Book Review: Spoiler Alert: Don’t Read This If You’re Going to Read That

Publication date:  January 2018Book

Review, short version:  Two skunks out of four.

Long version:

Most writing teachers tell their students, “Write what you know.”

A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window, did this to some extent.  In his Amazon bio he describes his “struggles with agoraphobia [an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places or open areas] and depression.”  His lead female character, psychologist Dr. Anna Fox, also struggles with agoraphobia and depression.

Anna’s also dealing with panic disorder and PTSD, and has a cornucopia of pharmacopeia to deal with these conditions:  ativan, melatonin, tofranil, inderal, aripipazole, imipramine, temazepan, or as Anna put it, “I need two hands to count them drunk-woman-bottlesall.”

Plus, Anna likes her wine.  Lots and lots of wine.  Merlot has transitioned from her beverage of choice to her #1 food group.

So it’s no wonder, when Anna looks out her window into a nearby neighbor’s house and thinks she sees a murder being committed, that others doubt her, and Anna doubts herself.

Anna’s agoraphobia keeps her homebound, so looking out her windows and into herpeeking thru curtains neighbors’ is Anna’s primary pastime.  She has a camera with a powerful zoom lens, and uses it like a telescope to track comings and goings – and maybe a murder.

And a murderer.

Anna’s other pastimes include watching old black and white movies, paying occasional attention to her cat, playing online chess, and offering free online advice to a bevy of people in need.  To her credit, three-quarters of the way through the story Anna finally acknowledges the rear windowdichotomy of the latter:  “Who am I to tell anyone else how to manage their disorder?”

But…Does looking out a window and maybe seeing a murder sound familiar?  Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window with Jimmy Stuart?

Does acknowledging that someone you think is alive, is actually dead, sound derivative?  The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis?

And does any movie with a psychopathic teenager prompt a “Been there, done that” yawn?

Familiar.  Derivative.  Yawn.  That’s my takeaway from The Woman in the Window.

As is often the case, I’m at odds with the reviewers – here’s just a sampling:

“…a beautifully written, brilliantly plotted, richly enjoyable tale of love, loss and madness.  As the plot seizes us, the prose caresses us.”seriously

 “Caresses us”?  Seriously?

“Astounding.  Thrilling.  Lovely and amazing…packed with mesmerizing characters, stunning twists, beautiful writing…”

“One of those rare books that really is unputdownable.  The writing is smooth and often remarkable.”

To show how even more at odds I am with the entire universe, “Even before its publication, movie rights were sold as well as foreign rights in multiple countries.”

Even before its publication.

I found spending 400+ pages inside Anna’s drug-and-merlot-riddled mind exhausting.

Learning that the cause of all her ailments, which began almost 11 months earlier, car going off cliffwas looking at her phone to see who was calling, and it was the man she was having an affair with, and she was driving her car with her husband and daughter in it, so she was distracted and drove off a cliff…

Really exhausting.

Apparently it’s also the recipe for success.

Recipe-for-success-2 cropped

 

Do You Speak ArtSpeak?

The recently unveiled official Obama portraits are generating a lot of ArtSpeak.

“ArtSpeak” is a secret language used by artists, art critics, art curators, and art salespeople.  They use this language to baffle and befuddle the rest of us into thinking, “Gosh, I don’t understand what he/she said, therefore this must be great art!”

For example, here’s some ArtSpeak from a CNN interview with an art critic on MichelleMichelle cropped Obama’s portrait:

“may lessen the sense of verisimilitude.”

“provisional and improvisatory…”

“realistic renderings are also seen as a bit retardataire…”

And this, from Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barak Obama’s portrait and was speaking of his own artistic style:

“to cross temporal boundaries and fuse contemporary urban street [culture] with the Western art historical canon.”

barakSee what I mean?  ArtSpeak.

A different critic described the background of Mr. Obama’s portrait as “a playful decorativeness that nonetheless feels organic.”  Based on his facial expression, I think Mr. Obama looks like he’s sitting in a bed of poison ivy.  Clearly, I’m not an artist, art critic, art curator or art salesperson.

