Sunday, February 28, 2010

Guitar Work III

What’s LE playing on the six-string?

Coupla new tunes, now that ya ask …

1. South Side of the Sky by Yes

What an awesome song! If you’ve never heard it, google it, find it, listen to it. Of course, I don’t claim to play this song seriously. It’s meant as a showcase for Steve Howe, and I can’t hold a candle to that flame, especially on an acoustic guitar. Especially trying to duplicate his chromatic scale runs. But it’s fun to play nonetheless. Wish I had an electric for this one. I’m still trying to figure out the little piano interlude. And the lyrics, once I understood what they’re really about, are heartbreaking.

2. Cars by Gary Numan

Yes it’s silly and dated but it is fun to play, especially when no one else is in the house. Simply reproducing single synthesizer notes on an acoustic is fun, especially when played aggressively with the fingernail of my index finger.

3. Black Water by the Doobie Brothers

Was fingerpicking a couple of chords and this suddenly fell into place. I always knew the chorus chords, G to Bb, but just last week I figgered out the verse – Am7 to D, and then the strummed chords after the chorus – A to Em7. Don’t have the exact finger-pick pattern down, and missing a couple of fills here and there, but it’ll come, again, out of the blue one of these days.

4. Lonely Is the Night by Billy Squier

Vividly remember this song from my youth – it was played routinely on radio during my freshman year of high school, and by “routinely” I mean “ad nauseum.” But the song was featured in the Vince Vaughn flick Couples Retreat, prompting the wife to ask, “Can you play that on your guitar?”, to which I had to answer the challenge. So I’ve been playing it every now and then of late.

5. 1-8-7-7-Kars-for-Kids

You’ve heard this commercial song on the radio. The first verse is sung by some li’l critter of a kid, the second verse is sung by the Marlboro Man, and the third verse they sing together. It’s almost bizarre if you give it some thought. Heard it a while ago in the car running errands with the Little One, who loves singing it. So I had to learn it on the acoustic! What fascinates me, though, is the Marlboro Man. What’s his backstory, I wonder? I kinda envision the Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George if life had dealt him a real rough hand, say, like a court-ordered 12-Step Program and a three-year stretch in the joint for vehicular manslaughter. Perhaps a speculative post on this man in the near future, if it keeps itself rattling about in the echo chamber I have inside my skull.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

News on a Snowy Day

Watched about six hours of news on the toob while we was snowed in yesterday.

What’s LE’s take on the news of the day?

Well, for one thing, I think that killer whale at Seaworld needs to be put down. This is the third human death that the creature was involved in, directly or indirectly. Kill it. If it was a dog, it would have been put to sleep. What’s that adage they say about an animal that’s tasted human blood? Again, I say, kill it.

And the “press conference” that Seaworld put on, with the CEO coming out in his jaunty sporting vest, was absolutely disgusting. It was like, yes, we lost a family member (the trainer, that is), but hey, let me go down a list of all the good things Seaworld is doing and the great benefits we provide the children of the world. With a giant orca ballet orchestrated in the tank directly behind the podium. Absolutely shameful. A woman was killed by a beast that’s killed before, and we’re shown an “invest-in-Seaworld” seminar presentation by the CEO. Never been to Seaworld, and haven’t seen a dolphin show since I saw one at Great Adventure in the mid-80s, but I will never go to this place on principle.

Good news: David Paterson, NY’s embattled governor, who, six days ago vowed “you can only remove me from office by the ballot box or in a pine box,” well, he suspended his reelection campaign. New York’s something like 40 billion dollars in debt and Paterson has something like 40 billion state attorney generals investigating him and his administration. The guy is way over his head and did a lot – and I mean a lot – of damage to his state. Reminds me of another guy in the news a lot lately …

There was talking head speculation that Elliot Spitzer might be manipulating behind the scenes for a potential run. The man is lower than a slug in my estimation, but, frighteningly enough, I wouldn’t put it past the New York electorate to put him back in the governor’s mansion. I mean, it’s been, what, two years since he slithered out of the public limelight. Surely that’s enough to rehabilitate a reputation destroyed by extramarital flings with prostitutes, right?

So the wife says Rudy should run. Rudy Giuliani. The man who’s too liberal for Republicans and too conservative for Democrats. The man who’s in love with being woo’d, but never really runs for anything with any amount of enthusiasm or competence. I’m not a big fan of Rudy post 9-11. Though I did enjoy his speech at 2008’s Republican Convention.

And the whole play-by-play of the show trial that was the Health Care Summit … I’m too bored to comment. Well, I’ll say this: Drop it, and focus on those things that will show you are pro-business. I’m tired of this recession. Oh wait – sorry, have to report a comment I heard by Jonah Goldberg. Regarding the Democrat’s insistence that the Republicans don’t want health care reform, he said something like, “just because you don’t want to eat an old shoe for lunch, doesn’t mean you’re not hungry.” I thought that was brilliant.

Live coverage of Jenny Sanford being granted a divorce from her husband, the Republican governor of South Carolina. Now I despise divorce in all its forms and never, ever advocate it. But this guy is a loser of the same caliber as Spitzer. They splashed a quote from him onscreen how he nobly admits responsibility for his moral failures. Yeah, and I bet he’s still b***ing his Argentine “soul mate” while his wife and children are suffering. So if Jenny says she can’t reconcile with him, I suppose marriage suicide is the second-best thing for all concerned.

Gosh, I realize I’m being awful judgmental here. And during Lent, of all times. Guess that’s what watching the news will do to you. Fortunately we got a lot on the DVR to go through – a half-dozen Craig Fergusons (the wife’s current late-night fave), The Birdman of Alcatraz, An American in Paris, Way of the Dragon, a “Locked Up Abroad,” four or five “Travelers Guide to the Planets,” something History’s-Mysteries-ish about the Ark of the Covenant, something about the “Nevada Triangle,” an area in the southwestern US which has something like more plane crashes than any other part of the world. So, lots of better stuff to watch. And yes, “better” used here is highly subjective, especially when talking about the Nevada Triangle.

Oh, and as I’m writing this my wife’s gotten a phone call. It seems our really good friend D came down with a bad case of appendicitis yesterday, so bad she needed to be operated on immediately. Fortunately she got to the hospital before the snow crippled the roadways. So D has called C from her recovery room, and my wife’s gonna go visit her. D, remember you are in our family’s prayers. Good luck and a speedy recovery.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow 2.0

Crazy day here. Just spent the past ninety minutes or so with the wife shoveling close to two feet of heavy, wet, slushy snow. It’s still snowing, too, though it’s not the penny-sized flakes that came down pretty much all day yesterday, beginning about 8 am. Power’s been intermittent, too; as a matter of fact I just lost the previous version of this post due to power outage twenty minutes ago. Now I’m hitting the save button after every sentence.

I did a preliminary shoveling about 4 pm yesterday, to little avail. Also came down with a cold, again, and I’m starting to lose count. Must be the sixth or seventh since my surgeries last February. I tried Zicam, but it made my stomach upset, so I’ve been downing Dayquil and quaffing all this herbal tea with honey. I feel okay considering, a little drained and a little foggy in the skull. And I’m also relegated to the couch and ordered to wash my hands every hour on the hour.

Late last night, after the kids were well asleep and the wife had turned in, my sick behind on the couch, finishing up a riveting chapter of George R. R. Martin – suddenly – all the power went out. I’m sitting in the dark, staring over at the eerie blue-white glow from the dining room windows. Then, two flares of bright white light illuminate the entire house, and then – darkness again. I wait five more minutes, then get up, and light some candles. Finish the chapter, brush my teeth, and get under the comforter, asleep by midnight.

Woke up twice during the night, saw power was on from all the blinking out-of-sync times on the microwave, stove, Bose wave radio, and DVR, but power was out again in the early morning haze, as Little One softly padded down the stairs. Wife and Patch came down, but I dragged my disease-riddled hide up to the bedroom and crashed for three straight hours. Got up at 11 or so, and went out and began the Great Digging Out.

Not much on the horizon today. Lots of hot chocolate and tea. Probably go through some library books I have, looking for miscellany to post this weekend. Oh, and by the way, I settled on a book of short stories by Robert Bloch, and already put three of them under my belt. Good reading.

Until then, stay warm and dry, if you happen to be in the northeast!

P.S. - a couple of glimpses outside my front and back doors ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What to Read, What to Read

Hmmmm. You know what I think?

