Symptoms of My Sinophilia

As I might have mentioned (not so recently) that I’ve been studying Chinese history. I bought my beautiful wife a new radio receiver for Valentine’s Day, which allows her to play music from her iPhone. This allows me to monopolize the CD player in the truck, so I’ve returned to the Teaching Company/Great Courses history of China series of lectures.

On Facebook, I said:

I’ve been listening to an audio course on Chinese history, so something in every conversation I have for the next two weeks will remind me of something in the Han or Tong dynasties.

Social Media Headhunter replied:

I heard this, and the first thing I thought of was “Flowers for Charlie.”

He included a link to an excerpt from the television program It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which I cannot embed, but you can see here.

It was not a flattering portrayal of my efforts to better and to more obnoxionate myself.

Which meant it was open season for me to leave a comment on his every Facebook post that contains an allusion to Chinese history.

For example, he asked:

Anyone feel like answering this?
Interview Question: You’re placed in a group of 5 random co-workers and assigned a project. At the end of the project, how would you describe your likely contribution?

To which, I replied:

Allow me to answer with an anecdote from Chinese history.

Liu Bang was a minor law enforcement official in the Qin dynasty. One day, when he was tasked with taking some prisoners (random people) from point A to point B, some of them escaped overnight. Knowing the severe punishment he would face should he return with only part of his complement of prisoners, he told them he would set them free if they would follow him. They agreed, and he became a leader in the rebellion against the Qin dynasty. It was touch and go for a number of years as he battled against experienced military leaders before eventually besting them and establishing the Han dynasty. He’s one of the few Chinese emperors to come from the peasant class.

So, basically, I’d take the random people stuck with me and do the work myself. Because random people can’t do it as well as I can.

Will I carry the joke too far? To quote the noted Confucian scholar Ferris Bueller, “A., you can never go too far.”

Of course, a little knowing is a dangerous thing. Now, it’s entirely possible that I will in conversation use Bai Ling when I mean Liu Bang.

I apologize in advance. And please note that Bai Ling is not, in fact, the source of my recent Sinophilia. Thank you, that is all.

If anyone needs me, I will be having a conversation with my beautiful wife, explaining that she is more beautiful than Bai Ling. And probably a better prisoner escort than Liu Bang.

Jeez, that Social Media Headhunter guy gets me into some uncomfortable predicaments.

The Wisdom of Leo Tolstoy (I)

From “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence” (included in A Confession and Other Religious Writings):

Understand then, especially you young ones, that to dedicate your lives, or even to occupy yourselves with forcible reconstruction of other people’s lives, according to your wishes, is not a just a primitive superstition, but a vile, criminal affair, destructive to the soul. Realize that the desires of an enlightened soul for the welfare of others is in no way satisfied by vainly organizing their lives through violence, but that it is only achieved through one’s own inner work–the only thing where man has complete freedom and control. Only this task, increasing the love within oneself, can enhance the satisfaction of this desire. You must understand that no activity aimed at the organization of other people’s lives through coercion can enhance people’s welfare, but it is always a more or less consciously hypocritical deceit used to cover up man’s basest desires: vanity, pride, and self-interest, under the guise of personal dedication to mankind.

Understand this, especially you young ones, the generation of the future, and cease, as the majority of us are doing at the moment, to search for illusory happiness in creating people’s welfare by participating in the administration of the State, or judiciary, or by instructing others and, in order to do so, by entering institutions (namely schools and universities) where you are involved in vanity, self-importance and pride, and thus perverted. Cease participating in the various organizations whose aim is supposedly to further the welfare of the masses, and seek only that one thing that is always necessary and within the reach of us all, and which gives the greatest well-being to ourselves, and is the most likely thing to enhance the welfare of our neighbours. Seek this one thing within yourselves: an increase of love through eradicating all the mistakes, sins and passions which hinder its manifestation and you will further the well-being of people in the most effective way.

If only those young ones studied Tolstoy.

Book Report: A Confession and Other Religious Writings by Leo Tolstoy (1987)

Book coverAfter reading a number of theological books over the last year (including Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Reinhold Niebuhr, Existentialism and Thomism, and a couple of unfinished works by Tillich and others), this book is a breath of fresh air: It is not obscure at all, but that’s not for lack of depth.

