Friday, September 11, 2015

Climate Change

Like many of the vox populi I was skeptical of man-caused climate change, but with so many on board the climate train it was hard not to jump on. My brother was even more skeptical than I and in many ways we agreed that the ice cores showed that carbon dioxide levels were higher in the past when it was colder than they are at present.
Recently he bought a copy of “Climate Change: The Facts.” He was so enthusiastic that I borrowed and read it.

The evidence against anthropogenic climate change is vast and unimpeachable. The first part of the Al Gore/pro climate change scientists’ Holy Grail was the “hockey stick” graph that showed a precipitous rise in global temperatures due to fossil fuel burning. In fact the overall energy balance for the earth has not changed for the past seventeen years. So much for that bit of nonsense.

Another bit of science fiction promulgated by those in favor of anthropogenic climate change is the “heat sink” proposal. That is all the heat that must have been generated by the carbon dioxide in the air must be locked up in the ocean. But there is no evidence for that assertion; in fact, the ocean temperature has not varied much more than a fraction of a degree over the same time that the earth was supposed to be warming from all that CO2.

If the evidence weren’t enough there are numerous occasions where the international panel on climate change has manipulated the data to show that their models of man-caused climate change are correct. If this kind of manipulation were discovered in any other professional body the scandal would reverberate from pole to pole and around the Equator. But as some of the authors in the book point out climate science appears to be immune from a thorough investigation of not only the evidence but also the scandalous assertions that are made in the name of the IPCC.

The silver lining in this cloud of obfuscation is that the “undeveloped” countries have balked at having to meet the same carbon reduction criteria that the biggies have to meet (USA, UK, etc.). What that means is that the rush to limit, curtail or eliminate fossil fuel burning, especially coal, is on hold for who knows how long.

All in all the book goes a long way to show that climate is such a complex mix of gases, winds, solar radiation, oceans and other natural elements that have nothing to do with fossil fuel burning that one’s carbon footprint doesn’t loom as large a contributor to a catastrophic end for humanity as before the writers and editor began to analyze exactly what the gloom and doom anthropogenic climate change bloc was all about.

The statistics and charts in the book are explained in plain English so most of the scholarly approach to discussing the evidence is readable. But the book is not a page turner and one wouldn’t expect it to be so since it takes a while to digest the information presented.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” takes a six disc look at the restoration of magic in merrie olde England.

The story begins with Mr. Segundes attending a meeting of the Yorkshire magicians. They scoff at his desire to restore magic to a reputable place in England. In fact they don’t believe that there is the possibility of anyone performing the kind of magic that went out of style three hundred years before the story begins.

The group of magicians attends a demonstration in one of the local churches. Mr. Norrell is a bookish sort of magician who has been convinced that to restore magic to a respected place he must demonstrate something to the gathering. He uses the device of a metal bowl filled with water and a magic incantation.

At the church the stone figures come to life and scare the bejeesus out of the attendees.

As the story progresses, Jonathan Strange is set upon by his erstwhile love to get an occupation. By chance he receives two spells from an itinerant magician. He is able to make magic with one of them and decides to become a magician as his preferred occupation.

With one problem after another all compounded and related to a fairy that is intent on keeping magic where it has resided for the past three centuries Norrell and Strange find themselves caught up in a struggle to overcome the power of the fairy.

Strange is called upon to aid the army in its struggles on the Iberian Peninsula. He does so and the government is grateful as is one of the ministers whose wife was restored to life by Norrell.

As more complications pile upon the magicians they are forced to confront the fairy in his netherworld of endless dancing.

There is a price to pay for the confrontation and even though Strange regains his wife and the minister his wife, Strange and Norrell are doomed.

In the last scene Strange revisits his wife as a reflection in a fountain in Venice. She wants more, wants him to return to her, but alas he cannot.

The final scene has Norrell’s faithful companion, Childress, pontificating that Strange and Norrell have gone beyond the rain (one of Norrell’s magical devices).

