Monday, April 30, 2012

OLD GOLD — Edgar Award Winning Wendy Hornsby's Early Classics, Ready For Your E-Book Pleasure

Early works by some of our best, current crime writers have been out of print for years. But times are changing. Many of these highly praised novels are available again as e-books and or trade paperbacks. “Old Gold” is a periodic blog feature that focuses on these reissued treasures. Here's Wendy Hornsby’s story in her own words.

I love used bookstores.   For a few bucks you can fill your arms with treasure:  new authors to try, old favorites to meet again.

There came a time when my own books began to show up in used bookstores.  It always tickled me to find them.  It still does.   Every author should be happy to see a book remain in circulation in any form.  There is a great investment of time and heart and soul in the production of those pages.  How painful it would be if those books entirely vanished from view.
Enter the brave new world of e-books, a used bookstore by other means.  For about what I’d pay at a used bookstore, I can fill up my e-reader with new discoveries and, if I may, Old Gold.

It took me about a minute to understand that if I could convert all my out-of-print titles to e-books, they need never go out of print again.  My problem, as always, was time.  Do-it-yourself electronic re-publication, even with a hired “producer,” can be complicated, fussy, somewhat costly, and very time consuming.

Last fall,, partnered with Open Road, offered to publish my backlist in every e-format out there; God bless Otto Penzler.  My only hand in the process was to send hard copies of the books.
At Christmas, Otto sent me note to take a look at  And there they all are, five books in the Maggie MacGowen series and the two Kate and Tejeda books, all with bright new covers, as pretty as can be.   A happy day.

To borrow from Baron von Frankenstein, “They live!”

Edgar Award winning author Wendy Hornsby is the author of nine mystery novels and many short stories.  The Paramour’s Daughter, from Perseverance Press, is her most recent book.  For further information see

Friday, April 27, 2012

Film Pairings — Smart Crime Films And Great Car Chases

There was a period in American cinema when a thrilling crime film meant stringing together a series of wild car chases. Oops, that time never ended. But it may have begun in 1968 with Bullit, which had one brilliant chase scene around and over the hills of San Francisco.  The French Connection came along three years later with a classic chase that seems to one up the climactic scene in Bullit.  This time we have another classic chase, with a cop in a ’71 LeMans trying to keep up with a speeding and eventually out-of-control elevated train. These two films went a long way to seal the fame of two fine actors — Steve McQueen as Bullit and Gene Hackman as “Popeye” in The French Connection.

The French Connection has the more complex plot and, perhaps because of this, takes a little time to take off.  We start in sunny, seedy and scenic Marseille, the city we all suspect is France’s center of illicit activities. We eventually find ourselves in New York, where there is a shortage and consequently a hungry consumer demand for heroin. Based on a true story recounted in the novel by Robin Moore, a couple of second-rate cops want to bring down a clever narcotics chieftain. Director William Friedkin brought this kind of dark film from a stylish and perhaps mannered noir to a gritty realism — or at least the realism as it is perceived in the 1970s. No heroes here.  Just a thriller that builds to an end that is both frantic and mad.  The film won several Academy Awards and nominations including wins for Hackman and Friedman. Roy Scheider was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

You can credit or blame Bullit for making the car chase as big a deal as it is? And who knows how many Ford Mustangs it helped sell?  Like The French Connection, Bullit was both a critical and box office success.  It had a few Academy Award nominations as well. 

A smarmy, pompous D.A., played to a tee by Robert Vaughn, calls on San Francisco Police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, played with admirable restraint by Steve McQueen. Respected cop, McQueen, is ordered to guard a key witness before he testifies in a high-profile trial of a dangerous man.  It all goes wrong in a hurry and the D.A. wants Bullit’s head.  Bullit thinks there’s something fishy about the whole thing. The story is tight and told quickly — downright breezy compared to the first on the bill.  The pay-off is the car chase on the streets of what may be the hilliest city in the country.  Peter Yates (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) directs.  The film is based on the book, Mute Witness, by Robert L. Fish, who was twice awarded an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America.

