Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, February 19, 2023


Openers:   November 15, 1906

    "Where is it?"  Theodore Roosevelt asked John Stevens as the two men shook hands.  Amador, Shonts, and the rest of the welcoming party had already been greeted and dismissed by the President, left to wonder what had become of Roosevelt's trademark grandiosity.

Fatigue from his journey, they later assumed.

They were wrong.

The twenty-sixth President of the United States was far from tired.  Since Stevens's wire a month previous, Roosevelt had been electrified with worry.

The canal project had been a tricky one from the onset -- the whole Nicaraguan episode, the Panamanian revolution, the constant bickering in Congress -- but nothing in his personal or political past had prepared him for this developement.  After five days aboard the battleship Louisiana, his wife, Edith, sick and miserable, Roosevelt's nerves had become so tightly stretched they could be plucked and played like a mandolin.

"You want to see it now?" Stevens asked, wiping the rain from a walrus mustache that rivaled the President's.  "Surely you want to rest from your journey."

\"Rest is for the weak, John.  I have much to accomplish on this visit.  But first things first.  I must see the discovery."

-- J. A. Konrath, Origiin (2009)

The discovery, uncovered from eighty feet below the ground by Spanish laborers at Roosevelt's canal, was a large cylindrical "coffin," painstakingly symmetrical, and of both unknown origin and material.  Inside the coffin was a body lying in suspended aniomation.  The body was that of a devil -- huge, winged, with large hooves and long sharp talons.  The coffin and the body were to become America's greatest secret, to be revealed on pain of death.

Since 1906, the body had been kept in an underground bunker in the Nevada desert.  Over the years, the bunker had been expanded and electrified  to hold over 75,000 square feet of  comfotable living quarters, recreational facilities, and a highly sophisticated laboratory.  But since 1906 only 48 people have entered the bunker known as Samhain.  Those who enter, stay -- as much a prisoner as the creature the bunker was created for.  And for over a century, scientists have studied and experimented on the creature, unable to draw any conclusions about what it is or where it came from.  Now, within the past week, the thing awoke...

J. A. Konrath (b. 1970) is the best-selling author of many mystery, thriller, and horror novels and short stories.  He is an outspoken expert, as well as a pioneer, in the self-publishing field, stressing the need for self-promotion.  (He was the subject of come controversy a few years back when it was revealed that he "ghosted" a number of reviews on his books to help increase sales.)  His series of detective novels about police Lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels are highly entertaining reads.  Origin is a readable, but ultimately flawed, thriller, showing both a sense of pacing as well as a lack of clear character development.  Still, it's worth a look, as are all of his novels that I have read. 

Incoming:  Dammit.  I'm supposed to reducing the number of books I have, but that ol' devil Temptation keeps popping up!

