Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blog Year in Review

Yes, it's that waning moment of the year again. Time to reflect back on what we have and have not accomplished. Also time for my first annual look back at my best posts of the year on this here blog. I haven't done this before because in previous years I had managed only a measly forty or fifty posts. But this will be the one hundred and sixtieth post in 2009, so I am mentally masturbating today looking a representative selection of my blogging over the last twelve months. I would point out to my poker readers that even with the twenty Matusow-Hellmuth-Negreanu articles at the World Series this summer, only 45 of the 160 total posts for the year were poker related and only one made it into this top ten list.

Let's start with that single pokerish post. My Exit Interview from the World of Poker (9/17). It took about a month to detach myself, leave my favorite poker forums and cancel all the Yahoo and Google alerts, but I am no longer powerless over pocket jacks. Despite working on the screenplay from the book, I am on to things with more than 52 objects of attention.

That being said, I do have to highlight at least one post about Check Raising the Devil. If you missed it, here is the original first chapter (5/3) that Amy and I wrote but which never made it past the editor. All of that work seems so long ago, but I have a royalty check in my wallet, so . . .

In the wider world beyond poker there was some noize about health care this year. I took a few passing swipes, as would any cynical, errr critical commentator but I also did one math based piece on the whole health care issue (8/2). In rereading, it would seem, as usual, that the majority of my rational points have no place in the political debate.

I wrote a lot more this year about music, particularly about lyrics and their origins. If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you can click on the link for a musical, lyrical interlude (9/23).

Livelihood, careers, income and jobs were on and off my mind all year apparently for most of the twelve months. This post Work, Labor, Job, Calling comes from early in my fiscal pondering (2/4).

Old Friends were also on my mind often this year. The trip I am still on created the opportunity for me to visit with many of them. This post related one story (3/24) of a couple of old friends and although they are not cast in the best of light here, life is life. I realized when I was rereading this post that I missed a song appropriate to my many visits this year. If you care to listen in, here is Old Friends.

Along with health care, collective environmental angst kept up the greening of amerika. I wrote a post on the comparative cost of energy and the manipulation of public opinion. Sometimes quantitative numbers make the point when followed up with some well chosen prose. I titled this one: Fuzzy, Oily, Windy Math (9/6).

Books are always a source for blog inspiration, so are other bloggers. One such post came about from reading another of my favorite bloggers and wondering about books that were significant at the moment in my life when they came into my hands and into my head. Momentarily Memorable Books (8/6).

I like to grace my blog with pictures. One of my favorite pencil-sharpening tasks it to search the web for potential images for future blogs. Once in awhile the images themselves are so overwhelming that they take over the post. Here is my best visual interlude from 2009. You gotta click thru to see the best Pictures of Earth (10/1).

Finally, my recent visit to Washington DC left me with the resolve that we all need to stand up, once again, and let our elected representatives know that we do not approve of the conduct of war. What a phrase: "Conduct of War". Pause along with me at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial (12/15). Then write, call or email your feelings to someone in DC. Begin with Barack.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Conundrums

co-nun-drum [kuh-nuhn-druh m]
-noun

1. a riddle, the answer to which involves a pun or play on words.
2. anything that puzzles.

I prefer the second definition myself and offer a few recent examples.

Caymus Vineyards in the Napa Valley produces a blended white vintage each year call Conundrum. Back in '96 or '97 it was a brilliant wine. But it changes year to year. I have tried it several times since and never found the sterling richness of that first taste. Much like love and artichokes; nothing ever lives up to your first unblemished memory.

Next, a dilemma in the conundrum sense. You are visiting a friend, who has a new girlfriend, but it is a long-distance relationship. They speak by phone every night by appointment. Now on one particular night, after a long day of household chores, my friend falls asleep around ten. He is curled up on his bed with two cats and a sci-fi book and as peaceful as a well nursed tiger cub.

Question: Do you wake him to make his nightly call to the new woman?

My answer is no. Sleep is nature's way of telling you that you need to, well, sleep. On the other hand, that would be his hand, there is the new babe who might misinterpret his lack of phoneage to be.. what? cheating? change of heart? coronary? This is actually only a conundrum if my friend is a whack job or OCD.

p.s. the girlfriend agreed with my decision, she is my new best friend, he remains an love-sick idiot.

Part Three: My favorite niece. OK, not really my favorite. My niece, OK actually my cousin's sister's kid, but it plays better if I actually know the her; so... My favorite niece, is back with her boyfriend. He got another girl prego, she had the kid, he is not supporting in any way (Yep, she kept it) but he has promised not to do that again.

Now is the correct way to introduce some gentle advice:

A. Jasmine, your mom asked me to speak with you about your present situation...
or
B. What?! Are you f***ing nuts!!!

Questions and comments can be mailed to:
Dr. Laura
c/o Talk Out of The Righteous Side of Your Mouth Radio

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Caffeinated Thought for the Day

Observation: Machinery to be operated first thing in the morning, by people of foul temper, jonesing for their first fix; these appariti need to be less complex and have no sharp edges.

