Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Strangest Halloween Experience

No, it was nothing of the frightening sort, but it was a bit confusing. Here, let me explain.

It happened near the house where I grew up, so it was before my parents divorced, but I was by myself, so I wasn’t that young. I don’t remember what costume I wore but it wasn’t anything elaborate, so I was transitioning out of the it’s-fun-to-dress-up stage while still remaining firmly in the candy-is-awesome camp. Probably Halloween 1978, I would guess, putting me at about 11.

I went up to a dark house and rang the bell. There were frantic commotion noises from inside, but no one came to the door for a long minute or two. Unsure of whether to ring again, I got up on tip-toes and peered in through the small diamond-shaped window in the wooden door.

What I saw shocked me.

A naked lady ran up the stairs. I saw her big white butt bouncing as she took the stairs two at a time. She wasn’t fat but she wasn’t skinny either; normal, I suppose. She didn’t see me looking in, but still I jumped back, thinking I just did something very wrong.

Immediately there was a noise to my left; the side door opened and some dude came out and nonchalantly (or trying to be, at least, it seemed to little old me) put a bag of trash on the curb. He had a cigarette. When he saw me he just said, dismissively “We don’t have no candy.” I thanked him and went on my way.

Up to now I think the only person I’ve told about this was my wife. She doesn’t know whether or not to believe it, but I swear on all the ghosts and goblins of Halloween, it was true.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Valley of the Headless Men

It was the mention of tunnels that lured me in. Miles and miles of underground tunnels. And what might that imply, all that subsurface work, up there in the frozen wastes? You got it. Mines.

So Shaun’s speculation of gold up there, in the Nahanni Valley, was plausible. Very, very plausible. The old prospectors corroborated and confirmed that for me. None had heard of Shaun or his pet theories, of that I was sure.

Yes, to describe it as cold up above the sixtieth parallel would be an understatement. It was damn near inhospitable – the wolves, the snow and the biting chill, the miles and miles of tree-shrouded mountain ranges. But the Valley was something special. All year round it was an oasis for those of the likes of us. It was warm. It was lush. It was said you could bathe naked in the zigzag streams and pools beneath ice-free cavalcades of rock. The hot sulfur springs did it.

They also gave the place an evil smell, Old Jeff swore. That, and the mists.

The Valley, with its hot spring engines beneath it, created some sort of anomalous weather vortex. The hot sulfur-tinged air rose hundreds and hundreds of feet, sparred with the cooler Arctic air blown down south from the pole, curled and curved back down. The process somehow spawned the mysterious mists that kept the Valley out of reach of more common men.

Of course none of the locals would guide us in. Even, apparently, all the young braves from the three local tribes were too cowardly to join the mission. Evil spirits, they cried, bad magic. No problem, really; Shaun volunteered to guide us armed with the school’s latest geologic maps. So we assembled a team, fast, because the Canadian government was going to nationalize the Valley into some conglomerate park in two scant years. Then how’d we get any gold out?

There’d be seven of us; seven ways to split the treasure. Me, of course, and Shaun. The money and the mind. We hired the Blinthe brothers, Cecil and Clive, as well as a mountainous old prospector from Nione, Tom One-Eye, for muscle. Tom Staffordshire would pilot the Argosy in to Lake Vannovaer, and we’d trek due east the seventeen or so miles to the Valley on dog sled under the whip of Harv Massik. Seven of us.

Seven heads to lose, Harv commented dryly, and, truth be told, perhaps a little ominously. Hackles rose despite forced bravado. Just the previous spring four hikers had gone missing in the Valley. So far, their bodies still hadn’t been found. Nor had their heads, either. But a good many down in Nione, and just about most of the Indians, were fairly certain what’d be found when those hikers were eventually recovered.

It started a little over a century ago, at least as far as the white man is concerned. Who knows how many braves and squaws perished through ages past? But sometime in the early to mid-nineteenth century explorers and, later, trappers and prospectors, began losing their heads in the valley.

Lured by tall tales of gold (weren’t we?) and splendid furs, the French and English explorers found the valley, and its mists. Disappearances quickly followed, and soon so did rescue parties. Months or years later, if at all, human bodies were found – skinned and decapitated. The local tribes vehemently denied any part of the killings; indeed, the only clue as to the identity of the murderers were sets of extremely large, manlike footprints found around the victims’ remains. Ask Old Jeff. He saw them himself when his own rheumy eyes were still young and strong.

A few years back the McLeod brothers lost their heads in the valley. The syndicated news wires carried the local story, and the unofficial name of the Nahanni Valley spread quicker than the mists: The Valley of the Headless Men.

We all heard the stories. Heck, Harv repeated them right up to the moment Tom Staffordshire sealed up the cargo door. The mists – that was the bad part. You’d find yourself walking on the lush almost balmy floor of the Valley, when the mists would come in, swirling around you, and soon you’d find yourself a little disoriented … then lost … separated from the others … and then that sensation of being watched would seize you … and then you’d see the shapes in the mist … forms … movement … then the panic, the gut-level panic … then every noise, every call in the distance, every crunch of a twig, everything and anything would escalate the panic … the panic rising up into your head, clouding all rational thought … then the shapes would near, coalesce out of the mists, and then, then –

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The KA Project

Hey, something just kinda popped into my head yesterday. You want to know one thing I would do if I was one of those fantastically wealthy entrepreneurs? Someone like Paul Allen or the Google guy? That JFK book I was reading last week put this thought in my mind:

I would hire someone competent and capable to head what would be called the Kennedy Assassination Project. I’d pay this Coordinator well with a one-year contract of, oh, I don’t know, say $150,000 plus expenses. Maybe more, depending on the economy and his qualifications. But anyway, this person would be tasked to come up with a plausible theory of what really happened, really, on November 22, 1963.

The first thing the Coordinator will do would be to hit all the top schools and recruit the best dozen historians-in-training he can find. If they were willing to work on the Project, I’d pay them each $100,000 for the year’s work plus a percentage of any sales from the Project (more about that later) plus letters of recommendations, etc. We’d get twelve of them, and each would focus on one major segment of the whole JFK mystery:

For example,

1. Kennedy himself and his family and cabinet
2. Lee Harvey Oswald and his background
3. The events of November 22-24, 1963, and the Zapruder film
4. The political climate 1953-1967
5. The CIA
6. The FBI and the Dallas Police Department
7. Castro and Cuba
8. The anti-Castro Cuban exile community in America
9. The right-wing presence in the South
10. Jack Ruby and his background
11. The Mafia in the South in the 1960s
12. The Ins and Outs of the Garrison Investigation

Each one of these twelve would become an expert in his respective area.

The Coordinator would follow a tight but flexible schedule during the Project, something like this:

2 months – In-depth study of all government reports (Warren Commission, Clark Panel, Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations). The group must be intimately familiar with the hundreds of pages of official pronouncements on the assassination.

4 months – In-depth study of all previously published theories of what happened that day. Divvy up the 450-plus books by subject (ie, the Mafia-did-it books, the CIA-did-it books, etc) and allow each historian to read through and separate what seems plausible and valuable from what seems fringe. Again, the group must become intimately familiar with this vast body of thought and speculation.

2 months – Brain-storming and proposals. The group must come together and throw ideas out, weigh them, argue them, and gradually narrow down to some consensus. One of the first decisions to be made, of course, is whether Oswald was the sole assassin. Then, whether or not there was a conspiracy would be addressed.

4 months – Define the Project’s idea of what actually occurred on November 22, 1963. All the data will be assembled, assimilated, collated, triaged, and, with the assistance of a writer-slash-publishing insider, sculpted and molded and written up into a Thesis fit for publication.

Throughout the year there will be weekly Roundtables, discussions on progress which will be recorded (and transcribed) for posterity and publication. The historians’ notes will be submitted and become the Project’s property. There would be, possibly, bimonthly written progress reports, also for future publication but more importantly so the Coordinator would have a feel for where the investigation was heading. There would be monthly Recap meetings to keep the whole dang thing on track.

At the end of the year the Project should have enough material to publish a book on its conclusions. Individual historian notes, transcriptions, recap meeting minutes – all would be published for inspection. I’d give the historians, Coordinator, and writer each some percentage of the profits (depending on if they themselves decide to publish their own findings – that’s for the lawyers to haggle out).

The Project would cost about $2 million –

$1.2 million for the twelve historians’ salaries
$150,000 for Coordinator salary
$150,000 for Writer salary
$500,000 for a legal kitty, just in case, and for any expenses …

And could bring in upwards of – I have no idea. Book sales? DVD documentary sales? History Channel tie-ins? There would be lots of possibilities, I think, especially with the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination coming up in four short years.

