Monday, June 30, 2008
Getting Veeeeery Sleeeeeepy....
It's hard for me to believe it now, but when I was a kid I had to be FORCED to do two things: eat my dinner and go to sleep. As an adult I'm the exact opposite. Once I do either of those things I basically have to be FORCED to stop.
The worst thing about my current health issues is that I've had a terrible time sleeping for the past week. Between last Monday morning and yesterday evening, I hadn't had more than an hour of sleep at one time. My bladder keeps me in the bathroom day and night, usually three or four times in an hour. There have been a few spells when I've had to go to the bathroom literally every five minutes for two or three hours at a time.
And the pain I'm experiencing keeps me from sleeping, too.
However, last evening I fell asleep and actually stayed asleep from about 7:30 until 10:30. Three hours! Three blessed hours of uninterrupted sleep! I know it doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was a God-send to me last night. When I first woke up again around 10:30 PM, I felt ready to take on the world. That feeling faded pretty quickly, but those three hours of sleep really did me a world of good.
I've been awake since then, though ... like every other night this week. I used to be a night-owl when I was younger, and there was a time when I'd have used this awake-time productively. Instead, this week I've used my surplus waking hours doing things like watching TV, listening to music, and watching YouTube videos and turning them into blog posts.
I've also read about bladder cancer and joined a discussion board for people with bladder cancer ... and I've read a little bit about sleep, sleep deprivation, and dreams.
I took a quiz that's designed to assess how healthy my sleep habits are, and I answered all the questions truthfully, based on my current condition. I didn't provide answers based on my usual sleep habits. According to the quiz, I currently likely suffer from sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome. Whoo hooo! I hit a grand slam!
There are a lot of sites on the net full of interesting info about sleep, such as this one and this one and this one and this one and this one.
Here are some of the interesting trivia tidbits I've learned about sleep, sprinkled liberally with nuggets of BS I made up. Can you tell which of these items are actual facts and which ones are SouthCon hogwash? I'll tell you what's real and what's not in the first comment.
- People who've been blind since birth or very early childhood do not experience sight in their dreams. But blind people who lost their sight at the age of seven or later will still be able to see in their dreams even as much as sixty years after the loss of their sight.
- Sometimes, blind people report dreams in which they've "seen" people or things that they've never seen in real life.
- We all have an internal sleep/wake "clock," though some are more reliable than others. In 1998 there was a study in which scientists shined a light onto the backs of people's knees and this caused them to "reset" their internal "clocks." The scientists still have no idea why they observed this phenomenon.
- Investigations determined that sleep deprivation played a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident.
- The extra-hour of sleep received when clocks are put back at the start of daylight savings time in Canada has been found to coincide with a fall in the number of road accidents.
- The study that lead to the discovery of REM sleep was done in 1953. It had not been done previously because scientists were literally concerned that the study would be a waste of paper.
- Winston Churchill said "You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations."
- The record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes. Nonetheless, you are still likely to die from sleep deprivation sooner than from starvation. A person can go a few weeks without food but can usually only go about ten days without sleep.
- Sleep deprivation has been shown to be a factor in obesity, high blood pressure, and the onset of diabetes.
- People who routinely don't get enough sleep build up a "sleep debt," which is detrimental to overall health. Sleep debt can't be eliminated by getting extra sleep on the weekend. In short, it is impossible to "catch up" on sleep. The only way to eliminate sleep debt is to adjust your schedule and start getting enough sleep every night.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Man, What A Fox!
I want one. Maybe I'll get the package that comes with the deer, too:
In the second clip, when the lady fusses at the grouchy dog, does it sound to you like she calls the dog "Darrell?" That's what it sounds like to me. But maybe I just like the idea of there being more than one grouchy old dog named Darrell on the internet.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Obama: The New Bill Clinton
Can this guy lie with a straight face or what? I mean, my Lord, I'm almost impressed with him! It's no wonder so many people swallow everything he says ... because he says it all really well, even when he's contradicting himself.
I kept waiting for him to say that it depends on what your definition of "is" is.
Of course, most of his followers don't really care about trivial things like consistency, honesty and reliability. It all comes down to "hope." "Hope" and "Change" and "Hopeful Change" and "A Change to Hopefulness" and "Hopeful Changiness," etc, etc, etc.
Wake up, people! This guy is a hair's breath from the White House!
Friday, June 27, 2008
More Bladder Cancer Stuff
I don't go see the urology team at UVA until July 7, but I've been reading a little bit on the net about bladder cancer and the options that are available ... and I've learned quite a lot. Or, at least, I think I have.
There's all kinds of information out there. There are even YouTube videos, like this one:
My urologist had told me that he thought a bladder rebuild would be the best route for me, based on the concern that chemo wouldn't keep the cancer from coming back. But now that I've finally gotten around to doing some research on bladder rebuilds, I'm not so keen on the idea.
Removal of the bladder is called a Radical Cystectomy, and it doesn't just involve removal of the bladder. It also requires removal of the bilateral pelvic lymph nodes, the prostate gland and seminal vesicles. So (if I understand what I've read correctly) all men who have this procedure done are rendered infertile and many of them also become impotent.
I ain't no Casanova ... but I am a normal, red-blooded, heterosexual, married male. The idea of becoming infertile and impotent just a few months shy of my 40th birthday scares the hell out of me. I mean, damn! I didn't think I was even done having kids yet.
And on top of that, many people who've had this procedure done have to use a catheter for the rest of their lives.
I'm kinda confused right now about why my urologist told me that I was a good candidate for a Radical Cystectomy. The thing is, he also told me that my bladder cancer, while substantial, was only on the inner lining of my bladder and not in the bladder wall. I've included a graphic here that I found on the net. If my bladder cancer is on the inner lining and not in the bladder wall, that would be a "Stage 0" cancer (I guess), and not the stage 2 and 3 cancer that usually involves total removal of the bladder. (Again, this is all based on the presumption that I understand the stuff I've read correctly.)
You know, it might not a good thing that I'm reading all this information on the 'net. I might be confusing myself. And, besides, what I'm reading is a mixture of opinion and specific case histories, none of which might be relevant to my case history or to the opinions and/or experiences of the urologists at UVA. But I digress.
