Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday Book Score

Yeah, yeah, I know, you're gonna throw in my face my promise not to buy any new (used) books until I've made a dent in the eighty or so sitting on my Unfulfilled Promises Slash Unrealized Potential shelf. And yes, you're right. But my weaker self must protest: I have to strike when the strikin's good! Many of these books I want to read are out of print, and need seeking out when the stars somehow align and opportunity's right for seeking out.

A while back I made a list of ... oh ... about 215 SF paperbacks I want to read over the course of my life. Good ones, classics, and tales long lost from memory that I read as a child. Stuff I could learn from, seriously, and become a better writer. Stuff that I can enjoy, that will allow me to fully enter a newer, wondrous world and leave this less-than-satisfying one, temporarily, behind. Not entirely dishonorable reasons, I think. I also think this world's a better place for such books as these having been written.

So, a big opportunity stared me in the face on Friday. Me and my stepfather (who's turned into quite a voracious reader now that he's settled into retirement) checked out not one but two used books stores in some nearby hamlets where my folks live in northeast PA. (Any by 'nearby', we're talking 45 minutes by car over winding, wooded roadways.) I remembered my list when packing on Wednesday, and with the wife and kids in tow, we hit the bookstores.

I scored three great books off the list. Shall I describe them? Oh, why not?

* The Lovers by Philip Jose Farmer. Don't know exactly what this is about, apart from the obvious I can imagine, but I've heard and read that this is an excellent (and short) novel. I've read two other books by the author, both of which (Dayworld and The Wind Whales of Ishmael) were highly imaginative and readable, if somewhat ultimately unsatisfying. I'm currently reading this one, so I'll review it later in the week.

* Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick. Gotta admit, the guy is good. Went through a PKD kick this time of year around 2003, reading a bio of the author as well as the novels Ubik, The Man in the High Castle, VALIS, and an anthology of short stories. Weird, paranoid, imaginative. Works better on a 'meta-level' than as run-of-the-mill SF, if you know what I mean. I'm not sure I do, but some of his stuff is really, really good and some is merely okay. Next on deck.

* Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison. Ellison's somewhat of a blowhard, in my limited experience, having only written one truly great work (the novella A Boy and His Dog). I've tried other anthologies of his short story work and it's not quite my cup of tea. But this anthology is so famous, or infamous, in SF circles that I had to seek it out. Over 30 stories, a Who's Who of 1960s science fiction, it is said that this anthology revolutionized the genre. I hope to get to it after the PKD paperback, and blog on the exceptional stories as I read them.

Not a bad score, for a couple of hole-in-the-wall backwater bookstores, eh? Such bookstores are more often than not the best secret little places to find the most valuable little treasures.

The Littlest One's Baptism II

Just wanted to share the best photo of my daughter's Christening with any and all who might be interested:

She looks angelic, doesn't she? I hope that purity and innocence stays with her an extra long time. (Spoken in an awed and proud father's voice...)

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I am terribly heart-sickened and disgusted by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai over the past two days. Such evil, evil men in this world. I would almost label such men, men who hide behind ski masks and automatic weapons, demonic. I would also call them sub-human. Satanic.

My heart bleeds for the father and daughter from Virginia killed in the hotel attacks. Someone mentioned that they themselves belonged to some "kooky cult" but all I know about them (which isn't much) is that they were into meditation. Which I am, in a certain fashion. They traveled to India to enhance their spirituality. Is that worthy of a death sentence? I can only shake my head, and can't help thinking about the relationship I have with my daughter and how it might evolve over the next ten years.

What sickens me most is the knee-jerk moral relativism that we often see here. There is something called "Manning's Corollary" to Godwin's Law. It states that:

In any online conversation about an incident of violence perpetrated by adherents of Islamic fundamentalism, the conversation will inevitably devolve into claims that Christians commit the same type and degree of violent acts, regardless of how demonstrably false that is; further, the claim will be made that past historical violence involving Christians means that present-day Christians are morally incapable of denouncing current violence involving Muslims.

and was formulated by Erin Manning, a co-blogger with Rod Dreher over at Crunchy Con. If you feel masochistic, take a look at this thread here.

Am I to be tarred-and-feathered by stating the bleedin' obvious: Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is most likely the greatest violent threat we currently face throughout the world. Not the IRA. Not the Buddhist Japanese cult that poisoned their subway system a decade ago. Not rednecks or "Christian" militia or neo-Nazis. Islamic fundamentalists, all of whom are Muslims. Not all Muslims are terrorists, obviously, but all Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are Muslims. I hope that Obama has the courage to enact the appropriate measures to continue to keep us safe over the next four years the way that George Bush, like him or hate him, has.

Two prayers:

Jesus, rightful Advocate of peace, Elegant Champion of reconciliation, Your victories echo harmoniously. You taught me the way towards peace, my assurance of congenial oneness. Teach me to carry the torch of peace, That it may reside within my heart and radiate in my surroundings. Through the Grace of Your power, transform the world into a Heaven. You are the only hope of mankind: You are the most gracious Peace Maker!


Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host - by the Divine Power of God - cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Friday, November 28, 2008

My Thanksgiving Story

It happened a couple of years ago. I was stuck in New York City, Wednesday afternoon before T-day, plane ticket burning a hole in my shirt pocket as the client agonized over our project as if he was deciphering the DaVinci code (good luck with that). The ticks of my watch grew steadily louder and louder as beads of sweat formed around my hairline. My colleague, obviously in the same anxious state as me, made eye contact with me, then glanced down to his watch. I shrugged, ever so slightly, eyes widening in learned helplessness.

Then, out on the Manhattan streets. The crowds, the rush, the bloodletting over scarce taxis, like lions stalking 'lopes on the tundra. The vision of my plane refueling, deicing, taking on passengers, churned my stomach while I fought for walking space on a busy Park Avenue. Oh! A cab, emptying out right in front of me! I hailed the driver, began loading my bags in - and was knocked down by a fat oaf with a massive suitcase. The cab sped away -

But somehow I made it to JFK. Then, coincidences of all coincidences, that same fat oaf sits down right across from me. I flash a sour look his way. "I know you!" he said, all smiles. "I know you. I never forget a face."

"You stole my cab," I said, surly but politely.



"Hey, I'm sorry." He thinks a moment. "Let me make it up to you. Can I buy you a hot dog?"

"No, thanks."

"A beer?"

"Thanks, no."



"Cheese sandwich?"




"How 'bout a pretzel?"








Actually, I'm not Neal Page, though I'm closer in temperament to him than Del Griffith. The above nightmare was taken from one of my all-time favorite comedies, and perhaps the greatest Thanksgiving film of all time, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Although my family has a tradition of watching Christmas Vacation after Thanksgiving dinner, as a way of priming ourselves for the yule season. Another side-splitting classic.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In the Saucer Nest

AP, Port Huckettstown, FL, Mar 8 - Independent investigations regarding the recent discoveries of several "saucer nests" located just south of Horseshoe Laguna have concluded, says James T. MacPherson, director of Cypress Laboratories. The interpretation of the study's conclusions, however, are open to apparently heated discussion.

The investigation began as a joint venture between Cypress Laboratories and the University of Southern Florida-Macadam at the behest of the United States Air Force in an attempt to calm public fears of a "UFO invasion." Such fears began after a rash of sightings beginning in late January and ending in mid-February. Over 200 visual reports, combining with several radar sightings, flooded local authorities during those weeks, necessitating the involvement of the Air Force. At least three witnesses claimed to have photographs of the mysterious objects, and one claimed to have film.

On January 25 at approximately 8:30 pm, three reports came in to the Port Huckettstown police department within minutes of each other. All three reports detailed a "luminous disk-like object approximately a hundred feet in diameter." A "bubble-like protuberance" was reported on top of the "craft", which "glowed with a soft purplish light from underneath." Several cruisers were dispatched to the neighborhood in question and an immediate high-speed chase of the object began, lasting twenty-five minutes, circling about Jeffers County. Eventually the UFO was lost over Horseshoe Lagoon, a thick 800-square mile marsh inaccessible by automobile.

The next night over two-dozen sightings of what appears to be the same or similar craft(s) flooded not only the Port Huckettstown PD but also those of adjoining Caxton and Medina PDs. The Air Force was contacted but declined any investigation or comment on the matter. Activity within the lagoon increased, as residents and workers in the area reported more incidents over the next ten days. In total, over 120 reports came in during the twelve day period.