"Cheerfulness removes the rust from the mind, lubricates our inward machinery, and enables us to do our work with fewer creaks and groans. If people were universally cheerful, there wouldn't be half the quarreling or a tenth of the wickedness." -- said by a non-coffee drinker right before being ground into the floor by those in the early morning queue at Starbucks.

"A person with so-called character is often a simple piece of mechanism with a single point of view for the extremely complicated relationships of life." -- August Strindberg

"Enough with the philosophical talk, can I get a friggin' cup of coffee!" -- inspiration for today's post from an old friend, early in the morning

Thursday, December 24, 2009

74° on the Dec. 24th



Perfect winter weather is a great caffeine, while perfect summer weather is the best sedative. ~Amethyst Snow-Rivers

All the quotes, writing, singing and complaining about winter means next to nothing when you live somewhere warm. I have frozen in about as many Michigan and Massachusetts winters as I have malingered in California and Nevada temperate climes. This is my first "cold season" in Florida. Today, Christmas Eve, I went to the beach and walked along the shore as four foot swells broke on the sand. I assume all the other strollers were there for the same reason, so they could write or call home and mention the sun and the temperature to those shivering somewhere up north.

It's in the mid-70s today, there were squadrons of pelicans whirling about the beach and sandpipers chasing the waves back into the shoals. The ocean is just five minutes from where I am staying in Satellite Beach (that's right about where the Swordfish is hooked on the postcard map above).

I thought I might check on the temperatures in the other stops I have made along the way on my recent travels:

Las Vegas 48°
San Francisco 50°
Sebastopol 45°
Windsor 46°
Mt. Shasta 38°
West Wendover 19°
Fort Wayne 29°
Kalamazoo 32°
Ann Arbor 30°
Hinckley 34°
Atlantic City 38°
McLean 37°
Savannah 62°
Satellite Beach 74°

Chilly holidays to all and to all a good, warm comforter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Long Time Passings 2009


As the lists begin to roll out at the end of the year, I was struck by how differently we are all affected by the deaths of heroes, stars, celebrities, politicians and others who have gained some notoriety during our contiguous time on the planet. I looked over several of those lists and found two names that saddened me.

Mary Travers, known by most as the female member of Peter, Paul & Mary. These three came together in Greenwich Village in 1961 and included on their first album, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, 500 Miles and If I had a Hammer. Their signature song Puff the Magic Dragon came out in 1963. Together as a group for only eight years, the three often got together for social justice causes in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Mary Travers was 72.

Soupy Sales began his 'Lunch Time with Soupy' on WXYZ-TV in Detroit in 1953, which put me in the 1st grade. At lunch every day, I would walk the half block home from St. Joseph's and have a bowl of Campbell's soup and a sandwich in front of the television and Soupy. White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie the Lion, Hippy the Hippo and Willie the Worm were household names where I grew up. Soupy also did an 11 o'clock show that featured jazz musicians who were doing shows in Detroit and later New York. I can't say I remember the late night show. Soupy was 83.

Thirdly, I want to get a bit patriotic (you may not agree with that label) but also damn angry, because thousands of U.S. military have been lost this year in the vain and futile abhorrences our government is carrying out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of those soldiers have died in their late teens or early 20s. If you agree, it is time to speak up to your elected officials. Stop the Wars Now!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Obama 30%-40%-30%


Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
-Barry Goldwater

I would point out that the opinion expressed in this post is only one of many. Friends and enemies on both the right and the left are invited to sit on their keyboards and consider the potential kernel of truth in this offering. This post was prompted by a number of my liberal friends talking about how they wished President Obama was more like Candidate Obama. Paraphrasing Senator Goldwater:

Extremism to advance your view of 'how the world should be' can be seen as terrorism by those who hold an different view.
-me

I spent some time in Washington DC recently and came away with an interesting view from what I will call the moderate middle. Assume that there is a middle ground in American politics which we will label as 40%. There is a lot of legislation that falls into this moderate middle and it can pass with little opposition. However, there is very little legislation proposed with only elements of this 40%. A liberal will add programs and cash from a 30% left wing of the middle 40 and a conservative will do the same from the right using elements of his or her 30% conservative wing.

Here comes the tricky math part, you might think we have just covered 100% of the possibilities for any legislative proposals.

