Sunday, December 29, 2013

Preying on the weak-minded

One of my favorite daughters bought me a BAM gift card for Christmas. No, it's not a new gun club in town, it's Books-A-Million, which replaced Borders when it went south. So Saturday I purchased three books.

At home, I put the books in my library (storage room, spare bed room, greenhouse, with a piano to pile to things on). And, lo and behold, I discovered I already had one of the books. It was a John Sandford "Prey" book. I have about 30 of them and, if you aren't familiar with them, they all have "Prey" in the title: Easy Prey, Winter Prey, Night Prey, you get it. So it's understandable, right?

It's not like I bought another copy of Huckleberry Finn and then went: Dang, I already have this one. But if there were Raspberry Finn, Strawberry Finn, Elderberry Finn and 25 others, it could easily happen. Right?

The thing is, at the store, I allowed for the fact that there were only 3 or 4 Prey books I don't have and many more that I had read, so was very diligent in reading the dust jacket. Nope, nothing sounded familiar. I even read the first paragraph to see if that rang a bell. It didn't.

So I got home and there it was. Smack dab on the shelf in front of me. It's like renting movies you've already rented (back when people actually did that), and I've done that too.

Getting old sucks.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Last Link-Oh-Rama of 2013

Busy week, lots of driving, relativing, singing and celebrating, but very little blogger. I’m only human.

** South Dakota likes its cowboys: Tiny Oelrichs counts two world-class rodeo athletes as residents
“I think it really gives everybody down here a common cause to cheer for,” he said. “Everybody — whether you get along with your neighbor or you don’t get along with your neighbor — everybody is cheering for Chad and Lisa. It draws everybody together that way and is a common bond to be shared by all.”
** And rich people like South Dakota.

** Jill Callison at Argus Leader writes: Mom writes children's book on patience after unborn deaths

** Blue Cloud Abbey is resurrected in Aberdeen.
“Nobody goes out and buys an abbey. But we have six couples who just felt this is something we’re being called to do,” Heller said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what this all becomes, where God’s taking us in all this. But who is 100 percent sure in where God’s taking us?”
** A ride to heal, remember 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato. With photo gallery of the riders.

** Facebook is doing a faceplant in young users.

** Come on guys, like Ali-Frazier and Leonard-Hagler: Dare to be great. How about winner takes all?
2004. The last year a fighter other than Mayweather or Pacquiao was ranked No. 1 on The Ring's pound-for-pound list. That fighter was Bernard Hopkins.
** I don’t do the flu shot thing. Probably should, but I rely on my high-garlic, high-sardine diet to keep my healthy. Here’s a link though for how bad the flu is in your neighborhood.
“For the past few years, 40 to 45 percent [of Americans have gotten vaccinated]. … Our goal is 70 percent, and we’re not there yet.”
** 14 movies somebody can’t wait to see in 2014. None interest me, except maybe the Johnny Depp one.

** Do you know what Meatloaf won't do for love? My 22-year-old daughter surprised her elder workers with the correct answer.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Haugen, Texas Ranger - has a ring to it

In response to the Volvo commercial where Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splits between two trucks, they've come out with a Chuck Norris commercial to top it.

After viewing that, a friend sent me a meme (is that what they're called?), because she apparently saw the similarities even before I did. So I felt obligated to post it. Uncanny. It's like looking in the mirror.

I should mention that another young lady (blonde) in our email chain pointed out that, hey, like, ya know, that Chuck Norris video is just, like, a take-off of the Van Damme Volvo commercial.

I told her, I thought that was the point of the Norris follow-up; and that Van Damme stole the idea from me, when I did a similar stunt on two Ford Mustangs going down Highway 18 outside Canton in 1982. There's no video of it, but take my word for it. Like Chuck Norris, I rarely lie.

Friday, December 20, 2013

All I want for Christmas is Link-Oh-Rama

And to answer the idiotic burning question of "What color is Santa Claus?" I'm going with whatever color your daddy is. Seems simple enough. And, not to ruin it for anybody, but he's a fictional character! He can be anything you want.

And in more interesting news:

** Good luck, dude: From Jill Callison at the Argus Leader: Used bookstore doors closing as owner seeks cancer treatment
“In a retail store overall, about 10 percent of your items do 90 percent of your business,” Swalve says. “I have certain authors that do the biggest part of your business, (like) John Sandford. Danielle Steel used to be really good. Nora Roberts. James Patterson, who doesn’t write his own books. In Westerns, Louis L’Amour still sells.” 
** Interesting take on school shooters and the divorce connection.
As the nation seeks to make sense of these senseless shootings, we must also face the uncomfortable truth that turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools.
** 5 Reasons Millennials Are Quitting Facebook

** In lieu of having any unique thoughts on the Controversy Oh The Day, my man Ace of Spades offers some thoughts.

** And where do you come down on this burning question: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

** Yes, I asked for it, but I'm sure it's too good to be true.

** I'm usually late to the popular party (though I was listening to the Baha Men long before "Who Let the Dogs Out"), I'm told the cool people now are listening to Less Than Jake. Here's their latest.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Learned a new term today: Montana tendergroins

I wonder if Ms. Hammond ever thought she'd write the following paragraph in the Rapid City Journal: An Oyster Feast with a Bullish Twist.
Just to clarify, although there are number of names of questionable taste for the unusual dish — cowboy caviar, calf fries, huevos de toros, Montana tendergroins and swinging steaks to name a few — they are the testicles of a bull calf. In this case, a bison bull calf.  
Any story with that paragraph is bound to be entertaining. It is. Except for the buffalo.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Finished: 'George Washington's Secret Six'

So I finished the novel, George Washington’s Secret Six (half price now!) by Brian Kilmeade. It was a quick, enjoyable read about a group of New York-area spies General Washington worked with.

A couple things jumped out at me about it. They used invisible ink. And not just any invisible ink, but a newly-formulated ink, because apparently everybody used invisible ink back then. I mixed some up myself, and lo and behold, it works! If you have the solution you can rub it on the  blank area of screen below and read my secret message:

If you didn't get it, your loss, because what I wrote is really profound and funny too.

The second thing that I thought of is that, you know what, not everybody in America agreed with each other back then either. You had your patriots and you had your loyalists to the King. People disagreed on what was best for the country. So apparently whether it was 1780s, 1860s, 1960s or today, Americans disagree and the country survived.

So this tripe of “Why can’t we all get along?’ is just utopian sloganeering that I find annoying and shallow. You can hope for it, wish for it, even work for it, but it ain’t gonna happen. Disagreement among Americans on issues is good. When we all start agreeing on everything, I’ll be worried. Like that will ever happen anyway.

