Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Dennie Voter’s Guide for Fools

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With a couple days to go before the midterm elections, the huddled masses await my deep insights, seeking direction before they trudge to the polls. And so, this idiot, who feigns to be far more informed than he actually is, hereby weighs in.

I’m hoping the Republicans get control of the House. I always favor divided government. Controlling everything didn’t do any favors to either Bill Clinton or George Bush. The country is better served by divided government, as long as the two sides are willing to actually work together.

I’m not opposed to Republicans also gaining control of the Senate, but I don’t see it happening. In fact, I hope it doesn’t happen, mainly because it means some questionable candidates, like Ms. O’Donnell and Ms. Angle, will be elected. Washington is not in need of more incompetence.

“Anger” elections sweep both competents and incompetents into office. After the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, voters who were outraged over the treatment of Anita Hill sent a record number of women to the Senate. They included capable senators like Diane Feinstein, Patty Murray, and Barbara Boxer, but also Carol Mosely Braun, who was a joke.

Likewise, the Tea Party candidates are a mixed bag. Linda McMahan, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul (among others) are quality candidates. Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell are jokes–fit for the House, but not the Senate. Joe Miller is somewhere in between. Scott Brown, who won Ted Kennedy’s former seat last year, has acquitted himself well, I think (though concrete-shoed Tea Partiers feel betrayed).

I’m a bit amused by Tea Party antics. Joe Miller’s goons handcuffed a reporter carrying out his First Amendment job. Rand Paul’s goons manhandled and stomped a protester asserting her First Amendment rights to assemble and protest. And Barack Obama is the Nazi? If anyone’s wearing jackboots, it’s the Tea Partiers. (But let’s be real: nobody is jackbooted. Nazi comparisons are stupid and ignorant of the enormity of actual Nazi history–which does say something about the intellect of those who make the Nazi comparisons.)

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My conservative friends are wretching over my earlier positive statement about Barbara Boxer. Understand: I don’t like Barbara Boxer, and never have, and I hope she loses this election to Carly Fiorina. HOWEVER…she is no Christine O’Donnell. Boxer has shown herself to be a capable representative of the left, and of her state. She has shown strength and leadership. I would rate her at least as bright as, and certainly better informed than, Sarah Palin (though several rungs down the ladder from her fellow Senator, Diane Feinstein). I don’t have to like Senators, but I do want them to be of Senate caliber.

Carly Fiorina, as far as I know, isn’t a Tea Party candidate. I like her. I remember following her when she was CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I kept up on the HP dramas via BusinessWeek, and because at the time, HP made Macintosh clones. She was not an effective CEO, but it was a huge corporation in a time of transition. Fiorina is a high-quality person and I’d love to see her elected. But it’s not looking good at this point.

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Sharon Angle is a real nutjob, but she actually has a chance because Harry Reid’s negatives are so low. However, assuming Democrats retain control of the Senate, I would rather have Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader than a formidable guy like Chuck Schumer. Think about it. It’s the difference between Pee Wee Herman and The Rock. If the Republicans must continually bump heads with someone, I’d pick Reid over Schumer any day. At the same time, in the interests of competence: Reid has been a terrible majority leader, and Schumer, despite being such a media-whore, might be pretty good. So I’m torn.

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I’m hoping Lisa Murkowski wins in Alaska, as much to poke Sarah Palin in the eye as anything. At the same time, there’s some childishness on Murkowski’s part–she did lose the primary fair and square. But her sense of entitlement worries me less than Miller’s right-wing views. As far as splitting the Republican vote–it ain’t happening; both are trouncing the Democrat. If the returns do show Murkowski as the winner, I’m betting Joe Miller challenges the write-in ballots (spelling, legibility, etc.) in the courts, and we have a big mess.

Speaking of childishness and sense of entitlement: Charlie Crist.

I like Linda McMahan and would love to see her elected. She’s too right-wing for a moderate like me, but she’s a serious candidate and would be an asset to the Senate. She, unlike professional wrestling, is worthy of respect.

