Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rant Follow-up – Dear Governor Pence, Save $2 million, Resign Now

The people who make up the largest percentage of this blog’s readership aren’t from from Indiana.  In fact, there is a huge block from Russia and another from Europe. And for the most part, my posts focus on writing crime fiction and film. So why am I fixating on the ignorant Governor of one-mid-sized state?

Dear Lt. Governor, Why So Quiet?
I’m sorry.  He’s like a stone in my shoe.  He is a prime example of what I like least in human behavior – bullying. He is making his personal fundamentalist religious beliefs law and says he is doing so for the cause of “religious freedom.”  There is, of course, no freedom, religious or otherwise, when one’s religious freedom trumps another’s.  

While a congressman, Pence voted against the notion that women must be paid the same as men when they do the exact same job and was consistently anti-gay. As governor, he disliked the results of the school superintendent election so he created a new state office to which newly elected superintendent must report, essentially putting himself in charge despite the electorate. No one is less qualified to run any educational program, which is why the electorate ignored his candidate in the first place He’s not particularly fond of any class that teaches the world is older than what the creationists’ believe. He doesn’t believe in evolution or climate change. And he has strange notions about being poor. “We’re ‘ennobling’ poor people by cutting off food stamps,” he said.

Unsatisfied by how the largely conservative Hoosier press was treating him – apparently they had the audacity to ask him questions – he tried to set up his own news agency. That didn’t go well.  Then the tsunami hit. He had proposed and the gerry-mandered state legislature agreed to legislation that would permit if not encourage discrimination against LGBT people and by logical extension would also revive all sorts of discrimination. This upset a lot of people, not only in Indiana, but elsewhere.  Businesses threatened to move.  Other states instituted boycotts. Performers cancelled concerts. Conventions threatened to move. Corporations delayed expansion plans.  Lost business hit Indianapolis big time, and it had begun to affect other Indiana cities, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Bloomington to name a few.

What did Pence do?  He stood firm.  The law wasn’t intended to discriminate, he insisted, despite the fact that that the bill signing took place in a private ceremony attended by the most rabid anti-gay leaders the state could produce. He denied the obvious and stood firm as the state began to fall apart. Five mayors of Indianapolis, four former and four of them Republican, wrote to express their outrage. He squared his jaw and tightened his lips. He was standing his ground.

Indiana was getting the reputation of being the most confederate state north of the Mason Dixon line. Even Arkansas, which considered copying the law, backed off.  But not Governor Pence.

The state legislature folded and Pence relented, finally signing a “fix.”  Pence went off to Europe, perhaps to clear his head or negotiate a deal with a P.R. agency.  Once touted as a presidential possibility or, at minimum a VP candidate, Pence was now in trouble.  No one expected a Republican to be progressive on social issues, but they were supposed to be good for business.

Pence’s penance turns out to be $2 million of Indiana taxpayer money to hire a P.R. firm to improve Indiana’s image, which was actually pretty good until Pence became governor. The money went to the departments of Business Development and Tourism. No fan of his privatizer-in-chief predecessor, Mitch Daniels, Daniels nonetheless manufactured the perception that Indiana was a great state for business and a great place to live. Indianapolis, in particular, was and is seeing a kind of renaissance, no thanksto the governor. Pence and his inability to manage a crisis of his own creation, destroyed years of hard work. His incompetence was broadcast nationally not by opinionated pundits, but by Pence himself.

Dear Pence, Save $2 Million:" Resign
There are many questions here. What does all this say about the man’s competence, let alone intelligence?  Perhaps more important, is the expensive, tax-funded P.R. campaign designed to restore Indiana’s image or Pence’s? First you beat up the citizens and then ask them to pay the hospital bills and buy you a new suit and a haircut. 

There are those in Indiana who think Hoosiers should move on, that continued attention to Pence’s folly only further embarrasses the state. It’s also true: If he were to resign, the lieutenant governor (a person of similar political persuasion) would take over and be in a position to go after the seat herself, unless, of course, she was complicit.  Though constitutionally in charge of the Department of Commerce, to which business development and tourism, usually report, Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann has been strangely quiet. Is she in hiding?

Meanwhile Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard may consider a gubernatorial run during the GOP turmoil. Another connected Republican has quit his day job and hinted he might challenge Pence who only a short time ago was invinceable. Now, a battle for Indiana’s top job – between pro-business and socially conservative Republicans – may ensue. The Grand Old Party’s Good Old Boys suddenly have to deal with a restless herd.

