Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Got to Love the Internet


Got a note from a woman connected to Fabryka Slow, the Polish publisher of The Man Who Never Missed. Wants to put my picture up on their site, and could I send 'em one?

Sure, no problem.

This brought up a recollection of an article I read last evening on The Dreyfus Affair, which had in it a passing reference to a coincidence worthy of the internet, so here the segue ...

Those of you who missed history class that hour when France was covered, this concerned a scandal that rocked the country in the late 1890's, in which a French officer was convicted of espionage -- selling secrets to the Germans. This was a crime he had nothing to do with, but was accused of simply because he was a Jew.

There was a document purportedly written by Dreyfus that was a big part of the evidence against him, and a handwriting expert was brought in. Because, the expert said, the handwriting looked nothing like Dreyfus's, he therefore concluded that it must be his -- he had disguised it.

Only the French.

The letter, which eventually made its way into the newspapers -- the internet of the day -- was read by a stockbroker, who recognized the handwriting as belonging to one of his ne'er-do-well clients -- the man who was, in fact, the guilty party. This was kept under wraps, though Dreyfus's brother eventually ferreted this out.

Dreyfus, meanwhile, was railroaded into a life sentence, showing that anti-semitism was alive and well in turn-of-the-century France.

Eventually, because Dreyfus's brother wouldn't let it go, the glaring inconsistencies were such that people felt compelled to step up. The real villain was finally uncovered, Dreyfus was freed, and they all lived happily ever after. (Dreyfus had a long career, was highly-decorated, and died venerated and admired.)

The part I loved was that the French Army was so intent on not looking bad that it covered up evidence left and right. An anti-semite officer assigned to the case intercepted a telegram that revealed the guy who had really done it, and was fired and shipped out into the boonies for his diligence, then stuck in jail. (He was eventually brought back, dusted off, promoted, and had a long and successful career, too.)

The internet connection is tenuous, but, the writer, Adam Gopnik, means, I think, to point out that putting things out in public, ala the incriminating letter, might turn up unexpected evidence, even if nothing is really done with it. Unlike a paper letter that one can burn, once something is posted on the net, it is there forever, and a diligent hunter might find it.

This is why telling the truth is a good idea. As William Goldman's second book on the screen trade offers, falsehoods are harder to keep straight. "Which lie did I tell?" catches people flatfooted sometimes. (This would be a good place for me to go back into the silat wars, but -- nope. Not gonna ...)


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indy Rides Today

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Go Ask Alice

In my previous post, I spoke about Roman Polanski and his infatuation with young girls. A bit more on what I like to call the Dodson Syndrome. (The Rev. Charles Dodson is better known under his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll, for the adventures of Alice and her trip through the looking glass. While this was his main claim to fame, he was also a photographer of some note, and a survey of his surviving photographs reveal that half of them were of young girls. Could have been more or fewer such -- many of the images or plates have been lost.)

Behold, above, Dodson's photograph of Alice Liddell, the model and namesake for the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.

There is no evidence that Dodgon was an active pedophile, though it was thought for a long time that he probably tended that way, since he never seemed to have any adult liasons, women or men. It is also likely that he probably never acted upon any such urges. Current thinking seems to have shifted somewhat, and allows is that the Victorian child-cult, which saw children as aspects of innocence, might have been the impetus that drove his photography and friendships with children. (I dunno. The gaze of the photographer who shot this image of Alice seems tinged with sensuality, and he apparently took a lot of nudes of children, some boys, mostly girls, but maybe that's just the cynic in me.)

These days, older men who befriend young children not their own, or at least related to them, are often considered in that more cynical light. Especially given the numbers of soccer and basketball and gymnastics coaches being arrested for inappropriate activity with their charges.

To continue: The title of this entry is the same as that of Oscar Wilde's only full-length novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. For those of you who missed it, this tale concerns a handsome young man with whom an artist is so enamored that the portrait he paints of dear Dorian takes on magical aspects -- no matter how dissolute young Gray becomes -- and he stoops pretty low into debauchery -- he never seems to show the effects. But the portrait ages, shows all the marks of a wicked life, and it's probably not a spoiler to tell you that deals with the devil, no matter how one gets into them, often end as greasy puddles on the floor ...

The story represents a number of things, mainly Faustian bargains, one of which is the desire to stay, like Peter Pan, young forever.

I think that among certain kinds of men, this might be part of the reason for connecting to younger women. If you are middle-aged and feeling creaky, a sweet young thing hanging on your every word and arm offers a soothing balm to your aged ego. Look, see here, I can still attract the young and beautiful! I'm not so old!

An adult man who enters into a sexual relationship with a child, would have to be dealing with issues of insecurity and power.

I knew a guy once, kept getting married and divorced. His first wife was fifteen when they met, he was eighteen. Not so bad, though a college freshman and a high school sophomore maybe aren't the best matches.

They split, and his second wife was seventeen when they wed, he was twenty-one. Still only four years difference.

This third wife was eighteen, and he was twenty-six.

His fourth wife was nineteen, and he was thirty-four.

After that divorce, he didn't get married again while I knew him, but his girlfriends were none of them out of their teens.

Such relationships allowed him to be an authority figure. The girls and young women were inexperienced and he was the wise, mayhaps even father figure, who had all the answers. At least at first. Once they were around him for a while and learned how much he really knew, they tended to be less impressed, and at least the three I knew left him. He was always able to find a new replacement for whom he could be, at least for a time, wise.

Far as I know, he never had any relationship with a woman near his own age that lasted more than two dates. How sad is that?

All of which it so say that why Polanski hankered after young and beautiful and innocent girls might be understandable. Aside from the purely aesthetic aspects, the balance of power was so much in his favor, and had to make him feel more in control.

