Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Hump day link-oh-rama

Some odds and ends you may have missed during your holiday shopping:

*** Bill Gates recommends 5 books for the holidays. Spoiler alert:

“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou
“Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,” by Paul Scharre
“21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” by Yuval Noah Harari
“Educated: A Memoir,” by Tara Westover
“The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness,” by Andy Puddicombe

*** Why I deleted my Twitter account

*** ‘A kind of dark realism’: Why the climate change problem is starting to look too big to solve.

*** Also in the WaPo: A Rapid City priest gets a sympathetic woe-is-me story done on him. If he were an NFL coach he'd be fired by now.
He did not bristle with anger or speak in disgust. There were no echoes of the new calls to end the vow of celibacy or grant women more power. He did not apologize, on behalf of the Catholic Church or on behalf of himself, even if the abuse allegedly had happened on his watch, because he didn’t know what to apologize for.
Just a thought, maybe it's time for some anger and disgust. (I've got plenty if the Church wants to borrow some.) But I suppose that would hamper his efforts of being promoted to bishop.

*** Cigars: A love story or two

*** On the topic of smoking, I've read a couple pro-vaping stories lately, here's one.

*** Camille Paglia is always interesting.
I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.
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Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.
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I have yet to see a single profile of (Jordan) Peterson, even from sympathetic journalists, that accurately portrays the vast scope, tenor, and importance of his work.
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Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.
*** An example of said assassination.




Saturday, December 1, 2018

Finished: Block's 'A Dance at the Slaughterhouse'

Lawrence Block's "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" is one of those rare books where the title tells you exactly what to expect.

I mean, "Moby Dick" - what the heck is that going to be about?

"The Divine Comedy" - hardly a comedy.

"The Catcher in the Rye" - not a baseball book.

But "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" - you don't go into it expecting Mary Poppens and it wasn't.

From Goodreads:
In Matt Scudder's mind, money, power, and position elevate nobody above morality and the law. Now the ex-cop and unlicensed p.i. has been hired to prove that socialite Richard Thurman orchestrated the brutal murder of his beautiful, pregnant wife. During Scudder's hard drinking years, he left a piece of his soul on every seedy corner of the Big Apple. But this case is more depraved and more potentially devastating than anything he experienced while floundering in the urban depths. Because this investigation is leading Scudder on a frightening grand tour of New York's sex-for-sale underworld -- where an innocent young life is simply a commodity to be bought and perverted ... and then destroyed.
It was bars, hookers, a snuff film, torture, threesomes, graphic sex and lots of murder. In other words, a great Thanksgiving read.

But Block, in all his brilliance, weaves an interesting narrative throughout all those torrid events. The main character is Matthew Scudder, a former cop, recovering alcoholic. Many proffer that Scudder's struggles with sobriety (he attends many AA meetings throughout the novel) is biographical of the author's, though Block has never admitted such. (This is the ninth book in the Scudder series.)

A friend once told me that when Jamey Johnson sings his songs you can tell he's walked the walk. The way Block writes about Scudder's emotions certainly suggests he knows more about alcoholism than a Google search would provide.

The book is best described as raw - not blood and sex just for the shock. The emotions, the scenes, the relationships - none of them are cookie-cutter character descriptions. They're deep. That's what makes Block one of my favorite all-time authors. (I wish he would write an autobiographical novel about his times with my other favorite author and his best friend, the late Donald Westlake.)

Thankfully, Block is a prolific writer and still writing. He's fun to follow on Facebook and his monthly email is an enjoyable read. Check out any of Block's novels for a great read, but maybe don't start with this one until you're tough enough.

I gave it an 8 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Goodreaders a 4.2 and Amazonians a 4.4 of 5. Pretty stellar stuff.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Birdhouse remodel complete

It didn't take me as long as expected, but I got the ol' Haugen homestead birdhouse cleaned up, repaired, repainted and remodeled. Below are the after and before pics.







This 1-square foot, two-bed, one-bath cottage-style home is now available for rent. It's set in a beautiful (most years) garden surrounded by lots of tasty bugs and two nearby bird feeders for dining out. The deck features a spectacular view of the foothills of the Black Hills and with your eagle eyes can see the backside of Mount Rushmore.

My grandpa had the advantage of painting the interior pieces before he installed them. But I had the advantage of slender delicate hands to be able to get most of the spots painted, though not with Van Gogh precision. The lesson I learned from this project is that wood glue is my friend.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Post ThanksgivingBlackFridaySmallBusinessSaturdayCyberMonday link-o-rama

Here's some interesting stuff to read you might have missed while arguing politics with your relaticks.

*** America’s Multimillion-Dollar Bounty Program Just for Drug Lords

 *** This is an interesting ruling from the Supremes on endangered species. And it was unanimous.

If you're into Supreme Court stuff, there's a new book out on John Marshall.

