Monday, November 30, 2009

For the Record

I think the assassination and murder of four police officers in Washington state was despicable and vile, and I hope the guy who did it get what he deserves -- though I don't see how he can even if he dies. (Editor's Note: And he has. Died. Shot by an officer in Seattle.)

Thugs like this "alleged" shooter, who has a long record of violence, including most recently child-rape, who shouldn't have been on the street, should ride the lightning or the needle.

Like a lot of civilians, I am quick to point out when I see LEOs stepping over the line -- but in no way does excessive zeal during an arrest that results in no permanent damage to the suspect equate to cold-blooded murder. People sometimes forget that the uniform not only brings power, but also comes with a target on it.

Just as it was for the soldiers cut down at Hood, this is a tragedy. I feel for their families.

Young and Foolish

When I was in university, lo, these many eons ago, I was, for a required two years, in the Army ROTC.

LSU, being a land-grant college, required this of all physically-able male students. Choice was Air Force or Army, and how you got in one or the other was random, unless you had plans to join a particular branch. Guy went down the line pointing -- "Air Force, Army, Air Force, Army," and I got Army.

We marched around in squads, platoons, companies, did close-order drill carrying old Garand M1-s -- nine-point-five-pound-gas-operated-semi-automatic-clip-fed-shoulder-weapons, Sergeant! -- and attended classes. Most of the instructors were career NCOs or officers on a rotation back from Vietnam.

We took the M1 apart and put it back together -- "Hey, Sarge, what do I do with these leftover pieces? -- checked for the uniform of the day when we drilled, cleaned our weapons after we marched. This last seemed silly to me, since we didn't shoot the things, they were surplus, the Army having gone to the M14 and the new plastic toy M16 by then. But: Swab the bore, boiled linseed oil on the stock, and be careful you don't break your thumb when you release that bolt, son ...

We went to the indoor range and shot .22 rifles, locking and loading our single rounds of ball ammo -- "Ready onna right! Ready onna left! Ready on the firing line!" and paper-punching at fifty to a hundred feet.

Growing up in Louisiana, I had an advantage over the boys from the big cities out-of-state. After the first session at the range, the RO came over and asked me if I want to be on the rifle team. Me? Oh, no, Gunny, my mother shoots better than I do. (Which, at the time, with a rifle, was true of both my parents. They could split playing cards. Them hillbilly and Oakie and Cajun roots out in the country and swamps demanded that you could put supper on the table, and ammo cost enough that wasting a round was just not done. I could beat them both with a handgun, though.)

And some of theWWII training films, especially about VD and how to read maps, featuring "Joe," who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, were unintentionally hilarious. The colonel teaching the class would shake his head and say, "I have to show you this, it is part of the curriculum, sorry ..."

But I told you that story so I could tell you this story:

Since I had just bought myself a new Colt Targetsman .22, I elected that I might want to try out for the pistol team, so they let me shoot at the ROTC range.

The pistol cost, as I recall, about a hundred bucks. If you can find one in good condition of the same vintage, it might run ten times that much now. Naturally, mine is long gone, swapped for something else. If I had a time machine, I'd go back and tell my younger self to hide the comic collection from Grandma and to pack all the guns in oily rags and lock them up. I'd be rich now.

Um. Anyway, I was living at home and commuting, and a couple times a week, I'd go to the range and run a box or so though the gun.

Getting the pistol to the ROTC building was tricky. The laws at the time didn't allow concealed carry, nor was I old enough to get a license had there been any. You could carry it in the open, but walking around on the campus with a pistol in hand seemed like a good way to get myself in trouble. Shoot first and ask questions later would be more likely if you looked up and saw some skinny kid waving a long-barreled handgun under the campanile, and I didn't want to have that happen.

So I tucked the unloaded pistol into my briefcase for transport from my car to the range. Illegal, but if I got stopped and searched, that would be a mitigating circumstance. (Editor's Note: Somebody pointed out to me that taking a cased firearm to the range from one's car was permitted back in Louisiana, and that a briefcase could be considered such. Ah, well. I knew I was innocent.)

Sometimes I ran late and had to hurry to my next class, and I'd just haul the briefcase along with me rather than going back to the car to lock it in the trunk.

One day, my brain off somewhere far away from my body, I went into the library, carrying the briefcase.

Getting into the library was no problem. However, leaving the library, you had to show the contents of backpacks or briefcases to a checker. I spaced on that completely.

Headed for the door, and came the dawn: Oh, shit!

What am I going to do here?

So I shrugged, and bold as brass, walked up to one of the checkers and said, "Hey. I'm on the ROTC pistol team," which wasn't technically true, as I unsnapped the latches on the case. "I don't want you to get nervous, but I have a gun in here." Whereupon I opened the case.

Checker -- a woman and student -- looked at the gun and nodded. "Okay."

Long as I wasn't trying to swipe a book, she didn't care.

I didn't do that one again. And life got in the way and I never made it to try out for the pistol team. I did my two years in ROTC, and while they wanted me to go four and get sent to Vietnam as an officer, I declined. I got married, dropped out of school, and went off to adventures in California instead.

Truly there must be angels who look out for fools and children.


So, Sam Adams has come out with a hefty brew. Their extreme beer, Utopias, makes that Nazi stuff look like vapor -- it's 54-proof. And a hundred and fifty bucks a bottle.

Drink up, boys ...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Civilized Men

If you think the human species is anywhere near to being civilized, all you need do is read a story like this.

We ain't even close.

Resistance is Futile

Spent most of yesterday at Orycon, the local science fiction convention. Up to the 31st edition, and I've been to them all, save one -- we were living in Washington state that year and got snowed in. But I was at the first SF Symposium, before Orycon, so I'm batting .968 ...

Those of you who have been to a science fiction con, no explanation of what goes on is needed; for those of you who haven't been, no explanation is possible ...

Well, okay, I suppose it is possible. Basically, a bunch of folks connected to science fiction and fantasy get together for however long and attend panels, upon which sit various luminaries in the field. There are readings by authors, autographings, costume competitions, filksinging (fannish folksinging, as it were), parties, and a chance to escape from the mundane world for little while.

I generally wind up on the martial arts-guns-how-to-write panels, sometimes do a reading and autograph session, and make myself available for conversations with fans. I try to bump into other writers I know, meet new ones I don't, and now and then, get some business done with editors or agents, when they are around.

This is my chance to leave the introvert state in which I normally operate, put on my public persona, and dance around in lampshade-mode. It is fun, but tiring.

