Friday, June 27, 2008

Pierce's 3

The Great Train Robbery The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take Ocean's 11, throw in some Godfather, and set it in 1850s London, and you've got The Great Train Robbery.

Other reviewers talk about plotting and characterization and diction; I'll let you read their reviews for that. I want to communicate that this book offers something that few books offer: genuine, thought-provoking fun. Much like Ocean's 11. Mr. Crichton uses the book to make a statement, but the statement isn't blatant, like you might see from movies like An Inconvenient Truth or Syriana. Rather, Mr. Crichton draws his characters in such a way that you (realistically) grow fond of those of whom you should not grow fond--and therein lies his statement. For example, the hero/villain is a master thief, both of money and of class. He is a fraud, a liar, and a cold-blooded killer. But you love him like you love Danny Ocean or Vito Corleone.

Mr. Crichton's message, I believe, is that good and evil are not so clearly cut as we tend to think. But he doesn't tell you that in a boring way full of rumination. Rather, he tells it in the fascinating story of the perfect heist, much like Ocean's 11.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Rhythm, No Rhyme, No Fun

A few years ago, I read an essay in Newsweek about how nobody reads poetry anymore because we're all too lazy to give it the effort it needs.  Well, I disagree.  Nobody reads poetry anymore because (a) it's too complex to get on the first reading and (b) we all have better things to do than read a boring poem twice.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Signet Classics (Paperback)) Yesterday, I began reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  Several times in the first 50 or so pages, Mr. Carroll interrupts the narrative with a poem, usually spoken by one of the characters.  For example, Alice recites the following to a blue caterpillar on a mushroom:

'You are old,' said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak/For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--/Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,/And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,/Has lasted the rest of my life.'

Now, I don't have any idea what that means.  But I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed typing it.  The poem is just plain fun to read, so I will read it again.  Shakespeare's sonnets are another example.  Who doesn't enjoy reading those crazy 14-liners?  I don't even mind reading Emily Dickinson a few times to try to get what she's saying.  Rhyme + Rhythm = Fun.

Other poets, on the other hand, like T.S. Eliot, don't make any sense on the first reading, and it's just not fun enough to try to read it again.  No rhythm + no rhyme = no fun.  People don't read modern poetry because it's too hard and not fun enough.

I realize how shallow this probably sounds, but if modern poetry were more entertaining, maybe people would read it more.  If you're going to write boring syncopated prose and call it "poetry," don't complain when nobody reads it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Finding your Passion

From a Psychology Today article:

Many people have at least one . . . passion. . . . [F]or those who are seeking this sense of fulfillment, there are a few tricks, suggests Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University. The first step is to commit to learning a bit about a subject. Passions don't arrive like bolts out of the blue. They build slowly, through the process of gradual mastery. "Passion and interest, the research is clear, come out of practice and expertise," says Peterson.

As a greenhorn, you also have to put up with feeling like an idiot—to tolerate and laugh at your own ignorance. "You must be willing to accept the discomfort and negative feelings that come your way," says Kashdan.

In fact, those butterflies in your stomach will probably be the first sign that you've hit upon a potential pursuit, says Streeter. "The thing that scares you the most tends to be the most fulfilling," she says. "It doesn't have to be something great. It has to be something that you aren't sure you can do."


We spend so much time experimenting with foods, with different ways to organize our houses, and so little time experimenting with all the ways we can act as a person.

Just some interesting thoughts for those of you who've hung around long enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I've Got Questions

You'd better have answers.

Why would a parent take their small child to child support court?  How does it benefit the child's fragile world to let her hear her daddy complaining about taking care of her?

I just want to know.

Where Amazing Happens

I guess Kobe didn't have it in him.  Pau Gasol tried to help, but nobody gave him any credit.  You heard it here first: the Celtics have won the NBA Finals, beating the L.A. Kobes Lakers in six games.  There's something amazing about the story of a team that goes from the second-worst team in the NBA (only beating the Memphis Grizzlies by two games) to national champions in one year.

So it's not as sweet as if the Spurs won it, but it'll have to do.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I don't get it.  The Phoenix Suns only made it to the playoffs, so they fire Mike D'Antoni.  The Dallas Mavericks have the best record in the NBA over the past three years, so they fire Avery Johnson.  Now the Mets (who probably won't make the playoffs and don't have a stellar record and will probably be remembered for a few years for their incredible choke at the end of last year) have fired Willie Randolph.  If you ask me, that doesn't really make sense.  A manager/coach can only play with what he's got.

