NaNo: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Truu Finds the Time

The station was utterly state-of-the-art.  A plush, ergonomic chair that locked into place in both the work and recreational settings.  Finger keys built into the armrests, allowing seamless input without the dated nuisance of a keyboard.  Large, high-resolution screens on both walls, bookended by crisp speakers. A mini-fridge perpetually stocked with Truu’s favorite seltzer.

All this luxury and technology masked the cell-like coziness of the room, a mere ten by ten cell, where the majority of Truu’s waking hours passed.

And Truu knew that the newness of the equipment was but one side of the coin.  Young programmers were expected to pull very long hours- three and a half days per week, in Truu’s case- but as their stations were newly designed, they tended to be filled with the most newly-improved furniture and electronics.  It was the height of comfort, but also the height of labor.

It was a Thursday morning, the last day of Truu’s grueling week, and the chair faced the work station.  A triptych of screens displayed statistics, raw code, and the waste department’s visualization map. Truu was not typing, but thinking.  

Over the past month, Truu had been on fire.  Thanks to deft programming and creative problem solving, the sector had reduced man hours by seven per week.  Three more were needed, and then Truu would reap the rewards: a reduction to a three-day workweek. Wednesdays, the day of half-employment, would be liberated.  Truu would be one step closer to freedom.

Those last three hours of reduction were proving stubborn.  Truu looked over the data again, started typing, and then deleted it; another false start.  A clear mind would be better suited. That thought taking hold, Truu depressed a small lever protruding from the side of the chair, and the seat rotated 180 degrees, facing the recreation wall.  

One large rectangular screen, flanked on each side by two smaller square screens, hummed to life.  A few finger taps initiated a video call, and within seconds, Truu’s main screen was filled with the larger-than-life image of Eefoh.

“Truu!  Thought you were working this time of day.”

“I am, or, at least, I was.  Kinda got stuck,” Truu said.

“Trying to clear your noggin for the next push?” said Eefoh.

“Something like that.”

“You’re up for promotion soon, aren’t you?  How many hours do you have left?”

“Just three.  It’s a pain in the ass, though.  So I thought I’d call, take my mind off it for a few.”

“Hey, anytime buddy.  Honestly, I’m glad to hear from you.  I thought we might be on the outs after last weekend.”

“Oh, c’mon Eef, I’m not gonna hold that against you.  It’s a fucking sim, it isn’t real.”

“Hey, you were pretty pissed afterwards.  You wouldn’t even take my calls.”

“That was just during the adjustment period,” said Truu.  “You know how it is, takes a little bit to get centered again.  I mean, you DID kill me, after all.”

“No, my character killed your character.  It’s different.”

“…which is why I’m not mad at you.”

“Well, thanks for that,” said Eefoh.  “So, you wanna tell me about the problem?  Not like I know a damn thing about waste management.”

“Yeah, why not.  I’m beginning to think it won’t be solved until we change the vehicles, though, and that could take a year.”  

“Oh, come on, there’s gotta be a better way.  Lay it on me.”

“Alright, so, there’s this sector- it’s about three full blocks in size- where they process farmed fish into food and other stuff.  It’s classed pretty high, a pretty valuable industry, almost completely automated, so there aren’t any idle work-hours I can claim.”

“That was gonna be my first question,” said Eefoh, “Damn.”

“So the problem is, the containers they receive the fish in are too big for the class-four vehicles, but the way they designed the roads, class-three vehicles can’t get through them.”

“Too narrow?”

“Too narrow,” Truu nodded.  

“Could you maybe switch the drop-off point to one of the larger streets?”

“Yeah, I tried that.  Control shut it down, said it was too messy and resource-intensive.  Something about the bots. I honestly only understood about twenty percent of it, but that twenty percent was that it was too complicated, and impossible to solve.”

“So could you modify the vehicles just a little bit, so the class-four will hold them?”

“No, tried that.  It would be expensive, and it would create a ripple of problems for the other routes they use these vehicles to service,” Truu said.

“Huh, you’re right, that’s a stumper.  It’s a shame they have to use such problematic containers.  Maybe you should put in a complaint to food procurement, tell them they’re causing a bottleneck.”

“Sure, but that won’t help me, at least not for the three years those folks take to make any changes to their precious system.”

“Yeah, I know a few of the fish folks.  They’re pretty snooty about their operation.  You know how many labor hours fish procurement costs these days?”

