Hey! Randy

Archive for July, 2009

Off Key

Posted by heyrandy on July 31, 2009

The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Hugh Wilford, Harvard University Press, 2009. 342p

I am beginning to think the creation of the CIA is the worst thing to happen to America.  First I read Proudy’s The Secret Team (reviewed here).  Then I read the Invisible Government. Now I get music lessons.

The Mighty Wurlitzer details how from 1947 to 1968, the so called golden years of  American espionage, the CIA used front organizations to fund its Cold War propaganda operations.  The name comes from Frank Wisner, a major CIA officer, who made the  statement that the Agency had a system of front organizations that like a giant organ could play any propaganda tune.

It played many tunes, mostly with sour notes.  There was almost no aspect of American life that did not have a chord in this performance.  The Agency used various foundations to fund everything from labor unions to student associations.  It used Catholic priests, Africian-American dissidents, and a lot of news organizations.

Most of the people used did not know the true source of their funding.  Only the most senior officers of these front organizations were, in CIA language, “witting.”  However, a good many of the “unwitting” suspected that the immediate source of funding was not the ultimate source.  Few objected to taking the money.

The golden age ended and the Wurlitzer fell silent, sort of, when an upstart, iconoclastic publication, Ramparts, published a story about the real funding of the National Students Association.  A former head of the Association, recently disaffected by the CIA’s use of his group, told Ramparts’ editor of the matter.  The magazine conducted an investigation, found out the truth, and published it.

The CIA had found out that the story was due in the next issue, of the Agency went into defensive mode.  When there were prior exposures of Agency involvement, the Agency and the organization affected strongly denied the claims until both parties had to admit the claims were true.  Denial was not going to work this time.  By the late 1960’s the mood of the country had changed.  The Agency new it had to do something different.  It chose damage control.  The idea was to emasculate  the magazine’s story by making it old news.  The National Students Association would simply hold a press conference admitting to the taking of Agency money.  It would also say that it no longer took such funds (this is true).  But Ramparts had informants inside the Association and knew of the plan.  To counter this, the magazine took out full page newspaper ads promoting the the story.  In a sense the magazine scooped itself.

This stratagem worked very well.  There was enormous media coverage of the story.  The Agency was embarrassed.  This was the real end of the Wurlitzer.  The major news organizations had long cooperated with the Agency, running stories favorable to the Agency and suppressing stories the Agency didn’t want published.  No more.  Or so we are told.

I found Wilton’s story interesting, but his writing style is dull.  There frequent usage of the tried and true cliche.  There are modifiers that are throughout the book misplaced.

The Wurlitzer had a long recital, but played the wrong tune.  The Agency spent millions in this propaganda effort, yet the results were minimal.  Given the Agency’s support of even more nefarious projects, the Wurlitzer concerts are just a minor cacophany.

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Site Changes

Posted by heyrandy on July 30, 2009

I have changed the format of the site to a three column style.  I wanted to add a column to let folks know what I am up to.

Tell  me what you think of the changes.

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A Visitor

Posted by heyrandy on July 28, 2009

The other day a nice man came to the house.  The dog also thought the man was nice but only if mauled and eaten.  Once I had sequestered the dog, the man explained why he came to the dullest spot in town.  He wanted to speak to the registered Republican to get the registered Republican to sign a petition to place on the ballot the name of a person seeking the office of county legislator.  The registered Republican was not I but the person not then at home.  The nice man left a flier that named Jackie Mendez as the person seeking not so high office.

The flier is one folded page, glossy paper, and full color.  It even has a press apply label on the back giving the new web site address of Ms.  Mendez.  I read the flier.  The flier lists Ms. Mendez’s agenda.  The flier also has three pictures of Ms. Mendez: one on the front with the flag; one inside with the nice man, her husband; and one on the back showing her sitting with our current county executive before an open binder full of papers.  In the background of this photograph are flag tassels and things in frames.

It is the agenda that interested me.  Normally I don’t pay a lot of attention to political statements.  This is because I think that the major flaw with most elections is that someone gets elected.  It always seems to be the wrong person.  It does not matter if I vote for them; they are still the wrong person.

