Not A New Error

In a comment on a recent post about the arthur c. booke Time’s Eye, I said:

Niven got a healthy assist from his stable of co-authors. I don’t know if Clarke’s co-authors were as good, but I’ve not read any of Stephen Baxter’s work although I probably have some around here. And I hope I’m forgiven for confusing him from time to time with Steven Barnes.

In 2017, I bought a Stephen Baxter book at Hooked on Books, and I said then:

A science fiction novel by Stephen Baxter. Whom I confess I confused until just now with Steven Barnes, the Larry Niven collaborator. ONLY NOW IS THE TRUTH OF MY FOLLY REVEALED! Well, the proof of the pudding is in the reading, so perhaps it was not folly after all.

To reiterate, I have not read a book by Barnes or Baxter without their benefactors.

Which is only fair. The few people who have read my science fiction work have done so because of my benefactor editor, Jerry Pournelle.

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Book Report: Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (1865, 1954)

Book coverAs with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, I read a nice cold winter story in winter, which means I put a couple extra logs on the fire while reading. The 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has a Young Adult category, so I picked this up–I have four or five other young adult books from the Children’s Classics series that I will probably knock out later in the year just to move them en masse from my to-read shelves.

You know, I think a copy of this books was amongst the children’s books that my aunt gave us when her stepchildren outgrew them. Not this copy, though–if it exists, it’s on the shelves of unread children’s books in our family room. My boys have probably outgrown that collection, composed of books from my beautiful wife’s childhood and my childhood that the boys really didn’t cotton onto. They did not get into Hardy Boys or similar boys’ adventure books. But I digress.

Hans Brinker is a peasant boy in Holland. His father used to work on the dikes; the union’s been on strike, they’re down on their luck, it’s tough. Wait, no, that’s someone else. Father Brinker did work on the dikes, but he took a fall and has been insensible ten years by the time the story opens. Hans does some odd jobs; his sister tends geese. The well-to-do kids look down on them, except for a couple of good-hearted kids. Before the father went to work on the fateful day, he did something with the family savings and came home with a mysterious pocket watch that he would explain later–but he couldn’t. A local well-to-do family decides to hold a skate race with a pair of silver skates as the prize–but the Brinker children only have handmade skates with wood runners instead of blades.

I mean, that’s the story as it’s laid out. The first sixty or seventy pages set this up, and then we get 150 pages of the boys not named Hans Brinker deciding to take a trip skating to visit Amsterdam and The Hague, so they do. They go off, skating the canals, and they visit a hella lot of art and history museums and talk with a visiting English boy about Holland. Which is what teen boys do. When written by an older woman.

After the long interlude, we return to the title character. A noted surgeon performs brain surgery on the father right there in the hovel, where the father recovers in a matter of days. The family finds their savings. The mystery of the watch is solved–it’s from the son of the surgeon, who fled after fearing he’d accidentally killed someone working as his father’s assistant–and he ran off to be a successful manufacturer in England. He returns, Hans becomes the surgeon’s assistant, Father becomes the foreman in the surgeon’s son’s new Dutch facility, and everyone gets enough to eat.

Oh, and the race: Gretel wins among the girls, and Hans withdraws, giving a piece of his equipment to help one of the other boys. We get a little bit about how the characters grow up and grow old, and finis.

So it’s as much a book designed to educate young’uns on Holland as to tell a story. The narrator sometimes shifts into first person plural, especially trying to create excitement during the actual race, so it’s a bit strange, too. Children’s literature was such a strange thing back in the olden days, ainna?

At any rate, another category down in the Winter Reading Challenge. You know, I rather like the gamification of my reading in the first months of the year–it’s more interesting and exciting to me than the things with which I finished the year last year, anyway.

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The Football Game Monday Night

So my oldest boy came home from school and said, “Roll, Tide!” over and over. Apparently, one of his friends is an Alabama fan, so he caught onto the chant and kept repeating it. Loudly.

At the dinner table, the youngest expressed his confusion. His brother helpfully said, “Roll, Tide!” louder and with a misshapen Southern accent.

“They call Alabama the Crimson Tide,” I explained to the youngster, who might have had a brief glimmer of understanding lost when I followed with the apparent non sequitur, “Call me Deacon Blues.”

That might not have made sense to anyone at the dinner table, but it made all the sense in the world to me.