The episodes will keep your interest as will the performances and sets, but by the time you get to disc number four you will probably wish that the BBC production was much, much shorter.” 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” probably should not have been sub-titled “A novel.” It’s more like a collection of short stories: Scout (Jean Louise) attempting to disprove Thomas Wolfe by coming home again, reliving the past with her white trash friend Henry, going to a ladies’ tea and finding out that she can neither abide nor fit in with this hallowed Maycomb tradition, finding out that her father is part of a town council dedicated to suppressing the blacks, getting strange advice from her uncle who really loved her mother and finally coming to an understanding of who she is and why she is the way she is.

Lee’s book has some interesting dialog; lots of southern argot and characters who are somewhat memorable but in a way are almost stereotypical of the south.

The book is not a page turner and reminds me of many of the other southern women authors I read back in the day (Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding” comes to mind). However, it does provide conversational material for book enthusiasts, and will, no doubt be required reading in academic circles. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jules Verne

Jules Verne wrote using the conventions of the 19th Century. That way of telling a tale appears stilted and formal and makes a modern reader want to skim as much as possible without losing the thread of the story. Whether his audience was awed by the spectacular abundance of flora and fauna might well be a moot point. Even so he went to great pains to include as much description of what the voyagers encountered as would fit. He may well have been paid by the word and that would be another explanation of the somewhat cloying abundance of this animal and that plant. So with those caveats in mind let us begin his tale of 20,000 Leagues under the sea.

During the 19th Century a strange phenomenon appears in the sea. It wreaks havoc on sailing ships. Many think it is something akin to the Kraken of myth that rises up from the depths to destroy wooden ships on the surface. Academics and other experts present their opinions that drive to what appears to be an agreement that it is definitely a crazed cetacean. Finally it’s decided to send an expedition to find out exactly what sort of abomination threaten seafarers of all nations.

A French academic, M. Arronax, his servant Conseil, and Ned Land, a Canadian whaling man accompany the intrepid crew setting off to determine the nature of the danger that ships face in the open sea.

Day after day and there is no sighting of the dangerous creature. Then strange lights beneath the sea are sighted and the ship veers to investigate, but the closer the ship gets to the lights the faster they move away.

After many attempts the ship lowers a boat to give Ned, the experienced whaler a chance to throw a harpoon to see whether it will have any effect on the plated thing they have observed. Ned gives a mighty heave but his harpoon simply bounces off the creature’s back.

As Ned, Arronax and Conseil try to determine exactly what the thing they have attempted to harpoon it crashes into their boat and leaves them adrift as it moves off and goes in pursuit of the ship. They are left helpless in the wake of the creature. And they have little or no hope of regaining the ship.
After much searching Ned, Arronax and Conseil find that the ship has been sunk. They wonder whether they will be next on the creature’s destructive schedule. And they are as the creature comes back to their location. Just when all appears to be lost, the castaways are rescued by the very creature that has caused their distress by destroying their ship and their long boat.

Inside the-what-can-this-creature-be is found to be some kind of ship. The castaways attempt to communicate with the crew but all they hear is a strange incomprehensible language as they are fed but kept in a confined space not knowing what their fate will be.

At long last the commander appears. He is Captain Nemo who has abandoned any further contact with humanity and the land. Everything that the sea provides will be what he uses to feed his crew. The ship named Nautilus is propelled by electric power, something that strikes Arronax as marvelous and mysterious.

After some time the castaways are treated to a survey of the ship and even are invited to an undersea expedition using diving gear perfected by Nemo’s genius.

The Nautilus proceeds on its twenty thousand leagues under the sea journey with Arronax describing in great detail all of the marine flora and fauna that they encounter.

Finally arriving at the island of New Guinea and becoming fastened to a sandbank the Nautilus must await high tide. In the meantime the castaway guests go ashore and find various animals, birds and other flora for consumption. They also arouse the curiosity of the natives and hurry back to the ship before they can be attacked.

High tide arrives, the natives are shocked when they try to enter the interior and the ship sails away.

The first half of the book ends with one of the Nautilus crew being buried in an undersea graveyard.
In the second half, Nautilus continues on her voyage and Conseil lists page after page of sea life, which to a modern reader wanting to “cut to the chase” drags the story down in a hurry.

Arriving at Ceylon, the crew stops to watch and explain the oyster fishery and the nature of the pearls that the animals produce.

