This and That from Here and There

I’ve been listening to Fiasco: The AIDS Crisis, an excellent podcast that has to do with the history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.  AIDS first appeared in the 1980s, so it’s easy for us to forget in this time of COVID-19 that this was a viral epidemic which was 100% fatal and still would be except for a cocktail of medications that keep those who have it asymptomatic.  The podcast is in eight parts and features many sound clips from those who have experience it and those who have fought mightily to find the cause of it and to convince certain groups of people to take actions to limit the infections – the gay men who utilized the baths in San Francisco, the United States Government, the blood banks with tainted blood that killed thousands of hemophiliacs and others who required transfusions to live, and religious groups that look at AIDS as a punishment from God for homosexuality.  The series (which is available to Audible members) is worth your time.

I also recommend the 1987 book And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts and the 1993 HBO docudrama based on Shilts’ book.  The book is much more detailed than either the podcast or the HBO movie.  It also documents the bitter battle between researchers to identify the cause of the disease and to receive the fame and honors due the winner. 

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I want to briefly list a few of the excellent books I’ve read over the last few months.  They aren’t in any particular order, but all earned four or five stars on my rating system from one to five stars.

Creatures of the Kingdom: Stories of Animals and Nature by James Michener – Each chapter of this 1993 book is a story about an animal that appeared in different Michener novels.  I was amazed at the amount of research he had to do to come up with these delightful, informative pieces.  Keep in mind that they were only a very small part of novels like Hawaii, but you might think that he was primarily a naturalist rather than a novelist when you read them.  My favorite chapter is about Nerka the salmon.

Trent’s Last Case (in England and The Woman in Black in the U.S.) by E. C. (Clerihew) Bentley – This is a 1913 murder mystery in which Philip Trent, a very clever, very successful detective, seems to have solved the case about halfway through the book.  The trouble is, he’s wrong.  So, he comes up with another solution and he’s wrong again.  Trent is so disgusted that he vows never to take on another case.  Bentley’s novel was a send-up of all the cocky detective who always get it right the first time, and it’s a fun book to read. 

You may have noticed that I gave Bentley’s complete middle name above.  That’s because he invented a type of poem called a Clerihew.  In fact, I made one up myself and will share it with you:

The well-known writer E. C. Bentley

Worked on Trent’s Last Case intently

And when at last his work was through

He said, “it’s good, but not as good as a Clerihew”

I, Asimov: A Memoir by Isaac Asimov – This was Asimov’s third and final memoir, and it was published posthumously.  The title alludes to one of his most popular books I, Robot.  It’s a long book with many short chapters.  Each is about a different person or event in his life.  He begins by stating that many people consider him arrogant, but he feels that he’s only being honest about his abilities.  In fact, it would be difficult to not be a little arrogant if you wrote over 400 books, thousands of magazine articles, and gave numerous lectures on diverse subjects.  Furthermore, Isaac Asimov is one of the fathers of science fiction – especially when it comes to robots.  There are three recognized “laws of robotics,” and Asimov came up with them.  He also wrote numerous nonfiction books on subjects as diverse as science, mathematics, the plays of Shakespeare, the Bible, and an annotated guide to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.  He loved for someone to suggest a book on anything that he hadn’t written about.  With what he referred to as a near-photographic memory and boundless curiosity, he could retrieve information on almost any subject imaginable and quickly produce a book that was accurate and a money-maker.  By the way, he had triple bypass heart surgery in 1983 and died (supposedly) from heart and kidney failure in 1992.  Ten years later his widow, Janet, and his daughter, Robyn, announced that he had actually died from AIDS – the result of contaminated blood that he received during his heart bypass surgery in 1983.

Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans by Vivien Spitz – Most people have heard of the Nuremberg Trials, but few are familiar with the medical trials that took place in Nuremberg after them.  All of the accused were involved in medical experiments that were performed on Jews and other Nazi prisoners against their will during World War II.  Spitz was a young woman who got a job as a court stenographer at many of the medical trials and what she learned changed her life.  It’s an unpleasant book to read, but it shows, I believe, how easily ordinary people can dehumanize other people under certain conditions.  This book has nothing to do with the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, but those on trial were every bit a vile as he was.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022 we will discuss William Shakespeare’s Othello in my Reading the Classics book club at the Bluebonnet Library here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  We meet from 12:30 p.m. until 2:00 p.m.  I started the book club in 2006 and it’s still well attended.  Here is a list of the books we have scheduled through the remainder of this year:

May 3, 2022 – Othello by William Shakespeare

June 7, 2022 – I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

August 2, 2022 – The Virginian by Owen Wister

September 6, 2022 – Hiroshima by John Hersey

November 1, 2022 – Innocent Blood by P. D. James

December 6, 2022 – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

As you can see, we have a diverse reading list.  I highly recommend Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to those of you who enjoy mysteries.  Like Trent’s Last Case, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is unique.

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Every Monday night during May 2022, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will present some of the wonderful Warner Brothers Busby Berkeley movies.  (You can read a TCM Magazine article about him here.)  Berkeley choreographed many of the 1930s musicals that offered a brief reprieve from the relentless hardships of the Great Depression.  He is most famous for his synchronized, kaleidoscopic dance routines that were shot from overhead.  For instance, in one movie the gorgeous women had feather fan and they simulated a flower opening and closing.  Every Monday beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time TCM will broadcast Busby Berkeley’s movies through the night.  Watch them or record them, but don’t miss them!

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Beginning at 8:00 a.m. Central time on Sunday, May 8th I will host the three hour long big band era program Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH.  The following Sunday, May 15th we will present another rebroadcast of Pete Soderbergh’s Swingin’ Sunday Morning during the same time period.  Pete’s upcoming show originally aired on May 18, 1997 – almost exactly 25 years ago.  You can listen to the shows at the WBRH website or you can simply tell your Amazon Echo device to “play WBRH.”  You can listen to previous broadcasts of these and other programs at the WBRH website by clicking on “Show Archive” at the top of the page.

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