Monday, October 16, 2017

Third Time the Charm?

I've read twenty books so far this year, most of them novels. Some have been quite good, others mediocre, and a couple of them were fabulous. All were enjoyable. Reading fiction has always been great fun for me. Getting wrapped up inside someone else's imagination for a few days is a stimulating distraction from the relentless finality of the real world. This world, as it actually exists, requires an occasional escape, and for me a good book always does the trick.

But every single time I finish one, I close the thing and think...I could do this. I never get this same feeling about, say, the classical guitar. Whenever I listen to a recording of someone like Christopher Parkening playing something by Bach, I don't think...Maybe if I practiced a little more I could play that way. I instinctively know that all the practice in the world won't turn me into Christopher Parkening. But with writing, it's different, especially when I read something that is ordinary...Well heck, I could do better than this!
I am encouraged in my arrogance here by the fact that I have already written two novels. The first one during my 20's, written in longhand, which fills two spiral notebooks and resides in the bottom drawer of my night stand, untyped, unedited, and unread. The second one I finished last October. This one was proofread and semi-edited, then printed out in manuscript form and lives in obscurity in the middle drawer of my night stand, the piece of furniture where literary dreams go to die. 

For several weeks now, the seeds of a third effort have been swimming around in the vast empty spaces of my mind. The idea for the story came to me while I was in Maine, and why not? There's a reason why so many American novelists live there. If you can't get inspired living in a place with so many brooding landscapes and rickety barns, then you should probably hang it up. I'm thinking that if Stephen King lived in Nebraska he never could have written The Green Mile. Anyway, the idea came to me while sitting on the dock at Loon Landing, and has been gestating ever since. Last night I finally opened up a fresh Word document and started writing. If my other two attempts are instructive, it will take me around eight months or so to complete. Afterwards there will be a great feeling of accomplishment. Then the printed manuscript will take up residence in the top drawer of that night stand.

Maybe one day, long after I have gone to my eternal reward, my kids will stumble upon these efforts at the bottom of some box in the attic. They will read through them and either say, Aw, I'm so glad Dad had such a fun hobby...bless his heart. Or, perhaps they will say, Whoa, these are amazing! Maybe if we can have them published we can enjoy a spendable inheritance!! 

A posthumous Pulitzer might be nice...

Somewhere, Christopher Parkening is laughing his head off.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


For most people, history is boring. It's the domain of pointy-headed intellectuals combing over stacks of dusty books in the back corners of ancient libraries. For me it's the most instructive of all the academic disciplines. Without it we wouldn't know this:

The three leading causes of death 100 years ago in the United States were as follows:
3. Pneumonia 
2. Tuberculosis 
1. Diarrhea 

That's right, the number one cause of death in America a hundred years ago was the runs. In 1917, 59,000 souls perished because there was no Pepto-Bismol. Today, the cure cost 3 bucks. That is what is known as...progress.

A friend of mine recently posted a story online about how he was going over an old deed from a piece of property in Richmond with one of his clients, who happened to be black. In this deed from 1939 mention was made that no future sale of said property could be made to anyone who wasn't Caucasian. My friend was horrified, especially because his black client had to see such a thing. The comment section of this story immediately filled up with people talking about how horrible a thing this was and how it was prima facia evidence of rampant racism in America. This, despite the fact that today such a provision is not enforceable in the United States. Moreover, these types of provisions are no longer legally acceptable. The moral of this story should have been, aren't we glad that so many of these sorts of racial barriers, which were commonplace in America in 1939, are no longer. But instead, most saw this as a commentary on modern race relations, not a part of our past.

I believe that it is possible to hold the following two positions without contradiction: A. More work needs to be done in the arena of race relations in America because racism still exists and any remaining barriers that still hold back minorities from full participation in society need to be taken down. B. We have made enormous strides over the past 100 years with regards to race relations in America. In other words, it's possible to at once understand how far we have come while agreeing that there's more to be done. When I hear the debates today I sometimes ask myself, does anybody know what race relations were like 50 years ago? When I hear loose accusations about what a filthy, racist hell-hole America is I think, Then, why have we made so much progress since the days of the racially exclusive deeds of 1939? How could such a wretched country institute such changes?