As cons go, Orycon is a good one. Not too large, well-run by the local science fiction fan group, Porsfis -- Portland Science Fiction Society -- and most hospitable to writers. (Some cons focus on gaming or media; Orycon has those, but much of the audience comes because they are readers. At least the older members do. And I noticed that a lot of the fans who have been showing up as long as I have are, well, much older than they used to be. I wonder -- how is it that the nice couple less gray than I who shows up at most of my panels now has great-grandchildren? Or that that baby I saw just last year is now eight years old and half my height?)

Everybody's so different, but I haven't changed ...

I had a chance to talk to some friends, did my panel stints and autographing, and, so far, haven't come down with what I've always called "conorrhea," a vague URI thing halfway between a cold and the flu that seems rampant at such gatherings ...

The biggest problem this year was the date. The new venue -- the Doubletree by Lloyd Center -- was only available the weekend after Thanksgiving, and I expect that kept some folks from attending who might have otherwise.

Still going on today. If you hurry, you can just make it ...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great Career Move

So I hear the Secret Service is gonna be opening a new Death Valley branch office.

Want to guess who is going to be running it for the rest of his career?

Me, I'd put my money on the guy behind the screening desk at the White House during the recent dinner. (I'd expect his supervisor might just fall on his sword and put himself out of his misery.)

Yeah, no harm, no foul, but man, let's just waltz on in and nobody will notice until we put the pictures up on Facebook?


Iron Jesus

He does get around ...

Me, I'da thought "Mona Lisa," or maybe the Predator ...


My aunt sent me this one, and I liked it:

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said,

'Jesus knows you're here.'

He nearly jumped out of his skin. He clicked his flashlight off, and froze.

When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head and continued.

Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard:

'Jesus is watching you.'

Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice.

Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot.

'Did you say that?'

'Yep', the parrot confessed. 'I'm just trying to warn you that Jesus is watching you.'

The burglar relaxed.
'Warn me, huh? Who are you?'

'Moses,' replied the bird.

'Moses?' The burglar laughed. 'What kind of people would name a bird "Moses?"'

'The kind of people that would name a Rottweiler "Jesus ..."'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bean Bag

Regular readers of this column will already know that I have a real respect and support for LEOs. The Thin Blue Line catches a lot grief, and people not on it sometimes have a great deal of difficulty understanding how hard it is. Having a couple officers in my own family, and having known more than a few outside that, I've heard some horror stories, and being any kind of cop is often a thankless job. I wouldn't want to do it.

That said -- you ought to know me well enough by now that such a set-up isn't going to abolish the hot seat -- we have had a little problem locally about which I feel the need to speak ...

Here's the basic background.( If you want to read a more detailed account, go here.)

Recently a party let out one evening in Portland, and of a moment, the streets were full of kids, some of whom were known troublemakers. Local law was sent to make sure it didn't turn into a riot. So far, so good.

The kids -- some of whom were way too young to be out on their own at eleven o'clock at night -- started going their ways, and several of them took to the local light rail train, aka MAX.

Because some of these little darlings had raised ruckus on the buses and trains before, they had basically been kicked off and banned for their activities.

Portland PD spotted a couple of these supposed-to-be-excluded troublemakers on the train, knew who they were, and told them to exit.

Off the train, one of the girls got feisty. Words were exchanged, the officer on hand and his partner decided they were going to take her into custody, and she swung on them, hitting one in the face.

Apparently he missed the class on block and parry.

Now, let's be straight about this part -- this girl was not a petite powder puff, but a sizeable five-seven and about one-fifty. That makes a difference.

The officer took her down, she flailed and continued to resist, and so the officer's partner leaned in and helpfully popped her in the leg with a bean bag round from the special shotgun designed to shoot such things, which he just happened to be carrying.

Understand that these bean bags aren't the little patty-cake things you and your children toss around, but essentially a shotgun load wrapped in a sack so it thumps the hell out of whatever it hits. Shots to the torso are not to be taken any closer than fifteen feet, minimum, because less-than-lethal doesn't mean non-lethal and people have died from these things. But apparently, there aren't any department guidelines on thigh shots.

That shot calmed her right down. She eventually was trucked off to juvie hall and everybody went back to their business.

Here's the catch:

The girl was twelve years old.

The bean bag round was delivered at contact range. And the shooter was a guy already part of a major excessive force lawsuit in which a schizophrenic man (James Chasse) died after a pile-on, with twenty-six breaks in sixteen ribs, and other assorted thumpings, for the crime of suspicion of public urination. They hollered at him, he took off, they ran him down and he didn't want to go quietly.

Because he was paranoid.

Cops and doctors and nurses know about Excited Delirium, which can sky your body temp into the red zone and turn you into a screaming maniac. People die from this, they blow out arteries, burn up, but Chasse died from injuries received at the scene, medical examiner guessed knee drops, kicks, and what, no two ways about it, has to be considered a really bad beat-down, given that it fucking killed him.

The deputies at the jail turned him away when they brought him in -- Jeez, take him to the fuckin' hospital, dude, you ain't bringing him in here to die!

Which was, by then, too late. He died in the ambulance enroute.

It took the Chief three years to get around to finding there was no fault in the incident. Three years. No fault.

The Police Commissioner overruled the Chief and wanted to give the responsible officer a couple weeks off. Political? Yeah. Justified? When somebody dies as a result of police action, you have to ask why, and if it takes three years to answer the question? Something's wrong with the system. It doesn't smell good.

The Union went ballistic. They wrote articles in the local paper, talking about how everything was by the book and there was no fault involved.

I have to say, that if a full-grown man is turned into mushy kindling for suspicion that he pissed on the bushes and dies from the pounding? Something is wrong with that picture, crazy or not.

Pissing in public -- if he actually did -- is not generally a capital crime in this country.

A big part of the problem with serving and protecting the public is how you are viewed in that service. And part of that is the basic wonder with this latest episode: Yeah, she was a strapping child and all, but if two experienced police officers can't go hand-to-hand with one twelve-year-old girl without resorting to a bean bag shotgun, what does that say about them to the general public?

I'll tell you what it says: Maybe they ought to be in a different line of work. 'Cause they sure don't seem to be doing so well in this one. Maybe ... Parking Meter Patrol? Crossing guard? Flower arranging?

If you can't deal with an angry twelve-year-old girl, how are you gonna deal with a full grown crazed man? Oh, yeah, right. We covered that.

The Chief was going to sit the shooter on a desk and poke at it; the Police Commissioner overruled her again. Send him home. You can pay him, but get him off the job.

