How to Kill a “Cereal Killer” and Restore Halloween

cereal killerI know what you’re going to say. Why would I want to murder a cereal killer, a taco belle, a holy cow, a pig in a blanket, a deviled egg, or any of the other bearers of bad Halloween punnery? First, you want to kill someone.  You don’t have to admit it to me and I’d advise against admitting it to the District Attorney, but at least admit it to yourself. Second, if you kill the person you really want to kill (e.g. your boss, the tax man, your personal trainer, or your hairdresser—sorry, low blow) you’ll be the lead suspect. Therefore, you need to find a way to vent your homicidal rage into productive outlets, and I’d argue that the killing of punsters is community service. You shouldn’t even think of it as murder. It’s more like culling the Halloween herd. Forest fires kill, but the next year the forest is more lush and beautiful than ever before.

 

Now let’s get down to the real reason to conduct your own Halloween killing spree. Because it’s the perfect time for the perfect crime. Think about it.

  • Anonymity: Except for the lazy people who wear a T-shirt with “Halloween Costume” printed in unimaginative block letters, everybody is in makeup or has their head stuffed in some stinking mask that five people have thrown up in within the last three years. This makes it almost impossible to identify suspects. The lazy bastards would be eliminated immediately anyway because it takes commitment to be a homicidal maniac.
  • Relative Inconspicuousness: You won’t be the only one who’s apparently blood spattered. Besides Marti Gras and full moons, what other nights can one say that. There will be large numbers of people wielding weapons and looking creepy. What better time to blend in?
  • Distraction: If I might be granted a brief diatribe. Halloween used to be the holiday of terror, but no more. Valentine’s Day may be the holiday of romance (or florists), but Halloween is the holiday of sex. However, you can use this trend to your advantage. There’s a great deal of distraction to be garnered from the proliferation of sexy nurses, sexy waitresses, and sexy actuarials. When the girl whose costume is painted on rather than worn walks through the room to get a single potato chip, that’s a good time to jab the hypodermic into the neck of the nearest drunk pun and get the hell out of dodge.

 

So how will you choose your target? First, as indicated, it’s best to pick someone who’s inebriated because no one will realize they’re dead–and not just passed out–until they begin to stink. Don’t worry, finding a drunk won’t be hard. At a given Halloween party there will be four designated drivers for the 150 people in attendance—so 148 people will be completely hammered. [No, my math is not that bad. Two of those designated drivers are cheating bastards. If you kill a pun who’s a cheating designated driver you’ve hit the trifecta—OK, maybe my math is that bad. At any rate, you get bonus points. ]

 

Next comes the question of determining whether the costume is a pun or not. This can be harder than it seems. Sure there are the easy ones I mentioned above (and others like Kevin “Bacon” [Kevin nametag on a meat vest], “Bat” Man [w/ Louisville Slugger], Down for the Count [Dracula with a blowup doll orally affixed to his crotch region], Spice Girl, Dust Bunny, Formal Apology [tuxedo-clad man with “sorry” written on his tie], etc.) that will be immediately obvious.

 

However, what if one sees a guy in a Grim Reaper costume with a bag of pot. Perhaps this is just someone who likes to imbibe. However, if the pot is dayglow green, then you may have a “the grass is greener on the other side” who desperately needs killing. The key is that one must pay attention to the details. Sometimes the costume will be poorly done. Imagine a fine “Tom the Cat” costume with three misshaped spheres feebly stapled to the crotch region. This is a “horny as a three-balled tom cat” who must die.

 

On the other hand, you should avoid reading too much into costumes. Say you see a girl who looks like a stripper. You shouldn’t engage in some Rube Goldberg-esque thought process in which you conclude that she is saying, “All that glitters is not gold–because sometimes it’s a stripper.” Said woman may merely be costumed as a stripper, or might be a stripper who just got off stage and didn’t have time to go out looking for a costume.

 

When in doubt, if the costume doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense, it’s probably someone’s sense of clever gone awry and you shouldn’t feel bad about friendly fire against a non-pun.

