Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Day 3: I still haven't come up with a name for my cello

The leather thimble on my left forefinger helped my cello playing a bit but it was pretty clunky, and it seemed to smudge out the notes. I went to town today and bought some gel finger cots at the drugstore, but I also picked up some "Rubber Fingertips" for 20 cents each, at the office supply store. This afternoon, when I played it again, the gel cot, which is a lot thicker than the rubber ones, didn't work that well. Maybe because it's so soft that I had to put extra pressure to hold the string on the note - but I was able to make clearer notes.

The rubber tip is much thinner, but firmer. I didn't have to press as hard; and overall it seemed to cushion better. By then, though I was pretty worn out. I didn't expect to get so physically tired playing my cello. My right thumb is sore from gripping the bow too hard. I spend a lot of time checking to see that I'm holding the bow properly, but sometimes I'll notice that I've pinned my thumb into the frog to hold on. I've also noticed I get more harmonics when I'm tired. Also, when I'm tired I find it harder to hit the right locations for the scales up each string. My first-to-third finger stretch needs to increase, a lot. I've started doing some stretching exercises with that hand.

I'm assuming that I'll eventually train my fingers (even the one with the rubber tip) to hit the right spots on demand. I also assume that my hold on my bow will improve with time. I'm devoting a lot of time to rhythm and sight-reading. Although I never played in the bass clef so I really don't know the notes. The cello fits the bass clef perfectly.

I'm writing this blog to document learning to play my cello. I hope to look back one day and read these jottings and see how far I've progressed.

Losing Weight and Getting in Shape
When I started losing weight, it helped to look back to see what I was like when I started. What finally convinced me to get off my fat butt and start exercising and dieting was the realization on September 13, 2004, that in just 16 months I was going to be 55; (egad); and I was probably going to weigh at least 250 lbs; carry a ridiculously large belly; have high cholesterol, serious heartburn, and sleep apnea; have no stamina, etc.; or I could reach 55 (egad) weighing 185 (just under the overweight level for my height), with a smaller gut, be in better overall physical condition, sleep better, use fewer antacids, and have more physical stamina, etc.

All it was going to take was a commitment; similar to the one I made to stop smoking 23 years (5 months, 3 days, and 11 hours) ago. The big driver was the realization that if I wasn't going to do it now, then when the hell was I planning to start? It was time to act or quit pretending I ever would. My kid, Z, is 13. It occured to me that I'd have to make some changes if I wanted to be around when he's forty.

That previous summer, we'd gone into the national park at Zion, Utah; and I couldn't bring myself to get off the park bus and walk some of the trails in that fantastic setting. I was that badly out of shape. What a thing to do to Z, poor kid. The shame lingered all summer, and popped back up that September evening, while we were sunning on our porch swing.

The next morning, I got up half an hour earlier (5:30) and got on the treadmill. I walked at 3.5 mph (hanging onto the rails the whole time) and was nearly comatose by the end of 30 minutes. But I kept at it, and by my birthday I'd lost 28 lbs and had progressed to 4.0 mph without holding on. I got to 4.5 mph (and down 49 lbs) by the end of February, and by the first of May I'd lost 65 pounds and was walking at 4.9 mph for 30 minutes. For a while, I used an exercycle in the evenings, but I stopped for the summer and didn't restart. I tried to reach 5.0 mph but I just couldn't stay with it. Finally, after slowing down a bit this past summer, I again started increasing the rate month by month until I finally conquered 5.0 mph this week (fap)!

That sounds like I lost all the weight by exercising, but fact is, most of the weight loss came from simply eating less. First, I started by taking half the food off of my plate after serving it up. No more desserts, half as much bread and one third the cereal, almost no pasta, potatoes, or rice. When Y made pizza, I ate only one slice. I started eating more veggies, and started fixing up my own meals - sauteing lots of fresh onions, garlics, and hot peppers then adding mushrooms and baked tofu chunks. The pounds steadily melted away.

I kept telling myself that since I was enduring a 30 long minute slog on the treadmill every morning, I simply HAD to stay on the diet. And, since I was denying myself all that food every day, I simply HAD to stay with the treadmill. That circular logic has worked. Once I got past 50 pounds, I knew I wasn't going to stop.