There’s only God and science fiction.


Assuming that, what does LE read next?

As part of my Lenten efforts, I’m going to try to finish The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich. That’s the book Gibson allegedly used for source material with his movie. Last year I got about a third through it; it’s a rather lengthy work at about three hundred pages, and I started it late in the season. So I plan on beginning that around March 1, reading about ten or twenty pages a night before bed.

So that leaves science fiction.

I’m still reading the George R. R. Martin fantasy epic; I’m about halfway through that behemoth of nearly 1200 pages. I only read two chapters a day, and they’re so good they go so fast. But I need something extra, ’cause, hey, I’m a hopper.

Do I go with a novel? Let me look on the shelf behind me. How about –

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman
The Time Dweller by Michael Moorcock
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Alan Quartermain by H. Rider Haggard
Eon by Greg Bear
Dorsai by Gordon R. Dickson
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
The World at the End of Time by Frederik Pohl
The Stone God Awakens by Philip Jose Farmer
Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Derai by E. C. Tubb
Wolfhead by Charles Harness
October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle
The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Killerbowl by Gary K. Wolf
The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

Or do I go with a short story collection?

Shatterday by Harlan Ellison
Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R. A. Lafferty
The 57th Franz Kafka by Rudy Rucker
Atoms and Evil by Robert Bloch
Casey Agonistes by Richard McKenna
The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury
Dangerous Visions by Harlan Ellison

Since Martin’s epic is so involved plot- and character-wise and so heavy thematically, I’m looking for something light and, maybe, light-hearted. A fast sprinter of a book, doing at most a hundred-yard dash. So perhaps that eliminates the Tolkien, Ms. Rand, the Haggard books, most of Ellison’s short stories.

Sigh. What to choose?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

10,000 Hours

In his 2008 super-hot book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about a phenomenon that’s apparently quite well-known in the fields of neurology and the study of genius. It’s called the 10,000 Hour Rule. According to neurologist Daniel Levitin, “It seems it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

Researchers first stumbled across this rule in a study of violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music in the early 1990s. Students were divided into three broad groups. The first composed those students whose performance and esteem by their professors seemed to indicate they would become top-notch musicians, stars in their field. The second group consisted of those deemed to become very good, but not top-notch. Second chairs in symphonies, that sort of thing. The third group were good, but only good enough to perhaps pursue careers as music teachers, not soloists or symphony members.

What was the main difference between the three groups?

Members of all three began playing their instruments at the same age, around five years old. For the first few years, most practiced the same amount, about two or three hours a week. Then, around age eight, a major difference revealed itself. Those students who eventually wound up in the first group began practicing more than those in the second group. And those in the second group began practicing more than those in the third group. So much so that by age twenty, the elite group members had 10,000 hours of total cumulative practice under their belts. The second group averaged about 8,000 hours, while the third hovered at about 4,000.

The researchers realized that 10,000 hours was a magic number. They did not find any “amateur” musicians who had practiced that much and not achieved success and recognition, nor had they found any virtuosi who practiced much less. 10,000 hours of practice seems to be the minimum requirement for mastery.

Just how much is 10,000 hours?

It’s 4.8 years’ worth of 40 hour work weeks. Round that up to an even five years if you plan on taking two-week vacations every year.

But most of us, especially us adults, can’t chunk off that much time. How about three hours a day, say, after the children are in bed, seven days a week? Forgo the teevee, any communication with the wife, etc? Well, at this rate, with no cheating or compromising, mastery will come after nine years and six weeks of practice.

What were you doing nine years and six weeks ago? The first week of January, 2001? Hmmm? Who were you with, where were you living, what were you doing for a paycheck? What would you like to have mastered? What subject or what skill? If you started then, you’d be a virtuoso now.

And it’s not just music and musicians we’re talking about. It’s practically anything. Hockey, basketball, ice skating. Chess. Computers. Painting. Anything that ends with –ology. They’ve even studied “master criminals,” and the 10,000 Rule still holds.

Is there anything you’ve been practicing or studying that you’re part of the way there? Maybe only a thousand hours in? A hobby, or an interest from school? Or are you a master in your field, whatever that may be? If so, do you think you’ve surpassed the 10,000 hours of diligent, directed study and practice?

A personal example? Okay. I started writing as a kid, an unfinished fantasy novella and two or three short stories by the age of twelve. But it lay dormant for twenty or so years, and I didn’t get back into it until about 2002. So in the past eight years, I’ve spent, approximately:

300 hours on my novel The Whale of Cortary
300 hours on my novel Kirana
150 hours on 15 short stories
50 hours on several unfinished novellas and short stories
40 hours reading how-to-write books and magazine articles
40 hours brainstorming ideas, outlines, settings, characters
500 hours on blog postings over the past two years

Which comes to 1,380 hours. Oh dear. It seems I’m quite a ways away from mastering this thing called “writing.” Guess I’ll just have to keep plugging along.

One thing the 10,000 Rule does not address is why one person gets more out of a practice session than another. So while the Rule seems to set a bar for quantitative time one has to put in for mastery, there is a certain innate ability that most certainly comes into play.

Which I find both relieving and exciting. There’s still hope for a lazy, distracted, much-too-much-in-demand slacker like me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Missouri Breaks

On a whim this weekend past I borrowed the 1976 western flick The Missouri Breaks from my local library. Now, I’m not a big western buff, but I’ve seen my share. Mostly John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods on TCM, but also the Robert Duvall, the occasional Kevin Costner, and two or three Tommy Lee Jones. Tombstone with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer is a modern-day classic. As far as reading, “letters an’ such,” I only have Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry under my belt.

So I pull this DVD out of the shelves and I see it stars Jack Nicholson and … Marlon Brando! Hmmm. Strange that I never heard or read any buzz on this flick, so it must be bad. But how can it be bad with Nicholson and Brando? Oh, right. Brando. The method ac-tore. The overindulgent, overpraised, insatiable ego. Yes, he was brilliant, I suppose, in the Godfather. Maybe, too, in Apocalypse Now, and those handful of movies from the 50s. But this is the man who played Doctor Moreau as an … acid-tripping bloated old hippie transvestite soft psychopath? The man who wanted Kal-El, Superman’s father, portrayed onscreen as a briefcase?

With Nicholson and Brando, no matter how bad it might be, it would be entertaining. So I took it out and watched it Saturday night.

And you know what? I actually liked it. I’d give it a B+ in my subjective grading system.

[Spoilers, pardner …]

The summary on the back of the DVD case is somewhat misleading, so let me briefly tell you what it’s about. The first half-hour is the set-up. The setting: the plains and mountains of Montana, sometime after the War Between the States and before the turn o’ the century. Specifically, ranchlands near the Missouri Breaks, which I take to be high cliffs and gulleys and whatnot where the strong river’s been cutting into the land for centuries untold. Old Man Braxton is the main rancher, patriarch and boss of the territory (every Western has one), who brutally – though fairly, it must be argued – enforces the law. The law Braxton’s most concerned with is rustling, horses in this instance. The movie opens with his men hanging a young rustler.

The young rustler happens to be part of Jack Nicholson’s gang. And what a colorful gang it is! Seriously. There’s a very young Randy Quaid, doing his patented “Aw shucks” Cousin Eddie routine. There’s Harry Dean Stanton, a few years before he became Alien chow, as Jack’s best friend and (unheralded) voice of caution. His moustache awed me to no end. There are two other dudes you’d recognize from dozens of other flicks; one looked like a young Dean Wormer, though I don’t think it was him. But they did look like an authentically stinky cowboy gang.

So in retaliation, though it’s not explicitly shown or mentioned in the film, Jack’s gang hangs Braxton’s sheriff. Which leads our local land baron to hire our top billed, Marlon Brando, as a “regulator,” to hunt down these rustlers responsible. And as explained in the movie, a “regulator” is kind of a cross between a bounty hunter and an assassin.

Sounds like a good set-up, no? A classic, archetypal western?

At around minute 35 or so, Brando makes his appearance. Braxton’s daughter (Kathleen Lloyd – hey, she’s from The Car! I had such a crush on her as a youngling!) spots a riderless mule ambling down a hill, and as it slows in front of her – pow! Marlon’s actually straddling the poor beast on its far side, and pops his head over the saddle, announcing his presence.

