Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Symptom of the Culture

Those of you who know me or read this blog probably know that I think there’s a serious problem with our 21st-century culture. I’m not an expert nor am I a prophet or a preacher. I just tend to agree with a lot of what I hear and read concerning this problem, and go about my way trying to survive, make a living somehow, and not add to it.

Anyway, another thought struck me while reading Robert O’Donnell’s short little book on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Rather than paraphrase, I think it best if I just plunk the best paragraph from the book right here. It says everything I want to say better and most succinctly:

In today’s permissive society, many people object to the terms “unnatural” and “abnormal” to describe any kind of human behavior. The simplest way to eliminate these terms from the vocabulary of ethics is to deny the existence of the natural law. If homosexual behavior is considered to be normal when practiced among consenting adults, or if it is considered to be normal simply because it is practiced by two percent of the population, than no further criteria remain by which we can determine whether this type of behavior is in harmony with or in violation of human nature. This kind of thinking denies the vertical dimension of ethics which is the basis for the existence of the natural law.

(emphasis mine)

Agree with it? If not, where does he go wrong? Remember, he’s writing across the backdrop of Thomistic thought. To me, it explains better than anything else I have read why the push to remove God from the public square. And it’s not just homosexuality – it’s any kind of human behavior that violates the natural law, be it abortion, pedophilia, drug abuse, you name it. If there’s some movement to eradicate the taboo element in any fringe behavior, it’s a safe bet that (a) it found its footing in this initial chipping away of the natural law that’s occurred over the past fifty years or so, and (b) it realizes that if its goal is to be successful (i.e., the normalization of the taboo) it must continue to deny and erode adherence and belief to the natural law.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Different View on Abortion

I’ve always thought that just from a purely intellectual standpoint – taking emotion completely out of the equation – the abortion debate can be won for the pro-life side. While reviewing my Thomas Aquinas book early this morning, I came across an idea that I never heard or read before, which reinforced this somewhat intuitive belief.

Without going into too much depth (where the danger of floundering and drowning still lies for a newbie like me), much of Thomas’ philosophy, built up from the edifice of Aristotle, deals with potency and act. Each and every material being is some combination of potential and action. Famously, the acorn has the potential to become the towering oak. Or the egg which has the potential chicken inside it. On a personal note, I am a simple, financially-struggling blogger right now, but inside me is the potential for a successful novelist. Whether such potency is actualized is the gist of this anti-abortion argument.

A lot of words have been spilled over when the fetus becomes ensouled – either at the moment of conception or at some arbitrary, ultimately unknowable point during gestation. The pro-choice movement makes a big deal about this, thinking that it somehow pokes holes in pro-life arguments. But it really doesn’t. Here’s why.

Thomas himself did not believe that life began at the moment of conception. Surprising? It’s in the Summa Theologica. However, the moment life begins is not important for him. What is important is the concept of potency and act. One has to realize and admit that from the moment of conception, the clump of cells that emerges is destined to become a human being. That is the natural order of things. That zygote (or whatever the proper biological term) has the potential to become a living, breathing, loving, thinking, feeling human being, made in the image of its Creator, God. What right do we have to prematurely terminate this potentiality, to violate the natural law (in this case, natural because it is the ordered way in which normal pregnancies move)?


Monday, September 28, 2009

Places Where I've ...


On a garage roof
In an unfinished attic
In the “V” between a house roof and a chimney
Twenty-plus feet up in a tree
In a parked car
On a parked car at a race track
In a row boat
On an airplane over the continental USA
On an airplane over the Caribbean Sea
Underneath the dining room table
Underneath the kitchen table
In the bath tub
In the basement by the light of the washing machine
On a school bus
In a library
In a library’s attic
Out in the fields
In a screened-in porch
By a secluded brook
On the beach at the Jersey shore
Against a clothes rack in Nordstrom’s

What do all these locations have in common in my life?

Okay, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Mind out of the gutter, now!

These are not all places where I have, uh, hm, uhhh, you know, done that. No. Though I am a connoisseur of women (well, three actually, and over a twenty-four year span), I have not, uh, actually, well, you know. *

No. These are all places where I have cheerfully, joyfully, and yes, even lovingly, read a book. Each has fond memories in my mind of the worlds I have journeyed to, the lifetimes I have lived. Indeed, my vision of Heaven has the perfected, Platonic ideal of each of these places and an infinituum of awesome novels to read.

Heck, The Lord of the Rings easily takes the prize; most of the unusual reading spots originated with that masterpiece. I vividly remember being at Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, while up in a tree as my father walked by below, oblivious. Saruman got his just comeuppance at the stock car races. Frodo battled Shelob beneath my dining room table as the Battle for Minas Tirith raged by the light of my grandma’s washing machine.

Lately I’ve been doing my reading on the comfy, mushroom-colored couch in my living room. It’s peaceful, cozy, and quiet, and by the light of a shaded 60 watt bulb I’m slipping into rooms of World War I-era Cambridge, the colorful and fragrant dirt-poor by life-rich villages of India, the world of the early 21st century as envisioned by an SF writer in the early 70s, and the humorous and far-out wonders of Known Space.

But my girls get a little older, and I’m gonna have to start reading in the crawlspace under my backyard deck.

* To quote the eminently quotable Steve Martin: “Some people have a way with words. Other people …... oh …… not have way, I guess.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Little One's Fifth

A quiz! What does …

1 Three Musketeers bar

8 large blue corn tortilla chips with chili salsa dip

13 slices of pizza

8 jump shrimp in ketchup-horseradish sauce

18 fudge-dipped finger cookies

7 cans of caffeine-free Diet Coke

1 generous piece of chocolate ganache cake with chocolate icing

Various handfuls of pretzels, potato chips, and puffs.


Give up?

My food intake over the past 24 hours.

My wife told me if I was a carebear my name would be Hogbear. A fat little bear with a logo of a turkey drumstick on his stomach.

