Enjoy as many of the holidays as the waning of the calendar may bring your way.

We shall return in the new year.

Penultimate Post

Time to travel a bit before the calendar turns another notch in our collective lives. I am off to Las Vegas in a few days for some time with a mini-quorum of my poker buddies. Will also be catching up with a lot of former poker media friends at the WPBT Winter Classic. All-in-all a week to ten days in the desert.

After Vegas I will not be immediately returning to the Berkeley apartment because a major remodeling process will begin while I am in Las Vegas; considering the holidays the entire project will take about a month and then I will be re-inhabiting a very upgraded living space. I have been packing and moving out for the last week or so; yet another opportunity to divest myself of accumulated stuff.

So after the time in the desert, I suspect I will return to the Bay area, check on the state of the construction in the apartment and then do some holiday visitations. Weather will be a big determining factor for where I will be mid-month, I really want to position myself for a clear view of the solstice lunar eclipse on the 21st.

Also my friends in Mt Shasta will be heading off to visit relatives and I am once again the house/cat-sitter designee. So at some point I will make the northern trek to Siskiyou County where I will remain until after the new year hath dawned on what I suspect will be a very fluid 2011.
photo: another NASA moon

A Black Ballet

I don't know what it was that day perhaps the blustery wind or the off-and-on rain. The Bay was churned an eerie pale green. But it was the crows that told me it was an out-of-the-ordinary day. I often see the flights of blackbirds playing between my windows and the nearby Bay. As many as a score soaring together or several pairs sometimes a foursome then two couplets. I had thought for several weeks that they were perching on the roof just two floors above me, why else would they heighten their flight as they approached my view, most times they simply flew around my tower.

A strong gust of wind pummeled the window drawing my sight up from the screen; six perhaps seven crows were being blown towards me. They all kilted their wings at the same moment and arched up to be carried just a few feet above the roof, had they stayed in that turn they would almost immediately reappear high above my view, but they did not. They must have landed on the roof deck, today would be the day to check for their presence.

Still staring out to the Bay suddenly three black flashes swooped through my view, they had perch on the roof's edge and then leapt off into the strong updraft along the buildings face. They plummeted mere feet from my window and then soaring upward yards further away. Another pair did the same but pulled out of their fall almost immediately and were for a moment suspended six feet in front of my eyes.

A had a few moments to language my awe when the final bird glided out in a long, slow arch straight towards the west. This final flyer raises a ruckus with sharp, piercing caws that seem to draw the other crows up as they formed a flight of five, then eight, then many birds. Several blocks from my view, halfway to the Bay there stands one lone group of pines taller than all the rest, the flight wheeled around tight around those trees and did not come out on the other side. Clearly, it was intermission.
art: "Crows in Flight" by Ron Jones


The Landlady demands a monthly post about the view or the rent goes up.

Yes every single evening.

This is the view when I lift my eyes from the laptop.

the sun slips further south each evening...

All dinner reservations are "after sunset"

A few minutes after this shot the clouds went dark red, the reflection turned the fog layer on the bay light pink for just a few incredible moments. Alas my camera could not capture that light

Even the cloud cover is cool.

San Francisco open your golden gate

Penchant for Penguins

An extremely astute (and possibly OCD) reader noticed several penguin references recently, so I guess I should fess up. In the 70s & 80s I had a penguin thing. I collected penguins of all kinds but I also read a lot about them in both contemporary and scientific literature. Yes, I had a thing for Opus but mostly because Berkeley Breathed endowed him with many characteristics I could relate to, particularly the little feathered fellow's distain for all things scatological.

In the winter of 1980 I even went to Antarctica (it was summer there) saw many different species of penguins and other animals, including a single rookery of over three-quarters of a million brooding penguins. When I moved to San Francisco in 1991, I only unpacked about a quarter of my collection, ten years later when I left the City, I gave away many of my favorite artifacts to friends and shipped the remainder to another collector. It is always heart warming for me to visit friends around the country and see a single piece of my old collection gracing a mantle or acting as a door stop.

These days I collect absolutely nothing of material form or space. Words are my medium and they can exist quite easily in the vacuum of cyber-space. I will be visiting my lonely storage locker in the next several weeks, if I can easily lay my hands on the photo album I will post a thirty year old photograph of me and a gang of Antarctic penguins.


[Addendum: my gobblefest gathering is today -- Friday, so this post remains relevant for some of us until tomorrow when I shall address a bird of a different feather. . . ]

Myron, Rascal and Java

This has been a rough month on my friends who are cat lovers. Amy & Eric lost Java; Dan and his whole family said goodbye to Myron; Pat had to part with Rascal. I always tell my family and friends exactly what I want to be reminded of when I lose a long time feline companion.

Cats illuminate our lives, they bring a particular brand of love into our homes. You know you deserve it when they sleep with you undisturbed by a cough, a breath or a tear.

We allow them to have longer, healthier and we hope happier lives but we do so knowing that nature would surely have taken them sooner without our protection, so in the end our responsibility is to thank them for the joy by not letting them suffer. Sleep well my friends and thank-you Java, Rascal and Myron.