$2 million for this eccentric entrepreneur would have to be something like, say, two $20 bills are to me now for this thing to ever see the light of day. Who knows? Stranger things may have happened, like what may have happened that sunny, crisp fall day in Dallas …

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Did one of those silly “what belief am I?” quizzes over at Beliefnet. I’m not a big fan of the site; it’s too kum-ba-ya let’s-all-hold-hands and it’s too ad-heavy with pop-ups. But if you’re interested and can spare about five minutes, this quiz might be fun, taken for what it is. By the way, here are my results, as if you couldn’t have guessed them reading this here blog for a couple of days:

How did the Belief-O-Matic do? Discuss your results on our message boards.

1. Eastern Orthodox (100%)
2. Roman Catholic (100%)
3. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (79%)
4. Seventh Day Adventist (78%)
5. Orthodox Quaker (72%)
6. Orthodox Judaism (71%)
7. Islam (67%)
8. Hinduism (64%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (61%)
10. Sikhism (61%)
11. Baha'i Faith (55%)
12. Jainism (52%)
13. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (51%)
14. Jehovah's Witness (51%)
15. Liberal Quakers (45%)
16. Mahayana Buddhism (40%)
17. Theravada Buddhism (38%)
18. Unitarian Universalism (36%)
19. Reform Judaism (35%)
20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (21%)
21. Neo-Pagan (19%)
22. Scientology (19%)
23. New Age (17%)
24. Nontheist (17%)
25. New Thought (16%)
26. Taoism (13%)
27. Secular Humanism (12%)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Sweaty Frenchman

I first became aware of him only recently, in a kind of hazy and extra-sensory perceptive type-of-way. His name is Lucien, I believe, the last name being something like Malfossar or Malrossar or Malsomar, triple-syllabic anyway, with that evil root “Mal” at the forefront. Whether or not he is conscious of me I do not know; I think not, though ultimately I think he would care not a whit if he was. In any event, his recent revelation to me has brought nothing if not an unsettling unease which finds me quite unpleasant.

But enough of me and my silly feelings. Who is Lucien?

He is the sweaty Frenchman, and he is my rival.

In my mind’s eye I can image him now, relentlessly working, churning out the words, revising, revisiting, rereading, rethinking. Ashtrays overflowing with yellowed and stinky cigarette butts clutter the loft where he works. It’s unfurnished, of course, crates as tables and chairs and billowing curtains letting the stifling and choking Parisian heat into the fourth or fifth-story attic he calls office. There’s a bowl of milk on the floor for the cat that’s his only companion. A radio sits unpowered on an industrial-sized desk against an unpapered wall. There is no television. Television is evil because it is so bourgeoisie and must be eliminated. I agree, but for different reasons.

Lucien is a book hound. Towers of books, some as high as twenty stacked, mold a labyrinth of his workspace, yet each of the several hundreds is invaluable. These are his true companions, his inspirations, and his resources. Every keystroke contains the muscle memory of the thousands of pages read, the thousands of journeys taken without leaving the stifling den. And if that were not enough, the windowless windows funneling up glimpses of the red and white lights and hot noise of the city below supply him with any and all necessary muse power.

What my rival does all day is what I do not. He writes. But this writing is the end product of a long anti-sequential chain of events. First, in a self-perpetuating yet ouroborotic fashion (sigh: his adjective, not mine), he thinks and reads, reads and thinks. Then, he dreams. As much as the bastard works, he does sleep, much more than I do due in part to the strict constrictions he has voluntarily adopted. Then he writes, but in a preliminary, unstructured way: pen-to-paper diagrams, lists, statements-with-question-marks, what-fs and why-nots. Once he used four sheets of yellow lined to list over three-hundred phrases to describe the color yellow. Once he spent four days in fury wrenching the full name of a protagonist from the ether; that list was over six pages in length, complete with a childish sketch of said protagonist and her genealogy dating back to Louis XIV. There are dozens of pads and hundreds of scribbled notes, all strewn about in boxes and rusted file cabinets, tacked on the raw wood walls and stuffed into oily desk drawers in a frantic schizophrenic filing system only he knows.

Right now, even as I write this in the dark early hours, Lucien is smoking a cigarette, drinking from a cloudy bottle of water, click-clacking out words on an aged Hermes typewriter, adjectives nouns verbs clauses sentences paragraphs. In the time I’ve taken to write, to this point, 557 words, my nemesis has written five-and-a-half pages. He stops only to relieve himself. Only. He’ll eat when his body tells him to. He’ll sleep when he has finished “just one more scene” or “one more dialogue.” He does not answer his phone unless it is from his agent (more on that). He has no family. He has no women in his life, except on the odd night when a shower, fresh clothes, and a desire for human contact coincide. Like all sweaty Frenchmen, he quotes Sartre and Camus and smokes and drinks in situations as these, rare though it may be for Lucien.

When I write, he is writing. When I read, he is writing. When I am watching the children, he is writing. It is all he does, for he realizes that is his calling, his identity, his true purpose, and he has embraced it. When I watch teevee, when I do the dishes, when I mow the lawn, he is producing. When I browse the library, the grocery shelves, the internet, he is creating. When I take a bath or a long shower, he is improving. When I hold my head in my hands fighting off despair, he is too, though it is in manifested only in his novel’s protagonist. He is best-described as consumed. Willingly and willfully consumed.

He is fearless. He is focused. He has learned how to subordinate his emotions to his superior sense of surety. Sure, he has self-doubts: who doesn’t? But he does not give them self-expression. Like an Algerian sandstorm he pellets his agents mercilessly with his work: essays, short stories, novellas and longer pieces, plays, philosophical fiction, and some actually sell, enough, at least, to afford him his slum paradise. And concerning his work, more salt in the wound. Who would have ever guessed I have a Gallic counterpart who counted speculative fiction, philosophy, the Mother Church, and the realms of the impossible as his loves?

The only appropriate question, it seems to me, is this: Can I catch him? But even those four simple words are entangled with a mess of others: Do I have what it takes to catch him? Am I smart-clever-witty enough? Am I strong enough? Do I possess the stamina? If not, can I somehow wrest it out of myself? And most importantly, and most frighteningly, am I willing to sacrifice what he has sacrificed to catch him?

Damn that sweaty Frenchman. His very existence has thrown down a gauntlet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Required Courses

Instead of teaching high school kids how to put condoms on cucumbers, here are five classes I think would be invaluable to our little minds-full-of-mush.

1. Public Speaking

One of the most useful, practical courses ever for me was an Intro to Public Speaking class. I took it in what would have been my junior year in college. Because I was on the night-school plan, I was 27 when I learned how to speak in front of an audience. 27! That’s about 15 years of public speaking paralysis I had to deal with in my academic career. Public speaking ranks consistently in the top three greatest fears Americans have. Why not alleviate it with a class teaching young kids to do this effectively and fearlessly? Do it the same way I learned: slow and progressive, building up from a 30 second “Hello, my name is So-and-So” to chairing a debate team. Believe me, done this way, public speaking is painless.

2. Basic Economics

So many people are completely ignorant of basic economics (myself shamefully included to a certain degree). I would venture to say that most young people do not fully understand the United States tax system until they actually begin earning a serious paycheck (and even then, who really understands the tax system?). So many terms are thrown around in the media, terminology that the general public simply can’t define, and because of this various parties can bend and twist their meanings to convey whatever they want to convey. A basic but thorough course does not have to be sidled with political ideology and would go a long way to creating knowledgeable and well-informed citizens.

3. Personal Finance

A high school course in personal finance would probably put the credit card industry out of business. Seriously. Teach 14 and 15 year-olds how to balance a checkbook, create and stick to a monthly budget, understand some basic investing options, recognize the difference between good and bad debt, and know the concept of compound interest. If this was immediately implemented nationwide, in ten years personal bankruptcies would drop 50%, and in twenty years, a generation, it would drop to a level 10% or lower of what it is now.

4. Open Subject Mastery

This is a fun one, a class that would really free students from the stifling rigidity of traditional required courses, and would probably stay with the student a long, long time after he has left the confines of high school. The student is to select one intellectual subject – any subject, really, nothing’s out of bounds as long as it’s tasteful and sufficiently large enough – and simply master it. Proof will be a 10,000 word thesis (about 40 double-spaced pages) handed in the last week of the semester. Any topic from science to historical events to biography to sports to politics and war to engineering to … whatever. Just pick a topic close to your heart, master it, and prove your mastery.

