Capitalism In Action

Russia has announced that, beginning in 2006, there will be no more free rides for American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

So here's what you might see on TV about that time:


A Russian Soyuz spacecraft approaches the International Space Station and docks with it, the curving horizon of a beautiful Earth in the background.


There are two astronauts, RUSSIAN and AMERICAN, in the space station. The Russian is seated at a console. The American hovers over his shoulder, an anxious look on his face.

RUSSIAN: Docking is complete.

The American breaks into a broad smile.

AMERICAN: Whoo-hoo! My ride home! Finally! Lemme just get my bag!

The American floats across the space station's interior and picks up a small suitcase. He turns around and moves toward the hatchway.

However, the Russian has left his seat and is now standing in front of the doorway. He holds a hand out, palm first.

RUSSIAN: Not so fast, comrade. Have you forgotten? Today is January the first. Russia's new policy has gone into effect.

The Russian shifts his hand to flat out, palm up. He rubs his thumb across his fingers.

RUSSIAN: Payment for goods and services. Is that not the American way?

The American looks aghast and stunned. He glances frantically around the statioon for several seconds, then stops, looking suddenly thoughtful. A smile breaks out on his face.

The American opens one of the many pockets on his uniform, and pulls out...


... an American Express card.


The Russian's face breaks into a pleased smile as he reaches for the card.


We see the Soyuz capsule heading back towards Earth. We hear the American's voice, fading as the Soyuz grows farther away.

AMERICAN (OFF-SCREEN, FADING): Whoo-o-o-o-o-hoo-o-o-o-o-o-o!

NARRATOR (VOICEOVER): American Express. Don't leave home without it.


Unprofessional Jealousy

Sometimes you come across a phrase so wonderfully evocative that it makes you gnash your teeth and proclaim, "Damn, I wish I'd written that!"

A phrase like:

"Deep in your heart there is a sunlight so hot that it makes you love people."

And to add chagrin to jealousy, realizing that it was written by a six-year old girl.

Outwritten by a six-year old. Sheesh.

There's only one thing to do: We have to get that young lady interested in horses, as soon as possible.

Doing The Numbers

In an AP article, George Bush was quoted from an announcement regarding the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean:
Bush said the catastrophe had "brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension," and he pledged a multifaceted response from the United States that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged.
The current estimate of fatalities from the tsunamis is 76,000 people.

And that's "beyond our comprehension."

The current estimate of civilian casualties in the Iraq war is 100,000.

And that is beyond our willingness to comprehend.


Food For Thought

Our friend Anne was over tonight, and one of the subjects the conversation wandered onto was: why were Irish immigrants in the 19th century regarded as "dumb"?

Beyond the obvious, that many immigants came from peasant backgrounds with little or no formal schooling, Anne conjectured the lack of things like, oh, food in Irish diets of the time might have prevented proper brain development in children. Or even before the Potato Famine, that the overwhelming preponderance of a single food item in the diets may have caused a nutrient imbalance with similar results.

"Ah," I said. "Then perhaps grits explains Red States election results."

Anne thought that over for a moment, then said, "No, I think you're committing a logical fallacy. You're making an add hominy argument."


"As You Know, Ged..."

Hilde and I watched Sci Fi Channel's Earthsea last night.

My old scriptwriting finger got itchy. It's been thirty years since I read the Earthsea books, so I don't remember enough to say how much, or how badly, the producers changed LeGuin's work. But I felt it certainly needed somebody (even me!) to give it another rewrite (or three).

The dialogue was clunky and (particularly in the first hour) filled with awkward expository lumps. The direction was... pedestrian (and actively bad in some spots, such as Ged's leading the soldiers over the cliff). The CGI effects were mostly of several-years-behind-the-development-curve level, and jarred with the real characters and settings. And despite a few bright spots like Danny Glover and Isabella Rosselini, the acting was mostly... again, this word... pedestrian. (And a special plea to the guy playing Ged's father: If you have a day job, please please please, go back to it.)

Could have been worse. In a bad fantasy movie, Ged would have been six-foot-three with rippling abs, and taking off his shirt at every opportunity. When he picked up a sword for the first or near-first time in his life, he would have beaten the well-trained villain. And there would have been a scene with the young priestesses relaxing in the communal baths. (We did have the villain and the traitorous priestess in bed together, but for a bad movie, you have to have lots of young women in a state of undress at the same time.)

I'll give it a "C". I'm thinking I'll re-read the Earthsea books; I may down-grade the movie after that.


HAGAR! The Film That Never Was

At Film Crew Online, the MST3000 geeks riff on various ideas for comic-strip based movies. One of which is for a film version of Hagar The Horrible.

Oddly enough, back in the early 90's when I was trying to follow up my episode of ST:TNG by pitching movie scripts to studios, my agent actually represented the Hagar strip (and a bunch of others) for a short while. This seemed serendipitous, and I worked up a short pitch for a possible script.

My concept for a Hagar movie was that it was basically a love story between Hagar and his wife. Hagar, incompetent Viking, gets into trouble, and more trouble, and still more trouble. Eventually placing his own family into peril. Which, of course, in grand movie tradition, motivates him to actual competence, and enables him to rescue the people he loves.

The Hagar dynamics are quite similar to The Simpsons. If you traced Homer Simpson's family tree back far enough, in fact, you'd almost certainly find Hagar bending down one of the branches.

Alas, shortly after working up that outline, I found myself having to take anti-depressants -- thanks to a Toxic (highly Toxic) Boss at my dayjob -- which had the rueful side-effect of removing any desire or need to write. By the time I was able to get off the meds and try writing again, about a year later, my agent no longer represented Hagar, and was shortly to be cut off from financial support by the patron who'd been keeping him afloat for several years.

And I never quite managed to regain what feeble momentum towards a scriptwriting career I'd had. (A not untypical Struggling Scriptwriter career trajectory, I'm afraid. *sigh*)


Werewolves of Christmas

For most of the year, at my workplace, the radio stays turned off. Too many people had too many arguments over which station to listen to. The old hippies objected to country. The Harley riders objected to classical. The pickup-driving crowd objected to hip-hop.

