Monthly Archives: January 2021

Calvary vs. cavalry

A mistake people often make both in speech and writing is using Calvary when they mean cavalry. This is one I find surprising, since to me the words sound quite different. After all, people don’t mistakenly say calvarier for cavalier. Here are the definitions.

Calvary: a site near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. It is also known as Golgotha.

Cavalry: soldiers who fight mounted on horseback. In modern armies it refers to those fighting in tanks or similar fast-moving land vehicles. A cavalier is such a cavalry soldier.

Google Trends: Gorman v. Gaga

I noticed something interesting about Americans’ Google search trends recently. These two Google search trends cover the last seven days.

For those who are out of touch, Amanda Gorman is the Youth Poet Laureate for America and recited a poem at Biden’s inaugural. She is black. Lady Gaga is a white singer and certainly better known than Gorman prior to January 20th. As for the second map, it seems almost reversed from the electoral map, with blue states colored red and vice versa, although of course there are exceptions. It seems Democrat-dominated states are more concerned with the insurrection while the Republican ones are more concerned with Trump’s impeachment.

Molly: The True Story of the Amazing Dog Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher

Molly: The True Story of the Amazing Dog Who Rescues CatsMolly: The True Story of the Amazing Dog Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Molly is a mischievous and adorable cocker spaniel trained to be a scent detection dog, specifically, to search for cats. Her owner, the author, runs a private detection business but specializes in finding missing pets. He bills himself as a pet detective. This book tells the story of how Molly was discovered, trained and her many adventures and misadventures finding pets. I can’t say the book is very well written. The editor needed a sharper blue pencil. It is crammed with treacle and puffery, but ultimately, its merit falls on the heart-warming stories of frantic owners being reunited with missing pets. No, not all the stories have a happy ending. I was most impressed with the amount of work that went into acquiring and training Molly and Butcher and the degree of difficulty required in many of these lost pet cases. Experience and knowledge of cat and human behavior were essential in many of the cases. Molly and Butcher are located in England, and there is a lot of British slang and local knowledge, such as London geography and familiarity with British TV shows, which can be charming to some, but at times is a challenge for the American reader. I think any dog or cat lover would enjoy the book if you can overlook a few stylistic peccadilloes.

View all my reviews

Don’t blame Trump; blame his voters

Let me clarify: Donald Trump is responsible for the insurrection in the Capitol and should be held criminally and civilly liable. In that sense he should be blamed. But he’s like a rabid dog. He can’t control himself. The ones to blame are the people who voted for him. They knew what he was and unleashed the rabid dog on the public.

Let’s examine what voters knew about Trump. Before he even ran for office he started the fake Birther movement even though he knew full well President Obama was born in the U.S. The details are well spelled-out in Michael Cohen’s book Disloyal, so I won’t do so here. In short, Trump is and was a white supremacist who couldn’t stand the idea of a black president. It was also clear that he was willing to lie to challenge the legitimacy of a fair and honest election. He was also so stupid (and so were his followers) that he/they thought it would make a legal difference if Obama was born in Africa. It wouldn’t. He was a natural born citizen since his mother was. Then Trump ran for president and his main slogan in referring to Mexicans was (exact quote): “They’re bringing in drugs. They’re bringing in crime. They’re rapists…” He also ranted about the Chinese, but not the Russians who were the more dangerous enemy (and also white). So voters knew already that he hated black, brown, and Asian people. A typical white supremacist.

Next he bragged about being able to shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and be able to get away with it. Shortly after that he said maybe the 2nd Amendment people would take care of Hillary. So he made clear that he was willing to use deadly force against his enemies, and in fact tried to get his opponent assassinated. This, too, is confirmed in Cohen’s book; just read the first page. It was no joke. He was emulating the New York mob bosses he admired. Don’t order a hit; just let your minions know what you’d like to see happen. That’s to avoid criminal prosecution. Just expect them to follow up. That technique goes back as far as King Henry’s  line “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,” thus sealing Thomas Becket’s fate, not that Trump is likely to know who Becket was.

Then came the Access Hollywood tape where Trump confessed to being a serial sex offender. He said he that liked to grab women he met by their “p****”.  Later he claimed this was “locker room talk” and “only words,” but multiple women have confirmed that it happened. Cohen describes at least one such incident that he had to take care of as Trump’s fixer. His close aide Omarosa has also confirmed Trump’s sexual predation in her book.

