Saturday, October 31, 2009

And His Hair was ... Perfect ...

Moon Face Jack 2009

Spookytime again. Hope you all enjoy this most fun of holidays. I'll be taking a break from my in-progress project today to soak up the ghostly vibes.

From my laboratory in the castle east/
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast/
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes/
To get a jolt from my electrodes ...

AAAhhhooohhh -- !

Friday, October 30, 2009

More Steel

Jeff Crowner's latest. Looks like pattern-weld to me ...


Yeah, okay, maybe he swiped Poul Anderson's stove and then went back for the smoke, but check out the new Avatar trailer here.

You know you are gonna go see it. It has occupied the third largest computer in the world at 100%+ capacity (the one which did the digital work for LOTR and took 30% capacity, mind you) and has been more than four years in the making. It might be dances with wolves in space, but it's gonna look terrific.

This ain't gonna be Jar Jar Binks, folks ...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four on the Floor

Every writer is different, of course, but there are a couple of categories into which many, if not most, of us who do it full-time fall: We are distance runners or sprinters, and now and then, both.

Distance runners tend to set a pace and do it over the long haul. Five days a week, six or eight hours a day -- some shorter, some longer -- X-number of pages each day. So if you are doing a 400 pp book and you do five pp a day, then you are looking at four working months for a draft, eighty days. (If you do one page a day, then it's 400 working days, or thirteen-and-third months.

Something usually gets in the way of maintaining such schedules, of course. Life, the universe, and everything. Research, the dentist, the dog has to go to the vet, or you wind up having do do revisions on another project -- the world is full of distractions, so the chapter-a-day is usually theoretical. And if you don't have a deadline, you are less inclined to sit at the keyboard if you have a cold or the flu, so you take the time off. But still, the idea is that you chip away slowly and eventually wind up with a finished book.

Sprinters tend to hit the track at a dead run and go full-out until they fall over. Not uncommon for them to spend fourteen, sixteen hours at the computer. Write for an hour, take a break to go pee, write for another hour, grab a snack, write, and do this for long days and weeks until the book is done. Dean Wesley Smith calls this "burst writing," and used to have a workshop in which the goal was to get a draft of a novel done in a long weekend. It's ass-in-chair until you are done.

My hands won't stand burst writing any more. After a certain number of hours and keystrokes, I'm done. I can't perform the physical action of typing, even with an ergonomic keyboard and frequent breaks.

Now and then, though, it's fun to see how close I can come to my limits without going over them. Which is where the secret project is. I've set a daily page goal that is more that I usually do, if less than I once could. (There were years when I could write 10-15 pp, day in and day out for months. I could party all night long and then work all the next day, too, but alas, not any more ...)

I'll keep you posted ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Secret Agent Man

Not to get all mysterious again, but once more, I'm off to see the Wizard ...

Every day, you behold the ten thousand paths; in my business, unexpected channels of work open up now and then. Somewhen, these are in shared universes; sometimes are offers to do short stories for new anthologies; sometimes out-of-the-blue originals or tie-ins or whatnot.

This is one of the reasons that being able to write quickly and cleanly isn't a bad thing for which to be known. Somebody has a project and they are in a hurry, and they remember: Hey, what about Perry? He's fast. Give him call.

Fast and good will now and again beat slow and great.

I might not be interested in the assignment. Or I could be, but am against a deadline and can't take the job. (One of the advantages of doing work on spec and not on a contract is that deadlines are self-imposed -- I might want to get the draft on my old couple spy book done by November, but since there's not an editor tapping her foot and looking at her watch on that one, I can put it on the back burner and do something else if I get the notion.)

Or it might be I'm at liberty and I like the project, but the time alloted is not enough. I've had people offer books that they absolutely-positively had to have on their desk in three months, which is hand-burner, but doable -- save there would be a two- or three-week turnaround on outline approval before I could even get into the starting blocks. If I am going to cook my fingers to do a novel in nine or ten weeks? The money or the subject or both will have to be extraordinary.

Now and then, however, the planets hit syzygy, everything lines up, and something not even in the realm of consideration on Monday pops up on Tuesday.

Some projects I can talk about. Some I can hint at, but am constrained from going into depth regarding until they are made public by the franchise owners. Some involve NDA's (non-disclosure agreements) which dictate exactly what I can or cannot say. And some are handshake deals where a closed mouth is not specified, but understood.

All of which is to say that I got such a project laid before me yesterday and I am going to pick it up. And that the nature of it is such I can't talk about it.

So why even bring it up? Well, it's one of those that needs speed, and a fair amount of my attention for the immediate future, so probably my postings here won't be as numerous or frequent as I normally do. I'll still need to warm up before I roll, but with a tight deadline, the work-day gets carved differently.

I'll let you know when I can what's what.

Stand by ...

Monday, October 26, 2009


Tagged. Usually I don't play this one, but Mushtaq allowed as how I might have an interesting list, and I was curious as to what I would say ...

Name five things you love.

The usual comes to mind: family, dogs, work, play, like that, because those are the important things -- Dianne tops all lists -- but just for grins, and in no particular order?

1. Pachelbel's Canon in D.
2. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny.
3. The sandpit in Stevan Plinck's front yard, and all that it implies.
4. The Matadors.
5. Tuning the guitar down a full step -- DGCFAD.

And folks who know me know that I am wicked, mayhaps even perverse when it comes to stuff that makes me laugh, so naturally, for reasons I won't explain, I tag Bobbe.

Butter Wouldn't Melt

Remember all that stuff Steve Jobs has been saying about how Apple isn't interested in eReaders 'cause folks don't read any more? (And how Apple has never, ever led people down the garden path before? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain ... ?)

Latest rumors about the Apple Tablet, here ...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kneed to Know

So, a year ago yesterday, I had that little knee surgery wherein half the tattered meniscus on the right knee got snipped off and flushed out. For those of you who might be considering a date with the knife for a similar condition, an update.

Numbers don't mean much, but I'd say I'm probably at 90% of where I was before the knee stared hurting. There is enough redundancy in the human body that you can sometimes hack out a piece and things still work pretty well. Now and again, if I sit a certain way for a long time, I'll get a twinge in the joint, and on particularly cold and rainy days, there is sometimes a mild, dull ache, but by and large, I count it a success. Before the surgery, there was a constant nagging pain and a sense of instability, and that's gone.

