Monday, December 31, 2007

Can vegetables! First come first serve!

Not to mention license daycare.

This seems to be the latest fad mangling of English sweeping America. Am I imagining that at one time stores advertised canned vegetables? That daycare was licensed? That those who came first were served first? What happened to the final ed?

And do supermarkets have a special aisle for can't vegetables?

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Is a word I would gladly see removed from the English language. Of course that would mean the elimination of disrespect as well.

The word has its uses, but it's so often misused as a rhetorical club that the bad outweighs the good, and we'd be better off without it. What I mean by "rhetorical club" is that people use the word to keep you from attacking silly people or silly ideas.

The silly ideas tend to be religious ones - specifically, the standard, accepted religious institutions. So you can advocate something real, such as evolution, or something made up, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and idiots all over will have no problem attacking you for it. But if you dare to sneer even slightly at Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and so on, you'll be sternly upbraided and lectured about how important it is to respect the beliefs of others. Or they'll murder you. Which isn't very respectful on their part.

The silly ideas may also be ethnic folkways. If you jump up and down ten times at noon every day, moaning "Groo!" with each jump, you're an obsessive-compulsive weirdo and an eye should be kept on you. If I do it because it's a custom of my people and dates back a thousand years, you'd better not disrespect my culture by saying anything negative about my jumping.

The silly people tend to be George Dubya Bush, and occasionally other, equally revolting Republicans. During the Clinton presidency, Republicans felt free to spout the most outrageous, scurrilous, lying nonsense about Bill Clinton, but during the 2000 election, when someone (I think it was Bill Clinton, in fact) dared to question Dubya, Republicans screamed in falsetto and sought their fainting couches, while protesting that the questioner was being disrespectful.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I have this week off, and I'm using the time to write a synopsis of Time and the Soldier for an agent who asked for a partial. It's snowing like mad outside. And then Leonore got cabin fever.

So we set out sloooowly on the snowy, icy street, headed for the only Middle East restaurant we could find that's open today. Just south of our house, the street curves to the left through a right angle. As I was approaching that curve slooooowly, an SUV came barreling along from the other direction. I could see that it wouldn't make the curve, so I stopped and waited to see how serious the disaster would be. The SUV driver realized she was in trouble partway through the curve. She apparently stepped on the brakes, making matters worse. We sat there and time sloooooowed down as we watched the SUV sliding toward us. I was wondering whether she'd pass in front of us and into one of the houses, or if she'd manage to make it past us on the left. Neither. She slid into us.

The damage was minor, but of course we had to wait for the police. The police car made a wrong turn on its way and got stuck in the snow a couple of blocks away. After an hour or so, two more police cars showed up to help get the first one out. (Some neighbors and I offered to push the first car out, but the policewoman driving it refused.) Sort of amusing, in retrospect.

Eventually it was all ironed out and we got our lamb shank and hummus and all that stuff. And now we're back, and it's still snowing like mad. I wish I'd stayed at home.

And what have we learned from this, kids? How about, when it's snowy and the streets are icy, always drive sloooooowly, especially around curves. Yes, I do believe that we did learn that. Rather, that the other driver learned it, since I already knew that.

Friday, December 21, 2007

David's Definitions for February '08


(Will appear in the February 2008 issue of Community News

Those of us who are old enough remember when frock was used to refer to a woman's dress. It's a much older word than that, going back at least to the 14th century. In those days, it could mean any item of clothing, for men or women, that was long, loose, and had full sleeves. Over the centuries, frock was applied to various types of clothing, from women's dresses to men's frock coats to various items of sailor's clothing. The clothing worn by a priest was called a frock. If a priest was thrown out of the priesthood, he had to give up his priestly clothes, and he was said to have been defrocked. Because the robes worn by judges are commonly believed to have evolved from the clothing of priests, a judge who is expelled from the bench is also said to be defrocked.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

They Really Are Illegal Aliens

It’s hard to keep up with the phrases we leftists are supposed to avoid. The Secret Liberal Euphemisms List keeps growing, and terms we’ve been using for years suddenly get added to it. Recently, the word went out (Memo #3322745A-32) from Secret Leftwing Headquarters that we shouldn’t refer to illegal aliens because NO ONE IS ILLEGAL!

Yeah, but verbal shorthand is common and awfully convenient. Moreover, the substitutes that are proposed for the terms on that list are usually awkward, ungainly, unaesthetic, and ill chosen. For example, some prefer undocumented immigrant to illegal alien. But let’s say that someone who is in this country without the proper legal permission is caught and is handed a card stamped ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT and ordered to have it on him at all times while he’s being processed for deportation. Then he’d be a documented immigrant! But also still an illegal alien. (I don’t think such cards exist, but it’s depressingly easy to imagine the dweebs at Homeland Security inventing them.)

(Admittedly, one problem with my otherwise stunningly logical and admirable position is the presence of xenophobic jerks among us - many of them on my side of the political spectrum. Hack, ptuie. There: I lob a gob of sputum at them. I suppose that such people are unaware that there was no such thing as an undocumented immigrant or illegal alien before about 80 years ago. Odds are their own ancestors entered this country without any kind of papers. Before the 1920s eruption of xenophobia and racism – a reaction, I assume, to a wave of post-WWI immigration – anyone who wanted to come to America simply came. Zillions did, and few were turned away. But who expects logic and historical awareness from xenophobic jerks? More to the point, I refuse to stop using a logical and accurate and convenient phrase because it’s misused by a bunch of xenophobic jerks. I’m not going to let them control me or define the terms of the discourse.)

Some of the euphemisms on the Secret Liberal Euphemisms List are unintentionally insulting or degrading. Wheelchair user, for example. That implies that people in wheelchairs are there by choice and because they like having to use wheelchairs to get around. Sure they do.

Fortunately, not all of the euphemisms on that list catch on. Years ago, there was a movement not only to ditch the word disabled (that succeeded, apparently) but also to label the rest of us temporarily abled (didn't succeed). Well, I’m doing my best to keep myself permanently abled, and I also intend to permanently use the term illegal alien.

If I were feeling pugnacious, I might even go so far as to add that I speak as a legal immigrant and also as a white African-American.

Friday, December 14, 2007

He Made a Mistake

Some politician just resigned from office because an affair he had was exposed. (He's married, and so is the woman.) In his resignation, he referred to his "mistake".

Man, I'm sick of deliberate, vile acts being referred to as mistakes. Sometimes it's what amounts to treason, as in the case Iran-Contra. In that case, Ronald Reagan, that slimy bastard, even pushed it all off into the fuzzy world of the passive voice: "Mistakes were made." More often, "mistake" is used to refer to a personal transgression - cheating on one's spouse or robbing a Seven Eleven. Relatives and supporters will even tell us that the slimeball in question "has learned from his mistakes."

Well, no. He hasn't. Not if he's still calling his evil actions "mistakes".

