THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS – GENETIC MEDDLING

I while ago, I wrote about how oranges were now larger than grapefruit. The change has occurred rather abruptly. Although the oranges are huge, they aren’t sweeter or juicier. Most of the larger size is an enormously thick skin. And the oranges go bad and rot in record time. Oranges used to keep for weeks when refrigerated. Now, they last a couple of days at best. Many don’t last that long.

They’ve already done in the strawberries. Whatever those huge soggy red things are they are foisting off on us and calling strawberries? They have less taste, aren’t sweet … and become inedible almost immediately. Between buying them and them rotting is no more than a few hours.

The next fruit to get hit were green grapes. They appeared at Hannaford in April. Huge. They are firm when you buy them, but turn mushy in hours. At best, they are peculiarly tasteless. They haven’t ruined the red grapes yet, but I’m sure they’re working on it. I told Garry that the best way to judge whether or not they have messed with the genetics of the fruit or vegetable? if it looks too good to be true, it’s is.

So what’s next? The cattle? Sheep? Bet they are already doing it. How about dogs and cats? Perfect specimens that can win “Best In Show” every time, but are oddly vacant and lacking personality.

How about children? No more problems trying to keep them from misbehaving in school. They’ll be very well-behaved, all the time. Because we’ll engineer the mischief right out of them. What could go wrong with that?

I am convinced that this is the way the world ends. They genetically change our food. Eventually, genetic meddling  with some kind of animal or vegetable produces an unexpected result and people start dying. By the millions. All over for humankind.

And we will have done it to ourselves.

The big fruit is the orange

The big fruit is the orange

The Hollow Men: T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

audible home page

Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

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This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com. 

A LIBRARY LESSON – RICH PASCHALL

A Reading from the Book of Harry Potter by Harold, an organized man

All morning it sat on the table calling to him in a fantastical sort of way and Harold did his best to ignore it. It wasn’t really “calling” of course, but Harold could not get “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” out of his mind. It was the library copy that kept stealing his attention and he was tempted to head out to the library a bit early to resume the tale. He knew leaving early was unacceptable to his schedule, so the story of the boy wizard would just have to wait until early afternoon.

He picked up the copy on Tuesday and after reading a little of the book, brought it home so he would have it for the next library day. Now that Thursday had come around, he could not help himself but feel a little anxious to resume what he had always considered a children’s book. Most of Harold’s library time had been dedicated to technical manuals and other works of non-fiction but some impulse pushed Harold off course and now he was reading a fantasy. He hoped his library visit would only be filled with adventures of wizards found on the pages of the J.K. Rowling novel and nothing more.

When the appointed hour came and Harold was satisfied that everything was organized and properly put away, he grabbed the library book and headed for his car. Before he got in, he shot a quick glance down the street in search of his neighbor, Bill, another assassin of his time schedule. The street was absent of people as the Florida heat and humidity were on the rise.

Harold was fortunate to find a spot very close to the front entrance of the town library. He was pleased with his good fortune as he hurried through the heat and into the comfort of cool temperatures and rooms full of books. There were some empty tables and chairs as well as a few oversized comfortable chairs alongside small tables. Convinced he would be relaxed at one of the tables, Harold went and picked out a seat. Relaxed was not actually a term that fit Harold, nevertheless that is how he would see most of his choices.

His library card was acting as his bookmark and Harold found the next chapter, “The Journey From Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” Everything he read up to this point must have just been background material. Now he thought the real adventure was about to begin. He had barely read one page when he felt the presence of someone at the table, sitting directly across from him. He looked up to see who it might be, only to discover a small boy.

The boy smiled at Harold before our well-organized man and lord of the library realized it was the same boy who sat down by him just two days earlier. “I am trying to read, young man,” Harold said to the little one. The boy just nodded with a quizzical look attached to his face. “Well, do you mind?” Harold added and the boy just shook his head.

“Shhhhhhh!” The librarian rebuked Harold for talking. He was now left with nothing to say as the little boy stared at the picture of Harry Potter flying on a broom as shown on the front cover of the book, and Harold stared at him. “What now?” he thought. The little one wasn’t actually do anything and he certainly was quiet so Harold thought he would just continue despite the intrusive stares of the child.