Captain Nemo decides that he will head the Nautilus in the direction of the Red Sea and ultimately to the Mediterranean. The only problem is that the newly opened Suez Canal isn’t deep enough for the Nautilus to operate in Nemo’s manner. Arronax is amazed that Nemo would tell him that even though they wouldn’t transit the canal they would still be in the Mediterranean the next day. It turns out that Nemo had discovered an underground tunnel he named “The Arabian Tunnel” through which the Nautilus would pass beneath the Suez Canal on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

After an extremely fast passage through the Tunnel, the voyagers arrive in the Mediterranean. Nemo takes them to experience an underwater volcanic activity before turning the ship toward the Strait of Gibraltar. Ned Land contemplates taking the ship’s pinnace and escaping but is thwarted by the speed of the ship.

Heading toward the port of Viga where a treasure fleet was scuttled to save it from the English, Nemo sends his crew out of the ship to retrieve all the gold and silver still remaining in the wrecks. His ultimate goal for the specie since he has no use of it is to help the poor, which M. Arronax finds laudable.

Ned Land’s plan to escape the ship is thwarted again by Nautilus heading southward. Reaching the Sargasso Sea more information about the environment is forthcoming. Then Captain Nemo turns southward again.

The ship finds a passage to an underground grotto formed by an ancient volcano. Arronax provides a running commentary on all the flora and fauna the voyagers encounter.

Again, Ned cannot escape the ship because it is in the open sea after Captain Nemo shows the voyagers the remains of Atlantis. It appears as though Nemo intends to take the Nautilus to the South Pole.

And after a dangerous passage beneath the ice and land they arrive at the South Pole (years earlier than it was actually discovered). Attempting to exit the ice traps Nautilus and the voyagers appeared doomed to die from either suffocation or being crushed by the ice.

Escaping the frozen prison Nemo heads Nautilus north toward the Amazon River nexus with the Atlantic Ocean.

Another catalog of fauna and then more travel northward.

Somewhere off the Antilles, the voyagers run into giant poulps, a type of cuttlefish. One of them attacks the crew and kills the man. Nemo and the others use axes to hack off the arms of the poulps before the attackers leave and the Nautilus can go back to its normal cruise.

Off the American coast Nautilus runs into a hurricane and has to dive to a considerable depth to escape the fury of the waves.

Continuing north and east Ned determines that they can escape the ship when they are near the coast of Norway.

Unfortunately Nemo steers toward the Maelstrom, a vast whirlpool in the sea that swallows ships. Ned, Arronax and Conseil work the side of the ship to gain entrance to the pinnace.

Verne wrote himself into a corner and had to rely on that ancient device of the deus ex machina to get the pinnace free of the Maelstrom while Nautilus was sucked into the depths.

If you saw the movie of the same name you will have no trouble getting through the sometimes difficult and oftentimes boring passages that Verne used to captivate his audiences. The book is not a page turner and many readers will either skim it or put it down after reading some of the catalogs that Verne was keen on using. As far as a grade goes it probably lands in the B category, although that might be generous.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Always a Cop

The previous note indicated that coincidence is a dangerous tool in the hands of an author. So it was in the case of “Always a Cop.” Paul Wagner used it to get his story started and it was almost enough to make me quit reading his book. However, I picked it up again and got very much interested in the characters he developed. The story is a two-fold mystery that piques the interest of three retired policemen. 

Wagner describes the men to a “T” and with all their frailties and foibles they set about trying to find the bad guys responsible for the unrelated crimes. Beauregard or Beau is the main protagonist and he has to be one of the biggest advocates for Viagra as he is on call for many of the women he contacts both in his boarding house and when he rides his bicycle around town.

His partner, Finncannon, suffers from Alzheimer’s as he sits in his retirement home. Beau visits him and at times they reminisce. With the disappearance of a high priority girl whose father is a legislator, the game is afoot and the old cops get involved.

One of the minor characters in Beau’s past life comes with the tale of his granddaughter who has disappeared and he would like Beau’s help in finding her.