The Police Union is bellowing hither and yon about no confidence in the Chief and the Commish, and marching and making speeches. Do they really want to be drawing the line over this one? The girl wasn't armed, and no matter how you slice it, it doesn't make the local force look good if this is the place they choose to make a stand.

Stoned loon with a gun shooting at folks? Sure. Whatever you need. That happened in Hillsboro a couple days ago -- guy went nuts, drove down the road, filling the air with bullets. Killed a passenger in a car, and got killed himself when he stopped and started to shoot it out with the law. His bad, and that's why we want cops working the streets, to protect us from him.

Twelve-year-old bad girls who violate a bus exclusion? Bean bag shotgun at contact distance? Somebody needs to stop and think about this one. It just doesn't sound right.

Yeah, yeah, I wasn't there, I didn't see how fierce the pre-teen girl was, it's easy for me to be a Monday-morning quarterback, but c'mon. In some cases, what it looks like is going to be far more important than what it might actually be, and in this case, these two guys are going to be seen as stepping stupid, and I find it hard not to nod and agree when I hear that.

A Small Quiz

You need view only the first fifteen seconds of this vid ...

So, a short quiz. Here's the deal: Read the list of terms that follow, and immediately after you finish, quickly think of a city in the U.S. that most embodies them. (Those of you out of the country will doubtless have your own versions at home, but for the purposes of this exercise, think U.S. of A.)


Q: Egotistical, vain, greedy, power-hungry, double-dealing, backstabbing, out-of-touch with reality, disloyal, ambitious, underhanded, sprinkled with a few pedophiles, wretched hive of scum and villainy ...

A: ?

I expect, based on my experience and observations, that you will name one of two cities, and rank them one, two, according your own beliefs.

1) Washington, D.C.
2) Hollywood, California.

I don't have that many dealings with D.C., and only a few more in Tinsel Town, but I'd have to agree with those choices ...

When net surfing, I usually make a pass by Nikki Finke's website, Deadline Hollywood.

Nikki exposes the oft times unsightly underbelly of LaLaLand. She's been called the spiritual heir of Hedda Hopper, or even Walter Winchell, and a lot of folks do not like to see the cats she unbags running around loose. When she caught the flu recently, people happily wished her dead on the comments pages.

Me, I like to know there are watchdogs about, and that some of what people want hidden needs to be outed, in the interests of public safety. She has a viewpoint and she doesn't mind expressing it, and agree with her or not, she's no shrinking violet.

Why I bring this up is not what Nikki has to say as much as what people who write in have to say about what she has to say. There are some bright, intelligent, clever folks posting there, and now and again, I am struck by just how sharp some of the Hollywood players are. Witty out the wazoo.

There are also some folks who are less witty, and downright mean-spirited and vile in their offerings, and it reminds me of something a collaborator on a movie script I once worked on said. I had to fly down there to SoCal for one reason or another, and him being local, I called him up before I took off. We had had some interesting experiences on the lot of one of the majors during a script notes meeting that had not all been pleasant. So, I said to him, I'm flying to L.A. this week. Anybody you want me to shoot while I'm down there?

To which he replied, Hey, just fire a round off in any direction. You are bound to hit somebody worth killing ...

Avatar Interactive Trailer

Check this out -- you can go to the Avatar site and download Adobe software and an "interactive" trailer, which shows the preview and hotspots where you can, using the AIR software, sky off on profiles of the main characters. Click on the Download Interactive Trailer button.

This is pretty cool stuff. And I have to say, from what I've seen, this movie is going to set a visual standard for CGI nobody else will be able to touch. Whatever you think about Jim Cameron, the man is one helluva moviemaker.

Holiday Looms Ominously

During the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, in 1997, the Cat-in-the-Hat balloon hit a lamp post and fell on folks, putting one woman, Kathleen Caronna, into a coma for more than a month. A few years ago, an airplane crashed into her apartment building, killing the student pilot, (a Yankees pitcher, Cory Lidle) and his instructor. The engine of the plane landed in the woman's bedroom. Fortunately, she wasn't home, but you have to wonder -- maybe some deity has it in for her ...

So, Thanksgiving is in a couple of days. For those of you not up on this aspect of U.S. history, this is a holiday that celebrates surviving in the new world, and achieving, with the help of the local indiginous people, a harvest and enough food so as not to starve. Not so celebratory for the indiginous folk, who eventually came, I am sure, to regret being so nice. It cost them.

Randy Newman had it:

Hide your wives and daughters, hide the groceries too/
The great nations of europe comin' through ...

But, it is what it is, and it comes with a full plate around here this year -- we have fifteen people lined up for turkey dinner at our house, kids, parents, grandparents, in-laws, as much family we have as is local, plus a couple of imports. First time, I believe, that all the grandparents have been to dinner at the same time.

My wife is taking the day off work tomorrow to cook. And I will be doing yard work, house-cleaning, and the like, today and tomorrow.

We've already moved all the furniture around, figured out what to do with the dogs and cat to keep them from being squashed under foot, and started moving things we don't want to see broken or hidden high enough to keep them from small and bored fingers. Our TV remote disappeared one Thanksgiving and stayed gone until Christmas. We are pretty certain the grandson who hid it in November simply fetched it from where he put it in December ...

What I'm thankful for is that this only happens once a year ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maggie's Farm

Writing for publication requires both author and audience. Each brings something to the table, and readers have their own sensibilities -- read "axes to grind -- whenever they pick up a book. This is especially true when you work in a shared universe, whether you are doing direct media tie-ins, such as the novelization of a movie, or original stories using franchised characters.

The joy of working on such farms are several: You get to put favorite characters through their paces. Do you know what Darth Vader thinks about while sitting in his hyperbaric chamber, or what Princess Leia looks like wet, just after she stepped out of the shower, or how Conan got his muscles, or where Batman learned martial arts?

How does Ripley feel about androids? How hard is it to plink a Predator? What do Predators think about when they are chasing a couple of future governors -- Ahnahl and Jessie -- around the Amazon rainforest? What countries would Indiana Jones consider moving to because they didn't have any snakes?

What kind of woman turned Sherlock Holmes away from misogyny and got his motor revving?

I know all that stuff. And if you know, it's because I told you.

Plus, the money is not bad, and there is the name-change. Before I wrote Shadows of the Empire, I was "Steve Perry." After that one came out, I was "New York Times Bestselling Author Steve Perry." A dozen times over since, not that it has made me rich ...

I got to read the script for Men in Black months before you saw the movie. I got to have breakfast with Leonard Nimoy, work with the ghost of Isaac Asimov, and some of the animation I wrote is still being shown somewhere in the world every week decades later.