 

Finally, some general rules of thumb (BTW: feel free to kill anyone dressed in a giant mitten with a page of the tax code taped to the thumb):

  • Only kill one pun per party. Being a killer of puns is like being a Marine Sniper—except that it’s completely illegal and involves no honor whatsoever—my point is that if you loiter in place you’ll get pinned down by the Vietcong. It doesn’t matter whether the party in question has the best pigs in a blanket (i.e. the hors doeuvres, not the cutesy couple costume), the best DJ, or the sluttiest witches, maids, librarians, or geologists in town. Don’t get greedy. Get in and get out—well, you can grab a handful of those delectable pigs in a blanket on the way out, but then get out of the house!
  • Never wear the same costume to more than one party. The police call that a clue. You have to be like Kathrine Heigl in that 27 Dresses  movie—which I never saw. Do the quick change like Clark Kent between parties. That brings me to an alternative killing scheme whereby you can kill anyone who’s dressed as a character from a romantic comedy.
  • Don’t consume a lot of legumes, high fiber foods, beer, or Taco Bell before your outing. Just because no one will see your face inside that barf-splotched mask doesn’t mean they won’t be able to smell you. Plus the zippers in costumes are unreliable, and you don’t want a case of Taco Trots to hamper your evening’s fun.
  • Don’t wear a costume that’s too menacing. You want to be able to point to someone who is nearby, completely innocent, and who looks like a killer and say, “she did it.” Also, don’t wear the “Identity Thief” costume in which one has name tags all over one’s outfit with different names. First, it plants the seed of criminality in the mind of those around you. Second, it’s a bad pun and may result in your being stabbed. Which brings me to the ultimate rule:
  • Don’t wear a pun costume yourself, it may result in your being stabbed. I’m not saying that I once stabbed a prostitute with a Seeing Eye dog who turned out to be just another good-hearted Halloween killer because “love is blind,” but…

 

I hope this guide to perpetrating a Halloween massacre has been helpful. I think we’d all like to bring the fear back to Halloween like all the Saints who partied down on All Saints’ Day Eve intended. So, whether you’re a first time killer or you’ve been around the block (another potential costume cliché to kill), a few simple steps will keep you out of the hands of the slutty cops—or regular cops.

DAILY PHOTO: Octagonal Room of Pillars

Taken in November of 2013 at Agra Fort

Taken in November of 2013 at Agra Fort

This photo was taken at Agra Fort, and I believe was in the Jehangiri Mahal.

BOOK REVIEW: VALIS by Philip K. Dick

VALIS (VALIS Trilogy, #1)VALIS by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

VALIS is the first book in a final—unfinished–trilogy of Philip K. Dick. The other two books of the trilogy were to be The Divine Invasion (finished) and an unfinished book that would have been entitled The Owl in Daylight. Some (notably people who want to sell books at any cost) will claim that The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last novel of this trilogy. It’s true that “Transmigration” was Dick’s last complete book and that it shares a domain at the nexus of religion and science fiction with the VALIS trilogy, but it wasn’t intended to be part of the trilogy.

“Trippy” might be the best word to describe VALIS. The narrator is a writer named Phil, who we know from details like the mention of past titles is really the book’s author, Philip K. Dick. The lead character is a man named Horselover Fat. If one is reading carefully, one learns early that Horselover Fat and Phil are one in the same—although we don’t learn until late in the novel that Philip means “fond of horses” in Greek and Dick means “fat” in German. For most of the novel Phil speaks of Horselover Fat as though he was an entirely separate person, and even describes times when the two were said to be in two different places (Horselover goes on a global search for the new messiah, while Phil seemingly stays home.) There’s a point late in the novel in which Phil is “cured,” and his multi-personality delusion disappears.

It’s hard to concisely describe what the book is about because it’s so strange and ranging. One can easily vacillate between thinking it’s brilliant and that it’s gobbledygook. Horselover Fat is in search of a messiah, and he thinks he can simultaneously see the world as it is and as it was in Roman times. He has visions that he comes to believe were laser transmitted into his brain. He is writing a rambling exegesis that features throughout the book in random order as seems “relevant.”

