Thursday, May 31, 2007

Speaking of Relatives ...

We are about to have a house full of 'em. We are having a memorial this weekend for my mother-in-law. She was cremated, and this was the first time we could manage to get the far-flung relatives together for a service, so I'll be running back and forth to the airport, missing today's silat class, and all like that.

Got in-laws, nieces, nephews, spouses, significant others, kids, grandkids, not to mention dogs. It's gonna be a zoo round here the next few days.

Never a dull moment ...

It's All Relative

When our first grandson was born, we packed the two German Shepherds into my wife's Subaru station wagon and headed south, from Portland to Los Angeles. It was summer, warm, and a bit cramped in the car, and we were in a hurry, the baby being born a couple weeks early and in the neonatal ICU under the bilirubin light.

Along about Redding, California, it got really hot. There is a stretch of I-5 there that is arrow- straight and lined on both sides by agro fields, not much to see. Were it not for the water piped in, it would be high desert: flat, dry, dusty, and hot.

The temperature climbed. Just north of Redding, it got to 105 F.; by the time we were south of the city, it was pushing 110 F., and Dianne was worried about the dogs: Was there too much sun coming through the darkly-tinted glass in the back? Was Cady getting too warm? Should we stop and rearrange our luggage to block that window? The dogs were, after all, wearing fur coats ...

Bear in mind we were in a fairly-new car with the air conditioner blasting, so it was maybe seventy-five or eighty degrees inside, at least twenty-five or thirty degrees cooler than in the semi-desert through which we were traveling. Still, the dogs were our babies, and so we did stop and move stuff around to make shade.

Then, a few miles along the road, we came upon trailer-tractor hauling hay. The bales were stacked up three or four high, a full load.

Perched on top of the bales were two border collies. I can't say they looked comfortable, but they didn't seem to be suffering much.

It struck us upon seeing this that perhaps we might be a tad over-protective of our beloved dogs. And it became part of our spousal shorthand. Whenever one of the dogs would moan because we weren't offering them food from our plate, or whine because we left them in the car when we went into the market for five minutes, we would look at them and say, "Yeah, well, you could be a hay bale dog. Don't bitch about how hard your life is."

And, of course, that applies to me -- and probably thee -- as well. Given the life I live, I can't complain about much of anything. I ain't perched on top a bale of hay on a really hot summer day ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Smoke 'em if you got 'em ...

When I was a young man, I worked briefly in a couple different metals warehouses, one in South Gate, one in Gardena/Watts, in Southern California. The companies sold aluminum, brass, copper, mostly to the aircraft industry, did some precision sawing of small extrusions, like that.

I was a back-up man at the second company, did a little of everything. One day, I'd be in the warehouse running a forklift; the next day, in the office, taking plate or bar orders over the phone; day after that, I might be working with the dispatcher, sending out the loaded trucks.

This was in 1968, which wasn't so far from the days of WWII that there weren't still plenty of veterans of that conflict around, some of whom worked at the company.

One day, on lunch break in the warehouse, I was talking to an older black guy named Benny, the company mechanic. Most of the guys working there were black -- at the time, that was the demographic in Watts. Benny was a happy-go-lucky fellow, always smiling, who had the magic touch when it came to machinery. He could lay his hands on a motor that wasn't working right and could feel what was wrong it -- and then fix it, usually with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers and some wire.

During the war, Benny told me, he had been an aircraft mechanic for the Army Air Force, and did most of his time on Guam, and some island called Tinian. Mostly what they did was repair or tune up planes that were flown in from elsewhere, not a lot of action. It was hot, rained a lot, and boring, as he recalled. They played a lot of cards.

One day, a plane arrived,
a big ole B-29 Super Fortress, he said. It was supposed to be rigged for some kind of special mission, and Benny and the crew attended to the craft. He didn't know what the mission was, but he figured it must be important, way everybody was whispering behind their hands and all. He did his part, the plane left, and that was that.

That would have been the summer of 1945, July, August, he reckoned. Never knew what it was all about. But -- even though it had been more than twenty years, he remembered that plane. He had even taken some pictures of it, but hadn't been able to get the film developed until he left the service after the war.