This prompted Dr. Morris J. Suptine of the University of Southern Florida-Macadam to send a team into the lagoon in hopes of making contact or at least capturing on film the mysterious object on high-speed film. The expedition set out with six men and was prepared to spend one week in the wilderness. During this week-long period, sightings continued unabated, yielding just under 200 complete reported incidents and two more photographs. Dr. Suptine's expedition, however, yielded no incidents nor photographs or film, despite reports from residents living on the outskirts of the lagoon.

Until the last day of the expedition.

Suptine's team came across several "saucer nests", over a dozen areas circular in size ranging from thirty feet in diameter upwards to one hundred twenty. Vegetation had been flattened in a clockwise pattern, most but not all taking on a brownish coloration. Areas of vegetation surrounding the "nests" appeared to have been clipped off evenly, as if taken for sampling. The team collected over one hundred photographs of the sight and some of the compressed and non-compressed vegetation as well as soil and water samples to take back for testing.

At the behest of NICAP, in agreement with the Air Force, testing would be jointly done between the University and Cypress Laboratories. High priority was ordered, hence the initial and somewhat controversial results.

Reports of more sightings trickled in over the next week, although at a slower rate, ending on February 16. 202 sightings in total were reported, seventeen from members of law enforcement.

"Initial test results indicate a high level of radiation," said James T. MacPherson, director of Cypress Laboratories. "Normal vegetation for this area yields one to three clicks; samples brought back by Dr. Suptine's team came in at close to a hundred clicks per second." Other findings estimated that the vegetation was crushed by objects weighing perhaps thirty tons. High levels of deuterium were found in surrounding waters. But the most controversial of the findings was determined by microscopic inspection of the plants themselves: apparently, the heat, pressure, or radiation, or perhaps some combination of the three or something else entirely, changed the DNA of the vegetation. "What we see here," MacPherson explained in his Mar 7 press conference, "is advanced mutation of a kind we've never seen before. We're thinking about a million years' evolution overnight."

More teams of scientists from both national and international universities, as well as a military-funded party, are planning on-sight expeditions over the spring and summer. "Bring 'em on!" said Horace B. Finmore, owner and operator of Hor's Hot Dog stand on Route 31 just outside of Horseshoe Lagoon. "You show me a scientist's badge and you get yerself a free hot dog!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Miscellania II

Tried uploading a couple of nice photos of my daughter’s christening but was having trouble with my two PCs and home and the one at my work. Will try later in the week on another PC …

Very much under the weather – functional but kinda outta it. Kept waking up last night with a dry mouth and a tight throat. I don’t like taking medication because I don’t want to pull a Heath Ledger (I used to take 4 different meds for my heart but now I just take a heavy dose of aspirin, some Omega 3 tablets, and a vitamin C, so I’m just being a little tongue-in-cheek here). However, help is on the way.

I am taking off Friday for a long mini-vacation with my family at my parent’s house in Pennsylvania. It should be long, restful, relaxing, the proper place to recuperate from what ails ya and get a new lease on life. My stepdad’s found a new used book store that I’m dying to patronize. And I hope to make significant dents in my reading backlog: Aquinas, a cheap-but-oh-so-good SF paperback, more pomo philosophy (ugh), some weird physics stuff, some weirder UFO goosebump-raising nonsense.

Anyway, a happy and blessed Dia de Pavo in advance, but I should be posting on a daily basis over the next couple a days …

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Littlest One Baptised

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity for us, culminating in the christening of our youngest, now a little over two months old. Lots of preparation involved: naming and getting the assent of the godparents, scheduling with the church to get the priest we wanted, booking a hall, catering it, sending out invitations and collecting RSVPs, buying non-catered items such as water, juice boxes, and beer, decorating the hall with balloons and tablecloths and such, cleaning our house top-to-bottom, getting everyone’s laundry done, meticulously tracking all our income and expenses to stay within budget. (“Staying within budget” in this case means simply spending less than we did for our first one’s baptism, when we had significantly more disposable income.)

Ah, and now it’s over! But it was a good time, I think, for all involved.

It was a bone-chilling cold November, much, much colder than normal over the weekend. Windy and below-freezing. We huddled at the dining room table Friday night, radiators hissing and clanging, formulating the game plan. I would do the bills afterwards, then Saturday morning take the Little One with me on errands: Post Office, bank, dry cleaners, library, liquor store, and grab a couple of slices of pizza for lunch. When I got back, C headed out to get her list done: decorations, cake, tying up all the loose ends we could remember. I fed the children and put them down for naps. Then, around 4, we all loaded up in my wife’s company car (the first time all four of us were in one vehicle together) and drove down to the airport to pick up Nana. The flight was delayed but ultimately uneventful, and we detoured back home for a quick feeding and then out to Macaroni Grill for dinner for the adults. We returned around 10; Nana gave me a quick haircut, then my wife dropped her off at her hotel a few miles up the road.

Sunday early morning came very, very quick. Lots of last-minute rushing around, and you know how that goes: lots of things discovered that still needed to be done! I was delegated to take Nana at 8 am to the hall to decorate, then I drove back, showered, fed the Littlest One while my wife and oldest got the cake to the hall. We all met at the church at 10:15 for the baptism mass. Everyone we invited was there, and we nervously waited to see if our little Howler would stay true to her reputation.

But she didn’t! She was absolutely wonderful, absolutely delightful! She even smiled during the ceremony, and tolerated the oil and water. Once we saw the upside-down U, portent of firestorms to come, on her pretty little face, but she must have been fascinated with Father. The christening went without a hitch, and she was hoisted up in the air by our priest to the applause of the congregation. The sermon was funny, witty, entertaining as always. Photos afterward went smoothly and quickly with the slight exception of my oldest being a little fragile emotionally at having to stand and smile over and over when all she wanted to do was run up and down the aisles with her cousins.

We all caravanned over to the hall for two hours of brunch. The mimosas flowed! The children ran, fell, cried, laughed. We chatted with people we haven’t seen in a long time. My father-in-law gave an impromptu speech, prompting my wife to say a few words, too. The cleanup flew by with so many hands helping. A couple of our guests went back to our house for a couple of hours to relax and socialize, and watch both our local football teams kick some you-know-what. Nana took the Little One to the store and brought back some rotisserie chicken for dinner, then took the Little One back to her hotel for a special sleepover. My wife and I watched the video of the baptism on our flatscreen TV, then watched some video of our oldest, when she was just a newborn and a new toddler.

All in all, it was a great day.

Pictures to follow later tonight.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Dumb Ox

Finished reading G. K. Chesterton’s meditation on Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox, and I have to say I’m left somewhat disappointed. I first read Chesterton around 2002 or 2003, a collection of essays whose title I forget, and was very impressed, right from the very first paragraph. Yes, he has a meandering way of making a point, and the sentences tend to run on, but that’s a stylistic quibble that probably reflects more on our contemporary culture’s attention deficit addiction than early-20th century verbosity. I tried to get through Orthodoxy and the Everlasting Man, but just couldn’t for some reason I can quite put my finger on. I did read his meditation on St. Francis and found it enjoyable though regrettably forgettable. I decided to read the slim book on Aquinas because, well, it is slim and I figured it would provide some good background info on the philosopher.

Hmmmm. Yes and no. The book is about a hundred-fifty pages, not that many words to the page. There is no discussion of Thomas’ theology and very, very little of his philosophy. The actual details of his life could be condensed from the book to a five page article and not suffer. What does the remaining 145 pages focus on?

That’s easy. Chesterton’s opinion of Aquinas. How humble he was, how intelligent he was, how pious he was, how unshakable his philosophy is, how he parried his opponent’s mental machinations against his great works defending the faith. A surprising number of words is spent decrying the state of civilization c. 1935 as compared to Thomas’ medieval world (an opinion I happen to agree with, but it felt out of place in this work). All well and good, but somewhat misleading when you realize that the a good majority of readers will pick this book with the same intentions I had: an overview of the life and work of a unique man.

So I feel I have to review two books here. As far as an overview of the life and work of a unique man, well, the book fails here. But it’s not really the intention of the author. Probably more likely due to the way the book is marketed. If you are interested in Chesterton’s insightful and well-read opinions on the man and his times contrasted with Chesterton’s contemporaries and their times, this is the book for you. It is engrossing if you allow for that.

So, it seems I’m 0-for-2 when it comes to a simple life of Aquinas.

Just as a side note, I’ve read somewhere that if you took all of Chesterton’s published works over the course of his professional lifetime, it averages to an output of something like 4,000 words a day. Let me repeat that: 4,000 words a day! And that’s not first-draft writing, either, but published words! When I was heavily focused writing my two novels, my goal was 5,000 words a week, about 1,000 words a day, and that was for mistake-laden embarrassingly cloudy first-draft writing. But 4,000 perfect words a day. That prodigious output alone is enough to rank Chesterton as an incredible writer.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 1963

Forty-five years ago today President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas.

