Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sayonara October!

Here’s hoping only eustress in November … and that I find more time to write and blog by triaging the unimportant and unurgent nonsense from my life. I’m Quadrant II-bound for you Stephen Covey fans! And here’s to a double-dose heaping helping of courage, so I can finally do what I’m put on this rock to do.

Oh, and here’s a pretty neat joke I read today:

In a bar is a piano player with a monkey that goes around after each number collecting tips. While the piano player is playing, the monkey jumps on the bar, walks up to a customer, and squats over his drink, putting his testicles in the drink. The man is miffed, walks up to the piano player, and says, “Do you know your monkey dipped his balls in my martini?”

The piano player says, “No, man, but if you hum a few bars I can probably pick it up.”

From Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar ... Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. My version has a really cute picture of a platypus on its cover.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Miracle Food

Quick quiz: what food does the following:

* lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
* reduces the risks of dying from heart disease anywhere from 16 to 41 percent
* lowers blood pressure
* decreases the risk of a stroke depending on how much of it you eat
* reduces the risk of all types of cancer, particularly of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, pancreas and stomach
* leads to spontaneous weight loss and even prevents weight gain
* increases bone density
* reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes

Give up? Well, it actually isn’t a food, but a food group. Two, actually. Fruits and vegetables. Yes, you’ve heard it before and now you’ll hear it again. 5-10 servings of fruit a day leads to all the above benefits. (What’s a serving? Either a large piece of fruit, or a fist-sized amount of smaller pieces.) It’s not really that difficult. Right now on the Transitional Raw Food Diet, I’m eating about 7-8 servings a day, some days one or two more, some days one or two less.

The best fruits and veggies? Tomatoes, for their lycopene; citrus fruits such as oranges; and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli.

And if you’re scratching your head wondering what else to eat to get those 5-10 daily servings, how ’bout:

Apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, carrots, celery, cherries, corn, cucumbers, grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, pears, peppers, pineapple, pumpkin, spinach, squash, strawberries, string beans, sweet potatoes, watermelon? And these are the ones off the top of my head that I’ve tried and liked. There’s probably two or three for every fruit and vegetable listed here that I haven’t tried yet, but will, in the future.

Good eating!

PS: After four weeks on the TRFD, I'm averaging about 2/3 of my daily consumption to be raw fruits and veggies. I started the month off by-the-book, eating about 80% raw the first ten days. It was during this period I dropped 8 pounds. Then, the backsliding. Over the next two weeks I estimate I ate at about 60% raw, interspersed with about 4 or 5 days where I only ate about 20% raw. I gained back 4 pounds. I want to finish strong over the next three days (especially with Halloween coming up) and get that daily average percentage raw at about 3/4. And maintain that ratio until the end of the year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Desert Island Books

During a recent rerun of The Office (currently the funniest show on TV, period), I watched as Jim asked his other coworkers, gathered in the parking lot after a workplace fire, what books they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a desert island for a long, long time.

What an excellent question! If I were to be exiled, a la Napoleon on St. Helena, and had the option to take along a handful of hand-picked books to spend the rest of my life with, what would they be? Hmmmm. Okay, immediately these books come to mind:

1. The Bible
2. The Lord of the Rings (plus The Hobbit, plus The Silmarillion)
3. It
4. Watership Down

Right there is about 4,000 pages of reading. I could probably cycle through those four in about a year of desert island reading, easily. After a decade I’d start reciting the pages and the chapters before I actually glanced at them. So I’d need more material.

But why did those four jump out at me? I think it’s because they mean so much to me. All of them, to greater and lesser degrees, profoundly influenced me, shaped me, and helped me in various ways. They were all strong emotional books for me. I read Watership Down around 1978, the Tolkien books between 1980 and 1981, It in 1986, and the Bible, for the first time cover-to-cover, in 1992. Aside from another book which shall remain nameless I read in 1997, there’s been quite the dry spell in world-changing books despite an uppage in the volume of tomes read.

Anyway, I’d certainly need to take more with me to that desert island. Let’s say I’m allowed, due to space reasons, four more. What would they be? No doubt books of hefty length, books I could either learn and feed my intellect and / or entertain me incredibly by pulling me in to new worlds. What books could do this?

I tried to brainstorm a couple and was completely unsuccessful. It would probably be a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment thing for most of the decisions. But I quickly came up with four broad categories:

1. A massive collection of Poetry
2. A text on Physics by one of the young tigers of the 1920s
3. A comprehensive History of, say, the Middle Ages, or the Roman Empire, or America, or the Church, or …
4. Something substantial by an SF Grandmaster, like the Robot stories by Asimov, or one of Heinlein’s adult works, or an anthology of Bradbury stories, or …

Oh, and I forgot. Any one stranded on a desert island would need a survival manual! How else could I figure out how to make a radio out of a coconut?

The Far Arena

[Gleeful mini-review from a couple of years ago ...]

It’s been such a long time since I’ve read as long a book as this in such a short time. I read the first hundred pages the first day I started reading. Awed. Surprised.

I never heard of the author before, but apparently he had a fairly successful collaboration in the seventies with a Bruce Lee-secret agent type series. Wrote a few other books I think worth checking out, such as The Quest, about the search for the Holy Grail. But I get ahead of myself.

The plot’s simple enough. (Ignoring some medicine and science) a Roman gladiator is found embedded twelve meters down in the ice by a Texas oil company crew doing some exploratory drilling. Man’s cut out, sent to state-of-the-art cryonics unit at the closest Norwegian hospital, revived. It’s soon determined that he’s speaking classical Latin in his comatose state, and a nun who specializes in said language (who’s beautiful, of course) is brought in to assist when the gladiator gains consciousness.

Now, my summary so far may sound derogatory, and indeed I found the “modern” characters a bit one-dimensional. But Sapir does something wonderful with the story. We have first-person experiences of what the gladiator is thinking in his dreaming state, reliving the last weeks up to his being left for dead at the German Sea. And I found that to be the most gripping, the most suspenseful part of the novel.

About half-way through he’s revived, and the culture shock (and not just the Roman adjusting to our world – our three protagonists adjusting to him) is fascinating. And towards the end of the novel where our time traveler faces a modern-day Olympic fencer … well, the horror of that scene thoroughly overwhelmed me, brought me into contact with that shock of culture separated not only by distance but by time. Sapir should be thoroughly commended for pulling out such strong emotions in the reader.

I found myself trying to second-guess the author towards the end of the book – I do that a lot, and tend to gauge the caliber of a novel on whether or not the ending fakes me out. In this case, it did. This book is a prime example of why I love reading these cheap cheesy science fiction paperbacks. Like a gambler putting his last quarter in the one-armed bandit, I keep reading and reading them until, against all odds, maybe, just maybe, it will pay off. The Far Arena was sheer entertainment and I couldn’t put it down!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Nameless Pythagorean

He was quite a man, extraordinary, really. Where he came from, we did not know. His age, the name of his father, whether he be Greek, Thracian, Milesian or even Italian, was any man’s guess. He was quite accomplished, and learned much in his years of wandering among the sands of Egypt and the hills of Persia and countless lands between. There truly was never one like him to walk this earth. Pythagoras was special.

He taught us many, many things. What to eat. How to sharpen the mind and the body. How to live. The tales of the sky. But the underpinning to his thought was simply this: All is Number. From the pluckings of a lyre to the stars and wanderers in the firmament, All is explainable by the interaction between two whole numbers. The Master made it all clear to us and all who would listen.

Then, the theorem. Though he said it was a gift from the gods – and perhaps it was – we all sensed it was carved out from years of hard observation and precise measurement. The square of each of the lesser sides of a right triangle was always equal the square of its hypotenuse. Or, in a special case, the square of two adjacent sides of a square is equal to the square of its diagonal.

