Monday, February 28, 2011

Bad Night for TV

I watched the Academy Awards last night–at least until the basketball game came on, then I switched back and forth during the time-outs and commercials enough to catch the drift.

The home team lost the game. 

The awards show was as exciting as unsweetened vanilla pudding. A dish of prunes. Washing the dirty dishes ...

The Blazers finally had some healthy guys back, knees working, but because they weren't used to that, they got stomped by Atlanta. The new kid on the team, Gerald Wallace, who has a voice that sounds like Barry White's, did okay in his first game here. But, after one shoot-around with the team, he didn't know the playbook. The Hawks defense pinned the Blazers down like they were collected butterflies, two of twenty from behind the three-point line. A train wreck of a game. 

The Oscars™ offered a cute couple as co-hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, young, hip, and to yawn over. Billy Crystal came out and did a bit on Bob Hope that was funnier than anything the kids did all evening. Whoopee! Steve! Billy! Hugh! Anybody? Anybody? Dig up Hope; even dead, he'd play better ...

But–no. The producers were trying so hard to be cool the audience got flash-frozen. 

Kirk Douglas, old, infirm, still recovering from a stroke was slow, but funnier than almost anybody else, save Robert Downey and Jude Law. 

No big surprises, The King's Speech ruled, the other favorites won a few, the actors and actresses everybody expected to win, mostly won. 

Best acceptance was from the writer David Seidler, who won for Best Original Screenplay. At 73, the oldest to ever take the award, he said, "My father always said  to me I'd be a late bloomer ..."

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I'm not a dedicated gym-rat. The year I turned forty, I kept a workout journal, tracked everything I did, every rep of every set, and discovered that full-body workouts thrice a week amounted to overtraining. 

These days, if I can make it to the gym twice a week, I'm happy, and since I never got into the push-one-day, pull-the-next-session stuff, but stayed with full-body routines, more than that would be too much.

A typical session for me with the iron or machines is only a handful of exercises, and I count on silat and walking the dogs for the rest of it.

At the gym, last time:

Chins, to warm up, twelve reps, in an L-sit to work the abs.
Seated leg presses, eight plates, twelve reps each, 2-3 sets.
Seated calf-raise, same weight, twenty reps, 2-3 sets.
Bent-over dumbbell rows, half body weight, 1x8, L. & R.
Seated bench press, 3x8, ascending/descending, 200 max.
Pec deck 3x8 ascending/descending, 80,105, 80.
Military press, 1x10, 110.
Dumbbell curls, supinating and pronating grips. 1/10, 35.
Barbell curls, 1x8, 11o.
Triceps push-downs, 1x10, full stack, 90.
Lat pulldowns, 1x10, 180
Low back hyper-extensions x 10.

I know, I know, it's hell getting old and weak, but you young punks who bench Volvos? That won't be the case forever. I'd tell you to come back and see me when you are my age and let's compare routines, but when you are my age, I'll be long gone ...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tales of a Pensioner

If I wait four or five years, my Social Security check will be a few bucks a month fatter than it will be if I start drawing it now, in theory. 

(That theory is predicated on the notion that Social Security will still be around in a few years. Or that I will be. In order for things to go smoothly for me down that road, both need to happen. My crystal ball needs cleaning, 'cause I can't see that answer in it.)

After due consideration, I decided to go ahead and start drawing the stipend now. Lord knows I paid enough into the system for forty-odd years that I'm happy to get a little of it back, and while I have to be careful how much income I earn for the next year and a half–after sixty-five, all bets are off–I'm figuring that carpe pension might be the better way to go. 

If I live to be ninety, I might wish I'd waited for the larger check, but in the meantime, three-quarters of a loaf would seem to be better than none. If you suspect the bank is gonna run out of money, it seems, I dunno, prudent to withdraw yours before it's all gone, doesn't it?

Of course, that assumes that the United States Congress doesn't shut the country down and stop paying SS because it is playing chicken and refusing to fund governmental operations, waiting to see who blinks first. Last time the R's shut the government down, it turned around and bit them on the ass pretty good, helping Bill Clinton to four more years. Might be too much to hope that they'd be that stupid again ...

The Dreadnaught Sails At Last

A while back, my collaborator Reaves and I wrote a doorstop-fantasy. The final version came in at over 150,000 words, cut down from 175,000 or so, and we thought it was the cat's pajamas and the bee's knees. 

