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

Tuesday, November 29

Loving

We saw Loving yesterday. It wasn’t a film I’d normally want to see, but it was similar to Twelve Years a Slave, both films I had to see. I’ve said before how many remarkable changes I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, and this film showed me another of those changes, a change wrought by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. How far we’ve come in the last fifty years in recognizing how all people, no matter what their color or ethnicity or religious beliefs, deserve to be cherished. But we still have a long way to go, and I fear that the recent presidential election may send us a few steps backward instead of forward. Loving, based on a true story about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere, showed us two people, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who got married and simply wanted to live their lives in Virginia among their friends and families. But interracial marriage was illegal and if they didn’t divorce or move out of Virginia they would be arrested and sent to prison. Their plight was finally brought to the attention of the ACLU, who represented them in bringing their case before the Supreme Court. This was almost a totally actionless film, deliberately quiet and actionless by director Jeff Nichols. It simply showed us the normal, quiet lives of this couple who only wanted to be left alone, not persecuted for their union. We see Richard at his brick-laying job, with the symbolic level he uses to make sure his bricks are straight and even, just as he tries to keep his life and the life of the woman he loves straight and even. His stoicism shows all through the film, his quiet acceptance of their situation. Even when the local police come in the middle of the night to arrest them, he doesn’t fight them despite the awful injustice of it all. We see Mildred at home with her family, quietly (although not quite as quietly as Richard) accepting their situation until she’s finally told she should write to Bobby Kennedy, then Attorney General under brother John F. Kennedy’s administration, for help to overturn the Virginia anti-miscegenation law. We also noted the rope tossed over a branch to make a swing for the Loving’s children, the suggestion that a rope over a tree branch was too often used to lynch a black man who had the audacity to look too long at a white woman. This was a story I had to see. But it may have taken about twenty minutes too long to tell it. I find it hard to believe that in the 50’s and 60’s we still had white supremacists who so despised anyone non-white they could disallow all interracial marriages. These were the good ol’ boys found mainly in the South but also to a lesser degree in all parts of the country. These were the good ol’ boys who believed that a woman’s place was in the kitchen and the bedroom, cookin’ for ‘em and providin’ sexual satisfaction for ‘em whenever they wanted it. They also believed that all blacks emitted a distinctive bad odor, that blacks were descended directly from apes, unlike whites who were the children of God. These were the men who donned white robes as they attended their KKK meetings, who bombed black churches, who strung up uppity blacks, who disallowed any blacks from swimming in white pools because they would somehow infect the water, who disallowed blacks from eating in white restaurants or sleeping in white hotels, who made blacks sit at the back of busses, drink at separate drinking fountains, stay in their black ghettos. It was a film I had to see. And, oh, how too many Trump supporters would hate it, how one of Trump’s key advisors, the Alt-Right Steve Bannon, would hate it, how the anti-Semites and anti-Muslims would hate it, how all the neo-Nazis would hate it, how current KKK members would hate it, how those who advocate that we should have separate, white-only sections of the country, maybe with a fence all around, or even a twenty-foot wall would hate it.

Sunday, November 27

Football

College football is winding down to what seems like about a thousand bowl games and the three games that really matter, the four-team playoffs. And the NFL season is chugging to a climax. I say chugging because this year has seen such mediocrity among so many teams, only the Patriots and the hated Cowboys looking like winners. I won’t even mention what the Arizona Cardinals look like.

Football on all levels has become a silly game of penalty flags flying all over the place, making most games mud-slow, with victories and defeats too dependent on the referees. It’s been said by football pundits that offensive holding could be called on every play, that defensive holding or pass interference could be called on every pass play. The referees have too much influence on who wins or loses. What can be done about it? Don’t call any offensive holding. Let the linear combatants do battle. Best man wins. Don’t call any defensive holding or pass interference. Let the receivers and defenders do battle. Best man wins by catching it, intercepting it, or knocking it down. There would still be penalties for unnecessary roughness in case the combatants got unnecessarily unruly. But at least it would reduce the role of the referees and their penchant for throwing yellow flags.

What about football injuries, especially concussions? The game at all levels now involves players who are gargantuan compared to people of average height, weight, and muscle mass. A man (or boy) who is six feet tall and weighs 175 can, with a weight program, pump himself up to 225 or more, with arms and legs like tree trunks. Then you put him on a football field and have him try to knock opponents out of the game—concussions, broken ribs, torn acl’s on knees. The game has become so fast and furious that players suffer injuries that affect them for life, even cause early dementia or thoughts of suicide. How can the game be made less dangerous? How about touch football? No more tackling, no more knocking the quarterback down, no more injuries. As a nation of fans of violent sports, the more blood we see, the happier we are. But now in football we see a much needed attempt to curtail concussion injuries. Good. Now, what about boxing and kick boxing? How can football be so concerned about concussions and these two barbarisms be so unconcerned? Aren’t boxers as susceptible to concussions as football players? I see a future not that far down the road when football and boxing are as extinct as dinosaurs. No football, no boxing of any kind, just quietly intense chess matches.