“No, that’s not the sort of statistic I keep at the ready.”

“Zero,” said Eefoh.  “Not a single one. Outside coordination, of course.  That’s why they’re so proud of it.  A sub-sector at peak efficiency.”

“And yet causing problems for all the rest of us,” Truu said.  “Anyway, how are you enjoying your day off?”

“I won’t lie, it’s pretty great.  I’m doing a v-hike in a few hours, then I’ll probably hit the match and have some dinner.”

“Ugh,” said Truu, “three more hours and I’ll have an extra day off, too.”

“Half day, though, right?”

“You know how it is Eef, might as well be a full day if you gotta work at all.”

“I hear that.  You doing a sim this weekend?”

“Yeah, I think so. Might try something new, like a Victorian age or something.”

“You wanna go sibs?  Promise I won’t kill you this time.”

“As though you can make that promise.” said Truu.  “You know, I think I’m gonna do this one solo. Just to clear my mind, you know?”

“Truu, you sure you’re not holding a grudge?”

“It’s fine.  Let’s just take a few weeks off from sibling sims, okay?  Like, it’s not a big deal, but my most recent experience in the sim is of you stabbing me with a knife.”

“It was a letter opener, but I understand.”

“Let me ask you one thing, though: did they ever catch you?”

Eefoh smiled.  “Nope. Just don’t ask what I did to your body afterwards.”

Truu chuckled mirthlessly.  “Whatever. I’ll catch you soon.”


The line disconnected, and a pull of the lever sent the chair rotating in the opposite direction, back to the work wall.   

Okay, focus, thought Truu.  Can’t work the vehicle angle, can’t work the location.  That just leaves the containers. But that would mean working with fish.  Ah, what the hell, worst thing they can say is no.

A few finger-strokes pulled up a directory, then patched into a coordinator at fish procurement.  

“Hey, got a problem in waste management, need your help,” said Truu.  No wasted words; they were both working and efficiency was next to godliness.

“Hope I can,” said the voice on the other line.  A note on the auxiliary screen identified them as Meero, a class-2 Junior Coordinator.  

“Do your facilities in E-7 use any shipping packaging smaller than the six by four ALs?”

“Hang on a sec,” said Meero.  “Yeah, but low quant. For mid- and long-distance aerial.”

“What size are they?” said Truu.

“Two by two.”

That would be perfect!

“Okay, we’ve got a bunch of the six-by-fours coming to E-5, about six hundred per day.  Any chance I can get those swapped for the two by twos?”

“It’s possible.  For how long?”

“Permanent,” said Truu.

There was a pause on the other side of the line.  

“We’d have to readjust our procurement from metals.  And swap a few of the delivery bots, but that part’s easy.  It’ll be expensive, and adds net to the energy reqs. What would it save you?”

“Three and a half hours per week.”

“Hang on, let me run it,” said Meero.  The line was silent for a full minute, though Truu could see Meero’s face looking intently at the screen, fingers tapping inputs.  “Okay…it’s gonna take us about nine hours of lead time. it’s right on the gray line for the guidelines. I can run it up the chain, it might get approved.”

“So here’s the thing,” Truu said.  “If this is approved, I meet quota and lose a half-day, personally.”

“Whoa!” Meero was visibly impressed by this.

“…so, if there’s anything you can do on your end…”

“Hmm…well, the way I see it, if you add in the time you’ll earn that makes it seven and a half net hours per week saved, right?”

“I mean, not exactly, I’m not sure we’re supposed to count that way.”

“An honest mistake, then.  I make them all the time.” Meero smiled.  “With that, it’s well within my discretionary parameters.  We’ll make the change. Give it a week and a half, maybe two.  I’ll have implementation details sent to you by Saturday.”

Truu looked at the side monitor to make more careful note of this coordinator’s name.  

“Thanks, Meero.  I owe you one.”

“Hey, pay it forward.  And congrats!”

“Thanks again.”

The call terminated.  Truu sat silently for a few seconds, and then let out an involuntary yell.  It was done- within two weeks, Wednesdays would be another day of freedom.

Just three days per week left, Truu thought, and then I can enjoy my retirement!

(1602 words)

Published in: on November 2, 2018 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Graduation Day

Some thoughts and remembrances of Uncle Lucius’ final show

On Friday, March 23rd, Austin-based country rock band Uncle Lucius held their final live show.  The venue, Gruen Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, purports to be the oldest dancehall in the Lonestar State.  My brother, Jon, has been Uncle Lucius’ keyboard player for the last seven years.