For starters, the lead piece, “A Confession”, is biographical in nature, and one even in this 21st century can relate. Tolstoy, a literary lion, comes to question his relationship to the eternal, especially that presented by the Russian Orthodox church. He runs through the stages of exploration, inquiry, grappling with reason, and ultimately finds peace with the simple, unlearned Christianity of the peasants. His essay “What Is Religion And Of What Does It Consist?” explores what religion is and what it means and draws some parallels between different religions to show what’s common to them and what man is looking for from them. In “Religion and Morality”, he talks about whether morality can be separate from religion. In the final bit, “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence”, he discusses true Christian love as the basis for society compared to all other force-based systems that have dominated the world to this point.

The writings are engaging and easily comprehensible, although at times a little repetitive, and they apply as much today as they did when they were written a hundred years ago. The last piece seems extraordinarily timely: Written between Russian revolutions, it points out that some of the angry people seeking to overthrow the tsar will only impose their own vision with the same force that they fought against. At times, he sounds a little sympathetic to socialists and communists, but he won’t know what they end up doing. Also, the whole of the Christian nation thing, turning the other cheek on a national scale, might be true to the heart of the gospel, but as national policy, it’s a good way to get your nation and religion overrun by those who follow thunder gods. Instead, Tolstoy thinks without the state, men will fall to small groups in harmony. An anarchist, or a small commune-ist. I disagreed with his prescriptions and predictions, as his belief in Christians born-again with the gospel would trump the fallen state of human nature.

A side note: It’s pretty clear in “A Confession” where Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan Ilyich. He almost alludes to it by name. Maybe he does. At any rate, it made me feel smart to connect the two having read both.

Worth a purview for the title piece alone; the others are just gravy.

Book Report: Captain Horatio Hornblower: Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester (1939)

Book coverApparently, I like to read a maritime adventure story in the winter time. Last year in January, I read The Sea Wolf. This year, I’ve read this book, the first in the 12 volume Horatio Hornblower series.

The setting of the book more reflect the Aubrey/Maturin books of Patrick O’Brian (I read Master and Commander back in 2009) than the Jack London book. In it, Captain Horatio Hornblower takes his English frigate the long way across the Pacific to link up with a Spanish rebel on the west coast of Central America. When he arrives after seven months at sea, he finds a madman (a la Colonel Kurtz of The Heart of Darkness) who has declared his independence from the Spanish crown and who has drawn the attention of a fifty-gun Spanish ship. Hornblower lays a trap for the bigger ship and takes it without any loss of life, but the madman demands it–so Hornblower, still under orders to support the fellow, turns over the ship. When Hornblower travels south, he encounters a Spanish ship bearing new orders: He is now an ally of Spain, and he must retake the ship he just gave to the madman. So he goes.

The book is more adventure story than Clancy (or O’Brian)-esque treatise on seamanship. So although it includes details of the workings of nautical vessels back in the day, it doesn’t detract from the story (see also Captain’s Courageous by Kipling). I liked it well enough that I want to find the rest of the series and read them, too.

It left me hungry for more so much that I wanted to grab the next of the O’Brian books that I have instead, but somehow, in turning my bookshelves over last year, I have temporarily misplaced ten or so paperbacks. Which is to say they are not in the place in the bookshelves where they’d resided for years. When I mentioned it to my beautiful wife, she also looked where they’d been, but they are no longer there. I’ll find them eventually, and I’ll probably read one because I liked Beat to Quarters so much.

So take that as a ringing endorsement. As much as you get from this blog, anyway.

Book Report: Mastodonia by Clifford F. Simak (1975)

Book coverNothing like a little science fiction to be memorable. This book is an odd duck of a book. The basic conceit of it is that an archeologist on sabbatical returns to his rural Wisconsin home to dig where he and his friends found some strange metals in his youth. An old flame returns and joins the dig, and they discover it is the site of a crashed spaceship from millennia ago. The local simpleton, who has always expressed affinity for animals and claims to talk to them, helps put them in touch with the survivor, a time engineer who can make time tunnels and who has been lonely throughout ages. So the alien will help the archeologists open time tunnels to the past, which the archeologists sell as exotic safari trips. But first, they decide to make their home in a bygone age to establish residency outside the United States. Hence, the Macedonia of the title.