Morning Has Broken

There was a full moon visible over San Francisco Bay this morning just after dawn. Before dawn I had noticed a ever so slight glow in the cloud cover and remembered the full moon that had been completely obliterated last night would not be setting until late this morning. Then just after dawn the cloud cover opened to reveal a bright shiny orb. 

A few minutes after I snapped that shot, the clouds closed again. We shall assume the moon sank from view even without benefit of human confirmation.

I wanted to remind everyone one last time before I take a blog break that there will be a total lunar eclipse on December 21st, should make for some energetic solstice celebrations. I will be somewhere in Northern California about that time, depending on the overcast predictions I may try to position myself for a clear view of the lunar blackout.

Oh and have a big bird on Thursday or Friday or whenever you gather with your creche.

Rainy Sunday Street Scene

Still trying to get my meds balanced, the consequences of applying the pain patch too close to ingesting a muscle relaxant is apparently a nap. Yesterday, a grey saturday, I nodded off in the early evening only to wake up in what I thought was the middle of the night. There was to be no going directly back to sleep, so I snapped on the reading lamp and dove back into The Historian. Sometime later I heard the too loud talking from eight floors below, a gaggle of Cal students headed back to campus from a night of partying. A weekend annoyance that must really bother lite sleepers. 

But wait . . . the parties break up between midnight and two, it must not be the middle of the night after all. I started to check the time and then let it go, who cares -- I have a book and a quilt, what matters the parsing of the night. 

Some time later I nodded off. When I awoke again it had turned light, well grey actually and moist. Sunday was going to be rainy and dim -- some of my favorite weather. I lay in bed looking out on the the seamless sky, my mind drifted to a scene I had written yesterday where I mentioned a character's stance on breakfast. I wrote that he was "not a big bacon and eggs man." Neither am I but that sure sounded good on this particular morning. So I rolled out, donned some sweats and with a peremptory face splash and tooth scrape I was off to the market. The dashboard suggested it was 7:45 and 52 degrees, no mention of the rain, I clearly need a more technologically advanced mode of transportation, one that can tell me when its raining.

I ducked under the store awning and grabbed a outlier cart. There was a street guy neatly arranging all the other shopping carts and telling the universe -- "It ain't no right weather for a dog, no dignity in being rained upon." I pondered that bit of wisdom in the produce aisle and decided it was well worth a dollar when I left the store. Street wisdom is a commodity that should be rewarded.

Not a lot of shoppers early on a rainy Sunday, I grabbed only the basics: eggs, bacon, bread and chocolate. One check stand open, the only other customer handing her check and ID to the checker. There was a three or four minute technical issue with getting the computer to accept her check for $12.01, which included two dollars cash back. While the clerk struggled with the scanner, the customer told us how much of an accomplishment she consider it to actually get herself out of the house on "such an awful day." She was quite fashionably dressed in 1950's school marm, with black horn-rimmed glasses and the mandatory hair bun; not to mention that rain equated with awful and she wrote a check for two dollars cash back. Oh she was going to make it into a story for sure, a living breathing archetype.

The manager floated by, punched a few buttons solving the check issue and the flow of commerce began anew. A change of clerks slowed my checkout by a minute or so, when I was again outside under the awning, headed for my chariot, I saw her and the street guy by her car. He was too close, she had her hands drawn up under her chin, arms tight to her chest. Shit! Sometimes being the large, white male who does the right thing is just a pain in the ass.

I set my bag on the hood of my car and walked towards them.

"I think you're frightening her."

"We just talkin'."

"I don't think she wants to talk in the rain."

"Dis is none of your business."

"How about five bucks to leave her alone?" I snapped the bill in my hand.

"I ain't no fuckin' beggar!" He turned aggressively toward me, then immediately lowered his voice, cowering his head. He had instantaneously converted to ultra-submissive. Before I could sort it out, she pointed over my shoulder and said: "Police."

I glanced back and two Berkeley uniforms were headed our way.

"Is there a problem?"

I turned back to my groceries, "She can fill you in," I said.

"Sir, we need citizen complaints to take any action against violent offenders."

"He wasn't violent towards me, but as I said, you might want to speak with her."

I wasn't about to parse the interaction between those two psychological complexes. I mean two dollars cash back, really? Besides there were bacon and eggs waiting not to mention a grey, rainy day to enjoy.
photo from a Sam's Club in China

Message in a Bloggle

I have been giving feedback to a friend about a new blog she is participating in. There are several contributors and right now while they are already adding content, they are also wrangling over the look and feel of the website as well as the explanatory text for potential visitors. My continuing comment to them has been: "Who is your audience?" after you answer that question then I ask: "Do you think you have reached them?"

Insider comments and ambiguous text at the beginning invariably means you lose some readers at the outset, which is fine if you really want only the insiders who "get it." The problem is too many cliches and everyone begins to feel like they are reading text without the secret decoder ring. Just because you know it and even consider it common knowledge doesn't make it so. 

