Sunday, March 30, 2008

Que Sera, Sera ... ?


So, while doing research on the new novel, I came across an interesting little bit of information.

In Tibet, there used to be a somewhat pugnacious order of Buddhist monks who were apparently handy with fist or blade, and willing to use either or both without much provocation. Hundreds of them were apparently killed during a revolution in 1947.

Gone during the Chinese invasion in 1959, most of them, not a few of whom apparently went down swinging.

What is fascinating about this to me is that this fraternity of fellows, called the Dob-dob, operated out of a large monastery known as Sera.

Which name, if you've been paying attention, you know is also the core name of the Indonesian martial art I study: Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera ...

Given my writer's mind, this opens up another whole train of thought.

As well as maybe another historical can of worms. I love it.

So much I don't know. So little time ...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bambi vs. Godzilla



So, I'm reading Bambi vs. Godzilla by David Mamet. Subtitled, On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.

Mamet writes books, plays, scripts, and has been an actor, director, and producer, too. He's done some terrific stuff. (You martial arts fans might know him from his TV series, The Unit. Or for the upcoming movie Redbelt, which he wrote and directed, about MMA, and which has a slew of well-known fighters and martial arts guys in it, including Danny Inosanto ...

The title of this recent book comes from the brief animated movie classic, Bambi Meets Godzilla, featured up top.

Mamet is a lyrical and accomplished author, and if you have any desire to hear about how Hollywood works from somebody who knows, this is a great read.

Early on, he talks about producers, and says, yes, there are good ones. He tells a story about Otto Preminger, and the making of Exodus. Preminger told Mamet he was shooting the movie in Israel, and he needed ten thousand extras for a crowd scene, but he didn't have the budget to hire them.

What did you do? Mamet asked.

I charged them. Put up posters all over town -- BE IN A MOVIE -- TEN SHEKELS!

No problem filling the square with warm bodies.

Mamet's comment? Now that's what he calls a producer ...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Knife Carrier





Came across this cleaning up. The construction is crude, but the idea is pretty good -- a paddle holster/sheath. This paddle came off an old snubbie holster, and I mounted a pair of kerambits on it. Weak-hand draw, and very comfortable.

The paddle works even if you don't have a belt on -- you just slip it into your waistband -- I put on a pair of pajama pants to demonstrate it.

Looks like one knife in the sheath, and also when you draw, but that's the surprise ...

Dreadnaught Report


Most of the readers have now weighed in, and there have been some good suggestions, some of which we are even going to use ...

First of these is to include a dramatis personae, up front, so people can keep track of who is whom.

We'll also include a glossary of terms, in the back, and the map, some version of which will probably be in the front.

Reaves and I have discussed some other changes, included among which is the death of a viewpoint character. Hate to do it, but it sets up something in the next book, and no, it's not Ven.

Here's the character list:

The Dreadnaught

Dramatis Personae


The Stahlrogians:

Borahl alb Kohn

Naval Officer, Under Commander (Yousee),
The Stahlrogian Dreadnaught Britta.

Villem nahl Tesar

Prime Prince, General in the Royal Army,
and Heir to the Stahlrogian Throne.

Tahk Berger

Ship’s Commander (Escee) the Britta.

Britta Farloon pul Tesar

Princess Consort, Wife of Villem,
daughter of the King of Dotterjord.

Hans nahl Tesar

Kaliser of Stahlrogia.

Berhard Tesar

The Kaliser’s brother.

Purgois

A spy and assassin.

Dovel

Natural Philosopher & Machinist

Sel Daveed

Natural Philosopher & Machinist

Girandhoff

Dovel’s Assistant


___________________________________________________

The Jalimatrans:

Djani Djalanji

Fifth son of the Rahjeem of Maluz.

Guru Bruj

Combat teacher and Chief of the Rajheem’s guard.

Tjela Pemaja

Mage.

Patro Kalam

Priest, Order of Aal’s Hand.

___________________________________________________


The Isbaani:

Hazin Hazin

Eunuch, Chief Guard, The Shamir’s Wifery.

Asfür

Hazin’s parrot

Sirsir ab Kaab

Grand Shamir of Isbaa.

Ahmar Liss

Savant Magician.

Sahzee

Ahmar’s apprentice.

Gamila Arous

The Shamir’s Third Wife.

Shamal

An Isbaani guard.

___________________________________________________

The Kallstranians:

Hus

King of Kallstrana

Skjegg (“Sky”)

Diplomat, younger brother to King Hus.

Telga dao Ven

Archer, King’s Guard.

Kanin Dor

Blood Mage

Surl

A lieutenant in the King’s Guard.

Frazetta


Connected directly to the previous post: For my money, Frank Frazetta was the cover artist of the heyday of paperbacks. Yeah, his characters were over-the-top, but they went right along with the pulp writing perfectly. Mostly-naked muscular men, big-breasted and wide-hipped women, way cool monsters, and a vivid and striking palette of colors that gave us Tarzan, John Carter, a host of barbarians, and jungles so verdant you could smell the fetid growth and feel the humidity.

Check out the image above -- how green is that valley?

Frazetta has done comics, book covers, movie posters, and sculptures, and his originals go for insane prices these day. When I hit the lottery, I'm going to get one of his oils for my office wall. Well, not the Lotto, which is only worth a few million, but the PowerBall ...

If you have money and want to pass some of it along to him, go to Frazetta's store, run by his son, and buy something.

If you just want to see some of the paintings, check out the unofficial art site. (It's not the same as seeing them in person -- I saw a few at a science fiction con years back, and was mightily impressed.)

The Unassembled Boy


Back when I was young and lusty, the Gold Medal paperbacks were hot fuel for a young man's imagination. The sexiest of these books would probably be rated PG-13, maybe shading into the occasional R-rating; tame by today's standards, but on the throbbing edge back then.

Gold Medal became Fawcett Gold Medal along the way. And along with a plethora of other trashy paperbacks, gave us Travis McGee, by John D. MacDonald, his best and most durable hero, and a writer about whom I cannot offer too much praise. A writer's writer.

One of these lurid Gold Medal tales was a science fiction novel by Herbert D. Kastle (1924-1987), entitled The Reassembled Man. (Gold Medal, 1964.) It had a terrific Frazetta cover that more than called to teenaged boys. Cost forty-five cents. (Interesting to note that while the publication date is listed as 1964, the Frazetta cover is dated '65. Can't tell that from the cover, but I have a copy of the illo that is larger and more legible.)

The plot, such that it was, was spun about the idea that power corrupts. The set-up was that a group of alien scientists, who looked much like large beetles, came to Earth to study it. They wanted a human observer who would become their recorder. They collected an average guy, one Edward Berner, and took him apart, down to the basic cellular level, and put him back together so he was faster, stronger, impervious to illness, and a sexual dynamo. The ostensible purpose of this rebuilding was to keep him from being damaged until they were ready to download his information. Then they turned him loose.

They didn't, alas, make him smarter or wiser, and so the story concerned his abilities to indulge his appetites -- he could eat, drink, and make merry -- along with her nine sisters -- and suffer almost no ill effects. He kicked ass, took names, and got laid like he was pumping pure Viagra instead of blood. Cut a swath across the country.

A sixteen-year-old boy's wet dream.

Ed essentially becomes a bully. He is unbeatable, and while not bulletproof, has no problem beating the crap out of anybody who gives him any trouble. A brother-in-law who used to give him a hard time gets pounded. Ed's wife, at first happy with his new sexual prowess, tires of him being in charge in a hurry. Ed is movin' and shakin' and he runs over everybody who gets in his way.

