Sunday, February 28, 2016

And it wasn't even on the bucket list

Can I say my life is complete now? I have been to the Outhouse Races in Trenary, Michigan.

To be honest, they didn't quite measure up to expectations. I would have sworn that when we saw news reports in previous years, there was a whole lot more creativity in outhouse construction. I was not particularly impressed with the structures sliding down the track this year. I have a vague memory that when they first started doing this, the outhouses actually looked like outhouses, more or less. You know, there was the basic structure with an actual bench or a toilet seat in it and they were relatively sturdily constructed.

Not anymore. It's been distilled down to not exactly essence of outhouse -- that would probably be just a bench or a seat -- but more like a hint of an outhouse. People construct structures that are about the appropriate square footage for a traditional privy, but that's basically where the resemblance ends. The outhouses are flimsy boxes on skis that have just enough of a framework to tack posterboard to that bears the name of whatever business or team is sponsoring them. There were a couple minor exceptions, like the Dapper Crapper (it had a mustache) but overall? Definitely a disappointment.

Not that crowd that had gathered seemed to mind. It was a pleasant February day, the beer tent and a couple local taverns were doing a booming business, the local volunteer fire department was selling lots of burgers and brats, and people in general were having a good time. Fashion trends were interesting -- there seemed to be a lot of people walking around with dead animals on their heads. Given that it was about 50 degrees out and the sun was shining, why anyone would want to put dead skunks on his head baffled me, but who knows? Maybe this fellow thought a blizzard would roll in before evening. (The diagonal line in the photo is a cable supporting a utility pole.) I had been wondering if the mild weather would be an issue, but the organizers had put down a pretty thick layer of snow on the street. The block-long track was a little slushy, but more than deep enough to keep an outhouse moving.

The S.O. and I did a little muttering (as did other members of the crowd) about the fact the races did not start on time. Start time was advertised as 2 p.m.; it was actually more like 2:30 before the first outhouse came down the line. In retrospect, I realize this was genius on the part of the organizers. There weren't actually many outhouses in the race so once it was over, most of the crowd would disperse pretty quickly. Delay the start a bit, and it gave people enough time to go get a refill on the beer or decide they really wanted a bratwurst after all. The Outhouse Races are, after all, a major fundraiser for the local fire department and the community of Trenary, a town that's barely two blocks long and if not quite in the middle of nowhere is close to it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy birthday, Val

My youngest sister, age 6. I'll refrain from mentioning her age or the year she was born, but will note that her employer has started dropping hints that she consider taking a buyout and an early retirement. My gift to Val this year? Advice that she ignore all those buyout suggestions -- the buyout money disappears way too fast and the actual pension sucks.  

Time flies when you're having fun

It's now been exactly 8 years since I decided to start blogging. I am amazed I'm still at it. Most of the people whose blogs inspired me to get started vanished from the blogosphere some time ago. Oh, some of them still have active sites but their postings are rather sporadic. Some migrated to other social media -- Twitter, Faceback, Instagram -- and others left because life interfered. I'm not sure why I'm still plugging away. One of my original motivations was being stuck in a job where I wound up with way too much time to kill while collecting a paycheck. That same job also provided plenty of grist for the proverbial mill in the form of neurotic co-workers and bureaucratic insanity. Life is a lot quieter now than it was when we lived in Atlanta. So why am I still blogging? No clue -- but I guess it does beat doing housework.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Major heat wave

Keweenaw Bay, 2014
When I came stumbling downstairs a few minutes ago, it was not quite 18 below outside. Just glanced over at the indoor/outdoor thermometer and it's reading a mere minus 12 and climbing. If it's climbing a degree every two minutes, by the time the sun comes up, it'll be bikini weather.

It has been a warmer than usual winter. I haven't seen it dip below minus 20 at all (yet), and we've had more "thaws" than is typical for the U.P. The local ice fishermen are unhappy because Keweenaw Bay is slow in freezing over. Thin ice has started forming a couple times, but then a strong north wind comes along, breaks it up, and pushes it ashore. This is definitely going to be one of those years where the ice fishermen will be lucky to get in any fishing at all. They had a couple good years; it's time for a winter where all they can do is stand on the shoreline and think bitter thoughts about the money they wasted by building a new fishing shack over the summer or investing in a new canvas shelter. .

