Tommy Red

Tommy Red
The Progressive Killer

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Monday, August 7, 2017

A review of Netflix's Last Chance U … Pay to play college football. Is it time to reverse who pays and for what?

Amici:

This is perhaps the longest post in TK history: a review of the Netflix series, Last Chance U, and a list of questions to consider. So before lulling yous to sleep, here are the questions this blog post will eventually ask.
 
Should college football players be paid? If so, how much?
 
What about a national minimum wage for the hours they dedicate to their sports (to include training)?
 
What about medical coverage that extends beyond their playing days?
 
And are educations really necessary at institutions where athletes are hustled for the sake of eligibility?
 
Why not treat college football the way MLB treats its minor league affiliates?
 
Since the NFL gets most of their players from college football, can’t they pay for the salaries/health costs at the college level?
 
Please post comments on the FB page where it appears (i.e., mine).
Last Chance U … is a Netflix series about a dominant junior college football team, East Mississippi Community College. They won back-to-back national championships, and the series begins with their attempt to turn it into a three-peat. EMCC (East Mississippi Community College) is a JUCO (junior college) with an excellent “football” reputation that takes players from Division I and II teams who have had problems (i.e., personal, educational, and legal) and have been released for the sole purpose of getting their acts together (i.e., becoming “football eligible”) again, so that they can return to bigger programs. I’d call it a football factory coached by a man who has ZERO business anywhere near a football field, except to maybe water the grass.
 
But that is my opinion and it is not the popular one. I tend not to fly with flocks, but I’d rather see your opinions.
Netflix Season I … We are presented with a very successful (i.e., winning) head coach who curses more than myself (that’s tough to do). He is a tyrant and has very little control of his temper. His team consists of what I would call ringers from Division I programs. They are GREAT athletes who were released by the bigger programs. Some have attitude issues, drug issues, educational issues, etc., but they all have undeniable athletic ability and football talent. The team (EMCC) dominates league play by rolling up scores, which is what the head coach feels gets the voters for National Championships attention. What he ignores, and seems to enjoy, is how the same roll-up policy also pisses off every other team in the division (and probably those same voters he’s so desperate to impress). His vocabulary is not only loaded with vulgarities, it is also thuggish from the word go. He likes to “beat people to sleep” … it is his mantra. He uses many other violent phrases to motivate his team. The argument that football is a violent game isn’t a good one, I don’t think. Nobody questions whether football is a violent game or not.

The series also highlights the other coaches and the team’s guidance counselor, Brittany Wagner, a single mom who puts everything she has into attempting to help the kids stay educationally eligible, as well as emotionally stable. She and a few of the assistant coaches (and the vast majority of kids) are the positives I took from this series. Everything else seems to me to be a case study for shutting down any junior or major college program that entrusts their kids/players to a head coach like Buddy Stephens. I say “shut it down” because if the college president and board of trustees is willing to ignore this guy, then they’re equally guilty as the absolute disgrace this man is. In my opinion, they should all be fired.
 
Without going game by game (the blowouts featuring upwardsof 50-69 point wins—the next season they will beat a team 73-7), there comes a point when the head coach becomes so out of control, he pushes one of his players more than once on the sideline. It’s something I think is an automatic suspension and possible termination, but I know some people won’t agree with that. If I were the president of that college, he would have been gone immediately after that game … which would have saved that school a ton of embarrassment and two future national championship shots.
 
The head coach’s body language is very telling, I thought. He’s a cheerleader when a play goes right and looks like a dejected madman (picture Hitler in his bunker with the Russian army surrounding him) when things don’t go right, and it’s almost play-by-play.
 
I’m not sure if it’s the same game, or if it’s one of the next two games, but eventually the head coach has a fist fight (literally) with one of the referees after a sideline curse fest. I don’t know who created the video above (labelling it Ref hits coach), but it really doesn’t make a difference who threw the first punch. Both the ref and the head coach were so out of control, at that point there isn’t a doubt both should’ve been retired.
 

 What happened was both the ref and the head coach were ejected from the game. The head coach was then suspended for the next two games. Needless to say, he should’ve been fired after that as well. Once again, the fact he wasn’t suggests to me the entire governing board of EMCC should’ve been fired.
 
Before I forget to mention it, the town EMCC plays in has a population of 700, but the facilities for football look like what one might expect at a Division 1 program. One has to wonder how much coin EMCC gets from the Division 1 programs using the school to better their own programs. Wherever they get their money from, it is obvious that winning is the motivating contributor (pun intended), and perhaps why the governing board of EMCC permits a lunatic to coach their team (i.e., that age old American theme of profit over people).
 
Fast forward to the last game of the season, which will guarantee EMCC a very high national ranking, and I think an undefeated season. It is a game being played against one of the weaker teams in the division. However, the weaker team has a bad history vs. EMCC because of losing past blowouts. What Stephens (head coach of EMCC) doesn’t seem to realize is just how demoralizing and classless rolling up a score can be, but he seems to knows it enough so as to warn his players before the game not to fall for the cheap shots, etc., and to walk away from any kind of extracurricular trash-talking etc., to keep them from getting ejected and suspended for their next game (which would be the first round of the playoffs). What the other team does is exactly what Stephens warns against, except they take it a bit further than just cheap shots and begin to mug an EMCC player while he’s on the ground. Eventually, both teams’ benches empty and a full scale brawl takes place. The refs stop the game and afterward, Stephens berates his players for being thugs. The constant comment from players has to do with how Stephens had gotten himself suspended for two games when he had brawled with a ref. Paying attention EMCC president? 
Of course, probably because he realizes he’s been on camera and he’s heard the rumors about what his players said, the head coach tells his team he’s sorry for what he called them (“thugs”) and thinks what they did was exactly the right thing (brawling) because, like some hockey fights, they were looking out for one another. It’s a crock of shit apology and a worse message. There are 12 players on the ice at a time in hockey, and even if benches empty, it is not a 110 man (two 55 man rosters) brawl. A team brawl should never be applauded. Not ever.
 

