Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples.
-- Bram Stoker, Dracula --

Have a great Wednesday and a monstrous HALLOWEEN!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Splash du Jour: Tuesday!

Most Americans who read at all read junk... I think it is a fair generalization to say that European readers of fiction like novels to be challenging, to be demanding; nor do they follow trends or fashions in reading taste in the lemminglike manner of many readers in the United States.
-- John Irving --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Splash du Jour: Monday!

Letterman's Top 10
Top 10 Signs You Know Nothing About Foreign Policy


10. You think "Benghazi" is that bald guy who played Gandhi.
9. Always refer to the United Nations as "The UN."
8. Promise that on day 1, you'll stand up to General Tso.
7. You praise Madagascar's hilarious talking animals.
6. You think "Arab Spring" is a brand of soap.
5. Refer to every world leader as "what's his name."
4. You think the G-8 is a hot boy band.
3. Speak to people from other countries with generic "foreign guy" accent.
2. Know Gadhafi was killed, but still worry about Qaddafi, Khadafi, and Khadafy.
1. Made it your mission to prevent Iran from enriching geraniums.

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chapter 85: Wherein Whales Need Air

I hope that my obsession with the tale of Moby-Dick is not becoming boring to my readers while it's becoming all the more fascinating to me.
I mentioned before how this great book is interwoven with what are essentially intercalary chapters about whales. And I just read a real doozy of one.
Chapter 85, entitled The Fountain. Here, Melville discusses the mechanics of a whale's respiratory system. It answered a question I've had all the way through, which is this:
Why is it that when a whale surfaces and senses danger, it doesn't just dive down again and basically get away from its attackers?
The reason is, because it can't. It needs air. Whales are mammals, and have lungs -- not gills, like normal fish. But the issue of escape goes beyond this fact, because by the time a large whale finally surfaces, it does not need merely one breath of air. It takes upwards of seventy such breaths to fully replenish the reservoirs of air within its body. In other words, the whale is really out of breath when it surfaces, and requires several minutes in contact with the… upper world. It intends to stay below the surface for up to 90 minutes, feeding, and doing other whale-things.
Hence, that first jet of exhaled moisture from its spiracle [or blowhole] is a dead giveaway! It might as well be a horizon-disturbing sea-wide advertisement saying COME KILL ME!
The bastardly whalers see this, and move in quickly.
The initial thrust of the first harpoon accelerates the heart rate, requiring even more oxygen in the already depleted reserves. He's in trouble, and "sounding" or diving deep is no longer an option. It never was in the first place, but now that you have this hunk of steel piercing through you, a deep dive means death by drowning.
The battle is engaged, and with the repeated slashings of the whalers, death will now come to the poor beast through a quick combination of loss of blood and lack of oxygen.
Again, reading all of this brutality [I'm sorry] it makes me cheer for Moby.

Let me end with some fun. 
If my endless whale-lore is possibly boring you, here is a video-clip of a breaching whale that I find utterly fascinating. If I was in that boat, I'm afraid I may have quickly lost some moisture from at least one [or more] of my own mammalian orifices!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Old Tree: A Saturday Snapshot

Sometimes I feel old.
But then I visit Cathedral Grove, on Vancouver Island, and see trees that are approaching their milllennium-th birthday!
Even though I once lived there, Vancouver Island remains one of my favorite vacation destinations. 

On my last trip, in July of 2012, I re-visited the old tree.
This beauty behind me [not the horizontal one] is over 800 years old.
Had already sucked water out of the ground for three centuries before Christopher Columbus drifted by to tell the Indians they'd been "discovered".
It is a venerable beast.
76 metres tall and 9 metres round.

It makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like..... a pizza.
I deliberately made this image black and white, because, as we all know -- 800 years ago, color images did not exist. Years ago, I wrote a poem about it.

Thank you Alyce, for hosting this terrific Saturday Snapshot meme @ At Home With Books.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Splash du Jour: Friday

I can assure you Ernest Hemingway was wrong when he said modern American literature began with Huckleberry Finn. It begins with Moby-Dick, the book that swallowed European civilization whole.
-- E. L. Doctorow, Ungraspable Phantom: Essays on Moby-Dick --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Moby @ Midpoint...

