Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben can be summed up in two words: Occam’s razor. This is a good parable concerning the title, one we all know, especially the second part. It is about the second part of that saying that this book addresses in dramatic fashion. It probes the guilty conscience in a cunning way. It is a testament to our military and to those who serve, survive, and carry the war with them forever. This is a book only the reader can evaluate and no review can hope to accomplish for another.
Monday, April 24, 2017
The Underworld by Kevin Canty is about a town in Washington with a silver mine. Then there is a mining accident and ninety-one men died. Ann and Jordan are surviving wives. Ann is childless and Jordan has two small children. David survives his brother, but his mom and dad don’t do so well. The survivors are known as the “sleepwalkers” as they walk around with blank faces and a distracted look on their faces as they continue conversations, one-sided conversations. As Ann drives Jordan home after they have identified the bodies of their dead mining husbands to the suits, Ann reflects, “It’s strange how everything looks new today. She’s driven this road some uncountable number of times but today she feels like a stranger here and she can see the strange lonely little houses behind chain-link fences, the crumminess, fiberglass speedboats mildewing in the side yards, firewood stacked under blue tarps. Why would anyone live here? Years of smoke from the smelter have killed the trees. A tangle of weeds on the hillsides now. Scraps of snow in the creases of the hills high above, though it is spring in the valley, a season of mud and flowers. Half the cars look abandoned. Dogs bark at passing cars. People stuck around because the money was good, and it was good, but where is it now? This looks like a town of poor people, temporary people, like a good wind might blow them all away.”
Two miners, Terry and Lyle, spent sixteen days underground until they were found. This is a story of the survivors and how they cope and how they don’t cope. It’s about getting out of the hole.
It is so appropriate today as 45 revitalizes the coalmines and one has to wonder why. He certainly can’t be doing it for the miners, that life sucks and is so tragic. He’s doing it for the suits and at the same time changing science. 45 has no regard for nature or mankind, just the almighty dollar. He’s a suit.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Customer Service is a bellwether for our educational system, like the spotted owl once was in the forests of Northwest America or the canary in a coal mine. Where do I start? Okay, let me ask you, What has been your experience with customer service?
I taught for a long time in public and private schools. The hallmark for any good educational success was when students explained their choices, could argue a good point, and could solve problems. I retired when this became extinct and multiple guess tests became the norm. We don’t know why a student chose a or b or c or d because we don’t ask. Now we have customer service folks who can’t solve problems because it is not a choice on their menu of things they can do. Problem solving has been thrown out the window for what appears on a computer screen as an answer to input. They haven’t been taught how to think or problem solve, they have been taught to memorize and choose an answer from one of four choices. As America becomes more of a service economy, customer service must improve. But it will only improve if we resume teaching in schools and not continue with this mindless teach to the test form of schooling which is starting to show its results in customer service. Now if you don’t believe me, call your insurance company or any other business with which you interact and pay attention to the maze you must wander in.
The experience starts when you have to get through the first gauntlet of voice recognition or a menu of options not suitable for your call. Asking for an agent or representative can be daunting. Voice recognition on most sites sucks. Too many times the choice you want, speaking to a human, is not available. Once when we called a business we got a human, now we get automation. How does this help fix unemployment? Here’s a place where we could add more jobs. Human jobs have been lost to automated answering machines. Sad. Fix it 45.
The next gauntlet is getting a human. Even as we deal with a human, we are witnessing the decline of education in America. These humans just don’t know how to solve simple problems any more and that’s very sad. We have to go up a chain of command to find resolution.
The third step is speaking to a supervisor. In half the times I have gotten to this step, I have finally gotten a resolution after much interaction. In the other half, I find a letter to the Customer Service department is necessary. Resolution takes the customary four to six weeks.
This is how we solve problems in America today. I thought computers were going to make our lives better. Gosh, was I naïve.
Our educational system has failed us and it is getting worse. We have accommodated education for the evaluators and not for the evaluatees, the students. It is easier to assess a multiple guess test than it is to evaluate essays. That is now the problem in America, we took a short cut and are now paying for not working hard. We have forgotten to ask why in school and we have certainly not allowed our students to show us how except to be sure to bubble in that little circle completely.
After that arduous customer service experience, there is that ubiquitous survey you can do after your, “I need a drink now experience” with customer service. Just shoot me now.
Oh, and why can’t coal miners learn a new trade like making solar panels or wind mills of electric cars?
Monday, April 17, 2017
Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler is to London as Corby is to Ancient History in his Athenian Mystery Series. Fowler takes us on a very erudite and entertaining tour of British Literature, London, and the Thames through the character of Arthur Bryant. Bryant is the member of a unique police unit in London called the Peculiar Crimes Unit. They are headed by the very inept, Raymond Land, mon petit debile, mon petit crapaud, Bryant is the actual and official brain of the Unit along with his partner John May. The other members of the Unit include Janice Longbright, Dan Banbury, Giles Kershaw, Meera Mangeshkar, Colin Bimsley, and Fraternity DuCaine.
