21 November 2011

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft


I’ve recently become enamored of a board game called Arkham Horror, which is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos.”  As such I took it upon myself to learn more about it, and as a starting point I picked Lovecraft’s seminal short story, The Call of Cthulhu.
It was actually a rather creepy read, which I thought was admirable on Lovecraft’s part, because he barely ever actually shows anything.  Instead, he manages to imbue the entire story with a sense of impending dread, culminating in an exceptionally brief account of an encounter with the titular character, told twice-removed: the narrator relates the account he heard from the sailor who actually made it to R’lyeh and saw Cthulhu.
In my research on Lovecraft it mentioned several things that became hallmarks of Lovecraft’s stories, and Call definitely managed to hit those notes: a New England setting (though not, in this case, the fictional town of Arkham); the notion of “cosmic indifference,” that the greatest forces in the cosmos are simply indifferent, perhaps even unaware, of humanity; and a rational, scientific approach, which excluded religion.
Having finished Call, I have started on The Colour Out of Space, and am enjoying that as well.
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Books: Actually, finished Colour as well, and read Bossypants.  Catching up on magazines now as well as reading some books for research for ITSS.

Bottles: Not since I got back from Louisville, but there are several bottles I have to post reviews for.

Guitar: Working on "My Hero" and "Coming Back to Life" right now.

Writing: Well, it's slow going as I've hit a spot that needs some restructuring, but once I get back to the meat I think I'll pick up again.

12 November 2011

A First-Rate Madness - Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi


I saw a brief blurb about A First Rate Madness in an issue of Scientific American a few months back, and I have to say the very idea of it fascinated me.  As someone who’s struggled through depression myself, I was especially interested in what the book had to say about how the experiences of depression can sometimes turn into strengths.  Though it took me a while to realize it at the time, that definitely mirrored my own experiences.
Ghaemi focuses his thesis on the idea that in times of crisis, leaders who suffer or suffered from mental illness have traits that make them more prepared to face the challenges the world is presenting, while leaders without mental illness tend to do well in stable times.  He posits that mental illness - and he focuses on depression and bipolar disorder in particular, as well as the personality subsets that go with them - gives those who suffer from them four advantages in crisis leadership: realism, creativity, empathy, and resilience.
He presents “psychological histories” of several prominent leaders: Churchill, FDR, JFK, William T Sherman, Ted Turner, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to illustrate how their own mental illness gave them tools which became useful in their struggles: Churchill’s depression led to realism about the Nazi threat; FDR’s creativity helped him constantly try new things to solve the problems of the Great Depression; JFK’s resilience, in the face of lifelong illness as well as a daunting first year in office, was a major factor in the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis; Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both centered their non-violent movements around the very notion of empathy.
Ghaemi is quick to point out the shortcomings of attempting such research, but he nonetheless presents a rubric that seemed, to me at least, reasonable enough: examining the historical figures’ symptoms, family history, course of treatment (where applicable) and...something else which escapes me at the moment.  Nor does he make the case that mentally healthy leaders - which he terms homoclite, as they express the “norm mental state” - are necessarily bad in a crisis.  He simply examines the links that history has provided.
I found the read thoroughly engaging, as I so often find history reads, and I found myself buried in wikipedia for quite a while afterward, wikisurfing from topic to topic on the events covered in the book.

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Books: Read The Call of Cthulhu and currently reading The Colour Out of Space.

Bottles: Drank a bunch of Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel last night as well as a bottle of Ramey Cabernet 2007 and a bottle of Layer Cake Primitivo 2008.  All very enjoyable.

Writing: Working on chapter 14.  I'm having a hard time getting back into Adam's frame of mind.

Guitar: Nope, guitar is in KC.  But on a related note, I have the Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here Immersion Box Sets waiting for me when I get home!

