Going Bananas: German Chocolate Banana Bread

We had some people over to the house last night, with a potluck dinner, so I baked a couple of banana breads for my contribution. The German Chocolate version I came up with, adapting a recipe off allrecipes.com, came out particularly well, I thought. So:
German Chocolate Banana Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups mashed overripe bananas
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9x5 inch loaf pans.

2) Toast shredded coconut. This can be done in a dry skillet on the stovetop, or in the microwave; microwave approximately 1+1/2 to 2 minutes, stirring every 15 to 20 seconds. Set aside to cool while putting everything else together.

3) Combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

4) In a second large bowl, mix butter or margarine and the white and brown sugars together until smooth. Stir in bananas, eggs, nuts and coconut.

5) Pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir just until blended. Divide batter between the two loaf pans.

6) Bake 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn loaves onto wire rack to cool completely.


Spoke Too Soon

So just when I say that I'm taking a break from political blogging, I actually get the three-day weekend off work I'm scheduled for, decide to take a quick look online...

...and find all hell breaking loose over the news that President Bush, in violation of law, ordered the National Security Agency to conduct domestic spying operations.

People are upset. A couple of particularly notable commentaries: Hilzoy at Political Animal. Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory

But those are from the liberal/progressive blogs I tend to follow. So maybe the views I'm reading there are slanted and one-sided.

A handy website I've used in the past is congress.org, which, among other things, lets users write to their Senators and Congressmen online, and also has a "Letters To Leaders" section where letterwriters can post their letters publicly as well. My impression has been that the letters posted there tend to be a pretty fair reflection of the country's general mood.

I just spent about forty-five minutes going through recent letters there about the NSA spying, and the letters are heavily against Bush's actions. VERY heavily against, about 8-1. Even more notably, at least three-quarters of the negative letters explicitly call for Bush to be impeached over the illegal spying.

Here's my own letter to my Senators and Congressman (McCain, Kyl,and Franks):
In the last several days, it has become publically known that President Bush secretly ordered the National Security Agency to conduct domestic spying operations against American citizens.

The President has broken the laws of this nation. What will you do in response?

When President Clinton lied under oath about a personal matter, Congress prepared articles of impeachment against him. That offense pales in comparison to President Bush's apparent contempt for the rules of law, and his contempt for the Constitution and the "checks and balances" established in that founding document.

The President has broken the laws of this nation. Will you be brave enough to call for impeachment, or will you place the interests of your political party above the future of our country?

Please let me know where you intend to stand. For our country and for our laws, or to surrender the rule of law to an executive who has publically proclaimed he is above the law?

Thank you for your time and attention.

I tend to be less dutiful than I ought to about keeping my Senators and Representative apprised of my views on matters. But this one... this is scary enough to get me typing.


Still Breathing

I've been working lots (and lots) of overtime recently, and my days have been basically: work, come home, make dinner, quick check on email, and bed. Repeat. On days off, try (and fail) to catch up on all the household chores and errands that are ordinarily done on workdays.

Which is why you haven't seen many posts here lately. Things should get back to normal after Christmas.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that having to skim, or skip altogether, the political blogs I usually cruise on a daily basis is... sorta relaxing.

Before the Bush administration, I tended to largely ignore politics. Back then, if it wasn't smart to ignore politics, it generally wasn't actively dangerous to do so. Most people could coast thru their lives and figure that if their government was out to get them, it was an incidental part of the political process, rather than deliberate.

Can't do that anymore, with the Bush administration's foundation in anti-government, anti-labor, anti-rights, anti-freedoms, anti-choice, anti-citizen extremism. I've felt an obligation, especially since 9/11, to -- at the minimum -- pay attention and stay informed about what's really going on in our government and country.

But... it gets wearying after a while. (And depressing. And scary.) And I've found that taking a (involuntary) break from watchdogging the government, going back to the pre-Bush practice of not paying attention to politics, is... kinda nice.

One of the repeated complaints heard in the anti-Bush blogosphere is that the "sheeple" won't wake up and realize how much danger their rights and freedoms and lives are in from the Bush extremists.

Maybe it's just as simple as this: Paying attention, and trying to stay informed, is hard and unpleasant work. And people, as a rule, don't like hard and unpleasant work, and try to avoid it as long as possible.

So I'm on (an enforced) vacation from political blogging for a few more weeks. I think I'll go ahead and enjoy it for the duration.

(There is, of course, the nagging feeling, that if I don't personally pay attention and stay informed, everything will go to absolute hell before New Year's. I think this may be like the old worry that if I press the wrong buttons on my keyboard, I'll launch nuclear missiles and start WWIII.)


Whoo Hoo! Good News!

Got e-mail from John Scalzi yesterday, telling me he was accepting my story, "Labyrinth's Heart", for the issue of SUBTERRANEAN MAGAZINE he's guest-editing.

This is a good feeling.


Recent Reading: Storyteller

I've been reading Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller (Small Beer Press, 2005, $16.00 tpb), a combination memoir of the 27 years she and Damon Knight were guest writers/teachers at the Clarion workshops and a guide to writing well (in a both literary and professional manner).

Overall, this is a very nice book. It's short, less than 200 pages. The memoir portions are entertaining and historically informative. The suggestions and guidelines on writing are succinct and sensible.

A few things stuck out at me:

1) One of the writing exercises she suggests is to take a completed manuscript and cover up everything on a page except a single sentence, one sentence at a time, and examine the sentence in isolation, out of context with the rest of the manuscript. Does the sentence say exactly what you wanted it to say, does it say what it needs to say?

This is, literally, a way to line-edit a story. The thought struck me that it shouldn't be too difficult (he said, with the benefit of ignorance and inexperience) to develop a short program or wordprocessing macro that could extract one sentence at a time, display it in a separate window, allow it to be revised there, and then put back into the manuscript, replacing the original sentence.

2) Wilhelm says, at different points in the book, "Think of the worst incident in your life, and use it", and quotes Alfed North Whitehead: "Art is the imposition of pattern on experience." I think those two go together well. I've tried at various points to use real experiences in my life as the basis for stories. It's very difficult (and mostly unsuccessful); sometimes (usually) that "imposition of pattern" requires major revision and simplification of those messy, complex emotions and interactions to suit the purpose of writing a properly structured story.

And sometimes you find yourself writing about your life unconsciously, in a thematic rather than specific way, and only recognize the influences after the fact. There was a story I wrote about ten years ago, where I was going over the finished manuscript, and read over one character's physical description, and how that character acted in the story, and realized with a start, "Oh crap, it's Alan Bostick!" (I sold the story anyway.)


An Open Letter To "Bob Woodward"

Dear "Mr. Woodward",

Who are you, and what have you done with the real Bob Woodward?

Bruce Arthurs



Dr. William Frey, on republicansforhumility.com, has written "Confessions of A Repentant Republican", a long but thoroughly-reasoned essay on his disillusionment with the Bush/Republican administration and policies. Worth the reading time.

Hell has officially frozen over. Arizona Congressman and Bush-team-waterboy J.D. Hayworth stated on the Don Imus show that he would NOT want George Bush to campaign for him in a re-election campaign.

Weirdness. News article on "Rogue Taxidermy". And the website for the Minnesota Association for Rogue Taxidermy.

Our neighbor Anne, who writes online as "Talpianna", has started a blog of her own, Fluffy Cat Babylon, focusing on her cats. "Life In A Cat House" is particularly amusing. (Now if only she'd start a blog about books and writing....)

Several months ago, Molly of My Madeleine blog (about food, cooking,and her goal to work in the food industry) was struck by a car. Besides other injuries, she suffered a fractured skull and brain bruising that resulted in the loss of her senses of smell and taste. They've been slowly returning, and in her latest post, "Salsa, Rosemary, and James Bond", she writes evocatively of the sensation and feeling of regaining lost skills.

Update 11/13/05: Some non-working links fixed. (Thanks, Tal.)


Still Missed

In one of my filing cabinets is a file marked "Unpublished/Unpublishable". It contains material I've written over the years that, for one reason or another (too personal, too angry, too et cetera), I've chosen not to put in print.

What follows is something I wrote in November of 1980. At the time, I decided it was too personal, and that it probably said more about me than about the person I was writing about.

After twenty-five years, though... perhaps it's time:
Hilde, my wife, spoke the words to me when she came back from a shopping trip with Paul Schauble, who had spoken the words to her. These are the words that I heard:

"It's not Wednesday."

In 1975, July, I was attending the Westercon in San Francisco. It was the first major convention I had been to since being discharged from the Army and returning home to the West from the East Coast. I was at a room party, sitting off on one corner of a bed, alone and feeling uncomfortable in a group of people most of whom I did not know or knew only through fanzines and did not know how to start a face-to-face conversation with.

A young lady entered the room, and spoke with some of the other people in the room. She sat down on the bed, read my nametag, and began talking to me about my fanzine.