Friday, November 25

Gluttony & Gullibility

First, the Gluttony, Pope Gregory’s sixth of his seven Deadly Sins, right after Avarice and right before Lust. After reading about the meals most American had yesterday and all the Back Friday shopping stampedes, I think Gluttony and Lust should both be moved up to the head of the line. My wife and I were part of the food lust with a delicious but maybe too bountiful a meal at our daughter’s house. If the bird felt stuffed with stuffing, so did we. I know I ate about four times as much as my stomach normally allows. The overeating might be forgiven if it came only once a year, but the number of really fat Americans suggests that overeating happens almost every day. What can’t be forgiven is what happens on this truly Black Friday, the lustful buying and buying of “stuff” that we Americans feel not only that we need but also that we deserve. I just read that the average American will spend nearly a thousand dollars on holiday shopping. What? I thought in my review of The Edge of Seventeen that people from other countries might mistakenly believe we’re all as rich as Croesus. Our Black Friday shopping only reinforces that image. We need to practice the sixth of the Seven Virtues, Temperance in food and drink and shopping for “stuff.”

Now, the Gullibility. I got an e-mail a few days ago supposedly from James Comey, head of the FBI. I’ll reprint only the first two paragraphs to show you how ridiculously written this letter is. And it makes me wonder if there are really people out there who would fall for this scam. They would be my best example of Gullibility. Here it is:

Attention: Beneficiary

We hope this notification arrives meeting your good health and mind. We the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) Washington, DC in conjunction with some other relevant investigation agencies here in the United STATES of America have recently been informed through our Global Intelligence monitoring network that you have an over-due payment in tone of US $25 million USD with Federal Reserve, NY which was fully endorsed in your favor accordingly by the UNITED NATIONS (UN).

It might interest you to know that we have taken our time in screening through this project as stipulated on our protocol of operation and have finally confirmed that your payment/transaction with Federal Reserve is 100% genuine and hitch free from all facets and of which you have the lawful right to claim your fund without any further delay. Having said all this, we will further advise that you go ahead in dealing with the Federal Reserve, NY accordingly as we will be monitoring all their activities with you as well as your correspondence at all levels.


It goes on to say we should contact samson.potter2@aol.com. I’m sure if I went there, Mr. Potter would want me to confirm my bank account number so the $25,000,000 could be transferred. Or maybe he would need my social security number to verify my identity. Is it actually true that there’s a sucker born every minute?

Thursday, November 24

The Edge of Seventeen

I’m not sure what to say about The Edge of Seventeen, the recent movie about the angst of adolescence. I wasn’t particularly fond of that age when I was there. I loved the performance of Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, the friendless teen, still on the edge, not quite there. I especially loved the performance of Woody Harrelson as her care-less, caring history teacher.
I wasn’t fond of Kyra Sedgwick’s role as Nadine’s mother. She had enough hair on her head to make a hibernating bear proud. Two things I need to get out of the way: these teen/high school films always seem to show high school as much more awkward and painful than I remember it; and they always seem to depict an America as much more affluent than we really are. Anyone from a foreign country watching them must assume that we’re all wealthy beyond a foreigner’s dreams. We’re not. Just ask all the Trump supporters. Back to the movie. Seventeen, or pre-seventeen as the title suggests, can be awkward and painful as we all try to discover who we are, what we want, what we need. God, growing up can be so awkward and painful unless we’re one of the lucky ones in the non-descript middle ground. But middle-groundedness wouldn’t make for an angsty plot. Nadine has only one friend (even though she seems to be an intelligent, lovely young woman), her bestie from second grade on up, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Her other best friend, her father, dies of a heart attack when driving the 13-year-old Nadine home from school, and her life will never be the same again. Or so she thinks. But when her perfect older brother (“perfect” is Nadine’s assessment) begins dating Krista, she feels betrayed by both her brother and her best friend. Oh, wahhh! She almost totally ignores Erwin, who so obviously has a crush on her, in favor of Nick, the sleazy senior hottie she thinks she could win by sexually gobbling him up. She'd like to do it in the fish section of Petland where Nick works. She even accidentally sends him a provocative text telling him what she'd like to do to him. It's a funny but painful examination of that time of life when we all think it will never end and we will never find true love. The funniest scenes are between Nadine and Mr. Bruner, who tolerates her frequent interruptions during lunch hour and even tells her he likes her. In one scene, Nadine has fallen asleep in his history class and Mr. Bruner, after the class has left, wakes her up, telling her she's just had brain surgery . . . to make her pleasant and agreeable. Even if your adolescence was painless, this is a movie you may not identify with but will still find entertainingly funny. Four out of five stars.

