Monday, November 30, 2009


C: Dad? Why do they have all these commercials?

Dad: Well, that is how they make money.

C: They sure take up a lot of times.

D: Yes, they do.

C: I think they do it just so that I can't see the cheerleaders.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


Despite some initial outbursts when they let Spiller slip through with a runback to lead 7-0, I felt pretty good for the rest of the game as the Cocks clearly outplayed the Tigers. Yes, they have outplayed them before and still lost, but something was different this year. All of the breaks didn't automatically go against us; in fact, we got a couple of lucky bounces. For once it actually looked liked our O-line outplayed a defense convincingly. The score could have bene even worse for the Tigers, had we not touched that muffed punt. And I thought there were two clear uncalled back-to-back interference penalties that went uncalled, but overall I was just delighted with the performace. I am going to miss Norwood. At least for one year I get to savor the defeat of the Orange. GO COCKS! I hope we do well in whatever bowl we get selected for. And I think it is legitimate to point out that both ACC division champions went down to middle of the pack SEC teams today.

Friday, November 27, 2009


It is always a bittersweet experience for me when I come to the end of a series that I enjoyed. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, a show I thoroughly enjoyed, watching the final season was doubly melancholy. It was the last television series that both my wife and I enjoyed together, though the latter half of the series I was forced to watch alone. Many times while watching it I would think about her. At times the show was a little more preechy and convoluted than I would have liked, and I didn't always like the trajectories of several characters, but I eagerly anticipated each show. I was always impressed by the quality of the program, and the good acting. Edward James Olmos (Bill Adama) was wonderful. Mary McDonnell (Roslin) was great. I had a crush on Grace Park (unlike most men, who probably were totally smitten with Tricia Helfer). I am a sucker for stories about small groups of determined souls fighting off incredible odds (Alexander's Greeks, the gang in The Warriors, the British troops in Zulu, Star Trek Voyager, yeah. . .you get my drift). Although I must applaud the actor who played him, I realy disliked Gaius Baltar. [I would not be surprised if someday they reprise the theme, possibly following the journey of some other group of ships that headed off in a different direction.] Despite my love for Star Wars and Star Trek, I liked that there were no aliens in the story. The sets were awesome and the photography gritty and, well, real life (right, can one say that in science fiction?). The use of Starbuck as some harbinger, or angel, was troubling, but then again, why not. Apparently there are future spinoff, and I hope they do a good job with them.


Before 9-11, one of the most traumatic experiences for America, and definitely Colorado, was the massacre of students at Columbine High School. Twelve youngsters, one teacher, and two killers lay dead after an assault that could easily have claimed hundreds of additional victims (several bombs failed to ignite). The event dominated news for weeks. "Columbine" because synonymous with student shootings. People wanted to know how and what had happened, but they also wanted to know why. Some victims were pegged as heros, others were looked upon as villans; many people quickly concluded that the murderers were picked-upon outcasts, members of a goth group known as the Trench Coat Mafia, and that they targeted jocks and evangelicals. Dave Cullen's Columbine corrects many assumptions and myths, and presents a compelling argument for reevaluating the crime and what drove Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to attempt to destroy their own school, as well as conflicts and struggles of a comunity in the aftermath of such horror.

Cullen's style is somewhat unusual for a normal nonfiction account of such an event, often going back and forth chronologically, touching on this subject and that, laying out trajectories of many paths, but carefully picking apart arguments, while assessing blame and providing insightful explanations of what lay behind the murders. Much cannot be covered in this review, but there are some important observations. Probably the most important is that these boys did not simply "snap," nor were they victims of anything other than normal peer pressures and disappointments---Harris was a psychopath, possibly from birth, and Klebold was a depressed suicidal who Harris needed to complete his plans (he had hoped to recruit other participants). Local authories were provided with numerous opportunities to stop the duo, and later actively engaged in a coverup (a conspiracy in fact) to hide the fact that at least one family had correctly pointed out that Harris was a danger. The police very likely were too slow in aggressively engaging the pair during the attack, and missed an opportunity to save some lives (but it may be too hard to criticize their decisions on the ground). Most likely the teacher (and possibly soem students) bled to death because of poor decisions by initial responders, although it is unclear that the students could have been saved. One of the most revealing things about the book is how people react to stressful events, and how witnesses see and report their observations. Eyewitness testimony is not always accurate. The media comes in for some blame in running with stories that were untrue, although there does not seem to have been some active effort to defraud; clearly they did not ask the right questions nor determine how accurate some of the claims were. Some evangelicals can be blamed for continuing a fiction that they knew was untrue (after the truth came out) because it benefitted their worldview---Cassie did not give her life in confessing belief in God (actually, another young lady, who survived, was most likely the genesis of that story, although she was vilified and accused of being a copycat). The two killers were not part of the TCM. Proponents of lax gun laws deserve criticism, especially in allowing easy access to weapons (though much blame deserved to be put on the two adults directly responsible for providing the guns and ammo). However, if the duo had been delayed, the likihood is that they would have eventually gathered their arsenal and attack; the only advantage would have been the possibility that their plans would have been fully discovered. Eric did not target any one group of students: he hated all humanity, or at least those who he felt were inferior, and he may not even have seen his victims as human. He was filled with hate. One could criticize the parents (possibly more in Dylan's case), but Haris was an accomplished psychopath, and they are often effective liars. Most sad was how the events were used by unscrupulous individuals for monetary gain and the promotion of specific agendas. Cullen's description of how parents and community dealt with the aftermath of tragedy was instructive.