She began talking to me. It was as if I was an interesting person, which I did not believe myself. I talked clumsily back, in my low, semi-audible voice, and she did not seem to be bored. She did not seem to be bored, and I found that hard to believe. It was not a long conversation by some people's standards, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, but by my own standards it was an immense stretch. We talked about my fanzine, how I felt about it, about what I had been doing since leaving the Army, about me. And she seemed to care, and she seemed to like me, and not once during that conversation did she glance around to look at anyone else's nametag, to find someone more interesting to talk with. (I broke the conversation off; as I said, by my standards, it was immensely long and I was suffering from... shock?... and I did not know how to cope with it at all.)

We never really saw each other very much. A few minutes talking at the Westercon two years later in Vancouver, some scatteed "Hi's" at another convention or two. We traded fanzines, though, and I felt I knew her from those. And I looked forward to each ccasional issue of her life, and I remembered the kindness she had shown to me at that Westercon in 1975, and I think I can say that I loved her.

It was not a mad, passionate type of love, although I suppose that if I had lived closer and seen her more often, I might have been goofy and foolish enough to succumb to that goofy and foolish madness. But it was more than what I felt towards most people in fandom, where the term "friend" is mistakenly applied to so many acquaintances. But she already had so many friends, who felt towards her as I did, and I never mentioned my feelings to her in the occasional letter I sent. And had I known that she would at last need a friend, any friend, I would have moved heaven and earth to have been there.

"It's not Wednesday."

Those are the words I heard Hilde speak. They were not the words she had said. Something, between my ear and my brain, had altered them, rejected the true words as unacceptable. Hilde repeated the words:

"Susan Wood is dead."

I wish it was Wednesday.



I'm cheap. I like to save money. I like to get bargains.

I also like books. So does Hilde, but usually totally different books and writers than the ones I like. Which means we tend to buy lots of books. Lots and lots of books.

I've been a member of two book clubs for years: Science Fiction Book Club and Quality Paperback Book Club. I keep a wish list on each website, and try and wait for a special offer (like free shipping) before making an order.

The SFBC just offered such a special deal, buy 2 books and get a 3rd book free, said deal available for a limited time. Okay, I think, time to go through the wishlist and make an order.

But I decide to take a quick look at QPB's website first, and I realize something that should have been obvious a long time ago.

QPB has a standing deal, where you order your most expensive book at the full club price, and subsequent books cost 50% of the club price. (There's a limit -- ten books -- you can order at a time under this deal.) Buy one at full price, and up to nine books more at half price.

As it happens, both QPB and SFBC are the handsome children of the same parent (Doubleday), along with a few other book clubs. What this means is that most of the books for both clubs come out of the same warehouses.

And what that means is that if I order SFBC's offerings through the QPB website, I receive the same 50% discount as if they were part of QPB's regular selections. (The SFBC books don't earn the "bonus points" that you can accumulate on QPB offerings and occasionally trade in for free books, but that's not that big a deal.)

A substantially better deal than the "buy 2, get 1 free" offer. Which means that in a week or two, I'll be getting a big box of hardcovers and trade pbs at essentially paperback prices.

(Although... I must admit... I sort of feel like I just mugged Ellen Asher and swiped the SFBC payroll.)


This Explains A Lot. No, Really.

From The Guardian, an article on "Sick Worker Syndrome":

RSI may cause sick worker syndrome

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Wednesday October 26, 2005
The Guardian

...scientists say the nerve damage caused by repetitive motion could be a cause of "sick worker" syndrome and such symptoms as poor performance, fatigue and depression.

Ann Barr and Mary Barbe of the College of Health Professions at Temple University in Philadelphia studied the early changes in nerves caused by repetitive activities. They found the injuries are caused by the action of proteins called cytokines, which help start the inflammation. The proteins appeared in rat models of RSI within three weeks.

As the injury progressed, more cytokines were produced at the inflammation site. The researchers found unexpected links between the production of cytokines and the rats' psychosocial responses. "At three weeks, even before the rats experienced pain from their wrist injuries, we watched them self-regulate their work behaviour," Dr Barr said. "With inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream, they began to slack off." After five to eight weeks, many of the rats curled up and slept between tasks.

The researchers said people who took days off work owing to undefined symptoms or slowed down their work rate may be suffering from the effects of the raised cytokine levels. A low-grade depression may also set in. As the proteins appear soon after nerve damage first happens, when actual pain is rare, many people might not make the connection between the "off" feeling and possible RSI. It could take months before the nerve damage is bad enough to be noticed.

Dr Barbe said: "Cytokines are self-protective. This undefined feeling of malaise may be telling the body to take some time off to heal, before things get worse."

As I've mentioned before, my job with the Postal Service has in recent months entailed a lot of overtime work. A lot. One of the reasons for this is that the current bosses in charge seem to be of the school of management that it's cheaper to work current employees longer hours at overtime rates than it is to hire new employees and pay them regular rates plus benefits. (Yes, working for USPS still has benefits like retirement and health isurance, much as the idea makes upper management gnash their teeth and rend their sackcloth.)

The overtime has been across the board, affecting almost all employees. (There are some who are on restricted hours/duties because of previous injuries or health problems.)

What has also happened across the board has been an increase in the number of sick calls, of people begging off work. Before all the overtime started, out of a workforce of approximately a hundred carriers at the station, there'd usually be three, four, maybe five people calling in sick. Since the overtime has grown by leaps and bounds in recent months, the sick calls have grown apace; it's not unusual anymore to have eight or nine people (once, thirteen) call in sick.

With more sick calls, the overtime problem grows even worse. With that many more delivery routes not manned, the people who have shown up for work have to work even longer hours. Management doesn't like paying time-and-a-half for overtime, even if they think it's cheaper in the long run than hiring more employees. They like it even less when employees work past ten hours in a day; after that point, employees start earning double-pay. And a lot of carriers have been working past the ten-hour mark.

And delivering the mail entails a lot of repetitive work: Sorting mail in the mornings, and delivering it the rest of the day.

The cytokine findings in the study noted above certainly seem to explain a lot of the increase in sick calls. Long hours, much of it in repetitive tasks, for days on end, and surprise, a lot of the workers feel like crap. And some of them finally call in sick, because they feel just plain friggin' worn out. (While a lot of others -- like, say, me -- will continue to report to work, and drag themselves through each day, even when they feel like crap too.)

The obvious solution would seem, duh, to hire more employees to try to eliminate/minimize overtime and the excessive sick calls that seem to result. But, as noted, this is a solution upper management doesn't seem willing to entertain at this time.

(And a lot of employees appreciate the overtime money. As I noted in an earlier post, my overtime money is largely going for debt reduction purposes, and should leave me debt-and-mortgage-free and able to retire in about four years. Without the overtime, I'd probably have to continue working several additional years before I could retire. But those extra hours spent working are hours that can't be spent with your home, your family, your life. And that gets to be a major, major drag sometimes.)


Recent Reading: Playboy 50 Years The Cartoons

Playboy 50 Years The Cartoons, intro by Hugh Hefner, Chronicle Books, 2004

I just read it for the captions, honest.

Like science fiction, the Golden Age of PLAYBOY is, I think, thirteen. That was about the age at which I started sneaking looks at the issues in the house.

(Now where did those issues come from? Did my Dad have a subscription? I suppose he must have, but I don't remember him ever looking at them. Perhaps the Naked Women Fairy snuck into the house at night and left copies in the bathroom. The Naked Women Fairy must have been kept very busy, because back them it seemed like everyone's bathroom had an issue or several of PLAYBOY. So busy, in fact, that it was years, dammit, before he got around to leaving an actual naked woman in my bed.)

Of course I looked at the centerfolds and other photos. (And yeah, I actually read some of the articles and fiction they printed too. Ian Fleming, Jean Shepherd, Damon Knight; they published some damn good writers.) And I looked at the cartoons.

Some of the cartoons in this collection are ones I remember seeing back in the 60's. The collection reprints a selection from the 50's to the 00's.

From the perspective of forty years later, I'm struck by the similarity in reaction to the cartoons between my thirteen year-old self and my current self. And that reaction is...

...that the cartoons are curiously sexless.

When I was thirteen, with the first stirrings of sexual curiousity, it was largely a matter of not having a context to judge or react to the cartoons. I was so ignorant about sex, women, men & women, social interactions, and the whole game of people that many of the situations depicted in the cartons might as well have been in heiroglyphics. I had a curiousity, and a certainty that there was something being referred to, but it was something that, at that age, I didn't understand.

(It's difficult to communicate, today, in an age where so much information is so available at such an earlier age about sex and sexuality, just how deprived the information-environment about sex was back in the 1960's for young people. Trying to figure out what sex is about, and how it's done, from centerfolds and cartoons -- trust me on this -- is not a great learning method. One usually didn't start to get a handle on the subject until you were old enough to start actually dating and funbling around in the back seats of cars.)

("Well, that explains a lot, Bruce.") (Yes, it does.)

Forty-plus years later, with a bit of experience and some understanding of how the game of people works, I look at the cartoons and find them... innocent. Particularly from the earlier years, they're sorta... goofy, with odd underlying assumptions that it's difficult to fully accept anymore. (The sight of a naked breast will throw men into a state of fascinated paralysis, all social situations have seduction as their end goal, etc.)

I find myself amused by a number of them. Some because they're still funny, others because they've become old-fashioned and quaint. Others leave me without reaction. A few... surprisingly few... strike me as puerile and annoying.

