Wednesday, December 31, 2014

welcome hunger

first world nations have first world problems.  instead of fighting hunger, we fight fat.

one of the habits i wish to develop this year is to minimize my gut (and weight).

let me rewind to just before the beginning of august 2014.  prior to august, it was routine for me to "begin my weekend" by stopping at the store for a gallon or half gallon of ice cream.  i still remember one of my favorite kinds of ice cream: premium select michigan cherry cobbler.  if i bought it on a friday, it would be gone before sunday.

time and time again, my family would say i ate too much ice cream.  so while driving home from our vacation in august 2014, i decided to quit - cold turkey.  today, it's been 150 days since i've eaten any ice cream.

i'd like to say i've lost of ton of weight since i've dropped creamy dreamy from my diet.  sadly, i've only gone down a couple of pounds.

what has worked for me is intermittent fasting.  one of the obstacles of IF is dealing with hunger pangs.  hunger pangs are funny.  if feels like the world is going to end, but i know darn well that i won't die if i don't eat.  as i thought about how to deal with the pangs, a thought came to me.

"welcome hunger like a dear friend: with a warm cup."

hunger is a friend and should never be dismissed with saltiness or anything.  rather, it should be greeted and welcomed with a warm cup of herbal tea or simply warm water and lemon.

be mindful of hunger's presence, but don't dismiss him in favor of false friends who do no good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

minimize daily

the aim of daily minimalist is to document my journey of minimizing the bad and focusing on the good: in health and habits and possessions.  i hope that i can offer advice to those to are starting or who are already on this journey.

one of my smaller goals and habits i want to develop for 2015 is to maximize garbage day.

every space around your home can be de-cluttered and organized a little bit each day.  granted, some spaces need to be managed with a "mini project" that may take an hour or more.  but as you clean and organize day by day, find things to toss.

a lot of people will be taking down holiday decorations this week.  this is a great time to maximize your garbage day.  most of our holiday decorations are stowed in the master bedroom closet.  after i took out the empty boxes, i took advantage of the empty space and minimized my wardrobe.

any shirt or set of pants i had not worn for several months, i dumped in a big garbage bag (to be donated to a thrift store).

i took took out several boxes sitting on my shelf; went through them.  most of the contents were old CDs and DVDs.  all the CDs had already been ripped to mp3s; those that were not ripped to my digital library were later ripped that day.  the CDs were then tossed.

another box was full of old pictures.  the plan is to scan every picture we have and then get rid of the physical pictures.  i estimate about a quarter of my pictures have been scanned and digitized.

another box was full of our children's old school works: essays, art, poems, etc.  these too will be scanned or digitally photographed before being tossed.  most of our kids's work that is worth digitizing, has already been digitized.  this box was a leftover from a previous digitization project.

the master bedroom closet can take some time to minimize.  take it in chunks.  minimize half of it one day and then tackle the other half another day.

but back to the point - minimize daily; take full advantage of garbage day.  yes, you'll need to have a few minimization projects, but there still is a lot you can do on a daily basis.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

when watching, watch. when eating, eat.

i took my two older kids to the movie the other day.  part of the experience for them is getting to eat unhealthy "food"

between the two kids, they had a big bag of greasy, salty popcorn along with a full-sized bag of mega peanut m&ms.

when they offered some to me, i passed.  however, about 3/4ths though the movie, i wanted to taste a couple of peanut m&ms.  after asking my daughter to pass the bag, she said they were all gone.  i was shocked!  she said her brother ate most of them!

after the movie, my son was sitting in the back seat of the truck and was complaining about a headache.  my daughter and i explained to him that this was because he ate a whole bag of sugar.  movies and junk food don't mix well for some.

as i thought of this on my walk this morning, i was reminded of the zen proverb "when walking, walk.  when eating, eat."

the point of this proverb and this story about my son is this: we need to focus on what we are supposed to be doing.

minimalism is nothing more than focus.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mind of the Meditator by Ricard, Lutz and Davidson

Saving this article to read and reference in the future.  This was featured in the November 2014 Scientific American magazine.

When the Society for Neuroscience asked Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th dalai lama (the leader of Tibetan Buddhism), to address its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.,in 2005, a few hundred members among the nearly 35,000 or so attending the meeting petitioned to have the invitation rescinded. A religious leader, they felt, had no place at a scientific meeting. But this particular leader turned out to have a provocative and ultimately productive question to pose to the gathering. “What relation,” he asked, “could there be between Buddhism, an ancient Indian philosophical and spiritual tradition, and modern science?”

The Dalai Lama, putting action before rhetoric, had already started trying to find answers to his own question. Back in the 1980s, he had sparked a dialogue about science and Buddhism, which led to the creation of the Mind & Life Institute, dedicated to studying contemplative science. In 2000 he brought new focus to this endeavor: he launched the sub-discipline of “contemplative neuroscience” by inviting scientists to study the brain activity of expert Buddhist meditators—defined as having more than 10,000 hours of practice.

For nearly 15 years more than 100 monastics and lay practitioners of Buddhism and a large number of beginning meditators have participated in scientific experiments at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and at least 19 other universities. The article you are reading, in fact, is the product of a collaboration between two neuroscientists and a Buddhist monk who originally trained as a cell biologist.

A comparison of the brain scans of meditators with tens of thousands of hours of practice with those of neophytes and non-meditators has started to explain why this set of techniques for training the mind holds great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits. The goals of meditation, in fact, overlap with many of the objectives of clinical psychology, psychiatry, preventive medicine and education. As suggested by the growing compendium of research, meditation may be effective in treating depression and chronic pain and in cultivating a sense of overall well-being.

The discovery of meditation’s benefits coincides with recent neuroscientific findings showing that the adult brain can still be deeply transformed through experience. These studies showthat when we learn how to juggle or play a musical instrument, the brain undergoes changes through a process called neuroplasticity. A brain region that controls the movement of a violinist’s fingers becomes progressively larger with mastery of the instrument. A similar process appears to happen when we meditate. Nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment, an experience that affects brain functioning and its physical structure. The evidence amassed from this research has begun to how that meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body.

Meditation has roots in the contemplative practices of nearly every major religion. The prevalence of meditation in the media has given the word various meanings. We will refer to meditation as the cultivation of basic human qualities, such as a more stable and clear mind, emotional balance, a sense of caring mindfulness, even love and compassion—qualities that remain latent as long as one does not make an effort to develop them. It is also a process of familiarization with a more serene and flexible way of being.