Every December, though, the radio gets turned on and tuned to one of the stations carrying Christmas music. Not particularly for the employees' benefit, but because the speakers also broadcast into the customer lobby, and Christmas music at Christmas season is, y'know, traditional.

The particular station tuned in this year hasn't ramped up to full Christmas content yet, so about half the songs they're broadcasting are still their usual classic rock.

So this morning things are going as usual, and then the speakers bring forth the pounding DUM-DA, DUM-DA, DUM-DA-DA-DUM of...

...Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", in that voice that even back then was rough and gravelly, but strong and powerful.

And the first AWWOOOOOOOO! comes, and by god if a couple of people listening don't join in.

And the second AWWOOOOOOOO! comes, and even more of my co-workers join in.

And the third, even more.

And by the time the song ends, about a quarter of the employees, 25 or 30, are all going AWWOOOOOOOO!.

It was probably a good thing this took place before the lobby opened to customers. Normal people waiting to buy stamps or mail packages, if they heard a bunch of postal employees howling en masse, would probably reach for their cell phones and call 911. ("They're going nuts down here! Send a SWAT team as fast as you can!")

Werewolves for Christmas? Works for me.


In Twenty-Five Words Or Less

(I'm actually going to write about writing! Don't faint.)

Came across an interesting concept (and vague guidelines) for a new anthology, opening for submissions on December 20th: Twenty Epics, to be edited by David Moles (of All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories).

The concept is for an anthology of stories, under ten thousand words each, that will give the flavor, the appeal, the frisson of reading epic fantasy and/or literature, without having to slog thru yet one more five-volume trilogy.

As it happens, earlier this year I made some attempt at writing a "one-volume trilogy", a fantasy that would have the depth, and detail, and plot of a full triple-decker, but do it in about 150,000 words or less.

(Hasn't worked out too well, and it's been stalled for a few months while I do some re-thinking about what I want to write. And about whether I have the discipline to write a completed novel; I've started "novels" several times in years past, without success.)

To try and do that in an even more extreme manner... hmmm, interesting.

So, what are the characteristics of an epic? Off the top of my head:

  1. An extended journey, quest or battle
  2. Set against a "deep", well-developed background, society or world
  3. Against multiple obstacles and/or opponents
  4. By a protagonist who is also representative of his/her society or world/worldview
  5. For high stakes.

So, how to do that, in a maximum of ten thousand words? I can think of a few things that might work:

-- Set the story at what would be the climactic scene in a traditional epic, with multiple, brief flashbacks by the protagonists about the chain of events that led to that climax. Throw in a hat trick, and have the flashbacks in reverse chronological order, so that the story's final resolution is presented simultaneously with the story's beginning.

-- Make the story an "internalized" epic, one centered on emotional and psychological conflict and changes, rather than physical events.

-- A metafiction epic, where the background would be the writing/filming of an "epic" book/movie, with the story's own epic nature being the struggle to bring that "epic" to completion.

-- Consider that "epic" may be in the eye of the protagonist. Relative to that protagonist, something like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for a large number of people might be an epic task. For "high stakes", make it that the success or failure of the dinner will determine the success or failure of the protagonist's marriage or relationship.

(On that last possible approach to a story: On looking over the various stories I have in inventory, I found, rather to my surprise, that the unsold story of mine coming closest to fitting the various criteria I listed above is the sole non-SF, non-fantasy, non-mystery, thoroughly "normal" story I've written, one about a lost cat trying to find its owners. [The owners are dead, so it's not as easy as it might sound. And, yes, it is a nonfantasy story.] Barring some more specific inspiration [possible], and time to write a story before closing deadline [less possible], I may try submitting the cat story to Moles.)

Twenty Epics opens for submissions on December 20th.



In the November 2nd elections, one of the measures on the Arizona ballot was Proposition 200, to the effect that illegal immigrants should be denied "public benefits". Prop 200 passed with 56% of the vote.

Local attorney Frank Conti, Jr. had an op-ed piece in THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC in which he said:

So Proposition 200 has passed in Arizona, by a wide majority, and the sky has not yet fallen.

. . .

The truth is, no reasonable person employing a modicum of common sense could possibly equate a public service - libraries, police and fire protection, garbage removal - with a public benefit like welfare, which entails the direct handing over of money from the government to the individual. Now this distinction, clear as it is, might be too fine for an undocumented immigrant who speaks no English.

I was at my local library about a week ago. As I walked towards the entrance, I noticed two men: One was another man, very tall, also walking towards the entrance. The second was average height, slightly paunchy, mustached, standing near the doors to the library; the second man had a camera in his hands.

As the tall man approached the entrance, the man with the camera spoke: "Are you an Arizona citizen?" he asked.

The tall man hesitated for a second, then answered "Yes." He sounded puzzled at being asked.

"Okay," Camera Man said. He turned his gaze away from the tall man. The tall man went ahead into the library.

I was now approaching the library entrance. Camera Man glanced at me... and then away, as if not interested. He said nothing as I entered the library.

The incident had been very strange. After entering the library, I saw the tall man and went to get a closer look at him.

Besides being tall, he had the hawk-nosed features frequently seen in Meditteranean people. Or, perhaps, Arabic. He was not dark-skinned, but he was a shade or two deeper in color than my own tan; he could probably have been described as "swarthy".

I thought about this while finishing my errand at the library. A man of "ethnic" appearance had been questioned about his citizenship, while I -- indisputably Caucasian -- had been unquestioned. Did this have something to do with the rcent passage of Prop 200? If the tall man had answered "No", would he have been harangued about having no right to use the library? Would he have had his picture taken?

I decided to ask Camera Man what he was doing. But when I left the library after about ten minutes inside, he had gone.

Still... disturbing.

Conti may have been correct about "no reasonable person" could interpret Prop 200 as forbidding libraries and other benign public services to residents of Arizona. But I think Prop 200 was not written by "reasonable persons", and I think the harassment and intimidation has already started.


