Sunday, February 28, 2010

Young Writer's Query

I get a fair amount of email from young writers (in the experienced sense) who essentially want my job. How, they ask, do I get a gig writing _________? (Fill in your own shared universe -- Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Aliens, etc.)

Been a while since I spoke to it in public, so here, my latest response to such a query:

Pretty much the only way to get the rights to do a book in a shared universe like Indy's or SW's is to be invited.

How it works is, the publisher leases the rights from the property owner -- and it's a spendy deal -- then hires a writer or writers to do the book(s).

It's a buyer's market and they have lots of folks from whom to choose. You don't call them, they call you.

An amateur's chances are slim and snowball. Doesn't matter how good you might be -- they don't know you.

Odds are overwhelming that if a publisher leases these rights, they are going to pick somebody with a clean and quick track record, i.e. somebody they already know and trust, to get the job done well and in a timely manner.

Unpublished writers or those with minimal credits usually aren't considered. There might be exceptions, but I haven't run into them. No need for the publisher to take the risk if they have somebody they already can reach out to can who can do the job. It's the devil you know versus the one you don't.

The best way to get noticed by the big franchises is to write material of your own that is similar -- space opera, fantasy, adventure, whatever, get that published, and thus have a calling card. You or your agent can then pitch to the universes you like, when they have some to hand out. That way, they can see what you can do, and if it's close enough to what they want.

If you have a novel done, you need to submit it to publishers. If they want it and want a cover quote, they'll find somebody who might be willing to do it. Agents help, though some houses will look at over-the-transom material. Get an up-to-date version or Writers Markets and look to see which ones are open.

I might also suggest that you go down the page and click on the PayPal button for my collection of essays, No Man But a Blockhead. There are some helpful hints on writing in it here and there. It's worth five bucks.

And good luck.

Got a Match?

Got 420.000 matches and some itty-bitty wooden blocks? Three years of spare time? Go make a model of Minas Tirith, Tolkien's City of Kings.

Or bigger yet -- 602,000 matches -- Hogwarts ...

Another wood sculpture by Patrick Acton -- check him out.

I got your Leggos right here ...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Social Nets

Big earthquake in Chile, 8.8, major devastation, still counting the dead, though it doesn't look as if it will be anywhere near the destruction in Haiti.

Triggered a tsunami, and they are expecting it to reach Hilo at about 11:05 a.m. their time this morning. Live video streaming here, from the Big Island. About an hour and fifteen minutes as I write this. Some damage is expected in the low-lying areas, and you surely don't want to be on the beach, though they are saying the surge won't be so bad in Hilo, it will be bigger in other harbors where the water depths and shapes of the inlets are different.

Of course, the surfers are waxing down their boards and heading to the shore ...

I imagine that there will be video, photographs, and tweets galore as this happens. TV coverage, the whole enchilada. Fascinating to be able to see it live all over the planet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bumper Sticker

Saw a good one this morning:


Gotta love it.


There are times when you really hope that karma is an operating system -- that what goes around comes around; as you sow, so shall you reap. It's an elegant notion, that if you screw somebody over, eventually you will get yours -- if not this life, then the next ...

A while back, I came into possession of novelty traffic ticket pad from the State of Mind Karma Police. Click on it and read the infractions ...

After listening to a PBS special yesterday about the "summit" on health care, and all the bitching, moaning, and whining, I'd like to offer this one to our politicians who are dicking around with health care reform, with all the categories checked.

D's and R's -- you need to get your shit together and get this done. If the R's are going to stand in the road and block it, then the D's need to run them down. This whole notion of allowing the free market to take care of the problem hasn't worked in two hundred years, why on Earth would it suddenly start working now? Because the insurance companies are all nice guys?

This kind of thing is too important for business as usual.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't Tug On Superman's Cape

At SeaWorld in Orlando, an orca, aka Killer Whale, killed its trainer in front of an audience who paid to watch the show.

"Distraught audience members were hustled out of the stadium immediately, and the park was closed."

I bet. Little Mary and Johnny, come to see the cute big black and white critter will probably have a few nightmares to tell their shrinks about down the road.

Wait until those videos make their way back home: Yeah, we went to Disney World, saw Mickey and Donald; and to Epcot, and then we went to SeaWorld.

Check this out -- hit the lights there, wouldja, Martha ...

I believe we have had the discussion about people who taunt tigers, step into the lion's cage, or stand in a tub of salt water and stick their fingers into the 220-socket, and even though I shouldn't have to, I'm adding this one to that collection.

Which part of "killer whale" is unclear?

I'm sorry about the trainer, it's a tragedy, but there are a couple of factors that put this one into the are-you-out-of-your-mind? category. Tilikum, that's his name, the orca -- was already connected to two deaths. One was a guy who hopped the fence and into the tank, and probably died of hypothermia, but who had a few marks on him from his swimming pal; the other was in Victoria, B.C., where Tilikum used to live, when a trainer fell into the water with him and couple of his buddy orcas.

Now this woman in Florida was not in the water swimming with him, because of this guy's rep; however, she was close enough so he managed to hop far enough out of the tank to grab her and haul her under. Whether she drowned or he chomped her hard enough while shaking her to do her in isn't known yet.

Local police are calling it "an industrial accident."

Is it just me, or isn't the term "Killer Whale" a big enough red flag? Especially one who already done in a couple of folks? This isn't somebody's pet lap kitty, you are talking about an animal that will attack and eat a Great White Shark, and who can chomp you in half with one bite.

And who already got away with it a couple times. What, they are gonna cut his herring ration?

You want to get into the cage with the hand-reared White Tiger? Go right ahead. Live in a tent pitched in the feeding ground with the brown bears in Alaska? Be my guest. Swim with Shamu? Fine. If they eat you, it is your own damn fault. You should have known better.

