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The longest blog part deux.

4. January 19 LATIMES

The Catalina Island Fox has made a remarkable recovery from near extinction in 1999 (only 100) to 1542 foxes today. They numbered about 1300 before their population was decimated by distemper probably brought to the island by a pet or some mainland wild animal that hitched a ride over to the island on a boat. The foxes are super-cute: six pounds, gray, pointed noses, reddish ears and feet, black tipped tails. They are omnivorous and have no natural predators on the island.

Their enemies now are pet dogs and feral cats, all of the latter reportedly now gone after the recovery team went after them. The naturalists/scientists that have been working with the foxes continue to trap them and monitor them for diseases, but they are exultant with the results of their dogged (oops!) determination.


Animals in some British zoos are kept in conditions little better than those in former Soviet Bloc countries, it was claimed last night.[two months ago] Targeted zoos: Dudley Zoo in the West Midlands, Drayton Manor theme park in Staffordshire, Exmoor Falconry and AnimalPark.

A major undercover investigation of zoos, wildlife parks, bird of prey centers and aquaria, revealed numerous cases of agitated animals and repetitive behavior.

Other animals were in a state of apathy, while many enclosures were dirty and drinking water was stagnant or dirty.

A Bornean orangutan living in ‘horrendous’ conditions and an Asiatic bear huddled against the wall of a bear pit at Dudley Zoo.

A panther, an elusive and private creature, was pictured in a barren enclosure at the zoo at the Drayton. Although the panther did have access to some inside space, the charity is still concerned about the lack of stimulation for a breed that thrives on swimming, climbing and hunting.

And at a kookaburra was seen housed in a ‘dilapidated garden shed’ at Exmoor.

6. Things have been tough of late at the Guzoo, one of Canada’s largest private zoos.[this story is two months old also]

Located at the intersection of two unpaved roads about a 90-minute drive northeast of Calgary, Guzoo lacks the frippery of modern, publicly funded zoos. For almost a year, the owner Mr. Gustafson’s attraction has struggled to survive amid a legal limbo sparked by a heated social media campaign. His family has even received a threat in the mail saying “We know where your grandchildren live.”

Because of court-ordered restrictions placed on the facility, Gustafson has been forbidden from bringing in dead creatures to feed his coterie of 500 animals. As a result, he has had to slaughter his own livestock, about $20,000 worth of meat, to feed the beasts. Normally, he says, passersby would bring in road kill, or local dead horses and chickens to help fill out the animals’ diets.

Many of his animals here have names: Jacob the camel; Wallace the African Lion; and the Bengal tiger who paces, rubs her face against the chain-link fence and grunts — Gustafson says that’s like purring — when the owner comes near.

Gustafson says bureaucracy has become so strict that it’s nearly impossible to import flesh from local farms before it rots.

His troubles began in March of last year, when pictures of his zoo began to circulate on Facebook. Hundreds of complaints alleged his animals were poorly treated, goats had bloody horns and water dishes were left frozen in the snow. One of the biggest concerns was the threat of a zoonotic disease outbreak as the free-roaming pet dogs that wander among lions and lemurs could spread a dangerous pathogen.

The allegations began to circulate right around the time Mr. Gustafson had to apply for his annual permit renewal.

The provincial government gave him a two-month permit and said it was going to conduct inspections. Then, in June, the zoo was granted a decommission order along with another two-month permit.

“The public got behind me in June. We held fundraisers,” he said. In July, the family hired a lawyer, who then requested a judicial review of the shutdown order. That was scheduled for the fall, but was later postponed indefinitely.

In the meantime, a court order allows the zoo to operate as long as it meets certain conditions: among them that no living animals be transported on or off Mr. Gustafson’s property.

Wandering the zoo in his rubber boots, jeans and thin-rimmed glasses this week, Mr. Gustafson insists the real victims are the animals in his care.

“The animals really suffer when people don’t come. That’s what they live for, to see people,” he says.

Several conservation groups offered to help the owner find other homes for his animals, but even facing dwindling numbers of visitors, Mr. Gustafson refuses to let his creatures go.

Instead, he threatened to stuff or euthanize them.

“These conditions were meant for a decommissioning order, not for a lifetime,” he says. Whenever the government comes to inspect his attraction, “they always say the animals appear to be in good condition and healthy.”

In addition to visitors, the Guzoo maintained a side business selling tiger and lion cubs. Mr. Gustafson estimates he has sold between 30 and 40 of them over the years, but only to those with the proper permits.

The market for exotic creatures remains steady, he said.

“If you want to buy a tiger or another animal, within an hour I could find one,” he said.

The Guzoo also sold a black and white lemur last year.

