Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Magpie Murders

The best word I can use to describe, Magpie Murders, is "clever."  "Clever" popped into my head, thirty pages into it, and it remains there as an apt descriptor now that I have finished.

Yesterday, when done, I thought that while it is certainly clever I am not sure I can recommend spending 470 odd pages with it, just to be impressed with the author's impressive ability to have thought this up.  Today, I am not so sure. I find myself thinking about how he put it all together and some parts that I did not get until this morning.  There are a number of instances in the novel when a sleuth realizes that a key to solving the mystery lies in an anagram.  So, this morning I took the name of the main character, Susan Ryeland, and tried (and am trying) to sleuth out what that anagram might be.  (I will succumb after I finish writing this review and check Amazon to see if someone smarter than me got it, if indeed the name is a revealing puzzle of sorts).

In short, hats off to Anthony Horowitz-the author- for putting this together, but readers of this blog might get enough out of the following to decide not to read it.  I will not give essential parts away.

A non revealing synopsis:

A fiction editor of a publishing company sits down to read a whodunit which is the most recent one of a series.  This series about sleuth Atticus Pund has been the key breadwinner for the editor's publishing company.  So, four pages into the book, the editor (and we readers) begin Magpie Murders which is both the title of the most recent fiction featuring Atticus Pund detective, and the title of Horowitz's book.

It's classic British whodunit.  There's a funeral, all the potential suspects are introduced, someone seeks out Atticus Pund for his wisdom, Pund comes to town with his assistant, and works collaboratively with the local police.  Meanwhile 217 pages later the editor (and we readers) stop reading the detective story.  The editor has to solve a new (real life) mystery that is related to the novel's fiction.  She then becomes the sleuth for the real mystery and in several ways mirrors Pund, the fictional character, as she interviews all potential players in the real life mystery related to the fictional mystery set decades earlier.

Eventually, the fictional and real life mysteries are solved, in the way that fictional whodunits are solved. There is a scene at the end of both where the sleuths reveal who done it and how they come to know who has done it.  Life imitating art using art to demonstrate.

Sometimes I think I am very creative, but I don't think I could conceive of this intricate novel that contains another novel.  Horowitz even paginates the book separately from the Pund novel.  So you read four pages in the beginning and then start on page 1 of the Pund novel. Then 217 pages after that, you go back to page 5 of Horowitz's Magpie Murders that encompasses the fictional Magpie Murders, for 200 plus pages. Then the reader is taken back to page 218 of the fictional novel.   You can pick up this fat book and look at the last page and see it is numbered 236 which makes no sense given its heft.  But then you realize there is a 241 page novel inside.

What I liked second most (beyond just the idea) was the Pund novel. It was as good as the Agatha Christie type books I have read. Horowitz really imitates that style. And it is a good story in and of itself. (No, I did not figure out who done it).

If you like puzzles and like to read, you will probably enjoy Magpie Murders. However, I think the thing you will come away with more than anything else is an appreciation for the creativity of the author. And you will enjoy how sleuth Pund solves his case as well.  If, however, you want a straight forward short novel, with perhaps a message that will hang around in your head, I'd put this one on the back burner.




Ball Hype

Lonzo Ball may turn out to be better than I believe he will be in the NBA.

In the summer league, he had one very good game which I did not see, one very bad game which I did see, and one game where he showed some passing skills which were admirable.

The Lakers played eight games in the summer league and won the championship last night.

Of those eight games, Ball did not play in two of them because of injuries.  In a third he sat out a good deal of the second half with the same injury that kept him out of the finals.  The Lakers went 3-2 in the games he played in.

BEFORE the championship game last night--in which he did not play--the league voted him summer league MVP.

Come on.

The guy did not play in the championship game which the Lakers won.  They won another 1 1/2 games without him. They lost two games with him.

How do you name a player MVP when he does not have an impact on over 25% of the short season?

It's hype. The father has a big mouth.  A lot of people went to the games because of the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball.  Maybe 15 years ago I went to a summer league game in Boston. It was held in a local gym.  It was fun to watch, but maybe there were 500 people in attendance.  Daddy Ball and NBA's marketing changed that this summer. So the kid is a draw.

 But when you don't play in the championship game or in over 33 % of the games your team won, and your season opener was a Johnny on the spot latrine stinker...how do you win league MVP?

As I wrote in the beginning, there were some clips from his very good game which were impressive and they made me think that my overall assessment of the player could be wrong. And in another game, I saw some passing that was extra special.  It is possible that he may be somewhere nearly as good as the experts think he will be. I am still not convinced, but maybe.

However, the decision to make him league MVP reflects the hype.  You can't give the MVP to someone who does not play, unless you yourself have consumed the Dad's batch of Kool-Aid.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

My brother came to visit last week. We had a number of moments where we recalled things about our folks which were, at once, funny and touching.   At one point, he said something like, "Remember the house sale and dad with the furniture."

I didn't.  He said, "you were there. you don't remember?"  And I said I didn't.

I do remember the house sale. The home had been sold and we came in from Boston and New Jersey to help out as we attempted to sell various items that my parents did not want to haul to Florida.  I have a pretty good recollection of various moments during the day.  Our folks told us that anything we wanted we could have--and I still regret not taking this expandable table which did not go until closing time.  I remember the goniff who tried to bid low on some pretty hoo hah picture frames.  And the woman who showed up two hours before we were starting.

But this particular episode my brother was relaying, I did not recall. So when he told the funny story, I laughed so hard.  The two of us were giggling like school kids.

Which was great.  The problem was that the next day I remembered that he had, in fact, told me the story before. But when he told me the story the prior day, I had no recollection of it.

The last twenty five years of his life, my father's memory had failed him.  He still was sharp in terms of reasoning and things like current events and politics.  But I could tell him a story five times during a year and each time he said that I'd not told him the story previously.  In the first ten years or so, I would say to him what my brother said to me the other day.  "You were there, you don't remember?"

A college friend lives nearby and a few times a year we get together and have a drink.  She told me some news on Friday which I professed not to have heard before. She said she was pretty sure she had mentioned it.  I said I would remember.

On Saturday I went for a walk and stopped short when I had the realization that she had indeed told me this news at a prior quaffing session.

Point is I am not certain of what I had been certain about.  I still can remember things that are stunning and my relatives are appropriately shocked when I pluck a fact from the fifties or sixties or remember how to get to a place I haven't been to in forty years. I know I will wow my classmates at our fiftieth high school reunion in the fall with trivia, and will be the go-to camper for esoteric questions about camp history when Chicopee cronies rendezvous in September.

The thing about memory though is when you lose it, you don't know it.  So, unless it wafts up the next day--you could be under the illusion that what you don't remember did not occur.  I am grateful for the memories I have and am also grateful that I have been fortunate enough to have a better memory than most--but these episodes have been yet another example that there is such a thing as deterioration and mortality.

Seize the day.


Palindrome Redux

I had to go to the bank today.  I went to fill out my slip and realized that today, is another palindrome.

7-1-7-1-7.  Backwards and forwards

And then a moment ago, a week late, I realized that every single day since July 10, and up until July 19th will be a palindrome.

7-1-0-1-7 and 7-1-2-1-7 and etcetera.

So much for novelty. After the 19th we will have to wait until August of 18 when again we will be lousy with palindromes.

That was an expression my father and mother used to use. If you were lousy with something, that meant you had a lot of it. It actually stemmed from "lice"--that is if you had lice you were lousy with them.  I imagine the derivative of the adjective lousy as it is commonly used is based on the wonderful experience of having lice.

----
On Saturday morning I noticed that the basement sink was overflowing.  There is a trick I use to clean out clogs in the elbow drain but that was not working. Eventually I carted out some water because it was close to toppling over.  I measured the distance from the top of the sink to the water. It was 6 inches.  I took a shower. Measured again. it was three inches. I knew I had tsuris.

 I tried some home remedies to no avail. All day Sunday the water would have cascaded out of the sink had I not bailed out gallons of water and stopped using water in the house.  I had to go to the gym to take a shower and shave.  I called local plumbers. Most plumbers, I was surprised to find out, do not do clogs.  There are some specialty outfits which cost, hold onto your plunger, 300 bananas to unclog your pipe. One fellow was very friendly and he agreed to come out this morning.

I took him downstairs. We went to the sink. The water was gone. For two days the water was hanging around like the neighbor who comes to chat and doesn't take a hint when you are all but begging him to leave.  The clog cleaner comes by and and for 300 dollars there is nothing in the sink. He ran his gizmo through the pipe anyway and cleared the pipes of roots. I was lousy with roots.

We noticed that there was a leak under the sink.  His comment. "You'll need to call a plumber."

The guy was very nice but explained to me that you need a plumber's license to do plumbing, but just a powerful machine to clean major league clogs. So now, 300 bananas after my pipe was cleaned, I need to call a plumber.

Good news is I can take a shower.

Bad news is that I can't afford the soap.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summers of Love




About a week ago it crossed my mind for the first time that the "Summer of Love" was at its fifty year anniversary.

The black and white above was taken at the end of the summer of love.  The color photo is a selfie taken this past Sunday, half a century later.

For the longest time I had a tee shirt that read, "A Summer in Life--1967."  I was not in California wearing a flower in my hair in July and August of '67, but it was nevertheless a wonderfully romantic summer.

