Friday, August 29, 2014

Life Expectancy

I just finished a very fun book called Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz. If you have read any of his Odd Thomas series, you will likely feel a bit of deja vu with regard to the inner voice, mannerisms, and reactions of the story's lead character, Jimmy Tock. In fact, Jimmy Tock and Odd Thomas are very much kindred spirits in how they react to adversity, to bad breaks, and to the threats life throws at them. However, those similarities did not detract from my enjoyment of this amusing and touching story.

The story begins in August 1974 when Rudy Tock is at the hospital torn between the ending of one life and the dawn of another. Rudy's father Josef has had a stroke that has left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He likely only has a few hours left on this Earth. In a different part of the hospital, Rudy's wife Maddy has been admitted to give birth to their first child. When Rudy goes to say goodbye to his father, Josef sits up in bed and with a strong and clear voice tells Rudy to write down five terrible dates that his grandson will have to endure. September 15, 1994, January 19, 1998, December 23, 2002, November 26, 2003, and April 16, 2005. Josef them provides a few facts to make clear the truth of his prophesy before he drops dead. Back in the expectant father's waiting room, Rudy is processing the passing of his father, the progress of the labor of his wife, and a seemingly deranged circus clown by the name of Beezo whose wife is also delivering that night in the hospital. When the doctor comes out to tell Beezo that his wife died during labor, Beezo loses control and kills the doctor and a nurse before grabbing his newborn son and taking off into the night.

The story then takes us through the life of Jimmy Tock as he grows up and faces the five terrible dates that his grandfather Josef had called out. Each date brings terrible suffering and trials into Jimmy's life and that of his family. However, the wonderful charm of this tale is how living through these horrific events only serves to bring life to Jimmy and his family. More laughter, more love, more enjoyment and strength in those he treasures. This was a very touching, quirky, amusing, and endearing story. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Observations 64

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.
  • "Everyone claims to have a sense of humor, but some of them are lying and a significant number are fooling themselves." - Dean Koontz
  • Some folks just don't understand our American rules for basic political correctness. I sat in a recent meeting with an older man from the former Soviet Union who was making bold statements about how a woman's purpose should only be to find a husband and not get involved with a career. I don't even think that he was aware of the rest of the folks in the room cringing.
  • I sometimes think that church people are the most unintentionally rude folks I know. Pretty much any time that I am chatting with someone before service, someone else will come up and hijack the person to whom I am talking.
  • Why do folks who should know better still talk about topics in interviews that they just shouldn't touch with a 10-foot-long pole?
  • Have you ever had a boss tell you to make a presentation at a meeting that you really want no part of and then ask "How much time would you like me put on the agenda for your talk?" .... errr ... "How about none?".

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Eau de Toilet

Lining the checkout lanes of most grocery stores are those blatant women's magazines with bold headlines about better sex, bigger hair, and diet secrets to drop 20 lbs in a week. One of the staples of these publications is the personality quiz, designed to tell you in a few questions what might otherwise take you years of expensive therapy. For some reason an idea for such a quiz popped into my head recently. The cover page headline could ask the question:

What kind of woman are you?

Well, the answer to that question all depends on what you would do in the following scenario: Your husband surprises you with a bottle of perfume as a small "I love you". After you take a hearty whiff, you are on the verge of stomach purging nausea. What do you do?

1). You tell your husband that this devil's vomit is absolutely disgusting and proves that he knows nothing about you, whereupon you storm off in a snit. When you emerge from your hiding, you repeatedly nag at him not to attempt to buy you anything of this sort again.

2). You tell your husband that this stuff is pig dung but he is the sweetest man in the world. You make him feel cherished and your attitude of love, appreciation, inclusive humor, and thankfulness serve to boost his self-worth and pull you closer together.

3). You tell him the gift is lovely and force yourself to squirt this putrid spewage on your body, thereby making him think you like it so much that he keeps buying you more, all the while making him think he has done good while you suffer and stew in silence, and your resentfulness builds to a crescendo.

4). You dump that unholy vial of foulness down the commode and never speak of it again hoping that he will forget.

