“In sum, the data could not provide a basis to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is dependent upon assumptions and information that is not certain.”
– Wells Report on Deflategate
“In sum, the data could not provide a basis to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is dependent upon assumptions and information that is not certain.”
– Wells Report on Deflategate
Bleak doesn’t begin to describe life in the bayou in the pages of The Marauders, by Tom Cooper. The novel follows the journey of several individuals who are trying to eke out their place in the world in the aftermath of the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast. Even with the promise of easy money from BP–looking to settle claims before they become even heftier in cost–most of the characters have little to look forward to other than days of drudgery on shrimp boats or doing menial hard labor.
Cooper, himself a native of New Orleans, paints a realistic portrait of the hardships his characters endure, easily putting the reader into the scene. It’s not a place anyone in their sane mind would want to embrace and, fortunately for the reader, it’s one that can be left by just closing the pages of the book. For his characters, such an escape is unattainable.
It’s Cooper’s characters, however, who keep readers wanting to turn the page.
Readers are introduced to a one-armed shrimper turned treasure-hunter, a teen wanting to forge his own way apart from the drudgery of life his father offers him, a pair of common criminals looking for an easy way out, and a pair of marijuana growers. It takes a while for their paths to cross, and for the story to really get going, but when they do the suspense is palpable, and sometimes humorous. (SPOILER: There’s one scene where the pot growers lock an alligator in the room with our one-armed shrimper.)
The Wall Street Journal describes the tale as “Sad, grotesque, hilarious, breathtaking”. I’m not sure about the latter description, but the novel is certainly intriguing and entertaining. It’s not a crime thriller per se, with shoot ‘em ups and car chases, but rather a story about characters and the choices they make, both criminal and otherwise.
The novel is Cooper’s first, though he has numerous credits in literary magazines like the Oxford American, Mid-American Review and others. He has been nominated for times for the Pushcart Prize.
NOTE: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
That, of course, is one of the worst things an author wants to hear after the hours, days, weeks, months – maybe even years – of laboring over his or her novel. But, on a bright note, I’m glad I saw the book through to its end.
I started reading the book in late February soon after it arrived in the mail from Blogging for Books. I quickly read to about the halfway point – and something happened. One day, I picked up a different book and started reading it. I not only read that book all the way to its finish, I then picked up another book and read it from start to finish.
The Expats, meanwhile, sat unfinished. A lone bookmark sitting on page 150.
This past week, I decided I should finish what I started. (I sometimes have difficulty in that regard, so I don’t lay all of the blame on the author. I have lots of unfinished projects around the house. I am easily distracted by other chores and things I’d rather be doing. The Expats simply fell victim to my own impatience.)
The Expats follows the story of Kate Moore, a former CIA operative who resigns to be a mom to her kid and wife in Luxembourg, where she meets other Americans living abroad like herself. After years of seeing spies everywhere and trusting no one, it’s not easy for Kate to live the simple life. It’s not long before she begins to sense deception at every turn, from the new couple she befriends to her own husband.
Her paranoia runs deep and she soon starts spying on her husband and sneaking into his office to find out just what he does for a living and whether he is being honest with her. At the same time, her newfound friends start turning up everywhere she goes, leading her to suspect that they are either spying on her or on her husband.
She’s not wrong, as it turns out.
It sounds like an intriguing story, and it is, for the most part. It just takes a while for things to start happening. The second half of the book certainly flowed a lot quicker as all her fears began to manifest and the puzzles presented in the first half of the book became clear. Pavone’s prose certainly puts the reader into the head of his main character. We hear and think every thought with Kate, however irrational those thoughts appear on the surface. As a reader, you have to wonder if her paranoia is just that, or if she is really on to something, and if she’s right, what then? How will she handle the news that her husband isn’t who he says he is or is doing something he shouldn’t be doing? Can she turn in her own husband to the CIA?
It’s a fascinating moral dilemma.