Understanding it is not the same as condoning it.

Roman Finally Got Busted


A slightly-edited reprise of a post I did elsewhere:

Roman Polanski, if had done nothing but Chinatown, would have made his mark indelible as a director. But a big part of what he'll be remembered for is that he had a thing for little girls.

(Oh, and Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, but that's not where we are going here.)

Being really good at your job? That doesn't buy you a pass to diddle the children. What folks who say, "Oh, poor Roman!" want to wave off that's not in dispute, is that the man had the hots for girls who'd just stepped into puberty. That in 1977, he took a thirteen-year-old girl to Jack Nicholson's house for a "photo shoot," plied her with champagne and Quaaludes, then raped her, and since the original charge included "sodomy," you can make of that what you will.

Was Samantha (Gailey) Geimer the first? I can't say. But she wasn't the last post-pube, pre-adult; at the very least, there was fifteen-year-old Nastassja Kinski. One might not be blamed for wondering if those were but the tip of the condom.

More, when asked about his arrest, Polanski shrugged it off. He liked 'em young, so, what's the big deal?

We have all seen young teenage girls who could pass for much older, and the term "jailbait," is used in referring to them; just because they look old enough doesn't mean they are. And you can't get jailed for wicked thoughts -- but Polanski knew how old this girl was -- that was part of the appeal for him.

The law came, busted him, convicted him, and he was out on bond while they were pondering the sentence. His attorneys had cut a deal. He served forty-odd days, and was going to skate past that, but the judge caught a lot of flak, and was thinking about reneging on the deal. There was gonna be hard time at the big house, so the winds were blowing.

Roman caught a plane to Paris and never came back.

Spending the next thirty-odd years living high on the hog in France, getting laid by younger --and those not yet legally women -- his life as a fugitive hasn't exactly put him into the Jean Valjean class, has it?

The French, who are ever so much more cosmopolitan about such things than those of us over here in the gauche New World, welcomed Polanski and excused his penchant for little girls because he was an auteur. Good for them.

That Polanski's victim doesn't harbor bad feelings for the man these days is admirable on her part. (And that she sued him and there was an undisclosed settlement might have influenced that.)

That the law should shrug it off because it was long ago and he's old and respected now? And maybe not so much a threat, given his age? Maybe not such a good thing.

I'd doubt that he's gonna do any time, if he even gets extradited, which is also not a sure thing. He's not being pursued for statutory rape, but for jumping ship. Statutes of limitations are different for those two.

Yeah, I saw the documentary. He might have gotten screwed on the deal his lawyers cut with the judge. That wouldn't have made it unjust, would it?

You can't do the time, don't do the crime. (Unless, of course, you have a good lawyer. We all know that OJ, Robert Blake, and R. Kelly were found not guilty ...)

How the Pack is Getting Along

Ballou, Layla, Jude -- "Find it" food on the kitchen floor.

You not gonna eat that?

Beware Online Predators: A Public Service Announcement

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More on Character


Here's a small bit of characterization I loved when I read it, long ago and before I paid much attention to such things. I haven't read the scene in a while, so the details might be off, but here's the gist:

McGee and Meyer are in a local restaurant and Meyer orders the chili. (Meyer is himself a wondrous chili cook.) Now from the set-up and dialog with the locals, this is hot chili, and the locals drift over to watch Meyer's reaction. The unspoken assumption is that he is gonna take a bite and then break a land speed record in the Reach-for-the-water-glass event.

So Meyer takes a bite. Doesn't speak.

The locals grin. Here it comes ...

Meyer reaches for a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce. Sprinkles it liberally upon the chili. Takes another bite. Nods. "That's about right," he says.

Me, I think that's a wonderful bit of business that goes right to Meyer's character. Moran can probably tell us right off which book it was from. (And I confess I always kind of saw McDonald's face whenever Meyer showed up.)

Elementary, Dear Watson


I am a fan of British TV mysteries, many of which have made it to PBS in the U.S.: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Poirot, Morse, Inspector Lynley, Lewis, et al.

These are all whodunnits -- in that the murderer's identity is unknown to the detectives, be they police or amateurs, and to the viewers. Clues are dropped along the way so that viewers can figure it out, but there is usually enough of a suspect pool and red herrings scattered about so you you have to pay attention before the credits finish or you may miss a major pointer.

This is all fun, and as a writer, I always enjoy looking for the small bits of business that lead to the unraveling of the mystery. Why was the cell phone on the car seat? What did that clipping in the maid's drawer about the war mean? That dusty photograph in the pages of an old book? You know it meant something. Start trying to tie it to what comes later.

For those of you who enjoy such things, too, and who haven't figured out one of the long-standing tropes and major clues, here's a cheat for you:

If you are allowed glimpses of the killing(s), often more than one as the episode goes on, and due to the light, angle, or clothing the perpetrator wears, you cannot tell the sex of the slayer?

Nine times out of ten, the killer will be revealed as a woman.

A hat pulled low and gloves are giveaways; and there will almost alway be a couple-three women it could be. Generally, it will be the one with the fewest apparent reasons for the crime.

A good writer plays relatively fair, but they sometimes skew things. The killer is never the obvious first person they arrest, even if he confesses. He didn't do it, and he confessed for what he considers his own good reasons.

Sometimes the twists and turns will be Byzantine and intricately complex; the most recent Lewis (Inspector Lewis, in the U.S. version) episode I watched "Life Born of Fire," was a doozy, but the clues were fair -- even though I missed a big one. I figured out who the killer was, and why, but not how. Give that one to the writer, Tom MacRae -- it was cleverly done. In retrospect, I wanted to shake my head. Of course. Why didn't I see that?

Well, because they generated a lot of smoke and flashed mirrors to keep me from seeing it, that's why. But still ..

