Monthly Archives: November 2013

Happy Thursday, or “Why It Might Be Okay to Shop Your Ass Off on Black Friday: my hypothesis.”

Shoppers in a mad rush to get the best Black Friday deals on grain to store for the winter.

I know, I know. I realize this year there is a big campaign to protest the rampant consumerism of Thanksgiving. In fact I know a few folks who are rather militant about it. I guess it stands to reason since this year it’s really getting out of hand. In fact, many stores are opening up even on Thanksgiving Day, for eager customers to get a jump start on their Black Friday “savings.” I agree, it’s ridiculous and out of control. So why am I saying that it might be okay to conspicuously consume on Black Friday?

Now, I’m not saying this from a political or economic perspective. I’m not pro-big business and as far as I’m concerned, Wal-Mart can suck it. I agree that the mad rush for half-price shoes and XBoxes or whatever is ridiculous and unfair to retail workers. At the same time, I’m not going to be a holier-than-thou prick and tell you not to shop on Black Friday, because really, it’s not like you’re murdering puppies or anything if you do. You might find some good deals and some people do make it a family event.

But it occurred to me as I, in a foul mood, was in the kitchen making preparations for tomorrow’s annual day of gluttony and wondering what the point of all this was, that maybe there is a point, and that maybe Black Friday is a logical development, from an anthropological point of view.

Only the United States and Canada really celebrate Thanksgiving, with the turkey and all that, as far as I know, but other cultures have their own analogs. Now, bear in mind that I have not done much research on this. I just thought of the idea this morning and I’m not familiar with the entire history of this holiday. But I do know that it is common, if not universal, among world cultures to have some sort of a “harvest festival.” Also, I think I have heard that many cultures use this time to gather grains and other foods and such to store for winter. And bears. Bears eat and live off their stored fat during hibernation.

So, maybe “Black Friday” is the result of a primal survival instinct to store as much stuff as you can for the long hard winter. Of course, buying a 50 inch flat screen TV at a 25% discount isn’t the same as hoarding grain , but maybe the instinct is still there hidden somewhere in out primitive brains. My tentative hypothesis: Black Friday stems from instinctive urge to prepare for surviving winter. Of course, this is just a hypothesis and I realize that there is a very real economic factor to Black Friday, but perhaps the reasoning holds true at the root of things. Am I reaching? What do you think?

Well, it sounds like an interesting hypothesis to me and one worthy of researching. After explaining my hypothesis to my mom right after I had that flash of genius, she responded, “So?”

Whatever the case, Thanksgiving is here and now is your chance to express your thanks. The rest of the year you can be an ingrate. I’m thankful that Thanksgiving will be over after tomorrow because I’m sick of it already.

As far as Black Friday goes, I don’t plan on doing any shopping that day, mostly because I don’t want or need to buy anything. I don’t discourage anyone against their Black Friday fun, but remember to be patient and courteous to the retail personnel and other shoppers. Please don’t punch granny in the face while fighting over that Blu-ray player.

Tagged , , ,

The drug lords’ worst nightmare: Cybernarc by Robert Cain


(Harper, 1991)
I have Joe Kenney’s great review at Glorious Trash to thank for picking up Cybernarc by Robert Cain at my local used bookstore. I stupidly passed over it when I first saw it, but fortunately it was still there on my next visit after reading his review. This late-era “men’s adventure” series really is going to be a great read if this first novel is any indication. While I don’t think it did too well when it was first published, it’s a great book and a hell of a lot of fun.

I remember the late ’80s/early’90s as being a very robot-friendly time. We had Robocops and Terminators running around. We also had buddy-cop movies like the Lethal Weapon franchise. And guess what–we also had robot buddy-cops! I was recently reminded by a friend of a show I had nearly forgotten, the short-lived 1992 TV series Mann and Machine and the formula is still alive today, apparently. There is a brand new sci-fi show on Fox called Almost Human about a human cop partnered up with a robot cop.

Anyway, Cybernarc is a robot buddy-cop story, a familiar premise but one that never gets old. Navy SEAL Chris Drake is assigned to a super-secret program called RAMROD to instruct robot soldiers in combat. Due to astronomical costs, however, there is only one such robot operational, named “Rod,” (short for RAMROD–get it?). Drake can “teach” Rod tactics through a cybernetic link called PARET, or “PAttern REcognition and Transfer,” where Rod can learn from Drake’s memories and experience.

Rod the robot, technically an android, is described as looking like a perfectly normal, “ruggedly handsome” man in his mid-thirties, undistinguishable from humans. He does, of course, have more-than-human abilities, courtesy of his robotic origins. He is super strong and resilient, has telescopic and infrared vision, and can access computer systems through cellular networks, among other abilities. Furthermore, Rod can be outfitted with “Combat Mod” on tactical missions, which is basically an armored body that makes him a walking tank. Despite these amazing physical abilities, Rod is still learning to behave like a human, and comes across similar to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Robots learning to be human. See? This stuff ever gets old.