The end result of that brawl was a double forfeit and a 2 game suspension for all the players on the field when the benches emptied. It means EMCC is eliminated from the playoffs and will have to start their next season by playing only the new players on their roster for that season (i.e., freshman and new transferees).

There were several hard cases (players) highlighted during the first Netflix season and most seemed to have moved on (as we’ll learn at the end of the second Netflix season). One in particular, Ronald Ollie, was five years old when his father shot and killed his mother. Ollie was brought up by other family members. Ms. Wagner and Ollie had a special connection and there’s no doubt in my mind that she kept several dozen players from walking away from the program on her own, via her total devotion to them, and not just football, although football is their true “last chance” at attending college on football scholarships.
 
That’s a rap on Netflix season 1.  For the life of me, I don’t know how that coach was permitted to continue, but he does.
 
The offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator and quarterback coach and defensive line coach all did fine jobs and seemed to at least provide both the tough love and emotional support when it was necessary, with Ms. Wagner taking up any slack (as well as doing her normal job of saving souls). The defensive coordinator moved on, while the offensive coordinator rejected other offers and remained at EMCC.
 
Netflix Season II
Head Coach Buddy Stephens quotes from the Bible and the Dalai Lama. It is his effort to “change.” He’s a new man, at least he’d like the cameras to believe it. He’s trying to be a better person and he starts off with a very determined effort to quit cursing and to keep his temper in check. Game 1 is that 32 man roster vs. a 55 man roster (due to the brawl at the end of season 1). The freshman kids and transferees put up a good effort but fall short, giving EMCC a one game hole to work out of, as well as a possible excuse for voters to keep them out of the national championship, no matter if they run the table, which they will do.
In this season we see more of Ms. Wagner’s efforts to keep kids in school/from quitting and/or giving up on themselves, but her discontent with Head Coach Stephens becomes obvious with each passing episode.
 
Season 2 also features several players, some I wouldn’t have put up with myself, but Ms. Wagner is a far more patient and better person than I am. The assistant coaches are also featured, including the new defensive coordinator, Ed Holly, who appeared to be a bit out of his league coaching wise. The defensive line coach, Davern Williams, is a consistent tough love coach who I came to respect more and more as the season progressed. An excellent coach, I thought. His philosophy is a simple, no nonsense, obey the rules approach, but when one player is pushed to the limit (the head coach had his mother removed from the stands because she was heckling him), Coach Williams handled it in the locker room the only way possible. I didn’t think it was possible, but he managed to keep the player in check.
 
The offensive coordinator, Marcus Wood, his Bible study classes for players aside (I’m not big on that shit), was the most reasonable coach on the staff. He proves there is no need to be an asshole, and he will pay for being a good coach by end of season.
 
We learned more about Quarterback Coach Clint Trickett in the first season (forced to stop playing due to concussions), who seemed fine, although we never really watched him actually coach (he was the coach assigned to the press box).
 
Of course after the limited roster first game loss, EMCC wins out, but their defense isn’t close to up to par with their offense. They have a few very close calls where the offense had to bail out the defense. Lots of points given up and the defensive coordinator didn’t seem to have an answer for it (and actually says that at one point on the sideline—ouch!).
 
They make it to the playoffs, of course, but there’s a lot of bad stuff going on with the players. Some have ZERO respect for their head coach. One has ZERO respect for everybody, it seems, except Ms. Wagner. As a coach, I wouldn’t have tolerated his shit, but this is a program built to be a football factory for bigger schools, so no players were ever kicked off the team. In fact, a literal babysitting service was provided for players who sleep through team/position meetings. A coach actually drove a golf cart to wake them up and drive them to the practice facility/meeting rooms.
 
The highlight of season 2 (football wise) was learning the worst team in the league, a team made up of walk-ons and whose weight room was a bench outside the building, won their last game of the season. They were a TRUE junior college team with a long losing streak who had no shot against EMCC. It was a merciful 42 or 48-0 loss for them against EMCC, but a new and allegedly improved Coach Stephens used his “Buddy Rule” and didn’t run it up any further.
 
What you will see in season 2 is a lot of close scores, even if only for a half or a quarter, wherein the head coach forgets his new image and continues to lose it time and again, reverting to cussing and acting like a four-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.
And, yes, he seemed very happy Trump won.
 
The head coach FINALLY takes a hard stand on a player late for a meeting. Shuts him out. The problem, of course, is what went on all season long—no consistency, so maybe the player tried him one last time (with a terrible excuse—he didn’t have his phone). The player bumped heads with several coaches during the season and was wrong to continually try to have the last word. Not a good idea. Another player put it best: “Sometimes you need to know when to keep your mouth shut.” Of course, the same player was allowed to play in every game he was physically fit to do so (making some dumb mistakes and getting into it with the head coach on the sidelines again and again).
 
The first round of the playoffs goes as planned in the second half, but the head coach loses it a few times during the first half. It’s difficult to see why anyone would want to play or coach for this asshole.
 
State Championship Game: The head coach goes from mocking the defensive coordinator on the sidelines to berating him. One has to wonder what in the hell the president of this college and/or athletic director (assuming they have one) do to justify their salary.
 
It gets better when the head coach argues with a fan, the mother of one of his players who drove to Mississippi from Atlanta to watch her son. He has someone try to quiet her and/or throw her out. She is forced to watch from the back of the end zone. This is where Coach Williams (Defensive Line Coach) handles the player the only way possible and it turns out okay.
 
