12/16/2006

Geekmas

Over in a post at Will Shetterly's It's All One Thing, I posted a comment that there had been enough Star Wars Christmas ornaments issued over the years to decorate a good-sized tree without using any duplicates. And that someone had almost certainly done so.

I was right: The Geek Tree (with Star Wars, plus Star Trek, LOTR, Harry Potter, and Batman)

The Geek Tree's Flickr photoset

12/14/2006

I Am Not Scotty



Remember all the episodes of Classic Trek where you had a scene like:
KIRK: Scotty, give me more power!

SCOTTY: Cap'n, the engines canna' take the strain!

KIRK: Scotty, I need that power!


And about four minutes later, after Scotty applies his Manly Scottish Mojo, the warp engines are running at 180% and the Enterprise's butt is saved again. Remember those episodes?

What brings this to mind is the situation at work.

I don't want to say too much about this. But consider the words "dysfunctional management" and "Toxic Boss" and "delusional thinking". Those are the polite words; the ones I'm trying to keep strictly in my head are words that would probably get me an unpaid involuntary vacation.

The Postal Service has always had a reputation for being one of the worst-managed organizations around. Mostly, if you're a long-time employee, you get used to it, you learn to deal with it, you do your job as best you can in spite of it.

But in just the last week, things have changed for the worse. They haven't just gtten worse, they've gotten exponentially worse. Management is demanding a performance level from employees that is impossible to attain. Literally (and I'm not *pet peeve here* misusing the word "literally") impossible. And when we say that we can't achieve those impossible goals, and then we don't achive those impossible goals, we're treated like lying sacks of shit.

The last time stress levels at work got this bad, in 1995, I ended up in the hospital (and off work for three months) with what felt like a heart attack. I don't want that to happen again. For one thing, I'm eleven years older, and that much more likely to have a genuine heart attack next time. (In my paternal family line, no male has gotten to age 60 without a major heart attack.)

Short version: I've seen my doctor, and am having to go back on an anti-depressant again (Lexapro), backed up with an anti-anxiety pill (Xanax), plus a recommendation for a shrink for stress-management counseling.

I don't like being on anti-depressants. I had to do that in 1995, after my stint in the hospital, and one of the side-effects of the med (Paxil) I was taking then was that my urge to sit down at the keyboard and write... vanished. Gone. On the Paxil, I'd look at the keyboard and feel... nothing. Just an empty spot there.

Considering that I've been writing at least occasionally since age 14, and how much of my self-identity is contained in the word "writer", that was not a happy time. (If I hadn't been taking anti-depressants, I would have been really miserable.) I'm hoping, with fingers crossed and crossed again, that the Lexapro won't have the same effect.

But right now, I'm feeling very close to the edge, that same edge I crossed in 1995, so the meds seem to be necessary.

Damn it. Damn them.

Star Trek was fiction. Scotty was fiction. And this is what you would have seen on STAR TREK: THE REALITY SERIES:
KIRK: Scotty, I need more power.

SCOTTY: Cap'n, the engines canna take the strain!

KIRK: Scotty, I need that power!

SCOTTY: Uh, cap'n, did you hear what I said? The engines canna take the strain.

KIRK: Scotty, give me that power, damn it!

SCOTTY:
[smacks forehead] Dude, listen up. The engines are maxxed out. They are redlined. There isn't any more power to give. It can't be done, dude.

KIRK: I'm giving you an order, Scotty! We're surrounded by hostile Romulan ships! Give me that power, NOW!

SCOTTY: And just who flew us into the middle of the friggin' Romulan Zone in the first place? It's my ass being snapped at by alligators, too. If I could do anything, I would!

KIRK: Damn it, Scotty, if you don't give me that power, we're all going to DIE!

SCOTTY: No fucking shit, Sherlo---


[Enterprise explodes]

12/05/2006

Those Who Fail To Remember History Class, Are Doomed To Repeat It

CostCo's monthly in-house magazine, COSTCO CONNECTION, has a regular feature titled "Informed Debate", where guest writers give opposing opinions n various issues of the day. The following issue will generally include letters from readers, giving their own opinions on the issues raised.

The November debate question was: "Should airport security procedures include ethnic and religious profiling?"

This produced the following reader's response:

YES. It's unfortunate that it has come down to this, but people of certain ethnic and religious backgrounds have a much higher probability to commit terrorist acts against the U.S. at this time. Anyone acting suspiciously also has to be checked." ---Bruce Shimizu, Kaneohe, Hawaii



Ummmm... excuse me, Bruce (do you mind if I call you Bruce? Cause us "Bruce" guys, we're all supposed to be cool and smart, right?), but that last name of yours, "Shimizu", isn't that like... Japanese?

And would that make you a... Japanese-American? Or at least of Japanese-American ancestry?

And wouldn't you think that that heritage of yours might behoove you to be a little bit aware of Japanese-American history? Like, say, the forced internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during WWII on racial and ethnic grounds?

Wouldn't you think that that cultural background, that history, would make you just a bit hesitant to endorse profiling of "people of certain ethnic and religious backgrounds"?

Wouldn't you think?

11/28/2006

A Small, Inconsequential Death



Yesterday, I was driving Hilde to a doctor's appointment across town, taking the 101 freeway, in the middle lane, when I glance over, and I see...

Oh, jeezus, there's a kitten in the right-hand lane!

And I'm just starting to think, Can I pull over? Can I stop and run back and...? and we're already past the kitten and I look at the right-hand sideview mirror and I see the kitten vanish underneath the wheel ("OH SHIT! JEEZUS!") of another car. Gone, in a split second.

I drove on, shaken, knowing that I had just watched something die.

This is a bad story, isn't it? No happy ending. But these things happen. Animals, pets, stray onto roads all the time. These things happen.

These things happen.

Wait. I haven't told you everything.

When I first saw the kitten, in the traffic lane, it wasn't trying to cross the road, and it wasn't standing still, paralyzed with fear.

The kitten was sliding and spinning across the asphalt, scrabbling desperately for footing.

I think...

...I think it had, just a second before, fallen out of someone's car.

These things, these things, DON'T have to happen. If you're carrying a pet in your car, you DON'T let it run loose inside. You DON'T leave windows open enough for your pet to squeeze out. You DON'T. You DON'T do that, you stupid, careless, senseless fucker, whoever you were.

(link to a short guide on transporting pets: Carrying Pets Safely)

11/17/2006

Since The Election...



...I've been:

a) working. More 12-hour days at the Postal Service. They suck.

b) at TusCon. TusCon is an annual relaxacon in Tucson, that we try to make it to every year. A chance to catch up with some old friends, meet new or online people (waves to Will & Emma), usually eat out once or twice (discovered, close to the hotel, the Mei Mei, with very good walnut shrimp and curried chicken), browse books and the art show (got some very nice Leslie D'ellesandro-Hawes colored pencils of young foxes, plus a few other pieces for gifts), and participate in the annual chili-tasting at the Dead Dog party.

c) sick. A few days after TusCon, I came down with what may have been post-con crud, with nausea, chills and headache. Recovered quickly enough to go back to work after one day off, but Hilde came down with a stronger case of it this morning, so I've been plying her with ginger ale and TLC.

d) dealing with an incredibly dumb cat, which I'll tell you all about in a separate post.

Some Links

Some interesting sites:

Mona Lisa On The Web Galleries, resources, and links to hundreds of versions of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Some of the links to versions I particularly liked were:
Robot Mona
Devil Mona
Mona Lisa Simpson

Harold McGee, author of the fabulous food-tech resource On Food and Cooking has a blog, The Curious Cook. Postings aren't that frequent (about once or twice a month), but they're always interesting.


Jason Hill Design Hill is a local artist/designer whose work has been labeled as "Retro-Futuristic", with influences from Pop Art, 1930's travel posters, and The Jetsons. Groovy, man. He's best known for his series of paintings of architectural landmarks; his depiction of the Phoenix Financial Center (aka "The Punch-Card Building") has been gaining ground as a well-known icon for the city of Phoenix.


The Arizona Opera has some particular striking publicity art for its 2006-2007 season. (The link goes to a page showing the art for all five shows; clicking on a particular piece will take you to a page with a larger version.) I particularly like the art for MacBeth and Madama Butterfly; either would not be at all out of place if they appeared in the annual Spectrum best-of-year compendium of sf/fantasy art.

11/08/2006

The Day After



Elections are over. A solid shift to the Democrats in the House of Representatives, numerous other Democratic wins in state-level races.

Democrats may have a 49-49 vote split in the Senate (the Virginia race, between Webb and Allen, is narrow and certain to be recounted, with Republicans pulling out all the stops to win; it will be ugly, probably with things like the mob of Republican operatives that near-rioted to stop the Florida recount in the 2000 election, or worse).

Two "independents" (Sanders and Lieberman) were elected, but they probably will effectively cancel each other out. Senate votes along party lines will end up 50-50, with VP Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaker vote. At least this will mean that, unlike the past few years, Cheney will be spending a lot of his time in a disclosed location.

Here's a question:
What do you think Dem-primary-loser Joe Lieberman secretly promised to Karl Rove and the Republican Party in exchange for having Republican support and Republican votes channeled toward his "independent" run?