In principle, meditation is relatively simple and can be done anywhere. No equipment or workout attire is needed. The meditator begins by assuming a comfortable physical posture, neither too tense nor too lax, and by wishing for self-transformation and a desire for others’ well-being and for the alleviation of their suffering. Later the practitioner must stabilize the mind, which is too often disorderly—and occupied by a stream of inner chatter. Mastering the mind requires freeing it from automatic mental conditioning and inner confusion.

We will examine here what happens in the brain during three common types of meditation developed through Buddhism and now practiced in secular programs in hospitals and schools throughout the world. The first one, focused-attention meditation, aims to tame and center the mind in the present moment while developing the capacity to remain vigilant to distractions. The second one, mindfulness, or open-monitoring meditation, tries to cultivate a less emotionally reactive awareness to emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment to prevent them from spiraling out of control and creating mental distress. In mindfulness, the meditator remains attentive, moment by moment, to any experience without focusing on anything specific. Finally, another type of practice is known in Buddhist tradition as compassion and loving kindness and fosters an altruistic perspective toward others.

Neuroscientists have now begun to probe what happens inside the brain during the various types of meditation. Wendy Hasenkamp, then at Emory University, and her colleagues used brain imaging to identify the neural networks activated by focused-attention meditation. In the scanner, the participants trained their attention on the sensation produced by breathing. Typically during this form of meditation, the mind wanders from an object, and the meditator must recognize this and then restore attention to the gradual rhythm of the inhaling and exhaling. In this study, the meditator had to signal mind wandering by pressing a button. Researchers identified four phases of a cognitive cycle: an episode of mind wandering, a moment of becoming aware of the distraction, a phase of reorienting attention and a resumption of focused attention.

Each of the four phases involves particular brain networks. The first part of the cycle, when a distraction occurs, increases activity in the wide-ranging default-mode network (DMN). This network includes areas of the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, the inferior parietal lobe and the lateral temporal cortex. The DMN is known to become activated during mind wandering and to play a general role in building and updating internal models of the world based on long-term memories about the self or others.

The second phase, becoming aware of a distraction, occurs in other brain areas such as the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, regions of what is called the salience network. This network regulates subjectively perceived feelings, which might, for instance, lead to being distracted during a task. The salience network is thought to play a key role in detecting novel events and in switching activity during meditation among assemblies of neurons that make up the brain’s large-scale networks. It may shift attention away from the default-mode network, for instance.

The third phase engages additional areas—among them the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the lateral inferior parietal lobe— at take back” one’s attention by detaching it from any distracting stimulus. Finally, in the fourth and last phase, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex continues to retain a high level of activity, as the meditator’s attention remains directed toward an object such as he breath.

In our laboratory at Wisconsin, we further observed different patterns of activity depending on a practitioner’s level of experience. Veteran meditators with more than 10,000 hours of practice showed more activity in these attention-related brain regions compared with novices. Paradoxically, the most experienced meditators demonstrated less activation than the ones without as much experience. Advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the “flow” of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control.

To study the impact of focused-attention meditation, we also studied its volunteers before and after a three-month retreat with intensive meditation exercises for at least eight hours a day. They received headphones that broadcast sounds at a given frequency, occasionally mixed with slightly higher-pitched sounds. They had to focus on the sounds played in one ear for 10 minutes and react to periodically interspersed high-pitched tones. After the retreat, we found that meditators, compared with a non meditating control group, showed less trial-to-trial variation in their reaction times on this highly repetitive task, which lent itself easily to distractions. The result suggested that the meditators had an enhanced capacity to remain vigilant. The brain’s electrical responses to high-pitched tones remained more stable at the second session only for the meditators.

The Second type of well-studied meditation also involves another form of attention. Mindfulness, or open-monitoring meditation, requires the meditator to take note of every sight or sound and track internal bodily sensations and inner self-talk. The person stays aware of what is happening without becoming overly preoccupied with any single perception or thought, returning to this detached focus each time the mind strays. As awareness of what is happening in one’s surroundings grows, normal daily irritants—an angry colleague at work, a worried child at home—become less disruptive, and a sense of psychological well-being develops.

With Heleen Slagter, then in our group at Wisconsin, we sought to learn about the influence of this form of training on mental functioning by measuring the participants’ capacity to detect rapidly presented visual stimuli—a means to measure mindfulness meditation, which is also sometimes called nonreactive awareness. To perform this experiment, we used a task in which the participants had to detect two numbers presented on a screen rapidly, amid a succession of letters. If the second number appears about 300 milliseconds after the first one, subjects often do not see the second, a phenomenon known as attentional blink.

If the second number appears after a delay of 600 milliseconds, it can be detected without difficulty. The attentional blink Reflects the limits of the brain’s ability to process two stimuli presented to the observer at close intervals. When too much of the brain’s attention is devoted to processing the first number, the second number cannot always be detected, although the observer usually can see it on some of the trials. We hypothesized that mindfulness training could reduce the propensity to “get stuck,” or absorbed by seeing the first number. Mindfulness practice cultivates a nonreactive form of sensory awareness, which should result in a reduced attentional blink. As we predicted, after three months of an intensive retreat, the meditators perceived both numbers more frequently than the controls did. This improved perception was also reflected in lessened activity of a particular brain wave in response to the first number. Monitoring the P3b brain wave, used to assess how attention is allocated, indicated that meditators were capable of optimizing attention so as to minimize the attentional blink.

Staying aware of an unpleasant sensation can reduce maladaptive emotional responses and help one to move beyond the disagreeable feeling and may be particularly useful in dealing with pain. In our Wisconsin lab, we have studied experienced Practitioners while they performed an advanced form of mindfulness meditation called open presence. In open presence, sometimes called pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear, free from excitation or dullness. The meditator observes and is open to experience without making any attempt to interpret, change, reject or ignore painful sensation. We found that the intensity of the pain was not reduced in meditators, but it bothered them less than it did members of a control group.

Compared with novices, expert meditators’ brain activity diminished in anxiety-related regions—the insular cortex and the amygdala—in the period preceding the painful stimulus. The meditators’ brain response in pain-related regions became accustomed to the stimulus more quickly than that of novices after repeated exposures to it. Other tests in our lab have shown that meditation training increases one’s ability to better control and buffer basic physiological responses—inflammation or levels of a stress hormone—to a socially stressful task such as giving a public speech or doing mental arithmetic in front of a harsh jury.

Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns. By deliberately monitoring and observing their thoughts and emotions when they feel sad or worried, depressed patients can use meditation to manage negative thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously and so lessen rumination. Clinical psychologists John Teasdale, then at the University of Cambridge, and Zindel Segal of the University of Toronto showed in 2000 that for patients who had previously suffered at least three episodes of depression, six months of mindfulness practice, along with cognitive therapy, reduced the risk of relapse by nearly 40 percent in the year following the onset of a severe depression. More recently, Segal demonstrated that the intervention is superior to a placebo and has a protective effect against relapse comparable to standard maintenance antidepressant therapy.

The third form of meditation under study cultivates attitudes and feelings of loving kindness and compassion toward other people, whether they are close relatives, strangers or enemies. This practice entails being aware of someone else’s needs and then experiencing a sincere, compassionate desire to help that person or to alleviate the suffering of other people by shielding them from their own destructive behavior.

To generate a compassionate state may sometimes entail the meditator feeling what another person is feeling. But having one’s emotions resonate empathetically with the feelings of another person does not by itself suffice to yield a compassionate mind-set. The meditation must also be driven by an unselfish desire to help someone who is suffering. This form of meditation on love and compassion has proved to be more than just a spiritual exercise. It has shown potential to benefit health care workers, teachers and others who run the risk of emotional burnout linked to the distress experienced from a deeply empathetic reaction to another person’s plight.

The meditator begins by focusing on the unconditional feeling of benevolence and love for others, accompanied by silent repetition of a phrase conveying intent, such as “May all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness and be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.” In 2008 we studied experienced volunteers who had practiced this form of training for thousands of hours and found an increase in activity in several brain regions while they listened to voices conveying distress. The secondary somatosensory and insular cortices, known to participate in empathetic and other emotional responses, were more activated for experts than controls in response to the distressed voice, suggesting an enhanced ability to share the feelings of others without reporting any sign of becoming emotionally overwhelmed. The practice of compassion meditation also produced more activity in areas such as the temporoparietal junction, the medial prefrontal cortex and the superior temporal sulcus, all typically activated when we put ourselves in the place of another.

More recently, Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki, both at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, in collaboration with one of us (Ricard), sought to distinguish differences between the effects of empathy and compassion on meditators. They noted that compassion and altruistic love were associated with positive emotions, and they suggested that emotional exhaustion or burnout was, in fact, a kind of empathy “fatigue.”

According to the Buddhist contemplative tradition from which this practice is derived, compassion, far from leading to distress and discouragement, reinforces an inner balance, strength of mind, and a courageous determination to help those who suffer. If a child is hospitalized, the presence of a loving mother at his side holding his hand and comforting him with tender words will no doubt do that child more good than the anxiety of a mother overwhelmed with empathetic distress who, unable to bear the sight of her sick child, paces back and forth in the hallway. In the latter case, the mother may then end up with the common experience of burnout, which, in one U.S. study, beset about 60 percent of the 600 caregivers surveyed.

To further explore the mechanisms of empathy and compassion, Klimecki and Singer divided about 60 volunteers into two groups. One meditated on love and compassion, and the other experimental regimen trained participants to cultivate feelings of empathy for others. Preliminary results showed that after a week of meditation-based loving kindness and compassion, novice subjects watched video clips showing suffering people with more positive and benevolent feelings. The other subjects, who devoted a week to an experimental regimen that just cultivated empathy, experienced emotions that resonated deeply with others’ sufferings. But these emotions also brought about negative feelings and thoughts, and this group experienced more distress, sometimes to the point of not being able to control their emotions.

Aware of these destabilizing effects, Singer and Klimecki added training for the empathy group in compassion and loving kindness meditation. They then observed that this additional exercise counterbalanced the detrimental effects of training in empathy alone: negative emotions diminished, and positive emotions increased. These results were accompanied by corresponding changes in the areas of several brain networks associated with compassion, positive emotions and maternal love, including the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum and the anterior cingulated cortex. The researchers, moreover, were able to demonstrate that a week of training in compassion increased prosocial behavior in a virtual game specially developed to measure the capacity to help others.

Meditation explores the nature of the mind, providing a way to study consciousness and subjective mental states from the first person perspective of the meditator. In a collaboration with expert Buddhist meditators at Wisconsin, we have studied the brain’s electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG) during compassion meditation in which the meditators described the well-defined sense of self as becoming less fixed and permanent.

We found that these long-term Buddhist practitioners were able, at will, to sustain a particular EEG pattern. Specifically, it is called high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations and phase synchrony at between 25 and 42 hertz. The coordination of brain oscillations may play a potentially crucial role in the brain’s building of temporary networks that can integrate cognitive and Affective functions during learning and conscious perception, a process that can bring about lasting changes in brain circuitry.

High-amplitude oscillations persisted throughout the meditation for several dozens of seconds and gradually increased as Practice progressed. These EEG traces differed from those of control subjects, in particular, in the lateral front oparietal cortex. Changes in electrical activity may reflect an increased awareness in expert meditators of their surroundings and their internal mental processes, although additional research is needed to better understand the functioning of gamma oscillations.

Meditation brings about changes not just in well-defined cognitive and emotional processes but also in the volume of certain brain areas, possibly reflecting alterations in the number of connections among brain cells. A preliminary study by Sara W. Lazar of Harvard University and her colleagues showed that among longtime meditators, as compared with a control group, the volume of the brain’s darker tissue, its gray matter, differed in the insula and prefrontal cortices—specifically, regions called Brodmann areas 9 and 10, which are frequently activated during various forms of meditation. These distinctions were most pronounced in older participants in the study, suggesting that meditation might influence the thinning of brain tissue that comes with aging.

In a follow-up study, Lazar and her colleagues also showed that mindfulness training decreased the volume of the amygdala, a region involved in fear processing, for those participants who showed the most noticeable reductions in stress over the course of training. Eileen Luders of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues further observed differences in meditators in the fibers called axons that connect different brain regions, suggesting an enhanced number of brain connections. This observation may support the hypothesis that meditation actually induces structural alterations in the brain. An important limitation of this research relates to the lack of long-term longitudinal studies that follow a group over the course of many years and to the absence of comparisons between meditators and people of similar backgrounds and ages who do not meditate.

