A Philosophical Interlude Provided by Author John D. MacDonald

Well, it seems it’s been a while since my last entry here. I went dark for a few months there (no Internet access) due to COVID-19 financial stress. I’m sure many of you can relate. Anyway, I’m back for now…

For you more mature folks (read as “old farts”) out there, you may remember and have read some of the legendary mystery writer John D. MacDonald‘s books. If so, you’re probably familiar with is style of writing and how he ofttimes veers slightly off topic to rant on about something or to state some deep philosophical tidbit. That’s what I’m going to post here in a moment or two.

MacDonald wrote many excellent mystery novels in his time. He was very prolific and extremely talented at twisting up a seriously intricate plot in just a little over 200 pages. If you’ve never read any of John D.’s work, I cannot recommend him enough to you. Grab one of his books. It’s a ride. You’ll get hooked.

MacDonald is semi-famous in many a mystery aficionado’s reminiscences due to a series of books (21, I think) that he wrote about a laid-back beach bum type named Travis McGee. Trav was a man’s man, in the macho sense of that phrase… and a helluva lady’s man, too. He was buena gente (good people), as they say in my neck o’ the woods.

Anyway, many years ago, my uncle Aaron (mother’s brother) gave me the entire set of Travis McGee books. I read them back then… one after another till I finished them; all too soon, sadly. They are stupendous. I’m currently re-reading them. Hell, nothing else much to do during COVID isolation, right?

I was inspired to read the McGee books again by another modern author’s works that I had recently finished reading. His name is Craig Johnson and he writes the Longmire series of mystery books. I definitely DO recommend these, by the way. I liked them so much, I actually wrote Johnson a fan mail letter. I’ve only done that twice in my life; the other author I wrote to was Nelson DeMille. The reply from DeMille was classic, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

I had told Craig Johnson in that letter that the very first Longmire book made a deep impression on me because it was so well-plotted and carried out in just the short 200+ pages of that little paperback. It impressed me because it reminded me of John D. MacDonald’s talent for tight plotting.

To the point, though…

I’m currently reading Pale Gray for Guilt, the 9th in the McGee series. In that book earlier this evening John D. did one of his patented digressions into philosophical speculation. I’m going to type that passage in here for you right now. I hope the owners of the copyright will forgive me this little slip.

___

…and too many others were gone, and I sought chill comfort in an analogy of death that has been with me for years. It doesn’t explain or justify. It just seems to remind me how things are.

Picture a very swift torrent, a river rushing down between rocky walls. There is a long, shallow bar of sand and gravel that runs right down the middle of the river. It is under water. You are born and you have to sand on that narrow, submerged bar, where everyone stands. The ones born before you, the ones older than you, are upriver from you. The younger ones stand braced on the bar downriver. And the whole long bar is slowly moving down that river of time, washing away at the upstream end and building up downstream.

Your time, the time of all your contemporaries, schoolmates, your loves and your adversaries, is that part of the shifting bar on which you stand. And it is crowded at first. You can see the way it thins out, upstream from you. The old ones are washed away and their bodies go swiftly by, like logs in the current. Downstream where the younger ones stand thick, you can see them flounder, lose footing, wash away. Always there is more room where you stand, but always the swift water grows deeper, and you feel the shift of the sand and the gravel under your feet as the river wears it away. Someone looking for a safer place can nudge you off balance, and you are gone. Someone who has stood beside you for a long time gives a forlorn cry and you reach to catch their hand, but the fingertips slide away and they are gone. There are the sounds in the rocky gorge, the roar of the water, the shifting, gritty sound of sand and gravel underfoot, the forlorn cries of despair as the nearby ones, and the ones upstream, are taken by the current. Some old ones who stand on a good place, well braced, understanding currents and balance, last a long time. A Churchill, fat cigar atilt, sourly amused at his own endurance and, in the end, indifferent to rivers and the rage of waters. Far downstream from you are the thin, startled cries of the ones who never got planted, never got set, never quite understood the message of the torrent.*

___

There it is, folks. This passage had an effect on me as I was reading it. Bourbon may have had a little to do with that… Heh! Nah. 😉 It was just so beautiful, yet sad. I had to post it here for others to see and think about. I hope you liked it and I hope you’ll pick up a John D. MacDonald book next time you’re at the library. I tend to doubt you will ever regret it; except for its addictive qualities.

All for now. Please keep yourselves safe and HEALTHY!