On the other hand, you need look no farther than shared universes to see what axes readers bring with them. Much of my work in such arenas is of the two-and-a-half stars ranking, and usually because they fall into the one-star -- it sucked! or five-star it-was-awesome! categories.

If you find yourself in position to write in somebody's well-known universe -- and let's be upfront about that, chances are that isn't going to happen for most of you -- you need to know going in: No matter what you write. No matter how good it is, nor how happy you and your editors and publishers are with it, you are not going to please all the readers. Not going to happen.

"Princess Leia would never do that!" an outraged reader said to me in a letter. "Why do you say that the Aliens are only as smart as German Shepherd Dogs? You are wrong!" "You had Indy acting like he did in Crystal Skull. I hated Crystal Skull!"

This is part and parcel of the business. Fans build up characters in their minds, and endow them with a reality much more true to them than much of the world in which they live. They know them in ways they don't know their own families. And they get pissed off if you take their characters down a road they don't like. They will argue with you about it, and, in some cases, get further chapped if you don't think that what they think really matters.

Hardcore fanboys know what color the lint in their favorite character's pocket was last Tuesday, and they will argue about it until the cows come home. With writers, and with each other. If you go to a fan website and agree to answer questions about your book, have a look at the stats where it shows how many posts some of the fans have done there.

If you find yourself arguing about stuff in that universe with somebody who has posted fifteen thousand times in the last three years? Save yourself the effort. You can't win. They don't really want to hear what you have to say. They have already built their citadels and armored the walls. You ain't getting through to them.

I'm thrilled to have been involved in adding bits to the fictional lives of revered characters, and happy that most readers seemed to have enjoyed what I did. In the end, it has been worth it, but like most roads, there are the occasional potholes. If you have a chance to travel that road, don't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Workin' in a Coal Mine

Back in full-court-press work mode the last few days. The project of which I spoke a few weeks back is going back and forth. My first draft went in, was read, annotated, and I'm fiddling with it.

Mostly, writing isn't that hard a job. It's not like real work. If you are doing spec stuff, you can pace yourself. Do ten pages on Monday, five on Tuesday, take off Wednesday to run errands and babysit, eight pages on Thursday.

If you agree upon a deadline that gives you six, nine months, a year, then you have plenty of time to get the work done. And even then, there is usually a bit of wiggle room.

Tight deadlines without wiggle room require something else. If it absolutely-positively has to be there on Saturday and you don't get it there? They don't come back to see you next time. The old joke is, "Do you want it good, or do you want it Tuesday?" For which the comeback is, "I want it good -- and I want it Tuesday ..."

I've turned work like this down several times because I knew I would have to put more effort into it than it was worth. The time-heuristic is, when taking on a project, to figure out how long you will need, then double that and add thirty percent for the shit -- because work always expands to fill time allotted.

If somebody comes to me and says, "We need a finished book on our desk in three months," I might can do that, assuming there's nothing else on my plate. But if the three months includes me having to write an outline, submit it, then wait for them to read it and approve it before I can start -- then do rewrites based on their notes? I can't.

Why? Because anywhere from two to four weeks comes off the top for that pre-writing-the-book process, and they don't count that. And any notes they offer on the draft for rewrites comes out of that ticking clock, too.

So maybe two months becomes my de facto deadline. I know people who can crank out a hundred thousand words in six weeks. Once upon a time, I could, but unless the money is going to be phenomenal, I'm not going to burn up my hands this way any more. Life is too short.

On a fast turnaround, you have to focus, get productive, and deliver the project, and that sometimes requires long hours of AIC (ass-in-chair). Anybody who does any kind of project work knows how this goes, it's not just writing.

Sitting down at eight-thirty a.m. and not getting up until six p.m. save to pee, or stretch, a sandwich at your desk, that's not uncommon. That is where the discipline part people who aren't writers wonder about comes in. Nobody stands behind your chair making sure the work gets done, either you crank or you don't.

Not enough that they believe you can do it. You have to know you can.

When I'm done with all this, I'll come back and detail the thing -- what it is, and how I addressed it. Meanwhile, it's back into the mine. (Can I get a chorus of "Sixteen Tons" here?)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Forty-three years she's been putting up with me. The woman is a saint ...

Again, Black Steel

Alan's new catalog is up. Click on the link, then the pictures, to see what he's offering.

Christmas is coming ...

Poor Phishing

These show up now and then, though my server's spam filter usually catches 'em. The first line offers a clue. The image looks pretty good at first glance. Until you read it:

"Because of unusual number (sic) of invalid login attempts on your account, we had (sic) believe that their (sic) might be some security problems on your account."

No shit?

When you make three spelling and grammatical errors in the first line of your phish email, it doesn't make you look really clever. As inept as the U.S. banking system has been of late, I can't believe they have fallen quite this low ...

Don't ever give anybody your banking passwords online. Your bank knows better than to ask, and anybody who does is trying to scam you.

Here's what the real B of A has to say about it:

Some things to keep in mind regarding fraudulent emails:

  • Unlike phishing emails, we will never ask you to verify personal information in response to an email
  • Most fake communications convey a sense of urgency by threatening discontinued service
  • Many fraudulent emails contain misspellings, incorrect grammar, and poor punctuation
  • Links within the fake email may appear valid, but deliver you to a fraudulent site
  • Phishing emails often use generic salutations like “Dear Customer,” or “Dear account holder” instead of your name
  • The address from which the email was sent is often not one from the company it claims to be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Quiet Night in the Recliner ...

Peaceable Kingdom: L. to R. -- Layla, Dianne, Ballou ...

Back from the optometrist, eyes dilated, and things closer or farther away than the fixed focus are fuzzy, he said alliteratively. Been a couple years since I got new specs and I'm due. Between eyes, teeth, and oh, yeah, ears, I'm rapidly becoming the six million dollar Steve. I'm thinking about having a laser built into my right middle finger to emphasize my point to bad drivers ...

Later, alligator.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The IMDB -- International Movie Database -- has, I have just found, a list of my animation credits.

Sort of ...

Most of them are there. Most of them are collaborations -- with Reaves, Ted Pederson, even one with Steve Barnes.

A few aren't listed -- no Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. There are some I got credit for and didn't do -- and they also mixed me up with the guy who used to write for Thundercats, also named "Steve Perry." For the record, I didn't write any Thundercats.

Format Error

Back in the good old typewriter days, you basically had a choice of two kinds of machine when it came to the look on a page: Pica, and Elite. The difference was in characters per inch: Pica gave you ten, Elite, twelve. There were other typefaces besides "typewriter," which is pretty close to courier font, but nobody used them to write fiction -- that was a fast way to get your manuscript bounced.