Always, always, always be considerate of your audience otherwise you are writing to yourself and as I have told my agent many times: "I don't need to write the stories down for myself, I have already experienced them many times over. I will only take the energy to put them on paper if someone else might benefit from them."

So today a wee bit of un-decoded message from me today, all of it contained in the artwork at the top. Just enjoy the picture, all but one of you. I will say that I really miss the fall season, I am going to attempt to plan my wanderings better so that I may be in the midwest or northeast for as many falls as possible in the future. The colors, smells and temperament of the season just resonates with my soul. I really enjoy the Bay Area all year round but the fall simply lacks in birch, maple and oak.

Stubborn Slime Stains

For some time I have been considering writing a political blog. Either starting another completely new blog with fair warning that it will be completely political or dedicating one day a week here to a political posting. My reasoning goes something like this:

Nearly anything I hear out of the mouth of a politician, a lobbyist, a cabinet member and most certainly a political personage in the media is a lie. Politics lives on lies. Some are willing to call it spin or even "politics as usual." I prefer the slightly more pure analysis when I call it "lies, damned lies and statistics."

One problem I have with this idea is that I will probably need to reconnect myself to the contemporary political conversation. For the past 20 years I have been able to remain on the periphery only catching what drifts by on the wind. One simply has to detect the rancid smell of an approaching political utterance and listen for just a moment to detect the falsification. However, if I dedicated any portion of my writing time to politics I am going to need to reengage with the swill. I really don't like the feeling of needing to sterilize my keyboard after reading more than a single political blog.

The good news is that I have as much trouble with Michael Moore as I do with Glenn Beck. No one actually uses the facts to make their point. I remember so clearly hearing an attack ad on George W. and thinking -- Why would they make up something about him, he says so many incredibly stupid things, why not just play the tape?

In the recent race for governor here in California, the democrats made a big deal of a major newspaper saying of Meg Whitman (the defeated GOP candidate) that she had "a loose relationship with the truth." Don't they get it? The voters all believe that to be the very definition of a politician. Just about the only position worse than actually being a politician is being a voter who actually believes in either of the two parties cancerously alive in Amerika today.

You know I really needed to get this down on cyber-paper, if only to remind myself what I really think about the state of the political debate today. Fear not fair readers I have once again talked myself out of reentering the world politics, they just don't make enough soap to wash off those stubborn slime stains.

Sky Watching: the Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight.

Year of the Tiger

We are in the waning months of the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which ends February 2, 2011. The tiger is the largest of the earth's felines, the biggest of the big cats can top 600 pounds. Of course, like any wonderous species they are endangered largely due to pouching in their natural habitats throughout Asia.

According to the World Wildlife Fund there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. (5,000) than there are alive in the wild. Regulation of captive big cats is so lax that there is no official count of their numbers worldwide nor are they protected from the trade in animal parts that has devastated the wild population. 

But I don't want to sound like the last two minutes of every nature show. Tigers are gorgeous creatures, if you want to help them thrive -- Save the Tiger fund is a well respected organization.

By the way February 3, 2011 marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.

Did the Suicidal Nut Job Change Your Day?

I apologize for that headline, the man being referenced is officially "mentally unstable," it was cruel and heartless of me to refer to him as a nut job. It seems in response to family issues he took his SUV, armed with red flashing lights (security guard) onto the Bay Bridge early this morning. He then stopped in traffic, got out with a handgun and a cell phone and proceeded to call police and a radio station, his actions caused the bridge traffic to be shut down for several hours. He eventually threw the gun into the bay and surrendered to police.

Tens of thousands of commuters had their days changed. Workers were late to the office, students missed classes, dentist appointments had to be rescheduled, someone leaving San Francisco in a U-Haul truck intent on moving back to the midwest felt the hand of the god of traffic telling them not to go. I missed breakfast with my friend M who was coming over from the City, she eventually just gave up and turned back. I took an uncommonly early shower but I got the text message while still dripping and nekkid, so at least I didn't waste a change of clean underwear. I just put on a just laundered cotton writing outfit and went back to my current story and vowed once again to have my big mental break with reality while out in the forest alone. 

If you have an existential crisis in the woods, does anyone hear your soul searching?

Two notes for locals and architectural historians:

Note #1: Yes this did happen Thursday morning, not actually today. But I already had a post up on Thursday and I really hate to double-dip.

Note #2: Did you take a close look at the photo up there at the top? Notice anything missing? The shot is from 1935 during the construction of the Bay Bridge and not only are there still a few lights to be installed, the double deck of the bridge itself had not yet been bolted into place. And commuters thought Thursday morning was a tough ride.

Think For Yourself

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I seldom queue my blog posts, generally I write within 24 hours of making them public. But I do keep a file of potential topics filled with ideas for future posts or issues that needs some research before I expound. Earlier this fall (Sept. 6th, 8th10th) I put up quote inspired posts. I had gone through my cyber-stock of quotations and pulled out four that tweaked my fingertips; I then produced three posts and one draft. That draft has sat here in the blog queue for two months; every week or so I post-date it by another week and then it rolls around again and I shove it into the future again. Clearly I want to say something but I also just didn't seem ready.