In the last election, when our current president and his whack job of a side kick were running against what’s-his-name and Who?, I just could not decide who was the wrong person for whom not to vote.  I had the same problem when I looked at the candidates for the person who does not represent me in Washington, D.C.  The incumbent first voted against the zillion dollar stupid Ivy League educated banker bailout.  Then when the bill failed, lots of goodies were added to get it passed.  The soon to be ex incumbent voted for it.  This meant that I was going to have to look at the challenger.  The challenger’s sole qualification was that he was a retired Navy Captain.  This made the choice easy: I didn’t vote for either candidate.

Sometimes it is easy to decide for whom not to vote.  A couple of school board elections ago, a candidate mailed to our house a post card.  The text of the card had several grammatical errors.  I knew immediately for whom not to vote: her opponent.  When a candidate for the school board sends you illiterate campaign literature, you owe it to the cause of government run education to elect that person to an oversight position.  How can you go wrong?  I voted for her.

Since the election is coming in November no matter what I do, I have to make a decision on how to vote.  So I wrote to Ms. Mendez. Ms. Mendez’s site has a convenient “contact Jackie” feature.  I used it.  I wrote her a letter asking for details of how she is going to accomplish all that she lists as her agenda.

I have not yet received a reply.  This does not disturb me.  The details of a plan require careful formulation.  This is why they are seldom listed in campaign literature.  Another reason they are not listed is that no one is really interested, unless you are a nut like me.

Being undaunted by the lack of a quick response, I wrote her another letter.  This letter is about a major county and city partnership in a downtown arts center and bus station, the Renaissance Center.  It is a kind of diesel and Shakespeare amalgamation.   Try to think of Hamlet on the Park and Ride.  There are reasons why you can’t get this sort of thing in the privater sector.  Good ones, too.  I wanted to know her opinion on the project.  The county executive and the city mayor are battling each other over this project, so it is important to know how one’s representative stands on the matter.

It has just been reported by the news that the Renaissance Center has missed an important deadline to get the much needed federal funds.  This does not mean that the project is dead, it only means that the project is postponed.  There will be lots of blame to pin on political enemies, but rest assured that the project will be resurrected.  With the Obama administration looking for “shovel ready” pyramids to build, the likelihood of permanently loosing the federal money is nil.  The taxpayers can’t ever be that lucky.

I am still waiting for a reply.  The wait gives me a chance to practice my patience.  Maybe the nice man will come back.  The dog hopes so.

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God’s Work

Posted by heyrandy on July 27, 2009

Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church, John Allen, Doubleday, 2005, 403p.

There is no more controversial force in the Roman Catholic Church than Opus Dei.  Founded by Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva in the late 1920’s, the organization has spread throughout the Roman Catholic Church.  There is even an Opus Dei branch in Japan.

The organization is vilified by its detractors, praised by its supporters and misunderstood by everyone else.  Allen, a staunch Catholic but not a member of Opus Dei, tries to give a reasonable picture of the organization.  I think that he does a fairly good job.  He has engendered in me a kind of sympathy for the organization.

Allen spends a lot of time dealing with members and former members of the group.  It is always easy to find horror stories, and he does give some of those, but Allen goes beyond the superficial anecdotes to deal with the core principles of Opus Dei.

Those principles are not the least controversial.  The principles are nothing the typical Catholic priest or layperson would not recognize and agree with.  So why the controversy?  The cause is misunderstanding, ignorance, and some errors on the part of some members of Opus Dei.

The core principle of Opus Dei is “secularity”.  This is the idea that one is a Catholic in all areas of life.  One is to work in one’s profession with all one’s diligence.  One is to strive for excellence.  This not controversial, even non-Catholics can see the merit in this.

How then does this give rise to the strong feelings, the antipathy, against Opus Dei?  The charge of being a cult is usually the first one leveled at the organization.  It is not, but some of its practices for it upper lever members do cause some to question what is going on.  The members who live in Opus Dei residences are the major case in point.  The people, called numeraries, are required to live in celibacy and perform certain spiritual practices, disciplines.  In Catholic practice this is not unusual.  Many of the religious orders were founded on similar principles.  The numeraries are mere following a well attested path.

The two most controversial of the required disciplines of the numeraries are the using of a small rope whip and the wearing of he cilice.  The whip is used once a day while reciting a Hail Mary or Our Father prayer.  It is more of a reminder, a token really, of what Christ suffered rather than a serious flailing.  No bodily injury is expected, but a mortification.  It is an attempt to suppress sin.