In the summer of love The Grass Roots encouraged us to live for today. The Doors urged all to light our fires. Johnny Rivers sang "All summer long we were dancing in the sand. And the band kept on playing, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

I can remember, almost vividly, a July day fifty years ago, sitting shotgun in a car with three others humming "Live For Today".  I was leaning out the passenger window, adjusting the side view mirror thinking that the future and present seemed so bright.

Did the summer of love leave a lasting imprint?

How did that "live for today" philosophy work out for us?

Did our fires remain lit?

Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford is a novel about a summer of love.  But the summer was 1936. And, in addition to the questions above, a question that the book wants the reader to address is this: "How much would you do for love?"

In a nutshell, in the summer of 2004 an 80 something year old woman asks her son to come visit.  The father has already passed. Now his wife, the mother, is dying. She tells the son that when he visits she has "something of a surprise" she must relay.

When the son visits, the mother--still lucid and feisty despite the sad medical prognosis--tells her son about her experience in Germany in 1936 when she was on the women's Olympic swimming team.  The son knew that his mother was on the team. What he did not know was the essence of the surprise. He did not know that within days of arriving in Berlin his mother met and fell immediately in love with a young German. The German's father was a diplomat and consequently, the courtship with the German allowed her not only to meet Hitler, but to attend a gala Nazi party hosted by none other than Goebbels.

To the son, the mother's relaying of this "remembered bliss" is a bit disconcerting. Nazis aside, he has a fond recollection of his father and, apparently, this German/Horst character swept his mother off her feet before Dad had come into the picture.  The book continues with the reader learning about what happened to the lovers after the summer of 1936 and into the first years of the war.

To relay more of the plot is to spoil the story for interested readers.

Is it worth reading?  The novel is engaging even if the ending is more than a little implausible.  Not the love parts. Those are very plausible.  But the resolution, could not have happened.   Even three quarters of a century ago.

Also, the way the story is told can be a bit off putting. While the narrator is the son, most of the book is told in the first person by the mother. The son has a tape recorder and the mother speaks into it, with a few interjections from the son. About eighty other pages are from a manuscript the mother has written that describes the sequence of events. So again the manuscript is in the first person from the perspective of the mother, with the son occasionally making first person comments like, "I didn't really think mom would do that."

For the mother in this novel, the summer of love was 1936, even though that summer was a summer of hate.  Her German sweetheart does not have Nazi sentiments, but his brother-in-law, sister, and father have consumed the Kool-Aid. When the Olympian visits the German's parents she is asked repeatedly about her last name to sleuth out if she is Jewish. She is not, but she knows there is something wrong about attending a party hosted by the slimy Goebbels, yet is so taken by her lover that the shine of love trumps logic.

For her, the summer of love--1936--the Bliss, is remembered and it leaves a multigenerational imprint.   It was interesting to me how much the mother followed, naturally and beautifully, the advice of the Grass Roots and followed her heart so that her fires might be lit.

This book is not as good as Deford's, An American Summer, which I reviewed in this blog several weeks ago.  But readers will enjoy turning the pages of Bliss, Remembered and, at the end, when you say--"That could not have happened"--you might also find yourself saying, "so what."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ball Round 2

I watched most of Lonzo Ball's second game last night.  And endured an interview a sideline reporter had with his outrageous father during the first half.

As for Lonzo--he showed me something in this second game. I have been unequivocal in my prediction that he will not be particularly extra as a professional.  He was not super last night, but he was not as awful as he had been in his first game.

There were some bright spots.  He can pass--better than I thought. He made some very good connections with teammates last night which opened them up for shots.  This is only the summer league so the opponents are not of the caliber that he will be facing in the fall--but still some of the passes, and his passing in general made me rethink a comment I had made that he is an overrated passer. If yesterday is an indication he is better than average.

Still other parts of his game are mediocre at best. He did make some shots last night, which when juxtaposed with game one when he could not drop a bar of soap in a bathtub, was an improvement. He did not, however, shoot the lights out.  Just made a few shots.

His defense was abysmal.  It looked like the person he was defending frequently attempted and was able to drive on him whenever he got the ball. But Ball did show me that he can rebound at least with the players in the summer league.

His father was as insufferable as he has been. During the interview the dad was all over the place saying things like it was the "show" that mattered, and how Lonzo changed the culture of the Lakers, and how he was now the new Magic Johnson and soon would surpass him.  The father is a circus act and I feel for his son, who has to carry the burden of having a man who may be a decent person, but is behaving like a jackass.

In sum, in Ball's round two his passing made me see what the hoopla about the guy could be about.  Not that the outcome really matters in the summer league, but the Lakers got off to a strong start, but lost again despite the presence of the new Magic Johnson.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

First Ball game

I was flipping channels last night, just before ending the day.  I came across a Summer League game between the Lakers and the Clippers. 

It was the debut game of Lonzo Ball.  Ball was the number two pick of the draft and hyped, irresponsibly, by his father LaVar Ball, who compared his son to Michael Jordan.  On May 12th in this blog, I wrote the following:


"Let's start with this.  Please remember this.  I am promising you this.  Lonzo Ball will not be a change maker in the pros. He is very good, but so is every player in the NBA.  Lonzo Ball will not be that good. If you are an NBA executive and are looking for someone who can catapult your team into a championship contender, don't sell the farm for Lonzo Ball.  Lonzo is a kid. He is 6' 6" and 190 pounds.  Just for comparison, Jae Crowder on the Celtics is 6 6 and 235 pounds and not the Pillsbury Doughboy. Lonzo Ball is going to get bounced around like a pin ball when he drives to the basket. He has great court vision, but he is nothing extraordinary in terms of shooting or passing.  Claiming that Lonzo Ball is better than Michael Jordan is just beyond belief.  Jordan is probably collecting social security now and could defeat Ball in a one on one game ten times out of ten."



You can't extrapolate too much from only one game, and a summer league game at that.  But Lonzo Ball stunk up the gym last night.  At the risk of sounding self congratulatory Ball was everything I described on May 12th.  

And I will comment now as I did then that his father's incredibly selfish promotion of his son will do nothing to help him on the court. Off the court, the bragging may have helped get his son a fat contract. But on the court it just heaped pressure on a young man who will now be playing against great players, and I do not think will shine except sporadically.  Maybe, this one meaningless game will be atypical, and in the pros he will dominate.  I will be surprised if that is the case. I also noticed that the kid took some ill advised shots, and that the defense was egging him on take them--as if they had already doped out that his shooting was not all that special.

Friday, July 7, 2017

body issue

Okay. I am not a prude, by any stretch of the definition.  My feeling about sex and the discourse related to intimacy is that we, in America, are in the very dark ages.  And that is for those who believe and adhere to their beliefs about intimacy.  Others are hypocrites; spewing the values of abstinence and perils of intimacy while engaging in practices that people of their ilk, outwardly, condemn as sinful. The ubiquitous chatter about the evils of the flesh are at odds with the overwhelming evidence that the pornography business is beyond lucrative.

Not only do I think we are in the dark ages about sex, but we are worse off for it.  Sexual repression has got to be no good for you.  Think of how you felt the last time you engaged blissfully in consensual intimacy.  Now imagine not being able to purge whatever had been purged. It has to go someplace.

So,  with that background, this rant may seem peculiar--but the two paragraphs above actually are foundational to the following argument.

The SI swimsuit issue is, without question, the fattest issue that SI puts out all year. This is not because they are taking a lot of pictures that require pages. It is because advertisers want to advertise in the issue thus expanding the size.  The reason advertisers want to advertise is that many people purchase the swimsuit issue.

As anyone who has perused that issue knows, the lure for the consumers is not the particular garb that the models use when they go to the beach. It is because the models pose with not a whole lot of garb, sometimes no garb, and the pictures are less of the "check out this great bathing suit" variety and more like "come hither and imagine what I look like if my suit is removed."

My problem with the swimsuit issue is that given the size of the audience, there must be a whole lot of people who squawk about the perils of intimacy, but nevertheless check out the photos.

However, the swimsuit issue, has been topped.  ESPN-the magazine has published in the last few weeks what they call their body issue.  Essentially they have said, "we don't need no stinking swimsuits."  Naked athletes, men and women, in softball, hockey, basketball, football, tennis, rugby--and other sports are posing naked. Every single one is in the buff. There is no frontal nudity, but you want to see what Julian Edelman's ass looks like, or anybody else's, you are in business.  Six women from the 2014 silver medal hockey team stand, backs to the camera, with nothing on but their skates. Each looks back at the camera, but my hunch is that the gazing is at regions further south.

When I was a kid, the Body Issue would be something that would be found behind the counter. There was a sign at the candystore near my house that read, "Ask for Playboy."  You'd have had to ask for the Body Issue in 1964.

Does the Body Issue bother me?  In some ways yes, (a) because ESPN-the magazine is trying to claim that what they are showing off are the athletes' physiques; what you have to do in training to be a winner--and that is baloney--they are peddling sex and (b) because so many of the full of baloney people will scream about how we are all going to hell, yet will check out the images on line a gazillion times fueling some creative daydreaming.

