My grand strategy

Today I turned 43. In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life.

IMG_1445

Today I turned 43.

The number doesn’t bother me. When I look back on my past accomplishments, both professional and academic, both modest and respectable, I’m comfortably reminded that I’ve always been a late bloomer. The great triumphs — comparatively great — always came right the end of each chapter of my life, just when the time came for me to move on and start over somewhere else. Perhaps for someone like me, with my ambitions, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every day begins with two thoughts: “There’s still a little time left. Relax.” and “Pretend this is your last day on earth because one day it will be. Work faster.” I stagger through the days wavering between those two sentiments.

At the end of 2014, I completed a master’s degree in U.S. history at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), topped off with a 190-page thesis — the cherry on the sundae. I never had so much fun — ask the people who know me … “fun” is not a word they ever expect me to use. During that last half of 2014, I attracted the attention of UTSA’s Communications office, which sent a reporter to profile me, perhaps to hold me up as an example to others, perhaps to highlight the interesting and intelligent people enriching and enriched by the UTSA’s wonderful History Department. Perhaps it was just my turn. Nevertheless, I was flattered and honored. I shamelessly shared it throughout social media, as I am now. “We are all very proud of you,” one of my beloved professors wrote me. My heart burst with teary pride — the rarest of my few expressed emotions.

The best part of the article came right at the beginning. The first paragraph captured the grand strategy I set out for my life: “At an early age, [Ortiz] charted the life he wanted to lead: journalist, academic scholar and author.” At some point in my twenties — not sure when, exactly, but probably as I began to seriously study history and biography — I determined to approach life with a larger consideration: “How will I be remembered?” I knew enough to know that a great legacy was constructed with small pieces, carried one small step at a time, and sometimes at first only imperfectly constructed. I held close to my heart a few simple rules. Never turn away from a challenge. Never shrink away from leaping out of your comfort zone into unknown terrain. Never decline the opportunity to fail. Never fail to learn from those failures. All are easy to say and painfully difficult to follow.

In early 2015, I was honored when Dr. Catherine Clinton, a leading Civil War scholar, asked me to assist her with some special research for a few months. Just as that ended, I was honored yet again with an offer to actually teach U.S. history to college undergraduates at Northwest Vista College and then again at UTSA in 2016. Solitary research and writing — annotated bibliographies, briefing memos, etc. — is ideal for someone as shy as me. Teaching and discussing U.S. history with 70 to 80 young men and women is not. I stood in those classrooms and wondered how I could teach these young men and women. My comfort zone was nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, I knew when I accepted the challenge that I was undertaking the most difficult and the most important job of my life. Perhaps someday I might actually be good at it (though student applause is always reassuring). These are a few of those crucial pieces of the larger something I am trying to build, just as the men and women who came before me struggled to build their own lives, faced down their challenges and fears, and took one more step forward.

My Peruvian great-grandfather was prosperous fisherman who owned a fishing fleet. His son, my grandfather, was an Army general and special forces commander. His son, my father, is a physician. My father’s son — me — is … what? I was blessed with generous, loving, and supportive parents, who always pushed my brother and me to succeed. They trusted us to find our own way within their explicit expectations. It was assumed that we would become productive and honorable men as we kept in mind who built the comfortable world we inhabited. My interests guided me toward history, literature, and psychology. My mind naturally blossomed as historical concepts, literary theory, psychopathology, and the hourly drama of news cycles all caressed, molded, and ignited my growing intellect and imagination. But I realized that some kind of structure was needed. Simply wandering through my interests was not enough — it all had to amount to something in the end, something my descendants would look back on and admire … and perhaps emulate.

In some small way, this blog is an expression of that grand strategy. I’ve written about and shared with my readers my love of podcasts and photography, of the Civil War and fiction writing. I’ve shared with them a plethora of strange stories and documentaries, thoughts about Hemingway, rum cakes, books, and TR. They’ve experienced my passion for “Miami Vice”, Elvis, a Louisiana woman fleeing Union invasion during the Civil War, and a Cuban woman who disguised herself as a man and savored every moment of that same brutal war. Each piece fits into the larger plan.