5. My Future History

Not “my” meaning “me,” of course, but the student. Have the student spend a full semester creating a detailed, personalized future plan. Let them daydream, let them explore options – no matter how seemingly crazy – and teach them to create and organize short and long-term goals and sub-goals. Yeah, I know that alleged “Harvard study on goals”, you know, the one every self-help book quotes, where 3% of the students who set goals wound up a gazillion times the net worth of the other 97% after twenty years, I know that study has been debunked. But goals are worthwhile. So is knowing where you want to go. And to know where you want to go, you need to dream of yourself five, ten, twenty years down the road. No one teaches us to do this. And that is a shame.

Well, what do you think? Any other ideas or suggestions?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Water Drinking Tip

Want a simple tip to make sure you drink enough water every day?

Sure you do!

Let’s say you go to the grocery store once a week, like I do. Next time you’re there, buy seven lemons, organic if they sell ’em that way.

Every morning, cut up a lemon in half. Cut each half into quarters. Put these eight wedges in a pint-sized Tupperware container, and store it in plain sight in the fridge.

Then, every time you drink a tall glass of water, squeeze one wedge into your drink. Trust me, it makes drinking water tasty.

Your goal is to empty the Tupperware container by the end of the day.

That’s your eight glasses of water. It’s a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day, but more like over a hundred since your drinking glass is probably larger than a cup.

I’ve been doing it all week, and I no longer wake up with my mouth pasted shut, dehydrated, lumbering about like Frankenstein’s monster, in search of a glass of H2O.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Solipsism 101

Now, I know that you don’t exist when I don’t think of you. I understand that. It took me a while to really appreciate this. I remember this kid named Russell I met one day in August 1986 – well, I imagined him on that day – and especially what he told me. He said, “Everyone’s a marionette laying on the floor with their strings scattered all about. When I walk into a room, the strings are pulled up and everyone comes to life to interact with me.”

Nice try, fella. I’m the one who’s pulling the strings.

Well, technically, someone else, I guess it’s God, is pulling the strings for me. That would be more accurate, I suppose. But it took me a while to get there.

This dude’s assertion resonated with me. It’s the first time such a thought was brought to my consciousness, and it took a marionette to do it.

Off and on throughout the years I devoted some brain power to figuring it all out, but the problem was, my head would ache after a short while. But one winter day I was skimming through some random yellowed paperbacks at some forsaken, dusty out-of-the-way used book store, when I came upon Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes. I heard about this guy from my readings, so I bought the slim book and read it. About a dozen times.

You know him. He’s the I-think-therefore-I-am man. I agree with that. I think. But what I hooked me, what intrigued me, was his evil genie concept. Heard of that? It appears he’s being deceived by this evil genie, but because he can think, he knows he exists, despite all the malicious illusions that surrounded him.

I bought into that for a long time.

Pretty quickly, though, I wondered, who created the evil genie? God? Now there’s three of us. So I shaved off the genie with Occam’s Razor, and brought the magic number down to a maximum of two.

Then a nagging thought began tugging at me, night and day: What proof did I even have that God existed? Or to echo back to something I alluded to earlier, a Puppet Master? None. What follows from this conclusion? Easy. I am God. I am the Puppet Master.

Honestly, that lasted like two weeks. I went out with some friends I conjured up to a club I must have conjured up, though admittedly I would have made it a little brighter and made the music selection a little better and the drinks a little cheaper and the chicks a little friendlier. Celebrating my new revelation (which I kept to myself for some reason) I wound up having a little too much to drink. Too much imbibage. Well, the point to this seemingly point-free story is that the next morning I was ruefully wondering why God gets hungover.

A few months later I put pen to paper and came up with a list of what was bothering me. Things such as: Why do some people speak languages I don’t understand? That didn’t make sense to me. I created them; why would I create them to yak gibberish at me? And why did some people have skills I wished I had? For example, I absolutely love the piano. Anything with a piano – anything from Billy Joel to Art Tatum to Frederic Chopin. Yet for the life of me I can’t play anything more than a simple major scale or a three-note chord. And further, why am I just scraping by? It’s a little embarrassing, but once I actually told a person I know, someone who had considerable wealth, to write me a check for $50,000. I actually said that: “You will give me a check for $50,000.” In a commanding tone of voice that Mesmer might’ve used. This person laughed at first, then, when he saw I was serious, gave me a funny look and disappeared. Now at family functions he just ignores me or moves to the other side of the room.

I brought up the subject of solipsism – the term philosophers that I dreamed up in a past I dreamed up give to, well, my Me-ness – to a college acquaintance to see what I would be saying to myself. He said the proof that other minds exist is morality. I said that I understood perfectly, and that often when I felt like punching someone who made me angry or randomly sexually assaulting some girl I fancied, something deep inside me prevented me, something I guess I called a conscience. He, too, laughed at first; then, when he saw I was serious, I got the funny look and the disappearing act.

So I’m not the Puppet Master. There is Another. And the only answer is that I am being tested by Him.

But I cannot prove this, unlike the proof that I exist, proven solely from my ability to think. Now, this lead me to a dangerous thought …

If I can’t prove that the Puppeteer exists, yet I am certain of the knowledge that I am not the Puppeteer, what proof do I have that other people do not exist? Maybe they are their own minds, and are not the simple marionettes that Russell first suggested to me.

Well, that certainly levels the playing field.

My head hurts …

Friday, October 23, 2009

Philosopher Fantasy Baseball

Batting Order

1. Kierkegaard, SS
2. Schiller, 2B
3. Augustine, LF
4. Aquinas, CF
5. Bergson, 3B
6. Leibniz, RF
7. Anaximander, C
8. Plotinus, 1B
9. Nietzsche, P

Hey, they don’t have to agree! They just have to win ball games!

(Plato and Kant got snatched up early in the draft, and we passed on Aristotle to get Aquinas …)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Elm Street Slow Down

If you do any amount of nosing around in the neighborhood of JFK assassination books (of which there have been more than 450 published, and the number grows every year), you’ll find that there is an incredible amount of odd little happenings surrounding the whole thing. Some researchers take all these odd little happenings and conclude conspiracy based on the sheer number of strange events. Others take the time to logically explain and refute as many as possible and arrive back at the answers found in the Warren Report. My take on the whole matter fluctuates depending on which type of book I’m reading, but I tend to fall into the “mild” conspiracy fold.

Anyway, I was thumbing through a fairly new book on the assassination titled Ultimate Sacrifice. In a sentence, the authors’ premise is that the mafia, to retaliate for some intense prosecution, did in JFK, knowing it could act with impunity because it was knee-deep involved with a Kennedy-sponsored imminent invasion of Cuba (to take place December 1, 1963, which would have been 9 days after the assassination). The authors hold up newly-revealed evidence pointing to possible aborted assassination attempts in Chicago and Tampa earlier in the month of November, both involving motorcades that were canceled at the last minute, among other things. The book is massive and well-researched and foot-noted. If you’re into this, pick it up.

One item jumped out at me. A lot is made of the fact that as soon as the shots rang out as the motorcade was halfway down Elm Street in Dealey Plaza the limousine slowed down. As it was, it was only driven at 11 mph by Secret Service Agent William Greer, which was in violation of standard policy. But the agent hit the brakes and slowed down after the first shot was heard and after his passengers had begun crying out. Some researchers believe this indicates that the secret service may have been part of a conspiracy. Why did the agent slow down? Wouldn’t it be normal to speed up and get out of the “kill zone” as quickly as possible?

These authors explain this in a way that, interestingly, make a stronger case for conspiracy. So why didn’t Greer speed up after the first rifle shot was heard? Because he thought the shots were coming from his right, from the notorious knoll, and not from behind, the Book Depository where Oswald was. He thought that if he kept driving he’d be driving into the kill zone, not out of it, closer to what would now be known as a second gunman. Of course, this was all just a split second reaction captured on the Zapruder film. A second or two later the limo was accelerating, and soon going 70 mph towards Parkland Hospital, albeit too late.

Interesting take, nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thrones PreReview

I’m coming up to the halfway point in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

I am depressed.

Well, it’s not the story that’s depressing me. It’s the writing. But the writing isn’t bad. It’s phenomenal! This is the kind of work that makes me despair of ever writing something even fractionally as good. I shake my head at the futility of it all, when masters such as Martin are still producing epic works as this.

What type of epic is this? Hmmm. Picture The Lord of the Rings without the supernatural element. No elves, orcs, wizards, trolls, or various godlike or demonic beings. Better still, picture the Arthurian legends, updated and with a fair amount of complex political intrigue thrown in. It’s the tale of kingdoms battling it out with swords and diplomacy on a mythical continent. But that’s just the surface. How much “research” went into this! Every character has a living history and a coherent and complicated personality. Not solely white nor black, but every shade of grey in the spectrum. The cultures are so authentic you’d think Martin taught anthropology. Every kingdom has a past and a present. Much like Tolkien in that regard. The dialogue sounds real without being corny and dungeons-and-dragons-ish. Each 12 or 15 page chapter ends on a cliffhanger or some revelation to make the reader’s blood boil. Even the simple mechanics of sentence construction floor me.

