Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A powerful book told by a good storyteller can enchant young minds and transport them to other worlds, in the process firing their imaginations and filling their minds. Such is the case in the somewhat melancholy novel Mister Pip, by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones. It is a fine tale about a young Solomons Island (probably Bougainville) girl named Matilda, who is swept away as a middle schooler by the reading by her white teacher Mr. Watts of Dickens's Great Expectations. The story is set during the rebellion on the island, in which unspeakable horrors are inflicted on the locals, the cruelty of which is repeatedly carried out against Matilda's village. Oddly enough the soldiers appear to be Australian aborigines, ruthlessly subjugating a darker population. As Matilda (and in fact the rest of the class) becomes more engrossed in the story, Watts faces increased opposition from Christian villagers, headed by Matilda's mother. Before he takes over the teaching position (as all whites and others have fled before a blockade), Watts was little more than an oddity, somewhat despised there (as he had been in New Zealand) for having had an affair with a young island woman, though the love seems deep for him as he deals with his depressed love (which I will not spoil the reasons for). Matilda has a tough life, but she really connects with Dickens. The book deals with the clash of cultures, the cruelty of imperialism, the senselessness of war, the conflicts between mother and child, teacher and parent,rebels and soldiers.
I loved several passages in the book. "I already knew that words could take you into a new world, but I didn't know that on the strength of one word spoken for my ears only I would find myself in a room that no one else knew about." Later the little girl is told: "But you know, Matilda, you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is aflame." Yep, those are the tomes I wish to find.
Mister Pip is not quite that caliber, but it was a nice story and it has got me interested in this author. It is somewhat sad, and will anger readers, and it certainly got me interesting in finding out more about this rebellion that was not so long ago. I recommend it.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Two years ago former Gamecock wide receiver Kenny McKinley, one of the most beloved and likeable players in USC history, killed himself while a Denver Bronco, allegedly over reduced playing time due to injury. The Gamecock nation mourned. Then today it was another similar tale, this time a lesser-known and short-time former Gamecock (who was currently on the Tennessee Titasn roster, though also dealing with a debilitating injury), who killed himself at his former high school in Tampa. Such a shame. I hope that the NFL and NCAA squads spend time on mental health issues, maybe even screening, to avoid such events. I doubt there are more problems amongst football players than the general population, but these individuals definitely have better access to professional help and should avail themselves. It is sad whenever anyone associated with USC sports comes to an early end, and I wish strength upon his family and friends.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Beatles fans may find enjoyable the independent film Nowhere Boy (2009) a biopic about young John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) and the influence of two women---his stern aunt (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) and naughtier biological mother (Anne-Marie Duff), who basically gave him up---on his development, and the way he came to music. A bit of a scamp and ne'er do well, and angry at the loss of the uncle who raised him, he starts a band with friends, only to meet the more talented Paul McCartney and George Harrison, but he manages to catch up (and apparently had some writing skills too), and the story ends as he heads over to Hamburg (where I think it was that Ringo joined the group). Some nice historical pictures at end of film. A few scenes (and language) may not be appropriate for the younger children.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Sometimes it is the small, independent foreign films that capture your heart and transport the moviegoer to another place and culture. Such is the case with the delightful Indian film Vanaja (2006) about a young beautiful tough-minded southern Telugu-speaking girl, daughter of a poor fisherman, who to fulfill her desire to learn classical folkdancing manages to obtain work with the local powerbroker, a strong-willed powerful upper-class former dancer Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari). Vanaja's brazeness and spunk wins over the older woman (as well as her loyal female servant), who teaches her the music and dance moves, but the young girl's world is turned upside down after she is raped by the mistress's son, an aspiring politician. Vanaja (played powerfully by Mamatha Bhukya) resists calls for an abortion, is hidden by the family of her best friend, has the young son, who is soon returned to his father's family in exchange for pecuniary recompense. However, Vanaja returns to the wealthy estate to be near her son and hope for a union with the son, but caste prevents this from occuring, and the wealthy woman eventually talks Vanaja into leaving (not long after she suffers the loss of her frequently drunken and debt-ridden, but loving, father). There are many insights into the culture, caste-system, and religious observances of the area, as well as commentary on class, wealth, status, and power relationships. Remarkably there seems to be a certain amount of flexibility within the system, and even the powerless have an ability to barter for what they want, in this unequal system. There is beautiful photography and wonderful dancing. Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli, as apparently part of a MFA thesis from Columbia University, the film is worth watching for no other reason than the great performance by Bhukya, but the whole cast is very good and it really is a film I would encourage viewers to try. Although I didn't grasp all aspects of the story, it probably had a stronger impact on Indian audiences. Still, I really liked it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