In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life. Every failure becomes simply the moment when a fresh opportunity is revealed to me. Every hard-earned success merely offers a better vantage point on the harsh terrain ahead. As I move into this new year, from my new vantage point I can take in a horridly-jagged landscape stretching out before my eyes, seemingly endless, on into the horizon. But that far-off horizon is gleaming. The shimmering edges are only now in sight, the barely-perceptible glitter drawing me forward, igniting the ambition filling my heart, and steeling my spirit for the disappointments, setbacks, wrong turns, and frustrations darkening the journey.

My grand strategy, glowing in my soul, burned into my mind, never leaves me. The sweet promise of a final victory — a life well-lived — is my last thought as sleep and dreams wrap their arms around me and carry me away into the silent night.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Meryl the Great / The OWS revolution / The tech election / Swallowed by a whale / Why we cry

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Deep Streep?
By Martin Filler | NYRBlog :: The New York Review of Books | Jan. 12
“Among the impenetrable mysteries of modern life is how Meryl Streep can be universally regarded as the greatest dramatic film actress of our time. In my opinion, Streep is easily at her best as a comedienne, not in the high-serious roles she has favored.”

2. Young women more involved in campaign coverage
By Ginger Gibson and Dylan Byers | Politico | Jan. 12
“As campaign ’embeds,’ they are the ones riding the candidates’ buses from state-to-state, event-to-event, recording every word out of the candidates’ mouths — good or gaffe — and filing endless daily stories about incremental developments.”

3. Revolution Number 99
By Max Chafkin | Vanity Fair | February 2012
“America was full of angry people in September 2011, when a few hundred citizens decided to make their anger count. V.F.’s oral history of Occupy Wall Street shows how the spark was lit in Zuccotti Park as a disparate, passionate mix of activists, celebrities, and accidental protesters changed the national conversation.”

4. Project Dreamcatcher
By Sasha Issenberg | Slate | Jan. 13
“How cutting-edge text analytics can help the Obama campaign determine voters’ hopes and fears.”

5. Swallowed by a whale — a true tale?
By Ben Shattuck | Salon | Jan. 15
“Everyone knows the story of Jonah. But my quest was to find evidence that man, gulped whole, had really survived”

6. My partner says I am too loud in bed
By Pamela Stephenson Connolly | Sexual Healing :: The Guardian | Jan. 15
“There’s nothing wrong with you, but you may want to explore some options that work for both of you”

7. The 2012 tech primary
By Kim Hart | Politico | Jan. 16
“The tech giants are offering candidates new ways to advertise — Mitt Romney has spots on YouTube and Rick Perry’s Facebook ads target Christian college kids in South Carolina — and hiring political consultants, sponsoring debates and poaching from each other’s ad sales teams to jockey for the top spot in political social media circles.”

8. Are Child Molesters Really the Most Hated People in Prison?
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | November 2011
“They’re tied with snitches.”

9. This much I know: 50 Cent
By Luke Bainbridge | The Observer | December 2009
“The rapper, 34, in his own words”

10. This Vale of Tears
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | January 2011
“Is it true that women’s tears contain an enzyme that can be released only by crying, meaning they are quicker to cry under emotional stress?”

**************

TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. SET ADRIFT ON MEMORY BLISS P.M. Dawn
2. SLOWMOTION Kinobe
3. MORE THAN THIS Charlie Hunter & Norah Jones
4. UNDERTOW Ivy
5. SUNLIGHT IN THE RAIN Kelli Ali
6. LETTING GO Nitin Sawhney
7. FUTURES Zero 7
8. CAN’T GET YOU OFF MY MIND Lenny Kravitz
9. SURE THING St. Germain
10. I’VE GOT A CAT Method

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Military spouses / Recession’s mental toll / OWS adrfit / Obama at the center / Sex on a plane

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Help for military spouses
By Laura Dempsey | Politico | Jan. 12
“Underemployment among military spouses, who are more educated on average than their peers, remains rampant. These are dismal numbers even in today’s struggling economy.”

