Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Frenchmen and Indians


Le Tellier's The Anomaly, winner of the Goncourt prize depicts the poor decision of an American president as being responsible for the destruction of all mankind.  I was disappointed in the novel, but others, perhaps sharing that French prejudice, loved it.

I turned next to the novel that won the Pulitzer prize for 2021, The Night Watchman.  I am only 20% through it, but the characters I've encountered thus far are mostly dirt-poor American Indians from North Dakota.  Thus, this too, if it continues on in the same vein, has a political element.  Liberal democracies intend that everyone is entitled to accomplish and earn however much he is capable of accomplishing and earning.  It made no initial provision for helping those who for whatever reason weren't as capable of competing in this sort of environment. 

As we all know, elements of Socialism have been incorporated into all Liberal Democracies over time.  Whereas in the past, in the West, the Christian church took care of the poor.  Marx proposed to do it better, and Liberal Democracies have followed his lead to varying degrees of success. 

I'll pause here to say that I don't know anything about the state of American Indians in North Dakota, but I have had considerable experience with Indians in the Marine Corps.  Also, according to my mother, my siblings and I are 1/8 or 1/16 Indian.  That belief turned out not to be correct as I found out when I had my DNA checked by a few years ago.  There are no Indians in our ancestry, but when I got to the Marine Corps base in Korea, I was approached by a large Indian from Oklahoma who "could tell" I was part Indian and inasmuch as he was full-blooded, he was chief Indian at the base, and I must follow his orders which were to show up at the slop-chute every evening I wasn't on duty and drink beer with all the other Indians.  My best friend during that period was Bill Salois who was 1/4 Blackfoot.  Bill wanted me to join him in Montana after our enlistments were up so that we could build up our own cattle ranch.  When I pointed out that neither of us had enough money for that, he told me not to worry.  We could earn money in rodeos.  I objected that I had never competed in a rodeo.  He told me not to worry.  It was easy. 

In addition to that "Indian" experience, I retired a short distance from the Soboba Indian reservation.   The Soboba Casino has become a great success, and every member of the Soboba tribe now receives a cut; so presumably no Soboba Indian is dirt poor at present. 

Thus, my own personal experiences haven't exposed me to any Indians that are as poor as Louise Erdrich portrays in her novel.  Erdrich is part Indian, about as much as I thought I was, and her grandfather or great grandfather fought against Custer and was later punished for it.  But those who are full-blooded and not a member of a tribe that has a casino, may well be as dirt poor as the North Dakota tribe Erdrich writes about.  I'll take her word for it.  We here in the United States are not so thoroughly socialistic that we raise the standard of living for every poor person to the extent we would agree he is no longer "poor," but we're working on it.

In the meantime, this non-poor, non-Indian who was educated in the ways of literature is leaning toward finding fault with organizations who award prizes based on their political prejudices rather than novels that comprise the best literature.

But, apologies to Louise Erdrich if I later discover that she has created a work of great literature.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Le Tellier's The Anomaly


I didn't like The Anomaly as well as the reviewers I read afterwards and none of them addressed the implications I saw, but perhaps I'm wrong.

When an Air France flight encounters a "storm of the century" storm, the Boeing 787 survives and the pilot asks for landing instructions.  The people on the ground are amazed in that this very flight arrived 106 days previously.  The U.S. government assembles all the experts who interview the duplicate 240 or so passengers and crew.  Much of the novel then deals with a few key characters, the ones who landed in March.  The duplicates land 106 days later in June.   The characters are somewhat interesting and were they developed further they would have been more-so, but that would have detracted from the plot.

One of the key theories about what is going on (provided by American scientists and mathematicians) is that a superior intelligence is testing various scenarios on a number of different worlds.  Thus, if this theory is correct, then the earth is being tested when the Boeing 787 from a duplicate world is allowed to leak into our world and land with a duplicate set of human beings. 

However, the American experts do surprisingly well sorting things out, getting the duplicates to meet their counterparts -- mildly heart-warming except for the hitman from the June landing who murders his March counterpart.

The novel is funny in a lot of places, but much as, perhaps, Dr. Strangelove was funny.  The American President, obviouslyTrump (Le Tellier apparently thought he would win the last election) is too stupid to understand any more than the rudiments of what is going on.  Thus, at the end of the novel when a third Air France duplicate breaks through a storm and asks for landing instructions, Trump has it shot down. 

And the last page is filled with gibberish which I take to mean our world is breaking apart.  We have failed the test. 

Earlier we learn that the Chinese have also received a duplicate set of passengers and crew from a flight landing there, but they merely kept it secret.   The U.S., where the public has a right to know, didn't have the option of keeping anything secret; so as the president says something like, "we can't keep having these duplicate airplanes landing on our air fields." 

And implied by all of this is that the autocratic Chinese are managing the situation better than the democratic U.S.  Also implied is that the U.S. ought not to allow someone like Trump to become president and have the power to respond stupidly to a superior species. 

And so, if my interpretation is correct, and it probably isn't since none of the reviews I read agree with it, this is a well-written novel with a weak plot handled inadequately.  Had I read this in the Marine Corps when several of us were reading collections of SF short stories, I would have had a great laugh over it, but I wouldn't have thought it any better than many of the other stories I read. 

I recall one short story where a genius inventor who did his best work while drunk woke up one morning to discover that he'd created a robot, but he couldn't recall why, and this robot defied him and wouldn't do anything he said.  Finally at the end of the story, the inventor finally figures it out.  "Robot," he orders. "Bring me a beer!"  "Yes sir," the robot replies and scurries off to get him one.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Dante's Purgatorio, Harrison's reviews


In the December 16, 2021 issue of The New York Review of Books is a review entitled "Labors of Love" by Robert Pogue Harrison.  He reviews two new translations of Dante's Purgatorio, the first by Mary Jo Bang and the second by D. M. Black.  He also makes note of Nick Havely's After Dante: Poets in Purgatory, Translations by Contemporary Poets, but he concentrates mostly upon the translations of Bang and Black.  The last volume discussed is Illustrations for Dante's Inferno by Rachel Owen.

Owen, who wrote her PhD theses on "Illuminated Manuscripts of Dante's Commedia (1330-1490) has produced several photographic prints on the first six books of Dante's Inferno.   I can't from Harrison's description grasp the nature of these prints.  By coincidence I have been involved in some discussions on a photographic forum in regard to whether certain exceptional photographic images can be considered art and whether the photographers who strive for such accomplishments can be considered artists.  Harrison is very much taken with Owen's efforts and is reminded of Salvador Dali's one hundred water colors of The Divine Comedy (1941-1960).

Harrison tells us, "Owen's volume contains thirty-four illustrations of Inferno and six of Purgatorio, along with essays by her friend and fellow artist Fiona Winehouse and the Dante Scholars David Bowe and Peter Hainsworth as well as translations of two cantos of Inferno by Jamie McKendrick and Bernard O'Donoghue. . . She planned to illustrate the entire Divine Comedy . . . [but] did not begin the project until 2012, four years before her untimely death from cancer at age forty-eight."

Harrison alludes to personal matters that may have impacted Owen, but he isn't explicit: "No one reading the essays in the edition would know that Owen was the longtime partner of Thom Yorke, the singer and bandleader of Radiohead and father of her two children, yet I believe their relationship has some pertinence.   Yorke and Owen met at the University of Exeter as undergraduates in the early 1990s and separated in 2015, a year before Owen died. . . one wonders to what extent Yorke may hover like a mostly invisible ghost over the personal testament that informs the collection as a whole."

Good grief!  I'm inclined to be dismissive, but my curiosity is piqued: Illustrations for Dante's Inferno by Rachel Owen, published by Oxford: Bodleian Library, 135 pp., $40.00.