Horselover has friends that are in their own ways both less and more crazy than he—not including Phil who is actually one in the same and, therefore, is equally insane. His big break comes when one of these friends, Kevin, introduces him to a surrealist film that seems completely incomprehensible, but—given their laser beamed “inside knowledge”—they’re able to discern clues in what seems like nonsense. This leads them to rock star and actress, respectively, Eric and Linda Lampton. (While I was under the impression that this was a thinly veiled pseudonym for Eric Clapton, it was apparently a more sophisticated pseudonym for David Bowie.) It turns out that the Lamptons are even crazier than Horselover / Phil, but—nonetheless–they do have the messiah with them in the form of an immaculately conceived two-year old girl named Sophia. I won’t get into what happens next as I don’t want to give away too much.

The ending is not strong, but that’s the nature of writing in trilogies (or multi-book sequences more generally.)

If you are wondering about the title, VALIS is the name of the surrealist film that leads Horselover and his folks to the Lamptons (who were involved with the film along with an electronic musician who is supposedly supposed to represent Brian Eno.) In said fictional film the acronym stands for “Vast Active Living Intelligence System” and it’s an artificial intelligence and / or god.

If you like Philip K. Dick for his clever and clear science fiction story arcs, you may like this work but you probably won’t find it to be Dick at his best. If you like Philip K. Dick for taking you on a walk inside the mind of a drug-addled and bat-shit crazy genius, you’ll find this to be one of his best works.

I found it to be an intriguing read and would recommend it for lovers of the strange.

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DAILY PHOTO: Indo-Islamic Lattice Window

Taken in November of 2013 at Fatehpur Sikri.

Taken in November of 2013 at Fatehpur Sikri.

This elaborate lattice is carved out of white marble. It’s part of the Tomb of Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint, and is located on the grounds of the Jama Masjid (Mosque) at Fatehpur Sikri.

Wat Po v. Chiang Mai Massage: A North / South Divide?

One of the sculptures in the Thai Yoga outcrop at Wat Po.

One of the sculptures in the Thai Yoga outcrop at Wat Po.

In September I attended the General Thai Massage and Foot Massage courses at Wat Po. The teacher from whom I first learned Thai Massage (a.k.a. Thai Yoga Bodywork or Nuad Bo Rarn) was trained in Chiang Mai by various teachers, and the style he teaches reflects that northern heritage. I was curious to see how the style of massage varied in the south from the northern approach that I had already learned. Would I be in uncharted waters? Or would the Wat Po course merely be a refresher of what I had already learned? These questions were on my mind as I began the course.

 

The answer turned out to be somewhere in between. The Wat Po approach wasn’t radically different from what I had already learned, but neither was it a carbon copy. One could clearly see the common origin of these styles. For yoga practitioners, a reasonable comparison would be to imagine you studied Bihar yoga, and then you sat in on an Ashtanga Vinyasa class. Most of the postures would be similar if not the exact same—e.g. a downward dog is a downward dog. However, the sequence is a little different, you may run into a posture or two that you hadn’t seen before, and there will be many little differences in points of emphasis and so on. The same could be said of two martial arts that have a recent common ancestor art. (However, I think martial arts evolve more rapidly than other systems of movement because there is a life and death urgency to adapt to local conditions, and so martial arts can diverge rapidly.)

 

I won’t get into every little difference in this post. For one thing, the first course I took was a 60 hour (10 day) course, and the Wat Po course was only half as long (5 day / 30 hours.) Therefore, some of the apparent differences might have more to do with the need to conform to time limitations than true stylistic differences. The Wat Po course was designed to impart a sequence that could be done in an hour-and-a-half bodywork session. The first course I took taught some material that was redundant in the belief that one could tailor one’s sequence to the recipient’s needs and / or the masseuse’s preferences.

 

As an example, at Wat Po we didn’t learn any massage of the chest or abdomen, but I was shown (in fact, I was recipient of) the Wat Po approach to abdominal massage and it was pretty much the same as I’d learned previously. In my earlier learning, the approach to energy lines was to stretch (longitudinally) the limb, then apply palm pressure, then work the line (typically with the thumbs), and then one would repeat the palm pressure and finish with a repeat of the stretch. At Wat Po, they went straight for the energy line (sen) and followed that with the palm pressure work. I have no way of knowing whether this difference was more due to timing or style.