We were driving somewhere last week, and Joey was talking about dams, how they had to be structurally sound, best constructed with concrete and steel, even the smaller ones. He declared that "you just can't make a solid, strong dam with wood and mud."

Then, a quiet rejoinder from Chimo in the back seat: "Hey, don't disrespct the Beaver."

Joey halted, and then just started laughing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Chimo and I attended a poetry reading, with open mike and jazz, sponsored by Mind Gravy Poetry tonight at The Drip in Five Points. Had a frappe (which was not icy enough) and Chimo had a coke and a root beer. The three-man jazz combo (bass, guitar, keyboard) was pretty good; Chimo was playing his DS but his head was bouncing to the tunes---I will develop a bohemian child. The featured poet, a last-minute stand-in, was a slam artist, and I liked his poetry. A bit derivitive, I would like to see him stretch into more current situations, but I did like his homage to the recently deceased Ms. Melodie (Ramona Scott) and women rappers in general. Some of the poems I really liked, some were okay (especially the younger just-starting poets), and some, well, I just thought, WTF??!! I wanted to get up and try one of mine, but I chickened out. I am not sure lyrical sonnets would be their kind of thing. Maybe some day. Creativity comes in all kinds of packages. The crowd seemed pretty friendly, and I could see that there were others who hesitated to get up and give it a try too. Chimo told me his latest poem (SNOT) while we were walking to the car and it was very good, I thought. I am making him write it down in his journal. His style is a little like mine. Imagine that.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The best part about The Prisoner of Heaven is the certainty that there will be another forthcoming volume to continue the story of Daniel and Fermin, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and the wonderful story first deleved into in the delicious Shadow of the Wind. Oh, how I wish I could get an invite to this secret library, this cache of wonderous tomes. But alas, I will have to live vicariously through the words of Carlos Luis Zafon, who is one of my favorite writers. I am delighted that more people are now reading the books of this Spanish author. We learn a lot in this book about the stalwart Fermin, who is on the cusp of ending his bachelorhood to the beautiful Bernarda, and how he came to be involved with the Semperes. Although there may be a tad less mystery here than in Shadow, it is a great bridge toward what I know will be a knockout fourth book. Pray the literary Gods do nothing to derail Zafon. The only mysterious literary disappearance I seek is the one on his pages. I was less pleased with the last offering, The Angel's Game, but I really enjoyed this book, and I think his followers will as well. He also covers many of the horrors Spain endured in the 1930s & 1940s.

Friday, July 13, 2012


For those of you who love dogs and melancholy movies, I encourage you to see the excellent little movie (suitable for kids too) about a college music professor and the abandoned Akita who loves him, based on a true story. Starring Richard Gere and Joan Allen, Hachi (2009) will simply touch your heart and remind you about the strength of the bond between man and dog. I have strange reactions to movies that are nostalgic or a little sad at the end, so it was hard to sit through the last few minutes (I get this really off despair and tightening of the chest in these cases), but don't let that scare you off this wonderful little movie. Hachi is so cute, loyal, and dedicated that he inspires everyone with his love and reminds people of how important are our connections with other humans and animals. There must have been powerful or beloved people involved in making this movie, to garner A-list names such as Gere and Allen, as well as roles for Jason Alexander, Erick Avari, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. . Don't miss it.


Sometimes I slave the day away
whilst waiting on a word
in hopes that it may just defray
my slide from man to nerd.
A kindly line or flirting note
might save from darkest thought,
while stuck in front of this comp screen
my writing come to naught.
But often true it does not float
in email or by phone
some silly quip or funny quote
to salve this time alone.
Of course, she does not know this truth,
that words from her do cheer,
I wait for them, and act aloof,
But wish that they'd appear.