Harry_Potter_british_booksThe small drama was not unnoticed by the librarian’s assistant who sought to be helpful. She came over to the Harold and whispered, “You and your little one can go into the children’s reading room, if you like. I can get the key and open the door for you.” Off to one side was a room of children’s books and toys.  The wall that faced the librarian’s desk was glass on the top half so everyone could see in. It had been used for a variety of activities until there were budget cutbacks and no one left on staff to monitor the room. Now it was usually locked along with Grumpy Bird, Mrs. Frisby, Puss in Boots and Winnie the Pooh, not to mention an illustrated copy of Harry Potter himself.

The assistant was off to the front desk before Harold could object and returned in a flash. She took Harold under the arm in order to help the old-timer up and said in a hushed tone, “Follow me,” just as if they were going to sneak down to a secret chamber. A stunned Harold was led to the children’s room with the little one skipping along behind. Once inside the assistant declared, “Now you boys can talk all you want. The room is very sound proof.  Mrs. Craig designed it and used to come each week to read to the children. She had a stroke, you know.”

Harold just shook his head like he knew Mrs. Craig. In truth, he knew no one at the library. “There are plenty of books here you can read to the little guy if you don’t want to read him that one,” the assistant said. “If you like reading out loud, maybe you could fill in for Mrs. Craig for a few months.”

“NO!” Harold declared in a tone that startled the young woman.  “I mean, I just don’t have anytime for that sort of thing.”

“Oh, I see,” she replied and left the two guys standing in the center of the reading room.

“Hi,” the boy finally spoke, “my name is Harry,” and stuck out his small hand so that Harold would shake it.  “Harold,” the time master replied, which the little one found amusing.

“Can you read that book to me?” little Harry asked.  Harold looked back at him in a panic as if he had just seen a three-headed dog.

RICHARD BEN SAPIR – THE FAR ARENA

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

FarArena

I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER — SCRIPT? CHARACTERS? PLOT?

Matters of Taste – When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?


Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

You mean … other people don’t make their own decision about how they feel after reading a book, seeing a movie or watching a television show?

Because I thought that was what we were supposed to do. You know. Think for ourselves. If not, what’s that big grey lump in the middle of our skull good for anyhow?

A high percentage of current pop culture movies and television annoy or bore us. The last one to leave us saying “Huh?” Was Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It began with an explosion. It barely paused at any point during the next 136 minutes for dialog, character development, plot, or anything else. It ended with a really big explosion. At one point in the viewing, Garry left. He came back 20 minutes later. He said later he didn’t feel he’d missed anything. He didn’t because nothing had happened except a few more things blew up.

It got great reviews.

We are fans of the franchise. With the exception of Thor, which I thought was too dumb and poorly acted even for a late night stupid fix, I’ve enjoyed watching the superheroes of my childhood come to life and save the world. I don’t expect great art, just a modestly coherent story, handsome guys and beautiful women in spandex, and special effects.

However, I anticipate a plot. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but nothing is too little. I require dialog. In short, a script.

Explosions are not enough to carry a movie for more than two hours. If the production company is going to shell out all that money for big name stars, not to mention special effects, how about throwing a few bucks at a scriptwriter? Writers work cheap. Give it a shot, Hollywood.

I don’t care what any reviewer says. I never did. Or for that matter, what friends and family say. If they feel spending a lot of money to watch things blow up is a worthwhile trade, okay with me. In this household, I expect more. Require more.

I should add you’d never get away with that in a book. A book with no story? No character development?  Even if the plot and characters are lame, they nonetheless need to be there. Without them, it isn’t a book and won’t make the big time. Not yet, anyway. And aren’t we glad for that, at least!

THE WITCH PROMISES GREAT BEST-SELLERS

A BOOKISH CHOICE – A literary-minded witch offers you a choice. With a flick of her wand, you can become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades (phooey on that!) or a popular author whose books give pleasure to millions (definitely). Which do you choose? (Is this a serious question?)