The value of history is it allows people alive today to look back at the record of our predecessors, for good and for ill. Yes, the record shows our failures, our inconsistencies...even our shame. But it also measures our progress. It comes in fits and starts. Too fast for some, horribly slow for others. But, who among us would deny that the world we inhabit today is far superior to the one our ancestors lived in when it comes to at least two areas of life...the number one cause of death....and race relations?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Who's To Blame?

I stayed up and watched until the bitterest of endings, the filthy slider dipping under the flailing bat of Bryce Harper, putting an end to the 2017 season for the Washington Nationals. The Cubs stormed the field and for the fourth time in the past six years, the baseball team from our nation's capital failed to advance to the National League Championship Series. For the 10th straight time, a Dusty Baker managed team lost a closeout game in the postseason. This particular loss was bizarre, even by Nationals standards, and immediately pundits and fans began casting about for villains. There were many to pick from:

- Gio Gonzalez for being characteristically wild and mercurial in a clutch start which required coolness and precision...surprising absolutely no one.

- Trea Turner for taking more called strikes over the five game series than the entire Cubs roster.

-Jose Lobaton, the slowest player on the team, for allowing himself to get picked off of first base with a teammate standing on second base.

- Jayson Werth for losing a fly ball in the lights at the worse possible time.

- Matt Weiters for allowing strike three to go under his glove all the way to the backstop allowing a man to score, then compounding his error by throwing wildly to first, then following that up with catcher's interference during a bizarre span that may go down as the worst example of catcher play in the history of baseball.

- Max Scherzer for hitting a batter at the worst possible time and for having Matt Weiters for a catcher.

- Dusty Baker for...I don't know...for being Dusty Baker.

I watched these guys play all year. They were fun, talented and clutch. But, they remain most famous for losing in October. You think of the Washington Nationals and the first thing that comes to mind is opposing teams celebrating in the middle of the infleld of Nationals Park. Death, Taxes, Nationals fail to advance.

But here's the's nobody's fault. This is what drives me crazy about sports. Whenever your team loses, everyone starts the blame game, as if laying the loss at one guy's feet will absolve the failure of the entire franchise and preserve the self respect of devoted fans...My team didn't lose, it was that idiot xxxxxx. This morning's sports pages will probably coalesce around Weiters, or Scherzer. Extreme jock sniffers will blame everything on Dusty since it's never the beloved players, always the stupid manager. Wrong.

Baseball is a team sport which features a series of individual matchups.. The games are won and lost for a whole host of reasons, but seldom does it come down to one guy. Even when it does, like when a relief pitcher gets lit up and blows a save, there were a couple dozen earlier matchups, which if they had gone the other way, the closer would never have been needed in the first place. But, here's the real reason that fixing blame for a loss on one player is so dumb...sometimes a team doesn't lose so much as they...get beat. The reason the Nationals loss this series against the Cubs is because over the five games, the Cubs players won more of their individual matchups than did the Nationals. The Cubs are the defending world champs for a reason. They are a terrific ball club. How about we all just acknowledge the fact that the Cubs won, instead of harping on the fact that the Nationals lost....again? Because, that's not how human beings prefer to operate. Blame is far more satisfying than grace.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Yes, Let's Discuss Incarceration Rates, Shall We?

What do all of these people have in common? Well, a lot actually. They are all powerful. They are all lecherous pigs. They are all insanely wealthy. All of them have been accused of rape. They are all men. 

...and not a single one of them will ever spend a single night in jail.

Last night I got involved in a social media debate about incarceration rates. Someone tried to explain the vastly different incarceration rates between African-Americans and whites as simply a result of prudent public safety advocacy on the part of wise and impartial judges. If a black teenager is caught selling drugs along with a white teenager, what is a good judge to do? The white teenager shows up in his courtroom with two loving parents, gainfully employed, along with a respectable lawyer. The black teenager's single, welfare-dependent mother shows up along with a public defender, with no father anywhere in sight. Mustn't the judge consider the defendant's support structures when determining a sentence? After all, if he returns the wayward black teen back to his public housing environment, won't he be much more likely to sin again, while the white kid, with loving parents and a nice neighborhood to support him be less likely to return to a life of crime?? Isn't this just a public safety issue? I was incredulous. He was insistent.

