Saturday, February 28, 2009

Precision


One of my non-martial art friends has, a couple times, questioned the idea of why one should spend so much time studying this stuff. It would seem to him that there is a point of diminishing returns: The likelihood of violence where the knowledge might be necessary is one notion -- if you haven't gotten in a fight since junior high, what are the chances you'll get in one tomorrow? Another thought has to do with how much ammo you need. If you have the basics down -- solid punch or two, a few techniques you can do well, maybe the ability to grapple a bit -- then aren't you skying off into the very theoretical realm? You really think three ninjas will drop into the alley, come at you from the points of a triangle flashing tanto blades on a snowy day when your gout is acting up? yadda yadda ...

These are legitimate questions. 

I think for most of us dojo rats, the pure self-defense aspect got answered to our satisfaction a ways back. We got the tools needed to deal with the drunk in the local pub, or the soused uncle at the Christmas party, maybe even against somebody sober who could move in balance. 

We keep training for other reasons: We like the process for itself. We enjoy the company. We are looking for some kind of depth. We sing the Cheers theme song -- or the Diet Dr. Pepper commercial ...

In Olympic air rifle or pistol competition, the state-of-the-art guns are incredibly accurate.
Lock them into a bench rest, they will put the pellets through the same hole all day long at ten meters. I have an old reciprocating-piston air pistol that came with a three-shot grouping target. When I got it, it was the most accurate handgun you could get. The target shows a single ragged hole. 

The guns today put that one to shame.

The idea is that the tool is not the limitation, the shooter is. If you can do your job,  you can achieve perfection.

I think that on some level, that's what a serious martial artist is looking for -- that kind of precision.

Will s/he ever get that in real time? Almost certainly not. But that's what you reach for,   a perfect game. Not just to win, but to do your absolute best.

Of course, in an adrenaline-soaked dust-up against a strong and violent attacker, your very best might be ugly, and you can't get wedded to the old Jim Kelly notion of being too busy looking good. If you stop and pose for the camera, you aren't living in the moment. And you might not be living at all in the next moment.

Aim for the fish's eye, hit the fish somewhere ...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Kid Grows Older

So, according to his student Todd, Bobbe the Kid is forty years old yesterday. Put it on your calendar.

Forty. 

You know, he doesn't look a day over sixty.

Happy birthday, Kid. When you get back into shape, you can come kick my ass. Or at least try ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Non-PC Martial Arts Post


Okay, I've done this before, but it's been a while, so ...

There is no one perfect martial art. No hand-to-hand system that covers every contingency. When I get somebody swaggering in with his Kantbeatme-fu, I ask him what his defense is for the twelve-gauge pump shotgun at twenty feet. (If he can dodge five or eight shots? then sign me up. Hasn't happened yet.)

So, stipulated -- no one system, probably no combination of any three systems -- will have all the answers all the time. So much depends on who is playing, what they know, how it goes down, and how frisky they are on a particular day. Toughest guy in the world on Tuesday might be way down the list on Wednesday. It all depends. A really nasty player in a so-so fighting art might take out a so-so player in a really nasty art.

Yeah, sure, right, uh huh, no problem, no feek.

Now, that said ...

Some arts are obviously better than other arts for some things. If you want to shoot targets with a bow and arrow, kyudo is apt to serve you better than kendo. Kendo will probably give you a better handle on a sword than kyudo, but probably not as much as iaido. It's the nature of the arts, what they choose to study. You want to want to learn Irish, you don't study French.

If I want to know about knives, I won't go to a TKD class. If I am looking for seventeen ways to kick you in the face, I will.

I didn't get into silat to become the world's deadliest street fighter. I wanted some depth in something and I was hooked by what I saw. I do believe I have enough to take care of most of what I am apt to run into in my life most of the time, my long-running debate with Rory about reality notwithstanding. I'm still there because I like what I'm doing, I have fun doing it, and I am slowly getting better at it. I won't live long enough to become a master at it, but everybody has to be somewhere, and that's where I am, viz martial arts.

I recently had a kid on another site try to convince me I should go study his art instead. Why, I asked, when I had a world-class teacher of my art within a couple hours, would I want to do that? I can get steak here -- I should travel halfway around the world to eat hamburger?

All of which gets us to the point that, lip-service aside, most of us who are long-time students of a particular art believe that what we do is maybe an itty-bitty, teeny-tiny bit better than what the guys in the dojo across the street are doing. At least that's my experience, given the folks to whom I have talked.

That when push comes to shove, our guys have the advantage, we think. Otherwise, why, we'd be across the street studying their stuff, right?

It is not politically correct to say this. It might not be accurate at all -- might be that the TKD guy down at Master Kim's can destroy me like a hyperactive four-year-old does a tinker toy tower. But:

I don't think so.

My experience is wide but shallow. I have played with a bunch of other arts, trained in six or eight, over a forty-three year period, gotten to brown and black belts in a couple, and what I am learning now seems ever so much more effective and efficient than those arts. In those forms, at least, I can compare and contrast.

The sixty-one year old me of today could whack the twenty-three year old black belt me in a heartbeat, albeit he was stronger, faster, and used to getting hit. No question in my mind, and not just because old and treacherous beats young and trained -- what I know now is a better system in its application than what I used to train in. It just is. I have answers for him. He wouldn't have them for me. Simple.

In a no-contact match with a ref and ring judges? I dunno, he might get a couple points. In a bar fight if I saw Young Me coming? Absolutely, he's outclassed. If he tried that X-block knife defense he knew, he would be filleted faster than a catfish on Friday night at the CYO fry-in.

This is not to say that there aren't a plethora of guys out there who could take me apart without raising a sweat. They could easily be so much better at their system than I am at mine that they'd have the advantage. Or maybe they are just plain rock-hard bulletproof. Whatever. But what we do seems lethally efficient compared to some of the other styles that I have experienced personally, or seen demonstrated.

I'm not that good, but the system makes up for a lot of that. Some weapons are better than others for some things because of how they are designed to function. At ten paces, turn and fire, I want the pistol, not the knife. You could be death with a blade, and me only a so-so pistoleer, but at sixty feet, I like my chances. I can wait until you get a lot closer to make sure I don't miss, too.

Some martial arts are better than others. That's how I see it. To pretend that I think otherwise would be hypocritical.

Now, which are better? That's open to debate. But of course, I do like mine ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Simply Irresistible - More on Martial Arts

A) If God is omnipotent, can He make a rock so heavy that He can't lift it?

B) What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object?

Answers: A) No. B) Nothing.

If something is all-powerful, then the query is meaningless. Therefore God cannot be all-powerful, since both states cannot exist at once. God can be the most-powerful being of all, but that's not the same. He can make a rock Superman can't lift, which is not a small deal.

Ditto the force versus the object. If one exists, then by definition, the other cannot. So there's never going to be a meeting of the twain. The qualifiers have to come out. "Almost," "nearly," "pretty close ..."

In chess, I was taught to play as if my opponent would never make a mistake, to shoot for the perfect game; however, if you have two players of equal skill and neither makes a mistake, white always wins. White moves first, and if he never missteps, black is always one move behind.

Playing as if the opponent won't screw up means that you play your game and don't depend on him to give it to you.

In football (American style) both the defensive lineman and offensive lineman covering the same position cannot do their job on a given play; somebody has to get beaten for the game to proceed. They can trade back and forth, play by play, but they can't both prevail at the same time. Somebody has to fail for any game to go forward.

In our art, we are taught certain principles and how to do certain moves. If I am doing that, accomplishing what I set out to accomplish, then it doesn't matter what you are doing. I will be covering my lines, engaging my targets, using my tools, and unless your goal is to get flattened, you won't be getting what you want.

Not to say that I can pull this off every time. There's the theory versus the practice. But that, like playing the chess guy who isn't going to make a mistake, is the goal. This is why we say that the three most important things in a fight are the same as the most important things in a small business:

Location, location, and location. If I have a place to stand, my lever handy, you will get moved.

