Rah Rah SisBoomBah! Get Your Fake News Here! Ta-dah!

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CircusMaximusThink ‘fake news’ is a recent development?
Wrong – this insidious canker on an informed society has been around for thousands of years. But not in the form we tend to think of today.

And if you are a sports fan, you’re part of the problem.
A typical sports fan fritters away dozens of hours a week glued to the tube. Some of the more insane of this curious lot think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on cheap foreign-made merchandise just because it sports (pun intended) their favorite team’s logo. The most extreme cases upend their wallets, spending thousands of dollars on season passes.

Who first called out sports as ‘fake news’?
Go back to ancient Rome, where the satirist Juvenal coined the phrase panem et circenses or “bread and circuses.” He was referring to the practice of annona (grain dole) which parceled out food and entertainment as political rewards. This practice was an amazing success. Consider that annona began in 123 BC under Gaius Gracchus, and was so fiscally successful that Julius Caesar rebuilt the Circus Maximus half a century later, and Constantine grew it to its current bloated size in 400 AD.
But it was Augustus Caesar who turned ‘bread and circuses’ to a fine-edged political tool — it allowed him to be elevated to pagan godhead while ancient Rome barely blinked.

Sports fandom draws its historical roots from a word meaning insanity.
Consider the word “fan” – short for fanatic. In ancient Rome, this pejorative term implied the person was unreasoning and off his rocker. It was often applied to people who idolized the gladiators, fanatically following the exploits of their favorite circus warrior. They collected figurines of their hero, emblazoned their homes with mosaics and scratched graffiti of their hero’s name on public buildings.
thracian_gladiatorSound familiar?

In short, professional sports is, and always has been, a diversion to keep people from focusing on the problems of society. It is a drain on the economy, it huge waste of time, and a gigantic money-making diversion that keeps the populace distracted.

To this day, every television news program, every newspaper (that still exists), every news service, devotes one-quarter to one-third of their precious time and energy to sports. Not to mention those media channels devoted exclusively to sports…

Why does News do this?
What real news is there in teams’ scores, the latest triumph or failure, the latest record broken? With the possible exceptions of the Olympics or the recent uproar over “taking a knee,” when did any sports victory affect the world in any significant fashion? What treaty was signed, what genocide was averted, what disease cured, what famine avoided, because Team ABC defeated Team XYZ?  Oh, and don’t get me started about the blatant lunacy of paying sports figures millions of dollars when firefighters, police, nurses, soldiers, teachers — the real heroes of every stripe — are paid paltry sums.

Nations going to war, economic entities making decisions that affect all of our
lives, genocides, atrocities of every ilk — all going unnoticed because News panders to those who consider devotion to a sports team more important. That is the REAL FAKE news, and the real tragedy.

Do you know what would I would consider unique in the world of sports news?
If some sports mega-star, paid gazillions of dollars, fessed up on camera, “Our team lost because I just didn’t give a rat’s rear-end. I phoned my performance in. Hey, I get paid whether I win or lose, so why should I give a rip? Turn off ESPN and get a life.” Or if the billionaire owner of a team let slip a truth during an interview, “Thanks for the free stadium, chumps.”
That would be real sports news.

Don’t get me wrong about sports — if you like to play sports, go and do!
Athletics is part of what makes us human. It is necessary for a healthy body and sound mind.
It is the glorification of professional sports that is the sickness.

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Dirt, Dogs, and Digs

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Autumn is almost upon us, and the signs are everywhere.
Leaves falling.
Ripe nuts and fruit dropping from almost every tree in the neighborhood.
Add to that the usual lawn detritus of grass clippings and fiendishly concealed animal droppings, and it all quickly builds into a noxious pile of organic matter that finds its way into my home.

I cringe every time I step on one of those marble-sized bombs, consisting of a bumper crop of crab-apples, Japanese dogwood berries, pygmy pears, and who-knows-what-else.

During this benighted time of year, I am forced to clean my walkway, my dog, and mudroom on the average 3 times a day — the walkway before I walk my dog, my shoes, the dog’s paws, and linoleum afterwards. And we still somehow manage to track in grass, leaves, mangled corpses of squished fruit, and whatever crud their juices sponge up onto my shoes.

I am by no means a demigod of domesticity, despite the fact that throughout my formative years, I was allergic to everything – dust, mold, mildew, animal dander, and more. My poor Mom had to clean-clean-clean when she wasn’t exhausted from holding down two jobs. Fortunately, my dog was one of those breeds that doesn’t shed, otherwise I think she would have bleached the pooch.

