Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

Big game hunters set out across the savannah with only their trusty rifle and their wits. The thrill of the hunt is what energizes them and speaks to their soul. It is the me vs. them challenge, life or death, winner take all, that ignites that spark deep within them. No quarter granted and none expected. No prisoners taken alive. Only the most cunning and the strongest will make it back to tell their tales. Today is a more suburban parallel to that sort of adventure for many. In fact, it often seems that the exact same mindset plays out in what is termed "Black Friday". A fully contrived corporate kick-off to the "holiday" shopping season. When those mall doors open at 3:00 a.m., the adrenaline-laced stampede is afoot, with much the same drama as witnessed in Pamplona during the running of the bulls. One mis-step and the unlucky shopper will be unmercifully trampled to their untimely demise.

Normally when one is considering whether to put oneself into harm's way, a careful cost-benefit type analysis should be performed. In other words, is the very real possibility of dying a gruesome death worth saving a few bucks on some off-brand T.V. model that nobody has ever heard of and will likely spontaneously combust within 17 days of purchase? Most folks in full charge of their mental faculties would say, "duh, no". Yet somehow the ink fumes from the penny-saver ads, with their mind-control formulation, intoxicates the masses. Delusions of grandeur take over such that folks become certain that this year they will be successful and find that bargain that will make their lives complete or that will finally get their little Suzie or Johnny to love them. Some may read my words and say "bah" and some might say "pahtoosh", but those that utter these dismissive grunts are likely daft from having camped outside the mall all night waiting for the doors to open. It's too bad I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to you, because whether you know it or not, you are already a goner. Black Friday indeed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my online friends. I hope that this day finds you in the company of those you cherish, that you have plenty of delicious things to eat, and that you build some lasting and cherished memories. Blessings to all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Observations 39

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Why do the baggers at the grocery store think that the plastic bags are limited to holding only one item each?
  • I have a friend who I believe got himself one of those mail-order brides. He is playing the whole thing a bit coyly. However, what makes me giggle is the image of the UPS truck pulling up and unloading the box.
  • If someone showed up to your house demanding figgy pudding, exclaiming loudly that they won't go until they get some, how long could you hold out before you turned the hose on them?
  • In the "why does this kind of stuff always seem to happen to me" files, I was cleaning up my kitchen after dinner the other evening. A piece of cheese had stuck to the cutting board and I went scrape it off with my fingernail. The cheese went under the nail and poked through the delicate skin. Shortly after my finger swelled up to the size of a ripe mango.
  • Have you ever noticed that in many "iconic moment" photographs, there is always someone in the shot doing something embarrassing or sketchy?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Silver Frame

There is a photograph of my daughter up on my mantle. The silver frame holds a version of her from several years ago. Oftentimes I will stop and say hello and let my thoughts wander. Old reminiscences bubble up to the top of my mind and I think about how much more centrally positioned I was in her life back then. I think about how we used to go on such grand adventures and let our imaginations soar to unchecked heights. Today our few moments of free time together seem to whisk by just so quickly. After school, homework, and other activities have commanded most of her attention and energy, she normally just wants to unwind with some television. It wasn't all that long ago when our time together was arts and crafts, reading stories, and playing all sorts of games that we made up. I have said time and again to myself how much I miss the younger version of my daughter. So I talk to her up there in her silver frame and try to hold myself together.

A friend once told me that a parent's job is to love deeply but hold loosely. Our most important responsibility that we cannot turn from is to raise children who can confidently go out into the world at their time. While I accept this fully and have strived with all that I am to be a successful parent, I can't help feeling guilty when I just want to have a little more time with my daughter before her time to fly comes along. Her picture allows me to talk to a version of her contained in that silver frame that won't go away, and will always have eyes that look to me to find adventure.

Monday, November 25, 2013


I recently wrote a book review where I included the following statement:

Long-winded and rambling sentences with far too many ambiguous pronouns, problematic syntax, poor grammar, missing punctuation (like dozens of needed commas), and dangling phrases, too often made it difficult for me to understand what [the author] was trying to say.

Some folks may read this and label me as a pedantic, judgmental man who gets his jollies by putting others down so that he can feel superior. Look at me, the sheriff of the grammar police! But I assure you that often these so-called trifles are critically important in interpreting the arguments and intentions of the author. I assure you that I can often be led down an unintended fork with an author who is sloppy as to the rules of writing. Consider some examples:

1. Man surprised nobody answered his help-wanted ad:
What he wrote: You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
What he intended: You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.