Back to the book. Pretty good. You might learn something and be entertained. Glad I bought it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday's 12-days-to-Christmas Link-Oh-Rama

Welcome to this week's link-oh-rama, a day in history Saddam Hussein would just as soon forget, which, technically, I suppose he already has since he is worm food. But we shan't forget these notes of interest:

** Popular Mechanics is turning into one of my favorite websites. Here they have Valet Confessions: What They Really Think of Your Shiny Car.

** Megyn Kelly has taken cable news by storm. The Washington Post has an interesting profile on her.

** In case you missed it, my man Pope Francis was named Time magazine Person of the Year. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Miley Cyrus! Here's a great summary.

** This dude at the St. Paul paper offers: My semi-unorthodox tips for not getting cold in the cold. Where were you last week, buddy?
If you have nowhere to hike, move. But don’t just stomp around in a circle like a fool. Do jumping jacks, like a bigger fool. Or fling your arms alternately in big circles like Olympic swimmers before they take their marks.
Not only will these movements get your heart rate up (and boiler working), you’ll physically force blood to your fingers and, if you do jumping jacks, toes.
When camping in cold weather, this is my pre-bedtime routine.
** Vanity Fair tells us: How George W. Bush Evolved from the Uncoolest Person on the Planet to Bona Fide Hipster Icon like Mark Haugen.

** From The underlying point of everything we’ve ever written about baby names is that the name is essentially the parents’ signal to the world of what they think of their kid — whether it’s a signal of tradition, religion, aspiration, affiliation, or whatnot.

Here is a very pure example of that principle: a baby named Colt .45 Stratemeyer. It’s via Jim Romenesko, from a birth announcement in the Tillamook (Oregon) Headlight-Herald:
Colt .45 Stratemeyer was born Nov. 26, 2013 at Tillamook Regional Medical Center. He weighed seven pounds, two ounces. He joins his older brother, Hunter Allen Stratemeyer, 3. Baby Colt’s parents are Joshua and Rebekah Stratemeyer of Toledo.
I assume the announcement is legitimate, though I can’t say for certain. I am guessing there are fiction writers out there who could write a short story or maybe even a novel with no more inspiration than this birth announcement.
** The Intercollegiate Studies Institute emails to say: Last-minute holiday shopping? ISI has you covered. We've made EVERYTHING in our store available at a 50% discount! That includes ISI's Book of the Month, The Cost of Liberty, the gripping new biography of John Dickinson, whom historian Forrest McDonald calls "the most underrated of all the Founders."

** Heard this on the way back from Pierre on Wednesday. It'll stick in your head like glue - tequila-flavored glue.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Haugen Top 25 of 2013:

As promised, here's a peek into my demented mind reading list from last year. This is the fiction list with the title, author, and the HRS (Haugen Rating Scale, not to be confused with the Hamilton Rating Scale).

Obviously, I tend to stick with my favorites, but this list doesn't include the non-fiction books (I'm not going to start rating the Bible, for example), the short story anthologies (Twain and Borges) and poetry (Frost, Poe, etc.).

I think if you look at this list, you will see authors responsible for selling 800 trillion books and approximately 300,000 homicides.

Here it is. Don't judge.

Amsterdam - Ian McEwan (9)
Butcher's Moon - Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake (7+)
Bad Business - Robert B. Parker (7+)
Persuader - Lee Child (7+)
School Days - Robert B. Parker (7+)

Tsar - Ted Bell (7)
Dark Rivers of the Heart - Dean Koontz (7)
Shockwave - John Sanford (7)
Breathless - Dean Koontz (7)
Innocence - Dean Koontz (7-)

Bad Luck & Trouble - Lee Child (7-)
Running Blind - Lee Child (7-)
Deeply Odd - Dean Koontz (7-)
The Vision - Dean Koontz (7-)
Echo Burning - Lee Child (7-)

Nothing to Lose - Lee Child (7-)
Phantom - Ted Bell (6+)
Soft Target - Stephen Hunter (6+)
Wicked Appetite - Janet Evanovich (6+)
Get Real - Donald Westlake (6+)

Gator A-Go-Go - Tim Dorsey (6)
Florida Roadkill - Tim Dorsey (6)
No Country For Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (6)
The Third Bullet - Stephen Hunter (6-)
Electric Baracuda - Tim Dorsey (6-)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Another list!

I keep striking out on these lists, so I might have to go back and compile my own to see what it is I actually did read least year.

Here's the National Journal staff's: Best Political Books We Read in 2013.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Read, whether it's good for you or not

The Star-Tribune features a Bloomberg column: “Reading for pleasure is in painful decline.”

The author doesn’t really cite any evidence of this other than overhearing a conversation between two teenagers, and a 10-year-old National Endowment for the Arts report suggesting a “rapid fall in ‘literary’ reading to a decline in civil participation generally.”

I am one of those believers. Democracy needs readers — in particular, readers of literature. Tackling a book (whether print or e-) is a considerable undertaking, requiring an investment of time, attention and serious thought — and the tougher the text, the more serious the thought. In return, we readers learn the importance of reflection, of patience, of trying to understand another’s point of view — all skills that are vital to democratic politics and seriously in decline across the spectrum.

I sometimes fear we bookies get a little pretentious about reading, as if it makes us better people than those who don’t read. Everybody is guilty of that in some respect, puffing out their chests regarding their own hobbies, like if you don’t listen to classical musical you really don’t understand music, and if you don’t play classical music for your babies they are going to grow up to be doofs or Packer fans. We all think that we do makes us special.

I’ve never changed my own oil on my car or know how to install a dishwasher, but by golly I read Frost and Poe and Koontz religiously. Which guy do you want on your city council? Probably doesn’t matter either way.

That being said, I don’t want to undervalue the time spent reading. It does inform and encourage critical thinking. But so does tracking, hunting and cleaning an elk in the Black Hills. So does bird watching, painting and crocheting. All of that is better than sitting on the recliner watching Laverne and Shirley reruns all night or drinking yourself silly at the corner bar. I’ve done all that, except for the crocheting.

I encourage reading, want my kids to read, think it is valuable; not necessarily more valuable than other hobbies, but valuable. I will say, most smart people I know read a lot. They also eat carrots. Are they smart because they read or smart because they eat carrots? Maybe they are smart, so they read. Maybe they are smart because they read. I don’t know many dumb people who read; and I know a lot of dumb people. So my guess is there could be a correlation.

And it’s not a class thing. I know working class people, professionals and academics who are all smart and all read. I know bikers who read, meat cutters who read, priests who read and senators who read. I do think it is time well spent and people make themselves better by reading. But it doesn’t mean we are better, or behave better, or are wiser, as even the Unabomber was an avid reader.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday's Link-Oh-Frozen-Rama

It’s so cold out, I had to chip the dog off the fire hydrant. With that done, here’s some noteyness:

** This is oddly fascinating. If you read one story this week make it this one. Brains and Brawn: Inside the Mysterious Art of ChessBoxing.