So instead of focusing on the Obama portraits, here is my take on those folks who delight in using ArtSpeak to baffle and befuddle us:

The Emperor’s New Clothes:  Revisited

Here’s a tale about an Emperor who was so enamored of art that he spent much of his subjects’ taxes on paintings, sculpture and the like.

He rarely troubled himself about domestic or international matters, except insofar as they affected the art market and his acquisition of yet more works of art.  His great palace more resembled a museum than a residence; and as one might say, “The Emperor is sitting in council,” it was instead said of him, “The Emperor is in his galleries admiring his collection.”

art gallery mummiesAnd what a collection it was:  works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo and van Gogh hung alongside creations by contemporary artists; statues stolen, or rather, recovered, from Greek and Egyptian excavations were displayed with modern sculpture; and an entire, separate gallery was devoted to works by artists ranging from Alechinsky to Zocchi, all cleverly titled Untitled.

One day, two rogues, calling themselves painters, arrived at the Emperor’s palace.  They claimed they could create a painting of the most wondrous images, but those images would remain invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for the office they held.  In other words, anyone who didn’t speak ArtSpeak.

“Had I such a painting,” thought the Emperor, “I would find out which people in my realm are stupid or unfit for their office.”  The Emperor clapped his hands and said, “Let the painting begin!”  He provided the rogues with a $500,000 advance, a private studio, luxurious living quarters and a brand-new Viper, to assure their comfort while they completed this miraculous work.

The rogues set up a huge, blank canvas, then demanded the costliest paints and brushes blank-canvas-1024x555which they then put in their L.L. Bean backpacks to later sell at flea markets.  Using their own ratty, old brushes they utilized on just such occasions, they made a great show of working all day, and on into the night with the palace lights ablaze.

After several weeks the Emperor was most curious as to how the work was progressing, but he was, at the same time, very nervous about viewing it.  For he remembered that a stupid person, or a person unfit for their office, would be unable to see the images on the canvas.  “I know,” thought the Emperor.  “I’ll send somebody else to view the painting – my chief curator.  He is an expert on all matters related to art, and certainly is fit for his office.  He can bring back a report.”

So the chief curator went to the studio, where the two swindlers, or rather, artists, were hard at work stroking their dry brushes across the blank canvas, then pausing to stand back and admire their work.  “Holy Toledo,” thought the chief curator, “I don’t see anything on the canvas!  Does this mean I’m stupid?  Or unfit for my office?”  Wisely he did not say this aloud.  But one of the rogues turned to the chief curator and said, with mock humility, “Tell us, sir, what think you of our efforts so far?”

curator“Marvelous!” exclaimed the chief curator.  “The potent, yet totally ambiguous composition operates like a filmic montage; disparate images are collaged in sequence to create a resonating unfixable meaning!”

“I was hopping you’d say that,” the rogue replied modestly.  Then the rogues asked for another $500,000 advance, which the chief curator arranged before he hurried off to report his findings to the Emperor.

buzzRumors began, as rumors will, and soon the whole country was talking of the Emperor’s new painting.  The Emperor knew it was time to see the painting for himself, but he first sent a summons far and wide, commanding all the curators and art critics in the land to join him at the palace to view this wondrous work.  As the group entered the studio, the rogues appeared to be hard at work, their paint brushes still dry, the canvas still blank.

“Is it not incredible?” rhapsodized the chief curator.  “The physicality of the paint redefines the parameters, and addresses the formal issues with an underlying narration artspeakthat touches upon the psychological and emotional aspects of our lives!”

“Huh?” thought the Emperor, panicked, because all he saw before him was a blank canvas.  And if he saw nothing, it meant he was stupid and/or unfit to be Emperor!  Aware that everyone in the room was awaiting his response, the Emperor studied the canvas for several more moments, then slowly nodded.