The S.O. goes ice fishing with a friend, but he's not a fanatic about it. But then he's not a fanatic about fishing in general. He buys a license every year, but it doesn't get used much even in the summer. If we had to live off the fish he's caught, we'd starve to death pretty quickly.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I'm really missing Christopher Hitchens

He knew how to craft an appropriate eulogy. I'm not sure anyone else can do as nice a job of memorializing Justice Antonin Scalia as Hitchens did of giving Jerry Falwell the farewell he deserved, but I can hope. 

Multiculturalism on the dinner table
Curried Lentil Soup; photo from Woman's Day

Back in the 1970s when I was much, much younger and spent a good part of my day dealing with a couple of little barracudas, figuring out what to have for various meals was a definite annoyance. You know, it's bad enough that a person  has to cook 7 days a week, but meal planning on top of the kitchen drudgery? Not fun. Just about every cookbook aimed at novices (which I was) includes some sample menus but doing the same half dozen dishes over and over gets old fast. Then I discovered this wonderful feature in Woman's Day magazine: the month of menus. Something different for every day of the month. It wasn't always something I particularly wanted to cook and on a fairly regular basis I'd get annoyed by the food editor's assumption that every reader was going to easily find the same ingredients in their small town IGA that someone living in New York City could track down, but the menu at least presented possibilities. If the menu said something about fresh fish, it was easy enough to substitute some frozen cod.
Fast forward forty years. I'm still using the Month of Menus, and I still regularly curse the food editor for some odd ingredients -- farro? What the hell is farro?! -- but the menu still serves as a handy way to provide more variety on the dinner table. It has changed over the decades, of course. Back in the '70s it would include basics like meat loaf. It also included a suggestion for a simple dessert. A suggested Sunday dinner might be fried chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, salad, and sliced bananas in orange juice. They had no problem including stuff like frozen fish sticks or canned fruit cocktail as ideas.

There is no way either of those items would make it on to the Month of Menus now. The menu makes concessions to people's hectic lifestyles but you're still going to do a lot of from scratch cooking. And the suggested desserts vanished in the '90s. Woman's Day still publishes a lot of dessert and snack recipes but apparently you're eating that stuff at other times of the day, not when dinner ends.

All of which brings me to the thing that caught my eye this month. Two things, actually, although the multiculturalism has been creeping in for a long time. Fusion cooking is nothing new to anyone who reads Woman's Day. They've been pushing stir fries of various types for decades, doing various Latin dishes, and introducing readers to the use of fresh ginger root, lemongrass, and other spices for a long, long time. The February menu includes a couple of curries, tofu tacos, feta salsa verde, and a number of other goodies that show just how far we've traveled since the 1970s fried chicken or basic spaghetti with a hamburger meat sauce. There is no hamburger, no ground beef in any form, on the February 2016 menu.

Granted, there are burgers. Turkey burgers. (I shudder at the thought, to be honest. Had we done burgers on that particular day, they would have come from a shredded cow.) In any case, red meat in the form of beef is almost nonexistent on the menu. It turns up about once a week. Pork, chicken, and fish make appearances more often. But what struck me was the number of vegan dishes. Yep, vegan. No messing around with halfway measures and simply going meatless -- the menu includes several dinners that I could serve to vegan friends with no worries. Like the tofu tacos, which actually sound pretty good. The way the tofu is prepared it might actually be edible. If I can managed to track down some tofu (Larry's doesn't carry it; apparently there aren't many tofu eaters in Baraga County), we'll test drive the recipe.

Woman's Day used to do Meatless Mondays as part of the menu. That feature has vanished; they've switched to a stealth approach. Which is fine with me. An occasional vegetarian or vegan recipe strikes me as a good idea, a sensible thing to do when beef can be a real budget-buster, especially when the resulting dishes don't make a person feel like they're sacrificing anything. We did a curried lentil soup (a soup that I'd be inclined to call dhal, but if Woman's Day doesn't want to be explicitly ethnic, that's their call) yesterday that is really good. I'm clipping the recipe; we're going to do it again. I have a hunch we'll probably save and repeat the other vegan curry, too. It uses chickpeas. I'm not quite as optimistic about those tofu tacos, but you never know.

Curried Lentil Soup
1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 tsp cumin
6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups red lentils
2 large carrots, grated
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 bay leaves (optional)
1 cup light coconut milk
Kosher salt and pepper
Cilantro, for garnish when serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, covered, stirring occasionally for 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the borth, lentils, carrots, thyme, curry powder, cinnamon, and bay leaves (if using); bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper; simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro if desired. Makes 6 servings.

