April 14, 2014
A Great Day
35 years ago today my dream of finding a life partner came true and I became the luckiest man on earth. Happy anniversary, dear Ethne! Now I have to try to live to be 88, so I can be married for 50 years like my dad was. (Can she put up with me for that long??)
April 14, 2014
Here's the old poop himself
Caught in the act of scarfing his dinner in front of the TV. Any resemblance to Prince Charles has to do with the wrinkles.
April 7, 2014
Peter Matthiessen RIP
Peter Matthiessen has died, at age 86, just before publication of his last novel. He died of leukemia. I hear from people on Long Island that he opted for a treatment that would either kill him or cure him, and spent his last couple of months in agony. (The same sort of thing happened to my dad over 20 years ago. Remind me never to volunteer to be a guinea pig.)
Matthiessen was most famous for his lyrical nature writing, his most famous book being The Snow Leopard (1978), which won two National Book Awards, in 1979 and 1980, in two different categories, one for the hardback ("contemporary thought") and one for the paperback (general non-fiction). I had never read any of his books (there were over 30 in the end) and had barely heard of him when Killing Mister Watson came out, in 1990. I was living in England then, and bought it on the basis of reviews, and was bowled over by it.
Living overseas, I was keeping an eye on my own country from that perspective, and I thought that Killing Mister Watson was the best American novel I had ever read. (Since then, Philip Roth's American Pastoral in 1997 has run it a close second.) Edgar J. Watson was a real person, but the facts about him are extremely fragmented and elusive, and Matthiessen's work is fiction. It is set in Florida when that state was a frontier (Watson is killed in 1910) and the verisimilitude is such that you want to swat mosquitoes while you're reading it. Watson, who had finally settled there as a planter, was accused of killing about 50 people, including the outlaw Belle Starr, and it is impossible to know how much of that was myth, but his neighbors were so frightened of him that they finally did him in.
The second novel in the trilogy to be published was Lost Man's RIver (1998), about Edgar's son Lucius, a college professor, going back to the Everglades, in the 1960s I guess, to try to find the truth about his father's death. The Everglades is still a friontier, and as usual in Matthiessen's work, the animals and the landscape play a big part, but the characters are terrifyingly real. The last to be published was Bone By Bone (1999), E.J. Watson's own story, in the first person, beginning during the Civil War when he was a small boy and ending with his killing. But I suspect Matthiessen wrote them and published them in the order in which he wanted them to be read. There's nothing else like them.
Then in 2008 he had polished them, done some re-writing and shortened them by about 300 pages, and published a single-volume edition of about 1000 pages called Shadow Country. This won another National Book Award, of which some critics disapproved, because it only recycled old work. I looked at this book at Barnes & Noble this morning but decided not to buy it, because I still have the three originals. Mattheissen's last novel, Lost Paradise, to be published any day now, is about tourists visiting Auschwitz, and more generally, to judge from the single review I have seen, about how to try to understand the Holocaust.
I am going to keep an eye out for second-hand copies of Matthiessen's other books. As if I don't already have too many books.
April 7, 2014
And Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney has died, aged 93. He was one of several people to be married to Ava Gardner. Not as important a contributor to the culture as Matthiessen, I don't suppose, but an endearingly talented man who reinvented himself several times after starting as a teen star in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, for example, he played a psychotic criminal called Ooftus Goofus in a TV melodrama, and was genuinely creepy. Thanks for all the entertainment, old fellow!
April 3, 2014
The trees are nice
I'm not crazy about the Lehigh Valley. Too densely populated, too much traffic, tiny little two-lane roads across the mountains, an errand on a weekday afternoon is like trying to get to the beach on a holiday weekend. It all makes me want to go somewhere else. But the trees at sundown have a lovely light on them -- my camera can't really do it justice.
April 3, 2014
A message from Google:
I am unaware of having a Google "account", though I suppose I do, because I belong to a Google chat group, and you can't do anything on the Internet without joining, registering, signing up, giving them everything except your underwear size.
