Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

nformal summary of the plot of "The Fifth Gospel," in an email I sent to a friend:

["The Fifth Gospel." is about 2 brothers. Simon is a Roman Catholic priest and his brother Alex is an Orthodox Catholic priest. It takes place mostly in the Vatican. The Orthodox priest has a son (okay in the Orthodox church). Some other guy (could be a priest too) who's a friend of theirs gets murdered just before he's about to put on some highly anticipated art exhibit or something.]

From the tempo of my email you may be able to tell that I was initially excited to be reading "The Fifth Gospel. But things changed. My review:

I had really enjoyed reading "The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. I thought it was much better by far than Dan Brown's book, "The DaVinci Code," which was published in the same year as "The Rule of Four," and which walked off with all the plaudits of the reading public that year.

It seems that Mr. Caldwell has decided to cater to the poor judgement of the reading public of that year by writing a kind of "DaVinci Code Redux," and I like his new book about as much as I liked Mr. Brown's original book, which I didn't like at all. I made a sincere attempt to read "The Fifth Gospel" through to completion but I just couldn't do it. I kept putting the book down, fighting the urge to leave the book down, picking the book up again, only to finally despair of reading it through to the end.

In "The Da Vinci Code" there was a "bad guy" who belonged to a cult in the Catholic Church known as "Opus Dei." I knew nothing about this cult prior to reading that book. As I recall, this guy, (I'm pretty sure he was a priest,) tortured himself, so that he would always be mindful of the sufferings of Christ. In "The Fifth Gospel" we find that Simon (the Catholic priest brother of Alex, the Orthodox priest) also apparently tortures himself by tying some sort of cord around his thigh and yanking it a bit if his mind wanders when he's off at social gatherings while on Church business, causing this cord to cut into the flesh of his thigh. My impression was that Simon did this to himself when his mind began to drift toward the charms of the women at these events.

So is Simon a member of Opus Dei? I never found out. Nor did I find out if there was some particular point the author had in mentioning this odd behavior of Simon...except that it fits in with other odd things Simon does or did in the past, like grasping the blade of a knife in his bare hand in the middle of a knife fight between two ruffians and refusing to let go. But to what point are we told this stuff? I found it distracting.

The same goes for the large amount of Catholic trivia. Did you know (I didn't) that when a pope dies he gets buried in a triple coffin? (Who cares?) If I recall correctly, one coffin is made of pine wood, one is made of cedar, and one is made of lead. Reading this caused my mind to wander...why the lead coffin? I guess the pine coffin symbolized poverty; and I guess the cedar coffin smells very nice, so if the Pope wakes up at least the smell will be nice; but why the lead coffin? I wondered about lead poisoning...Dismissed that idea. Maybe the lead would afford protection in case of nuclear war and radioactive contamination...but to what purpose? And the author says the lead coffin is the middle coffin. This confused me. I assumed the outside coffin would be the pine. Showing the people that the pope was poor. And I figured the coffin which actually contained the pope's body would be the nice-smelling cedar coffin. So the lead coffin would then be the 2nd coffin in, fitting in-between the pine coffin and the cedar coffin. But considering the coffins as an architectural structure of three dimensions, the middle coffin would be the innermost coffin, and therefore, the pope's body would be inside the lead coffin. Well, maybe one of you readers will work it out.

Of course there is some very good writing here; Mr. Caldwell is a highly talented writer. The problem I had was more with the subject matter; I have little patience when the subject is organized religion. I can deal with organized religion in small doses but not in big lumps of four-hundred-odd pages. You might say that I am an acolyte of Freeman Dyson. (Which is funny because an acolyte is a kind of altar boy.)

So the fault, my friends, may be with me; not with the book. I have the deepest respect for those of you who find organized religion a solace and a source of inspiration and hope in these troubled times. And I mean that sincerely. There was a time when I shared that feeling. And along this line of thinking, I recently watched an interview of E. O. Wilson, the esteemed biologist/entomologist on C-Span2 in which Wilson said that religion is of profound importance, but that "Religion has been hijacked by Faiths." This pretty much sums up my own personal feelings on religion.