Whatever happens, a bully like Pence should not be allowed to skate, though I worry that his new $2 million connection to a gigantic international P.R. firm could net him dividends in his golden years or keep him afloat during his potential exile.  He has made, some might consider, a substantial down payment on an office with a K Street address.

What he really deserves is to be ennobled. Really, a Pence resignation would do more to restore Indiana’s image than a $2 million P.R. campaign. They would make a big deal of it on the evening news.  There would be a big sigh of relief and we could again think about other things: Chris Christie in a revival of “The Sopranos,” for example.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Film Pairings — Gone Girl, But Here Comes The Judge

These two films are more recent than those that usually find their way here. But I was fortunate they were almost immediately available despite their Academy Award considerations.  Both are solid. Worthwhile.   Gone Girl is brilliantly cynical while almost its opposite, The Judge is life affirming.

In Gone Girl, Ben Affleck plays a rather dull husband, who initially at least, is out of his league with his far more exciting and creative wife, played by Rosamund Pike. The wife goes missing. A forensics team discovers what appears to be a murder scene at the house and the husband begins to look good for the crime. Early in the film I felt like I was watching some true crime drama – “48 Hours maybe” — only with better dialogue and better lighting. The author of the best-selling book itself, Gillian Flynn hands over a great screenplay to a director, David Fincher, who knew how to put it on film. A top supporting cast, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris and my favorites, Carrie Coon as the husband’s sister and Kim Dickens as the top cop help give this first-rate film its smooth play. But beware.  It has a nasty, unsettling end. Just when you think you have it, it has you.  Who says you have to be happy?

Fine acting also marks The Judge. Though neither Robert Downey Jr. nor Robert Duvall test their respective ranges, playing types they’ve successfully played before, they are nonetheless perfectly cast in this story of a dysfunctional family on the verge of  complete disintegration. Duvall has the pivotal role  — a harsh judge not only to those who come before him, but of his family, particularly his smart-assed son played by Downey.  But the judge is nearly destroyed by the death of his wife, his stage IV cancer, mentally challenged son and, finally, a crime he is accused of committing, but cannot remember. David Dobkin directed this film which rises from the merely predictable to something worthwhile thanks to the ability of all the actors, which also includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, a magnetic Vera Farmiga and a cameo appearance by Billy Bob Thornton who brought tremendous presence to a small but significant role.

In the first film, Rosamund Pike is forced to move to a small town in Missouri, a fate she regards as worse than death.  In the second Downey is forced to return to his home, a small town in Indiana, a fate he believes is worse than death. The cure for this unhappiness? Inbibification, of course.  For those who wish to imbibe, I recommend tonic and lemon with or without the gin. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Commentary – Republicans Light Up Broadway

Word is out. Sarah Palin’s daughter will be in a road revival of the musical Annie Get Your Gun.  What makes this even more exciting is that Bristol ”the pistol” Palin’s show is produced by the National Rifle Association. It’s apparently the NRA’s brainchild, a way to build support for the organization’s sagging image. Maybe they can get Ted Nugent to play Buffalo Bill.

I think it’s a brilliant idea. Imagine the possibilities for other organizations needing a little help with their public perception.  The Mormon Church could revive Seven Brides For Two Brothers, starring the Romneys.

Tom Cotton: Senator
Anthony Perkins: Psycho
Breaking News:  Marco Rubio will replace Jeb Bush as The Man From La Mancha when Bush finally realizes he’s not Hispanic. In a search for an Anthony Perkins look-alike for a Koch Brothers’ musical version of Psycho, they are thrilled to announce that Tom Cotton will play the part. “He’s perfect, wound, you know, just a little too tight,” said director Karl Rove.

Other Broadway snippets:  It is rumored Mike Huckabee will take the lead in the Music Man. His song, “Trouble, oh we got trouble right here in Indiana, trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘G’ and that stands for gay.” In the interim, Huckabee will take the lead as the sheriff of Mayberry. Bobby Jindal will take the role as his nervous deputy, Barney Fife. In this new Broadway-bound version, gays, poor people and uppity women will go to jail. Ted Cruz will guest star as Jesus H. Christ, who visits Aunt Bee to take back her Social Security check in a particularly touching episode in which Opie is refused admittance to the local hospital for lack of health insurance, but is treated by Floyd the barber, in a cameo by Mitch McConnell.