I appreciated Harrison's earlier comments on the Purgatorio.  His friend W. S. Merwin translated the Purgatorio and Harrison encouraged him to translate the Paradiso.  Merwin struggled with the idea but decided against it.  He told Harrison "I just don't love it enough."   I recall thinking similar thoughts about Milton's Paradise Regained.  We humans are accustomed to matters pertaining to Hell and Purgatory but we fall short when it comes to heaven -- though Harrison tells us that Dante's Paradiso "contains some of the most sublime poetry of the Western canon." Alas, I probably first read Dante, in translation, from a volume at the base library at 29 Palms.  Harrison tells us that if a reader has managed to get out of Hell he will find it a relief to enter Purgatory.  "One reason poets tend to cherish Purgatorio is because in it Dante meets a host of fellow poets and reflects on the wonders of literary history."

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Mann's Reflections of a Non-Political Man


Starting with the book review at  The occasion of this book review is the republication (this year) of Mann's Reflections of a Non-Political Man.  It has two additional essays by Mann and an introduction by Mark Lilla: Amazon has it at  

I received the book review on-line from TLS.  It was written by Michael Lipkin and entitled "A Non-Political Mann?" in which Mann is first castigated for being an active supporter of Germany in WWI.  I've been reading Margaret Macmillan's War: How Conflict Shaped Us.  Also, inasmuch as we, many of us, can't understand the forces that took the world into that war very clearly, I doubt I'd have a problem with Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, in which he asserts "Germany's rights to defend itself against the aggression of English and French 'civilization.'"

The review goes on to describe Mann as reestablishing himself as a "defender of the fledgling democracy" with his On the German Republic, followed by The Magic Mountain which won him the Nobel prize in 1929.  "Mann was abroad on the lecture circuit when Hitler rose to power in 1933.  "He wisely elected to stay there. . ." 

Lipkin goes on to write, "He famously spent his last active years in California, of all places, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a suspected Communist."

I take the "of all places" to be referring to HUAC's presence.  Many European intellectuals leaned toward Communism after the war in order to emphasize their distance from fascism.  That was understandable in Europe -- not so much in the U.S.  HUAC didn't appreciate that in an American citizen; which Mann had become.  Also, Lipkin's reference to Mann's ". . . last active years in California" seems doubtful.  After experiencing HUAC and the frenetic anti-communism of the time, he let himself be hounded off to Switzerland in 1952 where a Jeffrey Meyers article describes him as being active: "In his last peaceful and greatly honored years, Mann published The Black Swan (1953) and Confessions of Felix Krull (1954). In addition to Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, James Joyce, Robert Musil, Hermann Hesse, Erich Remarque, Ignazio Silone, Irwin Shaw, Jorge Luis Borges, Georges Simenon, Graham Greene, and Elias Canetti also lived and died there."  Mann died in Zurich in 1955.

The Jeffrey Meyers article can be seen here:;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0051.419;g=mqrg;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1

Where among other things we learn "Mann, a great movie fan and friend of Charlie Chaplin, preferred the glamour of Hollywood to the dry academic life in Princeton. Most of the German exiles had settled in southern California and gathered in the stimulating salon of Greta Garbo’s screenwriter, Salka Viertel. Mann was then reunited with many old friends: the writers Franz Werfel, Bruno Frank, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Mann’s old political adversary Bertolt Brecht, as well as the film director William Dieterle and, for musical help with Doctor Faustus, Bruno Walter, Igor Stravinsky, and Arnold Schönberg. Mann, who didn’t feel entirely at ease in an English-speaking ambience, remained cocooned in the German colony. (It’s a pity that he never knew the most cultured and intellectual young Austrian directors, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann.) Mann did not become close to any American writers but had some contact with three English émigrés: W. H. Auden and through him Christopher Isherwood (both were homosexual and spoke German) and Aldous Huxley. Mann praised Huxley’s novels and essays but roundly condemned the influential but pernicious drug-induced mysticism of The Doors of Perception (1954)."

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Falls: as fate or free will


I've been reading John le Carre's novel Silverview, published posthumously this year.  I paused 55% through it a few moments ago to read the Wikipedia article about him.  Quite an opinionated fellow, John.  And the writer of the Wikipedia article may have learned about most of these opinions from his novels.  I've gotten a considerable number of them from Silverview.  Be leaving them aside, I've long had the opinion that those of us who don't acquire any of the popular diseases, find ourselves older than we thought we would ever be and have trouble managing getting about.  I, for example, with the collusion of my dogs managed to fling myself from the stairs and have subsequently been attempting, without perfect success, to learn to walk in a new way.  John le Carre seems to have been of my ilk but probably landed on some other part of his body.

Wikipedia tells us "Le Carre died at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, on 12 December 2020, aged 89.  An inquest completed in June 2021 concluded that le Carre died after sustaining a fall at his home."  I could have warned him that when you fall in your old age, try not to fall do it on your head.  I did, as I was committed to hitting the tile at the foot of my stairs with some part of my body, briefly consider my old gymnastic days when I could do a front roll.  In fact I was rather proud of myself, jogging with my dogs back in Garden Grove when I was in my sixties, tripping over a raised part in the sidewalk and instinctively doing a front roll.  I thought, lying there with the dog leashes still in my hand, that I had probably broken something, but was happily surprised upon standing up to learn that I had not.  But twenty years later while I was committed to a tile floor and thinking about a front roll, I chickened out and sacrificed my knee instead of a shoulder, back and if I didn't do it right, my head.  Le Carre probably wasn't a gymnast in his youth and may have simply sprawled from wherever he fell, which is what old people, without proper training, seem to inclined to do. 

You don't think of someone dying from a fall needing an inquest, but le Carre probably had quite a bit of money so the authorities wanted to make sure that the fall was entirely of John's own volition.  In my case there was a benefit from my fall.  In the past Susan would occasionally suggest that my assumption that I would outlive her might not end up being true. I didn't go to doctors or have thoroughgoing tests so I might have some rare disease and die from that.  After my fall, the doctors did run me through thoroughgoing tests and found that I didn't have any thing wrong with me other than the broken knee; so it was good that I no longer had to rely solely upon my optimism. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Passing Places

    She was happily
    Speaking to someone
    She’d just met
    And surprised I was
    There beside her.
    She went on speaking

    To the person ahead
    As I watched
    Her dark hair
    Shining that
    Moment with
    All her life.
    My mind wouldn’t
    Work. I couldn’t
    Speak.  Not looking
    Back, she found
    My hand as
    She moved on.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Out Stealing Horses compared to I Curse the River of Time


In Out Stealing Horses Trond Sander is devoted to his father much as Arvid is attached to his mother in I Curse the River of Time.  In the latter we don’t learn about Arvid past the age of 37.  In the former, Trond is 67 looking back on a time when he was a boy.  

I sampled some reviews, in which the writers preferred Out Stealing Horses to I Curse the River of Time.  I wonder how much this preference has to do with the out-of-doors attraction to horses, horse-back riding, logging and living in a somewhat prepper situation as opposed to Arvid’s more family and town oriented situation.  Arvid seems more despicably neurotic than Trond, and perhaps will turn more resolutely to drink after his mother dies, but Trond faces his disappointments by desensitizing himself.  When he took his pension he didn’t purposely abandon his daughters, he was overwrought because of the death of his wife and sister and didn’t give them a thought.  The eldest daughter, Emma, through great effort tracks him down.  She wonders out-loud if he’d rather she hadn’t, and being honest he tells her he isn’t sure.

But as she gets ready to leave, in a panic he realizes that comment is wrong and begs her to stay.  She assures him that she has no intention of abandoning him now that she knows where he lives, but tells him to get a telephone.

The ending of I Curse the River of Time is much more powerful than that of Out Stealing Horses.  I was initially disappointed with the latter, but upon thinking it over I realized that Petterson had told me everything I needed to know: Jon’s mother and Trond’s father were in the resistance during the war.  Jon’s father was not and by not wiping out footprints, despite her needing him to, he let his wife be found out by the Nazis.  Trond’s father rescues Jon’s mother and perhaps during the time they are away they become romantically involved.