Some evidence even exists that meditation—and its ability to enhance overall well-being—may diminish inflammation and other biological stresses that occur at the molecular level. A collaborative study between our group and one led by Perla Kaliman of the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona showed that one day of intensive mindfulness practice in experienced meditators turned down the activity of inflammation-related genes and altered the functioning of enzymes involved with turning genes on and off. A studyby Cliff Saron of the University of California, Davis, looked at the effect of meditation on a molecule involved with regulating the longevity of a cell. The molecule in question was an enzyme called telomerase that lengthens DNA segments at the ends of chromosomes. The segments, called telomeres, ensure stability of the genetic material during cell division. They shorten every time a cell divides, and when their length decreases below a critical threshold, the cell stops dividing and gradually enters a state of senescence. Compared with a control group, the meditators who showed the most pronounced reductions in psychological stress also had higher telomerase activity by the end of the retreat. This finding suggests that mindfulness training might slow processes of cellular aging among some practitioners.

About 15 years of research have done more than show that meditation produces significant changes in both the function and structure of the brains of experienced practitioners. These studies are now starting to demonstrate that contemplative practices may have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for physical health.

More studies using well-defined, randomized controlled trials are needed to isolate meditation-related effects from other Psychological factors that can influence the outcome of a study. Other variables that may affect study results are the level of motivation of a practitioner and the roles played by both teachers and students in a meditation group. Further work is needed to Understand the possible negative side effects of meditation, the desirable length of a given practice session and the way to tailor it to a person’s specific needs.

Even with the requisite cautions, research on meditation provides new insights into methods of mental training that have the potential to enhance human health and well-being. Equally important, the ability to cultivate compassion and other positive human qualities lays the foundation for an ethical framework unattached to any philosophy or religion, which could have a profoundly beneficial effect on all aspects of human societies.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

MJ on Work, Failure and Success

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. –Michael Jordan

ISP More than Triples Speed

Today, I got a letter from my ISP saying that they are giving everyone a free upgrade from 15mbps to 50mbps.

As reported previously, without a VPN, I would get around 11-14mbps and after installing a VPN, I've been consistently getting over 30 mbps.

Well, after this free upgrade, I tested with and without a VPN.

With a VPN, it was coming in the 40mbps range.  With the VPN, I'm consistently getting over 100mbps now.

This is a nice Christmas gift from my ISP.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Collaboration & Influence Series: Conducting Successful Influence Conversations

Summary of notes from the successful influence conversations module

There are three key skills for conducting successful influence conversations
  1. Inquiry: Asking how they understand it
  2. Acknowledgement: Demonstrating understanding of their story and having empathy for their feelings
  3. Advocacy: Explaining how you understand it
As you use these three skills, you begin to understand the other person's story; what their conclusions are; what interpretations they based their conclusion on and what data they based their interpretations on.

From there, you can find common ground, as well as differences, as you begin to explain the data you see, and what your interpretations of the data is and how you arrive at your conclusions.

This whole process can be viewed as two different ladders.  This tool is called the Ladder of Inference.

As you use the three skills to go down their ladder and up yours, keep these tips in mind for each skill:


  • Seek to elicit their story or point of view, their feelings, and the impact of your actions on them
  • Help them walk down their ladder and share specifics about key information, assumptions, and reasoning underlying their conclusions
  • Get curious: ask yourself "What am I missing?" "What might they know that I don't?"
  • Assume they have thought about these things that they have not addressed; ask how
  • Put their story at least as eloquently as they did
  • Test the accuracy of your understanding and whether the other person feels heard
  • Name their feelings as well as their logic
  • Communicate empathy - the sense that you can understand their feelings in the context of their story (how they make sense)
  • Remember that you can demonstrate understanding of their story without signaling agreement (or disagreement)
  • Acknowledgement ≠ agreement
  • Put your story / point of view forward as a theory to be tested
  • Walk them up your ladder and offer specifics on key information, assumptions, and reasoning underlying your conclusions
  • Include your story, your feelings, and the impact of their actions on you
  • End with a request for comment, especially about what is missing, unaddressed, unclear, or unpersuasive

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

front row seat

lights glitter and gleam from the façade so grand
exhilarating anticipation fills the air as people enter the theater
people dressed exquisitely with precision
nothing out of place

socialization abuzz, a sea of beautiful people
cacophony of voices of what is new and what is seen
the air wafts of sweet gold
rich beyond compare

my destination is the grand hall
which anchors the back of the theater
i cut my way through the crowd
and let drip off me the sociality

the corridor is long and wide
the red and gold walls royally stand
fellow travelers move toward their destinations
clamor … chatter … whispers … quiet

majestic doors with ornate knobs
a gentle turning; an enormous heavy swinging
the hall is wide and warm and glowing
but seats are empty

i swim in the air and move toward the front
doors, fantastic barricades close
then collapse under their own weight
thunder astonishing

a front row seat, perfect view of stage
red curtain as wide as the sky
opens, revealing the mirror of the world
revealing all who are seated in the hall

i turn to see them, but none are there
astonished I watch the reflector
yet I don't see my reflection
there is no way to enter

people socialize, discuss, then debate
people debate, conclude, then argue
people argue, lie, then fight
people fight, fight and destroy

the hall unravels
chairs unhinged

front row seat to the end of the world

chaos reaches a fevered pitch
a crack appears across the mirror
veins spread
explosion of glass and shards fly at me

all is quiet, except for the crisp air
gleaming, pure light enters the hall
blue, green, yellow perfection
my eyes adjust and I awake

placing my hands and feet on the stage
all my skin is cut and bleeds
but my focus is on the other side
i no longer wish to hide

i reach for the hand of the resurrector

source of the image

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Goodbye September

Walking among the ruins of a long-abandoned church
I've been forced to examine
How I wish I could sleep; I'm tired but so shocked
By the voices of sweet children singing in the choir

I don't belong here, yet I'm compelled to stay
By the captivation of what use to be
And searching for something lost among the ruins
That would give me the peace I used to have

I swear it is here, but all are ghosts wanting company
And I can't tell who is haunting who
The signs were on the collapsing the door
But I was hoping they were confined

Now I hope it stands just a little longer

There sits a flashlight in plain sight
I turn it on and shine it on the ghosts
But the ghosts scream they don't need my kind
And so I point the light to the floor

The light takes me to the collapsing door
Sweet voices fade and the air cools
The light catches an orange leaf flit across the floor
September is dying

The grace of sweeping violins fills the air
Brighter light breaks, taking me back to happier times
I'm moving past this feeling; I'm going to write again
September is dying

Goodbye September

source of image

TIL: European / Asian Honey Bees vs. Japanese Giant Hornets

the cookie crumb trail went from the oatmal to two youtube videos.

the first video is about european honey bees vs. japanese giant hornets.

the second video is japanese honey bees vs. japanese giant hornets

Thursday, September 4, 2014

advice from joan rivers (rip sept 4, 2014)

joan rivers died today.  i read this article and the below quote stuck out like a spotlight in the night sky.