The procedure I had done on Thursday (called a Transurethral Bladder Tumor Resection) wasn't entirely successful. They weren't able to get all the cancer. So I'm going to at least have to have another TBTR done at UVA to get the rest of it. After which (if I understand correctly) I'd have the option of beginning the chemo that my urologist doesn't think will be entirely effective.
And that chemo sounds pretty unpleasant, too, since it's administered to the bladder through a catheter. (Man, I never thought the word "catheter" would play such a prominent role in my life at this age!)
Anyway, from what I've read (there's that phrase again), if they're able to get the rest of the cancer with another TBTR, I'll then have to have some chemo and I'll have to go back to be checked regularly. The schedule I saw on one of these websites was something like one check-up every two months for the first two years, then four check-ups a year for the next two years, and then one a year for the rest of my life.
But at least I wouldn't be infertile or impotent ... not yet, anyway. And I wouldn't have to get used to a life-long catheter.
Nonetheless, I thank God that if I had to get cancer, it is bladder cancer. The survival rate is high and gets higher every year. I saw a statistic somewhere on the net tonight that said that a quarter of all men diagnosed with cancer these days are specifically diagnosed with bladder cancer. Who knew?
One survivor I came across has put together an informative YouTube video and has also started a blog about his own experiences with bladder cancer. There is a lot of information out there and even a growing support network on the internet.
I guess I better add a "bladder cancer" label to this blog, by the way. Looks like I'll be preoccupied with this subject for a while.
Oh, yeah ... there's basically no denying how I ended up with bladder cancer in the first place:
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Pain And Preachin'
I had two topics I was going to blog about this evening. Well, I was going to blog about one of two possible topics.
If I had a serious frame of mind when I sat down I was going to write something about having to deal with chronic pain. The cancer/surgery process I'm going through now involves a great deal of constant physical pain ... and I don't do well with pain. My preference is to deal with physical pain by way of a constant stream of narcotics. But doctors don't like to give you a constant stream of narcotics these days. Marcus Welby, where are you when I need you?
These days, you're supposed to deal with chronic pain through any number of processes known collectively as "pain management." Like "anger management" and "self esteem," "pain management" is one of those new-age psycho-babble concepts. It makes health-care administrative types feel good about themselves because they're creating fewer Vicoden addicts, but doesn't really do anything for the guy with the hot coals burning in his lower abdomen. It's difficult to concentrate on closing my eyes and "going to my peaceful place" while running to the bathroom every ten minutes to bleed into the toilet.
So I'm dealing with my pain by taking twice as much actual Vicoden as I'm supposed to. Eventually my prescription will run out and I'll have to figure out something else. Boy, THEN I'll be screwed! But I'll worry about that then. Whoo hoooo!
Anyway, the other possible blog topic for tonight was going to be something about comic-book inspired movies. I've actually written some of that post and saved it as a draft and I thought I might sit down and finish it this evening.
But before I did any blog writing I decided to do some blog reading. And after a few minutes of surfing I noticed that for some reason I couldn't get streaming video to work this evening.
It turns out that it was apparently a Firefox problem, because when I loaded Rhodester's blog into Internet Explorer I was able to finally watch his "Vlog" video.
And when I loaded The Cubical Reverend's blog in Internet Explorer, I was able to watch the three YouTube videos that he posted on the 18th. The three videos were of a shared theme; something to do with irreverent reverends.
I was so effected by those three videos I decided to post them myself. First, there was this old chestnut, the farting preacher:
OK, clearly somebody monkeyed with the audio in that clip. But then there's this guy. The audio on this video is pretty low, you'll have to turn it up to hear it. And if you do so, about a minute and ten seconds into the praise chorus you'll here the preacher just flat out LOSE. HIS. EVER. LOVIN'. MIND.
And then ... there's this guy. Let me make it clear that this video comes with a HUGE LANGUAGE WARNING. I don't know what this guy's denomination is, but I'm guessing it's something like The First Church Of The Divine Gangsta.
Wow. Wow. Just ... wow. Kinda makes Jeremiah Wright come off like Jerry Falwell, huh? I just, I ... uh ... man. What was THAT?
I mean, I was half way through my second viewing of that before I even noticed the haircut.
I'd write more but I just flat out don't know what to say. And besides, it's time to crawl to the bathroom again.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Bass! How Low Can You Go?
So the number of people in our family who own musical instruments that they can't (yet) actually play is now three.
I have an acoustic guitar. It sits in a corner in our bedroom and mocks me. Every time I walk past it it quietly snickers and occasionally whispers "Psssst! Hey! When was the last time you actually picked me up? You might as well have bought a rocket launcher the day you bought me."
My son owns an electric guitar, and to his credit, he does take lessons. I have to wonder, though, if he originally wanted a guitar because of a deep drive to create music or because of another time-honored reason: chicks dig guys who play guitar.
Today Liam became the first person in our family to pursue a future as a bass player. He started talking about wanting to get a bass guitar quite a while ago, but Wendy and I quietly discouraged him. We were afraid that he thought that playing bass would be as easy as playing Guitar Hero, a video game he's actually very good at.
But Liam persisted, and made up his mind that if we wouldn't buy him a bass, he'd by-God buy one himself. So for months every dollar he received from the Tooth Fairy or for a birthday or a holiday, whatever, went into Liam's bass fund. And whattaya know if he didn't eventually save enough money to buy himself a bass. Fed Ex brought it today and he spent some of the evening studiously watching the included instructional DVD and plucking away.
That bass is bigger than he is. But he seems pretty serious about it. Good for him.
Liam got me thinking about bass guitar today, how much I enjoy good bass guitar and how important a good bass player can be in a band. So I did what bloggers everywhere do when confronted with such a topic. I made a top-ten list and even put together a YouTube video.
You can watch it here, a two and a half minute tribute to my ten favorite kings of the bottom end:
Just a bit of explanation ... here's how these ten guys ended up on my list:
- 10: Steve Harris
Steve was the first bass player I ever really noticed. Iron Maiden was my favorite band when I was 14, and like many other 14 year olds, I was initially drawn to my favorite band due to their gnarly lyrics and cool guitar solos. But one day I realized that Steve's galloping bass lines were a big part of the reason that Iron Maiden was so cool.