“Yes, indeed,” he said.  “The painting does stress psychological depth, but avoids narrative details.  And note the balance of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter.  It’s a fusion of the imaginary and the real.”

man lecturingThe curators and art critics were quick to jump on the bandwagon, though they, too, saw nothing on the canvas.  “The juxtaposition of primary and secondary colors creates a dense, flat surface pattern and gives vitality and dynamism to the composition!” exclaimed one curator.

“Note how the artists used color to link horizontals and verticals, and to tie together diverse textures to reflect contemporary philosophical preoccupations,” added a critic.

“But rather than presenting pictorial space as an illusion of three-dimensional reality seen from a fixed point of view,” chimed in another critic, “the artists are presenting the totality of the object through a multiplicity of views!”

“In their milieu they possess the best oeuvre of the genre,” cried a second curator.  “Ground-breaking!  Original!”

artspeak“They’ve broken down the image into discrete, abstract facets, subordinating the image to the act of visual analysis,” intoned yet another critic.

“A painting,” concluded the chief curator, “whose greatness is equaled only by its ambiguity.”  The Emperor then insisted that the rogues accept another $500,000 advance, and a date was set one week hence to allow the public to view the painting for the first time.  Tickets for the show sold out in less than an hour, and scalpers began doing a brisk business as word of the painting’s magical properties spread far and near.

When the day of the exhibition arrived, the rogues carefully carried the blank canvas into a gallery in the palace that had been selected for this momentous occasion.  The blank with peopleEmperor stood next to the painting, eager to hear the comments from his subjects to determine who might be stupid, or unfit for their office.  As people began to file in, the rogues vacated their luxurious living quarters, loaded their loot in the Viper and headed for the border.

All day people viewed the painting, paying homage and exclaiming over the genre and the oeuvre, lest they be thought stupid or etc.  The Emperor’s subjects were all aware of his fabulous collection of art – their taxes had helped pay for it, after all – but nothing in the collection had had such an impact as this.

crying childLate in the day, a young family who had been in line since 4am that morning finally had their chance to view the painting.  As they stood before the canvas, their young son squirmed in his mother’s arms, understandably tired and cranky.  “Mommy,” he wailed, “why are we standing here staring at this white thing?  There’s nothing to it at all!”

The words of this innocent child were whispered to one another, until everyone in the gallery was shouting, “There’s nothing to it at all!  “There’s nothing to it at all!”

And the Emperor knew the people were right, oeuvre notwithstanding.

The_End_Book

This Ain’t Your Government Food Box

You may be familiar with a fairly recent phenomenon:  Meal delivery companies such as Sour-Cream--n--Dill-Chicken_exps2335_RDS2719782B05_14_2bC_RMSBistroMD, HelloFresh, Blue Apron and a number of others.

These companies provide pre-packed dinner boxes delivered to your front door with perfectly proportioned, fresh ingredients that minimize prep time.  Their offerings include mouth-watering meals like creamy dill chicken with fresh pasta and green beans; salmon cakes with beet salad; and artichoke, spinach and red pepper frittata.

Sound good?

Well, apparently the U.S. government thinks so.  In an effort to save money – somethingsnap our government is famous for – the president’s recent budget proposal includes a plan to slash the food stamps program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also – because the government loves acronyms – known as SNAP, by $17 billion in 2019.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney compared the new plan to Blue Apron, and it even has its own catchy name:  America’s Harvest Box.  Just like Blue Apron and those other companies, it’s a boxed food delivery program.

Government Food_02 America Harvest blue apron food box cropped.png
As you can see, America’s Harvest Box (left) is very similar to Blue Apron’s box (right).

OK, maybe there’s a slight difference between America’s Harvest Box and Blue Apron with the latter’s fresh meats and seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits, sauces, dairy, and pantry items.

America’s Harvest Box would, instead, include shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables.  The box would be valued at about half of the SNAP recipient’s monthly benefit, with the remainder of their benefits given to them on electronic benefit cards, as before.  SNAP provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans, so America’s Harvest Box would contain about $62 worth of…stuff.

