Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Random Thoughts on the War on Terror


"If thou fearest that a man might someday raise his hand against thee and thine, then hasten thee to his house, kick in his door, and smite him before it goeth too far down that road. Better thou be safe than sorry."

(From the Gospel according to St. Attila, The Book of Huns, 16:12.)

Or "He that shootest first and asketh questions later is most wise ..."

( St. John the Wayne, The Book of Paranoia, 3:17)

Now, you know these are made-up books, chapters and verses, only meant to prove a point.

Then again, I have real trouble believing that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who said turn the other cheek, was in any way for the kill-'em-all-God-will-know-his-own philosophy. So any time I see somebody claiming to be a good Christian espousing this attack-first-is-okay stuff, I am not convinced that what they are -- good Christians.

I must have missed the part where Christ said, "Smite thy brother if he giveth thee a dirty look."

How starting a war over there will make us safer over here escapes me. If you can go there and shoot them, then that means they are justified in coming here and shooting us, that's how it works, and our government has not demonstrated an ability to do much about it. They make a lot of noise, and sure, they get credit for trying, but just watch 60 Minutes and the story on chemical or nuclear power plant security, and pray that the terrorists missed that one.

Sure, there's the claim, that since the War on Terror started, there haven't been any more attacks on American soil. The logic is specious -- there weren't that many attacks from foreign terrorists before 9/11, either. Only two major ones come to mind, and those were mostly home-grown loons doing the dirty work.

Claiming credit for stopping terrorist is like claiming credit for the sun coming up -- you don't really have a lot to do with that, now do you?

And do I feel safer now than I did five years ago? Sheeit ...

The federal government has spawned the Transportation Security Administration, an agency charged with providing effective and efficient security for people and products traveling in this country. A multibillion dollar organization staffed with trained folks, and sporting high-tech machineries that forces little old grannies at the airports to remove their shoes and sometimes subjects them to full body searches, which demonstrates how thorough they are. And yet, recently, a nine-year-old boy who wanted to go see his grandfather in Dallas managed to board a plane at SeaTac all by his lonesome, get to Arizona, where he hopped another flight and made it as far as San Antonio.

I sure sleep better knowing how hard it is to get past the thorough TSA, yessiree. One bad nine-year-old.

How safe does that make you feel?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Boys & Girls Together

So, some of the local school boards are about to start more realistic sex education classes for middle school students. Pushing the envelope, the local paper says, and then goes on to indicate that students will be taught that abstinence is best, but that if they decide to have sex, there are some things they should know, like, how to put a condom on properly ...

If they decide to have sex? Oh, spare me! Can I get a witness here?

Has telling teenagers they shouldn't have sex ever stopped them from trying, at any time, any where in the entire history of humankind?

Does anybody really believe it ever will?

Teenagers are walking hormone storms. Nothing you can say scares them. They are bulletproof, going to live forever, and any parental or teacher advice on smoking, drinking, or safe driving is like speaking to tree stumps. Won't happen to me. Somebody else, maybe, but not me.

It's been a long time since I was a teenager, but as I recall, the admontions about saving yourself for marriage were about as effective on my peer group as trying to fly by jumping off a building and flapping your arms.

I see no indication that the subsequent generations are different in this regard.

It's better that they know what to do than not -- and unfortunately, the ones who most need to learn are probably the ones whose parents will opt them out of the classes because they don't think the schools should be teaching such vile things. And the schools shouldn't have to, but so many parents don't. The numbers of teenagers who think you can't get pregnant the first time you do it, or if you stand up, or if you aren't married, are staggering.

There ought to be a bowl of condoms at the entrance to every middle and high school in the country, and detailed instructions on how to use them.

They are gonna do it anyway. Better they have some knowledge and protection against pregnancy and disease than not.

Lollipop, Lollipop - The Spanish Lottery


So, digging through the mail this weekend, we came across a letter from Euromillions Loteria Internacional. Though I didn't enter it, it appears that I have won the Spanish Sweepstakes, or at least a small portion of it, amounting to 469,812.79 Euros -- which is about $660,000 in U.S. dollars. Somehow, my name has become "attached" to the process ...

Hey, I didn't even have to buy a ticket! Lucky, lucky me!

Now, all I need to do to collect my money is to fill out a form for my claim agent, Fernando, shoot it to him, and then wait until he transfers the money into my bank account, the particulars of which will be in the fax I am to send him.