About two weeks before the show, I booked the shortest vacation of my life.  I would fly in two hours before the show, surprise my brother, and leave the following afternoon.  My time in transit would approximately equal my time on the ground. Even so, I had to take a day off work; my schedule, particularly given the last-minute nature of this trip, necessitated a very brief visit.  

The first leg of the flight was the most uncomfortable flying experience I have ever had…and I was once on a plane in China that nearly crashed.  This time it was a United flight, and my middle seat had so little room that I couldn’t properly extend a book in front of my face without hitting the seat in front of me.  It served as an important reminder of why I don’t voluntarily fly on United Airlines.

As New Braunfels is between Austin and San Antonio, getting there necessitated renting a car, which I did in my chosen port of arrival, San Antonio.  Though I am out of practice driving, I got there in one piece. After leaving the interstate, the navigation took me through mile after mile of utter nothingness.  Then, all of a sudden, a village appeared, with cars lining both sides of the street and a huge, mostly full parking lot. I had arrived.

My logistical connection with the band- the bassist, Johann- hadn’t gotten back to me, so I was concerned about how to get into the sold-out show.  It was a few minutes before the opening act was scheduled to start, and the line extended around the block. All I knew was that Johann had put me on the guest list, but so that my brother wouldn’t see it, he put me down as his girlfriend’s plus-one.  I imagined getting to the front of the line and telling the security guard, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m on the list…Johann’s girlfriend’s plus-one….her name? I dunno…”

Fortunately, in the outdoor area on the other side of the fence, I spotted my brother.  I asked a brusque-looking security person to get his attention for me, a request he ignored until I mentioned our relation.  A sudden, full grin erupted across his face. “You’re a GROSSMAN? You want…JONNY KEYS?!”

Jon and I had a warm, brotherly reunion.  He smuggled me into the venue through sheer force of will.  

Unbeknownst to me, Jon was sitting in with the opening act, so he only had a few minutes before he had to go on stage.  He was ebullient, introducing me to everyone, as though my full name was “my-brother-who-came-from-New-York-and-surprised-me.”  

In my experience, fans of Uncle Lucius are all big fans of Jonny Keys.  They bought me beers, shook my hand, gave me hugs, all because I had a connection with him.  For the last seven years, Jon has been a musical virtuoso with the band, bringing his frenetic, colorful style to the stage.  He plays the keyboard with impossible fluency. In the opening act, he was playing songs he had first learned the night before, and was able to freestyle and complement their arrangement seamlessly.  

I stood front-row-center for most of the show.  The entire thing was wonderful, with three distinct high points, from my vantage point.  The first was Jon surprising me with a performance of my favorite Uncle Lucius song, New Drug.  It wasn’t on the original set list, but he added it at my request. The song rocked, and the crowd’s applause was deafening.  Then, the band covered Tom Petty’s “It’s Good to be King,” one of my favorites from the late, great bard. Lead singer Kevin’s voice is perfectly suited for that song, and it was fantastic.  Finally, the band played “Wolves,” a song written by Kevin as a tribute to his dad. His dad, who I met earlier in the evening (and bought me a beer) stood next to me in front during that song, a moving emotional high near the close of the set.  

The crowd lingered long after the boys took their final bows.  Merchandise was snatched up, photos were taken, and there were so many tears.  Several fans of Uncle Lucius had followed the band for various stretches, and seen hundreds of their shows.  During the past seven years, I had only seen them thrice, a pretty paltry attendance record for a big brother.  

We spent the evening in the pool area of the band’s hotel, about two miles from the venue.  We talked and laughed and told stories until the sun came up. I had a grand total of two hours of sleep on my twenty-four hour stay, crashing in Jon’s unused hotel room.  

In the days that followed, Jon and I exchanged very nice emails.  We don’t keep in touch particularly well, but our relationship remains close.  Even if six months pass between conversations, we fall right back into our usual camaraderie without missing a beat.  

The Uncle Lucius years saw Jon move out of our hometown, tour the country and Europe, sharpen his musical skills, network with world-class musicians, and ultimately, join their ranks.  It also saw a fair share of challenge, from health problems to the uncertainty of housing and life on the road. He came out the other side thriving, with a world of possibilities in front of him, and a fan base filled with adoring admirers.    

