Monthly Archives: April 2006

Fiction: The Veil [Revised]

Paul explained for the third time in as many weeks that his mother had been perfectly normal, “Doctor, as I’ve explained, my mother was fine. There were times, of course, when I hated her. That’s only natural. What boy grows up and never has a difference with his parents? I understand that you’re the doctor and I respect that but I don’t think any of this has anything to DO with my problem.”

“Tell me,” said the doctor, “why do you think that?”

Paul sighed heavily. “Look, you’re the third shrink I’ve been to…” The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Sorry, sorry, PSYCHIATRIST that I’ve been to and all any of you seem to want to do is to talk about my mother. I really don’t think she’s the problem. She’s been dead for four years. We got along very nicely after I wasn’t stuck under her roof any more and that’s that. I doubt very much that she has anything to do with my … dreams.”

“Ah, there you are again with that word. Dreams! Dreams you call them! Who has a dream at three in the afternoon in the middle of a subway terminal? I think the first thing we must establish, Mr. Thoth, is that what you’ve been experiencing is NOT a dream. At least not in the normal sense of the word. Tell me about these hallucinations you’ve been … oh. I’m sorry, I’m afraid I’ve quite lost track of the time. Please schedule an appointment for next week. I’ll see you then.”

“Okay, thanks, doctor.” Paul shook the doctor’s hand and left the office. He didn’t bother to schedule a follow-up as instructed. Clearly, this guy was going down the same well-beaten path as the others. He’d patiently listen to his stories and after a few weeks Paul would end up with a flupenthixol injection. It wasn’t a bad idea per se but it simply made the experiences even more real than they already were, if that were even possible. No, clearly, clinical pharmacology had failed him and it wasn’t worth going through that again. The last thing he needed was another stay at the sanatorium.

Finding himself on the street, Paul blinked at the sudden surge of brightness and turned to make his way home. Oddly, it always seemed that the walk home did him more good than the actual psychiatrist. Sometimes the quiet mind will find its own best answer that the actively thinking mind will miss entirely. Perhaps the real problem wasn’t the dreams so much as the approach. Everyone he’d dared to talk to about his dreams took it as a given that they were problems. Perhaps that assumption was wrong. Could it be that the dreams were not problems but gifts that he hadn’t quite figure out how to use yet? In the world of the insane isn’t the sane man…

His reverie was interrupted by a pair of brown eyes. He was only aware of them for a split second and then he was somewhere else.

An impatient man stood over him and said in a calm voice that hinted at growing impatience, “I’m sorry, we just don’t have money for that right now. I understand that you want to be like the other girls and have nice things but we have to make a choice right now. We can buy food or we can buy that dress. Which do you want? Eh? Christ, if you’re mother were only here…”

He looked around him, while dozen bystanders looked on, their faces unrecognizable through the miasma of tears in his eyes. “But daddy,” he choked in the voice of a child, “you said…” No more words would come, he simply hung his head and looked down at the old dirt-stained dress he was wearing. Tears rained from his brown eyes and plopped on the sidewalk between his tiny bare feet.

“Hey, come on. You want a ride home? Let’s see how fast we can get there!” Armed with this mock enthusiasm, the giant man swept up the tiny girl that was Paul and placed her on his shoulders. They raced pell-mell through the streets and after a couple blocks the old man was puffing and the traces of a grin had crept into the corners of the girl’s dirty face.

Paul snapped back to those brown eyes again. They belonged to a tall woman in a flowing skirt going the opposite direction with a puzzled look on her face. While she was accustomed to having attention paid to her, she was not used to that attention focusing so completely on her eye sockets. She reddened and looked away, pretending to find something in her purse, completely oblivious to the piece of herself that she’d left behind in the mind of a stranger.

The one thing he couldn’t get used to was the looks. He hated making people uncomfortable and while his ‘dreams’ only took a split second of real time it was obvious that it was long enough for his fixed gaze to be noticed. It wasn’t always eye contact that brought on the dreams though. Sometimes simply touching a doorknob, taking change from a cashier, or punching the keys at the ATM would bring him some piece of random history from outside himself. His life was like a novel that had had a problem at the printers and become comingled with 100 other books.