Christie: "To the moon, Alice!"
The Odd Couple Returns again and again. This time, the organization, People For Continual War will produce a Broadway version featuring John McCain and Lindsay Graham.  Next on Lindsay’s schedule is La Cage Aux Folles, where he will pretend he knows more about football and soldiering than designer ball gowns.

Ralph Kramden
My spies are checking the rumor that Donald Trump will star in a restaging of Hairspray.  “I know they're looking for someone tackier, but I felt that I could reach deep down in my soul and find this quality,” Trump said.  His PACS have already raised $3.75 in crowd funding, not quite enough for a slice of pizza, but Trump has plans to sell his failing casinos to Wal-Mart to get his show up and running.

Perry: Do these glasses make me look smart?
The Honeymooners on 42nd Street.  Watch for Chris Christie as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Rick Santorum as Ed Norton in this revival.  Pundits say his is a real stretch for Santorum because Norton’s character is supposed to come across as a human being.

Rand Paul and Rick Perry will star in an adaptation of Deliverance, The Musical. Rand, it is reported, will play a dueling banjo in the production. Insiders aren’t sure what that means.

The Eagle Forum will produce a Broadway tribute to The Golden Girls, starring Phyllis Schiafly as the oldest resident of a shared house in Arizona or Arkansas — one is a dry heat.  The show also stars Carly Fiorina, Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. In a departure from the original concept, none of these Golden girls are particularly bright.

Carly Fiorina: Golden Girl
The Family Research Council is begging the trending Ted Cruz to join them in various productions, but he said the only role he was prepared to take is Jesus Christ, just not that last part.  He is currently auditioning for the U.S. Presidency or “the Savior” as he prefers to be called. He had admitted he was concerned he would be confused with Tom Cruise, or perhaps with Christ himself.  Scott Walker, in an effort to compete, tried to find a role he could play.  Unfortunately there is no character for someone who has no character. “Mean and petty, isn’t enough,” said a spokesperson for the Club For Growth, which denies they help people grow hair.  They suggested Walker take the title role in The Invisible Man, but Dr. Ben Carson had already been cast.

I’m sorry, Democrats, you’re just not as silly as Republicans.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Blatant Promotion — E-Books At Bargain Prices

Though Amazon and B&N have been selling and shipping my new book Killing Frost before the official May 1 release date, I’ll begin my blatant promotion of the new book closer to the official release date.  In the meantime, what I would like to do is call attention to some real bargains for all of you e-book readers with regard to some of my other books.
The Carly Paladino/Noah Lang San Francisco Mysteries
 “the makings of a superior series. Tierney, author of the Deets Shanahan series, has a winner here. Library Journal

$2.99 Death In North Beach
$2.99 Death In The Haight
$3.99 Mascara: Death In The Tenderloin

Noah is a streetwise P.I.  Carly is a highly trained professional. Together with a gender-bending associate, they cover the eclectic City by the Bay.

The Shanahan Indianapolis Mysteries
... eccentric characters, wry humor, and a spare but compelling writing style. Engaging and entertaining. — Booklist

$2.51 Bullet Beach
An aging P.I. tries to tie up loose ends as he nears the end of his life. One of those loose ends is his brother who disappeared when they were children and who might be a criminal living in Thailand.

Standalone Mystery
Tierney serves up a dark, twisty little gem…. Every year the genre has its Goliaths, bigger and better ballyhooed than this modest entry. Come Edgar time, however, Tierney’s well-written, tidily plotted, character-driven David of a book deserves to be remembered.Kirkus Reviews

$ 2.51 Good To the Last Kiss
This is the darkest of all my novels. Much of he darkness comes from the mind of a serial killer. And much of it has to do with collateral damage that occurs when someone is compelled to live out his obsession no matter what the cost to others.

All of the above titles are available in hardback and on Audible as well

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rant — To Pence: Repeal And Resign

At some point, the brouhaha over the anti-gay Governor of Indiana, will blow over. Arkansas, Arizona or Oklahoma will do something stupid and the people will take the pressure off the Silverback anti-gay Governor of my native Hoosier state. That would be a huge mistake.

A few months ago, Pence tried to set up his own in-house government news agency to report on his activities. His Putinesque attempt was laughed into oblivion. Pence said his intent was misunderstood. Besides homosexuals, he has disdain for others.  He and his party’s hatred of Planned Parenthood resulted in the closing of Scott County’s only HIV testing Center. Predictably, HIV cases have since spiked. Emergency measures have been taken in reaction to the epidemic that should never have taken place.