Well, you’ve got a lot of things going on. Discovery of an alien artifact and alien. Relationships between small town people. Politicking and legal maneuvering. And hunting the biggest game of all.

I’d call it an interesting book, but that’s apparently pejorative now. Instead, I’ll say that the book left me wondering where it was going, but not in a bewildered fashion. Science fiction books, especially ones without problems well-defined early, can noodle around a bit and then resolve themselves somehow, as this one does, and all the speculation is worthwhile of its own accord.

As a reminder, I read Simak’s City in 2010 (seven years ago!). And called it ‘interesting’ for the same reason.

Book Report: Blood Dues by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverIn a stunning turn of events, I read the last two Mack Bolan books out of order. Hellbinder is the 72nd entry in the series; this book is the 71st. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter. The books are just about interchangeable in the short term.

In this book, Bolan is still hunting the Soviets, but he’s also transitioning back into hunting the mafia, and the plot of this book allows him to do both. He returns to Miami and finds a terrorist plot backed by the Cubans to use Free Cuba activists who have grown accustomed to money, power, and crime to fund their activities. It also involves the mafia, who has been doing business with the gangsterized counter-revolutionary exiles.

The book is particularly brutal for Bolan’s allies: Many of the people introduced in the book die in the book, and an imprisoned former colleague whom Bolan breaks out (and who might have factored in an earlier book) dies. Bolan survives, though. No spoilers there: I already read the book following this one, and Bolan was in it. And some four hundred or five hundred more.

At any rate, as I’ve said, I’m afraid I won’t remember this book in the long term. But it was a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

“What’s the last nonfiction book you read?” she asked.

We were at the dinner table, and she wanted to make a point to our ten-year-old who is working on his first big paper type school project. She wanted to illustrate how nonfiction works were structured.

I was on the spot, and I blinked. I couldn’t tell her the last nonfiction book I read.

As you know, gentle reader, I keep a log of the books I’ve read in a year and most of the time post a little bit of a book report on this here blog so that I can look back upon it at some future time and remember it. Sometimes, I get to the end of the year, and I look back over the list and recall a book I read that I was sure must have been years ago. Other times, I look at previous years’ lists and think, I read that book how many years ago?

I’ve only read sixteen books or so this year, but when she asked me for the last nonfiction book I read, I was temporarily flummoxed. The books I’ve read this year that leapt out at me are the fiction: On the Road, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and a couple of Executioner novels. And, uh….

As you might recall, gentle reader, I sometimes have been known to pick up a book and start reading, get a bit of deja vu, and then discover I have actually read the book before. This tends to happen more frequently with the almost-interchangeable series fiction you get from Ed McBain or, lately, John Sandford. I don’t tend to get that from nonfiction, though, because I don’t read a lot of it. Well, it depends upon what you mean by nonfiction.

I mean, I’ve been reading some theology of late, and by “of late,” I mean the last year or so. I can hit some of the high points of my reading: Books on Kierkegaard, a book by Kierkegaard (Don’t believe me? this and this and this) and some other theology sorts of books. But my beautiful wife tends to read nonfiction books with a practical point or biographies/memoirs/inspirational books. I read collections of essays, which are nonfiction, but not illustrative of how to write a scholarly paper.

The question cut to a bit of fear I have: I read a bunch, but if I don’t remember it, what’s the point? Am I not just wasting time I could spend on more important things, like painting the living room? I might as well be watching television.

But, aside from the series fiction and especially the men’s adventure fiction I read (What happened in the book? Mack Bolan went somewhere and killed some mafia, terrorists, or KGB –or all of the above) and some of the poetry chapbooks I flip through during football games, I do remember the content of most books. I can tell this by reviewing the lists: I can remember most of them when prompted by the title and the author. Or I can look over most of the books on my bookshelves (contemporary genre fiction notwithstanding) and remember most of it. Or, if we’re talking about something other than the last nonfiction book I read, I can say something intelligent about a topic I’ve read about.