Martial Arts - Predicting the Future


This notion came up, and it's still sloshing around in my mental seas, so bear with me as I try to get it on an even keel ...

And enough of the storm-tossed boat allusions ...

It occurred to me, while doing some research in my collection of woo-woo mindscience books, that a good martial artist is working to do short-term looks into the future.

Before I get too far, the books of which I speak:

Gut Feelings, by Gerd Gigerenzer
blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin
The Body has a Mind of Its Own, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee
Emotions Revealed, by Paul Ekman
Chaos, by James Gleick.

There are a couple of others, but they have been lent out, and these are enough to get started.

These books deal with the brain and how it works and how it functions with the body in which it is housed. One of the topics that arises in more than one place is that sometimes, you know what is going to happen before it does. You can actually become conscious of an event at some level before it reaches your rational brain. Sounds weird, but it's been fiddled with enough so that it seems valid. Like watching PBS News Hour, where sometimes the lips are a quarter second ahead of the sound.

If you could harness this, along with the innate ability of the human mind to do major rapid-fire calculations of geometry and physics without knowing a single formula, coupled with efficient movements designed to deal with an incoming attack, you would have a most useful construct.

If you could add bullet-time? Even better.

You could seriously kick ass and take names.

One example they use in one of the books is how a baseball player in left field knows where to intercept a fly ball. If you set a computer to figure out trajectories -- the angle, speed, and parabola of the baseball, the effects of gravity, and where a stationary receiver is, how fast he can run, whether he starts motionless or already moving when the batter hits the ball, and where the fielder must be in order to intercept the ball before it hits the ground, it would burn a lot of processing power to get there. Just to set it up properly. Yet, a good baseball player has rules of thumb he doesn't even have to think about, and can do it unconsciously. He sees where the ball is going, and knows where he has to be to catch it. If he can get to the right spot before the ball arrives, he can snag it.

Picture a man who can throw a washer the size of a quarter up into the air, then fire a pistol at it and thread the hole with the bullet. The margin of error there is exceedingly tiny, yet there are men who can do it, but who couldn't tell you geometry from Jello.

They practice, they see what works, they leave out the stuff that doesn't work, and their brains do the moves needed automatically. If they had to think consciously about it, they'd never be able to pull it off.

Like the old saying about sculpting a horse -- you just carve away everything that doesn't look like a horse ...

So. Somebody paying attention can figure out how people move. We all live in the gravity well, we all have the same basic equipment, vis a vis arms and legs and torsos and such, and there are only so many ways to get from point A to point B efficiently. If you can learn how to deal with somebody coming at you efficiently, you can also learn how to deal with somebody not so good. (The old, What-if-I-just-go-beserker-on-your-ass-and-windmill-right-over-
you? argument. Or, to put it simply, if you can dodge somebody doing it right, you can dodge somebody doing it wrong. If your art is designed to do that.)

That is, it's okay for somebody to attack "wrong." If I'm trying to show you how to deal with a right punch and you throw a left, I should still be able to stop it, which is also a lesson, if a different one.

If an attack comes from somebody with the normal numbers of arms and legs, you work up what-if formulas based on size and distance and experience. There are some rules of thumb you can use so that your heuristic view will be more useful, and where you will find them is in your practice. You have to learn how fast you can move, your own reach, how far away somebody is and how many steps it will take to cover that distance, and how to trust your tools once you develop them.

We believe that position is key. Where you are matters more than how fast or strong you are. If you are ten feet away and come in, I should be able to get to a sweet spot to intercept you before you can. It'll take you a couple steps to cover the distance, while I can do it just by changing stances. I get to my place first.

Example: A big guy comes at you with a punch. It sounds goofy to say it, but in order to hit you, he has to get within his punching distance, which is based on his arm's length, the kind of punch he's offering, plus how he's holding his body, the angle of his torso, his extension and all. You need to get all that in a blink's time, and you can learn to do so.

If you block or slip or parry this punch, are you done? Most martial arts go with the notion that you aren't; that yon thug isn't going to go, "Oh, wow, that was cool! I quit!" So you have to figure that something else is incoming, and given the tools, angles, proximity, what that might be: Punch, kick, elbow, knee, grapple -- and what you can do about it.

If you have the skill, you can intuit what the next attack might be, based on his body set and balance, and again, it's a blink response. But you don't have to wait for him to throw it.

The philosophy of your art dictates the kind of responses. In ours, we believe that waiting for attacks puts you behind in time and space, and it is better to preëmpt the attack as soon as possible. Ideally before the first punch; failing that, before the next, which we believe is surely coming, albeit it might be a different tool. So a block that is also an attack -- cutting the incoming line with a punch that crosses it, for example -- helps you play catch-up. If you go to half-beats -- instead of one ... and ... two, but one-two! then you can not only catch up, but get ahead, which we believe is a better place to be. You turn the attacker into a defender, and by doing so, you control the fight -- he has to react to you or get slugged.

Not every art looks at it this way, and that doesn't make them wrong, just different.

If you have enough people coming at you, enough times, in various and unplanned ways, then you can develop an eye, and your wetware can calculate incoming and figure out a way to deal with it on the fly. If you learn efficient and effective patterns of simple moves than can be mixed and matched, then you can offer a useful response.

If you have to stop and think, Oops, punching coming, how am I gonna deal with that? you get smacked, it is just too slow. If your body has the moves and you don't get in its way, then the theory is that it will step up and do what needs to be done. You might not have a clue what that will be, and you might not recall exactly what it was you did afterward, but if, like the baseball player fielding the pop-up fly, or the shooter center-punching the washer, it works, then it doesn't really matter. Being able to deconstruct it might be useful, of course, especially if you want to pass it along, but being the guy who gets to go home under his own power, teeth intact, not needing major stitchery would seem to be reward enough ...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ignorance is not Bliss ...


... it is tragedy waiting to happen ...

On a blog I sometimes visit, there is a kid who shows up now and then to lecture us on various topics. He believes he is an expert on many matters, among them racism, sexism, what constitutes good movies, and the like.

You know, just like the rest of us.

Usually I cut people who are young and know-it-all some slack, having been on that road myself. If nobody kills them, they might outgrow it and actually go on to learn about the world.

However, now and then when he says something egregiously stupid, the urge to slap him silly grabs me, and I do it. I have to confess, it doesn't make me feel much better -- it's like shooting fish in a barrel, not much of a challenge. It would be smarter for me to just ignore his postings and leave him shrouded. Best reward for such folks is to let them stew in their own juice.

It's not just the ignorance, which, after all, is curable, we all have some of that; it's the blindness. During an argument, this kid once allowed as how he had banged more women than all the other guys in the thread had combined -- high, wide, repeatedly; here, there, and in public everywhere ... and yet, he absolutely could not see how that disqualified him for being the Defender of Women's Virtue in any way, shape, or form.

He starts his tirades on racism by saying things like "You white guys ..." or his rants on sex in the cinema by claiming to be standing up for "our women." And he doesn't see how these kill any point he might try to make about racism or sexism ...

Kid's head was any emptier, it would whistle in a mild breeze louder than an empty Coke bottle stuck out the window of a car doing eighty.

God must love fools, given how many of them He made ...

Oscar


So, the 81st Academy Awards were on last night, and for once, they hit it out of the park. Triple-threat Hugh Jackman did a great job as the emcee, the show was fun to look at and flowed well, and it was worth watching just for Steve Martin and Tina Fey's presentation of the writing awards.

Having five award-winning actors or actresses come on stage and explain why each nominee for a best award deserved to be there was brilliant. Win or lose, listening to one of your fellows extolling your virtues that way had to make you feel pretty good.

Best show since Billy Crystal squared off against Jack Palance. (Palance, who won for supporting actor, dropped to the floor and did one-armed push ups, to show he was fit enough to work. And offered the immortal line: "Billy Crystal? Hah. I crap bigger than him.")