Cooking For Cons

There's a new cookbook out: The Convict Cookbook, by the inmates of Walla Walla Penitentary in Washington state.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Talk about your Iron Chefs. Proving that the steel bars of the Washington State Penitentiary are no barrier to fine dining, inmates at the Walla Walla prison have just produced "The Convict Cookbook," which includes recipes that can actually be made inside a cell without a stove.


Po' Mans Burritos, Cell Block Fudge or Jail Mix, anyone? How about Dope Fiend Sandwich or Prizzon Po Carcass Casserole? Those are just a few of the tasty dishes featured in the 163-page book. There's a helpful glossary of prison slang in the back, too.

The cookbook grew out of a community college class on how to make the transition to the outside. ... The book includes short facts and insights into prison life. There is also an essay "Why Do We Cook in Our Cells? or Bad Guys, Good Taste?" by Rick Webb, one of the authors. He explains that while prison food is OK, it becomes monotonous over time, and cell cooking provides some variety and creativity for inmates.

Cooking food in a prison cell isn't easy. Prisoners do not have stoves or microwaves. What they are allowed is an immersion heater known as a stinger, which can heat a cup of water to boiling.

Some recipes can be cooked on radiator pipes. Others require the prison kitchen. Many of the recipes involve plastic bags standing in as mixing bowls.

All involve some ingenuity.


Proceeds from sales of the $17 cookbook - available in bookstores around Washington state - will go to the Children's Museum of Walla Walla. Some of the money will also be used for museum passes for the children of inmates, when they are in town for a visit, said co-author Webb.

"We all agree that it would be `a good thing' to provide other worthwhile activities for children besides seeing Dad," Webb wrote.

I saw the news article reprinted in our local paper, and immediately thought of the applications it would have for those stone-broke skiffy fans who spend their convention dollars on travel and memberships, and eat (if they do) out of a box or cooler in their room.

Alas, the piece gives no direct information on ordering a copy. Not listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The site for the Children's Museum has no mention. Powell's Books, the big-muthah bookstore in Portland, OR, has a listing, but doesn't have it in stock; there's a "Notify Me" service, supposedly, but after waiting about twenty minutes for images to finish loading and the "Notify Me" button to actually show up somewhere on screen, I gave up.

*sigh* Maybe in a few weeks, it'll have gotten into accessible venues.

UPDATE, 11/16/04: Okay! Earthlight Books in Walla Walla, WA has The Convict Cookbook available for $17.95 plus shipping. Orders can be placed via this link at Abebooks.com.

Sunday Morning Cat Blogging: Guest Cats Edition

neighbor cat Mister It Posted by Hello

friend Jo's Ewaz and Jasper Posted by Hello

our friend Anne's Aliera Posted by Hello

Anne's Sethera Posted by Hello


The News From Alternate-Earth

(AP) The controversy over last week's presidential election results ramped up another notch today when Attorney-General John Ashcroft announced a full-scale investigation into whether the Ohio voting results that gave the election to John Kerry were rigged.

"Many will say this is a partisan investigation," Ashcroft announced, "but the accuracy and legitimacy of America's votes is essential to our freedom and democracy. I would betray my duty to my office and country if I did not seek answers for the disturbing questions raised by this election."

There was no immediate response from Kerry himself. Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe said, "The election was held. The votes were counted. John Kerry won. Let's all move on for the good of the country." McAullife was speaking from an undisclosed situation, under heavy security following numerous death threats received against himself and his family.

Others disagreed. Speaking before a crowd in Cinncinnatti estimated at seven to eight thousand, former General Motors executive turned conservative film-maker Michael Moore, whose anti-Kerry documentary WINDSURFIN' WUSS has been given much of the credit for reducing Kerry's initial lead in the campaign to an even match, said:

"It's all very simple. The president of Diebold made a statement that he was committed to delivering Ohio's electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. It became known that Diebold's electronic voting machines could be easily hacked and the results manipulated. Diebold refused to acknowledge or close all the security loopholes. Not one Democratic Representative or Senator -- not ONE -- was willing to support vote-verification measures that would have prevented that possibility.

"In the election, exit polls in almost every location indicated that the election was close, but with the edge leaning towards George Bush. In precincts still using paper ballots, the vote totals reflected that edge for Bush. But in the precincts using electronic, non-verifiable machines, over and over and over again the final results differed from the exit polls' results to give a clear win for Kerry.

"The election stinks. The Democrats are trying to wrap the results in newspaper headlines, and telling us all to 'move on'. But the fish is still rotten, and if America swallows any of it, our country will sicken and die."

Following Moore's speech, the crowd of sign-waving, chanting Republicans attempted to march to the Ohio headquarters for the Kerry campaign in downtown Cinncinnati. They were met by lines of police in riot gear, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Moore and others vowed to continue their protests. Similar, though smaller, protests are being held in dozens of cities across America.

In Washington, President Bush released a brief statement: "I've spent four years being accused of stealing the last election. That's not something I'd wish on any man, and certainly not on John Kerry. Both of us should support the Department of Justice's investigation. This is too important, not for John or I, but for the country we both love, to just 'move on'. And if the accusations of vote-rigging are shown to be baseless, I will then concede the election, make a public apology to John Kerry and to the American public, and then I will go down in the books as the biggest fool in Presidential history. But I'd rather be a fool, for my country's sake, than a coward who did not try to protect it."


A Public Service Announcement


If You Don't Vote
Will Be Your Fault

Technical Difficulties

The vast hordes of lurkers on this blog have no doubt noticed that there was no "Sunday Morning Cat Blogging" here last Sunday. There won't be any tomorrow, either.

The router that connected my usual computer to the house's high speed connection got fried by a power outage. And the replacement router I bought turned out not to work. (Since the little box gets hot enough that you literally can't touch it for more than a few seconds, I suspect it's defective. Unless it got packaged incorrectly, and was actually supposed to be a space heater.)