2. Frustrated victim as killer approaches:
What she said: Don't stop!
What she intended: Don't. Stop!

3. Hungry Cannibals:
What they said: Let's eat, grandpa!
What they intended: Let's eat grandpa!

4. Lonely lady on dating website:
What she wrote: I find my inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.
What she intended: I find my inspiration in cooking, my family, and my dog.

5. Bloodthristy panda at the gun range:
What actually happened: Eats shoots and leaves
What he meant: Eats, shoots, and leaves

Have I made my point clear? What you actually write can say something quite different from what you had intended. Is it any wonder folks are often misinterpreted?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bech: A Book

Having recently completed my first foray into the oeuvre of late author John Updike with his sublime and melancholy Rabbit Angstrom series, I knew that I wanted to continue to discover his works. My next choice after a bit of research was to read his trilogy about author Henry Bech. Henry is a fictional creation, but he represents in some ways, Updike's alter ego. Though there are many personal and physical differences, Bech often becomes a vehicle for expressing Updike's feelings of how the world can pressure and tax a successful artist, beating him down, turning him into a shell of what he once was. Whether through unending demands, unrelenting flattery, or unforgiving questions of "What's next?" or "What have you done for me lately?".

In the first book in the series, Bech: A Book published in 1970, we meet Henry Bech. Single, Jewish, mid-40s. Bech hit it big with his first book, Travel Light, and has been struggling to live up to the public's expectations ever since. Bech captures his own essence with precision:

Henry Bech, with his thinning curly hair and melancholy Jewish nose, the author of one good book and three others, the good one having come first. By a kind of oversight, he had never married. His reputation had grown while his powers decreased.

As we get to know Bech, he is a dry well. He has not written anything noteworthy or new for that matter in many a year. He subsists by embarking on one personal appearance after another. Yet he still holds out hope that some place or somebody will appear as a muse to relight his spirit. A gripping read, written more in the style of a biography by Bech himself, each new chapter in the book representing the latest chapter in his life. Now, onto the second book in the series, Bech is Back.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Hits 8

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

I was reading a book the other day by a pastor who was doing a bit of crowing about how much more accepting and welcoming his church is compared to some others. The author wrote the following:

A man visiting (our church) requested a meeting with me to tell his story. "I'm a homosexual, and I have a live-in partner," he said. He told me he had been kicked out of his last church. Then he asked, "If I came here, would I be welcomed?"

I said, "Not only will you be welcomed, but also you will be loved." I explained to him that he could not join the church or hold a position of leadership, but we would be thrilled for him to get involved in other ways.

Seems to me this pastor is behaving exactly as those from the visiting man's previous church. I really see no difference in their attitude or approach.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Diet Woes

I am now firmly ensconced in what is known as "middle age". A few gray hairs here and there, arthritis affecting my joints, and a constant hankering for Geritol. Heck, the other day in Walmart I stopped to look at the new fall line of walkers. Anyway, one of the other glories of middle age is that the body's metabolism slows down to the point that a single M&M candy takes several weeks to digest. In the meantime, all of the other stuff that is eaten, like Moon Pies and whipped cream straight from the can, is immediately turned into fat. In fact, love handles and what is termed the "beer gut" are direct remnants of a lifetime's supply of Moon Pies and whipped cream straight from the can.

I have kept a journal of my weight and my exercise sessions for more than 10 years now. During this time I have done a reasonable job of maintaining my weight at right around 200 lbs. With my metabolism almost audibly winding down, I have had to compensate by removing calories from my diet in one form or another in an almost regular fashion. Ten years ago my daily calorie intake was about 3300. Five years ago is was down to 2900. Today my intake is about 2500 calories per day. A simple calculation tells me that in 31.25 years, in order to maintain my weight at 200 lbs, I will not be allowed to consume a single calorie. My diet will be limited to packets of fake sugar, diet water, and mass quantities of freshly picked kale. Man, that makes for a depressing future.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


My online friend Bill (who posts at Cycleguy's Spin) recommended the book Craveable by pastor Artie Davis. I decided to pick up a copy and work it into my devotional time. The central theme of this book is summed up with the following statement:

The church will be more craveable to people in our communities when the Christ followers in them become more craveable.