Ah well, it’s ultimately an entertaining lesson in How It’s Done. And I’m not really depressed; that’s just writer’s hyperbole. No, I will never write a work like A Game of Thrones, but my stuff … well, it will be – my stuff.

Complete review in two or three weeks after I finish it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moral Decline?

Skimmed through Michael Medved’s The Ten Big Lies About America over the weekend. It’s a good book, a culture war book from the conservative, traditionalist perspective. Which is where I am the majority of the time. At least, until conservative, traditionalist thinking comes into conflict with Catholic teaching. But that’s a subject for a different post. I want to talk about the last Big Lie Medved addresses.

As a side note, Medved has a three-hour talk radio show that I’ve been listening to for about a year. I have a love-hate relationship with talk radio. I’ve listened to them all, to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time. Some hosts I can no longer stand; others I am starting to listen to again. But I have to admit it does get tiresome, this constant beating of the drum that the End is Near. These posts, here and here, state more accurately this fatigue with neverending crisis. Someone whose blog I read regularly is of the firm and cynical opinion that it’s actually not about changing the culture, it’s just about selling beer and shampoo. I can see his point.

Anyway, I find Mr. Medved quite refreshing to listen to. He does not shout down opposing views. He’s a Jewish intellectual who is more knowledgeable of – and a greater defender of – Christianity than ninety-nine percent of Christians in the public square. He’s classy, intelligent, and argues in a very Socratic, almost Aquinian way. I enjoy the truly civil discourse. Which is why I picked up his book.

I did not read it cover to cover. But the last chapter intrigued me: America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline. Obviously, judging from the title of his book, Medved is firmly opposed to this point of view. That surprised me, and I bet it surprised you, too. Here’s Medved’s arguments why we are NOT in an irreversible moral decline.

First of all, it’s well-documented that every generation regards itself as more morally corrupt than previous generations. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, the strengthening and weakening of public morality is cyclical in nature. Medved shows four times in American history that can be seen as periods of revival: the 1730s to the 1750s, 1800 through the 1830s, the 1880s up to the early 1900s, and, surprisingly, the 1970s to the present day. So we’re actually in a period of revival, according to Medved’s reasoning, due in large part to the Religious Right in politics and the growth of evangelical megachurches.

There have been periods in American history going all the way back to colonial days that are comparable to the sense of moral decline we feel nowadays. Out of wedlock births and the consumption of alcohol and incidents of public drunkenness are two factors that have roller-coasted up and down over the course of our country’s lifetime. The dreadful problems of prostitution and immigrants forced into a kind of sexual slavery seen a century ago actually make our time seem positively enlightened.

Even our founding fathers, often held up as the paragons of American citizenhood, are not without flaw. Franklin, a flirt and philanderer with married women and a father of a child out of wedlock. Jefferson and his affairs with married women and at least one slave beginning when she was 13. Hamilton and Burr also had reputations of what might be considered lose sexual mores.

Statistics for abortion, violent crime, and teen suicide actually show a decline in numbers. Based on these indicators alone we appear to be in a “moral upswing.” Good news, and research indicates that the trend is continuing.

However, one of the main contemporary components of this seemingly omnipresent, seemingly certain belief we’re in moral decline is … the media. If you analyze prime time teevee, you’d think loving, stable marriages were the exception, not the rule. The filth coming out of Hollywood and the music our children listen to, particularly rap, reinforce this belief in moral decay. You’d think there were three serial killers on your block and your kids would think it’s okay to beat their girlfriends. Equally guilty are “elite” institutions of higher education (whatever that means). You’ve seen the stories a million times; there’s no need for me to repeat the lunacies of endorsing degenerate behavior seen on hundreds of campuses across the nation.

But there is an element of choice in all this. We can choose what to watch and what to allow our children to watch. We can vote with our dollars. We can actually pick up the phone or turn on the PC and send our congressman feedback. And we can turn off the idiot box once in a while and do something wholesome for our spirit.

It’s not really that bad out there. Don’t get taken in with that lie.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Skating By

Had a busy weekend …

Godson’s birthday party … Grocery shopping … Cleaned out and organized the writing office (3 + hours) … Boxed up close to a hundred used books, by subject … Hit the library, the bank, and Blinkey’s with Patch and Little One, in the rain no less … Did three loads of laundry … Balanced the checkbook and paid the bills – a roof stays over our head for another month … Put away a little over 60 pages in A Game of Thrones … Skimmed another JFK book (the mafia did it in this one) … Got my hippy hair chopped off … Underwent some strange self-analysis … Listened to Poulenc, Borodin, Jethro Tull, Pete Townsend, and Galactic Cowboys … Watched the Giants and Jets lose … Cleaned up after and yelled at a one and a five year old every ten minutes (nobody told me this is all parents seem to do) … Drained and filled the boiler so we now have heat … And actually ate very well the past couple of days.

Some interesting posts this week, but at the moment I’m pressed for time. It’s C’s birthday today and we also have our first parent-teacher conference ever. Time’s skating by so, so fast but I think I’m finally getting a grip on it.

What’s on the horizon?

* A pre-review of A Game of Thrones

* Why JFK’s limo slowed when the gunfire began

* Philosopher Fantasy Baseball

* The story of the Furrowed Brow (a.k.a. The Hairy Eyeball)

* A child’s parable

* Solipsism 101

* My rival, the sweaty Frenchman

And much more!


Sunday, October 18, 2009


Try a little experiment with me, okay?

Do this when no one is around.

Say to yourself, out loud, this sentence:

I am the sculptor, not the sculpture.

Now think about what that means.

Think about it often, throughout the day. Say it out loud a dozen times. Maybe more. Come on, really apply yourself to this one.

What does it mean to you?

Hint: Sculptors use models, right?

What does this mean?

And more importantly, how do you now feel?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Odd Intersection

Most people know that on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Did you know that C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley also died on the same day?

Weird, huh?

History Channel has been doing JFK assassination stuff all week, a month premature. Every November I usually read a book about the whole thing because I find it extremely interesting and highly improbable.

Did you know the official position of the U. S. government is that on November 22, 1963, a conspiracy did not take place (per the Warren Commission) and it also did take place (per the House Assassinations Committee).

Weird, huh?

I read a fair share of C. S. Lewis, though I don’t own anything of his. As far as Huxley goes, I read Brave New World, like we all did, in high school. Been thinking about picking it up if I see it in the used book stores. I hear our contemporary culture is becoming more and more similar to what Huxley wrote about.

Did you know that he once wrote, “Maybe this world is another planet’s hell?” I’ve often heard it formulated from a theological point of view, but that word “planet” gives the whole thing a very intriguing science fiction spin.

By the way, contemporary Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote a book about a dialogue between JFK, CS Lewis, and Huxley in the afterlife. It’s on my list to pick up …

Friday, October 16, 2009


A friend lent me a copy of The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures by Donald Spoto. Despite being a huge fan of the master director, especially after meeting my (future) wife in 1997, I have never really read anything about him or his movies. What I enjoyed about this book was that it analyzes each of his thirty-six films, from 1935 to 1976, in that critical way of thinking that only literary or film critics tend to think. You read it and slap your head and say, “So that’s what that means,” and want to immediately go out and rent the movie.

One of my favorite recent memories was Halloween four or five years back, when the Little One was a newborn. It was cold and rainy (when hasn’t it been, lately, on Halloween?), the baby swaddled up and napping in her crib, and I was loaded up on candy bars. Earlier, when we were renting, living in an apartment, and had lots of discretionary cash, we were black-and-white film junkies, patronizing a neighborhood rental place for a few bucks more that had a special “classics” room and we went through it. So now, this Halloween, we were quite excited to watch Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, which for some reason we had overlooked those few years ago.

For the record, I’ve seen sixteen Hitchcock flicks:

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)
Rebecca (1940)
Suspicion (1941)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Lifeboat (1943)
Spellbound (1945)
Notorious (1946)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Dial M for Murder (1953)
Rear Window (1954)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
The Wrong Man (1957)
Vertigo (1958)
North by Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)

My top three would have to be Strangers, Shadow, and a undecidable-tie between NxNW, Psycho, and Birds, depending on my mood. Of course, anything with Cary Grant in it is always watchable, so Thief is always up there, too. A few I saw years and years ago and hardly remember – Lifeboat, Spellbound, Wrong Man – and I’d like to see these again after reading Spoto’s book. Do the simple math and you’ll note I’ve got twenty major flicks yet to see.

But enough about my cinematic past. How about the book?

