Monday, February 20, 2017

The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

Another beautiful rainy day.  I'm listening to Fountain, a piano solo by Maurice Ravel.  Simply perfect for posting a new book review.  Hopefully you will enjoy reading thoughtful commentary on an interesting book while listening to wistful, reflective music.  A gray sky would make it all perfect.  (You in the north may disagree but cool weather is so delightfully refreshing here in Texas.)

The Little Book of PlagiarismThe Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is brief, interesting and quickly read. Posner is a judge in the United States Second Court of Appeals and a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school. In this book he defines plagiarism, explains the difference between it and copyright infringement and when it is actually a crime.

He lists some famous examples of modern plagiarists plus a history of plagiarists in the past. He discusses why plagiarism is a crime, why should it be a crime and why some plagiarists should be more severely punished than others. Also, he points to times in the past when plagiarism was not considered much of a crime, or a crime at all, and why.

He also cites a few famous authors who, because of famous and influential friends, did not suffer career losses, even though they were exposed as blatant and prolific plagiarists.

I felt his writing could have been clearer at times ("Should plagiarism be a crime or a tort? It should not be.") Excuse me, but that was an "either or" question and if "tort" means the same thing as "crime" than you should have inserted a comma after crime or in some way made it clear that you were using a synonym and not asking a question that demands a choice.

That is one of a number of obtuse expressions of which Posner is guilty.

Also, I disagree with his attitude that the only reason plagiarism is wrong is because it puts the plagiarist in commercial competition with the original author. How about stealing from the author is morally wrong? You deserve to be discredited and punished for that.

He includes quotes from some people who do not believe there is anything wrong with plagiarism because of their egalitarian philosophies:

"Notions of genius, of individual creativity, and of authorial celebrity, which inform the condemnation of plagiarism, make the leftist uncomfortable because they seem to celebrate inequality and 'possessive individualism' (that is, capitalism)."

He writes of another self-described "liberatory pedagogy" believes that students "should not be punished for 'patchwriting'.

Overall the book is worth reading, especially if you are an aspiring writer (like me:) )

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Violets and Other Stories by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

I'm listening to Piano solo music by Manuel de Falla.  I'm not providing a link because I now realize how impermanent they can be.  But feel free to google in his name and "piano solos" and you'll find a link somewhere to listen to it.  

I thought for the week that holds Valentine's Day it would be appropriate to  review some poetry.

I read the following book on my Kindle:

Violets and Other TalesViolets and Other Tales by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a book of poetry and short stories. It is not a hundred pages long. I liked the poetry better than the stories because the latter carried a tragical, Victorian-esque style.

What I did like was the vivid descriptions of New Orleans. It gives the reader a rich taste of the Creole and Anglo-French culture.

What I especially appreciate is that this book is not self-consciously ethnic or gender specific. I did not know the writer was black when I read these stories. I did not even know it was a woman who wrote them.

All I knew was that a brilliant writer wrote them.

Here is the poem of the title:

I had not thought of violets late,

The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet

In wistful April days, when lovers mate

And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.

The thought of violets meant florists' shops,

And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;

And garish lights, and mincing little fops

And cabarets and soaps, and deadening wines.

So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,

I had forgot wide fields; and clear brown streams;

The perfect loveliness that God has made,—

Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.

And now—unwittingly, you've made me dream

Of violets, and my soul's forgotten gleam.

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson (July 19, 1875 - September 18, 1935) was an American poet, journalist and political activist. Among the first generation born free in the South after the Civil War, she was one of the prominent African Americans involved in the artistic flourishing of the Harlem Renaissance. Her first husband was the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar; she then married physician Henry A. Callis; and last married Robert J. Nelson, a poet and civil rights activist. From Poem Hunter.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul 

An Area of DarknessAn Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not recall how I came to own An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul. It's not a genre I normally read, but I did own it, and having it I decided to give it a try. It was worth it.

At first I was put off by the lack of emotion in the narrator's voice. He spoke of his family, his upbringing on the island of Trinidad, his family's Indian heritage, all as though he were an alien who was making observations and taking notes to report back to his home planet ("species seem to believe in many gods.....caste system...certain cultural values differ from fellow inhabitants of the island...").