Considering that the book goes off on tangents and is very slow reading at times, and that it sometimes gets overly sentimental, I would give it a rating of two stars. However, the book is filled with details of church history, canon law, etc., which make it almost a scholarly tome for those of you interested in such matters, giving it a redeeming value. Add to that the fact that I have a small bias against the subject matter which few readers will share, and that I absolutely loved Mr. Caldwell's previous work, I find I must in all fairness give this book a rating of three stars.

I hope you enjoy the book. And I look forward to Mr. Caldwell's next book. I hope it doesn't take him ten years to get around to writing his next book, and I pray that his next book isn't about religion. God bless.

Your humble minister, (p.s. your sins are forgiven you if you read this review.)


The Hundred Year Marathon by Michael Pillsbury

At the end of World War II the United States co-opted the Nazi spy network…Hitler’s Intelligencia  or C.I.A. (If you will…) It was run by Wehrmacht Major general Reinhard Gehlen,  formerly the head of German military intelligence in the Eastern Front..  The USA did this in order to keep the USSR in check in Eastern Europe.  Later, in April of 1949, NATO was formed, and established a fairly permanent check on any possible USSR aggression in Eastern Europe.* (This is not mentioned in the book...I'm just providing it for background.)

 Then, in 1971, several years after the Korean War in which the Chinese Army helped to kill more than 30,000 Americans, President Nixon shook hands with Chairman Mao Zedong.  The USA and China were now buddies, and The USSR (now Russia) was caught in a pincer (or so we thought.)

Since then the USA has been aiding China.  In our schools we teach our students that China is a victim of the past actions of imperialist USA and imperialist Japan.  There is, of course, some truth to this.

But China had secret plans.  According to Michael Pillsbury in his new book, The Hundred Year Marathon, China had plans to become the world’s leading power in a hundred years, beginning in 1949.  I will be dead in 2049 but some of you will still be around. 

The USA has been misled by its leaders.  In every election cycle for the past forty years or so the USA has put into office a smug collection of suits (and pants-suits) who may be intelligent, but who know little about how the world actually works outside the Beltway.  And what little they do know of what goes on outside the Beltway is often dead wrong.  Our elected officials depend heavily on information received from “experts.”  These “experts” are subject to the same pressures to conform to the prevailing opinion as were the experts who brought the world economy to a crash in 2008, and these experts' interpretations of world events which they share with  elected officials are likely a bit more optimistic than is warranted by the facts.

So pay attention to this book, young people!  I picked up this book “The Hundred Year Marathon,” expecting to disagree with whatever the author had written.  I especially expected to disagree when I read the following disclaimer at the beginning of the book, which I partially quote below:

“The CIA, the FBI, The Office of the Secretary of Defense, and an agency of the Defense Department reviewed this book prior to publication…”  Egad!

However, Michael Pillsbury has written an eye-opener.  If you want to learn some of the truth of what is happening in the real world, read this book.

Your humble bookie,


Merry Christmas Happy Hanukkah Allahu Akbar Spam

A friend of mine is a fairly high-ranking government official.  I sent him and email wishing my friend and his family a Merry Christmas.  The "Subject" of my email was Merry Christmas.

Simple enough, right?  Well, a day later my email bounced back to me as undeliverable spam.  So this morning I re-sent my email.  I did it twice.  In place of Merry Christmas I changed the subject of my first email to: Happy Hanukkah, and in place of Merry Christmas in my 2nd email I titled it : Allahu Akbar.

We gotta watch these freaking Christians!  Fucking crazy bastards!

Merry Christmas  (or if TPTB don't let me post this, Happy Hanukkah & Allahu Akbar.)


Monday, December 22, 2014

First American COAVC Book of the Year Laureate

Well, I'll be gosh-darned!  An American author has finally accepted the COAVC Best Book of the Year Award.  Philip Daley, author of Welcome To The Divide has graciously accepted the award; and his check is in the mail.

The award is only $100; but it's the thought that counts.  A distinguished reader (me) truly appreciated the work this young man put into writing his book.  I highly recommend the book to you all.  It will blow your mind.