Jon’s mother has the strength of Arvid’s mother and is better balanced.  Furthermore, Jon’s mother, being in the resistance and later a hard worker in support of logging activities is much more attractive.  Also, she was clearly not a supporter of the Nazi occupation, and we may be pardoned for suspecting that Arvid’s mother was.  

Trond comes to understand that his father is not as wonderful as he had imagined.  His father using his wartime skills, carries out an escape from his family.  Trond three years after his sister and wife dies does something seemingly similar, but it isn’t planned, he simply couldn’t find in himself the ability to be around people; which later when his daughter finds him he discovers to be a correctable problem. 

We do learn a bit about what happened to Jon’s mother.  Jon, after the accident that caused the death of his brother Odd, went to sea and spent a few years traveling the world.  Eventually he returned and took over the family farm where his mother was living.  [No mention is made of Trond's father; so if he initially left his family to be with Jon's mother, the relationship didn't last.] Jon's brother Lars, who had been running the farm, did something akin to what Trond has done, and moved off to a remote cabin in semi-wilderness.  Lars has chosen to have no further contact with his mother or Jon.  And incidentally, Trond though valuing Jon at one time as his best friend, doesn’t plan to reestablish a relationship with him.  He will be spending his remaining years hanging out with Lars, interspersed with visits and phone calls from his eldest daughter and probably the younger one as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

More on I Curse the River of Time

Petterson doesn't provide clarifying names in all cases, especially of the girls or women that Arvid is attracted to.  Also, he doesn't always provide the dates that things occur.  When he is young, there is a girl in a blue coat, her brother's, who is attracted to Arvid, comes to his house, goes to a cabin with him.  She is very young. At the end of section III, "Isn't it fun, she said and smiled.  I let the oars rest in the rowlocks.  The water around the boat fell silent, and silently the cabin was floating up above the rocks and smoke rose softly from the chimney, and how impossible it was to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust."

The next section sums up Arvid’s state during the final grinding into dust.  Arvid’s mother is close to death but she shuns Arvid to some extent as she has always done.  She thinks he is weak and has never properly matured, never properly grown up.  The view of the girl in the blue coat is different.  She thought him strong.  This girl believes him to be stronger and better balanced than he really is.  He is convinced by her, marries her, but doesn’t live up to her expectations.  Perhaps people who marry young imagining an idyllic future never, or almost never do.

Arvid loves his two daughters and they love him, but whatever trauma is involved in his separation from his “first” wife and from his daughters isn’t described.  The fact that he has more than one divorce is indication that he doesn’t learn enough from his failures.

Arvid does however remember the seemingly idyllic time with the very young girl who became his wife as something wonderful but he doesn’t understand how it became ground to dust.  He puzzles a bit but soon returns to his passion for and preoccupation with his mother.

Arvid's emotional dependence upon his mother is undoubtedly one cause of his marriage's deterioration, but his love of Communism is another.  The fall of the Berlin wall is for Arvid, a cause of great grief.   A committed Communist, not deterred by any of the evils of Stalinism, someone mourning the fall of the Berlin wall, might have been difficult for a less committed very young girl in a blue coat to tolerate.

In regard to this barely mentioned development, the very young girl with whom he recalls having a “fine thing” that inexplicably became ground to dust, I frankly passed it by and read on, but a few lines later thought to myself "wait a minute" and went back.  The girl in the blue coat must become Arvid's wife.

One learns, I suppose that one needs to pay close attention when reading Petterson The steps between the perfection of the time at the cabin and Arvid's wife divorcing him are not described, but the sudden contrast, something we are not prepared for is stunning.  Furthermore, we have in the course of the novel learned enough about Arvid to know he is the one who let it happen, who let the relationship deteriorate, who is the cause of this thing being ground to dust.

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

Per Petterson was recommended to me as being superior to Karl Ove Knausgaard.  I have purchased all six books of Knaus’s My Struggle, but have not been sure I am up to Knaus’s pessimism and so decided to turn to one of Petterson’s novels.  I selected his I Curse the River of Time because it was purported to take place during the Cold War and the the collapse of the Berlin war.  I knew a fair amount about that time and thought it would be much easier to read than anything by Knausgaard.  Alas, that was not to be the case.  

Knaus has been criticized for having written a memoir and called it a novel.  Petterson writes in the first person as though he were writing a memoir, but assures his readers and critics that this is merely the device he prefers and when he writes a novel that is what it is.

Also, Petterson in I Curse the River of Time skips back and forth between the time when he is 22, right before fall of the Berlin wall, and the time 15 years later when his mother, who has stomach cancer, is preparing to die.  

Arvid is not like his mother.  He thinks she is wonderful and compares her to Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, but makes a point of saying that she would never have invited Humphrey Bogart (In Casablanca) to do her thinking for her.  In a brief description of her interacting with Arvid's father we see her as the dominant one in the family; although she isn't interested enough to guide her sons through life.

Arvid at one point chides her for always reading German novels, especially those of Gunter Grass.   She accuses him of being intellectually lazy, but he says it was a matter of principle because he hates the Nazis.  She becomes furious, points a trembling index finger at his nose and says, “what do you know about Germany and German History and what happened there. You Squirt.”

Petterson published his novel two years after Gunter Grass confessed that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS in World War II.  Was it a coincidence that Petterson has Arvid’s mother be a great admirer of Grass?  Probably not.

At the end of the novel, Arvid’s mother is standing alone in the sand in weather that is much too cold.  Arvid watches but doesn't consider going to her.  She doesn’t want him too.  After a long time she can stand no longer and sinks to her knees.  How does she want to die?  Not as her father or mother did.  Not as her uncle.  I imagine she will die bitterly, with perhaps a snarl on her face, something Arvid won’t see because he is afraid to approach her.

Earlier Arvid takes a dog to a vet to be put to death.  The vet tells Arvid he is sure he will want to see the dead dog so he can say goodbye to it.  Arvid complies, but afterwards hates that he went along with this expectation, and sits for a long time banging his steering wheel before driving off.  I assume he hates that he will be carrying the vision of the dead dog around with him for the foreseeable future.  If his mother dies there in the sand, and she will if he doesn't do something about her, he will then see her and  never afterward be able to see her as Greta Garbo or Ingrid Bergman.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Reading Norwegian novelists

The above is a review in The New Yorker  by Brandon Taylor of Knausgaard's The Morning Star

I was impressed with the review.  I especially noted that Taylor says that The Morning Star reminded of Bolano.  Several years ago I read quite a lot of Bolano and commented about the various novels at the time.  Taylor mentions The Savage Detective which I read.  He also mentions 2066 which I began but don't think I finished. 

I then recalled that I bought the first volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle which I just now picked up and see that I hadn't gotten very far into it.  The English language translation was published in 2012.  It would have been sometime after that I would have encountered a review, and of course Susan died on July 4th 2015; so whenever I got the novel we would have been in the throes of attempting to get her qualified for a liver transplant.  That was a hardship for her and in retrospect she probably thought it wasn't worth the trouble, and if it were left up to her she would have been content dying right away rather than being driven to the various facilities throughout the region, and having the various obligatory tests conduction so she could be closer to being eligible for a liver transplant.  At some point during this process I wanted her to live more than she did.

The "liver transplant process," it eventually developed, was a macabre joke.  She was eventually approved and we were invited to a meeting in which we learned that there weren't enough livers available for everyone in the room.  Those who would be chosen first were those who had liver cancer.  I recall one fellow rather smugly raising his hand to indicate that he had that cancer.  Then too, one needed to be healthy (except for the liver) enough to survive the operation and be able to live on for many years afterward.  Susan, we soon understood was never going to get a new liver.

