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Sunday, February 18, 2018

God in the Public Schools?

I am continually amused by the contention that if only we had God back in the schools all our societal problems would be solved. Aside from the suggestion that God is the ultimate wimp unable to do what S/he wants, they never address the issue of just whose God they want. The Mormon God? The vindictive God of the Old Testament? The forgiving God of the New Testament? Or, perhaps the vicious God of the IRA promoting multiple bombings? Or yet the God of the lynchers anxious to do His will by killing as many blacks as possible? And we haven't even begun to discuss which of the thousands of other Gods from the more than 4,000 religions around the world. So who is this God so lacking in fortitude? 

I'm much more worried that God has never left the schools; He just doesn't give a shit. If people want to ignore the poor despite the concern Jesus had for them, or run around killing each other, or continue to accumulate stuff at the expense of those starving in other countries, then maybe He's washed his hands and could care less. Clearly all the "thoughts and prayers" have been totally ignored and are just a waste of time, or worse, a way to avoid taking responsibility.

Even the suggestion that we need to "put God back in the schools" implies such little faith in God's will and that He has so little agency in world events. Not to mention how little regard is shown for those of faith who carry God with them always and even attend school. The clear implication is, "By God, you're going to believe in my God and we're going to force you to believe in Him or else. After all, that's why you go to school, right? Parents don't have a role; they can't be bothered with religious instruction at home. We want to foist that off on someone else."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes

Reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith. Dix Steele is an ex-Army fighter jock living in Los Angeles and surviving nicely on a monthly check from his uncle. He's living in the apartment, wearing the clothes and driving the car of Mel Torries who has supposedly sublet everything to him and taken off for Rio. One evening he accidentally bumps into his best friend from the war, another fighter pilot, married to Sylvia, who is now a detective with the police force. There has been a series of women strangled by some unknown killer who leaves no clues or traces. Steele both loves and hates women and Sylvia, it turns out, has her suspicions of Steele.

This is a deliciously psychological page-turner as we watch Steele descend further and further into darkness. I have to disagree with Megan Abbott's analysis at the end of the book. "To his mind, the enemy is not the war, its trauma, but what men face upon their return: staid domesticity, the strictures of class, emasculation. And these threats are embodied wholly in women. Women, whose penetrating gazes are far mightier than his sword."  Given this female perspicacity, I was puzzled by some of their actions that brought them into dangerous proximity to Steele. We only see the world through Steele's warped perception, and his view is hardly the most reliable so it's difficult to know just what the other characters are really thinking; indeed, what might be really happening. We are never privy to any of the violence, either, only the results, but even then everything is nebulous.

What is undeniable is the influence Hughes had on Highsmith and her Tom Ripley, James Cain, and the other practitioners of fifties noir. I will certainly seek out the rest of her novels.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Roses are Dead by Loren Estleman

I guess it's always fun to root for the bad guys. Here again Macklin is the antihero, a hitman now on the run because someone (he's not sure who) wants him dead. (The scene with the self-immolation of the guy with the flamethrower was a bit unclear, but...) His wife is divorcing him. His kid wants to kill people like his dad, and his job this time is to prevent a killing rather than cause one.

As with most Estleman novels, it's a good story and I like the Macklin character. The plot turns and twists and connections in this book however are hard to swallow, however. I had difficulty finding any good guys.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Review: The Lady from Zagreb by Phillip Kerr

Kerr has used his criminal detective Bernie Gunther to illuminate the German condition during WW II. Vigorously anti-Nazi, Bernie survives only by being an astute detective, and counter-intuitively by being excessively forthright with his evil bosses, Heydrich and Goebbels. In this rather horrifying volume of the series, Bernie is asked to carry a letter from an actress (a Goebbels' mistress) to her father, now a Croat colonel and ex-priest, who joyously runs a concentration camp for Serbs and dissidents, i.e. anyone opposed to Croatian nationalism, killing as many as possible.

The portrayal of the Ustase (it's handy to have access to Wikipedia while reading) is explicit and sickening. [ For those unfamiliar with the group, it was an odd combination of ultranationalism, Catholicism and fascism employing terror that enjoyed killing Jews, Serbs, and Roma. Very Roman Catholic, they condemned orthodox Christianity, the main religion of the Serbs, but did not oppose Islam which they considered nationalist and true Croatian where it was celebrated mostly in Bosnia and Herzegovinia. The religious aspect was downplayed in favor of nationalist Croatia.] It's rather amazing to me that Tito managed to hold Yugoslavia together as long as he did given the truly horrific slaughters that occurred between the Serbs and Croats, encouraged by the Nazis.

This is the 10th novel in the series of 11.

I've read a lot of Kerr's Bernie Gunther series. This one was OK but not as good as the original three volumes of Berlin Noir. The plot in this one was too unbelievable and the coincidences just too convenient. Still good compared to many others, just not up to his best. Perhaps the lackluster reading by John Lee, whom I usually like, had something to do with it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block

A Matt Scudder novel. It's always fun to run across anachronisms in books written years ago. The morphing into non-existence of pay phones, once a feature of hotel cubbyholes and conference centers, 800 # phone cards, calls for a dime, the elimination of pay phone numbers; all of that is so foreign to the current generation that can't understand not being able to make an instant 911 call with their cell phones.

Classic Block.