But then he appeared. He Who Shall Remain Nameless. He was fascinated with the square diagonal. Indeed, the Master warned him off many times, but the Nameless One persisted. And that is why we had to kill him.

For if the theorem states simply that the square of side A added to the square of side B is equal to the square of side C (C being the hypotenuse or the diagonal of a square), and the All is explained by the relationship and interaction of two whole numbers, how does one determine the length of the diagonal of a square? Should A = 1 and B = 1, then must not C be the square root of 2, which is …

Which is unsolvable as the interaction of two whole numbers. The Nameless One spent many years on this problem, trying to force a resolution, trying to come to an understanding, at first working with the Master but later despised by him, as it became clear to all of us that something was very, very wrong with our world. Then, he simply accepted the unacceptable, and bade us do similar.

And that is why we did what we had to do. We bound him in chains, rowed out onto the violent Great Sea until Croton could no longer be seen, and threw him over the side of our ship, abandoning him to the deeps.

But his specter haunts us still. For there is no way to solve the square root of the whole number 2 …

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Top 5 Slide Guitar Songs

I’ve always been intrigued by the slide guitar. For those not in the know, it’s just a metal or glass tube that fits over the ring finger or pinkie of your fretting hand. It has a characteristic sound when you slide it up and down the fretboard, especially with a fair amount of distortion and other effects thrown on top of it. There’s a whole genre of blues that relies heavily on the slide guitar, old black blues guys smoking pipes and drinking bourbon in pool halls, but I could never get into them. My tastes ran more popular, mostly 70s white bands that ripped those old blues guys off.

Though I never played slide live or on any demo tapes, I always fiddled around with one in the privacy of my apartment. During the summer of 1993 I made a couple of tapes on a Tascam 4-track recording device that featured heavy use of slide. My favorite open tuning was C, and I experimented with clean, Stratocaster sounds, heavily distorted Les Paul sounds, wah-wah pedals, delay, echo, you name it. Nothing ever came out of it as far as writing songs for my band or copyrighting stuff, but it was fun. I still have the tapes.

Anyway, here’s my list:

Life of Illusion by Joe Walsh. Since I recently got this CD for my birthday this is probably why slide guitar’s been on my brain. Walsh has a very distinct, very unique sound that relies often on slide guitar use, more on his solo stuff than his stuff with the Eagles. This solo brings a frenetic coolness to a goofy tongue-in-cheek song that I can listen to over and over.

Making Memories by Rush. These guys were my college band! I listened so much 70s Rush in the mid-eighties I started speaking with a Canadian accent. No. But I’ve heard it said that these guys are the whitest guys in rock-n-roll, and I agree. Alex Lifeson is a phenomenal guitarist who does everything right – his own distinct signature sound, super-creative writing, no technique or style he can’t get down. But I only recall one Rush song having a slide guitar solo in it, and it’s this one. Short and very sweet, heavily distorted over multitracked acoustic guitars and a melodic base, this one’s nice.

Moonlight Drive by the Doors. Robby Krieger’s jaunty little solo here is the perfect compliment to Manzarek’s crisp keyboards and thudding bass and Morrison’s almost-in-tune warblings. He’s got full command of that there slide thingie, playful, funny, and climactic all at the right places.

In My Time of Dying by Led Zeppelin. I’ve said it before and I will go on saying it: Jimmy Page is the coolest guitarist ever. Even though he may have used a slide here and there on earlier stuff, he seemed to get into it for Physical Graffiti. I don’t know if it’s me or not, but I think Page likes to disguise that he’s using a slide, or else all the effects he throws on it does. But this song was written for the fullest utilization of slide and the tone, the aggression, the frantic headlong soloing make it quite cool.

Drowse by Queen. I think Brian May falls into a similar category as Page in this regard. There’s a lot of slide guitar work on some of Queen’s magnum opuses (opi?) but they’re usually buried under pounds of overdubs or elsewise disguised. Drowse, though, is pretty obvious. Though necessarily a bit plodding, it works. You could also take Tie Your Mother Down, a more conventional rock piece, as a good example of slide, too.

Disclaimer: I’m sure that there are lots of songs and such that I’ve forgotten, and there may be more than a few inaccuracies in the previous musings. I am going on memory, some decades old. I had a box of approximately 240 CDs stolen from my apartment around the summer of 2002, including all my Zeppelin, Queen, most of my Rush, and lots more modern and eclectic stuff. So a lot of these songs haven’t been heard since then.

But I enjoyed this little post.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rogue Moon

© 1960/1 by Algis Budrys

Hugo Award nominated novella-expanded novel

[Possible spoilers!]

Pardon my French, but what a bitch-fest!

What do I mean by this atypical outburst of vulgarity? Simply this. The two cool cutting-edge SF ideas that serve as the book’s foundations are drowned out by a half-dozen poorly-developed cliché of characters bitching and moaning about themselves, their empty lives, and the Meaning or Meaningless of It All.

Our main “tagonist” (don’t know whether to consider him “pro” or “an”) is driven scientist Edward Hawks. Envision Michael Rennie from The Day the Earth Stood Still, only one-dimensional. Doctor Hawks has a problem. Seems that a strange “alien” formation has been discovered on the moon. Any man entering it is killed fairly quickly. Since the author takes a hard stance on not filling in too much background (that would imfringe on the character’s self-directed soliloquys) it also seems he’s been charged to find out why, and to find a way to understand the formation.

Okay. That’s cool, I admit. That’s the reason I picked up the book and decided to read it, based on the back jacket synopsis (yes, I fell for that). “The formation” is cool idea number one. Cool idea number two is this: since the action seems to take place right after the Big One, WW II, space travel has not been extensively developed. At least, I think it hasn’t. Background exposition wasn’t a concern of Budrys’ here. So the way Doc Hawks sends his men to the lunar surface to investigate said “formation” is by creating a duplicate of the man and transmitting up to a receiving station on the moon.

Budrys’ clearly places a greater emphasis on this duplication/replication aspect as opposed to the alien formation. Okay, that’s his decision as a writer. I found myself much more intrigued with the big Who and Why of the formation, questions which are left unresolved at the novel’s end. That’s not to say that the duplication/replication wasn’t fascinating in its own retro 1950s intellectualized way. Indeed, there is a redeeming hook at the end that’s a natural result of the consequences of such a means of travel.

I hated Al Barker, Hawks’ foil who I think we’re supposed to sympathize with. Barker is the man for the job when all of Hawks’ other subjects go dead or insane should they manage to survive the duplication/replication and formation exploration at all. Part James Bond (complete with the token bikini-clad chick lounging at his pool), part Steve McQueen, with generous doses of Sir Edmund Hillary and Mario Andretti mixed in, he’s the he-man to Hawks’ egghead. But man does he bitch. And moan. Constantly. It almost cancels out his described physical bravery, this neverending nasty stream-of-consciousness griping. I mean it. I don’t think I ‘hated’ a literary character as much as I hated Al Barker. It frightens me, come to think of it.

Rogue Moon is short, that’s definitely a plus. If a novella is, say, 50,000 words, this novelization clocks in at about 60,000. It’s a book with potential, I won’t take that away, but potential unrealized as it fails in the execution. Budrys died recently this past June at the age of 77. I hate to speak ill of the dead – wait, it occurs to me that I’m actually speaking ill of one of the works of the dead – so let me end with a compliment. Mr. Budrys has far excelled anything I have done, so far, in that it is his book, one of a prolific published body of work, that is being reviewed here, while I have yet to accomplish that simple fact.

