Saturday, December 30, 2006

Piano for Katrina

Piano fans looking to contribute to Katrina relief should pick up George Winston's album, Gulf Coast Blues and Impressions. If this music doesn't move you, you ain't got no rhythm.

Check it out: George Winston's webpage

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fool on the Hill

An ongoing online discussion in Todd's Serak group on Yahoo has reminded me of something I have come to realize of late:

I am past the age where I will suffer fools gladly.

The genesis of our online argument comes from somebody who knows nothing about the art we practice, but who purports to tell us what we are doing wrong in the practice thereof. He arrived, then in an ingenuous, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth manner, asks a "question" which is obviously nothing other than an axe he came to grind. Then when I pointed out the error of his manner and fact of his comment, he became all indignant -- I was just asking an innocent question ... bat, bat went his eyelids ...

Pah. I'm guessing he's young, and certainly he is full of himself, and once upon a time, I'd have cut him more slack, as my kinder-hearted classmates have been doing, but -- bag that. If an atheist goes to a Baptist tent revival meeting and stands up to proclaim there ain't no God, his lack of judgement borders on idiocy -- it might even be fatal. Them Baptists can get passing fierce ...

These days, I'm of the mind that if you come into my clubhouse and say something really stupid? I'm gonna call you on it. If you persist, then you are going to be made to look bad.

Youth. So wasted on the young. There surely must be angels who watch out for fools and children ...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

One More Gun Thing ...

Gary Reeder's .500 Max Revolver

There's a story about the guy who moves to Alaska and who wants to go hiking, but is worried about the Kodiak bears. So he asks one of the locals what would be a good handgun to carry to protect himself. Would a .357 Magnum be enough? Or a .44 Magnum?

Well, the local says, it doesn't much matter which. Just be sure to file the front sight off flat and smooth.

Huh? Why should I do that?

Well, that way it won't hurt so bad when the bear takes it away from you and shoves it up your ass ...

Gunmaker Gary Reeder, who made the piece pictured above, has come up with a handgun that negates that old story. On a hunt he was on not long ago, he apparently was sitting at the campfire when a rather large brown bear came to call, at speed. He managed to clear his sidearm and fire, dropping the charging bear almost literally at his feet.

I don't own this one, but Gary very kindly lent it to me when I was doing research for a novel a couple years back. It's passing expensive, but extremely well-made, and if you are looking for Thor's Hammer, this is the piece you want. Check out his page:

Reeder's Custom Guns

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ammo redux

Some factoids about the handgun ammuntion pictured. (For identification, see the post just prior to this one.)

Although it is the worst fight-stopper compared to the others, more people have been killed by the itty bitty .22 round on the far left than any of the others. That's not because it is wicked- bad-deadly, but because there are more weapons that chamber that round worldwide than the others, and it can be fired from a rifle as well as a handgun, so more people have been shot with .22's than with any other caliber.

In a gunfight, killing people is not the goal, it is to stop them shooting at you. If you hit them, and they get off six shots that all hit you and kill you, you probably wouldn't be greatly comforted knowing that they died eight hours later from your shot.

So far, no humans have been shot with the .500 Max, according to the guy who came up with the guns that fire 'em.

For stopping power -- and let's avoid the long, drawn out argument between the jello-junkies and the morgue-monsters -- of the rounds pictured, the .357 Magnum is the round of choice from a handgun. There are others that are close -- the .40 S&W (not pictured) and the 10mm, but the .357 Mag is the best of this lot.

"Stopping power" here is defined as the number of people who, when hit solidly in the body, are unable to continue aggressive action against you after you shoot them; i.e., they fall down and lose interest in bothering you. For the best .357 Magnum rounds, this is a hair over 96%, based on actual shootings.

Though I have to say that I suspect anybody shot with the .50 cal is going to fare very badly, and if I was betting money, I'd lay odds that's a better stopper than anything on the table.

The .32 auto and .32 Long Colt are marginal stoppers. The .38 Special so-so, and the 9mm slightly better than the .38. The .45 ACP is a hair better than both in most loadings, but not the one pictured, which is the military round.

... and pass the ammuntion ...

I was cleaning out my office and came across some old handgun ammo, so I thought I'd put up a comparison vis a vis size and shape of a few assorted kinds. Not anywhere near complete, there are many others, but a few representative calibers for writers who might find it useful.

From left to right: 1) .22 LR (Long Rifle) lead bullet; 2) .32 auto, lead; 3) .32 Long Colt, lead; 4) 9mm semi-jacketed -- lead with copper or brass over it; 5) .38 Special, semi-jacketed hollow point; 6) .357 Magnum, semi-jacketed hollow point; 7) .45 Colt ACP, full metal jacket, aka "hardball;" 8) .500 Maximum, lead bullet.

While there are some bottlenecked rounds for handguns that are slightly smaller than the .22, the .500 Max is, as I understand it, the largest production diameter round allowed by law for current civilian handguns.

Any of these bullets (which is the top bit and not the whole round, which consists of several parts -- bullet, gunpowder, cartridge, primer) will do the job, properly placed, but with some, the placement must be precise, while others, there is considerable wiggle room.

The .22 is good for squirrels. The .500 Max will stop a charging Kodiak bear. The others fall somewhere in between for efficacy.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Holiday Wishes

So, whatever your spiritual or religious persuasion or lack thereof on this Christmas Eve, best wishes for a happy holiday season. Remember Desiderata: You have a right to be here ...

The picture (from earlier this fall) is why I leave my hummingbird feeder up year-round.

Thursday, December 21, 2006



My daughter called this morning to tell me that her dog, Howard, a Cardigan Corgi, had to be put down last night. He'd had a couple of seizures, and the vet suspected pancreatic cancer -- insulin and blood sugar problems -- and last night, he had a series of seizures that got progressively worse.

Named after the horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Howard was a big part of the reason that we decided to get a Corgi. Howard was a playmate for Cady when they were puppies, and later, for Scout. He was a distant great-great uncle to our dog Jude.

Yesterday was a bad day for dogs in our family.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Scout - 1992-2006

As dogs' lives go, Scout's was well-lived and long. He was a beloved part of our pack, and content with his place in it.

His first year was hard, he had been abused, and he was adopted by my sister-in-law Judy from a San Francisco animal shelter, and brought to a home where he was wanted and cared for.

When Judy died and her husband moved to an apartment in the city, we took Scout, who became a companion for our female shepherd, Cady Jo.

They had ten years together before we lost her. She was the leader, queen of the house, and he was happy to have somebody to follow.

When Cady died, Scout grieved, and we thought he was going down then, but a new puppy perked him up, and he made it through Jude's puppyhood, and the arrival of the newest pack member, Layla.

But pushing fifteen is old for a German Shepherd, and he slowly began to run out of steam. He had arthritis of the spine, his back legs started to go, he wobbled, and eventually could hardly walk without falling. He didn't see or hear well toward the end, and his appetite faded. His systems started to shut down.

Old dogs sleep a lot, and we hoped he would just drift away one night, but that was not to be. There comes a time with some dogs when you have to help them go, and it is your responsibility as the leader of their pack to know when that is, and to step up and do what needs to be done.

I believe in assisted suicide for people -- and I certainly wouldn't allow my dog to suffer. Today, Dianne and I took him to the vet's. Our vet came out to the car, and a few minutes later, Scout left us.

I cried like a baby.

There are too many good memories to recount, but one recent one stands out:

Scout had been slower and slower to rise, and unable to go very far. But on a short walk a few days ago, one of our neighbors left a gate open, and their black lab got out. It is not a friendly dog, and it came at us, snarling and snapping.

And tired, sick, old Scout, who had nothing left, who was barely able to stand up without falling, found something, and surged forward to protect us. He stood his ground against the lab, teeth working, going on the attack. He didn't back down an inch. The lab did.