I’m discontinuing my webpage for my eBook “Bad Moon Rising” isn’t getting enough hits and I’m trying other ways to get the book onto folks’ radar. If you know of any jr or sen high school boys it’s a book targeted for their age group. It’s also free to librarians: they can email me and I’ll show them the way to download it for free for their libraries and readers.

I’ve been quite remiss in adding to my blog but such is what happens when the fun of summer gets in the way. I’ll fill you in on my own doings later, but I have so much info to pass on regarding Animals in Captivity that I think I’ll dole it out over the next week or so. There are 13 articles and a couple of headlines so 3 articles at a time?

1. Interesting (scary) how animals are treated depending on what use humans can get out of them.

In the case of a rabbit, she could be a pest rabbit, living as an introduced species in the Australian bush. She could be a research animal, used in a laboratory to test cosmetics. She could be a food animal, bred for rabbit meat or rabbit fur. She could be a companion animal kept as a child’s pet. She could be on display, maybe in a petting zoo. She may even be a star of stage and screen.

Rabbits used by humans in all these different ways receive different legal protections against harm. This means the life of a purpose-bred animal is like a lottery. Some animals will get lucky, others will not.

For example, in New South Wales, a rabbit in a fur or meat farm must be housed in a cage large enough to provide the animal with 0.56 square meters of space. At the same time, research laboratories rabbits should be provided with 0.64 square meters of space, including 0.8 meters in one direction to allow the rabbit to stretch.

So it sounds like a lab-rabbit has the better deal. But those space requirements are not enforceable because animal research laws allow animals to be treated in almost any way the researcher wishes so long as justification is provided and the research is approved by an animal ethics committee. For three years inspections of research facilities in NSW were conducted by a member of the NSW Animal Research Review Panel who never once saw a rabbit in a floor pen with space to move. So if you were a rabbit that likes to move around, life would probably be better on a fur farm than in a research lab.

Let’s say we have a bunny named Bugs who begins his life as a boy’s pet. He escapes and finds himself sold to a fur farm, them a research laboratory and eventually he ends up in a zoo. At each stage the law would treat Bugs very differently. Bugs would have no basic protections that would stay with him throughout his life.

The uncertainty domesticated animals experience makes one wonder whether the law of nature really is more brutal than human-constructed law. Living by your wits can be a challenge. But for an animal such as Bugs, moving from adored pet to somewhere like a research lab could mean that he becomes incredibly vulnerable to suffering. Despite being someone’s pet, all welfare protection is stripped away as soon as he moves from one situation to another.

For an animal born into the world of humans, quality of life is entirely dependent on what a human wants from you at that particular point in time.

2. Giraffe dies with plastic in stomach at Indonesian nightmare zoo full of cramped animals

Nightmare zoo in Indonesia shaken by giraffe death

Mar 13, 20129:43 AM  (AP story)

The tigers are emaciated and the 180 pelicans packed so tightly they cannot unfurl their wings without hitting a neighbor. Last week, a giraffe died with a beachball-sized wad of plastic food wrappers in its belly.

In a March 10, 2012 photo, a moon bear which suffers from a skin tumor sits inside a cage at the quarantine section of the Surabaya Zoo in East Java, Indonesia’s biggest zoo. The bear is without even a full body length of space available for movement.

In a Wednesday, March 7, 2012 photo, some 180 pelicans sit inside a pen, about the size of a volleyball court.

The giraffe’s death has focused new attention on the scandalous conditions at the zoo. Set up nearly a century ago in one the most biologically diverse corners of the planet, it once boasted the most impressive collection in Southeast Asia.

But today it is a nightmare, plagued by uncontrolled breeding, a lack of funding for general animal welfare and even persistent suspicions that members of its own staff are involved in illegal wildlife trafficking.

The rarest species, including Komodo dragons and critically endangered orangutans, sit in dank, unsanitary cages, filling up on peanuts tossed over the fence by giggling visitors.

The zoo came under heavy fire two years ago following reports that 25 of its 4,000 animals were dying every month, almost all of them prematurely. They included an African lion, a Sumatran tiger and several crocodiles.

The government appointed an experienced zookeeper, Tony Sumampouw, to clean up the operation and he struggled, with some success, to bring the mortality rate down to about 15 per month.

But following last week’s death of the 30-year-old giraffe “Kliwon” –who had for years been eating litter and trash thrown into its pen and was found with a 18-kilogram (40-pound) ball of plastic in its stomach –Sumampouw said he’s all but given up.

Nothing short of a “total renovation” is needed, he said.

“We need to either think about privatizing or transferring out some of the animals.”

With entrance fees of less than $2, critics say there’s not enough money to care for the animals, much less invest in improving the zoo’s facilities.