Well, dear friends and fellow non-whalers, I am just past the midpoint of Moby-Dick.
The crew of the Pequod have just slain their first whale.
At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air, and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!
This poor whale was nameless, but you just know that Moby is lurking, and will soon give Ahab and the boys a run for their money.
You know, I am a total pacifist when it comes to animals, and hunting in general. 

I'm definitely not a vegan, but Good Lord, there's got to be more humane ways of killing beasties than this….. harpooning business!
But enough about my sympathies.
This is a great book. I'm seeing why so many people have loved the thing.
My own edition [shown above] has, at the back of it, an afterword-style essay by Howard Mumford Jones, and he says "People who think Moby-Dick is a novel are wrong."
He calls it a "journey" book -- equating it to others like the Odyssey, Tom Jones, Gulliver's Travels, Don Quixote, and The Voyage of the Beagle, etc.
It requires a reader to have somewhat of a desire to actually get on board, to a certain extent. We all know that it is a BIG book, but beyond the sheer size of the thing is the never-ending digressions of the author into the very nuts and bolts of whaling in general. Entire chapters devoted to how rope ought to be properly coiled, and detailed descriptions of the machinery involved in basic whale slaughtering.
There are chapters on the whale as depicted in art through the ages. But just as you fear you may be getting bogged down in the lore of it all, Melville does return to the activities of the crew and the current voyage -- where the near-insane Captain Ahab has only one thing on his mind as he clomps around on his fake leg -- KILL MOBY!
Herman Melville, through his narrator Ishmael, constantly laments the fact that so little is known [at the time] of the exact nature of whales. For instance, in a chapter on the different sizes of whales, the great blue whale is not even mentioned --so little was known about it. This was an age of umm… severe lack of underwater photography, among other non-advances in scientific discovery and awareness! Nowadays we know so much more about the precious nature of these majestic creatures, and I'm always cognizant of this, as I read this old book.
I'm so glad that we do not have to rely on whales to supply our need for lamplight and candles.
I've never seen any movie version of Moby-Dick, and so I don't actually know how the thing ends -- but the conclusion of Jones's essay does make me want to find out. He says… "Ahab seeks to impose his will upon the inscrutability of the universe. In such a contest the universe will always win…"
I find myself wanting Moby-Dick to swim away with an "Up yours!" smirk on his face at the end of it all.
Why did people like… whale so much, back then? 

Didn't they know that you can just go to the store and buy already packaged hamburger?

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really fanatic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick --

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Splash du Jour: Monday

 "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale." By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage is that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Me & Sara Gruen: A Saturday Snapshot

I remember it well. I'm sure I recall it much better than she does!
When I heard that Sara Gruen was going to be in my very neighborhood I got away from work a bit early and raced on down to hear her read from her latest book, Ape House.
Sara Gruen was so lovely and gracious, and I think she is a fabulous author.
I've read her Water For Elephants, and of course, Ape House -- and look forward to reading whatever she comes up with next. Sara Gruen likes to use animals in her stories, sort of like Yann Martel does also. Interesting that both of them have managed to attract the interest of big-time movie production companies. When this photo was taken, Sara was telling us of the [then] upcoming movie adaptation of Water For Elephants, and soon, we'll be able to see what Hollywood has done with Martel's Life of Pi.

The last thing I will mention here is -- umm -- yes, I do have a complete left arm.
Even though it does seem from the angle of the shot, and the way my sleeve was rolled up, and the way I was gently massaging her back at the time  -- it does look like I've been amputated at the elbow!
I'm sure she forgets it, but I know I never will.
How she was saying just then, "Ahh, a little to the right. Lower. Oh, you've got it."

