Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Review

Rather than ask Why me?, ask What now?

This might be said to be the essential focus of Shulamit Lando’s newly published book about her own experience with multiple sclerosis, a journey from initial fear and uncertainty when first diagnosed more than 30 years ago, to a new life of open avenues and spiritual maturity. Hope Beyond Illness (a guide to living well with a chronic condition) takes a philosophic, holistic look at how one may receive a medical diagnosis not as a penalty but as an invitation to grow, to become more fully the person one was intended to be.

The emphasis is not on new drugs, new medical procedures, but on new personal attitudes and useful spiritual procedures one can adopt to treat the illness, and oneself, from within. In an age that teaches an almost blind reliance on science and medicines, Ms. Lando’s views on the healing power of one’s own soul are a sorely needed breath of fresh air

“At the threshold of every great journey,” Lando quotes Claire Higgins, “we must first establish a direction and then, find the courage to take our first step, even when we don’t know where our foot will land, or where the step after will lead us. This way of traveling through life requires faith... the ability to feel, sense, and trust something that cannot yet or ever be seen.”

It is one of those strange contradictions in life that what seems on the surface to be adversity may in  fact be the cradle of great opportunity. Chronic illness brings about a change, not planned for, not asked for – but the essential nature of where that change takes us is really up to us. In Lando’s case, as in my own, the presence of illness has led to an exciting, fulfilling journey of growth, a new appreciation of the power of the spirit, the importance of compassion, the reality of faith. Upon facing a challenge, as Lando notes, we may feed the creature of our choice – that characterized by anger,  bitterness, hopelessness, or that characterized by love, joy and the spirit of discovery, wherein one’s grasp of what one truly believes is sharpened, filled out and can take form in one’s every day life.

Chasing symptoms with various medications and injections can, in itself, be discouraging and depressing, especially when we who have MS must admit that none of these treatments are curative but only palliative. Moreover, they may even make one feel worse than he felt beforehand. Again, we kneel before the doctor, groaning ‘Please help me.’ But there is a doctor in the house already – and modern studies are finding this more and more surely. As stated by the well respected Dr. Eben Alexander, “ and faith, the two ways of knowing the world that have defined our culture, are much, much more entwined than we tend to think they are.”

The doctor in the house is one’s own miraculous spirit, that which connects each person to pillars of knowledge, ability and strength that are beyond this world, beyond the door of the doctor’s office, beyond the prescription pad. Shulamit Lando invites you in her book to look both within and beyond at the strange gift that so-called chronic illness has bestowed.

[You can find this in eBook formats with a discount ($5.99) at: The first chapter is available to read for free. Hard copies are available on Amazon at:

Shulamit can be contacted at:
Tel: 972-544-868739
Skype:  chulinhu
Her client web site:]

A Lesson

Trundled out to JCO on Teuku Umar this evening. First time I've ever been here at night. Seems like a fur piece in the dark, and it is also a rather 'exciting' ride, given that one is traveling on Teuku Umar, otherwise known as Lunatic Lane.

I was thinking about firearms today, those having been variously in the news of late, and remembering my own fairly humble experience with them. There were no guns in my family, simply because no one was interested. My father was a fisherman. He hunted fish, a fairly safe hobby, though not completely without danger. One had to be aware of his surroundings, lest he hook the tree on the shore, or perhaps his fellow fisherman's nose. We were instructed, therefore, to watch what was behind us and to our casting side. One had to be careful of his footing as well, in a swift river, for instance, or in a lake with a false bottom. My father showed us these things, and we learned them. But of course no one has ever been shot by a fishing pole.

On the other hand, many of our family acquaintances owned rifles, which they used solely for hunting. Most of these men had also served in the military during World War II, and were rather intimately acquainted with guns. In short, they had a very sure appreciation of how deadly guns could be.  I remember Ed Upton, a veteran of service in France and Germany, taking us out to learn to shoot. We were more than ready, of course, at 10 and 12 years of age (although my mother wouldn't have been had she known). Gimme the gun, where's the trigger, right?

No, not right. For as it turned out, this morning of shooting was consumed mostly in instruction on how to hold the gun, where to point it, where NOT to point it, for Christ's sake, how to load it, how to unload it, how to make SURE it was unloaded (again, for Christ's sake), and what the damn thing could do if you made a Goddamn mistake. Ed was always colorful and definite in his language. He was a fearsome, 6 foot 2 inch cedar tree of a man and I never saw him smile in my entire life. In fact, by the time he was done, we weren't smiling either. We were petrified. Shooting a rifle seemed at last significantly less than fun. Only one of us, his son, went on to be a hunter, and that may have been only because it was expected of him.