*** Sky Gilbert is a bit of a rabble-rouser and wrote quite a thinker for Quillette: If That's What It Means to Be a Writer, I Quit
My job as a poet is not to improve you morally, or to present a clear, kind, socially approved message.
*** Quit apologizing for speaking your mind! Zimmern apologizes for comments about Chinese restaurants

*** A 656-page biography on The Babe (not JLH) came out last month.

*** If you aren't familiar with Dennis Mukwege, you should be. He was recently named co-winner of the Noble Peace Prize for his work with rape victims in the rape capital of the world, Congo.

** Jim O'Neil at Nature has a review, Swansong of Hans Rosling, data visionary, of one of my fave books of the year: Factfulness. Everyone should read it, especially journalists, who apparently need it most. (Read the book and you'll understand.)
It throws down a gauntlet to doom-and-gloomers in global health by challenging preconceptions and misconceptions.
*** Here's the Christmas list I sent my kids. I hope they communicate and don't all buy me the same book:
Red War by Vince Flynn
The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
Target Alex Cross by James Patterson
Holy Ghost by John Sandford
Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz
Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz

Monday, November 12, 2018

Finished the new Jack Reacher & 2 others

Lee Child's "Past Tense" is the 23rd book in his Jack Reacher series. It's one of the best. You'd think Child would start pooping out on this character but he hasn't yet.


According to Goodreads:
Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour. 
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is. 
The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place? 
As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.
The most unique thing about this book in the series was how the suspense built. I was well over halfway through the book before the two plot lines began to intersect. On one hand you had the two Canucks in the forest and the young men planning to do something to them (I did correctly predict what they had up their sleeve). On the other hand was Reacher in a small town doing his version of ancestory.com. The ancestory thing is interesting in the whole scheme of the Reacher family tree. His visit to town also sparks a romantic interest between two people he interacts with. Their fate at the end of the book is one I didn't see coming.

Soon enough the bullets and broadheads started to fly. This was also one of the rare Reacher books were he doesn't have his own romantic interest or at least a one-night fling. Bummer for him.

Goodreaders gave it a 4.3 out of 5. Amazonians a 4 out of 5. I gave it a 8+ on the 10-point Haugenometer. I really enjoyed it but it just fell shy of a 9, which is reserved for books that cause me to lose sleep thinking about them.

** Previously, I finished "The Burning Room" by Michael Connelly. This is the 17th in the Harry Bosch series. It's one series where I'm not reading them in order and it tears me up inside.
In the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die almost a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet nine years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually nonexistent. 
Now Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with solving what turns out to be a highly charged, politically sensitive case. Starting with the bullet that's been lodged for years in the victim's spine, they must pull new leads from years-old information, which soon reveals that this shooting may have been anything but random.
Goodreaders gave it a 4.1 of 5. I gave it a 7 of 10.

** Previously to that, I finished The Canceled Czech by Lawrence Block. This is the second in the Evan Tanner series. I am reading them in order and sleep much better at night for doing so.

Tanner is a unique character. He doesn't sleep and knows several languages. He goes places where even the CIA doesn't want to go.
"The Canceled Czech" finds the sleepless adventurer on a mission to Czechoslovakia to liberate a dying man, who turns out to be a Nazi. For his troubles, he finds himself leaping from a moving train, tangling with an amorous blonde, and playing the role of a neo-Nazi propagandist. Just another typical work day in the life of "the thief who couldn't sleep".
Goodreaders gave it a 3.6 of 5. I gave it a 6 of 10.

All in all, a month with Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Lawrence Block is a great month.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Alexa throws life into turmoil

Admittedly, I enjoy a good argument. It gets the blood flowing, heart pumping and neurons snapping. It's been said I'm pretty good at it.

But there's one "person" who frustrates me to no end and refuses to listen to reason. It's that dang Alexa.

When we discussed purchasing her a year ago or so, I threw cold water on the idea. "The last thing we need is another gadget around the house," were I believe the words I used. But, as is often the case, rather than arguing about it, wifey wins said arguments by just going out and doing what she wants anyway. She bought Alexa.

And I actually enjoy it and use it a lot. I like the corny jokes she replies with when I say "good morning." I like that she will play whatever music I'm in the mood for, gives me scores of games, times of upcoming events, answers to trivia questions. She's like an easy Google.

On my lunch hours I have four songs I rattle off for her to play while I sing along chewing my peanut butter sandwich. Same songs, same meal, every day. It's how I roll.

The songs are:
"Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning" by Willie
"High Cost of Living" by Jamey Johnson
"Blues Man" by Hank
"Do Ya" by KT Oslin

Alexa plays them, I sing them loudly, the dogs howl along, the neighbors call the cops, and I go back to work a happy man. Five days a week for the past year. No questions asked.