But: if you cannot tell that the killer is a man or a woman when s/he garrotes the usually-deserving victim?

The killer is almost certainly a woman. Impress your spouse with this, and thank me later.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shame


Over on Wim's blog, you can see the full-length version of what has come to be called the "Jesus Taught Me" video. BUT HEED THIS WARNING: This is brutal, ugly stuff. Don't watch it if violence bothers you, because this is a stomach-turner. Not so much for what happens -- though that is bad enough, but for the man who sets it up, then allows it to go down.

Ever you wished Jove would step up and hurl a thunderbolt at somebody you picked out? If you are a martial artist, these clowns would be several of the guys on your list.

The upshot of this for those who don't want to have a look, is that a homeless, and likely mentally-challenged man winds up as a "guest instructor" at a martial arts school. The senior teacher sics one of his black belts on the guy, who claims to hold a tenth degree red belt -- given to him by Jesus.

You'd think that would tell you something, wouldn't you? Nothing against Jesus, but I've never heard of Him giving rank in the martial arts.

Teachers at martial arts schools sometimes have guys drop by who claim great skill and who want to play, and it is tempting to pop somebody who obviously is blowing hot air, just to make a point. I understand this, but there are limits, and they all got sent out of this room. It was a set-up from the first, and flat-out nasty.

The black belt starts out by kicking the unsuspecting guest in the crotch. (Nobody seems to know his name, he's just called Kung Fu Guy on the web) and it goes downhill from there.

Neither demonstrates any real skill as a fighter. KFG is a better dancer, but he poses like the Karate Kid, waves his arms around, and you know he learned most of what he knew from watching kung-fu movies. He lands an occasional tap or kick, but the shorter, heavier black belt bores in on him, loses it, beats the other guy unconscious, and then, when he is down and out, stomps his head a couple times for good measure. Only then do the others in the school call him off. A little harder, the downed man's skull would have blown apart like a watermelon.

The unconscious man is then quickly hauled out by the feet -- Drag him out back, the teacher says. There is a trail of blood on the floor, which the teacher then points out with some glee.

You can read more about it here.

It's not the worst thing you've ever seen, and it supposedly happened twenty-five years ago. And, according to the follow-up story, the Jesus guy survived, though there was some question about that. If he was mentally off the beam before, this certainly didn't improve things for him.

I expect that the statute of limitation for assault expired long ago, which in this case, is a shame.

It shows me two things:

One, you can take a lot of punishment and live. And two, somebody directly involved in this assault who put something like this up on the internet? He's probably too stupid to pour piss out of a boot. He deserves anything the world wants to put on his doorstep, both for the crime, and for the subsequent idiocy of posting it where people can see it. I think it was a brag. Look how we took care of bidness at our school.

I usually don't name names. I will this time. The school owner was Bobby Joe Blythe. Willie J. Dennis was the black belt administering the beating, and it was in a McDojo in Dumfries, Virginia.

You really have to wonder just how deep the chasm of stupidity is. Every time you think you've seen somebody who must have hit the bottom, somebody else comes along to show you there is yet another crevasse that goes deeper still ...

Celebrity Debt


The country is still in a recession, but it isn't just the common folks who sometimes wind up searching for change under the couch cushions. Apparently Baywatch star Pamela Anderson has come to lean days --

Anderson Bankrupt?

(Though it was tempting, you'll notice I didn't say she had gone belly up, nor fallen upon hard times.)

I expect she'll bounce back. Especially if she fell, um, face down ...

(Aside: I happened to be in the right place at the right time to attend the world premiere of Barb Wire, the Anderson-starring movie. I was seated with a group of writers for Dark Horse, including the guy who wrote the comic book upon which the movie was based. There is a sequence in slo-mo during the opening credits -- might have been some water involved -- in which um -- ah, a less-than-fully-clad Anderson does a partial strip. As we were all watching, one of the women seated behind me leaned over to her husband and said, "They're not real, you know.")

As a sidebar to the entertainment story, there was a list of other notable celebrities who, at one time or another in their checkered careers, went bust. Some of those who hit the bankruptcy skids and filed the paperwork:

Kim Basinger
Larry King
Gary Coleman
Walt Disney
MC Hammer
Mike Tyson
Dorothy Hamill
Debbie Reynolds
Lorraine Bracco
Wayne Newton
Toni Braxton
Marvin Gaye
Willie Nelson
Donald Trump
Randy Quaid
Burt Reynolds
Mickey Rooney
Cyndi Lauper
Don Johnson
Francis Ford Coppola
Isaac Hayes
Ted Nugent
Tom Petty
Margot Kidder
Meat Loaf
Anna Nicole Smith
P.T. Barnum

Probably Mike Tyson and M.C. Hammer blew the most in the shortest amount of time, but I like it that P.T. Barnum found his way back (as did most of the others ...)

No Comment Necessary

R-R-R-Road R-R-R-Rage ...


I had occasion to go out today, to pick up dog food and make a pass by the Post Office. Normally during the day, I tend to walk to local shops if I need something, but now and again, I must dare the mean streets of Beaverton ...

It is a good thing that I am not prone to road rage, for if that was the case, I would have had to justify to a jury why I potted at least four people in a single afternoon ...

First was a guy in a left turn lane on TV Highway. He was parked in the lane, no traffic oncoming, and extremely interested something on the seat next to him. I waited a polite thirty seconds while he attended to whatever this was, then politely tapped my horn. He looked up as if awakening from a nightmare, glared at me, and finally moved.