Thank you Alyce, for hosting this terrific Saturday Snapshot meme @ At Home With Books.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Splash du Jour: Friday

Letterman's Top 10 Signs You're Obsessed With Star Trek


10. You're writing "Star Date 5946" on your checks.
9. Family dog + aluminum foil = space dog.
8. Built your own phaser out of a staple gun and 20 D batteries.
7. Last Halloween, you dressed up as Star Trek props designer, Irving A. Feinberg.
6. You spend a lot of lonely nights "wrestling the gorn."
5. During your Power Point presentation for company's 2nd quarter review, the word "Romulans" came up more than one would normally expect.
4. Always telling barber, "Give me a Spock."
3. You're already camped out for the 2012 Star Trek sequel.
2. When the stock market goes down, you'll assuredly yell, "KHAAAAAN!"
1. Got suspended at work for trying to mind-meld with an intern.

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Freedom begins the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself.
-- Bill Moyers --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Splash du Jour: Wendesday

“I gather," he added, "that you've never had much time to study the classics?"
"That is so."
"Pity. Pity. You've missed a lot. Everyone should be made to study the classics, if I had my way."
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"Eh bien, I have got on very well without them."
"Got on! Got on? It's not a question of getting on. That's the wrong view all together. The classics aren't a ladder leading to quick success, like a modern correspondence course! It's not a man's working hours that are important--it's his leisure hours. That's the mistake we all make. Take yourself now, you're getting on, you'll be wanting to get out of things, to take things easy--what are you going to do then with your leisure hours?”

-- Agatha Christie, The Labours of Hercules --

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Splash du Jour: Monday

Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In The Lake of The Woods

I just finished a really great book.
Tim O'Brien's [1994] In The Lake of the Woods.
An oldie but a goodie!
This is the sixth book I've read by this terrific American writer, and truly, this is one of the best. I have a few yet to go before I can say I've read all of his published works, but I will definitely continue reading him.
O'Brien, a Vietnam veteran himself, often employs elements of the trauma of war in his novels. And this one is no exception.

John Wade is a Minnesota politician [and Vietnam vet… participant in the massacre at My Lai] who has just recently been trounced in a senatorial election. He and his wife Kathy retreat to a friend's cottage in a remote lake area to lick their wounds and re-think the future.
But one morning John wakes to find that his wife is gone.
Vamished. Vamoosed. And the boat is missing from the boathouse.
As you can imagine, a massive search for her is initiated, but we're talking about 600 square miles of lake here. The vast, unforgiving remoteness of Minnesota wilderness.
As expansive as that wilderness is, it pales in comparison to the depths of secrecy with which John has been living his life. Some of these secrets, unearthed by the media, become known. Others remain hidden, and John himself becomes a suspect in the disappearance of Kathy.
The set-up of this novel is so unique, I do not want to say much more about it -- but encourage you to discover it for yourself. Truly a story of open-endings, rife with the searing difficulties of love and marital relationship.
I really think the book is significant. After reading In The Lake of the Woods, I am left with a rather powerful feeling of how we can only really truly know our own self. And even then, the knowing can be blurry. Thing is, even so, no one else can know you BETTER!

And now, as I pour a fresh beer into my Duvel glass, I glance at what I am going to be reading next.
Again, more water… definitely even MORE water!
Moby [frigging] Dick!
I've been wanting to read this whopper-doodle of a thing for ages, and knowing the non-speed with which I read, you can look forward to a review somewhere in 2013!
Cheers, y'all.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bible Thumper: A Saturday Snapshot

Here's me, circa 1991.
SERIOUS Bible-thumper days! 

I was just graduating from Bible College -- four years, full-time, studying The Word of The [only] God.
This was taken in some hotel room in Toronto, on my way to Graduation ceremonies, where I was chosen in a highly selective process to be the soloist fronting a 500-voice choir.
At times, I do miss being Lead Cherubim©.
Singing is my primary gifting, just before... Blogging [see 1 Corinthians ch.12].
I am very much a different person today.
At times, I do miss my idealistic days of Intense Believerism [in this shot, I was quoting some uplifting passage from The Book of Lamentations…] but overall, I am now quite happy and content in my ongoing re-connection to my actual brain.
I think the overall message of this picture is something along the lines of:
"In the latter days, people will be convinced that they have a mustache when, in reality, they just need a shave!"

