Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Terrible ... or Terribly Good?

This is far from the first time I’ve written about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which asks contestants to submit the worst (e.g., funniest and most outlandish) opening sentences from never-to-be-finished books. Yet the task never ceases to make me smile. As Neatorama explains, “The annual contest is named for Victorian novelist Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, who once began a book with the phrase ‘It was a dark and stormy night …’ and cemented those words as a writing cliché.” 2016 marks the 34th year for this bad-writing challenge, sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University.

Fifty-five-year-old Tallahassee, Florida, building contractor William “Barry” Brockett has been declared the overall winner of this year’s competition. His submission bears a distinctly hard-boiled air:
Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.
The winner in the Crime/Detective category is Charles Caldwell of Leesville, Louisiana, who sent in this entry:
She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids.
But I am also rather fond of Akron, Ohio, resident Andrew Caruso’s “Dishonorable Mention” recipient in that same category:
As he gazed at Ming’s lifeless body draped over the sushi bar, chopsticks protruding from his back, Det. Herc Lue Perrot came to the sobering realization that tonight, there had been a murder at the Orient Express.
And I got an especially big chuckle out of the winner in the Purple Prose category, which comes from Rachel Nirenberg of Toronto, Canada:
She was like my ex-girlfriend Ashley, who'd stolen my car, broken my heart, murdered my father, robbed a bank, and set off a pipe bomb in Central Park—tall.
Click here to enjoy all of this year’s winners and runners-up.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Trump’s Failures Build

Based on this editorial in yesterday’s New York Times—pointing out the ridiculousness of Republican Donald Trump’s recent charge that President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton somehow co-founded ISIS—Daniel W. Drezner, an American professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, suggests on Twitter that Trump has “stumbled into a campaign doom loop”:
1. Trump’s polling gets a negative shock
2. Fewer moderates attend his rallies
3. Only hardcore supporters go see Trump
4. Trump tailors speeches to get a rise out of his audience
5. With an audience of crazies, Trump needs to sound
even crazier
6. In sounding crazier, Trump’s poll numbers sink, more voters
turned off
7. Back to #2

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Clinton Wins the Character Contest

This is a surprise. The Houston Chronicle, one of the largest newspapers in Texas (and a previous backer of Republican Mitt Romney) has just endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

And in no uncertain terms.
On Nov. 8, 2016, the American people will decide between two presidential contenders who represent the starkest political choice in living memory. They will choose between one candidate with vast experience and a lifelong dedication to public service and another totally lacking in qualifications to be president. They will decide whether they prefer someone deeply familiar with the issues that are important to this nation or a person whose paper-thin, bumper-sticker proposals would be dangerous to the nation and the world if somehow they were enacted.

Chronicle editorial page does not typically endorse early in an election cycle; we prefer waiting for the campaign to play out and for issues to emerge and be addressed. We make an exception in the 2016 presidential race, because the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not merely political. It is something much more basic than party preference.

An election between the Democrat Clinton and, let's say, the Republican Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio, even the hyper-ideological Ted Cruz, would spark a much-needed debate about the role of government and the nation's future, about each candidate's experience and abilities. But those Republican hopefuls have been vanquished. To choose the candidate who defeated them—fairly and decisively, we should point out—is to repudiate the most basic notions of competence and capability.

Any one of Trump's less-than-sterling qualities—his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance—is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, "I alone can fix it," should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.
The paper goes on to applaud Clinton’s opposition to Trump’s “ridiculous border-wall,” her support of the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform, and her serious approach to climate change before concluding:
These are unsettling times, even if they're not the dark, dystopian end times that Trump lays out. They require a steady hand. That's not Donald Trump.

The times also require a person who envisions a hopeful future for this nation, a person who has faith in the strong, prosperous and confident America we hope to bequeath our children and grandchildren, as first lady Michelle Obama so eloquently envisioned in Philadelphia. That's not Donald Trump's America.

It is Hillary Clinton's, who reminded her listeners Thursday night that "When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."

America's first female president would be in the Oval Office more than a century and a half after a determined group of women launched the women's suffrage movement, almost a century after women in this country won the right to vote. It's a milestone, to be sure. Few could have imagined it would be so consequential.
You can read the whole editorial here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Losing Patty

I'm so sorry to hear that actress Patty Duke has passed away at age 69. She was a fixture of TV reruns during my childhood.


READ MORE:R.I.P., Patty Duke,” by Ken Levine; “Godspeed Patty Duke,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts); “The Hat Squad—Remembering Patty Duke,” by Toby O’B (Inner Toob); “Disastrous Demise: Patty Duke, 1946-2016” (Poseidon’s Underworld).