I’m terribly proud of my kid brother.  He set out to make wonderful music, and he went and did it.  Very few people can stick to a dream with such constant focus. He inspires me to pursue my own dream of becoming a successful writer.  

Uncle Lucius may have played their final show, but their music lives on, as does the impact they had on so many people who followed their long tenure as a touring band.  I’m so glad I was able to be there to see the final show, and to watch those five musicians end such a successful chapter of their musical careers.


Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fourteen Years Later

Some thoughts on the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

Fourteen years ago, I was in college, living with my girlfriend and two roommates in an off-campus hovel.  It was my practice at that time to schedule my classes as late in the day as possible- I am not, and never have been, a morning person.

So, I was asleep when my girlfriend shook me awake to say that something was happening in Washington, something about a bombing.  We didn’t have a television, and this was the era before smartphones.  It took most of the morning, making calls to friends and family, before we pieced together what was happening.  My dad was traveling, and I remembered him talking about a meeting he would have in the World Trade Center.  I was very worried until I called my mom, who reassured me that my dad was stranded in Canada, which, all things considered, was not a bad place to be.

Looking back on that day, what I recall most strongly is the lack of finality.  We didn’t know that it was over, that the four planes were the entirety of the attack.  We spent the entire day fearing that there was more to come, that it wasn’t over yet.  That feeling persisted for several days.  I skipped class on September 11.  I think the other students did, too.

Of course, living in Lexington, I was far from the places directly impacted.  In the weeks that followed, my friend Dimitri and I drove to New York to see what had happened and find a way to help.  This was prior to the construction of the visitors’ dome: New York had not yet learned how to properly host a disaster.

When I returned to Kentucky, I wrote a personal narrative about the experience.  It was for a writing class, a “Noticing” assignment that was focused on senses other than sight: I threaded observations about smell throughout the piece.  At the time, and for several years after, I considered it my strongest writing, but somewhat atypically I did not retain a copy, and that piece is lost; each year on this day I wish I could revisit it.

Since moving to New York three years ago, my perception of September 11 has changed.  I see the way it has left a legacy on the city.  People tell with muted voices about where they were, what was happening that day, people they knew and lost.  Every fire station is a memorial to the first responders who died.

This past year, I visited the museum, a jarring look back at the events as they unfolded.  I know there have been many controversies about that museum, but I found it compelling.  I left feeling sad, but with a sense of perspective that makes me appreciate how far we have come from that time.

On the morning commute today, the bus pulled over, and the driver said, in typical barely-understandable announcement fashion, that we would be stopping for a minute of silent remembrance.  I looked at my watch- it was the very minute the first plane hit the towers.

September 11 means different things to different people.  I lived far from the tragedy, and I did not know any of the victims.  It still impacted my life, as it did, in some way, the lives of everyone.  Its effects rippled across the globe, across the next decade.  It is still felt today, in our policies and our national memory.  I write this post to lay down my own personal marker: I remember that day.


Published in: on September 11, 2015 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Further Modesty

A reluctant addendum to my previous post

In light of the Justin Carter debacle, it has been suggested to me that I clarify that my previous post was intended as dry humor, sarcasm, irony, an homage to Jonathan Swift, and other such please-tell-me-we-still-have-first-amendment-protection-in-this-day-and-age purposes.  It was not a serious suggestion for violence; I don’t like guns and do not support their use, even on bad dog owners.

(grumble, grumble)




Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Un-Doctored Strangefood

24 Carrots, Sadhana Raj, vegan, juice bar, Chandler, Phoenix

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beet

Over the course of the last ten days, I have been making the final step in my relocation to New York.  This involved a six-city, 3,600-mile drive across the country, stopping at various ports of call to visit relatives, friends, and rest stops.

When I sat down to plan the details of this trip, I realized that my intended route would pass through Phoenix.  As it happens, two of my childhood friends (Sadhana and Shyam) opened a business just outside Phoenix, a juice bar and restaurant called 24 Carrots.  Since I planned to be in Phoenix right around mid-day, I made a plan to stop there for lunch.

There was, of course, a catch.  24 Carrots distinguishes itself by serving high quality vegan food, raw food, and locally-sourced food.

As those of you who know me can attest, I am not a vegetarian.  My pendulum swings far to the other side.  I enjoy meat, the more exotic the better, and prefer my steak still mooing.  I recognize that vegetables have their place, but that place is as a garnish to meat.  When it comes to non-meats, my favorite culinary category is dairy; I love good cheeses.