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Thoughts While Making the Bed

It’s sometimes funny what thoughts come into a person’s head while performing mundane activities. Today was ‘wash the bedclothes’ day and a few atypical thoughts entered my head…

  • When you find that the surface of your blankets obey a hitherto unknown branch of non-Euclidean geometry, it’s time to get new sheets.
  • The pinnacle of bed-making technology may be the variable friction sheet set. When you’re making the bed, friction is your enemy to an extent as it keeps the upper layers from sliding freely around and tends to muss the bottom layers while the top layers are being adjusted. When you’re in bed, friction is your friend as it keeps you from sliding onto the floor at the slightest movement. Obviously, the only answer is variable friction fabrics. Someone go invent that.
  • Why is it that the second you have the bedclothes in the washer someone will instantly want to take a nap? There’s a similar rule when cleaning the toilet but nobody gets to do any sleeping.

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I Demand a Recount!

I know this is of intense interest to everyone but the Readinglist Backlog is apparently all wrong. The count was apparently off by quite a bit, I wrote up the exhaustive list and it was off by a bit. At any rate, here’s your update:

Backlog Count: 310 Books
Finished: Wells – War of the Worlds, The
Finished: Trollope – Cousin Henry

For the 0 of you who are really interested, the ENTIRE reading list appears below.

