Friday, February 21, 2020

2/21/20: Book Review: Blowout by Rachel Maddow

Big Oil and Gas versus democracy - winner take all

With her trademark humor, Maddow guides us on a journey from Oklahoma to Moscow to the White House, revealing the greed, corruption, and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing conclusions about how and why the Russian government hacked the 2016 US election. She deftly shows how Russia's rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia's decay into its rivals, its neighbors, the West's most important alliances, and the United States. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, "like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can't really blame the lion. It's in her nature."
Blowout is a call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest businesses on Earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of the world's most destructive industry and its enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, "Democracy either wins this one or disappears."

A fascinating book, one that every American should read cover to cover.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

2/18/20: First Swim of the Year

Yesterday I swam laps in the pool for the first time this year. The air temperature climbed to over 80 degrees and the water temperature topped 75, which made for a bracing swim but a truly lovely experience. I only did ten or fifteen laps before I became uncomfortably cold, but it felt wonderful to be exercising muscles that have been mostly dormant since the beginning of November. 

I’m hoping to do more laps today, and I’m looking forward to the time when the pool temperature tops 80 degrees so I can stay in much longer, long enough to do my aqua-exercises which take 1 to 1 ½ hours. I do love being active, as much as I love this time in my life when I have the time and resources to enjoy simple things like swimming, tennis, and writing. 

I have no pictures of me in the pool, but one of my favorite pictures of Herman is this one.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

2/16/20: Book Review – Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happened to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Conde Nast—rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our deepest regrets. 

This is the second Amor Towles book I’ve read (the first being A Gentleman In Moscow) and I have loved them both. Rules of Civility, Towles’s first published novel, has a wonderful voice that carries the reader along a time in history between world wars when the country was getting back on its feet and hopes and prospects were flying high. Interesting characters, interesting times, wonderful juxtaposition between rich and middleclass. This is a great beach read, not too heavy, not at all violent, but delightfully clever, and ultimately satisfying.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

2/09/20: Jackson Pollock

Many, many years ago when I first saw some of Jackson Pollock’s canvases, I didn’t know what to think. It didn’t really seem like art, yet it had an energy that I found compelling. Now that I’ve seen more of his work, and matured in view of art, I think Pollock’s work is some of the most interesting and beautiful art I’ve seen. Pure genius. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

1/31/20: Book Review: My Life by Bill Clinton

This memoir took me back into the fascinating, struggling, highs and lows of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s political careers in the 80’s and 90’s. It spans the era Bill Clinton became the longest serving governor of Arkansas, and went on to be president of the United States, twice. It was an interesting and enjoying romp down memory lane, and it also exposed so many details of the politics of the time which I was utterly clueless. Bill Clinton is one of the few national leaders I admired while in office, and I still admire the work he does with his foundation. So for me it was a joy to find out more about him, which in no way diminished my admiration of him. 

I was amazed to find that rightwing conservatives hated Clinton every bit as much as we liberals hate Trump. Living in California, I didn’t really see that detestation, which I find so interesting because I feel Clinton did more to help middle/lower class conservatives and any Republican president. 

The book is over 950 pages, and I feel he could have cut out 300 pages and it would have been a better read. On the other hand, there are many areas I wish he would have spent more time, like the Middle East peace talks, the Ken Starr witch hunt, and the budget debates. All in all, a satisfying read from a man who did so much to shape our current culture. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

1/30/20: Completed 2019 Journal

For the past two months I’ve been updating my last-year’s journal with notes and pictures I recorded on my month-long Bhutan/India excursion. I’m amazed it took so much effort, almost twice as long as it took to live it. Now it’s done. My 2019 journal is closed. When I breeze through the 700+ pages I can hardly appreciate what a jampacked year it was for Herman and I. It’s no wonder I’m feeling exhausted most of the time. Yet, I’m very grateful and proud that at the age of sixty-seven, we are able to keep such an active schedule. For two retired folks, we seem to be on the run most of the time. When we are home in Palm Springs—resting from our last adventure—we are planning our next undertaking. Case in point: we’ve been home two months—with Dec. being our busiest month due to holiday obligations—we already have the blueprint of our next trip on paper. It will take us to four European countries—Spain, France, Ireland, Portugal, and back to Spain—and cover a two-month timeframe starting in early May. That gives us three months to nail down the details, make reservations, and prepare for another expedition. As tired as I’m feeling, my mouth is watering over this next trip. 

 I’m a bit disappointed that we are not walking a Camino this year. Herman and I both love long distance treks. But Herman’s knees are giving him pain and we are not prepared to do another Camino until we get his body checked out. I think we are both afraid his knees will put an end to our cross-country trekking. Time will tell.

So now that my 2019 journal is complete I have time on my hands to start another writing project. But I don’t feel motivated to get involved with another fiction story just yet. I’m only interested in writing my daily 2020 journal entries. I have three stories in mind to write. I’m sure I will return to fiction writing soon, but for now I’m enjoying the break from storytelling. When the time comes to tackle my next story, I’ll know. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

1/13/20: Cooking Day

Spent this morning cooking my Minestrone soup and my Junkyard Dog chili for a dinner party that Herman has arranged for this evening. I enjoyed making the soup and chili, and they are really good, based on how good they were last week at a similar dinner party. But an issue arose in the kitchen. Herman is incapable of getting the hell out of my way and letting me do it myself. He tried to take charge, as if I’m his employee. This, needless to say, didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to do it myself, and I wanted him out of my way. He, of course, got offended whenever I told him, “I’ll do that!” and I would take over. 

It’s a matter of conflicting goals. My goal is to prepare the soups/chilies myself, and eventually become an excellent chef as regards to soups and simmered foods. Herman’s goal is for us to do it as a joint project, with him in charge. Part of me feels I’m being selfish, but I feel that’s okay. I don’t walk into his kitchen and start altering his dishes when he’s cooking. I let him cook his dishes the way he sees fit. I only asked the same in return. If that makes me selfish then I’ll be selfish.