The third member of the “cop squad” is Matso, a Japanese-American  golfer that knows no bounds to his love of the game. He is tasked with going to Mexico to run down either info or pictures of the girl who has gone missing. His adventures are almost comic relief to the story.

As the story progresses and the clues are examined by all the old cops and Beau’s daughter who is also a detective, some unusual twists occur including Beau being knocked off his bicycle and subsequently suffering temporary amnesia.

The story takes on a global nature as one particular clue, an uncut diamond, links the various young girl murders around the world.

In what a reader expects, the two crimes are solved and Beau finds that he is asked to find another person setting us up for a continuation of the old cop story.

Though not a page turner, the time spent reading this novel will fill those hours when ennui sets in.

Friday, May 22, 2015


The title refers to a space in time when two or more related or unrelated events occur simultaneously. When we experience this phenomenon it usually isn’t earth shaking although it does provide an item of conversation that can be shared.

On the other hand, using coincidence in a fictional sense is dangerous because it immediately challenges the reader to hold onto disbelief at the same time that the reader’s inner voice is shouting wait a minute.

If an author uses a coincidental meeting to begin his or her tale the inappropriateness becomes glaringly apparent. It might even result in an otherwise good story being consigned to the oblivion of being unread.

Coincidence is much like the god in the machine device that early writers used to solve the painted-into-a-corner problem with the plot. Both devices strain the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief and have usually been consigned to the same trash can as hackneyed and trite phrases. However, when an author does revert to using the coincidental appearance of a character or event a modern reader throws up his or her metaphorical hands and is bumped out of the story. Only dogged determination will cause the reader to once again take up the tale, perhaps to find that disbelief can once again be suspended to enjoy an otherwise well-told piece of fiction.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


The Political Zoo gives Michael Savage’s take on many political players. Some describe career pols while others are of entertainers that have entered the political fray with their sometimes inane comments that are only broadcast because of the celebrity status of the speaker.

Each person is lampooned in an introductory page with a caricature of the individual and a pseudoscientific name. Once Savage turns the page and gets into a description of the animal so named in the introduction he proceeds to list peccadilloes, outright lies and past history of the insider advantage that many of them have used to build their own fortunes. There is no rock for these pols to hide under when it comes to Savage’s investigations.

If you’ve forgotten the pattern the pol has relapsed to time and time again, Savage reminds you in a very entertaining way. And though seeming venomous, the descriptions and facts are not nearly as poisonous as the acts themselves. What Savage is getting at is the undermining of the body politic by these lawful but despicable acts.

Many of these political animals have no compunction when it comes to putting their families on the payroll, even when the jobs they are purported to do conflict with the legislation that the pol is either working on or has influence over.

Savage is much like Sisyphus in his lashing out at the pol’s behavior because they, in his estimation, are exactly like the people who have elected them, somewhat petty, greedy and willing to cut almost any corner to achieve their ends. Pushing that political boulder up the hill of Machiavellian misdeeds only to have it roll down to the bottom requiring another round of examination and reportage is, alas, what appears to be an inevitability inherent in our political system.

Friday, May 8, 2015


First there’s fame and then the grave. Might be something that George would have said. In his thoroughly iconoclastic approach to entertainment he garnered numerous awards and performance dates (some of which are on You Tube).

His book “Napalm and Silly Putty” is filled with what his audience has come to expect—language that dives into the gutter and soars into impeccable logic. It’s fun to read but the staggering carom of his thoughts makes a straight reading of the book nearly impossible (except for Carlin junkies).

His title derives from what he considered two of the most important inventions that mankind ever came up with. One to wipe out as many humans as the jellied gasoline could contact and the other to provide endless hours of harmless fun.

Carlin’s take on napalm permeates the book as he is constantly making allusions to devices and methods that would eliminate the most people at one fell swoop. Part of it was his shtick, but I suspect that there was something deep down that didn’t really like people in general all that much.

So George had his fame and now is no longer among the living. Having spent seventy years doing essentially what he wanted to do, one can be tolerant of the negative behaviors that probably shortened his life.

If you want some chuckles and a few belly laughs then pick up a copy you won’t regret it.