Not a quarter-mile later, I got behind somebody who decided that fourteen miles an hour in a thirty-five mph zone was sufficiently fast -- apparently didn't want to burn up from atmospheric friction or somesuch. Two blocks ahead, a pedestrian stepped off the curb in a crosswalk, and the guy tearing up the road at fourteen slammed on his brakes. The pedestrian could have led a brigade of nursing home residents using walkers across the road before Speed Racer in front of me got close to the crosswalk.

Both of these drivers were men, and from all appearances, younger than I.

I cut older people some slack, so when Granny ahead of me came to an intersection with a stop sign that T-ed at a one-way street and appeared unsure as to the direction she should turn, I didn't honk. Cross-traffic was a block away, stopped at a light, she had plenty of time, but she waited until the light changed and the cars were almost there before pulling out in front of a pick-up doing forty whose driver had to stand on the brake pedal and bring his vehicle to a tire-burning and smoking stop to avoid smashing into her. Good thing he didn't have a gun.

At the post box drop box, in the post office's lot, the person in front of me didn't think to have her mail ready to put into the slot. Kind of like it was a surprise that the box just suddenly appeared there, and Oh, yeah, she had to go hunt for the letter. From the amount of time it took her to find it, I could only assume the letter was locked in a safe under the seat, and she had forgotten the combination. (I sometimes get behind this woman in line at the supermarket. She has twenty items in the ten-items-or-fewer line, the checker is scanning them, and this unenlightened soul stands there, eyes glazed, staring into infinity. The checker finishes, announces the total, and the woman blinks. Huh? She digs her purse out of the basket, opens it in slo-mo, paws through it to find her wallet. Searches through fifty credit cards to find the one she needs, then looks at the clerk. Now how do I do this? You know this woman, you've been behind her, and if there was a trapdoor that opened into a wet and moldy dungeon below, you know you would pull the lever, wouldn't you?)

Those are the four. I don't really count the idiot blocking the driveway at the post office, an abortion protester -- Planned Parenthood is directly across the street -- who waved a sign at at me that said "Abortion stops a beating heart!"

So will my front bumper if you don't move your ass out my way, you fundamentalist twit.

I live well and can't complain, but if I suddenly got filthy rich? I might hire a driver. Or maybe a shooter ...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hit Me! Hit Me! No ...

Now and again in silat class, I get paired with a newbie and I sometimes find myself offering how-to information that skips ahead too far.

This is perhaps understandable because nearly all of the students in our class came from another art; most of them had previous training in something, and much of what you find in one art is common to other fighting disciplines. A fist is a fist, right?

This isn't always the case, and you need to know that.

If you are going to start talking about combinations of technique -- punch here, elbow there -- it behooves you to know if the person to whom you are talking knows what a punch or elbow is, in the context you are offering it. So I have realized that I need to backtrack and get to the nitty-gritty.

First questions go to basics: Do you have any training in any kind of martial art? Do you know how to make a fist? How to punch?

These two videos address that, in my own bumbling way ...

First, the fist:


video

Then, the punch:


video

Knifery



Here's what Jeff Crowner is up to these days. If you like kerambit folders, chances are you won't find a better made one than this.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One Hit, One Kill


There are martial arts that teach the single-hit-fight-ender strike, the so-call "one hit, one kill" theory. Back in my early karate days, there were guys with whom I spoke who absolutely believed it. One focused strike, they said -- usually a twisting punch fired from the hip -- and lights out, baby!

We, uh, don't subscribe to that theory in our art, for what we believe is a compelling reason:

It doesn't usually work. (Unless you are a sniper with a high-powered rifle, which is different.)

If you have a bored god smiling over your shoulder, then that patented smackdown shot might do the trick. If you are rolling sevens all night and hitting blackjack every draw, maybe that poke will end the job. You can blow the smoke off your knuckles, hum a little bit of the wah-wah from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and go home, and more power to you.

If you carry a single-shot horse pistol in .60 caliber and you put that fat lead ball in the right place, it will take a man down sure enough, but --

-- but: people can be both fragile and extremely tough. Listen to stories by ER personnel, cops, jailers, bouncers who have seen guys with broken skulls and bones sticking through the skin who kept coming. People have been shot multiple times with high-powered handgun ammo and kept coming. You got a punch better than a magazine full of 9mm or .45 ACP?

I've seen guys knocked cold with a tap to the temple. I talked to a guy recently said he's seen guys take full-power shots to the temple and keep coming.

You will be safer to go with the assumption that the death-touch might not work -- and have an option if'n it doesn't.

Better a gun with more bullets than one, just, you know, you miss the first shot. Or it hits a Bible the miscreant carries in his coat pocket, or that pesky and miraculous Zippo lighter. Or a bone. Or even if it hits meat but he is too stupid to know he's dead ...

We like the HEA Concept ourselves: Hit 'em again.

Rinse, repeat, and continue until hostilities in your direction cease. No less, no more. If you apply this rule say, nine or ten times and the hostilities continue, then you might want to start looking for a brick or a tire iron or a blunderbuss with four or five hundred grains of black powder and a bunch of old nails and wheel weights ...

Couldn't Let This One Pass


Steve Van Harn sent me a bunch of these restaurant names, some of which you might have trouble believing. (One of them was Hung Far Low, which I know is real because it is in Portland, and I ate there once, just to say I had.)

But this one ... ?

A Little Musical Interlude, Sort Of ...


Somebody sent me an email, asking a musical question. I'm not really the guy to be offering such answers, but since it was a fairly simple query, I'll take a shot at it.

The question was about my use of the term "Nashville Notation."

The non-musical among you may skip this one. Those of you who do know music theory, please tell me if I veer off the track.

A bit of set-up:

In western music, letters are sometimes used to stand for notes, chords, and keys. There are but seven whole notes, using A-G to represent them. (There are also sharps (#) and flats (♭) for these notes, and to complicate things, two terms can refer to the same note: A# is the same as B♭. We won't go there.)