As his journey progressed, for it was a journey on several levels, he became, if not more emotionally involved, at least interested.

And interesting. I have never traveled to India, although I did live in the Caribbean not far from Trinidad. My landlady and her family in Grenada were Indian and also from Trinidad. If I had not lived there I would not have known what a significant percentage of the population on the East Indian islands are descendants from India.

So I started reading the book with some understanding as to where the author was coming from. Naipual wrote this book in 1962-64 and I think some of his experience was different than the many Indians I interacted with on Grenada.

For one, he speaks of feeling something of a foreigner even though he grew up there. I lived on Grenada in the nineties and the Indians I met had absorbed the culture. They were Christians, regular church goers and interacted easily with other racial groups (mostly of African descent but also European). Naipaul's grandparents immigrated to Trinidad so he was closer in spirit to the home country. Or so he thought.

An Area of Darkness is Naipaul's record of his travels to India and his experiences there. He learned quickly that he was as foreign as any European. There were many cultural conflicts.

He quickly tired of the class system. He describes another Indian/European's frustration when he tried to get work done but was not getting his letters mailed quickly enough. He called in the clerk who took down his dictation to solve the problem.

"The secretary has many letters to write and she is backed up, so sorry."

"What do you mean? You take the dictation. Write out these letters for me so I can send them out. They are urgent."

"That is not my job. That is the secretary's job."

"It is now your job. Write out these letters and send them out."

Stubborn silence and noncompliance. Reporting his clerk to the job bureau accomplished nothing. So he called in his clerk again.

"I need to write another letter. Please scribe. "You're fired." Deliver that to the secretary and put it on the top of her pile as priority."

The clerk, realizing that if he gave such a letter to the secretary he would be humiliated, ran off and wrote out all the letters for the man. That is how things operated in India.

Another time he was in a train and had the bottom bunk. This is a coveted bunk because climbing up and down to the upper bunk was considered too much effort and beneath the dignity of the class of Indians who could afford to have a bunk while traveling on a train. The man assigned to the bunk above him was put out.

Naipaul who considered the lower bunk an inconvenience offered to change places with him. The man gladly agreed.

But the man remained seated on the upper bunk. By this time the train had already moved off and the porters had left the train, which meant the passengers would have to move their own belongings until the next stop when the porters would again be available. One of his class did not move his own things. That was the porter's job. Exasperated, Naipaul moved both his and the man's belongings.

Naipaul describes India as a country of form but not substance. What he means by this is that form is followed strictly to the letter but there is no substance to it. The untouchables come to a building. One flings dirty water out across the floor, another one swishes a dirty rag around and a third sweeps the water back into the bucket. The floor is as filthy as ever but no one notices because the form has been carried out to the letter.

Indians comment on the unhygienic practice of Westerners only using toilet paper while Indians also used water to clean themselves after using the bathroom. Meanwhile the city and countryside all over India is used as an open latrine. But nobody sees it; they only see what they believe is true. The form of their culture and religious practices.

Brahmin cows stagger around starving to death because they are holy. People starve to death or live off garbage because that is their Karma.

I could insert here my own observations as to how ideologues exist in every country. Worldwide people cling to beliefs and social systems even when they have been proven not to work but that is a discussion for another time, I suppose.

Naipaul calls Ghandi one of the greatest failures of India. He brought in ideas of an egalitarian society and human rights that were never put into practice. The Indians did what they always did. They made Ghandi into a Holy Man to be revered and enshrined while ignoring his teaching. Form is worshiped even though it is devoid of substance.

But the author does more than philosophize on the failings of Indian society. He carefully describes the people he comes into contact with and the places he visits. He goes on a pilgrimage, lives in a houseboat for a while, figures out how to get licenses for this and for that because apparently everything one does in India needs the permission of the government. He works and lives with Hindus and Muslims.