If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

1984 by george orwell

my wife and i read 1984 while we were driving on our vacation.  it was a really fascinating book, albeit sad and disheartening (the end of it anyway).

i simply don't have much to say about it.  more than anything else, reading the book together provided us an opportunity to discuss real-world events going on that indicate we could live in a 1984-like society someday.

we talked about real-life examples of how political and religious leaders will say one thing but in reality they are saying the complete opposite.

the telescreens was prescient; especially in our world today where it is practically de facto known that the NSA spies on every u.s. citizen.  obviously not to the extent of what the telescreens do, but we are not off by far today from something like that happening.

in my opinion, the best dialogue my wife and i had was about how julia and winston viewed their world.  julia simply wanted to enjoy it and really was not motivated to "bring down ingsoc", while winston seemed to have a desire to seek the real truth and rectify the situation.  it is true, a lot of people would gladly remain blind to what governments and some religions to today, while others would attempt to scrounge courage to seek true justice.

anyway - good book, but the dialogue between my wife and i was what i most enjoyed about reading this book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

dad and johnny cash

it must have been the fall of 1993.  i was a senior in high school and the autumn in eastern Oregon was typically lovely.  dad had already been retired by 1993.  he must have been retired for a couple of years after having taught school for over 40 years.  i'm not sure what he was doing; perhaps sitting in his chair reading a book.  but after i got home, i had a quick snack and then sat down at the kitchen table to start on some homework.

for the past few months, i regularly listened to my favorite cassette tape: U2's Zooropa.  the tape was probably on the second side when i put it in to the family stereo system before i started on my homework.  the stereo system belonged to my deceased aunt mar.  it was a nice system with big boxes, a record player, FM and AM radio and a cassette player.  i loved the big silver volume button.  adjusting the volume could always be precise with that smooth knob.

the last song on the tape began to play.  my dad was still sitting there and was listening along with me.  when that deep, distinct johnny cash voice sounded across the speakers, my dad stirred a bit and begin listening more intently.  he was pleasantly pleased that it was johnny cash and commented to me that he loved the man in black.

that was almost 21 years ago.

then last week, my last week of work before my 3-week summer vacation, i listened to Zooropa during my morning and afternoon commutes.  when the wanderer came on, i recalled that autumn afternoon so many years ago.  as i thought of that day, i had the desire to listen to the rest of his songs.  so i did some searching a found a 4 CD discography of his.  i copied it to my smartphone and then while we drove across Texas on 287, i listened to johhny cash.

i loved every song.

i couldn't help but think that my dad listened to these same songs decades ago while he travelled lonely country roads when he was single.

anyway - i'm looking forward to listening to hours and hours of johnny cash - getting to know the lyrics and singing along.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fasting for a Healthier Immune System

Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system

“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Longo said. “What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back."

"Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose, fat and ketones, but it also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells. Longo likens the effect to lightening a plane of excess cargo."

"During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

follow-up post on 'bad calls'

so last November, the NBA announced their partnership with SAP to provide big data on player stats using SportsVU to track every move of every player (read full story here).

NASCAR is doing something similar, but they are going further by putting RFID chips on the pit crew people to track every movement.  with cameras, you will get blocked by objects, but with RFID chips, you can see every move.

why can't the NBA and soccer leagues uses RFID chips on athletes, coupled with SportsVU type cameras and then simply fire every referee?  bad-calls be gone!

Monday, April 21, 2014

technological solution to bad calls in professional games

we've all seen it - the referee blows a call; doesn't see a foul or calls the wrong foul; or any other number of scenarios.

the solution i propose probably would not eliminate 100% of bad calls, but at least it would give referees more data.

why not have every player wear 5 or so sensors on their bodies: wrists, ankles, neck.  maybe there are other spots to place the sensors.  these sensors can then detect fouls and where feet are placed, etc.

not only would this help with refereeing the game, but analysts and coaches could collect massive amounts of data - especially for more dynamic sports such as soccer and basketball and even hockey.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

WEP 2014 4.18-20

good weekend.

the two older kids were out with their friends on campouts and parties friday night.  so my wife and i got to hang out with the two little ones.  it was fun.

on saturday, i cleaned the pool filters (psi was up above 25 - it should be just below 20).  then i trimmed and mowed the lawn, dead-headed my roses and then went on a 6 mile run/walk.  my younger son came along with me (on his bike).  it was nice talking to him.  we stopped several times and enjoyed the nice weather.

my wife spent all her time this past week and weekend cooking easter rolls and then delivering them.  my daughter is trying to earn money to go on a band trip to hawaii next year, so this was to help her.

after she completed her deliveries and after my run/walk, we cleaned up and then ate dinner at jason's deli.  then we went home and relaxed and put the kids to bed.

sunday was easter - went to church, enjoyed the services, then came home and relaxed.  the kids did a little treasure hunt as well as easter egg hunt.  we played scattergories, then ate a ham dinner.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

my dream replacement for my old laptop

i got to dreaming this weekend.

i'd love to get rid of my laptop set-up with two 19-inch dell monitors.

in it's place, i'd love to get a surface pro 2 ($1000) and a 27-inch samsung monitor ($273).

it might be a few years, though, before this happens.