Notable authors on the Continent have accepted the COAVC award in the past, but until now no American author has been inclined to accept it.

I was coming to the conclusion that Americans have too much money to be bothered with a measly hundred bucks.  The other day I took a moment to analyze why these folks had declined the award and I discovered that most of my fellow Americans to whom I had offered the award, were college professors.  Believe me, awarding the prize to college profs was not my intention.

These folks are already vastly overpaid and I suppose their egos are probably a bit inflated.  And just like it wouldn't be efficacious for Bill Gates to bend over and pick up a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk, (someone actually did a study to determine this...) these folks probably figure that if Bill Gates wouldn't break his routine for $100, they shouldn't break their routines either.

Hey, no big deal.  I simply took their $100 and bet it on horses in the Kentucky Derby each year.

Well, it turns out that Philip Daley is not a college professor.  He is a security guard.  He is also a great writer.  Perhaps one day he will be offered a position teaching creative writing at a prestigious university.  I hope he turns it down.

Congratulations Mr. Daley.  I wish you further success.  Write another damn book, please.  I've already read Welcome To The Divide twice.  (Enjoyed it more the second the paperback version).  And every time the word "divide" pops up in the news I remember your book and I smile.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Plasterers

The Plasterers

by Mike Byrne

Who plastered up and painted o’er this bedroom apse
Did artistry a genuine mischance:
My ceiling should have been a canvas or perhaps 
Some stained pane where images more easily romance.

Or are perhaps the ceilings of this world
Much finer things than we suspect
And plasterers our greatest craftsmen
Forming gentlemen and kings and naked women
Finer than the Masters?

For verily this ceiling seems to me too much Sistine
To let it thus be treated no great reverence
Yet all may not be there that I have seen
But if it’s not… 

Wond’rous resemblance. 

Holiday Giving...with a fun twist

As you know, I give money away.  I don't have much money, so I don't give much away...but it is such a pleasure that I thought I'd tell you just a bit about it.

I love books.  So a few years ago I came up with this crazy idea of awarding my own "Book of the Year" Award.  And now, once a year I award $100 to the author of the book I have most enjoyed during the year.  I usually make the award around the Christmas holiday season.  A hundred dollars once a year...not a big deal, and it's sort of in the spirit of the season.

But all year long each book I read has me This Book going to be my COAVC Book of the Year?  It consumes me (in a pleasant sort of way.)

Sure, there's the National Book Award, and The Pulitzer Prize, The Man Booker Prize, and the Nobel Prize for Literature...but do the folks who award those prizes know more about the best books around than I do?  Ya know.... probably not.  And each of the people on the committees deciding the winners of these awards is  undoubtedly influenced by their peers, and their consensus selection may be good but it is likely never going to be daring nor original.

When I award the COAVC Best Book of the Year Award, however, I can be as daring and original as I want.  And I may unearth a genius who may otherwise have been lost to the ages.

My winner this year (2014) was the book Welcome To The Divide by S.P. Daley.  I had never heard of this author.  It was simply the best book I read this year so I awarded it the prize.  If the author accepts the award, I have decided to send him a formal letter suitable for framing.  Sort of like the diploma from the Wizard of Oz.

 I think more people should do this. Send $100 to an author who has really "made your day." Do it once a year.  $100 a year isn't really much.

I surely am not rich. But these authors have enriched me with their writing; and I shall continue making my book of the year awards.

Be well, my friends, and Merry Christmas.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Dead Cats

In the 1940's on weekends, all the kids on my block in the Bronx would get up early and go to the P.S.9 schoolyard looking forward to a day of playing stickball or "off the point" (which was called "stoop-ball" in Brooklyn,) and to just plain having a day of fun.

If you got to the schoolyard before the morning sanitation pick-up truck, you'd have to duck under the cats that had been tortured and set afire the previous night, and had been left hanging by ropes from the overhead section of the schoolyard gate, below the sign that read, "No Bicycling; No Skating; No baby-carriages" etc.

The first few times you saw these tortured cats hanging there it was pretty awful, but after a while you got used to it. Some kids wouldn't come to the schoolyard till after the sanitation truck had come by and the sanitation guys had cut down the cats and tossed them into the hopper.  And you knew right away that when you grew up you didn't want to be a garbage man.