Music Past & Present

We’ve been fans of The Voice for the past three seasons, and both my wife and I think the vocal quality on this show is much better than that of most of the contestants on American Idol—less emphasis on performance, more on voice. We also watched part of the American Music Awards show last week. I say “part of” because we couldn’t stand to watch the whole thing. Too much inelegance, distastefulness, unclassiness, too much glitter and glitz, too many people trying to be as outlandish in style and behavior as possible.
And most of the music was too dependent on electronic amplification, the performers too involved with intricate dance steps and pelvic thrusts, the lyrics lost in speed and volume and audience noise. I sound like an old codger. I AM an old codger. And I know that musical style changes with every generation. But most of the music in the current pop scene relies more on rhythm and choreography than on lyrics. Where are all the songs from The Great American Songbook, with lyrics I can hear and understand? Audiences today seem to be made up of young people who scream and whistle and sing along with the performers, more interested in their own voices than the singer on stage. They seem to know all the lyrics that to me are incomprehensible. I love The Voice and the four judges, but their audience does the same—scream and whistle and sing along and wave their silly out-of-time arms. When the camera shifts to Miley or Alicia, they’re also singing along with the contestant. Blake and Adam don’t, leaving that trick to the ladies. The judges and contestants dip into the past for song choices, but don’t dip more than a toe or two, back to 1975 for “What I Did for Love” and the early 80’s for “Rosanna” and “9 to 5.” The musical genre that’s changed the least over the last fifty years is Country, with a capital C. Oh, yes, and Jazz, with a capital J. But that’s because most of the current jazz singers, male and female, seem to favor songs from The Great American Songbook. Jazz singers like Karrin Allyson, Jackie Allen, Michael Bublé, and Bobby Caldwell are the polar opposites of singers like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Bruno Mars, and Justin Bieber. All have great voices, but what they sing and how they sing it are like night and day. Lady Gaga seems to be straddling the fence now that she’s shown us her Sound of Music and “Lush Life” side. I wish that more of the pop singers today would do the same. I guess I’m saying that the musical scene has passed me by without so much as a “Toodle-oo” or a farewell wave. I miss the old days, but those days are as dead as Sinatra and Ella and all the others who sang the songs I once knew and understood.

Sunday, November 20

Progression or Regression?


It seems so long ago (It WAS so long ago) and when I look at some of the photos I took when I was in Korea, I can hardly believe that the place I was sent to in 1952 looks as backward as these photos show it to have been. And today, I see a Korea that’s one of the most prosperous, modern nations in the world. That village is right out of the Middle Ages, primitive grass shacks housing primitive farmers and their families.
When I was there, the hills were bombed-out desolation and the rice paddies in the valleys stank of the fertilizing human excrement collected in honey buckets. The ridges across the way were honeycombed with tunnels for the Chinese and North Korean soldiers, and our shelling didn’t seem to have any effect on them. That was sixty-four years ago, a lifetime ago. Oh, how Korea has changed; oh, how the world has changed. I guess I have to include myself in that mix—oh, how I’ve changed. I’d like to think I’m much smarter now, but that’s probably not true.

What else in my lifetime has changed? Most obviously, the technological advances we’ve made. In my youth, we had tiny black and white tv sets in front of which the family hovered to watch grainy transmissions of shows like Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, and Steve Allen on the original Tonight Show. And look what we have today: huge screens in crystal clarity and hundreds, no, thousands, of shows and movies from which we can choose. Then, we had dial phones hanging on a wall near the kitchen, with three-digit phone numbers, often shared with several neighbors on a “party line.” Alexander Graham Bell couldn’t possibly have seen where his invention was going, with tiny computer-phones now in almost every pocket, with nearly everyone spending hours and hours texting or speaking to friends and relatives. How far we’ve come. Or have we really regressed? We see technological advances that boggle the mind: automobiles with stick shifts to luxurious computerized autos that can drive themselves; typewriters to word-processors; hard copy books to e-books; black and white photography to colorful digitized selfies; computers with storage capacities of 48 megabytes to these things we now have that can store almost the entire Library of Congress or more movies than we’d be able to watch in a lifetime; music once stored on cylinders and played back on gramophones, then tapes and vinyl grooved disks played at speeds of 78, then 45, then 33⅓ rpm’s and up to what we have today with MP3 recordings stored on compact disks; surgical procedures that transfer the scalpel from the surgeon to a computerized arm. Social changes? In the old old days, most people didn’t bother to lock their homes day or night or lock their cars or remove their car keys when they parked. Most people married for life. Now most couples either don’t get married at all or get divorced once or twice or more often. Then there were laws prohibiting mixed marriages. Now, such unions are common, with offspring that hasten the “Browning of America.” Now we have a much greater understanding of sexual orientation, with same-sex marriages now legally accepted. With Facebook and Twitter and other social networks, relationships are now more pervasive although not necessarily stronger. Government keeps getting bigger and bigger with ever more steps toward the Big Brother George Orwell warned us about, with cameras everywhere keeping track of our every move, with hackers on the internet invading our privacy and scamming us out of billions, with governmental agencies listening to and recording our phone calls. The only ones with tattoos back then were sailors with a modest heart or anchor on an upper arm. Now, ink is everywhere on body parts the old sailors would have been embarrassed to consider. Then most of us weren’t overweight, but now obesity is rampant. Our lifespans now are much longer than back then. We now drink more and take more drugs (both prescriptive and illegal) than ever before, but cigarettes are passé and electronic smoking devices are in. Marijuana was then illegal and is now legal in many states and soon will probably be nationwide. We’re seeing the near end of newspapers, magazines, and books in favor of those same things now available digitally. With Wikipedia and computer search engines, we now have at our fingertips the entire body of man’s knowledge. We now own more guns than ever before. We now view the world as a dangerous place. We now are more aware of and fearful of what terrorists can do to us. Have we progressed or regressed? It all depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or a glass half-empty guy. I’m happy to say that I’m a glass half-full. I’ve seen more changes in my lifetime, both good and bad, than I could possibly have imagined back when I was a young, innocent, ignorant boy in the bombed-out hills of South Korea.

