200 Black Lizards

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I finished my 200th book in the “Black Lizard” imprint from Vintage Books. It was Dashiell Hammett’s “Nightmare Town,” a collection of short stories. It’s fitting, since the first Black Lizard book I read was Hammett’s “Red Harvest,” starring the semi-anonymous Continental Operative.

The Black Lizard imprint has gobs of great authors–mystery masters–going back to the early 1900s. I’ve now read all of Hammett’s books, all 9 Raymond Chandler books (starring the great Philip Marlowe), 9 Gregory McDonald books (the Fletch and Flynn series), 12 Ross MacDonald books (with Lew Archer), 15 Henning Mankell books (including the entire Kurt Wallander series), plus a number of books by old-time writers David Goodis, Jim Thompson, James Cain, Harry Whittington, Charles Willeford, Dan Marlowe, Patricia Highsmith, and Eric Ambler.

But Black Lizard also has many superb writers–like Don Winslow, Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap & Leonard series), Jeff Lindsey (Dexter), Joe Nesbo (Harry Hole), Steig Larsen (the Dragon Tattoo trilogy), Hakan Nesser, Andrew Vachss (Burke), and more.

I’ve got a shelf filled with Black Lizard books I haven’t read yet. Seldom am I disappointed, especially with the older masters.

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Meniere’s Shunt Surgery: Six Year Update

April 16, 2010, is when I had the endolymphatic shunt surgery for my Meniere’s disease, which had been tormenting me since around 2004.

Another year has gone by without an attack of any kind–no nystagmus, no vomiting. I definitely have my life back.

A couple weeks ago, I did have a very minor episode, which I can’t really explain. I woke up feeling a bit off, kind of like I used to feel constantly before the surgery. I felt like I was heading toward vomiting, with some minor dizziness and other symptoms. I endured it through the morning at work, but it wasn’t getting any better. So I headed home, fed the cats, and went to bed. That took care of it. No repeat.

Usually there’s a trigger–caffeine, sodium stress, alcohol. I don’t drink alcohol, and none of the others seemed like an issue. So I’m puzzled. However, it was minor, and it went away and hasn’t come back.

That’s the worst I experienced during the whole past year. For those of you who suffer from Meniere’s–you wish you could be so lucky.

As I say every year, I highly recommend the shunt surgery. It’s the least invasive remedy and has the highest success rate.

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Arlington

While working out at Planet Fitness tonight, I listened to my “Story Songs” playlist. Mostly country, with the occasional pop hit. We’re talkin’ “Night Chicago Died,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Something in Red,” “Online,” “She Couldn’t Change Me,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Austin”–37 songs, total.

But the one that always gets me is “Arlington,” by Trace Adkins. Particularly that line where his grandfather, also buried at Arlington, greets him:

It gave me a chill,
When he clicked his heels,
And saluted me.

As I sat there at the weight machine, it gave ME a chill.

That’s what happens when great subject matter meets great writing.

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The Parker Series by Richard Stark

flashfireBetween 1963 and 1974, Donald Westlake wrote 16 “Parker” books under the pen name “Richard Stark.” If you saw the movie “Payback,” with Mel Gibson–well, that was basically the first book in the series. It’s really an incredibly fun series about a tough-guy thief. Each book involves a big heist of some kind.

After 23 years, Westlake resumed the series in 1997. He wrote 8 more Parker books before he died in 2008. Westlake had a little extra fun with these books. The titles of the first five were compound words, and each title used one word from the previous book: Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire, Firebreak, Breakout. I guess he tired of that after five books, and went back to titles with no particular pattern.

Something else he did in those latter 8 books: the opening lines all begin with “When.” I just finished “Flashfire,” which had the best opening:

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.” (Flashfire)

Here are a couple other opening lines:

“When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.” (Backflash)

“When he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, ‘Deal me out a hand,’ and got to his feet.” (Nobody Runs Forever)

“When the helicopter swept northward and lifted out of sight over the top of the hill, Parker stepped away from the tree he’d waited beside and continued his climb.” (Ask the Parrot)

There are 24 books in the Parker series; I’ve now read 20 of them. I love these books, and can see myself reading them again.

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Selective Outrage, and Which Lives Really Matter

Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for not canceling his Latin America trip after the Brussels attack. Apparently he was supposed to go back to Washington, issue a sober statement condemning Islamic terrorism, then sit in the Oval Office wringing his hands. All of the presidential candidates, of course, canceled their itineraries upon learning of the attacks.

About 32 people were killed in Brussels.

Earlier in 2016, terrorist attacks killed 60 in Libya, 32 in Cameroon, 63 in Somalia, 30 in Burkina Faso, 55 in Iraq, 86 in Nigeria, 60 in Nigeria, 28 in Turkey, 24 in Cameroon, 80 in Iraq, 32 in Somalia, 62 in Iraq, 48 in Tunisia, 22 in Ivory Coast, 38 in Turkey, and 18 in Egypt.

Where was the outrage from Republicans over these attacks? Why weren’t they demanding that Obama cancel his schedule after these attacks? Don’t all lives matter?

We shouldn’t care only when terrorists kill people in a white Christian European country. That would be the R word.

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Day One of a Cruz Administration

I’m amused by how many things Ted Cruz says he’s going to do on his first day as President. It will be a very busy  day. Last I checked, he’s going to repeal every word of Obamacare, rescind all “illegal” executive actions by President Obama, kill the Iran agreement, authorize the Keystone Pipeline, end Common Core, restore sanctions on Iran and Cuba, abolish the IRS, cure the common cold, bring everlasting peace in the Middle East, end Daylight Savings Time, remove every liberal judge, make cable companies stop jerking people around, sew a copy of the Constitution into every shirt pocket, eradicate the comic sans font, end class basketball in Indiana, criminalize saying “Happy Holidays,” and retire Flo the Progressive Girl. I don’t know what he plans to do during the rest of his presidency.