The cilice is also not controversial in Catholic practice.  The cilice is a barbed chain worn on the thigh for two hours a day.  The barbs poke you to remind you of the suffering of Christ. Opus Dei buys the cilices from a group of Catholic nuns that are not related to Opus Dei.  The cilice Opus Dei buys is the one with only one row of barbs, not the two or three row models the nuns also sell.

Opus Dei does have legitimate status within the Catholic church.  It members include several bishops, two cardinals, and over a thousand priests.  The Pope granted the organization the status of Personal Prelature, the only one in the church.

Opus Dei members do not withdraw from the local diocese, rather they are still under the authority of the local bishop.  So are all the priests associated with Opus Dei.

Most members of Opus Dei are not numeraries.  The vast majority of members are supernumeraries.  These are Catholics who do not live in Opus Dei residences, but live on their own.  Often married, they practice the idea of secularity in their lives, trying to live out church teachings.

This is what Opus Dei says it is about.  The organization does not tell its members what to do, other than to obey official church teaching, or how to do it.  Rather, it insists that its members find their own way in life and apply their religion as they best think they can.  In matters of ethics and doctrine the organization stands ready to assist.

Allen give a detailed analysis of the organizations financial status.  The myth says that the group is wealthy, but the reality is that the U.S. branch is doing OK, but he UK branch is deeply in debt.

This financial analysis also indicates that the organizations reputation for secrecy is overblown.  Allen said that he had no trouble in getting the information for which he asked.  Organization officials were willing to talk to him on the record about all aspects of the organization and its activities.

Allen did not join the organization, but he does give the impression of respecting it.  If Allen tries to follow Escriva’s teaching of secularity, Allen’s Jewish wife may respect it as well.

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more vocabulary to know

Posted by heyrandy on July 25, 2009

Here are some more words that I came across in my reading.


abaft adv. toward the stern prep. toward the stern from

affine n.,  adj. related by marriage

alienist n. an forensic psychiatrist

allodial adj. free, not subject to the rights of any lord, opposite of feudal

anaphoria n. the tendency of resting eyes to turn upward

antiscorbutic adj. prevents scurvy

apercu n a precis, a summary based upon a first impression

apophatic theology to express the nature of God in negative terms. i.e., God is not hate. ant. kataphatic

apothegmatist n. a maker or collector of apothegms or proverbs

atomism n. Phil the view that atoms make up all reality, the view that individuals are the ones who determine everything

attar n. an oil obtained from flowers

aulic au lik adj. pertaining to a royal court

avast inter. stop

aventurine n. an opaque or semi-translucent brown glass flecked with minerals


basilisk n. Myth. a dragon that could kill with its breath or glance

bathos  anticlimax, trite style

benthonic adj. of the bottom of a body of water

bethink vt. to cause one’s self to think, remember

betimes adj. early

bromidrosis foul smelling perspiration also called osmidrosis

bildungsroman n. a novel concerning the moral development of a person

bilious bad tempered

bonhomie goodnaturedness

brille n. a clear eye lid

brilliantine n. an oily hair dressing

Buckley’s chance n. no chance at all

busk vi. to play music in public while soliciting money

bumptious adj. arrogant, conceited


cachalot n. sperm whale

calabash n. a gourd bottle

calomel n. mercury chloride

canakin n. a little can or cup

carapace n. an outer protective shell

carbuncle n. a localized painful sore of the skin 2 a red precious stone

cark vt. vi. to burden with worry

Carthaginian peace  a peace brought about by the total destruction of the enemy

cataphoria n. the tendency of the eyes to angle down after visual stimuli has been removed

cateran n. a Highland robber, a kind of irregular soldier

catholicon n. a panacea

cerebrate vi vt to use one’s mind to think

chador n. a loose usually black head to toe robe that Muslim women where

cicisbeism n. the consort, admirer, or lover of a married woman

chignon a knot of hair worn at the back of the neck

chirurgy  surgery

cineaste  n. a person involve in making of movies, a movie enthusiast

claque kalk n. a group of people hired to applaud at performances, fawning admirers

