Judging A Book By Its Cover

They say “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” But we writers know differently. People do exactly that, so you’d better be able to judge a book by its cover… and quickly.

It’s always been an issue for authors and their publishers. Unless you’re a household name with a stack of New York Times best-sellers to your credit, people will take a quick look at your book in the store and decide from that cover whether it’s worth even picking up to read the slipcover, let alone purchase it. So your book needs to have immediate visual impact, and suggest to the newcomer just what kind of book it is. Take a look at these examples:

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Granted, almost everyone who ever sets foot in a Barnes & Noble, and most of those who don’t, know who Stephen King is now. But even if that weren’t the case, it wouldn’t take a lot of imagination or guesswork to figure out from the cover that this wasn’t going to be a cheery work designed as a lullaby in print! And, since King is so well-known, note how his name takes up about half the cover. When you’re that successful, your name alone will lead to sales.

Contrast that to this one:

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Although it would soon be made into a successful movie, when it came out, Emily was an unknown author. But the cover made for a quick suggestion as to what it would be about and its character. We’d have been quite surprised to find it about a deranged super-natural clown, wouldn’t we?

People do judge a book from its cover. It’s always been true but now is more so than ever, as much of the browsing is done online. Now instead of a 7X10” book sitting in front of them, readers make their choice increasingly by looking at a stamp-sized image on a screen. That thumbnail better have something to make them interested right away.

It was a problem confronting me when I put out my debut novel, Grace…fully living. While my dad, ever the cheerleader, would probably have told me to be confident and go the Stephen King route and have my name take up half the front, I realized outside of a few dozen Facebook or Twitter friends and my little circle back home, no one knew me from Adam. Visuals would have to do the selling.

So, I needed something to catch people’s eye, tell them the book was a light-hearted one about a young woman…and be within my relatively small budget. For that, I find Pexels is one of the best sources of stock images.

My first cover, on the initial e-book release, was this:

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The photo was taken by a Toni Cuenca and I loved it. It was bright, it was colorful (even more so after I tweaked it in a photo-editing program), it said “fun.” The model was attractive, and a redhead, as Grace is in the book. I chose bright summery fonts.

I thought it was great, to be honest, but my sweetie didn’t. Now, it is my work and my choice, but it was worth considering. She was a lady of approximately my target audience and she didn’t seem to appreciate the cute girl in a swimsuit. If she didn’t, many other women might not either. Not to mention, it had no direct tie-in to the book other than the redhead and the easy-going feel. And the proof was in the pudding. Initial sales were low to say the least (not that I expected it to be a million seller no matter what was on the cover!)

I put it out last summer, and decided to try and reboot it and spark sales late in the year by putting it out as a “Christmas edition.” It wasn’t altogether too cheesy an idea as the book begins and ends at Christmas. I added in a little bonus content and changed the cover to this one. The image also came from Pexels.

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It was cute. My very small focus group of women seemed to prefer it to the first one. It made an appropriate lead into the start of the story… young woman, Christmastime, cold area, looks like she might be happy enough. But for the new cover and few extra pages, it didn’t fly over the internet into a lot of Kindles.

So when it came time to actually get a small run of the book printed this year, I wanted a new look for it. The hot chocolate cover wasn’t going to cut it, since it might give a hint that it was a romance or comedy, it screamed “Christmas!” with the image and all that red and green going on. Which might be good come December but is going to torpedo summer sales.

Again I looked at Pexels and found by Thiago Schempler. I liked it for several reasons. It’s simple, it’s sort of upbeat looking and it could easily have been a part of a few scenes in the book. The model looks casual and happy, and her hair obscures her face somewhat, leaving a little room still for the reader to imagine Grace as they like. And it was fairly basic in image and colors…more so after my digital tweaking of it. There was space to add in the title without covering essential parts of the picture and, without too much detail, it translates quite well when reduced to phone thumbnail size.

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It’s not pushed the book onto bestsellers lists or bought me a new Ferrari (not even a diecast one!) yet, but I think it works. And I thought you might like to get a feel for one of the myriad of things that go into being an author besides the “simple” writing a book!

Books About Touchdowns And Touchy Divas

So, if you were wondering, I’ve been trying to keep up on my reading through the past few months, still looking to meet my New Year’s Resolution of reading more books than I did last year (when in turn, I think that was also a resolution for 2019.)