After one fight, Jan Schulz, the chess referee, told me he is always amazed to see how the athletes are able to follow the logic of the game under such duress. “Even one blow to the head is enough to completely disorient you,” he said. “Imagine what a whole round of boxing could do to you.”
** I know a lot of people love The Boss, but I’ve never been a big fan. Apparently somebody is: Springsteen manuscript sells for $197,000.

** I find Rand Paul very interesting. He’s the Mounds candy bar of politicians. Some coconut flakiness, enough nuttiness to make him dangerous in a good way, and enough sweet chocolate to make him likable. The National Interest has a pretty good profile on him.

** One last JFK story: Bill Janklow and Oswald – it’s a small world.

** From Reason: How Poker Became a Crime. The capricious federal crackdown on the Internet version of an all-American game.

** How man’s best friend thinks. And from the same science site, don’t fall for this cunning crocodile trick.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Finished: 'No Country for Old Men'

For the longest time I've been waiting for a copy of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian to show up at my favorite used bookstore in town and for the longest time it hasn't. So a while back I nabbed his No Country for Old Men instead, thinking I would warm up on that one.

And I have a bonehead confession to make. For some reason, the synapsi in my brain had me thinking No Country for Old Men was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. So I figured it was a comedy and it's just been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for a long time. Well, duh. You know THAT movie was Grumpy Old Men. Hey, it had "old men" in the title, so cut me some slack.

The book has been staring at me for a long time and finally on what I think was Day 4 of the Haugen hostage situation (mother-in-law was staying at our house) that I figured things couldn't get any worse. So I cracked the seal. I was thinking before I even started No Country for Old Men that anything written by a guy named Cormac was going to be different. It was.

For starters, the guy doesn't believe in quotation marks and many apostrophes, so it takes half the book just to get used to that oddity. I guess it's his shtick. Like Lady Gaga walks around naked; Cormac doesn't use quotes. Clever. He says, according to Wiki, there is no reason to "blot the page up with weird little marks." He is also celebrated for not using semicolons; whatever. So I guess he doesn't make winky faces when he texts, eh ;). Revolutionary.

The guy has a Pulitzer and is rumored to be on the short list for an upcoming Nobel Prize for Literature, which I guess they give to people who abandon general rules of English that were taught in fifth grade. But I digress.

The novel was pretty interesting -- in a way that a three-legged dog is interesting. You look at it and think, aw, nice dog, wonder what happened to it? The main storyline suddenly, inconceivably, concludes halfway through the book, then switches to some deep thinking introspection by the main character. It was different, which I guess is good, and I still intend to read Blood Meridian, because I've heard great things about it.

I only gave Old Men a 6 on my 1-10 scale. I was glad I read it, because it was a good break from reading several books in a row that actually made sense; that can bore a guy. You can quote me on that, just be sure to use quotation makes.

A couple quotes from the book (I remembered this time!):
“You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don't count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else.” 
“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

100 books I haven't read this year

It's time for the pretentious NY Times 100 notable books of the year list to come out and remind me of my populist book-reading habits. (And I guess they assume no notable books will come out in December.)

It's not a list I take too seriously, since it's compiled by a bunch of vainglorius staffers, who wouldn't include a Koontz,  Hunter or Sandford novel if it were the last book in the bookstore. And don't bother sending them your book unless it meets their political, areligious slant.

Don't you just want to read that list now after such a build-up? Well, it's still fun to look over. I read the list and wasn't surprised to find I hadn't read a single one, but I did find eight I'll put in my que for future consideration:
THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title. 
CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.
THE DINNER. By Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.
HALF THE KINGDOM. By Lore Segal. (Melville House, $23.95.) In Segal’s darkly comic novel, dementia becomes contagious at a Manhattan hospital.
THE LUMINARIES. By Eleanor Catton. (Little, Brown, $27.) In her Booker Prize winner, a love story and mystery set in New Zealand, Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, while creating something utterly new for the 21st.
SUBMERGENCE. By J. M. Ledgard. (Coffee House, paper, $15.95.) This hard-edged, well-written novel involves a terrorist hostage-taking and a perilous deep-sea dive.
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. By Karen Joy Fowler. (Marian Wood/Putnam, $26.95.) This surreptitiously smart novel’s big reveal slyly recalls a tabloid headline: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological ­Experiment.”
MY PROMISED LAND. The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. By Ari Shavit. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, expresses both solidarity with and criticism of his countrymen in this important and powerful book.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Guest review: Sabato's 'Kennedy' is 5 star

Here's the first of hopefully many book reviews by friend/coworker Wes. He's rumored to live in Sturgis, but spends most of his time at Books-A-Million in Rapid City, and is an avid reader of all things politic.

By Wesley Roth

Months ago, I learned Larry Sabato, who is a University of Virginia professor and director of their Center for Politics, completed his book on John F. Kennedy. He shared in his weekly newsletter that he had just finished five years of research and penned his magnum opus, entitled The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy. Immediately, I placed the book on my Amazon Wish List, and it was set for a fall release, timed with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

This is a very-well written book, which weaves Kennedy's personal life into his political rise in politics from Congressman to Senator. It reads like a novel, with the author's personal recollections sprinkled throughout the chapters.  The author provides lots of details about the Kennedy clan and how everything revolved around politics. The book is not a hagiography, as Sabato does provide details on Kennedy's "extra curricular activities" that the press turned a blind eye to. It is pretty incredible how fast Kennedy's stock rose in the Democrat Party, to almost winning the nomination at the 1956 convention! The book then turns to Kennedy's pursuit of the 1960 nomination, which he of course locked up handily, and later defeated Richard Nixon.

The book then carries the reader through the 1960 presidential general election and victory by Kennedy and his days in the White House. Critical analysis is given to Kennedy's priorities as the 35th president. Readers will learn that civil rights was not an issue he wanted to spend his political capital on, and he and brother Robert Kennedy were later forced to address the issue. Equal time is given to Kennedy's domestic agenda at home and his difficulties abroad with the Soviets and Cubans.

Midway through, you are confronted with The Assassination along with "Questions, Answers, Mysteries" and "Rounding up the Usual Suspects". This section of the book will be of most interest to those dedicated to learning what exactly happened on November 22, 1963.  But as Jerry Dealey, a lifelong assassination researcher and descendant of Dealey Plaza's namesake, warns: "I know everything about the assassination, except what really happened."

Sabato then takes the reader through the last half century of presidential administrations (see related infographic).  He starts with LBJ, who Sabato claims was a "pretender to the throne" and never got out of Kennedy's immense shadow. You learn how the Kennedy family and the Carter families were today's "Hatfields and McCoys".  You also learn that it was Republican Ronald Reagan, who invoked Kennedy's ideals and aspirations consistently in his speeches and addresses to Congress to advance his agenda. But it was Bill Clinton who "grabbed Kennedy's torch" and ran with it. Fans of presidential history will find Sabato's research and storytelling on presidents Johnson through Obama valuable scholarship and interesting. The book concludes with an essay on "The Flame Eternal" and Kennedy's enduring legacy on our country (and the world) along with the presidents that followed.

