Let Me Feel

Octavia Butler died yesterday. She was 58.

Hilde and I first met Octavia in 1978. She was an intensely shy and thoughtful person.

She was also one of the most sincerely caring people I've met. This came across not only in person, but in her books. (Kindred and Parable of the Sower in particular.

Tanarive Due said, at the news of her death:
What she really conveyed in her writing was the deep pain she felt about the injustices around her. All of it was a metaphor for war, poverty, power struggles and discrimination. All of that hurt her very deeply, but her gift was that she could use words for the pain and make the world better."

We only saw Octavia a handful of times in the years after we first met her. Once, after a dinner in LA's Koreatown, we went back to Octavia's house. I remember the outside border of the monitor on her desk, and the shelves above it, had a dozen or so Post-It notes stuck on, with short notes on plot developments and goals for the work-in-progress.

One note in particular sticks in memory: "Let me feel her fear."

"Let me feel" is, I think, a good summation of her writing. And she let her readers feel, as well.

She'll be missed.


Earthdust & Stardust

The annual week-long Estrella War, the SCA's second-largest event, wrapped up and packed up a few days ago.

I was in charge of the kitchen and cooking for our group. Hilde and I daytripped, since the location, Estrella Park in Goodyear, Arizona, is only about 25 miles from home.

The event was held after a record-breaking (and still continuing) dry spell, over 120 days without rain. Which meant that the fine flour-like dirt grains in the area were no longer being held down by healthy grass. Which meant that when fairly strong winds blew the first few days...

...that dust was everywhere. And that trying to keep an operating camp kitchen was a constant exercise in wiping and cleaning, and more wiping and cleaning, and still more wiping and cleaning. It felt very much like the descriptions of the old Oklahoma Dust Bowl days of the 1930's, when dust was a constant, blowing and drifting through every crack and into every cranny. (When you're trying to work in a tent, there are a lot of cracks.)

Fortunately, the winds died down after the first few days, and the rest of the War was relatively normal. I was able to cook and serve the meals I'd planned and prepped for (Tomato Bread Soup with Chicken, India-Style Pork Chops, Belgian Beef Carbonnade, Salmon Steaks with Dill, Pork Stew with Root Vegetables & Dried Fruit, and Chickensnitzel) without too much trouble.

In fact, the winds died down enough to leave the skies clear and cloudless. Which, in combination with Estrella Park's location far enough outside the Phoenix metro area's light-island, meant that on the last night of the war, I paused from packing up stuff to take home the next day, and spent a few moments staring up at a night sky that contained at least twice as many stars as I can usually see from our yard at home.

The thing was, it's been so long since I've had, and taken, an opportunity to do that, that I've largely forgotten what constellations appear in what part of the sky. (I was never a hardcore astronomy buff, but as a kid I had a moderately good idea of what to look for in the night sky.) So I was standing there with my head tilted back, muttering to myself, "I think that's Taurus. I think that's Leo."

I think that's sad.


Cheney Conspiracy Theory, version n

So there's a lot of speculating online about just what happened or didn't happened, what's being kept secret or not secret, what's being lied about or not lied about, in regard to Dick Cheney's shooting of Harry Whittington.

Some theories are rather reasonable. And some (particularly in some of the comments on more reasonable posts) are a little, umm, off the wall. ("Gay lovers having a bad breakup"? I don't think so.)

It's rather like a game of "Can You Top This?"

So, putting on my own tin-foil beanie, I came up with:
A small scorch-marked tape-recorder was found on the roof of a Houston parking garage. Examination showed the recorder had been fitted with a self-incinerating device that failed to fully employ. The machine's tape contained the following recording, in a woman's voice:

Good Morning, Mister Whittington. Thank you for responding to our call, despite many years of retirement from the IMF. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to assassinate the Vice-President of the United States.

The assassination will have to look like an accident. We have arranged for you to be invited as part of a hunting party with the Vice-President and others. A 'tragic accident' would be the most desirable outcome.

A note of personal caution: If the Vice-President becomes aware of your mission, he will not hesitate to strike first. He is a mean son-of-a-bitch, and he will NOT shoot to kill; he would shoot you either in the face or in the balls.

As always, if you or any member of your IMF team are killed or captured, I, umm,
[sound of throat clearing] the Secretary of State will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. [tape ends]


Even Being Rich Won't Protect You Anymore

I've been doing the headless-chicken routine recently, trying to get everything together for the SCA's upcoming Estrella War, where I'll be running the kitchen for and feeding a bunch of people, so posting here has been light. But a quick look online a little while ago provided a news story that literally made me do a double-take.

Just when you think things can't get any more bizarre, Vice-President Cheney goes and shoots a guy in the face:
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - [edited]Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney from Austin, was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital on Sunday, according to Yvonne Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Christus Spohn Health System.

The incident occurred Saturday at a ranch in south Texas where the vice president and two companions were hunting quail. It was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after the incident was reported locally by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, said Sunday that Cheney was using a 28-guage shotgun and that Whittington was about 30 yards away when he was hit in the cheek, neck and chest.

Each of the hunters were wearing bright orange vests at the time, Armstrong told reporters at the ranch about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. She said Whittington was "alert and doing fine."

Armstrong in an interview with The Associated Press said emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington before an ambulance — routinely on call because of the vice president's presence — took him to the hospital.

"The vice president didn't see him," she continued. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

McBride did not comment about why the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident until the next day. She referred the question to Armstrong, who could not be reached again Sunday evening.

Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year and is "a very safe sportsman." She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together.

Nedra Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Dallas contributed to this report.

So... the Bush Administration really is The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

(But before I go on to make more smartass remarks, one serious thing: Some people might doubt that Mr. Whittington is really in as good shape as reported, since he's also in "intensive care". My own experience with intensive care, when I had what looked and felt like a heart attack in 1995, was that, even after the ER established that I probably wasn't having a real attack -- I was reacting to intolerable stress from workplace harassment -- I was still sent up to the ICU for 24 hours of monitoring. Because that's where all the monitoring equipment was. So Mr. Whittington is probably being monitored in the same way.) (It would be so embarassing if he developed complications, and wasn't being watched.)

Okay, back to smartass!

Cheney's Secret Service detail is being expanded. Half to protect Cheney, the other half to protect the public from Cheney.

Just goes to show: If you're a Republican millionaire, don't skimp on your party contributions.

And Mr. Whittington is reported to be 78 years old. At that age, he would have been tough and stringy anyway.

It was the first time the two men had hunted together. Gee, you think it might be the last?