One of the biggest problems is overcrowding. Whereas most zoos limit the number of animals born in captivity taking into consideration how many can reasonably be cared for or exchanged with other zoos, the notion of “family planning” has not yet taken off here. Contraceptives are expensive and there are not adequate facilities to separate males and females. As result, species at the Surabaya zoo are bred to excess.

Nearby, 16 tigers –12 Sumatran and four Bengalese –are kept in a prison-like row of concrete cages.

One white tiger, whose parents were donated by the Indian government nearly 20 years ago, is now covered by skin lesions.Let out so rarely, she suffers from back complications that make it difficult to just stand up, let alone walk, zoo curator Sri Pentawati said.

“There are too many tigers,” she lamented. “We have a hard time rotating them out to get all the exercise they need.”

Zookeepers also have been accused of taking meat meant for the tigers and selling it in the local market.


The Florida state legislature, in its never-ending quest to degrade public resources for private gain, has green-lighted a first-in-the-nation plan to lease public land to zoos and aquariums for use as an African wildlife breeding and research ground.

(Right here we’re all asking, “Ya think something might go wrong?”)

If Gov. Rick Scott signs the just-passed bill, Florida will be the go-to spot for zoos looking for a place to repopulate their herds of camels, zebras, hippos, tapirs, giraffes, gazelles, and rhinos.

“It’s supposed to be a conservation of wildlife bill, but it’s really the opposite,” said state Rep. Mark Pafford,  “We’re going to destroy Florida’s habitat.”

Pafford’s not alone in that contention.

Mary Barnwell, a former public lands manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District for 17 years, wrote that the light-on-details plan to graze African animals in Florida’s pastures will have multiple adverse consequences.

The new animals would degrade the environment for the state’s own endangered wildlife, change the fire characteristics of the land and introduce exotic diseases and parasites, she wrote.

“The mere presence of African wildlife in Florida may have additional, more indirect consequences for native species that we are as of yet unaware. Land managers are already battling a huge number of invasive plants and animals and we do not need any more problems or diversions,” she wrote.

“Instead of worrying about another set of species, and how to monitor the impacts and decipher what is going on at all community levels, land managers need to focus their scarce resources on what they are hired to do – protect and manage Florida’s few scraps of natural habitat remaining.”

The bill was instigated by Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

“The intention is to allow for space in existing pasture – tracts already being grazed by domesticated livestock not at risk of extinction – for other ungulate species that are at risk of extinction,” zoo spokesman Rachel Nelson wrote.

“Accredited zoos and aquariums are committed to doing what we can to ensure species survival locally and internationally, and to promote conservation of the natural habitats on which we depend.”

Pafford calls it “a bizarre bill,” something that arrived “out of the blue” and was approved without much thought or analysis.

“I guess if we’re going to destroy Florida’s habitat, we might as well feed the pythons,” he said.

I do have some animals in captivity news and I was going to get to that before this subject, but sometimes it’s easier to get the littler stuff out of the way first.

I’ve made my eBook “Bad Moon Rising” free to libraries and librarians. If you know one who’d like a book for teenage boy readers, let me know or give them this website: to contact me.

Chango’s Beads and Two Tone Shoes  by William Kennedy.

 Really loved this book. The guy’s a great writer and he puts his main character, a writer whose grandfather was a writer, into some interesting places: as a child in Albany NY catching an impromptu concert by Bing Crosby; as a young man in Havana Cuba on the eve of Baptiste’s overthrow by Fidel; back in Albany as an established journalist on the night of RFK’s murder.

 I’ve read that Wm Kennedy has done lots of writing about Albany and its seedy political underbelly, and I’m definitely going to read much more about it — this book was outstanding.

 Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

 This is a bio of the original RTT, his owner, and all the others that helped bring his legend to movies and television. Most of the bio is interesting, but where Ms. Orlean injects her own experiences — love of the dog as a child; going to France to locate where RTT’s first owner found him; etc – the story bogs down a lot. I don’t know about other readers but I’m just not that interested in Susan Orlean. She does do a great job of investigating the ins and outs of RTT and his owners and offspring, though, and it’s a good story even if I skimmed much of the boring details.

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

Great to get back to Evanovich’s star Stephanie Plum every once in a while. I think I’ve only read three books total, but she’s lots of fun and the offbeat characters JE creates are even more fun. Gotta love Lula, big Momma type who knows who she is and what she wants, and the latter is often three dripping cheeseburgers and some lovin’. Good for you, Janet, we need more laughs in our literature.

Steve Reid Sr.websites:



Been awhile but I’m getting this blog back on line. Just a short blurt on movies and a longer one on animals coming up after I get home from Tahoe.