1) A kidney.
2) A lung.
3) His spine.
4) His soul.
5) All of the above.

Still and all, yesterday's elections seemed like a good smackdown to not just the Republican party in general, but to the Bush administration and to the neocon/fundamentalist extremists behind it.

But a smackdown is only the start to a fight. This isn't a staged, pre-planned WWF wrestling match, where the participants get up at the end, wipe off the sweat and makeup, and go home to the wife and kids. This is a street fight for the soul of our country, and we need to finish the fight.

We've knocked the Republican Party into a gutter. Letting them get back up and start swinging again is not the way to win this fight. While they're in that gutter, kick them in the head.

I want to see facts revealed, and truth spoken. I want to see subpoenas, investigations, public hearings, criminal charges and impeachments.

I want to have pride in my country again.

- - - - -

Here in Arizona...

Jon Kyl retained his Senate seat, but it took an expensive and nasty campaign against Jim Pederson to do so.

The good news, though, is that Congressman J.D. Hayworth was defeated by Harry Mitchell. So long, you cretinous embarassment; maybe you can get your old job as a television sportscaster back.

Nut Jan Brewer (hmm, I meant to type "But", but that's too good a typo to correct) got reelected as Secretary of State. Fout. Frack. Dammit.

There was a long list of voter-initiated propositions on the ballot:

Arizona voted against the so-called "Protect Marriage" act. I was surprised, but pleased.

Before assuming that Arizona has become a left-wing hotbed of Frenchified liberalness, though, a number of anti-illegal-immigrant measures on the ballot DID pass, by nearly 3-1 margins. These included measures to deny bail to illegal immigrants charged with crimes, deny punitive damages in lawsuits filed by illegal immigrants, to deny state educational programs, grants, tuition waivers, and child-care assistance to illegal immigrants.

(Y'know, if you really wanted to reduce illegal immigration, the answer isn't to make life here as miserable as possible for them, it's to arrest and jail the scofflaws who keep hiring them. Put enough businessmen in pink underwear, and there will be laws passed to legitimatize hiring "guest workers", with actual decent wages, working conditions, and *gasp* maybe even some benefits.)

And of course, as always, a new ('cause the ones passed previously were declared unconstitutional) "Official English" amendment passed. Or, as I tend to call it, the "We White People Are Too Dumb And Lazy To Learn A Second Language, But You Brown People Shouldn't Have A Problem With That" measure.

(One bright spot is that State Representative Russell Pearce -- he who sent out links to a White Supremacist website in email to his supporters, and who authored or supported all of the anti-immigrant measures -- was defeated in his reelection bid.)

Update, 2/4/07:In comments, "MB" questioned Pearce's defeat, since he was still listed as a member in the current legislative roster.

I double-checked, and found MB was correct. I hadn't realized, when reviewing the election numbers back in November, that the race for District 18 was to elect two representatives to the state legislature, rather than the one I had assumed. Pearce came in second out of three, so yes, alas, he retained his seat in the State House. Damn. Apologies for the error.

11/02/2006

Blogger "Feature" of the Week



I did a first draft of "The Worst Job In The World", which you'll find down below the next post, back on October 27th, and got around to finishing and posting today. . .

. . . to find that it posted under that first draft's date, after the 10/29 "Republican Kool-Aid" post, rather than the completion and posting date.

Blogger used to have an option at the bottom of the editing screen to change the date and time of a post. It seems to have vanished. I'm not sure when, or why.

*grumph* Annoying. Looks like I'll have to kluge in future such instances, by copying a completed draft into an empty fresh "New Post" screen.

Thanks, Blogger!

10/29/2006

Republican Kool-Aid, Arizona Style

Sweetened with rattlesnake venom.

The Republican mayors of three Arizona cities have been asked to resign by the Arizona Republican Party's District 4 committee.

3 GOP mayors asked to quit
Backing of Napolitano brings heat from party

Scott Wong
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 28, 2006 12:00 AM


Arizona Republicans have begun to turn on some of their own for not marching in lock step with their party, and it all may have started because of a miscommunication.

GOP leaders from Legislative District 4 on Friday called for the resignations of three West Valley mayors, all registered Republicans, because of their endorsement of Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.

Other current and former Republican officeholders also have crossed party lines with endorsements this election season in local and state contests as well as in an East Valley congressional race.

Friday's move by GOP activists underscores deep fissures in the Republican Party, political observers said. Conservative members hope to pressure those holding more moderate views to remain silent in deference to Len Munsil, Napolitano's Republican challenger.

City council, school board and other local elected offices traditionally are nonpartisan. But District 4 party leaders said they followed orders from Arizona Republican Party Chairman Matt Salmon in demanding the resignation of any GOP elected official who endorsed a candidate from another party.

On Friday, District 4 GOP leaders hand-delivered letters to the offices of Mayors Elaine Scruggs of Glendale, Joan Shafer of Surprise and Ron Badowski of Wickenburg, demanding that they step down for publicly supporting Napolitano.

"We're letting the public know that if you are a Republican, you should stand by your party or remain silent," said Lyle Tuttle, chairman of the Republican Party of District 4, which includes parts of Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria and Surprise. "It's fine if they want to vote for someone else, but for them to endorse a non-Republican is not following the party line."

However, a spokesman for the state Republican Party clarified that while Salmon issued a directive, it applied only to precinct committee members. He added that the "grass-roots activists" from District 4 acted without consent of state party leadership.

"The chairman appreciates these Republicans' enthusiasm and loyalty to their party, but Matt Salmon would not have personally recommended this call for the mayors' resignations," spokesman Garrick Taylor said.

Glendale's Scruggs, who also has endorsed Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, called the letter insulting and an example of "precinct committeemen gone wild."

She said certain members of her party are more interested in "mind control" than in a person's right to back a candidate based on qualifications, integrity and track record.

"This reminds me of Reverend Jim Jones saying, 'Stand in line and drink the Kool-Aid,' " Scruggs said, referring to the cult leader responsible for the 1978 Jonestown, Guyana, mass suicide. "That's how this message comes across to me. What this says is, we are not to think; we are not to make decisions."

That some Republicans would try to impose party discipline on their local elected officials was an unusual tactic, said Marilyn Dantico, associate professor of political science at Arizona State University.

"The Republican Party has started to lack discipline," Dantico said, adding that she sees major divisions within the party. "There is a lot of pressure to hold the line, but it surprises me that it's taken this form."

Dantico said local races became nonpartisan in response to disillusionment with political machines operating in places such as Chicago and New York. Many believed that in local elections, citizens should vote for individual candidates rather than along party lines when it came to community interests.

The three mayors are not the only Republican officials who have crossed party lines.

Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, endorsed state Rep. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Phoenix Democrat who is running for a state Senate seat.

Former state Attorney General Grant Woods has thrown his support behind Napolitano, as have Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker and Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot.

And at least three sitting Republican Tempe council members have endorsed Democrat Harry Mitchell over incumbent J.D. Hayworth for the 5th Congressional District seat. So did the president of the Kyrene Elementary district school board.

On the flip side, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, has endorsed Weiers.

To get a better understanding of why the mayors would endorse a candidate from the other party, you need to know that Janet Napolitano's opponent in the gubernatorial race is Len Munsil. Munsil can't properly be called "conservative"; he's a far-far-right fundamentalist, and "radical" would be a much more accurate description. He's probably the most extremist candidate the Republican Party has run for governor in Arizona since Evan Mecham.

I'm also dubious about the claim that the decision to demand the resignations did NOT come from Matt Salmon's office. This strikes me as the handy-dandy "overenthusiastic Republican aide" excuse trotted out again. Particularly when you remember that Matt Salmon was Janet Napolitano's opponent in the last Arizona gubernatorial race, and that he was skunked fairly handily by her. No personal issues to see here, move along, move along....

I sent personal emails to Scruggs and Shafer (Badowski doesn't have an email address listed on Wickenburg's website), saying:
Tell them to go to hell. And to take a copy of the
Bill of Rights with them to study.

Do you really feel comfortable belonging to a
political party that only believes in freedom of
speech when that speech is in their favor? Give it
some thought.

10/27/2006

The Worst Job In The World


A long time ago (last week), White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was publicly proclaiming that George Bush had only ever used the phrase "stay the course" eight times. This was followed by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's COUNTDOWN (how appropriate) show presenting a video collage of George Bush saying "stay the course" twenty-nine times. When instances in print were added in, there were about one hundred sixty examples.

How does one explain, or understand, people like Tony Snow?

Is he proud of what he’s doing? Does he enjoy lying, repeatedly and publicly?

How does he look at himself in the mirror? How does he look his family in the eye? How does he live with the shame?

I’m not joking with that last question. If someone told me “For this job, you will have to stand up in public and lie, repeatedly, blatantly, and obviously,” I wouldn’t have that job. And if for some unfathomable reason I couldn’t walk away from such a job---

---I would get myself a straight razor and slash my throat. I’m not joking; I would not want to live doing what Tony Snow does everyday.

Watching him, and the other habitual liars in this administration, just creeps me out.