30% Liberal Ideas -- 40% Moderate Middle -- 30% Conservative Ideas

Unfortunately political math does not follow conventional rules because of the power of the American Presidential system. So today, under the Obama administration, we are in this situation:

30% Ultra-Left Manifesto -- 30% Liberal Ideas -- 40% Moderate Middle

Yes, my fellow travelers, you did indeed suffer for 8 years under the opposite configuration during the Bush years:

40% Moderate Middle -- 30% Conservative Ideas -- 30% Right Wing Jihad

A strong presidency, which nearly all of them are these days, simply blots out the 'other end' of the political spectrum and opens the door to their own extremist wing. Inside of the 70% equation, in either direction, can be found consensus in Congress and bi-partisanship. But neither party is satisfied with this, they both push for their additional perfect conservative or liberal agenda and lose not only the support of moderates in congress from the other party but also the support of the voting public.

Yes, my liberal friends that is what the Obama team is doing in DC these days. And before my conservative friends get too smug, your draft-dodging smiley-faced guy did precisely the same thing for eight years, turning his Cheney dog boys loose to ravage the constitution. Is it any wonder the middle 40 didn't listen McBush last year.

The point is that this behavior, from either party, is not governance. We elect officials, particularly the President, to govern the nation. All of them, once elected, turn to payback and vengeance at the expense of the middle 40 and even the moderate 70% of the nation. When will they ever learn? Clearly not while the two party system has a stranglehold on DC.
---
photo credit: anti-christ.com (would I kid you?)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Midday in the Garden

I am told that in Savannah they simply call it "The Book". Referring, of course, to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I did a long pause in Savannah yesterday, not nearly long enough to enjoy the city but definitely sufficient time to soak up some local scenery for a story I am working on.

It's fascinating to me to sit in a place and try to keep up with the unfolding story as words fill in the scenes, dialogue and characters; almost without me. This must be what channeling is like. I know that must tweak anyone who experiences writer's block but I just find the entire writing process to be like rainfall these days. I assume someday it will not be this effortless but for now, bless the muse of prose. Now to buy a really extravagant gift for my editor.

On the moist side of life, I awoke this morning to the predicted heavy rains but I also discovered temperatures in the mid-60s. I had forgotten what humid was like. Apologies again to those in the early white grip of winter, tis warm and muggy in Florida. Time to shave off the winter beard and take a dip in the pool. Imagine a clean shaven manatee floating in the intracoastal waterway taking notes on the pelican couple necking on the decrepit dock by the bay.

Waiter! More wine!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Friends Along the Way

A couple of my readers have asked for some observations about the many friends and family I have seen in the past eleven months on my journey. I have thought about this for awhile and decided I need both a serious and a humorous version. You decide which one this is.

Driving: To at least three of you: I will never get in a car again with you behind the wheel. That goes for golf carts and if we take a bike ride, I want you out front, so I can see the accident coming.

Food: I am 'thinking about dessert', does not mean double chocolate with whipped cream in a small tub delivered to my room. Having your own stash of carry-out styrofoam is an obvious giveaway to your intentions. But mostly, thank all of you for not cooking like the ladies in my family of origin.

Television & DVRs: I had no idea some of those shows even existed. Those I did know about, I was sure I knew no one who watched them. It truly must take all kinds. Wii, on the other hand, is an entirely different issue.

Pets: I love all the cats, even the ones that won't come out to play. Those last two dogs were pretty cool too, but they smelled like gingerbread.

Mattresses: Many thanks to anyone who owns a firm guest bed. So far no one has caught me sleeping on the floor.

Alcohol: I approve of the upgrades you have all made in the variety and quality of your imbibing concoctions. Particularly the grape-based liquids.

Hot Tubs: Two perfect. One empty. One tepid.

Availability of Suitably Aged Female Companionship: You are all miserable failures, except one.

Wildlife: This would be the Sierra Club type of wildlife, not the variety inferred in the previous category. A gold star to Mt. Shasta, silver to the Windsor foxes, bronze to the white cat.

Best Sci-Fi Series: Hands down the offering at Beit Malkhut.

Smallest Hut which can actually be lived in: Golden Ridge in Sebastopol.

Best Grill: Gallop Road, Weed California.

Best Wine: Five way tie.

Best Barbeque: Everett & Jones, Berkeley, Ca.

Best Bunch of 60+ yr. olds to party with: K College Reunion, OK so maybe not so much partying but still great to see everyone.

I would rebook at any of the stops I have made this year. Now on to the southern portion of our travel program.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Definite Southern Turn

It was in the high 30s when I hit the road again in Virginia this morning. By North Carolina the mercury had crept up into the mid 40s and finally the day peaked at 50 as I entered South Carolina. Another ten degrees and I would have lingered in the Carolinas, I have not seen this part of the country in almost forty years. I understand today twas into the 60s in Georgia, where I will be tomorrow and Florida, my next significant stopover, reached the 70s and even the low 80s. By geographic extrapolation it was 130 in Belize today.

Yes, the sojourn has definitely taken a southern turn. After wandering north for two months and east for nearly three, the big turn-and-return is in full swing. Not that I am in any rush. I will be dipping down into Florida where I will pause again for a couple of weeks. Then the westward tangent begins with many, hopefully warm stops along the way.