We as a society would be a whole lot better off, if people got off a whole lot more. and there was no stigma surrounding consensual intimacy.

My beef with the swimsuit issue and the body issue is that they do not really puncture the prevailing bogus morality, but rather create a vehicle for indulgence while maintaining the status quo.

In high school we had to read a play called Miss Julie.  Completely lost on me in high school.  I read it again last night as I am on a kick now of reading plays.  In it, Julie, an aristocrat, does the slow dance with one of her servants.  Afterwards, she does not know what to do. She has been disgraced. She wants to move away with the lover, who has little sympathy calling her a whore, and acting toward her, as if she is forever stained.  The play was written in 1883.  Yes attitudes have changed some, but not enough.  And despite what might seem to be the case, the Body Issue and Swimsuit Issue do not help the cause.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Black and White

I remember Gordon Hayward from when he played at Butler.  He was the only real stud on the Butler team that came within one shot of beating mighty Duke in the NCAAs.  The next year Butler, again, without Hayward--who had gone to the NBA--went to the finals- this time with no stud.  Nobody who would make a real dent in the NBA was on that second Butler team.

The fact that Butler went to the finals two years in a row with those teams is either the aberration of aberrations, or a testament to the coach--Brad Stevens--now the coach of the Celtics.

As for Hayward, he has made a dent in the professional ranks. He was a strong player for the Utah Jazz and then, at the end of last season, became a free agent.  There was a scramble for his services over the last few weeks.  And the Boston Celtics came out the winners. Hayward is now a Celtic.

In July, months after the Celtics were eliminated and months before the next NBA season will begin, the hoopla in the post Hayward signing days has been such that there is an article in the Globe daily about the impact he will make on the team. Very big deal.  The Red Sox are on a tear during baseball season. Edelman is posing naked in ESPN's body issue, but people are talking about Hayward.

Maybe I am being cynical and could be proven to be wrong with this claim.  I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

The hosannahs for Hayward are as loud as they are because he is white.

I do think he will be an impact player for the Celtics, but I don't think he is someone who will carry the team, or inevitably take the team to the next level. With Hayward the Celtics do not compete any better against the Cavaliers or Warriors.  I read in today's paper that in order to sign Hayward the Celtics will need to jettison either Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, or Jae Crowder.  I like all three of these players.  Do I think that Hayward is better than each one? Yes. But not by a hoot and a holler.

One of the things that makes me unhappy about the signing is how the courting of Hayward must have affected Crowder.  Crowder plays the position that Hayward will take and Crowder was a tough quality player for the Celtics.  By going after Hayward the Celtics were saying that Crowder is not good enough. Kind of like seeing the girl you have been hugging, shopping around at the dance to find a better smooching partner.  "Hang on there Louie, I'm trying to snag Rex here who is going to be a doctor. If I can't get him to do the dosey do with me, then I'll be back."

Crowder must be thinking what more can I do than what I did.  And, this is where it gets uncomfortable, Crowder must be thinking--as I am--if he were white would his gifts be seen as better than Hayward's--particularly if Hayward was black.

It's tough for Hayward as well. In a sport where most players are black, a white player is often looked upon as someone who has gotten a shot because of race. I remember Cedric Maxwell commenting that when Larry Bird came to the Celtics a number of black players thought that the hype about Bird was because he was white. Bird soon demonstrated that Maxwell's notions were inaccurate but he had to overcome the stereotype that a white man can't really be all that good.

And I imagine Hayward has to overcome that as well, and it does not help when writers like me suggest that his stock is a function of race.  But I think in a city like Boston with a troubled history of race relations, one has to wonder if the courting of Hayward isn't in part to do with race.  I am sure the Celtics brass would shake their head and scream no. And maybe race has nothing to do with it.

But I think if I were Avery, or Crowder, or Marcus Smart--all terrific players--there could be some resentment.

I hope Hayward proves to be a savior, and I wish my experience on planet earth was such that these possibilities never surfaced to my consciousness,  but they have.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Case for Impeachment

Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, has written a book about why Donald Trump should and will be impeached.

In The Case for Impeachment, Lichtman argues that because of the president's penchant for dissembling; his attitudes toward women; actions against climate change; conflicts of interests; relationship with Russia; scofflaw tendencies- any one of these, he contends should and will bring about his demise.

My feeling is that there is evidence galore (and Lichtman is meticulous about providing details) of all the problems the author identifies. Yet, there has been no movement to impeach.  What could he do that he has not already done?  The only thing perhaps is that his lying, and lack of concern for the law may result in some new behavior that is beyond the pale.  But wasn't inviting the Russians to hack e-mails beyond the pale. And the man was elected.

One point that the author makes that I did not know is that a president can be impeached for something he did prior to holding office.

Toward the end the author has a chapter of advice for Trump.  It is almost comical to think that the president would read this very critical book in its entirety and then take seriously the penultimate chapter offering the advice of the author. Lichtman paints Trump as a narcissist if not a megalomaniac.  Not sure narcissists are interested in reading some suggestions about how to not be self centered.

I would not be surprised to discover that there have been books predicting the impeachment of every president. Sure seemed to be a spate of anti Obama books.  People who feel strongly about the unsuitability of the chief executive, often mount a case.  While I think Donald is an unusual president,  I am not sure if this book will get any more traction than similar books from the past.

It was an interesting read in parts, but I would not pick it up if I were you if you voted for the Donald. An interesting sidebar relates to how fast this book came out.  There are references to events that took place only a few months ago.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4

Each year on this date, the Boston Globe--and I imagine other newspapers--publishes the entire text of the Declaration of Independence.  The Globe prints it instead of their daily editorial comments on the Opinion page.

Most years, I attempt to read through the entirety of the document.  It is tough slogging because the language is different reflecting the 241 years of evolutionary changes to how we speak and write. Today I got through it all and marveled, as I do each year, at how well articulated are the reasons and causes for the declaration of independence.

In addition to the well reasoned arguments a number of things struck me, one of which always strikes me, the other probably has but staggered me today nonetheless, and a third made me think of a sentiment more broadly.

It is clear to all of us now that the early words of the Declaration, that we hold self-evident that "all men are created equal" is a startling indication of how even apparently enlightened leaders at that time saw people of color as not in the category of those who are created equal. Similarly, women--until 1920--I think I have the date right--did not have the right to vote. While often "men" until the 1970s were conveniently (and myopically) used to represent men and women, in this case "all men" really did apply to men and white men at that.

The second thing that struck me is that in the Declaration, Jefferson--by accounts the primary author--referred to the first denizens of America as "the merciless Indian savages."

But what struck me the most was this following early paragraph which I did not think about in its broader applications until this morning. (or as likely thought about, but did not retain in the slowly emptying memory bank)

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that [people] are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Beyond oppressive government, aren't we all disposed to suffer, "while evils are sufferable", than to change "by abolishing the forms to which [we] have become accustomed."  In other words, do we live with abominations that we have become accustomed to, until such time that we can't stand it anymore.  And even then, do most of us develop even more callouses so that we endure the abominations? Until we say, enough.

What the authors of the Declaration did was remarkable. After they took just about as much nonsense as they could take, they took a risk and did something about it--they liberated themselves and their contemporaries by taking a stand and then fought to eliminate the oppression.

And we, 241 years later, are the beneficiaries.  I sit here on my deck reading the declaration of independence, free.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fever Pitch

In the Fall I will be teaching a course called, Sports, Media, and Communication.  I taught a similar course in 2010, but have been writing memos since then.  I bought a bushel of books to read to prepare for the class.  A web site listed the 100 best sports books ever.  I'd read several on the list, but many more I had not.  So I bought six or seven near the top.

Fever Pitch is a memoir of sorts by Nick Hornby.  He is probably more famous in the US for writing the novel that the John Cusick movie, High Fidelity, is based on.  Now that I have finished Fever Pitch and have read the front and back matter, I know that it was this memoir that catapulted Hornby to success.  It sold well apparently in the UK and, I'm extrapolating here, made him popular enough to secure publishers for five novels, four other nonfiction books, an anthology, and a screenplay.

Fever Pitch is about Hornby as a fanatic follower of Arsenal, a football (soccer to Americans) team in England.  A field is called a pitch when referring to soccer, and Hornby is feverish if not maniacal when it comes to his devotion to football/soccer.

It reads a bit, at the risk of sounding self congratulatory, like a description of soccer fans including himself who are akin to the basketball zealots I describe in Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas.  I do think, however, that he is more extreme in his fanatical following of Arsenal than anyone I have known who follows hockey, basketball, football, or baseball in the US.  Readers of my book may remember that the epilogue describes serious New York Ranger hockey fans.  They seem relatively tame compared to how Hornby follows Arsenal.

Hornby can write and is very funny at times-actually often.  His description of similar fans, how his relationships with friends and sweethearts are affected, and comparisons of a last minute win to sexual climax are all well done and humorous. Similarly his assessment of the effects of media, culpability of ownership in creating some dangerous conditions, racism, and hooliganism are all insightful.

The problem I had with the read is that if you are not familiar with the game, and the stars of the game, you can get lost.  There are regular references to players on Arsenal, other teams in the league, and even techniques of play that for someone like me--quite knowledgeable about many sports--but with a limited background in football/soccer--were like pot holes in my ride through the memoir.  Also, the use of idioms common to people from across the ocean, is such that while clever and while I can get it, slowed me down as I processed the pages.