Hackman, in his role, drinks whiskey on the rocks when he’s at a bar and straight from his flask when he isn’t. But we do have these characters from France.  They drink red wine. And while Bullit probably doesn’t consult the Wine Spectator for wine selection advice, he is in San Francisco and appears to like wine more than your average homicide cop.  So keep those facts in mind when you decide how you want the evening to go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confession — What The Reader Wants, The Reader Gets. Maybe. Maybe Not.

Occasionally people who read my books email me. And I welcome them. I encourage them. I once received a note from a resident of Louisiana who said he knew I had at least spent some time in New Orleans to research my book Glass Chameleon because I didn’t once use the phrase “Sacre Bleu.”  Another said that his mother had finished all of the Shanahans and if I didn’t write another one soon, he’d have to enroll her in a 12-step program. Many of the Shanahan readers write to me about the places in Indianapolis I’ve mentioned, sometimes correcting something I got wrong and occasionally telling me they know the exact house on Pennsylvania Avenue where the murder occurred.

Those who have read the San Francisco mysteries enjoy the local references as well — especially those who have visited the city often or who lived here and moved away. The places are real.  Last week’s post about oldest five San Francisco restaurants was inspired by a reader, a San Francisco native now living in Vancouver, who told me how much she missed the city. She reminded me of the Black Cat I had mentioned in one of my books. She also talked about restaurants she remembered from the 1950s. She mentioned two German restaurants Shadows, on Telegraph Hill, no longer there and Shroeder’s,* which still exists. She recommended I find a copy of a book published in the 1940s — Where to Sin in San Francisco. I’ll start looking.  I could have used it as a reference for Death in North Beach, which is a little more nostalgic than most of my mysteries set in San Francisco.  The city has always had a wonderfully bad reputation.

Another reader started sending me emails as she started the Shanahan series, telling me what she thought of the last one she read and which book was next on her list.  I always replied. This continued through the early Shanahans. Her last email said she was about to read an out-of-series book (and out of print) of mine called Eclipse of the Heart.  I never heard from her again.

Eclipse of the Heart is mystery about a closeted gay male, a celebrated San Francisco chef, who preferred to live life at a comfortable distance from it. During a trip to Mexico, he was forced to engage in real life by a series of unavoidable events and the unexpected friendship of a young, street-wise hustler.  Gay characters have appeared in many of the Shanahans, including The Stone Veil, the first one. But in Eclipse, the gay character was the central figure, the protagonist.  The book was the best-reviewed book I’ve ever written, but clearly very different from the Deets Shanahan series.

I wondered about the abrupt end of emails from my loyal reader. Perhaps she simply didn’t enjoy the story and thought quietly moving on was the kind thing to do. I suppose I could have emailed her, asked her why? Did the story offend her?  Bore her? If she simply couldn’t relate to Eclipse, she could have returned to the Shanahan series. Nickel-Plated Soul was certainly written in the spirit of the early books, the ones she liked.  But asking her what happened seemed intrusive. I’ve heard of readers stalking authors, but authors stalking readers? Unseemly. It’s entirely possible she left me for someone else a little more exciting. Maybe she found Robert Parker and it is taking her a considerable amount of time to read her way through his 70 or so Spenser novels before she returns to my measly ten.

In the end though, this relatively small event in my life caused an inordinate amount of speculation. And, as one thing leads to another, I wondered if this out-of-series, and quite different book affected overall sales of future Shanahan series in general. Being slightly paranoid is probably a positive characteristic for crime writers. Did I betray my readers’ trust or, at minimum, his or her expectations?

I sensed something similar happening after Good to the Last Kiss was published, this after a particularly long run and seemingly revived interest in new Shanahans.  Kiss was met with near dead silence, or so it seemed to me. It too was different, especially in tone.  A tougher book with an ending that didn’t tie everything up in a neat bow.