Well, I've never been to Spain, but I kinda like the crooks there ...

For his efforts on my behalf, Fernando gets five percent of my winnings, but only, of course, after the money is transferred to my account.

The letter is covered with all kinds of official-looking stamps, albeit they are obviously computer-printed, rather badly, and not stamps, and I am warned that, due to a mix-up of some names and numbers, I should keep my prize-tracking number to myself, as part of the security protocols ...

Sad thing about this is, that even in this day and age, there are people who can read and who probably watch the news now and then who will fall for this old nag, which is even older than the Nigerian Scam (aka the 419 con.) This is a variation on the old small con wherein somebody finds the winning ticket in the Irish Sweepstakes and offers to let you share the ticket for chump change because they are in need of ready cash and can't wait.

And there is always a chump with change.

And here's how the rest of the Spanish sweepstakes con goes: I fax them my information and then Fernando tells me the money is on the way, but that some sleazy official is sitting on the payment, and a little baksheesh will grease the wheels and get the money rolling in. Yes, yes, it's a bribe, but that's how things are done, you know, we're all men of the world, we understand that, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and if I could just transfer, say, most of what is in my account, which ole Fernando can check out, using the information I boneheadly provided him, then all will be well. I haven't checked it lately, but this used to be easy to do, and no, I'm not going to tell you how.

If I am stupid enough to send money, a week or so later, Fernando will call back and allow as how the corrupt official has been arrested, and a bit more money will be needed to bribe his replacement.

If I fall for that, this will go on as long as he can get away with it. The payoff will always be practically in my hands, save for this one little nothing in the way, and as soon as we take care of that, we're gold.

The best cons make you complicit in something that is either illegal or immoral or both, so that once you realize you've been fleeced, you are embarrassed to tell anybody, particularly the law. Here's what you'll worry about: You attempted to bribe a tax collector (sometimes it's a customs agent) and that is a crime. Call the cops, and you are admitting that.

There is a sucker born every minute. You get something like this in the post, or a email from an official in Nigeria who wants you to help him transfer a fortune out of the country for which you'll make a couple million, or somebody who has access to Lord Nelson's unclaimed fortune, pass it along to the FBI -- it's all kinds of illegal, and much of that federally illegal.

Don't be the sucker born in your minute.

For more information, go here: Gotcha, Sucker!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Silat Stuff


A golok is an Indonesian knife akin to a machete. They come in various lengths, from keris-size to sword. ; generally they are sans guards, and are considered utility tools or weapons. Learn how to use a machete, you can use a similar-sized golok. The nicer ones are pamor steel, with patterns in the metal formed by nickel that shows up lighter against the iron. The black color is traditionally made with a mix of arsenic and lime juice and exposure to the sun.

The pamor in the short golok above is called buntel mayit. It's a "complicated" pattern, and is sometimes called "twisted tree bark" in polite company, though the literal translation as I understand it is "corpse bundle" more commonly called "the death shroud ..."

Such a pamor is considered very powerful magic in certain circles, but is also unstable. It is just as apt to bite the hand that holds it as that of an enemy -- if the owner is not sufficiently powerful enough to deal with it.

Last night, we had a make-up silat class -- Guru Plinck had to cancel an earlier one this week -- but because it was a short notice, most of the students couldn't make it. There were three of us who managed it, and because that gave us more room than usual (more on that later), we had enough space to begin learning a new weapon ...

I won't bore casual reader with the specifics of the training, save to say we used sticks in place of machetes or goloks, and that we started out very simple and stayed that way. But it was very interesting to see how the Sera we knew was used in the new training, and what we did differently because of the length of the weapon. It isn't kali, another blade art, but right out of the Javanese silat tradition.

There was another bonus for me:

Some time back, on one of the fairly rare occasions I missed a regular silat class, the group learned a new djuru. Last night, Guru decided I had suffered long enough and gave me another one. Something about learning a new djuru always revitalizes my practice, and I was most pleased. It doesn't really matter, but then again, it does ...

Now, to the comment about space.