Until this past Friday.

For some reason, Alexa decided to play KT Oslin's "You Can't Do That" instead. Does that sound like "Do Ya" to you? Doesn't to me either. It's not like I developed a lisp overnight. I didn't acquire a southern twang or a Boston accent she can't understand. Even without peanut butter in my mouth and with distinct innunciation Alexa refuses to play "Do Ya." I've asked in a several different ways, even had wifey ask. Alexa refuses. What happened? Did the song disappear? Did Alexa developing a hearing problem?

This bothers me to no end and has thrown my OCD life out of whack. It's now three songs, not four like it's supposed to be in a sane world. I'm a man without purpose, a lost soul stumbling back to work (which isn't helped by the usual off ramp I take being closed to construction). My concentration is off, focus is gone. I don't pay attention to speed limits (at least now I have a reason). I'm more susceptible to road rage. I'm grumpier than usual. And it's all because of this Alexa person's overnight refusal to listen to me.

I've taken to swearing at her. Hollering at her. Insulting her mother. Even tried saying "Please." But all to no avail.

All I want is my KT Oslin to sing in one of the sexiest voices in country music history: "Do ya still get a thrill when you see me coming up the hill, honey now do ya? Do you whisper my name just to bring a little bit of comfort to ya? Or do you lie awake thinkin' I'm the biggest mistake you ever made? Do you miss me when I'm gone, but sometimes wish I'd stay gone just a little bit longer? Honey, now do ya?"

The thrill is gone now. Come back KT, before I do something Alexa is gonna regret.

It's looking like a version of "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" is going to play out in this house unless she comes around. I'm sure it'll be in all the papers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My ghost story

I'll go to my grave believing I saw a ghost.

On the farm I grew up on southwest of Canton, our newer house and my grandparents homestead were separated by a grove a spruce trees. In my high school years I moved from a bedroom upstairs to one of the coolest rooms in the basement a kid could ever have. Dad built it. One wall was peg board. Another wall was cork board. All walls were covered with sports photos I'd cut out of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Viking Report, etc. Only a poster of Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit indicated I might have an interest in something other than sports.

My room sat at the far end of the basement from the stairs. Lying in bed, if my door was open, I could see down the hall to the stairs. On the other side of the basement was a family room with a fireplace, a small library and another room with a pool/ping pong table.

This has nothing to do with the ghost story, but Dad made the ceiling of my room out of sheets of styrofoam to cover up the floor joists (is that what they're called?). That was all well and good until the mice started running around up there. The tick, tick, tick of little feet above me while trying to go to sleep added to the ambiance. Even better was when they started chewing and clawing at it and through it. Scratch, scratch, scratch. One day I came home from school and there was a hole in my ceiling and a pile of styrofoam crumbs on my bed. You think you have trouble sleeping? Try doing it waiting for mice to fall on your face.

So one night, guessing freshman or sophomore year, I finally fell asleep with visions of Farrah or Tommy Kramer in my head. My faithful cocker spaniel, Buffy, was curled up beside me. I was awakened about 3 a.m. by my dog's growling. That'd never happened before. I sat straight up in bed, wide awake, and watched this white shadowy figure flow from the bottom of the stairs, down the hall toward me, before stopping at the foot of my bed.

Buffy stopped growling but was tight against me watching the show. I rubbed my eyes a couple times like you'd see Scooby and Shaggy do when they saw a ghost.

The figure was female, old, but not frightening. If anything, she was calming, friendly, protective. Oddly enough, I wasn't frightened. I felt like somebody was checking on me. She stood there for a few seconds looking at me, then calmly turned and floated away.

The next day I asked my parents if they'd come downstairs for some reason. They hadn't. And if they had, there would be no reason for the dog to growl.

The image kind of reminded me of my grandmother, Lydia, but she was still alive and unlikely to be wandering through the evergreen trees and into our house at 3 a.m. So I'm kind of left to believe that maybe it was her mother, or my grandpa's mother.

I don't think it's crazy to think there are spirits or ghosts among us. (But then again, crazy people don't general recognize they are crazy. Maybe I am.) But, heck, if you're a Christian you pretty much have to believe in that stuff. Don't you? So a friendly ghost it was, and I'd pass that lie detector test.

I have other stories, but this one makes me seem less crazy, so I'll stick with just it for now.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A home for the birds and the Haugens

My grandpa, Edwin Haugen, grew up on a farm by Menno. We called him Pa.

Pa and Ma moved to Sioux Falls when my dad was a senior in high school (Washington). Pa worked at Old Home Bread until retirement, where he then worked as the maintenance man for three apartment buildings on Spring Ave.

During retirement Pa had a workshop where he was always working on projects. I never paid too much attention to them as a kid because he was one of the first people I knew who had cable television, which interested me more. I'd stay over at his house and watch all-star wrestling late at night and eat sardines.

