22 March 2023

The Return (Again) Of Trivia Fun

George Washington, our only Chinese-American president

Many life coaches now have assistant life coaches working under them.

George Washington is to date our only Chinese-American president.

In addition to spying for the Soviet Union, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were enthusiastic canasta players.

Biblical scholars believe that purgatory is a large waiting room with coffee-stained magazines and a broken water fountain.

Many mathematicians have become less interested in the square roots of numbers and are now focusing on rounder or even oval shaped roots.

Seconds before creating the universe God reportedly said: “wait for it….”

According to historians, despite its name, the Boer War was quite exciting.

While returning to Earth after the first moon landing, Neil Armstrong was frustrated to realize he’d left behind his waffle iron.

Entomologists believe that as many as forty per cent of all male bees are nicknamed, Buzz.

The notion that salad forks should go on the outside was first posited on the Rosetta Stone.

The real full maiden name of Dagwood Bumstead’s wife Blondie was Delores Plunk.

The most asked question in Scotland is “can I have more haggis, please?”

Algernon is the most common name for Yorkshire terriers in Romania.

The alien who appears at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was played by Jack Nicholson.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a division strictly for rickshaws.

Elmer Fudd was intended to be anti-semitic. 

Jesus Christ’s nephew Lyle supposedly did a spot on impersonation of the Messiah.

Nikita Khrushchev was obsessed with hula hooping.

Nostradamus incorrectly predicted that cock fighting would someday by America’s national pastime.

Robert Burns originally wrote that the “best laid pans” of mice and men often go awry after having trouble putting a skillet away.

20 March 2023

Meeting a Famous Person, Defining Woke and Ballpark Prices

Woody Allen and Dick Cavett

If you could meet a famous person, who would you choose?

This was a discussion topic I tossed my students’ way a few days ago. I’ve used it regularly over the years. Today I thought I’d field the question myself.

I would love to meet Dick Cavett who during some of my formative years hosted a late night chat show. The Dick Cavett show can be found on the Decades network nightly at six though it appears that its days there are numbered. In any event, I always greatly admired Cavett the comedian, the interviewer and the writer (I have all his books, a couple of which are comprised of the columns he wrote in the New York Times). I always related to Cavett, we had a version of the same first name (I’ve never been a Dick — well not by name, anyway). We are of about the same height (not tall) and are blonde. We are both wits though I’d be the first to admit that he is my superior. He has also always leaned to the left (though not quite as far as I have) and even made Nixon’s enemies list (Tricky Dick did not know enough of yours truly to place me on it). Cavett is one of three great U.S. chat show hosts (my opinion, of course) along with David Letterman and Seth Meyers. (Jack Paar, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson would rank just behind them.)

I would also like to meet Woody Allen maybe especially given how he has suffered unfairly from false and easily disprovable accusations. Of course more than that he is my second favorite director of all time (Ingmar Bergman is first). First as a comedian and later as a director/actor/screenwriter/essayist he’s given me countless hours of entertainment over the last six decades. Maybe I could do a two-for-one and meet both Cavett and Allen, after all they are life long friends.

I’d also thrill at meeting Paul McCartney another celebrity who has been enriching my life through his art since I was a child. Plus, and you probably know this, he's a Beatle.

If any of you are in a position to affect introductions I would greatly appreciate it.


A conservative author, Bethany Mandel, who wrote a book about how wokeism is harming American youth failed to define the term in a recent interview. Hilarious. If you’re a conservative and something scares or threatens you, simply call it woke, nothing is more terrifying and never mind that you can’t define your terms. This is today’s conservative: divorced from reality, creating false narratives, straw man arguments and scaring the bejeezus out of each other. They’re bent on destruction with no ideas or plans to offer (other than tax cuts for their wealthy patrons). By the way, here’s how our good friends at Merriam Webster define woke:  “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)." I can see how that would scare the hell out of a conservative. 


Someone recently tweeted a list of concession prices for the San Francisco Giants 1971 baseball season. It should come as no surprise that by today’s standards everything was ridiculously cheap. The most expensive of the four hot dogs on offer was a staggering 75 cents, a hamburger was 65 cents, a beer 50 cents and a “premium” beer 60. Sodas were a quarter. Today a twenty dollar bill would not cover the price of a burger and beer. But -- you say -- inflation. We make a lot more money these days so of course everything is more expensive. Fair enough, so what should that burger and brew that set you back a buck and a quarter cost today. According to the inflation calculator your total for today SHOULD be $9.28. I’m going to make this clear (for myself if no one else) a ballpark meal has more than doubled in value against the dollar in the past fifty years. Way more than doubled. 