But, in the case of these famous serial sexual predators, we see the ultimate fulfillment of my friend's form of equal protection. If any of these gentlemen were poor, lived in the projects and couldn't afford high priced lawyers, each of them would be spending the rest of their miserable lives in the big house. But, because they have such excellent support systems to go home to, each from stable homes located in neighborhoods with finely trimmed lawns, and are represented by legal dream teams, none of them will go to jail. This is what disparate incarceration rates looks like when it grows up. It's also why we have the 14th Amendment, despite the fact that it's protections are so unevenly applied. If you have no problem with the different fates of our two teenage drug dealers, then you should be perfectly fine with the likes of Harvey Weinstein walking the streets, a free man.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Top 5 Things That Annoy Me...(at the moment)

Everyone has them, those irksome things that fray the nerves, stew the bowels, and sound to the heart like nails on a chalkboard. These things change with the seasons. Things that annoyed the heck out of you six months ago may be minor irritants today. Something that you haven't even given a second thought to for months could start yanking your chain tomorrow morning. Although your list might be totally different than mine, I have a blog and you don't, and at this moment, these are the things that are sticking in my craw:

1. The silly, annoying and pretentious martial language of political advertising.

- This time of year my mailbox is stuffed with mostly attack advertising from various political candidates running for statewide office. I am constantly being assured of Candidate X's fearsome willingness to fight for me. I am informed of all the many battles he or she has already waged and won on my behalf. Then I am assured that unlike Candidate Y(who was always suspiciously missing in action during the heat of the aforementioned battles) Candidate X has a clear record of answering the call. Just so I'm clear on the subject, Candidate X then commits to an unwavering commitment to sustained and relentless fighting in the future if only I will vote for him or her. Generally speaking, unless Candidate X has several Purple Hearts in his or her resume, he or she should knock off the false bravado of what a brave fighter they are. Besides, the only politician I've known in my lifetime for whom this sort of advertising would actually be true is Joe Morrissey. So annoying.

2. The type of television commercials that run during the baseball postseason.

- What makes this particularly annoying is that I realize fully that I am the target customer. It's no secret that the median age of baseball fans has been drifting higher over the past twenty years so if I am constantly being beaten over the head with Viagra adds I guess it's my fault for being in my very late 50's. But, it's not just the erectile dysfunction overkill, it's all of the other miracle cures...everything from diabetes to receding hairlines to those pesky fungus-infested toenails, men my age are clearly going to hell in a hand basket. Being constantly reminded of my mortality while watching a bunch of 25 year olds playing a game that I used to play is...annoying.

3. People who act like there is zero racism in the United States

- The most extreme example of this was the recent statement by that noted authority on race relations in America, Mike Ditka, who opined that there hadn't been any "oppression in the last 100 years." Of course, it might be that Ditka is just bad at math, since the footage of those people getting Fire-hosed and attacked by growling German shepherds in Selma back in 1963 would appear at first glance to be within that 100 year timeframe. Maybe he forgot to carry the 1. While an incredible amount of progress has been made in race relations during my lifetime, there is still work to be done, and anyone who pretends that there isn't is.....annoying.

4. People for whom every single solitary thing in the world is about race.

- Yes, there is racism in America. There is racism everywhere basically because the human heart is desperately wicked. But not every human failure can be laid at its feet. Sometimes people get fired from their jobs because they are incompetent. Sometimes you get passed over for that promotion because you're a jerk. And sometimes, there isn't a racist reason for stuff that happens. Just because you're a hammer doesn't mean that the entire world is a nail. It's....annoying.