  • Todhunter Ballard, Gold in California!  Western novel, winner of the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel.  "GOLD FEVER.  Some called it madness, some a fantasy.  Yet the promise of untold wealth drew people west like bees to honey.  GOLD TRAIL.  Determined to strike the mother lode, young Austin Garner and his family set out to cross the untamed American continent.  The going was brutal -- nearly three thousand miles of desert, disease, and death -- and without extraordinary strength and courage the pioneers would surely have perished.  GOLD COAST.  But California was the greatest challenge of all:  a sprawling, unforgiving land full of scoundrels and scaliwags, claim jumpers and con men, failures and fortunes.  Yer Garner and his kin were ready to sacrifice life and love to realize their dream of GOLD IN CALIFORNIA!"
  • Iain M.Banks, The Algebraist.  Science fiction.  "The time is 4034 A.D.  Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he make it to the end of the year.  The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in a system awaiting its wormhole connection to the rest of civilization.  In the meantime, they are dismissed as decadents living in a state of highly developed barbarism, hoarding data without order, hunting their own young and fighting pointless formal wars.  Seconded to a military-religious order he's barely heard of -- part of the baroque hierarchy of the Mercatoria, the latest galactic hegenomy -- Fassin Taak has to travel again amongst the Dwellers.  He is in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years.  But with each day that passes a war draws closer -- a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he's ever known.  As complex, turbulent, flamboyant and spectacular as the gas giant on which it is set, the new science fiction novel from Iain M. Banks is space opera on a truly epic scale."  Selected as the #1 Science Fiction/Fantasy Book of 2006 by the ediotors of; short-listed for the  Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
  • Kyril Bonfiglioli, The Mordecai Trilogy.  Omnibus of three crime novels: Don't Point That Thing at Me, After You with the Pistol, and Something Nasty in the Woodshed.  "Meet the Hon. Charlie Mordecai:  degenerate aristocrat, amoral art dealer, seasoned epicurean, unwilling assassin, and knave about Piccadilly.  With his thuggish manservant Jack, he endures all manner of nastiness involving secret police, angry foreign governments, stolen paintings and dead clients, all just to make a dishonest living.  However, the real flies in his ointment -- the ones carrying the Lugers -- are the unsavory people who keep trying to kill him..."  The character was played by Johnny Depp in a self-titled film, but the flick was universally panned, so I deliberately missed it.  The books, however, have had pretty good reviews.
  • Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross , The Rapture of the Nerds.  "Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids.  For the most part, they are happy with their lot.  Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun.  The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar system has largely sworn off its pre-posthuman cousins dirtside, but the minds sometimes wander...and when that happens, it casually spams Earth's networks with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.  A sane species would ignore these get-involve-quick schemes, but there's always someone who'll take a bite from the forbidden apple.  So until the overminds bore of stirring Earth's anthill, there's tech jury service:  random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them loose.  Young How, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been selected for the latest jury, a task he does his best to perform despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors."
  • Ben Elliott, Brother Badman.  One half of an ACE western double.  "The kid had a lightning draw -- and his eye was on his own brother!"  Bound with Harry Whittington, Valley of Savage Men.  "Dushane was the name, Hayes Dushane, and men flinched when they heard it.  His brother Will, the U.S. marshal, was dead and buried, and every man, woman and child in Goodrich's town knew it was a case of cold-blooded murdr, right between the shoulder blades.  Hayes Dushane knew iut, too...but nobody in town woud talk to him about it; they were all too scared.  Dushane meant to get his proof, and he didn't care what he had to do to find it.  There was vengeance in his heart, deadly purpose in his trigger-finger, and anyone who crossed him wouldn't have breath in him long enough to say his final prayers."  I picked this one ujp for the Whittington.
  • John Farris, The Fury and the Terror.  Horror novel.  "The United States is beseiged by terrorists -- terrorists who work from within the White House itself.  Their weapon of choice is a type of mind control not even dreamed of years ago.  Eden Waring, star athlete and valedictorian, is about to address fellow graduates and family members in the school's stadium when she is overwhelmed by a terrible premonition:  a DC-10 is about to crash at the ceremony site.  From that moment on, her life is forever changed.  On the run, pursued by a powerful covert agency and married to a man she can no longer trust, Waring must use her full psychic potential to save the lives of millions of Americans while she tracks down a complex plot that leads to the Oval Office itself.:"  A sequel to Farris's best-selling novel, The Fury
