By Tom Danehy
AH, IT'S SUMMER--a time for lowering. Here in Southern Arizona, summer usually means lowered enthusiasm (as in, "It's too hot; I'll do it tomorrow"); lowered expectations ("I don't care if everyone says that movie sucks; it's cool in there"); and lowered IQs ("Hey, let's go spend a couple weeks in California!").
Let's stop lowering, folks! We've only got 18 months until the New Millennium (it starts with 2001, remember), and only six months until all the idiots celebrate that 2000 thing. To each his own in preparing for the End Days. On my own path to cerebral improvement, I'm tirelessly collecting data for an offering to the self-help genre, Zen and the Art of Being A Couch Potato--alternately entitled, Feng Sofa. Since it's unlikely this tome will ever be published, I offer a few of the secrets to enlightenment right here, free of charge.
Ah, but wasn't the West populated by scamps and scoundrels! Not all wore guns; some wore suits and ties. Among the latter group was Albert Fall, who went out West to seek his fortune, and darned if he didn't find it (and lose it) several times over. He was a prospector, a lawyer and a political crony par excellence.
A long-time associate of "Colonel Bill" Greene, the self-named "Copper King of Cananea," Fall was one of New Mexico's first two U.S. senators. He quickly attached himself to rising-star Senator Warren G. Harding from Ohio. When Harding became president, Fall was named Secretary of the Interior.
From that seat of power, he let some oil tycoons drill on government land, including the Teapot Dome field in Wyoming. He also pocketed $400,000 from the illegal deal. He went to prison and Teapot Dome was the biggest scandal of the 20th century, until supplanted by Watergate and later Iran/Contra.
The ironic thing is that he went to prison for doing something that was basically a big part of Ronald Reagan's campaign platform some 60 years later.
This is a big, rambling book, rich in the history of a time and place when life was hard, ethics were slippery, and a fortune was right there for a man to grab.
This is a marvelous book, a two-part tale of the tragedy and triumph of human spirit and inventive genius.
In 1857 the Central America, a side-wheel steamship carrying hundreds of people from the Gold Rush in San Francisco back to New York, went down in a vicious hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. Along with the ship went tons of gold being brought back to New York by the exhausted (and exhilarated) miners, and in many cases, their wives and girlfriends.
The first part of the book chronicles the ship's sinking and the incredibly heroic efforts by the captain, crew and passengers to keep it afloat over a three-day period. There were some survivors, but most on board accompanied the ship to its grave 10,000 feet below the surface.
Jump ahead to 1986, when young, intrepid sailor/inventor Tommy Thompson latches onto the idea of salvaging the ship, despite the fact that no one is sure where it sank; and even if it is found, it will certainly have settled to a depth three to four times greater than anything ever before salvaged.
This is a wonderful book with a surprise ending which leaves the reader almost cheering.
Alternate choice: Pi. This indie classic is unlike anything you've ever seen before (or may ever want to see again). It's a dizzying mix of higher math, computer glitches, the Talmud, the Bible and evil Big Business, all thrown together to make a thick soup of paranoia.
(One suggestion: Don't expect your spouse to sit through this. No matter how brilliant she is, experience has shown her math-related calculation will likely be, "You paid $3.50 to rent this?!")
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