A Cuckoo Clock Ticked Anxiously Waiting For Its Big Moment

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a book that I probably wouldn’t have read without a very strong recommendation, as it doesn’t fit comfortably into my usual tastes. I would have missed out on some excellent writing.

I actually listened to this book as an audible.com download on my recent trip to visit family for a wedding and the 4th of July holiday. My wife and I were entranced by the beautiful use of language and were drawn to the sisters’ stories. Before the trip was over, my 19 year old son and 17 year old daughter were also caught up. Not what I expected, I admit.

So, what is it about this book that drew in my entire family? We are all suckers for Shakespeare. The references and quotes were entertaining to be sure, but I don’t think that was enough. The sisters’ quirky, complicated, lives were both familiar yet strange enough to be interesting as were their relationships to each other.

Honestly, I think it was the writing. I often separate my view of a work into writing (use of language) and storytelling. Many books are wonderful stories but the writing might be slightly better than average (like Harry Potter), other books can have marvelous writing without having a story I’m drawn to. This book had overwhelmingly good writing and the story was worthy with characters I learned to care about very quickly.

I would be remiss if I failed to include the mother and father in this review. I very much liked how enigmatic their characters were at the beginning, more objects than people, and as the sisters looked beyond themselves the parents became more real. It is the way with children and was well delivered in this book.

Also, the narrative voice was unique in my experience. I don’t even know what to call it. It is both first person and third person omniscient. The view is from the sisters’ point of view, but it shifts so that it is can be a sister or all the sisters without ever actually being a particular sister. Very creative and bizarre.

As for that Cuckoo Clock?  That line went by and I think my jaw dropped.  I stopped the book and looked at my kids.   My son says, “The cuckoo clock?”   “Yeah”, I said.  “Great line.”, he says.  My daughter caught it as well.  Not pivotal or anything.  Just a one-line fabulous piece of writing.

View all my reviews


Coming back

So, it has been a really really REALLY long time since I’ve written a blog post.

I’ve tweeted, commented, Facebooked and been active in the meat world for things I’ve cared about.

I have progressed a great deal in my commitment, education and practice of photography.  Again, in the areas I feel passionately about.

I’ve committed time, money and energy to things that I feel are important and tried to give back to people who have given me so much.

I don’t feel I’ve been idle, but I feel like I should be writing more.  So, I’m going to do that.  Not cover the intervening time, that would be a fools errand.  I’m just going to get back to posting.  Maybe long, maybe short.   Maybe about Atheism, Skepticism, Photography or family and friends at any given time.

I reaffirmed my “out” Atheist status again,

Lacking belief in fairy-tales is, hopefully, the least interesting thing about me.

I hope to make this true.


Saying Goodbye for the Last Time

When do we say goodbye for the last time?

A great deal has happened in 2010 that inspires me to try to collate the fragments of ideas I have about life.  The loss of my father, a friend being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, other losses and challenges to people in my life.  So much, I haven’t known where to start or what to say.  This is the first topic that I’ve been able to wrap my brain around.

It has now been about four months since a dear friend was diagnosed with brain cancer.  My friend, her family and their situation has been an integral part of our lives for that time.  In one way we’ve been fortunate enough to provide assistance is in giving her friends and family visiting from out of town a bed to sleep in.  When I say fortunate I mean it in a very real sense, both in the sense that our situation affords us the ability to do that and in the fortune of the wonderful people we’ve had the chance to meet.

After spending a long day with my friend, one such guest came back to our house very distraught as she felt she had just said goodbye for the last time.  I really was at a loss for how to comfort someone who has felt a very tangible loss while in that no man’s land between having some control of a situation and none at the same time.  You see, my guest is a photojournalist who may be on assignment in Dubai one day and earthquake ravaged Haiti the next. Where she will be a month from now may be well out of her control as she explained, “saying ‘no’ means you may not get the call the next time”.  Not good for a freelance photographer.

So, I didn’t have anything particularly helpful to say. But I listened and we talked.  Maybe that helped.  I hope so.

But it did get me thinking.

One of the other events of 2010 occurred, about a week after my friend’s diagnosis, was my father’s death.  This was quite sudden and unexpected.  The last time I had a chance to say goodbye was about four hours before he died.  I was at the hospital with my friends husband, her children, my wife and others.  My dad called to see how she was doing.  He had been a caregiver for my step mom for a number of years and understood that situation, the feelings and the tough decisions that get made.  When I said goodbye I was more concerned with the potential loss of my friend than my father.  It seemed reasonable given the situation and the excellent checkup he had just two days prior.