I was always a Pica man.

Estimating word counts on a manuscript back then was also simple. You'd take three or four pages out of a ms, do a total word count, then divide that by the number of pages. You didn't make exceptions for dialog or dense exposition, you just applied the number straight across.

A page of dialog has fewer words; however, they don't stuff three pages of dialog onto one to make the word count work -- the white space is part of the dialog. In the days when printers charged by the page, it didn't matter how many words were on sheet, the paper cost the same.

For most of my writing career, my manuscripts, with one-inch margins all the way around, I got 250 words per page. Made it easy to figure, and over the length of a novel, was pretty accurate. Four hundred pp? 100,000 words.

Then the computer thingees came along, and as they got more complicated, why, they figured it out for you. Five letters and a space = one "word." (Words like "if," "and," or "but," didn't count until you strung them together.

I'm not sure this is progress, but that's how it is.

On a typewriter, once you set your margins so you average ten words a line and twenty-five lines to a page, you never had to worry about it changing. Long as nobody else fiddled with your machine, you were golden. (And never once did my typewriter burp and tell me it couldn't find that page, that no such file existed.)

Computer programs, however, sometimes do funny things when you aren't looking ...

The book-in-progress has been swimming right along, flowing quickly. The pages have been adding up, I can see a running count, right up there in the corner. But since I use a 150% view on my word processor, so as to better, you know, see things, I don't get a whole page of text and the rulers on the screen at once, and I didn't realize that I -- or the gremlins that live in my system -- had somehow jiggered the margins on my novel template. So instead of getting 250/words/page, I was getting closer to 200/w/p.

That it was flowing so fast should have been a clue, but, alas, wasn't. So as I looked down and noticed that my first draft was almost done, and over 350 pp, I was pleased, since I was looking to bring the novel around 85,000 words, and that would give me a little room to trim and tighten things

So I ran a word count, to see how close I was ...

10,000 words short, that's how close.

Oh. That's no good at all.

So I opened the file at 100% view, saw right away that the body of the page was short, top and bottom, and, oh, my ...

Not a problem, in that I can go back and add new material in; it's just more work to do it that way than it is to cut it.

Lots easier to make a rope shorter than it is longer.

Do not trust your computer. It's waiting for a chance to get you.

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road ...

Went over to and stuck up a trio of short stories -- three for a dollar -- that I first posted here. Included are "Neighbors," "Adjust for Obstacles," and "Kill Switch." Regular readers here will have already seen these -- a deal with a devil, an off-the-wall science fiction piece, and one about what happens when love isn't enough. If they sell eight million Kindle™ copies, I'll make enough to buy lunch, but hey, it's the e-train, and I do want to get onboard.

I let people here read 'em for free, but if you want to re-read them, or see them on your Kindle™, you'll have to download 'em at

Worth a buck? Yeah.

I'm waiting to hear back from Barnes & Noble, who will be doing e-bookery for their new toy, the Nook™, to see if they are gonna allow other than established publishers to offer material as does. Their email is currently swamped.

And the beat goes on ...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Had to Pass This One Along

From Mushtaq: (Not suitable for work -- least not most places ...)

And My Number is BEechwood 4-5-7-8-9

I used to get a lot of telemarketing phone calls. Since I'm home all day, and since there was always -- before the days of caller ID -- a chance it might be family or business I didn't want to miss, I'd answer the phone whenever it rang, and as a result, a lot of people tried to sell me a lot of stuff I didn't want. I came up with some funny routines for getting rid of them, and when I was feeling feisty, I'd unship one and fire it.

I got an answering machine, but I still mostly picked up anyhow.

When the do-not-call lists came about, I signed up for them, landline and cell. Additionally, I got a little Phone Zap device for the landline. If somebody calls and they aren't in the zapper's phone book, they get a recorded message. A mean voice allows as how we don't take sales calls, and if that's who you are, hang up, now. If not, you can punch in #2, and it will ring through. Most of the people I know are in the zapper's book, so if it rings and I'm home, I answer it.

Now and then one slips through, and I feel perfectly justified in asking them why they did so after the zapper told them not to before I hang up on them.

Saturday morning, eight-fifteen a.m. my cell phone goes off. Being asleep, it took me four or five rings to find the thing.


Robotic Voice: Hello! This is a very important call for ... (different voice) Lola Sarducci. If you are ... Lola Sarducci ... please press 1. If ... Lola Sarducci ... cannot come to the phone right now, please press 2. If ... Lola Sarducci ... is not available, please have her call 1-800 --

At which point I hung up.

Yesterday, cell phone rang again. In the other room, time I got it, I missed the call. So I hit redial and immediately got a strange honking noise instead of a dial tone.

Then: Beep! I had a voice message!

I clicked on it. A human -- with an accent that bespoke someplace in, say, Calcutta, said, "This is a most important call for Lola Sarducci. Please call back as soon as possible." Followed by another 1-800 number.

I didn't call. Maybe they will just go away.

I mean, I feel sorry for people who get the wrong number, but it's not my problem. I once got a message from a woman who thought she was breaking up with her boyfriend. I didn't call her back, either.

When I used to get calls for the bike shop, I'd say, "Yes, we are having a sale! Today only! Come on by, half off everything in the store!"

Today, again, the cell cried out. I answered, just missed the call, got the same message from an Indian speaking English. Thanks to the British Raj, we can now talk to somebody eight thousand miles away when our microwave oven craps out, or when somebody wants to sell us something we don't want.

Resigned, since it was obvious they weren't just going to go away, I called the 800 number.

Since my number was obviously in their data base, the response, from Mr. Apu, who must have left his job in Springfield running the Stop'n-Rob, was, "Ah, Miz Sarducci!"

"No," I said. "You have the wrong number."

"Wrong number? Hold a moment, please."

Keyboard clicks. Then, "But this is the number for Lola Sarducci."

"No," I said, "it isn't. It's my number. No Lola Sarducci lives here."

"Do you know Miz Sarducci?"

"I do not."

"How long have you have this number?"

"Oh, I dunno. Twenty years."

"Twenty years?"


"But this is the number Miz Sarducci gave us."

"That may be, but it's not her number to give, it is mine. She doesn't live here, I don't know her, and either she lied, or you got it wrong."

Where, I wondered, are my Hindi curse words when I need them? Sala kutta! Bhai chod!


"Yes. Please take my number off your lists." I was tempted to say that I was a close personal friend of President Obama, and if I got another call, I was going to have him unleash the Air Force upon the caller, but I refrained.