Oh, and I would not be adverse to exploring another book by Algis Budrys.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slim Postin’s

Been very, very crazyhecticbusy lately. The wife split on a 48-hour sales-conference-palooza and I’m stuck with a 5-week old and a toddler saddled with a respiratory infection. Yeah, my mom’s here to help out, cook, and feed the Littlest One, but I ain’t puttin’ any sleep in the bank and ain’t doin’ any writin’. Also too lazy to type the letter g, apparently. It’ll all be over, soon, and hopefully I’ll be able to post a lot of somewhat interestin’ tidbits here. Just not right away, but I intends to keep my post-a-day ratio intact. Here’s what we all can look forward to, in the near future:

* A review of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon

* A review of the book Rogue Moon

* Thoughts on William James’ Pluralistic Universe

* Top 5 “Desert Island Books” (after a recently-viewed rerun of The Office)

* More Boogie Dog Variations

* Another SF short story (if I can ever find the one I’m thinking of)

* Who I voted for and why (after November 4th, of course, and it may surprise you. It may even surprise me.)

* Best slide guitar solos (don’t ask me why – it’s been on my mind lately)

* The Saddest Song In The World (and why it deserves to Be In All Capitals)

Until later (hopefully tomorrow …)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Boogie Dog Variations II

Blakey: Here’s the starting point - Did anyone at the Manhattan Project know?

Mattern: (cuts at a hangnail with a knife) How where they supposed to?

Blakey: Well, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? Grobes?

Grobes: Obvious, sir, if one knows what one is to be looking for.

Blakey: (exasperated) How can it be missed? I mean, I imagine it must have been … extraordinary.

Grobes: Unfortunately, we have no records of the event. It’s like it erased itself from the minds and writings of those brilliant men as well as all photographic and other recording devices of those laboratories. And now there are no surviving phycisists to interview. I’ve combed through every published memoir I could find, Blakey. From the bigwigs – Oppenheimer, Teller, Fermi, Bethe, et al, down to the peons. Nothing tangible. Tantalizing clues, but nothing forthright. No, as far as the government’s concerned –

Mattern: (with a snort) The government …

Grobes: As far as your Uncle Sam is concerned, it didn’t happen.

Blakey: What about Main? Any leads developing on the man?

Mattern: None.

Blakey: None? I find that hard to believe.

Mattern: Sorry. Everything’s a dead end so far. He wasn’t there, according to every alphabet-soup agency document over the last sixty-plus years. As a matter of fact, he’s not supposed to exist. No records in the SSA. No military records. Nothing criminal, civil, nothing, nada. No credit history. Not even a driver’s license. Just that mention in Sibbie’s autobiography and the Hippie Manifesto.

Blakey: How about the Manifesto publisher? And how about muscling some Sibelius scholars? (rubs his temples) Good Lord, did I just say that?

Mattern: I already have some very discrete boys working both angles.

Blakey: So Mr. Main is either a physicist working on the Manhattan Project, a beatnik poet who published a ‘manifesto’ in 1967, or a violin student and acquaintance of Jean Sibelius circa 1890. (runs hands through hair in frustration)

Mattern: You know, it could be three different guys. ‘Charles Main’ is not an unpopular name.

Grobes: Or it could be a man who lived productively and polymathically over the age of one hundred. (pours a glass of cognac and reclines) You know, that reminds me of something very interesting.

Blakey: (annoyed) Yes. (shuffles more papers on the desk)

Grobes: Sibelius knew of It. Had to. Surely, Blakey, you must have heard of the Second Symphony.

Blakey: Of course.

Mattern: I don’t go much for that artsy-fartsy crap.

Grobes: (chuckles in disgust at Mattern) True, it lacks all the sophistication and delicate nuance of a techno beat … It’s rumored that those who see It … who experience It … hear something similar to the crescendo that one hears twice in the first movement of that symphony.

Blakey: I’ve listened to it a thousand times. I hear that chord in my sleep. Hey Mattern, you’d do yourself a real favor to give it at least a listen.

Mattern: (looks about for something else beside his hand to carve; finds an orange on a side table and cuts into it) Hey, Grobie, forget this music nonsense. What I really want to know is this twenty-six hour stuff. That’s what unnerved me out in Arizona.

Blakey: Those clocks were weird, man.

Grobes: Somehow It cycled or pulsed at thirteen hour intervals. Main mentions Dirac working on it. There’s a letter we discovered out at Oxford – it’s scanned in your file, Blakey – a letter from Dirac to Heisenberg that very cryptically refers in passing to a ‘26-hour sine wave function’ that, quite frankly, is beyond my abilities to analyze.

Blakey: Perhaps Montag or Funes

Grobes: They’re already dissecting it.

Mattern: (slams the table with a fist) Damn all this sitting around! Blakey! Give me permission to hunt them down!

Blakey: There’ll be no ‘hunting them down.’ (pauses thoughtfully) At least, not yet.

Mattern: Six hippies. Six dirty hippies. Six water-hatin’ hippies … and two physicists.

Grobes: And the girl …

Blakey: Now there’s where the key lies, if you ask me.

Mattern: Blakey! Let me go after them. Get the girl, bring her back. I will show you what happens to sticky fingers!

Grobes: ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ …

Mattern: What is that supposed to mean?

Grobes: (stands and walks to the curtained window) Quite simply, we’re trying to find out exactly how the world as mankind once knew it was quite literally destroyed thirty-eight years ago.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Boogie Dog Variations

Or, Prelude to a Strange Word Document ...

I came across an odd little file on my laptop last night. Entitled “Boogie Dog” and created on March 3, 2004, I stumbled across it scrolling through a Word doc search (I have over 450 such files on the laptop). It caught my attention, I must admit, though I have no recollection of creating it nor do I recall where I could possibly be going with it. Probably just jotting down some weird stream-of-consciousness ramblings. So I thought: Why not have some fun? See what I can do with these 219 words. Okay. Here’s the original file:

Did anyone at the Manhattan Project know? Hard to tell.

Sibelius knew. Know how we know he knew? The crescendo heard twice in the first movement of the Second Symphony. Now that is the sound of . . . that.

Charles Main. Who is Charles Main?

List of bests: Best line from a poem? “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Eliot. And yes, we know Steve King used it in one of the Gunslinger books.

It always lasted twenty-six hours. Who knows why (maybe Dirac, or Heisenberg, or any of those other young tigers), but I never did get used to those clocks he made for us, whose faces went up to thirteen instead of twelve. “Thirteen o’clock!” he’d cry. “Hurry, now! Halfway there!”

Recipe for a Mind Experiment – Pour a half dozen hippies in a metal bowl. Stir in two brilliant but immature theoretical physicists. Add a girl (always a girl, for spice). Add illegal drugs, and the undesirables that brings with it. Like six degrees of separation. The traffickers. The mob. Then – the government. Shake well. Oh, and add a pinch of something explosive. In this case . . . quantum mechanics. Believe it or not, yes?

Remember: Hippies hate water. That’s why we hunted them down. And they also have sticky fingers.

Apologies if anyone’s offended, especially those last couple of sentences. Believe me, that’s a snippet from a song that was popular among my travels in the late 80s-early 90s.

Over the next couple of days I’ll see how creative I can get with this. Let’s call it the Boogie Dog Variations.

Monday, October 20, 2008


There are 8,760 hours in a year. Every one of us has this much time to work with in the span of 12 months. No more, no less. 8,760 hours. That’s a lot of time to work with, if you think about it.

But is it really? Let’s start the whittling process.

Immediately disregard 1/3 of those hours, or 2,920. That’s for sleep, 8 hours a day. Yeah, you could sleep less to get more done, but that’s not really such a good idea. Trust me, with a newborn I am in-the-know here. Anything less than 8 hours a day and you’re going to see a big decline in efficiency. Whether it’s overall energy, or the ability to focus and concentrate, or the ability to maintain that even keel, you’ll not be at your maximum bestest if you aren’t spending 2,920 hour a year in deep delta wave activity.