While Naipaul describes India and its people in rich colors, I think it would have helped if he had felt any kind of compassion or feeling of any kind because the book, while a vicarious traveler's treat, left me unmotivated to visit. I now long to read a book from a different perspective.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fer de Lance by Rex Stout; Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers and The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

For Christmas, Josh and I bought ourselves a record player.  One of the indie bookstores we frequent in Shreveport sells vinyl records.  Because they had a buy-five-get-one-free sale among the used vinyls, we spent at least an hour going through and selecting Classical and Christmas records.  Josh and I each brought twenty records to the counter and paid around forty dollars for them.  I couldn't do the math, but Josh somehow arranged the records so we would get maximum value (since you have to pay for the most expensive and get the cheapest free) and it involved each of us bringing a pile to the cashier.

We got home with our prizes and soon found out that we should have checked the speed and material of the records.  Some were 78s, others were 33 and 1/2 and still others were made out of glass or something not vinyl.

But, most of them were entirely playable and therefore it was a profitable venture and also a lesson to make sure the records we buy are only vinyl 33s.  One of life's more harmless cautionary tales.

I am now listening to a selection of Gershwin, Gottschalk and Joplin.  Is it my imagination or does music sound better on vinyl?

 Fer de Lance by Rex Stout (published 1934)

 Because Detective Ollie Chandler listened to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe's stories in the murder mystery Deception by Randy Alcorn, I ordered a couple of Stout mysteries.

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the very first Nero Wolf mystery and the second one I read.

A man goes with family and friends on a golfing outing but collapses of a heart attack after swinging his club. But is it a heart attack? Nero Wolfe, who never leaves his house, knows that it is murder.

I enjoyed how the plot developed and this book was wonderfully devoid of the overt sexism in the other Wolfe mystery I read. Wolfe has an almost god-like omniscience and we don't watch him discover how events transpire, rather he lets us know how he has solved the case long before anyone else has.

While its fun to watch the drama unfold and the facts slowly reveal themselves to allow us to attempt solving the case too, I must say, Wolfe is not a likeable character. He is eccentric and egotistical holding few others in respect, although surprising us with who he will treat respectfully.

The police and lawyers can take on a bullying attitude, but Archie Goodwin, the narrator and Wolfe's right hand man and leg man, holds his own. Wolfe at all times remains impeturbable.

This story took some surprising twists, which I always enjoy, but at the same time, Wolfe holds a certain callousness and a lack of value for human life. Solving murders is more like an algebraic equation for him and he takes as much pleasure out of his orchids. I find this off putting but I suppose we're supposed to consider it an interesting character attribute and take it in stride.

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 The above is my review on Goodreads below is what I add to this blog review:

Nero Wolfe is a character unto himself.  He is a large man who rarely leaves his brownstone in Manhatten.  He will not change his schedule for anyone, including when he rises (eleven A.M.) the hour he visits his precious Orchids, or when he will see people, usually at some late, inconvenient hour.

Who is Wolfe?  A detective that is able to solve the most baffling mysteries, usually murders, without stepping foot out of his house.  He has a foot man, Archie Goodwin that goes out and interviews, and researches and basically whatever he needs to do, to find out as many facts as he can from a crime and bring it all back, including dragging reluctant witnesses, lawyers, suspects and what have you, to Wolfe.

Sometimes this seems a waste of time because Wolfe already seems to know much of what is going on through his own sixth sense or from reading the papers.  Wolfe is more than an astute observer of humans, he seems to have a mathematical ability to synthesize apparently disparate events and arrive at improbable solutions that, in fact, lead to the guilty party.  

As in Fer de Lance:

An Italian woman, Maria Maffei seeks Wolfe's help in finding her missing brother, Carlo, who was supposed to have returned to Italy.  He never got on the ship and has been missing for a couple of weeks.

Likewise, a professor Barstow is on vacation, playing a round of golf with friends and family, when after swinging his club, collapses of a heart attack.

Or is it a heart attack?  Ah no!  Mr. Wolfe has already combined events to know that Barstow has been murdered and so has Carlo and furthermore there's a connection and that is all I'm going to write about that in case anyone wants to read the story.

There's nothing more to say other than Stout is an exceedingly witty writer and the read is a joyful hayride over facts and events that lead one to a believable and exciting conclusion.

 Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (pub. 1926)
Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #2)Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I mention "believable" a lot when critiquing mysteries because it is an essential quality that a mystery must have. If the author breaks our belief in the story, the whole thing falls down like a house of cards and we, the reader, are left feeling dissatisfied and sometimes angry, maybe even betrayed ("I invested a week of reading to this story only to be cheated by a ridiculous conclusion?")

Therefore it is with a heavy heart that I must conclude that Clouds of Witness left me a little wanting. It simply is not Sayers' best mystery. It is not a total loss because Lord Wimsey is as charming and witty as ever and the dialogue alone is worth the read-especially Wimsey's repartee and his mother's who is every bit his match.

Wimsey is in Paris when he reads in the paper that his own brother has been arrested on suspicion of murder. The victim is their sister Margaret's fiancee.

Hardly being able to contain his excitement Peter starts ordering his valet, Bunter, to pack and book a train passage. He discovers that Bunter has already packed and booked a plane ticket since it's faster. Bunter is Wimsey's Jeeves, but Wimsey, being brilliant, is not Bunter's Wooster.

As with most of Sayer's mysteries, this one leads you on quite the trail of intrigue and adventure, not to mention misadventure so I cannot say the book was a disappointment.

No, I was only let down a little at the conclusion, but maybe that's not fair to say since others might find her solution entirely satisfactory. I'll say no more and let future readers decide for themselves.

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Finally, I am excited to introduce a new (for me) discovery:

  Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (pub. 1929)

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant, #1)The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book over the weekend. I have never read anything by Tey before and after reading this first novel of hers, consider her a gem of a find.

People are crowding each other in a line outside a theater to see a final performance of the wonderful Ray Marcable's "Swan" performance before she sails off to America. A fat woman (her description, now we would say a "woman of size") is trying to pay for her ticket while she is being pushed by the man and the crowd behind her.

She turns around to tell the man to back off (or she does, I don't remember) but the man sinks to his knees and keels over. In his back is a thin dagger. How did a man get to be murdered in a crowded line with no one noticing?

That is the job of Detective Grant of the Scotland Yard to find out. Giving nothing away I will give my subjective reaction to reading this story.

It was one of the best mysteries I've read. Tey is not like other mystery writers. She follows no formula. I was surprised at the different paths the story line took. Following a sluggish, beginning, the plot quickened its pace and maintained it through out. I was surprised and delighted at the solution and conclusion.

What I liked best about the story was the humanness of all the characters. No one was a propped up cardboard figure, which I sadly must accuse Rex Stout and sometimes my beloved Dorothy Sayers of doing.

Both Sayers and Stout have created heroes that are so much smarter than everyone else that they appear to possess an omniscient glow about them. Both Wimsey and Wolfe are forever befuddling and befooling (I made that word up) everyone else and especially the police.

And here I must shake a stern finger at both of them. They make the police out to be little more than idiots and even buffoons. This is neither fair nor believable.

I understand that maybe underdogs who have been bullied by police, detectives, lawyers, and powerful rich guys enjoy reading them dance to Wolfe and Archie's tune, but it is also a little one-dimensional.

The same is true for Lord Wimsey. Like Wolfe, he apparently has the entire mystery solved from the get go but just needs to play along until he gets irrefutable proof in order to convict the guilty party. I generalize, but it's basically true.

Probably that is why I liked Gaudy Night so much. We saw a tenderer, vulnerable side to Wimsey.

Tey's Inspector Grant is very smart and so are his fellow detectives but they are not know-alls. They struggle and are often wrong. That was an endearing attribute of Grant in Man in the Queu. He thinks he has things solved, then he doesn't. Then he does; no, he doesn't. Now he does! Rats, not yet, after all!

But he or the other police are still human and smart and likeable characters. Tey created people I would want to get to know. I doubt Lord Wimsey would look twice at me. Wolfe would simply eat me alive.

All the characters are pretty nice people and hospitable and very believable. I eagerly look forward to further Tey mysteries.