Chimo was awarded his Arrow of Light by Scoutmaster Greg Turbeville (dressed in chief garb). No comment on the fat guy.


The boys at shooting camp with the Scouts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The Taliban, buttressed as well by the general misogynistic attitude of a large percent of men in Afghanistan (not to mention most of the Islamic world), is highlighted recently (again) for the killing of a woman falsely accused of adultery because she had some sort of relationship with two rival Taliban commanders (who apparently were later killed by a third leader). A large number of men attended the slaying and were caught on camera laughing and jeering. President Karzai claims he wants to bring them to some sort of justice. It is an outrage the treatment of women in Afghanistan (and many other countries)---where they are made into little more than chattel slaves and objects, although strides have been made for many, in such groups as the Hazara. Afghani women now can vote and work, but they are frequently attacked (even schoolgirls have been poisoned and sprayed with acid) and harrassed. What I wish is that an American general would bravely get a couple of hundred female volunteers (and I stress, volunteers) and seed them generously amongst ground troops in the most Talabani regions and let them do foot patrols through the villages alongside their male colleagues. Maybe even a few female sergeants and higher officers could be included, who would have a visible leadership role. A message for the men? Yes. But even more so, a clear message for women and girls, who would see that they were capable of anything, even being soldiers carrying weapons and protecting themselves and serving their country. What a message that would be! Even better if the NATO troops from several countries did the same thing. I would wager hundreds, if not thousands, of female American soldiers would jump at the chance (even noting the resistance that they would probably face from males in our military) to show the flag and their strong femininity. I have three beautiful nieces (who I would never want to be endangered) who would be kickass soldiers and damn fine officers if they ever chose to join the military! In fact, I bet their mother, my sister (in law) Patty, would have made a great soldier too. They are all tough and smart, and I know there are many women just like them, willing and capable of serving in almost any role if given the chance. If I had a daughter I would want every door open to her, and I want every door open to all women of the world.


Doctors make a lot of cash and are given many perks by drug companies. Although not likely close to windfalls raked in by celebrity doctors such as Drew Pinsky, it is another of the reasons medical care is so expensive in America and one wonders if the wellness of the patient is the primary concern of some physicians over the health of their bank accounts. I was just prescribed a "name" drug (of which there were several cheaper generic alternatives) that the pharmacist said I couldn't switch because that was what the doctor had asked for, costing $90 when it should have been around $10 (and in fact, another doctor friend has offered me the same prescribed drug for free). If you would like an interesting read about the system, try: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2012/07/dr_drew_pinsky_cashed_in_on_drug_company_money_is_your_doctor_on_the_take_.html

Monday, July 9, 2012


“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” Sadly those words take on new meaning, as news has been filtering out that one of our generation's greatest authors, Nobel Prize winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is afflicted with dementia, likely meaning an end to production of any new work. This is not unusual for a man in his eighties, but it still is a hard thing to contemplate, the possible stilling of such a wonderful and influential voice. His One Hundred Years of Solitude is a masterpiece that I very much enjoyed and that helped introduce me to Latin American literature and magical realism. Love in the Time of Cholera and My Melancholia Whores also were very good. He once wrote “No medicine cures what happiness cannot,” and now that is quite prescient. They did not say how bad the condition is, and I hope perhaps he can squeeze out some more tales and that it comes on slowly and he retains fairly good health. But watching someone slowly lose their memories is difficult, as my father is struggling with it, so I know firsthand the challenges and affects. God Bless their last years, and those who serve as caretakers, especially, because it is a burdensome task, which in the case of my father is taken up by his wife Sharon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I love this quote from Benjamin Franklin: "the only difference between the Church of Rome and the Church of England is that the former is infallible while the latter is never wrong."