One of the things Pa built was birdhouses. This one in particular was a replica of the house he grew up in. He must have built it 40-45 years ago. My dad then had it on a post by his garden on the farm by Canton.

When Dad died, it was one of the few things I took, in retrospect not even really sure why. It's been in my garden for fourteen years as the home to more wasps than birds. It started looking pretty rough a couple years ago, but just now decided to bring it in the garage with hopes of making it my winter project to fix up.

Trouble is, I'm not much of a fixer-upper, don't have the tools or the aptitude. My grandpa did, my dad did, but I don't. Somehow that gene got lost on a gravel road between Menno and Canton.

As I took the roof off and looked inside, I was surprised at the detail. There are working doors on hinges, with doorknobs. There's trim around the windows and doors, inside and out. There were even curtains on the windows, but they've since rotted away. There's also a small porch with a roof you can see on the bottom photo.

My goal is to mostly just clean it up and repaint it. But it's going to need a new roof and that will definitely test my abilities and patience.

Stay tuned. If you never see a post on the finished project, you'll know how the story ended.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

New Prince CD eases the pain

Picked up the new Prince CD last weekend and listened to it on the way home from Champaign last weekend.

Other than listening to Prince when a song came on the radio, my heart just hasn't been ready to listening to his CDs. This was a good segue to getting back into it.

Online reviews have been mixed, but I enjoyed it. It's pretty mellow, just his voice and awesome piano playing. It's a little rough, not mixed. So it's kind of an intimate CD. Was kind of hard to listen to on the interstate, with all the outside noise and all, but it is much better with headphones.

People are always going to get upset about which songs his estate chooses to release, but I was fine with this. Someone suggested letting Wendy and Lisa pick the songs and mix them to Prince's standards, and I like that idea.

Either way, I'll listen to whatever they put out from Prince even though I'll always listen with the thought of what might have been.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A visit to Jane Addams Book Store raises questions

Our annual trip to Champaign, IL, to visit the middle child and her hubby always includes an Illini football game and a trip to the Jane Addams Book Store.

It's become my favorite used book store. I don't know its history but my guess is it is a former apartment building or old home. It is three-stories tall and has numerous small rooms and nooks and crannies with books stacked to the ceiling. There are some pretty cool photos if you Google it.

We were fresh off a visit to a corn maze, and the bookstore was actually more of a challenge to navigate.

So son-in-law and I went to browse while wifey and my daughter went to Walgreens (code name for margaritas).

When we later met up with them at the rooftop bar, I unveiled my purchases to them. It raised some eyebrows as the family grew a little concerned about the titles. There may have even been a suggestion that I could use some professional help (not the first time that's been suggested) or it would surely be a topic of discussion at my Supreme Court hearing (as if I'd ever make it past my high school and college days).

But Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of my favorite authors and if that sinks my nomination, so be it.

Friday, September 14, 2018

TGIF link-o-rama

*** I bought the book Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War on pre-order for my politico daughter's birthday. It arrived yesterday. At first glance of the cover, it gives the impression it might be some light-hearted anecdote-filled book of funny tussles, but it's not.

From WSJ:
Yet to those involved, the fighting was serious business. Reputations for courage and honor had to be acquired and defended; in the infancy of American democracy, voters rewarded men who stood up for themselves — and, by extension, for their constituents. This was especially true in sections of the country where violence or its threat was part of daily life. As Ms. Freeman points out, white rule in the South continually depended on violence, actual or potential, against slaves. In the West, violence drove Indian tribes off their land and made it available to settlers. Andrew Jackson, an offstage figure in Ms. Freeman’s tale, was a hard-scrabble Carolina kid who first made his reputation in Tennessee as an Indian fighter. He became a national hero by defeating the British at New Orleans in 1815. When he ran for president in the 1820s, many Easterners were appalled to learn he had killed a man in a duel. Westerners and Southerners took the opposite view, praising Jackson for avenging an insult to his wife.

The author is a serious writer. Joanne Freeman.

From Wiki: Joanne B. Freeman is an American historian and tenured Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. Having researched Alexander Hamilton both independently and collaboratively with mentors and peers for more than forty years, she is regarded as "a leading expert" on his life and legacy. In 2005 she was rated one of the nation's "Top Young Historians."

*** South Dakota writer Joseph Bottum emailed that: The second installment of my twice-a-month column in the London Spectator, noodling about life and politics on the prairie, is now available online. And I thought I would send it along for your amusement, if only because it opens with a scene in the Sundog coffee shop here in the town of Madison.

*** My 7th grade niece was at my house this summer before going on a trip through Yellowstone and back to the east side of the state. She's a big reader, so I picked out a handful of books she might be interested in and borrowed them to her. She also had the privilege of sleeping in my office/library/greenhouse/conservatory. So all that knowledge could seep into her brain by osmosis.