On the one hand that’s the way of the world today where billion dollar corporations can’t soak us regular folk enough. Plus there are those exorbitant salaries that have to be paid. But shouldn’t the massive increase in revenues from TV and streaming and advertising cover a large chunk of salaries? Now we’re getting into areas that are beyond my ken. What I know for certain is that fans are getting soaked. Hell, look at ticket prices. When I was a high school student it was nothing for my friends and I to go to a game. Today even shelling out for a bleacher seat is enough to give one pause. Sure your average Joe or Josephine can make it to a game, maybe even buy a hot dog and soda, but it will put a dent into the wallet and may be awhile before you can go again. Again I long for the good ole days.

11 March 2023

Courted by the CIA, A European Adventure

Paris, Summer 1970

In 1970 I was in my junior year at Cal. Though nominally an econ student I was far more pre-occupied with being a campus radical — an “inside” agitator, to turn a phrase, whose bête noire was the war in Vietnam. I was in love with a sophomore named Krya Santini with whom I spent most nights. Kyra was tall, beautiful and shared my passion for left wing causes.

In February I’d received a $5,000 inheritance from a recently deceased grandmother so determined that Kyra and I would take a break from politics and Berkeley for a six-week European vacation after the Spring semester ended in June.

We flew to Paris the day after my brother’s wedding, arriving at six a.m. local time, jet lagged and hungover. We took an expensive taxi ride to a hotel in the Latin Quarter, Hôtel des Arènes, overlooking the Arènes de Lutèce, a park that had been an outdoor arena in Roman times. It required all my persuasive powers to convince Kyra — and for that matter, myself — that the wisest course was not to collapse into bed but to start acclimating ourselves to the time change by getting out and enjoying our first day in the City of Light. Several strong cups of coffee in a nearby cafe helped us on our course.

Stepping out of the cafe we found ourselves on a large avenue called the Rue Monge and with no conception of what was where, began walking. It was a happy accident that we found the famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Company where Hemingway, Joyce and others of the Lost Generation had convened. After buying a bag full of books we exited the store and were surprised to see Notre Dame, not two hundred yards away. 

“If we keep wandering around aimlessly we may discover the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s tomb and the Louvre before dinner,” I joked.

Eventually we made our way back to the hotel noting the occasional beggar and street person and the ever-present smoke from powerful French cigarettes. Even as a part-time smoker I was occasionally overwhelmed, especially when we stopped in a cafe for a glass of wine. Kyra, who never partook of tobacco, nearly gagged.

But we found Paris to be beautiful, especially its architecture. Even the grimy grayness of some of the buildings provided something of an old world charm. 

It was Kyra’s first day in a foreign city — she was mesmerized.

“I want to live here, Charlie. There’s an elegance and at the same an intimacy to the city. Everywhere you go it’s like looking back into time.”

“I don’t know if this makes sense,” I said, “but it seems such an intelligent, sophisticated city.”

“I know exactly what you mean. Being here I feel so inspired to learn, read, study and explore ideas.”

In part owing to our enthusiasm for the city, we managed to keep each other awake until nearly nine o’clock then slept for eleven hours, awakening refreshed and ready to be tourists. 

Virtually our entire second day in Paris was spent at the Louvre. 

“Comparing the museums I’ve visited to the Louvre is like comparing McDonalds to a fine restaurant,” I told Kyra, who enthusiastically agreed.

“If I lived in Paris I’d come here everyday,” Kyra said. Having developed a greater appreciation for art from Jason’s art shows, I was in full agreement. 

The next day we visited the Eiffel Tower then Les Invalides where we gazed upon Napoleon’s tomb. Heading back to our hotel room we walked through the Luxembourg Gardens.

Ravenous and exhausted we decided to stop at a bistro to rest our aching feet and sate our appetites. I was using my rudimentary French, acquired in an extension course I’d been taking, to decipher the menu when I noted a couple seated at an adjacent table, looking at us.

“Excuse me, are you Americans?” The man asked. He was tall, handsome, rugged looking like an athlete, probably in his mid to late twenties.

‘Uh oh, we’ve been found out,” I said. “Guilty.”

“That’s okay, so are we,” he said smiling. “I’m Riley McKinnon. 

“I’m Susie Donnelly,” said his companion, a lovely woman with dark curly hair and cherubic face.