Ackroyd – London: A Biography (Non-Fiction – History)
Adams – Education of Henry Adams, The (Fiction – Classics)
Aristotle – Physics (Fiction – Classics)
Aurelius – Meditations (Fiction – Classics)
Austen – Mansfield Park (Fiction – Classics)
Austen – Sense and Sensibility (Fiction – Classics)
Austen-Leigh – Memoir of Jane Austen and other Family Recollections (Fiction – Classics)
Bacon – The Essays (Fiction – Classics)
Balzac – Pere Goriot (Fiction – Classics)
Barrie – Peter Pan and other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Barzun – From Dawn to Decadence (Non-Fiction – History)
Baum – The Marvelous Land of Oz (Fiction – Classics)
Behn – Oroonoko and other Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Behn – The Rover and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Boccaccio – The Decameron (Fiction – Classics)
Braddon – John Marchmont’s Legacy (Fiction – Classics)
Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (Fiction – Classics)
Bronte – Jane Eyre (Fiction – Classics)
Bronte – Professor, The (Fiction – Classics)
Bronte – Villettte (Fiction – Classics)
Buchan – Greenmantle (Fiction – Classics)
Buchan – Mr. Steadfast (Fiction – Classics)
Bunyan – Grace Abouding (Fiction – Classics)
Burnett – The Secret Garden (Fiction – Classics)
Burney – Evelina (Fiction – Classics)
Burney – Wanderer, The (Fiction – Classics)
Byron – Selected Poetry (Fiction – Classics)
Cantor – Civilization in the Middle Ages (Non-Fiction – History)
Carlyle – Remeniscenses (Fiction – Classics)
Carlyle – Sartor Resartus (Fiction – Classics)
Cather – Alexander’s Bridge (Fiction – Classics)
Cervantes – Don Quixote (Fiction – Classics)
Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales (Fiction – Classics)
Cleland – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – Basil (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – Law and the Lady, The (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – Miss or Mrs? – Haunted Hotel, The – Guilty River, The (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – Moonstone, The (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – No Name (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – Poor Miss Finch (Fiction – Classics)
Collins – The Woman in White (Fiction – Classics)
Collodi – Adventures of Pinocchio (Fiction – Classics)
Conrad – Secret Agent, The (Fiction – Classics)
Conrad – Shadow Line, The (Fiction – Classics)
Conrad – The Lagoon and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Conrad – The Mirror of the Sea and a Personal Record (Fiction – Classics)
Constant – Adolphe (Fiction – Classics)
Contamine – War in the Middle Ages (Non-Fiction – History)
Cooper – Last of the Mohicans, The (Fiction – Classics)
Cooper – The Pioneers (Fiction – Classics)
Cooper – The Prairie (Fiction – Classics)
Crevecouer – Letters from an American Farmer (Fiction – Classics)
Dante – Vita Nouva (Fiction – Classics)
Darwin – Origin of Species (Fiction – Classics)
Defoe – A Journal of the Plague Year (Fiction – Classics)
Defoe – Captain Singleton (Fiction – Classics)
Defoe – Moll Flanders (Fiction – Classics)
DeQuincy – Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Fiction – Classics)
Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel (Non-Fiction – History)
Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Bleak House (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – David Copperfield (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Dombey and Son (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Hard Times (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Mystery of Edwin Drood (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Our Mutual Friend (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Pickwick Papers (Fiction – Classics)
Dickens – Sketches by Boz (Fiction – Classics)
Diderot – Jacques the Fatalist (Fiction – Classics)
Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment (Fiction – Classics)
Dostoevsky – Devils (Fiction – Classics)
Doyle – Adventures Sherlock Holmes (Fiction – Classics)
Doyle – Hound of the Baskervilles (Fiction – Classics)
Doyle – Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Fiction – Classics)
Du Maurier – Trilby (Fiction – Classics)
Dumas – La Dame de Camelias (Fiction – Classics)
Dumas – Man in the Iron Mask (Fiction – Classics)
Dumas – Twenty Years After (Fiction – Classics)
Dumas – Vicomte de Bragelone (Fiction – Classics)
Edgeworth – Absentee, The (Fiction – Classics)
Edgeworth – Castle Rackrent (Fiction – Classics)
Eliot – Adam Bede (Fiction – Classics)
Eliot – Mill on the Floss, The (Fiction – Classics)
Eliot – Romola (Fiction – Classics)
Eliot – Scenes of Clerical Life (Fiction – Classics)
Eliot – Selected Critical Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Euripides – Bacchae and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Euripides – Trojan Women and Other Plays, The (Fiction – Classics)
Farquhar – The Recruiting Officer and other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Fielding – Joseph Andrews – Shamella (Fiction – Classics)
Fielding – Tom Jones (Fiction – Classics)
Flaubert – Madame Bovary (Fiction – Classics)
Franklin – Autobiography and other Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Freeman – Egypt, Greece and Rome (Non-Fiction – History)
Galsworth – The Forsythe Saga (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – Cranford (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – Mary Barton (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – My Lady Ludlow (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – North and South (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – Ruth (Fiction – Classics)
Gaskel – Wives and Daughters (Fiction – Classics)
Gilbert – The Second World War (Non-Fiction – History)
Gilman – The Yellow Wallpaper and other Stories (Fiction – Classics)
Gleiser – The Prophet and the Astronomer (Non-Fiction – Science)
Goethe – Faust Part 2 (Fiction – Classics)
Gogol – Village Evenings Near Dikanka & Mirgorod (Fiction – Classics)
Gould – The Annotated Mother Goose (Non-Fiction – History)
Grahame – Wind in the Willows, The (Fiction – Classics)
Grey – Riders of the Purple Sage (Fiction – Classics)
Haggard – Alan Quartermain (Fiction – Classics)
Haggard – King Solomon’s Mines (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Jude the Obscure (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Mayor of Casteridge (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Pair of Blue Eyes, A (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Selected Poetry (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Trumpet Major, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Two on a Tower (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Under the Greenwood Tree (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Well-Beloved, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Wessex Tales (Fiction – Classics)
Hardy – Woodlanders, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hawthorne – House of the Seven Gables (Fiction – Classics)
Hawthorne – Marble Faun, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter (Fiction – Classics)
Hawthorne – Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales (Fiction – Classics)
Hays – Memoirs of Edna Courtney (Fiction – Classics)
Hazelwood – The Queen’s Slave Trader (Non-Fiction – History)
Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms (Fiction – Classics)
Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls (Fiction – Classics)
Herodotus – Histories, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hoffman – Golden Pot and other Tales, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hogg – Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Fiction – Classics)
Homer – Odyssey, The (Fiction – Classics)
Hoohwald – How America Faught its Wars (Non-Fiction – History)
Hugo – Notre Dame de Paris (Fiction – Classics)
Hume – Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (Fiction – Classics)
Huysmans – Against Nature (Fiction – Classics)
Ibsen – Enemy of the People – Wild Duck, The – Rosmerholm (Fiction – Classics)
Ibsen – Four Major Works (Fiction – Classics)
Inchibald – A Simple Story (Fiction – Classics)
Irvin – Sketchbook, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Ambassadors, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – American, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Awkward Age, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Bostonians, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Casting the Runes (Fiction – Classics)
James – Daisy Miller and Other Stories (Fiction – Classics)
James – Europeans, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Golden Bowl, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Portrait of a Lady, The (Fiction – Classics)
James – Turn of the Screw and Other Stories (Fiction – Classics)