I'll save that for next time if they call back ...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Unexpected Mirth

Recently, my wife and I went to one of those for-a-good-cause auction-dinners. If you've never been to one of these events, stay tuned, I'll explain it. If you have been to one? No explanation is necessary, because they are all the same ...

The purpose is to raise money for a Good Cause. How it generally works is that merchants and artists and corporate sponsors donate items, ranging from free trips, to art, to wine and what-not. It's a charitable deduction, the charity gets the money.

Usually, these event start with a reception at which one may wander about looking at, buying outright, or bidding on the donated items. Sometimes raffle tickets are sold.

Dinner begins, a catered affair which involves an entreé vulcanized to point where it would better serve as a steel-belted radial tire for your automobile than as food for human consumption. In the middle of sawing away at this rubberized whatever, speakers step up, dignitaries are introduced, awards given, children sing, all competing with diners talking non-stop. If whoever cooked this mysterious stuff in the middle of the plate was a contestant on Top Chef, they would be packing their knives and going home after the elimination challenge.

The speakers are almost always enthusiastic, dedicated to the cause, and generally -- let's be kind here -- less than adept at public speaking. The speeches, introductions, awards, and singing all go on for too long, and by the end of the evening anybody who says, "Thanks, I'm not going to give a speech." gets a resounding ovation.

But they always do anyhow -- give a speech.

Rule of Thumb: Consider how long you should speak to to a group of people who have all developed sudden and militant cases of Montezuma's Revenge. Got a time in mind? Good. Now, cut that in half. Unless you are juggling flaming elephants -- and even then, ten minutes is too long.

Somebody needs to gently explain to the folks who run these things that if you are going to introduce fifty people by name, you should read off the names, have them all stand up at the same time and take a bow, sit, and hold your applause until that happens.

What you don't do to keep the momentum rolling is have each of the fifty stand up, wait for the applause after each, and then go on to the next one. People are trying to eat what seems to be a slightly-warm hockey puck, and that's already difficult enough to do with both hands and a wouldn't-cut-butter-dull knife. Trying to applaud and manipulate dining tools at the same? Bad idea.

We were at a table of professional people, white collar folk, educated, urbane, and, because it was for a Good Cause, smiling through the pain and hoping for a glimmer of something to break the monotony. We'd bought stuff, contributed cash, and here comes the auction, by which time we would all happily give up our wallets just to be allowed to leave.

So the expensive wine comes up for bid.

Two of the men at our table are in a discussion about why they aren't coughing up more money. One of them allows as how the reason for him is simple: He has two kids in college.

Two kids in college! I hear that, the other guy says, raising his hand to God. Me, too!

Raising his hand to God just in time to offer several hundred dollars for the winning bid on the wine ...

Only ... he doesn't know it. The conversation continues until the auctioneer's rep comes over and asks the unaware fellow for his bid number ...

Say what?


Laugh? Oh, I confess I had tears running down my face I was laughing so hard. Me, and everybody else at the table. Well, save for one guy who didn't really think it was very funny at all ...

Did you, uh ... win? one of our table asked, deadpan.

That set us off again.

It got straightened out, the previous bidder was happy to step up, and our guy was willing to make up the difference, but it was like a scene from a screwball comedy.

A word of advice: If people are bidding on expensive items in such circumstances, that is not the time to wave to your friend across the way, nor comb your hair, or shoo the fly off from your stale bread.

Sit very still.

Better, go to the bathroom and stay there until they are done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nothing Up My Sleeve

Tueller Drill

Knife guys like to point at the Tueller Drill, which basically says that a holstered gun against a drawn knife, inside twenty feet or so, the knife wins.

Not against this guy:

Bob Munden is a trick shooter, kind of guy who can split playing cards, spin a half-dollar, drive nails, and all like that with a handgun. Before the Guiness Book of World Records dropped the category, Munden was rated the fastest gunslinger in the world. See why?

Or this guy ...

Warped Sense of Humor

Now and then, something really weird strikes me as funny. If you have queasy thoughts about amputations and tattoos thereof, don't go look at these pictures. If you sometimes laugh when nobody else is laughing in a place that isn't usually funny? A fan of gallows humor? Have a look here.

Back into the Garage

Silat class has taken note of the torrential rains -- once the leaves fall out of the big English Elm tree in Guru's yard, our organic roof is gone -- and moved back into Cotten's garage for the winter. This is a big garage, could squeeze three cars into it if you were careful, and plenty enough space for ten or twelve people to work out in. Keeps us dry, and a bit warmer than outside.

And we continue, as our art is based on the blade, to practice basic knife stuff. Given the cuts and bruises one gets with dull metal, plastic, or wooden knives, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize just how nasty sharp steel is compared to those.

We don't have a favorite grip -- we alternate, depending on distance, position, and intent, among three basic ways to hold the things-- saber, ice pick, and hammer. (For those of you who are new to grasping a knife, the names offer the method.

"Saber" is like you see them holding swords in duels, cavalry charges, and Musketeer movies. It's also how you slice carrots.

"Ice pick" is, well, how you use one of those to chip ice. The Finnish puukko pictured above is being held in this grip.

"Hammer" is how you hold one of those to nail a picture to your wall.

Each has advantages and disadvantages, and in a hurry, you might not get to choose which one you want, so we figure they are like stances -- the one you are in when the activity commences is the one you need to know how to use. Switching to another one on the fly might take too long.

And once again, I am reminded of how much, as I've mentioned here more than a few times, one does not want to tangle with somebody who knows ways to wave sharp things about.

(And this usually brings up the question: If you know this, why don't you just, you know, run away when you see a knife in somebody's hand? And the answer is, you do, if you can. It's when you can't that you need alternatives.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heigh Ho, Everybody! (Autumn Memories)

When I was in my mid-teens, I ran with a guy who came from a showbiz family. His mother, a couple years older than mine, had been a song and dance woman on the vaudeville circuit before WWII. Talkies had come along and in the mid-1930's, the old vaudeville theaters were being converted left and right to show motion pictures; the live stage acts were going the way of the dodo, and while the die-hards hung on, vaudeville was on the skids.

My buddy's mother had never been a headliner. She was a plain, not particularly pretty, Jewish girl who escaped home and managed a few years of kicking her heels up -- a fairly good dancer and singer -- before she got married. Left the biz after the war, had three sons, and after a divorce wound up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

At the time, I never thought to wonder why. Later, I did. Louisiana? Why would anybody Jewish move to Louisiana?

My buddy and his brothers inherited some entertainment skills. They grew up to various real jobs, but did stints as musicians, actors, and con men -- sometimes all three at once.