5). You think that his gift is actually a cover for some guilt he feels for having done something evil. You convince yourself that he is likely having an affair or that he has already secretly divorced you for your younger hotter sister.

6). You fuss at him that your tight budget doesn't allow for such extravagances, perhaps even forcing him to slink back to the store to return his purchase for a full and immediate refund.

7). You take his gift of perfume as some sort of slight or dig ... "Are you saying that I smell, that I am disgusting to you?"

8). You ask him if he kept the sales slip and announce that you will be going out to do some shopping later that night.

Women, I can only say that when your husband makes an attempt, even if it is small, awkward, off base, or slightly misguided, you need to encourage him in love and build him up. It is amazing how thoroughly and how quickly a negative reaction to what was intended as a sweet gesture can destroy our self-confidence and weaken our connection to you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Earth Awakens

The final book in Orson Scott Card's trilogy on the First Formic war (co-authored with Aaron Johnston) is entitled Earth Awakens. This story picks up just after the end of the second book, Earth Afire, where an alien insect-like race had come to Earth in massive numbers across China, the most populous part of the planet. The invaders began a terraforming program on a continental scale, destroying every living thing in their path. Tens of millions of Chinese had been eradicated and the human response had been mired in bickering, ego, and power struggles, while the Formics just continued on with their plan. However, thankfully, not everyone falls into the trap of gridlock and bureaucracy. Some people are defined by principles and the ability to act on them. In China, we find a team of special-ops soldiers working to destroy the aliens and thwart their plans. Despite being hopelessly outnumbered, they have even managed to destroy one of the alien landers. On moonbase Luna, two brave folks have devised a plan to board the Formic mothership and destroy it from within.

In Earth Awakens, we finally see the first movements of individual nations toward realizing that the threat that Earth is facing is not about one country. Slowly and awkwardly, bonds are beginning to form. The more cooperation that is seen, the better the odds that humanity can defeat the invaders and repel their future advances. The first major step towards the common goal of saving humanity is made when age old enemies China and India, begin to share resources. Initial agreements are brokered only at great risk to a small number of individuals. Out in space, a vulnerability is finally found in the massive Formic mothership which the special-ops tactical team is able to exploit. As is known from Scott's Ender's Game series, there were two Formic wars, and this battle was just the first. We learn that this mothership was, in fact, just an advance scout ship. In several more years the main force is scheduled to arrive to finish the job. Scott has set the next series on the second Formic war up quite well and we now understand too how humanity is able to develop a deep space fleet so quickly.

This trilogy was very enjoyable and tied in nicely with the groundwork that Card had already laid and developed in his earlier novels. Truth be told, this entry in the trilogy was noticeably the weakest. While everything was wrapped up tidily, it was lacking in complexity, nuance, and depth from the standpoint of the development of the characters and their interactions. The climactic scene was a bit amateurish and underdeveloped. However, I still would recommend this series and this book as the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quick Hits 26

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.

God has established certain laws of nature in his creation. Laws such as the conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, and increasing entropy. Do you think that He is bound to these laws that He has created? Do you think that his miracles violate his established natural laws?

What do you think?

Friday, August 22, 2014


The novel Hacker is Ted Dekker's latest entry in his Outlaw series. The previous three books, which have all come out in the past year include, Eyes Wide Open, Water Walker, and Outlaw. The novel Hacker centers on a young woman named Nyah Parks whose father and brother died in a terrible automobile accident. Nyah's mother survived the accident, but it left her with degenerative brain trauma. Althought Nyah survived the wreck, it has left her with scars of a different sort. Nyah has lived a bit of a secluded life and has earned money by hacking into various company's computer systems, and then receiving payouts from these outfits in exchange for the vulnerabilities that she found. When the condition of Nyah's mother begins to worsen, Nyah gets her entered into an experimental research program. The only catch is that she needs to come up with $250k to pay for the treatments. Nyah's plan to raise the money is to hack into a security company to try to scam them into paying her off. However, when she does this, she uncovers some serious dirt that puts her life in grave danger when she is caught and her young helper is killed.