I shooed the neighbor's dog back into its yard, shut the gate, and came back to see that Scout had a big dog-smile. He looked pleased with himself, and maybe that's just me anthropomorphizing it, but I can say I was pleased with him, as proud as I could be. Such a good boy.

Scout. He was a stand-up dog, a good boy straight across. I loved him, and I will miss him, as I still miss Cady, until the end of my days.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Scout Joe

My old dog Scout is on his last legs. We thought he might not make it through the day yesterday, but he rallied a bit. Kind of like a bouncing ball now; each bounce is a little lower than the one before. Tonight, he didn't want to go for a walk when I took the other pups out.

Scout, who used to lope like a marathon runner, loose-limbed and quick as a wolf. Who once ran a hundred yards across a field and nearly caught a blue heron who saw him coming half way there, leaping eight feet into the air and just missing the bird.

He's old for a German Shepherd, fourteen and some, and that's a couple years past the average. He can barely move, and isn't eating or drinking much. At some point, the quality of his life will drop too far, and we'll have to send him on his way. We are talking days.

It's the nature of things, but it breaks your heart even knowing that.

Still Magic in the World

Never let it be said that all the magic has gone away. While trying to change the fuses in a string of outdoor lights this evening, I managed to drop my pocketknife, with which I was prying the nasty little suckers out. I was in my front courtyard, in a patch of dirt. I saw the knife fall at my feet.

And then it disappeared. Not into thin air, but into hard ground. I searched, but it was gone.
It was a smallish knife, but all in stainless steel, and you'd think you could spot something like that using a diver's flashlight bright enough to take the paint off a passing jet airliner, but, you'd be wrong ...

And the damned string of lights didn't work after that anyhow.

I hope Vulcan enjoys the little knife as much as I did.

The picture is of special palming coins made for a turn-of-the-twentieth-century sleight-of-hand expert, T. Nelson Downs, aka the King of Koins. You can read about him in the book The New Modern Coin Magic, by J.B. Bobo. First published in 1952, it has been revised a whole bunch of times since. I have the 1966 edition, which was a gift some thirty-eight years ago yesterday. Bobo's book, a collection of sleights and tricks from various stage magicians, is still the standard by which all other coin-magic books are judged, and rightfully so.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sex, Politics, Religion, Abortion, Gun Control ...

I just bailed from a discussion on a friend's blog about The War, after realizing yet again there are some subjects for which reasoned debate just doesn't cut it.

This guy with whom I was arguing was for it, and I was agin it, and never the twain shall meet.

I like to think of myself as open-minded and reasonable, but I have my beliefs and the ones that are the most deeply held are simply not going to be changed by somebody espousing the opposite view. I have come to realize that the folks on the other side cling to their beliefs, too -- wrongheaded as they are ...

It's always been amazing on some level that people can disagree with me on these things. I mean, I've considered these subjects in depth, collected information pro and con, and determined what, for me, seems the rational position. It's like there's a part of me that thinks, "Well, if folks have the same information I do and they approach it logically, they can't help but come to the same conclusions I have reached."

Wrong, bucko, not just No, but Uh Uh, ain't gonna happen, no way, no how!"

For the record, I think war in general is the height of mankind's group-stupidity, and that the war in Iraq was and is particularly boneheaded -- launched on lies, prosecuted as badly as it possibly could have been, and there never was a remote hope of "winning" it in any realistic sense of the word.

I couldn't and still cannot imagine how anybody could have been so short-sighted as to not realize how things have been done forever in the Middle East -- didn't anybody running the show realize that those folks who live in the sands carry grudges for seventeen generations? That they are still willing to kill each other over an argument their nine-times great-grandfathers had a thousand years ago? That God, family, tribe are primary, and everything after that is a shrug?

The belief that the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force and all those poor reservists -- were going to swagger in, kick ass, take names, and that the country would welcome them with flowers, and then convert to a Republican Democracy and live happily ever after was, to my mind, the height of arrogant, new-shurf-in-town cowboy stupidity.

It's not as if there weren't stadiums full of people saying this all along, but the Bush Administration had its own axe to grind, and nobody was listening.

Anybody who thinks the world is a safer place for these actions is not listening, either.

I can't imagine that history will look kindly upon Bush and company. I sure as hell don't.

We have sown the wind, and now, as Hosea tells us, we reap the whirlwind.

Friday, December 08, 2006

White Trash Christmas

So we decided to do a white trash Christmas this year, it's been a while.

Bought a fake white tree on sale at Rite-Aid -- see the previous post -- and for a grand investment of twenty-six bucks (which included three strings of lights), voila!

Turned out to look a lot better than we thought it would.

And then, there are the little dogs that make it too cute for words ...

Hope for Humanity

I like to think I'm a pretty positive guy; I look generally for the bright side, and wish to attribute to people good intentions more often than not. Live and let live.

However, it is true sometimes that good intentions pave the road to you-know-where.

If one is looking for evidence that the human race is not yet ready to go to the stars, or achieve world peace, one needs look no farther than my neigborhood Rite-Aid's parking lot, just around the corner from my house.

I find it astounding that people who supposedly passed a driving test before being allowed onto the public roads can get so confused in a store's acre-sized parking lot.

Really, it looks like outtakes from a Keystone Kops movie -- with a fair dash of the Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello sprinkled on top.

Hey, Moe! Hey, Larry! Look at me, look at me, woo-woo-woo-woo-woooo -- !

It's not that complex a parking lot. It is large, mostly square, a drugstore on one end, and bermed on three sides, so there's nowhere to go except in and out and there is only one way to do that. It has one-way rows, head-in, angled parking off each row -- bright, yellow, parallel, painted lines to delineate the slots, each space wide enough to pull a big honkin' truck into with room to open doors on both sides -- you wouldn't think there'd be a problem, but trying to cross that space is as risky as traversing a minefield. At night. In a rainstorm. While drunk. Wearing sun-glasses. On acid.

People stop, miss turns, back up, cut across the lanes, and generally look as if somebody had just that morning picked them up from some tiny, remote, radioactive atoll where they had been raised buck naked by rabid bats, then handed them a set of car keys, and pointed them at the Rite-Aid parking lot. Their entire education in the art of automobile driving could only have consisted of flapping wings and ultrasonic cheeps, and not many of those.

It's amazing to watch. Better from atop the berm, though.

Coming home an hour ago with a couple sets of Christmas tree lights -- 30% off on the price this week at Rite-Aid -- I saw a woman pull a minivan into the lot and drive smack into a concrete island bristling with signs that Stevie Wonder could have avoided, bam!

I mean, she could have driven around for hours and missed it, but no, she made a beeline for it, looked like Wile E. Coyote smashing into that painted tunnel on the rock wall.

Another woman pulled a station wagon in, and on a row that held two cars in twenty spaces, missed turning into the slot she wanted and had to back up and jockey back and forth three times to get lined up. Why she didn't just take the next one? Or go around?

Maybe God knows.

A guy in a pickup truck crossed the entire lot diagonally, missing me only because I was agile enough to leap out of the way.

And they all honked at each other so that it sounded like a flock of Canadian geese going south for the winter.

And get this -- none of them I could see were on cell phones.

All of this in the space of time it took me to haul ass across the lot to the safety of the berm.

Hahahahhaaa! Missed me, you bastards!

I hate to say it, but if these folks are the hope for our future?

We're doomed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Living Here in the Future

The first computer I owned, bought in the early eighties, was a CP/M system from Epson, the QX-10. This system ran something called "Valdocs," and was mostly a word processor with a small screen featuring pale green words on a dark background, almost no memory, RAM or ROM, and software that was, on its best day, buggy.

My then-collaborator and I learned how to send files back and forth over something called "the internet" at the blazing speed of 300 baud, which was almost as fast as I could type!