April 3, 2014
In the Wall Street Journal today, Charles G. Koch writes "I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society". His op-ed piece is full of praise for himself, while I know a patch of Michigan that Koch owns where there used to be a chemical factory and that desperately needs to be cleaned up. But thanks to the Supreme Court Koch will find it easier than ever to buy politicians. ["Pssst! Hey mister! Wanna buy a congressmen? got a bogo on now, buy one get one free!]
Another op-ed is called "Why the Senate Races Will Soon Get Ugly". I see it's by Karl Rove, so I'm not reading it. The races will get ugly if they hire Karl Rove.
And a letter-writer thinks that the reason fewer people are going to the movies nowadays is because they don't have ushers anymore. I don't know about that, but if we had ushers today, would they have to be armed?
But Steve Case writes another op-ed, "Hey Washington, the JOBS Act You Passed Is Working". It begins,
How'd they let some good news through?
April 1, 2014
Making herself at home
The new addition to the family is Betty, who is six years old and spent her entire life until last month in a cage in a puppy farm. She doesn't quite know how to be a dog, but she is coming around quickly: already loves to cuddle.
April 1, 2014
Not much news
There is not much to blog about, frankly. I've been downloading dozens of chamber music concerts, thanks to Thomas in Europe, who has a hell of a collection taped off the radio and is housebound with a broken bone in his foot. Otherwise three hours each way to Washington DC weekend before last, then Ethne had surgery on her paw for a carpal tunnel problem (she's perfectly cheerful and will be fine), so helping her around the house and driving her back and forth to work. Then suddenly a four-hour round trip to Wilmington Delaware to collect a rescue dog...
The news is just depressing. CNN has been yapping for weeks about nothing but the missing Malaysian airliner, a tragedy to be sure, but there is nothing to report. Yet while Putin is playing junior Hitler in Ukraine and dozens of people are dead in a mudslide near Seattle, CNN's ratings are up nearly 100%, Clarence Page reports, thanks to people glued to watching Don Lemon play with a toy airplane. This does not speak well for the intelligence of our species.
And just now I saw a video from a Hispanic source of a dozen or so Christian men, kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs, murdered by a mob with guns in "Siria", just like the newsreels of Germans murdering Jews 70 years ago. What's the point in blogging?
March 18, 2014
The latest world affair
On Sunday there was a phony referendum in Crimea, in which people were not allowed to vote "no", as in a good old-fashioned Communist election. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal said on its front page that "More than 95% of Crimeans voted to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, according to preliminary results". Thus my favorite newspaper has disapponted me grievously. Are we supposed to believe that 100% of the qualified voters in Crimea actually took part in such a farce? It is possible, I suppose, that 95% of the Russians who voted want to go back to Russia, back to the corruption that they have always known, rather than to grow up, but this leaves out the Tatars, the Ukrainians and the more intelligent young people of every nationality in Crimea.
The story continued the story inside about possible sanctions, "which diplomats say could initially affect about 20 top Russian officials". Good grief! Every Russian citizen who has any assets whatever in the USA or in any European country should have those assets frozen and their visas cancelled NOW, and Putin's gangster friends would decide that starting a new cold war is not such a good idea after all.
Where are the Churchills and the Reagans when we need them?
March 16, 2014
History does not repeat itself
Well, history repeats itself as farce, somebody once said. Putin is not Stalin. Today he is making an ass of himself in Crimea with a phony referendum, while most of Ukraine wants to free itself from a century of stupidity and corruption in Russia. He will not last forever in any case, but I wish our president was more resolute. The Russian economy is so shaky that we don't have to fear war with that country; it is a house of cards and all we'd have to do is breathe on it, like Reagan did.
March 16, 2014
The SAT test: ho hum
There seems to be a great deal in the papers about changes in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is misnamed to begin with. I can't read about it because my eyes glaze over so fast, the next thing I know it's bedtime.