Nyah manages to escape the clutches of the company with the help of an FBI contact that she has worked with. Once free she seeks out the help of a fellow hacker named Austin (who we met in Eyes Wide Open). She and Austin had been close once, but one day he broke off contact with the world and kind of disappeared. However, Nyah tracks him down. Austin, it turns out, is slowly dying from an inoperable brain tumor. At one point he earned $10M from a company and spent nearly every penny of this money to set up some high-tech facility that allowed him to hack into his own brain. The story in this regard is more than a bit far-fetched, but somehow when Austin takes some special chemical concoction, it affects his brain such that he can enter the matrix to see beyond the "skin of this world". Ultimately Nyah joins him because she somehow comes to believe that this experience can help cure her mother.

I have read all of Dekker's published books and they tend to either be very good or very average. This story fell into the latter category. With Dekker publishing multiple books per year, it seems to me that he is aiming for quantity over quality. This book was marked by new-age dreck wrapped in some sort of Christian veneer. Shallow, unremarkable, under-developed, and utterly forgettable. In fact, this entire Outlaw series is all contrived flash and little substance.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


In the classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, a miller, desperate to improve his fortunes, carelessly boasts to his king that his fair daughter can spin straw into gold. The king then puts her to the test, sealing her in a room with a small pile of straw and giving her until the morning to produce the gold. Alone, the maiden weeps in despair until the goblin Rumpelstiltskin appears. For her necklace he will transform the straw. The next evening, the king ups the ante and puts the young woman in with a larger mound of straw. Again the imp appears, this time demanding the woman's ring in exchange for his services. Finally, the king promises to marry the girl if she can transform a room packed with straw. The troll appears, but the woman has nothing left to offer. With her life on the line, she offers to give him her first born child. With promises made, Rumpelstitskin produces the gold and then disappears. Some years later, the queen gives birth to her first child, having long since forgotten her oath. Yet Rumpelstiltskin appears to collect his end of the monstrous bargain.

While for many, fairy tales and their plot lines will never be anything more than quaint and dusty stories from their childhoods, but the story of Rumpelstiltskin is one that I have seen played out in several relationships, including my own. It begins when spouses avoid talking to each other about important issues. For me, I just didn't want to upset a peaceful evening or I just didn't feel like taking part in a heated discussion. We then walk away from these avoided encounters with the gold in our hands thinking how clever we were. Yet over time, this pattern of avoidance and side-stepping one another leads to a deep erosion of the foundation that once supported the relationship. Though we never gave it mind in the moment, sooner or later, the price has to be paid for our end of the monstrous bargain that we tacitly agreed to.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Observations 63

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.
  • I always find it odd when sports commentators who have never played a competitive sport and are clearly not gifted athletically, can sit there and smugly rip apart the play of athletes.
  • I was in a bathroom recently outfitted with one of those automatic faucets. The trouble was it only dispensed about a tablespoon of water with each squirt. If you had soaped up your hands it would have taken 15 minutes to finally get them rinsed off.
  • At work they replaced a light in the men's room that had been burnt out for as long as I can remember. Now the harsh light really brings out the pee stains that mark the walls and the floor around the urinals.
  • I recently waited in line at the grocery store behind 3 obviously very impaired men, two were older and one was in his early 20s. They looked absolutely horrible, wizened, wrinkly, gaunt, and stooped. Everyone around me thought that the scene was amusing. I could only think of the wasted lives.
  • There is an idiom about developing an idea to maturity where you say that you are going to "flesh things out". There is a guy at work who instead says "flush things out". Perhaps that is pretty much the same thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flying Closer to the Flame

I just finished reading Charles Swindoll's book Flying Closer to the Flame that he published in 1993. One of the things that I like about Swindoll's writing is that it doesn't go out of style from one year to the next like many of the offerings of today's uber-hip mass media connected guru pastors that have bubbled up from the ooze over the past 10 years. Swindoll's writing is reasoned, sensible, and ages well. He is humble yet passionate, firm yet tender, with his goal to bring folks into a closer relationship with God. The topic of this book was about the "missing" element of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. Really the Holy Spirit is an aspect of God that many Chrisitians are not particular comfortable with, mostly because they do not really understand what it is all about.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. John 16:7