Now and again, that first system would start to print the letter "D" over and over onscreen, and nothing could be done to stop it, save to shut down and reboot. And that wasn't the half of it.

The second time I saw Sorry, that file does not exist, I nearly threw the thing out the window. I spent many an unpleasant hour cursing the machine and the people who made it, as I tried to get it to do what it was supposed to do.

Since that first home computer, I have owned perhaps a dozen more systems, each of which was bigger, stronger, less buggy, and more reliable than the previous one. The current machine on my desk is more powerful and has way more memory than the first six or eight computers put together, and is generally very stable. Shoot, the flashmem stick back-up is the size of my fingertip, I can carry it on a keychain, and it has what? two hundred times as much memory as the first computer did, storage and operating system combined? Way more, anyhow ...

Point of this is, I learned very early on, to BACK EVERYTHING UP! and that being a belt-and-suspenders operator was the only way to go. Sooner or later, all systems crash, and only the Boy Scout motto will save you blowing an artery when it happens.

Currently, I save my work file to disk every two or three pages. Each time I get half a chapter or so, five or six pages, I back it up to a flashdrive. At the end of each work day, I also email a copy of the complete book ms to myself and leave it on my server, so that even if my hard drive dies and the flashdrive goes belly up, I will still be able to download a copy onto a different machine. Every month or so, I burn everything onto a CD, which goes into the gun safe.

Belt, suspenders, safety pins, sashes.

I am compulsively careful.

And even so, yesterday, I lost eight pages of the book in progress. Worse, I have no idea how. I saved it, backed it up, and when I reopened it, they were gone. I checked the automatic backup file for the word process. Made visible all invisible files. Cursed like a battleship full of sailors who just found out they had the clap.

All to no avail. Gone. Poof.

Yeah, it's great living here in the future and all, and I wouldn't go back to the days when we couldn't go play in the ditches when it rained because our mothers told us we'd get polio, but never once did my typewriter burp and say, Sorry that file doesn't exist ...

Or, Ho! That's a good one on me ...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fan Mail

People in the public purview sometimes get fan mail. Actors, famous writers, rock stars. Even us lowly midlist writers get, now and then, a note from somebody telling us how much they a) enjoyed something we wrote or b) hated it. I've gotten both. Plus I get a fair amount for the former lead singer of Journey, and let me hasten to add, I'm not him.

And, now and again, I've sent snail- or email to folks who have written things I found enjoyable. Or to point out that when they shoved a clip into the butt of that revolver, they ought not to have said that ...

Um. Anyway, once upon a time I sent a note to Dave Barry, in Miami, who for years had a very funny column in the Sunday papers, until he got so rich he didn't have to work any more. (Dave was also in the Rock Bottom Remainders, the rock band made up of rich and famous writers, with people like Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, and Stephen King. I'm waiting for my invitation to join, but so far, no love ...)

People who get thousands of letter every month seldom remember the contents of most of them, but if I ever have a chance to meet Barry, I'm guessing he'll remember mine.

True story:

One Sunday fifteen years back, my wife and I were in bed, drinking coffee and reading the morning paper. I had just gotten to Dave Barry's column -- something about cows, I think -- when Roxanne, our Chow-Chow dog, who was next to the bed, started heaving.

Those of you who have dogs know this impending horror -- dog opens her mouth, leans forward, and makes an unmistakable noise, kind of a sloshing sound, and normally you try and get her to the door and outside real fast ...

Being that our bedroom was all the way in the back of the house, I knew we'd never make it, so I leaped off the bed like Spider Man and thrust the paper I was reading under Roxie's nose, just as she puked up a torrent of half-digested dog food.

Saved the carpet, but the paper was, ah ... no longer readable ...

Next morning, I wrote a letter to Dave Barry. Explained what had happened, and finished the note with, so, Dave, how'd that cow story end ... ?

A week or so later, I got a manila envelope from Florida, the Miami Herald, and inside was a tearsheet of Barry's column for the previous week, with a note clipped to it that said, "Dear Steve -- Here. Try and take better care of this one ..."

Monday, December 04, 2006

New Blog

My old buddy Mike Byers, an expert artisan who works primarily in glass, but also in assorted sculpture media, has put up a blog. Check it out.

If you like the image above, you might find some of his other artworks would interest you. I have a few of his pieces -- a stained glass version of Dirisha Zuri, from the Matador books; and some fused glass panels, one of which is on the brick wall just behind me in the picture of me 'n' the grandsons with guns, posted here just after Thanksgiving.

The Other Kerambits

The other two kerambits I mentioned a few posts back. On the left, Chuck Pippin's design, you can see more at Tribal Edge Knifeworks.

On the right, the double-bladed version Bobbe brought back from Java.

I didn't insert a scale into the image, but if I put my forefinger through a ring, my hand will pretty much occupy the rest of the grip, so you can see they are smallish knives. The cutting edge on Chuck's blade is a bit over two inches long.

The single-edge model is relatively easy to wave about doing djurus; the double-bladed one is a little trickier. One needs to be careful, else one might slice something upon one's own person one might not wish to slice ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Karma Never Dies

Two-Tone Malone

So I get this email from a woman whose name I don't recognize and she's asking about music, says she's a fan of Two-Tone Malone. I assume she's looking for Steve Perry, the former lead singer of Journey -- I get that a lot -- and I send her back a note saying I'm sorry but I'm not the droid she's looking for.

(There is also a Steve Perry who is the lead singer for Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Common as dirt, us Steves.)

Then she writes, "Are you the guy who taught martial arts to Mike Malone in Baton Rouge?"

Wow. What a nostalgia rush! That was back in the kung-fu days, when I thought I knew everything about martial arts -- but actually knew very little.

Yeah, I said, I am.

It was thirty-five years ago. I didn't recognize the name "Two-Tone" -- he was "Little Mike" when I knew him, a tall, skinny, long-haired kid who lived in the semi-commune next door at Fred Fabre's, aka "Filthy Fred, " the city's only qualified Rolls Royce mechanic.

So apparently Little Mike grew up, got into the blues, cut a couple albums, and now lives in Nashville doing gigs. Six-four, two-fifty, and shaved bald. I look at the picture, I can see him, but had I seen the picture by itself without the reference, I'd have missed it.

It's always fascinating when an old karmic thread you haven't thought about in years turns out to still be connected.

Oh, and a Filthy Fred story: Fred owned a couple of classic and antique Rolls Royces, and a 1954 Bentley ( a Rolls without the squared-off grill, essentially.) Beautiful car. On a fine sunny Sunday, he'd fill the Bentley up with a bunch of long-haired hippie-types and they'd drive to somewhere crowded, get out and leave. After a while, when anybody who'd seen them arrive had left, they'd come back and pretend to be admiring the car, as though they'd never seen it before.

A group of long-haired hippies in Baton Rouge looking at such a vehicle were, on the face of it, cause for concern.

Once they had an audience, this is how the street-theater went:

"Wow, what a cool car!"

"Yeah. Look -- the keys are in it!"

Whereupon they'd all pile in and drive away.

It was great fun to stand nearby and listen: "Did you see that? That bunch of hippies just stole that car! Somebody call somebody!"

Ah, those were the good old days ...

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Kerambits

Title sounds like an animated feature about superheroes, but actually, kerambit (spelled in a variety of ways, sometimes "kerampit," or "karambit," "korambit," among others) is an Indonesian knife that usually features a short, curved blade that may be sharp on both edges or sometimes just the inner edge, and a finger ring on the butt. Is a close-quarters weapon, designed for more for hooking and slashing than stabbing, and one may use the ring end to strike.

For a fight scene featuring these, you should run right out and buy a copy of The Musashi Flex, Ace Books, by Yours Truly.