No major upsets last night, and if you watch the news at all, you already know who won what: Slumdog, Sean Penn, Kate Winslett, the late Heath Ledger. Phillipe Petit, the high-wire walker, did a coin trick during the acceptance for Man on Wire. Sean Penn even made public peace with Mickey Rourke. Or pulled his chain, depending on how you took it.

But Wolverine ruled ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

February Set


Working mostly on my vocals this month, a rather eclectic and long set:

Bell Bottom Blues
Can’t Get Used to Losin’ You
One Toke Over the Line
Daydream Believer
Political Science
Layla
Hotel California
Lola
Walk Away Renee
We Just Disagree
Year of the Cat
Hallelujah
Angel from Montgomery
Sail Away
Way Down in the Hole
The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down
Dixie (Instrumental)
The Weight
Blackbird
In My Life
Yesterday (Inst.)
Here Comes the Sun (Inst.)
Stand By Me
Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay
Brand New Key
Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)
I Can't Help Falling in Love With You
The Water is Wide (Inst.)
Ashokan Farewell (Ins.)

And the really weird thing is, I have enough -- excuse the term -- repertoire -- as a player that I can't play 'em all in one session any more. For me, playing songs is like a foreign language -- any you don't work every so often tend to fade away. I have lost more songs than I have ...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

Okay, I admit it, I like messing with people's minds. The previous posting of the Rebel ring? I considered getting it. In the end, I didn't think I could pull it off -- might be a little too subtle for people to get the joke, so I decided against it.

(Steve Barnes is the guy to wear it. That would flabbergast people all kinds of ways.)

But I have another cute item I got some years back. It's an anti-war pin, got it at the defunct Oregon Peace Institute downtown,  but you could conceivably look at it and consider it an anti-gun statement. 

When the winter gun show happens locally and I go, I usually wear the jacket with the pin on it. Nobody ever says anything to me about it. Of course, that's probably because every other guy in the building is packing heat, and they probably figure I am, too.

An armed society is a polite society. At least in some instances ...

For Those of Y'all Still Saving Yore Dixie Cups ...


Have a look. For a mere US $99 ...

Because a Cop is too Heavy ...


Some interesting sayings ...

Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.

If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics are poor.

I carry a gun cause a cop is too heavy.

When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away.

An armed man will kill an unarmed man with monotonous
regularity.

The old sheriff was attending an awards dinner when a
lady commented on his wearing his sidearm. "Sheriff, I see
you have your pistol. Are you expecting trouble?" "No, ma'am. If I were expecting trouble, I'd be carrying my rifle."

Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it.

And, attributed to John Steinbeck:

"This is the law: There is no possible victory in defense,
The sword is more important than the shield,
And skill is more important than either,
The final weapon is the brain.
All else is supplemental."

You Want Strong?


Thought I'd add this one -- the still is Edward Villella in mid-leap. Way up there ...

I posted this vid a few months back and it still impresses the hell out of me.




This one is new, but more fun to watch, and still pretty impressive:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Fossil Speaks Again


I wasn't always the oldest guy in the room -- though it seems that I have been for a long time. Part of that is because I'm doing things that a lot of people dabbled with when they were young but left behind -- on their way back to the couch from the fridge ...

Now and again, being older than the room has its perks. Expectation confounded is one of my most fun games, and sometimes, it's not even intentional.

I have never been really strong, not like the yard monsters and serious iron guys who can bench a Volvo for reps and then go squat with a Mack trailer-tractor on their shoulders. But back in the day when I was spending quality time at the gym and working what was -- for me -- a fair amount of weight, I had a wonderful ego-warming experience that still brings a smile when I recall it.

I was doing bent-over dumbbell rows. For those of you who don't know this one, you stand next to a bench, bend at the hips and knees, put one hand on the bench and use that for additional support. You reach down with your free hand to a dumbbell on the floor, and using primarily the muscles of your back and shoulder, bring the weight up toward your torso and slightly to the outside. Works the lats, the rotator cuff, hands, arms., rear delt, some trap, like that.

Lower it, repeat, and depending on your routine, do a set of eight or ten reps, then switch positions to work the other side.

A pair of young men came into the gym. I'd have guessed them to be about eighteen or twenty, and while they looked fit, they also had the dress and demeanor of newbies to the weight room. I figured Coach must have sent 'em to bulk up some for whatever sport they played. College, maybe high school.

I went back to my exercise.

I finished one set, turned around to work the other side, and became aware that the two young men were looking at me and each other and having a discussion. There was a ... I dunno, skeptical tone to it.

I did a set on the sinister side, then a second set dexter, and one more on the left, and I was done.

The dumbbell I was using was as much as I could manage for two sets of eight reps. It was a hundred and twenty-five pounder. Like I said, not major weight, but what I could do.

I sat on a nearby bench to rest a couple seconds before I planned to re-rack the dumbbell.

Before I got to replace the weight, one of the young men came over, looking smug. He glanced at his buddy, bent over, grabbed the dumbbell, and tried to replicate the exercise.

The look on his face ...

First the smugness vanished -- Crap, this gray-haired old fart can do this? How hard could it be? -- to be replaced by the sudden realization that he couldn't get the weight more than a couple inches off the floor. Then came the strain of putting it down without looking completely stupid, and a combination of wonder and -- dare I say it? -- amazement as he hurried back to where his laughing buddy still stood ...

I treasure that memory. Mostly because I wasn't expecting it, nor looking for it.

Being the oldest guy in the room probably means you are going to be the first to leave it, but not always. And even if you are that guy, the little moments like this add a richness to the time you have ...

" ... Fights a Never-Ending Battle ...


Those of you old enough (and with long-term memory still mostly intact) might recognize that as part of the final phrase in the last line of the opening voice-over monologue for the old Adventures of Superman TV series. (It's a take-a-deep-breath line, the whole sentence: "Superman -- who can change the course of mighty rivers; bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice ... and the American Way ...")

The never-ending battle to which it refers here is ... staying in shape.

Over the winter, I have become a sluggard. Partially, this is due to the pansy attitude that makes going out back when the cold rain or snow is falling to do silat exercises and toss the barbell hither and yon something of a major inertia. I've been doing djurus in the hall or my office, a few sets of chins or invisible chair sits, odd bits of yoga, but that's not nearly enough.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by a greater force. We all know how that one works. It's why there are personal trainers.

Partially my case is due to recovery from a knee surgery that made me feel a bit tentative about pushing myself. Plus a recent back strain that knotted up muscle and made putting my pants on a lie-down-on-the-bed procedure. Drop something on the floor during this condition, it stays on the floor. And when in such a state, you will drop everything, it's Murphy's Law.

I mean, yeah, I didn't go into a full coma, but I did slack off.

The knee is as well as it is gonna get, the back has unspasmed, and now the time has come to get my ass into gear and man-up ...

It is harder to get into good shape than it is to maintain conditioning. And the older you get, the harder it is to get back to where you were. Either way, it is a never-ending battle. Take a few months off when you are thirty, no problem. Take a few months off when you are more than twice that old, you might not be coming back ...

At least the sun is shining today ...