Thursday, November 17

Arrival

Science fiction has always depended on alien invasion as one of its most reliable genres, some depicting hostile aliens here to destroy us and take over our world (or possibly to eat us), some depicting benevolent aliens here to help humanity find its place in the universe. Think back to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. There are more novels envisaging hostile invasion than benevolent visitation (hostility more suspenseful than benevolence). One of my favorite science fiction novels—hell, one of my favorite novels of any kind—is Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. This novel helped me understand my beliefs in the future of man, that we’re only on the threshold of becoming what we will be, might be, in the future, gave me a reason to believe in the existence of God, or some creative force in the universe similar to what most of us think of as God. And the films that try to show this same thing: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, and now Arrival, the movie just released with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, with Renner playing Dr. Ian Donnelly, an expert in math and theoretical physics, and Adams playing Dr. Louise Banks, a world-renowned expert in linguistics who is given the task of learning how to communicate with these aliens who have come to earth either for conquest or benevolence, with foggy scenes of alien heptapods (seven-legged) that spoke to Dr. Banks in intricate smoke rings that looked a bit like ink squirts from gigantic squids. I loved this movie. I love language and the many ways we and other beings might use to communicate with each other. I loved what this film was trying to say—time as circular instead of just linear, peace in the world, a united mankind looking to the next frontier, space. Even though I loved this film, there were still things that either could have been done better or the plot lines could have been clearer. The background music was a bit too heavy, giving us unnecessarily menacing non-musical sounds (like whale songs) whenever the team approached the door to the hovering spaceship; the flashbacks (or brief memories Dr. Banks has of her daughter and her daughter’s tragic death from some incurable disease) helped us understand the circularity of time but which, in retrospect, didn’t make sense. Dr. Banks explains to Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) that language can be misleading and infuriatingly complex. She tells him about modern man’s first encounter with Australian aborigines. When they asked the aborigines what they called that little animal that carried its young in a pouch, they replied “kangaroo.” But later, it was determined that “kangaroo” means “I don’t understand.” Renner asked her if that story was true, and she said, “No, but it made my point, didn’t it?” I too, must cry, “Kangaroo!” regarding this film’s meaning. Arrival owes a big debt to Arthur C. Clarke and Childhood’s End, the plot of which was also based on alien spaceships hovering over major world cities, with aliens and their unclear agendas about earth and mankind. I loved Clarke’s message and his optimism, and I loved Arrival enough to 4-star recommend it to all sci-fi fans and all who might become sci-fi fans after seeing this movie.

Tuesday, November 15

Emily Dickinson Again

Over four years ago, I wrote a brief discussion of some of Emily Dickinson’s best and best-known poems. See the featured post to the right. If you never read the original, you might want to go to it before reading what else I have to say about Emily. Now that I’m running out of Trump comments, I think a revisit is in order. After all, she must have had something to say about such people as Donald Trump, didn’t she? Here’s what I found:
If she were alive today, she might have substituted "basket of deplorables" for "Bog."

With her comparisons of sounds to visual images, she was half a century ahead of the Imagist Movement of the Twentieth Century. Here, in a lovely, surprising metaphor, she compares the music of a lark to silver-foiled bulbs, like Hershey kisses.
And in the following quatrain, she invites us to see from above an ocean, with shores of sand protecting the land from the sea. There’s even an echo of e. e. cummings when she compares the “silver” of the water to an "Everywhere.”
In many of her poems, she reflects her Puritan background, her faith in God and heaven, an afterlife, or, as she often called it, “Eternity.” But then she could also, tongue in cheek, say, “Faith is a fine invention / When Gentlemen can see – / But Microscopes are prudent / In an Emergency.”

In a parallel to the poem “I heard a fly buzz” that I discussed four years ago, here she describes the moment of death and the inability of the dying person to tell us what may lie beyond.
Another of her love poems, addressed to that mystery man she hints at but never names, this one marking off the time between their infrequent visits, even saying that if she were positive they would be together when they died, she’d happily give up her life, “toss it yonder, like a rind.”
Although many of her poems are maddeningly enigmatic, she instructs her readers that “The Riddle we can guess / We speedily despise – / Not anything is stale so long / As Yesterday’s surprise –”

And now, for all poets and writers of any kind who cherish language both spoken and written, here’s Dickinson’s succinct statement about the value and immortality of words. “A word is dead / When it is said, / Some say, / I say it just / Begins to live / That day.” That's enough, probably more than enough, of this strange little lady who wrote in near obscurity when she was alive, but who now is alive and well in the modern popularity of her poetry.