Each fall, around Thanksgiving, the family would put on a vaudevillian-style review. Songs, dances, bad jokes, skits, all of which were right out of classic routines old when Methuselah was in knee pants. These were, as I recall, put on at the CYO, or some school auditorium, and apparently drew a crowd. The family members were the stars, but they recruited others, usually classmates from their school, to fill in the chorus and such.

One year, my buddy -- call him "Green," though his name was "Greenstein" -- asked me if I wanted to be part of the show, even though I wasn't a student at his school. Since I was already fairly comfortable on a stage, I took him up on it.

We rehearsed the songs and skits and jokes, some of which were so corny they'd put Iowa and Indiana to shame. One segue song line: "Take a walk before breakfast on an empty stomach ...

" ... just be careful whose stomach it's on ..."

The material was, I thought, pretty tame, pretty lame, and I halfway expected dead silence when we got up to do it. I sensed a bomb in the making.

I was wrong. The audience -- about a hundred and fifty people, as I recall -- ate it up. Laughed at ancient one-liners so old they needed wheelchairs to get on stage: "Who was that lady I saw you with last night?" "That was no lady, that was my wife!" clapped after the songs and dances, and gave up a standing ovation when we were done.

What were they seeing and hearing? Nostalgia? Or the passing-parade phenomenon? Old jokes if you've heard them, but new if you haven't?

I dunno. But it was a fun experience, and a pleasant memory, my short stint as a vaudevillian ...

Here's the flavor of it:

The Fleischmann Yeast Hour

(starring Rudy Vallée)

Sesame Street is Brought to You by the Letter "V"

I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention this in passing. The remake of V, a series that cried out for such treatment ...

At first mention, I couldn't help but yawn. The original stunk on ice, so, oh, boy, let's have another helping! But there I had to consider Battlestar Galactica, didn't I? That original was a honker, too, but the remake threw out almost everything but a general idea and some names, and it turned out pretty good. So I lit the tube and watched some of the new V.

It ain't no Battlestar Galactica revision, folks. (Which, back in the day, we called "Gabblestar Bad-actor-ca.")

Save your neurons.

I dunno how they are gonna wrap it up -- I shut it off after fifteen bilious minutes -- but as I recall the original all those years ago, it had perhaps the worst reason de etra for any alien invasion story ever: The aliens came here to steal our water.

Oh, man, they are gonna steal our water!

Who could blame them? There's not a lot of water in the galaxy, is there? Kind of like a huge Sahara Desert, right? Right?

Sweet Mother Mary chasing Satan on a pogo stick, that is so incredibly stupid as to rank up there with the, Uh-oh-there's-gonna-be-an-eclipse-of-the-galaxy! story.

For those of you who disremember or flunked out of high school chemistry, a short refresher.
The original V(isitors) aliens were, albeit disguised, air breathers. They came across the galaxy in a space ship, which presumes a, you know, basic level of technology somewhat farther along than ours.

So the idea that they somehow missed the fact that Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe seems, I dunno, uh ... stupid? Or that if you take two parts of that most-common element and add one part of one of the main components of air and goose it little, what you get is -- wait for it, wait for it --

Water. And with a lot less energy necessary than fielding star ships.


This is what happens when people who don't know any science, and not much about fiction, get turned loose to make science fiction shows. Yeah, yeah, it was an allegory about Nazis and Jews and all, but c'mon!

Skip it. Burn it. Load the ashes onto a rocket and shoot them into the sun, thank you.

Careful of That Plastic Water Bottle, Men!

Have a look at what those plastic water bottles made in China might do for your love life ...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cook 'em, Dan'l

The DC Sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed by lethal injection a few minutes ago.

From a man who loves dogs and has ethical considerations about whether to eat beef or pork or not, I think as much justice was served as allowed in this case.

As soon as the Military Tribunal finds Dr. Nidal Hasan guilty of premeditated murder for his rampage at Fort Hood -- and it would certainly seem to be cut and dried that he did it -- then probably he'll be stood up in front of a firing squad and shot, too.

I hate to sound less the bleeding heart liberal than some of you think I surely am, but that one won't cause me to lose any sleep, either.

Some argument about the death penalty in some cases, especially if there is any doubt. But not for these two. I expect they could have made a small fortune selling raffle tickets to be allowed to push the plunger in the former, and a bigger one to pull a trigger in the latter. By rights, the families of the murder victims should be allowed first crack.

Yeah, I know, that's not rehabilitation, it's revenge. But it works for me.

Draw the Line

Back in my youth, I spent a while -- only a short while, thank somebody -- selling encyclopedia. I wasn't a salesman, but I didn't really need to be: We had a finely-crafted, psychologically-constructed pitch we were taught. If we could get past the door and deliver it, chances of a sale were between one-in-three and half the folks we saw.

The guys who were good at it? Seven, eight of ten, week in, week out. These guys drove new Cadillacs every year.

These were not cheap encyclopedia, my friends, they were Americana, and in today's dollars? Probably a couple grand, U.S. (Except today, you can get online and do better, faster, and waaay cheaper.)

How the pitch worked was simple: If a salesman could get the sucker -- er, customer -- to answer "yes" to the first question he asked, then they were pretty much nailed into answering "yes" to every question that followed. It was a classic example of "Slippery Slope Sales," and once a customer lost his or her footing, they would slide on their ass all the way to a commission in the salesman's pocket.

The first question? "If I gave you these books, for free, would you use them?"

Anything but "No," the sales guys were playing with a stacked deck and somewhere between a third and half of the people upon whom they ran the grift -- ah, made their sales pitch -- would be writing them a check before they left.

Couldn't do it today. Many, of not most states, have a no-questions-asked-you-can-void-the-contract period of three days or longer for such transactions, and rightfully so.

It was a con. Once I got past the ends-justifies-the-means -- hey, it's a great product! they are getting their money's worth! -- I quit, and it didn't take long. Because the next bit started out, "Okay, we are looking for folks to showcase our product in your neighborhood, and so we are going to give them to you for free ..."

After the hook, the catch, which was that the encyclopedia were free, but you had to agree to keep them current by buying a year book for ten years -- at a mere forty bucks a year, and since that was a pittance, why wouldn't you do that ... ?

Of course, you don't want to drag it out for ten years, so you can, you know, just pay it off up front ...

And if the sales guy couldn't get that to happen, he wrote it up, and later somebody from the company would call and allow as how the salesman had made an error and the deal was off.

Now back then I was just out of high school and into college and not wise in the ways of the law, but any way you slice it, that is fraud.