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Book Report: Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (2004)

Book coverThe Winter 2022 Reading Challenge has a category Time Travel, so I found this book first amongst the many I have on my shelves that deal with time travel of one sort or another (all of them, at least the fiction books, deal with time travel at the speed of now, anyway). It helped that this book had “Time” right in the title.

At any rate, it’s an Arthur C. Clarke book. You know, he’s considered one of the big three with Asimov and Heinlein, but in the years since someone made that judgment, he’s really tailed off, ainna? He had, what, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, and 2001: A Space Odyssey followed by a bunch of sequels for each. Except, of course, with the one with end right in the title. Perhaps his short stories were something else, but barring that, I would not put him in Asimov or Heinlein’s class. Maybe the people who put him in the big three were his publicists.

This book, the first in a series called A Time Odyssey, has the premise that a couple of groups of mid-21st century people find themselves removed from their time and placed somewhere/somewhen else. A UN Peacekeeping reconnaissance helicopter is shot down and manages to crash in Afghanistan near a 1890s-era British fort. Just over the horizon, scouts find an army–Macedonians led by Alexander. Three astronauts returning to earth from the International Space Station arrive in the same time period in Mongolia–where Ghengis Khan’s army has found itself also. A member of the missing link species is captured with her daughter near the fort; and amid all the disruption, one of the helicopter officers’ phone calculates based on the position of the stars that they’re in the 13th century. The descending astronauts did not detect many signs of human life or activity aside from themselves. Oh, and alien orbs, impossibly perfect spheres, float above the landscape in various places.

So we’ve essentially got a book that throws a game of Civilization into a blender with tropes from Clarke’s other works (an ape, elevated; a computer that asks if it will dream when it’s shut down; an advanced civilization’s artifacts) and maybe some other works (Under the Dome, although that book came out five years after this one) to make a readable book that leaves one saying, “What’s it all about?” The groups and armies come together in a great battle at Babylon, where the biggest of the alien artifacts resides. And after that climactic battle, we get sixty pages of denouement that leads to…. What? The next book? One of the protagonists is returned to her own time, only to find one of the alien artifacts there.

You know, I read the Wikipedia entries for this series to see where it goes, and it goes like an Arthur C. Clarke series does. A conceit, readability, and then it’s an alien reveal that doesn’t lead to a triumph or resolution for man, but rather a big conceit. Meh. I prefer space opera, thanks.

So I checked off a book, and I have revisited Clarke and find my opinion of him has not changed since I read 2001: A Space Odyssey in 2007. I still haven’t gotten to that series’ sequels yet, and they’re on the outside edge of the to-read shelves in my office. Maybe next year since I’m finding myself in a mood to clear some of these old books out (which will last one or more of these old books or until my next trip to ABC Books).

But the first entry in the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge is complete.

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Grift Away

I was going to make a long title with a clever pun on “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray, but, c’mon man, ain’t nobody got no time for that, and, besides, it probably would not have been that clever.

But, c’mon:

Messenger: Beer Hall Project aims to counter Jan. 6 disinformation, protect American democracy

Yeah, that’s some mind-changing grassroots right there. Let’s see, it’s:

  • A former executive director of The Lincoln Project;
  • A former campaign worker for Claire McCaskill;
  • Founding an organization that explicitly calls people who disagree with its point, purpose, or mission Nazis
  • Starting with a video called “Parallels” narrated by that one guy who played the Hulk in one of those Hulk movies no one watched (no, he did not play Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that was some other guy)
  • Of which Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch glowingly approves.

That’s some straight-up Republican grassroots there.

I am pretty sure that we can all see that it’s an organization (non-partisan, or Republican, in future reporting!) designed to get money from left wing donors, pay its founders and employees and consultants, and irritate Josh Hawley, although I am not sure how many people it will persuade.

Hopefully enough left wing donors to keep the founders in kibble for a couple of years until the next one comes along (or springs fully formed like Athena from the founders’ heads).

Oh, and in Parallels news, The Ominous Parallels, the book by Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir Leonard Piekoff, which very carefully explained how modern American politics and governance is just like Nazi Germany is going to be 40 years old this year.

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Book Report: Terror Intent The Executioner #219 (1997)

Book coverWell, my first book of the year–why not make it one of the less than a handful of Executioner novels I have left? Especially since they’re really now something to be finished rather than really enjoyed by the late 1990s, when they’ve bloated a bit and have kind of lost their roots and what made them most enjoyable at their best–the philosophical musings.

