Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Monday, March 31, 2014

How To Get Gray Hair and Save Money Doing It

A magnificent tire inflator.
Pay full price with cash in the store.

I always carry a tire inflator in my car.  It is a small 12 volt powered air compressor that plugs into the cigarette lighter plug and will re-inflate a flat tire providing that the leak is small such as a nail.  It can't work miracles, if your tire suffers a blow out from a large puncture or the bead becomes unseated from the rim you are SOL.  But those are relatively rare incidents.  More common is just the lowly nail, and having an inflator has saved me from having to change a tire under less than ideal circumstances.  I simply inflated the tire and then drove to the tire place to get it repaired. 

A couple of years ago the cord on my then inflator went bad.  I had a low tire and was at K-mart so I went in and found a cheap Craftsman unit (K-mart now being in cahoots with Sears)  that I although I was not satisfied with bought anyhow because I had a damn near flat tire in the parking lot and it was on sale for only $22, so what the hell.  It turned out to be the best unit I ever bought.  It is small, but relatively fast compared to my older units that I spent a lot more for and it has a very nice digital tire gauge.  I have been quite pleased with the unit.  Yesterday I saw that K-mart had the unit on sale on the Internet for $19.99.  Normal internet price is $34.99.  So I decide I am going to be a responsible father and buy my son one of these for his car. 

 I do the Internet buy here at home flawlessly. I will pick it up at a K-mart on the way to my son's house.  I wait for the return email to come which took a lot longer than when I have done similar transactions at Sears, but still within 90 minutes I got the Your Package is Ready For Pick-up email.  So I called my son and said hey I want to drop this off.  When is a good time for you?  He says he will stick around if I can bring it now.  He lives 40 minutes from me and the K-mart I selected is on the way to his place...I am smart that way. HA!  OK, I will get it now, see you in hour.  Yeah right.  

So I get to the K-mart but I have no idea where to go to pick it up.  I go to customer service desk which is staffed by one person.  Two women are in line in front of me with bundles of returns.  The service rep is taking care of the customers, answering the phone, and  has an inter-store communicator with a head set that he keeps talking into as problems arise in the store.   So I wait for about 10 minutes.  Finally one of the registers calls him to clear a register, so I catch him enroute and ask him where to pick this up.  At the registers.  Thanks.  

So I have blown 10 minutes.   Two registers are open, so I get in a long line that surprisingly moved fairly quickly.  In front of the registers are these big locked cabinets that scream in bright red THANKS FOR SHOPPING KMART AT THE INTERNET.  YOUR PURCHASE IS HERE!  JUST LOOK ABOUT STUPID YOU DON'T HAVE TO STAND AT CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR 10 MINUTES.  

So I get to the register and hand over my email and the cashier smartly goes up unlocks one of the cabinets and gets my purchase.  There is a receipt print out with the package that has my name and a bar code and the fact that I paid for it on line with my credit card.  I have piece of paper that says the same thing, I have the credit card, and my photo drivers license.  The only thing I could have done better was to have my birth certificate and a passport.  

Yes! It is me picking this up.  Yes! The inflator is available sitting on the checkout counter.  Yes! I am properly identified.  Yes! I have the credit card used to pay for it on-line.  No! Nothing is expired.   Yes! I and the store both have the documentation.  The flesh and blood employees of this store want to give my my tire inflator.  Everything is in order.  The computer, however in its infinite wisdom, will not release the item. Yes he did make this purchase, yes you have it here at the register and yes it is him.  TOO BAD YOU CAN'T RELEASE THIS SALE.   So the cashier, bless her heart tries and tries.  She goes over to the other cashier who knows how to do this.  She is doing it right.  She talks to the guy at customer service on the walky talky.  Yes she is doing it right.  The mood of those behind me in line is souring.  I start to fear for a little for my personal safety.  I am tempted to say screw it, but I have 25 minutes of driving, a gallon of gas, and 20 minutes of waiting already invested in my 15 dollar savings, plus I still have to drive home and a busy son waiting for his kind but somewhat fuddy duddy father to show up with this stupid tire inflator so he can get on with his day.  I soldier on.   

