Looking for financial advice, life coaching or a new mantra? Good luck finding it elsewhere. Drinks Before Dinner is the one-stop shopper’s site for small talk.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


Greg Levin, a novelist living in Texas has decided to wash his hands and probably his entire body of conventional wisdom related to genre "identity." His books aren't really this, that or the other, so he has chosen to call them "Other, not another."

I like this idea, and think it applies to my novels. I call them "suspense," but that's not really accurate. When the protagonist and the antagonist meet just once at the beginning, how can I call GODSEND (my latest) a work of suspense?

 I thought for a while of calling my stuff  Noir Lite or Untrue Crime. But no one's ever heard of such categories, so I think I'll start thinking of my stories as "Other." Anyone who's put off by this isn't likely to enjoy what I write anyway, so Other it is.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Here's the link to a jokey piece that appeared yesterday (Friday, Aug. 27, 2016


Thursday, August 19, 2010


--Uh oh, you printed something off the Internet. Never a good sign.
--Just a little confessional. An interlude to share during drinks.
--Who’s the confessor?
--Our good friend Congressman Bob Inglis, Republican from South Carolina. But only for a few more weeks.
--Whoa, South Carolina. That requires wine, I’ll be right back.

--OK, what’s the latest from Bubba Bob Inglis?
--He’s had it, he’s kaput, out of a job. He lost the primary to a Tea Party type.
--What happened?
--He told his constituents to turn off Glenn Beck, and he failed to use the S word about Obama.
--The S word would be Socialist?
--Correct. When pushed to describe Obama as a socialist, Inglis waffled. All he’d say was that Obama, quote, “wants a very large government that I don’t think will work and that spends too much and it’s inefficient and it compromises freedom and it’s not the way we want to go.” It says his audiences paid no attention because they were just listening for the S word. When he didn’t use it, they looked disappointed.
--Wasn’t Inglis one of the super-Christians who tried to impeach Clinton?
--The same. One of the meanest of the mean. But now he feels contrite. Looking back as he cleans out his desk, he’s sorry.
--Really? He got religion?
--Yes, and he got it from Clinton, no less. Inglis says he heard Clinton say at some prayer breakfast that “the most violated commandment in Washington is ‘Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’”
--Which is why he wouldn’t call Obama a socialist.
--I don’t believe it.
--I do. He’s not going back to Congress. That means he’s free to be honest.
--I’m sorry, honey, I thought you knew this. Politicians from South Carolina are all vetted before running. The process is rigorous and wide-ranging. If the person wishing to run for office reveals a capacity for higher-order cognitive functions, he’s “de-selected.” That’s the term when you get dropped by the party. For obvious reasons, the vetting is done by people from out-of-state.
--OK, that makes sense. Because it says here Inglis knew an ill wind was blowing his way back in ’09. That means cognition was operating. It says he saw the ill wind at a GOP retreat. He made a presentation to the group, explaining how a poll had asked Americans to rate themselves in terms of conservatism. The scale was one to ten, one being Mao, ten being somewhere to the right of Louis Quatorz. The average was 5.6. Those polled thought House Republicans were about 6.5, and Democrats 4.3. This is good news, Inglis said. It means Republican House members are closer to the general public’s position than Democrats are. He told his audience it meant Republicans could keep to the right, “without driving off the road.” His audience greeted this with “stony faces.”
--I guess they resented the implication that it was possible to drive your pickup too far to the right. He says the crowd made him think of the crowd getting ready to stone the sacrificial victim in Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery.” The speaker who followed Inglis at the retreat said—let me find it—“On Bob’s ideological spectrum, I’m a 10.” For this the crowd went wild.
--And now Inglis feels bad about hounding Clinton.
--Yeah. I suppose it’s more of that bad-for-reelection brain activity and moral reflection. You know, the thing about bearing false witness. Inglis now regrets all the lies his Lottery crowd told about Whitewater. You remember Whitewater. And about all the innuendo regarding Vince Foster’s death. You remember Vince, I’m sure.
--Since his place at the public trough is now being filled with teabags, what do you think Inglis will do?
--Good question. My guess is, with all that cognition, there’s a think-tank in his future.