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 The rain falling outside my window.  You can see my giant oak, the reason I bought the house, a guinea pig pen and the ugly tin barriers we had to attach to the fence to keep my dogs from chewing through the wooden slats in their efforts to get at and mutilate the  miniature Schnauzers who live on the other side.  In my dogs' defense, the Schnauzers started it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

100 Something Books Since February 2016 to December 2017

I need to get this out before this year is over and my little list of 2016 is no longer relevant.  Here is what I read, more or less, since last February.  The links will take you to my review:
  1. Hemingway:  the Writer as Artist by Carlos Baker
  2. Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis
  3. History of England by G.M. Trevelyan
  4. A Higher Call by Adam Makos
  5. Joseph Conrad by Norman Sherry
  6. Ezra Pound by Peter Ackroyd
  7. Designa:  Technical Secrets of the Traditional Arts
  8. Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland
  9. Douce Apacolypse
  10. The Place of Houses
  11. Tacitus:  Germania, Agricola, Oratory
  12. Paris in the Past and Montmarte
  13. New Grove's Modern Masters
  14. Beethoven Biography by Frederich Schiller
  15. Holding onto Air by Suzanne Farrell
  16. Stoneground Ghost Tales by Ralph B. Swain
  17. Maigret and the Spinster by Georges Simenon
  18. Lew Archer Private Investigator by Ross Macdonald
  19. Beethoven's Letters
  20. House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson
  21. Why Call them Back form Heaven by Clifford Simak
  22. A Life in Photographs by Edward Steichen
  23. Knights of the Brush:  The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape by James F. Cooper
  24. Mozart by Marcia Davenport
  25. The Writer's Art by James J.  Kilpatrick
  26. Beautiful Bibles
  27. The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
  28. A Composer's World by Paul Hindemith
  29. Agatha Christie:  Five Complete Novels
  30. I Should Be Dead by Bob Beckel
  31. Short Breaks Into Mordor:  Dawns and Departures of a Scribbler's Life by Peter Hitchens
  32. Christianity's Dangerous Idea by Allistair McGrath
  33. Chess:  An Illustrated by Raymond Keene
  34. The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked by David Caldwell
  35. Shirley Jackson:  Novels and Stories (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Complete Short Stories)
  36. Midnight to Siberia by David Greene
  37. Michelango An Art Book
  38. The Zimmerman Telegraph
  39. Mozart: A Cultural Biography by Robert Gutman
  40. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  41. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  42. Death in a Prairie House:  Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan
  43. The Life of Michelangelo by Ascanio Condivi
  44. Meditating Spaces by Michael Freeman
  45. The Simple Home by Sarah Nettleton
  46. Hanok:  The Korean House by Nani Park and Robert J.  Fouser
  47. C.S.  Lewis:  An Experiment to Criticism
  48. Behold the Glory by Chad Walsh
  49. Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture by Isaac Newton
  50. Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
  51. The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
  52. A Walk Through the Cloisters by Bonnie Young
  53. The Vatican Collections
  54. Abandoned Places by Kieron Connolly
  55. Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
  56. The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
  57. On Stories to the Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis
  58. The Quiet American Graham Greene
  59. Robots and Murder by Isaac Asimov
  60. TinTin Le tresor Rackham Le Rouge by Herge
  61. TinTin La Estrella Misteriosa by Herge
  62. Mozart:  a Life by Paul Johnson
  63. The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond
  64. The Gospel and Epistles of John by F.F. Bruce
  65. A Night on the Moor and Other Tales of Dread by R. Murray Gilchrist
  66. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  67. One of the Few by Jason Ladd
  68. Medieval Monsters by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert
  69. Ernest Hemingway:  A Life Story by Carlos Baker
  70.  A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  71. Parrots by Petra Deimer
  72. TinTin L'Etoile Mysterieuse by Herge
  73. Parrots by Batest Bosesabork
  74. Budgerigar Handbook by Ernest L. Hart
  75. African Grey Parrots by Mulawka
  76. Cockatiels by Nancy Curtis
  77. TinTin Au Congo by Herge
  78. Frank Lloyd Wright American Master by Kathryn Smith
  79. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  80. Crime Novels:  American Noir 1930s and 40s
  81. World of Ancient Rome by Michael Grant
  82. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
  83. The Life of Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari
  84. The Edge of the Chair Edited Joan Kahn
  85. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
  86. Classic Tales of Horror Edited by Robin Brockman
  87. Night Flight by Antoine Saint de Exupery
  88. The Iliad by Homer
  89. The Witch of Prague and Other Stories by F. Marion Crawford
  90. Murder in the Gun Room by H.B. Piper
  91. TinTin en Amerique
  92. Classic Ghost Stories Edited by Robin Brockman
  93. Maniac McGee by Jerry Spirelli
  94.  Chilling Horror Stories (Gothic Fantasy) by Dale Townsend
  95. Seven Complete Perry Mason Novels by Erle Stanley Gardner
  96. Asterix the Gladiator by Goscinny and Uderzo
  97. Burmese Days; Keep the Apisdistra Flying and Comping Up for Air by George Orwell
  98. Chilling Ghost Stories by Dale Townsend
  99. Deception by Randy Alcorn
  100. Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
  101. Henry James on Italy 
  102. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  103. Coming Up for Air by George Orwell 
  104. Many Masks:  A Biography of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan  Gill
  105. The Colosseum by Peter Quenell 
  106. Letters of Mozart 
  107. Photographers:  Andre Kertesz, Lewis Hine, August Sanders, and Nadar
  108. The Thurber Carnival