I don't think I can recommend this purely as a cartoon collection. But as a historical document, flashes into the evolution of an important magazine and the changes in social mores and attitudes, it's pretty interesting.

(I've been referring here to the sexually-themed cartoons in the collection. There are a number of non-sexual cartoons as well, by Gahan Wilson and others, which overall stand up much better to age.) (Except for the politcal cartoons, which haven't aged all that well, I thought.)


End The Slump? End The Shame!

The US Army has announced some plans to try and increase recruitment. This comes about because of a continued failure to meet recruiting goals.

Methods include: Increase enlistment bonuses. Increase the number of recruiters. Target people who've already begun college, but might "want a break" from schooling. Target high-school age kids who are being home-schooled.

This sounds to me like deep denial. It sounds to me like the military still doesn't want to admit (or isn't being allowed to admit) the root causes for the slump in recruitment.

Some people join the military becauses of bonuses, training and such, yeh. But a lot of -- I think most -- recruits join the military because they really do want to contribute to their country, they really do want to be one of the "Good Guys" helping defend their own country and going after Bad Guys in other countries.

When I joined the Army in 1972, some of my reasons were personal. (Yeh, I really did want a break from college, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do there anymore; and I wanted to get out on my own, away from my parents, as well; it was also the tail-end of the American involvement in Vietnam, and while I never sought out duty there, my enlisting was also partially a test of my own courage, and whether I was man enough to endure danger [as it turned out, I spent my entire enlistment Stateside, probably a good thing; in retrospect, I would probably have sucked in a combat role])

But I also joined because I wanted to be a good citizen, because I thought the USA was a great nation, because I wanted to contribute to continuing that greatness. And serving in the military was a traditional and honorable way to serve.

That honor isn't there anymore.

People can still argue that invading Iraq was worthwhile. They can still argue that progress of some kind is being made there. I think they're wrong, but the argument can be conducted, even if not concluded.

But the torture... the torture is indefensible.

And the military has acquiesced to the Bush administration's approval of, endorsement of, encouragement of, torture. They enable it, they commit it, they fail to object to it.

The American military has lost its honor. The American military has shamed itself.

As long as the United States government acts like a rogue state, holding prisoners without charges or trial, and committing torture on those prisoners, with the military's acquiescence and assistance, serving in the military cannot be a source of pride, but only a source of shame.

I think it's as simple as this: Stop the torture, stop the slump.


Bardic Funeral

Hilde and I went to Barry Bard's funeral this morning.

Barry'd been a friend of ours, and of hundreds of other people, for thirty years. He was one of the most well-known, and well-liked, people in local Phoenix' sf and SCA fandoms. He was also well known and appreciated at other Southwestern conventions, particularly Comic-Con, where he was given the Inkblot Award earlier this year.

He could be a grump and a kvetch, but he could also be charming and generous. He was a raconteur who knew everyone, and had stories about most of them.

He was the source for providing most of the posters, cards and buttons on the freebie tables at local conventions. He presented the popular "Barry Bard's Movie Previews" at many conventions, screening trailers and promos for forthcoming films, with commentary that was sometimes as, umm, respectful as the films deserved.

And he was a bookseller. At conventions and SCA events, he'd unload a grey station wagon filled floor to ceiling and side to side with boxes of books, and set up his bookselling tables. And what books! "Eclectic" barely touches the variety of volumes he could display in a limited space. Fiction and non-fiction, books on history, art, crafts of all types, cooking, fashions and costumes, literature, the list went on and on. I probably shopped at Barry's tables close to a hundred times through the years, and I could count the number of times I went away empty-handed on the fingers of one hand. (And usually because of being flat dead broke at those particular times.) And sometimes he'd show up at a party or other social function and say, "Hey, I've got a book here I thought you'd be interested in," and he was usually right.

Barry never had children. (He was married once, but it broke up after a few years.) But I figure that over the years, he probably sold at least a couple of hundred thousand books to people, even though he never had a full-time bookstore or website. To have spread that much knowledge and enjoyment, to so many people, is still a pretty damn good legacy.


A Videogame Question

This is a question that came to mind earlier today:

In the notoriously violent and amoral Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is it possible for a player to get a job, save money, go to a used car lot, and BUY a car?


Spammers. Why Des It Have To Be Spammers?

*sigh* It looks like the comment spammers have found UNDULANT FEVER. In the last few days, I've had about a half dozen comment spams posted here. (Mostly linking back to weight loss sites, but one referring back to swimming pool chemicals. WTF?)

I've turned on the "word verification" setting to try and keep out the automated spams. This means anyone making a real comment will have to go thru an extra step. Sorry.


Well, it made ME Laugh!

Regular readers of UF may have noticed that from time to time I display a weakness, a slight weakness, for low-brow toilet humor. Sometimes literally.

So: Urinals of Middle-Earth.

You were warned.


Four Gunfights And A Funeral

When most of the household (Hilde, me, Michelle and Caty) went to the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall where the early screening of Serenity was being held, we got there a bit over an hour before the 7:00 PM showing. SFS is a pretty big enclosed shopping mall, and we found that the line of other people who'd gotten passes to the screening went from the top of the escalator just above the theatre entrance over to the side of the mall, all-l-l-l the way down the long side of the mall, back across to the other side of the mall, and halfway back down the other long side.

The chances of getting into the screening looked iffy. And it turned out that the line was cut off about a dozen people short of where Michelle and Caty were. But since Hilde was in her wheelchair, she and I got to go to the head of the line and were actually the first people into the theatre. (Michelle and Caty took the disappointment, and having to wait around for two hours until we came out, with grace and good nature. True, I could have stuffed Michelle's ears with rice and steamed it, but...)

So how was the movie? Slam-bang action, a good story, with amusing/intriguing characters. The "science" of Whedon's frontier planetary system is actually science-fantasy, and takes a deliberate effort for suspending disbelief. Once over that hump, though, it's a heck of a ride.

Pretty impressive, considering that Whedon had to try and achieve four things in writing the script: 1) Continue the story of Mal and the rest of the Serenity crew, to the satisfaction of people who've seen the original series, 2) Make the story self-sufficent and stand-alone enough to satisfy people who've never seen the show or characters before, 3) add new developments that will leave room for future stories in the Serenity universe, if the current movie proves popular enough to call for sequels, and 4) tie up the main plot threads securely enough that if the movie doesn't have further sequels, it will be able to stand as a fitting coda to the Serenity saga.

I thought Whedon did pretty well on three out of the four. Trying to look at the movie as if I'd never seen the series, some of the relationships seem a little vague. This doesn't hurt that much in regard to Shepherd Book, who's always been rather a mystery man, but the relationship and feelings between Mal and Inara felt as if they needed a bit more backstory; I didn't feel that a newcomer to this universe would get a real feel for why Mal and Inara have such an... odd, and mostly unsaid... relationship.

As for the new developments... well, I'm trying to avoid any major spoilers...

...but remember that Whedon's universe is a rough and dangerous place. Things happen in the film that are going to make a lot of the series' fans very unhappy. (On our way out of the theatre, Hilde and I passed by a young man who'd had to sit down on a bench while he cried himself out.)

Oh, and I will mention that we finally get an explanation of why the Reavers have that little attitude problem. (It's not hemmorhoids, after all.)


What NOT To Do (for writers and others)

From 52 Projects, a list of things NOT to do while trying to work on a project.

One of the items listed is "Do not post to your blog." Duhhhhh...

If you're anything like me, reading the list will make you feel s-o-o-o-o guilty...


Recent Reading

Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple, Tor Books, 2005, $22.95

Reformed (but still tempted) heroin-addict Douglas flees Minneapolis, and his still-addicted fellow junkies, to his grandmother's home in Edinburgh, Scotland. His skills as a street musician serve him well during Edinburgh's annual Fringe Festival. Until he encounters a mysterious woman who leaves him with a dubious gift: the Sight, the power to see the fairies, elves, trolls, bogies and other creatures of Faerie whose own Festival overlaps, unseen, with ours. And these Fair Folk are very, very dangerous.

There's a fairly standard plot progression for stories where a young protagonist discovers a secret world behind our own, whether it be aliens, fairies, or Illuminati: Protagonist discovers secret world. Adventures and danger ensues as the protagonist tries to learn more, and he gains both enemies and allies. As the story progresses, the protagonist begins to guide and influence events, rather than reacting to the actions of others. By story's end, the protagonist has gained skills that enable him to take control of the story's situation. Villains are vanquished, wrongs are avenged, happiness ensues.

At first, I thought Stemple was following this plot-path in Douglas' story. But then things began to turn very dark and grim. Douglas' grandmother tells him:

"There's not a Scottish fairy tale that doesn't end without someone getting hanged or burned at the stake or thrown down a well. And the faeries themselves? They're all the wandering spirits of unbaptised children or murdered relatives, and even the good ones will turn on you in a second if you break one of their unwritten rules."

I think that's called foreshadowing. Brutal and explicit violence takes place, sympathetic characters die, and apparent friends prove false.

But still the reader hopes that the villains will be vanquished, wrongs avenged, and happiness achieved.