But ask me the last nonfiction book I read can quite leave me sputtering. It probably doesn’t help that I’m reading multiple books simultaneously, finishing them willy nilly, and then revisiting them to write up on my blog in a different order than I read them.

So I’m pleased to announce that I am not losing memory because I’m getting older. I just have more memories to sift through. And my books are not stored in chronological (or chronologically as read) order in my head. I’m also not only getting older, I’m gaining more and better excuses for memory lapses.

And, for what it’s worth, the last nonfiction book that I read (completed) that is not a collection of essays was Training African Grey Parrots. Which is about raising parrots, and basically the lessons are the same as raising dogs: Take time every day with them, be patient, and have a bottle of the quick stop bleeding stuff if you’re going to trim their nails.

Most of My Book Reviews Are Problematic

The Problem With Calling Something “Interesting”:

Calling something interesting is the height of sloppy thinking. Interesting is not descriptive, not objective, and not even meaningful.

Interesting is a kind of linguistic connective tissue. When introducing an idea, it’s easier to say ‘interesting’ than to think of an introduction that’s simultaneously descriptive but not a spoiler.

I often use interesting in book reports.

I suppose it’s fitting, since the book reports are the connective tissue that holds this blog together. I go periods without saying something interesting meaningful except for the book reports that I post mainly so I can look back upon them on the blog to see what I thought about this book or what else I’ve read within the last two decades by the author or on the subject.

You, gentle readers, all ten of you every day, are only along for the ride.

And by “ride,” I mean “looking for a book report on The Sire de Maletroit’s Door on Google so you can cut and paste it for a paper tomorrow.”

“Do you run a lot?” the doctor asked.

I paused before I answered.

I hadn’t run that morning before going to the doctor, although I had stopped by the YMCA to listen to my iPod a while. The day before, I’d run a little over a half mile doing some intervals and ran a mile at about a 6mph pace for my triathlon class. A couple days before, I’d run a couple miles on a treadmill at a little faster than a 6mph pace. I’ve been doing some treadmill work off and on, and the interval runs as part of my regular workout. I’ve run a couple of 5k races in the last year with respectable times (although I only seem to medal or place when I’m walking the route with my youngest son behind only two runners in my age group).


Is that a lot? I know a couple of serious runners and competitors who do marathons and real triathlons where the running component takes longer than the 20 minutes I’ll have on my upcoming indoor triathlon. I know people who run several times a week and who train for events instead of just showing up, plodding along, and getting a Gatorade and granola bar at the end. Not to mention hypermilers, crazy people who run like 100 miles at a time.

In my circle, I don’t run a lot at all.

I live in so many bubbles, although not political.

Contrary to how often I post about my gym playlist, I don’t go the gym that often. Once or twice a week at the most. Compared to some of the people there, that’s not a lot. I talked to another doctor about a shoulder issue I was having, and how it really hurt when I was doing burpee ladders. “That’s pretty intense exercise,” he said. “I hang out with a bad crowd,” I said. I know some guys who train every day in one form or another. The only thing I do every day is take a nap.

For three or so years, I have studied martial arts, and I can break wooden boards with martial arts strikes. So can everyone else at the dojo. So it sounds wild and cool to a person who doesn’t study martial arts, but it’s a normal part of life for a lot of people I know.

As you know, gentle reader of this blog, as I keep flogging it, I have written and published a couple of books (John Donnelly’s Gold and The Courtship of Barbara Holt, remember, and if you didn’t remember, buy them now before you forget!). To some people, this is a big deal, but those are people who have not written books. My Twitter feed is full of software testing thought leaders, whom I consider peers (but who might not consider me a peer), who have written and published books. I know several other self-published authors including the fellow who designed the cover of John Donnelly’s Gold, Miss Dalla Rosa, and a young lady who wrote and published a book in high school. I assume all of them have sold more than I have; my total is somewhere between 100 and 150, mostly Kindle editions. I read somewhere that this number is about average for self-published authors.

