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book cover odd thomas

“Odd Thomas,” written by Dean Koontz, is one of those books I wanted very much to enjoy, but just didn’t. It is the kind of story I should have found gripping, but, like a spirit almost ready to leave this world behind, I often found myself close to “letting go.”

“Odd Thomas” is the name of the title character, a short-order fry cook in his early 20s in a fictional California desert city who has an unusual ability: he can see the spirits of the dead, those who haven’t been able to “move on” for one reason or another. They cannot talk to him, but some do find ways to communicate with him, in order to lead him to the person or persons who killed them, or otherwise solve the mystery of their death. Odd uses this ability to aid the small local police department. The local police chief is a good friend and knows of Odd’s talent, as does Odd’s girlfriend, “Stormy,” and a few close others. (His parents are not among that group.)

The plot surrounds Odd’s realization that something very bad is about to happen in his town, “Pico Mundo,” when he sees a somewhat disconcerting man and then begins to notice “bodachs” luking about town. Bodachs are creatures (Odd isn’t sure if they’re spirits, demons, or something else) that appear when bad things happen. Odd frequently sees one or two, but now dozens and even hundred are appearing. They don’t involve themselves in the disaster, but they like to watch, and their growing numbers give Odd an urgent sense of desperation to prevent whatever they’re here to “enjoy.”

No spoilers, but there is a serious threat our hero must prevent. He succeeds, but only mostly and at great cost to himself and others, fitting for a horror novel.

My problems with this book are twofold: first, I’m convinced there is a superb short story hidden within this plodding, overwritten novel. I only wish Mr. Koontz had realized that. I often found myself thinking “get on with it.”

Second, the writing style put me off almost completely. Told first-person from Odd’s point of view, his narrative is very straightforward, almost formal, and at times overly descriptive, like a talented but undisciplined young writer. His own personality is odd, of course, and studiously even-tempered, polite and again formal. While Koontz makes clear why he made these choices over the course of the novel, I found the execution off-putting, almost dull, and even annoying.

Others obviously disagree with me; this is the first book in a popular series and it has been made into a movie. But, in comparison to the works of masters of horror and occult fiction, such as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Ramsey Campbell,  I found “Odd Thomas” bland and  lacking.

Not recommended.

I knew it!

"Health hazard"

“Health hazard”

Vegetarianism is bad for you

Population-based studies have consistently shown that our diet has an influence on health – a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is recommended.

But some people go overboard and just eat meat. Or just eat vegetables. Evidence for health benefits of exclusive diets is scant. Vegetarians are considered healthier, they are wealthier, they are more liberal, they drink less alcohol and they smoke less – but those are a lot of variables in health that don’t necessarily result from being a vegetarian.

A cross-sectional study taken from the Austrian Health Interview Survey AT-HIS 2006/07 found that vegetarians are actually less healthy than normal eaters. Subjects were matched according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status leaving 1320 people – 330 vegetarians, 330 that ate meat but still a lot of fruits and vegetables, 300 normal eaters but that ate less meat, and 330 on a more carnivorous diet.

After controlling for variables, they found that vegetarians did have lower BMI and alcohol consumption but had poorer overall health. Vegetarians had higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders, a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life.

As a result, vegetarians take more medications than non-vegetarians.

Now, as the article points out, this is just one study and, if anything is certain in life and science, there will be other studies showing just the opposite.

Still, this is one of those moments that gives me way too much satisfaction. There is an annoying subset of vegetarians (1) who take their dietary choice as a sign of their moral superiority. Not all, of course; some are vegetarian for religious or health reasons. But, there is that smug faction, and shoving a grapefruit in their face is a temptation I cannot resist.

Yes, I am weak.

And I take my steak on the rare side of medium-rare. Don’t want to get cancer and go insane, after all.

Footnote:
(1) And bicyclists. No, you do not in fact own the road and the sidewalk.

Me, after this weekend

Me, after this weekend

 

Of course, I’ve had worse stretches of days, but this has been among the worst in a good while.

The plan had been to take last Wednesday and Thursday off to…

a) Get my boss to stop nagging me to take time off (we can only accumulate so much);
b) Take advantage of the quiet intersession period at UCLA and the Friday state holiday;
c) And just to do things that I’d like to do, instead of what I have to do, and enjoy a five-day weekend.

Silly me.

Instead, what happened was:

I got sick for the first three days with a miserable cold. Only started getting better yesterday.

Got turned down for an apartment I wanted because I don’t make enough money, even though it’s less expensive than where I live. As you can imagine, I enjoy being told that, at age 55, I’m too poor to live in a distinctly average apartment, and I want to thank my employers, the UCLA Library System. While you hire more and more upper management, staff aren’t paid enough to live on their own in decent surroundings. Love you, too.

That rejection, of course, happened after I paid $635 for a deposit and credit check fee. I’ve been promised the $600 deposit back, but the credit check fee is “iffier.” If they had already started the check, then I’m S.O.L. Considering only less than an hour went by between my application and learning I’m too much of a peasant for them, I had better be refunded that, too.