ADDENDUM: And it is businss as usual down at SeaWorld, which owns twenty-five of the forty-odd orcas in captivity. Tilikum, all six tons of him, and his kin are big business. Worth millions, since you can't capture them in U.S. waters.

Want to bet the crowds will be standing in line to buy tickets to the killer whale shows down in Orlando?

Which one was it kilt the lady, Momma? That one? Think it'll get anybody today?

I don't know, son, we can only hope.

I don't blame the whale at all. He was just doing what his nature led him to do. And if they throw him a trainer now and then, the circus crowds -- using that word in the Roman sense -- will just keep on coming.


So I reached into my wallet for my credit card today and lo! it was gone.

It has been a while since I've used it, and since I don't routinely thumb through my wallet to see if everything is in order, no reason to notice it wasn't there until I needed it.

There is always a moment of panic when such a thing happens: When did I last see it? Where was I? So I went round the local gas station and supermarket -- not that I use the card at the market, but I do use a membership card there that resides in my wallet and I could have maybe pulled out the one and dropped the other.

No love there, but I called Costco and indeed somebody had turned it in -- I dug the Costco card out and apparently dropped the MasterCard. Costco didn't call -- why I don't know -- but instead held it for two weeks and then destroyed the card.

On the good side, that means nobody was out charging trips to Thailand on my plastic; on the bad side, it means I have to apply for a replacement, and will be paying cash for gasoline, for which I won't get that little rebate, until the card arrives.

Never a dull moment.

Monday, February 22, 2010


There are three kinds of lies, according to Mark Twain, quoting Disraeli -- lies, damned lies, and statistics ...

Math has never been my forte, but sometimes even an arithmetical dullard can see something right in front of him. I got into a discussion with a fellow who allowed as how there are no more criminals now then when we were little tykes back in the fifties. It's the media -- notably the vile and liberal media -- that, lacking anything else to write about, trumpets every little thing. Our wives and daughters and property aren't at any more risk then they used to be, he said.

After I pointed out that most of the vile and liberal media are owned by conservatives, raising no small amount of consternation in his red state soul, I was able to allow that his theory didn't hold water.

Assuming that the percentage of hardcore criminals is about the same -- which research indicates is so -- then the logic fails. If, in 1950, there were 150,000,000 people in the U.S. plus or minus a few, and say, 1% of them were bad guys, then that works out to a million and a half cutpurses, footpads, and ne'er-do-wells. (The percentage isn't important here, only the ratio.)

If in 2009, the population was twice that and the percentage is the same, or even a bit less, vis a vis bad guys, then the total number is doubled, ipso facto.

Of course, there are other factors -- where you live matters. In Chicago there were 598 homicides in '08. In Beaverton, there were 2. Got more of a target pool in a bigger city, and income and education and like that matter. And rates go up and down. The 1970's were the worst for violent crime in the U.S. pretty much everywhere.

But still. There aren't fewer bad guys than there used to be. There are more.

Hustle in LaLaLand

Recently, I have had a couple dealings with the movie biz. Nothing I can talk about here yet, but such reminded me that a big part of how movies get made has to do with hustle. If you have a vision, energy, and a willingness to pull out all the stops and crank it up, you can sometimes bring off music that boggles a sane mind.

You need more than a little good luck and you have to watch out for lurking creatures with sharp teeth, but when it works, it sounds and looks like magic.

You have a be a little bit crazy to work in Hollywood, in my experience, and although I've never been more than a minor player in the world of visual media, I have had some interesting experiences Down There.

Um. Anyway, during the latest round of movie stuff, my head got jogged, and what floated up from the depths of the memoria pool was the story of the cabana boys.

I didn't have a ringside seat, but at the time, I wasn't too many rows back. Let me tell you about it.

First, the set-up: In the early 1980's, Bill Gibson wrote his seminal first novel, Neuromancer.

As it happened, he and I were exchanging letters back then, and I got to read the book in ms form and offer comments. (I take a tiny bit of credit for the subject of "meat" -- offering that the book needed some sex in it.)

So, Terry Carr bought, and Ace published the book in '84. It was one of the first cyberpunk novels, and it went on to win awards and acclaim, and to help establish Bill as a writer of note.



Here we see a couple of buffed young men working as cabana boys in a posh hotel. These are basically attractive fellows who cater to clients, fetching towels and drinks and whatnot.

In this instance, the young men had aspirations to be movie producers. As luck had it, they had occasion to speak to a client interested in the movie biz. who was the wife of a well-known and well-to-do plastic surgeon. While the Doc was off at a medical conference, his spouse was hanging around the pool. I believe her teenage daughter was also along, if memory serves.

During the -- ah -- whatnot, the boys floated some ideas. As I recall, the first notion involved Buckaroo Bonzai, but since those rights were tied up, the Gibson novel entered the discussion.

The client read the novel, liked it, and sought to interest her husband.

The surgeon had money, and was willing to fund his wife's notion about becoming an executive producer and screenwriter.

So the cabana boys, armed now with funds, became Cabana Boys, the production company. Gotta like their nerve for the name alone.

They approached Gibson's agent to secure movie rights to the novel.

Generally, how such things are done involves paying a few thousand dollars for a option against a larger amount once the movie commences production. At the end of a specified time, six months or a year, if nothing comes of it, the rights revert to the author and he gets to keep the money. If the movie gets a green light, he gets the big pay day.

So back in the eighties, when budgets were much smaller, an offer of, say, $100,000 for the rights to do a movie based on your midlist novel was a pretty good deal. These days, when budgets are much bigger, the deal is usually pegged to production costs rather than a flat number. The writer gets a small piece of what they spend to make the movie. Somebody wants to pony up fifty or a hundred million for a budget, this could be a nice piece of change for the book writer. Not to mention that a major movie sells books, too. Win-win situation -- in theory

But the Cabana Boys, not having any experience in the field, didn't seem to know about the few grand option against the hundred thou once-production-ensues deal. So when Bill's agent told them the price for the book was a hundred grand, they said, "Okay." and wrote a check.