Kyra and I introduced ourselves.

“Where you from in the states?” Riley asked.


“Far out, man. That’s one of the places where it’s happening.”

“Indeed it is,” I answered. “And you?”

“I’m originally from Kansas but went to New York for college and live there now. Susie’s a native of New York.”

“Specifically, Queens,” she added.

At Riley’s suggestion we shared a table.

I found Riley to be affable, intelligent and thoughtful. Of Susie I developed no strong impressions as she was mostly silent, often looking at her partner admiringly, always smiling, laughing, frowning or appearing serious on cue.

The four of us found common cause in our opposition to the war and distrust of the American government. We also took turns extolling the virtues of Paris. Riley, who was well-traveled, suggested places to see and restaurants to dine at during the Rome and London portions of our trip.

From the bistro we went bar-hopping eventually finding ourselves in a neighborhood where Hemingway once lived that was not far from our hotel. Riley pointed out Hemingway’s former apartment. “We’re on sacred ground,” I told Kyra. We entered a small, dark, crowded pub where a table had recently been vacated. After ordering drinks I went to the restroom. As I stood at a urinal a short middle-aged man with long dark hair and a thick mustache came up to me. In heavily-accented English he said, “you should be careful that man you are with is CIA.”

He might as well have told me that there was a talking dinosaur at the bar.


“He calls himself Riley McKinsey, is that not correct?”

“McKinnon, not McKinsey.”

“It is all the same. He is recruiting assets, that is why he is with you now.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Please, sir, I know what I speak about.”

“And just who exactly are you?”

“My name is László. I tell you the truth. These are things I know about. This man McCannon is CIA. I have no reason to lie to you sir. Be careful.”

László looked me in the eyes, patted me on the shoulder then left.

I didn’t know what to think.

When I returned to the table I gave Riley a good look. Was it my imagination or was there something too perfect about him?

With a haircut he’d look like a soldier, lean and well-built with an erect posture. It occurred to me that a lot of what he said was obvious and cliched. There wasn’t anything particularly original in his observations, particularly his criticisms of the United States. He suddenly seemed ingratiating, almost cloying.

Was I being paranoid?

But why would a mysterious stranger claim someone I was with was a CIA agent?

What exactly was an asset? Did it mean you were asked to give information, perhaps spy on people?

Never in a million years would I give the CIA so much as the time of day.

Meanwhile I was not participating in the conversation and was lost in thought.

“Earth to Charlie, what’s going on Boyo? You’re totally spaced.”

“I suddenly don’t feel well.”

“Oh no, is it your tummy?”

“Hmm? Yeah. Maybe we should head back to our room.”

“If you need to.”

“I do.”

“That’s a drag,” Riley said. “Need any help? Should we call you a cab?”

“No thanks, I can make it. We’re walking distance.”

“Here let me give you my number. Call us tomorrow, we’ll get together, this was fun.”

Riley scribbled his name and the name of his hotel on a piece of paper. “Where you staying?” He asked.

The lie came easily: “We’re not happy with where we are now so we’ll be looking for another place tomorrow.”

“Then call us in the morning, I can help you find something.”

“Sure thing.”

Kyra was baffled. We were perfectly content in our hotel.

When we got outside she asked me what that was all about.

I told her about László.

Kyra’s response surprised me: “I believe it. There was something robotic about him, like he was repeating memorized lines and it was like he was trying too hard. I wasn’t going to want to hang out with them any longer anyway.”

“Goddamn, the CIA. I find the whole thing hard to believe but I believe it all the same.”

“But we’re not really changing hotels.”

“Did we ever tell Riley where were staying?”

“We just said in the Latin Quarter.”

“Okay, we can stay.”

“Well, we’ve got a story to tell people when we get back to the states.”

“If they believe it. I’m having trouble with it myself.”

I kept an eye out for the mendacious Riley for the rest of our time in Paris, which marred an otherwise wonderful time

A few days later we took the train to Rome where we again marveled at old world charms and nearly grew fat on the culinary delights. We’d been there for two weeks when it was time to board a plane for London and the final third of our vacation. 

Having gotten to the airport early we reposed in a bar where we enjoying a few glasses of Campari. We had just acknowledged to one another that we had a delightful buzz from the liquor when we noted a disturbance at one of the gates. Heavily-armed uniformed men were wrestling a man to the ground. “You’ve got the wrong guy!” He yelled in English. I went for a closer look and noted that the man being held was none other than Riley McKinnon. He was frantic. 