I didn't have fresh thyme so skipped it (I was afraid powdered might be too intense) and used only one bay leaf (it was big). We also skipped the cilantro; I'm one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes really nasty and can't understand why other people like it. I really liked this soup. It was fast and easy to make, it's low cost, and it's a nice, hardy soup for a winter day. Best of all, because there's just me and the S.O., it made enough that I was able to put two containers into the freezer so we're getting three meals out of prepping for one.

As for farro, thanks to the magic of Google I now know that farro is a type of primitive wheat. It is being touted as a substitute for quinoa as it is equally nutritious. If it's showing up in Woman's Day recipes, one can only assume that it can be found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it to make it to Larry's.

Friday, February 12, 2016

I'm not into genealogy but

finding this yesterday was kind of cool.

I was at the county clerk's office to do research for the historical society. I've mentioned before people pay us to go check the various indexes for births, deaths, marriages, whatever. I had no luck whatsoever with the research request that sent me to the county administrative building, but when I asked the deputy clerk about divorce records, we started looking at the various indexes shelved in the room. She noticed the Declaration of Intention book and had no idea what it was. Neither did I. So we pulled it off the shelf and started flipping through it.

It didn't actually tell me anything I didn't already know, i.e., I knew the date when my grandfather arrived in Baraga County. It didn't come as a surprise to see evidence he was still here a year or two after he got off the train in Summit. At this point in time he was probably still working for his uncle, although at some point he decided to go up to the Copper Country and get a mining job instead.

One thing that did intrigue me was the existence of the form itself. Wherever the Declaration of Intention fell in the bureaucratic scheme of things, it wasn't used very long. The book they're in is the usual humongous volume that's a couple inches thick. The forms start sometime in the early 1900s (I did not look to see when the first one is dated) and go up to about 1905 and that's it. It's a huge book, but less than one-fourth of the forms got used. The deputy clerk and I were speculating (and laughing) about the verbiage on the form. It basically asks resident foreigners to declare that they're not anarchists. I have a hunch this was part of the U.S. Congress's reaction to Leon Czolgosz's assassination of William McKinley in 1901. In any case, we agreed that asking anarchists to swear that they're not would be about as useful as asking members of Al Qaeda to say they were radical terrorists if they happen to try coming into the country. If your intentions are evil, you're certainly not going to be honest about it when you're asked to complete some paperwork. It appears going through the motions, making it look like you're trying to do something even when it's obvious it won't work, has a long tradition in politics.

As for divorces, it turns out there is no index. You need to have a good idea of the date and then just start working your way through them, something I had no interest in doing yesterday. Maybe next week.

A slight digression: I'm never sure if I should be grateful or unhappy that the former historical society president set a firm precedent with the clerk's office of allowing us (the historical society/museum) serve as a proxy for people wanting genealogical information. Under Michigan law, the only index I should be allowed to search is the death index; marriage and birth are both restricted to family members. Thanks to Jim, however, we're able to continue doing the type of research he did for years. There are days (like yesterday) when it's fun to do the work, and other days when I'm totally convinced we need to make our fees much, much higher. And for sure there are days when I silently wish the County Clerk would tell me we can't do it anymore.

And another slight digression: Once again I was blown away by how perfect Martin Voetsch's handwriting was. Of all the county clerks, I think he wrote the best cursive. A couple of his successors also had great handwriting, but he's the only one who wrote in more of a copperplate style than Palmer penmanship. (This is the type of minutiae a person ends up focusing on when they're stuck doing research for money on topics that don't really interest them.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pulitzer Project: The Fixer

Bernard Malamud's The Fixer is Valium in a paper disguise. I swear I couldn't read more than 10 pages at a time before finding myself snoring. It's been a great -- it did such a good job of knocking me out that I actually slept through the night most nights as I slogged my way through it. I even got in a couple of naps this week when I picked up the book in the middle of the day and conked out pretty quickly.

I'm not sure why the book had that effect. It's reasonably well-written and the setting is sufficiently exotic -- Kiev at the beginning of the 20th century -- that it should have held my interest better than it did. Maybe it was a little too philosophical and/or contemplative. The protagonist, the "fixer" of the title, spends most of his time thinking and worrying. Of course, given that for most of the book he's sitting in a Russian prison, he really doesn't have much else to do.

