OMG, they’re shutting down Marlboro Country

“I want to allow this company to leave smoking behind,” Philip Morris CEO Jacek Olczak said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. “I think in the U.K., 10 years from now maximum, you can completely solve the problem of smoking.”Domy Towarowe Centrum.jpg

Dang, I grew up with the Marlboro Man and the concept of Marlboro Country, the wide-open spaces where we were free to smoke cancer sticks whenever we wanted while riding our trusted quarter horses across the endless high range in search of lost calves and lost dreams.

Now I’m lost. I haven’t smoked a Marlboro since the 1990s, but as long as they were out there, I could always saddle up and light one up. We became addicted because you, Philip Moris, gave us what was once an acceptable way to do so. But now–or soon–I won’t be able to go back to those days even if I need to.

My addiction probably goes back to the navy when the CPO said, “Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em” or when the announcement came over the ship’s IMC (public address system), “The smoking lamp is lit.” Gosh, was it possible to be sent to the brig if you didn’t have a cigarette dangling out of your mouth? Perhaps not, but if you weren’t smoking, suffice it to say, you weren’t part of the team. So much for advancement!

I might have strayed from Marlboro Country from time to time.  I smoked Roxy in the Netherlands and Gauloises in France. But it wasn’t the same. Neither were Players and Senior Service in Britain. They tasted bad and didn’t have a country available where you could ride off into the sunset with cancer. At least Raleigh cigarettes gave out coupons you could save up for an iron lung.

So, we say goodbye, sadly, to Marlboro Country. Maybe not today. But soon. We’ll probably be better off once it’s gone because addiction never goes away. I hope this is one problem our grandchildren never have to face. They’ll have to find their own addictions, books maybe, or Philip Moris biscuits with a dash of marijuana.

Gosh, clean air. I never thought I’d see the day.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened up the window and in flew Enza.

Most of us weren’t around during the influenza epidemic of 1918 when the nursery rhyme in the header of this post was well known, though I hestitate to call it popular. We also weren’t here when the stock market crashed in 1929 or when the dustbowl ravaged the southern plains of the 1930s. The people of my generation often said our parents and others of their generation acted a certain way or had an indentifiable world view because they suffered through one of these upheavals.

Fphar-11-00937-g001.jpgIn the future, people will look back on the western wildfires and, perhaps, speak of them in the way we refer to the dustbowl now. And perhaps analysts of the future will find parallels between our current pandamic and the dark times of 1918. People are already writing books and essays about their experiences that may form the foundation for how people in 75-100 years believe we’ve handled these crises.

In the middle of this dandemic, what I see is confusion, most often described as science vs. personal opinion. The arguments fill the days’ news. In some ways, the arguments boil down to an us-v-them clash, on hand that nobody should be able to force us to get vaccinated or take other precautions, and on the other hand, those who won’t get vaccinated are threatening the lives of everyone else.

As often happens, the Democrats are arguing with the Republicans about every thing from vaccines to masks to lockdowns to re-opening businesses and schools and travel. Why, I wonder, must politics even rear its ugly head in these discussions? The parties should be working together rather that fomenting a fragmentation of views and policies.

In the future, I suspect people will marvel at how quickly vaccines were developed and how people who grew up in a “vaccinated society” came to shun them. When we look back at the pandemic of 1918, we cannot really fault people for what science didn’t yet know. I think, though, that we will be faulted for what we do know and what we said it was our right to ignore.

So far, it looks like those whom the future will award the highest marks are the swamped first responders and the hospital workers. Next, perhaps, those who created vaccines in record time. Last will be the politicians and those who believe their personal “rights” supercede the needs of the nation and their neighborhood.

All of this frustrates me. How about you?

Malcolm

Great books are like high-octane fuel

The Night Watchman: A NovelI began reading Louise Erdrich’s novels with Love Medicine in 1984, thought about what might have been when her 2009 novel The Plague of Doves was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and thought “about time” when The Night Watchman won the Pulitzer this year. I’m reading it now, a little over halfway through, and I have to say that like all of her books, it’s a parched drinking of high-octane fuel to my system.

