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August 2009

Buddha the boa constrictor

Today’s article is posted on Josh Hanagarne’s excellent blog, World’s Strongest Librarian.

The title is not a euphemism, my first job really was in a traveling reptile show, and this is my ridiculous story.

Raptitude Experiment No. 4 will debut on Thursday, see you then.

Read about David getting wrangled by a boa constrictor.

jail cell

Last week, convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was released from prison by the Scottish government, on “compassionate grounds.” He is dying of cancer and has less than three months to live. Initial reactions were strong, but deeply divided. Here are just some of the millions of opinions that flew back and forth on Twitter, in the hours that followed:

I hope his plane falls from the sky like the 283 people 20 years ago.

~ Tony Callaghan

Lockerbie …. I hope everyone in SCOTLAND gets cancer.

~ John Wright

Lots of anger about Lockerbie bomber release. Worth noting that the case against al-Megrahi was always somewhat dubious.

~ Matthew Pallas

Why did they release that bloodthirsty killer MEGRAHI? COMPASSIONATE GROUNDS! What about compassion for the Lockerbie victims families!

~ Henry William Louis

So Megrahi is released. I am proud that we are capable of such humanity even as we still grieve for those lost at Lockerbie.

~ Clare Meikle

Oh Scotland, may I remind you that Muslims have no concept of compassion and mercy. Freeing Megrahi will be a show of weakness in their eyes.

~ Rachel Hunter

Mind is changed on Megrahi, [Scottish Justice secretary] MacAskill made good points…. Hopefully this will help build bridges with the East.

~ Thomas Scott

Totally and utterly shocking that #megrahi – mass murderer – is now FREE!! Where’s the justice??? I’m ashamed to be Scottish today!! >:-(

~ Colin Sales

“Where’s the justice” is a good question.

I contend that there is none to be found here. How do you make the deaths of 270 innocents just? What action could one possibly take at this point to create justice out of this, or this? Read More

Post image for People and Fire

Sweaty, muddy and bleeding a little, the three of us picked our way through the overgrown ‘trail’ that snakes between Blue Lake campground and the remote, mythical Goblin Lake. We were traversing the final leg of our return trip through a wondrous forest of moss, bogs and toadstools, but the hike had been taxing. We had survived eleven kilometers of difficult terrain, countless detours, and a few brief, horrific moments when we thought we’d lost the trail.

If you’ve never been, the Canadian Shield hosts some of the most spectacular natural scenes anywhere. I just got back from a weekend of camping in western Ontario. The Shield is the Canadian wilderness stereotype in a nutshell: towering pines, overgrown crags of rock, moose, deer, loons, and crystal clear lakes. It’s a vast ‘shield’ of granite covering over half of Canada, speckled with millions of lakes carved by ice age glaciers.

Despite the clichéd tourism slogan, It is surprisingly difficult for a city-dweller to truly “get away from it all.” From my home city, the land is cultivated for many miles in every direction, crisscrossed with farm roads and power lines. Hike a mile into the trees and you’ll still hear the drone of the highway in the distance, at the least. Campgrounds and lodges do get you closer to nature, but it’s still a far cry from experiencing a wilderness that is completely uncompromised by human activity.

Goblin Lake’s appeal, apart from its Tolkien-esque name, is that it is remote and difficult to get to. We met other hikers who had turned back because of ‘impassible’ terrain, which only made it that much sweeter when we did emerge from the forest to set our eyes on this magical, pristine lake. Read More


Asking for help has always been so hard for me. I always hated it when I couldn’t do something for myself. I felt like a failure. I was so used to being asked for help, I sort of felt like I’d lose my identity as “the knower” if I put myself on the other side of the table.

I flunked in college because I was utterly terrified to ask for help. Admitting I was lost and needed help was, for me, like stepping out of a plane without a parachute. Even if I wanted to do it, my body wouldn’t budge. Believe it or not, through twelve years of grade school I did not once say, “I don’t know how to do this. Please show me.”

I would do anything else instead. Skip class to study it on my own, work backwards from the solution in the back of the text, or most often, simply avoid it for the rest of my life.

Naturally, this strategy caused some problems. Read More


It seems that we are members of the only animal species that lives most of its life knowing that it’s going to die. I sometimes wonder if life would be easier if we didn’t know it. It really is the worst of all spoilers. Happy Monday, by the way.

Now, there are other animals that do seem to realize when death is approaching; venerable elephants famously leave their pack to die in seclusion, and dogs and cats often run away from home or hide when their end is near.

But I suspect they don’t quite know why they’re inclined to do these things. It seems unlikely that they do it out of a rational understanding of their life cycle; I suspect that the urge just mysteriously comes over them along with the illness and weakness, and they take heed.

In any case, they don’t seem to know what’s coming until it’s on their doorstep.

Human beings, for better or worse, inevitably gather a more complete understanding of death, and very early on. We learn the concept of death as children. A person can’t live for more than four or five years without discovering the unpleasant fact that they are ultimately, well, doomed. Every child soon encounters a situation that someone else must help them understand by breaking this sad news, whether it’s when a pet disappears, when they ask where their grandma’s grandma is, or when they watch the Mr Hooper episode of Sesame Street.