The "fixer" is a Russian (Ukrainian?) Jew who had worked as a handyman in his home village. When the book begins, he's in the process of getting ready to move to Kiev. His wife has left him for another man, he's living in abject poverty, and he thinks that if he goes to Kiev he'll have a better shot at earning enough money to immigrate to America. He knows he's taking a chance -- he doesn't have the internal passport needed that would allow him to find work in Kiev -- but he figures anything would be better than his current situation.

When he does arrive in the city, at first it seems like his luck has changed. He helps a drunk man who's fallen in the street, and that leads to the offer of a handyman job: painting and wallpapering a rental apartment the man owns. He does a good job and is offered a permanent job at a brick factory. He's managing to pass as Russian, more or less, and is able to live and work outside the Jewish quarter. He still doesn't have the internal identification documents he needs, but his lack of them hasn't been a problem.

And then the body of a 12-year-old boy is discovered and suddenly every Jew in Kiev is a suspect in the public's eye. The child had been stabbed multiple times, which plays right into the lurid beliefs common about Jews at the time. Even the newspapers print stories suggesting that the child was ritually murdered to obtain blood with which to make matzohs. To say that Russians (Ukrainians?) (I'm not sure what to call them; Kiev is part of Ukraine now, but at the time period in which the story is set it was part of Russia) were anti-Semitic would be a bit of an understatement. The Russian government and the Russian church had been using Jews as scapegoats for centuries, periodic pogroms were a fact of life. The fixer has vivid memories of emerging from a cellar along with a handful of other children to discover most of their village is smoldering ruins and their parents are dead. He had been managing to pass as a non-Jew, but he realizes his luck isn't going to hold much longer.

It doesn't, of course, and off he goes to prison -- and that's where he is for most of the book. The good news is that by being arrested, he avoids being ripped to shreds by a howling mob. The bad news is he's in a Russian prison. He's questioned, he's physically abused ("enhanced interrogation"), he learns there's evidence against him, he's told there's evidence to exonerate him. . . and time passes.

In short, this was not a particularly lively book. It's pretty clear the poor sap of a fixer is screwed as soon as the Russian police pick him up. Once he goes into the prison, he's not going to come out again. He might be innocent, but he's also Jewish so he's just screwed. The only question is for just how many pages the author is going to make the fixer suffer. Answer? Too many.

So would I recommend this book to other readers? Once again, it's a maybe. If a person likes Russian novels, i.e., if you thought Crime and Punishment was light reading, you might like this book even if it is a little thin. It's under 300 pages, which makes categorizing it as a Russian novel a little iffy. Still, Malamud is good with words; I have no complaints about the writing style other than it put me to sleep rather quickly. It is, however, definitely not light reading. Of course, if it had been light reading, it wouldn't have knocked me out. On the overall scale, the usual 1-10, The Fixer is another one that falls in the middle of the scale. Better than average, but more toward the middle than the high end.

Next up on the list? The Confessions of Nat Turner, which I read when it was first published back in the 1960s. I'm tempted to re-read it, though, as there's supposed to be a movie based on the 1831 slave rebellion Turner led coming out sometime this year. If the L'Anse library has it, maybe I will. If not, I'll move along to the 1969 winner, House Made of Dawn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hillary needs to take Bernie to Red Lobster

I started a post this morning on Hillary and the corporate establishment wing of the Democratic Party getting shellacked in New Hampshire but my heart just wasn't in it. I'm rather burnt out on thinking about politics. We've spent the last 4 years hearing about how 2016 was going to be Hillary's year, which meant I was sick of thinking about Clinton quite a few months ago -- yes, she's smart, and yes, she's competent, but there is a reason I keep wanting to tack an "S" on to the beginning of her name. If she wore a jumpsuit like a NASCAR driver she'd have trouble finding enough space for all the corporate logos.

Anyway, I'm happy Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire. I truly hope that victory has scared the crap out of party establishment types like DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz (a woman who really needs to get shellacked in a primary herself), but I doubt it. Now I'm going to hope Bernie manages to shock the shit out of people in a few more states. I know that if I were a black voter, I'd be getting pretty sick of hearing about how black votes are the firewall that's going to allow Shillary's coronation to proceed as planned.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Thinking about where to wander

Waco Lake, April 2015
The S.O. and I have nailed down our spring campground hosting gig -- we're going to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park in Missouri for the month of April -- but don't have anything solid lined up for the fall. We did apply for a couple parks for October, but are now having second thoughts. I'm not sure what we'll say if we get a phone call about hosting then. We're now thinking about staying up here on the tundra through October, maybe even into November, and then doing the snowbird thing, kind of wander across the southern tier of states until stuff melts up here. We had talked about doing something like that a couple years ago -- take off from here right after New Year's and stay gone until May -- but changed our minds.

