Saturday, March 28, 2009

First Paragraphs

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
- The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Based upon a recommendation from both my mother and a dear friend, I recently acquired a copy of the book quoted above, and was, as I often am, sold by the first paragraph. Mr. Hosseini's simple, elegant prose tells of who this central figure in the story was and who he was to become, hinting at the whole of his character in a single sentence: "...I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years." How could I NOT read on?!?

For me the first paragraph of a novel is the most important paragraph of all. I am often hooked (or not) by those first few phrases; if they capture my attention, for whatever reason, I am sure to continue on and finish the book, devouring it with relish (and ketchup) and having it hold my attention from beginning to end, to the detriment of conversation, sleep and the pursuit of other enjoyment.

In several of my favorite books the first paragraph grabs you by the throat and shakes you. You know, right from that start, that this book is going to be a rollicking adventure of the first order.
As I left the Kenya Beanstalk capsule he was right on my heels. He followed me through the door leading to Customs, Health and Immigration. As the door behind him contracted I killed him.
- Friday, Robert A. Heinlein
Some authors though, seem to have dictated, rather than written, their books - as if they were meant to be read out loud, like an epic poem, for all around to hear. Prose with a lyrical quality can take a book to new heights. I find myself compelled by the elegant, flowing, beauty of his writing to read every book Tom Robbins has authored but that "chore" started when I first read this paragraph (thanks mom):
It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey.
- Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins
In other books the opening paragraph paints a picture of the protagonist's character. Their inner monologue, revealed in the opening lines, sheds light on their worldview, creating an immediate impression that bonds you to the hero from the first page.

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent smell of sweat, shot through with the sweat taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirts, then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light.
- The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood
Even a single sentence, such as the Robbins quote above or the one below can draw you in.
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.
- The Princess Bride (the good parts version), William Goldman
I could go on and on, I am a reader (again, thanks mom). I LURVE the printed word or, rather, I love BOOKS. I can (and do) read electronic books but I like best when I can curl up with my book and shut out the world and everyone in it. I love the dank smell of dusty, used books and the acrid odor of brand new print on fresh paper; I love the feel of the paper itself and the heft of the book in my hand; I love that moment where the story wins, carrying you away into another world at the author's side; I love the sense of hopeless frustration when even though I am still caught up in that world, I simply MUST put the book down and go to sleep; and, I love the sense of weary satisfaction I get when the book wins and I finish the last page and close the back cover just as the sun is rising.

But, most of all, I love the anticipation of cracking the cover and diving in at the first paragraph.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Look at the monkey (or shilling for AIG)!

Keep your eyes on the prize America! Like a game of financial Three-card Monte, the (unarguably) sickening AIG bonuses are being trotted out in, what I think, is a bid to get us to take our eye of the black queen (the failure of the deregulation, supply-side economics that got us into this mess) and substitute it with an ace (a ginned up "scandal" around bonuses that amount to less than .01% of the total of the monies used to bail out AIG).

IMHO, this is a first step in getting us, the "outraged" public, to fall prey again to our limited attention spans. Distract us from the actual issue and while the outrage is high push through even more bailout cash to the same nitwits who've ruined the global economy while ignoring the need for regulation to stem the losses and prevent a recurrence; find a monkey to dance for the crowd and shake the bailout cup while the organ grinders turning the crank on the whole shebang send in their crony's (read lobbyists) to pick our pockets of everything including the lint.

And rather than LAUGHING OUT LOUD at the idiocy of the failed policies that got us into this mess some people are still taking seriously the supply-side, trickle-down, voodoo economics that got us into this mess to begin with. What's worse is that it's not just the Republicans that are spouting this nonsense, but so-called Blue Dog democrats who are actually (finally!) in the position to FIX THIS SHIT that are threatening to block Mr. Obama's budget.

