Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricanes




1) Hurricanes - Pat O'Brians
2) Gustav, over land

So, another whirly beast heading for Louisiana. Still too soon to say exactly where it'll go ashore, but it does look like a big storm and likely to get stronger as it crosses the Gulf.

Talked to my sister, who lives just outside Baton Rouge a few minutes ago, and I'll call my mother in a little while, to see if they've battened down. B.R. is more than a hundred miles inland and usually doesn't get the same wind-level as New Orleans. We went through a couple bad ones in the mid-sixties, Hilda and Betsy. The latter was a Category-4, and only a knot shy of being a C-5. Went through the eye of that one. Eerie sensation, that. Wind coming from one direction at more than a hundred miles an hour, then dead calm, ear-popping drop in pressure, followed by sudden fierce wind from the opposite direction.

We lost a couple of trees and some shingles in that one.

I am here to tell you that throwing a beer bottle into the teeth of a wind blowing at a hundred and ten miles per hour is not the smartest thing to do. Good way to brain yourself if you don't duck fast.

Driving times from of New Orleans are horrendous at the moment, even with all the roads one-wayed out of the city, and it is a mandatory evacuation. Say it could take up to eight hours to get to Baton Rouge, which is only seventy miles up the interstate.

Board it up, tie it down, and good luck, Louisiana.

Storm tracking link here.

Animated satellite view here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Well, Just Put Some Bleachers Out in the Sun/

Tahkenitch Dune, August, 1983

/And have it on highway 61 ...

Each year, somewhere not-too-far from our birthdays, my wife and I try to get down to the Oregon coast, around Florence, whereat the big sand dunes shift and swirl. We happened upon the area by accident decades back, and were drawn to it enough to renew our wedding vows there twenty or so years ago. (The area was part of the inspiration for Frank Herbert's Dune, in case you didn't know. Things go on for miles.)

This year, it happened our annual trip kept me away from silat class.

I try to make it to every session -- the gathering at Maha Guru Plinck's is one of the highlights of my week, and for a long time, I was afraid I'd miss something. There have been several years when I had perfect attendance. (And given Murphy's Law, if I can't get to one class in six months, that will be the one where new djurus get handed out, and those are generally offered at long intervals, could be eighteen months to two years before another chance ...)

But while the big epiphanies don't come too often these days -- the universe is unfolding as it should, vanilla is not the opposite of chocolate -- now and again a small one bubbles up. I got one of those regarding my training when I realized I wouldn't get back in time for class this week. Yeah, I'd rather not miss the workout, but it came to me that I wasn't going to fall behind if I did. Because no matter what Guru showed the group, I would have already been exposed to the principles behind it; and since we would certainly see it again, I wouldn't really have that much trouble catching up.

It's not that there's nothing new under the sun, it's that the sun today is pretty much the same one that shone yesterday ...

Part of this came from the recent silat gathering in Las Vegas, when, exposed to many variations of our art, I realized how much of a through-line our version had. And that the principles of motion, of strategy and tactics, of philosophy at the core of the art, are what matter, not the myriad variations of applications.

It doesn't really matter which of the many brands of claw hammers you pick up -- if you know how to drive a nail properly, you can make any of them work.

Seems like such a no-brainer, that realization, but we come to them when we come to them.

So, yeah, I would rather make it to class than not; on the other hand, I am finally starting to get enough of a handle on things so that sweating the small stuff is not such a worry as once it was.

Live and learn ...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Reaching for the Stars

So, being a political wonk, I watched a fair chunk of the D's convention. I thought the major speakers hit homers, and that Barack Obama's acceptance speech drove in the winning run.

He's got my vote.

I'll watch the R's confab, too, but I'd be lying if I said I believed I was going to be as impressed by what they have to say. Or impressed at all.

I'm of the no-way, no-h0w, no-McCain mindset, and I think the R's have screwed it up enough in the last eight years -- let the D's screw it up for a while.

Can Obama deliver all he promises? In a word -- no. I don't think he can. But there's an old saying, "If you reach for the stars, you might not grab one, but at least you don't come up with a handful of mud ..."

Better, in my mind, to reach and fail than to grab a shovel and start digging, and what the Current Occupant of the White House and his Gang have done in the last eight years is, in another word, criminal. Debt, war, Constitutional and civil rights, violations, the list is long and sickening.

You don't have agree, that's your right. But if you want to say so, don't say it here -- I don't want to hear it, because no matter how you might season it, it's bullshit to say we are in any way better off than we were when Clinton left office.

Plenty of that around already. Don't need any more.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New eReader Dual-Display Prototype

Yeah, okay, it's not the most exciting video in the world -- you can skip the first sixty seconds -- but it shows that folks are getting closer to an e-reader that is apt to have more appeal. (Supposedly the next generation Kindle will be out in time for Christmas shopping, but if this version is anywhere close to production, I'm gonna wait on it.

Harry Harrison

People sometimes ask me about the kind of science fiction I read as a kid. Back in the day, there wasn't so much of it coming out that a fast reader couldn't keep up. Along with the ABCs and the H -- Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein, I read as much of the stuff as I could check out of the library or buy with my law-mowing money, usually from the rack down at the Rexall Drugstore. Bob Sheckley, Harlan Ellison, Phil Dick, Phil Farmer, Norman Spinrad, Fred Pohl, Poul Anderson ...

And Harry Harrison. Lord, Harry Harrison.