You, uh, still got those pictures? I asked.

Sure do. You wanna see 'em?

Oh, yeah. Because I had a feeling I knew more about this mission than Benny did.

Sure enough, he brought some old black-and-white photographs the next day, more sepia- toned, actually, the size of those old brownie camera prints. Had six or eight of them, and the markings on the plane were easy to see.

Benny's mystery aircraft was the Enola Gay.

I thought he was pulling my chain, but it became obvious he really didn't know. It had been a big deal at the time, but he didn't have a clue how big a deal it had been. He somehow never made the connection later, when he heard about Hiroshima, he wasn't much of a newspaper, guy, didn't really learn to read too well until long after he was out of the service.

I found this fascinating on several levels, not the least of which was that sometimes you are connected to things and you don't have the slightest idea what they wind up being about ...

In the end, I decided not to say anything to Benny about it. I admired the pictures, and we talked about something else. Life went on.

I left my job and went to work as a private eye after about a year. Eventually, the metals company, which had been family-owned, sold out to a major aerospace aluminum company, and I doubt seriously whether anybody I knew then is still there -- the warehouse at which I worked was closed long ago.

If he's still alive, Benny would be eighty-something. I like to think that by not saying anything, I might have saved him a few sleepless nights. Or maybe not ...

Truth is much stranger than fiction. I'd never have thought to make something like this up, it would have been too weird ...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Troll Hunting

I have to confess, I sometimes enjoy troll-hunting waaay too much. I speak here not of the things that live under bridges and bother Billy Goats Gruff, but of the internet variety, those hapless dweebs who slink into a newsgroup or chat area and try to stir up trouble.

Over on Martial Arts Planet, there is a silat thread,: Bukti Negara on YouTube. If you like watching a troll squirm, you might find it amusing, especially the last few exchanges between somebody who calls himself "pukulan student," and Yours Truly.

Like shooting fish in a barrel. Not very sporting, but now and then, you just have to do it ...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Death Star ... Final Cover?

Check it out ...

2007 Silat Sera Seminar

The Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Seminar for this year has been scheduled. This is pretty much an invitation-only deal, over a weekend, and mostly for Maha Guru Stevan Plinck's students from around the world. There are a few slots for dedicated martial artists outside the fold interested in seeing and learning some of what we do.

It's going to be in about a month. If you are interested, check Guru Plinck's Page for information.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Progress ...

Karate is Deadly, but ...

Last Year's Sera Plinck Seminar

I've been having an interesting email discussion with a former silat player who has moved into other martial arts. This man was once a student at a different branch of the same art that I study. Nice guy, good interchange, he's knowledgeable about martial arts, and I am enjoying our talk

He, as did many of the senior students of this not-gonna-name-it-branch, got disgusted and left because he wasn't getting what he signed up to get. Lotta sizzle, not much steak.

What I find interesting is that what he learned in his years there seems to be considerably different than what I am learning. Yes, we have the same basic drills, called djurus; his teacher and mine trained under the same guru; and yet, some of what seems to be so basic and at the heart of what I do, he never heard from his instructor.

Some of this is different terminlogy -- each teacher develops his own shorthand. But some of it is a matter of knowlege that just didn't get transmitted.

Maybe this is like people going to a book club and having discussions. They've read the same novel, but they are getting different things from it, because they interpreted what they read based on who they are and what they brought with them.

Or maybe his teacher didn't really understand it. There's a great quote from George Turner, in A Pursuit of Miracles: "A thing can be told simply if the teller understands it properly."

(That one is pinned to my bulletin board, next to the last words of Union General John Sedgewick, at the Battle of Spotsylvania. The Confederate lines were eight or nine hundred yards away, and Sedgewick was irritated at his men, who kept ducking every time a shot was fired. "I'm ashamed of you men!" he reportedly said. "What are jumping and dodging around for? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!"

Whereupon, of course, Sedgewick was instantly shot dead, a miniball to the face, just under his eye. Bad idea to tempt Fate that way ...)