Chords are made by hitting more than one note at a time, and in major chords, usually are comprised of at least three notes. The first, the third, and the perfect fifth. (This is determined by taking the letter of the first note, going to the third note in the sequence, then the fifth.)

There also myriad other chords -- minors, sevenths, ninths, thirteenths, suspended, augmented, etc. Whole books of these things are out there. If you know music theory, you can figure them on your own, but a reference book is a good cheat.

Keys go to the note or notes around which a musical piece is centered, thus Canon in D speaks to the key in which the thing was originally written and played. Generally the key of C is the easiest to fool with on a guitar or a piano, because there are no sharps, nor flats in the scale for the key.

Standard musical notation puts these things down on the sheet music and if you can read them, you will have the piece at your beck -- all you need to know about the rhythm, which notes or chords to play, the duration and timing and like that, is right there. It is an entire language.

Not all musicians read standard notation. (Old joke: You know how to stop a classical musician from playing? Take away his sheet music. You know how to stop a rock musician from playing? Put sheet music in front of him.)

The ability to play an instrument and the ability to read music are two entirely different skills.
There are many musicians who can read well. There are others who can't read music at all, but who get by. None of the Beatles, for instance, whose entire ouevre has recently been remastered and re-released, and has blown away all competition to sit at the top of the Hit Parade forty years on, could read music. Amazing.

Ray Charles, who was blind, could read music just fine.

Other forms of musical notation have been devised. Two common ones are TAB (tablature), in which diagrams of a stringed instrument's fretboard show you where to finger the string. Another is Nashville Notation, designed for rhythm players, which uses numbers to represent chord relationships. With this, if you know how to make chords, you can easily shift keys, since the relative positions of chords, especially the major ones, tend to stay the same from key-to-key.

An example: If you strum upon your guitar in sequence the chords G, Em (E-minor) C, and D, you will be able to play about half the rock and roll songs ever written, in the key of G. Most of the blues, you can do with one less chord.

Many rock songs use such chords, in this order, same cadence. All you have to do is change the words. ("Monster Mash," and "Born to Run?" same chords, same order ...)

In Nashville Notation, you don't speak to the key per se, but to the relationship of the chords in it. Thus in NN, the sequence above would be written: I, vi, IV, V. So, if you start with G as I, the Em, counting up from the G, is the sixth chord, written in lower case to indicate minor status. The IV chord is the C, again counting from the G (as I). The V is the D.

Put the number I over a letter, and here is what it looks like:

-----------------I II III IV V VI VII
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B -C--D-E--F

With Nashville Notation, wherever you start with the I is usually the key. If you know to play the major chords, all you need to do is shift up or down on the fretboard, so, if instead of playing a G to start, you begin with a C, thus:

-------I II III IV V VI VII
A-B-C-D-E---F-G-A--B

Then a I, vi, IV, V chord progression would be C, Am, F, G. It will sound very similar to the first progression, but higher or lower, depending on where you play it on the neck.

Session musicians need to know such things to play with others, and for singers who have a preferred vocal range. Somebody comfortable hitting the notes in D might not have the chops to hit the high notes in B♭.

There you have it. This pretty much exhausts everything I know about music ...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

For Bobbe


Seems appropriate, given the upcoming Indy novel. (A book for which Bobbe was, to quote the acknowledgment, my resident zombi authority. When you come to the goriest sequence in the book? Don't blame me, it was Bobbe ...)

Watchers


Artists -- and when I use the word here, I am not limiting it to painters, but also actors, writers, musicians, teachers, welders, carpenters, and anyone else who takes their craft up a notch -- tend to be watchers.

That is, they are able to observe the world around them, the people, places, things, and then use those observations to create something that others can use. Sometimes this is fanciful, other times practical; but a truly comfortable chair is certainly a work of art -- as is a gun-grip that perfectly fits your hand and gives you an instinctive point.

Different arts require different skills; a painter or a photographer is limited to the visual. An actor on a stage has sight, but also sound and gestures. An actor in a movie has those, plus the camera's tricks, that can include time and space. A writers has all these, plus the ability to read minds and reveal a character's innermost feelings. You can touch what a welder or a carpenter makes ...

As a writer, you have to get a feel for the things that readers want to know. And journalism opens the door. In any scene, you need to reveal as least some partial answers to the six classic questions: who-where-what-when-why-how.

Some of this isn't vital in the moment, so you don't have to go down a check list. Some of it can wait. Some of it can be revealed by giving the reader clues and allowing him or her to figure it out, but in the end, you have to address these. Who are these guys? What are they doing? Why?
And you can't just tell your reader, you need to show them. You do this with active voice, using sensory detail. Most of what we know about the world around us comes in through our eyes, and mostly, that's what you use, but you need those other senses. What does it sound like? Feel like to the touch? Smell like? Taste like?

These are the best-known, but there are other senses: nocieption (pain), equilibrioception (balance), proprioception (joint motion), kinesthesia (acceleration), thermoception (temperature), magnetoception (direction), and chronoception (a sense of time.)

And still more, if you get into the gut, swallowing, stretch receptors, bladder, bowels, and so on. Most of these small senses you can probably skip, but now an then, I have a character whose belly roils as if something alive is in it. Somebody who, when faced with imminent danger, needs to pee, or is nauseated.

Does an experience offer extrasensory perception? Like knowing that somebody is watching you, even though you cannot sense them with anything else? Ever "feel" somebody's gaze on your back, turn around and look, and spot somebody focused on you?

If you want your story to come alive, you need to give a reader more than one way to connect to it. Dean Wesley Smith says that you should use at least two senses on the first page, more if you have the skill to do it unobtrusively, and he's right. No, you don't want a catalog, by-the-numbers recitation of what everybody sees-hears-smells-feels-tastes every time you trot somebody on-stage, but you do need to consider that a palette has room for more than one color.