I don’t like Rand Paul, but he would bring different viewpoints to the Senate, which is good. Unfortunately (or fortunately), his idealistic views would never gain traction in the Senate; he’ll become an isolated fellow constantly talking about the sky falling, and nobody paying attention. I figure he’ll last two terms, then leave in frustration.

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I lived in California under governors Ronald Reagan and then Jerry Brown. Now it looks like Jerry Brown will return as governor. I groan over that. And yet, all things considered, he might actually be the right person to begin fixing the California mess. Brown is an insider with an independent spirit, and at his age has nothing to lose–just the right combination, perhaps?

However, I’ve always cheered for Meg Whitman. Looks like the election is getting away from her at this point, and I’m not sure she could have fixed California anyway. Plus: the fact that she spent $140 million of her own money, and Brown ran a barebones campaign–you gotta love Brown on that point.

As you can see, I’m all over the board. Certainly not a party person. I’ve given up on political parties.

The Tea Party people will not be compromisers, which means we’re looking at a great deal of gridlock. We already have too much of that. But then, many of these people are being elected precisely to continue gridlock. I don’t view that as a good thing.

It’s interesting how so many local elections–especially senate and governor elections–have been nationalized. Across the country, people are informed about races in Alaska, Florida, California, Nevada, and elsewhere. This is nothing new, but I don’t think we’ve seen it on this scale before. But then, the 24-hour cable news channels need stuff to talk about.

So there you go, the Dennie Voter’s Guide. Consider yourself enlightened.

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Dexter Season 4, and “Dexter by Design”

dexter-by-design.jpgPam and I finished watching season 4 of “Dexter.” The first season, with the Ice Truck Killer, was the best. But I’d rank season 4 as the second-best, thanks to the work of John Lithgow as the guest serial killer. Fairly early in the season, Dexter learns that the Lithgow character is the Trinity Killer they are looking for, and he strikes up a friendship with him. It develops in fascinating ways, starting with demented admiration and quickly deteriorating.

I consider Dexter a guilty pleasure. I don’t like seeing movies with central characters who use drugs…yet I’m okay with the hero being a serial killer? I guess I justify it by the fact that the Dexter books are published under my beloved Black Lizard imprint, and that Dexter comes under the general category of roman noir, an umbrella which takes in Jim Thompson and other great pulp writers.

Speaking of the books…..

I just finished the fourth Dexter book, “Dexter by Design,” by Jeff Lindsey. At this point, it’s definite: the TV show and books have gone their separate ways. The first book was spread over the whole first season, scripted closely. But now, everything’s different. The books and TV series bear little resemblance.

For instance, Sergeant Doakes died in season 2 of the TV show, but he lives on in the books, although with some appendages missing. Dexter is married to Rita in the books, but Rita’s 2 children are, like Dexter, “damaged” and in need of the same direction he received from his father to channel his killer impulses. That’s a start to the differences.

I’ll also say this: the TV show is much, MUCH better. The first book was great, the second one very good, the third one terrible, the fourth one a bit less than okay. In “Dexter by Design,” very little seemed to happen. There was way too much of Dexter, the narrator, reflecting on his Dark Passenger. It just got old. I’ll keep reading the books, but only because of the black lizard on the spine.

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Dredging Up the Thomas/Hill Hearings

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The Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill story has crashed back into public consciousness, thanks to Thomas’s wife’s bizarre suggestion that Anita Hill apologize. And that prompted an old flame of Clarence Thomas, who has kept quiet for 19 years, to emerge from the woodwork.

Like many people, I was transfixed by the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Anita Hill was so believable..and yet, so was Thomas. Who to believe? What was the truth?

Liberals blindly sided with Anita Hill’s lurid accusations against Clarence Thomas. Meanwhile, conservatives claimed that Anita Hill was making it all up, a mere pawn of liberals.