"I can't do this. You have to go to the customer service desk."  So I said OK and I go to grab the inflator.  She says,  "I'll get that."  I said "Oh, that's OK, I'll carry it over, and you can take care of everyone who have been patiently waiting" trying to ingratiate myself to the impatient hordes behind me.   "No you can't, I have to carry it."   I guess they were worried that I was going to dart out of the door with the tire inflator that I paid for on the Internet.  More huffing and aheming in the line behind me as we walk away.  

So now I get back in line at the customer service desk.  The guy is on the phone with a customer that insists that K-Mart should cash their check with an expired photo ID.  On and on it goes.  Meanwhile the guy is taking care of the customer returns.   Finally I get up to the counter.  The paperwork gets scanned yet another 43 times.  I am still me, I still have my photo ID, I still have my credit card, they still have a piece of paper with a barcode that says that this inflator is mine already paid for and I have the same piece of paper...but the computer remains unmoved.  I do not deserve this inflator, and it will not be cajoled into releasing my already paid for inflator into my very present awaiting well identified hands.  The guy says in exasperation, "I can't give you this."  I said very cooly, "There has to be a way."   He said "You're right, you have been very patient."  So, after perusing all the documentation, we agreed to do it the old way.  I signed and dated the email with a note that I received the material, like I did hundreds of times with industrial suppliers in my career of buying things worth hundreds and at times thousands of dollars.  I walked out of the store triumphant with my purchase having only spent 30 minutes, to save 15 dollars.  Fifty cents a minute.  Not bad!   

Now all I have to do is watch my credit card bill.  I should be charged 19.99 plus tax.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get a bill for something on the order of $1,668.37 which will account for my original purchase and the other 77 times the bar code was scanned trying to appease the computer.   When I am at my trial for refusing to pay more than $21.39, I hope common sense will prevail that the local K-mart could not possibly have had 78 units in stock.  Perhaps my lawyer will be able to subpoena store security cam footage with me standing in lines for 30 minutes and leaving the store with one small bag. However, I estimate legal fees and court costs will probably be on the order of $5,000 so maybe just paying the bill will be the smart move.   

If I were to repeat this transaction today,  I would go to the bank and get fifty bucks in small denomination bills.  I would then go to the K-mart and pick up this inflator off the counter and walk it to a register.  It would probably cost $39.99 in the store.  I believe 34.99 is the normal internet price.  If the sale went flawlessly, I would give the cashier a 5 dollar tip.  I wished I had done that yesterday.  It would have been so much simpler.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith By Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World: A Geography of FaithAn Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a sucker for any book that has the word geography in the title.  I enjoyed this book but ultimately it disappointed me.  It does a very good job of helping people with a crisis of church or religion.  Her lesson seems to be that one should be and do rather than think.  Taylor reminds us that we have a body and the body is Sacred.  She shows us many ways to express one's spirituality by stopping and smelling the roses, fully experiencing life, and performing service to others.  She states, correctly I believe, that one can find God and the Sacred anywhere in the world and in nature.  You don't have be in a church or go off to an ashram.  There are altars throughout the world where you place them.  Inspiration from a beautiful sunset is an altar that is just as spiritually valid as a ritual performed in a church, if you allow yourself to see that Sacredness.  You don't have to discount your own spiritual experience to a religion.  Taylor proceeds to then show how we may find God and the Sacredness of our existence in the aspects of ordinary life...our jobs, family, health, pain, and loss.  Digging for potatoes can be a spiritual exercise in the value of dirt and remembering that we are made of the same.  Hanging underwear and bath towels on a clothes line to dry is flying prayer flags.  "Pain makes theologians of us all."

What I found disappointing in the book was that it did not, for me at least, seem to address a crisis in faith.  Being fed up with church--the rules and regulations, the obsession with sin, the constant promoting of the brand (to enter the kingdom of God you must do _______), the gossip, congregational politics, national organizational politics, the dinners, Bible classes, ad infinitum--is one thing.  Yes!  Chuck it all and go find God in nature and self revelation.  But a crisis in faith, deeply felt doubts about the existence of God and the debilitating suspicion that you have been hand fed a line of BS is something altogether different.  One is not going to look for altars for something that does not exist.