Draw the curtain over the young man so broke he needed to sell encyclopedia to make ends meet, but not so broke he would keep doing it at the cost of his soul. (And if you ever get a chance to see Tin Men, with Richard Dreyfus, Danny Devito, and Barbara Hershey, about aluminum siding salesmen, do so. It was pretty much just like that.)

You can also do it the other way, using a negative response. Say "no," and the slope turns to icy mud beneath your feet.

Which brings us to becoming a vegetarian.

How on Earth, you ask, is he going to make that segue?

Attend -- but forewarned -- you might not like where you wind up:

Most people in a relatively-civilized society don't practice cannibalism. Ask yourself, would you eat long pig? If you would, that pretty much makes you a monster anywhere outside a plane crash in the Andes, so probably most of you don't eat it now, and wouldn't, given a choice of it or shrimp at your neighbor's barbecue. (If you do eat people, I don't want to hear about it. Nor about your neighbor. Go away.)

Now, what other creatures would you have trouble broiling and keeping down? Chimp? Dog? Cat? At least in this country, such diets would be, um, frowned upon, and if you did it, you'd probably not be bringing it up in polite company. (If you do it, go away -- maybe the cannibals will have you, or you can get your own show on The Travel Channel: Eating Weird Shit.)

At some point, when I had German Shepherd Dogs, I looked at them and realized that they were not people in dog suits, but certainly sentient enough that I saw them as individual beings.
They had feelings. They were loyal. They were nicer to be around than a whole lot of people I knew, and I considered them my furry children. They were smart. Watch a herding competition or agility or rally. There's one border collie so bright that when asked to fetch a toy that had never been named before, figured out it by the process of elimination -- he knew the names of all the other toys, and what they wanted wasn't them, so that's what he fetched. I know people who wouldn't figure that out.

They dreamed. I could watch them running in their sleep, barking softly as they went.

I could not conceive of killing and eating one of my dogs even if I were starving. I drew the line there. If you love your dogs and accept them as I did mine, then you understand this. If you don't, I feel sorry for you.

If my dogs were sentient and intelligent critters I wouldn't eat, then I found myself in a place where I couldn't really kill and eat somebody else's dog, either. Not for them, but for the sake of the dog.

Okay, so that's fine, dog-people are still with me, probably cat-people are: We don't eat Tabby and Fido, so what? Where are we going with this?

Ah. But then we come to pigs. Pigs are as smart as some of the primates, some research contends, and as bright as a three-year-old human child, other studies offer. Easily as swift as dogs, and maybe smarter.

Pigs, like dogs, dream.

Well. If I can't eat a dog because I am of the mind that killing something relatively sentient and eating it is, well, not something I feel good about, then how can I continue to chow down on ham and bacon? They don't spring full-born from the aisles of Safeway in a shrink-wrapped plastic tray, but from animals that were shot in the head and then cut up. They aren't as cuddly as Jude and Layla and Ballou, though the pot-bellied ones are cute, but probably as smart and, uh ...

Slope. Slippery. Sliding.

Hmm. What about ... cattle? Do cows dream? Do they feel pain? Care for their young? Not up there in the IQ bracket with pigs, but warm-blooded, bearing their calves alive, suckling them, and probably not thrilled to be herded into the slaughterhouse ...

Yeah, pork chops and sirloin steak and all, and I love them, but all of a sudden, if you start thinking about shit like this, the slope, slope, holy crap, I'm sliding ...

Turkey? Chickens? Fish? The most holy of delicacies ... shrimp?

Well, okay, there the line is a little fuzzier. Having been around turkeys and chickens, we aren't talking about African Grey Parrots here, poultry are not the Einsteins of the avian world. Brain power is dim at best. I don't know if it is true that a turkey can drown looking up at the rain, but certainly the domestic versions of those and chickens are ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray.

Fish? Don't seem too swift. Shrimp. C'mon, they are good-tasting bugs, but I can see that once you start down that path, each step can lead to the next, and pretty soon you are to the don't-eat-nothing-with-a-face-on-it stage.

Which is to say, i.e., a vegetarian.

And, it gets worse. If you believe the way animals are treated to produce eggs, cheese, butter, milk, all like that is passing terrible and you don't want to support it -- and outside free-range critters, the industry is pretty damned awful, and we all know this but don't like to think about it, then you slide right on along to:


And it's the Thanksgiving Tofurkey ...

It's a disturbing path, I warrant you, and most of us stop after people, dogs, cats, and Tarzan's sidekick, Cheetah.

Where you draw the line is, of course, your own business. But it is -- pardon me, but I have to say it -- food for thought. And while Socrates allowed that the unexamined life is not worth living, in some cases the examined life is probably not going to taste as good.

You want fries with that?


Chimpanzees, watching as one of their own, who died of heart failure, is hauled away.


Ah, another pleasant morning at the dentist, third of four visits on the schedule. Today's adventure was Indiana Jones and the Gums of Doom, wherein Our Hero's deep periodontal excavations, on the order of an archaeological dig to undercover the base of the Spinyx, involved shovels, picks, scrapers, front-loaders, and dredging to such depth that I was feeling pains in my toes ...

What I get for, ah, accidentally skipping my six-month cleanings three or four times in a row.

After the gums heal -- six weeks or so, they say -- I get to go back and see what's what. Twixt now and then, there's the new crown to be fitted ...

When it came to genetics, I got my mother's dentition. My father never had a cavity until he was past forty. Mama had full dentures by the time she was twenty-one.

My first memory of a dental exam was when I was about six, at which point I was found to have more cavities than years. In those days, we brushed our teeth once a day for about thirty seconds total, never saw a container of floss, and came from a culture wherein the mothers put Coca Cola in babies' bottles to calm them down when they were fussy.

I spent a lot of time in the dentist's chair getting drilled and filled. Later, root canals and crowns came along.

I started going by myself when I was about twelve. Dropped off, or walked. And such a horror of needles had I that for five or six years and probably ten fillings, I wouldn't allow the dentist -- kindly old Dr. LeBlanc -- to use Novacaine. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I realized the injection up front was a whole lot less painful than withstanding the drill for half an hour.

A whole lot less painful.

Ah, well. Though I have enough metal in my mouth to set off the detectors at the airport, I still have all my own pearly whites. Well. Not so much white as old ivory-colored, and some of them gold ...

Brush 'em, kids, and floss, and get them scraped at least every year or so. Most tooth loss is not from caries but from gum disease. You need to stay ahead of it, or you'll look like that guy in the trailer park being interviewed after the tornado ...