When a joint DEA/Navy SEAL anti-drug mission in Columbia goes awry and Drake is the only survivor, Drake and his superiors suspect treachery and corruption in the ranks of the CIA. Drake’s men were double-crossed, someone was working for the drug lords. But who? Things get personal when the drug thugs go after Drake in his own home and his wife and daughter are murdered. From then on, Drake pledges to bring them down, with Rod as his partner in justice.

Since this is the first volume of the series, it’s sort of an origin story and those often take a little while to get moving, but Cain seems to have a good grasp of pace and we never get the feeling that this is just a novel-length set up for the series. The whole thing is pretty entertaining and fast moving all the way through. While it’s a familiar premise, it’s a fun premise. This is well-done action schlock at its finest and I could easily see this as a TV series or a movie. A lot of the dialogue made me smile:

“You should not have joined me, Lieutenant Drake,” the robot said quietly, not turning his head from the scene below. “The chances of your death or incapacitation are–”

“Never mind the odds, byte-breath,” the human responded. “I damned well have as much at stake in this as you do!”

There’s also a part when Rod, nearly drained of power, detaches his robot fist to throw at an enemy holding a gun on Drake, thereby smashing his head and saving Drake:

The robot’s eyes tracked, focusing on Drake’s face. A strange sound came from Rod’s throat, then words. Drake had to lean closer to make them out.

“It looked like…you needed…a…hand…”

Ah, that’s the stuff. Action movie dialogue gold.

The fight scenes are pretty crazy as well. Rod is a bruiser and rips a head off of a thug and throws it as a weapon. In another instance he punches a dude straight through his chest. And in probably one of the coolest action-schlock moves I can think of, he rips a .50-cal machine gun from an armored car turret and fires it from the hip at the enemy drug soldiers. Cybernarc is full of everything that makes action-schlock great!

Robert Cain is the pseudonym of an author who lives in Pennsylvania” reads the rather cryptic author page in Cybernarc. “Robert Cain” is, in fact, author William H. Keith and he recollects on Cybernarc at his website here. There were six volumes in the series and although I hope to find them at my local used bookstores it looks like they are pretty available through online vendors at fairly reasonable prices. Cybernarc is a fun, fast-paced read that fortunately defies the downward trend of late-era action novels. If you see it around check it out!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Phil Spector, pre-murdering days

I just watched this episode of I Dream of Jeannie and recognized Phil Spector. Hence, quick post. Anyway, I love this show and may post about it in the future. For now, though, check this out regarding the episode of which I speak.

Tagged ,

It could be worse: three survival books reviewed

Don’t worry. Tom Hanks is okay.

I’m not preparing for the zombie apocalypse, because that’s not real. And I’m not a doomsday prepper preparing for the end of days, because that’s not real either. I do, however, live in an area that practically invites disaster. Here in the Pacific Northwest earthquakes are not unheard of. There is a danger of tsunami. There are high-profile military and naval bases in the area as well as a major airplane manufacturer, all good terrorist targets. Oh, also there is an active volcano almost within spitting distance. And people complain about our rain.

When I realized all this I had two choices: have a nervous breakdown or get prepared. I thought I’d try the latter first (always time for a nervous breakdown later). Seriously, though, survival situations are practically an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world. When you think of the devastating effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunamis in Thailand and Japan as well as man-made disasters like 9/11 one realizes that survival skills are relevant to the average person. Disasters are a reality and if it happens to other people it might as well happen to me or you. It’s nice to know at least a few things about how to survive and overcome.

As with anything, though some information is good and some isn’t and you need good info when things go south. Here are three titles I’ve found at my local library:

Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook by Mykel Hawke (Running Press, 2011)

Mykel Hawke is the “star of Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel.” I’ll have to take their word for it since I don’t have cable. But despite his action-movie-hero-sounding name, Mykel Hawke seems to be the real deal, being a former captain in the US Army Special Forces who now runs a survival training company. Anyway, I have nothing to say about the show since I’ve never seen it, but Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty handy basic reference for survival techniques, covering food, shelter, water, fire, navigation, signaling, first aid– all that good stuff– all in a compact, sturdy format that you can throw in your ruck for reference when you need it.

While I’m no survival expert, I can say that most of the stuff in the book falls in line with what I have read and also with my very rudimentary personal experiences. But I guess basic techniques aren’t going to change much from instructor to instructor. There are a few points on which Hawke differs from common instruction. One is the notion that you cannot drink urine. Hawke tells us (rather gleefully, it seems), “You can drink urine!” and then covers the rules for doing so. This is, of course, only to be done as a last resort (I hope you knew that already).

