All posts by Erik Heter

In my professional life I am a patent agent, writing and prosecuting patent applications in the field of electrical engineering for high-tech corporate clients. In my home life I am a husband and a father of one son, football fan (the American kind, that is), a reader of history and many other things (avidly when time permits) and a lover of music (progressive rock in particular), among other things.

Tool de Force: Tool’s New ‘Fear Inoculum’ Was Worth the Wait

We’ve been waiting.  Oh man, have we been waiting – over thirteen years, to be exact.  I fear-inoculumhad begun to believe that the title of the their last album – 10,000 Days – was Tool telegraphing us the time it would take to see the next one.  Thankfully, they beat that by a good fourteen years.  Better yet, what they have finally delivered has made the wait all the more worth it.

Fear Inoculum – the digital version, anyway – clocks in at a hefty one hour and twenty-seven minutes.  Not only is the album itself long, but six of the album’s ten tracks eclipse the 10-minute mark, with the longest clocking in at over fifteen.  But it’s not merely the duration of the album or that of the individual tracks that is significant here.  Every second counts on Fear Inoculum, which is more consistent in its excellence from start to finish than any of their previous releases.

Lyrically, the album continues the trend of introspection and contemplation started on 2001’s Lateralus, while dispensing with the rage-fueled catharsis of previous works dealing with institutional decay (Intolerance), the decadence of Los Angeles (Aeneima), or humanity’s lamentable will to fight each other over any and everything (Right in Two).  On Fear Inoculum, Tool focuses in on the inner struggle of facing one’s fears (the title track, 7empest) and dealing with one’s aging and mortality (Invincible, Descending).

From a musical perspective, Fear Inoculum is stunning in its quality.  The soloing in Adam Jones guitar work is as dynamic as its every been, while in plenty of other places he dishes out scores of power chords as meaty as a thick, sizzling ribeye.  Danny Carey’s drumming exceeds even his own typical excellence, combining the rhythmic intricacy of Bill Bruford at his best while also employing plenty of Bonham-esque heavy thuds right when appropriate.  Justin Chancellor’s bass work provides a nice, thick bottom to the music, wrapping perfectly around Carey’s drumming while keeping the listener engaged in guessing where the next beat will fall.

Although the album is stacked with good tracks, there are two in particular that stand out for me.  Invincible is the first of these tracks.  This one is positively infectious; it just gets into your bloodstream.  The first seven minutes are a textbook example of slowly building tension.   After the explosion, the song slows down, although Carery’s heavy drumming is active underneath, before the band makes one final, mad dash to the finish line.  Throughout, the aging warrior tries to hang on to what was as Father Time strips it away.

Tears in my eyes chasing Ponce de Leon’s phantoms.
So filled with hope I can taste mythical fountains.
False hope, perhaps,
But the truth never got in my way before now.
Feel the sting. Feeling time bearing down.

7empest is the penultimate track on the album and possibly the ultimate track in Tool’s catalog.  In its fifteen-plus minutes of running time, it encapsulates virtually everything that makes Tool great.  After a delicate intro of about a minute and a half, Jones guitar snarls and lets the listener know that go time is rapidly approaching.  Carey’s drums join in, and soon enough, the band punches it, the g-forces pushing the listener back into their seat from the sudden acceleration.  The music builds to a first climax, before transitioning into a middle phase notable for Jones’ hypnotic, exotic soloing.  Meanwhile, Carey’s drumming and Chancellor’s bass work provide a solid underpinning.  A brief, (relatively) mellow interlude follows before the song picks up the pace and the band brings it to a close.  It’s a very satisfying listen.