Friday, July 16, 2010


As in spyware, malware, mal a la teteware.
The recent sweep that netted a posse of Soviet-era spies seems to have come up one short. That would be the viral mole who's holed up in my computer. When he is found and traded for a good hitter to fill a slot at the end of the Detroit Tigers batting order, Drinks Before Dinner will be back in business.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Barbara has the week off. If she didn't, she might caution against writing on something about which I know so little. But since that admonishment applies to almost everything in Drinks Before Dinner, onward and upward

Glenn Beck:
“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up.’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”

Michele Bachmann:
“I don’t know where we’re going to get all this money because we’re running out of rich people in this country.”

Rush Limbaugh:
“We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. Income Tax.”

Ann Coulter:
“I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating [Dr. George] Tiller in the 203rd trimester…. I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don’t want to impose my moral values on others.”

“There are a lot of bad Republicans. There are no good Democrats.”

Rand Paul:
(on BP) “Sometimes, accidents just happen.”

No to health care reform. No to financial reform. No to environmental legislation. No to temporarily suspending further drilling in the Gulf. No to extending unemployment benefits.

The quotes above from high-profile voices in the Republican Party, along with that party’s unwavering “no” votes in Congress during the last eighteen months cannot be faulted for inconsistency or uncertainty. The party and those voicing its point of view present a unified summary judgment on what makes human beings tick.

Whether it’s the professorial postures struck by Newt Gingrich, the philosophical cheerleading of Ayn Rand’s supporters, or the junkyard-dog approach to conducting the nation’s business perfected by a Mitch McConnell or Richard Shelby, Republicans see human nature in clear terms.

According to the right, human beings thrive when allowed to pursue their self-interest. Logically (goes the argument), entities created by human beings represent extensions of themselves. That is, corporations and profit-driven institutions equal manifestations of human will. Efforts—especially government efforts-- to regulate or control these acts of human will are at best the product of ignorance, at worst a perverse attempt to thwart the innate drive for self-expression and perfection. The quintessential act of this self-expression, and the most human of all focused activity is the business of making money.

Generally, this view takes its cue from Adam Smith's "invisible hand," matched with a nineteenth-century reading of Darwin. Proponents of Social Darwinism assert that natural selection applies not just to individuals, but to races, societies and nations. Remove all impediments to human will, and “successful” people will thrive, while others go to the wall, which is where nature intends for them to go. In concert with “the white man’s burden,” Social Darwinism served Colonialism well.

Such a view applies an early reading of Darwin to the human organism. It sees our species in terms of club-wielding Flintstones in competition for food and females, but this reading has since been rejected by rational people. Even without later refinements made to evolutionary theory, technology alone has rendered it obsolete: it ignores the functional equality of a small woman’s index finger compared to that of a sumo wrestler when pushing a button in, say, a nuclear missile silo.

In the Sixties, British biologist William Hamilton founded studies in animal behavior that later became widely known through E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology. In 1964, Hamilton put forth a hypothesis that came to be known as Hamilton’s rule. In the simplest terms, the rule says that we practice altruism (the devil itself to Ayn Rand’s disciples, and to most right wingers) to those whose survival is needed as insurance that our own genes will survive.

In short, you look after kinfolk who carry your genetic code, and you do it for reasons of self-interest. Are you your brother’s keeper? Should you lay down your life for your brother? In genetic terms, the answer is yes, but only for two brothers, or for four cousins, because they will carry forward your genes.

This “rule” has opened the door for further study that seeks to explain acts of generosity and kindness (and ultimately the origins of morality) in terms of evolution.