Johnson – The Alchemist and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Johnson – The Devil is an Ass and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Joyce – Occasional and other Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Joyce – Ulysses (Fiction – Classics)
Kagan – The Peloponnesian War (Non-Fiction – History)
Keats – Selected Poetry (Fiction – Classics)
Kipling – Puck of Pooks Hill and Rewards and Fables (Fiction – Classics)
Laclos – Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Fiction – Classics)
Lafayette – Princesse de Cleves (Fiction – Classics)
Lawrence – Prussian Officer and Other Stories (Fiction – Classics)
Lawrence – Rainbow, The (Fiction – Classics)
Lawrence – Selected Critical Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Lawrence – White Peacock, The (Fiction – Classics)
Lawrence – Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Lennox – Female Quixote, The (Fiction – Classics)
Lewis – Monk, The (Fiction – Classics)
Livy – Dawn of the Roman Empire, Books 31-40 (Fiction – Classics)
London – Call of the Wild and Others (Fiction – Classics)
London – John Barleycorn (Fiction – Classics)
Malory – La Morte De Arthur (Fiction – Classics)
Marlowe – Doctor Faustus and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Maturin – Melmoth the Wanderer (Fiction – Classics)
Maupassant – A Life (Fiction – Classics)
Maupassant – Mademoiselle Fifi and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Melville – White-Jacket (Fiction – Classics)
Middleton – Women Beware Women and other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Moliere – Don Juan and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (Fiction – Classics)
Nietzsche – On the Geneology of Morals (Fiction – Classics)
Niklas – The Evolutionary Biology of Plants (Non-Fiction – Science)
Norris – McTeague (Fiction – Classics)
O’Connell – Sould of the Sword (Non-Fiction – History)
Ovid – Metamorphoses (Fiction – Classics)
Oxford – Illustrated History of Medieval Europe (Non-Fiction – History)
Plato – Republic, The (Fiction – Classics)
Plato – Symposium (Fiction – Classics)
Poe – Narrative of Arthur Pim, The (Fiction – Classics)
Radcliffe – A Sicilian Romance (Fiction – Classics)
Radcliffe – Italian, The (Fiction – Classics)
Radcliffe – Mysteries of Udolpho (Fiction – Classics)
Richardson – Pamela (Fiction – Classics)
Rostand – Cyrano de Bergerac (Fiction – Classics)
Sand – Mauprat (Fiction – Classics)
Schiller – Don Carlos and Mary Stuart (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Antiquary, The (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Bride of Lammermore (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Ivanhoe (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Redgauntlet (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Rob Roy (Fiction – Classics)
Scott – Waverley (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – All’s Well that Ends Well (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – As You Like It (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Hamlet (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Henry IV Part I (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Henry V (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – King Henry VIII (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – King Lear (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Love’s Labour Lost (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Merry Wives of Windsor, The (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Midsummer Night’s Dream (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Richard III (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Tempest, The (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Troilus and Cressida (Fiction – Classics)
Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (Fiction – Classics)
Shelly – Frankenstein 1818 Text (Fiction – Classics)
Shelly – Valperga (Fiction – Classics)
Sheridan – School for Scandal and Other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Sima Qian – Historical Recordings (Fiction – Classics)
Sinclair – The Jungle (Fiction – Classics)
Smiles – Self-Help (Fiction – Classics)
Smollett – Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, The (Fiction – Classics)
Smollett – Roderick Random (Fiction – Classics)
Smollett – Travels through France and… (Fiction – Classics)
Sophocles – Antigone, Oedipus, Electra (Fiction – Classics)
Stael – Corinne, or Italy (Fiction – Classics)
Stendahl – Charterhouse of Parma (Fiction – Classics)
Stendahl – Red and the Black (Fiction – Classics)
Stephenson – The Big U (Fiction – Modern)
Stephenson – The Confusion (Fiction – Modern)
Stephenson – The Cryptonomicon (Fiction – Modern)
Stephenson – The System of the World (Fiction – Modern)
Stern – Introductory Plant Biology (Non-Fiction – Science)
Sterne – Sentimental Journey, A (Fiction – Classics)
Stevenson – Kidnapped and Catriona (Fiction – Classics)
Stevenson – Treasure Island (Fiction – Classics)
Suthland – Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? (Fiction – Classics)
Suthland & Watts – Henry V, War Criminal? (Fiction – Classics)
Swift – Tale of a Tub and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Synge – Playboy of the Western World and other Plays (Fiction – Classics)
Thackeray – Barry Lyndon (Fiction – Classics)
Thackeray – Vanity Fair (Fiction – Classics)
Thoreau – Walden (Fiction – Classics)
Tolkein – The Book of Lost Tales (Fiction – Modern)
Tolkein – The Silmarillion (Fiction – Modern)
Tolstoy – Raid and Other Stories, The (Fiction – Classics)
Tolstoy – The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Tales (Fiction – Classics)
Tolstoy – War and Peace (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Barchester Towers (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Belton Estate, The (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Can You Forgive Her? (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Doctor Thorne (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Duke’s Children, The (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Early Short Stories (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Framley Parsonage (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – He Knew He Was Right (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Phineas Redux (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Small House at Allington, The (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – The Claverings (Fiction – Classics)
Trollope – The Warden (Fiction – Classics)
Turgenev – Fathers and Sons (Fiction – Classics)
Turgenev – Month in the Country, A (Fiction – Classics)
Turgenev – Rudin – On the Eve (Fiction – Classics)
Twain – Huckleberry Fin (Fiction – Classics)
Twain – Prince and the Pauper, The (Fiction – Classics)
Twain – Pudd’nhead Wilson and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Fiction – Classics)
Voltaire – Candide and Others (Fiction – Classics)
Voltaire – Letters Concerning the English Nation (Fiction – Classics)
Wallace – Ben-Hur (Fiction – Classics)
Walpole – Castle of Otranto, The (Fiction – Classics)
Washington – Up From Slavery (Fiction – Classics)
Weinberg – A World at Arms (Non-Fiction – History)
Weyers – The Death of Medicine in Nazi Germany (Non-Fiction – History)
Wharton – Ethan Frome (Fiction – Classics)
Wharton – House of Mirth, The (Fiction – Classics)
Wharton – Reef, The (Fiction – Classics)
Wilde – Major Works (Fiction – Classics)
Wiliams – Chaos Theory Tamed (Non-Fiction – Science)
Williams – Battle of the Atlantic (Non-Fiction – History)
Winchester – The Meaning of Everything (Non-Fiction – History)
Wolstencraft – Mary – Wrongs of Woman, The (Fiction – Classics)
Wolstencraft – Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Fiction – Classics)
Woolf – The Voyage Out (Fiction – Classics)
Wordsworth – Selected Poetry (Fiction – Classics)
Zola – La Bete Humaine (Fiction – Classics)
Zola – La Debacle (Fiction – Classics)
Zola – Ladies Paradise (Fiction – Classics)
Zola – The Attack on the Mill (Fiction – Classics)
Zola – Therese Raquin (Fiction – Classics)
Arabian Nights (Fiction – Classics)
Dhammapada, The (Fiction – Classics)
Early Women’s Writings (Fiction – Classics)
Eighteenth Century Women Dramatists (Fiction – Classics)
Five Romantic Plays 1768-1821 (Fiction – Classics)
Four Jacobian Sex Tragedies (Fiction – Classics)
History of Private Life I (Non-Fiction – History)
History of Private Life II (Non-Fiction – History)
History of Private Life III (Non-Fiction – History)
History of Private Life IV (Non-Fiction – History)
History of Private Life V (Non-Fiction – History)
Lancelot of the Lake (Fiction – Classics)
London Assurance and other Victorian Comedies (Fiction – Classics)
New Woman and other Emancipated Woman Plays, The (Fiction – Classics)
Paston Letters, The (Fiction – Classics)
Sauptikaparvan, The (Fiction – Classics)
York Mystery Plays (Fiction – Classics)


