Monday, August 31, 2009

Arrivederci August

How ’bout an update?

All right, since you asked.

Life sucks.

Hmmm. Well, that sounds a bit juvenile. Let me rephrase, from a mature, spiritual outlook: I’m sick of being tested! Enough already!

What do I mean?

First, I won’t hold it against you if you skip this post and go to another website. In fact, I encourage it. This post will only serve to embarrass me in the future, and no, I don’t want to talk about it. But since the influence of America’s religion, Therapeutic Moralistic Deism, has me convinced that venting is good (did our great-grandparents vent as much as we do?), allow me to barrel forth.

Had to cancel both my daughters’ day care because, well, we can no longer afford it. Why? Because I don’t have a job. It’s not my fault, mind you, that I’m out of work, but it’s my fault that I don’t have a job. So now I’ll be watching Patch and the Little One full-time. I am now a full-time mommy. I need to do some homeschooling, too, because we can’t have them watch TV all day. How I’ll fit job searching and interviewing (if that ever happens) into the picture I don’t know.

Last week I sent out 141 letters to various companies and corporations in my county. Six came back with bad addresses. I got seven emails and five postcards telling me to apply to the Careers section of their websites. Which I’ve been doing the twenty or so times I’ve applied online and never heard back from anyone. Employment Opportunity Limbo, it’s called; the black hole that swallows online resumes. Did get one call back (my par is three live calls, so, two more to go). But it’s for a job description which looks to be something I’ll dislike (by the way, I dislike everything that’s on my resume, but everyone’s telling me the only way to get hired in today’s economy is to sell yourself on your skills, i.e., now is not a time to step out and explore career alternatives) and it’s about $20,000 below me. My wife is pressuring me to apply, and my mind is considering investigating what’s known as “disconnect.”

Just had my lung scan done. It was supposed to be done a month ago but my insurance company was haggling with the doctor over whether the procedure is “necessary.” Man, can’t wait till the government gets its bean-counting hands into the insurance biz. I’ve been having difficulty breathing lately, lots of aches and pains, but people have been telling me it could be the humidity, the change of season, or stress. Who knows. I’ve lacked the discipline to consistently work out, so it still could be poor cardio fitness.

The further and further I get into the website thing (and I know have three concepts: one major and two minor) the more roadblocks I’m coming up against. And the more money I need to spend, money I don’t have. I’m no further along than I was a month ago, and that’s ticking me off because it’s something I can do, and it’s passive income I can earn. But I can’t find the time during the day to dedicate to the projects and at night I’m too tired to focus on anything but teevee or my latest novel.

You might laugh (and my wife does) but I can’t seem to stop eating ice cream. I can stop buying it, but then I’ll only move on to cookies or chips, soda, regular milk instead of soy. Emotional eating. The sugar craving must have something to do with not drinking alcohol since February 4 (subconsciously or consciously I attribute the beer and booze to the condition that put me in the hospital back then, so I don’t drink anymore). It might be cute that I have a little belly now, but it’s wrecking my sleep, giving me headaches, roller-coasting my blood sugar and probably rotting my teeth.

Ah, I ran out of steam. There’s other stuff, but it ain’t worth the keystrokes. So much to do and I feel like my legs are buried three feet deep in molasses. Remember dreams like that? Well, it’s now my reality. I need a new body. Or a new life. But then I’d lose the good things that I have now. Perhaps just a moratorium on “growth” imposed on me by outside forces. Just a neat little job that pays my share of the bills, one that I can leave at 5 pm. Just good-enough health that I can stalk the little ones without getting winded, and not have to worry about waking up at 4 am puking blood. Just a little peace of mind, maybe thirty minutes a day, of solace and serenity.

Sayonara August! On the balance sheets you show a robust negative equity, but there were a couple good deals mixed in your thirty-one days and still a few appreciating assets.

And an orange-juice toast to September, may it be the turnaround we all need!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

21 Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires

[From 21 Success Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires by Brian Tracy, (c) 2001]


Ah! This post looks like it'll be a little more upbeat than yesterday's. Let's read on, shall we?

1. Dream big dreams!
2. Develop a clear sense of direction
3. See yourself as self-employed
4. Do what you love to do
5. Commit to excellence
6. Develop a workaholic mentality
7. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning
8. Pay yourself first
9. Learn every detail of your business
10. Dedicate yourself to serving others
11. Be impeccably honest with yourself and others
12. Set priorities on your activities and concentrate single-mindedly on one thing
13. Develop a reputation of speed and dependability
14. Be prepared to climb from peak to peak in your life and career
15. Practice self-discipline in all things
16. Unlock your inborn creativity
17. Get around the right people
18. Take excellent care of your physical health
19. Be decisive and action-oriented
20. Never consider the possibility of failure
21. Back everything you do with the twin qualities of persistence and determination


Hmmmm. Now I get it. I seem to only do five things on this list, and none of those five on a consistent basis. So - success is a state of mind. If you adopt these beliefs, put them into consistent practice, success, it seems, is only a matter of time. I think I get it now.

How about you?

Hmmmm?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

30 Ways to Fail

[From Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, (c) 1937]


1. Unfavorable hereditary background
2. Lack of a well-defined purpose
3. Lack of ambition to aim above mediocrity
4. Insufficient education
5. Lack of self-discipline
6. Ill health
7. Unfavorable environmental influences during childhood
8. Procrastination
9. Lack of persistence
10. Negative personality
11. Lack of controlled sexual urge
12. Uncontrolled desire for something for nothing
13. Lack of a well-defined power of decision
14. One or more of the six basic fears *
15. Wrong selection of a mate in marriage
16. Overcaution
17. Wrong selection of an appropriate associate in business
18. Superstition and prejudice
19. Wrong selection of a vocation
20. Lack of concentration of effort
21. The habit of indiscriminate spending
22. Lack of enthusiasm
23. Intolerance
24. Intemperance
25. Inability to cooperate with others
26. Possession of power that was not acquired through self-effort
27. Intentional dishonesty
28. Egotism and vanity
29. Guessing instead of thinking
30. Lack of capital

Twenty of these, each to varying degrees, are responsible for my situation: stuck in limbo, in a holding pattern, circling over the airport but gradually being sucked down by the force of gravity. Which twenty I'm not going to say despite my attempts at rigorous honesty with this blog (even though the blog's technically anonymous). Though it's not an excuse, it is tougher to address a lot of these issues the older one is. How I wish someone - anyone! - had handed me this book or any of it's clones when I was a teenager. Oh well. The past is the past; LE, roll up your goddamn sleeves and get to work!


* according to Hill the six basic fears we face are the fears of poverty, criticism, ill health, loss of love of someone, old age, and death.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kim


What a delightful, happy book! I must admit from the outset that I was genuinely, truly, pleasantly surprised. Expecting something rigorous and regimented and archaic stylistically similar, say, to Poe or Lovecraft, I stared at Kim on my bookshelf for several months. True, it was not science fiction, my usual, comfortable reading oevre, but I do enjoy stepping out every now and then and reading the classics. Never having directly read a single word of Kipling’s, I knew him only by reputation, and only by a general and hazy positiveness to his work.

I loved reading every word of this, one of only four novels Kipling wrote, and his most successful, loved it immediately from the first paragraph. Something just clicked. The book is a joyous celebration of what I can only describe as that uncertain time between boyhood and manhood, in a time and a place where Kim shows no hesitation, no fear, no uncertainty. Just something like optimistic expectation. This is how life is intended to be lived.

Warning: If you are prone to hand-wringing and cannot read a book without immediately condemning it for doing what it never set out to do, do not read Kim. The India at the dawn of the 20th century was, as most know, under the thumb of the British Empire. There was an omnipresent, debilitating, inflexible caste system. Disease swept across the countryside. Poverty was wherever the eye fell upon. But to the shock of some literary critics, the book is not about imperialism, sickness, or destitution. It is also not about transcending them, either. The people of the novel accept these conditions, indeed, most thrive in the environment. The British are not viewed as the Oppressors, merely as a presence which can be used to one’s advantage if one had the wits and courage. I have heard and read that India is the most spiritual of all the world’s nations. From my limited readings I tend to believe it, and it shows in this work. It is part of the central theme of Kim.

The boy hero of the novel, our Kim, short for Kimball O’Hara, is the prototype street urchin in one of the busiest of the bustling cities of the central plains of India. Orphaned son of an Irish regimental officer, he makes his living hustling and doing precarious errands for one Mahbub Ali, a merchant of somewhat dubious and shady character, who ultimately turns out to be one of Kim’s secular mentors. In the first few pages of the novel Kim meets the lama, an abbot from a Tibetan monestary who is now a wandering pilgrim in search of a river that washes away sins and extricates one from the wheel of reincarnation. Some never-heard desire pulls inside Kim, and he becomes the lama’s chela, or disciple, and the most endearing, heart-tugging relationship I have ever read forms. Kim leads his master where his master cannot (basically, surviving in the world outside the monastery doors), and the lama assists in Kim’s spiritual maturity.