A couple I’ve read recently were classic guilty pleasure “summer reading” titles, both by Emily Giffin. Giffin is by now one of the more established romcom/romance writers around and a longtime fave of my sweetie. My first introduction to her material was through the movie Something Borrowed, a likable little flick starring Ginnifer Goodwin at her cutest, Kate Hudson and a pre-action hero John Krasinski. It (spoiler alerts afoot here!) involves Goodwin and Hudson’s characters, Rachel and Darcy respectively, being childhood friends now turning 30. Darcy is the spoiled, self-centered one engaged to the millionaire blue blood lawyer, Dex, while Rachel is quiet, demure, brainy and seemingly a pushover. As it progresses though, we find Dex and Rachel have loved each other for years and when Darcy has a pre-wedding fling, the other two are thrust into each other’s arms. Meanwhile, Krasinski’s all-seeing, all-wise Ethan is a straight-talking friend to all. It’s fun, it’s lightweight and while not an Oscar contender, there are far worse date-night movies around. The movie actually ends with a scene from a sequel…which for what ever reason, never was shot.

The sequel, Something Blue, follows the same characters, but is told from the point of view of self-centered Darcy who simply can’t believe her meek, plain friend “stole” her guy and overlooks the fact that she too had an affair…with one of her guy’s groomsmen. And that she’s pregnant with twins, a result of said affair. Ethan’s moved to England to work and Darcy decides to go to him to avoid the gossip and stares around the fancy places that were her previous haunts.

Since the movie wasn’t made yet, and now Krasinski is a big-time star, and the young women just aren’t that young anymore, probably never will now, I decided to pick up the book for some light reading and to see what happened to those characters.

I wasn’t necessarily instantly taken by the idea by reading about obnoxious Darcy’s exploits that much, and the first few chapters are only readable because it’s funny how self-absorbed she is. And how I can imagine every one of us has met at least one “Darcy” in real-life! But as the book progresses, Darcy is forced to look in the mirror (she can no longer see her feet by looking down) and grow up a little. By the end, she’s managed to become a likable character and as with most romance books-movies not written by Nicholas Sparks, there’s a pretty happy ending for all.

That led to my sweetie rummaging around in a closet and pulling out another book by Giffin, The One & Only for me to read. This one quickly set the tone as being football-centric, and as a big baseball fan who cares little for the gridiron and Friday Night Lights, I was a bit reluctant to even dig past the first chapter. But I was glad I did, as it ultimately was a pretty good book, more nuanced and thought-provoking in fact than the other two. And as a resident of football-crazy Texas now, I loved picking out the telltale signs of life in King of the Hill-land… Shiner Bock being the go-to beer for locals, the Whataburgers, the October days that still feel like mid-summer in the desert.

While still a romance, The One & Only is more drama than comedy, and could borrow from Law & Order‘s “ripped from the headlines” tagline. Again, spoiler alerts ahead although I will try to limit the detail. The story revolves around a football-crazy stathead girl, Shay. She lives and breathes football (which again, might seem foreign to most of us not born in the southern Plains but rings true here) living in a thinly-disguised version of Waco. Her city, “Walker”, like Waco, is obsessed with college football, has the team colors everywhere in the city, and is home to a “near Ivy League” private religious university which has a powerhouse football team, playing in a stadium on the shores of the Brazos River just south of Dallas and a populace with seems overcome with their despise for the University of Texas team. It’s surprising Walker didn’t have a reality-TV couple making home renovation programs there in the  book.

Shay has an entry level job at the university and a pothead boyfriend, but is friends with people in high places, Texas-style, including the aging football coach at the university and a high-profile pro player for Dallas who’d gone to school in Walker. Suffice to say she’s challenged to leave her comfort zone and apply herself a little and soon she’s got a better job and a chance at a better relationship. In time she’s forced to confront questions about her own loyalty to her school and “BFF” vs. her boyfriend. Not to mention, knowing which beau is best.

Although the story centers around Shay, a relatable enough young 30-something even for those of us who don’t share her passion for all things football, but in doing delves into the psyche of the sport and its stars. It examines recent scandals involving university players being accused of impropriety and team official’s turning a blind eye through a surprisingly thoughtful lens.

If you need a lightweight summer reading escape, Giffin’s Something Borrowed/ Something Blue aren’t half bad choices. If you’re a football fanatic, or want some grit with your love stories, The One & Only might be just that.

Your Summer Reading List Just Grew… ‘Grace…fully living’ Now In Print

Finally something “novel” that’s not a corona virus!