Only other sequela I've noticed is a small numb spot on the lateral side of the knee. Sometimes small nerves get cut or damaged, and usually with peripheral ones, if they are gonna come back, it'll take six or eight months. By now, I'm guessing they are gone for good.

Small price to pay, all things considered.

New Comic

For the martial arts comic book readers: Check out Joe Judt's new title here.

Friday, October 23, 2009


So, my wife has passed her 4Runner along to our daughter, whose van has gotten somewhat creaky for hauling her boys around, and bought a new car.

Toyota RAV4. Your basic small SUV, but gets better gas mileage than the old car, and since her commute is going to double in the spring, when her office moves to PDX, that will help.

Silver, run-flat tires. Rides nice, zips along. And we are long-time Toyota fans, this being our third. Went through the credit union, no problems.

Gives me more reason to sell a new book, to pay for it ...


Winner of this week's Homer Simpson Doh! Award, here ...

Soupy Sales

Soupy Sales passed away, he was eighty-three. You have to be of a certain age to have even heard of him, but the kiddy show he starred in was really something, and he had more pies hit him in the face than all three of the Stooges.

Slapstick humor, and silly, but the times were simpler.


Friend of mine just had her co-authored book series "Wicked" optioned for the silver screen.
Dreamworks, no less.

Way to go, Nancy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies. It's a nickname for Beezelbub, and also the name of a novel and a couple of subsequent movies about schoolboys shipwrecked on an island who quickly lose the veneer of civilization and revert to savagery.

Now and then, the point comes up in the discussions on fighting about how martial arts won't work against the real predators out there -- there are lots and lots of predators in the world.

In here, too. I see one every time I look in the mirror. Having spent some quality time roaming around in the night, the dark doesn't scare me. The attitude is, "Dude, you need to be the one looking over your shoulder out there when the sun goes down."

We naked apes are at the top of the food chain. We kill and eat everything below us, and sometimes each other, and we are all still born with a couple of pointed teeth. We are, some of us, more civilized than others, and the door to the hindbrain that keeps the dark thing locked away is locked tighter in some than others, but we haven't evolved past the reptile enough so that it no longer with us.

I don't know what it takes to slip the catch on your door to let the thing out of the cave, but I do know that I have loosened mine a time or two, and that if I feel really threatened, it will come forth again. I know this.

We can dance off into the, Oh, you don't know what you'll do if X happens! theoretical scenarios, and you are are right -- I don't know exactly what I'll do. But right to my core I believe that if you come at me and I see you coming, if it's a choice of either you or me walking away? It isn't going to be you unless I'm unconscious or dead. I might not win, that's true. But I am not the fellow to leave off trying.

This isn't monkey dancing. I'm not a bad-ass. I'm just determined.

You don't have to believe it, doesn't matter if you do. I believe it -- and have as much faith in it as I do the sun will come up tomorrow. It isn't about skill, it's about will. The training is all to abet that. The only question is, what tools can I bring to it? I think I have some that will help.

Everything else is second.

Fun Commercial

You need the sound, but turn it down low and enjoy ...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sticks the Landing!

Got an email query about martial arts, connected to the recent posts. Question was, How do you know for sure the things you have been studying will work if you need them?

And the answer is, of course, you don't know for sure.

Few things in life are an absolute lock. You can probably bet the farm that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow and not the west, if you could find somebody stupid enough to take that action. I am willing to allow that fresh water will freeze at zero Centigrade, and that Darwin's Theory of Evolution is closer to fact than not -- but unless you have a working crystal ball and have made your deal with the Devil, predicting the future accurately in the face of ordinary chaos is a hard row to hoe. Weather guys with billions in computer sensory gear and satellites and Doppler get tomorrow's forecast wrong half the time, and predicting it reliably two weeks out in most of the world's active weather regions? Yeah. Right.

Still, there are educated guesses, based on a bunch of things -- direct experience and observation; well-documented versions of those by others, stuff like that. And the more you play in an arena, the more likely it is that you will gather data that is useful.

Here's an easy example: You don't need to know much about gymnastics at all to see if the guy doing the double-full off the high bar sticks the landing. If he falls down, it's obvious.

To decide whether a tiny bobble on an inverted giant swing and high release is worth a tenth or a tenth-and-a-half might require some skill and practice as an observer. But even if you've only watched the sport on TV or seen a couple meets in person, you can quickly tell whether or not a routine nailed it dead on or somebody stepped out or lost her balance. You learn by listening to the ex-gymnast doing the color commentary pointing it out and associating that with what you see.

You don't have to be able to do the move to see it falter, any more than you have to be a world-class guitarist to hear a bad note if the player hits one. Being an educated watcher is enough to give you a certain amount of useful information.

My experience in martial arts is shallow, save for one, but it is wide. Having studied a bunch of things over forty-odd years, and having seen a lot of different players, some of them world-class, move, I've had some education in certain ways of motion. I can't do some of their moves, but I know good when I see it. I can compare and contrast, weigh this against that, and come up with a working observation or two.

Thus in my personal experience, both as a watcher and a doer, the art I'm in now offers principles that seem more effective and useful than the other arts in which I have been involved. And while it is true that I haven't walked the mean streets to kick ass and take names to sharpen my skills, I have used some of the arts that I view as less effective to make do. If I believe that silat, based on my own experience, is more useful for me, then the notion that it will work as well or better than the other arts I studied is not such a reach.

As Randy Newman said in the theme song for Monk: I could be wrong now ... but I don't think so!

This doesn't say anything about other folks who bring different experiences to the table. They know what they know. But without getting all existential about it -- who can know anything? -- I don't lay awake nights worrying that what skills I have.

The Heat is On

So, my recently-replaced gas furnace igniter shorted out again. Lasted just under two weeks ...

My man Darren --we're on a first-name basis -- from A-Temp zipped on out and replaced it. This guy is so adept that he can remove the screws from the plate without looking at them, and he took the sucker apart, replaced the dead igniter, and had it back together in less than ten minutes from the time he walked in the door until he left. No charge.