In this book, Bolan is in north Africa when an Egyptian band of Islamic terrorists begins targeting tourists, especially Americans. With funding to buy expensive explosives and the hired know-how of a Palestinian terror expert, the group–The Holy Voice–presents a real threat, although not on the scale of Chinese nationalists attacking nuclear plants or Caribbean dictators trying to buy nukes; but some of these smaller side missions could be satisfying, but in the execution (ahut), not so much.

I mean, you have set pieces, and you have bang-bang, but that’s about it. Perhaps I’m hoping for too much, or perhaps I’m idealizing the early books that I read fourteen years ago (whose publication date was a mere twenty-four years and 204 books prior to this volume). Still.

I flag a couple of things in these books as though I’m going to bother reviewing the little tabs while writing these little reviews. The first thing I flagged, though, again was the “A Brit wrote this” because it talks about height in terms of yards. We Americans tend to measure distance in yards, not height. But I have pointed that out in recent books which turned out to have been written by an American, so never mind.

At any rate, March 1997 is the publication date. I often like to track what I was doing at the time the book came out. That was a big year: A couple weeks before this book came out, a girl at the University of Missouri emailed me where to read poetry in St. Louis. And that worked out all right for me. You know, I printed out every email she sent me during those first few months, and when I admitted that I was emailing a girl to one of my friends, I used the two inch stack of paper to indicate she might be serious, I dunno. I have them all in binders here; I should re-read those instead of an Executioner novel sometime.

Never mind, the Winter 2022 Reading Challenge is on. It will have to wait until spring, as will the next Executioner novel.

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So It Begins

The 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has begun.

I have been a little under the weather the last couple of days, so it’s been a little like a vacation, allowing me to read in my reading chair during the day, so I have already finished one of the categories.

Undoubtedly, I will find some books to cover multiple categories, which will give me a lot of flexibility when the final reckoning comes at the end of February.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to sit in my reading chair under a blanket and possibly a cat and enjoy some of this mini-vacation.

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When Your OCD Fails You

You know, some years ago, on a Saturday morning, we were getting ready to go to a martial arts class. I had not loaded up my pockets with wallet, phone, keys, and whatnot when I stepped into the garage to load our gym bags into the back of the truck, and everyone came out to get into the truck and locked the door to the house. Gentle reader, we lock the door from the house to the garage consistently because we don’t want to just give the house to anyone who gets into the garage–and given that the boys like to come in with the garage door open, that could be easy to sum d00d. As I did not have the keys, we had to call my mother-in-law to come bring us a key.

Since that day, we have taken precautions. We have hidden a key in the garage, not that it takes much hiding with the garage as messy as it is. I am not sure I can find anything in there that is not hidden. And I have made sure when stepping out of the door, before locking it, to check to make sure I have my keys on me.

On Wednesday, I scheduled a mid-day martial arts class, but I worked a little later than I intended–it had been a while since I’d done a mid-day class, so I thought I had an extra ten minutes, but when I realized I leave at noon, not I start to get ready at noon, I flew into action. I got my gi on, tucked my wallet, keys, and phone into the gi, and headed out. Before I locked the door between the house and the garage, I patted to make sure I had the keys. I did.

As my beautiful wife had our primary truck, I was taking the secondary vehicle in the driveway. I gathered my bag and some hydration materials (one water, one Gatorade). And I stepped out the door between the garage doors, locking the door and pulling hard as the latch sticks a bit when it’s locked. Then I reached into my gi for my keys, for the infamous needlepoint fob, and….

I had grabbed the wrong keys.

In the same drawer where I keep my pocketstuffs, I have a keyring with all the strange and auxiliary keys that one accumulates over a lifetime. I culled my keyring a number of years ago, removing everything but my car keys and my house key from it, which lent itself to this collection. In addition to keys for bike locks I’ve never used, keys to trigger and cable locks, and keys to the family lockbox, the ring also has house keys to….what? My mother’s old house? My mother-in-law’s house? I don’t know, but it has several house keys on it. Just not any for our house.

And I was outside the house, not in the garage, so I couldn’t use the hidden key there.

So I called my beautiful wife, who cancelled a meeting and came back from Springfield to let me in.

However, I did get the chance to sit outside in 35 degree weather for thirty minutes to prove how Wisconsin tough I am. However, fortunately, the sun was out, and the gi is black. As I managed to stay out of the wind, it was not too bad.