Silat is a village art, and even today, taught more in backyards and garages to small groups than in commercial schools. Guru Plinck, when I started, was teaching a class in a multi-discipline school, the Straight Blast Gym, in Portland, Oregon, but after a few months, went back to teaching in his garage, in Vancouver, Washington. After a year or so, he and his family moved to Kelso, something of a commute, and we split the difference by having classes in Cotten Blackwell's garage, in Vancouver. Eventually, Guru opened a metal fabrication shop in Longview, and in the doing of that, didn't have time or energy to make the drive to Vancouver after a twelve-hour day starting his own business. He decided to take a lay-off from teaching silat.

Several of us managed to convince him to offer private lessons in the back of the shop after work. After a few months, a few of us -- Todd, Tiel, and I -- started showing up sequentially, and eventually overlapped into semi-private lessons, and then expanded back to a class. Private lessons are terrific, but group lessons expose you to different sizes and shapes of opponents, which is also good.

Last summer, we moved the classes to Guru's house, which has a nice yard and acres of pasture, but as the weather got wetter and colder, we moved into the garage. Come spring, we'll head back into the yard. Meanwhile, we've been concentrating on learning close-quarters material, and this is a good thing -- in a real fight, you might not always have a nice big empty ring, and you need to know how to get around in a room cluttered with stuff and other folks.

(I keep meaning to buy a space heater for Tiel, who likes the heat much better than the cold. What you get being raised in Hawaii by way of Africa, I suppose ...)

After more than eleven years, I still look forward to each class. Always a new revelation waiting around the corner. I love this stuff. I really do.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ears and Ears ...


So I took the tape off -- puppy was scratching mightily at it and I was worried about an infection.

Top image shows the results -- which is to see, the tape didn't help.

But if she leans back a little, you get the bottom image ...

What to do, what to do? Re-tape 'em? Or let nature take its course? Having made the effort, I can now tell dog folks that we tried and it didn't work. I'm leaning in that direction, weenie that I am ...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Homemade Knife





I am not handy with tools. For me, a wheelbarrow is complicated machinery. On a good day, I can maybe drive one nail out of three without bending it, smashing my finger, or both.

However, a while back, I got the urge to see if I could make a knife, so I did. I took an old machete, annealed it using a torch, cut it, using saws and a Dremel, filed and ground and sanded it, tempered it, using the same torch and the straw-color-quench-it-in-oil method, polished it, then added faux-ivory
scales and a buffalo-horn guard, held on by homemade brass rivets.

It is very crude, but I was inordinately pleased -- I didn't smash my finger, or burn myself, or blow up my garage, and it actually looks kind of like a knife. It will hold an edge sharp enough to be useful. Eight inches long overall, three and half inches of that blade, full-tang.

(Serious knifemakers will take a chunk of steel and forge it, hammering it to shape, then working it down. Some makers will buy already-forged steel and then grind it to shape, hence the tags "grinds" or "forges" when speaking of knifemakers.)

The sheath, even cruder, was made from scrap leather, dental floss, and glue, cut and put together while watching an episode of Monk on television, took about half an hour. Not going to win any prizes, either, but it covers the blade ...

Somebody asked me about it, so here it is ...

Dog Show



So this weekend was the Rose City Dog Show, a four-day event in Portland, all-breeds, plus Agility, Rally, and Obedience competitions. Our dogs's breeder came to town to show a couple of her pups -- a Cardigan Corgi and a Border Collie. She dropped by for a visit, and brought three of the pups from a new litter accidentally fathered by one of her dogs.

"Accidentally" is maybe not the best word, since I'm sure that Marshal went at it with intention, but there it is. (Marshal is one of our dog Jude's litter-mates.)

In the puppy picture, the three pups are in the middle at the bottom, a male and two females, with our dogs Layla at the top-left, and Jude at the top-right.

We were going to watch all three of 'em overnight, let them run around and exercise, but our breeder, Denise, found homes for two of them Saturday, so we wound up watching the remaining female. A real cutie, temporarily named "Rosie." (That's her, second from the left, in the picture, next to Layla.) We were tempted to keep her -- especially after she laid on my lap on her back with all four paws in the air and went to sleep. But it's not good to try and raise more than one puppy at a time, and Layla is only five months old. She needs to be the baby for a while.

And Layla, whose ears haven't come up yet and which are overdue, got those taped today. This isn't something she enjoyed much -- nor did we -- but if we can keep the tape on for the next five or so days, it will probably help her look like a Corgi -- instead of a miniature Border Collie ...