  • "J. M. Flynn" (Jay Flynn),  The Screaming Cargo.  One half of an Ace mystery double.  "The man had two names, two lives, and too much danger.  On one hand, he was Sean Bard, gambler and owner of the Las Vegas casino Bard's Place, and of the luscious violet-eyed Kitty.  The flip side made him out to be Sam Bakkan, a flying bum who had been around most of the bad places, doing mostly bad things.  And then there was the side no one knew -- the top secret personality sent to track down and nab whoever was kidnapping Mexican infants for illegal adoption in the U.S.  So many sides and only one gun to protect themall."  Any book with a lucious woman named Kitty is okay with me.  Bound with James A. Howard, The Bullet-Proof MMartyr.  From the Chicsgo Tribune:  "James A. Howard deserves a prize for a fine murder story and a blood-chilling portrait of a demagogue. His Paul Kenneth Kane, flag-waving head of a clan of 'kinsmen,' is unspeakably evil; Kane's press agent, a newspaper man who literally has sold his soul to the devil Kane, is a horrifying.sometimes pitiable human complex of cynicism and self-loathing.  Howard writes powerfully; his book proceeds steadily to a shattering climax and is impossible to put down."
  •  "George G. Gilman"  (Terry Harknett) - Edge #1:  The Loner, #11:  Sioux Uprising, #14:  Tiger's Gold, and #31:  The Guilty Ones.  Cult men's western adventure series, courtesy of one of the most successful "Piccadilly Cowboys."  Harknett wrote almost 200 novels, mainly in the western and crime genres.  As "Gilman," he authored 61 volumes in the Edge (plus three cross-over novels with his other main series character, Adam Steele)The Edge books were characterized by his US publisher as "The Most Violent Westerns in Print," glossing over the fact that the books are prime examples of sardonic and sarcastic humor.  (Most of the novels end with an atrocious pun.)   The Loner tells how the meanest, most vicious man you will ever met transforms fro someone named Josiah Hedges to become Edge.  Sioux Uprising takes us to Dakota, where Edge's wife is brutally murdered and their farm destroyed by Sioux -- meaning it's revenge time!  Tiger's Gold has Edge meet up with a down-at-the-heels carny who has a million-dollar gold bar and two huge, trained tigers.  In The Guilty Ones Edge joins up with a Scottish couple traveling with four empty coffins, in search of four unmarked graves.  Despite the violence, this series is great fun.
  • Frank Gruber, The Big Land.  Western.  "Morgan wanted to be a lawyer; Jagger just wanted to get rich.  They bought a piece of bare Kansas ground for two bottles of raw whiskey and a twenty-dollar gold piece, stuck up a couple of shacks, and called it Pawnee City.  But Morgan and Jagger had different ideas on how to run their town -- and only one of them could live to have his way."  I enjoy Gruber's westerns as much as I do his mysteries.
  • J. A. Konrath, The List.  A "techno-conspiracy" thriller.  "They are ten strangers with one thing in common:  a mysterious tattoo on the bottom of their feet.  None of them knew how it got there or what it means.  One of them is a homicide cop determined to find out.  All of them are markd for deth -- because they're next on...THE LIST."  As I mentioned above, Konrath is worth reading.  I just wish he would spend a little more time fleshing out his final copy.
  • William Kotzwinkle, A Game of Thirty.  PI novel.  "Streetwise PI Jimmy McShane has seen planty, but he's never seen anything like the murder of Tommy Rnnseler.  A wealthy antiques dealer with a passion for Egyptian artifacts, Rennseler was killed like an ancient Egyptian:  injected with cobra venom and ritually disembowelled.  When he's hired by the dead man's daughter, McShane realizes quickly that he's never seen anything like Temple Rennseler, either.  She's beautiful, exotic and -- perhaps -- extremely dangerous,  She's also obsessed with the Game of Thirty, a centuries-old form of chess that -- perhaps -- foretells the future.  The more enmeshed he gets with Temple, the more McShane succumbs to the lure of the Game.  But just what game is Temple playing?  And who killed Tommy Rennseler?"  Kotzwinkle is suii generis -- he's the man who gave us Doctor Rat, the novelization of the film E.T., the adventures of Walter, the Farting Dog, and so much more.
  • W. W. Lee, Cannon's Revenge.  Western. "Harold Dane was one of the most respected men in Deadwood, Colorado, but as a newspaperman he had made a few enemies along the way.  There had even been the occasional threat, although usually they were forgotten when the irate citizen had a chance to calm down.  Stu Cannon had a grudge against Dane and had walked right into Dane's office and threatened him after being released from jail.  A few month's later Dane's two-year-old daughter suddenly went missing.  Cannon had not been seen since the child's disappearance.  There ws no doubt in Dane's mind that Cannon had abducted her, but knowing who took Hannah did no good unless they could find her before it was too late."  The author is Wendi Lee.
  • George Mann, Ghosts of Empire.  Steampunk pulp hero novel set in the 1920s, the fourth in the series.  ""In the aftermath of the events surrounding the Circle of Thoth, and with the political climate easing, Gabriel takes Ginny to London on holiday to recuperate.  But he isn't counting on sinister Russian forces gathering in the London Undground, an old ally who desperately needs his help, or coming face-to-face with the embodiment of Albion itself...The Ghost finds himself caught in a battle between dangerous occultists and ancient pagan powers, with the fate of the British Empire itself at stake."  How can you not like this?