One of the books was Huckleberry Finn. We had a little talk about the language in the book. I told her that's how they talked back in that day and that's why those words are used but that they are hurtful words and she should never use them. (On a related note, if you get the chance watch the PBS documentary on Mark Twain, where several African-American historians make similar arguments).

Anyway, she texted me the other day that she'd finished it and loved it. Take that you foolish censoring librarians and schools.

*** Was talking to a friend about The Handmaid's Tale the other day. She's a history and political science major, very well read. We were laughing about these goobers who dress up like red penguins to protest at events and I told her I got the gist of what they are trying to say but never read the book nor saw the television show.

She said she read the book and it was the absolute worst book she's read in her life. She said she seldom, if ever, throws a book away; is kind of a hoarder of them, like me. But she threw it in the garbage.

So I'll probably pass on it, even though Barnes and Shnable keeps pimping it to me in their emails.

*** Realclearbooks.com has chosen this as its book of the week: “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life” organizes a cluster of men’s problems — unemployment and underemployment, divorce, social isolation, addictions to porn, drugs, and video games, criminality, misogyny, and general irresponsibility — under the rubric of alienation. Men increasingly feel as if the job market, politics, and culture have no place for them. Their response has been, in various ways, to effectively drop out of society.

*** Seems Lee Enterprises is really good at running closing newspapers. Lee Enterprises shuttered the Missoula Independent, 17 months after buying it and five months after the paper unionized.

*** And finally, the author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' is arrested for allegedly killing her husband.

She should have written: 'How to Murder Your Husband and Get Away With It'

Monday, September 3, 2018

Finished 2: 'McNally's Chance' and 'Jimmy The Kid'

For those who think you have to read popular contemporary authors to be cool, you're wrong. Some of the best, like Donald Westlake and Larry Sanders, are no longer with us in body but alive and well in spirit and on the written page.

Westlake is a Grand Master mystery writer who is one of my favorites. He weaves plot twists and humor like none other. I recently finished his very clever "Jimmy The Kid."

Westlake also wrote under several other names, including Richard Stark. In JTK, his famous Dortmunder Gang bases their crime on a book one of the Gang read, which was written by Stark. It worked so well for one of his former protagonists, Parker, that they figure it will work for them if they follow it to the tee.

But nothing goes as planned for the Dortmunder Gang, ever. It left me chuckling up until the final line. I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a stellar 4.4 of 5.
Kelp has a plan, and John Dortmunder knows that means trouble. His friend Kelp is a jinx, and his schemes, no matter how well intentioned, tend to spiral quickly out of control. But this one, Kelp swears, is airtight. He read it in a book.

In county lock-up for a traffic charge, Kelp came across a library of trashy novels by an author named Richard Stark. The hero is a thief named Parker whose plans, unlike Kelp and Dortmunder’s, always work out. In one, Parker orchestrates a kidnapping so brilliant that, Kelp thinks, it would have to work in real life. Though offended that his usual role as planner has been usurped, Dortmunder agrees to try using the novel as a blueprint. Unfortunately, what’s simple on the page turns complex in real life, and there is no book to guide him through the madness he’s signed on for.
Among the great lines, that are best in context with the story:

"Beer drinkers got a low center of gravity."

"Money paid to a kidnapper is not deductible on your income tax."

As for Larry Sanders, "McNally's Chance" was actually written by Vincent Lardo, as he carries on the Archie McNally series upon Sanders' death. He does a good job of it.

When bestselling romance author Sabrina Wright asks for Archy McNally's help in finding her missing husband, Archy is quick to write it off as a simple domestic case. But this one's a page-turner of the first order: Sabrina's daughter ran off, she sent her husband to find her, and now they're both missing in action.
If only Sabrina hadn't told her adopted daughter that she really is her natural mother. That sent daughter looking for father, a Palm Beach blueblood who paid Sabrina handsomely for his anonymity. So it's up to Archy to find the fugitive family members before local gossips get wind of the story-and start pointing fingers at some of Palm Beach's most prestigious names.
It was entertaining, as all McNally books are, but wasn't riveting like JTK. I gave it a 6. Amazonians gave it a little better 4 of 5.

Among the best lines:

"It was 110 in the shade and very drunk out."

"Oh Lord, make her a good girl ... but not immediately."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Finished: Rosling's 'Factfulness'

Just when you think you know it all, along comes a book like "Factfulness" to set you straight.

A guy in our office liked this book so much he bought a copy for everyone a couple months ago. I knocked off a chapter here and there and finally finished it. Oddly enough, the author, Hans Rosling, suggests later in the book that is the way to read it. So information is absorbed and considered.