I have some research I want to do in Savannah tomorrow and then its off to the land of grapefruit, oranges and hot grandmothers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 15th at the Wall

Today, Washington DC had the last mild day it can expect for many months. It was fifty degrees, overcast but beautifully mild for mid-December. After a couple of other stops near the National Mall, I walked over to the Vietnam Memorial -- "The Wall". This was my first visit, though the expectation was tempered by the many articles and programs I have seen and read over the years.

I found the name and location of the one person I knew personally who had died in the Vietnam war and I walked down the Eastern incline and up halfway West to panel twenty-five and found his name. I was surprised that the memorial did not affect me as I had anticipated. I stood for awhile, you can see your own image reflected in the black polish stone. On a cloudy day like today, the image is a washout, ghost-like. Eventually I drifted back down to the center and deepest part of the memorial. I watched my own reflection blur and fade as the sunlight weakened. My image reflected through the names of those lost over there.

After a time, I looked up the eastern ramp to my right, it was empty all the way to the top. I turned my head to see a couple leaving the western entrance... I was alone at the bottom of the Maya Lin's black monument. There was the moment I had anticipated for many years and yet there was no revelation, we all know the question that still lingers with our generation. What folly, what arrogance, what failing of national character was it that brought us to a black granite wall with fifty-eight thousand names carved upon it?

To question why can be the only responsible reaction, but we have failed to answer that simple question. Shall we begin plans now for the Afghanistan Memorial Wall. How many administrations will be brought low by that war and how many names will be hammered into another cold slab of rock.

And still we have not answered the question -- why?

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Stop Along the Way

There are certain times and places where the only appropriate action is simply to pause. Back in Michigan a few weeks ago I went to my parents graves with one of my brothers. I am not overly sentimental about final resting places or mortal remains. It seems improper to attach so much reverence and import to the material while obscuring the expansive nature of the spiritual, however you define it.

On the other hand, there are events of such life changing import that a commemoration of them seems necessary and of the highest importance; as they say: Less We Forget. For those of my generation such a time and such a place come together at the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC. I am headed there to honor those who died in Vietnam and those who served there and still suffer from the exposure. A black gash in the ground reminds us of the dark wound in our collective souls.

I always add when talking about the Vietnam War, should you not know or perhaps poorly remember, there is a singular book that remarkably captures what happened to us all back then. I cannot recommend another piece of literature more highly: A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Discarded Opening to a Story


I suggested to a writer friend the other day that all of the words his editor had so viciously and heartlessly ripped out of his new book would make several great blog posts. So taking my own advice, here is an opening that never was:

Book publishers want every book to start with a blockbuster opening line that leads off a smashing first paragraph at the beginning of a stunning chapter one that grabs the audience by their collective hearts, minds or other appropriate body parts. It’s just the way things are expected to be done in the publishing business.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." You may never have actually read a Tale of Two Cities, but I’ll bet you recognize that famous opening line.

Then there is that story about a big albino fish. Hundreds of thousands of high school and college students have dashed their heads on the shoals of Moby Dick, never to reach the final chapter. Yes OK, he was not a fish; a big white wet mammal. The point is the story opens with no mention of whale nor ship nor mad ship’s captain. Moby Dick begins with "Call me Ishmael."

Perhaps the most ludicriously infamous opening line: "Twas a dark and stormy night" actually" does begin an 1830 novel. A novel now remembered for those six words and nothing more. This iconic line now stands for every overly dramatic attempt to do exactly what every publisher wants you to do with the opening of every book—write a memorable first line!

Now should your story begin quietly or slowly, you won’t have an exciting opening, well then you use a flash forward; drop the reader into an exciting scene from later in the story. A hot sexual liaison would be a real grabber, a sudden gory murder even better. Seems violence sells better than sex and you don’t loose the moral majority of readers with a murder but you might with a tawdry Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer or Tiger Woods.

The key to the flash forward is, of course, the impending flashback. At the penultimate moment of your over-written flash forward, when the hook is set and the reader is putty in your literary hands, you flash back to the beginning of your story. You know the lines, the one’s that make you cringe and think: Ah shit, now we have to hear about the childhood.
"Bob grew up on a sprawling family dairy farm in the dreary hinterlands of Iowa." Now we have to hear about Bob’s mom and dad and don’t forget Aunt Rachel. Does everyone skip ahead at this point or is it only me? I mean we all know that Bob’s story doesn’t get interesting until he arrives in Singapore, so do we really need the details of the 5 AM milking regime back in Iowa?

"Millie was a quiet, bookish child; who had never ventured beyond the hedge at the end of the crushed limestone drive." Now that’s a bit better, the crushed limestone drive at least gives us the sense that the writer is going to be visually entertaining, but still – inevitably here come Millie’s parents and her dog Sissy too. The fact is that some really great stories are simply really slow starters.