So even before the 2016 election voters knew he was a violent, white supremacist and sexual predator who tried to incite people to kill an elected government official and to hate and fear people of color. He wasn’t elected despite that; he was elected because of that.

Since he’s taken office he has called the Nazis of Charlottesville “very fine people” and called Haiti and Africa “sh**hole countries.” The only thing linking those two countries is that black people come out of them, so that certainly shows what he thinks black people are. I didn’t hear him say this myself, but both Adam Schiff and Kevin McCarthy have confirmed that he did and neither Trump nor any of the Republicans in the room have denied it, so I think it’s safe to believe. Cohen also says that Trump used to say things like that all the time in private.

Next came the child separation at the border. I didn’t believe it could be as bad as the news said at first, but I watched the documentary Immigration Nation on Netflix, a film made by White House approved documentary makers embedded with ICE and Border Patrol. The filmmakers were never heard on the film. All the dialogue was the ICE officials, immigrants , and people directly involved telling their own views in their own words. Two officials confirmed that they were ordered by the White House not only to separate the immigrant children from their parents but also to torture them so as to deter future immigrants. The word torture wasn’t used. The one official said the instruction was to “cause maximum pain,” but that’s a pretty good definition of torture. The separation from the parents was by itself torture to a young child, but they did a lot more than that, keeping the kids in open cages in 100 degree heat without adequate water or shade, telling them they would never be returned to their parents, that they would be sent to foster homes and never be loved or part of a family again. Despite a court ordering the return of the children to their parents, his administration is still holding over 500. I have two Mexican grandchildren I’ve never seen in person, only in photos and video. If Trump were to have been re-elected, it’s likely they couldn’t come to see me without risking being taken from their parents, tortured, and never returned. So in addition to everything else, voters knew he is a child torturer.

Then he ramped up the violence. When the Black Lives Matter demonstrations started, he encouraged his followers to believe the demonstrators were violent. To be sure, some looters and vandals were in the crowd. But the only killers were the Boogaloo boys hiding in the crowd who shot three officers: two federal officers in Oakland and one Santa Cruz policeman. Two of  them died. One shooting took place on the steps of the Oakland federal building, a place I worked on a few occasions. That could have been me on those steps if I was still in the FBI. The killers were caught and confessed that they did the shootings to support Donald Trump. They were trying to fulfill the false narrative Trump was spouting, hoping the public would fear the peaceful protesters rather than the real killers: Trump supporters.

There’s so much more I could cite: the draft dodging, hiring someone to take his SAT, the “anti-terrorist” bill he signed January 31 last year banning immigration from six nations whose people were all people of color (who’d never had a terrorist act against the U.S.), the bankruptcies, the pardons of criminal cronies, the phony investigation of Hillary, ad infinitum. He also made clear throughout his presidency that he would never admit he lost an election and that he would never agree to a peaceful transition of power. So his voters knew in 2020 that he was a serial sex offender who tried to get an opponent assassinated, encouraged cop killers, tortured children, and would use violence to keep from leaving office. Millions of people voted for him anyway, or, more likely, because this is what they wanted. Hillary Clinton grossly underestimated when she said half his followers were deplorables. Double that. And people pretended to be surprised when he incited the mob to attack the Capitol when he lost the election. Don’t buy it. His voters expected it, wanted it, and still want it.

I will never see a Trump voter and see anything other than someone who thinks my grandchildren are drug smugglers and rapists and wants them tortured. You will never be my friend.


Cryptic clues explained

First, understand the conventional rules that govern cryptic crossword clues. Every clue must contain a true definition or equivalent of the word or phrase in the puzzle grid, and that must be either at the beginning or the end, not the middle. However, that definition may be obscure and will usually be given in a misleading way by the rest of the clue. The remaining parts of the clue also provide a valid definition of or clue to the word, but in a non-standard way, such as by an anagram, by breaking the word into parts, etc. With some exceptions for readability, every word in the clue should be pointing to something to help you solve the grid word. See the examples below to understand how this works. These are the answers and explanations to the puzzle in the previous post. The format is Answer (i.e. word in grid); Clue given; explanation of the clue.


9. ADELPHI; Hip deal unraveled private New York University. Adelphi University is a private school in New York, so the last four words are the real definition. Hip deal is an anagram of adelphi. Unraveled is what is known as an indicator or anagrind. It signifies that what comes before or after is an anagram. Any word that suggests a mixing or incorrect spelling, such as wacky, strained, etc.,  can indicate an anagram.