The reason I bring this up is that the rights to Eclipse of the Heart reverted to me several years ago and the novel was originally published in the pre-ebook era.  I am thinking about putting it out there again, perhaps as an e-book.  Of course, I ask myself, “Will I ever learn?”  Will I spoil any momentum that might develop with the reissues of the early Shanahans? Will this simply further confuse the marketplace about what to expect from this writer?  Should I write more Shanahans or more books similar to the Shanahans? Or should I simply write what I want to write and let nature take its course? This has to be a question many series writers face from time to time, especially those whose series books are better known than mine in the first place.

Recently, my brother proposed a plot for a future mystery during our usual Sunday morning conversation. I told him that it wasn’t a subject that I would take on. Why not, he asked. It didn’t interest me, I said insensitively.  You don’t think it’s an important subject? He wanted to know.  It’s a very important subject, I told him.  But I already know how I feel about it.

I’d never thought about why I write except in the very general sense that I enjoy writing. It’s what I’ve done all my life in one capacity or another. In the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to scrape by doing fiction. But why do I enjoy writing mysteries?  I enjoy it because writing allows me to explore questions that I am curious about or that are unsettled in my mind. It is a form of discovery.  For example, the book I’m engaged in now is, on the surface, about solving murders in a nursing home. Who did it and why, of course.  But it is also about the question: Can someone live too long? I didn’t have an answer when I began the story. I really hadn’t framed the question.  But it was buzzing about in what’s left of my brain.

In the end, I’m not sure that this is a subject the masses would find interesting. It’s not good-looking young vampires or erotically adventurous housewives.  There’s no gimmick.  The protagonist isn’t endowed with special powers or burdened with anything, except advancing age. I didn’t discuss the idea with a focus group.  I’m not examining trends in mysteries and thrillers. The first draft is done and it falls short of the standard length publishers want, yet far too long to be a short story.  But that’s how it turned out. The mental exercise prompted by my brother’s proposal and my flippant answer, allowed me to answer the question about whether I write for money or to satisfy my curiosity.

I discovered that my primary goal isn’t to earn a lot of money,** a goal I continue to not only meet with nearly unprecedented success, but also engage in without an ounce of noble purpose.  Other than my proclivity to put ordinary folks in circumstances that forces them (and me) to come to terms with ethical issues, I’m not trying to change any minds.  Not really.  Just think.  Many of us — and I’m slightly too old to be an official “boomer” — have faced or will face the dilemma of aging parents or others important to us who no longer recognize us or know how to exist in the world.  Two final “ors.”  Some of those we love, as they age, seem to be entirely absent or actually suffering mentally as well as physically.  Is that a subject worth exploring?  It is for me.  And I suspect it is for quite a few of us.

*Shroeder’s was established in 1893, making it one of the city’s oldest surviving restaurants, certainly the oldest German restaurant in the city. **As a matter of principle, I’m not against earning a lot of money.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Silly Saturday — And We’re Sorry The Primary Is Over

"Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of — against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it…. was before…. he was before the social programs from the standpoint of… he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against first…. Roe v. Wade?”  — Rick Perry

"The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is…. Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance.... A manly man don't want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza." — Herman Cain

“There’s a large part of me that’s four years old. I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there’s a cookie. I don’t know where it is but I know it’s mine and I have to go find it. That’s how I live my life. My life is amazingly filled with fun.” — Newt Gingrich

And the winner shows how important it is to say nothing, nothing at all.

"I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love." — Mitt Romney

Friday, April 20, 2012

Film Pairings — Before They Were TV Stars

Ann Sothern was “My Secretary” and starred in another popular sitcom called the “Ann Sothern Show.” Raymond Burr was “Perry Mason” and, later, “Ironside.” Lucille Ball was Lucy in the classic “I Love Lucy,” which is still in endless reruns and William Bendix was dad in an early TV show “Life of Riley.” But before television capped their careers (Ball and Burr probably couldn’t have outdone or escaped their iconic television characters), these small-screen legends were stars (lesser perhaps) on the big screen. TV’s crazy comic Lucy, was a vamp in The Dark Corner. We see lots of leg. And Burr, the upstanding Perry Mason (though Mason wasn’t quite so upstanding in the novels), was the heavy in The Blue Gardenia.