“The man you want is getting away!” I got the impression that none of the arresting officers understood English. 

As they propped the American into a standing position another man approached, an Italian in a suit who looked and acted like he was in charge. He barked orders at the officers who immediately let go of McKinnon. “Scusami mi dispiace,” one of the officers said to him, which I took to be an apology.

The man in charge started to speak to McKinnon in English. “I am so sorry for this, these men — ”

“Never mind that, Hereford is getting away.” With that McKinnon turned and led the men towards another gate. Soon they were out of sight.

By this time Kyra had come out and was standing next to me.

“That was the American from Paris, wasn’t it.”

“Yup. That scene kind of confirms that he’s some kind of agent.”

“Probably CIA, like your mysterious friend said.”

During the rest of our trip and in the months to come we occasionally speculated about Laszlo and McKinnon but having nothing solid to go on we could only go so far with our musings. It did make for entertaining stories to share with friends which we did regularly.

Kyra and I broke up about a year later. The war in Vietnam ended. Campus radicalism eventually took a backseat to my studies and I got a job and became part of the establishment I’d once reviled.

Twelve years after the Summer of 1970, I had just become a father for the first time, living comfortably in Marin County with my wife Lena and our daughter Emily. I was watching the evening news one night when there was a story about an American businessman whose body had been found in East Berlin. He’d been strangled to death. I recognized the man to be Riley McKinnon though on the news they gave his name as Terry Corbin, from Hartford, Connecticut.

I called my wife away from washing the dishes and told her about the news story and my evening in Paris with the mysterious man. But she seemed more interested in Kyra, a past love I’d only mentioned in passing. I’d been out of touch with Kyra since we broke up so had no way of sharing the news with her. Maybe she’d seen the same news story or read about in the paper the next day. It was big news for awhile though there was never any reference to McKinnon — or Corbin — working for the CIA. The last time I saw anything in the New York Times about his death, it was still classified as unsolved.

A few days ago I picked up a copy of “My Secret Life in the CIA” by Wendell Rifkin a former agent who was in hiding. The book has created quite a stir as it reveals details about the agent’s work over a three decade career. The author mentioned a fellow agent whose real name was Latham Orgonickle but who went by both Riley McKinnon and Terry Corbin. There wasn’t much of interest about Orgonickle/McKinnon/Corbin except that he privately espoused extreme right wing views and hoped that the military would take a more pronounced role in running the U.S. government. Rifkin added that McKinnon’s death was not related to his work for the agency, but the work of a jealous husband whose wife had had an affair with the agent.

That, no pun intended, closed the book on Riley McKinnon’s brief appearance in my life. 

One another note, I recently googled Kyra and found that she was back in Berkeley where she co-owned a health food store. I called her at the store and we had a nice chat, especially enjoying reminiscing about the time we were courted by a CIA agent. 

Kyra concluded the call by saying, "Now if we can just find out who Laszlo was...."

05 March 2023

Odd and Ends Feature My Latest Doings Including a Planned Trip and a New Celebrity Crush

Gillian Jacobs

I don’t understand trigger warnings. Why does a trigger need to be warned about anything?

I know, I’m totally hilarious. Always have been. Even as a small child I entertained family and friends with my wit. Okay, I suppose that as a tot my humor was more slapstick than urbane, the point being I was a laugh factory. Needless to say I was the class clown in school pretty much from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Some of my success with the fairer sex was that, in addition to be cute and charming, I could make women laugh. They like that — as, of course do men. Laughing is healthy. It may not be the best medicine but it’s right up there among the better ones. Especially for mild to moderate cases of the blues. As someone whose experienced enough misery I can attest to the fact that laughter can also take a bite out of even serious depression.

So I suppose my readers (Blaine Picklebottom of Peoria, Illinois) are wondering how I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

There was a nasty cold that punched me in the face for five days and has lingered another week in the form of occasional runiness of the nose and experiencing a bit more fatigue at the end of the day that one should expect. The wife was hit by back-to-back colds with only a few days in between. Rotten luck. Younger daughter has moved back to the Bay Area after living in New York for seven plus years. She’s staying with us until finding a place of her own (already got a job — she’s a social worker) as a welcome home gift she got the cold too. Older daughter was the first in the immediate family with it. It might be traced to the little urchins who are my niece and nephew’s wee ones.