In fact, the whole album is a very satisfying listen.  Fear Inoculum is an album that breaks enough new ground to sound fresh while still having the recognizable Tool tool-fear-inoculumsound.  Lyrically, it is by far the most mature album they have made, perhaps owing to the wisdom accumulated over the years (most definitely including those from the last album to this one).  After such a long delay, it’s fair to wonder when we will see the next Tool album, much less if we’ll see another Tool album.  Should this turn out to be Tool’s swan song, they will have gone out on the highest of high notes.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

The Realignment – A Podcast

I’ve been interested in the 50,000 foot view of what has been going on in the last several years politically and culturally with respect to things like the election of Trump, Brexit, the populist surge sweeping across Europe, an so on.  Also, I am a podcast junkie, and listen to quite a number of them on a regular basis – arguably too many.  Although I need to add yet another podcast to my list just slightly less than I need a really bad case of malaria, I have nevertheless stumbled across one that is particularly suitable for the interests discussed above – The Realignment, which you can find at the link.  The first and only episode (so far) is an absolutely fascinating interview with JD Vance, who was the author of the equally fascinating Hillbilly Elegy from 2016.  If you are into podcasts and into understanding what’s going on in the world right now, then this is one you won’t want to miss.

Apollo 11 and The Lost Frontier

“It would be very interesting to speculate on what the human imagination is going to do with a frontierless world where it must seek its inspiration in uniformity rather than variety, in sameness rather than contrast, in safety rather than peril, in probing the harmless nuances of the known rather than the thundering uncertainties of unknown seas or continents. The dreamers, the poets, and the philosophers are after all but instruments which make vocal and articulate the hopes and aspirations and the fears of a people.

The people are going to miss the frontier more than words can express. For four centuries they heard its call, listened to its promises, and bet their lives and fortunes on its outcome.  It calls no more” – Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier

Webb’s prediction was correct, just as he feared.

We do miss the frontier more than words can express.  We miss it so much that few can even contemplate its absence.  But clearly, something is amiss.  The political earthquakes presently rumbling across the planet are just symptoms of something bigger.  Sure, we can validly attribute a multitude of causes to the present day state of the world.  But undoubtedly, we miss the frontier.  Man, do we ever.

Fifty years ago this July 20th, a five year old boy (yours truly) stood ossified in front of a black and white television in a living room in Lewiston, Idaho.  While he didn’t fully appreciate the significance of what was happening, he knew it was a big deal.  The cues from the adults in the room were ample evidence of that. Apollo 11 Buzz

What the moment led to was a lifelong interest in space exploration, which included the devouring of one book after another on the topic, building plastic models of spacecraft, flying model rockets, and anything else that could satiate my appetite for all things space.  More than that though, it created a hopeful anticipation for a certain future, a future of unlimited possibilities.  Unfortunately, that future has yet to arrive.  As Andy Tillison of the British progressive rock band The Tangent stated, the future was not as good as the book.  Or, as venture capitalist Peter Thiel surmised, “we were promised flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”  Queue the golf clap.

What happened to us since that glorious day 50 years ago?

Continue reading Apollo 11 and The Lost Frontier

Into the Mind of an Addict – A Review of The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life of a Shattered Rock Star, by Nikki Sixx

I always knew I’d do book reviews here someday.  What I didn’t anticipate is that the very first one would be a book authored by Nikki Sixx, whose claim to fame is as the bassist of the now-retired heavy metal band Mötley Crüe.  Spirit of Cecilia is not the placeHeroin Diaries you would expect to find a review of a book authored by a heavy metal musician, particularly one from a band with a reputation as notorious as the one which is his claim to fame.  Yet, for reasons I will discuss below, this powerful book is more relevant today than upon its original publication in 2007, and maybe even relative to the 10th Anniversary Edition (the one I read) released in 2017.

As the title suggests, the bulk of The Heroin Diaries is just that – entries in a diary.  In particular, these are diary entries recorded by Sixx between Christmas 1986 and Christmas 1987, while he was in the midst of a vicious heroin addiction.  It was an addiction that nearly cost him his life – and in fact did, for two minutes on December 23, 1987, before a determined paramedic revived him with two adrenaline shots to the heart.  Interspersed the book’s diary entries are contemporaneous thoughts and accounts from people around Sixx, including bandmates, managers, and his mother (with whom his relationship was strained, to put it mildly), among others.