I consider the cheeseburger the highest accomplishment of civilization.

Because of that, the prospect of eating a meal at a vegan restaurant gave me pause.  Vegan food avoids not only meats, but animal products such as eggs and dairy.  Of course, it would be worth it to visit Sadhana, so I resolved to order a variety of offerings from their menu and chalk it up to a new experience.   Frankly, I did not expect to enjoy it, but fell back on my favorite mantra: yes, I am willing to try new things.

When I first arrived at 24 Carrots, just a mile off the interstate in Chandler, I was very impressed.  Along the wall, they featured tree-themed fine art, consistent with the nature-friendly theme of the restaurant.  A large blackboard in the rear featured inspirational and funny quotations.
The atmosphere was bright, clean, and welcoming.  I was glad to be there.

During my 90-minute visit, the frenetic lunch rush kept the staff, including Sadhana, scrambling to fill orders for invariably happy diners.  Most had apparently been there before, and returned with regularity.  This was very encouraging.

I ordered a wide variety of food from the menu, beginning with a smoothie.  As much as I hate to devote a full paragraph to a single smoothie, my experience with it was interesting.  When I first took a sip, I thought perhaps it had not been mixed properly, as there was hardly any flavor.  It had color, but no taste!  Immediately, I thought my bias confirmed, that vegan/raw/organic food would be ethically rewarding, and gastronomically disappointing.

However, as I continued drinking, a funny thing happened: it started to get better, and then not just good, but really really good.  It was different from the type of “good” I would usually assign to a beverage.  It was a sort of crisp, clean taste that I enjoy but seldom experience.  Upon later reflection (did I mention the 3,600 miles?  Lots of time to think…), I believe what happened was a sort of palate-cleansing.  My only earlier meal that day was a croissant sandwich from Arby’s, along with some high-fructose orange-like beverage.  The shocking sugars and processed foods had conditioned my palate to only respond to shouting; the softer tones of wholesome food did not immediately register.

As I finished the smoothie, I was definitely enjoying the more subtle flavors.  This was followed by a jalapeno dish stuffed with cashew and vegan cheese.  I still have no idea what is in the oxymoronically-named vegan cheese, but this was the best thing I tasted at the restaurant, and I nearly ordered a second helping.

The main course was a half-sandwich filled with, of all things, beets.  Now, to say that I do not like beets is a bit of an understatement.  I have written a derisive short story regarding the fictitious history of the beet, positing that they grow underground because God was attempting to hide his mistake from us.  There is nothing redeeming about a beet.

…except that these beets tasted good.  They were thinly sliced, and there was some sort of chemistry between the bread, the other ingredients, and the beets that rendered them not only edible, but enjoyable.   They did drip annoying stain-juice all over my sleeves, but I can’t really blame the dish for my inability to cleanly consume it.

The sandwich came with a soup of avocado and tomato.  For some reason, the descriptive word “raw” did not register as it should, and I was surprised to find the soup served cold.  Avocados are nature’s butter; nothing with avocados tastes anything but wonderful, and this cold soup was no exception.

Overall, my experience with vegan food was refreshing.  I do not think I could eat vegan food for every meal, but this dining experience was a pleasure, not a chore.  My later stops in Austin and Little Rock provided enough barbecue that my dietary need for massive quantities of animal protein was not jeopardized.

If you ever pass through Phoenix, I recommend trying 24 Carrots.  Even if vegan is not your thing, you might be pleasantly surprised.  I certainly was.




Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Time to Say Goodbye

An open letter to my friends in California

Dear Friends,

Over the holidays, Ashley and I decided to relocate to New York.

This decision has been a long time in the making.  As most of you know, Ashley has a master’s degree in 3-D Character Animation, and in the fall of 2011, she was hired as a freelance animator by a company based in Manhattan.  While the job security was not great- she would find out each week if she was “booked” to work the following week- it provided her with her first real experience in her chosen field.  Since that time, she has been renting a room in Flushing, and while we have traveled back and forth to spend time together, we have been effectively “bi-coastal” for nearly a year and a half.

This past February, I sat for the New York Bar Exam, and was admitted to their bar in October.  The exam itself was quite simple compared to California’s mandatory hazing ritual, but the admissions process was frustrating enough to warrant a future blog post, which will be forthcoming when the mood again strikes me.