Oh, wait! I had an apple, too! For the phytochemical nutrients. That’s why I’m not dead. Phytochemicals.

Seriously, yesterday was the Little One’s fifth birthday. Can you believe it? I can’t. Time sure does fly, as the cliché goes (editor’s note: Avoid clichés like the plague!). Where have those five years gone?

A lot’s happened in the half-decade our Little One’s been around. For one, we have this new life – no, more than that – this new person, a person who did not exist six years ago but now does. She has an amazing personality. Not only does she sing and dance and come up with the strangest things, but she’s genuinely a funny girl. She does flash cards with me. She can name all nine planets (yes, Pluto’s still a planet in my house), in order and by sight. She can name all the Jonas brothers. She pulls pranks on my relatives (Aunt John and Uncle Marian). She has more friends than I do. She still likes to cuddle with me.

My wife has had two jobs since she was born. I lost mine. We’ve had a second baby, whose following in her big sister’s footsteps. Heck, Patch adores the Little One. We’re still in the same old house we bought while the Little One was fetal, but have a new basement. I’ve edited the first drafts of my novels. Started this blog. Made contact with a half-dozen lost friends from the distant and not-so-distant past via Facebook. Learned how to play Clapton’s The Core on my acoustic (that song’s eluded me for decades!).

Her party was yesterday, and I must say it was a success. We’re doing the transition from adult relatives to school chums. Because she just started kindergarten in our town, the Little One still doesn’t know enough – or maybe we as parents don’t know enough of the other parents – to have a full-fledged kiddie party, it was a mix. Twelve little ones and twelve adults. Some arts and crafts, a bouncy castle, a bubble machine, pizza and beer, and that awesome ganache cake. The heavy clouds held off, and we all had fun.

Little One made out like a bandit with presents. She really got everything she wanted and more. A scooter, a tennis racket, slippers and robe, a floor puzzle, a Play-Doh ice cream parlor, three outfits for Barbie, an indoor tent, a Lego pony farm … and she hasn’t even opened up our gifts yet (we hold off till the actual day of birth). So now she’s largely ignoring her sister’s one-year-old gifts that she’s all but monopolized over the past two weeks.

Gotta run – need to get to the leftover cookies before the girls do.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fear of the Mailman

Bills from doctors you’ve never met!

Mortgage payments with ever-evolving property taxes!!

Credit card bills with double-digit finance charges!!!

Certified letters from ex-employers making you work extra just to cover their ass!!!!

Postcards from prospective employers thanking you for your letter but please apply to our website!!!!!

Notices from the town that they’re gonna be digging up your front lawn!!!!!!


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Disciplined Child

I remember reading a story, or a parable, a little over five years ago, just before my first daughter was born. It was about the disciplining of children, or more specifically, the disciplined child. For the life of me I can’t remember the source; it was a blog, I remember, and if I do recall which it was I will cite it here as an update. Forgive me if I twist or embellish some details. I remember the gist of the story, if not the exact framing of it. It went something like this:

One day two men were at a park with their sons and the subject of disciplining came up. One of the fathers, an immigrant, was extolling the virtues of the disciplined child and perhaps mentioned his son with a bit of pride. The second father asked for an example.

“Very well,” the first father said. He pointed out his boy playing downhill from them, about fifty yards away. “Observe.”

He called his son by name, and the child turned around. “Stop!” the father shouted.

The boy stopped completely, frozen in his tracks.

“Take three slow steps back!”

The boy obeyed immediately, slowly inching back three paces.

“Now run up here, quick!”

The boy darted up the field and was at his father’s side in less than a minute.

The first father ruffled the boy’s hair. “Very good, my son. Now, go back down and play.”

The second dad was amazed, but a little peeved. “That’s impressive,” he admitted, “but come on, I mean, really! Is that disciplining? It’s seems that you just turned your child into a robot, and for what purpose? The only one I can see is to break his spirit!”

“In my country,” the first dad explained, “it is not uncommon to see snakes in the fields. Most are harmless, but some are not. Our children are trained to obey their parents’ commands without question; for what would be the result if my son was about to step on a poisonous snake, with me watching, helpless, words unheeded, fifty yards away?

“The purpose of disciplining,” he went on, “is never to break a child’s spirit. It is always to protect the child. First physically while a youngster, and then in others ways as the child grows.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Frank is Troubled

Frank is trouble, troubled.

What do we mean by this? Well, let’s take that sentence in two parts.

First, our friend Frank is trouble.

How do we analyze this statement? Let’s start with the superficial.

Frank has tattoos up and down both arms, around his neck, shoulder blades, and chest. Also, adorning both calves as well as his knuckles. The usual, requisite stuff: barbed wires, pierced hearts, flowery aqua blurred paens to old girlfriends and mothers-of-his-children. A gun bleeding black tear drops. Satanic stuff minus the authentic satanic. Skulls and roses.

He also is a piercing enthusiast. In Frank’s case, this involves metal through his: ear lobes, ear cartilage, nostril, eyelid, upper right cheek, scrotum. He’s toying with the idea of putting a quarter-sized black ivory stone through the skin below his lower lip, because his friend Eddie got one ten days ago.

Frank’s hair is spiky, but that’s only because he shaves it periodically. Strangely, every time he does shave his head (thus exposing a black tattooed cross) he seems to get into more fights. But right now it’s about a half-inch, gelled upright. Scruff decorates around his mouth and cheeks. Not a goatee, because he does use an electric razor every three or five days. But short, sharp black stubs.

He has a unibrow, but if you mention it, even in a light-hearted, joking manner, Frank will throw a fist at you. Still, he doesn’t shave it, because that would be effeminate.

His clothes are always well-worn. And they are always denim jeans matched with a faded, grimy t-shirt or a torn flannel shirt, depending on the weather out-of-doors. A black leather belt with an aged bronze-colored buckle depicting two crossed rifles. Work-boots which always look six-months used.

Next, let’s move on to actions and activities. Remember, we’re trying to prove the hypothesis that Frank Is Trouble.