Thus, I would have been in some part of the process with Susan when I read the beginning of Knausgaards macabre description of the death process in volume one of My Struggle.  He is only 52 now; so he would have been 40 when My Struggle was published in English.  Why would he find it so agreeable to concentrate so fully on the process of death?   When I was 40 I was dating Susan and had no interest in it whatsoever.  And this isn't a matter of self-deception.  At one time I read that pessimistic people were more likely to get cancer than optimistic ones -- William James "Sick Souls" as opposed to his "healthy souls" comes to mind.    Healthy-souled people simply don't dwell upon pessimistic matters to the extent that Knausgaard seems to.  I looked Knausgaard up in Wikipedia and saw how young he was and wondered if he would be able to generate enough optimism to finish his "struggle."  After reading the review of The Morning Star, this morning, I checked and found that Knausgaard had published his sixth and last volume of My Struggle" (The English edition) in September 2018; so perhaps enough time has passed for me to resume reading volume oneThe subtitle of Taylor's review of The Morning Star, states "In 'The Morning Star,' the Norwegian novelist gives voice to the feeling that something terrible is coming for us all."  Thus, Knausgaard seems not to have abandoned his pessimistic ways.  I would advise him, if I had the opportunity, that he should have himself checked regularly for signs of cancer. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The proper metier

    Backing out of a driveway
    Full of prose and vituperation
    I caught my breath.
    Taking a last look,
    Putting it in drive,
    I looked ahead for    
    A proper turning.
    The air is dry,
    The world ripe
    For a proper burning.
    Off now beyond
    The roads, I put
    It in four-wheel
    Drive and slow

    Knowing what comes
    Next is full of ruts,
    Sand and stones.
    I’ll be overcome.
    No point in going
    Back when one is
    This close to annihilation.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Knausgaard's pessimism

The above is a review in The New Yorker  by Brandon Taylor of Knausgaard's The Morning Star.  I get hard-copies of The New Yorker, and I get emails as well, presumably in a few days I'll get the hard-copy containing this review.  Presumably also, you'll be able to read the above even if you don't subscribe, but I'm not sure about that.  Sometimes, in regard to such things, one must be a member and "sign in."  I didn't "sign in" to read the above, but sometimes if I don't sign out I remain signed-in until I have a computer malfunction.

In any case I was impressed with the review.  I especially noted that Taylor says that The Morning Star reminded of Bolano.  Several years ago I read quite a lot of Bolano and commented quite a lot about the various novels at the time.  Taylor mentions The Savage Detective which I read.  He also mentions 2066 which I began but don't think I finished. 

I then recalled that I bought the first volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle, an unfortunate title in my opinion.  But perhaps the title in Norwegian would would have a different connotation than it does in English, but perhaps that is the fault of the translator Don Bartlett and not that of Knausgaard. I don't know. 

I picked up my copy of My Struggle and see that I hadn't gotten very far into it.  The English language translation was published in 2012.  It would have been sometime after that I would have encountered a review, and of course Susan died on July 4th, 2015; so, whenever I got the novel, we would have been in the throes of attempting to get her qualified for a liver transplant.  That was a hardship for her and in retrospect she probably thought it wasn't worth the trouble.  If it had been completely left up to her, she would have been content to die right away rather than be driven to the various facilities throughout the region having the various obligatory tests conduction so she could be closer to being eligible for a liver transplant.  At some point during this process, I wanted her to live more than she wanted to.

The "liver transplant process," it eventually developed, was a macabre joke on the part of the medical bureaucracy.  Eventually she had been approved and we were invited to a meeting in which we learned that there weren't enough livers available for everyone in the room.  Those who would be chosen first were those who had liver cancer.  I recall one fellow happily raising his hand to indicate that he had cancer.  Then too, one needed to be healthy (except for the liver) enough to survive the operation and be able to live on for many years afterward.  Susan, we soon understood was never going to get a new liver.

Thus, I would have been in some part of the process with Susan when I read the beginning of Knausgaards macabre description of the death process in volume one of My Struggle.  He is only 52 now; so, he would have been 40 when My Struggle was published in English.  Why would he find it so agreeable to concentrate so fully on the process of death?   When I was 40, I was dating Susan and had no interest in it whatsoever.  And this isn't a matter of self-deception.  At one time I read that pessimistic people were more likely to get cancer than optimistic ones -- William James "Sick Souls" as opposed to his "healthy souls."    Healthy-souled people simply don't dwell upon pessimistic matters to the extent that Knausgaard seems to.  I looked Knausgaard up on Wikipedia at some point and saw how young he was and wondered if he would be able to generate enough optimism to finish his "struggle."  After reading the review of The Morning Star, this morning, I checked and found that Knausgaard had published his sixth and last volume of My Struggle" (The English edition) in September 2018; so perhaps enough time has passed for me to resume reading volume 1The subtitle of Taylor's review of The Morning Star, states "In 'The Morning Star,' the Norwegian novelist gives voice to the feeling that something terrible is coming for us all."  Thus, Knausgaard seems not to have abandoned his pessimistic ways.  I would advise him, if I had the opportunity, that he should have himself checked regularly for signs of cancer. 


Friday, October 1, 2021

Forgetting to breathe

    Drowning southwest
    Of the island, I reached out,
    Fingers spread, treading.
    I hoped to avoid
    Such ventures, my
    Sense of direction flawed
    By a mother restricting me
    To the block we lived upon;
    So I sailed toward the
    Oil derrick southwest
    Of our house within
    That block and sight
    Of land, but remote
    From then, I entered
    Senescent storms I couldn’t
    Make sense of, fingers
    Reaching out of the sea
    I swam in.  They will say on
    The day my body washes ashore,
    “He lived Ninety years,
    “A race he successfully won”.

A Matter of time

    A siren dimmed in the distance
    And she was gone.  I was
    Sure of her duration, her
    Resolution, her being without
    End, and time supported
    My insistence.  Our walks
    In the sand were always sure.
    A star fell.  I didn’t need to
    Wish.  It was all there back then
    And I strove to keep it,
    Spending without restraint.
    Now none remains.  My
    Recollections shatter.  She
    Stopped being present in

    My dreams.  I carried a list
    With instructions for times
    Like these.  She was supposed
    Pick me up when our
    Tasks were complete.
    I limped to the door to see
    Her drive away without me.

Legal Lessons

   “Look into this,” I mumbled
    To myself, “six years – may
    Get out in two” looking
    At the street lamps struggling
    Through the fog, “so much
    Fog.”  I had been, years
    Before, a grunt on a hill top

    With a number, “everything
    Counted: years of service,
    Years of incarceration
    Unless I get a ‘not-guilty.’
    Doubtful.  I was at the
    Wheel despite taking
    That stuff from V.A.”

    “What was that stuff anyway?”
    I mumbled, thumbing
    Through the paperwork –
    “Have to get that from
    The prosecution: gave
    That stuff out.  Didn’t tell
    Me I couldn’t drive.”

    “I held out eight days
    Up there.  Where was
    Prosecution then?  Where
    Were those who sent
    Me there, and brought me
    Back to serve six years,
    Two with good behavior?”

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Helen, Pensive

    Helen knew the look
    And feel of her
    Trojan archer, yet
    Set aside as she was
    Waiting the war out
    Reflected much more
    On her own momentum,

    Guilt, some had said    
    That she’d assented
    Too readily; yet she’d
    Been abandoned
    And betrayed, left,
    While Achaea played
    Games, left again

    As Hector and Paris
    Fended or fell. Now
    They’d set her here
    Like an antique vase,
    No one of moment
    Seeing her face,
    Her troubled brow.


Friday, September 17, 2021

A Hunter-Gatherer's guide and Post-Traumatic Growth


On 8-25-21 I was trimming branches out front, sawed most of the way through an especially large one which kept hold of my saw as it fell to the ground.  Unfortunately for me I held onto the saw.  The fingers on my right hand were bent back.  I thought they might be broken, but when I got up found that they weren’t.  However, something in my hand hasn’t completely healed.  When I write with pen and paper, as I do in my journal, pain increases with each line.  Fortunately my hand seems fine when I type.    