Good book. The author is self effacing--he knows he is a maniac. Fever Pitch is certainly a good snapshot that depicts how sports can consume those who are followers.  I think Hornby is an extreme example, however, and know he is compared to most crazies who follow the major sports in America. One interesting effect of the book is that it makes me want to watch soccer more regularly.




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Palindrome

Today-- I just discovered as I began to pay first of the month bills- is a palindrome.

7-1-1-7.

Things like this amuse me.  I am not necessarily easily amused, but I am quirkily amused. For example, I like when the odometer hits a round number and occasionally will high five the air when I notice it.  I like peculiar number coincidences.  The other day I turned 67.67 and even posted a photo to mark the date (also graduated high school in 67 which makes the moment even more pleasing).  I once found myself attracted to a 1961 Mad Magazine cover because it made the case that 1961 was an upside down year. (Write it upside down and it still is 1961). Whenever the clock hits 10:22 (my birthday) I smile a bit

I imagine I might have lost out on some fulfilling relationships because I have expressed these interests to others.

So, today's date is a palindrome.  Like dad, or sis, or boob, or deed, it reads the same backwards and forwards.

As is my wont, I try to see metaphors in phenomena.  If we were to look at our lives, would it read the same way backwards and forwards.  Would we be able to trace our life from say 15 to 70 and it look pretty much the same from 70-15.  Would our patterns be the same. Sure our knowledge would change the more times we go around the track, but would our paths be the same.

Can you see who you are and what you did going thisaway, as it would be if you looked at it thataway?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Last Day at the Factory

When I was in junior high school, for some reason that I cannot explain, we kids were shown a movie called, The Last Day at the Factory.  It was a film about a man's last day at his place of work which was a factory. In it he shook hands with various colleagues, meandered around the factory--which did not look like a swell place to work--and nostalgically said good bye.

It is difficult to understand why we were asked to watch the film. If I had to guess, we were probably giving a teacher an hour off.  There was no positive message in it that I could see. Where I went to school they were not encouraging us to spend our working years toiling in a factory. Don't mean to sound snobby, just that was not the emphasis in our school.

In fact, another film was akin to the general message.  We saw a movie called, When I'm Old Enough, Goodbye. It was about a kid who could not wait until he was sixteen when he could quit school. Then the cool guy got a bunch of dead end jobs and was miserable.  It became clear that what might seem like liberation, would be more like incarceration if you were stuck washing pots the rest of your life (as was one of this character's stops before he went back to school).

The title of the first film has been sticking in my head the last few weeks. After seven years as an administrator I am returning to the faculty with more than a little bit of excitement about returning.  It was, on balance, a terrific experience seeing how the university worked from a higher perch in the decision making ladder.  But I missed the opportunity to write and the freedom that comes when you are a professor. It was precisely this autonomy at a thinking place that attracted me to academia in the first place. So, for seven years I did not have it.  Monday will be the first day in a while (except for a six month sabbatical) when I will not have to go to work like everyone else.  Believe me, I will not miss the traffic on the Mass Pike, nor the restrictions (that I know that most everyone bears) on my time.

Still when I boxed up my stuff and removed the various items on my desk, I felt like the guy in the first movie.  I shook hands with some colleagues, hugged others,--and walked around the joint.  The last months on the job had its tense moments and I will not miss some capricious and, in my opinion, wrong headed behaviors.  One of the things I liked about the job was that, in my area, for most of the time I was there, I was able to make decisions that otherwise others would make.  Now, others will be making them.

But that is very okay.  I will get to know the umpteen colleagues who have joined my department while I was attending meetings.  My academic field is communication in organizations, and more recently sports and communication.  Academics are often cited as out of touch with what is called "the real world." In the administrative job, I was in the real world, and the experiences in terms of organizational communication were edifying in a way that I would not have expected.  Sure, some meetings are mind bogglingly long and time wasters.  But many of them were intelligently structured and followed the prescriptions we teach about in our classes.

I am fortunate to work at an excellent institution and look forward to a new step.

Onward and upward.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

50 buck

My orthopedist is located very close to Fenway Park.  The game tonight against the Twins starts at 7. My appointment at the orthopedist was at 4.

Already as I was driving to the doc, I saw groups and couples in Boston gear, walking toward the stadium.  It is a humid night, not horribly oppressive, but we could get some rain.  It did not stop the small army ambling toward the park three hours before game-time. This sight of early fandom was not what caught my attention the most as I drove toward the doc.

I noticed what is familiar all around Fenway even hours before a game.  A fellow--in this instance a guy with a gut for the book of records--was waving a red flag to indicate that game parking was available down an alley.  The waving man with the red flag, was not what was novel. What made me move my head backwards, almost involuntarily, was that the fat man was standing behind a sign that indicated the cost to park in his lot.  Fifty bananas.

Fifty dollars to park your car!

It always sounds like you are an antique when you begin a sentence with "when I was a boy a hot dog cost..."  My parents would say that and we would roll our eyes because we had heard, more than a hundred times, that a dog cost a nickel.  At the time when we regularly heard the refrain, a hot dog went for the outrageous sum of a quarter.  (sauerkraut add a nickel).

So, I know I write at the risk of sounding like a geezer, but fifty bucks is an outrageous sum to pay to park your car. Unlike many stadiums Fenway park has almost no parking lots of its own. Most parks have dedicated lots. I have not been there for a while but where the Mets played in Flushing Meadow there were spots for nearly all congregants.  At Fenway, entrepreneurs with nearby lots can make a shekel or two with their space. There was a time, and it still may be the case, that a gas station near the stadium shut down the pumps at 5, and made more money cramming cars into their space than they could ever dream of making with gas.

But fifty bucks?

Let's say you are a family of four.  Each (even cheap) ticket runs you about 50 at Fenway.  Buy a hot dog and a cold one for the adults, and a hot dog and a coke for the kids.  You are now out a cool 300 for the night if you have to park your car.

Occasionally I try to figure out what it will be like when I retire in terms of available dough.  I ought to do just fine because I have been putting money away in what amounts to a tax deferred annuity since I was in my mid 20s.  I am doing okay now in terms of salary, but I am likely to make more when I stop working.

The thing is, what will it be worth?  Will it cost me 100 dollars to park my car at the end of the Trump administration? Will I need a loan to buy a hot dog and a cold one?  Will I need to ask the vagrants for money for coffee?

Oh, and today, it cost me 30 dollars as a co payment let alone what they extract from my check every month, for a (well meaning) and conscientious PA to tell me that I am doing fine.  But it was cheap to park my car, only six dollars for a validated ticket.  A few steps away the fat man was packing cars into a tiny space and collecting 50 bananas a motorist.


Monday, June 26, 2017

The Girl Before

It's a rainy Sunday.  Your partner is out. Whether that is a good thing generally speaking or not, you are looking forward to a relaxing day to do whatever you'd like.  If on this rainy day you were to decide to pick up The Girl Before, a new novel by JP Delaney, and start to read, you may be able to complete it before you end your day.  And you will be glad you spent the day between those covers. The Girl Before is a page turner whodunnit, very cleverly written with a number of potential suspects.  It will keep you guessing until the perpetrator is revealed.  

I understand that Ron Howard, well known as Opie to we senior citizens, will be making a movie out of this novel.  I will look forward to it.  It will be a challenge. The novel is written from the perspective of two characters, Emma and Jane. Each chapter is entitled either "Then: Emma" or "Now: Jane." In a nutshell: Emma and Jane, at one point or another, rent the same home in London-a home designed by an eccentric architect.  There are some deaths. To relay much more is to give away too much and even if you do not intend to read the book, you might down the road want to see Opie's movie without any hints regarding the identity of the doer.

I got the tip about the book at, of all places, a liquor store.  There's one I frequent nearby that employs a part time clerk who is a full time librarian.  Once I walked in there and she must have had a book near the cash register. We got to talking about books and I asked for recommendations. This was several years ago. At the time she gave me a recommendation for The Help, which I very much enjoyed.  So, when I saw her there last week I asked what she recommended. She said, The Girl Before.  Good tip. And I am passing it along.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

should this bother me?

I saw this information on the door to a bagel place early this morning. Sunday morning, I figured grab some bagels.  Parked my car, approached the doorway,  spotted the sign.

Should this trouble me? Kind of nice thin font for the title, and scripted look for the days. Interesting touch with the word to sandwiched between the two horizontal lines.

You have to figure someone approved of the sign. Likely more than one person.  Someone probably ran the design by management.  A manager or two of some stripe had to read it through before giving the okay.  Make sure all words were spelled correctly and the information was accurate.

Maybe someone can explain the rationale to me.  Why not

Monday through Wednesday 6 -5; 
Thursday and Friday 6-5
 Saturday and Sunday 6-5.

If you are an acquaintance reading this entry, you have probably heard my rant about pizza sizes.  It began years ago when I visited a New Jersey establishment.  I asked for a pizza and they told me that there were two sizes, Medium and Large.  Does this bother anybody else?

