Book Report: Supervillainous! by Mike Leon (2011)

Book coverThis is the other book I bought by Mike Leon when I bought Rated R. Upon further reflection, I did not buy the books because I saw them on a blog; I bought them because a fellow I know from my martial arts school (the same fellow who briefly turned me into a Sinophile) posted a link on Facebook to one of Leon’s frequent book giveaways. The strategy worked, as although I didn’t win a free copy of the book, I bought two at full price.

In the book, a magazine reporter (“Mike Leon”) is writing an article on super villains, and he embeds with a minor league bad guy calling himself Hammerspace because he does the trenchcoat schtick (a term I myself learned five years ago). As Hammerspace teams up with other villains to fight the bad guys, he climbs the ladder of villany because he is direct and evil, unlike some of the other bad guys who only want to look good in beating the bad guys and maybe, just maybe, earning a cross-over, where super heroes team up to fight them.

The book is a fun through-the-looking glass parody of common comic book tropes, and it’s fresh even though parodies of comic books are a genre onto themselves. I enjoyed this book better than Rated R, as it better suits my tender sensibilities. I, Brian J. Noggle, author of John Donnelly’s Gold, do solemnly swear or affirm that this book is better than the Selected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Which is less of a quotable blurb than the one I gave for Rated R, so it’s unlikely Leon will put it on the Amazon page for this book as he did with my favorable comparison of Rated R to The Grapes of Wrath. But after a months-long slog through the Poe, I tore through this quickly.

I’ll probably even pick up another copy of the book (at full price, no less) for my nephew for Christmas. Let that be a testament.

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Wonder Woman Who?

As some of you know, I have a cat named Isis.

As a cat owner normally does, I flatter my cat, ascribing all sorts of super powers to the cat and whatnot.

The other night, I said to my beautiful wife, “You know, there used to be a superhero Isis. She was on with Shazam!, I think.”

So, today, I go to the library so my urchins can get some books (I have enough for now, thanks), and I see this DVD facing out from the children’s videos:

So, of course, I checked it out.

The cover is not very flattering to Joanna Cameron, who stars as the young science teacher Andrea Thoma who uses a magical amulet to summon the powers of Isis.

Somehow, the Internet is not full of Joanna Cameron vs. Lynda Carter debates. Maybe there are on the DC Comics portions of the Internet. But I’m a Marvel fan, so I don’t frequent those. Funny, I don’t tend to frequent the Marvel sites much, either. But I digress.

I watched the first couple of episodes with my children, who were stunningly unimpressed with the forty-year-old Saturday morning live action children’s program special effects, and they kept shouting their own solutions to the screen, most of which involved artillery and explosives.

I, on the other hand, was swept away with nostalgia; somehow, I remembered the program from when I was five years old.

At any rate, the 1970s must have seemed like the dawn of geek culture for a while: In the middle part of the decade, there was this show, and as I remembered it bundled with the Shazam program (1975-1977); there were live action television versions of Wonder Woman (starring the aforementioned Lynda Carter), Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man; television also featured the bank-busting Battlestar Galactica; the movies had Star Wars. But the ball never really got going until the next generation came of age around 1999 or so.

Suddenly, I have the urge to watch all those old 70s superhero shows (starting with this one). We own some of the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman, and the rest I’d probably have to order since they’re unlikely to be available at the video store or the library (although I did get ten episodes of The Secrets of Isis, so who knows?).

Before I start raiding Amazon, I’d best sit down for a bit. If I wait, these rushes of nostalgia pass as my short attention span moves onto something else, like an urge to read all the history books about the Near East that I can lay my hands on.

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Potential Payday for Attorneys of the Uninformed

Home Depot, Menards face lawsuits over lumber size description:

Two home improvements stores are accused of deceiving the buyers of four-by-four boards, the big brother to the ubiquitous two-by-four.

The alleged deception: Menards and Home Depot (HD) market and sell the hefty lumber as four-by-fours without specifying that the boards actually measure 3½ inches by 3½ inches.

. . . .