EMCC is not voted into the championship game and is forced to play in some kind of state bowl instead. During this game, the head coach humiliates the offensive coordinator and makes the coach in the press box come down to take the OC’s place. It is unbelievable to watch this shit transpire. He continues to berate the OC with cameras rolling and makes a punk comment about how “that sniveling shit may have worked with your ex-wife, but not me.” The OC does EXACTLY what he should by telling his players, “Don’t worry about me. You just focus on the next play.”
 
Ms. Wagner. Who cannot love this woman? Before the state championship she voices her problems with the head coach (working against each other). She couldn’t do more for the kids, and the head coach just hasn’t changed, or changed enough, for her to continue fighting what too often is a losing battle for the kids. She is ready to take another job for another school, and it will be a tremendous loss to EMCC.
Highlight of this final episode for me is Ms. Wagner taking a picture of the tag on her office and then pulling it down. She’s done with this asshole and is going into business to provide counseling.
 
The defensive coordinator left to coach high school football. The offensive coordinator is now on EMCC’s administrative staff. I hope it was his own decision. The defensive line coach stayed and would like to be a head coach sometime. I hope he makes it there.
 
But they lost Ms. Wagner, so the program suffered immeasurably.
Players from previous years attend one of the games. Ollie, the kid whose father killed his mother when he was just five years old, was there. He went on to a smaller D-2 school and is doing very well (it appears).
 
Ollie’s opinion of the EMCC head coach: “Fuck that boy. I’m gonna give you the honest truth about that boy there.”
 
I couldn’t agree with Ollie more. Good on you, kid.
 
Injuries … It is football, and its being played at a very high level, so you know there are injuries. A few concussions and leg/foot injuries where the head coach questioned whether they were being faked (hey, he was a very well rounded asshole). Since the entire purpose of the program has NOTHING to do with the kids’ education, except to get them Div-I eligible (i.e., a 2.5 grade point), and EVERYTHING to do with winning, each player knows the story (they need to get as many reps on camera as possible for scholarships). So, why not let the player determine the injury? If he says he has a concussion and can’t practice, then he can’t play. It’s as simple as that. If he says he hurt his ankle, same thing. No practice, no play in game. Doctors should ALWAYS be consulted, but if a doctor clears a player and he still says he has an injury, if he doesn’t practice and doesn’t play, he’s hurting his own chances. If he’s truly injured (and there’s no reason to think otherwise, no matter how “suspicious” you may be), he shouldn’t play anyway. The head coach at EMCC … well … what can I say?

Just a thought here: When attempts are made to reduce injuries, especially head injuries, that doesn’t “pussify” the game, but it does piss off some who’ve played under less injury-conscious rules and are paying the price for it today (the list is too long to post) and many have died or killed themselves.
 
Religion … I’m not very big on rah-rah shit, especially off the field, so the Bible study stuff doesn’t belong (for me). I don’t mind it the same way I don’t mind the national anthem being played. I wish neither was done, but if the players are comfortable enough to attend, so be it. And to be fair, the show never asked whether it was a requirement or not. My guess, especially since it was the Offensive Coordinator, Coach Wood’s program, is that it wasn’t a requirement. That man seems too reasonable for it to be required.
 
Politics … Oy vey, Trump wins and the players express their feelings against him (“Make American White Again”) and Hillary … they were smart enough not to like either. Who says they’re dumb?
 
Okay, so now you’ve read my opinion, let’s see some of yours. I am truly interested in how this series is perceived by any and all, to include former coaches, players, fans, parents of players, etc. I think it revealed a horror story of football in American football factories today. My experience in a small school in North Dakota was nothing like it, and we sent two players to the NFL. We had our issues as well, but even reflecting back on it (42 years now), it was nothing like what this series presented.  If that’s what football is today, I’m glad I’m a hockey fan.
 
And to be fair, the Netflix show has received way more positive messaging than negative, but that has more to do with the popularity of it than anything about football. Not many people fell in love with Buddy Stephens … whereas almost all fell for Ms. Wagner.
 
Should college football players be paid? How about starting with a minimum wage for the hours they dedicate? And how about medical coverage that extends beyond their playing days? What about their educations? Are they really necessary? Lots of us know that for many programs, the education factor is a joke. Since the NFL gets most of their players from college football, can’t they pay for the salaries/health costs at the college level?
 
Fire away, amici …
 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Reviews: The Road to Matewan by William Trent Pancoast and Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy … Movie Review: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation … Keep it in perspective, please.

Amici:


The Road to Matewan by William Trent Pancoast … imagine communities living the pastoral life, in tune with their environment and at peace with their neighbors. It existed in the mountains of West Virginia prior to coal mining, prior to the industrial progress that ultimately destroyed both the land of those same mountains and the lifestyle of their communities. Pancoast’s fine novel begins mid-destruction, when Thomas Greene’s family is confronted with the onslaught of coal mining progress and the decay of life as he knew and enjoyed it. An intelligent man, Thomas sees the writing on the wall, and before his ultimate fleeing the land he so loved, circumstances put him in contact with a manager of one of the mines where the company not only houses its labor, it provides them with script, their only source of income, which is useless off company grounds. It is to be spent in company stores, and is far worse than any form of welfare known to man. Script is earned with blood, sweat, and tears, and can be taken away for no more an infraction than getting injured on the job or mentioning the word union. It is that level of greed that is the road to Matewan and the massacre that occurred there in 1920.
 
Company housing and script are forms of slavery making a comeback today as our economy drifts closer and closer to a modern form of feudalism where West Coast truckers are experiencing a similar fate (i.e., where companies finance or refinance the trucks and later repossess same as drivers fall further into debt). Matewan is the town where the coal miner wars of 1920 began, and the novel provides a wonderfully graphic overview of the conditions that lead to the coal mine strikes as the United Mine Workers Union attempted to gain support in the western most portions of West Virginia.
 