At any rate, this post reads a bit like a series of humble brags, but I don’t mean it as such; instead, I’d like to think of it as a musing on perspective. If you do something interesting or that seems laudable or whatnot, you might get to the other side of the accomplishment to find someone who has accomplished it better, faster, bigger, or harder than you have. You have to make your peace with that or you’ll be unhappy. Even if your making peace with it is to drive yourself harder to be better next time.

I’ve heard that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I like to think I’m applying that to the bubbles in which I live, but it’s not like I’m directing it that way. It’s just that I’m trying to do different things, and I’m not the best at any of them.

What was my point? I forget. Perhaps I ought to rename the blog Ramblings from Brian J. Noggle.

“You’re a big guy,” the old man said.

Book coverThe older gentleman has a grandson who attends school with my boys, and we occasionally exchange words about the weather or whatnot as we stand in front of the school awaiting the emergence of our respective progeny. Another topic of the infrequent exchanges is how fast the children are growing, and how big they will be soon. When speculating on it, he noted that his grandson is bigger than he is and that the lad will be pretty big indeed. He assessed my size and proclaimed my children would be tall, too.

“What are you, 200?” he said.

“190,” I said. I’d just been to the doctor and got an official ruling from a trained medical professional.

It is odd to think of myself as a big guy. I haven’t come to grips with it. The picture is from my high school graduation party in 1990. I was six foot tall and about 120 pounds. By the time I got out of college, I was a little bigger, but I still lied on about my weight when asked about it for my driver’s license because I was ashamed to only be 140 or so. I wanted to be bigger, but I couldn’t do it. I exercised a bunch and could lift some weights, but I never gained weight. I ate four thousand calories or more a day, including protein shakes at one point, but I still remained relatively thin.

My father weighed 180, or so I have been told. I’ve also been told he was 6’3″, but by the time I got to my adult height, his years in a warehouse and a couple of back surgeries left him shorter than I was. For much of my life, I never expected to be as big as he was.

But here we are. A couple decades’ worth of slightly slowing metabolism, doughnuts, liquor, beautiful wife’s cooking, and on again, off again, but mostly off gym membership and utilization, and I’m suddenly man-sized.

But I still don’t see myself as man-sized. From inside, looking through the little apertures of my eyes, I still see the world as I did then, when I was a young reed in the wind. I still call everyone “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and “sir” and “ma’am,” but so many of them are younger than I am these days, too. “Kid” to me now covers into the middle thirties, and my doctors and holy men are younger than I am.

Sometimes, I think I see the world the same way as I did when I was that kid. I guess I’m grown up now, too, and I know how to do taxes (send an email to my tax preparer), do small home and auto repairs, and be places on time. But occasionally, I think I’m still a young man. Generally, this comes when I’m facing some character flaw that has dogged me for decades, or whether I wonder whether behaviour I demonstrate appropriate for a man of my middle age (of course, some behaviours, like extraneous British Us thrown in for effect, are not appropriate at any age).

One of the things I’ve done my whole adulthood is overthinking and over-analyzing things, but even in the 21st century, I don’t bow my head to screens all my waking moments, which gives me a lot of time to turn over things in my mind. Like the question of identity. Are our selves only an illusion of different distinct people through time? (A link today on Instapundit leads to an article entitled “Personality CAN change dramatically: You’re a completely different person at 14 and 77, according to the longest-ever study into human character“).

So I guess I might not be that kid any more. I’m certainly not that size any more.

It Happens Every Year

On this day, at 11:58 pm, forty-five years ago, I emerged from my mother’s womb eight weeks early weighing four pounds and four ounces. The doctors gave me a fifty-fifty chance of making it through the night.

I try to give myself at least that shot every day.

Book Report: The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout (1965)

Book coverThis book is the fifth, or the third, Rex Stout book I’ve read in the last fifteen or so years. The actual number is up for contention, as I read a three book omnibus edition and reviewed them separately (Too Many Clients, Might As Well Be Dead, and The Final Deduction) in addition to a stand alone book The Father Hunt. So is that two or four books? You decide.