Um. Anyway, having posted a photo on the previous entry, I thought I'd re-post it and name the knives pictured therein. These live in the gun safe, and there are a couple more knives in it I haven't had a chance to photograph with the collection. One is by Chuck Pippin, and you can see it at:

Along with Mushtaq Ali's designs, including the Tiger Claw, which is a cousin to the kerambit, and as I have pointed out before, a very nifty little knife.

I have also a nice double-bladed Javanese ring knife that was a gift from Bobbe Edmunds, and I'll get a picture of that one eventually. Way cool.

Meanwhile, clockwise, starting at twelve:

1. Steve Rollert's original prototype for the "boxcutter," with faux-ivory scales by Yours Truly. Western Knife tool steel.
2. & 3. Shiva Ki's 
250 layers of laminated damascus kerambits.
4. Traditional Javanese kerambit with buffalo horn handle, in wos wuta pamor steel.
5. Traditional Javanese kerambit with cast and sculpted silver handle, also wos wuta pamor.
(These traditional blades are sharp on both edges.)
6.One-off, sabertooth knife, made from a circular saw blade by Rick Perry, (from a resin cast of an actual sabertooth fang pulled from the La Brea tar pits.
7. Folding kerambit, Cutter Knife & Tool, ATS stainless steel, titanium handle, aluminum ring.
8.&9. Steve Rollert's production kerambits, skeletonized handles, tool steel.

Stick 'em, Dan'l

Recently, there was a discussion on Martial Arts Planet, in which a fairly well-known MMA (mixed martial arts) teacher talked about how silly the art of silat was.

MMA guys tend to judge all martial arts by how well they do in the ring, and since some martial arts don't go in for sporting applications, you don't see them in the ring.

The argument usually starts when one of the MMA folks allow as how anything that isn't what they do is pretty much worthless, which tends to ruffle a few feathers. They really like the phrase "alive training." This is basically sparring against an opponent, and they think that anything that isn't sparring is waste of time. Well, except for a few drills, like hitting the bag or shadowboxing, like that.

In silat, we call our drills "djurus," or "sambuts," but apparently, according to the MMA folk, these are "dead training," and useless.

My response tends to come down to, "Okay, you bring your Speedos and I'll bring my knives and let see does that alter the rules in my favor ... ?"

To which they immediately say, "Yeah, well, we can fight dirty, too! What makes you think we don't know how to swing a knife?"

Maybe, I say, you do. But if you knew squat about knives, you'd know you don't want to dance with somebody who is really adept at swinging one, because even if you have one of your own, YOU WILL GET CUT -- exclamation point and end of sentence.

If you are barehanded against someone who barely knows which end to hold and which one to poke, and you are an expert, it's still likely you'll get cut, but maybe in a place where you can get stitched up and be home in time for supper. Steel against flesh is a bad trade, generally.

Barehanded against a expert with sharp steel? I don't fancy your chances -- 0r mine, and I've trained for some time in a blade-based art. One of the things I've learned is, barehanded against a trained knifer is not the way to go. Even if you have a knife, better to find a path elsewhere if at all possible. (There's a Javanese saying: In a knife fight, the loser is ashes -- but the winner is charcoal. The term "Pyrrhic victory" covers it pretty well.)

In the ER getting sewn up is better than being in the ICU full of tubes and needles, but neither is as good as sitting at home having a quiet beer and fried shrimp.

The point here is -- excuse the pun -- that somebody who doesn't spend a lot of time playing with and against sharps likely doesn't understand just how nasty they can be, and they might have the notion, ala Richard Pryor's famous comedy routine, that they can just take that knife and shove it up your ass.

Good luck on that one. True, a knife isn't a magic weapon that will drop you faster than Obi-wan taking off a drunk's hand; somebody can get cut and fight on. But a knife is a better weapon than a fist, else we'd still be having wars barehanded.

The military dictum sums it up: You're not an ape, use a tool!

An art that plays with knives frequently tends to give you a certain respect for them. For thirty years of assorted martial arts training, I didn't have much interest or regard for knives -- I carried a pocket knife for cutting string or boxes or whatnot, but I liked sticks and swords, spears, sai, even nunchaku. Knives were up-close-and-personal, in-your-face, and scary.

The more I learned, the scarier they got.

After getting into pentjak silat, I came to understand that a knife was not just something you used to spread butter on biscuits. And one of the things I got was that a guy who trains barehanded all, or most, of the time who thinks he can dance in and slap a knife out somebody's hand and then KO him with a punch, no sweat, is a fool.

Such fellows might also be called by other names, like say ... "Dinner steaks ..."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Richard Ben Sapir wrote a novel in the late seventies called "The Far Arena." (Some of you might recall his name from the very long running and bestselling Destroyer series that he and Warren Murphy created. Those started out serious, but quickly turned funny, and though Sapir passed away, Murphy kept going, stretching them out to well over a hundred titles.)

Um. But in the Sapir novel, which was science fiction, the set-up is that a Roman gladiator got too popular and was ordered to kill himself. This he did by taking some mysterious poison and walking into an icy sea. The combination of the poison and cold somehow preserved him, and two thousand years later, he was found in a block of ice, thawed out, and revived.

Yeah, okay, that's the suspension of disbelief, but not so hard for SF readers to make.

Anyway, as the story progresses, the main character's prowess as a sword fighter gets bandied about and -- forgive my fuzzy memory -- he winds up in a match with the current French fencing champion. The French guy is a master of his art, and he is pissed at the idea that the gladiator could possibly beat him. He pulls the button off his blade and goes for blood. His technique is far superior.

The gladiator, however, had fought men and sometimes tigers, to the death in the arena, and within a couple seconds, the French champion was past tense.

And the point was, real combat isn't sport.

A recent posting by a MMA champ on a martial arts website as to how silly the art of silat is compared to what he does brought this memory up.

I guess some folks still think sport is reality ...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Religious Responsibility on a Jet

In my salad days, I got into yoga and meditation. I can't say I was fanatical about it, but I was diligent. Every day, I'd do yoga asanas (on a wool blanket), and twice a day, morning and evening, I'd sit.

"Sit" here being a technical term for mediation, and more specifically in this case, mantra mediation. Basically, you find a spot, get comfortable, and mentally intone a word or phrase over and over to yourself for however long you feel is valid. I did it for twenty minutes a session or so. (I had an Indian mantra, but scientific research says that any word will do -- "Coca Cola" apparently does the same thing physiologially as "Brama ...")

Not a cult fanatic, but maybe not that far away. My wife and I had a rented house, and that was where the group meditations met once a week. We were considered the state's representatives by the powers-that-were in the yoga society to which we belonged -- we got all the mailings, and had our second-round mantras given to us by Dadaji, one of the chief lieutenants, who wore the orange, and who flew from India to Baton Rouge to show us all the way.

For a couple years and some, I did my routine every day without fail, rain, shine, no matter where I was.

I was also obnoxious about it: "Toke that? No, thank, you. I meditate ..."

"Sorry, I have to go and sit now, we'll continute this discussion later ..."

"Acid? Yeah, it's okay, but it doesn't let you stay where you want to go. Meditation is the key."

Remember: Be Here Now was our bible.

Eventually, I got out of it, for several reasons: I picked up Krishnamurti's Flight of the Eagle, and it, said something about mechanical meditation in, mechanical results out, and when I read that, it gave me pause.

A friend asked me if I was really getting off on meditation, or if I was getting off on people seeing that I meditated -- and I honestly wasn't sure which it was.

Then there were the frauds and organizational wars in the group that led, at one point, to rival factions coming together on a quiet plain and whacking the shit out of each other using their holy peace-and-harmony signs.

I got your universal love right here, pal -- !

Yeah? Meditate on this -- !

Baba, we were told in mails from Ma, had fallen off the path, and we should disregard him.