A mistake is an oversight, like dropping a letter in the mailbox without having put a stamp on it. Or it can be an action based on misinformation, like showing up at the theater on the wrong day or time because you saw an out-of-date showtime listing. "Mistake" doesn't apply to walking into a convenience store with a gun in your pocket. And you don't slip your willy into someone else's receptacle, or vice versa, by mistake. You do it on purpose, usually with planning or at least a few minutes of foreknowlege, and always, unless you're astonishingly stupid, with full knowledge of the terrible injury you're doing.

But maybe it depends on who's evaluating the actions. Relatives and friends of the holdup man or cheater may be willing to minimize the transgression as a mistake. Republicans are remarkably willing to excuse the actions of Republican officeholders.

Friday, December 07, 2007

That Night Is Not Good

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
   -- Dylan Thomas

The topic of fearing death seems to have popped up again in atheist publications and online areas, as it does occasionally. It seems to be the conventional wisdom that a real atheist shouldn't fear death but should anticipate it with a calmness and equanimity that I find creepy. Carl Sagan while dying, supposedly told his wife that he didn't fear the death he knew was near, and his fellow atheists are supposed to admire and emulate that attitude.

Of course, just as much as anyone else, atheists fear the nasty end of life. During his agonizing final hours, the atheist Charles Darwin said to his very Christian wife, "If I could but die!" Dreading the suffering that's so common is natural enough. Where the conventional atheist position differs from the conventional monotheist one has to with the attitude toward what comes after.

The standard argument against fearing death seems to be that, since we won't exist and thus will have no consciousness of being dead, what is there to fear? How can you fear nonexistence? A couple of hundred years ago or so, Jeremy Bentham put it this way: "People who do not believe in life after death do not fear being dead, but believers fear punishment more than they hope for bliss." A century earlier, Francis Bacon said something similar: "Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other." So you see, if you don't think there are bogeymen in the dark, if in fact you think the darkness is simple oblivion, you will have no fear of it.

To which, Francis and Jeremy, I am compelled to reply, "Bullshit." And I also wonder just how many of my fellow atheists really do contemplate their own deaths with calmness and equanimity and how many dread and fear it and anticipate it with utter horror, as I do.

Now, by that I don't mean that I secretly fear that the monotheists are right and I'll find myself, after death, facing a terrible judge who will condemn me to hell for not going to weekly religious services. That's the idea behind Pascal's wager, and it's logically foolish. No, the problem is that the reasons given not to fear death miss the point: what I, and surely others, fear is precisely the loss of life. I love life and don't want it to end.

Nor does it work to say that when I'm dead I won't know that I'm not alive and therefore I won't regret not being alive. The point is that I know about it now, and the anticipation of life ending fills me with horror now. I can't understand why anyone who loves life doesn't feel the same way. The light is so beautiful. How can you not rage against its dying? We should all see death as an affront.

Oh, and it's also not good enough to say that we'll live on through the fond memories of those we've touched. That's nice, but I want to be there to keep interacting with them. I'm also not comforted by the hope that I'll live on in some way via some general effect on the world. Of course I'd like to think that people will be reading my written works far into the future, but even if that happens, that won't change the fact that I won't be there to enjoy it. I love the way Woody Allen put it: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

This isn't a feeling that's come over me with advancing age. I've felt this way since I first understood mortality and realized that it applied to me. Immortality in various guises shows up in my fiction from the earliest stuff I wrote. It's been an obsession of mine for decades. Actually, I shouldn't call it an obsession. It's a sign of mental health. After all, I'm the only me I've got!

Another argument I've heard, what you could call the Just Who Do You Think You Are argument, says that death is natural and applies to everyone. Live your life and get out of the way. What makes you so important? Why should you keep on living and using up resources? That is in effect an argument for immediate suicide. It's certainly an argument against modern medicine and tornado warning systems. Emphasize the naturalness of death and the position becomes an argument against clothing, houses, agriculture, eyeglasses, and so on.

Of course, people say, we all want to protect ourselves against premature death. But what constitutes a premature death? Even putting aside murder, accident, and disease, we can expect longer lives and a less unpleasant old age than people in Darwin's or Bentham's or Bacon's times. Based on family history and my own health, I can probably expect to live into my nineties, possibly even to 100. If tomorrow medical science were to come up with a daily pill that extended that by ten years of mentally vigorous life, would any fellow atheist tell me it would be wrong for me take it? What if next year the pill were improved so that it added twenty years instead of ten? And then Version 3.0 added 30 years, and so on. At what magical point would the extension of life become unnatural or in some other way undesirable? Choosing such a point would be magical thinking, to my mind.

Well, if you feel obligated to die in order to free up resources for future generations, then go right ahead. As for me, I want that magic pill, and I want it now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Time for Sherlock Holmes Pages Updated

It's only taken ... a few years.

I've updated my Web site pages dealing with my Holmes pastiche Time for Sherlock Holmes with cover images and lots of frightfully amusing background information. Well, background information, anyway.

It's here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Still Waters

Okay, I put the outline and sample chapters for Still Waters, the proposed sequel to Central Heat, up on my Web site. Two PDF files, linked from the page describing CH.

Just in case anyone reading this is interested enough to also read those, I'd be interested in reactions. The sequel is very much a sequel, I realize. It probably doesn't make much sense to someone who hasn't read the original novel. But I think it's kinda fun, anyway. (But I would think that, wouldn't I?)

Actual Eye Blisters

When I started this blog, I chose the name because I was so struck by the line from Anthony Trollope's autobiography, quoted at the top of the blog. Since then, I've been struck, and a bit disturbed, by the large number of hits the blog gets via Google searches on eye blisters, blister on my eye, and similar phrases. I certainly wasn't trying to draw traffic by some kind of misdirection. Before reading that in Trollope, I hadn't even heard of a blister on the eye, and after reading it, I guess I assumed it was some odd affliction that appeared occasionally in the 19th century but probably not much nowadays.

Anyway, it's a disturbing image, to be sure, and I apologize to anyone who came here looking for help or medical advice and was surprised, and maybe annoyed, to find this blog instead.

And it occurs to me that this post is probably just compounding the problem!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Central Heat

Well, this was fun. Ish. In a way.

I finally put up the new cover and the original, old, paperback cover for my recently reissued novel, Central Heat. I also put the first three chapters up as a PDF file.

Hunting around in the old files, I found a timeline I'd made for myself, covering the events of the novel and some of the proposed sequel, Still Waters (which never sold because Central Heat, shall we say, didn't set the world on fire). (It should have!)

I also have an outline and a few chapters for the sequel. I might get around to formatting them for readability, convert them to PDF, and put them on the Web site as well. Maybe.

Everything can be seen here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is your computer watching you?

After a great deal of cogitation and extensive research using Google, I've come to a startling, indeed terrifying, conclusion.