I think a lot of writers, and readers as well, react to wonderful writing and important themes this way. Just what happens is difficult to describe. It’s more than inspiratiion, though it is that. What it is is transcendent, a reader recognizing heretofore unknown needs within himself/herself that are met by the book. Or, like a high-performance automobile that’s finally given high-performance fuel. Now body and soul are running on all cylinders.

I remember then in 1953 the subject of terminating Native Amerian Nations of the governmental support that had been mandated to them by treaty. (Andrew Jackson’s nasty spirit was still at work.) Among other things, it was a land steal, not the emancipation the governemtn claimed.  What exactly was at risk? In part, this:

“The sun was low in the sky, casting slant regal light. As they plodded along, the golden radiance intensified until it seemed to emanate from every feature of the land. Trees, brush, snow, hills. She couldn’t stop looking. The road led past frozen sloughs that bristled with scorched reeds. Clutches of red willow burned. The fans and whips of branches glowed, alive. Winter clouds formed patterns against the fierce gray sky. Scales, looped ropes, the bones of fish. The world was tender with significance.”

If you know your history, you know how the battle against termination ends. If you don’t and if you plan to read this book, I won’t tell you here, for that would be a spoiler. Yet, nothing really can spoil this book except (momentarily) blurbs that just don’t work, like this one from the  Boston Globe: “Thrills with luminous empathy.” What the hell does that even mean?

Okay, I think I’ve gotten past reading that blurb now and can absorb the wisdom of this novel. As the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “No one can break your heart and fill it with light quite like Louise Erdrich.” In this story, she’s not only writing about her Chippewa people, but her family. And that comes through the words, I think, and makes then dear and sad with no sentimentality, but raw power.

Malcolm 

 

Rare steak? I’m sending it back

Perfectly cooked? Ha! It hasn’t been cooked.

When I was a kid, everyday people ordered steaks medium to medium well. Now, that’s considered gauche, according to the food network. Just ask the bosses on Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped. When they check the steak and find it to be nearly raw, they say, “Perfectly cooked.”

In a pig’s eye.

I could tell Chef Ramsay that the USDA says the safe cooking temperature for streak is 145˚. Basically, that computes to medium. Apparently the food network chefs have been brainwashed–but to what end?

I think it’s a “beautiful people” thing. Just look at how the people are dressed who come to a Hell’s Kitchen dinner. Runway ready, I would say. I haven’t seen people dressed like that since the last time I watched the Oscars. And that’s been a while. But they look less attractive with blood dripping from their mouths, pooling on their plates, and spattering across the tablecloths like a crime scene. That’s one hell of a fashion statement.

I feel like I should print out this chart wheneve I go to a steak house:

I doubt it would help. My simple rule of thumb is that if the color of the steak matches the color of my red wine, the steak is undercooked. I’ve had multiple arguments with servers about the doneness of my steaks, but then I didn’t have the chart with me. Usually, couple of thugs with meat cleavers come out of the kitchen and say, “Something wrong with your food, you uncultured oaf.”

“It’s fine,” I say, before putting a hex on the thugs.

Then the chef comes out in full splendour and says he has his standards but the customer is always right. Then, and only then, does my steak come back perfectly cooked. (They probably popped it into a microwave.)

Frankly, it’s easier to order something other than beef and avoid the arguments.

-Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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My characters don’t eat raw meat.

Review: ‘Camino Winds’ by John Grisham

Camino Winds brings back many of the characters from Camino Island, a novel the New York Times aptly decribed as “a delightfully lighthearted caper.” Camino Winds begins with wind, the monster hurricane Leo that takes aim at the Florida Island with deadly intentions and mind-numbing accuracy.  In her blurb, author Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing) calls this second book in the series a “wild but smart caper.”