He wins, but in doing so, he loses.

So, it's an old story, but you speak to a passing parade. At sixteen, I hadn't seen much of the literary column marching down my street.

The crux of the tale is Ed coming to realize that power corrupts and that he has become corrupt, and how he needs to deal with it.

However, just as he is getting it sorted out, the beetles come back, collect their recording, and decide that humanity is rather boring, so they end the project. Which includes taking away the upgrades.

Going back to where he was before was a Flowers for Algernon moment. Ed would rather be dead than do that, so the aliens gift him with minor modifications, so he isn't what he was as the near-superman, but is more than he was when he started.

Lesson learned, better than he was, and fade to black ...

Of course, I was less interested in Ed's come-to-realize stuff back then than I was in his plowing the carnal fields; still, it was a good book, in that it kept you turning the pages, and did have a point to go along with the sex and violence.

Maybe I'll go see if I can find it in that box in the attic and see how well it held up.

My Next Dog Might be a Penguin ...

8:45 a.m. this morning, out my front door ...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ice Age


Looking out my office window and a mix of rain and slushy snow is now falling. Thirty-eight degrees F., and it is almost April -- the plum tree flowers are in full pink bloom. There's a big branch lying on the ground where the wind blew it out of the tree during the hail yesterday ...

Skywalker was right -- I got a bad feeling about this ...

(Read Tiel's poem, "Local Conditions." on her blog -- it offers some vivid imagery about this.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Four Thousand and Counting


A photo mosiac on Nico Pitney's blog at the Huffington Post. Click on the image and see what it means.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid ...


In Hollyweird, what you see is seldom what you think it is. Movie-makers today could fool Houdini with their EFX tricks, but it's the off-camera stuff that's most interesting.

We are a youth culture, and actors and actors who want to avoid being put into the old-man or old-lady roles have all kinds of work done to hold off the ravages of time. William Shatner has been bald since his Star Trek days. There are no pictures of him thus.

So many young actresses today have dead-pans because of the wonderful side-effect of a potent poison to cause temporary muscle paralysis. They inport Botox by the trainload down in La-La-Land, and it's easy to tell. If your favorite hot young thing smiles onscreen and her forehead doesn't ever wrinkle? Same thing with the guys.

In their shoes, if my face was part of what got me work, I expect I'd have a couple plastic surgeons on retainer, too. Me, I got a face perfect for radio ...

First round surgery, under an expert with the knife, can be a big improvement: Have a look at Courtney Love, before and after, and after again. Even Cher looks pretty good for a woman a year and some older than I. There are cutters, and then there are cutters. Look uptop, and behold Mickey Rourke ...

And what happens when you can't quit while you are ahead: My. And, oh, my ...

And that's just the faces, we don't even want to go down the road to boob-jobs, lipo-suction, and calf-implants ...

Scary, when it goes bad. Curious about who has and hasn't? Michael Jackson is easy, Priscilla Presley, who looks tighter than her daughter? Sure. But how about some of your other "natural-looking" favorites?

Check out this one, a blog done by a board-certified plastic surgeon who knows how to look. Spooky stuff here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Failure to Communicate, Part II


So, I had a visit with Rory, and in a matter of a couple minutes, we blew right past that stuff represented in the picture up top and got right down to the nitty-gritty. I have my glitch, which he and I both see; he has his, and I think maybe I see that a tad better than he does ...

But, the point is, of course, that sitting across the table and talking face-to-face gives you a raft of communications gear you don't get over the phone or in print. The gestures, the facial expressions, the tone, the body language, the pheromones, even these altogether aren't perfect, but they are worlds better than the words on the page alone.

And once again, we find we agree more than disagree. The points at which we butt heads concern control and chaos, and where we draw the lines. (Basically, if I had to parse it a few words, I'm uptight, and he's a loose cannon ...)

We may not ever see eye-to-eye, but understanding where the other guy is coming from makes it easier to maintain civil discourse. In the distance, you can see a bridge you might cross someday. At least it is possible.

Yes, of course, if he disagrees with me, why, he just hasn't seen the light, he'll come around, give him time.

I believe that statement might conceivably apply to both of us.

He's one of the good guys, part of the solution, and not the problem, and that always cuts a fellow some slack in my book. Plus he has dogs. Still, that doesn't mean I won't continue trying to show him the error of his ways.

Or, I suspect, vice-versa.

Dog Agility, Phase II


So Jude and Layla are done with the agility foundation class. Layla needs more basics, so she'll probably do an obedience class and then repeat the agility intro; Jude moves on to Agility I, soon as we can get a class scheduled.

The backyard equipment now has four barriers -- a bar jump, weave poles, open tunnel, and tire jump. Next will be a closed tunnel, (a chute,) which is a short tube open on one end, with a long cloth sleeve on the other.

After that, a teeter totter, and the last phase, an A-frame and a bridge.

On the teeter, one end is slightly heavier. The dog goes up the downed end, crosses the balance point, and causes the heavy end to drop, whereupon the dog walks down, and reaches a different color -- yellow -- whereupon he must put at least two paws before hopping off.

The A-frame is steep and has cross-strips. Dog goes up one side and down the other, same deal on the two-paw stuff.

The bridge about twenty feet long, angles up on both ends, with a long flat stretch in the center. About a foot wide, same two-paw and color stuff at the end of the run.

Those I can build, but they take a lot of space, so I will work the other stuff at home for a while, and practice at the barn for the big 'uns.

Excuse the mismatched image -- I didn't have the camera on a tripod, nor set in mosaic-mode, but you get the general idea.

The Ping Pong Test




Ping Pong, aka table tennis, is a game that my generation and the ones before us sometimes played, especially during the warm days of spring and summer. The name supposedly comes from the sound the early parchment paddles made when hitting the ball.

I was never very good at it. My mother, who used the Chinese-style grip before anybody in the U.S. knew to call it that, used to drub me regularly. Probably still can.

(In Spanglish, "los ping-pongs" refers to male, ah ... wedding tackle ...)

Um. Scoring and equipment have changed in the last few years, games are to 11 points, and sponge paddles put enough English on the balls they act like boomerangs. Good players stand fifteen or twenty feet back from the table to rally. When I played it, the game was to be the first to reach 21 points. You had to win by two points, so if you weren't two ahead at 21, you kept playing.

There were two other ways to win. You could skunk your opponent -- outplay him or her so that you got a certain number of points before he got any -- thus 7-0 was a win. We played it that 11-1 was also a skunk. After than, it was back to 21.

So here's the Ping-Pong Test, for those of you who know the game: Given a choice, and not just to entertain your bored child or grandchild whose computer has crashed, with whom would you rather play?

1) Somebody you can easily beat.
2) Somebody who can easily beat you.
3) Somebody equal to you.
4) Somebody you are slightly better than.
5) Somebody slightly better than you.

No pressure here. Except that your entire psychological makeup and outlook on life is revealed by your answer ...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Relampago


The query about what enlightenment meant to me needs perhaps a tad more:

Long ago and far away, I had a moment. A connection got made. It didn't put me on a par with Jesus or Buddha or Mohammad, but it was Relampago Santo -- the holy lightning. It burned a hole my my consciousness and let the cosmos in.