The retailers say the allegations are bogus. It is common knowledge and longstanding industry practice, they say, that names such as two-by-four or four-by-four do not describe the width and thickness of those pieces of lumber.

Rather, the retailers say, those are “nominal” designations accepted in government-approved industry standards, which also specify actual minimum dimensions — 1½ inches by 3½ inches for a two-by-four, for example, and 3½ inches by 3½ inches for a four-by-four.

Mein Gott, this has been that way forever. People who use lumber know it. But apparently not some people easily influenced by trial attorneys. When these suits are resolved, the attorneys in question will get the money from it, the plaintiffs themselves will get coupons, and Home Depot, Menards, and all smaller lumber yards will have new signage that indicate the actual size (and, perhaps the calorie count of various types of wood just to be on the safe side).

Meanwhile, I’m preparing my paperwork for a suit of my own: A monkey cannot actually use a monkey wrench except to bash things a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. I WANT MY CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT COUPON!

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Good Book Hunting, June 23, 2017: Lutherans for Life Rummage Sale

Yesterday, my beautiful wife and I sneaked out to the Lutherans for Life rummage sale and a spot of lunch. It was hot in the gym, and they had no LPs (well, they had four, but that’s “no” in my enumeration), but they had a couple tables of books and videos. So amid the swelter of the church gym, I picked out a few:

I got some things I’m pretty excited about.

The take includes:

  • One of the Dead End Job mysteries by Elaine Viets, Catnapped!. As you know, whenever I review a collection of Elaine Viets’ columns for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (like these), I express hope that I’d find her fiction some day. And now I have, albeit one of many.
  • Unexplained Mysteries of World War II. This looks like it could be good writing fodder for when I get back to it.
  • The Happiness Project (which my beautiful wife tells me we already own; however, “we” don’t own books in this house, property laws of the state of Missouri notwithstanding; I own books and she owns books, and they must not commingle on the bookshelves) and Lightposts for Living, a book on happiness badged by Thomas Kinkade. Because I am suddenly into self-help and happiness promotion books, I guess. I blame the Buddhism.
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m building up a complete collection of these slowly so that when I get into reading them, I can do them all in order.
  • That Should Be A Word, a book about ideas that don’t have words (except they probably do in German).
  • Samurai Cat Goes to the Movies. The cover says it’s a satire of Lovecraft and other writers. We’ll see.
  • The Poetry of Events.
  • Guide to the World’s Greatest Treasures, a Barnes and Noble book. Another collection of writing fodder, perhaps.
  • Hemingway Colloquium: The Poet Goes to Cuba. Something with “Hemingway” in the title.
  • Beijing, China, a travel/guide book.

Additionally, I got some videos I’m looking very forward to watching, including Young Frankenstein (which has been on my mind this week), Blazing Saddles, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Xanadu (which I looked for on Netflix and Amazon a couple months ago but could not find it), Spaceballs, The Sons of Katie Elder, and a Charles Bronson movie in a thin dollar-pricing sleeve. So I my trips to the video store might abate here for a couple weeks.

The total, along with the beautiful wife’s books THAT WILL NOT GO ON MY BOOKSHELVES and a small planter was $19 somehow. But I pitched in a little extra for a good cause.

And now that I’m done with the recent Poe, I’m eager to delve into some other books, stat.

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Better Than I Got In Any College Literature Course

I got 95% in this quiz: Can you name the missing word in each book title?

I’d identify the books by name and author I’ve read in a typical quiz post, but that would kind of defeat the point if you were to try the quiz yourself.

Allow me to say:

  • I have read 17 (maybe 18) of 42 on the list (most of which do not appear in book reports on this site and many of which are due to the legendary Swedish Mechanic);
  • I have started (but not finished) 3 on the list, but I might soon since my mother-in-law might be reading one of them currently;
  • Not counting those 3, I have 4 others on my to-read shelves.

2 of them, clearly, I have never heard of.

Make of it what you will, but I’d like to point out my English degree is not in literature, but in writing.

(Link via the Springfield-Greene County Library’s Facebook feed.)