And villains are vanquished. Wrongs are avenged. The story's protagonist discovers his unsuspected strength and power.

*spoiler warning*

But at a cost. Because Douglas' choices, though they vanquish villains and avenge wrongs, are the wrong choices. He yields to his inner weaknesses, and at story's end he is addicted again. Not to heroin, but to something even worse.

Thinking about the book's ending, I realized that Stemple never intended to write a standard adventure fantasy. What he has written is a genuine tragedy.

Stemple's prose flows smoothly and colorfully. And there is a lovely (of course) cover by Charles Vess.


Various Links

Some stuff I've been meaning to post links to:

For the SCA family that has everything else: The Gothic Commode Seat

From Edmund Scientifics' website, the world's coolest ant farm

The Graceful Envelope Contest is a yearly joint project between the National Association of Letter Carriers and the Calligraphers Guild of Washington DC. Entrants decorate an envelope with illustrations and artwork around the year's theme (the letter "P" for 2005). The decorated envelopes are then sent "as is" through the mail to the Calligraphers Guild. Some of the entries are absolutely lovely. Here is the link for the 2005 Graceful Envelope Contest Winners.

And, if you haven't read it already, John Scalzi's "Being Poor" essay should be required reading. I'd like to see this made into a wall poster, and posted in every office of everyone who deals with the underprivileged.


Quote of the Day

From Avedon Carol:
"The fact is that, for whatever reason, Fidel Castro was more ready to save American lives than George Bush was."


History Via The Blues

From papersky (with thanks to Making Light for the link), Jo Walton provides:

New Orleans Talking Blues

When levees are flooded and hurricanes roar,
When the waters start seeping up under the door,
You'd expect the escape plans to include the poor
But this isn't that kind of song.

(click the link for the rest...)


A Damn Good Photo

Resourceful Posted by Picasa

From a purely photographic viewpoint, this is one of the best I've seen coming out of New Orleans.

The composition is excellent. The horse and rider form the traditional pyramid shape, drawing attention to the flooded fancy car in the upper photo.

It's also a study in contrasts. Horse and rider, coping with the high water, while the fancy car sits useless. The rider's modern-day clothing, particularly the reversed cap, compared to his 19th-Century transportion.

I'm also very struck by the rider's expression: The slow-burning anger on his face. One feels that this anger will be there for a very, very long time.

(Off the topic of photography: I think it's possible that new leaders of Black America may eventually arise from the ruins of New Orleans. And such leaders will probably be angry leaders, who refuse to forget or forgive the indifference shown to them by America's current power structure. A new Malcolm X, perhaps?)

500 Eggs For 60 Guys

From the Times-Picayne website at nola.com:

500 eggs, 60 men in blue

Thursday, 4:25 p.m.

By Eva Jacob Barkoff
Staff writer

NEW IBERIA -- Around 5 a.m. today, Mary Tripeaux received a call that members of a search-and rescue-team from Phoenix, Ariz., were on their way for breakfast at Victor's Cafeteria on Main Street. Soon the crew arrived and filled themselves with coffee, grits, biscuits, bacon, potatoes and sausage -- and more than 500 eggs.

"There are 180 eggs in one case and we went through at least three cases," Tripeaux said. "And by around 9 a.m., we had run out of sausage. They had eaten it all."

After breakfast, about 60 men in blue uniforms from Phoenix's Urban Search and Rescue Team held a meeting under a gazebo across from Victor's to go over final details of their mission. They wouldn't discuss details with a reporter.

The men had arrived in several trucks and two 18-wheelers filled with equipment. Also along were three Labrador retrievers.

"We have a lot of equipment here to try and do what we can to help," one of the men said.

Before leaving for New Orleans, he reflected on breakfast at Victor's and concluded: "That was the best meal we have had in 48 hours."

That's over eight friggin' eggs per man.

Didn't these guys think to, oh, you know, bring their own food and water with them?!! And maybe some extra for the hungry, thirsty refugees in New Orleans?

Five hundred eggs, plus side dishes. Kee-rist, that could have been a decent meal for at least 250 refugees.


This Will Happen

There are tens of thousands of New Orleans residents displaced from their homes, their jobs, their city, with the likelihood that most won't be able to return for months, possibly years, possibly never.

They'll need jobs, they'll need housing, they'll need daily meals.

Let's start a betting pool: How soon will military recruiters show up at the refugee camps?


New New Orleans: The Big Future

Okay, New Orleans is flooded out. Most of the city will be uninhabitable for months. Contamination from ruptured and damaged chemical and industrial storage facilities will probably turn sweeping areas of the city into a Superfund site for years. Initial estimates to restore the city are running at about 25 billion dollars; I think that's probably highly optimistic.

Maybe it's time, rather than thinking about restoring New Orleans, to think about replacing it.

And if we need to replace it, why not go for the big picture, why not go for... the future?

Why not go for something like... this?

An arcology. A self-contained city in a single building. Utilizing a variety of alternative energy sources (solar, wind, atmospheric diferentials).

"But that's not New Orleans!" you cry. No, but it doesn't have to be.

One of the things about this particular arcology idea, Ultima Tower, is that it's built in a lake, to provide water and cooling. Like say, Lake Pontchartain?

You could build the tower in Lake Pontchartain. Most of the original New Orleans would be dismantled. What would be left would be the "classic" areas, Bourbon Street, etc, and probably the rail and shipping facilities, the heavy industry. The tourist areas would be, basically, a theme park. And there could be high-speed transit lines between the tower and New Orleans Classic, for workers and for tourists. New Orleans Classic could either be protected from future floods by a high coffer dam, or possibly by having the entire area jacked up above water level. (Either would be a large project, and expensive, but a lot easier than trying to preserve and protect the entire city.)

Of course, "build an arcology" is a simple thing to say. In reality, as always, everything takes longer, costs more, and doesn't work as well as originally planned. (Just how many years has Paolo Soleri's mini-arcology, Arcosanti, been "under construction"?) An immense project like this, with this much money involved, would be a graft and corruption magnet. And since so many New Orleans residents live at or barely above the poverty level, would the inclination be to build the tower "on the cheap", with substandard materials and facilities? Would New New Orleans end up as a low-income housing project on steroids? Would the environment and ecology of living in an arcology produce new social customs? Would those new customs displace the traditional jazz-booze-Big-Easy traditions of the original city?

I don't know, but the possibilities might make, at the least, for some interesting science fiction....


Guest Writer: James Patrick Boyne

From Smirking Chimp's comments, in response to this article, James Patrick Boyne compares himself to George Bush, Cowboy Rancher:

I'm just like Bush. I'm a cowboy and I live on a ranch.

I live in a little 3 room apartment in an urban area of Connecticut----but its really a ranch. I call it a ranch and I think of it as a ranch and I use Krafts Ranch Dressing all the time too.

Its not 1600 acres like Bush's ranch but it is about 1/80 of an acre or about 792 square feet if you count the foyer (the entrance to my ranch).

I know its a ranch because my wife always yells, "Will you clean up the fuckin' ranch", so it must be. Not many tumbleweeds, or coyote, or praire dogs around here but last year we had a drive by shooting------it must have been one of those cowboys thinkin' this was the OK Corral.

There's an open field about 35 miles from here with two cows in it. Sometimes on a nice summer day I drive there and get out of the car and go over and pet the cows. I like to walk in the cow shit and get it all over my Florsheim Wingtip shoes so i feel like a cowboy. My wife won't let me in the house when I get home. I like the cows. I live on a ranch. I'm a cowboy.

I wear a cowboy hat just like Bush. And cowboy boots, and tight jeans and a big belt buckle, just like Bush. I like to sweat under the armpits just like Bush. It shows I like hard work. Hard work makes you sweat and I sweat, just like Bush.

Bush likes to cut trees that have already fallen with a chain saw. He always seems to need about 6 big guys with him when he uses that chain saw. Where do you always find six big guys when you want to chainsaw a big tree that has already fallen? I have a chainsaw but my wife says I have to bring it back to the store because there are no trees around here, only telephone poles, and she said I'd get in trouble if I tried to cut down a telephone pole. And I dont think that I could find 6 neighbors that would want to help me cut one down, especially with drive by shootings going on in the neighborhood.

How come every time Bush chainsaws a tree a camera crew always arrives? A camera crew is never allowed to show him mountain biking nor does a camera crew ever show him eating at the kitchen table, or watching TV, or writing, or reading, or talking with Laura on the front porch, or nothing else on that ranch. He is always just chainsawing trees that have already fallen down. I never ever hardly see any standing trees so where do all the fallen trees come from? Maybe they have them trucked in just so he can be filmed chainsawing a tree.

I tried to drag a small tree into my apartment, I mean my ranch, because I wanted to chainsaw it and my wife had a shit fit.

I'm a cowboy, just like Bush.

Cowboys like outhouses. Flushing is for sissies. So I constructed an old outhouse and placed it in the corner of my kitchen so I could take a shit, just like a real cowboy, in my very own outhouse, on my ranch, I mean my apartment. Wifey says it's got to go, or I'll never get another meal made in that kitchen of mine.

I'm a cowboy. Just like Bush. He's my idol. I voted for him because I like his big belt buckle.