So I'm currently using our housemate's machine, the one that's the hub to all the other computers. But it doesn't have the Bloggerbot utility in it, so I won't be posting photos again until I get a second new router. (Probably Monday.)

Yeh, I could download Bloggerbot onto this machine, but I have an allergy to putting software onto other people's machines.

(Back quite a few years ago, when our son was still living with us, one of his friends stayed with us for several months. He fancied himself computer-proficient, and one day he decided, "I bet Bruce and Hilde would really like this database program I use. In fact, I'm so sure they'll like it, that I don't need to ask whether they'd like me to install it on their computer. And because it's such a great program, I'm sure they won't mind if I go ahead and delete the program they've been using for the past several years at the same time.")

(He's dead now. I didn't kill him, honest. Several months after he left our house and moved to Los Angeles, he got in between a drive-by shooter and the shooter's target. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Normal blogging will resume as soon as possible. (I've had a number of text posts I've wanted to make in the last several weeks, but have been short on time and energy as well. Overtime at work helps pay down debt, but it's a pain when you want to do other things with your life too.)


The Amazing Adventures of Helium Girl

From the latest Phoenix New Times. "Zero Tolerance" at work.

Another Question I'd Like To Hear Asked

"Mister President, if you lose the election in November, which community college do you plan to attend, and what 'twenty-first century job' do you want to train for?"


Telling The Difference

Here's "Colin Powell", a 2-year old Bombay who won 2004 Cat of the Year, with his owner John Clark. Also pictured is the original Colin Powell, Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State is the one who does what he's told.

Photo from Reuters. Posted by Hello

Sunday Morning Cat Blogging

Top to bottom: Bastet, Gremlin, Shadow Posted by Hello


Art Imitates Life

Remember when Bush dressed up in a flight suit to land on that aircraft carrier with the "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner?

I guess Rush Limbaugh has been jealous. The painted cover of the October 2004 issue of THE LIMBAUGH LETTER portrays Rush in the uniform of a four-star general.

Pretty impressive promotion (self-promotion?) for someone who was kept out of the military altgether by an oozing asscrack.

(You can't really distinguish the stars on the uniform in the website's picture, but trust me, they're hard to miss on the actual magazine.)


The Question I'd Like To Hear Asked

"Mister President, with American dead in Iraq now exceeding one thousand, do you regret daring Iraqi insurgents to attack and kill American soldiers with your 'Bring it on' statement last year?"


Arnie Katz, Deflater of Egos

In Flicker #3, Arnie Katz's online fanzine, Arnie writes the following, as part of a piece about the Bring Bruce [Gillespie] Bayside Fund:

"Next, someone might write a nostalgic essay about Bruce Pelz, or Bruce D. Arthurs, or even Bruce Telzer."

Okay, I guess it's official: I'm old. I'm historical. I'm the potential subject of... nostalgic... essays. And here I was hoping that the stories from my misspent youth might eventually be displaced by deeper, more mature stories from my misspent middle age, with possible great insights and wisdom to come forth from my future, hopefully still misspent, geriatric years.

And by the way: Who the heck was Bruce Telzer?


Testing, Testing . . .

This is a test for the Hello/BloggerBot utility for adding photos to Blogspot blogs. Pictured are Big Kitty (the stuffed one) and Gremlin, our Siamese. Posted by Hello

Hey, it works!

It's not a real blog without pictures of your cats....


The Waiting Room

In recent weeks, I've been finding myself less inclined to peruse or comment on political threads, a habit I'd been moderately prolific at the last several years.

I think I've entered the "waiting-room" phase of political interest. It's as if your loved one (in this case, your country) has been battling a life-threatening disease for several years. You've tried to understand the cause of the disease, tried to mitigate its symptoms and progress, tried to live as normal a life as possible under its everpresence, and now the high-risk surgery has been scheduled.

And you're in the surgical waiting room as your loved one is going thru all the pre-surgical preparation, and it's out of your hands, and you can't do anything, and you WAIT, and WAIT, with hope and dread cycling and cycling through your mind, and you WAIT some more not knowing if your loved one will be returned to you whole again, or still alive but crippled and handicapped by the past ravages of the disease, or if you'll be approached by a surgeon who will tell you "We could not save her. I'm sorry."

(There are still five weeks until the election, and I could still take some [minor] actions to try and influence other people's votes. But it's hard, very hard, to feel that, at this point, anything I could do would make a difference. If there are actually any "undecided" voters out there, I sure don't know any. It feels, in essence, that except for the actual vote-casting and vote-counting, everything about the election except the results has already been decided.)

[this post was originally written as a comment on Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Electrolite]


Compare and Contrast

From Smirking Chimp

By Donna Marsh O'Connor

An open letter to Dick Cheney on the anniversary of my daughter's murder:

Thank you for warning me about my vote for John Kerry. In this version of America, the one you all have crafted, clarity is very difficult to come by. Let me make myself perfectly clear: my daughter was murdered on 9/11/2001, on an absolutely clear, late summer morning. She was four months pregnant and, that morning, five minutes after the first of two planes hit the World Trade Center, she was told she was "safe." She was told to "stay at her desk." She was found whole and intact ten feet from an alley between Towers IV and V. I cannot tell you how I would have appreciated such a clear warning before September 11th, or even on September 11th. Before that day, there were warnings, clear warnings, but they only reached the desk of George W. Bush. And I note he did nothing to stop the events of 9/11.


There were other warnings during Clinton's tenure in the White House (many I'm sure you don't need me to innumerate)--some, though they were perhaps more coded than your recent missive, came in the form of Ken Starr's investigation of Clinton. As a mother or a citizen of this country, did I read this as a warning then? No. I did not. Was this money well spent by the Republicans? Many of my Republican friends at the time did not think so. Could we Americans afford this kind of investigation, knowing now how much we needed Clinton to be free to pursue more pressing issues? No. Should I have read in my lack of understanding of the import of the Ken Starr investigation that there was something you people wanted to have occur? Was this a deliberate distraction? Has anyone in the media since, or, in fact, has anyone in any office of power in this nation asked any of you to, perhaps, answer for that?


