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

Friday, September 30

Texting, Butter/Flutter, and Trump

The technology involved in computers, IPads, and cell phones is moving ahead at mind-numbing speeds. Most of us who have personal computers will soon see them become obsolete. Why have a computer sitting frozen to a desk in our home when we can carry little computers around with us in our pockets? People today can use these little pocket computers to access all the world’s knowledge, play tiny video games, and communicate with others anywhere in the world. Who knows what technological miracles lie just down the road? Well, the technologists have a pretty good idea, but most of us technodummies don’t. The world’s knowledge in our pockets and what are most of us doing? Are we getting smarter? Are we writing beautiful thoughts in beautiful prose? Are we writing to people? Are we talking to people? No, we’re zipping little trivial texts to people, filling them with LOG’s and OMG’s and little emoticon faces, and we send them back and forth as fast as we can. I recently read that the average American teen sends an average of 2000 text messages a month. That’s about 70 a day. And almost none of them say anything consequential. What is this fascination with texting? Thumbs fly over the tiny keys, with no regard for punctuation or spelling or sentencing. A generation or two in the future may produce young people with six-inch thumbs and atrophied fingers (brachydactylically tiny). And the beauty of the written language of the past will be lost forever. Shakespeare and all the past keepers of the language will be spinning in their graves, and our texters of the future will be OMGing and LOLing at their discomfort.

Many people, including me, have wondered which came first, the chicken or the egg. A less metaphysical question: Which came first, the “butterfly” or the “flutterby?” It would make such poetic sense that “flutterby” predated “butterfly.” What a perfect visual description of this magical creature—a colorful fluttering of wings flying back and forth and around and about and by the observer. Truth, though, is that “butterfly" is the original word, describing a fly that eats butter (the honey of visited flowers). So much for visual poetry.

And, finally, I’m astounded—yes, astounded—that anyone—yes anyone—could actually believe that Donald Trump was the winner of the first debate. The man got his ass kicked. His remarks have been likened to verbal salad, all leaf lettuce and no tomato. Talk about a verbal flutterby, the man can hardly complete a sentence, zipping from one non-thought to another, slipping and sliding away from the question to get to safer ground, and what he does say has no butter to be found.

Tuesday, September 27

Sully

With his snow-white hair and mustache, Tom Hanks became Sully Sullenberger in Warner Brothers Sully. I and, I would assume, most of the viewers of this film knew the basics of that watery landing in the Hudson, but we didn’t know any of the back-story about Sully’s anguish over what he did or didn’t do, the possibility of his being fired and losing his pension. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) tried to make him a goat instead of a hero by proving that he should have brought the plane back to LaGuardia instead of into the river, needlessly endangering everyone on board the plane. Sully kept claiming that his forty-two years of flight experience told him he wouldn’t have been able to make it that far. The two dramatic moments in the film were the actual landing and rescue of the 155 people aboard and later, at the NTSB hearing, the computer-generated simulations of what he should have done, bringing the plane in to LaGuardia. The simulations showed that he could have landed safely in either place, LaGuardia or New Jersey. But they didn’t take into account a time gap when the pilots were checking to see if either engine could be started. Sully argued that in the simulations, the pilots immediately turned back when they were given the runway for landing. He also pointed out how calm the simulator pilots were as opposed to the true tension in the real situation. The board granted him 35 seconds and then ran the simulations again. In both cases, the plane would have come down short of the runways and crashed into buildings. Vindication for both Sully and his second in command Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). When board member Elizabeth Davis (Anna Gunn) asked Skiles what he would have done differently if he had it to do over, Skiles said, “I’d have done it in July.” Big laughter all around. Heroes, then, and not goats. Those two moments made the film and all the rest was merely fluff—Laura Linney as Sully’s fretful wife and the incidental details about some of the passengers. Director Clint Eastwood so admires the subject of his film that he’s quoted as saying, “Although I’m going to vote for Donald Trump in November, I think Sully Sullenberger would made a better president.” The same could be said about nearly anyone.