Brando plays Lee Clayton, and I was immediately reminded of that fringe-jacketed lawyer who was on all the cable news shows around the time of the OJ trial. Clayton next makes a dramatic appearance at the sheriff’s funeral, much like Quint in his chalkboard scene from Jaws, if Quint was an overtly flamboyant and histrionic method actor. However, Lee comes with references, and is legendarily lethal with his long-range rifle, and has never failed a job before. Braxton calms the locals and urges his regulator to start working. A half-hour slips by as we establish personalities and relationships, but before long, Clayton is killin’ Jack’s men one by one.

Apparently, part of Lee Clayton’s style is the art of disguise. I counted three Clayton accents during the movie: an Irish brogue, a Southern drawl, and Brando’s own nasal vocal stylings. In addition to the white fringe buckskin jacket, he also wears an assortment of scarves, a Roman collar, some odd felt pimp hats, and a Vietnamese rice bowl hat. I assume Marlon handled the wardrobe himself. The craziest disguise is a blue dress and a bonnet; after dispatching the last man of Jack’s gang he utters “Granny’s tired” and disappears into the woods.

Okay, so Brando’s a loose cannon here. Isn’t he in every movie he’s in? Nicholson, the actor, that is, is the one who’s caught in a bind. Normally Jack’s the one who’s allowed to be a little unhinged, a little south of center. Here he has to be somewhat normal and carry the audience’s sympathy. There are four encounters between Jack and Marlon, and you could almost see the frustration and annoyance in Jack’s eyes as he has to deal with Brando’s antics in each and every one.

However, like I said earlier, the movie is surprisingly good, especially if you can get past Lee Clayton’s anachronistic oddities. Each one of those encounters between our two protagonists is riveting. The first two are introductory meetings ’tween the two, and it’s all squintin’ and innuendo and veiled menace and foreshadowing. Later, after Clayton drowns Cousin Eddie (after bizarrely trying to put a cricket down Quaid’s sleeping mouth the night before – huh?), Jack confronts the portly killer as Lee’s bathing. Here we up the innuendo, unveil some of the menace, and leave out the squintin’ – a gun’s fired but no one’s hurt, though you know at the next meeting someone will get hurt, most likely kilt.

The final encounter between the two still leaves me with goosebumps. I’m not going to say right out what happens, but it’s something done so well it’s absolutely chilling. One man offs the other in a way I’ve never seen before – so minimal it’s almost like an impressionistic painting – and initially I felt cheated. But upon reflection I felt it would serve as a great lesson to modern-day filmmakers. Jerry Bruckheimer, take note! Michael Mann, pay attention! You don’t have to dispatch your villain with orange fireballs and gallons of blood and hundreds of machine gun squibs! Really, there are other, better ways.

So, overall, it’s not a bad flick. Maybe I liked it because of the weirdness Brando brung. Maybe I liked it because Nicholson is such a convincing actor, even though you know it’s Jack. Maybe I liked it because of the gang’s camaraderie, or the awkward romance between Jack and Kathleen, or all those archetypal Western themes. Probably, a little of each.

Rent it if you’re into this sort of stuff.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Real Da Vinci Code


“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

– Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

It’s a code of character, a code of ethics, and it applies to each and every one of us in his own way.

I think about this in some form every day.


And in light of this observation, something hopefully interesting and substantial tomorrow ...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday Errands

SCENE: The beat-up old Toyota Ravioli, driving round mid-way through morning errands. Daddy behind the wheel, chatting with Little One, age 5, in her Girlz Rule booster in the right-side backseat.

LITTLE ONE: Hey Dads, did you have a dream last night?

DAD: (in a teasing mood) Yes! It was another High School Musical dream! Can you believe it?

LITTLE ONE: Really? What was it about?! What was it about?!

DAD: Well –

LITTLE ONE: Was it about Troy?

DAD: No –

LITTLE ONE: Was it about Gabriella?

DAD: No –

LITTLE ONE: Was it about Ryan? Or Sharpay?

DAD: No. (evil grin indicating major teasing to commence) Chad was in it.


DAD: Yeah. Chad.

LITTLE ONE: What were you doing?

DAD: We had a dance off. (lets it sink a moment into Little One’s incredulous brain). We had a dance off, and guess who won?

LITTLE ONE: (distrustful hesitation)

DAD: I did, baby! I did!

LITTLE ONE: (protesting) No! –

DAD: My moves blew his away! I won the dance off, baby! Woo-hoo! My dance moves rule!

(… Long silence of three or four minutes …)

LITTLE ONE: (anguished shock) Was that dream really necessary!!!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Little Artist

Here is a picture of Patch with her newest discovery: crayons. Crayons and paper and, unfortunately, walls, doors, books, and tiled floors. Yesterday, at age 17 months and 3 days, after observing her big sister’s behavior for weeks and months, she got it in her head to pick up a crayon and start putting squiggles on paper. Stubbornly, she refuses to hold a crayon point-side down, but that’s okay. And as far as coloring kitchen floor tiles, well, that’s what Clorox wipes are for.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Violence Begets Violence

Read two interesting articles in the past couple of days on NRO, both calling to mind the aphorism “violence begets violence.” The first, by Dennis Prager, here, is about one of the Super Bowl ads, where a five-year-old boy slaps an adult suitor leering at his single mom. The second, by Victor Davis Hanson, here, is about the PC queasiness regarding openly acknowledging that killing enemy combatants is the key to victory.

Prager brings up a very, very good point about this almost-cliché. A lot of times you hear the whole “violence begets violence” cry in the context of disciplining children, particularly by spanking. He adds this distinction: Immoral violence begets more violence. Moral violence begets less violence. In his opinion, spanking is an example of moral violence that results in less violence, in this case, well-behaved children who grow up to be healthy, productive adults. Another example of moral violence he cites is the use of necessary force by police.

Hanson focuses on the fact that the way to win a war is by killing the enemy. Speeches, diplomacy, economic sanctions – none will have the same powerful effect. Some feel that by killing enemy combatants we create more, since this is a form of violence, and “violence begets violence.” (Some would argue that war is a form of immoral violence, but most don’t make this distinction.) The thinking behind this is that there is an infinite number of potential enemy fighters waiting to step up to take the place of killed comrades. Hanson points out that this most likely is not true; it certainly wasn’t the case after we eventually killed all the true believers in the Nazi and Japanese causes during WW II. For example, we are not still fighting kamikazes in the northern Pacific.

The main question of our time, it seems to me, is whether or not our current engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq – and the philosophical stance behind them – are moral or immoral. To quote my least-favorite president, the question is above my pay grade. Honestly, as a result of the limited reading and thinking I have done on the subject, I probably lean 90% moral. In Iraq we are currently seeing a waning of violence, whereas in Afghanistan there is an increase. But this can not be a judgment or a test of Prager’s distinction – the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the results of our government’s long- and short-range strategies and tactics.

I believe immoral violence begets more violence, but moral violence begets less.

Thursday, February 18, 2010



Reduce Your Carbon Footprint For Lent.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. No, no, no. No. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. No, no. No. No. No. No, no, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. No. No, no, no, no. No. No. No, no, no, no, no.


Lent is a time to assess the state of our souls, and a time to assess our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a time to pray and fast, and perhaps to make some amends or “give something up” as a small form of suffering and sacrifice. It is a forty-odd day period to prepare for celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.

It must be God-centered, not Gaia-centered.

Say no to this “reduce your carbon footprint for Lent” nonsense. And it is non-sense.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jungian UFOs

Did you know that Carl Jung wrote a book about flying saucers?

This is something custom-made for LE.

Over the years I’ve had a slight interest in the writings and ideas of Jung, primarily in the late 90s, I think. Certainly nothing later than 2002, where I remember reading a few passages from a giant book of his at the apartment I shared with my new wife when the two of us used to have money.

Needless to say, the thought of Jung writing a book about the whole UFO experience has my mouth watering.

I’m itching to get more used books; so far I’ve read through four of the six I ordered six weeks ago. Perhaps next week I’ll place another order. The whole process is surprisingly inexpensive, so it doesn’t stress our limited budget, and I kinda enjoy waiting for the postman each day to see if one of my books have arrived. In addition to this book I’m trying to pick up something written by one of the old lions of physics half-a-century or more ago; something classically Catholic also out-of-print, written when no one knew what they heck PC was; and, of course, two or three paperback books from my youth.

