Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Twistin' the Night Away

Last night's tornadoes left us unscathed but others weren't so lucky:
At least eight people were killed and dozens more injured after multiple tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma on Tuesday, including a massive twister that left a trail of damage 50 miles long.

Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said the death toll has risen to eight. About 6 a.m. Wednesday morning she learned from a hospital that a child has died. She did not know in what county or hospital the child died.
Ballard also said the fatalities include four deaths in Canadian County, two deaths in Logan County, one death in Grady County and the child's death.

There are plenty of pictures and first-hand accounts at the link so follow it through if you feel compelled.

For us, things were tense enough that we headed to the closets - no, we don't have a shelter though a neighbor does down the street and that's where most of the the neighbors go. You can also go to the high school about a mile away so there's we'd have no lack of options if we felt it was dangerous enough. All signs indicated we'd be spared but a last minute button hook of the storm made us re-think things. Rain, hail, wind, lightning, thunder - the usual mix, but that was all we got. (I can't find a graphic to illustrate this but I did see something on television that showed the tornado's track was headed right for us but sputtered out and died a couple miles away.) The power went out for about 2 hours which is about our limit for roughing it.

So, once again, we were blessed. Even more so than usual.

(For us, it was nothing like the May 3rd tornado. That, my friends, was something.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan's Birthday

While you're celebrating, you may begin to think there's something happening but you don't know what it is. Well, here's why:
Bob Dylan famously found Jesus in 1979—and then apparently misplaced him, moving away from born-again Christian rock in his set lists and on to his next reinvention. Mr. Dylan himself has been steadily ducking messianic labels since the 1960s, and on the advent of his 70th birthday (May 24) can only be bewildered that critics still tend to refer to him in Christ-like terms. "I never wanted to be a prophet or savior," he told "60 Minutes" in 2004. "If you look at the songs, I don't believe you're going to find anything in there that says I'm a spokesman for anybody or anything really"—except, possibly, for Victoria's Secret, in whose TV ad Mr. Dylan had appeared a short time before, staring moodily into the camera while his song "Love Sick" played in the background. Yet for intellectuals as diverse as music critic Greil Marcus and historian Sean Wilentz, he is a subject fit for fine-grained, extended study. (Mr. Marcus became a writer, he says, in large part because of Mr. Dylan's music.) No other living musician has generated so much ink—articles, biographies, cultural studies, dissertations, monographs, coffee-table books, even the scholarly "Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Drink Before The War - Book Review

As I mentioned, I thought I might fill in the Dennis Lehane books I haven't read so why not start with the first?

The first book in a series is always interesting - the writer is just beginning and seems to be trying to hard and too earnestly where later in the series he's in full, confident stride. Lehane is no different here - there are glimpses and glimmers of what may be great things to come but for now the characters seem kind've gimmicky. Come on: an office in the bell tower of a church? (Yeah, yeah, there's a reasonable explanation for it. Okay, the explanation isn't reasonable. Never mind. It's a gimmick.)

Lehane's liberal political leanings are at full sail here. The central problem. Racism, of course. You know, if it wasn't for the racism of the white characters, the black characters wouldn't act the way they do. There's also a lot of class hooey - did you know poor people are inherently good because they're poor? Yep. Same reason why rich people are inherently evil. It's a law of nature. This kind of thing is surprising, too, since the book was published in 1994. The 60s were 24 years gone but the eras radical values still echo for Lehane.

But what about the plot, the style, Lehane's skill with language and ratcheting up the suspense? Far-fetched, not bad, pretty good and not bad, in that order. So toss away the ridiculous plot and politics and gimmicks and you'd have a good start for a series. Presumably Lehane gets better because the series goes on for several more books before he tries his hand with other things. For now, though, this is an uninteresting start.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

George Will Turns 70

And reminds us: Is this a great country or what?
Finally, to be 70 is to have lived 30 percent of the life of this nation, which is almost enough time to begin to fully appreciate the inestimable privilege of being a legatee of those who first unfurled the republic’s sails and steered it toward the present. That is why — with homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald — as we beat on, boats against the current, we should be borne back ceaselessly into the American past: It is impossible for the young to know, but never too late to learn, that America truly is something — perhaps the only thing — commensurate with our capacity for wonder.

Stallion Gate - Book Review (Again!)

In the recent "Great Blogger Blackout," the following post was lost and never re-stored. Posting it again for the sake of completeness so if it seems familiar, well, that's because it is. (Funky font brought to you by Facebook, which is a lesson learned, I guess: sending the RSS feed to my Facebook preserved the post. Users of Blogger might be well-served to do something similar with their posts in the event of future blackouts.)

Taking a break from his Arkady Renko novels, Martin Cruz Smith back in the '80s tried his hand at another genre - the World War 2 history genre, I guess you'd call it. Anyway, Stallion Gate it's a fictional treatment of the the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos with some intrigue about spies thrown in for suspense with a twist of romantic drama to make things more interesting, as if the subject matter alone wasn't interesting enough.