Time out here to blow my own horn a little. My first novel is now available in limited quantities as a softcover book and you can be one of the very first to get it. A perfect light read for the poolside or wherever else you might be spending the holidays!

Order your limited edition copy of Grace…fully living now through Etsy. Under $10 for this year’s hottest, funniest and most hapless new rom-com heroine in print. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll feel good knowing your supporting independent artists like Dave.

Thank you and enjoy!

(PS- be watching for a new site soon featuring Grace…fully living discussions, pictures and more as well as other short stories and related pieces.)

Nostra-Dave-us Says Theaters Will Be Gone With The Wind

They’re bulldozing several dozen acres of field and farmland in my adopted city, to make way for a new movie 14-screen multiplex. I wish they’d left it to the meadowlarks and snakes. And I’m guessing that before long, Cinemark, the owners, might wish they had too.

This was a thought I had last winter, before the pandemic hit. That problem has only exacerbated what seemed like an obvious problem to me – we’re building an infrastructure for a product which is in its dying days. It’s like building oat stations along the roads for horses in the 1920s.

It’s not like people in our area have an inability to go see a movie, in good times at least. Two large, modern complexes exist at opposite ends of the city of under 200 000 people, with an older in-mall type of discount six-screen theater in between and a trendy, refurbished old one downtown. Long has it been since a local hasn’t been able to see any hot new movie without traveling more than five miles or waiting an hour or two by the time lunch rolls around. Why add 14 more screens?

Here’s my stab at being Nostradamus. Ten years from now, in 2030, movie theaters will be a thing of the past. A dinosaur. Relegated to the history shows, like so many phone booths and railroad cabooses. Which are apt comparisons. There still are phone booths here and there in some cities and out of the way places and CSX still have a caboose or two they use on a few trains that shuttle back and forth on shortlines where it’s impractical to change the locomotives from front to back routinely. But when was the last time you saw either?

I predict that in ten years, big multiplexes will be similarly rare and left in similar disrepair. Oh yes, a cool retro downtown theater or two may survive and thrive offering old movies with craft beers and full menus to nostalgic crowds but the idea of “going out” to the movies on a Friday night and sitting in a sticky-floored crowded theater watching Star Wars, XVII, scarfing down popcorn and washing it down with a $6 soda will be a thing of the past.

The thought was driven home to me clearly this past weekend when everything we seemed to watch on the “boob tube” was inundated with commercials for Greyhound, a new movie with Tom Hanks. Looks like a big story – Hanks leading a convoy of ships across the ocean during the war – and has big stars. The budget for it was reputed to be over $50 million. And it’s going straight to your bedroom via Apple TV. Not to your local multiplex, but to home streaming.

Aha!, my google-loving friends scream. It is going to “TV” but it was supposed to be a theatrical release from Sony, before the pandemic hit. They simply decided it wasn’t worth waiting for the health threat to dissipate to let people see it, so they bypassed the theaters. True. But what if that brings them in a tidy profit? Why bother planning to go the big screen method next time when people seem to prefer the big screen in their home?

Apple already scored a coup when they brought in Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell to star in a flagship show for their streaming service. Stars no longer shun “TV” or shudder at the thought of not appearing in theaters.  More and more of Netflix’s content is made by… Netflix. Already their Roma movie won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Director. Their dreary Marriage Story won Laura Dern both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. The writing is on the wall. Big stars are happy to work for Netflix and Apple; critics and cinema-snobs are starting to accept the made-for-TV works as equals to the traditional Big Screen releases.

All that doesn’t even take into account the Dumbo in the room. The behemoth in the industry is just shifting its gaze to home-streaming too. Disney is starting to make original content for their Disney + service. Think that doesn’t scare AMC and Cinemark? It should. Disney owned the box office in the past decade. A full 14 out of the 15 top-grossing films in the U.S. in the 2010s were from Disney. Universal’s Jurassic World was the only exception to the Mouse House rule. Globally, only three movies have topped $2 billion in box office this century. Two “Avengers” and one “Star Wars” release. Disney franchises both. (And the Star Wars one illustrates another problem for “Hollywood” – people are growing a bit weary of the ongoing franchise. The latest instalment, last year’s Rise of Skywalker took in over $500M domestically. Not bad, but a drop compared to the previous two and down 45% from 2015’s The Force Awakens.) One wonders how long before Disney consider just sending everything to their streaming service, upping the price for that and forgoing the printing of paper posters for multiplexes which cannibalize their home market?