I can’t recommend this book enough. The "Kennedy Half Century" will appeal to anyone who loves presidential history and politics. Having never read a full history book on Kennedy, this was a great first addition in my Kennedy section in my library. For me, the chapters on the assassination were too much "in the weeds", and I found myself skipping sections of the chapters. But Sabato's in-depth research (150 pages of Notes) and masterful writing about Kennedy and his continuing impact on our county, earns a 5 star rating in my opinion.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Link-Oh-Rama

It's not often that picking up dog poop wins out over the alternative, but when the alternative is shopping on Black Friday ... now where did I put that box of disposable gloves?

Here are some stories I found even more interesting:

** Good story about the Minneapolis music scene back in the 1980s. This guy seems slightly annoyed he's not Prince. Andre Cymone, on his new album coming out in February:
Somewhere along the line, something happened to me. I know it sounds crazy, but something just woke up in me and said "What the hell are you doing? You've been given a gift, and you're just sort of kicking back and chilling." I don't want to sound weird or odd or metaphysical or any of that kind of junk, but it really has been a very interesting experience because I've been writing songs that have been writing themselves. I can't even take credit for them; I wish I could. I have no idea how I wrote them, why I wrote them, where they came from, So to answer your question why I came back, there's so many different reasons. The main reason I came back is because music needs me. I know that sounds crazy, but I think music has very few champions.
** The four best beards in the history of Christendom. Go St. Thomas More!

** Maybe instead of listening to out-of-context quotes from Rush Limbaugh and other "experts" on Catholicism, you can read the Pope's words yourself here: His first Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis has issued his first Apostolic Exhortation on Tuesday, Evangelii Gaudium, translated into English as The Joy of the Gospel. The 224-page document outlines the Pope’s vision for a missionary Church, whose “doors should always be open”. The Pope speaks on numerous themes, including evangelization, peace, homiletics, social justice, the family, respect for creation, faith and politics, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and the role of women and of the laity in the Church. And he repeats his ideal of a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” rather than a Church that is caught up in a slavish preoccupation with liturgy and doctrine, procedure and prestige. “God save us,” he exclaims, “from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!”
** Well this isn’t going to help the texting-ban fad sweeping our nation: Researchers claim children passengers are far more distracting to drivers than mobile phones.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Additional 'Amsterdam' notes

Darn, I keep forgetting to do my notes thing on my lame book reviews. The "notes" are the things I underlined or highlighted or licked in the book. They can be a little odd out of context here, but what the heck:

"If it's okay to be a transvestite, then it's okay for a racist to be one. What's not okay is to be a racist."

and ...

"Ah," he sighed. "The Dutch and their reasonable laws."

"Quite," Garmony said. "When it comes to being reasonable, they rather go over the top."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Finished: Ian McEwan's 'Amsterdam' (WOW!)

I posted last week about Ted Bell's mention of Amsterdam. As luck would have it, I was browsing through a used bookstore in downtown Rapid City on Saturday and stumbled across it. Wasn't even looking for it. It was just there. Cool.

Obviously, somebody somewhere (probably Lindsay Lohan) wanted me to read this book. And I'm glad. It's one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in two nights.

The 200-page novel is 15 years old and won the 1998 Booker Prize. I should've read it sooner, but, hey, I've been busy.

As Mr. Wiki explains:
Amsterdam is the story of a strange euthanasia pact between two friends, a composer and a newspaper editor, whose relationship spins into disaster.
I read it in two nights and then spent the third night thinking about it more and trying to decide what kind of rating to give it. I ended up going with a 9, putting it in the top five in Haugen history. The only higher ranking book is The Taking by Dean Koontz. I had dreams about that for weeks afterwards. That's a sign that a book hit home, or that you're going insane dreaming about a book; but I'll opt for the former.

In Amsterdam, Ian McEwan not only takes a clever plot, ties the twists from beginning to end to keep the surprises coming; but he also writes a prose that is smooth as Tennessee whiskey. He mixes music, politics and newspapering, so that stuff was right up my alley.

It is a new standard for the type of book I hope to write someday. (Here's the Goodreads link). Don't be frightened away from it because it might seem a little hoity toity, or intellectual (one of those books critics like but nobody reads). Because if you know me, you know that I'm not hoity or toity, nor intellectual (I've simply gotten through life on good looks and charming personality).

Just read the book. It was stunningly good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pile-drive in peace, Mad Dog

One of my favorite, most vivid memories as a kid was staying overnight at my grandpa’s apartment in Sioux Falls and watching all-star wrestling.

Pa was the caretaker of three apartment buildings on Spring Avenue behind what was not too long ago, Gigglebees. Pa and Sioux Falls had cable television long before it reached the sticks on our farm by Canton. The big thing for me in preschool and grade school was to go to Pa’s and eat sardines and crackers, drink pop and try to stay awake until midnight when all-star wrestling came on from Minneapolis. It was Verne Gagne’s thing, the American Wrestling Association, long before the current WWF or WWE.

It featured many of the old greats, including my favorite “Mad Dog” Vachon. He was tough and mean and talked like he had sandpaper in his throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world!” He was best friends with and trained my second favorite wrestler, Baron von Rashke, yes, he of the “brainclaw” finishing move. Those were good times and I’d have fought you tooth and nail if you tried to tell me it was fake.

Mad Dog died last week, but he will live on among my favorite childhood memories.

This was back when men were men:
Before long, "Mad Dog" Vachon consequently developed a reputation as perhaps the most feared rulebreaker in all of wrestling. Furthermore, Maurice's younger brother Paul - ultimately known as "The Butcher" - soon also made his debut and on February 17, 1959 the Vachon brothers teamed to defeat Chico Garcia and Chet Wallick for the NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles. Vachon's tendency to hurt his opponents with foreign objects, filed fingernails and teeth, and the multiple use of his signature finishing move, the Piledriver, to end matches made him notorious in the business and caused him to be banned in three U.S. states. But it also made his popularity soar among the fans.
And it makes my story of meeting my wife look pretty lame:
He also met his future wife Kathie Joe at a wrestling event, after spitting a shoe string he had used for choking his opponent at her, as she was sitting in the audience.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Give thanks for Friday Link-Oh-Rama

We are all about masters of their art tonight: C.S. Lewis, Manny Pacquiao, Magnus Carlsen and Haim. All great at what they do/did. As for the Bigfoot link, well they just seem to show up out of the blue anyway.