In martial arts circles, tribalism is rampant. My system is better than yours, my style better than yours, my teacher can whip yours, yadda yadda, yadda, you hear this all the time. Sometimes you even say it ...

But, even allowing for the feeling that what you do is intrinsically better than what somebody else does when it ain't necessarily so, sometimes you see evidence that indicates you aren't altogether wrong. I have seen several of this -- um, other teacher's senior students up close and personal. For years, these folks were quick to point out that what we up in the Pacific Northwest did was inferior, silat-lite, as it were. And yet, these adepts of a superior style, when dancing in fun, couldn't demonstrate any particular superiority.

I'm old and slow and not particularly adept, and won't live long enough to get really good at silat Sera, and yet, skipping the false modesty, I not only could keep up with these younger, better-art-than-mine guys, I believe that if push came to shove, I could give them plenty to worry about.

Oh, hell, let's just say it: I could kick their asses. No question, hands down, that's the name of that tune ...

Talk is cheap, of course -- well, except that as a writer, mine pays pretty well some days -- and maybe I'm am deluding myself; then again, if you cross hands with somebody and you can routinely take their center? That does tell you something ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pachelbel Rulez ...

There are several versions of this on YouTube -- orginally was arranged by a kid who calls himself JerryC. This the latest one I've seen.

You gotta love this kid's expression. Not to mention his chops ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

And After I Conquer the Rope ...

Progress Up -- and Down

So here's the current progress on the rope-climbing:

The green rectangle is my height in relation to the rope. (That's a six-foot-high fence in the b.g, but the angle in the picture makes it look a bit shorter.)

The red circle is where I could get to without gloves. Only a couple of feet, but hey, that's what it is.

The blue circle is where I've been managing to make it with gloves, (sans the time off whilst gone to the dog show.)

The yellow circle is where I reached today. Nearly fell off coming down -- if you miss your grip with one hand, it makes for a fairly insecure grip with the other. Since I'm trying to descend in the same form as the ascent, i.e., with the knees up, feet in front rather than dangling directly below, this makes it trickier still, balance-wise. So far, I've found that coming down is harder than going up. Go figure.

Nothing to brag about here, but progress.

When I to the point where I can ascend, touch the support branch, then descend in good form, I'll feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Then? It just becomes a matter of how many reps I can add before my arms fall off ...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Secret

I might have mentioned that Mike Richardson (writer/comic book publisher/movie producer/nice old guy, etc.) and I have been working on a movie script together.

If not, then ... we have. It's called The Secret.

Mike came up with the idea, he and I wrote the script, passing it back and forth until we had a clean draft, then he wrote a four-issue mini-series for Dark Horse Comics. Eventually, we'll write a novel for the Dark Horse prose publishing arm.

Sooner or later, somebody will see what a great spooky movie it will make.

Meanwhile, the mini-series is now in print, last issue just out. I've been holding off mentioning it until you can get them and read them in one sitting. You should go and buy 'em. Very moody, great art.

Go to Things from Another World to order the comics.

Bumper Sticker/T-Shirt

Naturally, I would in no way, shape, or form advocate any violence against the President of the United States, or his assistant, George Bush. One must respect the office, however little regard one might have for the current occupant. That said, this is both politically-incorrect and passing clever. Haven't seen one for a while, spotted it on the trip. Also saw an "I Miss Bill" bumper sticker ...

Friday, May 18, 2007

... and the Agony of Defeat ...

So, for the last week, my wife and I and the two dogs have been on the road -- we went to the Welsh Cardigan Corgi Nationals. If you are into the breed, the national show is the ultimate place to go -- there are other kinds of dogs there in the Agility part, but mostly it's Corgis, doing Rally, Obedience, Agility, and Confirmation, and if you don't know what those are don't worry, I expect I'll get to them someday.

Um. Anyway, this year, the gathering was in Pleasanton, California, which is just east of San Francisco, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. We took the camper, set up among some of the other attendees, and spent several days there. Several hundred Corgis were there, more than you are apt to see anywhere else.