As Darren tells it, for those of you with twenty-year-old Synder General forced-air gas furnaces, the placement of the igniter -- which is basically a piece of metal that looks like a narrow-tined fat fork that somebody stepped on and flattened -- is such that the intake sometimes blows dust onto it. Can't put a filter over the intake. Big enough particle, it shorts the sucker out. And since you can't light the furnace manually, that means you get motor humming away, but no fire.

Darren allows as how his personal record is one day between the time he installed one of these and then had it burn out. This is the third one we've had in eighteen months. Makes you long for the old pilot light and kitchen match days.

Eventually, we'll have to get a new high-efficiency furnace, the cost of which will probably be paid for in a few years by what we save in monthly gas rate. The BTUs can be less if it is more efficient at getting heat from the gas, or some such. But since my wife wants a new car, the furnace will just have to wait a while. Part is guaranteed for a year. We'll see how it goes ...


Came across a Tracy Chapman vid and it reminded me that I've always thought her music was great -- and she a direct heir to Joan Armatrading.

One of my all-time favorites here:

Mommas, Don't Let Yore Babies Grow Up to Shoot Tasers

Considering a less-lethal self defense option? Check this out first:

Oh, and check out this wonderful bit of business, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood internet.

A classic measure of lock makers versus lock pickers ...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Notes to Myself

As a writer, I am comfortable jotting things down. I keep a little yellow sticky pad -- sometimes these aren't yellow, but blue or pink or green -- on my desk and anything that pops into my head I might want to recall later, I make a note of it. Plot points or scenes in the current book get laid down this way. Appointments and daily chores go there too, even though I usually put those on the computer's iCal to get pop-up reminders. Ideas for stories -- had one yesterday about a little old lady who lives in the house next door to the front gate to Hell.

If I write it down, then I don't have to burn up more long-term memory neurons, and at my age, I can't spare those. All I have to remember is to look at the sticky note pad now and then. And how to read, of course ...

Recently, while working out, I lost track of the turn-sweep-drag foot sequence for doing djurus on the tiga (triangle). Just came up blank in one spot. I have done some of those ten thousand times, mind you, but the full sequence, not as many reps. This is because we get the forms over time, and while you usually practice the sequence from the first one on every time, by the nature of the learning process, you will have practiced the first ones more than the latter ones.

I got Djuru One more than a dozen years ago; the latter djurus only relatively-recently.

The forms can be done on various platforms -- straight-line, triangle, square, cross and a combination of these. The geometric footwork, aka langkah, offers different ways of dealing with attacks. One might be better suited for a single opponent, another for more than one. Evasion against a much larger attacker might be better served moving this way instead of that, and so on.

So I sat down and figured out what the sequence was for walking the tiga -- it's completely predictable -- and made a note. Figured out why I was ending up wrong (from Fourteen to Fifteen, I turned instead of doing a foot-drag -- beset.) Fixed that, and all better now.

Most of the silat I've learned, I've written down. And most of these notes won't make any sense to anybody except me, because I'm using terms that bring up a personal mental picture. And some of them get pretty involved for a relatively simple motion. In Djuru Two, the initial punch and recover takes all of a second to do. Here's what I wrote detailing that one second:

Step in with right foot leading, right rising punch, braced at the wrist with the

left hand. Hips corked, same stances as in Djuru #1. Punch twists.

Weapon leading, turn upper base to left, feet mostly still. Your right arm drops to low line, still in a fist, palm facing right, and you will essentially block with it from shoulder to fist, covering yourself from groin to shoulder. Your left hand will block your face, at your right shoulder.) Bend your right elbow, bring fist up and inside your left arm, across your chest and toward your opponent in a backfist. As you do, turn upper base back toward front. Keep your left hand up until the right arm clears it, then use the left to brace the right forearm. Move through backfist position smoothly (this looks like one continuous move) to:

Chamber right arm ...

Obviously, it is better to ingrain such motions into one's muscle-memory -- not an accurate physiological term, but you know what I mean -- than it is to have to go to the note pad to reconstruct them, but if you don't practice a particular move with some frequency, it tends to fade, so better to have a reference than not.

All of which is to say, anything you can use to jog your memory if you lose your way is good. The map is not the territory, but maps do have their uses if you get turned around wrong.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Obliquely connected to my martial arts post, one regarding boomware. This concerns the position of a firearm for home defense, and how care must be taken to avoid making it too handy.

Two parts, in regard to safety:

First, if you have children at home and unless they have been thoroughly taught about not touching guns without mama or daddy in attendance, you have to have some form of security for your hardware.

This is not negotiable, and failure to do so is, at least in this state, criminal.

And because junior might have one of his little friends over who doesn't have the Eddie the Eagle training and who might be poking around where they shouldn't be while you are out raking the leaves? Don't leave it where it can be found. Unsecured firearms and children are a recipe for tragedy. When my children grew up and moved out, having a piece in the nightstand drawer wasn't a problem.

When the grandkids got old enough to get mobile on their own and came to visit, I bought a gun safe and put all the shooters that weren't physically in my possession into the box and spun the dial.

At the very least, you need some kind of trigger lock or lockbox for anything a determined snoopy child might find. Better safe here than sorry.

Second part: In that twilight state between sleep and wakefulness you can sometimes do things that aren't smart, especially under sudden stress. In which case, being able to instantly lay your hands on a firearm without much conscious thought could be another fatal act.

I used to know a guy who was a major gun guy, call him Lenny. He slept with a pistol under his pillow. His idea was that if somebody managed to break into his house and get into the bedroom, he'd save three or four seconds coming out with his piece from under the pillow, as opposed to having to open the bedside stand drawer.

This was in the south, and the house Lenny and his wife were living in was an old one that didn't have central air conditioning, but window unit ACs. One hot summer evening in the middle of the night, the window unit in the bedroom, vibrating along, managed to work the screws holding the AC's steel cover loose enough so it fell off. As it did so, it made a terrible clatter.

Lenny, jerked out of sleep by the racket, thought somebody was trying to break in through the window. So he grabbed his cocked-and-locked .45 ACP, yelled "Down!" to his wife, and cranked off two rounds at the window.

Killed his air conditioner deader 'n black plastic.