Timing wasn't so hot, because of the recession, but there wasn't anything we could do about that. My agent shopped it around, and they liked it well enough in New York City that we got a couple of offers from traditional publishers on it.

We didn't think the offers were so hot, and one of them was contingent on producing a second book, which we weren't interested in doing for the money they were offering. Not that we were being greedy, nor against the notion of another book or books set on our world of Eilandia; we just didn't want to be tied to a second book for a lowball offer. 

The economy was down, and the publishers were among the first to jump on that wagon as an excuse to buy cheap. (Book sales didn't fade that much overall–in hard times, a book is a good deal–you can read it, you can pass it around, and later, you can swap it for another book or even cash. I think they were off 1.8% overall in '09, though ebook sales started climbing. But like gasoline, if a sheik sneezes, they raise the price, just, you know, in case.

So we passed on the offers. 

But we liked the novel, we thought it was good, and since the ebook market has begun to come on strong–I'm actually making enough there now to pay for dinner out more than once a month now–we thought the time might be right to take a shot at it.

So we have. The Chronicles of Eilandia: The Dreadnaught, is going up. It will be available at the usual outlets, FS&,, B&N, AppleBooks, Smashwords in–we hope–short order. It's a good read, and if we can get the word out, might have a chance to do some decent business, since it will only be available as an ebook–unless, of course, it sells like ice water in Hell and the treeware folks come knocking. Stranger things have happened.

You should buy a copy. Get all your friends to buy a copy. Tell everybody you've ever met to buy a copy. Get introduced to somebody at a party? Tell them to buy a copy ...

Or not. See how it goes ...

Friday, February 25, 2011

More on the Dark Side of the Guitar

So, the new rig for jamming with the steel string guys:

That's the Pickard walnut-back classical, with Nylgut strings. The transducer–the little wooden button near the bridge, is a Dean Markley "Instant Mount," which attaches with a sticky putty that doesn't hurt the finish, as long as you don't leave it on permanently. (Note: This is earthquake putty, used to help keep stuff on shelves in those places subject to tremors.) The cable runs into a 1/4" jack that is plugged into a Roland Mini Cube acoustic amp. I'll tuck the wire under the Neck-Up to keep it from moving around and causing static when I play. I'm not worried about pulling it off, since we play sitting down.

It's the not the set-up I'd use if I were going into a studio to record, but since that's not something about which I have to worry, then I'm not gonna worry about it. 

Not talking a blow-out-the-windows-peel-the-paint-off-the-walls stack here–the cube, which looks a lot like a car battery in size and shape, albeit a lot lighter in weight, generates a whole two watts of pure power. Howsoever, that's enough with the gain at half and the volume control set at "3" to cut through the sounds of steel-string acoustical instruments and achieve parity just fine, which was exactly what I was looking to do. Amp runs on AA batteries–and I have a nice recharger for long-life nicads– or it can be plugged into a wall socket.

Rock 'n' Roll! 

The Electrified Dark Side

Years ago, I had a buddy who fancied himself the next big musical poet. He'd crank up his guitar at the drop of a hat to caterwaul his original songs to anybody within earshot. 

One day, he got a gig doing some fill at an event at the local U. Warm afternoon, an outdoor amphitheater, ten minutes, as I recall. I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I stopped by.

My buddy hauled his little amp onstage, plugged in his twelve-string, and commenced to strumming his three-chords and doing his bad Dylan imitation. (Those of you who aren't fans, Bob Dylan's voice is, um, already not the example one holds up of how to sing well. My buddy's croak made Dylan sound like an operatic tenor by comparison.)

To make matters worse, the sound wasn't the best. 

Audience members remarked loudly upon this: "Turn it up!" 

He turned it up.

Then it was too loud. "Turn it down!"

Never the most patient of men, he finished his second song and elected to show his irritation: "Listen, I can turn it up or I can turn it down, I can't do both! Which is it?!"

Such a straight line to a college audience. I groaned when I heard it.

You know what is coming, right? Somebody with a good set of lungs and volume yells out, "Turn it off!"

I offer that to illustrate that I am about to enter the realm of amplification, at least in a small way. 