Friday, September 23

TV Pilots

Of the new tv shows this season, The Good Place looks like a good place to start. Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Michael (Ted Danson) star in what might be the oddest plot concept of all time. Eleanor has been killed in a bizarre accident involving shopping carts and finds herself in The Good Place instead of the . . . you know, The Bad Place. She’s always been a selfish hedonist in her short time on earth. It’s only through a mistake made by Michael, the architect of this village in the good place, that Eleanor winds up there. Michael is working on his first assignment building this strange heavenly village and is unaware of his mistake. All the inhabitants of this place are united with their “soul mates,” Eleanore’s being Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a black professor of ethics. When he finds out about the mistake, it’s his problem to make her a less selfish, more deserving person for the good place. Good luck with that, Chidi. This one looks like a winner—very funny with totally unpredictable plot lines.

Another new one, almost exactly the opposite of The Good Place, is This Is Us, and it too looks like a winner. We are told in the opening shot that everyone shares a birthday with nearly two million people. The idea of shared birthdays introduces us to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Mike Ventimiglia), who are about to have triplets. I realize that carrying triplets can be a load, but Rebecca has to have the largest belly bump bump bump I’ve ever seen. It’s Jack’s 36th birthday. Okay, that’s one plot line. Next, we meet Kate (Chrissy Mitz), a 36-year-old who is big-time overweight, and her twin brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), an actor on a tv comedy called Man Ny, both of whom are having their 36th birthday. Kevin has just quit the show because it’s not real or meaningful enough for him. The fourth plot line involves Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a highly successful black entrepreneur who has gone on-line to find the father who had abandoned him at a fire station 36 years earlier. And there you have the plot setup—thirty-six years, four people all of whom born on the same day in 1980. The four plot lines develop: Kate meets another overweight fellow at a self-help group meeting for fatties wanting to lose a lot of weight, with a potential romance in the future; Randall finds his father, who is dying, and invites him to meet his grandchildren; Kevin has jeopardized his acting career and doesn’t know what the future holds for him; and Rebecca and Jack are rushing to the hospital to have their three children delivered. What is the connection between these people? That’s what will make this show a success.

Two others of which I’m not yet sure, Pitch and Bull. Pitch has a young lady, Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunsbury), trying to make it into the big-leagues as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres. Sports films about golf and baseball are always plagued with the problem of making the star look realistically athletic enough to convince the viewer that they can actually play golf or baseball. Kevin Costner just barely made it in Tin Cup, although his golf form was still a bit suspect. And Randy Quaid in Dead Solid Perfect was reasonably close to portraying a PGA golfer, but only because he was actually a low-handicap golfer. But then there was that perfectly awful film with Matt Damon trying to portray a real golfer in The Legend of Bagger Vance. He stunk as did the film. Pitch has a double problem—how to make Ginny Baker actually look like a potential big-league pitcher, and how to generate any interesting stories about her attempts to make it. I’ll wait to see where it goes before I decide to keep it or abandon it.

Michael Weatherly as Dr. Jason Bull in the new series Bull might be able to pull it off. My wife and I both loved him in NCIS and will continue to love him in Bull. My problem is that I hate the idea that juries can be manipulated by people like Dr. Bull into granting guilty or not guilty verdicts, based not on the evidence but on the ways jury advisers, Like Jason Bull, might persuade them to vote. I’ll reserve my final judgement about Bull until I see how it shows his abilities to sway juries for good verdicts instead of simply guilty or not guilty verdicts.

Wednesday, September 21

Stray Thoughts

I saw in yesterday’s paper that it was Sophia Loren’s eighty-second birthday. How depressing. That makes me nearly a year older than the Italian buxom beauty of my youth. How is it possible that she’s younger than I am? I remember seeing her in Two Women and she struck me then as being much older than I, certainly more mature, more worldly, especially since she had a 14-year old daughter in the film. I think I’ve always felt younger than my years. And when did I see Two Women? I thought it was soon after I got home from Korea in 1954, but IMDB informs me it was made in 1960. Okay, Sophia, happy 82nd birthday.