The picture? My old drinking buddy, Methuselah, just before The Great Flood, at the age of 969 years. I told him he needed to keep up his yoga, but no, he wouldn't listen ...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old and Treacherous (Teaser)


EIGHT
Eugene, Oregon

Wilson said, “Reilly here will be your contact.”
Hull glanced at the kid, who was so full of himself he looked as if he might go off like a firecracker at any second.
He nodded. “Reilly.”
The kid mirrored him. “Hull.”
“He’ll give you whatever you need to get rolling.”
Khadra said, “I need to go to the loo.”
Hull looked at her. She might, but that’s not why she was going. She was giving Hull room to check out Reilly. He gave her a flicker of a grin.
“And I have business to which I must attend,” Wilson said. “Show Hull around,” he said to Reilly.
“Yeah.”
After Wilson was gone and Hull and Reilly were alone -- more or less, since every room in the building was wired for sound and video, including the bathrooms -- Hull said, “So, what’s new since I left?”
Reilly smiled, as only the young and truly ignorant can.
“Well, things have changed a little since your time. We have, like, running water and flush toilets and electricity and all.”
Hull smiled in return. Had he ever been that young and full of himself? Probably worse. Well. Might as well set the tone for this now. “Really? Wow. I’m impressed. You’re a computer guy, right?”
If Reilly was any cockier, they could draw his blood and make it into Viagra. “Yeah, I am.”
“Ever heard of the online game, The Man Who Never Missed?”
Reilly blinked. “Yeah. I play that one. First-person shooter.”
“What’s your high score?”
The kid was smart enough to sense the trap, but still sure that he was God’s gift to the future. Even so, he hedged it: “I can get through Level Fourteen.”
Hull’s grin increased. “Not bad.” If he’d been any more condescending in his tone, you could use it to etch glass.
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘Not bad?’ That’s a solid score, better than ninety percent of the players out there!”
Hull shrugged.
“What are you saying here, Hull?”
Hull picked up a yellow sticky pad and a pencil from the desk, wrote something on the pad, handed it to Reilly.
Reilly stared at the pad is if it had turned into a trilobyte in his hand. “No fucking way!”
It was the total number of enemy troops that Khadaji, the VP shooter in TMWNM took out by himself. The only way to know that was to finish the game, which had fifteen levels.
“You use the cheats?”
Reilly looked uncomfortable. He couldn’t see where Hull was going with it. That he even knew the name of the game was unexpected. That he claimed to have finished the sucker? You could see the disbelief in Reilly’s eyes. “Couple times.”
“Remember the URL where you got them?”
Reilly pulled out his iPhone and tapped the screen. He looked at the device.
“Scroll down to the bottom. Who does the credit list for the advanced cheats?”
“Olra Hülse. So? Somebody from Sweden? Norway?”
“Reverse the letters in the first name.”
The light began to dawn on the kid’s face, and Hull had to admit he was enjoying the view. “Tap in your German dictionary and look up the last name.”
Reilly keyed the iPhone’s screen. A few seconds went by as the phone’s language ap found the dictionary. Reilly typed the name in with his right thumb and forefinger.
There came the sun ...
“Motherfucker,” the kid said.
Hull grinned. “Running water, flush toilets, electricity and all. My, my. Not like in my day, where we had to hike fifty miles to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Fighting off attacks by dinosaurs.”
“I get it,” Reilly said. He could barely keep his voice civil. “You made your point.”
Hull figured, what the hell, might as well get the rest of it out of the way. Sooner or later, the kid had to learn, and he was sure that was why Wilson had stuck him with Reilly anyhow.
He said, “You want to try me, don’t you? Go a couple rounds and see if all the hype is real? If an old fart like me has anything left?”
Reilly grinned, but lost it quickly, then said, “No, nothing like that.”
“Wilson told you to walk on eggshells around me?”
“He allowed as how I need to mind my manners. Show proper respect.”
“You look fit enough,” Hull said. “Which way is the gym? Let’s go dance a little, hey? See you can lay a hand on me like you think you can.”
Reilly almost bounced up and down he was so excited. “Follow me,” he said.
As soon as he turned his back, Hull clocked him. It was a good hit, a solid hammer fist to the temple, not too hard, just enough to stagger him. While Reilly was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him, Hull moved in, did a sweep using his knee, and held on so Reilly wouldn’t hit the carpet too hard. Even so, he smacked it pretty good. He was a big kid, and Hull didn’t want to pull something trying to make the landing too easy. The knee was bad enough, he didn’t want to screw up his back, too.
Reilly lay there, stunned.
Hull backed off a couple of steps, turned a chair around, and straddled it.
Reilly faked being groggy a couple seconds after he recovered. He tried to be subtle about it, but it was easy to see. He gathered himself, muscles flexing to leap. As he rolled up, Hull lifted his weight and shoved the chair in front of the younger man --
Reilly tried to avoid it, almost made it, but tripped, sprawled, and by the time he rolled up again, Hull had his revolver out and pointing at the floor between them.
“Bang,” he said, his voice quiet. “You’re dead. And I could have shot you as soon as you turned your back on me.”
Reilly eased up. He shook his head.
Hull looked at him. “Are we done?”
“Yeah.”
Hull reholstered his weapon. “Now you you know, right?”
“Yeah. Reilly rubbed at his neck, didn’t say anything else.
“Old and treacherous beats young and skillful every time, kid.”
“One-on-one in the gym -- "
“Not ever gonna happen. I’m creaky, slow, and too old to dick around with a jock like you. If I knew you were coming heavy, I’d shoot you in your sleep the night before. If I didn’t see you until you got close, I’d do something else. I know your teacher, and I know he told you we don’t do fair here. We aren’t duelists, son, we are assassins. Best case scenario, your target dies without ever knowing you exist. If you want to square off in the ring, join a boxing club, or take up Mixed Martial Arts. That’s not what we do.”
Amazing how fast the “we” came back. Just like that.
Reilly blew out a sigh. “Yeah. I know.”
“That’s only part of it,” Hull said, “You gave me something. A gift.”
Reilly looked at him.
“A while back, there was a big-name movie star on the set of a film. They were doing a scene, and somebody off-camera was moving around. It distracted the star, and pissed him off.”
“I heard about that. Lost his cool, blew up at the guy, screaming, cursing.”
Hull nodded. “Right. The actor is calling the guy seven kinds of motherfucker and asshole, telling people trying to calm him down to shut the fuck up, threatening to get the offender fired. Went totally ballistic.”
“Yeah. So ... ?”
“So the actor comes across as a prima donna. A short-tempered asshole. He’s apologized all over the place, mea culpa, no excuses, and that’s probably the end of it. Couple rounds on the late night show monologues, done. America loves to knock the high-and-mighty off their perches, but they also are willing to forgive ‘em and let them climb back up if they beg properly.”
Reilly nodded.
“But -- say you are on the set of his next movie and you want to pull his chain? Knock over a light during a scene, break his concentration, he might lose it again. He gave half of America the tool, and somebody out there might be in a position to use it someday.”
Hull said, “You are smart, fit, trained, and dedicated. You should go far -- if you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You wanted to see how good I was, and you found out more than you wanted to know. But it was an easy lesson. I could have killed you. There was a time when I might have, and justified it to myself or anybody who asked, like stepping on a bug.
“Don’t give anything away about yourself unless you have to, kid. In this business, that’s a bad idea. If you want to get rid of me, shoot me in the back when I’m not looking. But don’t offer a stand-up fight, because while you might win it, it won’t ever get there if it is up to me.”
“Got you.”
Maybe it took, maybe it didn’t, it was hard to tell with young ops.
“Good. Let’s move on. Show me what intel you have on Milos.”

Fight Science


So, the National Geographic Channel has a program on called Fight Science. Flipping around the channels, I happened to come across it, so I watched an episode on self-defense, "Fighting Back."

The template for the show sets it in a big warehouse. Got a few science and engineer and medical types, some experts in self-defense, gel-flesh dummies, impact sensors, like that. The narrative was to show a simulated attack upon one of the experts by another. Slow it down, then demo the technique shown again, using an anatomical dummy rigged with sensor gear connected to a computer.

The experts -- a cop, MA teacher, ER doc and women's self-defense teacher, ran through surprise attacks in possible scenarios -- parking garage, elevator, stairs, supermarket parking lots. They showed eye gouges, throat strikes and grabs, hard shots to the lower abdomen -- not to the nuts, but to crack the pelvis.

CGI'ed anatomical models were also used to show effects of the techniques. All very slick and flashy, if a bit over the top.

It won't come as a surprise to most of my readers, I expect, that poking somebody in the eye, hammering their windpipe, crushing their larynx, or cracking a pelvis will pretty much give the attacker pause. Nor that attacking MMA champ Bas Rutten if you are a drunk in a bar is probably not the smartest move you'll ever make.