The group with which I jam varies in composition, but most of the time, the instruments include another guitar, a harmonica, a mandolin, banjo, and keyboard. Sometimes there are two keyboard players, and now and then the keyboardists swap off on an electric bass. There comes a woman who does washboard. We've had visits from a ukulele, and promises of a fiddle player. Most of the instruments are acoustic, save for the bass and keyboards, but the mandolin, banjo, and second–sometimes a third–guitars are all steel stringed. Unamplified, they aren't all that loud, but they are all considerably louder than my nylon-stringed classical. Which means I can barely hear myself playing, and none of them can.

Which, you might point out, and I certainly have thought, is maybe not such a bad idea. A flubbed chord change goes unnoticed, thank you very much. I can hit clams all night, and nobody hears them but me.

The host, who has several guitars, has offered me a steel string flattop to play, so that I might be heard, especially on such songs as I fingerpick–"House of the Rising Sun," say, for the arpeggios, but those skinny, narrow necks aren't my forte since I'm used to the extra-wide classical neck. 

Since I won't do that, they have offered that I should consider some kind of electric pick-up. They also mention that, if, by some miracle, we ever do an open-mike, or otherwise get up on a stage, they will plug in, and I might as well bring my air guitar for all the sound I'll make.

So. To bring myself to parity with the louder instruments, I am going to become a gearhead. At least on a little scale. Since I don't want to punch holes in my guitar, which you must do to install onboard pick-ups and straps and all, I'm going to get a clip-on internal microphone and an itty bitty amp. Doesn't have to be much, I'm not looking for a stack to reach the cheap seats, only a slight rise in volume. Thus I expect I'll be making a run to Guitar Center or ordering some stuff online in the near future.

For those of you who care about such things, a short discourse on how best to make a quiet classical guitar louder.

First, you want to maintain as much of the woody-tone the instrument has, and the best way is a mike stand with a good condenser mike pointed at the strings from a foot or so away. Through a mixer/pre-amp for the phantom power, into the amp, presto! 

It isn't so good with magnetic pick-ups, since the strings aren't steel

Unfortunately, the dedicated-mike method works best when the guitarist is alone and in a nice, quiet studio; for the gain on the mike needed for enough sound by itself also results in it being too high when the other instruments crank. The mike picks them up, overloads the amp, and the result is feedback, i.e., that awful, ear-smiting squeal you've heard when somebody steps up and swallows the mike: "Hello? Is this thing on? Testing–EEEEEEEE–!"

"Turn it down!"

"Turn it off!"

The don't-punch-holes-in-the-guitar method that seems to best alleviate feedback is a small clip-on mike mounted inside the guitar, usually on gooseneck, so that you can move it around for the best sound. It's not a perfect, all-around solution, but for a jam out in the clubhouse, it should do the trick. 

Neither the mike, nor the micro-amp, which can be battery-powered, need be all that expensive, since we aren't talking recording-level quality. 

TMI, but what can I say? I blather on like this to make my living. 

Pack It Up, Move it Out

For much of the past week, we have been moving small furniture and boxes–my daughter and her family have gone from their old house to their new house. Well, newer house. Not far apart, the two, but when it comes to loading up the cars with stuff, whether it's two miles or twenty only matters in that you can make more, quicker trips. And with the price of gasoline, do it a little cheaper.

The movers came yesterday for the big stuff, and that made it much easier, but we still went up and down the stairs–fore and aft–a lot. The two grandsons did well, and yesterday afternoon late, the younger of the boys said, "This is where we live now; the TV sets are here." Once the video game consoles and the DVD player were hooked up? Then they were moved. Nice to have your priorities in order.

Fortunately, the big snowstorm that was supposed to bring us to a screeching halt turned out to be a nothing-burger; couple inches on the ground yesterday morning in and around Portland, all melted off by mid-afternoon. Timing was good on that, since the cold–down to 18º F. here last night–didn't move in until the snow was gone. Of course that made for slick roads, and there were a couple of interstate-stopping accidents during the evening, semi-trucks tangled together on frozen overpasses, like that. 

Only a few miles north of here, from Vancouver, Washington up, it was much worse, so we dodged a snowy bullet this time. The most recent of several this winter. Three or four times, the weather guys started running around hollering that the sky was falling! only to have it not fall at all. 

Hummingbird feeder froze up, but the sun is shining, and it's supposed to get to 33º F. here today.