*** C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today. Bad timing Clive.
Media coverage of his death was minimal; he died on 22 November 1963—the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the same day another famous author, Aldous Huxley, died. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will be honoured with a memorial in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
*** Requiem for a welterweight: I'm a big Manny Pacquio fan, so this is really tough to read. It's nice to see all the good he is doing, but hurts to see him being taken advantage of and perhaps more than just financially ruined.

*** Go team! Ya, sure, ye betcha.
Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen claimed the crown of world chess champion on Friday after drawing a tense 10th game against holder Viswanathan Anand to take an unassailable lead in the 12-round duel.
*** I love bigfoot stories. Here’s a good one from Minnesota, with a photo. (I'm pretty sure it's Kevin Love.)
Casey said he and his brother were the only people who knew where the camera was located. They took the camera down when deer season started, and a couple of weeks later checked on what they had caught. 
When they came to the picture of the long-armed creature walking upright, Casey said, "We just looked at each other. Each of us thought we were playing a trick on each other."
When they determined that neither of them had pulled a prank on the other, they checked to see if anyone had been in the area that night. Tim said the only neighbors were two elderly hunters in their own shack, neither of whom matched the size and appearance of the creature caught on camera.
However, he said, when he asked the men about the night the camera clicked on the mystery, they said they had gone out about 2 a.m. to use the outhouse and had heard strange squealing noises. Tim said he asked them to show him the direction of the sounds. They pointed to the area where the camera had been, although they had no idea of its location.
*** My newest crush: Haim.

Something actually entertaining on Letterman for a change.

And here's Sheryl Crow’s "Strong Enough," covered by Haim.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Additional 'Phantom' notes

Ted Bell is one of those authors who likes to name-drop other authors throughout his books. I usually take note of them and Wiki them and sometimes purchase their work. I hit pay-dirt on someone's mention (maybe it was Koontz) of Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian author, whose book of short fictions has been a delight to read.

So, anywho, here are a couple names Bell dropped in the book I just finished:

P.G. Wodehouse. It figures Bell would cite fellow Englishmen.
From Wiki: Best known today for the Jeeves and Blandings Castle novels and short stories, Wodehouse was also a playwright and lyricist who was part author and writer of 15 plays and of 250 lyrics for some 30 musical comedies, many of them produced in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. He worked with Cole Porter on the musical Anything Goes (1934), wrote the lyrics for the hit song "Bill" in Kern's Show Boat (1927), wrote lyrics to Sigmund Romberg's music for the Gershwin – Romberg musical Rosalie (1928) and collaborated with Rudolf Friml on a musical version of The Three Musketeers (1928). He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 
Wodehouse spent the last decades of his life in the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1955, because of controversy that arose after he made five light-hearted broadcasts from Germany during World War II, after he had been interned by the Germans for a year. Speculation after the broadcasts led to unfounded allegations of collaboration and even treason, and some libraries banned his books. Although an MI5 investigation later cleared him of any such crimes, he never returned to England.
Ian McEwan's book Amsterdam.
From Wiki: McEwan began his career writing sparse, Gothic short stories. The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were his first two novels, and earned him the nickname "Ian Macabre". These were followed by three novels of some success in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1997, he published Enduring Love, which was made into a film. He won the Man Booker Prize with Amsterdam (1998). In 2001, he published Atonement, which was made into an Oscar-winning film. This was followed by Saturday (2005), On Chesil Beach (2007), Solar (2010), and Sweet Tooth (2012). In 2011, he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.
And here a couple quotes from the book that I underlined for various reasons:
"One should always strive to be on the side of the angels and the big battalions." 
"The problem with having so many balls in the air is that you can be damn sure a couple of them belong to you."

Finished: Ted Bell's 'Phantom'

I'm a bit conflicted on this novel, Phantom by Ted Bell.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book, breezed through it and, well, just really enjoyed it. That should be enough, right? It had fast cars, hot women, pirates, explosions, sex, and Vlad Putin. Everything a guy needs in a good fiction adventure/mystery.

But when I was done I really had the feeling that Bell really jumped the shark (an old Happy Days reference for you). Flying wheelchairs? The concept of singularity, where computers surpass human intelligence and form thought and take over the world? Just seemed out of place with the other Bell novels featuring Alex Hawke.

Then I read the afterward Bell included, where he basically said: Yes, I jumped the shark with this one but that's because this stuff isn't that far from happening in the real world. He cited physicists and research he'd done. Pointed out the moral dilemmas the world may be facing in as little as a decade (though based on this English major's knowledge of physics - none - I think is much farther off). But I bought his explanation and decided to go with it.

After all, I enjoyed it. What more do you want in a book, Haugen? I'm still just giving it a 6+ for now. I'll rethink it in 10 years when computers take over the world.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dad's JFK collection, conspiracy

About a week ago I started collecting links to stories about the JFK assassination, but I'm already burned out on the subject, days before the 50th anniversary of his death. It's all JFK all the time, so if you can't find your own stories, you aren't looking very hard.

But I did want to post this picture of some of the JFK books of my dad's. It's amazing how much of an impact the assassination had on Dad and that generation. Of all the tons of books he read, the one constant subject intermingled was JFK.

Dad graduated from Augustana in 1962 and the assassination happened in 1963, so he basically devoted his adult life to researching and reading about the topic. He even had two copies of the Warren Commission report. There are several first editions and books from famous authors, as well as the obscure, but all with the common theme of JFK and "who dunnit?"

I wish I had talked to him more about it, to get his theory. But if I remember correctly, he was in the mafia camp, believing that the mafia was behind Oswald. Apparently they were mad that Joe Kennedy hadn't followed through on promises made to them in exchange for their help getting JFK elected; and Bobby as AG was cracking down on them. Dad didn't believe the Russians were involved because they were too smart to hire Oswald with all his connections pointing back at them.

The fun part about going through these books of his is that they cemented my decision not to enter the Kindle era yet. As I peruse the books, newspaper articles fall out of the pages, postcards are tucked inside, and notations and highlights are intermingled. Try sticking a postcard in a Kindle, then passing the book along to your son 50 years later. It won't work.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Link-Oh-Rama feat: Jeter & herpes

Bucket list complete: Always wanted to write a headline featuring Derek Jeter and STDs. Details below ...

** Stephen King reveals what he is most afraid of (and it’s not ending a sentence with a preposition). Also, TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau goes to jail for diet-book lies that claimed people could eat anything, not exercise and not gain weight. (People who believed that should go to jail too, for being stupid.)