If all this means anything to you, you can see why any success in locating an evolutionary basis for things like social justice and generosity would cause most conservatives to go ballistic. Provide a verifiable, science-based justification for “doing good” in liberal terms, and the “up yours, Jack, I’ve got mine” philosophy has the rug pulled out from under it.

The champion of this effort is Robert Trivers, an eccentric genius whose early career included advanced study (and self-taught mastery) of multiple disciplines, dangerous breakdowns resulting from bi-polar disorder, radical politics, and much else. Out of this hodgepodge, Trivers finally focused on the knotty question of why it is that animals often come to the aid of others to whom they are not related, sometimes even to members of other species. He refers to it as “the evolution of reciprocal altruism.”

It’s one thing to save your brother from drowning, and thereby, “rescue” copies of your own genes for the future, but why jump in to save a stranger?

Trivers’ studies include not just math (he taught himself calculus at fourteen), biology and psychology, but also history and anthropology. From a growing body of data, what he has come to believe is that, in the primordial past, human evolution rewarded those who practiced kindness in tribal society by establishing a debt of gratitude. If I save you and yours, you are more likely, should the need arise, to save me and mine.
No doubt an Ayn Rander or a latter-day Newt Gingrich or a trickle-down economist like Arthur Laffer will dream up some way to finesse or dismiss this new perspective. Being generous and looking out for others besides those in one’s tiny corner of the gene pool is not compatible with their world view. But if Trivers’ ideas ever capture the popular imagination, “enlightened selfishness” is going to sound more like its true self: a hollow falsehood not even applicable in terms of self-interest.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


--It’s a beautiful evening. Want to sit on the patio?
--You go ahead.
--What’s wrong?
--No, go on ahead, I’m fine. I just want to sit here.
--Come on, fess up. What’s wrong?
--“Fess up.” That’s an apt phrase. Eleven Russians were arrested for spying this week. The cold war ended twenty years ago, but they were ordered to maintain their deep-cover mole status anyway.
--I read about it. They were all posing as suburbanites.
--The FBI’s been tracking them for seven years. Seven years, Barbara.
--So what? You thought the Russkies just Fed-Xed all their spycams and shotgun mics back to Moscow? Their wigs and fake beards?
--Apparently, they never learned anything to pass along.
--Well, isn’t that a good thing?
--One of them tried to buy a cell phone. She gave her address as Fake Street. That’s how the crack FBI operatives nabbed her. The only reason the Bureau sprang into action is because one of the others bought a one-way ticket to Cyprus. You can’t invest seven years of taxpayers’ money on monitoring spies who haven’t done any actual spying without making an arrest.
--And this is why you won’t come outside to enjoy a nice summer evening in Michigan? What do I have to do, sweep the patio for bugs and cameras?
--What’s depressing is that “experts” think the spies were kept in place to the tune of millions of rubles just to uphold tradition.
--The spy tradition.
--Yes. Instead of change, tradition. And of course the logical extension is to conclude our own tradition also had to be maintained. Seven years of watching suburbanite spies who never gathered any info worth sending back. And the finance reform legislation has no teeth. Nothing will change in any significant way, so the tradition of Wall Street scams will continue. Just like the drill-baby-drill tradition in the Gulf.
--You really should come outside.
--I will. And after reading about spies, I made the mistake of turning on the TV. Just in time to see footage taken from a plane off the coast of Texas. The footage showed a pod of dolphins. Dead together in the dead sea. Their brains are as big as ours. They can recognize themselves in a mirror. They grasp abstractions. I couldn’t watch and turned it off.
--Then you came in here to be with your thoughts.
--Do you ever have a sense of an ending? Of things getting ready to be over?
--When I do, I go outside to watch evening light in the trees. I recommend it.
--You go on. I’ll be there soon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