What happened that Friday afternoon? Over 450 books have been written on the events of that day and those leading up to it. The bottom line is: we don’t know for sure, nor can we ever be certain of everything (or anything). Witness’s memories are notoriously unreliable; most of the primary participants are dead; evidence has been lost; investigations, particularly those of an immediate and on-the-scene nature, were botched; and there were countless conspiracies to cover personal and institutional behinds, so to speak. Chances are one hundred percent positive we will never know the full truth.

For many, many years I was convinced that something fishy went down that day in Dealey Plaza. I mean, there was just too much of an abundance of weirdness. To mention just a few items: Oswald’s silencing/murder by Jack Ruby; the fact that no written transcripts were produced from Oswald’s extensive interrogations; the limousine Kennedy was murdered in was flown back to Washington and cleaned and washed down; Kennedy’s body was illegally brought to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy done by doctors who were not forensic specialists at the behest of nameless military personnel; the whole "magic bullet" nonsense; Oswald’s crazy past (including a defection to the Soviet Union and nonchalant return a year or two later); the possibility of doctored photos of Oswald with the assassination weapon, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle; the difficulty of a moving, receding target for someone of alleged poor marksmanship abilities; a man holding an open umbrella in mild, clear weather as the motorcade passes by; a third of the witnesses swearing shots were fired from the grassy knoll; strange hobos arrested but let go without any records of their identities or questioning kept; various ballistical and witness anomalies concerning Oswald and the murder of Officer Tippit approximately a half-hour after Kennedy is killed; the misplacement of the President’s brain (vital in determining bullet trajectories).

And that’s just to name a few off the top of my head.

Oliver Stone’s movie JFK really pulled me in and made me desirous to read up on the subject. The more I read, though, the more I realized that Stone was being somewhat hysterical, histrionic, and exaggerative. But there were definite, legitimate anomalies to the case. Books could be written about any one of those aforementioned weirdities and have. Add to it the fact that Kennedy had so many enemies, so many people and factions that wanted him dead or out of the way, and were in the capable position to do so if they truly wanted to do. The CIA, the Mafia, the Cubans, right-wing societies and wealthy individuals, members of his own political party. Heck, I even read a book where it was heavily insinuated that Richard Nixon may have played a role. But someone had to pull the trigger, be it Oswald, Oswald and others, or others with Oswald framed, and this points to where it all hinged for me.

The Zapruder film.

That was what convinced me. Frame 313, the head shot, the kill shot. I’ve seen it a hundred times, and it sickens each and every time. Kennedy’s still struggling with the throat wound, hands about his neck, leaning over towards his wife, when he’s hit. The front of the head explodes; bone fires straight up in the air; blood and brain matter in a pink mist fires up and backwards as the limousine accelerates.

It seemed certain and doubtless to me that a bullet was fired directly from Kennedy’s right and front, the area of the stone wall, the fence at the trainyards, and the grassy knoll. That implied a conspiracy, for there had to be at least two shooters.

But then I saw a special on television last week which proved to my satisfaction that what the eye sees, in this case, is not necessarily true.

The History Channel showed a documentary recently (last week - I forgot the name of the show and a quick search of their website was fruitless), where, to the greatest extent possible, the exact physical situations of the assassination were duplicated. The weapon, the bullets, the angles, the wind velocity, the limousine. A hi-tech company developed plastic skulls which replicated flesh, bone, and brain matter in terms of density and mass and other physical variables. Such skulls were placed upon metallic "spinal cords" and set in proper positions within the limousine. The marksman fired, and the results were analyzed, then compared with the Zapruder film.

The physicist Luis Alvarez, I believe, proposed that the explosion we see in frame 313 of the film is indeed the result of a rear-entry head wound. He bases his claim on the fluid dynamics, for lack of a better term, of brain matter when a bullet enters the skull. What we see in the explosion is not so much a bullet entering (though that is exactly what it appears to be via common sense) but the high-speed ejection of brain matter via Newton’s third law.

The tests from the documentary seem to prove this out.

I also read a book on the incident written by Mark Fuhrman, A Simple Act of Murder. Let’s leave the entirety of OJ out of this for this post. Fuhrman’s angle is to simply reconstruct the crime based only – ONLY – on the physical, provable evidence, as if he was presenting this to a judge. Slowly, he builds up a case, step by step, from the micro to the macro, finally focusing on Lee Harvey Oswald as the culprit. Fuhrman discredits the whole "magic bullet" slight-of-hand manufactured by a young Arlen Specter and reorders the sequence of the bullets fired and places much attention on a strange indentation in the front top center of the limousine’s front windshield. Still, it proves the implausibility of a grassy knoll shooter, and, by extension, a conspiracy.

The documentary and this book have made me come around full tilt, I suppose. But I’m still willing to be convinced otherwise, and relish tales of macabre conspiratorial goings-on. Odds that JFK was killed from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository: 97%. Odds that Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter: 87%. Odds that there was a conspiracy: hmmmmmm. How about … 25%? Yeah, I know, something about the numbers just doesn’t add up. But I still say to you, documentary and Fuhrman book notwithstanding, something about November 22, 1963 doesn’t add up, either.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Son of the Gorilla Man

Ah the summers of my youth! Specifically, summer 1978. It was hot, dry drought of a season. I recall those days displaying my faux-football jerseys on my chubby physique with pride. My tube socks ended way up near the knees. My shorts with the cool white stripes on the side told everyone I was an athlete. And every day that summer, for six weeks, after a breakfast of Honeycombs I walked a couple of blocks down to the town high school for a couple of hours of Art School.

Art School was awesome. Each week was a different module, a different area of art we’d all explore (there’d by anywhere from twenty to fifty kids each year; I went for about five or six years). Drawing, painting, sculpture and pottery, tie-dye (it was the 70s), wood and metalworking, photography, and –


Hands down the most exciting part of the summer for me and my friends. First, the teachers would screen all the previous years’ movies for us kids. Then we’d be paired in groups of a half-dozen, and sent out on the football field or down the empty school corridors (empty except for the one class with the unfortunate summer-schoolers) or in a shaded tree grove to brainstorm ideas. After fine-tuning concepts with a teacher, we’d go with him to the prop room, get some quick instruction on how to run the super-8 camera, and were sent out on our way.

One movie that stuck in our mind after that screening was The Gorilla Man. A student somehow transformed into a gorilla and went on a killing rampage in the high school that previous year. Oh well. But … for some reason Jaws II was huge with us little kids that summer. So much so that a rival group started filming Paws, a nasty featurette about a psychopathic pair of disembodied gloves that go on a murder spree. But it was me who came up with the idea of a sequel to the abominable ape, beginning with the title, Son of the Gorilla Man.

We made it up as we went along. Two days’ of filming commenced on a Tuesday. There’s a thunderstorm, and our innocent protagonist is transformed between lightning flashes into the gorilla man’s son. How he’s related to the original, I don’t know or remember. But the bloodshedding begins!

I had one reluctant scene about halfway through the movie. And for some reason, it didn’t involve the son of the gorilla man. I was waiting for a bus, minding my own business, when suddenly and shockingly I’m attacked and brutally strangled by a fake spider. Through the magic of stop-motion photography the critter crawls up my arm and goes for my throat. It was a quick scene, a quick shoot, and I think my method acting holds up well.

By Thursday filming wrapped up (the movie probably ran ten minutes) and we began the audio phase. I remember being embarrassed having to fake scream during my cinematic demise. However, more importantly, none of us with our high-pitched pipes could get the ape’s grunting down. After much begging and cajoling our beloved art teacher gave in and put voice to the monster. Think of Mongo from Blazing Saddles going “Uh! Uh! Uh!” in a simian manner and you have the creature’s misunderstood wailings down.

Friday all the students screened their films, in a Cannes-like setting. I do not remember whether the applause for our motion picture was standing or sitting, or whether hats and programmes were tossed in the air to chants of “Bravo!” I can confirm that no vegetables were thrown at the screen.