I’ve begun A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life by Heather Heyling and Bret Weinstein.   Quite a bit on this subject appears in science magazines, and I wondered if I would find anything new.  Perhaps I have:

From page 7: “Conscious thoughts are those that can be communicated to others.  We define consciousness, therefore, as ‘that fraction of cognition that is packaged for exchange.’  This is no trick.  We have not chosen a definition to make an intractable question simple.  We have chosen the definition at the epicenter of what people mean when describing a thought as ‘conscious.’”

I have gone on a bit in the book but keep coming back to this idea.  I recall Susan, in our early days of getting to know each other, telling me that I wasn’t in touch with my emotions.  She urged me to write her some poetry so I could find out what I felt emotionally, and that worked.  No doubt it worked before Susan urged me to do it.  I was writing poetry long before I met her, but I never thought of it in the terms she used.  

In one of the reviews I read recently, a poet (whose name I can’t recall) was asked the purpose of poetry and he said something along the lines of “a poet writes in order to find out what he thinks.”   That seems right as well.  I do not seem able to sit down and think my way to answers.  That probably wasn’t always true, but it seems to be true now.

In the 9-11-21 issue of ScienceNews is the article “Roads to the Good Life, Happiness and meaning are not the only ways to get there” by Sujata Gupta.  She begins “In December, my husband, our 5-year old daughter and I tested positive for COVID-19.  Life, already off-kilter, lurched.  Smell, taste, breath – were they normal?  The air smelled only of cold; everything tasted vaguely of cardboard. . . Prior to the sickness, I’d been researching pandemic fatigue, a term used to describe the boredom that can arise during a protracted crisis like the one we’re in now . . . research [of Shigerhiro Oishi and his team] suggests that the ingredients of a rich life come not from stability in life circumstances or in temperament.  Rather . . . it arises from novelty seeking, curiosity and moments that shift one’s view of the world. . .

Gupta goes on in a rather stream of consciousness fashion. One needn’t assume that we are all at risk for PTSD.  “A large body of literature shows . . . that natural disasters and other traumatic events can trigger a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth: a transformation that gives people a newfound appreciation for life and a desire to help others.” [Gupta here quotes SN Online: 4/3/19]

“Growth” sounds unrealistic when applied to someone 86 years old, but perhaps I’m wrong.  I’ll have to give that some more thought, and I should probably give up sawing large branches from trees for fear of losing my ability to think.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Personal, technical problems & Garrison Keillor


Yesterday I spent an afternoon and evening as we all periodically do when our computers misbehave, or we think they do.  Yesterday I wasn't able to access wi-fi; which is usually the fault of my router.  After rebooting several times, I thought perhaps my router had failed; so I got a new one from my closet and went through the aggravating trial and error one must go through to set one up, unless one is a techie who does this all the time.

After getting my new router to work, I discovered that I had access to the internet through Mozilla Firefox, but I still didn't have access to my email through Mozilla Thunderbird.  I then recalled a few times in the past when I had access to the internet but not my email; so I hoped that my email would be back this morning, and it was. 

However I still couldn't access the photographic forums and the ongoing discussions I was in.  I could no longer type my password in the space provided for it.  Perhaps I have been banned I finally wondered.  Moderators can do that for all sorts of reasons, and they don't need to explain themselves to the real or imagined offenders.

After checking to make sure my new router was functioning properly, I checked my email system and found they were once again coming into my in-basked without hesitation.  The first one I read was the following from Garrison Keillor:

"I am thinking about moving to Texas so that I can be in open disagreement with the powers that be and express this freely, instead of living in colonies of liberal progressives where I must put tape over my mouth except when among close personal friends. Freedom of speech is watched closely where I live and we all know it. “What exactly is it you want to say that you can’t?” you wonder. It is something that, were I to say it, I’d be kicked out of the Democratic Party and my library card would be confiscated and I’d be barred from Amazon and Starbucks and the Episcopal church would make me sit in the Penitents’ Corner. So I’ll keep it to myself. . . ."

The moderators would make short work of Keillor if he voiced such an opinion on one of the photographic forums.  I myself occasionally think of moving to Idaho, but then I don't talk or write as much as I used to, so it's probably okay to stay here.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Inadvertent aircraft crashes

Apropos of someone referring to the XB-29's crash into Frye's meat packing plant in Seattle in 1943 . . . 

Although I'm a retired Boeing Engineer, it was only during the last tiny sliver of time I was employed as an engineer that I actually worked for Boeing, it having purchased McDonnell Douglas only a short time before I departed.  Working for Douglas and McDonnell Douglas I was involved in a lot of government proposals in competition with Boeing.  Boeing was always the enemy.  No hard-feeling apparently.  They regularly deposit handsome amounts of retirement money in my credit union account. 

I have no recollection of the XB29 crash in 1943, for reasons you indicate, but even if the newspaper accounts were more forthcoming, I was only nine years old and much more interested in what the Marine Corps was doing in various Pacific Islands. 

A mere ten years after that crash I was in Korea, and for the Marine Corps, and probably the other branches of our military, our equipment hadn't been improved since World War II.  One of my jobs while the Korean War was still going on was to drive a Jeep to the nearby Air Force base, get a copy of their bombing intentions for the evening and return with it to our base in Kunsan.  Someone at the Air Force base was paranoid about sabotage and so had their B-26's located close together in order for them to be more easily guarded.  One evening we saw a brilliant light coming from the direction of the Air Force base.  We soon learned that one of the B-26's exploded for a reason I don't recall (if I ever knew) and because it was so close to another B-26's, that aircraft exploded also.  That went on until all the B-26's were destroyed, and there were no more bombing runs, at least from the Air Force Base in Kunsan, for a while.  I sent a couple of letters back home asking if anyone had heard about the B-26 explosions and no one had.  It was easier to keep secrets back then.

I couldn't remember which bombers exploded, thought they might have been B-29s and so checked Wikipedia:   They apparently had no B-29s there in 1953, only B-26Bs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

What Help's Creativity


"What helps creativity?"

Creativity is indeed tricky.  So many of the novels I'm encountering seem largely autobiographic in nature.  If you are just saying what happened, is it creative?  Perhaps the autobiographic story is cleverly and attractively arranged.  Is it not then a product of genius and creativity?  One thinks of poor Thomas Wolfe excoriated by Bernard Devoto:    

It was during his tenure as editor of the Saturday Review that DeVoto produced one of his most controversial pieces, "Genius is Not Enough," a scathing review of Thomas Wolfe's The Story of a Novel, in which the novelist recounted his method of writing his autobiographical Of Time and the River, as essentially submitting undigested first drafts to be transformed into finished work by others.[4] According to DeVoto, Wolfe's writing was "hacked and shaped and compressed into something resembling a novel by [his editor] Mr. Perkins and the assembly-line at Scribners."[5] Although in passing acknowledging Wolfe's genius, DeVoto excoriated his lack of artistry, "Mr. Wolfe ... has written some of the finest fiction in our day. But a great part of what he writes is not fiction at all: it is only material with which he has struggled but which has defeated him." "Until Mr. Wolfe develops more craftsmanship, he will not be the important novelist he is now widely accepted as being." DeVoto's essay was a decisive factor in Wolfe's subsequent cutting ties with Scribners and editor Maxwell Perkins shortly before his death in 1938[6] and had a devastating effect on Wolfe's posthumous literary reputation."

Alas, Wolfe never had a chance to follow DeVoto's advice, instead dying at age 37 in 1938 of miliary tuberculosis.  

Since I left the Marine Corps for it, I took college seriously.  I didn't feel a need to go to a major University since I mistrusted them all (something I got from my grandmother but can't remember exactly what).  Wolfe was treated with disdain in some class I took; so I decided to read him on my own.  I read Of Time and the River and You Can't go home again -- huge time-consuming works.  I was entertained by them, but also read DeVoto's comments, and so ended up not having an opinion of my own.  Thinking about Wolfe now, didn't the same thing happen to T. S. Eliot?  Eliot wrote a voluminous Waste Land and had it whittled into a masterpiece by Ezra Pound.  One doesn't hear a DeVoto-type criticism of that. 