All of this by way of saying that my story does not begin with a bang, a boom or a thump of any kind. This story begins in Las Vegas, just west of the Strip on the other side of Interstate 15, at the Extended Stay Hotel on Valley View Drive.
---
credit: fineartamerica.com

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Open Post to My Boomer Buddies

On my travels this year I have spent quality time with many friends old and new, family too. I have observed what I believe is a silly and yet serious affliction among many of my friends, all of whom are charter members of the baby boomer generation. I admit I am a member of this club, so I am outing everyone including myself. The one and only trait we all share to qualify for membership is silence.

Silence about our health.

Why is everyone so reluctant to talk about the afflictions of the inevitable aging process? Yes, I know we have all, at one time or another, joked about family gatherings where the "olde folks" sit around and share their latest diagnosis. We aren't "that old" yet, are we?

Maybe this is a manifestation of the cult of individuality which we all grew up in. Perhaps it is just not wanting to inflict our decrepitude on our friends; but quite frankly it's also a potential killer. I may know something about your syndrome, symptom or affliction that you do not. We all run in different circles of health, education and treatment. But we can't share what we don't know exists.

So my friends, speak up. Talk to your friends, your loved ones, your physicians, healers, shamans, herbalist, medicine women, sorcerer, medico and/or witch doctor. If none of them are available, I am.

Please speak up. There are lots of adventures still to be had, stick around and share some of them with me.
---
Cartoon by Liza Donnelly in The New Yorker

Monday, December 07, 2009

Apogee in Atlantic City

This week my trip has reached its geographic apogee. I am the furthest I will be from where I began, whether I mark that beginning as Las Vegas or San Francisco. As a dear friend told me, I have begun the arc of return. While its still probably at least seven weeks until this chautauqua ends, I do feel a change in the pulse of my wandering. The hum has become a strum.

For one thing I saw a thermometer yesterday morning that read 19 degrees. That kind of weather I am joyfully leaving behind. There is a big storm moistening California preparing to move across the country. Everywhere I have been thus far is directly in the broad, white path of this first full-fledged winter assault. While I am not ready to run for Florida quite yet, I am going to head south by the end of the week as far as Virginia, but that should be southerly enough to dodge any drifts of white snow or patches of black ice.

The family phase of my journey has ended and now I will be imposing myself on old college friends and recent poker buddies. And yes, I am playing a bit of the old poke' myself. Today I demonstrated clearly that playing tournament poker is not like riding a bicycle. You actually do get rusty and can fall off causing injury to your wallet. Guess I should have tried the tournament with training wheels or perhaps the ladies bike without that damn ball busting middle strut.

Tomorrow a stroll on the Atlantic City boardwalk in what promises to be weather well above freezing and somewhat below Chamber of Commerce mild. Methinks the salt water taffy will be about as brittle as my last blind date.
----
Art Credit: Apogee from DeviantArt.com

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Divine Comedy (canto IV): Lust


It seems you can get over the river and through the first ring of hell before you are actually judged. Well that's not completely accurate, clearly you have been ajudged to be a somewhat lacking in virtue humanoid, after all you have been condemned to hell. But as of yet you have not been assigned your rightful place in hell. So if you get as far as the borderline between ring one (limbo) and ring two (lust) you will encounter Minos.

Minos will wrap his tail around his body signifying the appropriate circle of the Inferno for you, somewhere between circle two and ring nine. There are no really good explanations nor any manuals that explain how double-sinners are dealt with. It is unclear if you get dual citizenship to two or more rings of hell. I guess it's the mystery which makes it all the more worse.

But enough of these preliminaries, let us get to some crime and punishment. The second circle of hell is reserved for those who have committed sins of lust. Seen in the medieval mind as a betrayal of reason, those who have sin through lust have allowed themselves to be swayed by desire and have had their lives rules by giving into lust. In the second circle it is always light, no darkness to hide you or your sins, hell you might try it again. But the chief punishment here is a gale force wind that pushes the lustful sinner about constantly. Metaphorically the lust blew you about in life and pushed you off the course of reason and purity; therefore, you will be pummeled for eternity by the wrathful winds of the Inferno. The winds are unquenchable, just as were your unbounded lustful desires. Actually, a fairly tame punishment for lust; but a I guess after an eon or two, even a big wind can get really annoying.

Next, I may need to take a divine break from the Inferno, I am about to begin traveling again and distracting myself with other deadly sins. Best to convert our inspection of Dante to an ongoing project. Besides the cards and letters keep coming in wanting a more light-hearted tenor to the blog. I wonder if these folks don't click on enough of my embedded links.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Divine Comedy (canto III): Limbo

The picture above pictures Dante and his guide Virgil conversing with Ovid, Homer and Horace before the castle of Limbo. Its seems that the first ring of hell (limbo) is not such a bad place. In the Christian view none of the horrific punishments to be dealt out in the subsequent circles of hell can hold a beeswax candle to not being in the presence of the lord. So the first ring of hell is actually quite a nice place environmentally; lots of green fields and a cool seven-sided castle, just no direct contact with the supreme being.