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Visiting my folks: Photos of Longview Texas, the Gulf Coast Florida and somewhere in Mississippi

Synergy Park near my home in Longview, Texas

I am having technical difficulties.  Apparently the Daily Mail, a UK blog, doesn't like Macs because it has yet to post a single comment I have contributed.  I am suspicious of being snubbed because my husband posted one from his PC and he got published even though his comment wasn't nearly as thoughtful or as eloquently expressed as mine.

Blurry, but I love the accent of yellow against the subdued background.

Then this blog of mine won't let me make a comment above the list of the books I read in 2016, so I have given up until Josh gets home and let him fix it.  Of course the price is I have to listen to the well-worn sermon on how horrible Mac computers are but what choice do I have?
Derek and my parents at Synergy Park

So I will instead post some photos that I took last week while I was staying with my parents on the Gulf Coast.  My parents flew up to spend Christmas with us here in Texas.  Then my son in his car and I in mine drove, each carrying a parent/grandparent, back to Florida.

It's a ten-hour drive, the worst part being the three-hour straight shoot across the width of Louisiana.  Once we get to Mississippi the ride is broken by Vicksburg, Jackson, Hattiesburg, then on to Mobile, Pensacola, and finally to Niceville, my home town.

Mom and me in a gas station in Mobile, Alabama after nine hours of driving.  I think you can see the weariness on my face.

My mother, who has stage four lung cancer, suffered the most.  No more cross country drives for her.  She spent most of our Florida visit immobile on a recliner, completely lacking in energy.  Usually we visit all my favorite beaches but this time our visit was limited to conversation and reading books. I read out loud to her since she only has peripheral vision due to Macular Degeneration.  

Lest you pity her, know that her limited eyesight hasn't deterred her.  She recently read War and Peace (for the fourth time!) looking sideways at the pages.  I told her she needs to start listening to the novels but she says she's not that far gone yet.

But she enjoys being read to.  Usually my dad does it, but while I was there (and also in Texas) I was afforded that privilege (Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout plus a biography of Socrates, stay tuned for reviews) .

While she slept one afternoon my son Derek and I drove a couple of miles down the road to Fred Gannon National Park.  Knowing he was leaving for Virginia Beach and back to school made me appreciate our long walk and talk all the more.  Cherish those moments parents!! 

Here are a few photos from our walk along the nature trail.

We discussed everything from career choices to girlfriend wisdom.  Saturday, Derek left for Virginia while I still had a couple of days before I was to return to Texas. Sunday, while my mom was resting, I drove to a deserted beach a couple of miles from my parent's house.  It was bitterly cold and I really hadn't dressed for it but the beauty of the water and the beaches was worth it.  I took a lot of pictures of barren trees.  Standing alone, their branches reaching for the sky seemed to fit my mood of isolation.