Cold aside I’ve been fine. Oh sure, occasionally anxiety, depression and questioning life’s meaning but overall happy enough. It helps that the missus and I have a forthcoming trip to Europe that we’re counting down to. On April 9th (five weeks from today) we will board a large metal bird for parts east, specifically, Paris and London. About two weeks in the former and four days in the later. That four days will include a trip to Emirates Stadium to see my favorite football (that’s soccer to you Yanks) Arsenal — currently atop the Premier League table. The price of the ticket was far, far more than I’ve ever spent on a ticket of any sort but — as my friend who I’m going with said — you only live once. I should here say that according to my Hindu friends, this is not altogether true. However I feel safe in saying that one only gets one go around in your current form. Then again there are some who suggest that we get a second turn at this life and maybe more. I’d sure like another run-through, there are one helluva lot of things I’d do differently (though I’d marry the same women and insist on the same children).

Where was I?

Oh yeah, updating….

Teaching is going well and when hasn’t it since I started being an EFL teacher? My students are delightful human beings, we got along smoothly and I’m a top professional. (Just how top is not for me to say. My point being that students get their money’s worth out of this (pulls out cliches) dedicated professional, who prioritizes student engagement and personalized instruction (excuse the resume talk).

I’m also in a state of bliss because of the success of the aforementioned Arsenal. Having a team you love dearly being successful (particularly after several years of mediocrity) is joyous. Yesterday they came from two goals down to win a last-second goal that caused bedlam in the stadium and had me leap from my chair shouting like a crazy man (okay, crazier man). In the ensuing celebration I injured my wrist, with a resultant gash that almost required stitches. I’m still riding a high.

Meanwhile I continue snipping away at the novel and have gotten it down to 155,000 words, a reduction of about 40,000. I’d like to trim another 25,000. How I’m going to manage it, is currently a mystery but one I’ve got to solve.

I’ve found a new television show to enjoy, Community. Many, many laughs. Excellent writing, great cast, especially Gillian Jacobs who have a job celebrity crush on. *Sigh.* Thanks Hulu.

My birthday was last week. It passed with little fanfare. Nice to hear from loved ones both near and far and to be feted by the immediate family. I have no compunction about enjoying a birthday and in fact do so once a year.

Before I sign off (sign off?) I wonder if anyone has any questions.

“How are you feeling about the current political scene in the U.S.?”

That’s like asking how I feel about listening to a cat vomit. Next.

“Do you think Biden should run again?”

He’s better of biking at his age.

“You’ve had a cold, rainy winter, have you enjoyed it?”

Yes. Eases the fears of drought and alleviates some of the daily fear of global warming. Did you know, by the way, that there are some idiots (see Republican Party) who still think that global warming is not real? The stupidity that persists around this country staggers the imagination.

“What’s the deal with people who nearly kill pedestrians by running stop signs?”

Flog ‘em.

"Seen any good movies recently?”

Of course. Cleo From Five to Seven, Carnal Knowledge, Shadow of a Doubt, Eo, Ivan’s Childhood, Manhunt.

“How about in theaters?”

Nothing. This isn’t traditionally a good time of year for new releases. By the way, Berkeley’s last downtown movie theaters closed. There’s one theater in the whole city. Used to be nine. Sad.

“Do you have a lot of groupies?”

Yes, but please don’t tell the wife. Among them is Gillian Jacobs. Yum.

26 February 2023

It Happened During My Freshman Year of High School, 1967-68

Monday September 4.
Governor George Romney of Michigan who was considering a run for the Republican Party nomination for the presidency in 1968, appeared on  a Detroit TV Show where during an interview, he explained why he had changed from supporting to opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He said that when he along with other American politicians were provided a tour of South Vietnam in 1965, "I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam, not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps.”

Sunday September 10. The CBS television network censored that evening’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, by removing a performance by Pete Seeger's of his antiwar song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” CBS objected to the closing verse, "Now every time I read the papers/That old feelin' comes on/We're waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on." CBS executives considered the words as clearly meant to insult President Johnson.

Friday September 29. At a speech San Antonio, Texas, President Johnson said that he was “ready to talk tomorrow with Ho Chi Minh and other chiefs of state" to discuss an ending to the Vietnam War, but added that an immediate halt to bombing would happen only if he believed it would "lead promptly to productive discussion,”and that "It is by Hanoi's choice— not ours, not the world's— that war continues." He justified continued American presence by saying: "I cannot tell you— with certainty— that a southeast Asia dominated by communist power would bring a third world war closer to terrible reality, but all that we have learned in this tragic century strongly suggests that it would be so. As the President of the United States, I am not prepared to gamble on the chance that it is not so... I am convinced that by seeing this struggle through now, in Vietnam, we are reducing the chances of a larger war— perhaps a nuclear war.”