The novel is easy to read but the most exciting part of the caper is provided by the hurricane, and this is where we find the book’s most effective writing. A man is killed during the story, purportedly by falling tree limbs, but bookstore owner Bruce Cable of Bay Books doesn’t think so. The local police don’t seem interested, so the caper aspect of the novel begins when Bruce and his friends start trying to find out what really happened.

They begin by disturbing the crime scene, borrowing the dead man’s car, and appropriating the food and liquor in his kitchen that will dertainly go bad if left for any forensic techs who might one day show up. The dead man, an author named Nelson Kerr–among those who hung out at Bay Books–won’t miss the food and probably wouldn’t begrudge the amateur sleuths a great meal and all the high-priced drink they can handle, which turns out not to be a lot.

Kerr as apparently writing a novel about something that somebody didn’t like so, probably–the amateur sleuths speculate–the killer was mixed up in the pièce de ré·sis·tance crime Kerr plans to thinly diguise as fiction in his new thriller. If so, they no doubt wanted to stop him before (a) he finished the book, or (b) the book get to a publisher if he did finish it.

Bruce, et. al. have some good ideas, the kind that just might get them killed. If they (the sleuths) were black ops types, they dould take the next step and go after the bad guys with enough gear that woud make Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler exited. But they aren’t, so they can’t, and they don’t. For the reader, this means a lot of time is spent listening to the characters’ pondering which, fortunately, is punctuated with a few laughs, scares, and dicoveries along the way.

They mean well. They’re likeable. And they keep pushing on whoever they can influence until heavy hitters become involved and the crime is solved. Until then, nothing much happens. When the pros show up, a considerable amount of time is spent describing how the bad guys scammed the government out of a lot of money while hurting everyday people. Yes, we suspect this kind of thing is true. But how they (the bad guys) do what they do takes the focus of the story simultaneously closer to its climax and farther away from the main characters.

This is an unsatisfying plot solution. The characters who begin the caper really need to end the caper. If you read every Grisham novel, you’ll nonetheless have fun reading this one. If you don’t, you won’t.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Book jacket descriptions aren’t that great

When you read enough book jacket copy—that’s the stuff on the back of the book or inside the jacket flap, telling you what to expect within—you start to notice strange patterns. Books from one of the big four publishing houses will have a line or two promising that the latest in literary fiction is a sober look at our current dilemma/modern age/social media addiction/technological approach to dating. If the copywriter is feeling bold, maybe they’ll let us know that the writer is a “dazzling new voice,” or that the release of this debut novel is “heralding a brave new voice in fiction.” From there, a frustratingly vague description of the plot usually contains a foreboding line letting us know the protagonist needs to go on a journey to another country to find herself, or that a man will try to save his marriage or family. End with a reminder that this book is very important and/or brilliant. Just like every other book.

Source: Book jacket descriptions for titles like Luster and The Silence are terrible.

Book jacket copy is so bad, that I’ve come home from the store with a greatly anticipated new book that it turns out I’ve already read. Or, I waste time at the store trying to figure out whether–if I haven’t read the book–is it something I want to read. It’s hard to know when the jacket copy makes most books sound like the same book.

This is what happens when droids are allowed to write the jacket copy.

–Malcolm

 

Those old maligned Christmas letters

The families who didn’t send Christmas letters poked fun at the people who did send Christmas letters.

One joke was that the Christmas letters never told the straight skinny–as we called the real truth in the navy–but presented a fantasy version of the family’s activities. Jail time, divorces, bad grades on report cards, and acne never made it into th Christmas letter. It was all good news, creating world peace, saving people from poverty, and receiving various honors and awards.

My parents added new people to their Christmas letter list at every stop in the road of my father’s advancement up through the faculty ranks. Every new college added people we would know the rest of our lives through cards and letters even though we knew them on a day-to-day basis for a few months or a year.