Oh, and –yay me!!– I lost my Kindle Fire. (Pause. Heavy sigh.) Yes, you read that right. Sometime Saturday, while shopping at either Costco or the Albertson’s next door, I must have become distracted and left it in the cart or on the counter. Called them, but neither lost and found had it. If the apartment failure was embarrassing, this one is heartbreaking. That was a gift from a friend, and anyone who knows me knows how attached I was to it. It literally went almost everywhere with me. And now I’ve stupidly lost it. I’ve de-registered it, so no one can buy stuff on my account, but I really hadn’t planned on the expense of buying a new one — oh, and a new over-priced case, too.

(Secretly, I blame the late, lamented Notespark synched notepad applet and Apple computers. If Notespark hadn’t gone out of business, I could still have used it for my shopping lists, instead of Evernote. And if Apple hadn’t made my iPod Touch obsolete with its iOS upgrades, then I could have used Evernote on my iPod Touch, which can be slipped into my shirt pocket, instead of my Kindle Fire, which has to be placed in the basket while shopping. And then forgotten. See? It’s not my fault.)

Like I told a friend, if this keeps up, I may start to get cranky.

As it is, the weekend has a few hours to go. I wonder what else can happen?

I’d better not ask.

At least until he decides to invade the neighbor’s fish pond:

And his bunker is under the ugly pink fake-coral castle his owner bought at Petco…

Edit: Sometimes the tweet and picture show up, sometimes not. Usually embedding works better than this.

Yachting, Titan-style

Yachting, Titan-style

Okay, so trying to catch some rays from a distant, faint sun on the shore of a hydrocarbon sea on a freezing moon doesn’t sound like all that much fun (at least, not to an Earthman…), but the announcement that scientists may have discovered waves on the seas and lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan does spur the imagination:

Now, after years of searching, Nature reports that NASA’s Cassini scientists think they may finally have spotted waves cresting on the seas of Titan. If confirmed, this would be the first discovery of ocean waves beyond Earth.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spied several unusual glints of sunlight off the surface of Punga Mare in the 2012 and 2013 flybys. Those reflections may come from tiny ripples, no more than 2 centimeters high, that are disturbing the otherwise flat ocean, says Jason Barnes, a planetary scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

(…)

Researchers expect more waves to appear in the next few years, because winds are anticipated to pick up as Titan’s northern hemisphere — where most of its seas are located — emerges from winter and approaches spring.

There’s been a proposal for a seaborne “lander” to go to Titan for an initial exploration of its “waters,” but the project was beaten out by the Mars Lander. Seems kind of silly we couldn’t do both. Besides, imagine the reaction to the last images from the “Mare Explorer,” as a Titanian whale swallows it whole.

Yes!

Let’s do this, NASA.

This little girl in Kyrgyzstan absolutely has to grow up to be a great conductor — she has all the moves down. The setting was a Baptist church, perhaps during choir practice. Just watch:

From the article at Kloop, which I gather is a Kyrgyz site. Translation by Google:

The video sealed, like a little girl conducting the choir at a Baptist church in Bishkek. Child won the hearts of American viewers who were amazed by her improvisation.

Video for this moment gathered over half a million views on the popular video service YouTube, and its heroine – a little girl – hit the U.S. media.

About her story made ​​TV channel NBC (where the leading could not pronounce the name of the country) and wrote popular blogs in the world , “Huffington Post” and “Gouker”  (“Gawker”). 

“Despite her age, she conducts with passion and drama that you may have never seen,” – writes in his article “The Huffington Post”.

What a charmer. If she doesn’t go to musics school, it will be a crime.

"Your sommelier"

“Local postmaster?”

What makes this special is that the letter was written by a Roman soldier to his family in Egypt, over 1,800 years ago:

A newly deciphered letter home dating back around 1,800 years reveals the pleas of a young Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion who was serving, probably as a volunteer, in a Roman legion in Europe.

In the letter, written mainly in Greek, Polion tells his family that he is desperate to hear from them and that he is going to request leave to make the long journey home to see them.

Addressed to his mother (a bread seller), sister and brother, part of it reads: “I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind,” it reads.

“I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you …” (Part of the letter hasn’t survived.)

(The back of the letter contains instructions for the carrier to deliver it to a military veteran whose name may have been Acutius Leon who could forward it to Polion’s family. Although the Roman Empire had a military postal system, Polion appears not to have used it The back of the letter contains instructions for the carrier to deliver it to a military veteran whose name may have been Acutius Leon who could forward it to Polion’s family. Although the Roman Empire had a military postal system, Polion appears not to have used it, entrusting the veteran instead.)

Polion says he has written six letters to his family without response, suggesting some sort of family tensions.

Change the religious and other references to modern-day terms, and this letter could have been written by a worried American anywhere around the world. I’ve often said that people haven’t changed all that much since civilization began around 6,000 years ago, and I think this letter is more evidence of that. Though the letter apparently reached his family (it was discovered in the ruins of a Roman-era Egyptian village), there’s nothing to indicate if Aurelius Polion ever heard back.

I’d like to think he eventually did get that letter from home.

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