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Everybody’s Trying Too Hard

From a recent set of full color mailers, which I’m plumbing far too much for blogfodder these days, we have two presumably competing dining options.

First up, we have a pizza designed to taste like a burger:

Then, in the same collection of advertisements, we come to an ad for a burger designed to taste like a pizza:

My lord, all I want is fast food that tastes better than the cardboard box it comes in. I would, however, prefer that you not get your chocolate in my peanut butter.

I am pretty sure I was a curmudgeon at fourteen years old.

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Book Report: Selected Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1927, 1943)

Book coverThis book does not actually contain The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket, no matter what I said in May, which is just as well. I started this book in April, and it took me two months to finish it.

The book collects a number of Poe’s poems in the beginning of the book and then a bunch of his short stories at the back. All the best known works are in it: “The Bells”, “Annabel Lee”, “The Raven” among the poems and “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Gold Bug”, “The Black Cat”, “A Cask of Amontillado”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum” among the stores. It also includes a number of scenes in verse (and in prose) from Politian, Poe’s unfinished play.

The aforementioned pieces are the best of Poe, which is why they’re often unanthologized. The other poems and stories are a mixed bag; although they feature the rich, textured learned language of the nineteenth century, sometimes the prose does not serve the narrative (or the poem belabors and loses the point).

It is pretty learned stuff, and Poe engages some of the intellectual and philosophical trends of the time. For example, the beginning of “The Imp of the Perverse” is thus:

IN THE consideration of the faculties and impulses — of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses, solely through want of belief — of faith; — whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse — for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; — we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, — so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the Principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors: deducing and establishing every thing from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of his Creator.

It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable, but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse-elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please, he is usually curt, precise, and clear, the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue, it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer — note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

Throughout, he takes shots at Kant and other men of the mind. I can recognize a bunch of it as I’ve been going through a history of philosophy lecture series concurrently, so I feel SMAHT!

As to the poems, the best of them (and even some of the lesser amongst the pieces) have something so often lacking from the other poetry I read (such as Friendly Fireside Poems, a book whose reading overlapped with this): mouthfeel. This is the word used by food and drink makers to describe how the product feels in the mouth. Some poems have it: They are fun to read aloud and to feel the words in the mouth. Shank had end rhymes and good rhythm, but no mouthfeel. I’d like to think some of my poems have it, but that’s up to the (aloud) reader to decide. It’s also why I tend to move my lips when reading poems. Which doesn’t make me look SMAHT at all.

At any rate, comparable to the experience I had reading The Complete Fiction of Lovecraft. I enjoyed bits of it, but overall, I was reluctant at times to re-engage with it, which lead to a long reading time.

I did read the complete stories of Poe when I was younger, so I must have seen all of them before, but the ones that stick with me will definitely be the same ones that did in the first place: the best-known. For a reason.

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She’s Got A…Nike

When I saw this ad in last week’s full color insert for J.C. Penney’s, I thought the woman had a knife:

I guess it’s actually the Nike swoosh, but given her hand position and the color of the swoosh….

Also, my instinctive pattern-matching spots a lot of danger that does not actually exist.

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Your Wi-Fi Network, A Public Utility

An alarmist story about a new Amazon patent filing:

People have been using Amazon to compare prices since the site made its debut in 1994, but soon Amazon may kill customers’ ability to do just that in its own brick-and-mortar stores.

Amazon — which just announced the nearly $14 billion purchase of upscale grocer Whole Foods on Friday — was recently granted a patent that could be used to track customers’ web surfing in stores and interfere with where they go online.

Hijacking cellular data? Unconscionable! But wait:

The patent, aptly titled “Physical store online shopping control,” details a system that would prevent customers from comparing prices in Amazon stores by watching any online activity conducted over its wi-fi network, detecting any information of interest and responding by sending the shopper to a completely different web page — or even blocking internet use altogether.

So this patent is about altering content delivered on their network. You know, like hotels do when they ask you to sign in. Or what your workplace does when you join it. What schools do.