In Limbo we find virtuous pagans, unbaptized babies and everyone who lived and died before the birth of christ.* This includes the pictured philosophers above as well as Julius Caesar, Socrates, Aristotle, even Virgil himself. Apparently even in the 12th century there was a celebrity culture, but at least back then philosophers were valued more highly than NBA players or movie stars.

As far as the Circles of Hell are concerned, Limbo provides the best example of how historical interpretation determines the "truth" of contemporary doctrine. When I was growing up in a nominally catholic tradition, limbo was the place where unbaptized babies went, never to have the chance to enter heaven. Limbo, in this story, was not part of hell but rather some spiritual cul-de-sac. However, as we see in The Divine Comedy, Limbo is clearly in The Inferno but in a very balmy neighborhood, who knew? A few years back the catholic church decided that limbo didn't really exist because it was an "unduly restrictive view of salvation." Apparently the infallible teachings of about thirty or so popes was not exactly spot on and now the whole notion of limbo has been banished to ... well, limbo.

So just to be clear. There is an antechamber (wasps and hornets) to hell, which is not a waiting room because you never get in and the first ring of hell may not actually exist. Does this mean that unwitting new arrivals, jangled by the boat ride with an apparently argumentative Charon, might these newly condemned souls step into the void that once was limbo and plummet out of The Inferno into? Where exactly do you go when you are cast out of hell? Ponder that one until tomorrow.

Next time some real punishment in the Second Ring of Hell - Lust.

*Pondering the statement: everyone who lived and died before the birth of christ. I wondered just how crowded Limbo would be and tried to google an answer to the question: "Approximately how many people lived before Anno Domini?" Not surprisingly this depends on whether you are a old time religion person or an evolutionist. The numbers changed based on how many children families had in 2500 BCE and whether Noah lived to be 900 years old; and then there is the matter of the great flood, the drowning of nine billion and the near extinguishment of the human race. Anyways, Limbo is crowded but I hear they are adding an eighth side to the castle with condos overlooking the second circle of hell (lust), which actually might be a selling point; either that or they are moving the whole thing to Las Vegas and changing its name to City Center basically the same view.
---
photo credit: worldofdante.org

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Divine Comedy (canto II): Rings of Hell

Cartography and cosmology merge and mingle in Dante's Divine Comedy; not to mention allegory, mythology, social critique and farce. The story begins on the eve of Good Friday in 1300, Dante himself is led through the various quarters and precincts of The Inferno by Virgil. The Divine Comedy is both a poetic look at the medieval christian view of heaven and hell, as well as a heavily veiled commentary on the politicians and power brokers of the world circa 1300-1350. It has also been suggested that Dante was depressed, to use our contemporary diagnosis, perhaps even suicidal. The writing of the Divine Comedy was then a literary journey of his own soul back to the light of the divine. Or he was hoping for a screenplay adaptation with up front points.

Hell was apparently found inside the earth and comes divided into nine rings and believe it or not-an antechamber! Sort of a pre-hell. There reside those cherubs who took no sides in the Rebellion of Angels (you remember the revolt against God led by Satan). Apparently, there were a fair number of angels who chose to wait out the conflict to see who won; this is never a good strategy in an allegorical war, in fact, it is the one way to get screwed no matter who wins. So these wishy-washy angels hang out just across the river from hell with the souls of humans who did nothing noteworthy in their lives and have neither good nor evil marks on their personal tabula rasa.

Sin it seems is punished metaphorically in or near the Inferno. The punishment is real, assuming you buy the entire cosmology here but the particular slings and arrows are apportioned by infraction and carry their own significance. In the anteroom of hell, for instance, the hesitant angels and ethical couch potatoes are stung my hornets and wasps which serve as metaphors for the sting of their consciences. It's poetry remember.

Following the waiting room of hell, we encounter another well known image, the river Acheron (not the river Styx that's another waterway of the Inferno) and the boatman Charon to carry the damned to hell or in this case the tourist Dante and his dead poet Virgil. Charon puts up a fiery fuss over taking a live human into hell, but Virgil utters some words of wisdom ("This is not the human you are looking for...) and they are allowed to be ferried cross the mersey or some such.

Next, the first actual ring of hell: Limbo.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Temporarily Out of Service


Due to circumstances beyond our control and a deluge of tryptophan. The Circles of Hell, particularly the one concerning gluttony, will be delayed one more day. Tune in tomorrow when MSG swollen fingers will attempt to return to issues of portent and blah-blah-blah.