The dog show, big enough to fill up the old convention center parking lot so people had to be trucked in from the PIR lot a mile or so away, will be on TV as part of the Eukanuba Championship series on Animal Planet, on March 3rd upcoming.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pentjak Silat Book Review

Guru Sean Stark's second volume in his series, Pencak Silat Pertempuran, is now out and available, through his website, here: PSP

You can also check out his blog, which is in the link list on this page.

If you got the first volume and you liked it, this is more of the same. Much more, actually. Good explanations of the techniques demonstrated, lots of pictures, and a range from bare-handed exercises, to weapons, including short and long blades, and even a bit on basic gun handling.

It starts out with the most simple stuff -- one-person forms, then moves into two-person unarmed material, and progresses to weaponry, same sequencing -- by yourself, then with another. It includes groundwork as well.

If you didn't buy the first one, it isn't absolutely necessary, though it would probably be helpful to have it.

The photographs are black-and-white and clean enough, probably from a digital camera, sequenced left to right, top to bottom, as is standard in such things. The writing is also clean, and even though the book is self-published, the text is edited well and laid out logically, which is sometimes a problem with these things. (I have read self-published books full of little smiley faces in the type, and written so poorly that they were unintentially hilarious -- this is not one of those. Sean's skill at editing, derived partially, at least, from his online silat magazine, is evident.)

If you are a student of Sean's PSP system, this is a must-own. If you are interested in silat in general, there are so few works in English on the subject -- I have most of them, and they don't fill much of a bookshelf -- it's worth having for that reason alone. It is a worthwhile addition to the literature and to a serious silat player's library.

I have to point out three things:

1) The book is expensive. The paperback version is thirty-five bucks, plus shipping; the hardback is forty-five dollars. Even at almost five hundred pages in length, this is a bit spendy for some folks.

2) You can't learn to fight from a book, any more than you can learn how to swim or ride a bicycle from one. If you have some experience in hands-on pentjak (pencak) silat, then you will be able to follow along and make sense of things much better. If not, the material will be academic. This is the nature of the medium, not Sean's fault, and he points it out himself in the book's closing, but just so you know -- the map is not the territory. If you think you can pick up a book or watch a vid and then go out and lay low the local biker bar, best you keep your health and life insurance premiums paid up -- you'll need 'em.

3) Sean also uses a fair amount of Indonesian/Malay terminology. Fortunately, he has included a glossary in the back, and while most of the text gives you the idea in context and in photos, it does get somewhat thick in places. I've been doing, and reading about, this stuff for more than a decade, and there were places where I had to re-read pieces to figure it out.

As a student of a style of silat that shares very general roots but has different branches, there are things Sean does that I don't -- that's to be expected. Fried is different than boiled, even if the shrimp are the same. Naturally, I prefer my way, since that's where I live.

For instance, there is a section on how to switch grips on a knife handle, going from saber to ice-pick, or vice-versa. Basically, the first is how you'd hold a sword in classical point-leading, edge down western fencing; the second, how you'd chip ice with an ice-pick, with the cutting edge forward. I found this drill interesting -- it will allow for flow while performing djurus (Sean uses the Malay double-it plural, djurus-djurus) and is quite useful for this. Sometimes, you want the point or edge up, sometimes down, it depends on your intent.

In a fighting situation, however, once the knife comes into play, my philosophy is to hang onto it -- I know several ways to twirl the sucker around in my hand to change grips, and it's fun to play with these -- they look cool -- but risking a fumble in real-time is not in the cards. When I do djurus with a knife or knives in hand, I don't change my grip. One can with, say, sai, or tjabang, (Japanese or Indonesian tridents) which are balanced and designed for such, but with a short knife (pisau) under the stress of combat, the fine motor skills tend to deteriorate, and why take the chance? Dropping your knife is a bad oops ... !

A philosophical difference, plain and simple.

But these are small cavils, and natural. Sean isn't demonstrating what I know, he's showing what he practices, and that's the reason he did the book, after all. If I wanted to see somebody do it my way, I could go to class, or write my own silat book. Assuming I ever learn enough to do that, which is iffy.

Bottom line: If you have any interest in pentjak silat, either as a player or a writer, you should get a copy of this book.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Looking for a New Hogleg ... ?

Snowbound


So, the view out my office window this morning. The little fellow just visible to the right of the glass is an Ana's Hummingbird -- they don't migrate during the winter, so I leave my feeder out year-round. Cold sugar water is better than none ...

