Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

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Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Book Reviews: The Last Woman in the Forest ... In the House of Wilderness ... Ten-Seven ...

The Last Woman in the Forest, Diane Les Becquets … I probably learned more about the wilderness and endangered wildlife, the rescue dogs used to work the territories, and several other science-based tidbits of life in the wild from this one novel than I’ve known over my collective 62 years, all of it fascinating, but it is the story that turns the pages.

Marian Engström, a woman already familiar and in love with wildlife, works with rescue dogs in the upper reaches of Alberta. She’s there to help preserve and save wildlife, taking samples of droppings for analysis. It’s no walk in the park. Between the weather, the snow, the treacherous terrain, it can be as dangerous as mountain climbing with toothpicks to both the dogs and the people doing the work. She’s paired up with a guy who knows his business and is a solid teacher. Marian is attracted to his knowledge and demeanor, and eventually winds up in a relationship with him. Tate is his name, and he’s a man with a somewhat mysterious past. Marian loves Tate before long, but then they are separated by their jobs, each getting a different assignment. It’s during their time apart when she learns of his sudden death from a bear attack.

She’s overwhelmed by the news, but she soon learns about a few unsolved murders of women that may or may not have been committed by the man she loved. When she begins to do her own research, Marian learns that much of what Tate had told her about his past requires further investigation.

The more she pokes and prods into Tate’s background, in her attempt to clear his name and free her mind of what or who she might’ve been in love with, the darker things become. Consumed by the thoughts she’s having about what Tate might have been, she approaches a retired forensic profiler who is already familiar with the missing women.

Nick Shepard is the retired profiler, a man suffering from cancer. He knows the profiles of people, especially women, vulnerable to the kinds of manipulation serial sociopaths prey on. They are often trusting and eager for love, to give and be loved. Marian fits the profile, but there’s the chance Tate isn’t a killer, and she goes from wanting to know to having to know.

We’re also provided with the individual stories of the missing women and what happened to them. A composite profile is there, but can Nick survive long enough to inform Marian? Can Marian survive? Was Tate the killer?

Her pursuit of the truth is a compelling read, as is the back and forth frames of reference. Marian’s story is told in varying time references, including the stories of the missing women, from before she first met Tate to her present-day struggles with what happened and who he might’ve been. It’s clever writing that keeps one engaged throughout.

Les Becquets’s last novel, Breaking Wild, was a wonderful book, one of my favorites the year it was published. This one is a terrific chaser. You’ll turn the pages and investigate side-by-side with both Marian and Nick.

I suspect women especially will appreciate the strength and determination of Marian’s struggle to find the truth, but make no mistake, this man enjoyed every page of this thriller.
In the House of Wilderness, Charles Dodd Wright … One of the very best books I’ve read this or any other year. Charles Dodd Wright is a brilliant author, and although the terrain he offers his readers couldn’t be more foreign to a city boy like myself, the cadence and rhythm of his writing kept me mesmerized.

His novel here involves three drifters constantly on the move. Their home is wherever they can find refuge. Their possessions are what they can carry. Rain is the woman we follow. She is caught in a triangulation of survival within the closed family. She was once mesmerized by the survivalist, Wolf. Rain isn’t her real name. It is her chosen name. Rain is one wife, the “Little Bit,” but there’s another wife, an older woman named Winter, a woman who’d been with Wolf before Rain. The family of three struggle to survive off the grid, except when desperation requires a quick hit back onto the grid. Whether seeking shelter, coin, or a victim who might help them sustain their chosen way of life, desperation exists around every corner. Their life on the move is an extra raw deal for both Rain and Winter, because Wolf will put them on the street to secure coin for food and/or temporary lodging.

One day Rain is sent on a sustenance errand to town for groceries and beer. She is looking to hitch a ride back to the family campsite and winds up taking a ride from a man named Stratton Bryant. Although she’s initially suspicious, Rain finds his offer to drive her a measure of kindness. It is a kindness foreign to the world Wolf has created for her; a kindness he’s purposely shielded her from. Unfortunately, the desperation of surviving the wilderness leads the family of three to the house where Stratton lives while he is away. Wolf and his wives take what they can, but Rain doesn’t partake in any of the excessive damage Wolf seems to enjoy. Rain does take a photo Stratton’s wife had taken and keeps it close.