The old Freudian quote, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” often came to mind reading Spoto’s hefty work. However, in a Hitchcock movie, every detail, every image, every angle is thought-out well in advance. The master’s m.o. was to hole up with the screenwriter for several weeks going over each and every scene slowly, thoughtfully, mapping everything the camera will do and see. Nothing is left to chance, and every single detail has a meaning. Hitchcock often said that a viewer needed to watch his movie a minimum of three times before every nuance and every plot and character detail could be appreciated and even spotted in some cases.

To pepper this post with example after example would be rather burdensome for me, and maybe boring for you if you haven’t seen any Hitchcock movies lately. So I was kinda at a loss about what really to say when an idea popped into my head. I still have an unused gift card from my birthday last month; I’d been saving it since I have a backlog of about two dozen books to wade through and my wife’ll absolutely go banzai on me if I bring another one into the house. This weekend, I think, I’ll use the card to pickup a Hitchcock flick and take his advice: watch it three times, say, once a weekend for three weeks. The first time without any aid. The second after re-reading my notes from Spoto’s book. And the third, with a movie review in mind.

Sounds interesting, as an experiment? Definitely, for me, but for you … ?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Scary Childhood TV

Ten things that I saw on teevee that scared the H*E*L*L out of me as a little boy.

10. Clint Howard’s mask from Star Trek

9. Hedorah, the “smog monster” that fought Godzilla in that trippy movie

8. The giant 6-ft spider in the cave in that Gilligan’s Island episode

7. The Fouke monster reaching its arm through the window …

6. The sleestak from The Land of the Lost

5. When the alien from Invasion of the Saucer Men gets its eye gored by the bull (or maybe it’s the other way around)

4. Salem’s Lot

3. That claymation hand from the movie night intro “Chiller …”

2. The Blob (from the old Steve McQueen movie)

1. Snuffaluffagus!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Hannity Hypothetical

One technique used often in debate, especially the loud sound-bite debating so prevalent nowadays, is to put a hypothetical question to your opponent. It involves forcing the opposition to choose between two and only two unrealistic alternatives, either of which will ultimately prove your point. It’s a cousin of the old standard of asking your opponent, “How often have you been beating your wife?”

I started thinking about this Monday night while listening to the tail end of Sean Hannity’s radio show. Normally I don’t listen to him, though I have in the past, but Michael Medved was off the air while the baseball playoffs were going on and I was paying bills in the downstairs office. I listened to Hannity berate a somewhat idealistic and naïve-sounding Christian woman who was trying to make a point contrary to his opinion. I don’t remember the specifics of the argument, but I do recall Hannity throwing out New Testament quotes to support his arguments.

Hannity often talks about his Catholicism on the air. I don’t think you need to be a Vatican theologian to know that it’s of the “cafeteria” variety. Just listen to him for a couple of hours. I also think it’s also fairly obvious as to his priorities: he’s a conservative republican first, and a Catholic second. The Catholicism is molded to fit the political ideology, not the other way around. Curious about this aspect of the man, I did a quick google and came to this page.

It’s a classic text-book example of the hypothetical. On his teevee show, Hannity is debating a priest who has dared to correct him on the Catholic view concerning birth control. So Hannity presents him with this hypothetical question:

“Would you rather a non-Catholic practice birth control or abortion?”


There are several things wrong with a question such as this. First, it’s an artificial construction, a rhetorical device, and it does not have as a necessary property existence in the real world. In fact, hypotheticals asked in debate rarely, if ever, do exist in the real world. The famous “ticking time bomb” scenario used to justify torture falls into this category. Since it doesn’t apply to reality and since it is simply a rhetorical device to prove the questioner’s point, the person to which a hypothetical is put has no obligation to answer.

Of course, the questioner will trumpet such a refusal to answer the hypothetical as all but admitted defeat on his opponent’s part. But that’s not the case, and we, as intelligent, thinking individuals, now know this.

Next, for the Catholic who is serious about his faith, hypotheticals are an occasion to sin. As such, they should be avoided in asking and avoiding in answering. In addition to attempting to prove a foregone conclusion, they also serve to entice into sin. What do I mean? We can all agree, for example, that lying is wrong. To flat out tell a lie (let’s leave out the intentions and other circumstantial details) is a sin. What is also sinful is the consideration of lying. If I sit in my chair, scratch my chin and think of the pros and cons of lying to my wife about, oh, losing $500 at the track, and come up with scenarios and possible consequences, think of who I can enlist to help me make the lie more palatable (ie, get Joe to swear I came to him saying I was robbed) … this in itself is sinful. To dwell on a sin, or the hypothetical choice between sins, puts one in danger of actually sinning and must not be entertained.

So to entice others to contemplate sinful activity, or to allow ourselves to weigh and consider a moral calculus of our own, one that does not come from God, in debating the relative demerits of one sin versus another – this is sinful, and must be avoided.

Third, in this case especially, both of the false choices presented to the priest are intrinsically evil and may not be engaged in, if one considers oneself a practicing, faithful Catholic and takes his faith seriously. This hypothetical question cannot be answered as presented. It would be similar to Colmes asking Hannity, “Would you rather the newly-liberated Iraqi people choose a communist government or vote in another military dictatorship?” It’s unanswerable, because both choices are anathema to a conservative republican like Hannity. Nor is it, obviously, applicable to the real world. Hannity would not answer the question, and rightly so.

A rhetorical ploy like the unanswerable hypothetical persuades no one except, perhaps, the one asking it and, perhaps, those whose position already lies with the asker. A man as intelligent as Hannity must know this, even if he knows it only in the unspoken privacy of his innermost thoughts.

Or possibly he is still asleep, like so many of us have been and still are, just going about our daily routines as if it was the most important consideration of all, and just waiting to be awakened.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Woe Unto Thee!

I need a change of scenery, man. Things are getting a little too heavy around here. And by here, I mean everywhere. And not just me, but all of us.

What am I blathering about? The economy. The state of the union. The state of our health as a country and society. I hear it on the news. I hear it on the radio. I see it on the teevee. And it don’t look good. At least, that’s what I’m hearing and seeing. You know, what they want me to hear and see.

Paranoid ramblings? Perhaps. But if I was really paranoid, would I even be writing this?

Okay, this is freaking even me out. In reality, I’m just a bit depressed due to the intersection of our country’s general malaise with my family’s specific malaise. But a couple of odd analogies keep popping into my head.

For example, is it me, or does it suddenly feel like we’re all living out Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? If you’ve never read the book, check out this summary. I read it in 1999 during the waning Clinton administration and it seemed to me that the events portrayed could never – would never – happen in America. And now, well, simply put, I want to stick my head out a window like that guy in Network, except I’d be shouting, “Where’s John Galt!”

Another example comes from the Good Book. I’ve been reading a lot of Old Testament history lately. Some stuff for the kooky factor, the “mysteries of the Bible” stuff, but also serious historical-slash-archaeological studies, even a book authored by a rabbi on Jewish perspectives. So now I’m thinking that I’m like this middle-aged scribe or something, hanging out in the Northern Kingdom or in Judah, just trying to earn a few shekels a week to buy a lamb every now and then to keep the family fed. There are prophets all around me screaming for Israel to repent, and I nervously watch all my friends, family, and co-scribes ignore them. Assyrian or Babylonian forces are gathering along the border, but the king is babbling on about “peace in our time” or having “a dialogue with Nebuchadnezzar.” That pretty much accurately sums up my feelings about our culture.

And what of this H1N1? Does the media want to whip us into a frenzy or what? It’s the flu! I’ve had the flu several times in my life. It’s incapacitated me for a day, two at the most, and even with my surgeries I don’t feel I’m in danger. We’re waiting for our doctor’s advice on whether to inoculate the children. Even that’s a toss-up. But this flu is not going to be the global pandemic the media wants. It won’t be a bubonic plague wiping out one-third of Europe. But on my night table, for a whole month, sat Stephen King’s The Stand (the wife wanted to check it out). You know what it’s about. Captain Trips and the end of the world. Finally, I returned it to the library. Not a book to be reading right about now, in my frame of mind.

Ugh. We all need a change of scenery.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize

What can I say that hasn’t been said already? By commentators from every part of the political spectrum.

At the very least, it’s a joke. At the very worst, a travesty.

Let’s start with the peace prize itself. Can anyone now deny that it’s not a politically motivated medal? Liberals giving awards to liberals for being liberal. In the past ten years, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama have won it. No conservative American politician has. And now it appears that one doesn’t actually have to do anything to win it, other than espouse the same liberal views that those five politically-appointed Norwegian panel judges hold. In fact, a leader can actually be waging two wars and be seriously considering escalating one of them by sending more troops in, and win the peace prize if he is an avowed liberal.