How can there be a medium size if there is no small size? As far as I know the American Pizza Organization or some other association like that has not designated certain diameters of pizza pie to be small, medium, and large.  This proprietor could have been offering a choice of large and larger, or small and less small--but there is no such thing as a middle ground if you only have two options.  The proprietor did not warm to my comments along these lines.

Once in Plainview--the town where I lived as a teen, a town that has earned a reputation for having an excellent school system--I noticed that the candy store that had been there for a long time had been purchased and was now a different sort of establishment. A huge sign on the storefront attempted to describe the type of merchandise therein.  The sign read Stationary.    This was both amusing and disheartening.  I don't think they were attempting to let all know that their lease was a long one.  How can you open a stationery store, and be in the business of buying and selling stationery items, and then buy a sign, review the sign, and place the sign above your place of business, (how many people must have been involved in the decision making) and spell the main brand of your trade incorrectly.  When I informed the owner of the error, she acted icily and defensively.  Apparently, she had heard this comment before. She sneered at me and said, "that's the second spelling of the word. Look it up in a dictionary"  Did she really say that to me? Sure, if you go to "stationery" in the dictionary you will see another spelling. This is because there are two different words with two different spellings, one referring to the merchandise in this establishment, and the other meaning something temporarily or permanently not moving.  How's this to describe the distinction?

The stationery on the shelf was not selling, apparently-given current consumer patterns--the stationery would remain stationary.  

Too high brow for the proprietor?

If I go to another meeting with people with PhDs who comment on a new innovation or an idea that is very unique, I will extract the remaining hairs from my scalp.  Innovations are, by definition, new. When a process ceases to be new it ceases to be innovative. Unique means one of a kind. You can't be very unique, any more than you can be unique.  One of a kind is as unique as it gets.   A recent graduate is not an alumni, unless she or he has multiple personality disorder. The person is an alumnus.   And there is no such word as criterias. If you have only one litmus test it is a criterion. More than one: criteria.

Should this trouble me?

A student once wrote in a paper that he had great sympathy for the Jews because throughout history they have always been used as "escape goats."  Interesting image that.  I probably could have used an escape goat at one time or another to avoid the evil eye of some allegedly educated sort who felt there was nothing wrong with selling two sizes of soda pop--medium and large--and endured my pedantic rant.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Blood of Emmett Till

A number of things crossed my mind when I read The Blood of Emmett Till a new book by Timothy Tyson.  Tyson does a thorough job of describing the context for the murder, the background of the murderers, the background of the victim, and the courage of the victim's family.

By the time I was a junior in high school I had become a good student.  I had not been in junior high school--often reading teacher descriptions of my work stating that I was underachieving. But I did okay by the time I was in eleventh and twelfth grade.   In New York State it was in a student's junior and senior year when you studied American History. Then in the second semester of my freshman year I took American History from the Civil War to the present with as energetic a professor as I have ever had.  People fought to get into David Goodman's class. He was dramatic as a lecturer, flamboyant with his cowboy hat, funny on occasion, unconventional (we did not have a text, we had to read four novels about the various decades of that period), and you were lucky to get a seat.

Point is that in both high school and in college I do not remember reading about or studying about Emmett Till.  I know that a folksinger I liked, Phil Ochs, had a song about Emmett Till--so I knew there was a story there, but I did not know the details. It was sometime in graduate school when I read about how Till's mother had forced an open casket and Jet magazine had put a photo of the mutilated kid on its cover.

Why did we not study it in high school or college?  The Till case was an egregious case of injustice. I graduated high school in 67. Till was murdered only 12 years before.

There is no doubt that the half brothers, JW Milam and Ron Bryant, kidnapped, killed, and then dumped Till's body in a river. Tyson begins his book with an interview with Carolyn Bryant the woman Till, allegedly, good gosh, spoke rudely to which caused the half brothers to abduct and murder. Bryant now in her 80s essentially said the kid did nothing warranting such punishment, and admitted that she lied at the trial.  So, they did it. They were guilty. And they were acquitted.

The defense attempted to provide some handle onto which the all white jury could hang a not guilty verdict. So, they contended that the identifications of the kidnappers might have been inaccurate, and the body pulled from the river might not have been Till's, and besides the kid had mouthed off to a white woman. Each of these arguments is at odds with the others.  If we can't convince you folks that these good old boys did not kidnap the kid, maybe we can convince you that the dead kid wasn't the kid they kidnapped. And if we can't convince you that they did not kidnap the kid, and if we can't convince you that the dead body wasn't Till's, well maybe we can provide you with a good reason for why the boys done it.

It worked.  Big rush of joy from the south. Why. Not because the brothers were innocent of this outrageous murder, but because yet again a southern jury protected its racial nonsense.

I thought of the Kent State murders while reading this book, and also the Simpson trial.  I've read a number of books on both, and spent quite a bit of time at Kent State's library in their special collections unit. There is no doubt, none, that the guardsmen's acts--in the words of the Scranton Commission--were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.  Yet at the trial the guardsmen were acquitted.  There is no doubt that Simpson murdered his wife and Ron Goldman.  Yet he was acquitted.

I see an analogy here. The jurors in the Simpson case and the Kent State case were looking for a reason to acquit.

However, the Till case is even more horrific, because it was not an isolated incident. Till type murders were the way of the south and not a one-off like OJ or the National Guard.  The kid was mutilated by fellows who thought they had the right to kill.

I think what Tyson does best in this book is describe the climate at the time of the killing. It makes the reader realize that Bryant and Milam probably thought their actions were no big deal and they would be heroes of sorts, or at least just doing what a man should do.  He also describes the courage of Till's mother and uncle very well.  I am not sure the last chapter makes its mark, but as for the rest of it--you want the facts, you'll get the facts.  Emmett Till was murdered brutally for doing nothing wrong. He was butchered and when the not guilty verdict was read, there was dancing in the streets. Not that long ago.  There are still crimes of this ilk.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Go back to sleep?

So last night I returned home late, around 10 pm.  I flipped on the tube and saw that on some channels I could get sound and no picture.  It was only mildly annoying since there was nothing special I had intended to watch.  I figured it would be fixed by the morning or I would call Comcast then and remedy the problem.

Yesterday morning I went out to get the newspaper as I typically do. There was no newspaper. I went out again a few times later before I left for work. Still no paper.  Okay, it happens that there are delivery problems.

After I noticed that the tv was not working last night, I went out with a flashlight to see if the paper had eventually arrived. It had not. No big deal. I had things to read and do.

When I woke up this morning, just an hour or so ago, I flipped on the set and again saw that there was no picture on certain channels.  Before I went to call Comcast I checked to see if today's paper had been delivered. As is typical there was my wrapped in plastic--so it won't get wet-newspaper on the lawn. I brought it to a chair, parked myself, and called Comcast.

The robot that responded thanked me for calling Comcast.

Is anyone pleased when a robot thanks them for calling? I am not, for the record.  Not displeased, not annoyed--at least not immediately--just find it meaningless.  I begin to get annoyed when I have to answer several questions that, had there been a person responding (preferably one that had not recently had a lobotomy) I could get to where I needed to go in a hurry. Finally after a couple of minutes of responding to a series of unnecessary questions, I am put on hold to speak to a technician. I got to the technician "quickly" because at one point I just pushed zero several times.

A happy woman from India answered. She thanked me for calling Comcast.  It is a little more tolerable when a person, not a robot, thanks me but still clearly obligatory and, therefore, not very meaningful.  I explain my problem, clearly. She thanks me. She tells me she can help me with this. These are standard responses. She can't help me--as it turns out.

I was at my eloquent best this am. Not always the case, but I clearly articulated the problem. She told me there was a power outage in my area and the technicians are working on the case. Would it make sense, I inquired, if there were some channels on which I had video and others where I did not?

Oh yes, she responded. This happens regularly.

I asked when the problem began. She put me on hold. When she got back, she thanked me for my patience. She told me the outage began at 104 am.  I told her that then this could not be the problem since I had experienced the problem at 10 pm.  She put me on hold.

She came back and thanked me for my patience. She then spewed something that I could not quite follow but had to do with the possibility that even though the source of the problem began at 104 am, it was possible I could have experienced it earlier.  I asked when the outage would be fixed. She put me on hold.

She returned. Thanked me for my patience. She said according to her notes the problem would be fixed by 5am.  I noted that it was now 630 am. She asked me if I wanted to trouble shoot, but told me, patronizingly, that sometimes when there is troubleshooting one can lose the video on all the channels and perhaps I should wait until the outage was over.  I mentioned that, according to her, the outage was to be over at 5 am.  She put me on hold.

When she returned she thanked me for my patience.  Before she could go further I conjectured that perhaps the problem was unrelated to the outage. I had mentioned that Comcast had sent me a box a while back for updating my equipment. I had not had problems with my set and am not technically savvy so I had not installed the update.  Could that be the problem? No, she said. I asked if someone could come out to install the equipment not, I made clear, to resolve the current situation, but because I see notices on the screen periodically indicating that it is time to install the box.

This was a big mistake. I now had irreparably conflated the issue with video with the box, and she could not separate out the matter. I decided to do the separation for her. I said that I would not do the troubleshooting regarding the current issue. We would leave it for a day since I am not going to be watching television until tonight anyway.  Period. On another matter--entirely--since we were on the phone, could she schedule a time for the technician to come out and install the box (as had been a service promised when the new boxes were sent out).  She said of course she could. She put me on hold.