Nobody did action/adventure science fiction like Harry did. He wrote all kinds of stuff, including the Flash Gordon comic strip in the newspapers in the late 1950's. I came across him in the early sixties. SFWA has named him one of their Grandmasters, and he certainly deserves that award.

My Matadors had literary fathers and mothers who lived on the Planet of the Damned (available through Project Gutenberg) and who fought on Deathworld. Emile Khadaji's grandfathers were Jason dinAlt, a hotshot gambler, and Brion Brandd, winner of Olympic-style combat games called The Twenties.

Dirisha Zuri came from a long line of strong women including Meta Kerk. Spetsdöds are my answer to Harrison's forearm holsters worn by every Pyrran over the age of five ...

Later, Harrison wrote about Bill, the Galactic Hero, and the adventures of Slippery Jim diGriz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, and, of course, there was that 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! which became the basis for a movie, whose punchline was: "Soylent Green is people!"

Here is a fight scene from Planet of the Damned, written almost fifty years ago.

Read it, and learn:

"Brion was diving even as the electrical discharges still crackled in the air. The boxes and packs dropped from him and he slammed against Lea, knocking her to the ground. He hoped she had the sense to stay there and be quiet. This was his only conscious thought, the rest was reflex. He was rolling over and over as fast as he could.

The spitting electrical flames flared again, playing over the bundles of luggage he had dropped. This time Brion was expecting it, pressed flat on the ground a short distance away. He was facing the darkness away from the sand car and saw the brief, blue glow of the ion-rifle discharge. His own gun was in his hand. When Ihjel had given him the missile weapon he had asked no questions, but had just strapped it on. There had been no thought that he would need it this quickly. Holding it firmly before him in both hands, he let his body aim at the spot where the glow had been. A whiplash of explosive slugs ripped the night air. They found their target and something thrashed voicelessly and died.

In the brief instant after he fired, a jarring weight landed on his back and a line of fire circled his throat. Normally he fought with a calm mind, with no thoughts other than of the contest. But Ihjel, a friend, a man of Anvhar, had died a few seconds before, and Brion found himself welcoming this physical violence and pain.

There are many foolish and dangerous things that can be done, such as smoking next to high-octane fuel and putting fingers into electrical sockets. Just as dangerous, and equally deadly, is physically attacking a Winner of the Twenties.

Two men hit Brion together, though this made very little difference. The first died suddenly as hands like steel claws found his neck and in a single spasmodic contraction did such damage to the large blood vessels there that they burst and tiny hemorrhages filled his brain. The second man had time for a single scream, though he died just as swiftly when those hands closed on his larynx."

Notice that second-to-last graph. In the middle of a to-the-death fight scene, Harrison stops the action and delivers an off-hand comment that is as wry as it could possibly be. At fourteen or fifteen, which is when I first read it, and before I knew I wanted to be a writer, I thought this was brilliant. It has stayed with me. It's a wonderful trick of pacing, a delay of gratification, like pausing before the last bite of a hot fudge sundae. Get the reader caught up in the action, and then make them wait just a little longer for the resolution ...

I have used the same device in my own work several times. It's a fun trick. In the middle of a shootout, I've stopped to describe the military spec gun lube in the pistol the bad girl is using. You can almost hear the reader jumping up and down and yelling, "Get on with it! Move it, move it!"

That's your job as a writer, to take the readers where you want them to go -- and to make them like it.

Harrison, an American ex-pat, is in his eighties now, dividing his time between London and Ireland, and if you want to see how somebody who can write it fast, furious, and funny does it, pick up some of his novels.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bambi versus Godzilla

This one is something of a stretch -- I'm gonna try to span the space between beautiful young women and deadly martial arts ...

Here we go:

During my recent visit to Las Vegas and the long hours in the airport, I noticed what seemed to be a disproportionately large number of pretty, nubile, young women arriving or departing. They looked fit, sexy, and many of them were dressed in T-shirts or tank tops and short-shorts that looked to have been applied with an airbrush by an artist stingy with his paint. Stop and turn around for a second look eye-candy.

Hubba, hubba!

Well, okay, this was Vegas, probably more showgirls per capita than anywhere, whaddya expect? And a thing of beauty is a joy forever, right?

Maybe.

Of course, I also noticed that a number of these sweet young things seemed to be accompanied by gray-haired men my age. I didn't notice the kind of familial resemblance one would expect with fathers and daughters, so I found myself thinking, hmm, trophy wives. Or trophy girlfriends, and ... okay, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas ...

Which brought to mind the notion that, while these young ladies were some of them quite gorgeous by western standards, that the bloom doesn't stay on the rose very long. Beauty, physical beauty, is ephemeral. There is a relatively brief glory in the sun, and then it fades.

Things wrinkle; they sag; time and gravity always triumph in the end.

There's a woman who has spent tens of thousands of dollars to make herself look like Barbie, more than a dozen plastic surgeries, and, in a few years, no matter how many times she goes under the knife, she is gonna look like Barbie's grandma. Nature of the system.

Real beauty is, of course, more than just how pretty you look at twenty-three. And that if that is all you have going for you, when you lose that, your life is apt to take a major nose dive. If you are so gorgeous that people invite you to parties just to decorate the room, what happens to you when the calls stop coming?

If you are going to be fulfilled in life, you need to have something to replace that.

Beautiful women are about more than their looks. Pretty girls are fun to watch. Smart, funny, capable women are ever so much more appealing, at least to a man like me. A woman can be drop-dead gorgeous, and you might wonder about how she'd be in bed, but if that's all there is ... ?