This physics book I’m reading now, The Great Beyond, is just okay. Short summary: it’s about the search for a theory of everything (actually, a theory that unites gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak forces, and reconciles relativity with quantum mechanics) using higher dimensions. And it turns out it’s actually about that: the search, that is, not the theory. So I’m reading about this German scientist moving here, chatting with that German physicist, then both going there, chatting with Einstein, then a couple of Danish physicists doing this, thinking that, writing this, saying that. Then the Danish physicists meet the original German scientists. They all talk about Einstein.

That’s literally how I’m experiencing the book.

Anyway, very tired from shoveling us out for ninety minutes this morning, then bombarding the Little One with snowballs. On a good note, I’ve resumed work on my dormant website, resolved to work past the analysis paralysis that’s crippled me since September.

See you all tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Titius’ Law

I first came across this law, believe it or not, in the fourth grade. We had an extremely primitive book on astronomy (by today’s standards, that is) on our class library shelf. Me and my two buddies that year basically divided all our free in-class time between that book, this comic book, and a chess set.

Anyway, that astronomy book first introduced me to Titius’ Law.* It’s amazing to me. I’ve come across it numerous times over the years in my readings, and it never ceases to make me shake my head in wonder. Perhaps when I have some free time I may dig deeper into its mystery. Officially, I believe, though, it’s regarded as nothing more than simple coincidence.

In 1770, a German mathematics professor named Johann Titius made an astonishing discovery. Fiddling about one night, he created a series by starting with 0, adding a 3, then doubling each number. This gives 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, 192 for the first eight terms. He then added 4 to each number and divided by 10. This changes those eight terms to

0.4, 0.7, 1.0, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10.0, and 19.6.

Okay. Now, in astronomy there is a unit of distance called the Astronomical Unit, or AU. This is simply the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. 1 AU is the distance between our planet and our sun. Typically, this distance is about 93 million miles, so 1 AU equals 93 million miles.

Neptune wasn’t discovered until 1845; nor was Pluto until 1930. If you take each of the seven known planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus **) and find their average orbital distances in AUs, you get this series:

0.4, 0.7, 1.0, 1.5, 5.2, 9.5, and 19.2.

Titius noticed two things immediately. First, the numbers from his artificially generated series and the series describing the planets’ orbits in AUs sync up eerily well. So well, in fact, that it lent serious weight to his second observation: why is there no planet lying in orbit around 2.8 AUs?

At the climax of the 18th century this question had the astronomical world on fire. On January 1, 1801, astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi spotted a faint, tiny object orbiting about that mysterious distance. It was named Ceres, about 600 miles in diameter, and was the first asteroid to be discovered. Today we’ve found over 20,000 such asteroids, or minor planets as their now known, with up to 20, 30, or 50 new ones discovered every year, though only 15 have diameters over 150 miles. Asteroids are officially designated with a number (showing the order of discovery) and a name. So the first four asteroids are 1 Ceres, 2 Pallas, 3 Juno, and 4 Vesta.

An early hypothesis, prompted and supported by Titius’ “Law”, speculated that these asteroids were part of a planet that exploded or perhaps never completely formed. However, later analysis revealed that all the mass of all the known and suspected numbers of asteroids wouldn’t even add up to a tenth of the Moon’s mass. So, they are not the remnants of a planet or a protoplanet. Most likely they’re solar system debris herded into slightly spread out orbits between Mars and Jupiter by the tremendous gravitational power of the great gas giant.

Still, though, kinda interesting they reside where Titius series predicted they would.

* This is also known as the Titius-Bode law. Bode was a younger contemporary of Titius; their exact working relationship is not known to me offhand.

** Technically, Uranus was not discovered until 10 years or so after Titius formulated this law.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Beer Is Good

I could start a whole new blog on this joyful three-word cry if I were so motivated. Or failing sufficient reason and resources, I could at least start a post category on the Hopper for this jubilant philosophy of life, and soon it would surpass even the catch-all “Miscellania” in number. But alas, I do not drink any longer, much to the occasional mild regret. So many hours and days devoted to chugging swill while so many wonderful, aromatic, superbly-tasting brews – ales, stouts, lagers and ices – never quaffed and I never quenched.

Why the rhapsodic waxing on this rarely blogged-about subject?

In all my many travels, travails and wanderings through the beerscape, I do not know if I ever drank a Carlsberg. I’m sure I must have; I can picture the bottle and the logo, but as far as taste or texture nothing memorable steps forth. Which is a shame, because I stumbled across something interest-piquing yesterday that sat plum in the middle of the intersection of beer and physics.

(At least three, maybe three-and-a-half solid years of my life were spent at that particular crossroads. Indeed, I don’t think I ever really understood relativistic length contraction or wave / particle duality or higher dimensionality without a beer in hand.)

Niels Bohr was awarded the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work on the quantum model of the hydrogen atom in 1922. The year previous Einstein was recognized, ostensibly for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, but in reality for his Special and General Relativity theories. Anyway, right around this time or shortly after, Bohr opened his Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, which would later be called the Niels Bohr Institute. And a significant part of the Institute was funded by the Carlsberg beer-brewing family.

At his Nobel acceptance speech, Bohr began and ended by uttering those now-famous words, “Beer is good.”

Well, actually he didn’t, but I’m sure that through most of 1920s, every time he cashed his paycheck, that jubilant cry silently reverberated within his phenomenal mind.

Sunday, February 14, 2010



Top 5 Romantic Movies

5. Roxanne (1987) – Daryl Hannah and Steve Martin

4. Shakespeare in Love (1998) – Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes

3. The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant

2. Roman Holiday (1953) – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck

1. Groundhog Day (1993) – Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray

I do have feelings!

5, 4, and 1 seen in the theaters on dates, 4 with C.

3 and 2 seen after marrying C, in the cozy comfort of our home.

Happy Valentines Day, all!

Saturday, February 13, 2010




A farmer spots four crows sitting on his fence. Quickly he pulls up his shotgun, fires, and knocks a bird over.


How many birds are left?

Think a moment about what you would give as an answer.

There are two types of thinking. Convergent thinking is linear and straightforward, while divergent thinking is non-linear and often intuitive. For twelve to twenty years of schooling we are trained to think in convergent terms. And this is okay, because often it is the quickest and easiest way to a solution to a problem. Divergent thinking is thinking that is described by that now-clichéd “thinking outside the box.” * It too can give an answer, one that is unexpected and often surprising. This type of thinking really isn’t taught; it can only be learned by doing.

So, there could be two correct answers to the above question. The convergent thinker will respond immediately with “three,” because four minus one is three. The divergent thinker will answer with “none,” because after the loud shotgun blast, the remaining birds would be hundreds of feet in the air flying away as fast as they can. Which one is the correct answer? Could be either one.

I used to think the best thing a writer could do is to train himself to become a divergent thinker. Now I believe that holds true for just about any occupation.

* As a side note, one day I will get around to the mental exercise of coming up with a contemporary phrase – or as many as I can think of in a certain amount of time – for that cliché “thinking outside the box,” or “expanding the envelope.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Finally got around to watching the 2008 remake of the 1951 SF classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. I was very hesitant for a number of reasons, like these. So as a preemptive strike I decided that I would not spend a dime on the flick – to see it either in the theaters or as a rental. Vote with your dollar, right? Well, last weekend I borrowed it from my local library and I watched it Tuesday night. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But that’s not to say it was good, either.

I confess I have a fondness for the original. It’s one of the handful of 1950s SF movies that I grew up on. Images and scenes and vast, amorphous emotions still visit me whenever I think of them. The Day the Earth Stood Still was one of the many flicks I watched in my parent’s bed, where I spent long hours home from school due to various sicknesses I had in the second grade. I vividly recall being frozen in front of the TV set as the flying saucer first lands, the squads of soldiers first encircle it, Klaatu emerges and is shot, and Gort emerges … Vividly do I remember these scenes, and I imagine I still will as a very old man.

So I had emotional investment with the remake. This being 21st century Hollywood, naturally my hackles were raised. But there was one overriding point of curiosity which made me borrow the movie: Gort. And in that aspect, at least, the remake sort of earned its keep.


But let’s backtrack a bit. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the original. If not, wikipedia provides a pretty good summary here. Now, the original. The entire premise of the movie, that a council of alien civilizations have determined that mankind must be exterminated because we are dangerous to the Earth, is based on the faulty part-science, part-hoax, part-political agenda that is man-made global warming. The producers of the remake wanted to update the threat from nuclear weapons, feeling man-made global warming a more dire threat. Well, whatever.