So I have moved the auxiliary key ring so I don’t make that mistake again.

And for the next couple of weeks or months, you can rest assured I will check the keys harder when I step out of the house.

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On Friedrich Neitzsche narrated by Charlton Heston (1991)

Book coverNot long after having Charlton Heston and vocal talent narrate Søren Kierkegaard, I picked up the next chronological set of tapes, those on Neitzsche. You know, I am listening to tapes more than lectures or books on CD because my truck has a CD changer in it, where you can load up six CDs at once. Which sounds good if you’re the only one driving it, but it’s a bit of a hassle to load six CDs at once, and it’s even more of a struggle when your beautiful wife wants to load some of her CDs as well. Oh, the humanity!

So. This set details Neitsche’s life and thought, focusing mostly on the thought, and focusing mostly on Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil because, face it, that’s where the bulk of what you talk about when you talk about Neitzche comes from (unless you like to talk about his facial hair).

They rely a lot on vocal talent ranting Neitzsche’s own words in a harsh German accent, so it was distracting and hard to follow. But Neitzsche’s work is harsh and ranting anyway–I am sure I thought a little better of it when I was young, inclined to Dionysianism and thinking of myself as an ubermensch. But ultimately, the recasting of morals as dependent upon man’s capacities or whatever so that different actions are wrong or right depending upon…. Well, it’s clear that one, or a national socialist party, might take that to heart.

I never really got into Neitzsche as I was innoculated by my earlier exposure to Aaron Rodger’s favorite author Ayn Rand, wherein the superman (John Galt or Howard Roark, take your pick) was reined in by a real, concrete morality probably influenced by Kant and maybe Thomas Aquinas.

Which is kind of depressing, as I have an old Waldenbooks? Barnes and Noble? omnibus edition of Neitzsche around here, and if I am going to eventually read all of the books I own (assuming medical science can keep me alive until 2173), I will have to read it.

But, you know what? Listening to this book and reading the Neitzsche when my brain is in a jar and the “reading” is the injection of a certain chemical into the jar whilst receiving certain bioelectroradiographic pulses is still a good thing, if only to refresh how far one has come in one’s understanding of philosophy over the decades. Also, it was only a couple of hours of drive time, and, man, I love these things. But not the German accents.

(Oh, yeah, the latest link on the Aaron Rodgers maybe pointing at Ayn Rand on a podcast from Instapundit, who is seemingly the only thing that’s not a tabloid that I read.)

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On Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Book coverI saw this film in the theaters with my beautiful wife back in the heady days of the Stillerverse and back when we went to the theater a couple of times a year. This film is a lesser entry in the set starring Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and/or Owen and/or Luke Wilson–Zoolander, Dodgeball, and Mystery Men are better. As a matter of fact, my wife said that we did not see this in the theaters, or that she did not remember it, and all the way up to the climax, she did not–but when we got to the end, where Stiller is dressed up like an aging Jersey Shore resident saying, “Do it,” in a deep voice–ah, then she remembered it.

You know, I still found it an amusing film to watch, but I am of an age that I knew of the original Starsky & Hutch; I probably saw some when I was really young, but it wasn’t something I sought out as a young person. My boys didn’t care for it much, either, but that’s likely because they did not know what the movie was playing with/parodying/satirizing. They didn’t like Hot Shots!, either, even though they had just seen the source material (Top Gun), and they did not get Airplane! much at all because they did not know airport disaster movies from the 1960s and 1970s.

Starsky & Hutch might have marked a bit of a beginning of movies being made out of earnest nostalgic properties spun to comedies (think The Dukes of Hazzard in 2005, 21 Jump Street in 2012, and CHiPS in 2017). You cannot say it about Charlie’s Angels in 2000 because that was a bit of a homage, and it, too was a bit earnest in its action movie way. But this set of movies took television programs that were not necessarily serious, but were certainly earnest, and turned them into things that, I guess, kids could laugh at the things their parents watched or something. Except I would guess that the kids, like mine, didn’t get a lot out of them aside from the antics of their generation’s stars as they were not familiar enough with the source material.

Ah, but that is me, the guy with an English degree and a blog, so you can expect me to try to come up with a thesis and write a lot about it, whether it’s ultimately true or even really defensible. The pro forma argument, and publication, is the real goal. But did I mention Carmen Electra appeared in Starsky & Hutch?