That’s what this book is more than anything else, and that may be why I had to put it down midway through. I like more action in the stories I read, and this one seemed lacking. Even her final showdown with the FBI agent/former friend following her was only a page or two. Everything else took place over long talks at dinner. The entire final reveal was more akin to a Hercule Poirot finale where he regales the reader with a recap of the events and his deductions.
I like a good mystery – I love Hercule Poirot novels. But when you are reading about spies, the CIA and FBI following the trail of a possible international crime, I expect more action.
Available from Broadway Books, The Expats is a New York Times Bestseller and has received rave reviews. I’m not raving over this one, but it’s a good mystery and I’m glad I finished reading it.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”
Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015
This is somewhat amusing, unbelievable, and shameful at the same time.
Two high school basketball teams – Smyrna and Riverdale, who happen to be located in the Middle Tennessee county in which I live (though, thankfully, I did not attend either as a student) — purposefully tried to lose to each other on the court this past week. The teams intentionally stalled play, made unforced turnovers, deliberately missed free throws, played with backups instead of the usual starters, committed blatant on-court violations, and, at one point, even made as if they were going to shoot at the wrong net.
The referee policing the action finally had enough of the shenanigans and called out the coaches.
Turns out neither team wanted to win because that would pit them against a powerhouse team and possible elimination in the next round of the playoffs, according to published reports. Instead, they wanted the loss so that it would put them on the other side of the bracket where they would stand a better chance against the opponent over there. A win in that case would propel the team into the state playoffs.
Sounds like a Las Vegas sports fix. But these are high school teams!
To appreciate the irony of this further, you need to know that winning is par for the course in Rutherford County high school athletics. Coverage of high school sports has always been an emphasis at the local newspaper, where I used to work as an editor. The county has produced numerous state champions over the years. State playoff berths are as expected from them as much as Super Bowl appearances are expected of the New England Patriots. Anything less is almost taboo.
Hard play, execution and determination are the norm from these two teams.
Famed sports writer Grantland Rice — who was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and whose portrait once hung on the wall of my office in Murfreesboro — said: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
In this case, how the teams played the game was unbelievable, embarrassing and disrespectful.
The game was an insult to fans who paid money to see a legitimate contest between the two schools. Fans were clearly not in on the game plan of trying to lose in order to advance, and the fans took to voicing their disgust on Twitter as the game unfolded.
Nor was the plan to intentionally lose disguised very well. One player reportedly even signaled to the ref that she had made a three-second violation and the ref should blow the whistle on her.
Now that’s comedy.
What isn’t funny is what this says about sports and what it says about fair play. Whether this was an idea or a directive foisted upon the players by the individual coaches or whether it was something the players themselves decided to do, the result is the same. Their actions were dishonest and deplorable, and, quite frankly, akin to cheating.
Both teams have already been punished by being banned from the postseason altogether, put on probation for the following season, and each school fined. One coach has been suspended for two games and discipline may be forthcoming for the other.
Hopefully, the players will learn from their mistake as they go through college and beyond. Because, being duplicitous is not a highly sought after skill on job applications.
And you all thought deflating footballs was a new low.
Kudos for NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway for their quick response to Saturday’s horrific accident involving Kyle Busch. Officials plan to begin adding soft tire barriers around all portions of the track not already protected by SAFER barriers. But, why is it we have to wait for something like this to happen before anyone does something about it?
Busch was seriously injured after his car was collected in a multi-car wreck in Saturday’s Xfinity Series at Daytona. His car careened across the infield just past pit road and slammed head-on into a concrete wall there. According to reports, he suffered a compound break of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. He’ll be out of action indefinitely while he recovers.
He was lucky. He could just as easily have been killed.
Incredulously, Daytona did not have SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barriers in place at this portion of the track. SAFER barriers, consisting of giant Styrofoam-like blocks, were built around race tracks to minimize the impact of cars crashing into the walls. The softer walls were introduced in 2002 and installed on most NASCAR and Indy tracks by 2005, according to ask.com.
For the most part, however, the softer walls only line the outside walls of any given race track.
