Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Changing Fortunes of Time

Don't look back, Satchel Paige is reputed to have said, because there might be something there ... and it might be gaining on you ...

Too much time looking over one's shoulder, you can walk smack into a wall in front of you. Nostalgia is nice, but be-in-the-moment is the way to go most of the time.

Having said that, now and again, I pick up a book I have read before and re-read it. Sometimes, the book is one I have written. Not often, but now and again, I do find it instructive.

Mostly, by the time a novel I've written is published, I have read it four or five times: First draft and maybe a rewrite. Again when I get the copy-edited ms back from the editor. Then, the unbound galleys, and finally, the finished product. These are all working reads -- to correct errors -- mine, the editor or copy editor's, the printer's. Once the thing hits the racks, I'm tired of the sucker and I'm done. A copy goes onto my ego shelf, and I move on.

After some years, I now and then get the urge to pick up one of my literary children. My expectation is that I will cringe at the writing and story-telling, having -- I fancy -- gotten to be a better writer.

I was on a panel with Ursula LeGuin not too long ago, and somebody raised those questions: Do you ever re-read your old stuff, and if so, does it make you wince? Ursula's response was pretty much how I felt: Actually, no. I'm usually surprised at how good it is.
It's almost as if somebody else wrote it, and it's the kind of book I'd like to read if they had.

This is not to say that they all stand up well, nor that you can't see the brush-strokes, so you do tend to realize what you were thinking when you wrote a particular scene, but enough time, and you forget enough of a story so that parts of it are something of a surprise. Huh. I had forgotten all that romantic by-play between Toni and Alex, the rocky aspects of their relationship, the temptations. Gee, I didn't remember that I had two soliders use the word "fuck" twelve times on one page. Wow, that's a great descriptive metaphor -- how did I come up with that?

The ego rears: Damn, I'm good!

In Desiderata, Max Ehrmann has this line: "Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."


Monday, July 28, 2008

Mean Streets

Okay, I dunno where Todd got this, but it's too good not to share ...

Next Food Network Star Winner

It's Aaron!

He had our vote from the first episode and when his name was called, my wife and I both did air-horn fist pumps and said "Yes!"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Looking for Steve Perry of Journey's Email Address?

Well, it's not here, and I ain't him. If you are trying to get hold of him, he isn't on Comcast, nor is he living in Beaverton, OR. As far as I can tell, he doesn't have an email address under his name, neither do I know where where I can forward his fan letters. Somebody saw that I have an agent, put two and two together, and came up with five.

I'm not the droid you are looking for. Sorry.

I get this a lot. Give the guy at the gas station my credit card, or the waitress at the restaurant, and if either of them is of a certain age, sometimes I'll hear, "Whoa! Steve Perry?"

I know what the next line is, and I just grin.

(To complicate it even more, there is yet another Steve Perry who is a rock singer, for The Cherry Poppin' Daddies ...)

I have a whole little comedy routine I use, about wearing my old man disguise, or pointing out that the difference between that Steve and me is that I can sing ...

Now and then, I get Steve-of-Journey's email or snail fan mail. Not an avalanche of it, but enough so that I have a boiler plate form letter I send back: Sorry, you got the wrong guy, if I knew where to tell you to go, I would, good luck.

Some of the letters are lovely, touching, coming-of-age memories, and how much hearing a certain song on a certain day still means to the writer. People who were down and out, but who found a reason to go on, from listening to the right tune at the right time. Some of them are so bare and open I quit reading them, so I don't end up feeling like a peeping tom.

When Steve-not-me was still with Journey, I used to get the odd picture now and then, sometimes of young women in various states of dress, along with invitations to drop round next time I was in town ...

Steve-formerly-of-Journey, if you are out there and you come across this, send me a post office box number or an email drop, and and I'll forward your mail -- I won't give it out to the public, I promise. I slugged this posting as I did with the hope that somebody googling for an address will see that I'm not you.

And, don't stop believin' ...

Comic-Con '08 - San Diego

Those of you who don't know about it, there is a big convention in San Diego every summer, Comic-Con. Upwards of a hundred thousand geeks (fanboys like me, and some gurls, too) descend on the city for several days of immersion in comics, comic movies, writers, artists, actors, producers -- it's quite the to-do. Become the place to preview upcoming superhero or monster movies. A positive buzz there can make for big box office.

A hundred and twenty-five thousand folks was the sell-out point for tickets and those went fast.

Too many folks jammed into one place for me to relax and have a good time, but fairly amazing to think about -- how big comic books and associated media -- TV, movies, the web -- have become. Who would have guessed it back in the day?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Car Repaired/Death in the Streets

So, my car, which I picked up last evening, is fixed. Looks brand-new, I can't see where it was damaged, and I am happy to be able to drive once again without the license plate wired to the front bumper ...
In other news, a grand jury found the Silverton cop who killed an Irish kid a few weeks ago was justified in his use of force. The kid was unarmed and not very big, but he was also mentally disturbed. There was quite a to-do when it happened, and his family was understandably upset.

Here's the gist, as I understand it: The young man, Andrew Hanlon, an Irish citizen, living with his brother, apparently slipped over the edge one evening and started hollering and pounding on a stranger's door. Hard enough to leave skin and blood on the wood, while, according to the woman inside who made a panicked 911 call, (during which you can hear the kid yelling and hammering,) screaming that he was the angel of death, along with howling at the moon.