Where is the novelist or poet who doesn't write autobiography?    I suppose poets and novelists who have a political ax to grind don't write autobiography, but writing for a political end was at least at one time consider the most heinous sin against creativity.

Afterthought:  I didn't mean that all novelists wrote autobiography, but I seem to have encountered quite a lot of autobiography in novels considered "serious," and perhaps I haven't been as impressed by them as though who publish them.  

Monday, August 9, 2021

Not my first rodeo --RIP


 "Not my first rodeo" is a common expression nowadays.  Each time I hear it, I think of Bill Salois, a fellow Marine.  We were stationed together in Korea and while we weren't in combat, he made do by challenging someone to fight each time he got drunk.  He was part Black Foot Indian and got drunk much before I did.  I was a lot stronger than he was and so, as these "fights" developed would let him fight until he was losing, split he and his oponent-for-the-night apart, declare the fight a draw and haul him off. 

His father had a ranch in Montana.  He proposed that after we got out of the Marine Corps we start our own ranch.  "With what money?" I asked. 

"That won't be a problem," he said.  "We can pick up all the money we need in rodeos."

"I've never been in a rodeo," I warned him.

"That won't be a problem either.  It's easy."

I had my doubts about that.  We were sent to different duty stations after we got back from Korea.  Then I decided to go to college, etc., etc.   While I was in college, he had another Marine look me up.  He hadn't utterly given up the ranch idea, but I had. 

I looked him up on the internet and found:

William 'Bill' Salois

William "Bill" Salois, 68, died Dec. 29, 2001, at IHS of cancer.

Funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 1 at Little Flower Parish with burial in East Glacier Cemetery.

He was born Dec. 2, 1933, worked in construction and was self-employed. He served in the U.S. Marines and was a Korean War veteran.

Surviving are his wife, Shannon; daughters, Kerrie Salois, Dale Rae Salois and Dee Omsberg; sons, John Salois, Will Salois and Gabe Salois; and five grandchildren.

Day Family Funeral handled arrangements.


I wasn't surprised that he died at age 68 from cancer.  We all smoked back in Korea and he probably never gave it up.  We all drank beer as well.   Beer isn't necessarily life-shortening, but if he kept picking fights it might well have been in his case.

I note that his obituary doesn't say he was a rancher.  It says he worked in "construction and was self-employed."  That could mean almost anything.

He had a lot of kids and I did find reference to his boys having entered rodeos.  "Easy money?" I still doubt it.


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Flying, motorcycling, and Jeeps


After retirement, I planned to buy a Jeep Cherokee.  I never considered the Wrangler inasmuch as at the time it had a canvas top and was too open to leave at trail heads while I took my dogs hiking.  But in 2002 when I was in a position to buy a Jeep, the Cherokee had been replaced by the Liberty.  In Europe this replacement was called the new Cherokee model, but here in the U.S. for a reason I can't recall, the name was changed to "Liberty." 

Earlier, in Aerospace, there was a new management technique in play.  Those of us on the C-17 were sequestered (not the right word since it was a huge facility) with our own assembly-line and told to make a success out of the C-17 or fail, lose our jobs, and have our plant put up for sale. 

Subsequently, the same technique was used on the Liberty.  Engineers and workers were inspired to do their very best.  The 2002 model was the result, and after all these years it has behaved almost flawlessly.  It is built well enough, if one has added all the off-road options (and I did that) to tackle the most difficult Jeep trails.   

The C-17, as well, has behaved flawlessly, taking troops to and from more battle-fields than the trailheads I've taken my Jeep to.

But I did considered a new Jeep when my son's 2003 Chevy Trailblazer which has 150,000 miles on it developed a few problems beyond his means to repair.  I considered giving him my Jeep and buying a new one for myself.  However, after much anguish I backed away from that plan and decided I would have my local mechanic fix his Trailblazer's problems and keep my old Jeep.  Whatever the cost it would be less than buying a new jeep, and it would enable me to avoid any befuddlement caused by a new Jeep's features. 

As to your motorcycling and its proverbial dangers.  I have over the years had many friends and relatives ask me whether I thought they should buy a motorcycle.  The key consideration I told them was their "accident-proneness."  They knew whether they were accident-prone or not.  If they were, they shouldn't buy a motorcycle.  They had to have excellent reflexes and believe that they could ride day in and day out and never make a serious mistake.  Also, they should never insist that they had the right-of-way -- regardless of what the motor-vehicle brochure told them.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

On flying and motorcycling


    The New Yorker has categories for all its contents.  In the August 2nd, 2021 issue under the category "Personal History" I read "Flight Plan, When a marriage is up in the air" by Ann Patchett. 

    Ann Patchett's husband, Karl VanDevender, is a doctor who loves to fly.  Before they were married, he bought a motorcycle.  She looked out her front door at it and said she was going to start smoking again.  In a huff he got on his motorcycle and returned home, which was three blocks away.  He skidded in the ice in front of his house and the motorcycle fell on top of him.  With difficulty he got out from under it.  Ann feared motorcycles.  Next came airplanes, and last was boats although Karl went on a voyage with friends in an 80 foot boat and encountered some life-threatening heavy weather. 

    She writes, "When Karl and I met, in 1994, he was divorced and had a 1976 Beechcraft Bonanza, a model commonly referred to as 'the doctor killer' because the plane was so streamlined that it was hard to control.  'Doctors have enough money to buy them,' Karl said. 'But they aren't good enough pilots to fly them.'"  Karl, thanks to early training with his father, was a good enough pilot.

    "The Bonanza he bought had been on the cover of American Bonanza Society Magazine, he'd been told.  He loved that plane, then loved it less, then sold it.  Later, he bought a 1962 Piper Comanche (loved, loved less, sold), followed by a 1982 Beechcraft Sundowner, and then a 1959 Cessna 175 -- each one a gorgeous piece of junk.  They were the kinds of planes that compelled other pilots to stride across the tarmac and offer their congratulations. The planes Karl had were the planes that other men wanted.  They would have been real bargains, too, except that the Comanche needed a whole new engine.  The 175 needed a new propeller.  The Bonanza needed new gas tanks, which meant that the wings had to be taken apart.  The new gas tanks and the wing-panel removal and replacement cost as much as he'd paid for the plane.  Then it also needed a new engine. . ."

    Over in aerospace, if one were a self-respecting engineer, one gravitated toward airplanes or sailboats.  In my case I knew better than to develop an interest in flying.  I have a terrible sense of direction.  I imagined being to able to take off and land, but flying into clouds, coming out, and having to figure out where I was and which direction I ought to be flying was beyond me. 

    So I gravitated toward sailing.  My first sailboat, a 14-foot West Wight Potter, was mostly a platform for free-diving.  The Potter was designed for rough-weather sailing in the North Sea.  But I discovered it to be unacceptably sluggish in the usually lighter California winds.  But it was a satisfactory diving platform.  Also my kids liked it, and then later on Susan liked it, but like Ann Patchett's husband, I sold it and bought a Catalina 22, a boat designed for Southern California sailing.    I would have probably gone on like Ann's husband with bigger and better sailboats, but Susan's illness but an end to that. 

    Back to motorcycles:  Over the years I encountered many people who while not being motorcyclists themselves, would warn me about how dangerous they were.  Susan's mother, Ruth, once chastised me for putting her daughter in danger, although I once gave Ruth a ride home on the back of one and she enjoyed it thoroughly.  There was one time however, when a semi-truck moved into my lane without signalling and I was forced to put my motorcycle down against a curb to avoid being struck.  I ruined the front tire and wheel and had to walk my motorcycle home.  Susan was sick in bed when I told her what had happened and burst into tears.  She had never before imagined that I might be killed on a motorcycle. 