Learned a whole lot, truly

And since we've been putting Jude though some basic leash-obedience stuff, we thought, what the hell, we'll enter him in the Rally competition. (This is basically a somewhat kinder, gentler version of sit-stay-heel stuff, with some odd little tricks thrown in. You go out into a ring with your dog, a judge follows you around a course that is laid out with little signs that tell you what to do when you get to 'em.)

So, never having done this before, but knowing that Jude could do most of the tricks, we figured it would be fun.

Oh, it was that, all right.

Out there in this ring -- in the same way that a boxing match squared-circle is a ring -- about sixty feet on a side, we were trucking along just fine, when I looked down at Jude as he stopped.

I could read his mind:

Hey. I'm out here all alone with Daddy. Where is Momma? Where is my sister Layla?

Naturally, he starts to look for them. Sees Dianne, who is holding Layla in her lap.

Ah, There they are!

This is not a good thing, vis a vis the do-the-course-aspect of things, and Dianne realizes this when she sees Jude see her. So what she decides is the best course of action is to leap to her feet with Layla and run from the arena.

Momma! Where are you going? Why are you running? Is something after you?

And naturally, Jude, loyal packmember that he is, rushes to help. All of Daddy's sit-stay-heel commands are like pissing against the wind in a hurricane, and the technical term for what followed is DNQ -- did not qualify ...

I scooped him up and laughed all the way off the floor.

We got a chance to try again, early the next day, and this time, Dianne stuck Layla in a portable kennel behind a curtain and skedaddled out the door before Jude and I took the floor. Had it covered, we did.

We were doing fine until Layla, undeterred by the curtain, barked at us as we walked past.

Layla! Why are you barking? Are you trapped? Don't worry, I'll come bust you out ... !

The technical term is -- did I mention -- DNQ? But you have to laugh, because it was funny.

I think perhaps we need a bit more practice working our routine with distractions before we try this again. Especially in front of an audience that, while small, was very knowledgeable about such things. And the camera crew, of course. I wouldn't be surprised to see us show up on the blooper reel.

Meanwhile, I am pretty sure I got more than enough material for a novel. I'm thinking about a tea-cozy murder mystery set at a dog show: The Cardigan Corgi Kill. Seriously.

Well, okay, maybe it might be more funny than serious, but I think it would sell. People like dogs. Now if I can just work in doctors and Abraham Lincoln, I'll have a surefire bestseller ...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Want to See an Old Man's Gun?

Behold the rope-effect, after but a week of working the new apparatus in the back yard.

Each day, I get a little higher. Coming down isn't any easier, though, because it has to be done with some form, and by then I'm tired.

Still and all, if my plane ever crashes in the jungle, I'm gonna be ready. Assuming it doesn't happen in the next few weeks ...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Want to See a Real Man's Gun?

The 4-b0re elephant rifle. The round is scary all by itself, but take a look at it compared to the .475-500 Nitro Express.

Man. Talk about field artillery. Kind of hard to even imagine the recoil ...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Finally, a Good Use for It ...

Okay, we are the kind of people who allow our dogs in the house.

We are the kind of people who allow the critters on the bed.

In fact, we are the kind of people who not only allow it, we make it easy for our stubby little dogs to get onto the bed; to save wear and tear on their joints, we have put in a foam ramp.

They make them for that -- dog-get-on-the-bed-ramps. Google it, it's true.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, if you don't like dogs, that's your problem -- I feel sorry for you.

But the ramp is not the most stable thing, being lightweight. so we figured we needed to strap it to the footboard to keep the beasts from tipping it over. Which we did.

The upshot of all this?

I finally found a use for that black belt that's been hanging in the closet all these years. Good for something after all ...

Day of the Fudgesicle ...

Mostly sunny, a little breeze, eighty degrees out there right now. Easy to understand why people love Hawaii, where it's like this most of the year round ...

Having already walked dogs and gone for a ride in the drop-top, I am home again and feeling fine.

For some reason, today brings up two late-spring happenings from my checkered past. They aren't Earth-shaking deals, but I remember them both with great fondness.