As you may have surmised from a previous paragraph, Frank has fathered children out-of-wedlock. Not indicative of trouble, per se, but Frank is a serial bastard-generator. He almost never sees his children, unless they happen to be on the street when he’s driving shotgun in Eddie’s truck. The mothers of his children would have to get the state after him for child support, since Frank doesn’t work, and one did, though she dropped her efforts after a terrifying encounter with some of Frank’s friends.

He’s had a somewhat fractious relationship with the law since, oh, about age eight or so. He’s now twenty-four and has spent two years incarcerated as an adult, and six in low-security reformatories as a minor. Most of the time it’s because of fighting, though he spent eighteen months out-of-state for breaking-and-entering.

Frank smokes a pack of Marlboros a day, and smokes heavier herb to be social, with his friends. He prefers Miller Genuine Draft for his liquid needs. He’s done all the hard stuff at least once (no need to catalogue it all here) but he feels no great attachment to any of it; again, he does such substances to be social.

Not having a car or a truck, Frank doesn’t drive. He had a license, once, at age sixteen, but it got taken away eight months later for DUI. He’s never bothered to renew it. There’s plenty of rides he can get when he needs, which he does, from friends like Del and Neal and Grillo and Eddie.

Occasionally Frank works odd-jobs at construction sites, mainly because his sister’s husband (they’re divorced) kinda likes him and owns his own paving company. But Frank always messes up, sooner rather than later. It starts with tardiness, develops into unpaid absences, and graduates to on-site theft, usually of something stupid like chicken wire or a red traffic cone or two.

Can we agree that Frank is trouble?

I think so.

Now: Frank is troubled.

What makes me say so?

Like so many of us, especially so many of us young folk, Frank is dissatisfied with his life. Sometimes he wakes up and, even when not hungover, feels that this isn’t the life he should be living. It’s a vague, shadowy feeling, a finger of doubt and uncertainty, always on the perimeter of his consciousness, never fully exposed but never completely hidden, either. Something’s not right. It’s not just than the fact that he never has any money, or the fact that he still lives in that condemned single-story shed with his mother, or that he’s turned his body into a carnival side show. No, it’s something deeper. Existential, he would say, if he knew what the word existential meant and implied.

This feeling’s been with him for a long, long time, so long that he can’t actually pinpoint a start date to it. Still in his teens he thought it meant that he should enlist. Serve, like his cousin Walt, who served in Iraq in the first war. Walt stayed throughout the duration of the conflict, then re-enlisted a couple of times (Frank is sketchy on details since that side of the family lives a couple of states away). But his mother is always chatting Walt up. It used to annoy him, since most everything his mother says annoys him, but part of him realizes that Walt and what he did doesn’t disgust him.

Odd that a part of him would go about systematically doing everything possible to make him an unfit candidate for Uncle Sam’s army.

Day after day, however, more and more, Frank thinks he knows the answer. But no – it can’t be that! Anything but that. What would his friends think? What would the anonymous sheep on the street think? Frank himself has never audibly spoke of it, not once, not in his bed in the dark, not out in the fields, by himself, feet against a fire and a sixpack of MGD nestled between his legs. No, he hardly even allows himself the opportunity to even think about it, to explore it, to examine it from different angles, to imagine it into being.

Since I know everything, I know Frank’s innermost desire. You see, Frank wants to be on TV. So does half of America, you might say, and I might agree with you. But Frank doesn’t want to be a reality teevee star. No, he does not want to go on Survivor, or Big Brother, or Bus of Love, whatever it’s called, even though dozens of talent scouts and producers are salivating for freaks like him to come forward. No, Frank – or the part of Frank that’s really Frank, not the outer bundle of insecurities and pains and trivialities and rage, the part of him that was brought out of nothing and into existence a little over twenty-four years ago – Frank wants to be a children’s television show host, like Captain Kangaroo or Mister Rogers.

Though he never sees his children – that’s the outer bundle you see as Frank – more than anything else he wants to make children smile. Make them happy and make them laugh. And something is drawing him towards this inexplicable career choice, this out-of-the-blue vocation.

That is why Frank is troubled.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Carter vs. Reagan

I’ve been thinking a little bit about the Carter-Reagan debates of 1980, probably because the worst president of the twentieth century has bumbled back into the news recently. I don’t recall how many debates there were (I’m not googling anything for this post); heck, I wasn’t even a teenager at the time. But I do remember sensing it was a tremendous deal in my house. Laying on the floor while my father and mother sat on the couch, glued to the television, it was a Big Event for us.

Now I was only aware in a very hazy sort of way about what was going on in the world. It was kinda scary. This post sums up what I felt as a boy back then. These were troubled times; I knew the buzzword “stagflation” was bad even if I couldn’t exactly tell an adult what I thought it was. Our family subscribed to the New York Daily News so every day headlines screamed murder, corruption, and terrorism at me. My grandparents subscribed to Time (these were the days before it was a blatant and devout left-wing commentary magazine), and each week I’d see the colorful and often disturbing images on the cover page. Long lines for gas. American hostages in Iran. Perhaps that background of foreboding made the debate(s) seem all that more important for us, a single-earner middle-class family in a modest, middle-class neighborhood.

It was the first time I watched a debate, and I remember focusing on it from start to finish without distraction. My initial, overwhelming and overpowering feeling, which I still talk about today every now and then, was the sense of pure confidence I got from Reagan. The power and strength he exuded, as opposed to the weaknesses and word-parsing from the current president. And me, a boy of twelve! This grandfatherly man would protect me and my world, of that I had not the slightest doubt. And obviously, judging by Reagan’s landslide victory, so did many, many others in mainstream America.