The quote I am kicking around is the one by Goethe above:
There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.

Which sounds a bit like #99 on my 100 Things About Me:
I have one prejudice; I abhor voluntary stupidity.

Last week Monday I spent an afternoon searching for "Voter on the Street" interviews just a day before the mid-term election, I continued that experiment on election day watching exit interviews done at polls around country. What struck me is that it may not be stupidity I dislike so much.

My issue has never been with IQ or education, no it has always been with entrenched points of view that are resistant to facts, logic, open discussion or new information. Voter after voter parroted some sound byte created by some political wonk or wonkette for the express purposes of giving those voters a rational for their position. Further investigation showed that these pithy bits o'wisdom were nearly always focused on a set of beliefs not on a particular policy or candidate. It seems if you question a single nugget of illogic you are, in fact, shaking the very foundations of an entire complex of beliefs that a person has constructed to frame their view of "How Things Really Are" and/or "How Things Ought to Be."

I do believe I am going to alter my point of view. Stupidity is not really what bothers me. What I abhor is the inability to change; the unwillingness to hear another point of view and consider the merits of that position. To believe so fervently in your own worldview as to be invulnerable to enlightenment.

Perhaps they shouldn't have started this great endeavor with words like: "We know these truths to be self-evident . . . " But then again, I've been wrong before.

Spinal Confession

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth -- anonymously and posthumously. -Thomas Sowell

One of my very closest friends once commented that he had learned more about me from this blog than he had from nearly twenty years of face-to-face conversations. I plead guilty to being circumspect about my personal life. Another friend observed that I never actually avoided any conversation but after an evening of discussion I may have spoken in depth on how early Aegean cultures felt about a certain issue but he still didn't know my personal feelings on the subject.

Today I make a leap of self disclosure. I am doing this is response to a confluence to two factors. First, I have had conversations with both friends and family in the last two weeks in which I have hidden my current physical condition from them. Second, several of my dear friends have pointed out that such behavior may be less than optimal for everyone and with the deepest respect they told me to knock it off. After much reflection I have come to believe them to be much wiser than I on this issue, therefore I am going to change my behavior. So here goes:

In the fall of my sophomore year in high school it appeared that I had suffered a back injury while playing football, I was 14 at the time and the problem was misdiagnosed. The x-rays were read without my age being attached and the assumption was made that I was an adult male instead of just barely a teenager. For several years I took many aspirin a day for severe rheumatoid arthritis; a disease seldom found in young adults. Later in college I was reexamined by an orthopedic surgeon and father of a close friend and received my true diagnosis.

I have a congenital malformation in the small of my back. A teenage growth spurt and not football had been the aggravating factor. The facet joints at L4 & L5 (lumbar) on my right side are not well formed and do not perform their structural function of providing full range of lateral motion. I have been aware of this problem every day for the past 48+ years. Mostly I have kept this information to myself but the problem has become more acute in recent years. 

Last week the pain became so severe that I had to make my third trip to an emergency room for narcotic induced relief, the previous ER visits were in 1974 and 1986. Other than these three occasions I have managed the discomfort with exercise, pain meds and bed rest. I have missed scores of social events, dates, even intimate encounters over the years and used a variety of excuses other than the truth about my back to cover my absences. With the helpful yet still annoying prodding from several friends I have decided to stop deflecting sincere concern from those in my life, that process begins with this disclosure.

I won't bother with a complete history of my back pain, instead I will focus on my current situation. The most recent ER visit was two weeks prior to the date of this posting. I had been unable to stand upright for about 36 hours, getting out of bed was a full ten minute ordeal, any activity below knee level was simply out of the question. I had spent the better part of one entire day on the floor. Many thanks to M for getting this bound up old man to and from the hospital. As an aside, I apologize to anyone I spoke with on the phone that first week; I probably do not remember what we spoke about and I just wasn't ready to talk about all of this just yet. 

Once the ER physician heard the clinical details of my history and recognized my depth of understanding of the problem, we concurred in our diagnosis. The short term solution was to break the cycle of pain and spasm with major drugs. I was given injectable Dilaudid and Valium. Twenty minutes later the doctor returned to find me standing, back against the wall, a position that offers some short term relief, with obvious surprise he said: "I have never seen a patient standing after that much Dilaudid." I mention that part of the story because in the realm of silver linings, it appears I can now tolerate high dosages of pain medication without the buzz usually associated with them. And while that doesn't sound like much fun . . . I am now able to use Oxycodone on a regular basis to minimize the pain without being mentally altered.

One week later (a week ago today) I met my new primary care physician and fortunately found another doctor who recognized that I really am an educated adult able to understand and articulate my somatic issues and we rather quickly agreed on a course of treatment. I now have pain pills, pain patches and muscle spasm prescriptions with refills and liberal dosage limits as needed. Also I have a referral for physical therapy and once I am past this critical period we will go for a complete physical and perhaps even an MRI peek at my lower back before reassessing my condition.