The opening entry finds Sixx alone in his mansion on Christmas Day 1986, shooting up, or as he describes it, “watching [his] holiday spirit coagulating in a spoon.”  It’s not hyperbole to call it a depressing beginning.  The events of the year that follows include the recording of an album, a tour, numerous misadventures, and an absolutely insane amount of drug consumption. This drug consumption went well beyond just the heroin which had him in its grip.  It was the rock star lifestyle on steroids.

The diary entries range from lucid and clear-headed at one extreme to the mad ramblings of a mind spiraling out of control at the other.  The more lucid entries show Sixx as someone keenly aware of being captive to something from which he desperately wants to be free.  There is a point in the year in which he was able to get away from heroin in particular and drugs in general for ten days or so, but eventually the addiction sucks him back into its vortex.  With regard to the more rambling entries, we find Sixx often times consumed by paranoia, hiding in his closet or flushing his stash (and effectively, hundreds of dollars) down the toilet for fear of being watched through his windows by the police, only to realize later that nothing of the sort actually occurred.  This is followed in some instances by calling his dealer to obtain more drugs, becoming paranoid again after getting high, flushing the drugs again … you know the drill.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

As a quick aside, one of the criticisms I have seen from a few reviewers of this book is that it somehow glorifies or glamorizes addiction.  That opinion is, for the lack of a better term, bat-shinola crazy.  Many of the various diary entries and associated anecdotes in the book range from repulsive, disgusting, to horrifying, to heartbreaking, and other emotions that are far removed from anything resembling glamour.  Nobody with a modicum of sanity would find glamour in drug addiction after reading this book. 

Among the cast of characters surrounding Sixx in his race into hell are numerous enablers that will enrage the reader.  Chief among them are the record company types and assorted managers and others who were only too happy to indulge Sixx in his addiction as long as the band (for which he was the main creative force) was making them money.  Then there are the dealers who made their living by preying on Sixx’s weakness.  I’ll except his bandmates from this dishonorable mention, since all of them were dealing with their own demons at the time.  This applies most keenly to the band’s guitarist (Mick Mars) who has long suffered from a particularly debilitating form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis.

On the flip side, a hero of note in the book is a man named Allen Kovac, Sixx’s personal manager.  Subsequent to the events of the diaries themselves, Sixx had one brief relapse with heroin in which Kovac issued an ultimatum – you can work with me or you can have your heroin.  But not both.  In one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for Sixx, Kovac’s tough love served as the catalyst for his final break from this nasty drug, and was instrumental in leading to full sobriety. 

While the diary portion is extremely tough reading, Sixx’s chronicling of his life subsequent to the events of 1987 serves as a happy and uplifting ending.  As he states in the book, the beauty is in the recovery.  In the 10th Anniversary edition, the “posthumous” adventures, as he calls them, come in two parts, the first leading up to the book’s original 2007 publication, and the second covering the remaining time up to 2017. 

Reading through the author’s description of his post-addiction life, it is at times hard to reconcile that it’s written by the same person who scribbled the diary entries describing the insanity of Christmas 1986 to Christmas 1987.  While some of difference can be attributed to wisdom and maturity gained over the years, it is also apparent that the clarity of a completely sober mind is a significant (if not the dominant) factor.  At the end of the story we find Sixx enjoying marriage and fatherhood far more than he ever enjoyed any rock star excess, and we find a man indulging in creative passions including his love of photography instead of sinking into a debilitating drug addiction.  The contrast between the Nikki Sixx of today and the one from 1987 could not be more striking.

Ultimately, The Heroin Diaries is a story of redemption.