And, as you can see, the snow hasn't melted away yet, nor is it likely to in any big hurry, since we are all of two degrees above freezing here. My wife was able to use her 4WD to get to the train station this morning, after two days off work, but my little red car -- of which I have spoken -- is as useful in the snow as a pogo stick with a spike on the tip, so I won't be driving to Kelso for silat class this evening. Assuming I could make it that far, attempting Guru's driveway would probably put me into the pasture with the goats.

I hate this, since I missed last week because my mother and sister were visiting from Louisiana.

Looks as if I'll be doing djurus in the back yard instead -- also still mostly snow-covered.

Foo.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lama Lama Ding Dong

Hmm. Perhaps the previous posting needs a bit of explanation ...

Years ago, I read a book on Tibetian yoga, in which there was a discussion of the lamas who practiced tumo. This is the ability, essentially, to run a fever at will, so that in extreme cold, one could generate warmth. Altering one's body temperature by this process isn't supposed to be one of those voluntary-control things one can do, but they were able to do it.

In one experiment by western science, if I recall it correctly, a yogi was able to draw a line down the center of his palm and make his skin measurably warmer on one side than the other. (I believe it was the Doctors Green, a husband/wife team who did this research at the Menninger Clinic.)

One of the tumo tests was to sit in the cold next to a frozen river. A hole would be chopped in the ice, and a towel (actually the size of a bath washcloth) would be dipped in the cold water and then laid on the bare back of the person being tested. The goal was to dry the cloth out by generating internal heat. Supposedly the tumo practitioners could dry out three of these in a relatively short time, one after another.

Conversely, there was a meditation for cooling, wherein the practitioner could sit in a circle of bonfires in relative comfort. Probably not as useful in Tibet, but there you go.

For a time, I played with the concept, and was able to half-assedly use it on cold days. (It takes a fair amount of concentration. My skill has lapsed considerably -- and I never was able to make it work very well on my hands -- so that jogging in shorts and a T-shirt, or recent winter session in Guru's unheated garage sometimes require that I wear thin gloves.)

One of my tests was, on the infrequent occasions when it snowed, was to sit briefly in the snow nekkid, just to see if I could still do it.

I still can. But not for long. And drying out the wet cloth? No way.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Serious Steel

So, Mushtaq has forged another no-nonsense blade. Go check it out:

Traceless Warrior

Form follows function ...

Yet Another Passage

Doreen Stamm Margolin, 1947-2007

Yesterday, Doreen Margolin passed away. She was diagnosed with cancer only a few weeks ago, but it was aggressive, and chemo failed. She and her husband Phil had two grown children and a new grandchild. Her family was with her when she died.

We were not close friends, but we liked her, my wife and I, and over the last three decades, we bumped into them from time to time -- dinners, literary events, weddings. Her daughter was married around Labor Day -- I wrote about the wedding, a joyous, wonderful ceremony. Doreen and Phil were as solid and loving a couple as we have ever known. She was fierce when it came to protecting her husband and family.

Doreen had a dry, clever wit, and she and I and Dianne shared a fondness for the politically-incorrect British comedy TV show Ab Fab. She was an attorney specializing in family law, who eventually went into practice with her husband, until he retired to write full-time, and she continued the practice on her own. She was on the board of directors for various associations, a pro tem judge, elected to, and chair of, the Portland Community College board.

This woman was class-act all the way. She was same age as I.

Services are at noon, Wednesday, January 10th, at Temple Beth Israel, in Portland, Oregon.

Folks, whatever your connections in this world, treasure those dear to you, because life is too short to do otherwise.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bookery



Just for grins, the list of books:

The Tularemia Gambit; Civil War Secret Agent; The Man Who Never Missed; Matadora; The Machiavelli Interface; The 97th Step; The Albino Knife; Black Steel; Brother; Death Conan the Fearless; Conan the Defiant; Conan the Indomitable; Conan the Free Lance; Conan the Formidable Aliens: Earth Hive; Aliens: Nightmare Asylum; Spindoc ; The Forever Drug; Stellar Rangers; Stellar Rangers: Lone Star; The Mask ; Men in Black; Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals; Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire; The Trinity Vector; The Digital Effect; Windowpane; Tribes: Einstein’s Hammer; The Musashi Flex; Immune Response.

With Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik

Net Force
Net Force: Hidden Agendas ;Net Force: Night Moves ;Net Force: Breaking Point; Net Force: Point of Impact; Net Force: CyberNation.

With Tom Clancy, Steve Pieczenik and Larry Segriff

Net Force: State of War
; Net Force: Changing of the Guard; Net Force: Springboard; Net Force: The Archimedes Effect.

With Michael Reaves


Sword of the Samurai; Hellstar; Dome ;The Omega Cage; Thong the Barbarian Meets the Cycle Sluts of Saturn; Star Wars: Battle Surgeons; Star Wars: Jedi Healer; Star Wars: The Final Voyage of the Death Star; The Eilandia Chronicles: The Dreadnaught (in progress).

With Stephani DaƱelle Perry


Aliens: The Female War;
Aliens versus Predator: Prey.

With Gary Braunbeck


Isaac Asimov’s I-Bots: Time Was
.

With Dal Perry

Titan AE; The Gangster Conspiracy (with Chris Bunch)
.

New Fantasy Novel


So, the next book in the pipeline, assuming several things, since it's a spec-novel, i.e., not one for which we have a contract, is Eilandia: The Dreadnaught, with my collaborator.

Hereabove, a peek at the world map, more or less.

The assumptions here are mostly concerned with what paying work might get in the way, since this one, while we hope it will eventually be lucrative, won't be marketed until we finish it. There are good reasons for this, not the least of which is that a big fat fantasy -- a technical term in the publishing biz, fat fantasy -- is more likely to bring in a good advance if the publisher can see up front exactly what they have to work with, as opposed to a few chapters and an outline. Reduce War and Peace to three chapters and an outline, it's not as impressive as having the monster manuscript in-hand. Not that we are in any way comparing ourselves to Tolstoy here ...

Um. Anyway, we are hoping for a draft by this summer, and aiming for something in the neighborhood of 175,000 words, which would be a substantial book, but not a doorstop footbuster.

And, of course, it might be but the first tale in the Eilandia Chronicles, which could run three, or five, or twelve volumes -- depending on how much money our publisher wants to bestow upon us.

And for the silat crowd, yes, there will be much of that art herein.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Guitar Strings

Guitar players are very picky -- excuse the pun -- about their strings. Those of you who play nylon stringed classical or flaminco guitars might be interested in checking out Aquila's offerings, which feature for the trebles something called "nylgut." This is a kind of nylon composite that is supposed to have the tonal qualities of gut, but the longevity of nylon.

Recently, I bought a couple sets of these, on for my guitars, cedar-topped classicals, and they certainly do make a difference. The longevity remains to be seen, but the tone is far superior and the volume noticeably increased over the standard D'Addario strings I have been using. They make a good guitar sound better, and they make a lesser guitar sound much better.

They come in several varieties. The basic model, Alabastro, includes the nylgut trebles and silver-plated basses. There are more expensive ones that have completely silver wound basses. (You can also get real gut and silk strings from the same maker, but those cost a fortune.)

None of them are cheap. I use the basic Alabastros in normal tension. (Classical players don't buy strings by gauge like steel string players, but by tension -- normal, hard, tension extra-hard, etc.)

If you live in Europe, you can get them direct from the maker here:

Aquila

David Kilpatrick, in the U.K., also sells them, and he's a good guy who will make you a deal if you buy multiple sets.

And in the U.S., you can find them here: Aquila USA.

These places also sell lute and uke strings.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Attitude




The fight is not under the glove, it's under the hat, so I believe. Or to paraphrase the Fabulous Furry Freak Brother, Freewheelin' Frank, Attitude will get you through times of no fighting skill better than fighting skill will get you through times of no attitude ...

Two short tales:

When I was in high school, the local cool hangout in our town was a drive-in/ bar called "Rock's." You could sit in your car and have a server bring you milkshakes and burgers, on a tray that hooked onto your car's window sill, or, you could go inside with the rest of the underage teens, flash your phony ID, and get a beer. Steel cans of Jax, Bud, or Falstaff. Miller if you were a sissy.

Like the drive-in in American Grafitti, everybody who was anybody found his or her way into a car and went to Rock's on Friday nights. (There were also a pair of Hopper's Drive Ins, but you couldn't get beer there. You went to Hopper's, drove through, then headed out toward LSU, to Rock's.)