If a character in your story bites into a burrito, I don't want you to tell me that "it tasted good," and let it go at that. Why did it taste good? And what did it taste/smell/feel like?

(A total aside: Few years back, I was watching a cooking/travel show on the Food Network, starring Anthony Bourdain, A Cook's Tour. Bourdain, a chef who has lived hard and gotten around, wrote a tell-all book about the food industry, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which, if you read it, will alter forever the way you eat out at restaurants.

Um. Anyway, in the show, Bourdain traveled around, sampling the local fare. In one epsiode, he was some place south of the border, and he ate, as I recall, an iguana taco. The camera was on him as he tasted it, and he smiled at the woman who made it, but his voice-over, done after the fact, was one of the funniest things I ever heard -- I may not get the quote exactly right, but the essence was:

"Worst thing I ever put in my mouth! I wanted to stick my head in a bucket of fire and jump off a cliff!"

That tells you how bad it was ...)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bang-Bang-Bang-in-Beautiful-Beaverton ...


So, about 2:30 a.m. this morning, I came out of a dead sleep to the sound of rapid gunfire.

Sometimes, it's hard to tell if it's firecrackers or shots, but I was pretty sure it was somebody cooking off rounds from a semi-automatic. Had that ... crispness to it, and even cadence you hear with trigger pulls but not a string of firecrackers.

I dunno how many got fired before I awoke, but I heard at least eight or nine, in two groupings, and the pop-pop-pop sounded as if it came from the main street just outside our neighborhood, though it was hard to tell. If pressed, I'd guess it was a .22 semiauto, not far off. Though it could have been a bigger caliber farther away.

Woke my wife up, too. "Firecrackers," she said.

"I don't think so. Sounded like a gun."

I got up, went to the back door.

"Are you going out there?"

"Nope. Not if somebody's shooting."

I peered out. Didn't see anybody.

Went to another door, other end of the house. And a window there. Nothing.

I listened for a while, no sirens. Dogs didn't hear anything in the yard. I went back to bed and listened. Thought about calling 911, but fell back asleep.

This afternoon, when I went to collect my mail, my next door neighbor stopped me. "You hear gunshots early this morning?"

He had also gotten up, thought about calling 911, then didn't. Stood at his window looking and listening for a while, too.

Nothing on the local news about it this morning, and it could have been somebody driving down the road putting a magazine full of rounds into the air for whatever insane reason possessed them.

We live in a quiet suburban neighborhood, guns don't go off very often. Wakes you right up when you hear it.

When the Rain Comes (More Relativity)


Raining and cool here this morning, though both are terms that need to be qualified. The rain, while steady, is not a serious rain. "Cool" is upper fifties. If you don't wear a hat and jacket to walk a half mile or so with the dogs, you'll get soaked; but there are still dry patches on the sidewalk under the bigger fir trees.

Growing up in the semi-tropics of Louisiana, wherein we would sometimes get thunderstorms that dropped three inches of water in an hour, or an overnight total of a foot, not even counting thrice that from a stalled hurricane, then half an inch in twenty-four hours isn't in the same definition ...

Supposed to blow through and warm up, and back into the nineties again next week, just in time for the first day of Fall.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Little Help From the Memory Patrol, Please ...


The Tarzan reference in the previous post brought up a memory of a funny scene in a movie. I'm remembering that it was Claudine, from the early 1970's, starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones. Carroll plays a poor mother of six in New York, the Bronx, and Jones her boyfriend, a garbage man.

The scene, if it's in this movie, and as I recall it: Carroll and Jones are trying to visit, the kids are watching an old Tarzan movie on TV, when there comes a scream -- one of the little girls has just slapped one of the younger boys. Carroll braces her daughter -- Why did you hit him?

And the daughter says, Because Tarzan was kickin' the shit out of a bunch of black men and he's yelling 'Go Tarzan, go!'

Anybody remember this scene? Did it get the right movie and the gist of it?

All the Animals in the Jungle


Amazing how one's viewpoint changes over a lifetime. What was once considered appropriate -- water fountains for "Colored," everybody onscreen in a movie or on TV with a cigarette lit up --no longer is acceptable.

Today, after spending a couple hundred bucks on getting the cat another round of injections against cat diseases, and while out walking my high-maintainence dogs, I thought about how we considered animals when I was a small boy.

I have a younger brother, by two years, and he and I used to get shipped off to Grandma's house every summer for a couple weeks. Grandma moved around a bit, since Granddaddy was a petroleum engineer. He worked oil wells on land, the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and when he was younger, all over South America.

My brother and I were typical boys in a lot of respects, other than I was a bookworm. We played ball, kick-the-can, and all manner of violent pretend games -- cowboys and Indians; cops and robbers; War -- and in those days, against either the Japs or the Nazis. And there was another game that we thought we came up with: All the Animals in the Jungle.

At Grandma's house, in Tyler, Texas, (she had a split-level) there was an upstairs porch of sorts. My brother, Rickie, and I (Stevie) would lay out all our toy guns, the Mattel Fanners and cap pistols and rifles and shotgun. Then, as Hitchcock would have the birds do a decade later, all of the animals in the local jungle, which was distinctly African bush to our minds, would take it upon themselves to charge across the back yard with the intent of ripping us limb-from-limb and eating the bloody remains.

We never came up with a reason why this sudden kill-the-Perry-boys solidarity happened amongst the lions, tigers, rhinos, water buffalo, et al, but it was sufficient that it did, and as we saw the horde charging us, we would pick up our hardware and cheerfully slaughter them all.
(And even though as a reader I already knew at the age of eight that there were no tigers in Africa, they somehow found their way into our charging menagerie. Our fantasy, we could populate it as we wanted.)