However, there are other parties interested in this quite capable thirteen-year-old boy. Ali uses him, and is, in fact, an agent of the British secret service when it is convenient for him. Before long Kim is discovered by members of his father’s regiment, who, thinking it in the boy’s interest, send him off for three years to “educate” him. The tearful separation from his beloved lama was an unexpected truly emotional part of the novel. But Kim, ever-resourceful, survives and thrives in the school, taking to the road on vacations so as to not lose his adopted identity as an Indian. One Colonel Creighton takes notice in his abilities, and he is sent to be trained in the art of espionage.

The best way to sum up the novel, I suppose, is to say it’s part Huckleberry Finn, part Tom Sawyer, part Don Quixote, all thrown into the rookie plot of, say, John LeCarre’s first unpublished spy effort. The book is filled with the tension of opposites: the Road and the School, the native Indians and the British sahibs, the Game and the River, the pull of politics and espionage, the the search for enlightenment. Despite the very colorful episodic nature of the novel, its most interesting aspects by far are the characters themselves, their relationships, and the beautiful backdrop of idealized India. The bonding of Kim and the lama, a temporal and spiritual surrogate father-son relationship, is the heart whereas the secular temptations represented by Mahbub Ali, Colonel Creighton, Lurgan Sahib, and the Babu form the ever-present outlying world that cannot be ignored and must be addressed.

The ultimate question of the novel is which path Kim will take. The final two or three pages, some of the loveliest prose I have ever read (it gives me goose bumps even thinking about it as I write this), yield tantalizing hints, but Kipling leaves it up for us to decide.


PS. I have a DVD of the 1950 adventure flick of Kim starring Errol Flynn (as Mahbub Ali) on hold at one of my local libraries and should be able to watch it in a couple of days. I am a little hesitant about doing so (similar to watching the filmed LotR series) because I would hate to have my memories comprised by an unworthy film effort. This Kim could be that since you generally don’t hear it spoken of when, say, the AFI shoots out its categorized Best-Of lists every now and then. But it’s pre-sixties Hollywood, so there’s also the chance it could be good. I’ll let you know one way or the other ...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facebook

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Just a quick note concerning Facebook …

After much hemming and hawing I was finally convinced to sign up mid-March. In the past five months now I’ve connected with –


* A co-worker who I was very close with but drifted apart after I left the company around 1999.

* My ex-lead singer from my rock-n-roll days, who had a falling out with the rest of the guys around 1991.

* One of my best friends from childhood who I haven’t seen since, oh man, it must be nearly thirty years or so, around the time of middle school, 1980 or 81.


Without Facebook, chances are very good I would never have communicated with these people ever again.

Well worth it, I’d say.

Ted Kennedy

Proper décor dictates that one does not speak ill of the recently deceased. Since Ted Kennedy was diametrically opposed, philosophically, morally and ethically, to just about everything major I believe in, I can’t really write anything positive about him. However, as followers of Christ we are all obligated to pray for the dead, for the hope that this man repented of his sins before he died, and is with his Lord in heaven. For this, I pray, and you should, too.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Circularity

One of the broad and vague philosophic ideas hovering just beyond – by a beard-second or so – my consciousness is the concept of circularity. My life of late seems to be proof that existence is circular, or, perhaps better described, cyclical. I find myself at the same places I was years or decades ago. The places have changed; indeed, so has part of me (but not the “me” that is “me”), leading “me” to refine this idea a little bit better: life is a helix. We keep arriving back at the same points but as different beings; either higher or lower on the helix depending on whatever factor you want to grade the Great Spiral Staircase with. In my case, I think I use the factor of “actualization.”

Case in point: Van Saun Park.

A few weeks ago I took the Little One there for a couple of hours. We had such a good time we went back, today, and had another blast. There’s a miniature train ride that takes you around the periphery of a zoo, through a tunnel, past a garden and a pen for buffalo. There’s a carousel that my daughter absolutely loves, complete with the circus animals that go up and down as the musical merry-go-round turns. We did that twice. Then there’s a pond that’s three-quarters of a mile in circumference. I brought her trike with us, and she did two laps around the pond without stopping, and without me having to push her every ten feet. She also spent an inordinate amount of time chasing geese.

The thing that struck me most as we did this was that I haven’t been to this park in almost ten years.

I used to live a mile from the park in the nineties, and would go there frequently. Maybe twice a week. I was very much into walking and biking back then, so most of the time I’d walk or ride the paved bike paths. Back then the pond was in a state of perpetual mire and the duck poop was out of control. Now it’s a lot cleaner. I was also very much into drinking back then, so I would spend my Sunday mornings there, nursing hangovers, eating egg sandwiches for the salt and cholesterol, reading spiritual books in the regretful and guilt-ridden haze that was my Morning Afters.

Ten years before that, in my twenties, I remember a time when me and my buddy snuck into the park with two girls and a suitcase of beer. Nothing much happened except a lot of urinating and cigarette smoking. A few years later, I remember taking my first serious live-in girlfriend there for a leisurely lazy afternoon. We fed the ducks (you’re not allowed to do that anymore) and on a whim she tried to grab one. She did, and in terror it promptly evacuated its bowels all over her hands.

Memories.

But my point is, I could not help but wonder how much I’ve changed over those twenty or twenty-five years. The park is still there, a little more civilized here and there, and come to think of it, so am I. Maybe that’s the purpose of nostalgia – to show you have far you’ve come after a bit of prodding toward self-analysis.

Everything else considered, it was a wonderful way to end the summer for my Little One.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mass Mailing

Been working hard these past couple of days – primarily trying to find a job. Severance running out, unemployment running out, yet the bills keep coming in. A doctor who doesn’t accept my insurance and who I’ve never met is trying to get $4,000 outta me. Important children’s birthdays (and parties) coming up: Patch’s first and Little One’s fifth. A car on its last legs, sorta. A quarter-million things that need to be fixed around the house. School costs. So, the pressing urgency to find work.

As you may have heard, companies are (generally) not hiring. Fearful of the whole insurance reform disaster and a massive upsurge in payroll taxes, companies are quite hesitant to bring in new people. Unless you are some sort of super salesman who can bring in ten or twenty times your expense to the company, you’re gonna have a tough time finding employment.

Of course, simply reducing all major taxes across the board, both individual and corporate, would put this recession behind us rather quickly. But Obama does not want to do that. So, we languish, and suffer.

Anyway, I’m trying not to get too down. I just spent a little over a hundred bucks to find a job. Hopefully, I can write that off when I get my taxes done in six months. I jazzed up my resume, wrote (with some help) a really neat eye-catching cover letter designed to sell myself to the executive who will hopefully read it, and went to Staples and had 150 copies made. Then I went to the library and photocopied from one of their business directories the top 400 companies (in total sales) in my state. I also know where they’re located, how many employees they have, and what their business is. My wife and I went through the list and triaged, based on near-ness to us as well as compatibility to my personality. Bought a hundred fifty stamps from the post office and two hundred adhesive business envelopes.

Six hours it took – six hours! – to sign my cover letters, address the envelopes, stuff ’em, and slap a stamp on. Yesterday I did 96 and mailed them out this morning. Just now I finished another 18. We’re getting farther and farther away from home distance-wise, now, but I still can get another 30 out of the remainder of our list.

We’re operating under the assumption that if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, something’ll stick.

I have a follow-up letter, too, that I’ll take to Staples in two weeks, and then the mass-mailings will begin anew.

Wish me luck, and maybe send a prayer or two our way if you’re of the praying persuasion.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Boycott Scottish Products

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb shortly after departing London’s Heathrow Airport en route to New York. All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed, as were 11 citizens of the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, when huge sections of the plane came crashing down. All 270 victims were innocent of any crime.

On January 31, 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted of the murder of 270 men, women, and children. His co-accused was found not-guilty. Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison, to be served in Scotland.

On August 12, 2009, it was reported that Megrahi was to be “freed on compassionate grounds,” suffering in the terminal stages of prostate cancer. He reached Libya on August 20, two days before Ramadan. Megrahi has served an average of 11.5 days in prison for every life he took.

He has never once expressed guilt or remorse.

He was freed by decree of Scottish Government Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on “compassionate grounds.”

There will be no strong repercussions from the American government for this inexcusable action.

However, there is one thing we all can do. We can boycott Scottish products.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there’s really only one thing I know of that the United States imports in any large amount from Scotland. You may have some of this product in your kitchen or your den. It’s Scotch Whiskey.

It may not seem like much, but I implore you to never again buy Scotch Whiskey.