Always interesting after you help somebody move to discover the sore spots. Not so much muscular this time, but the nicks and sticks and all. Some dents on the shins–stairs and wire racks don't like each other. Small puncture wound on the thumb; odd scratches on the forearms, like that. 

They are moved, and while putting away the boxes of stuff will take a while, very happy to be in the new place, and we can relax until the next time one of the kids wants to move. Me, I'm not moving anymore, I believe I have mentioned. They'll carry me out of here feet-first.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Peak Moments

Another flash from the memory vaults: Years back, visiting a friend in Boulder, Colorado. We were having coffee at a park one morning, Chautauqua, as I recall. Sun was shining, a budding summer's day. Children and dogs running around, people enjoying the outside. Of a moment, I heard kettle drums in the distance; drums, then a horn.

Somebody playing Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Oh, wow. I got to my feet and headed to find the source of the music. I ran to find it.

Not far away was an old barn and in it, a symphony orchestra, apparently practicing. The light inside was dim, the walls were riddled with tiny holes and cracks, through which the summer sun shined inside

The music, the setting, the company, it all combined into a pure bliss for me. 

Play this one at my funeral, I thought. Along with Pachelbel's "Canon in D;""Bridge Over Troubled Water;" and "Hey, Jude." Any order you want.

I don't know how many moments like that one gets, but when one arises, enjoy it. Exaltation of one's spirit is always a good thing

Song for the Zombie Apocalypse

Here you go ...

A Few Movie Themes to Warm Up Your Day

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road ...

... lend him a jacket ...

In Portland, if you want a job as a weather forecaster, you must learn to say, "Tomorrow,  we expect light rain and forty degrees for our high temperature." Because that's the default forecast for this part of Oregon during the winter, which runs pretty much from the end of October until the first of March.

That's what happening at Steve's house right now. 

Only, tomorrow's forecast here is for colder temperatures and the possibility of snow to the valley floor. 

Sticking snow, since it's supposed to drop into the low twenties or high teens by day after tomorrow, courtesy of a cold front from Canada that swings out over the ocean to gather a little moisture before it arrives.

The crocuses and daffodils are up, the fruit trees budded, even the willows are greening, and here comes the snow? 

Bad snow! Bad!

Of course, the forecasters have been wrong before. Much of the time. Must be weird to get up every day and go to work having to pretend that yesterday didn't happen because to talk about it makes you look incompetent. 

While writing stories about Hell might help psychologically, it doesn't seem to have staved off winter quite as much as I would like. I am ready for summer here. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roy Redux

I am, when I get moving, able to do so at a fair clip when it comes to putting words through my fingers. 

Four new Roy stories in the last what? just under four weeks? Plus the start of the fifth. That's faster than I did when I started out writing back in the day, with the goal I'd do a new short story every week.

Dan has been fairly sick so he has a good reason why you haven't seen the previous two Roy stories put up yet, and this one is only as much as you see here, but I'm cranking along ...