- 09: Roger Waters
He's probably best known as the primary song-writer and lyricist in Pink Floyd, but Roger's bass playing was a big part of what made up the Pink Floyd sound. Roger's bass sound was thick, though rarely in the forefront of their music. And the more you listen to Pink Floyd, the more you find to enjoy about his playing.
- 08: John Paul Jones
Drummer John Bonham and bass player/keyboard player John Paul Jones were (in my opinion) the best part of Led Zeppelin. I know that Robert Plant's singing and Jimmy Page's guitar work are the things that most Zeppelin fans talk about, but what keeps me coming back is the drums and bass.
- 07: Doug Wimbish
Doug wasn't the original bass player in Living Colour, but I think he was the band's best. His work on the album Stain just blows my mind.
- 06: Robert Trujillo
Fans of Infectious Grooves, Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne were well aware of Robert Trujillo's talents long before he joined Metallica. I remember thinking that he'd be my dream-pick to replace bassist Jason Newstead when Newstead left Metallica. I was thrilled when he got the job, although it remains to be seen if my hypothesis was correct. That hypothesis being that Trujillo's stellar musicianship would force the rest of Metallica to step up a notch.
- 05: Mike Gordon
For a long time I resisted Phish's music because I find the band's fans so repellent. But I was only able to hold off for so long, thanks to the great musicians in the band. Trey Anastasio (guitar) and Page McConnell (keys) are awesome, and they usually distract me from paying attention to Mike Gordon's bass. But when I do pay attention, Gordon always impresses me. It was probably Mike's incredible groove on the song Weekapaug Groove that got me into Phish in the first place.
- 04: Allen Woody
The late, great Woody was a big part of Gov't Mule's original sound. The band has carried on without him since he passed away in 2000, but Woody's presence is still a big part of the band. His bass lines in songs like Thorazine Shuffle and Rocking Horse are some of the first things that really hooked me and turned me into a rabid Gov't Mule fan.
- 03: Simon Gallup
I think that Simon is the only member of the Cure (besides founder and front man Robert Smith)who's been in every incarnation of the band. But I'm not sure, to be honest. The Cure has had so many line-up changes that it's hard to keep track. During the Cure's early days, when the band was a three-piece, Simon's bass playing was a defining part of their sound. In fact, the best thing about some of those early albums (see Faith) is Gallup's bass playing.
- 02: Adam Clayton
I can't imagine U2 without Adam Clayton's moody, melodic, haunting bass sound. Now, granted, Bono and The Edge are the keys to what makes U2 such a good band. I won't deny that. But Adam Clayton's bass playing is always outstanding. His bass parts are tasteful, understated, never showy ... but they're often the best part of any given U2 song. Can you imagine With Or Without You without Clayton's mournful rumble giving the song all of it's weight?
- 01: Vic Wooten
Wooten is godlike. He's amazing. He can do anything with a bass guitar. ANYTHING. His regular gig is the bass player in the Flecktones, but Vic has played with a great many other bands and he's done solo-work, too. I hadn't heard of him eight or nine years ago when Wendy first mentioned him to me, and she encouraged me to check out his bass-solo take on the hymn Amazing Grace. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was when I heard it. Since then Wooten has totally won me over with his versatility and virtuosity. He can do it all; funk, rock, jazz ... Vic Wooten could make a bass guitar stand up and go outside and wash his car if he wanted to.
So there's my list. Keep in mind that it's just a list of MY favorite bass players. And I know that bass fans everywhere could look at my list and take offense. I've left off legendary players like Charles Mingus, Flea, Stanley Clarke, Les Claypool, Sting, Phil Lesh, John Entwhistle, Roger Glover, and Geddy Lee. I'm not trying to knock those guys. There's nothing wrong with any of 'em and they're all good at what they do. But the ten guys listed above; well, that's my list.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Not To Beat A Dead Horse...
I'm sure you guys are getting sick of me talking about my bladder situation, but it is my main preoccupation right now, so bare with me.
I have to go to UVA on July 7th to meet with a urologist down there and figure out what the next step is going to be.
Today my urologist removed the catheter I'd had since my surgery on Thursday (good riddance!) and gave me a disc with digital copies of the pictures from my CT scan to take with me to UVA. I couldn't resist making a copy of the disc for myself and taking a look at the images.
The images to the right are the ones that my urologist showed me before the surgery so I could see the problem for myself. I marked them to indicate where the problem was.
As the image indicates, the big white blob is my bladder and the bright part to the right is the tumor.
The doctor told me that the tumor was taking up 45 percent of my bladder, but it didn't appear to have gotten into the bladder wall yet. I get the idea that this is important with regard to metastasis. Apparently that's not as big a concern because the bladder wall was in tact. You go, bladder wall!
Also the cancer wasn't in the part of my bladder where the kidneys feed into it. Which means my kidneys weren't at risk, either.
I have pictures (taken during the surgery) of the kidney ducts, too. Wanna see 'em? Wanna see 'em? I'll post them at the slightest provocation.
R.I.P. George Carlin
Sometimes he used his comedy to express opinions I didn't agree with, but he always made me laugh.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Dumping The First Junk Of The Summer
Yeah, I guess there's more than one way to look at the pyramids.
You mean he doesn't really enjoy fucschia gardening?
Mom, we need to have an important talk...
This picture makes my head hurt.
A penny saved is a penny drilled.
Oh, to have this as a life-size wall poster.
Labels: Junk Dump
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Fun With Morphine
Morphine, Morphine, what made you so mean?
You never used to do me like you do.
Where's that sweet gal I once knew?
--Gillian Welch, My Morphine
I had my first experience with morphine the other day, after my bladder surgery, while I was in the hospital. I was given a spinal anesthetic for the surgery, and it took several hours to wear off. So while I was still numb from the chest down I felt no pain at all. But when the anesthetic wore off, the pain came on all at once.
All of a sudden, my bladder was on fire with pain.