For the most part, this was pretty standard stuff, and the melodramatic slomo and musical stings and hype got old pretty quick. They had about eight minutes of real material and they stretched it to an hour.

There were two things that a MA might find useful. One was the pelvis strike. Pistol-shooters are sometimes taught to aim for the pelvic girdle, because if you can shatter the bone there, your attacker will go down and stay down.

Of course, dropping your aim a hair to los ping-pongs with hand or gun will accomplish a fairly interesting reaction, too ...

And they did a short bit at the end on pepper spray and tasers that was interesting, showing what a lot of people who have played with such things already know. One of the guys stood there bare-chested for a taser shot. It knocked him on his ass, sure enough, but he managed to sweep one arm down and clear the darts and wires as he fell, so that he hit the ground and came back up in about a second. Point was that if he could do that, somebody else could and maybe risking your hide on a taser might not be as safe as you'd think.

Conventions

The local science fiction and fantasy convention is Orycon. These have been going on since 1979, and in '78, there was a pre-con gathering, a Symposium, at PSU. There have been thirty of these, I think, not counting the symposium. I've been at all these, save one -- that year, we were living in Port Townsend, WA, and an early snowfall blocked the roads, so I missed it.

The local fans who run the Portland Science Fiction Society ("Porsfis," rhymes with "horse-piss") threw me a party when my first novel came out, in 1981. They gave me a copy of the book, which they had all autographed. That's the one I keep in my ego-rack.

I've been the toastmaster a few times -- once when it was essentially the same, but technically a Westercon -- plus the first couple. John Varley was the Guest of Honor at the initial gathering.

The picture is from the second, in 1980, when Fritz Leiber was the GoH. Me, with a mike in one hand, a Fisher Space Pen in the other, and that chord jacket ...

(I never got to be the local GoH. I was scheduled to be that at the smaller spin-off that ran for a couple years, called Generic Con, but it was canceled that year, no doubt due to my selection as the GoH ...)

Check the image. My, how styles and faces change over a couple-three decades ...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another Life, by Andrew Vachss


I've been a Vachss fan since he started the series featuring Burke, starting with Flood, in what? 1985? Burke is a bad-ass, a grad of the Westlake/Stark Parker School for Anti-Heroes. Burke kicks ass and doesn't care about the names, lives down in the zero among the junkyard dogs on the meanest of mean streets. 

The early books were raw, brutal, and blew as hard and hot as the winds in a forest fire. I was particularly drawn to Burke's oddball family, none related by blood, but brothers and sisters nonetheless. Max the Silent, the Tibetan martial artist; the Prof, a rhyming ex-con who mentored Burke in prison; Wesley, the assassin; Mama; the Chinese restaurant owner; the Mole, Michelle ... and the generation of dogs and children who were added. 

Burke's song was pretty much a one-note tune, but he sang it well and it needed to be heard: Burke, like Vacchss, has no use for child molesters in any form, and these are invariably given quick and sometimes most painful, death-sentences, and good riddance. 

Of course, the sound of a soap box being dragged up can drown out your story, but Vachss is a good enough writer that you'd put up with it because the action could carry it. (Though he still has people nodding their heads and shrugging their shoulders ...)

There are now eighteen of these books featuring Burke, and the latest, Another Life, is supposed to be the final one. If you are a fan, there is no question that you have to read it. If, however, you aren't already hooked on the series, this isn't the one I'd offer as an entree. Had it been the first one I read, I doubt I would have picked up another one. And that is sad. 

I don't usually give bad reviews of novels. I know what it takes to turn a ream of blank paper into a book, and I appreciate the effort. Better the world's worst artist than the world's best critic. In this case, I'm offering a qualified approval -- when you should read the book matters.

The main reason for my hedge is that there isn't a soapbox being dragged up in this one. No, there are a bunch of soapboxes, and they are already there when the tale begins. Every character who speaks more than two lines climbs up onto one, and the dialogs read not so much as conversations between people but long, sometimes tedious, speeches.  These are the same kind of expository lectures as might be given in a history or sociology class by an overzealous teaching assistant, speaking on the assumption that his students are mostly brain-dead and need to be spoon-fed or they will starve.

Nobody says anything but that they rant, at length, with a sauce made of equal parts bile and bitters. Such tirades are tiring, and Vachss is better than this. I think he was reaching for closure, but I don't think this was the way to go. 

His book of course, his choice. Better to reach and fail than not reach..

When Vachss offers a fight scene, or a shoot-out, or a visit to a compulsive book collector or S&M parlor, there is a flow. When he stops and offers us a lecture on the unreality of movies, the shortcomings of government, or the idiocy of sheep, which pretty much means everybody but Burke and his family and chosen few they know, you just want to skip over it and get on with the fucking story.

I understand this. I do it myself. It is part of the conceit of being a writer -- you want to tell people Important Stuff!

When Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian during the run of her comedy TV show, it was cleverly done and funny. But like a shiny new toy, that was all she wanted to play with, and gay jokes came fast and furious thereafter.  Ellen was convinced her show was canned because of an anti-gay bias by the network, and maybe that was so, but there is only one sin in comedy, and she was so wrapped up in being GAY that she committed it: She stopped being funny. I didn't tune in to get diatribes on the perils and joys of Lesbos, it was supposed to be a comedy. Had it been, I wouldn't have cared if she had been a trisexual alien sleeping with a family of donkeys.  

This is what it feels like Vachss has done. He wants this story to mean something, for us to understand that the real people down in the zero know how the world really works, but here, it is about a subtle as a sidekick to the face. 

Moreover, while it has its moments, and not to give it away, the plot has a hole big enough in it you can sail an oil tanker through it without touching either side, not to mention that it comes as no surprise to anyone who has read the series. The big reveal? Hard to not see it coming a mile away. 

I was disappointed. I think Anton Chekhov would have been, too. 

So yeah, if you are fan, you gotta read it. It's supposed to be Burke's swan song.  But if you want entertaining reads, go back to the beginning and start with Flood or Strega or Blue Belle, where Burke only preached enough to give you a break from the action, and not the other way around. Work your way through the series, and then you can read the last one. 

Vachss deserves a fair chance, and that's the way to give it to him. Don't start with this book. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

I've Heard of Four-Handed Piano, but ...

Junkyard Dog Scrounging Down at the Memory Dump


Now and then, a stray cosmic ray hits a neuron, some long-forgotten engram blossoms, and I remember something I haven't consciously thought about in a while.

Given that such a memory might be wiped away with the next beer or glass of wine, or maybe even be replaced with the fog of age, I sometimes jot it down, just in case I might want to use it.

One of the purposes of this blog, other than to entertain those who chance upon, it is to preserve such small bits. Might be a book there some day.

A little background before revealing today's memory. As a boy I was an omnivorous reader. Everything with print in English was mine -- books, newspapers, encyclopedias, cereal boxes, and, of course, comics. Thousands of the latter over the years. Across the spectrum, from D.C. to Dell to E.C. to Classics Illustrated (15¢, those, not a dime) to you name it. (Marvel was a johnny-come-lately, didn't show up until I was an adolescent, but then I read that one, too.)

To give you an idea of how selective these flashes are, all I can tell you about the comic in which I read it was that the series was about a frontiersman, ala Dan'l Boone or Davy Crockett; they didn't merit their own title, but were B-stories in the back of  some other work. The Hero wore buckskins and a coonskin cap, had a long rifle, and a young sidekick. This was the norm in those days, the sidekick -- Lone Ranger had Tonto, Cisco had Pancho, Roy had Pat Brady, Yancy fronted his backup band, Pahoo. And in those pre-pedophile-are-they-gay? days, some of the macho heroes had teenage boy sidekicks: Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and Speedy, Range Rider and Dick West. And my favorite, Red Ryder and Li'l Beaver ...