 

Before getting into the differences, I will talk a little about similarities. The general approach was the same (e.g. the recipient is fully clothed in a light, comfortable garment(s)) and the massage is ideally given on a thin, dense mattress/pad on the floor–rather than on a table. The general principles of sequencing were the same. Namely, one began at the feet and worked in the direction of the head. Also, when working on a limb, one began at the distal end, worked toward the torso, and then back toward to the starting point. Also, energy line work was done before the stretches.  There were four positions in both styles: supine, side, seated, and prone, and—unlike many other forms of massage—the supine position was at the fore (i.e. neither style emphasized the prone position and back work over the supine in the way other varieties of massage often do.) Both styles of massage (as probably all massage) began with a brief introduction and questioning designed to make sure the individual didn’t have any contraindicated conditions. Both styles of Thai massage began with a moment of prayer or contemplation—this is similar to some styles and different from others and speaks to the traditional nature of Thai massage.

 

IMG_0031

The side and seated sequences were the most similar between the two styles.  I learned more in these sequences in the longer (Chiang Mai) course, but what was included in the Wat Po course was largely the same. Where the stretches were of the same type, they tended to be virtually identical. By that I mean to say that both styles had stretches that weren’t taught in the other style, but where that was not the case, the stretches were indistinguishable. For example, the pictured variant on sarpasana / bhujangasana [snake / cobra backbends] was done in the same manner in either style. (I learned more stretches in the first—Chiang Mai–course, because it was longer.)  Over all, the energy lines (sen) tended to be identical, but there weren’t always the same number of them, nor were the same ones always emphasized. There were some differences in the feet lines that I’ll get into below.

 

Now let’s get to the differences. Starting with some small differences, the manner of palm pressure work was different between the two systems. In the Wat Po style, there was always one fixed point that one hand locked in place while the other hand applied palm pressure. I had previously learned to use both hands in a rhythmically alternating series of palm pressure applications.

 

One little difference that I found interesting involved the technique of closing the little flap over the ears at the end of the face and head massage (both styles close off the ears.) I had been taught to very gently release pressure so as to avoid any kind of popping that might disturb the recipient. However, at Wat Po the instructor taught to vigorously pull the fingers away—resulting in a pop. My guess would be that the idea was to get the recipient’s attention so that one could transition them from the face massage (which notoriously puts people to sleep) to a wakeful state so they could follow instructions for the stretches that followed. (We were taught face massage as part of the seated sequence. Previously, I had learned that this was an option, but that it was easier to do the face massage from supine so you didn’t have to worry about the recipient falling asleep and possibly falling over literally.

 

A final little difference was how the blood stop was done for the lower extremities. At Wat Po, they did the leg blood stop with both legs straight, whereas I had previously learned this technique with an open groin, i.e. the knee pointed out. (Both ways work about the same, but I think it might be a little less awkward to do it with the groin open as one is not in as close of proximity to the recipient’s privates.) The blood stop for the arm was identical.

 

The energy lines are one of the most fundamental aspects of Thai massage, and one would expect little variation in them between styles. This proved largely, but not entirely, true. For example, the leg lines were the same (as one might expect because one cannot stray too far from some lines without getting onto bone.) Also the points at the top of the shoulder, around the neck, the base of the skull, and the scapulae were the generally the same–except more or fewer points might be employed from one style to the other.

 

The arm lines were almost the same. The line on the back of the arm was the same, and the line that goes up the middle of the inner arm was the same. However, there was a second inner line that ran in line with the little finger along the lower edge of the arm (presuming the arm is straight out from the shoulder as it is for massaging the inner arm in both styles.) The lines of the back that were used were different. In my (not very accurate) diagram, the lines 1 and 3 were emphasized in the Chiang Mai style, but 1 and 2 were the lines used in the Wat Po system.

 

Back diagram_CM

 

The greatest divergence in lines and points was in the area of the feet. The best example of this can be seen in the lines of the sole. In the Chiang Mai style I’d previously learned there were five lines that radiated from a point where the heel transitioned into the arch about midway across the foot and went toward the base of each toe. The Wat Po style had three lines that were more or less parallel in line with the big toe, middle toe, and the little toe.  See diagrams.

 

 

The Chiang Mai 5 lines of the sole.

The Chiang Mai 5 lines of the sole.