First: About thirty years ago, I walked into a 7-Eleven store in Baton Rouge. A pair of teenaged girl in shorts and halter tops came down the aisle toward me. One of them had a bottle of Coke in her hand. When they drew even with me, one to either side, they stopped, and the one with the Coke held it up, as if offering it to me.

I took the bottle from her, swigged from it, smiled, and handed it back. Both girls smiled, and they went on their way, I on mine. Nobody said a word. Never saw either of them again, but I recall that as one of my most spontaneous-ever actions. Yeah, the Coke might have been spiked with LSD or she might have had some horrible communicable disease, but in the moment, it was absolutely the right thing to do. Back in the day when we still thought the Age of Aquarius was just around the corner ...

Second sunny day memory: A year ago, my wife and I were returning from the local Safeway, having bought some groceries. Included in these was a box of fudgesicles. (The generic version, which still tastes like the ones I grew up eating.) Dianne was driving and I was very much enjoying one of these fudge bars when a car pulled alongside on our right and the woman driving said, "Boy, that sure looks good!"

I grinned, pulled another one from the box, and as we rolled down the road, I tossed it in her direction. She stuck her left out and snagged in on the fly, which was a major-league catch -- but just how it was supposed to go. She smiled, yelled "Thank you!" and we made our turn and headed home.

Small, feel-good moments, of no great import, but absolutely memorable. The big epiphanies are more life-changing, but the little gems do sparkle along the way ...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spring Fever

Sunny and seventy-seven degrees here in beautiful Beaverton, nice breeze blowing, and staying inside any longer and slaving over the computer is not the least bit appealing. I'm outta here.

Fortunately, I managed to get my pages done on the Predator book, so I'm going out to do djurus. Maybe walk the dogs again. Something. Anything.

Already did my rope climb, such that it is. My expectations there, alas, were too high, so I started over with the idea that whatever I could manage would be the baseline, and I'd go from there. Kind of interesting -- I can do a couple sets of chins,
ten or twelve reps a set ("chins" meaning that your palms face away, as opposed to pull-ups, palms facing toward you) but this rope, it's a bear ...

Never mind. Outside!

Sunday, May 06, 2007


There doesn't seem to be a precise definition of "filk," but as I understand it, it is folk music with science fiction or fantasy roots.

Generally. Filkers sometimes write songs about dogs, cats, or their cars, but more or less, that's what it is. And while it is not a folk song per se, I consider the opening number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (just after "Lips, Lips, Lips!") Science Fiction to be among the most well-known examples of filk.

Some of these songs are funny, some serious, and many of them are well-written and sung. Some very talented musicians in the filk community, though I am not among them. By and large, even though "normal" is not the first word that springs to mind, an audience at a typical science fiction convention is apt to be the brightest group of folks you'll be around. Any joke, no matter how esoteric the reference, somebody in the group will get. Fans are a diverse lot, but most of them are literate, polite, and sharp, at least in my experience, and the smartest of them can run with anybody, anywhere.

I have dabbled in the filk form. And given that I'm going to a convention wherein there will be folks bringing their guitars and whatnot, I thought I'd dust off my contribution to the genre.

I composed this for a buddy who was a television animation writer of some note -- he has written hundreds and hundreds of episodes for scores of kidvid shows, even won an Emmy for his work.

The God of Saturday Morning

Well, there goes Flash Gordon, bein' followed by the Hulk/
A passel of Smurfs are right behind/

Shazam and Hi, Ho Silver! and Isis flies again/

And Tarzan still swings upon his vine.


He's the god of Saturday morning/

He's fuckin' up your little kiddie's mind/
He says he does it for the money/
But his karma is runnin' out of time.

The Network says no violence but lots of jeopardy/

The animator screams there ain't no way/

The producer justs says "Rewrite!" the only word he knows/

The censors frown and won't let him use "gay."


He wants to write a novel, but the rent is overdue/
His television set is on the blink/

He says just one more season, that's all he's gonna do/
Til then, he's gonna see a shrink.

(Chorus, and out: Yeah, yeah, his karma is runnin' out of time/
Whoa, whoa, his karma is running out of tiiiimmme ...)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Toastmaster R Us

Now and again, I have been asked to be guest of honor or toastmaster at the odd science fiction convention. (And you might think that all science fiction conventions are odd, and you'd be right, but some are odder than others ...)