I thank God I have outgrown my allergies and asthma, otherwise I would be forced to continue that unfortunate tradition. These days, I break out the vacuum cleaner once a fortnight (or less), resorting to bucket and mop when I must — far less often than my Mom ever did…
But these Fall invaders of muck and mire have me cleaning far more often than I care to think about.

This season, with nature relentlessly dumping its dirt upon us, reminds me of a pithy bit of humorous wisdom a co-worker imparted, during a tour of a Silicon Valley clean room, where super-clean “bunny-suits” and air-purifiers abounded.

“There is no such thing as ‘perfectly clean.’
There is only the level of dirt you’re willing to tolerate.”

OK — I admit it. I can’t think of even the most tenuous segway (segue) from the subject of cleanliness to the topic of my books. So here’s this blog entry’s blatant bit of self-promotion…
Buy my books!

 

 

Self-Made Million-Aire-Heads

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board-2434286_960_720I have to remind myself on a weekly basis — sometimes on a daily basis — that all that I have, all that I’ve done, all that I am, is not solely due to my efforts. Many times I am forced to recognize that all these things are due to immeasurable amounts of help from my faith, family, friends, co-workers — and sometimes even enemies — to get where I am, and where I hope to go.

Consider the phrase “self-made millionaire.” Isn’t that, on the very face of it, a laughable thing? If a person claims their achievements are because of their — and ONLY their — efforts, they are one of three things:
ignorant, delusional, or a liar.

Did they construct the roads on which they (or their chauffeurs) drive?
Did they build their Rolls-Royce’s from scratch?
Did they launch the satellites that predict the weather, around which they plan their junkets?
Did they engineer their towering edifices, or school the engineers who designed them?
No.

Yet so many of our captains of industry and politics, as they become bombastic buffoons spiraling into their ego-driven power trips, pound the podium while declaring their state is brought about by the might of their will and intelligence, and theirs alone.
Hogwash.

Sir Isaac Newton, physicist, mathematical genius, and spiritual Renaissance Man, said it best: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

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That sense of interconnection is part of why I write my stories I do. Borrowing a laurel bestowed on me by a reviewer – “there’s a moral center there (ie virtue rewarded, or the reverse).”

Visit www.christopherdochs.com to see for yourself!

“No One Believes Me!”

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Ever have an interpretation of a book or a film, that no one else seems to get?
I’m taking a break from my usual topics to delve into my interpretation of one of my “guilty pleasure” films — “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,” also known across the pond as “Doppelganger”.

This flick was panned by the movie critics of the day. But then, run-o-the-mill movie critics rarely “get” hard sci-fi. In my estimation, “Journey” has a great story concept, and stupendous special effects — brought to life by one of my industry heroes, Derek Meddings. Admittedly, the pace of the film is slo-o-ow, mostly due to meticulous attention to details of space technology, present and future. However, that’s hardly an issue for me — it’s a techno-geek’s dream come true!

But I digress…
The film has a real slap-in-the-face ending — SPOILER ALERT!
The character of Jason Webb dies, reaching for … for what?

Now here’s how I interpret the slap-in-the-face:
just before he dies, the film gives us a ton of clues that the whole thing — EUROSEC, the new planet, the two disastrous space voyages, the whole shebang — were all a figment of Jason Webb’s imagination (if not mental illness).
That’s right!
Nothing was real, the whole story was ALL Jason Webb’s age-related dementia.

I have yet to find anyone who fully agrees with my interpretation. The best response I’ve gotten after two decades is polite skepticism. So let’s see if I can convince you why I believe what I believe.

Doppel_cardiacmonitor

It all hinges on the wristwatch cardio-monitor that appears multiple times throughout the film. Among other times when it’s only hinted at, we actually see the monitor when: a) Dr. Hassler (Herbert Lom) is assassinated, and we watch the trinket go bonkers as he dies; b) when Jason Webb himself (Partick Wymark) gets agitated, astronaut Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) tells Jason to pay attention to his cardio-monitor, and we see it blipping away.

Fast forward to the end of the film.
A much-older Webb complains to his nurse that “all records are gone” and “no one believes me,” (Hint 1). The nurse, wearing a stodgy uniform (Hint 2), checks his pulse (Hint 3 – THE GIVEAWAY).