Thursday October 12. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk said during a news conference that, because of North Vietnam's opposition, proposals by the U.S. Congress for peace initiatives are futile. 

Wednesday October 18. Students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison protested over recruitment by Dow Chemical on the University campus; 76 were injured in the resulting protest.

Saturday October 21. Approximately 70,000 Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington, D.C. and rallied at the Lincoln Memorial; in a successive march that day, 50,000 people marched to the Pentagon, where Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin symbolically chant to "levitate" the building and "exorcise the evil within.”

Tuesday November 21. United States General William Westmoreland told news reporters: "I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing.”

Monday November 27. The Beatles released Magical Mystery Tour in the U.S. as a full album. The songs added to the original six songs on the double EP included "All You Need Is Love", "Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Baby, You're a Rich Man" and "Hello, Goodbye.”

Saturday December 9. Jim Morrison, the lead singer for The Doors, was arrested on stage in New Haven, Connecticut during a benefit concert for the New Haven College scholarship fund. Police charged Morrison with an "indecent and immoral exhibition" in the form of an angry speech that he gave to the crowd of 2,000 after interrupting a song; Morrison said that a policeman had fired pepper spray in the singer's eyes during an argument in the offstage dressing room. Morrison was released after posting a $1,500 bond.

Thursday January 11. Police and anti-war protestors clashed outside the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco where Secretary of State Dean Rusk was giving an address in which he said: “this country is committed to free speech and free assembly. We would lose a great deal if these were comprised.”

Tuesday January 30. The Tet Offensive begins, as Viet Cong forces launch a series of surprise attacks across South Vietnam.

Thursday February 1. A Viet Cong officer named Nguyễn Văn Lém is executed by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The event is photographed by Eddie Adams. The photo makes headlines around the world.

Tuesday March 12. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson barely edges out antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, a vote which highlights the deep divisions in the country, and the party, over Vietnam.

Saturday March 16. U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy enters the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Tuesday March 19. Students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., signal a new era of militant student activism on college campuses in the U.S. Students stage rallies, protests and a five-day sit-in, laying siege to the administration building, shutting down the university in protest over its ROTC program and the Vietnam War, and demanding a more Afrocentric curriculum.

Thursday April 4. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupt in major American cities, lasting for several days afterwards.

Saturday April 6. A shootout between Black Panthers and police in Oakland, California, results in several arrests and deaths, including 17-year-old Panther Bobby Hutton.

Tuesday April 23. Students protesting the Vietnam War at Columbia University in New York City take over administration buildings and shut down the university.

Sunday May 5. North Vietnam launches its May Offensive with the Viet Cong, initiating a second phase of January's Tet Offensive, attacking  119 targets throughout South Vietnam, including the capital, Saigon.

Monday May 13. An advance team for the Poor People's March on Washington begins erecting prefabricated buildings to create "Resurrection City" as temporary housing for the marchers to stay in for five weeks. Governmental permission had been obtained for the occupation of fifteen acres at West Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial. The organizers had obtained a permit from the National Park Service to remain for thirty-seven days.

Wednesday June 5. U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan Sirhan is arrested.

Thursday June 6. Robert Kennedy dies from his injuries after being shot the previous day, he was 42. 

20 February 2023

The Good Old Days...They Were Different and Always Will Be

When I was a kid…..When the phone rang someone  answered it. There was no caller ID, no screening calls, no voice mails. Pretty simple. If someone knocked at the door you went to see who it was. Even at night. Nowadays only murderers knock on doors. Or delivery people letting you know your package has arrived. I walked to school. It was over five blocks. Today children can’t even stand outside without armed guards. I guess no one used to kidnap children. When we “went out to play” we often traveled around the neighborhood. Even went downtown. My friends and I walked to the movie theater together. I might even go alone and meet a friend there. Of course there are no longer any downtown theaters in Berkeley to walk to. The last one closed earlier this month. At one point Berkeley boasted six downtown theaters. Before the pandemic there were three. Now zero.

Time was when the only requirement for entering a sports event was handing someone your ticket. Now you have to go through security. We didn’t use to have gun-wielding mass killers trying to go to basketball games. There are lots of restrictions on what you can bring into a sports venue. No umbrellas. If it’s raining you better put on poncho. No bottles or cans because you might be tempted to throw it at a game official or player on the opposing team. 