Recently, I was asked if I wanted to be the toastmaster at an upcoming one in Dallas, Texas, come late September, and since I haven't been making much of an effort to do SF&F conventions outside the local area, and since this one sounded like a really good one, I was intrigued. It will be small, maybe five hundred people. It will be literary, because the author GoH for this one is Connie Willis, who is an excellent, multi-award-winning writer and a nice lady, to boot. There will be artists, and a fair number of musicians bringing instruments to play.

Details must still be worked out, but they asked and I agreed, so in principle, I'm gonna do it.

This will give my legions of fans -- did I say legions? -- perhaps platoons -- nay, the, um squad of my fans who have been clamoring for me to be available for autographs and merriment east of the Rockies a chance to drop by and say hello.

Details on the gathering maybe be found here, at the FenCon Website.

Can I Get the Musical Sting from Our Man Flint?

So after burning tax records and old papers we didn't want to risk to the dumpster for several weeks, and creating mounds of ash in our fireplace, we finally broke down and got a paper shredder. Since we still have six large boxes of this dross, and we get a lot of mail with personal info we don't want some identity thief to glom onto, we figured we could justify a small machine.

I started doing research. Boy, howdy, there are scores of these things, ranging from cheapies you can practically get for free with a rebate, up to those that
run several thousand bucks, and that produce atomic-sized bits Nostradamus couldn't reassemble with a team of obsessive-compulsive speed freaks stoked on crank.

We opted for a home-model from Costco that was less than a hundred bucks, on sale. Couldn't find a picture of the exact model, but they all look about the same, like a small trash basket with a fat lid.

This one will eat a dozen pages at a time, staples and small paper clips included, turn them into little confetti rectangles maybe a quarter-inch wide by an inch long, and it fits neatly under the roll top desk.

Very satisfying to my Virgo nature to feed a sheaf of paper into the slot, hear it go grrrrr and open it to see fodder for the next Rose Parade ...


Yes, we have achieved hand-protection!

Nike Speedtack IV, Receiver/Running Back Gloves. Leather palms, stretch backs, exactly what the doctor ordered. Thin enough to get a good grip and to offer some abrasion-resistance.

Lemme limber up the Tarzan yell -- the climbing rope awaits ...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Give Me Enough Rope ...

In the continuing story whereby Our Hero plans to get back to his Tarzan-fitness level, a new wrinkle: The climbing gloves arrived. Wonderful things -- well-stitched, nicely-padded, designed to last a long time ...

And totally useless for climbing a fat rope. . Be great for sliding out of a helicopter without frying your palms, but are simply too stiff for the task -- pardon the pun -- at hand --
unless one has the grip strength of somebody from Krypton, which, alas, Our Hero has not -- which was part of the point of getting the rope, to gain such strength.

So. On the morrow, Our Hero will truck on down to the sporting goods store and see can he find a pair of football player wide-receiver gloves. These are thinner, the palms tend to be a tacky leather, in the sticky sense of that word -- and should -- should, I say -- allow a tighter grip whist still keeping my pansy hands from terminal abrasion.

Where there is a will, there is a way. The Lokapalas are never defeated ...

(Two points for the source of that second quote, but only if you can do it without resorting to Google.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Can I Get a Little Banjo Music Here?

Say, the theme from Deliverance ... ?

Built-in Morality

In this month's Discover magazine, there's a fascinating interview, by Josie Glausiusz, with Harvard biologist Marc Hauser, whose theory of evolution says we are hardwired to know right from wrong.

True or not, Hauser makes his case using some very thought-provoking examples, one of which is something like this: You are standing on a corner when a trolley, out-of-control, roars past. In its path are five people who will be killed (and assume they can't get out of the way). There's a switch that you can reach and thereby divert the streetcar onto a siding; however, so doing will cause it to hit a single person there and s/he will die.

The question is, Is it it morally permissible for you to throw the switch?

Most people say yes. To save five at the cost of one is reasonable.