Just like that.

As I recall, Bill's comment to me at the time, (after "Holy shit!") reflecting his agent's reaction was, "Hey, it's not our job to educate these guys."

With an option secured, the Cabana Boys had a hot property, and they went out to market it.

Now, as I understand it, this involved renting a house on the beach at Malibu, opening several offices hither and yon, and doing some serious entertaining. Actors, directors, agents, PR flacks, people like Timothy Leary, and even Gibson dropped by to party and listened to the buzz.

You can plow through a lot of money in a hurry this way, and in Hollywood, there are always people willing to help you spend money.

Things went downhill. Money evaporated in the warm SoCal sun, the movie wasn't getting made, and the Doc looked up and saw the vultures circling. He pulled the plug on the money tap.

Though they tried to get something going, Cabana Boys couldn't. Neuromancer didn't get made, and the company went belly up. (A lot of what Bill put forward, groundbreaking at the time, became standard cyberpunk tropes. The Matrix owes him, big time, as do a slew of other movies featuring that gritty, human/computer interface. Somebody did get "Johnny Mnemonic" made in '95, from Gibson's short story, starring Keanu Reeves, but it tanked big-time. Too little, too late, and what they call in the biz, a POS ...)

But back to Cabana Boys:

In a legal filing with the IRS later, the Doc and his wife allowed as how they had ponied up two million and change, and how this money was not repaid, so they wanted to write it off as a bad debt. The boys didn't necessarily agree that this much came their way, but nobody seemed to have paperwork on what started out as a handshake deal before it got tangled up in corporations and lawyers.

But the boys were kaput. Neuromancer, which could have been The Matrix, didn't get made. Gibson got some money, but like Brando in The Waterfront, he coulda been a contender, and wasn't, leastways not for his first novel.

Attend the lesson, children: The warm waters are full of sharks and barracuda down there in LaLaLand, and if you swim, be careful what shiny things you have glittering upon your person.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Couples Skate Only

What with the Olympic ice dancers and all, I was reminded of my youth, when we roller skated.

There weren't any ice rinks in Louisiana back in the day, though they did build one when I was about sixteen or so.

Ice skating and roller skating aren't the same. Fall down on the hardwood, you get bruised. Fall down on the ice, you get cold, wet, and bruised.

I was a pretty good rink skater, back in the clay-wheels era -- my parents did it, they had their own skates, so we learned early. As a teenager, taking a date to Leo's Roller Rink, (photos above by Colleen Kane, which is where both links in this sentence go) or just cruising the place was considered cool enough that we did it. I could skate backwards, and while I never got to the toe-loop-axel-jumping stage, I could sometimes manage a whole session without falling down. For a while, I could wear my father's skates, until my feet grew too big.

(Leo's is still in B.R., though moved to a bigger location, and now features ice skating, as well. Olympic-sized ice rink, and the largest roller skating floor in the country.)

The history of roller skates has some fun stuff in it. Somewhere, I recall seeing a video of switchboard supervisors skating up and down behind a row of telephone switchboard operators, back when phone calls were connected manually. And who can forget the carhops of the late 1950's and early 60's who skated out to deliver malts, burgers, and fries on trays that hung onto the outside of your car window?

Ah, the good old days ...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Speaking of the Winter Blahs

Yesterday, the sun came out here. Clear, crisp, sixty degrees F., an east wind from the Gorge, altogether a beautiful day. (The old joke in Portland when the clouds part: Mysterious Shining Orb Appears in Sky! Panicked Residents Cower in Awe!)

The sun is out! The sun is out! So naturally, everybody and her kid sister hopped in their cars and went for a ride. Come rush hour, all the major roads were clogged like arteries at the Heart Attack Cafe, and the super-slab, between downtown and the bridge on I-5 was a parking lot. Even on a good day, that stretch is one of the worst commutes in the country, ranking in the top, I think, sixteen or eighteen of Roads You Don't Want to Take During Rush Hour. Seriously.

Took an hour and and half to get from my house across the I-5 bridge, which is just under eighteen miles. Which means I averaged somewhere around thirteen miles an hour for that stretch. It picks up once you are across the bridge, but even so, any kid on a bike with an open road can manage that all day.

You'd think the trip would be slower in a cold and nasty rain, but it isn't. People who don't have to go out stay home. On a good (rainy) day I can make that run in forty-five minutes. (During the summer, when I toodle over to Longview/Kelso, WA, which is twice as far and ten miles more, via the back route on Hwy. 30, I can still manage it an hour and a half or a bit less.

Civilization has its discontents.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seven Rules to Help with the Blues

Got a note from a newbie writer who is at the stage of sending stuff out and collecting rejections. He has gotten a few. How, he said, do you deal with that? Don't you get depressed when that happens?

Oh, yeah. More so now than I did when I got started: Then, I expected to be rejected. I shrugged it off and kept going. Now, I keep thinking I'm past that. But, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, and even Asimov used to get rejections from his own magazine. You still have to shrug it off and keep going.

After a few weeks of cold and gray and rainy, where the only sun you see is on the Weather Channel somewhere far away, the winter blahs can set in and any more bricks on the load can seem unsupportable. Been there, felt that.

I can't help with major, chronic depression. Nor am I offering medical advice here. If you feel suicidal, call the hotline, get competent help. But hereunder some things that might be useful if you open the mailbox and see a couple-three rejections in amongst the bills, and it makes you want to scream ...