The significance of the name "Windows" for Microsoft's operating system hadn't struck me before. But now I realize that it's not just a metaphor for a technology that "lets you see the world", as you could say. Just like the windows in your house, it also lets the world see you! Cleary, the NSA, the CIA, and the rest of the spookocracy are watching you through your computer -- through your Windows. It's so obvious when you think about it.

So, just as you wouldn't do certain things in front of the windows of your house, be very, very careful what you do in front of your computer. Or at least pull the blinds first, which in this case means wait for the screensaver to activate.

And don't think that you're safe just because you're one of those sneering, condescending Mac users. OSX, huh? Don't you know that the original name of the CIA was the OSS? You think that's a coincidence?

I'm still working on "Linux".


I should have explained that this was sparked by this bizarro post on Democratic Underground, which I dismissed as very silly (I'm the user named DavidD). So I posted the above stuff on DU here as a spoof of the other post. Some people seemed to take it seriously, though. Sigh.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

David's Definitions for December '07 and January '08


(Appeared in the December 2007 issue of Community News)

Something is inflammable if it tends to ignite at commonly encountered temperatures. Other English words that come from the same Latin root are inflammation, inflame, and inflammatory. At one time, trucks hauling materials that could catch fire easily had signs on them saying INFLAMMABLE. However, too many people apparently thought that flammable means "easily set on fire" and that those the loads on those truck were not easily set on fire. So now such trucks have signs saying FLAMMABLE. That's not really a word in English, but presumably, because of those signs, it soon will be, and inflammable will disappear.


(Will be in the January 2008 issue of Community News)

An action is feckless if it is ineffective or worthless. An incompetent person could also be called feckless. It’s an old word in some Scottish and English dialects, and it comes from the word feck, which is a variant of the English word effect. So something is feckless if it has no effect. Those dialects also had the word feckful, which is the opposite of feckless, but feckful never caught on in mainstream English.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Silly High Heels

While I was walking to work from the bus stop this morning, it struck me that the heels of women's shoes have become even higher during the last year. It's as though, having put aside their common sense a few years ago, women are now going to a wild extreme. Perhaps by next year, they'll be tottering around downtown on stilts.

Why, when I was a lad . . . women wore high heels. Always. Everywhere. Spike heels. At least the modern incarnation have tips that spread out, so the damage done to sidewalks and floors is somewhat less than it was back then. The damage done to feet, ankles, knees, hips, lower backs, Achilles tendons, and calf muscles is the same, of course.

It's bizarre and inexplicable to me. Some years ago, women cast off the shackles of this absurd fashion, which our society presumably inherited from some French king who felt the need to appear taller than his subjects. You saw women walking around downtown wearing running shoes. You also saw newspaper columns lamenting this and begging them to return to heels so that they would look "professional" - a word that, like "respect", means just about whatever the speaker wants it to mean. Reading such columns, I was convinced that women wouldn't fall for it. Having escaped from the absurdity of high heels, they'd never willingly return to them.

Wrong! Repetition seems to have done the trick, and now all the foolish lemmings are back to heels. Not only do they look absurd trying to walk in those things, and especially so when there's ice on the ground, they also sound absurd. People walking in running shoes sound the way civilized people should sound: silent.

Recently, I made the mistake of watching an episode of the "reimagined" Bionic Woman. (I wanted to see if it had improved from the pilot episode. It hadn't.) The title character goes out on a mission, which she knows will involve much bionic running around and fighting. She prepares by choosing an appropriate outfit, which includes a ridiculously short jacket, designed to show her midriff but not to keep her warm, slacks, and boots with high heels. In which she runs around clumsily, making clippity-cloppity noises, like an out-of-shape pony.

Good grief. Can this fashion trend get any dumber?

But it will. Stilts, I tell ya.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Phoenix and the Eagle

This is another old book that I did as a partial eons ago and then put on the shelf but never forgot. I took a look at it after finishing Time and the Soldier and got hooked again. It's a sword and sorcery epic saga with giant men and giant swords and giant politics and giant magic. Much fun. Unless I change my mind, this is what I'll be working on now.

Like pretty much all such books, it's set in a madeup world with its own geography, demography, and history. This one is peopled by, well, people. No orcs or dwarves or elves or fairies or whatever.

It started out as a long short story, which I was never able to sell and eventually decided to expand into a book. To keep things straight, I scribbled a messy little map for myself, so that I wouldn't have a character head east and end up in a city which I had earlier mentioned was to his west. Daniel was very young at the time and redid the map for me with colors and added geographical stuff of his own invention. While searching for old notes, etc. (and finding some that were actually written by hand - ack! - and are therefore unreadable), I found his map. I'm about to have lunch with him and will ask if it would embarrass him too much if the entire world, or at least the very tiny part of it that reads this blog, sees his map. If not, I'll scan it and if the result looks okay, I'll post it here.

Evening Update:

Daniel said he had no objections, as long as I point out that he was very young at the time. I can't remember when this all was, but I assure you he was young. Very young. A kid! He also came up with the title, The Phoenix and the Eagle. I'd forgotten that. Oh, and I do remember that he came up with the title Time and the Soldier; my original title for that was River of Time, which is very descriptive, but also very trite, cliched, dull, boring, and a real yawner to boot.

And now, without more ado, Daniel's map of the world in which P&E is set. See if you can figure out where he came up with the name he assigned to this land:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Some Guy Just Died

And I'm depressed. Well, more like somewhat sad. Well, let's say sobered. Momentarily.

He was either someone I went to high school with or someone I worked with at NASA. I check a blog maintained by my high school graduating class, and the only posts on it concern the latest classmate to die. I'm also on a mailing list from my old workgroup at NASA, and those e-mails also are entirely, or mostly, about someone going into a hospice or into a cemetery.

That's depressing enough. What's worse is that I never remember the person. Or maybe it would be worse if I did. No, maybe what's worse is that so many of them are around my age. Keerist.

The high school classmates I do remember, I remember as teenagers. The occasional photos on that blog seem to be of someone's grandparents. Which, of course, they probably are.

My coworkers at NASA were mostly older than me, but since I was in my twenties, that still meant they were mostly young - thirties for the most part, with some really old people in their (gasp!) forties. It was a glorious, young-person's undertaking, just as high school is (albeit that rarely includes the glorious part) (well, most of the time, neither did NASA).

Well, at least I'm younger than the Apollo astronauts. Those who haven't yet died of old age. And by the way, the few of themI encountered in those days were obnoxious jerks. That's not relevant, but I thought I'd mention it. Now that they're old, or dead, they should be remembered for what they were in the flower of their just-post-youth.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fifth-Order Polynomials for Edwards!

The link to the right, Rasmussen Daily Dem Tracking Poll, now takes you to a modified version of the daily Rasmussen numbers. I dropped the All Others numbers and added trend lines for the three top dogs.

I tried various types of trend lines available in Excel and, like any self-respecting, serious researcher, chose the one that gave me the results I wanted. That turned out to be a fifth-order polynomial fit. Check it out; it looks great.