    Ann Patchett also seemed to worry most when Karl was flying by himself.  She writes, "At some point, I'd had a revelation; it would be better for him to die in a plane than to keep talking about whether or not to get a plane.  That isn't exactly a joke.  At his worst, Karl was like a sad parakeet sitting on a swing in a cage year after year.  It was unnatural."

    "Karl was seventy when we bought the Cirrus.  The plane had a fixed landing gear.  Karl told me that it was prohibitively expensive for pilots over seventy to be insured for planes with retractable landing gear, because pilots over seventy didn't always remember to put the landing gear down."

    I gave my Yamaha XV920 to my son when I retired at age 64.  Although I was good at it, I didn't enjoy riding as much as Karl enjoyed flying.  Besides, when Susan became too ill to work, I got her a Rhodesian Ridgeback to be her companion while I was at work.  Part of getting the Ridgeback for her involved taking responsibility for his exercise.  I took care of that by jogging with him as soon as I got home from work. 

    At some point I no longer regretted not having a sailboat or a motorcycle.  My 2002 Jeep Liberty is in excellent condition and will take us to places where we can hike -- when the weather cools -- and if my gimpy leg doesn't cause me too much trouble.  I am sad-parakeetish about not having hiked in a long time, but am thankful that until that happens I have an excellent library and a fondness for using it.  Karl (at 73) doesn't seem to have that alternative although Ann (at 57) will when she gets older.

    In the days when I was traveling back and forth to work, down between the lanes on my Yamaha, I would make a concession and take one of our cars if I wasn't feeling at the top of my game.  After retiring, when I woke not feeling so well, I would say "if I were still working, I would not take the motorcycle this morning."  Karl at 73 presumably wouldn't take his Cirrus to visit his mother in Meridian if he weren't feeling at the top of his game.  He no doubt will relax and day-dream on his flights.  I didn't have that luxury on the motorcycle. 

    I occasionally think about buying a more-modern Jeep, but I've been using mine since 2002 and know all its idiosyncrasies.  The "improvements" I would encounter in a new Jeep might, I fear, find me occasionally "forgetting to put the gear down."



Friday, July 30, 2021

Hits and contract killing


The following from the August 2, 2021 issue of the New Yorker, page 8, written by Richard Brody:

"Film Forum's ongoing Humphrey Bogart series includes the idiosyncratic 1951 film noir The Enforcer (which is also streaming on many services). . . the movies originality is in its script which gives Bogart the role of a district attorney named Ferguson who -- hours before Mendoza (Everett Sloan), the head of a murder ring, is set to be released without charges -- searches his investigation files for overlooked evidence.  As Ferguson's interrogations of garish underworld characters are shown in flashbacks, the action that they relate is seen in flashbacks within those flashbacks.  The intricate structure lays bare a tentacular network of killers for hire whose members are driven literally mad with fear of Mendoza, but the movie's frenzied psychology is also historically fascinating: Mendoza's chilling and cunning criminal enterprise is presented as an innovation -- as are the terms 'contract' for killing and 'hit' for a victim."

I'd like to read a more extensive discussion of these matters.  It seems we have an assassin genre within the film noir genre nowadays -- maybe the term "film noir" needs to be abandoned.   Just last night I watched Ava.  Simon (Colin Farrell) is the current "head of a murder ring."  The previous head, Duke (John Malkovich) in a subordinate role runs the assassin Ava (Jessica Chastain). 

Ava's "sin" is that she questions the people she is about to assassinate about what they did that elicited someone to order a hit.  This sin is unforgivable and Simon orders "hits" on Ava, but they don't succeed.  Finally he attempts to kill her himself and is instead killed by her.  The ending suggests that there may be a hierarchy above Simon.  As Ava in the last scene walks away to go into hiding, Simon's daughter, an assassin in training follows her."

The acting in Ava struck me as excellent.  I did initially question whether the 5' 4" fragile looking Jessica Chastain could pull it off, but she does.  Collin Farrell 5' 10" but in their fight scene they seem comparable somehow. 

Despite being an alcoholic and drunk when Simon enters her apartment, Ava manages to fight him to a draw.  His phone rings to alert him that the police are on their way, so he doesn't resume the fight.  He merely tells Ava that if he ever sees her again he will kill her.  Ava however, knows better than that so she assembles her gear in a matter of seconds and hurry's after Simon.  His gun was dismantled during his fight so he is unarmed.  She catches up to him and shoots him in the head. 

Even though at the end when Simon's daughter follows Ava, one doesn't (at least I didn't) assume that she will be successful in killing Ava, if that is what she intends to try to try.  Ava has conducted 41 successful contract hits and Simon's daughter has yet to conduct her first . . .

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Campfire Middens

    When we were few
    We would say, see
    That blind man, our poet?”
    And over there, the man with
    One leg, our warrior, and if
    You listen carefully you will
    Hear from the trees, Glisten,

    Our singer who sings
    Each time we gather
    To listen to the poet’s
    Tales and the warrior’s
    Wars, but now there
    Are ten-thousand who
    Write as well,

    A hundred thousand who
    Fight and a million
    Clamoring to be heard.
    Does this burgeoning
    Never end?  And if it does,
    Who will tell the tale,
    Who sing?

Currying Flame


    The fiery wind,
    Swerved -- a viper
    Rising to strike
    Just where they thought
    They’d found
    Security from
    Nettling distress.

    They shed desires,
    Fortunes deserved,
    Praise they’d coveted.  
    Everything was hot
    To the touch.  The air
    Scorched each thought,
    Not stopping at what

    It revealed
    Throughout the day:
    This attack against
    Beings Ill-prepared to
    Deflect the searing
    Sword from their
    Stumbling numbers.

Helen at her window

    Helen knew the look
    And feel of her
    Trojan archer; yet
    Set aside as she was,
    Relived her steps:
    Menelaus’s treatment,
    Paris’s tempting salvation.

    Guilt some said,
    And she’d accede to
    Some. Yet being
    Abandoned she
    Felt betrayed, left
    While Greeks played
    Their games, left

    Again while Paris
    And Hector fended or
    Fell.  Set here like
    A precious vase there
    Was no one to witness
    The apprehensions
    Clouding her vaunted brow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Media studies and Gunpowder Milkshake


An obituary on Fiske is available from U Wisconsin:

I had not heard of John Fiske nor was I aware that the media was being formally studied.  I have however for a long time suspected that Hollywood had a lot to do with my desire to enter the Marine Corps.   Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 when I was seven.  I don't recall timing or details but can still recall the emotional content of some of the war movies.  I recall being pumped up by them.  I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1951 when I was 16 and the war in Korea was still active.  The USMC found out how old I was and told me to come back when I was 17 if I could get my mother to sign for me.  My step-father insisted that I finish High School first.  Thus, I enlisted in July 1952 when I was almost 18.  By the time I got to Korea truce talks had begun.  I was over there for the last two battle seasons and on Cheju Island next to a prison camp shortly after North Korean prisoners were released and some climbed Cheju mountain instead of making there way back North.

Thinking back I don't have any regrets. The Marine Corps was part of my education.  Even though I didn't see actual combat, I was trained for it and before I got out was a rifle instructor training others:  grammar and high school from 1939 to 1952.  USMC from 1952 to 1955.  College from 1955 to 1959.  Engineering from 1959 to 1998.  Retired from 1998 to the present.   Susan once commented that one of our nephews especially looked up to me because I was the only one in our families that was squared away, or something to that effect.  In thinking back, any squaring originated in my desire to follow examples I found on the silver screen.  I set out to become a Marine and became one, but I didn't really want to become a career Marine and so got out and went to college. 