And since Friday night was, in the fall, high school football night, it got fairly raucous after the games were over.

One fine Friday, a bunch of boys from the winning school of the traditional crosstown rivalry between Baton Rouge High and Istrouma -- forgive me if I can't recall which school -- stood in the parking lot en masse. When a car bearing identification from the other school motored through, the group, about thirty guys, would block the drive, descend on the car, open the hood, and unscrew all the battery and radiator caps.

That was the limit of their vandalism -- it was a kinder, gentler age.

As a student of Central High, I was merely an onlooker, enjoying the fun. The mob attended to five or six cars in this manner, the odds too great for the riders to say anything.

Another big hunk of Detroit iron arrived, with a guy and his girlfriend sitting next to him on the bench seat. The mob surged.

The door opened and the guy leaped out. Leaped. He was maybe five-seven, a hundred and forty pounds. He hit the ground, took a couple of steps, his arms spread wide, and he screamed, "Come on, motherfuckers! I'll take you all on!"

You never saw so many teenage boys move so fast. They fell all over themselves to get out of the way. Ran like cheap ink in the rain.

After a beat, the little guy got back into his car and drove through.

I'm guessing he got laid that night.

After he was gone, I overheard two of the guys who'd braced the driver talking. "Sheeit, we coulda stomped him, no problem!"

"Yeah, we coulda," the other teen said. "But if he was willing to take on thirty guys? I didn't want to be the first one he got hold of ..."

Attitude.

Second story:

Some years ago, a writing buddy and I were in Baltimore at a big science fiction convention. There was an off-site party away from the hotel, but the line waiting for a cab was long. The party was only a mile and a half away, so we decided to walk. It was September, warm, no problem.

Thing was, the neighborhood went from swank hotel to ghetto-like slums in about three blocks, and we found ourselves walking in an area that was less than savory. The buildings were run-down, the streets and sidewalks trashy, and pretty soon a guy approached us and wanted to know if we were interested in buying certain illegal pharmaceuticals. Not a good sign. But we kept walking

Shortly thereafter, we came upon a group of young men standing outside a liquor store with more bars on it than Sing-Sing Prison, and realized we were the only two white boys as far as the eye could see.

My buddy looked at me. I smiled. We kept walking. Nobody in the corner crew said a word, they just stared at us.

After we were past, my buddy said, "Damn. Well, I guess the key is not to show fear, eh?"

And I, all full of myself, said, "No, the key is not to feel fear."

Attitude.

Foolish, to be sure -- this was before I started training in silat, but after some years of other martial arts. I was unarmed, and those fellows on the corner would have taken us apart like worn tinkertoys if they'd felt the notion. I figured they must have thought we were either insane or undercover cops, because nobody else of our stripe would be strolling along there after dark. Best not to mess with cops or crazies.

There must be, as I've mentioned before, guardian angels who look out for fools and children. Certainly I have given mine some bad moments and plenty of work over the years.

We arrived at the party safely. Had fine old time.

And took a cab back to the hotel.

Attitude will sometimes do the trick.

Attitude and skill is a much better combination. Attitude, skill, and intelligence is better still.

I don't walk through those kind of neighborhoods at night any more, even armed. Best not to tempt fate too much ...


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Death Star Rising

So, the draft is done and turned in. We are leaning toward one of two titles, though that's just us: Death Star Rising, or, The Final Voyage of the Death Star ...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Book Cover

Hmm. Somebody was asking me about current books-in print, and I missed uploading this image last year when this one came out -- 'cause it was in February, and I didn't start the blog until June, I expect. My technothriller, from Five Star Press:

Immune Response

Wasn't the highest advance I ever got, but it did earn out, always a comfort ...


Technology Offers Steve a Message


Hey, Steve! Swing on this!

So I'm trying to send the final -- more or less -- manuscript of the book upon which I and my collaborator and I have been laboring lo these many months back to him for a final read before we turn it in. And all of a sudden, his server has decided that my attachments are spam, and thus need to be blocked.

Yet another pothole in the information highway you'd think they'd have filled by now. So if he doesn't get online and fix this, either a) he doesn't get to read it before I ship it to our expectant editor or b) we are late on our deadline. (And since being late on a deadline is a no-no I try mightily to avoid, that ain't gonna happen.)

It's enough to turn me into a Luddite.