clout n. a blow from the fist

comedogenic adj. tending to cause or aggravate acne

complaisant adj. willing to please

congener n. a member of the same class

cope a long garment

corposant n. St. Elmo’s fire

cosset vt. to pamper

coster-monger n. a fruit seller

cozen vi. vt. to cheat

cozzening vi. vt. to mislead

cuirass n. the breastplate

Cyclopean adj.  vast, massive, huge, 2. a primitive style of architecture that uses large rough stones


demyship n. a scholarship at Magdalen College, Oxford

demotic adj. of the common people   demotic entertainments

denary adj. of the tenth one

descry vt to see from afar

devagination to wander about

diachrony n. the change in language over time

dispost vt. to remove from a post, eject

distrain vt. to seize and hold property to pay a debt

distrait dis tray  adj. to be inattentive because of anxiety

divertissement a diversion or amusement

dramaturgy n. the art of the theater, especially the writing of plays


edacious devouring

eldrich adj. spooky, weird. an eldrich scream

Elysium n. the place of ideal happiness

emprise n. a chivalrous or adventurous undertaking

epanaphoria n. Rhet. therepeating of the same word or phrase in each new sentence

epicene adj. having both male and female characteristics

epigraphic  n. an inscription on a statue or building, a quote that starts a written work

equable adj. free from extremes, steady

erethism n. a part of the body that is sensitive to stimulation or irritation

erotomania n. excessive sexual desire

estoppel n. Law a bar that prohibits one from denying what  one has previously stated as true


fain adj. happily

fenestration n. the design and placement of windows in a building

flambeaux n.  a lighted torch

fob vt. to cheat

forcing house  a green house for the forcing of plants

fougasse n. an improvised mine

fen n. a low, swampy land; a bog or a marsh

flaneur an idler, loafer

frisson  free saun  n. a moment of sudden excitement e.g., a frisson of terror

fundament n. the geological characteristics of a region

fugelman n. a leader, especially a political one

funipendulous adj. hanging by a rope


gamboge n. strong reddish yellow

gambol to leap about playfully

gallard n. a type of dance for two dancers

galloon a narrow braid used as trim

gematria n. the numeric value of Hebrew letters

glabrous adj.  bald

gnomic adj. containing aphorism as gnomic verse

gorget n. a piece of armor protecting the throat, and ornamental collar

gorgon n. a woman considered ugly or terrifying 2. the Medusa

gules n. adj. gyoolz the color red


habergeon n. a coat of mail

hyaloid, hyaline adj. resembling glass, glassy

Helot a serf

heliotrope n. a plant that turns toward the sun

hendiadys n.(hen die a dis)  a figure of speech where two words connected by a conjunction are used in place of a noun and adjective e.g.,  grace and favor instead of gracious favor

hie vt. to hasten, speed, go in haste

hieratic adj. associated with those in sacred office, sacerdotal

hircine adj. of a goat

hieratic of the priests

Holocene n. adj. of the geological period

holonym n. a thing as a whole

hypallage  n. Rhet. to give the attributes of one noun to another for effect.

hypernym n. the word describing the class as a whole

hymeneal adj. of marriage

hypocorism n. a pet name

hyponym n. the word describing the member of a class

hypotyposis n. Rhet. a vivid description of a scene


idiolect n. individual language usage

indite vt to compose or write

intellection the use of the intellect

integument n. a natural outer covering as a skin.

interpellation vt. to question formally

intussuscept adj. to take within; invaginate

irrefragable  adj. impossible to refute


jalop n.  a carthartic drug

jape  vi vt to joke

jerkin  A close-fitting, hip-length, collarless jacket having no sleeves but often extended shoulders, belted and worn over a doublet by men especially in the 16th century.

jussive n. a word or mood used to express a command


kataphatic theology  to express the nature of God in positive  terms, i.e., God is love. antonym apophatic

kentledge n. pig iron used as ballast

knell (nell)  vi vt to toll a bell, signal by ringing

kudurru n. a stone document used by Mesopotamian kings to record land grants to     vassals


laager n. vi.  a defensive encampment encircled by tanks or wagons

lagniappe n. a small gift given by a store owner to a customer when a purchase is made

lustrate v.t to cleanse, purify We were lustrated with holy water. n. lustration


marmoreal adj. resembling marble in it smoothness, hardness, or color

meed n. a just recompense

meronym n. the part of the whole

mingy adj. small, meager

mizen n. the third mast of a sailing ship with three masts

misprision (of a felony) failure to report knowledge of a felony

modus vivendi n. 1 a manner of living; a way of life 2. a temporary agreement pending the final agreement