Ma, came the response from Baba, had abandoned the true teachings and run off with a heathen, ignore what she had to say.

It got ugly, and when we all figured out that our secret, must-never-be-spoken-aloud mantras that had been personally tailored to fit each of us were all the same word? Well, that pretty much tore it. AMF.

But the point of all this was how holier-than-thou I was at the time, glorying in my superiority as a meditator and not just a dope-smoking, mescaline-dropping, going-nowhere hippie like a lot of my friends ...

At one point during this period, I had occasion to fly from New Orleans to Los Angeles on a jumbo jet. During the flight, my appointed time to sit came, and since I had a row of three seats to myself, I raised the seat arms, pulled my legs up crosslegged, closed my eyes, and spent twenty minutes intoning my magic word silently.

I was aware that the flight attendants -- then called stewardesses -- were passing by and looking at me. One of them asked the guy I was traveling with, "What's he doing?"

My buddy, who was not pursuing any kind of particular moral or spiritual path -- he smoked three packs of Kents a day, and drank a fair amount of booze -- said to the stewardess through his cloud of cigarette smoke, "Oh, he's masturbating in his mind."

At which time I realized I wasn't in the zone, because that was pretty funny, and I couldn't stop the grin.

I could have gone to the bathroom and stayed there for twenty minutes. Or I could have waited until we landed. I could even have just leaned back and closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep and repeated my mantra -- but no, I was, by Brama, gonna sit half-lotus on that plane, in front of God and everybody, and do my thing, and devil take the unbelievers.

Playing to an audience, I was.

I hope I'm not that obnoxious any more. I know I wouldn't do it in today's charged climate, because, even as old redneck-oakie-hillbilly as I look, such a thing might cause more than a little concern on a crowded airplane. I might not be part of the solution, but I don't want to be part of the problem.

I have little sympathy for anybody who, today, would behave on a plane as I did back in the late sixties. Yeah, I was young and full of myself, but the times were different. Plane hijackings in the U.S. were rare -- D.B. Cooper's stunt was in the future, and nobody had flown any aircraft into buildings.

All of that changed on 9/11, and for better or worse, we all have to live with that from now on. If you are going to commune with God, do it in a way that doesn't scare your fellow passengers; I'm sure God will understand.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Tenor of the Times

Recently, there was a long-running thread on a marital arts group in which there was some spirited discussion about a recent event. The short version is, a college grad student, wanting to make a point about how lax airport security is in the U.S., put up a website in which he showed anybody who cared to log on how to make fake boarding passes for an airline. Just to make a point.

Shortly thereafter, the feds kicked in his door, scooped him up, seized his computer, and hauled 'em away. There were some laws apparently being broken, and even if he was just funning around, the people at Homeland Security and TSA don't have any sense of humor about such things. Nor do I blame them.

I was not the least bit surprised. I took the position that the guy was stupid to have done this, and got a surge of hate about how I was, at least, a tool of the repressive jackbooted government. And at worst, a Nazi myself.

Such things should not be illegal! they said. High, loud, and repeatedly.

Nor did I disagree.

But if you want to smuggle a gun onto a plane just to show how easy it is and you get caught? That's gonna be your ass in jail, unless you are working for Sixty Minutes, and maybe even then. The law sometimes takes into account intent, and sometimes, it doesn't.

Understand, I went to some lengths to explain that I thought the Homeland Security Act violated at least three or four of the ten amendments that are the Bill of Rights and that I disagree with how the law came to be and what it covered, but nobody seemed to understand the basic point:

If you are standing next to a tiger and you pull its tail, that's generally a bad idea. Doesn't matter that the tiger ought not to be there, the fact that it is is paramount.

Pulling a tiger's tail is not on my to-do list, thank you. And if it turns around and takes your head off when you do it, you ought not to be too surprised. This is not ignorance, this is stupidity. Take a guy raised on a island who's never seen a TV or a book or any animal bigger than a squirrel and put him down next to a tiger and his hair will stand on end and he'll start looking for a tree to climb -- fear of big critters with huge teeth goes waaay deep into the lizard brain.

Recently, there is the case of the mullahs who were kicked off the plane. On the face of it, that's sheer bigotry -- as Mushtaq pointed out on his blog -- see the link to Traceless Warrior -- instead of DWB -- Driving While Black -- we now how FWM -- Flying While Muslim. And I am quick to agree this ought not to happen.

It shouldn't happen.

And yet, I wonder: Were these men tugging, even slightly, on the tiger's tail? From the accounts, it isn't clear exactly what they said or did prior to boarding the flight, but apparently whatever it was did disturb the wa of a number of passengers in the waiting area.

Should these people have been disturbed? Probably not. Probably. But -- in today's spooked climate, saying or doing anything at yon airport that makes things worse is maybe not the best idea. Yes, you should be free to bespeak your mind as long as you aren't yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater (more or less) but unless you have been living in a cave for the last few years, you should know that you might want to keep a low profile while waiting for your flight. Rightly or wrongly, the times and certain places have become over-sensitive, and it is perhaps wiser to take note of that than to have to suffer for making a point you consider important to make.

You can choose to do otherwise, of course, but you should recognize that such choices might cost you more than you want to pay.

I can hear the retort: "This is America, by God, and I can say and do what I want, long as I don't step over the legal line! "This is true, technically, but sometimes technically isn't enough.

If half a dozen men about to get onto my plane stand up and say "Allah Ackbar!" as we are boarding? I have to tell you, that will make me nervous. Yeah, I know about freedom of religion but even being a reasonable liberal-type when it comes to such things if it makes me jumpy, I'm guessing that people with less tolerance than I are going to be coming unglued.

And I have to say, anybody who does such a thing damn well ought to know it is a bad idea for fostering harmony among one's fellow passengers. If you are bright enough to have found your way to the airport, you are bright enough to know this.

What to do until the Messiah comes is always tricky. In today's charged society, thinking carefully about that before you do it is maybe not a bad idea ...

Thanksgunning Day

With the two oldest of the five grandsons ...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Long in the Tooth

So Sunday my calf muscles were really sore, more so yesterday, and for just a moment, I was puzzled? What did I do to cause that?

Saturday, I went to a science fiction convention, Orycon, held at the downtown Marriott Hotel in Portland. Experienced volunteer committees who run these things eventually learn that it is wisest to schedule the programming on one level, and failing that, two floors accessible by stairs and escalators.

Otherwise, you wind up with elevator parties. These don't take place on the elevators themselves, but gathered around the buttons waiting for the elevators to arrive.

Pretty much the concom managed that here, it was on three levels -- basement, ground, restaurant -- with a few places up the high-rise. The green room, where the writers and other guests go to collect their badges and programs and to hang out before panels and speeches, was on the sixteenth floor, as was the fan lounge.

At big cons, really big ones, like the Worldcon, with five or eight thousand people, there are usually multiple venues, and even so, the elevator parties last forever. If there are forty people waiting, even when one finally shows up, it's like being in a long line of traffic at a left turn signal in Beaverton, you aren't going to get to go for a couple cycles.

Science fiction fans are not generally athletic, and a lot of them will take an elevator up one floor rather than climb the stairs. There were probably a couple thousand attendees at Orycon this year, plus the normal folks staying at the hotel. The elevator waiting areas were thus congested, so I took the stairs.

Except once, when I had to go to the green room. My business there concluded, I came out to find a dozen people standing by the elevator buttons waiting, and I decided, "Bag this," and headed for the stairs.

I mean, yeah, sixteen floors, but -- going down, right? That's not like going up that many, hey?

At the time, it was fine. I descended -- had the stairwell completely to myself the whole way. Got to the ground, had to go outside and loop back to the lobby, wasn't even winded.

But apparently I had fogotten the last time I had come down that many stairs.