The world is a lot more safety-conscious these days. At the same time we have a lot more mentally ill people with automatic weapons laying waste to complete strangers. One person one time brought an exploding device onto an airplane in a shoe. Now everyone, everywhere has to take off their shoes before getting on a plane. We’re all suspects.

Free speech was freer. Put another way, people got away with saying more insulting, insensitive, sexist, racist, homophobic comments. Talk about a double-edged sword. Today you have to be careful about what you say and certainly what you write on the internet. You might offend somebody or even an entire group of people. I’m glad racial slurs are no longer tolerated and that you can’t make fun of gay people or those with special needs. But like a lot of things it has — in my opinion — gone too far. Often people feel inhibited about speaking and are more conscious of conforming to newly-established norms rather than expressing themselves. As a society we need to figure this one out.

We didn’t use to have trigger warnings. People had thicker skins. 

Before the internet we didn’t know as much about complete strangers, especially people who aren’t even noteworthy for accomplishments behind being famous for being famous. We have a lot more of that today: people known for being known. Used to he you were expected to have done something to earn your notoriety. 

I started off mentioning phones. They used to stay in houses. If you had a long extension cord you could maybe drag out to the front porch or backyard, but you didn’t take it with you anywhere. It sure didn’t fit in your pocket. Thus people didn’t stare at their phones wherever they went. People used to talk to each other a lot more. Attention spans were longer. More people read books. 

Taking a photograph was a much bigger deal. First of all you had to have a camera with you. Secondly you needed to have film in that camera. Course once you took a picture you had to wait until the roll (of film) was finished then you took it to be developed (ask your folks) then you paid money to get your photos some of which might be blurry or a person’s eyes were closed or you hadn’t centered it quite right. If you wanted video of something you need a video camera. They weren’t cheap. You generally only used them for special occasions. 

Computers existed mostly in fiction, at special university labs and in people’s imaginations. The thought of having one in your home was ridiculous. The thought of having one in your phone which you carried in your pocket was….well, it didn’t exist as a thought.

People didn’t wear bicycle helmets. It was uncommon to see adults on bikes and crazy to think of a grown-up biking to work. 

You didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy a ticket to a concert. A middle class family could afford good seats to a football game. High school kids didn’t think twice about going to hockey games, it was just a few bucks. The prices at concessions stands didn’t make you blink, let alone faint.

College football and baseball were pretty much as they had been for decades and would remain so for a few decades more. Today old-timers have no idea what has happened to the sports they once loved other than than money has been the ruination of them. 

People dressed a lot more nicely. Men wore ties. You dressed to go to a nice restaurant. Now, regardless of the weather, half the adult males you see are wearing sandals and shorts. (We're seeing way to much of men's feet these days.) People go to the theater dressed as if on their way to see the Grateful Dead.

There were no TV channels that openly presented biased versions of the news. There was an actual effort towards objectivity. Editorials and opinions were rare and when they did appear were properly labeled. They also lasted a couple of minutes rather than a couple of hours. Of course this was back when there was something called “political compromise” and bi-partisan initiatives were more frequent than a blue moon. This was also at a time when you had the loyal opposition not a bunch of wing nuts more intent on fighting bogus cultural wars than helping improve the lives of American people.

Used to be that cigarettes and the attendant smoke were everywhere. Busses, restaurants, sports venues, offices, movie theaters and bars. Now you’re almost as likely to smell marijuana as tobacco.

Times have changed and I guess they always will.

12 February 2023

My Long Novel is Getting Trimmed, A Casting Change for a Classic Film, What's Trending and Oscar Nonsense

It Happened One Night

Done. Finished. Completed. Novel number three ready to go. After two years and three months I've finished it. But hold on a second, what’s the word count? 195,997 words!!! Oh my, that’s long. That’s longer than Sense and Sensibility (119,394), A Tale of Two Cities (135,420), One Hundred Years of Solitude (144,523), Cold Mountain (165,511), The Grapes of Wrath (169,481), Catch-22 (174,269) and Jane Eyre (183,858). This is not good for someone trying to peddle a novel to picky literary agents and publishers. They like books from first timers to be not much more than 100,000 words, preferably less. (The fact that I’ve self-published two novels does not enter the equation.)

Quite frankly the book could have done with a little bit of trimming anyway. Okay, a lot of trimming. I was unsparing in putting everything into it. Plenty of minor characters and story digressions. Vignettes that didn’t move the story further. A lot that was interesting but that wouldn’t be missed and slowed the proceedings down.