Like zen, it's impossible to explain to somebody who hasn't experienced it, but the essence was that, for a brief and blinding moment, I felt the flow of the universe. My part in it, and where all the other pieces were, and why. The good, the bad, and the ugly, and how they all meshed. The essential rightness of it, as if I somehow beheld it all.

Only a moment, then it was gone. I heard the echo for a long time, and I can remember what it felt like almost four decades later. It was in the most mundane place you can imagine: Standing in the checkout line at a supermarket on Winbourne Ave., just off the Airline Highway, in North Baton Rouge, about to buy a bottle of Boone's Farm Apple Wine.

I was not seeking it. Not expecting it. It hit me zap, just like that. Stone, cold sober.

The woman in front of me turned around, looked at my face, grinned, and said, "Oh, yeah!"

Was I touched by the finger of God? Or did I get a neuron zapped by a rare subatomic particle? Is it the same thing? Was it a total hallucination? I can't say -- but I know how it felt. I believed it was real. A door opened, a glimpse, but that was all I got.

What I think enlightenment is?

You get to live on the other side of that door.

Hallelujah

I'm a big fan of Leonard Cohen, though I came to him late -- one night I was watching Austin City Limits, this old guy in black came out and sang, in a voice to put Darth Vader's to shame, The Tower of Song, and I was riveted. I went out next day, bought CDs, and discovered after hearing them that there were all kinds of people who have covered his music.

Recently, Cohen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and I watched that. After an acceptance speech that included reciting verses from The Tower of Song, which I found touching, Damien Rice came out, and with an acoustic guitar, played one of Cohen's most covered tunes: Hallelujah.

The song is about lost love. I don't get choked often listening to music, there are a few pieces, and this is one of them. I thought this version was especially evocative.

Science Fiction


If you have a chance to see the recent full-length movie version of Futurama, the animated series now being run on Comedy Channel, Bender's Big Score, by all means, do so. It has way too much fun, but the time-travel paradox stuff is as good as any I've seen, if somewhat more tongue-in-cheek. (And tattoo on cheek, too.)

Check it out.

Life, the Universe, and Um ... ?


After my short history of, and forecast for The Universe, an addendum: While science is wonderful as a tool, it is also limited. An acknowledgment of the limit here:

Posit the Big Bang (the Sudden Flash). Fine. Science takes us back to that.

What was there before that? In a universe where things have a cause-and-effect relationship, even though sometimes we haven't figured them out, you hit the wall. What caused the Big Bang? Science has no answer.

Religion says "God."

Or is our universe naught but a button on a giant's waistcoat?

Here, we are into the realm of magic --- or an infinite series, which is its own kind of magic, no matter that you call it mathematics. And yet, all things we know have beginnings and ends, including our universe, and if there was a beginning, how did it happen? If the buck stops at God, if God is eternal and has always been there, it's beyond my mind's grasp, but it is no more so than the infinite series. And a creator seems so much more ... elegant to me. So I'll go with that. No proof, but I don't expect any. If you have proof, it wouldn't be faith, it would be fact ...

I think whoever created the universe went off to conduct other business. I don't think God is a hands-on manager, certainly not given how screwed up this planet is; that we are instead left to our own devices. But that's just me, and I am not one to gainsay another's faith. You believe what you believe, not a problem for me, more power to you. As long as I am not required to walk your path when I am happy on my own.

Enlightenment


So, over on Rory's blog, a post on recognizing one's limits. The example he uses is of a certified enlightened zen master who leaves the monastery, but who, after a few days, returns, because the hustle of a city is harder to deal with than the calm of the monastery.

It's a good point, the stuff about limits -- but a poor example. Rory offers the caveat: "Maybe it seems that his enlightenment wasn't real if it wasn't universal. That call is up to you."

Okay, so I'm calling it -- his enlightenment wasn't real.

First, "certification of enlightenment" seems, on the face of it, unrealistic. Who certified it? Using what basis? How did they know? Since the states of moksa, nirvana, samadhi or nibbana are personal experiences, one might point at a holy woman and say, "She looks like she's there to me," but how could one certify such a thing?

(A man might have a certificate from a martial arts master that says he is an adept, but even in that case, the certificate doesn't make it so. Sometimes paper gets issued for reasons not connected to actual fighting ability, so that does not guarantee push --> shove performance.)

Second, is the definition: Enlightenment. As I understand it, once you get to be a fully-realized human being, you not only have your shit together, but you can also lift it and move it around, and it is universal. As I said in my note to Rory, if it doesn't work on the freeway, you don't have it. Once you achieve that place, to use the Hindu example, you know Maya when you see it, and it matters not where you drive your car -- no matter where you go, there you are ... (and thanks to Buckaroo Banzai ...)

If you can only be calm and collected in the monastery, then you aren't enlightened, you are only part-way there.

The number of people who achieve this plateau and who are walking around at any given time, is not large. Because you wear a robe and sit chanting for eight hours doesn't mean you have it. In fact, once you have gotten there, you can wear blue jeans and skip the chanting altogether. You don't need it any more. Once you win Powerball, you don't have to sweat trips to the grocery store.

Definitions and language -- they keep tripping us up ...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sergeant Pepper ... It's Really Deep, Man ...


At the end of the summer of 1967, just before Labor Day, the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band hit the racks. I was working as a lifeguard at the ERA Country Club pool, and the other guards and I were Beatles fans, so we got it and brought it to work, to play on our record player. This was back in the 33-1/3 vinyl record days, you understand.

A concept album, which still a pretty new idea at the time, the record had a major impact on the burgeoning flower children. Grammy for best album, much debate about what the songs meant, and who all those people were on the cover. (For the record, the images were chosen by the fab four, and they couldn't get permission to use some they wanted. The list:

Aldous Huxley
Albert Einstein
Albert Stubbins
Alberto Vargas
Aleister Crowley
Aubrey Beardsley
Bob Dylan
Bobby Breen
Carl Gustav Jung
Diana Dors
Dion DiMucci
Dr. David Livingstone
Dylan Thomas
Edgar Allan Poe
Fred Astaire
George Bernard Shaw
George Harrison
Huntz Hall
H. G. Wells
H. C. Westermann
Issy Bonn
John Lennon
Johnny Weissmüller
Karl Marx
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Larry Bell
Lenny Bruce
Lewis Carroll
Mae West
Marilyn Monroe
Marlene Dietrich
Marlon Brando
Max Miller
Oliver Hardy
Oscar Wilde
Paul McCartney
Richard Lindner
Richard Merkin
Ringo Starr
Robert Peel
Shirley Temple
Simon Rodia
Sonny Liston
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya
Sri Mahavatar Babaji
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda
Sri Yukteswar Giri
Stan Laurel
Stephen Crane
Stuart Sutcliffe
Terry Southern
The Petty Girl of George Petty
Lawrence of Arabia
Tom Mix
Tommy Handley
Tony Curtis
Tyrone Power
Wallace Berman
William S. Burroughs
W. C. Fields

One of the Beatles biographies I read tells you which Beatle chose which image. Fascinating stuff.

Personally, I think Abbey Road is a much better album. The Pepper songs were not the best the band ever wrote, but had some memorable ones among them. One of which was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and despite what Lennon said at the time so it would get air play, was not about his son's friend in school, or a picture the lad drew, but about what everybody thought it was about, an LSD trip. McCartney finally admitted that, three decades later. The BBC refused back then to play "drug" or "sex" songs, if they could recognize them. They blew it on The Velvet Underground's Take a Walk on the Wild Side, having no idea what "giving head" meant.
Or cross-dressing prostitution, for that ...