There were heros. Several victims heroically refused to let their serious injuries keep them from experiencing life or achieving goals. Several teachers, particularly, acted bravely and decisively in getting children out of the path of danger. Some reporters ferreted out the truth. One FBI agent worked steadily to uncover causes and transmit his findings to others, so that warning signs could be taken more seriously in the future. The students deserve much credit for refusing to let their school die and for regaining control of their lives.

This is an excellent work. Not having read other accounts, I may be giving praise too easily, but I was impressed by the thoroughness of his research and arguments, and believe that most of his conclussions are accurate. There is much for parents and school administrators, and possibly health professionals, to learn from this book.

Monday, November 23, 2009


As the WWII juggernaut of Japanese forces streamed southward early in the conflict toward Australia, its naval and air forces systematically destroyed much of its Allied opposition. American naval strength was found largely in the outdated and under-armed Asiatic Fleet, including a group of four-funneled flush-deck destroyers, among them the USS Edsall. Written off as expendable and with inadequate provisions, they were often sent on sacrificial operations with little military benefit, but for political expediency. Their crews, nonetheless, committed themselves resourcefully and bravely despite the staggering odds. In March 1942 the Edsall blundered into a Japanese fleet (possibly as it entered dangerous waters to rescue the survivors of the Pecos, which was ferrying men southward), and despite the gargantuan challenge arrayed against it, managed to hold off some of the best Japan had to offer, eventually and predictably succumbing to dive bomber attacks after a two-hour engagement. A few men survived the engagement, only to disappear in the hell that was the Japanese POW system, and no known crew made it out of the war. A small number of bodies were later located, having been executed and buried. Adding to their plight, their bravery and sacrifice was largely ignored and unreported, if not actually hidden from public eye. Donald Kehn tries to rectify this oversight with A Blue Sea of Blood.

Sadly, the effort was unsatisfactory. One can applaud the author’s research and efforts, as well as the wealth of information he provides, especially in light of the paucity of available materials, both governmental and personal, but he falls short in his storytelling. The strips of available information are lightly tacked to a sparse set of bones. One almost gets the feeling that the project should have been smaller, perhaps a large article in a major naval publication, but that in making it a book it became unwieldy, repetitive, and ultimately of lesser quality. One also gets the feeling that an inferior editing job was done. The story just doesn’t flow as well as some similar efforts, such as Ship of Ghosts. And this is sad, because the story is an important one. Another minor quibble is that Kehn to often puts himself in the story (this material should have been put in footnotes, or a separate appendix).

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I have always been somewhat conflicted about the death penalty. Part of me thinks it is an appropriate penalty for murder, especially the most heinous cases (particularly against those who kill children), but in accepting this stand I have always believed that it should be absolutely as difficult as possible for the state to take a life, even if the convicted spends many years waiting for his final day. Death cannot be reversed. As I grow older, I come down, maybe even vindictively, on the side that even if they committed the crime, it is better they suffer in their cell, forced to think about it, than to have the easy way out by death. I know that the death penalty is not a deterrent. . .one only has to look at the rising numbers of individuals on death row, in startling numbers in some states, to know that argument does not hold water. And too many innocent people have been released because of scientifc evidence.