The whiskey industry in Scotland brought in over 800 million pounds last year. I don’t know what percentage of its economy this represents, but I do know the Scottish government makes a significant amount on duty fees of it. It is one of the UK’s top 5 manufacturing export earners.

Hit them where it hurts. The wallet.

Promise yourself and the innocent victims of Flight 103 that you will never, ever purchase another bottle of Scotch Whiskey in response to the Scottish government’s spitting in the collective face of the surviving families.

Friday, August 21, 2009

District 9


Had a man-date on Monday and we went and saw District 9 (both the wives had no interest in it so it was up to us to make it happen). I went into the theater very excited, having read and heard reviews to the effect crowning it instant classic-icity, an SF film to be revered and worshiped alongside 2001 and Alien. Okay. All right. Bring it on.

Well, I left somewhat deflated and disappointed. Still think it’s better than 90 percent of the SF junk Hollywood puts out, but it just didn’t live up to the hype. I leave you to watch the trailers and read the reviews, if you’re interested. And see it or rent it in a few months; I do recommend it. But it was just a tad too gory, a tad too guns-n-explosions, a tad too CGI-dependent. (Not that the CGI is noticeably distracting; it isn’t. In that regard Hollywood is advancing in leaps and bounds, as long as the producer wishes to throw the bucks in that direction.)

The aliens are the focal point of the movie, or at least should be. But they’re not fleshed out too well. Only two are given any amount of screen time (there’s supposed to be something like 2.5 million of them on Earth in this camp, which looks like a city block in downtown Paterson). There’s a lot the movie doesn’t explain about them, which is okay, I suppose, but I felt some things should be addressed rather than glossed over. Why are the prawns so morally ambiguous? So barbaric if they have the capacity for interstellar travel? So weak to be dominated by humans? Is this all the result of evil humanity consigning them to the eponymous relocation camp?

A couple of things didn’t make sense, plot-hole wise. You’ll pick them up when you see them. And it was so dark, ethically speaking. No one’s a hero on the human side of the equation. Men suffer from that cinematic psychosis I call “evil to the end”, which means that even mortally-wounded and facing the notion of possibly meeting their maker, the God and Creator of Life and the Universe, a man will still try with his final breath to kill the fleeing good guys in cold blood. Sigh.

But it does deserve kudos for an original concept, if a little heavy-handed metaphorically and despite stealing motifs from Cronenberg’s The Fly and those Transformer movies. The characters are interesting in spite of the one-dimensionality, and the heroes of both species do take a beating but that doesn’t stop them from pursuing their self-interested goals. I think the advertising was trying to portray it as a thinking man’s SF movie, but it really is just a point-and-shoot video game in an unfamiliar setting.

Grade: B+.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I Learned in College Physics

...

A beard-second, inspired by the light-year and especially useful in the short distances common in nuclear physics, is the amount of distance a physicist’s beard grows in one second. Experimentally measured between 100 angstroms and 2.5 nanometers.

A sheppey is a measure of distance equal to about 7/8 of a mile, defined as the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque.

1 millihelen is the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship. (Think Homer.)

A megaFonzie is a fictional unit of measurement of an object’s inherent coolness. (I fluctuate between .1 and 1.5 Fonzies, depending on what I am doing and who my audience is. In 1986, I would have rated Jimmy Page at an even megaFonzie.)

A Warhol represents 15 minutes of fame.

- 1 kilowarhol — famous for 15,000 minutes, or 10.42 days.
- 1 megawarhol — famous for 15 million minutes, or 28.5 years.

A Hobo is a unit describing how bad something smells.

0 hobo – Doesn’t smell bad at all.
13 hobo – A robust, uh, expulsion of personal gas.
30 hobo – The smeller must vomit.
50 hobo – A cat that’s been fed nothing but blue cheese for a week defecating on a white-hot hibachi.
100 hobo – Purely theoretical (comparable to absolute zero); would cause death by asphyxiation.

Sources, citations, and explanations here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alvis



This past weekend marked the thirty-second anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Now, I’m not a big fan, but he was huge. And not just literally (boo!). Seriously, I’ve heard it convincingly argued that for the fifties generation of kids, he was bigger than, say, Michael Jackson and Madonna combined. Huge.

Strangely, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was only nine, I think, and our family was on vacation in Lake George, New York. We rented a cabin right on the lake, right in the middle of woods. My whole family was there. During the day we would swim off a dock or go row-boating or speed-boating, and at night we all would get together for massive barbecue cookouts. My father was huge, too.

I spent a lot of time playing with my little green army soldiers that weekend. I had them all enlisted in a top-secret organization called MAP – Monster / Alien Patrol. They’d spend their days fighting tree-banch monsters on the rocky scarps of the fireplace and hunt for alien body bones among the burnt-out coals and calcified marshmallow remains. My brother and I also busied ourselves burying treasure and making maps on the back of paper plates so that the next year we’d find it. While finishing one such map, we noticed a humongous dent in the side of my father’s Volare. The perpetrator generously left a note on the windshield with his information; we rushed into the cabin to tell my father and that’s when we all heard of Elvis’ death on the news.

My wife is a big Elvis fan. Well, big for her generation, that is. Which means she catches the old movies on TCM when she can and has seen them all enough to know plots, songs, characters. She may or may not have any Elvis CDs; I’m not sure. I think I’ve seen an Elvis Presley Christmas gospel CD floating around, as well as a compilation of his Number One hits. And she still, to this day, curses the name of Colonel Tom Parker.

So now it’s time to pass the torch.

Last Sunday, in honor of the big man’s life, TCM had a marathon of Elvis movies, maybe ten or twelve of them. We started watching just after lunch and continued to after the girls’ bed time. I can’t believe I watched two full Elvis movies and half of two more. We sat through Jailhouse Rock, Fun in Acupulco, Girl Happy, and It Happened at the World Fair. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the King in his sveltness, watching him strive, sometimes painfully, to improve his craft. I’d toss out one-liners here and there about friend banana sandwiches and ’Scilla, and ducking kicks from my wife.

The most amazing thing, though, was how much the Little One got into the whole experience. Elvis, or “Alvis,” as she consistently called him innocently enough, kept her riveted to the screen. She’d dance with him during those impromptu beach party sing-a-longs. She’d want to know why this guy was being mean to Alvis, or why Alvis was being mean to that guy (during Jailhouse Rock). Why is Alvis doing this, why is Alvis doing that? Does Alvis like this girl or that one? Why is that girl ignoring Alvis if he likes her? And on and on and on. All this from the Little One, raised on High School Musical. It amazed me how much these old movies and old songs had her hanging enthusiastically. As it does when she requests we put on Sound of Music or The King and I on the CD player. Perhaps there’s hope for the HSM generation yet.

Who knows, but I definitely foresee a couple of Alvis DVDs on my daughter’s bookshelf in the next couple of months …

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Liberal Christianity

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“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The credo of liberal, and, arguably, mainstream American, Christianity.

Makes sense to me.

- from The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), pg 193, by H. Richard Niebuhr

...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bible Mysteries III

More thoughts to ponder from an anonymous book borrowed from a nameless library …


* What exactly was the “manna” that fed the Israelites in the desert? Was it heavenly food not normally intended for mortals? Food eaten by angels? Was it in the form of precipitation (it “rained” from heaven and “fell” to earth) instead of what we usually conceive of bread?

* Why did Moses need to keep his arms raised and outstretched to defeat the Amalekites? Is this a prefiguration of the Crucifixion?

* Did God “bend” down heaven to touch Mt. Sinai to impart the teaching to Moses (see Ps 18:9, 13). Or did He somehow raise Mt. Sinai to heaven? If the latter, did this transform Moses in any way? Surely one cannot ascent to heaven and remain an ordinary man.

* Why does God start speaking the Ten Commandments in the first person (the first three commandments), then switch to the third person? Why were they inscribed upon two stone tablets? Wasn’t one enough? Do two tablets signify some type of fundamental division within the Decalogue?

* Is the tabernacle described in detail to Moses a copy of some heavenly sanctuary shown to Moses while he was on Mt. Sinai?

* Why had Aaron, Moses confidante, supporter, and sibling, be so apparently and willingly complicit in the making of the golden calf? Did he perhaps fear for his life? For the lives of other innocents?

* When Moses came down from the mountain for the second time, his face was changed in some way from speaking with God (see Ex 34:29). His face “beamed” or “shown.” What does this mean? What really happened to his face? He had to wear a veil lest the people flee in fear. In Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew bible into Latin, he says that Moses’ “face was horned as a result of his speaking with God.” What?

* Why were Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu killed by a fire from God? What was their sin? The Bible says that they brought an “unholy” or “foreign” fire before God. Were they killed for violating some procedure? Were they drunk while performing their duties?