Stratton is a recent widower and a professor. His wife was a photographer of significance and he’s been asked to give her works away. He’s a man with the same insecurities and desires as most men, and when Rain returns to the scene of the crime, apologizes, and then offers to help him around the house as reparation, Stratton takes her in and offers her what she’s never had, a semblance of stability.

Stratton’s world involves other people, the connections necessary to life. They are connections Rain has yet to experience, and those Wolf has avoided at all costs. Rain sees Wolf’s tiny world for what it is, for what it has been, and when the timing is right, she escapes.

The eloquence of the author’s narrative is a marvel. It is a pleasure to read his words, the cadence and poetic fluidity keep one’s eyes moving forward. Within a few paragraphs of the book’s opening, I felt I was there, in Appalachia, in East Tennessee, in a world I’m completely unfamiliar with, yet drawn to word by word, sentence by sentence.

There’s more to the novel as Rain’s life takes a turn for the better, meeting friends of Stratton’s, a girlfriend at the school she’s enrolled in, and a young man she has a relationship with, a young man ultimately too young to handle her past, but it is a turn outside of the world Wolf can accept. Their stories run a parallel line that eventually meet yet again.

No spoilers here, but this writer has the chops guys like me can only wish we were born with. He easily vaults to a category of author I consider top of the line. He joins a group of new favorites and old: Chris Offutt, Joseph Haske, Cormac McCarthy, Lynn Kostoff, etc., writers I wish I could be. I’ve ordered a collection of White’s stories and intend to read everything he’s penned.

In the House of Wilderness is an excellent read by a brilliant author. Under no circumstances should you pass this one up.

And thanks to Gonzalo Baeza for reading recommendations that never fail.
Ten-Seven, Dana King.

With an opening chapter that sets the hook deep, Dana King maintains the streak of Penns River successes with Ten-Seven. The old gang is back: Ben “Doc” Dougherty; his boss, Stush Napierkowski; and the kid he helped saved a few books back, Wilver Faison. So is perennial pain the ass bureaucrat, Deputy Chief Jack Harriger, and a slew of references that make knowing the prior books all the more pleasurable, although not necessary to enjoy this one.

That opening chapter (the hook) is set with a sudden and brutal murder. There were witnesses, two women friends of the victim who were sitting in his car, when Doug Stirnweiss bought it in the parking lot of the casino they’d just left as a group. Both recall an incident at the blackjack table where Doug was sitting with another man and breaking his balls. Could the guy at the table have been the murderer? Could a police case come together that easily?

Good old police grunt work, questioning those inside the casino and out, provide leads that quickly go nowhere. An incident involving drugs changes their direction and maybe puts Doc and his fellow law enforcement on the right track, but overzealousness can lead to tragedy and does.

And then there’s Mike Mannarino, the local made guy with connections to New York. His crew is down to two wiseguys and a few spinoff associates, but there’s trouble Mr. Mannarino didn’t account for, and he becomes the intended victim of an attempted hit.

Or was he the intended victim? Was it from New York? Someplace else? Should he flee the area or try and dupe the big boys back East, and maybe flee to Chicago?

In the midst of a rough week, Doc has to deal with a bridge jumper, an experience that can only go one of two ways, leaving an attempted rescuer euphoric for saving a life or dejected for losing one.

Consistently one of the best in the business. As good as any I’ve ever read. Dana King, to quote Don Kirkendall of the blog Men Reading Books, is “top shelf entertainment.” Ten-Seven keeps that ball rolling.

- Charlie Stella

Anna Federova …

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Reviews—Books by Jennifer Egan, Katherine Faw (2), Willy Vlautin, and William Boyle—and the Holocaust Card.

Amici: Reviews, not necessarily in the order I read them, and certainly not in any other order. I enjoyed them all, except for one, and even that featured some excellent writing.

The Lonely Witness, William Boyle … A fun trip in and around Brooklyn that brought back many memories, including a “go shit in your hat” by an elderly lady (that was Momma Stella’s favorite retort to pretty much anything I teased her about). The lonely witness is Amy Falconetti, a woman lost between the two lives she’s lived since her breakup with her partner, an actress from the same Brooklyn neighborhood now living in L.A. Amy witnessed one murder when she was younger, and when the stars align shortly after the start of this story, she witnesses another murder. She’s been doing good deeds as a Eucharistic Minister for the elderly in her neighborhood, a 180 on her old life as a party-loving bartender. She hasn’t given him up. In fact, she did worse after the witnessed murder—she took the knife and was with the victim, a guy she’s had an issue with earlier over his possible stealing from one of the elderly ladies Amy spends time with. Amy winds up stalking the killer until he recognizes her and a new dilemma presents itself. Two bolts from her past increase the drama: her long lost father shows up, a guy who abandoned her and her mother, and her old girlfriend, the L.A. actress. No spoilers here. Boyle is an excellent writer, and his knowledge of Brooklyn and a street life is obvious. Real good stuff from the author of Gravesend, his debut masterpiece.