It is with this mindset that I watched a powerful and moving documentary, At the Death House Door, featuring the story of Carroll Picket, a minister present at more than 90 executions, who now is in the forefront against the death penalty in Texas (one of the most active state killers), and the story of what appears to be an innocent man put to death. I was impressed by the strength and wisdom, and quiet purposefulness, of Pickett. I felt for DeLuna's family, especially one sister. I know that in many cases the families of the murdered suffered even more, and I know a hateful demon would rise up in me if one of my sons was ever a victim. But I think many people may come to different conclusions about teh effectiveness of the sentence and the honesty of some of our public officials should they have the opportunity to watch this excellent film.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I am a vivid dreamer, and apparently unlike many people I can often remember at least some of my visions, occasionally in detail. And although I don't know if it is usual, some of my dreams seem to be like long-running serials, as I return repeatedly to a specific dream to take up an adventure or finish some storyline. Last night was one such visit, though a sad one.

While I was in graduate school, and had just moved to Columbia, I started having a dream about a nonexistent reading room, perhaps some coffeeshop/bookstore/giftstore type of place run by a nun-like group of women who were quiet and reserved. I would go there to read or reflect, and often to catch a quick nap. Yes, I was napping in my dream. Perhaps when I felt rested I could get sleep in the real world. Maybe it was a way to handle the stress of living away from family and dealing with graduate studies. I remember that there was a lot of wood and glass in the place, with lowered lighting, and there was a room off to the side that one could use to lie down, perhaps on one of those sleeper couches you see in psychiatrist offices. I developed friendships with some of the women, and they seemed welcoming and genuinely happy to see me and make me comfortable when I was there. I recall that sometimes we would sit and have discussions. I remember that I could walk to this spiritual oasis from wherever I lived and that it was in an urban area, though somehow it sat apart from the noise and bustle of a normal city. It was peaceful.

Last night, I visited it again, after a long hiatus, but when I arrived I realized that they were closing shop. Silent, unseen women worked quietly to pack the belongings and then I watched as the last boxes were removed and the workers walked away down a path, and I was left alone in the room, sunset light filtering through the stirred-up dust particles floating in the air, and I cried. I wonder now where my dream entity will go to find that same sense of peace.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My friend scanned this drawing from about a year ago. It is only about four inches tall in real life, but I have it pasted to my work computer, and I thought I'd share. It was drawn by my son Chimo; he sketched it at work while waiting for me to get something done on a weekend. Notice that in addition to a beak, this chicken has lips. . .hence the smile!


No current writer seems to make me smile and chuckle with wicked certainty than Chris Moore, and his The Stupidest Angel is no exception; in fact, it might be one of his more enjoyable stories. The third novel to feature the sleepy but cursed Pacific coast town of Pine Grove, plagued as it has been by man-eating demons and vengeful sea sepents, the locals now have to deal with brain-eating zombies stirred up from their eavesdropping sleep by an intelligence-challenged archangel run amuck. Around five years after our last visit, several familiar couples have found their relationships on the rocks. Theo, our good-hearted stoner lawman, and Mollie, psychotic ex-warrior screen goddess of the B-movies, are caught in a storyline not unlike O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," with some seriously odd twists. Other couples include the socially awkward biologist and his upper-crust psychiatrist as well as a bitter women fresh from accidentally dispatching her former husband and a horndog private pilot (now working for the DEA) with his talking Malaysian fruit bat (CM fans will know who this is). Any fan of Moore who hasn't read this book yet, will be in for a treat. For those unfamiliar with his wacky sense of humor, irreverance, and sexual innuendo, you may want to try one of his earlier stories before jumping into this one. Moore likes to throw in little tidbits of perversion, less to tittilate than to catch the reader off-guard. . .for instance, you can be assured that there will be at least one (and in this case more) references to some sort of beastiality, as well as off-hand remarks on just about every area of kink. But unless one has stringent fundamentalist morals, one can only laugh. Students at, say, Bob Jones or Regent University most likely will not be carting his books around campus, and I wouldn't let anyone under 21 read it (partially because they would not have the experience to understand most of his references); but for most thinking and open-minded adults, who enjoy a little sexual mischeviousness, you just can't go wrong with Moore for a fun ride.


