The Luncheon by W. Somerset Maugham

A well-crafted short story is a pleasure to read. I used to read a lot of them in my youth and some of the well-known practitioners of this art are O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant. But one of my favorite authors was W. Somerset Maugham. I still recall one of my favorites and that was The Luncheon. I remembered it so well after about five decades, down to individual sentences, and for some reason this story popped into my mind recently and I was delighted to find that it is available online.

There are a few aspects of this story that have not aged well but it still remains a wonderful example of a well-crafted short story. Those of you who have ever been at an event where one is so worried about the size of the bill one would have to pay at the end that it consumes one’s thoughts will appreciate this story all the more.

Here it is.

How some spam call frauds work

Like most people, I ignore calls that come from people whom I do not know, presuming them to be either marketing spam or attempts at fraud. But sadly, there is a small percentage of people, many of them older, who answer them and fall for the fraud and can lose thousands of dollars that they can ill afford.

How can it be that people are duped into sending cash to others they do not know? This video explains how some of these frauds work and of the efforts to track the scammers down and apprehend them. The makers of the video put in a lot of detective work to identify the fraudsters and hand the evidence over to the authorities.

The frauds are pretty sophisticated and the scammers proliferate so that shutting down one operation does not end the practice. As the video says at the end, the only way to really stop these frauds is by making as many people aware of these frauds as possible so that the pool of victims becomes vanishingly small.

The story of John Scott and the NHL All-Star game

I am not a fan of ice hockey and have only watched a few tiny snippets of games. But I found utterly fascinating this Radiolab episode that recounted an epic struggle between a journeyman hockey player named John Scott and the National Hockey League establishment.

It happened when two hockey journalists, annoyed with the way that the NHL ran things without any seeming concern for what fans liked and wanted, decided as a joke to start a campaign to get Scott, widely viewed as merely a ‘goon’ or ‘enforcer’ whose role was to physically intimidate opposing players and even fight with them, voted to play in the All-Star game, over the elite, skilled players who usually get this honor. (I find it astonishing that there is a sport in which a player’s designated role is to intimidate opponents, even to the extent of physically attacking them.)
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What does it mean to ‘run the rule’?

I was reading this news item and came across this sentence.

Melanie Zanona at Politico this morning is running the rule over some of the eager young Trumpist Republicans in the House who might be eyeing up the Senate seats that are about to become vacant in the next election cycle.

I was struck by the phrase ‘running the rule’ because I had never heard that idiom before. The context in which it appears does not make clear what it means. The plain language seems to suggest applying some rule but since the rule itself was not specified and is not obvious, that does not help in deciphering the meaning.

Merriam-Webster does not recognize it. The Cambridge dictionary says it is “to examine something to see if it is good enough or right for a particular purpose”. Wiktionary says that to run the rule is to “examine carefully and thoroughly” but Lexico says that it means to “examine cursorily for correctness or adequacy”.

So we have three different meanings. One is just to examine, the other is to examine carefully, and the third is to examine cursorily.

I think I will avoid using the phrase.

The turkey siege may not have been personal

Readers may recall a previous post where a turkey held me hostage in my car for about half an hour.

While taking a walk a couple of days ago, I saw a turkey standing guard over someone else’s car and then chasing yet another car down the road. Whether this was the same turkey that held me captive I do not know, since we were never properly introduced the first time around.

I then saw another resident approach her car where another turkey was lurking. I watched from a distance for about ten minutes as she, after getting into the car and starting it, could not drive away immediately because the turkey kept hanging around the car, walking around it, and even seeming to peck at it or maybe it was getting up close to it to see its reflection. The driver clearly did not want to risk driving over the turkey and so could barely move. She would inch the car backwards and the turkey would follow. This went on for about ten minutes, until she was sure that she could go without hitting it and then she drove off, with the turkey in hot pursuit.

So I think that my encounter with the turkey was not due to any personal animosity towards me but instead that the neighborhood turkeys are on some kind of mission to harass cars in general. It means that the turkey who held me hostage is not likely to be rounding up a posse and planning a surprise attack on me personally.

Round two of my conflict with turkeys

Readers may recall my earlier close encounter with the wild turkeys that wander around the housing complex where I live. We could call that encounter a draw. But a couple of days ago, I had a rematch with one of them and this time the turkey was clearly the victor.

What happened was that I was going out somewhere and as I started driving on the road that exits the complex, I saw four turkeys ahead of me, straddling the road. I stopped to let them move on but turkeys are pretty casual about getting out of the way of cars and just hung around. After waiting some time, I drove around them but one of them took umbrage at this act of disrespect and chased after my car. I sped up and left it behind.
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Capitalizing Black but not white

Commenter Mark Dowd urged me to get on board with the spreading movement to capitalize Black when referring to a group identity. I had noticed the trend myself but had not done anything about it partly because of inertia and partly because I was not sure what the full ramifications were. How much does it generalize? For example, does that mean that ‘white’ should be capitalized too?

So I looked to that authoritative journalistic source, the Associated Press Style Guide and they said that had been looking into this question for over two years and in June 2020 gave reasons why they had decided to capitalize Black.
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