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Fiction: The Veil

For some reason, after I read a certain amount of fiction, I tend to want to write some of my own. My own crappy fragment follows. Ignore at will. This might be a decent idea for a story but it needs about 100x more volume than I’m probably willing to give it.

The veil between reality and dreams had been breeched. These visions, these phantasms could only be the raved imaginings of the deranged. It had happened again, right on the city sidewalk and brought about by the simplest thing. But this single, simple action had taken a piece of his soul. To see the torment, no, not to see it. To LIVE the life he had lived in that split second. It was as if a lifetime had crowded into that second and pushed aside everything that had come before, everything that he WAS before. In the blink of an eye, the crisp Milwaukee day had turned into a blurred surreal vision. He felt the stiff pride of graduation day, doting parents looking on as their only daughter had finally reached her high school graduation day and looked out on a bright and magnificent future. This life not his own raced past him, her college days, the death of her father, her most exquisite agony and most potent ecstasy had all left their mark on this simple object. He saw those marks and he read them. Quite against his will he drank of the cup of her existence.

His life was punctuated by such instances. Often it would come upon him quite unawares, in the simplest everyday action. Touching a doorknob he would suddenly be swept under by the image of a stranger and find himself intimately familiar with every detail of his life. Each of us, as we pass through this world leaves behind a piece of ourselves, a vapor trail if you will, that marks our track through life. Even the least sensitive among us can see the morbid, bloated tracks left as ghosts by those in their final hours or in periods of great emotional stress, but Paul, Paul could see the entire tangled web of life as it unfolded behind you. His talent was both a curse and a blessing as the whole of humanity unfolded before him but it was beyond his control to turn the page or choose when to read. His was a gift unasked for and largely unwanted.