Okay. So the prize is meaningless. And now it is a joke.

Can we get this meme to soak into the public’s perception? Hammer away at it. It may have held some prestige forty or fifty years ago, but now it has lost it.

Any form of the words “prestige”, “honor”, or even “noble” should be forever severed from the words “Nobel Peace Prize,” unless, of course, the adjective “liberal” is thrown in. It’s prestigious only for liberals, not for the general public, who now regard the award as a meaningless, hypocritical, chucklefest.

I myself, as well as millions of others, have long viewed the award as hypocritical after the murderer and terrorist Arafat was awarded one in the early 90s and continued advocating murder and terrorism.

Now, the awarding of the Peace Prize for Obama’s 11 days of presidency.

Pure Komedy!

At first I was angry, because I thought a raging narcissist like our commander-in-chief would view the award as an affirmation of his big-government, pro-abortion, foreign-policy-founded-on-appeasement, high-tax ideals. And no doubt he will. Then I heard the idea that it is the Nobel committee’s attempt to influence American foreign policy, a “down-payment” of sorts to tie the president’s hands. No doubt it has, but I think Obama did not necessarily need the award to tie his hands. His ideology does that.

Then I thought it was ridiculous, if not downright funny. There’s a lot of mocking going on out in the blogosphere. Reason TV has a mock newscast (I saw it on National Review’s The Corner) where breaking news keeps coming in on Obama winning the Emmy, then the NBA MVP, then the Pulitzer, then the Heisman, etc, etc. Commentary spans the spectrum from lighthearted mocking to bewilderment to dismay over the blatant attempt for a globalized body to influence American policy. I agree with it all.

The noble thing for Obama would have been not to accept the award. Accepting it stating the money will go to charity is still giving validation to it. We need to remember that. Remember what our president gives validation to. I’ve heard it said that the money spent on plane fuel and secret service salaries and expenses will be far greater than the prize money gained in accepting the award. So us taxpayers are paying for it, as we keep funding this growing mess that is the Obama administration.

If Obama was truly the uniter his disciples claim he is, he would practice some humility and say no to this duplicitous award. He has done absolutely nothing to merit it. He has even admitted this. If he had rejected this dubious honor, it would have gone a long way toward disarming his ideological opponents. Instead, this vain politician has given them even more ammunition.

Bring on the mid-term elections!

But the most tragic thing, I think, and it’s something I haven’t heard much these past few days, is that this selection really denigrates those who truly work for peace in the world. Those who put their lives on the line and get their hands dirty, physically dirty, working for peace. Those who dedicate their lives to service, not self-service, those who rise above threats and very real violence, to work hard to improve the sad lot of a lot of the poor and the suffering. Their efforts are now somehow cheapened by this vanity award. It’s become devalued. And rightly so.

The 2010 recipient of the award should decline it. And so should every future recipient.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Under the Weather

Not feeling too good this weekend. Had a tickle in my throat all week which migrated south to my chest Friday night. Kept me up all night coughing. Slept and sweated through many hours. Fell asleep in the bathtub. Read a book on Hitchcock movies. Watched the rock opera Tommy. Had many strange dreams as a direct consequence.

A lot to comment on but I just can’t get focused. I want to say something about Obama winning the Nobel Prize. Father Damien of Molokai – you know, the missionary who ministered to the lepers in Hawaii – has been declared a Saint. Why the NFL pregame shows insist on spending 45 minutes on the Dallas Cowboys and 15 minutes on the rest of the league. An ignorant, half-formed comment I want to make about Kant. A potential job opportunity. George R. R. Martin. And on and on.

I am on the upswing, though. The hacking cough is gone, but the fatigue and congestion is still there. My hands are completely dried out since I’m washing them twenty times a day so I don’t spread anything to the girls, who all seem fine. My wife has been excellent, shouldering all the household duties and feeding me chicken soup, blueberry juice, and pharmaceuticals.

Hopefully something of substance, interest, or both, tomorrow …

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bond Supervillains

As I mentioned here in my review of Quantum of Solace, the wife and I are moderate fans of the Bond movies. Which means if there’s a marathon on TBS or TNT or one of those middle-of-the-spectrum channels, we’ll watch ’em. She tends to favor Connery, I trend towards Moore. We both like Brosnan, though he was kinda safe and a little bit boring. We’re both intrigued with the possibilities of Daniel Craig. While not experts on the subject, we’re pretty well-versed.

Just the other day I was chatting with a neighbor about Bond villains. While I think Daniel Craig is a good Bond to jump-start the series, the lack of really, really bad baddies can hurt it. I call now, officially, for a moratorium on these anonymous Euroweenies, with their daring plots to “monopolize the global manganese market.” Please. Has any of the recent Bond screenwriters seen You Only Live Twice? Moonraker? Heck, I’d even take a revenge plot like that in The Living Daylights and a bad guy like Franz Sanchez.

So over the years I’ve been griping, mostly to the long-suffering wife, about who would make the ideal Bond supervillain. So I finally bit the bullet and came up with a short list. A top ten. Now, a lot of these have about a 0.00037 chance of ever happening. Probably most. Some of these castings probably shouldn’t. But at least it’s better than the greasy metrosexuals we’ve seen trying rather ineffectively to try to kill Mr. Bond.

My criteria:

A Bond villain should be bad. No scruples, no morals, but not in a cartoonish or overtly evil way. Something that walks the twitching tightrope between a Batman nemesis and Hannibal Lechter. Difficult to do, but can be done.

A Bond villain also needs some distinguishing characteristic. For example, a scarred face, a bald head, prosthetic body parts, funny wardrobe that you’d dare not make fun of lest you wind up on the bottom of a shark tank. All have been done. I think Blofeld has a monopoly on those four qualities. Weird hair is good, too. Think of red-haired Auric Goldfinger and silver-haired Max Zorin. Whatever the quality, a Bond supervillain can’t be commonplace. You shouldn’t expect to see him in an Amstel Light commercial.

So who are my candidates?

Here’s the top ten:

10. Vince Vaughn

Okay, okay. I realize I’ve just strained my credibility right here at the outset. This is an idealized pick. Imagine Vince if Vince never hooked up with Will Ferrell to complete his transformation into cartoony comedy. Imagine if Double V continued taking roles similar to his turn as Norman Bates in the Psycho remake. That’s all I’m sayin.’

9. Seal

All right. Hear me out. At the risk of sounding inconsiderate, the man just looks like a badass. That’s all I’m going to say. If he can act, all the more better.

8. Tom Sizemore

If this guy could ever get his act together, he’d be the perfect Bond supervillain. Slightly psychologically unhinged, physically dominating, charismatic, I could just picture his character’s cult of personality bringing together a corps of uniform-wearing henchman to … I don’t know … melt the polar ice caps to throw the Earth out of its orbit unless his demands were met. I like it.

7. Henry Rollins

Rollins is a force of nature. Tattooed, ripped and shredded, anger as an art form. Could play a thug who murders his way up the chain of command. Give him a robotic arm or something. Maybe a red metal eye, to call subconscious comparison to a Terminator. Could work.

6. David Caruso

Stop! I know, I know, I know. But the guy has a weird personality, a weird raspy voice, and some seriously weird hair going on. And he’s like an albino or something. As long as he can stretch out of that NYPD/Miami CSI groove he’s been in for a thousand years. Think about it. There’s possibilities. But no sunglasses – Bond supervillains don’t were sunglasses, unless their eyes are different colors or have telephoto lenses in them or bleed blood.

5. Ben Kingsley

He’s bald. He’s an accomplished actor. He’s an Oscar winner. Okay, he may be too big for the role, but what a performance he’d put into his villain! Ever see Gandhi? Well, forget that. See him as Don Logan in Sexy Beast. That’s the Ben Kingsley that would be on display here. Pure psychotic intelligence, drive, ambition, always on the edge of imbalance. A supervillain who will not take no for an answer.

4. Michael Chiklis

He’s also bald, and he can also pull out that psychotic intelligence, drive and ambition from pit of the barren hell that is his soul. Think of the teevee show The Shield. Ben Kingsley light, but I think he’d fit the role better. More physical. He’d be more hungry for it.

3. Dennis Quaid

All right, my wife hates this choice. But I think it’s so off the wall it might work. Dennis has this quality in his eyes that gives me the impression that he can easily portray … oh … say, megalomaniacally mad. Plus, no Bond villain has got that Texas twang. You could begin the movie with some nefarious plot about oil, blah blah blah, but that’s only a ruse to throw the audience off, because that’s easy to do to a lazy audience. It’d really be about biotechnology or time travel or something much more SF-ish than futures commodities.