In the interest of more transparency (something else the government is famous for)

man in shadow_01
GOWWRA:  Government Official Who Wished to Remain Anonymous

around this program I contacted a Government Official Who Wished to Remain Anonymous (acronym GOWWRA) for a few questions:

ME:  What about people with food allergies – peanuts, gluten and so on?

GOWWRA:  They’ll get over it.

ME:  What about people who want fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned?

GOWWRA:  They’ll get over it.stealing box_01 cropped

ME:  What if the food box is stolen off their front porch?

GOWWRA:  There was no collusion.

Considering how well the Congress is managing the Post Office – it’s lost only $65 billion in the last 10 years – I predict equal success for Congress managing America’s Harvest Boxes.

Especially if the Post Office is delivering them.

crushed box_04.jpg

A Fractured Fairy Tale For Nuclear Times

 

Once upon a time there was a happy nuclear power plant, just steaming away and producing electricity, and millions of pounds of nuclear waste. san smiley
Its name was the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and it had a happy nickname:  SONGS! songs_01 cropped
SONGS had the good fortune of being located on the beautiful coast of Southern California, with that great view, and that great opportunity to spew all that nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean as well into the surrounding communities. waste spill_03
But…one day in 2012 SONGS got a boo-boo – oh, no!

 

san sad
So the owners of SONGS, Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), decided to give SONGS a $680 million upgrade they said would add 40 years to SONGS’ life. SEC SDG&E LOGO
But…the newly installed replacement steam generators wore thin and leaked radiation, and the owners had to close the plant in 2012.  Poor SONGS!  No more steaming and spewing!

SCE and SDG&E learned the costs related to this debacle would be $4.7 billion.  That’s a lot of money!  So they got together to decide what to do.

san crying
“Oh, dear,” said one, “our shareholders will not be happy about this.”  Shareholders are people who invest in companies, and when the companies make lots of money, the shareholders make lots of money, too. shareholders sharing
 

But if SCE and SDG&E had to spend $4.7 billion to take care of the shutdown  of SONGS, the shareholders would not get any money for a very long time and…

 

empty wallet.jpg
 

Everyone agreed that indeed, shareholders would not be happy.

 

sad shareholders
Another voice was heard at the meeting.  “I have an idea!  Let’s charge all the electricity customers in Southern California to fix this mess!  After all, they paid to get electricity from SONGS, so they should pay when they don’t get electricity from SONGS.” idea _02
 

“Yes!” said another.  “And if the customers don’t like it, well, they can just stop paying their electric bill and not get any electricity!”

 

no electricity cropped
 

Everyone agreed that indeed, the customers should pay

 

paying money
Including the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulators who are supposed to look after customers’ best interests, but don’t. CPUC
In 2013, a bunch of people met to talk about this in Warsaw, Poland.  Can you find Warsaw, Poland on a map?  No?  Well, the regulators figured nobody else could, either! map.png
And in 2014, the CPUC decided the electricity customers should pay $3.3 billion of that $4.7 billion. Everybody at SONGS and the CPUC and SCE and SDG&E did the Happy Dance. happy dance
 

They were a whole dancing alphabet of happiness!

 

dancing alphbet
 

Except some customers weren’t happy.  And some customer groups weren’t happy.  And then some lawyers got involved.

 

protestor_01.jpg
 

And after more meetings – none of them in Warsaw, Poland – a new decision was announced in January 2018:

 

BREAKING NEWS_01
 

SCE and SDG&E agreed to shave $775 million from the original agreement.  “Customers Save Millions!” it was announced.

 

Headline UT
 

And the customers were very excited, and now they did the Happy Dance.

 

happy dance
 

Until they did the math, and realized the $775 million meant customers were still on the hook for $2.5 billion.

 

unhappy.jpg
 

And that $775 million only amounted to saving each customer about $2.50 a month.  For four years.