Now consider these apparent contradictions —
If this scene occurs ages after the events of everything that passed before, then:
1) WHY is the nurse wearing an old-style uniform, not one of the futuristic health professional uniforms we saw previously in the film?
2) WHY does the nurse check his pulse by TOUCH? Why doesn’t she simply look at his cardio-monitor? This action is so critical, it is plastered in lens close-up: I claim the filmmakers intended this to be noticed!
3) Webb had a cardio-monitor all throughout the film. WHY doesn’t he have one now? (If anything, decades later he would have a “new & improved” cardio-monitor, no?)

I’ll tell you why – because the nursing home scene is NOT in the future, and the cardio-gadget doesn’t exist. Ergo, the whole thing was in Webb’s delusional mind.
The poor schlub kills himself chasing nothing but a fevered phantasm.

OK – that’s my opinion. I’d love to hear yours. If you disagree, don’t just lob tomatoes — give us your explanation of these inconsistencies.

On the topic of unexpected endings — it’s my meat and potatoes.
But don’t take my word for it. Some really nice reviews are rolling in for my latest book, “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep”,

If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3“…amazing stories that would chill me to the bone one minute and then leave me surprised the next.” — Readers’ Favorite

I Am a Boiled Frog

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And in all probability, so are you.

boiled_frog
We’re all familiar with the adage that if you drop a frog in boiling water, he’ll immediately jump out. The flip side of the story tells us if you put a frog in tepid water and raise its temperature slowly enough, he’ll stay there ’til he’s cooked.

I am reminded on a weekly basis (sometimes daily) about the person that I am — and how I bear little resemblance to the person I was, or even the person I thought I would turn out to be. A long series of small changes leads to a big difference.

Today, that moment of realization occurred when I had a glass of milk. It was a glass of 2% — I normally drink and cook with 1% milk. After a single sip, I remarked on its fatty taste and texture.

I immediately flashed back to my youth, when my family struggled to make it through our weekly budget. One of my cornerstones of my childhood diet was powdered milk. If you dislike today’s fat-free milk, I guarantee you will be revolted by that loathsome bilge of sky-blue fat-free powder-and-water mixture. I have never had that vile Carnation concoction since I finished high school, and hope to never allow it past my lips again.
Time, tide, and tightening belts (due to dietary restrictions, not financial), now have me at the 1% mark. And I prefer it. How times and tastes have changed!

I’ve noted several other changes in my tastes – for example, I now love spinach and grapefruit, foods I could not tolerate until a mere five years ago.

On the non-gastronomical front, things certainly have taken paths I never could have guessed at. As a child, I wanted to be an astronaut veterinarian. My actual career path was solidly grounded on earth, wending through organist, physicist, electrical engineer, software systems analyst, animator, to arrive at my current vocation — writer.

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About the only thing that has been constant through that journey is that I have been blessed, allowed to do the things I love to do.

On the subject of being blessed, my belief system has had a similar multi-directional slog through the spiritual multi-verse — from Moravian, to Jesus Freak, to sullen agnostic, finally re-embracing being born again. My stint as a church organist put me in a unique position to sample all that is right (and all that is wrong) over a wide spectrum of denominations. As a result, my belief system is one that both Catholic and Baptist would shake their collective heads at. The feeling is mutual, friends. My best advice is to remove the log from your own eye.

I don’t say that to condemn, but rather to urge you, dear reader, to try something new. Life is change. Perhaps you should have a try at being boiled. Maybe you already are, you just don’t know it. A moment of reflection, and we all can learn something.
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When I Can’t Decide to Laugh or Shriek

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It is rare that a book, television program or film successfully combines “creepy” and humor. Many have tried, many have failed.
Those few that have succeeded rank high on my list of favorite videos/films, witnessed by the fact I have watched them over and over again.

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Many devotees of the Twilight Zone point to “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” as Rod Serling‘s best funny/creepy work. I disagree, and point to TZ’s “To Serve Man” as his best tongue in cheek work. (Although written by Damon Knight, Rod’s editorial hand is all over the script.) The late Richard Kiel as the super-intelligent Kanamit with the permanent “duhhhh” look plastered on his face is classic. He was obviously enjoying mugging for the joke.
Did you know TV Guide in 2013 gave this episode the honor of “Greatest Twist of All Time”?
Also, Owlswick Press printed a gag version of the book “To Serve Man” in 1976, including a recipe for Cowboy Stew (ingredients include 1 large cowboy).