1. The Serenity Prayer: "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the
courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

If there is something you can do to fix a problem, figure out what that is and, if you can, do it. If it is beyond your control, accept that and let it go. You can always write better, but that's not always the solution. Sometimes a story can be fine, but they just bought one like it, the editor spilled coffee on her lap, or they just ran out of money to buy anything that week.

Send it back out.

The first story I wrote and submitted picked up fifteen rejections over three years, and was rewritten a couple times. #15 was a printed form rejection. #16 was a note with a check -- "Great story!" Persistence is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. If you quit, you can't win.

2. Slice carrots.

When you feel overwhelmed, and if you are a freelance writer, you will feel overwhelmed from time to time, trust me, do something else that you can manage. The slicing carrots metaphor is to this end. Well, I can't stop the war in Afghanistan, but I can go into the kitchen and make supper. Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

3. Serve somebody.

If you can't help yourself in a situation, maybe you can help somebody else. It doesn't have to be much, but paying something forward never hurts. Pick up the neighbor's newspaper and put it on his porch. Help a little old lady cross the street.

Wringing your hands won't make it better, but picking up that piece of litter on the way to the drugstore at least makes the world a tiny bit nicer-looking place while you wait for fame and fortune.

4. Sing the blues

Sometimes expressing how you feel with somebody willing to listen can do wonders. Consider the field of psychiatry -- that's pretty much what they do most of the time, listen. If you tell your spouse you feel like crap, maybe you'll get a nice "Poor baby!" and a back rub.

Or, you can literally sing the blues. Gonna be down, get into it ...

5. Recognize how good you have it, relatively-speaking.

Yeah, our problems are big to us, else they wouldn't be problems, but if you have no shoes, meeting the man with no feet puts that right into perspective. Got a roof over your head, a computer you can access the net with, enough to eat? You are better off than much of the world. Imagine living in Haiti.

6. Go work out.

Inertia tells us that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by a greater force.
A body at rest also tends to stay that way. Working up a good sweat can burn off a lot of tension. We tend to internalize feelings of misery, and if you do it long enough, it manifests in somatic problems. A bleeding ulcer, chronic fatigue, general malaise. Exercise won't cure those, but it might help prevent them. Blowing off steam and using that to get into better shape is a double winner. Even a little bit is better than nothing.

7. Muddle through.

It's all temporary, dude. We will be here a while, and then we'll leave. If you are slogging through a swamp, it might be a major effort to keep moving, but if you do, eventually you run out of mire and get to dry ground. If you stop, you will surely sink. Eyes ahead, don't look back, move on as best you can.

Hang in there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cue the Olympic Theme Song: Dah, Dah, Da, Da, Da, Dah ...

So the Spring Olympics are running -- them's the ones what has lots of events requiring snow, but no snow to go with them.

Poor Vancouver. I bet the Russians, who won't have to worry about it for four years, are besides themselves -- Whew, we don't have to sweat looking worse than Canada, eh ... ?

As usual, I tend to turn on the coverage and leave it on until the late news, though I don't always watch it. Actually saw some Biathlon this time, can you imagine?

Wins, losses, the usual grumbling about the ice skating's arcane point system. I love listening to Dick Button talk about the sport. First guy to do the double axel in Olympic competition, 1948, and the first to do the triple toe-loop, at the 1952 games, both of which he won, and the only man ever to win two men's ice skating Golds in a row. Unless the Russian kid can catch him this time.

Shaun White -- the red-headed snowboarder -- is saving his patented Double McTwist 1260 for the finals. That's the one where he, uh, bangs his face into the top of the half-pipe, snaps his head back, and sends his helmet flying. Rich from his sport, he owns his own half-pipe, out in the wilderness where nobody can see him train.

This round, I found myself rooting for the Chinese pair skaters, because they were the "old" couple -- Geez, they are way past thirty! Can you believe that? Walking fossils, kin to the dinosaurs.

Happy to see Bode Miller get a Bronze, and the American girl, whatshername Lindsey Vonn gimping her way downhill.

Boy, I can hardly wait for the spine-tingling excitement of curling ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Take That, Rob!

Esquire has done a piece on Roger Ebert, who was half of the team that defined the TV movie critic genre -- Siskel and Ebert: At the Movies.

Ebert knows from bad movies -- he wrote the Russ Meyer picture, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which was supposed to be a spoof of Valley of the Dolls, but which was about as silly and unintentionally-funny as anything ever put on the screen, and rated X (later NC-17.) My wife and I saw it in a sleazy downtown L.A. theater on a movie-crawl early one morning, in a place where the cigarette smoke was so thick you could barely see the screen, must have been about 1970. There's a scene at the end that we use as part of our personal shorthand -- "I can walk!" -- would have had me rolling on the floor, save how utterly gross that floor was. Become a cult classic, ala The Rocky Horror Picture Show ...

From the wiki:

Ebert and Meyer also made Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Up!, and others, and were involved in the ill-fated Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi?

Watch this at your own risk ...

But I digress ...

It's a sad, touching article, this piece on Ebert. It may disturb you to read it, and to see the photograph accompanying it. But you ought to read it anyway.

Gene Siskel passed away from brain cancer some years ago, and Roger Ebert, who also developed thyroid cancer around the same time, seem to beat that and get back to work.

The surgeons got it all. But it came back in his salivary glands. They went back in.

Complications with the surgeries eventually cost him most of his lower jaw. He can no longer eat, drink, or speak, being fed through a tube, though he still writes.

People forget that he won a Pulitzer for his writing before he became famous as a TV critic.

He wrote, among others, a book, Your Movie Sucks, and there's a funny story in it, based on his criticism of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. I dunno if you remember that one -- surely it was on all the top ten lists? -- but Ebert's review is hilarious, read it here.

Gigolo starred Rob Schneider, (who got a Razzie nomination in 2000 but lost to Jar-Jar Binks). Rob didn't take well to the lambasting -- much justified -- the movie got, so he lashed out at the critics. Took one of them to task for being a no-talent hack who didn't win a Pulitzer, yadda-yadda.