Thank you Alyce, for hosting this terrific Saturday Snapshot meme @ At Home With Books.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Splash du Jour: Friday

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.
-- Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood --

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Am I A Book Whore?

Usually, somewhere in and around the hindermost parts of a current novel I start sniffing out my next read. Geez! I'm sounding rather canine here!
But seriously, in the final chapters -- my mind will, from time to time, veer to what I want to read next. I'll set the book down and go and look at the other one.
I'll open it up and read a few sentences and think -- "Hmmm…. yep, sounds good."
Then I'll remember that old phrase: 

"Hey, dance with the one that brought you!"
And I'll zip on through the end of a novel, with the new one already in my backpack, ready for tomorrow. Is this what is known as "being fickle?"
All I know is that to NOT be reading a novel is not an option!
I just finished a whopper-terrific novel tonight. Strong Motion, by Jonathan Franzen, and already I've removed the dustjacket from Tim O'Brien's In The Lake of The Woods.
Where is the frigging gestation period?
I move on quickly is what I am saying.
I'm insatiable.
Do you employ some manner of micro-managed criteria in the choices you make -- or are you as book whorish as I am, here?
I mean -- this author has poured his or her GUTS out to me -- and -- I just move on!
Do you [horrors]… read two at once and just hope you are not on the phone with one while the other is knocking at your door?
[Visions of a book's father asking… "What are your intentions, son?"]
Are we supposed to wait a while before we spread the covers of another?


Splash du Jour: Wednesday!

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.
-- George Orwell, Why I Write --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

The problem I had with the Kindle when I tried it was, you know, first I had Ann Coulter, then I had Flannery O’Connor. [Laughs.] It’s the same little sheet. It makes everything seem unsubstantial. In my own twisted mind, it makes the words seem more arbitrary, less intrinsically valuable, less substantive if it can just be any words. We could just wipe the slate clean and get Laura Bush’s memoir, and then we could wipe it clean again and get Samuel Beckett. It’s part of that postmodern leveling, and I think people who really care about books feel in their hearts that there is actually a difference between Laura Bush’s memoir and Samuel Beckett. It’s not an elitist argument, it’s that somebody was trying to say something here, and in the other instance, a product has been put out there. So to that extent, I’m resistant to it, but that said, I’m happy with whatever form someone wants to read a book of mine.
-- Jonathan Franzen --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 08, 2012

How Spacey is Outer Space?

Yesterday I was quickly in and out of a bookstore and while there I leafed through Richard Dawkins's new book called The Magic of Reality
It has a killer subtitle -- How We Know What's Really True
On the cover, Philip Pullman calls it "The clearest and most beautifully written introduction to science I've ever read."
I saw something there that was so profound, and presented in such a memorably analogous fashion that I am going to paraphrase it here, for y'all. And hopefully, you will be able to always remember it, too.
Here goes -- first, picture an empty football field.
Are you there?
OK -- now go and plunk down a football in the very middle, at the 50 yard line. That football represents our sun.
Now, get this -- to illustrate the scale of…. "reality" -- walk away from the football and place a peppercorn 25 metres distant. This is the relative size and distance our Earth is from the sun. Our moon would be the size of the head of a pin, and be placed just 5 centimetres from the peppercorn.
But here's the incredible thing -- the NEAREST star to our own sun, Proxima Centauri, would be placed 6,500 kilometres distant.

That just boggles my mind.
I mean, think of it, that would be the nearest star to us, of all the millions of visible stars in our night sky. Proxima Centauri is a mere 4.2 light years away from our sun. But the furthest star that we currently know about [V12, in the galaxy NGC4203] is 10.4 million light years away, [hmmm… how much is that in football fields?]… and estimated to be 10 million times brighter than our own sun.
I look forward to the launch of the James Webb infrared telescope, which will make the Hubble seem like a regular pair of binoculars. We will be seeing pretty much infinitely further than we have ever seen before, or as some scientists are referring to it, "the very beginnings of time itself."