This and the following entries embody the ideal of “mirthful macabre” I steep into every one of my stories, especially my latest book, “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep“.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Hush”
This episode of Joss Whedon‘s juggernaut series won an Emmy — and rightfully so. It’s sheer inventiveness and bold stroke to have a full 1/2 hour of NO DIALOG is an astounding and spellbinding accomplishment. Not to mention the (spoiler alert) scene where some poor innocent cannot scream as he suffers one of the most painful deaths imaginable, is a cinematic moment that will make your skin crawl.
And yet, peppered amid the horrors perpetrated by baddies (“The Gentlemen”), are a bevy of sight gags that are rip-roaringly hilarious.

The Fifth Element
A rocket-fast trip into the future. The tongue-in-cheek humor comes non-stop at a lightning pace, so that you almost dare not laugh because you’ll miss the next visual/verbal/physical jibe.

Big Trouble in Little China
Not true horror, but a few nice creepy moments (it is from John Carpenter, after all.) Kurt Russell as the smart-ass trucker is casting perfection. I find myself quoting this film quite often.
My favorite line –
Jack: “Hey Egg, how did you get all the way up there?”
Egg: “It wasn’t easy!”wasnt_easyMy favorite scene – Wang’s and Thunder’s final fight scene. It is a perfectly executed example of what I call “implied comedic violence”.

Shaun of the Dead
The first of many films pairing the creative and acting talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Can you spot the Cornetto in all the “Cornetto Trilogy” films?
My favorite line –
“There is nothing of the man you loved in that car!”
(Zombie Philip turns off radio.)

Cabin in the Woods
Another one of Whedon’s wonders. The man just seems to have the knack to combine bone-chilling horror and humor spanning the spectrum from cerebral to “inside-joke” to slapstick.

I’m sure, given time, I can come up with more.
Please comment, and let me know your favorite chiller/comedy.
If I haven’t seen it, I want to!

Whistle While You Kraftwerk

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listening_wallAs a kid, I did all my homework while watching TV — usually Star Trek reruns
— much to the chagrin of my parents.  During my college days, I graduated to listening to music while I worked on my physics and math problems.

The refrains of my unusual musical tastes were loud enough that I couldn’t hear the mumbles, comments, complaints and curses that I’m sure my fellow academicians were voicing in their offices and dorm rooms next to mine.
Since I was a church organist, and an enthusiast about all things keyboard related, my speakers were constantly blaring the sounds of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Triumvirat, Kraftwerk, Chick Corea, Patrick Moraz, Walter (before he became Wendy) Carlos’ synthesized masterpieces, Rick Wakeman and Yes, and of course King Crimson featuring their magically hypnotic mellotron.

In the workaday world that came after college, my cubicle was void of tunes, until I was promoted to an office where I could play my music — albeit at much lower volumes. I also tuned to college radio, so that I could enjoy a variety of music, and not cheese off my office-mate. See? I can be taught to be considerate!

Actually, that was only half the reason for lower volumes.
I found I enjoyed the music so much that it distracted me from efficiently performing my work.

These days, I wonder how I accomplished any work at all.
I shake my head in disbelief a how many of my peers work with loud music. For example, Richard Liparulo told me he often plays music conducive to the genre he’s writing – e.g., playing star-opera movie sound tracks while writing sci-fi.

I now most often work in silence. The noise, dialog and movie rolling in my head when I’m writing is enough and incredibly fragile. My budding efforts are entirely erased if music intrudes. That is simply intolerable to my muse.
On those rare occasions that I can tolerate music — usually when I’m doing light editing — I seek refuge with my old favorites. Though lately I tune into internet radio, streaming my old college radio station WMUH, or  Soma FM’s 70’s, 80’s and Secret Agent channels.

So, what do you whistle while you work, or listen while you lurk?

The Dreaded Necessary Evil

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The title I’ve chosen for today’s little diatribe is in fact the bookmark entry in my browser for Facebook.

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It is my daily “note-to-self” that social media is a tool. It is not my friend.
It reminds me that social media is a necessary evil, like swallowing foul-tasting medicine in hopes it will somehow, someway, eventually improve my situation.