I am less than sanguine about critics myself, but I learned that it's not wise to argue with the man who controls the microphone ...

So Schneider dumps all over a Los Angeles critic, at which point Ebert steps up. The last line of which is:

"As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

Hang in there, Roger.

Born in Arizona/Got a Condo Made of Stone-ah ...

King Tut!

Interesting article on the boy pharaoh and what the current scientific view is of what did him in.
Here, but if you don't click on links, basically he was a sickly lad, had some congenital defects -- they reckon his parents were brother and sister, which was how it was done in Egyptian god-king circles. These inbred problems included a cleft-palate and clubfoot, some circulatory disorders, and they think he probably fell and broke his thigh, then died of complications, probably infection, which wasn't helped by him having malaria.

Amazing what science can determine about a guy dead more than three thousand three hundred years gone, ain't it?

Witchy Woman

We have a story on my mother's side of the family: Apparently one of my great-great aunts was something of a seer. Living way back in the West Virginia hills, she didn't have much contact with the outside world. One morning in the fall of 1941, while out picking berries with a daughter or niece or two, she came across a writin' spider's web and upon seeing it, declared that a war was coming, within a few months, and that it would be terrible and last for four years. As I recall it -- and my memory isn't precise here -- there was a further revelation that one of the family's boys would go off to fight in that war, but that he would survive and come home in one piece.

(If you were that boy and you believed in Auntie's predictions, you would probably have thought yourself bulletproof. According to the story, he did go off to war and returned home alive and well.)

Then, one assumes on that fall morning, Auntie and the girls went back to the more pragmatically-important business of berry picking.

(In the south, there are large garden and woods arachnids that are called "writing spiders," from the way they spin, and the story is that if you annoy them, they will write your name in their web and cause you all manner of bad fortune. Big, colorful suckers, these eight-leggers, and save for the heavier parts of the web that are the "letters," the rest of the web can be almost invisible. On a cool morning when you are tromping around in the woods hunting, there is a certain visceral clutch when you suddenly feel this invisible web on your face as you blunder through one. This is followed by a quick hopping about and slapping at one's head to brush the potential hitchhiker off you PDQ. The critters are fairly harmless, but the idea of a big ole spider crawling down the back of my neck certainly used to give me pause ...)

No reason to tell this story, except that I came across a notebook with my family genealogy in it while digging through a shelf looking for something, and as I was looking at the who-begats, had that memory float to the surface. (If family history can be believed, I am distantly related to both Daniel Boone and Edgar Allan Poe ...)

In that notebook, I also came across this:

This is ostensibly a bank of the United States 1000-share note from 1840, and according to my father, was found in my grandfather's personal effects after he passed away. My father thought it was probably valuable, but he hadn't ever looked to see. He gave it to me, and I checked it out.

It's a fake -- a replica that was apparently given away in cereal boxes in the mid 1960's ...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

My wife, who is an excellent cook in general and a particularly outstanding baker, made an Italian bread for me for Valentine's Day: Chocolate Walnut. It's not sweet, not a cake, but a dense, chewy dark loaf that looks like rye but has a zing to it.

You should all be so lucky as I.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Golden Oldies

I come from a kind of musical family -- my father was a horn player in college and later did pick- up gigs on weekends -- he favored Big Band Swing. He tried to teach me how to play the trumpet when I was eleven or twelve, but he didn't have any patience and I got tired of hearing No, no! Not that way!

My mother liked country music and early rock. Some of the songs I can remember hearing as a tad included: Solomon Burke's Lavender Blue. Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust. Glenn Miller's In the Mood. Gene Vincent's Be-bop-a-Lula. Elvis Presley's version of Hound Dog. The Diamonds doing Little Darlin'. A slew of fifties rockabilly, and about the time I was ten, the Coasters doing Yakety Yak. All simple stuff and most of it off blues progression, just speeded up. Once we got a television, we could watch Your Hit Parade -- sponsored by Lucky Strikes -- and see the groups doing the stuff we heard on the radio.

Because of the miracle of the internet, which sometimes deals in matters greatly arcane, I can find the lyrics to a lot of these old songs. So I searched out the lyrics for Yakety Yak, and was amused at how, fifty-odd years on, the generation gap between parents and teenagers hasn't really changed much:


written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

performed by the Coasters

Take out the papers and the trash

Or you don't get no spendin' cash

If you don't scrub that kitchen floor

You ain't gonna rock and roll no more

Yakety yak (don't talk back)

Verse 2:

Just finish cleanin' up your room

And sweep the dust out with that broom

Get all that garbage out of sight

Or you don't go out Friday night

Yakety yak (don't talk back)

Verse 3:

You just put on your coat and hat

And walk yourself to the laundromat

And when you finish doin' that

Bring in the dog and put out the cat

Yakety yak (don't talk back)

(instrumental, same pattern as verses)

Verse 4:

Don't you give me no dirty looks

Your father's hip, he knows what cooks

Just tell your hoodlum friend outside

You ain't got time to take a ride

Yakety yak (don't talk back)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bust a Cap

A mountain of shot-up wooden blocks
(Adolf Topperwein)

How much do you trust your spouse?
(Remember William Burroughs ...*)

There are as many ways to shoot guns as there are people who do it, but I'm going to speak mostly to two broad methods of targeting here: Sights and point-shooting.

Non-electronic sights come in various configurations, from the old notch-and-post, to peep, to ghost rings, to glow-in-the dark inserts on the front or back versions. The essence of using them is pretty much the same -- you line up the front and back of the gun to make a sight picture and use that to index the weapon on the target. Electronic sights, using a dot or a laser, are a real advantage, especially to older shooters whose eyes aren't as sharp as they were.