Next summer my friend Ivor obtained a super-8 camera and, obviously aware of my art school film work, recruited me to help him out with a project. Ivor had set up a three-by-four foot mock model setup of a snowy World War II-era German countryside. My jaw dropped as I spied the entrenched fortifications, the little army men all in proper position, the tanks slowly tinkering their way up a cleared road, conflict awaiting the first firing of a weapon. We spent hours moving each and every piece minutely, microscopically, even, hitting the camera for a couple of clicks, and repeating the process over and over. For the climax we had the last remaining tank blast the last holdout holed up in the central tower of the German fort. I remember stuffing wads of toilet paper inconspicuously in and around that poor plastic soldier’s hideout. A flick of a lighter, then – ACTION! It was the only live scene in our movie, and, sadly, I don’t think it came off as well as you’d think from my description.

We still had some film left over, so we took a couple of GI Joe dolls outside and filmed them stop-action climbing trees, tables, etc. Then, I had another idea. I spotted Ivor’s rabbit cage, and something just clicked. We stuffed grass inside the uniforms of the action figures and placed them up to the wire mesh and let the camera roll. I can only imagine the sheer terror, the screams of utter horror that escapes these brave fighting men as the giant rabbit maws came down upon them, chewing mercilessly and savaging their bodies apart.

And thus in a triumph of glory ends my career as a filmmaker.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Imaginal Realm

Have we’ve been lied to? Lied to for so long we accept the lie as truth?

What am I talking about?

There’s an interesting proposition I’ve read recently that strangely popped up in two different books I’m reading. (Synchronicity of this type happens to me often; I really should just sit down one day and try to figure out why.) It’s the theory of the Imaginal Realm. I’ve read about a man named Kenneth Ring who’s written about it, but doing a simple web search I see that it’s been talked about for a long time now by many men, as far back as Carl Jung and perhaps earlier.

Lift your right hand up and study it closely. See the groves of your fingertips. Rub your fingers slowly together and focus on that touching sensation. Put your hand up to your lips: is it hot or cold? Bring your hand to your ear and snap your fingers.

Is this real? What you just did with your hand – is that reality?

Seemingly and somewhat shockingly against all common sense, many respectable thinkers would say, simply: “No.”

What do they mean by this?

The first thing to be familiar with is the concept of “reality” and “hyperreality.” A “reality” is your experience. I am not convinced whether or not there is one underlying or true reality; I would like to think so, that this reality is basically the playing field God has set up for us to experience our personal realities. Perhaps I am a product of our relativistic times; I don’t know. But I find it useful when thinking about such subjects to acknowledge that there are different levels of realities that we can move in and out of any time.

For example, imagine yourself as the last person on earth. Society has collapsed; you are scavenging through the field for food. Your days consists of finding subsistence and shelter. At night you sit by a campfire and look at the stars, alone with your thoughts. This is probably as close to basic reality, I think, as you can get without … applying yourself, let’s say.

Society. That creates another reality. Consider the web of interconnected relationships we have; consider the interactions between members of that web. Is that not another form of reality? Suppose someone quite close to you dies. Coldly analyzing this, is it not as if a major hub of that network has been removed? The web of interconnected relationships is split apart, and has to reconnect. This is the trauma of grieving. This is why some people say their world has been shattered when someone significant passes on.

Hyperreality is that reality that is created for us and by us. For various reasons and purposes. There is the political hyperreality, created and designed to maximize power and control. There is the economic hyperreality, created and designed to maximize profit. Political hyperreality puts a gun to your head and takes money out of your wallet. Economic hyperreality convinces you to open your wallet yourself and hand the money over. Television itself creates a hyperreality, used by both the political hyperreality and the economic hyperreality, furiously striving amorally for power, control, and profit. Cynical? Perhaps. But is this model true? Who knows?

Now lets move down out of the hyperrealities to the social realities, and then to the basic reality of survival mode. Is there anything deeper?

Yes. The Imaginal Realm.

See yourself again as that post-apocalyptic scavenger, laying your shaggy head down next to a warm fire, the summer constellations like jewels above your head. Your thoughts are wandering, your breath is deepening, your eyes are closing. Then – you dream.

Is our world of dreams a world of reality?

Some say yes. Ancient cultures placed a heavier emphasis on dreams than waking reality. This is part of the Imaginal Realm.

Or consider this: a man sitting at meditation, his body relaxed, undisturbed, forgotten; his very thoughts gradually fading, until a mind clear as an unmoving pool of water materializes. What does this man experience?

The Imaginal Realm.

Do you know what convinced me of the reality of this magical place? This mystical and mysterious realm that is completely foreign and strange to the post-modern American mind? It’s very easy. I visited that place just now, as I was creating this post.

I sit at the keyboard; there can be music around me or even people talking, it does not matter. I stare at the computer screen, and begin typing. Habitually I start out slowly, but then I enter the Imaginal Realm. The screen before me disappears. The music I’m listening to, the endless and meaningless idle chatter of others about me, it all fades. I enter a trance-like state (even for a few seconds at a time) and I am a conduit for the ideas that end up on the electronic page. I am a bridge from this Imaginal Realm to whatever level of hyperreality you are at right now as you read this.

I have been there and it truly is indescribable. The Imaginal Realm exists.

Oh, and turn of the TV, cancel your magazine subscriptions (a magazine is just a bunch of printed ads stapled together) and stop talking politics. Be more real.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Things that do not bother me

Being snowed in on the weekend

Overdue library books

Traffic after work

Taking a cold shower

Shoveling snow

Doing laundry

Local politics

Debugging a PC

Changing diapers

Packing for a trip

Living without a TV

Washing dishes

The existence of other belief systems

Seeing a bad movie in the theaters



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tribute to Leroy

The best word to describe him was regal, though other words come to mind: august, glorious, majestic, noble, proud, resplendent. Whether sunning himself on a shelf or strutting through his domain, he knew well how to carry himself. His tail a tall splendid plume as he marched from bedroom to dining room to kitchen to feast on his tender vittles, his soft pink foot pads tapping lightly on the linoleum, his mezzo-sopranic meows echoing through the empty house he guarded with his life. His name was Leroy, a white Turkish longhair cat with a couple of large brown spots, and he was our pet.

Born in that turbulent period of time we now refer to as the “early-70s,” he was subsequently abandoned into the violent grinder of the streets. His brother, Knickerbocker, had lost the tip of his tail in some unimaginable nightmare skirmish, but our pet found his way into our arms unscathed. In very short order he took an extreme liking to domestication. There was no hair brush, no nugget of soft table food, no paper bag worth exploring that he said “no” to. In fact, the only thing he did say “no” to was a bath.

One time he accidentally dipped his paw in his water dish; my brother and I hauled him room to room, his soggy limb dangling, resigned to such an ignominious fate, as we searched in dire panic for our mother. We found her, mourned that Leroy’s paw was wet, and she said, simply, “Just put him down.” Another time, during the hot Northern Jersey summer, we decided that Leroy should enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. Our pre-adolescent minds deduced that the best way to do this would be on a leash, like our neighbor’s dog was walked with. So we secured a loop of string around his neck, cut off about twenty feet of length, and took him outside. No, the cat’s neck didn’t snap, but it was the one and only time I saw a running feline do a backwards somersault.

As the years – and his belly – grew, he still retained regality, though perhaps of a type somewhat more “queenly” than “kingly.” By stages, he became more and more gentle, soft, then timid, arguably sissified, perhaps muliebral, possibly epicene. Perched atop his favorite window sill, keeping tabs on the birds who dared trespass on his lands, his girth swelling to fill the entire ledge, our cat ruled the apartment with the combined wisdom of the Old Testament deity and the goddess Gaia.

But I refute this alleged effeminacy in our pet! That cat could throw down with the best of them. He was brave and loyal to a fault. Never one to ignore the promise of an open door and a distracted human, he would swish out – I mean, rocket out – and sometimes disappear for days at a time. Those nights were unbearable; if you listened closely, you could hear the piercing, blood-curdling howls between the thunderclaps as felines did battle in our yard. Front legs declawed, Leroy needed a new tactic to defend his turf, and by gum that cat came up with one! He would fall on his back and kick out with his strong, chunky hindlegs, claws honed razor sharp from … well, they were sharp. Anxious and excited, my brother and I would scavenge the perimeter of our backyard early those following mornings, collecting tufts of white fur strewn about like an explosion in a cotton ball factory.

As we entered our teenage years, Leroy inevitably found himself in the crosshairs of those parties that happened not too infrequently when our parents were away for the weekend. Sometimes he made it through with only a blue magic marker moustache; sometimes he survived on toilet bowl water as we poured Zambuca in his dish to “get Leroy drunk”; most times he hid in secret places only he knew about. Perhaps a younger cat could have hung with us during those crazy 80s, but age was making its mark in his expanding torso and loss of grace. Once I assured everyone at a party that cats always land on their feet when dropped; sadly, this was not the case with the old sport.