There are a lot of places in the Southwest I'd like to see. Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Craters of the Moon National Monument. Carlsbad Caverns. Fort Davis. Taos, New Mexico. Bisbee, Arizona. Big Bend National Park. The Four Corners area. Various national wildlife refuges -- there are a few along the Gulf Coast that sound really interesting. Plus, of course, one of the newest additions to the National Park system, Mammoth National Monument, is in Waco. I could see spending a couple weeks camped on Waco Lake; we liked the Corps of Engineers campground we stayed at in April. It would be fairly easy to come up with a list that would be much too long to actually cover in just one winter. We shall see. . .

In the meantime, before we go anywhere, whether it's this Spring or next Fall, we need to do some minor tweaking to the Guppy. The S.O. has to install a shelf in a cabinet and we need to figure out a better place to stash the shop vac. Right now it's tucked into the space I want to use for stashing my sewing machine the next time we do a prolonged road trip. We also need to replace the charger for the RV battery (the one that runs the lights and water pump when camped at a basic site). The charger that's in the Guppy now doesn't seem to remember how to turn itself off so it keeps wanting to boil the RV battery. We should probably do that this month so we've got lots of time to figure out if the replacement works or not and can deal with returns if necessary. I'm not sure just what's involved in pulling out the old charger, but no doubt the S.O. knows what he's doing. Or I hope he does.

At least this time, assuming the weather behaves normally, I won't have to deal with trying to load supplies in the Guppy in subzero temperatures. When we head for Missouri this spring we'll be leaving a month later than last year. Conditions up here shouldn't be quite as harsh, and maybe, just maybe, I'll be a little better organized when it comes to packing stuff like groceries. Last year I wound up so frozen I couldn't think straight and left stuff at home I had meant to bring with us. I spent several weeks wondering why I couldn't find something -- a jar of pickles, a can of soup -- because the grocery bag I had meant to pack was still sitting empty back on the tundra.You know, maybe it's stuff like having to think about what's in the RV and what isn't and shuffling stuff back and forth that turns part-time RVers into fulltime: if you're in the RV 24/7 year-round there's never any question about just where that jar of green tomato pickles you thought you packed really is.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pulitzer Project: The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann Porter

Collected Stories of Katherine Anne PorterLet's say it's winter, the days are dreary and gray, you're starting to suffer just a bit from cabin fever, and you can feel depression setting in. Looking for something to tip you right over the edge into full-blown I need some Prozac right now territory? Read this book. The good news is that Katherine Ann Porter could actually write. The bad news is that with a few rare exceptions what she chose to write about will leave you thinking, well, that was certainly depressing. Or unsettling. Or another fine example of there are no happy endings.  You know, I don't expect everything I read to be upbeat and optimistic, but it would have been nice to see something good happen once in awhile to Porter's characters, maybe especially because it's clear a great deal of what Porter wrote about was highly autobiographical. Were her childhood and adolescence actually as horrible as this book suggests?

The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann Porter cover four decades of the author's writing life. Porter was born in 1890 so at the time this book came out she was 75. I found myself wondering if for her the Pulitzer was the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award, or maybe a consolation prize for the fact her novel Ship of Fools hadn't won a few years earlier.

Like way too many authors on the Pulitzer list of winners, Porter was from the South and most of her stories are set there, primarily in Texas. I know some people would argue that Texas is actually West, but Porter's stories set in sprawling houses and staffed by black servants who once were slaves come across as thoroughly southern. Porter herself was born in Texas. Her mother died when she was quite young so she was raised by her grandmother. Sort of. Her grandmother dropped dead on a trip to Marfa when Porter was only 11. She married young, divorced her husband when he turned out to be an abusive lout, became a journalist, traveled to Mexico to hang out with revolutionaries and party with artists like Diego Rivera, married again, divorced, remarried, divorced. . . I lost count, but there was a fair amount of serial monogamy with the last two marriages being to men much younger than she was. 