Friday, May 1, 2015


A friend who is also a writer had a book signing that heralded the publication of her book that chronicled the adventure of a young girl solving a mystery with Sherlock Holmes’ help. The event was well attended by friends, members of her writing group and other aspiring writers.

During a question and answer period Elizabeth who goes by the sobriquet “Mitty” was asked a number of questions about how she came to write the book, how she decided on the name of the girl who is the main character and whether she talks to her characters and whether they talk to her.

I’ve never thought about that last question but it does pique my interest. As I wrote back to her I don’t really talk to the people who inhabit my books, but they do seem to have minds of their own as the twists and turns of the story proceed in ways that writing on the fly doesn’t always prepare me for. I don’t know whether thinking about the characters constitutes a dialog, although what I hear them saying does more often than not appear on the page.

Getting the tone right for a particular character is difficult at times and often requires an edit to bring the latest utterance in line with the general “voice” the character presents. I suspect that others walk through a similar sequence to make sure their characters don’t step out of “character.”

Monday, April 20, 2015


Frankenstein is the be-all and end-all of names in the horror pantheon. Actually what has become the appellation for the monster was actually the doctor’s name (Victor) who created the monster, but in the common mind his name has been attached to the monster so ably portrayed by Boris Karloff.

Reading Mary Shelley’s book of the same name, one hoped to find some correlation between the exciting and somewhat terrifying films of the late nineteen thirties. Unfortunately, the novel and the films appear to come from different parts of the solar system.

In a tortured beginning replete with all the Victorianisms that are so stultifying to read, Victor finds the secret of life and bestows it upon a creature he puts together from the deceased elements of other men. Unlike the film he does not graft a diseased brain upon the frame of the “fiend.”

Once he gives life to the creature he is done with him and the book travels merrily along until one of Victor’s siblings (William) is brutally murdered. Victor thinks that the creature he created must be the guilty party. However, Justine, one of the members of the Frankenstein household, is found to have part of the locket that William was wearing when he was killed.

Justine is tried, convicted and put to death. Victor laments the fact that he didn’t say anything that might have contributed to her exoneration. There is a great deal of soul searching that goes on interminably in the novel along with non-juicy gossip.

Finally, Victor meets with his creation and wants to destroy it, but the creature tells him to hold off, that he has a story to tell.

The creature goes on interminably about how he came to meet a family that he has great affection for. Victor listens with more patience that this reader has.

The creature finally ends his tale by telling Victor exactly how he murdered William and planted the evidence on Justine who was tried, convicted and executed.

Waiting for Victor to respond the creature demands a female like himself. Victor says that he will never do such a thing. The creature says that if Victor does what the monster wants he will take the female and go to South America to live in the jungle to be free of the disgust and horror of the people who have seen him.

Victor goes to England, providing a guide tour to all the sights along the way.

After England Victor goes to the Orkney Islands off the northern coast where he begins his experiment to create a female monster. The real monster somehow has found him out and curses him since he has not created the female so desired by the fiend.

Victor destroys the female parts and dumps them in the sea. After a harrowing voyage he ends up in Ireland and is treated harshly because the Irish think he is responsible for the death of a man recently discovered on the same shore that Victor has landed on.

By coincidence the dead man is Henry Clerval, Victor’s long-time friend. He is duly shocked and then thrown in jail. Victor’s father comes to visit him and after being exonerated of the crime, father and son take ship for Europe and their home in Switzerland.

After much ado, Victor decides to marry his “cousin” Elizabeth even though the monster has vowed to make their wedding night a shambles.

The wedding takes place. Victor and Elizabeth take boat to one of the lake resorts. Victor is well armed with knife and pistols if they are needed for a confrontation with the fiend. He hears a scream and Elizabeth has been murdered. He is distraught.

Victor returns home to bring the bad news to his father, who subsequently dies.

Then Victor goes on another trip to find the monster. This trip takes him across Europe, Russia and finally ends up in the frozen north. The creature eludes him, but a storm does not. He is rescued by ship whose captain listens to Victor’s tale and can hardly believe it.

As the crew is about to mutiny, Victor falls in and dies.

The captain enters Victor’s cabin to see the monster gloating over Victor’s death. The captain listens to the ranting of the monster before the monster leaps out the cabin window not to be seen again.