2. Willem Dafoe

The face alone begs to join the ranks of Blofeld, Scaramanga, Stromfeld, Zorin, Largo. That face has made millions and a career for Mr. Dafoe. He’s the perfect Bond supervillain. However, his role as the goblin in Spiderman may make this ideal choice impossible. But I would wager anything that at some point in his career the Broccoli family approached him to “talk” about possibly taking up the bad guy mantle. For some reason I see him masterminding an evil plot to clone important or wealthy individuals throughout the world to bring him unlimited riches and power. He’d clone Bond, too, so Daniel Craig would have to do hand-to-hand with – Daniel Craig. And when Craig dispatches Dafoe at the end of the movie, we’ll never be certain whether it was the original or a clone who got off’ed.

1. Geoffrey Rush

Everything said above plus more. Intelligent, crafty, clever, unscrupulous and inscrutable. A Dafoe-ish face with unkempt hair. Indications of insanity, but controlled insanity. A compact physicality about him that would make it possible to whip some martial arts on James. And perhaps the best actor of the whole bunch.

Well, don’t be shy: What do you think?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Full Moon

Let’s test your visual memory, eh?

Get a good mental picture of the full moon. You’ve seen it a couple thousand times in your life. In real life, like a few days ago if you happened to be looking up outside at night. In the movies, like on that poster of E.T. On the covers of countless books.

Now, a question.

If you were to take a whole bunch of full moons and stack them one atop another, how many moons would it take to reach the horizon to the zenith (the point in the sky directly overhead)?

A) 16

B) 24

C) 48

D) 120

E) over 120

Well, what do you think? The answer’s the last choice. Surprised? Most people are, myself included when I first encountered the question many years ago. Based on the images we see in the various media, we’re accustomed to an over-enlarged version of the moon. The full moon in actuality is so tiny, relative to the whole night sky, that it would take 180 of them stacked on atop another, to reach from horizon to zenith.

Now how about another question?

How many full moons would it take to cover the entire night sky?

This one stumped me. Initially I guessed about 60 full moons from horizon to zenith and thought I had to do some sort of trigonometric equation to find the surface area of a half-sphere. 4 π r-squared / 2. I plugged in 60 as r as a guess and came up with (4 * 3.14159 * 60 * 60) / 2 = about 22,620.

What do you think?

The answer is a bit more than that. Turn’s out it would take 105,050 full moons to completely cover the celestial dome. That intrigued me, it absolutely amazed me. No, not the number, not even the formula needed to figure it out (which obviously is a far cry from my weak guess).

What floored me is this: Stop a second, and simply imagine what the sky would look like with 105,050 full moons! You’d go blind instantly, I’d think (there’s a biophysics problem right there - calculate the luminosity of the full moon, multiply by 105,050 and compare result to the single sun, and decide whether the human optic nerve could handle it dispersed over the entire region of the sky). How could such a world even plausibly exist? What type of creatures would evolve on such a world? What would be their culture? Their belief system? Obviously they would worship the moon, or the moon-multitude, but what shape would that worship take?

There’s a science fiction short story in there somewhere if you have the patience and the time …

Thursday, October 8, 2009




What is the color
Of a chameleon
As it rests upon a mirror?


Uh ... does the little feller happen to be clapping with one hand?


(smacks LE with a cane)


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Higher Dimension

Wanna neat way to think about higher dimensions?

Of course you do.

Try this. Visualize the everyday world around you. That’s three spatial dimensions plus a time dimension, or a four-dimensional continuum physicists and scientifically-oriented folk call spacetime. That’s easy.

Now, imagine different objects have different colors. Let’s keep it simple, and assign, oh, how about the three primary colors, one to each object. For instance, I’m at my dining room table writing this. The table is blue. My laptop is red. The chairs are yellow. The walls are blue. The floor is red. Different shades, but all shades of the same three primary colors.

Got it?

Here’s the nifty part.

Physical interaction between any two objects depends not only on their location in space (as well as time, if you think about it), but also color. Two objects need to be the same color to interact. Thus, my laptop would fall right through the table and crash onto the floor, because the laptop is red and the table is blue. They can’t interact. But the floor is red, also, same color as the laptop, so those two objects can.

For this type of reality to be viable, most if not all objects would need to be shades of a single primary color. The laptop would be pink. The table crimson. The floor rose. The walls, a bright cherry. Me, a dark, full-bodied red. You get the idea. Now extend it further. Might not ghosts, or spirits, or alien beings, or whatever (God, perhaps?) exist in the room right next to you, undetectable to you, simply because they are some shade of blue? Or yellow?

Might this be analogous to the ordinary, humdrum world you see yourself in right now?


[Idea cannibalized from a short reference I read from a 1927 book by Hans Reichenbach entitled The Philosophy of Space and Time.]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dismal Science

Found ten pages of notes from what must have been an economics class I probably took fifteen years ago (yes, I am a pack rat). Interesting. Economics was always something I felt I should know more about. In fact, I think anyone who goes into a voting booth should know something about it. At least a working knowledge. Sadly, I believe the common man is a complete ignoramus in this area. I’d guess maybe one in a hundred really grasps the subject, and one in ten can follow a cable business show with interest. Too pessimistic a guess? Maybe. But I throw myself in with the ignorami.

I found a couple of interesting factoids from my notes. Care for a few? All right. Since I don’t remember the source, and with all “factoids” of an economic nature, take with whole shakersful of salt:

Economists have proved notoriously inept at predicting upturns and downturns in the business cycle.

Ya think?

Half of all unemployed Americans find new jobs in less than seven weeks. Only about fifteen percent face unemployment spells longer than six months.

Bottom fifteen, welcome your newest member.

Why does discretionary fiscal policy (a.k.a. government spending) often fail?
1. Government is notoriously bad at forecasting
2. Government takes a long time to act
3. Spending plans often favor groups with the most political power
4. New deficit spending pushes up interest rates, crowding out private-sector investment
5. By pushing up interest rates, spending can push up exchange rate of currency
6. People may save extra money instead of spending it

Is there any way to take our money out of our politicians’ hands without devolving into some type of Soviet-style central planning machine?

Friedman and Phelps found that ultimately government spending to cut the unemployment rate only pushes prices up and does not push unemployment down.

They discovered this when? In the 1970s? Does anyone besides me get a sense of déjà vu reading this?

Congress created the Fed in 1913 to ensure geographic diversity and independence from politics. The Fed Chairman is appointed by the president every four years, but not in sync with the presidency. Seven governors, elected for 14-year terms, come from twelve districts throughout the country. A district can only be represented by one governor at a time.

Interesting esoterica. Now you know something that less than one percent of the population knows.

Hayek: governments cannot possibly gather enough information from throughout the world to intelligently choose prices. In contrast, market players do not need to know anything other than price in order to make their choice.

So … get rid of rent control, and don’t scapegoat the oil companies (ooh, I hope that sentiment doesn’t get me tarred-n-feathered. Remember, I’m one of the glorious, noble poor!).

Advertising expenditures in the US have remained a remarkably stable 2 percent of GDP ever since Franklin Roosevelt ran for president.

That’s very interesting. I wonder if the trend’s continued over the past fifteen years or so.

People take better care of private property than public property. Even Aristotle complained that communal property always looked worse than private lands.

Best argument I’ve heard for the alleged inviolable right to own property.

Circa the mid-90s the British controlled about 2 percent of US GDP, while the Japanese controlled 1.5 percent and the Dutch 1.2. However, the US controlled 7 percent of the UK economy, 8 percent of the Dutch, and 0.7 percent of the Japanese.

More interesting figures. Look at those Dutch! Who’d have suspected them – it’s always the quiet ones you gotta worry about. Wonder what the most recent figures are.

60 percent of Americans have savings accounts, 20 percent own individual stocks, 20 percent have certificates of deposit, 11 percent have mutual funds, 8 percent own bonds. Over 60 percent of American families have invested in their homes, which comes to about one-third of their wealth.

Check, no check, used-to-be-a-check, check, no check, check. I think. I may be in the process of being swindled. I’ll have to look into it and get back to you.

Entrepreneurs are the driving force of growth.

Agreed! Let’s all get off their backs! Perhaps one may hire me for what I can produce or provide, or perhaps I may successfully join their ranks in the near future …

Best economic advice: Don’t put your eggs in one basket.
Worst economic advice: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Perfect sense when you think about it a little bit – say, more than 30 seconds.