What else was bad? Like seemingly everything else nowadays, the film is dark and menacing and anti-life. But I don’t want to appear hysterical; it’s nothing obvious, just a vague feeling I got from the background of all that the film said and showed. Now, this is not always a bad thing per se; some movies are quite notable and done extremely well when they approach their subject from this angle. Remember, though, that I am coming from this as a big fan of the original. That’s why the remake’s philosophical stance – the almost palpable self-hatred toward the human race – bugged me, more like an itch beneath a broken-arm cast than like a painful splinter.

Let’s contrast the two Klaatus. In the original, the alien “protagonist” was portrayed with warmth as a kind of stern father by actor Michael Rennie. In the remake, Klaatu is as cold and light-years distant as Keanu Reeves. In the original, Klaatu sneaks off from his guarded hospital room and seems to beg to be convinced by the humans he encounters that they are good and inherently noble. In the remake, our alien is grudgingly convinced at the movie’s climax that mankind may possibly deserve to be saved. In the original, the movie’s title refers to a one-hour period the aliens shut down all the electrical devices on Earth as a show of their strength. In the remake, the aliens willingly use nanotechnology to kill untold thousands and destroy a significant chunk of the north-eastern seaboard of the US.

I’ve heard and read of others who have had problems with the aliens’ somewhat enthusiastic Go Fever towards exterminating humanity. Surely these super-intelligent and presumably enlightened higher species would have alternatives to large-scale slaughter of fellow sentient beings. Why not give us clean technology, or at the very least, disable the technology that is destroying the planet (such as cars and evil oil rigs, etc). Oh, wait. The movie makes it clear that “you (meaning: humanity) are the problem.” It’s our nature to destroy. While I agree from a theological point of view (mankind is indeed a fallen race, more naturally inclined to sin than not), I sensed no such angle from the screenplay. Save for the alien’s obvious utilitarian philosophy, which is plainly rejectable when approached from the Christianity of us less-enlightened earthlings.

So, in their bloodlust, the aliens decided to ruin the best thing about the movie. Gort turns into a swarm of nanobots, which then goes on a devouring rampage. Yahoo southern-accented military men shoot the microscopic critters, to no avail. Finally, after babe astrobiologist Jennifer Connolly and her extremely annoying stepson convince Klaatu that mankind is worth saving (how they do so I’m not sure … had something to do with bonding issues over the death of the boy’s father … or something), Klaatu sacrifices himself, I think, to the nanobots in order to set off a worldwide EMP. The electromagnetic pulse destroys the little feasters, but also shuts down all Earth technology. We’re shown scenes of evil oil derricks and auto assembly lines stopping, but the filmmakers don’t show what happens to airplanes in transit or hospitals as the EMP is set off.

The best thing about the movie is – some – of its special effects. First, I give the producers credit with attempting to reimage the type of spacecraft an alien civilization might utilize to visit us. Though I found the spheres kinda dull and boring, it was a forgivable error. Klaatu’s natural body is, in his own words, “different,” which is good. He arrives wearing an organic spacesuit which I wished the director showed us a better glimpse of, but that’s okay too. During the scene where the doctor is trying to save him from a bullet wound, I like the off-hand comment that it was like “whale blubber.” And the “birthing” scene which eventually gives us Keanu Reeves was well-done in concept and execution.

Gort is the best thing about the remake. Now he’s about thirty-feet tall, a featureless humanoid, black instead of silver, but still retains that swiveling red laser eye. As a side note, he’s not actually called “Gort” by Klaatu in the movie; I think the military refers to him as GORT – Genetically Organized Robotic Technology. The new Gort conveys much more power and menace. He’s more fluid, more stronger, and just as mysterious, if not more so. The best scene in the movie happens shortly after Gort allows the military to capture itself. Why this is I don’t know; it doesn’t make any sense, like the scene where all the secret service men leave the room to allow the sole lie detector operator to interrogate Klaatu. Regardless, Gort is sealed in what looks like a missile silo, with fireproof windows head-height to allow his captors to observe him. As the commander of the base enters the room and walks around its perimeter, he suddenly – and very, very chillingly – notices Gort’s red eye silently tracking him, as if it’s marking him for something, or at least deciding to remember him.

Unfortunately, Gort dissolves into a nanobot cloud three-quarters into the movie, and that’s the end of the best part of the remake.

So how do I grade it? Hmmm. I’ll grant it a C. I think that’s fair, if not a little bit generous.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Watched the O’Reilly Factor with the wife last night. Not a big fan, though I used to be in the early days of the show (+10 years ago). Now I watch maybe once or twice a month. But we try to catch it on Wednesday nights because we’re both big Dennis Miller fans.

Oh, and I’m not a barbermonger either.

Are you?

(If you watched yesterday’s show you might have some hint … )

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day

Well, we finally got it.

Big storm system padded into town silently overnight, dropping about three inches on our slumbering home. Problem is, it’s not going to let up, at least not until tomorrow morning. Expectations range up to a little over a foot. Nothing paralyzing; we won’t be cleaning out the grocery stores in panic like our friends a few states south. But school has been closed and the wife will probably curtail any unnecessary trips outside. We’ll probably do some sleighing or some snowman construction later. Little One wants to build a snow fort, too, and there’ll easily be enough raw materials to construct one.

Here’s a pic from outside my front door, about an hour ago:

And here’s a shot of the backyard:

Watched The Day The Earth Stood Still remake last night. I’ll have a post up about that tomorrow, I think. I also applied for a job at my local archdiocese, but I’m probably overqualified. Still, I’m curious to see if and what type of response I’ll get. Other than that there’s nothing really new and exciting in LE’s life. A good night’s sleep, some very strange dreams, some books on the dining room table to pore through, some thinking and writing to do. That’s about it.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Super Bowl Weekend

A few observations, not limited to the Super Bowl.

First, I’m not a huge football fan, and I don’t really care about either team, but I was kinda rooting for the Colts. Two reasons. One, I like the Manning brothers (I walked past Eli – right next to him – a couple of times but was never introduced to him). Peyton seems a genuine master of the game, from all angles, and I respect that. A lot. I figured he’d be unstoppable. And second, everybody was rooting for the Saints. From extended family members to Hollywood celebrities to the President of the United States. I have this weird personality quirk that when everybody’s pushing one way, I go in the other direction.

Suffice it to say it was a great game (which makes three exciting Super Bowls in a row if I remember correctly) and if any team deserved to derail Peyton, the Saints certainly did.

For the second year in a row, it was just me, the wife, and the two little ones. At least until halftime. I went to the grocery store earlier in the day, and during the game we feasted on pizza bites, potato skins, and jalapeno poppers. C chugged a few beers and I guzzled some Diet Cokes. Attentive readers of this blog will realize my inherent hypocrisy / weakness of will in light of a recent post on “diet”. But hey, the Super Bowl only comes once a year, right?

Best Ad – Budweiser human bridge.

Most Unbelievable Ad – The Green Police. Wow! This aired on CBS?

The Tebow Ad – What was “controversial” about this again?

Worst Ad – Not the ad itself, per se, but the name of the company absolutely floored me. It’s some sort of a search engine for your phone – I think. But that name is horrible. My first thought was, why not name your company Goebbels or Himmler? Oh, right. Nazi evil is rightly understood as the evil it is. Communist evil, well, that’s kinda hip and trendy, especially by those twenty- and thirty-something useful idiots with Che t-shirts and bumper stickers. It reminded me of an interview I saw a few years back of this histrionic American Olympic skater who proudly wore his red CCCP warm-up jacket for the cameras. The Corner at National Review has a couple of posts about the ad and company with a little more detail if you’re interested. See here, for example. My favorite line was “the first question you should text them is ‘how many people did the real kgb kill?’ ”

Half-Time Show – Pete Townshend – what happened? Well, I guess you’re 64, that’s what happened. I love you to death, and when I was growing up I listened to my uncle’s 8-track tapes of Tommy, Quadrophenia, and Who’s Next, and I have a CD collection of all your solo work. But please! Next time you play live, wear a t-shirt so your belly doesn’t flop out when you do your windmills!

Not much excitement at Casa LE over the weekend. Our feeding frenzy media convinced us all we’d get snow in substantial quantities, so I prepared for that (Ed. – when will he ever learn?). I bought $245 worth of groceries. Got the shovel and salt ready. And you know what? We got no snow. Not a single flake.