Golf Thoughts. This week, the top thirty in FedEx points will duke it out in Atlanta to see who can claim that ten million dollar pot of gold at the end of the FedEx rainbow. Once would be crazy to bet against Dustin Johnson, but Jordan Spieth may catch him on a bad day or two. Or Rory may come roaring back with four rounds of improved putting. The week after that, the Ryder Cup battle will commence in Minnesota with the American team badly needing a win to shake off their embarrassment and regain some national pride. And best news of all, Tiger will begin his comeback in October at the Safeway Open. He doesn’t need to win after his nearly two-year hiatus. He just needs to make the cut and somehow inch his way into the top 25. He can save the better stuff for later. Maybe he can even win again in 2017. Probably not a major, but a minor one or two would be nice. I think that most of the world has forgiven him for his sexual faux pas and would like to see him back on tour. I know I would.

Television Thoughts. The Voice is back in business with its two new judges Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus. Right now, they’re in the initial stages of blind auditions. On the preview show in August, the first one up was 17-year-old Wé McDonald who sang “Feeling Good” and knocked me and the judges right out of our seats. She sang the first eight bars a cappella in a throaty, low-key register that sounded way more mature than her seventeen years. The judges were all surprised when they heard her speaking voice, which was about an octave higher than her singing voice. Later, Billy Gilman sang “When We Were Young” and got all four judges to spin their chairs around. I can see that both Ms. McDonald and Mr. Gilman may very well be the final two contestants. But there’s still a long way to go and probably a good many great voices to be heard. What I love about The Voice is its emphasis on vocal quality instead of physical or performance attributes. And most of the performers have a background in music greater than that of American Idol contestants. My only complaint is that too much time is spent of the antics of the judges and not enough on vocal performances. But I can dvr it and sort of fast-forward through a lot of the banter. The Big Bang Theory has returned with Leonard and Penny’s second vow-taking for Leonard’s mother’s sake. This should be the last season for the show. It seems to have run its course. Sheldon is becoming more and more an irritant for me. And even though Penny is more like a dime now and Raj seems to have lost a lot of weight during the off-season, they’re all running out of funny stuff. Season 10 may end, not with a bang but a whimper. Hello, BBT, and goodbye, BBT. There’s more to say about all the premiers taking place (like NCIS, Bull, Blue Bloods, and Madame Secretary), but I’ll save that for another day.

Do I need to say anything about Clinton/Trump? No. Just that I can’t wait for the next 48 days to fly by so we can put an end to this charade of an election.

Sunday, September 18

Ho Ho Homosexuality

Almost four years ago, just before Christmas, I wrote this essay on homosexuality, and though we’re still over three months before Christmas 2016, we’ve come so far in four years in liberating our ideas about sexuality and sexual identities, I’m going to post it again.

I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I’m about to say. But if I do, so be it. It certainly won’t be the first time I’ve been offensive.

It’s nearly Christmas and we’re hearing all those Christmas songs, including “Deck the Halls” with its now-rather-comical line, “Don we now our gay apparel.” I say “now” because in the days of my youth, gay meant simply happy, merry, joyful. In my lifetime, we have come not quite full circle in our views of homosexuality, but almost full. Maybe in the next decade the circle will be complete, with no one thinking much one way or the other about gays. When I was young, in the Forties, we didn’t really know much about homosexuality, and what little we did know led us to believe that only young males could be considered gay, or faggoty or fruity or fairyish or flitty. Odd how all those old, cruel words begin with the letter F. But the cruelest word of all was queer. Back then, any tendency toward flippy wrists was enough to brand you for life. Now it’s becoming more and more inconsequential. When I trace back the way we’ve come, I remember when Rock Hudson died and it was revealed that he wasn’t the manly hunk we’d all considered him to be. How shocking. No limp wrists there, no flittiness. How, we asked ourselves, could he be one of those? It became public knowledge that Cole Porter was gay, that Truman Capote was gay, to name only a few. In 1976, Renée Richards (born Richard Raskind) made headlines when she was banned from playing as a woman in the U.S. Open tennis tournament. She had undergone sex reassignment surgery in 1975. She protested the ban, which was overruled in 1977 by the N. Y. Supreme Court.