This verse from the gospel of John was uttered by Jesus during his last few days on Earth. In his cryptic usage of the term "Helper", He was specifically talking about the Holy Spirit that would come to indwell each of His Apostles in order to help build His church. The Helper emboldened Jesus's followers, gave them the ability to speak in languages that they had never known before, and imparted to them supernatural powers to heal the sick and the lame. In short, he gave them great power to do the work that Jesus had charged them to do. Our scripture tells us that once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit immediately indwells us as well. What does this mean? What does it do for us? That is exactly what Swindoll tackles in this book, using Scripture as his guide. He addresses the topics of:
  • What is the Holy Spirit?
  • Why is the Holy Spirit relevant to us today?
  • How does the Holy Spirit work within us?
  • What should our expectations be regarding the Spirit's power?
A simple, thoughtful book that I found very useful for my devotional time.

Monday, August 18, 2014


They advertised Dana Delany but Estelle Getty kept showing up. Confused, frustrated, and angry, I let the continued failures in my attempts at dating get to me. I allowed every let down to chip away at my self-worth and at my small reserve of hope until I gave in. Sometimes drugs, sometimes booze, sometimes cigarettes ... this time, quarts of ice cream. Oh but it tasted good, it soothed, it took the edge off the pain, off the being alone, off the fact that I am getting older and older. The echoes of my loneliness bouncing around the walls of my house, knowing that they would be the only things to greet me when I got home each night. Dinner for one? What else would there be ... could there be?

After a month I found that my companion and steadfast friend had gone, leaving me five pounds heavier, all collected in an unsightly bulge on my tummy. One more thing to look at in the mirror and hate about myself. Yet nobody begrudges the injured man a crutch in his time of need. So I prayed for forgiveness for my doubts, for my blame casting, for my voice raised heavenward in unquenched, blasphemous rage. My trangressions were wiped away and forgotten, my forgiveness received. Though spotless, I still had to face the consequences of what I had sown. Why should I be surprised when there is a price to pay? In fact, I pay it gladly, thrilled to be enwrapped in His arms once more.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Crystal City

The sixth book in the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is entitled The Crystal City and picks up several years after the previous novel Heartfire. For those interested in following this series without gaps in the narrative, Card published two short stories in this series after Heartfire. The first, entitled Grinning Man, is about Alvin's encounter with Davy Crockett as he made his way from the Puritan lands in New England to the midwest. The second is called The Yazoo Queen and is about Alvin's trip in a paddle-wheel boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans with none other than Jim Bowie and Abraham Lincoln. These stories help to more fully develop the characters of Alvin and his brother-in-law Arthur Stuart, and fill in some gaps in The Crystal City that might otherwise feel a bit jarring.

This story follows Alvin as he helps to free some 5000 slaves from New Orleans and lead them to safety in the north. On this journey, Alvin comes to understand that the vision of the crystal city given to him by the Red Prophet was precisely to provide a land for these refugees. The story arc involving Alvin is based on the biblical tale of Moses leading the Isrealites out of Egypt. As the story reaches its culimination, Alvin finally comes to understand the purpose and use of his golden plow, and how he is to go about construction of his crystal city.

As for the novel itself, this was most definitely the weakest in the series. There was little in the way of satisfying character development and the story plodded along without truly satisfying drama or excitement. It seemed as if the story arcs of several major characters were short-changed. It is hard to fully describe, but there was no real crescendo of events and the story telling felt rushed and uninspired. One of the most disappointing aspects of the story is the crystal city itself. Alvin was not give a vision of building a town for the band that he was leading, but a crystal city. The purpose of this crystal city has never really been explained. In fact, the crystal city is apparently not a city at all, but just a single building in this town. The story ended in a rather anti-climactic fashion. Originally, it seems that Card had meant for this to be the end to the Alvin Maker series. However, in some recent interviews, Card has admitted plans to release another book in this series in a year or so tentatively called Master Alvin. He definitely has some work to do to save this series from a disappointing ending.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lord Kelvin

William Thomson was a British mathematical physicist, engineer, and seafarer who lived back in the 1800s. He had a long and storied scientific career, which included notable success in a number of different subfields, including thermodynamics, a physical science concerned with the relationship between heat and energy. After his efforts in contributing to the development and laying of the first trans-Atlantic communications cable, Thomson was knighted. Ultimately, he became known as Lord Kelvin.