What do you talk about afterward? And if you make a marriage based on only looks, what happens to it when she is forty or fifty and doesn't look like that any longer?

Watch this segue:

In martial arts, there are those that, if you are young and fit, work really well. If you can drop into a full side-split, bounce up, and kick an apple off the top of Yao Ming's head, then these arts are way cool. They are fun to do, and fun to watch, but ...

But: If you are seventy, chances are you aren't going to be able to run with the kids who can do that, and if your art doesn't make provisions for being slower and less athletic, then it won't serve you in the long run. So if you are thinking ahead, you want to find an art in which position is more important than speed; in which timing is more important than physical strength. That you find something to replace the rubber-ball resiliency of youth which, like the gorgeous twenty-three-year-old trophy wife's pretty face and tight boobs will eventually head south.

In the long run, it has been observed, all flesh is grass. We all age, we all die, and you should enjoy pretty faces -- and everything else -- in the moment. But it would seem to me that maintaining a longer arc of functional life would be to one's advantage.

Pretty is as pretty does. Life is like a box of chocolates ...

Teaching a Lesson

So, last week in Portland, one of the the freelance hookers on 82nd was approached by a pimp who decided he wanted to add her to his string. He made his offer -- a demand, to hear her tell it. She declined, words were exhanged, he got physical, and she sprayed him with pepper spray and took off.

Next day, she's sitting on the curb when a car full of people pulls up. Same guy and a buddy jump out. He allows loudly that he is going to teach her a lesson! Starts at her. Whether he hit her then or the day before isn't exactly clear, but she had a black eye in the booking photo, and she says it was his fist that did it.

Why was she booked? Well, for prostitution, which she admitted. But also because when El Pimpo Sleazo went for our soiled dove with mean intent, she pulled a hunting knife and stabbed him deader than black plastic.

Oops.

After consideration, the grand jury declined to indict the woman, allowing as how it seemed to be self defense to them. Me, too.

So, what do you suppose the lesson was?

Could it be, Don't mess around with a woman who carries a hunting knife and isn't afraid to use it ... ?

Shadows of the Empire Mini-Book

Came across this on a blog. Gives new meaning to the term small press ...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic Glory



Two images I liked: First is what kind of massive guns you build playing badminton, even if you are the gold medalist.

Second is what happens if you have the guns, but don't make the lift ...

Oh, Yeah, That Book I Mentioned a Couple Months Back ...

Just a subtle clue regarding that project of which I spoke. Finally got contracts.

I can't say more until after official announcements get made later, and I'll be limited somewhat even then -- we never kiss and tell until after our partner okays it, and then only as much as she wants to reveal about it.

Stay tuned.

Woodshedding

So, I took my guitar along to the silat seminar in Las Vegas. I had some vague notion that some of the other folks there, at least a few of whom are excellent guitarists, might bring their axes, and that I might able to learn something from them. That we'd sit around after a long day and sing blues or Kumbaya ...

Didn't work out that way -- one of the guys I thought might bring his guitar was justifiably nervous about trusting his instrument to the not-so-tender-mercies of the airlines on a crowded flight.( Since I was wearing a knee brace and using a cane, I figured they'd let me board early -- which they did -- and that I'd have room to stow my guitar in the overhead compartments -- which I did. Of course, I paid for that, because the brace made the metal detector go ping! and I got to stand there with my arms out, get my hands and leg swabbed for explosive residue, and turn my shorts' waistline inside out. The detector was sensitive enough to pick up the jewelery chain around my neck. Once they realized I wasn't a terrorist and wasn't carrying anything lethal, they allowed me to move along.)

The other guitar player with great chops drove and didn't have room for his because his car was full of family and luggage.

Too bad, but I got to practice in the evenings after we were done working out and before I fell into an exhausted stupor.

(First night I was there, I didn't sleep well -- had to figure out how to use the room card to keep the energy-saver AC working, and then the idiots across the hall kept coming and going all night accompanied by much noise. After the Saturday workout, I went to shower for dinner before meeting friends, and somebody started pounding on the door across the hall again. Enough of this crap, I decided. I'll just have a word with them. Opened the door to see four uniformed hotel security guards there. One knocking on the door, another using his radio, and two flattened against the wall on either side of the door, hands on their Glock pistols.

Oh, my. Perhaps I wouldn't have a word with the occupants of 423 after all ...)

Mmm. Anyway, on the long wait for my much-delayed flight from McCarran International back to Portland, after finishing a Dean Koontz novel, I decided to find a quiet spot and do a little guitar practice. It wasn't hard because it wasn't crowded -- there were fifty or sixty people, all of us waiting for the same flight, plus airport staff in the D-terminal, though a few flights did arrive and disgorge passengers who streamed by. Shops and eateries were all shut down, bathrooms closed for cleaning.

Understand that I am primarily a woodshedder, that is, somebody who plays at home with nobody but the dogs for an audience. Back in the day when I knew three major and one minor chord and one sad way to strum them, I was happy to play at the drop of a hat for anybody with ears who would slow down enough to listen. I thought I was a cross between Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon, and had no shame whatsoever.

Having learned better, I am reluctant to inflict myself upon an audience. I got no chops. I enjoy playing and singing, but I don't expect people to be impressed. It's not stage fright, it's a reality check ...