At any rate, like the aforementioned books, this novel falls later in the Nero Wolfe canon. Stout started them in the 1930s and carried them on thirty years, so they might have seemed more antiquidated at the outset, but this book is relatively relevant to a modern reader who lived before computers. Within it, Wolfe and Goodwin are hired by a wealthy heiress who has sent copies of The FBI Nobody Knows to many influential people and who thinks she is now the target of FBI surveillance. She would like the impossible: For Wolfe to get them off her back. She offers an exorbitant sum to do it, so Wolfe accedes. As Goodwin and Wolfe try to get a handle on the problem, they find a murder where members of the FBI are suspects–and they come up with a plan to exchange the solution to that crime (and evidence of related FBI wrongdoing) to get the FBI off of their client’s back.

Even in the 1960s, as Spillaine and MacDonald were coming into paperbacks, the book is a bit of a throwback, but it’s still readable and enjoyable. As you know, I just bought this book, but it’s more a matter of last in, first out rather than my diving into this because I just couldn’t wait for a Nero Wolfe novel (although perhaps I was directed in this direction by the Wolfe entry in Madame Bovary, C’est Moi!).

It is noteworthy for its suspicion of the FBI as bad guys, though, but I suppose we were seeing the turning of the culture even then in the middle 1960s. But in a throwback novel, its presence might indicate the theme was already entering the mainstream.

Book Report: On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957, 2007)

Book coverThis book is supposedly the novel that defined a generation, but to be honest, as that generation dies off, I imagine it will be less relevant in the vast history of literature.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s the semi-biographical novel about a veteran writer who lives with his aunt, but the book itself describes several cross-country trips (and one trip to Mexico) that the narrator takes alone or with a ne’er-do-well friend. Basically, they go looking for jazz, drink-and-drugs, and chicks. They find more of the first two than the latter. They visit Denver and San Francisco and friends there. Then they go to Mexico. Finally, the narrator grows up a bit and settles down.

Honestly, I don’t know how much the book celebrates the wandering lifestyle or if it is actually saying that it’s meaningless to wander looking for thrills. After all, the stories and incidents within the book tend to get repetitious. Only the florid presentations of the jazz music have any sort of appeal.

That’s not to say it’s not an interesting book to read. The narrative voice is interesting, and it pulls one along (to nowhere) effectively. If only there was a better story to it.

In the 21st century, it’s most interesting as a document of life on the road in the 1940s. Travel bureau trips and ride sharing. The tail end of hobos and jumping trains and hitchhiking. And so on.

But as a guide to how one should live? Meh.

The Meanest Swim Class Ever

So, as a mid-life crisis which I’m having three quarters of the way through my life (given that my family members have tended to conk out at 60), I’ve decided to do a triathlon. I mean, I’ve done a couple of 5K races last year and didn’t wholly embarrass myself (especially for someone who does not like to run). So I decided to amp it up and do three things that I do not like to do consecutively.

The YMCA of which I am a member has an annual indoor triathlon, which is a timed event instead of a true distance triathlon. That means you get to swim the pool for 15 minutes, ride a spin bike for 20 minutes, and run on a treadmill for 20 minutes, and ranking is based on how far you go.

Now, as the 5Ks have proven, I can run a distance, and I can not fall off of a spin bike with the best of them, so I am set there.

But my swimming leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike many amateur athletes and suburban kids everywhere, I never had a formal lesson; for the most part, my swimming was all about learning to survive in my stepmother’s parents’ small swimming pool and to get from the bottom of the Hyde Park water slides to the ladder out of the pool. That is, I learned to drown very slowly.

Before the annual Y Not Tri, the YMCA offers a triathlon class where a trainer gives the class drills to improve their biking, running, and swimming. I enrolled in the class, and the class is weighted toward the swimming, as most of the classes include swim drills

The first couple of times I attended class, I did not set the world on fire. As a matter of fact, the coach asked me if I had a medical condition that made me lose my breath easily, as I was coming up for air often. As the class has progressed, he’s taken additional steps to help me along, putting me in the group of the slowest swimmers and giving me fins to wear to help me learn to do the scissors kick.

Of course, the coach and the class are very affirming and encouraging, but the fictional class I’m taking is very mean. I’ve used the following quips on my wife and on Facebook from time to time to illustrate my lack of proficiency in the pool:

Everyone in my swim class calls meme Bob. I keep trying to tell them my name is Brian, but it’s still Bob.