Point-shooting, aka instinctive, snap-shooting, hip-shooting, Quick Skill, Quick Kill, etc. is a method that doesn't use traditional sights. The gun is indexed entire, the shooter watches the target, muscle memory comes into play, and the shot is triggered when the onboard organic computer deems all the elements are in place. The theory is that, once you know how it feels to be on target, if you practice it enough, you can achieve the state without using the sights -- your brain locks it in and knows when to shoot.

Each gun is different, the barrel lengths, weight, size, etc. have to be learned to make it work.

There are schools of shooting, many of them, that offer training in one or the other, and they tend to -- big surprise -- consider that their method is superior. You will hear teachers saying "Front sight! Front sight!" while others shake their heads and offer that you don't need the sights at all.

Both styles have advantages and disadvantages. For speed, point shooters are faster. Go back a few postings and look at Bob Munden popping two balloons so fast it sounds like one shot. Nobody can line up sights that fast. (Well, maybe Barry Allen in his red suit, but then, he can outrun the bullet, too ...)

Daisy, the air rifle maker, put out a system called Quick Skill, which came into being in the 1950's via Bobby Lamar McDaniel, a Georgia tobacco salesman who got good enough at teaching the no-sight shooting to make a living at it. He supposedly taught Floyd Patterson, the boxer, how to do this well enough that Floyd could hit a BB thrown into the air.

That is extremely good shooting.

Later turned into Quick Kill by the Army in Vietnam, the system works remarkably well. You see a similar long gun skill in good skeet and trap shooters, where the shotgun sights are usually rudimentary and a lot of shooters don't use them. There the clay target is, and ... blam.
Tom Knapp, who shoots for Benelli, can toss ten of these into the air and break them all before they hit the ground. Ten.

"Ad" Topperwein, a trick shooter in the early 1900's, rotated several Winchester .22 rifles to shoot at wooden blocks the size of golf balls thrown into the air. Eight hours a day over several days. He shot at 72,000 of these blocks .... and missed nine.

In 1987, John Huffer, using Ruger .22 rifles, shot 40,060 of these same-sized blocks without missing any, over a period of two weeks. Click here to read more about exhibition shooting.

At a distance, with a handgun, the sights are more precise for most people, and they are easier to learn how to use.

A lot of shooters, realizing that it doesn't have to be either/or, use both. Bill Jordan -- No Second Place Winner -- shows four ranges with his .357 Magnum revolver, with the gun held at varying distances from his body -- 0-3 yards, 3-7, 7-15, and goes to the sights at 15-25 yards and beyond.

If you are learning how to use a spetsdöd, you have to learn how to do it without sights, 'cause there ain't any on those little dart guns ...

* In 1951, the beat writer William Burroughs, was living in Mexico with his common-law wife, Joan Vollmers. They were on the run from the law, either in Louisiana or Texas, or both, for a dope charge -- either growing it or distributing it, depending on which story you like. It was not his first brush with the law.

The story has several variations, but most of them tend to agree that Burroughs was partying in a room above a cantina and the subject of shooting came up. He apparently loved guns. The version I like allows as how Burroughs was talking about going to South America and living off the land. Somebody -- Joan according to some -- laughed at the notion of him being able to hit anything, the way he shot. So he allowed that he would, by God, demonstrate how good a shot he was. He had Joan balance a glass on her head -- a bad idea ipso facto, because had he hit it, glass would have spattered everywhere -- and allowed as how he would, like William Tell, shoot it right off!

Burroughs was drunk, and it's not altogether unlikely, stoned. He lined up with his revolver, fired --

And shot Joan dead. Hit her right in the temple.

He was busted. Got out on bail and lit out for parts far away. He was never tried on the charge. He later wrote, among other books, Junkie, and Naked Lunch.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ready on the Left? Ready on the Right?

The Siblings get a shooting lesson ...

(Redacted ...)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Uneasy Lies the Head ...

Another visit to the dentist, and yet another poorly-fitted crown that had to be removed. That's three in the last couple of years. Second installed by the same guy, gone since to his reward.

This one had a gap that had been allowing bacteria to do things to the remains of the tooth under it; was irritating the gums, and there was deadening, drilling, and paring away of tissue ...

I try to stay relaxed as possible whilst in the not-quite-my-size chair, but I usually wind up with a sore neck. I go back in a few weeks for the new crown.

And so, as Vonnegut liked to say, it goes ...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Your Move, Pardner ...

Never a dull moment around my house ...

Tall Tale

The top floors of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, have been closed for electrical problems. The structure, named for the ruler of the emirate that bailed the builders out on a ten billion dollar loan payment, is 2717 feet (828 meters) high.

To put that number in perspective, if you took the Empire State Building and perched the Chrysler Building on top of it, the Burj Khalifa would still be taller, by more than four hundred feet.

Not that big, cubic-footage-wise, but it is a skyscraper ...

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Super Bowl Sunday

Rather than rehash last year's Super Bowl posting and the explanation why we watch this annually, you can read that by clicking here.

This year, we have to root for New Orleans. First, because we are from Louisiana and this is the first time the Saints have ever gotten this far. Second, because they are the underdogs.

The buzz on the commercials is that they aren't particularly sexy -- even in the way -- but on a by-the-second-cost, they are the most expensive things on the air, so it will be interesting to see how major companies blow a couple million bucks to get our attention.

Go, Saints ...

Tea Party

Now preaching revolution. I wonder if she knows what the word means? I think the picture captures her, ah ... essence, though ...

Hundred grand for a forty-five minute speech. Nice work if you can get it.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Czlowiek Ktory Nigdy Nie Chybial

The title of this post is apparently Polish for The Man Who Never Missed.

Apparently they decided to start publishing the Matadors, at Fabryka Slów, a book house out of Lublin, Poland.