  • George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, & Daniel Abraham, Hunter's Run.  Science fiction.  ""Running from poverty and hopelessness, Ramon Espejo boarded one of the great starships of the mysterious, repulsive Enye.  But the new life he found on the far-off planet of Sao Paolo was no better than the one he abandoned.  Then one night his rage and too much alcohol get the better of him.  Deadly violence ensues, forcing Ramon to flee into the wilderness.  Mercifully, almost happily alone -- far from the loud, busting hive of humanity that he detests with sociopathic fervor -- the luckless prospector is finally free to search for the one rich strike that could make him wealthy.  But what he stumbles upon instead is an advanced alien race in hiding:  desperate fugitives, like him, on a world not their own.  Suddenly in possession of a powerful, dangerous secret and caught up in an extraordinary manhunt on a hostile, unpredictable planet, Ramon must first escape...and then, somehow, suvive."  This edition has a brief afterward explaining the 30-year genesis of the novel, as well as an authors' Q and A.
  • Jerry Pournelle, Starswarm.  Science fiction.  "Kip has a secret.  A young boy who lives with his uncle at the remote Starswarm Station, Kip has heard a voice in his head for as long as he can remember.  The voice, an artificial chip implanted in his skull, guides him in all his decisions, helping out with useful information and insight.  When Kip finally discovers the truth behind who put the chip there and why, he is suddenly confronted with a powerful revelation that may put his own life and the whole outpost in grave danger."  Pournelle could write some pretty interesting SF when he didn't trip over his own political philosophies.
  • Jerry Pournelle & S. M. Stirling - Go Tell the Spartans.  Military science fiction, the third book in the Falkenberg's Legion series, a subset of Pournelle's CoDominium series.  ""Since the late 20th century, the Soviet-American CoDominium had kept the peace, both on Earth and among the stars.  But now the CoDominium is dying, and its death-throes will be terrible; already the nations arm for their final battle.  With Earth doomed, mankind's sole hope for a future worth having rest on a planet called Sparta, a planet where American idealists have raised once more the hammer of liberty that has been forgotten amid the corruptions and tyrannies of Earth.  The Spartans know that they must be strong to survive; that is why they hired John Christian Falkenberg and his Legion to train them.  What the Spartans do not know is that Falkenberg's enemies have become their own -- that Grand Senator Broson's techno-ninja will follow the Legion to Sparta. and there wreak a terrible vengeance aimed at ending the Spartan experiment before it has fairly begun..."  Pournelle is a good writer, but I can only take him in small doses.
  • Mike Resnick, Oracle.  Scienc Fiction.  "Since Penelope Bailey was a little girl, all humanity has been frightened by her awesome psychic talent.  Able to peceives the future, she is suspected of being able to bend events -- and men -- to her will.  Most men call her a monster.  She calls herself...ORACLE.  Now grown into womanhood and living on the planet Hades, Penelope is caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse -- the prey of a bounty hunter, a government agent, and an outlaw cyborg out for profit.  But none of them suspects the true depths of her power..."  Resnick always tells a good tale.
  • Karen Russell, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  Collection of ten short stories from a dazzling and original talent.  This collection includes "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," whic was expanded into Russell's first novel, Swamplandia, a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction (since none of the three novels nominated that year recieved enough votes, no prize was awarded).  
  • Dean Wesley Smith, Men in Black:  The Green Saliva Blues.  Science fiction media tie-in based on the film Men in Black.  "The Zahurians are telepathic, highly mobile, and love meat.  They also resemble Prunus americana, the beautiful flowing plum tree.  They came to Earth expecting a primitive Eden with plenty of fresh protein -- including humans.  What they didn't count on was the MJB.  Agnt Jay, a former NYPD detective, and his new partner, Agent Elle, never expected to play Earth's landscapers.  But now it's up to them to track down and destroy the roving band of carnivorous -- and very hungry -- trees.  It won't be easy.  The Zahurians can plant themselves just about anywhere:  forests, parks, backyards, flower shops...even shopping malls.  And everywhere they go someone ends up plant food.  If that's not bad enough, Agent Jay and Agent Elle learn that a host of alien races are orbiting above, just itching to torch the entire planet to rid the galazy of the hated Zahurians.  Time is running out.  If MIB doesn't succeed, the human race has two possible fates:  ashes or fertilizer."  Sure hope MIB can save us!