James Fowler wrote Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, a book that I have, shamefully, attempted to read more than once and set down out of laziness and lack of intellectual discipline.  Fowler describes 7 stages of spiritual development, which you can find a nice summary at Wikipedia:

M. Scot Peck offered a simpler model in The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace reducing Fowler's 7 stages to 4 based on his own experience.  Peck's description is more compact and easier to understand.  You can find a good abridged version here:

According to Peck, level 3, skepticism, doubt that may express itself in various degrees of agnosticism or atheism is a necessary stage within spiritual development.  One must suffer a period of doubt or disbelief in God as well as organized religion in order to advance to level 4 that of a mystic.  While I can not vouch for the general truth of this statement, I can vouch that it reflected my spiritual experience--not that I have approached anything close to a mystic,  failed mystic perhaps.

In the abridged version of Peck's stages of faith in the link above we find:

  Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III.

There in lies the problem for me with An Altar in the World.  Taylor seems to solve the age old dilemma by simply ignoring it.  She wonderfully provides a solution for those who are fed up with the church, but she does not adequately address the problems of those who are fed up with God.  Must we doubt God before we can find Her in a sunset, the flowers of the field, or the joy of hanging wet clothes on a line and see prayer flags?  I am not smart enough or spiritual enough to say.  But I do know that 50 years ago when the church drove me away with its obsession with sin, rules and regulations, showing me a sunset was not going to persuade me that God exists.  I had to have my period of being pissed off at not only the church but God as well.

Perhaps her new book to be published in a few weeks Learning to Walk in the Dark will address a crisis in faith.  

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Love Without Fear...Round Two

Here is my updated review of Love Without Fear copied from Goodreads after reading it again in March of 2014.  My perspective is now of a 65 year old man who has been in a loving relationship with the same woman for 39 years, no longer a wet behind the ears kid...well I am probably still wet behind the ears.  In any event I still have my fascination for the game that big people play with no clothes on.

Image Credit:

Love without Fear by Eustace Chesser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Read 1964  Review submitted on February 14, 2014
(See new review below.)

As a teenager, my friend inherited a well read copy of this book from his friend who inherited it from his friend and so forth.  My buddy kept it hidden in his sleeping bag for our camping forays in the woods below our neighborhood.  Camping out in the woods, we rubes would sit around the campfire, and instead of telling ghost stories, my friend who had a knack for reading aloud and something of a radio announcer's voice, would read Love Without Fear to us.  As such, I suppose I should be reviewing the audible edition.   Believe me, it fired our young imaginations with the mystery of the world.  No illustrations...alas...some critical areas remained strictly imaginary.  My goodness what a magnificent way to reproduce.

This and All about the Human Body were the only sources of sex ed that I received as a youth.

My (original 5 star) rating is that of a 14 year old boy charmed with notion of what wonderful things awaited me in the future.

I remember very little about the book, so view my gushing rating with a jaded eye.  The book was written in 1947, pre Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.

My parents were married in 1947.  Being a member of the post war baby boom, I am convinced, along with the rest of my generation, that we invented sex sometime during the late 60s.  As such I just bought a used copy off of Amazon and intend to find out what the process was that my parents used to conceive me.

Re-read 2014  Review submitted on March 20, 2014

So I did indeed purchase a copy of the book from one of Amazon's secondary vendors.  The complete title is Love Without Fear, How to Achieve Sex  Happiness in Marriage by Eustace Chesser, M.D.   My copy is hardback, fourth printing, published in the US by Roy Publishers with a 1947 copyright, and has 307 pages.  There is a "Prefatory Note" which states that the book was originally published in England as two separate books: Marriage and Freedom and Love Without Fear.  These two separate books appear as parts 1 and 2 in my edition.  

Upon re-reading the book now, I doubt that we lads actually read the entire book in 1964.  There is a good bit of non-sexual marriage advice included in this book that I doubt lads of 14 to 17 years of age would have bothered to read around a camp fire.  I rather imagine that we limited our readings to the juicy parts, so I felt the necessity to change my finish date to the current read.