The point is, I'm not so sure that people these days have the proper, and sober, idea about what guns do. I'm not so sure that they really appreciate that they are holding a murder weapon in their hands. I'm not so sure that they understand that death happens just as fast as the bullet travels. There's no do-over, no second chance.

As Ed Upton said, once you put your Goddamn finger on that Goddamn trigger you'd better damn well know what you're doin and why and what's gonna happen when you do it. Otherwise, you're gonna end up killing either yourself or your best buddy, or maybe even someone you don't even know.

Thanks for the lessons, Ed. You see, I haven't forgotten.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Another Threat

What is the message of the terrorists, who recently attacked in Jakarta and now threaten to attack in Bali? We're going to blow you up if you don't ... What? If we don't what? Adopt a Shariah lifestyle, obey Shariah laws? And blowing people up is likely to make us amenable? Do they ever say what the point is, these terrorists? What is the demand? What is the ultimatum? What is the complaint? And how will killing random people achieve your goals? What are your goals? And how would you know that one of the random people you killed was not already in favor of your goals? Did you ask him first? Did you conduct an onsite survey? How do you know that you didn't kill the Osama bin Ladin of the future?

Well, it doesn't make sense, and the reason it doesn't make sense is that it doesn't make sense, which means that this can only appeal to people who have no sense to begin with. They are small, insignificant, hate filled people who wish to punish someone, anyone, for the small, hate filled insignificance of their own existence. Murder gives them a rush. It is the only drug they can afford. And like the poor addict, a slave to his self absorbed addiction, the human life that he takes is nothing but a fix, serving no one, serving nothing other than the enormity of his narcissism.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Just a story I began to write but will not likely have the patience or energy to continue ...

Tomas got up early – too early, really – but this was to be his last day on the river and he wanted to fit in as much as possible, both during the daylight hours and then later at night. This way he would be in no hurry whatsoever. He could address each moment with finesse, and the chief ingredient of finesse is time. Wit, the right move, can seem, and should seem effortless, but in truth they are studied practices, like poetry and dance.

He zipped the tent entrance all the way closed so that no ticks or scorpions could crawl in, and then tied back the outer flap so that the breeze could enter through the screen during the day, which promised to be another hot one, possibly exceeding 100 degrees by mid afternoon. All the better that he had arisen early.

From the side awning of the tent, he retrieved his fly rod, unhooked his creel from the branch of the nearby cedar, brought both to the table, then sat down on the bench, turning to face the rising sun. He watched it spill red streaks through the trees, which turned orange, then yellow, then white as the great star gained the top of the hill’s steep shoulder and pushed itself into the bluing sky.

The night birds changed shift with the birds of the day, camp robbers and blue jays and little yellow birds that alighted in the cold fire pit and pecked at the ashes, finding, somehow, something of sustenance there.

Tomas realized that he himself was hungry, and, further, determined that he should eat, even if he weren’t hungry, because the day would be long and full of effort.

La preparación es la vanguardia de éxito.

Opening the cooler, Tomas retrieved the items that remained at the end of five days – three slices of bacon, two eggs, an apple and a quarter loaf of white bread. Two of the bread slices he would use for lunch, along with a tin of deviled ham. There was also one beer, which he would have at lunch, and enough coffee for a small pot now and a small pot later.

There was no point in making a fire. Not now. Wood, especially larger sticks, was sparse, and the morning was already warm, and, besides, the yellow birds were still busy at pecking at the feathery ashes in the pit.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

But Tomas did not want to take away from the birds. They reminded him of something, something he did not want to think about, but could still feel deep down, whether he thought about it or not. The yellow birds stuck together, side by side, and moved in a little crescent moon semi-circle, picking through the waste of what the fire had left behind, raising their small orange beaks from time to time to bite pensively at some bit of charred treasure, the marrow of something, the shriveled spirit, the shuck of life. Tomas watched the birds longer than he knew, all the uncounted while not thinking.