* Why are some animals deemed pure and fir for consumption by God but not others (beef and lamb, for example, but not pork or ham)?

* Is Aaron’s staff, which sprouts and puts forth buds and blossoms overnight to confirm God’s choice of Aaron and his sons, a prefiguration of the Cross, too?

* What was the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses that had the effect of curing snakebites?

* Did Phinehas receive the gift of immortality for his role in punishing the Israelite who flouted God’s law by intermingling with foreigners? The Bible does not record his death … Phinehas is mentioned in Judges, long after Moses and Joshua and the others from the book of Numbers had died. Is Phinehas Elijah? The great prophet’s birth is not recorded in the Bible. Both are described as “zealous” or “jealous” for the Lord.

* What of the tradition that Satan disputed with the archangel Michael over the body of Moses (stated in the New Testament, in Jude 9)?


The book focused only on the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The author’s written a couple of other books, and perhaps I’ll check one or two out, as a low-priority kinda thing. Oh, and I almost forgot the greatest mystery I found in the book:


*** Why would a Bible commentator use the designations CE and BCE? (Perhaps it was the publisher’s demand …)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bible Mysteries II

In which I further record, if only for my own musings, mysterious what-ifs and why-ises from the greatest book of literature in Western Civilization ...


* Who were the “sons of God” who mated with the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6? Were the “sons of God” some type of angel or other heavenly creature? Did this union supply the cause for the Flood?

* Who were the “Nephilim” of Genesis 6 – the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men”? Were they some sort of race of “giants”, as hinted at in Numbers 13?

* What did Noah do, exactly, to “find favor in the eyes of the Lord?” Did he receive a warning from God and, perhaps, tried to get others to repent? And though no good deeds are mentioned before the Flood, does not his drunkenness, mentioned immediately after, suggest perhaps he was not so righteous?

* Why did all but two members of every species of animal have to die, too, for the wickedness of mankind? Were the animals “sinful,” too?

* Does the Flood and its suggestion of a cleansing and purifying bath, foreshadow the sacrament of Baptism?

* Why was the tower of Babel built (Genesis 11 says it is only “to make a name for ourselves”)? Was it to storm heaven, to war against God? Who exactly wanted to build it? Did Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod build it (his kingdom contained the land of Shinar, where the tower was built)? Nimrod was previously described as a mighty man and a mighty hunter. The etymology of the name implies “rebellion.” Was Nimrod a previously-mentioned giant, and was the tower built by giants? And if so, did the giants somehow survive the Flood?

* What was the fate of the tower of Babel? The Bible says God only scattered the men and made their speech unintelligble to each other, but says nothing about destroying the tower.

* What had Abraham done to merit God’s blessings? Is it because he was the first practicing monothiest? If so, just how and where did polytheism develop? Was Abraham an astronomer (he was born in Chaldea, famous in ancient times for its devotion to astronomy and astrology)? Did his study of the heavens lead him to conclude in the existence of one God?

* Who is Melchizedek, the priest-king who encounters Abraham in Genesis 14? Nothing is said of his family, his genealogy, nor the location of his kingdom, Salem. Though he blesses Abraham, what is the lesson to be learned here? Is he superhuman in some way, angelic or divine? Is he the archangel Michael (in the sense he is an instrument of God’s justice)? Or was he, as other commentators think, Noah’s son Shem (Melchizedek being an honorific name)? What is the “Order of Melchizedek” mentioned in Psalm 110?

* What was praisworthy about Isaac’s life? Is it that he was a willing sacrifice during Abraham’s testing? Is this a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion?

* What was the “ladder” Jacob dreamt of? Was it a dream, or was it a physical manifestatoin while he lay sleeping? If it was some sort of message, why a dream, and why did God not simply speak to Jacob? What was the message?

* Who was the “man” Jacob wrestled with in Genesis 32? An angel? Several times in the Bible beings who appear to be men actually turn out to be angels. Why does the confrontation take place at night, and last until dawn? If the “man” was an angel, why does he say “you have stuggled with God?”

* Why did God choose to appear before Moses as a burning bush on Mount Horeb? Surely there must be more majestic ways God can manifest Himself? Is it symbolism? If so, of what exactly is it symbolic?

* Why, after commissioning Moses, does God immediately try to kill him, as is mysteriously related in Exodus 4:24-26?

* How were Pharaoh’s priests able to turn their staves into snakes? Did you know that at least two of them had names, Jannes and Jambres (see 2 Tim 3), and some traditions claim that Balaam, Job, and Jethro were also advisors to Pharaoh?

* Was an angel of God hidden within the pillar of cloud that led the Hebrews out of Egypt (Ex 14:19, 23:20-21, Num 20:15-16)? Since the angel is not named, can it be identified with divine Wisdom (see Sir 24:3-4, which speaks of Wisdom as a mist or a cloud)?

(Still more “mysteries” tomorrow …)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bible Mysteries I

Found a neat little book from the library on biblical mysteries. I’m hesitant about revealing the name of the book and its author as it has a slight, oh, shall we say, bias against the material. I’m not sure why. The author is a professor of biblical this and that at a once-highly-reputable college. Yet the book drips with hip post-modernism (even though it was published in late-90s and looks like it was printed in late-50s – which is why I borrowed it in the first place). There’s a thinly-disguised undercurrent of sarcasm through the work (silly ignorant ancient writers!). The author’s also very careful not to use the dreaded masculine pronoun (the greatest po-mo religious sin), and uses BCE and CE instead of BC and AD (in a book on the Bible written by a biblical scholar!).

For my humble opinion on the whole BCE/CE nonsense, see here.

Still, if you read above all this garbage, the book does raise some interesting questions. At least to my warped mind. Particularly if you take a strong literal approach to the Bible. Now, as you may know, I am a practicing Catholic. We Catholics tend to take a literal approach to Scripture (for example, the miracles of Jesus did happen), but we tend to moderate and downplay our approach to, say, basing our entire scientific worldview on a literal interpretation of Genesis. You know, that whole Galileo thing. I am not an expert in the field; I can only impart what I have learned in a Catholic high school and college (yeah, I know, “Catholic college” is sometimes an oxymoron), and what I’ve read.

Lately I’ve been viewing the Bible as an incredible work of literature. That’s how I want to post these “Biblical mysteries” – as comments on the greatest work of literature to Western Man. I’m not debating theology or making a statement on the sliding scale of literalness of Scripture. No, I’m approaching this the way I generally approach life: with a slightly-skewed interest in the odd and unsettling.

So what questions did I take particular interest in?

How about these, for starters?

* Did God create the heavens and the earth first, as it says in Genesis 1, or did He create Wisdom first, as is stated in Proverbs 8:22?

* What type of Light did God create when on the first day He said, “Let there be light,” yet He did not create the Sun or the Moon until the fourth day?

* Why isn’t the creation of Angels mentioned in the first two chapters of Genesis?

* When God decided to make man, why does He say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” using the plural? (Christians believe this is the first mention, albeit veiled, of the Trinity in the Bible.)

* The snake that plants the seed of temptation in Eve’s mind: since its punishment is to slither about on its belly, does this imply that it once had legs like a dog or a lizard? Why was it a talking creature? (One of only two animals in the Bible, if I remember correctly, to have speaking lines.)

* After Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden, an angel is set with a flaming sword to guard it against unauthorized entrance. Why did God not just destroy the garden or leave it untended? Does a guardian imply that He has future plans for this earthly paradise? Is it heaven? If so, is heaven located somewhere on the earth?

* Why did God favor Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s (flesh over grain)? Is it because of the giver – after all, Cain did murder his brother, and surely such thoughts take time to ferment in the mind of the murderer, right?

* How did Cain and Abel find mates to start families with? Did they have sisters – did Adam and Eve have children not specifically mentioned in Genesis? Did Eve have daughters – Noaba and Awan, or Lebuda and Qelima?

* What about Enoch – mentioned in just six verses in Genesis 5 – who was twice said to “walk with God” and was “taken by God” (similar to the prophet Elijah, who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind), thus not suffering human death?

* If mankind was so wicked leading up to the Flood, why was the only instance mentioned Cain’s murder of Abel? How does Enoch, a paragon of virtue, factor into the wickedness of humanity? Why was mankind not given a chance for repentance?


(More “mysteries” tomorrow …)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul 1915-2009

...



Jazz guitarist.

Inventor of the solid-body electric guitar.

Pioneer in overdubbing, delay and phase effects, multitrack recording.

Began performing on guitar at age 13.

Released first record in 1936.

Hosted the Les Paul Show on NBC in 1950.

Played with Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and the Andrews Sisters ... and later with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, among countless others.

Godfather of Steve Miller, and also gave him his first guitar lesson.

Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Won two Grammys in 2006 at the age of 90.