We witness the death of a woman, Lynsey Dalladay, on the banks of the Thames at night. It appears she has committed but the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit to investigate it as a murder. She was pregnant and her boyfriend, Freddie Cooper is a prime suspect. One of the members of this unit, Longbright, explains their purpose best: “It’s not our job to understand why people do the things they do, Mr. Cooper. Even the well-intentioned ones can end up lying, and the best lies come when they’re finally convinced they’re telling the truth. People omit truths in order to ease their pain. We have to get the full story so that we can decide what to do.” It sounds like we all are members of this distinguished and peculiar group as we navigate our own lives.
I particularly love the times when Bryant is searching through literature with the likes of a Kirkpatrick or a Darcy Sarto and scans such tomes as Shakespeare’s First Folio or a Dickens novel for hints about the Thames and its power over people and the City of London. Bryant’s hallucinations about WWII and the blitzes of London are also illuminating if not troubling to poor suffering Arthur. Even his chat with Dickens is fantastic. Bryant is the clown to May’s straight man role. May holds the leash or so he thinks. “Arthur Bryant was getting better at evading his keepers.”
Other elucidating moments in this novel are the interactions with London historians like Audrey Beardsley, who would spend time relating the more esoteric historical facts of London and the Thames. The Thames becomes a character in this novel. “’What snakes through the heart of this investigation?’ Bryant continued, unconcerned about whether anyone was listening to him. “The Thames. The Silent Highway. Liquid history. Think about it, the livelihoods that depended on it, all the dock complexes, London and St Katherine’s, Commercial, India and Millwall, the Royals and Tilbury. Between them they took up an area of three thousand acres. Thirty miles of quays and dry docks. Think about the toshers, the mudlarks, the scuttle-hunters, the lumpsers –‘ ‘Nope,’ said May, ‘it’s gone.’”
The main subplot involves a recent illegal immigrant, Ali. Ali’s adventures to enter England are very sad and funny. He has special skills and hooks up with another wanderer, Cassie. They form different teams of entertainers to make money. Their misadventures are great sidebar stuff until they become entangled with the law, Bryant and May and The Peculiar Crimes Unit. Freddie Cooper, the ex boyfriend of the dead pregnant girl, Dalladay, is an investor to the pair’s latest scheme, Life Options. It turns out Ali slept with Freddie’s ex after they broke up. Cassie is concerned Ali may be the father. This will complicate things, if the police get involved with the pair. For Ali it is all about the money and he has the charms to extract it from the weak and susceptible. He is a snake and a con man.
More bodies are found in the Thames and the Unit is trying to find links and connections. The intrigue is kicked up a notch as we begin to sense the power of the river, the power of it as known by the Druids, Romans, and other inhabitants of the snake that slithers through London. The answer always lies in the money, follow the money and the solution will always be obvious.
The humor and dry wit have me in constant hysterics as I often have to reread passages just for the joy of the wit and sarcasm, “mon petit lecteur”.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance or is it James Donald Bowman or is it James David Hamel? It is called a memoir, but is really fiction. As a memoir it is fake, fabricated and just plain bullshit. This hoax sits along side other notable fraudulent memoirs like The Education of Little Tree and James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces that fooled Oprah. In his introduction, which is excellent lawyer speak, Vance supplies much evidence to the hoax and in Chapter Two again warns us of his duplicity: “This is the story my grandparents told me, and like most family legends it’s largely true but plays fast and loose with the details.” Vance would have done better if he followed Tracy Chevalier’s model, At The Edge of the Orchard.
I have always been told ignorance of the law is not an excuse. So, too, “Willful Ignorance” is not a defense against ignorance: “Their paper (NYTimes) suggests that Hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist.” Isn’t this the same crap we hear from Conway about Spicer’s “Alternative Facts”?
If this is real, then Hillbillies are just dumb sons of bitches who deserve their crappy lot in life because they are just too ignorant to know any better. And for Vance to be defending this stupidity is even more insulting to us. This is the story of people who literally cut off their nose to spite their face. They are admittedly “Willfully Ignorant” and that just isn’t a defense or justification for their ignorance and harmful actions. Their lives do have an impact on ours and that is wrong, just wrong. They are not good Americans because that is not what our Founding Fathers wanted from the people, “Willful Ignorance.”
“Papaw’s distant cousin – also Jim Vance – married into the Hatfield family and joined a group of former Confederate soldiers and sympathizers called the Wildcats. Cousin Jim murdered former Union soldier Asa Harmon McCoy, he kicked off one of the most famous family feuds in American history.” Add to this tall tale the one about a Tilden killing a rival on Election Day and we do have some whoppers here. “As Mamaw used to say, you can take the boy out of Kentucky, but you can’t take Kentucky out of the boy.” (Page 25)
“Jimmy (author’s uncle), Mamaw would tell me later, could sit up at two weeks, walk at four months, speak in complete sentences just after his first birthday, and read classic novels by age three (“A slight exaggeration,” my uncle later admitted.)” One bullshit story follows the next. This memoir reeks like a cow barn. It is however an entertaining novel, maudlin, but entertaining with its clichés while an adult romanticizes about his youth in awe and full of admiration that it might have actually been this way. Delusional!