So, off I toodled to an empty gate. Opened the case, tuned the beast, and spent an hour or so running through pieces I can usually manage. Good thing about a classical guitar is that you can play it very quietly, and my voice also has a "1" setting that doesn't carry too far.

A few people drifted over. Sat down nearby, made as if they didn't notice me, but listened. Couple kids ran up and stood there watching. Nobody threw money into the case, but I didn't see anybody retching violently. I was background music, very soft and low-key, and I count it as woodshedding and not a performance. It was interesting as a venue, though. Against the backdrop of slot machine tones and really tired people waiting for a plane, it's one more experience for the memory bank. I probably wasn't the first, nor the last, to play guitar down the LAS D-concourse, but I don't expect there have been all that many of us ...

NBC Drops the Baton


Okay, so I generally watch some of the Olympics every four years. I enjoy seeing the best people in the world do their thing, and there is something about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that is almost hypnotically-compelling to witness.

In an ideal world, everybody would run as fast as they could, jump as high, stick the landing, and the winner would be so because at that particular time and place s/he was the best person.

Niggling little things like biased judges, doping, lying about your age, jumping the gun, or getting one past the ref wouldn't happen.

That said, my biggest disappointment comes not from the athletes, but from the interviewers who surely must have been rounded up from a fleeing mob of insane asylum escapees and pressed untrained into service. Idiots, handed microphones, who could not come up with any more inane questions if NBC held a contest and paid millions for the Stupidest Questions Possible.

I have come up with some answers for the athletes, and I offer them here:

To the interviewer who approached the guy who was just disqualified after winning an Olympic medal, to ask, "Well, so, Bob, how do you feel about that?"

"What do you think? I feel like shit! Trained four years and DQed? What -- are you fucking stupid?"

"Mary, you fell off the balance beam, broke four toes, and lost the gold to a girl young enough to be your daughter. How did that make you feel?"

"Gee, Marsha, did your mother have any children who weren't brain-dead?"

To the interviewer of the guy who just won the hundred meter dash in record time:

"So, Bob, what was your plan for this race?"

"Well, Marsha, you know, I just figured I would go out there and, you know, run faster than everybody else and cross the finish line first."

"Tell me, Bob, what happened on that relay exchange?"

"What happened? That stupid motherfucker Larry dropped the motherfucking baton, that's what happened! Motherfucker couldn't find his dick with both hands!"

"Mary, it was your last dive in Olympic competition. Tell me what was going through your mind as you left the platform."

"I was re-examining Euclid's theory on Mersenne primes and the infinitude of prime numbers."

"Really?"

"Actually, I was hoping I wouldn't do a belly-flop that you clowns would re-run from now until the end of eternity every time there was a diving competition."

"So, Bob, you and Larry just won Olympic gold in beach volleyball. What was your strategy?"

" We thought it would be good if we could get it over the net and in-bounds more than the other guys. We knew if we could do that, we had a chance."

You know who really dropped the baton? NBC, for some of the maroons they had on-camera ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What You can do High, You can do Low

In our version of silat, there is a move called "biset." This is a foot-drag takedown. While a sweep (sapu) usually moves toward the centerline of the person doing it, the biset generally moves away. The latter can be done along a straight line or an arc, and it can be done standing up or on the ground.

We do a lot of groundwork in Sera. Not as much as the Harimau folks, and it doesn't look like the ju jutsu guys, but we do spend a fair amount of time rolling around on the floor, or in the sand pit. One of the Sera principles is that what you can do left, you can do right; what you can do high, you can do low. And that there may come a time when you have to do it lying down.

Big sweeps and foot-drags are by their nature slower than small ones, and dropping to the ground and doing a sweep or drag is a low-percentage move for most of us. However, timed right, it can be really surprising to an opponent who hasn't had to deal with such a critter before. Plus the mechanics of it can easily be altered to change it to a kick or other kind of takedown.

video

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And a Few More Seminar Pictures










Silat Seminar '08 Redux



Top to bottom: 1) The Northwest attendees -- lacking a few who
were probably sleeping off hangovers -- more pictures of them later.
2) The women of silat. 3) Guru Mike Roberto

Okay, the caveats first: In my experience, a short and intensive martial arts seminar is less about conveying the how-to techniques of an art and more about the overall experience of crossing hands with artists with whom you might not be familiar. The learning comes from playing with people who do things differently than you do.

In the case of teachers in the same style -- they put their spins on it, but the similarities are usually greater than the differences. Other times, the arts are only vaguely related. Kali, for instance, and silat, are both Southeast Asian things, but in one you grip the machette here, and in the other, you hold it thus, and each has its own rationale for why their way is more effective. When you attend such a gathering, you are supposed to leave your sense of any-way-but-my-way-is-wrong at the door, and go with the flow. (This is passing difficult, since, if you've been doing it your way for ten or fifteen years and somebody shows you a method that seems to go against the principles you think you understand, the thought will come up: Hey, that's just wrong. Try it that way? Sheeit, it'll get you killed ... The sense of how well what you do stacks up against what somebody else does is gonna be there. Nature of the beast.)

But you try to keep an open mind and do what the teacher tells you the way he wants it done.

I seldom come away from these things with new tricks. If I can remember a couple of things out of two full days of training that I didn't already know when I got there, for me, that's about as good as it gets. Most of the teachers at this particular gathering had a grounding in my art, so it was less about big stuff than small stuff.