But I wonder: Is this the reason why so many independents and moderates were snookered (I believe: adjective chosen deliberately) into voting for Obama? Despite all of McCain’s credentials and experience, he was not an ideal candidate. He did not radiate the power and strength that candidate Reagan did. Obama, on the other hand, talked a forceful game. While my natural instincts were not taken by him (plus the added fact that I would never, ever vote for a Democrat on principal – you know, the whole abortion, gay marriage, taxation platform) he obviously spoke better on the campaign trail and in the debates. Well, as long as he had a teleprompter or a prepared speech, as we’re finding out every now and then. However, I think we Americans love a man who can get up there and speak and sound powerful, even if we kinda know in our heart-of-hearts we’re being sold a story.

Which brings me to another point, one I just brought up with the wife a few nights ago and one I posted before. How sad it is that great men (seemingly) only come around once in a lifetime. I am thinking of two men in this instance: Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. They have charisma. They exude power and confidence. They fight the good fight. They genuinely fight for us, not in the sense of being a community organizer or of one “speaking truth to power” but of one standing square in the thick of a battle between forces greater than the ones we can see and know. They fight on the moral battlefield; they believe in the natural law; they believe, like ninety or ninety-five percent of us, in God.

How I wish for more Great Men in the remainder of my lifetime. At least one more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pro Dei Beneficiis

Laudo, glorifico, benedico te, Deus meus,
Propter immense
Indigno mihi preastita beneficia.

Quid dicam, Deus meus,
De tua ineffabili largitate?

Tu enim vocas fugientem.
Suscipis revertentem.
Adjuvas titubantem.
Laetificas desperantem.
Stimulas negligentem.
Armas pugnantem.
Coronas triumphantem.
Peccatoram post poenitentiam non spernis.
Et injuriae non memineris.
A multis liberas periculis.
Angelico ministerio custodies.

Pro quibus omnibus laudes referre non sufficio.



Monday, September 21, 2009


(Slow news day here at the ranch ...)

Well, I settled on A Hole In Space, a collection of ten short stories by Larry Niven, published in 1974. It’s been sitting on my shelf for over two years, so it’s due to be read. It’s classic SF, written by a classic SF writer, and it should be good reading. I need to take a brief vacation from serious, thick stuff – but don’t think that Niven’s stories are light fluff. They’re light-hearted, I suppose, and that’s what I’m looking for right now.

In the spring of 2000, freshly transplanted to the suburbs of Washington DC, after just starting a radically new job, I bought a Niven book, Ringworld. It was probably the first SF book I read in at least six or seven years, and something pulled me toward it. It took a surprisingly long time to read, but it was … epic, in a way, to me. It opened up a whole new world, one that I guarantee you’ve never conceptualized before, and populated it with fresh characters. I was hooked, I was willingly drawn in. I savored it, and really looked forward to the small stretches of time here and there that I could find to drop into it. That whole summer the book was my constant companion: in my car for lunch-time reading, at my night-table for a few pages before bed, out with me on errands as my fiancé dragged me all over the north-eastern seaboard preparing for our wedding, in my luggage when we drove up north to visit our folks.

Though eventually I wound up slightly disappointed by the book – I felt this lush, lavish creation of Niven’s was only superficially explored and delved into, and went off on a couple of tangents of lesser interest. I know he wrote sequels to the book, but this odd discontent I had kinda scared me off from exploring further works of his. Well, seven years passed and I found this anthology in my used book store, and now I decided to commit to it.

Oh, and the Dedication Page is quite striking and unique:

I started writing ten years ago. I wrote for a solid year and collected nothing but rejection slips.

Most beginning writers can’t afford to do that. They take an honest job and write in their spare time, and it takes them five years to make their mistakes, instead of one. Me, I lived off a trust fund.

The trust fund was there because my great-grandfather once made a lot of money in oil. He left behind him a large family of nice people, and we all owe him.


How interesting! And how inspirational, in a way. I’m very much excited about beginning this book, later tonight, after all the children are in bed and I have an hour to myself beneath the soft light of the lamp above my favorite reading chair. A review in a week or so, and – who knows? – maybe I’ll go up into the attic, open up some of the boxes I have there and find Ringworld, and bring it down for another reading …

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Decisions, decisions

Okay, so my birthday came and went, and among the couple of presents I got from my innermost group of loved ones was a new book and a gift card to a large chain seller of books. Now here’s my dilemma. After reading a couple of heavy, in-depth, and/or long-winded novels (Ishmael, Silence, Kim, She) I’m looking for something fast and quick. Some light-entertainment. Something pulpy, something sci-fi-ish. (“Sci-fi” is the term we geeks use to refer in a derogatory fashion to science fiction; it’s the antithesis of “SF”. )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to my awesome used book store, which is a hike to get to. The last time I was there, sometime in the late winter, I bought four paperback SF anthologies. All of writers I’ve never read before. I also have a fantasy epic by George R. R. Martin on deck. While I’m not a big fantasy reader (because nothing can measure up with my experience of the LotR as a kid), I am in love with the prose and intellect of George R. R. But speaking of the LotR, one of my close friends bought me The Children of Hurin, by Christopher Tolkien, the latest anthropologic epic culled from the massive notes of his father’s mythos.

So … what to read? I’m plodding my way through Ramanujan’s biography (The Man Who Knew Infinity), and it is keeping my attention, but it is slow going. My free time is limited to about an hour a day to read as I’m working on other projects to hopefully get some money and take care of the house and children. However, I’m really, really jonesin’ for some fiction.

Do I invest the time, possibly a month’s worth, in reading the Tolkien, which may be dry and encyclopedic rather than epic, or in reading Martin, which may be a roll of the dice and cause my esteem of him to slip? Should I put away one of the SF (or sci-fi) anthologies I bought a while ago? I could finish such an anthology in a week, though short story work generally tends to leave me dissatisfied (I find it more enjoyable to lose myself in a 300-page novel than a 15-page short story). Or should I just wait till I can find an hour to use the gift card, shopping the shelves until something jumps out at me?

Ah, decisions …

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ants on a Log

By LE, Candidate, Homemaker of the Year, 2009.

The Little One enjoying Ants on a Log after school one day this week after a long Kindergarten session.