2. Fighting the Last War
By Elizabeth Dickinson | Washington Monthly | Janurary/February 2012
“As president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe triumphed over a fierce narco-insurgency. Then the U.S. helped to export his strategy to Mexico and throughout Latin America. Here’s why it’s not working.”

3. The depressing toll of the Great Recession
By Rob Waters | Salon | Jan. 11
“Mental health problems mount nationwide while budgets for treatment and care are shrinking”

4. After encampment ends, NYC Occupiers become nomads
By Meghan Barr | Associated Press | Jan. 12
“Amid accusations of drug use and sporadic theft, they’ve been sleeping on church pews for weeks, consuming at least $20,000 of the funds that Occupy Wall Street still has in its coffers.”

5. America and the Middle East: What Lies Ahead
By Ray Suarez | America Abroad Media | January 2012
“With American troops out of Iraq and leaving Afghanistan – what will America’s ‘strong presence’ in the region look like? ”

6. The center is back — and Obama needs to be there
By Mark Penn | The Hill | Jan. 11
“The center is back. After a year in which it looked like the Republican Party was headed to the extremes with Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and then Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney … took 49 percent of the Republicans who voted in the New Hampshire open primary.”

7. This much I know: Juliette Lewis
By Ben Mitchell | The Observer | November 2009
“The actress and singer, 36, in her own words”

8. Casting Inshallah
Al Jazeera World | December 2011
“An insight into life in a Moroccan town where many locals make a living as film extras for major Hollywood productions.”

9. The Water Cure
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | September 2010
“Why do they tell you to drink extra fluids when you are sick? Does it really do any good?”

10. ‘The Captain Requests That All Zippers Be Returned to the Upright Position’
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | September 2011
“How are flight attendants supposed to deal with fornicating passengers?”

**************

TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:

1. SAMBA PARA TI Santana
2. BIRTHDAY PERFORMANCE Tito Puente
3. PUEBLO NUEVO Ruben Gonzalez
4. LA CUMBIA DEL MOLE Lila Downs
5. LA SOLEDAD Pink Martini
6. COMPOSITOR CONFUNDIDO Ibrahim Ferrer
7. LA RAZA Kid Frost
8. TI MON BO Tito Puente
9. ALMENDRA Ruben Gonzalez
10. EL CARRETERO Eliades Ochoa

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Vets cope with injuries / Bachmann’s implosion / Daily health care deals / The narcissist / Don’t mention George W. Bush

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Acting Out War’s Inner Wounds
By James Dao | The New York Times | Jan. 1
“The roadside bomb that separated Sgt. Matthew Pennington from his left leg in 2006 also shattered his right leg and scorched his lungs. Those injuries he understood. But then came the ones he did not, the ones inside his head.”

2. Topic: Why did Michele Bachmann implode?
By David Mark | The Arena :: Politico | December 2011
Weigh in on her political rollercoaster ride.

3. Uninsured turn to daily deal sites for health care
By Joseph Pisani | Associated Press | Jan. 1
“Merchants like the deals because it gives them exposure and a pop in business. Customers use them to try something new, to save money on something they already use, or both.”

4. The Dreamers
Activate :: Al Jazeera | October 2011
“Viridiana Martinez only found out that she is considered ‘illegal’ upon graduating from high school and discovering that she could not work or apply to colleges. … But now Viridiana is fighting back — openly declaring her ‘illegal’ status. …”

5. Behind the Facade: The ‘False Self’ of the Narcissist
By Randi Kreger | Psychology Today | November 2011
“Narcissists can’t differentiate between their mask and their true self”

6. For the Depressed, Mothers Matter More
Big Think | December 2011
“Depressed people react more strongly to photos of their mother than healthy individuals, according to new research.”