10. LULLABY; Bull lay carelessly, heard soothing music. Bull lay is the anagram, carelessly the indicator, soothing music is the real definition. Heard is an extra word this time to pull the rest together.

11. IFOLLOW; Got it! Oil flow is interrupted. Got it! is the definition, i.e. a synonymous phrase. Oil flow is another anagram with the last two words the anagrind. Note that the word lengths (1,6) are shown in the clue when it’s more than one word. I’ve followed that rule in this puzzle, but it’s not always followed by others. Some publishers show it even if it’s one word, others, never.

12. NATASHA; Russian woman has a tan, unexpectedly. Russian woman is the definition, has a tan the anagram, unexpectedly is the anagrind. Now let’s move on to different clue types.

13. COPYRIGHT; Replicate just to get form of protection. Replicate = copy; just = right. Put them together to get a form of protection, the definition of copyright. Defining the individual parts in this way is very common in cryptics, often splitting a word into smaller groups, not at natural breakpoints like here.

15. ECOLI; Severe colic: it could make one very sick. The last six words provide the true definition. The word itself appears hidden in the phrase severe colic. This is another common cluing technique, and using lots of irrelevant words as camouflage is considered legitimate. I chose to treat ecoli as one word since that has become common usage.

16. FRIABLE; Crumbly snack can be cooked in oil, it sounds like. Crumbly is the definition. The phrase “it sounds like” is another type of indicator. It means the adjoining word or phrase is a homonym of the real word, or in this case sounds like it should mean capable of being fried – i.e. fryable, although there may not be such a word. Look for indicators like “they say” or “I heard”. The word snack is irrelevant, there to connect the parts sensibly.

19. NAIVETE; Savvy Kenai veteran eschewed credulity. Credulity is the definition. The word appears in Kenai veteran.

20. ADDLE; Sidesaddle designed to confuse. Addle appears in the word sidesaddle and to confuse is the definition.

21. ALONGSIDE; Beside the hypotenuse. Beside is the definition while the hypotenuse is a legitimate definition of “a long side,” an alternate reading of the letters.

25. TRUNNEL; Passage through mountain takes right, Peg. A trunnel is a wooden dowel or peg used in construction, so Peg is the definition. Passage through mountain defines tunnel, “takes” is an indicator that one thing is contained in another. Here the word right represents the letter R, which often signifies right as opposed to left. Using one word to stand for a single letter in this way is also quite common in cryptics. Look for other indicators of containment like swallows, protecting, surrounds, enters, etc.

26. TAFFETA; Heavy returned cheesecloth; Heavy = fat. Returned is an indicator to read in reverse, i.e. TAF. Other indicators of this type are words like back, reversal, or in the case of vertical words, up, skyward, etc. Feta is a cheese. Here the legitimate definition, cloth, is connected to part of the alternate definition for additional misdirection, but it is there at the end, so it is fair.

28. POLECAT; Staff kitty is a real stinker. Since a polecat is another word for skunk, real stinker is the definition. Staff = pole; kitty=cat.

29. PIEBALD; Multi-colored pizza with no topping. Multi-colored is the definition. Pizza=pie; with no topping = bald.


1. MANIAC; A crazy man I accept. A crazy man is the definition. Maniac appears in the clue. Note that the word man appears both in the real definition and in the alternate one.

2. RECOUP; Obscure couple regain what was lost. Recoup appears. Final four words define.

3. OPAL; I hear German car is a real gem. I hear is a homonym indicator (of Opel, a German car), the rest defines opal.

4. BIGWIG; Dolly Parton? This type of clue is called a double definition. Dolly is indeed a bigwig in music/show business. A big wig is also one of her defining characteristics. Reportedly, when asked how long it takes to do her hair, she replies “I don’t know. I’m not there when it happens.”

5. PLANKTON; Exercise heavyweight protozoa. Plank = an exercise; ton = a heavy weight; protozoa is the definition.

6. BLITHERING; Carefree call to be kind of idiot. Blithe = carefree; ring = call. A blithering idiot is one kind we’ve all heard of. This is probably my favorite clue in this puzzle.

7. GASSTOVE; Vast egos cooked only on a kitchen appliance. Vast egos is the anagram; cooked is the anagrind. The rest defines. Note the two word lengths are indicated with the clue.