College beckoned, and I saw less and less of my aging friend. Then, the inevitable. Leroy’s corpulence drastically disappeared; over a shockingly few months he grew thin, then emaciated. He lost command of his bowels, and we knew it was time. In some bizarre right of passage, I felt it my duty to take him to the vet that one last time. But I was not quite a man, yet, if by being manly one means suppressing all one’s feelings. That hard, cold November day we clawed at the frozen ground to put our friend in his taped-up cardboard coffin a foot or so under, next to his brother Knick, who passed away a few years earlier.

Images still – and always will – float through my mind every now and then of Leroy. How you would be playing cards on the floor and he’d nonchalantly walk over them, and pass gas as he passed. How we decided to “take Leroy for a Sunday drive” and the cat, terrified, crawled under the driver’s seat and released his bladder. How every Thanksgiving, which we assumed was his birthday ’cause that’s when we got him, I would brush him fifty or a hundred times, to his purring ecstatic delight. How we’d throw a paper bag under the Christmas tree, because if caught in the right mood he could spend a good chunk of time exploring it. The time when, as a young cat, he bit my brother, and my brother, as a young toddler, bit him back. The time when, also a young cat with young cat’s reflexes, he sniffed the corner of an end table. My mother kicked it, accidentally, and that cat leaped backwards lightning quick you’d think he heard a can of tuna being opened in the kitchen.

He was regal, though other words come to mind: august, glorious, majestic, noble, proud, resplendent. He was our pet, a great pet. Leroy was my friend.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sorry ... so busy, so under-the-gun, so short-handed time- and money-wise. Pressures mounting and redlining. I have so much between these here ears that I want to get out on the electronic page but obligations and demands are keeping me from putting butt to chair in front of keyboard. Will try harder tonight to carve out an hour to write an entry or two.

In the meantime, let me acknowledge that I'm not a praying man. Perhaps that's my problem. Like most men, I suppose, I see it as a kind of weakness. Rather torture myself reading Scholastic philosphy than get down on my knees. That being said, this kinda sums up my perils of the moment:

Prayer For Courage

Dear God, give me courage, for perhaps I lack it more than anything else.
I need courage before men against their threats and against their seductions.
I need courage to bear unkindness, mockery, contradiction.
I need courage to fight against the devil, against terrors and troubles, temptations, attractions, darkness and false lights, against tears, depression, and above all fear.
I need Your help, dear God.
Strengthen me with Your love and Your grace.
Console me with Your blessed Presence and grant me the courage to persevere until I am with You forever in heaven.

Busy week ahead but some interesting, lighter posts on the way.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Been skimming through a book on the alien abduction phenomena, written through the eyes of a skeptical journalist, and came across something downright creepy:

... He tells of a female patient of his who, at four years old, had developed a phobia about her dolls: she thought they "moved at night."

Wow. This weirdly hit home as I have a four-year-old daughter. And it immediately brought to mind something that happened a couple of weeks ago. While looking for my daughter's nebulizer, I poked my head into the space between her window and the headboard of her bed, and was greeted with this sight:

Spooky. Eerie. Creepy. I think I froze for a split second; you know the feeling. It's "Bella," a life-size ballerina doll my mother bought my daughter a couple of Christmas' ago. But it sure scared the heck outta me that night.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


[A pleasant little ditty I wrote many, many years ago...]

We first saw your world aeons ago, but waited 50 million years, when you came down from the trees, to walk amongst you.

Such a beautiful pearl of a planet, girdled with white clouds, quite opposite in temperament from her tempestuous twin sister and her barren, cold cousin. Such beauty entranced us, as we are a race of pure and radiant beauty ourselves. Our desire enflamed, we fixed you firmly in mind. Our hunger burned, and we set about to make our acquaintance with you.

Now you know us not, though you do indeed know us, deep down, unaware of this fact. Today you sit there: conceited, egocentric, thinking yourselves to be impervious, thinking yourself to be alone in this vast Is. Which makes you all the more enticing, and all the more disgusting.

At first you knew us well, back in those days on the hot tundra. There were men among you, great men by your standards, who spotted us for what we were; men who taught you to fight back against us. Several sprung up seemingly all at once, vastly separated in areas of your globe. This caused us some consternation. A conspiracy? How could such a thing happen?

And we thrilled at the first opportunity for true sport. Though it grieved us, though it pained us, we took care of them, in time, swiftly.

You were simple prey at first. Almost not worth it. In your primordial stage, being little more than apes, we hunted you and you succumbed to us quite readily. You even did most of the work yourselves. But it was a bittersweet victory, and became very tiring very quickly. It was time for a new strategy.

We learned to vanish from your sight. In fact, we soon became quite adept at this, to the point where you ceased to remember us. That was the first part of our plan, and it was accomplished in a surprisingly short amount of time.

The second part was more ingenious. We became part of you. How easy to live with the enemy when they enemy - is you.

How it was done would take too long to cypher to your still-volving brains. But we entered into a trust with you, a noncommunicated pact, to the point where you felt you needed us - No! you felt you couldn't survive without us. Your very existence depended upon us. You accepted us as your own.

How could we have done such a thing?

You had no choice in the matter.

For we are the Eaters of Souls, the Devourers of Worlds. We roam the skies, make the galaxies our highways. What we are exactly would be difficult to explain. Think of a vastness, a cloud, so to speak, of consciousness. Still, but that limits us. We are not limitless, but have boundaries; however, those boundaries are far beyond what you can comprehend.

There is more than just the physical level of existence, the level of matter-energy equivalence. Go up a level in existence, if you can even imagine that. Actually, you all will, each and every one of you, at one point in your individual existences. But that is our exclusive domain. Whirlpools and eddies of the higher zone, we expand and engulf.

At this higher level of existence you become ... food, to us, although that analogy doesn't hold one hundred percent. It is more like a symbiotic relationship, but even that does not explain it fully. You create tendrils in our world, and such architecture sustains us and enables us to evolve.

The problem occurs when we attach to such structures. It is a push-and-pull, backward-and-forward struggle at this meeting place between both our worlds. You do indeed have more power than you are possibly aware of. In fact, we are almost at your mercy, should all illusions dissolve and camouflage tear away. But in this dance, this struggle for feeding, sometimes we get too greedy, and the host dies and is drawn towards us, where it is useless. Sometimes, mostly through a quirk in the structure, manifested as a form of discipline in your world, we cannot stay attached too long, or we can, but the connection is not strong enough to feed upon.

Sometimes our feeding is too much for the host. We become the unwitting masters of the host, and it causes the host to enter a frenzy of destruction. It is a delicate balance, this feeding of ours, a thing which still has not been mastered by as great an entity as the Ravage of the Mind.

But our mission is nearly complete. We have grown fat on your species, and have become stronger than we were for all our time in the Andromeda system, or the Tarantula system, or the Capiocan system, or the Orion system, or the - ad infinitum.

We shall leave our children with you, our spawn, to grow and take over our worlds-upon-your worlds. They will be young and not-as-wise. They will be hungry. They will not be as merciful as we have been.

- But why are you telling me this?

You must spread the message: tell all your companions that We Are Preparing to Move On. And when that rapture happens ...

Who are you? Who shall I say is speaking unto me?

For I am known as Remorse, and that is why I am speaking to you now. I will surely be thrown into the voidless for what I have told you, only to be replaced with something even more unimaginably horrible.

- What can be done?

There was a man who went among us, speaking against us in words even you mules could understand. He taught and fought against us, and he almost succeeded in his mission.

We had him nailed to a cross.

But if you listen to his words ...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Posts on the Horizon

  • If I were a god-king (a series)
  • The five blogs I (and you should) read daily
  • Why we need to branch out into space, and how to do it
  • What I learned about a fairly-famous dissident-linguist
  • A review of Chesterton’s bio of Thomas Aquinas
  • A week in the life of a poor musician circa-early-1990s
  • Something abbreviated EFT (the verdict’s still out, though)
  • A review of my favorite Oliver Stone movie, JFK*
  • My brief career as a filmmaker in the 1970s
  • The tribute to Leroy, a childhood pet
  • Something cool I just learned about an old Jimi Hendrix song
  • A meditation on Hell (light-hearted family fun!)
  • “What did you want to be when you grew up, Daddy?”
  • How to turn the economy around – now!
  • A short story written in 1999, now warped for 2008

* Just for the record, this is really the only Stone movie I like. The only other one I can tolerate is Platoon, and, maybe, Wall Street.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


For the past couple of years I’ve felt the urge to write a non-fiction book. Take a subject and research it, master it, and explain it in an enjoyable and interesting way to the masses. Now, I’m not an expert in anything really, more of a “jack of all trades,” which is okay for a writer, I suppose. But the lure of knowing every single thing there is to know about a single subject is very, very powerful to me.