With this double feature, we are revisiting directors Henry Waxman and Fritz Lang (See Kiss of Death and The Big Heat — The Birth of Two Villains). The Dark Corner is the story of a private eye (Mark Stevens) who is trying to go straight after a stint in prison. However his shady past makes him the perfect fall guy for a murder someone else commits. William Bendix, TV’s lovable comic dad, plays an even shadier private eye and Clifton Webb is the sophisticated (witty, what else?) art dealer with a clever plan to get rid of his younger wife’s lover. The plot has enough twists and turns and talented supporting players to make this a very worthwhile film. Lucille Ball plays the secretary to the reformed P.I. and is, in fact, his backbone. There was a comic turn in her fine performance now and then, but not the broad comedy she would show the world later.

At roughly the same time Lucille Ball was making the move from film to TV, the lovely, more cynical Ann Sothern did the same, also with considerable success. Before that, she had a successful career playing the pals of the ingénues (Anne Baxter in this case). Raymond Burr in Fritz Lang’s The Blue Gardenia, is the believable womanizer and murder victim. He plies the sweet and innocent Baxter with Polynesian Pearl Divers, an umbrella’d drink of super potency. She goes home with Burr and blacks out. When Burr ends up dead, all signs point to Baxter as the murderer. Even she believes it might be true. She seeks help from newspaper columnist Richard Conte. The story isn’t as strong as The Dark Corner, but it’s a lot of fun just the same. The music is by Nelson Riddle. Nat “King” Cole has a gig in the nightclub, The Blue Gardenia. Even Superman (George Reeves) makes an appearance in the film — as the main cop. No cape. No tights.

My recommendation for the evening is to sip a bit of fine rum during the first film and then go all island with fancy rum drinks with the second. Look up such tacky Tiki rum drinks as The Virgin’s Lament or the Missionary’s Downfall. Don’t drive. Don’t commit murder.

Monday, April 16, 2012

San Francisco Neighborhoods — Sam Spade Ate Here: The City’s Five Oldest Restaurants

I know this is a subject that will rile some. How do we determine which restaurant is the oldest? The longest existing restaurant with the same family owners? Are we talking about the longest existing restaurant that has remained in the same location? What if it’s in the same location, has the same name, even menu, but ownership has changed. Taking all of this into account, subjectively, while thinking about what those places mean to the city, I’ve picked my five. It’s arguable. And if anyone wants to disagree, please do. There is a comment section below. I’d love to hear from you. I would also like to know how these and other established San Francisco eateries have figured in crime fiction over the years.

For many San Franciscans and its foodie visitors, dining has become a competitive sport. Usually it’s all about new restaurants. They open (and close) every day and many people follow which chef went to which restaurant as closely as Hollywood follows celebrity love affairs and New Yorkers follow Yankee trades. The Bay Area restaurant business is also a fickle world, in which comings and goings are chronicled with passion and obsession. My goal here is to draw attention to those restaurants that have endured and that have kept the spirit of the original. There are those classic restaurants that have been around for 20 or thirty years, even fifty years, many of which are well worth highlighting. Perhaps I can get to those in a later post. But here are the really old ones — still around. It’s easy to imagine San Francisco’s premiere crime fiction writer Dashiell Hammett and his characters dining in each of them. Any of these places would add a cinematic sense of mystery to your dining on a foggy San Francisco night.

Tadich Grill: The claim here is the “oldest continuously running restaurant in San Francisco.” It opened in 1849. It was bought out by another family in 1928 and moved to its current location in 1967. The owners went to great lengths to recreate the art deco interior and, in fact, moved the bar (the central focus) from the previous location. It is rumored to be one of the first (1925) restaurants to use Mesquite to grill fish. It’s a busy, busy place. They don’t take reservations and the lines to get in are long. But there’s more to picking this place than just the nostalgia. Great food. The place is also packed with young, trendy folks during Happy Hour in the Financial District. On the other hand you will not be greeted with a cheerful smile and “my name is Wendy.” It’s a great-looking place, but thinking only of the food, Tadich is as good as any of the new ones.
Financial District
240 California Street
(415) 391-1849