An internet search of quotes by Lord Kelvin will likely turn up a few that you might recognize, even if you could not previously relate who they came from. At a recent scientific conference, one of the speakers dressed one of his Powerpoint slides with one of his quotes that gave me pause,

"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science."

The context of this quote was obviously related to what could be termed "hard" science and what separates it from conjecture, speculation, superstition, or philosophy. However, as I continued to consider these words, to roll them over in my mind, it finally occurred to me that they also pertain directly to the issue that so many have with religion. Religion cannot be approached using true scientific inquiry. Seemingly no experiment can ever be devised to conclusively prove the existence of God. Some might then use this to argue that as the basic tenets of religion cannot be tested experimentally, then it must surely disintegrate under the unerring gaze of logic and reason. Some have called religion a crutch for the weak-minded. It wasn't until I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis that I began to appreciate, to recognize how false this line of argument was.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quick Hits 25

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.

Do you think it's ethical for a poor couple to conceive a child knowing that part of their plan is to rely on public assistance for them to get by?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Creature of the Word

I just completed my reading of the book Creature of the Word (subtitled The Jesus-Centered Church) by authors Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. This book, which came recommended to me by a couple of different folks, has as its main theme the notion that many churches have lost sight of their main goal, which is to make every aspect of their existence about the gospel. Whether it is how they approach their sermons, their music, their greeters, their budget, or their community and foreign missions, the gospel must be at the foundation of everything. They state:

"The more a church is tapped into the gospel, the more transformative power will be present by the Holy Spirit in that church. But the more that church gets away from the centrality of the gospel, the more a church will run on fumes, seeing people conformed to a pattern of religion rather than transformed by the Spirit of God."

O.K. fine, this notion is eminently reasonable, so what was it about this book that made me so eager to be done with it once I started my reading? The point is that this book was billed as being written mainly as a tool to help equip church leadership refocus their efforts away from what may be viewed as the grind-it-out day-to-day considerations of operating the business end of the church and doing its usual Sunday show, back to where they should have their full attention, namely on building up the name of Jesus. However, my issue is that this book offers very little in the way of practical steps and clear examples. Too often it falls back on simplisitic statements about faith and the basic story of the Bible. I cannot imagine this approach would lead to pulling in the sorts of folks they are trying to attract.

It seems to me that any church leader would be sorely disappointed if after accepting the premise of this book to have read several hundred pages, wading through heartfelt calls and emotional pleas to make everything about Jesus, only to hit the end and never once be given any concrete advice on how to make this a reality or even where to begin. I really am just left scratching my head over the point of this book and what the authors were hoping to accomplish. Because it was so frustratingly obtuse, impersonal, and bland, I wouldn't even recommend this one as a devotional for private study.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Observations 62

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.
  • There is a guy at work who puts his reflector sun shade on the outside of his windshield. Perhaps he did not read the enclosed instructions?
  • Whenever I don't show up at church on Sunday my pastor always sends me an email to make sure that I am O.K.. It is nice to be missed and to have someone care when you are gone.
  • In the airport the other day I saw a family of five sit together for about an hour while they waited for their flight to board. In this time none of them said a word to any of the others. The entire time each of them, mom, dad, and three kids, had their full attention glued to their phones.
  • There are many words whose meaning I know intimately, yet I struggle mightily to define when someone asks me what they mean.
  • What is it about human nature that always makes men feel the need to jump up and touch signs that hang at arm's length above our heads?