But back to the future: Pence said that this current controversy had nothing to do with discrimination against the LGBT community, despite his well-documented history of doing so.  If all was just for religious freedom (nobody’s against that), why did he sign the bill in a private, press-free, invitation-only ceremony, where conspicuously present were leaders of Indiana’s most virulent anti-gay organizations? If his was such a great law, why wasn’t it shouted to the rafters?  We know. Pence, when pushed, finally indicated that civil rights for LGBT people were “not on his agenda.” But, he continued to claim, he doesn’t discriminate.

Meanwhile, the state’s business community is being crushed. Company expansions have been postponed. The NCAA may move from Indianapolis,* “the amateur sports capital of the country.” Conventions and concerts have been cancelled. Indiana is losing a fortune and is the butt of international jokes.  Still he plays his sad little violin while Indy burns, all because he is trying to save face.

On national television, Pence had the same empty run-out-the clock answers to every question.  He’s been misunderstood, he said. It’s the media’s fault, he said.  Later he even said it was Obama’s fault. Good grief.  He used the same strategy during his election campaign when asked if he believed in evolution as he did when asked if gays should have civil rights. He equivocates, changes the subject and answers a question he wasn’t asked.  He is an ignorant man, and his actions indicate he might even know that.  But he doubles down.

Perhaps Pence thinks this is his big chance to catch up in the Republican presidential primary, getting to the right of Cruz, Rand, Rubio, Jindal and New Jersey’s ultra-right swerving thug governor Chris Christie as well as Jeb Bush who ought to know better, at least politically. 

Historically, what Pence has actually done is put himself in league with former Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus and former Alabama Governor George Wallace, not to mention Indiana’s own KKK Governor Edward L. Jackson. And this is an important note almost lost in the conversation. The wording of the bill not only threatens gays, but all minorities. Remember, past interpretations of the Bible have justified segregation laws. No wedding cake for a mixed-race couple. No room at the lunch counter.

The sound and fury of Pence’s folly may blow over quickly, but it is vital he’s removed from Indiana governance before he destroys the state completely.

*Credit goes to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, also a Republican, for calling Pence out on this crass piece of legislation.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Film Pairings – To Die For and A Kiss Before Dying, Dillon Times Two

As I’ve mentioned too many times before, much of my youth was spent or misspent in the darkened auditorium of downtown Indianapolis movie palaces. My brother and I could catch a an early matinee double feature, then brave the blinding Saturday afternoon sunlight, walk a couple of blocks and take in another double feature. Usually the theater would show one major film, often in color. The second would be a low-budget affair with less famous actors and actresses. That’s how I feel about this pairing.  One is a nearly perfect dark comedy about murder.  The other takes itself quite seriously. Though I liked them both – I’m easy to please – if you have high standards, doing off might not be the worst thing you can do, though the film improves toward the end.

Kidman & Phoenix
Murderous comedies don’t come any better than To Die For. Nicole Kidman plays a beautiful ambitious, marginally bright woman who would do anything to achieve fame.  She marries a handsome young man (Matt Dillon). He turns out to be a major roadblock on her road to stardom. She plots his death. The film is shot in a mock-documentary style that in the hands of others might be disastrous, but with Buck Henry writing the screenplay and Gus Van Sant directing, To Die For is to die for.  Joaquin Phoenix joins the superb cast as Kidman’s lovesick puppet. Casey Affleck is a young tough. The film, based on the book by Joyce Maynard, was released in 1995.

Matt  Dillon
Whereas Kidman’s surprisingly good performance was honored with a couple of awards for playing the shallow narcissus, Sean Young had the dubious honor of picking up two Razzies, one for worst actress and another for worst supporting actress for her performances as twins in A Kiss Before Dying. A reminder:  This is the second feature. You may drift off before they roll the credits.  However this turns out to be mostly worthwhile, largely due to Matt Dillon’s solid portrayal of a man’s obsession to succeed by hook, crook or murder. This is the second film based on Ira Levin’s book of the same name. The earlier (1956) version starred Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward. This one (1991) was directed by James Dearden, who also wrote the screenplay. The story had a Hitchcock-like sensibility, but played out even more mechanically than those by the master. There are some clever twists and it’s a pleasure to watch the young Dillon at work after his turn in Drugstore Cowboy, and especially after watching him as a more mature character in To Die For.