Backlog Count: 327 Books
Finished: Misquoting Jesus, the Men who Changed the Bible and Why
Finished: Hester by Margaret Oliphant

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Alright, well after speaking with the doctor today, it appears I have some sort of an irritated nerve in my right arm. Rather than make the problem worse with any more typing than is already required by my legitimate vocation, I’m announcing a hiatus of blog entries for a while. It seems reasonable given that I sometimes question the meaningfulness of blogging at all. I will, however, keep anyone who cares to read up to date on the unread book backlog.

Backlog Count: 329 Books


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The Many Faces of God (or not)

A couple of weeks ago one of my blog neighbors referred to me as “my atheist friend.” While I’m not offended by the adjective, I feel it one that needs clarification. To a lot of people, atheist equals devil worshiper. I personally submit that it’s probable that neither of them exist so rest easy that I’m not a devil worshiper any more than I’m a God worshiper.

This does not however mean that I discount the possibility of some all-encompassing and all-powerful force in the universe. It is perfectly possible that God with a capital G exists. Each of the religions of the world which profess to describe the creation and governance of the universe are for the most part legitimate theories and most of the time cannot, because of their careful construction, be proven to be either true or untrue. Over the centuries, any logical gaps in the construction of a religion get patched up with more doctrine until they become utterly unassailable.

While I admit that God is a possibility, I also admit to a large number of other possibilities. It is entirely possible that life on this planet was brought here from somewhere else. When religious people complain that it’s impossible for life to have simply evolved on this planet from chemicals, I point out two simple facts. Firstly, 5 billion years is a LONG time. Longer, in fact, than anyone reading this post can possibly conceive of. A lot can happen in 5 billion years including many things that are seemingly impossible. Secondly, life didn’t have to evolve here. Life is pretty smart and gets around pretty easily. We could all be the result of an alien sightseer’s sneeze. Most confusingly, it’s also possible that we’re not actually here at all. I know, that’s old hat but a man is only the sum of his experiences and thus of his sensory inputs. Just as there’s no way to prove God exists (or doesn’t) you also can’t prove anything else around you does either. All you have is sensory input and that could be the product of a deranged or damaged mind. Perhaps all of you are simply products of my own raved imaginings. Or, more likely since you’re reading this, the entire universe (including me) is a product of your raved imaginings. Who can say?

Despite the wide range of unprovable possibilities, the fact remains that nobody really KNOWS anything. You can collect data all you like but there are too few solid facts available to make any meaningful decision about something as sweeping and important as ‘where did the universe come from?’ From what I’ve seen so far, everyone seems to be wrong in their own special way. The Buddhists have some good ideas about the way people think and act but they fall short of making any really useful predictions about anything. Christians are generally really nice about treating each other properly but are so fragmented (and in a few cases blatantly corrupt) that they spend more time disagreeing with each other and pointing fingers than anything else. Scientists are good at processing facts but only up to the point when ‘truth’ starts to impact their egos and their funding and Atheists tend to be a lot of snobby pricks that go around talking about how stupid everyone else is (while occasionally worshipping the devil.)

I personally still hold out for the celestial clockwork version of the universe. Everything we see around us obeys simple physical laws if only we actually know enough to understand them. There is eternal and immutable law in the cosmos but I don’t imagine it sitting in judgment over us or, in fact, knowing anything about us at all. My version of the universe is rigid, deterministic and completely dispassionate towards you and everyone you know. The whole universe would just as soon exterminate you as let you live another day. That’ll keep you up nights…

In addition to the atheist comment, I’ve also had a few other comments lately which I’ll paraphrase and respond to in varying amounts of detail. In general, I find even the most obnoxious feedback to be instructive as it helps me to know in which direction my diatribe is pushing the minds that read it.

Comment from a reader: “If there’s one theme I’ve noticed in your writing, it’s cynicism toward the church. You seem bemused by, but respectful of, the personal practice of religion. What’s the real reason for Rob’s beef with the church?”

I see both good and bad in the church but I think that my coverage is not entirely negative. My post ‘On Religion’ applauds religion must heartily as the most elegant social construct of humankind. We’ve spent massive amounts of energy on these processes and they’ve done a lot of people a lot of good. People who had no other guidance in their lives have found a home in the church and become useful members of society. The Church as an organ of society deserves a lot of credit.