Coincidence, artifice and plain old stilted writing make this book a very difficult read. One wonders how many readers will slog through to the end. I only did so to round out this blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


1963. Gunter Grass’ book “The Tin Drum” was on my reading list. It was his approach to trying to make sense of what the Nazi’s had done to his country. Whether he was part of the regime may or may not be true, but his disaffection with it certainly was. So it was a memory jog when I read of his death yesterday. All those years ago and at least one of the images from the book still remains: the dwarf finding refuge under the ballooning skirt of a frau. I suspect that Grass was using the image as a metaphor for trying to escape the despicable behavior of most of his fellow Germans. 

Now the memory of the horrors of Hitler’s attempt to subjugate the rest of us has dimmed with the evaporation of time. Still, it’s important to remember what an ideologue can do with enough support and I suspect that is the lesson for today and the threat that ISIS poses. Hitler had his triumph when the Brits allowed him to get away with terrorizing Austria and the other countries that formed what was known as “Lebensraum—“ the need for Germany to expand no matter what the cost to other entities or states. Today, many in the US don’t see any threat from the Islamic radicals and I suspect that they are analogous to the Brits and Americans who didn’t see any threat from Hitler or Hirohito. I surely hope that we are not doomed to repeat history because we have forgotten it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


You can read Wind, Sand and Stars to understand what a beginning pilot has to deal with flying from a small airfield in France in the 1930’s. You can also read the book to find out what flying in North Africa was like. Mostly you’ll find that the translated French is poetic and thought provoking.

You’ll see what a tribal king thinks of himself as a slave. A slave that the pilot who is telling this story is bound to free and return to his home.

An almost off the cuff flight from France to Vietnam tells the story of a crash and survival of the pilot and his mechanic as they strive to find a way out of the barren stretch of desert they are trapped in.

The last part of the story gives you an insight into the Civil War in Spain during the last years of the thirties. The pilot compares the war to a plague (and that brings thoughts of Camus’ “The Plague” to mind). The men who are fighting either for or against the regime are only differentiated by how they view the same principles.

The language in the book is poetic and there is more than a bit of philosophy in the passages that describe the pilot’s reaction to his friends, the environment and the people therein.

The book is not a page turner, but it is quite interesting and worth the time to peruse.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Nathaniel West is a pen name for Nathan Weinstein, an award winning novelist. He was in New York City at the same time as Dashiell Hammett and they had a peculiar friendship. West extended credit to Hammett so that he could use a room in the hotel that West was managing. Hammett tolerated West but only saw him as a second rate Jew.

If you wish to read  my complete comments on this book, as well as comments on 64 other books then you can find all of them in "Book Blogs," available on Amazon in either softcover or digital:

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Finished reading an interesting biography of Dashiell Hammett that my son Thomas gave me for Christmas. Never knew he was a Pinkerton detective. And some of the anecdotes the author attributes to Hammett are really amusing. Hammett was also involved in the Fatty Arbuckle case when that scandal broke. Rather than being on the side of the prosecution he was trying to gather information that would provide the defense more ammo.

Reading about his breaking into writing with all the pulp stories in The Black Mask (later Black Mask) reminded me of the difficulties of getting the words right as well as the characters and the plot, if any. His first stories were vignettes and as well written as a beginner could hope to expect. Later his work achieved some degree of polish until he finally crossed somewhat of a literary milestone when The Maltese Falcon was published.

Reading about how a writer constructed his work as told through the lens of another writer is very difficult for me and I tend to skim that part of the story. What I find interesting is all the ins and outs of his life when not writing. He was the kind of man who wanted to have as much money as he could get (hiring two agents to try to maximize his earnings in both books and movies). The ironic thing about the money part was that he couldn’t or wouldn’t hang on to the cash once he got it.

And when he didn’t have the dough he would skip out on hotel bills or any other IOU that he’d signed.

Hammett was a boozer of the first class and evidently women found him irresistible. One of the females who dumped her husband and became one of Hammett’s best friends was Lillian Hellman. They had a frantic relationship and the rest of the story is interesting but somewhat depressing so it’s not the kind of biography you read for inspiration.