I dunno about your neighborhood, but I would be disposed to consider that unusual and a tad unsettling in mine, somebody pounding on my front door, baying like a wolf, and calling himself the angel of death, especially after eleven p.m. on a Monday night.

Friday night? Yeah, but ... Monday?

The cop, Tony Gonzalez, arrived, apparently tried to calm the kid down, with his hands empty. Didn't work. After a dance, the kid charged; Gonzalez, backed away, yelling Stop! and started shooting. Hit the kid five times, but even so he kept going, according to witnesses.

The whole story in The Oregonian is here.

This is an unfortunate incident, and your heart goes out to the dead man and his family. (And the cop has problems of his own -- in an unrelated event, he was busted for messing with an underage girl. All the paper says about that is that she was under age eighteen, and that it was apparently consensual and went on for a while. I'm guessing his career as an LEO is probably over -- certainly if he's found guilty it is.)

But given the circumstances, I wonder what I would have done had it been me on patrol when the call came in? The kid ran, the cop pursued, heard what he thought was breaking glass, maybe giving the kid a weapon, then he got charged. He backed all the way across the street from the kid, yelling Stop! and shooting.

The dead man needed medical help, he shouldn't have been running around on his own, and the health care system failed him. But that's not the policeman's fault. Nor his job.

This is where families and horrified citizens start asking why not the nightstick, or the Taser, why the gun? And the answer, hard as it is, is that if you roll on a cop with a gun in his hand and scare him enough so he thinks he might be in deadly danger? He can shoot you, legally, and in my book, morally. Somebody that crazy, maybe the stick or the pepper spray or Taser will do the trick, but -- would you risk your neck and the future welfare of your family on "maybe" in that situation?

A man has a gun pointed at you and yells, "Stop or I'll shoot!" You have to know that not-stopping could be bad, especially if you are running at him and not away from him.

Sad that a disturbed young man had to die. Sad that he couldn't get the help he needed.
If the kid had gotten a broken bottle, or had a knife and the cop hadn't shot, then the story could have had a different and no less tragic ending.

No joy in this one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Political Science

Randy Newman, singing his 1972 song, Political Science. (From Sail Away, the title cut of which is as nasty a commentary on slavery as any ever done.)

Randy can be passing caustic when he wants. Amazing how the words are still on point more than thirty-five years later, ain't it?

Here's Randy: Below him, the lyrics:

No one likes us, I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
They don't respect us-so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too

Boom goes London and boom Paris
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be
We'll set everybody free
You'll wear a Japanese kimono
And there'll be Italian shoes for me

They all hate us anyhow
So let's drop the big one now
Let's drop the big one now ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All Your Bat are Belong to Us

As a writer on Batman: The Animated Series I have a vested interest in ole Bats, so I ought to weigh in on the latest outing, B:TDK. (I'm not using the title in my header, nor here, in my ongoing attempt to avoid pumping up my blog visits by using words a lot of folks are apt to be googling.)

It's an E-ticket ride. Right up there in the top five or six comic book movies ever, lot of action, a gag or two I've never seen before -- an eighteen-wheeler doing a half front flip -- and Ledger's final acting performance is a wonderful scenery-chewing nutso role. What sold it for me was a little bit of business, wherein the Joker, who in this incarnation wears makeup and not the residual coloring from his chemical bath, has scars next to his mouth. Now and then, he sticks out his tongue and licks them. Nice touch.

Don't take your pre-teen children, nor your older ones if they are easily spooked into nightmares, and if your spouse breaks down when Bambi's mother dies, leave him/her home, too.

There is a lot of action, and it opens hard and doesn't ease up. A bit long -- don't drink the big Coke or you'll miss some of the show. It's a tad preachy in spots, but a worthy successor to Bale's last outing in BB, and far and away better than any of the live-action Bats that hit the big screen before. (The Mask of the Phantasm, the animated movie? Still as good as any, save maybe this one. Of course, I'm biased, I have a couple uncredited lines in that one ...)

I don't know how they got a PG-13 rating. If ever a movie needed an R for violence, this is one. Some of it is clever. There is a funny, violent, scene involving the Joker making a pencil disappear, and one involving a Batman wanna-be you won't think is funny at all.
A scene involving a child late in the movie that, while we all know the kid isn't going to die, is over the top for any child that age to watch, and a lot of parents with kids in tow will squirm. Unless your darling has grown up on a steady diet of Grand Theft Auto, these sequences will scare them -- and they ought to make you cringe.

No big surprises. I liked the convict-reversal (with Tiny Lister), but it was easy to see coming. Harvey Dent's make-up is great fun to look at it, if totally silly from a medical viewpoint. (Hint: It has to do with massive infection, which would kill ole Harvey dead PDQ, trust me on this.)

If they do another one -- and anybody who thinks they won't doesn't have a clue how The Biz works -- I'm thinking they'll need to use Mark Hamill as the Joker. Watch the animated show and listen to the voice -- that's him, and he'd be perfect ...

Worth seeing, with the warnings.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who Throws the Rocks?

In Iran, that benevolent and advanced Persian society that claims to follow the ways of Islam, nine people have been sentenced to death for adultery -- by stoning. Eight of them women, of course, since they treat the women so well in such lands.

Most of them were convicted and sentenced because a religious judge said so, and evidence was either scant or none at all. Your husband said you slept with another man? Somebody go collect the rocks. Inshallah.