Now, you need to pay bills, buy food and necessities, and provide for you or your kids’ futures if possible. To do this you need an income. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of us, ninety percent sounds ’bout right, do not earn this income doing what we envisioned ourselves doing when we were much younger and more idealistic. True, I estimate about ten percent of us out there are happy and fulfilled and jazzed about their day-to-day labor. Regardless, you need to spend 40 hours a week at this job. Add in an hour a day for lunch. Tack on, say, two hours in the morning to get ready and get in to the place of work and an hour in the evening coming home. We’re talking 20 hours a week for lunch, prep and commuting time. That’s 60 hours a week or 3,120 hours a year. Yikes!

So now we’re down to 2,720 discretionary hours a year. But wait, I’m forgetting the most important part! Family. Nuclear and extended all the way down to mere acquaintances. The pleasant, warm bondings with your spouse and children, and the not-so-pleasant social obligations you can’t get out of. I’m also including time spent maintaining your household here, too, such as the time spent shopping or yardwork or school and day-care drop offs, everything and anything. How about a completely arbitrary but fairly reasonable estimate that 75% of this remaining discretionary time will be spent on this part of your life? Okay. That’s 2,040 hours a year.

And 680 hours a year remain FOR YOU. Think that’s too little? Think that’s not enough to accomplish that BIG DREAM? Think again. That’s one hour and 51 minutes a day. A hundred and eleven minutes, this day, tonight, every day. Just under two hours a day. About thirteen hours a week. If you think really hard about this, it’s not as bad as our lazy excuse-seeking minds want to make it.

If I write 750 words an hour on a first draft, that’s 9,750 words a week, or a 100,000 word first draft in only a little over ten weeks! Jeez, I could write, edit, and rewrite almost three medium-sized novels a year at that rate! Of course, it’s not reasonable to expect those hundred and eleven minutes to be spent in a continuous blur of fingers over keypads. But you get the idea.

I wish I could get my lazy excuse-making brain around it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sleep of Veals

Can I tell you something in confidence? I am so exhausted. So very tired. But don’t tell my wife, though. She’s up every three hours feeding the new baby, only love and that new-mother-glow keeping her from morphing into a sleep-deprived zombie. Graciously and generously (and perhaps because I’m the only one of us who currently has to drag his/her silly carcass to a job every morning for forty hours a week) she allows me to sleep on the couch. I get about six hours’ sleep a night, usually interrupted at some point for something around 3 or 4 am.

But it’s really the weekends that are killing me. Let’s face it, I am a veal. My wife started calling me one ten years ago, and I probably came to terms with the veracity of that statement after we moved into our house in ’04. Now with the Littlest Addition to the family, there’s just so (insert vulgar cusswords here) much to do. I won’t bore you with a list like I did last weekend. But, as a veal, all I want to do is lay, read, and write. Yes, I enjoy exercising, and I will do a reasonable amount of chores, but doggonit, these past two months have been crazy off the rails. Weekends are made for catching up on your sleep, right? That’s why God made ’em. I want my weekends back.

Anyway, been thinking a lot about sleep today. Sleep, O blessed and pure! Slumberland, Dreamland, the Land of Nod, let me loiter and spend uncountable time among your serene clouds. Allow me to graze in your sheep-filled peaceful pastures! Refresh me! Rejuvenate me! Maketh me a new creation!

Perhaps John Keats wrote best of blessed Sleep, capital-S Sleep, so taken for granted when plentiful, so sorrowfully sought for when scarce:

To Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embowered from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the «Amen», ere thy hoppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes, -
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey Duck

Dreamed about a comic book last night. A comic book I read cover-to-cover, close to a hundred times, back in 1976 or 1977, when I was in the fourth grade. I can only remember ever reading one other comic, and I remember it torn and shredded in our basement toy chest. But this particular comic belonged to my school, and it fascinated me to no end.

I wish I could remember its name or any of the characters’ names. Well, I do recall a robot named “Duck.” But other than that, nothing. I wish I did, ’cause I’d really love to find it and read it again.

There were three stories, of that I’m certain. The first was hands-down the best. Pure science fiction. It seems that three or four of these astronauts – decked out kind of like the Fantastic Four – were at this station on the surface of a very unstable planet. Quakes, poisonous gas venting, storms, etc. You got the impression the planet was about to disintegrate. So did the men; they desperately wanted to escape but for some reason couldn’t. There were other creatures on the station. There was this brainiac thing, who was at odds with the astronauts, thwarting their attempts to escape. And some evil acid blob monster. At the end, the blob gets loose, kills the brainiac thing, and the astronauts manage to escape with their lives as the planet explodes, killing the monster.

The other stories were half as long, filler I assume. Next we followed the hijinks of an android who became a man. Or at least everyone in the strip thought he was a man. They all thought he was a petty thief named “Duck.” They all also wanted to kill him. I remember a scene involving a drive-by shooting. The gunman shouts “Hey Duck!” and lets loose a barrage of lead. Duck, recognizing the shouted word as a command and not a proper noun, does just that, behind some garbage cans, thus saving his life.

Finally, a short horror tale. Pirates who steal some haunted treasure. After they’ve set sail back out to sea, they find themselves dematerializing into a glowing mist, first their hands, then arms, then bodies, and finally heads. Then, nothing. The only survivor is the horrified captive who did not partake in the stealing. It was quite creepy for a nine year old.

Last night I dreamed about it for the first time. Strange. Not that I was in any of the stories, but that I actually had that comic book. It’s been a year or so since I’ve searched online for any clues as to what it may have been called or when it was published. I think my subconsciousness is prodding me to resume my search …

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cryptonomicon III

Well, I finally finished Cryptonomicon! (… breathes a long, contented sigh …) Began it May 29 on vacation in Lake George, New York and completed the novel on October 15 in the park near my job during my lunch break. 140 days to work through 1,130 pages. 8 pages (about half a Stephenson chapter) a day average. Not too remarkable, that reading velocity. However, there was about a month from the end of August to the end of September where I was so inundated and uninspired I almost set it aside permanently. The remarkable thing is that I kept with it. I put away 330 pages alone in the past week. So, allow me some pats on the back for a moment. I kept with it! I did not hop off onto some other novel, or some collection of short stories. And I was rewarded for doing so, too, in more ways than I originally anticipated. But all that will come out in the review, later this week.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Just finished skimming through a book called Everything Is Under Control, an encyclopedic tour of just about each and every conspiracy under the sun (and many from beyond it) by Robert Anton Wilson. I read it mostly in bed with the wife as she watched her fashion and entertainment shows and in between action in the Jets game Sunday. It was quick, somewhat interesting, somewhat chuckleworthy, sometimes chin-scratchingly plausible.

I enjoy reading stuff like this for the creepy campy factor. Now and then a book or a show on TV will legitimately give me the willies. I grew up on the stuff, everything from conspiracies to hominids and cryptids to space invaders. I even saw something mysterious in the skies one wintry night and wrote about it here. I absolutely love this stuff. I even wrote short stories about a mysterious giant ape-like critter and little silver men who attack a hillbilly fambly.

I used to be embarrassed to admit this, and to a certain extent with certain people I still am. After all, I like to consider myself reasonable, rational, modern. I spent a large chunk of my life studying physics and astronomy. The scientific method, in its purity, is a good thing, I like to think. So … what’s the interest in the fringe, LE? Here’s a Wilsonian thought: what if the guvmint got hold of your library card, LE, and discovered what books you’ve been checking out?


So let me clear the air. Here’s a couple of items of weirdity that I find interesting and just how far down the rabbit hole I’m willing to go for them.

UFOs. A UFO is simply a light or an object in the sky that can’t be identified. I saw one. I was unable to identify it. To this day I still don’t know what it is. But do I think it was a flying saucer? An alien spaceship? Well ... (long pause) ... no. As far as belief in extraterrestrial spacecraft goes, I’d have to say, no, I don’t believe in ’em. I’d like to, but I don’t. Probably has something to do with Einsteinian physics and the vast distances between stars. That being said, a civilization only a couple of centuries comparably older than ours, well, who knows? Such travel could be possible. I’d say there’s about a 5% believability factor here for me.