At the time, in that halcyon summer before the Summer of Love, the other guards and I listened to it, mightily impressed. And one of them, Danny, said, "Wow, this is really deep, man."

I agreed, but I wondered what he meant by saying that, so I asked him, "How you figure?"

And he said, "Because I don't understand it."

I had one of those come-to-realize moments -- it struck me that a lot of people would apply that measure -- if I don't understand it, then it must be deep. That we tend to assume we are smart and clever folk, and that things beyond our ken -- if they have any intrinsic meaning -- must be beyond the understanding of most people. Which would explain things like critics who go on and on about an impressionistic painting, pointing out what the artist is trying to do, and his understanding of color and composition and light, not realizing that the artist was a chimp given a paint set and a blank canvas ...

Sometimes what you don't understand is deep. Sometimes, it's because it rhymed with "Queen." And sometimes, it has no meaning at all ...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cold and Dark


A musing on chaos and entropy ...

The three rules of thermodynamics, simplified, by Ben Bova:

1. You can't win.
2. You can't break even.

3. You can't get out of the game.


Okay, a short history of, and forecast for, The Universe. For the purposes of this exercise, I will leave out God(s) and religion. Yeah, I know, but that's the set-up.

First, we have the itty-bitty point. Not a Big Bang, because a) it was itty-bitty, and B) there wasn't any sound because there wasn't any medium to carry it. Call it the Sudden Quiet Flash.

Expanding, expanding, e-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g ...

Into what? Never mind, that'll just boggle your brain. Expanding into something.

Energy and matter do their cosmic dance, switch places, woof and warp. Fourteen billion years, more or less; stars, planets, galaxies, dust, nebulae, dark this, visible that, and and and

You Are Here.

Fast forward. Nobody's quite sure of the time, but for the sake of argument, let's call it another trillion trillion years. (One theory says that by observing it, we hasten its death. Sucking up those photons, might cut it short a few minutes.) Stars use up their fuel, wink out. Not enough matter to stop the expansion, and anyway, all matter goes to energy. White dwarves collapse into black holes and eventually, even the black holes evaporate. Someone left the cake out in the rain ...

Everything gets really, really cold and really, really, dark, and the Universe sighs, entropy rules, and that's it. Not even a whimper -- no medium to carry the sound ...

Brrr.

Not a thing we can do about it. Cold, dark, nobody home, no home, either. Unless we find a hidden back door into a parallel place with similar physics -- and good luck with that -- or God decides to build a new watch and wind that one up, it's game over, oh, my. Sure, it might be a trillion trillion years and all, but it's all finite.

George Harrison's song was right: All things must pass.

Meanwhile, we live lives of chaos, because that's the state of the place. You can't control any of it, the center cannot hold, it whirls, it whirls, so why bother? Go with the flow ...

Of course, the entire length of human history has been mostly dedicated to trying to control things -- an attempt to lay bridges over the chasms of chaos. We sort, we lump, we calculate, and we strive to impose order. Always have, it's our nature. Some of us accept the chaos and shrug. Most of us fight the good fight.

I can't take the long view -- all those trillions of years. (Old joke: In astronomy class, the professor says, "So, the sun will go nova and destroy itself and our solar system in ten billion years -- "

A panicky student interrupts: "What!? What did you say!?"

"I said that Sol will go nova in ten billion years."

The student blows out a sigh of relief. "Oh. Ten billion. I thought for a second there you said 'ten million ...'")

I mean, if it all comes to nothing, then what's the point?

Well, for me, it's the little segment I get to live, and how I do it.

The concept of time might mean nothing, but if the grandkids need to be picked up at school at two p.m. and I am not a time-binder, they get to stand in the cold waiting. Of course, you might allow as how we all will be standing in the cold eventually, but I can't fix that. I can try to impose enough order on the chaos to be parked outside when the bell rings. Might not be able to, shit happens, but I will make the effort.

Saying "Shit happens." is not nearly as useful in my mind as trying to avoid letting shit happen, if't I can fix ...

Yep, we walk on shifting sands, all things must pass, and control is mostly beyond us. And sometimes, you gotta go with the flow and know that chaos will get you. But you can at least watch where you put your feet, and if you see the elephant charging, try to get out of its way.

Global Warming


So, first day of Spring was day before yesterday. Two days shy of Easter. And I got up this morning to let the dogs out and it was snowing ...

Just a dusting, and it didn't stick -- already up to 38 F. and the forecast is for mostly cloudy and rain showers today, but still. Third week in March, that's a bit off the norm.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander


So, Bobbe taught a seminar this past weekend, courtesy of Jay Carstensen, in Des Moines. That's Iowa. Sounds like they had a fine ole time, and more power to them.

But: pictures were taken, and this was one of them.

Guess what? You don't get to give me shit about ab-shots any more, Tinkerbelle ...

Bloggery


I don't get that many readers on my blog -- average is somewhere between eleven and twelve thousand a month. And my stat counter tracks the numbers and all, but only keeps a running log of the last hundred or so.

Most of the hits come from the U.S., but there are people from all over the world who drop round, some from countries of which I have never heard -- I have to google maps to figure out where they are.

The image above is a breakdown of the most recent hundred visitors by country.

Is it great living here in the future, or what?

Don't Look, Bobbe!




Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everything Old is New Again


There are legions upon myriad upon beaucoup ways to work out -- if you look around, you'll find books, courses, videos, personal trainers, all manner of instruction in ways to enhance your physical being. Pay your money, take your choice.

Many of these "new" systems, are, alas, simply recycled methods with new names and some tiny spin. The latest, most up-to-date, you-heard-it-here-first! systems.

Yeah, science marches on, we know the whys and wheretofors, but the principles of exercise and staying fit are essentially pretty simple: Eat less, exercise more. Do something that causes you to work up a good sweat. Train for the specific things you want or need. If you want to move heavy things around, lift weights. If you want to run a marathon, jog a lot. If you need to be able to put your ankles behind your head, yoga ...

The new age sellers nod, but say their way will allow you to do it faster, easier, and more efficiently. Probably some of them are right.

P.T. Barnum, were he alive today, would probably walk around in a permanent state of dazed disbelief. A sucker born every minute? How about ten a second? He'd have to hire a fleet of trucks to fill his money bin.

There's a machine, ads for it in Discover Magazine, that supposedly does it all -- strength, fitness, flexibility. Only takes four minutes a day. Four minutes, that's it. It really, really works, they swear.

Even if it did? There's a little drawback: It costs a tad more than a set of kettlebells (another old toy that has made a comeback) or the 110 lb barbell set down at Sears.

Check out the ROM. Go here, they'll send you a free DVD.

You can have one delivered for a mere $14,615.0o

Thing is, there have been strong and fit people as long as there have been people. Look at the statue of the Farnese Hercules, and you can bet the model for that didn't take anabolic steroids, nor spend fourteeen grand on a Rube Goldberg toy.

When I was a more serious weightlifter, I used to read the muscle 'zines. Foremost among those then -- and now -- were the Weider magazines, from Joe and Ben Weider. Joe was a pioneer in the bodybuilding field, and along the way, came up with a list of principles on how to do it right.

Cocentric, eccentric, overload, ascending sets, descending sets, push-pull, circuit -- you name it, Weider had principle for it. Started out with a few, but built steadily on them, until there were many. And, just in case you might possibly come up with something new, he had the best one of all: The Instinctive Training Principle. This basically meant, "Anything you come up with on your own? That's mine, too." Could have been subtitled "The Everything Else Principle ..."