This book is essentially a call for revival, a revival based in taking stock of who we are as Christians and what we have become. If you sense a bit of negativity behind this call, you will understand where Davis is coming from. In his view, "Christian" has become a word associated with negativity, with an institution viewed as judgmental, ignorant, and intolerant. Instead we should be working to develop ourselves into a group that is based on love, forgiveness, and grace. In short, we should be seen as craveable to those on the outside. If we become vessels of Jesus, we will naturally have a pull to bring folks to know God and his plan for us.

With many in the world viewing Christians as a despicable, horrible lot, that is exactly how they are going to perceive Jesus. We need to remake ourselves to listen as Jesus listened, to love as Jesus loved, and to lead as Jesus led. When we start down that road, not only will we become associated with love, but folks on the outside will associate those same characteristics with our God.

This book took me nearly five weeks to complete. Part of this was due to the fact that the book was meant to be read over 40 days. However, I think the main reason is that the writing style is a bit muddied. Long-winded and rambling sentences with far too many ambiguous pronouns ("we"s, "they"s, "he"s), problematic syntax, poor grammar, missing punctuation (like dozens of needed commas), and dangling phrases, too often made it difficult for me to understand what Davis was trying to say. However, it is clear that this book was written with a noticeable passion for Jesus and its message is an important one to consider and to act on. I found my time with it worthwhile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Observations 38

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • If you still don't get this, please hear me. Bellbottom style pants have never, ever looked reasonable on anyone at any time. Please do yourself a favor and throw out all of these silly contrivances at once. Also, I recommend that you boycott any stores that you find selling them.
  • Bullwinkle: Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.
    Rocky: Bull-man, give it a freakin' rest. You say the same thing at the start of each commercial break and I am sick of it.
    Bullwinkle: Gee, didn't know my own strength.
  • Have you ever taken a nap such that when you woke up, you felt so much like crap that you wish you could just rewind to the moment that you first laid down and had someone punch you in the face instead?
  • (This is for the guys to ponder.) Don't you hate it when you are using the urinal and somebody comes in to use the one next to you and just wants to have a chat fest? It's even worse when it is someone that you have a strong dislike for.
  • I saw a bumper sticker the other day that was designed to invoke a positive U.S. spirit. The sticker showed an American flag billowing undaunted in the wind with the phrase "The Power of Pride" emblazened above it. I nodded my head knowingly, recognizing these cautionary words from an entirely different context.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Directed Verdict

I just completed the novel Directed Verdict by Randy Singer. This is the first of his books that I have read, but he has now written more than a dozen since this 2002 offering, his first. Singer has an extensive background as a trial lawyer, and this book includes a fair amount of courtroom related drama. The story begins with an American missionary couple in Saudi Arabia. Sarah and Charles Reed are working to spread Christianity in that nation. They are targeted by the nation's Islamic "religion police" known as the Muttawa. The couple is tortured and Charles is killed. The head of the Muttawa, a scowling stock character named Ahmed Aberijan, sets the Reeds up as drug dealers and Sarah is deported.

Back in the states, we are introduced to a small time, but reasonably successful lawyer named Brad Carson. Brad is participating in a law school exercise on international law with a big-time lawyer named Mack Strobel from a big-time law firm. There Brad meets a student named Leslie Connors, and they develop a bit of a rapport. A chance encounter between Brad and Sarah Reed, ultimately leads Brad to file suit on behalf of Sarah and Charles against both Ahmed Aberijan and the nation of Saudi Arabia. Brad, who has no experience in the dealings of international law, asks Leslie to join him as co-counsel in the case. It turns out that the opposing counsel is Mack Strobel.

In this novel there are several different story arcs. Of course, we have the drama in the court room, including a surly judge who has a strong dislike for Brad, and who maybe has been influenced by a member of the defense team with promises of a district court position. We also have the goings-on of the members of Brad's prosecution team. Given that the defense is secretly being fed key information and prosecution witnesses are being discredited by inside information, it certainly seems that one of them has been corrupted. Finally, we have the growing personal relationship between Brad and Leslie.