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Money Mirrors Reality: A Saturday Snapshot

For this weekend's Saturday Snapshot, I am utilizing Alyce's  "post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken" proviso.
This shot was taken by my adventurous nephew, Chris.
He spent several years living in Japan and other parts of Asia. He did all that living-out-of-a-backpack, sleeping-in-hostels, and grow-a-beard-to-rival-Moses stuff that youth are so wont to do.
During one of his arduous intrepid hikes, he found himself at a spot that is exactly represented on a certain denomination of Japanese currency.
Please forgive my forgetting of the name of this place, I think it was Mount Rawfish or Lake Jumping-Sushi or something like that…. see the background there in the left side of the bill?
My first thought was, "Wow. 1,000 yen! How many hamburgers can I buy with that?"
A few months ago, this same nephew Chris and his girlfriend Ashley introduced me to the wonders of Thai food at an authentic Thai restaurant in Victoria, B.C., where he now lives.
Thank you Chris, for proving to me that there are foods that surpass even the glories of dead cow between two slabs of bread!

And, as always, thank you Alyce, for hosting this terrific Saturday Snapshot meme @ At Home With Books.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Splash du Jour: Friday

It was as if, in nuclear terms, the configuration of forces had changed and he was no longer an oppositely charged particle attracted to her from a great distance but a particle with like charge, a proton repelled by this other proton until they were right next to each other and the strong nuclear force came into its own and bound them together.
-- From Strong Motion, by Jonathan Franzen --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Splash du Jour: Thursday

The singular power of literature lies not in its capacity for accurate representation of mass commonalities, but its ability to illuminate the individual life in a way that expands our understanding of some previously unseen or unarticulated aspect of existence.
-- Nicole Krauss --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

“...but don't tell me I'm not sensitive to beauty. That's my Achilles' heel, and don't you forget it. To me, everything is beautiful. Show me a pink sunset and I'm limp, by God...”
-- J.D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Arguing with Carlyle

A man lives by believing something: not by debating and arguing about many things.
-- Thomas Carlyle – 

Just a few words here about the above Carlyle quote...
I want to go on record as saying that I DO NOT BELIEVE IN IT.
Which is to say, I think, with all due respect, that Mr. Carlyle is wrong. 

I “believe” that debating and arguing are, in fact, more important than believing, if “believing” precludes reasonable debate.
Any “belief” that is not open to the possibility of the displacement of that belief, in the light of better information, is worse than willful bias or prejudice. It is preemptive IGNORANCE.
See more of my thoughts on this topic -- HERE 

I discussed this last night with someone over a coffee, at Starbucks. They said:
"But Carlyle is not saying that it is right or even advantageous. He merely says that a man DOES this...that this is how Man lives. . . and there is no denying this, is there?"

Point taken!
And a very good point it is. Halfway through my day today I actually thought the same thing, about the original quote. I don't know enough about Carlyle to know if he himself believed this way, or if he was just making a statement as to HOW MAN IS! How people ARE! 

So, in case I have offended any members of the raging Thomas Carlyle Fan-Club© out there [and seriously, I have heard that they are a rowdy beer-swilling bunch of ne'er-do-wells!]... umm, I jotted the following down today.
Forget Thomas Carlyle now, this is MY personal statement: 

Our lives can only remain genuine and authentic to the extent that our beliefs are subject to a state of ongoing scrutiny, doubt, and intelligent debate.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics. I would say that such a library ought to be composed half of books we have read and that have really counted for us, and half of books we propose to read and presume will come to count—leaving a section of empty shelves for surprises and occasional discoveries.
-- Italo Calvino, Why Read The Classics? --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Splash du Jour: Monday

I don't hold with shamans, witch doctors, or psychiatrists. Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or even Dickens, understood more about the human condition than ever occurred to any of you. You overrated bunch of charlatans deal with the grammar of human problems, and the writers I've mentioned with the essence.
-- Mordecai Richler, Barney's Version --

Have a great Monday!