Following Saturday’s crash, dozens of fellow drivers leveled harsh criticism over the lack of safer walls around the entire track. NASCAR and track president Joie Chitwood III, in turn, pledged to take immediate measures to put buffers in place on any exposed concrete walls. Temporary tire buffers should be in place prior to today’s Daytona 500 and permanent SAFER Barriers will be added after the race.
It’s great news, however overdue.
NASCAR and each of its track operators must have known that anything can happen in a race. Yes, the odds are low that anyone might hit that portion of the wall. But to play roulette with driver’s lives, is a gamble that should never be taken.
Sadly, this gamble has now cost the sport one of its best, most popular (and most hated) drivers for the foreseeable future.
NASCAR safety measures
Admittedly, NASCAR has made efforts to increase safety of its drivers, crews and even fans over the years. The SAFER Barriers are a perfect example.
Restrictor plates were added to stock cars in 1988 to help reduce horsepower. They became mandatory after driver Bobby Allison crashed and his car spiraled into the fencing around the track at Talladega Speedway.
After losing the greatest driver of this era, Dale Earnhardt, in a head-on crash at Daytona in 2001, the sport made use of the HANS device, a sort of harness fastened to the driver’s helmet, mandatory. The safety measure is designed to keep drivers from suffering life-threatening injuries to their head and neck in the event of a sudden stop.
Roof flaps were added to NASCAR vehicles after several terrifying crashes in the 1990s in which cars rolled over multiple times on high-speed tracks like Talladega and Michigan. The flaps open and disrupt air flow when a car gets sideways and air tries to get under the vehicles and force them up and over. They were further modified in 2013.
Not all of the improvements have been well-received, nor widely embraced when first introduced.
Many argue the advent of restrictor plates is responsible for the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega that have become the norm, and increase the potential for serious injury. Spectators and announcers alike bide their time just watching for “the big one” to occur. And, it inevitably does.
The HANS device was actually designed in the early 1980s, but didn’t become a mandatory safety device until after Earnhardt’s death. Many drivers, including Earnhardt, derided the device as being too confining and actually stated they would rather take their chances. It took Earnhardt’s death to end any arguments to the contrary.
Now we have an obvious lack of SAFER Barriers.
Amazingly, some drivers expressed surprise after Saturday’s crash that there were no barriers on that part of the track. They were quick to criticize NASCAR for its lack of safety, but did any of them ever walk the track to see where the potential dangers lied? Did any of them petition NASCAR to add SAFER Barriers to exposed walls? Shouldn’t drivers demand safety measures be met at all tracks before blindly hopping behind the wheel?
Driving any race car – whether it’s a stock car, Formula One car, Indy car or funny car – is inherently risky. It takes tremendous courage for drivers to suit up and go wheel to wheel with other drivers at such high speeds for hundreds of miles. The speed and the thrill of chasing the checkered flag obviously outweigh the dangers for some. (I know I can get white-knuckled just driving at 75 mph on the interstate, let alone what these drivers do.)
It takes a special sort of individual to perform at that level week after week. Unfortunately, it takes a terrible tragedy like Busch’s wreck to bring about change.
With the Grammys behind us and the Oscars ahead, I thought I’d present my own Best of… roundup as well. Consider this, though, more of a people’s choice awards list. I haven’t seen all the Oscar contenders so I can’t rate the high-brow emotional stuff, and I’m not into pop music, so this is just me, the common man, listing my own personal faves. I’ll include a few “worst of’s” as well. Kudos to all the writers who collectively entertained me in 2014 with their originality, wit and fun stories on screens big and small.
BEST: Guardians of the Galaxy
While it was a bit goofy at times, especially with Star-Lord’s “dance off” toward the end, I found this movie to be refreshingly fun and entertaining. The characters were unique, the action was top-notch, and the film never got bogged down in the weighty seriousness of other super-hero movies.
RUNNER-UP: The Lego Movie
A kid’s movie? Maybe. But it was just so hilarious and that tune, well, it was awesome. Face it, everything was awesome. Batman and Green Lantern and Superman were awesome. Did I mention this was awesome?
