Friday, June 26, 2015

Don't Step Onto That Ledge

Over the last year the Chinese Shanghai A stock market has more than doubled. There were a lot of winners, but, inevitably, there were losers. Last week the market lost 13%. Last night the market lost 7%.
One investor had 1.7 million yuan to invest in one stock. Instead, he went on margin (a process where you borrow the money to increase your potential winnings) and bet 1.7 million times four on the stock. It plunged in value. There was no way he would ever be able to pay this back.
Yesterday, after arguing with his wife, he jumped from the 22nd floor of an office building. On the Chinese Internet men were trying to say it was his wife's fault.
But he left a note. It said he loved his family and that the decision to risk all that borrowed money was his alone. He said, "I was greedy."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No More Silver Bullets

I recently met with the neurologist who'd been helping me fight my disability. Twice, using radio wave ablation, I had burned the nerves on my neck and in my lumbar region. This last time it didn't work. She had been a great doctor and done everything she could. She explained to me that the speed at which arthritis was taking over my body, meant she had no magic bullets left. I was left with a cervical spondylosis that felt like a vise tightening around my neck. In addition, every day it was  getting harder to walk.
After I become a professor emeritus, I began writing novels until I couldn't use my hands on a computer anymore. (I can still dictate my blogs) It seemed I was having something taken away every day.
Then I remembered why I believed the magic bullets would always show up. When I was seven, I and my two brothers had fevers that lasted a couple of weeks. However, because my father had osteomylitis (an open sore on his leg which would not have been there if penicillin had been discovered when he was young,) he caught polio from us and died in five days in an iron lung. The three of us emerged unscathed..
My father had died at 37, so all of us, independently, felt relief when we turned 38. We lived in different parts of North America, but the movie "Field of Dreams" had a strong impact on us. "Build it and he will come" had grabbed all of us. However, before I questioned both of them, we didn't know we'd all been so impacted by the film.
But now there are no silver bullets left. The last time I saw my grandfather, his arthritis made it impossible for him to move anything on his body. As the oldest, I'm the first to look into the swirling sinkhole that will pull me down. I  hope that I'll be the only one to see the ground open up.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

On Creating Monsters

For some of us, creating monsters can be difficult for our psyches. To get inside a character capable of heinous crimes is disturbing. My guess is that it's a lot harder for me than it is for Stephen King.
My daughter's grandparents were in the Holocaust in Hungary. They told me stories that were horrible to hear. Hungary had an organization called the Arrow Cross, a fascist organization that was as brutal as the Nazis. They would round up Jews and commit unspeakable acts.
In my novel, set in the late 50s, an Arrow Cross butcher is killing Jews who fled Hungary during the revolution and settled in America. When I had to write about his crimes in Hungary it would disturb me in ways that made me feel as if I was this sadist I was creating. For me, it was truly unsettling to get inside the mind of this man.
Today, I have a favorite crime series that I've been reading in the order of publication. Unfortunately, this time a group of important men are imprisoning young women and killing them in "snuff" movies or selling them to other organizations. This book is really upsetting me. I told my wife who told me "it's only a book."
My problem is that this insight doesn't help. The writer of this series has managed to make me angry, disgusted and truly horrified. This woman is a tremendous writer and I'm trapped in the world she's created. Perhaps, what makes some people writers, makes them capable of this suspension of disbelief that sometimes seems more like a curse than a blessing.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hey Guys, It Doesn't Cost a Fortune to Look Good

It's 2:30 in the afternoon and at the Marshalls near La Canada, California, (the town where the Disney executives live) you can see attractive, affluent Korean-American women accessorizing with their St. John suits. You can't get a St. John suit at Marshalls, just as men can't get a Brioni or Armani suit, but these women can find items to complement their outfits.
For women, shopping at Marshalls has limited possibilities, but for a guy who isn't afraid to wait for the right month, he can score a Hugo Boss sport coat or a Ralph Lauren Polo suit. In fact when I think of Ralph Lauren, I think of Marshalls. A guy who wants to look well-dressed can buy Polo shirts, ties and underwear there. Surprisingly, I picked up a Cole Haan trenchcoat that  wears like iron.
A lot of women who dress well go to Marshalls and get disappointed. But because guys aren't very good shoppers you don't have much competition and it's a movable feast.
Here's how it works. Suppose Polo contracts with someone to produce 130 suits for them. The factory will make 150 and sell 20 to Marshalls. Since men's clothing varies much less than clothing for women, frequently (just like with a Lexus) last year's model will be hard to tell from this year's.
This is not the place for guys who shop at Barney's. Marshalls isn't going to carry menswear that is that avant-garde. But, especially if you can live with a modified preppy look you can come up with good-looking clothing all year round. It's the best place to shop for cashmere sweaters. They're all made in China anyways, so you have nothing to be embarrassed about. And since the Macy's Cashmere sweaters, which cost more, all end up pilling, you're way ahead of the game.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Great Mystery Series on Amazon

After I received my PhD, back when Lincoln was president, I read nothing but Agatha Christie for three months. Exhausting that series, I finally was ready to get back to my scholarly activities.
There are great series to be discovered on Amazon (some on Kindle Unlimited and some just cheap) and I'd like to share some of my finds with you. The first is Freeman Wills Crofts, who outsold Christie in the 30s and is a great mystery writer. His output was prodigious and his plots are great.
Sheldon Siegel has written a seven book series featuring Mark Daley and Rosie Fernandez and costarring the city of San Francisco in some great courtroom dramas.
Scott Pratt writes about a lawyer named Joe Dillard who works among the crackers and nasty judges who seem to dominate small-town Tennessee.
There are the British Mystery Crime Classics which truly vary in quality. I would download a preview of each one before putting out any cash.
A great series by Catriona King features DCI  Craig. As you immerse yourself you become involved with the lives of the Murder Squad as they evolve and change with the seasons and the suspicious deaths they encounter. The series is set in Northern Ireland where the "troubles" are over but not forgotten.
My favorite series, however, is that of inspector Skelgill of England's Lake District, a man who would rather fight a pike than be a detective. He is the creation of Bruce Beckham.
You probably already know about Mark Gimenez. He writes about the Texas Hill country and is the equal of John Grisham at half the price.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Medical School Which NurturesThe Heart As Well As The Brain

There are days when I get discouraged about the future of the country I love. However, my experience on Saturday filled me with the belief that many are working hard to maintain our values and facilitate healthy change.
My wife and I went to our daughter's medical school to walk her across the stage as she received her M.D.
This medical school tries to steer its students into family practice, where they will do a lot of good and, unfortunately, make less money than those who choose a specialty designed to make them wealthy. These people are the antithesis of those working for big banks who cheat and steal to make big bucks.
I watched the Latinos walk across the stage, followed by the Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and Indian Americans. They stood next to the Irish-Americans and Polish Americans and showed how immigrants make this country a better place.
The commencement speech (the best one I've ever heard) was delivered by an African-American who has delivered medical care to an area of San Francisco which had been previously under served. Her rousing address made me wish I had miles to go before I'd sleep.
I privately thanked God for letting me see how much could can be done by people who color outside the box and believe that America can only get better.