Getting back to the photojournalist. It would be easier if I just used names, wouldn’t it?  Anyway, her story is even more pertinent than you might think.  She came very close to dying herself about 8 years ago in a bus accident in a a remote part of Laos.  The bus was hit by a logging truck on a narrow road.  Her recovery began with a villager picking glass out of her, sewing her up without anesthesia and an 8 hour trip in the bed of a pickup to a hospital.  It finished months and months later.  This is her life.

So, why is it that she doesn’t realize that EVERY TIME she says goodbye it could be the last?

While I had no extraordinary reason to expect that call with my father would be our last, I now realize I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t be.  The universe is a dispassionate place with no regard for your pre-conceived notions of mortality, fairness or importance.

Why is it that we don’t all realize that EVERY TIME we say goodbye it might be the last?

It seems to me it was a skewed perspective to lead my guest to think that particular goodbye had greater significance than all the previous, or that my last goodbye with my dad had any less.  You just don’t know and it may just be messed up that we don’t think this way.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” — (Anonymous proverb, Sometimes attributed to Dr Seuss)


Anti-Vax Advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr draws obvious conclusion

The article doesn’t make any sense.  It is saying that Thorsen claimed that Autism cases grew in number due to the removal of Thiomerisol?
“This new law and the opening of a clinic dedicated to autism treatment in Copenhagen accounted for the sudden rise in reported cases rather than, as Thorsen seemed to suggest, the removal of mercury from vaccines.”
Also, if it was a big fraud sponsored by the CDC, why would the CDC have been the ones to detect and advertise the misdoings?
“The discovery of Thorsen’s fraud came as the result of an investigation by Aarhus University and CDC which discovered that Thorsen had falsified documents and, in violation of university rules, was accepting salaries from both the Danish university and Emory University in Atlanta — near CDC headquarters”
Not to mention the fact the RFK, Jr is a pretty well known anti-vax supporter, so the article has a known bias that needs to be taken into account.

This is a quickie to try to get back into the blog habit.

Dr. Poul Thorsen, a Danish scientist who authored a large study on vaccine safety is being investigated by Danish polish for a $2 million shortfall in grant money received from the CDC.

There are the facts of the case.

From that, RFK jr drew the conclusion that this is part of a conspiracy by the CDC and Thorsen to cover up the link between Thiomerisol and Autism.


The article doesn’t make any sense.  It is saying that Thorsen claimed that Autism cases grew in number due to the removal of Thiomerisol?

“This new law and the opening of a clinic dedicated to autism treatment in Copenhagen accounted for the sudden rise in reported cases rather than, as Thorsen seemed to suggest, the removal of mercury from vaccines.”

Also, if it was a big fraud sponsored by the CDC, why would the CDC have been the ones to detect and advertise the misdoings?

“The discovery of Thorsen’s fraud came as the result of an investigation by Aarhus University and CDC which discovered that Thorsen had falsified documents and, in violation of university rules, was accepting salaries from both the Danish university and Emory University in Atlanta — near CDC headquarters”


A Knight in Harman Hall

The stage at Harman Hall in Washington, D.C. was graced by a towering presence last night (10/29/2009).  Sir Ian McKellan performed a one man show to benefit the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington D.C. and it was brilliant.


Sir Ian strode to the stage from the back of the theater, much as the President does for a state of the union, to rapturous applause and many, many smiles.  As things calmed down, he began by saying that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, could we recount them.  People yelled from the audience the names of the plays, as he ticked them off  McKellan would tell an anecdote of an experience or some comment on the characters of the play.  Establishing a personal connection with the audience, Sir Ian assured that we would be right there with him as he proceeded through almost two hours of “something he’s trying for the first time”.

There’s an expression I’m sure we’ve all heard, “He could read from the phone book and I would be enraptured”.  Or something like that.

In those two hours McKellan took us through his life by anecdote, poem, scene, jingle, children’s song, dirty limerick  and even an entry from Roget’s Thesaurus.  He engaged the audience with humor and pathos.  We never thought we were incidental to what he was doing on stage, as you might for a play, we felt like this was very much a conversation even if it was a very one-sided conversation.


[Did you know that McKellan is the last actor alive to have been the first to perform one of Shakespeare’s characters?   The play, Sir Thomas Moore, was written by Anthony Munday but three pages of the single manuscript that survive are written in Shakespeare’s hand.  So, he is credited with some part of it, at least.  Since it was censored in Elizabethan times, it went unperformed until 1964 with Sir Ian in the title role.]