** Day of War. Remember it and the entire Lion of War series. Gonna be huge. Friend of mine is running the show over there in Hawaii.
From their Facebook page:
Thrilled to say that Day of War is also #1 on Barnes and Noble and Amazon in its category. 
Cliff Graham donates a large percentage of every sale to families who are adopting special needs orphans, sex trafficking victims, and all sorts of other organizations who conduct "good battle," and he will do so as long as he lives. 
** So now Derek Jeter of the New York Stinkin’ Yankees wants to be a book publisher.
The publishing imprint will include nonfiction books for adults, like biographies and titles on business and lifestyle; children’s picture books; middle-grade fiction; and books for children who are learning to read.
** Bookstores still battling the e-book craze.
What to us may appear to be a straightforward effort by to acquire more e-book customers on the cheap looks to retailers like some darker, more ambitious effort to crush them. 
“On top of that, why would we do business with the company that is trying to put us out of business?”
 ** An argument for e-books, I guess: Herpes Virus Found on Library Copies of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

 ** I used to raise homing pigeons as a kid and have thought about getting back into it. But right now I have enough hobbies to keep me busy. So I empathize with this guy’s loss of The Godfather and others.
 The son of Rambo, also known as "the Godfather," is the top bird spirited away in a pigeon heist this week in which 45 birds were taken in one swoop from lofts in St. Paul's Como neighborhood. 
The birds were used for pigeon racing and breeding future racers, and their loss isn't chicken feed to pigeon fanciers. Owner John Kaiyalethe said the total value of the lost birds was probably more than $20,000. He said his prize bird, the Godfather, alone was worth more than $10,000.
** If you are one of the 299,999,950 Americans who aren’t following me on Twitter, you should. I say stuff about once a week; insightful/funny stuff about once a year.

** This week’s don’t go away mad, just go away award nominee: I’ve never watched his show, nor do I own one of the credit cards he shills for, but maybe it’s time for him to go away. I’m always amazed at these people who strive for fame, achieve it and the money that goes with it, but then don’t want people to take pictures of them. They want the perks of being famous but not the bother.

** I was thinking of trying this over the weekend, but Jean-Claude Van Damme beat me to it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday, long weekend yee-haw-link-o-rama

Hey, Veteran's Day is Monday. Thank a vet and read a good book about their heroism.

One of the best books I've read, which just happens to be a war vet book, is Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey, about South Dakota's own Leo Thorsness.
Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor. But he didn’t learn about it until years later—by a “tap code” coming through prison walls—because on April 30, Thorsness was shot down, captured, and transported to the Hanoi Hilton. Surviving Hell recounts a six-year captivity marked by hours of brutal torture and days of agonizing boredom. With a novelist’s eye for character and detail, Thorsness describes how he and other American POWs strove to keep their humanity. 
Thrown into solitary confinement for refusing to bow down to his captors, for instance, he disciplined his mind by memorizing long passages of poetry that other prisoners sent him by tap code. Filled with hope and humor, Surviving Hell is an eloquent story of resistance and survival. No other book about American POWs has described so well the strategies these remarkable men used in their daily effort to maintain their dignity. With resilience and resourcefulness, they waged war by other means in the darkest days of a long captivity.
The best books on today's wars from the pens of veterans.

Here are five books recommended by Veterans Today to help understand what they may be going through back on the home-front.

For other stuff to occupy your weekend:

Here’s a bookish website that seems a little more interesting than most (and by “most” I mean mine).

Five things you didn’t know about the Pioneer Woman, which I guess is some deal I should have known about (don't end a sentence with a preposition, Haugen!).

Here are 10 tips to avoiding speeding tickets, that don’t necessarily involve you slowing down.

Tips for snowblowing, in case you're an idiot.

Fan of The Killers? I am. For what it’s worth, new song out. Here's the vid.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The gentleman athlete

Are there any Hobey Baker’s out there?

This column is worth reading in its entirety: From the New Criterion:
In his own era, matters were different. Baker was a famous, even legendary, amateur hockey player. He had the name recognition of today’s professional athletes. But there was an important distinction. Baker was the most celebrated hockey player of his day, not just for his skills on the ice (though those were extraordinary) or his strikingly good looks (he was known as “the blond Adonis”), but for his unwavering sportsmanship, civility, and good character, descriptors that are difficult to apply to today’s celebrity-athletes. 
Baker was not just another sportsman. He was what many young men of his day aspired to be: a gentleman athlete. In an article about Baker published in 1991, Sports Illustrated explains that the old code of sportsmanship involves being “modest in victory” and “generous in defeat.” The gentleman-athlete “credits his triumphs to teamwork, accepts only faint praise for himself. He is clean-cut in dress and manner. He plays by the rules. He never boasts, for boasting is the worst form of muckery.”
Hobey didn't want to be paid, and they seem to count that as "gentlemanly" here. If you throw out that criteria, I might suggest: Joe Mauer and Peyton Manning, and then nobody jumps immediately to mind, though I'm sure there are.

Perhaps another way to think of gentleman athlete is: Would you approve of your daughter dating him?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

Most people are familiar with the face, but I’m guessing not as many really know the interesting story behind the man, Guy Fawkes, who is now a symbol of anarchy.

 Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there. Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives. Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually he broke. Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.
Here is a more entertaining version than the Wikipedia entry, and with a much snazzier headline: Guy Fawkes 2013: From timid testicles to gunpowder plot truthers, ten things about bonfire night you probably didn't know

And if ten are too many, here are five things to know about the Fifth of November.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finished: 'Innocence' by Dean Koontz

In Dean Koontz's new book "Innocence," I was humbled.

Not by the fact that this guy seems to write more books in a year than I will in a lifetime; or that he is ten times the writer I will ever be; or even that his imagination is light years beyond mine. What got me is that I was pretty sure I had the ending figured out. I knew what tricky twist he would have at the end. I have a knack for that sort of thing, ya know, or so I thought. Again, he of the 100 mile per hour fastball threw me a 75 mile per hour looping curve and I swung and missed and even twirled in place and swung and missed again. He got me. Big time.

This book, that comes out on Dec. 10, but which I nabbed an Advance Reader's Copy, was the usual good Koontz stuff. I had a little higher hopes, given the rave reviews, that it was going to be something entirely knew from him, like perhaps he'd invented a whole new way to write. But, no, it was typical Koontz, and that was good.

There's still the good versus evil, the supernatural, the dogs, the children, the really bad people and the really good ones - all the things he seems to masterfully incorporate. This wasn't an Odd Thomas novel, but I thought it easily could have been one.

All in all, I'll remember it as the one that fooled me with the ending. Again, Koontz proved that I'm not as good, even at that, as I thought I was.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Motley crew reaped the medals

I’m not a big history guy (thus I tend to repeat a lot of the same mistakes.) My idea of history is divided into two eras: pre-Van Halen with David Lee Roth and then the rest of world history post-David Lee Roth.

I do dabble though, primarily in Israeli history and specifically the intelligence and defense areas. When I need any more information, I go to Mr. Google or my daughter, a history major at Black Hills State.