I asked the nurse to bring me something for pain and she wanted me to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten. I couldn't really think in those terms, so I simply said "Well, it's WAY above a five." That must have been enough for her. She brought a syringe and injected it into my IV tube.
I asked her what I was getting and she told me that it was "synthetic Morphine." I had just enough time to think "Oh, wow, I'm gonna really feel this stuff..." and then WOOSH!
It was like I had hyper-warped across the entire universe and back to where I started in a about half a second. And I felt REALLY weird. I don't know how to describe it, really. I didn't feel like myself, for one thing. And my speech and hearing was strange. It felt like there was some sort of time-gap between when words would form in my mouth and then leave my mouth and then travel to my own ears.
My wife, mother and step-dad were visiting me when I got the morphine and they seemed to be slightly ahead of me in time. It was like I was struggling to keep up with what was going on around me and lagging behind. I kept apologizing and saying I felt like I'd been drugged. Mom reminded me that I had been drugged. I'd asked to be drugged.
For the rest of the afternoon, until the morphine wore off, I constantly felt like I was out of sync with time. I was either slightly behind time or slightly ahead of it. I know that sounds weird, but it's the closest I can come to describing what I felt.
I was also itching all over. Especially my nose. I could NOT get my nose to stop itching.
Oh, yeah, the morphine knocked the pain out completely.
I didn't get morphine again for the rest of the time I was in the hospital. They brought me lower-grade pain-killers when I'd ask for something for pain. And I'm glad, really. I can understand how morphine would be addictive for some people. If you like the experience of having reality chemically altered, you'd REALLY get a sense of that with regular use of morphine.
Here are some fun facts about about morphine from the net:
- German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner discovered how to make morphine from the poppy. He named the drug after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.
- The most common "synthetic morphine" is OxyContin. So I'm guessing that's what I was given in the hospital. I wish I'd asked to be sure, just for my own information. Nonetheless, if it was OxyContin, I can understand why so many people get addicted to it.
- According to FunTrivia.com (and if you can't trust them, who can you trust?) opium and heroin are derived from the same poppy plants as morphine. Heroin is one and a half to two times as strong as morphine. They refused to bring me heroin in the hospital. The nurse was so surprised when I asked for it that I got the idea that they didn't even have any heroin.
- The American Civil War produced so many morphine addicts (over 400,000) that morphine addiction became known as "soldier's disease."
- In the late 1800's, morphine was marketed as Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup, which new mothers were supposed to rub on the gums of teething infants. It promised to settle them down. I'm pretty damn sure it must have worked.
- Actor Bela Lugosi, jazz great Charlie Parker, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the inventor of Coca Cola were all morphine junkies.
- The known side effects of morphine include respiratory depression, constipation, pupil constriction, and that itching I mentioned earlier.
So there you go. I can now add morphine to the list of drugs I've experienced. And I honestly hope to never experience it again. Partly because it's so disorienting. Partly because of that itching. But mostly because I hope I never have pain that's severe enough to warrant the use of morphine again!
Friday, June 20, 2008
Bring On The Medical Marijuana!
Well, OK, no, not really. I do not intend to try to get hold of any prescription pot. But I did have surgery yesterday and it did turn out to be an eventful day. Here's the info, for those of you who are curious ... and let me say right up front that there is more good news than bad here.
So let me get the ugly part out of the way first: It turns out that I do have cancer.
So there it is, the "C" word, which seems to be little more than an eventuality in my family. My mom and my maternal grandmother both got cancer when they were each about five years older than I am now ... and there's been plenty of other cancer cases in my family. So it was really little more than just a matter of time.
And I did bring this on myself, to a large degree. I have bladder cancer, and bladder cancer in men is caused by smoking more often than not. I've smoked for 26 years, so there's that.
Had I admitted on the blog that I'm a smoker? No, I don't think so. I'm ashamed of myself for smoking. I've quit for fairly long periods a few times, but I've always come back to it. Looks like this time I have to quit and stay quit. Period.
And being so out of shape has made things worse, too. Fat guys who smoke are prime candidates for ... well, for a number of ailments, including bladder cancer. And so you get what I have here.
Now the good parts: One, this was caught before it could kill me. My urologist talked to my wife while I was in post-op yesterday and he told her that it's a damn good thing I came in when I did. If it had gone much longer, the prognosis wouldn't be very good. The cancerous mass in my bladder was taking up about 45 percent of my bladder space.
And another good thing to report is that my surgeon was able to get (these are his numbers) 95 to 98 percent of the cancer out of my bladder.
Now this next part isn't really clearly good news ... but I do think it's neat. My urologist says that chemo isn't really practical in my case; he's sure that it wouldn't keep the cancer at bay. What's probably going to happen now is that they're going to remove my bladder and build me a new one. Really! They're going to take a little piece of my intestine and build a new bladder out of it. So I'm gonna be kinda like Steve Austin. Except my new bladder won't technically be bionic. But I do expect it to give me super-human peeing powers.
I spent last night in the hospital and MAN and am I glad to be out of there. There was an old man down the hall from me who apparently needed to talk to his nurse every few minutes AND who apparently couldn't figure out how to push the "Call" button. So what he did was lay in his bed and shout "LAAAADY!" over and over and over and over and over again. After three or four hours of that I was ready to go down the hall and beat him with my catheter bag.
Right now, the worst thing about my situation ... at least, the part I keep focusing on right now ... is that I'm going to miss the next three weeks of work, which means no paycheck. And after the next surgery to replace my bladder I'll miss another long period of work. I hope they're able to do the next surgery soon so that the recovery time will run together instead of being two separate periods of missed work.
But on the other hand, I will get to sit around and be waited on hand and foot for a few weeks. And you better believe I'll milk this for all it's worth. Just don't tell Wendy I said that.
So there's the update. The news was bad but the prognosis is good and the situation will ultimately lead to unavoidable lifestyle changes that will make me healthier in the long run. The smoking has to go and it's time to get serious about exercise.