Finally got the chance to see “Hugo” a few weeks ago and I was more than a little impressed. I would feel sorry for Sorcese not getting the Oscar for this, but he got Best Picture a few years ago for that convoluted “let’s kill everybody” action film with DiCaprio and DeNiro, so it balanced out.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to become disenchanted with the Academy Awards but I was also against the designated hitter: why did I ever take either professional baseball or the Film Academy so seriously?

Major League Baseball and the AMPAS do have one thing in common: they love the past. Baseball has its column after column of records and statistics, and the Oscars worship what’s come before. No wonder “The Artist” won Best Picture, a movie in love with old movies. Black and White, virtually silent, starring stars(both would-be and established), and about producing movies and stars, “The Artist” begged the members of the Motion Picture Academy to “Love me, I’m all about us!”

On the other hand, (small spoiler alert) even though “Hugo” ended up to be partly about movie making in the past, its rendition was totally now — good acting and great special effects, art, lighting, cinematography and direction: everything a Best Picture should have. It’s going to be easy to skip the Academy Award Show from now on, no way I could ever take it seriously again.

Coincidentally I came across the book from which “Hugo” was taken just a few days after I saw the movie. “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick is a children’s book, but it has lots of adult fans. Selznick is primarily an artist, and the book has about as many illustrations as pages of prose. The writing is pretty rudimentary but the plot is imaginative and coupled with the drawings the story drives convincingly to its conclusion. It was really a perfect vehicle for a movie, where prose is the least important ingredient.     

I have a lot in my mind and saved on my computer so I’ll probably be getting a new round of posts in about a week (please contain your excitement).

Burning Chrome by William Gibson was the book I’ve read lately that I like the most. I give this book five stars but I’m very biased in Gibson’s favor. I’ve read many of his books and find him smart, prescient and at times poetic. I have to admit his writing is over my head at least once every ten pages but his vision of the future is so compelling that I suffer through my shortcomings. He is well-known in Sci-Fi circles as the writer who came up with the concept of “jacked-in” the idea that there will someday be a computer plug installed at the top of your spine that would connect your brain to computers. Author of “Johnny Mnemonic”. I read three of his books which all take place in the future (natch) and seem to form a trilogy of sorts centering around a neighborhood formed on the Golden Gate Bridge with many stories of dwellings built up on and through the cables. The time is after  “normal civilization” has ceased to be but there is still lots of commerce and business is what makes the world go round. Amazing at what he comes up with that is valuable in the future.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin I finished a week or so ago. It moves along well enough if you are a patient reader, if not it might be too slow for you. Martin seems to be the kind of writer that puts his real self in a character in a book (or play) and goes from there. This book is concerned with the NY Art World circa 1990-2005, and the central character a woman who uses whatever she has to get ahead. She starts at Sotheby’s (auction house) and moves upwards from there using men and handling women along the way. The narrator  is an art critic and it’s obvious by his various interfaces with patrons and dealers that Martin did a lot of research on galleries, museums and conferences. (I also saw Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile several years ago and it was pretty good,  so kudos to Steve for all the good art and music he’s producing).

It seems like a month doesn’t go by without me talking about Elmore Leonard but I swear I’m gonna run out of books soon. Now I’m reading Djibouti and so far so good. I like that Leonard experiments with his writing. I think he’s so well-established and has worked so long that he entertains himself by taking different tacks in his work. There’s a great hard-boiled angle in all of his novels, warranted because of the dubious morality of many of his characters. But reading his old Westerns shows a very straight-ahead approach to story telling whereas nowadays he goes off wherever: and who’d say anything negative about that? There are few authors as prolific and well-thought of as he is. When I read Q is for or L is for etc, I know I’m going to get a certain style of writing that’s the same throughout the series. With Leonard it’s varied. In my favorite of his books, Killshot, the interior monologues of the characters are fabulous; with Djibouti there is a long part of the story which is told by two of the characters looking at a screen and commenting on film they’ve taken when they were making a documentary; and Get Shorty is more the omniscient author POV.

That’s probably enough reading/writing for now. Please don’t forget to pass on my  link/website where my YA Ebook is available (cheap). BTW, I am making the book free for libraries and librarians. If you fit into either of those categories or know someone who does, contact me and I’ll send along a coupon for a free download.

Hey Y’all, I’ve been gleaning the news for wild animal-related stories and have these to relay:

Last year, a ban on the sale of fur clothing was endorsed in West Hollywood, in November 2011. Although it is estimated to have cost local shops around $2 million, designer Stella McCartney urged fashionistas to shed fur and leather in the run-up to the New York, London, Paris, Milan, Delhi and Mumbai fashion weeks this year, and showed a video expose of the skins trade.