All in all, and despite the cover photo featuring Mykel Hawke giving us non-Special Forces types the stink-eye, Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty good basic survival manual that covers the essentials, is well-organized, and handy enough to have nearby. Although it isn’t as complete as, say, John “Lofty” Wiseman’s SAS Survival Manual, it’s not a bad choice. Plus, Hawke’s personal wisdom, practical advice and conversational tone make this a nice guide to get familiar with.

Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide: Top Urban Survival Skills by Rich Johnson and the editors of Outdoor Life (Weldon Owen, 2012)

Urban environments have their own nuances but, IMHO, the basics of surviving emergency situations are pretty universal. You need, shelter, water, first aid, etc. So when I saw this title in the library catalog I thought it might enlighten me to conditions specific to urban environments. It doesn’t really provide much insight, though, and is nearly worthless as a practical guide to surviving emergency situations. It’s really more of a casual reading book that MacGyver wannabes might peruse while sitting on the chemical toilet trying to negotiate the expulsion of freeze-dried beef stroganoff.

Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is basically a list of 111 “skills” that are supposedly essential for urban survival. Some of these “skills” are useful, like #50: Use a fire extinguisher (important in everyday life), but most are basically worthless if one is at all serious about the topic. For example, #29: Disarm an attacker (I guess, important, but you’re not going to learn that in one page of cartoon drawings. Besides, I think this better falls under the rubric of “self-defense”). #40: Pick a lock (useful? I guess, but I think you can get by without knowing how to pick a lock). #73: Know basic maritime laws (hmmm, not really a “skill” and not really “urban,” but okay).

But then things get crazy. #102: Silence your gun. #103: Modify your shotgun. #105: Shoot a crossbow. #108: Throw a knife??? What the hell? I get the feeling this book probably appeals a lot to the nuts who have some sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max fantasies. I can almost guarantee that none of these things will be a concern when a disaster strikes.

Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is of marginal entertainment value and of little practical value, which is a shame because the author purports to be a former SF demolitions sergeant, so I’d think that he would have better sense than to write this stuff. Maybe the Outdoor Life editors are to blame, but whatever. This book is mostly useless.

Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart by Barry Davies (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012)

Barry Davies is an eighteen-year veteran of the British Special Air Service, so, again, you’d expect that he knows his stuff. In the case of Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart you’d be right, but the beauty part of this book is that it’s not about skills or techniques per se and more about overall considerations to think about before and during a disaster, any disaster. Modern Survival is hugely relevant to anyone who lives in an area in which a potential disaster could take place (i.e., everywhere).

Davies covers a wide variety of potential disasters, both natural and man-made, from earthquakes and forest fires to civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Again, the main focus here is not so much skill development but rather a conceptual framework, a strategy, for staying out of trouble or getting yourself out of trouble when it is unavoidable, and Davies does this in a practical and easy to understand manner. Modern Survival is not always a pleasant book to read, though this is a positive and not a negative. Davies, with characteristic British calm, makes clear that during a disaster things will likely be very unpleasant. One may be injured or have injured loved ones to look after. Even worse, loved ones may be dead or missing. Davies’ point isn’t to scare the reader, but rather to present the scenarios as realistically as possible while still emphasizing that these obstacles can be overcome.

Most importantly, Modern Survival is a practical guide for the average civilian. It’s full of common sense advice. For example, his most important piece of survival gear? A smart phone (I should get one, one of these days. My seven-year old flip phone has lost its panache). Another piece of advice from Davies? If the authorities warn you of a tornado, or a tsunami, or whatever, leave immediately. Do it! Common sense, right? But it bears emphasis because so many people don’t and so many people die because of that.

Of the three books reviewed here, I think Davies’ Modern Survival is probably the most important. Skills can be learnt from a variety of sources and most of the basic ones are pretty universal. There are many books that cover these. But Davies’ practical and realistic insights regarding coping with disaster is something that I haven’t seen too much in “survival” books, many of which focus on various skills and techniques without relating them to a modern, urban, eveyday context. Modern Survival is a highly relevant book that I consider a must-read for those wishing to increase their chances of surviving disaster.

It could be worse (famous last words).
It’s easy to obsess over this stuff, but I wouldn’t worry too much. You can’t be prepared for everything. I don’t think it’s necessary to become a “survival expert,” but knowing some good, basic principles can go a long way and it’s kind of fun. I have some more books I’m perusing and I might review them at a future date.

