Who the hell cares?

Apologies for my quietude.  I’ve fallen into one of those rare moments of clarity, one might say “my muse hath come my way,” and I have been trying to make use of each moment she deigns to stick around. But I had to weigh in on a current controversy.

In 1994, an American writer by the name of Ethan Canin published a short story collection titled after its most famous story, The Palace Thief.  In this story, Mr. Hundert is a classics instructor at an elite prep school outside of Washington DC who encounters a student (Sedgewick Bell) who has no ethics. Bell mocks Mr. Hundert and the other boys in the class who are there to learn.

When Mr. Hundert catches him cheating at their annual Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, he calls the boy out. Twenty-five years later Bell gets his chance at vindication when, as a candidate for Senate, he lures Mr. Hundert and his former classmates to a campaign fundraiser at his estate and convinces them to recreate the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest. Again Bell cheats and Mr. Hundert calls him out.  But not in front of Bell’s audience of wealthy campaign donors. Instead, he lectures him in private.

The book was made into a movie titled The Emperor’s Club.  It’s a very good movie, however in the book Mr. Hundret is a far more complicated character than Kevin Kline’s portrayal. His commitment to teaching and to ethics borders on prissiness and inflexibility. He’s accused of being detached from the “real” world and his dedication is unappreciated by his peers. So, when he realizes he’s devoted his entire adult life to creating honorable men and has failed miserably with a man who might one day be in a position of great power, he falls off the cliff and into an ocean of self-doubt.  Is he mourning the decline of ethics in the modern world or the futility of his own life?  It’s hard to tell.

I thought about the Emperor’s Club this week as the Senate moves to approve the nomination of someone like Bell to the Supreme Court.  I’m not saying that  Kavanaugh would be the first unethical prep school boy in a position of power,  but the alarm has been sounded. Are the words of writers and the efforts of movie makers in vain in this our new reality, the real world? As Bell says, who the hell cares?

A Plea from the Headwaters

From the SF Chronicle today: “Our culture does not know the dream of the individual, the single person.  We have never lived with the dream of the self-made man.  We only know a world of symbiotic coexistence, one universe, and shared perpetual interconnectivity.  And that is what we wish to share, considering the destruction of the headwaters of the Amazon and the “aerial rivers” of vapor will affect both the residents of your Fisherman’s Wharf and our Sapara community of Naku.”

Read the whole article here:


The Best in People – #1LinerWeds

A poignant reminder of human compassion.

No Facilities

I’ve had this subject kicking around in my drafts folder for years. As we enter the season of political ads, non-stop analysis and social media spew that seems designed to pit everyone against everyone else, I thought this little story might help. Also, given that the heat index in Connecticut is supposed to be 110°f (43°c) today, I think the setting and the photos will make us feel better.

This story starts on Halloween in 2011. A freak snow storm dropped a foot of heavy wet snow onto trees that had not yet lost most of their leaves. The devastation came quickly. By 7:00 pm, we had lost power. Not just our house, not just our street, the entire town and most of the region. We remained without power for ten days.

It wasn’t as bad as you might imagine, for several reasons:

The company I work for allowed us…

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What do your favorite movies say about you?

I had an intriguing comment from Mr. Duke Miller on my last post.  He wrote that when he had to interview people he asked them for a joke and then the names of their three favorite movies.  His jokes would start with a man drinking in a bar and his top movies were: Old Yeller, Psycho, and Blue Velvet which he interpreted to mean he liked mezcal, soft cloth, hot showers and dogs.  I’m sure he probably does.  But who doesn’t?  So I thought if I were interviewing Duke what would my take away be? 

After struggling to ferret out the commonality between the three,  I decided his choice in movies meant he valued loyalty above all else. Here’s why.  Old Yeller is a dog who puts his life on the line to save his family,  Norman Bates is so devoted to his mother that he dresses up like her, and Jeffrey Beaumont simply must try to save a damsel in the most extreme distress.  All three protagonists are loyal.  Duke’ll probably inform me that I’m totally full of beans and so I decided what’s fair is fair and provided my three choices for his analysis. My picks were North by Northwest, Tender Mercies and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Really doesn’t say much about me, does it?  In the first, a case of mistaken identity almost gets a man killed.  The second is a slow paced story of redemption and the third is about the filibuster to end all filibusters!  I have a thing, evidently, for hopeless causes. 

Just for fun. What do your three favorite movies say about you? 

By the way.  Duke didn’t offer me the job. And I’m not really a shrink although I do play one in a book (Flipka) so any analyses provided by me is not worth the time you might take to read it.   It’s just for fun on a hot Sunday when trying to avoid cleaning that dirty kitchen  floor.


What not to do on a hot and smokey day

Generally to escape a hot and smokey day I turn on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a channel that airs primarily movie classics.  Take me away to the frozen tundra of Dr. Zhivago or the beaches of The Black Stallion. I don’t care.  Any place but here.