  • John Varley, The Golden Globe.  Science fiction.  "All the universe is a stage...and Sparky Valentine is its itinerant thespian.  He makes his way from planet to planet as part of a motley theater troupe, bringing Shakespeare -- a version of it anyway -- to the outer reaches of Earth's solar system.  Sparky can transform himself from young to old, fat to thin, even male to female, by altering magnetic implants beneath his skin.  Indispensible hardware for a career actor -- and an interstellar con man wanted for murder..."  It's been years since I read Varley and I now have enough of his books piled up so I can hold  a Varley marathon.  Any day now, promise.
  • Richard Wheeler, The Far Tribes and YellowstoneGoing Home and Downriver, and Bitterroot and Sundance.  Three western paperback omnibuses containing two novels apieces, all six part of Wheeler's Skye's West series.  The Far Tribes:  "Elkanah Morse came west from Lowell, Massachusetts, with one goal in mind:  to study the ways of the far tribes.  Entrance into their world is not easy, though, and only one man is capable of bringing him to the natives safely:  Barnaby Skye.  This time Skye's advice is not enough.  When he hears rumors that Morse is heing held captive by one of the most vicious tribes in the  mountains, Skye endeavors to rescue him...risking all in the process."  Yellowstone:  "Barnaby Skye and his two beautiful Indian wives knew the dangers of the land where the hot blood of the earth bubbles up to sear the air.  But Lord Gordon just wants to kill buffalo and entertain; the rule sof the land, he scoffs, can't possibly apply to him.  The British noble is smart enough to hire the best of the best -- Barnaby Skye -- to guide him through the treacherous lands of the Sioux...and stupid enough to fire him.  The clash of wills between these two stubborn men may prove to be asa deadly as the land around them."  Going Home:  "The year is 1832.  Six years after he deserted the Royal Navy, Barnaby Skye has a chance to return to England to clear his name from his employment with the Hudson Bay Company.  With his devoted Crow wife Victoria; an eccentric botonist named Alistair Nutmeg; and a strange pariah dog following along, Skye makes his way west to journey home.  The problem:  Skye is as much a magnet for trouble as he is a legend among mountain men.  The frontiersman fights Mexican bandits, murderous Pacific coastal Indians, thirst, starvation, and despair, as he learns the true meaning of home and honor."  Downriver:  "In the summer of 1838, the beaver-trapping business is dyng out.  When Barnaby Skye is offered a chance to become a post trader in his Crow wife's homeland, he journeys to St. Louis to work for the mighty managers of the Upper Missouri Outfit.  The two-thouand-mile voyage down the Missouri River steamboat Otter offers dangers at every turn -- but the real danger lies in another passenger on the paddle-wheel steamer, the Creole fur-brigade leader Alexandre Bonfils.  This nefarious man is a rival for the job Skye is seeking...and he's determined to be the only candidate by the time the Otter reaches the city."  Bitterroot:  "Mountainman Barnaby Skye agrees to take a Quaker missionary, Dr. William Penn Sitgreaves, along with his wife, Abigasil, and his party to Owen's Fort in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana.  There, the Quakers intend to begin a mission to the Native Americans.  Skye quickly discovers that Dr. Sitgreaves, far from being a soft man, has a backbone of steel -- and he'll need it to found a mission in the wilds."  Sundance:  "Along the Oregon Trail, a war party of Lakota Sioux rob Con Brann  of all that he holds dear -- most devastatingly, his daughter, Hester.  Skye endeavors to help Brann. even as the Sioux, ten thousand strong, gather to celebrate their ancient Sun Dance ritual, and pray for vengeance upon their enemies-- including Skye.  Honor bound to rescue the young girl, Skye must infiltrate their sacred ceremony, even though discovery means horrible death."  Also, Snowbound and Eclipse, another two-volume omnibus.  Snowbound:  "American explorer John Fremont embarks on a quest to find a railway route to the west along the 38th parallel.  His fourth expedition into the American West, in the dead of winter, proves more challeging than anticipated.  Trapped, snowbound, in the Colorado mountins, Fremont must battle the frigid elements in a harrowing journey over the backbone of the continent.  This novel of desperate danger and fierce courage is a survival saga par excellence -- a struggle of man against man, man against nature, and man against himself."  Eclipse:  "Lewis and Clark made history with their epochal first crossing of the North American continent.  Upon their return, plainspoken William Clark enjoys his fame, marries his childhood sweetheart, and settles in St. Louis as superintendent of the nation's Indian affairs.  His black manservant York forces him to confront the nature of slavery and question the society that condones it.  Meriwether Lewis, a man of fierce courage and brilliant intellect, returns from the Pacific a changed man.  Something terrible has happened to him, a disease with no name that erodes his health and threatens to destroy his mind -- and his honor.  Eclipse is an exploration of triumph and tragedy told in the authentically rendered voices of two of America's greatest explorers."  There were few writers who could top Wheeler in his depiction of the historical American West.  If you hve gone through life without reading at least one of his novels, you have missed out on a great experience.