Was I ever young enough to think money doesn’t matter? If I ever said anything that silly, I apologize. To anyone to whom I may have expressed such arrant nonsense, I must have been on drugs. They warned us about the brown acid.

75-BooksHP

You can always write some (or many) good books if you have a publisher and an audience. If your books sell well, you don’t have to write drivel. There’s nothing to prevent you from being a best-selling author and a fine writer. I can think of a bunch of authors who succeed at both.

Great writing does not exclude popularity. Exceptional books will find their audience if they get a reasonable shot at it … which means, any exposure at all.

Go with the best-selling choice. It’s a win-win.


And Mr. Huberman, you need a course in spelling and grammar. I don’t wish to insult you, but please, take the time to proofread your posts before publishing. You are writing for writers. We notice.

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

AN UNBLOCKED BRAIN

Writer’s Block Party - When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?


I suppose this is where my fellow writers heap scorn on my head, but truth sometimes hurts.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2

I have never had writer’s block. I have had days, weeks, where I didn’t feel like writing because I was sick, tired, on vacation, wanted to read a book or watch television. But never have I been unable to write unless I was physically ill. I always can write something — and considering my advancing years, I figure it’s unlikely I’m going to dry up.

I’ve had times when I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, needed to rewrite it. I’ve had periods where I wrote and it was a dead-end, destined for the trash bin.

But not be able to write at all? Stare at a blank page? Never happened. Maybe the problem for some writers is a too narrow focus. Deciding in advance what they should be writing, so if they can’t write that specific thing, they don’t write at all.

I will write, even when it seems off track. Inevitably, my odd brain will wind around to put me on track. Or I’ll discover what seemed to be a completely wrong direction was the right path. That’s where I should be after all.

When I write fiction, my characters tell me where to go. They are always right. It’s exactly when characters start making decisions on their own — often to my surprise and delight — that I know what I’m working on has begun to click.

If I can’t write, you can assume I’m too sick to sit up or someone wrenched the keyboard from my clawed hands. Or I’m on a big, shiny boat sailing the Caribbean and having way too much fun to sit down and write. I wish that would happen more often!

I have never understood writer’s block and I would certainly never turn it into a party, unless each writer brings his or her own food and drinks. Okay, I’ll make a dish too, but everyone else has to bring something. Hungry writers can eat you out of house and home!

THE FIRST DAY

September 1951. I am probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am. I’m certainly the smallest. Everyone seems so big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. The school looks huge. Monstrous. Many years later, when I come back to visit, it will be tiny, a miniature school. Even the steps are half the height of normal.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old. She’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some. The ones everyone can use are broken and colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out about all this stuff.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write things in her book.

It’s a long day. I have almost a mile to walk home. Mommy doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s only that it’s all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this stuff?

By the time I know the answer, it won’t matter any more. School has become the ordinary stuff of life and why no longer applies.


Memoir Madness – Weekly Writing Challenge

THE BEST BOOKS I NEVER READ BUT SAID I DID

 

Ulysses James JoyceIt starts in school when they give you lists of books to read. I was always a reader. Most of the time, I’d already read most of the books on any reading list. Most others were not big deal. Reading a book was not normally a problem for me. After all, I love books.

But literature courses inevitably include a lot of books that I would never read voluntarily. Maybe books that no one would voluntarily read. How about Silas Marner? When was the last time someone read that because it sounded like a fun read?

Despite current trendiness, Jane Austin was nobody’s favorite author in high school. I read it, but I didn’t have to like it. Pride and Prejudice was the only book I ever threw in a lake. There, I’ve admitted it. I do not like Jane Austen. Not then, not now. Neither does my husband. We also don’t like the movies made from the books.

By the time I got to college, among the many books I did not read was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not only didn’t I read it, I barely got through the Cliff Notes. But I got an A on the paper for my “unique understanding of the characters and motivation.” Good Cliff Notes, eh? I did read Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and thought it wasn’t half bad. At least I could discern a plot and everyone in it wasn’t a prig — as they were in Austen’s novels.

I slogged my way through all of Dostoyevsky books. It was voluntary, but I still couldn’t tell you why I did it. Maybe to prove I could?