Cut one apple up into eight equal pieces. Smear peanut butter on the inside of each piece (preferably Smuckers All-Natural - no hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup). Place 3 raisins in a row in the peanut butter. Serve to a hungry toddler.

Birthday party today followed by domestic chores and website work. Hopefully something substantial, lengthy, in-depth and personal for tomorrow's post!

Friday, September 18, 2009



Actual conversation last night between me and my wife, just before bed -

ME: Hey, do you want to see an etching of a pig dressed in human clothes, being flogged for a crime he may or may not have committed?

WIFE: What?

ME: Do you want to see an etching of a pig dressed in human clothes, being flogged for a crime he may or may not have committed?

Not waiting for a response, I show her a picture on page 326 of a book I am reading.

WIFE: (incredulous) You actually went to the library to find a book on a pig being flogged?

ME: (back-peddling) Well, the whole book is not entirely about that. It’s about strange but allegedly true events from the past.

WIFE: (with raised eyebrow) And you actually spent the time to drive to the library, pick out this book from all the others on the shelves, wait on line, and check it out from the library?

ME: Hey, what do you want? I’m into weird stuff. You knew this before you married me. You were warned.

WIFE: (sighing) Yes, they all warned me …

Note: I tried to find a picture online of the engraving of the poor little fellow, but was unsuccessful. In fact, reference to the picture is completely omitted from the photo credits at the back of my library book. Strange coincidence … or something more sinister? Hmmmm?



A meme that’s floating around the blogosphere, originating from some conservative political websites –

“From 2001 to 2008, we were told that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

Now, in 2009, we’re told that dissent is the lowest form of racism.

Well, which is it?

The hypocrisy and deceit of contemporary American politics disgusts me. I am taking steps to extract this fungal cancer from my life. I’ll vote every November, of course, after careful review of all candidates and their positions and experience. But I feel dirty participating in the fray every day, exposing my mind to their mostly crude attempts at indoctrination. And lest you think I am only aiming at our esteemed and high-valued liberal establishment, this extraction also includes such luminaries of the right as Glenn Beck, or Chicken Little (“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”) as I like to call him to the chagrin of some members of my family.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Patch is One!

What long, crazy year it’s been!

Happy birthday, my littlest one. May you have a many, many more.



So, so tired …

Went to bed late last night, just past midnight, long after everyone else had gone asleep. Woke up just before five, tossed and turned, went to the basement to write but a mild case of the block left me seeking distraction.

No energy, and the little ones are roaming above me, looking for food and entertainment.

Will try to do something productive today, but I fear it may just be twenty-four hours in a holding pattern.

So much time, and so much time slipping like sand through my fingers …


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The (Almost) Great UFO Hoax of 1978

As a kid I was infatuated with strange oddities and esoterica; my favorite show was Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of… My mother was a librarian back then, so when she watched me while she worked I basically camped out in the 001.9 section and read everything cover to cover. UFOs. Bigfoot. The Bermuda Triangle. Atlantis. Mermaids and sea monsters and Nessie. Ghosts and the paranormal. Later, as I got older, I read all those books on History’s mysteries. I ate it all up; I lived it. Once I even mistook my mother taking out the trash for a suburban sasquatch.

One Christmas my brother and I got a pair of inexpensive starter cameras, and I don’t think it was too long before the idea popped into my head that I should photograph a UFO.

I enlisted my little brother’s aid for the hoax. I had to, because I needed a special effects man. Not content to paint a frisbee silver and photograph it after tossing it into the air, I decided this would be the Cecil B. DeMille of UFO photography.

How so? First, we decided to shoot it in a controlled environment. Our basement. Then, we needed a prop. I had my brother cut and nail together a saucer-shaped ship out of wood that was really just a glorified two-dimensional UFO, about a foot in diameter. I think we painted it gold for some reason; possibly it was spray paint left over from when I did a really crappy 3D Mayan temple for a social studies class. We nailed it up on the concrete wall and planned on taking “night time” photos, but still, that wasn’t enough.

There needed to be a storm! And the UFO needs to explode at the end! Hmmm. How might we accomplish this? Remember, this was about twenty-five years before the advent of digital cameras. The cameras we had were the size of a brick and took manual film that had to be inserted and wound into the back of the device. Film that cost money. Money that we got from our parents. So, we couldn’t be wasteful; this had to be planned carefully.

I got it! Bubble wrap! Yes!

I figured if I stood about ten feet from the concrete wall where our golden saucer hung mounted and put some bubble wrap over the lens, it would simulate stormy conditions. Makes perfect sense, right?

Anyway, I think we had maybe seven or eight pictures having used four or five on more mundane subjects (the cat, our toys, etc). I had my brother work the light switch and a flashlight. On cue, he turned off the incandescent bulbs and shined the flashlight on our craft. I took a picture from the opposite wall, then moved in closer for another shot, then tilted it at a crazy angle for a third. I was concocting a story in my mind during this; something like me and my brother outside looking at the moon when we saw a spaceship and started running away but it spotted us and zoomed in.

But then, the UFO caused storms to flare up! Winds and clouds and fog! I put the bubble wrap over the lens and took a couple more photos. From different angles, because now the spaceship was following us through the woods.

Then, the grand finale. Somehow, for some strange, unknown reason, the UFO exploded in a gargantuan display of pyrotechnic fireworks. Unfortunately, on our nonexistant budget, I was at a loss on how to make this happen photographically. Seeing my sullen brother relegated to the stairs, one hand on the light switch and another dangling the flashlight, I had a sudden urge of inspiration.

It would take precision timing, but it just might work. I explained it to my brother, and we began a simultaneous countdown. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – NOW! My brother turned on the overhead lights as I instantaneously clicked the camera. Deep down I knew it would work – there, on the photo, would be a blinding blur of light over our UFO which would clearly show to the discerning eye a fifty-foot spaceship exploding.