Young God by Katherine Faw … I enjoyed this one even more than her second novel, which I read first (see below). Her style is staccato, narrative and dialogue, and the story moves quickly, yet is revealed with just enough spacing not to confuse. It compels instead, and you won’t want to put this one down. Nikki is 13 years old when we meet her, a point at which her mother commits suicide. She flees social services and finds her father, fresh out of the joint. Their relationship is raw, especially when Nikki learns her father has switched careers. He was once a fairly big cocaine dealer. Now he’s a pimp, with a sidetrack of dealing drugs and financing the buys by ripping off other dealers and pimps. When a new recruit to the world of pimping becomes a rape and murder victim of Coy (Nikki’s father), Nikki decides the black tar heroin business Coy has dipped his toes in is a business she needs to incorporate on her own. It’s a dark read, but if you’re into dark, this one is brilliant.

Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan … A wonderful start to what I wanted to remain a wonderful novel. The historical aspect and information was brilliant. The mixture of two forms of corruption—political and organized crime, when neither had to fear social media—was also brilliant. The characters were terrific … and then something happened that killed it for me. I won’t provide spoilers, but I was not a happy camper by an author’s decision that made me question it for several days. Why ______? Why?

Bottom line: It didn’t work (for me). Others might disagree, but national book award finalist? Please. Award nominations are more a testament to the politics of the publishing industry than anything else.

Ultraluminous, Katherine Faw … Reviews of this book comprised of vignettes, some as short as a sentence or two, intrigued me. I was upset when I started reading, but found myself drawn in little by little. The protagonist is a heroin addict and expensive prostitute with a cache of big money clients as arrogant as one might think. One likes to smack her around. She takes it. Another wants to own her for a year. She considers it. Another wants to hang on but might be losing his extracurricular cash. Her non-customer is a former veteran of Afghanistan who keeps a real cache of weapons in a locker in his shitty room. Our protagonist goes with him for free. This one has a mind-blowing ending that enhanced the investment tenfold. Very worth the coin you’ll spend … and it proves there’s more than one way to write a book. Great stuff.

The Motel Life, Willy Vlautin … A moving piece of fiction that inspired this writer in many ways. Straight writing, a story within a series of stories. Vluatin takes us on this journey through Frank and his hard luck brother, Jerry Lee. Frank works when he can and drinks more often. He’s blood loyal to his brother, a general fuck-up but a good artist. When Jerry Lee kills a kid while driving drunk, he’s devastated and terrified of winding up in the joint. He’s lost a leg jumping from a train, an injury that gets worse with the constant on-the-run life they lead. Frank takes them out of town and on a motel life journey that includes babysitting Jerry Lee with stories with happy endings, no matter how absurd. Brilliant start to finish. Need anything more to read this book?

If Manhattan Beach was an award nominee, The Motel Life should’ve won.

In current events …

The End of the Holocaust Card … There were no rockets. No tunnels. No weapons outside of rocks, Molotov cocktails, and kites soaked in gasoline. What they faced were walls of razor wire and sniper rifles perched all along the wall and in towers, as well as drones dropping tear gas. The excuse that videos were “edited” and/or “spliced” no longer carried credibility. Neither did the never-ending excuse to maim and slaughter, the U.S. and Israeli word for the justification of war crimes, Hamas. These were Palestinian people protesting the insult of an embassy move by the United States, the longtime ally and accomplice of Israeli war crimes.

No, this time Israeli’s IDF was exposed for the murderous army they are. They killed an infant with tear gas, young teenagers with bullets, a legless man in a wheelchair (his legs below the knees lost from the last intifada). They shot a doctor aiding the wounded once in each leg. Some of the wounded and dead were shot in their backs.

No, there’s no excuse anymore. The holocaust Jews suffered during WWII, when the world watched too long before acting, is now being perpetrated in Gaza by Jews against the Palestinian people. There are no ovens, but there are firing squads and gas attacks, and an open air ghetto/prison where 97% of the water is poisoned.