He found at last that his hands had detached the gas canister from the Coleman stove on their own volition, so he shook the container gently, decided there was sufficient gas to cook breakfast, pumped up the pressure in the canister, counting twenty strokes, replaced the nozzle into the intake and clicked the dial until he got a spark and a circle of blue flame jumped from the burner. He cooked the bacon first, then toasted the two slices of bread in the bacon grease, then fried the two eggs. A hatch of flies had buzzed forth from the huckleberry thickets and Tomas  shoo’d them away with one hand while he prepared his pot of coffee with the other. He was still in no hurry. There was still plenty of time. One more day here, and then he would head for Nogales, and then he would be on the plane and would not see this place again for perhaps two years, or perhaps forever. One thing he knew is that you never know. One thing he knew is that duty does not dream of a future.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jakarta bombing

Psychopaths playing with guns and bombs, killing innocent people, ruining families, for what? So that they, through murder, can give meaning to their own worthless existence? So that they, through such brave and pointless cowardice, can feel that they somehow matter more than the peaceful existence of their random victims? So that they can somehow face their own soul-less vacuum and suck up lives that were actually worthwhile? Brainless, blood sucking subhuman zombies - that's all that they are, and it is everything they prove through acts that, with the utmost finality, end any claim to life among the members of the human community.

Pray for Jakarta.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Revenant

Just spent the afternoon watching a movie called The Revenant, featuring a very scruffy looking Leonardo DiCaprio as an early 19th century fur trapper. It is a story of the supernatural power of revenge. A revenant is a visible ghost or an animated corpse devoted to terrorizing the living, and there are multiple death and rebirth images in the movie as DiCaprio is reanimated again and again, not only to simply persevere in the world, but to seek his ultimate goal of revenge for the murder of his son - a goal which can never be satisfied. In this sense, it is also a quest for peace. This is an extremely intense movie of raw violence filmed in violently beautiful, unforgiving locales, many of these in the barren wilds of Canada, Montana and Arizona. The stark and dangerous landscapes, as well as the fearsome beasts and men, mirror the brutal austerity of the spirit of vengeance - the thing that will maul and kill the man who embraces it in his heart. Only mercy can set the captive free.

Revenant is a long movie, but one that sweeps up the viewer in its artful marriage of story and imagery - superbly acted by DiCaprio, who won a Golden Globe for his efforts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I lie down on the bed hopeful as always. It is the end of another long day in the tropics and, although I have not done any more than is usual, I am feeling entirely fatigued as usual, thanks to our old friend, multiple sclerosis.

The temperature has been very hot of late, 35C bumped up to who knows what by the humidly, but the AC unit is humming, and the floor fan is also whirring, so the room is pleasantly cool and dark.  Time for a good night’s  slumber.

Only it’s not.

Within ten minutes, my legs are starting to spasm and twitch. My body and mind are ready, more than ready to rest, but my legs are suddenly ready to run a marathon. I roll from my back to my right side, and they run sideways. I try to relax, breathe deeply and evenly, but the legs are unimpressed by these measures. They are calm a moment, then resume their tensing and kicking. My feet have begun to throb and burn.

This is restless leg syndrome (RLS), and is experienced by up to 50 percent of those who suffer with MS. It is generally temporary, it comes and goes, and my current mode of treatment is mere patience, or what I can muster of it. Medications are available for the treatment of RLS, and are often quite effective. I myself have used Ropinorile (Requip) in the past with fair success. This is a dopamine agonist and is in the category most often prescribed. Also used, according to case and effectiveness, are dopaminergic agents, benzodiazepines, opiates, anticonvulsants and Alpha-2 agonists. Of course, each of these has its own side effects and its own price (the latter consideration being what has caused me to adopt the approach of patience).

It is said that tonic water, the effective ingredient of which is quinine, may also treat RLS. I am currently trying this method, as yet without success, but I plan to give it a few more nights. It couldn’t hurt, in any case, except in extravagant doses.

In the meantime, it’s off to the nightly races until MS tires of this game, which is sure to be long after I have tired of it.

Monday, January 11, 2016


I believe that many Bali businesses have come up with a very obvious yet effective strategy for making more money off the hapless consumer. Why sell the reasonably priced brand of an item when you can sell  the import for at least twice the price? Take peanut butter, for instance. At Hardy's, the affordable Morin brand is gone from the shelf. Shoppers must choose either Skippy or Jif. Where jam is concerned, only the very small Morin jars are in stock. If you want more, you must buy the import. And then there are the pharmacies. It now appears that generics and no longer available, only original brand names. One can get Requip, for instance, not not ropinorile or any other generic which would cost less than half the price. You can get Omeprazole but not Prilosec, Prozac but not Kalxetin - all the same thing, except for the binding agent, and the price. To put it simply, they have discovered that the consumer has his back against the wall, and they don't mind pulling a good old fashioned stickup.