However, yesterday, they were broadcasting movies set at the height of the Cold War, 1964, an era of bomb shelters, duck and cover exercises and squadrons ready at any moment to start World War III. Of course that year I could care less about the end of the world.  The Beatles had landed and all that mattered was which one I was going to marry.  I was leaning towards George but then John was so clever and Paul kept telling me with babyfaced sincerity how much he loved me. So it was a hard decision.  Other than chocolate, they were literally all that existed in my addled pre-teen brain. 

I do remember Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb because it starred another great love of my life, Peter Sellers.  It may have the same premise as Fail Safe, the movie I saw yesterday, but Strangelove is so off-the-wall wacky that at least you get a few laughs.

Fail Safe takes itself much more seriously.  The movie was shot in black and white, using as many sharp edges and deep shadows as possible.  Thus, it’s one of those movies so hyperreal that when a character lights up a cigarette you can smell the smoke.  I turned it on just as a squadron of high speed jets carrying nuclear weapons reach the so-called fail safe boundaries. Because of an earlier, misidentified blip on the radar, they assume the US has been attacked and that they have been given the green light to bomb Moscow.

By the time the Central Command figures out what has happened, the pilots have entered a mandatory state of  radio silence.  Enter the President (Henry Fonda) to save the day. At least that’s what I hoped so I stuck with it.  What follows is a heated debate between generals and their “experts” about what to do. The final decision is to send a group of jets on a doomed mission to shoot down their own colleagues.  By this point the Soviet Premier is on the phone with Henry Fonda who promises if our bombers can’t be stopped, he will bomb New York City.  Bye, bye Moscow.  Bye, bye Manhattan.  It’s not the sort of movie to perk you up. On a hot and smokey day, you want Henry Fonda to save the world.

Of course the plot is about as believable as, I don’t know, Dr. Strangelove.  But the ending  is unforgettable.  

Seamen vs. Semen

Duke’s tips for dealing with typos, either intentional or not! Enjoy.

tin hats

I posted “I Never Liked Zagreb” a few days ago.  As usual it had several problems.  My writing, which is kind of fucked up, attempts to reflect the nonsequential pattern of human life.  Many people read my stuff and say, “Well, this is a mess.”  They are right.  Things always seem out of place to me.  Often there is no apparent reason for an action.  That point interests me.  Some people spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves and others that everything is orderly, that contradictions make perfect sense. Politicians have a vested interest in trying to make the public believe that everything is fine.  I suppose we need to accept that, or else we all might go insane or kill the politicians, which we do from time to time, see the French, American, and Russian Revolutions for examples of both insanity and unexpected death.

I ran head…

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Canophile Needs Help

You may have noticed, though probably not, that I haven’t been keeping up with blogging and all the responsibilities implicit in that activity.  One reason is I’ve been trying to finish Flipka II and it has been a struggle.  I set out to try to clear up confusion some readers had with the ending and ended up adding almost 200 more pages. So, it’s definitely not going to be a repub of the first book but an entirely different beast. 

One of my favorite reviews of the first edition of Flipka was from a charming writer named Robin Chambers who has written a series of science fiction novels, The Myrddin’s Heir series, for “children of all ages.” He wrote:

48% into the book, the plot went into hyperspace; but you go with it because you’re on the same spaceship, boldly going where maybe no author has gone before…

The wacky, utterly unbelievable plot is, however, merely the vehicle for JT Twissel to demonstrate her enviable skill set. Highly knowledgeable in a number of disciplines, she is very well read (I’m a sucker for literary references), sharply observant when it comes to individual character definitions, with a wickedly dry sense of humour and a wonderful command of language. 59% into the book you will meet the very likeable pilot Captain Wug, capable of such sentences as “May I ask, mellifluous one, why you want to know about the miasma behind our legendary monadnock?” The entire review is on the Flipka under Reviews

I was delighted with his review, of course, but “utterly unbelievable plot” I took slight umbrage with.  A story’s got to have a believable plot, right? 

And so I tried to insert “believability” into my plot which was impossible in the era of Trump. I guess because believable is somewhat associated with sanity and we certainly don’t have a lot of that going round.

It was a fool’s mission, friends. However, Fi Butters does get to the bottom of the mystery that the CIA, ICE, FAA or Federation of Planets is so anxious to protect.

The second reason I haven’t been blogging is that I’m planning a trip.  Some people are Anglophiles and some are Francophiles but I am a Canophile.  My favorite singer/songwriters (Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen) are from Canada as are many of my favorite actors.  

Last but not least, my favorite book as a child (Anne of Green Gables) was set in Canada.  So I’m planning a trip to Nova Scotia and boy oh boy, if you think my plots are wacky and unbelievable, so are the trips I plan.  I’ve got us flying into Montreal, taking an overnight train to Halifax, biking all over Prince Edward Island, flying back to Montreal and then taking an overnight train down to NYC.  Already I’ve spent quite a bundle and we don’t even have places to stay.  Or any idea where to eat. The last time I went to Montreal I was a poor college kid and we lived on canned soup. Our entertainment was wandering around Mt. Royal.

So I’m asking all my Canadian buddies for suggestions.  What are the things we shouldn’t miss?  Foods we must try. Fun places to stay.

Many thanks in advance.