A white wine, bubbly or not might be an appropriate accompaniment to the first film. Step it up for the second. Or a latte followed by an espresso.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Commentary – Crime Fiction – Perhaps A Whole New Meaning to Formula

James Patterson

Thriller author James Patterson is famous for many reasons, not the least of which is his prolific output. Checking out his bibliography, it’s clear he could have his very own book of the month club. He is subject to praise for his generosity to independent bookstores and a target for criticism for hiring co-writers theoretically making his name merely a brand.  Is this okay?  After all, Andy Warhol had his  famous factory to produce his work.  And some of the world’s greatest artists had apprentices who could color inside the lines drawn by the masters. In Patterson’s case it is reported he writes a thorough outline, passes it along to one of his co-writers and monitors the progress. This works well with formula writing.

Many commercially successful writers have developed or discovered a formula. A new book is a matter of changing little bits and pieces in a proven format. It’s an almost paint-by-numbers approach.  Many writers have invented a product by doing this. They can teach others how to make it. But the Patterson principle lends itself to the next stage:  Co-writers, schmo-writers… who needs them? The real fun is yet to begin.

But, let me digress a moment.  I’m home a lot.  And I am in the demographic that is highly prized by telemarketers. Old and, according to some marketing folks, more easily fooled. I get the irritating phone calls sometimes four or five times a day. I’ve won a free trip on a riverboat.   Or there’s a problem with my credit card I’m told by an official at some obscure security company. Someone else wants to talk to me about my mortgage. I don’t own a home.  Workers are in my neighborhood, I’m told. They are willing to clean out my heating vents on the cheap. I don’t have vents. I’ve always felt sorry for the individual telemarketers, many selling marginal products or services or maybe not even marginal. I’m not nice to them. I should be.  They are a dying breed.  The sad truth for those who staff the phones, their employers no longer need live employees to disrupt my nap or interrupt a shower with their scams.

“Hello,” I said.

A lovely woman’s voice says, “I’ve finally reached you.  You are hard to find.” She laughs.  She has a lovely laugh.

I am? I thought. I’ve had the same phone number, same address, and the same email for 25 years. I’ve got FB, a blog, and a web site.  I may be many things, but I’m not difficult to find. Good God, woman, I’m even googleable.

While I’m thinking, she politely asks how I am? So warm.  I’m embarrassed.  I don’t recognize her lovely voice, but I feel I ought to.

“I’m sorry, who is this?” I finally ask.

“Sarah,” she said.  “I hope this is a good time to talk.”

Her voice is just a little too good, and the timing seems to be a little off.

“Are you real?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” She laughs. She is amused, it seems.

“You don’t sound real,” I said.

“I am real,” she said.

She wasn’t. It didn’t take much to take the early-stage replicant beyond her capacity to respond. She was merely a series of recorded sentences, strung together in ways to correlate to predictable callee responses through voice recognition software.   This technology, of course, is already at work on car computers, telephone tree responses, smart phones. Human to human interaction is declining. We all know that.

The digital revolution isn’t all bad. I prefer email to telephones, for the most part. I am my own administrative assistant now.  I like ATMs, and am my own bank teller.  After we learned to pump our own gas, supermarkets decided we could bag and check out our own groceries. The dehumanizing continues. Taxi cab companies don’t need dispatchers and, soon, it appears, they won’t need drivers. We will summon a driverless car with our smart phone. Amazon is testing drone delivery of products. Human labor is expensive.

Now, I’m about to de-digress. A few days ago, electronic information writer Shelley Podolny wrote a piece in The New York Times in which paragraphs from two sport stories, one written by a human and another by a machine (algorithms), were juxtaposed. I couldn’t tell which was written by whom (or by which). But it’s not just robojournalism.  With powerful search engines, and continually refined artificial intelligence, what can’t be written by HAL or Watson? What most of us don’t know, Podolny says, is a bunch of it already is. A French business school has 100,000 such algorithmically written books available now on Amazon, she says.

Life is change. Change or die. Of course you’re going to die anyway. But until that happens, let’s figure out how this might work.  Let’s take the next step.  Patterson doesn’t really need a human writing partner. Humans are so inefficient.  They have to eat and sleep. They have health problems, want vacations, naps.  Jeez.  So inefficient.  Just feed the machine some variable data, select a genre, a style and push a button.  A book.  You now have the next blockbuster by that prolific author, Ignatious Benedict MacGoogle.

Who needs Patterson? Maybe you’ve never been able to write a thank you note, but with the right software, you can write your own damn novel or create a blend of your favorite mysteries – Murder on the Maltese Express or Farewell, My Godfather, or The Silence of the Mockingbirds.