Give credit where it is due, Weider had some training chops. All of the major bodybuilders up to and including lately were, at one time, training with his system. People would break away, usually to sell their own courses, but any big-name bodybuilder you ever heard of -- Ahnahl, Lou, Lee Haney, they trained at Gold's or World's, and they did it with the other Weider boys.

But, in the end, the principles are simple, and all the rest? That's mostly packaging.

Look at that picture of Hercules up top. How you figure he managed to get that way? Maybe it was the Weider Lucked Out Principle ...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Stands Up


Well, I have to say, Rocky's speech regarding his former pastor laid it all out there on the table.

May be the best, most direct talk on race relations to come out of a national politician ever. He's walking a tightrope, blindfolded, no net, no pole, not even an umbrella for balance, and I thought he crossed the abyss as well as anybody could.

Man has a way with words. And balls. Got to give him that.

Clarke Dies


Arthur C. Clarke
(1917 - 2008)

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, one of the ABC's from SF's pioneering days -- Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, (and add in H, for Heinlein,) has died. He was ninety. He spent his last years in Sri Lanka, where he moved, he said, because the water was warm and he could approximate the condition of weightlessness by scuba-diving.

He had been in poor health for years, secondary to post-polio syndrome he began suffering the 1960's.

If he had done nothing else but the short story upon which Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was based, he'd be remembered, but he did a lot more. He was not only a science fiction writer, but also a scientist, and those are fewer and farther between.

Of the grand old men, only Ray Bradbury is left to us now.

Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit


The Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit, which features a fair number of guitars of all stripe -- classical, acoustic steel-string and electric -- as well as other stringed and wind instruments, from flutes, to violins, to harps, will be held at Marylhurst College, in Portland, OR, on April the 19th & 20th this year, from noon to five p.m. both days.

It's worth seeing just for the instruments, but there are mini-concerts running both afternoons, in the chapel just across the lawn, in which the players showcase the makers. Some of these are superb, and you get in to those with the price of admission, a whole $3 for adults, and
kids under 12, free.

If you are within range of Portland, you might want to consider it -- it's a cheap date and a lot of fun. The acoustics in the small theater are great, and there are some first-class guitars on display.

One More on Expertise ...


Back when Johnny Carson was doing The Tonight Show, there was always some dancing when contract renewal time came round. Carson was pretty much irreplaceable, but the network would make noises about finding a new host as part of its bargaining position. They never did, of course.

One year, apparently, the name of an up-and-coming comedian arose as a possible replacement: Chevy Chase.

For those of you too young to remember, Chase was one of the original Not-Ready-For-Prime Time players who started out on Saturday Night Live. He was funny, did everything from pratfalls to the Weekend Update segment in SNL, and a lot of his comedy was physical and visual. He was the first of the cast to bail and head out to Hollywood. Apparently he was not altogether popular with the cast, and on his return to guest host, got into a fistfight with Bill Murray backstage. They made fun of it on a later broadcast.

Chase did several well-received movies before all that falling off ladders caught up with him, and he got addicted to pain meds for a bad back. He cleaned up, and has been fairly quiet in the biz since, showing up now and then in odd places.

The story goes, when Carson heard Chase's name being bandied about, he laughed. "Chevy Chase? He couldn't ad lib a fart after a baked bean dinner," he was reputed to have said.

Later, Chase was on The Tonight Show, I disremember what they were talking about, he and Johnny, probably flacking a movie, but there was new comedian on the bill: Gallagher. He's also funny, and he does a lot of stuff with props. His most famous routine is a takeoff on all those late-night ads for kitchen slicers and dicers, the Sledgeomatic, which involved a massive mallet and assort fruits and vegetables, including a watermelon. People in the front row at his show bring sheets of plastic to cover themselves, and need it. One of my favorite lines he did was, "Why is there a permanent-press setting on your iron?"

So, Gallagher does his routine to much applause, and Johnny waves him over -- an honor for a new comedian.

Gallagher sits, they say hello, and Chase says -- as best I can recall -- "Is that it? That's your act? Prop schitck?"

Gallagher gave Chase a hard look, and then proceeded to offer opinions on his clothes, his attitude, and the state of his haircut, and in no sweet terms, either.

Chase backed off: "Oh, I think you're probably a fine young comedian -- "

Gallagher: "Nobody gives a (bleep!) what you think!"

I made it Gallagher, by six lengths, and going away. Gallagher didn't take no shit from nobody.

Carson, who was a master interviewer on his worst day, just sat there, grinning. He could have stepped in and shut it off, but he didn't. He let it go on.

There's no way to know what Johnny was thinking, of course, he's been gone for years, but I felt at the time it must have been directed at the network executives: Hey, this is the guy you want to replace me with? Look how he handles a little heckling ...

We miss you Johnny. You were the best.

Ford Tough. Ford Smart ...


So, on the tube last night, another commercial, this time for a Ford pickup. (Can't get there by clicking on the image above, sorry, use the link.)

Guy comes out, and narrates as a group of "scientists" hooks a truck via chains to an arm of a huge, rocket-testing centrifuge. The truck is then whirled about, demonstrating the strength of the tow loops under the front bumper.

Aside from the Ford-needs-those-tow-loops jokes, the test doesn't mean much. But the part I liked was, down in the corner in small print, it said:

"Closed centrifuge. Do not attempt."

The classic warning: Don't try this at home, kids.

Well, phooey! I was just about to go out back by the oak tree and hook my wife's SUV up to the centrifuge and give it a whirl, but since they warned me not to, well, I guess I can't ...

Hair dryers come with warnings not to use them in the bath tub. There are street signs I drive by that say "Red Means Stop in Beaverton!" just in front of traffic signals. Like it means something else in other towns. Even some guns come with warnings stamped into the barrels. (Don't point this at your head and pull the trigger! Well, okay, it doesn't say that, but it might as well.)

People sue McDonalds when they hit a speed bump and the coffee cup they have clamped between their thighs spills and burns them. And win in court.

Makes you wonder how bright a species we are ...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Addendum to Expertise


I'm reminded of a story I heard years ago: A park ranger somewhere in the west was out hiking when an excited birder came running up to him. Guy pointed at a feathered critter nearby and said,"Do you know what kind of bird that is?!"

Ranger said, "No, but I have a copy of Peterson's Guide in my backpack."

"Won't help," the man said. "I'm Peterson."

Second story concerns an argument I had with my father last time I went home to visit. My mother has bird seed feeders out, and she also hangs sugar water bottles for the hummingbirds, and we were watching a black bird. I mentioned as how we had some birds out west I had never seen in Louisiana. In eastern Oregon and Washington, there is a kind of black and white bird with a long tail, I said, called a magpie.

No, my father said, that's a barn swallow.

I learned a long time ago I couldn't argue with my father -- he is always right, and if you disagree, you are wrong, period. So I shrugged it off, and let it go.

My mother left the room. When she came back, she was carrying a copy of her bird identification book, opened to the page on magpies. "Is that it?" she asked me.

"Yeah."

Triumphant, she flourished the book at my father. And he said -- and not the first time I had heard him say this -- "Well, the book is wrong!"

I tell these two stories together because a) sometimes the book is wrong -- or incomplete. (And even R.T. Peterson kept on learning, after he was the man to ask.) And b) sometimes the book is right, but people don't want to hear it. You have to be able to figure out which is the case now and again ...