Harrumph! I wanted to rant tonite about the well-planned (and well-concealed) Democratic party strategy to retake control of Congress next year and capture the White House in '08. Every two weeks or so, since last summer, there's been a staged event that puts one more dent in Bush's armor. Each one, on the surface, seems to be isolated and comes from a seemingly different direction. The media plays each one up separately for a day or so. But each event is intended to plant a carefully targeted doubt into the general (mostly non-voting) public's vague understanding of what is really going on in Washington. Then the pollsters, with their carefully worded questions, discover a sharp decline in public trust of Bush, the war in Iraq, and the war against terrorism.

The War on Terror
I couldn't believe one of the talking-head guests on Fox news this morning (a radio talk show host from Chicago, I think) who said that we shouldn't expect we could ever win a war on terror (was she following her daily talking points script coming from party central?). All we had to do was leave Iraq and revise our mideast (Isreal/Palestine) strategy and the terrorists would stop! I wonder if she really believes that - at night when she's lying in bed waiting to fall asleep (or does she worry about what nail color to use the next morning)?

I can't figure out how anyone thinks it would be a good idea to pull out of Iraq and just cross our fingers that it won't deteriorate into another Afghanistan under the Taliban? Then what? Who'd be next? Jordan? The gulf countries? Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Afghanistan again? Indonesia? Israel? Do these people really believe that pulling out of Iraq would not lead to this? Do they really believe we should just sit back and do nothing but watch it happen?

I'm half-way convinced that the Democratic party is cynically exploiting the public's confusion as we try to figure out how we're going to be able to defeat this unique threat to our own existence. It took us more than 10 years and a direct attack on one of our bases to believe we had to do something about Germany and Japan in 1941. It took us more than 45 years after WWII to figure out how to beat the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.

I believe that Bush and his team have a pretty good idea of how it's going to go over the next several years in this war against terrorism. I also believe that it's going to take a long, long, long time to win this one. I'm not 100% sure that their current approach is even going to work, but I'm damn glad they're the ones who are trying.

I sure don't believe we're going to win by denying there's a problem, or by turning our backs on it. It's pretty easy to exploit the daily bombings and play on people's fear of another VietNam. The Dems are spending a lot of time criticizing past mistakes and miscalculations about Iraq, but none of them seem to be coming up with any better substantial ideas to deal with what we have in front of us.

Frankly, I don't see why the masses don't realize that we're much better off fighting the terrorists on the ground in Baghdad, rather than on the ground in New York City. Apparently 9-11 wasn't enough of a wakeup call. Bush has pushed the battle front off the shores of the US into an arena where we can put soldiers, material, and claim a legitimacy to fight them with all our guns blazing. Imagine trying to clear out a dedicated terror cell in one of those suburbs of Paris, or Toronto, or Detroit.

Like everyone else, I'm disappointed that we don't appear to be making more visible strides in Iraq. A lot of our current success is subtle and is building up at a rather slow pace. If we stick with it, we should see it blossom. If we back out prematurely in order to win the '08 election, we'll eventually see Baghdad turn into another fiasco like Saigon in '75, or Tehran in '79, or Lebanon in '83, or Kuwait in '90, or Mogadishu in '93. We just can't seem to stick with it long enough to finish the task. None of us seemed to have enough backbone to take the policital heat and get the job done in spite of setbacks and miscalculations. Instead we cut and run - even in Kuwait where we pulled out too soon and left a madman free to continue his reign of terror. What if we had stood down from fighting Japan in WWII after our disastrous first six months in the Pacific? What would the world political map look like if we hadn't stepped back in Korea in the early 1950s and instead had committed ourselves to winning rather than stopping the fighting?

I've blogged away another evening. This is getting addictive.

Here's something about my icon:
Major Amos B. Hoople is perhaps the greatest windbag, stuffed shirt and blowhard ever to "hrumph" his way across the funnies page. The Major first appeared on the scene at "Our Boarding House" four months after that strip began (returning from a ten-year absence from Martha's life), but he quickly took over to the point where many people today think his name was the feature's title.

Major Hoople had a huge, bulbous nose and an even huger gut. He sported a scraggly moustache and smoked rank cigars. He was seldom seen without a battered fez. In addition to near-archaic expressions like "egad" and "drat", he was often heard mouthing such non-words as "fap", "awp" and "kaff". His favorite mode of expression was long-winded discourses about his prestigious and astonishing experiences, which nobody took seriously and frequently mocked openly.

Some of his progeny in literature include Ignatius J. Reilly (from "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole), very recently Tom Ripple (from "It's All Right Now" by Chester Chadwick), and even Wally (from Dilbert). It's hard not to see bits of myself and of my father and brothers in these characters.

buenos noches!

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