Continue reading “On Starsky & Hutch (2004)”

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Book Report: Tea in the Time of COVID by Ann Kynion (2020)

Book coverWhen I bought this book last June, I said I thought I would confuse it with Coffee Is Better Than Therapy. And so I did; as I was reading, I was picturing the woman living in Webster Groves, but then she would mention something from Springfield, and it would throw me off.

The book comes from a bit of a vanity project: It’s a book collecting 100 of her online posts during the first 100 days of the pandemic, which she counts from the lockdown order in Springfield in Spring 2020–although that’s a localized start date. I was skipping triathlon classes for weeks before that to limit my exposure to a disease I feared might be akin to something out of The Stand or The Andromeda Strain (books, gentle reader, books–although I have seen a contagion movie before, but not Contagion, I can’t think of what it would have been). In my paranoid defense, I’d like to point out I thought about cancelling a trip to DisneyWorld during the Ebola outbreak in, what, 2014? That experience–my own fears not coming to pass–mitigated my fears about Wuhan flu as time went by and the dead were only lying in the streets in pictures on the Internet and not in Springfield, Missouri.

So we have 100 entries of a couple paragraphs, more or less, talking a little bit about what she did that day, the tea mug that she used (she collects hand-crafted tea mugs from around the world), the little aphorism or proverb on her tea bag, and maybe a little bit of something else. Most of them cross some of the Country Grandmother/Rural Reporter column from small-town newsletters. They give a little insight into the mindset in early 2020 about the state of the disease and the government responses to it. I think Ms. Kynion continued believing in its potency and virulence longer than I did–after all, I was out in person several times a week going to essential businesses to keep things topped up even though I’d laid some things up before the lockdowns, and I saw the same checkers week after week meaning that they were not dying of a plague.

At any rate, an interesting project and a bit of a time capsule, but not something to read straight through as many of the entries cover the same ground and very similarly. It took me months to read it, as I would read a bunch of them and put it aside for a while. Also, I think it got lost in the truck for a while after I took it out to read elsewhere at one point.

Perhaps pace one’s self to a couple a day to better mimic the daily updates that each entry represents.

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The PSAs Have Gone The Other Direction

Instapundit links to a Joanne Jacobs Teens eat more, exercise less.

Which is weird, because all the NFL public and charitable announcement commercials during football games are no longer about Play60, its program to get kids to exercise. Instead, they’re all about the It Takes All Of Us announcements about programs raising awareness about race.

You mean the first actual, you know, health problem wasn’t solved yet and in fact worsened, but it was superseded by a more contemporary political concern?

What is this world coming to?

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No Hobgoblins In This Small Mind

As I have mentioned, gentle reader, the one genre of music I do not like much at all is not rap or hip hop (although I don’t like much from that genre either) is the seventies folk, especially male folk singers like Dan Fogelberg and John Denver (women like Linda Ronstadt, Lynda Carter, Olivia Newton-John get a pass because, well, PWOC).

Explain to me, then, how I have come to enjoy the vocal stylings of Michael Franks?

I could probably go into a paragraph talking about his distinct vocal stylings, but I’m not that smart, or I could point out that he is more smooth jazz than folk, but….

Really, it’s because WSIE provides a steady diet of a couple of his works, and I tend to pick up my jazz recordings based on what WSIE plays. I have not picked up any of his CDs, but I have gotten a couple of records when I’ve found them in the wild.

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Welcome To The New Normal

How do you like this, the middle part of the first half of the 21st century?

I saw this ad whilst watching football this weekend:

For those of us in the future, when this video has been removed by the owner or when YouTube re-writes its embeds again and renders three quarters of a twenty-year-old blog inscrutable (actually, I’ve only been embedding YouTube videos for about ten years, so I’ve only had to deal with dead embeds twice so far), this is an ad featuring Drew Brees, Jerome Bettis, and Jerry Rice sharing breakfast with a family of football referees, and they call Quaker Oats instant oatmeal a “superfood.”

You know what I call it? Gruel.

That’s right, gentle reader, the powers that be want you to think gruel is a superfood. Please don’t riot over the prices of meat and milk when you can find them in stock. You can grind your own grain and bark and think it’s good for you.

Alright, alright, alright, I am trying to be a bit arch and wry here. Full disclosure: I actually eat Quaker Oats for breakfast a couple of times a week since it’s fast, filling, and will not leave me bonking in the middle of a gym workout. But I eat meat with it. Bacon, to be precise. And although bacon doesn’t make everything better, unlike what the Internet of 2014 might have told you, paired with some carbs, it’s a good thing.