I ask these questions now because the Bush/Cheney administration and all of your followers are the greatest beneficiaries of the events post-9/11, and I take your warning as an indication of what you guys will bring to America if Kerry wins. Get this clear, Mr. Cheney, what you guys will bring to America. I fear you, believe it or not, more than I fear another bin Laden attack and that is why I am asking you these questions now.

Because I take your warning as an admission of your ties to that event. Even, no especially, if that admission is not what you intended.

So thank you, once again. And, understand how truly thankful I am to hear you articulate what only I seem willing to articulate: That if Kerry wins, you will come back at us.

We are forewarned.

But know this: I will never again watch my values, and the values of my fellow Americans be trampled on by so much corruption, so much duplicity and so much unadulterated hate without speaking out. You are not a Republican. You have shamed Republicans. And many of them, I pray, will be voting with me, in hope as well as fear, for John Forbes Kerry.

Donna Marsh O'Connor
Mother of Vanessa Lang Langer, WTC, Tower II, 93rd floor

- - - - -

And this is the response posted by "American Patriot":

My condolences for your loss however I cannot help feeling your comments are the manifestation of a deeper hatred rooted in the failings of your own party.

I didn't see the part where you lashed out at the Clinton regime for its failings in dealing with the terrorists. I did notice how you somehow focused on George W Bush for failing to stop terror in seven months when Clinton had failed miserably for eight years to do so. Let's try to be fair ok. Your daughters death, tragic as it might have been, was but one life needlessly lost on 9/11. The 9/11 commission makes it quite clear that Clintons efforts to engage terror were not fruitful because the military and CIA and FBI all thought it nothing but a diversion from the topic at hand at that time, you know and remember that don't you, the President receiving oral sex in the White House instead of PROTECTING AMERICANS.

I find it repulsive that you choose to point the finger of blame at a man who has attempted to rid the world of terror while you sit muted when it comes to the root cause of 9/11, a complete and utter failureof Clinton as President to keep his penis in his pants and do the job of President.

Your commentary is the typical Democratic finger pointing that leads many to say go fuck yourself. you in your hatred find it easy to assign blame while looking blindly at the real culprit.Your daughter was one of many and many of those killed that same day were Republicans, Democrats, blacks, whites, Hispanics yet you only chose to attack the people who are actually DOING SOMETHING. I'm sorry for your loss but your comments deserve a large,"GO FUCK YOURSELF" you're a disgrace using your daughters death as smear material for the party who truly let you down. DISGRACEFUL

ADDENDUM, 10/2/04: Avedon Carol takes me to the woodshed in comments for only providing a link back to the Smirking Chimp home page, rather than to the article itself.

Since I quoted both O'Connor's article and "American Patriot"'s response in full, I didn't see the need for a link back. The article generated over 150 comments on SC, the majority of them responding to "American Patriot", some politely, some in language similar to his own. The comments also didn't add much to the mix, I thought. If you want to judge for yourself, you can look here.

But Avedon is absolutely right that I should have included a link back to the original source of O'Connor's open letter. Unfortunately... there wasn't one. While Smirking Chimp articles are usually reprinted from other sources, occasionally head honcho Smirky Chimpster gets writing submitted directly to him. And if it's particularly powerful or well-written, he might post it on SC. O'Connor's letter appears to be such a piece.


"Bob, These Are The Strangest People I've Ever Seen."
A Bubonicon Report

Bubonicon had a new hotel this year, the Wyndham Airport close by the Albuquerque airport. Larger facilities, a more upscale ambience than the Howard Johnson East where the con had been for years, and with still-reasonable room rates ($69/night).

Hilde and I drove up from Phoenix on Thursday. Even though we no longer have the extra hassles of packing along goods and equipment for a dealer’s table, it’s still a long drive, especially with only one driver. (Kay, who usually goes with us, had to stay home to take care of her new granddaughter.) And a full night’s sleep before a con is an added benefit.

We also wanted a bit of an opportunity to act like normal tourists. So Friday morning we got up and went off the the Albuquerque Biopark, which includes large botanical gardens with a very nice aquarium.

The aquarium has a number of smaller tanks with various fresh- and salt-water fish, including many brightly-colored tropicals. In the first of the larger tanks we saw were . . . manta rays.

Ooh! Ooh! Mantas! Neat! Seriously cool!

(Can you tell I sorta like manta rays?)

Then there was an impressive display of jellyfish, in shaded tanks with spot lighting that highlighted the jellyfishs’ delicate structure. Really lovely creatures.

(Though I did wonder a bit about the plush toy jellyfish in the gift shop. Is it really a good idea to teach kids to cuddle jellyfish?)

Then, the shark tank, which also featured numerous other large fish, moray eels, a sea tortoise, more mantas (yay!), an artificial reef, and several scuba drivers dispensing food to the non-sharks. (One assumes the sharks are fed-well at other times.)

The botanical gardens area held, besides some extensive, nicely-designed gardens and greenhouses, a Children’s Fantasy Garden, with immense concrete versions of fruits and veggies and a big dragon guarding the entrance, and a butterfly pavilion with numerous species fluttering about inside the big mesh enclosure.

Between the aquarium and the gardens, I took about ninety shots with my Sony digital camera, the one that uses mini-CDs as a storage medium. Unfortunately, right after the butterfly pavilion, when we were leaving the Biopark, the camera started flashing error messages: the disk had gone bad, and would no longer write. Worse, it would also no longer go through the finalization procedure, which readies the disk for removal and insertion into a computer’s disk drive. No finalization, no pictures.

Bummersville. (I still had a spare disk in the camera’s carrying case, so I was able to take some photos at Bubonicon itself later that weekend. But damn, I had some good shots of those jellyfish!)

The con had already started registration by the time we got back to the hotel. I was scheduled to be on a couple of panels, and give a reading, that weekend, but nothing on that Friday. So it was a fairly laid-back evening, saying hi to people we knew, perusing the dealers room, and attending Jim Moore’s very interesting talk on “The Science Of Archaeology.”