7. Keeping Greens Green
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | November 2011
“When greengrocers drench vegetables with water every few minutes, does it keep them fresh or hasten spoilage?”

8. Carter’s advice to Obama: Don’t alienate voters
By Greg Bluestein | Associated Press | Jan. 3
“Carter said: ‘If your main goal is to get re-elected, avoid a controversial subject as much as you can in the first term.’ ”

9. George W. Bush barely mentioned in GOP campaign
By Beth Fouhy | Associated Press | Jan. 3
“While the candidates routinely lionize Ronald Reagan and blame President Barack Obama for the nation’s economic woes, none has been eager to embrace the Bush legacy of gaping budget deficits, two wars and record low approval ratings — or blame him for the country’s troubles either.”

10. Civil War women: Laura Towne
Civil War Women Blog | November 2011
“Begun in 1862, the Port Royal Experiment, the first large-scale government effort to help the newly freed slaves. Northern women like Laura Towne and Charlotte Forten volunteered, and made it their mission to educate the freedmen and prepare them for economic independence.”

For the political nerds out there …

Watching the numbers from Iowa come in.

… You can find the AP’s vote tally from the Iowa Caucus right here, via NPR News. You can also review the data straight from the Iowa GOP. Refresh both pages every few moments.

It’s fascinating to watch. First Santorum is in the lead, now Paul, then Romney. And who the hell voted for Herman Cain? Now those are fanatics.

Also keep an eye on AP’s main story from Iowa, along with everyone’s tweets using the hashtag #iacaucus.

Don’t forget to add your two cents to that Twitter feed. Don’t let Iowa have all the fun.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Math gender gap / Herringbone sportcoats / Artistic genius / Stopping college suicide / Why balloons?

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. ID errors put hundreds in L.A. County jails
By Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard | Los Angeles Times | Dec. 25
“Wrongful incarcerations totaled 1,480 in the last five years, a Times inquiry finds.”

2. Martin Sheen, Family (Filmmaking) Man
By Melena Ryzik | Carpetbagger :: The New York Times | Dec. 20
“I’m not a student of politics. I played a politician. I have no interest in politics.”

3. Anything Boys Can Do…
By Sharon Begley | The New Republic | Dec. 26
“Biology may play only a minor role in the math gender gap”

4. The Casual Herringbone Sportcoat
By Grant Harris | The Primer | November 2011
“Herringbone is one of the safest ways to go for guys who are wary of getting too busy with patterns.”

5. Why Mozart Rocks So Hard. Artistic Genius Explained
By Megan Erickson | Big Think | Dec. 20
“Why is ‘The Magic Flute’ so enduring, while other classical compositions have been forgotten?”

6. Colleges and suicide threats: when to call home?
By Justin Pope | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“The issue of when colleges should notify parents their adult children may be suicidal remains fraught with legal, medical and ethical dilemmas. College policies, state laws and professional codes of conduct vary widely – and occasionally conflict.”

7. Birds of a Feather
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | June 2009
“How do birds know which species they are? That is, how do they recognize one another so they can flock together?”

8. Pakistan: The New Radicals
By Oliver Englehart | Activate :: Al Jazeera | October 2011
“Ali Abbas travels around Pakistan tackling fanaticism, but can he make a difference?”