You know how you get around Amazon’s patented Internet-filtering? Pay for your own Internet. Use cellular data if you must go to an Amazon store and comparison shop online. Otherwise, you’re expecting–as the author of the article might–that you have some sort of right to wi-fi access without any strings attached. Which you do not.

Which would be turn around, hey? Real stores have forever claimed that people come into the shops to see what they want to order on Amazon.

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The Source of That Thing The Husband Always Says

Apparently, for years (dare I say decades?) when my beautiful wife and I discussed paying bills, I’ve occasionally referred to it as “gotta get those fees to the agencies.”

So I loaded up a bunch of music on a mobile device for our recent trip to Wisconsin, and amidst the greatest hits of Billy Joel, the song “The Entertainer” appears:

“So that’s where you get it,” she said.

After years (dare I say decades?) I’m delighted to have some few trivium that she is delighted to discover.

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Book Report: Four from Planet 5 by Murray Leinster (1959)

Book coverThis book is a 1959 paperback. I initially thought it was by a British author because of some of the conceits and spelling (and a spot where Britain comes off a little better than the United States), but the author is an American.

At any rate: An American scientific research station records an odd event, and when investigating, the scientists (and a reporter for a women’s magazine) find a presumed spacecraft with four teenagers in it. As they begin to assemble gear to contact where they come from, a scientist destroys the equipment because he’s sure that the world does not want people from an advanced civilization showing up, what with the Cold War and all. The book then is a number of episodes where the US Government takes charge of the kids and hides them from the world, getting more and more impatient with the kids who cannot answer the questions they have because they don’t speak English well (as they learn it after they’ve arrived).

The book is padded out by the scientist protagonist updating and revising his theory about their origin and purpose as well as the government’s plan for them. Books with hard scientists as the protagonists can be risky, especially if the academic parts of science take up a lot of the novel (see also The Forge of God).

It’s not a particularly compelling book, and I enjoyed it mostly for its historical perspective as a piece of speculative fiction written in the late 1950s.

The copy I have belonged to some kid, apparently, as there’s some scrawling of–crayon? in various places, and it’s missing the title page and probably first two pages of the book. Since it was just the beginning of the setup, I went ahead with reading the book anyway, hoping that random pages would not be missing. In retrospect, that probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it might have been in other books.

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The Depth and Breadth of Noggleian Humor

So I was talking with my beautiful wife about Ludwig Wittgenstein this morning, as I just heard a lecture on him in the (long) Great Ideas in Philosophy lecture series I’m working through (now, almost within 10% of completion!).

I told her how I had difficulty because every time the lecturer said his name, I’d miss a couple of lines because I’d repeat the pronunciation of the name.

“Vitgunsteen,” I repeated to her.

“Vitgunstine,” she corrected.

“It’s his progeny who pronounce it VitgunSTEEN to distance themselves from the mad doctor,” I said.

Mel Brooks mashed up with 20th century idealist philosophers.

When you see me smiling at nothing, that’s what’s going on in my head.

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Something That Made Me Smile, June 15, 2017

So I’m at Walmart, getting the large staples like cat food, water softener, and charcoal (I’ll share the recipe with you sometime) and some smaller incidentals. When I get these big bags of things, I set them standing up in my cart, upside down so that the UPC codes are exposed for easy scanning.

I finish my trip at the doughnut case, as often happens, and I bag up a couple Walmart-quality pastries, and instead of putting them with the other stuff, I put them atop the bags. “You’re the captain of this ship,” I thought, and it made me smile.

And then: “I’m the king of the world!”

Of course, I realize in the film, they’re on the bow of the ship and not the bridge, but come on, it’s a bag of doughnuts. How realistic were you expecting.

Also, I realize these posts about the varied things that float into and out of my head disappoint you. You know I spend a lot of time reading heady things, and you would hope that my rich interior life would be spent comparing radical empiricism to the teachings of John Locke. To be honest, though, it’s more of this sort of thing. What should you have expected? I prefer doughnuts to Descartes.

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It’s A Bold Strategy, Cotton; Let’s See If It Pays Off For Them

Yesterday, we got the informational brochure for the upcoming season of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra:

Well, now.