Of course, the problem with fitting a curve to such data is that there's no underlying physical process which we're trying to get at. Or if there is, no one but Hari Seldon knows how to model it. But, what the Hell, so long as the curve looks good, I'll leave it there.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Just fling the guy around

About a week ago, I was watching a Sci Fi Channel movie about vampires, titled Bloodsuckers. It was bad, which I know is redundant, but it did at least have a babe or two in it, and it was the kind of mindless eye-candy that I prefer when I'm exercising. Also, it did make a stab at dealing with the idea that there are different types of vampires, with different habits and histories, who have to be killed in different ways.

But that's all irrelevant.

In one scene, the hero is fighting a supernaturally power vampire (his former captain, with pretty revolting rotting-flesh makeup, but that's also irrelevant), and the supernaturally powerful vampire keeps pinning the human hero and then, instead of simply killing him (as the vampires standing around watching the fight keep urging him to do), picks him up and flings him across the room.

Which of course means that the hero hits a wall back first (just like a stuntman!), slides to the floor, looks dazed, shakes his head, and then recovers, without any sign of broken bones or torn or pulled muscles or tendons or ligaments or even serious bruising. And then eventually kills the vampire.

We see this all the time in movies and TV shows. The villain may be supernaturally superpowerful - e.g., a vampire - or just a humongous and heavily muscled but apparently normal human being, but he always does the same thing. He has the hero at his mercy and instead of simply killing him with his humongous strength, he picks him up and throws him across the room - knowing perfectly well, because he's seen these movies before too, that the hero will slide to the floor, look dazed, shake his head, recover, and eventually kill the supernaturally superpowerful bad guy.

It undermines my willing suspension of disbelief. Which was already on shaky grounds when I watching Bloodsuckers, even before that scene.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Looming Liquid Nitrogen Shortage

I went to the dermatologist today for my six-month checkup. As always, she came into the examination room with a container of liquid nitrogen in one hand and a cotton swab in the other and attacked my skin. Ow! Ow! I hate that stuff and the process involved - i.e., freezing off various growths before they can become dangerous - but it's the price I pay every six months for being red headed and fair skinned and for having tanned and roasted every summer as a kid and teenager. Most of that in Africa, to boot.

People are affected differently by the application of LN2 to them. Daniel once told me that it didn't bother him at all and felt just like a pin prick. For me, it's very painful. I can feel every cell screaming in agony, I tell you!

Okay, that's enough self-pity for one post. Now I await the blossoming of red splotches on my forehead, so that I'll look evilly diseased just in time for the local science fiction convention, Mile Hi Con, next weekend.

Oh, and if you go to a doctor and need something frozen off but are told that it will have to wait because of a nationwide shortage of liquid nitrogen, you'll know why.

Friday, October 19, 2007

David's Definitions for November 2007


(Appeared in the November 2007 issue of Community News)

To vilify someone is to say extremely nasty things about him. Those things may be true or false, just so long as they're really nasty. Its root is the Latin word vilis, meaning cheap. The English word vile comes from the same root. In both cases, the words acquired much stronger meanings in English. Vilify isn't commonly used in conversational English, but we can expect to see it in action a lot during the upcoming election season. The candidates will be vilifying each other. Vilification will fill the air.

(Oh, this is embarrassing! I copied the above from the e-mail I sent to the editor, and I noticed that I had typed it's root instead of its root. Aargh! And now it's too late to fix it. How could I have done that? Sheesh.)

I'm collecting all of these at:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Messy, Complex Ethnic Foods

This evening, Leonore and I went out for a light Vietnamese meal. We shared what the restaurant calls Fisher Man Soup - a hot and sour broth filled with mung bean sprouts and a medley of parts of creatures that once lived in water - and egg rolls.

This is an egg roll dish that comes with six shortish Vietnamese egg rolls and plates of lettuce leaves and rice threads and bean sprouts and mint leaves and cucumber slices and shredded carrots and other shredded stuff, plus bowls of fish sauce. You lay a lettuce leaf on a plate, then you put an egg roll and an assortment of the other stuff on the leaf, then you roll the leaf up, then you dip one end of the rolled-up conglomeration in fish sauce, then you stuff that end in your mouth and gnaw off a big bite, then you make grunting animal noises of delight while you chew and swallow. And of course, this not being your native cuisine, you make a mess.

Between bites, we were congratulating each other on making much less mess than in the past. After all these years of trying, we're finally getting the hang of it.

And then it struck me. What if the Vietnamese don't really eat this way at all! What if it's a huge con game, a setup, so that they can laugh at us as we spill sauce and stuff all over the table while thinking that we're really doing this ethnic thing well. All of those ethnic places where we have tried so hard over the years to master the art of eating complex, messy ethnic foods in a genuine, proper, ethnic way - what if it's all a trick designed to make us look stupid? Successfully, at that. What if they're all in cahoots?

I expressed this fear to Leonore around mouthfuls of scrumptious, if messy and complex, Vietnamese egg roll assemblages. She pointed out that we've seen Vietnamese at adjoining tables eating the same dish in the same way. Much more neatly, too, which implies that they've had much more practice, starting at an earlier age, which implies that they really do eat that dish that way. I said that that just shows what a carefully thought out conspiracy it is and how long it's been going on.

You see, just can't trust foreigners. Immigrants are devious by their very nature. The only people you can depend on to be straight with you, whom you can trust not to make up ridiculous stories, are native-born Americans!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The German Salute

In Nazi Germany, what we think of the Heil Hitler gesture was officially called The German Salute. The Nazis wanted Germans to think that greeting their friends by holding their hands up palm out and saying "Heil Hitler!" wasn't Nazi but typically German. A common joke among Germans at the time was that the real German salute was the surreptitious look from side to side to make sure no stranger was listening before speaking frankly with a friend.

I read about that while researching my novel Budspy, and I recognized it instantly. To me, it was The South African Salute, and I had seen it while growing up in Apartheid* South Africa.

I remember once watching my father and a neighbor circling around each other verbally at the beginning of a conversation. It turned out that they both wanted to attack the government, but they couldn't just come right out and do it. Instead, they had to sound each other out, make sure the other guy wasn't a government supporter who might inform the government about treasonous talk. Eventually, they each decided the other guy was safe, and then they launched into anti-government vitriol. As I remember, the starting point was that the postman was late that day, but complaints about the postal service quickly moved on to passionate agreement that the government was generally worthless.

That was in a police state. Remarkably, South Africa in those days still had a fairly independent press and judiciary. Well, how about us? We're not a police state at all, right? We're free, a great democracy, the light unto the world, the shining city on the hill. But people in our broadcast media have said that they won't even criticize Bush family members because that could look "unpatriotic". Fourth Estate? Hmph. They're an adjunct of the White House Office Of Propaganda. Our courts have become a stronghold of vile rightwing undermining of democracy. They don't defend us against oppression, they rationalize and uphold it.