My nickname in swim class is Troll. Because I’m motoring, but I’m not going very fast.

They call me Corky at the YMCA. I’m not sure if it’s because I swim vertically or because I look like something out of a Chris Kattan Saturday Night Live skit.

I’m making some strides in swimming.

Which is not really what you want. Because it’s not running, it’s swimming.

But I should survive fifteen minutes in the pool, which is more than I thought I’d be able to do at the beginning of the class.


They call me “The Rock.” It must be because I resemble Dwayne Johnson when I take off my shirt.

Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.

Mean Republicans Might Cut Corporate Welfare, Leave Poor Developers To Starve

The Springfield News-Leader featured this violin-backgrounded, heartstring-tugging story: Developer: Plan to renovate Springfield’s historic Bailey school up in the air:

A Springfield developer who recently bought the Bailey school with the intention of turning the historic building into urban lofts said the project is now in jeopardy.

Jason Murray, the Bailey Lofts LLC developer, blamed the uncertainty on a shift in the political climate at the state and federal levels. Not long after Murray finalized the sale — paying Springfield Public Schools at least $305,000 for the property — talk intensified about the possibility of scaling back or eliminating tax credits available to renovate historic properties.

Murray, who owns 11 other buildings in the downtown area, was counting on tax credits to help finance up to 45 percent of the $2 million renovation. He planned to apply for the maximum tax credits allowed, 20 percent in federal and 25 percent in state.

If the project cannot be profitable without special government deals, it should not be done.

Scientists Discover New Government Money Sink

Suddenly, presidential executive orders cost money!

Executive orders have been a hot topic in the last year or so. Often, an executive order (or “EO” for those of us who dig acronyms) is touted as a quick and decisive tool used by the president to influence or enact policy without the time, expense and inevitable conflict of creating law more traditionally through the legislative branch. But when executive orders wind up in our court system, the expense of the process can quickly become enormous and taxpayers are the ones funding both sides of the fight.

How big of a problem is this suddenly? An attorney is writing an op-ed against executive orders.


Eydie vs. Herb: The Ultimate Head-to-Head Musical Throwdown

As you might know, gentle reader, I favor the music of Eydie Gorme, and when she does a song that someone else does, I think Eydie does it better. (see this and this).

I also favor the stylings of Herb Alpert (as you can see how often his name appears on my Good Album Hunting post list and whatnot). As a matter of fact, I might own more Herb Alpert albums than Eydie Gorme.

So what happens when they do the same song?

Continue reading “Eydie vs. Herb: The Ultimate Head-to-Head Musical Throwdown”

The Source Of That Thing Daddy Always Says VI

We’ve got about a hundred feet before the driveway where we’re going to turn, and a bicyclist is ahead of us, going bicycle speeds. So I say, “Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!” as I often do when encouraging some part of traffic to accelerate

Strangely enough, I don’t say that because I’m a fan of the film of that name. I think Assault of the Killer Bimbos handled the same themes more effectively.

You should know me better: I am a fan of the band named after the movie (but incompletely), Faster Pussycat.

Swimming at the YMCA: Slightly Less Serious Than Love

South-side YMCA pool closes due to parasite:

The pool at the YMCA in south Springfield has been closed after an individual who used it tested positive for the parasite cryptosporidium.

The Pat Jones YMCA, located at 1901 E. Republic Road, said on its Facebook page Tuesday that it received word of the positive test from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. The facility said the individual used the pool as recently as Feb. 1.

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the play The Courtship of Barbara Holt, the protagonist puts the ailment somewhere closer to love than to the flu:

RICK What’s wrong?
MARK I don’t know. It might be the flu or something. I have a pounding head and I’m rather sick to my stomach.
RICK Could be gastroenteritis.
MARK I don’t think it’s that serious.
RICK An outbreak of cryptosporidiosis.
MARK No, no. Could be more serious.
RICK More serious than crypto in the water?
MARK It could be love.
RICK Oh, that.

This kind of started out as an in-joke for my fellow Marquette University students after the 1993 outbreak in Milwaukee.

Did I survive that outbreak? Yes. Have I been in the YMCA pool since February 1? Yes. So far, so good.