She thanked me for my patience when I returned. No need. I no longer had any patience.  She asked me if I thought the technician could remedy the video problem. I, with a little more volume, reminded her that I was asking for the technician for another matter. She put me on hold.

She thanked me for my patience.  She asked again why I wanted the technician. I told her and asked why I could not just schedule an appointment.  She said she was getting the schedule now and put me on hold.

I decided to start reading the paper while waiting. I took it out of the wrapper while listening to music that could be soothing in another context but is annoying when you have been waiting interminably for a response.  I cut to the sports section and read the headline. There is a box score and article about the Red Sox game. The Red Sox did not play yesterday; they had the day off. I look up to the top of the paper and see that today they delivered the paper I was supposed to receive yesterday.

The woman from New Delhi gets back on the phone and thanks me for my patience. She tells me she is ready to schedule an appointment for me, but she tells me there will be a charge.  I lose it.  Not even 715 in the morning.

I should not have, but nonetheless do then, call the Boston Globe delivery service.   A robot thanks me for my call. A robotic message tells me that there were some delivery snafus yesterday which could cause a delay in delivery.  And some newspapers may not be delivered until the following day.  What possible good is Thursday's paper delivered on Friday--especially if Friday's paper is not delivered. Sure, tell me what the weather is going to be like yesterday.  That will be helpful.

The robot tells me that they are sorry for any inconvenience.

Should I go back to sleep?

Monday, June 19, 2017

An American Summer

My consciousness on a continuous basis begins in 1956.  I do remember an incident from 1953 and other episodes that if I were to try and identify when they occurred I'd figure would be before '56.  I can remember days in kindergarten which began in 54 but they are just isolated events.

How do I know this?  Well, I remember watching the World Series with my mother in 1956 when Don Larsen pitched the perfect game.  I remember my parents speaking about the Dodgers finally beating the Yankees in 1955, but I don't recall anything about it.  And the Giants, my dad's team, swept the Indians in '54 and I have no recollection at all about that.

However, one day in 1955 is vivid.  I was watching a program that I think was called Ding Dong school.  I remember my mother yelping with joy when she heard the host announce that the Salk polio vaccine had been proven to be effective.

I don't remember the fear of polio.  I know, now, that FDR was afflicted.  And I've read some about the fright that all parents had in the late 40s and early 50s, hoping that their children would not come down with the disease. But my first real memory of polio was hearing my mother shout with joy because the disease had been cured.

The majority of the book An American Summer by Frank Deford takes place in 1954, (despite the blurb in an Amazon description suggesting that it is set in 1955).  When I finished the book I read an excerpt about it that appears on the inside flap.  There, a Peter Gent, (an author whom I've never heard of) wrote: "What a heartbreaking, heartwarming, joyful read."

Those words are right on target.  This book is beautiful with one asterisk that while not insignificant does not render the book anything other than joyful and heartwarming.

A few weeks back Frank Deford passed and I read his obituary.  I knew Deford as a sportswriter and a very good one. I did not know that he had also written over fifteen books and several novels. I went to my library network web page, saw one that looked interesting, and requested it.

It is magnificent.  I will not give much away with the following description, but if you are inclined, as I am, not to want to know anything at all about a book, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.  In 1954 a family is moving from Indiana to Baltimore because the dad has accepted a job to be president of a manufacturing company there.  The whole clan is not ready to move, so in early summer the father and one of the sons, a fourteen year old, arrives in Baltimore. The rest of the family plans to join at the end of summer in the weeks before school will begin.   Early in the story the boy saves a dog from what appears to be its demise by running into the street and carrying the dog away from oncoming traffic. The owner of the dog is so grateful that she embraces the boy and brings him to her wealthy abode. There the boy, Christy, meets Kathryn who had had it all, but now is a victim of polio. The developing relationship between Christy and Kathryn, and Christy and his Dad  makes this a very believable coming of age story.

There is nothing trite about this tale.  We see human flaws, and courage, and resolution.  Deford is so crafty that you are not sure if Christy and Kathryn are fictional or real people despite the fact that the book is called a novel.  Only when I finished it and took a good look at the beginning and end pages did I realize what was what.

I mentioned an asterisk.  The one thing I thought of while reading was that what the book does not explore are issues of race in 1954 Baltimore.  If Christy had been a black lad, and had saved the dog, while I think the mother would have been as effusive thanking him, she would not have invited him to become so much a part of her family.  So, I am thinking while reading that my reaction to the novel would be different if  I were a black reader. I might think that what the book truly shows is the racial dichotomy in 1954 where someone could come of age as Christy did in the summer of 1954, but had he been black the seeds that would have been planted would not have been related to an awareness of the world with its challenges and compromises, but rather the epiphanies would relate to how race created a different set of understandings.

That comment, however, should not discourage readers of any ethnic background from reading.   An American Summer is a wonderful book that describes in part what pre Salk vaccine parenting was like, what it is like to be courageous in the face of a life aborting disease, and what it means to be a person of substance.


why do you think they call it dope

About a week ago I went to a lecture about opioids and literature. A professor at a nearby university was speaking at a library I recently joined.  The subject of drugs and how drugs are described in the media have been an interest of mine for some time. So, I went.

Back when I was a student, about halfway through my college years, the inebriant of choice changed from beer to dope.  Many of those who used to go to bars to self medicate or frolic, now began to roll joints.  Instead of asking buds if they wanted to go for a beer, a friend might ask if you wanted to get stoned together. Or for those more advanced, "trip" together.

I was never much of a druggie. There were a number of reasons for this.  One was that I was on the other side of the law, so to speak. In my sophomore year I applied for and received a coveted RA position. These were coveted less because there was a surfeit of those who wanted to uphold the rules, and more because the benefits were very sweet.  Room, board, and tuition.  I went to a state school and it did not cost a lot compared to other schools, but with my compensation for being an RA, I actually made some money going to school. I had been fortunate to receive what was called a Regents Scholarship which meant that my tuition was already paid for. For reasons that don't make a lot of sense, even if you had tuition waived because of being an RA, you still received a check equal to the amount of tuition if you had a Regents Scholarship.   This meant that starting when I was a junior, I was able to buy a better brand of wine when attempting to woo and wow women (still called coeds when I first started going to school).

One job of an RA was to stop people from smoking dope. This dampened my enthusiasm for exploration.  But also, on the few occasions when I indulged, I found the experience less than exhilarating and preferred liquid inebriants.  I eschewed what we called "acid" primarily because I had heard of bad trips. I thought my head was a decent asset and did not want to take a chance that some experience might dull what I thought was what I had going for me.

Still, despite being a reluctant and limited consumer of what were called drugs, I found the advertising and other media representations offensive and outrageously inappropriate.    I had and have a number of reasons for having felt and feeling this way.  As I write this now--someone who has not inhaled anything illegal in several decades--I find the portrayal of drugs an abomination.

The first reason is that there is a bogus dichotomy between legal drugs and illegal drugs.  So-called legal drugs are consumed and prescribed with no stigma attached.  Never mind that scholarly books (Mad in America for one) make it clear that many legal drugs have long lasting deleterious effects on consumers.  Yet, drugs that are not produced by the pharmaceutical companies are reviled by parents, teachers, and government officials.  If pharmaceutical companies could peddle dope, the product would come in fancy containers. This would not mean indulging in them, however peddled, would be good for you.  It just means that if you put a proper hat on some items, they are good for you, even if they are not.

The second reason is that the advertisements--public service ads no less--described the drugs in a way that were intended to frighten. I am all for frightening people about the risks of risky behavior.  But when you frighten people suggesting that behaviors are dangerous, when they are not necessarily, you become the boy who cried wolf.  When I was an RA we, the RAs, would listen to lectures from law enforcement types about the inevitable perils of weed.  It was just a load of malarkey.  If all the people who indulged occasionally in 1969 were affected as described in these lectures, there would not be enough teachers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, accountants, etc. to serve our society.

The problem with drug usage (as is the case with alcohol consumption and all legal drugs as well) occurs when drugs are abused.  I remember a while back I had a toothache that created a type of pain that was borderline unbearable.  My dentist said he could give me something to take the pain away.  I did not want to take the drug, not because I am a tough guy on principle, but because I figured I would not want to get dependent on it.  But the waves of pain from the ache were too much. So, I succumbed and took the pills. And baby, did that feel good.  Pain went away.  Felt like singing, White Rabbit.  When I had my hip replaced a few years back they gave me a "cocktail" for the pain.  At about midnight of that night I got what all the fuss was about regarding acid. Holy smokes I was flying and it felt great.  I did not want to go to sleep and miss the fun of the ride.  But with the toothache and with the hip, there came a point that the drug did not make me feel good, it just took away the pain and I could sense that continued use would be no good.

That is the thing about any kind of excessive consumption.  The difference between me and 99 % of my cronies and the other 1 % was we, the majority. could stop. If we want to advertise to our youth that drugs are not good for them, we need to be credible and tell the truth.  Drugs, legal and illegal, can be bad for us if we become dependent on them.