I thought that I had figured out who was up to what about two thirds of the way into the story and what their motives were. However, Singer had a few surprises for me that only developed at the very end. This was a decent read that kept me turning the pages. There were some touching elements of Christian faith being shown in some very difficult situations, amid some very brutual persecution. However, I think that the most lasting effect from reading this story are the feelings of frustration and unease I felt regarding the U.S. justice system. I worry not only about corruption of court officials, jury members, and the lawyers, but also about how final declarations of guilt and innocence seem to be totally predicated by the skills and tricks of the lawyers more so than the true facts of the case.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


In computer science, conditional statements are constructs that perform different actions depending on whether a programmer-specified condition is true or false. Although the specific syntax or statement format varies a bit among different computer languages, the basic form looks as follows:

IF (condition = true) THEN
(execute this series of steps)
(execute this different series of steps)

There are no surprises, no gnashing of teeth, no questioning, and no drama when the condition is tested to be true. In such a case you can know with 100% certainty what will happen. If the condition is tested to be false, then too you know with 100% certainty what will happen without fail. Let's consider a specific example.
So, knowing this, tell me why you are surprised every time we end up at point B?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I was watching a T.V. cooking competition the other evening that involved several chefs preparing a number of different courses for a panel of expert judges. After each course, the cook whose meal was the lowest rated was eliminated from the competition. As I was listening to the critiques of the judges, one of them began to really lay into one of the contestants. She noted that he used a spoon to taste his dish and then he continued to use this same spoon to stir his pot. She was absolutely disgusted that the cook was mixing his saliva in with food that he was planning to serve. She called him unprofessional, refused to taste his dish, and she made it clear that he would not be moving on in the competition due to this grevious act. Yet to my eyes, in a roundabout way, she likely is a much worse offender than the man that she verbally attacked.

A close-up camera shot of the judge's hands showed that she chews her fingernails. It was apparent from the condition of her hands that this wasn't some minor nervous habit, but a chronic behavior bordering on psychological disorder. She had essentially gnawed off all of her fingernails and her hands were absolutely sickening to behold. Her fingers must be in her mouth all the time. As she spends a significant portion of her day in the kitchen or on cooking sets and is constantly using her fingers to sample her cooking, it follows that she is mixing into the food her saliva and likely traces of blood from her nasty little finger stumps.

How often in our lives do we chide someone with a harsh tone for something that we are just as guilty of doing? We lash out with a waggling finger and a clucking tongue for behaviors that are prominent in our own lives. Are we blind to our own actions or figure that because we are so wonderful that we get a pass? I can't tell you how often I have criticized someone for their failures, habits, or shortcomings, when I suffer from the same lot.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


A mountebank is a derogatory term used to label someone a cheat, a charlatan. Someone who specializes in devising scams or schemes to steal money from other people. Snake oil salesmen, whose skillful charade is all promises without delivery. The old flim-flam, sleight of hand, and bait-and-switch. If you look at the news on any given day, it is becoming more and more likely that you will run across a modern day version of the mountebank. Looking at the headlines just today I found the following stories:
  • Johnson and Johnson agrees to $2.2B settlement for false marketing.
  • Hedge fund tychoon to pay $1.8B fine for misleading investors.
Is America becoming a society of cheaters? Is the almighty dollar outpacing the basic underpinnings of living in a society, of looking out for your fellow man, of respecting others? Nobody looks askew at another person who makes money with hard work, ingenuity, and good fortune. Yet swindles and business practices that skirt the rules or are dubious at best have become part of the corporate paradigm. Look at what I stumble across every day:
  • Mail disguised to look like a bill or a government notice that is designed to trap us.
  • email scams trying to get our passwords or to get us to send money.
  • Online retailers whose webpages are designed to build in subtle and/or hidden charges and fees.
  • Well produced television ads with exhorbitant "processing" charges.
  • Unreadable small print on TV commericials. White text on a white background with a blurry small font even on a high-definition monitor.
  • Unscrupulous door-to-door salesmen or telephone solicitors.
Where will all of this darkness end? If we have to look to our government to legislate basic maxims of decency, honest, and respect, I fear the battle to restore society cannot be won.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

I usually post a tribute post on Memorial Day to honor those soldiers who gave their lives in service for this country. However, today on Veterans Day, I thought that I would write a post to honor those who have served our country with courage, with pride, with honor, and came home to tell their tales. If you are a service veteran, thanks for all that you did. Tomorrow I will be back with my usual fare, but today I thought I would just keep it simple.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Shadow Lamp