Here's how it works: The woman is buried to her breasts in a pit and either her male relatives or the public at large, are invited to come round, pick up a rock -- not too small, no pebbles; not too large, nothing that would take you out with one or two hits -- and at a signal, the blood-thirsty throw until the victim is dead. Technically, if she somehow manages to dig herself free and escape, this is a sign that Allah considers her innocent, and she is supposed to be allowed in such cases to live. Seldom happens, and the last time, I believe the woman was shot by an overzealous guard. There is a redundant phrase.

So much for mercy.

Men have it a little easier in this regard -- they are only buried to the waist.

Capital punishment is a controversial subject. When I was a hippie, I was against it. There are some crimes, however, that, for me, make the cut, and in such cases, I support it. I won't detail them, but like a terrier knows a rat, I know them when I see them.

But being strapped to a gurney and given a lethal injection that first knocks you unconscious and then shuts you down? Not quite the same as being buried in a pit with the neighbors given leave to have at you with rocks, vis a vis quick and painless ways to go.

Lot of folks used to use this one, including the Jews, but it has fallen out of favor save in a few of the Middle Eastern countries. (Used to be quite popular; stoning was good for a plethora of crimes, including one who curses his father and mother, or somebody who happened to be touching Mount Sinai while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments.( Long list, here.)

Careful where you lean there, pal. Moses is up the hill. God might decide to give him a few more, hey?

There is much evil done in the name of religion in this world. Put this one on my list. I cannot help but think that the Prophet Mohammad will be advising Allah to give a thumbs-down for anybody who chucked rocks and killed a woman raped by a neighbor.
If not, I don't know anybody who'd want to achieve that version of Paradise.

Jesus didn't much care for it, either. If we are all sinners, and only those without sin get to cast the first stone, that's gonna make it hard to get a good blood bath going.

Want to Get Your Dogs' Attention?

Hold a couple of meatballs up in front of them ...

The Next Food Network Star

Adam/ Lisa/ Aaron

So, down to three finalists on my guilty-pleasure show last night. Big to-do in Vegas -- the three, Adam, Lisa, and Aaron, each had to shoot a promo -- we got to see the outtakes and the final versions. Then they had do do a buffet and presentation for a bunch of show people -- pirates, dancers, magicians, comedians, and even a few crossdressers, as well as the chefs for the hotel in which the thing was held, the Wynn.

We have been rooting for Aaron from day one. He's a hospital chef, if you can believe that, but his food has the most appeal -- simple, hearty, bold, and so far, he's won almost every show when it comes to fan and judge favorites. They've started calling him "Big Daddy," and he's the most likable guy in the competition, hands-down. He's still stiff on camera, but getting better.

Until last night, Aaron seemed the obvious winner. Lisa comes across as hard-edged -- she can cook, but you get the feeling that if you crossed her, she would run over you in her Cadillac and not look back. Adam is relaxed and funny, but until last night, most of what he has cooked has been so-so, no real focus, and a few times, flat-out awful. (Last night, his dishes were the favorites among the show folk and the chefs.)

One of the judges joked that they should pick all three: Adam to open the show; Aaron to choose the food; Lisa to cook it ... and he had a point ...

Aaron faltered on his dishes, and he tanked on his presentation to the crowd. His promo went well -- best of of the three -- and considering that Adam is an actor and generally funny guy who does very well on stage, everybody figured he would win this one going away. He didn't. Even Lisa outdid him in the presentation, doing an acappella song about her food that was great -- the woman can sing, who knew?

Last night, there was no clear winner -- nor an obvious loser.

That's the way the judges saw it, too. First time, they ended up deadlocked hard enough so that they decided not to kick anybody off the island -- er, out of the casino. So next week, it's a three-way showdown, back in New York.

If Aaron can loosen up in front of the camera, he's an easy win. If he chokes ... ?

Oh, the humanity!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fat or Fit

Over on Barnes's blog, the subject of health and fitness comes up now and again, and usually as a corollary, obesity. It tends to get handled somewhat delicately there.

Not here.

My quick-and-dirty research indicates that about half of Americans are overweight, and a third of adults are overweight to the point of obesity. This is a medical term, and involves the percentage of lean mass to body fat, and simple obesity is not the same as morbid obesity, but they both mean "too fat."

A little too fat, could lose a few pounds; or, dangerously fat, blowing out joints, killing hearts and kidneys, blood-pressure working up to a stroke.

In discussions of avoirdupois, somebody always quickly hauls out the excuse, "Well, yeah, but some people do have hormone problems and all like that."

Yea, verily. A certain percentage of folks do have genuine medical reasons, physical, and even psychological, to the extent that dieting to lose -- or gain -- weight is difficult in the extreme. Give them that. They have hormone problems, skewed metabolic systems, hyper-efficient ways of using and storing food. Menopause; Thyroid is shot; medulla oblongata is haywire; certain drugs necessary to keep folks alive against killing diseases have awful side-effects vis a vis holding the pounds on -- there are legitimate reasons why some folks get a pass. It really isn't their fault.

Thing is, these legitimate folks, in re medical problems, number about three percent of the population. You could bump that up 1%, if you are being generous.

That leaves the other 96-97% of of us who bulk up without an excuse, save, in the end, we like eating more than exercising, and that our discipline is insufficient to overcome the inertia and set-point that wants to keep us tubby. What they used to call biscuit poisoning, down home. Too many biscuits ...

Easier to be a couch potato than to run six miles, or spend an hour at the aerobics class, dining on roots and twigs, instead of pork chops and rice and gravy, with a side of buttered French bread and bacon ...

In the olden times, fat was a survival characteristic and it is hardwired into the system -- bad days on the hunt, you needed the stored energy.