Keep in mind, this wasn't written by some goofy cable talk show host. This guy has cred: Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor of international health and renowned public educator. He was an adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and co-founded Médecins sans Frontières in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation. His TED talks have been viewed more than 35 million times, and he was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Hans died in 2017, having devoted the last years of his life to writing Factfulness.

The full title of the book is: "Factfullness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are". He starts with a short multiple choice quiz that most likely will prove how uninformed you are. Coincidentally, of the subgroups of people he gave the test to over the years, journalists did the worst. It might behoove them to fork over the 15 bucks.

It's a book I think everybody would benefit from, but especially journalists. It's not overly optimistic, but shows that things are not as bad as usually presented by the media. Things aren't perfect, but they are getting better. From poverty to disease to women's rights, they are all going in the right direction, many with remarkable improvement in a short time.

I was stunned at the end to learn the Rosling was terminally ill while writing most of the book. So if a guy had reason to be negative, he had it, but wasn't. So he wasn't around to do the media tour and cash in like Jordan B. Peterson and his "12 Rules for Life". But it's received raved reviews. According to Bill Gates, it's "one of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world."

Yet it doesn't read like a textbook. It's interesting, woven with humor, sadness and reality.

Amazonians gave it a 4.6 out of 5. The Haugenometer doesn't work on nonfiction books, but if it did would tell you to read it. You'll be smarter and look at things a bit differently. Or don't. Your call.

It's one of the more heavily marked-up books I've read, but here's just some tidbits to whet your appetite:

- Today, most people, 75 percent, live in middle-income countries.
- Most people have enough to eat, most people have access to improved water, most children are vaccinated, and most girls finish primary school.
- Over the last 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
- There are three things going on here (regarding our negativity instinct): the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad it's heartless to say they are getting better.
- Critical thinking is always difficult, but it's almost impossible when we are scared. There's no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.
- If we are not extremely careful, we come to believe that the unusual is usual: that this is what the world looks like.
- Everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes. He says it's a "necessary and useful instinct to generalize. One again, (though) the media is the instinct's friend. Misleading generalizations and stereotypes act as a kind of shorthand for the media, providing quick and easy ways to communicate.
- Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately, or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.
- We have to seek to understand why journalists have a distorted worldview (answer: because they are human beings, with dramatic instincts) and what systemic factors encourage them to produce skewed and overdramatic news (at least part of the answer: they must compete for their consumers' attention or lose their jobs).
- He suggests: Be less stressed by the imaginary problems of an overdramatic world, and more alert to the real problems and how to solve them.
- When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems - and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.

I think there's probably something for everyone to dislike in this book. He gores some sacred cows here, from both sides of the political aisle. His personal ideology is liberal but, again, seems very thoughtful, provides examples, and most importantly provides facts. Argue with him if you want. My guess is you'll lose.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Tomatogeddon

So I figured out the secret for a good garden - rain.

Seems you can water to your hearts content for four months with unremarkable success. But let it rain 18 inches in one summer and it's the Garden of Eden. Some smart guy told me there's nitrogen in the rain that makes the difference. I'll take his word for it. The rain also begets humidity which, well hello, rain forest anyone?

My little garden plot is in the foothills of the Black Hills, a semi-arid climate, where until this year I'd forgotten what humidity was. Also, the clay soil is better for making pots than growing anything.

But, that was then, this is now.

I've been dumping kitchen compost, rabbit poop, grass clippings, bags of soil and peat into foot-high raised beds, the last 12 years and that's helped. I've always managed enough tomatoes to keep wifey happy and to can just enough to get us to the next season.

But one of the problems of the past few years since I've begun starting heirloom tomatoes from seeds is that I've had a wide range of harvest dates. They ranged from 65 day varieties to 85. So I always had tomatoes but not like that big boatload where you could just set aside a day to can forty jars. It was a half dozen here, a half dozen there.

This year my boat came in. The planets aligned and all my plans came to fruition.

I chose my best varieties from over the past five years and kept them mostly in the 72-78 day range. Purple, red, pink, yellow. And I planted more of them (squeezed about 70 in). And the rains came. And the heat and humidity hit. And the tomaters exploded.

We've "put up," as my grandma used to say, about 42 jars of tomatoes, 10 of a tomato soup recipe the wife likes, and another seven quarts today of pretty hot salsa. And two flats of tomatoes are still sitting in the garage and more almost ripe ones waiting to be picked. (The big one in the photo went to today's salsa.)

As opposed to my years gardening East River, I've never really had extra to give away, because I kind of hoard my tomatoes. Want zukes or cukes and I'll hand them out on the highway. But tomatoes, take a number.

Looks like this will be the year where the tomato scrooge turns nice.

As the song says, rain is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sticking up for the little guys

Two concerts last week led me down a rabbit hole where I eventually ended up at the old motto of “shop locally.”