I read all 1800 pages of Romaine Rolland’s Jean Christophe because my mother loved the book. She also had me read Growth of the Soil, Knut Hamsun’s depressing tale of grinding poverty and despair in the Norwegian highlands. I barely made it through Madame Bovary and War and Peace was a non-starter.

Growth of the SoilI never made it through anything by Thomas Hardy. Or Lawrence Durrell. I loved Larry’s brother Gerald Durrell. He was hilarious and wrote about my favorite subjects, animals. I slogged my way through Lady Chatterly’s Lover only because everyone told me it was hot. I thought it was dull. My brother had some books stuffed under his bed that were a lot dirtier and more fun.

I never owned up to not reading those important, literary masterpieces. When the subject came up — which it did when we were students and even for a few years after that — I would try to look intelligent. I’d grunt at the appropriate moments, nod appreciatively.

So yesterday, I was looking at a review I wrote last January about Dahlgren and realized I was lying about literature again. I hated the book. I didn’t merely dislike it. I found it boring, pretentious. It had no plot, no action, and as far as I could tell, no point. I mealy-mouthed around my real feelings because it’s a classic. Everyone says so.

So my question is: who really read that book? Who really loved it? Did everyone pretend to love it because they heard what a great book it was? How many people lie about reading great books when in fact, they never make it past the preface before falling into a coma?

I’m betting it ain’t just me.

A HUNDRED YEARS OF WAR

Today, August 4th, 2014 is the centennial of the first day of battle of World War One.

Although war had been declared a week earlier (28 July 1914), the 4th of August was the day on which troops clashed and men died. Millions more would die before the war ground to a halt four years later.

It was not only the start of The Great War. It was the end of the Old Regime in Europe, of a way of life. The beginning of a modern era of endless war in which more than 50 million people have died on battlefields, in death camps, of starvation, and disease. And of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Rupert Chawner Brooke was born 3 August 1887 and died 23 April 1915. He was an English poet known for his sonnets — mostly written during the First World War, in particular “The Soldier”, which follows. He was well-known for his good looks, which were said to have prompted William Butler Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England.” He died before his good-looks had time to fade.


1914 V: The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke never came back from the war. He was one of an entire generation of men who died in that war. The male population had barely begun to return to normal when War II began. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 37 million. It  included tens of thousands of Americans, and millions of English, Australian, Canadians, French, German, Belgian, Austrian, Russians and many others.

Civilian casualties out-numbered military casualties.

We are marking the hundredth birthday of “the war to end all wars.” It was merely the opening salvo of a century of endless war which still continues. Maybe some day it will be over. I hope I live to see it.

As for what lesson we learned from this war? A war that achieved nothing except slaughter and destruction? We learned nothing.

IT WAS A LOVELY WAR — A WORLD WAR ONE CENTENNIAL

Happy Birthday, Great War. It’s 100 years since the day you officially started. World War I (WWI), also known as the First World War, was a nearly global war. It officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier.

It was an ugly, devastating war. Four years of slaughter that — technically — ended on November 11, 1918.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

For the past couple of weeks, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been “celebrating” the centennial of the first world war, inviting historians and military people to do the introductions and closing comments on the films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s intros and outros, the last of which was for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t really cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is one dark comedy.

It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to having seen this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, I guess we did learn a few things. We learned to build more efficient weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. We can kill more people faster — but no deader — than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs. Catchy. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do or will. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans.

So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end — WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.


From Amazon.com:

Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. All-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.

144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.

NOTE: As of a couple of days ago, there were 11 copies remaining.

THE OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 — REVIEW

Marilyn Armstrong:

An excellent review of a camera I hope to buy. Superb technology at a fair price. Olympus. My favorite cameras.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Do you want a more detailed review? Please continue reading.

I like to start by thanking Charles from Olympus for letting me use the camera for an extended period. I shot this camera on many occasions and have even blogged about it couple of times (here and here), several months ago. If you read those early posts, you know that I often shot the E-M10 alongside my Fujifilm X100S that I purchased around the same time.