For me, this particular seminar was not about learning tricks, but about the meet-and-greet aspects. Many of the folks who showed up I didn't know at all. Some, I had met briefly. And some, I've known on-line for years, but never had a real-time encounter, and putting a face to the name was a big part of the deal.

The nuts and bolts aspect of it weren't complicated. Guru Mike Roberto found a good and reasonably-priced venue in N. Las Vegas, far enough away from the strip so that it wasn't crowded. Kudos to him for putting it together. The rooms were clean, the food good, and the meeting area big enough so that we weren't crowded except when we needed room to do big sweeps and swing sticks at the same time.

It was fun to see various of the security staff drift by to watch. Some of these guys were ex-military or police, and you could see they had some idea of what they were watching. Plus we were carrying sticks and such. Todd came in carrying a shield, spear, and a bag full of sharp and pointed things, and casino security notices these things.

The trainees were divided into two groups, each attended by a different guru. After forty-five minutes to an hour, the teachers would swap groups, to teach a second round.

They all took turns in the barrel, and at the end of the day, each of the students had been given a chance to train under each of the gurus at least a couple of times.

We did empty-hand drills, knife vs knife, knife vs empty hand, short sword against short sword (using sticks), ground work, high and low sweeps and foot-drags, takedowns, some basic pressure point stuff. There were several varieties of silat, mostly Sera; there was kali, some stand-up ju-jitsu, and assorted odds and ends. Some of these teachers have multiple rankings and they'd show techniques from other arts. And most of the older ones have used their stuff in the real world enough times to know it works there. Guru Cliff told a very funny story about when he was Mr. T's bodyguard that nailed the essence of self defense pretty well.

We all tried to work with different partners, and as many as we could outside our own local schools. When one of my teachers was doing stuff, I got to show people from other groups how to do it. When one of theirs taught, one of their students would show me.

It was remarkable on a lot of levels, not the least of which was how well-behaved most of the players were most of the time. Nobody got on his high horse when a student from another school stepped in and offered corrections, and that was particularly enjoyable for me. No shame in ignorance -- Hey, never done this before, show me?

There were fun moments. One of my favorites was, when you are looking for somebody to attack you with a knife for a demo, be very careful about picking the guy who brought twelve training blades with him ...

(I've addressed this before, but it bears repeating: Against an expert knifer, bare hands are simply a bad idea. If you really know what you are doing and you have a kick-ass attitude, you might knock a guy who doesn't know anything about blades seven ways from Sunday, but if he is an expert who loves knives? Trust me, you don't want play that game barehanded.)

As a special note, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck awarded certificates to several folks, giving them official guru status. We're not big on wallpaper, but it was great to see him do this, and hear what he had to say about things that, once given, cannot be taken away. Some of the new gurus were just that; some had been around a long time and had been badly treated by other teachers, and I thought it was a wonderful gesture on Guru's part to recognize these men in front of what was as deep a congregation of Silat Sera players as likely to be found in this country.

I had a blast, and I was most pleased to meet friends, old and new.

Silat Workshop - Las Vegas 2008





(Pictures, from top to bottom: 1. The T-Shirt. 2. The Group. 3. Some Bellywork.
4. The Gurus (save for Mike Roberto, who hid somewhere when I shot this: L. to R.:
Cliff, Jonny, Ari, Stevan, Bud, Louis, Narin, Bob)

So, I just flew in from Las Vegas, and boy, are my arms tired ...

Actually, all of me is pretty tired. The flight home was, ah ... delayed. Something about mechanical problems, and a new crew having to be flown in from San Diego. Supposed to have left Vegas at 9:30 p.m. Monday, but didn't leave until 4 a.m. Tuesday. Six and a half hours overdue on a two-hour flight ... yeah, that's a delay. Plus I had gotten to the airport early, to share a cab with a couple of folks from the Northwest, and to see if I might snag an earlier flight, so I was at the airport for a pleasant twelve hours. Learned that you can find some empty corners to practice guitar when everything is closed and nobody is there but people waiting for your plane and the airport staff. And security doesn't care ...

I'll do a longer report on the workshop later, and in a bit more detail, but the essence was that a bunch of people who have trained in our version of silat all got together at the Texas Station Hotel & Casino for a three-day weekend of training. Far as I can tell, a good time was had by all -- save Cotten, who developed the flu and had to go home early. There were sixty-five or so of us from all over the world, some of the best teachers ever assembled under one roof, and nobody got seriously hurt, either.

We tended to stay inside a lot, what with it being 105-107 F. out of doors during the day, and dropping to a balmy 85 F. at night.

More later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jump-Jump

Watching the gymnastics in the Olympics, I am reminded of the good old days when I was peripherally involved in the sport. My event was trampoline, and I wasn't very good at it at fourteen -- the little girls are doing things on the floor I couldn't do on the trampoline in my wildest dreams ...

But back then, circa 1960-61, there was a brief phenomenon that I recall as the Jump-Jump Trampoline Center, on Plank Road, not far from Prescott Junior High. Part of a nationwide chain of such places, Jump-Jump consisted of a series of in-ground trampolines -- that is, big pits were dug in the Earth and covered with rectangular nylon decks, probably eight feet by ten or twelve. You paid for these by the hour -- cost a dollar, as I recall -- and you were then allowed to bounce to your heart's content.

As I recall, there were sixteen of these, four across by four long.

There was a bit of padding over the springs, but no nets, spotters, or other safety gear.