How do they live with themselves?

I've always had a hard time dealing with lies and liars. Lying is a common social skill. Some people are even great at it; they do it well, they do it frequently, and they do it with such charm and brilliance that even after you find out what they've told you is utterly bullshit, you still want to forgive them and like them.

Not me. I suck at lying. It's almost physically impossible for me to tell a flat out untruth; I can think of probably five or six times in my entire life when I've tried telling a direct whopper, and every time has been followed by weeks or months of shame and guilt.

This doesn't necessarily make me honest. (Sometimes I've felt it makes me a cripple.) I've learned to be evasive when occasions warrant. I've learned that sometimes telling all the details, all the truth, isn't the wisest course of action. And I've especially learned that sometimes you just need to keep your damned mouth shut completely.

But goddammit, lying may be common as dirt, it may even be useful in the short term, but in the long term... it makes it so damn much harder to deal with the world. The real world.

Back a ways, there was the piece in a news story about an unnamed White House official who said "We create our own reality." And the context was that the power and influence of the White House/Bush Administration/United States government was so great that whatever they proclaimed would come to be. That if you just proclaim a lie forcefully enough, persistently enough, willfully enough, that lie will come to be fact.

(Iraq. Katrina. North Korea.)

How DO Tony Snow, and company, live with themselves?

10/22/2006

The America I Want, Not The America I Get



Over at Political Animal, one of Kevin Drum's posts on Iraq closes with the following passage:
"I wonder how long it will take America to recover from George Bush's uniquely blinkered and self-righteous brand of ineptitude? In the past five years he's demonstrated to the world that we don't know how to win a modern guerrilla war. He's demonstrated that we don't understand even the basics of waging a propaganda war. He's demonstrated that other countries don't need to pay any attention to our threats. He's demonstrated that we're good at talking tough and sending troops into battle, but otherwise clueless about using the levers of statecraft in the service of our own interests. If he had set out to willfully and deliberately expose our weaknesses to the world and undermine our strengths, he couldn't have done more to cripple America's power and influence in the world. Beneath the bluster, he's done more to weaken our national security than any president since World War II.

So how long will it take — after George Bush has left office — for our power and influence on the world stage to return to the level it was at in 2001? When I'm in a good mood, I figure five years. Realistically, ten years is probably more like it. And when I'm in a bad mood? Don't ask. It's really all very depressing."


The comment thread that follows is interesting, and deeply pessimistic; most of the commenters seem to feel that the Iraq war is a tipping point in American (and world) history, and that the American Empire (not only militarily, but culturally and philosophically) will never fully recover from the damage done to that former image of America as the "shining beacon" of the world.

I consider myself deeply cynical and pessimistic, particularly regarding politics, but I find myself in the surprising position of believing (perhaps "hoping" would be a better word to use) that America might someday be that beacon again.

Many things would have to go right for that to happen. *koff*votenovember7th*koff It can be done.

But I think it will take at least two generations, fifty years (yes, fifty), to regain the trust and respect the world held for America a mere five years ago.

Those who have come to hate and fear us in the last five years -- and I think that's probably a majority of the world's population -- will not easily trust us again. We have shown the depths we're capable of sinking to -- torture, invasion, imprisonment without trial, the abandonment of (my God!) our own legal protections and rights -- and forgiveness will not be an easy task.

I don't think the current generation will forgive, or forget. And they will pass on that mistrust, and fear, and hatred of the US to their children. I think it will only be the generation after that, the grandchildren, that will be far enough removed from this dark lustrum to risk giving America (an America that has tried to restore its ideals, and its guiding principles) its trust once more.

I want that to happen. I want it.

Dammit, I want my country back.

10/14/2006

And The #1 Idiot In The State of Arizona Is...




...State Representative (R-Mesa) Russell Pearce.

Pearce, already under fire for using the term "Wetback", followed that up the succeeding week by sending out an email to political supporters that included a link to a White Supremacist article and website.

Shit, meet fan. Fan, shit.

Pearce has issued an apology, saying that the article in question had been sent to him by a friend, and that he had read only the first few (relatively innocuous) paragraphs before deciding to include the link in his email to supporters.

Shorter Russell Pearce: I'm not a racist. I'm just an idiot.

The odds of Pearce's returning to the State legislature after next month's elections appear somewhat dimmer. (Assuming he doesn't follow a number of public calls for resignation.)

(And what the heck is it about the city of Mesa? In a state that routinely elects fakes, snakes, rakes and fruitcakes to political office, the fruitcakiest almost invariably seem to hail from Mesa. In a town that seems so incredibly boring on its surface, where do they find these people?)

10/08/2006

"Cute"? Or Just Plain Wrong?

Over at Amygdala, Gary Farber posts about the latest "Moron-American" trying to have Harry Potter books banned from school libraries.

Let's take it as granted that book-banning is a bad idea. Nonetheless, sometimes fans of particular books/movies/what-have-you take their enthusiasms just a bit too far. And I think that the limits of Harry Potter fandom are being approached when you see something like this:


Yes, that's a real cat, named Salem, one of the entries on the latest Cat Connection Cat Of The Month Contest. Among all the other photos of entrants clad (mostly) in respectable fur and an occasional collar, Salem's really stood out (as in, I had a genuine "What the...?" moment).

The scariest thing is, Salem doesn't look embarassed.

(Thanks to Talpianna for the link to Cat Connection.)

10/06/2006

Defining The Choice

Yes, yes, every blog in the entire world has had something to say about the Mark Foley scandal in Congress. Do you expect me to be any different?

The Republican's early "defense" on the scandal has included trying to claim that the initial set of emails made public was provided to ABC News by Democrat political operatives as an act of political sabotage.

Evidence provided for this claim? None. In fact, ABC News has stated that its source for the emails was... oh, dear... a Republican. Nonetheless, some right-wing figures *koff*Limbaugh*koff* (and a lot of the wingnuttier blogs) are continuing to argue that it's all a sinister Democrat plot.

If I was a honcho for the Democrats, if it weren't that ABC News has already said otherwise, I'd be tempted to go ahead and state, "Yeh, we'll take credit for putting this out in public. We're proud of it. Most people think outing a sex predator who targets teenage boys is a Good Thing; it's a public service, and we're glad to provide it. And it'll probably get us lots of votes, too. So ummm, how come you Republicans are acting like outing a sex predator is a Bad Thing?"

Because if it were true that Democrats were behind the Foley revelations, the choice voters will have next month would become crystal clear:


Democrats brought out the truth about a sex predator in Congress.

Republicans covered up for and protected a sex predator in Congress.

WHO YA GONNA VOTE FOR?


If I was a honcho for the Democrats, I'd be kicking myself right now for not realizing what a defining, positive moment this could have been for Democrats. Instead, it's all negative for Republicans, and nothing positive for Democrats; they're just bystanders at the scene of the train wreck.

10/02/2006

An Open Letter To Jan Brewer, Arizona Secretary of State



This is a letter I just sent to Jan Brewer:
Dear Ms. Brewer,

I am writing to express my dismay that you are using public taxpayer funds to generate publicity for your own election campaign.

Saturday, September 30th, I received in the mail the 240-page Publicity Pamphlet for Ballot Propositions & Judicial Performance Review, prepared and issued by you in your job as Arizona Secretary of State. Paging through it, I realized that you had inserted your name on 236 of those 240 pages.

The only 4 pages that did NOT include your name were pages 233-236, the detachable pages that a voter can mark and take into the polling place as a memory guide. Under campaign law, as I recall, it is illegal to take campaign material into a polling place. Clearly, that is why your name was left off of those particular pages.

That omission also makes clear that the insertion of your name onto EACH AND EVERY remaining page of the pamphlet, 236 pages, WAS intended as campaign material, as a way of presenting your name before every registered voter in Arizona, over and over and over, TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX times.

And it cost you, and your campaign, not one penny. Because it was all paid for by my taxes,and my neighbor's taxes, and the taxes of every other Arizona residence and business.

I feel like you have picked my pocket, while simultaneously slapping me across the face. Slapping me across the face two hundred thirty-six times.

This obvious and contemptful violation of ethics and the public trust cost you not a penny, but it has lost you any chance for my vote. And I will express my feelings to my family, and friends, and co-workers, as well.

I will also send copies of this letter to the Arizona Republic and the New Times. And I will reproduce it on my own weblog (http://undulantfever.blogspot.com/) as well.

Best of luck on your upcoming job search.

Sincerely,

Bruce Arthurs

9/29/2006

Dogblogging



I've posted photos of our various cats here before from time to time. Cats are naturally photogenic; they're born posers, and pretty easy to photograph.

I haven't had that much luck with our Corgi, Madame Mim. Part of this is because her natural reaction to having a camera aimed at her is to jump up and lick the lens. But a while back, I finally caught her in an I'm-not-getting-up mood, and she laid still long enough that I finally got a photo of her I'm pretty well satisfied with:

A Compelling Argument For Old-Fashioned Ballpoint Pens


So you get to the parking lot at work, racing the time clock, and get out of the car, juggling a large insulated mug and the multi-pocketed bag where you keep a snack, some extra drinks, reading material, miscellaneous papers and a notebook. And in the midst of the juggling, some of the mug's contents spill out its top vent.