On day one of the Indian fashion week, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  joined hands with the Fashion Design Council Of India on a new cause – “Fashion for Freedom – Boycott Zoos”. FDCI president Sunil Sethi and PETA India chief functionary Poorva Joshipura were present to make the announcement along with Sethi’s close friend and actor Gulshan Grover, actress Mahima Chaudhary and singer and actress Monica Dogra. Sethi said, “Bollywood and fashion are always present when there is a cause to support. We want freedom for animals, for them to be set free from cages and zoos. It is a great thing to have fashion as a platform for such a noble cause.” [I don’t know these Indian folk but you might so I left their names herein].

PETA also launched an initiative to bring attention to the plight of enslaved and exploited celebrity sea mammals, and The Daily Show‘s Wyatt Cenac was the spokesman. The group filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five plaintiffs — Tiilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises — accusing the water park of holding the orcas as slaves and arguing that they should be freed under the 13th Amendment.

This was spooky: the head of the California Fish and Game Commission Daniel W. Richards was photographed with a dead mountain lion he had shot and killed inMontana. carried the story and Richards was immensely proud of several things: that he bagged the lion; that he belongs to the NRA; that he broke no laws. He told the press and others to “mind their own business” as what he did away from his office was his affair.

The hunt for the lion was accomplished with the use of hounds, which sounds like a horror for the prey. The local ranch owner upon whose property the hunt and many like it take place maintained that if predators weren’t hunted they would obliterate the deer population and then the mountain lions would be hungry and start to go after livestock, etc.

California and Montana have had similar lion hunting regulations up until 1972 or thereabouts. In California, lions are protected. In Montana 534 kills are allowed each year. When it is estimated that the population in that latter state is less than 3000 lions, 500 allowed kills is definitely excessive and what the rancher who caters to hunters said is hooey. BTW, as the lions have been studied by naturalists they have been tagged and monitored. Each year, sport hunters are responsible for 96% of the lion deaths in Montanaand roughly 65% of those animals had been tagged.

In the good news/ bad news category. Good news: federal wildlife investigators working in several states cracked an international smuggling ring that had trafficked in sawed-off rhinoceros horns for years. These horns fetch stratospheric prices in Vietnam and China as they are supposed to cure cancer. In the well-orchestrated, multi-state raid at least $3 million in cash, gold, jewelry and watches was confiscated along with 20 rhino horns. With the horns reaching over $20,000 per pound, poaching in Africa has spiked, with 450 rhinos killed in South Africa last year.

Bad news: the numbers of  rhinos stand now at about 20,000 whites and 5,000 blacks in Africa with Asian rhinos almost extinct.

BTW, it’s possible to tranquilize the animal and remove its horn, and many preserves did so to attempt to protect the animals. It didn’t help: poachers would kill the animal for the stub.

Please feel free to comment and add stories that would fit. Any ideas you might have for me to research I’d be happy to oblige.


I already wrote about how poorly I think the Oscars have been doing on the best picture choices for the last few years, so I won’t cover that ground again. This year I’ve only seen one of the nominees, but it was a good one — “Descendants”.

As I was watching it, it occurred to me that George Clooney’s character was in a really complicated situation, one so convoluted it seemed that only a good novelist could create it. Well what d’ya know, screenplay adopted from a novel. The characters were beautifully developed and Clooney did a good job letting us read his emotions as he faced one challenging plot turn and difficult confrontation after another. The role of the older daughter was as sympathetic as his, and equally well-acted. Neat to see Kaui’i from a movie maker’s perspective as my wife and I were there in 1990 and recognized much of what we saw on camera.

Saw “YA” a couple of weeks ago and really liked the way Charlize Theron’s character slowly self-destructed. It was apparent that she was headed for a bad confrontation at a suburban barbecue, and it was so well done: cataclysmic without being over the top. Patton Oswald nailed his depiction of a jaded, handicapped former schoolmate and who better to handle dark humor than Oswald? Also, as I’ve just epublished a YA novel ( and  Theron’s role was YA writer, her travails rang true, especially when discussions about dwindling market and appealing to high school students came up.

Got “The Kids Are All Right” on Netflix and was very impressed: if I’d seen it in time last year I’d have wanted it to win best picture. Unlike the previous two films I mentioned, this is more a star-driven vehicle with the three central roles belonging to big names. Particularly liked the plot moving forward by the use of camera shots more than dialogue. When Annette Bening does her detective work the proof is in the picture, and her tightening lips and narrowing eyes show her reaction clearly. I’ve always like Mark Ruffalo as well, so having him on screen a lot was a treat.