I had a buddy who was a fairly good gymnast -- first guy in the country in the junior division to do eight bounding backs on his mat tumbling run -- and he and I used to go to the Jump-Jump. On a good day, after it had rained and the pits were half full of water they hadn't pumped out yet, a big bounce would put the deck into the fresh pond under it, which we thought was hilarious.

On a really good day, we'd have the place to ourselves, and although you weren't supposed to do it, we could bounce from one trampoline to the next, trying to see who could do the best tricks along the way. Bored guy running the place would say, "Hey, you aren't supposed to do that." To which we'd say, "It's okay, we're gymnasts." And he'd shrug and look the other way.

I cannot imagine what the liability issues of such a place would be today, and I doubt you could buy insurance from anybody at any price to cover patrons.

Jump-Jump eventually got sued out of existence, even back then, what with broken this and sprained that, as people who had no clue what a trampoline was paid their fees and then promptly bounced off onto their heads on the hard ground. (First thing we learned in class was, never, ever, jump without spotters, and if you were a spotter, your job was to keep whoever was bouncing from hitting anything but the deck.)

"Assumed risk" back then had a much different meaning than it does today, I expect. Nowadays, everything from hair dryers to handguns come with warnings stenciled on them ...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

They Tried to Tell Us We're Too Young ...

So, the Chinese women's gymnastic team is partially underage. The rule seems to be that you must be sixteen sometime during the Olympic year to qualify to compete, and two of these little girls, He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are a couple years shy of that.

They used to be younger, according to birth records, but somehow when passports got issued, they aged just enough to qualify, and everybody in gymnastics knows that the Chinese government was complicit in the matter. So, sorry, but the passport is the official document, yes?

Look at the picture. Click on it and look closer. If anybody believes that little girl on the right is sixteen, they need to trade in their seeing-eye dog. Yes, women's gymnastics does stunt the growth; it delays the onset of puberty, and favors little bitty girls when it comes to flying and landing. But she's fourteen -- and looks eleven. The old lady on the team, who is twenty, could pass for fourteen herself. If you took any of them out on a date, any jury in America would convict you for being a pedophile ...

And people are bitching, especially Americans. The Chinese cheated, they say. But you know what? Being beaten by a couple of fourteen-year-olds wouldn't be something you'd want to wave around too much. Truth is, those underage kids got it done. Remember Nadia Comaneci? She was but fourteen when she won in the '76 Olympics.

(Of course, you could make a case that women's gymnastics at this level is child abuse, and I wouldn't argue with you.)

I watched the competition in Beijing. The Americans had a couple of major errors, sure enough, but the Chinese won it fair and square. That's the way it goes ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Little More Ring Manipulation

After a little practice, the flow is getting better:

video

If you noticed the dark spot under the middle fingernail, that's because I dropped a chunk of ice on it. (Makes a perfect Steven Wright joke: "I dropped a block of ice on my finger." Pause. "It hurt." Pause. "I called my doctor and said 'What can I do to make it feel better?' He said I should put ice on it ...")

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Working Dogs




We call these: 1) A bird? Where?! 2) Layla guards the driver's seat. 3) Jude guards the bathroom ...

At one point last trip, Layla stood up and managed to hit the horn as we were trying to get collars on to take them out. People next door saw her, and when we got outside, said, "What, the dog honks when she wants to go out ... ?"

Dogs in a camper -- a fine experience.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yet More Black Steel

A heads-up: Those of you who are fans of black steel need to go look here: Alan Maisey's Catalogue #57.

It won't be up long -- Alan sells out pretty quickly -- and soon as most of the pieces are sold, he takes the catalogue down.

The Moving Finger


In the local galaxy, time's arrow seems to go one way. Or as Omar Khayyam has it:

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it ..."

The big events -- landing on the moon, wars, tsunamis, those generate much news and many reflective observations -- everybody notices those. But sometimes, it's the small things that pull you up short with a "Huh!" shake of the head.

Three of those little ones that stick in my mind:

Years ago, on the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson was interviewing the actor Jack Klugman. The subject turned to working out, and Klugman allowed, as I recall it, that he had gone back to the gym after a long lay-off. But things had changed -- there were guys in the dressing room, he said, with a scornful tone in his voice, guys with tattoos using hair dryers!

The audience laughed at such a silly idea. Those were the days when only sailors, bikers, or Yakuza had tattoos, and the notion that a tough guy like that would use a hair dryer? Downright laughable.

These days, depending on which study you like, close to one person in five has at least one tattoo, all ages, and one in three under the age of thirty does. Doctors, lawyers, fourteen-year-old girls have tattoos, and hair dryers are in every bathroom and gym in the land.

Fast forward a couple years: My family and I are on a road trip, outside San Francisco heading for Sacramento on I-80, somewhere around Vacaville. An outlaw biker in his colors blows past on his customized hog, raked, risers, chrome, and painted Tweety Bird yellow.

A bit later, we stop for gasoline -- back in the days when it was maybe a buck a gallon, and there is the biker, and he is using a cell phone! This was when the things were rare, and the sight of a biker with one was hard to wrap my mind around. A biker. On a cell phone. Amazing.

Now, six-year-olds carry them to school in their backpacks and text each other in class.

Couple years back, there was a TV commercial, dunno recall what it was for, but the set-up included a line like this: "And he is the kind of guy who checks his email on Sunday!" With the notion being: Can you even imagine somebody wound that tight?