The sun began to wane and the sunset is always more colorful and lingering in the winter but I had surpassed my limits of toleration for the biting wind and plummeting temperature so I had to leave.

 On my last day, I took my mother to one of our favorite parks where we watched the sun slowly sink over the Bayou.

Hopefully I'll figure out where my Paris photos are on this computer and I'll be able to print my travelogue on the year I spent in the City of Love one week last December.

On the  road back to Texas.

Driving through Mississippi past Hattiesburg

Back in Texas before leaving for Florida:  mom, dad and son.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Gangster Women and the Criminals they Loved by Susan McNicoll

I had a good, hard workout at the gym and was not in the mood to return home so I stopped at Books A Million to just sit and relax.  I didn't go to Starbucks, even though I had a gift card, because I wanted to be good and not drink back the calories I just burned off.

So I went to Books A Million and immediately learned that being good when PEPPERMINT MOCHA LATTE! is on the menu doesn't work.  Being Good and PEPPERMINT MOCHA LATTE! do NOT hold hands and skip down the road of Self-Control in solidarity.  They are enemies and PEPPERMINT MOCHA LATTE WON!  I mean, won.

Ever read, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"?  No?  You must not have kids.  Anyway, if you give a reader in BAM! a PEPPERMINT MOCHA LATTE! (Has that gotten old?  I'll quit) she's going to want to read a book with it.

So I browsed and grabbed the first thing that caught my eye.  After reading about half of Gangster Women and the Criminals They Loved by Susan McNicoll, my conscience smote me.  Here I was reading a book I hadn't paid for.  So sipping the last dregs of my PEPPERMIN... sorry...drink, I bought the book and took it home.

 Gangster Women is an interesting read for a number of reasons.

One, it offers a brief psyschology of the sort of female that would not only fall in love with but also aid and abet a criminal in committing crimes.

McNicoll, while respectful of the women, doesn't romanticize them or their motives, although she does leave some facts out. Case in point is Bonnie and Clyde.  While showing that Bonnie had about as much conscience as Clyde, she fails to mention that Bonnie largely coped with his loutish ways by staying drunk most of the time.  McNicoll also omits that fact that Clyde was not always so gentle with Bonnie, at one time throwing her across a room (which may explain Bonnie's drinking habits). looks romantic but Bonnie could not walk the last year of her life because her legs were badly burned by car battery acid and lack of treatment because of constantly being on the run.

The other women I did not know about.  A lot of them were mere teenagers running starry eyed after a man they had romanticized in their head.  Helen Gillis would seem to be one of those.  Helen Gillis, wife of Baby Face Nelson

She was the wife of Baby Face Nelson and mother of their several children.  While she was pregnant, she was arrested and starved by the detectives to get information as to the whereabouts of her husband and other gangsters.  She never caved.
Delores Delaney, 16 year old girlfriend of 26 year old Alvin Karpis of the Barker Gang. Alvin was one of the few gangsters to live to an old age.  On the other hand he spent most of it in Alcatraz and holds the record for the being the longest running inmate there.

Looking at the photos of these ladies, it's disturbing how incongruous their looks are to their character.   From their pictures you'd think they were sweet, pretty girls giggling about the next high school dance.  Instead they were in the get away car loading sawed-off shot guns for their husbands/lovers.

Truly a partner in crime.

Gangster Women also provides a glimpse of life in the 1930's.  It was hard.  A lot of people lived in dire poverty.  However, most people toughened up and slogged their way through it.  My grandparents, for instance.  

They worked liked dogs and got through the worst of it.  As poor as they were, they never felt sorry for themselves or felt entitled to other people's incomes, no matter how poor they were or rich and sometimes corrupt others were.  They possessed a quality of character that they valued more than receiving charity.  They instinctively understood that when someone gives you something you haven't earned you're giving them something back:  your dignity.  And they survived. There's a reason why we call them the "Greatest Generation".  They earned that title.

Not everyone back then stood on such dignity.  A criminal element existed that, for whatever reasons, did not possess the same conscience as others.  They became bank robbers.

McNicoll tries to explain away their actions.  Times were hard, yada, yada, yada... but see previous paragraph.  Most people were hard up but most did not rob banks.  

