Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Another hit for the Supremes

The Supreme Court ruled today, defending the constitutional right of donors to spend as much as they want when buying political influence. Although, donors remain limited in how much they can spend on buying individual politicians, there is no spending limit when purchasing variety packs.

Some people won’t like this decision. But, that’s too bad because the constitution says so. If you don’t like the constitution, you’ll just have to change it. If you do decide to change it, here are my suggestions:

  1. Government has grown too big and wasteful. We should abolish Congress. Half our congressional representatives don’t do anything anyway except complain, obstruct, and obfuscate issues.
  2. Convert the Senate into a senior recreation center. Those old farts need something to keep them busy and a recreation center would keep them safe and off the streets.
  3. With both Congress and the Senate out of his way, the president will be able to do pretty much whatever he wants. That’s why he should be elected by large corporations. They already do a good job of ignoring laws, spouting falsehoods, and doing pretty much whatever they want.

There are additional advantages to corporations electing the president. Voters won’t have to miss work in order to vote. This decrease in absenteeism will benefit corporate profits. News channels will no longer have to pretend to deliver news. They will be able to concentrate on the more crucial tasks of entertaining viewers and persuading them to buy crap. Lastly, those who worry about having an informed electorate will be able to stop worrying. It won’t matter. And most people won’t even notice the change. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

So sweet, so cold, so fair

I first heard the song on Dr. John’s, N'Awlinz Dis Dat Or D'Udda. That CD, featuring, Mavis Staples, Eddie Bo, Cyril Neville, and a lot of other talent, is a strong contender for his best effort.

With its horn punctuation and the doctor’s keyboarding, this recording of St. James Infirmary is superb. I prefer it to the White Stripes more truncated version.

I wondered if a video of Dr. John performing St. James Infirmary, could be found on the internet. I found one of him performing it with Eric Clapton.

Who else has recorded St. James Infirmary? Many have. I particularly like Trombone Shorty’s spirited performance.

Louis Armstrong’s version is somewhat mournful, while Cab Calloway’s version is more upbeat.

Others who have covered the tune include, Cassandra Wilson, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker and Eric Burdon—and that’s’ only a few. In fact, the song has its roots in the 18th century. In its original version, The Unfortunate Rake, the song describes a soldier who frequents prostitutes, then dies of venereal disease.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Talking Head

Andrew’s Brain
E. L Doctorow
Fiction 200 pages
New York. Random House. 2014

Who is Andrew? In the beginning, the narrator calls him “my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist.” But it doesn’t take long before the reader realizes that Andrew himself is telling the story. Another man is asking him questions, apparently a psychiatrist. Andrew is baiting him, attempting to catch his attention by telling him he hears voices.

Andrew tells his psychiatrist a good deal more as well, occasionally reprimanding the doctor’s ignorance and naiveté. Apparently, Andrew is well educated, and perhaps a good bit older than the psychiatrist. Yet Andrew is flawed. As a child, he caused a fatal accident. As an adult, he fatally over-medicates his baby. Although his second wife’s death is not his fault, he seems to accept the blame for the event.

Like other books by E. L. Doctorow, “Andrew’s Brain” is a historical novel. Its history is contemporary, and its historical figures are implied rather than named. Andrew is a scientific man in a world governed by archaic ideas and values. When he delivers his message to authority, it is ill received.

His message is to stop pretending to be what we are not. We have minds, but not souls and we are less important than we think we are.

Andrew defends his pessimism through the cognitive science he teaches, “If consciousness exists without the world, it is nothing, and if it needs the world to exist, it is still nothing.” But when he falls in love, Andrew’s pessimism is replaced with joy. Andrew isn't merely a scientist who views brains as machines; he’s also a romantic idealist. Doctorow gives us a full picture of Andrew, complex and self-contradicting.
The book is witty, well-written, and delivers a few surprises. One of Doctorow’s best. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Space Jockey

Space Jockey (Science Fiction Short Stories)
Tara Maya, editor, multiple authors
Fiction 315 pages (estimated for Kindle)
Misque Press. 2013

As the title implies, each of these stories involves piloting a spacecraft. However, there the similarity ends. One craft is barely large enough to support a crew of two while several others have remote pilots. Just as the book supplies spacecraft in a diverse variety, it does the same with story plots.

Many of the stories deal with warfare, and some deal with military versus non-violent solutions. One such is Tara Maya's "Food, Peace, Power". In this story, two determined men, a military leader and a civilian pacifist engage in a contest of will and wits. You can't read this story without respecting both men, their differing viewpoints and their conflict resolution styles.