For centuries, being Reubenesque was considered attractive, and an instant measure of wealth -- fat folks must have money, else they'd be skinny, like the poor.

These days, morbid obesity -- note the word "morbid" -- is bad. The hunt down at the Safeway isn't so hard, so you don't need the storage. Save for rare cases, severe obesity almost always affects health adversely, everything from physical problems, to bad self-esteem, to being made invisible socially. A lot of folks out there won't even look at somebody who weighs four hundred pounds, they just won't.

Mostly, people who are fat aren't happy about it. Mostly, they aren't so unhappy about it that they will do what needs to be done to fix it. They try, but they give up. It's too hard, it takes too much work.

Ultimately, diet and exercise are the keys. Eat less, eat better, work out more. You will feel hungry and you have to sweat. If it took fifteen years to pack it on, you aren't going to get rid of it in a few weeks or months. Until you reset your burners, homeostasis will want to gain it back. It is a long slow process, and it requires a change in the way you do things for ever more.

I'm not the guy to tell you to lose weight, that's your choice. But for most of us, somewhere about 97% of us, it is a choice. Yes, obesity is a disease, but it's like alcoholism -- you have options. It's not like catching plague because a squirrel flea bit you while you were raking the leaves out in the back yard.

If you don't like being fat, (and you are not among the small percentage of folks who have a very high hill to climb due to an illness that truly wasn't your fault,) then it's up to you to own it. Nobody else can do it for you.

I Am Large, I Contain Platitudes ...

Just love to mess with knee-jerk pigeon-holers. I'm not really a joiner, but I signed up for both these on the same day ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Benefits of a Bad Knee

In the look-for-the-silver-lining category, having screwed up my knee has given me one benefit, vis a vis my martial arts game. It's taken away my reliance on being able to get there fast, and instead required that I get there carefully.

Not that I want the knee to stay screwed up. I am doing all the things one is supposed to do -- RICE, then heat, working it with balor, babying, wearing a decent brace.

(Though not a really good brace. The best off-the-shelf sport model, the Ossur CTi OTS Pro Sport Knee Brace used by motocross guys and jocks who have to keep playing, is somewhat spendy -- $579, on sale. Spendy, but even that is not a patch on the custom jobs. Now we are talking mucho dinero.)

Most of my time in various arts, I have been enough of a jock to gut my way through. If I didn't have the technique down cold, I could muscle it. Seldom been in an art where I wasn't in as good, or better, shape, than most of the other students, and this is both good and bad. Good, because being in shape helps across the board. Bad, because it does allow you to cheat. Cheating is good -- but not if you are cheating yourself.

So the last few weeks, I have been doing my djurus very mindfully, because torque lets me know in a hurry that I really ought not be doing that. And moves in class require attention, too.

I should always have been paying that much attention, but the truth is, I haven't.

Am now.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Medial Meniscus and Mr. Anterior Cruciate Ligament are going to do. Heal, I hope. Else, it's The Knife ... and I wouldn't rather not, thank very kindly.

If life hands you a lemon ... (Though, there are times when life does that? I want to shove the lemon down life's throat, and the snake it slithered in on, too ...)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fun With Language

Here is the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the Person who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido : All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn a fter finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

1. Coffee , n. The person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted , adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3. Abdicate , v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade , v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly , adj. Impotent.
6. Negligent , adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
7. Lymph , v. To walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle , n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence , n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash , n. A rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle , n. A humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude , n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon , n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster , n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism , n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men


I mentioned Mickey Spillane in passing, and thought I'd expand on that a bit.

In 1952, Life Magazine said about Spillane: "No major book reviewer, anywhere, ever said a kind word about Mickey Spillane."

The images above are of his second wife, Sherri, who posed for the covers. They apparently met during a photo shoot for one of his books, and it is perhaps too easy to speculate on the attraction -- he was in his forties, she in her twenties.

That marriage ended in a nasty divorce and ugly lawsuit, and Sherri became a theatrical agent.

Readers loved Spillane. Literary critics blew fuses when his name came up. He was the Harold Robbins/Danelle Steel of his day, and he, like Liberace, cried all the way to the bank.

Spillane wrote about a number of anti-heroes, and his heydays were in the late forties and early fifties. The guy who spent the most time on the page was Mike Hammer, a New York City private eye who would just as soon shoot you as look at you, and, as you lay dying, kick your teeth in just because he felt like it. Said as much in one of the books.

Hammer carried a .45, and regularly smashed in heads and punched tickets with it. (Apparently somebody did a partial body-count -- in a half-dozen novels, fifty-eight people who ate lead from Hammer's rod ...)

Hammer was a product of the the post-war world, and as politically incorrect as they came. He was in love with Velda, his secretary, but he didn't want to spoil that, so they didn't sleep together (until both of them were way long in the tooth.) Meanwhile, if he had a chance to partake of any good-looking broad in reach, he did, sometimes two or three different ones in the same novel. Then he would have a steamy kiss -- no more -- with Velda and go home to bed alone.

Spillane wrote thirteen novels featuring Hammer. The first three are the best, the last three, unreadable. There were movies, at least two TV series: Darren McGavin starred in one, Stacy Keach in one; and Spillane himself played the role in a 1962 movie, The Girl Hunters.
I, The Jury

My Gun is Quick


Vengeance is Mine!


One Lonely Night


The Big Kill


Kiss Me, Deadly


The Girl Hunters


The Snake


The Twisted Thing


The Body Lovers


Survival ... Zero!