Which, because the bullets didn't go through the window or the wall to kill one of his sleeping neighbors, was, in retrospect, a good thing. And a funny story to tell later.

Now, if Lenny had kept his piece in a lockbox, which typically has a series of buttons that have to be pushed in sequence to open it, he would have had time to realize that nobody was breaking in. Even with the gun in some lesser-ready condition -- magazine out, or nothing in the chamber, requiring that he take a second or two to make it ready to fire, that would have helped.

If the pistol had been buried under the socks and he had to open the drawer and dig around, that might have been enough.

An unloaded gun with a box of ammo in a different drawer, or one you have to go padding down the hall to the gun safe to collect isn't going to do much good for home defense if you need it right now. However, Davy Crockett's dictum: "Be sure you're right, then go ahead." might save you some real grief.

Your air conditioner will thank you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hallowe'en is Coming

All Saints Eve is just shy of a couple weeks away, and aside from working "Monster Mash" and "Werewolves of London" into my guitar repertoire, I came up with a new short story that seems to go with the season.

I woke up in the middle of last night from a bad dream -- having thrashed about and punched enough to knock the lamp over on my beside table.

This is, more or less, the nightmare I had:


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Well, Here's Another Surprise ...

So, on Friday -- just after it happened, I posted this on a group I sometimes drop by:

"Beaverton, OR - Friday, October 16 2009 10:58:8

Cynical Turn of Mind

Okay, listen, Falcon -- you hide in the attic until Daddy comes to get you. Be real quiet, it's for the show, right? And later, when the nice lady on the teevee asks you about it, don't say "show," and for God's sake, don't throw up, okay ... ?

No, no, the Curly-Headed Stranger did it ...

I feel bad about having such cynical thoughts, but as soon as they caught up with the downed balloon and there was no kid in it? It started to smell like three-day-old fish even through the digital screen.

What an age. If they'd found the boy alive and well in the balloon, it would have been wonderful. If they'd found him dead from a high fall, tragic. That he was in the attic says something else entirely. I worry that it is the ghost of P.T. Barnum fucking with us ..."

I can't say I'm happy to have been right about it ...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Which Martial Art is Best for Me?

I get asked this now and again, and on the heels of the politics-in-the-arts post, a kind of answer.

If you go to the doctor and say, "Doc, I have a pain." chances are unless she is a Doctor Feelgood, she isn't going to say, "No problem." then give you a prescription for a painkiller based on that alone.

Differential diagnosis starts in the leaves, works its way down the small twigs and branches to the larger limbs, to the trunk and then the roots. With each response to a question, the doctor narrows the possibilities until she comes to the one she thinks is most likely the cause of your pain. Then she treats the cause, if that is possible, and not just the symptom. Sometimes she can't because the disease isn't curable, but at least she doesn't make it worse by giving you the wrong meds.

To decide on a martial art, you have to ask yourself questions. I'll frame them for you:

The first and most important question is, why do you want to learn a martial art? Self-defense? Sport? Physical, mental, or spiritual development? Social interaction? Because some arts are better at some things than others, and one size doesn't fit all.

Forty or fifty years ago, your choices were limited to a handful, and you took what you could find and made the best of it. These days, there are myriad roads to choose, and you need a map.

Start with what you want:

If you want to compete in sport, win a gold medal in the Olympics, then that narrows your choices. Judo works, taekwondo, fencing, target shooting ...

If you want self-defense, how much of your time and money and energy do you want to spend to get it? What level of defense do you feel you want or need?

Dealing with the drunk in the neighborhood pub is not the same as kicking in doors in Afghanistan waving an M4.

Martial arts, at least in the context I'm going to speak about, can be roughly broken up into wrestling or boxing; combinations thereof; and assorted weapons not limited to one's own body.

Many arts offer bits and pieces of all these, some specialize. Kyudo lets you shoot arrows; Iaido or Iaijutsu, you get to play with swords. Gun-fu needs boomware. It depends on what you want. Some can be stretched farther than others.

This is not to say that, come the burglar, you couldn't nail the guy down the hall with your longbow. It's just that the modern version of kyudo isn't really designed for that. The emphasis has been put on the spiritual. Would I want to find myself facing a kendo or iaido expert with a sword in his hands? Nope. Man who has spent time swinging long and sharp pointy things probably has the edge over one who hasn't. Especially one who likes the cutting tests.

Some arts are simple, brutal, right to the point; others graceful and beautiful to watch. Krav maga will serve you in a dust-up, and so will the combat versions of tai chi. A boxer can make do. A wrestler can, too. Which is better at the self-defense aspect? Let them argue that out.

Once you decide why you want to roll around or punch things, then you can start winnowing the possibilities. Aikido is a fun art, but if you hate tumbling, don't go there, because you have to learn how to dive and hit the ground, roll like an egg end over end and come up unharmed.

If you don't want to get into a ring in Speedos and go at it hammer and tongs at another guy who is fit, strong, and trying to take your head off, maybe MMA isn't the way to go.

If knives terrify you and you can't bring yourself to touch one outside the kitchen, then maybe you won't like the SE Asian stuff, silat, kali, arnis, etc.

Couldn't see yourself ever shooting somebody? Don't get a gun.

Every art has strengths and drawbacks and no single one can cover every contingency all the time. It's a numbers game, and you have to decide how you want to parse the chances that what you want or need will give you what you want. (And, yes, realize that there are no guarantees in life no matter what you pick ...)

So you ask yourself those journalism questions staring with the why. Then you get into the what, when, where, who, and how aspects. Once you've addressed those, using the filters you bring to the question, then you can make an informed selection.

En Garde!

This is not another broadside in the ship-to-ship cannonades of the silat wars, but a general observation demonstrating the truth of something that Chas Clements used to use as the closing to his Usenet postings -- I'll get back to that in a minute.

I have among my small circle of friends two men who are dedicated martial artists. They are adept and long-time players. Different styles, different parts of the country. We don't always agree on all things all the time, but that is no barrier to the level of respect in which I hold them.

Both of these men are embroiled in disagreements with other martial arts folks, and these differences arise from that most heinous aspect of the arts, politics.

At the simplest level, this comes out as "My art is better than yours." Variations on this are "My teacher is better than yours." Or "I am better than you."