9. This Party’s Blowin’ Up
By Forrest Wickman | Explainer :: Slate | Dec. 13
“Why do we celebrate with balloons?”

10. Chanel No. 5
Witness :: BBC News | May 24
“In 1921 the most famous perfume ever, was launched in France.”

**************

TUNES

Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. Rob Paparozzi — She’s Too Good For Me
2. WSNB — True Love
3. Mr. TBA — Dirty Dog
4. Pat Green — Somewhere Between Texas & Mexico
5. Daddy Long Legs — Use Me
6. Gary Moore — Still Got The Blues For You
7. Bob Segar — Come to Papa
8. Tinsley Ellis — Grow a Pair
9. Kevin Ball — On the Streets of Mexico
10. Coco Montoya — Same Dog
11. Stevie Ray Vaughan — Superstition
12. The Homemade Jamz Blues Band — Hard Headed Woman
13. Rick Fowler — Walk Softly

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

How to pack / Voyager 1 / 9/11 myths / Iowa’s ad wars / Thatcher’s 1981 crisis

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Guapura 101: How to pack for a long trip
By Sara Ines Calderon | NewsTaco | Dec. 26
“Many of us are either currently on a vacation, or will be taking one soon, and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a tip that I learned a few years ago that has made packing much easier.”

2. Iowa ad war: late starting but nasty
By Beth Fouhy | Associated Press | Dec. 29
“At least $12.5 million and counting has blanketed the airwaves ahead of next Tuesday’s Republican presidential caucuses, with hard-hitting commercials awash in ghoulish images and startling claims. Most are coming from a proliferation of new independent groups aligned with the candidates.”

3. Newly released files detail Thatcher’s 1981 crisis
By David Stringer | Associated Press | Dec. 29
“Official records for 1981 released by the National Archives depict a prime minister grappling with violent dissent, rising tensions in Northern Ireland and sharp criticism from her own allies. The papers were being made public just five days before the London premiere of ‘The Iron Lady,’ the film about Thatcher’s career starring Meryl Streep.”

4. Voyager 1 Speeds Toward The Brink Of Interstellar Space
By Bill Chappell | The Two-Way :: NPR | Dec. 28
“The craft is currently in what NASA calls, not undramatically, ‘the boundary between the solar wind from the Sun and the interstellar wind from death-explosions of other stars,’ an area that astrophysicists also call, less dramatically, a stagnation layer.”

5. Baby Bird Alert
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | July 2009
“When you find a baby bird on the ground, what should you do to rescue it?”

6. How to Stop a Multinational
By Rodrigo Vazquez | Activate :: Al Jazeera | October 2011
“Three Argentinians put themselves in harm’s way as they try to stop a gold mining company destroying their environment.”

7. DWI Versus DW-High
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | Nov. 30
“Is it more dangerous to drive drunk or stoned?”

8. Five myths about 9/11
By Brian Michael Jenkins | Five Myths :: The Washington Post | Sept. 2
“We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda launched its horrific attacks on the United States. In the decade since, no number of commissions, books, films and reports has been able to end the misconceptions about what 9/11 meant, America’s response to it and the nature of the ongoing threat.”

9. Civil War women: Olivia Clemens
Civil War Women Blog | Nov. 14
“Olivia Langdon Clemens was the wife of the famous American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and was a major influence on his writing.”

10. Italian Bombing of Libya – 1911
Witness :: BBC News | May 10
“A young Italian flyer describes in a letter home how he mounted the world’s first ever aerial bombing run during an attack on Ottoman forces in Libya, in 1911.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Romney’s way / The sexual marriage / The Mexican crimefighter / Fear of divorce / Mistletoe’s secrets

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. No votes, but things seem to be going Romney’s way
By Steve Peoples | Associated Press | Dec. 21
“[H]is preferred scenario is looking more plausible now, thanks to Ron Paul’s helpful ascent, Newt Gingrich’s slide and fractures among conservatives who have not rallied behind an alternative to Romney.”

2. Sex And Marriage: The Secret To Better Sex With Your Spouse
By Margaret Paul | The Huffington Post | Dec. 20
“Love-making in long-term relationships is the result of loving energy flowing between two people. If something is blocking this loving energy, the sexual energy between them often gets blocked as well.”

3. iProtest
By James Leong and Lynn Lee | Activate :: Al Jazeera | September 2011
“Activist Debby Chan takes on one of the world’s favourite brands in her fight for workers’ rights.”