Night Watch is a decent Russian movie about the forces of good and evil, played out over the centuries as a tense relationship between two warring factions of Others. The walkers of the night, of course, are vampires. An agreement has been forged between the leaders of the sides that each will provide watchmen to assure that rogues (although Palin was not in this movie) will abide by their pact. But, of course, some stray, and the decision of one individual will have repercussions that will unleash. . .yes. . .another series of horror flicks. People walk the street, often unaware of their special powers, until some even triggers the realization that they are different, and then the individual must choose between light and dark. Although this movie is not up to the technical achievement of American and Western cinematography, such as that shown in the awesome Underworld and Matrix series, it is nonetheless enjoyable, if not a little clunky at times. I am sure it is a tad better for native Russian speakers, but the dubs were not that off-putting. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the second part, which I believe is titled Day Watch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Just finished the much criticized The Lost Symbol, and really guys, do you expect every book that people read to be a masterpiece. How about just a story that is fun to read and doesn't take half a year to slog through? Is it great literature? No. Is it a decent story? Yes. Was I totally happy with Brown's effort? Well, errrr, no. I figured out too much in advance (possibly just by guessing right) and I thought it easily could have been trimmed, say, 200 pages. But it was still an enjoyable story, and will no doubt make a good movie. Most of the people who saw me walking around with it, and stopped to chat, seemed to have enjoyed it as well. I like a good story once in a while, and I don't even try to figure out if all the information he provides is 100% accurate. . .I'm going to forget it all in a day or two. Like Chinese food. . .fun to eat, but you'll be hungry fairly quickly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Just caught the The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. I thought he did an absolutely wonderful job portraying an aging wrestling star, The Ram, who is forced to deal with a career coming to an end, money woes, medical problems that threaten his life and livelihood, a relationship with his daughter that is little more than nonexistent, and his desire as well for a romance with an older stripper who is afraid to establish anything more than a dancer-client arrangement. Although Rourke clearly has problems in the real world, he still can produce a stirring role on the screen. Marisa Tomei, in addition to being a beautiful woman, also gives a strong performace. I liked that the director did not try to make it too sappy. This is a solid, enjoyable movie. I think the best scene is when The Ram is at a signing event for former wrestlers, and he looks around at all the broken bodies and dreams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Went on a bit of a tangent in the foreign-film department over the last few days, selecting two Korean movies that were interesting and disturbing, but well done and intriguing. They couldn't have been more unalike.

First, The Uninvited, is a psychological ghost story concerning a interior designer (soon to be married) who suddenly finds himself dealing with guilt and two small ghosts (their death he witnesses; he fails to even try to help, though he could not have known). Their presence shakes him severely and forces him into an arrangement with a deeply troubled woman, who has special powers, in which his repressed past is startingly revealed. The whole story is really about how the revelation of terrible truths can haunt and destroy---in fact I thought it was interesting that the director employed nazi symbols in at least one scene. It is a deeply troubling film (definitely not something you would want someone under about 16 to see), and the main victims in the tale seem to be children and mothers. The colors used are often depressing; lots of rain. There really isn't much humor in the film, although there are several quite interesting observations, as when his fiance points out that if a crowd has come out of church, only to have the worshipers caught in a sudden downpour, they will run off, but not go back inside the chapel.

The second film, Untold Scandal, is an erotic, beautiful story about a manipulative, jealous matriarch in eighteenth-century Korea, who manuevers her philandering male cousin (a real cad, who revels in seductions, especially of women who are more difficult to corrupt) into several trysts that she thinks will benefit her and punish her husband (for taking a much younger concubine). As in all tragedies, the fates are more powerful than human action, and unexpected prices must be paid. The costumes and scenery are absolutely gorgeous, as are several of the actresses (sue me for having a weakness!). The movie provides some interesting insights into Korean culture of this period. Yes, there is nudity and sex, but I would recommend it, especially for lovers of sad romantic stories.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beth & Gabby

This is a picture of my sister Beth, who was born about 10 months after I was, and her grandaughter Gabby (whose Mom is Falon). Beth still lives in Florida, but Falon and her family (which has a new addition, Kara, whom I haven't met yet), now reside in Colorado. Thought some of my readers, the few that you are, might enjoy this pic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


If Pat Conroy published a shopping list, I would probably search for it and read it. Ever since around 1980, when my mother recommended The Lords of Discipline to me, I have been a faithful fan. Part of that devotion may be my having lived on the edges of Charleston (up to fifth grade) and the fact that some of his upbringing roughly parallels that of mine (military father, marshes, South). I loved Great Santini, Prince of Tides, and Water is Wide. I even tracked down a copy of Boo. Although I am seldom awed by the famous or wealthy, I was somewhat starstruck when I finally got to meet Conroy in person, while he was giving a talk in Columbia about his memories of poet and novelist James Dickey. He turned out to be as gracious and pleasant as many of the Southern characters he pens. I have often found myself trading away hours of sleep in order to avoid putting down his latest novel (although I confess that the only thing I haven’t read of his is the cookbook). I enjoyed his nonfictional My Losing Season, as well as Beach Music (though it was probably my least favorite of his novels).