But only a splash against the side of the bag, which you quickly wipe off, then hurry in to start work.

A few hours later,the mail's been sorted and trayed, everything loaded into your truck, you've done the first section of your delivery route, and you stop for your first rest break.

Which is when you find that the splash you saw hit the outside of the bag was only the one you saw, and that the splash of liquid you didn't see was the one that fell directly into the open pocket where you keep your writing notebook.

The notebook you write in almost exclusively with gel pens. Pens whose smooth-flowing ink is water-soluble.

The notebook where that splash of liquid has had several hours to percolate and spread, meanng that the pages in that notebook now look something like this:



The good news is that the pages written with black or blue gel pens didn't bleed as badly; they're mostly still legible. But the ones written with red gel... wow.

This is one time I'm glad I'm not in a writing workshop right now. Sure as shooting, some smartass would say "Some of your descriptions are a little unclear."

9/23/2006

On Torture, Congress, and Culpability


[This was originally written as a comment to this discussion on Making Light, but their commentware seems to be off somewhere sneaking a smoke right now, so I post it here instead]:

PJ Evans wrote:
"We believe that those who authorize torture, under whatever name and in whatever form, those who say that it should be done, those who say that it is permissible in time of war, should be charged with war crimes and tried, under the rules of the international court at the Hague."
This is something I think should be made clear to all members of Congress: Anyone who votes to approve the "compromise" on torture is no longer a silent bystander. They have approved torture, they have endorsed torture, they have enabled torture. They have become accessories to and participants in torture.

They have become... they have declared themselves to be... war criminals.

They are safe... for now. Fortune favors them... for now. Their government will protect them... for now. They are useful to that government... for now.

But times change. Fortunes change. Governments change.

And they should know... they should be reminded, often... that every time, EVERY time, they leave the US, for a "junket" or "fact-finding" or just an ordinary vacation, they will now be running a risk.

Not tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But someday, in some other, braver, country, they will be approached by men in black suits, men with papers and guns and handcuffs, men who will say "Come with us, sir. Quietly."

And then... then we WILL see Americans in the Hague, on trial for their complicity in war crimes.

As they deserve to be.

9/21/2006

Days of Future Passed



In the news today, Pan Am Airlines rose for its last gasp of breath, fifteen years after folding.

When Libya finally agreed to pay reparations for the 1989 Lockerbie bombing, Pan Am was one of the benficiaries, partially recouping its financial losses in that bombing. To their credit, the executors of the bankrupt defunct airline have used the proceeds to make (partial) good on back pay and vacation time owed to the employees let go fifteen years ago.

Pan Am was, once upon a time, the airline people thought of when the subject of air travel came up.

And the clearest visual representation of that iconic status was when Stanley Kubrick put the Pan Am logo on the Earth-to-Moon ship in the early moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey.



Pan Am would (at least it seemed at the time) be there when humanity began regular travel to the Moon, a few decades after Kubrick's movie.

Alas, he was (we were) wrong on both counts. In the realm of failed SF predictions, I've always found that one particularly sad.

9/14/2006

Things That Make Me Feel Old

From a recent flyer for an auction house I attend occasionally:

Les Couples Impairs

Browsing at the library recently, I came across Napoleon's Exile by Patrick Rambaud, latest in a series of novels about Napoleon (The Battle and The Retreat are earlier volumes).

In the Afterword/Notes ("Notes for the Curious"), Rambaud conducts a conversation with himself on whether or not his Napoleon books are "historical novels". In the process, he draws a comparison I've never heard before, but I think is worth repeating here:
"The term, certainly reductive, even contemptuous, refers to adventure stories telling timeless tales of love and revenge in exotic settings. [...] ...the chosen era serves as a backdrop, you can easily replace the fortified castle with a Florentine palace or an English building; it doesn't change anything."

[...]

"Dumas, exactly! The cycle of the Three Musketeers, that's the historical novel in its pure state!"

"No, I don't think so. His characters can't be transposed in time. You can't imagine them in our own time, or in ancient Greece, during the Crusades or among the pirates of the Caribbean. They tell us of the transition, in France, from the Baroque to the Classical age."

"I don't see ..."

"At the beginning we're in the reign of Louis XIII, an age damaged by feudalism, and Richelieu knows it, he fights the feudal lords. You have a sense of bravado, of sworn oaths, emtional outbursts and decent food. Twenty years later, it's all changed. Under Mazarin, our musketeers are out of step: honor has been replaced by cunning, negotiation and politics. With the accessiohn of young Louis XIV, in the novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, the state winis the day, the aristocracy makes way for the burgeoisie, and Colbert installs centralized power. You have to adapt or go under. Our musketeers pass through that precise age, when society is being transformed around them. They are nostalgic, they have plenty of regret but no remorse. By the end they have lost their illusions. It's the finest novel of passing time."

"Like Proust? Are you joking?"

"I'm not joking at all. And anyway, Proust was thinking about Dumas when he wrote the Recherche."

"Really?"

"One day he revealed his project to his friends. To help them understand, he said, 'You see, it's like Vingt Ans Apres.' Leon Daudet was there, and he corrected him: 'No, it's more like Bragelonne.' "
Dumas and Proust, together again for the first time. Thoughts of a French television sitcom rise inexorably, with big loud Dumas and fussy little Proust as mismatched roommates.

But I like the idea of redefining "historical novels" (and I think Napoleon's Exile is definitely one, despite Rambaud's denial) as, not just adventure stories, but as depictions of society in transition. This seems to me to add an extra layer of complexity and value to the best of the genre, on top of the common literary value of depicting how the characters of the story change and grow. (In that context, Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath could be considered as a historical novel.)

9/02/2006

Serendipity

Thursday afternoon, with the work on the office done and CopperCon not due to start until Friday, Hilde and I found ourselves both sitting in our recliners in the family room, deep into our respective books, quietly reading.

This doesn't happen very often. Too many things to do around the house, too little time to do them all. Too much time online, browsing and blogging. But once in a while....

I looked up from my book, looked over to Hilde, and said, "Y'know, this is nice. This is very nice to be together like this."

"Yes, it is," she replied.

We went back to our books. As it happened, the book I was reading was Jo Walton's Farthing, with a Wonderful Loving Couple as main characters, and about two pages after speaking to Hilde, came across this passage:
David and I went out into the garden. [...] We sat out there in the sunshine, though there were clouds coming in from the north and I could tell the bright weather wasn't going to last. We ate our salmon sandwiches and finished up the Montrachet and sat and read our books until the clouds came over quite heavily, when we went into the library, taking our cushions in with us.

[...] I kicked my shoes off and put my feet up on the leather couch in the library and settled down to read The Treasure Seekers for about the thirtieth tiime. David sat on the chair where Mummy had been sitting the other day [...] and took up Three Men In A Boat, which he said he'd never read and always meant to. Before long he was completely engrossed.

I felt like dozing off, and yet I didn't. I just lay there, half-reading the very familiar episodes, and looking over at David now and again, feeling quite content really, because I didn't mind being at Farthing at all now.
Serendipity. Good thing.

8/24/2006

Are We Not Handymen?


"Measure twice, cut once; that is the Law."
--H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Mitersaw
I've taken several weeks off work to--


--go to WorldCon in LA? Nope, sorry, but we stopped going to the really big conventions years ago. A WesterCon or an occasional World Fantasy Con is about the largest we make it to nowadays, and not many of those. The big conventions stopped being fun; WorldCon is too big, too hectic, too crowded, and too expensive

No, I've taken time off work to get some household projects that have been on The List for years finally done. The major one of which is refurbishing my office; it's the next-to-last room in the house that still has the original paint (icky flat off-white) and carpeting (a hideous eyeball-searing red shag; what were the previous owners thinking?) from when we moved into this house twenty-six years ago. (The master bedroom, which had actually been redone fairly tastefully shortly before we bought the house, is scheduled for a re-do next year.)

I'm repainting the office with a bright-white semi-gloss, replacing the carpeting with vinyl tile, and I'll be installing shelving tracks and brackets along the studs in one wall so shelves can be set up and reconfigured as needed. And probably some new curtains or blinds.

Part of the reason for doing this now is that since I'm still working -- and getting far too many overtime hours -- we have a lot more discretionary income to do this sort of household upgrade than we'd have when I retire in three or four years. The mortgage will be paid off by then, but I'll only be getting about two-thirds of my current base income for retirement and none of the overtime pay; doable, but tighter than we live now. Hopefully, once I retire, I'll be able to do more writing and supplement our income that way; I may not ever make a full income from writing, but I'm good enough that a significant portion of what I write ends up selling, and once in a while even ends up selling for a significant sum. (Thank you, Paramount.)

Conservatism, Sex, Reality and TV Guide

Some recent issues of TV Guide have included material that annoyed me.

In the 8/14/06 issue, columnist Rochell D. Thomas wrote:
Does Gene Simmons' nonwife Shannon Tweed make it harder for the rest of us?