4. A Crime Fighter Draws Plaudits, and Scrutiny
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | Dec. 23
“Like a boxer or wrestler, he treats his tough-guy image as a necessary tactic. In Tijuana, he punched a dead cartel gunman in the face as bystanders watched.”

5. Is Fear of Divorce Keeping People from Getting Married?
By Belinda Luscombe | Healthland :: Time | Dec. 22
“A new study suggests that young cohabiting couples are saying ‘I don’t’ so as to avoid the heavy toll of divorce”

6. Using Gmail’s Canned Responses
By J.D. Biersdorfer | Gadgetwise :: The New York Times | Nov. 2
“If you are tired of sending out the same e-mail response from your Gmail account … the Canned Responses feature from Gmail Labs can save some time and typing”

7. What’s the Deal With Mistletoe?
By Christopher Beam | Explainer :: Slate | Dec. 14
“How the plant came to be associated with Christmas kissing”

8. Sinaloa cartel OK’s Mexico’s newest drug ballads
By Galia Garcia-Palafox | Associated Press | Dec. 21
“The songs are filled with unusually explicit lyrics about decapitations and torture, and praise for one drug gang in particular: the Sinaloa cartel and its bosses, Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada and Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.”

9. My too-demanding overseas job makes me want to go home
Troubleshooter :: The Yomiuri Shimbun | Dec. 16
“There are so many things I want to do but haven’t done yet in the country where I live and work now, so I’m reluctant to leave everything behind. As a result, I feel mortified about using my sickness as an excuse to go back to Japan, and can’t forgive myself. What should I do? ”

10. The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan
Witness :: BBC News | March 22
“When the Taleban were in control of Afghanistan they decreed that the largest standing statues of Buddha in the world were un-Islamic. It took them several weeks to destroy them using high explosives.”

**************

TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. NADIE LLORE Pepe Castillo & Cuatromania
2. JONNY’S BUGALU Grupo X
3. LA NATURALEZA Ismael Miranda & Andrés Jiménez
4. MENTIROSA Louie Ramirez & Ray de la Paz
5. BALCON DE SANTIAGO Compay Segundo
6. MALAGUENA SALEROSA Chingon
7. EL WATUSI Ray Barretto
8. JUVENTUD DEL PRESENTE Tito Puente
9. GUAGUANCO CALLEJERO Ibrahim Ferrer
10. TUMBAO PA’CHANGUITO Orlando “Maraca” Valle

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Gingrich and Clinton / Christmas stress / Marine recalls coming home / Teaching James Franco / SAD songs

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Gingrich, Clinton had stormy partnership
By Laurie Kellman | Associated Press | Dec. 22
“To hear Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich tell it, he and Democratic President Bill Clinton were political partners in the 1990s, lowering unemployment, balancing the federal budget and keeping the nation’s economy in robust health.”

2. Brain strain: Christmas shopping when money tight
By Malcom Ritter | Associated Press | Dec. 18
“Plenty of Americans are having to hold back this year as the lure of flashy ads, tempting bargains and family expectations clashes with the realities of the economy. Experts in consumer behavior say that situation can strain the brain.”

3. Coming Home: A Marine Officer Remembers His Tours In Iraq
By Benjamin Busch | The Daily Beast | Dec. 19
“A Marine officer who served two tours of duty shares memories of his time in Iraq and what the return home has meant.”

4. What It’s Like To Be James Franco’s Professor
By R. John Williams | Slate | Dec. 20
“His English professor at Yale reveals that the actor rarely missed a discussion, even when filming in Detroit.”

5. Twenty Songs To Go With Your Seasonal Affective Disorder
By Dave Bry | The Awl | Dec. 22
Leonard Cohen, Bill Withers, Stone Temple Pilots, Bruce Springsteen and more.