At the end of such a session, the back yard would be heaped with imaginary corpses, all of our ammo would be expended, and it was only the last shot in the last gun that saved us from the final leaping leopard ...

"A lion, there! Bam! Got him!"

"Look out, it's a rhino -- blam, blam! Got him!"

Elephants, zebras, gnus, hippos, giraffes, all met their ends at the hand of dead-eye Stevie and Rickie. It was like that Johnny Cash song -- we shot 'em just to watch 'em die ...

When I played Tarzan, I was less violent. Only the occasional lion or crocodile, with my knife. And the poachers and evil white hunters, of course. I particularly liked leading the elephant herd to tromp the evil white hunters.

Uuuuuha-ahhh-uhhhhh-ahhh-uhhh! Stomp 'im, Jumbo! (We taught the bad guys their first and last lesson in sex education: You better not fuck with Tar-zan. Oongawa.)

Grisly to think about, both from the notion of how blood-thirsty we little heathens were -- well, no, technically, we were Methodists -- and how even though we had dogs and now and then a cat or a bird, we never made the connection that the wild animals might have the same kind of feelings the dogs did.

Kill 'em all, God'll know his own ...

I find this particularly interesting in light of the bedtime prayer that I said each night before dropping off when I was eight: "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Followed quickly by the God Bless roster:

"God bless Mama and Daddy and Rickie and Becky, and me ..." (later my sister Gigi would be added here, but not for a couple years, and with her given name, Georgiana.) "Grandma, Grandaddy, Mother Ella, Ken, Queen, Tex, Lassie, the White Collie with the Brown on Its Nose, and all the Collies in the World. Amen."

Loved dogs even then, even though I didn't have a clue about how to treat them.

Article in the paper today about people feeding their dogs vegetarian diets. I'm not quite ready to go that far, though ...


Radio Star

The Women of Silat Sera - Tiel Ansari. second from left.

Those of you in or around Portland, Oregon, a heads-up: Tiel is gonna be on the radio. She has passing skill as a martial artist, writer, and a poet:
Sept. 21, 10 PM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Burglar Picks Wrong House

Story here.

Oh, and as a P.S., check out this one.

Henry Gibson & Mary Travers



Lost two more today -- Gibson, who was a hit on Laugh-In and who had a steady career playing oddball characters for decades after that; and Travers, of Peter, Paul & Mary. Seventy-three and seventy-two, cancer, and leukemia, respectively

Liked both of them. Sorry to see them go.

Adios.

Water


Most of our bodies are water. And most of us don't drink enough of it -- we tend to get our water from coffee, tea, colas, or beer, and while all these will supply enough liquid to sustain life, they come with certain drawbacks. The human digestive and excretory systems were designed to run on water, and they have to work overtime filtering anything else. More, the sugars, caffeine, alcohol and other things offer some good, but mostly bad, side-effects.

I used to drink a lot of Coca Cola, and back in the bad old days, would go through six or eight bottles a day, which is how I got most of my water intake. All those empty calories, all that acid -- bad for the teeth, and gut, and kicks your body PH into a terrible zone. Not to mention the sugar highs that drop precipitously if you don't keep mainlining the stuff. Headaches, bad for your bladder, kidneys, gas, good way to develop kidney stones, all like that. The Real Thing™ hasn't been the same since they took the cocaine out ...

I long time ago realized the benefits of proper hydration. It does wonders for all kind of things, from cushioning your joints, to curing constipation, to giving you healthier skin and muscles and hair, gets rid of edema, and ... it's starting to sound like snake-oil, but nutritionists and some doctors and sports coaches have known this for years.

You need to keep a lot of water going through your system.

We've been doing some research on this because my wife doesn't drink enough water. She has a sensitive palate, and she can taste the chlorine the city puts into our water to kill the bugs. So she drinks tea to kill the taste. Most city water is safe, but most of it has some kind of something in it that the EPA allows little bits of, parts per million or billion; frankly, I don't think there's any safe level of lead or pesticides or cattle hormones. (If you want to try something to see how good your water is, get one of those little test kits you use for a hot tub or swimming pool and add them to a big glass of tap water. Might be surprised at what you find.)

Um. Anyway, I drink enough because I make a point of it. I keep a sixteen-ounce glass on my desk and go through five or six of them a day.

The rule of thumb is, take your weight in pounds, divide it in half, and that's how many ounces of water you need to drink a day. Me, at two hundred pounds, a hundred ounces, so six of my glasses a day. Plus what I go through at silat class, usually another twenty or thirty ounces.

Doesn't mean you still can't drink coffee or soda or milk or beer or wine -- most of those are okay in moderation, too much isn't. But you shouldn't count them against your water intake.

Here's an experiment. For the next two weeks, drink the recommended amount of water every day. You'll spend a fair amount of time peeing, but just do it. Get a jug, fill it up, drink it all through the course of your day. I expect that if you do this, at the end of the two weeks, you'll feel better than when you started, and I know your health will be improved.

Give it a try. Lemme know how it works for you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newbie Writers


There is something of a discussion going on in a writers' group to which I belong, that has spilled out into some postings on Facebook™, and I thought that newbies might find some of this discussion of use. It concerns why a lot (read: almost all) of established writers won't read unpublished manuscripts, nor introduce newbies to their agent, nor agree to take a newbie's idea and write it for him and then split the money when the book sells.

We all draw the line different places, and it depends on the newbie -- who they are, how good they are, and how much time you happen to have.

People don't know and they have some assumptions about this that are wrong.