But not this week. I'm sitting here with a catheter that I'll have to have for the next five days at least, and it is pretty uncomfortable and just plain gross. So, this week I plan to spend some quality time with my couch, putting on my most pitiful face and asking anyone within shouting distance to PLEEEEASE bring me a root beer.
If necessary, I'll resort to shouting "LAAADY!!"
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Book Review: Intensity by Dean Koontz
Hold on a minute before I review Intensity, I need to ramble for a few paragraphs first. I assure you, it's relevant.
I don't read a lot of fiction, I prefer non-fiction. I used to love fiction, but I think I've mostly lost my taste for it. I probably read fewer than ten novels a year, and most of 'em make no real impression on me. (That's novels, long works of fiction, as distinct from books in general. I have no idea how many books I might read in a year.) But, as I said, fiction seldom resonates with me and I usually go back to the biographies, histories and essays that entertain me the most.
My favorite novelist is probably Elmore Leonard. His books go down like candy and I try to read a couple of titles from his catalog every year. Leonard's work is just pure, escapist fun.
Sometimes I'll read fiction if it's by a favorite writer primarily known for non-fiction. C.S. Lewis is probably my favorite writer of any kind, and I raved at the blog the about how much I loved his novel Till We Have Faces. But Lewis's fiction is something else altogether. Lewis used fiction as a vehicle by which to advance the same theological themes and ideas that he put forth in his non-fiction.
And now and then I'll read a Chuck Palahniuk novel if I just want a visceral jolt. Palahniuck's work is seriously weird, but his voice is unlike any other and his best stuff is creative, thought-provoking and rewarding. I admit that I didn't enjoy the last Palahniuck novel I finished, a gruesome satire of reality television called Haunted, but I'd recommend most of his other books (especially Diary and Fight Club) to fans of subversive prose.
Now and then I'll check out a fiction genre that I'm not typically interested in, and that sometimes results in pleasurable reading. When the National Review raved about the sci-fi novel The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, I went out and got a copy. I was glad that I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
I mentioned all of that to explain why I decided to read Intensity by Dean Koontz ... and why I enjoyed it so much.
And I did enjoy it. Very much. In fact, if I'm honest, I turned the last few pages with a huge lump in my throat and immediately told my wife "You've got to read this, I think it's the best novel I've ever read."
I'd always thought of Dean Koontz as a pulp novelist, one of those guys who churns out two or three crappy horror novels a year and never really writes anything worth reading. Then the National Review profiled the guy and I read that article and found out that Dean Koontz
- is a Catholic convert
- is a conservative
- is a dog lover
Hmmm, I thought. Sounds like my kinda guy. I oughta read one of his books. The novel that National Review seemed to recommend most was Intensity, so I picked up a copy.
Here's the plot summary from Amazon:
A young woman staying as a guest in a Napa Valley farmhouse becomes trapped in a fight for survival with a self-proclaimed "homicidal adventurer", and races to warn his next intended victim. Unrelentingly terrifying, this book lives up to its name...
Koontz tamps down on his usual libertarian soapboxing to let the story race; which it does fast enough to give readers whiplash as they hold on to what may end up being the most viscerally exciting thriller of the year...
Turns out that Intensity is EXACTLY the kind of book I like to read. In fact, it's pretty much the perfect book for me.
Intensity is a solid, all-consuming page-turner, like Leonard's best work. Man, I could NOT put this thing down. I know that's a cliche, but it was literal in my case. I carried this book around with me for the past three days and read every time I had a few free moments.
But Intensity is also a book with a lot of theological and philosophical substance. If you like to think about what you're reading, Intensity will give you a lot to like.
The narrative tells us about the two primary characters, the killer and his hostage, primarily through internal monologues. These sequences reveal two characters at diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to issues like love, hate, human nature, and the meaning of life.
Consider what Koontz reveals about his heroine ... and about the world view that her story promotes ... in this passage from Intensity:
For a long time ... she'd known that being a victim was often a choice people made. As a child, she hadn't been able to put this insight into words, and she hadn't known why so many people chose suffering; when older, she had recognized their self-hatred, masochism, weakness.
Not all or even most suffering is at the hands of fate; it befalls us at our invitation. She'd always chosen not to be victimized, to resist and fight back, to hold on to hope and dignity and faith in the future. But victimhood was seductive, a release from responsibility and caring: Fear would be transmuted into weary resignation; failure would no longer generate guilt but, instead, would spawn a comforting self-pity.
Contrast that with the perspective of the killer she's up against:
The Big Lie is that such concepts as love, guilt, and hate are real. Put Mr. Vess into a room with any priest, show them a pencil, and they will agree on its color, size, and shape. Blindfold them, hold cinnamon under their noses, and they will both identify it from the smell. But bring before them a mother cuddling her baby, and the priest will see love where Mr. Vess will see only a woman who enjoys the sensations provided by the infant...
All men and women, in Vess's view, are fundamentally nothing other than animals--smart animals, indeed, but animals nonetheless; reptiles, in fact...
This is the philosophy of Mr. Edgler Vess. He embraces his reptilian nature. The glory of him is to be found in his unmatched accretion of sensations. This is a functional philosophy, requiring its adherent to endorse neither the black-and-white values that so hamper religious persons nor the embarrassing contradictions of the situational ethics of the modern atheist and those whose religion is politics.
While the story is, on the surface, a cat-and-mouse game between a killer and his intended victim, there is much more under the surface. Intensity is also the story of a woman who survived a traumatic childhood by learning to repress, to avoid, to cut herself off from feeling ... and who finds herself forced to assert herself, to risk everything, and to learn to trust in order to save her own life and the lives of others.
And, Intensity is the story of a self-styled pantheist, a man who recognizes that when all is sacred, nothing is sacred. A man who sees life as nothing more than opportunities to experience sensations, and who equates all sensations, with no experience having any more value than any other. Koontz's villian is someone who will literally kill someone to watch the expression on his or her face change. What's interesting about him is that he justifies his homicidal tendencies with a lot of the same language that today's pseudo-bohemians put forth as "enlightenment." There are a lot of "WOW!" moments to be had while reading this book.