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Fresh Spiritual Insights from an Atheist

Alain de Botton, an atheist, wrote a most fascinating book called “Religion for Atheists.” The person who recommended it to me said it would strengthen my faith, and he was right. Botton examines religious practices and teachings—not to debunk them, but to applaud how they meet actual human needs. It’s fascinating to read a committed atheist faithfully unpack a Scriptural story, looking for positive elements that atheists can learn from. In so doing, Botton is giving me totally fresh insights into my faith.

Take, for instance, his chapter on education (which presents strong arguments for attending a Christian college, as opposed to a secular universities which “rarely consent to ask, let alone answer the most serious questions of the soul”). He says Western intellectuals, suspicious of eloquence, apparently assume transformative ideas can be taught by stating them once or twice “via a lecturer standing in a bare room speaking in a monotone.” Likewise, we watch a movie or read a book which prompts us to reexamine our existence. But, “Three months after we finish reading a masterpiece, we may struggle to remember a single scene or phrase from it.

Christians, however, recognize the importance of regularly revisiting important themes. The Christian calendar is filled with annual reminders—Lent, Ash Wednesday, Epiphany, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Sunday, and more. Christians memorize key Scripture, regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed, follow a lectionary, hear multiple sermons on the same Bible stories, follow a Common Book of Prayer, use Sunday school curriculum which repeats important themes every few years, etc. We drill in what’s important.

Botton writes, “There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Chekhov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights….At best, we haphazardly underline a few of the sentences that we most admire in them and which we may once in a while chance upon in an idle moment waiting for a taxi.”

So when you think, “Oh great, yet another sermon on prayer/forgiveness/servanthood/the Beatitudes/whatever,” recognize that we repeat these themes because they are important.

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Assumptions about Evangelicals by the Man on the Phone

A couple days ago, I fielded a call from a guy who wanted us, as the headquarters of an evangelical denomination, to mobilize our people to vote. He’d been calling the offices of various evangelical denominations. He had just talked to people at the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters. It was our turn.

Such calls often get shunted to me, the lowly Communications Director. He talked for ten minutes before I even had a chance to respond. He didn’t want us to tell people how to vote, but that was kind of disingenuous, because the issues he cited were Republican issues (and he did mention Trump and Cruz). And of course, as people say with EVERY election, the upcoming election will be “the most pivotal election in American history.”

He apparently assumed that all evangelicals of the United Brethren stripe would, obviously and inevitably, vote Republican. That’s how I read him, anyway. We just needed to encourage them to go vote, and Good would prevail.

The guy was actually very nice, articulate, and good-intentioned. He just carried some assumptions that, in my view, were incorrect.

I didn’t engage him in discussion, though there was plenty of fodder for doing so.

I didn’t tell him that some of our churches consist of evangelicals who are African-American, or Hispanic, or immigrants—folks who might have a different perspective on things.

I didn’t tell him that, though the majority of our people will most likely vote Republican, thousands of UBs will vote for Democrats because these UBs are passionate about issues which find support primarily among Democrats—issues involving the poor, the use of military force, the death penalty, social justice, refugees, immigrants, healthcare, alternative energy, income disparity, racial and gender discrimination, earthcare, and others.

I DID tell him that we, as a denominational headquarters, don’t get involved in the political arena. That we leave political action to the discretion of our pastors and laypersons at the local level. Besides, we’ve got a tax-exemption to protect.

He wanted to leave his phone number, so I could pass it along to others who might want to talk to him. I told him there would be no passing along of phone numbers, but that I appreciated that he was passionate about issues and was taking action.

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Owning Your Privileged Past

This is for all of you preachers’ kids. Like me.

Politicians like to portray themselves as coming from humble roots, and in so doing, tend to denigrate their parents–their work, their income, their education, etc. If I were a typical politician running for office, I would need to craft a bio like this: “I grew up in a home where we never had much. Dad was the son of immigrants, and he became a poor preacher. We lived in a small migrant community and had to get by on whatever our small congregation gave us. We struggled to make ends meet. But I learned from my parents the value of hard work and of doing good for other people.”

Something like that. Or I could be truthful and say this:

“I grew up in a privileged home. My Dad was personally called by God to work for him. It was the coolest thing having a Dad who was hand-picked by the Creator of the Universe. We never lacked for anything. God promised to meet all of our needs, and he did. Sometimes God performed miracles on our behalf. How many kids can say that? Maybe you grew up in a home with a lot of money, and parents who held important and influential jobs. But my upbringing was far more privileged than that. My Dad was a pastor, and my parents poured their lives into serving the Kingdom of God. And for many people, my parents changed where they will spend eternity.”

That’s what I would say.

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The Odd Infatuation with Putin

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This morning I went to the huge Indy1500 Gun Show in Indianapolis. One major gun vendor was inundated yesterday with people wanting to buy handguns, their inventory severely depleted. I overheard one of the salesmen: “Barack Obama opens his mouth and people go crazy.” Indeed. The gun community (Your Truly excepted) is the most knee-jerk bunch of people you’ll ever come across.

One vendor had this sign on display. I’ve written before about my old-school thinking about the President, regardless of party–that by virtue of office, he deserves respect, not the ridicule which has been directed at President Obama for 7 years.

Anyway, I looked at this vendor and said, “So you’re using a communist dictator to publicly mock America’s president.” I noticed a somewhat stunned look on his face as I walked away.

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