The movie business however, don’t seem to see a problem. Even before the Corona Virus, the number of butts in the too-small multiplex seats was dropping as they kept putting up more and more screens. Deadline reported last year’s box office in North America was $11.4 billion. Not bad at all. Unless you compare it to 2018’s $11.9 B. A 4% drop in one year. They went on to say (around New Year’s before the virus hit) “projections will be down further due to fewer franchises on the schedule” for 2020. In total, 1.239 billion tickets were sold in the States last year. A lot,yes, but also the second lowest number this century and down a remarkable 347 million from 2002.

Yet, the building continues. The number of indoor screens last year hit 40 613, 300 more than the year before and almost 6000 more than existed in 2002, when actual ticket sales peaked. Put another way, on average, 45 000 people filed into every theater in ’02. Last year, 30 500 did. Mind you, ticket prices keep rising in general, to an average of over $9 each last year. Ten years back, it was $7.89. You don’t need a college math or economics degree to figure out which way those graphs are pointing.

When, or if, this pandemic is over, I doubt that number of tickets is going to rise. Fewer were venturing out when times were good; how many will want to go out when jobs are scarce and worries remain about anyone coughing within a hundred-foot radius? When a 26” TV with built-in speaker was a luxury, there was plenty of reason. When more and more people have 60” screens and surround sound in their own living room and the soft drinks aren’t setting you back five bucks a pop, what is the appeal?

I’ve been wrong before. But mostly, when it comes to business, I’ve been wrong in underestimating how much impact anything and all things digital will have. Around 1990, I couldn’t see that home computers would ever be more than a prestige, niche market with no relevance to the average person. In 2005 I thought Amazon might challenge Barnes and Noble but no woman would pick out her clothes without going to try them on, let alone order fresh veggies online. In 2007, my boss at a now-defunct camera store still thought digital photography was a passing fad. I didn’t, but didn’t think people would ever be happy to take photos of meaning, let alone keep them, on their phones.

The popular theater of 2030 is going to look a lot like your living room of today, with a bigger TV in it. Maybe take a photo or two of one soon, to show your grandkids. Good news for meadowlarks and snakes of the future, perhaps.

Boffo Beer Blog #16 – Baseball Edition

Well baseball’s back, or will be soon, so after a few weeks absence, so too is the Boffo Beer Blog. And with a suitably baseball-themed return. In time for Spring Training, the Sequel, we take a swing at Texas Leaguer Brewery’s Two Hopper Ale.

Texas Leaguer is a new (started in just 2017) brewery in Astro-land, a town actually called Missouri City but located just outside of Houston. Their motto is “like America’s pastime, Texas Leaguer helps people enjoy life and good times.” Under normal conditions, of which the summer of 2020 certainly is not, you can enjoy their beers at “The Beerpark”, a taphouse and restaurant they have at their Missouri City brewery, which invites you to watch the game on big screens, even play a game or two outside … and bring the kids so they can enjoy Little Leaguer root beer and root, root for the hometeam. They also have live music periodically…all of which is moot this month with the pandemic raging and Texas (wisely) just ordering bars shut once more because of it. 

They brew up a variety of drinks, with names like Chin Music (a strong rye beer),Czech swing (what else – a Czech-style pilsner) and Knuckle Bock (a bock, as you might expect) besides the Two Hopper. You might detect a theme there perhaps!

Two Hopper is an IPA and comes in a bit stronger than most beers (6.4% alcohol) and also boasts the highest IBU of their offerings, at 67. IBU is a measure of the bitterness of flavor, with most American mass market lite lagers coming in at under 10, many ales being in the 20 to 40 range but the real strong Euro stouts approaching 100. The makers describe it as a beer that “looks like an easy play but turns into trouble…just enough hops for an IPA but still has an easy finish to make the out.”

I put on the cleats (well, not really) and had one yesterday with a pretty typical lunch of a nice salami on whole wheat with a bit of a simple side salad. Cracking open the 12 ounce can, with a nice ball-on-ash crack, I was surprised to see how strong and thick a head it created. The foam was of a shaving cream texture and long lasting above the cloudy but bright yellow drink.

It had a good creamy “mouth feel” and my first impression was a little strong and bitter, but not displeasingly so. It seemed to have a bit of a bittersweet aftertaste, with a hint of citrus (perhaps grapefruit) buried in it somewhere. It certainly held its own with the sandwich, and actually seemed to compliment the slightly spicy meat very nicely. I have a six-pack and have noticed that it’s one beer which really seems to benefit from being served very cold. Near room temperature is decidedly less flavorful and pleasing than icy ones.