 

two dollars 50 cents cropped
 

The End.  Almost…

 

the end almost
Today SONGS still sits on the coast of sunny Southern California, all shut down but not forgotten. san sleeping.jpg
 

Because all those years while SONGS was busy steaming, the amount of nuclear waste was growing.  And growing.

 

waste.jpg
 

To about 3.55 million pounds of nuclear waste.  That will remain radioactive for thousands of years.

 

waste_02.jpg
But everyone agrees:

 

happy shareholders_05.jpg
 

The shareholders are indeed, happy.

 

happy shareholders_02

If You Are What You Eat, What Are You?

I saw an article about words for eating styles, like vegetarians and vegans.  Most of us are familiar with those, but these were some new to me:

ca. 1990s --- Cat Staring at Goldfish --- Image by © Aaron Horowitz/CORBIS
Can cats be pescatarians?

Pescatarians – eating a plant-based diet, plus fish.

Flexitarians – favoring a plant-based diet, but eats meat occasionally.

Reducetarians – eating less meat (red meat, poultry, and seafood) as well as less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the degree or motivation.

I love words, so I wondered if there were others I hadn’t heard of.  Sure enough, I found some at MyTrainerFitness.com:

Pollotarian – semi-vegetarian but includes poultry.

cavemen
Go Paleotarian and you, too, can look like this!

Pollo-pescatarian – semi-vegetarian but includes poultry and fish.

Paleotarian – focuses on eating as did our hunter-gatherer ancestors, a diet of organic meats and healthy doses of fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts and seeds, with minimal grains, legumes, starches and sugars.

Pegans – combines principles from the paleo diet to their veganism.

But wait!  I kept researching and found even more:

tiny portion
Fine dining for Smallians.

Pesca-Paleo-Pollotarians – people who are so confused they don’t know what the hell to eat.

Smallians – those who eat whatever, but only small amounts.

Dessertarians – those who refuse all plant-based foods except strawberry shortcake, Peach Melba and Bananas Foster.

Saltandpepperarians – people who season their food before they’ve tasted it.

Onomatopoeians – people who only eat food that tastes like it sounds.  Since there aren’t many, this lifestyle was short-lived.

taking food
Why pay when I can mooch?

Interviewians – the hiring manager who eats all the way through your big job interview.

Moochians – people who don’t order anything when they’re with a group in a restaurant, and then ask for bites off everyone else’s plates.

Sleepinarians – those who’d rather sleep in and skip breakfast.

Desklunchians – people of no particular food group who always eat lunch at their desk.

food in beard
Uh, excuse me, sir, did you know…

Beardians – guys whose food gets stuck in their beards and stays there until someone mentions it to them.

Dietarians – those who’ve lost the same 20 pounds 20 times.

Cellphonians – people who go out to eat and focus on their phones instead of each other.

Oldiearians – people who say, “At my age, who gives a shit?”

old-guy shrugging

This Job Takes Guts

This image is from a commercial for Viberzi, a drug for Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea (IBS-D) which of course is no laughing matter.

The commercial, however…

ad agency_03 cropped
Jake invented Viberzi Girl!

What I’m imagining is the conversation in the conference room at the ad agency that created this commercial:

“OK, everybody, listen up!  I’ve got a great idea for our new client, Viberzi.  We get an actress and put her in a skin-tight body suit, pale, like her skin, so the viewers focus on the image on her stomach.”

Long silence, and then, “OK, Jake.  What’s the image on her stomach?”

“It’s her intestines and the…uh…stuff below it.”

Another long silence.

“And this actress, Jake.  What does she do?

Viberzi girl_02
Viberzi Girl and another actress!

“She walks, she talks, but other people can’t see or hear her.  She follows around another actress who has that IBS-whatever while the voiceover talks about how great Viberzi is.”

Silence.  And then,

“So the second actress is interacting with the first actress’ guts?”

Viberzi girl_03 cropped
The doctor can’t see Viberzi Girl!