The Killing Man

Black Alley

Past 1966's The Twisted Thing, Mike Hammer was, in a word, pathetic. He was a man who didn't belong in the world, and like a champion fighter who stays on too long past his prime, sad. He should have gone down, gun blazing.

Spillane did other novels, tried to write about spies and secret agents, but he was best with street guys. My favorite Spillane novel was The Deep, 1961, in which an ex-gang member comes home and starts to shoot up everybody who pisses him off, and a lot of mugs do that.

Spillane claimed to not be a tough guy, but the pictures showed a buzz-cut, cigarette-smoking man, often in a T-shirt or rolled-up sleeves, with muscles, and at various times, he was shot out of a cannon, bounced on a trampoline, did stock car racing, was a pilot, a fencer, and scuba dived for sunken treasure. During the war, he was a flight instructor.

I've always found it amusing that Spillane was one of Ayn Rand's favorite authors. His black-and-white way of looking at the world went well with her unworkable philosophy of objectivism, though I'm sure that at least some of the people who went and found Spillane's book on her recommendation must have had some jaw-dropping moments ...

King of the pulp writers when he was at his peak, Spillane, and nobody on the page was rougher, tougher, harder-drinking, faster-to-get-laid than Mike Hammer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Crave's Tapas and Wine

I don't usually do restaurant reviews. Mostly that's because I don't eat out much, and what can you say about bento at The Chicken Bar?

However, we took the dogs and the camper out over the weekend, and spent a couple days near in the little town of Florence, which is down at the edge of the big sand dune park on the central Oregon coast. Since the RV site is close enough to walk to old town, we did so.

While people in Portland were broiling at ninety-five, we were enjoying a sunny and seventy day with a nice breeze off the Siuslaw River, three-quarters of a mile from the ocean.

Florence, once a fishing and logging community, is now focused on tourists. Shops, places to eat or drink, like that. In the used bookstore, I found a Mickey Spillane novel I somehow missed back in '51 when he wrote it. Mike Hammer, living up to his name, .45 working as a sledge or pumping lead, a cigarette going from the time he got up until he went to bed, killing commie scum every which way. Smoke it, drink it, screw it, or kill it, that's Mike. Talk about politically incorrect.

Wandering around the town, we came across Crave's, a restaurant a little off the main drag, billing itself as a wine and tapas bar. Being a culinary barbarian, I had no idea what "tapas" were, but my wife, whose palate is more educated, did. Small Spanish appetizers, enough of which can make a meal.

There was a guy out front, it was late, and we stopped to chat and explain that, even though he had never seen one that color before, black and white and brindle Cardigan Corgis were not unusual for the breed. (I think the weekend set a new record for people who had never seen one that color before.)

We liked the guy, who turned out to be one of the current owners, so we decided to come back for dinner the next evening.

Boy, are we glad we did.

Aside from the tapas, they also had a dinner menu. We each had a glass of dry red wine that was excellent, for six bucks. Dianne had a penne pasta with chicken and asparagus, and I had roast duck and small red potatoes. We shared a banana pudding with crusted sugar dessert, and a glass of excellent port to go with it, and not only was it the best duck (and chicken pasta) I've ever had, the meal cost maybe half of what we'd have paid for it in Portland.

The chefs were a husband and wife team, very young, and when we passed by the kitchen on our way to wash up, the place was immaculate.

Now and then, you eat a meal that is perfect. Simple food, but done expertly. The flavors of the ingredients blend exactly as they should, none overpowers the others, everything is cooked precisely, talking jaw-dropping good. Part of that was because we didn't expect anything special. The most part was, it was simply that good.

The couple at the next table were wondering if it would be completely barbaric to pick up their plates and lick them, and that thought crossed our minds, too.

We let the waiter know how much we enjoyed it, and he passed it on to the kitchen. The female half of the chef-team came out to deliver the dessert and we allowed as how we thought she and her husband were our new favorite cooks. She was embarrassed, but we got a nice smile out of her. She looked to be twenty-something.

How did they wind up there? Family moved there from somewhere -- mother and sister, grandma, like that, and they followed.

I certainly hope Crave's prospers. They were doing a good business, but the place wasn't packed on a Saturday night, and if there is any justice in the world, it soon will be. The waiter was talking about how they planned to offer fruits and lettuce that had been picked the same day ...

If you ever find yourself in Florence, Oregon, find Crave's -- it's on the corner of Laurel and Maple. If you like fine food, you will be happy you went. If this place doesn't get four stars from somebody real soon, I'll be surprised.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Narrative Hooks

Here's an opening paragraph for a novel:

"You have a secret. You consider it beyond embarrassing; it is vile, disgusting, and you know that if anyone found out, they would shun you. Your children would despise you, your spouse would abandon you, friends would turn away, your life, your job, they would all be gone. And you would accept all this as just.

I know what your secret is."

So, the question is, if you read this in a book you picked up off the rack, would you be inclined to keep reading or not ... ?

Not a Perfect Video, But ...

It is an interesting way to spend three minutes to see how somebody who knows how to use a morphing program plays with images in western art. Not much ethnic variation -- no women of color, talking Europeans, but still, fascinating to watch.

Have a look.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


So, Wednesday is gun night on The Outdoor Channel, and aside from all the things that go boom! in many varieties, there are certain commercials you don't generally see elsewhere: Gun supplies, sportsman's catalogues, laser sights, like that.