Sasquatch. Sasquatch! How I loved you as a kid! The Six Million Dollar Man episodes, the Leonard Nimoy In Search Of shows. I loved borrowing books from the library on the creature and reading them at night and getting all creeped out. Do I believe it exists? Probably not. For one thing, there ain’t never been a body. Heck, not even bones. I hope and wish and pray for some photos or films of one. To this day I love nothing more than checking out video of the monster (99.9 % are visibly faked) and becoming overrun with goosebumps. Believability factor: 10%.

JFK Assassination. For some reason I got into this about twenty years ago and I got hooked. Stone’s JFK (which I take with whole rocks of salt) cemented my interest. One summer weekend, alone, I spent two days researching the assassination. Then it kind of just fermented in my mind until about a year ago, when by chance I saw a new book on the subject at the library and took it out. Wham! Hooked again. I’ll post more detailed thoughts around the third week of November, but, yes, I do believe something happened that’s not quite what we were told. Bluntly, the Warren Commission is a whitewash. What actually happened I have no idea, but it seems to me that some theories are a whole lot more plausible than others. Believability factor: 95% (I left a little wiggle room here; I’m not immune to allowing Lone Gunman theorists to persuade me.)

Loch Ness Monster. Nah. I remember this was big in the Seventies and Leonard Nimoy had a couple of shows on Nessie and her counterparts throughout the world. Don’t believe it and it kinda bores me. From an ecological point of view I don’t see how a lake, no matter its size, can support some type of giant Jurassic fish-thing, and most of the “evidence” in the form of videotape just looks like waves. I’d need a video or picture of a big eelish neck poking out of the water, jaws agape, snarling and hungry, to be convinced by this one. Believability: 1%.

Abductions. This is a strange one, and very, very spooky to me. It creeps me out in a don’t-look-at-the-window-there’s-something-looking-in-at-you way. Now I don’t believe in alien abduction, particularly since all of these memories are recovered via hypnosis and that right there is fraught with problems (leading the witness type stuff). But I do believe something is going on. I’m interested in alternative thoughts on this. For example, intense sleep deprivation combined with other external stimuli can result in hallucinations similar to those in abduction scenarios. But I can’t believe that an alien civilization which can cross voids light-years across need to impregnate young women to keep their race from dying out. Sounds too 1930s SF pulp to me. Alien abduction believability: 2%. Something else going on: 98%.

Should you come across Wilson’s book (or others like it), it’s chock-filled with thriving ancient societies, occult forces, and more modern politico-economic marriages of convenience all vying to control the world. I could list them here, but I won’t, because even though I don’t give such conspiracy theories much plausibility, you never know, and I wouldn’t want to upset the wrong people …

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cryptonomicon II


I think John Underton said “The day always wants.” Now each day often necessitates more energy to help enhance recurring events. I say although several energy channels recur every time more energy starts substantiating, a greater energy is needed. This “heretical” entirety can reassure your private thoughts – or not – only might I convince our newer students that every precept here enlightens, no, solves our natural stoical thinking. Often our changing leans entirely “vertical.” Each recurring Other frequently allows windows reaching in to every researcher’s “notional Orthodoxy.” To think otherwise, I now conclude (lamely, unless Denial exists over new experiential notions) often will change a naïve Idea with insufficient trust. However, on “natural” leap years a bountiful energetic groundswell is necessarily needed: each repetitive kernel need only wait lest energy dissipate. Greater energy is never changed only diverted. Entire subsequent changes reaffirm all copied kernels in this philosophy. Redundant or basic attempts base leap year negations over the best Undertonian theories. I leave lesser sentiments entirely erroneous. Who here ever responded equally in coherence and novelty? Greater originality will, I think, harbor Truth hidden in Systematization.

[I know it’s stupid and simplistic but I just couldn’t help myself …]

Busy Weekend

Busy weekend. Way too busy.

* Balance checkbook, pay bills and file everything away. Shake head in disgust.

* Find hardcopy of second novel missing since basement was refinished.

* Drop bills off at the post office. Convince Little One to stay in car while I do this.

* Pick up and drop off dry cleaning.

* Gas up car; deal with surly attendant.

* Take Little One to the doctor for vaccinations and bloodwork.

* Take Little One to store for a treat for being good while getting vaccinations.

* Borrow parent’s truck to pick up Little One’s new furniture from store.

* Assemble three pieces of furniture. Bandage bruised thumbs as needed.

* Do a blog entry. After scratching head for thirty minutes thinking about what topic to blog on.

* Get take-out for Saturday night dinner.

* Grocery shopping, followed by the putting away of said groceries after the endeavor I call the Washing of the Fruit.

* Do laundry: towels and sheets. Fold or put back on mattresses and pillows.

* Mow front and back lawns. It’s October and I’m still mowing lawns???

* Return DVDs to library and to video store.

* Muddle through as many pages of Cryptonomicon as possible. (This is enjoyable.)

* Load and unload dishwasher twice. Ugh. Dishwashers save time, right?

* Tidy up house as quickly as possible every morning.

* Change Littlest One’s diapers and play with her while wife catches zzzzs.

* Keep the Older One as entertained as possible and out of her little sister’s face.

Missed blogging on Sunday, as well as a day earlier in the week, but I’ll make it up this week. Somehow. So much to do, so little time, as they say, especially all the time we waste treading water. Make that barely treading water. I keep telling myself it’s only a short season in Purgatory; soon the baby’ll be sleeping through the night … soon my wife and I will be doing something we both enjoy and making more money doing it … soon the children will be in school and all this running around won’t be as bad … soon we’ll be in a better part of the country where the livin’s easier …

Soon. Hopefully, soon.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thomistic Prayer

Was on a website a while ago that has a somewhat lengthy quiz which is supposed to reveal your “spirituality type.” Here is my result:

Your Spirituality Type: PATH OF INTELLECT (Thomistic Prayer)

About 12 percent of the population follows this path, using the syllogistic method of Saint Thomas Aquinas known as Scholastic prayer.

The main emphasis is on the orderly progression of thought from cause to effect. People of this prayer type prefer neat, orderly forms of the spiritual life, as opposed to the free-spirit, impulsive attitude of the Franciscan approach. Their spirituality is centered on the earnest pursuit of all the transcendental values: truth, goodness, beauty, unity, love, life, and spirit. Like Saint Teresa of Avila, they are willing to exert superhuman effort to achieve their goal.

Because of their disdain for second best, they seek total truth and authenticity in their lives and work hard to reach the whole truth about themselves, about God, and about sanctity. This intense pursuit of truth colors their whole spiritual life.

Books of prayer frequently call the Thomistic method of prayer ‘discursive meditation.’ In this type of prayer, one takes a virtue or fault or theological truth and studies it from every possibly angle. Change of behavior is an essential part of this prayer – it doesn’t stay at the intellectual level. There is generally a bias against this type of prayer today because it was so much in vogue before Vatican II.

Yikes! This is me! I have the Summa on my bedside table. I think I frequently get disgusted and frustrated with the state of the Church as well as the virulent strains of post-modern philosophy that color our secular world just because of this seeking of total truth. I stagnate spiritually and intellectually because, let’s face it, LE, you were probably born a hundred years too late.

Oh well. Once Transformation in Christ is done I have Chesterton’s St. Thomas on deck. I’ll probably keep that on top of the Summa in my bedroom for a couple minutes’ reading every night.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Sales

Going through some paperwork last night I found a paragraph I had cut-n-pasted and printed about book sales. Unfortunately, I did not copy the source. The stats are from a company called Nielsen BookScan, which tracks all facets of book sales both nationally and internationally. I went to their website earlier and did some cursory searching, but could not obtain more current statistics in the few minutes I had set aside.