But then Hauser goes on: There are five people in a hospital who need different organ transplants right now or they will die. A man walks into the hospital, he's healthy, and just happens to be a perfect match to all the people about to die. Is it morally permissable to kill him and harvest his organs to save the others?

Nobody says yes to that one. To which Hauser points out that the end result is the same -- five are saved at the cost of one, and the one is killed by intent. He goes on to say that people of different ages, religious backgrounds, education, and cultures cannot typically explain why they think these are different, but they know that they are. The former choice is not great, but okay; the latter is morally wrong.

He believes that this indicates an innate and unconsicous process that drives moral judgments, and that it not just a socially-educated call.

Another example involves posing a question that puts a familiar situation in a different light, using a way-out example, from an MIT philosopher, Judy Thomson:

A woman wakes up and finds a strange man lying in bed next to her. A second man comes in and says to her, This is a world-famous violinist who is dying of kidney disease. I hope you don't mind, but we've plugged him into your kidney, and if you allow him to stay plugged in for the next nine months, you will save him.

Nobody goes for that one as being morally permissable no matter how famous the guy might be. However, if the woman agrees, even though she's not obligated to do so, but then decides a couple of months later that having his guy hooked to her is a real drag and unplugs him, people asked feel that this is somehow not quite as right on her part, and it doesn't seem to matter if they are pro-life or pro-choice, when the question is phrased this way. Either way the guy dies, and in the latter case, lives a couple months longer than he would have otherwise, but somehow, that doesn't seem to make it sound better to most people.

If you happen across the May issue of Discover, you might want to pick it up. There are also pieces on suspended animation, keeping one's brain working properly while aging, and Dark Matter.

Star Wars - Thirty Years On

The Human Replica Droid Guri,
art by Ron Randall, from Dark Horse's
Shadows of the Empire: Evolution

As part of the Star Wars 30th Anniversary Celebration last evening, there was a panel discussion at Powell's Books, in Beaverton. Writer Timothy Zahn, Dark Horse Comics editor/writer Jeremy Barlow, and Star Wars comic artist Dustin Weaver and I were the panelists, and a squad of the 501st Stormtrooper Division (Cloud City) in full gear stood guard. There was a costume competition, mostly children. The Jawa won first place.

Tim was funny and clever; as was Barlow; Weaver kept passing the mike, so we made him the head judge for the costume contest. Modesty forbids that I brag too much about my own performance, but they laughed when they were supposed to laugh ...

We blathered on for an hour and half or so to a full house, hundred and fifty or sixty people, took questions, and signed books and comics, after which several of us decamped to a local Red Robin for a late supper. The science fiction guy at Powell's Beavo as the store is called, is Peter Honigstock, and I was pleased for him that we had a good turnout. Last time I did a signing at Powell's, they managed to book me on the Friday before the Rose Festival or somesuch, and attendence was sparse.

Thirty years. My, how time flies ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

If At First You Don't Succeed ...

For several years, whenever I manage to get to the gym, I have been wearing weightlifter's gloves. The result of this is that my hands are protected from the checkering on the barbells whilst pumping the iron, some bars of which are passing heavy -- not to mention saving me from the nasty germs one finds in a weight room ...

Alas, the results are also such that my hands, which once would have qualified me to punch plates with Master Pan Qing Fu, or to haul nets in on a fishing boat, now qualify me for an express ticket on the Pansy Express, no stops, direct to Sissyville ...


Thirty years ago I could shinny fifteen feet up a rope like it was no big deal. Now, after half that distance, my forepaws feel as if they'd been dipped in molten rock. The muscles are still willing, but the grip is saying, Lookit, you can climb down right now -- or you can fall -- your choice, 'cause I ain't holding you up no more ...

So very sad ...

I'm gonna have to get some climbing gloves. Fortunately, there are such things these days, goatskin models designed to protect one when rappeling across the face of El Capitan, or Kevlar, for sliding down ropes out of helicopters, and like that. Whether I'll be able to hold onto the rope with them or not remains to be be seen ...

Ah, the accomodations one must make for growing old ...

