Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eye Candy


When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.
Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another, it is one damn thing over and over.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1956)

When there are two conflicting versions of a story, the wise course is to believe the one in which people appear at their worst.
H. Allen Smith (1906-1976)

I have found little that is good about human beings. In my experience, most of them are trash.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.
H.L. Mencken (1880-1936)

Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union.
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

Philosophy is to the real world what masturbation is to sex.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)

If only it was as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate.
Diogenes the Cynic (412-323BC)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Eye Candy

Polio: An American Story

Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
$11.53 at ISBN: 0195307143
Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for history, this book recounts the story of the most feared disease of the 20th century and the heroes who mobilized the nation to fight it.
Polio was not just an American disease, but for reasons no one can explain to this day, the US did suffer more casualties than any other nation on earth. Usually striking infants, although adults did contract it as well, it causes agonizing pain followed by paralysis or death. It was difficult to tell how it was transmitted: dozens of children would develop it at once in a small town only to have it vanish as quickly as it had come. It affected industrialized nations more than the poor, underdeveloped areas that usually serve as epicenters of disease. Proper sanitation and use of disinfectants hardly seemed to prevent its spread at all.
The most famous polio victim, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, kept his disability mostly hidden from the public, who were typically terrified and disgusted by the crippled and disfigured. Public perceptions of the physically disabled had begun to change. Older views of the cripple as a hopeless burden on family and society, best hidden in an upstairs bedroom or dreary institution, had given way to more positive notions of recovery, thanks in large part to the positive example of FDR.
There's a lot of heroism in this story: the scientific pioneers struggling to find a cure as they had for smallpox, scarlet fever, and so many other illnesses in the previous century. Thousands of volunteers organized fund-raisers to provide research grants and assistance for families of the victims, including the United Way and March of Dimes. The optimism of children in spite of their suffering remains inspiring and heartwarming.
The iron lung was invented to help those experiencing paralysis of the lungs due to polio, but who were expected to recover and breathe again on their own. It was meant to bring people back to health, not to keep hopelessly damaged people alive. No one had seriously pondered the long-term implications of this life saving technology.
This is a top quality book, especially impressive since it involves so much science, typically a difficult subject to make interesting to those who aren't scientists. Oshinsky pulls it off with humor and aplomb, his story is exciting but never depressing, fascinating and educational but never dry or dull. Here's history and medicine that can be enjoyed simply as good storytelling.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eye Candy

Knights of the Hill Country

Knights of the Hill Country, by Tim Tharp
$11.53 at ISBN: 0375836535
Very easy to read and very short, which has placed this book in the "Teen" section of most bookstores. The story revolves around two boys who are best friends and football teammates in rural Oklahoma. This region, for those of you not familiar, is remote and desolate, which means there are very few opportunities for advancement. Many high schoolers consider a scholarship to play college football their only way to avoid a life of working at Walmart or pumping gasoline at the local filling station. It is with two such boys, friends since early childhood, that our story begins.
Hampton's father died when he was young. His mother is a total loser, and he probably would've wound up as a juvenile delinquent had his friend's father not introduced him to football. As he gets closer to graduation, however, he's begun to look outside the world of field goals and touchdowns to try to succeed in other areas. He's begun dating a girl who's not a cheerleader, who's interested in reading and encourages him to study hard and get good grades in school. All this is great, except that is alienates him from his childhood pals to whom he feels he owes so much.
Blaine, his best friend, is determined to get an athletic scholarship, but a recent sports injury has been troubling him more than he's letting on. Football is all he knows, and the only thing he's ever been good at. His excessively strict father keeps pushing him harder as it becomes more apparent that, with his wounded knee, any route he takes to success won't involve running through the end zone.
This is one of those situations where two people are determined to remain good friends even though their lives are taking them in different directions. There's a touching scene where Hampton learns to use a book's index to answer questions on a homework assignment, his former method involved flipping through the book at random. We can often succeed in areas we didn't think ourselves capable of once we're shown how to go about it.
This is an outstanding choice for an athletic teenage boy who's not into reading. Most of the story takes place during games, and the camaraderie between teammates should strike a familiar chord with sports fans. But there's a life outside the locker room as well. Friendship, loyalty, and the drive to excel in all parts of life, not just athletics, is what turns these two boys into men. Lots of fun and a breeze to get into, this book is a treat for all ages.
Props to my good friend Mary for suggesting it to me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eye Candy

Good Omens

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
$7.99 at ISBN: 0060853980
It's not every day you find a comedy about the end of the world. Pratchett writes light sci-fi novels and Gaiman is best known as the author of the Sandman graphic novels, though he now writes in prose as well. They teamed up some years ago to write this terrifically funny novel in which Armageddon is coming, but a misguided nun unwittingly misplaces the infant Antichrist, throwing the entire End Times into chaos.
The stars of the show are two angels: Aziraphale works for God, and is disguised on earth as a used book dealer. The other, Crowley, works for Satan and feels unappreciated as he alone in Hell knows how to seduce people to evil in modern times. The two remain friends and colleagues, in spite of their bosses being eternal enemies, and scramble to get the Last Days back on track and running smoothly. Crowley drives a sports car and has a penchant for his Best of Queen album, while Aziraphale is a bit more studious and mild mannered. The sarcasm and double entendres the two exchange keep the story funny, although both seem sort of inept as heavenly guardians.
The back up characters are funny as well. A book of ancient prophecies, written by a witch named Agnes Nutter, describe every aspect of Armageddon in precise detail. Writing in the 17th century, Agnes struggles to describe skyscrapers, automobile accidents, and other 20th century foibles unknown in her own time. The famed Four Horsemen are all here, and the Antichrist himself as a twelve-year-old boy whose whereabouts remain unknown until the end.
This is a very funny book, parts are sure to have you laughing out loud. Using religion as a theme got me thinking about how sometimes we all take existence just a bit too seriously. The humor is quite irreverent but never really offensive, making this a good gift for even the pious Christian in your life. Get a few laughs off of the end of life on earth.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Eye Candy