The Shadow Lamp is the fourth entry in author Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series and takes up where the third book, The Spirit Well, ended. Once again we are reintroduced to each of the main characters as they move around from place to place and era to era in the multiverse using the connecting pathways known as leys. There are three different factions that make up the story. The first group are the members of the so-called Zetetic Society, a benevolent group of explorers who are seeking to protect the secrets of "time travel" from those of darker intentions. At the same time they are also trying to make sense of the cosmic mysteries of the different parallel universes into which they are moving in and through. Much of what they know had its genesis through the man who first carried out extensive studies of ley travel, one Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the man who created the "skin map". This group includes Kit, Mina, Gianni, and Cass. The second group includes the nefarious Earl Archalaeous Burleigh (and his group of ne'er-do-well minions), who has been using any and all means at his disposal to claim the complete skin map for himself. However, it is far from clear if he understands what he expects to find at the end of his quest. Certainly he cannot even begin to comprehend the Pandora's box that he is seeking with such blind ambition. Finally, we follow the descendants of Arthur Flinders-Petrie (his grandson and great grandson) as each tries to figure out the secrets that old Arthur took to the grave with him.

In this part of the story, the plot significantly advances and we start to get a sense of what is at stake and what The Zetetic Society was formed to protect, even if they didn't fully appreciate their charge until now. Slowly a hard reality is beginning to come into focus. In fact, if what they suspect is true, the very future of the Universe is at stake. It is possible that something that the great Arthur Flinders-Petrie did in a desperate act of love set an irreversible course into motion? Is there anything that can be done to arrest the cataclysm? Is there enough time or is the die cast? The story will come to its conclusion in the fifth and final entry of the series, The Fatal Tree, set for publication in 2014. Another wonderful story from one of my favorite authors. I look forward to seeing how Lawhead brings this one home.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Observations 37

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • What is it about wearing bonnets that causes people to drive so slowly? It seems that every time I get stuck behind someone driving 20 m.p.h. below the speed limit, it is some little old woman wearing a bonnet.
  • I tend to get frustrated with my own body when I find that I lack the dexterity to do some task that I don't think is all that big of a deal. Also, my frustration is great if my body needs to go to the bathroom more than a reasonable number of times in one day.
  • In a Marion Barry north-side episode, the mayor of Toronto said, "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine, probably in one of my drunken stupors." Now that is some quality leadership, eh?
  • I often wonder if companies who change the design of their products do any testing of what they produce. All too often I come across these design changes and within milliseconds can identify several immediate practical design flaws that fail the basic common sense test. What gives?
  • Have you ever taken a look at a picture of yourself and thought, "That doesn't look like me."?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I attended a scientific conference a few weeks ago. Each day the meeting agenda followed a standard format. The morning and afternoon were each divided into two 90 minute long sessions, and each session consisted of a number of presentations by different speakers. If a session chairperson is on top of things, they might get all of the talks on a single computer so that the transition from one speaker to the next is efficient. However, it is not uncommon for each speaker to use their own laptops for their presentation. In such a case, it normally takes a few minutes to set up the connection between the laptop and the projector before the speaker can begin.

In this meeting, I found myself in a session with regular computer interchanges and the man sitting in front of me caught my attention. As each subsequent speaker fiddled with connecting their own computer, he began to grumble. As the session went on, his complaining grew in duration, volume, and vehemence. He had become outraged that the speakers had not put their talks on the main computer. However, what was interesting to me is that the moment the speaker began their presentation, Mr. Outrage paid not one iota of attention to the talk. I thought to myself, why is this man complaining so loudly when his only reason for being present in the session was to add carbon dioxide content to the room and take up space? Why did he make such a scene when he had nothing at stake and didn't even listen to the talks? I think folks sometimes like to work themselves up into a lather just to work themselves up into a lather. The bard would say that they are all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


The term edify means to build someone up or to uplift them with encouragement. When you think of the word edifice, it refers to an imposing building or structure. Steel, concrete, brick, and mortar. Built to withstand any oncoming storm. In much the same way, when we edify someone, we give them strength to withstand any oncoming storm in their lives. I can't tell you the number of times when the simplest gesture from someone, a wave or a nod, has helped build me up, giving me strength to get through the moment. However, those people who have intentionally invested in me over a prolonged period of time, have given me an even greater strength that has effected lasting changes in my makeup.