We have been investigating whether to relocate, or to have Ashley find a position on the West Coast, since that time.  Finally, last month, two independent developments led us to a decision.  First, Ashley was offered a contract, and negotiated terms better than a professional negotiator (i.e. her husband) could have accomplished.  The significance of this is that she now has job security, along with benefits.  Second, we spent the holidays together in Kentucky, and realized that our current situation is untenable.  I love being with Ashley; it is one of the countless reasons I married her.  Remaining bi-coastal is no longer an option.

For those reasons, today I notified my firm that I will be resigning my position, and leaving California at the end of January.  While I do not yet have a position secured, I am confident that once I am there, in person, for interviews and networking, an opportunity will present itself.

To be sure, I have mixed feelings about moving, though I am confident I am making the right choice for our family.  I love California.  The culture here is, in my opinion, the best in the country.  We are diverse, accepting, progressive, and forward-thinking.  The politics here suit me.  More, California is beautiful.  We have nearly every climate represented in our one state.  I am also a big fan of seasons, which is why I live in an area that skips the crummy ones.  We have snow, if you care to drive to it, but it never imposes itself where we live.  I will also miss the beautiful hiking trails, particularly those in the Auburn area, along the Northern Fork of the American River. If you live here and haven’t visited them, you’re missing out.

More than the state itself, I will miss the people here, and the wonderful friendships I have enjoyed since moving to San Rafael in 2005.  My law school classmates and professors, my wonderfully unique social group in Sacramento, and the professional connections I have relied upon make this a wonderful place to live.  I feel richer for having known all of you.

However, I am also greatly optimistic and excited about the new opportunities and adventures that lay ahead.  New  York is a vibrant city, and moving to the East Coast puts us much closer to our families and childhood friends.  I expect to arrive in New York about a week into February, and look forward to reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and finding my way in the city that never sleeps.

Thank you all so much for the friendship and support you have shown me over the past eight years.  I will miss you.


Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 8:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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Somebody has to say it…

An inappropriately cynical view of Chris Christie, from a realpolitic perspective

I have been neglecting this blog as the election approaches, instead focusing on my Grossman Guide.  However, that site is non-partisan, and I have a few partisan and ridiculously inappropriate observations to share here.  Consider yourself warned.

The big news story from today was President Obama handling the fallout from Hurricane Sandy, looking presidential, and getting some unexpected kudos from Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.  Now, Christie played this one exactly correctly; he slapped down any considerations of politics and focused his attention and remarks on helping the victims of the storm, as he should.  As a part of that, he heaped praise on Obama and his response to the storm, which only underscores the president’s competence in the last week before the election.

So, my inner cynic has been working this out, and I have a theory that is bound to upset some folks, but here it is:  I think Christie is making an intentional, politically-motivated power play.  I do not naively believe that the New Jersey governor, a prominent Republican thought to be on the short list for VP earlier in the cycle, is blind to the political significance of his comments.  Rather, I believe he had two reasons for boosting Obama at this critical juncture in the cycle.

First, Christie may feel snubbed at being passed over for the less-qualified, less-deserving Paul Ryan for the vice-presidential nod.  He would have added immeasurably more to the ticket, and I think he is unhappy at Romney’s decision.  Second, I believe that Christie plans to run for president, and an Obama re-election sets him up as one of the front-runners in 2016.  It simultaneously eliminates Ryan, who will be tainted with a Romney loss, and clears Romney out of the way, since if elected, he would presumably run for re-election in 2016.  Now, Christie can have the field to himself.

And what a field it is!  There are no- make that, NO- Democrats with a clear front-runner status.  Both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden would be considered front-runners, but they will be rather old four years from now, which is a campaigning liability.  I believed that Christie’s decision not to seek the nomination this cycle was due to his calculation that it would be very difficult to unseat Obama, a political dynamo.  By waiting out his second term, Christie may make his eventual election to the presidency that much more likely.

At the same time, his reaction to the storm, especially in the face of a pending election, gives him bi-partisan credibility.  He put governance before politics at a crucial moment, and the moderates will remember this, as will many Democrats.  Any Republican backlash will ebb if and when he becomes the nominee, as we saw with the lining-up of support for Romney after a bruising primary.

So, controversial much?  I know.  But somebody had to share this opinion, as I’m sure it is shared by many other political observers out there.