That being said, here is a very interesting story, even if you aren’t a history buff. The most decorated combat flight in U.S. history wasn’t in a famous, major battle and was a photo-recon flight. We’re talking two CMH’s and several Distinguished Service Crosses for the crew. And they sound like a bunch of cool dudes I would’ve liked to hang out with.
As odd as all this sounds, the South Pacific theatre in the early days of World War II was a chaotic area scattered over thousands of miles with very little equipment. Having a plane with an apparently nutty crew who volunteered for every awful mission not surprisingly made the commanding officers look the other way.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Link-oh-Rama time

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of an advance reading copy (ARC) of Dean Koontz's upcoming novel: Innocence. I won a bidding war on Ebay. Dropped 30 large on it. Large one dollar bills (includes shipping). That's the way I roll. The rest of you suckers can read the book when it comes out on Dec. 10.

And I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting today's cleavage linkage:

** Which JFK books to pick? An estimated 40,000 books about him have been published since his death, and this anniversary year has loosed another vast outpouring.

** The Luminaries: Novelist Eleanor Catton talks about winning the Booker Prize.

** Jerry, if you're reading this, for crying out loud close an app!

** 5 writing tips: Novelist Jill Dawson shares the advice she wishes she'd known when she started out.

** But it's so obvious: Study that says first-borns are smarter leads to debate among parents.

** High school football playoffs start Tuesday in South Dakota. So you really should read "Crash Bonaparte" at the short stories link up and to the left here. It's one of the favorite things I've written. Dumb, silly and fun.

** Last week's performance was just too much for this Vikings fan to handle.

** Don't go away mad, just go away: Anybody within three degrees of separation of Jersey Shore.

** In honor of Halloween, here's some Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball. Don't give the kiddies any of whatever it is these dudes were on.

** And why did the ghost go to the bar?
For the "boo"s!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday's Link-Oh-Pheasant-Rama

Pheasant season opens tomorrow in South Dakota. It's kind of a big deal.

** Hemingway hung out here, ya know.
 Hemingway’s trip looked like a vacation, but looks can be deceiving. “He said he had just ‘put his Morgan novel to bed’ in Wyoming, and that he’d handwritten 50,000 words…working like a bastard,” said Larsen. (The novel was later published as To Have and To Have Not.) Even though he wasn’t busy with any particular project in South Dakota, Hemingway never stopped accumulating the images and ideas that were his stock in trade. He took an interest in every detail of the prairie environment, “land contour, flowers, plants…things most people take for granted,” said Larsen. After evening meals he would sit in a corner and scribble notes on this he wanted to remember.”
 ** The sad story of Victor Page.
When leaving Georgetown for the NBA after two seasons didn’t work out, Page played 157 games for the Continental Basketball Association’s Sioux Falls Skyforce through 2002 and, once, chased an opponent around the court with a broom. But trouble of every variety has been Page’s companion since he starred at McKinley Tech High School, from the laundry list of charges covering everything from cocaine to theft to the unlawful use of a livestock vehicle to the gunshot two days before Thanksgiving in 2003 that took his right eye.
** Minnesota writers among finalists for National Book Awards.

** This sounds important. How Not to Die: 20 Survival Tips You Must Know
Some accidental deaths are unavoidable - wrong place, wrong time. But most aren't. Staying alive requires recognizing danger, feeling fear, and reacting. Here's what you need to know to survive bear attacks, chainsaw accidents, and even vengeful vending machines.
** Night owl? Party til the sun comes up with Prince.

** New book coming out next spring for this week's person I wish would just go away.
 “He was a douche, an unfriendly narcissist,” another building worker said. “I hate the guy. He thought he was God.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Finished: 'Butcher's Moon' by Richard Stark

Richard Stark was one of my favorite authors of all time, and I didn't know it. I knew Donald Westlake though and was plenty bummed when Westlake died in 2008. Just when I thought I'd have no more Westlake novels to consume, I learned that Westlake also wrote under a pseudonym, actually several, and the dude's name was Richard Stark.

The Stark novels are considered noir crime, with the main character of Parker. I just finished Stark's 1974 novel Butcher's Moon and loved it. I'm pretty sure it had the most characters in any book I've read, which generally isn't good for me because I am easily confused, but this worked.

Another of my favorite authors is Lawrence Block, who wrote the forward for this novel, and lo and behold was best buddies with Westlake/Stark. Block recommended that the reader of this book read the previous 15 Stark novels, because he incorporates many of those previous characters into Butcher's Moon, but Block said it wasn't necessary, so I didn't.

In reference to all the characters, Block said: "There are no minor characters, only minor writers." Words to live by.

I gave this on a 7-plus, but could've gone higher. Westlake/Stark is an absolute genius, Twainlike in his character descriptions.

On a not-so-bright guy, Stark wrote: "talking sense to him was like teaching algebra to a brick."

And the guy got shot "and slid down the invisible glass wall of life."

And, if you've got an extra first-edition hard-cover of this baby, shoot me an email. We'll work sumtin out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Friday's Link-Oh-Rama! (Holiday edition)

I've been busy. So sue me.

** Loving me some baseball, and here's the sports picture of the year.

** After experiencing American college life, an Israeli soldier says: Wake up!

** This is interesting. Are romantic comedies worse than porn?

** Here's one way to get rid of cancer: Why The Federal Government Wants To Redefine The Word 'Cancer'

** So I guess legendary journalist Seymour Hersh is not a fan of the current crop: Seymour Hersh excoriates 'pathetic' American media

** 100 great kids' books from the past 100 years

** Novel idea: Let kids read what they enjoy.

** Not everyone thrilled with McBooks.

** Douglas Adams says a book is like a shark:
"Sharks are old, there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs and the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar operated, feel good in your hand – they are good at being books and there will always be a place for them."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Chopped' and the Chihuahua

I confess to a guilty pleasure of watching a couple of the cooking shows. It wasn't by choice; it was because wifey watches it in bed, and well, I like my bed and when she turns off the television. It sounds like there's a pretty interesting book out about the Food Network. Not that I'm going to buy it, but I liked some of the excerpts.
In his new book, From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, writer Allen Salkin takes a deep dive into the world of Food Network, from before it was a kernel of an idea all the way up to the latest Paula Deen scandal. For anyone who has an interest in the network, or television in general, it's a fascinating read.

'Chopped' was originally a really bizarre, wacky show

From da book:
The original idea for Chopped was a whole lot more nutty than the no-frills show that ended up making it to air. In the original pitch, inspired by Deal or No Deal, a silhouetted tycoon would plan a dinner party, and his butler, "a snooty John Cleese type," would pit four chefs against each other for the privilege of cooking the dinner. After each round a chef would be eliminated by a panel of judges (including Rocco DiSpirito), and their dish would be fed to a Chihuahua named Pico. The crew didn't realize just how passionate the chefs would be about winning the competition, so after the initial idea was rejected by programming head Bob Tuschman, they reformulated the show to focus on the chefs instead of the wacky setup. And Chopped was born.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Finished: "Tsar" by Ted Bell

Tsar is the fifth Ted Bell novel in the Alex Hawke series. His sixth, Phantom, is sitting on my "to do" shelf, but I have to be in an ambitious mood to tackle Bell, because, as wonderful as they are, they are thick. This one was 705 pages! Fortunately, a snow storm hit us and we were without electricity for almost three days, so that gave me plenty of reading time.