The Wat Po 3 lines of the sole.

The Wat Po 3 lines of the sole.

 

In summary, the difference between these two styles wasn’t that great. In many cases the techniques were exactly the same, in most they were marginally different, and only rarely were they completely different.  I don’t really have a preference between the two styles. I think which would be a better experience comes entirely down to the skill of the masseuse / masseur.

DAILY PHOTO: Rainy Day Playground

Taken in March of 2014 in Munnar

Taken in March of 2014 in Munnar

It was a damp and dreary day, but colorful nonetheless.

DAILY PHOTO: Romaneenart Park Gate

IMG_2095

Taken in Bangkok (Chinatown) in September of 2014.

DAILY PHOTO: Wat Arun

Taken in September of 2014 in Bangkok

Taken in September of 2014 in Bangkok

DAILY PHOTO: Swami Vivekananda in CMH Park

Taken on October 25, 2014 in CMH Park, Indiranagar, Bangalore.

Taken on October 25, 2014 in CMH Park, Indiranagar, Bangalore

Swami Vivekananda is one of India’s most famous yogis, though he lived only to the age of 39 and died about 112 years ago. Considering his short life, he was quite prolific and wrote a number of important texts on yoga. He was also instrumental in introducing yoga to the Western world. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna, and founded the Ramakrishna Maths and Missions. His name and image are ubiquitous throughout India.

BOOK REVIEW: Your Brain on Yoga by Sat Bir Kalsa

Your Brain on YogaYour Brain on Yoga by Sat Bir Khalsa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This Harvard Medical School Guide presents the findings of many scientific studies on the benefits of yoga, and it does so in a manner suitable for the layman. The book is written by Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, a long time practitioner of Kundalini Yoga and a neuroscience researcher at Harvard, and is co-authored by a science writer trained in journalism.

I became aware of Khalsa’s work when reading William Broad’s The Science of Yoga, a book that is complimentary of Dr. Khalsa and his studies—a favor which Khalsa doesn’t return as he rejects Broad’s work as being overly sensationalist. The book does talk about Khalsa’s research, such as a study with young musicians at Tanglewood that examined how the practice of yoga increased their equanimity. That said, this isn’t merely a summation of Dr. Khalsa’s work. It’s what in academia would be called a literature review, but “literature review” implies a far more dismal reading experience than one gets from this book. It does present anecdotes in a way that is useful for a layman’s book, but would not be well-respected in an academic setting. This work isn’t designed for medical colleagues but rather to be of benefit to run-of-the-mill yoga students and teachers.

This is a very short book at only about 50 pages. The book consists of five chapters after an introduction which sets the stage and gives some relevant background on Dr. Khalsa. Chapter one delves into the effect of stress on the body and mind, and how yoga (and meditation more generally) has been shown to help counter the effects of bad stress (not all stress is inherently bad, as is addressed in the chapter.) Chapter two examines the effect of yoga on the body and in countering a number of common ailments. The third chapter considers how yoga might actually help one to be smarter and more creative. Chapter four presents the results of studies of how yoga can counter depression and improve one’s mood. Chapter five is in a different vein, and might well have been included as an appendix. The last chapter gives an overview of the various types of yoga to assist readers new to yoga on what style might best meet their needs and disposition. This is a nice feature for those new to yoga, but also for veteran practitioners who’ve practiced one style and might not be aware of the wide range of styles out there. (A few of the styles mentioned are popular in India, but I don’t think are as well-known in the West.)

For such a thin book, this work covers a wide range of topics including–but not limited to–the effects of yoga on sleep, the immune system, neural plasticity, memory, math skills, and mood. A nice feature of the book is a series of brief exercises that one can practice to help reduce stress or achieve a desired goal. These practices are generally located at the end of chapters. Finally, while this book isn’t written primarily for doctors and other scientists, it’s endnoted so those interested in tracking down the studies the book references can readily do so.

I’m a big fan of applying a scientific approach to the study of ancient methods such as yoga. I would, therefore, recommend this book for yoga teachers and students who are interested how precisely these practices can assist them. It’s extremely short and easily digested. It’s in no way overbearing with medical jargon and is readily understood by anyone with a basic education in biological science.

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