When all is said and done, it’s a little like a 5-4 Marlins-Pirates game. Not half bad and a pleasant little diversion but not overly memorable in the grand scheme of things. Take away the baseball gimmicks and you’re left with a thoroughly adequate, drinkable but not very remarkable ale. All in all, I give it 7 out of 10 for strength, 6 out of 10 for flavor and…

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three Charlies out of Five!

Making The Boys In Blue Better

Remember when we were kids and were taught that the policemen were our friends? Good guys? Watching the news lately, one wonders what happened. If you believe a lot of news stories and critics these days, the cops are the criminals and the ones good people should be terrified of. Hell, shows like Cops have been canceled to placate the riled and a widely-circulated article online called Olivia – champion of women victims in the long-running Law & Order, SVU  show a “bastard” simply by virtue of her character being a police officer. It’s a tough time to be a “boy in blue”. Or girl in blue for that matter.

Watching the isolated video clips, there’s little wonder to be surprised. The death of George Floyd was clearly heinous and a blatantly criminal over-reaction to a minor crime he apparently committed and the only thing more reprehensible than the Buffalo cops shoving 75 year old Martin Gugino, causing him to smash his head and suffer a fractured skull, was the other riot police walking by him ignoring the bleeding senior. Or maybe the president defending them suggesting Gugino was a terrorist waving some magic wand that could eliminate all police communications systems.

It’s all a lot for me to take in. I always figured there were bound to be a few bad cops – a tiny minority – but for the most part they were honorable, hard-working people devoted to the common good. But watching some of these videos and seeing reactions like the entire Buffalo riot squad resigning in support of their violent comrades and some police hide their ID tags to prevent being identified makes me rethink how few and far between bad ones are.

It’s sad. I come from a slightly (only slightly, but still) calmer, more peaceful country, Canada. We’ve seen cops do some bad things there too, but such reports are definitely less common than on this side of the 49th Parallel. I grew up near Toronto, in a county (or “regional municipality” as we call it) that had two large cities within its borders plus a fair expanse of rural farmland.The area had a population of over 600 000 and was growing fast, and was serviced by one regional police force. They had to deal with calls that ranged from bar brawls to biker gang rallies, bodies washing up on the Lake Ontario shoreline and coke smuggling to ice fishermen falling through the ice on rural lakes in winter and the occasional bear wandering into a town.

A friend – actually a girlfriend’s big brother at the time – joined the force and soon was on their Swat team. Outside of work he was easy-going, fast with a smile and able to get along with people of any number of backgrounds equally well. A good guy, and I presume, a good cop. I had a job for over a decade in a pro camera store and lab which had the contract with the police to provide their camera gear and develop their films. We had to be vetted, and no wonder. Through the years there, not a murder happened that I (and most of us in there) didn’t end up seeing photos of – crime scene, victim, weapons, autopsy, accused, you name it. We developed film after film of car accidents, assaults, robberies, suicides and anything else that asked for a police documentation. I was told that it was as good as a “get out of jury duty free” ticket since we all had such intimate knowledge of the big cases, much of which never made the news wire stories, we’d never be approved to be on a jury. Over the years, I got to know a lot of the cops. Many of the “Soco” officers (Scene of Crime), the patrol officers with cameras that would handle basic B&Es, minor car accidents and the like as well as the entire “Ident” (Forsensic Identification Unit) crew of specialized investigators akin to the TV CSI people. I knew the homicide squad by name,loaded supplies into their trucks.

And what I found was that they were good guys. I say “guys” because the vast majority of them were male, although there was a female homicide cop – a rather pretty one truth be told, although unlike a Hollywood version of her kind, one who went to work in baggy cargo pants and body armor instead of Dior dresses and heels! They were different – some were a lot younger than me, some were a decade or more older and nearing retirement, and their personalities were varied as would be with any group of dozens of people. A few were very intense and hyper, some had wicked senses of humor and wouldn’t leave without sharing a joke. Many brought in pictures of their home . Wives, kids, weekends fishing, photographing birds or working with body builders or redoing old car bodies. Some would talk about the cases and what they saw, others avoided the topics completely. But the one through and through feature was they all seemed like absolutely decent people working to make the area better and safer. Guys you’d be very relieved to see drive up if someone was trying to get into your back door at night, or happy enough to have a coffee with if you ran into them at the Tim Horton’s.