6. Q&A: Locking Up a USB Drive
By J.D. Biersdorfer | Gadgetwise :: The New York Times | Nov. 2
“Q: I like to transfer files between machines with a portable USB drive. Is there a way to protect this drive with a password in case I ever lose it?”

7. Learn From A Dog: 15 Life Lessons From Your Pet
The Huffington Post | Dec. 22
“Dogs tend to be happy, active and well rested — things we could all stand to learn.”

8. Why women need fat
By Hannah Tepper | Salon | Dec. 18
“Evolution shows that women’s dieting beliefs aren’t just unrealistic — they’re unnatural. An expert explains.”

9. My overworked wife is becoming increasingly bitter toward me
Troubleshooter :: The Yomiuri Shimbun | Dec. 16
“I’m tired of trying to hold my feelings in and am beginning to wonder if I have to continue living like this. Please give me some advice about how I should deal with my wife.”

10. The death of Kurt Cobain
Witness :: BBC News | April 5
“In April 1994 the lead singer of the grunge rock band Nirvana was found dead in his home in Seattle.”

**************

TUNES

Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. Blue Condition — Lady from the Delta
2. Boogie Bone — Don’t Mean a Thing
3. Alejandro Escovedo — Castanets
4. Robert Earl Keen — Throwin’ Rocks
5. Bobby Blue Bland — Let’s Straighten It Out
6. Philosopher Stone — Sweet Charity
7. Dr. Wu — I Don’t Need No Woman Like You
8. Joe Bonamassa — Walking Blues
9. Lost Immigrants — Genevieve
10. The Insomniacs — 20-20
11. Zack Walther & The Conkites — Georgia Cane

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Great iPhone apps / Smarties’ gadgets / Bachelor pad essentials / Writers’ libraries / Octopus intellect

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Some New Little Treasures for the iPhone
By Bob Tedeschi | The New York Times | Dec. 21
“If you really want to turbocharge your device, combine these with last year’s picks. … Like last year’s list, this one includes many free picks.”

2. The Indispensable Gadgets of the World’s Smartest People
By Larry Greenemeier | Scientific American | Dec. 21
“We ask our board of advisers to choose the technologies that they could not live without.”

3. Nine Essentials for the Perfect Bachelor Pad
By Michael Carl | Carl’s Crush :: Vanity Fair | Dec. 21
“So here are the nine things you need to create the perfect apartment for ‘company’ (I’m trying to avoid saying ‘getting laid,’ O.K.?).”

4. Writers and Their Books: Inside Famous Authors’ Personal Libraries
By Maria Popova | The Atlantic | Dec. 21
“As a hopeless bibliophile, an obsessive lover of bookcases, and a chronic pursuer of voyeuristic peeks inside the minds of creators, I’m utterly spellbound by Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books — a vicarious journey into the personal libraries of thirteen favorite authors. …”

5. Trial of the Will
Vanity Fair | January 2012
“Reviewing familiar principles and maxims in the face of mortal illness, Christopher Hitchens has found one of them increasingly ridiculous: ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’ Oh, really?”

6. The Gulf War
By Raffi Khatchadourian | The New Yorker | March 14
“Were there any heroes in the BP oil disaster”

7. Deep Intellect
By Sy Montgomery | Orion Magazine | Nov./Dec. 2011
“Inside the mind of an octopus”

8. India, China Show Military Grit
By Nitin Gokhale | The Diplomat | Dec. 22
“The latest defense dialogue between the Chinese and Indian militaries had some constructive ideas for improving military ties. Can they follow through?”

9. Analysis: Republicans risk backlash in 2012
By Tim Reid | Reuters | Dec. 21
“This week’s tense standoff over how to extend payroll tax cuts for 160 million Americans offered an unflattering look at how conservative House Republicans occasionally have overreached in avoiding compromise, lawmakers, strategists and analysts say.”

10. Reagan assassination attempt
Witness :: BBC News | March 30
“On 30 March 1981, there was an attempt to assassinate the US President.”