5. Political situational ethics.

- I'm tired of playing the game called, "My sexual pig isn't as bad as your sexual pig." How about we all just stop comparing our side's creeps to your side's creeps? How about we all agree to call out repulsive and piggish behavior whenever we find it? This particular annoyance is best summed up by Jonah Goldberg who said it this way: ..."If you decry piggish behavior only when it helps your side, or if you think accusers are telling the truth only when they speak up about people you hate (or don’t need professionally), then you don’t actually care about sexual harassment." Yes. Exactly.'s annoying.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Manipulation For Fun and Profit

I have not been a fan of all of the kneeling going on in professional football. Do players have a right to protest? Sure they do. I just think that there's a time and place for everything, and making a spectacle of yourself during the playing of the national anthem before a sporting event is a poor choice of time and place. But, that's just my opinion. Others disagree. Fine.

But, you know what I'm really not a fan of? Being manipulated...and by any reasonable measure, that's exactly what happened yesterday in Indianapolis.

The Vice President of the United States, along with his wife, flew up to Lucas Oil Stadium to attend the game between his home town Indianapolis Colts and the San Fransico Forty-Niners. With cameras rolling, the VP stood ramrod straight with his hand over his heart as the anthem played. Down on the field, as had been the case in all of their previous games this season, twenty Forty-Niner players knelt in protest with hands over their hearts. Soon afterwards, the VP left the game in a protest of his own, quickly tweeting this:

"I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."

As if on cue, Donald Trump tweeted:

"I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @secondlady Karen."

Mission Accomplished.

Here's how this happened:

White House Operative: Hey, have you guys seen this poll? The American people disapprove of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem 62%-38%.

White House Ass Kisser: So?

Operative: So...we need to get out in front of this, take advantage of these numbers somehow. Quick...Google which team has the most protesters.

White House Googler: That would be the Forty-Niners.

Operative: Who do they play this Sunday?

Googler: That would be the Colts, at Indianapolis.

Operative: Are you freaking kidding me??!! What a stroke of luck!

Ass Kisser: Wait, I don't get it...

Operative: The Colts are the VP's favorite team. He's from Indiana, remember?

Ass Kisser: Yeah, but I don't understand wh...

Operative: Jeeze did you ever get a job here!? We'll send the VP to the game, sit him on the front row of a prominent box, and he will stand for the anthem looking for all the world to see like Captain America. Then, when the Forty Niner players kneel, the VP will make a huge deal about walking out of the game in his own protest. Then we'll send out a Tweet about how we can't abide someone disrespecting our flag. It's a home run! We score points with the voters, and we keep stoking this fire for all it's worth. Listen dude, if you're gonna pick a political fight, always pick a fight with millionaire ballpayers who refuse to stand during the national anthem. It's a guaranteed win!!

Before any of you get your shorts in a knot, I am aware that the Trump White House isn't the first one to seek to exploit touchy societal issues for political gain. His predecessor wasn't always Mr. Peace-Maker, after all. But, Trump seems especially adept at the art of division and manipulation. Regardless of who occupies the White House, one would hope that the chief executive would be in the business of trying to bridge divisions, to quell unrest, to be an agent of reconciliation when the country is tearing itself apart. With regards to the national anthem protests Trump seems thoroughly delighted with the issue, first with his undignified and unconstitutional, Fire the sons of bitches comment and now this staged walkout. He apparently feels that he has a winning hand so he's going to play it for all it's worth. Wonderful.

So, yeah...I'm no fan of millionaire athletes kneeling during the Anthem, but what I really resent is being manipulated by politicians.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reason Number 16 Why I Don't Read Oprah Magazine

A friend of mine recently posted these three photographs online, hoping to begin yet another conversation about race. They come from an article in Oprah Magazine and came with the breathless tag line:

"In three devastatingly simple photos, the yawning gap of inequality between white women and women of color is brought to the forefront."

My friend opened the discussion with his own reaction to these pictures thusly:

"Why do these 3 photos make you uncomfortable? When I first saw them I was confused, startled, and upset."

A vigorous discussion followed. 

When I first saw the pictures, here's what happened. I was watching a baseball game. During a commercial break, I ran across the photographs. As is usually my habit, I looked at the pictures before I read any of my friends comments, since along with most Americans, my eyes are much more drawn to visuals. I noticed immediately two things, how brilliantly colorful they were, almost as if the color had been enhanced artificially, and the fact that all of the people in the pictures were female. Then I scrolled up to my friend's comments. Immediately I thought, Wait, what did I miss? I looked at them a second time. Still...uncomfortable? Confusing? So only then did I click on the accompanying link to Oprah Magazine. Finally, I got it. Racial roll reversal. Check!