Some films addressed the question. Midnight Cowboy in 1969 shocked my innocent eyes by showing male fellatio for the first time in film. The Crying Game in 1992 shocked me and much of the audience when it was revealed at the end that Dil was really a cross-dressing male. The Irishman Jimmy had fallen in love with Dil, who he believed was a woman. This film brought up the question of love between anyone, male or female. Love can come in many forms. For all of us who assume that homosexuality is somehow deviant, this film may have prompted us to look at the relationships between men and women in a different light. Is Jimmy, now in love with a man who he first assumed was a woman (and a very attractive woman she/he was), a homosexual? Or is he just a person who fell in love with another person, regardless of physical genders? That leads to the question about sex and love. Are the two synonymous? I don’t think so. But I’ll come back to that later.

In 1997 in In And Out, Kevin Kline played an English teacher who was mistakenly outed by a former student accepting an Academy Award. Much confusion followed and many in-and-out jokes about sexual stereotypes. Kline was described as “neat, organized, sensitive, loves poetry and Shakespeare, and his favorite female singer is Barbra Streisand.” Therefore, he must be gay. The same could be said about me. For all my career as a male English teacher, I wondered how many people questioned my masculinity. Quite a few, I suppose. In 2005, Brokeback Mountain shocked a lot of people by taking for a central theme the homosexual relationship between the two main characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Homophobes all over the country could be heard screaming their disgust. In 2010, The Kids Are All Right explored the relationships between two women in a same-sex marriage, both of whom bore children using sperm donations, and the effects of that marriage on the children. The consensus was that they’re all right.

Television entered the debate in 1972, when “M*A*S*H” took a sideways step toward cross-dressing, with Klinger, supposedly trying to get a discharge from the army, enjoying his many female costumes. In 1982, cross-dressing is the entire plot hook in “Bosom Buddies,” in which Tom Hanks, disguised as Buffy, finds the joys of posing as a woman. In 1997, after coming out of the closet on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen Degeneres did the same with her character on “Ellen.” “Will and Grace” in 1998 moved further, portraying Jack as an openly stereotypical gay and Will as a non-stereotypical gay who shares an apartment with Grace. Then along came “Glee,” the show that has, since its opening in 2009, opened wide the doors regarding homosexuality, homophobia, and bisexuality. Chris Colfer, who plays the gay student Kurt Hummel, has admitted to being gay. And in the last two seasons, we saw the football bully Karofsky kiss Kurt, Brittany and Santana acknowledging their love for each other, Blaine Anderson admitting to being gay and the love angle for Kurt, the understanding between Kurt and his father. In other words, this show has done more for encouraging understanding of homosexuality than any other show thus far. And I’m an admitted Gleek.

Now, with all the film and television exposure, with the rescinding of the military’s DADT (Don’t ask, don’t tell) policy, more and more people are finding it easier and easier to come out of the closet (such an odd yet fitting way to say it). Which then leads to the question of same-sex marriage. Those people and those states that still oppose it, based on the Bible’s dictums about such matters, cite as their proof Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”; and Corinthians 6:9-11: “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” I think those who believe the Bible to be the true word of God and not man’s interpretations of those words should be welcome to their beliefs. But that shouldn’t prevent those who don’t agree with them from being legally joined in matrimony.

Some last thoughts about sex and love, heterosexuality and homosexuality. When I was a young man, almost nobody got a divorce. It was a shameful thing to do. Young people who fell in love then were at least as much in lust as in love, because premarital sex was frowned upon then, and unwed mothers were shipped off to give birth or were hidden away like lepers. So, many people who married young, thinking that sex was the basis for a love between two people, often stayed together for their lifetimes. The same is true of those who would be classified as latent homosexuals, people who married but could never figure out why they didn’t feel fulfilled. Too often, for both homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, after the sex was appeased, love didn’t necessarily remain, and they were just two people sharing a life and a house. To successfully share lives forever, two people must be in love, not in lust. Even though the pleasure of sex can certainly be a part of love, it can’t be a substitute for love. Two people may be wonderful sex partners but absolutely awful full-time partners. The sexual revolution four decades ago introduced the concept of “fuck buddies,” two people who enjoy each other’s company for brief sexual encounters but who part ways afterwards, still friends but not lovers. Even our euphemism “to make love” is inaccurate. It suggests that only people in love can have satisfactory sex together. Just not so.