Read More


Just behind the little gas tank door on my Honda, there is a silver scratch in the paint, about the size of a dime. It looks almost like an upside-down Nike swoosh. The panel is a little bit dented.

I know exactly when it happened.

It was a Friday in June 2006, I was new at my job, and I had just screwed up bigtime. I had transposed a few digits in my field notes and something ended up being constructed improperly, to the tune of about $5,000.

My boss had received a phone call, informing him of my costly blunder, while the two of us rode along in his truck back to the office. Things had been blowing up all day, and that was the last thing either of us wanted to hear. Painful silence.

Then my cell (for which he pays the bill) rang. Sheepishly, I answered, knowing it was a personal call. My friend wanted to go camping right after work. Feeling a desperate urge right then to get the hell out of town, I said yes and then quickly got rid of him. The awkward, silent ride continued.

When I got home, I hurriedly unloaded the work-related equipment from my trunk to throw in my camping stuff. I really wanted to be gone.

I had a bundle of wooden stakes under one arm and an aluminum range pole under the other, when I heard Right Said Fred playing behind me. Suddenly curious, I spun around to look for what kind of bizarre character would be blasting I’m Too Sexy from his car in 2006, and whacked my own car with the metal tip of the pole. Read More


Mohandas Gandhi, in his search for the true roots of human violence, identified seven categorical acts of “passive violence.”

They each mark a common human oversight that leads to suffering and destruction. Supposedly, there are no other mistakes of significant consequence.

These are too elegant to spoil with my own commentary, so I’ll just leave them naked, for you to consider.

1. Wealth without work

2. Pleasure without conscience

3. Knowledge without character

4. Commerce without morality

5. Science without humanity

6. Worship without sacrifice

7. Politics without principle

If you have a dilemma, can you find its root in one of Gandhi’s blunders?

Have a happy and thoughtful Wednesday. – David



Over thirteen years of grade school, the average student probably hands in a small forest’s-worth of worksheets, journals, drawings and assignments. So much of it is profoundly unmemorable: lab notes, arithmetic tests, book reports, and all other sorts of by-the-numbers tedium.

The creative work, however, is much more revealing. When a kid is asked to draw a picture or tell a story, the mind flies wide open, perhaps more so than it ever could later on in life, once the child has learned what the world considers immature, upsetting or otherwise unacceptable.

Minds Revealed

In “88 Important Truths“, number 8 was “Children are remarkably honest creatures until we teach them not to be.” As kids, we could spill our thoughts right onto the paper with only a trace of the self-censorship that is so pervasive for an adult.

Sitting down to write, as I do today, I’m all too aware of how my thoughts might be perceived and interpreted. I know (or at least I think I know) what the audience is likely to read into it, and so I edit, adjust, and omit accordingly. By the time the finished product is delivered, its character has been shaped by deliberation and second-guessing, with many of my original thoughts removed for the purposes of clarity, cleanliness, and convention. Read More

drinking man

Thirty-two days ago, David began an experiment wherein he vowed not to touch any drugs for thirty days.

And I’m a new man. Just like that.

This last month has definitely begun a new chapter for me, and perhaps closed an old one.

To recap quickly: thirty days ago I was a daily coffee drinker, and I had a habit of drinking alcohol to excess on a weekly-ish basis. I have spend the last month completely un-high, with not so much as an aspirin passing through my system. The last time I went thirty days without a drug was probably over ten years ago, when I was a minor.

Though I have never been (quite) out of control, certain drugs established an alarming regularity in my life. I used them so casually, and for so long, that I suspected they might actually be necessary to hold my work and social lives together. Getting drunk and buzzing out on coffee had become too normal an activity for me to still feel okay about it. I didn’t want drugs to be part of who I was.

So I set out to discover who I was without them. Read More

Jake the beetle

Meet Jake. Jake is a black-and-beige beetle I found in my bathroom garbage pail about a week ago. He seems in no hurry to leave. I don’t know what he’s been up to all week, but for now he’s residing in the maze of tissues and toilet paper rolls in my little white bucket.

For some reason, I would have killed him for this a few years ago. I always figured bugs in the house had to be executed for their trespassing. This is just what people do, but I don’t know if there’s really a good reason for it. So I’ll let him hang out in there.

I suppose the usual pretense for these killings is that bugs represent filth and disease, and it’s just not safe to let them live with us. Well, in spite of my greatest fears, Jake has never once given me a disease, or crawled in my mouth while I was sleeping. To my knowledge he has not laid eggs in my brain. He has not interfered in my life in any way.

In fact, compared to any dogs, cats or people I’ve roomed with, he’s been an outstanding guest. He doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t borrow my things, doesn’t shed on the upholstery or play bad electronic music. He doesn’t eat very much, apparently satisfied with whatever scraps remain on my spent strands of dental floss.   Read More

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