Until then, be safe. And remember: You can drink urine!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Jack Reacher #18: Never Go Back by Lee Child

(Delacorte Press, 2013)

In Lee Child’s eighteenth Jack Reacher adventure, Reacher finally makes his way to the headquarters of his old army command, the 110th MP special investigations unit in Washington D.C., where he hopes to meet its current commander, Major Susan Turner (whom he had “met” by phone in previous episodes. He liked the sound of her voice, wanted to see what she was like in person, so he travels across the US to meet her. Okay, a little weird, but that’s Reacher). When he arrives, however, he finds things are entirely contrary to his expectations: Major Turner has been arrested for treason and is in the stockade, the 110th is now commanded by an asshole lieutenant colonel named Morgan and Reacher has been recalled back into service!

Reacher, being an honorably discharged commissioned officer, is still obligated to to return to active duty in accordance with the needs of the Army, and, as it turns out, a military warrant has been placed for the arrest of Major Jack (none) Reacher. Reacher’s inadvertent arrival at the 110th gives Morgan and the army a chance to recall him to active duty and try him under the Uniform Code of Military justice (I know, it doesn’t quite work that way, but bear with me here). The charges? Murder, for one thing. Seems Reacher, in an old investigation, had dealings with a two-bit thug who later died from Reacher’s supposed police brutality. The second charge? Being a deadbeat dad. Reacher learns that he’s got a kid, a fourteen year old girl, from an overseas relationship that he doesn’t even remember. Now you can’t tell me all that isn’t going to make your day interesting.

Reacher, true to form, isn’t going to take this sitting down. He realizes that all this can’t be coincidental to his arrival and concludes that it was all a ruse to scare him away, back to his anonymous, solo wanderings where he will never be a bother to anyone again. The questions are, who is behind it and what are they hiding? As Reacher and Turner escape custody and go on the lam, they uncover a conspiracy within the army and Reacher is faced with the unforeseen prospect of being a father to a teenage girl.

After reading the first Reacher title, Killing Floor, I’ve pretty much been hooked. It’s not that the Reacher series is very realistic or smart. They’re not. Jack Reacher is a six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-fifty pound ex-military police officer turned hobo who wanders the nation righting wrongs, putting assholes in there places and solving unnecessarily complex and far-fetched mysteries with aplomb, all the while having a keen radar for smart, capable and attractive women who, more often than not, are cops themselves and, more often than not, want to get it on with Jack’s “reacher.” So, no, the Reacher novels are not smart. They’re, as Zwolf says over in The Mighty Blow Hole, the literary equivalent of a BDAM, or “Big Dumb Action Movie.” But like Zwolf, I have an appreciation for this sort of thing and, after eighteen novels, I find that Lee Child (who has chosen an awesome name for his nom de plume, by the way) does some things extremely well.

For one, Child knows pacing. In a former life as Jim Grant, he worked in British television as a director and writer for nearly two decades, so I would expect that he would have learned a thing or two about a story’s pacing. The Reacher novels, despite their unlikely premises, are nevertheless very well plotted and paced.

I also like Child’s prose a lot, even though I realize it bugs some people. In the earlier novels I tend to agree that the “hard boiled” staccato style seemed to be a little contrived, but since then Child’s prose has grown and he has developed his own very practical, fast-moving and drily humorous style. Not to mention a pedantry and a fondness for triviality that I find amusing, like in this example from Never Go Back:

“Same for me,” Reacher said. “And coffee.”

“Yes, sir.” And immediately the guy turned away and got to work with a wedge of new lard and a blade, planing the metal surface, smoothing it, three feet out and three feet back, and six feet side to side. Which made him a griddle man at heart. In Reacher’s experience such guys were either griddle men or owners, but never really both. A griddle man’s first instinct was to tend the metal, working it until it was glassy down to a molecular level, so slick it would make Teflon feel like sandpaper. Whereas an owner’s first instinct would have been to bring the coffee. Because the first cup of coffee seals the deal. A customer isn’t committed until he has consumed something. He can still get up and walk away, if he’s dissatisfied with the wait, or if he remembers an urgent appointment. But not if he’s already started in on his first cup of coffee. Because then he would have to throw some money, and who really knows what a cup of diner coffee costs? Fifty cents? A dollar? Two dollars?

And who really cares? Reacher does, that’s who. I find this rather nerdy attention to detail kind of funny.

And this leads me to another thing that I think Child does very well, which is Reacher’s characterization. Of course, there is nothing really original about Reacher’s basic premise (BDAM), but after eighteen novels Reacher gives me the impression that he’s kind of a geek. A gigantic geek that will remorselessly head butt you if you’re a jerk, but still a geek, with a geek’s penchant for facts, figures, details and trivia. Also, rather refreshing, is that Reacher rarely gets sad or upset or angry and is generally a pretty happy fellow, a nice change from the angst-ridden antiheroes that are not uncommon in genre fiction. And Reacher engages in some pretty good, if peculiar, tough-guy talk (also from Never Go Back):

Reacher said, “You ever bought an electrical appliance?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you run the risk of death or serious injury.”
“Pretend I’ve got the same kind of label.”