SLEEPER OF THE YEAR: John Wick
Keanu Reeves picked a perfect flick to make his return in a big way. This movie was intense, action-packed, and just plain fun to watch. Of course, the studios are going to try to repeat their success with a sequel. Sigh.
WORST: A Million Ways to Die in the West
This movie was just a flat-out miss. The story was practically non-existent, the jokes – if you can call them that – were bombs, and the acting just tired. Comedies are hard. Maybe one of the most difficult forms of movies to pull off. But this one missed on so many levels.
How do you take a great movie like Fargo and translate it to the small screen? Like this. This series was so quirky and enjoyable. The performances were first rate and it was full of surprises. No formulaic tv drama here.
RUNNER-UP: The Walking Dead
Some people didn’t like the direction this series took in 2014 with its episodes that singled out individuals or small groups rather than including the whole ensemble, or more specifically, Rick Grimes. I thought it was a great change of pace from the prison/governor episodes and allowed us to get to know each character a bit better. It did seem at times that the storyline sort of forgot people, such as when Beth went missing, but as evidenced by the current season, the writers have atoned for that quite well.
SURPRISE: Last Comic Standing
I don’t really like stand-up comics, but this competition series provided quick laughs when I needed it most.
A SyFy Walking Dead ripoff of the worst variety. I think I managed to watch about ten minutes before deleting it from my viewing que forever.
SECOND WORST: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
Boring. That’s the only way I can describe what should have been an exciting, action-packed series. This is how you take a Marvel franchise and dumb it down for TV. Ugh.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Forty years and still the best band in the world, KISS! Def Leppard came along for the ride, but just proved that no one can open for KISS.
Surprise: Arcade Fire
They may not be a surprise to those who were already fans, but their act/songs took me by storm in 2014. I got to see them live in Nashville and that only cemented the deal. My favorite best new group, even if I did discover them a bit late.
More and more I find myself turning to social media, particularly Twitter, for quick news. By just scrolling through tweets, I can get a quick assessment of what is the hot topic of the day and what everyone is talking about. Makes me wonder, if no one is tweeting about it, is it really happening?
What were your favorite TV, movies and books of 2014? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Just comment in the box below.
PS…I follow back.
By G. Robert Frazier
Quick show of hands: Which tool do you writers like more, the spiral-bound notebook (along with a good old-fashioned pen) or a computer and keypad?
For quick notes, character sketches, and random scenes that come to me in the middle of the night, I have to go with the former.
For one thing, you don’t have to get out of bed. You don’t have to take time to turn anything on. You just grab the notebook (which I conveniently keep on the nightstand beside my bed), flip to an open page, and start writing. You don’t have to worry about saving your work midway through by giving it a file name, finding a folder on your computer to save it in, and hitting the save button. You aren’t distracted by the lure of email messages, tweets and Facebook posts. And, perhaps most importantly, you aren’t compelled to go back and retype a sentence or correct any typos you’ve made along the way.
Your mind is free and clear to just write away.
I have reams of notebooks filled with goodies for my work in progress, as well as other story ideas, scenes and outlines. I use sticky notes to mark what I’ve written, so that I can find what I want again. I use a larger sticky note on the front of each notebook to create a sort of index. I keep the notebooks together in a small plastic tote and pull them out as needed. (Note: I stock up on notebooks dirt cheap every summer during the back to school sales.)
I am impressed by the volume of words and ideas I’ve managed to get on paper in this way. Any time I get discouraged by the word count on my work in progress on the computer, I can look to the tub of spiral notebooks for some reassurance. I am writing. I am making progress.
Of a sort.
When I get stuck in my writing, I can also flip open the notebooks to find inspiration or ideas that might provide a spark to get writing again. There are treasures there that I want to get back to; ideas I’d love to develop into full-fledged stories, once I get done with the novel at hand.
I also look at my hasty scribbles as a way to cleanse my thoughts. When I have time to transcribe the words from the notebook into the computer file, I find I can fine-tune or elaborate on the writing along the way. I can easily skip over anything I think is a bad idea or repetitive, or embellish a quick spark of a thought into something more.