Under the Rose
Steve Perry
Roy ambled out of the casino. It had been a big night–he had kicked asses and taken names, won a monster pot at the end that would give him a month off to laze about, and on a stone bluff, too!
Well, not exactly “laze about,” since he had other duties these days, but at least he wouldn’t be parked on the South Gate twiddling his thumbs for a while, once he cashed in the time-chips he’d scored, and that was something.
He felt pretty good–until he looked up and saw Mephistopheles leaning against one of the columns holding up the casino’s portico.
The skinny old demon grinned like a rabid wolf when he saw Roy. He pushed off the column and there was no question that he had been waiting for him.
Uh oh. This could be trouble.
Mephisto–called “Mo” by those who knew him–had been around for a long damned time and always in the inner circle where he was one of a handful of demons who had The Chief’s ear. Mondo clout, Mo had, and he knew how to use it. He and The Chief were Farthest Fallen, and they went all the way back.
Roy hadn’t spoken to him since he couldn’t remember when. Dark Ages?
Mephisto was tall and thin, all angles and sharp elbows, and he didn’t look particularly strong or powerful, but it would be a mistake to make that assumption. As shapeshifters went, he was among the best. He could change his looks in a blink–bony-ass old man to voluptuous young woman to bodybuilder on steroids, bap, bap, bap, just like that. 
Nobody was sure if the skinny version was the real him or an illusion he used to gull people into thinking he was weak. Lot of demons had made that error, assuming he was weak. They only did it once. 
“Hey, Roy.”
“Mo. How’s it goin’?”
Mo shrugged. “If I complained, who would listen?”
Roy gave him a fake smile. “Yeah, I hear that. So what can I do you for?”
Mo said, “‘The eagle flies with the dove.’”
Roy blinked. If Mo had turned himself in to a giant spider and scurried up the casino wall to spin a web saying “Some Pig!” it would have been less surprising. 
No fucking way!
“Roy? Don’t don’t you have something to say to me?”
Roy managed to figure out how to work his tongue. He gave the response: “‘Love the One You’re With,’  Stephen Stills, 1970.” He  shook his head. 
Roy said, “I can’t fucking believe that you are working with–”
Mo cut him off: “No names, Roy, the walls have ears. Let’s go some place private and have a few whiffs of hydrogen sulfide and a brew or two.”
Roy nodded. Motherfucker! Mo was working for Jay? What the hell was Hell coming to here?
Mo kept an apartment nearby, small, but nicely-appointed inside, lot of expensive knick-knacks. There was a demonservant at the door who silently admitted them and who wordlessly went to fetch inhalers and drinks.
“My dogsbody Dante,” Mo said. “First-rate.”
“Not real talkative, is he?”
“Had his tongue cut out. It’s taking a while to grow back.”
Roy raised an eyebrow.
“I have it removed again every year or so before it gets long enough to allow speech. An object lesson.”
Roy nodded. He didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know.
“The pad is clean,” Mo said, as Dante returned with a couple of inhalers and glasses of foaming something that had a peppery, ginger smell. “We can talk without fugue.”
Roy nodded again.
“You’re wondering how I came to be associated with our friend from On High.”
“Well, yeah.”
Mo shrugged. “You know how things are. Wheels-within-wheels, factions, alliances so twisted you couldn’t follow the lines with bloodhounds and magnifying x-ray glasses.”
Yeah, Roy knew.
“A smart demon needs to keep an ear to the ground, and an eye to the future. Never know but that what seems solid and set in steel will blow away in an instant like vapor.”
“Something in particular?”
“Not really.” He took one of the inhalers and snorted a big blast. The scent of rotten eggs permeated the air. He offered the other inhaler to Roy, who took it and sniffed in a blast himself. Nice.
“No, it has to do with continuity,” Mo continued. 
Roy nodded, as if he had a fucking clue what he was talking about. “Uh huh?”
“As in, there has been an awful lot of continuity here for a long time, same-old, same-old. This is not a steady-state kind of place. Change is going to happen, it has to, and it’s only a matter of when and how much. When it all comes down, I don’t want it to land on me.”
Roy nodded again. 
“Drink up.”
Roy reached for the stein. 
“So I need to know what Larry has been up to, and there are a few things you need to know, to keep abreast of the current situation. Are we copacetic with that?”
“No problem,” Roy said. 
Mo smiled at him. “You used to be really good at the game, Roy. Why’d you quit?”
It was Roy’s turn to shrug. “I got tired of all-bullshit-all-the-time. Always having to sleep with one eye open, not knowing who is getting ready to stab you in the back, it gets old. I figured a few hundred thousand years doing scutwork would give me a chance to take a break.”
“Opening and closing a gate? Dealing with the little old lady next door?” Mo said.
“Oh, Mrs. Bentley is a ballbreaker, but she’s straight-up what-you-see-is-what-you-get. That’s ... refreshing, in its own way. You know what they say, ‘no brain, no pain.’ Doesn’t take a genius to keep up: Gate is open or is it closed. You are on the list or you aren’t. 
“Except that Larry threw a monkey wrench into that.”
“Yeah. But, to tell the truth, I was getting a little bored. He caught me on the right day.”
He looked at Roy. “From what I hear, you haven’t collected too many cobwebs nor too much rust.”
“Like riding a bicycle, ain’t it?” He took a drink from the stein. Ah. Nice. Some kind of metal-etching acid.
“More like riding a bicycle on a greased high wire in a stone hurricane over the deepest Pit,” Mo allowed.
Roy shrugged. “Ridden one, ridden ‘em all.”
“I bet Lilith would love to hear you say that.”
Roy shook his head. “Is there anybody in this fucking place who hasn’t heard that baseless rumor about us? C’mon, Mo.”
“You might have to walk a long way to find somebody hasn’t heard it. But not far at all to find somebody who knows the difference between ‘baseless rumor’ and reality, kid. Don’t forget you you are talking to here. Hell, I have videos of you two ...”
Roy stared at him. 
Mo laughed. “Just pulling your chain.” He paused a second. “Long ago, Lilith and I, we ... well, let’s just say, we respect each other’s talents and abilities.”
Roy didn’t have anything to say to that, so he kept quiet. Mo and Lilith? He couldn’t even imagine it, unless Mo had a different look, but–what the fuck did he know? He could never have imagined himself and Lilith in his wildest dreams, either. 
Mo continued: “So, let me fill you in on some things that–ah–Jay has passed along ...”
“I’m all ears.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do You Believe in Magic? The Path.