monopsony n. a situation in which there is only one buyer for many producers

monism n. Phil. the view that everything is a unified whole

mordant adj. bitingly sarcastic

morion n. a type of helmet

mummery n. a pretentious or hypocritical show

myrmidon one who obeys without question

mythopoeic adj. generating myths


nabob  a rich or influential man

neurasthenic adj. mental anguish

nictitate vi. to wink

niddering adj. cowardly or base

nidify vi. to build a nest

nidus n. a nest

nisus n. (nye’ sus) an effort or striving to reach an aim or goal

niveous adj. resembling snow

nonary adj. of the ninth one


octonary adj. of the eighth one

ophidian adj. of a snake

orlop n. the lowest deck of a ship

osmotic adj. of osmosis

osseous adj. of bone

ovine adj. of a sheep

orison n. prayer



Panglossian  naively optimistic

pari passu at equal pace, side by side

parrhesia n. Rhet. boldness of speech.

pathopoeia n. Rhet. a speech or figure of speech designed to move emotion

pas de deux n. 1. a dance for two 2. a close relationship between two things

pelisse n. a long loose cloak of fur, a woman’s loose light cloak

pendulous adj. to hang loosely

pennon n. a streamer or pennant

pertinacious adj. holding tenacious to an opinion, coarse of action, belief

petrous adj. of or pertaining to rock

picaresque adj. (pick uh resk) of or involving clever rogues or adventures, especially in fictional, often humorous, stories. His book is a picaresque story of the famous Mr. Doneitall.


planisphere n. a map showing one half of heaven

plutonian dark, gloomy

pogonotrophy  the growing of beards

pomatum n. vt. a perfumed pomade, to dress the hair with a pomatum

poniard  (pon’ yard) n. a dagger, vt. to stab with a dagger

potlatch n. a ceremonial feast of the northwest Indians marking important events

poser n a puzzling question

prelusive adj. of a prelude

proas n. a swift Malayan sail boat with an outrigger

Promethean creative, original

provenance n. the place of origin

ptosis adj. to sag droop

puerperal adj. of childbirth or the time immediately after

puissant n. adj. power, might

pullulate vi. to sprout or bud; to breed rapidly; to teem or swarm

puncheon n. a large cask

purblind adj. dull witted


quaternary adj. of the fourth one

quatrain n. a poem of four lines

quinary adj. of the fifth one

quondam adj. what once was but is no longer


Rantipole n. adj. vi. a wild young person

rarefaction n. (rare uh fac tion) a decrease in pressure

refection n. refreshment with food

renitent adj re nite ent recalcitrant

repine to be discontented

rodomontade n. adj. vt.  rod ud mon tade pretentious bragging

roil  vt. to make cloudy, vi. to be in a state of cloudiness

roister to boast or swagger, to have a disorderly good time

rood n.  a crucifix, a 1/4 acre of land

ruck n. a crowd of ordinary people, those who are followers not leaders, vt. to fold or crease, vi. to have a fold or crease


sable adj. dark, black

sallow adj. a sickly yellow color

saltation n. the act of leaping or dancing; to advance by leaping

salubrious of good health

sardonic adj. scornful, bitter, mocking

saturnine adj   sullen, melancholy

saurian adj. of a lizard

scaramouch n. a boastful coward

scrofula a form of tuberculous

seignior n. a man of rank and distinction

senary adj. of the sixth one

senescent adj. growing old

septenary adj.  of the seventh one

son et luminere sound and light

Shamus a private eye

Spoonerism n.  a mix up of the initial syllables

stative adj. used of verbs that express a state

Stygian hellish, infernal

subaltern n.  a subordinate adj. to be lower in rank, secondary

surtout n. a man’ s outer coat, esp. a long one

squib n. a short satiric writing or speech

schweik n. a feeble-minded soldier, opposite of German militarism

syncope n.  sing’ ka pee Gram. to shorten a word by omitting a middle sound

syntagm, syntagma n. a string of words that form a part of a larger syntactic unit