I'm not that big a deal as a writer, but even so, I get a handful of requests every month from people who want me to send them an autograph sticker they can put into their books. I'd be happy to sign those books if these folks showed up at an autographing in a book store. And because the numbers aren't large, I usually sign a sticker and mail it off. Costs me forty-odd cents for the stamp, plus the negligible cost of a sheet of paper, an envelope, and the time to address it. I want to keep my fans happy and they did buy the book. (Okay, maybe some of them stole it, but --)

However, if I was getting a thousand such requests a month? That would be expensive, in money and time, and I couldn't afford either.

They don't know how it really is.

My phone rang once and it was a fan who had tracked me down. "Hello?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm looking for Steve Perry, the writer?"

"That's me."

There was a pause. Then came the shocked and awed comment: "You -- you answer your own phone?!"

"Yeah. I gave the sycophants the day off. What can I do for you?"

I know other writers who had similar experiences. I didn't believe them until I did.

We aren't all rich, nor famous. Most of us don't have assistants.

I won't repeat the information there. Laura Resnick's page speaks to it, and she has links to pieces by John Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, David Gerrold, and Jennifer Roberson.

If you are a newbie writer, though, I urge you to have a look at these links. It'll help you understand some things you might need to know.

How , Uh, Cold Was It ... ?


In writing, sometimes a general term is enough. Other times, you will want to get more specific. The dictates of the story will usually determine it, and -- mark this -- it is better to be general and get it right than specific and get it wrong. This is an ongoing discussion here. Better to say, "She shot him with a gun she pulled from her purse." than "She shot him with a Taurus .38 Special automatic pistol she pulled from her crocodile Hermes bag."

"Gun" is boring, but it isn't wrong. No such thing as a Taurus pistol in that caliber.

I'm guessing about the handbag. Might have been a knock-off.

In journalism class, they warned us to beware of unqualified general conditions. "It was a modern building." Or, "He was tall." Or "It was cold."

What does "modern" mean? This month? This year? This century?

"Tall" compared to whom? Tom Thumb? Manute Bol? Joey the Giraffe?

How cold is cold? Water turns solid at (in F.) 32°. Nitrogen is a liquid at -196°. Helium is still liquid at -269° and might not get solid above Absolute Zero (−459.67°).

Below Absolute Zero theoretically doesn't exist. That's the basement floor.

Colder than a Bose-Einstein condensate? Or colder than a witch's tit? Or a well-digger's belt buckle? These latter are not precise measures, but they convey a certain ... tone. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey? Colder than my ex-wife with a headache ... ?

Black as a crow's wing. Is this blacker than a pedophile's sin?

Gets to be more fun once you start waxing metaphorical.

Comparisons are a good way to give people a memorable visual. If I say "He had a bruise on the back of his hand 47 mm in diameter." that might not mean an awful lot to the non-metric crowd. If I say, "He had a bruise the size of a Liberty Head silver dollar on the back of his hand." and you know what that coin is, it's easier to visualize.

"Big around as a tennis ball," probably you have an idea how big that is. "Big around as a spliggle ball?" Good luck with that one.

One of the drawbacks in science fiction and fantasy comes from such comparisons. "Big as a pack of cigarettes." isn't one you can use in your fantasy novel set in Cimmeria. (Though it might be amusing: "Conan took a pack of Luckies from his direwolf pelt and offered one to Thunga. 'Coffin nail?' Conan asked cancerously.")

How far can Ooma chuck that spear in a world that doesn't use feet, meters, rods, or other Terran measures? How do you let a reader know? "Armspans" might work; even though that depends on how tall somebody is, you can get a general idea if Ooma is an adult and you've made him more or less human-sized.

"Paces" could do it. "Boot-lengths?" "Forearms?" That's where "foot" started, and it was a while before it was standardized to the current international length.

Have a look:

  • 1 Amsterdam foot (voet) = 0.2831 m.
  • 1 Danish foot (after 1835) = 0.31385 m.
  • 1 French foot (pied du roi) = 12 pouces = 0.32484 m.
  • 1 Norwegian foot (after 1824) = 0.31375 m.
  • 1 Portuguese foot = 0.3285 m.
  • 1 Rotterdam foot = 0.296 m.
  • 1 Russian foot (English foot borrowed by Peter Ι) = 12 inches = 1/7 Russian sazhens =0.3048 m.
  • 1 Spanish foot (till 1752) (Pie (foot) de Ribera/de Rey) = 12 Pulgadas = 0.287342 m.
  • 1 Spanish foot (1752 to 1765) (Pie (foot) de Burgos/Castellano) = 0.278635 m.
  • 1 Spanish foot (after 1765) (Pie (foot) de Rey) = 12 Pulgadas = 0.32483 m.
  • 1 Swedish foot (fot) = 12 inches (tum) = 0.2969 m.
  • 1 Venetian foot = 0.34773
How much draw does that bow have? Equal to the weight of a prepube girl half a span tall? Assuming the girl is not anorexic, nor overweight, you can get an idea that the bow isn't something a strong archer would have any trouble pulling, because the girl is almost certainly going to be at least two feet tall, and less than four feet. But if the bow has the draw equal to the weight of a larger than average man, now you are talking something Ulysses might string and shoot. (Yes, you have to define "average," and that could be tricky, but I'm sure you can come up with something relative, because that's all that really matters. A man who is stronger than any man in the village by half again? Doesn't matter how much weight he can push if he's wrasslin' with somebody in the village -- he'll be stronger than they are.)

These are things you need to work out, if you are going to sky off. Of course, you could use inches-feet-yards-miles and simply don't address it, and that's legit. You are, after all, probably writing in a terran language for an audience that presumably reads it, and there are some conventions allowed. If you make up a real alien language and write in it, your audience is apt to be limited, Klingon notwithstanding.

Just a few things about which to think as you cast your story and start the action ...