The issue is not whether you edify someone as a short term investment (i.e. a compliment, a handshake, a brief encounter) or whether you edify someone as a longer term investment (i.e. befriending or mentoring someone), the issue is that we should be strengthening one another regularly. I have noticed that folks, especially men, feel awkward or less than manly if they try to edify others. We all need to find a way to get past this weakness. To appreciate this fact, just think back to when someone went out of their way to build you up. If you can remember how powerful their investment in you was, whether short-term or longer-term, you cannot help to pass this same gift on to another.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)

Monday, November 4, 2013


One of the requisite skills for my job as a scientist is the ability to communicate the details of my work to a wide range of audiences, from the general public to a group of my peers. For this latter group, one form of communication is through publication of my research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. However, another equally essential avenue is to be able to give oral presentations at various scientific conferences. By the time I was an assistant professor, I had given talks at several dozen meetings and experience had taught me how to give an effective presentation. During my first year at the university, I was invited to give a talk at a conference in Japan. It also turned out that one of the senior professors in my department was also attending the same workshop. During the presentation the audience of about 100 scientists seemed to follow along with my talk and I got a number of very good questions when I was finished. At the end of my session there was a coffee break and I had further discussions and answered questions from a number of other individuals. Everyone I talked with commented that they enjoyed my talk and that I had given a strong presentation.

Just a few minutes before the next session resumed, my senior colleague called me aside in the hallway and began to tell me how disappointed he was with my presentation and that he believed the room was abuzz with dissatisfaction with my talk. As he was a full professor in my group and we shared a research grant, I did my best to hear him out. However, I knew that my talk was good and I had heard from more than a dozen folks who specifically told me that I had done a good job. Something wasn't right here. I wasn't until we got back home that I learned that the government agency that was considering our latest funding proposal had rated my part of the research proposal significantly above that portion proposed by my colleague. It seemed that his attack had nothing to do with my presentation, but was entirely associated with his bruised ego. He was aiming to try to put me "in my place".

There is an important lesson here for all of us when we move to have a serious talk with someone or to criticize their work or their effort. We all need to search our hearts to understand our motives. If we aim to have strong, frank words with someone, we had better be certain that they do not come from a place of selfishness, of envy, or of pettiness, else we become Godzilla. Ultimately my colleague and I learned how to work well with each other and, in fact, we still interact regularly on research more than 15 years after this episode.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rabbit Remembered

The final entry in the Rabbit Angstrom series by author John Updike is entitled Rabbit Remembered. This book was published in 2001, a little over a decade after the last full novel in the series, Rabbit at Rest. At the end that story, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom had died of a massive heart attack. Now, we enter in the life of those he left behind a decade after his passing. Even after all this time, Harry's presence still looms large over his family. Janice, his widow, now in her early 60s has grown into the family matriarch. Although more seasoned and more in control of her life, she still battles with her same demons. She has married Harry's old childhood friend, Ronnie Harrison. It turns out that Harry actually despised Ronnie and saw him as a brute and a classless loser. Ronnie also resented Harry for so many things, not the least of which was his long affair with his wife Thelma who died of lupus more than a decade ago. Eventually we learn that Ronnie courted and married Janice not so much out of love for her, but as a way to get back at Harry, to claim something that was his. To finally beat Harry at his own game. Ronnie is clearly a bit of a low-life weasel, but he is good for Janice and provides her stability and someone to grow old with.

The story also follows Harry and Janice's son Nelson who has stayed cleared of drugs for more than ten years. After he stole more than a quarter of a million dollars from his parent's to support his habit, which eventually cost them their Toyota dealership, he went into a career in helping the down-and-outs of society. He went into this life not so much because he wanted to help those who struggled as he struggled, but because he has taken on the role of martyr to deflect the blame he still feels for what he put his parents through. He still feels that everything he did was not his fault, however, he has finally become at 43 years old, something of a responsible man. He has gained some perspective and respect for his father. Also we are reintroduced to Annabelle, Harry's illegimate daughter from his liaison with Ruth after he walked away from his marriage back in the 1950s. Annabelle has her own life's baggage, and now at 40 and single, was encouraged by her mother to seek out the Angstrom clan as her only remaining family. This reunion is initially painful and awkward, but ultimately serves as a positive thing for both Annabelle and Nelson. We finally get a bit of a happy ending after so much negativity and scheming and selfishness. A great way to end a most enjoyable series.

This novella was included in Updike's book Licks of Love, that included as well a dozen random short stories that I will review in an upcoming post.