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Right-Wing Hatred Boils Over

Following violent clashes on Friday between angry supporters of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and protesters in Chicago, Illinois, MSNBC News host Rachel Maddow devoted a segment of her evening show to “a video timeline of … Trump’s comments at rallies that have stoked hostility and incited violence …” An incredulous Maddow remarks at the end of this segment: “American presidential politics isn’t like this for anybody else. American presidential politics did not get this way on its own. This is the work of an American presidential candidate who deliberately made this happen. And the Republican Party is about to nominate him for president.”

READ MORE:No One Is Violating Donald Trump’s First Amendment Rights,” by Kiley Kroh (Think Progress).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It’s Time for Vitter to Go

Headline: “Under Pressure, Vitter Concedes, ‘I Failed My Family’

I'm sick and tired of right-wingers committing despicable or duplicitous acts, and then asking for public absolution because ... well, they’re ostensibly religious, or they’ve apologized to all aggrieved parties, or they have somehow talked with God (what's His phone number again?) and been assured that they’re forgiven for their all-too-obvious transgressions. This is just another way for Republicans to not take responsibility for their actions.

Face it: David Vitter’s prostitution scandal was not forced upon him; he was not an innocent party in the whole affair. And while his acts alone don't necessarily reflect something broken and weak about his character, his subsequent denial of wrongdoing and dismissal of its importance does. This “family values” Republican seems to have learned nothing from the scandal. He’s just another right-wing ideologue who hopes to impose his short-sighted views on everyone else. He’s no more fit to be the governor of Louisiana than he is fit to be a husband. Voters should reject his candidacy, not only because he’s a liar and a cheat, but because it took a campaign that’s about to blow up in his face before he was willing to be halfway honest with the public at large about his misbehavior. He’s now hoping that enough people will be fooled by his camera-ready contrition to reward him with an office he doesn't deserve.

I hope his faith in public gullibility is misplaced.

READ MORE:David Vitter’s Long-Delayed Political Punishment,” by Russel Berman (The Atlantic); “David Vitter is a Cheap Political Prostitute: Even Louisiana Racists Smell the Desperation in His Foul New Campaign Ad,” by Robert Mann (Salon); “How Bobby Jindal and a Decade-Old Sex Scandal Might Bring Down David Vitter,” by Marin Cogan (New York).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

“The Republican candidates may have a lot of fun campaigning for office, but they haven’t a prayer of knowing what to do if they ever enter the White House.” -- The New York Times, October 15, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Trump’s America vs. Clinton’s America

After slogging her way through the three 2016 Republican presidential debates so far, and also last night’s more substantive Democratic face-off, Heather Digby Parton--who writes the political blog Hullabaloo--sums up the radically different ways that Republicans and Democrats look at our modern world in this piece for Salon:
Republican America is a dystopian hellscape in which evil, violent foreigners are trying to kill us in our beds while rapacious jackbooted government thugs try to wrestle our guns from our cold, dead fingers and Planned Parenthood sociopaths are committing mayhem on children and selling the body parts. And that’s just for starters.

Democratic America is a very powerful nation struggling with a declining middle class and economic insecurity at the hands of the ultra-rich, requiring some energetic government intervention to mitigate income inequality, solve the looming crisis of climate change and manage global crises without plunging the nation into more wars. They also must hold off that anarchistic opposition which sees the world as a dystopian hellscape and that may be the greatest challenge of all.

A little over a year from now voters are going to decide which country they want to live in. Let’s hope they choose wisely. The rest of us are going to have to live in it too.
READ MORE:Sorry, Haters: Hillary Clinton Won the Democratic Debate,” by Amanda Marcotte (Salon); “Hillary Clinton Won the CNN Debate with a Surprisingly Spectacular Performance,” by Josh Voorhees (Slate); “Why Clinton’s Debate Dominance May Change the 2016 Race,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “Hillary Clinton Passes Her First Major Test and Momentum Is on Her Side” (NBC News).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Class Is Now in Session

The beginning of a new school year in the United States led me to investigate vintage education-themed paperback novels. I've showcased 86 enticing specimens in one of my other blogs, Killer Covers. Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Taking the Bouchercon Stage

I see that other crime-fiction bloggers, including Peter Rozovsky and Les Blatt, are telling their readers what appearances they will be making during Bouchercon 2015 (October 8-11) in Raleigh, North Carolina. So I guess I should share my own such information.

By my choice, I am slated to take part in only one panel discussion, on Thursday, October 8: “Stop! Tell Us Your Favorite Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers.” Despite that title’s stumbling grammar, the round table conversation itself should be fun. We’ve been asked to share some of our most satisfying and surprising reading experiences within the genre. Stan Ulrich and Lucinda Surbur from the Web site Stop, You’re Killing Me! are to be the panel’s co-moderators, while my fellow “guests of honor” will be George Easter, editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, and Janet Rudolph, who edits Mystery Readers Journal and the blog Mystery Fanfare. I shall undoubtedly be the most nervous and uncomfortable member of this group, as I abhor speaking in public; I’m a much better writer than I am an orator, and if it weren’t for the fact that my good friend Ali Karim has been so deeply involved in programming events for this convention, and asked me to take on this panel assignment, I would’ve gladly remained in the audience at Bouchercon events.