Walk a Mile In Your Enemy's Shoes ...


At the end of which, if still disgree, at least you'll be a mile away -- and your enemy will be barefoot ...

The good thing about the internet is that it allows a lot of long-distance conversations you might not otherwise be able to have; the bad thing is that it allows a lot of long-distance conversations you might not otherwise be able to have ...

I've spoken to this before, how words alone offer only broad and relatively inexact communications, even in the hands of experts. I do this every day, easily have written six or seven million words and make a living at it, and on my best day, I might bat .500. Anybody less practiced has a harder row to hoe.

So, after a recent discussion online in which I found myself shaking my head over something I thought I understood, I wondered: If our positions were reversed, if I was making comments about something I considered myself something of an adept at, would I offer the same kind of pronouncements?

I certainly could make a case for so doing:

I've been writing and selling stuff for more than thirty years. I've sold scores of short stories; articles, TV scripts, movie treatments and a bunch of novels. If you haven't sold a novel, if you start writing and selling one a year, and if I quit writing today, chances are you won't live long enough to catch up.

Does that make me more experienced in the writing biz than somebody who hasn't sold anything? Probably.

Does it make me a better writer? Well ... no.

The ability to put the words on the paper in some kind of order is major, and it is a skill that sharpens with practice, but not the only factor. Luck, timing, the economy, the state of the nation, all kinds of things come into play to get a book published. There are better writers who don't do as well as I; there are worse writers who make a lot more money. Talent isn't the only measure. Sometimes who you know is more important than what you know.

For me to say to a newbie writer, "Listen, I understand more about how a book contact is structured than you, based on my experience." that's probably valid. But maybe it isn't. Maybe the newbie writer is a contracts lawyer, or maybe she worked in the publishing business's legal department. Her experience isn't the same, but because it doesn't match mine, that doesn't make it invalid. I don't know what she knows.

If I read somebody's manuscript and offer comments on the content, they will be based on my taste, my experience, and my knowledge of what works and what doesn't. But my critique will be, at the bottom, my opinion. I'd like to think it would be a fair appraisal and mostly right, but I could be dead wrong. I have to allow for that. It is tempting to hold up my experience as the be-all, end-all, and it simply is not.

What I know isn't all encompassing, and while I am going to roll using it because it is what I have to get me where I want to go, there are many paths up the mountain. When I hear that brushed off with, "Well, yes, but my path is better." it trips alarms bells. If it is, "Mine is the only true one," well, I've heard that one before, and I ain't convinced. And "Because I have experience and I say so." isn't enough to make it so me. So when I say it, it ought not to be enough to convince anybody else, either. Sauce for the goose and all.

"Here's how I see it," is not the same as "Here is how it is."

I must try to remember that ...

And, hallelujah, we have heat here again. Burned-out igniter, less costly than the electronic module would have been. Though that term "less costly" is relative ...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Disclaimer


Water Tower, Ypsilanti, Michigan

So, I was huddled in front of my fireplace, watching TV when the latest Viagra commercial came on. Featured a bald guy in a vanilla car, ho hum, until once day he showed up on a big honkin' motorcyle, with Viva Viagra playing the in the b.g., to the tune of Elvis's Viva Las Vegas.

Don't let LD get you down. (Limp Dick ...) Take that little blue pill ...

At the end of drug commercials, it has been mandated that the fine print be read aloud, side-effects and odd symptoms. The most famous in the Viagra/Cialis realm is, of course, the four-hour woody. "If you should have an erection lasting more than four hours, you should call your doctor."

Yeah. After you call the circus and every girlfriend you ever had, and then offer to serve as a springboard on the vault for women's gymnastic team ...

This one is such a howler, even though priapism can be very serious, involving gangrene and like that, that you miss the next two: "If you notice a sudden decrease in hearing or vision, you should also call your doctor."

Right. You go deaf and blind. Assuming you can find your way to the telephone and punch in the number, how are you gonna know if anybody answers? Can't see, can't hear, but got wood.

Some trade ...

Jogging My Memory of Winter


I have, over the years, gotten spoiled with my creature comforts. Gotten used to electricity, hot water, and central heat. TV, the internet, all that.

As a boy in Baton Rouge, whose winters seldom had snow but were often as cold and nasty as the season gets up here in Oregon, we lived in a small house whose heat was provided by a fair-sized, but single, space heater in the living room. My mother kept a pan of water on top of the metal grate to help keep the air from drying out, and it was usually too hot in the living room and considerably colder in the bedroom down the hall I shared with my brother. No big deal.

We used to go camping in the Boy Scouts during winter where we'd hike five miles into a site, pitch tents, and get up the next morning to find the soup we'd left simmering in a big pot over the campfire coals frozen solid.

Until my wife and I bought our first house, every place we lived had space heaters or baseboard units We had an oil heater in Port Townsend, but we used a free-standing woodstove for most of our heat there, being afraid the oil furnace would blow up, having read Stephen King's The Shining.

Which is to say that I don't really miss those days. But this morning, bright and early, our force-air natural gas furnace died. Probably the igniter; maybe some other circuit in the control module. Had juice, motor was running, but no fire. Not a major repair, you unplug the old one, toss it, plug the wires into the new one, all done. Happened once before, a dozen years or so ago. Happened on a weekday.

Finding a furnace repairman or even parts if you want to essay attemping to fix it yourself on Palm Sunday, however, is passing difficult; which is to say that neither were to be had, and the heat still isn't on. Maybe tomorrow.

Temperature tonight supposed to be in the high thirties, rainy and fifty-four tomorrow. Fortunately, we have extra blankets, and a wood-stove insert in our living room fireplace, so between those and a little portable electric heater I used for the garage back when the weight machine was out there, I am in no immediate danger of freezing. Plus the hot tub. And the dogs.

My lovely spouse is out of town on a business trip, and spending the next couple of days in balmy Charleston, SC. (Balmy now, after the tornadoes blew through there Friday and Saturday.)

Doesn't feel much like spring at my house ...

Agility Dogs


So, Phase One of the backyard agility course is complete. We now have two cheapo homemade obstacles -- a bar jump and a tire jump.

Phase Two will require clearing away all those dead bush stumps and some of the English Ivy, whereupon we can install a tunnel, a chute tunnel -- first piece of which is on hand and in the picture, next to the lettuce barrel --weave poles, and a resting table. Plus another bar jump or two.

Phase Three will include the teeter-totter, bridge, and maybe the A-frame. You can see what real dogs and equipment look like here: Dog Agility.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Make Do Musical Instruments

Here's something Bobbe might try. Of course, if the glasses had Chinmay in them, the notes would all be sour and flat, but ...

The Readers Speak


It's been about three weeks since I sent out the first draft of The Dreadnaught, and most of the first readers who volunteered to have a look at it have reported back. There are a few who got the file late, and a few more who have made partial reports, but I thought I'd offer a progress report as to how it's going.

So far, most of the readers seem to think it works okay. Some even liked it. Comments have been offered in the spirit of constructive criticism, and some of them will be reflected in the rewrite(s). Some of them missed the mark, and won't show up in the finished ms. That's how it always goes -- win some, lose some.

To those who read and reported, thank you.

Some of the readers worked too hard. They did line edits for typos and punctuation, and while I appreciate it, I didn't even run the spellchecker, I never do that until final draft. It has at least two more passes -- Michael's, then me again.