There was also an interesting panel on the future of space exploration – manned or unmanned? that turned out to have an unexpected consequence for me:

I was scheduled Saturday for a panel on what aliens would look like. Thinking about what to say on that forthcoming panel mixed in with some of what had been said on the space exploration panel, and in Jim’s talk about archaeology. And Saturday morning, while Hilde was still asleep, I found myself with pen and notepad, and actually writing a complete short (1100 words) story in one sitting.

(Two completed stories in four months? For me, a definite Wow!)

Back to Friday for one more note: At the panel on shared and media worlds, Melinda Snodgrass made the announcement that the WILD CARDS shared-world series was being developed as a television series by Sci Fi Channel, and she had just turned in the script for the pilot episode. Since I’ve always enjoyed the WC books, I consider this cool news, and hope the concept transfers to television smoothly and well.

Saturday started fairly late. Hilde slept in while I worked on the story, and then were the usual start-of-day routines like Hilde’s twice a-day exercises, washing, medications, and breakfast out of the cooler we’d brought with us. So it was early afternoon by the time we actually got out of our room.

At the Mass Autographing Session, I took the opportunity to have George RR Martin sign my copy of his big fiction collection from last year’s Worldcon, GRRM: A RRetrospective. I hadn’t heard about the book until Locus’ post-Worldcon issue. The publisher, Subterranean Press, hadn’t made that large a print run – they recently announced there’ll finally be a second printing – and it was a bitch trying to find a dealer who still had copies of the $40 trade edition. The first couple of dealers I tried had copies, but they were asking, two months after publication, the same price for the trade edition as for the still available-from-publisher $125 deluxe edition. Finally found Clarkeworld Books, who were still selling the trade for the initial price.

Also got some books signed by Connie Willis and Walter Jon Williams. (And would have liked to have had Steve Stirling’s new book, Dies The Fire, with me, but my copy hadn’t arrived from Science Fiction Book Club yet.)

A few more panels: “Pulp Fiction: The Importance of SF & The Short Story” which seemed to mostly conclude that publishing overall is in a state of flux right now, which leaves markets for short stories in a similar flux. The traditional magazines may end up continuing, but with reduced print runs and circulation. Webzines may eventually flourish, but not until a successful business model is found that allows actual profits. Gardner Dozois pointed to Fictionwise.com as the only fiction (mostly reprint) site that seems to actually come close to finding that business model.

Then my panel on “BEMs or Grays: The Look of Aliens.” I raised what I hoped was an interesting point: Eventually, either humanity, going out, or aliens, coming in, may have the ability, with gene-engineering and other technology, to send an unmanned vessel that will probe and study a target planet, then custom-tailor and build an organism maximized for survival in the planet’s environment. Add in a capability for downloading intelligence into the tailored body, and space-travelers will be able to go just about anywhere. So, if such a spacecraft ever arrives on Earth, we’ll most likely find ourselves shaking hands with cockroaches.

Hilde and I went to dinner after that, in the hotel restaurant. My order, a Grilled Portobello Mushroom With Spinach Hummus turned out to sound better on the menu than actually was on the plate. The “Spinach Hummus” was more like a lightly creamed chopped spinach (with, I think, some of the mushroom liquer used in the cream sauce); if chickpeas had ever been near it, I couldn’t tell. I think this is something I may try fiddling with at home. (A Spinach Hummus certainly sounds like it has potential.)

We skipped the Costume Contest. Sorry, but costume contests and masquerades are generally hot, crowded, go on for far too long, and lack sufficient reward for the time and energy expended.

Spent some time in the Con Suite with various nice folks likewise ducking out on the costumes. Then I tucked Hilde into bed, and I went to see The Stink of Flesh.

TSOF is a movie produced and directed in Albuquerque by a fellow named Scott Phillips. A couple of years ago, he presented a short film, Science Bastard, at Bubonicon. That presentation was hilarious, in the “so bad, it’s good” tradition. So I was looking forward to more of the same.

Alas, TSOF wasn’t that bad. The premise is, in the usual world where almost everyone has been killed and come back as flesh-eating zombies (don’t you hate when that happens?), an “alternative-lifestyle” couple has to find some of the few survivors so the husband can watch them have sex with his wife. (Okay, it sounds that bad, but it wasn’t. Not that bad.)

Sunday morning was spent packing and taking stuff out to the car. Then my reading at 12:30.

I’m grateful when anybody shows up for one of my readings. Had two people there when I began reading, and a few others come in within a few minutes. And got a nice compliment from James van Pelt for “The Shining Boy” at the end of the reading.

At 1:30 was an Authors Afternoon High Tea in the Con Suite. Yep a real high tea, with multiple teapots and cucumber sandwiches, presented by local author Pati Nagle and assistants. Crowded and noisy, but much fun. An award was given for the Best Hat & Gloves, and attendees got to take home their tea mugs. (White coffee mugs printed with a drawing of a tall pile of papers, a hand and forearm poking from the top, and the caption “I can handle it!) If Pati holds High Tea again next year, I’ll have to remember to pack along my fancy cowboy hat from the back of the closet.

We had several bids on pieces in the art show. Pickup was at 3:00 for winning bids, but my last panel was at 3:20, so I left Hilde in line with the checkbook and went off to do the panel.

The panel was “Send In The Clones” and wandered over the subject as panels are wont to do. At one point, Connie Willis brought up that recent studies show stresses in the womb itself, not just initial genetics and upbringing, may play a major part in determining a person’s personality and characteristics. I responded that this might actually make a selling point for artificial wombs; by raising an embryo in a strictly controlled environment, you might be able to get a kid that comes with a guarantee!

Hilde came into the room partway thru the panel, with a box on her lap. We’d won two of the three pieces we’d bid on in the Art Show: a painting of a winged cat (I collect winged cats), and a highly dramatic half-figure sculpture of an archer by a guy named Jim Humble. (The guy is good!)

And at that point we skipped the closing ceremonies, went out to the van, and began the long drive home.