Philip K. Dick's "Mr. Spaceship" takes a different view of warfare. His protagonist views war as a bad habit acquired by humanity and never out grown. His solution involves a radical approach and a fresh start.

In her story, "Semper Audacia", M. Pax presents warfare at its grittiest. Leda is the lone survivor of her brigade and now her people depend on her to save their civilization. There's no room for hesitation or error, however Leda has ghosts her fallen companions' ghosts to guide her. Are the ghosts real or has Leda gone mad? This story packs action and suspense into a tight container.

Another strong female protagonist can be found in Ethan Rodgers' "Farsider". This tough pilot makes the best of her exile on Titan and finds comfort where she can.

Other stories in this collection address artificial Intelligence, quantum physics, quests to explore deep space, and the loss of one's humanity. There's quite a range of topics packed into one collection.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Best eBook version of the Nights

I’ve been seeking a good eBook of the Arabian Nights Entertainments ever since I conceived and began to write a  science fiction collection based on Scheherazade’s stories.

My chief criterion was that it be a complete translation, which ruled out a number of translations intended for children. Since it also had to be accessible, I decided to use Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation.

Another criterion was that it had to be cheap. The Arabian Nights Entertainments is available from Project Gutenberg, however each volume of the work is a separate download. I then found a reasonably priced Quench edition that collects the work in a single volume. It’s a decent, low priced edition, however it is not sold on Amazon. One drawback to this edition, however, is that to read Burton’s footnotes readers must navigate to the back of each volume. A better edition would have roundtrip hyperlinks between the text and the footnotes.

Eureka! An edition sold through Google Play does contain roundtrip hyperlinks. It also contains a short biography of Burton.  Although, the MobileReference translation also has several shortcomings, it is the best I’ve found. One shortcoming is that it is not available for Kindle. I can live with this; it looks fine when viewed on Adobe Digital Editions and on Android devices. The other shortcoming is that its design prohibits copying text. Most readers won’t care about this, but if they do, they can readily copy text from various internet sources.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Bullseye, but not the target I expected

The Power of Free on Amazon Kindle
Glen Chapman
Nonfiction 22 pages
Amazon Digital Services. 2013

I've read a number of books on self-publishing eBooks. Some were free; others I paid for. Just about every one of these eBooks offers clever marketing tricks. Some tricks seem to work. Others seem impractical or unethical. This book isn’t packed with tips. Its chief virtue is its discussion of how downloadable MP3s changed the music industry and how eBooks will change the publishing industry.

In previous years if you wanted to record and sell your music, or write and sell your book, you had to hook up with a record company or book publisher. These acted as gatekeepers and ensured that only those titles with presumed commercial potential were available to consumers.

That has changed. Musicians and authors are now able to self-publish their work with a minimum of equipment and cost. Enter the long tail. When publishing involved high production costs and inventories, it made sense to promote the most popular titles—those with sales represented by the peak of a statistical curve. But, when traditional costs no longer count, sales at the tail of the curve increase. The tail becomes longer as more sales occur in fringe, rather than, mainstream, segments of the market.

This is great news for online vendors. With minimal inventory cost they can profit as much from the sale of fringe products as from mainstream ones. But can the self-publishers profit as well? Chapman wonders what the future will bring for self-publishers. If you buy this eBook, do so for its discussion of traditions, recent trends, and the long tail, not for marketing tips.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

High atop Triceratops Trail

If you’re in the area, pay a visit to Golden. Situated between high mountains and grassy plains, Golden is a new-fangled town with old-timey roots.

Traveling west from Denver along Highway Six (also known as 6th Avenue), you’ll pass the Jefferson County courthouse. Not far beyond, 19th Street will take you into downtown Golden.

But don’t go there just yet, because 6th and 19th is a very interesting intersection. If you take a left here, 19th will put you on Lookout Mountain Road (also known as Lariat Loop Road). If you’ve always wanted to drive your own roller coaster, this is the road for you. On the other hand, Gringo, there are easier ways to get into the mountains.

But, you came to look at dinosaur tracks, so take a right, rather than a left, on 19th Street. Turn right once more on Jones Road, just before the car dealership. Triceratops Trail begins parallel to 6th Avenue and looks down upon Fossil Trace Golf Course.