Obviously this book is a victim of its time.  From snooping around a bit on the internet it appears as though the book was first published in 1940 in England and I believe was banned at that time.   Many of the statistics listed in the book are dated in the late 1930s.  Readers with modern sensibilities could find much to be offended by this book, so I think it is critical when reading the book to bear in mind when it was written.  Readers with modern sensibilities could find much that is laughable in this book as well.  I found the chapter titled "First Intercourse" to be amusing in this vein.  The new husband is counseled to conduct the affairs of the bedroom in the dark.  The sight of the aroused husband can cause "fear and distaste."

"Instances could be quoted of brides who have fled screaming from the bedroom when, on their wedding night, the husband, eager to impress with his sexual endowment, has displayed himself."   Page 166.

In the current environment of the Internet where 2.4 bazzilion images of men sporting erections can be found in 0.004 seconds, such notions of bridal swoons seem far fetched, but in 1947, indeed a young sexually inexperienced woman probably had no idea other than vague descriptions heard from other equally inexperienced friends, and perhaps old memories of a nude baby brother.  Husbands are further counseled that consummation of the marriage may takes days if not weeks to complete and progress should be slow, loving, and respectful.  

There is a built in bias to the book that husbands will have some sort of sexual experience and the wife none and it becomes the husband's responsibility to introduce this fragile porcelain woman to the joys of marital congress gently and gradually.  That may have been accurate at the time but I suspect that men of the day were not nearly as experienced and women as fragile as the author would suggest.  I suspect that modern women will find the chapter "Woman's Claim to Sex Equality" rather galling.  I found the hysteria over homosexuality and various perversions (many of which remained unnamed) to be far overblown and for the most part wrong.   I also found Chesser's advice to consult one's doctor especially one familiar with psychology for sexual problems to be a bit naive.  From what I have read, doctors then and (often now) are complete rubes when it comes to sexual difficulties and relying on them for advice is naive at best.

There is also a built in bias if not an anxiety that "the great essential is to realize that normal love is the path to happiness." thus avoiding "the supreme unwisdom [that] comes from this tasting of every sexual 'joy'" because "amateur perverts are utterly reprehensible.  They bring upon themselves, and often upon others as well, miseries which are totally unnecessary."  As such, Chesser provides us with:

One of the most comprehensive definitions of normal sexual intercourse is Van de Velde's--indeed, he himself describes it as the "most exact and complete definition."  Here it is:

"That intercourse which comes between two sexually mature individuals of opposite sexes; which excludes cruelty and the use of artificial means for producing voluptuous sensations; which aims directly or indirectly at the consummation of sexual satisfaction, and which, having achieved a certain degree of stimulation, concludes with the ejaculation --or emission--of the semen into the vagina, at the nearly simultaneous culmination of sensation--or orgasm--of both partners."  
Page 144.

Sounds almost religious, does it not.  As a general rule, but being always on the alert for possible perversions, techniques that aid in the culmination of the above are approved.  However any technique that would replace "normal intercourse" must be avoided.  As such, surprisingly, the genital kiss (oral sex) "is widely practiced and has much to commend it, provided that it is not distasteful to either of the partners."  However such stimulation is limited to foreplay in preparation for "normal intercourse" and can not be practiced as an art form in it own right.

We have seen how body kisses may play an exaggerated part in sexual relations so that what should be part of the normal effort to induce pleasurable excitement in the partner becomes the whole, such kisses thus comprising the complete act.  For those who replace coitus by the form of partial intercourse, cunnilinctus [sic] is often an act of self-abasement.  It is the sign of a dog-like devotion.  A masochistic male, one with the tendency towards finding pleasure in suffering and humiliation, moves by way of  the perfectly normal body kisses to one of the byways which lead him away form normality.  Eventually, he cannot enjoy full normal union.  The part has replaced the whole.  Page 251.

Take that, Ian Kerner, you pusillanimous pussyfooter (insult courtesy of Spiro Agnew), teaching us poor sexually weak masochistic males the supreme act of dog like devotion and self abasement in his book She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.  See my review at:

Alas, Eustace we part company...certain art forms demand completion in their own right, and it has been my observation that normal union rather than being forever lost, is enhanced immensely by such artistry.