When my parents passed away, I sent their last letter letting everyone know they were gone and thereafter received cards and letters every year from people I hadn’t seen for half a lifetime.

In later years, the family Christmas leters–collected in a three-ring binder–became my memory. If I couldn’t remember what year we visted Niagara Falls or Fort Ticonderoga or Mammoth Cave, I’d pull out the Christma letter diary and look it up. It’s been a handy resource. On the curiosity side, since my folks put their current address in the letters, I’ve been able to use Google Maps and look up all the houses where we lived back into the 1940s. They’re still there. There have been a few times, though, when I wanted to write the current owners and say, “You really screwed up the front yard.”

I don’t send out Christmas letters. But I do send snail mail cards. It’s a way of staying in touch, old fashioned as it may be. A few friends still send us Christmas letters, some interesting, some tedious. As people get older, they often spend a lot of time traveling: so what we get really isn’t a letter, but an intinerary. We skim those because we really don’t need to know the details of every roadtrip.

Frankly, it would ramp up our interest if letters said stuff like, “Laura spent more time this year in county for turning tricks on Tenderloin Street” and “Bob got caught with his hand in the till at work and had to move to a new church” and “Sam’s had syphilis most of the year again while Megan is hanging out with a bad crowd.”

I’ve been tempted to say such things, but my wife thought it was a bad idea. Probably so.

I often wonder if people under 30 these days care about family continuity whether it’s coming from Ancestry.com or saving old letters. It bothers me to think more and more people don’t care who their grandparents were/are or where they lived. All of that past family history seems to play a role in creating the people we’ve become–even if we joke about it by saying, “Acccording to the Christmas letter of 1983. . .”

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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OMG, I still use wall calendars

A Facebook meme lists a bunch of stuff that’s supposedly out of date and asks how many of us use any of these items? I forget the list, but it probably included washboards, spring wagons, Springfield M1861 rifled muskets, and wall calendars.

So, you tell me, what’s old fashioned about wall calendars? You can see the entire month at a glance and you get a pretty picture to go with it. Of course, my PC and my cell phone tell me today’s date. Yes, I can display the entire month, but–and maybe this is just me–it’s a lot easier to glance at the wall. Plus, I don’t know where my cell phone is most of the time, while I can usually find the wall.

If you’ve ever been a member of a conservation organization, it’s not like you have to pay for the calendar. If you’re a member now, the calendar shows up every year. If you’re not a member, multiple calendars show up every fall to shame you into joining up again as a way of saying “thank you” for the nice calendar and the accompanying return-adress stickers.

My office usually has a Montana Historical Society calendar in it. Lots of cool stuff from the archives. Sometimes scenics. Sometimes special themes like historic railroads. The kitchen wall calendar usually has something colorful and/or scenic. When my brother and his wifew visited Hawai’i, we saw lush tropical scenes in the kitchen. When they traveled to Scotland, we had great pictures of the old country. Last year, nobody went anywhere so we have a cat calendar.

If you visit a national park or some other cool location, you’ll probably spend $1000000 in the gift shop buying shot glasses, coffee mugs, coasters, and tee shirts. Might as well pick up a wall calendar to beautify your kitchen or, at least, your garage.

I guess I could tape my cell phone to the wall with a calendar displayed on it (the phone). I would at least know where the phone is, but the calendar would be too small to read from across the room.  And let’s face it, you could be almost anywhere in the room when somebody asks, “Hey, is July 23 on a Friday?” I can answer that because my wall calendar is 1.5 feet away.

Sure, I suppose it’s modern and enlightened never to use wall calendars or spring wagons these days. That view comes mostly from peer pressure. That is to say, people will laugh at you if you ride a spring wagon to work or if they see a wall calendar in your kitchen. The point is not to care.

There might be other points, but I don’t know what they are.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Nook, Kindle, paperpack, hard cover, and audiobook.

