Thursday, February 25, 2021

Finished: Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach'

 It's amazing to me how the same author can write books I thoroughly enjoy and books I loathe.

Ian McEwan's "On Chesil Beach" falls into the latter category. I barely made it through. It "tells the story of virgins, Florence and Edward, and their first disastrous attempt at having sex on their wedding night. The initial experience and their differing responses to the failure have lifelong consequences for both."

Unbelievably, it was selected for the 2007 Booker Prize shortlist. More unbelievably, they even made a movie out of it

Apparently this was a case of "it's not you, it's me." It was so dumb. It was't a romance, kind of the opposite. It wasn't a mystery. I don't know what it was except that it wasn't for me.

I gave it a 5 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Stupid Amazonians gave it a 4 of 5.

To make myself feel better about my opinion I read a few of the many 1-star reviews on Amazon. One said: "The worst book I ever read."

Another concluded: "I was as disappointed with the story as Edward was with his wedding night and as put off by Florence and her foolish, stilted behavior as she was with Edward. I would not recommend this book at all. Even a cereal box would be more appealing as reading material!"

Amen, brother! Pass the Cheerios.

The only endearing part of the entire fiasco was finding this tidbit on Wikipedia while researching for this lame post: In a BBC Radio 4 interview, McEwan admitted to taking a few pebbles from Chesil Beach and keeping them on his desk while he wrote the novel. Protests by conservationists and a threat by Weymouth and Portland borough council to fine him £2,000 led the author to return the pebbles. "I was not aware of having committed a crime," he said. "Chesil Beach is beautiful and I'm delighted to return the shingle to it."

Good, he should've been fined for writing this book. Pebbles be damned.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A fantasy league of their own

 Don't worry, this is not a post about fantasy baseball. That would bore you. This is a post about the goofy people enacting a reality show in my fantasy baseball league. Unlike my annual football league that is made up of relatives, this 12-team baseball league is a "public league" on Yahoo, meaning you're just dumped in with a bunch of strangers from around the country.

I've been in one every season for around 20 years. People give their team's goofy names and there's a message board to communicate. Typically, the board is seldom used except for the occasional "hey, anybody have shortstop they want to trade?" Last season, I don't think there was a single message posted.

But, oh, this season ...

We had our draft on Friday night. For those unfamiliar with the process, we used an auto-draft, where the computer picks for you based on how you ranked your players. The top player you have listed gets drafted if that player is available; if not it moves to the next one; and around and around it goes until about 20 players are drafted for each team. So it went off without a hitch, or so I thought, until Saturday morning. That's when one player took exception to the draft. 

Richard (aka Dick) posted a condescending message to the members: 

The draft that took place last night was the craziest draft that I have ever took part in, and I have been playing fantasy baseball for 20+, own and have a number of teams, and play in several high stake leagues with professionals (I don't mean for that to come off like a jerk, if it does I apologize). The draft last night was just insane. People were just picking random players out of the blue, sometimes 3-6 rounds higher than a player should have been drafted. I dont know how to explain it other than people weren't looking at ADP, or projections. I have nothing against getting the players you want, but just based on ADP, you could have gotten a better player in that spot and then still gotten your player 50 picks later. I went into the draft with a specific strategy for this league, so I couldn't take as much advantage as I would have liked. Anyway, its all in fun. I know baseball can be a long season, but for the other players in the league, but stay active, or at least check your team once a week, nothing worse than being in a league where 2 or 3 teams are just sitting there after the first month.

This was followed by a couple others telling him off. And then this one from 19-year-old team owner Marie:

I go to school in Texas and when draft time came I was blacked out and had no power. No live draft for me, so don't know what you are talking about. But I don't feel I have to apologies to you. I have enough problems not baseball draft related. If you can help me find a grocery store that has food on it's shelves, that will help me and I'll apologies if I ruined your draft.

Many followed with "thoughts and prayers" posts, and no I didn't mention she spelled "apologize" wrong. Richard apologized for offending her, but kind of double-down on his criticism of the rest of us and pointed out he was using some new draft strategy (he had a name for it but I forget). 