Still, when I saw the ad, the first thing I thought was “They’re calling the food of poor people, ground grain soaked in water, a superfood now?”

Another full disclosure: If you add the amount of water recommended on the packet, one half cup to the packet, it’s more of a porridge than a gruel. But if you have a family to feed, you’ll add more water than that, ainna?

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The Sunrise Is So Far Away In Winter

Like Lileks, I am not a fan of getting up before the dawn:

I never do anything of consequence between 3 and 5. Good for me nothing is required, either, or I might have to go to bed at a normal hour.

NORMAL ACCORDING TO WHO, the night owl screeches. The high achievers? Hah: they get up too early. Wife regularly has meetings with doctors that start at 7. People in finance and high-powered law firms are on the treadmill at 5:30. Normal for them, I suppose. When I had to get up early and get to work to do the news broadcasts I was compelled to take to bed early and wake in the bleak dark, and I hated it. The day seemed impossibly long, like a frozen baguette you had to gnaw from one end of the other.

If I could control my sleep with willful precision, I’d rise at 7:00, then sleep from 2 to 6, then stay up until 2. I’ve always hated afternoon. The very word sounds like a yawn.

You know, I’ve had to get up early for work most of my life. When I was at college, I had to get up early many days to get to campus, and I had to get up to open the grocery store produce department other days. After school, I had a bunch of jobs where I had to be at work at 7 or 8, often an hour away from work, so it was up at five (often after being up until after midnight the night before, but I was young).

But I had a brief idyllic period during my first remote working experience, before we had kids. I could sleep until 7am, hit my desk at 7:02am, take a nap at lunch, work until 4pm, doze until my beautiful wife came home from work, and then stay up until 1am or 2am. I wrote most of John Donnelly’s Gold during that, what, year and a half? But then the boss rented some office space downtown, and I had to be up at 5 again to be at the desk at 7am, and then we had kids, and I was up at 5 with our early rising baby and then up a 4am or 5am to get a couple hours of work in before having to take the kids to school and taking off early in the afternoons to retrieve them.

I have given some thought as to what life will be like when the boys leave us in only a few years. The evenings will be quieter; I will not feel like I need to be available for guidance all evening long, so perhaps I will undertake projects in my office or garage or maybe leave the house. Weird thought, that.

But I have certainly thought that if I’m still working from home, my schedule will involve waking after sunrise.

I feel this most acutely this, the first week of January. Over their Christmas break, I’ve slept in as I’ve not had to run into town in the 7 o’clock hour. And we’ve put the Christmas down, so Nogglestead is suddenly darker without the lit Christmas lights (we leave the trees on all night and all day). And the sunrise is so far away. It’s, what, almost 7am, and it’s going to be dark for another hour or so. The oldest tends to put on a bunch of lights on the upper level of the house as he gets ready to get himself on the high school bus. Normally, I go along after he’s left and turn those lights off. On days like these, though, I leave those lights on until after dawn.

C’mon, dawn, I’m waiting.

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On The Blues Brothers and 9 To 5 (1980)

Book coverYou know, these films were released in the same year. It’s crazy, because the aesthetics of each differ so wildly.

The Blues Brothers self-consciously represents a bit of a throwback, a bit purposely so. I’ve heard the story that the producers wanted the film to include more contemporary, disco musicians in it, but Dan Ackroyd and the dead Belushi wanted to have old Motown musicians. By 1980, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles were past their pop-culture sell by dates, apparently. I don’t know what to think of this–there’s an uncanny valley between first popular appeal of some artists, followed by a lull, and then perhaps another ascent into the zeitgeist that some artists enjoy. Kind of how artists have a “comeback” album two or three years after a hit album. Elvis, for example, did his big comeback special in 1968, not far past his film successes. But I digress.

When I read the novelization earlier this year, I recounted the plot for those who didn’t know it. I will spare you the rehashing of the rehashing here, I’ll just do a little comment on the aesthetic, a la Lileks, but without the screen caps. So: As I mentioned, it’s a bit backward-looking, and the settings in gritty parts of Chicago are darker and dirty. The film is definitely feels like a film from the late 1960s or 1970s.