The Old Clam House: The restaurant, out on Bayshore, once known as the Oakdale Bar and Clam House, recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, putting its birthdate as 1861. Unlike the others, the restaurant survived the earthquake and fire and is, therefore, one of the few pre-1906 restaurants still in the same location. As the name implies the specialty is seafood of all types as are many of the oldest San Francisco restaurants. How about Crab & Smoked Salmon Benedict for brunch? The area of the original dining room is a charming reflection of an earlier era — one over which Abraham Lincoln presided (the era, not the dining room).
299 Bayshore Boulevard
(415) 826-4880

Sam’s Grill: The restaurant’s lineage can be traced back to 1867, but it has changed locations (1906 earthquake contributed to one move) a few times. It has also changed owners and even names (Sam’s Grotto at one point). What you see today when you walk in appears to reflect its most recent update. That occurred in 1946. More than any of the others, I felt as if I was stepping back into an old movie, and I swear my lunches there are in black and white. Though it’s on Belden Alley, a favorite spot for tourists and a more trendy, rambunctious set, Sam’s seems to cater to older, more established San Franciscans — at lunch mostly men in their suits who sip martinis served by white-coated waiters who are as mature as the clientele. The main room has low-backed booths that offer a sense of privacy but also the ability to see and be seen. To one side is a row of very private booths with drapery where one could plan a bank robbery or have a discreet affair. The restaurant specializes in seafood. I suspect the recipes are the ones used in forties and fifties.
Chinatown/Financial District
374 Bush Street
(415) 421-0594

John’s Grill: Dashiell Hammett ate there. It’s documented. As the story goes, he wrote chunks of his novels while seated at their tables. And, also fact, the place was used as a setting for one of Hammett’s novels. Opened in 1908, the place looks and feels authentic. There is a picture wall that boasts an incredible list of the famous celebrities from the movies and politics who have dined there over the years. The location is in the center of the city, just off Market and near Union Square, the city’s — maybe the country’s — most concentrated high-end shopping district. There was a bit of a stir recently when their replica of the Maltese falcon, was stolen. A crime that Sam Spade could solve, if he hadn’t already.
Union Square
63 Ellis Street
(415) 986-3274

Sam Wo Restaurant: (Closed April 19, 2012) Owners claim it is 100 years old.
That would make its founding in or near 1912. I’m not sure how the years are counted; but it was here to serve San Francisco legends like Jack Kerouac and Brue Lee as they ventured into Chinatown. For a period, Sam Wo Restaurant had the distinction of having “the rudest waiter in the world”— Edsel Ford Fung. People would show up to be insulted. The place doesn’t appear to have changed much in a century. The teapots look at least a century old. Great, inexpensive rice noodle dishes. You enter through the kitchen, climb narrow stairways and dine in an unintentionally minimalist environment on either the second or third floor. It is one of those legendary places where diners (adventurous tourists and San Francisco natives) might spot a movie star hiding behind a beard or sunglasses, or maybe just a fugitive on the lam.
813 Washington Street
(415) 982-0596

A subtler than usual self-promotion: San Francisco eateries figure into the Carly Paladino and Noah Lang San Francisco mysteries. Death in Pacific Heights and Death in North Beach are available here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Silly Saturday — Inspirational Quotes From Our Leaders

It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system.” — Dan Quayle

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." — George W. Bush

"He (Paul Revere) who warned, uh, the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin' sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed." — Sarah Palin

"I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will." — Mitt Romney

Friday, April 13, 2012

Film Pairings — Murder Among the Prostitutes

In the 1970s, Americans were very much obsessed with sex — either scared out of their wits by the sudden hedonism or thrilled by the increasing disintegration of taboos essentially based on superstition. At the very end of the ‘60s, Hair (and the dawning of the age of Aquarius) revolutionized Broadway while a few blocks away the Stonewall crowd (I’m not going to take it anymore) ushered in a new era for gays and lesbians. In 1978 the Supreme Court threw out obscenity charges against poet Allen Ginsberg’s, controversial, sexually expressive Howl. The revolution was in full swing. American filmmakers were also feeling a little more adventurous about the subjects they tackled. The prudishly restrictive Hays Code that governed what could be seen, heard and suggested in Hollywood films went away in favor of the less stifling rating (or warning label) system we use today.