I, of course, had to weigh in:

Making friends fast there, Richard. Personally, I use the Jose Cuervo draft strategy. One shot before the first round, two shots before the 2nd round, etc. By the 10th round I was pissed I didn't get Kate Upton as catcher.

A few more team managers weighed in with supportive thoughts, before Marie decided to let loose, with emotion and life history:

Thanks for the kind words all. I'm in Georgetown Tx and today it got up to 72. Power is back and water pressure while week, I do have water. Problem now is trucks couldn't get through so grocery shelves are bare. I'm small and skinny so don't have fat to sustain me.

I'm from Vermont and when we had weather like this we had power and water and headed to the mountains to go skiing. Texas couldn't handle this. This was scary to me. I come from a large close family. I decided to go to college out of state as I admired two older sisters who did the same. While I: love Texas, this has not worked out for me. First Covid and now this. I have to admit I was scarred sitting in the dark in a freezing condo was not in my plans. Boy did I miss my dad. He kept calling but I couldn't recharge my phone. I wasn't prepared for this. It's nice to see the sun, I sat on my balcony and enjoyed it. Still had bird seed so the birds were active and gave me pleasure. Ironic they have food and I'm on strict rationing. 
Again thanks for the kind words. I will survive, I just hope Roots Bistro gets a delivery so I can walk down and get a cheeseburger, or better yet I could probably eat a whole pizza. They might even serve me a beer.

More messages of support flowed in from old guys trying to make the young gal feel better. Kudos to them. At least she and the birds are safe.

Myself? I felt more like I've fallen into a Kardashian episode. And the season hasn't even started! This should be fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Finished: Ted Bell's 'Dragonfire'

 Ted Bell writes the Lord Alex Hawke spy novels. Kind of a James Bondish thing. His latest, Dragonfire, was very good in that realm.

December 8, 1941, Washington, D.C.

The new Chinese ambassador to the United States, Tiger Tang, meets with President Roosevelt one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the next four years, China and the U.S. will be wartime allies, but the charming, sophisticated ambassador may be playing his own treacherous game.

Today, The Bahamas

Alex Hawke is recovering from serious injuries incurred during a battle with a malevolent enemy. His recuperation is interrupted by a desperate call from the Queen. Her favorite grandson has disappeared in the Bahamas. Lord Hawke is the only man she trusts with a mission this sensitive. All she knows is that the young prince was last seen at the exclusive Dragonfire nightclub owned by the nefarious Tang brothers, grandsons of Ambassador Tiger Tang.

Bell referenced a Rudyard Kipling poem "If" that I'd forgotten about. It reminded me to reread it and sent it to my son:

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I gave the book a 6 on the Haugenometer ... and the poem a 10.

Another late-night rant when I should have been reading a book instead

 Wifey and I just finished watching a short four-episode Netflix series called "Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel." It's a documentary produced by Ron Howard about a woman killed in a creepy hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

The coincidences and stories regarding the hotel and the victim are crazy. The craziness feeds into a fever among the amateur internet sleuths worldwide. That part is just a side note to the mystery, but I found it very illuminating of the internet and social media in general and the lack of perspective among many who use it. That lack of perspective and knowledge led all the sleuths and their followers on a frenzy and to the wrong conclusion.

It basically ruined this one man's life as they blamed him for the woman's murder. The guy, named Morbid, was an odd duck to begin with, lead singer in a death metal band, but it drove him to suicide, which he survived, but his life is a mess.

It's not an original notion of mine to say social media has gotten out of hand. But I'm not going to be consumed by it.

About a month ago, my phone pooped out on me and I had to get a new one. I didn't load the Facebook app on the new one, thus I rarely use FB anymore. It was annoying me anyway, had gotten a little tiresome, same old stuff all the time. I found myself muting or unfriending more and more people. I'm pretty much just on Twitter now and mostly limited to baseball and boxing athletes and news.

One thing I really noticed on Facebook in a couple groups I've lurked on is how uninformed they are. I remember reading a story once about a guy reading a newspaper. This person used to read every story as if it were 100 percent true. Then he read an article about a subject he was an expert on and found several inaccuracies, and it finally dawned on him that maybe many of those other stories perhaps were inaccurate too. Take that times a million on the internet.