It makes comprehending the current American situation more difficult for me. I don’t have an easy solution to make the situation fine or ensure that police are all wonderful, or at least as good as the ones I used to rub shoulders with. But a few things seem to me like they’d be helpful .

First, an obvious one. We need the body cams and dash cams most forces already have. They should be on every police unit dashboard and clipped on every shirt or vest of an on-duty officer. The car ones should be triggered as soon as the warning lights or siren are activated and the cops should be instructed to activate the body cams every time they leave their vehicle on a call. Disabling the cameras would be grounds for termination of their employment. Even an honest person can lose track of exactly was happening in a chaotic situation and the camera can show us better what went wrong, or right for that matter. The dishonest one of course, will realize they’ll have less chance of getting away with misbehavior if they’re being recorded.

Speaking of their cars and shirts or vests, I think having fewer unmarked or undercover people and cars would benefit all. Obviously, there are situations where undercover work is necessary. Police couldn’t infiltrate, say a street gang that robbed stores and sold crack around the neighborhood if they were dressed in uniform and driving cars with a fancy blue light array on the roof. But more and more police work seems to be undertaken by people in street clothes driving unmarked cars and trucks and as a result we see more stories like shootouts at raids where the inhabitants claim the police stormed in with no way of being identified as police as opposed to street thugs. If they’re wearing the blue or black shirts with the badge and drove up, lights flashing, there’d be little defence for them being shot at.

In Ontario, there’s a Special Investigations Unit. It’s a government branch which is automatically called in to police the police, if you will, any time a civilian dies in a police operation or other serious incidents (like car accidents ) occur involving on duty police. The local force have to step aside and let the SIU investigate to see if there was any wrong-doing. There are several “teams” for the province, but usually they aren’t from the same town they are investigating. It’s not perfect. For one thing, the majority of people hired to the SIU are former cops themselves, which has led to calls of bias. But the idea is valid and if the investigators would include a wider cross-section of the populace, would be a great way to ensure that police negligence or worse, crimes, weren’t covered up. States should have the same sort of investigators.

Finally, the concept of being a police officer needs to change. In parts of the country at least. It is a vital function for society. It is a trying job with gigantic responsibility. It calls for wisdom, good physical conditioning, great communications skills and a moral compass pointing squarely north. It needs to be seen as an important career, not just a job for any Joe. As such, the country needs uniform minimum standards to be a cop, and in most locations, the bar needs raising. More training is needed, which should include psychological courses and testing, cultural studies, anger management courses as well as studies of the law and weaponry and driving under adverse conditions. It might take a couple of years before a young person was qualified to be a policeman or woman, but we’d be relatively assured of having high quality individuals doing the job when they graduated. And that, I might add, may well require paying them more. Not every prospective cop would like that added training, and not every taxpayer would like being faced with potentially increased municipal taxes, but in the end, if our streets are safer, are downtowns aren’t being burned down and the police aren’t suffocating citizens on the streets, it should be a trade-off we’re willing to make.

Gone With The Winds Of Political Correctness

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So said Spanish philosopher George Santayana in a famous quote that made such an impression on Winston Churchill that he echoed it in British Parliament just after the end of World War II. Some might want to keep that sentiment in mind if they don’t want 2021 to look suspiciously like 1921. Or 1821 even.

This came to mind today upon hearing that HBO was pulling Gone with the Wind from its newly-launched streaming service. The reason? Some people complain that the 1939 movie about the Civil War in Georgia is “racist”. The Black people are portrayed as slaves, people subservient to Whites and in general not as smart (at least in conventional educational terms) nor as revered or wealthy.

Which would be a problem if it were a movie set in the present day. Especially if it was one which was deemed to be a documentary rather than a work of fiction. In the context of mid-19th Century Dixie, however, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. In fact, any other presentation would seem phony and ridiculous. History people!

I haven’t seen the film actually. I guess it just isn’t my theatrical cup of tea, given that it came out more than two decades before my birth I could have. It has been readily available for years on VHS and then DVD, not to mention quite a few TV showings. Turns out I’ve only seen 26 out of the AFI’s (American Film Institute) “100 Greatest Movies of All-time”. I mean, how can we be talking “greatest films” and not have Groundhog Day there? But that doesn’t stop it being a widely-loved and important movie. The Film Institute ranked it as the fourth greatest of the 20th Century. In their latest list, it comes in as the sixth best ever. The Academy back in the day agreed too, giving it eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. So popular has the three-hour plus film back then that the Governor of Georgia declared a special state holiday on the day it opened back in 1939; so popular has it been since that day that it’s said to be the highest-grossing film of all-time when box office tallies were adjusted for inflation. That’s big. That’s history in itself, in fact.