I'm born again, just like Bush. I even started to drink heavily just so I could stop just like Bush. I even snorted cocaine just so I could stop just like Bush (but not before I cooked my brain, just like Bush).

I talk to God all the time. And HE talks to me. Just like Bush. I carry the Bible all around with me. Thats why I got fired. My boss said I was neglecting my work. I told my boss that I was just praying for the fallen heroes and those who had given the ultimate sacrifice. My boss said, "Thats fine, but you're fired." I said back to him, "Fuck you," and he replied, "Up yours."

Its fun being just like the President.

Well, gotta go, gotta oil up that ol' chain saw and sharpen the teeth on it. Never can tell when a tree may come by and 6 big guys will show up to help me and all the local news stations will arrive with their cameras so I can get on the Nightly News.

I wonder how Bush arranges all that? Do you think he gets up in the morning and Karl Rove gives him a call and says, Hey George, we need you to go out and saw a tree with your chainsaw? I just called CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, FOXnews, PBS, the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Animal Planet and they will be out this afternoon to take a 15 second shot of you chainsawing a tree.

And whats with the background scenery at Crawford of the giant round bales of hay, the old fence, the tractor, and the old unpainted barn that looks like its about to fall down? How come all the TV achors all stand in the exact same spot. The tractor never seems to move and that hay has been in the exact same positon for 5 years now. And I've never seen a single soul in the background either coming out of or going into that old barn. Where is that place? Is it real or is that just a giant picture in a sound studio somewhere back in the White House? I used to have a scene like that that was really wallpaper. It covered the whole wall and when I stared at it I got the feeling I was really on a ranch. Hey, I think I'll get another one. I'll surprise my wife for her birthday.

My wife's name used to be Jennifer but I made her change it to Laura. I call her Laura all the time. She hates it, but shes getting used to it. When we make love I blow in her ear and call her "Laura" and tell her she is my little own "First Lady". When I introduce her to people I call her my "my bride", just like Bush calls Laura.

My dog's name used to be Abby. I changed it to Barney, like Bush's dog. Even though it's a German Shepard I tell everyone its a Scottish Terrier.

My son's name used to be Billy. I call him Karl now. He's only two, but he'll understand when he gets older, I told him. He looks a little like Karl Rove. I shaved his hair off.

I always wanted to meet Dick Cheney. He's my idol. Whenever I meet anyone, whether it be in the bank, at the supermarket, at the gas station, or at the unemployment office where I pick up my unemployment check, I always say "Hi Dick". They just look at me funny. My favorite all time quote of Dick Cheney's was when he told Senator Pat Leahy to "go fuck yourself" so instead of saying "good morning" to people I just say "go fuck yourself".

Anyway, I'm just like Bush and I live on a ranch.

More of James Patrick Boyne's work can be found at pulsetc.com.


Simple Salmon Cakes

As an antidote to our previous post, here's something I whipped up for tonight's dinner:

Simple Salmon Cakes

6oz can of salmon
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 Tbsp minced green onion
salt, pepper, garlic to taste

Combine all ingredients. Take about 1/3rd cup of mixture, put it into a medium-hot skillet. Use spatula to form into patty, brown on both sides. Makes about 4 salmon cakes.

I served these with boiled potatoes, seasoned with butter, parsley & dill, and a salad. Pretty darn good, if I say so.

Worst... Recipe... Ever?

At a yard sale a few days ago, I picked up a copy of a 40-year old cookbook, CULINARY ARTS INSTITUTE ENCYCLOPEDIC COOKBOOK (1964 edition), thinking it would be interesting to see how it compared to more modern cookbooks.

So, when I flip open the book at random, the very first recipe my eyes alight upon is:


I won't print the full recipe (but if you insist, it's reprinted several places online, such as here), but basically you make two ground organ meat pastes, one with bologna & mayonnaise and the other with liver sausage & mayonaisse. Sounds real healthy so far, doesn't it?

But wait! You put down a layer of sliced bread on a baking sheet, spread the bologna mixture on it, top with more bread, spread the liver mixture on that, top with another layer of bread, and then... SPREAD THE ENTIRE "LOAF" WITH BUTTER.

But wait, there's still more. On top of the buttered "loaf", you put alternating slices of yet more bologna and liver sausage. Then bake the entire thing for about 30 minutes.

I don't even want to think about what the fat and cholesterol content of this dish must be. I have the mental image of entire 1960's families keeling over at the dinner table from cardiac arrest.

There's an accompanying photo in the book; I'll see if I can scan it and include it here. Fortunately it's in black & white; I think seeing the finished object in living color would be the stuff of nightmares.

Liver Sausage Bologna Loaf Posted by Picasa

- - - - -

So how was the rest of the cookbook, after that?

Umm, interesting, in a time capsule kind of way. Very, very few ethnic recipes, and the few I spotted in my skimming and skipping around were generally a)not identified as ethnic, and/or b) Americanized versions. Most of the few "Mexican" recipes call for using green peppers, rather than chiles. And the only "Chinese" dish I could find was Chop Suey, which isn't.

There's a list of calories/serving for many ingredients, but nothing about fat or sodium content. And under "Requirements For Good Nutrition", it includes "Bread and Butter: At every meal."

A list of coffee bean varieties makes no mention of "Arabica".

The section on parties and entertaining seems overly labored and elaborate, even the subsection on "Informal" entertaining.

On the positive side, this is a big book, over 1,000 pages. If it seems dominated by the worst of the "Midwest" cooking style of the 1950s, nonetheless there are some recipes included that sound not only promising, but actually good. (Particularly some of the dessert recipes.)


Poets, Peace and Postal

From a recent e-mail from Poets Against War:

Also, PAW supports a mailing campaign that has been organized in
support of Cindy Sheehan. The idea is to write her a postcard a day, inundating
the Crawford P.O. Please send to:

Cindy Sheehan
Crawford Peace House
9142 East 5th Street
Crawford, TX 76638-3037

It is important to include all 9 digits of the zip code. The Crawford Post Office is not delivering mail that does not include all 9 digits.
[emphasis added]

Several thoughts come to mind about this:

First, I think it's great that Cindy Sheehan and (growing) company's camp-in on the road to Bush's ranch is generating public discussion and news about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of our war in Iraq.

But... "inundate" the Crawford PO? You know, poets are supposed to be good with language; they're supposed to be able to choose the proper word, the accurate word. But what "inundate" says to me is to wash over, to cover, to drown. What the e-mail seems to be calling for is to generate so many postcards coming into the Crawford PO that the office will be unable to handle the load.

What "inundate" makes this sound like is a Denial-of-Service attack, via snailmail rather than email. Is that really what PAW is trying to do? I hope not. I hope it's just a poor choice of words.

The Post Office, in Crawford or otherwhere, is not the anti-war movement's enemy. No means of communication is, ever, the enemy.

Now, people who make policy for those means of communication might be. If someone in the Crawford post office (a supervisor? station manager? Someone higher up the chain, outside of Crawford?) has issued a directive that mail for Crawford Peace House will not be delivered without a full 9-digit zip code... well, that's just despicable.

The job of the Postal Service is to deliver mail, not to restrict the delivery of mail to particular (politically incorrect) destinations. Whether the mailpiece has a Zip code with 9 digits, or 5, or none at all. Period.

But to "inundate" the Crawford post office with a blizzard of postcards? That just dogpiles the clerks who have to process the extra mail, and the carrier who delivers that route. It doesn't do shit towards hurting the people who made the questionable policy. And thousands of postcards, however nicely written and phrased, won't really do anything to help out the Crawford Peace House.

You really want to help the Peace House? And piss off the persons trying to restrict their mail delivery? Use a regular envelope, not a postcard. Write a thank-you note for their support of the camp-in, and put it in the envelope. Then write out a check, and add it to the envelope. Seal and mail.

(And don't forget to use all 9 digits on the Zip.)

(And by the way, if you're interested, I have a couple of poems of my own in the PAW archives, from 2003, just before the US invaded Iraq.)


IS MY BLOG BURNING? -- #17 Roundup, #18 Theme

Updates on the current and forthcoming IMBB foodblogging events:

The roundup/linkfest to-date for IMBB #17, with the "TasteTea" theme, is posted at A La Cuisine, in three parts so far. (As the IMBB gets more popular, compiling the increasingly long link-lists is becoming a bigger, and more time-consuming, task for the hosting blogs. So A La Cuisine still has at least one more list of links to post for remaining entries.)

The theme for IMBB #18, with a deadline of August 28th, is "Frying", and is hosted by At Our Table.

Revisions & Editing

I finally (after months of off-and-on, mostly off, hacking at it) got one of my longest stories, "Junker Tommy", whittled down from close to 37,000 words to almost 29,000.

I've sent out the longer version a few times, but there are few markets willing to look at something as long as 37,000 words. So it was either try and pad it out to a length where it might be marketable as a short novel, or try and cut it down to where it could be sent to more short-fiction markets.

I opted for the latter approach. I think the resulting version takes an already strong story and makes it leaner, trimmer and more effective.

