Previous month:
April 2020
Next month:
June 2020

Insert Your Subject Line Here

It may seem that I was trying to be arch, amusing or ironic by sending out an announcement email for this column with the subject "Insert Subject Line Here." I don't imagine I am either the first or last person to do that. My old email notification vendor sold out to a new company with a different interface that I have yet to master; this morning, I see the error message "Missing Subject Line." But, of course, I can't blame it solely on AWeber. I didn't RTFM. On the other hand, recent experience with Docusign shows me that a website UI is perfectly capable of saying, "This seems such a dumb error that we are going to keep you from pushing GO."

Not that such interfaces are perfect. The pop-up dialog "Did you really mean to delete this item" has failed me more often than it has served me, as I mindlessly click yes first, then do my thinking later.

Anyway, I choose to hope you found it amusing and decided to stop by for a look anyway. This redoubles my resolve to post something next week, in the hopes of becoming sufficiently familiar with the interface to use it properly in the future, or, at the very least, to actually look at the test email AWeber forces me to send myself before sending the mass mailing. In my defense, I did check the link to the column, so I know that worked (I have failed to properly set up that link in the past).

Nobody's perfect. As Paul Krugman pointed out this morning, we need leaders who can admit error. I am not throwing my hat in the ring, but my already strong affinity for Joe Biden has increased with this consideration, as has my disdain for Donald "Never made a mistake" Trump.

Oops! Politics. Well, that's an old tradition in PSACOT, going back a half-century, so why stop now?

Well, who’d have thunk it

First, let me emphatically say this is not another retired journalist returning to the traces to write a Covid column. As God is my witness, that is the last time I will use the C-Word in PSACOT.

Well, who’d have thunk it. One of the reasons I stopped writing PSACOT on a weekly basis back in 2013 was that there were too many columns that began, “Another dull week.” Basically, I was running out of things to write about. Of all the times in human history, you’d think the present would be the exemplar of that problem.

(Another exemplar would be the first run of PSACOT, in Ergo and, briefly, The Tech at MIT. To paraphrase Russell Baker, I was “broadcasting the contents of an empty mind…”

In my case, at least, life at present is not dull. I find we live in interesting times.

I doubt I’m back on a weekly basis, but there are thoughts passing through my mind that I wish to share with a wider audience than my family and my handful of email correspondents, as special as each and every one of them are.

It will astound regular readers to discover that there are a few events that have taken place in my life that I am NOT going to share with any random stranger who drops in from the bottom of a deep Google Hole. Suffice it to say that, at the age of 68, after writing about 25 million words in my life, I have found new things to say and a new way to say them.

I’ve started writing poetry.

Two quotes on the subject:

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
--Robert Frost.

“Poetry lets us name the nameless.”
--I forgot to write down the source and Google doesn’t turn it up.

I have written 70 poems since March. Not all of them rhyme. Some are shareable. Some are too personal to share. Some are love poems. Some of then are not worthy of sharing (after all, if you bat .300 you can play in the majors, when the majors are playing). The next three items will be poems.

The first poem is an autobiography of my muse. Fifty years ago, I would have bet you a million dollars I would never write those words seriously; imagine my surprise to find her a daily presence in my life.

She is, in fact, part of the reason you are reading this, since she woke me up early this morning and rode me like a horse until I got to the keyboard. The frequency of these missives will depend on her whim of steel.

The second poem below, holding my heart, was my first rhyming poem, expressing feelings I managed not to notice for about 40 years. In short, I got around to naming the nameless.

After the poems, let me heartily recommend the several posts that follow. They are some of the best stuff I have ever posted.

If you truly feel the way about your love that I feel about mine, feel free to give her any of my poems, or use any of my expressions of love. I’d be pleased and honored if some of you did that. And I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

My Muse Poem

Among the concepts left us
By the Greeks of yore,
Was that of a muse who affects us
When creating is our chore.

I always found it silly,
Whenever I heard or read
Authors discredit ability
And praise a muse instead.

Why must they personify
Their own great inspiration?
Why must they just justify
Their art with explanation?

To my eye it was quite silly,
Until she came, willy nilly.
For years I had not heard her sing;
Now on me, her load she springs.

Yes my muse is a lass.
Thus it has come to pass,
I operate beneath her sway
because she’s with me every day

Sometimes a gentle lass is she,
Like a cat upon my knee.
Other times, with no warning,
She wakens me in early morning.

I’d prefer to gently snore;
She wakes me up at half past four.
She’s insistent, will not quit.
It feels like being hit and hit.

“You must get up and write this down,”
she says although there is no sound.

And then for her A.M. encore,
She hits me with a 2 x 4.
“Please let me sleep,” my tired plea,
But she’s undaunted I can see.

And so I say goodbye to bed,
and go and hit the keys instead.