Wifey and I went to the town celebration in Wall for the express purpose of seeing a Sioux City band named 35th and Taylor. I heard them last year at Rapid City’s Summer Nights concert series and really liked them. They are young kids (20s, which are kids to me) who are a step up from the local bar bands, of which I have my favorites too, but on the cusp of breaking out to the bigger time. They opened for Bon Jovi in Chicago last winter.

They are a hard rock band, but not heavy metal. They have a great lead female singer with the raspy voice I like, a bass player with an excellent voice too, and above-average guitar players and drummer. They played Summer Nights in Rapid City a couple days prior and were headed to Sturgis to play a few gigs at the Rally. This was a nice schedule-filler for them, and they’d played in Wall the previous year.

They rocked the rodeo grounds in Wall. Unfortunately, not many people were there to hear them. I don’t know if they get paid a flat rate or a percentage of the gate, or both, but either way, if people want them back, they need to support those kind of acts.

Sure, everybody (but me) seems to want to attend Garth Brooks concerts. But Garth didn’t get to be Garth by people not supporting him when he was a no-name.

The concert was 10 bucks ahead of time or 15 at the gate. Sure, it might not have been your stereotypical western South Dakota, rodeo grounds type of music. But what the heck else was there to do within a 30 mile radius of Wall that night?

More people need to attend those things so: A, that band will come back again; or B, the event is successful enough so they will continue to bring other bands every year.

Then, a few nights later a friend of mine was among a small crowd who attended the Casey Donahew Band in Sioux Falls. I’ve been to two CDB concerts in Rapid City and Sturgis. Both pretty well attended. Not sure why they didn’t draw better East River.

CDB is a big deal in the Red Dirt Texas sound. They tour up into Canada. They too are on the cusp, if not closer, to the big-time than 35th and Taylor.

If you want to help young bands, attend their concerts, buy a CD for 15 bucks. Even if it’s not quite your brand of music, one ticket and one CD will mean more to those acts than a pair of $80 tickets to hear some aging rock band on a reunion tour. And there’s no reason not to support both.

I love local bands. They have character and characters and are hidden jewels of talent. Our favorites include Crash Wagon, Tie Dye Volcano and Pumpin’ Ethyl. Hardly household names outside of their areas. But they put themselves out there for you; put yourself out there for them.

So that thought then led me to a similar argument for buying books and supporting little-known authors (you know there had to be a self-serving component somewhere here, right?).

Again, whether it’s me or any other no-name author or retiree writing his memoir of life on the Plains or his time serving in the military. Buy a dang book. Or spend 99 cents for a Kindle version. James Patterson isn’t going to feel like you are cheating on him and it will mean more for that young, or not-so-young, author. Worse case scenario, you are out a couple bucks and couple nights’ reading time. Best case scenario, you enjoy the book and made the author’s day. Then, take two minutes and leave a short review on line. It will encourage that writer to write more and get better at what he or she does.

And shop your local book stores! Sure, I buy books on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble every time I go to Sioux Falls. But I buy just as many books at the two used book stores in Rapid City and the book store in Wall.

If you want those places around, it’s not like you have to drop 100 bucks. Buy a $5 book and be on your way. It’ll make the owner’s day. And come back the next month.

I compare all that to when I owned a weekly newspaper. Every $20 ad I sold, I appreciated immensely. A $40 or $75 ad made my day. It also made the electricity payment for the month. When you don’t buy an ad or a subscription, you don’t have a local weekly paper anymore. Then the beauty salon and local bar have one less (very valuable) place to promote their business. Then they close too. When the newspaper is gone, the post office won’t be far behind, because odds are the newspaper is the biggest mailer in town and post office’s get judged by the quantity of mail they deliver. When the post office closes, the town won’t be far behind.

So support the little guys now. Then someday they may be the big guys whose next appearance you wait in line to see.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Finished: McMurtry's 'Anything for Billy'

This was another I picked up off the legendary Wall Drug Bookstore bargain rack. I'm not being very original when I say Larry McMurtry is an awesome writer. His characters are unique and layered. I knew I couldn't go wrong for five bucks, and was correct.

"Anything for Billy" is kind of a travelogue where you don't expect much of a plot, just am East Coast guy following Billy The Kid around because he's bored; but it ends up being a tightly woven one that comes together with a bang at the end. If you read this, as you should, play the fun game of asking yourself: "Who kills Billy?" I'm not ruining the ending for you, because everyone knows Billy dies at the end. But there's some controversy over who actually did it.