For now, thank you for listening. I shall attempt to be more forthcoming about my condition, including public updates here on the blog, perhaps once a month in the near term. I would make one point from my decades of experience with a persistent medical condition -- anyone who has a chronic condition literally lives with it every day; talking about it is often simply tedious and annoying for us. I will try to be more open in conversations with my family and friends, if you will try to remember not to see me as merely a degenerate spine or a weak back. Illness, chronic injuries, syndromes are only one aspect of a person's being, but quite often the sickness becomes an all-encompassing label and the person begins to fade away.

My sincere appreciation for your concern, prayers and invocations; yes I will be availing myself of the myriad of interventions not found behind a medical school diploma. I am as open to a shaman's smoke as I am to a doctor's prescription pad.

Poker Writin'

I am happy to say that I have regular readers who have never seen a single poker post on this blog. I am perhaps even more pleased that many of you who originally followed me here in the good olde poker days have stuck with me since I left the poker subculture. This weekend my very good friend and oft times writing partner Amy Calistri has decided to reflect on a series of articles she and I wrote four years ago. The final table of the 2010 World Series of Poker is playing out this weekend, as a homage Amy has reposted on the "Biggest Error in the World's Largest Sporting Event." I completely agree with her characterization of those pieces, she writes:

"The articles were neither fun to write nor particularly well written. But they ended up improving the integrity of the game I love. And for me, the old adage proved true. I didn't care who won or lost. In the end, I cared how the game was played."

For those of you who are poker players the articles might be of interest. To the non-poker readers, Amy's comments on who we were and who we still are might bring some insight into some of the other topics I blog about these days. The opening of the first article contains Amy's current thoughts on who she and I are when we put on our writer's mantle.

LINK to Amy's blog.

Innards of an Attic

Because my view is from the eighth floor in a neighborhood of one and two story homes and apartments, I get to see all the roof action. There is the gentleman in the apartments below who gets up on the flat roof about once a week and exercises facing the sun. He does large arm swings and a bit of quiet meditation, he reminds of an old friend who likes to take a sun bath each morning. 

Another flat-roofed apartment about a block away has had roof leak issues, I know this because after every rain storm a maintenance man gets up there and sweeps away the pooled water. Many of the flat roofs have large puddles after a storm but only this one has a depuddler on duty.

Unfortunately no naked sunbathers in view, in fact no tanners at all; white, well-educated folks tend to be unanimously pale. There is a one story cement block garage a block away that serves as the daytime haunts of a big yellow cat, he prowls the roof and often naps under some low hanging branches from a nearby tree which also serves as his ladder. 

And then there is the large two-story wood shingled house across the street to the south. There are a couple of residents on the second floor but the building also serves as the offices for a low-income housing advocacy group. Several weeks ago a small group of workers swarmed the roof one morning and began to remove shingles on the far side, I suspected a roof patching job was in progress. The next day there was a lot of inspecting and discussion with roofers and periodic others poking their heads out from the attic through a six-by-six hole. A decision must have been reached because on day three the roofers denuded first the far side of the roof and then the side facing my view. All that was left were the ribs of the roof.

Laid out before me were the treasures of an entire attic. At the top of the staircase were filing cabinets then several rows of boxes with access aisles. This corner of the attic clearly supported the housing group. This was an attic being used as opposed to the cluttered storage in which many such spaces exist. The other three quarters of the space were what we would all expect an attic to be. There were random pieces of furniture, sloppily packed boxes, crates and bags of all sorts.

Somehow exposing the contents of the entire attic to full sunlight stirred something primal in the house residents, because soon a giant sort and discard movement began. The roofers danced above the house while a cleaning crew removed, recycled and rearranged the inside space. As the new shingles were applied a large space had been carved out in the middle of the attic, soon blanketed in a huge oriental carpet. Then two now empty dressers were positioned, a large reading chair and lamp but still a large open space remained in the middle. The new roof closed off my interior view but there was left a wide gap framed out for what had to be a new skylight.

The day the assembled skylight was installed was also the day the new bed arrived and was hoisted up three stories to the newly formed bedroom/reading room in the attic. I suppose low-income housing policy ranks human space above storage space. The winter rains on the skylight should be a comforting sound to fall asleep beneath.

48 to 68

The Green Sun comes to us courtesy of those very underfunded folks at NASA. For details on why green or why not yellow? I refer you to the website full of truly amazing images of yellow, red, blue and paisley suns plus other color enhanced celestial bodies. Today, however, I would like to discuss the one truly great unifying topic of conversationalists around the globe. No not religion, nor sex and at this time of year, definitely not politics. Today I shall dwell on the weather, in particular on not so extreme temperature varients.

The sun had once again asserted itself after a week of rainy grey. Not complaining mind you, I am terribly fond of grey and damp but the weather is as they say changeable. Mid-term predictions (isn't it nice to read 'mid-term' not followed by election), oops sorry politics .... anyway the weather forecast over the next 30 days here in Berkeley calls for temperatures not exceeding 68 degrees nor lower than 48 degrees. Over the previous 30 days the range has been 99 degrees for the high and 49 for the low. Completely unacceptable!