Have we not learned ANYTHING?!?!? Deregulation and low taxation on the top 2% DO NOT WORK!!! In fact, every time we have tried it it has lead to the same boom/bust economic cycles. Here are a few examples to refresh your memory:

1. 1978 - Airlines are deregulated
Result - Between 1978 and mid-2001, nine major carriers (including Eastern, Midway, Braniff, Pan Am, Continental, America West Airlines, and TWA) and more than 100 smaller airlines went bankrupt or were liquidated—including most of the dozens of new airlines founded in deregulation's aftermath (source).
2) 1992 - National Energy Policy Act of 1992 is passed beginning a spate of other Federal and State deregulation efforts.
Result - The California electricity crisis, characterized by a combination of extremely high prices, rolling blackouts, price instability and spikes leading to the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas and Electric and the public bail out of Southern California Edison (source).
3) 1996 - Telecommunications act of 1996 deregulates telephone, Internet and media (radio and television) industries.
Result - Today, four companies control 90% of all nationwide radio advertising revenue and cost-cutting measures by these new corporate owners have resulted in a scaling back of local news coverage, job cuts, and the homogenization of programming across the nation (source). Cable rates have shot up 48 percent nationwide since 1996. Cable rates have increased nearly three times as fast as inflation. 95 percent of Americans homes still have only one choice for a cable company. As for local telephone service, rates have increased 23 percent since the Telecommunications Act was passed. Before deregulation, there were eight major companies providing local phone service, each to a different area of the country. Today those eight companies have shrunk to four as a result of massive consolidation. The two biggest companies, Verizon and SBC, each control 30 to 40 percent of the nation's local phone business (source). These same companies control the last mile, the "pipe" that provides a link into your home for your Internet and alternative media services. And their control comes from a position of a protected monopoly!
When will we learn our lesson America? The best economic policy is one that regulates the excesses of the minority to protect the interests of the majority. Kind of like the Obama budget will do by rolling back tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% of Americans and instead reducing taxes for 95% of middle Americans. The "Blue Dogs" need to get their heads out of their proverbials and get on the right (read LEFT) side of this issue. And if they don't YOU need to hold them to account (I will certainly do my part)!

A blog by any other name (redux)...

The decision has been made. This blog shall be: Infinite Dominoes.

Why Infinite Dominoes? I believe in the idea of contextual Free Will; we are all connected, to each other and to our own past. Every choice we make, or don't, leads inexorably to the next. We build ourselves experientially (oooh I love coining new words!). Each choice is made freely but we don't live in a vacuum. We live in community and we have history. We carry that community and that history with us in every action we take or opt not to take. Our history and community provide context to our actions allowing us to understand whys of what we do and to learn from our successess and failures.

That context is something that has been horribly lacking in our public and political discourse over the last several years. I hope that is something I can keep in mind as I share my take on things with you all. Look forward (or not) weekly updates (at a minimum) as I try to get things into perspective for myself and understand what makes the Dominoes tumble.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A blog by any other name...

When I started this (two or three whole posts ago) I thought the blog title was fairly original. I love the concept of the Talking Stick as a way to facilitate communication. But, apparently so did a LOT of other people! I have, therefore, decided that this thing needs a new name.

Here are a few choices I like:
  • Damn Glad to Meet You (for purely personal reasons this one cracks me up!)
  • Fortress of Blogitude
  • ...We Also Write Blogs (from a story by Robert Heinlein)
  • Foot Long Chili Blog (purely for the silly factor)
  • If This Goes On... (from a second Robert Heinlein story)
  • Intellectual Limbo (I can't decide if this is for the "place" or the dance...)
  • Washing My Brain
  • Infinite Dominoes (based on a quote from a book by Orson Scott Card - “Free will doesn’t exist. Only the illusion of free will, because the causes of our behavior are so complex that we can’t trace them back. If you’ve got one line of dominoes knocking each other down one by one, then you can always say, Look, this domino fell because that one pushed it. But when you have an infinite number of directions, you can never find where the casual chain begins. So you think, that domino fell because it wanted to.” Ender's Game, p. 384)
  • Collapsing Wave Functions (Quantum Mechanically speaking, we're all just collapsed wave functions (or a pieces of a larger collapsing wave function))
  • Name this blog
If none of these strike your fancy, please, make a suggestion of your own. I have plenty of time. Meanwhile, I will continue to blog about things that strike my fancy and hope that my observations and opinions have some relevance to you, or not.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why life sucked until I was 30.