But the one that is the real howler is for a "male-enhancement" product. A simple capsule, according to Dr. Stein, founder of the you-never-heard-of-it Stein Clinic, designed to increase the size of that ... certain male body part. As opposed to uncertain male body parts, one supposes.

It is, as Bugs Bunny is wont to say, to laugh.

The ad goes on. There are on-the-street interviews with some guys who are supposedly real users -- all hooked up with babes -- who all say, "What can I say? I got bigger!" One guy even got a "heck of a lot bigger!"

The babes all laugh. Except the last one, who can't decide whether to laugh or frown, so she does both. Obviously not a method actress.

None of these users are what you'd call the most masculine of fellows, and one wonders what this means, vis a vis the purported increase.

Itty-bitty doubled is still small.

Well, one doesn't really wonder about that part too much: 'Cause it doesn't work. The ingredients in this wonder drug are all things you can buy over the counter in any health food vitamin section, and there is no evidence at all that they make anything bigger, save the wallet of the guy selling them. Look here.

True, some of the herbs do have an effect on blood flow and all, but if you are an adult male, what you now have is what you'll continue to have. (Though I do recall a short and unsuccessful campaign to legalize a certain weed a few years back in which the rumor was put forth that marijuana makes your johnson grow. Have to wonder how many redneck hippie-haters thought about that one and decided to have a couple tokes, just to see.)

And the side effects of some of herbs in this particular weenie-expander can be worse than what they give in return -- yohimbe, for example. It does help, apparently, but the effective dose is very close to the toxic dose. Read about the toxicity and decide if it is worth it.

Cripes, if this stuff worked? If it made. Mr. Happy add an inch or two to length, or more importantly, girth, they wouldn't need to advertise it on The Outdoor Channel. They'd have to keep it in Fort Knox under guards with shoot-to-kill orders (and peckers of great size to avoid temptation to sample the product). You could charge a couple of car payments per pill, and the waiting line would go round the equator ...

What is more intriguing is that they advertise it on the gun shows. Got to wonder about what their, um, target audience is ...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bad News, Good News

You wouldn't think that a little plastic fairing that fits over the front bumper of a Mini -- a bit that I cleverly tore off my car on Thursday last, and I wasn't even drinking so I can't use that as an excuse -- would cost all that much to repair.

You would be wrong in such thinking.

As soon as the replacement gets in from where in the U.K. it has to come and gets painted, I get to leave my car there for a couple days for them to fix it. Seems the whole front end has to be taken apart to do the job, so the labor is going to be a bitch. Talking here the cost of a couple-three house payments, and a thousand-dollar deductible on the comprehensive policy ...


The good news is that it can be repaired, good as new, and that we can -- eventually -- pay for it ...

I will drive more carefully from now on ...

More in the good/bad news department: It seems that I have a new book upon which to work. Can't tell you what it is until contracts are signed, but it will be another hoot to write and I am looking forward to it. So much so, in fact, that I started writing some set-pieces even before the outline has been approved. Not much risk there, but some -- they could decide to go in a completely different direction. I doubt they will, and I can rewrite what I have to fit a wide range of applications, that is the joy of a set-piece.

That's good.

Bad part is, I managed to cleverly save an older file over a newer one, thus losing ten pages of material that is simply gone. The new Macs have an autosave to a separate hard disk that backs up everything every few minutes, so even if you trash everything on your desktop, you can get it back. I, alas, have an older Mac, and when I not-so-cleverly went to back up the file -- and still unsure how I did it -- I overwrote today's file with yesterday's back-up


This is going to result in a new procedure with back-ups, involving a fool-proof method that I am even now trying to figure out. And hoping I'm not the fool to prove it. Saving it, sending it offsite, then backing it up on the flash drive, maybe.

Rewriting ten pages from memory, even that which is only a couple hours old, is tricky business. It's happened to me before, and the rewrite is never exactly the same. Sometimes, it could be better, but you'll never know for certain, since you don't have the old version to compare to the newer one, and the assumption is always that it is slightly worse and that you left something out ...

So, my output today was twenty pages, but only ten of them count ...

Never a dull moment.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Principles of Silat Sera Plinck

First principle is, the art is much easier to do if you have six arms and four legs ...

Actually, the illo is from the section on Sera Principles, on Guru Plinck's site. Written and posted there by Todd and Tiel.

It's interesting to read, in that if you know much about the art, you won't have any trouble making some sense of the article. But if you aren't one of us, it won't mean anything really useful at all. In cases of applied movement, the map is truly not the territory. I don't know anybody who ever learned how to swim sitting on the edge of the pool reading a book on the various strokes. You gotta get wet.

As I was looking for some tidbits to send to a few of the newbies in our class, I came across the Djuru Topics, only a few of which they have had a chance to learn yet, but that also reminded me of how much of what we do is so very simple and basic. Sera as we practice it, is not a complex art. There are combinations of things that can look complicated, but they aren't when you know what goes into them.

"Simple" does not equal "easy," of course, as I have said many times before, but simple is the heart and soul of what we do. We don't have any jumping-flying-spinning-triple-
sommersault kicks in our toolbox. Most of what the advance class does most of the time is the same as what the beginners do most of the time, at least insofar as the root movements are concerned. The principles of swinging a baseball bat are the same for a Little League player and the National League home run leader. It's a bat, you try to hit the ball with it, nothing complicated at all. Practice a lot, pay attention while you do, you tend to get better.