The lecture, I was glad to hear, talked about some literary greats who found that being high actually had a positive (if temporary) effect on productivity.  She was careful to emphasize that she was not condoning drug usage--in fact went to great pains to describe the problems with the authors to whom she referred--when they became dependent on the drugs.  There was talk about the perils of addiction--and I heartily agree.  Whether you are addicted to opioids, beer, cheesecake, or even sports, you have a problem.  If you literally can't live with your head if there is not a ballgame on, well maybe it is time to start a stamp collection.

A few years ago  a crony from my college years came to town with his family.  His teenage kids were out cavorting and his wife snoozing when I met him in a bar for a beer.  This guy indulged in college and what's more argued forcefully against law enforcement types who "busted" kids for dope. You can imagine my surprise when he said--genuinely--thirty plus years later, that he was concerned that his kids might "get into drugs."

Say what?  When I called him on it, he Jackie Gleasoned hometa hometa, and said that drugs now are worse. Well, some are and some are not.

All of us have to be vigilant when identifying what is and what is not deleterious. We can't just with a broad brush paint some things bad and other things good without thinking about it.  If I were to caution anyone about drug usage, the first caution would be to look at the legal prescription pills they are knocking back daily.

Again, if you were to examine my  daily intake for the last forty years, I would not be arrested for anything. I should be arrested for eating an entire pepperoni pizza after the Patriots won a playoff game--or some other gustatory indulgences, but not for drugs.  Yet I think we need to be careful when we decry the evils of products regardless of their current legality.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

No Cure for love

 Is there no cure for love?

I recently read two books, both detective yarns of different flavors.  And they both--one centrally and one less directly--deal with this question.

The one that deals with it centrally is actually called No Cure For Love.  Very good book.  Two notches up from a beach read, and still a fast page turner.  A tv actress is being stalked by a maniac who claims to be her true love.  A detective who works in a special unit of the Los Angeles police department is on the case to try to find the obsessive lover and protect the actress.

The maniac is the most extreme example of someone who is crazy in a kind of love for which there is no cure.  But he is a maniac with a sick family background.  Besides the maniac, there are three other "normal" characters in the novel who engage/d in relationships that reflect that, once smitten, decisions and behaviors become irrational and can be counterproductive.  Yet a fourth example seems to provide a foundation for a sequel to the book.  (I just perused the author's website and I don't see any sequels to this novel, first published in 1995 and then re-released in 2015).  The normal characters and their relationships are not central to the plot, but they're examples of the premise: there may be no cure for love. Love begets irrational behavior.

A number of things are impressive about the book. The first is that the author, Peter Robinson, typically writes about an Inspector Banks who works and lives in the UK.  I have read several in this series and thought No Cure for Love was part of the Banks' series. No Cure for Love however has nothing to do with Inspector Banks and very little to do with the UK.  A main character is from the UK, but for the most part the dialogue/slang/language is typical of US detective stories. The ability to switch and write so differently reflects versatility and skill.

The second impressive feature is that while there are a couple of things in this book that make me wonder about how likely they are to happen, the book--for the most part--passes the plausibility test.  I wonder about Sally's current mental health given her behavior in the past.  And there is a love affair that seems not only gratuitous but, in my experience at least, unlikely to begin as it did.  Still, everything else about the book rings as if it could be true.

Third impressive aspect:  there are enough clues in the novel to keep you guessing about who the maniac might be.  And you can get it right.   I am not typically a fan of detective stories when at the last second someone pops up as the doer who could not have been sleuthed out by the reader.

In sum, if you like detective stories, read this book.  And when you are done with its plot, maybe think about whether there is indeed a cure for love so that we can behave rationally when we are in the throes of it.

The second book, Slow Burn, by Ace Atkins is a Spenser novel.  Spenser, a character developed by the late Boston author Robert Parker, is attempting in this novel to identify arsonists who have been burning buildings for a year.  I liked the Parker Spenser novels, a little more than the Atkins's ones, though the latter have its strong points as well. Both write fast moving stories.  Parker's typically had a moral message at the end that hung around for a spell. Atkins's characters have a little more depth. In this one, there is a reference to Spenser's hard drinking dad, who I had not read about before.  Maybe I just missed it.  I never thought Parker got Susan--Spenser's love interest--or Hawk--his friend and occasional partner--in anything other than monochrome.  Atkins does a little better.

In Slow Burn, three people, with holes in their hearts, rationalize starting fires.  The damage to their innards relate to family, abuse, and thwarted dreams more than romantic disappointments. Nothing of course condones their anti-social behavior.  One of the three does more than just set fires.

There is a reference in the acknowledgments that the author researched an actual spate of fires in Boston in the 80s to do this book. However real were the other fires, I found I had to suspend too much belief to buy the plot line in this one.  It is a fast read, but I don't think it sufficiently gets to the guts of why people do the things they do.  Spenser novels written by Parker did not do this either, but often you were left with something to wonder about relating to the human condition when you were done.  That happens to some extent with this one but not as much.

Not a bad read, but not a book I would hunt for.

No Cure for Love, however, is a different story.  Very well written and compelling page turner. And beyond the search for the maniac--the title and the book itself made me think of why we act irrationally if not maniacally when "every fairy tale seems real." Probably there is no cure for the "dizzy dancing way we feel."  I don't believe that is always a bad thing. Hate to be cured of that feeling.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Well, I got that wrong.

Three huge errors tonight in my forecasting.

(1) Cleveland won despite the fact that typically a team that wins three straight in basketball series, wins the fourth to sweep.

(2) I thought the Under was the way to go. The O/U was 227.5.  That was obliterated by 24 points.

(3) I thought that Kyrie Irving could not continue to play like superman.  I will not think this again because once again Kyrie Irving was absolutely incredible. Incredible means not believable. He made shots that are not believable.

Now, Richard Jefferson was playing football out there guarding Durant and there was a whole hell of a lot of contact which probably will not be permitted in game 5. Nevertheless Cleveland whipped a flat Golden State. Curry came out half asleep and nobody but Shawn Livingston looked like they were ready.

On to Monday.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wisdom for Tonight

The fourth game of the NBA championship begins in about 2 and a half hours.  Cleveland is down 3-0.   In the past, teams down 3-0 often succumb to the sweep.  I cannot see Kyrie Irving playing as well as he played on Wednesday.  And I have to think the wind has been taken out of the sails of the Cavaliers after blowing the lead in the last minutes of the fourth quarter on Wednesday.

On the other hand, the Warriors could easily be complacent and not as focussed as they have been.  I will go with the Warriors tonight but only because my sense of basketball sports history is such that this typically is how it goes.  If the Warriors prevail as I believe they will, I think they will cover the 6 points.  The O/U is 227.5.  Take the Under.

I would not bet a wad on tonight. I never bet a wad anyway, and I always urge readers to remember that I thought Carter and Clinton would win against Reagan and Trump respectively.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Great game

I arrived home in the middle of the first quarter tonight. Then I was riveted for two hours straight.

This was a terrific basketball game.  The big three of the Cavaliers were outstanding particularly Irving who had a season's worth of highlights in one game. And LeBron James was sensational as he typically is.  While Love did not shoot that well, he was a monster off the boards and again made me out to be a liar as I never was high on Love's talents.

At the end Kyrie Irving could not continue to make shots that were optical illusions and LeBron ran out of gas.  It is understandable that he would. He played nearly the whole game and was stunning even by his standards.  James is just a person though--not Clark Kent.

The Warriors on the other hand kept hanging around.  Draymond Green did not have one of his better games and neither did some of the other Warriors.  But Iguodala stepped up defensively as did Klay Thompson.  And then Durant stuck the key three at the end.

Just great basketball.

Nobody can deny that LeBron James is the best ever or that Kyrie Irving made shots that truly were remarkable.  But the Warriors are the Warriors.

If you listened to me and were in Las Vegas, you won against the spread as the Warriors gave up three and won by five, so you got to count your shekels at the end. However, I liked the Under which was at 226 when I made my prediction. I see it creeped up to 228 over the last two days. Still the final was 231.  So I was a loser on the Under but a winner on the spread.

I am exhausted not from the toil of the day but from watching.  This is why we love sports. I did not have a horse in this game.  I like players from both teams.  I was pulling for Golden State because I love their motion offense, but I also love LeBron and have come to admire Irving.  Very exciting.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Comey and Dean

It was forty four years ago this month when John Dean testified before the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal.  At the time the Nixon White House was preparing for Dean's testimony and was considering how they would react to any allegations.

It made me pause today to read that the Trump White House now, nearly half a century later is doing something similar in anticipation of James Comey's testimony on Thursday.

Whether it is correct or not we will never know for sure, but many experts feel that if Richard Nixon had admitted to his behavior regarding obstructing the investigation of the Watergate break-in, his presidency would have continued.  The often cited claim is that the cover-up was worse than the break-in.  Yet it appears that Trump has already hired an attorney to address any comments Comey may make that accuse Trump of wrong doing.

Watergate is the scandal most of us collecting social security remember most vividly.  The scandal became such a common part of our culture that any subsequent scandal has been given the gate suffix. In sports we have Spygate and Deflategate.  An exhaustive list of all such gate scandals can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scandals_with_%22-gate%22_suffix.  I had not heard of many of these and the sheer number is a bit startling.  (My favorite I think is Nipplegate a reference to the wardrobe malfunction during halftime of the superbowl a few years back).