Obviously I couldn’t do this unless this was all that I did. So last night I did a little thought-experiment. Assume I had a fixed income of, oh, I don’t know, how ’bout half-a-million a year? That would allow me to quit my job, allow my wife to quit hers and take care of the children, and give me the freedom to explore such odd projects.

If that was the case, what would I write a nonfiction book about, just to prove I could master a subject?

I came up with over a dozen ideas. Some have been nagging at me for a while, some just kinda popped into my head while I was brainstorming. None are calculated to sell a gajillion copies or be on the top ten NY Times bestseller lists. Quite simply, it would be a labor of love.

What would I write about?

In no particular order, here’s what I came up with:

* Cold fusion
* Faster-than-light travel
* Superconductivity
* Cryogenics

That covers the physics interests I’ve had for a while. Now, what about philosophy?

* In-depth biographical and literary sketch of a pre-Socratic philosopher
* Take what’s sensible in all the philosophy I’ve read, synthesize it, and “move it up a couple of dimensions.” What this means exactly, I’m not quite sure.

I’ve always loved music. I’ve always thought the lives of most composers to be extremely fascinating. Two in particular I would study:

* A biography of Antonin Dvorak
* A biography of Jean Sibelius

Religion? That’s simple.

* The biography of a Saint. Who? Well, I’ve a special fondness for a couple: Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales, Aquinas. Maybe more, but that’s who come to the forefront of my mind when I wrote this down last night.


* Nutrition and natural healing. A subject I’m currently exploring, with seesawing efforts and results.

Quirkiness and weirdity? Covered.

* UFOs in the USA 1897-present. “America’s Mythology.” Done well in a book by Curtis Peebles, but I feel I could add my own quirky weirdness to it and make it strangely readable, a mix of truth, fiction, and everything in between.

And this last topic really, really appeals to me. Take a single event in history, and master it. Know everything there is to know about it. Inside and out. Micro and macro. Be an authority. What events am I talking about? How about –

* The JFK assassination. (Probably an unlikely selection as there is, as of 2004, over 430 books written on the subject.)
* The atomic bomb. Mixed feelings, here.
* The moon landing. Strong feelings, not mixed at all.

Lots of stuff there to think about. If I could only find an extra 30 minutes a day … for a year or so … who knows?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Year and a Decade

I’ve read that we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade. Does this make sense?

Broadly and generally speaking, what have I accomplished in the past year? I’ve had two surgical procedures on my heart and my wife gave birth to our second daughter. Not really accomplishments, though. I’m at the same job, in the same position, for the same pay. I’m driving the same car, and I go home to the same house. We did have the basement renovated and I turned my wife’s old office into our eldest’s bedroom. I’ve read about a dozen books. As far as writing goes, I’ve done this blog, just about a post every day, for eight months. Other than that, I’ve completed no short stories or drafts of larger works.

How about ten years? What’s gone by in a decade? Just this: got married, moved a couple of times, bought a house, repainted every room in the darn thing, had a daughter, bought an SUV, had five jobs in different fields at different salaries for varying lengths, wrote two novels and fifteen short stories, quit smoking, fiddled about with weightlifting and running and golf, made a couple of new friends, spent a couple of annual vacations in Cape Cod, read close to a hundred and fifty books, plus all that good stuff in the preceding paragraph.

I’m sure you can fill two large paragraphs with accomplishments / major life events. I encourage it; it’s a little exercise that’ll make you feel a little bit better about yourself.

Now, interpretation about the original point.

After my first child was born, I thought a lot about goals. Never having truly put pen to paper before concerning such a subject, I did a bit of soul-searching. As I mentioned elsewhere I came up with over a hundred goals, grouped them into major objectives, listed sub-goals, etc.

Biting a tad more off than one can chew, dontcha think? But the point I want to make is that that year, 2005, I really accomplished more than I had any other year of my life. I think; I’m biased. But I think I did. This proved to me the old maxim, what get’s measured get’s done. Still, though, I only accomplished a fraction of what I wrote down in the Excel spreadsheet.

So, yeah, I think we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year. For me, make that “way overestimate.”

But the second part of the opening assertion is the real interesting part, in my opinion. Why? Well, it meshes with that image I find so attractive, that of a ship making a one degree course correction. After a fair amount of time’s passed, the change in course is so great that it boggles the mind to think it was only 1/360th of a circle change in direction.

There’s a philosophy of life that one can adopt that has no official name to my knowledge but is, simply, constant progress. Otherwise known as baby steps. It’s what I’ve been doing this past month. Baby steps. Slight, small, tiny changes in behavior, minute changes in habitual thought, little things done on a daily basis that might not have been done otherwise. It has tremendously revamped my mood of late. Yes, I have a ton of responsibilities and a ton of urgent matters to attend to, along with all the requisite worries in this recession, but I actually feel good about myself now that I’m adhering to this slight but constant progress. Just do a little thing every single day.

Who knows: in ten years I may even be living the life I imagined I’d be living at 40!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

September - October, 1917

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

War is Hell. God bless the men and women who have served in the past and who serve currently, and those who have given their lives so that we may enjoy peace and prosperity.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Saturday night there was this awful, awful movie on the awful, awful Sci Fi channel entitled Yeti. It caused a minor disturbance at my house.

First, a disclaimer. I did not see the movie. Well, I did watch the last ten minutes, but I’ll get to that in a second. Basically, the plot follows, I think, a bunch of twentysomethings who crash on top of some snowy woodsy mountain and try to make it back to civilization. Problem is there’s this bloodthirsty yeti tracking them, and eventually hunts them down. I mean, this thing at one point rips some dude’s leg off, takes a bite out of it, and starts beating the poor chap with it.

Why is it so difficult to make a good hairy beast movie? I don’t think it’s ever been done. The angle to take is not one of gory violence or tense chase scenes. No. Absolutely, no! The way to go is to exploit the creepiness factor. Something moving in the shadows. Something that may be looking in your window. Watching you. Something that’s big and powerful and unknown. That’s scary enough. A Freddy Krueger sasquatch just ain’t. Anybody remember The Legend of Boggy Creek, from the early 70s? That movie scared the heck outta me as a little kid. I last saw it about ten or so years ago, and while the monster’s obviously some stunt man in a gorilla suit, it was creepy as all heck and it worked.

The problem with Yeti was that my four-year-old daughter saw the trailer with me while we were channel surfing Saturday afternoon. That’s all it took. The damn burst, and the questions followed. But instead of focusing on what a yeti was, she seemed really concerned that I not watch the movie. Talk about a budding young film critic! No, actually, I think the trailer scared her a bit and she didn’t want me to watch the movie. Maybe she thought that if I watched it … It might start watching us, eh?

Sunday morning rolls around, specifically six-thirty, a.m., and I’m awakened by a tiny finger tapping the center of my forehead. Groggy, dehydrated, I open my eyes and see my daughter, upside-down in my field of vision. Hands-on-hips. “Daddy,” she says in that clipped, disapproving voice she gets when she’s disappointed in something I’ve done, “Daddy, you watched Yeti!”

I laugh and shrug it off and roll over, but she pursues it. “Daddy! You watched Yeti!” I admit I watched the last ten minutes, after the DVD Mommy and me were watching ended. The Little One’s not pacified. “You said you weren’t going to watch Yeti but you did!” Laughing, I explain, patiently and slowly, that I didn’t intend to watch Yeti but the DVD finished early and we were surfing through the channels (actually my wife was feeding the Littlest One at this time), and I came across the movie and watched the ending. A pouting lip. Not good enough.

Then, an idea. I reach out, grab her, and say: “You just like saying the word ‘Yeti’!” She starts giggling, and I keep saying “Yeti Yeti Yeti”, chasing her around the living room. A couple of minutes later, I’m making us breakfast and she’s watching the Disney channel.

Situation diffused.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Last I remember, Iftikhar and me were traveling through Guatemala, near Tikal, one of the homes of the ancient Maya. Our goal was the Temple Tzichechliztan, about twenty-five mile southwest of the Caribbean shore, fifteen degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer. Our goal was rooted in Einstein's theory of time-space: the exact physical location as specified above, on a certain date. The seventeenth of May, this year, to be exact. Because on that date, the star Deneb, the star that the whole solar system is rocketing towards at two hundred fifty miles a second, Deneb will appear directly between the two stone parapets atop the temple-tower. And when one stands at exactly one-hundred meters (and how did the ancient Maya know this distance? I mean, its like one-one ten thousandth the distance from the north pole to the equator through the city of Greenwich, England, as designated by nineteenth-century physicists), the light from the star is alleged to grant one supreme enlightenment.