Depression runs in my family. My mother was undiagnosed all during my childhood. Of course I didn't know that at the time. I just knew that mom liked to sleep, a lot, and often felt "tired", and cried sometimes. I guess I thought that given our family story (I'll post about that some other time), this was just normal. I never really thought too much about it. And, I certainly didn't register that I had those same symptoms, although, from about age 13 on I did.

I first began to realize something was wrong with me when one day, with tears and much stopping and starting, I told my mom what I had been thinking for about a week: that my life sucked and that I often thought it might be easier to just step in front of a moving bus than to deal with it. She put me in therapy immediately.

But I didn't stay in therapy; therapy has never really helped me. I share easily enough without needing a therapist to do so (as you are reading) and truthfully I never found one I really trusted. Plus there was the whole money thing. At the time mom's insurance didn't really provide good coverage for mental health (ironic given that she worked for the Michigan Department of Mental Health at the time we're talking about). So, staying in therapy meant finding a way to pay for more than the 10 sessions a year our insurance covered.

The symptoms of Clinical Depression vary from person to person and can even vary for the same person over time. My Depression symptoms have indeed varied over time. In fact, they have varied greatly in scale and type over my lifetime. As I said earlier, my depression hit me in my early teens. It manifested first with constant feelings of being "down" or sad and with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. For a kid with self esteem issues to begin with those last two became such a part of my life that I gave them a name: the "Green Meanies" (named after the Blue Meanies from the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine). I often had problems sleeping as well. These varied from not being able to get to sleep to waking up several times during the night. Also common were long jags of sleepiness where my body "caught up" with it's need for down time. It was not uncommon for me to sleep for 12-14 hours at a time. I have in fact slept more than an entire day away in the past. I also had trouble concentrating or staying focused on a task which lead to problems in school - couple that with a high intelligence (as immodest as that sounds) and you have a kid who can easily grasp new concepts and not only hates homework (staying on task was a problem) but finds it pointless (I knew the material - homework was repetitive, boring and hard to stay focused on anyway).

The episodic nature of Major Depression is one of the real problems "normal" people have with understanding it as a disorder/disease. You'll hear people say "pull yourself out of it" or "we all feel a little blue now and then". And, in fact, it can go away, for months or even years at a time. During those times it is even possible to feel "normal". In fact, for some people depression is a one-time thing or very short term thing or is something they deal with for a short period during their teens and then again in mid-life. But, not for me. For me, and for MANY others, Depression is a long term chronic issue. It WILL return.

In my early and mid-twenties I continued to be undiagnosed and I continued to careen from depressive episode to depressive episode interspersed with periods of relative stability. There were just enough of those "stable" periods for me to continue to believe I was "OK" when the real truth was that I had a hard time holding a job, and school was completely off my radar. In effect I wasted an entire decade learning to deal with my depression. I call it my "lost decade".

At age 28, due in large part to the ending of a major romantic relationship (major for me, for her, no so much) my depression came to a head. When that relationship crashed I nearly did the thing a lot of people with depression think about all the time (and many actually do): commit suicide. I never really got close but I sure thought about it, a lot. It was perhaps the single darkest period of my life. Over that two year period I lost friends, jobs, a place to live, and nearly took my own life; it was rough. But, I made it through, and all this STILL without medication.

In my early thirties I got a job with enough benefits that I could really take a look at getting treatment. I began to hear more about Major Depression and its symptoms and realize how much they matched what I had been dealing with. Plus my mom got diagnosed and got onto medication and I saw the incredible changes it made for her. I got on my first medication at about age 32. But again, the episodic nature of the disorder can lead you to make foolish decisions - like going off your medication. Plus not all anti-depressants are created equal nor do they work the same for every individual. Suffice to say after three or four years struggling with medications with rough side effects and a couple of years when I didn't take meds (or tried to self medicate with herbs), I am now on a medication that works for me.

But what prompted this post is that I got lazy last weekend and missed two days of my medication. The particular SNRI I am taking takes a while to build up in your body, but stop taking it and in VERY little time (read two days for me) you will notice the lack. I have been back on them since Monday but have spent the last week feeling flighty and disconnected, tired, and having sleep issues (three days of the last 4 I have gone to sleep at 7pm and slept until 7am) and "not myself".