The Rope

My climbing rope arrived today, and I've managed to get it looped over the tree limb at the spot I wanted. From the ground to the branch is about eighteen feet, and since the rope stops a couple feet short of the ground, it looks to be about sixteen feet for the climb, assuming I start sitting down. That's four feet shy of the formerly-official Short Climb, but since the rope isn't quite that long without the loop anyhow, it is what it is.

Until I get into better shape, the first attempts will begin with me standing, and will require no more than about twelve feet, hand-over-hand. I should be able to manage most of that now, though I dunno if I can do it in an L-sit, which is, of course, one of the goals -- can't neglect the old abs.

The ideal form is to sit upon the ground, legs extended and spread slightly, feet and toes pointed, climb the rope in that position to the top, then come back down the same way.

A lot of it is in conditioning the hands -- clambering up a hemp rope is much harder on the grip than doing chins or pull-ups holding onto a smooth steel bar. Plus the dynamics of the tree limb are such that it will give under my weight and bob up and down a bit, which, depending on my timing, will either be something of a help or a hinderance.

I'll let you know how it goes ...


Some years ago, there was a PBS televsion show starring James Burke, called Connections. Burke would come out, and through a series of fascinating links, show how something like the flying buttress on a medieval castle wall had a direct-through line to the invention of the picture tube in a TV set.

Something like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon ...

Our younger dog is named "Layla," after the Eric Clapton song. (Actually it was the Derek and the Dominios song, but that's another story.) We've always loved the tune and the name.

If you don't know the story behind it, Clapton wrote Layla for Patti Boyd, who was, at the time, married to his best friend, George Harrison. He had fallen in love with her, but since she was married to Harrison, that was a problem. Supposedly he also wrote Bell Bottom Blues, from the same album, because Patti gave him a pair of flare-leg jeans ...)

Harrison, meanwhile, had written his wife a song: Something (in the Way She Moves) which wound up on the last Beatle album, Abbey Road.

Later, Harrison and his wife divorced, and Clapton and Boyd got together and were married. Whereupon Clapton wrote another song for her, Wonderful Tonight.

I had known about the genesis of Layla for years, but only discovered the other songs connected to Boyd whilst doing some research into the name. My wife and I found some old pictures of Boyd in a Beatle book we have, and were puzzled: She was attractive enough, but wasn't a stunning beauty or anything as a young woman; what was it she had that drew two of the biggest rock 'n' roll artists ever to the point they married her? (She was married to Harrison for eleven years, to Clapton for a decade.)

Actually, both John Lennon and Mick Jagger confessed to having serious crushes on Patti, as well ...

Meanwhile, Patti's sister, Jennifer, was the singer/songerwriter Donvovan's muse, most notably in the song Jennifer Juniper. And she went on to marry Mick Fleetwood ...

Something about the Boyd girls ...

Saturday was my daughter-in-law's birthday, and we went to her house for a barbecue. Her parents, Tim and Angela, were here, visiting from England, and we sat on the new deck my son had built, drinking wine in the cool-but-sunny spring evening and chatting.

The subject of music education for children came up. I allowed as how I had been exposed to the ukulele in junior high, which led the conversation to a British entertainer well-known for playing one of these, George Formby, who died in 1961.

Yes, I'd heard of him. Which led me to speak of George Harrison, who, I had heard from Paul McCartney's onstage patter during one of his concerts, had been a fan of Formby's, and who had amassed a great collection of ukuleles. Harrison had given one of these ukes to Paul and taught him how to play Something on the instrument. Which he then did for the audience.

Which led to Angela -- I'm not sure what that our legal relationship would be -- an in-law once removed? -- telling us that she had gone to school with George Harrison's first wife, Patti. They were classmates and friends.

Which led to me wondering aloud what it was that Patti had that caused so many rock stars to orbit around her. Well, she said, Patti wasn't gorgeous, neither was she the most intellectual of young women. And while Angela, being very circumspect, actually never said aloud what it was, I think I got the gist of it, and it was most likely what I had guessed -- being a man and all ...

Connections. Gotta love 'em.