Shannon and the Kiss bass player (aka the guy with the Tongue) have been "happily unmarried" for 23 years. On the one hand, "Yea, them!" The stars of Gene Simmons Family Jewels seem content. They've got two well-adjusted teens, a nice house, etc. But on the other hand: "What the bleep?" Shannon has made it no secret that she wants -- and has always wanted -- to get hitched. Their kids hope they'll tie the knot. Even Gene's mother wants him to make an honest woman out of the Playboy centerfold. But apparently the self-called "rock god" refuses because he doesn't want to have to lie about his, ahem, extracurricular activities. And see, that's right there what freaks me out. Shannon lets the man dabble with other dames as long as he comes home to her. As if that's all that matters. It sets a bad precedent!"
Then, in the 8/28/06 issue, a reader's letter from Karan Ann DeLuca says:
Shame on him for making the married/unmarried distinction to justify not having to lie about his dalliances. And shame on his girlfriend for accepting that. Because if she really wants to be monogamously hitched, after 23 years, there is no difference!
Where to start on this?

Every relationship, married or unmarried, between lovers, spouses, or just two people dating, goes thru a dance of discovery and negotiation. There are "default" modes of relationships, and the one for marriage is usually "monogamous, for life".

But a default mode isn't set in stone; it's not the only option. And, as divorce rates and LifeTime tv-movies repeatedly show, even people who declare their commitment to monogamy don't always keep that commitment.

There's a bell curve for everything, and there's one for fidelity in relationships, too. Most marriages/relationships pretty much fall under that "monogamous" definition.

But not everyone wants that. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Not everyone is sure that they'll be able to keep such a commitment. Not everyone feels that "sexual exclusiveness" is THE most important facet of a relationship.

And if two people are honest with each other, and open about their feelings regarding sex and faithfulness, those feelings will become part of that "dance and negotiation". And they'll modify that default mode to acomodate those feelings. Or not, if they're too far apart on their attitudes and beliefs. (And if that's the case, it's probably best that they not try to become a couple.)

Back about, oh, fifteen years ago, during a local convention, Hilde and I went out to dinner with one of the writers attending the con. During the dinner, the writer mentioned that his impression of Phoenix fandom was that it was "pretty straight-laced". Hilde and I had to smile at that, because probably about 25% of the couples/spouses we knew had open relationships or marriages to one degree or another.

(I wondered at the time if the writer's choice of topic was his way of putting out a feeler to see if Hilde was available or interested. Umm, he was a very interesting dinner companion.)

There are degrees of "open": Some of our friends really were, in deed, monogamous and not seeking other lovers or relationships, but they'd discussed the issue and agreed that if it ever did happen that one or the other of them ended up in bed with someone else, it wouldn't be a marriage-breaker. Some had a "don't ask, don't tell" agreement with each other. Some people "made love" to each other, but had "friendly sex" with some of their close friends. Some found themselves ending up in polyamourous relationships with others. (One friend of ours, part of a 3-person poly group, told us that the nice thing about threesomes was that there was always someone available to run the video camera.)

And most of these people were, in public, "normal". With very few exceptions, they didn't make a public proclamation that their relationships were "custom", rather than "default".

Science fiction fandom tends to be a bit more liberated and open to alternative lifestyles, so the 25% figure I mentioned is probably higher than in the general populace. But the guess I would hazard to make is that probably around 10% of marriages/relationships at large have private agreements that occasionally having sex with other people isn't that big of a deal.

(Sometimes, though, it is, despite best intentions. When that 3-person poly group I mentioned above broke up, it broke up very publically, and very VERY ugly. But I'd still have to say that overall the sexually-open relationships I've known of have tended to be more stable and long-lasting than the couples who've promised faithfulness to each other in public, and cheated on each other in private. Like Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the sex wasn't the big deal, the lying about the sex was the big deal.)

That "harder for the rest of us" part of Thomas' TV Guide column is particularly annoying. Sorry, Rochelle, but the rest of the world is not going to believe what you believe, act like you want to act, have the relationship or marriage that you want to have, just to make it easier for you to get what you want. Deal with it.

8/20/2006

Shatner Roast: 350 Degree Oven, Baste Frequently With Ego Sauce



The William Shatner Roast will be on television later tonight. The occasion moves me to tell my favorite William Shatner story; this is one of those stories that, if it isn't true, ought to be:


Everyone knows that Bill Shatner has, as he's gotten older, had some problems with his weight.

Part of this was because of a habit of sneaking midnight snacks from the refrigerator. So his wife, as a motivational aid, got ahold of some of the slash fanfic-zines published by some of the more uninhibited Star Trek fans, unstapled them, and removed some of the more explicit illustrations from them.

That night, Shatner snuck downstairs to raid the refrigerator again. When he turned on the light, there, taped to the refrigerator, was a double-page drawing of himself:

Young, slim, lean, totally nude, and spectacularly endowed.

Shatner stared at the drawing for a long moment. Then, he turned his head and shouted back up the stairs:

"Honey, do we have any bananas in the house?"

A Shocking Display of Utter Geekitude



I've been watching the Sci Fi Channel's reality series Who Wants To Be A Superhero? since it premiered earlier this summer.

The premise is that participants create a superhero character and portray that character themselves during the course of the show; the payoff is that the last surviving superhero will have a professional (Dark Horse Comics) comic book produced about their character, written by Stan Lee. Participants are eliminated in each episode via tests and trials for the proper characteristics of a superhero: helpfulness, courage, self-sacrifice, honesty, etc. The judge for the elimination process is Lee.

This is not a great reality series; I'd like to see more of the personal interactions between participants (a la The Real World) when they're not being tested; the editing is rather lacklustre and the seams show at times.

But it's been interesting, particularly to someone who's been reading comics on a fairly regular basis since childhood, daydreamed about having superpowers himself, and when he got older and started writing fiction, made a few attempts toward breaking into actual comic-writing.

(In fact, the very first real story I wrote, when I was fourteen, was a superhero story. Actually, more of a supervillain story: The character was a scientist who was repeatedly turned down for research money, had to do his experiments on the cheap, and had them blow up in his face as a result. Good news: the chemical explosion gave him superpowers; bad news: they also drove him insane and turned him into a compulsive bank robber. Even back then, I tried to put a twist into my fiction.)

When I saw the announcement of the show earlier this year, my first thought was "No way would -I- ever dress up in a costume and let myself be filmed wearing it for weeks." Writing about superheroes is one thing; dressing up like one for more than a convention masquerade or the like is another.

And, if I created a superhero character that was going to have an actual comic produced around the idea, I wouldn't want it to be written by Stan Lee. I'd want to write it myself, dammit!!

So I had no urge to participate in the show. But it's been interesting to watch. It's coming close to the end of its run, and only three superheroes are left: Major Victory, Feedback, and Fat Momma.

I'm going to predict that Feedback will the the final winner of the series, barring some boneheaded error during the remaining trials.

The reason I say this is that in terms of character (courage, honesty, etc), the remaining participants are on about equal footing. So I think the final choice will be determined by one question: Which superhero will be the most interesting hero for Stan Lee to write a comic about?

Major Victory is a hero out of the Big Strong Doofus school of superheroes. (Superman, Captain Marvel, etc.) Admirable, but... in the end... boring.

Fat Momma is a "novelty" superhero, with a limited cause of action. (She defends the "differently sized".) Again, admirable, but not that interesting as a character.

Until last week's episode, I'd have said the same thing about Feedback. But in that episode, we learned that Feedback's real-life father had committed suicide during Feedback's childhood. (And that, in part, was why Feedback became a heavy-duty comic fan, seeking a better, more understandable world there.)

And that was the point at which Feedback became an interesting character, one that a writer would want to write about. His father's suicide, like Uncle Ben's death in Spiderman, could be the starting point for the comic book's origin and motivation.

So I'm calling Feedback to be the winner of the series.

8/16/2006

Catblogging -- Special COTD Editon


A few days ago on Cat Of The Day, the featured feline was one Memo, from Chile.

Besides being a strikingly handsome black cat, the accompanying text reported something unusual about Memo: returning from an outside foray, he had returned to his owners' doorstep carrying a young abandoned kitten in his mouth.

Most of us have heard of mother cats going to extrardinary lengths to rescue their own imperiled kittens (see Scarlett Saves Her Kittens), or of nursing cats accepting orphaned kittens from another litter... but this is the first time where I have ever heard of a male cat rescuing a kitten.

(Among feral cats, at least, the more usual reaction would be for a tom to attack and/or kill kittens not from its pack.)

8/15/2006

PATCO 1981: A Postal Perspective



Over at Firedoglake, there's an interesting post on the 25th anniversary of the 1981 PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike.

When that strike occurred, then-President Ronald Reagan fired all 11,000 air traffic controllers. They were temporarily replaced with military ATCs (I believe some of the striking ATCs who belonged to National Guard units actually got called to duty and ordered to replace themselves), and "permanent replacements" were hired and rushed into expedited training (which sounds a lot better than "crash course", in this context).