--Sweetheart, you’re talking to yourself again.
--I was dressing myself down. I was taking myself out to the woodshed.
--Please don’t tell me you forgot to turn off the coffee maker again. We don’t need any more caffeinated tar.
--Nope, on top of the coffee maker.
--But you needed dressing down. Discipline.
--That’s it, I lack discipline. Toughness and grit. Those are the qualities in short supply with me. But not with General Stanley McChrystal. I just read his discipline level allows him only one meal a day.
--Well, he’ll have lots more time for the gym now. Maybe he can add a snack.
--He will, that’s true. Although they run a pretty tight ship at these cable networks. I imagine he’ll be spending lots of time there soon.
--You see him doing color commentary on the war in Afghanistan?
--Almost certainly. After all, TV has welcomed back Elliot Spitzer. Notice how they’ve been rehabilitating him lately? He has his own show now. I see the same thing figuring for McChrystal.
--Ah well. Life goes on. But I don’t see how this calls for you to dress yourself down.
--I commented on a blogger’s posting yesterday. Mature Landscaping, very astute, very capable. She’d read the article in Rolling Stone that got the general fired. She thought the journalist Michael Hastings had no business publishing such a piece in wartime. And she thought McChrystal was wrong to talk to the guy.
--I can’t agree about not publishing. How about [Mayor Kwame] Kilpatrick? If the Free Press hadn’t published those text messages to his lover, he’d still be in office instead of prison.
--True. I was going to say that’s different because Kilpatrick’s a civilian, but it’s not. McChrystal’s most certainly a politician, too. That’s why I’ve been beating up on myself.
--I see there’s more. Let me get my coffee.

--OK. You needed to give yourself a good talking-to because you failed to realize McChrystal’s a politician.
--Exactly. In my comment to Mature Landscaping, I lamented the level of stupidity being demonstrated by our leaders. By Bush getting us into a pointless war in Iraq. By Governor Sanford from the great state of South Carolina imagining he could conceal a visit to his South American mistress by claiming he was going camping. By the CEO of BP making every possible public-relations mistake possible—and now by McChrystal being stupid enough to talk to a Rolling Stone journalist.
--You think he did it on purpose? To get himself cashiered?
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson’s column in today’s Free Press, yes I do. He set me straight. Whereas I thought it depressing as hell to see a four-star general being stupid, Dickerson sees a four-star general as someone who can’t get where he is without being night-and-day vigilant regarding the chain of command. This has to be true, don’t you think? Unless Old Boy ties and nepotism are rampant in the military, I think you have to assume people don’t achieve that level of professional success without being fine-tuned in political terms. Without always knowing who’s boss, and what needs to be said or left unsaid.
--My experience at the UAW pretty much fits with what you say.
--Mine as a professor as well. No one gets a promotion simply on the basis of scholarship, or good teaching. You can serve on all committees you like, but it's always important to keep happy those who make such decisions. Department chairs, deans, the provost. In other words, the chain of command.
--If I understand this, you now think McChrystal gamed the system. You think he played the journalist, and organized his inner circle to do the same. It was orchestrated.
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson, yes I do. “McChrystal spent five years as chief of the Pentagon’s elite secret operations unit.” And this guy spills his guts to a journalist from Rolling Stone inadvertently? In a moment of inattention? After dinner, I’ll be down in the basement with my flagellum, pounding some sense into me.
--Fine, but don’t forget tomorrow’s junk day, don’t hurt yourself. You need to get those barrels out for pickup.
--I’ll remember. Jokes aside, I am ashamed of myself for being so na├»ve.
--You know? In a way, it means you still have some little piece of idealism left. It didn’t automatically occur to you that deviousness and skullduggery was at work with the general.
--That’s true, but it’s no comfort. McChrystal is the one who designed the current counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He seems to have arranged a leak last year that would make it much more difficult for Obama & Co to not raise troop levels and expand the war. Now, McChrystal must see his plan isn’t going to work. Time to bail. Time to offer ramrod-stiff “analysis” between commercials. And explain why someone else has failed in Afghanistan.
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