I’ve been going to Bubonicons for over thirty years now. I like the size (I think they hit a new record this year with just over 400 attendees), I like the people who attend, I like the people who put it on, and I like Albuquerque. (I even considered moving there, back about 1976.) I think it’s safe to say Bubonicon is, and has been for a long time, my favorite convention.

And I knew it had been a good con overall when I was taking some of the last boxes out to the van, and went by an older, mundane-looking couple standing by the front entrance. And heard the wife say to her husband, “Bob, these are the strangest people I’ve ever seen.


Marvels and Miracles

Ive been going thru a period of a lot of introspection, and thinking about Life So Far and some of the things that have happened during it.

I think I’ve decided that the Big Question isn’t “Why was I so incredibly screwed up as a kid?”, but “How did I manage to end up so [relatively] normal?”

I don’t like miracles. I don’t want to believe in them. It’s why I’ve never been able to be a Christian; if God performs miracles, then God is a cheat.

But I look back at over a quarter-century with Hilde, and I marvel. I marvel that when I finally realized that Hilde had an interest in me as more than a casual friend, that – in a life that had, up to that point, been close to emotionally comatose – I found the courage to take the risk of opening up to someone, of sharing myself with someone. (And I came so close to deciding the other way.)

And the other marvel: That the person I opened up to was the right person, maybe the only person who could have, in the simplest words, put up with me, to stand by me, and teach me during that long steep learning curve of how to be capable of love.

That’s definitely a marvel. And maybe it’s a miracle too.


A Piece of the Past

Aquanetta died last Sunday.

This doesn't mean much to most people, unless you're a fan of old and crappy horror movies, but if you grew up in the Phoenix area during the 50's and 60's, it's pretty big news.

Aquanetta was pretty much omnipresent on local television back then, in innumerable television commercials for her husband's local car dealership. She was... how do I put this politely?... grotesque.

She had been a pretty woman (if she hadn't been, she wouldn't have had even the third-rate movie career she did), but by the time she became a pitchwoman for her husband, it was evident that she was trying desperately to retain those youthful good looks. She always appeared heavily made-up. Her eyebrows were plucked and pencilled into two swooping nightmares on her forehead. And the hair...! Her hair, long and jet-black, was always pulled back so tightly that it seemed like she was trying to give herself a naturopathic facelift. And it appeared to be slicked down with... was that actually bear grease?

This frequently made her the object of local jokes, derision, and parody.

That said, after the 60's (and after a divorce from her husband), she stopped appearing in commercials. She remained well-known locally, but as time went on, it was more and more for her activities in local charities, particularly for animal welfare. In the last few pictures I saw of her, about a decade ago, her appearance was much more natural-looking; she was an old lady, but she was a nice-looking old lady, and she seemed much more comfortable with herself than she had been in the television days. She even looked... happy.


The Cat Story: An Update

Our son Chris' household reports that Michelle's cat Khan is no longer trying to fight with Chris' new cat Kirk.

Khan now keeps trying to hump Kirk.

Ah, yes, the infamous "Lost Episode" of Star Trek....

(There probably actually have been fans who've written slash fiction featuring that particular combination, since they've done every other possible combo short of Data and his cat, but I think I'm just as glad to have never come across it.)


We Have Met The Enemy, And She Charms Our Socks Off

So I'm at the Blogger Dashboard page, and I decide to peruse the list of blogs that have recently posted comments.

And one of the first things I decide is that it really, really helps to get someone's initial attention if you give your blog a good title.

A poor title is one that's dull --- cinema, or Rita's Blog, for examples.  And I find that blog-titles tHat usE RanDoMlY mIxEd upPer anD lOweR-CasE LetTers annoy me.  And, of course, there are the ignorable titles like Asian Celebrity Sex Photos.

A good title should have a bit of the odd, the mysterious about it.  An unusual juxtaposition of words you don't expect together.

And so I click on the link to a blog titled The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots .

Which turns out to be written by "The Queen of Carrots", a woman in the Midwest, in her mid-20's, married just a couple of years, a recent mother, and settling into a new house.

She also has a law degree, is politically conservative (yikes!), supports George Bush (ackk!), and she and her husband are both members of Young Republicans (OHMIGHOD!!).

In spite of which, I find the Queen's blog quite enjoyable.

I think this is because her political views, though important to her, aren't the be-all and end-all of her life and blog. And, when she writes on matters politics, it's usually to state her own opinions, rather than to disparage the opinions of those she disagrees with.

(Disagreement -- fine. Disparagement -- this gets tiresome, and there's a lot of it in the more political blogs, of either persuasion.)(Though I must admit I do enjoy a good zinger, and give them occasionally.)

But she also, predominantly, writes -- quite well, and frequently with a self-deprecating humor -- about marriage, pregnancy and motherhood, stopped drains & other travails of home-ownership, and more.

I guess this is proof that even Republicans -- even Young Republicans! -- lead normal (and even interesting) lives sometimes.

Probably something we should try to remember.


The Best of Sloganator

Back in March 2004, the Bush campaign website introduced a handy service for people who visited the site:  The Sloganator, featuring a graphic of the standard Bush/Cheney campaign logo with a nice aesthetic blue space at the top of the graphic.  Visitors could enter a slogan to appear in that blue space, and use the result to print their own campaign posters. 

What they failed to remember was that the people who visited the Bush site weren't necessarily Bush supporters.  In short order, the Sloganator had to be re-programmed to reject slogans including words that aren't supposed to be used in public.  And after a few weeks, the Sloganator was removed entirely, because too many of the people using it were having wayyyyy too much fun.

But the Web has a long memory, and if you click on this link, you'll see a slideshow of some of the best of the *ahem* irreverent Sloganator entries.