So, my word to the wise? Take a depression screening. If it says you have or are at risk of having depression TAKE ACTION!!! You do NOT have to live that way! It may take time and a combination of drugs and therapy but you CAN get back to even.

Also, if you are on ANY SSRI or SNRI drugs DO NOT STOP TAKING THEM even for a short period, even (especially) if you're feeling "better". Consult with your health care provider before you make ANY change to your medications. And, most of all, listen to your body.

And last but certainly NOT least, advocate for more programs and an increase in health care funding for mental health in your area. There is no reason for ANYONE to have to suffer with this disorder. or worse to take their own life because they cannot see a way out of the darkness.

I have learned to have no shame about this - it is who I am. And maybe, by talking about it, I can help someone else to avoid their own "lost decade". Have you struggled with Major Depression? Bi-Polar disorder? Panic attacks or Anxiety? If so, would you consider sharing your story? Perhaps you can help someone else to slay their version of the "Green Meanies".

The Talking Stick is yours...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thought is not action - ACTION is action

There is an old aphorism that "thought is action". Bunk! Bubkiss! Hooey! Shenanigans! Hokum! That's a lie. Thought is not action, ACTION is action. Thoughts may lead to action but the difference between a design for the perfect bridge and the bridge itself is a whole lot of ACTION (the Secret and every other self help book written in the last 100 years aside).

For those who don't know me I will let you in on a not-so-secret of my own: procrastination is my nemesis (evidenced by the date of my last post). Oh, I mean to do things; they are on the top of my list, but strangely they get left by the wayside. I am a man of great big ideas, ideas that inspire my passion. But, I am plagued by a lack of follow through. There is another old aphorism about eating an elephant in small bites. But this presumes you've enough oomph to take that first bite.

I find that I can say things like: "I want to blog about that". And, at the time I certainly mean it. I do want to blog about it. But, I somehow find other things to do, or, other things find me, and before you know it another hour or another day has passed and the blog entry is still unwritten, or the laundry is still undone or the car's oil is still unchanged...

There were two recent issues that I REALLY want to write about but haven't found the time/energy/motivation/oomph both involving compromise: a NYT OpEd that proposed a middle ground compromise on same sex marriage and a Time magazine OpEd that proposed a middle ground on the abortion issue. Both of these are tier 1, highest priority civil rights issues IMHO. If I can get my gumption up about ANYTHING it is about those two issues. And yet the blog is still only half written.

How do you fight procrastination? Is there a method? Is there a class I can take? Or, is it something I just need to steel myself to accept - I will always be challenged by my own lack of follow through? Tell me about your challenges - if you have them. How have you fought procrastination in your own life? Maybe you will have the magic pill I need to get some gumption.

The Talking Stick is yours...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Testing the waters

I finally decided that I needed a blog of my own ( This should post out to Facebook as well. But before I get started posting I wanted to lay down a few rules:

I have things to say, about politics and religion, about morality and ethics and about life in general. Infinite Dominoes is going to be my forum for that. If you don't like it, don't read it. I am not writing this for you, I am writing it for me.

I won't be answering flames that disagree with me. If you want to engage in a thoughtful discussion of the issues I'm all for it. But, I balk at butting heads with morons; never try to teach a pig to sing, it only wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Upfront warnings:
I am a progressive liberal - George Bush is not only a moron, he's a war criminal, as are most of his senior staff.

I am an agnostic humanist - I respect your right to worship your god as you see fit. But please, I pray, recognize that your right to your religious beliefs ends where it attempts to enforce itself on non-believers, even (or especially) for their own good.

I am pro-choice and against capital punishment and see no moral ambiguity in that position. They are separate issues. One involves the state infringing on the medical choices of its citizens, the other is state sanctioned murder. The fetus has no rights until its born; the murderer can be kept behind bars for his entire life for far less cost morally and financially then by putting him to death.

I am for gun control but am pro gun rights again no ambiguity there, it is a long stretch from a handgun to protect your home and family to a sub-machine gun or assault rifle; there is such a thing as sensible restraint of rights.

Knowing the rules please read and comment. I will be writing whether you read it or not...