Anyway, it seems that 195,000 new book titles were published in 2004. That’s 25,000 more books than the previous year – apparently a very large jump. However, most of these books do not sell well. In fact, 93 percent – or some 180,000 new titles – only sell, at most, a thousand copies. These books account for only 13 percent of total book sales. So if you flip the numbers around, that means that 7 percent of the new books were responsible for 87 percent of total book sales.

I’m not sure what to take away from these numbers except a little better understanding of book sales. There’s a lot there that could get an aspiring author depressed. Or perhaps … motivated. Hey, 7 percent of the new books in 2004 were successful! So what if that’s only one out of every fourteen published. 7 percent translates to 15,000 books, and presumably, 15,000 authors! Would you sign up for an endeavor where there could be 14,999 other successful participants? You could be one of those 15,000. Hey, so could I!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thoughts and Thinking

What influences our thoughts?

I can’t count how many times and in how many places I’ve read that we must “control our thoughts.” From conservative Catholic practical theology books and articles all the way down the spectrum to new-agey self-help writings. Control your thoughts. Well and good, I understand the point. What I don’t understand, though, is how to do it.

Sure, they’ll tell you it’s a hard thing to do. Perhaps the hardest thing we’re called to do on a daily, almost minute-by-minute basis during our sabbatical in this world. But if we are to get anything done while we’re here, and have a fair degree of peace of mind while we’re doing it, we need to control what the old noggin is focusing on. So I decided to practice what they preach and control my thinking for an hour, and concentrate on the opening question to this post.

I figure if we knew what exactly influences our thoughts we’d have a leg up on controlling them. Makes sense, right? And once we knew the influencers of thought, we could come up with some solutions, some things we can implement so that our negativity never rises above a certain point, and, if it does, it can quickly be brought down and replaced with better, nobler thinking.

There seems to be three main forces that influence what will cross our mind at any given instant in time.

The first is your physiology. This is the body part of the mind-body dualistic equation. In a nutshell, it’s the way you feel at this moment. Are you tired? Energetic? Happy? Sad? Mellow? Excited? Your physiology has a lot to do with that. It’s basically the result of four things: your diet, the frequency and quality of your exercising, the frequency and quality of your rest and relaxation, and your habitual posture. Yeah, you know about diet and exercise, as well as sleep, but now you know posture plays an important role. Don’t believe me? Next time you feel dragging, take a deep breath and stand as if an invisible cable were attached to your head and was pulling you up to the ceiling. You’ll instantly feel better. Why do they teach recruits in the armed forces to stand up straight with chest out?

The next part is external stimuli. This is the people, the environment, and the events that are immediately about you. This is kind of obvious. I mean, compare what would go through your mind sitting in an empty church as opposed to standing in the middle of Times Square on New Years Eve. This is also why being around habitually negative people is such a contagion for sensitive people like myself.

The last influencer, I believe, is your history of thinking. What you’ve thought in various situations over your lifetime, whether it was deliberately taught or unconsciously developed as, say, a defense mechanism. Think of a tree as symbolic of your thinking. Early on, it’s just a little stalk. But as time goes on, as water and nutrients are brought into the stalk, hard bark is formed, layer by layer, continually re-covering itself, until eventually a thick tree trunk results. Same with your thinking. There some external stimuli, your in a certain state of physiology, and you respond by thinking a certain thought. You get rewarded in some way, and the little stalk begins to grow. After a couple of years of such thinking, after a trunk of habitual thought results, don’t you see how difficult it would be to change?

Now, what’s the solution?

Simply, this:

1. Maintain excellent physiology
2. Associate with positive people who demonstrate the qualities you wish to have
3. Control your environment as favorably as possible to the best of your ability
4. Control events as favorably as possible to the best of your ability
5. Change your habitual thinking

Sounds easy, right? Now go out and do it! But wait – number 5, “Change your habitual thinking” … that’s still just a restatement of the phrase “Control your thoughts.” Hmmm. After some thought devoted to that thought, I decided there’s no pat answer to that one. Yes, improving your physiology will improve the quality of your thoughts. Yes, changing your environment and the people you surround yourself with will improve your thoughts. Yes, a little forward thinking about what may happen given this or that circumstances (“contingency planning”) will improve the quality of your thoughts. But how the heck do you deal with a lifetime of bad habitual useless and self-destructive thinking?

For me I had to go back to the drawing board and spend another hour brainstorming. I came up with a list of twenty-eight items. Some were concrete actions I had to take, some were replacement habits I should work on, some were techniques I could use to interrupt when habitual thinking kicked in. It looked like a lot of work, but if I could implement one thing every two weeks, and do it diligently, in a year I’d be a better person.


Well, I did these two brainstorming sessions a little over three years ago. I did devote considerable effort towards this problem (realizing it would spill over into all areas of my life, resulting in overall improvement and satisfaction). There were also months and months were I simply forgot everything I just wrote. All in all, I’d say, honestly, I’m about 35 to 40 percent of the way there. Recently I’ve been putting heavy focus on physiology – I had my heart issue taken care of, I’m on the raw foods transitional diet, drinking plenty of water, stretching daily, and a bunch of other things. Other aspects, such as environment, are in dire need of revision, and they will be revised, soon.

The only way to do it is to chip away at yourself, chiseling a bit here and there, resting and resuming, and eventually, over the course of a lifetime, you might actually be happy with the results.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ten Really Neat Horror Novels

As a young boy I feasted on science fiction. It was my sustenance. I remember the SF section in my town’s library vividly, and going through just about every book over a couple of summers. Fondly do I recall those funky 70s sci-fi book covers, with their overexposed modern-art-ish themes. By high school, however, this changed, and I made a left-turn delving deep into the horror genre. I don’t know why; probably something to do with hormones and angst and the intersection of the two.

Anyway, I spent a good decade reading many, many works of horror. Every single Stephen King and every single Dean Koontz up until ’93 or ’94 or so. Then I made a right turn into Tom Clancy Land for two or three years (those books are long!) before rebounding back to science fiction, particularly focusing on the 50s classics as well as the warmly-remembered nostalgic voyages of my youth. I sprinkled some true classics here and there (I was well into Moby Dick – Melville’s chick magnet! – when I met my wife). Recently, a couple of horror novels crossed my path, through no rhyme or reason, and I decided this would be a an enjoyable topic to post.

Floating Dragon by Peter Straub – Earliest greatest horror novel! Don’t recall too much of the plot since I read it twenty-five years ago, but the eponymous critter is the cloud of noxious gas that escapes from a chemical plant and causes the populace of a nearby upscale town to go hallucinagetically and homicidally bonkers. Much more than that single-sentence summary; it holds some genuinely creepy-crawly images and situations. Begging to be re-read.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – Philosophical-slash-religious horror, with SF thrown in for good measure! The setup requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but once you accept the Vatican launching a manned space mission to the homeworld of a newly-discovered alien race, things move along nicely. Foreshadowing and flashbacks are very important in this work, and you know very, very bad things are going to happen. You just don’t know when and to who.

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay – WTF metaphysical-slash-mystical horror! I honestly had no idea what was going on through most of the book. Definitely some queasy moments, but emphasis more on atmospheric and eerie Lovecraftian-type horror. A man takes a dream-like trip to another world and meets all kinds of strange, wonderful, and dreadful characters, and learns something very terrible about himself at the end.

Weaveworld by Clive Barker – Fantasy horror! Another one I read a long time ago, maybe twenty years, but remains anchored in my mind. Barker created such an original, compelling, fantastical awe-inspiring yet dangerous world that coexists just a few steps away from our mundane day-to-day lives. The endgame of this book is one of the best I have ever read.