Nearly 60 years ago I took the SAT test two or three times when I was in high school. Math and science were always my worst subjects, but I could never get an 'A' in anything; English was always my best subject, but I almost didn't graduate from high school at all on account of Senior English. (The soporific teacher Ruth Breiseth told me that she was disappointed in me. I then went on to write several books, which no doubt caused her to spin in her grave.) Nevertheless, every time I took the SAT test, ALL my scores were way above average. Even math and science.
What the hell kind of test is that?
Maybe all the kids in Kenosha were above average?
March 16, 2014
Why it is useful to have a long life
Everything seems to come around again as farce. Over 60 years ago I used to go visit my Grandma Clarke, a hoity-toity ex-schoolteacher who adored me. She didn't want me to read comic books, but she didn't want me to read anything when I came to see her, and she would scold me because she subscribed to lots of good magazines and I'd have my nose stuck in them instead of talking to her.
Among the mags was Popular Science, or Popular Mechanics, I forget which, or maybe both. Back then they were small format mags, like the Readers Digest (which Grandma Clarke did not subscribe to. For that we relied on the dentist's office.) And over 60 years ago I read the auto mechanics' tips in one of those magazines. An ignition switch was acting up, and it was a complete mystery, until the mechanic noticed that the driver had a huge set of keys on his key ring. The conclusion was that the weight of the key ring had worn the ignition switch so that it had become unreliable.
Over 60 years later, General Motors is having to recall 1.6 million cars because 12 people (or 13, depending on which newspaper you're reading) have been killed in accidents that may have been due to ignition switch problems. And of course in modern cars if the ignition switch fails the steering locks, doesn't it? An anti-theft device much-loved by powerful insurance companies, which means that if the ignition switch cuts out at 60 miles per hour, you can't steer the car. Who needs that?
Meanwhile, working at the cash register in a big-box store in a shopping mall, a disturbing number of customers, who don't know that they're going to have to pay until they get to the till, are searching their pockets and handbags for their wallet, envelope, money clip, credit card, whatever, and exposing for all to see their key rings, which are often loaded with strings of keys, charms, bangles, horseshoes for good luck, pictures of their children, everything you can think of.
And this is the fault of General Motors because...?
March 11, 2014
The pavement always stayed beneath my feet before
I'm writing something. I mean, not a blog entry, and not a review on Amazon just for the hell of it, but something for publication, which you will have to pay for if you want to read it, but I don't need a publisher or a contract nowadays, and you won't have to pay much, and I won't care if you don't buy it.
It is a sort of memoir, but fictionalized, because it's not about me, but about the times that I've lived through. ("There is no such thing as an autobiography, not even an autobiography.") It doesn't have a title yet. For months I've been avoiding getting started. On a day when I have the decks cleared and I can start, I even know what the first paragraph is about, I decide to cull some CDs instead, or rearrange my room, or take down the frilly pink curtains in what used to be the guest room. Meanwhile I'm having ideas, thinking of things that go together (this has happened in bed at night) but I don't make a note, so I forget. But today I started. I also scrubbed a floor and fooled around with my music. But I started.
It's an interesting process. I haven't written anything for publication in many years; in fact I've never written anything like this at all. I have also discovered that I have to work on this in the morning and fool around with other stuff in the afternoon. And I'm working at Barnes & Noble five hours tomorrow and five hours the next day, so I probably won't get back to this until Friday. I kept going back to it all day today and rearranging it and mainly taking words out, and also seeing things I hadn't thought of until the words were on the screen. And I ended up with three short paragraphs.
But they're good paragraphs.
March 7, 2014
I must be really weird.
I only read stuff that makes me think or that should make me angry, (Did you know that the U.S. government is suing Sprint for overcharging for its wiretapping services?)
On my very short list of favorite publications is The Baffler, and I highly recommend its blog: go here. They are the best collection of wise guys I know of.