I would be remiss if I failed to harp, once again, on the choice of actors to play Jack Reacher in the live-action film Jack Reacher, an adaptation of the ninth Reacher novel One Shot. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but that’s nothing against the film. I’m not very prompt when it comes to movie releases in general. Still, I sort of think that adapting One Shot as the first Reacher film is sort of strange. Stranger yet, however, is casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher when, to my mind, Dolph Lundgren is the obvious choice and I’ve always imagined Lundgren as Reacher from day one. I mean, for a moment indulge in this unscientific experiment. Which photo says “Reacher” to you more, Photo ‘A’:

or Photo ‘B’:

Granted, the photo of Tom Cruise here is not one from his role as Reacher. It’s just him being himself. But I don’t think that changes anything. And I don’t have anything against Tom Cruise’s acting, but I just can’t see him as Reacher. I will see the film someday. Who knows? Maybe I’ll like it. I’ve heard it’s not bad. At any rate, I haven’t even begun to talk about Never Go Back yet, so I guess I’d better get to it.

After last year’s disappointing A Wanted Man, Child is in good form with Never Go Back, providing almost everything Reacher fans expect: a little bit of violence, a little bit of sex, an overly obscure, unnecessarily complex mystery that doesn’t make a lot of sense and Reacher giving what fo’ to the bad guys. I just take for granted that the mystery part is going to be a little goofy and I don’t let the details get to me. As usual, the pacing is great and a lot of fun as Reacher and Turner go on the run to clear their names. I think the most interesting part of Never Go Back for me was wondering if Reacher actually had a kid.

There are a few negatives for me regarding Never Go Back. Namely, the bad guys were not as downright morally repellent as some of Child’s previous villains, and the final resolution was somewhat anticlimactic in my opinion. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Never Go Back very much and am glad to see that Child isn’t getting complacent with the series.

All in all, Never Go Back gets a fat thumbs up from me.

Tagged , , ,

A geek’s guide to physical awesomeness: The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss

(Crown Publishing Group, 2010)

Thinner, bigger, faster, stronger… which 150 pages will you read?
Is it possible to:
Reach your genetic potential in 6 months?
Sleep 2 hours per day and perform better than on 8 hours?
Lose more fat than a marathoner by bingeing?

Indeed, and much more. This is not just another diet and fitness book.

The 4-Hour Body is the result of an obsessive quest, spanning more than a decade, to hack the human body. It contains the collective wisdom of hundreds of elite athletes, dozens of MDs, and thousands of hours of jaw-dropping personal experimentation. From Olympic training centers to black-market laboratories, from Silicon Valley to South Africa, Tim Ferriss, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, fixated on one life-changing question:

For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?

Thousands of tests later, this book contains the answers for both men and women.

From the gym to the bedroom, it’s all here, and it all works.

In other words, a guidebook for physical awesomeness. But does it work?

In the interest of full disclosure I have to point out that I have not read this entire book, but I’ve read enough to form an opinion and I want to get it off of “now reading” status because it’s the kind of book that you read sections of and refer to occasionally. This is okay. Timothy Ferriss, the author, even recommends at the beginning to not read it all the way through. Just read the bits that interest you. This makes sense because The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman covers topics as disparate as (you guessed it) rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman, among other things. These topics, though, aren’t as disparate as they seem though because Ferriss’ whole deal is about “hacking the human body” and achieving maximum results with a minimum of effort through the magic of science and thinking outside of the box.

The topics he covers are: subtracting fat, adding muscle, improving sex (and for the ladies, the 15 minute female orgasm!), perfecting sleep, reversing injuries, running faster and farther, getting stronger, swimming and living a longer and better life. That’s a lot of stuff and there are some pretty outrageous promises, but Ferriss provides scientific data for his methods. While I can’t say that Ferriss’ work would stand up to the scrutiny of a review board, much of what he says falls in line with my own experience and with what I have read elsewhere (regarding diet, fat loss and muscle and strength gains. I unfortunately don’t have anything to say about the “incredible sex” portion). Ferriss’ writing is easy and entertaining and he separates the hard science bits from the main text so you may skip or study at your leisure. He sure doesn’t skimp on the personal details (weight, color and consistency of his stool? Gross.) but it’s all in the name of science.

Overall, reviewing this as a book, it’s an interesting and enjoyable read. Ferriss’ authorial voice is conversational and he freely interjects humorous anecdotes of his unusual quest for the body hack (like weighing food at a restaurant with a mini-scale pulled from his “man purse”–while on a first date with someone. I don’t think it went well). I think anyone with any goals or interest relating to the topics covered would probably get something out of it.