Saturday, September 17

A New New Deal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 proposed what came to be called the New Deal, two important parts of which were the Social Security System and the Works Program Administration, better known to us oldsters as the WPA. And he was hated for it, hated by mostly Republicans who thought he was taking too much power in the presidency and taking away too much from the states. We were, they claimed, heading for socialism which was just one step away from communism. We were in the middle of the Great Depression with nearly 10 million jobless, millions of desperate people criss-crossing the country begging for food and work from anyone who might have either to give. It was a time of Great Plains drought and Dust Bowl days with skies dark with dust storms. Our nation was in the middle of an economic disaster which threatened to bring our country to its knees.

The WPA, with federal money, provided jobs to heads of households who were out of work, jobs building bridges, highways, public buildings, schools, hospitals, airports. FDR with his federal programs saved us until WWII gave us an industrial impetus that took us back to economic stability.

Presently, our infrastructure is in dire need of a new New Deal, a new WPA supported by federal funds to repair what’s broken, to provide jobs to those who are jobless. And Barack Obama would probably be hated for doing so.

I’m confused by those who say that Obama’s eight years have been disastrous. When he took office in 2008, we were suffering from two Bush administrations, and the U.S. was teetering on the edge of another Great Depression with a double-digit jobless rate and Middle-Eastern wars from which we couldn’t seem to extricate ourselves. Eight years later, our economy is back to stability and the unemployment rate is around 5%. Nearly all Americans are now living a better life than they had eight years ago. This was accomplished despite a Republican majority in both Houses that was almost entirely obstructionist. Granted, we are still too much involved in the Middle-East, but no president could have gotten us disengaged from fighting the Islamist terrorist groups that threaten us and most of the rest of the world. And now, before he steps down, Barack Obama has the opportunity to implement a new WPA that would bring the unemployment rate even lower than it is now, that would repair an infrastructure that’s in dire need of repair. And the Republicans would probably hate him for doing so. And, if we’re not very careful, we might elect a man who could virtually destroy us as a nation and world leader. That man is Donald Trump.

Monday, September 12

Television Updates

We said goodbye to Rizzoli and Isles last week. We’ll really miss the show and especially miss the two ladies who centered the piece, Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. The writers were careful to tie up all loose ends: Jane is going to Quantico to teach; Jane’s mom is back with her manfriend; Korsac retires; Maura is taking a leave of absence after the month she and Jane will spend in Paris; Frankie and Nina come out of the engagement closet. Closure, along with a lot of tears from the actors as well as their audience. Thanks, TNT, for giving us this classy series and a classy ending. But, oh, how I’m going to miss Angie Harmon’s John Wayne saunter. It took her seven seasons to perfect it, but she certainly got it right.

We’re being inundated by magic lately, with Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, Masters of Illusion, and the three or four magicians appearing on America’s Got Talent. I am in awe of these magicians and their tricks. I realize that most of what they do is just a variation of an old tried-and true-magic trick, but I still can’t figure out how they do it. Nor can I figure out how Penn and Teller seem to know every trick ever invented. I just watch it all and shrug my shoulders.

So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent are down to their finales. When SYTYCD first told us what this season would be, called The Next Generation, I thought it would be a bigtime flop. How can little people, little dancers, be good enough for the show? Wow, was I wrong. We’re down to the final four and all four of them can dance as well as any of the all-stars from past seasons. JT is the cutest little boy, only ten and tiny, but he amazes me with his dance abilities. America’s Got Talent has a mixed bag of ten finalists—a magician, a clairvoyant pair, a tape-mouthed comic, a lovely female contortionist, a juggler, and five singers or singing groups. Of the five in the vocal category, two shouldn’t have made it past the semi-finals, let alone make it to the finals: Linkin Bridge, the quartet from Louisville, and Sal Valentinetti, who pretends he’s the second coming of Sinatra but comes up several miles short. Who do I want to win? Sofie Dossie, who, with her feet, shot an arrow into my heart; or Grace Vanderwall, the next Taylor Swift; or magician Jon Dorenbos. Who will win? Probably Grace Vanderwall.

And, in honor of our impending election (“Impending” sounds like a hurricane, doesn’t it? Well, maybe it is.), I look back at Marty Sheen in West Wing and look now at Tea Leoni in Madame Secretary. I’d vote for either of them to be our next president.