The visceral thrills to be had in Intensity are enough to recommend the book on the face of it. But there is much more here if you want it. Intensity is a book with much to offer the amateur apologist, the arm-chair philosopher, and the casual reader who's just looking for a good, tight thriller. Intensity is an ambitious book that achieves everything it's author intended. The book choked me up with a powerful ending, raised goose-bumps on my skin a number of times, and left my mind swimming with thoughts about God, mankind, and the purpose of life. I've never read another novel that satisfied me on so many levels. Intensity is one to own and read and reread. It's a keeper.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Just So's You Know
I'm still alive, everything is cool. Just busy at work and getting ready for surgery Thursday. The golf ball size mass that has been living in my bladder is going to be evicted. Good. I don't like it.
On the urging of a reviewer I trust I'm reading the first Dean Koontz novel I've ever read, Intensity. I have to say, much to my surprise, this book is really, really good. Good on a number of levels. It's an actual book, not pulp, with subtext and character development and an engrossing plot and subtlety and a lot to recommend it. I look forward to writing an enthusiastic review when I finish it, as long as it doesn't come apart in the last 80 pages.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
You Know My Politics ...
... but this item from The Onion really, REALLY, REALLY cracked me up.
People throw the acronym LOL around a whole lot. But the Onion literally does make me laugh out loud. I laughed out loud while reading this article more than I did while watching the entire Onion Movie recently.
Others speculate that Cheney crossed into Virginia two years ago and has been roaming the remote foothills of the Appalachian backwoods.
Hey, that's my stomping ground. I'll keep my eyes open.
Click Here ...
- ...for some really cool looking desktop wallpapers.
- ...for seventeen free, downloadable graphic novels.
- ...to get, uh, Kiss-rolled?
- ...for the weirdest news item you'll probably read today.
- ...to revisit your first computer.
- ...directly below, to see what happens when you leave your parrot in front of the TV with MSNBC left on:
Monday, June 09, 2008
Movie Review: Michael Clayton
Michael Clayton is a lawyer who specializes in loop holes. His firm calls him in when a client needs to get out of trouble in any way possible. In this movie we meet him at a cross-roads, as he's begun to ask himself some difficult questions about his life. Then a colleague suffers an emotional collapse that jeopardizes a big-money corporate law suit, and Clayton finds himself playing an important role in a series of startling events that he can't control.
- Great direction and a stellar script.
- All the performances are strong.
- A believable, powerful conclusion.
- You have GOT to pay attention to this film. That's not really a "con" at all, but some viewers might find the movie frustrating.
- One or two scenes were a bit too conventional for an otherwise original film.
4 on a 5 scale. Much, much better than I had expected.
I simply had no intentions of seeing Michael Clayton. A number of things sent up red flags for me about the movie. All the big-time Hollywood critics loved it, and it's often a bad sign when they fawn over a movie using keywords such as "corporate America," "crisis of conscience" and "George Clooney."
I've been inoculated to seeing flimsy movies that are really little more than thinly veiled left-wing sermons. You see, In the past I've let liberal film critics lead me astray on more than one occasion. I've sat through holier-than-thou, high minded leftist crap such as The Contender and The Dead Poet's Society and Brokeback Mountain. The critics praised 'em, I watched 'em, and then I felt robbed of money and time. Those aren't movies, they're left-wing screeds with sloppy, pseudo-narratives thrown in to justify their existence.*
So I've learned the signs and memorized the red-flag words, and it was a safe bet that Michael Clayton was just this year's Syriana. That is to say, a piece of hollow propaganda with no redeeming qualities.
But then a film-reviewer who's opinion I've come to value praised the film, and I gave it a second thought. Tonight, after having actually watched Michael Clayton, I find myself ready to admit that it's a fine, smart, worthwhile piece of cinema. It's a movie ... an honest-to-goodness movie ... heck, it's even one of the better ones from last year ... and it's well worth your time.
There is much to recommend Michael Clayton. The screenplay and direction (both by Tony Gilroy) are tight as a drum. There's hardly a wasted scene, there isn't one dead-end development, there's not a single superfluous line of dialogue. As a matter of fact, if you (like me) have gotten lazy because of movies that hand every story progression to you on a silver platter, consider yourself warned: This movie demands that you pay attention. Be sure and hit the pause button if you dash to the kitchen for a Coke.
Thankfully, Gilroy's actors rise to the challenges of his script. George Clooney, in the title role, gives one of his typical Clooney-esque performances. But this is a role that calls for a Clooney-esque performance. Clayton is a guy who has gone about as far as good looks and charm can take him, and is now just beginning to realize that somewhere along the way he forgot to do anything substantial with his life. One scene in particular, involving a conversation between Clayton and his young son about Clayton's layabout brother, might be the best single scene in Clooney's career.
Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack are good, too. But Tom Wilkinson nearly steals the entire movie from all of them as Arthur Edens, a bi-polar corporate lawyer who experiences a moment of clarity so sharp and painful that it causes him a nervous breakdown. Tom Wilkinson has been very good in everything he's done this decade ... from In The Bedroom to Batman Begins to The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. With Michael Clayton he's really solidified my opinion of him as one of the best actors working today.
There are a couple of predictable moments. I saw a certain "bet you're surprised to see me alive" scene coming a mile away, and a couple of scenes involving two hired guns seemed a little implausible to me. But even those elements are slight complaints compared to how much Michael Clayton does well. I brushed the mild flaws off and the movie made them up to me readily.
Over the last few years there has been a flood of liberal movies. I've learned to sniff 'em out, and I stayed away from films like Lions For Lambs and and Rendition and Good Night And Good Luck and on and on and on. Those movies tanked at the box office and I felt validated. But I blew the call with Michael Clayton. This isn't a screed, this is a tight, smart, thoughtful film. If you appreciate that kind of thing, you'll enjoy this movie.
* - I'm not opposed to movies with liberal messages on principle. I can name a number of liberal films that I've loved, including Dr. Strangelove, Dead Man Walking, Norma Rae, Apocalypse Now, and Dances With Wolves. But when a movie has an insultingly bad plot and clearly exists just to advance a political position, I always feel ripped off. I'd feel the same way about preachy conservative films ... if there were such a thing.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Animal Crackers N' Soup
We went to the National Zoo in DC yesterday. We had a groovy time. If you're inclined to do so, you can see the pictures we took at our Picasa page.