I said that Porter could write. That wasn't immediately apparent when I began the book. The capsule biographies I found tend to describe her prose as "flawless." That's a slight exaggeration. Any prose that makes you work at reading it isn't flawless. Anyway, the stories are in chronological order. Like most authors, Porter's work wasn't exactly great at the beginning. The first few stories are grounded in her experiences in Mexico and were in fact written while she was still there. I had a hard time wading through them. The introduction to the book talked about Porter's "beloved Mexico." Well, if she loved Mexico she had a strange way of showing it. None of the stories pictured the country in a way that would have me flipping through travel brochures and telling the S.O. we should try wintering in Puerto Vallarta. The countryside sounded bleak and arid, the peons were ignorant and unwashed, the ruling class were dissolute and arrogant.

Of course, when the setting for her stories shifted to more explicitly autobiographical settings, things didn't improve much. Well, the writing did. I do take issue, however, with labeling these stories as "fiction." Other than tweaking the names a little bit, I kept getting the feeling what I was actually reading was memoir. One short story dealt with a married couple with a highly toxic marriage -- given Porter's own troubles with marriage, I couldn't help but wonder which husband she was describing: the abusive lout or the one who gave her such a bad case of gonorrhea she had to have a hysterectomy. A man named "Harry" shows up as the father in quite a few stories; Porter's father was named Harrison. The collection includes the novella "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," in which the main character almost dies of the Spanish flu, an experience that mirrored Porter's own near death illness. And so it went -- story after story that didn't involve a whole lot of imagination to write, just memories. She would have had a hard time claiming that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, was strictly coincidental because she couldn't have made it clearer she was writing about her own life if she'd given her characters her own and her siblings' names. 

So just what is a typical Porter story like? If I were to give it a formula for let us say a 10-page story it would be 7 pages of highly readable and occasionally light-hearted, even whimsical in places, prose, 2 pages of something throwing everything off track, and then a final page of Holy wah, why did she just drop a piano on us? You know, the 2 pages of being thrown off kilter is generally pretty grim (a horrible flood that results in someone dying) but the final page? That's when she whips out the equivalent of one of those mauls slaughterhouses once used to kill cows. After you've read a few of the stories, you know it's coming, you're about to get quartered and hung from a hook, but morbid curiousity keeps you turning the pages. Sometimes the buzzkill is not that horrible, except maybe from the perspective of a child who just had a bubble burst (a seldom-seen uncle who had been pictured as glamorous and exotic turns out to be a fat drunk living in a flophouse), and sometimes it really is quite literally someone dropping dead on the door sill.

Would I recommend this book to other readers? It's another Yes and No. I know there are some readers who enjoy a good dreary tale or stories that build slowly to a tragic denouement. After all, Joyce Carol Oates manages to sell books and she's a heck of a lot drearier to read than this book was. If, on the other hand, you figure life is grim enough without topping it off with some realistic writing to remind you things can be even worse than you imagined, I'd avoid The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann Porter. As for where I'd put it using the 1-10 scale, it falls at about a 6. Better than average, but not by much.

Next up: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. I don't think it'll be much cheerier -- the brief description I read mentioned a murdered child and anti-Semitism -- but at least it won't be set in the South. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

At the risk of sounding both sexist and ageist

I'm going to speculate on the reasons for the demographic divisions between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters.

There's been a fair bit of bloviating going on recently about why young people (folks under 45) overwhelmingly prefer Bernie and geezers (or about to be geezers) like Hillary. Well, I'm a geezer but I, too, prefer Bernie. I have a hunch some of my reasons why would resonate with the younger demographic. In a nutshell, Bernie is giving us a pep talk about possibilities; Hillary is telling us to start being grown ups and settle for what we've got now. Every time she opens her mouth she sounds like someone's pessimistic grandmother reminding the kids that they'll get hurt if they try climbing trees, riding a bike, or doing anything else they've never done before. She nags, she gives you the old "We can't afford nice things" speech, and then wonders why 20-somethings are turned off. Geez, I'm turned off and I'm only a year younger than she is.

It's kind of odd, considering Hillary is actually the younger of the two, but she comes across as old and sour compared to Bernie. Bernie's not always a bundle of cheer either, but he definitely seems a lot more in touch with what younger people are hoping for. Bernie's telling us we can do anything if we just pull together and try; Hillary says dump the dreaming and accept the status quo. You know, pragmatism can be a good thing, but it should be the fallback position. No one should be told to settle for anything until at least a few attempts have been made at achieving something better. Hillary comes across as wanting to settle immediately, which might be a winning position when you're trying to shake campaign donations out of Citibank but it doesn't go over real big with millennials.