What Norman Finklestein has been preaching forever has now been confirmed for all to see.

Here Finklestein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, refused to play the Holocaust card.

So “let the word go forth,” to quote an American president from the 1960s. Israel is engaging in crimes against humanity and no longer gets to use the holocaust as an excuse to commit genocide against the Palestinian people. It is committing genocide against the Palestinian people, and the United States is supporting that same genocide.

The holocaust card is now dead, unless you’re going to use it in defense of the people being exterminated today. As Finklestein says: “If you had any heart in you, you would be crying for the Palestinians …”

Further, calling critics of genocide and war crimes anti-Semitic holds the same credibility as calling the slaughter in Gaza last week “IDF restraint.”

- Knucks

Speaking of National Book awards and politics … Tom Waits … Step Right Up.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Reviews … Bad Samaritan (Dana King), Jack Waters (Scott Adlerberg), Nothing Ever Dies (Viet Thanh Nguyen).

Amici: A set of long overdue reviews ...

Bad Samaritan, Dana King … Right in time for the #MeToo movement, this brilliant Nick Forte novel starts with the protagonist providing a much needed lesson for a Rob Porter-like clown who slaps a woman. Then a successful female author writing under a pseudonym for the purpose of having a quiet, private life, shows up in need of an investigation into a series of letters she’s received that portend her being exposed as the novelist she actual is (Desiree d’Arnaud). The investigation into the potential blackmail letters introduces the wild and whack-job world of men’s rights activists, a collection of Neanderthals who believe they’re the ones getting the short end of the equality stick. Needless to say, it’s not the kind of activism with which Nick can relate.

Another investigation features a former hooker being blackmailed with a video from her prior life. Nick feels guilty for the death of the former hooker’s mom, and thus takes on Lily O’Donoghue’s case. After handling what appears to be the blackmailing scheme, Nick finds himself tangled with a Chicago gangster. Although Nick and the boss of the local syndicate have a past, it may not be enough to save himself from the mess he’s stepped into. There’s more to Lily, her past and present, than meets the eye.

Nick’s practice has become a bit more successful than we’re used to seeing in previous novels. The usual cast of characters (Sharon, Goose, Delbert, Sonny, Jan, and daughter Caroline) are back and as entertaining as ever.

In the midst of his investigations, Nick seeks to expand the office space. A stodgy tenant he shares the floor with is a bit of an ass and wants a favor for a bargaining chip.

The dialogue is sharp as a razor, and the action is what we’ve come to expect from one of the best in the business, Dana King. Bad Samaritan comes highly recommended. As Don Kirkendall of Men Reading Books told me the night we went to dinner in Perth Amboy a few months back, “That Dana King is just great.”

Listen to me: Don knows what he’s talking about. Go get this book.

Jack Waters, Scott Adlerberg … A professional gambler with a determined sense of honor. If you cheat Jack, you may wind up with a knife in your chest. Adlerberg’s history novel takes place almost forty years after the Civil War. It begins in Jack’s home state of Louisiana, where Waters is known as a respectable gambler who keeps to himself, but after catching a young man cheating at poker in Waters’s home, a fight erupts and ends when Jack kills the young man with his knife.

Forced to flee the states, Waters hops a boat that leaves him in a fictional Caribbean Island run by a sleazebag of a president, a military man, General Hernandez Garcia Napoles. Napoles is also a gambler, but he doesn’t like to lose, not ever, and especially not ever to a Gringo. Jack is mixed race, but not enough for some on the island to accept as one of their own. Warned not to play cards with the general, Jack gets too comfortable and makes the mistake of playing anyway. He wins big, but the general finds a way of not paying his debt, accusing Jack of supporting the rebels in the mountains.

Napoles finds his other pleasures with virgin women on the island, some as young as thirteen.

There’s a U.S. diplomat on the island, a drunk with a beautiful wife who finds her carnal pleasures outside her own home. When she finds one of the girls Napoles has disgraced, because the girl couldn’t stop bleeding, she takes issue with the general as well.

In the meantime, after first refusing to help the rebel guerillas because he’d rather play cards, Waters seeks their leader, Raoul, and joins their army.

He’s no Che, that’s for sure, but Waters does have a strong sense of right and wrong. What happens is some exciting stuff told in some smooth narrative and dialogue. A pleasure to read, start to finish.