The Koontzian trio: The Bad Place, Phantoms, and Whispers by Dean R. Koontz. Soap-opera horror! Koontz is an idea-generator supreme, and his ideas keep you on your toes. That’s his genius. All his novels, at least the dozen or so early ones I read, start out with a mystery, a strong but hurting man meeting a strong but hurting woman, creepiness and occasional gore, and by the end of the book you’re amazed by what’s being revealed. These three are his best. The first two contain a bunch of SF themes and motifs, while the last is just downright crazy. Page-turners and well worth any investment.

The Spinner by Doris Piserchia – Monster horror, with SF thrown in for good measure! The best monster novel I’ve ever read. Why is the “monster novel” such a rarity? Every year Hollywood releases a dozen “monster movies,” so isn’t the market there? Anyway, I read this as a kid and re-read it a few years ago. Superb! A monster without reason, without explanation, without mercy. Cunning, always two-steps ahead of the authorities, and very, very ravenous. A heavy sense of despair falls over the unnamed city under siege as the inhabitants come to realize that there is no escaping the Spinner. Or – is there?

Tommyknockers by Stephen King – Flying saucer and all those gross paranoid themes from the 50s and 60s cinema horror! A writer and a drunk unearth an ancient flying saucer buried in the side of a mountain, which somehow causes the townsfolk to slowly mutate into super-intelligent but morally bankrupt creatures (uh-oh!). I found the anti-hero’s ultimate solution and his implementation of it to be quite touching.

It by Stephen King – The greatest (modern) horror story every written! Not to mention my favorite. The titular beast has no equal in the literature of monsters, waking every thirty years from its slumbers to feed on children. Oh, and the more frightened the child, the tastier the meal. So it morphs into whatever scares the little ones the most. Adults can’t see it, and It doesn’t bother with them unless it must. A ragtag group of kids manage to defeat it in 1957, or so they think, until as adults they realize bleakly they have to kill a stronger It three decades later before It gets them. Unforgettable characters, the type you wish really existed and were your friends. Over a thousand pages in length and I wanted it to keep going on and on. King’s magnum opus, par excellence.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Spider Web

The recent economic troubles are hitting my industry particularly hard. In my business, hiring and overtime freezes have been instituted and layoffs have started. Business is really bad; we’ve suffered our worse month in recent memory. It’s very scary. Gut-clenching, nail-biting, “this-is-real” scary. Fear of being unable to maintain my family’s current economic position in society is a real, literal, almost physical thing. This could hurt me and my loved ones bad.

There are other factors, too. The housing depression’s hurting us. We bought high, almost five years ago, and I can only hope our house is worth what we paid for it. Thinking we’d make a profit on the sale, right now, is unreasonable. So, we’re locked in this expensive corner of the country for now. I have a high mortgage, my property taxes go up every year (I shudder to think what effect an Obama presidency will have on that monthly check. Blood. Stone. You know the rest). I’m hesitant to check the current value of my 401k. Then there’s my hospital bills, a newborn, the Little One in an excellent but pricey school … I don’t know how we make it happen. But we do, barely. There’s no safety net.

This has me thinking about a spider web. A big one, long silky strands that you can see only when you face them at certain angles. As you travel to the center they get more and more dense, interlocking and crossing paths. It sways in the breeze and at first glance it looks pretty secure. Even a strong wind doesn’t break it. It holds. It stays where it was meant to be, though that looks like a haphazard construction. It fills all the holes and empty spaces, and it does what it was designed to do, what it is supposed to do.

What happens when a little bug lands on a far corner of the web? It sends a slight vibration, a little tremble up the connecting strands, through the center, and eventually resonates through the whole damn thing. What if I were to walk up to the web and, with my hand, grab one or two strands that seem to be anchoring it to a tree or branch or whatever, and yank hard enough to tear them off. The whole web feels it. If I yank hard enough, or grab enough strands, the whole web undulates. Harder still, and it eventually collapses, destroyed.

The web is our economy, of course. But what scares me most with this metaphor is that little bug that torques the web by landing on it. You know what that bug is? Emotion. Human emotion. Fallible human emotion. Our economy fundamentally sits upon a mantle constructed from the aggregate emotional quotient of our society. You may think the foundation is money, but it isn’t. You may think the foundation is reason, but it ain’t that, either. It’s emotion. Everything we do, including everything we do economically from purchasing to saving to investing to chatting up friends, neighbors and coworkers about the economy, falls back on emotion.

So what has this little pessimistic meditation on the Great Credit Crunch of ’08 done? It’s given a teeny tiny bit of its self to the mass of emotion that’s roiling up in the American consumer at this very point in time. I’ll talk to my wife, she’ll talk to others, maybe a handful of people will read this. You get the point. But is there a bigger point? What the heck am I getting at, besides griping about how bad I have it as if it compares at all to what my grandparents went through? (It’ll probably compare nicely to the malaise the country endured during the Carter presidency.)

Maybe there is no point. But I could take this opportunity to clasp your shoulder, lift you up and prop you up (giving strength to others is a good way to feel strong yourself, even if you aren’t) and say, boldly, “There is a better way!”


Monday, October 6, 2008

TRFD Update

Weighed myself this morning and was more than pleasantly surprised. Shocked is a better word. Minus eight. Minus eight! As in, I lost eight pounds on this diet in five-and-a-quarter-days.

My wife’s telling me most of what I lost is water weight, though I don’t think so. Yeah, the bloat from my belly is significantly less, and I think my neck is narrower. These are the two places which serve as LE’s flab indicators. When I lose or gain, we all see it in those two spots first. So, the raw food thing is working.

It’s not a hundred-percent raw foods thing, either, so don’t get turned off by that. My first two meals, breakfast and mid-morning snack, are raw. Fruits. That’s as far as I need to go at this stage, unless I want to go farther. Four out of the five days I did, and had salads. Yesterday afternoon I had soup with a whole wheat muffin ’cause it was chilly. My afternoon snack needs to be raw, either nuts if I’m at work or an apple or banana if I’m home. Dinner can be cooked, and it can be anything as long as it’s not processed or fried. I’ve had chicken and veggies a couple of times, chicken with potatoes, and veggie lasagna. Then it’s back to raw for dessert. I’ve been doing real yogurt with fruit and a little bit of granola thrown in. Once I ate melon, which works for me at night. Everything gets washed down with lemon-tinged bottled or filtered water.

The best part about it? The strangest part about it? I have not been hungry! I never would have thought it could be this way. I mean, how can you not be hungry eating vegetables and fruits all day, right? Well let me be the first to testify. I have not been hungry. Even when I go a little long between meals, I’m not as snarlin’ ragin’ get-out-of-my-way to get to the next plate of food. So, it’s working on a couple of fronts.

I do expect to hit a plateau. My goal is to be minus twenty from my pre-TRFD weight. I’m thinking a few more pounds’ll come off, then the old straight-n-level will show its ugly face. We’ll see …

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Francis of Assisi

Yesterday, October 4, was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Now, I’m not a Franciscan in any way, spiritually or philosophically. I always felt the order to be too touchy-feely emotional for my introverted self, and their brutal withdrawal from the world and embrace of poverty is something I just can’t do, even if I didn’t have all the responsibilities I now have. But I do know a bit about Francis, mostly from reading G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful semi-biography about the saint.

October 4th always brings me to recall the fall of 2002. After slaving away couple of months at a very nasty place (see entry, here), I found much better work, both in pay, quality of coworkers, and the work itself. It was my second job in New York City, based out of a skyscraper just north of the Chrysler Building. The air was crisp, my life was suddenly stress-free, and I was enjoying all the city had to offer.

My lunch hour soon settled into a fairly standard routine. I would attend noon mass at the Church of the Transfiguration a half-dozen blocks away. What a wonderful church! Headed by Fr. George Rutler, who’s a semi-public figure, an Anglican convert who wrote highly acerbic articles for the New York Times and National Review. I enjoyed immensely listening to his sermons. He truly had a superb command of the English language, and an encyclopedic intellect. The daily mass strengthened me and encouraged me in ways that it had never done before.