If eBay had been around when we were kids, we’d be rich today

I used to buy and sell a lot of stuff on eBay, old books, postcards, brochures, old advertisements from old magazines–ephemera, was the technical term. But no toys. There’s a reasonn why. We were destructive kids.

Tin soldiers bit the dust on the screen porch when we set up forts at each end, filled them with soldiers, and then used marbles to wipe them out. A logroller was like an a-bomb.

Old metal airplanes such as the kids’ versions to B-17s and B-29s. If you filled them with pine straw, lit the pine straw on fire, and ran through the pack yard holding the plane it’s wingtip, the result was pretty exciting. It looked wilder when the plane kit a tree.

Plastic toys tended to leave the world via an “unfortunate explosion.” We weren’t allowed to play with C-4, but on trips we stocked up on M-80s and cherry bombs at places across the border such as Crazy Eddies’. You guessed it.  These were thrown at old toys.

I assure you, after watching th Toy Story movies we all feel quite a bit of sorrow for doing this. We also feel financial sorrow after seeing years later that the toys we destroyed would one day be worth big bucks.

I’m not sure why, but we just enoyed playing with fire and explosives. We proved, I guess, that you can play with fire and not get burnt–physically, that is. But the money we could have made if we’d put the toys away in their original boxes at the end of the day.

In our defense, I should mention that a fair number of these toys (the ones not destroyed) were donated to Toys for Tots where, years later, other kinds would probably destroy them one way or another. Via fire or rain, nobody would ever know.

The odd thing is, our parents never seemed to worry about fire and explosives or even the homemade missiles we made by adding “extra”chemicals to our Gilbert chemistry sets.  Maybe they snuck out and got extra life insurance on us so that if “anything went wrong,” somebody would make a few bucks.

Our excuse was, “all the kids are doing it.” And they were. Today, I suppose, we’d all be taken away from our parents by DFACS.  But in those days, we were free to play dangerous games at the park and blow stuff up. Fireworks like the M-80 weren’t exactly legal. But nobody cared.

We’re lucky we survived.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Earphones Winner from Audio File magazine.

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Blank sheets of paper made us happy for hours

Our father had tons of ditto and mimeographed sheets of paper that had been used on one side that he recyled, from the office and brought home to my two brothers and me.

When he was young, he invented and/or  his father invented two used-paper games that were perfect for people with a lot of imagination. Both games began on multiple sheets with paper stapled or taped together so that they formed a large square or rectangle. When the played Colonies, we drew the outline of a large island on the resulting huge sheet of paper and then lined if off in a cross-hatch pattern on one-inch squares.

Crayons and colored pencils made our games works of art.

We took terns claiming squares which, of course, were our cologies. You had to claim each new square in a block that was continguous to a square you already had. Once territories began to develop, we added railroads, ports, towns, lakes, roads, mountains, and other features.

A stimilar game was called Town. Instead of drawing an island, we drew a crossroads in the center ot the giant sheet of taped-together paper. Those represented the Town’s major highways. Then we preceded to add smaller streets, schools, homes, factories, parks, offices and other features. Inevitably, each of us would use a section to present the bad part of town, filling it with narrow and wisted streets with bars, shady warehouses, and hotels that were obvously houses of ill repute. Whenever a section got too horrible, we’d do urban renewal projects which simply consisted of slapping a fresh sheet paper over a portion of the map and starting fresh. When my youngest brother became a city planner, he quickly saw that real urban renewal projects required laws, lawyers, forms, and a stacak of regulations.

In  addition to those two games, we used our recyled paper to add extra streets to the Monopoly game. This provided us with new properties and higher profits as well as an exercise in what causes inflation since we had to keep creating more money to keep the bank solvent.

Oh, and we used to play outside in the dirt, too. Inside or outside, I think a few sheets of paper or a pile of sand in the yard taught us more about our imaginations than most of the games we could buy in a box. 

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Nook or Kindle, harcover or paperback, you have multiple ways to enjoy this novel.