This is what we've become. The German Salute and The South African Salute have become The American Salute.

* That's pronounced apart-hate**, not apart-hite.

** Because the suffix is Afrikaans, not German, and in Afrikaans the ei dipthong has a long a sound***, not a long i sound.

*** Because it does, that's why.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's Not Rocket Science

Because nothing is. Because there ain't no such thing.

I don't know when people starting saying It's not rocket science to indicate that something isn't very difficult. I'm sure I never heard that back when I was an aerospace engineer* - or, as some people would say, a rocket scientist.

But there's never been any such thing as rocket science. Even when the field was being pioneered by Tsiolkovsky and Goddard, or for that matter by unknown Chinese experimenters many centuries earlier, what they were doing was a branch of engineering, not science. The cutting-edge work is not trivial. The people who do it aren't dummies. But they're also not scientists; by any reasonable definition of the two terms, they're engineers.

Maybe I'd be willing to go along with the silly usage if I thought it was just an acknowledgement of the complexity of the work involved. What keeps me from doing so is the figure of the rocket scientist in popular entertainment. The latest and most bizarre example is the character Henry on the TV show Eureka.

I loved the first season of the show (the second season approached dangerously close to suckitude), and Henry is an interesting character and the actor who plays him is outstanding and should be far better known. However, Henry, who told the hero, Jack Carter, that he used to be an engineer and worked on the space shuttle, knows everything about everything. He's the generic TV/movie scientist - the guy who knows every science the plot requires him to know and who can do all the hands-on stuff brilliantly, while solving monstrously difficult scientific problems in one hour. But of course he can! He worked on the space shuttle! He's a rocket scientist!

Why, Henry even understands quantum mechanics. Hmph. Let me tell you, despite having played a part in sending man to the moon and the Viking lander to Mars, I still think that quantum mechanics is smoke and mirrors and electrons are little gray ball-bearinglike things that have a definite position and velocity vector.*****

* Yes, I mentioned that as a way of pulling professional or maybe rhetorical rank. I didn't endure seven years in the aerospace biz for nothing.** If nothing else, it gives me the appearance of authority when I have this argument with people

** Okay, I also got a draft deferment*** out of it during the Viet Nam war, which is certainly far from nothing.

*** Until they changed the rules because they were getting so desperate for bodies to send into the quagmire, but by that time I was a daddy, just like Richard "The Dick" Cheney, but in my case it was a happy circumstance, not something we'd cynically planned solely (and soullessly) for that reason.****

**** But that's another story.

***** Oh, probably not. What do I know? I'm just a rocket scientist.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Of course things will get worse before they get better

And they will also get better before they get worse. If things are not completely flat and stable, then they are presumably rising and falling. So, unless we're already at a trough, things will continue to get worse until they reach the trough, and then they'll start to get better. And similarly, unless we're already at a crest, things will continue to get better until they reach the crest, and then they'll start to get worse. Unless, of course, there is no trough ahead, and things will continue to get worse forever and ever. But history doesn't look like that. Human events as a sine wave!

I've heard people say for years that things will get worse before they get better. They say that as if it were a great, serious, somber insight. But it's pretty silly, really.

Here's another one: "I searched everywhere, and then I finally found it in the last place I looked!" Well, duh. That's because, once you found it, you stopped looking.

Occasionally I hear other standard lines that strike me as just as silly and obvious as those two, but those are the only ones I remember right now.

In the comments, chris mentioned this old cliché: "It's always darkest before the dawn." Does anyone really believe that? That would be as likely as it always being darkest right after sunset. Surely, if the only light in question is from the sun, then it's darkest at the midway point between sunset and sunrise. In practice, that would be complicated by moonlight and manmade light. Maybe at certain times of the lunar cycle, and if all the manmade light gets switched off in the wee hours, then on a given night it might just happen to be darkest before the dawn. But that would be a rare night.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I hate

writing query letters.

Update: Daniel likes the book, Gary likes the book, Leonore doesn't know when she'll be able to read it, draft of query letter done. So the query will go out soon, and then I'll put the whole matter entirely out of my mind and not think about it again until someone, preferably an agent, mentions it to me. Book? What book? Oh, that one! Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten all about it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How not to query an agent

One of the many ways, anyway. This example is on agent Kristin Nelson's excellent blog.

Darn. Now I have to revise that query letter I was working on!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Done Book

And one author whose brain has turned to mush and is off traveling somewhere in time.

On their blogs, various agents mention that they prefer that science fiction novels submitted to them not be longer than 120,000 words. (Subtext: unless you're already well established, in which case no rules apply to you.) At one point, Time and the Soldier was over 130,000 words. That was when I started trimming, trimming, trimming the fat while also filling in the remaining gaps. I think the result was an improvement, but for all I know, it made the book too terse. In any case, the ms. as it now stands is at about 119,850 words. Under the wire!

So now it's off to three beta readers. Gary, who comments here occasionally, is reading it for continuity. Daniel will read it for continuity and military details (there aren't many, but I want them to be correct, of course), if he's able to. He'll have to choose whether working on his PhD is more important than helping out his aged dad who used to drive him all over the city so that he could see if other public library branches had books he hadn't devoured yet, but I'd never put any kind of unfair emotional pressure on him. Leonore will read it at the level of individual scenes and prose but not for plot because time-travel stories drive her nuts.

As a longterm captive, I mean inhabitant, of the software biz, I find the term "beta readers" very amusing. Just thought I'd add that.

So after I get their comments back and make any adjustments (and of course I'm hoping they will be just adjustments, not major surgery because someone discovered a monstrous plot hole), I'll have to face the really hard part: the AAAIIIIEEEE! agent search AAAAIIIIEEEE!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rassmussen Daily Dem Tracking Poll

The Rassmussen polling company publishes a daily tracking poll of the Democratic (and Republican, but who cares) primary race. Unlike other such polls, this one displays the actual daily numbers as opposed to occasionally letting you know what the current state of the race is. You can see those numbers in tabular form here.

(Rass only publishes the numbers for the top three Democrats, but does anyone other their most rabid fans think that Dodd, Biden, Kucinich, Gravel, or Schlumwallinger has a realistic chance of winning the nomination?)

It's hard to get an overall feeling for the numbers when they're displayed in that format, so I decided to put them in a spreadsheet and generate simple line graphs. The result is here.

I'm planning to keep updating that graph with the new Rassmussen numbers every day, so anyone who's interested can follow the bouncing ball of our national destiny at that link.

I think I'll also put a link to that graphic on the side.

Gore is really my man, but I'm beginning to think that he won't run. In the meantime, I'm backing Edwards, and I'm getting more and more comfortable with that choice as Edwards gets more and more populist. So I'm hoping to see the Edwards line keep rising. Right now, it's happening sloooowly, but it does seem to be happening - but over the short term, so far.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Did Eureka just jump the shark?