This is not your father's civilization. Things have changed, and they are continuing to do so so fast that the cutting edge is way beyond anybody who is likely to be reading this. Fasten your seat belts ...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Odds 'n' Ends

So we took a couple days and went to the coast in the camper. It's not that far, and with gasoline being what it is, a cheap trip -- relatively speaking. Stayed at an RV place in Garabaldi, a little fishing town between Tillamook (where the cheese comes from) and Bar View. There's a nice maritime museum in the town, a labor of love for a retired couple who live there in the summer, and give tours in period costume. Learned a lot about Captain Gray, the first white man to sail up, and who named the Columbia River -- after his ship, it turns out. Gray sailed from Boston, 'round the Horn, up to Vancouver, to Hawaii, to China, then repeated the trip. Took a couple years a pop. Ah, the good old days.

Saturday, a camper pulled in next to us, couple guys, dressed to fish, who went off the to docks and stayed gone all day. Could have been brothers or fishing buddies, but the name of the front of their camper was amusing (see the photo above.)

While there, we were able to hook into a TV cable and catch the opening of the Olympics. Not so impressive on a thirteen-inch TV as it would be on widescreen, perhaps, but pretty impressive nonetheless. Two thousand tai chi players moving as one? The movable type?

Nothing before came close. Probably nothing else in the future will.

It's interesting what you can do when you have three hundred million bucks to spend -- we could do that, but we wouldn't. It's the attention to detail that's so amazing.

Watching the Chinese men's gymnastic team is every bit as impressive as the opening. China came out of the woods and into the future in a big hurry. Twenty years ago, everybody rode bicycles. Now, they put a thousand news cars on the road every day. In 1988 they struggled to field competitive athletes. This time, there's a good chance they'll surpass the U.S. in total medals.

Bob Costas interviewed the Chinese movie producer who put the opening show together. Mentioned how incredible it was that they had fourteen thousand performers, none of whom repeated, more than the athletes come to compete. Zhang Yimou the producer smiled, and said, "We've got the people ..."

Recall what Geena Davis said to the woman that Jeff Goldblum picked up at a bar in the remake of The Fly?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

August 6th & 9th, 1945 - Necessary Evil






On August 6th, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb known as Little Boy on the industrial city of Hiroshima, Japan.

It was a Monday.

As many as 140,000 people, most of them civilians, died as a result -- directly due to the explosion or from secondary radiation burns. ( Six weeks later, one of the largest typhoons of the Showa Period hit the city, killed another three thousand people, and wiped out much of what was left of the place.)

On August 9th, 1945, three days after Hiroshima, the Superfortress Bockscar unloaded Fat Man over Nagasaki. That one was worth 80,000 people.

Six days later, after leaflets were dropped all over Japan warning that more bombs were coming, the Japanese Empire surrendered, ending the war.

Hideous things, in an awful conflict, and as terrible as they were, considered necessary evils. An invasion of Japan, it was thought, would cost many more lives on both sides, and so the hammer was dropped. Everybody was tired. Everybody wanted it over. Whatever it took.

Necessary Evil, by the way, was the name of the B-29 that flew scientists and photographers along on the mission to Hiroshima. This plane did not wind up in a museum, but as a gunnery target at the Naval Air Station at China Lake.

Look at the pictures. From the top: Models of Fat Man and Little Boy. The cloud over Hiroshima. The one over Nagasaki. Nagasaki, before and after Fat Man came to dine. The relative sizes of atomic devices.

Look at the microscopic size of the Hiroshima blast, compared to the biggest Soviet H-bomb, Big Ivan.

Think:

About what such a device could do to a city. About what a hundred of them could do to a country. About the notion that you could get third-degree burns more than sixty kilometers away from Ground Zero when Big Ivan got lit. About nuclear winter.

I grew up in the Atomic Cafe days, worrying about being vaporized. I had nightmares as a boy about mushroom clouds. We were taught to duck and cover, to get under our desks at school if we saw the bright flash. I lived in a city that was on the Soviet's American Top Ten Hit List.

There is no glory in war. Just a lot of death and misery, no matter who wins. Men, women, children. Shiva does not discriminate. All is ashes by his touch.

Einstein is credited with an observation. I'm not sure if he really said it or not, but it is appropriate on this date:

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in the Tiger's Cage ...

In Missouri on Sunday, a volunteer at an animal park in Missouri was cleaning out a tiger's cage when the occupant apparently leaped over an eight or ten foot tall fence and chomped on the guy's leg.

Guess he didn't want the guy moving his stuff around.

Must have been something to see, an eight-hundred-pound tiger making a jump like that, though I confess, I would want to see it from a distance and behind a much, much taller fence. Inside a tank. With a working machine gun.

The worker will apparently recover.

That's scary, but you could reason that a fence taller than your ceiling might seem to be enough. I wouldn't think that, having heard and read tiger stories for years, but then again, I wouldn't be cleaning a tiger's cage unless the tiger was dead and long-since buried. And not for all the tea in China if it was alive and watching me do it on the other size of a fence that didn't go to the roof. Tigers are territorial.

There was some misdirection in this instance by the owners, who first claimed it was a pit bull that attacked the guy. They apparently killed the cat, hid the cat's body, cleaned the place up, and lied about it, and only admitted the truth later. (I image the doctor treating the wound would have wondered what kind of pit bull had a bite equal to that of an eight-hundred-pound tiger, at the very least. Pit bull?! Where the fuck was this pit bull? Guarding the entrance to Hades?)