So, here was the Deerslayer and his young sidekick, Squirrelshooter, whoever they were. And in the story, they met up with an English fop, one of those hanky-waving, pistol-toters, back when the Pennsylvania flintlock rifle was the only thing real men carried. I think the Fop was a pistol salesman, but I could be confusing that with an episode of Davy Crockett. I seem to remember vaguely an exchange as the pistoleer was trying to show the worth of his product. Some mention of the range, and the rejoinder that they were for inside a hundred yards, unlike the rifle. Why, the frontiersman said, inside a hundred yards, we just use our fists ...

I don't recall the plot. But there is a scene in which Our Hero and his Young Ward and the Fop are attacked.

In one panel, the Fop addresses the attacker nearest him thus:

"Desist, you blackguard, lest I be compelled to injure you!"

At my young age, whatever it was, certainly pre-teen, I thought that was about the coolest line I had every seen in a comic book. Not, "Stop, or I'll shoot!" The man used language I had never seen in such a medium. "Desist?"

I think that line was one of the things that sparked my intent to write. How ... clever that writer was. That he had created a character who would use such language. And then had him say it.

Oops, the rats are organizing. Best get out of the memory dump for now ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Do You Know and When Did You Know It?


So, I'm cranking along on the current book-in-progress, Bristlecone, about a couple of retired secret agents. That was the genesis of this one, the characters, and after noodling around a bit -- I usually do a brainstorm page where I just toss out everything that floats up from the murky swamp in my head -- I got the title, and the name of the villain, and a kinda-sorta notion of a MacGuffin. 

(For those of you interested in what that is, go here. If you don't want details, the MacGuffin -- sometimes "McGuffin" -- is a device of some kind that gets the plot rolling in a story. It may or may not have another function than that. Consider The Maltese Falcon. Or the Letters of Transit in Casablanca. They aren't really what the movies are about, but you need them.

Alfred Hitchcock either came up with the notion or was the first to make it generally known.)

I went for the classic mystery-man-with-a-gun, which while not technically a MacGuffin, is close enough.

There's a bit of advice pulp writers used to offer to newbs: If you are stuck in a scene and you don't know how to get out of it, have somebody kick open the door and come in shooting.

So I just kicked open the door, and started shooting, doing scenes I knew I wanted to have, without any real idea of what the villain was up to. He was around, doing something villainous, and what the caper was? It wasn't required at this point -- I didn't really need to know in order to get the set-up going. And in an odd way, that's good, because if I didn't know, the audience wasn't likely to know either, so if I don't rewrite the early stuff to offer clues, no way they can figure it out until later. 

I knew that my old retired couple, Hull and Khadra,  were going to be dragged out of a comfortable retirement against their wishes. I knew bodies would start to pile up, and I was consciously reconsidering the first novel I sold, The Tularemia Gambit, as a template for this one. Because when I wrote that novel, I was a newb, but I'm better now, and I expect I could put some nice spin on the story.

It's not as if that's going to cause problems, using anything from Tularemia. The six people who read that book -- judging by the sales -- aren't going to cut into my potential audience a whole lot. Plus it's not a mystery. The bad guy is going to reveal what the caper is early in the book, and then it's a race to see if he can pull it off or they can stop him. 

Got almost five chapters in before I realized what the bad guy was up to. 

Fascinating how warped a writer's mind is, and how many ways there are to run at a story. 

P.S. Don't ask, don't tell, viz. what the bad guy is up to. Suffice it to say is is wicked-evil-bad.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We have a slushy snow falling here in beautiful Beaverton at the moment, been doing that on and off all day. Too warm to stick, they say -- it's thirty-four F. at my house -- and so far the roads are still clear. Supposed to turn to rain later.

Apparently Old Man Winter isn't quite done with us yet. 

In the Land Down Under, they have horrific wild fires and temperatures hitting 115 degrees F. in parts of Victoria. 

Record cold winters, record hot summers. 

Climate change, it seems, is upon us.

Telephone Blues


Yesterday, my landline went out. Somebody tried to call, got a busy signal, sent me an email.

Sure enough, no dial tone.

I went out to the box, plugged a phone in there, no dial tone. Which means the problem is not in the house circuits, but in the line somewhere short of the house.

I got online, logged into the phone company's website, filled out the info. After a moment, they auto-tested the line, and the response was, essentially, Your phone isn't working.

Gotta love it. In theory, they are going to send me an email or call my cell when they can get a tech out to see what's what.

We have toyed with the idea of losing the landlines and going to cells, or hooking it in to the TV cable, but haven't made a decision on that yet. Our current cell phone contracts expire this month, and we might go to smart phones this time. Or not ...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Born in Arizona / Got a Condo Made 'a Stone-a


Watched the tube last night. First up was 60 Minutes, Katie Couric's long interview with the captain and crew of the plane that went into the Hudson. Sullenberger's professionalism and initial reluctance to wear the hero mantle has given way to the realization that he and his crew have become symbols of something bigger. People want the hope they inspired. Man did his job, got his crippled jet down, brought 'em back alive. When the times are dark, a candle is welcome. 

The birds hit, and the pilots and crew didn't panic, they went about their business, and order was maintained. Sometimes, the good guys win. We need to hear that now and again.

Good job, folks.

Watched the Grammys after that. Now and then, I need to touch base with pop, since I usually don't keep track. The show was limited to the high-profile stuff, the big genres, so you don't see the cello players or classical guitarists or the spoken word folks get their awards. If you saw it, I won't belabor it, and if you didn't, you probably don't care. 

Like a lot of awards shows -- most of them -- the award presenters's patters were lame, and some of the singers and groups were hey-we-are-rock-gods! way too full of themselves. And I'm always amazed at how people who make their living performing onstage seem to forget how to use a microphone when they get up to offer or receive an award. They don't remember there is a sound guy twirling dials to keep their voices level, and they lean over and eat the mike, or look offstage while talking. I bet sound guys hate awards shows. You need the reflexes of a cat.

Still, it had its moments. I'm not a rap fan, but there were some guys who got up and demonstrated skill and talent at it. 

Allison Krauss, Robert Plant, and T-Bone Burnett won Best Album of the Year for Raising Sand, and Best Record for "Please Read the Letter." Surprised a lot of folks, I expect, but T-Bone is a pro's pro and everybody respects him. Krauss is a great singer, and Plant should win an award for still managing to stay alive. 

L'il Wayne won something, Coldplay, John Mayer, Sugarland.  I won't run the list.

Jennifer Hudson, who had half her family murdered last year, ended her song in tears. Neil Diamond got a great ovation, and deservedly so. Sir Paul did "I Saw Her Standing There," which was the first Beatle song I heard on the radio, back in 1964. Keith Urban, BB King, Buddy Guy -- his head shaved -- and John Mayer did a tribute to Bo Diddley.  Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus are just too cute for their own good. Carrie Underwood's into-bondage-dress was hideous. (And my wife and I agree, a lot of the dresses seemed to be, um, unusually ugly this year. Wonder why that is?)

I didn't realize that our new Prez, Barack Obama, had won a couple Grammys for his spoken word books -- they used that to spark a music-matters campaign. And, of course, it does matter.

Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland (with Kristian Bush on guitar) stole the show, far as I was concerned; her "Stay" just about melted the lens with her intensity. They won Best Country Duo Vocals.

All in all, as one of the performers said, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday evening. 

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mind Your Own Business

The late spring of 1964, when I was a tender, but lustful, sixteen, my buddy Thomas -- he didn't like being called "Tommy" -- up and joined the Navy. Thomas was a year older, seventeen, not much of a scholar, and since Vietnam was heating up, he figured he'd rather sit on a battleship offshore than slogging around in the rice paddies.

Thomas was dating Milly, who was fifteen and quite the hottie, and they decided that, soon as he got through basic training and whatnot, he would come home and they would get married.

Yeah, yeah, I know, but it was Louisiana, and at least she wasn't his sister ...