Yeh, I'm prejudiced about my own writing. But JT is one of those "important" stories writers have more than the usual hopes for. It's about a young boy whose parents trade him in at a Used Kid Lot, and what happens to him afterwards... and it deals with some pretty disturbing stuff. I want this story to be published someday.

At 29,000 words, it will still be a bitch to market. But it won't be quite as vicious a bitch.

And maybe now I can start writing something new.


Classics of Questionable Taste

In the proud tradition of the toilet-shaped ice bucket, is Mr. Moose, a moose-shaped candy dispenser that will, umm, "drop" candy into your hand with a push on his tail.

The images show bright-colored candies being dispensed, but you'll impress friends and family far more by using chocolate-covered raisins or something similar.


Is My Blog Burning? #17: Tea

The theme for the 17th Is My Blog Burning? foodblogging event is tea. The hostblog for this round, which will post a list of links to blogs that contribute entries on the theme by July 31st, is A La Cuisine.

I'm one of those barbarians who doesn't like the taste of real tea. But I do like an occasional herb tea. And my usual herb tea of choice is Celestial Seasoning's Bengal Spice. The ingredients for the Bengal Spice blend include:

"Cinnamon, roasted chicory root, roasted carob, natural spice and vanilla
flavors with other natural flavors, ginger root, cardamom, black pepper, cloves,
and nutmeg."

If I were a true-blue food purist, I'd mix and grind my own spice blend. But back when I was trying to do my own curries and other spice combinations, I was never able to get consistent or predictable results. So I've tended to stick with commercial blends.

I decided to try using the Bengal Spice blend as the base for a sorbet and ice cream. (I got one of those dandy no-ice, no-salt ice cream machines a few months ago.)

My first step was to brew up a large (4 cups) batch of extra-strength Bengal Spice tea. I used six bags, instead of the four I'd have used for a regular-strength batch.

I decided to make the ice cream version first. I looked up some recipes online for various coffee and green tea ice creams, to get some sort of guidelines for ingredients and proportions. (I'd been using the ice cream machine mostly for sorbets -- the fruit trees in the side yard were harvest-ready right about the time I first got the machine -- and am still finding my way to the best ingredients and proportions for ice cream.) This is what I finally settled on:

Bengal Spice Ice Cream

2 Cups whipping cream
1¼ Cups brewed-extra-strength Celestial Seasonings' Bengal Spice tea, chilled
¼ Cup sugar
½ Cup egg substitute (or 2 large eggs)
¼ tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, and pour into container of ice cream machine. Churn for appoximately 20 minutes. (This actually took a few minutes less to freeze solidly enough to bring the machine to a stop.)

Results. A more-than-subtly but not boldly flavored spiced ice cream. The 2 cups of whipping cream make it very rich; I think on a second try I'd use half-and-half instead. It's also fairly light on sweetness; the sugar should probably be increased to half a cup.

After refreezing the churning container, I used the remaining Bengal Spice tea to make a simple sorbet:

Bengal Spice Sorbet

3 Cups brewed-extra-strength Bengal Spice tea, chilled
½ Cup sugar

Mix tea and sugar. Pour into running ice cream machine. Churn for 20 to 30 minutes, until proper consistency.

This produces a mahogany-colored sorbet with bold flavor.

Having a scoop of each, with a good cookie, would be nice.

Bengal Spice Ice Cream & Bengal Spice Sorbet Posted by Picasa


It's been a week and a half since the last post here.

Howcum? Primarily, overtime at work. Lots and lots of overtime.

Which, from a financial point of view, is good news. The overtime money means paying a little extra on long-term debts (the mortgage, especially), and will hopefully mean being able to retire a few weeks or months earlier than previously expected.

But the extra work, especially in the middle of 110+ degree days, leaves one feeling like a stepped-on dog turd by the end of the workday. And you still have to do all the things that need doing at home, but now you've got a couple less hours available in which to do them. As for the things you want to do... those are pretty few and far between.

So that's why my words have been scarce here lately.


A Short Review of THE ISLAND

(I had a pass to an early screening):

LOGAN'S RUN crossed with THE MATRIX, with a dash of BLADERUNNER's DNA. Two clones on the run from the secret clone-factory/hidden-city. Lots (LOTS!) of car crashes, gun fights, mano-a-mano fights. Plot holes you can drive a 40-ton truck through. (But don't worry, the 40-ton truck crashes too.) "Science" that has fudge as its primary ingredient. Obligatory romance. ("What is sex?" "Oh, THAT's sex!") Featuring Steve Buscemi taking an expository lump.

Definitely a "check your brain at the door" movie.

(There's a hint left early on that leaves potential open for a sequel. Maybe that sequel will actually have an island in it....)


Enough Said

From Reuters News Service:

Time correspondent Matthew Cooper said he told a grand jury last week that [Karl] Rove told him the woman worked at the "agency," or CIA, on weapons of mass destruction issues, and ended the call by saying "I've already said too much." [emphasis added]

Update: Links For IMBB#16 Posted

Downblog, I posted about the monthly Is My Blog Burning? foodblogging event, where a hostblog collects links to various food-themed (eggs, this time around) posts on other blogs and provides a complete listing.

Seattle Bon Vivant has the links to other entries posted now, here in Part 1 and Part 2. (81 entries in all.)

A lot of the entries are from Asian/Pacific contributors. Some traditional, some untraditional, some very untraditional. Worth a browse.

ALSO: The Seventeenth edition of IMBB, hosted by A La Cuisine, is now open (until July 31st) for entries. The theme this time around is tea.


Self-Improvement, Part 4

Time for another update on my diet/exercise program. Part 3 was posted on 5/27/05:

I've lost more weight, dropping from 167 pounds to 159. A total of twenty-one pounds since my starting weight of 180.

The exercise portion of the "Eight Minutes In The Morning" program I've been following has produced some fairly significant muscle definition as fat is replaced by increased muscle mass. And yes, I really am getting close (well, kinda sorta close) to the "six-pack abs" I mentioned in the last update; the outline of the "abdominal shield" you see on Greek statuary is pretty clear now and I've started doing some extra ab exercises for further definition.

The weight loss has also made my face appear slightly thinner. Enough that several people have expressed concern: "Uhh, did you mean to lose that much weight that quickly?"

Let's go straight to the subtext of that question: "You don't have... CANCER!!... do you?"

Now isn't that an interesting commentary about getting old, that actually looking better can make people worry that you're sick? When you're in your fifties, and losing weight, that one of the possible explanations that come to people's minds is that you might have cancer?

I feel good. I can even look in the mirror and think that I look good. (This is not a minor accomplishment. When you grow up always, always, having "Husky"-sized clothing bought for you, even after you're a reasonably fit adult it's difficult to look in a mirror without automatically flinching.)

Even when my weight was last down in the 150's, over twenty-five years ago, I was still pretty soft-bodied. So here I am in my fifties, and I'm probably in the best-looking shape of my life so far. Who'd have thought?

Does all this sound a bit on the narcissistic side? I'm trying not to be. But there's one thing I can definitely say:

This is... Pretty Fucking Cool.

(I'm planning to post photos in a few more months. So you'll all be able to judge for yourselves.)


Kids' Games, Updated For A New Generation

Back when I was a kid, our family had a swimming pool. One of the games frequently played in there was "Marco Polo".

Pretty simple game. The person chosen as "It" kept his eyes closed. When the It-guy shouted the word "Marco!", everyone else in the pool had to respond with the word "Polo!" The It-guy then tried, still with eyes closed, to use the sound to guide his attempts to grab or touch one of the other people (who all had their eyes open, and were trying to avoid being touched). The first person grabbed or touched became the new "It". Continue until exhausted.

So I'm out in the front yard this afternoon, and I hear kids' voices coming from the backyard of one of the houses across the street. And as I listen, I realize they're playing "Marco Polo", but not using the traditional words.

What I hear is:

"Frodo!" "Polo!" "Frodo!" "Polo!"


Quick Thoughts On O'Connor's Resignation

The announcement today that Sandra Day O'Connor intends to retire from the Supreme Court leads to a few thoughts:

Likely result: a battle royal over the Bush Administration's nominee for a replacement. Almost certainly will be a strongly right-wing conservative, with the unstated (very, VERY unstated) but virtual assurance of voting to overturn Roe v. Wade at the earliest opportunity.

This may, in turn, lead to the re-criminalization of abortion.

This would not be a good thing.

Criminalizing abortion does not stop abortion. It just makes it dangerous for women who can't afford to travel to an abortion-friendly country for the procedure.

My wife Hilde, before she became disabled, before Roe v. Wade, worked as a hospital x-ray tech. She saw women come into the emergency room with raging septic infections from self-induced and back-alley abortions.

Not a sight she wants to see come back. Not a sight she wants anyone to ever see come back.

And that's an opinion I have no hesitation about sharing.


Taking It To Karl

In the wake of Karl Rove's recent public remarks, Take It To Karl, a blog, has been set up to allow veterans and current service members to respond to him.

Over 32,000 visitors in two days. Take a look.

IMBB #16 -- Eggs

There's a more or less monthly foodblogging event called Is My Blog Burning?, which posts a theme at the chosen host blog. People who do dishes around that theme post their work in their own blogs, and the host blog posts links to all the various entries.