But despite all the love for it, HBO – who undoubtedly had to pay some pretty pennies to buy its rights – now think it too dangerous for people to view. They say the movie depicts “racial prejudices that were wrong then and are wrong now.” They fail to see that any depiction of the American South set 160 or more years ago inherently must depict racial prejudice for it to have any value whatsoever.

We’ve been through this all before, with libraries which wanted to pull Huckleberry Finn from their shelves and schools which stopped teaching To Kill A Mockingbird for the same reasons. The latter of course is all the more galling given that the main character is a White man who goes against the prevailing beliefs and norms, not to mention the Ku Klux Klan of his early-20th Century Alabama community and legally defends an innocent Black man. But that wouldn’t stop the most sensitive types from complaining that the Black people in those novels weren’t universally held in high regard in their Southern communities nor holders of prestigious positions.

I don’t subscribe to HBO Max, and if I did I’d probably prefer to spend 220 minutes binge-watching nine episodes of Friends than watching Gone with the Wind. I mean, sorry but Vivien Leigh is no Jennifer Aniston and in all likelihood Clark Gable’s “Rhett” isn’t as witty as Matthew Perry’s “Chandler”. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the movie should be there for those who want to view it. Actually, if I had signed up after viewing ads they ran showing it as a feature you’d get, I’d probably be a bit P.O.’d if they pulled it.

What happened to George Floyd was terrible, cruel and criminal. That’s obvious. So too was the fact that slavery was alive, well and revered in the South many years ago. What isn’t terrible or cruel is telling the stories. So I say HBO, bring back Gone with the Wind. If you decide to have the family watch it, go ahead and explain the context of Georgia and the Confederacy in the 1850s. Talk about the Civil War with the children, why people felt it was necessary to fight their neighbors to the south. Talk about equality and our nation’s values. If you actually think that Gone with the Wind perpetuates inequality, talk about that too in context of it being a hugely-popular film that’s been watched millions of times over 80-plus years. But go ahead and watch, and go ahead and talk about the issues.

Watch it or don’t watch it. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. But I do care that we have a chance and a choice. And if you don’t want to speed a repetition of history along, you probably should too.

Boffo Beer Blog #15 – Toadies Rock The Bock

Make up your mind… and crack open a fine Texas beer from a fine Texas… rock band? This week for Boffo, we try Toadies Backslider. The gold and black can with the dinosaur skeleton design caught my attention due to the Toadies reference. Did the Metroplex grunge band have a job moonlighting as brewers?

Turns out they do, and like their ’95 hit “Possum Kingdom”, it’s quite good… but not quite a household name.

Backslider is one of three beers Martin House Brewery in Fort Worth put out in conjunction with The Toadies. “Music and beer made in Texas by Texans” as they put it. The brewery, complete with a taproom was established in 2012 and although it seems small in nature, it is prolific. They have put out a wide range of beers, including Friday IPA, a raspberry ale, Daybreak “Four Grain Breakfast Beer” and perhaps most distinctively, Best Maid Sour Pickle Ale, which they say is an ale… that tastes like pickles. Their website seemed just a wee bit glitchy and short on details, but they describe Toadies Backslider as “the official beer of Fort Worth’s own Toadies…easy-drinking, copper-colored, lightly hoppy and perfect for on stage, backstage or where-ever.” The Dallas Morning News suggested that this replaced a previous drink the band had worked up with Martin House. “The guys wanted something a little less hoppy and more easy-drinking”, according to the brewery’s David Wedemeier. Seemed like they succeeded.

Cracking open the 12-ounce can and pouring it, I found a dark, nearly black brew – typical of most bocks. In good light, I could see it was a deep red color, and it foamed up to a decent but under-stated beige foamy head. There seemed to be little carbonation.