*©1968 by John D. MacDonald1

  1. I was not able to determine current copyright ownership now that MacDonald is deceased. I always try to give credit where credit is due in my blogs. ~vtel

Glimpses by Lewis Shiner – a Review

GlimpsesGlimpses by Lewis Shiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book can’t be described; it NEEDS to be read. It touched on all my emotions. It brought back so many memories of my youth in the 60s and later memories. It reinforced my belief that music is a universal language. Those who don’t appreciate music or understand its importance, will probably not understand this book. That’s sad because there’s much in this story that will touch many of you deeply, particularly if you lived through the turbulent times of the late 60s and beyond.

Books are subjective things, as I’ve stated often in reviews or descriptions to friends. One-book-fits-all is just as impractical as one-music-fits-all. You may or may not like this book. It’s up to YOU! I do recommend it highly, though.

When the Music’s Over – The Doors (1967)

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A Short Rant…

Episode Eight | The Vietnam War

I was channel surfing earlier this afternoon and stumbled across Ken Burns’ Ep 8 of his Vietnam War series on a local PBS channel.

And while I have seen the series through a couple times and have spent 45+ years studying and researching this era, the scenes in this documentary and the sounds and the music never fail to bring me to tears.

I remember this era well, even though I was a bit too young to participate fully. I remember my older brother and his friends being nervous and worried about these events (’68-’69). I remember watching Cronkite on the evening news with my parents and my brother. I remember the scenes of the fighting (America’s 1st televised war). I remember the fear, anger, sorrow.

I remember it all. Do you? Those of you who were the members of this truly fucked (and maybe a bit blessed) generation (b. ’45 – ’55 or so)…

DO YOU REMEMBER?

I’m pretty sure you do. It’s a difficult thing to forget. I’ve studied this era so deeply over the decades because it has always amazed me how it came about, what transpired, how poorly the U.S. dealt with this. Even after all this time, it still completely astounds me how this happened.

And sadly, I continue to see these same mistakes being made by my country over the years since this time. I still see young men and women going to places thousands of miles from home to fight and kill and die… for what? For noble causes? To protect our allies? Because we were attacked in our own country? I don’t think so.

Look around you today… right this minute and ask yourself:

Is it any different now? Have we made any progress? Or is it just same shit – different day/era? When are we going to finally wake up and realize that this is all such BULLSHIT? Of course, being a student of military history, which basically means human history, I can’t see any improvements other than those which have provided the means to bullshit the masses with more ease and kill the “enemies” with more precision and effect.

It’s a sad fuckin’ state of affairs, folks. It really is.

/rant off

Four dead in Ohio ~Neil Young – Ohio

Greed KILLS!

On tonight’s 60 Minutes (12 April 2020) they interviewed a doctor and a nurse working up close and personal in an NYC hospital right now. The fact that the U.S. cannot supply its own healthcare workers and citizens with necessary medical supplies and medications is the fault of GREED, plain and simple.

BIG CORP aided by greasing the palms of Senators and Representatives of the U.S. Congress and others in high places, have managed over the last 25-35 years or so to move nearly ALL production of consumer goods to overseas manufacturers who use slave labor and tyrannical oversight to provide the U.S. with cheap, low-quality goods.

This country needs to learn a lesson from this. The U.S. needs to bring manufacturing back to this country; particularly for necessary items for our health, safety, and security. The citizens of this once-great country need to RISE UP and DEMAND that this trend is reversed and corrected. However, we’ve all become addicted to cheap shit in our stores, so what’s the solution here? I wish I knew…

I’m ANGRY! YOU damned well ought to be, too.

GREED IS KILLING US ALL…

… while enriching beyond their wildest dreams those 1% motherfuckers who control 99% of this country’s wealth. Think about this. Think about it well the next time you support these companies (and the men who control them) that stock their shelves with cheap imported garbage. We are part of the problem. Sadly, when you work your asses off for chicken shit wages, the cheap imported shit is all you can afford. It’s a vicious cycle. There was a reason unions became popular. Unfortunately, many of those unions also became corrupt and forgot their prime directive: helping the workers to not be abused and misused.

And it’s NOT a Republican/Democrat thing. They’re all thieving, lying bastards. It’s OUR fault ultimately; the people governed by these toadies of the oligarchs and plutocrats in control of this country.

I find myself saying this more and more often:

WAKE THE FUCK UP, AMERICA!

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Johnny Got His GunJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read many books in my life, as most of you reading this have. I can honestly say here that this particular book was probably the most unique story and style of writing that I’ve seen.

As far as what this book was about… Well, I’ll ask you couple questions:

  • Do you feel that wars serve a noble purpose?
  • Do you think that young men and women should lose their lives for noble purposes like freedom, liberty, mankind, $$$ for the #MIC, pride of corps, oil, etc.?

Well, you need to read this book and then see how your opinions might change.

Oh, and have some tissues handy.