One might wonder why Sixx would chose to bare his soul as he did in The Heroin Diaries; why he would want to show himself at his absolute worst.  Some of this undoubtedly is spurred by the opioid crisis currently ravaging parts of the country.  Understandably, as a recovering addict, he wants to help others through prevention and recovery.  On the prevention side, a reading of the entries in his diary would be more than enough to dissuade almost anybody from trying heroin, cocaine, or other hard drugs.  On the recovery side, the reader will know that if Sixx can climb out of the hole he was in then there is hope for anyone that truly wants to break the chains of addiction.  The opioid crisis will be solved one person at a time, by preventing people from starting down the road Sixx traveled and by demonstrating to present addicts and those around them that their situation, no matter how bad it seems, is not hopeless.  With lives being ruined and families being torn apart by the scourge of opioid addiction, this message is needed now more than ever.

Thank you for sharing, Nikki.

 

3 Up, 3 Down (Softly)

Elon Musk catches a lot of grief, and to be fair, much of it is well-deserved.  But if there is one of his endeavors for which I am an unequivocal fanboy and for which he is performing an unqualified good, it’s SpaceX.  Where various NASA contractors have dumped almost $12 billion for the Space Launch System and haven’t even a single flight to show for it, Musk and Co. spent a mere $500 million of private money (no, that’s not much in terms of rocket development) and came up with the Falcon Heavy, currently the world’s most powerful launch vehicle.  Tonight, it made it’s second successful flight, launching a commercial payload into orbit, while successfully landing all three booster stages, two at Cape Canaveral and one on a barge at sea.  Bravo to Elon, bravo to everybody at SpaceX, and bravo to the private sector, which now runs rings around government sponsored space programs.  More, please.

For those that want U.S. troops to remain in Syria …

Since President Trump announced he would be pulling out U.S. troops from Syria, there has been an exceptional amount of caterwauling from the chattering classes and various politicians.  Some of it has gotten to the point of ridiculousness – passive-aggressive call for a coup (by Erick Erickson), talk of impeachment – and most of it is over the top, as if pulling 2000 troops out of a mid-East country with little, if any, strategic value to the U.S. is somehow a disaster.

Much of this comes from the usual suspects, the neocon interventionists, who never see a conflict on the world stage they are not willing to send other Americans to fight (I’m looking at you, Bill Kristol).  Some of it comes from people who, without any guiding principle, want to be on the opposite side of the president, irrespective of the issue (see Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign was rooted in opposing the Iraq War, now insisting Trump is making a mistake by discontinuing our intervention in Syria).  And some of it descends into the area of being bat-shinola craziness, like Rachel Maddow’s insistence that the motivation for the president’s withdrawal of troops is being in the pocket of Vladmir Putin (pass the tinfoil, please).

For those of you that oppose this withdrawal, all hope is not lost.  There are several things you can do.

First of all, you can call on congress to officially declare war (and if you are in congress, you can call on your colleagues to put such a motion to the floor and put your ‘yea’ vote on the record).  If keeping 2000 American troops in Syria is that important, you should have no issue calling on congress to do its constitutionally prescribed duty of taking an up or down vote on declaring war.  If you are actually in congress and are now complaining about the withdrawal (see Rubio, Marco; Graham, Lindsey), instead of advocating for war while putting all the responsibility on the president to make the decision, take control of the situation yourself in a manner that is constitutionally authorized and carries virtually no legal risk to you.  For both groups mentioned here (including the overlap), your failure to call for a congressional declaration of war speaks volumes – and undermines your case, badly.

You can also show how important you believe it is to keep our troops in the Middle East by putting some skin in the game, to use terminology increasingly popularized thanks to Nicholas Taleb.  If you are of military eligible age, stop complaining and head to the recruiters office.  Tell them you want to sign up today, leave for boot camp as soon as possible, and request to be sent to one of the many combat zones in which the U.S. has troops, for whatever reason.  It’s easy, really easy, to say we need to intervene here and there for whatever reason.  It’s much harder to say it when you are the one there, when you are the one with bullets flying past your head never knowing if the next one might hit it, watching your fellow soldiers losing lives and limbs.