I ask her if we can just talk;
She says “remember JS Bach.
Although his story seems quite odd,
You know he said his muse was God.
‘I don’t create my tunes you see
I transcribe God’s symphony.’”

“Take a night off,” is my plea.
“I’m sorry, no,” she says to me.
“These words will not write themselves,
They need your help to sit on shelves.”

Normally not seen or heard,
Tonight she gets the final word.
“You keep telling people now
I’m a bully, true and how.

Perhaps this is their chance to see
Who I am and what I be:
A spur to creativity.
Angel, devil, scary ghost;
Yet it’s clear I am foremost,
Your muse.”

She will not let me alone,
until I write her blog or poem.
Peace and sleep I cannot find,
Until I get her off my mind.

If it were just up to me,
I’d walk away and let her be.
But I can’t let entreaties pass,
Because I know she’ll kick my ass.

My muse.

Holding my Heart

It was forty years ago you see.
When I found out amazingly
Her I’d picked out for my mate
Put my heart on a silver plate.
Cared for mine just like her own,
Never abused, just held on loan,
Never tried to give it back,
Never caused a break or crack.

Still she holds it to this day.
So I would just like to say
Honesty, fidelity:
Gifts you freely gave to me,
That I hadn’t had before,
From the others I’d adored.
It’s amazing can’t you see
What your gifts have meant to me.
No one ever forced you to,
They’re just things you chose to do.

I find it hard to just obey
When you say what I can’t say:
How saintly you appear to me.
I’m not a saint I hear your plea.
So saint’s a word I must not use
And yet I fear I must refuse
Instead I praise you to the skies
For love you give in any guise.

Hug and kiss and dulcet tone,
All are meant for me alone.
I’m so grateful don’t you know
For the way these gifts doth flow.

You Affect Me

I wish I had the words to say
How you affect me every day.
It’s like nobody ever has,
By yourself you’re in a class.

I thought I was in love before,
But now I see that there was more.
When I was with them things were fine,
They did their thing, I did mine.

Whether close or far away,
Every day an average day.
Were they far or were they near?
Made no difference in my cheer.

They did their best there is no doubt,
But they lacked your awesome clout.
Every single thing I do
Is better proximate to you.

Eating with you is more fun
I’m the moon to your bright sun.

Walking with you gives me thrills
Outdoors hearing birdie trills.

A talk with you makes me so gay
I could do it night and day.

Sleeping with you till the dawn
Bucks me up and turns me on.

In Short there’s nothing that I do
That isn’t better done near you.

You affect me as no other has;
Life with you creates pizazz.

Poison Factory: Neither Pale, Stale nor Male. Just Terrific

***** Five stars out of five stars

The Poison Factory by Lucy Kirk | BookShop

After a half century of avidly reading spy novels, I find, for the first time since my teenage self haunted the newsstand, waiting for the latest episode of James Bond in Playboy, that I am excited about the publication of a new entry into the genre: Lucy Kirk’s novel Poison Factory: Operation Kamera. And I mean REALLY new, because the protagonist is not James or George but Decktora “Decky” Raines. Just as I am tired of pale, male and stale in my choice of politicians, I have grown tired of pale, male and stale spy novel protagonists and authors.

So, I would recommend the book solely on the basis of the gender of the author and the protagonist. There are far too few spy novels written by and featuring women.Luckily for both of us, this book would be great even if the author and the protagonist were both named James or Ian.One of my favorite parts of spy novels is their subtle, in-context revelation of spycraft. I don’t remember who first introduced me to the term “pocket litter,” but it has stuck in my memory all my adult life. It is the pedestrian material such as receipts, keys and cash that a normal person collects in their pockets. Your spy needs a load of pocket litter so that, if captured, their cover story about being a civilian seems plausible.

When I sat down to read this first effort by a neophyte, I wondered how she’d do on the subject of spycraft. I felt a frisson of excitement when “Pocket litter” appeared in the first chapter. Best of all, it’s all uphill from there.

For example, if I ever suspect I am being surveilled, I’ll check the shoes of the people following me because according to the ex-CIA author of this book, followers often change their clothes and hair, but sometimes neglect to change their shoes.The book is full of delightful touches like that. The Wall of Stars at CIA headquarters, an architectural feature which has fascinated me for years, has a bit part in the story that I found delightfully clever.Poison Factory is thrilling, well-written and satisfying, and touches base with reality just often enough (Litvinenko, Operation Kamera).

I don’t use the term “page-turner” often, but I literally found myself unable to put it down. I read it in a single quite-lengthy sitting, because the tight plotting made me want to know what came next, without my usual expedient of reading the last page first.I actually felt slightly empty the next morning, because there was no more to read (yet). I don't often have this feeling about a novel, and I'm not kidding.

SPOLIER ALERT: I can't wait to read about Alex's adjustment to PTSD through the eyes of Decky, who has to deal with his symptoms because she wants to, and her day job because she has to (she's the woman for the job!)