He was a regular performer (once a week, usually Monday or Tuesday nights) for long-running stints at various jazz clubs in New York City.

He lived for much of his later life just two towns away from me, and his apprentice once repaired a broken neck on my 1969 Gibson SG.

...



This is perhaps his most well-known invention:




One of the three guitars I owned in my heyday was a Les Paul. In fact, it was my main instrument for seven of the ten years I was active in bands. It survived two dozen gigs, three demo tapes, close to a thousand rehearsal jams, and a whole lot of sweat, cigarette smoke, and beer. It had an awesome crunchy distortion sound and was a pleasure to play.

Les Paul died today of complications from pneumonia. Rest in peace.

The Lama and the Soldier

...

“It repents me that I did not give a rupee to the shrine,” said the lama on the last bead of his eighty-one.

The old soldier growled in his beard, so that the lama for the first time was aware of him.

“Seekest thou the River also?” said he turning.

“The day is new,” was the reply. “What need of a river save to water at before sundown? I come to show thee a short lane to the Big Road.”

“That is a courtesy to be remembered, O man of good will; buy why the sword?”

The old soldier looked as abashed as a child interrupted in his game of make-believe.

“The sword,” he said, fumbling it. “Oh, that was a fancy of mine – an old man’s fancy. Truly the police orders are that no man must bear weapons throughout Hind, but” – he cheered up and slapped the hilt – “all the constables here know about me.”

“It is not a good fancy,” said the lama. “What profit to kill men?”

“Very little – as I know; but if evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers …”

- from Kim (1901), chapter 4, by Rudyard Kipling.


This short exchange in what’s turning out to be a surprisingly enjoyable read reminded me of some thoughts I had posted after watching Clint Eastwood’s latest and possibly last flick, here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hurk

Sometimes, when I’m feelin’ blue, or the weight of the world’s pressing down hard on my overtensed shoulders, I think back to my first hurk. In fact, my only hurk, but by God was it a beauty. You couldn’t have asked for a better one. I often think I was blessed in some obscure but special way to have crossed paths with this one. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing these lines, my head’s nodding, and I have a that upside-down U grin like the one you used to see plastered on Bill Clinton’s face when he’d give the thumbs-up sign to a gaggle of fawning reporters.

My hurk was a 1970 Dodge Dart. I bought her in the summer of 1986: my first car, my first taste of the freedom, that great American freedom, that comes with an automobile key, a full tank of gas, and the open road. Well, as long as I kept within walking distance of home, I had freedom. But do not get the impression I’m here to slam the hurk; no, she never – not once, mind you – never, ever broke down on me or stranded me anywhere.

The original owner was a man named Karl Marx. No relation, I think, to the infamous namesake, though he was probably old enough to have read the Communist Manifesto in its first or second printing. Anyway, Mr. Marx no doubt took it out only to drive the mile or so to church once a week, if you forgive the old used car salesman line. I can’t for the life of me remember how much mileage was on the odometer, but more than a hurkish lifetime was etched into the Dart’s thick iron-like skin.

Its color recalled an unholy combination of a mottled brown I imagine hued the dinosaurs a hundred million years ago, wet mud with algae, and a child’s burnt sienna crayon mixed with mustard in a microwave. Its rear quarter panels were made of papier-mâché; I discovered this when the hurk began trailing copious amounts of white flakage. The tires were so bald they made regular summer street driving something like ice skating. I gained about six inches across my back lowering and raising the hand-cranked windows that summer; I was often confused for a Harvard rower. Vinyl seats that heated to about a hundred forty on the partliest of partly sunny days. High-beams that were turned on by stomping on a silver bolt in the floor next to the brake (I went half the summer wondering what that thing was for). No AC, no radio, not even interior carpeting, let alone floor mats.

Yes, my hurk was a chick magnet.

(Seriously, I did take my first girlfriend out on a date with it. I think I may have won her over by purposely letting it slam into a cement divider in an underground parking garage. She laughed; we weren’t going fast enough to hurt ourselves, and for the life of me I couldn’t find out later where it exactly made contact with cement …)

Though it never stranded me, it never gave me peace of mind that I’d get where I wanted to go. Once my girl and I went down a mile-long hill backwards in the snow, thank you rear wheel drive. Another time me, my brother, and two friends drove fifty miles to the Delaware Water Gap in July with the heater blasting, thank you non-functioning radiator. I always wanted passengers on board when I needed to take it on the highway; the momentum of three or four of us rocking furiously forward in our seats helped us merge into traffic. And when it got real cold, like bone-chilling January cold, I gave up trying to start it and let it rest in an adjacent bank parking lot. They left threatening notes on it that they’d have it towed if I didn’t move it. I didn’t, and I think they realized that they’d need some sort of earth-moving bulldozer to get it removed.

My hurk. I think I’ll keep it.




(Not my hurk, but as close to it as I could find on the Internet.)

But you wanna know the best thing about it? I’ll tell you. In May of 1986 I spent $100 to buy it from a used car salesman who was friends with my parents. Exactly one year later I turned it around and sold it to my girlfriend’s younger brother.

For $100.

How’s that for ROI – the hurk was so depreciated that nothing I, the elements, concrete dividers, or acts of God could depreciate it further. If only all my investments were half as strong.

Do I ever miss the hurk? I’m often asked. I’ve had five vehicles since – an 87 Corolla, an 81 Celica, a 90 Toyota pick-up, a 96 Corolla (my first and only new car), and a 99 Rav4. They’ve all had air conditioning, they’ve all had radios, they all were comfortable to varying degrees and got me as far as Washington DC, Toledo, Ohio, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. So in that sense, the sense of confidence in your vehicle, the answer is: No, I don’t miss the hurk.

But if you’ve ever owned a hurk, you know the special place it has in your heart. Just like you always remember your first girlfriend, a hurk is yours forever. Though it’s been smelted down to scrap over two decades ago, that Dodge Dart forever lives on in my memories.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Silence


If you plan on reading the novel, please skip this post. Otherwise, bear with me as I try to convey my feelings upon the electronic page …


I finished reading Silence, by Shusako Endo, over the weekend, and have mixed feelings. This is, astonishingly enough, the third book I’ve read in three years on Christian martyrdom, the other two being Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. This just happened by chance; normally, I don’t seek these types of book out. Why? Because in a small way they scare me. I can’t but help put myself in the protagonist’s place, and wonder: would I deny Christ to spare my life, or even to spare myself physical pain?

Just like the other two books, this one was equally unsettling. A couple of preliminary notes came immediately to mind as I read it. First, it is very well written. William Johnston, who did the translation from Japanese, did an extremely admirable job; the book was a legitimate page-turner in every sense of the word. Second, Endo knows intimately his subjects: Japanese medieval culture, the missionary Catholic church of the sixteenth century, and everything that comes crashing out from their intersection, particularly, the subject of martyrdom. I will conclude this post with the third note, one I discovered online as soon I finished the book.

Why did I find this novel unsettling?

The novel begins in epistolary form (which normally doesn’t entice me as a reader, but it works well in this instance), then turns to third-person narration focusing on the young Portuguese priest-missionary, Sebastian Rodriguez. It’s set in the early 17th century, in a hostile Japanese countryside where the new, centralized government has just expelled all foreign missionaries and declared Christianity illegal. Believers as well as those accused to be believers are tortured and killed to eradicate all traces of the fruit of the labors of St. Francis Xavier. Sebastian and two fellow seminarians decide to enter this dangerous land, ostensibly to continue the Church’s work despite the fact that since the Church no longer sends missionaries to Japan they must get extraordinary permission. But there are other somewhat selfish reasons. There are hints that Sebastian may, subconsciously at first but perhaps not so later, be seeking martyrdom out of pride and a desire for glory. And each of the three wants to find out news about their mentor, Father Ferreira, rumor of whom states that he has apostatized under pain of torture.

The first half of the novel, the four or five lengthy letters of Sebastian to his superiors, detail the ordeal of ministering to a people fearful for their lives yet hungry for Christ. Hidden by day, administering sacraments by stealth in the dark, the priests live an odd sort of existence, one in which they never know when that knock will come on the door and they will be arrested and put to torture. Which of the countless Japanese faces are friends, and which are informers? The gruel they must eat, the problems with the language, the lice that crawl over their bodies making sleep impossible, the barbarity of feudal Japan, and their own fears and temptations are part of their daily, indeed, hourly fight.

The second half of Silence details the capture and interrogation of Rodriguez. Peasants are put to death to erode his firmness of belief. After lengthy cat-and-mouse philosophical debate with an intimidating samurai ruler, Sebastian comes face-to-face with Ferreira, who has indeed apostatized, and a more subtle, nefarious mental torture ensues. Finally, worn down and doubtful, faced with Christians suffering in “the pit” solely because of him, Rodriguez apostatizes, rationalizing it thus: Martyrdom is normally considered the act of surrendering your physical body (earthly life) to the ideal of Christ. Christ has love for all men. Therefore, would it not be a greater martyrdom to surrender one’s immortal soul through apostasy if it would save the lives of the innocent?