So, he gave her an engagement ring, and off to the Navy he went.

Six weeks or so, I got a call from Thomas, who was in San Diego. He got word, he said, from somebody who said that Milly was going out on him. Did I know anything about that?

Nope, I hadn't seen her since he'd left. Her school was across town from mine, we didn't run in the same circles. Milly was fifteen, an aforementioned hottie, and so maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise, what with Thomas being two thousand miles away and the warm summer nights being long and not so exciting to sit at home alone.

So, what did he want me to do?

Go and get my ring back.

Me? Why me?

You're my friend, right?

Attend here, class, the lesson. There are two choices when it comes to stepping in between your friend and his girl in such instances:

1) Run away, and do not consider the idea.
2) Run away, and do not consider the idea.

There is, perhaps, a third choice:

3) Run away, and do not consider the idea.

But I was sixteen, I had but a little experience with the Grand Game of Romance and its various rules and regulations. I didn't know any better. Ignorance is not bliss -- it is tragedy waiting to happen.

Okay, I said.

So I called Milly up. I need to talk to you, I said.

Sure. Come by Friday night?

I arrived at Milly's house. The door opened and there was Milly, dressed to go out, hotter than an Arizona Fourth of July, you could bounce quarters off her she was so tight. Let's go, she said.

Go? Go where?

We can't talk here. My mother is here.

Yeah, well, okay, I could understand that. It made sense.

So we piled into my '59 Chevy and took off. That car had a bench front seat, and Milly sat about fifteen feet away, by the passenger door, which is where she was supposed to sit. Until we cleared the first corner at which point she slid across the expanse of Detroit cushion, latched onto me, and stuck her tongue into my ear.

Now, let us be completely honest here. My first reaction was not, Oh, my Gawd, what are you doing?! Get away from me!

I was sixteen. I could get an erection putting my socks on. I was a biological switchblade -- hit a button, and sproing! Anything female and willing was alluring.

Having a hot -- did I mention she was hot? -- teenage girl nibbling my ear lobe and breathing heavily onto my neck set constantly-simmering hormones raging to a boil a helluva lot faster than putting my socks on. So, I admit, I kinda leaned into it ...

But only for a minute, really. We got to a traffic light, I moved away. Look, this is not a good idea. What about Thomas?

She said, and I quote: Thomas is an old shithead!

Yeah, I kinda agreed with that, if for no other reason than he had sent me to see Milly to get his fucking ring back, but I shook my head. Listen, he wants his ring back, I managed to say, though I had to lean to one side to be able to see her for the, ah, obstruction blocking my vision and clouding my mind. (I wax hyperbolic, but you get the idea.)

Piss on him. If he wants it back, he can ask me for it in person.

The conversation was essentially over, and not wanting to be any bigger a bastard than I already was, I said, Fine. I'm taking you home. Which I did.

I consider this latter action one of my finest and bravest accomplishments as a man. Because, still dealing in truth here, I would much rather have gone to the submarine races and discussed that old shithead Thomas at length with Milly upon that nice, big car seat, which she was obviously ready and willing to do. Did I mention that I was a sixteen-year-old advertisement for erectile function in the American teenager? And that she was hot?

I couldn't call Thomas, because telephones weren't handy for him, so I had to wait for a few days until he called me.

Did you get my ring back?

Well, no. She said if you want it, you have to ask for it in person.

What else did she say?

Here the next part of the lesson, students. When asked such a question, the wrong answer, the absolutely wrong answer is: Well, she called you an old shithead. And she, uh, made a move on me.

That hoor! he exclaimed outragedly. That bitch! That -- that --- hoor -- !

He spewed on like that for a while, and I nodded and said Uh huh, yeah, you're right, I'm sorry, and when he ran down, that was that.

But of course, that's not the end of the story.

Fast forward a few weeks. Thomas -- no longer quite so enamored with the idea of the Navy -- came home on leave. Went to, by fucking God, to see Milly, to get his ring back!

I wasn't there. I didn't hear the conversation, but in my mind, while it might have begun with I want my ring back, you hoor! it almost certainly moved to tongue-in-somebody's-ear, and further use of that big Detroit front seat in a real hurry.

A seventeen-year-old seaman -- insert obvious pun here -- was not so old that his juices had dried up, either. And did I mention she was hot?

So Thomas and Milly smoothed things over. All was well.

Except -- coming to the point now -- guess who the villain became in this piece? Anyone? You there, laughing your ass off, go ahead, tell the class:

Who was it called Thomas a shithead? Who was said his fiancee was a hoor? Yep, that is correct. Not them. No, it was that lying-scum-backstabbing other guy, what's-his-name ... ?

Things were never the same twixt Thomas and me. He and Milly did get married, a year later, sneaked off to Mississippi to do it, where the age of consent is what? Nine?

I wasn't invited.

Thomas and Milly had a couple of kids, the marriage lasted almost three years, then they split up. (Thomas, who later became a serious heroin addict, was tossed out of the Navy a few months after he joined up, a medical discharge, whatever the Navy's equivalent was of a Section Eight, i.e. he was bonkers. Milly was married twice more, with four or five more kids before I lost track of her. Louisiana white-trash, probably living in a trailer, if she's still alive, and no longer in any way, shape, or especially form, hot.

Far as I can tell, neither of them lived happily ever after.

Thus endeth the lesson ...

The Economy


No question that the country is slogging through a nasty swamp, in re the economy. Million jobs lost in the last couple of months, housing sales, car sales, big ticket item sales in general in the toilet, and nobody trusts their banker farther than they can throw him. 

I also find it sad that the Republicans seem to think that their mantra "Tax cuts, tax cuts!" is going to work any better than it has. Explain how cutting taxes helps a guy who just lost his job and has no income. Or whose house is in foreclosure along with that job loss. Last time I looked, in order to make rabbit stew, first you have to catch a rabbit.

In the long run, you say? Sure. In the long run, we are all dead. 

But: As dire as things are, everybody hasn't lost his or her job. The country might be mired up to its ass, but it can still move.

Last night, my wife and I went out for dinner. We had a coupon, courtesy of a writing gig I did a few months back, for McCormick's, a local fish house, twenty bucks off, and worth using when it covers the price of an entree. 

Normally, we don't go out on Saturday night, we prefer the quiet of mid-week, so it has been a while since we've done that.

Traffic was heavy. Everybody and her date was on the road. The restaurant, when we got there, was packed, and even though we had a reservation, we had to wait a few minutes for a table. We were booked at six-thirty p.m., and when we left, an hour or so later, there were fifteen people stacked by the front door waiting for tables and the tables were all full.

I was happy to see it. I halfway expected a ghost town, and seeing that everybody wasn't cowering in their about-to-be-repossessed-houses was, in a small way, heartening.

This is not to make light of the plights of the millions who are in dire trouble financially. Any of us could get pink-slipped tomorrow and join that group, and it is cause for concern. More than a third of my retirement fund is just ... gone, and while I hadn't planned on retiring, that option is not what it was. (If I want to retire, I'll need to work a little longer. Until I'm, oh, say, ninety-seven or so ...) But if people can't buy a new house or a new car or dishwasher because they are tightening their belts, at least those who were in that restaurant last night seemed to be enjoying their food and themselves. Somebody had a birthday and they sang, and the ages of the patrons ranged from old to young. 

Hope is still alive in some quarters. Life is in the moment, not the past, nor the future. Seize it.

By the by, I had the lobster ravioli with Gulf shrimp, in a white sauce, with dill and baby spinach. Outstanding dish, delicious -- and made ever so much better because it was free. If you get to McCormick's, try it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Prove It

In science, as in formal debate, both activities that are grounded in logic and reason, the burden of proof for a theory or thesis rests on the affirmative.

That is, you say it's so, you have to prove that it is.