We have the One True Path™ and since you a) left the path or b) weren't ever on it, why, then, you must be on the wrong road ...

Since martial arts histories for many eastern disciplines, especially those in SE Asia, tend to be somewhat spotty when it comes to documentation, these things also get called into question and debate quite often. Oral history is very colorful, but sometimes accuracy suffers in the retelling. Myths and campfire stories transmute into Real Truth™, and evidence often amounts to "Well, that's what my teacher said and I believe him!"

You tell the tale for what it is worth, but you don't get attached to the notion that it is absolutely so, because you can't prove it. Was my art begun by a one-armed, club-footed man who, despite these handicaps, mastered a vast range of fighting arts, came from a village where nobody interacted with the outside world, and lived to be over a hundred? It's a great story. I got bupkis for evidence.

I confess that I have allowed myself to get sucked into these debates at times when I should have let them sail on by. Part of that is because I hate to see things I see as fancy get passed off as fact. Part of it is because I don't mind wading into a debate and having a fine ole wrangle. You hone your abilities to make your case against the stones of the opposition.

But while debate has rules, and can be good clean fun, once the stuff gets personal and the name-calling starts -- "You suck, you lying liar!" -- then it ain't debate any more, and it gets tiresome in a hurry.

Had that thrown at me a time or two. Then it comes down to the show-me aspect, and I've made that offer to a few folks. If you say your horse is faster than mine, there's an easy way to see ...

Um. Anyway, my two friends have gotten a lot of undeserved flak when they were minding their own business. Both have responded to it. I think it's a shame they've gotten crap slung at them, but that seems to be how human nature works, and they are allowed to defend themselves against it.

The Clements's line: A bunch of martial artists get together and a fight breaks out? What a surprise ...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Old Tapes

Things you learn early tend to stay with you. Not that you can't unlearn them, it just seems that old tapes are harder to erase once they've played a few thousand times in your head ...

I am an ex-hippie, a thing I've copped to here a time or eighteen. We were, to the straight world around us back in the day, doing stuff that was illegal, immoral, and bad for our hearing -- drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll.

Ah, the good old days ...

Except that there was a drawback nobody talks about much. As a weekend-hippie -- in that I had the attitudes but not the hardcore look, since I always had some kind of real job -- I lived in two worlds. And since I couldn't reveal my secret identity as someone in the clutches of Reefer Madness to those in the straight world, I -- and a lot of others -- learned a kind of applied schizophrenia. (You just didn't tell the folks at work about getting stoned and heading for the 7-Eleven for munchies, nor about tripping on Saturday night and all the pretty colors and expanded mind stuff, as that would a) get you fired and b) ratted out to the law.)

Somewhere in the Sixties, I heard a piece of advice about this: In such circumstances, you need to behave as if you are a spy in a foreign country. Your private life is way different than your public life, and you need to keep the former behind closed and locked doors, with the blinds slatted shut. Don't tell the kids, either. What they don't know, they can't accidentally reveal at Show and Tell: "Here's my daddy's hash pipe he carved from a deer antler ..."

It's an uncomfortable way to live, always looking over your shoulder and worried. At any second, somebody could arrest you. If you got pulled over for a busted tail light and your car reeked of maryjane? You were off to the hoosegow.

In Louisiana, a bastion of conservatism, getting caught with a joint was worth serious jail time. Not as bad as Texas, where you might get eight hundred years for a doobie -- I'm not kidding here -- but bad enough.

So, a pattern was set and it became reflexive. Don't say nothin' to nobody unless they are part of your tribe, and even then, keep your voice down.

People grow up, change, move on. Dope for me was a dead-end. Can't work on it. Can't work out doing it -- leastways I couldn't. And when you get to the place where you aren't expanding your mind and getting new insights, but just getting stoned? Time to leave it behind. (And some stuff, you don't want to look at -- meth, crack, smack, coke, because the only thing you'll learn going down those roads is a shortcut to hell.)

Thing was, even after I left the far-out-groovy-turn-on-tune-in-drop-out-party -- (I turned off, tuned out, dropped back in) -- the day-to-day mindset had been established. For years, I never spoke of my adventures to anybody who hadn't shared those ways. I was still a hippie living among the straights, insofar as how I looked at life, and it was hard to break those old habits.

A piece of advice -- and while you can take it for what it costs, it is valuable: The closer your public persona is to who you really are? The more relaxed and happier you'll be. Fortunately, the statutes of limitations have run out on deeds I did in the good old days; and since I have become a more or less upstanding citizen -- I don't even drive past one beer -- I don't have to worry about keeping a secret identity. It is a great relief.

It makes life a lot simpler. And safer, too.

You Need to See This

Go over to Dojo Rat's blog and watch this video. Really. And then the one underneath it. It'll restore your belief in P.T. Barnum's dictum. Guaranteed to make you smile, or your money back.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the Interests of Full Disclosure

I don't think the new FCC laws will apply to novels, but just to keep things on the up-and-up, here's is part of the acknowledgment page in the current book-in-progress:

See what you think:

"No animals were harmed in the making of this novel; nor was monetary or other consideration given for placement of any commercial products herein. However if Cadillac wants to send me a new Escalade for featuring said vehicle as the preferred ride of high-end espionage agents? I wouldn’t turn it down ..."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Play That Funky Music White Boy -- No, Not THAT Funky ...

There is a phrase, sometimes used in musical realms to denote playing a wrong note, or even the right note played badly -- it's called hitting a clam.

I've wondered about that, and now, thanks to the internet, I have found what sounds like a reasonable explanation. It might not be remotely true, but I like it. Have a look at the Word Detective's thought on the matter:

Boys Don't Cry

In 1960, my family moved from the city out into the burbs. As I was already going to junior high, 7th grade, it was determined that I would continue to attend that school, riding in with my father, whose job at the plant took him past the place every week day. After school, I would hang out somewhere until he got off work. Or catch a bus, or hike to where my mother was working in the city, and ride home with her.

One fine autumn morning, wind blowing and the leaves coming down, we were tooling down Greenwell Springs Road at a goodly clip in my father's 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne when, ahead of us and coming from the opposite direction, a woman decided to make a left turn. Apparently realizing she wasn't going to make it in time, she screamed, threw up her hands to cover her face, and stopped, entirely blocking our side of the two lane-road. There was oncoming traffic behind her -- a gravel truck, as I recall.