Today, I am neither Republican nor Democrat. But back then, I was mostly Republican. And yet, after listening to endless hours of testimony, in my gut I felt Anita Hill was telling the truth. I had no way of knowing if my gut reaction was correct or not. That’s just how I felt. I WANTED to believe Clarence Thomas, I really did. And I was glad to see him confirmed. But I always felt Anita Hill was, at the least, telling MOSTLY the truth of what she experienced.

It was a truly puzzling story. Could there be a middle ground somewhere?

Now, some evidence is coming out to confirm my gut reaction. The Washington Post tells that story.

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Lillian McEwen (right) was dating Clarence Thomas prior to the hearings, and she kept quiet. But now she’s speaking, and what she has to say confirms what Anita Hill accused Thomas of doing–his fascination with porn, his treatment of women, etc.

A lawyer and prosecutor, McEwen is retired now and living comfortably, with nothing to lose. She’s talking about the things she observed and heard from Thomas during their dating years. The Post article also collects what other women who worked with Thomas said, testimonials that didn’t get much airplay during the hearings but which align with what Hill and McEwen allege.

McEwen, as much as anything, is irritated that Thomas continues playing the indignant victim, making himself out to be someone she insists he most definitely was not. She’s had enough.

Anita Hill will never be exonerated, and Thomas will never be unconfirmed. But it’s always good for truth to come out.

But is this the truth yet? My gut is a bit more satisfied, but I remain open to surprises.

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The Lion is Coming

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It’s been revealed: Apple’s next operating system, version 10.7, will be named “Lion.”

OSX came out in 2001, code-named Cheetah. While 9/11 doesn’t seem like all that long ago, it seems like I’ve been using OSX forever. Was I really still using OS9 back in 2001? Hard to believe.

I was wondering which cat would be next. Since OSX (version 10) arrived, they’ve gone through these names:

10.0 Cheetah (March 2001)
10.1 Puma (Sept 2001)
10.2 Jaguar (Aug 2002)
10.3 Panther (Oct 2003)
10.4 Tiger (April 2005)
10.5 Leopard (Oct 2007)
10.6 Snow Leopard (Aug 2009)
10.7 Lion (???)

My personal prediction for 10.7 was Lynx or Bobcat. Other possibilities are Ocelot and Cougar. That’s pretty much all of the choices left in the cat family. We’ve only got two more cats coming, with versions 10.8 and 10.9.

I’m guessing Bobcat and Cougar, though technically, the puma and cougar–and mountain lion–are the same animal. However, Microsoft used the Bobcat and Cougar names with its small business server in 2003 and 2008, perhaps playing some kind of dirty trick on Apple. Or, more likely, following Apple’s lead in a futile attempt to be hip.

Maybe Apple will do the Leopard/Snow Leopard thing with Lion, and make 10.8 “Mountain Lion” an incremental upgrade Then conclude with Ocelot or Lynx.

I wonder what code names Apple will use when they reach version 11. Switch to dogs? Famous painters? Or maybe something inanimate, like planets? Whatever they decide, it’ll be better than Vista.

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3 Profiles: Newt, Sarah, and Glenn

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I recently read three lengthy political profiles which I want to recommend. Normally, the best political profiles appear in The New Yorker. But here are three in other publications.

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican was written by John H. Richardson for the September 2010 edition of Esquire. The profile focuses a lot on Gingrich’s 3 marriages. Central to the profile is a lengthy interview with Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne (right), to whom he was married for 18 years before he took up with a new woman and eventually divorced Marianne.

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All things considered, Marianne is surprisingly reasonable and non-bitter, though nonetheless quite frank. Richardson writes, “You might be inclined to think of what she says as the lament of an abandoned wife, but that would be a mistake. There is shockingly little bitterness in her, and she often speaks with great kindness of her former husband.”

Gingrich proposed to his second and third wives before he had asked for a divorce from his current wife. So Marianne experienced both sides. She says, “He asked me to marry him way too early. And he wasn’t divorced yet. I should have known there was a problem.” She says his proposal came within weeks of them meeting. “It’s not so much a compliment to me. It tells you a little bit about him.”