Friday, August 8, 2014


The fifth book in the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is entitled Heartfire and picks up shortly after the previous story, Alvin Journeyman, ended. This series is based in the early 1800s and follows along a fictional timeline just a bit different from what we know from our high school history books. In this version of America, the Indians control the land west of the Mississippi and the eastern part of the continent is controlled by different factions. In the northeast are the Puritans, who have developed what they would consider a more pure Christian society. In the southeast are the Crown Colonies, the remnant of the British empire, ruled by the deposed English monarch. The remainder of the land is made up of the nascent United States. The land is strongly divided along nationality lines, religious lines, and the ongoing tempest marked by those in the south who support slavery and the growing numbers in the north who want the practice abolished.

The main protagonist is a miller's son who was sent away to apprentice for a blacksmith. Alvin Miller, like most people in the land, possesses a sort of knack that allows him to create things and to alter the basic properties of nature. Many folks might not understand their knacks or even realize that they have them. However, Alvin is a powerful maker, whose skills have not been witnessed in many generations. Alvin is a simple, honest, principled man who believes his power is a gift from God and he believes that he is called to use it to help others. Alvin's destiny was revealed to him by an Indian prophet, who showed him that he was to create the Crystal City. As Alvin has no idea of how to proceed, he wanders the land with a small group of friends trying to understand better his powers and how to use them.

The main story arcs follow Alvin as he battles with the Puritans in Boston over their practice of witch trials and their misunderstanding of the knacks that people have. The other story arc follows Alvin's wife Peggy as she pushes her abolishonist views to help free the slaves within the Crown Colonies. She is desperately working to avoid a devastating war over the issue of slavery, but she comes to realize that war may be the only way to bring this institution to its knees. At the same time she is working to help restore a pure heart within Alvin's brother Calvin. Alvin and Calvin grew up as the closest of friends, but Calvin's soul slowly turned dark with rage, with jealousy, and with pride. Yet it still may not be too late to save him. A powerful story that was quite well written. Now, onto the next part of the story in The Crystal City.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

iTunes Latest - 20

Back in December of 2011, I discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • Stranger in Moscow - Michael Jackson (1996) - The gloved one ceased to be relevant musically for me after his album Dangerous in 1991. However, this song from his History album overflows with his pain and hopelessness, written in the aftermath of his legal troubles in the early 1990s.
  • Ghost - Michael Jackson (1997) - Perhaps the last MJ song that I liked. Snappy, irreverant, charging, and fully energetic. The video is a carbon copy of several others that he put out in the 1990s.
  • Clear Blue Skies - Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (1988) - From the wonderful album American Dream, which is consistently strong from top to bottom. This one will set all the tree huggers a-noddin'. This album came out just as I entered graduate school and has a strong association with that period.
  • Hand on Heart - Queensrÿche (1990) - A hard-charging number about the length, width, and breadth of a promise. From the very strong album Empire.
  • Whatever We Started - Richard Marx (2014) - Marx won my heart with his songs Endless Summer Nights and Keep Coming Back, which I consider nearly perfect soulful pop tunes. This song from his most recent album is in that same vein, but touches more deeply when you understand it holds his reminiscences about his recent divorce.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Platform

I was running a bit late to catch my train, however, I just managed to board at Trento station about a minute before all doors were closed and the train was off to Verona. Because the day was already getting hot and I was quite anxious to purchase my ticket and find my way through the sprawling station overflowing with people, I never was able to relax with the time pressure that I was under, even when I finally managed to find my assigned seat and stow my suitcase in the overhead luggage rack. For the next hour my body swayed along with the clackity-clack of the train but I never did find my rhythm. When we arrived in Verona, I still had about a 30 minute wait until my connecting train to Venice arrived.

Given that I had a few moments, I found an empty bench and tried to reclaim a bit of peace, to come back to equilibrium. When I finally came out of myself and looked up, a train to Munich was just getting ready to leave. The conductors at the entrances to the train cars blew their whistles to give the signal to close the doors and the engineer leaned out the window to get a last visual before pulling away from the station. I watched many a tearful spouse, relative, and friend searching to find their loved ones aboard for one last wave, one last blown kiss, one last mouthed goodbye. Some of those on the platform were laughing and joyful, as they shared a final bit of fun with those they were seeing off. Others were anxious and misty-eyed as they said their farewells. I could feel the emotion up and down the platform.