My father's options were limited. There was but one place to go if we didn't want to T-bone her car -- a shallow ditch to the right, and my father took to it.

I looked up from the book I was reading to the sound of "Shit!" saw the car blocking the road and the woman covering her face in it, and then we were off the asphalt and bumping along in the ditch. My father was always a careful driver, and he didn't stomp the brakes, but pumped them and we were slowing down and doing just fine -- until we hit the big round mouth of the concrete culvert forming somebody's driveway over the ditch sixty or eighty feet along.

The big ole Chevrolet stopped cold.

In those pre-seat belt days, I did not stop, but flew over the dashboard to spiderweb the windshield with my skull. Said skull being, fortunately, harder than the glass, though as a result, I did develop a nice goose egg.

I bounced back into my seat. Looked at my father, whose steering wheel hadn't snapped and saved him from the windshield. Big Detroit iron still ruled the roads back then, and they were overbuilt vehicles. Biggest damage to the car was the cracked windshield where I hit it.

I blinked, stunned, certainly in mild shock and probably on the edge of a minor concussion, sympathetic fight-or-flight hormones all a'rage, and started to snuffle.

"Don't cry," my father said. "Too late now."

I can't forget that last part. I think what he meant was that tears weren't going to help, that the party was over, but later I used to wonder: Did he think that crying earlier might have made a difference ... ?

No, I doubt it. Boys simply didn't cry in those days. They shook it off, whatever it was.

Odd, the memories that float up when the leaves start to fall and the first autumn rains begin ...

Outside the Box

Tarzan's Three Challenges was the second movie with Jock Mahoney as the star, the first being Tarzan Goes to India. Odd, that Mahoney never got to do a Tarzan picture in Africa -- no Cheetah, and nary a Jane. He was the oldest guy to ever get the role, at forty-four. A former stuntman who specialized in high dives and swimming gags, he was pretty fit.

Challenges was a so-so script, and the basic plot was: A(n obviously Tibetan) boy ruler is challenged by his grown, evil uncle for the throne. Somebody decides to send to Africa to get Tarzan to stand in for the boy, and we're off ...

The filming was made difficult by the fact that Mahoney developed dysentery, caught dengue fever, and pneumonia that made him lose major poundage during the shooting, going from 220 to 175, so he's somewhat skinny in half the shots. Woody Strode, who played the bad guy, was in much better shape physically to look at, though you have to give Mahoney credit for being able to move at all given how sick he was. Here's the wiki.

Jocko was a tough guy. And, so I have been told, not the nicest fellow to be around even when he was feeling well. (His step-daughter by the by, is Sally Field. The Flying Nun, Norma Rae, Brothers & Sisters.)

The movie was shot in Thailand, and the real star was the scenery. The set-up had an archery contest, one of strength, and a question to test wisdom, and when these were done, the bad guy invokes a complicated fourth challenge that involves a lot of frenetic activity and ends in a sword fight on a rope net over pots of boiling oil.

They shoot arrows. The strength test is the movie poster above. The wisdom test ... ah. Here we come to the point of this article.

It has been more than forty-five years since I've seen the picture, so I'm constructing this entirely from memory. Tarzan is being questioned by the Buddhist monks. And the query is something like this: "After an arduous ten thousand mile journey, you meet your enemy. What is the first thing of which you will want to be certain at this meeting?"

And Tarzan's answer was in this vein: "That it was my enemy who made the journey ..."

Now, the question has to be properly framed to get this kind of answer, and I'm sure the writer tweaked it to make it so, but the notion of a smart comeback that end-ran the query was what demonstrated Tarzan's "wisdom." (Why he flew all the way from Africa to do this makes you wonder how wise he was, but, hey, he's Tarzan, and he don't take no shit from nobody. Twenty hours in a noisy prop plane to risk getting killed? Nothing, a slow day for the ape-man. Bundalo! Ungawah!)

A variation on this was done not too long ago in a martial arts 'zine. Picture shows one guy doing a two-handed front choke on another guy, and the question is, "What would you do in this situation?"

The answer, of course, depends on which of the two guys you are. Most readers automatically assume the defensive role and start thinking about how to break the choke.

A very few would just look at the picture and say, "Hey, finish choking him out and go home ..."

Nobody Moves!

The Fight-or-Flight Syndrome, a term coined in 1929, apparently, is part of the hardwiring, not just in humans but in other mammalian species. Updated by more research, the terms "freeze," aka "tonic immobility," and even "fainting" have been added in many places.

A few spots to learn about the thing -- here, here, or here. Be warned that the first couple links are dense with medical terminology and not easy reading. The third is a wiki, and easier to understand.

This one concerns stuttering, but has some good information. Or this one, on the dynamics of the FoF arousal cycle.

Boiled down, what it means is, that if faced with sudden surprise, especially perceived danger, humans will generally do one of several things, and more or less in this order: Freeze, run, fight, or faint.

Um. Since this is a topic that comes up frequently in discussions of martial arts and street violence, ways to break the freeze as quickly as possible are good things to know, and I refer you to Rory Miller's book/blog for more on this. Recognizing that you probably will freeze if something goes booga-booga in your face readies you for the notion that figuring out something to get your ass in gear and moving is a swell idea.

What, exactly? I dunno for sure. I've thought that screaming might do the trick, since such engages a different part of your brain and could let you take the brakes off. Lot of war cries throughout history, and even in nightmares, the scream is sometimes what wakes one up.

Blowing out your air, maybe the ability to release one's rage might work, as well.

Recently, somebody sent me a link to a video that demonstrated this tonic immobility and ways in which it might be broken. It involves a puerile, somewhat idiotic activity called "sharking."

Being an old fellow who lives in a sleepy suburb, I was not aware of such a thing, but the gist of it is this: Some brain-damaged young man, usually wearing a hoodie, with the aid of another dillwitted fellow who has a videocam, stalk attractive young women on a warm and sunny day when the women are dressed for the weather. The first guy runs up to the woman, jerks her off-the-shoulder blouse down, or her skirt up, then hauls ass, as the second loon records the molested woman's sudden partial nudity.