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The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli – a Review

The Order of TimeThe Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me begin this review by saying a couple things…

Firstly, I’ve been interested in Physics since I was a wee lad in the ’60s. My neighbor, who was also my godfather, had a Ph.D. in Physics. He was also a career teacher. He was always spinning yarns about Einstein, Newton and the amazing current events going on in Physics and Cosmology back then. He gave me a copy of Sagan’s Cosmos when I was about 17 years old. He had also given me a few other books on stars, planets, etc. when I was a child. This spurred my lifelong interest in Physics and related sciences.

That being said, throughout my studies of Physics all these years, there is one thing that has always astounded and amazed me; that is the concept of time. I’ve read many books and papers on past and current theories purporting to explain the phenomenon of time; none were definitive, all were very interesting, though.

On the back of the edition that I’m reading there are some remarks from reviewers here and there. One that really is accurate is this one:

Some physicists, mind you, not many of them, are physicists-poets. They see the world or, more adequately, physical reality, as a lyrical narrative written in some hidden code that the human mind can decipher. Carlo Rovelli, the Italian physicist and author, is one of them. –NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos & Culture

I could not agree more with this statement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even if it had been about horse racing or organic farming, I believe I would have enjoyed it because of Rovelli’s manner of writing. He may be a physicist, but he could easily have made a living, probably a better one, as an artist, writer, performer, etc.

This is a small book, but it has a lot to say. It will definitely make you think… or rethink your ideas about time. Rovelli briefly explains the current status of Physics’ views on time and then, in the second part of the book, he gently explains his view. The book is not a jumble of calculus and geometry. He writes for the everyday man/woman in this one. If you have a modicum of reading abilities and a little basis in high school science, you will be able to follow along just fine.

When I closed the back cover on this book, I was a bit surprise to experience the same regret (that it had ended) and joy that I often experience with the closing of the back cover on a really good novel. I think you’ll enjoy reading this book. If you have the slightest interest in the mystery of time on our plane of existence, I believe you will listen intently to what this man has to say. The 5-star rating I gave this one is as much a result of the quality of the writing as it is of the content.

I hope you’ll give this one a go.

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Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell – a brief review

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted PlacesVisit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read. The author’s rather wry sense of humor also added to the reading experience. As a “tourist” in some of the most polluted, destroyed, and/or radiated places on the planet, Blackwell still manages to see a bit of good in the humanity still inhabiting or working in these places.

This book is a bit of science, a bit of humor, and a good dollop of philosophy on life, human behavior, love, beauty, and feces. Read it. You’ll probably get a kick out of it. I’d actually like to meet this fellow Blackwell and sit down for a dinner and a few drinks with him. I’m pretty sure the conversation would be quite interesting.

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Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson – a review

Einstein: His Life and UniverseEinstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a remarkably well-written and well-researched biography of a truly remarkable man. I thought I knew Einstein pretty well from all the mini-bios in Physics books that I’ve read over the last 45 years or so, but no. There’s much, much more to the man behind E=MC2.

Isaacson will tell you an amazing story of this man’s life, loves, accomplishments, failures and foibles. Everyone knows who Einstein is; reading this book will let you peak into his world in a very intimate fashion. He was truly one-of-a-kind. It may be two or three more centuries before we see someone like him again.

Stephen Hawking, another remarkable man, edited a compendium called On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. While Einstein did utilize these shoulders in his search for answers to the mysteries of the Universe, he reached a point where his view was unobstructed by fellow climbers on those shoulders. Einstein is now one of those Giants whose shoulders younger Physicists are scaling.

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Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age – a Review

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear AgeFallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the decades, I’ve read and studied much on the topic of nuclear weapons, nuclear power generation, and all the foibles and mishaps that have come with it. And yet, it STILL amazes me the absolute insanity and stupidity displayed by supposed intelligent human beings in governments, military organizations, and the sciences with regards to these things. It crosses all boundaries and borders; this tiresome tendency for humanity to either destroy itself or make a damned profit off something.

Read this book. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll be amazed. You’ll be shocked. You be disheartened.

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Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey – a review

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to FukushimaAtomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly excellent read!

The author, while obviously extremely knowledgeable about nuclear Physics, also has a wry, satirical sense of humor that made me laugh out loud numerous times while reading this not-so-funny compendium of some of humanity’s greatest fuck-ups.

If you have any interest in these kind of events and the stories from the “nuclear age”, I cannot more strongly recommend this book. The science is worth the read alone, actually. I learned quite a bit more about nuclear power generation and weaponry than I previously knew. The author simplifies these highly technical aspects very well.

This is also a scary book; scary due to the possibilities. The ramifications of human error can often be a serious bitch to deal with. When you learn about the errors committed in these stories and realize that all this is still going on pretty much everywhere these days, it’s disconcerting. I’m not sure humans have learned their lessons yet.

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