9 to 5, on the other hand, is an eighties movie. The colors are a bit more pastel, the whole film is a bit brighter. You can see that the film is more like The Secret of My Success than Network. Even though it’s set in Manhattan, it’s not the Manhattan of Midnight Cowboy or Escape from New York (released a year later than this film). It’s a bright, optimistic vibe, where the women are getting liberated and overthrowing their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot bosses.

Oh, but the professional look of 1980. The tight curls and those giant glasses. Most people think of the big and teased hair as the 80s look, and God bless them for their either forgetting or never knowing. The teased hair is flattering. This is not.

I think Missouri might have been a trailing indicator for this look; I remember in the middle 1980s, when someone would give my poor sainted mother a makeover, it always included a cropped, curly perm, big glasses, and too much makeup. She ended up looking like a zombie.

At any rate, 9 to 5 spawned a television show that ran for six years through most of the 1980s. I vaguely remember it.

And in a stunning twist, I watched the film a couple of times on cable when it was fresh, but not on Showtime. It must have hit HBO when friends of the family were early adopters of cable television, and we spent some time at their house including our last month living in Milwaukee after my mother gave up the apartment in the housing projects and before we decamped for Missouri at the end of the school year.

So I saw this film when it was new, and I was young, and the world was pastel and promising. So I remember it with more affection than it probably deserves on rewatching.

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On Comedy, Tragedy, History: The Live Drama and Vital Truth of William Shakespeare by Professor Peter Saccio (1996)

Book coverThis is an old timey Great Courses/Teaching Company set of cassettes. The copyright date says 1996, but the instructor at one point talks about the 1980s as being the present time, so it might have been recorded a couple of years before the copyright date. The lectures feature a live audience, so people laugh at his jokes and you can hear them shift from time to time–and one can expect that it’s actually them applauding at the end of each lecture–a sound effect that the company has kept throughout even though you cannot hear the audience otherwise or see them on the few DVDs I have watched.

The lectures include:

  • Shakespeare and Stratford
  • Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Theater
  • Richard III
  • Henry IV and Henry V
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear

It was a pretty short course–four or five hours–and the professor goes not only into Shakespeare in his time for context, but then delves into eight plays to provide some comment on them, their genres, and their interpretations over time.

For example, he talks about the Shylock question. As you might know, gentle reader, Shylock was a Jewish character in The Merchant of Venice, and the play apparently contains some stereotypes of Jews (that carry forward to this day). The professor talks about how the interpretation has changed over time to present a more sympathetic portrayal of the character, and the professor remarked that at least one performance he saw stripped some of the Jewishness from the character–and that plays in the 19th century were Bowlderized to remove the sex jokes, but in the late 20th century they were getting chopped up to remove other objectionable content. Brother, have I got news for you from the future.

At any rate, I really enjoyed these audiocassettes. If you’ve been here for some time, you might remember that I started reading the complete works of Shakespeare in 2018, and I got about five plays in before laying the book aside. See my category Shakespeare for my current progress on reading the book. If it has more than five entries, know that I have been inspired by this lecture series to pick it back up. I will have to pace the plays out like Executioner novels to ensure that I don’t get tired of them and see the formulaic parts too clearly. Perhaps 2022 will be a year of drama, as I have Volume 2 of the complete works of Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, around here somewhere (the first volume comprised the reading of my college course on Ben Jonson back in the early 1990s).

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Worth Less Toward My Retirement Than My Baseball Cards

Over at Outkick, Joe Kinsey’s daily post reminds me of an old pastime:

Winters seemed snowy back then in southwestern Ohio. Very cold. Dark. But there were always those Summerall and Madden afternoon Redskins or 49ers games to get us through. I’d be filling up NFL sticker books with my Christmas stocking hauls and listening to those games religiously. I can still go back in my mind to 1987-1989 specifically and remember the setup in our house and how we’d spend Sundays with the NFL.

I’d not only like to point out that the 80s were snowier than the current decade–we had a lot of snow in Jefferson County, meaning a lot of time off of school–but…

Collectible sticker albums. I’d not thought of those since probably the 1980s, but I, too, would buy an album and then buy packs of stickers, sight unseen, to stick into them. I did baseball albums, though, not football albums. I never completely filled one, but I am sure I had a couple of them going in the middle to late 1980s.

I don’t have them now, even though I have all my baseball cards from the era. I wonder how collectible the sticker albums eventually proved to be. Not enough to check the prices on eBay. Just enough to say, huh, I remember those.

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