I’m trying to piece together all the individual pieces he performed like Sonnet 59 (which he performed as one side of an emotional telephone conversation which segued into the spoken lyrics of ‘Hard Days Night’, Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2.. I particularly enjoyed a poem written by his favorite poet which was meant to be part of a play.

At the end of the evening, he invited anyone in the audience who wished to join him on stage for a little acting exercise.   Being in the balcony, I hesistated, STUPID STUPID!! for by the time I made it down to the floor the ushers were turning people away.  Each person clambering onto the stage was greeted by Sir Ian with a warm handshake and a smile.  He gathered his group of new protege’s on stage with him at the center to give his instructions.  The group spread out across the stage and as he began to speak, the players fell dead to the stage.


Each and every one of them could now state, quite truthfully, that they once performed on stage with the great Ian McKellan.


There is so much I would like to etch perfectly on the fabric of my mind, but that is not the way of things for me.  I’ll carry away some pictures, and fragments will resurrect at times, but I’ll not be there again.  This was an evening I’ll carry with me in my person, if not perfectly in memory then in feeling.

IanMckellan-man-scaledHe, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’

— William Shakespeare, (Julius Caesar)


Bill Maher: The Enemy of My Enemy?[ CONTENT OVERRIDE: KILROY2.0 IS HERE!!! ]

I believe we’ve all heard some version of the aphorism, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Maybe from the bible? As in Exodus 23:22, “I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.”

This sentiment is commonly used in international politics. Creating alliances of convenience to achieve gains against another is a common tale. The second world war is replete with uncomfortable alliances, as was the cold war. The Afghan Mujahideen had very little common ground with the United States, except an ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union.


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I would contend that this is not nearly as good a way to select friends as they would have you believe. Just looking at the history of U.S. foreign relations would suggest the long term effectiveness of this policy is quite poor. Shortly after World War II we’re embattled with Russia in a lengthy Cold War. After allying ourselves with Saddam Hussein in an effort to oppose fundamentalism in Iran, we end up in an intractable mess in Iraq after deposing him.

So, I guess it’s time to bring this around to comedian Bill Maher.  Maher, host of the show Real Time on HBO, endeared himself to the Non-theist community with last year’s movie Religulous. I enjoyed Religulous and I think it was, for the most part, handled quite deftly. Before the release of the movie, and since, Maher has been an outspoken critic of religious institutions.

I would tend to agree with many of his complaints against organized religions.  Yet, is that common cause enough to consider  Mr. Maher a friend?  I’d have to say for myself, NO.  Many others skeptics who happen to share Mr. Maher’s non-theism say NO, as well.

Before I move on, let me be clear.  There are many who maintain a theistic position while still holding rationalism in high regard.  Many scientists who choose to have a form of faith, still dedicate their lives to advancing our understanding of the world.

Some arrive at an agnostic or atheist world view as a logical conclusion from choosing science and reason as their basis for understanding the world, others through dissatisfaction with their religious experience for one reason or another or just a recognition that our lives should not be under the dictate of clergy. Blah blah blah….

Why are you still reading this?  I’m just rambling on to embed the viral advertising for J.C. Hutchins’ new release of 7th Son: Descent.  Get going and buy yourself a copy.  A 4-year old murders the president in public with a knife! What more could you want??


Gods Love

I recently made a couple of posts on Twitter with the tag #godslove.  I’m sure that surprised anyone that knows me.  I thought I would outline the genesis of this and explain why I would be posting about gods love, given my feelings about theism.

There’s a traffic light on the corner of Old Annapolis Rd and Columbia Rd. where I sit almost every morning on the way to work.  At that particular corner is a church. This church has a sign where the pastor conveys important messages to the public, generally explaining how our lives are governed by an entity whose presence can only be known through… yes, the pastor’s teachings.

This past August I was confronted with the following message every morning for two weeks:


Every day I had to read that.  Every day thinking about all the pain, suffering and misery there is in the world.  All the times that random happenstance takes a life or, worse, leaves one in unending suffering.  Not just people, all the times animals are left by the side of the road to gasp their last.

Is this about anger with god?  Of course not. I don’t think there is such a thing.

So, why do I care?

Because this particular bit of hypocrisy smacks me in the face every time a plane crashes and some moron thanks god for their life, implicitly stating that those that perished were due their god’s wrath.

The people who did not go into the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, the ones who moved away from New Orleans before Katrina and any number of others who feel that they were owed some particular grace from the universe while others suffered or perished.

Every day for two weeks.