According to this updated schedule, there will be half a dozen other Bouchercon events taking place at the same time as my panel talk, some of which will likely draw larger crowds (including one that features both Reed Farrel Coleman and Michael Koryta). But if you’re interested in hearing what books Easter, Rudolph, and I think ought not be overlooked, note that “Stop! Tell Us Your Favorite Crime, Mystery & Thrillers” will be held in meeting room Congressional AB, beginning at 1 p.m. on Thursday the 8th.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How Far Down Can They Go?

This cartoon is the work of Randy Moulton, who works for the Asheville, North Carolina, Mountain XPress.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Come Hell and High Water

It’s no coincidence that I have been listening recently to CDs by New Orleans street musicians, wearing T-shirts I picked up during Mardi Gras more than a decade ago, and gorging myself on episodes of David Simon’s wonderful HBO-TV series, Treme (a show I had never watched until this month). I knew today was coming--the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s deadly assault on Louisiana’s most beautiful city.

It should really be New Orleanians commenting on this occasion, as they are doing in the pages of The Times-Picayune newspaper. I’m not a native of the city, and have visited there only a handful of times, most recently in 2007. I can’t speak for the people who weathered Katrina’s wrath or aftermath. But I wrote a great deal about the storm and the flooding and the incompetence of George W. Bush’s administration back in 2005 and 2006, when the disaster occurred. And I’ve kept up ever since with efforts to restore New Orleans in ways that don’t steal away its charm or historical significance. I even trained, shortly after Katrina struck, to be a Red Cross volunteer, hoping to be dispatched to help residents of the flooded Big Easy recover from the devastation. (Unfortunately, the Red Cross stopped sending people there before I had completed my preparation.) So I feel compelled to at least acknowledge this anniversary and send my best wishes to everyone in New Orleans who is still trying to get back what they lost in the storm, whether it be a home or a job or a familiar way of life.

I was pleased earlier this week to see President Barack Obama visit New Orleans, to hear him speak about the vast social inequalities that had weakened the Crescent City even before Katrina’s approach, and to hear about the extraordinary efforts by his administration to put the metropolis back on its feet. I am no less pleased to read this editorial in The Times-Picayune, which maintains that “The progress is palpable in New Orleans”--even if crime rates are still up, school quality is down, “African-American residents especially feel the unevenness of recovery,” and many folks have not yet received the loans or insurance money they need in order to rebuild. Someday I hope to see New Orleans again, and find that--as it did after another Category 4 hurricane, the one that struck a century ago, in 1915--the city has made a new order for itself and achieved a new vitality, even if it’s not exactly the same place it was.

On this anniversary Saturday, here are a few other related stories worth reading: “Anatomy of a Flood: How New Orleans Flooded During Hurricane Katrina,’ by Dan Swenson (The Times-Picayune); “These Maps Show the Severe Impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans,” by Esri, Katie Nodjimbadem (Smithsonian.com); “Hurricana Katrina, in 7 Essential Facts,” by German Lopez (Vox); “The Flooding of America” (The New Republic); “People of New Orleans Say Government Didn’t Do Enough After Katrina,” by Natalie Jackson (The Huffington Post); “These New Orleans Residents Are Still Trying to Go Home,” by Bryce Covert (Think Progress); “Images of Abandoned Iconic Spots in New Orleans Urge Us Not to ‘Forget’ About Katrina 10 Years Later,” by Eleanor Goldberg (The Huffington Post); “‘It’s Not Just a Party, It’s Our Life’: Jazz Musicians Led the Way Back to the City After Katrina--But What Is This ‘New’ New Orleans?,” by Larry Blumfeld (Salon); “Gulf Coast Residents Mark Katrina Anniversary: ‘We Saved Each Other’,” by Rebecca Santana and Kevin McGill (Talking Points Media); Front Pages from Katrina’s 10th Anniversary,” by Kristen Hare (Poynter); “Unnatural Disasters, or Queering Katrina,” by Jonathan Alexander (Los Angeles Review of Books); “17 of the Best Things Ever Written About Hurricane Katrina,” by Nick Baumann (The Huffington Post); “Ex-Aides: Bush Never Recovered from Katrina” (Associated Press); “After Katrina, Disgraced Former FEMA Director Continued Disaster Aid. It Didn’t Go Well,” by Emily Atkin (Think Progress); Jeb’s Massive Katrina Fail: New Campaign Ad Features Infamous ‘Heckauva Job Brownie’,” by Sophia Tesfaye (Salon); “Is Your City Ready for the Next Katrina?,” by Rebecca Leber (The New Republic).