We’ve had our DVR recording over the past week so we watched a bunch of Craig Ferguson Late Nights, SNL, a Gordon Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares and Hillbilly Beast from MonsterQuest (guess which one my wife wouldn’t watch with me).

I took the Little One to B&N Saturday morning for story time and she got to see Clifford the Big Red Dog. Forgot the digital camera else there’d be a pic inserted right here. Then she made a valentine card and had a cookie and some hot chocolate. Wallflower loner me hated every minute of it (and having to mingle with disheveled hippie yuppie bohemian parents, each and every one with a Starbucks styrofoam in hand). But Little One was in nirvana – how can I deny her that? Afterwards we headed to a local library and I borrowed … wait for it … Keanu Reeves’ The Day The Earth Stood Still. I’ll have a lengthy post up later this week if it lives down to my expectations, which I’m certain it will.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Paradoxical Ode

(A poem about higher dimensionality!)

My soul is an entangled knot,
Upon a liquid vortex wrought
By Intellect, in the Unseen residing,
And thine cloth like a convict sit,
With marlinspike untwisting it,
Only to find its knottiness abiding;
Since all the tools for its untying
In four-dimensional space are lying
Wherein thy fancy intersperses
Long avenues of universes,
While Klein and Clifford fill the void
With one finite, unbounded homaloid,
And think the Infinite is now at last destroyed.

- By James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), discoverer of the equations governing electromagnetic fields, the greatest physicist between Newton and Einstein, and amateur poet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Carter on Tolkien

This surprised me greatly.

Hearing that Lin Carter was an expert on the history and genre of fantasy, I was curious to read what he had to write about Tolkien. An online bookstore sent me the long out of print Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings (1969). As one of the first literary treatments of Tolkien’s masterpiece, it was strange reading a book that seemed as if it was trying to “introduce” me to this now famous and almost ubiquitous work. It took me a week to get through it, and I found it an enjoyable trip, not without some startling revelations.

Permit me to correct your image of me with a few statements. Next to the Bible, the LotR was the most incredible, moving, influential thing I’ve ever read. It had a lot to do with when I read it (meaning, my chronological age, on the brink of “manhood,” to use an old-fashioned term) and what was going through my personal life at the time (parent’s divorce, new schools, etc). But that doesn’t mean I believe it’s true. I don’t dress up as an elf and prance around in the forest with a wooden sword and other delusional folk. I don’t speak Quenyan (though, interestingly, I still remember the term … ). I did not think Peter Jackson’s trio of movies was the be-all and end-all of cinema. If anything, I’d grade them a solid B. But what Professor Tolkien created for me was a little world, an authentic and very realistic world, so much more preferable to the one I was stuck in, a world I could escape to for a couple of hours every day over the course of a spring, summer, and fall.

For years I believed that the entirety of Middle-earth sprung from Tolkien’s mind. What a genius that mind had to have been! I have read – or perhaps I just thought I read – that he formulated a lot of the story in the trenches in WWI. I have no idea whether or not he fought in the trenches during the Great War. I have also read that he test-marketed his ideas and tales on his children at bedtime. I only tell my Little One stories of Leroy the Persian Longhair; I need to up my game, I suppose. But I have always believed that the names, places, languages, things of magic, histories, themes and stories have come straight from Professor Tolkien’s genius, regardless when or where.

Not true.

Or rather, yes but no.

What got me was how much of Tolkien is based on older, lesser known “Tolkiens” of centuries past. The kindest way of putting it would be acknowledging the Professor’s debt and influence to such ancient works and authors as Homer, Virgil, Gilgamesh, Amadis of Gaul, the Elder Edda, and the Siegfried / Niebelungen legends made most famous in Wagner’s Ring Cycle * of operatic works. After all, aren’t all authors simply the product of their reading and studying? Or, more precisely, their genius working upon both their history plus their originality, to varying degrees?

A less charitable way would be realizing that Tolkien cribbed a lot of material from long-dead authors.

The most startling example, to me, came in a chapter Carter tells of this discovery: while searching through the Elder Edda, a 13th century Icelandic medieval manuscript, for an accurate quotation in which to begin a chapter for one of his fantasy novels, Carter stumbled upon the names

Durin, Dwalin, Dain, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori, Thrain, Thorin, Thror, Fili, Kili, Fundin, Gloin, Dori, Ori, and – Gandalf

the names of sixteen of Tolkien’s dwarves plus good old Gandalf, all in six consecutive verses of a work 800 years old!

That, to say the very least, absolutely floored me.

Carter gives more examples of the genesis of names and events of the LotR from earlier works. Frodo and Gandalf are paired in certain Danish and Swedish epic tales dating from the Middle Ages. Dragons whose only weakness is a missing single scale (Smaug) are not uncommon. And, of course, the whole idea of the One Ring of Power – as well as its ability to cause the wearer to disappear – originate from the Niebelungenlied, which Wagner himself developed for his operas.

But even more interesting, to me, was the “contemporary” history of the genre Carter describes. I now have a good half-dozen works to search out, fantasy epics from the late 19th century to a few concurrent with Tolkien. Writers such as James Cabell, Lloyd Alexander, Robert E. Howard, E. R. Eddison, Fletcher Pratt, William Morris, and Lord Dunsany … I have a lot of seeking to do now for their out-of-print works on those online used book websites.

It seems to me thar’s gold to be mined there …

This is not to make you think Carter’s book made me think less of Professor Tolkien. No; if anything, I am marveling even more at his genius, his ability to take from so many diverse sources and distill something magical, something archetypical, something like what Joseph Campbell talks about when he writes books about “the hero with a thousand faces.” It is something that appeals to the best in all of us, something timeless and epic. Something wonderful.

[If you’re interested, his my short take on The Silmarillion, from the early days of the Hopper …]

* Speaking of Wagner’s Ring Cycle: I listened intently (through headphones and with libretto) to the 16 hours plus of the four operas – Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdamerung – during the tribulation that was the first summer in my new house. With a pregnant wife disallowed from assisting me, I painted nine rooms mostly by myself (a buddy helped with two). After working a full day I’d come home, paint for two or three hours, drink some beers, then soak in a hot tub to Wagner. Needless to say, they left a very strong impression on me. (And not because of the beer I was drinking – Spaaten.) I hope to one day own high-quality set of the Ring Cycle, once money is flowing more easily. I would also like to see them, live, but the wife has put her foot down to four-hour opera in German, even for my birthday.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Does anyone with young children know what this means? Recently, I have become “Dad-zopes” and my wife “Mom-zopes”, as vocalized by our five-year-old kindergarten whiz, the Little One.

I watch a lot of cartoons with her – Phineas and Ferb is now her favorite – and I don’t recall hearing this (hopeful) term of endearment. Maybe she caught it watching those terrible Disney kiddie sitcoms I’ve been discouraging as too old for her and too anti-Disney.

Or maybe it’s a groupthink kindergarten thing. After all, it is very amusing to watch fifteen five-year-olds waiting on line in the cold to get in to their classroom, animatedly and vigorously playing “Rock Scissors Paper” like it was March Madness. So, one kid announces in class that’s what he calls his folks, and that night, fourteen other sets of parents are scratching their heads at the new moniker.

Still, though, it could just be the Little One. My funny, super-intelligent, triple-threat, fully-accessorized and color-coordinated, crayon artiste extraordinaire, and all-around reading buddy. Could just be a product of that unfathomable unspoiled imagination.

Probably is.

Friday, February 5, 2010


One thing that I have come to appreciate more and more is the value of fasting. I know it’s looked upon – ironically – as almost sacrilegious in our factory-fed couch-potato culture. “It’s bad for you!” “You’ll ruin your body!” “You’ll stunt your growth!” “It’s too hard!” “Are you crazy, or just plain weird?” It’s verboten to speak of it nowadays in our consume consume consume (and die) society. When is the last time you ever heard the word “fasting” on the tube? Have you ever seen a character on a teevee show or movie fasting? No? Probably the only thing you’ve seen are images of skeletal and emaciated political prisoners or protesters fasting for a cause, and even that’s no longer en vogue.

But that type of fasting is not what I’m talking about.

Want to hear a secret? A secret you’ve never heard from the pulpit? If you are a Christian, you are called to fast. Jesus said, “… when you fast …” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18). Not, “if you fast,” but “when you fast,” as if He expects it of us. Indeed, some spiritual problems can only be overcome through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). The desert fathers of the early Church had a tremendous tradition of fasting as an aid to spiritual growth and the overcoming of sin. And not just Christians fast; Buddhists and Hindus also have fasting as an integral part of their spirituality.