If I were given the power to control the ambient temperature with a twenty degree range, well then the next month is near perfection. Okay, I can go for 70/50 perhaps even 72/52 but that strains both the upper and the lower limits of personal heating perfection. If I get a thirty degree range then I would happily exist in a 71/41 world. One can always visit olde friends in the north for a white christmas once a decade. Skiers and other winter athletes can travel to snow and ice, but simple day to day existence should require no more than a light cotton hoodie and a couple of World Wildlife Fund throw blankets. If it gets really chilly at night, well then you just throw on another cat. Air conditioning should be limited to "places I might visit in winter" and everyone everywhere should be required to power all AC with solar energy.

Yes this was a bit of a restrained rant today, but I'm feeling much better now; how about you?

[11/14/10 Those bastards! 82 degrees today]


I want to encourage you to make a wise and thoughtful decision today to vote. I am not advocating going to the polls because it is your civic duty or your democratic right. Rather I would ask that you seriously ponder whether your old congressman, senator or governor really is good for your city, state or nation because of what they have not done for all of us in the past. Also, if you are leaning to a non-incumbent candidate--are you really convinced they will do any better?

Why not start now -- today! Say no to old time politics, say no to the left, no to the right and cast your vote for real change. Vote for a third party. Any third party is okay by me.

I mean it, staying home is certainly an option when all the candidates disgust you, I get it. But I would ask that you go to the voting booth and cast a strong None of the Above vote by voting for a third party candidate. Make them count your vote. Let's hear it said time and time again -- no one got a majority of the vote -- the people need to say to the two major parties that they simply must do better or we will give our support to third party candidates until they do.

Orange & Black

Shadows of a thousand years
Rise again unseen,
Voices whisper in the trees
"Tonight is Halloween"
Dexter Kozen

I'm really into candy right now. Not in the same way I was in 1968, but that is a completely different story.

I am not going to write about All Hallow's Eve today but about something completely different -- clear, unequivocal statements about relationships, hopes, dreams and the future. For those seeking an orange and black goblin fix, scroll down to the video link at the end.

Here is what I wonder: when someone feels that certain way about someone -- why don't they tell them? I bring this up for two reasons. First, I don't get it; when I want, desire, hope, pray or beg for something I do it explicitly. I mean who wants to miss out on something simply because we were unclear about our intentions. Second, an old girlfriend got in touch recently via one of the social networks; after the exchange of details of our lives over the past 25 years, she told me that she had always regretted that we did not give "a real relationship a try."

Her: "I always wanted that."

Me: "Why didn't you ever say that to me?"

Her: "I did in many little ways."

Me: "How about in english to my face, preceded by the words 'I have something I want you to know.'"

Her: "That's not how love works."

Really! Is this another of those life lessons they taught girls in Home Ed. while the boyz were being shown how to throw a curve ball? That's all I got for now -- Happy Halloween.

Here lies the Video link at the end for cat-lovers, pumpkin-lovers and fans of halloween.

Leading Causes of "The End"

Well it is nearly All Hallows Eve and I have been working on a fairly dark section of my current book project, so I thought today I might ponder a bit about death. Specifically, what are the leading causes of death worldwide and then some specifics about death in the United States.

The best numbers on death worldwide come from the World Health Organization. They divide their data into low, medium and high income countries because the standard of living equates to better or worse access to health care. For that reason malaria appears in the low-income data but not middle or high-income nations. On the other side of the dark coin, Alzheimer's related deaths appear only in the high-income countries. A comprehensive global comparison would run far beyond the scope of a single blog post. So I focused on the U.S. numbers.

Divide the population into 10 segments by age:

First a couple of questions and then a big hint if you need one.

Question 1: Five age groups (1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-24, 25-34) share the same most common cause of death, what is it?
Question 2: What is the most common causes of death overall, it appears in the top ten of every category except infants under one year of age?

Here is your hint, which will answer question #2 and help you on question #1.

Top Ten Most Common Causes of Death in the U.S.
1. Heart Disease 616K
2. Malignant Neoplasms 562K
3. Cerebro-vascular 135K
4. Chronic Low Respiratory Disease 127K
5. Unintentional Injury 123K
6. Alzheimer's Disease 74K
7. Diabetes Melitus 71K
8. Influenza & Pneumonia 52K
9. Nepritis 46K
10. Septicemia 34K

Heart Disease remains the number #1 killer in the U.S. and from that list you probably also figured out that Unintentional Accident tops the list for those over 1 and under 45. And yes a big portion of that number is automobile accidents. Two more questions.

3. What cause of death not in the top ten ranks 2nd for 15-24 year olds, 3rd for 1-4, 10-14 & 25-34, 4th in the 5-9 age group and 6th among 35-44 year olds?
4. What cause of death also not in the top ten ranks 2nd for 25-34 years old, 3rd for 15-24, 4th for 10-14 & 35-44 and 5th for 45-54 and even 8th among 55-64 year olds?

Just a couple of other facts before I answer those two questions. Clearly the 65+ group has the highest numbers in all categories of the top ten. Deaths of those 65 and older account for nearly 70% of the total nationwide. This 70% of deaths number would be 80%+ if the answers to questions 3 & 4 did not exist.