You might wonder if perhaps the SSO is showing sympathy for the “Resistance” to the current duly elected President of the United States. Artistic types do tend to fall into the liberal camp. But Springfield, and its denizens, tend to skew a little more conservative than the people in St. Louis.

Perhaps the SSO is just trying to be topical and relevant with the unrest in the nation. However, I don’t think people are willing to presume impartiality so much these days.

I wonder if the choice of focus quietly costs the SSO support or season ticket holders. Time will tell, I suppose.

In a turn of events, the brochure arrived on the same day when a gunman opened fire on congressmen.

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Something That Made Me Smile, June 14, 2017

I tend to walk around with a pretty stern look on my face. I’d say it was because of my taciturn New English upbringing, but I grew up in Wisconsin, which is not exactly Vermont. On a recent visit, though, I found that I was the only person greeting strangers with a “Good morning” or “Good afternoon,” and in many cases I got no response. So I’d like to think my taciturn, guarded nature is a product of my raising, although I spent almost as much time in Missouri as Wisconsin in those formative years (hence saying “product of my raising”).

“Are you smiling?” my beautiful wife asked. She has a much easier smile than I do. If I try to put on a smile, it’s a bit crooked and put me into a better mood like the Internet pop psychologist say it should.

So I’m going to try to start mentally marking one thing a day that makes me smile, and to think of that all day so I can say, “Good day,” with a genuine smile instead of a rictus grin.

So, yesterday. Wait: Let me go back a bit. On Tuesday night, I rented a couple of films: Parker and Riddick because apparently, I’m inspired by bald action heroes. Although, to be honest, so many of us are bald these days. Am I including myself in the list of bald action heroes? You bet I am.

So I said on Facebook:

My fitness goal: To life enough weights that people think I look like Jason Statham instead of Paul Bettany.

So, yesterday, I hit the gym for my first workout in two weeks? Three weeks? And there’s this guy there with the five o’clock shadow on his head and face at 9:00am (is there a name for the haircut which is the five o’clock shadow on the head?). He’s holding a twenty-five pound bar bell weight in front of him with both hands, arms extended, and he’s turning it like a steering wheel.

I thought maybe it as The Transporter workout.

You see, because Jason Statham was in that film, and he drove a car, and one should work those muscles in case the power steering goes out, and….

Well, all right, it’s less funny when I explain it, but it made me smile.

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Book Report: Thundering Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (1993)

Book coverThis book is an actual Buddhist book. Unlike Hanh’s own Peace of Mind, Start Here Now by Susan Piver, or Zen Mind, Beginner Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, this book presents a Buddhist Sutra–a teaching of Buddha–and offers exegesis and commentary on it.

The sutra in question is Sutra On Knowing The Better Way To Catch A Snake. In it, a monk/teacher has been telling everyone that Buddha says sensory pleasure does not dissuade you from your practice, and he is brought before Buddha to receive some correction. He does, in a form of some parables, including a better way to catch a snake (spoiler alert: use a stick). Then Hanh steps in with some history about the monk in question and teasing out some meanings about the parables in the sutra. The biggest point, though, is that Buddha wants you to know that his teachings are a tool to use on the way to enlightenment, and somewhere along the way to enlightenment, you should abandon his teachings because they are only a tool. You’ll have to let go of things to get to nirvana.

The book does delve into some of the Numbered Lists of Buddhism, but not deeply; they expect you to know it. It also refers to the cycle of birth and rebirth that is Buddhist religion. Which the aforementioned other books, with their focus on meditation and mindfulness as part of Buddhist practice, do not go into. Which makes it easier to be a Buddhist, I imagine, not having to knowingly embrace the whole meaning of the sutras.

I’m interested in reading more of the sort, if only to sound wise when I whip out something from a Buddhist sutra in conversation sometime.

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Book Report: Kung Fu #3: Superstition by Howard Lee (1973)

Book coverWith all the Buddhism I’ve been reading lately, it only makes sense to go back to what might actually be the source of my interest in it of late: reading books based on the television show Kung Fu. Imagine my surprise that my research indicates it’s been two years since I read one. Maybe it’s not the source of my recent (and recent means “within the last year”) reading in the philosophy/religion. Or maybe these things are slow percolating for me.