Sunday, September 11

Hell or High Water

I’m not sure what the “high water” was in the movie Hell or High Water, but I certainly know what the “hell” was—West Texas. The opening scenes depicted the desolation of the Texas countryside with a parallel desolation of rust and decay in small west Texas towns. Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) drive into one such dusty town, enter a Midland Trust bank, pistols drawn, ski masks down, screaming at customers and tellers to get on the floor, then taking all the small bills in the drawers, leaving the packets of large bills. A small bank heist, really small. Little by little we’re fed background information about the brothers and their reasons for the unambitious bank takes.
The mother has recently died after a prolonged and probably expensive illness. Tanner, the bad-boy brother, has just gotten out of prison and takes the lead in the robberies. Toby, the good brother, has been caring for his mother and their family ranch. “Ranch” is probably too kind a word for this barren land and rundown house, but it’s their land as it has been for several generations. But the bank, the Midland Trust in town, is about to foreclose on it, which, in the eyes of the Howard boys, is little more than legally stealing their land and their heritage for the oil that’s beneath it. Thus the plan to steal enough money from Midland Trust to pay off to Midland Trust their mother’s reverse mortgage and the back taxes. An irony that tends to make the audience side with the brothers against the evil bank and bankers. U.S. Marshal Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) investigate the robberies, trying to make sense of them. The banter between the soon-to-be-retired marshal and his half-Comanche, half-Mexican sidekick makes up a lot of this film’s charm. Jeff Bridges is still refining his Rooster Cogburnish old codger image, this time doing it with soft-spoken Texas twang, thrust chin, belly over belt. The movie echoes so many other real and fictional twosomes—the James brothers, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch and Sundance, even Thelma and Louise. And we’re also reminded of No Country for Old Men. This west Texas country looks like no country for old or young men or women. We even recall the black and white Texas in The Last Picture Show, with a 22-year-old Jeff Bridges before his move to codgerdom. Chris Pine has come a long and welcome way from his Star Trek Captain Kirk. If only for the new Chris Pine and the old Jeff Bridges, you should see Hell or High Water. I’d have to give it four out of five lone stars.

Friday, September 9

Euthanasia

Okay, I’m going to rant a little. Everyone needs a little rant time now and then.

We now have another situation that raises the question: Who has the right to die and who has the legal right to deny death? Jerika Bolen, a 14-year-old Wisconsinite, has spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a condition that allows only partial head and arm movement, and she’s been this way for all fourteen of her years, along with pain levels she describes as about seven on a one-to-ten scale on a good day, higher on a bad day. She want to have removed the ventilator that does most of her breathing for her. She wants to die. But because she’s only fourteen, those groups that oppose Right-to-Die wishes say she’s too young to make such a decision. Where is the morality in denying her right to die? Extraordinary measures have been used for fourteen years to keep her alive. But is what she has “living?” She doesn’t think so. Her parents don’t think so. Why should the courts or Right-to-Die opponents reserve the right to deny her wishes? Do too many of us today regard life as so sacred we must preserve it no matter how awful, how painful, how miserable that life is? Was Karen Quinlan’s “life” as a vegetable worth all the efforts to keep her body alive with a comatose brain? Did Brittany Maynard have the right to die instead of waiting the six months for a brain tumor to kill her painfully? Should Aruna Shanbaug, a Mumbai nurse, a victim in 1973 of a brutal beating and rape that left her brain-dead and vegetative, have been kept alive by extraordinary measures for four years? Is that humane, is that the only moral answer? Euthanasia means “good death,” and I certainly believe that some deaths are better than others.

We seem to living in a time when part of the world’s population is still looking backwards instead of forwards, when part of us is still clinging to ideas about life and death that are no longer valid. Part of us see the dangers of overpopulation and some apparently ignore it. We now have seven billion people on earth, with that number growing much too rapidly. And yet part of the world goes on breeding like rabbits because some religions and religious leaders say it’s God’s wish that we go forth and multiply. That may have been valid back when mankind was still struggling to maintain its grip on a hostile world. But not now. The anti-abortionists and Right-to-Lifers think that all fetuses from the moment of conception are sacred and must be allowed to live even when it’s medically shown that the fetus will be born with severe physical and/or mental defects. Are the tiny-headed, micro-cephalic Zika babies better off alive than dead? I don’t think so.