Satisfied, we had the film developed. I don’t recall how, but it probably involved my mother or father dropping the camera off at a film store. We’d go back and get it in a couple of days. I was excited for the rest of the day, but then promptly forgot about it.

A week passed, if I remember correctly, and my father had us out on errands. I realized then he was going to get the film! Oh no! I had forgotten clearly about our cover story. I prodded my brother to tell him, but he wouldn’t, so I cleared my throat and began by telling my father, “Uh, we forgot to tell you … we saw a UFO last week!”

I saw him smile in the rear view mirror. Scenes of me watching In Search Of … or with flying saucer books in my lap or hypnotized two feet from the teevee watching this movie. “Oh, really?” he said, and I think his tone was encouraging me to talk more, but I felt a little self-conscious, and somehow the conversation just kinda dead-ended.

We walked in with him to the store, all the way up to the girl at the counter. He gave her our film tag and she disappeared in the back for a few minutes. How excited I was, minutes from the greatest hoax ever! Then, she came out, a little forlorn expression adorning her face. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but the last seven pictures on this roll of film could not be developed.”

My father nodded and smiled knowingly, but didn’t say anything.

We got back home and showed my mother our pictures of the cat, our toys, etc.

But my fascination with extraterrestrial visitors did not end that day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hoaxes, Trivia, and Gullibility


True or False? These are a couple of stories you’ve no doubt heard countless times. But if you were put under the gun, and had to answer true or false – “I don’t know” is not an option here – how well would you do?

- The toilet was invented by Sir Thomas Crapper.

- Eskimos have over a hundred words to describe snow.

- Around the time when Columbus discovered America, most Europeans believed that the earth was flat.

- One of the innovations Marco Polo introduced into Europe after his travels to China was ice cream.

- Sharks do not get cancer.

- Lemmings commit mass suicide by periodically marching into the sea.

Got these from a book called The Museum of Hoaxes that I was thumbing through a couple of days ago. The author also has an addicting website where I wasted too many hours a few years back. Oh, and the answer to each of the six little tidbits is false. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Why this post on hoaxes?

Because I am guilty of (attempting) a hoax of potentially epic proportions.

More on this tomorrow …

Sunday, September 13, 2009


In reading She, I kept thinking back to those made-for-teevee-movies I watched as a boy in the late seventies. There seemed to be a whole rash of them, these lost world type flicks. More often than not they took place in Victorian times and invariably featured a homogeneous cast: The eccentric yet brilliant professor. The handsome and rugged working-class hero who must save the day. The sassy and independent woman who wants to prove herself equal to the hero though often needing a saving by him. The rogue or fool within the expedition who jeopardizes it but rarely meets bloody death by dinosaur that’s a non-negotiable requirement in 21st century screenwriting. They explored hidden and mysterious jungles – be it in Africa, South America, or, inexplicably, Antarctica – and encountered giant lizards or spiders, cavemen, diamonds and jewels. They escaped by the skins of their teeth and came back to civilization with not a shred of evidence except their own tall tales. Well, maybe they managed to bring back a brontosaur egg or two.

H. Rider Haggard’s She is one of the creators of this whole “lost world” genre. Along with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Haggard strikes me as the English-speaking Jules Verne. Not so much from the subjects of his stories, but his characters. The Victorian adventure story. A time of unbounded optimism, when men of Science believed in their Creator and set out joyfully with their sons or nephews and menservants to discover strange new worlds. When men of leisure and wealth bent their wills towards conquering the unknown. When such a man often blustered and harrumphed over the fact that a woman could be equal to him, yet secretly admired it, though in polite society he could never admit it. I think my little essay on the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth sums this up pretty darn good with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Simply stated, the story involves an expedition into the mountains off the coast of East Africa, in search of a Queen of a forgotten race. Enticed by mysterious documents opened on the 25th birthday of his adopted son Leo, scientist L. Horace Holly organizes the expedition and brings along his manservant, Job. A squall off the continent results in the loss of their ship; an excursion into the mainland reveals ominous discoveries and carnivorous dangers. Soon the men of the small party finds themselves captives of a strange tribe – not quite African, not quite Egyptian – who refer to their secretive ruler simply as She-who-must-be-obeyed. She turns out to be ancient and possessed of supernatural powers, including the power to kill with a glance. When She becomes enamored with Leo, thinking him the reincarnation of an old lover, She becomes determined to return with him to England, but not until Leo himself has become immortal …

But what surprised me most about this novel – which, similar to my experience with Kim, I found completely enjoyable and absorbing – was how modern it seemed, without all the trappings and excesses of modernism. For instance, the threat She would pose if she ever did leave her secret kingdom is only hinted at, and not explicitly spelled out, and that only in the horror of Holly’s realization. Also, the endgame struck me as restrained yet completely satisfactory; if the book was remade by Hollywood today we’d be treated to a CGI-battle involving myriads of warriors and flying dragons and demons and who knows what else. I enjoy a cerebral ending, especially when it’s least expected. Victorian writing always seemed very wordy and run-on to me, but I found this thoroughly involving and perfectly-poised at the proper moments.

I found a volume of Haggard’s works for eight bucks at a used book store and I consider it money well-spent. The books also contains King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quartermain. I’ll keep the volume on my shelf behind my writing desk, and will get to both the other stories at some yet-to-be-determined time in the future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor Day

A couple of pictures of my girls at the beach ...

We stayed down at my father-in-law's on the Jersey shore for three days. Both my daughters, ages 5 and 1, as well as my wife, are dyed-in-the-wool beach bums. I was not in attendance on the ferocious heat and wind of the summer sands. No, I was back at the bungalow, munching on chips and sitting in a recliner in the backyard shade, alternating between my two exciting books on Thomas Aquinas and Srinivasa Ramanujan, and stealing a short nap here and there.
An excellent way to end the summer, for all concerned!



During the time that God has granted you in this world, make up your mind in earnest to do something worthwhile; time is pressing and the mission of men – and women – on earth is most noble, heroic, and glorious when it enkindles shrunken and dried-up hearts with the fire of Christ.