This month's theme is "Eggs", and the host blog is Seattle Bon Vivant's blog.

Update, 7/16/05: Seattle Bon Vivant has the links to other entries posted now, here in Part 1 and Part 2. (81 entries in all.)

I've been following the IMBB events for a few months, but haven't had the time or inspiration to contribute until today, when I realized the lunch I was whipping together fit the newest IMBB theme. AND I had the digital camera handy. So here it is:

AKA Blutwich: Blutwurst Scramble Sandwich

1/2 Cup diced blutwurst
2 Eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk
The Holy Trinity (salt, pepper, garlic) to taste.
French roll

Saute diced blutwurst slightly until it starts to crumble in the skillet. Mix eggs, buttermilk, and seasonings together. Arrange blutwurst in a ring in skillet, pour egg mixture into center. Cook, turning gently; you want the eggs and blutwurst mixed but not homogenized.

Spoon cooked mixture onto French roll. Enjoy

Blutwich in progress. Posted by Hello

Finished: looks gruesome, tastes good. Posted by Hello

Making this again, I'd probably cut the recipe in half and put it on a smaller roll, or split it between two people; it was a bit large for one.


I Have No Idea. . .

. . .why everything in this blog after the header is suddenly appearing underlined and/or boldfaced.

Update, 6/23/05: I checked the template, per Patrick Connor's suggestion, but didn't find anything that, so far as I could tell, would account for the universal underlining after the header. (Didn't really expect to, since the last time I made any changes to the template was when I updated some links on the blogroll, months ago.)

So I decided to try changing templates. Seems to have worked, except that the profile is now underlined. I can live with that, if the rest of the blog stays okay. Now I'll have to reinsert the blogroll info and the Malzberg quote.

AND... when the Malzberg quote came out underlined, I checked again, and found an end-underline command in the template, WITHOUT -- search as I might -- a begin-underline command anywhere before it in the template. But by moving that end-underline command before everything in the sidebar, I seem to have gotten everything back the way it should be.


I was getting a little tired of the "Scribe" template anyway, so we'll stick with this "Sand Dollar" for a while.

Re-Update, 6/25/05: Well, fooey. The more recent posts are okay, but now everything from the "HEY KIDS!" entry and after is underlined again. [scratches head]

[a few minutes later] Found it. Missing closing HTML for the title on the 'HEY KIDS!" post. I'm scrabbling up the learning curve bit by bit.

The Household's Newest Occupant(s)

We've been holding the line at four cats for the household (our three -- Gremlin, Tia, and Bastet, and our housemate Kay's one --Shadow).

However, when Hilde and I were over at her brother and sister-in-law's house last month to help Greg install a new swamp cooler on the roof, Hilde was sitting out in the front yard when a small, incredibly friendly, young cat came up and started rubbing against her legs and purring. Greg and Deb said it had been around the neighborhood for several weeks, but apparently didn't have owners. They hadn't taken it in because of 1) their large dogs, and 2) one of their closest friends and another frequent visitor are EXTREMELY allergic to cats.

So we ended up bringing the cat home, right? Wrong! We were tempted, but we gritted our teeth and kept telling ourselves "We already have four cats, we already have four cats..." and went home without it.

So a few days later housemate Kay goes over to visit Greg & Deb, and comes home with...

Cassandra Posted by Hello

...a small, incredibly friendly, young cat.

Cassandra was kept in a separate room for several days, until we could get her to the vet and checked out for feline leukemia or other diseases. The vet said she was about nine or ten months old, and gave her a clean bill of health.

Well... if you don't count the part about being pregnant, and probably due to drop several kittens in 1-2 weeks.

""We've been suckered!" I cried when Kay told us the vet's news. "Again!" responded Hilde. (Back in the early 80's, a small white cat, mewing piteously, jumped up on the kitchen windowsill while I was getting ready for work. We took her in, and several weeks later Bridget gifted us with five kittens.)

This actually explained a lot. Cassandra had obviously spent a lot of time around people and other animals, and not that much out on the street. So apparently her original owners, when they realized she'd been knocked up, drove her to a different part of town and tossed her out to live or die on her own. Which is how our household eventually ended up with such a sweet-tempered cat. (So thanks a lot, you fucks, you shits, you goddamned walking pieces of moral filth! Thanks.)

Rather than 1-2 weeks, it turned out to only be one day later before Cassandra produced...

"Tentatively Andy" Posted by Hello

...a white & dark-grey tabby-marked kitten. (There was a second kitten, but it didn't survive. It may have been laid on by its mother and suffocated; this happens sometimes, particularly with first-time litters.)

The kitten's slightly over two weeks old now. Both mother and kitten seem to be doing fine. Our friend Anne has expressed interest in adopting Andy when he gets old enough.

The other cats, and the dog, seem to be adapting well to the new cat. (I'm not sure they've realized the kitten is there yet, since it's only been out of its nesting box a few times, for a few minutes.)

Well, for some reason, Gremlin does seem to feel a bit insecure about his place in the household...

We are not recycling any of the cats, honest. Posted by Hello

HEY, KIDS! Don't Let Any Of Your Dumb-Ass Grownups Try This At Home!

Multi-tasking is NOT an option. Posted by Hello

Who knew? Dry potting soil is flammable.

In fact, it will smolder and burn slowly, for hours, like a not-so-good cigar, as all the peat moss and other organic material in the potting mix burns into ash, and the plastic pot melts and shifts into a Geiger-influenced piece of alien art.

The lesson here is... when you have smokers visiting the house, maybe you should hunt up an actual ashtray for them to use, rather than having them drop their cigarette butts into that handy pot of "dirt".


Why Enlistments Are Down

The Army and Marines are continuing to fail to meet monthly enlistment quotas.

I am reminded of one of the other neighborhood kids in my teenage years, in the late Sixties, during the Vietnam War.

Mike was a war-lover. His idea of "The Good Old Days" was World War II. He hated Germans. Nazis in particular, but Germans in general. He wanted to kill Germans. He used to take war comics and slash at them with a penknife, muttering "Take that, Jerry! Die, Kraut!" He was... oh, what's a polite word?... nuts.

But since WWII was over ("Damn it!"), it looked like he'd have to settle for Vietnam, and a chance to kill Asians instead. As soon as he finished high school, he said, he was going into the military and volunteering for Vietnam.

Then his mother had a heart-to-heart talk with him:

"Mike, as your mother, I want you to know that I don't want you going into the military, and I especially don't want to see you going to Vietnam. In fact, I so MUCH want you to not go to Vietnam that I will STOP you. I will stop you any way I have to. Do you see this box on the table? Let me show you what's in it. This is your father's handgun. It's loaded, and I'm pointing it at your leg. Specifically, I'm pointing it at your kneecap. If you TRY to join the military, if you even THINK of trying to join the military, I will take this gun and put a bullet through your knee. I am serious; I mean every word I am saying. If you try and join the military, I WILL SHOOT YOUR STUPID BRAINLESS ASS RIGHT IN THE KNEECAP. I will CRIPPLE you. I will cripple my own son, and go to prison for it, rather than see him die in a godforsaken hellhole for no good reason. Have I made my feelings on this matter clear?"

Mike never enlisted. Last I heard of him, he was leading a normal life, with a wife and children, in Puerto Rico.

I suspect there are other mothers right now, holding similar conversations with their children about the military and Iraq.



A French shoe designer is producing a line of shoes decorated in "Hindu mythological style", including a depiction of the Hindu god Rama.

A number of Hindus are upset.

The news article says, in part:

"It has come to the notice of Hindu Human Rights Group that you are currently marketing shoes with the pictures of our sacred and highly revered Hindu god Lord Rama printed on them," said a letter sent to Minelli by Web-based activist group Hindu Human Rights Group (www.hinduhumanrights.org) .

"We wish to point out to you that Lord Rama thus illustrated is actually worshipped by millions of Hindus across the world. It stands to reason that such a display of contempt for the spiritual beliefs and practices of a billion Hindus worldwide is causing a sense of fury and outrage in the Hindu community and we have received numerous complaints from Hindus in France."


The group wants Minelli to withdraw the product. "Hindu Human Rights ask that you withdraw this line of shoes from circulation and sale immediately so as to prevent further unwarranted stress and distress to Hindus worldwide. Naturally, we also expect you to publish a fully apology to the Hindu community," the website adds.

Expatriate attorney Brij Mohan Dhir has supported the bid, and is himself mobilizing opinion to protest production and marketing of the shoe.

In a letter to Minelli, he wrote, "Your act and conduct showing Lord Rama on shoes is rather degrading, defaming, agitating, upsetting, intolerable, outraging our religious beliefs and emotions, spreading ill will and hate between the communities, and against the norms of democracy and fraternity or brotherhood and against law and order as it may cause breach of peace in the world."

The San Francisco-based activist has circulated a copy of the letter widely on the Internet. If Minelli doesn't back down, he is considering filing a complaint in the European Court of Human Rights, he warned.

I recognize the language used in the complaining website and by Mr. Dhir: It's lawyerese.