Catherine House: From comes word tht the Horror Writers of America have released their 2013 Summer Scares Reading List, and one of the three adult novles on the list is /elizabeth Thomas's Catherine House.  The title refers not to the woman I married but to a "school of higher lerning like no other...{one} that has porduced some of the world's best minds:  artists and inventors, prize-winning scientists, Supreme Court justices, presidents."  I have not read the book yet (I plan to this summer), but I whole-heatedly recommend it based solely on the title.

Here's the full Summer Scares list:

 Sing, Cowboy, Sing:  Song Mondays you just need a singing cowboy to get you going.  Here's Tex Ritter and his horse White Flash, from 1937:

Shetland:  The home of Ann Cleeves' Jimmy Perez did not always belong to Scotland.  Until this date in 1472, the Shetland Islands (then known as Zetland) belonged to the Kingdom of Norway, which incl;uded Denmark.  Margaret of Denmark (1456-1486) was promised to James of Scotland by the time she was four years old.  There was a feud between the countries about monies owed by Scotland to Denmark over the taxation of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man.  In 1468. Margaret was officially betrothed to King James III in a deal brokered by King Charles II of France.  In lieu of a dowry, Denmark forgave the debt and Shetland and Orkney were eventually ceded to Scotland.  In July 1469. at age thirteen, Margaret was married to the Scottish king.  At that time William Sinclair was the Norse Earl of Orkney; he swapped his Orkney fiefdom for Ravenscraif Castle in 1472, and Scotland's throne took over the earl's rights to the islands.

As a queen, Margaret started out as a fashionista -- always dressed in the latest fashion and enthralled with jewelry and clothing, yet she was very popular in Scotland and was described as beautiful, gentle, and sensible.  She did not care for James at all, in part because James favored their second child over the eldest -- although her antipathy for her husband may have had deeper roots than that:  she slept with him only for reasons of procreation.  Their estrangement grew in 1482, when James was ousted from power by his brother for several months, and Margaret's concern was only for their children, and not for her spouse.  Nonetheless, Margaret worked to reinstate her husband, but once James regained power, the couple lived apart for the rest of her life.

Margaret died at age 30.  An unsubstantiated rumor had her poisoned by a leader of one of the political factions of the time.  James, four or five years older than Margaret -- his date of birth is uncertain, died two years later at the Battle of Sauchieburn.

And for the past 551 years, Shetland has remained with Scotland.

Emmett Ashford:  I'm not sure if Emmett Ashford's name will be recognized by many today, but February is Black History Month and Ashford was a part of it.  Emmett Ashford (1914-1980) was born in Los Angeles.  His father had abandoned the family, leaving his mother to raise Emmett and his brother.  Emmett helped out by selling Liberty magazine and working as a supermarket clerk.  He was his senior class president in high school, co-edited the school newspaper, and was on the baseball and track teams.  He became a postal clerk in 1936 -- a position he held for fifteen years, while also graduating from college in 1941.  In the late Thirties he began to play semi-pro baseball, but switched to umpiring when a regular umpire did not show up for a game.  While in the Navy, he heard a news announcement that Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in baseball.  That inspired him to want to become the first Black umpire in the major leagues.  The path to that goal took almost two decades.

As a minor league umpire, Ashfor was known for "his exuberance, showmanship and energy, even interacting with the crowd between innings."  During the off-season, he referreed PAC-8 basketball games and college football.  He umpired Caribbean winter leagues, held umpire training clinics, and was eventually named the umpire-in-chief for the Pacific Coast League.  A number of West Coast sportswriters began to lobby for him to be promoted to the major leagues.  

In 1965, the American Legue bought his contract, and Ashford umpired his first major league game on April 11, 1966.  He was an immediate hit.  He would sprint around the infield after foul balls or plays on bases.  His flashy manner of dress, from cuff lioks to polished shoes to freshly creased suits set him  apart.  As the Sporting News reported at the time, "For the first time in the history of the grand old American game, baseball fans may buy a ticket to watch an umpire perform."

Ashford was one of the few umpires that Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver was ever nice to.  He reached the League's mandatory retirement age in 1969, but managed to umpire the 1970 season, including five games of that year's World Series.

Following his retirement, Ashford worked as a public relations advisor for major league baseball, and appeared in commericals, films, and television.  Following his death at age 65. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said, "As the first black umpire in the major leagues, his magnanimous nature was sternly tested, but he was unshaken and uncomplaining, remaining the colorful, lively personality he was all his life."

Hmm:  A young journalist has been assigned to the Jeruselam desk.  Her office happens to overlook the Wailing Wall.  She notices one old man who shows up three times a day to pray, every day without fail.  One day she decides to interview him, and she asks him what he prays for.

"Well. he said, "each morning for the past twenty-five years, I pray for world peace and the brotherhood of man.  Then I go home and have a cup of tea.  I come back later in the day and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the face of the earth.  Then I go home and have a little nap.  Finally, I return late in the afternoon and I pray that poverty and want are erased from this earth."