The spiritual descendent of the wedgie, and about as infantile.

Aside from being generally stupid, this is a sex crime pretty much everywhere, and apt to get the louts registered as perverts, jailed for assault, or their asses kicked by irate boyfriends if they get caught.

My correspondent sent me a link to a video purportedly done in Russia, although it is apparently all the rage in Japan, as well. Ah, those foreigners and their strange ways!

The reason he sent me the link was not the PG-13 rated visuals as boobs popped out or thongs were revealed, but for the women's reactions.

Nearly every one of the women suddenly beset by Zippy the Pinhead and his budding cinematographer pal froze when attacked.

The first reaction after that was generally to cover the uncovered anatomy, to turn and face the now-running-away molestor.

The women who moved the quickest were those who screamed. Usually this was wordless; a couple of times, what I assumed was a Russian curse. In one case, a woman almost immediately swung her purse at the fleeing felon, and in another instance, a woman gave chase and you could see she was ready to bash the sucker's head in if she caught him.

There are a couple of versions of this vid around. The shorter one apparently is blurry, while the longer one, much sharper in resolution, slows down the vid at the moments of contact, and you can see the women's faces clearly. (And no, I'm not giving you the link, my site is already getting enough traffic. Google it yourself ...)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hooray for Hollywood

Came across a piece in The New Yorker about Nikki Finke, who does a blog on the Biz down in LaLaLand. Apparently, she sometimes knows what is going on, where, and with whom before they know it themselves ...

From The New Yorker piece, she is loved/hated by the powers-that-be, an ass-kicker and name-taker, and she doesn't sugar-coat any of it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Checking Back in with John D

So, on a lazy, windy Sunday afternoon, furnace fixed and the heat back on, I settled down with MacDonald and Travis, with The Quick Red Fox.

How well did it hold up? Well, the plot is improbable -- blackmail, a movie star, a wounded woman for Trav to try and heal. No Meyer. In these days, if somebody came up with photographs of a big-name movie or rock star with a pitbull, four midgets, and a donkey, everybody would shrug it off. Probably develop a publicity campaign around it. Remember Tommy Lee and Pamela's home porno movies? Went out on the web, and now Pam supposedly gets a cut of revenues ...

Makes old-fashioned B&W photos of an orgy seem positively quaint.

Who did it is never as important in these books as why, though Trav does figure it out. There's a nasty twist at the end that wraps loose ends up neatly -- maybe a bit too much so, but it's biter-bitten and clever enough.

Book came out in 1964, I would have been a junior in high school. I don't remember exactly when I started reading McGee's adventures, but I remember for sure having the first few books on my brick-and-board shelf in the fall of 1966, so I wasn't too far behind.

Fox is 148 pp long. Half the length of an average mystery these days, if that, and twice as rich as most.

I've been doing this a while, writing books. If you go by word counts, I've written and sold more than the late John D, and I sometimes fancy myself not-too-bad at the craft. But MacDonald?

No two ways about it, he was a Master. He does more with a throwaway line than most of us do with a chapter. The book is replete with well-formed oddball characters, drawn like a Musashi painting of a bird on a reed -- spare, beautiful, perfect.

Sixty-five pages in before a punch is thrown, and then only two are necessary. The punched guy is scared into giving up what he knows off-screen, and Travis feels bad about doing it. Three more people get dead along the way, two of them off-screen, as well, and Trav gets to dance with a couple of bull dykes in what could have been an ugly scene in Las Vegas, but was instead amusing. Funny at the time, and still -- in these PC days -- funny.

Recently, I worried that I didn't have enough action in the book upon which I was working. What I should have worried about was not having enough skill so that wouldn't matter. A good storyteller can keep you turning the pages describing the scenery. (How necessary is plot if you are a great writer? Two words -- Lonesome Dove. Action? Same thing. If you can grab a reader by the ears and make him come long with you? There is a gift.)

Of course, I wasn't two paragraphs into the story before it started coming back, and once again in awe of Travis McGee, the Competent Man. He's not perfect, he slips up now and then, and when it does, it always costs him dearly, but Lord, he does shuffle loose-jointedly through his adventures with a skill and grace I couldn't help but envy.

Derek Flint was the guy I wanted to be at seventeen, but John D. MacDonald was the writer I wanted to be, once I started down that road.

And in a lot of ways, he still is the writer I want to be when I grow up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around

We had plans for the weekend that included a double birthday party for a couple of grandsons, and then a nice jaunt into the Gorge to camp for a night or two on the river. But as plans sometimes do, these got altered: My wife is teetering on the edge of illness -- viral URI symptoms -- and better for her to take it easy, drink a lot of water, and see if she can stay ahead of what is trying to ail her.

It has been our experience that sometimes you can head off a cold or flu at the pass -- or at least ameliorate the process so that it is milder than it might otherwise be. As soon as you are aware of impending illness, you give yourself as much R&R as you can afford. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it seems to help. At the very least, you aren't out offering contagious stuff to family, friends, or co-workers -- or being exposed to what they carry while your own immune system is compromised.

So I'll carry the flag for the grandsons, and we'll lay low and see if we can thwart this bug.

Addendum: Our furnace hiccuped last night. Motor runs fine, no fire, so I'm guessing the igniter has burned out again. Did that a couple winters back. Fortunately, the house holds heat fairly well, the autumn chill isn't quite down to freezing yet, and we have an electric space heater. Plus lots of blankets and a working fireplace.

Furnace guy is in the area, will call us back, and maybe even get by today to fix it.

It's always something ...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Indiana Loves Me

So Indy is down in Hati running with the zombi, and the reviews are starting to come in. Sales seem pretty good, reactions mixed -- some like it, some don't, and as I've pointed out before, a writer can't get attached to such things, since it's too late to do anything about it once the book is published.

One thing I knew was gonna happen is that I'd be catching flak for having Indy think that maybe he's getting too old for this shit. At the time of the novel, set in WWII, (1943), Professor Jones is forty-four years old. This when the average life expectancy for a man at the time was about sixty-five, thus making Indy well past middle age -- about 2/3rds of the way through, actually.