The 1970s, relatively free of the bluenoses, ushered in the decade of sexual freedom, maybe sexual obsession. The pornographic films Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door were blockbusters. Playboy magazine peaked in the ‘70s. Bookending that decade are two films, Klute in 1971 and American Gigolo (1980), which probably couldn’t have been made in the 1950s. John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” could easily have been the decade’s theme song.

Jane Fonda won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Klute. She played an unapologetic prostitute. The remarkable aspect of this story isn’t that is about prostitution, but that it is a riveting thriller as well. A young and obviously talented Donald Sutherland portrays a relatively inexperienced cop from Pennsylvania hired to find a missing corporate executive on the mean streets of New York. Things get nasty. Does Klute (Fonda) hold the key? The determined investigator thinks so. Both Fonda and Sutherland bring depth and understanding to well-developed characters giving us more than the mystery to contemplate. The subject matter is relevant today. Roy Scheider co-stars. Alan J. Pakula directed.

Though it didn’t receive the critical praise of Klute, American Gigolo was a box-office smash. It introduced the professional male escort (read “prostitute.”) as a central character. Paul Schrader directed Richard Gere, who took the role that scared others. A strikingly good-looking, fashion conscious, very successful, self-reliant professional, Gere’s character is obviously in charge of his life and his world. He needs no one and let’s everyone know it. We gradually begin to see that this makes him ripe for the takedown. That’s what happens. There is a murder. He’s implicated. Moment by moment, his world disintegrates. The beautiful Lauren Hutton co-stars. Hector Elizondo plays the Columbo-esque homicide cop. Wikipedia says that this was first American film to feature full male nudity and that the film also “put Armani’s male fashion designs on the map.” Curious juxtaposition.

While Klute’s perversions were set against a dark, shadowy, almost derelict New York, American Gigolo’s perversions were set in high style, sunny Los Angeles. Yet the parallels are definitely there. Sadomasochism plays a part in both films. Also there is the similarity of the two title characters. Loners and seemingly proud of it — Gere’s and Fonda’s benchmark performances as escorts contributed mightily to their careers. The films themselves not only reflected but may also have helped bring about the cultural shift in America’s views of sexuality — something to celebrate. For the libations, I’d go open a bottle of champagne.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Opinion — The Monkey Trial: What Century Is This?

I watched a bio the other evening — William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe. I admire people who stand up in public and brave waves of unpopular opinion to fight for what they believe in. Kuntsler aggravated quite a few people and, over time, seemed to cherish a gaggle of cameras as much or more than doing the right thing. But most of the time, whether he won or lost the case, the criminal defense and civil rights attorney seemed to be doing the right thing — freeing the Chicago 7, trying to avoid the brutal and unnecessary massacre at Attica, and winning the Wounded Knee case for native Americans who stood up against a bullying government. He also defended as best he could innocent young blacks in the famous “Wilding” case. He lost that case and suffered attacks by an irate and irrational public throughout the trial. Seven years later, he was proven correct, and his harshly condemned and wrongfully convicted client was freed.

Whenever I think of these kinds of bigger-than-life people, I think of Cassius Clay, the one from the 1860s, who, as a relatively rich white guy, not only fought against slavery but also stood his ground no matter what the odds or what the world thought of him. The film on Kuntsler also made me think of my childhood hero Clarence Darrow, who fought redlining (preventing blacks getting loans to buy homes in certain neighborhoods), who, earlier than Kuntsler, fought against the death penalty, and who defended John Thomas Scopes, a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who had the audacity to teach evolution as science to his students.