Published in: on October 31, 2012 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Darkness Constrained

Criticizing the transformation of one of my favorite authors, Anne Rice

There are a handful of authors whose style and storytelling is so appealing, I count them among my favorites.  With the exception of Bob Woodward, they are all fiction writers, and include such diverse authors as Charles Dickens, John Updike, John Steinbeck, Terry Pratchett, Tom Robbins, Stephen King, Herman Wouk, and Gore Vidal.  When I identify an author as a “favorite,” it becomes my goal to read their entire writings.   This is much easier with dead or retired writers, as modern authors have the annoying habit of releasing new material even after I have completed their existing bodies of work.

One of the first authors I “finished” reading was Anne Rice, most famously known for her vampire and witches chronicles.  Those familiar with Rice may not know that in addition to her well-known series, she has written a number of books that are, shall we say, risque, almost to the point of vulgarity.  In particular, her three-part take on the legend of Sleeping Beauty is suitable neither for children nor adults, and her decision to write it under a pseudonym was probably for the best.

Despite those vulgar mis-fires, the body of literature produced by Rice is compelling.  Before such authors as Stephanie Meyer remade vampires as teenagers full of angst, Rice crafted a vampire saga that explored the humanity of her characters, and believably described their reactions to and interactions with the preternatural forces they encounter throughout the stories.  In a parallel story-told world, that of the Mayfair Witches, Rice lavishly describes the experiences of a young girl with a mysterious family history, and follows her as she uncovers both its secrets, and her own.  The Witches saga, as well as the first five books of the vampire series (it continued a book or two past its expiration date), represent Rice at her best.

The elements that make Rice a compelling storyteller include her focus on the humanity of her superhuman characters, her ornamental descriptions of landscapes, people, and societies, and the edginess of her stories.  Undercurrents of the struggle between good and evil run through each of her novels, and her protagonists typically experience the ambiguity between those forces.  Though her early works were dark, they were not depressing, and her choice to make the “monsters” the protagonists gave her stories a freshness and originality that distinguished them from the classic Bram Stoker version of the vampire myths.

Following a near-death experience in the late 1990s, Rice underwent a spiritual reawakening, and returned to Christianity (during her early career, she was essentially athiest).  This was accompanied a few years later by a decision to stop writing about figures of darkness, and begin devoting her writing to telling the story of Jesus.  In her only non-fiction offering, a memoir entitled Called Out of Darkness, Rice explained that she realized a need to let go of the skepticism that was keeping her from the church, and to accept Jesus back into her life.  Since 2003, she has not published any more stories of the preternatural.

Instead, Rice has focused on telling plausible stories from the “lost years” of Jesus’ life, including the surprisingly readable Christ the Lord series.  It pains me to write this about an author I have admired for many years, but I believe that in making the decision to devote her writing to religious purposes, Anne Rice has lost her way.

This would be a much easier pronouncement if the religiously-themed novels were bad, but they’re not bad.  They’re actually pretty good, and that’s the problem.  Rice is an author of tremendous abilities, and when she combines her narrative style, her storytelling ability, and the edginess of her earlier works, she can write truly great novels.  Her recent stories lack that distinction.

I believe the problem with these recent books relates to the constraint imposed by working within a religious framework, particularly as it relates to literary themes.  Her earlier stories had thematic undercurrents that were engaging and controversial.  While Rice has described her early work as consistently narrating transformative quests by her protagonists, she also explores issues of sexuality, mortality, feminism, and philosophy.  The newer stories are much more constrained and predictable in their themes of temptation, sin, redemption, and immortality through faith.  The stories lack edge, and if they had been the first books from Anne Rice I had encountered, I probably would not count her among my favorites.

I want to stress that the Christ the Lord series, particularly for readers interested in history and the early life of Jesus, is readable, accessible, and avoids being preachy.  Rice does manage to entertain as she presents her message, but the message is there, it is predictable, and it is far less fun and compelling than her early works.  It also bears mentioning that Rice is an author very much engaged with her fans, and with the political and social issues of the day.  She embraces the controversy of both her earlier works, and her evolution past them.

My recommendation to anyone unfamiliar with Rice is to take a pass on both her newer works, and her more vulgar early works (Claiming of Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, Exit to Eden).  However, the Mayfair witches, the early vampire series, and a standalone entitled Belinda are tremendously effective stories, at once engaging and enthralling.  For my part, I will continue to stay current on Rice’s new works, and I remain optimistic that the force of her writing will eventually overcome the disadvantages she faces constraining her writing to Christian themes.