At any rate, this book is the third in the series. In it, Caine is railroaded in a small town, charged for a crime he did not commit, and is sentenced to labor at a local silver mine. In a related thread, a gunman seeks vengeance for some bad hombres who killed his brother and kidnapped his wife. It turns out that they have bought a mine with the ill-gotten gains, and that the woman went willingly. So as Caine tries to Buddhistically manage himself at the mind under a sadistic overseer and to show the near-beaten other ‘inmates’ how to buck up but not necessarily rebel, the gunman meets up with a couple of women from a travelling show going to the mine to find the fiance of one of the women.

So that’s your setup.

It’s a fun read, quick, laden with Buddhist pop sayings instead of bullets ripping meat. I’m afraid I only have one more of these from whatever book sale I found them, so I’ll run out of them before I run out of Executioner paperbacks. And that makes me a little sad. But, on the other hand, I have another yet to read. Soon, or in two years.

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Turn By Turn Directions, The Manly Way

This weekend, I took a trip to Kansas City, Missouri. Although I’d been there before and kinda new the route, I wanted to be sure, so I got turn by turn directions.

The man’s way.

You got that?

It’s easy to pick up and see without having to find your place on a crowded page and it’s better than having an untrustworthy voice on the phone telling me where to go.

Although, I confess, I printed a map of the neighborhood where I was going.

Because I want to know the layout of nearby streets so I know where to look for my turns and what to do if I missed them without waiting for a satellite to help my mobile device recalculating.

I may not have been a scout, but I can read a road map. Which will serve me post-apocalypse, maybe.

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Book Report: Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein (2012)

Book coverI picked this book up from the library because I again forgot a magazine to thumb through while my children did their library things and because the philosophy lecture series I’m listening to took Epicurus beyond the word “epicurean.” The library doesn’t often carry the complete works of Epicurus, so I made do with something with Epicurus in the title.

The author of the book has a dental issue, and his doctor offers implants. The author is in his early 70s and considers how long implant treatments will take compared to how long he might live—hey, my family lost their teeth in their 30s, so I’ve been thinking like this for every dental appointment since I was in my twenties (which explains why I didn’t get braces twenty years ago). Instead of spending two years or so going through the painful treatments, the author decamps to an island off of the coast of Greece with a couple of philosophy books to learn what the old philosophers had to say about aging gracefully as contrasted with the modern imperative to try to stay young into your old old age.

The author, who has written many books on pop culture philosophy, goes through Epicurus and other philosophers including the Existentialists and whatnot, as he sits in his rented digs or in the local tavern where the other old men hang out. It is a bit of a ranging discussion, with lots of quick flourishes of explanation as to what other philosophers were about. I’d like to think I could hold a conversation like this: It’s a summary instead of a deep academic dive into the individual philosophers.

Basically, the right way to age is to accept the slower pace afforded the elders and to enjoy the breadth and depth of your memories. This is old age, contrasted with old old age, which is that period of assisted living and dementia immediately preceding death. He is in favor of suicide and assisted suicide because he has determined that that sort of life is not worth living, and that life is only worth life if it is lived well.

So I have a difference of opinion with the author in a couple things. One is growing old gracefully—instead of his approach, I’ll probably be on the side of those who continue starting new things and whatnot (although I’ll probably skip the plastic surgery in pursuit of a youthful appearance). I’m also against the thought that life is worthless unless it’s lived well, since that principle leads one onto a slippery slope where the well can be adjusted to different levels according to one’s desired outcome, and the option to end one’s own life can easily become society’s prerogative to end the lives of those who are not living well but might not know it. Perhaps my resistance comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve not lived my life well and my hope I’ll do better now. Or perhaps it’s a principle that life is better than not-life.

At any rate, it was a fun and engaging read. Perhaps I’ll look for the author’s other works at book sales since I didn’t see others next to this one at the library.

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