This was the first, and most drastic, attack on unions by Reagan's right-wing administration. As the Firedoglake article points out, the number of strikes by organized labor dropped drastically afterwards, and union membership in general has also dropped dramatically. The successful firing of the PATCO members also set the groundwork for rollbacks on benefits (pay, pensions, hours, insurance, virtually every benefit labor had gained in previous years has come under strong attack since PATCO).

The firing was also a high-risk gamble by Reagan's administration; they were gambling that they'd be able to get replacement workers trained and in place without having an air disaster take place in the interim. They won that gamble. But boy, I (and a lot of other members of the public) was aghast when the PATCO members were fired and suddenly air traffic was in the hands of (considerably fewer) military ATCs, and then in the hands of quickly trained replacements; I could scarcely believe that Reagan and company could place so many innocent travellers at such high risk.

Thinking back on it now, I believe that Reagan and his chorts saw the action against PATCO as, literally, an act of war. The PATCO firing was their own, earlier, version of the "Shock & Awe" attacks on Baghdad at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And if there had been an airliner crash, if there had been hundreds of people killed because of an error by the replacement ATCs... I think the Reagan administration, while publically regretting the loss, would have simply considered hundreds of dead Americans as "collateral damage" in their war to "protect American business interests".

As it happened, the year 1981 was also the year in which the NALC's (National Association of Letter Carriers) contract with the Postal Service had, several months before the PATCO strike, come up for renegotiation.

It was a very tense period for letter carriers. The talks between the NALC and management were light in conversation and compromise, heavy in confrontation. And the general consensus among letter carriers seemed to be that a strike would have to take place before management would bend. The day before the current contract expired, the word being passed around amongst employees was that a call to strike would almost certainly be issued by the NALC the next morning.

I was highly anxious about the prospect of a strike. I wasn't a union member back then. And I didn't believe that a strike was, quite, necessary yet. I thought that the union and management should issue a temporary -- for a month, or a week, or even just a few days -- extension on the current contract, and keep talking. Keep talking, until an absolute stonewall impasse had been reached. Then, and only then, could I see a strike being justified.

And if I thought that a strikecall was not justified... then I couldn't see myself making any other choice than to cross the picket line if that strike were called.

When I mentioned this to a couple of the other employees, they were aghast. I was warned that my car's tires would be slashed, that my wife and son would receive obscene phone calls, that if I was ever in the wrong place alone I might be badly beaten.

(None of this was told to me as if the teller would be the person doing all these things. A sort of amorphous "They" would be the people doing all these horrible things. But this sort of intimidation, and other reports of corruption and violence in unions that I'd seen in the news for years, was one of the major reasons I hadn't felt comfortable joining the union.)(And didn't, until more than ten years later, in large part because of those intimidating remarks made to me in 1981. And when I finally did join the union, it wasn't so much that the union had cleaned up its act, but that management had grown so much worse in the intervening years.)

So I didn't sleep very well that night. But woke up to the clock-radio announcing the news that a tentative agreement on a new postal contract had been reached at the last minute (literally, at sunrise) after all-night talks, and that there would be no strike. *whew*

But if a strike by letter carriers had occurred that year... I think it would have been the NALC, rather than PATCO, that would have been made an example of, with thousands of letter carriers, rather than air traffic controllers, being fired and replaced. I think Reagan was looking for a union to destroy, and it was just luck that letter carriers dodged that bullet, with PATCO taking it instead, a few months later.

8/14/2006

Answer: About Two Friggin' Hours



Question: How long does it take to clean up about two gallons of liquid laundry detergent off a laundry room floor, sufficiently that the floor doesn't act like a Slip'N'Slide?

8/13/2006

Threat Levels



In the wake of the recent British roundup of suspects in an apparent plot to smuggle explosives onto airplanes, the US Department of Homeland Security brushed off its "threat level" color code and declared Red, its highest level.

At the same time, it was reported that individuals in the Bush administration and other Republicans welcomed the news of the plot's foiling, not because suspected terrorists were behind bars and lives had potentially been saved, but because the news could be used to Republican political advantage in campaigns for the upcoming midterm elections.

Can I make a suggestion here? Rather than referring to the DHS' categories as "threat levels", let's call them what they really are: "anxiety levels".

Because the Bush White House, and the Republicans as a whole, want the American public to be anxious, they want us to be afraid, they want us to live in fear.

Because the more anxious, fearful, and afraid the public is, the more inclined they'll be to not vote for a change in elected officials come November.

8/08/2006

Eddings' Heir Apparent, Alas



In spite of David Eddings' popularity, I never read more than a portion of the first Mallorean book.

What kept me from continuing wasn't the story itself, but several stylistic tics of Eddings' writing that kept jarring me out of the actual story. In Eddings' case, it was running across repeated instances of starting a paragraph with "However," or "Unfortunately,". These were not only unnecessary words, but they were the author's voice intruding on the story.

It was sort of like going to a movie, only to have the rude kid sitting behind you keep kicking the back of your seat. After about forty or fifty pages of the first Eddings book, I put it down and never went back to the series again.

I have found the new Eddings, and the magic word this time around is "Now".
p.17: "Now Lord Hasha turned his attention toward me"
p.19: "Now Maram's knuckles grew white around his bow"
p.21: "Now Lord Hasha swallowed the last of his beer"
p.25: "Now both Lord Hasha and Asaru -- and Joshu Kadar as well -- looked at me in amazement"
p.38: "Now Asaru examined the arrow"
p.40: "Now a fire burned through me"
p.68: "Now my father looked at Asaru with puzzlement"

Which was about as far as I got. I don't object to starting a paragraph with "Now", when properly used. But my idea of proper use would be to use it when there's been a break in the narrative to refer to past events, and use "Now" as a time-check to restart the present-time flow of the narrative again. That didn't apply in any of the above instances.

(There's also a heck of a lot of "And then"s that, to a lesser extent, also kicked the back of my seat.)

So congratulations, David Zindell, The Lightstone wins you my judgement as "Heir apparent to David Eddings". (Out of context, that will make a great blurb for a paperback edition.)

(Endnote: I see from the copyright page of Tor's American edition that The Lightstone was originally published in England in 2001, and that "The Tor edition has been specially revised by the author." I will refrain from comment.)

8/07/2006

Drive-By Posting



Still working far too many hours at work; over twelve today.

Thus largely accounting for the paucity of postings here of late. Working long hours means that 1) I have less time available at home in which to try and get done all the things I struggle to get done after ordinary eight-hour workdays, and 2) that trying to keep up means I tend to stay up later and get less sleep. (Rule of thumb: Each hour of overtime worked means half an hour's less sleep that night. Which frequently means I'm using "energy drinks" to get thru the next workday. Why, yes, this is an example of "diminishing returns" in action; thank you for pointing that out. So the next time you see a postal vehicle driving down the street, get out of his way just in case the driver's about ready to pass out over the wheel.)

I've had several postings in mind, but it may be another few days, or more, before I actually have a chance to write them here.

(I haven't even noted how I came home about ten days ago to the news that we had running water in our kitchen. Unfortunately, it was running from the ceiling. The furnace/blower combo that had been installed in the attic as part of our new air-conditioning system included a large drip pan to collect condensation from the coils, plus PVC piping to direct the excess drippage out the side of the attic and onto the ground. Unfortunately, not only did the drip pan not drain properly, but one of the joints in the PVC piping leaked, badly. End result: sodden attic insulation, a soggy kitchen ceiling, and about half a dozen steady drips from various points on the ceiling. Good thing I have a fairly large number of stockpots. The A/C company fixed the leaks and drip pan the next morning, and is sending someone over this week to inspect and repair the damage to the kitchen ceiling. Good for them, but I'd rather they'd done the job right the first time.)

7/24/2006

No "Thanks", Thanks



So Saturday afternoon I get back to the station after delivering my route, plus several hours off another, and find a little Post-It note stuck on my card by the time clock:
"You have to come in on Monday (forced OT). Thanks. [supervisor's initials]"
Being forced in on my SDOs (Scheduled Days Off) isn't that much of a surprise anymore these last few months. The surprise is much more when I don't have to go in on my days off. Still annoying, though.

But I was actually more annoyed at that "Thanks" on the Post-It. It made it sound as if I had been asked to come in and work Monday, and as if I had agreed to do so.

I'd actually have been less annoyed if the Post-It had said something a little more suitable, like, oh: "I'm forcing you in on your day off again. Up yours."

7/15/2006

Life As Damage Control, or, Why I'm A Grumpy SOB



There are times when it seems like life is 90% cleaning up other people's messes.

As mentioned downblog, we ended up having to replace our air conditioner. Since we have a fairly large house, and I didn't want a unit that would start needing repairs within just a few years, or one that would make our electric bill creep up, we got a top-of-the-line double-compressor 5-ton Trane. About $10,000.

Ouch. Should pay for itself eventually, but still....

I put $2,500 from savings down as a deposit. For the rest, I initially thought of using the home equity credit line from our credit union, but some number crunching revealed that using our Mastercard (which I got a few years ago, when they were still offering very low fixed rates) for the remainder would actually save about $400 in interest (based on a three-year payoff plan). And still leave a couple thousand available for other purchases.

So, when the new a/c was installed, I gave the company the credit card info. Checking online a few days later, though, there was no sign of the charge to the credit card. After a week (!), still no charge.