Now I know what you're thinking: this is absolute one-hundred percent new age bullshit. And I would normally agree with you, except for one thing. Well, one person, rather. Edwin Hubble.
Who was Hubble, the lesser-intellected may be asking at this point. Simple. Hubble was a partyer, a frat-boy, a boxer. A man of action. And he also happened to be the greatest star-gazer of the early twentieth century. It was Hub that determined that the universe was expanding. Indeed, because of this man's work our knowledge of the universe expanded. What was once thought of as simple gaseous nebulae were now recognized to be galaxies, akin in size and stature to our home, the Milky Way. And we were alone in a sea of island-universes.

But Edwin found out that this was not exactly true. How, you say? Well, here's the stretch, and to know what happened I need to introduce you to a friend of mine. Alexander Iftikhar roomed on my floor at my dorm at college. He was also an astronomer, but he minored in history, and his area of expertise was the history of science. Alex was an odd individual. Eclectic in dress, fluctuating always either a half-decade before or after a given particular clothing style. His overlarge horn-rimmed glasses covered small beady eyes, which sat upon a face clothed in perpetual three-day stubble. He never bathed, except on the weekends, when he spent marathon reading and writing sessions in the tub. A night owl, he knew hundreds of infomercials by heart, yet always ate the same foods (waffles for breakfast, cheese fries and roast beef for lunch, tortellinis and occasionally fried chicken for dinner) because having the same diet saved the energy expenditure of having to make a decision on what to eat. He was annoying, petty, vain, shy, overbearing, a wallflower who dominated a room after he left.

Alexander was also the most brilliant person I ever knew. How do I know? Again: Simple. As a good-faith gesture for setting him up with my sister, Alex did all my projects and term papers in courses completely opposite of his (theology, medieval lit, polisci) and I aced every class over three semesters running.

Years passed between us after those golden years at Princeton. I graduated with a degree in metaphysics, floundered, was given a job teaching, lost it over a set of fifteen-year-old breasts, moved across country, washed cars, sold cars, moved to the midwest, and finally settled in a Madison Avenue ad agency mail room at age thirty-three. I lost touch with Alex, but do remember seeing his name on an article in Scientific American in the mid-nineties.

Then, a mysterious message on my answering machine one hot night in July, year last. It said, simply, "Pakistan. 1776."

I played it a couple of times. Couldn't identify the voice, so I erased it. A week passed. Got home after a heavy drinking session with some of my pals at Rowe, Bottoms and Gupta. Blinking light on the telephone. And again: "Pakistan. 1776."

"Screw you, pal," I mumbled, then went to the bathroom to puke up a bunch of Spaatan beers mixed with Long Island Ice Teas. The next day, shaky and hungover, I called the phone company and had my number changed.

Then the messages continued, only by snail mail this time. A postcard. Stamped, Lahore, Pakistan. The note, in familiar cat-scratch, read: "1776. Jefferson knew it: Deist bible Mark 121." It was signed, A. I.

Artificial Intelligence, I muttered. I tore it into halves, then quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and watched the pieces flutter into the garbage pail.

Then the truth broke into my room and cuffed me on the hood of its cruiser. "Alex," I gasped, and promptly fetched the torn pieces. It took a good half-day to resurrect all the pieces, then another half a day staring at the card to divine its meaning.

I took out a notebook. Jotted down some notes. Let's see ... first call was .... I consulted a US Open Tennis calendar I had hanging on the wall. I neither played tennis nor was interested in watching the Open, but I did enjoy pictures of the buxom tennis babes on March, October, and December. Seeing this was July, I had to flip back a few pages. With a small bit of calculation, I noted that the first call was on a Monday, July 11. The next would have to have been that Saturday (traditional drinking night for much of aimless America): July 16. Next I examined the card. It was postdated July 18, and today was the thirtieth. So ... Alex calls me enigmatically two times. As I do not figure out his weird riddle, he decides to call me again, only to find my number changed. He thus mails me out a postcard from Lahore, Pakistan, which takes maybe twelve days to reach me in New York City.

I meditated on that information. As no spark of intuition burst forth, I set it aside, to concentrate on my weird but hyperintelligent friend's message.


Checked my watch: 2:58 PM. The library would still be open. I leaped up, grabbed my notes, and headed out to the NY Public Library and a copy of Thomas Jefferson's self-penned account of the gospels.

The first leg of my journey to the temples of the Maya commenced.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Some odd stray thoughts I've had over the past couple of day that I can remember:

Know what would be a great way to study philosophy? List all the established "greats" in the field (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, etc, etc) and then forget about them. Consider their lesser contemporaries, and study them. History, the cliche goes, is written by the victors. But it is only one version of "history." Might the same not apply to the history of Thought? What were those who are not considered "victors" thinking?

Finally got myself wired up to them thar internets in my newly renovated basement office. No, its not wireless. There are no routers. Not even a cable modem. Nope. Got me a phone line going up through the ceiling above my desk that I plugs into the kitchen jack whenever I want to go online. State of the art, 1993 or so. Kinda like when I had my Windows 3.1 PC.

Went to the library today and returned all the books I currently have out. Thirteen in all. Can you believe that? I can't. What the H am I thinking? Do I lead a life of leisure where I can spend all my free discretionary time reading esoterica? I have a full-time stressful job, no money, a toddler who goes half-the-week to daycare, half-the-week to preschool, an eight-week-old baby. Thirteen books! You know what they were? In a nutshell, a book on post-modern philosophy, three books on physics and quantum-type stuff, two books on how to re-create your life, a book on creativity, a Catholic scripture commentary, a book on how the human mind is constructed, an overview of poetry, and three books on economics. I feel like Frank Sinatra's character from The Manchurian Candidate. All I need is a book on horse diseases.

Who said: "Perhaps literature will forever give far deeper insight into 'the full human person' than any model of scientific inquiry can hope to do."? PS, an anagram of his name is No Hammy Sock, and to some of my fellow travelers he's considered the Devil enfleshed.

I started this blog to hold myself publicly accountable (to the extent that an anonymous blogger can be considered 'publicly accountable') in my efforts to overcome hopping. Lots of two steps forward, one step back and one step forward, two steps back. See two paragraphs above - yeesh, thirteen library books out at once! - but now, I swear on this stack o' Bibles, no more than two books at a time! One fiction, one non-fiction. And the winners are ... Aquinas by Chesterton and a medium-sized paperback entitled Mythago Wood by one Robert Holdstock that I've been itching to read for a while. No other external peripheral reading!

Perhaps this is a subject for another post, but a large segment of my life is simply now unbearable. But I am taking baby steps to correct it. I hold the analogy of an ocean liner changing course firmly in my mind. A half-degree change may mean nothing a mile into the voyage, but after a thousand miles you're something like 35 miles farther than you would previously have been. I think. Well, you get the point. More details to follow.

Well, after a busy day gonna settle down and watch some Deadwood tonight, on DVD. Don't know much about it except that it's supposed to be violent and vulgar. But several reputable people have recommended it to us, so after the kiddies are down for good, we'll crack open a pint of ice cream and watch. Thoughts to follow down the trail.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hill House

For the past couple of years, to get into the spirit of the spooky season, I read something scary around Halloween. Well, more often than not it’s not scary, but weird. Perhaps “macabre” is the best word to describe it. For example, last year I read Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” and “Hop Frog.” The year before last it was more Poe (“The Gold Bug”) and some Lovecraft on the Halloweens prior to that.

This time around I decided to read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, a somewhat tragic authoress most famous for her extremely jarring short story “The Lottery.” The book has been on my radar for some time but only recently I found it in the used book section of an Unnamed Large-Scale Bookseller, and realized it would be perfect for All Hallow’s Eve reading, AD 2008.

I don’t intend to go into a full review here, so suffice it to say it’s a quick read, a short little book bursting with character and dialogue. Exceptionally good character and dialogue. Possibly the most important character is Hill House itself, haunted and insane, and it plays, obviously, a large and important role in the events of the book. But the people truly came alive to me. As I read I forgot my troubles as these people – their actions, their words, their thoughts, their motivations – all came sparkling vividly to life in my mind. I rooted for some, I despised others and eagerly awaited their comeuppance, I read anxiously as I wondered what the House was planning.