We've been hooked on the television show Eureka since its first episode. The premise is clever, the characters are likable and well acted, and the scripts tend to be pleasantly witty.

But tonight's (9/11/07) episode annoyed me considerably. Some parts of it were fine, but the underlying theme of the town's scientific geniuses finding religion because of mild stress made me grind my teeth.

At the start of the episode, it's clear that almost no one in town is interested in churchgoing. Given that Eureka is filled with the world's greatest scientific geniuses, that's appropriate. Studies show consistently that scientists tend to be much less religious than the general public, and the more advanced they are in their field, the less likely they are to be religious. However, when a series of rather minor (by Eureka standards) calamities strike the town, the geniuses start heading to the church. (It wasn't clear if there's more than one church in town.) This didn't happen in previous episodes, when Eureka faced much more serious dangers. We also know that it doesn't happen in real life -- that not only are there atheists in foxholes, the experience of the foxhole tends to destroy people's faith, creating more atheists. More atheists come out of foxholes than go into them!

Moreover, at the end of the episode, it's made clear that many of the brilliant scientists have retained their new-found religion, even though they have discovered that the town's recent problems were manmade! Aargh!

I assume this was due to network pressure, in turn due to pressure on the network from rightwing/fundamentalist religious groups. I don't know that; I haven't read anything to that effect. It could have been simple cowardice on someone's part. Or ignorance.

I guess I don't really care what was behind it. I only know that I'm quite pissed off right now.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not so silent, after all

Whew. What a relief.

I took my hearing aid to the audiologist today, and the situation is not as bad as it might have been. The innards are still working. It's just the casing that was destroyed. So the audiologist took a new impression and will send that to the factory, along with the smooshed hearing aid with its electronical guts, and they'll recreate the thing for me. Not cheap, but a fraction of the cost of a completely new one.

So possibly by this time next week, I'll be able to hear with both ears again. At least, to the extent that a deafish guy with hearing aids can hear.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

David's Definitions for October 2007


A nicety is a small, important detail that can make a large difference. The word is commonly misused to mean an appealing characteristic, but in fact a nicety may not be nice in that sense. For example, knowing which knife and fork to use for which food at a formal banquet is one of the niceties of formal etiquette, but most of us would agree that such rules are silly, not nice. The confusion arises because the word nice, on which nicety is based, has changed meaning over time. The Latin word it comes from meant foolish or silly, but in English, in different centuries nice has meant timid, then dainty, then precise, then pleasant. Some of the older meanings survive. A subtle difference between two things is still called a nice distinction.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Wimpy Georgie

Republicans have long tended to build cults of personality around their leaders, and when one of their own is in the White House, they go completely around the bend. In the case of Georgette, I mean Little George, I mean George W., they've tried to tell us that he's brilliant, saintly, and a rugged, manly, tough athlete and weightlifter. He bicycles! He cuts brush! He can beat up any other president on the world stage! (I'd like to see him try it with ex-KGB thug and still a thug Putin.) He bench presses a gazillion pounds!

This has always infuriated me, and the last item has infuriated me in particular. I can't remember what the poundage claim was, but it was something impressive. Rather, it would be impressive if it were true. Even with the carefully staged and posed photos, one can see that Georgie is no athlete and certainly not a serious lifter.

Here's a picture that his handlers didn't manage to pose carefully enough. This is from our fake president's recent fake visit to Iraq in his latest attempt to boost support for his fake Crusade.

Now, I'm not going to find fault with Georgie for his sagging jawline and wrinkly neck, which are so painfully apparent in contrast with the jawline and neck of the young man he's shaking hands with. Those are inevitable with age even in genuine athletes. And even though I think that if Georgie were as athletic as his worshipers like to think he is his jawline would be firmer, I'm sympathetic because of my own jawline, and I'd be willing to commiserate with Georgie about the sad effects of age over a beer or two. Oops! I forgot! He no longer drinks alcohol! Yeah, right.

But look at that arm and that chest. Those are not the arm and chest of a serious lifter of Georgie's age. Those are the sagging chest and arm of an older man who is not in particularly good shape for his age. By George, George, you've become your father! But with a lower IQ.

Okay, people get old. (Unless they're unlucky enough to be Iraqi civilians, in which case, thanks to George W. S.O.B. Bush, the odds are against them.) And no one is morally obligated to be an athlete. It's the pretense that bugs me. The lies. The posing. The swagger.

And the fact that millions of Americans voted for this pile of horse manure! Twice!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Loitering Gentlemen

Car 54! Car 54! Check out report of gentleman loitering in front of liquor store. ...

I'm watching the evening news on Channel 2 in Denver, and they said that a gentleman was reported loitering in front of a liquor store in a scuzzy neighborhood. Said gentleman approached a customer, asking for money. Words were exchanged. Gentleman stabbed customer and ran away. Gentleman was later found hiding in a dumpster.


"Sir, I must apologize for addressing you even though we have not been properly introduced. I wonder if you could advance me a small loan -- What? You would, would you? Sir, you leave me no alternative but to draw my knife and stab you. Hah! There! Take that, sir! And now, I take my leave. I bid you good day, sir. You have my card. I shall be in my dumpster. Harrumph."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

New meaningless deadline

The time-travel novel that will never be finished is requiring more tweaking than I had anticipated. (Don't they all? Or don't many of them, anyway?)

So I've decided to order myself to be done by my birthday, which will be five weeks from tomorrow.

Five weeks! That's, like, an enormous and immense amount of time! Of course I'll be done by then. Although that does sound a bit like something I remember saying to a coworker many, many years ago: "That hard drive gadget holds five megabytes?! Man, you'll never fill that up!"

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Silence in One Ear

Aargh! I just managed to destroy one of my hearing aids. The audiologist had said that they're so tough that you could run a truck over them and they'd be okay. But apparently you can't drag a small refrigerator over them.

And of course it's no longer under warranty. That expired in March.

Gloom. They're just little pieces of latex with chips and wiring and stuff in them, but for people like me, they have considerable emotional importance.

I've occasionally wondered what it would be like to use just one of them. Now I'll find out. On the bright side, it should make it easier to tolerate those guys a few cubicles away who talk and laugh too loudly.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Black Coffee and Red Blood

That would make a pretty good title for a horror short story. However, this is just a brief, unpleasant reminiscence.

I was reading Bella Stander's account of her recent oral surgery, and I suddenly remembered having two of my wisdom teeth out when I was in high school. My father dropped me off at the oral surgeon's office, where they doped me up and did the nasty stuff to my mouth. In the process, I think I swallowed great quantities of blood; they didn't do much about suctioning that stuff out in those days, especially in small towns (Elkhart, Indiana, specifically).