Continuing backward in time I saw that Ed Burns had directed a film and watched it on TV. It’s called “Nice Guy Johnny” and the title character is a sports radio host. Burns plays a real cad and does a capable job of it, but it was fun to think that he was telling the camerman what to shoot and counseling the actors between his takes. Clooney directs, Burns directs,  — seems like the cliche about actors might be true: what they really want to do is direct! It’s great to watch films with my wife to get the female perspective. She had a take on this one that was unlike mine but definitely loud and clear: the lead actor was not a leading man type therefore the plot was unbelieveable. I have to admit she had a point. The man in question is probably 5’5″ tall. He’s cute, but cute enough to attract the leading lady? Probably not. For all the short men in the world, though, it’s a dream come true.

I’ve seen two real oldies that I want to mention: “The Mountain Men” (1980) and “El Dorado” (1966). These are both westerns and therefore only slightly beliveable and very stylized, but both had their good points. “The Mountain Men” starred Brian Keith and Charleton Heston and was very entertaining, especially when Keith was on screen. His character was boisterous, funny and profane, and more than once I had to do a double take as to what channel I was on. There was a lot of cussing, a lot of dirty jokes and a lot of sexually suggestive actions by both men and women. It was pretty damn funny and it ended when a Native woman went against her society, so it was a real 70’s film with sexual liberation and women’s empowerment, too. El Dorado was a Howard Hawk’s film, part of a trilogy starring John Wayne (Rio Bravo and Rio Lobo being the other two films). There isn’t a lot to recommend it plot-wise, but I liked seeing Robert Mitchum playing a drunk, and the writing was full of straight lines that each character would set up for the next who would hit it out of the park. The characters all had funny observations to make along the way, and it had a very young James Caan in it as a knife-throwing bad shot and there were some laughs there too.

My brother mentioned that he saw and liked “The Artist” but I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, mostly because my wife resists anything in black and white.

So what have you seen lately?

I’ve been mining some of the old veins lately — Elmore Leonard and Salman Rushdie in particular. 

Elmore Leonard has long been one of my favorites and Hollywood’s too: several times I’ve been astounded to be watching a movie and realize that I know where the plot is going because I’ve already read the book. “Hombre” and “Get Shorty” are two of his to show you just how successful he has become moving over to the movie genre. (BTW, I can’t get the underlining to work here so I’ll just use quotes for titles).

I’ve read three books by him this year: “Killshot”, “Pagan Babies” and “Riding the Rap”. “Killshot” became my all-time favorite and it’s because of his two fortes: character and dialogue/monologue. There are two crooks/killers in the book, one white and one Native American and the white guy’s thought monologues made me laugh outloud several times. It’s amazing how a good writer can make you laugh at a guy who has no idea how funny he sounds. The man and wife characters are the real protagonists and they are both excellent renditions.

“Pagan Babies” had a good plot but I didn’t find myself liking any of the characters, a major drawback. I also found myself skipping over a good part of the background recitations the characters made: what they did with their friends in grade school had little to do with the rest of the story and I was more interested in how the whole complicated plot would come to an end. There were a few gangsters and some conmen circling around some money, and Leonard has a great touch with those situations. It could have been a tighter edit but still entertaining. (He’s a very quick read).

“Riding the Rap” was a sequel to another of his books with Raylan Givins as the major force. Raylan is a modern-day marshal and has the boots and the hat and the gun and the calm attitude. He also has a trademark phrase, something along the lines of “If you draw your gun I’ll have to kill you.” He’s very proud of that phrase because he thinks it’s cool, effective and he worked on it a long time.  I like the character a lot and just knew he’d surface again in a Leonard novel and he has — “Raylan” is coming out early next month. If you’ve encountered Raylan leave a comment as to how you feel about him.

Turning to the Rushdie novel I’m afraid I couldn’t finish it. It’s “Midnight’s Children” and I couldn’t get interested in the characters enough — not that they aren’t characters in every meaning of the word. I managed about 200 pages out of the 550 and it’s a tribute to Rushdie because he is such a devilish, sneaky-good writer. The style in this book was first person narrative by a male family member going through the happenings in his clan and their homes in India starting with his grandfather under British subjugation. No two characters are even remotely alike and as the narrator tells his tale to one of his nieces (I think — it could be his daughter)  he interrupts himself constantly and in these interruptions lies both the beauty and the irritation of Rushdie’s writing. He strings together long lists; he strings together four or five adjectives; he compares whatever he speaking of to something else in a wonderful metaphor or simile — the writing is always good but it makes the story longer and longer and longer. He’s so good that you can’t help but want to keep reading, but he keeps you waiting much too long (on purpose of course, suspense you know) to get to whatever pivotal plot point he’s been heading towards. I loved “The Empress of Florence” and some of “East and West” but the last two books I just haven’t been able to get through.