And it was planning something nasty. It all happens in the final pages, and I’m not quite sure what exactly happened. Might require a re-read after I have some more distance. I didn’t find the book particularly scary (save for one very unnerving part near the middle that I won’t spoil but it involves handholding). It was highly surreal, I suppose, atmospheric. Claustrophobic inside the House, and ethereal on the grounds outside it. A modern-day gothic novel without all the castles-bats-full moon cliches we associate with the word “gothic.” A defining work according to Stephen King, and I definitely agree. Give it a read and you’ll come out on the other side a better writer. Or at least a little pleasantly unsettled.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Michael Crichton

I was deeply saddened to hear yesterday that Michael Crichton died of unspecified cancer at the age of 66. Back in the early-90s I was a huge Crichton fan. In short order I had read Jurassic Park, Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Congo, and The Thirteenth Warrior (known back then, I believe, as Eaters of the Dead). The man could tell a story. Each novel was pure perfection, in a way: some crazy weird but possible science, a bunch of more-or-less likeable people, and something that goes really south really quickly in a really, really bad way.

I've read that he wasn't the greatest of writers. With that, I'd tend to agree. But I also affirm wholeheartedly that he was an idea man of unparalleled genius. Each of those six books I just mentioned is so unique, so packed with juicy science fact and science fiction, that, even if not truly original they still defined the genre. Never again can dinosaurs be written about as being genetically engineered without an obligatory nod towards Jurassic Park. Never again can a strange disease wipe out a small, out-of-the-way town without one thinking of The Andromeda Strain. I sort of modeled my very first novel on Sphere, where I took a group of people, submitted them to the unknown, and threw some worse and worser things at them at every junction. And Eaters of the Dead has to be, without a doubt, one of the most original novels I've read. Not quite SF, not quite fantasy, not quite historical fiction. Something so different that only an established writer like Crichton could get it published.

What struck me most about the man, I think, was his drive. He was trained as a doctor and graduated with all kinds of honors. Most men - 95% perhaps? - would be content with that. Earn their $30,000 to $50,000 a month salaries (today’s dollars), get on a couple of boards, gray their hair and mentor the newbies. But not Crichton. He wrote. He wrote a couple of early novels under pseudonyms before hitting it big with Andromeda. And he got his visions onto film, directing a couple of movies and writing screenplays before the age of 40. Incredibly inspiring. What a drive on the man. What self-assured vision. How enviable.

In 2003 he spoke at length on the fallacies and pseudo-science behind the global-warming hysteria, cited often enough on the internet. I read it back then and will probably re-read it again in the next few days. (Oh – haven’t heard much of global warming lately? Now it's refered to as climate change ...) He was also one of the driving forces behind the show ER, a show my wife was an early devotee to but which I have never watched.

Good luck and fare well, Mr. Crichton. Hopefully we'll meet on the other side where you can critique my stories, should you even bother, rightly so, to read them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Vote

Last night I voted for Sarah Palin. Well, for President I voted for McCain, ’cause I had to, but really it was only because of Palin I did so.

Sarah Palin was treated despicably by the mainstream media and by the nightly talk shows. She is as outside of the Beltway as one can get, actively and demonstrably pro-life, and has more executive experience than her running mate or the pair of lawyer-professional politicians running against her. I hope she is able to rehabilitate her undeservedly trashed reputation by 2012. She, and all Republicans, need to remember that the mainstream media is an arm of the Democratic Party. There are no friends on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, NPR, or the dead tree media. Better to ignore them; focus efforts instead toward the newer media. Start with Fox News and talk radio and NRO.

McCain, to me, was simply Bob Dole 2008. Old, tired, uninspiring, a failed loser who played the “now it’s my turn!” card. Maverick maverick maverick maverick when what we really need is a principled, strong leader. Appeasing and timid. Wishy-washy on the embryonic stem cells. Had he not picked Palin, I would have proudly and with a clear-conscience voted third party this election.

I will never vote Democratic. Someone who I read regularly has coined nicknames for the two parties. The Republicans he calls the Stupid Party (see the autopsies on the McCain defeat over the next couple of days). The Democrats, though, are the Evil Party. Their unrestrained devotion to abortion in all its monstrous forms, their unending crusade to loosen the sexual mores of our culture, their hands constantly in my wallet stealing more and more of my hard-earned money … wrong and un-American. Evil.

Republicans: you are on notice. You have two, maybe three years to bring someone special to the forefront of your ranks. That person must be young, strong, an effective and powerful public speaker, principled deeply in conservative values, pro-life, anti-big nanny state government. I’ve read on NRO that there will be many, many returning vets that could fit that pattern splendidly – think of Eisenhower in 1952 – and that’s the strategy GOP leadership needs to examine. Republicans, take note. I will vote third party in 2012 if you betray me again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cryptonomicon Review

Cryptonomicon is that rare calling: a book so demanding of attention, dangling the hopeful promise or promsing hope of something huge, that one must dedicate a significant portion of daily life to it. It seized me on May 29 and thrashed me in its jaws until October 15, 140 days in total. I estimate seventy hours to read through it. Concentration is ruthlessly required; it is a book that cannot be truly comprehended if part of your mind is wondering if all the bills have been paid or if you left any water in the boiler or what Phyllis said at work today.

[mild spoilers ...]

There doesn’t appear to be a subject the author is not well-read in. Cryptography, obviously, but a voyage through this book will give you crash courses in: World War II history, mining, Internet-slash-hi-tech startup companies, LINUX, U-boat submarine warfare, Philippine culture, deep sea salvaging, computer development, email security, laptop tricks, corporate espionage, banking, POW camps and cannibals, the evolution of the nerd, as well as suggestions of mentions of shadowy conspiracy groups. You’ll meet Ronald Reagan, Douglas MacArthur, General Yamamoto, Dr. Alan Turing, Hermann Goering, an unnamed Albert Einstein. Your head will spin, but it will all come together in the last hundred pages. Sort of.

You’re basically involved in two timelines. The action follows two quite different men during World War II: a brilliant young mathematician named Lawrence Waterhouse and a simple but lethally effective marine named Bobby Shaftoe. Mixed in to the mix is Waterhouse’s grandson, Randy, involved in a company in modernity – the late 1990s, say – on the verge of developing, for lack of a better term, cyberbanking and the potential to revolutionize society. He’s also chasing romantically the granddaughter of Sgt Shaftoe. There are a couple of figures that interact with this trio in both timelines, some of which who are or are made to appear downright sinister.

My only gripe is Stephenson’s tendency to absent-mindedly and lazily meander in his prose. True, there are benefits to this. One can get lost in the imagery, the wit, the esoterica, and rally savor the trip. For a hopper, however, this is quite the difficult thing to do. It wasn’t until around page 800 or so that I even knew where the novel was going. And it took the last 100 pages to confirm that. And even after 1,100-plus pages, the novel doesn’t really conclude (sequel? trilogy? series?) But if you have some time on your hands, you’re widely curious, and you’re not in a rush, this shouldn’t be a problem.

As a writer the book had two contradictory effects on me. First: despair. How could I ever write such well-written exposition as this? Stephenson is unbelievably riveting describing a door. How could I, then, draw the reader in, mercilessly, and keep his eyes glued to the page, word after word as the pages turned, pulling him deeper into my story with a desire only to see its conclusion? How could I make him laugh, make him nod in appreciation, make him want to go online to research further what I’ve written about, to pique the interest my characters and their words place in his mind?

Then, on the heels of despair: excitement. Real, legitimate excitement. Yes! This is what I want to do. This is what I want to try. This is something I could do. This is something I have done, in my way, twice before. The joy is in the journey, not the destination, be it writing, reading, or any other activity. Sometimes we forget this. But as a writer it can be fatal.

The book gets saved. I don’t know when, where, or how I’ll ever re-read it – when will I have five months’ free this side of retirement in forty years? But it gets saved, and will be reread at some point. Perhaps when I attain financial independence next month. No, really, it will be passed on to someone else, perhaps one of my younger nephews or a cousin.

The next time I want to experience Cryptonomicon will be on the small screen, how small depending on the size of your flat screen living room television set. There’s too much there for a movie movie, but it is perfect for a well-financed TV miniseries. Exploding battleships, soldiers raiding a German U-boat just before it sinks under the waves, collapsing mines, nerds with shotguns, the weird-to-us cultures of Japan and a fictional Arab country, the high pressure high stakes of high finance, and a set of incredibly beautiful and incredibly smart people vying to outsmart each other. It has all the marks of a May sweeps bonanza.

Grade: A

See also these musings on the book here and here.