Following up on the Scientology post just prior:

The world is full of seekers, yearning for a path to meaning. If you stand up and say, "This way," you will collect followers if you have any charisma at all. Even if you are waiting for the mothership to arrive with the next comet and the ticket is a bottle of Drano.

We are a social species; we want company on our journey, like-minded folks to whom we can turn, strength in numbers. We have our lone wolves and our rogues, but most of us want a pack. It is our nature.

You can see this everywhere you look, groups of seekers who aspire to more than food and sex. Some of it is sincere and motivated by altruism and love and spirit; some of it is motivated by lust and fraud and greed. And shades in-between.

I've been in and out of enough doctrines, faiths, and cults to see how they work. Even in some that I've thought were outright scams, it often turns out that some of the folks in it benefit. Holy men arise in the oddest places. It's an ill wind that blows no good; sometimes the right thing happens for the wrong reasons. 

Belief is very powerful, mustard seeds and all, and there are lots of paths that lead up those mountains. 

You can fake it and draw a crowd. You can also be one of those folks who actually achieve some kind of cosmic connection, and people can feel that. Look at Mata Amritanandamayi Devi -- Amma -- the Hindu spiritual teacher. Her main thing is, she hugs people. She doesn't have to say a word. Crowds line up to get a chance to get hugged, and people walk away feeling as if they have been touched by a saint. 

People have had visions around such lights, just being in the same room. Chances are good you've experienced this at some point. Heard somebody speak, and waves of energy from them felt more powerful than anything you'd consider normal.

The direct experience isn't always about bliss: Once, I stood with several students next to a most adept martial artist, a true expert. Somebody had a new knife they were showing off, and they handed it to him to examine. 

The moment that knife was in his hand, all of us took a step back, moving as one, as birds wheeling in flight. He wasn't a threat, in the sense that nobody expected him to commence cutting, but there was something in us–certainly in me–that instinctively recognized danger.

Give this guy room! the reptile in my hindbrain said. Death is here.

At the center of most religions, creeds, faiths, there is a focus; a man or woman who has an aura that shines in such a way that those around them know they are special. When they speak, people listen–and believe. He or she is the spiritual axis; what arises and revolves around them is the religion that seeks to achieve that same state of being. They are the territory, and the religion is the map. People often conflate the two, but they are not the same. You can be spiritual but not religious. You can be religious but not spiritual. 

Is it the god gene? Are we talking about illusion? The placebo effect? Mass hypnosis? Hysteria? Is it a short-circuit in the brain, a mental illness, a chemical imbalance? Or is it something real, a spiritual connection to something?–call it God or Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Flow, whatever name you like. 

Well. You have to decide that on your own and act accordingly. But the experience can pop up in the most unexpected places, and if it does, you won't miss it. If you are hit by the relampago, it will take the top of your head right off.

Hope you enjoyed the sermon. See you next Sunday ...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Squirrel Watch

Layla likes to sit in one of the loungers and look out through the back window, to watch the backyard for signs of squirrel activity. But it's hard work, being on alert, and sometimes a girl gets tired ...

Gimme That New Time Religion

Big article in the most recent New Yorker on Scientology, centered around the Hollywood personality Paul Haggis. The piece, by Lawrence Wright, does not paint a rosy picture of the religion. Some of it is downright freaky–assaults, kidnappings, child slavery, all of which the church categorically denies.

Haggis, a well-known and awarding-winning writer, director, and producer, was a big cog in the machinery of L. Ron's Hubbard's religion until he had a falling out with them over Prop 8 in California, and resigned. 