Giving it a taste, I was quite surprised. While it was moderately strong and hoppy tasting, it wasn’t nearly as bitter as many bocks. In fact it had a hint of a caramelly sweetness to it, which was unexpected. The band got their easy-drinking dark beer. All things considered, it seemed very smooth, if thick. I had it with a ham, turkey and Swiss cheese on a bun for lunch and it coupled very nicely with the savory flavors, not overpowering the sandwich but holding its own well. There was only a little aftertaste, and not a bad one at all. It seemed like a beer that might be a wee bit heavy for everyday pool party or summer picnic drinking but a thoroughly pleasant drink for dinners or a winter night… maybe spent listening to retro-’90s rock!

All in all, I give it a 8 out of 10 for strength (it comes in at 5.6% alcohol, by the way), 7 out of 10 for flavor and

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Four “possums” out of five.

May Hooray, The Sequel

Flipping around on Netflix a few nights back, I came up with a remedy. Not a cure but a surefire way to “chill” and probably get you snoozing happily quickly. Bob Ross. Never has the world needed Bob more. Sadly, he’s passed away but his TV shows live on full of their “happy little accidents.”

For the uninitiated, Ross was the huge-haired neo-hippie painter who had a long-running show, The Joy of Painting, on PBS in the ’80s and ’90s. Each episode, he’d start with a blank,or nearly so, canvas and quickly in under half an hour work his magic to create a pleasantly predictable landscape painting, full of mountains and little trees in the mist and often a little cabin for someone to live in and enjoy the view. Ross loved nature and every so often would bring in some animals. he particularly liked squirrels and seemed to always have a brood of foster baby squirrels he was raising, “the cutest little devils” in his parlance.

He’d narrate his painting in a stream-of-consciousness patter using catchphrases which now adorn t-shirts : “happy little accidents” for instance, when something didn’t look like you wanted in the painting. He narrated, and narrated with a voice so mellow and low-key he made characters like Venus Flytrap (on WKRP in Cincinnati) seem like hell-raising hooligans by comparison.

Ross was talented and probably turned more people onto dabbling around with paints than any other artist in the late-20th Century. He had talent but was often derided by critics for his predictability and triteness; a Norman Rockwell of the landscape if you will. If artists like Jackson Pollock were the “punk rockers” or new wavers of the visual arts world, Ross was its Carpenters, or Burt Bacharach.

Quiet, calm, predictable and soothing like a bowl of Campbell’s soup and grilled cheese. Watching the world around us, I think the world has never needed Bob and his squirrels more.

May Hooray 7

It’s a shame when doing our best to stay healthy results in us living in a less healthy and pleasant environment! So I was pretty happy to come across this story over the weekend.

A company called Avantium has found a way to make “plastic” water or soft drink bottles out of plants instead of traditional oil-based plastics. The result is a bottle which doesn’t require nearly as much fossil fuel, and which won’t stay around forever and ever if not properly recycled. With literally tens of millions of bottles being discarded by the day, they’ve become a huge water pollution problem in the oceans as well as a visual blight in our parks and cities where too few are bothered to put them in a blue bin to recycle, or even find a garbage can. And if they do end up in the garbage, they quickly fill up landfills. Ecowatch say that about 50 billion – billion – plastic water bottles were sold in the U.S.alone last year, up from 42 billion in 2015. And of those, only 23% get recycled. Container Recycling say an average of 60 million plastic bottles (water and pop) go into American landfills daily, or about 22 billion per year. With an average weight of 9 grams (or about 1/3 ounce) per bottle these days, that relates to 225 000 tons of plastic waste per year… and as much being simply tossed out along the roads or in parks or parking lots by the more slobbish among us. These bottles require millions of gallons of oil to make, and take hundreds of years to decompose if dumped. No wonder many were thirsty for a better way to keep from being dehydrated.

Avantium’s bottles are said to decompose naturally in no more than three years if left outside, possibly less in some environments, and being of plant material are biodegradable and if not actually helpful, at least not harmful to the environment. They “can be recycled, or returned to nature without harm,” the company suggests. Currently they’re using corn or sugar beets to make the product, but they soon hope to be able to use “biowaste” – things like the husks of the corn we assume – to do he same without negatively impacting the food supply.

Happily Coca Cola has pledged to have all their “plastic” bottles made of this or other biodegradable products as soon as 2023, as does Danone (a maker of some bottled waters and drinks as well as yogurt.) Brewer Carlsberg are trying out cardboard bottles with a liner made of the Avantium bio-plastic for their beer in some markets. We hope that Pepsico, Dr. Pepper, Anheiser Busch and other mass manufacturers of cold drinks will follow suit, and in the meantime, raise a glass – or plastic bottle- to Avantium and Coke, Danone and Carlsberg.