So I went through the book with an aim to cutting. Shouldn't be too hard. Extra sentence here. Wordiness there. An unnecessary paragraph there. Great, finished. How did I do? I reduced it by a whopping 708 words. Funny, eh? I realized I was going to have to get serious about the business. Entire characters would need to be excised, a whole chapter axed, several storylines eliminated. I am now about halfway through my second round of trimming and am being more unforgiving. About 13,000 words into the ether. That puts me at 182,00 and at a pace for in the neighborhood of 170,000. My goal is to get down to at least 125,000. Goodness me. How can I? Been hard enough so far. Cutting scenes that I put so much time and effort into is bloody painful. I want people to read them. The ruthlessness required is not something I’m good at. I suppose it’s a skill I’ll have to develop. More to be revealed. 

After that comes an even more difficult task, indeed a distasteful one: writing the query letter and synopsis and doing all the other nonsense necessary to “sell” a book to a prospective agent or publisher. The process serves to drum home the point that you are one of many currently doing the same thing and the competition is fierce. If only I were already well-known I’d have a huge edge. Book publishing often being a case of the rich getting richer. Maybe I should change my name to Tom Hanks. Well, I aim to give it my best effort, not to give up. I believe in the book, albeit there’s increasingly less of it to believe in.


The missus and I watched the wonderful It Happened One Night (1934) Capra on Friday evening. We’d both seen the film many times though not in the past few years. Always worth a re-visit. It’s well-known for sweeping the big four awards at the Oscars (best picture, best director, best actor and best actress). It’s also credited with being the firs screwball comedy and a precursor of the road picture. With Clark Gable as a reporter and Claudette Colbert as an heiress in the leads and Frank Capra directing it has a definite edge over your run-of-the-mill picture. It also boasts a solid supporting cast as good films from Hollywood’s Golden Age did. Film buffs are well-acquainted with the likes of Walter Connolly, Ward Bond, Alan Hale, Irving Bacon and Roscoe Karns. 

In reading about It Happened One Night I noted that Colbert wasn’t the first choice for the role of Ellie Andrews. This got me thinking, in the roundabout way my brain often works, about if Barbara Stanwyck had been cast, not as Andrews, but as the reporter portrayed by Gable. Stanwyck was brilliant in Meet John Doe as the journalist, Ann Mitchell. Of course the love story between the heiress and reporter would be slightly different in that they would be a lesbian couple but that would have added another element to the story. (I here acknowledge that Hollywood would never have released such a picture in 1934, I’m just having a flight of fancy here). A Stanwyck-Colbert romance would have been great fun to watch and for all we know they might have had better unscreen chemistry that Gable-Colbert. 

Many years ago a friend suggested something similar with Sunset Blvd. (1950) Wilder saying that if it was Norman Desmond rather than Norma Desmond this classic film might have been even better, Maybe. I don’t countenance remakes of great films but if one simply must then that would be the way to do it.


You notice how streaming services tell you what’s hot or popular or — cooler yet -- trending? Evidently a lot of people put great stock into this. If something is popular, they reason, then it must be good. But more than that they take comfort in watching what “everyone else” is watching. It’s part of fitting in, being part of the crowd, part of the conversation. At work or school you’re going to feel left out if all your friends are talking about a show and you haven’t seen it. Better catch up. I guess it’ll come as no surprise that I never pay attention to what’s hot. Too often it’s cookie cutter type of action or rom com stuff that doesn’t interest me. When Bergman or Fellini are trending, let me know. I suppose I come off as something of a snob at times. If the shoe fits…. I’m neither ashamed nor proud of being a cultural snob — especially when it comes to cinema — it’s just the way it is. We like labels, don’t we?


Excited or upset about the Oscar nominations? Looking forward to the ceremony? Not me. I’t all a bunch of hokum. Let me illustrate that point. Here’s a sampling of Best Picture winners none of which are ever in the conversation when great movies are discussed and none of which got a shout in the prestigious Sight and Sound Poll Greatest Pictures Poll: Cavalcade, The Life of Emile Zola, Going My Way, The Greatest Show on Earth, Marty, Around the World in 80 Days, Tom Jones, Oliver!, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, Out of Africa, Driving Miss Daisy, Braveheart, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Crash, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Argo, Spotlight, Green Book and CODA. You want a list of great films that DIDN’T win Best Picture Oscars? There’s not enough room.

Also, remember this, Oscars are campaigned for. There’s nothing to add to that sentence.