Since I don't do reviews very well, I'll give you the highlights, which include the * and underlines and X's I make in a book for things that stand out to me for sometimes odd reasons, but usually because I thought it was a clever turn of a phrase, neat description or just something I just want to remember.

For starters, I gave it a 7, on my 1-10 scale. That's one of the higher ratings I've given in quite some time.

Other notes:

"Sometimes a man just had to bury his past and bloody well get on with it." Words we can all appreciate in some aspect.

In one scene Hawke is wearing a "double-ended black satin tie." I thought that sounded like something I might like and Googled double-ended ties and can't find anything. Hmm, a mystery within the mystery. I'll keep looking.

He also referenced "Yeats" as being sublime. I haven't read the Irish poet since college, and don't remember him being sublime, but then again didn't consider much to be sublime when I was 20. So I'm making it a point to check out some Yeats this week. Stay tuned.

"You know my definition of a committee?"
   "A group that keeps minutes and wastes hours."
To that I say: Amen, brother.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Link-O Lame-O

The headline says it all, but here ya go:

*** Girl loses allowance ... $26K per month ... and she's 47 years old. 

*** Seven fall gardening jobs that will make your life easier.

*** I often argue with people who complain about “kids now-a-days.” I am very comfortable with the next generation. It’s the idiot adults I don’t like. So I advocate for all of the good young people I run across on a daily basis, who are like this one.

*** I'm diggin' this.

*** Just go away. And they are!

*** Words to live by:
"It's not a good idea to put your wife into a novel; not your latest wife anyway." - Norman Mailer

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Link-O-Ramaaaaa

*** MAN UP: There are lots of ways to increase young men's engagement in education: Why aren't they being implemented? Christina Hoff Sommers has written a book about it, The War Against Boys, and has this article in The Atlantic: How to Make School Better for Boys.
As the United States moves toward a knowledge-based economy, school achievement has become the cornerstone of lifelong success. Women are adapting; men are not. Yet the education establishment and federal government are, with some notable exceptions, looking the other way.
Women in the United States now earn 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates. College admissions officers were at first baffled, then concerned, and finally panicked over the dearth of male applicants. If male enrollment falls to 40 percent or below, female students begin to flee. Officials at schools at or near the tipping point (American University, Boston University, Brandeis University, New York University, the University of Georgia, and the University of North Carolina, to name only a few) are helplessly watching as their campuses become like retirement villages, with a surfeit of women competing for a handful of surviving men.  Henry Broaddus, dean of admissions at William and Mary, explains the new anxiety: “[W]omen who enroll … expect to see men on campus. It’s not the College of Mary and Mary; it’s the College of William and Mary.”
The article even gives a shout-out to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, where my wife hangs out. Now I see why …

Young men may be a vanishing breed on the college campus, but there are some colleges that have no trouble attracting them—schools whose names include the letters T-E-C-H. Georgia Tech is 68 percent male; Rochester Institute of Technology, 68 percent; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 74 percent. This affinity pattern points to one highly promising strategy for reconnecting boys with school: vocational education, now called Career and Technical Education (CTE).
*** Are you ready for some football? From the NYT:
Here now is a book by Nate Jackson called “Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile,” and it’s everything you want football memoirs to be but never are: hilarious, dirty, warm, human, honest, weird. 
Mr. Jackson played six seasons (twice as long as the average National Football League career), from 2002 to 2008, with the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos, mostly at tight end. He managed to escape with some brain cells intact. He’s that unicornlike rarity among former football players: He can write.
About pain and the media, he notes how players are schooled to talk to reporters. “Do say: We’re taking this thing one game at a time and we’ll see what happens. Don’t say: Man, I really would like to go home and eat a heroin sandwich.”
*** Todd Epp is a longtime friend of mine and was a columnist for my Tea & Harrisburg Champion newspaper (RIP). He has a new blog and offered his personal take on the Syria situation:
What is happening to Syrians at the hands of Bashir Assad is personal to me and not just some story on the TV or in the newspaper. 
Earlier this year, I literally touched Syrian Kurd men, women and children while helping a Kurdish friend of mine distribute aid at a makeshift refugee camp near Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq.
*** Whether or not you follow politics, I find Rand Paul to be an interesting politico. Once dismissed by the GOP establishment as a gadfly, Paul is starting to look a lot like the leader of his party — and his enemies are panicking. “There’s a big transition in the Republican Party,” the Kentucky senator says in a BuzzFeed interview.

*** The 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist is the best in living memory says Gaby Wood, a former judge of the award. Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

Books nominated:
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin
*** W Is for Wasted: Sue Grafton is closing in on the end of the alphabet.

*** And it seems J.K. Rowling isn’t done riding that Harry Potter broom$tick. As NPR's Mark Memmott reported Thursday, J.K. Rowling is writing a screenplay for Warner Bros. set in the magical universe of Harry Potter. The screenplay, called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will be based on Harry Potter's textbook of the same name.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Whatcha working on, you ask?

I've been pretty much finished with a shnovel titled "Pet Teachers." What's a shnovel, you ask? It's a shorter novel, about 30-35,000 words. I think "novella" sounds too pretentious for anything I write. Definitely, more of a shnovel guy. There might be a couple tweeks to it yet, but I've pretty much stuck a fork in it.

I think you'll enjoy the teachers, three SDSU grads who had their issues during college and upon becoming high school teachers in South Dakota were blackmailed by the Dean into doing some dirty work for her. That summer work proved to be a lot more profitable than siding houses and mowing golf courses, like many of their peers did, and they ended up being pretty good at it. Unfortunately, the jobs are also highly illegal.

If I can get my editor out of the bar, I hope to release it as an e-book on, oh, let's shoot for Thanksgiving. 

As for my two newer novels, which I hope to publish in all formats (someday), including paperback, I've been bouncing back and forth and making mighty slow progress. Until last night!

The one finally came together. About 15,000 words in, I wasn't sure where it was going, except joining several others in the trash, when voila! Inspiration hit. I outlined it out the rest of the way. And I'm fired up about it. I hope to be cranking on that one for the next few weeks.

It has all the stuff that makes books good: a rebel priest, motorcycle gang, Satanists, missing children, meth, and a three-legged dog. Oh, and of course a hot blonde with "more curves than the Norbeck Scenic Highway and about as well traveled upon." Sounds like a winning recipe.

So there, just in case you thought I spent all summer just playing in my garden, jogging with Stanley, watching baseball and stalking Jennifer Love-Hewitt, you'd be wrong.