Saturday, November 12

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest

Rolling Stone came out with their updated list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Not just rock singers, but singers. And the list would be almost laughable if it wasn’t what RS really believes. Look, look, look at this ridiculous list:

100 Mary J. Blige
99 Steven Tyler
98 Stevie Nicks
97 Joe Cocker
96 B.B. King
95 Patti LaBelle
94 Karen Carpenter
93 Annie Lennox
92 Morrissey
91 Levon Helm
90 The Everly Brothers
89 Solomon Burke
88 Willie Nelson
87 Don Henley
86 Art Garfunkel
85 Sam Moore
84 Darlene Love
83 Patti Smith
82 Tom Waits
81 John Lee Hooker
80 Frankie Valli
79 Mariah Carey
78 Sly Stone
77 Merle Haggard
76 Steve Perry
75 Iggy Pop
74 James Taylor
73 Dolly Parton
72 John Fogerty
71 Toots Hibbert
70 Gregg Allman
69 Ronnie Spector
68 Wilson Pickett
67 Jerry Lee Lewis
66 Thom Yorke
65 David Ruffin
64 Axl Rose
63 Dion
62 Lou Reed
61 Roger Daltrey
60 Björk
59 Rod Stewart
58 Christina Aguilera
57 Eric Bourdon
56 Mavis Staples
55 Paul Rodgers
54 Luther Vandross
53 Muddy Waters
52 Brian Wilson
51 Gladys Knight
50 Bonnie Raitt
49 Donny Hathaway
48 Buddy Holly
47 Jim Morrison
46 Patsy Cline
45 Kurt Cobain
44 Bobby “Blue” Bland
43 George Jones
42 Joni Mitchell
41 Chuck Berry
40 Curtis Mayfield
39 Jeff Buckley
38 Elton John
37 Neil Young
36 Bruce Springsteen
35 Dusty Springfield
34 Whitney Houston
33 Steve Winwood
32 Bono
31 Howlin’ Wolf
30 Prince
29 Nina Simone
28 Janis Joplin
27 Hank Williams
26 Jackie Wilson
25 Michael Jackson
24 Van Morrison
23 David Bowie
22 Etta James
21 Johnny Cash
20 Smokey Robinson
19 Bob Marley
18 Freddie Mercury
17 Tina Turner
16 Mick Jagger
15 Robert Plant
14 Al Green
13 Roy Orbison
12 Little Richard
11 Paul McCartney
10 James Brown
09 Stevie Wonder
08 Otis Redding
07 Bob Dylan
06 Marvin Gaye
05 John Lennon
04 Sam Cooke
03 Elvis Presley
02 Ray Charles
01 Aretha Franklin

Where on their list are the truly great singers? Where’s Sinatra, where’s Barbra? I could go on to list at least another fifty that are greater than ANY of RS’s 100. Only Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder deserve to be on this list. Aretha Franklin, the best? Ray Charles, second best? Elvis Presley, third best? And who in hell are Toots Hibbert and Thom Yorke? They must also think that hip-hoppers and rappers are singers (they're not). I think the editors of Rolling Stone must be not only crazy, but also monumentally stupid to put out such a silly list. But in a time when Bob Dylan could win the Nobel Prize for Literature and Donald Trump will become our next president, I guess this list makes as much sense as Dylan and the Donald. And pigs really can fly.

Friday, November 11

Duets & Life's Regrets


A few nights ago, I listened to Natalie Cole and her father singing a duet of “Unforgettable,” and it reminded me of all the great singers who seemed to specialize in duets. A daughter, Natalie, singing one of her father’s best-known songs and doing it as a duet with Nat, her dead father. And they pulled it off beautifully. When I think back to the earliest duos I can remember in the 30’s and 40’s, it has to be Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, but since I was just a young pup when they were singing to each other, none of the songs stands out. Then moving forward from those two, Judy Garland sang with all of her guests on The Judy Garland Show, and of that many, two stand out—the songs she sang with daughter Liza Minnelli, and the unforgettable duet with the young Barbra Streisand as they sang “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again.” I guess that all well-known singers probably sang a number of duets in their day, certainly all those who had television series, like Dinah Shore, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Perry Como, and Andy Williams, but some of them made it their specialty. Tony Bennett did it back in the day and is still doing it today. Probably the best-known is when he and K.D. Lang sang “Because of You” and when he and Lada Gaga recently joined voices for the tv special Cheek to Cheek Live, the best of which are “Anything Goes” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” That leaves me with the two singers who specialized in duets with just about everybody—Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Frank even came out with Duets I and Duets II late in his career, but because he was over eighty at the time and his voice was approaching dreadful, neither of these two albums, despite their sales, was very good. Then there’s Barbra. I swear that everybody who sings a duet with her sounds better than on anything they ever sang solo. Even those who aren’t known as singers sound good, for example, Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame with her does a wonderful rendition of “Till I Loved You.” Celine Dion, who joined her not face to face but from one coast to the other, sounded perfect when they sang “Tell Him.” Donna Summers on “No More Tears” never sounded better as a soloist than this one with Barbra. I think Barbra could make even Donald Trump sound pretty good if she and he combined on a rendition of “Guilty.”