Too much of today’s religion is a backward instead of a forward look. The Jihadist terror groups would have all infidels dead, and would invoke on all people a return to the patriarchal social values that date back more than three centuries. The Catholic Church still insists on archaic sexual practices. The Bible Belt Creationists refuse to accept the obvious scientific proof that the earth is almost five billion years old, that man evolved from the sea, taking a parallel evolutionary path from apes and monkeys but still related to them.

We’re on the brink of a positive and a negative future, a fearful or a joyful future. The growth of Man’s knowledge is staggering compared to our continued ignorance. We’re right on the brink of possible immortality, of Star Trek voyages to other parts of the universe, of artificial intelligence that could solve the world’s hunger and need for water and energy sources, of other directions we can only dream about. But we’re also confronted by the world’s terrorist groups, by disease and hunger in the world, by weapons that could destroy the earth and all mankind.

So, which way will we go, good or bad? Will we step across that yawning brink to the positive side or will we fall into the pit of despair? I believe in the goodness of man and think we’ll make it to the good side.

Sunday, September 4

The Old English Teacher Again

I can't seem to stay out of the classroom. Here are a few cute examples illustrating common grammatical terms and all-too common sentence and punctuation errors.

Seven bar jokes involving grammar and punctuation, by Eric K. Auld
And twelve additional sentence errors of my own.


1. A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
2. A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.
3. A question mark walks into a bar?
4. Two quotation marks “walk into” a bar.
5. A present participle and an infinitive walk into a bar, hoping to forget their troubles.
6. The bar was walked into by the passive voice.
7. Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They drink. They leave.
8. A split infinitive walks into a bar, asking the bartender to only serve him one drink.
9. A sentence-ending preposition walks into a bar, which was already serving the adverbs he was looking for.
10. A pronoun error walks into a bar, keeping an open space at the bar between he and an old colon.
11. An adverb error walks into a bar, feeling badly that his adjective buddy couldn’t join him.
12. Two exclamation marks walk into a bar and were greeted with loud cheers!!
13. A bad apostrophe walks into a bar and sluggs down it’s first two drinks.
14. A sentence fragment walks into a bar. Decides he doesn’t like the company and leaves.
15. A couple of disagreeable verbs walks into a bar and asks for a free drink.
16. A run-on sentence walks into a bar he demanded a free drink.
17. A misplaced modifier walks into a bar, wearing a straw hat on his head, which was obviously too small.
18. A spelling error walks into a bar, thinking a martini might be alright.
19. Three parallel structures walk into a bar (with one old gerund in the middle). They loved to drink together, loved telling jokes, and loved to remember good times from their past.

A short poem my good friend Anne sent me a long time ago, a poem that speaks to me personally now that I'm an old outrigger who too often sticks too close to shore:

"We rest here while we can, but hear the ocean calling in our dreams,
And we know by morning, the wind will fill our sails to test the seams,
The calm is on the water and part of us would linger by the shore,
For ships are safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for."

A thought I had about my writing and trying to sell what I’ve written: “It was like dropping stones in a pool of oil—not even a ripple as they sank into the depths, nothing to indicate they’d ever been dropped. What a humbling experience it is to put words down on paper, words you’ve labored over, sighed over, pored over, sweat upon, wept upon, cursed, blessed, kissed. And when the child is finally born, the labors over, you think he’s so handsome. And onlookers turn away, with a look of disgust or sympathy, or a veiled smile, maybe a little chuckle behind masking fingers."

And here I am again, peddling my words. Books, anyone?



Saturday, September 3

Winter-Spring Depression & Political Thoughts Then and Now

I know the seasons are wrong, but I wrote this a few years before I retired from teaching in 1993, and I like it so much I'm going to stick it in here. How sad it was that I felt such depression about life passing and my teaching career coming to an end:

One early spring morning, probably in 1991 or ’92, as I drove to school, I was feeling really down about the seemingly interminable winters in western New York. Probably also feeling that my career in teaching seemed interminable also, sort of like spinning my wheels in the muck of an early spring snowstorm. And the closing line from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” came to mind: “O, Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

Maybe it’s because I’m a golfer. Maybe it’s because I’m a normal human being who values the gold of the sun more than the pewter-gray of rain-swollen clouds. I don’t know. In any case, I dislike that much-too-much-too-long time between winter and spring, between mid-February and mid-April . . . between the weariness of winter’s inactivity and the joy of spring’s springiness.