Scenes like these are familiar to all of us. Most of us who have been around for a while have fully experienced the emotions from both sides of the window. Sometimes we are on-board looking out and looking ahead. Sometimes we are left on the platform looking in and looking back.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Alvin Journeyman

The fourth book in Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series is Alvin Journeyman and picks up just where Prentice Alvin ended. Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, living in the early 1800s on the frontier of the newly formed United States. Alvin, like many folks, was born with a special knack. Sometimes these knacks allow for control of fire, water, or even the ability to manipulate people in various ways. Alvin, however, has a unique knack, he is a powerful maker. A maker is essentially one who has the ability to create, and Alvin's entire life has been a quest to understand his destiny. In his year living with the red men in the midwest, he was given the vision of a grand Crystal City. This city was a place of harmony, peace, and love among all of its inhabitants, and stood in marked contrast to the ongoing conflicts between the indians and the white settlers, between the Americans and the British, and between the slave owners and those who believed in equality among men. The vision of this wondrous city is what Alvin believes he was created to build. However, he has no idea of how to proceed or where to begin.

In this story Alvin has completed his time as the apprentice to a blacksmith. The piece that he created as his journeyman project was a farm plow, but a plow that he made of iron and transformed into gold using his knack. However, the plow was not just a solid gold piece of machinery, it was, in fact, a plow made of living gold. Once his smith master came to know of the plow, he brought charges against Alvin. Much of the story involves the trial of Alvin and his relationship with his lawyer, one Verily Cooper, who came from England specifically to meet Alvin and learn about his knack. Against the side of light, Alvin and his friends, looms the side of darkness in Alvin's brother Calvin. Calvin used to adore Alvin, but when Alvin became respected and popular, he felt unappreciated and came to loathe everything his brother stood for. Calvin then traveled long and far to learn the skills necessary to put his brother in his place. Alvin is given a warning of a future conflict with his brother that could destroy everything that he is working toward.

I now move onto the next book in the series, Heartfire, where the now freed Alvin travels the land in an attempt to learn more about how to be a maker and how to go about fulfilling his destiny.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Quick Hits 24

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.

Have you ever had a bad feeling about something out of the blue that caused you to change your plans on a major activity? Something like not getting on a plane because you had a premonition that it would crash?

What do you think?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Prentice Alvin

The third novel in Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series is entitled Prentice Alvin. In the second novel, Red Prophet, young Alvin, seventh son of a seventh son, had been on his way to take up as an apprentice for a blacksmith in a neighboring township. At the outset of his journey, he was kidnapped by a rogue group of indians, who were working for an ambitious, controlling frontier general. Red Prophet was focused on the year Alvin spent with the indians in their conflict against the european settlers. In Prentice Alvin, that chapter has concluded, and Alvin finally reports to begin his training at the forge.

The story takes place in the early 1800s and through the narrative we come to get a gritty taste of life in a small, but bustling town along the frontier of the newly formed United States. Nearly everyone is born with some sort of a special knack. Some might be able to find water in the ground, some may have a skill with manipulating people, some may be able to read minds. Alvin's knack is to be a maker. In fact, the Alvin Maker series is all about Alvin's journey to understand his destiny, which he believes was revealed to him during his time with the indians.

In this story, we see Alvin come into his manhood, as he ages by nearly 8 years. At 19 years old, Alvin has grown into a very gifted blacksmith. But his skills as a smith are nothing compared to his growing ability as a maker. In this story, the townspeople find a slave girl, who had been raped by her master. She escaped with her child before he could be sold off. Little Arthur Stuart has his own endearing qualities, and soon he is bound to Alvin. When two finders show up to reclaim the plantation owner's property, Alvin is forced to move on with Arthur, and Alvin decides it is time to head back home to reconnect with his family. Having risen to the rank of journeyman smith and understanding a bit more about how to go about fulfilling his destiny, Alvin is convinced the task is not his to go alone. He believes that he might be able to train up his family into helping bring his vision into reality.

The next part of this enjoyable tale is entitled Alvin Journeyman and is next on my list.