“No!  She’s interacting with her own guts and the…uh…stuff below it.”

“Jake.”  Long silence.  “Could you wait out in the hall?”

And the “guts” actress – here’s what I imagine is on her resume:

“Since 2016 I have starred as ‘Irritabelle’ in nationally broadcast Viberzi TV commercials, skillfully and sensitively depicting the small intestine, cecum, ileum, ascending colon, traverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon.  This multi-faceted role required:

Viberzi girl_05 emoting larger
Viberzi Girl emoting!
  • Acting
  • Emoting while speaking lines such as “Diarrhea and abdominal pain!”
  • Smiling
  • Gesticulating
  • Portraying guts credibly
  • Being invisible to everyone but the afflicted person

“Chosen ‘Ad of the Day’ in Adweek, April 14, 2016.  I am now nationally known as ‘The Viberzi Girl.’”

I hope this actress gets to do a lot more Viberzi commercials.

It would be a shame to let all that talent go to…uh…waste.

Viberzi girl_04 cropped
Do you find Viberzi Girl as annoying as I do?

Wish You’d Stayed Home

amtrak-crash-main-ap-ps-180131_12x5_992On January 31, 2018 a tragic collision occurred between an Amtrak train and a garbage truck.

According to The New York Times, one of the truck’s passengers was killed, and two others were injured and taken to a hospital.  In addition, “Two members of the train’s ny timescrew and at least two passengers…were also taken to a hospital with minor injuries.”

The train had been chartered by a large group of Republicans.  How large?  Again, according to the Times, “Several lawmakers who were aboard the train estimated that more than half of the Republican members of the House and Senate…many with spouses.”

CNN provided a list of almost 100 lawmakers on the train.  If half brought their spouses, that’s another 50 people, so I’ll estimate 150 in all.

The train had been chartered for a round trip from Washington DC to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

The reason for the trip was the Republican “annual policy retreat,” said the Times, “intended to let lawmakers escape the noise of the Capitol for a few days to socialize and busset priorities for the coming year.”

After the crash the travelers continued to the Greenbrier aboard chartered buses.

I’m going on the assumption that we taxpayers paid for this excursion, so I’ll pose the following questions to the participants:

Why did you charter a train, when Amtrak already has round-trip service between Union Station in Washington DC and White Sulphur Springs?  The trains may not run exactly when you want them to, so why not just suck it up and travel on Amtrak’s schedule, like the rest of us do?Map.jpg

Why were wives included in this trip?  I’ve been on plenty of business retreats and spouses aren’t included – they’re considered a distraction.  And what part do spouses play in Republicans setting “priorities for the coming year”?

Why did you book the Greenbrier Resort?  I doubt this place was a bargain – the many

greenbrier.jpg
The Greenbrier is lovely, but couldn’t you have found a cheaper place on Trivago?

amenities include a golf course, spa and casino.  I found rooms (not suites) ranging from $228 to $618 and I doubt that you went for the cheap seats.  So if you went mid-range, that’s 100 rooms at $400 each, for two nights, and that’s $80,000, not including those many amenities I’m sure you took advantage of.  After all, you’re not paying, right?

Why did you have to travel to the Greenbrier at all?  Aren’t there any meeting rooms in Washington DC where you can “socialize and set priorities”?  Oh, wait – just about the entire Capitol building is meeting rooms, isn’t it?

Capitol_west_side.JPG
Ummm…Are there any meeting rooms in this building?

What was the cost to taxpayers for the chartered buses you hired to continue your trip, and for travel, security, etc. for the vice president to speak to your group the first day, and the president to speak the second day?

pence same trump at conference

Let’s invite these guys – we don’t see enough of them in Washington!

Why couldn’t you, oh great party of Lincoln that favors reducing government spending, all have just stayed in Washington DC and saved us some money?

And finally…

Why did you think taking this stupid excursion was a way to “escape the noise of the Capitol”?

You are the noise of the Capitol!

Now I see the Democrats are headed off to their own retreat on February 7…

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