Answer to question #3: Homicide
Answer to question #4: Suicide

If you would like to see this data as a graph.

Bacon, Baklava and Barium

You know the story of the blind but wise persons put into a room and asked to describe the animal in the room with them using only touch to identify the beast. One person touches the elephant's trunk and another the tusk, the tail, the ears etc. We end up with a lot of very different descriptions of the elephant, none of which resemble the actual creature. There are several morals to that tale about insufficient information, anecdotal evidence, knowledge versus description, getting the whole picture, turning water into wine and not cutting babies in half to satisfy competing parents. Teaching parables have been used since dolphins could first communicate.

Imagine this twist in the tale, the wise persons are not blind, they are all put in front of a huge salt water coral reef tank in one of the wonderful aquariums we have built around the world. Their task: describe one of the tropical creatures they see. Of course you would expect to get a wide range of reports with all of the brightly coloured sea life on display. But then I tell you that at least one of the reports came from a man wearing those blu-blocker sunglasses, another from a women who turned her back to the aquarium and described only what she heard murmured by others and finally, one of the reports came from a man paid to describe only the yellow and white, heavily spined pufferfish. What distorted moral would you draw from this tale?

An article this month in The Atlantic suggests that this little fish story is the moral equivalent of medical research today. Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Statistics reports via meta-research that the data being given to doctors and patients about diet, exercise and in particular pharmaceuticals is terrible flawed and potentially bought and paid for by the drug manufacturers.

Here some excerpts:

Can any medical-research studies be trusted?

That question has been central to Ioannidis's career. He's what's known as a meta-researcher, and he's become one of the world's foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies--conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain--is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field's top journals, where it is heavily cited; and his is a big draw at conference. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else's work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the filed of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change--or even to publicly admitting there is a problem.

No here comes the scary part--Dr. Ioannidis is not being scapegoating or attacked, nearly everyone segment of the medical research community agrees with his findings, but they are not sure they should tell--us!

The question of whether the problems with medical research should be broadcast to the public is a sticky one in the meta-research community. Already feeling that they're are fighting to keep patients from turning to alternative medical treatments such as homeopathy, or misdiagnosing themselves on the Internet, or simply neglecting medical treatment altogether, many researchers and physicians aren't eager to provide even more reason to be skeptical of what doctors do--not to mention how public disenchantment with medicine could affect research funding.

I strongly recommend reading the entire article. After I finished it I thought about the several medical newsletters I regularly read online and wondered how much of that information is flawed. Never mind, how much has changed, even completely reversed the health advice we received in the recent past. I thought I would offer up some of my favor current bits of medical wisdom with Dr. Ioannisdis' caveat that it is likely to be flawed, wrong or bought and paid for.

*Hair loss before age 30 is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer later in life, according to a new study that contradicts some earlier research.

*A new study shows foods high in fat and refined sugar can create a cocaine-like addiction that leads to obesity. Persons so addicted should be treated for their addiction before attempting to address the weight issues.

*That daily baby aspirin for heart health, you know the one that suddenly became a full 325 mg tablet a couple of years ago. Well now it may not be such a good idea, particularly if you have a predisposition to stomach bleeds.

*Water--yes water! It seems those eight glasses of water a day are not such a universally good idea. Not only are there kidney issues for some individuals but when you drink the water can have an absorption/dilution effect on many medications including your Flintstone vitamins.

*Sex remains a good outlet for nearly every one. For the very few who might have serious life threatening consequences -- you got a better way to go?

**Yes I know that's a rhinoceros not an elephant, but a cool sculpture none the less.
photo/sculpture: wirelady.com

Link Dump

There's been a lot going on out there on the world wide web. Some of these links come from my own surfin' expeditions and others comes as suggestions from friends and fellow cyber travelers. I absolutely guarantee you won't care for all of them, so I shall add some prose to guide your clicking finger.

The first is a series of color coded maps of racial and ethnic diversity in U.S. cities. These are flickr photos from a gentleman named Eric Fischer. Easy to access and probably more fascinating when you check out the cities you know well. For me two interesting finds: there really is a Chinatown in San Francisco (third row, first map) -- look for the really, really green blob. And Detroit (second row, fourth map), sure there are a lot of racially segregated places all around the country, the original idea behind these maps was to demonstrate "homophily" which is the theory that we group together not because of segregation but because we want to be around those who share our group traits. You decide how that explains your favorite big city or not.

Next a quick science link answering the age old question about the condition of Schrodinger's cat. A good friend and cat lover noted that Schrodinger actually overlooked the fact that the cat is also an observer, dog people don't get that.

On a lighter note, this is came to me entitled Dating 1961, when I forwarded it to my high school friend it most reminded me of, she responded: "I never came home after twenty minutes." Damn, I should have dated her.

Touted as The Best Motivational Video, I suggest you not check it out unless you are a fan of Fight Club. Personally, I think I would take a step back from anyone truly motivated by this but you decide, I've been wrong before. This was sent to me by two friends on the same day, so I took notice.