Late February, early March—western New York along Lake Erie (good name for a lake in this part of the world—Erie, eerie, weary, bleary). The sun shines rarely enough in western New York, even in the summer. But in that too loooong time between winter and spring, it seems like it never shows itself.

Day breaks (or does it only crack?) at 7:00 a.m. and the light climbs through dismal rain or damp snowflakes. I drive to work with headlights on and windshield wipers slapping to and fro. In the gray of morning, the roadsides reveal dirty gray snow and in the ditches brown, red, gray weeds and bushes bowed down by winter. The maple and birch trees are black streaks against the rising eastern sky, still leafless, the branches still blank and lifeless. An occasional pine points greenly skyward. A crow flaps tiredly across the highway to land on leafless apple tree on the first hole of Sunset Valley, a short par-3 course just before I get to school. The bird must be as winter weary as I am, and he watches me go by almost as if to say, “Caawww! Caawww! Maybe next year I can talk the missus into heading down to Arizona!”
I hear him, and I echo the sentiment.
* * * * *
I had this to say exactly four years ago, and in light of this year's elections coming up, it's interesting enough to repeat it:

Couple of stats I find interesting. MSNBC reports that thus far $160 million has been spent on negative campaign ads, and $17 million on positive ads [and this number waaaay higher now than then]. Hmmm, seems a little disproportionate to me. I must be politically naive . . . or maybe just stupid. Why can’t we regulate the amount of money spent on any campaign on both a national as well as a state level, make the amount small enough that no candidate would want to waste money on the sort of attack ads we now see . . . over and over again. Why should elections now be decided by the amount of money candidates can raise instead of on their stand on issues? A billionaire doofus can now buy a seat in congress if he’s willing to spend most of his fortune.

And this regarding the numbers who question Barack Obama’s citizenship (You remember the Trumpster’s claim?): 17% of the American people, 23% of registered Republicans. I wouldn’t have thought we had that many truly stupid people living here. As long as I’m being politically offensive, I might as well repeat what I said a few months ago. If Obama loses this year and is a one-term president, then whichever GOP nominee wins [and I can now say Mitt Romney is the one], he too will be a one-termer because he too won’t have fixed our nation’s ills. And guess what will happen in 2016: Hillary Clinton will become the first female president in U.S. history. There, write it down

Okay, did anyone write it down four years ago? If not, you can do it now.

Friday, September 2

T-Shirt Wisdom & Trump Then and Now

You can take the old English teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the old English teacher. That’s an example of reverse parallel structure (also known as antithesis). And though I may have already used what follows, it’s so good I have to include it again (t-shirt wisdom):

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
Hyperbole is the greatest thing ever! Onomatopoeia is a blast.
The most abundant elements on earth are oxygen and stupidity.
Quondo Omni Flunkus Mortati (When all else fails, play dead.)
I became a teacher for the money. The power and fame were just a bonus.
If it moves, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.
Always remember, you are unique, just like everyone else.
She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going . . . but she was on her way.
Being a good writer is 5% talent and 95% not being distracted by the internet.
My train of thought just derailed. There are no survivors.
Copy from one, it’s plagiarism. Copy from many, it’s research.
If you long for your youth, remember the fun of calculus class.
There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life, music and cats.

In looking back over my past blogs, I found this news item in 2011. Seems more relevant today than five years ago.

The Donald, the Trumpster, told us that he’s no longer considering running for the Republican nomination. “After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election. I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done halfheartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.” How in the world could he have the stones, the cojones, the balls to say that he would probably win next year’s election? If 51% of the voters all filed into the polling places wearing big red noses, big floppy shoes, and clown hats, he might actually have won. But then we’d have been a nation of clowns being led by the biggest clown of all.

Here’s another from four years ago, and this too is more relevant today than in 2012.

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

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Any comments? Write me at jertrav33@aol.com