taff-rail n. the stern rail of a ship

Tantalus Gk. Myth. a king condemn to stand in water that receded when he tried to drink it and beneath fruit that was out of reach

tessellated like a mosaic

theomachy n. a fight among the gods. The theomachy between Zeus and Athena was absurd: they did not exist

tilbury n. a light two wheeled carriage

thole-pin n. fulcrum pin for an oar

threnody a dirge

tierce n.  (tires) a measure of liquid capacity equal to 42 gallons

titration to chemically determine the solution strength

Tosefta n. a secondary compilation of Jewish oral law

trope n. a figure of speech using words in a non-literal way as in a metaphor

tuft-hunting n. the practice of hanging on to persons of importance

tun n. a large cask for liquids


undulant wave like

urethra n. the passage through which urine is discharged


vale n. 1. a valley 2. farewell

vertiginous adj. revolving about an axis, producing vertigo

vertu n. discernment and taste in art v.. artistic quality

vestry n. a room in a church where vestments are put on, a committee that oversee church affairs,  a classroom in the church

vorlage n. the posture assumed in skiing by bending the ankles forward without lifting the heals


ween vt. to think, suppose

weltanschauung world view

whelm vt. to submerge

wraith n. 1. a ghost of a dead person 2. a vague thing

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Are You a Member?

Posted by heyrandy on July 22, 2009

The Survivors Club, Ben Sherwood, Grand Central Publication, 2009.  373p., index

Will you survive in an emergency?  What will you do?  Ben Sherwood explores the world of survivors.  Drawing from the experiences of survivors of such desperate situations  as the Nazi death camps and air plane crashes, the author seeks to know why some people survive and others don’t.

The reason some survive while others in the same situation in not the result of any one factor.  Dumb luck plays only a minor role in determining who survives.  Other more tangible factors are the key.  Most of these factors are under human control.

Survivors have many thing in common.  Regardless of the situation, those who survive disasters are those people who want to survive.  It is a odd fact that many people who could survive do not because they do not try to survive.  Sherwood cites a London, England subway fire in which many died because they did not simply walk out of the underground station.  Even more amazing, many people walked into the station despite the obvious smoke and fumes.

It is this kind of crazy behavior that Sherwood explains.  Not everyone can survive even if they did everything right. Some situations are hopeless for some people.  What can be done to improve the odds of survival is done by survivors.

A telling example related by Sherwood is that of a survival expert on a plane trip.  When seated, the man looked beneath his seat for the life preserver that was supposed to be there.  It was missing.  The man called the flight attendant, and she got him one.  The man suggested to the woman in the next seat that she check for hers.  She refused.  The attitude is that plane crashes are not survivable, so why bother?  She was not a member of the club.

Anyone who has flown on commercial airlines knows the emergency procedure demonstrations put on by the flight crew.  One also knows that most of the passengers ignore the demonstration.  Survivor club members do not ignore anything.  They pay attention and have a plan.  They know where all the exits are.  They have a greater chance to be part of the the 95% of airline passengers who do survive an airplane crash than do the inattentive.

Sherwood divides those who experience a disaster into a 10-80-10 percentage groupings.  The first are the 10% who know what to do and do it.  These are the key survivors.  The 80% are most of us, like the author, who don’t know what to do, have no plan, and tend to freeze in an emergency.  This is not necessarily a fatal condition if it does not continue.  People do overcome this.

The last 10% are the dangerous ones.  They panic and often make the situation  worse.  These people seldom survive and frequently prevent others from surviving.

The book offers a web site where you can go to take a test to see which of the five survivor types you are and how  many of the twelve survivor skills you have.  You need the code number from the book jacket, so us library borrowers are out of luck.  This is OK because luck has little to do with survival.

Why did I list the author in the 80% grouping?  He relates a incident that happened at his house when he was almost done writing the book.  At 2:30 am the house burglar alarm went off, waking the author and his wife.  They froze.  Overcoming this they called the alarm company.  They had to look up the number in the phone book.  The alarm company did not call them because the alarm company had the wrong contact information.  The alarm company  told them to lock themselves in their room.  Sherwood insisted the alarm company send the police.  Sherwood does not say why he did not call the police.  It turns out that all was well.  It seems that the kitchen door was not properly shut, and the wind blew it open.

I appreciate the author’s honesty.  He was not a club member, but what about you?

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