Thomas Greene’s family suffers, but not nearly as badly as so many of those beholden to the jobs they signed on for, including a life under script conditions and the brutality of non-regulated capitalism (what America seems determined to return to today). Ultimately, as conditions worsen for mine workers and the abuses of the employers increase to include hiring professional thugs (Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency) as muscle, the natural occurrence of a revolt is imminent. Thomas Greene makes the move away from life on the mountain, makes sure his children are educated, and although they prosper, he and his wife long for the life they knew and loved best.
 
An engaging read start to finish … and if your blood doesn’t boil for the conditions heaped up on workers doing such a dangerous and self-destructive job, check your pulse.
 
The story behind this book is best described by the author himself: “Appalachia, its coalfields, and especially the Tug Valley, are an American tragedy. When the liars and thieves representing the land and coal companies set about stealing the land from its pioneer owners, no one could have envisioned the feudal state that would be imposed upon the mountaineers of West Virginia. I know how important the history of the Tug Valley is to me, and I have seen how important that history is to the people who were uprooted, and to the descendants of those who stayed. Therefore, The Road to Matewan.”
 
 
 
Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy … this has to be my favorite William Kennedy novel (and that’s saying a lot). A brilliant touch of Cuban-American history, with a touch of Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita and some Santeria, the Cuban revolution (Batista vs. Fidel), Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, the race riots of the late 60s, and so much more. From Albany, the protagonist Quinn’s stomping ground, to Cuba and back, Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is the master, William Kennedy, at his very best. Cynical, comical, emotional, raw, violent, sensual … you name it, you’ll find it in this exciting trip through some of the most clever dialogue ever penned, as Quinn (the journalist) falls for Renata (the gorgeous revolutionary who worships Santeria and desires Batista’s death) and the sparks fly.
 
Kennedy is quick and clever and sophisticated and exciting to read, especially when he blesses us with a page or two of straight dialogue that is so witty and tight, we long for more as we turn each page. The history lessons you get from this one are a bonus.
 
 

 
Birth of a Nation by Nate Parker … I guess I wasn’t aware of the controversy regarding the director/writer/actor’s sexual assault case during his college years, but maybe that’s a good thing, because I was able to watch the film without those lingering thoughts. I thought the film was very good and will likely watch it again. I thought the title couldn’t be more appropriate. It makes one wonder how African-American families today aren’t arming themselves for some of the blatant injustices heaped on them by law enforcement that simply go unpunished if not rewarded. When videos aren’t enough, one has to wonder what the hell is.
 
I thought this movie about 10xs better than the Oscar winner from a few years ago, 12 Years a Slave, the one the academy felt was a good choice to be the token bone thrown to the black community as Best Picture. Then again, there’s something about a revolutionary movement, whether it’s quelled or not, I find much more alluring than happy endings reinforcing the institutions to blame for some many of society’s ills.
Don’t blame the tweets … that’s right, amici, it isn’t the tweets that are the problem. We know what Trump is. We knew it before he was elected, so let’s KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE, PLEASE. Read the article here: 
 
From the article: “Despite Trump’s own warning a mere two years ago that ‘we should stay out of Syria,’ he now finds himself hip-deep in Syrian blood with no apparent aversion to his predicament. I’m not sure about the percentage of bleeding women amid the daily carnage in Syria, though it seems to be enough to whet Trump’s appetite for destruction.”
 
The above article reflects pretty much what Democrat loyalists did for eight years under Barry. They ignored everything, maybe because they felt they did the right thing electing a mixed-race president? He was good-looking, he said the right things, he had charisma up the wazoo, and his family was something special to root for. Ignored was the politician he proved to be by not taking positions 131 times as a senator. Ignored was what he didn't do while president. I think it is more that Democrat voters were happy enough it was their party in power and that's literally all that mattered to them. Pathetic really, but that's where we are. I don't find Trump’s "blood" tweets all that offensive as I do funny, but funny because this is what our government is comfortable with, a bad joke. Hillbots ignored her war crimes the same as they ignored Barry's the same as Republicans will ignore this moron's killing. Very frustrating.
 
Too many of us (Americans) have become VERY complacent with the killing our military is ordered to do across the globe. Where are the anti-war protests? Where is the shared angst at a war that has gone on for fourteen years and expanded dramatically over that time? Where is the angst at all the disasters we've caused? Is it because our kids are no longer drafted and there is a wealth of unemployed to volunteer? Is it because Covfefe's tweets are more offensive?
 
He's an asshole. We all know that. Those who defend his actions are lost causes, so don't bother arguing with them. They're beyond ignorant. They wear their ignorance with pride (and think they're tougher for it---how pathetic is that?). The much more relevant issues are the killing we continue to do in the Middle East, the meddling WE do everywhere, and the economic protections being put in place to secure the wealthy their stranglehold over our government.
 
I don't "hate" America, so if you're that fucking stupid to believe so, move on, please. Americans need to do some serious self-reflection. Whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever the fuck ... think about what we ignore and what enrages us. Think about how bad off we as a nation are to have just gone through an election between a criminal and a con-man. Think about where we're headed.
 
It's time to give up on the lesser of two evils bullshit. It's time to DEMAND more from ourselves and those we elect to represent us.
 
—Knucks
 
What a GREAT Band … and song. The Allman Brothers Band … Not My Cross to Bear.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book reviews: Craig McDonald’s The Running Kind … Joseph Haske’s North Dixie Highway … Politics: The AfterBern …

Amici:
The Running Kind by Craig McDonald … crime novelist Hector Lassiter is reunited with an old mate from prior adventures in the Lassiter series, Jimmy Hanrahan. It’s 1950 and too close to Christmas when Hector and Jimmy (a cop) are huddled indoors from an Ohio blizzard and a young girl approaches Hector with a plea for help. Her mom and aunt are in danger because one of them is a Cleveland mafia boss’s wife and the other his girlfriend (comare—pronouced Goomarr if you’re from the East Coast). Hector’s been having a few with Jimmy, but there’s no way he’ll deny the young girl’s request for help. A battle quickly ensues, which is the start of a cross country adventure that involves several notables, to include Elliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover (and his G-men), still ambivalent about this so-called mafia thing (which is about to hit the television airwaves). There’s also an appearance by a young Rod Serling, and by adventure’s end, old Blue eyes himself, accompanied by the woman he couldn’t wait to own (and never would), Ava Gardner. Frank is there with a message from Momo (Sam Giancana).
 