For those in my generation who never really got it what our parents felt when they saw us listening to Black Sabbath, watching Mick Jagger and growing our hair ever longer... Watch this offering from Evil Boy and feel the generational disconnect. For anyone who started to watch the motivational video above and turned it off -- do not even start watching this one. BTW, there is a 30 second commercial lead-in not part of the video.

Finally for something truly uplifting, if nothing else today has hooked you... try this three minute gymnastic dance video. Even if you are not into modern dance, the gymnastics in this piece are truly spectacular. Wish I could move like that.

Another little Milestone

This is the 160th post of this year on my little blog here, that number equals my output of last year, which was the most prior to today, err tomorrow, I mean the next one, probably Monday. Now I do admit to being a much more prolific poster when I wrote and edited PokerBlog.com. I produced poker content there at a rate of twenty posts a month; but as they say that was then this is not.

Even though I use this here blog as a daily writing exercise to keep me sharp for larger, longer projects; I did sorta have a goal for this year, which was 182.5 posts, you know every other day. It now appears I will exceed that number should I continue at my current pace. I hadn't really thought much about these numbers until I went to one of my good friend's blog the other day and found a post that simply said: Away.

How simple, how clear, how appropriate, just away.

I too wish to be away.

So I think I am going to take a hiatus from blogging . . . but not just yet. I'm thinking the end of the year. I am even considering a complete timeout from cyber-space including email, skype, facebook, twitter and lovely ladies over sixty dot com. I'm thinking of spending a couple of weeks with a short stack of books, just reading with a cat curled by my side. Yes going off grid.

But not yet, I have a mini list of items I have ignored while gazing at the western skies the last couple of weeks; those shall be coming to you soon.

A Doh! Sunset

Just forty-five minutes before sunset the cloud layer lifts and there is the bridge with a light blue and pink sky behind it. This is the sunset that will align perfectly with the bridge, lo and behold this might actually happen!

Slowly the golden streaks of sunlight intensify the overcast holds high above the Bay, even with my meager little camera this could be the event I have been blathering about for weeks. 

Yes! A solar appearance and with this angle of decline the sun will appear to be setting right smack in the middle of the bridge, it will actually be cradled between the two towers. Tolkienian prose leaps to mind.

Wait! What is that large dark bank of clouds. Quick check the weather website. Weekend storm moving in -- marine layer 35 miles off shore. Quick mathematical calculation: marine layer 35 miles away, sun 92,875,414 miles away. Hmm, that is going to cause a juxtapositional problem.

Damn! Foiled again by water vapor.

One Last Weather Post

With the forecast steady for partly cloudy days and evening fog followed by weekend showers, I will make this the last lament about missed sun, moon and bridge observations.
The shot above is from last night just before sunset, framed in that dim pink swath just above the water is the Golden Gate Bridge, trust me. The shot below is from about fifteen minutes later the very faint line across the sun is one of the cables from the bridge. Yes to the naked eye and the binocular assisted view it was a very nice image.

Next post, I shall return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when I blather on about whatever comes to mind, heart, soul or spleen.

Oh and the moonrise was brilliant last night, I was out in North Berkeley and got a perfect view of the gibbous moon slipping in and out of the high clouds but that was far to the east, by the time the moon had swung across the sky to my windowed western view, twas nary a shimmer behind the grey.

Twilight Time, to dream awhile
In veils of deepening gloom
As fantasy strides over colourful skies
The fog disappearing from view
Moody Blues, Twilight
Days of Future Passed

If the Sun Sets in the Darkness . . .

This is the view from my window this morning, which provides you with all the information you need about the moonset early this morning. Unfortunately the weather predictors are not encouraging about our chances for more celestial dazzlement this week. The much anticipated full moon settling over San Francisco will occur this Friday and Saturday, which as you can see below is not apparently going to be prime viewer weather.


Partly Cloudy


Partly Cloudy

Few Showers

Extended Forecast
High: 73°
Low: 51°
High: 69°
Low: 50°
High: 62°
Low: 51°
High: 64°
Low: 51°
High: 65°
Low: 52°

The first sunset through the Golden Gate narrows happened yesterday, you will not notice in my shot below any sort of bridge or the golden opening to the Pacific. A near fifty mile long fog bank crept in during the late afternoon yesterday to fill San Francisco Bay from end to end.

I would mention one final time that I really am fond of this type of weather. The rain and fog are fascinating for me, my spirits are lifting by the damp and chilled weather, it's like be wrapped in a cocoon the size of the universe. Sounds are muffled, perceptions shrink and we are forced to go on internal sensors. Perhaps in the next few days we will get a glimpse of the astronomical workings between the clouds, if not, I shall attempt to entertain and minister from the internal microcosm.

Pinprick holes in a colourless sky
Let insipid figures of light pass by
The mighty light of ten thousand suns
Challenges infinity and is soon gone
Night time, to some a brief interlude
To others the fear of solitude

Brave Helios, wake up your steeds
Bring the warmth the countryside needs
Moody Blues The Day Begins
from Days of Future Passed