Other surprises.  Masturbation is OK, providing it is only practiced prior to marriage and not very often.  There is a chapter on the advantages of family planning "The Spacing of Children."  While it espouses the advantages of spacing children and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, it is completely mute as to the methods of such planning which to me is an unforgivable omission and part of my reduced star rating.  (I really want to knock it down to one star for this omission).  Probably the biggest surprise in this book to me was Chesser's stance on abortion...a reluctant acceptance due to the savage nature of illegal abortion market.  He even notes that an effective method for reducing the number of abortions is the understanding and use of good contraceptives...but again fails to mention specific methods, an omission that I am inclined to believe may have been induced by certain legal worries by the publisher, to wit, contraceptives were illegal in Connecticut until the Griswold vs Connecticut case found the law unconstitutional in 1965.  

Reluctant acceptance seems to be a theme in this book.  He mentions that there is some advisability to some premarital hanky-panky generally stopping short of coitus, but he seems to let out a conflicted sigh while doing so.  Masturbation, well OK but not too much and only prior to marriage.  Love play indeed one should engage in love play prior to coitus...but always be on the lookout for possible perversions.  Always remember, "The dividing line between the normal and the perverse is exceedingly, dangerously thin."  This overwhelming apprehension regarding perversion is neurotic.  Oh for goodness sake, hop into bed, do what floats your boat and don't obsess over perversions.  Why this slavish adherence to "normal intercourse?"  Unless the goal is to conceive children, I see no need for a consuming worry about which sexual practices are proper and which may be regarded as a perversion.

So what did I like about the book?  It was easy to read, employed humor in good taste, and it was relatively frank in its descriptions of of love techniques, coitus, and coital positions.   It pretty much described how to put tab P into slot V without too much himming and hawing.  I have read other sex books from the past in which the action was lost in a flood of 50 cent archaic words.  If you could remain awake during such descriptions, you were absolutely lost in what the author was actually trying to say.  This book was surprisingly lucid.

I found the placement of "The Organs of Sexual Congress" in the appendix at the end of the book to be curious.  After finishing the book one finds this rather detailed engineering description of the plumbing.  No piping diagrams, alas.  Even my All about the Human Body book, written for children, had rudimentary internal piping diagrams.  Some basic geography lessons done in simple line drawings could have been extremely helpful  back in the days prior to the nether worlds being so completely (like the dark sided of the moon) mapped, illustrated, and photographed in high resolution and available at a moment's notice on Google or Bing images. (Hell yes, I am over 18).  Also, there was a curious lack of mention about menstruation, the mechanics of conception, pregnancy, or childbirth.  Oh yes and for all the preoccupation with perversions, the silence on venereal disease was deafening.  Yes I suppose that happily married couples should not have to worry about STDs.  However, at the same time there was this expectation that the husband would be somewhat sexually experienced.

All in all I enjoyed this book, but I enjoyed it as a blast from the past, a historical curiosity,  not as a informed sexual guide that would have any bearing today.  Yes some of it information is timeless, however I found the omissions on birth control and rudimentary reproduction unforgivable, and the huge preoccupation with normality verses perversion extremely tedious if not neurotic.  What a loving couple chooses to do in the privacy of their bedroom should not be gauged against constant worries (or Fears) about perversion, rather ironic for a book titled Love Without Fear.  I am battling with the star rating two or three stars?   However upon reading the following passage from Wikipedia, I chose to give him three stars.  Despite the shortcomings which are many, it was a highly popular "How To" manual during the baby boom.  Many of us may owe our existence and happy childhoods with loving, sexually well adjusted and satisfied, perversion free parents to Eustace Chesser...if nothing else he was great campfire reading.

He was born in Edinburgh to Russian immigrants and attended George Watson's College. He received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh.[1] In 1940 he published a sex manual entitled Love Without Fear.[1] It sold 5,000 copies but it was withdrawn, and Chesser was arrested for obscenity.[1][2] Rather than pleading guilty and accepting a fine, Chesser chose to be tried by jury.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Too Busy To Earn a Buck?