Usually, the neighborhood girls wouldn't arrive till late,(possibly because of the cats) which gave us boys total posession of the playground; where the rule was "first come first served." And the girls had to wait until some boys in some section of the playground decided to leave before the girls were able to come in to the schoolyard to play skip-rope or potsy or whatever.

Recently, up here in Albany, someone tortured and killed a cat and left it by the Hudson River. This has been under police investigation for months.

The Ballad of Bookie Joe


by Mike Byrne

I died last night at ten o’clock
The Knicks just scored a basket
My sister switched to Channel four
And phoned up for a casket.

Since then I’ve hung around a bit
Not sure of where to go
And now and then I gaze upon
The corpse of Bookie Joe.

Sure they knew me as the bookie
But none dare say it loud
Afraid the Feds might wiretap
Or infiltrate our crowd.

I used to go from bar to bar
Accepting two buck bets
From widows and retirees
And proud disabled Vets.

I gave them what they wanted
The chance to make it big
But they were fools and so was I
You just can’t beat the vig.

Ah those days, those halcyon days,
The zebras had control
They’d call time out or throw a flag
To beat you by a goal.

The funeral was a quiet one
We had it in the house
And everyone I know showed up
Except O’Brien, the louse.

There soon began to trickle in
Much to my amaze
The crowd from Golden’s Daffodil
Where I had plied my trade.

And then they came from Erin’s Rest
And more from Pub MaHone
I was a bit beside myself
Whoever would have known?

There’s Bill, he bet six twenty one
For twenty-seven years
The day he quit it came right in
You still can see the tears.

And Rose, she’d bet her welfare check
Life treated her unkind
She’d not remember what she bet
But claim I robbed her blind.

I gave them what they wanted
The chance to make it big
But they were fools and so was I
You just can’t beat the vig.

Ah those days, those halcyon days
The zebras had control
They’d call time out or throw a flag
To beat you by a goal.

Now as I look about me
And wonder where I’ll go
I see my friends surround me
All sad to see me so.

I think I lived a good life
Tho’ a bit outside the law
I hope the Lord considers
T’was just a minor flaw.

"A little shack in heaven
A view of Sheepshead Bay
Is what you’re getting, Joseph."
I hear an angel say.

"We haven’t got a bookie here
They want to try their luck
Playing harps is not for them
Their church hymns really suck.

They want to cheer and holler
When horses thunder past
Or baseball players hit grand slams
With two outs in the last.

The Lord don’t understand them
And so we’ve come to you
They’re organizing unions
We don’t know what to do."

I fully understand them, Gabe.
I understand their game.
I need the odds from Vegas though
To quench their burning flame.

And get me Tony’s Tip Sheet
With the line for the NFL
And promise if I pull this off
I won’t end up in hell.

Gabe gave me what I wanted.
I’m booking bets again.
The beer is flowing freely
Hey, there’s my old friend Ben

The TV picture at the bar
Settles with a smack
As Ben backs down the ladder
From giving it a whack.

Folks come for take-out pizza
They’ve got a jukebox too
The waiter tells me, Joseph,
I’ve got something nice for you.

A steaming plate of gnocci
Is waiting at my table
My mouth begins to water
 I’m living in a fable.

A dish of pulpo from the grill
A glass of silver wine
A finger bowl, a salad
This really is divine.

I now have what I wanted
I’ve finally made it big
Yes, I’m the only Joe I know
To ever beat the vig.

The Night I Sang To Mary Travers

I have managed to find some of my posts from my previous blog.  From time to time I will publish one or two of the old posts which I like, or which still have relevance.  There's no particular sequence here.  I'm just diving into the previous collection and seeing what's there.  Here's the first post I came up with:

                   -----------------      --------------------    ------------------

Yesterday I read that Mary Travers of the singing group, Peter, Paul, & Mary, had died at the age of 72.