I don’t know how to respond to this line of thought. Something deep down tells me it is wrong, some form of heresy that must be refuted. But I don’t know how. I do know that such a line of thinking naturally grows from the main theme of the novel: Silence. The silence of God in the face of such terrible, brutal suffering. Why is God silent? Specifically, Endo through Sebastian wonders why He is silent when the innocent are put to hideous torture. It is likened to the great silence of the ocean, in which several Japanese Christians lose their lives throughout the novel in various demonically-inspired ways.

My final note on the book is my discovery that it is in the process of being made into a movie. Martin Scorsese is set to direct, so right off I am hesitant of how this work will be interpreted for the masses. Scorsese has a somewhat poor track record in this regard; see here. Benicio “Che” del Toro is set to star (I assume) as Sebastian Rodriguez, so our valiant if flawed protagonist priest is going to look like a stoned-out hippie. However, Daniel Day-Lewis is also signed to appear, and if he’s cast as Ferreira that may redeem the movie in my mind. We’ll see.

Anyway, the book really troubled me. I borrowed it from one of the local libraries, so I made the decision to re-read it if and when I find it laying on the obscure, dusty shelves of some obscure and dusty used book store.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Athos

To be read slowly, languidly, savoring the imagery of each and every word ...


FRAGMENT FROM THE 'MONK OF ATHOS'

Beside the confines of the Aegean main,
Where northward Macedonia bounds the flood,
And views opposed the Asiatic plain,
Where once the pride of lofty Ilion stood,
Like the great Father of the giant brood,
With lowering port majestic Athos stands,
Crown'd with the verdure of eternal wood,
As yet unspoil'd by sacrilegious hands,
And throws his might shade o'er seas and distant lands.

And deep embosom'd in his shady groves
Full many a convent rears its glittering spire,
Mid scenes where Heavenly Contemplation loves
To kindle in her soul her hallow'd fire,
Where air and sea with rocks and woods conspire
To breathe a sweet religious calm around,
Weaning the thoughts from every low desire,
And the wild waves that break with murmuring sound
Along the rocky shore proclaim it holy ground.

Sequester'd shades where Piety has given
A quiet refuge from each earthly care,
Whence the rapt spirit may ascent to Heaven!
Oh, ye condemn'd the ills of life to bear!
As with advancing age your woes increase,
What bliss admidst these solitudes to share
The happy foretaste of eternal Peace,
Till Heaven in mercy bids your pain and sorrows cease.

- Byron, c. 1810-1812


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bob Bell Hewes

...

First off, let me say, esteemed members of the jury - er, I mean, panel - that I am not crazy. Despite what Lieutenant McElwe says, rather, despite was those two doctors of his say, I am not insane. It is well known in the annals of professional psychology that when someone says they are not crazy, they are not. Because crazy people do not even entertain the notion. The notion is foreign to them, so to speak. So, just because I can understand the idea of sanity/insanity, is more than conclusive, in my own humble opinion, that I am not crazy.

Second, let me say that I agree with the prosecution’s case. Yes! Does that shock you? I bet it does. Here is what I agree with:

Yes indeed, my name is Robert Bell Hewes. Guilty as charged! I am a midshipman first class, qualified for nuclear submarine operations. For the past fourteen months I have been serving on the USS Phoebus, a nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class fast-attack sub. As stated by the honorable Lieutenant McElwe, I am in full agreement of the basic facts of this case. Do you see how his twisted mind works? Listen, I used to sell cars before I enlisted, the two years after high school. And do you know what? This is what they told me, at Mackay’s Used Cars - that’s on Route 21 past Shrimpton, by the way - this is what they say, they say “Get the customer to say ‘yes.’ ” Did you gentlemen, excuse me, gentlemen and lady, I guess is how you would formulate that salutation - but did you note how clever that is? Get the customer to say “Yes!” Why do they do that? To get you to buy the car! That is what Mr. Lieutenant is trying to get you to do. To buy the car! I can’t believe you people are so dense! Excuse me, I mean, I apologize for that outburst. But judging by the looks I see you kind folks giving me, I believe a more in depth clarification is indeed necessary.

When you get the customer to say “Yes” and keep getting him saying “Yes” it makes it a helluva lot easier for him, or her, I did a fair amount of selling to the fairer sex, yes, indeed, it makes it a helluva lot easier for the customer to say “Yes" when you ask him, “So, Jack, will you buy this fine car? ” “Yes!” “Now sign here on the dotted line!” “Yes!”

Don’t you understand? That’s exactly what Mr. Michael McElwe there is trying to do to you. To get you to say “Yes! ” And how does he do it? Simple. First, he says to you, this is Robert Bell Hewes. “Yes!” He’s a midshipman first class, been that grade since he got in seven years ago. “Yes!” He served on the USS Phoebus for fourteen months. “Yes!” He’s guilty of killing and manslaughter and treason and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda - “YES!”

It’s a fairly common trick, I’ll grant him that. In lawyer circles, we tend to call it the median res. That’s Latin, and it means, “get the customer to say yes.” So you see, I’m on to Mr. Michael, there. I’m on to you.

What? My defense? Yes, I am getting to that. My dad always said that a good defense is a good offense. Or was it the best offense is a good ... well, the point being is I am not here to prove my innocence. In this wonderful country of ours, we have this proposition, I think Ben Franklin coined it best, when he said, you are innocent until proven guilty. Hey, every natural-born American citizen is. There ain’t no original sin in the Constitution. That was Jefferson’s main contribution. I am a history buff.

So what does this prove? Nothing. Except that, first of all, their case is all full of holes. And that is why I am on the offensive, like the San Francisco 49ers. I attack their case, because their case really isn’t a case. It’s all circumstantial evidence, as we say. So you see, its like a chain reaction. No, like a chain of events. First, I am naturally innocent. Second, they have to prove my guilt. Third, their using a bogus tactic to get you to say “Yes”, cause eventually, well, I guess they just did, but they will finish their case by saying, “So I ask the honorable panel for a verdict of guilty on Robert Bell Hewes.” And fourth, I stand here, without benefit of counsel - I know, I know, I got rid of her - but I stand here and with my West Coast Offense I slash holes through their alledged case.

Now, my defense. Okay. I may concede some points that I was in the vicinity of the deceased. Yes, also, there is a cliché that the camera doesn’t lie. But it is a well-established fact that in this day and age video can be doctored. Kennedy proved it. Well, the men who killed him, that is. But I digress. The video that alledgedly shows me “bludgeoning” - colorful word, Lieutenant - uh, striking William Poke with a monkey wrench all those times, well, that’s just not me in the picture. As we discussed, and I only bring this up again to keep it fresh in your honorablenesses’ minds, is that it was dark and the shot they froze and blew up of my face, well, that’s simply doctored. My request for the forensic cinematographer was denied, I may also remind you. So if you won’t allow me to prove it, then you will be obligated to take it on faith from me.

Second, the blood got on my hands and my uniform and my sneakers and bedsheets I told you - it was planted. I was in the john at the time. That is a well-documented fact. I have personally testified to that fact myself, here in this honorable tribunal. It is very easy in a Los Angeles sub to sneak around and do such things. Well, easier than you would imagine. I know it’s small and cramped and ... well, I have nothing more to say on the subject. Other than, I feel this is the weakest link in Lieutenant Michael’s alledged case.

Next, it was not my personal code that was entered into the Trident Launch Sequencer. I flatly deny such comments. Now, Billy - I mean, Mr. Poke, it is true that he tried to enter my code into the computer. On more than one occasion, I might add. He was a troublemaker, that Poke. But we did have good times, I feel obligated to say. But getting back to my original train of thought, the answer is “No!” I did not put my personal code in to the firer. Hell, I still would have needed at minimum XO Feeley’s code. And I flatly deny that sheet of paper alledgedly found in my locker was Feeley’s code. Nor was I the one that shot the excellent Mr. Feeley. As a matter of fact, and I bet your investigators, Mr. Michael McElwe, failed to divulge this to you, but Mr. Feeley was a very good friend of mine. He even said that I should look him up once our tour was up next month.

Listen, I see you’re angry cause I’ve gone past my allotted time, but in summation, let me just say this: I did not kill Mr. William Poke nor did I cripple Mr. Pete Feeley nor did I enter the codes and launch a Trident missile. I did no such thing on the plain and simple fact that when I spoke to God the night before the incident in question, he said to me, quite plain and simple-like, he said, “Bob, they’se gonna start World War III, and it’s up to you to stop ’em.” “Who, Lord?” I ask, and he says to me, “why those fatcats in Washington. You know what you gonna hafta do, now Bobby, doncha?” And I says, “Yessir I do burn em all down! Burn all dem muthafux down!”