Friday, April 18, 2014

WIR 2014 4.14-18

Super busy week - full of meetings during the day as well as meetings at night.  The highlights are below.

worse than the week before.  only did monday, tuesday, wednesday and saturday.  i'm about 7 hours or 11 miles behind my goal.  if i run two miles every night this week, along with the usual four miles in the morning, i should be able to make up the 7 hours.  thankfully, the weather is nice this week.

leadership development
the big item was getting out the questionnaire survey to my co-workers.  unfortunately, out of the five people i sent it to, only two have responded.  the goal is to get the book read over the next month to two months.

work efficiencies
the biggest work task i have going on now is this little proposal of mine to save the company about $500K.  i've talked to one other manager about this, as it impacts her group as well.  she confided in me that she had similar thoughts as i had described, so this validated what i've been thinking.  i then gave my manager an update on this initiative and have set up a meeting for the first week of may to fully discuss this.  she has a follow-up with another supervisor, before meeting, to ensure we are all on the same page.

air conditioning unit
we're going to get the upstairs system a new set of coils as the old ones have rusted quite a bit.  the company wanted us to replace the whole system, but that would have ran us about $10K.  instead, i opted to go with the simple coil replacement which is about $3K.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

WEP 2014 4.11-13

carnival fund-raiser
our kids' school had their carnival fund-raiser on Friday night.  The weather was really quite perfect - cool, with a slight breeze.  The kids had tons of fun doing the jumphouse, face-painting, trampolines, playing in giant hamster balls in a pool, auctions, food and candy.

paddle boats and trains
on Saturday, we got to go on walks, do some yard work, eat donuts and then we cleaned up.  After that, we drove to the city park and rented some paddle-boats and let the kids have a bit of fun.  Then we went on a little train ride around the park.

it was lots of fun for the family and quite memorable.

after that, we tried a new burger place - the food was actually really good, but the price was way too much.

after we drove home, we relaxed and enjoyed the evening.

our son B was able to go to an NBA basketball game with his friends and he had quite a bit of fun.

good bye to friends
Sunday was church and meetings and dinner with friends.  Our good friends are moving, so we ate one final dinner with them and played games and had a fun time.

One of the games our two families like to play is the sofa game.  Everyone puts their name on a paper and then we draw names.  If you draw your name, you have to re-draw.  You then "become the person" whose name you drew.  Then you sit boy-girl-boy-girl.  You leave one extra space.  The person to the right of the empty place calls a name.  The person who has that then then sits in the empty spot; they also create the next empty spot.  The goal is to get 4 in a row (or however many you decide depending on how many people are playing the game).

the office
often, when we try to wind-down for the day, we've been watching The Office all over again.  We only watched the episodes once or twice when they were on TV.  So, it's been fun watching them again on Netflix.  We are in the Robert California season.

Friday, April 11, 2014

WIR 2014 4.7-11

pretty normal week - not much exciting happened.

air conditioning units
I guess the biggest item this past week was the visit from the A/C techs.  They told me exactly what I knew they were going to tell me - that I need a new system; that the Freon we have now is out-lawed and that it will cost $100/lb as if we need to add more.  The upstairs system is really in need of replacement - there is a major leak in the coils.  so next week, I'm expecting another visit to discuss options and how much it will cost.  the home repairs never end.

it was an ok week.  I did some exercising, but we had a couple of weak cold fronts move in and it made it difficult to get up an exercise.  But we did it anyway.  I just didn't get in some extra evening miles (2-mile runs).

work / leadership development
My old boss invited me to lunch on Tuesday.  We were both really busy, so we only had time for a quick bite at the local cafeteria.  We talked a lot about future assignments for me.  I explained to him where I see myself going and what types of assignments I need to get there and he was able to give me some good advice about what I need to do.

Then he asked me if I wanted to go down the technical / professional track or the management track.  I told him I'm focusing on the management track.  Then he asked me how I'm doing on developing my leadership skills.  I honestly have not thought about this much.  I've done tons of leadership training, but then never was in a position to really use it, so I've kind of abandoned the whole leadership mindset for the last 5 years.  So, he suggested I start focusing on developing my leadership skills (not my management skills).  He suggested I begin by reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  After lunch, I found some on-line presentations about the book and read through those.  I then decided to go ahead and order the book.  There seems to be a lot of interesting content and ideas in the book.  I may be blogging more about learning leadership and developing my own leadership skills; so stay tuned.

That is about all for the week's highlights.  The weekend should be nice and enjoyable.

Monday, April 7, 2014

WEP 2014 4.4-6

Gorgeous weekend!  I did lots of yard work in the morning.  I took my boys to Lowes - we got lots of good for the yard.  Then we laid rock in the back yard.

After that, we went to my son's E soccer game.  He won 5-1.  Then we went to Jason's Deli and ate.

I didn't order the Reuben; rather I ordered the Smokey Jack Panini - it was really good!

The rest of the day was relaxing, watching some NCAA basketball and spent time with the family.

Sunday was really relaxing too.  We went on a walk; got rained on a bit and then spent the rest of the day inside watching TV.

Friday, April 4, 2014

WIR 2014 3.31-4.4

It was a great week - the highlight was my one-on-one with my boss.  I had this idea to save our company some money - to make it more efficient.  The idea had been floating in my head the last few days and by the time Thursday rolled around, I still didn't have it solidified.  So I go into the one-on-one, I report out on the main things going on.  Then I just jumped feet-first into the suggestion.  I told my boss that the idea wasn't fully baked, but I knew they were looking for efficiencies.  After I dumped the idea, my boss reacted quite well - they liked it!  They told me to keep working on it; to work with a few other people and that by the time my new assignment rolls around (in June or July), it should be off to a great start.  By my calculations, the savings gained will be around $500K.

Another idea I've had floating around in my head is this motto of 6:1:4.

6 - six miles of walking or running
1 - one meal
4 - four days a week

I kind of did this last week.  It might have been 3 days instead of 4 days.  Anyway - I did a pretty good job.  My weight went from around 217 down to 210 over the course of the week.  So, I'm trying to drill that motto in my mind 6:1:4

NCAA Tournament
I won my family's bracket challenge.  This was the 11th year of our family doing this, and I finally won!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

WEP 2014 3.28-30

What a weekend.  My wife and two of my kids got up Saturday morning to go to a fun run.  While they were there, our dog, which was on a leash, was attacked by a dog not on a leash.  I'm not going to go into all the details, but the owners are idiots.  Our dog got 12 stitches - poor thing.

Then today, I took him on a walk in the late afternoon.  We came to a street and we saw this medium sized dog in someone's drive way.  It was not on a leash.  It came running towards us.  I told me son to get me a big stick.  Once he gave the stick to me, the dog backed off a bit, but was barking madly.  The owner finally game out to get the dog.  I yelled over to her that our dog was attacked and bit just the day before.  She acted all shocked.