Unfortunately, Smith takes the liberal view that communists really weren't that big a threat to the United States and anyone who thought so was paranoid and foolish. His protagonist, Joe Pena, doesn't take very seriously his assignment to prove that Oppenheimer is a Red and instead the personal becomes political. All that is good and fine, I suppose - LeCarre has made a pretty good living at just this sort of thing - but after 9/11 I don't have the patience for it anymore.

Still, Smith's powers of description are in full force here and he renders the New Mexican landscapes beautifully. He keeps things moving along and works in his research, which I assume is accurate, about the creation of the atomic bomb and the site where it was created in interesting ways. But the ending is ambiguous - did Pena get caught in the atomic blast? It seems so. But since I found him unsympathetic so I really didn't care and I guess that's the real problem with this novel: I just didn't care about the main character. A fatal flaw in any novel.

(Another of the cheap books I bought at the Friends of the Library book sale.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mel Talks

Mel Gibson has a new movie coming out and as part of his public rehabilitation, here's an interview he gave that's as revealing as it can be considering the legal questions that remain unresolved. He does well.

Gibson is like all of us, looking for redemption after a fall only his was more public than most. Give him credit. At least he's trying. Early reviews of The Beaver has been unkind to the movie but Gibsion's performance is getting some good reviews. No doubt he's a talented actor - a talented director, too - so if nothing else, seeing this movie will be an opportunity to watch a man use his work as part of his contrition. A rare occurrence these days.

(Here's my prior post about his troubles with a slightly bizarre rant from a commenter.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Famous Authors And Their Typewriters

There's a nostalgia out there for typewriters; this may be overselling the point a bit but there's a nostalgia for famous writers and their typewriters as well:

There’s something magical about catching a glimpse of one of your favorite authors at work – even a photo of the epic event can send an anxious thrill down your spine, as if you might be able to see some hint of literary genius in posture or setting, in attire or facial expression. And it’s even better if they’re working on a typewriter. After all, there’s something impossibly gorgeous about a typewriter – maybe it’s the vintage charm, maybe it’s the physicality the noisy machine lends to the writing process, but people. . . go mad for typewriters. . .

I think the writer of this piece misses the point about typewriters. It's likely she learned her craft clicking away at a computer keyboard and has little experience with typewriters.

Sure, nostalgia for typewriters is fun but writers used these instruments as tools of their trade. Bottom line: a typewriter helped the writing process and made getting the prose down on paper easier. Using a pad and pencil or pen was inferior though many may have continued to use that - Hemingway recommended first drafts in long-hand - you had one more chance to sharpen your prose and no one knew more about sharp prose than Hemingway- and Martha Grimes still writes in long-hand though you can be sure the manuscript she turns in to her publisher has been run through a word-processing program. Which is to say if a writer is still writing his drafts by hand, he's being self-indulgent. But when it comes time to cranking out clean, readable copy for editors or readers or other users of the piece of writing, typewriters were far superior than old-fashioned handwriting. I imagine these writers at the linked article would gladly trade their Remingtons and Olivettis and IBM Selectrics for a laptop and a Word program.

No, I'm not immune to romance. This is what I imagined I'd be doing when I graduated from college with a degree in journalism:

The truth is, crafting prose is hard work and you're lucky if you can make a living doing it. A professional finds, and uses, the best tools of the trade to help him along.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden - Killed!

Of course you've heard the news but in pre-Internet days, news like this would be preserved by buying copies of newspapers and magazines and stowing them in a closet and bringing them out in future years to remember the occasion. Now we post links. Well, I'd better post 'em while they're available:

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed thousands of Americans, was slain in his luxury hideout in Pakistan early Monday in a firefight with U.S. forces, ending a manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade.

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama declared as crowds formed outside the White House to celebrate. Many sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "We Are the Champions," NBC News reported.

Hundreds more waved American flags at ground zero in New York — where the twin towers that once stood as symbols of American economic power were brought down by bin Laden's hijackers 10 years ago.

From Fox News:
Declaring “justice has been done,” President Obama announced late Sunday that Usama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, marking the end of the worldwide manhunt that began nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

The president made the stunning announcement within hours of informing congressional leaders. He said bin Laden was killed Sunday, the culmination of years of intelligence gathering. The news drew a large crowd to the front of the White House, as well as in Times Square, as people chanted “USA. USA.”

Obama, in his address to the nation shortly before midnight, thanked the Americans who have toiled in pursuit of bin Laden and applauded those who carried out the successful mission in Pakistan. Describing that mission only briefly, he said its result “is a testament to the greatness of our country.”

In a few months, certainly years, these links will no longer be any good but at least my little blog will have a reminder of this historic day.