As far as reviewing the methods in the book, well that takes some experimenting. I may have to just buy this book (it’s on loan from the library right now) because there’s a lot of stuff here that I want to explore. So I can’t review his methods in terms of chance of success, although much of the science seems reasonable to my layperson’s brain.

Since I’ve packed on an extra 15 lbs in the past year (due to laziness–I refuse to use aging as an excuse) I am right now trying his almost ridiculously easy-to-follow “slow-carb” diet. It’s the first thing in the book and I imagine probably the most used part of the book for most people. So far so good, although my experience is not as dramatic as Ferriss claims the diet can be. Ferriss makes the claim that 20 pounds can be lost in 30 days. So that’s about 5 pounds a week, right? Understand that fat loss is not necessarily an isometric progression, but going by this, on average, say, it’s about 5 pounds a week. Also understand that fat loss is also partially dependent on your other body systems and make up. I have no doubt that 5 lbs per week is possible, safe and expected for very obese individuals, but for the only slightly overweight one’s expectations should be rather more modest. So for me, it’s slower going. My excess is not so dramatic and I have to admit that I’m not a good test subject, being lax on my compliance. He allows two glasses of dry red wine a day. I think perhaps I am a bit too generous with the definition of a “glass.” Or the number “two.”

Anyway, the point is there is a lot of interesting material in The 4-Hour Body and it encourages one to research and use scientific method and experiment to find the most efficient means to accomplish your goals. Why starve yourself if you can east reasonably and still lose weight? Why overtrain yourself silly to add 50 lbs to your deadliest when there are easier ways? Sure, maybe not everything in The 4-Hour Body works as advertised for everyone, but I think the point is to embrace the pioneer spirit of scientific experimentation.

Now if I can only find some test subjects for that 15-minute female orgasm thing…

Tagged , , ,

Jack Reacher #17: A Wanted Man by Lee Child

(Delacorte Press, 2012)

Four people in a car, hoping to make Chicago by morning. One man driving, eyes on the road. Another man next to him, telling stories that don’t add up. A woman in the back, silent and worried. And next to her, a huge man with a broken nose, hitching a ride east to Virginia.

An hour behind them, a man lies stabbed to death in an old pumping station. He was seen going in with two others, but he never came out. He has been executed, the knife work professional, the killers vanished. Within minutes, the police are notified. Within hours, the FBI descends, laying claim to the victim without ever saying who he was or why he was there.

All Reacher wanted was a ride to Virginia. All he did was stick out his thumb. But he soon discovers he has hitched more than a ride. He has tied himself to a massive conspiracy that makes him a threat—to both sides at once.

(I’m reading Lee Child’s eighteenth Jack Reacher installment Never Go Back right now and I’m happy to say that I’m enjoying it much more than last year’s rather tepid A Wanted Man. I’ll be reviewing the new one soon, but for now, here are my thoughts on A Wanted Man, first posted at GR on Mar. 31, 2013.)

If a six-foot-five, two-hundred and fifty pound hobo with a busted nose manages to hitch a ride with strangers at night you can probably make a safe bet that something is amiss. Turns out there is more to his new traveling companions than meets the eye and Jack Reacher finds himself on a car ride through the midwest that’s as thrilling as…well, a car ride through the midwest.

I’m a fan of the Reacher series. While these novels might not be masterpieces of the genre, they are fun and reliable. You pretty much know what you’re going to get. Actually, they make me happy. The way a pizza makes me happy. Or a cheeseburger and fries. This one did not make me happy. This was a pizza with pineapple on it. A cheeseburger and fries left to harden in its own fat. I’ll still eat it, but it’s a little sad.

I don’t know if Child is getting tired of writing for Reacher or what, but he was clearly not in good form this time. I honestly think that Child’s writing at times approaches the sublime in its clunkiness. He’s not trying to be literary. His prose is as subtle as walking into a door, but it is appropriate for the stories he tells and I find his disdain for pretense refreshing. But this time I think Lee Child was phoning it in.

Sure, we get the usual Reacherisms. We get the usual taciturnity, the geeky obsession with trivia and numbers, the smart mouth to the bad guys and the requisite ultraviolent retribution at the end. Reacher goes shopping for new clothes at the dollar store like in every other book. He sees injustice, like in every other book, and a mystery and to sate his curiosity takes extreme and unauthorized measures to set things right. This book has the required elements. But ultimately it was soulless. It was checking the box. Going through the motions. Most of the dialogue was basically reacher thinking aloud with others about what might be going on. And driving. A lot of driving. Here and there, back and forth. Check on this, check on that, drive drive drive.