While his marriages are the continuing thread, the profile ranges way beyond that. We learn about Gingrich’s childhood, and about the insecurities which someone very close–like a wife–would see when Newt is out of the spotlight. We also come to understand, to an extent, why a man of Newt’s brilliance has been saying some really outrageous things (for which Joe Scarborough, on Politico, really took Gingrich to task). In several ways, we’re told that Newt doesn’t feel that his rhetoric must line up with his lifestyle, a fact supported by his attitude toward personal morality.

It’s quite an interesting profile, though Newt did not appreciate it.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury appeared in the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair (which came out in September). Reporter Michael Gross, a self-proclaimed Christian, says he launched into the article with positive feelings toward Palin. But as he followed the story, talking to person after person who knew Palin, a different article emerged.

If you’re a Sarah Palin fan, you won’t like this article. You won’t want to accept what people say about the Sarah Palin they have seen, and the stories they tell behind-the-scenes. Unless you’re willing to accept that we peons constantly get hoodwinked by our political heroes. I’m one of those cynics who has believed in people’s public persona way too many times, and been severely disappointed. So I have no trouble accepting that at least some, maybe most, of this may be true.

However, I’m troubled by the over-use of anonymous sources in the article, people who would talk about Palin only if their names weren’t used. Gross acknowledges that this is a problem, that it damages the credibility of his article. Yet in the end, that’s what he had to go with. Sarah Palin, as he (and unnamed sources) continually point out, can be very vindictive and has a record of destroying people who oppose her. That’s why people preferred to stay off the record.

Gross spent months working on the article, and followed Palin through four states. He talked to lots of people in Alaska who know her (and who say she’s not the outdoorsman she pretends to be). He talked to people in the McCain presidential campaign, who had very few kind words about her and revealed some things I hadn’t heard before (like a Palin daughter who once told her, “You’re so fake. Why are you pretending to be something you’re not?”). Gross also delves deeply into all kinds of financial issues surrounding Palin. We learn about her explosive temper (which stays hidden from public view), her increasing isoloation in Wasilla, and the Bill-and-Hillary nature of her marriage.

Take the article with a grain of salt, or several grains. I did. I don’t like anonymous sources, and the portrait that emerges of Sarah Palin doesn’t always align with my gut reaction. But Gross is a responsible reporter, and I’ve taken the article under advisement. Plenty of negative stuff is said and written about Palin by detractors who have agendas (politicians and the MSNBC prime-time idiots), and I have no reason to trust what they say. But a good reporter like Michael Gross–I can’t write off everything he says. And there is a LOT in this lengthy, in-depth profile to chew on.

Glenn Beck

Being Glenn Beck, by Mark Leibovich, appeared in the September 29 edition of the New York Times. It’s mostly a positive, and somewhat light-hearted, profile of Beck. I found it enlightening, and have had to soften some of my disdain for this man, whose divisiveness I consider very bad for America. The article helped me understand some of his motivations, and that he shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

The article also sheds light on Beck’s sometimes rocky relationship with FoxNews and its other headliners. We learn that his show has an especially high female demographic, that he’s lost a lot of viewers, and that nearly 300 advertisers won’t promote their products on his show. It’s all interesting stuff and, as I said, presented in what I would consider a positive package.

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The Vanishing Spoon

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Is there a conspiracy to eliminate the spoon from Western Civilization?

I ate at Applebees yesterday and had some rice pilaf in a bowl. But when I unwrapped the napkin, all it contained was a knife and fork. Have you tried to scoop rice out of a rounded bowl with a long-tined fork?

At Smokey Bones, I love their roasted corn. However, they serve it in a small round crock…and like Applebees, they don’t give you a spoon. Pam and I always ask for a spoon, so we can eat the corn without swearing.

But why should we have to ask for a spoon? Corn + rounded crock = Must Have Spoon. A no-brainer to me.

Did some restaurant exec figure out how much money the chain can save in a year by not buying spoons? How much would be saved in dishwashing expenses by eliminating one-third of the dinnerware?