As it turns out, the mom and comare have something on the mob boss and are looking to turn witness, which is a tough sell when there are so many in law enforcement enthusiastically on the mob’s payroll. It’s one treachery after another, until it becomes the safer play to head out of town. It is in Missouri where Hector, who’s already had a little fling with one of the two women (the mother or the girlfriend?), and winds up falling for the mother of the mother, as did this reader, has to draw battle lines.
 
It’s a raucous ride wherein Hector is eventually matched up against a hitman with a scary nickname and mad tracking abilities. Seems everybody is running in this terrific read, and one can only hope Hector can make it back alive for the life he’s often dreamed of, and with a woman he’s always hoped he’d fine.
 
It’s a start to finish thriller featuring honorable men in a dishonorable world of corruption. Hardboiled and ready to burst, with a wonderful touch of Americana and celebrities. One more from a wonderful series—a hell of a read.
 
An extra bonus (at least for me) was the dedication.
 
 
 
 
North Dixie Highway by Joseph Haske … This one quickly became one of my favorite reads of the year, and I look forward to this author’s future works. Buck Metzger is back from the conflict in Bosnia and he’s having problems with the changes that happened at home since he left. Sleep doesn’t come easy, even when he drinks himself into a stupor in his car. He’s haunted by a life he no longer recognizes, and he’s unsure of what his world is supposed to be now that he’s home—home being the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Home is as rural as it gets, except a lot colder in the winter. From an initial ride with family men to a casino where copious amounts of liquor are consumed and tiny stakes of coin are lost (a great touch because it shows just how poor these people are), we are drawn into an unforgiving world where steady employment has fled the scene, and living off the land and/or what swims in the river is more often a must than not. And booze, of course, there’s always booze where employment suffers most, and Buck’s people are no slouches when it comes to consuming alcohol.
 
Metzger’s story is told in flashbacks from his youth, with lessons learned from hard men living hard lives. It is family loyalty over all else, with whatever is necessary to maintain the code, be it feuding, drinking, and/or promises of revenge. Buck loves his family, no matter the makeup. He’s learned much from his grandfather, from survival skills to a code of honor that offers no excuses. He’s also learned much from his Vietnam veteran dad, including a cruel-to-be-kind slaughter of wild animals when they show up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bear scene alone was worth the price of entry into this state of nature world that exists alongside and within two centuries of progress.
 
Buck reads to sustain his sanity, and although his friends and family can’t understand the point in doing so while living in a world where it seems to serve no purpose, it is a form of salvation for a man trying to find himself. The old family feud involving the death of his grandfather often consumes his being, but there’s a lesson learned in that dilemma as well.
 
Ultimately, Buck tells the story of his family and the community they live in, where cold-heartedness and compassion do not mix well. It is not a world devoid of compassion, however, and the men and women (women every bit as hard as the men), provide it in doses when necessary.
 
Comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell are justifiable, although I was also reminded of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s wonderful works. There’s a special place on one of my bookshelves at Casa Stella for novels like North Dixie Highway, and Haske’s debut takes its proper place there. Simply put, it is a wonderful read, recommended and sent to me by Gonzalo Baeza. Haske’s debut novel is an intriguing read at least equal to the best of his contemporaries, to include McCarthy, Woodrell, and Campbell.
 
 
 
Feeling the Bern … Assuming Herr Drumpf survives the various investigations seeking to topple his never ending buffoonery, assuming he makes the Over in a 2 year Over/Under, what comes after Trump? Will there be a Trump II?
 
I’m afraid this is where progressives and/or socialists like myself are feeling the worst of the AfterBern. After the fiasco that was the 2016 Democrat presidential primary, with all that was exposed, and all that is being covered up in a Florida courthouse where former Berners are seeking restitution from the DNC in a FRAUD case for being robbed of our coin, we’re left wondering what might have been. Not if Sanders had won the nomination and then presidency. I’ve never been sure Sanders would’ve beaten the Clown currently occupying the White House, mostly because patriotism, with our collective ignorance, is an easy sell. What troubles those like myself most about the Sanders revolutionary retreat was the missed opportunity for a viable third party.
 
There’s no denying the strength of the Sanders’ influence in the political arena last year. His message woke up a population used to sleeping through the process, but his eventual capitulation to a party that rejected him to the point of cheating was something many of his new and old supporters have yet to digest. Sanders supporters were selflessly loyal, reaching into their own pockets to fund his campaign over and again, so when the Wikileaks dump exposed how unfairly his campaign was treated, and just how corrupt the entire process is, many Sanders supporters rejected his plea to back the establishment candidate. Some didn’t vote. Others voted Green. And some voted for her opposition. Protests votes all, but all very effective in rejecting Hillary Clinton.
 
What is most disconcerting about the Sanders capitulation is what might have been. Had Sanders joined the Greens, or went solo and formed a Labor Party, any third party, I’m pretty sure at least half of the 14 million who voted for him in the primary would’ve gone with him. At the very least, he would’ve had a place on the debate stage where he could’ve gone after both Clinton and Trump without DNC handcuffs. At the very least, there would be a viable third party to push forward now, when it is obviously most needed.
 
In retrospect, I have to believe he was never serious. His reluctance to be another Ralph Nader, what he’s stated, is a pathetic excuse for people seeking political revolution.
 