One dedicated reader printed the ms out, bound it in three volumes, went through it and marked typos, and offered critiques on content, and tabbed each page. Way more work than I expected, though I certainly appreciate it.

Without offering too many specifics to get in the way of those still slogging their way through the book, a few things I've noticed:

People seemed to have different favorite characters. A couple pointed out how pleased they were that there weren't many real villains, just contenders with opposing ways of looking at the world. I was happy to hear that. Good villains need to be understandable, even sympathetic.

There was one woman that nobody felt comfortable around. Her, I wanted to make people nervous. There is a scene -- I won't spoil for anybody still reading -- wherein a couple of readers came back with, "Oh, man! That's just cold!" I was happy to hear that. Exactly the reaction I wanted.

Everybody who said anything liked Ven, our archer.

Our comic relief characters seemed to play okay, and the resolution there paid off.

The martial arts guys mostly liked the martial arts stuff, though they wanted to see more of it. One reader wanted to see more of the economic effects of steam on society, but we planned to get to that in the second or third book, since the technology is just in its infancy in this one.

A few people have said they thought the book was slow, and much of that due to the cadence of its language, much different from what I usually write in my science fiction or technothriller stuff. The Matadors don't beat around the bush, they shoot right through it, and these readers preferred that.

Me, too, generally, but not here.

Most of the people who said this confess to not being fans of doorstop fantasy, which is why I made this request up front -- if you don't read the stuff, probably you ought not bother with this. (If you want to see real foot-breakers, pick up any of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The shortest of these -- there are, I think, eleven of them, with one more half-finished when Jim died -- and the shortest of them is longer than The Dreadnaught. Dense with detail, not much plot, though many plots afoot, and pages and pages without a paragraph break ...)

The ratio -- usually for me -- between a manuscript's page count and that of a printed page in a novel is about 10:7. A tad more or less, depending on font in the book, but that's the norm. So, for a 700 pp ms, you are looking at a novel that will run under 500 pp. Not something you read on the bottomless throne Monday morning before your shower, but not anywhere near the really big ones, which can be half again, or even twice as long.

Big fantasy is an acquired taste, and part of it has to do with that King James' thee-thou-thither prose. People in magical book realms are less direct in their speech and thought, they dance around things before getting to the point. The pace of life is slower when you have to walk or ride a horse or a cart drawn by aurochs everywhere. No TV, no movies, no electric lights.

Sure, I liked The Princess Bride, too, but that's not the audience we are looking for here. If you noticed such a stately flow of prose in this ms, it was because we did it on purpose, not because we suddenly forgot how to write. At least we didn't make up an entire language and force you to learn it ...

In a short story, everything has to move the piece forward, there's no room to lollygag. In a big fantasy, you can wander around in the wilderness for twenty pages and as long as it is, in itself, interesting, it need only have the most distant relationship to the storyline. People who like this kind of thing, like this kind of thing.

Oh. And some some of what is there has to do with marketing. We might not be able to convince our usual publishers to take this one on, and if we wind up at a new house, they need to know this is but the first book of a series, and that we have some clue as to where it is going.
They might not know us well enough to trust us, so we have to lay some things in to show them.

Some things will wrap up, but not nearly as many loose ends will be tied-off as in a stand-alone one-off. We do have to offer satisfactory character arcs, but many of these people are going to show up in the next book, and maybe the one after that, so they aren't done yet. This isn't the story of the Great Eilandia War, it's the story of the start of the war, and focused on a new invention, the steamship. Our folks don't have to change as much in Part One of a trilogy as they would in a single novel.

Readers who have read a lot of doorstop fantasy didn't seem to think the ms was slow or overlong at all. One took me to task for claiming it was a big book. Not a patch on George R.R. Martin's arse, this. (In more ways than one, sez I, not the least of which is page count.)

So there we stand. Just for fun, I've put up a cartoon I did of The Britta when I got started, just so I'd know the general layout of the vessel.

Thanks again for the input, folks. We do appreciate it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bruce & Bruce


Before Bruce Lee was Bruce Tegner. When I was a young fellow, books on martial arts were few and far between, (what with having to be chiseled into stone or written on papyrus) and the leading writer of these was Bruce Tegner. His parents taught ju-jitus and judo, and he was born into it, became a judo champion, eventually studied karate, and combined them into something called Jukado.

He also wrote books on arts about which he knew very little, interviewing those who did, and using them as models. Born in the late 1920's, Tegner died in 1985, and is little remembered today for the pioneer writing he did. (If you went looking for martial arts book in the sixties, you seldom found one. If, over the course of a few months of looking, you found, say, five of them? Four of those would be by Tegner.)

His training philosophy was simple: You should know a few basic moves well, and that fighting smart was better than fighting hard.

It came up in a comment to a posting as to whether or not Bruce Lee, who was James Coburn's teacher in the late 60's, had anything to do with showing Coburn how to play with a knife in The Magnificent Seven. Great cowboy picture, and almost a straight-across rip-off of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. John Sturges was a Kurosawa fan. Most good Hollywood directors were. Still are.

You ever have five or six hours to burn, watch one movie, then the other. There are differences, but some of the scenes are exactly the same, shot-for-shot, with guns instead of swords.

Lee didn't teach Coburn the knife-work for Seven. Coburn was one of Tegner's students -- Tegner even had a small role as one of the attackers in a martial art's training sequence early on in Our Man Flint, a spoof of James Bond. Years before Lee did The Green Hornet, which packed his private lessons with big-name actors, Tegner had a similar roster of Hollywood celebrities. Before Coburn trained under Lee, he had spent years training with Tegner. He was one of Lee's first celebrity clients:



When I was seventeen, I wanted to be Derek Flint. Looking back from here, his kung-fu was no good, but back then, it was the only game in town and it was really impressive to somebody yet to take his first martial arts' class.

Flint was the absolute renaissance man -- brilliant, tough, beautiful women hanging on him, a teenage boy's idol. Coburn, along with Spencer Tracy, in Bad Day at Black Rock, were my first on-screen martial art influences. Tracy, who plays a one-armed veteran come to pay his respects to a fallen Nisei comrade, gets bullied by a young Lee Marvin in the local diner. You hurt for the guy -- until he tosses Marvin on his ass using some sneaky Japanese fighting thing.

Thus the history lesson for the day ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oh, and You *Got* to See This

Words aren't adequate:

Who Says Classical Guitar Can't be Popular?

Edgar Cruz, four million hits, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Basically, a vid lesson in how to play it.(Of course, the classical guitar newsgroup crucifies him for how awful his playing is ...)

Stick Peg


Might as well put this one down before it fades away ...

The players in stick peg all had sharpened rods about two feet long, usually old boom or mop handles. There was no limit to the number of players, but generally, three or four were the norm, and you only needed two.

How it worked was, one player lost the draw and went first. He threw his stick point down, hard, and tried to stick it as close to straight up as possible, to forestall the intent of the second player.

The goal of the second player was twofold: He tried to hit the first player's stick hard enough with his thrown stick to knock it down, while at the same time, making sure his dug into the ground deep enough to stay upright. If he didn't do both, it was the third player's turn.

If the second guy did unearth the first guy's stick and managed to stick his up, too -- not too hard in St. Augustine grass and damp alluvial soil, with a little practice -- he he got to pick up the first guy's stick and hammer it like a baseball player trying to knock one out of the part.