So, I was very excited when I heard Conroy had a new novel, South of Broad, coming out, roughly ten years after his last effort. I immediately lost much-needed rest. Dysfunctional families and individuals are his stock and trade, and this book is chock full of them. The story is placed during the cauldron of desegregation and high-school life (primarily the exploits of the integrated football team) in 1969 Charleston, as a small group of disparate and damaged souls comes together and forms a strong (yet often disputatious) bond that lasts into adulthood. The star the group circles around is protagonist Leo King, a young man recovering from the loss of an adored older brother (suicide) and the parenting of a stern, rigid, ex-Catholic nun mother (who is also the principal of his high school), a role that is moderated by the love and attention of a softer, understanding, and supportive father. King---who is ending several years of probation (having taken the rap for a drug crime he didn’t commit), extensive mental care, and slave-like community service (for a crotchety antiques dealer)---is asked to be a moderating influence between the races in the newly integrated public school and on the football team, as well as to serve as shepherd (similar in ways to the story in Lords of Discipline) to three high-society kids, forced out of their private school; several orphans, including a brother and sister from the mountains of North Carolina; and two damaged, but talented, twin neighbors---one a beautiful, uninhibited, and rebellious girl (Sheba, destined for stardom in Hollywood) and the other a beautiful, flamboyant gay boy (Trevor, destined for local fame in San Francisco as a pianist). King, although apparently rather homely (but well-known because of a long-standing stint as newspaper delivery boy), has a deep heart and manages to achieve his tasks of maintaining racial harmony and stability for the group, but he pays a hard price after marrying Starla (one of the NC orphans), who suffers from borderline personality disorder. He becomes best friends with his black co-captain (whose father is the new coach). While their youthful actions and bonding are important to the tale, the major storyline occurs twenty years later as the truth of their lives unravels while several members of the clique attempt to save Trevor from a terrible fate in California, as well as defend themselves from the twin’s evil father and the onrushing hurricane Hugo.

Conroy loves and understands Charleston and The Citadel, particularly, and the strengths of the book are place and character. Readers familiar with his books will feel pretty comfortable. However, the first part of the book seemed rushed---almost cramped---as he tried to jam things together, to situate the characters, and provide the bedrock of the story. . .it almost felt that he might have written the first section last, and in a hurry. King’s character seemed a bit unrealistic at times, and some of the wordplay seemed outside of that which I was familiar with. Yes, people call each other terrible things, even in jest, but I simply can’t see some phrases tumbling from the lips of most Charlestonians I knew, even the most racist (if they were upper-class). I really enjoyed the love story between King's parents and descriptions of the area (a city that I really like, but do not want to live in). Once the story morphed into their adult lives, it seemed to flow better (even accepting certain scenes that didn’t ring true). Perhaps there were just too many subplots (coverage of which could have accounted for an addition 200-300 pages), but perhaps he was under length or time constraints. There are a lot of disturbing parts (incest, pedophilia, AIDS, racism) that one might want to consider if a young adult choses to pick up the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and heartily recommend it. It touched me personally in several areas. . .particularly Leo’s relationship to Starla. He is a classic codependent personality who cannot give up on his crazy wife. Been there, done that! (Though I got enough help to finally cut the ropes that were dragging me down into the abyss). I just hope we do not have to wait an additional ten years for his next story.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


For me, there is still something special about shepherding my boys through the streets, this time Shandon, on their yearly quest for candy. I am sure it is so for every parent. But things sure have changed I some ways from when I was a kid. I got so excited, and I practically ran from house to house, determined to fill by spoils bag to the hilt. My sons, however, are much more deliberate. After only about two hours, Joey announced that he had collected enough goodies, and seconded by his brother, declared that it was time to head home. It may have partly been the unexpected high temperatures, which somewhat foiled the heavier clothing I utilized in anticipation of cooler weather. Joey went as Darth Maul and Chimo as a ghostly soldier. It is interesting to watch my boys and how they react to things. Joey is much more matter-of-fact, and critical, but still polite. He made sure he thanked each person as he walked away. He complained, though, about people who didn't answer their doors, or did it too slowly,, and about those individuals who left all their lights on without any intention of delivering sweets. At times, he didn't seem to be really enjoying himself. Chimo, on the other hand, just loves talking to people. I wonder where he gets that from? He chats and compliments, notices peoples' decorations and yards. One man said to Chimo, "Ah, and you are the ghost of a soldier?" And Chimo replied, "Yes sir, I died in Vietnam." Not sure exactly where he got that from. Overall, it was a nice night. The horror of the night, however, was all the sweet gifts the Gamecocks gave to the Volunteers!