Perhaps I'm not in as good a shape for a man my age as I thought ...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 19, 1966

It was forty years ago today/Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play ...

So we've now been married for 2/3rds of our lives -- today is our pearl anniversay.

Gotta go, the champagne should be cold enough by now.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why Martial Arts?

I get asked this one now and again. Why go to all that work to study something you might never use? That you are going to go out of your way to avoid using?

The quick answer is, "Because it only takes one time to pay for itself." That extra twenty-five years you get when the guy trying to take your head off can't? Hard to put a price on that.

If your car gets rear-ended, insurance can pay for a new bumper.

You can't fix dead ...

Most people get into martial arts (and I'll include western-style boxing and wrestling here) for self-defense. Some do the stuff for sport, some for discipline or social intercourse, or just to stay in shape, but if I had to guess, based on the last survey I dimly remember reading, eight of ten do so with the idea they can use the training to keep somebody from kicking their ass.

Certainly that's why I did.

Here's the inevitable digression ...

Much of how I was formed as person has been a study in Napoleonic
Compensation. As a boy, I was terrified of drowning, not just worried, terrified. The way my father taught us to swim was, he showed us how to paddle and kick, and, when he thought we should have it, chucked us into the deep end of the pool to see. At age eight or so, I got tossed, and I managed to get back to the side; that time, my little brother went straight to the bottom and my father had to dive in and fetch him.

Old-style teaching, and not my wont.

So I could swim, after a fashion, but for the next few years, I was fearful any time the water was deeper than I was tall, and in the schoolboy dunkings, I was panicked.

So when I got to the Boy Scouts, I started taking every class and merit badge there was on how-to-swim. After I got those, I got a job working as a lifeguard at a country club pool and spent hours every day in the water. Became a Water Safety Instructor, courtesy of the Red Cross, and at one point could hold my breath for four minutes. I learned all the swimming strokes well enough to teach them, and did.

Also got scuba gear and learned how to dive -- until a blown-out eardrum ended that.

By the time I was eighteen, I had absolutely no fear of drowning. The water was my friend, a source of fun, I loved to swim, and though I don't much these days, still love it. Doesn't't mean that drowning is impossible, but the unreasoning fear of it is long-gone.

Somebody wants to grab me and hold me under? Fine, let's both go -- and see who runs out of air first ...

As a tad, I got into a few fistfights, schoolboy stuff again, and while I wasn't particularly adept (and was passing small in size), I won as many as I lost. But I was fearful, worried that I would get beaten-up, and during my junior high years, was in a school where there were a dozen fights every day. I walked wide to avoid possible confrontations, even though when they happened, I held my own. It was not so much the ability, it was the confidence that was lacking.

So when the first karate school opened its doors in our town a few years later, I was in the first class. Didn't really learn much there, but subsequent attendance and training at a half-dozen other martial arts schools eventually followed.

At some point, I stopped worrying that I was gonna get thumped.

After the last eleven years in pentjak silat, I feel fairly confident that my skills are sufficient to provide me some tools that work, so while I might still get my ass handed to me, I'm not afraid that is going to happen. I kinda feel like that scene in Gordy Dickson's Dorsai novel when somebody is watching one of the Dorsai and realizing that if that guy sees a fight coming, he isn't worried about whether he can win, he's considering how he is going to do it.

Not, "Can I sink the six ball?" but, "That's a given -- how many rails can I use, and in which pocket do I want to sink it?"

There is a difference, of course, in what you can do and what you think you can do, and sometimes the latter may get too far ahead of the former and cause you some problems. But if I had to narrow it down, I'd say that believing you can survive a dust-up is more important than being a master of the art you'll use to try.

Attitude matters. The fight, as they say, isn't under the glove -- it's under the hat. You might not be the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the Valley of Death, but if you believe that you are? Better than being sure you'll get whipped if push comes to shove.

Waaay better ...


As an adjunct to the recent post on martial arts, I came across a quote I found some years back.
Let me share it with you:

"Non-violence does not admit of running away from danger. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice."

Mahatma Gandhi

Oh, Yeah --

The picture on the previous post, I was gonna tell you, but forgot:

The folding knife is a Mel Pardue
design for Benchmade, the scales their version of fake ivory.

The pistol is a S&W M-52 Master, a target pistol that shoots mid-range wadcutters. It's about as accurate out of the box as any production centerfire pistol made -- put it in a benchrest and, at a target fifty yards downrange, it will put the bullets into a space about the size of your palm all day long. Not that I can shoot it that well, but I don't get to blame the hardware when I can't.

The gun's grips are Ajax's version of fake ivory, so Jumbo did not die for my sins.

The images, of the keris on the folder and The Shadow on the Smith, are my poor attempts at scrimshaw. (The other side of the S&W grip has a copy of a Vaughan Bodé nude, out of Cheech Wizard.) I dabbled briefly in this art, realized it was way too hard to do well, and took up the guitar instead. If, however, you want to see somebody who is really, really good at it, go here:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Guns or Knives, Butch?

A recent series of exchanges on a newsgroup I frequent started when one of the posters told a scary story. He lives in the U.K. -- the supposed-heart of civilization -- and a group of thugs-in-training (teenage rowdies) broke into his flat landing. When he tried to shoo them away, he was cursed, spat at, and eventually had to retreat upstairs to his flat, where his wife and small son were. The rowdies decided to follow him. They booted the locks off, and he managed to lean on the door enough to keep them at bay, while his wife called the local police. Apparently the police station was but a couple blocks away.

Eventually, the high-spirited lads tired of their sport and left. And fifty minutes after the call, the police eventually came round.

This being England, no handguns are permitted. (I love it that the British Olympic pistol team has to take the Chunnel to France to practice.) Rifles and shotguns are allowed, but require some effort to obtain, and must be locked up in approved cabinets or safes when not taken out for actual shooting.

This begain a discussion in which, as a martial artist, I offered some advice about what weapons might be better than the crowbar the poster had in the back of a closet somewhere. Various ones were bandied about: Swords, crossbows, and I allowed that a pair of large butcher knives might give the thuglets pause.

Warriors and pacifists came out and began to debate the merits of violence, and those comments ranged from let-a-smile-be-your-umbrella, don't-worry-be-happy, to split-'em-like-

And eventually, as these threads often seem to do, it went down the road to gun control.

Generally, in my experience, there are few fence-sitters on this one. Like abortion, most people come down firmly on one side or the other, and minds seldom get changed. It's an emotional issue, and me being a non-conservative with a gun confuses people no end. How can that be?

Because things aren't always black or white, and convenient political labels seldom cover everybody?

Anyhow, at some point, I was doing research to bolster my side of the debate and I came across a couple of gun-sayings I enjoy, so I thought I'd share them with you.

The first concerns what often happens when people learn that you might go around strapped.
"You carry a handgun? Why? Are you expecting trouble?"

To which the proper answer is, "No. If I were expecting trouble, I'd be carrying a rifle."

Non-shooters don't get it, and I have to explain that a revolver or pistol is a compromise. One can carry such with relative ease compared to hauling a rifle around unnoticed, but handguns are not nearly as effective as long guns.

I also pointed out that knife in hand inside seven meters is better than a big-bore handgun in a concealment holster for getting there firstest with the mostest, even though it's not generally a good idea to bring a knife to a gunfight. At fifty feet, the shooter wins. And if he draws before the knifer, or is the reincarnation of John Wesley Hardin, the knife guy has a problem. Take both, that gives you more options

You carry a gun and a knife?

I didn't say that. But knives don't run out of ammo ...

The other saying: You know what the two loudest sounds in the world are? One, when you are expecting click! and instead you hear bang! The other is when you are expecting bang! and you hear click ... !