So you buy a new car.  One of the reasons that you chose this car is because that for its size and horsepower,  it gets an advertised 30 MPG which is pretty good.   You own the car for a year and it never, absolutely never gets better than 23.7 MPG.  So you talk to a couple of people that own the same car and they get close to 30 MPG, sometimes more, sometimes less, but they are satisfied with their mileage.  OK everyone knows that mileage will vary, but c'mon this is ridiculous.  So you take the car back to the dealer and tell them "Hey my mileage sucks.  I never get better that 23.7 MPG.  Never!"

So the service manager takes you into the office and says,

"You know we have been studying this problem, actually for a decade now."

You reply, "Oh great! So you have a repair procedure to fix this low mileage problem?"

The service manager then says, "We believe that drivers want and deserve good mileage, but honestly,  we don't believe repairing the vehicle is what's going to solve that problem for drivers.  We believe that drivers want real world solutions to this problem, not more rhetoric.  We believe that if the manufacturer was serious about solving this problem they would focus on more models on the showroom floor and increased access to driver education."

You then reply "So what, then, is the solution for better gas mileage do you think?"

The manager replies "Well if you look at it, drivers are, are extremely busy.  They lead busy lives whether working professionally or whether working from home,, and ah...and times are ah, extremely um  extremely busy.  Its just ah, its a busy cycle for drivers and they have a lot to juggle.  And so when we look at this issue, we think what is practical?  And we want more access to models.  We want  ah...we want to be able to get driver training at the same time that we are working or raising a family.  That's commons sense and we believe that real world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem."

So do you find this to be a reasonable answer to the question of "what are you going to do about my car's lousy gas mileage?"  No, oh well, let's go talk to the executive director of the dealership.

You say, "I don't understand why I get only 23.7 MPG when my neighbors and colleagues at work with the same exact car gets around the advertised figure of 30 MPG."

The director replies "Well some drivers are better negotiators.  I would encourage you, instead of pursuing the courts for action, to become a better negotiator.”

So you leave the car dealer, wondering "what the hell am I going to do to improve this gas mileage?  Look at more car models...become a better negotiator?"

You stop at the grocery store, pick up a few items, and go to the checkout line.  The cashier rings up exactly $100 of groceries, and says "That will be 126 dollars and 58 cents."

You look at the cash register and it says $100.00.  "But the register only says one hundred dollars."

"Well I am sorry it is one hundred twenty six dollars and fifty eight cents.  You should have negotiated for a cheaper check out line."

So you think think this story is somewhat absurd?  Well think again.  Because if you are a woman, or you have a wife, mother, daughter, or sister that works in the US that is exactly what they are told regarding wage inequality.   Don't believe me, watch for yourself:

So what is it like to make 79* cents on a dollar?   Well it is sort of like driving a car that gets 23.7 MPG instead of the promised 30 MPG.  But it is also like paying $1.2658 for a buck's worth of goods and services.  It is like thinking you saved $10,000 for a down payment on your home and find out that you only have $7,900.  It is like earning an average of $9,349 less a year.  It is like being told that you are 21% less valuable to society.  Why?  Because you are a woman.   

And what is like to hear your concerns about equal wages answered by a bunch of babbling bullshit about how you are too busy or a poor negotiator?   Well I would imagine that one would find it down right insulting and a good talking point to bear in mind next November. 


Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Without Fear by Eustace Chesser

Here is another book review from Goodreads.  Published in 1947, Love Without Fear is long out of print but still available used from Amazon's secondary vendors, see link below.  This review is really another one of my stories involving the birds and bees from my youth.  We did read the book, but I don't remember much from 50 years ago other than total fascination.  

Image Credit:
Love without Fear by Eustace Chesser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a teenager, my friend inherited a well read copy of this book from his friend who inherited it from his friend and so forth.  My buddy kept it hidden in his sleeping bag for our camping forays in the woods below our neighborhood.  Camping out in the woods, we rubes would sit around the campfire, and instead of telling ghost stories, my friend who had a knack for reading aloud and something of a radio announcer's voice, would read Love Without Fear to us.  As such, I suppose I should be reviewing the audible edition.   Believe me, it fired our young imaginations with the mystery of the world.  No illustrations...alas...some critical areas remained strictly imaginary.  My goodness what a magnificent way to reproduce.  