The Monster

A lesson learned. Bras should be washed and rinsed by hand, not spun in a washing machine. One would scarcely think that spinning a dozen bras, even for three minutes, could produce such a monstrous multi-breasted creature as the one that this afternoon confronted me, but it can and it does. I know. I saw it. In fact, I became entangled with it, such that I feared for my very life. Had even one twisted tentacle of those elastic tendrils wound about my throat, I might not be here now to tell the story. In the dead heat of mid afternoon, I found myself locked in combat with those many breasts - assaulted, to put it simply - pulling, twisting, stretching, cursing. Never, I think, have female garments been subjected to such fluent strings of blasphemy. Never, as well, have common breast cups become so sweaty as these that came into contact with my limbs, my chin, my nose, my head in this seemingly endless struggle. One of us, either I or the octopus, would be undone if it took the rest of the day and night. How can it be, I wondered, as I began to gain the upper hand, that these breasts can look so nice when hanging on my wife and yet so unworldly when left to themselves? A mystery and a riddle, and one that will not likely be answered by those defeated pink and creme colored cups that now hang serenely dripping on the clothesline.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Revival - a review

I suppose it may count as some small tribute to say that Stephen King is nearly alone among authors who can inspire me to stick by him through 450 pages of print that is far too small for my weary eyes to handle without squinting and eventually bringing on a headache. He is, and has always been, the master of the page turner. However, by the time his new novel Revival ends, one finds oneself turning those pages in hopes that King may miraculously deliver himself from the mess he has created, thus reviving the faith of the long time fan.

The book starts out as a quite promising story of innocence and sudden catastrophe, naivety coming face-to-face with the dispassionate, inscrutable cruelty of life. For more than 200 pages, King patiently paints and peoples his theme with tenderness and insight.

At around the halfway point, the narrative suddenly and unapologetically lurches into a new gear, the paranormal gear, grinding all the way. Only Stephen King could get away with this, and only because he is Stephen King and he is only doing what the reader anticipates.

So we forgive him, in the anticipation that he will now continue to unfold the story at hand on a new level. This is what King  does, in books such as The Shining, Salem's Lot and It.

Sadly, however, in this case, he has not only changed gears but gone into warp drive, leaving the first part of this carefully crafted story in a confused swirl of dust.  Characters turn to cardboard, become nearly indistinguishable one from another, ideas collapse into cliches, focus explodes. In less than 200 pages, ideas for a dozen stand alone novels are squandered, sometimes in a single paragraph, then dropped like empty wrappers while the story searches for its final packaging. And never arrives. It finally rushes, instead, to a lackluster conclusion, leaving the impression  that the author himself had tired of the thing and just wanted to be rid of it once and for all.

A keen disappointment is Revival, leaving me to anticipate a true revival in the future - of a fine author's skill and talent.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Just out of college, in 1976 (yes, I said 1976), I worked for the Oregon Journal, one of Portland's two daily newspapers. My coworker was a young man by the name of Kwaku, an immigrant from Liberia, and now an American citizen.

The name Kwaku, he told me, meant Thursday in English, and there were a lot of Thursdays in his native country. Roughly, one of every seven people was a Thursday.

The two of us had a desk together and we worked at the very lowest level in the newspaper business, save that of the newspaper delivery boy. I hated the job with a passion. Every six months we would have a review and the assistant city desk editor would ask me if I wanted a career in the newspaper business and I would answer Hell no.

Kwaku was having some trouble with being an American. It wasn't quite what he had expected. And he would come to me as a confidant with questions about the things that were troubling him.

"Why do you hate black people?", he asked.

"I don't hate black people."

"Not you, but Americans. Why do they hate black people."

"Who says they hate black people?"

"Because they made us be slaves."

"But that was more than a hundred years ago"

"But even now, I think they are slaves. People say things, even to my face. But I am an American. Why do they treat me different than the white?"

"For some, you will never be an American," I suggested.

"Just because I am black."

"No, that would be different. It's because you are African."

"But African is black."

"No. African is African."

"But I am an American citizen," he said.

"To some, you'll never be that either."

"But why?"

"Because you're an African."

So it went. We never did get to the bottom of the matter. Eventually, Kwaku left the newspaper for other employment and I left and collected unemployment until I landed my next dead end job. Then I reentered college to seek a Masters Degree for no particular reason. Jimmy Carter left office and Ronald Reagan entered. One could never have imagined Barack Obama in those days. And I never saw nor heard from Kwaku again