If I were employed in some other field, I probably would use Facebook and its ilk (including this blog) as little as possible. I much prefer to talk, phone, email, and (gasp!) write real letters — on paper! — to my friends and people in general.
However, in my new vocation as an author, social media is an absolute requirement. Everyone along the publishing chain — from agent, to editor, to publisher, to reader — expect it. They eye you with dire suspicion as though you were dressed in caveman bearskins if you don’t have a website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The harsh reality of our electronic world is that one cannot sell books, let alone hope to be successful in the writing biz, without having an online presence. At the risk of belaboring the point, social media is a necessary evil — like any other form of advertising in the marketplace.
It doesn’t mean I have to like it.
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I often compare the experience of a Facebook session to a sewage technician in a honey-dipper suit emerging from the task of fixing a broken septic tank, that keeps breaking on a daily basis. That feeling of being soiled is intensified when my ‘friends’ rail on about their political views.
Truth be told, I’m guilty of political ranting as well. Anyone who has tabs into my Facebook profile is aware of this. I don’t know if I can (or should) take any comfort from the fact that I seem to do it far less than many on the internet.
I can at least hold my head up high, that I do not allow my political views to spill over into my workplace Facebook pages.
OK, here I go. I’m pinching my nose shut, and diving in again.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly, Pogo
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BMI – Body Mass Index or Blatantly Misused Information?

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according-to-bmiI recently scandalized a dietician, when I confronted her with my assessment of the Body Mass Index (BMI), declaring it was a “tissue of lies.” She had no argument in its defense after I explained my position. I leave it up to the reader whether her silence was due to her politeness, professionalism or the patent indefensibility of the BMI.

Why do I assert the BMI is useless?
Let’s look at 3 points: history, application, and mathematics.

1) History – the BMI was originally developed by life insurance companies to fine tune their actuarial tables. The scale was created to measure the relative health of large population centers. It was NEVER meant to assess an individual’s health — and yet that is exactly what our ‘educated’ (read ‘indoctrinated’) medical community does. Our esteemed learned health professional community is using a sledgehammer where they should use a screwdriver.

2) Application – the BMI gives no additional useful information. If you’re above a certain number, your labeled as ‘obese’ by varying degrees. Regardless of the degree, unless you’re below the ‘healthy’ number, your health professional gives you the “Tsk-Tsk” lecture and a finger wagging you haven’t seen since your 3rd grade teacher.
The BMI data point is no more useful than simply setting a goal for your weight.

3) Mathematics – the BMI is based solely on your weight and a single physical dimension — height. Last time I checked, we are 3-dimensional creatures. It is obvious on the face of the argument that a person with a shallow chest and small shoulders should have a different measure of health than an NFL linebacker with a chest cavity the size of Montana. Taken to a ridiculous extreme, the BMI scale would have labeled Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak as ‘morbidly obese’. Oh, please.
Other factors that have obvious ramifications for health, but are entirely ignored by the BMI, are age and gender. So if you can find a young male ballet trouper the same height and weight as my arthritic Aunt Abigail, you mean to tell me they have the same outlook as predicted by the BMI?

The BMI is the current standard merely because it’s cheaper to measure than other more accurate indices, like the Adipose Index or the Hydrostatic method, to name a few.

It’s time to punt the guilt-trip disguised as ‘best-practice’ called the BMI.
Tell your dietician I sent you.

What Authors Really Want For Christmas

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Want to give a meaningful Christmas present to a writer?
1) Read their book. Buy or borrow – paper or ebook, it matters little. Buying their book is a nice boost to their bottom line, but it is not the most important part.
2) File a review on Amazon, Goodreads, AND your favorite online book vendor, in that order.

Now here’s the important part.
Don’t just rate it, 1 to 5 stars. Write a few sentences WHY you liked it. Or didn’t like it.
Actual meaningful text, like “I liked the imagery when describing…” or “refreshing to see a hero that…” means the review will pass muster with the Amazon police. They are on the prowl to remove slimy reviews-for-hire. Having original and unique thoughts in your review means Amazon won’t flag it as fake.

What makes the second part the most important?
a) Amazon will promote the book at increasing levels, as milestones of 20 and 50 reviews are met. Exposure is more important than the sale of a single copy of a book, especially for authors not working under sweet-deal contracts with big publishers.

b) Feedback is essential for authors. Especially for me. I cannot improve if I don’t get feedback!
If you like something, Say So. If you didn’t like something or (God forbid!) got confused, SAY SO! If you say nothing, I’ll just continue writing the same old stuff.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!