11 November 2011

The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


My journey into the canon of Sherlock Holmes continued with The Sign of the Four, the second Holmes novel.  I was immediately struck by the opening scene, in which Sherlock Holmes is doing intravenous cocaine because he is bored.  It was a rather stark reminder of the attitudes, both social and medical, of that time period.
Equally striking (and darkly amusing) was the overt racism displayed throughout as well.  I suppose this was present in the prior novel, as well, but it was especially evident in The Sign of the Four, which dealt so particularly with India.  Indeed, one of the Indian revolts is depicted in the novel and is the origin of the entire plot, as misbegotten treasure acquired during the revolt leads to a series of betrayals and murders.  Throughout, characters use epithets and descriptions that are hilariously racist, and yet they do so without batting an eye.  It makes me wonder what sorts of things we do today that will one day be viewed as bigoted.
On the whole, I thought the mystery behind The Sign of the Four was slightly less compelling than the one in A Study in Scarlet; somehow, it felt almost predictable, in a way that Scarlet wasn’t.  Stolen treasure, escaping prison, a crazed caricature of Pacific Island aboriginal, all these things seemed almost inevitable, whereas A Study in Scarlet’s tale was perhaps more sympathetic and more unique.  “The cab-driver did it!” is somehow more exciting than “The wooden-legged escaped convict did it!”
Still, Sign was terrific.  I’m moving on to other things for a while but anxiously look forward to returning to Holmes in the near future.

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Books: Reading The Call of Cthulhu right now.

Bottles: Had a fairly good bottle of Bordeaux at a restaurant recently and will post notes on it sooner or later...

Writing: Diving in to Chapter 14.

Guitar: Not really...the guitar is in another city.

08 November 2011

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Though I have seen several adaptations and interpretations of the Sherlock Holmes character - foremost among them Data’s portrayal in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Robert Downey Jr’s in the recent motion picture, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s in BBC’s Sherlock, reading A Study in Scarlet was in fact my first venture into the Holmes literary canon.
It was very strange, seeing how the case would meet my expectations and how it would defy them.  The very first episode of the BBC Sherlock was loosely based on this story, but it was different enough that it was quite fresh.  As Doyle’s introduction to the character, Study also felt very fresh and uncertain with itself at times, but this in fact worked to its advantage: since it was told from the perspective of Dr. John Watson, this then felt like we were finding out footing along with him.
Perhaps most surprising to me, all in all, was the use of Mormonism as the crux of the plot.  I had scarcely expected a 19th Century English writer to involve them; it seemed to me that only Americans ever wrote about Mormons.  Obviously this is not the case, but I have so rarely encountered references to them outside of American literature that it was almost jarring.  Either way, though, it was a delightful twist.
I thoroughly enjoyed A Study in Scarlet and have already started in on The Sign of the Four.

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Books: Been on vacation and reading magazines since they are easier to transport.

Bottles: A few new things.  Will write about them soon.

Writing: Didn't take my computer with me to Mexico but looking forward to getting back to Into the Shining Sun.

Guitar: No way I could take my guitar with me.

01 November 2011

Stoneboat Vineyards 2008 Pinotage


Stoneboat Vineyards 2008 Pinotage
Okanagan Black Sage Bench
As a disclaimer, I must confess to having avoided Pinotage after my friend and wine-mentor Bruce told me the story of the bottle of South African Pinotage he sampled which tasted as if it had been aged in an old tire instead of a barrel.  However, I do enjoy trying new and unique wines, and BC Pinotage was an experience I wasn’t likely to get anywhere in the US, so I tried it.
It was a dark plum color which belied the light body.  It had a cherry and candy nose, and surprising tartness.
It had a light fruity taste, which turned towards bitter midway through.  Mellow tannins gave way to a gently acidic finish.

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Books: Catching up on magazines right now.

Bottles: Had a good pair at Tannin Wine Bar, and also tried the latest vintage of Orin Swift's "The Prisoner."

Writing: Nearly finished with Chapter 13.

Guitar: Working on song-writing right now.