This went on for several weeks. Then, October 4, for some reason I can’t remember, my lunch had to be short. I went online to see if there was any place closer, and, to my surprise, there was a Church right around the corner in my building block. If I oriented myself properly in the skyscraper I worked in I’d be looking down on its roof. The Church of St. Anne, I believe. So, I went there to catch a quick mass before I’d be needed back at the office.

A complete contrast to Fr. Rutler’s church. More like a meetinghouse for Alcoholics Anonymous. Really old-fashioned pews, and artwork of such beauty on the walls (one of the many reasons I love the Catholic Church). The confessionals were working even as mass was going on. There was an almost tangible spirit of connectedness that I have never felt anywhere else. The sermon was on St. Francis, and the incredible pains he bore for Our Lord, and the sufferings that plagued him until the end of his life, and the priests and deacons were visibly moved. I was touched.

Unfortunately, it leaked out that the bank that I was working in was scheduling a reorganization, and they owned up to the fact that our department would be dissolved over the next weeks and months. Figuring I’d be up against a last-in first-out ultimatum, I made a phone call and took another job, which started about two or three weeks later. So, my remaining time as a New Yorker was spent divvied up between Transfiguration and St. Anne.

And it was time very well spent.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Did not post yesterday for a couple of reasons. Swamped at work with supervisors swarming all about (it was a poor month sales-wise), laden with errands on the way home, guests over the house until 8 pm (my wife’s aunt and uncle visiting from Texas, whom she’s never met), clean-up and getting children in bed and whatnot.

Oh, and a particularly nasty day-long headache, resulting, I’d like to think, from the Transitional Raw Foods Diet, day 3.

What happens on the TRFD? Well, your body is starting to get wholesome, healthy foods into it. Tons of fruits and vegetables, and comparatively sparse amounts of starches and meats. You’re drinking plenty of water. Things start happening then. Your body begins its housecleaning. Your levels of toxicity rise as the body struggles to flush out the junk that you’ve been putting into it on a consistent basis over your lifetime. Initially, it’s just the crap you’ve ingested over the past four or five days. Then, your body goes to work on eliminating the more … permanent waste disposal centers of your body, located in your intestines.

At least, in theory. And for me, over the past three days, in practice. I’ve had a nagging headache, felt achy in my joints, still succumbing to fatigue without sleep. Cravings for fried food in particular (I’ve really wanted some of those boneless spare ribs you get at Chinese restaurants, which I probably haven’t had in years). Yesterday, my headache was so bad that the only way I could function was to focus and do whatever was facing me at that moment, be it distraught bosses, after-work errands, or familiar strangers from Texas.

Then, something great happened!

I woke up this morning, extremely tired and achy, but – wow! – the headache was gone. Once I actually got vertical and moved around for a bit, I actually felt good! I feel good! I have a bit more energy, I think, than I’m normally used to. After a big bowl of melon for breakfast, I went down and balanced the checkbook, paid the bills, spent some time with the Little One and her new sister, and, after this posting, will do my regular Saturday morning errands.

It seems I’m on the upswing with the TRFD. Hopefully …

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kill the Bear

“What one man can do – another can do!”

He stared at me, a crazed look clouding his blue eyes, his three-day growth of gray beard miniature spikes that brought my attention back to the five-foot wooden spear I’d sharpened earlier.

He’d gone insane, I realized. But then, Charles’ form of insanity was antithetical to most men’s. He became even more rational. How else does one acquire a billion dollars and keep it in this modern world of ours?

I mumbled the phrase back to him, and probed the tip of my spear with a thumb.

“Louder!” he barked.

“What one man can do …”


I stopped and stared at him, five feet away, ragged, weary, as sleep-deprived as me, still in shock from Steve’s death. We had no sleep last night, not wanting to wind up like that, and, to be honest, I thought a lot about my own death. My own impending death, by all signs and appearances. It’s kinda wild, but I think I was okay with it.


“What one man can do, another can do.” It sounded loud, to me.


The spear twirled in my hands. For an instant, I actually thought I was going to stab Charles. But no, my jaw clenched, and something fell over me, but it wasn’t aimed at Charles, so much as through him.

“What one man can do, another can do!” I bellowed full-blast out of lungs.

I no longer felt the cold, the ever-present and all-encompassing Alaskan cold. Anger enveloped me. Charles saw that, too, and liked it. He must’ve been worried that I’d given up at some point during the night, and I did. I wanted to die. Not like Steve, but the way I always envisioned: massive coronary, painful but I wouldn’t had felt it due to the cocaine and alcohol overload, naked beneath a big-breasted blonde. A chick that looked a lot like Charles’ wife, but that’s another story.

“Say it again!” Charles commanded, spittle flying in all directions.

Blood boiling and chest pounding, I leapt to my feet, clenching my hands white and tight around the spear. I was pissed off, more than I’d ever been in my life. The whole thing – it wasn’t fair! Wasn’t fair – why me? The plane crash days and days ago, the cold, finger-numbing cold, the walking in circles, the helicopter that didn't see us, oh God the hunger! And Steve – and – and –

“Bob! Say it louder!”


Charles snarled a laugh, his immaculately white teeth like a little dog’s crowding the grimace, and raised his own spear high above his head. The blazing bonfire cast demonic crimson hues upon him. “And what are we going to do?”

I reached out and clasped his arm, tight, and brought him to me, eye to eye.

“We’re going to kill that f---ing bear.”

And do something extraordinary

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


After weeks, months, and years of treating my body like garbage and letting it be ruled by quick automatic responses to stress, I made a change. It will be a lasting one, because it has to be. It can’t be any other way, and I can’t go back to the way things were.

This guy, here, convinced me to make the change.

I’m on what’s called a transitional raw foods diet. Although I hate using that word, ‘diet,’ because this really isn’t one. I can eat as much fruits and veggies that I want. Limitless. It’s more a modification of eating habits. That is, modifying atrocious eating habits into healthier ones. Now, mind you, it’s not that I drink two gallons of Coke a day and feast on candy bar-laced ice cream sandwiches in between. I’m pretty good when it comes to eating habits. But I can also be bad, particularly if I’m under stress or in a rotten mood.

For example, as regular readers of this here blog know, I’ve been under the gun at work almost nonstop this year. A lot of it is not justified; a lot of it is because I’ve reached my limit. Regardless, when I have a particularly bad day, I grab a diet Coke and a some nitrate-riddled lunch-meat white-roll sandwich and head for the park for an hour. I get back, and I snack on little candy bars the girls in the office leave out consistently every day. See here. Then, after my blood sugar’s been spiking north and south a dozen times over the past six hours, after fighting traffic and dealing with child care and a daughter who may or may not have napped, I get home and pop open a beer or two to wash the day away. It works to a certain extent, but weeks and months of this have absolutely devastated my body. I have no energy, yet I can’t sleep. I’ve gained fifteen or twenty pounds since my thirties. The thought of exercise tires me.

My wife and I both went on a similar raw foods plan for two weeks in May 2007. The results were incredible. They said I’d feel irritable and fatigued as the toxins washed out of my body, but I don’t recall being overly so (work, however, at that time was not as stressful as now). We both dropped a huge amount of weight. I think I lost close to ten pounds, and felt no harmful side effects. It was truly amazing. But we cheated one weekend, stumbled through the next week, and then totally derailed, enabling each other’s bad behavior.

Technically, I’ve been doing a partial form of transitional raw foods for five days now, and it’s working. But I’ve been letting myself slip and cheat, especially at lunch and in the evening. So, since I like to start new things with as much significance as possible, today being October 1st, I will ascribe now to the complete transitional raw foods eating style. For this month I’ll keep a log to make sure I stay honest, and I’ll blog weekly on this, giving more details of the eating changes implemented and how it’s affecting me.

Big changes ahead, and this is the first of ’em.