So you can see that I've given one particular media a lot of thought over the years.  In more modern times I've noticed that "Hollywood" [if that is a proper term in media studies] has been busy creating larger-than-life women heroes ["heroines" appears to be a moribund term].  I just the other day watched Gunpowder Milkshake -- tongue in cheek, follows Wick a bit but women are shown as being able to do it all.  Good stuff.  Back in 1952 in Boot Camp we were ushered out onto the side of a hill one night where we were shown High Noon -- also good stuff.  I wonder if Marines going through boot camp today could benefit from being shown Gunpowder Milkshake instead . . . or in addition.

Thus, without ever having studied any of this, I have been aware of movement. I can't bring to mind any complaints at present.  I do enjoy a good "shoot-em-up" movie or TV series, and if it involves some larger-than-life heroine, I can root for her as well as I once did for Gary Cooper.  Good stuff :-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wilmington, fourth of July, 1942

    I’ll tell you something else
    If you hold still, quit wriggling:
    Time was there was a lot
    More going on in that old town:    
    Old Fourth of July festivities
    For example: the banners
    Parades, everyone coming out

    To play the games, win a
    Stuffed animal or two.
    Back when my family
    Lived in that small
    House owned by Joe Denni
    Who also owned the drug store
    Down on Avalon.  We walked

    Over to Avalon, south
    To Anaheim; then down
    To I street where the town
    square was host each year
    To dreams – didn’t even need
    To say good-bye back then --  
    Lots of quick ways to die,

    But not if you worked in
    “Vital” Los Angeles Harbor
    Industries: our fathers who
    Drank their way to sixty,
    Seventy and beyond.  We on
    The other hand were too young
    To evade the draft and drifted away.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Heinlein and The Tomorrow War

This is a pretty good movie; however, it doesn't match in power Heinlein's Starship Troopers in my opinion.  The writers of TTW will disagree saying the father/daughter/grandfather Foresters have power not seen in Heinlein.  But Heinlein does a much better job in hypothesizing what such a war would realistically involve from a military standpoint.   ST resonates for anyone who has been in the Marine Corps or Army infantry.  If you've only seen the very-bad movie, Starship Troopers, then you won't know what I'm talking about. 

Heinlein's novel deals with a galactic war.  The aliens, which are pretty much like the aliens in TTW, are unstoppable by normal means. [Although the aliens in TTW are more like the aliens in the Aliens movie and not like the Predators who use the aliens for sport.  Presumably the creators that operated the space-ship that crashed into a volcano in the Middle Ages were a bit more like the Predators].  So the humans have invented suits of armor and weaponry that movie-makers haven't found the means to simulate.  Heinlein's aliens defeat humans on planet after planet until human scientists find a way to kill the alien queens.  After that the war turns in favor of the humans.  Alien queens on TTW are much tougher than in ST, but I suspect Heinlein's queen is closer to a conceivable hive-organism.  Queens don't need to know how to fight. 

In Heinlein's novel, the humans are organized by a bureaucracy that trains and functions much like the Marine Corps.  And like the Marine Corps, one must volunteer and then go through a difficult boot-camp in order to fight.  In TTW, there is a vague conspiracy-theory-type military-scientific organization "drafting" appropriate humans to go into the future to fight the aliens.  Somehow all the Tomorrow War draftees, without boot-camp type training (glossed over in the movie) by instinct fight as though they've been properly trained.  I don't believe humans can or would do that.  

As I began watching TTW I wondered if movie makers had been influenced by the recent acceptance, seemingly, that there are a tiny percentage of UFO sightings that can't be explained.  Perhaps the writers were stirring up a martial spirit just in case the aliens were hostile.  However the movie soon disabused me of that idea.  It seems to have also (at least in the fight scenes) have been influenced by zombie apocalypse as well as Predator and Terminator movies.

The acting in TTW is very good, better than in the other movies I've mentioned or alluded to.  And the action moves quickly enough so that one doesn't have time to compare this movie to movies very much like this one that were made in the past. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Good

    Something we all decide
    Blank-slate style
    Or something our forbears
    Fresh from the trees
    Evolved hanging with
    Early wolves?  We now
    Are inclined to find

    Their furry faces
    And wagging tails
    An immense delight.
    And if we don’t
    We are aberrant
    As are thieves
    And other deceivers

    Preying out of twisted
    Passions.  But each
    Generation stores
    Stories that the rest
    May see
    And choose the good.

Friday, July 2, 2021

A Visitation

    The other night Susan
    Came up next to me
    On the sidewalk.  She took
    My left hand and kissed
    It over and over.  “I’ve
    Missed you so.  It’s been
    So long since we looked
    In each other’s eyes. We
    We are so much in love.”
    She looked about, seeing
    Jessica.  “I see you finally
    Got your Irish lass,”
    She laughed and Jessica
    Danced her delight.

    Susan, searching,
    Came along side
    And entered my longing.
    I dreamt too much joy
    To see her go as I woke
    And hear her once
    Again breathe “goodbye.”                

The Parrot

    There is a parrot established next
    Door full of ill-taught squawks.
    He watched me with one eye
    As I raked leaves.  He has an
    Aviary up against our common
    Fence, joining family dogs who
    Paid him little mind, except
    The smallest and most
    Alarmed who found a hole
    And squirmed through into
    Our yard where Jessica waited.
    Seeing her he screeched and
    She in delight chased him
    In terrified circles round about.
    The neighbor hearing
    Called him through the
    Hole and back in his yard,
    With apologies.  Jessica
    Pleased and panting watched
    Him go.  The parrot squawked
    Amusement and sneered contempt.

On Knowing

    What is it they know
    Or think they know
    Never having taken
    Up Arrow and bow, for
    Even a twelve gauge
    Would kill with a blow
    Were it pointed by

    Anyone really knowing?
    Covey-of-quail sorts-of-fright
    Out near the fringe of what
    He had or thought he had.
    Someone had crept
    In during the night
    Exercising the rights

    They thought they had.
    They came athwart his
    Legal standing far back
    Up the hill, frowning his
    Displeasure and consternation –
    Too far away to threaten more
    Than anger and fiery words.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Another Hot Day

    Here in the heat of day
    We watch, my dogs and I,
    The branches sway above
    Ground squirrels playing.
    I’ve counted their round
    Eyes staring as they stand
    Stock still on stone tops.
    There are holes punched
    By the frantic bouts our
    Dogs on both sides of fences
    Use to declare allegiances
    We watchers, some of whom
    Shout commands, don’t
    Understand.  Whenever

    I walk outside into a
    Fiery day I always look
    About to see if perchance
    In this one particular one
    Is a means of escape.  Each
    Time, however, I return
    To my cherished snares.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Katla's ending (spoiler)

 I just finished the Netflix-Icelandic TV series, Katla.   Those who died on Katla as well as some who are still alive are being brought back to life or cloned by a meteor buried underneath the ice.  Whether the rejuvenating substance came from an alien species who modified its world only to have it exploded for some reason and sent as meteors out into space -- or a natural substance isn't explained.

The photography is superb, the acting excellent, and the writing very good.  One is drawn into the predicaments of the various characters and the various confrontations they have with the previously dead or living clones.  Some of the resolutions are ugly but they aren't dwelt upon. 

I assumed there would be just the one season since it had a clever ending.  One set of identical young women decide to engage in Russian Roulette so that the confusion involved in two of them being married to the same husband will be eliminated.  Finally on the last shot, one of them is killed and it seemed to be the cheerful happy clone that is shot, but later in a family gathering you see the happy cheerful one charming her family and playing the piano; so it was the morose original who was shot -- unless the morose one is faking it????

Then, in the tradition of Jason, the last episode ends with not one but six recently risen clones heading toward town through the fog.  I read some reviews and fans of this series hoping the ending means there will be a season two. 

Do I want a season two?   I'm of mixed minds.  I did watch all eight episodes, and I "felt" as though the ending was adequate, but in thinking it over I can imagine writers doing something off-the-wall that would make a subsequent series interesting.  Perhaps aliens could show up looking for their missing meteor.  :-)