Now, if you are not of military age, but say, have kids that are, you need to be imploring them to sign up for military duty, stat.  For example, Mona Charen, who pens a pro-intervention column at National Review today (I will not link it here) has, if I am not mistaken, two sons of military age.  Are they putting on the uniform?  Are they going to go into harm’s way?  I seriously doubt it.  Now don’t get me wrong – no decent mother wants to send her kids into a war zone, ever.  But if it is this important, as she seems to believe, shouldn’t she and others like her have some skin in the game?  Shouldn’t she and others like her bear some personal risk for the policies they advocate?  Of course, they won’t, and they never do.  The lives that are lost or broken by their preferred policies are nothing more than abstractions to them.  Some kid from Alabama had limbs blown off and third degree burns across half his body?  Well, it was important for American honor, or something.  Yeah, she and others like her will wave flags and say they support the troops.  But when the rubber meets the road, they will do everything they can to make sure they don’t bear any personal cost for the policies they advocate.  That’s for other people to do.  Sunshine soldiers and summer patriots, indeed.

So, if you’re not willing to advocate for a clear, constitutional declaration of war, if you’re not willing to put some skin in the game and bear some personal cost, why should I believe your position is principled?  Your actions belie your virtue signaling words.

For those few of you that do have real skin in the game and think we need to keep our troops in Syria and elsewhere, I’ll at least cut you some slack – you are willing to put your money where your mouth is.  But I still disagree with your position.

As inferred above, putting troops in Syria has absolutely no constitutionally prescribed authorization.  Not one single vote in congress has been cast to authorize out intervention there.  Furthermore, it’s laughable that so many people who shriek that Trump is Hitler or some authoritarian are shrieking even louder now that he is removing U.S. troops from a war zone, rather than deploying them to one.  Their silence when President Obama did the opposite is quite telling.

Constitutional authorization notwithstanding … have you pro-intervention guys looked at the results you have gotten over the years – particularly since 9/11?  Afghanistan is an absolute quagmire that, were it a person, it would be old enough to graduate high school.  The Iraqis didn’t greet us as liberators as we were told they would, and the alleged weapons of mass destruction were few and far between.  Meanwhile, the country descended into years of sectarian violence that has cooled some but has not ended.  While I shed no tears for Saddam Hussein and admit to enjoying his ending, Iraq is still an absolute mess, one that was primarily created by the U.S.  Libya?  It’s true that they had their own tyrant, but our intervention there accomplished nothing more than making the place an unstable hellhole, which also now has open-air slave markets where they did not exist before.  Meanwhile, in our own country, we’ve seen thousands of needless deaths, many thousands more broken lives because of it, and trillions of dollars added to our own debt which in and of itself is a significant threat.  All for a region that was a mess before we plunged in head first, and is arguably a worse mess now.  Why the hell should I or anybody else believe that this time will be different?

There is simply no argument that our interventions in the Middle East have been anything other than an abject disaster.  To argue otherwise is delusional.  There is no less hatred for the U.S. emanating from that part of the world than there was on 9/11, and that hatred will exist whether we are there to “help” or not.

What is just staggering to me – although it shouldn’t be at this point – is the complete unwillingness of the interention-istas to engage in even a little self-reflection and a little honest evaluation of their results of their preferred policies.  To the degree they acknowledge any less than ideal outcomes of their policies, the intervention-istas sound like today’s socialists when confronted with the history of their sorry movement: it’s not the fault of the policy, and next time it will work if only the right people are allowed to implement itTrust us.  Um, no.  You’ve been too wrong for too long, and only a fool would trust you at this point.

For those of you who agree with bringing the troops home from this and other undeclared wars, don’t feel bad for those on the other side of this argument.  When you see them mocked, when you see them in agony that they are not going to be able to – consequence free – send others off to fight their pet wars, when you hear their drama-queen shrieks about what a disaster this or that troop withdrawal is … well, this is a time it’s ok for you to indulge in a little bit of schadenfreude.  If anything, they are getting off light – very light – in terms of consequences for their disastrous policies.  As for me, I’m going to go scour YouTube for some of those military homecoming videos where soldiers surprise their kids who didn’t expect them home so early.  Those things get me every time.