A whole lot -- even most -- of what we believe you need to know to do this stuff in a useful manner is covered in the twelve topics. I'm not giving anything away by posting them here:

Djuru - Topics

1. Receiving (4 ways)
2. Giving (5 ways)
3. English (corkscrew)
4. High Line
5. Low Line
6. Push/pull
7. Trapping (window)
8. Elbow
9. Punch
10. Back up (attitude)
11. Tense/relax
12. Breathing

And just to be fair, I need to say that our djuru forms are only the upper body; the legwork, we call "langkas," and while both are usually learned together and lumped under the term "djurus," we do consider them in different lights. You need both, but you can practice djurus sitting in a chair, most of them. The langkas come into play on the various geometric footwork platforms, and technically, you can do them without the handwork, too. Might be more semantics, that, but it's how we consider it.

Three is the Number and the Number is Three ...

Been an interesting week, in the terms of the Chinese curse kind of interesting ...

Monday, I broke the ill-designed battery cover door on my new hearing aid -- second time in three months. Had the old one for six years, never did that. This time, they didn't have a replacement, so they had to send it back to the factory. So I get to say "Eh? What's that, sonny?" a lot until it gets fixed. Fourth of July weekend throws a monkey wrench into the idea of getting it in any kind of hurry.

Thursday, I was pulling out of a driveway in my spiffy little Mini convertible and managed to hook the end of a ladder that was tangled up in a pile of junk under the front wheel well on the passenger side, the result of which was to peel the bumper cover, a nice plastic fairing with my license plate and parking lights, off. Made for an interesting drive home, with it on the front seat. Fourth of July weekend, nobody in the car biz is open, and it'll be at least Monday before I find out how much it is going to cost me.

I cannot imagine it will be cheap, and I have a high deductible on my insurance.

Today, my computer started doing funny things, and not funny ha-ha, but funny, Aw, crap! I have run TechTool and rebuilt file structures, but I fear it is a hardware problem, and, given how old the sucker is, probably the hard disk drive. I have made double back-ups of all my work files, just in case it goes ka-blooey.

Plus, my wife has an upset stomach ...

Never a dull moment.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hollywood Reality

As was pointed out in a discussion here recently on bullwhips, a Hollywood phrase has been updated:

From the Urban Dictionary:

"Jump the shark:

A term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.

Origin of this phrase comes from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis. This was labeled the lowest point of the show."

"Nuke the fridge:

Cinematic equivalent of the TV term "jump the shark." It is used to refer to the moment in a film series that is so incredible that it lessens the excitement of subsequent scenes that rely on more understated action or suspense. Such moments are felt to mark the beginning of a low point in the quality of the franchise, as it attempts to explore more absurd avenues. "Nuke the fridge" is a reference to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wherein the title character incredibly survives a nuclear blast by climbing into a lead-lined refrigerator. The fridge is blown hundreds of feet into the sky, and, when it lands, Indiana Jones opens the door and walks away completely unscathed and apparently unaffected by any radiation sickness that would surely result from being in such close proximity to a nuclear blast."
Neither of these moments bothered me; after all, we are talking about Hollywood reality. Anybody who watched Happy Days or who goes to a summer movie who expects any kind of veracity? They ain't from around here. Any facts you might learn from an hour and a half in the local multiplex cinema in July? Pure lagniappe.

Pick a summer blockbuster movie, old or new -- in fact, here are the top ten worldwide all time box office grossing pictures, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1 Titanic
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
3 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

4 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

5 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

6 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
7 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

8 Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

9 Shrek 2
10 Jurassic Park

(You can see the rest of the Top 100 by clicking on the BOM link, above, but I'll save you the trouble -- none of them are any more "real" than these. None of them.)

Reality? Now and again, but in a big summer flick? That isn't the mission. That's not why we buy the popcorn and the big Coke and start squirming in our seats an hour later because we have to pee but we can't leave because we'll miss something. Summer is for fantasy -- look how many of the top ten, or the top hundred, fall into that category. A couple are nominally science fiction, a couple are kinda-sorta historical romances.

The rest? Pure fantasy ...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sam Spade

In my foolish youth, I was a private eye, first in Los Angeles, then in Louisiana. In SoCal, I worked as an op for a large agency, and much of our meat-and-potatoes biz was for insurance companies and worker's comp cases. Back in the day, somebody injured on the job could get a hefty settlement for a major injury, and there were special courts and judges who ruled on such things.

Shortly after I went to work there, we had a case come in. Guy, call him Henry, working for a big construction firm as a driver had somehow managed to put a cement truck onto its side. He had a list of injury claims -- he couldn't bend over because his back was messed up; couldn't turn his head through any but the narrowest range of motion, because his neck was wrecked; couldn't walk very far or fast, because his hips and legs were all sprained.

He had been injured during the accident, no question, but the insurance company suspected he was dogging it. That he wasn't hurt as badly as he claimed.

In such cases, the deal was, when we were hired, that we went out and tried to find evidence yea or nay. If the claimant was injured and we saw that, the insurance company would offer a settlement. If he was faking it, we were supposed to come back and report it, backed with something that would show it in court, if necessary.

Generally, by the time we were hired, the companies were pretty sure they were dealing with malingering or outright fraud, and mostly, that proved to be true.

We were armed with an array of cameras, some of them disguised, and this was in the late sixties, well before electronic media were common, so mostly we used 16 mm Bell & Howell triple-turret cameras, spring-powered, with the frame rate locked at 24/second. Smaller than a breadbox, fatter than a hardback book, wind and shoot, not even reflex viewing, each lens had its own viewfinder -- you could be looking through that and the lens could be covered, and you wouldn't know.

