coach is stopped again, this time by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, whom you and I remember fondly from his role in Justified). Mannix is on his way to Red Rock where he will become the town’s next sheriff, but his horse also gave out on him. He is allowed into the coach and the four continue on to Minnie’s place, comprised of three separate buildings shivering in the snow—the outhouse, the horse barn, and the haberdashery—a large, single room with bar, kitchen, piano, and sitting area near the fireplace. And now we have the equivalent to the mansions in And Then There Were None and Clue. Tarantino loves his surprises and his jokes. One of the running gags in this part of the story is the front door that has to be nailed shut each time someone enters, with everyone screaming at the entrant, “You gotta kick it in!” and then instructing the entrant to take the hammer and nails near the door and nail not one but two pieces of wood to keep it shut. The building itself is a running gag with the walls showing enormous cracks through which snowflakes are blown. During one confrontation between Major Warren and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), Bob, the interim manager in Minnie’s absence, plays a strange version of “Silent Night.” Bob (Demian Bichir) speaks with a noticeable Mexican accent, thus Major Warren knows something is amiss because he also knows that Minnie hates Mexicans. Who is this Bob and where are Minnie and her family? And who are all these others also stranded here at Minnie’s? All are part of the mystery, with nearly three hours before resolution. There seems to be quite a bit of critical disagreement about this movie, many critics loving it, quite a few hating it. I agree with those who thought it was overlong by about forty minutes. One thing I’m reasonably sure of, though, is that Jennifer Jason Leigh will get some Oscar attention for her really comical portrayal of Daisy Domergue. She says to John Ruth just after he’s coughed up a fountain of blood in her face and just before she shoots him, “When ya get ta hell, John, tell ‘em Daisy sent ya.” You’ll just have to see it to appreciate how funny that line really is.

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