I got a copy of the first book and on the back cover, there is a tiny image of the cover for Matadora, which, one assumes, is upcoming.

Got to love the artwork. If you look carefully, you can see a man who looks an awful lot like a WWII German solider framed between the legs of the figure in the foreground.

And the cover for Matadora shows a white girl with sunglasses holding what looks like some kind of jacob's ladder, wearing a black leather bustier and a chin guard ...

Hey, it works for me. Long as they publish 'em. You should all learn how to read Polish and order several copies ...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

A kiteboarder was killed in Florida, a shark attack.

I found the stats interesting: 1032 recorded shark attacks in the U.S. since 1690. Only fifty fatalities.

But on a different site, the international numbers were addressed:

The International Shark Attack File has confirmed 137 unprovoked fatal shark attacks since 1580. (I wonder what is considered a "provoked attack?")

Great Whites have been responsible for 65, tiger sharks for 27, and bull sharks for 25. In Florida, there have been 610 shark attacks since 1882, 13 of them fatal. Today’s attack was the first fatality since 2005.

More people die from bee stings and falling in the bathtub, though it does give one pause. I can swat a bee, and watch my footing climbing out of the tub. A twenty-foot long Great White shark is more of a problem. Especially if he has friends.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Killer Expectations

Had another suicide-by-cop locally -- in Gresham -- last week. Ugly all the way around, but as always, not as simple as it first seemed.

I saw the initial report on the evening news. Couple of witnesses at the apartment complex -- Nah, the man was doing what the cops said, they shot him with bean-bags, and then capped him dead. No reason!

That sounds heinous. But I've heard a few of these stories, so I poked around ...

Most complete story here.

The gist is that Aaron Campbell, upset over the death of his gravely-ill brother that very day, went to his girlfriend's apartment, in what everybody seems to agree was a bleak, suicidal depression.

A friend of the girlfriend called the police. When they got there, Campbell's girlfriend was outside in the parking lot -- and Campbell was in her place with three small children.

What's the deal? The officer asked.

She allowed as how Campbell was talking about suicide -- and that she had seen him put a gun into his coat pocket.

Hmm. Suicidal man with a gun, in an apartment with three small children.

I'd have called for back-up.

Officers started talking, and Campell was (and you can put "allegedly" in where you want in this narrative, I'm not going to) distraught, and said he wasn't going to play, and "-- don't make me get my gun."

None of this sounds good.

But: The kids came out, and shortly thereafter, so did Campbell, who initially, all seem to agree, did was he was told, putting his hands behind his neck.

Here the story bifurcates:

Police say Campbell began refusing to comply, yelling, moving around, putting his hands down.

Civilian witnesses say he was doing what he was told, though he was mouthing off, including telling the officers to go ahead and shoot him.

One of the officers popped him with a couple of bean bag rounds, and when that didn't do the trick, hit him with four more.

Civilian witnesses say he put a hand to his waist where he was hit by a bean bag as he backed away and the cop shot him.

Police say he put a hand to his belt and started to move away. They had reason to believe he was armed, and when he didn't stop what he was doing, they potted him. One round from an AR-15.

And to make it nastier, he didn't have a gun. (There was one in the closet in the house, they found later.)

So, yes, the police shot an unarmed man. Then again, when the man's girlfriend allowed as how he was suicidal and had a gun, you might consider those extenuating circumstances.

Still, they didn't see a gun, only a quick move, and because they expected that he had a piece, they capped him.

Expectations can be a killer, and it this case, that's what they were.

Did he do it on purpose, knowing they'd shoot? No way to tell, only guy who could say is gone.

What is also cause for head-shaking is a letter in today's paper from a woman who wonders why the police didn't just, you know, shoot him in the leg (or maybe, like the old cowboy movies, shoot the gun out of his hand ... ?)

She had no clue that the idea of being able to hit a moving target that precisely while amped on adrenaline is foolish. Police are taught to shoot to stop -- center of mass -- and if it becomes necessary to crank off rounds, that is supposed to be because the target has become an imminent threat to life or limb, and if you shoot him in the leg or arm or anywhere that doesn't instantly stop him, he might kill you, the little old lady peeping out her living room window, or anybody else without sufficient cover to stop a bullet.

I hope somebody from the local cop shop writes in and explains this.

It's all a nasty can of worms, but I suspect when all is said and done, the grand jury won't indict anybody.

Shading the Odds

Recent study indicates that "about 40 percent of cancers could be prevented if people stopped smoking and overeating, limited their alcohol, exercised regularly and got vaccines targeting cancer-causing infections."

Forty percent.

According to the WHO, cancer is responsible for one death in eight, more than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined.

Just cut out all the illegal, immoral, and fattening stuff, and you might not live forever, but it will probably feel like forever ...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lost Guilty Pleasure

When they first came on, I would now and then catch an episode of the CSI shows. I was partial to the second one, CSI: Miami -- lots of girls in bikinis and one of the female leads is from Baton Rouge, and I enjoyed hearing her accent ...

It was always silly stuff. The science has enough rubber in it to give every man in the world ten condoms and a set of truck tires. Instant DNA results? Feed a print or a picture into the computer and get a match in a few seconds? Uh huh.

I drifted away, finding other things to watch at ten p.m., or shutting the tube off to read.

The other night, channel surfing, I came across an episode on one of the cable replay channels and feeling too lazy to read, clicked on it. It wasn't new, probably at least a year or two old.

I missed the first few minutes of set-up, but like all of these shows, that doesn't much matter because they go over it from nine different angles as the red herrings are exposed and the guy who must have done it is shown to be innocent, which happens every show.

I'll spare you the details of this howler, but the upshot is this: A married rich woman of the rowwl cougar variety is watching four of her boy-toys play volleyball on the beach. They get hit by lightning from a cloudless sky -- the bolt from the blue -- and all fall over dead.