... Uh, who are you?

... Did I just say what I think I did?

...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Evil Dead II


Did you ever do anything just because others were doing it? Your friends, family, peer group, coworkers, whoever? Of course you did. Looking back, there’s one thing that I can’t believe I did for so long and so many times, all because my friends – or rather, the networks of inter-relationships that I regularly associated with – were doing it. Now, on the surface, it’s nothing shocking (unless you delve down deeper, which I may save for a later post). What is it, you’re dying to know? Well, death had a lot to do with it. In a figurative sense. I’m talking about horror movies.

Not classic horror movies. Not monster horror movies. Not psychological thrillers. No. What I’m specifically talking about, what my friends in the late 80s constantly did, was watch those slasher flicks. A couple of movies every weekend and during the week when we’d all hang out at this central house. They all involved teenagers getting killed in various bloody and horrible ways, in varying degrees of torture, by varying types of psychopaths. I must have watched close to a thousand murders on the small screen from 1987 to 1989 or so.

In hindsight, I hated every moment of it. But I did it, that is, I watched all the movies all the time, to be sociable with this group. To fit in.

So I watched all those Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. Plus all their knockoffs and spoofs. Thankfully, they all kinda blur together and I forgot most of them. But there are two that I actually enjoyed, though they didn’t quite fit the traditional “slasher” motif. They are Hellraiser and Evil Dead II. Now, neither film is for the squeamish. Both are X-rated, and if they’re not, they should be. Lots of blood and gore. Gratuitous, but gratuitous for a point, I think. It’s hard to put into words, but let me try.

Hellraiser is a film written by horror writer Clive Barker. He wrote the screenplay, based on one of his books, and directed it. It’s a great scary low-budget flick: a neat little tale of revenge, where the bad guy really gets his just desserts. Shockingly gory for its time (at least to my virgin eyes), it’s really much more than a splatterfest. It delves into the supernatural without being satanic. It shows good people getting hurt but also that there’s consequences. On the surface it seems amoral, but there’s a solid morality buried deep down. Now I haven’t seen it in at least ten or fifteen years, so perhaps I’m merely describing my memories of the movie. So powerful was this movie (and I was in my horror phase around this time), it inspired me to read a couple of Barker’s books (some good, most just ehh) and watch the Hellraiser sequels (the first was just as good, the others … not so much).

Evil Dead II is a movie I just recently re-watched.

This movie has the sole distinction of being the funniest, most over-the-top, slapstick horror flick ever made. Sound like a contradiction in terms? It isn’t. There are a couple of parts that completely gross me out to this day, and there are a couple of parts where I actually laugh out loud. It was Bruce Campbell’s breakout role, in a film he co-produced with his childhood friend, Sam Raimi. Raimi now is a highly regarded filmmaker, helming the Spiderman movies, and gives his buddy a cameo in each. Campbell’s been around and currently stars in the teevee show Burn Notice, which my wife occasionally watches. He’s so likable that I wish he had more success over the years.

Evil Dead II is basically a remake of I. The first is about a group of friends who find a cabin in the woods, enter, see a Book of the Dead laying around (the cabin belongs to some type of archaeologist who’s missing). There’s a tape recorder they play, and before you know, they’ve awakened demons and, one-by-one, they all die.

The remake takes the somewhat bland movie, nothing special in conception and execution, and goes so far overboard that it’s an experience unlike any other I’ve had watching a movie. They throw away the extra characters and leave Campbell to battle with the demonic presences. In fact, for a good portion of the film he’s the only character on screen. We never see plainly exactly who or what he’s fighting against, but we don’t need to – it’s not that type of movie. We’re to watch Campbell, and we’re riveted to the screen watching him strive to survive all these insane situations. In fact, his character may not even be sane at all. A strict blow-by-blow description would not do it justice. Suffice it to say that I have never seen an actor take such a physical beating before or since. A beating often by his own hand, literally.

I have two words for those of you who’ve seen it:

Workshed.

Groovy.

Okay, enough laughing. I watched Evil Dead II again a couple of days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The verdict: I think I view it more as a comedy than a horror flick, but I can’t throw it in with Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Old School. But it is what it is, and it’s great. If you’re into this kind of thing, buy it.
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Here is a scene from youtube that pretty much sums the whole thing up. But I’m warning ya ... you gotta be into this sort of thing ...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hiroshima Remembered

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Please read this post that I wrote a year ago, if only to fill you in on some details you may not know, on this 64th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

My opinions have not changed in the year that has passed. In fact, I tip my hat to the great god Synchronicity (it was not planned this way) that I am currently reading Silence, by Shusaku Endo, about a Portuguese priest who will probably meet martyrdom in feudal Japan. I am three-quarters done with the book; right now the brave but crumbling man of Christ is being tried, and threatened with some undescribed torture, by a very crafty samurai ... in the city of Nagasaki.

Based on Fear

I was feeding Patch this morning with the teevee on in the adjacent living room. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this young mother on the screen, calling out to her daughter in their backyard to come in for some sandwiches. The little one does and the mother, thankfully, arms the alarm and closes the sliding glass door. Awfully paranoid, I think, but I know what’s going to happen. There’s a startling crash as one of those unshaven thugs with bright white teeth you see only on prime-time detective shows punches his fist through the glass of another door, setting off alarms. The mother and girl embrace, trembling in fear, as the burgler-potential-rapist-and-murderer snarls at them, then high-tails it outta there. Whew!

The first thought in my mind was not, “Gee, we really need an alarm system for our house!” but rather, how much of our society is based on fear.

I think it’s a given, and I think you’ll agree with me, that a good portion of advertising plays on our fears. How much exactly, I don’t know, but I’d say it’s a majority, that is, greater than fifty percent. I suppose if I was doing this for some sort of college project, I could watch teevee for twelve straight hours, notebook in hand, and analyze each commercial (and I’d probably see close to 400 in that time period). But just think about the commercials you’ve seen recently. Just about all drug advertising is based on fear: fear you’ll get sick, fear you’re health is at risk. Now we’re seeing an influx of commercials playing on economic fears. Might lose you job, house, car, insurance, you name it. Buy this, subscribe to that, be proactive and call this 800 number and save yourself from a world of pain.

If this is starting to bother you, I recommend that you stop watching teevee. Can’t? Here’s the news you may not have heard: teevee watching is a “soft” addiction. You’re addicted. But that’s not what I want to talk about now.

It’s not just product marketing. It’s marketing from all sorts of areas of life. Take politics, for example. What’s a negative political ad, if not a warning to you to fear the sponsor’s opponent? Turn on any talk radio station, and at the heart of it, it’s all playing to your fears. Turn on the mainstream media nightly news. A little more subtle, perhaps, but still fear-based. Especially when the country’s run by someone they don’t like, as it was from January 2001 to January 2009. The terrorists hate us, the world hates us, everyone hates us and is out to get us. Nowadays, in addition to pirates and nuclear regimes and homicide bombers we have things that want to get us. H1N1 anyone?

Cultural wars market fear to us. Both sides, mine and theirs. However, in these broad movements I think the more hard-core the advocate, the more they jump right over fear and into hate. The relationship between fear and hate is easy in this equation. Hate is a naturally result of fear. I know it doesn’t hold water, but face it, we do not live in a rational, reasoned age. We live in an age of emotion. And fear is the strongest, followed by hate. At least in the minds of some.

Fear in itself, though, is not a bad thing. I think this kind of outlook wraps itself up in the proposition “God did not create anything bad, so our emotions can’t be bad.” What they can be, is signals. A sign that something needs to be done, a call to action. Afraid of something? That means you need to do something: get prepared, take corrective action, or even maybe just give it up to God. Hate something? Get thee to a confessional.

The problem with allowing fear to overwhelm you is that it tends to paralyze you. Not hard to let happen since our media (and thus, our lives) is awash in the f-word. Believe me, I ain’t too far away, personally, and I am grappling with economic and medical difficulties, much more than the average man on the street.

The first thing we all should do is turn off the teevee. Turn off the radio: commercial music stations and talk. Stop reading the newspaper. If there’s something urgent you need to know, your friends and family will let you know. I found out about 9/11 from a librarian that brisk Tuesday morning. As an aside, you know what some of the worst offenders are? Health magazines. They’re loaded with drug ads! Don’t subscribe to them unless you want to be convinced you’ve got diseases you’ve never heard of.

Instead, nourish your mind. Feed it. It’s starving, you know? Read a good book. If all you like are trashy novels, so be it, but stretch yourself every now and then. Throw a CD on the stereo. Call your friends and talk about things that really matter, things that you can affect, not just things that can affect you. Try it. And you know what else? There’s magical truth at the bottom of that cliché, silence is golden. Try to discover that.