It's one thing to have different opinions, but the one group in particular I was watching was embarrassing. They didn't have a ninth-grader's knowledge of the stuff they were talking about. Yet people fed off the misinformation, added to it, repeated it, often with several exclamation points to prove their point. I fear social media has jumped the shark, so to speak, and is more of a detriment to society than an asset. Again, not an original thought.

I haven't decided if social media brings out a part of people that never existed before or if it always existed and this is just an avenue now for their venom to be released. Before it had been kept inside and now it's getting out, or if it's a mob-mentality thing, a place they feel no consequences for their actions so they let it rip. I'm sure there are countless psychiatrist studying this.

I've just become very disillusioned by it. I suppose it's ironic or hypocritical that I'm using a form of social media, blogging, to complain about social media, but so be it. As far as Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, I'm ratcheting down, if not phasing out. In my circle of best friends, only one or two are on FB or Twitter anyway. We text a lot or, more amazingly, actually call each other and have conversations.

I'll still use Facebook to sell books and post some pictures of my dogs, but that's about it. (Here's a little secret: When I post a link to my blog on Facebook, my blog gets more hits, and I sell more books. There's a direct correlation. It's kind of disheartening actually.)

Here's just a small example of my social media disillusionment. A while back I wrote about the joy of having a short personal Twitter conversation with one of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block. I've followed him for some time now. His politics are different than mine but he wasn't obnoxious about it so no big deal. Until today.

Rush Limbaugh died. He was another case of somebody I listened to a lot in my 20s but that gradually reduced as his shtick wore thin and I also recognized he was just plain wrong on some of the facts he talked about. To the point where I haven't listened to him but for bits and pieces the last 15 years. 

So, Block retweeted a news story on Limbaugh's death with the comment "Good."

Really? A guy I respect and admired said that. I unfollowed him. I just don't need that kind of stuff. There are a lot of people I don't like who have died and I never felt good about it, with maybe the exception of Osama Bin Laden. Even when Jeffrey Epstein died, I didn't shed any tears, but was mostly mad that he took the easy way out. I wasn't glad he died. And certainly wouldn't take to social media to celebrate someone's death.

Maybe my disillusionment isn't so much with social media as it is with people in general. They've lost their manners, which is considered old-fashioned I guess. We've gotten to the point where profanity is a litmus test for manhood. "Locker room talk" is in vogue now. Keyboard warriors attacking people are supposedly tough. Just wait until that carries over into their daily life, which has begun, and a punch in the nose will cure them of that. But even those days are mostly gone as they're more likely to get shot instead.

It's a downhill slide we're on and I don't know how it'll stop. For me, it starts by lessening my social media use lest I get sucked down with it. I've vowed to myself not to let that happen. Maybe we can start a movement.

Hey, I know! Let's start a Facebook group and discuss it!

Or not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Some whining

 I try not to whine. In fact, the most whining I do is about other people who whine. I try to be a stoic full-blooded Norwegian. A Viking! But ...

Have you ever had a root canal?

Uff da. Cracked my back molar last Monday eating a piece of steak, where I think I cut just a tiny bit of bone off and caught it just right while chewing. Went to dentist on Tuesday who looked at the x-ray and said "oh shoot." He referred me to an endodontist on Thursday for the root canal. Back to the dentist yesterday for a temporary crown. Will go back in two weeks for the permanent. Every day in between has had me whining. 

I assuage myself by saying Ragnar never had a root canal.

Not sure what is worse: back pain or tooth pain? With a sore back, you might not be able to sit or walk comfortably but you can still eat. With a sore mouth, you can't eat comfortably but you can walk.

My dentist, who used to coach my son's Teener baseball team, is a good guy. I like my dentist, but don't like going to him. At the appointment, before he stuck his fists in my mouth, he said to me: "I almost called you the other day. Do you know the worst part about dentistry?"

I said: "Hygeniests?" Because she was standing behind me.

He belly-laughed and she said: "I'm not a hygienist!" Guess she's a dental technician.

Short story shorter, he answered his own question: "Insurance companies."

Anyway, I trudge on with a sore jaw and gums from being stretched beyond normalcy and injections. Hopefully there's a light at the end of the tunnel now and I can get back to whining about this weather and cars that don't start and my mailbox getting run over by dumb drivers.