Here’s a line I circled from page 205 because I really liked it a lot. “History was the word people used when they hoped to lend meaning to the arbitrary workings of chance…”

Also highly recommended. Go get this book, too.
Nothing Ever Dies, Viet Thanh Nguyen. Just finished (Chapter 6) listening to this audiobook … I suspect those interested in this book will feel somewhat in tune with where Nguyen moves the discussion about war and the military industrial complex and how people perceive “their” side—as those in the right, the human, the victims or saviors. Perhaps this is best exemplified by how America (and every other nation state) insists on calling its police and military “heroes”: those who sacrifice their lives for the greater good (although I’m sure the nationalist brand would prefer “the rest of us” rather than something as socialist as “the greater good.”)

In any event, I felt it was restating the obvious regarding how we as Americans, those who are Vietnamese, Korean, etc., perceive our roles in wars. The suggestion that those of us on the left here (i.e., Americans who didn’t see glory in the American intervention in Vietnam) do a better job of realizing the humanity of our soldiers alongside whatever inhumanity we may have perceived or assumed or were confronted with as fact; again, not all of us on the left blame American soldiers. While there’s no excuse for what happened at My Lai, and is believed to have happened in several more Vietnamese villages, and although it is difficult to see any humanity in those involved in the mass slaughter of 500 Vietnamese (men, women, children, and infants), I suspect most can understand how such nightmares occur during war without removing any accountability from the crimes.

Check that, my bad. I do know of people (Americans) who defended Lt. Cally and his men from the crimes they committed, which confirms the author’s point. But, let’s face it, those blind faith “America right or wrongers” are NEVER going to read this book … and if forced to at gunpoint, would likely say “Liberal subterfuge.”

Anyway, it’s a fine study loaded with philosophical name dropping and quotes, and it does a terrific job of delving into American cinema (and the propaganda it reinforces), which has been mirrored by South Korea as they have become more Americanized.

More to come down the road.
Politics … What’s left to say about it anymore? We’re a country that has gone from Vietnam War protests that eventually brought the war to an end, to a society that completely ignores war. Meanwhile, the disparity in incomes in America has turned us into a true banana republic. The government is owned by corporate interests. Lobbyists get to vote in one party’s presidential nomination process, and when we learned Congress has a fund for the defense of sexual assault charges against them (paid for with taxpayer money), it was a two or three day flash in the pan bit of news, and then voters quickly returned to their sides of the two party duopoly and the congressional scam that should have anyone involved put in chains was forgotten. Unions have been crushed, pensions eliminated, and the bulk of the population scurries to make ends meet in a race they can never win.

How this population doesn’t vote for a third party, whichever one fits its political profile, is as baffling as the fact a despicable human being won the presidency and may well win it again.

So it goes.


Yesterday my granddaughter sang God Bless America for us. I figure it’s a good time for her to learn another song.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's Bill Crider day ...

Amici: Bill Crider has been an incredible force of energy for writers everywhere, including those of us condemned to the minor leagues. He never let anything about any writers that I know of get in the way of helping them, to include politics, and lord knows I push that envelope petty far. It takes a lot of time and effort to pen book reviews, but Bill has always made the time and given the effort to do so. I once tried to review books at the same pace at which Bill turned them out, but frankly, I was too selfish to maintain the effort beyond a few months.
His Dan Rhodes series is brilliant and a lot of fun.
Bill has penned, literally, hundreds of his own books and stories. Those I read and reviewed were wonderful. I suspect they are ALL wonderful. Check out his webpage here:
I wish I could’ve met the man to personally thank him for the decency he showed me and my works. Bill is also a total humanitarian and will be missed for that even more than all he’s done for the writing community.

- Charlie Stella

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ken Burns Vietnam … Book Reviews … Hillary’s Perpetual Blame Game … Angelina Jolie’s Gem … President Bozo …


Ken Burns Vietnam I watched the first episode and was hooked. I had assumed I knew most of what went on before, during, and since the Vietnam War (undeclared war though it remained), but I didn’t. Not near enough. And I fell for the same lies 40 years later with Iraq. Until I realized the lies of the Iraq War, I had been as manipulated as every other sucker who believed in our government as the “do-gooders” in the world.