New T-shirt Logo

Now and then, I get a few cheap T-shirts and do iron-on logos, to pass out among the silat players in the Thursday class. This is the latest version. With this one, there are two things slightly different than earlier ones: I've dropped the silent "k" in "Sera," and added Maha Guru Plinck's name, to differentiate us from other branches of the art.

Henceforth, unless I am told otherwise by my teacher, this is what I'm calling what we do up there in Kelso ...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Big Brother, Little Sister

Stopped raining and the dogs got to go out and chase the squirrels. You can see in the top picture just how much the squirrel is worried ...

This Magic Moment ...

Today's word is "epiphany."

There are several meanings for this one -- primary and specific is the religious revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, in the book of Matthew.

A bit more generally, epiphany is a manifestation of a spiritual or supernatural being.

The third meaning is more general still -- it is a sudden and usually unexpected realization or insight, the "Aha!" moment
when you get something. It's the forehead-slapping, oh-wow! how could I have missed seeing this? second. You come to Jesus, or you come to realize something in a visceral way that, in the moment, is very tangible. Like the sound of a seatbelt latch snicking into place, something clicks! and you are locked in.

Sometimes these moments can be huge. Cosmic consciousness, connection to the divine, a pattern recognition that stretches across your personal universe and alters your life, maybe the lives of everybody around you. Of that moment, you know who you are, what you need to do, and how to do it, and your place in the scheme of things. Nearly every religion I've spent any time studying has this concept, and there are a lot of names for it, nirvana, samadhi, zen, beholding the Divine, attaining bliss, the cosmic thunderbolt, the finger of God, the kundalini risen ...

Most people don't get a lot of those moments. If you get one in a lifetime, you might consider yourself blessed. Or maybe like Cassandra, cursed. But whichever, you won't be the same afterward. The fire anneals and re-tempers you, and you come out different.

The smaller epiphanies, the ones that come as you struggle to understand something, be it emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically, are more frequent, less overwhelming, but, as I am discovering, something you can cultivate.

On the one hand, these moments aren't dependable -- you don't know when they'll happen.
On the other hand, they are dependable -- if you work at it, they are going to happen sooner or later. At least in my experience.

On a typical day, most of my time is spent doing the things most working people do -- I get up, get dressed, go to work. In my case, I don't have to get very dressed, and commuting to work involves walking down the hall to my office, but still.

There are several things I do on a typical day that I try to do well: I write, I do pentjak silat, I practice the guitar. (I also interact with my dogs, sometimes hike to the local Safeway, or the post office, and do other errands. And put it all away when my wife comes home from work to be with her. And there are kids and grandkids and other activities, too.)

Of late, I have had several small -- or maybe not so small -- epiphanies. They are not the end of the journey, but they are mileposts along the path.

One day in silat class, it came home to me that I knew enough of the art to use it. Not mastered, far from it, but during one of those fumbling attempts to add a new piece, I realized that the reason I couldn't do what I wanted in that moment was that I was thinking and not doing. Of course, that's the nature of learning in a class -- a new thing can't be internalized the same way a repeated move can. It blossomed in me that, if I wasn't following directions to do-it-this-way, that if I were turned loose and told just do whatever I felt like as the attacker came at me, that I could clean the guy's clock, no problem at all. I had the moves to do it, and they'd be there when I needed them. Simple.

It's not as if I hadn't thought I could before, and it's not as though I won't someday have another Aha! moment that will be different, but that little flash changed the way I felt and moved. Of a second, I was better at it, and I knew it. Right down to my toes.

Same thing happened whilst practicing the guitar. I picked up a new piece of music recently. It wasn't a complex composition, but as I started to play it, it came to me that I could do this, and I could make it sound good. That didn't mean I wouldn't have to work just as hard getting my fingers to go where they were supposed to go as before, but that, in the end, I knew that if I kept it up, I'd learn it, and after a certain amount of time, I'd have it.

These kinds of moments used to happen fairly often in my writing, not as much any more. I think maybe I'm as good as I am apt to get, though now and then, some small bit will flower on the page and I'll grin at it. Of course, I've been writing a lot longer than I have been doing silat or playing the guitar, and there are roads I've been down often enough so I know the scenery. Maybe if I take a different path, I'll see new things.

And my point about all this?

These magic moments are the product of work. They come because you are doing what is necessary to learn something. The timing isn't predictable, but the realization that you can and most like will internalize concepts or movements or feelings as long as you keep plugging away is, for me, a major one. And that one path to the magic is the old Nike TV commerical:

Just do it.

And if you just do it long enough, you will eventually get it.

And there you go. Today's epiphany.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Personal Trivia - Star Warriors

I meant to explain this cover, after showing it in a recent post to demonstrate the, um, less well-written fiction ...

The artwork, by Ken Smith, is for the story "Star Warriors," a blatant steal from ... well, you can probably guess what that was. My working title was "Rip-Off Warriors ..."

In the late 1970's, I met the writer Hank Stine (now Jean Stine, and that's another very weird story. Some years earlier, Hank had written a classic sci-fi porno novel for, I think, Grove Press, called Season of the Witch, about a woman trapped in a man's body. Apparently it was not as fictional as one might have thought -- he eventually had the surgery and changed gender.)

I digress. Bad habit. But it's so interesting ...

Anyway, I had just started writing and trying to sell stuff, when Hank, who had moved to my home town with his new wife, gave a talk at the local library. I had never met a published SF writer, and since I was probably the only other guy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, even trying to write the stuff, we had something in common. We started hanging out.

Hank introduced me to science fiction conventions, my first one being the SunCon in Miami, in, I think, 1977. I met Robert Heinlein there. Sorta. He walked under my arm as I was leaning against the wall. He was not a tall man, Bob Heinlein ...

Um. Anyway, shortly after that, Hank moved away, and got the job as editor of Galaxy Magazine. At another convention in Phoenix, in 1978, he and I and Harlan Ellison were walking to Harlan's GoH speech when Hank offered me a gig. He needed, he said, a thirty-thousand word novella, a Star Wars pastiche -- that recent movie -- to be published in two parts. He needed the first half in a week, all he could pay was a penny a word, and could I do it?

No problem, I said. I was a two-story pro at that point -- nothing was beyond me, I was fearless. (I got another assignment at that con for a short story, and I wrote the first part of it on a napkin whilst sitting in the bar. A very productive convention, I doubled my entire published output as a result of attending, plus I met J.F. "Jesse" Bone, who wrote The Lani People ...

No, no, I won't veer into digression-land again. Back to the tale:

After the con, I went home, cranked out the piece, and shipped it. It was published in two parts, under my pseudonym, "Jesse Peel." Hank had told me to get it done, not to worry about how rough it was, he'd fix it. I was afflicted with both exclamation point poisoning and said-bookisms at the time, and Hank, bless his hairy little head, didn't touch the sucker, so every goof I made stayed on the page. Had a guy hiss the word "damn." Try that some time. Can't do it. Nooo sibilants ...

It was not the acme of western literature, though it did get a couple of nice reviews, despite the fact it was almost totally derivative. Almost.

Kenneth Smith, the artist, who published a magazine called Phantasmagoria, went on to bigger and better things. Not long ago, I tracked him down. Did he still have the cover he had done for that old Galaxy? I'd be interested in buying it, since I'd always liked it, and couldn't afford artwork at the time I wrote the novella.

What was not to like? A half-naked couple on a giant pile of skulls and bones blasting away at the bad guys, the demi-whelf Linchini snarling next to them, the giant Trogian robot in the background. (See, I had a short furry sidekick and a giant robot, instead of a giant furry guy and a short robot, so it wasn't totally derivative. And in case you missed it, Linchini is not far from Lon Chaney, and swapping a couple letters in "Trog" gives you Gort ...)

Klaatu barrada ... uh ... uh ... oh, crap!