It was really hot yesterday. Dear Lordy, Lord-A-Mighty was it ever hot. Which is why, after we left the zoo, when we stopped for some McDonalds, this incident seemed kinda funny:
Friday, June 06, 2008
Spike Lee Is Still An Idiot, Eastwood Is Still Awesome
I've been saying for a long time ... and for four years in blog form ... that Spike Lee is an asshole. And it isn't really necessary for me to make that point, since Lee makes it himself constantly.
Here's the scoop on Spike's latest blather-fest...
It seems that Spike has issues with the two movies that Clint Eastwood has made about The Battle of Iwo Jima. And ... brace yourself, this is gonna be a huge shock ... Spike's issues with the movies revolve around race. According to Spike
"There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint.... That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version.
"It's not like [Eastwood] could say he didn't know. It was a conscious decision not to have any black people."
Eastwood, as I've noted a number of times here at the blog, is a hero of mine. And not just because he makes good movies. Eastwood is a pretty damn smart guy:
Speaking about black troops on Iwo Jima, Eastwood said, "But they didn't raise the flag. The story [was] ... the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn't do that. If I put an African-American actor in there, people'd go, ‘This guy's lost his mind.' I mean, it's not accurate. ... When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people.
"A guy like [Lee] should shut his face."
BOO-YAH! You gotta love a guy who makes a lifetime of great movies, threatens to kill Michael Moore and tells that idiot Spike Lee to shut his face.
Of course, Lee has continued to twist words and history, still insisting that there should have been black actors in a story about people who weren't black, but Eastwood is adamant that historical accuracy trumps political correctness in his films:
"What are you going to do, you gonna tell a f***ing story about that?" Eastwood ranted. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is."
At first, Lee said he'd take "the Obama high road" and not respond with anger. ("The Obama high road?" That alone is worth a laugh.) But, of course, a guy like Lee can't hold back his spite for long. So he let loose:
"First of all, the man is not my father and we're not on a plantation either," (Lee) told ABCNEWS.com. "He's a great director. He makes his films, I make my films. The thing about it though, I didn't personally attack him. And a comment like 'a guy like that should shut his face' -- come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there."
Ah, damn. Where do I begin?
- Spike, not everybody who tells you to shut your face is trying to put you on the plantation. Clint didn't say "Shut up, boy" or anything like that. Quit looking for racism in your bellybutton, you f***ing imbecile.
- And what do you mean "on the plantation?" Unless you're 170 years old or so, you've never been on a plantation. What the hell do YOU know about plantations? Quit co-opting the experiences of people who've been dead for decades and decades. No matter how hard you might have had it, you've never had it as hard as someone who was forced into slavery. You f***ing imbecile.
- You're damn right Clint came off like an angry old man. He's 78, so, yep, he's an old man. And he was angry because a f***ing imbecile named Spike Lee criticized him without having any understanding of the issues at hand.
- Spike you've made two ... exactly two ... movies that qualify as great. Eastwood has made more genuinely great films than I can begin to count. So once you actually shut your face you should open your ears and your mind and try to learn something from Eastwood. There are too many crap movies like Inside Man, She Hate Me and Girl 6 on your resume for you to be critiquing Eastwood. You. F***ing. Imbecile.
I guess that about does it.
See, I just gotta rant about these things from time to time. I'm glad I rediscovered blogging!
Thursday, June 05, 2008
George Brownridge Is THE MAN!
Movie Review: The Onion Movie
Random, frequently vulgar sketch comedy that satirizes the news, the media, and American culture.
- Much of the same smart irreverence that makes The Onion the funniest site on the internet.
- Several big, BIG laughs.
- A number of sketches fall flat.
Two and a half or maybe three stars on a five scale. Fans of the website will enjoy much of it.
As I recently mentioned in a comment to Rhodester, I can't imagine going back to life without the internet if only for two reasons: my addictions to the IMDb and The Onion. The IMDb, of course, is the Internet Movie Database, a film-lovers invaluable resource. The Onion, a news-parody website, is consistently the funniest, best written humor site on the internet.
In 2003, the good folks behind The Onion website made The Onion Movie, a sketch comedy film in the meandering, crude tradition of films like The Kentucky Fried Movie or the mid-80's cult hit, Amazon Women On The Moon. Like those movies, The Onion Movie is extremely adult fare, with most of the sketches involving crude language and/or visual gags. And, like those two older films, The Onion Movie doesn't have quite enough good material to stay consistent for it's entire running time. It's a little better than either of those films, though, because the parts that are funny are howling, knee-slapping, tears-streaming funny. Credit the writers who make the website such a consistent joy.
The film sat on a shelf from 2003 until earlier this year (when it was released on DVD), apparently because it's distributors had no idea what to do with it. The movie is said to have offended a number of test audiences, and I'm not surprised by that. Much of the humor here is intended to fly in the face of political correctness. Gags involving minorities, women, terrorism, religion and even the handicapped are here by the ton.
Like 2006's Borat, another crass and random comedy that I loved, The Onion Movie holds nothing sacred. Anything and everything is plucked for parody, especially those people and institutions that take themselves very seriously. The Onion Movie doesn't deliver as much yuck-for-the-buck as Borat, but when this movie made me laugh, it made me laugh really, really hard.
Some of the sketches are dead-on. One of my favorites involve an armed gunman who goes into a bank to steal a job. Then there's a young pseudo-urban white guy who wants to come off black, until he's actually mistaken for a black man. I laughed at a parody of Stephen Seagal films (staring Seagal himself). Best of all, a running segment during which film critics dissect the movie itself while it's in progress really takes the vinegar out of movie critics. Even amateur ones like me.
Other sketches don't really work. A Britney Spears send-up is soooo ten minutes ago. A sketch about home computers just seems as outdated as the older PCs it mocks. A running gag wherein the Onion's TV news anchor does battle with his parent company, ala Network, is just a reminder that the classic Network is a MUCH smarter, MUCH funnier film. And, to be honest, even that funny Steven Seagal sketch is revisited a few too many times.
