First Sentences

“In the corner of the small living room of the small country house at the end of the dirt road beneath the blue Carolina sky, the dark-skinned five-year old boy sat with his knees pulled to his chest and his small, dark arms wrapped around his legs and it took all that he had to contain the laughter inside the thrumming cage of his chest.” Jason Mott, Hell of a Book.

“We all want to know how it was in the beginning.”Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea.

“Well, the sun was shining.” Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind.

“The silence was excruciating, the minutes ticking by thick and heavy, time itself gorging on the tension in the humid air.” Ben Mezrich, Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder.

“Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world.” Jokha Alharthi, Celestial Bodies.

“English rule of Ireland was achieved by force, maintained by force.” Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., The Molly Maguires.

“I was born to be a wanderer.” Maggie Shipstead, Great Circle.

“On the third day of October 1901, Abram S. Hewitt was a happy man.” Clifton Hood, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York.

“Still hours of dark to go when I left home that morning.” Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars.

“Senior Lieutenant Alexander Logachev loved radiation the way other men loved their wives.” Adam Higginbothan, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster.

“Simon the Fiddler had managed to evade the Confederate conscription men because he looked much younger than he was and he did everything he could to further that impression.” Paulette Jiles, Simon the Fiddler.

“Texas, perhaps more than any other state in the Union, lives in the public imagination as a place of extremes.” Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth.

“On Saint Patrick’s Day, Daniel Coleman, an agent in the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation handling foreign intelligence cases, drove down to Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, to report for a new posting.” Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

“The day was flat.” Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain.

“On October 5, 1936, thousands of people packed the unpaved roads of Van Meter, Iowa.” Luke Epplin, Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball.


The email from a group that sees itself as a defender of religious liberty stated: “Of all the threats to our constitutional freedoms today, the scheme to stage a Supreme Coup of America’s courts is arguably the most dire. If our judicial system is rigged to favor partisan agendas, religious freedom—and all our fundamental, God-given rights—could be stripped away by a tyrannical majority who holds political power. That’s why right now, Americans must make their voice heard and REJECT this brazen power-grab.”

I wondered about various aspects of this plea including what “our fundamental, God-given rights” are. A benevolent, all-powerful God should give all of humanity a right to a peaceful life; to adequate food and shelter; to free speech; to worhip as you see fit; to a fulfilling education; and to good healthcare. I doubted that such rights were being referred to, but I could not discern what rights were meant. If it meant certain provisions in the U.S. Constitution, it ignored that God did not write the constitution. It was not on tablets given to Moses, but instead came on inked paper from humans, or as we often proudly proclaim, from “We the People.”  What do you believe are God-given rights, and why do you believe that? (For a further discussion of “We the People,” see the posts of July 16, 18, and 20, 2018: Search Results for “”We, the People of the United States”” – AJ’s Dad (

A tag on my oven mitt reads: “Cold water wash . . . Do not bleach . . . Tumble low dry . . . Warm iron . . . 100% cotton . . . Made in China.” What kind of person irons an oven mitt?

“A good man, maybe. But it’s best to shoot him.” Old Russian Proverb. Ben Mezrich, Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder.

Baseball playoffs are taking place. This makes me think of the brother’s recollection of our first television. He was in fifth grade, and the father surprised us in October by bringing home a tiny, black-and-white set. He talked about how much the family would enjoy it, but we thought that his desire to see the World Series was the motive behind the purchase. The brother told me that he tried to catch a cold, which he did, so he could stay home from school and watch October baseball, this when the Series had only day games. The mother told the father that my brother was sick and could not watch the game. The brother reports, “Well, she left for her afternoon work at the grocery store. Of course, dad let me.”

Is this joke now politically incorrect: Did you hear about the hillbilly who passed away and left his estate in trust for his bereaved widow? She can’t touch it until she’s fourteen.

My suggestion for an incremental improvement for gun safety: Make it a crime to carry a gun while intoxicated. Of course, carrying a gun is not the same as using it, but even carrying one while drunk should be prohibited because the decision whether to use a carried firearm should not be made when a person is intoxicated. The consequences should be similar to drunken driving, which, of course, is an offense even if there is no accident, Perhaps a first conviction for carrying a gun while intoxicated would only be a misdemeanor, but just as driving licenses are suspended, the ability to carry a gun should be prohibited for a time after the first conviction. A second conviction would be a felony, and the person could no longer possess guns. . . and might even go to jail.


The man being interviewed on the BBC was articulate. He wanted information about Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks to be declassified. He said at least three times, “We want President Biden to be at our side. He should have our backs.” And I wondered: “How can he be at your side and also have your back?” All I could imagine was an awkward sideways hug, but even that wouldn’t do both simultaneously.

The headline asked a question of no importance to me: Is Jeff Bezos an Astronaut?

I was mildly surprised when the woman of about my age and education asked, “What is hash?” I was more surprised, when her husband—the couple lived in San Antonio–pronounced Jose with a jay sound.

“Were it not for bunglers in the manner of doing it, hardly any would ever find out he was laughed at.” Marquis of Halifax.

It is fair and right to question how our Afghani withdrawal was carried out. But it is also clear that after twenty years and more than a trillion dollars, the United States has failed in Afghanistan. Even so, I see on TV people who were involved in our Afghan policies—diplomats, intelligence officials, military officers—opine on that failure but never on their own responsibility for the overall debacle. All of these people helped produce the disaster. Why should anyone listen to them? They have been consistently wrong, even though they don’t seem ever to tell us what fools they were.

 “If I blunder, everyone can notice it; not so, if I lie.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The formulators of our Afghan policies fall into a group similar to those who believe Space Jam was a documentary.

“Two bears can’t live in one cave.” Old Russian proverb. Ben Mezrich, Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder.

How do those who believe in American exceptionalism explain our role in Afghanistan?

A recent Nova Scotia election was won by Progressive Conservatives. Again we should be mystified by Canada. How can there be a progressive conservative? Certainly none exist in the United States.

In August, a half hour after sundown, a cacophonous, stereophonic symphony of cicadas led by an invisible conductor breaks out. The spouse does not like this music. For me it is a sound of summer. When that music ends, summer is over.

“The amount of sleep required by the average person is about five minutes more.” Max Kauffmann