8. DYNAMITE; Boomer made tiny composite. Boomer = definition (it does go boom, you know). Made tiny = anagram; composite = anagrind.

14. RUBBERNECK; Observe masseuse kiss and cuddle. Observe = definition; masseuse = rubber (one who rubs); kiss and cuddle = neck.

16. FLATTOPS; Haircuts popular in 50’s aircraft carriers. Double definition. Flattops were a popular style for boys in the 50’s and aircraft carriers are also called flattops.

17. INDOUBLE; Adjust one; build twice as much. Adjust = anagrind. One build = anagram. Twice as much = definition.

18. EPAULETS; Driving sleet overwhelming most of apostle wearing ornamental shoulder pieces. Driving is the anagram of sleet which “overwhelms” Pau_, most of apostle Paul. Shoulder pieces = definition. This clue has two indicators: one for the anagram and one to indicate a word inside another. Using the L in both sleet and Paul is generally considered unfair. Each letter or group of letters in the alternate definition should be separately treated.

22. OCTOPI; I coopt spineless creatures. I coopt = anagram. Spineless creatures = definition. The word spineless may double as an anagrind, or perhaps the clue doesn’t have one. They are usually, but not always, provided. Some puzzle makers don’t use them at all.

23. IPECAC; Ripe cactus can be used as a purgative. Ipecac is contained in clue. Purgative = definition.

24. ELANDS; Horny Africans slander recklessly without initial regret. Elands are African antelope with large horns, so the first two words are the definition. Slander is the anagram (with an extra R); recklessly = anagrind. Without initial regret is the indicator to remove the initial letter of the word regret from the anagram. You will also see indicators like “last of” or “center of”.

Cryptic Crosswords Explained … again

I’m a big fan of wordplay. I work the cryptic crosswords in The Guardian nearly every night. I know that many people, especially Americans, are mystified by them, so I thought I’d provide you with one of my own making and give a full explanation for each clue. Every word/clue combination is a little wordplay puzzle to be solved. I’ve posted on this topic before, but I’ve never given a complete explanation of every clue. I’m going to do the explanation in my next post, which I’ll post at the same time, so you don’t have to wait. For now, if you just want to solve it first, click on the puzzle below to take you to the interactive online puzzle. There’s a link there to the PDF version, too, if you want to work it on paper.

Another Cryptic

Click the right arrow below to see the answers and explanations of the clues.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest ListThe Guest List by Lucy Foley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there’s such a thing as the perfect whodunit, this is it. I absolutely loved this one. It’s got everything: suspense to the very end, deliciously complex characters with mysterious motives, a lavish and exotic setting, and terrific writing. The setting is an island “wedding venue” off the coast of Ireland where a handsome movie star groom is about to marry a gorgeous posh publisher/website  owner bride. It begins with an investigation underway, something about a “body” only it’s not clear if a murder has taken place or even a dead body found. Perhaps someone only reported seeing a body or someone went missing.

Then the back stories begin. We learn the groom and most of his ushers are all “Trevellians,” having attended the same prep school, one of those bully-filled Lord of the Flies type places. The rather dim best man did too, but he was there on a rugby scholarship and wasn’t “one of the boys,” being too rough and from a poor background. The bride and her sister have a strained relationship. The sister seems to have a screw loose and is a cutter. The bride demands everything be perfect and is more than a little demanding. Something bad happened at the stag party but we don’t know what. The wedding planner, an attractive woman who runs the venue, seems mismatched to her fat husband but is the soul of efficiency. There’s way too much drinking, some dangerous peat bogs, a raging storm, crumbling cliffs. What could possibly go wrong?

The stories are told by all the characters in turn and we learn that not all is right beneath all the lavish perfection. We begin to learn who the likely candidates are for victim and who has motives against each. The author skillfully manages to keep from us whether anyone died, and, if so, who it might be until almost the very end. The responsible party or parties for whatever happened is revealed only at the absolute end, and it caught me by surprise. The suspense was delicious.

This belongs to that genre of mystery that is not quite a locked-room mystery since the crime doesn’t seem impossible, and it’s not a pure whodunit where we follow along with an investigator. It resembles the classic game Clue where a body is found and the suspects are all together in a closed location like, for example, Murder on the Orient Express, but without the Poirot equivalent. The characters/suspects/victim tell the story themselves. I listened to the audiobook and the actors were just marvelous.

View all my reviews