Fasting has some practical benefits, too, from both a physical and mental standpoint. First, it gives your body a rest. Specifically, the digestive tract, which requires so much energy to perform its duties. It also gives the body a chance to detoxify, to clean out all the stored impurities that it normally doesn’t have time to turn it’s attention to. Mentally, it gives the faster a sense of mastery, a sense of accomplishing something that 99.99 percent of mankind regards as near impossible. It shows you that you are stronger than you think. That you do indeed have that fleeting thing called willpower. It demonstrates to you the power that food has over you, and, subsequently, the power you have over food.

I have fasted about a dozen times in my life, usually for just twenty-four hours. The last time I fasted was in November, a week or two before Thanksgiving, and that was for thirty-six hours. I don’t recommend anything longer. Remember, I ain’t a doctor, just some dude who’s read a whole bunch of books on stuff like this and has applied it to varying degrees in my life. And, of course, I drink plenty of water during my fast – probably two or three times as much as I would normally drink if I was eating. Water helps curb the appetite and flush out the toxins from your system.

Anyway, as long as you’re healthy and it isn’t a risk to you, may I suggest a short fast? Personally, I started off a dozen or so years ago with a twelve-hour fast. A healthy breakfast at seven a.m., and nothing until a healthy dinner at seven p.m. That’s really not a big deal, with the exception of the first time that you do it. Then I did about ten twenty-four hour fasts over the years. My first attempt was a seven p.m. to seven p.m. fast, because I have this psychological thing about going to bed hungry, due to wearing a retainer for years as a pre-teen. But that, too, was easy, so I graduated to seven a.m. to seven a.m. fasting. And three months ago I did a thirty-six hour fast, beginning around seven p.m., and ending at seven a.m. a day-and-a-half later.

If I had the strength, I’d fast every Friday. But that’s a little much. So I’d be happy with a fast every month or two.

The trick is, though, to get the most benefits from a fast, is that you can’t tell anyone you’re fasting. Again, reference the Sermon on the Mount.

So, if I really, truly wanted to jump start my life, get out of this eleven-month rut I’ve been stuck in, I would:

- work on the quality and quantity of sleep I’m getting

- start stretching twice daily and alternate cardio with weight training six days a week

- eat as close to vegan without being a vegan

- and fast once a month

Now why didn’t I think of all this and put it into action a year ago? That’s the subject of the best post of all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

U R What U Eat

The third aspect of overhauling one’s physical being is diet (sleep and exercise being the other two).

No single aspect of health is so complicated, contradictory and overwhelming.

Here’s my take. And mind you, I have absolutely no credentials whatsoever, save life experience and something like two dozen complicated, contradictory and overwhelming books that I have either skimmed or studied.

My best advice: Eat as close to vegan as possible without being a vegan.

But it’s not a zero-sum game. Recognize right now that your diet is less than optimal and it is effecting you, manifesting in subpar performance on some level. Every effort you make towards eating as close to vegan as possible without becoming a vegan will improve your physical well-being.

You all know that the healthiest way to eat more is to eat less. How’s that? Well, by eating less you’ll live longer, so cumulatively you’ll be able to gross more chow.

(Somehow, that last sentence has curbed my appetite.)

So, if I could condense all the things that I’ve learned, that made sense to me, that I have tested out to varying degrees, into a few pithy points, I guess it would be this:

1. Eat six smaller meals spaced equally throughout the day.

Everybody says and writes this. I think it’s to balance out your blood sugar spikes as well as your hunger to keep you from overindulging. I also read somewhere that an average-sized average meal takes three hours to go through your digestive tract (fruit being the exception), so ideally you want to space your meals three hours apart.

2. Make at least two of those six meals consist only of fruit or only of vegetables, preferably raw.

If you ate only raw fruits and veggies, you’d live to be 120. You know that, right? The best way to do this is to get all your fruits and veggies for the whole week Sunday morning at the grocery store. Cut up whatever you need to Sunday afternoon, and it will be available in the fridge all week long.

3. Drink gallons of the best-quality water available to you.

I add lemon and it makes it tasty and easy to go down. Currently, thanks to not adhering to this rule and what I shove down my gullet, I am plagued with dehydration, and that affects everything negatively: energy levels, sleep quality, state of mind, you name it.

4. Limit red meat.

I’m not militantly anti-meat. Indeed, hypocrite LE had roast beef, ham, and turkey sandwiches twice a day since Sunday (leftovers from my father-in-law’s birthday party). But it did give me fierce heartburn. I do enjoy a good steak, say, two or three times a year, usually in the winter, usually at a restaurant. Burgers are craved in the summer, though there are very, very good veggie burgers made nowadays that you can pick up in your grocery store. Again, it ain’t zero-sum. Limit the red meat more than you limit the white meat, but cut back on both.

5. Stop eating white sugar and white flour!

White = Bad. Very, very bad. Bad as in cancer bad. Cut back seriously on candies, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc, etc, etc. When I’m good (which is rare, as this is my current Achilles’ heel) I try to indulge just once a day, like two cookies before bed. When I’m bad, I’m feasting on this junk all day long.

A corollary, which I have read in more than one place and is such a neat soundbite, is: Don’t eat anything that comes in a box. That ain’t food. Nature doesn’t box her bounty.

6. Limit alcohol.

Okay, I really wanted to write “Eliminate Alcohol.” Today marks my one year anniversary alcohol-free, partly by choice, partly not, and let me tell you: I may not feel better but I know in my heart I’d certainly feel worse if I was a regular drinker. From what I’ve read, you shouldn’t drink really any more than once a week, and never to the point of drunkenness. But don’t think that you have to drink because of those endless studies you hear about red wine being good for you. I’ve read convincingly that a handful of grapes and an aspirin will give your heart the same benefits.

So I eat a lot of grapes.

Well, these are my handful of dietary rules. Again, I have no qualifications, but I have noticed that when I follow these rules I feel better.

How about you?

Bonus, and perhaps a subject for a later post: Fast every now and then.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Flex Move Exert

All right. Let’s assume we have three weeks of good sleep behind us. That should take care of our sleep debt, right? We’re now waking up with sunny dispositions, no longer dreading the seemingly endless list of tasks and projects awaiting us. We have energy now that we never thought we could have. All from an extra hour or two of shut-eye a night, a night of sleep without interruption.

Great, fine and dandy. What’s next?

I think the next focus would have to be exercise. Next to a full night’s rest and recovery, exercise is the most immediate and most widespread activity you can do to change your life circumstances.

Here’s the thing: Everybody hates the word ‘exercise.’ I do, even when I loved doing it. But here’s the other, better thing: You don’t have to overdo it. In fact, if you do, you will only be harming yourself. No more harming yourself, right? So I encourage you not to overdo it. Don’t go overboard with the exercise.

There are three things you and I need to do in this area. They don’t take much time and effort, so there’s really nothing to worry about. When I do these three little things, even for just a couple of days, I noticeably feel better physically and mentally.

First, you have to stretch. The older you get, the more important this is, and I’m talking from experience. Being cramped and stiff physically really does lend to feeling cramped and stiff mentally. I don’t know why. But if those Indians thousands of years ago saw the wisdom in it, well, who are us factory-fed couch potatoes to disagree?

I have done yoga in the past. After my surgeries I did it for almost two months straight. But something with it never clicked with me. I felt sort of oogy with all the New-Agey spirituality and the Stepford-wives look on all the models in the yoga videos. If you like it and can stick with it, great, but I can’t. But I do like the feeling of being well-stretched out. I think it has something to do with the blood circulation, but that’s just a guess. I’m just speaking from experience here.

So I spend five minutes twice a day stretching. I usually do it in the kitchen. I stretch the hammies, the quads, my calves. Then I reach for the sky and bend to the left and the right. I stretch out my upper and lower arms, and do that thing with your head where you slowly and carefully swivel it about 360 degrees, stretching your neck. If I’m feeling particularly energetic (not so much lately, but often last summer) I’ll do some of the old yoga poses. I got very flexible six months ago, now I’m very tight again.

The other two things you need to do to really improve how you feel is – wait, you’ve heard it before – cardio and weight-lifting.