Unfortunately, like everything else, there’s a dark side. I can’t tell you how MAD I get every time I flip past some of this religious crap they peddle on television. My blood boils when I watch those amoral as!holes on the 700 Club. Almost the entire content of the show is testimonials from people who gave money to The 700 Club and were blessed with even more money in return. These people actually say that they “gave more than they could afford” and that God blessed them and they got out of debt. They’re encouraging people to send money to The 700 Club rather than pay the rent or buy food for their children. As if that’s not bad enough, they promulgate all these stories about medical miracles. I guess if people are refusing medical treatment and waiting for a miracle instead then they can send more money to the show.

I realize, of course, that shows like The 700 Club are merely the ass-end of the religious spectrum but even the main stream Western Religions boil down to one simple fact: selling the answers to all life’s mysteries in exchange for 10% of your income. As I said, churches do a lot of good and help a lot of people, don’t get me wrong. But the crux of the matter is still one of doctrine. The mission trips to feed people and build houses in Africa are not selfless acts. They’re not just going over there to feed starving people, they’re going to proselytize. In some cases, this destroys cultures and beliefs that predate Christianity itself. I’ve even heard it said that the free meals are distributed only AFTER the sermon to make sure people get the message that the missionaries want to distribute.

It’s this indoctrination by carrot and stick that most offends me and that comprises my moral ‘beef’ with Western Religion. The stick is eternal damnation: accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior or you’ll burn in hell. The carrots are diverse: accept Jesus and we’ll build you a house, give you a hot meal, invite you to our social event, be friends with you, etc. The carrots are very nice. You get to hang out with a bunch of really friendly, like-minded people who care about you and are concerned about your welfare. Thumbs up for the carrots. I will not, however, have my fundamental beliefs dictated to me at the end of a pointy stick.

Will I burn in hell for this post? As indicated at the beginning, that’s really unknowable with the current data. I personally don’t think it’s likely as I don’t think there is any burning in hell going on. From a purely rational point of view, it seems a good threat but an impractical long-term solution. Redemptionless and unending hell just seems cruel, not just. If you ask my wife (who is a Christian) she’ll merely say that the rules don’t make a lot of sense. If a killer, she argues, can get into heaven with a deathbed conversion then surely someone who lives a moral life but doesn’t accept Jesus can get into heaven. For some reason, she seems to think I’m the most moral person she knows. I personally think she just needs to keep better company but the fact remains that nobody knows and nobody can know; only time will tell. See you on the other side… or not…


Filed under religion


I’m selling some crap on eBay. No, really. Go bid:

I’m often amazed at the amount of crap around here. Most of it has no purpose whatsoever. Perhaps it’s time to purge some of it. It’s like adding on to your house with a few buttonclicks.


Filed under Uncategorized

Machine Gun versus Bazooka

Sometimes, it’s not just the size of the gun that matters but the ammunition. The fairy wren, for example, delivers bit time when it has sex. Each time this little tiny bird ejaculates he fires a monstrous 8 billion (yes, with a b) sperm. That’s 45 times more than the average human who puts out a piddling 180 million in each delivery.

So didn’t Bateman’s principle state that being a guy was the cheap end of the garter belt? What could possibly be cheap about 8 billion sperm and why would a bird less than 2 inches long need THAT many sperm? The answer, as you might guess, goes back to competition. Female fairy wrens are incredible sluts. Despite the fact that males assist in child rearing, genetic testing has indicated that chances are good that most of the chicks in a nest don’t actually belong to the male helping out. Because of the female’s behavior, males find themselves in the midst of an incredible arms race. Each sperm is a lottery ticket and the more lottery tickets the better.

Not all males who produce a lot of sperm do so because their women are sleeping around. Sometimes, high sperm counts are the result of just how hard is to get a sperm from the male to the egg. Many trees, for example, are pollinated by the action of the wind. They rely on the capricious actions of the weather to make sure that boy meets girl. These plants produce pollen by the bucketful because they’re literally at the mercy of chance. Others trees have the advantage of relying on active pollinators which carry pollen directly from one tree to the next. These species get away relatively cheap but make up for it to an extent since they must produce some gift in the form of nectar to attract the insects and birds that do the work of playing sexual middlemen.

In many higher species, the reason for higher sperm counts is even more bizarre. In humans, sperm counts are astronomical because the female’s anatomy is actually hostile to sperm. The human vagina is exceptionally acidic and it alone kills off 90% of the sperm deposited therein. 90% of the remainder are culled out by the mucus of the cervix and the rest are subject to the immune response of the female. White blood cells respond within minutes and start killing sperm by the millions. In traversing less than 12 inches within the female, 180 million sperm have been reduced to a few hundred. This overtly hostile environment helps to assure that only the healthiest sperm have a chance to fertilize the egg. An arduous 10-month gestation is, after all, a terrible thing to waste on some guy’s second-rate sperm.