The next day, that would be yesterday, in the same state, down the road a piece, in another animal park, this one called The Interactive Zoo and Aquarium -- formerly (and more accurately) called Predator World, in Branson, a sixteen-year-old worker was mauled by three tigers.

More interactive than I find comfortable. (Wild animal parks are apparently not that tightly regulated in some states, Missouri among them. Something you want to keep in mind while you are visiting one.)

The kid may not make it in the second incident. In the end, this is not funny, it's tragic, but it is also food for thought.

Several questions come up regarding this incident. First one that pops into my head is, Didn't the second kid hear about the attack the day before? It would seem to be fairly evident on the local news, and if you worked around big cats, you'd think it would, you know, get your attention. And maybe even offer some kind of cautionary warning ... ?

Hey, guy down Warrenton got bit up by one of their tigers, you hear that?

Yeah, well, that's Warrenton. Our cats wouldn't do that.

If you read about the incident here, a much larger question blows the first one out of the water. According to reports, the kid went into the cage with the tigers, to take pictures of them for a customer.

Excuse me, did I hear that right? He went into a cage with three tigers to take a picture?

Yep. Walked right in for the close-up photo-op.

I cannot for the life of me come up with a phrase that describes that better than "Suicidally stupid."

Teach your children: Do not go into the cage with a tiger. Especially do not go into the cage with three tigers.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Okay, to be Fair ...

In our recent discussion, we mentioned several folks who do silat, and I allowed as how I was less than impressed with one fellow's claims that he does what we do, since, not to put too fine a point on it, he doesn't.

To be fair, however, I should include one of his videos, to allow the viewer to judge for him- or herself.

So, here. A flow drill, to see how he handles attack.

Thus:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Brooms and Sickles


Somebody asked a silat question, and rather than answer it in the comment thread, I thought I'd address it here. Take it with a grain of salt, I am but an egg. (An old egg, but still, you get the idea. And you non-violent folks can skip this one.)

A bumper sticker I once had read:

Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera —

(If you have to ask, you don’t need to know ...)

But I'm mellower these days .

There was a reference to a kuntao-silat video, here. What we do is somewhat similar to what Gartin does in the vide, at least superficially. (People who don't know the stuff would probably think it looks the same, but there are some differences.)

I have to say, if you watch the vid, the male peacock in full mating array is somehow most appropriate to a silat vid, as is the flying saucer at the end ...

Sapu -- means "broom," or "sweep," is moving the foot toward your center; biset, is away from your center. Again, biset kinda looks like a reap, but the mechanics are different. In our biset, the foot doesn't leave the ground; it usually does in a reap. Nothing wrong with a reap, it's a fine technique, it just isn't the same move. Once we get into grappling range, we like to keep both feet on the ground as much as possible, though there is always a kick or knee if the opening presents itself. If the attacker his holding his bloody nose or falling over, and you have his center, then some leeway is allowed.

Because we are big on position, we tend to keep our hips square with our shoulders when we do the sweeps (sapu) or foot drags (biset). We call it corking, as in "turn your hips like seating a cork in a bottle." We believe this is a much stronger position, and it's easy to test: try a sweep with your hips open, i.e., shoulders and hips not parallel, then try it with them closed, or corked. You won't have the same reach, but it takes a lot less muscle the latter way, and it is more stable. Tearing your own groin muscle taking somebody down is not the way to go.

If your leading shoulder is pointing at the attacker's sternum, you are probably in a pretty good tiga position

When we do sapu we also keep the heel down and toes up. Gartin is doing it heel-up and toes-down, and while that'll work okay, we like to have the heel hit the ground to break the attacker's traction -- and to be able to hook the foot behind his ankle or leg when he tries to step out.

He also uses the front stance, as in Bukti Negara, where most of his weight shifts onto the forward leg as he steps. We tend to wait until we plant before we shift (and for those of you not martially inclined, you can't sweep with your rear leg if there is any weight on it, so you have to, well, un-weight it. Doesn't matter if you do it while stepping or after landing, but we prefer the latter because we believe it gives us a better base. Different strokes.)

Sweeps and drags depend on distance, and this primer is for the ankle-to-ankle or shin-to-shin spacing. Farther out than that, you can't easily get the stand-up sweep, Going to the ground will give you more reach, albeit will be much slower, in what is essentially a whole-body biset.

Closer than this distance, contact could be with a thigh or hip, and the foot doesn't matter as much; still, might as well practice it that way all the time, in case somebody gives you the classical look-at-me-ma! poser set-up. It could happen.

We assume an attacker is going to be good enough to step out of a sweep, and if you have good contact with your instep, you can control this reflexive step better. Best if you also give him something else about which to worry, e.g. hit him somewhere hard, so he's not concentrating on your finishing take-down.

In biset, (which isn't always done with the heel, sometimes we use an inside biset with the side of the foot,) the foot is kept flat, to keep a good base, or with the toes up, to get the hook in play.

In classical tiga training as we do it, you do aim for the points for sweeps and drags and steps. Pivoting is okay, though we like to move one foot slightly faster than the other, and keep them low.

We avoid what we call moving two bases at once, that is, two planes -- we don't step and turn at the same instant, one leads the other -- doesn't matter which, but twisting and moving in a line at the same time is, we believe, not as strong and solid.

If you look at Guru Plinck's Sera vids, you can see how we do it. The goal is to keep it low, slow, and relaxed.