Her newest effort, an upcoming novel called The Wolf Gift, comes out in February.  I will keep my fingers crossed, but I won’t be holding my breath.



Published in: on December 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Keeping up with the Rockefellers

Wherein I present a theory to explain the resistance to economic reform

After my last post about the disparity in wealth and income in this country, I have been giving some additional thought to the causes behind this inequity.  I’m not referring to the question of why wealth has concentrated in the hands of the few- that is the natural consequence of our economic framework and the regressive taxation of the last decade.  Rather, I have been puzzling over why the vast majority of people have not loudly demanded that the wealthy pay a fairer share of the nation’s tax burden.

I have a theory, and I want to briefly describe and explain it.  I call it aspirational identification.

In short, we all want to be rich.  In every aspect of our lives, we are bombarded with images glorifying wealth and luxury.  We are conditioned to desire expensive clothing, jewelry, vehicles, and homes.  Given the opportunity, millions would line up for the chance to participate in degrading game shows with the goal of winning a vast sum of money.  The internet plies us with get-rich-working-from-home schemes, penny stock market trading strategies, and other shortcuts to achieving enormous wealth.

By its very nature, an economic system based on competition encourages us to take risks, in order to earn big rewards.  Some succeed, most fail.  But that aspiration, our deep-seated urge to join the ranks of the wealthy, may go a long way to explaining why the middle- and lower-classes have such a difficult time making an enemy of the upper 1%.  We all want to be like them, and given the choice, we would join their ranks without a second thought.

While the average and even above-average earner cannot truly identify with the elite, our aspirations can.  When we become fabulously wealthy, we want an opportunity to enjoy the wealth, not turn over the bulk of it to the government for redistribution.  Even though most of us will never truly achieve financial plenty on the scale of the 1 percenters, we would like to believe that, should we beat the odds, we will enjoy the full benefits of our tremendous fortunes.

Unlike my previous post, I don’t have statistics or psychological studies to back up this theory; call it a “gut feeling.”  However, I believe it goes a long way towards understanding why it is so difficult to get those who are not wealthy to unite behind the premise that our economic future depends on requiring the super-rich to pay a greater share of the cost of running our nation.


Published in: on October 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Opening Remarks

Wherein I explain the background of this Blog, and the circumstances that led me to create it.


During my law school orientation in the Fall of 2005, I sat reading a book, waiting for the lecture to begin.  A professor walked by my seat, and remarked “I hope you enjoy that book; you won’t be reading for pleasure again until at least your third year of practice.”

I would love to say I responded with some witty retort, but I was a new law student, intimidated by the authority of the professor, and so I chuckled, put my book aside, and prepared to take notes.  However, that evening I finished the book, opened up an Excel spreadsheet, and wrote down the title and name of the author.  From that point on, each time I completed a book for pleasure, I added it to the list.  I never stopped reading, not through law school, not while studying for the bar exam, and not in my first two years of practice.

That first book was, appropriately enough, 1L by Scott Turow, a book about being a first year law student.  Last night, in the wee hours before I went to sleep, I completed Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight and added it to my list.  It was my 500th book since that conversation.

I believe in literature, and in the value of reading for fun, for education, and in furtherance of my quest to become more fluent with the English language.  In my youth, I always wanted to write- not as a profession, mind you, but as a way to share thoughts and ideas, to entertain people and engage them in a meaningful way.  I did not believe I could achieve that goal without a solid foundation as a reader.

My goal is to make the transition to writing through blogging.  Moving from consumer to provider is still an intimidating proposition in my head; my hope is that by writing in an informal forum, I can overcome my ingrained resistance to public writing and explore the wonderful tools of the written word.

The subject matter of this blog is going to be broad and eclectic; essentially, I am going to write about what interests me.  I plan to talk about books I enjoy, current events, politics, and my experience as a practicing attorney.  Only a short time ago, I would define blogging success in terms of readership and following.  Today, as I actually start this undertaking, I view success much differently.  I want this blog to be engaging, readable, and authentic.  I want to see my writing improve over time.  Most of all, I want this to be a creative outlet, and if that means generating content that people find interesting, all the better.  Readership may be a side-effect, but it is not the goal.

Enough introduction- I think I’ll begin working on my first substantive post.


Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 3:08 am  Comments (2)