I call the company. The lady responsible for running the credit card charges had been on vacation. But she was back, and she told me she'd run the charge right away.

Problem solved? Uhhh... no. Checked again yesterday, four days after the phone conversation, and still no charge to the card. Called the lady at the a/c company again.

When she'd submitted the charge, she'd forgotten to deduct the $2500 deposit I'd already paid. Which meant the submitted charge had been for the full $10,000+.

Which was more than the credit limit on that card. Which meant:

1) The charge was not approved.

2) But it wasn't disapproved, either. What the attempted over-limit charge did was kick the transaction over to the "Authorization" division of the credit card company, where an "authorization representative" would determine whether the credit limit should be increased and the charge approved... in about a week.

3) If it had been simply disapproved, the a/c lady (who realized her error after getting the bounceback from the credit card company) could have resubmitted the charge with the correct amount. Which she tried to do. Except...

4) The other automatic result of the over-limit attempt was to place a "Hold" on any further transactions to the account until the "authorization representative" made his decision on whether to allow the incorrect charge to be processed.

5) This also meant that the a/c lady couldn't even cancel the over-limit charge. Which she also tried to do.

6) And this ALSO meant that I couldn't make any OTHER charges to the credit card until the "authorization" guy makes a decision on Monday or Tuesday. Charges for things like... oh, refills for some of Hilde's medications.

I spent about half an hour on the phone with the credit card company yesterday. I must have heard the words "we can't do anything for you" seven or eight times in that half hour.

Apparently, having a transaction sent to the authorization division puts the charge inside of Schrodinger's Box: neither alive or dead, until the authorization rep issues his decision. It can be neither processed, or cancelled. The customer service rep I spoke with couldn't even transfer my call to anyone in the authorization division.

I was not impressed.

Fortunately, the medications I tried to refill aren't any of the absolutely essential ones, and Hilde probably won't run out before I (hopefully) get this mess straightened out next week. (And I could, if absolutely necessary, activate a couple of other cards I've only previously used for their 0% introductory rate to save interest on paying off some earlier debt.)

But still... lots of people order meds online these days. And the customer service rep said I was not, by any means, the only person who's found their credit account frozen by situations like this, or even the only one unable to order urgently needed goods. Which means that eventually, some customer will end up in a world of hurt, in the hospital or worse, because the credit card company's policies don't allow for an error to be corrected in a swift manner. Which means the credit card company will eventually find itself facing a wrongful-harm-or-death lawsuit.

And that's why I'm a grumpy son-of-a-bitch today.


("Idiots!" -- Napoleon Dynamite)

7/11/2006

Ketchup



Catching up with goings on:

Still working lots of overtime. Thirteen-hour-plus day yesterday, over twelve on Saturday. Annoying. Tiring. Though the big fat paychecks will help pay for the new air conditioner.

Managerial mathematics: One of the routes I had to carry a long relay on has a street delivery time of at least five hours, on a good day. So the supervisor told the carrier casing in the mail to "Split it into two two-hour relays." Well, duh, I ended up taking close to three hours to deliver one of those relays, in addition to overtime on my own route.

Working that many hours in a day is also a violation of the local contract, which means the union has been filing numerous grievances daily, which means management will eventually end up paying penalty money on top of the overtime pay. (But it will probably be months or more before it's actually paid.)

I don't usually gripe about work. But, jeez....

- - - - -

Hilde should be getting a walking cast on her foot next week, if the x-rays show good fusion in the ankle. This will make life a lot simpler.

- - - - -

I've been feeling less inclined to write political posts lately, even if I had time. It seems to be a combination of ennui and angst (textured angst available for a small extra fee)(old, old fannish reference) and futility. I noticed this in the last few months before the 2004 elections as well. I can't seem to shake the feeling that writing a blogpost that'll be read by a few dozen (maybe fifty? I should install SiteMeter) people will have as much influence on deciding the future of the US as trying to stop a runaway train by pissing off the side.

I tend towards a deep cynicism and pessimism, particularly where politics is concerned. I hope I'll be proved wrong in November. But I have a bad feeling....

7/04/2006

Missing Movies



Barnes & Noble has been having a "Buy 2, Get A 3rd Free" sale on DVDs recently, so I've been splurging a bit.

Browsing their website, I came across... or rather, didn't come across... several titles I would have liked to buy.

If... was pretty much a cult movie, which may be why it's not available. Ditto O Lucky Man!

But... A Clockwork Orange not available? (By itself; the B&N website did have it as part of a Kubrick boxed set, but I didn't want to spend $100 for it.) I'm really, really surprised. It's not only highly regarded as a science fiction film, but I think I've seen it listed on several "100 Best Movies" lists over the years. (Checking around the Web a bit, I find Amazon.com does have an ACO DVD available. But DeepDiscountDVD.com, like B&N, doesn't. Hmmph.)

(And yes, I do like Malcolm McDowell, if you noticed the common denominator.)

7/02/2006

The Way To An Editor's Heart



John Scalzi, guest editor for the just-out 4th issue of SUBTERRANEAN MAGAZINE, bought one of my stories for the issue.

In his intro to "Labyrinth's Heart", Scalzi also mentions that I make "a kick-ass German Chocolate banana bread", a reference to this post from last year, and gives the URL for this blog. So I thought I should post a link to the recipe, in case any SUBTERRANEAN readers wander by as a result of the mention. I'll also post a link in the sidebar.

Hilde At Home



Hilde came home from the rehab facility a few days ago, after only three weeks, rather than the six planned for.

We purchased some medical equipment to make it possible for her to function at home for the remaining weeks of "No Weight-Bearing On That Leg!" that will allow the ankle bones to fuse properly. Besides the hospital bed (which we already had in storage), one of the pieces is called an "E-Z Turn Transfer Disc" by its manufacturer, but which we call the Tilt-A-Whirl (think of a heavy-duty lazy-susan with handlebars), which allows her to get out of bed on the good foot and rotate in place to use her wheelchair or the portable commode.

It's good to have her home. She's been spending a lot of time with Caty (her daytime caregiver) watching DVDs of the old HIGHLANDER tv series and INUYASHA, a Japanese anime series Caty is a fan of. (I'm thinking of making up a t-shirt for Caty with SIT, BOY! emblazoned across the front.)

Now if only the air-conditioning hadn't gone kaput last night.

(This last is actually a good thing. We've had an intermittent problem with the a/c for the last three summers, where the compressor would sometimes stop when the outside temperature got up in the 110-degree range, but (usually) be able to be restarted after a twenty or thirty minute wait, or sometimes restart spontaneously. The half-dozen or so times when we had repair guys out to try and track the problem, the a/c would of course be operating just fine. Then the weather would drop back into lower temperatures, and the problem go away. This latest compressor failure, though, is the first time it's happened at night, during lower temperatures, and we haven't been able to get it restarted. Huzzah, it's completely broken! So finally, once the repair guy gets here later today, we may actually be able to get the problem fixed for good.)

6/15/2006

Smart Pills, Smart Sex



Via Amygdala, a link to this story in the Washington Post, about how school kids are increasingly taking memory and concentration-enhancing drugs like Adderall to prep for exams and focus on schoolwork and grades.

So-o-o-o...the thought occurs to me...

...if a guy took Adderall and Viagra at the same time, would you have a guy who'd actually pay attention to a woman's needs in bed?

It also occurs to me to wonder if there have been any writers, facing tight deadlines, who've used Adderall or its ilk to focus on their projects in-progress? And how effective it might have been? (Instead of NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- you could have NaNoWriWeek!)

6/07/2006

Under The Knife Again



Hilde's newest surgery, for a fusion on her right ankle/foot, took place this morning.

She'd been having increasing pain and trouble with that foot for the last several years, as the RA-degraded bones shifted and drifted into incorrect positions. (Plus a twisting of the entire foot about sixty degrees to the right.) And it finally got intolerable enough to make losing flexibility an acceptable tradeoff.

(There hasn't been an acceptable artifical replacement for ankle joints developed yet, unlike most of her other major joints which have been being replaced -- and sometimes re-replaced -- since 1975.)

So, four hours in surgery. Basically, her foot was taken apart and the bones put back into proper position, held in place, and then a length of cadaver fibia was inserted into/thru the foot, ankle and leg bone to act as a dowel holding everything together. Also, a blade-shaped piece of metal was inserted into her heel bone, then bent and shaped to run up along the back of her lower legbone. Screws were inserted to hold the blade-piece securely, and more (diagonal) screws to hold other bones together. Plus bone paste in between the joints. Over about the next six weeks, the ankle should fuse together into a solid mass.

During those six weeks, however, she's not allowed to put any weight AT ALL on that foot. So, after a few more days in the hospital, she'll be going to a rehab facility for six weeks.

*ouch* This will be the longest we've slept apart since we got together thirty years ago.

This is going to be a rough summer.

(And since I'll be visiting her as much as possible, don't be surprised if it's even longer than usual between blogposts here.)

6/04/2006

"Ce n'est pas une aubergine."



Meanwhile, over at Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden has posted about LiveJournal's recent ban on using breastfeeding images as user icons, with copious comments.