By almost every measure, the Olympus E-M10 is superior to the Fuji X100S. It focuses faster, the EVF works better, it’s more flexible and it has interchangeable lenses. I’ll give the Fuji the edge for high ISO quality and it’s probably a bit sharper. However, I’m splitting hairs here. For most people, you won’t notice a difference. Color wise, they both have their advantages…

View original 3,304 more words

A WILD WEST WEDNESDAY – RICH PASCHALL

Not just a Soup and Sandwich lunch for Harold, a rather well-organized man

It had already been an uncharacteristically hectic week for Harold, so he looked forward to a relaxing Wednesday. After he finished his morning breakfast, he took the newspaper to a nice spot by the window and sat down to read. He was only distracted momentarily by the library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sitting on the table. It seemed to beckon to him to continue the journey of the boy wizard. There was a time set aside for that sort of reading and he imagined he would resume the fanciful tale at the library where it began.

The time idled by in a leisurely sort of way that was befitting of a man in retirement. With the completion of each article, Harold looked out the window approvingly. The sun was shining, the air was at peace and so was Harold. He continued to read right up to the noon hour when it was time to get ready for the twice weekly sojourn to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. Harold would dress in his best sports clothes since he knew his appearance was important. All of the help and many of the patrons were well aware of the 1 PM arrival every Wednesday and Saturday of the well-organized man from the Midwest.

Harold arrived at the door of the restaurant precisely at 1. He thought he was the picture of sartorial excellence when in truth he was rather plain, but certainly clean and well-groomed. As usual, the staff greeted him with kindness and even enthusiasm as he headed to the same general area where he always sat for lunch. His seat by the window was taken but he chose another that was just as bright and allowed for a good view of a television. ESPN was playing for Harold, minus sound.

“Hello,” said a voice that startled Harold. “My name is Amber and I will be your waitress today.” The young woman had an armful of tattoos and maroon colored hair. Her jeans were a bit ripped on the backside. She did not look a thing like the sweet Tiffany who usually waited on Harold. “May I start you off with a drink? We have Summer Surprise on tap. It is a seasonal beer we have on tap for just four dollars.” Amber worked her chewing gum quite hard as she waited for a response from the average looking old guy from another one of the nearby retirement areas.

“Tea,” Harold proclaimed. “I will have an ice tea with lemon on the side and 1 packet of sweetener.” With that Amber was off without taking Harold’s food order. Things were not exactly routine but a little out of the ordinary would be OK with Harold. Amber soon returned, took the order and things were nicely on track for a peaceful meal.

As Harold watched the television without the sound, a noise came bellowing across the room. “Harold!  Why you old son of a gun!” It was Bill, Harold’s neighbor from down the street. “What brings you here, besides the cheap lunch?” Harold did not consider the lunch cheap, but rather as economical. He also could not imagine what he did to invite Bill into his life twice in the same week. With that, Bill sat down opposite Harold.

“I just stopped in for lunch, that’s all,” Harold exclaimed. “I like the food here and the people are nice.” Bill nodded in agreement and then a brilliant idea popped into Bill’s head.

“You know, Harold, we could ride over here together on Wednesdays. You can enjoy your,” Bill paused as Amber set down Bill’s lunch, “whatever, and I can try out their other items. It will be great.” With that, Bill got up, slapped Harold on the back and said, “See ya buddy, I gotta go. I’ll call you Monday to see if you are up for our little shopping tour.”

Bill was off as quickly as he arrived. He made comments to each of the waitresses as he headed toward the door and soon the place was just a bit quieter. Harold shook his head slowly as peace returned to the table in what was his favorite spot in the room. Having Bill enter his routine once in the week was quite a lot, but twice might be more than poor, old Harold could handle. He felt he just had to limit his time with Bill. “Perhaps,” he thought, “I should switch my Wednesday lunch hour.” It was not going to make a difference.

When lunch was finished, Amber wandered over and gave a disinterested smile and left the check. She did not write her name on the back or add a smiley face as Tiffany would have done. Harold paid with his favorite bank credit card that gave cash back rewards, including 2x points for restaurants in the current month, and smiled at Amber as she brought the receipt. Harold was to hope there would be no more unscheduled adventure for the rest of the week. He had no idea what the following days would add to his otherwise perfectly planned schedule.