Remember, this was when everybody smoked, drank, and ate as much pork as they could. The U.S. Army issued cigarettes to its soldiers, and I had to explain to my editor why Indy didn't smoke -- because even then, everybody knew smoking cut your wind and Indy knew he'd be doing enough running he'd need all the air he could get.)

So I slowed him down a little, and had him wonder now and then about why he was doing this when he could be in a nice air-conditioned classroom teaching ...

We all know he's not gonna go that route, but it seemed to me that, as beat-up and living on borrowed time as he is, Indy might now and then reflect on what he was doing and why. Goes to, you know, character.

Like when he sees the hot local chick and realizes he's old enough to be her father.

Not a whole lot of that in the movies, save what Ford brought to the role. Indy kicks ass, takes names, loves-'em-and-leaves-'em, and hates snakes.

I have a scene in which Indy remembers the first air mattress he saw in a tent, and how sissified he thought the thing was at the time. And how now, twenty years later lying on the hard ground, why, that doesn't seem like such a bad idea ...

In Crystal Skull, he's doing the same acrobatics, but now and then, you see the weariness, and they had to speak to it. In that movie, set in the late 1950's, Jones would be fifty-eight, and even less likely to be bounding about like a kangaroo. (And what a testament to Harrison Ford, who was sixty-five when they shot the film, that he could do the stunts he did.)

Some fans don't want to see that character crap, they want to see exploding heads, and I can understand that. (Most of these fans are, I expect, relatively young.) And if I'd been playing it safe, I'd have pandered to that more. But I didn't, because I want to see that character crap ...

C'est la vie ...

Republican Low Road

So, Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first reaction of the GOP chairman, Michael Steele is to scoff and call it "unfortunate."

Now there is a show of class, isn't it? Not, "Way to go, man!" but "Not him!"

Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous, all the way.

I do believe that if the President got up one fine morning and walked on water, the R's would criticize him for putting boat salesmen out of work. They aren't trying for the good of the country, the R's, but to see Obama fail at any cost. They spend all their time building roadblocks.

The majority of Republicans in Congress have been spitting at the President since he took office, and every time he reaches out, they try to bite his hand. I'm of the mind that their whining "Bipartisan! Bipartisan!" is as hollow as Rush Limbaugh's attacks on drug fiends, and that Rocky and the D's should load up, roll over them like a tank, and turn them into legislative road-kill.

After eight years of watching Former Occupant and his mob do that, the R's have no right to bitch about it.

It's your turn in the barrel, guys.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Truth in Advertising

Last night, after watching the latest Masterpiece Mystery and Top Chef on the tube, I switched to the local late-night news. Came an ad for toothpaste. A new and improved! version of one that's been around a while, and to listen to the V.O. and watch the animation, this stuff is the best product since glow-in-the-dark condoms. (If you ever saw Skin Deep, with John Ritter, that fight between two men in the dark wearing glow-in-the-dark condoms? Unforgettable.)

Um, but back to toothpaste. So the new, improved! stuff will not only clean and disinfect your mouth, it will wax your car and change the cat's litter box, and fish Timmy out of the well, and Jeez, I need to get some of it, right now!

But just for fun, I got online and checked out Consumer Reports. Guess what? One whitening toothpaste is pretty much the same as another. None of them work particularly well, and the one that seems to do the best job with minimal abrasion is the old (and cheap) one, Ultrabrite.

The more things change, the more they stay the same ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Liars and Posers in Pentjak Silat

To those of you whose ears perked up and who started thinking of everybody they could call or email to rat me out when they read this title, one word:


This post has nothing to do with the title. Well, okay, it maybe has a little to do with it, but only in the most general way.


On another blog I sometimes pass by, I became engaged in a political discussion. I wondered aloud about certain kinds of people and what I considered asinine and mule-headed stances on policy matters, and how on Earth folks could step up to defend positions that were patently indefensible -- racist, sexist, greedy, etc.

Several folks stepped up to be pissed off at me for attacking them. Even though I didn't -- attack them. (And then they started to defend some of the foolishness of which I had spoken, and that was sad. Not a surprise, but sad. See, the real problem with stupid people is that they don't know they are stupid. If they did, they'd merely be ignorant or misguided until, of course, they came to see the wisdom of my position, in which case they would become enlightened ...)

There's a sophomoric practical joke that was all the rage when I was first in junior high fifty years ago. You walked into a gathering of guys and yelled "Hey, asshole!" and then grinned at whoever turned around to look. You only got stung this way once; thereafter your attitude was, "Well, you obviously aren't talking to me, so I'm not gonna look."

Or you got pounded by the football jock who was sure you were yelling at him and who would just as soon stomp you as look at you ...

The old idiom is, "If the shoe fits, wear it." What this means is, if you are guilty of something and somebody calls you on it, then you don't get to kick. It also means that if you aren't guilty, then it doesn't apply to you, and you need not get all het up about it.)

Johnny Cochran helped get OJ off with a variation of this, and I always wondered if that really convinced anybody. If you are a professional actor and you can't make it look like putting on a glove is hard because it is too tight? Even I can do that -- using a glove two sizes too big.)

If I figuratively step into the room and yell, "Hey, asshole!" unless I add your name to that fore or aft, it's not my fault if you turn around and look. If you do, and want to get feisty about it when I wasn't talking to you? That's also not my problem.

(Addendum to the old joke file: Guy walks into a bar. Orders a beer, sucks it down fast, slams the mug down on the bar top. "All right," he yells. "All of you on this side of the room are douche bags! And all of you on that side of the room are assholes!"

Big man walks over, stands in front of the guy. "Buddy," he said, "I don't appreciate you calling me a douche bag."

"Well, then, get over on the other side of the room, asshole ..."


Using infrared imagining, scientists have discovered a new, huge ring around Saturn. So diffused that you wouldn't see it if you were in it, and big enough that it would take a billion Earths to fill it.

Pretty impressive.

Though I must confess, I didn't find this as impressive as the event of March 10, 1977, by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink, who discovered that there were rings around another planet in our solar system.

And a great topic of party conversation:

So, who's that?

Why, that's Jim Elliot, the famous astronomer.

Yeah? Famous for what?

That's the man who discovered that there are rings around Uranus!