Anesthetics and pre-op drugs have always affected me much more than the average person is affected, so when I came out of the drug haze and woke up, I didn't come out very far or wake up all that much. They called my parents to say I was ready for pickup and delivery back home, and they asked me if I wanted coffee. I never drank coffee back then. It used to make me sick. I said "Grgrgrglllg." Which must have sounded like yes. Maybe I actually was trying to say yes, not knowing what they were saying or where I was or what had happened to me. With cream? "Grglglkerjlglkj." They took that as a no. I gulped down a cup of the horrifying stuff, vaguely aware that it was the most awful liquid in the history of the universe.

My parents came, the adults got me into the back seat of the car, and we took off. I threw up a humongous mixture of coffee and blood all over the back seat. My father was furious but apparently felt that, this once, he couldn't scream at me. So he yelled at my mother instead, blaming her, which he very often did. "It's not her fault," I tried to say. "What?" "It's not her fault!" Probably sounded more like "Grergljlwkkkkkk!"

Ah. Boyhood memories.

Why is this on my blog? Well, where else does one put such stuff, nowadays? It'll probably show up in a novel eventually.

Monday, August 20, 2007

First Chapter of Time and the Soldier

Okay, so now I'm terribly serious. This is the rough(ish), short(ish) first chapter of TatS:


     The first blast came at dawn on February 8, 1945. Two men died in that instant. Everyone else was already dead.

     Other blasts followed. The windows of the central building of the huge complex blew out, and smoke billowed through the empty frames. A few minutes later, the windows in the wings of the complex shattered. The metal door of the main building began to melt within thirty minutes. Another thirty minutes, and the roof collapsed. Flames and embers shot high into the dry mountain air.

     The fire raged on, consuming the building and the dead. It melted the equipment those people had put together and tested so painstakingly. It ate wood and flesh indiscriminately.


     Twenty-four hours later, a man and a woman appeared in the smoking rubble.

     They stared in bewilderment at the remnants of the machinery they remembered so well. In front of the shattered machinery lay the upper half of a body. He had been a large, blond man. His face was undamaged and unfamiliar.

     The man who had just arrived brushed his shoe across the ashes beneath his feet, exposing part of a yellow circle.

     "Why is it now?" he asked.

     "Come on," the woman said.

     They made their way through the ruins, moving clumsily in their heavy coats. The remaining heat kept them out of some areas. The charred floor sagged and creaked under them. Remnants of walls collapsed suddenly.

     Hours passed. They found bodies, some burned to charcoal but some untouched by the fire. They were all dead -- of slit throats or bullets in the forehead. They saw no sign of the two people they were looking for.

     "He wouldn't be here," the woman said. "He left when we did. We know that."

     "But what about her?" the man said in despair.

     "I don't think she's here." She said that to encourage him, not because she believed it. "Come on."

     It was noon now, but bitterly cold, and yet they were sweating inside their coats. For a moment, they stood looking up at the cracked face of the sandstone cliff. Then finally they turned and walked away.

     The fire had changed them already and would change them again. It extended its effects beyond its own brief life, far into the future, changing men and women and their lives and loves forever.


     Eight years earlier and two thousand miles away, a dark-haired woman and her blonde daughter walked carefully along a country road in southern Michigan. The light was fading, catching the tops of the trees and the brilliant colors of autumn. The road itself was almost dark. They couldn't see the patches of ice, but they knew they were there.

     Across the road, invisible in the darkness between the trees, a man watched them.

     Absorbed in her thoughts, the younger woman drew further ahead of the older one. The watcher frowned. He had expected them to stay close together. This might be a complication.

     The mother called out, "Dolores! ¡Espérame!"

     The girl stopped and turned around. "Sorry, Mom. I was thinking about that job."

     "Good. You should."

     The girl laughed. She waited while her mother caught up with her.

     Right next to each other, the watcher thought. That's good.

     The headlights of a car swept across him. He threw his hand up to shade his eyes and stepped further back among the trees. He couldn't let anyone see him. He couldn't imagine what the boss would do if anything went wrong.

     The car roared around a curve, coming from behind the two women. It was upon them before they were aware of the car or the driver of them.

     The watcher held his breath. Perfect.

     Mother and daughter stood frozen in shock, caught in the lights, as the car rushed toward them.

     The driver seemed to be just as frozen. At the last moment, the car swerved toward the middle of the road.

     The watcher willed the car toward the mother and daughter. Hit them! Hit them!

     The driver almost made it past the two. But the big rear right fender caught the mother on the hip and threw her against her daughter. They fell heavily to the ground and lay still.

     The car skidded to a stop. The driver jumped from it and ran up to the two still figures. In the fading light, the watcher could tell that the driver was a well-dressed man. He couldn't see the man's face, but he read shock in the body language.

     "Oh, God!" the driver said. "Oh, my God!"

     He stood over the two bodies for a long time, hesitating. Then suddenly he turned and ran back to his car and sped off.

     "About time," the watcher muttered.

     All he had to do now was drag the girl's body into the woods, far enough from the road so that it wouldn't be found. Nature would do the rest.

     He walked quickly across the road. From close up, he could see that the mother was lying on her side. Her eyes were open and unmoving, and her skull was misshapen. Blood pooled under her.

     He turned to the girl. Fortunately, she had landed on her back. He bent down and slid his hands under her back and into her armpits and started to pull her toward the edge of the road. She didn't weigh much. That was good. There didn't seem to be any blood under her, which was also good. Pretty thing, he thought, looking down at her face. Too bad.

     She opened her eyes and looked up at him, confused. "Mama?"

     He jumped back, letting her shoulders and head fall to the ground. "Shit! I thought you were dead!"

     She struggled to sit up and managed at last. She held her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Where's my mother? Who're you?"

     "She's back there."

     "Mama!" She was shouting, trying to get up, looking back at the still, dark figure in the road. "Mama!"

     "Listen, Dolores. It's okay. My name's Hank. I'm going to take care of you. It'll be okay."

     Except that it wouldn't be. This was a disaster. It wasn't supposed to happen like this at all, and the boss would be furious in that quiet, terrifying way of his.

     The girl was dragging herself along the road, trying to crawl to her mother. She was whimpering. She kept one arm tightly against her middle.

     Probably has internal injuries, Hank thought. She won't make it, anyway.

     But he couldn't bet on that.

     He sighed and shook his head. I hate shit like this, he thought. He reached inside his shirt and drew the knife from the sheath strapped against his chest. He stepped over to the crying girl and slit her throat.

     He waited till she had stopped moving and then, trying to avoid all the fresh blood, grasped the back of her shirt collar and dragged her into the woods, far enough that he was sure she wouldn't be found.

     He told himself that the fresh blood was good. It would attract animals all the faster.

     He felt sick.

     I need a drink, he thought. Gotta get my car and go back to town and find a bar or something.

     He pressed a spot behind his ear. "It's Morrison," he said. "No more Dolores."