Back in the days when I drove a taxicab in Manhattan, I once picked up a nice older lady and a young woman. As I drove them home, we chatted a bit. The older lady told me her name was Jessie van Arnstein. If I recall correctly, she told me she was related to Nick van Arnstein who had broken the heart of Barbara Streisand in "Funny Girl," (though Jessie was talking about Fannie Brice in real life.) But maybe that's just the effect of time filling in memory loss for me.

Jessie told me that she and her friend Mary had just been to see the musical "Hair," in which her nephew or grandson, or niece or granddaughter or whatever, had been performing. We talked about "Hair," and somehow I mentioned that I wrote music myself; and I ended up singing one of my songs to Jessie and Mary.

When we reached our destination, Jessie gave me her phone number and told me to keep in touch with her. Then she pointed up toward a building window and said, "That's Mary's platinum album hanging on the wall by the lamp."

I looked up at the window, and I saw the platinum album. Then I glanced into my rear-view mirror, and for the first time it dawned on me that the younger woman in my taxicab was Mary Travers.

"Mary lives here," Jessie said, "and I live directly across the street." And Jessie and Mary got out of my cab.

I kept Jessie's phone number for a while, but I never did phone her.

I wonder if Mary liked my song?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Return of Crowded On A Velvet Cushion Book of the Year Award

If you searched for my previous blog site (Crowded On A Velvet Cushion,) you probably came up with the blog site of a company that sells cushions...possibly even velvet cushions.  My previous blog had about 50,000 hits in its brief history of about two and a half years.  Then technology happened and my blog site became someone else's blog now belonged to the above mentioned commercial cushion company.

I was at a loss.  I had no idea what to do.  Eventually, the cushion company gave up ownership to the name Crowded On A Velvet Cushion, and I was offered the opportunity to bid on the rights to the name (which I had stolen from a book by Henry David Thoreau entitled  "Walden" of which you may have heard.)

But Crime Doesn't Pay!  So, since I had stolen Thoreau's words, that made me a criminal and  I refused to pay.  What then to do?

I won't bore you.  Long story short...I'm back.

And if technology happens again I'll be back with "Crowded On A Velvet Cushion Part 3" etc. etc. etc.  I'll never run out of numbers.

You all enjoyed my 'book of the year' awards.  Recipients have included some famous names and several authors have gratefully accepted my awards of approximately one hundred bucks.  If I were a rich man I would have given more.

On a curious note: the famous writers readily accepted my meagre awards but a collection of little-known writers never bothered to contact me to accept their awards.  All those who accepted their awards were European.  All those writers who did not accept their awards were my fellow Americans.  Probably just a coincidence.

Well,  I won't hold you in suspense.  This year's winner of the COAVC Book of the Year award is Philip American.  His winning book is "Welcome To The Divide."

You have likely never heard of Mr. Daley or heard of his book.  Well let me assure you it is a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.  I kid you not.  I doubt if more than a hundred people have read the book.  I came across the book quite by accident.  I loved it and I am now reading it a second time.  I like it even more the second time around.

If you are a book collector (I used to collect first editions) I recommend that you buy this author's book. A first edition of "Welcome To The Divide" is a super investment.  At this time I think it costs less than twenty bucks; but you can store it in your attic and your grandkids will find it one day and bless you forever!  It will be worth gazillions.  At least.

If you own a kindle you can read a sample for free from Amazon.  The sample is so freaking long that you are in for a real treat with just reading the free sample.  But the printed book is the one to buy.  Mr. Daley makes use of some printing techniques in the printed book which do not carry over into the kindle transformation.

Welcome To The Divide is not War & Peace.  And Philip Daley is not Leo Tolstoy.  But in my opinion Welcome To The Divide is perhaps "V" by Thomas Pynchon, or "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut...not in so much as 'content' goes, but in originality, intelligence, humor and style. And as for content, it is deep and rich.  It will make you wonder.

Hey, if the author is a typical American he won't bother contacting me for his hundred dollars, and I'll bet it on a horse in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.  That's what I did with the other award money.  Maybe this time my horse will win!

I hope all you readers of my previous blog: "Crowded On A Velvet Cushion" find me at this new site, and I hope you are all well.

Till next time then...I'm glad to be back.