While none of us know what will happen down the road, so far the DNC doesn’t look any more interested in shifting to the left now as it did during their fake primary. Those who supported Sanders remain on the outs. Those who supported Clinton cling to the nonsensical Russian conspiracy as the reason for her loss.
 
In the meantime, Progressives like myself dig our heels deeper. There will be no more a compromise in 2018 or 2020 than there was in 2016. The DNC has retained its corrupt super delegate format, allowing lobbyists to vote alongside establishment politicians to overturn the voice of their own electorate. How does anyone stay with a party that ignores its voters?
Make no mistake, we’ll be around to remind the public how voters in several states might as well stay home come the next Democrat Presidential primary, when super delegates get to ignore wins as big as 12%, 22%, or 88% of the registered democrat voters within each state.
I offered a compromise the DNC so badly needs, but I suspect it too is in vain. Rather than exile Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, how about embracing her efforts to do the right thing during the primary and excuse herself from her co-chair position with the DNC rather than hand off debate questions to the DNC’s choice for nominee? How about one giant apology for the scathing letter sent to her by the DNC for her support of Sanders? (Thank you, Wikileaks.) How about backing off the attacks on Nina Turner (who would be my choice to reform the sewer that is the Democrat Party)? How about a Turner-Gabbard or Gabbard-Turner ticket? Do you really want to shatter glass ceilings? Well, there it is.
 
Pretty much everyone outside of Sanders sycophants feels as though the Bern left us scorched for all our efforts and coin. Bernie, while continuing his political revolutionary rhetoric, no longer retains our faith or support. We know Bernie talks a great game, but to many of us, he’s proved himself just another good democrat. We can only hope that people like Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard leave the mess that is the Democrat Party to establish a third party with the help of former Berners. We were generous with the Sanders campaign only to get doubly screwed. Many of us on the left have pledged to never give our money to any Democrat candidate again. Not while the party maintains super delegates and operates like a third rate, desperate, mafia family waiting for the other party to fall apart.
 
There’s nothing about the current Democrat Party that inspires. Leaving it seems the way to go, and with Hillary Clinton continuing her excuse/blame tour (currently having the nerve to attack the very organization that rigged the primary for her -- the DNC), it seems her latest round of "Me, Me, Me" will continue to tear the party apart.
 
 
—Knucks
 
RIP, Gregg Allman … The Allman Brothers Band …

Saturday, March 18, 2017

4 Book Reviews … Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayers … Rubdown by Leigh Redhead … American Static by Tom Pitts … and Hunger Knut Hamsun …

Amici:

Before the reviews, TK regrets to inform its millions of followers that we’ll be taking a temporary break from Temporary Knucksline book reviews for a few months. I’m simply overwhelmed with projects of my own. We’ll do one from time to time, I guess, but please do not send requests or ARCS or books until we announce we’re back in action. Okay, so here are four real good ones in the meantime …

Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayers … Charles “Chowder” Thompson is a rural crime lord, a big fish in a small but secure pond. He has the local law, Sheriff Jimmy Mondale, on his side, along with a couple of cohorts, one of which is feeling ambitious enough to reach toward the bigger fish in the bigger Kansas City pond. Chowder has a daughter rough and tough enough to avoid like the plague. So does Sheriff Jimmy, and although his daughter might be able to spell, she’s also a bit wilder than your average college kid (she likes to fire a gun while getting laid).

Then there’s Terry Hickerson, a supreme fuckup if there ever was one. He also has a cohort, Cal, and when they two aren’t robbing liquor and/or convenience stores, they’re plotting the next great American score, except they may well have pulled one off already. It involved a televangelist preacher, his proclivity for men, and blackmail. Not to be outdone in the family bowl, Terry also has a child, a boy named Wendell, and the author waxes some very humorous parenting via Terry.

Then there’s the apparent gum in the works of a town that has run smooth enough, minus a body or two (including those found burnt to a crisp in their cars) … He’s an assistant state attorney looking to make a name for himself, and he’s rattled the main players on this wonderfully dark rural stage.

What’s a father to do when he learns his daughter has been sexually active with someone they’d rather see dead first? What’s he to do when he also learns his partner’s daughter might’ve had something to do with it?

No spoilers here … Peckerwood features excellent writing, humor, dark that makes so-called “noir” look more albino than black, and some of the most engaging characters you’ll meet on the page. They’re not just mean, cruel, and vicious. Truth be told, you’ll like them, or at least respect them, because they exist in a world where blood comes first, loyalty second, and everything and everybody else are what they sort out, the wheat from the chaff.

Side note: When I first started reading Peckerwood, I thought: These guys make the mob look like cub scouts. It had to do with a particularly brutal scene. By book’s end, I’m forced to reconsider my original thought about rural gangs vs. the more formal mobs. To wit, in the end, they’re all the same. Where they’re successful, corruption holds fast … where they breakdown is where corruption is exposed. The violence, like ISIS beheadings, may be tough as a visual image, but in the end, dead is dead. Whether your head is cut off, you’re burned to death, somebody cracks your skull with a tire iron or Louisville Slugger, or a pair of bullets find their way behind one of your ears, dead is dead.

Get Peckerwood here:


Rubdown by Leigh Redhead … In an age of political correctness that precludes bad habits when speaking and writing (and probably thinking), it was a pleasure to see the word “gash” on the page again. Now, before you lose your shit and hurl “misogynist book reviewer” my way, calm your jets and think context, MFers.

I remember the first time I used that word on the page after meeting my wife. She was horrified (Catholic school girl, you know) … She said to me, she said, “That’s horrible. Do people really talk like that?” Even though she was brought up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (not nearly as tough as Canarsie, obviously), Ann Marie kept her distance from the kinds of crowds I associated with, so she really did draw a blank. “Yeah,” I told her. “Not often, but it’s out there. It’s a niche word, I guess.”

Then she called me an idiot.