The conclusion was appropriately violent with Reacher taking on the enemy against all odds, but so what? The bad guy(s) were amorphous, relatively anonymous. Unlike previous installments that often had bad guys that were worthy of our hate, the bad guys here were “terrorists” and some middle-management types. Basically faceless. By the time it got to that point I just wanted to end it already.

Really, I don’t know what Child was thinking. Maybe he thought he could coast a little, what with a movie coming out and Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. I can’t blame Child for letting Tom Cruise play Reacher. If Cruise is in a movie it for sure is going to get made. The road to hell is paved with movies that were sold but never made. So in that sense Child’s decision is as practical as his prose and probably a good one.

But still (and this makes no logical sense) I can’t help but feel that if Dolph Lundgren was playing Jack Reacher this novel may have been better. Lundgren is physically perfect for the role. He’s actually not a bad actor, but he’s not as popular as Cruise. I get the feeling that if this were the case then maybe Child would not have set the “Cruise” control on this novel. Maybe he would have felt more of a hunger to make this Reacher novel, you know, kinda good.

But, Reacher and Mr. Child, I have not given up on you. I know they cannot all be gems. I am understanding. Considering the countless hours of mindless escapist enjoyment you have provided me I am still, indeed, in your debt. I am still a “Reacher Creature.”

But don’t let it happen again. Reacher spoke of a motto in one of the books: Never forgive. Never forget.

Just sayin’.

Tagged ,

Binge Day recipe: pizza casserole

One day a week I allow myself to deviate from my normal (hopefully healthy) method of eating. That day is Saturday for me and on Saturday I eat whatever I feel like, guilt free, without restriction. Soda, pasta, cake, pie, McFatburgers, fries, whatever. I call this 24 hour bacchanal my “binge day.” Even though the idea of “cheat days” or “cheat meals” is nothing new to me, I’ve only really embraced the usefulness recently and I’ll get to that in another post. The point is here is a recipe I tried last Saturday: “pizza casserole.” Sounds silly, right? Silly good.

(Not my pic, but it looks pretty good.)

This recipe is from, but here’s a rundown:

Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Ready In: 1 Hour
Servings: 7

2 cups uncooked egg noodles
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup sliced pepperoni sausage
16 ounces pizza sauce
4 tablespoons milk
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
3. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef with the onion, garlic and green bell pepper. Drain excess fat. Stir in the noodles, pepperoni, pizza sauce and milk, and mix well. Pour this mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 20 minutes, top with the cheese, then bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.

Again, this is not my everyday fare, but pretty good on a binge day.

Tagged , ,

Thank a veteran today

You ever wonder how Lee Marvin was so good at being a movie badass? Simple. He was a badass.

Here he is as a young Devil Dog:

He was wounded in action during the Battle of Saipan, when he was hit by machine gun fire, severing his sciatic nerve. He was one of the lucky ones, though. Most in his company were killed.

After his death in 1987, Marvin took up his earned place amongst other departed heroes. This is his marker.

This goes out to my brothers and sisters who have served or are still serving. Happy Veterans Day.

Tagged ,

Life After Goodreads (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”)

So it’s been almost a month now since Goodreads clamped down on reviews they deemed “off topic.” Secret police raids in the middle of the night commenced and reviews and shelves disappeared with no explanation other than they were dangerous to the party “off topic.” I can only imagine that these reviews and shelves were summarily executed and not dragged off to the review gulag because we’ve never seen them again. Well, I don’t need to explain to you what happened. If you’re reading this then you probably already know what went down. If you don’t know, others have written far better pieces on this topic. Needless to say, there was a great exodus from Goodreads, many moving to the welcoming arms of Booklikes or breaking ground in their own blogs. I’ve done a little of both and now that it has been a few weeks I guess it’s time for a little self-assessment.

I haven’t written anything yet about my views on the matter. Mostly this is because I haven’t been able to really put my thoughts together. I mean, I’m not even a “social media” kind of guy. I didn’t even know what Twitter was until a couple of years ago, I’m almost embarrassed to say (and I’m not even that old). Or Skype. Or Instagram. In fact, I am, in general, hopelessly out of date. So it was a great joy to find a site that was all about my newly re-discovered chosen preoccupation: reading! Furthermore, I could read about what others think about what I’ve read! I could discover new things to read! Heck, I even “met” some great people. Wow! Goodreads my ass– GREATreads is more like it!

And things were great for a couple of years until the dark lord Darth Bezos told Otis Bookwalker, “Otis, I am your father. Or at least you will call me ‘daddy.'” Goodreads became a part of the Amazon empire (or became its prison bitch, if you prefer). Goodreaders were full of skepticism, but Otis kept telling us in a soothing tone of voice to keep calm, nothing will happen. Joining with Amazon will be good for all of us (famous last words). I have to admit that even though I made my share of jokes about our new “Amazon Overlords” I didn’t really think that it would have such a sudden or significant impact on our overall Goodreads experience. Mid-October it came full force when reviews started to disappear and the review gestapo stared knocking on doors and boom goes the dynamite.