Two Deaths

On my mail delivery route (26-plus years with the USPS, egad), I occasionally deliver cards:  Xmas cards, birthday cards,  anniversary cards, et cetera.
Then there are times where I find myself delivering cards addressed to The ______ Family.  This is almost always an indication of a death in the household.  And since the major portion of my route is a senior-community (age 55 and up) trailer park, these sometimes seem to outnumber the other cards.
One of my customers was a retired rural carrier, so we had talked a few times over the years.  Last year, he had a stroke, and had been mostly house-bound since then, with his wife as his caregiver.  Back a couple of weeks ago, I had been delivering mail to that particular stretch, when my customer and his wife's car pulled up to the curb, apparently returning from a doctor's visit or other errand.  The wife helped him out of the car, and then helped him walk up the shallow ramp leading to their front porch.
She did this by standing behind him, close, almost as if they were doing an exotic dance.  Her arms laid along his, her chest against his back.  And slowly, they went up the ramp to their home, moving as one.
A few days ago, the Family of ______ cards began to arrive.  Rather than leaving them in the mailbox today, I took the stack of cards to the door, where the wife told me that, yes, her husband had passed away earlier this week.  I gave her my condolences, and I also told her what had passed thru my mind that time several weeks ago:
I told her that that scene of her helping her husband up the ramp had been so loving and so supportive, that I had wished at the time that I had had a camera with me.
- - - - -
And later today, in the regular-house section of my route, I found much of one street blocked by solid lines of cars along both sides of the street.  Another of my customers had died (not too surprisingly; he'd been in his fifties, and very overweight) and the crowd was people coming to the post-funeral reception at his home.
What puzzled me for a moment was that so many of the people walking from their cars to the house were so casually dressed;  there were a great many wearing shorts and t-shirts.
And then I saw one of the people had a brightly-colored towel over one arm, and I remembered that my customer had owned and run a custom pool-building business.  And I realized that the reception must be not only that, but a wake for my customer.
And what better wake for a pool-builder than to throw a pool party?


The Cat Story

So Michelle, who's one of son Chris' housemates, tells me about how she's woken up in the wee hours of pre-dawn by her cat Khan fighting with another cat on her bed.

Problem: Khan is the household's only cat.

So Michelle figures a stray cat has managed to get into the house. She picks up the young stranger by its scruff, goes to the front door, and tosses it out. Then goes back to bed.

Some hours later, Michelle is having coffee when Chris wakes up and stumbles from his own bedroom.

Michelle: Chris, did you maybe let Khan into the house when you got home from work last night?

Chris: Urrrrrggghhh... coffee... no.

Michelle: Did you maybe think you let Khan into the house?

Chris: No.

Michelle: Because there was a strange cat fighting with Khan, on my bed, way early this morning.

Chris: Oh. Sorry. I brought a new cat home last night.

Michelle: [very, very long pause]

Chris: Where's my cat?

The Good News: The cat, a 6-month old kitten with flamepoint markings, was found in the oleanders beside the house. Since Khan is still fighting with the new cat at every opportunity, the new kitten has been named Kirk.


Egoboo Alert

Email this morning:

Dear Mr. Arthurs,

NESFA Press, as you may know, is reprinting Harry Warner's
"All Our Yesterdays," which was originally an Advent release.

As I've been working on the dust jacket, I stumbled on a
comment that you made on TNH's "Making Light" weblog shortly
after Harry died: "If someone were to write a biography of
Harry Warner Jr., I suspect it would have to be titled THE
IMMORTAL CALM. (I -never- saw him lose his temper in print.
Even in some of the most trying fanhistorical times he
always seemed one of the few islands of sanity in feuding,
fractious fandom.)"

Would it be possible for me to include this comment as part
of our dust jacket for the book? (I regret that I'm on a
very, very tight deadline...and don't know if you'll see
this by the time the DJ has to go to print. But just in
case, I figgered I'd ask!)


Deb Geisler (for the NESFA Press)

Of course I gave a quick "Yes" in reply. But I think this is the first time I've been quoted for a dustjacket, so pardon me while I blurble.


Rain On A Drought-Stricken Mind

Earlier this week, I wrote a 4700-word short story.

If one calls oneself a writer, or tries to think of oneself as a writer, one expects oneself to actually write.

The short story this week is the first piece of fiction I've managed to complete in five friggin' years!

I've done fragments of stories during those five years, but never managed to complete any of them.

I've never been a prolific writer. I started making serious attempts at writing and selling fiction in 1980, and usually only managed to write a couple of stories (occasionally more) in any given year. About eight or nine of those stories were eventually sold and published.

So what happened in 1999? What changed?

Part of it, I think, but only part, was that in 1999 my wife and I began a long stretch of dealing with major (in Hilde's case, life-threatening) medical problems. That added a lot of stress, and took away a lot of free time and energy. (Thankfully, they've pretty much resolved themselves in the last year.)

But I also think that I underwent a "loss of faith" in my own abilities as a writer. When you envision a story in your head, there's a mental ideal of how you want it to move, how you want it to affect and engage the reader... and the fragments I started weren't, by any measure, reaching that ideal.

(The fragments I was turning out were, essentially, slush-pile fiction. Slush-piles are notorious for the truly, truly bad and awful writing found in them, but when you actually go through a slushpile [I have], the most depressing thing isn't that a small fraction of the submissions are godawful, but that a HUGE proportion of the submissions are... "adequate", "okay", "decent". They have plot, and character, and setting . . . and none of it comes to life, none of it ever becomes more than words on a piece of paper.)

So it's been a relief, a HUGE relief, to finally have this long spell of literary impotence come to an end. (I was about ready to burn my SFWA membership card.) I hope this is a forebearer of more to come.

(And it's even a pretty darn good story!)

First Post

Greetings. About two years ago, someone in an online discussion group mentioned the word "blog". I responded with "I must be stuck in the twentieth century; what's a blog?"

As it turned out, a bog is essentially an online personalzine. And I've done perzines before, back when I was still active in fanzine fandom. UNDULANT FEVER published a number of issues in the 70's and 80's. Something I've missed.

So, here is UNDULANT FEVER again, back in a shiny new guise. I'm still learning the vagaries of HTML and Blogger, so please forgive any weird formatting or cluelessness on my part. I probably won't post everyday, but I'll try to post at least occasionally.

Thanks for coming.