Going from duets to singles, I can hear Frank singing “Regrets. I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” Which reminds me of my own regrets in life, only a few, but worth mentioning. Frost, in “The Road Not Taken,” speaks of only two roads he contemplated. But most of us have at least a dozen forks in the road that determine where we’re going. How important those decisions are as we make our way through life. When I was a really stupid eighteen-year-old, I chose to volunteer for the army instead of waiting for the draft to find me. I went to Korea and rose to the rank of tech sergeant. When I was about to ship home in 1954, I was told I might consider re-upping and going to French Indochina to help out in the Communist attempt to take over the southern region. I was tempted, but I declined, probably the only smart thing I’d ever done in my teenage years. But I was tempted. I could have done my twenty years and then retired at 50% of whatever I would have been making as a master sergeant (I’m assuming I would have risen to that rank in twenty years). And I’d have been only thirty-eight, with life enough ahead of me to have a whole new career. That was fork number one. After I got home, I flew to New York to join Chuck Cavallero, a buddy I met in Korea who collaborated with me on writing songs. We were going to storm Tim Pan Alley with our songs. There, I took a job with the Washington Detective Agency and might have stayed with them for a career in private-eyeing. But after six months, I chose to leave New York, leave my friend Chuck, to return to South Dakota to go back to the University of South Dakota to get a degree. That was my second fork in the road. I regret leaving Chuck and our friendship, never after that retaining a connection with him. Later, I also left another friendship with a man I met in South Dakota, Bill Pilgrim. He was a kindred spirit who ignited a renewed interest in me for writing creatively—novels, short stories, songs. And he too I left behind when I finished my degree and began teaching. He died when he was only thirty-eight, and to this day I regret that I never stayed connected with him. I think my main regret is that I never learned to play the piano. I’ve always loved music and began writing songs when I was about fourteen or fifteen. And I think I had a pretty good voice. But as a young man from the Midwestern sticks, unless I played a pretty good jazz piano, how was I ever going to get any of my songs heard by anyone? Right. I wasn’t. I’ve written quite a few songs but I’m the only one who will ever hear them. I have them in my head but nowhere else that anyone will ever knnow. Here’s one I wrote in 1983:

“One Woman”

One woman,
God created one woman,
A number one woman,
Her name was Eve
And she conceived a plan:
She picked an apple for Adam
And lost her place
Before the race began,
But one woman
Won one man.

One woman,
God created one woman,
A lovely one woman,
With Helen’s charms
Troy’s fire alarms began.
Because the pony was phony
They found that they
Had lots of fires to fan,
But one woman
Won one man.

Chorus: Woman, woman,
Where it all begins,
Woman, woman,
Thus the planet spins,
Woman, woman,
Where it always ends—
Woman and man
Can never be friends.

One woman,
God created one woman,
Juliet was one woman,
Only fourteen,
But she had seen her man.
She found him under her window—
Their fathers fought
Against the family plan,
But one woman
Won one man.

Chorus: Woman, woman,
Where it all begins,
Woman, woman,
No one ever wins,
Woman, woman,
Where it always ends—
woman and man
Can never be friends.

One woman,
I fell in love with one woman,
She was my one woman,
But I forgot
That love was not a game,
And Eve and Helen and Julie
Compared to her were truly
Rather tame.
And all it cost me
Was that one man lost his
Only one woman.

Chorus: Woman, woman,
Let’s begin again,
Woman, woman,
Stay with me and then,
Woman, woman,
We can make amends—
And you and I
Will always be
Lovers and friends,
You’ll be my one woman,
My number one woman—
Then we’ll be one—
Man and woman.

I can hear it in my head but no one else will ever hear it. There, that’s my main regret.

Thursday, November 10

Trump Fallout

Now that the election’s over, I can’t seem to find anything to write about. My favorite topic—Trump, the loser—is now no longer valid. But my heart and my mouth find it almost impossible to say, “Trump, the winner.” He will always be a loser to me. I must be one of the most ignorant people in the world when it comes to economics. Why is the stock market skyrocketing after Trump won the election? What do investors see in his presidency that’s so positive? Or is this just a temporary bubble that will soon burst? I also noticed a few articles that said there were groups that would like their states to secede from the Union, California the most prominent. Wow, talk about revisiting the Civil War. Also, there seems to be a growing interest in an amendment to get rid of the Electoral College. I say it’s about time, even though in Clinton’s case, it’s too late. Will I feel less depressed over this election in a few days, a few years . . . or never? I saw an article somewhere suggesting that Michele Obama should run for president in 2020. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat. I hope I live long enough to see such a thing come to pass. Meanwhile, I and the rest of us have to find some way to live with a Trump presidency. Please, Donald, keep your finger off that button. Or maybe your cabinet members could tie your hands behind your back and stuff some cotton in your mouth, or better yet, hang you out in a field somewhere, like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz who sang, “If I only had a brain.”
Enough of Trump for now. I just have to quit picking at that scab.

I’m happy that the ISIS threats to attack us during the election never came to pass. Maybe it’s a sign that their numbers are as empty as their threats were. I hope so.