"contempt", "fury", "outrage", "stress", "distress", and that entire "degrading, defaming" et cetera paragraph from Dhir are all in a standard style for complaint letters: use strong language, predict dire consequences, and imply that any offense by the person addressed was deliberate and malicious. In short, start from the most extreme position.

Doing so means that when both sides compromise and reach a settlement, the odds are it'll be a fairly reasonable settlement. Standard legal negotiating tactic.

But... c'mon, is there an official Office of Hindu Symbolism Trademark & Copyright Protection somewhere? What Minelli has done is... crass. It's commercial. It's co-opting religious symbols to make money.

But what he's also done is... produced some really cool-looking shoes. I think those white pumps with the Hindu-style woman's face are lovely. I can appreciate them as art and design. I don't think I'd buy a pair (if I could wear shoes that narrow), because they are decorated in a style associated with a particular religion, one I don't follow, and it would feel disrepectful and hypocritical to wear them. (Buy a pair purely as an art object, to put in a display case? Mmmmm... maybe.)

But if I was Hindu, I'd consider buying a pair for my wife to wear for fancy occasions. In that context, wearing them would be respectful.

If the shoes had been designed and produced by a Hindu designer, rather than a French one, I don't think the likelihood of the complaints, particularly such strident complaints, would have been very high.

And one bit of irony to finish off with: On the India Times webpage where the article appears, at the bottom of the webpage, the very first Google Ad to appear is for...Ganesha-shaped chocolates.

(Last minute: Showing a draft of this to Hilde, she raised the question of whether Christians would be similarly upset by shoes with Jesus portrayed on them. Apparently not: I gotcher Jesus Shoes right here. [most of the way down the page, between the Jesus Visa and the Jesus hot air balloon])

(Last last minute addition: Alternately, a little more searching finds the news report that apparently "Jesus & Mary sandals" were sold by one European store, who withdrew the product after receiving 200 complaints in 48 hours; but they also sold 4,000 pairs. From the photo accompanying the BBC article, I suspect the problem wasn't that Jesus and Mary were portrayed on the sandals, but that wearing them involved walking on Jesus' face.)


Memorial Day

This was a comment posted on The News Blog. I thought it worth repeating, and thinking about today:

Out of curiousity I spreadsheet the latest listing of American soldiers killed in Iraq to see their ages.

Ages 18-29: 1,240 (75%)

Ages 30-39: 315 (19%)

Ages 40-49: 85 (5%)

Ages 50-59: 13 (1%)

Age 60 : 1

Total: 1654

DPBandit 05.30.05 - 1:34 am #

So many young people, gone.


Self-Improvement, Part 3

In Self-Improvement, Part 2, I promised a monthly progress report on the diet/exercise program ("8 Minutes In The Morning") I'd begun following.

I began the program at a weight of 180 pounds a bit less than five weeks ago. When I weighed myself two days ago, I was...

...167 pounds.

Thirteen pounds in a month.


I think this program works.

Other effects besides the direct weight loss:

1) The exercises each morning have increased muscle definition and firmness, particularly noticeable in the legs and thighs. A lot of the waist fat has faded away, and while not quite there yet, looking in the mirror holds a hint, an anticipation, a lurking possibility of actually ending up, eventually, with... [he whispers the words]... six-pack abs!

2) Cutting way-y-y back on refined sugar, and a lot of the caffeine, seems to have almost completely eliminated the energy swings during the day that would occasionally have me close to nodding off at the wheel while driving. I use a spoonful of molasses on my morning oatmeal, Splenda for just about every other sweetening need. (With a few exceptions, like baking bread; you need that sugar in the mix to get the yeast working properly.)

I think the keys to a program like "8 Minutes In The Morning" being effective are: 1) that any such program should include both a reasonable diet plan and an exercise plan/schedule, and 2) that the participant needs to be in a mental and emotional place where he/she will follow the plan, and avoid cheating or giving up on the program. That last one is the toughy for a lot of people; even just a year ago, I would have been a lot more likely to have dropped out of the program before much progress. But now, at this point in time, I seem to be willing to make that effort and exercise that amount of self-control.

(Yes, I have had to play catch-up on the morning exercises a few times. And yes, I have cheated, a little bit, on the diet; I still let myself have a can of regular sugared soda about once a week.)

(But you know what the most dangerous menace to following the diet has been? Rotisserie chicken! You know, that "healthy" alternative to fried chicken? Except that the skin on those roasted chickens is so flavorful, so well-seasoned, so dripping with juicy, browned deliciousness that once you start eating it, you don't want to stop until it's all gone.)

If you should want your own copy of the "8 Minutes In The Morning" book, here are links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(Having read a draft of this post, the spouse comments: "Won't it be hard to do your exercises with your arm in a sling from patting yourself on the back so hard?" Ahem.)


You Devil!

Foodie tip for the day:

I had to make up a large batch of deviled eggs (two dozen eggs) for a potluck yesterday.

One of the odd things about deviled eggs is that even though you take all the yolks from the hardboiled eggs, and then ADD extra ingredients to the mashed yolks, when you spoon the filling back into the whites' half-eggs, you run out of filling before you run out of eggs! Every friggin' time.

So there I was with an empty filling bowl, and eight half-eggs left over.

But... I happened to have a tub of roasted red pepper hummus in the fridge, so I filled the remaining eggs with a spoonful of the hummus, and added a piece of sliced olive on top. Tasty alternative, and they went over well.


Kill The Wa-a-a-b-bit...!

Working for the Postal Service, I get to skim the headlines on quite a few small-town newspapers.

One such I saw today was a front-page article about the local police being suspicious about a woman who'd visited several local businesses and tried to get them to put out donation cans to "Save Toby".

"Toby" is a rabbit. Supposedly, a kind-hearted person found the injured rabbit under their front porch several months ago and nursed it back to health. Wanting to give the cute little bunny The Good Life, the kind-hearted rescuer set up a website to raise $50,000 for the bunny's future needs.

If the kind-hearted rescuer hasn't raised the $50,000 by June 30th, 2005, however, Toby will be butchered and eaten by the kind-hearted rescuer.

Supposedly. There are a number of indications that the savetoby.com website is just a put-on, and it's been bandied about and linked to a lot; doing a Google search on "Save Toby" gets thousands of hits.

But what tickled me about the particular newspaper piece was that it reported Toby's injuries had come about via "being mulled by a cat".

Wow. First, get a big pot. Then some red wine. Then some spices. Then a heat source to get it all simmering and ready to toss the bunny in. Damn resourceful cat.

And for the final touch, the newspaper this was in was the HAGERSTOWN HERALD. If Harry Warner, Jr, were still alive, he'd die of embarassment.

(And I have just managed to write a post that mentions food, felines, and fandom. I think I hit the Trifecta!)


Surprisingly Not-So-Terrifying News

After many years of trying to get the project going, it now appears that, yes Virginia, downtown Phoenix will be getting a new 1,000 room hotel, in conjunction with a major expansion of the Phoenix Civic Plaza's meeting and function space.

What this would mean is that Phoenix will finally have enough hotel rooms and function space close together to be able to host some of the larger conventions and trade shows it's been missing out on.

Like, say... a Worldcon.

Oh-h-h-h, shit.

Phoenix had a Worldcon once before, in 1978. For most of the attendees, it was "a pretty good con." Behind the scenes, though, it was... ummmm... why don't we settle on the word "exciting"? It was very, very, very exciting. It was so exciting that I had, literally, nightmares about it for, literally, years afterward. It was so exciting that it's only in the last few years, after a quarter of a friggin' century, that I've gotten back onto a moderately cordial basis with some of the people who so angered and disappointed me back then. (And there were several people involved who, even now, I cannot think of a single polite word I would say to or about them. But it's only several, which is a great improvement over the immediate aftermath of That Hideous Summer.)

That 1978 Worldcon pretty much maxed out and strained all the then available hotel rooms and function space available in downtown Phoenix. And that, as well as the bad taste left in the mouth of Phoenix fandom, has been one of the major reasons there's never been another Worldcon bid from Phoenix.

But with the new hotel and function space being built, I can see one coming. I don't know when exactly, but probably sometime in the next five to ten years, someone will announce the start of a Phoenix Worldcon bid.

This is not necessarily bad news. (Why, yes, I am surprised to find myself saying that.)

In the years since the 1978 Worldcon, Phoenix has developed a core group of con-running fans who actually seem to enjoy and get satisfaction out of putting on decently run conventions. They've put on dozens of Leprecons and Coppercons (our annual local conventions), as well as a number of Westercons, World Fantasy Cons, World Horror Cons, and I think one NASFIC.

I find a fair number of those con-runners to be... okay, how do I put this politely?... "stodgy". This is not a bad thing, when stodginess is accompanied by dependability and competence.

So I think a Phoenix Worldcon, with the new facilities being built, might actually be a doable thing again. It would still be a stretch, and whoever was on the committee would find themselves strained and pressured by the task, but I think most of the current group of con-running fans in Phoenix could do it without the... "excitement"... that came so close to overwhelming the people involved in 1978.

So if a Phoenix Worldcon bid comes into existence sometime in the future, I'm offering a deal: If the Phoenix bid has the most boring bid parties, the dullest promotional literature, and the stodgiest people at its head, they'll definitely have my vote!