There are, of course, downsides to the spiral notebook method of writing. First among them, finding the time to transcribe my words from the notebook to the computer. As you can see by the photo accompanying this article, I’m a bit behind in that regard. Secondly, there is the problem of reading my own writing. I’m not the neatest when it comes to writing with pen and paper, especially when I get in a hurry. I tend to write in a sort of hybrid printing/cursive pattern. I can make it out, for the most part, but sometimes even I have trouble trying to decipher my own chicken scratch.
My spiral-bound notebooks also take up space. A computer file doesn’t.
Still, the notebook method works for me. I like it.
Which method do you prefer in your writing? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts.
Other reading:10 Famous Writers Who Don’t Use Modern Tech to Create
New England Patriots players Friday said they have faith in quarterback Tom Brady and support him completely, despite the sports media who would just as soon as string him up by a noose without a trial. Thursday’s Bellichick and Brady press conferences were media circuses, and no matter what either man said about the so-called Deflategate fiasco, the media was determined to tear them down.
I’m not sure where all the hatred comes from or why the media — which is supposed to be impartial and supposed to report facts, not innuendo, rumors and personal vendettas — is so intent on bringing down the Patriots franchise. The only real conclusion is that everyone hates a winner. When the Cowboys won under Tom Landry, they were the team you loved to hate. When the Raiders were winning, they were the hated team. When the Yankees win, they are the hated team. When the Red Sox win, they are the evil empire.
People love sports heroes, and hate winners. That’s all there is to it. The world is full of petty jealousy and losers who can only dream of being as good and successful as others. How else do you explain all the piss-ant former football players turned commentator experts? Where are their rings? Where are their bestselling autobiographies?
Patriots players commended Tom Brady for being calm and collected at his press conference. Some of the media tried to picture him as squirming under the pressure. Well, that is they wished he was squirming. They were too busy trying to rationalize how they could use his words against him.
I wish Brady had actually lost his cool. I wish he would have stood up and taken the media down a peg or two. I hate the media. (Used to be one of them, by the way. Never again. Lousy pay. Lousy job.) Bunch of armchair quarterbacks who live just to tear down someone else’s achievements. Why? For their own five minutes of glory and one-up-manship.
Fact is, this whole deflategate nonsense is just nonsense. A flatter ball doesn’t travel as far or as fast as one fully pumped up. Advantage defense. Hey, Colts defense, be careful what you wish for!
What did the media really want Brady to say, anyway? “Sorry, I did have the balls deflated so I could get a better grip. But, turns out, I was wrong. I throw much better with fully inflated balls after all. Won’t do it again.”
I’m not trying to condone cheating. OK, if someone altered the balls, that was wrong. But, hey, let’s wait until all the evidence is in, huh? Quit convicting people just because you don’t like something. In my opinion, it’s the sports broadcasters (Troy Aikman!) who have lost their cool. Just look at their emotional outburst following Brady’s press conference.
Fact is, in sports, you look for a competitive edge. If that means pushing the envelope or a rule a little bit, so be it. Don’t tell me every sports player doesn’t look for an edge. Don’t tell me the other teams aren’t doing the same things. Doesn’t make it right, I know, but that’s the game. That’s the culture of winning this whole sports world is built around. Win or else. Why do you think so many coaches and players get fired or traded every off season? Because in today’s sports world, you win or you’re out.
No wonder one of my brothers ignores sports. Who can blame him after this? It’s a dirty business and things like Deflategate just make me want to walk away as a fan too. (I know I won’t, though.)
If anyone is looking for blame, then blame the refs. It’s their job to make sure the rules are upheld. If they don’t see a penalty on the field, the flag isn’t tossed. If they see it, they toss a flag and the consequences follow. Well, usually. Except in the case of the Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys game. Was it cheating when they picked up the flag and made their non-call? Where’s the outrage over that?
Integrity of the game? Come on, man! Just shut up and play ball.
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