Thanks to my friend Debbie for recommending Norah Roberts’ “Black Hills”. She read the next to last animal blog here and wrote that the book had endangered animals in it and might be worth a read. Personally, I didn’t like it much, but it was interesting to read a book by an author that takes up so much shelf space in the library. At the risk of being labeled something or other I see her as an author who writes for women. She’s very long on lots of very long dialogues where characters share their feelings; there’s more than a few matched-up and several more in-the-process-of-matching-up couples; there’s a strong female co-lead role. All in all a good experience but I won’t be going back to that well.

Finally, for this blog, there’s a book I read a while back called “Charlie Chan” by Yunte Huang, a naturalized US citizen born in China. Huang came over to the US for college, worked odd jobs to pay his way, and stumbled upon the persona of Charlie Chan. Huang’s journeys across the country lead to his “discovering” Chan and Chan’s creator and make for an entertaining spin. Once he gets into Chan and his predecessorFu Manchu as image of the Chinaman in the US,  the reading gets drier, but still interesting, especially when he goes into the history of Honolulu and an ace Chinese/Hawaiian detective who worked there in the early 20th century.  After I’d read the book I checked out a few Chan novels from the library. They were written around 1925 and as detective books go not too bad, but certainly not Hammett or Chandler.  Earl Derr, the writer, relies on some hilarious cliches — I counted five times in the book that someone “leaped out of his chair” upon hearing some surprising bit of information. Even funnier, in the last chapter someone comes halfway up out of his chair — the information not being all that surprising but maybe just a little.

Coincidentally, after I read Huang’s book I noticed that he was teaching at UC Santa Barbara, the same school where my brother Dan graduated and where my friend Chuck now teaches. Chuck emailed me a photo of Huang on the cover of one of the campus magazines.

That’s it for this blog. I’m currently including a lot of this book info at and if you like books this is a pretty good website.

Don’t forget to check out my own website

and if you know any high school or junior high school boys tell ’em about it, the book there’s right up their alley(s).

Bye for now, Steve

Being such a movie lover for so long this is usually the time of year when I start looking forward to the Oscars. I’ve never followed the red carpet aspect in any way, but I’ve had my favorites to root for when the envelopes were opened, and I liked the hosts for the most part.

This year? Not so much. And the reason for my reticence to get caught up in the whole thing is the abysmal choices for best picture for the last five years. The winners? “The King’s Speech”, “Hurt Locker”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “No Country for Old Men”, and “Departed”. I’ve talked to more than a few folks about these movies and I’m not in the minority — these pictures shouldn’t have garnered the top award.

I’m going to back up one step before pressing onward and say that “Slumdog” actually was considered a pretty good picture by most of the people I talked to — I guess it was my wife and I who disagreed. We walked out after about a half an hour. There were three reasons we did this: 1. the scene where the boy climbed down into the porta-potty, fished out a celebrity photo and emerged triumphant and covered with excrement. (Lovely). 2. The brutal murder of the boy’s mother in the first five minutes of the movie; 3. The constant, disturbing, demeaning, cruel treatment of the children. The reports we’ve gotten from others was that the end of the movie was uplifting, but there was no way we could make it that far.

So I was disappointed that “Slumdog” won, but I understood that maybe I was old-fashioned. But the others?

“Speech” is one of the slowest-paced films I’ve seen in recent years, and I belong to Netflix and watch lots of foreign films which are famous for being slow-paced. The actors were all top notch, but we all knew where the film was going so it was hard to be patient and watch the plot unfold: I just couldn’t keep my finger off the fast forward button! The only reason I could see that this film was the winner is that Hollywood has a love affair with English period pieces, and therefore they revel in the great costumes and sets and all the dirt on the royal family. I’m happy the king made it through the speech, but there has to be a better way to get there cinematically.

“Hurt Locker” should have sent waves of empathy through me as I witnessed the main character go through the terror of war and then the inability to re-assimilate to his life at home with his wife and child, but he was not a sympathetic figure in the least. I suppose the film could still have been of “best picture” quality even carried on the shoulders of such a dubious character, but 1. most of the film was shot with hand held cameras giving it a home movie quality; 2.many of the interiors were so poorly lit that it was difficult to see what was happening; and 3. the plot meandered.

“No Country” was beautifully shot, the acting was superb and the pace was terrific, but it took me three or four attempts before I could watch the whole thing. Why? It just seemed like another film of money and drugs and people getting killed every which way because of them. The message was so brutally dark I had trouble judging it as a film — I only ended up seeing the whole of it as we had HBO for a few months and I’d watch parts as it was shown and reshown three or four times a week. It’s hard for me to call something so negative “best” anything.