It’s a short trail, about half a mile, steep in spots, but not too steep. The deep trenches along the trail once contained clay before it was quarried. What remains is sandstone—sandstone containing impressions of triceratops traffic and ancient plant life. These impressions are known as trace fossils. Fossils of bones or other body parts are called body fossils. In addition to triceratops footprints, fossils of palm fronds and animal tracks can be seen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A magical story collection

Strange News from Another Star
Hermann Hesse (Denver Lindley translator)
Fiction 99 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972

Although seven of these eight stories were originally published in a volume titled, “Fairy Tales”, you’ll find no fairies in them. Magic, to be sure—but no fairies.

The first story in the collection, “Augustus”, is similar to Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Selfish Giant”. The heroes of both stories set themselves apart from their fellow men, and ultimately find redemption. However Wilde’s fairy tale is one that children can appreciate, while Hesse’s is clearly suitable for more mature readers. In Wilde’s story, redemption comes for a living giant, but for Augustus, it comes at the moment of death. In many of these stories, achieving harmony with one’s fellows and one’s self can only be achieved through forgetfulness (“Strange News from Another Star”) or through death (several of the stories).

Overall, the theme of the collection is man’s struggle to achieve a harmonious relationship with others of his kind, with the universe surrounding him, and with the self within him. By self, I mean that archetypical structure to which psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, referred. Hesse published this story collection, as well as his novel, “Demian” in 1919 This was the same year in which Jung first wrote about archetypes. It’s probably no coincidence that before Hesse’s two works were published in 1919, he had recently finished his Jungian psychotherapy. Whether through intention or coincidence, Hesse’s writing often illustrates Jungian principals.

These stories are well told and their allegories readily understood. Of all the stories, I only one failed to please me—I saw no point in, “A Dream Sequence.”

The best story in the collection, “Iris”, is the story of a boy for whom flowers are doors into true reality. “Each phenomenon on earth is an allegory, and each allegory is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can pass into the interior of the world where you and I and day and night are all one.”

As Anselm, the boy, matures, flowers and nature lose their magic for him. He falls in love, but his love leaves him with a quest. For the remainder of his life, he follows that quest. Finally, the gate opens for him, “It was Iris into whose heart he entered, and it was the sword lily in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he softly strode, and as he silently drew close to the golden twilight all memory and all knowledge were suddenly at his command …”

If you've never read Hesse, and like short fiction, this collection is a good place to start.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

They really know their geology at the Colorado School of Mines. And a tour of the Geology Museum proves it. Its two floors house a magnificent collection of mineral specimens, including a cluster of amethyst crystals, a clear quartz crystal, a topaz and an opal—each as big as your head. There are specimens of silver, copper, lead and gold ores as well, including one specimen of gold wire in matrix.

The view from the upstairs window looks out upon the Front Range. Watch the video to learn about its geological features. Alternatively, learn more about geology first hand by hiking the geological trail directly behind the museum. The trail features some of the fossils for which this area is known.

The ground floor of the museum features a model uranium mine, which includes a display of florescent minerals. There is also an exhibit on radioactivity, a collection of specimens found locally on Golden’s South Table Mountain, and a gift shop. Collectors will appreciate the gift shop’s variety of mineral specimens.

Visit the museum between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or on Sunday between 1:00 pm and 4:00 p.m.
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Shiva Dances

This bronze Shiva, in the Denver Art Museum, had its origins in India in the 1100s during the Chola Dynasty. It depicts the god in his aspect of Nataraj or “Lord of Dance.” This representation of Shiva can be interpreted in several ways. According to one interpretation, Shiva is dancing the destruction of the universe. As his movements quicken, fire and earthquakes consume creation. The god Brahma then awakens and recreates the universe. Another interpretation is that Shiva dances to release men from illusion. Shiva’s right foot, planted in victory on a figure symbolizing human ignorance, represents his embodiment. His left foot, held aloft, represents release. His raised right hand holds a drum, which represents creation. His other right hand is held in a gesture meaning, “be not fearful.” One of his left hands holds fire, representing destruction. All activity within the universe—every birth, every death—originates from Shiva, and is signified by the arch of flames, which surrounds him. The lotus base represents the creative forces within the universe. Shiva dances to free men from illusion. The dance takes place at the center of the universe, which is also located within the human heart. References: Denver Art Museum exhibit notes "Nataraja." In the Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD 21. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006. Subhamoy Das. Nataraj: The Dancing Shiva., (accessed August 22, 2009)

About Me

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David Loeff (pronounced Lef) is an author and graphic designer. His freelance services include conversion of manuscripts into eBooks, photo retouching, book design, etc.

Dave worked domestically in the sewn goods industry, before he became a buyer in Taiwan. He subsequently worked as a mental health clinician, technical writer, computer technician, and graphic designer.

In addition to fiction, Dave writes about graphics, travel, and other topics. His website is