Terrible accident, right? No, no, not an accident! It was murrrrder ... !

Yeah, it was murder, all right.

It seemed that Madam Couger's husband, also with a mistress or twelve on the side, believed in the old double-standard. Okay for him to screw around, but not her. So, using a metal golf club, he made a lightning rod, put it up on top of a lifeguard shack, ran a bare wire from it under the sand, sprinkled a little copper sulfate over the surface to insure conductivity, and voila! the scene was set. After the bodies were hauled away, he went back, removed the club and wire, and how would they ever know?

That line of glass under the sand was the clincher.

I was agog.

There was a half-hearted demur from one of the CSI guys once the theory took hold. And a really lame attempt to allow that since, you know, there's a lot thunderstorm activity in and around Miami, chances were pretty good that it would work, you know, people get killed here all the time.

In the past fifty years, 89 people have been killed by lightning in Miami/Dade County, which works out to fewer than two a year. (In 2006, two got fried. In 2007, 'twas two, also.)

I expect there were meteorologists around the country had to be carted to ERs for hysterical laughter over this one. Not to mention the defense attorneys waving Act of God high wide and repeatedly. (He didn't mean to kill them anyhow, the horn-wearing hubby said, only to give them a good jolt. Best case: Involuntary manslaughter. Worst case? He didn't do anything illegal. Wasn't like Frankenstein hauling the monster up into the storm, all he did was set up a golf club, run some wire, sprinkle some stuff used to keep the fungus down on the golf course, and hope for bad weather. I'da been on the jury, he'd have skated. Might well leave a knife lying on the sand and hope somebody would pick it up and stab the others and then himself.)

It could have sat there for a hundred years and nothing woulda happened. That lighting struck at exactly the time the scriptwriter needed to it strike?

Geez Louise, spare me.

Jumped the shark, nuked the fridge, stepped over the silly-string line ...

Rites and Rituals and Mores, Oh, My ...

Got an email from a knife guy, centered around a discussion of an article in a book on knife fighting. There was, he said, a section on rites and blood rituals from an old-country art that seemed way past stupid, and that led to my observation on evolution of arts as they move from country to country.

Since it's been a while since I pissed off my fellow martial artists, here's the gist:

This is often a problem when you transfer something -- an art, a belief -- from one culture to another. The Buddhists say it takes three generations -- a hundred years -- for a country to adjust the trappings and make it their own -- India to China to Japan to the U.S., the practices evolve, and while the core is essentially the same, the trappings that were valid in a far away land tend to drop off because they don't address the needs of the new country's practitioners.

A small example from our art: The fighters in the old country tended to go to the body with their first attacks -- either bare or with a blade. They had reasons for this, one of which was that if you hurt yourself in a fight, it might cripple you, in a place where medical treatment was rudimentary. Break your hand hitting somebody on the skull? Could keep you from feeding your family for weeks or months. Less risk smacking somebody in the solar plexus.

So our first practice form -- djuru -- starts with covering the low-line to the body. Makes sense, right?

Americans, however, are headhunters -- they like to punch or stab to the face. (Medical treatment here -- if you can afford it -- is better, so a boxer's fracture isn't as bad a problem as it might be in a place where the sun comes up between you and town, and there ain't no town.)

So my teacher's teacher adjusted the form to deal with that, starting with a high-line cover.

My teacher, realizing that you could get attacked either way, put the two together, covering the high-line and low-line, one, two! in sequence.

But for some folks, the old rituals and moves remain important. (In Java, they use the term pusaka, for "treasure," or "heirloom," and those who adhere to this concept don't change anything. They are attached to the historical and cultural aspects of a fighting art and they hang onto them even though they really don't have as much practical use in the new land. Growing up the American South, I heard this expressed as, "Good enough for grandpappy, good enough for me.")

Some things can be easily transposed: A move you learn with a cane in China can be used in Africa or the Americas -- human physiology is the same everywhere, and bashing somebody with a stick works the same here as yonder. A sword is not a cane, but some of the moves can be adapted, if that's what you have to hand when you need it.

In the U.S., you don't see a lot of men wearing sarongs. In one version of silat taught by people who were born in Indonesia, you still see teachers who say you must wear one to teach classes, as a gesture of respect for the art.

Or there will be a fair amount of time spent teaching techniques that use a sarong as a blocking or trapping weapon. Fun to learn, but not particularly useful per se. You aren't likely to have one if you need it. Might not a jacket be considered instead?

In some silat styles, there are a few words of Bahasa Indonesian or Javanese or Malay still used to describe certain techniques. In our art, we use the terms dalam, and luar, for, respectively, "inside" and "outside." Is sapu dalam better than "inside sweep?" Not really, but it does add some esoteric flavor. A little pepper makes the dish pop. Too much? We have maybe a page of these terms. But most of what we learn is in English, because that's the default language here.

When you are an Indonesian teaching Indonesians, you probably have a different mindset than an Indonesian teaching Americans -- or an American teaching Americans.

I see two ways to go here as a teacher: Make your students adapt to the original culture, or change your instructions to reflect the local culture. Which makes more sense? Depends on who you are and what you believe.

For us, the core of the art is: Does it work? Can you fight with it? Everything else, the history, the culture, the ranks, they all run a distant second. If you can't do the stuff in normal street clothes, it isn't a street fighting art. And the rank certificate makes nice wallpaper, but waving at somebody won't help you in a dust-up. That's what I believe, but, of course, not everybody who gets into an art does so for the same reasons. Different strokes.

One doesn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and if you strip down everything with a foreign origin, you can lose enough of the essence so that it is becomes overly pasteurized and homogenized, and that's not good.

Evolution is tricky. If something works -- if it ain't broke -- nature tends not to fix it.

Figuring out what works and what is broke is always the trick ...