By now you’ve figured out Rubdown features said controversial word on the page. It does, and it was a pleasure to see it again. The fact it was used by a female author makes it twice as nice. There’s quite a few politically incorrect words bandied about in this fine, fast, and funny PI crime novel. There’s a touch of the master, Vicki Hendricks, and some wonderful surprises (as those down under words go). It’s another language at times, but easy enough to figure out, and because the character, Simone Kirsch, is a former stripper and doesn’t have much of a filter, it’s a beautiful thing.

The other take I had on this book was, FINALLY, I’m reading a crime novel written by a woman that deals with the kinds of worlds I’m familiar enough with NOT to be offended by so-called misogynistic dialogue. As I stated in a tribute to my favorite crime writer, George V. Higgins, the men AND WOMEN of those worlds (including the Rubdown world) speak another language and are NO LESS men or women for it. It is the Rome they exist in and the language, you better believe, is Roman.

I guess this was the second in the Simone Kirsch mystery series, but it works fine as a standalone. Simone has a PI boss named Tony (the tough as nails type) and they get involved in the search for a missing supposed-to-be debutante (of sorts). The daughter of a high profile lawyer (they call them barristers) is off the reservation, possibly dealing with drugs and the sex industry. Simone is on her tail, except not inside the flat where she apparently kills herself. There’s an ex-boyfriend and his frustrations at failing to get down Simone’s pants/skirt/jogging shorts, etc., and when his current girlfriend gets pissed off enough, well … it’s some of the fun that continues throughout, to include witty sarcasm, some strong sexual tension, and an Aussie-China sex trade connection. The characters that inhabit the sex industry are as sympathetic and/or disturbing as the well-to-do lawyers and their quirks. It always depends on from which angle you get to see them. Ms. Redhead does a GREAT job of making all the peripheral characters in this book interesting, which lends even more credibility to Simone. The fact she has a tongue as sharp as a razor makes it fun to boot.

The author does a wonderful job with the sexual tension (ready, fellas?) … turns out women have the same lustful desires as men, and Simone isn’t shy about them. She’s also fallible, so when she comes very close to being a victim herself, we get to remember she’s one of the good guys (so to speak).

No spoilers here, not ever, but take a bite of this apple and you’re on your way to an entertaining start to finish read. I heard Ms. Redhead read at the Philadelphia Noir at the Bar, and she had the place in stitches at times. She knows how to weave a storyline that draws a reader onto the next page through to the end.

Rubdown is a fast-paced romp through the sex trades of our times, with a dynamic woman armed with witty cynicism and oozing sexuality. Readers are guaranteed to want more of Simone Kirsch as the pages turn with both anticipation and fear. Viva la Ms. Redhead!

Get Rubdown here:


American Static by Tom Pitts … it’s a thriller from very early on straight to the end, with a sadistic SOB (Quinn), a former dirty cop (Trembley), and another former cop, a guy we’d all like to be our grandfather (Carl). When Quinn picks up young Steven after the kid was robbed and left for broke, he takes him for a ride to San Francisco, where the action goes 100 mph to the end. There’s lots of bodies left in a wake of bad blood, and it all has to do with revenge.

Theresa is the woman of the moment in American Static; the daughter of a bad guy[(s)?] with enough clout to make bad things happen. The top dog claiming parental rights is no father of the year, but for some reason he wants his daughter back. Is it because she’s become drug addicted and basically homeless? Is it because he seeks to re-bond with a kid he never bonded with in the first place? Or is it something else? Or is it a combination of all of the above?
 
Orrrrr, is it politics?
 
Let's face it, most politicians "would crawl over their mothers to fuck their sisters" (or vice versa). Okay, but what about why the other guys are after her (her non-fathers ... or are they)? What can this poor kid mean to so many mean sons of bitches? And poor Carl, he’s lost his friend and partner on this wild ride … Can Carl save him? Can Carl save Theresa and Steven? Can he save himself? You’ll have to read to find out, but you’ll take a wild ride from the valley to the streets of San Francisco and wind up in the bowels of Oakland. 

American Static is a missile on a rollercoaster of a ride, dripping with blood from blades through the hearts that are lost in San Francisco. You’ll turn the first few pages and won’t stop. It’s as simple as that.

Get American Static here:

Hunger by Knut Hamsun … It’s difficult to say exactly why this novel took me in and refused to let me go. Is it because I’ve gone through similar states of emotional confusion? Is it because my wheels have often turned too fast for the mind to allow rest (i.e., thinking taking the place of sleeping?) … Was it the good me countered by the bad me feeling guilty the good me wasn’t good for the right reasons and therefore was the bad me after all?

Confused? You might think so, but that’s how much of Hunger reads, minus the tirades, dizziness from lack of food, the vomiting from eating too fast after not eating for too long, etc. All I know is I read a book without a plot that I couldn’t put down, and I’ll likely read it again someday. My Facebook hero, Gonzalo Baaeza, recommended it, and it gets a super star review from me. There was more than a touch of Dostoevsky with our protagonist in Hunger, and the self-torture of a mind at battle with itself was every bit as real as caffeine headaches that last for hours (or days) at a time … but in a good way. In such a good way.

I’ll be revisiting Hunger again, but first I’ll want to read some more of what Hamsun wrote, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, before dying in disgrace for being a Nazi.