I have only small personal experiences with this. Back in the last sixties, when we moved to L.A., I went to a presentation on Scientology, because I thought it had something to do with science. I was unmoved by the talk, didn't hear any "science" connected to it, and went on my way. Not my thing, and if people wanted to go down that road, it was none of my business–you should be allowed to go to hell in your own way, as long as you don't drag me along. 

Later, I met a science fiction writer who had gotten deeply into the stuff, and made to the stage known as "Clear." Which, according to this piece, is that a Scientology Clear is to normal people as normal people are to those who are insane. It's not the highest level, that one involves numbers–OT VIII, and that apparently gets ramped up now and then–but folks at that level are really supposed to have their shit together.

If you look at the philosophical underpinnings of religion, there are things that don't parse logically and must be accepted on faith. The old adage is, For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible. But if you have trouble with the notion of Jesus's miracles, then what Scientology offers as as cosmology is really apt to strain credulity. Wright, quoting from an article in The Los Angeles Times in 1985, during a lawsuit in which the litigant sued the church and was awarded thirty million dollars (later reduced to 2.5 million):

“'A major cause of mankind’s problems began 75 million years ago,' the Times wrote, when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of ninety planets under the leadership of a despotic ruler named Xenu. 'Then, as now,' the materials state, 'the chief problem was overpopulation.' Xenu decided 'to take radical measures.' The documents explained that surplus beings were transported to volcanoes on Earth. The documents state that H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits—called thetans—which attached themselves to one another in clusters. Those spirits were 'trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol,' then 'implanted' with 'the seed of aberrant behavior.' The Times account concluded, 'When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.'”

Uh huh. 

Anyway, my science fiction guy told me some tales about what happened to people who left the church and went public, and how very dangerous that was; tales of hit squads and dirty-tricks, and at the time, I thought that was weird, but since he was kind of flaky himself, I shrugged that off.

A bit of history: Scientology came from Dianetics, written by Hubbard, who was science fiction and fantasy writer in the 1940's. Until he went into this, he was most known for being the first science fiction writer to buy and use an electric typewriter.

There are several variations of the story, and I have heard it from two writers who said they heard it directly from Hubbard's lips when he supposedly said something to the effect of, Guys, there's no future in writing for a penny a word magazines–if you want to make real money, you need to start a religion.

Some of the variations talk about a million bucks, but there are enough writers who offer that they were there and heard him say it that would seem to have a basis in fact.

Whatever else L. Ron Hubbard was, he was canny. And the church founded on his work quickly realized that recruiting high-visibility members, such as movie stars, would be a good thing, and managed to court and bring into the fold more than few. If you know anything about it at all, you probably know that Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Nicole Kidman, Jenna Elfman are/were members. (Kidman has since left the church.)

It certainly seems to be a rather large can of worms opened, and I found it fascinating, in the watching-a-slow-motion-train-wreck sense. 

If you want to see some interesting allegations about various high-profile members and what they are into,  further reading here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Moving On

My daughter and her husband and two boys have a new house. The sale closed today, and that means we'll be moving stuff real soon. 

I can't count the number times I've moved stuff from one house to another. We haven't had to do it ourselves for a long time, but we changed residences more than a dozen times the first few years we were married, and both of our children have moved that many times since they've been on their own. It adds up.

Because there are stairs on both ends this time–upstairs, downstairs–we are hiring movers to haul the really heavy stuff, and only the things we can carry in various cars are our responsibility, which suits me.

I don't mind helping somebody else; me, I'm not moving again. Only way I'm leaving this house for another residence will be feet-first ...

Electric Death

I had a dream, kind of Robocop-ish, in which a military robotic drone aircraft flew over a crowd and fired off many blank rounds, and the crowd was showered with hot, empty shell casings. Which, when I woke up, moved me to wonder if that had ever happened. Had there been, or were there now guns on aircraft that spewed the empties into the air?

The short answer is, Yes, there were. And in some cases, still are.

Not a lot of material on this–most links to machine guns in planes don't speak to where the empties go, but there were some that indicated that warcraft just ejected them into the air, and one story by a WWII bomber crewman was that one returning ship out of twenty showed damage from spent .50 cal shell casings, and that his personal experience was when shell casings from the plane in front of him broke through the plexiglas window and smashed up some gear, putting the nose gun out of commission, and bruising his shin through a flak suit.

So, yeah, though these days, the electric gatling guns in jet fighters drop them into a bin.