It is hard to feel any compassion for Joseph (Peter Mullan), an angry, bitter drunk who is quick to lash out, so much so that he accidentally kills his own pet dog in a fit of rage, in the English movie Tyrannosaur (2011). He knows he is no good, partly for mistreating his wife during her lifetime (she died years earlier from complications due to diabetes), and seems to loathe himself. Yet, there is a kernal of good and vulnerability in him: he is casual friends with an abused neighbor boy and he tries to make some amends by showing loyalty and compassion to a dying friend (who he didn't seem to like all that much when he was alive), but even these acts do not really redeem him. Directed by Paddy Considine, the movie has Mullan adeptly displaying behavior that marks him as a dinosaur, although the term in the movie refers to a mean-spirited nickname for his wife. But there is a glimmer of humanity in him, as he is approached (for religious purposes) and later befriended by an abused woman who works in a local charity shop, and they end up forging a cautious fellowship. Unlike so many men, he comes right out and admits that he is a "cunt" (his words; its ugliness is not diminished even when he is using it to describe himself). This is a tough, unhappy movie, that delves into the darker side of men, especially those who abuse children, women, and animals. Nevertheless, it is beautifully filmed and stark, and the acting of Mullan and Olivia Colman (who playes Hannah) is strong and poignant. Although a small film, it deserves a viewership.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


The early sixties was a time of transformation, exploration, protest, and weirdness, much of which can be summed up in the crazy bus trip orchestrated by celebrated author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and his friends, known as the Merry Pranksters, on their excursion from California to Florida and then up the east coast to New York (where they visited the World's Fair) and then back to the west coast (via Canada). The trip is captured in a new documentary, Magic Trip, by Alex Gibney and Alsion Ellwood. The documentarians took original clips from the 30-hour film made by Pranksters and squared the audio with the film, and then added interviews, photographs, other footage, as well as provided commentary, to produce an insightful and engaging movie about this trip. Wonderful. As for the drugs, I think I would have been stoned too knowing Neil Cassidy was driving! Cassidy seemed like a gyroscope that spewed nonstop chatter, often nearly intelligable. The filmmakers did a great job of explaining the trip, fleshing out the diverse characters and how they got their nicknames, and presenting some of the dynamics of the relationships. Some really good scenes (my Deadhead friends will love some early footage of their heros). It probably will be a nostalgiac ride for those who lived through the sixties, a record and history for later generations, and an entertaining look at the center of a cultural phenomena.


Recently I have been introduced to the ramblings of an extremely funny, often insightful, definitely weird, frequently foul-mouthed, naughtily inclined, and sometimes confusing writer Jenny Lawson, whose delightful Let's Pretend This Never Happened has been getting a lot of notice and readership. I know I have been promoting it amongst my friends and colleagues. There were parts that had me rolling on the floor, and I would recount some of them here, but I don't want to give too many spoilers. Still, you must know that there are foxen, evil kitties, menacing vermin, stuffed animals, a grinning boar head, a doomed puppy, and other assorted fauna that make appearances. Read the book, I think you will enjoy it. Prudes and over-religious persons might want to avoid it, but then those with a bit of an open mind might find a lot here to laugh at as well. With a background tailored to create a bit of wackiness (especially being raised in poverty in backwoods Texas by a somewhat sadistic but seemingly loving father who was a hunter and taxidermist with a strange compulsion to mess with his daughters' heads) and possibly one of the reasons for some of her mental issues, Lawson delivers in blogs and now a book her funny take on the world. Still, there is a lot of love to be found in what can only be a bit of comic exaggeration, but the result is funny and often heartwarming too. She hates squids but loves cats (sorry to hear about her recent loss of an oft-mentioned pet, Posey); has anxiety disorder but carries on nonetheless; recounts many rather humorous conversations, especially with her husband Victor (who, if the dialogue is even close to accurate, makes me think he has a bit of a sense of humor too). I have just started to go back and catch up on her blog entries, which have been fun and irreverent. No doubt I will be finding mych that will make me smile, even if I am a late-comer to her comic craziness. She seems like a person I would love to sit on a porch with, enjoying a wine slushee, and listening to her weave stories that would likely have me rolling off onto the scorpion-infested lawn.

PS--Sadly, Lawson's cat Posey passed on this week, which is sad. No doubt though, this cat had a weirder life with his masters than most cats experience.