The first guy hauled ass to retrieve his batted-away stick. If he got to it and managed to stick it up in the ground before the hitter could stick his pointy stick up three times, he stayed in the game. If not, he was out.

If it stuck up after the flight on its own, he got a free pass.

If both sticks fell over, the third player got his choice of which one to throw at, and all he had to do was tap one that was down and stick his own up, whereupon he got to bat the stick out for the three-versus-one count.

A good and lucky throw, you could knock down two or three sticks, whack 'em all, and get three guys out at once, if you were fast enough.

It was a good game to learn angles -- how to cut the line to knock the other guy's stick down, plus you got to do some sprinting. And aerate the lawn, of course. Not that it was necessary down in the fetid and fecund south. If you went off and forgot your stick was stuck up, it would sprout leaves and roots in a couple days ...

This game was similar to tops, which were of wood, with a steel point. These were thrown, spun, and attacked the same way, with the goal of knocking an opponent's already spinning top out of a chalked ring with your own. If you did, you got to keep the top. If not, he got a shot at yours. Like marbles, it was a gambling game, and mostly, we played for keeps.

You Got the Right String Baby, but ...




... the wrong yo-yo ...

A link to a documentary in progress, "The World on a String," about the history of the yo-yo, aka the "return-top," in America. Fascinating stuff, if you grew up playing with these things, as I did.

Today, kids do things with these we couldn't dream of with the old wooden-axle models.

Spandex


Time is a useful construct, but sometimes it seems to have meaning that it doesn't really have.

Turning thirty-eight or thirty-nine on your birthday is not nearly so important in our society as turning forty. Why? Because forty was, for a long time, traditionally the start of middle age. These days, forty is the new thirty, but it used to mark a major milestone.

Those birthday years that end in fives or zeroes, they seem to have more impact. Not always, but I can tell you that turning sixty felt more monumental than turning thirty, forty, or fifty ...

Sixty was old, when I was growing up. The pyramids were sixty. Dinosaurs went extinct sixty years ago. My grandmother was sixty ...

Forty was middle-aged, but even if sixty is the new forty, um ... well ... you ain't no spring chicken no more. Patch, patch, patch.

The year I turned forty, I was determined that if I was going to be middle-aged, they were going to have to drag me into it kicking and screaming.

We tricked out half the garage into a workout room -- weight-stack machine, freeweights, stair-stepper, a rower, a mini-tramp.

We bought bicycles and did some serious riding. I did martial arts forms, hiked all over creation and gone, and walked the dog every day.

I bought Spandex. I wore it when I biked ...

Every set, every rep, every chin, I logged into a workout journal. Every other day, I hit the weights, at least to start out. I quickly realized I couldn't recover the way I had as a young buck, so I backed off to two or three sessions a week. I moved some serious iron. Not so much big weights as moderate ones, lots of times. My favorite torture was to do descending sets of chins: ten, break for thirty seconds, then nine more; break, then eight, seven, etc. down to one.

I burned all over ...

I hit everything hard. By the end of the year, I was the fittest I had ever been, including the year I trained to run a marathon. Bounce quarters off me, resting pulse of fifty-eight, hold my breath for three minutes, bench press three hundred pounds for reps, I was in shape.

Now, fitness is not about how you look, but about how you feel, and how you can function. How slow and steady your heart beats, how much air you can move efficiently, how you can apply yourself to tasks that need to be done. There are obese folks who run marathons who are in better shape than guys who win bodybuilding contests. However, there are usually some side effects to feeling good, and one of them is that you tend to look fit.

I used to could wear Spandex. Well, except for having to carry a big stick to keep the women off me when I was out and about ...

Which is all to say that, twenty years later, I am going to have to work a little harder to get in shape -- I don't want to peak too early -- and it might take a little longer, since I'll have to go slower and rest more frequently. And probably no Spandex this time ...

Play Nice


I find it fascinating -- especially when it comes from folks I know who are pentjak silat players -- to see all the shit Hillary Clinton is getting as the campaign for the D's candidate for President progresses.

Why, she is saying bad stuff about Obama! Can you imagine? Just to get the nomination! She even says McCain would be better than Rocky! She -- she's trying to win, and doesn't care how!

What a bitch!

So, I have to ask: Where were you when politics were covered during history class? What were you smoking that semester?

Pick an election, back to Washington, and look at what got said. Go back to Hamilton and Burr -- people used to kill each other of the slurs, slanders, and libels that were flung around like whiskey bottles at an Irish wake.

Scurrilous talk, sir! How dare you? Pistols at dawn, you cur!

Of course, some of it was true. Jefferson, that paragon who wrote that all men are created equal, owned slaves, and even fathered children by one. That was bandied about by the yellow press even way back when. He denied it. Our brilliant forefather was a liar. It took DNA testing to prove it.

Politicians bend the truth like pretzel makers. It's always been that way. Always.

When you are fifteen points ahead in the polls, you can afford to be magnanimous; you can play nice, you can duck debates, you can avoid saying the other guy's -- or gal's -- name. Take the high road. Be above it all.

Once you draw even or start losing, the game changes.

First off, anybody who wants the job of President has two strikes against him or her going in. A) They have egos the size of super-tankers. They think they are qualified to run the country and not coincidentally, have the wherewithal to be the most powerful person on the planet. Somebody who can wipe out most life on Earth. Once you get to that level, when you truly believe you are The One, then ends-justify-the-means is SOP. You can smile, hold your nose, and swallow stuff that would gag a maggot and rationalize it as being for the greater good. Once you get the job, you'll make up for it. Really.

I was for it, now I'm agin it, and once I get elected, why, I'll be for it again. The sand shifts underfoot, one has to step lively or get sucked under.

B) Any Presidental candidate has -- any of them -- in order to have arrived at the place where they have a legitimate shot at the office, given up part of their soul. Yes, it's true, you can't get anything done if you can't bend with the wind now and then. Politics is the art of compromise, you have to be a horse trader, quid pro quo, or you can't do the job. But: I have yet to see a President in my lifetime who didn't give up something that he once swore he'd never do, to be able to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. (Well, except maybe for the Current Occupant, and about whom I have nothing good to say, so I'll stop now.)

They lie. They have to. They promise the moon and deep down, they know they can't deliver it. But, they think, they will be ever so much better than the alternative, that such, um, shadings are necessary and valid. They'll make up for it. Really.

The silat reference? Our art has a running joke: If somebody says, "Hey, you cheated!" we all laugh. Stealthy and sneaky are part of what we do, because the goal in our fighting art is, when the dust-up is over, to be the guy who goes home, under his own power, with his teeth intact, instead of the guy who is going to the hospital or the morgue. We don't play fair, and we are proud of it. But, of course, that's just us. Nobody else should do that, especially not in the sainted realm of politics, where everybody should always, you know, play nice ...

Please.

People don't like to see negative campaigning. But as long as it works, you will see it, and it does work. War hero? Why, not at all -- he's a coward who lied about his record, he kicks old ladies down escalators, plus he has children who say Baaah! when they try to talk ...

As I said in an earlier post, it doesn't seem to be enough for people to triumph, they need to feel that their enemies fail, as well. Nobody running for President has reason to claim purity, because none of them are pure. You pick one you like, who seems closest to your philosphy, whom you believe will do the best job for the country, and you make your mark. But if you put them up on a pedestal and think they are any better than the rest of humanity, you are apt to get surprised two years on.

(Two points if you know where the picture came from and why I used it here ...)