If you have a Bible, you may want to read this verse, and think about it now and then:

Philippians chapter 4, verse 8.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Childhood Inspiration






A couple of pics from artist Chesley Bonestell (bonn-e-stell) that bring back such memories from my youth. I remember those Time-Life books, with their simple titles, especially The Universe and Space. Read them both, cover-to-cover, numerous times. Skimmed through them hundreds of times.

Anyway, working on the website put me in contact again with these paintings that captivated me thirty years ago, and notified me of the name of the artist. I could stare at these pictures, each one, for ten minutes without being aware of the time, and write a couple of paragraphs or a short story featuring each.

I even got goosebumps ...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Experiments with the Weird

Okay, so I read somewhere that I should eat a potato before bed. Normally, well, lately, I’ve been downing a pint of ice cream around 9, two hours before bed. Previously, I would sometimes have a couple of chocolate chip cookies with skim milk (instead of my usual soy) or a couple of tablespoons of vanilla yogurt with grapes, bloobs, and granola. Sometimes I’m real bad and have a handful of mini candy bars, such as Snickers, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, etc. All this an hour or two before bed.

Is it any wonder why I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years?

Well, after my bout in the hospitals a couple of months ago I’m in a weird state of limbo. Sometimes I want to be real healthy, eat real clean, go as vegan as possible, drink filtered and bottled water by the gallon. Other times I eat like I’ll never die: junk food, pastas, sodas, you name it. The only thing I’ve been consistent on is alcohol. I’ve been beer-and-booze free for six months as of today; the second longest I’ve ever gone. Anyway, at this moment in time in my life, I’m trying to get some energy ’cause there’s something like a dozen or fifteen real important things that I need to get done, like, yesterday. And I can’t get energy if I can’t get a good night’s sleep, and I can’t get a good night’s sleep if I load up on sugar before shut-eye.

A few years ago I read a book that recommended the potato method. I’m not sure why. Something to do with balancing blood sugar and raising serotonin levels. Since I’ve been battling a weird, welterweight depression these past couple months, I know what serotonin is. And I know my brain is lacking in this chemical. Like endorphins, it has something to do with pleasure. The ability to feel pleasure, and to enjoy life, for one. A lot of those drugs the white coats will give a depressive jack up the poor dude’s serotonin levels.

Last night I had my first potato. Or, as I call it to the Little One, p’tater. The author says to expect vivid dreams early on, as your body adjusts, especially if your serotonin levels are very low. I don’t remember my dream or if it was vivid or not, but I do remember it was disconcerting and emotionally upsetting. I went to bed around 11:45 and woke at 3:45, unable to get back to sleep. Went downstairs, went online, and wasted three hours before the rest of the house woke up.

So, I’m just waiting for that p’tater to boil upstairs. Day two. If I have any electrifying early morning visions, I’ll be sure to make a note of it when I wake up and let you all know. Maybe try to keep it up for a week or two to see if it’s all worthwhile …

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Short-Handed

Strange weekend. Not really busy, but short-handed. The wife had to leave to visit a friend for the weekend for important but irrelevant reasons. She took the Little One with her because her friend has three daughters of her own, and they’re all good friends. And probably too because I’ve often said that watching the Little One is easy. Watching Patch is easy. Watching the Little One and Patch at the same time is … somewhat more challenging. And since C will be gone for a little over two days, well, she took one of the little ’uns off my hands.

So it’s me and Patch the whole weekend. Me and a ten-month old.

We started off good. The wife and the Little One left around 4 pm on Friday. I let Patch roam with plenty of toys, plenty of cushions laying about, and the stairs, teevee, and outlets gated off. Made myself a frozen dinner. Gave her a bottle and put her down at 8. Then, I worked a bit on the website, read some of my Silence book, channel surfed around 10 to see if there was anything worthwhile on.

Then, it started.

Patch began crying, and crying, and crying. Now, she’s got about four teeth on the bottom, and one on top, but there’s a whole bunch just under the surface waiting to come up. So, first, I try to console her, calm her down, then put her back in the crib. No dice. Fifteen minutes later I’m back in soothing an overheated baby. I put on the plastic finger thing, rub Orajel over it, and rub it over her gums and teeth. Which she hates. But tolerates. I put her down. Immediately the screaming resumes.

The wife calls from Pittsburgh. She’s just arrived. I tell her that Patch is on the warpath. She tells me to give her some baby Tylenol. Normally, my wife’s the nurse at home, so I have to search through all the medicines we have stocked up, finally finding an unopen liquid baby Tylenol, search for a dropper, and give her half the recommended dosage. Being a child of LE and C, she’s used to taking medicine. Within ten minutes, just past 11:30, she finally quiets in the crib.

Yesterday was a good day. After her morning bottle, I put the little Apache down for a nap around 9. Then, I head to the basement, balance the checkbook, pay a couple of bills, check my library card online, gather the books that are due, make a list of some items we need from Rite Aid (floss strips for the Little One, Emergen-C vitamin powder, among others), get some checks signed to deposit in the bank. Then, I get the baby at 10:30, feed her, and take her on my errands.

One of my favorite joys in life is running Saturday errands with Little One. It’s one of our bonding moments, actually, our weekly one-on-one time. We hit all the usual suspects: dry cleaners, bank, post office, a local library, maybe Barnes and Noble. She works the applicable proprietors for lollipops and candies, just like a born salesman. We cap it off with a slice or two at her favorite pizzeria (it has large black wooden stools to sit on) or a sandwich at Blimpie’s (which she still calls “Blinkie’s” like she did as a two-year old). But Little One’s three hundred miles away, so now it’s Patch’s turn to be initiated.

She handled it marvelously! Six errands: post office, library, bank, B&N, Rite Aid, and a Chinese restaurant, in that order, in about two hours. She got a little fussy about having to keep getting in and out of the car, and got a little vocal in the stroller at B&N, but other than that she was delightful and smiling. Slept a good two hours once we got home, too, which allowed me to eat my chicken and broccoli and watch a DVD.

Bought and borrowed a couple of DVDs which I may write about in the next couple of days: the 1979 teevee miniseries of The Martian Chronicles (I know, I know, but it’s nostalgic), the documentary Into Great Silence, and an awesome but uncharacteristic favorite of mine from my late teen years, the charming Evil Dead II. Bought two Rush CDs, also, which I may post on. So much to write, so little time.

Put in about three hours with the website this weekend; I would like to do more with the relative free time I have this weekend, but it’s tough. I’d like to put two more hours in later today while Patch naps. Before I started this whole web project I figured I could do it in about 40 hours, or a full-time work week. Problem is, snatching an hour here, an hour there, takes time. I estimate I’m a little past twenty hours invested, and I really have been doing this for three, three-and-a-half weeks. So my revised start-up date is August 15, regrettably. I’ll keep you all informed as D-Day arrives, or, for a better metaphor, as the countdown clocks reaches zero.

Just did some grocery shopping with Patch in teeming rain. Had an old lady chastise me at the checkout lane for not having my daughter all swaddled up like a newborn (“It gets cold in the frozen food section!” she tells her neighbor, within my earshot). I bought Little One one of those foam dart blow guns (“don’t hit your sister!”), but C says she’s been a bad girl last night so I’ll have to hide it for a couple of days.

Anyway, the girls should be leaving Pittsburgh by 2, which means they’ll actually leave by 3, and hit the highway by 3:30. It’s a six-hour drive with no traffic, but the weatherman says there’s a lot of rain on the eastern seaboard today, so I’ll estimate their arrival home to be somewhere around 11 pm. We’ll all get in bed by midnight, so we’ll all be exhausted tomorrow when the little ’uns get us up around 6. So that means I’ll have to be as productive as possible today, while entertaining good ole’ Patch.

Hopefully something of substance tomorrow.

Yours, LE.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Can Use You

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Do you feel as if everyone’s against you?

Do you feel thrown out as with the world’s trash?

Do you lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, though it’s not the ceiling you’re staring at, it’s what happened to you years ago, or what may happen to you tomorrow?

Do you stare at the mirror and silently say I hate you?

Do spiraling echoes of what you should have said or done or felt or thought or of all the mistakes you made by commission or omission crowd out your experience of the Now?

Do you wonder where your next meal’s coming from? Or if not, how ’bout the next mortgage payment?

Do you seek, desperately and with all your soul, for someone to believe in, some thing, something, or somecause to hitch that star of your’s to?

Believe me, my brother. You’re not alone.

Do you want to matter?

Do you want to leave behind a rock in some forgotten corner of the globe that says you were here? Or do you want it taught in textbooks?

Do you honestly believe you’re just marking time here?

Well, saddle up, man. I can use you.

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