The point is that anyone with any sense of history knows that what is happening now is similar to what happened then--not in terms of the offense--at least that has not been proven yet--but how the White House apparently intends to react to the accusation. It is a stonewalling defense that never works in the long run.

Of course in this case it would have been wise for Trump never to have attempted to stifle the investigation in the first place.   But if he indeed had, why follow in the footsteps of the only president ever to be forced to resign.

I was in New Hampshire when Dean testified in June of 1973. I was staying with a buddy who had rented a remote cabin in the white mountains. We could not get television reception but we were able to listen to the testimony on a radio.  And we did that all day long during the first day of his testimony--which was essentially, a very long statement.  I can still remember us shaking our heads at what Dean was relaying.  I will not shake my head if Comey says something akin to what Dean said half a century ago.  But it will be head shaking stuff if the Trump White House decides to aggressively take the same road in defense that caused his predecessor to resign in disgrace.




Monday, June 5, 2017

Golden State

I am very much impressed with the way Golden State has played in the first two games of the championship.  They play good defense,  look for open players, run and run and run and run, and can shoot from long range.  They have three players on the starting five who can shoot threes as good as any player in the league. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are deadly.  Who do you guard if you are Cleveland?  You prevent Curry from getting the ball and Durant will hurt you, or Thompson.

Cleveland did not play poorly last night. LeBron James is still the best player on planet Earth and he demonstrated his prowess last night.  Kevin Love continues to make a liar out of me. I thought he was overrated, but he has been an able shooter and a very good rebounder in the playoffs. Kyrie Irving makes shots that are worthy of standing ovations.  Last year I thought he was only a bit better than average. I do not think so anymore. Irving is a super star.

However, despite James, and Love, and Irving, the Cavaliers got shellacked last night.  And they got tired. This is not a knock on the conditioning of the Cavaliers.  It is to the credit of the Warriors who are perpetually in motion.  Every rebound starts a fast break. They often run after made baskets. And the offense is a motion offense.  It is exhausting to watch and it must be impossible to defend.

Last year I, incorrectly, predicted that the Warriors would definitely beat Cleveland in the championship series.  Yet, the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Warriors. And they made Stephen Curry look only average.  So, I should not count the Cavaliers out after two losses at the Warriors' gym.  But gee, even if Curry and Thompson get cold, there is still Durant.

I think the only way Cleveland can prevail is if either Durant or Curry get injured during the series.  Otherwise I don't see it happening.    It is not just that the Warriors have excellent players. They have excellent players playing excellently. And last night despite shooting well, Curry had several turnovers, and the Warriors still won by close to twenty points. Quite a spectacle.  I think people will talk about the 2017 Warriors for years to come as maybe the best team ever.

The Warriors are currently three point favorites for Wednesday's game at Cleveland. I think you give away the points and count your shekels afterwards.  The over/under is 226. That seems low given last night's 235, but I kind of like the under on Wednesday.

A Man Called Ove

This is a beautiful book.  Read it.

That is the short version of this review.

I had seen A Man Called Ove on best seller lists for a long time. Then, a few weeks ago I was sitting on a bench reading.  A stranger sat down on the same bench and, after a spell, asked me about the book I had and if it was worth a read.  I told her what I thought and asked for a recommendation.  She said A Man Called Ove was specialHer comment plus the many weeks on the best seller list made me want to go get it.  So, I put myself on a waiting list at the library and eventually it arrived.

It is wonderful.  The story takes place in Sweden and is about, well, a man named Ove.  He is a 59 year old curmudgeon who seems difficult to like.  But he endears himself, despite his thorny personality, to others.  The author does a good job of blending the past with the present and making Ove a real character-in both senses of the word.  The evolution of his relationship with Rune-a neighbor, and Ove's beloved Sonja is very well developed.  We learn about his cat, visits to a cemetery, issues with people breaking the rules in his community, a dear neighbor who befriends him, "white shirts" who are the bane of his existence, and assorted other relationships.

The story is laugh out loud funny. It's also sad and moving in many parts. The translator as well as the author, Fredrik Backman, deserve a good deal of credit.  The descriptions of Ove's and others' reactions are so spot on that the reader can just about see facial expressions.

I was half way done when a buddy spotted me with the book and told me he had seen the movie.  I had not known there was a movie, but am looking forward to renting it.  If you've seen the movie and it is lame but not have not read the book, don't let the lame film stop you from reading this one.

You know Ove.  You're likely not like him, but you will like him and he is inspiring in many ways.  Very fast read.  And a sweet ride.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hawaiian Salad

Two weeks back I was in a cafe and saw a waitress coming out with a salad plate for another diner.  It looked very appetizing. Immediately the words, "Hawaiian Salad" rocketed to my consciousness.

In 1968 I worked in the Borscht belt in South Fallsburg, New York as a bus boy. At the time, the Catskill mountains were dotted with hundreds of hotels that catered to New York summer vacationers.  These resorts were only a few hours drive from the city and its suburbs.  They attracted middle to upper class first generation Jews--the sons and daughters of European immigrants, many of whom who'd had the good fortune to get to America before Hitler took control of Germany.

The Borscht belt was so called because a favorite drink among the vacationers was borscht.  I am an easy eater. There are few things I do not like to eat or drink.  However, I cannot go near borscht and not because the drink brings back recollections of my experience in South Fallsburg.  Borscht is a concoction derived from beets and, well, it just does not send me. However, borscht was a favorite cold drink in summertime for those of my parents' generation.You did not operate a hotel in the Catskills unless you served up borscht.   Hence the region with all the hotels was called the Borscht belt.

The Borscht belt hotels all had pools, athletic fields, night clubs, and cool air that was attractive to people who did not want to dissolve in the humidity that could pulverize New York City in the summer. Beyond the cool air, and pools, and volleyball, and simon sez, and truly top shelf entertainers in the night clubs--the Borscht belt had food. Lots of food. All the time.

If you are not a member of the tribe, you may not know this. But if you are a member of the tribe you know that Jews like to eat.  The dining hall at these hotels was like a horn of plenty.  From 7-11 you could have breakfast. What could you have? Anything you wanted. Eggs, french toast, pancakes, bagels, white fish--whatever.  Then from 11-1 you took a break from eating. At 1, just two or so hours later, lunch was served.  And it was not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What could you have?anything you wanted. There were typically five hot entries and five cold ones.  Fish dishes, omelettes, blintzes, pasta, tuna, chicken salad, salad salad, whatever you wanted, and of course, borscht.  When I tell you that there were no fewer than one hundred glasses of borscht pre-poured for a lunch meal, I am not exaggerating. And the borscht glasses evaporated.  After lunch you took four hours off.  Then there was dinner which started at 7 and again was whatever you wanted--ribs, steak, chicken, veal, whatever.

Not only was there whatever you wanted, there was as much as you wanted.  The deal with the Borscht belt hotels was that you paid one price. That price included the room, the facilities, the shows, and all you could eat.  As it relates to the latter, someone could order a steak, and then decide that she wanted the chicken, and then decide that they felt like a pasta dish.  There was no limit on how many main dishes you could have, or how many desserts, or how many salads, or how many anythings.  You would be startled at how much people packed away during a single day in the Borscht belt. (The killer was that after eating thousands of calories, invariably someone not running marathons, would request a dietetic cake with coffee to complete the assault on their intestines),

This all you could eat component was the biggest challenge for those who worked as waiters or bus boys in the mountains.  For those of you who work in conventional restaurants, there is no comparison.  In a restaurant a person orders a meal, maybe a drink, maybe an appetizer, but that is it.  In the borscht belt, you could have five appetizers, seven meals, twelve desserts.

There were a few things that you never wanted diners to ask for in the Borscht belt. One was toasted bagels. I am sure things improved, but at that time there were no dedicated toasters for bagels in the kitchen. If you wanted a bagel toasted you had to put it in an oven and wait for it. If you left it to get something else, a rival waiter would snatch it and you would have to start from scratch. The second was a medium boiled egg. Why? Because if you did not sit there for the x minutes necessary, someone in a hurry could take your egg, or you might misjudge the time and serve up a soft boiled or hard boiled egg, and have to hear a complaint from an entitled patron.

But the worst thing you wanted someone to order was a Hawaiian Salad.

Say ten people are at a table and they order fish, chicken salad, lasagna whatever.  Then someone orders an Hawaiian salad. You were cooked.

You were cooked because these looked so attractive, that you knew, just knew, as soon as you brought out one Hawaiian salad, four diners already busting a gut on whatever they had ordered would ask for one as well. So then you had to go back into the kitchen and get more Hawaiian salads.

It got to the point that if someone asked for a Hawaiian salad, I would get three of them, just because  I knew what would happen.  And bringing back food that had not been ordered was not protocol. You were not supposed to bring out food that had not been ordered. There could be major repercussions if you got caught hauling out extra meals and storing it next to the ajax beneath your server.

So, when I was in the cafe a week back, and saw the salad come out, I smiled at the recollection of what never brought a smile to my face when I was a lad of 18.  And then I heard the diner's table mate say, "Hey that looks nice. I should have ordered that."  I just looked at the waiter and thought, you are damn lucky you never worked in South Fallsburg.