Tomorrow, the movie Arrival will arrive. I can hardly wait to see it. I’m an old-time rabid science fiction fan and this one looks like a winner. It’s all about trying to communicate with aliens who have landed on earth. Language has always been an interest of mine, and Amy Adams, one of the world’s leading linguists, has been assigned the task of connecting with the aliens, who have a complicated way of communicating with intricate smoke rings. An interesting parallel with our Native Americans who once sent messages using smoke signals. We automatically assume that communicating with one another is best done by speaking. But consider all the other ways man has used or is still using: cave drawings, drum beats, semaphore, Morse code, signing, abstract paintings, films, music, numbers, facial gestures, writing, and sometime down the road, mental telepathy. Who is to say that a series of smoke rings couldn’t be as or more effective? I’ll reserve judgement until I see what this movie has to say.

Wednesday, November 9

Presidential Election Results

“Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” President-Elect Donald Trump, with his bombast, is a fitting parallel for the wind, and we’ll just have to wait and see what the whirlwind is. I fear that we’ll see changes that may be steps backward if he tries to do all the things he said he would do in his campaign: filing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton; deportation of illegal Muslims and other Middle-Easterners and curtailing any immigration from Syria and other nations seeking refuge; deportation of illegal Hispanics; repealing the Affordable Health Care Act; appointing an ultra-conservative judge to the Supreme Court in an attempt to overthrow same-sex marriage laws and gain more restrictive anti-abortion laws; building that enormous wall along our entire southern border; curtailing the media and what they can say about him; building close ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin; repealing the Iran Nuclear arms agreement; questioning NATO and our NATO allies; and possibly even “bombing the hell” out of any nation or group that doesn’t line up behind him. He says he’ll lower taxes in Reagan’s failed “trickle down” economic theory; he’ll reduce our deficit; he’ll pour money into strengthening our military; he’ll pour more money into rebuilding our infrastructure; he’ll abandon our current trade agreements and bring back millions of jobs and companies. How will he finance all these things and still lower the deficit? The man has no political or military experience, yet he is the man our nation’s voters have chosen to “Make American great again.” He is the man who controls that frightening button which sends out nuclear missiles and brings on the Apocalypse. Our next president is the living embodiment of that image we had hoped was behind us—the world’s view of us as “Ugly Americans.” I fervently hope that he’ll have sense enough to surround himself with a cabinet of really intelligent and politically knowledgeable people, and I hope that these advisors will keep a muzzle handy for any ill-advised moments when he speaks like the man we saw and heard during the debates and on the campaign trail. Will his cabinet be able to keep him in check if and when he begins ranting? Will he somehow be able to bring us all together to repair our nation’s problems or will he be just one more problem?

This election, just as it did sixteen years ago, has shown us the need to do away with the archaic Electoral College system. Hillary Clinton, just as Al Gore did sixteen years ago, won the popular vote but lost the election because of this outdated system. Our Founding Fathers proposed this system to give states more power to elect our presidents. But they could not have foreseen what our nation and the world would be like nearly two and a half centuries later. Let me give you an example of how unfair this system is. Let’s say I’m a registered Democrat in South Dakota, a state that has always been a GOP stronghold. My vote will have absolutely no meaning or value. I may as well not even vote. The South Dakota three points will go to the GOP nominee no matter what I do. But if the election were decided by the popular vote, my vote would have as much meaning as the vote of any other voter no matter where they lived. More people who voted wanted Hillary Clinton to be our next president than Donald Trump, yet he is our president-elect whether we like it or not.

It will be interesting to see what he will say and do when he takes office. It will be interesting to see what the world economy will be like in 2017. We might be on the edge of not just a deep recession, but a deep depression in all the economies in the world. I hope and pray such doesn’t happen. I hope what we have “sown” isn’t the whirlwind but is instead a bumper crop of peace and prosperity all over the world.

Sunday, November 6

Cat People

There are people people, dog people, and cat people. From what I’ve seen of most people, we’d rather be cat people, especially now in light of our impending presidential election. “Impending.” That’s a frighteningly appropriate adjective. It just screams for the following noun—“DOOM!” What an odd predicament we’re now in: Trump wins and there aren’t enough checks and balances to keep this unbalanced man in check; Hillary wins and we may find ourselves so deep in debt we can never climb out. We won’t know which doom we’ll face until we get this simply awful election over with.

Meanwhile, back to cat people versus dog people. Dogs are wonderful companions—bright, cheerful, loving. But they also require a lot of attention, once or twice daily potty walks, mutual hugs of affection when they meet you at the door, regular pats on the back when they’ve been good boys and girls. Cats, on the other hand, want attention or affection when they I want it, not when we want it. They never need to be walked or directed to place and time for potty stops. They go whenever they want to and kick up as much litter as they can just to keep their slaves on their toes. Garfield knows what I’m talking about. The tv announcer interviewing a cat person asks, “What would it be like if cats ruled the world?” Garfield shrugs and says, “If?” Another time he hears a phone pollster asking Jon, “How many cats do you own?” Another Garfield shrug and he thinks, “Nobody owns a cat.” Garfield is the epitome of what I call “Cattitude.”