Then tonight, I took our dog out for a little stroll before bed.  As I came back to our home, some guests of our neighbors were leaving and they had two dogs.  One of them came running out towards me and my dog!  I had my big flashlight with me and was ready to give the dog a good thumping.  I shone my light into its eyes and it backed off.  The lady said, "he's friendly" and I replied, "nope, you need to get your dog on a leash right now."  She scrambled to get him and finally had to get someone else to get a hold of the dog.  After they got a hold of him, I explained that our dog was attacked the day before by a dog not on a leash.

This is so weird.  It's like our dog has a target on him this weekend.

Other than that, the weekend was gorgeous - I got lots of yard work done; went on walks, runs, bike rides and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

I also spent a lot of time watching the NCAA tourney.  Looks like I'm going to win my family's bracket challenge.

Friday, March 28, 2014

WIR 2014 3.24-28

Not much to report on this past week.

My wife and I got to walk pretty much every day this week.  My son B and I were only able to play basketball once this week; one day was really nice, the other day it rained.  The pine pollen finally got washed away with a nice rain storm.  I ate pretty good this week and tried not to stuff myself.

My new shoes came - they are nice!  My feet and knees feel much better now that I have some cushion under them.

This is the 5th year in a row I've bought Brooks and the 3rd year in a row I've got the trail running version of the shoe (Brooks Adrenaline ASR).

Pretty average week.  The big event was writing the retirement eulogy for my boss.  It was his last day at work today.  So I had to write up some praises for him as well as some "stats" about him.  My new boss was very impressed with the write up.  Today, she delivered the "retirement eulogy" at the end of our big weekly and monthly meetings - it was really good.

Still no word on the missing airliner.  The news stations are all over the road guessing what happened.  A big mud slide in Washington killed 10 people.  A huge fire happened in Houston - a video went viral of a construction working barely escaping the flames.  Obama and Pope Francis met this week.

My wife's good friend came over the other day to cook Venezuelan food.  It was really delicious - that was all I ate yesterday.  Tonight, wife and I are going out to dinner - probably Chuy's.

Not much else for now.  The weekend should be relaxing - some yard work, soccer game, NCAA basketball games.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

WEP 2014 3.21-23

The weekend was good.  I spent a lot of time watching NCAA basketball.  Currently, I'm sitting at number 1 in my family bracket.  The biggest game this last weekend was Wichita St. vs Kentucky.  I picked Kentucky and they ended up beating Wichita by two points ... the game went down to the last second.

Our church youth had a big activity this weekend.  I spent most of Saturday hanging out at that - I had to help with the dinner.

My son E had a soccer game - they are the 1st place team in their league and they played the 2nd place team on Saturday and won 7-3.  It was a fun game for them.  It was tied 2-2 at halftime, but then they just turned it on in the 2nd half.

I didn't get a whole lot of reading or chess done this weekend.  So, I'll have to catch up on tactics at lunch time during the week this week; although there are two lunches I need to attend this week.

Friday, March 21, 2014

WIR 2014 3.17-21

So, I'm going to try something new and see how I like it.  It's called Week In Review, in which I talk about the big things that happened this week; the big things I learned and made an impression on me.  I'm also gong to try what I'll call Weekend Postmortem; same thing as the WIR, only it'll cover the weekend.  The WIRs will be on Fridays and the WPs will be either Sunday night or Monday morning.

I recently posted about my new VPN.  So, last Saturday, my internet went down hard again.  After a few reboots, it seemed all back in order, but by Sunday night, I was only getting 0.1 or 0.2 download speeds.  The technician was going to come out on Monday, but then my speeds returned to normal.  On Tuesday, they were back to a trickle.  Finally the technician came out on Wednesday and found the modem was broken.  It was an old 2.0 protocol modem; he replaced it with a 3.0 protocol modem which could handle 50mbps as opposed to 15mbps.  After it was up and running, I tested speeds again and I have consistenly been getting 30+ speeds.  Today I was able to download several files quite fast :-)

The big news lately has been the missing 777 airliner which left Kuala Lumpur on March 7 and never arrived at Bejing.  They have still have not found the plane nor any debris.  The story is truly odd.

I got recognized at work 3 times this week - by three different managers!  One of them sent me a thank you note with a $25 Amazon gift card.  The other two "sung my praises" in various meetings I had.  I feel really on top of things right now at work - and I'm busier than ever.

Along with that $25 gift card, I had another $30 in Amazon gift cards sitting around.  I finally decided what I was going to use them on - a new pair of running shoes.  I have bought my Brooks running shoes directly from the site the last 4 years or so.  I learned this week that Brooks also sells their shoes on Amazon.  So I was able to knock off $55 from my new shoes.  I'll post sole pictures when they come.  Old Navy had a polo shirt sale this week - I bought two Jersey Polos - my favorite kind of polo.

The weather has finally warmed up this week.  My son B and I have started a new tradition.  Every Tuesday and Thursday we go to the middle school outdoor basketball court and play 3-5 games.  We play by ones and go to 11.  He then practices his one-hand shooting while I go on a short run.  I then finish with 10 pushups.  I have a new secret goal.  I am starting off with doing 10 pushups, twice a day.  Each week I will increase the number of pushups by 1.  In a couple of years, I should be to 100 pushups.  We'll see how it goes.  Also, I'm going on a little 2 mile jog 2-3 times a week (at night); along with my 4 mile walk with my wife in the mornings.

Wednesday Night
I help plan activities for my church youth group.  This Wednesday they did floor ball hockey.  They boys had tons of fun.

March Madness
It started yesterday.  The games are all streamed via the NCAA app.  So my question is: why can't all the stations (local / free) do this?  How hard would it be to stream all the local 2, 5, 8, 11, 13 channels to any device?

Still reading the Immortal Game.  Once I finish, I'll post the book review to

My wife made corned beef and cabbage this week.  My mom used to make that all the time, but this is the first time my wife made it.  I love corned beef.  My favorite sandwich is the Reuben at Jason's Deli.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is my ISP Throttling?

I discovered a fascinating thing this week; I think.

After suspecting my internet traffic was being watched, especially after reading the headlines the past nine months, I decided to finally pay for a VPN.