But I guess I'm old school.  I prefer giving a coach a chance to learn from his mistakes and develop a persona.  Look at Tom Landry.  Tommy Lasorda.  Gregg Poppovich.  Phil Jackson.  These are guys who, while they may not always be taking home championship rings, have developed personae that make their teams better.  Everybody benefits when you give coaches a chance to develop, just like everybody benefits when you give players a chance to develop.

That said--I'm behind Ron Washington 100%.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Outer Counties

The child support office where I work is in Waco, but we handle cases from several other counties, including Mills, Hamilton, Bosque, Falls, Freestone, and Limestone.  These other counties are referred to as "outer counties."  I thought it was merely a geographical reference, until I overheard this conversation in one of the outer-county courthouses:

[AAG:] So I hear he's trying to get custody.  How likely do you think that is?

[Customer:] Well, he doesn't like how I've handled my daughter's relationships.  He thinks she and her step-brother are getting a little too . . . intimate.

[AAG:] I see.

[Customer:] But I don't think it's a big deal.  I mean--they're not blood-kin.

Ah yes.  Outer counties indeed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Putting Hair on Your Chest

Today, I watched a 25-30 year-old-boy take one more step toward manhood.  I don't really know how you define manhood, but I think it has to do with taking responsibility for your actions.  This boy can't keep a steady job.  So he's fallen pretty far behind on his child support.  So we put him in jail.  (We have programs that can get him a job quickly, and then he'll get on work release.)  This boy took the trouble to create a child, but now he doesn't want to take the trouble to make sure that that child lives the best life it can.  That's not being a man; that's being a child.

So I got to thinking about whether putting him in jail is the right thing to do.  Will that help him take the next few steps toward manhood?  I think it will.  I grew up hearing that certain food and drink would "put hair on your chest," meaning that it tasted terrible or would otherwise ruin your night.  The adversity of the experience would make you stronger.  I just hope that spending a few weeks in jail will put some hair on this boy's chest.  If nothing else, his kids deserve it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


From our Brother Sol:

Here is something else I have learned: The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don't always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don't always make you healthy, rich, or popular. We each have our share of bad luck. None of us knows when we might fall victim to a sudden disaster and find ourselves like fish in a net or birds in a trap.

I watched a contested divorce hearing today in the 220th District Court of Hamilton County. They've been married about ten years. One night, he came home from work. She was dealing with the kids and cooking dinner. He kissed her on the cheek and asked how everything was. She sighed and stirred the pot on the stove. "We need to talk after dinner."

She fed the kids while he watched the game, then she cleaned up the kitchen while he put the laundry in the wash. That night, after all their chores were done and their teeth had been brushed, she told him again: "We need to talk." Over the next three hours, she argued that she just wasn't happy in their marriage anymore and that she needed more from life than he could provide. All the things people tell each other and themselves when they just can't take it anymore. Two days later, she filed for divorce.

I don't blame him for being irate on the stand. I don't blame her for leaving him. I only wonder how they got there.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Celtics 1, Lakers 0

I am torn equal parts between being tired of Boston winning everything (World Series, Super Bowl runner-up, MLS Cup runner-up) and hating the Lakers for (a) beating the Spurs and (b) employing Kobe Bryant.  I like Pau Gasol, but I find the Celtics' Cinderella-season more compelling.  So while the rest of the world pees their pants waiting for Game 2, I'm torn to ambivalence.  Go Spurs Go!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Play the Hand You're Dealt

Why is the location of the invention of Dr Pepper an empty lot?

[The former site of Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store near 4th & Austin], now an empty lot, once was the site where Dr Pepper was invented in the 1880s.

If we can find the answer to that, I think we'll also figure out why Downtown Waco is in such bad shape as it is.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It Ain't Braggin . . .


If you watch what may be the greatest show in television history, then you know that Michael died and that Locke is in the coffin.  Interestingly, people think that's final.  But I don't think it is.

I've often wondered whether I should read the last page of a book before starting it.  Would the symbols mean more?  Would the craft of the storytelling hold my attention?  Or do I need suspense to keep paying attention?  Lost answers that question straight on.  The writers of Lost have already told us how things end.  Season 4 is about getting off the Island, Season 5 is about getting back on, and Season 6 is about something I can't remember.  We knew at the end of Season 3 that Jack and Kate got off the Island.  Maybe Season 4 was about answering that question.  If we know how it ends, will we keep coming back to the middle?

So far, I--and a lot of other people--keep coming back.  And that, my readers, is why Lost may be the greatest show ever.