"Amazing," said the journalist.  "How does it feel to come here for twenty-five years, day after day, and pray for these things?

The old man looked at her and said, "Lady, it's like talking to a wall."

It's National Cherry Pie Day:

If that's not enough, it's also National Muffin Day, Clean Out Your Bookcase Day, National Comfy Day, National Leadership Day, National Handcuff Day, Women in Blue Jeans Day, National Student Volunteer Day, National Whistleblower Reward Day, Nova Scotia Heritage Day, Shrove Monday, World Day of Social Justice,  Family Day, Islander Day, Hoodie Hoo Day, Daisy Gatson Bates Day, Lopuis Riel Day, Mizoram State Day, The Day of Illustrious Puerto Ricans, the National Day of Solidarity with Muslim Arab and South Asian Immigrants, and a whole bunch Carnival Days.

And, yes, it is President's Day, but it's also No Politics Day, so be sure to mix the two wisely.

There's a whole lot of celbrating to do today, so start cracking!

And on this President's Day, our thoughts are with 98-year-old Jimmy Carter as he enters home hospice care.

Birthdays, We Have Birthdays:  Felicitations and natal observances to Eleanor of Aragon (1358-1382), Czech humanistic writer and musical theorist Jan Blahoslav (1523-1571), British politician Thomas Osbornem, 1st Duke of Leeds and Treasurer of the Navy, who spent five years in prison on charges of  corruption until the rise of James II, whom he later worked to depose (1631-1712), French musette (that's a type of bagpipe) player Nicolas Chedeville (1705-1782), American Revolutionary War Colonel William Prescott, who commanded the patiot forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill and said, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" (interesting aside:  a man from my home town claimed to be the first to fire a shot at Bunker Hill -- alcohol may have been involved) (1726-1795), one-time British Poet Laureate Henry James Pye, derisively labelled a poetaster (1745-1813), American socialite Angelica Schuyler Church, the sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton (1756-1814). German physician and psychiatrist -- he coined the term psychiatry -- Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813), Irish writer William Carleton, who published Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry in 1830 (1794-1869), Swiss politician and railways pioneer Alfred Escher (1819-1882), founder of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Benjamin Waugh (1839-1908), adventurer and first person to sail single-handedly around the world Joshua Slocum (1844-1909), English cricketer A. P. "Bunny" Lucas (1857-1923), Scottish-American soprano and diva Mary Garden (1874-1967), professional ice hockey player Hod Stuart, who helped the Montreal Wanderers win the 1907 Stanley Cup, only to die in a diving accident two months later (1879-1907), Polish-American sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), French novelist (The Star of Satan, The Diary of a Country Priest)Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) -- he was also the father of novelist Michel Bernanos, author of My Side of the Mountain, motor racing legend Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988), businessman and philanthropist Corneloius "Sonny" Vanderbilt Whitney (1899-1992), microbiologist and environmentalist Rene Dubos, who made famous the phrase "Think globally, act locally" (1901-1982), first president of Egypt (until he was forced out by Gamal Abdel Nassar) Mohamed Naguib (1901-1984), photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984), longtime television foil of Lucille Ball in The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and Life with Lucy actor Gale Gordon (1906-1995) -- he was also Osgood Conklin in Our Miss Brooks and Mr. Wilson in Dennis the MenaceBridge Over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes author Pierre Boule (1912-1994), game show host (What's My Line) John /Charles Daly (1914-1991), American businesswoman and diplomat Leonore Annenberg (1918-2009), Aldi supermarket chain founder (and once the 24th richest person in the world) Karl Albrecht (1920-2014), Gloria Vanderbilt (1924-2019), director Robert Altman (1925-2006), English ballerina Gillian Lynne, who choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera (1926-2018), writer extradinaire Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, Bid Time Return (a.k.a. Somewhere in Time), "Duel," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," The Night Stalker, and so many more) (1926-2013), legal sleezball, Joe McCarthy co-hort, and the man who helped form Donald Trump, attorney Roy Cohn 1927-1986). Sidney Poitier (1927-2022), Jean Kennedy Smith (1928-2020), "Miss Kitty" Amanda Blake (1929-1989), race car driver Bobby Unser (1934-2021), novelist and short story writer Ellen Gilchrist (b. 1935), Hogan's Heroes actor Larry Hovis (1936-2003), Nobel Prize laureate and German biochemist Robert Huber, who has contributed ground-breaking work on proteins and protein moecules (b. 1937), another racinf legend Roger Penske (b. 1937), Grammy-winning jazz singer Nancy Wilson (1937-2018), indigenous Canadian-American singer and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie (b. 1941), Canadian hockey player Phil Esposito (b. 1942), politician it's so easy to make fun of Mitch McConnell (b. 1942), Vera actress Brenda Blethyn (b. 1946), actress-singer-dancer Sandy Duncan (b. 1946), guy with a band J. Geils (b. 1946-2017), five-time Golden Globe nominee Peter Strauss (b. 1947), actress Jennifer O'Neill (b. 1948), mother of DFTJ, Eric, and Ivanka, Ivana Trump (1949-2022), actor son of Eddie Albert, Edward Albert (1951-2006), UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (b. 1951), musician and co-founder of the rock group The Cramps, Poison Ivy (b. Kristy Mariana Wallace, 1953), Anthony Stewart Head, he of the poplar Nescafe commercials and Giles of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (b. 1954), heiress and SLA member Patty Hearst (b. 1954), journalist David Corn (b. 1959), MST3K creator Joel Hodgson (b. 1960), basketball legend Charles Barkley (b. 1963), Sex in the City actor Willie Garson (1963-2021), actor French Stewart (b. 1964), model and bisnesswoman Cindy Crawford (b. 1966), rock legend Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), South African comedian and television host Trevor Noah (b. 1984), singer and pregnant half-time performer Rihanna (b. 1988), and actress and singer Olivia Rodrigo (b. 2003).