I love the stories of the bully in school, fighting his sister’s boyfriend, and Mamaw’s advice on fighting. Perhaps the best religious joke I’ve heard and reflective of this book involves a man who in his house during a flood. As the waters rise a car comes by to offer escape and he declines saying ‘God will take care of me.’ He responds the same way when the first floor floods and a boat comes by and when he is on the roof and a helicopter comes by. Eventually he calls to God and wonders why he hasn’t cared for him. God replies, ‘I sent a car, a boat, and a helicopter. Your death is your own fault.’ God helps those who help themselves.” Of course that is the greater truth and further evidence to “Willful Ignorance.” Another deception or lie is about actual church going. “Despite its reputation, Appalachia has far lower church attendance than the Midwest, and is much lower in the South. This pattern of deception has to do with cultural pressure.” So lying and deception are cultural traits and mores. This helps explain the deception of this memoir, this hoax that at best could be a novel.
One dramatic moment from his life is followed with another. In one he forgets what he says to his mom that causes her to drive a hundred miles an hour promising to kill them both before he flies out of the car after she stops it and he runs through fields to a house with a fat woman in her pool demanding she call his Mamaw cause his mom is going to kill him. He forgot what he said? His mother is arrested after the woman called 911. Then after his Papaw died on a Tuesday he heard a Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Tuesday’s Gone.” This he remembers. And yet the episodes from any of his school days he remembers are those filled with books about social justice, The Truly Disadvantaged and Losing Ground, that are politically rooted to help him with his political agenda as supplied by his Mamaw’s rants, very convenient. Heck, school days are those days that dominate our lives forever when we are young and have nightmares about in our middle age. A memoir without school days is mighty fishy. How does he know such intimate things about his Mamaw like the time she took those Beaver Hunts magazines? As I said a fair novel, but hardly a memoir, mostly fiction built on a truth or two as any good novel is.
What would any good memoir be without 9/11 and a stint in the Marines? Well we get them both in this pile of bullshit. Be sure to tug at the heartstrings and go patriotic whenever the narrative looses momentum and you need to further the political agenda. I found his college and Law school a bit much. Yes, it is easily documented but college in less then two years, Yikes. All of this is just modest bullshit. “Just give me my diploma; I don’t need to shake the college president’s hand.” What bullshit.
At this point I was almost sucked in by this lawyer/con artist because I, too, found the military a saving grace for me. The military changed my life and allowed me to also go through college and post grad work successfully after a very lackluster high school lack of education. But then it hit me, this guy is a lawyer and like all good lawyers he can con any jury, and Vance has done just that, conned us with this bullshit.
What is it he isn’t telling us? What is this lawyer/con artist not saying? The one and most important aspect of Hillbilly culture that was lacking from this fake not authentic memoir was the absence of any discussion of incest, the cornerstone of Hillbilly culture. “Why did the Hillbilly go to the family reunion? To find a wife.” Incest is such a cultural norm in Hillbilly culture, sociologists and others study it on a regular basis and it has to be one of the main reasons and shames Hillbillies keep everything in the family and keep to themselves. It is what separates Hillbillies from the rest of us humans. That is why they are so different from us. There may be hints of incest in Mamaw’s secrets or mom’s desperate and irrational behavior with the flurry of men in her lives or why his dad escaped and became a born again or his uncle who escaped. Again I must remind myself a lawyer is weaving this tale and he spins a good yarn, but he has omitted a most crucial part of his proud Hillbilly existence and that is the scourge of Hillbilly culture, the shameful act of incest.
I know that Abraham Lincoln’s father left the Hingham Lincoln clan for Kentucky and Abraham rose from that ash heap to be labeled “Honest Abe” but Mr. Vance you didn’t rise high enough as you became a con man just like 45 who conned his way into the WH. White trash is so appropriate. Being a Hillbilly just ain’t no excuse for your down right plain “Willful Ignorance” and incestuous ways to expect forgiveness let alone understanding Mr. Vance or whatever your name is. It’s against God’s will. This is bullshit you Hillbilly son of a bitch. You have tried to con us and have succeeded in some circles. Remember there are two kinds of terminators, the good ones and the bad ones and there ain’t no good con men.
Perhaps a good discussion of education can come from this reading. I agree that education reform shouldn’t begin at high school but in Pre School and in the lower grades. Research informs us of that. Invest lots and lots of military kind of money in early school and we would do well. Involve the community: the previously employed, grandparents, high school students, parents and provide a community of learners in every community and the rest will fall into place because then we will have created a culture of learning. This is how you make America great again by making it smart. It’s all about education stupid.
Vance may have found the Author’s Note to Moonglow by Michael Chabon inspiring and appropriate. “In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it. Wherever liberties have been taken with names, dates, places, events, and conversations, or with the identities, motivations, and interrelationships of family members and historical personages, the reader is assured that they have been taken with due abandon.”