Smith said, Why, yes, even after all these years, he did still have that cover. It was in an art gallery in San Francisco, and for sale. I could have it for a mere $20,000.

Twenty thousand dollars?

Right. I got three hundred bucks to write thirty thousand words, only half of which I ever managed to collect.. Of course, that was in 1978 dollars, so that hundred and fifty would be maybe ... three hundred dollars today ...

Twenty grand. Maybe I shoulda been an illustrator instead of a writer ...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lincoln's Dictum

Those of you who know me personally know that I am not a fan of war in general, the current one the U.S. has blundered into in particular, nor do I hold a positive brief for the current White House Administration. I am by nature and political affiliation, an Independent. I don't want to lend my name to either of the two major parties.

Those of you who didn't know? well, you do now.

Lincoln's Dictum, sometimes attributed to P.T. Barnum (which I can understand) goes:

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time."

Delightful to see the rare occasion when the third part holds true. Captain Karma Rules! the chickens came home to roost, and I cannot recall a time in recent memory when I was so happy to see the party in power get its comeuppance.

And for the first time I can ever recall, every measure and every candidate for which and whom I voted for (or against,) passed, failed, or won as I would have it-- I batted a thousand. Never happened before, probably never will again, but for once, I am pleased to be in the majority.

Probably means I should keep an eye out for signs of the Apocalypse ...

Sunday, November 05, 2006


The mid-term elections are Tuesday -- save in places where vote-by-mail is allowed, like Oregon -- and while you might think your choices are between dumb and dumber, or the Devil and the deep blue sea, if you are a citizen, you can always vote against somebody.

Choose the lesser of two evils. But if you don't vote, you don't get to bitch. At the least, later, you can say, "Well, I tried to keep the son-of-bitch out of office -- I voted for the other guy."

Exercise your franchise. One vote might make the difference, and won't you feel like an idiot if the guy or ballot measure you hated won by one vote?

Even if you lose, at least you went down swinging. Do it. It matters.

New Puppy!

Layla Mae - 12 weeks

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adventures in Hollywood

I've never been a big player in La-La-Land. I've had some small experiences there, animation writing for the tube, a few movie scripts that haven't made it to the silver screen, like that. But in the vein of what I think is funny, lemme tell you one of my Hollywood stories ...

The story is true. The names, as they used to say on Dragnet, have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty ...

Some years ago, my then-writing partner and I -- call him Roy -- got a freelance gig to write an episode of a cartoon show, let's say it was Funny Little Critters. At this point, the show is being written and boarded, so it's months away from being on the air.

Eventually, we wound up writing several scripts for the producers and fine time was had by all.

Face-time is important in the Biz. So I go down there, since I was living in Oregon, and Roy and I go out to lunch with the story editor and his assistant. They'd be, let's say, Sammy J, and Gary. We go to a nice upscale burger place, called The Good Earth, a SoCal chain. Burgers, bean sprouts, whole-wheat buns, like that.

The waitress, an attractive young woman in her early twenties, comes to take our order.

Now there is a thing you may not know, but in Hollywood, there are folks in the Biz who, for reasons I can only guess at
, feel the need to impress service people with how important they are: These guys will go int a 7-Eleven store, usually in pairs, and comment loudly to each other about their latest deal, dropping actor's names like rose petals at a formal wedding, and for some reason, lacing their monologues liberally with profanity: "Yeah, I got this piece of shit dramady to do for Disney, they think maybe Brad and Angelina to star, but the fucking director is a motherfucker ..."

I think this bespeaks a basic and deep insecurity, that you need approbation from the minimum-wage 7-Eleven clerk, but that seems to be part of what Hollywood runs on ...

Anyway, back at the Good Earth, Gary decides that he is going to impress the hell out of the waitress, and so he says to her, "Do you know who this is?" and points at his boss.

"No, should I?"

"This is Sammy J! He is the story editor for Funny Little Critters, the new animated show!"

Which, you recall, isn't on the air yet. And, in the Hollywood pantheon, animation impresses nobody anyhow. Cartoons? Plus, writers don't impress anybody even more. Think of your three favorite movies -- can you name the writers of them? I didn't think so ...

And the waitress says, "Huh. And who are you? One of the funny little critters?"

In Hollywood, they do love a snappy comeback. Roy, Sammy J, and I all grin and chuckle. Point for the waitress.

Gary, being very high on the insecure-list, turns red and fumes, but doesn't say anything.

So she takes our orders and then asks what we want to drink. Gary decides that if he can't impress her, he can, by God, put her in her place. So he says, in a snotty voice, "I'll have water. And keep it coming." Every time he takes a sip, he expects her to hurry over and top off his glass, and by saying this, he is letting her know who the boss is.

(My opinion is that guys who do such things to waiters and waitresses are, not to put too fine a point on it, pricks.)

The waitress doesn't say anything, though. She leaves.

We chat about the show, and a couple minutes later, the busboy shows up with our drinks.
Roy gets iced tea, Sammy J, some kind of juice, I have a Coke. And the busboy puts six full glasses of water down in front of Gary ...

As you might imagine, this is cause for more mirth. Roy, Sammy J, and I cackle, and Gary shades right through red into purple. Score another point for the waitress, but -- wait!

A second busboy shows up. He's carrying a five-gallon plastic bucket full of water, with a slice of lemon on the rim, and he sets this down on the table in front of Gary.

The rest of us are now on the floor, trying to find our asses, which we have all laughed off.

Eventually the waitress returns with our orders. Smiles sweetly. "Anything else I can get you? More water, sir?"

Game, set, and match for the waitress.

This time after we stopped howling, Sammy J takes a business card from his wallet. "You do any writing?" he asks her. "Come by and see me ..."

Now, I don't know if she ever followed up; I'd like to think that she did and is now a big-name scriptwriter making big bucks; but what this story illustrates to me is the culture that it the media-biz down in LaLaLand, which is to say, passing weird. Larry McMurtry says that going to Hollywood is like going to a town of very powerful two-year-olds, and it's true. They aren't like thee and me down there ...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


So, every year, I carve a jack-o'-lantern for the front door stoop, and here, this year's effort ...

Happy Hallowe'en.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

So These Three Guys Walk into a Bar ...

Recently, I had an online discussion regarding humor, and more specifically, black humor -- not the racial kind, but the kind that cops and doctors and reporters and undertakers tend to engage in. I was taken to task by somebody when I told a story about my days in the medical field. Admittedly, it was not something normal people find funny, but a lot of folks who deal with death or serious trauma use such stuff to blow off steam.

Tragedy, Mel Brooks said, is when I cut my finger. Humor is when you fall into an open sewer and die ...

Different strokes. What one person finds hilarious, another thinks is vile. If you have the whistling-past-the-graveyard sense of humor, and if the joke stays just inside the fine line between hilarious and too much, a lot of things can be sidesplitting. Funniest stand-up routine I ever saw involved a fighter jet plane crashing into a motel and killing half a dozen people.

Second funniest involved a killer whale attacking a baby seal. (My wife was there for that one, and she is as tender-hearted over small creatures as you can find, and even she was laughing so hard I thought I'd have to take her home in a plastic bag.)

The Fawlty Towers routines, about the rat, and the one about the Germans, are politically incorrect out the wazoo, and some of the funniest material ever aired -- for my money.

Um. Anyway, the guy I was talking to was unhappy
because somebody was being made the butt of a joke, and I explained that somebody was always the butt of a joke. Not talking a cute-puppy-smile kinda thing, but in a roiling, belly-laugher, somebody or some thing, or some group is always being made fun of -- there is always a goat about whom we are laughing.

For me, the best of these usually involve the teller making fun of his- or herself, or the group to which they belong, but not always.

So I invited my correspondent to dust off his funniest jokes and find one that didn't involve humor at somebody/thing/group's expense.

He couldn't.

Anybody here got one?