Then you go to some fancy restaurant, and they give you three forks. I don’t understand.

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Books: Worst Fears Realized, LA Dead

woods-2books-250.jpgDuring the past week I polished off two more Stuart Woods books, the 5th and 6th in the Stone Barrington series.

In “Worst Fears Realized,” some people close to Stone are getting killed. Evidence points to the attacks being engineered by a guy who is currently in prison. So Stone and his partner, Dino, try to unravel who is actually carrying out the attacks. And then there’s palace intrigue in the police department, as Stone is being unaccountably accused of carrying out one of the murders. What’s up with that? Along the way, Stone strikes up a hot romance with Dolce, the daughter of a mobster.

There’s a bit more violence in this book than in most. We also see Stone showing–even flaunting–wealth more than in other books (or maybe I just hadn’t noticed). The guy has money, for sure.

“LA Dead” begins with Stone and Dolce getting married in Italy. It’s a two-part ceremony–a civil ceremony, followed by a religious ceremony. Stone understands that both are needed to make the wedding official. In between the two, he learns that his old flame, Arrington, is in trouble and is asking for his help. So he rushes off to California.

Arrington’s husband, movie star Vance Calder, has been murdered in his home, and Arrington seems to be the prime suspect. But she has amnesia–can’t remember what happened. Stone hires a bigshot lawyer and begins planning her defense. Meanwhile, he calls Dolce back in Italy, and her attitude really stinks. He realizes he has made a mistake in deciding to marry her.

A lot of women come into the picture, all of whom have had sex with Vance and want to have sex with Stone. Then Dolce shows up. Remember, she’s a mobster’s daughter; her previous husband was killed execution-style after Stone entered her picture. She’s very possessive, in a Kathy Bates “I’m your biggest fan” kind of way.

So Stone’s dealing with his current wife (who might be a murderess) and his old flame (who most probably is a murderess). Not to mention all these other women.

This was quite an interesting book, especially because of the personal dramas.

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Book: The Hunger Games

hunger-games-150.jpgI’d been catching some buzz about “The Hunger Games,” with some people saying it would be the next big movie series, a successor to “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.” In fact, “Hunger Games” is now in development as a movie.

I found a copy at Sam’s Club in the Young Adult section, surrounded by the “Twilight” books and other novels  featuring vampires, werewolves, and post-apocalyptic themes.

“The Hunger Games” is in the post-apocalyptic camp. From what I could piece together, the United States is pretty much gone, except for 13 small cities scattered around a country now called Panem. Twelve of those cities are under the domination of The Capitol, a ruthless high-tech city in what used to be Colorado. The authoritarian Capitol keeps the other cities poor and subservient.

Every year (this is the 74th year), two teenagers are chosen by lot from each town. The 24 teens are then taken to the Capitol, where they compete to the death in the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial fight to the death. The winner is rewarded with lifetime perks. Everything is televised throughout the 13 cities.

katniss-peeta-200.jpgThe protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a 15-year-old girl living in a mining town somewhere in the Appalachians (each town has some kind of specialty). When her little sister, Prim, is selected to represent her city in the Hunger Games, Katniss offers to take her place. Joining her is Peeta, a boy who has had a crush on Katniss for years, though she’s oblivious to that.

Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to The Capitol, where they go through a period of training. Then the game begins. I’m not going to say anything more, lest I give away something. But I’ll say this: I really enjoyed it. While the plot sounds like “The Running Man” and other movies, “The Hunger Games” plows a fresh field.

Being a young adult book, “The Hunger Games” is clean of sexual content and obscenity. That was nice.

All three books in the trilogy are in print, but only the first book is in paperback. As soon as the others reach paperback, I’ll buy them, because I really want to know what happens next. Suzanne Collins, the author, created future that I’m eager to learn more about. We only catch some hints, dropped sparingly. Somehow, the Capitol needs to be overthrown. That doesn’t happen in “The Hunger Games,” so I anxiously await the next two books.