Well, jeez. I guess LJ users will just have to end up using nice, safe, tasteful pictures for their user icons. Like flowers. Or fruit. Or vegetables.

So here, for anyone who wants to use it, is a picture of one of the Thai eggplants from my backyard garden. And, as an added bonus, the same picture Photoshopped to turn it into a neon display:


 Posted by Picasa

 Posted by Picasa

Remember: Clean icons, clean minds.

6/03/2006

Growing Up Monster



A recent article in The Arizona Republic newspaper discussed the subject of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a type of mental illness where a person believes and obsesses that their face and features are somewhere between flawed and hideous.

Reading the article was Deja Vu Time for me. If the teenaged me from forty years ago were brought to the present, he'd probably -- almost certainly -- be diagnosed with BDD.

One difference from some of the patients mentioned in the article is that they are described as obsessively looking at themselves in mirrors or reflective surfaces, focused on their "flaws". I wasn't that way; I could not -- literally NOT -- look fully at myself in a mirror.

(So how did I groom myself? By never looking at more than a part of my face: When I shaved, I'd look only at the right cheek and shave there, then shift focus to the left cheek and shave that, then to the chin. Likewise with combing my hair, or washing my face, or brushing my teeth.)

But when I did on occasion try to take a full look at myself in the mirror... I could tell myself, intellectually, that this was really just a rather average-looking guy, about twenty pounds overweight, but nothing, really, nothing that bad or that horrendous.

But emotionally... emotionally when I looked in the mirror, I would see someone like this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy.

Where did this conviction, this certainty, this absolute unyielding visceral sureness that I was hideous and repulsive, come from? I honestly have no idea. It was just... there... one day. And then there every day. And then always there. Always.

Did this neurotic obsession affect my social life? Oh, yeah, you could say that.

Though not completely. I wasn't so disturbed, so unbalanced, that I wasn't aware, on a thinking level, that this was a neurotic/unhinged way to think of myself. (This is actually something I think might be worse than being fully insane: To be aware enough to recognize that you're unbalanced, you're neurotic, you're nutso, but you still can't stop the nutso thoughts from thinking themselves... that's a tough place to be in. The idea of turning totally, completely delusional actually starts to look attractive.)

So sometimes, a few times, I'd work up the courage (a lot of courage) to try asking a few girls for dates. With, umm, mixed success. (This attempt set me back on my heels for -- literally -- several years, until I was in college.)

Somehow, I managed a semblance, a weak imitation, of a normal life. (Though, considering how infrequently I dated or even flirted with any women, I suspect there was probably speculation among my social acquaintances about my sexual orientation.) Always with this deep, visceral certainty that I was, at best, unattractive ranging up to hideous.

And then came Hilde. Getting involved with her, taking a friendship into the next step, and then the next, and the next... was the bravest thing I've ever done. (And I almost... almost... turned away, kept quiet, backed off like I'd done with so many women, with almost every woman.)

So, did my neurotic view of myself suddenly vanish in the irresistible light of love? Ummm... no. I just thought that Hilde was the wonderful exception, the one person who couldn't see what I was really like. And I still looked at my face one section at a time in the mirror.

I can tell you, though, when the breakthrough was:

I actually had a genuine flaw on my face. One of my front teeth had a discolored brownish spot on one corner, about the size of the head of a pin. Wasn't a cavity or a chip in the enamel, just that particular tooth had grown out that way. I had never gotten it fixed; I'm not sure why.

I was brushing my teeth one morning, and suddenly noticed, in the mirror, that the discolored tooth was no longer discolored. I stood there, stunned, for a long moment.

I had been to the dentist recently, and I realized that the dentist (Dr. Lundgren, retired now. Best. Dentist. Ever.), while working on a neighboring tooth, must have gone ahead and patched the discolored tooth without bothering to tell me.

That dental appointment had been three weeks before. It had taken me that long to look closely enough at myself to notice the difference.

I stood there at the bathroom sink for several moments, staring at the all-white tooth. And then I looked up a bit, and drew back a bit... and I looked at my entire face, as a whole, for the first time in a long, long time.

And the face in the mirror... wasn't bad-looking. Certainly not strikingly handsome, not movie-star handsome. But a decent-looking guy. Not bad. Not bad.

Not bad.

It was August 18th, 1990. I was thirty-seven years old.


Postscript: I know that in one of the boxes up in the attic, there are some of the wallet-size photos from my high-school yearbook portrait. Writing this, I thought I might go up there, rout out one of the photos, scan it, and include it in this post. But thinking about that photo... and even though I know, KNOW, that it shows nothing except an average-looking, slightly chunky teenager in a coat and tie... I found my chest growing tight and my shoulders starting to draw themselves up. So, yeah, there still is a monster in my mind. It's an old monster, and a weak monster... nowadays, at times when my weight's where I want it to be, and I have my beard properly trimmed, I can even look at myself in the mirror and think "He's kinda...dashing, y'know?"... but it's not a dead monster.

5/31/2006

Long Days




Over thirteen hours yesterday at work. Over twelve today. (Would have been less, but one of the other letter carriers passed out, so I had to do over two hours of his route.) And the long weekend off (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) I was scheduled for this week was cancelled, so I'll be working those days as well.

On top of all this, I have a head-pounding, great-gruesome-gobs-of-snot-producing cold. (There will be no photos. Say thank you.)

I. Am. Tired.

5/21/2006

10,956 days


Hilde (photo ca. 1981 by Gil Gaier) Posted by Picasa

Today marks 30 years since the day I was driving Hilde to one of the local SF club meetings, we got to talking, and we found out we'd both been thinking "What if...?" about the other.

Thank you, Hilde, for thirty years of being companion, lover, wife and soulmate. You changed my life. You made me human. I love you.

5/17/2006

We Have Seen The Future, And It Is Slush

Back in 1991, the World Fantasy Convention was held in Tucson, Arizona. I had a little part in that, as editor of an anthology, Copper Star, of Southwestern-themed sf, fantasy & horror that was given out to the membership of the convention (plus extras that were sold to help recoup costs). Not a bad little book, if I say so myself.

I edited Copper Star as an "open market" book, where anyone could submit manuscripts for consideration. ("Open market" vs "invitational" anthologies is a subject for another post.) So I had, as I recall, about 300 stories submitted to go thru and reject, accept, or ask for a rewrite-&-retry.

One of the stories in the slushpile featured a near-future in which the USA's border with Mexico had been lined with a series of highly-automated forts which, whenever Mexicans tried to cross the border into the US, would open up with machine guns, flame throwers, missiles, etc, and slaughter men, women and children alike.

In the story, a female reporter manages to sneak into one of the tightly-sealed forts, where she discovers a human in control of the slaughter-machines. And it turns out that he (and all the other operators in all the other forts) are the worst psychopaths available, drafted from prisons and asylums to perform patriotic (and fun!, by their standards) duties for their country. The fort's operator shows the reporter the facilities, blows some approaching Mexicans into little chunky bits, has rough sex (bordering on rape) with the reporter, and throws her back out of the fort. End of story.

In my rejection letter, I noted (besides the icksome main character) that the story had no explanation why Mexicans would continue to try and cross the border, even in the face of certain death. Civil war? Pandemic disease? The story needed something to justify the actions of the doomed.

So here we are, fifteen years later, and there are people, even Congressmen, seriously suggesting that all 11,000,000 or so illegal immigrants in the US simply be rounded up and thrown back into Mexico. (Never mind that a lot of those eleven million people come from countries other than Mexico.)

What would happen if you actually did that?

Millions of people, suddenly thrust back into Mexican society. Millions of people without jobs. Millions of people now NOT sending substantial portions of the US dollars they earned back home into the Mexican economy.

In that situation, I think the stage will have been set for civil war in Mexico, between the poor and the better-off. In that situation, yeh, you might have human traffic -- refugees fleeing violence, rather than people simply trying to find jobs -- trying to get into the US, even against a heavily-armed border.

But who, besides a psychopath, would think the idea of slaughtering anyone, everyone, who tries to cross the border was morally defensible? Could anyone actually want to see the scenario of that slushpile story made into reality?

Well, pretty damn close. From the comments section of a Defensetech post on "border security theater":
The thing Defense Tech posted just before Bush's speech was about an unmanned gunner thing that mounted on top of a humvee. I think we should have one of those with night vision & infrared & have it be mounted on the top of a 50 foot high metal pole...and have that duplicated. I would have 1 pole per mile...So thats around 3,000 of these. Spend several years to write there software, and have the whole thing automated. So that if an Illegal gets within half a mile of the US border...they get a warning shot fired around 50 feet from them, then have the gun wait like 30 seconds...and if they haven’t begun going backwards (towards Mexico) then another warming shot would be around 15 feet from them...then another 30 seconds...then after that, if they are still walking towards the US border...shoot to kill.

After a week or so, the bodies will be piling up, that will send one hell of a clear message to any illegal citizen...there is no better deterrent then force.

Posted by: Murc at May 15, 2006 11:31 PM

So the good news is that the future will be like science fiction. The bad news is that some people want it to be badly-written science fiction.