This and All about the Human Body were the only sources of sex ed that I received as a youth.

My rating is that of a 14 year old boy charmed with notion of what wonderful things awaited me in the future.

I remember very little about the book, so view my gushing rating with a jaded eye.  The book was written in 1947, pre Kinsey and pre Masters and Johnson.

My parents were married in 1947.  Being a member of the post war baby boom, I am convinced, along with the rest of my generation, that we invented sex sometime during the late 60s.  As such I just bought a used copy off of Amazon and intend to find out what the process was that my parents used to conceive me.  

View all my reviews

You can buy a used copy here:, Love Without Fear

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Name That Tune

Jeopardy question:  For $2000 under the category of Flaming Cauldrons, What was the piece of music playing when the cauldron was lit at the Sochi opening ceremony?     Unfortunately, you are going to have to remember the scene.  Apparently NBC and the Olympics Committee learned from the best, the NFL, about controlling video on internet.  I couldn’t find any video of the event other than NBC’s post wrap-up which is playing some folk music that NBC dubbed in.    Then again remembering the ease of finding videos of Queen Elizabeth’s dive out of the helicopter in the London games, perhaps larger geopolitical forces are involved.  In any event after a more than reasonable search I could not find a YouTube of the cauldron lighting.  So play back your memories and name the tune that was playing as the Olympic flame shot up the curved pedestal of the cauldron.  

What piece of music was playing?
Image Credit: Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Give up?  Can't remember?  See below.

Igor Stravinsky 1882 -1971

“What is the finale from The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, Alex.”  

The Firebird  is a ballet written by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in 1910. It was the work that launched Stravinski’s career through a successful collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes.  

The ballet is about a Prince Ivan who captures a magical glowing bird that in exchange for its life helps Ivan win the hand of one of the princess of the enchanted Kashchei the Immortal.  For more information on The Firebird or Stravinsky, click the embedded links in the paragraph above.   While I am not a particular fan of ballet, I often love the music of Russian ballets.  

Here is the entire orchestral work.  I like this particular rendition because both the video and audio quality is very good and it is an orchestral work rather than a ballet (no dancing see the  links below for several renditions of the ballet).   The video zooms in all the various instruments showing the technique used to generate some of the unusual sounds incorporated into the work.  Note, it is actually better to view this video in larger format at YouTube, see the Firebird video link under Image Credits. 

The best way to listen to this piece of music, of course, is from the beginning and listen to the entire composition.   However, because it is a ballet, there are long sections that emphasize the active dance movements and have a rather chaotic quality, much like the soundtrack of an action movie during the battle scenes, great for the action but not something that you are going to hum to yourself.  This is one continuous work and it is not broke up into movements.  Again while I recommend listening to the entire work, if you find yourself getting bogged down, here are the melodic parts which would be a shame to miss.

The Firebird Ballerina, Leon Bakst, 1910

Listen to the first 5 minutes or so and when you decide that the chaos factor is too high for you, grab the slider at the bottom of the video pane and slide it to 18:50 and listen until 25:00.  It gets fairly chaotic again, so slide it to 36:16 for a very beautiful bassoon solo and the concluding 10 minutes of the piece.  

If you just want to hear the part that coincided with the lighting of the Sochi cauldron, move the slider to 42:55.  

If you would like to see the actual ballet with dancing, use the following links to view videos.   The first one is a bit more formal and the quality of the music is good.  The video quality is so so. 

For a somewhat more theatrical performance with a more intricate stage design and close-up video shots of the dancers, try the link below.  The video quality is better but there are some tacky visual effects and the audio quality is inferior to the video above.   

In both of the videos, pay attention to the small motions with the hands and feet that the Firebird (ballerina in red) mimics bird movements--wonderful choreography.