In this instance, Darrow lost the trial, but won public opinion and the century. He fought against former “cross-of-gold, Christian fundamentalist presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. If you watched the movie Inherit the Wind, you might have gotten the idea that Bryan’s ultimate moral defeat was the end of the debate. Unfortunately, a strange thing has happened. Even though we’re in a new century, the State of Tennessee has again seen fit to circumvent real science and elevate creationism, a subject that belongs either in Sunday school or in a class of Comparative Religion, this time as a “scientific” alternative to evolution. What are they drinking in Tennessee? Certainly not the good whiskey.

Now, as a confession or more accurately a concession, I was born and grew up in Indiana. It’s my state and I love it, but I’ve always found it a bit to conservative for my tastes. Lately, my home state has been behaving badly. Especially so. A short time ago, a Republican state legislative representative attacked the Girl Scouts of America as “a radicalized organization” that promotes homosexuality and communism. Before that little tantrum, the Republican-dominated legislature became the first state to defund Planned Parenthood. Hoosier lawmakers also tried to double-down on the already existing ban on same-sex marriage by passing another law to ban it (Is this a de-double ban?) and this time they added a ban on civil unions. This means that gays and lesbians may not enter into legal contracts that look like they contain any of the same elements found in “marriage.” In addition, several representatives of the state legislature demanded that special donor license plates with proceeds going to support troubled LGBT kids — bullied youth, children disowned by their parents, etc. — be denied that funding even though that funding was private charitable giving. To cap the crazy, hateful season Indiana’s House of Representatives tried to pass a bill to do what Tennessee appears to be doing with slightly more subtlety — teach creationism as literal truth. The bill in Indiana was allowed to die quietly, meaning that, compared to Tennessee, Indiana is a bunch of “zany” liberals.

But this foolishness exists on a national scale. We have the Republican presidential nominees wanting to stem not only women’s choice on reproductive issues after contraception, but also contraception itself. No matter the health consequences, women may not include any form of contraception as part of a health plan if their Catholic employer objects. And they do. Men may continue to have their Viagra covered. Can a repeal of women’s right to vote be far behind?

In 21st Century America, money is equated with free speech and corporations have the same rights as individuals, so says the U.S. Supreme Court. Women and LGBT people don’t, it seems. Now we’re watching as a déjà vu all-over-again moment comes back to haunt us. Tennessee revisits the famous “Monkey Trial” 87 years after the issue was settled to claim there is valid argument for the earth being only 6,000 years old and that Eve was literally formed from Adam’s rib and, further, that’s how we became humans. DNA be damned. Carbon dating, get out of here. Fossils? I don’t need your dirty rotten fossils. The Governor of Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslan has indicated he will sign the bill that essentially repeals intelligent thought. I can only hope that young students in Tennessee are smarter than their governor. Otherwise the pro-dumbness faction of the current Republican Party will continue to multiply. Soon, the earth will be flat again. Perhaps we can dispense with gravity.

Despite the fact that I believe that anything is possible, there are commonly held scientific truths. Two plus two might — just might, though there are incredible odds against it — be five. But I’ll go with four. And while I’m all for creativity and thinking outside the box, an alternative theory that two and two are five is something we should not give equal weight to in math class.

So where is this rant going? Here. We need some brave souls in what has become a soulless, mindless Republican Party to stop the hate and discrimination that has increasingly taken over. I’m certainly a liberal on most things, but I’d love to see a serious philosophical discussion among candidates for President, candidates who at least agree that our country is interested in equal rights for everyone, understand the separation of church and state and want to stop the bribery of our elected officials (through unlimited, unregulated funding by individuals, corporations and other organizations). We need to agree on at least that much before we try to engage in the real issues facing our democracy — health, education, the economy and other quality of life issues.

And what do William Kuntsler, Cassius Clay and Clarence Darrow have to do with all of this? The Kuntsler bio — and the corruption he fought against — got me all riled up and one thing led to another….

Update: (April 11, 2012) The Governor Haslan allowed the bill to pass into law without his signature. This is the coward's way out.

Captions: (Top) Poster from the documentary; (Middle) Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial; (Bottom) The first Cassius Clay, abolitionist and Ambassador to Russia.