Ah, well, it’s all very interesting, and I could go on and on, but what’s the point? I’d just forget all the statistics, terms, and theories in a couple of hours anyway. I was always a B/C student in economics. Besides, using the concept of utility, and the fact that all of us, from LE right on up to Donald Trump, Warren Buffett, and the overlords of China, all of us have the same amount of hours in a day, I’d better get working on something more profitable.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Let’s Swim to the Moon

So the wife’s going away on a business trip for three days, and all day Sunday she’s doing laundry. All her laundry, ’cause she doesn’t know exactly what she’s going to bring with her. The problem is, something like half her wardrobe is line dry only, so by four o’clock in the afternoon there are pants and blouses and dresses and whatnot decorating all our chairs, tables, child-proof gates, and banisters. Even the deck railings are adorned with Chanel pieces.

A couple hours later, after we’ve all inhaled the delicious home-made pizza she’s made, and we’re herding the little ones upstairs for the bedtime ritual, I glance out the kitchen window and see her clothes still drying outside, lonely soldiers watching our house in the dark. I rush out to gather them up when I notice a bright shining object about 30 degrees high in the southeastern sky.

“That’s a planet,” I say out loud, “but I don’t think it’s Venus.” I rush inside, toss my wife’s clothes aside, and run upstairs to seek out my latest Astronomy magazine. Consulting its sky chart, I discover that it is indeed a planet: Jupiter. Jupiter! That’s the Little One’s favorite planet (because, I think, it kinda resembles a pizza).

I race up the stairs and yank my daughter away seconds before the brushing of teeth commences. We two-step-at-a-time down two flights of stairs to the basement office, tear through a couple of desk drawers, find my opera glasses, and hit the deck. With the glasses we can not only see Jupiter (only resolved to a somewhat larger pinpoint of light) but also, at an apparent inch away at a south-westerly orientation, one of its satellites – Callisto? Ganymede? She’s fascinated, and we’re fighting over the opera glasses.

Then, due east just over the horizon (which to me is my neighbor’s house and treeline about thirty feet away) I spot the full moon. I cajole the opera glasses from Little One with the promise of greater visual treasure.

What a surreal view that greeted me! The bright moon swam so low and so bright that it seemed to lay only five or ten miles away. An island shimmering in an Earthly cove, a terran inlet of three dimensions. Ghostly wisps of horizontal clouds imperceptibly flashed by, illuminated by the sun’s reflected glare. The lenses from the glasses gave the overall scene an olive-colored tint, and I could swear I could see birds flying in the far distance, perhaps for their nightly lunar layover.

Those mountains and craters five or ten miles away cast huge shadows across the bright plains and dark seas, where no doubt the Selenites toiled ceaselessly, burrowing tunnels between their wondrous crystalline cities, kept hidden from their sisters’ telescopic eyes. Gondolas helmed by wide-winged birds of prey pulled Victorian scientists, along with a somnambulant Greek physicist or two, through the dark olive ether to meet and explore and claim the vast lunar deserts and jungles for Queen and Country, and, perhaps, a muse or two. I knew the translunar air was breathable, though possibly a bit chilly. Oh to explore such a world, as men did up until the early decades of this century past, and in quite a different, unimaginable way only fifty years ago.

I handed the glasses to the Little One, who stared through them at the moon for long, long minutes until I finally told her in a stern voice to come back inside. I wonder what she saw through the lenses, and how it compared to my vision.

Sunday, October 4, 2009



Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1816

The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats tho’ unseen amongst us – visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower –
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower
It visits with inconstant glance
Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening –
Like clouds in starlight widely spread –
Like memory of music fled –
Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery

Finished reading The Man Who Knew Infinity last night, the biography of the mathematical genius Ramanujan. The book was exhaustingly exhaustive yet somehow only revealed the shadow of this great and strange man. Perhaps a more in depth post further down the line to explain things; no clear direction for a review or intelligent comment is in my brain right now.

However, towards the end of the book author Kanigel does throw in a couplet from the above poem by Shelley, which I think mystically hints at the terrible greatness that was within this man, who died tragically at age 31 from tuberculosis, just coming into the height of his powers.

Yes, another post down the line will be coming, I think …

Saturday, October 3, 2009

John 1:14

By Jorge Luis Borges

This page will be no less a riddle
than those of My holy books
or those others repeated
by ignorant mouths
believing them the handiwork of a man
not the Spirit's dark mirrors.
I who am the Was, the Is, and the Is To Come
again condescend to the written word,
which is time in succession and no more than an emblem.
Who plays with a child plays with something
near and mysterious;
wanting once to play with My children,
I stood among them with awe and tenderness.
I was born of a womb
by an act of magic.
I lived under a spell, imprisoned in a body,
in the humbleness of a soul.
I knew memory,
that coin that's never twice the same.
I knew hope and fear,
those twin faces of the uncertain future.
I knew wakefulness, sleep, dreams,
ignorance, the flesh,
reason's roundabout labyrinths,
the friendship of men,
the blind devotion of dogs.
I was loved, understood, praised, and hung from a cross.
I drank My cup to the dregs.
My eyes saw what they had never seen -
night and its many stars.
I knew things smooth and gritty, uneven and rough,
the taste of honey and apple,
water in the throat of thirst,
the weight of metal in the hand,
the human voice, the sound of footsteps on the grass,
the smell of rain in Galilee,
the cry of birds on high.
I knew bitterness as well.
I have entrusted the writing of these words to a common man;
they will never be what I want to say
but only their shadow.
These signs are dropped from My eternity.
Let someone else write the poem, not he who is now its scribe.
Tomorrow I shall be a great tree in Asia,
or a tiger among tigers
preaching My law to the tiger's woods.
Sometimes homesick, I think back
on the smell of that carpenter's shop.


Friday, October 2, 2009


Any married man who has an affair with a woman who is not his wife loses a tremendous chunk of credibility whenever he comments on the culture or on those who believe there is something wrong with said culture and have strong opinions on how to correct it. Loss of credibility is even greater when the married man is also a father.

Now, this creep can still say all he wants. In no way should his freedom of speech be impeded in any way; this is still America. But it would not bother me in the least – no, in fact, I think it should become common practice – that whenever mentioning this creep’s name there should be a comma with the phrase adulterer or serial adulterer or failure as a husband, failure as a father, or even failure as a man following. Or it could be used as an adjective, as in “adulterous comedian,” for example. Or, “so-and-so, comedian, and failure as a man.” That would be entirely okay, as long as the creep continued to thrust himself into the limelight, unapologetic, unremitting in his assault on those who value, say, the sanctity of marriage and the family.

Forgive and forget, yes, but forget only if the creep desires forgiveness and performs those actions that show it.

And I can’t believe I wasted so many hours over the past twenty-five years, particularly as a younger man, watching and listening to this creep.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Hole In Space

(No, it’s not A**hole in Space)

What an enjoyable read! There’s just about everything for the discriminating SF palate: aliens, rockets, laser cannons, teleportation pods, genetic engineering, Mars, more aliens, neutron stars, faster-than-light travel, and even more aliens: mysterious, threatening nasties who hold the power to destroy our sun and lack the morality to prevent them from so doing.

Eight of the short stories (well, there’s one novella thrown in) are hard-SF. My favorite is “There is a Tide,” starring our old friend Louis Wu from Niven’s best-known work, Ringworld, locking horns with an untrusting critter over a strange treasure which neither realize has the capacity to destroy them both. I also enjoyed “The Hole Man,” about a microscopic black hole discovered on Mars and the titular scientist obsessed with it, and especially the novella, “The Fourth Profession,” just about perfect from every aspect a short story needs: characters, conflict, and, of course, cosmic war depending on a bartender. Someday it will be filmed as a cross between Bogartian-film noir and Lucasian alien cantina-ism.

The remaining two pieces give the collection an interesting hue. The first, “$16,940.00” is a gritty, telephone conversation shake-down that’s begging to be filmed in some way shape form by Quentin Tarantino. And the most interesting piece, in an odd sort of way, is “Bigger Than Worlds,” in which Niven spends a dozen or so pages describing the vehicles for mankind’s outward expansion into, and mastery of, the universe. Ideas included and expounded upon are multi-generation starships, flying cities, macroscopic rings (as featured in Ringworld) and spaghetti tubes so large they surround stars and star systems, Dyson spheres (a sphere built around a star at a distance of 1 AU to harness completely the energy of said star), and, ultimately, megaspheres (Dyson spheres enclosing whole galaxies). Though I have actually pondered the future of the species of man and its journey out of the cradle, this little essay really opened up my eyes.

A great read. Just what I needed and what I was looking for. I did a geekish thing and “graded” each story; the collection averages a strong B+. What weighed it down, I think, were a trio of stories which focus primarily on a teleportation device and how it affects the far-flung future of, well, our present now. They didn’t seem plausible, didn’t excite me, and one I flat-out didn’t grasp where Niven was going, despite reading the final page a couple of times. But the other seven stories where well worth the time and money spent.