Judson, Olivia, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation,
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2002.


Filed under science, sex

If you must go out, go out with a bang

I often wonder how different the world would be if human males were more like male honeybees. Most male bees never actually get to have sex at all. They wander around looking for queens to inseminate for their entire lives. In this way, they are a lot like some human males. There are also the lucky bees though. These lottery winners of life actually find a woman, get to have sex, ejaculate, tear off their own penises, leave it stuck in the female’s vagina and then explode with an audible POP.

The obvious question in the reader’s mind will no doubt be a resounding and audible “Ewwwww, WHY?” Well, when your species doesn’t afford a lot of opportunity for you to have sex, this makes perfect sense. Most males never find a mate so when they do get that lucky, any act, no matter how self-destructive, can help their genes have a better chance of fathering the next generation of bees. Having a disembodied penis broken off in your vagina does have a definite negative effect on a female’s ability to accommodate the next lucky guy.

Only problem with this is that the female objects to this attempt at enforced monogamy. She only mates for a short time during her youth and after that she just uses sperm from that one fling to create an entire hive of bees. She’s got a lot invested in that one fling so if she only gets to mate with one male and that male happens to be genetically incompatible with her then she’s in deep trouble. She could spend the rest of her life turning out complete duds.

The other ‘only’ problem of course is the thousands of other male bees that want to have sex with the queen. Until they can figure out how to defeat the dismembered penis of suitor #1, they’re out of luck. Well, luckily for all involved, they’ve evolved an answer to the conundrum.. The male honeybee’s penis has an apparatus on it that happens to be just the right size and shape for prying a little tiny penis out of a female’s vagina. So suitor #2 simply approaches the queen, does a little light cleaning and then proceeds with copulation. It’s just the sort of odd foreplay that we’ve no doubt come to expect from the animal kingdom.

Luckily for humans, most other animals have less explosive devices for promoting their sperm over those of the ‘other’ guy. Many rodents produce a rubbery plug which they inject into the female to seal up the entrance after they copulate. To counteract this process, some species have evolved a prehensile penis to remove the plug (which they then eat to get a tasty pre-sex snack) and clear the way for his own sperm. Any attempt to apply these images and techniques to your own sex life is most strongly not recommended.


Judson, Olivia, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation,
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2002.


Filed under science, sex

Armistice with Myself

After yesterday’s post, my wife said I was just saying the same thing over and over. In a polite way, she seemed to indicate I was engaging in a complicated version of the ‘poor me’ dance. After the ‘Greatest Gift’ post, Dan said I was thinking too much. One nice long drive later, I tend to agree with both of them.

In the ‘Greatest Gift’ I’ve elevated something as vacuous as public opinion to the status of ‘resembling truth.’ In retrospect, this is silly. People can’t adequately judge me any more than I can judge them. When I see a person doing something stupid, I have no context whatsoever in which to judge them. Perhaps the stupid thing makes perfect sense when viewed from the inside of the person doing it. Truth is, none of us as adequate information to form a really wise or useful judgment about anyone else. Without walking in the shoes of another, none of us can form an opinion on another’s bunions.

In ‘Empty Erudition’ I’m second-guessing the very fundamental principles on which I base my very existence. The pursuit of knowledge is not a mere means to an end. You do not learn just to achieve some specific goal. Learning is a life-long process and once you stop you might as well just drop dead on the spot. If I haven’t moved ‘forward’ in my workplace it has nothing to do with my choice of literature. Rather, it stems from my general attitude towards other people and the fact that I haven’t really TRIED to move at all.

So in that spirit, I’m moving forward and declaring an Armistice with Myself. This flood of attempted introspection has come to an end. Frankly, it’s pointless and no doubt very uninteresting to the external observer. Worse than that, it has no basis. Just as I can’t judge anyone else because I don’t live in their frame of reference, I can’t judge myself because I don’t really know anyone else as well as I know myself. Even the most benevolent person in the world no doubt looks at themselves in the mirror each morning with disdain.

In a bizarre sort of way, all the greatest epiphanies in my life have been due to Buddhists. Charlie ( fueled ‘The Emancipation’ and Dan ( shares credit with my wife for ‘The Armistice.’ It’s almost like they know something we don’t. Hrmph.


Filed under Uncategorized