Probably because most people back then had common sense.  Rarely did any of these gangsters or molls survive their twenties.  Many of them died in horrible shootouts with the police.

Most of us are familiar with Bonnie and Clyde's demise but there are others whose end were no less dramatic, although they run largely to the same formula.  Gangster commits crimes, runs from the law, finally apprehended and, as often as not, killed in a shoot out. 

 In addition to the molls, McNicholl gives us short biographies of the bank robbers themselves.

One story in particular  was interesting for what it revealed about the gangster community and how laws were changed.

Verne Miller started on the right side of the law as sheriff, enforcing prohibition.  He soon discovered he could make a lot of money boot legging.  After embezzling money from the Police Department he took off and began a life of crime in Chicago by using connections with Al Capone.

Things went sour for Miller when an incident occurred that thrust him out of the Gangster world.  

A friend and fellow gangster, Frank "Jelly" Nash got caught by federal agents.  Verne and some other gangsters staged a rescue while Nash was in a car with the agents.  What ensued was a horrible shooting match that left police officers and federal agents dead. This was known as the "Kansas City Massacre".

Naturally this received a lot of publicity and also caused Federal Laws to be changed.  After this Federal Agents could be armed, something that was previously not allowed.  

Secondly, and most importantly in effectively reducing crime, law enforcement were allowed to cross state lines in pursuing criminals.  This allowed for greater cooperation between states and the apprehension of more law breakers.

This did not make Verne Miller popular in the underworld.  Because of his crime sprees, he needed to be able to hide out but fellow gangsters were no longer willing to help him.

Still, FBI agents found him elusive.  Finally, agents approached Lewis Buchalter, a local Chicago businessman and also Crime Boss who was angry to find his business under close scrutiny thanks to Miller.  

One of the agents asked Buchalter point blank if Verne might be murdered in the next thirty days.  

"Let me look into that," was Buchalter's response.

I won't tell you in what state Verne's body was discovered on the outskirts of Detroit.  Needless to say, he was dead. He was thirty-seven.  Crime really doesn't pay.

Vi Matthis was Miller's girlfriend.  She was fun loving and addicted to excitement.  After Miller stood up for her when another man hit her, she was his devoted lover for the rest of his life.

If excitement was what she wanted, she got it.  As with most gangsters and their molls, they spent most of their life running from the law.  She herself ended up imprisoned and was not treated too nicely as detectives tried to extract information from her.

She learned of Miller's death while in prison and she gave up her raison d'etre.  Later she married a man who was a violent, hard drinker.  She died three years later in a hospital.  At the funeral home, her physician brother noticed that her body was covered in bruises.  She was thirty-eight years old.

After the depression, gangsters were eventually replaced by Organized Crime and the Mafia.  Gangster Women includes a couple of Mafia Molls as well.  

Janice Drake was a young Beauty Queen that acquired some celebrity status with T.V. stars and also enjoyed hanging out with Crime Bosses at night clubs.

She went home with the wrong Boss one night when he was gunned down in his car in New York City at a stop light.  There was no motive to kill her; apparently she was in the line of fire.

One who fared a little better at least for most of her life was Virginia Hill, also known as the "Mob Queen". She enjoyed celebrity status as a money carrier in organized Crime and kept a meticulous diary about everything she knew.

She was the lover of Bugsy Siegel, a man quickly moving up the mob ladder.  After Siegel's death (he was gunned down in his house), she was subpoenaed and made to give testimony about her dealings with the Mob.  While enjoying the cameras and attention she succeeded in betraying no one.  Later, in an effort to avoid arrest for tax evasion, she moved to Switzerland where she died at the age of forty-nine of an apparent suicide by poison.

Before her death she mailed her diary to a mobster that she had worked for several years ago, presumably to destroy. 

There is, however, suspicion to her death.  The Mafia learned of her diary and there is speculation that someone was sent to Switzerland to apprehend the diary and do away with her.  

Gangster Women is probably not the most exhaustive book on the subject, but it's a quick, interesting read.  I read it in two sittings; half in the book store and the other half after I got home.