And now Wii Frisbee golf and then second breakfast.
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art credit: M. Cammer-turkey carcass, charcoal and carbon black on paper

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gobble

Before moving on to a dissertation on Dante's Rings of Hell, as promised in my last post. I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the season, which for me thus far has meant a bit of driving between relatives homes and planning a variety of holiday meals, including of course...
Snopes or not, Benjamin Franklin did propose the turkey as the national bird of the USA.
Surfing the web can uncover the results of someone else's many wasted hours.
Damn good looking bird, you have to admit. For my vegan readers I refer to the turkey above, for the rest of us--the one below.
Wishing all of you in the U.S. a happy turkey day and pointing out that a word is just a word but context is everything!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Divine Comedy (canto I)


This post is not a reflection on my life, the presidency of Barack Obama, the state of humanity nor the entropy of the universe. Tis only that once again I have noticed the influx of a certain metaphor into my consciousness; mere happenstance? synchronicity? who knows? However, in the past week or so I have encountered references far outside any explanatory statistical relevance to Dante, the Rings of Hell, Purgatorio and the Divine Comedy. At some point the light bulb went on and I wondered just what I still knew or had long forgotten about this masterwork of 12th century poet Dante Alighieri.

So I danced around the interwebs first focused on the dauntingly inviting "Rings of Hell" and then onto the complete work of The Divine Comedy and Dante himself. Time to share some of what I uncovered. I'm not really sure how far I am will pursue this line of inquiry, we certainly are going to wander through the nine rings of hell, whether we get to seven to ten levels of Purgatory or ultimately to Paradise, well stay tuned.

Let's begin with some general story notes and observations. The Divine Comedy is presented in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Basically, those translate to hell, purgatory and heaven. There are many more contemporary literary and social references to The Inferno then there are to either Purgatorio or Paradiso, which has got to say something about our collective darker side. I know I was first drawn to the whole Rings of Hell imagery. Purgatory is so, well, intermediary; sort of a spirtual cul de sac. Paradiso, on the other hand, just never came up in my initial cerebral percolation. Where the hell is some good old fashioned ecstasy when you need it!

(Sorry. I bit distracted there for a moment. Self reflection don't ya know. Meanwhile, back in Hades...)

Speaking of the infamous Rings. Dante viewed hell as a series of ever more vehement levels of sin, depravity and punishment. You will see when we explore those circles in detail that his reflection of medieval european sensibilities was not so far from those that vex our humanoid morality today. Some things just never change, despite the best efforts of the sane and the profane.

Before encountering The Inferno, I would point out that Dante lived roughly seven hundred years ago (approx. 1265-1321), therefore a great deal of what we think we know about him comes from later exegesis of his life and work. Mind you the first biography of Dante was written some two hundred years after his death, so all of what we think we know is influenced by historical writing and commentary. Dante was a poet and scholar of the late Medieval period but our first full biography of his life was written two centuries later in the near full flower of the Renaissance. That being said, an additional five hundred years have not diminished the impact of The Divine Comedy still considered the poetic masterwork of Italian literature. How many "great" authors of today will we be reading in 2709?

One final introductory mote of interest. Dante called his original work Comedy (Commedia), the 'Divine' was not appended until nearly two hundred years after his death. While it would appear on the surface that a major work constructed on the prevailing ecclesiastical themes of heaven and hell would be considered a religious work; in fact, Dante was using the religious metaphor to criticize and ridicule the political and religious figures of his time. The veil of the heaven-purgatory-hell imagery was both a literary vehicle as well as some social protection from the slings and excommunicatory arrows of his satirical targets.

Next time: a few Rings of Hell

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Condoms & Condom Devices



The picture above is of a 'device', which is apparently used to assist in the application of a condom. Also apparently this task has become more difficult in recent times or perhaps this is just another indication that indeed men's brains do function poorly when blood is diverted for other purposes. In either case, anyone with a Y chromosome will take one look at that 'device' and offer a less than polite no thank you. But first looks can be deceiving.

Earlier this year I was at a medical equipment, paraphernalia, gimmick convention in Las Vegas where these items were being demonstrated. No, it was not a live demo but they did use anatomically correct and variously sized dildoes. Since then I have had this information in my "future posts" file. Today is the day.

The device is marketed under the brand name Pronto and was named The Most Beautiful Object in a 2007 South African Design competition. This from the product literature:

The applicator allows a condom to be put on easily and rapidly. The user holds the device with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, pulling the condom down over the penis in a single rapid movement.

Yes, there is a video demonstration, which might actually change the mind of any quick draws out there.

And for the purposes of keeping this blog within the bounds of public service educational content as opposed to prurient interest.

Condom - a thin sheath, usually of rubber, worn over the penis during sexual intercourse to prevent conception or sexually transmitted disease.

Synonyms: French letter, contraceptive, johnny, prophylactic, protection, raincoat, rubber, safe, sheath.

The additional picture is just an additional picture I had in my photo folder and bears no connection to the Pronto condom device, but its a cool picture.