The comment section of my friend's post began filling up with puzzled white people, like myself, who felt confused alright, but not in the way the folks at Oprah Magazine intended. When several people opined that nothing about any of the photographs made them feel in the least bit uncomfortable, a helpful suggestion was made by a commenter that we were all probably lying. Another conversation about race ending up careening into the ditch. So, what to make of all this?

After reading the Oprah piece, it's clear what the purpose of the spread was. They were trying to make white people feel uncomfortable about the fact that, as a majority race, we enjoy most of the power when it comes to retail, and more often than not, we are the ones who get served at places that do pedicures, usually by Asian women, and most of the time, if a maid gets hired, it's by a white person and that maid is either black or Hispanic. By staging pictures that reverse this dynamic, it is supposed to produce guilt and grave soul searching about our inherent privilege. Fair enough. 

However, one wonders whether the good people at Oprah Magazine have actually shopped for dolls at a toy store in the past, oh, I don't know, 20 years? The last time I was in the market for dolls was back in the early 1990's. My go-to stores were ToysRus and American Girl. The doll aisle at ToysRus was always a mile long and crammed full of every kind of doll the mind could imagine. Most of them featured white dolls, it's true. Back then, America's population was somewhere around 75% white, so it would make perfect sense that the most predominant doll race would be white. That's called knowing your customer. However, there were always plenty of dolls from a whole host of ethnicities available. I'm not sure of the percentages, but one would assume they were represented in rough proportion to the percentage found in the company's profile of a ToysRus customer. American Girl was a whole other story. Even in the 90's, that place was a globalist one world government dream, a regular United Nations of dolls! Of course, most of them were priced beyond my ability to pay, so...

Now, I'm sure that back in the 50's, one would be hard pressed to find an African-American doll at the local General Store. The fact that this is no longer true makes a point that Oprah Magazine seems unwilling to...that times have changed, largely for the better, in the area of race relations since the 50's.

Moving on to the pedicure shop photo, again...when is the last time the editorial staff at Oprah Magazine has actually been to a nail salon? Although I have no personal knowledge of this subject, my wife does, and in the 30 or so years since she has been getting her nails done, nearly 100% of the time, she is attended by an Asian woman. Why is this? Why do Asian women, particularly Vietnamese women gravitate to this particular profession? I have no idea. But, my hunch is that it has virtually nothing to do with racism. So, a photograph that features smiling Asian women being serviced by white pedicurists proves...what, exactly? Are the Asian women laughing because the white women are doing it all wrong, or what? Why is this supposed to make white people feel some sort of guilt? In this particular picture, it's the white women who are getting paid, and the Asian women who are being grossly overcharged for the guilty pleasure of a pedicure, after all!

The last photograph is even dumber. We see what looks like a young, beautiful, wealthy Hispanic women, being served tea by her uniformed white maid. The stereotype is completed by the lap dog and the omnipresent cellphone. I should point out that this particular white maid is precariously close to getting fired since her eyes are clearly fixed upon her employer instead of the cup into which she is pouring hot tea. One gets the distinct impression that the wealthy Hispanic hero in this photo would be very unforgiving if Fido gets scalded. It is clear that we are supposed to look at this and ponder the irony, or something. When I look at this, I can imagine this actual scene being reproduced in any number of insanely wealthy Hispanic homes in south Florida. Or course, an argument can and should be made that any self respecting Hispanic socialite in Miami should probably hire a fellow Hispanic to attend to her every need, since charity always begins at home.

The fact that none of these pictures had the desired impact on my consciousness is troubling. Why did I not feel the confusion and discomfort that my friend felt? Does this mean that I am insensitive, or ignorant, or both? Perhaps if I had read my friend's comments and clicked on the article first, before looking at the pictures, I would have reacted differently. Or maybe I am stuck in some sort of privilege denial mindset. 

Or, maybe the pictures were just...dumb?