We share our home with three boys—Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie. We don’t own them nor do they own us, although they all act like they do. Now that I’m no longer golfing and Rosalie no longer volunteering at the cat shelter two days a week, we seem to be around our boys much more than in the past. They now assume we’re all part of a social network that daily follows a ritualized pattern. We go to bed around 10:00 p.m. every evening and the boys all come in the bedroom to say goodnight. When the bedside light goes off, they all leave us to tend to their evening activities—a last time bite of hard food, a drink of water, a final pee or poop and an energetic kicking of litter. Then they spend a few hours out on the back patio watching rabbits in the moonlight or dried leaves skittering across the yard. At exactly 3:30, Charlie comes in to remind me with an index-finger claw in my back that it’s time for me to get up to go to the bathroom, where he will accompany me to eat the dozen hard kitty treats we put on the counter for him. After he leaves, around 4:00, Tiger will come in to sleep with us for an hour or two. And just as daylight appears, Tuffy will come in to demand our attention with head ducking under sleeping hands, saying, “Wake up! Wake up! I want to play!” It’s all part of our kitty ritual. Now that we’re together almost 24 hours a day, we’ve become so socialized and they’ve become such individual people. Tuffy is the boy playing with a deck with a few cards missing, his eyes almost always looking up to see whatever might be flying by—a miniscule insect, an imaginary bird, a light reflection from my watch. Tiger is far and away the brightest of the three, playing soccer with one of his many plastic balls, kicking them with front or back feet back and forth from one side of our coffee table to the other, playing fetch with a ball thrown down our bedroom hall, going for it, then strutting back with it in his mouth to drop it at our feet for another found of fetch. He’ll do this six or seven times before he tires of the game. Charlie, our handsome tuxedo cat, keeps himself aloof from most of the tumbling fights Tuffy and Tiger engage in, but now and then we’ll see him pick up a ball or mouse and carry it around for a bit until he sees us watching him. Then he drops the toy in embarrassment at being caught acting like a little kid. Our house is littered with small cat toys; our screened-in back patio is filled with a variety of cat furniture for them to lounge on as they watch the rabbits and birds and occasional coyotes that come through our back yard. Charlie is the aristocrat of our three boys. We call him “Tippy Toes” because he’s so cautious when he steps across the patio door threshold.

Are we cat people? You bet. And all those dummies out there who are neither cat nor dog people, they don’t know what they’re missing.

Tuesday, November 1

Great Movies Redux

I seem to be running out of blog topics. I can say only so much about the Donald and nothing else in recent news strikes my fancy. So I’m pulling up some film commentary I made nearly four years ago, about which films and actors I consider to be the best. Most of my lists of bests are from over thirty years ago, which means I’m leaving out a bunch of good films and actors in the last three decades.

Lots of critics think Citizen Kane is the best ever, but I have to confess I’ve never seen it, so I can’t really rank it. Others say Casablanca, and again I must confess I’ve never seen it. How can that be for a rabid film viewer to have never seen either of these films? I don’t know. Maybe I’d better Netflix them. Aside from those two, here’s my list for straight drama in descending order: On the Waterfront, Gone with the Wind, From Here to Eternity, The African Queen, Picnic, and The Graduate. You’ll notice that none of them are from the last thirty years. I know there have been some great movies in that period, but they’re still too close to me. Best musicals? An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. That’s it, no more. Best horror—what else but Psycho, followed by The Innocents and The Uninvited. The many many horror flicks in the last thirty or forty years are based too much on buckets and buckets of gore. That much blood and too many masked villains leaping out of closets don’t make for great films, sometimes not even very good films. War movies—Saving Private Ryan, The Bridge over the River Kwai, The Great Escape, Schindler’s List, Mash, and Stalag 17. Again, All Quiet on the Western Front is always mentioned, but again, I’ve never seen it. Science fiction—2001, a Space Odyssey and Star Wars. What about a genre that’s almost forgotten, the western? Okay, Shane, Stagecoach, Red River, and The Searchers. You’ll notice I’m leaving out High Noon. That’s because when I saw it a year or so ago, I realized just how hokie it was, despite Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. The best of the prison flicks have to be The Shawshank Redemption, The Bird Man of Alcatraz, and The Green Mile. Comedies and romantic comedies? It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World has to be at the top of the comedies, followed by Young Frankenstein; with Pretty Woman at the top of the romantic comedies, followed by Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.

Now, what about actors and actresses? In the past, there were so many men and women who had pure star power, but they weren’t necessarily good actors. Look at this list of male stars—Paul Newman, Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, John Wayne, Clark Gable. Of this list of super stars, only Paul Newman stands out as a great actor. The best of American and British actors has to be Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier with Orson Wells a close second to Brando. Modern screen stars are Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise, but no one would say any of them is a great actor. So, after Brando and Olivier, the rest of the good ones, past and present, are Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sidney Poitier, George C. Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, and George Clooney.

The women stars of the past are Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo, Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Catherine Hepburn, Betty Davis, and Joanne Woodward, with the last three the best actresses, Joanne Woodward the best of the best. Of the modern stars, the best are, in descending order, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Frances McDormand, and Charlize Theron. I’m sure I must have overlooked some great ones, but I can’t think of any. For example, Holly Hunter is a sleeper that most of us don’t think of because she’s been out of the spotlight for so long, but she’s been very good in everything she’s been in.

I love movies and the people who star in them. What would I do in my old age if I didn’t have darkened theaters to go to, places to watch beautiful men and women create other people and other places on the big screen?

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