Over the last several weeks and months, my internet connection just seemed so slow.  I used to occasionally test my connection.  Sometimes my download rate was slower than my upload rate!  Often, I would reboot the internet modem, my wi-fi router and even computer to see if that would fix the problem.  I'd say about 75% of the time that worked.  But one time nothing I did fixed the slow-down.

After a few days of no Netflix and slow web-site loading, I called my ISP.  From their end, "everything looked fine."  I ended up powering down everything and then bringing things on-line; first the modem, then the wi-fi router, then the laptop.  It fixed it, but I was still only getting around 3 to 4 mbps.  I'm paying for 15mbps.

For a few months I had been meaning to get Astrill VPN, but after doing some additional research, I decided to go with Private Internet Access.

I set it up this week.  After ensuring I was satisfied with the setup, I decided to do some speed tests.

I had normally been getting around 3-10 mbps on average days and up to 15 on the best of days.  After setting up the VPN, my first test came in at 28.41 down!  I was shocked.  I ran several other tests and have been running them off and on.  I've yet to get under 28 mbps when my VPN is connected.

Then I ran another test and it was slow again ... but I discovered my VPN had disconnected.  I re-connected and ran another test: 28.7 mbps down.

Now the rest of the story ... the last few times I called my ISP, just before ending the call, they would ask me if I wanted to upgrade to 30 mbps for an extra $10.  I think they are throttling my connection when I'm passing un-encrypted data (i.e. no VPN).

After a little googling I found this interesting article which totally confirms it now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

overcoming bad habits; creating good habits

in the vein of scott adams, i've been trying to implement a system as opposed to setting goals.  my system, at least how i envision it, is to identify things i enjoy that are beneficial to me.  when it comes to exercise, i've been trying to find the best exerciese that 1) i enjoy and 2) is sustainable.

after a few years of experimenting, i've landed on walking 4 miles a day.  i loved running, but found the injuries weren't enjoyable.  i loved basketball, but finding access to a gym and a decent group of players was tough.  spinning on a bike was not really sustainable nor did i particularly enjoy it.  walking, however, is really enjoyable and sustainable.  i see myself walking 4 miles a day well into my senior years.

eating - i've come to the conclusion that i simply need to eat less and arm myself with the right information about which foods are good for my brain and body and which leave me feeling full and satiated.

however, i don't see any reason why i can't implement and improve a system and at the same time strengthen my willpower or impulse control.  i read a couple of other blog posts today and yesterday which hit on this.

steve sailor was commentating on a new york post column about amy chua's new theory on cultural groups and why they are successful.  one of the tri-fectas she talks about is impulse control - calling it a hallmark of self-help.  impulse control is "the ability to delay instant gratification in the service of a greater goal."  This is how steve sailor defined it.  but in the article, describes impulse control as "the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task."

i think having a system and impulse control significantly increases anyone's chance for success and happiness in life.

and today, i read another great blog post on building that impulse control muscle and how to accomplish it.  this idea isn't anything new from leo babauta, but this post really caught my attention because that is how i see my impulses.  in his post "the child that holds us back" he talks about how he overcame habits and how hard it was - until he stopped listening to the 5-6 year-old child voice in him.  he describes how all of us have that same child-voice in us saying all the things that will get us to give-up or give in to temptations.

the trick is to "notice that this 5-year-old child is telling you what to do.  but don't listen.  don't obey.  don't believe its rationalizations."  in other posts, he describes a trick about simply acknowledging the urge - you "watch it", you can breathe deeply, walk around a bit and then the urge will go away.  it's all about being more mindful and giving yourself a chance to strengthen your impulse control.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

the savior generals: david petraeus

reading the david petraeus chapter was really fascinating in that i was following the events in march 2003 and after.  i watched the news and read the news sites and all that came along with it.  the politics surrounding the iraq war was astounding.  as a nation and congress, we were unified to go into iraq and remove hussein.  the "shock and awe" was amazing.  then came the "mission accomplished" stunt.  then the wheels came off.

we were not ready for what came next - the casualties spiked and we did not know how to handle the situation.  the democrats who were for the war, were now against the war.  bush was trying all he could to stabilize the situation, but no general could do it.

many different strategies were tried, but none were effective.  the only successful area in iraq was in the north under the command of petraeus.  he was "perfect" for the assignment is almost every conceivable way.  as vdh put it, "whether consciously or not, david patraeus for two decades had been preparing himself neither for conventional warfare nor for counterterrorist special operations - nor even for classic jungle or rural insurgency.  instead, he had prepped for large-scale postbellum occupation and reconstruction in highly urbanized, extremely hostile populations - exactly what iraq would be like in 2003" (p. 224).

his plan was to oversee "the reestablishment of everything from the urban university to the city council.  petraeus disbursed millions of dollars to more than four thousand projects ('money is ammunition') - often without the oversight of paul bremer, the head of the coalition provisional authority, who had been monitoring civil affairs for the year after may 2003" (p. 225).

once put in charge of the whole theater, he implemented his plan throughout the entire country - and it worked.  he gained the confidence of the people and they were able to see his vision which enabled them to fight long enough to stabilize iraq.  the plan was initiated in 2007; and by december 2011, when all american troops had withdrawn, not one u.s. solider had died.

there is a lot more to petraeus' plan than his two-decade preparation and schooling.  there had to be a way for the plan to make it to the president's desk so that it could be approved.  again, this is where petraeus seemingly shines.  vdh describes petreaus as excellent in every imaginable assignment; unmatched intelligence and academic preparation; and ambition.  petreaus developed "strong personal friendships with high-ranking officers, all the while showcasing his organizational and intellectual skills at the company, battalion and brigade level" (p. 222-223).  his "rivals" discounted his abilities because of his well-connectedness.  but this well-connectedness is what allowed the plan to reach the right ears.

the legend of petraeus grows when you read about his two near-death experiences - surviving an accidental bullet to the chest as well as surviving a parachute landing when the parachute did not open.

the petreaus chapter reminded me a lot of themistocles and belisarius.  all three of them were dynamic and had qualities that only they possessed which allowed them to "save" a war for their leaders.  without them, the wars would have been lost.

as a post-script, it's been two years since the troop withdrawals from iraq.  up until very recently, the peace in iraq has been good.  however, a quick search produces the following headlines:
- iraq suffers worst year of violence since 2008
- iraq sees highest annual death toll in years

no doubt the situation would be far worse had it not been for petraeus, but it is appearing the violence is now creeping back in barely two years after the u.s. withdrew.