The movie's big ending, an attempt to tie all the disparate elements together into something that makes sense, doesn't work very well either. But the film's brief running time (about 80 minutes) didn't give me time to really get bored, and the brilliant sketches are spaced fairly evenly, insuring a big laugh every ten minutes or so. If you're a fan of the brilliant Onion website, this one is worth a rental. It's not as good as the Onion website at it's best, but it's probably better than whatever sitcom you might otherwise watch tonight.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Book Review: Three Weeks In October
Sometimes you're better off knowing next to nothing about your heroes.
Like a lot of people, especially those of us who live remotely close to Washington DC, I was obsessed with the news during the beltway sniper killing spree in October, 2002. I followed the story compulsively, and I got used to seeing Montgomery County Maryland's police chief, Charles Moose, on television.
Over the three weeks of the hunt for the sniper, I became a fan of Chief Moose. There was something about the guy that struck me as very genuine. I sensed a weariness about him whenever he gave statements to the press, and I had the impression that the guy was just living on the job, day and night, until the sniper was caught.
I remember seeing him tear up when he announced that the sniper had shot a child. That moved me. And I liked that he was willing, on more than one occasion, to chastise the press for broadcasting and/or printing stories that could have jeopardized the investigation. Charles Moose struck me as a no BS kind of guy. I liked him.
You can watch a short clip of one of his statements to the press at the beginning of this episode of the Charlie Rose Show:
So I was pretty enthusiastic when I recently bought a paperback copy of Moose's book, Three Weeks In October, his highly autobiographical account of the search for the Beltway Snipers. I read the book ravenously at first, and then with increasing distaste and unease as, over the course of the work's 300-or-so pages, Charles Moose revealed himself to be a real butthole.
Moose has had his detractors since the days when the manhunt for the snipers was still ongoing. I've always been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to his police work. For one thing, anyone leading that kind of investigation is just bound to be scrutinized beyond belief. Even if he'd handled the case perfectly, there would have been those for whom his work wasn't good enough.
What bothered me about the book ... and came to bother me about Moose himself ... was the book's focus on Moose's obsession with race. Moose is, unfortunately, apparenlty one of those guys who could find racism in a can of iced tea.
Now, when a black person makes a charge of racism, I'm inclined to give them some benefit of the doubt initially. I've never been black, I've never been a minority of any kind, and I don't know what it's like to be a victim of race-based oppression. Lots of black people have been oppressed over the years, and racism continues to be a serious problem in the world ... and in more ways than one.
But Moose talks about finding racism in every little inconvenience in the world. If he has to wait in line, he's a victim of racism. If someone cuts around him in line, he's a victim of racism. If someone chastises him when he shows up at the station out of uniform, he's a victim of racism. This is the kind of guy who makes Nat X look like a pussy cat.
And as I found out after I finished the book, by reading another review, this dude is seriously sue-happy, too.
And it gets worse. Moose's accounts of his actual police work left me scratching my head, too. Moose talks about posting police officers at schools, knowing full well that it wouldn't make any positive difference, purely as a matter of PR. Wouldn't that resource have been better used in the investigation itself? And when the two snipers, John Muhaamad and Lee Malvo, were finally arrested, Moose talks about how he took the calls with that information from his bed and chose to stay in bed. He justified that by saying that it would have been insulting to his force if he'd gotten up and came in during the arrest. Whatever. All I could ask myself was "How the HELL does the leader of that investigation just STAY IN BED when the arrest is finally made?"
Granted I'm not a cop, and I don't pretend to believe that I could have done a better job than Chief Moose. Still, I have to think that it speaks to a serious defect in his leadership that he worried about PR during the largest manhunt in American history. Finding out about his thought processes and legitimizations made me seriously doubt that he's the no BS guy I thought he was.
Later in the book, Moose devotes an entire chapter to his ruminations on the fact that the two snipers were black men. Moose has bought ... and even promotes ... the hype that black people are somehow mostly immune from the evil that causes people to become serial killers. It's not true, and a police chief should know better. Any one of us, regardless of race, religion, creed, etc ... might be capable of tremendous good OR unspeakable evil. It's part of the human condition.
If you're looking for a book about the demanding, exacting police work that eventually lead to the arrest of the Beltway Snipers, keep looking. Three Weeks In October is not that book. The book didn't satisfy any of my own curiosity about the case. Instead, it tainted my appreciation of a guy I'd once admired quite a bit.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
A New Face
A few weeks ago I allowed the pro-feline lobby here at the house to talk me into getting a cat.
I'm not a cat person. I'm a dog person, as I've made clear at the blog. But Wendy and the kids like cats, and so it was put to a vote, and then it was vetoed, and then my veto was overturned. A small, gray, year-and-a-half-old cat was adopted from the local humane society and added to our two-dog home.
The cat's name was changed a number of times. First it was Makoto, a name given in honor of an athlete from a Japanese TV show that Wendy and all three kids love. That name didn't stick for a number of reasons. For one thing, Makoto is actually a male name, and this is a female cat. For an other thing, I could never remember the name and often referred to the cat as Kimono, Komodo, Tornado, etc.
Then the cat's name became Sophie, a name that always seemed kind of "Eehh" to everyone here.
For the record, I wanted to name the cat Turnip. I lost that bid in a debate that went something like this:
Me: We should name the cat Turnip.
Everybody else: Why? That's a terrible name for a cat.
Me: It's a perfect name. After all, she is a gray cat.
Everyone Else: But turnips ARE NOT gray!
Me: They are eventually.
I thought the logic was bulletproof, but Wendy and the kids shot it down.
So the cat's name became Sascha, for reasons I'm still not sure of.
After the initial period of adjustment as Sascha and the two dogs got used to each other, she eventually got comfortable in her new home and got in the habit of coming upstairs and depositing herself on my belly as I reclined in front of the TV.
So I got used to the tiny, gray ball of fur sleeping on my belly, purring quietly. I got used to it, and I kinda got to like it.
Now I look forward to it.
Sascha is still a cat, clearly inferior to dogs ... but she'll do.
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