It is worthwhile taking peace and happiness to others through a strong and joyful crusade.

- #613, Furrow, by Josemaria Escriva

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pope's Prayer at Ground Zero

From his trip in April, 2008:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light

and peace to all who died here
- the heroic first responders: our firefighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work
or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who,
because of their presence here that day,

suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families

and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.
We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury,

and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and
in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer
embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women

and peace among the nations of the Earth.
Turn to your way of love those whose hearts

and minds are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding, overwhelmed by

the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance

as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared

may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope,

and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly
for a world where true peace
and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.

For my thoughts about 9/11, you can take a look here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Speech

So what was LE’s uninformed, disinterested-on-purpose opinion?

Last night was the first presidential speech I listened to in its entirety. I must say straight out that as a rule I generally don’t watch these things. For the eight years previous, they’ve just been downright embarrassing. I do think our current leader was elected in large part because the American public desperately wanted someone – anyone – who could get an intelligent, intelligible sentence out without popping a clutch.

However, I quickly discovered over the past eight or nine months that the new breed of presidential speech, while an example of technical brilliance, so leaden down with arrogance and phoniness that I’m back to square one with my distaste of POTUS addresses.

My initial reaction to what I heard last night?

One part Southern Baptist preacher, one part used car salesman, one part cold-blooded partisan liberal. The president is such a masterful speaker that the Republicans have to learn how to speak in public to effectively challenge this man in 2012. We Americans love our style over substance, so for presidential challengers: you need both, period.

Oh, and there will be no compromise on the health insurance bill. At least from the president’s side.

And how will we pay for the whole new bureaucracy? We won’t – it will pay for itself. Hmmmm. Not sold on that one.

Only 5% of the American public will use the public option – which WILL be in the bill. Find that hard to believe, too. Opposing arguments sound too rational to me, and I have not heard proponents adequately dispel these arguments.

And no matter how effective a speaker you are, it never pays to laugh at your opponent’s objections when restating them, even if it’s a wistful, shake-your-head-at-how-they-just-don’t-understand-you chuckle.

My prediction? Remember, I’m a willful dummy when it comes to politics, so I don’t profess to crystal balls or special acumen here. I think the speech will give him a temporary bump in polls, but I think this health care bill is dead.

At least, I hope it is.

The best way to fix our health care system is to fix it incrementally, and not by adding additional tax and deficit burdens on ourselves and our children.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kim Part II

Just a few brief thoughts …

Watched the DVD of Kim last week in two viewings. As expected, not nearly as good as the book, but above average for a movie. It was made in 1950, so the film is vividly bright, with character actors glamming and hamming it up as Indians. Sets are big and extravagant and with all the costumes thrust you into a different time and culture, just what you’d expect from 1950’s Hollywood.

The lama is downplayed while Mahbub Ali, known in the movie as “Red Beard” and played by Errol Flynn, is emphasized, as is the “espionage” part of the story. Several characters die at the end of the flick (no one dies in the book), including a rather gruesome end for a fat Asian baddie who’s nastily trying to get information out of Kim. Intense for “a great family adventure” as the DVD cover exclaims; I had to make light of the whole scene for my daughter’s benefit, who watched it with me. Kim is cast well and well-acted for that time period by Dean Stockwell, while Flynn, who can pass for an Indian about as well as I can, is distracting but jovial. The lama and the spiritual end of the tale gets short shrift, and that’s a crime, though I did like the imagery surrounding the old master near the end of the movie.

A good watch if you’re into these types of classic movies. Remade today it would be a travesty. But read the book, if you have a choice and are of a mind to do so.



Do you not know or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.

He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.

- Isaiah 40:28-31

Monday, September 7, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Hello! I have not vanished off the face of the earth. I was not lost exploring the deep, vast, dark African continent. Nor was I left for dead in some forgotten used book store. No. My PC is having technical difficulties.

It began on Friday afternoon. Having three or four Internet Explorers open, I clicked on yet another link which took me to some Adobe .pdf file that insisted on opening. Before I could figure out how to cancel, the whole PC locked up. Froze solid. Seeing I couldn’t manually close out of all the IE’s, nor could I reboot the PC by normal means, I had to kill the power switch.

When it rebooted, I discovered I lost all my desktop icons as well as the task bar. I was unable to right-click. The only way I could get things open was through the Task Manager. I rebooted into Safe Mode, deleted all my cookies and temp files, and tried to do a System Restore. Despite having done so on several occasions in the past, now it seems I need to contact my System Administrator to do a Restore. And the PC won’t reboot into Admin settings.

Then, a peaceful interlude. We went down the shore for three days.

I got back home a few hours ago. Tried a few more things, no luck. So I’m doing this update on my wife’s laptop. Tomorrow evening I’ll resume my troubleshooting. I used to do this nonsense for a living, but that was a long time ago, and things change fast in the computer world. So, we’ll see.

In the meantime, know that I do have a couple of posts on deck to make up for the scarcity lately. Hope y’all enjoyed your Labor Day and back-to-school is as painless as it is for us, so far.

Friday, September 4, 2009


The David Caruso Acting Method:

My wife will really appreciate this. If you watch the show, you will too.

Found it here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


* * *

Teach me your mood, O patient stars

Teach me your mood, O patient stars,
Who climb each night, the ancient sky,
leaving no space, no shade, no scars,
no trace of age, no fear to die.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

* * *

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Canary Colored Cat


“That’s the canary-colored cat.”

Canary-colored? What type of color is that?”

She briskly rubbed the cat’s fur with rubber-gloved fingertips. It purred in relaxed bliss, eyes semi-closed, contentedly unaware in its air-sealed container of the lethal pathogens flooding its system. “This color,” she said, rustling the yellow-orange fur. “Canary.”