I hatched a plan.  I would periodically tweet how gods love actually worked.

“God so loved the people of The New Orleans area that on this day in 2005 he sent them Katrina #godslove”

“God so loved America that he sent his faithful to destroy the WTC and Pentagon on this Day in 2001 #godslove”

The second one definitely sparked a little more, ahem, interest.   Some people were very passionate about their god not having anything to do with the terrorist attacks.   I have to give my friends who had a visceral response to this quite a bit of credit, not only did they respect me enough to reply but they listened to my explanation.

As much as my explanations satisfied my friends of my position (and my compassion without the benefit of their beliefs), I think the folks at Mr. Deity are much more eloquent and funny.

Since I didn’t accumulate any new enemies and the interactions with my friends ended positively, I will continue to point out the failings of gods love and mercy.


Dr Gonzalez cancer regimen doesn't work. Immediate action could save lives.

Recently, the results of a trial for an alternative to standard chemotherapy treatment for Pancreatic Cancer were published.  The alternative is enzyme treatment therapy, sometimes referred to as The Gonzalez Regimen.

“At enrollment, the treatment groups had no statistically significant differences in patient characteristics, pathology, quality of life, or clinically meaningful laboratory values. Kaplan-Meier analysis found a 9.7-month difference in median survival between the chemotherapy group (median survival, 14 months) and enzyme treatment groups (median survival, 4.3 months) and found an adjusted-mortality hazard ratio of the enzyme group compared with the chemotherapy group of 6.96 (P < .001). At 1 year, 56% of chemotherapy-group patients were alive, and 16% of enzyme-therapy patients were alive. The quality of life ratings were better in the chemotherapy group than in the enzyme-treated group (P < .01).”


Just to emphasize the study showed that on average patients were likely to lose 10 months of their lives and have a lower quality of life on the alternative treatment.

A severe indictment of a particular alternative to conventional Chemotherapy. I think the real question is why Dr Gonzalez who is at the forefront of this alternative treatment is not being shut down in a very public way, immediately.

Not only that, but the National Cancer Institute has not modified its pages to
reflect the results of the study.  People are dying earlier and with a much worse
quality of life because of this.


Here is Dr Gonzalez’s web site:

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the study.

“Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez has been investigating nutritional approaches to cancer and other degenerative diseases since 1981, and has been in practice in New York since 1987. Dr. Linda Isaacs has been working with Dr. Gonzalez in his research and practice since 1985. In our office we use individualized aggressive nutritional protocols to work with many types of cancer, and with other illnesses such as allergies, autoimmune disorders and chronic fatigue.”


“The proteolytic enzymes we use were developed by us specifically for use in this program and are not commercially available in pharmacies, health food stores, on the Internet, or through multi-level health promotion plans.

Overall, cancer patients will consume 130-175 capsules a day, including nutrients as well as enzymes. Non-cancer patients might consume in the range of 80-100 capsules a day, the exact number depending on their health status and medical problems.”

I’ll bet all those pills are not covered by insurance and are VERY expensive.


Each year in the United States, about 42,470 individuals are diagnosed with this condition and 35,240 die from the disease.

Hopefully, very few of them are following Dr Gonzalez’s sage advice.

For a much more learned treatment of this subject please consult the wonderful Science Based Medicine blog , Dr. Steven Novella’s Neurologica Blog and Quackwatch


Bibles for teachers?

A religious group bent on religion being taught in school science classes has provided a thousand bibles to be distributed at the National Education Association convention next week.

A spokesman for the Creation Science Education Caucus makes no bones about their mission, “To be clear, the NEA Science Educator’s Caucus purpose is to reach individual teachers with the creation/gospel message”. Whether they publicly claim to want to change curriculum, or not, that is clearly their mission.

It turns my stomach to hear the phrase “Creation Science”, since it is decidedly not. Clearly, I’m not the only one.

It isn’t just any bible that is being distributed, it is the Charles Darwin Bible.  A bible that is specifically targeted at Atheists and has additional references propagandizing religious creationism.

Why should I be surprised that the religious continue to target the young and the education system? This is where they’ve always preyed, as it is fertile ground for sowing the seeds of credulity.


Sad placeholding entry

I’ve really been busy, honest.

My son just graduated high school and we’ve been involved in the transition from High Schooler to almost college freshman.  Visiting relatives, parties, orientation and such.

Also, I’ve been involved in some long email exchanges and some stuff on Facebook that would have been blog posts (and may yet).

That being said, I hope to start posting again.  At least once.  Real soon. Really.