I loved weight-lifting, but not so much cardio. I went through a jogging phase as a pre-teen and again from 2001-2004, but aside from that I always hated cardio. And to top it all off, the doctor says I need to primarily do cardio for my heart.

The trick is to make it fun.

The funnest part is that you get one day a week off. Great!

The second funnest part is that you alternate your cardio and weight-lifting days, so you’re never overloaded time-wise or energy-wise. Awesome!

The third funnest part is that you are not required to do it for longer than 20 minutes at a sitting. Bitchin’!

Violate any of the above rules and we will penalize you severely! You are not to be a hero! You are merely trying to strive for the perfection of consistency.

They say swimming is the best cardio, ’cause its low-impact. Rather, it’s no-impact. No pavement-pounding to worry the knee ligs. Since I don’t have a pool or the money to afford membership at the Y, I ride my stationary bike. Boring, but I get through it. Problem is, I only last a little over ten minutes. The doc said it’s okay, so long as every time I do it I go a little bit longer. I’m sporadic with this, because I dislike cardio so much and it’s so difficult for me now, but back in July-August I did the bike consistently for six or seven weeks. As far as measurable results go, my bad lung improved 50% in functionality, and my doctor encouraged me to keep up and keep on.

So, ideally, I’d do my bike Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Up to 20 minutes at at time.

Then, you gotta do weights on the other three days. There are two arguments that I always found persuasive. First, tangible: Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you carry, the greater your resting metabolism. That means you can eat more, relatively speaking. Second, the intangible: The more muscle you carry, the more confident you are. This is something I’ve known ever since my dad first brought me and my brother down to the basement thirty years ago to lift some rusted five- and ten-pound plates.

I used to have all the big weights and benches and accessories, but I gave most away. Now I use a 76-pound metal weight set with two dumbbells. I do curls, overhead presses, push-ups with those raised push-up handles, calf raises and leg dips. Without distraction, I can do two sets of each in 20 minutes. Put on some Henry Rollins or AC/DC, and the time goes by quickly and enjoyably. You find the right mix for yourself, but you need to do it.

So, ten minutes a day every day stretching. Twenty minutes a day doing, on alternate days, cardio and weightlifting, with a day off. Total time spent, weekly, on your physique: 190 minutes, a little over three hours. Out of 168 hours. That’s not even 2 percent of your entire week. You spend more time watching teevee commercials, for cryin’ out loud. So, put in the three hours. Not a bad investment, time-wise, for something that will bring back so very, very much more.

Do it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oh to Sleep Perchance to Dream

In thirty years or so experience as an adult and dozen or so years of reading the topic off and on, I have come to the conclusion that the most immediate and important thing anyone can do is get a good night’s sleep.

But let’s back up a bit, shall we?

Metaphysics 101 – What is a man? He’s a being composed of three elements: physical, mental, and spiritual. Because they are fundamentally intertwined, in order for a man to be healthy, all three elements must be healthy. Or, put another way: the healthier the being and functioning of each three element, the healthier the man.

Nothing new there, right?

But here’s something new for me, at least when I first read it five or six years ago. If you have a whole bunch of Herculean things in need of doing, areas in your life that need improvement, whatever and whatnot, follow this advice: Start with the physical. Why? Well, first, because it’s often the easiest (or at least the most obvious), and it spills into other areas of your life more quickly and in ever-widening effect than, say, trying to improve some part of your mental or spiritual life.

There are several broad ways to improve one’s physical condition. The most important aspect to think about, to correct, I think, is one’s sleep. Because basically, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, everything else – and I mean everything – becomes all that more difficult.

I haven’t got a good night’s sleep in forever. Seriously. Probably a good six or seven years, at least. I even dream about sleep. My fantasy is waking up in a giant bed, all by my lonesome, in some open-aired castle tower room, with a gentle, warm breeze stirring me, waking up refreshed after a good eighteen or twenty-four hour deep, refreshing, regenerative sleep. Last night I woke up six times in my seven-hours of “sleep”: twice to relieve myself, once to drink some water, once to take care of Little One’s nightmare, once by my wife flipping over and once by the phone ringing at 6:30 am. Now, that’s extreme, but every night is some variation of that theme. Two or three interruptions over a night’s sleep that’s two or three hours short of optimum.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing substantial will ever get done until you take care of your sleep habits, first. I do get some decent sleep now and then. The best tips are all tips you’ve heard before. When I follow them, I generally sleep well. And when I don’t, well, I’m like a hungry bear the next morning, and my family suffers.

Face this fact: however much sleep you’re getting, you’re not getting enough. Sleep is one of those things where you can’t trade off quantity and still maintain quality. So you need to put the hours in, but remember that you’re body is resting, recharging, healing, strengthening. Know that. So the choice is to go to bed earlier, or sleep later. That adage about keeping the same sleeping schedule on the weekends as you do during the week is true. I have trouble getting to bed before midnight (the house is so quiet, and there’s so much I can get done – read, write, watch what I want on the tube – that’s it almost too good to spend in slumber!) but if I disciplined myself to nod off at 11, my health would improve noticeably. And I mean, others would notice it, not just me.

Now, to me at least, there are two other main problems with sleep. The first is getting to sleep; the second is staying asleep. I have difficulty with both, but I found a few things helpful.

I find getting a To-Do list in order an hour or two before bed (but not right at bed-time) works best in getting my mind placid. I feel better that there’s a plan in place and things aren’t slipping between the cracks. It gives my mind permission to think about pleasant things, and not Bills, Chores, Projects, Deadlines, blah blah blah. You’ve also heard the advice not to watch teevee right before bed. I agree wholeheartedly, though often I ignore it. It’s easier to get to bed after you’ve read something inspiring and interesting, rather than watching an autopsy and someone get shot. Obvious, right?

I pray at night, and one thing I incorporate is to try to list ten things I accomplished during the day. It’s a fun and enjoyable exercise and sends you off in a great frame of mind. More than half the time I’m out before I’ve finished the list.

Okay, I have children so I will be wakened during the night. That’s unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do to help stay asleep. First and foremost, and most difficult for me, is no food or drink after, say, 8 pm or so. I’ve read convincing arguments that food in the process of being digested will disrupt the sleep cycle. And 10 pm at night is no time to make up a shortfall in hydration by chugging glasses of water.

So: Before any heavy lifting is attempted, you start with the physical. And the physical part you start with is your sleep. I am amazed at how well when I do get what for me is a good night’s sleep; if I could work these simple principles over the course of two or three weeks I should feel unstoppable.

Monday, February 1, 2010


For a while now I’ve been thinking about doing a series on … well, getting back on course, I suppose.

Personally, I’ve been in limbo for a long time now. Going on a year, actually. A year ago I was in very desperate straights. Nothing seemed to be going right, nothing seemed to be going my way, and unbelievable, barbaric pressure seemed to be building beyond tolerance on all sides. I was stuck, and this being stuck was the scariest thing of all. I felt optionless. It was so terrifying I was praying for a way out, any way.

Remember the movie Goodfellas? Remember towards the end, when Henry is doing this and that and everybody is giving him something to do, and he’s thinking there’s a cop behind every tree and he even thinks that helicopter is following him? Yeah, he was loaded up on drugs, but I wasn’t doing much better. Well, Henry has to drop off some chick at a hospital, I think, and the doctor sees him, and says, “Hey, you should stay here and let me take a look at you!” Henry’s at the breaking point, and the physical and mental exhaustion screams at you like that Edvard Munch painting. I used to look in the mirror and see that look, too: the day’s-growth of beard, the sweaty complexion, the cavernous shadows around the eye.

I won’t go into my physical difficulties of a year ago; that’s been covered ad nauseum in these posts. But I was trapped in a high-pressure, low-pay, dead-end job with no relief in sight. Indeed, I was spending most of my off-hours in search of relief. I was drinking like a fish. I was eating anything that had sugar as its prime ingredient. I was staying up later and later into the early morning hours, searching the web, searching through books, searching for anything that would bring me relief. My family needed me – especially a four-month-old Patch – but I hadn’t the strength to be there.

So, February 2009 happened. And I’ve been in an eleven-month stretch of limbo ever since.

Now it’s time for a jump start.

This next week or ten days will really be for me, but if you’d like to join me on this little thought-experiment, you are welcome. Starting tomorrow I want to get as much out as I can, on e-paper. I have but a road map, so I’ll be fleshing it out as I go along.

And the road leads to … peace of mind, I suppose. That’s the ultimate destination.