Now, I haven’t yet read all the stuff people have written about how or why this all happened, but I think it would be naive to think that Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads did not have any influence on what happened. I think it’s fairly obvious that it did. At any rate, people left. I wish I had statistics on this, but what I can say is that many of the people on my meager friends list and list of followings took their business elsewhere. The hell of it is that many of these people that left, the people that were victims of the “purge” were also the people that made Goodreads what it was. Sure, Otis set the thing up, but the reviews and the community were created by these users. Is that gratitude? Of course, Goodreads is Otis’ house (well, technically Jeff’s now, I guess) and he can do what he wants with it, including censor reviews. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cheap-ass stunt to pull.

Speaking strictly for myself, I cannot, with good conscience, write another review for Goodreads, rate another rating, enter another giveaway or otherwise feed the market data monster that Goodreads has become. I don’t have anything against the friends that decided to stay, but I just can’t get into it. Speaking of friends, here is another insidious aspect of Goodreads’ approach: Goodreads is holding your friends and online relationships hostage. Do you think people are going to want to leave their friends behind? Of course not. Comply or leave your friends and status at Goodreads behind. Maybe Goodreads didn’t plan this explicitly, but practically speaking holding your relationships hostage is exactly what they are doing.

To be totally honest, I can’t blame Amazon too much. It is what it is: a massive business machine. I don’t agree with their practices and I generally have the impression that Bezos might be a little bit of a dick. Buy you have to expect that they’re going to do this sort of thing. Acquire, assimilate. Like the Borg. But they are good to their customers. I try to avoid business with them whenever possible by patronizing local booksellers, but I know that even many small booksellers utilize the Amazon marketplace for additional business. You can’t even hardly avoid it. For example, once I thought I was pulling a fast one Amazon by finding a hard-to-find book on Abe Books. Guess what? Owned by Amazon. Go figure. I’d be a hypocrite if I railed against Amazon while still doing business with them, but I recognize them for what they are. Amazon is the devil you know.

So I have a practical attitude toward Amazon. If I give it money it will give me the things I want. They are good to me, the consumer, because they want my business. In effect, they are kissing my ass. That is our superior position as consumers. Goodreads, however, altered that relationship by making Goodreaders unwitting participants in Amazon’s marketing machine. Otis had a choice. He didn’t have to sell out. He always said that Goodreads was a site for readers. He neglected to mention that only applies until the big payoff comes and he sees dollar signs in his eyes. Am I wrong? Convince me, Otis. I think it’s a sorry state of affairs when dollar signs replace integrity. “Capitalism without conscience” and “anarchy for the rich”…not my bag, baby. I’m not making some political case here. I’m just making a case for being a rock-solid human being and being true to your word.

On another note, I think it’s kind of amusing that people are getting all riled up about the NSA checking up on your phone records or tracking your internet usage. Of course I don’t like intrusion, but I’m not too worried about it. I seriously doubt the NSA gives a shit about your funny cat videos or the cell phone photos of your cock you send to your mistress. But people are very concerned about this. On the other hand, people don’t seem too upset about mega-business tracking your every move, accumulating personal data and utilizing it for their own purposes. No, I’m not in the least concerned about the federal government. They are out to catch terrorists. Business wants to sell you a handbag.

But I’m digressing here, so let me rein it in. The question is: what now?

Booklikes is not a complete solution for me, not yet. The interface is a little clunky, but does seem to have a growing and vibrant community of Goodreads expats, which is good. Despite the bugginess of Goodreads, I did like the format and felt like I could keep up with friends’ reviews, something that seems a little harder on Booklikes. But I think Booklikes will improve. I’ll still have a notional presence on Goodreads, but I won’t let Goodreads use me. I’ll use it to check in on friends and people I’m following and for book research, but I won’t provide content for them. Book “reviews” will be pointers to reviews at Booklikes and my own blog. And I’ll write also at my WordPress blog. If there’s an easier, automated way to cross-post between Booklikes and WordPress, please do fill me in.

I suppose that I should consider myself fortunate that I got into Goodreads relatively late and haven’t invested as much effort and time into Goodreads as many ex-Goodreaders have. Even so, it hasn’t been an easy transition. Honestly, I don’t think Otis really gives a damn and Goodreads won’t go back to the way it was. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time before things get worse and reviews will turn into those worthless product reviews you find on Amazon. Time will tell. But I’m learning how to stop worrying. I’ve got books to read.

Tagged , ,