“Departed”? Did anyone really like that film? Wasn’t it only given the award because the Academy felt guilty for not having rewarded Scorcese earlier? More seedy characters in a shoot ’em up plot.

So you can see why I’m not getting too interested in Oscar season, or award season in general. I get the LA Times and the last five Sunday editions have included a section called “The Envelope” touting the upcoming awards, trying to pump up the excitement. And the  Golden Globes? How many people vote on those? Am I the only one feeling like someone wants to take me for a ride?

My “best pictures” for the last few years? “Juno” is one. “Chocolat” is another. How ’bout “Little Miss Sunshine”? “Lars and the Real Girl” was one of the most imaginative, funny and seriously touching films I’ve ever seen. In a month or so there’ll be another best picture. I suppose I’ll TiVo the program and hope there are some funny spots, but I have no interest in which film wins.

Weigh in with your favorites.

I am about 2/3 through Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku. Kaku is a very smart man who has access to some of the greatest scientific minds of our time: he discusses the future with them and then writes about or does PBS shows about it. (To show you what kind of brainiac he is: 1.he built a cloud chamber with a powerful magnetic field to photograph tracks of antimatter and 2 he built a 2.3 million electron volt particle accelerator. He built both of these in his garage while he was in high school. The particle accelerator took 400 pounds of transformer steel and 22 miles of copper wire and produced a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger than the Earth’s. When he switched it on it used 6 kilowatts of power and frequently blew out all the fuses in his house).

Kaku’s predictions are what make his book so interesting. He divides the 21st century into thirds with predictions about what will occur from now to 2030; then from 2030-2070; then from 2070-2100.

Among his predictions:

* People my age (61) are probably part of the last generation that will die. I’d heard before that my kids (now 26 and 28) would live to be 125, but Kaku’s best guess is it’s going to be longer. DNA genome mapping and the subsequent ability to tinker with it will eliminate disease and aging.

* Your bathroom will have plenty of computer chips embedded in it that will analyse your urine, skin, etc (non-invasively) and you will be warned of any trace of cancer or other life-threatening disease far in advance of it becoming a health issue.

* Computer speed will eventually taper off. Computers have been doubling their speed every 18 months or so due to the increased miniaturization of computer chips but when the chips become 10 atoms or so across they’ll have reached their limit. Unless someone comes up with a replacement for silicon in their formation computer speeds will become more and more stable.

* Skin incisions will become a thing of the past. Miniature (nano) cameras and other devices will be injected into folks’ bloodstreams, directed by doctors from without the body, and any surgeries that need to be done will be accomplished internally.

Kaku addresses the following topics and divides them into the three time periods I mentioned above: computers, Artificial Intelligence (robots and such), Medicine, nanotechnology, energy, space travel and wealth. For the most part he avoids the trap that a lot of scientist fall into which is speaking way above our heads, but he has the annoying habit of going back in time to ancient beliefs or Star Trek references. e.g., He’ll write something like, “The ancient gods lived forever. Now it appears that such immortality is almost within our grasp.” Or, “Dr, McCoy waved the tricorder over the patient and was able to ascertain what was wrong with the patient. When someone mentioned they would have to operate he called them barbarians.” You’ll want to do some skimming.

The book really gets you thinking, though. By the year 2050 most of our furniture might be made of “catoms” (claytronic atoms) which are like tiny grains of sand that are held together by electrical charge. Say you have a nice black easy chair made of catoms but you need a couch or a bed because your nephew’s staying overnight. You simply reprogram the electrical charge, the grains of sand reform, and you now have a couch — shape shifting. If that happens by 2050 think of the effect it will have on every furniture store. Think of the millions of couches that won’t get hauled off to the dump every year; or the millions of tons of energy that won’t be used to make those millions of couches; or the millions of employees at furniture factories who’ll have to find something else to do to make money.

We think the economy is in bad shape now — what happens when manufacturing is cut by 50 or 75 per cent? Man it’s hard to get ready for the future.

I also just finished The Bradbury Report  by Steven Polansky which is about a 60-something guy who meets his 22 year old clone. Polansky’s narrator (named the “original” as he was the one cloned) achieves an emotional renaissance through interacting with his clone, and you really feel for the three main characters — the third one being a lady that knew “Ray” as a young man and coincidentally was brought in on the case of his clone who had escaped from a clone compound.The story is great but the author gets way too bogged down in inconsequential ideas: I started skimming descriptions about 1/4 of the way through the book. Sometimes I wonder why editors allow their writers so much leeway. The book is 326 pages and could easily be 100 pages less.

Thanks for all the comments about the last blog. I’ll be shifting (not shape shifting) back to movies in my next one.