From Goodreads:
The first time I saw Billy he came walking out of a cloud....Welcome to the wild, hot-blooded adventures of Billy the Kid, the American West's most legendary outlaw. Larry McMurtry takes us on a hell-for-leather journey with Billy and his friends as they ride, drink, love, fight, shoot, and escape their way into the shining memories of Western myth. Surrounded by a splendid cast of characters that only Larry McMurtry could create, Billy charges headlong toward his fate, to become in death the unforgettable desperado he aspires to be in life. Not since Lonesome Dove has there been such a rich, exciting novel about the cowboys, Indians, and gunmen who live at the blazing heart of the American dream.
Billy has some great lines, like:

After learning what a butler is and does: "If I was ever a butler I'd probably shoot the whole family the first day."

On seeing his spurned girlfriend riding into town: "Oh, dern! This is gonna give me a headache."

Some lines from Sippi, the well-off writer tagging along with Billy: "No doubt it's always the unkissed girls you remember when you're about to be killed."

"I suppose what united Billy and the other gunmen was their determination to defy any order, no matter who it cam from, or what the consequences."

And there's the unique vivid descriptions McMurtry provides: "... on a day so hot and still you could hear a watch tick from thirty yards away."

After being shot, he's told by the killer: "Hurry and die, chapito. I've ridden a long way and I need to water my horse."

I'm giving this one an 8+ of 10 on the Haugenometer. High praise. I loved it. Amazonians were on board with me, giving it a 4 of 5. Goodreaders where less generous with a 3.5 of 5, but most of the complaints where that it wasn't historically accurate. Well, duh. It never claimed to be. It's fictional, loose historical fiction at best. Why would you want to read the same historical account anyway? There'd be no twists, turns or surprises. People can be so persnickety.

Billy would've shot 'em.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Two articles worth reading

The Wise Do Not Always Weigh In

“When one has too many answers,” Merton wrote, “and when one joins a chorus of others chanting the same slogans, there is, it seems to me, a danger that one is trying to evade the loneliness of a conscience that realizes itself to be in an inescapably evil situation. 



The threat to Holleeder’s life stems from a decision that she made, in 2013, to become the star witness in a mob trial. She agreed to testify against the most notorious criminal in the Netherlands, a man known as De Neus—the Nose, a reference to his most prominent facial feature. This was a risky choice. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Finished: Hunter's 'G-Man'

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors because it seems he takes his time and gets it right. It appears he's not on some deadline to turn out two books a year. It's most obvious in the detail he puts into his book, almost a bit too much for me; because I like guns, but I'm not a guns and ammo nut (in the best sense of the word) like some people are. But those details are something that makes Hunter's books so unique and interesting, as well as the masterful plotting.

From Amazon:
The Great Depression was marked by an epidemic of bank robberies and Tommy-gun-toting outlaws who became household names. Hunting them down was the new U.S. Division of Investigation — soon to become the FBI — which was determined to nab the most dangerous gangster this country has ever produced: Baby Face Nelson. To stop him, the Bureau recruited talented gunman Charles Swagger, World War I hero and sheriff of Polk County, Arkansas. 

Eighty years later, Charles’s grandson Bob Lee Swagger uncovers a strongbox containing an array of memorabilia dating back to 1934—a federal lawman’s badge, a .45 automatic preserved in cosmoline, a mysterious gun part, and a cryptic diagram—all belonging to Charles Swagger. Bob becomes determined to find out what happened to his grandfather— and why his own father never spoke of Charles. But as he investigates, Bob learns that someone is following him—and shares his obsession. 

Told in alternating timeframes, G-Man is a thrilling addition to Stephen Hunter’s bestselling Bob Lee Swagger series.
This is book 10 in the Bob Lee Swagger series and is good stuff. I gave it a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.5 of 5. 

I could've gone higher but was worn out after 464 pages of shoot-outs.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finished: Johnson's 'Death Without Company'

Finished the second in Craig Johnson's Longmire series: Death Without Company. It was okay, but not on par with the series debut.


From Goodreads:
When Mari Baroja is found poisoned at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Sheriff Longmire is drawn into an investigation that reaches fifty years into the mysterious woman’s dramatic Basque past. Aided by his friend Henry Standing Bear, Deputy Victoria Moretti, and newcomer Santiago Saizarbitoria, Sheriff Longmire must connect the specter of the past to the present to find the killer among them.
It was convoluted at times and difficult for this ol' mind to follow. When it wasn't confusing, it was a little on the boring side.

I'm surprised I gave it 6 of 10, which seems a little high. Maybe I'm still under the influence of the great television series and the enjoyment I took in listening to the author speak in Spearfish last year. Amazonians were more generous and gave it a 4.5 of 5. Goodreaders a 4.2.

Here's holding out hope book number three gets things back on track.

Gooseberry Jam - first try

Gotta say, it turned out well. I was worried I didn't use enough pectin, because the recipe called for half a package. When it was too late, I realized it was for half a 6 oz. package and I used half a 3 oz. package. Oops. But the consistency was just right. Go figure. Added a few strawberries too, just to be edgy.

Then ...

Now ...