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The Chinese Secret Plan of Conquest

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Christine O’Donnell has seen China’s “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America.”

That statement, according to James Fallows of the Atlantic, came in 2006 during a Senate primary debate. She was criticizing one of her opponents–a man of Chinese ancestry, Jan Ting, a law school prof–of appeasement for suggesting that China and the US were economically dependent and should work together.

Yes, she looked across the platform, saw a Chinese-American, and assumed he must be in bed with Mainland China. Just like all those Japanese-Americans during WW2 were actually beholden to Emperor Hirohito.

Said O’Donnell: “We have to look at our history and realize that if they pretend to be our friend, it’s because they’ve got something up their sleeve.”

She said she was privy to classified information which, when pressed, she said came from nonprofit groups that send missionaries to China. So the Chinese are not too protective of their masterplan to conquer the US.

O’Donnell was pulling the same stunt Dick Cheney regularly pulled in justifying torture by saying that torture had uncovered big terrorist plots. But when questioned, he would claim access to classified information which he couldn’t divulge. “If you could see what I’ve seen, you would agree with me.” So how can you disprove it?

Anyway, Sarah and the Tea Party picked an excellent candidate. Anyone who can uncover an enemy’s masterplan for conquest–I want that person on our side. Besides, I can’t wait to hear all the interesting things she’ll say as a sitting Senator.

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Books: “The Hunter,” “Getaway Face” (Richard Stark)

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Donald Westlake wrote nearly 30 books under the name Richard Stark between 1963 and his death in 2009. Stark was Westlake’s dark persona. Most of those books starred a hardcore professional thief named Parker. Westlake wrote 16 Parker books 1963-1974, then took a lengthy break before writing “Comeback” in 1997, and following it with another 7 Parker books.

A number of those books have been made into movies, but none use the name Parker.

The first book, “The Hunter,” has been made into a movie twice. The first version, 1967’s “Point Blank,” starred Lee Marvin as Parker, though in the movie he was named Walker; he was joined by Angie Dickinson.

The second version, from 1999, is the excellent “Payback,” starring Mel Gibson as Porter, which is the Parker character. I love that movie. It’s tight, moves right along, has crisp dialogue, sets a definite noir mood, and follows a great plot. Mel Gibson’s Porter nails the Parker character. He’s joined by James Coburn, Lucy Liu, Maria Bello, Kris Kristofferson, and William Devane, among others.

“Payback” is based on the first Richard Stark novel, “The Hunter.” The book’s plot is far simpler than the movie’s. Parker is double-crossed and left for dead after a heist, and spends the rest of the book tracking down his former partner, Mal, and getting even. Mal has bought his way back into the good graces of “The Outfit,” a mob organization, which Parker must contend with.

Parker is ruthless, unconcerned with human life, uncaring about much of anything except himself. This comes through glaringly in one scene which didn’t appear in the movie. To stake-out a building, Parker invades a small store across the street and ties and gags the owner while he’s borrowing her location. But she’s asthmatic, and accidentally dies on him. He thinks nothing of it. Didn’t intend to kill her, but it happened. Oh well. This minor scene stuck with me more than any other scene in the book.

A number of scenes in “Payback” are right out of the book. However, the movie takes the plot much further and brings in additional characters, making it a richer story. This is one case where the movie is better than the book. But the book does what it needs to do. Interestingly, although the name Parker is changed to Porter, all of the characters in the movie use the same name as in the book–Mal Resnick, Stegman, Carter, Fairfax, Bronson.

I liked “The Hunter,” so thought I’d try the second book in the series, “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Having upset The Outfit, Parker buys a face-change. He then gets involved in an armored car heist. When the plastic surgeon is killed, he becomes involved in finding the killer, though only to keep his new identity secret from The Outfit.

The Parker of “The Man with the Getaway Face” seemed toned down a bit, not quite as ruthless, though there is little room for sympathy. He’s just a flat-out hard case. And I’m becoming a fan.

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