[Update: Pronto condoms are now marketed at 4 sec condoms but remain unavailable in the U.S. because of a high level of demand and several nasty plastic pinching incidents.]
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Photo credits: archives

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Paranoia Strikes Deep


Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
-Buffalo Springfield

For What It's Worth is the song by Messrs. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Jim Messina and perhaps Dewey Martin and/or Bruce Palmer depending on the version you listen to and who was caught up in the last drug bust.

Just a small digression, when Buffalo Springfield broke up after about two years of revolving bass players and the aforementioned drug busts---Stephen Still hooked up with Graham Nash of the Hollies and David Crosby from the Byrds and formed a little band, they took in Neil Young and played some music. Jim Messina and Richie Furay hooked up to form Poco. Jim Messina eventually teamed up with Kenny Loggins.

Meanwhile back at the topic of this here post: Paranoia Strikes Deep. That was the tagline for a Nov. 9 opinion piece in the NYTimes. The paranoia is either that the Republican Party has or will be taken over by the extremist right wing. Whether this has or hasn't happened yet depends on just how left or right you already are and (here comes the point) how paranoid you are about such a possibility. The article can be summarized with it's last two lines:

"The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here--and it's very bad for America."

In case you missed it, the lines from Buffalo Springfield are:

Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.

The problem is that you can't tell if the guy with the gun is an extreme conservative, a paranoid libertarian or a fearful liberal who has decided to defend his turf. That it ain't exactly clear is why paranoia strikes deep.
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photo credit: ethiosun.com

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Compelled by Technology

Rats in a technological maze. Jumping to the ring, buzz and tone of the newest toy. What has become of free will, of personal responsibility, of turning off the damn machines?

Three examples of technology over humanity from this past week:

Exemplar #1: I am visiting with relatives. A teenage cousin or second cousin or grand cousin (us non-breeders can't keep track of how diluted the blood lines get), anyway the teenage relative is leaving the house and her mother says: "Remember texting while driving is unsafe." To which the young adult replies: "I'll try to remember."

Now I was good with that line of conversation ending right there, like I said, this is not a close relative, so I would not be expected to attend the funeral. But an aunt or some other meddling relative piped up and said: "She doesn't actually text while driving, does she?" Followed by: "we are trying to break her of the habit" then "what are you an idiot, take the phone away" and "what if she has a flat tire on a country road". You know this entire argument or perhaps have seen it on Dr. Phil. In fact, this incident would not even have made my techno-crappy list if the under-verbal-assault mother had not eventually turned to me and asked: "Don't you think there is a lot of ridiculous over reaction in this conversation?"

I would point out again that I had refrained to this moment from offering an opinion and that the mother did ask me a direct question. To which I replied: "I think it all depends on what is more important, a cell phone text message or your child's life."

We didn't stay for lunch.

Exemplar #2

Another friend I visited was doing paperwork for her job as a clinical social worker. She was trying to get 'just one more' case entered before we went out to dinner and was sputtering about 'new pages of redundant information'. It seems that the old two page form is now a new four page form and in her opinion, the added pages really don't ask for any new information.

I suggested that perhaps the redundancy was because not everyone was as conscientious about patient documenting as she was. Perhaps the new pages were to provide more opportunities for information to be expressed and that she was not expected to complete every line and every box for every case or every client.

She said she would have a talk with the IT person at the office. To which I suggested that the IT person only implemented the added pages as part of a software program and that the decision to collect additional information was not made at the IT level. That got some murmured response about techies always wanting more data and I decided to let it drop in favor of a pleasant dining experience.

A few days later, it was reported that the tech did indeed respond to the inquiry by saying: "I don't write the pages, I just type the code." Please don't blame the techie, they are just following orders.

Exemplar #3: Yesterday I sent a copy of that travel map over there in the right side of this here blog to a bunch of friends. Some had asked where I was or where I was going next. So I made a google map and sent it along. Within a few minutes I got two messages that said basically the same:

Good 2 hear from U. Reply later. via Blackberry

First, it is unnecessary to reply to any communication sent by non-work related email. No one should ever be offended when private email goes unacknowledged. In particular, there is no need to tell me that you don't have time to reply now, but you will later. I would have figured that out when you did, in fact, reply later. And I am not impressed that you took time out of your busy day to tap a message into your blackberry and I even think slightly less of you that you even have a blackberry. But I still love you.

Many years ago a good friend and long time email buddy sent me an email with the subject line: FYINRIN, which he explained meant 'For Your Information, No Reply is Necessary.' We have remained great email friends for many, many years precisely because we have this understanding.

So to all my readers, thank you for stopping by to read through the random firings of my synapses. Be assured that dropping by my humble blog involves no commitment on your part, I write without expectations and FYP&ENRIE-UIIC.

For Your Pleasure & Enjoyment, No Response is Expected - Unless It Includes Chocolate

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