I missed Vietnam by a year or two … so my luck began at a young age. Everyone should see this documentary, especially those who won’t because they refuse to uncover their eyes and unplug their ears. Their blind faith precludes logic, but so it goes. Fuck them for being stupid. I highly recommend this be viewed by every high school student in the country. It should be required viewing … as should American History X and a few other films/documentaries. It is essential viewing. This government, under both political parties, lied through its teeth about Vietnam the same way it has lied about the wars in the Middle East. They are war crimes wherein the bulk of the blame lies with those we elect to public office. They are war crimes.

The Power of the Dog, Don Winslow … my second Winslow book in a row, and it’s been fun. Winslow offers so much well done research, it’s a wonder any of the America First crowd (the crowd that refuses to acknowledge any portion of the absolute evil this government forces onto other cultures) can stand to read Winslow. The war on drugs and all the underpinnings of governments (Mexican and American) every bit as corrupt as the cartels they claim to chase is exposed in this Winslow offering. Moved by his apparent honesty in the two Winslow books I’ve read (I recently read the sequel to this one, The Cartel, with a much different opinion), I watched a few YouTube interviews of the author and enjoyed what I heard.

Subplots abound, but it’s the characters you’ll follow with enthusiasm, and at times great anxiety.

Field of Girls, Martin Krist … it’s a multi-perspective thriller and page turner from the prologue to the end, with police, former police, a broken marriage and all the issues of parenting that brings, plus a spooky old lady walking the grounds at night in a small German burgh. The storyline rapidly develops and engages. Genetics and socialization crash into one another in the form of evil. Ex-police officer, Alex Lindner, has a past that bleeds into the present. A number of storylines are masterfully unwrapped a tease at a time as this reader grew more and more anxious to continue turning pages.

Hillary’s Perpetual Blame Game … it started with Russia, found some extra life with James Comey, then Jill Stein voters, misogyny, Bernie Bros., et al. Ultimately, Hillary Clinton went after the man and his supporters who obviously gave her the most agita during the 2016 Democrat Primary, Bernie Sanders.

Without going through the laundry list of her flaws (and utter lack of humanity regarding those killed in the wake of her war votes and regime change architecture) and why not enough people liked and/or trusted her enough to elect her president, the constant drone of her excuses have driven a wedge within the Democrat Party some of us (i.e., Progressives) can’t enjoy enough. We think too many people disliked (and/or hated) her as a choice for president. We think she was disliked and/or hated so much that enough people opted to vote for Jill Stein, or stay home and watch television.
Whatever the reason(s), Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential Election … to Bozo.
Please, never forget. She lost to Bozo.
And the DNC, in all its arrogance, seems to not have learned a single thing about the number of seats they’ve lost over the last 10 years (1,048 and counting). They seem content on the “we’re not Trump” campaign that lost them the White House in 2016.

Good luck with that.

First They Killed My Father … I did a massive thesis on the Khmer Rouge some 40 years ago for a political science graduate course … back when we had typewriters (oy vey) … anyway, I used Chomsky and Shawcross as my two main references, but also several other books as well as magazine articles. I still believe that the bombs we dropped during Kissinger the war criminal’s operation breakfast, that eventually turned into menu because we had expanded the bombing zones from sanctuaries along the border to the middle of Cambodia and beyond, was the most significant factor that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and their Year Zero insanity (an offshoot of Mao’s cultural revolution). Thanks to Terrill Lankford for pointing this one out. Angelina Jolie did a terrific job. A must see … because dropping bombs on foreigners who haven’t done a thing to you or yours NEVER worked and NEVER will.
President Bozo … his fight with NFL players couldn’t be more comical. Yet not one single journalist or media clown has pointed out to his surrogates that Bozo is a five-time draft dodger. He had a bad foot, but couldn’t remember which one.

His behavior in Puerto Rico, while no longer a surprise, says more about this country (yes, all of us) than it does about the clown in the oval office. That doesn’t place blame on Trump voters alone, because the fact ANYONE could lose to this moron says a lot more about the Democrat Party, the DNC, their candidate, and their voters who sat back and watched from the sidelines (rather than hold their party to account) while the worst possible candidate had “her turn” and thus lost to Bozo.

Yes, he’s Bozo and there’s nothing else to say. He’s a clown … and the DNC delivered him to us.

Third Party or Bust … again.

Wanna know what Colin Kaepernick was kneeling for? This kind of shit. It hasn’t stopped. Jail or dead. Not the best options … for being black in America 100 years ago, 50 years ago or today. Make no mistake.

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?


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.


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.
What a GREAT Band … and song. The Allman Brothers Band … Not My Cross to Bear.