Thing with Henry was, he was a black guy, living in Watts.

We had a range of ops at the agency, men, women, white, Latino, black, old, young, and generally, the person best suited to a particular case got the assignment, somebody who could blend into almost any neighborhood. About a dozen of us, more or less.

The black operatives were busy when Henry's case came up. Did I want to take a shot at it?

White boy cracker, in Watts, the sixties, where, in the hot August four years earlier, there had been riots that burned down half the city. Six days, thirty-some people killed, a thousand injured bad enough to go to the hospital, fourteen thousand National Guard troops moved in. A mess. Touched off in earnest when the police stopped an unarmed black guy rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital, and somehow shot and killed the man.

DWB -- driving while black -- was a common reason for Chief Parker's LAPD to pull somebody over, but it didn't usually involve a death sentence.

Watts erupted.

Four years later, there were still a fair-number of burned-out buildings that hadn't been repaired or knocked down, and still plenty of simmering hatred in the city. You didn't see a lot of outside white folks who were comfortable going there.

But I was young and foolish and full of myself and I had a green belt in karate and neither Achilles nor Superman had anything on me.

I put on my rattiest pair of jeans and tennis shoes. A jacket I had kept under my motorcycle to keep the oil from leaking onto the driveway. I put the camera on a strap over my arm under the jacket, got a bottle of 7-Up and put it into a brown paper bag. Let my beard grow -- such that it would -- greased my hair down, and became an instant twenty-two-year-old drunken bum. I went to where Henry lived, sat in a doorway across the street, sipped at my 7-Up, and commenced surveillance.

Nobody bothered me. How sad was I, a homeless, drunk white boy so out of it I didn't even know nor care where I was?

Over the next three days, every time Henry came out of his house, I was there watching.
I shot maybe eight minutes of film during that time, but all of it showed Henry doing stuff he supposedly could not do.

First, he played touch football with a few friends. Nice scenes of him running.

Later, he worked in his yard, bent over 90-degrees at the waist, and pulled weeds along the sidewalk. Did this for most of an hour.

He went to collect his unemployment check, and in a happenstance too good to be true, stood in a line outside a temporary building between two attractive young women, and tried to talk to both of them at the same time. With one fore and one aft, he was swiveling his injured neck like somebody watching a tennis match. Not quite as much as the little girl possessed in The Exorcist, but enough so that his injury didn't seem to be bothering him.

He jogged down the street to catch a passing friend ...

After three days, I stopped being a homeless drunk. I went to the office, wrote my report and turned in my film.

I still consider that one of the less clever things I have done, that case. I recall going to use the phone once, next to a trashed laundromat, and seeing "Kill Whitey!" scratched into the glass of the booth. There were still a lot of militants around, and being in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong skin color could get you thumped on either end of the spectrum. Didn't worry me a whit. I was bulletproof.

Truly there must be angels who watch out for fools and children. I must have had a platoon working shifts to keep me alive.

As for Henry? Well, come his day in court, he showed up in a wheelchair, wearing a neck brace, and in much apparent pain. I testified as to what I had seen. Henry stared at me as if I were the biggest liar who ever lived.

I set up my projector and screen and ran my film. Only eight minutes, but not a frame of it was of Henry standing idle.

After it was done and the lights came up, the judge -- no jury here -- looked at Henry. You move pretty good for a cripple, he allowed. (This in the days when such a word was still used in polite company.)

Henry said, "Well, your honor, yeah, I was feeling better for while. But, you know, after I did all that? I had to go and lie down."

The judge shook his head.

Henry did not receive a large settlement. He was lucky he got to keep what he had already collected.

Second Hand Smoke

Last few days, it's been warm, muggy, and hazy around here -- skies look like those over L.A. on a smoggy day. The reason? Wildfires in central Calilfornia. More than five hundred miles from here, and enough to give us those wonderful smoked sunsets. Much worse in southern Oregon, around Grant's Pass.

George Carlin may have been right, that the planet is doing fine, but sometimes I wonder about the concept of Gaia; that one day, she'll shake herself hard enough to rid herself of the itchy fleas that infest her ...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Worthy Cause

Teenage sensation Mariah Moore, known as the Escrimadora, who has won a bunch of martial arts tournaments, in forms and in stickfighting, is off to enter the WEKAF World Championships in Cebu, Philippines, later this month.

It's an expensive trip, and to help defray the costs, there are T-shirts and such, and Tribal Edge Knifeworks, has produced a beautiful knife which is to be sold to help.

You can see more pictures of the knife, and a description, on Moore's blog, here.

As I happen to own several knives hand-crafted by a couple of the four bladesmiths at Tribal Edge, I can attest to the fact that they do excellent work.

It's a great-looking knife and it's for a good cause. Look at that hamon.

Check it out.

And while I'm at it, whoever sends Mariah an email and gives her the biggest contribution in the next week (stickgirrl(at)gmail(dot)com) gets a set of rare, bound, uncorrected-proof galleys of my Venture Silk duology, Spindoc and The Forever Drug, suitably autographed.

Tell her I sent you.

We Are the World

Every so often, it's fun to check the stat-log on the blog, which keeps track of the last hundred hits. The map makes you realize how pervasive the net is. My South America guys haven't dropped by today, though I have a few who sometimes do; nor the Antarctic folks, but it's a fascinating swath ...

MMA T-Shirt

Jon Heiner sent me this link. Too good not to share ...