Image & Video Credits:

Lighting of the Cauldron:  Julio Cortez/Associated Press  from, Olympic Torch Lighting 2014: Best Moments from Opening Ceremony of Sochi Games, Feb 7, 2014

Igor Stravinsky:  Wikipedia, Igor Stravingsky

The Firebird Ballerina:  Wikipedia, The Firebird

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Grand Theft: Violin

The Stolen Lipinski Stradivarius
Yesterday on NPR I heard a short piece about a stolen Stradivarius violin in Milwaukee on Monday evening.  A concert master was returning to his car after a performance and thieves assaulted him with a taser and made off with the violin. 

The Strad Trade Mark

I have this romanticized Hollywood notion of art and jewel thieves and immediately had this image of a dashing Michael Caine driving a sleek BMW getaway car while a demure Demi Moore in skin tight black burglar’s garb whacks some old teetering maestro with a taser and the pair zoom off into the night with his Strad. 

Antonio Stradivari
Stradivarius violins have always fascinated me.  The name refers to a family of instrument makers but the best instruments were made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737).  The absolute best of the Stradivarius violins came from the Golden Period which were famous for the Long Strads, violins made with larger bodies and improved varnishes, woods, and assembly techniques from 1700 to 1720.  Strads are the subject of a good bit of legend and myth regarding their quality… they have no parallel, no one knows why they are superior, the wood was cured in canals for years prior to assembly.  Modern blind tests indicate that these claims may be more hype than fact.  Yet for instruments made 300 years ago, their fine craftsmanship and tonal qualities are the gold standard for all other instruments to achieve.  There are many theories of why the Strads are superior, type of wood, geometry, type of varnish, treatment of the wood, but the one quality that physical tests have substantiated is that the wood is extremely dense and uniformly so. 

So back to our theft:

Well my romanticized notion of this theft is wrong, no sleek BMW sped off, an early 90s burgundy Caravan minivan slogged off into the night with two thieves that probably looked nothing like Caine and Moore.  
Similar to the getaway car

The maestro was not an old duffer but rather a young Frank Almond.  Ironically, Almond has worked hard to show case this particular Strad, called the Lipinski Stradivarius after one of its former owners.  It is estimated to be worth 6 million dollars.  

Here is a video of Frank Almond demonstrating the tonal qualities of the Lupinski Strad.

Extra credit points to those who can identify the opening piece of music that Almond is playing in the video.  The answer can be found in the first comment.  

Here is a beautiful website that Almond created for the Lipinski Stradivarius:

This site is has excellent quality photos of this lovely violin and extensive information on the Antoniio Stradivari and the Lipinski violin and its various owners.   Almond also cut a CD with various pieces of music to showcase the talents of the Lipiniski Strad. 


In an unhappy world of war, hunger, and disaster, the theft of a priceless violin is not going to create but a blip on the Richter scale of tragedy.  Fortunately Almond was not severely injured in the assault and we can only hope that the violin was not damaged when Almond dropped it.  

Yet when you look at the effort that Frank Almond has expended to share this beautiful violin with the people it seems a cruel irony that of all the Strads in the world,  this is the one that was targeted.  In a further irony,  if the thieves were knowledgeable, Almond was probably an easy mark… a well known artist with a well publicized schedule.    

One has to wonder, what are the thieves going to do with the instrument?  This is hardly the sort of thing that one can put up on Ebay or Craig’s list.  They have stolen something that is so valuable as to be of almost no value.  I suppose some very rich and very criminal  collector might pay a rather high price for the instrument and perhaps the instrument will be played, even lovingly.  But the theft of this instrument is not merely a crime against Frank Almond or the Lipinski Strad's anonymous owner, again in a cruel irony, the beautiful music that the Lipinski violin is so very capable of producing has been stolen from all of us, the common people who could never afford a Strad, but certainly see it at the concert hall.  It is a grand theft: violin on a very grand scale. 

EDIT 2-12-2014:  The violin has been recovered and returned to Almond and several suspects are in police custody.

Image & Video Credits: 

Stolen Lipinski Strad: Almond, Frank. A ‘Finicky’ Strad That Can Teach a Few Tricks.  Strings, Sept. 2013

The Stradivarius Trademark: Eclectic Focus Blog, Stradivarius violin discovered in lost-and-found, August 4, 2012

Antonio Stradivarius:  Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)

YouTube 3: A Violin's Life