Phew!  That's a passel of Pisces.

Florida Man:  Some days your work is done for you, such as in yesterday's post by Leigh Lundin on   I believe I had previously covered only one item on this list.  Enjoy,

Good News:
  •  Do you want to make some kids smile?  Build a snowman that matches a drawing by patients at this children's hospital
  • Here are thirty ways people over 70 are stying young.  You whippersnappers keep this list hjandy -- someday you might need it
  • Michael Jordan donates &10 million to the Make-a-Wish Foundation for his 60th birthday
  • Wife of WWII soldier spent decades on her husband's wish to reunite Japanese family with this old photo album he found on Okinawa
  • Because you can never get enough of the mysteries of the uiniverse, here's a ringed planet in the outer reaches of our solar system that appears to defy known physics
  • Closer to home, nature cointinues to amaze us -- like with this newly-discovered ytiny frog who does not have anything to say
  • It took less than four years for 80 million rural households in India to be connected to a water supply
  • Slow and steady wins the race?  It took 50 years, but this 76-year-old has finally earned his doctorate
  • 9-year-old girl honored by Yale University for stomping out invasive species of bug in n he New Jersey neighborhood
  • An army of 10,000 women saved India's rarest stork species, while carving out an idetity for themselves

Something to Remember:   "Every optimist moves along wioth progress and hastens it, while every pessimist would keep the world at a standstill."  -- Helen Keller

Today's Poem:
Considering the Void

When I behold the charm
of evening skies, their luilling endurance;
the patterns of stars with names
of bears and dogs, a swan, a virgin;
other planets that the Voyager showed
were like and so unlike our own,
with all their diverse moons,
bright discs, weird rings, and cratered faces;
comets with their streaming tails
bent by pressure from our sun;
the skyscape of our Milky Way
holding in its shimmering disc
an infinity of suns
(or say a thousand billion);
knowing there are holes of darkness
gulping mass and even light,
knowing that this galaxy of ours
is one of multitudes
in what we call the heavens,
it troubles me.  It troubles me.

-- Jimmy Carter

And here's the author reciting the poem:


  1. I remain impressed by your energy. I thoroughly recommend THE GAME OF THIRTY (though it isn't the best Kotzwinkle) and the Karen Russell's collection. I have been meaning to get to Varley's THE GOLDEN GLOBE and to Richard Wheeler's fiction for some years (since the latter used to blog along wit us, as a friend of Patti Abbott's).

  2. That's quite a haul of books! I concur with Todd on Karen Russell's collection: First Rate! I'm less enthusiastic about Varley's THE GOLDEN DOME. I have many Richard Wheeler westerns, but haven't read one yet. Wheeler got me choked up when I read his account of publishers who sold his books for years dumping him. Tragic!

    1. Wheeler also felt that after his death, his books should be open sourced. I don't know if that happened. Of the many, many writers who deserve a resurgence, Wheeler remains near the top of the list.