In science, you try to come up with a replicable experiment, one your peers can do that will produce the same or similar results. If you claim you have achieved fusion in a mayonnaise jar full of seawater, somebody else needs to be able to duplicate that, using your data. If nobody anywhere can, your theory dies the Death of a Thousand Laughs.

If you offer a thesis in a debate, you have to bolster it with evidence that will convince a panel of judges that you more nearly achieved that than not. All the negative really has to do is shake his head and say, "Nope, I don't believe it. Show me."

It's the opposite of the criminal system in this country, where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. In debate, you are presumed to be full of crap until you demonstrate otherwise.

There are a lot of arguments that debaters use when they don't have the weight of evidence on their side. I won't give you the Latin names, but they involve such things as a) arguing from authority -- Well, my teacher said so, and he is an expert! b) circular reasoning -- You aren't smarter than I am because I am smarter than you! c) Attacks against the person arguing -- Yeah, well, you're an asshole, so we can discount anything you have to say. d) Straw-man, you argue against something that isn't really on the table: I'm against the war in Iraq. Really? Why do you hate our troops? e) rejecting facts as opinion: Well, everybody is entitled to their own opinion! Yeah, but not their own facts. You can believe the sun revolves around the Earth if you want, but no matter how many people believe that, it's still wrong.

I could go on, but if you want to see a list of what's good and not-good in debate, go here. You may find that you are inadvertently doing some of these things when you argue. (And like me, you might find that you do some of them on purpose ...)

Back when I was a private eye, the lawyers had one I liked. If you'd caught hubby sneaking around with a girlfriend and it got to divorce court, the lawyer on the other side, having no real defense, would sometimes ask what we called What-color-were-his-socks? questions. That is, things you didn't know, and couldn't, just to get you saying "I don't know." as many times as they could. The idea was that a judge would hear that and be swayed into thinking you weren't very observant, and maybe you had made a mistake. That's why when you were in the field, you took notes, pictures, and anything else that you could in case you had to defend it in court.

Smart judges would allow two or three of these and then tell the lawyer to move on. Wicked judges would sometimes let it go on for a long time, just because they liked watching a desperate lawyer dance ...

Me, I always like to describe the girlfriend as a "very attractive woman," just to watch her smile if she was sitting in the courtroom. I'm trying to nail her boyfriend for adultery, and she's grinning at my flattery. Look on the boyfriend's face was always interesting when he saw her smile.

Normally, when I proffer a thesis here on my blog, I am assuming the role of affirmative, so I have to offer what I consider evidence. There are all kinds of evidence, and some kinds are better than others. An undoctored real-time video beats a drunk eyewitness most of the time. Something accepted generally as fact -- that Earth/Sun thing and which one revolves around which -- carries more weight than, "Well, that's what my uncle said."

I once got into a wonderful argument with a man over a lunar eclipse. About which way the shadow went across the face of the moon, east to west or west to east. Man said, "Well, that depends on where you are, the angle."

Really? And which planet might you be standing on? Not this one. Not unless the local celestial bodies went into reverse when I wasn't looking.

Opinion based on accepted truth beats hearing it from God on your way home from the Safeway.

Elsewhere on the web, I sometimes take the negative position, and if folks don't come up with something that sways me, I figure they lose the argument. How I get that is this: If both sides of the exchange were printed out and given to a disinterested panel (and "disinterested" is not the same as "uninterested," please note) then I'd win the debate on points.

Had a couple of those lately. Fun stuff when you know you have the winning hand, though sometimes you learn more if you have the loosing side ...

Edmonds Update


It seems that Bobbe is going in for back surgery next Friday, a week from today. That will be the 13th, and the reason, he says, that he was able to get it scheduled this soon, was that few people wanted to risk the knife on such an unlucky date.

Some advantages to being a godless heathen, it seems.

For those of you who aren't godless heathens, offer prayers and best wishes on that date for his speedy recovery. Everybody else can raise a glass to toast his good health. Or both ...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Things That Go Stab in the Night


Silat is based on the blade. I might have mentioned that a time or twelve, but it is. There are limits to such weapons, of course. Taking a knife to a gun fight where the starting distance is any farther apart than a standard-sized pick-up truck is long? Not such a good idea.

As is taking a bare fist to a knife fight any closer than that.

It being a knife art, we spend a fair amount of time playing with sharps -- or rubberized sharps, so we don't kill each other with any frequency. Nobody wants to have to scrub the blood off Cotten's garage floor.

Most of the in-class training we have done with blades has been bare-handed against a short blade ("short" here meaning anything easily concealable upon one's person.) The reason for that is that we think it's the most likely event for which we can train. Somebody is close, they attack, and you just have time to realize there is a knife involved. (Yeah, yeah, in real attacks, often you don't get any warning, but in such cases, you are in even deeper shit. If somebody stands off a half mile away and pots you with their deer rifle, whaddya gonna do? Defense against total surprise goes to threat-recognition. You don't see it coming, how do you stop it?)

Also note that most of this close-range training falls into the Oh, Shit! category. You don't have a lot of time, and there aren't a lot of options.

We have also spent time working with longer blades, machete or short sword-length.

And lately, we have done several sessions on the knife-against-knife scenario. Yep, if you have time to pull a knife, you probably have time to run, but let's postulate the trapped-in-the-bathroom sequence, or you have the wife and kids and granny with you, just because, you know, it's not altogether unlikely that you might find running not an option.

It's a given that a silat student in our school will have a knife or three near to hand.

How much skill has all this training given me? Not much. Mostly, the realization that I really don't want to tangle with somebody waving at knife at my nuts. I might have to, and it's good to have some idea of something that might work, but given my druthers, I want to be elsewhere drinking a cold one and having fries with that.

This is especially true of somebody who knows what he is about with a pointy thing. If you are bare-handed and he is an expert? His only worry is whether he wants sirloin or T-bone. We believe generally -- and after fiddling with this stuff for a while, I certainly do -- that those guys who think they can just dance in and slap the knife out of Musashi's grip, or pass it back and forth like the Chinese ping-pong team before executing a perfect lock and disarm are, um ... mistaken. (We spell that h-a-m-b-u-r-g-e-r ...)

I have a knife, you don't, my advantage. My knife takes away a lot of your skill. I have all the tools you do, so I can hit or kick or elbow you, plus the knife. That's why armies don't fight empty-handed.

Even if we both have knives, it isn't going to be a picnic on a sunny May afternoon and the ants all stay home.

What it does is get us used to the idea of seeing a weapon incoming, and that standing there and staring at it goggle-eyed is maybe not the best defense.

Part of our philosophy is to train worst-case scenario. What if? when the "what" is bad. If you only train for perfect conditions, barefoot on the mat, in your nice loose gi, you are short-changing yourself. We believe. Of course, it could be argued that training on a concrete floor in street clothes doesn't prepare you for sand; or that training in the sand pit doesn't give you an icy hillside; or that the hillside doesn't give you tree roots and bear traps. True enough.

But in three years of Okinawa-te, getting to brown belt, I learned three knife defenses, two of which would get you killed against anybody with the Scarecrow's brain and the coördination of the Tin Man, and one of which would work against somebody really stoned, and you can't wait on him even so. One out of three isn't so good, you make the wrong choice. He says, speaking from personal experience.

Here, at least, we are realizing that weapons ramp the game way up, and even practice-reality demonstrates how nasty it can get to be in a real hurry. If you can't stop the rubber knife in your friend's hand, stopping the steel one in a bad guy's grip is going to be a real problem.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Batman Goes Ballistic

Back around 1963, Dion wrote and sang a little ditty with the Belmonts, "Donna, the Prima Donna."

Ideally, when listening to the audio recording to be found here, you should also open the Roomates' Prima Donna vid below, turn the sound down, and listen to Bale rant with the song playing softly in the b.g. You should be able to keep two windows open and running together in one browser, and  it's a lot of fun to do it thus.

If profane language offends you -- don't click on the link. If you want to hear a big-name star throw a hissy fit, well, enjoy ...


video