Get Hunger here:

—Knucks

Please Note: Temporary Knucksline will be taking a temporary break from book reviews for a few months while I catch up on some projects of my own. We’ll be back, so stay tuned …


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book reviews … McFetridge, Krueger, Kalteis, and Frankson … Cheatriots, Greatest Ever …

Amici:
One or the Other by John McFetridge … Tensions are running high for the Montreal police a few weeks before the 1976 Summer Olympics. The law is expected to keep the peace for appearance/tourists’ sake, and do their jobs (not just for show). John McFetridge incorporates history, Canadian and world history, like nobody else. There’s some great references to the world that was (1976) throughout this third in a series of Eddie Dougherty mysteries. When a writer can get one to want to do some research on their own, whether it’s because what they just read is interesting or they want verification, it’s a win-win, both for the writer and his reader. McFetridge manages that big time (or is it Big League or Bigly?). Eddie is bucking for detective, and although he’s often put on cases as an acting one, he takes any opportunity to advance to heart. When the bodies of two teenage lovers are discovered on the banks of a river (St. Lawrence), the head honchos in the police department want it off the table as fast as possible. The best way to do that is label it a murder-suicide. Easy enough, except Eddie Dougherty isn’t buying it. Nor is his partner for the case, Sgt. Francine Legault of the Longueuil police (not to worry, I can’t come close to pronouncing Longueuil either). They work the case as best they can, with Eddie stretching the limits of his authority and proper police procedure while his partner (mirroring his girlfriend in many ways) prefers the up and up. Speaking of Eddie’s girlfriend … she’s the lefty, he’s the establishment in their give and take about where to live and when to marry and how much good having a bleeding heart can do in the real world, etc., and it all makes for interesting dynamics.

When Eddie and Legault are pulled from the case, they decide to work it nights/after policing hours, pissing off some of the upper echelon and other police districts. No spoilers here, but if you want a great sense of history, to include Janis Joplin, KC and the Sunshine Band, Idi Amin, labor on strike, an Olympic athlete or two looking for asylum, and the Baader-Meinhof gang, One or the Other is ripe with those bands, incidents, radical causes, and more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, AMICI, a terrific read.


An Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger … This is a terrific read. Forty years down the road, after a particularly bad year (1961) in a small town in Minnesota, Frank Drum, a minister’s son, tells the story of the strange and tragic happenings of that awful year. It is wonderful writing start to finish, something I immediately passed on to my wife (and she’s loving it as well). The tragic death of a young town boy is soon followed by another death, albeit an itinerant nobody knows. Frank and his younger brother, Jake, discover the body of the itinerant and a Native American who they can’t be sure might’ve caused the death of the itinerant. There’s some small town prejudice against the Native American that is heightened because of a policeman who speaks before thinking. The Drums also have a daughter, Ariel, a virtuoso destined to attend Julliard in New York, but suddenly she’s no longer sure it’s what she wants. Mother Drum was once engaged to her daughter’s music instructor, Emil Brandt, a world class musician severely disfigured in the war. Ariel is also transcribing her instructor’s memoir and dating his nephew. Frank catches Ariel leaving the house in the middle of the night and returning in the early mornings. Where is she going? Who is she with? Father Drum, the minister, has a friend who lives in the church basement. Gus and Father Drum went through the Korean War together, and they hold secrets never discussed, although each went in a different direction after the war; Drum to the church and Gus to drink.

No spoilers, but this wonderfully written novel is a pleasure to read. It comes VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Ride the Lightning by Dietrich Kalteis … Karl Morgen is a bounty hunter. When he finds his prey, Miro, a drug dealer, having his way with an underage girl in Seattle, Karl goes a bit over the top and winds up losing his license. And of course Miro gets off with a suspended sentence.

Karl heads north into the wonderful world of Vancouver, process serving. Ah, Vancouver, “where people settle things with middle fingers instead of guns.” While in Vancouver, he meets his kind of woman, PJ. The two hit it off, but PJ has a daughter who can make one’s head spin, but for all the wrong reasons (like her allegiance to a knucklehead boyfriend).

His old nemesis, Miro, is involved in other drug dealing and wants to set up his old buddy Karl for the embarrassment of being dragged out of a bar (what caused Karl to lose his license). Miro wants a bit more revenge, especially since he’s having to work with people he hates.

It’s a double-edged tale of revenge, because Karl isn’t exactly happy being a process server and would love nothing more than to take Miro down on more time. There’s also an old time gangster, Artie, who prefers spending his waking hours roasting his balls on a beach, but he’s got the clout to do some damage. Miro and Karl want at each other. Artie wants to operate without the law on his back. Vancouver gets the rough and ready treatment, in a tale told by a voice very similar to Elmore Leonard. It’s a fun read with clever dialogue, lots of action, and an intro to that other foreign country on one of our borders (the one without the wall). A fun read, start to finish.


Dark Introductions and Party Girls by Martin J. Frankson … A series of short stories that take dark to a new level, invoking ironic humor at every turn of the page. “Dark Introduction” alone is worth the price of admission, and the stories that follow only enhance the experience. My favorites were “Meet the Parents” (Hannibal Lecter has nothing on this one) and “Stigma and Memory” (the perspective of a plant). You’re into dark, you’ll want to read these. Real good stuff.

 
Cheatriots, Greatest Ever … “The horror. The horror.” Yep, that pretty much sums up most NFL fans’ feelings about the Cheatriots’ absurd comeback in Super Bowl LI. How does a team with a 25 point lead blow the game? Easy, they get cocky and make incredibly stupid play calls (remember the Sea Pigeons?) … and that’s what ultimately cost Atlanta their Super Bowl win.

And the truth of the matter is there’s only one team in the NFL that could’ve pulled that off and they are (as I swallow humble pie) the greatest team in NFL history with the greatest coach in modern NFL history and the greatest quarterback in modern NFL history. If I had to assign a rating to the great QBs in NFL history, Brady would get the 10 and Montana and anybody else you want to put there starts at an 8. And, yes, there is a very valid argument that rule changes since Montana’s playing days dramatically help quarterbacks, but Brady has done it with different teams almost every time.

I can only assume that the Cheatriots are the karma for all my Hillary/DNC hating, and/or there is a God and she/he is making me pay for past sins via the Cheatriots.

They are the greatest ever … and now I hope they all get diarrhea.

—Knucks

Mozart’s Requiem for my hockey team? Oy vey …