Check out the demo of how fast the M61A1 Vulcan 20mm machine gun fires–it takes a few seconds to warm up and slow down, but the average is 4000 rounds a minute. Look how fast it dumps those empties into the bin.

And the baby brother, 7.62mm minigun, out of a helicopter, firing tracers:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Looks Like a Fun Toy

Old Engram Bobs to the Surface

Years ago, my wife and I went to dinner with her father and his third wife, in L.A. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was in the Hollywood Hills, actually on a hill. Spendy, dress-up kinda place, a large, old, house that had been converted, as I recall.

We were having dinner and I smelled smoke. Somebody burning something in the kitchen? 

For some reason, I decided I need to go look. I wound up outside, and realized that there was a little fire on the dry hillside, just below a house nearby. 

L.A., the land of fire, pestilence, earthquakes, landslides, and so on.

I hurried down to check it out. 

The fire was just adjacent to the house, and when I say small, I mean it was maybe as big as a living room, twenty feet by twenty feet or so, low, mostly dead grass and a couple of scraggly bushes.

As I looked, the window nearest the flames opened, and an old lady leaned out. She was holding a drinking glass. She poured it on the fire, then went back into the house, presumably to refill the glass.

I was passing amazed at this. Fortunately, the fire department arrived, the guys leaped off the truck, and managed to get the fire out in short order.

Over the years, when this memory popped up, I always wondered: What could she have been thinking? 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Lot of things in life involve a trade-off. You do so because, while ideally you might do it this way, that way is necessary.

Couple simple examples: If you want to walk around armed with a gun,  you probably will have a pistol or revolver tucked away. (And I'm speaking to those folks who have the license and not you illegal miscreants.) 

This probably won't be a long-barrel target pistol, nor something you'd use to hunt deer or bear, and why not concerns both length and weight. If it sticks out the bottom of your jacket, that's no good. If it gives you a slipped disk or a hernia to carry it, then you will start leaving it at home.

Which is why small frame revolvers and pistols and even mouse guns get carried way more than big hog legs. 

Now, for pure punch, a big-bore shotgun or rifle hits a lot harder, has more effective range, and are apt to be more accurate, least in the rifle's case. But since strolling down the avenue of a Sunday morning with a long gun resting on your shoulder is apt to get you strobed with red-and-blue lights and a fast acquaintance with your friendly neighborhood law enforcement officers; who, given the circumstances might have twitchy trigger fingers. So, that might not be your best option. Yeah, you might legally be able to walk around with a rifle in a lot of places, but it will get you attention that could be bad for your health.

I have a neighbor likes to mow his lawn strapped. Perfectly legal to do so on his property, but every time he does, the local SWAT boys show up. Man-with-a-gun reports get LEO attention, even if they think they know who he is. Because you can't be sure.

So you carry a handgun under your jacket, nobody knows it is there, nobody gets excited to see you amble into the local stop 'n' rob store for a six-pack. The weapon is less powerful, unless you want to weigh your belt down with one of the custom .50's, like the one I showed a picture of here a few posts back. And a revolver that powerful has what is known as a stout recoil. Better hit your target with the first shot, because you'll need a crane and a crew of teamsters to haul the thing back down to line up the next one. I had a villain in a book carry such a thing, but he was a very large man, ex-SEAL, and macho out the wazoo. Plus he got killed by the good guy. 


When is it cold and I am going to be out and about, I like to protect my hands from Jack Frost. But while there are nice thinsulate thingees and critter-fur lined ones that will keep my hands toasty, they tend to be bulky. If I am walking the dogs, I need to be able to hold the flexi-leads comfortably, reach into my pocket for a plastic bag when it becomes necessary, and then tie a knot in said bag, which I carry looped over a finger until I find a trash can. 

I also need to be able to take my knife from my pocket and open it, should that become necessary, and now and then, pull other hardware from my belt–cell phone, iPod, this and that. 

So the gloves I wear need to allow such activity, and that means they have to be thin, allow me to grip small object, and that means they don't keep my hands real warm. Better than nothing, but not what I'd wear if I was out in really cold weather sans dogs. 

I like the thin and tight leather gloves Nike makes for wide receivers playing football. In Cotton's garage, when it is chilly, I can wear these and on days when I'm fasting and there's no fire in the basement, that helps with the cold fingers when I do silat.