Douglas finished up the hourly readings, briefly examining the clipboard stream of data for trends and patterns that would give him some clue if they were anywhere near what could be seen as success. “Canary is a bird,” he murmured. “You shouldn’t describe any cat with any word that has avian connotations.”

His assistant, absorbed with the cat, continued to rub its belly until it nipped at the rubber gloves. Though de-clawed, the creature still had its sharp two fangs, and though they couldn’t penetrate the five-millimeter thick polyestercine gloves. Still, who would want to take any chances? “And why’s that, Doctor Blakely?”

Douglas glanced up and smiled. “Because cats eat canaries, Julie.” He moved next to her, hovering above the Plexiglas container, evaluating the cat in its confines. It lay in a ball in the corner, eyes half-slits, tail curled about itself. A pair of plastic bowls – some nonfat milk and some vittles – lay half-eaten next to it, and a litter box sat on the other side of the cage. He watched as she pet the cat one last time, ending with a scratch under the collar. The silver medallion flipped over, revealing the cat’s identity: TL1125.

Julie retrieved her arms from the gloves, walked over to the console, keyed two switches. The case silently slid back against the wall and into a bank of some twenty-five similarly-sized cages, all containing animals they were using in their quest for immortality.

“How’s she progressing?” she asked, coming over to the table where Douglas was finishing his checklist. “Anything to write home about?”

“Well, there are a few surprises. This new strain we’re working with, it should have killed our little friend last week. The gestation period is a little over seven days – ”

“And she’s been infected on the second of May.”

“Exactly. So, that’s the good news. She’s still alive. There is bad news, however.”

“Let me guess.” Julie tugged at a tooth with a finger. She imagined the cat in her mind’s eye, studying its bearing. Fatter, more sedate, yet lack of appetite, slightly bleeding gums, mucus around the nose. “White blood count still way too high. She’s still going to lose the battle.”

Douglas reclined back in his chair, arms behind his head. “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

“But you wouldn’t take those odds.”

“I’m not by nature a betting man.”

“But if you were?”

He thought a moment. For three long years he had been conducting experiments, honing the serum, fighting the virus. Long ago had he internalized this fight. He was closing in on it, but it was taking way too long. Too long for his own personal objectives, and much too long for his superiors’. They were getting very impatient over the fact that he still had nothing to give them, nothing substantive for their sixty million-dollar investment.

After a short pause, he said, “No.”

She looked at her watch. “Damn! It’s almost four. I have to run.” She hung her lab coat in the closet and headed for the exit.

Douglas did the same. ‘”I’ll walk you to your car.”

“A gentleman and a scholar.”

He smiled. “And an officer.”

They strolled up the blue corridor to the first check point, displayed IDs, then took the green corridor past the lockers and the main security station. A double set of five-inch-thick vault doors rolled back revealing a white fluorescent corridor. The two doctors paused as the doors sealed them in. Two lasers ran across their bodies. A moment later a klaxon sounded briefly, and a green light appeared over the far locks. They were clean.

Outside the second set of locks they passed another checkpoint. Had they been going in, they would have had to submit to retina scans and facial telemetry biometric security measures. Douglas acknowledged the soldiers with a friendly wave, and escorted Julie up the escalator to the main level, street level.

“How’s Jack?” he asked her as they exited the compounds front doors and stood in the bright, late-afternoon sun, eyes slowly adjusting from the cave-light lighting of the labs.

Julie paused while she searched her bag for her keys. She brushed an errant strand of hair from her eyes. “He’s fine. It’s the Middle East . . .”

Douglas put a hand on her arm, in part to stop her, in part to comfort. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry. I was only asking . . . ” God, this is awkward, he thought, embarrassed. “He’s in our prayers,” he finished meekly. “If you ever need anything . . . ”

She smiled. “Thanks, Doctor Blakely.” She headed off towards her Sebring convertible.

Douglas started toward his car, then turned around on the spur of the moment. “Hey! It’s Friday! What’re we celebrating tonight?”

Julie kept walking in the direction of her car but spun around and stretched out her arms. “We’re toasting the canary colored cat!”

Douglas raised an imaginary glass. “Salud!”

Salud!” she echoed.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Slice of Pi

You may recall from high school or college math that pi, π, is the ratio of the circumference of a circle (called C) to its diameter (called D).

π = C / D

This value is roughly 3.14159, though in today’s computer age it’s been calculated to over a trillion digits. For my high school and college math and physics I memorized it to five places, 3.14159, though in a feat of geekdom I memorized it out to twenty decimal places last pi day (March 14 of every year). But its value was estimated pretty accurately by the ancients. Archimedes (third century BC) showed it to lay between 223/71 and 22/7. Egyptians even further back (c. 1650 BC) used 256/81, or 3.16049, for π.

The amazing thing about π, to me, is that it creeps up just about everywhere you look in mathematics and physics. You use it to calculate the areas of circles and spheres and the volumes of spheres, in trigonometry and in surveying. In physics you see it in the equations of electricity and magnetism to cosmology and quantum mechanics. It got to the point where one day a few years ago I wondered almost out loud (I try not to talk math out loud when my wife is present) how this simple ratio of a circle found its way into just about all the hard sciences. Then, shortly thereafter, I read that π is not the ratio of C / D. Well, yeah, that’s one of its properties, but only one. Our friend π is a component of this physical universe that manifests itself (its properties) in hundreds of ways in various disciplines of thought.

Wow. That blew my mind.

But I just happened across a story about π that I remember reading a couple years back. I think you’ll like it.

It seems that sometime around the end of the 19th century, 1897, I think, an amateur mathematician by the name of Dr. E. J. Goodwin in Indiana believed he had discovered a unique property about π. But instead of contacting famous mathematicians or mathematical journals or even his local math club, he decided to take it to his state senator and persuaded him to introduce the following bill: Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the state of Indiana, that it has been found that a circular area is equal to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference. Long story short, this produces a value of π to be exactly … 4.

The bill was never enacted, thanks in part to press attention after some non-partisan mathematicians discovered the flawed formulations.