     There were tough years ahead. There'd be more work like this. Eventually, in the future, there'd be a reward.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Opening Section of Time and the Soldier

I've decided to post the very beginning of TatS here, just in case anyone cares to critique it.

Please bear in mind that this is still a rough draft, and what I'm about to put up here might change. It hasn't been polished. It really is rough.

Okay, I'm delaying because I'm a bit nervous about doing this. Here it is, the beginning of the novel:


Gulp! Please be kind. I'm soooo nervous!!!

Massenet, Minneapolis, U-Haul, and Me

I was going to title this post something like "Cinderella and Me," but that might seem to imply that I think I'm Prince Charming, whereas I don't and I'm not.

Last Wednesday, Leonore and I flew to Minneapolis, where we began the task of helping Daniel and Becca (his fiancee) pack stuff in boxes and clean the apartment, preparatory to Daniel's move to Denver. A bunch of Daniel's friends had promised to show up to help, but none did, so it was us and Pat, a neighbor, who worked tirelessly and good-naturedly just because he seems to be a tireless and good-natured guy. Not to mention remarkably generous with his time. We picked up the U-Haul truck (17 feet, but it drove and handled like 100) on Thursday and started loading stuff into that, while continuing the packing and cleaning. I should clarify that Leonore did the cleaning pretty much all by herself, amazing me by her stamina.

We did take a brief break to go look at the fallen bridge. We went to the building on the campus where Daniel has been working this summer. It's right next to the highway, and the view of the bridge from the parking lot is ... well, excellent doesn't seem like the right word. Sobering. Disturbing. I felt ghoulish, going to look at it as though it were a tourist attraction. It's too fresh for that. Still, we went and looked and took pictures anyway.

We had hoped to be done on Thursday evening, but we weren't, so we continued on Friday morning. The original plan had been for Leonore and me to leave in the U-Haul on Friday at, say, 10 a.m. It ended up being just before 3 p.m. All in all, an enormous job, especially for so few people.

We got to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we planned to spend the night, at about 11 p.m. or thereabouts. We should have fallen into bed, but Doctor Who was on, and we couldn't miss that, so we watched it till 1 a.m. and then zonked out. It was an inferior episode, to boot. Daniel and Becca had planned to be on the road a couple of hours after us (driving two cars), but it took another 24 hours before they left Minneapolis.

We got to Denver yesterday evening (Saturday) and went to Central City to see Massenet's Cendrillon (Cinderella) today. It was the last performance of this CC Opera season, so at the end, there was an awards ceremony, and the audience was invited to join the cast and crew in singing Auld Lang Syne, which I thought was a nice touch. Not that I joined in. Being Mr. Tone Deaf, I never sing where anyone else can hear me, and even if I weren't tone deaf, I wouldn't have the temerity to sing in a building where opera is performed.

The opera has pleasant music, and it's a pretty good reworking of the fairy tale, touching in places. The staging was remarkable. Despite my new SuperHearing(TM), it didn't stun me the way the La Traviata did, but it's not that kind of opera. I did enjoy it far more than I would have BHA (Before Hearing Aids). Now I'm much more eager to go to live music performances of all kinds than I have been in a long while.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Violetta, You Slut

Er, courtesan, I mean.

We indulged ourselves today by going to an opera in Central City. It was La Traviata. More about that in a moment.

Interestingly, this is the 75th anniversary of the CC Opera House, and in their first season, in 1932, they did the play Camille, starring Lilian Gish, and based on the Dumas novel on which La Traviata is also based. Maybe that wasn't coincidence.

LT has always been one of my favorite operas. Is there anyone who doesn't like it? Anyone with a heart and a love of wonderful music, I mean? Heart-breaking soap opera! Heavenly melodies! Great ensemble pieces and duets and individual arias! What's not to love? Well, a bad performance would be not to love, of course. This, however, was an outstanding performance. The acting was excellent and the voices of the principals were stunning in both power and beauty.

I've seen other top-notch performances of LT, but this was the first live opera I've been to since I got my hearing aids. I expected to enjoy it more for that reason, but I didn't expect to be overcome, blown away, stunned, and add other over-the-topisms. I thought I loved opera before, but, wow, what I've been missing! From first note to last, I was in another world, more so than with any other musical performance of any kind that I can remember. There were moments when the music made me lightheaded and almost dreamily detached from reality. It hit my emotions in a surprising way, too. Why, sir, I tell you, sir, during the scene in which the elder Germont persuades Violetta to give up the love of Alfredo so that Alfredo's pure, virginal sister's young man won't reject her (TV soap opera, eat your heart out!), manly tears filled my manly eyes, sir, indeed, I swear it, sir, and some even spilled out and ran down my manly cheeks! In a manly fashion, of course. By Gadfrey, sir.

Oh, and the temperature up there was in the mid 70s, compared to low 90s in Denver. It rained quite a bit while we there. Come to think of it, always seems to rain when we go there, even when it's dry as a bone down here. I should add that we both love the rain, so that's not a dampener, ho, ho, but part of the delight of the escape.

And now I'm back in the real world.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Everyone Loves John Sousaphone!

"You've read the new novel by John Sousaphone, right."


"No? Jeez, I thought everyone snapped up his stuff as soon as it came out. You've read everything else by him, right?"

"One novel. It sucked."

"How can you say that? Everyone loves, reveres, admires, worships the novels of John Sousaphone!"

"Not everyone, obviously."

"But how can you not love, revere, etc. his novels? What don't you like about them?"

"The suckitude."

"No seriously. You can't just say that. You have to explain."

"I have to explain why I don't like his writing?"


"Okay. I don't like it because it sucks."

I've actually had conversations rather like this. In the most recent one, the other person got very upset and started using terrible language - words like "minimalism" and "postmodernism". I had to cover my tender, virginal ears. I explained that I considered the works in question to be bad writing because when I tried to read them, my reaction was to say to myself, "This is really bad writing." And that, I said, was the only ism I needed, the ability to recognize suckism. They sucked because they were filled with suckitude.

The Romans understood this. Or at least one of them (Cicero?) did. De gustibus non est disputandum. There is no disputing about tastes. Hear, hear! Why have people forgotten this?

Of course, the above conversation wouldn't happen if I had dismissed the works of, say John Grisham or Dan Brown instead of those of Sousaphone, the darling of the critics. If it had been Grisham or Brown, the other person would probably have agreed right away. "Yeah, he sucks. Terrible writer." But Sousaphone, anointed by those whose job it is to anoint, must be loved, revered, admired, etc. Maybe the other person feels that I'm attacking his taste and judgment when I call Sousaphone a terrible writer, and so he demands justification as a way of defending himself. Or maybe he distrusts his own judgment in comparison to that of the anointers and feels shaken by the dismissal. Or maybe he's simply outraged that anyone can call into question the wonderfulness of a writer whom the anointers have declared to be wonderful. I have no idea. I do know that if I read something and feel that it's bad writing, then it's bad writing, no matter what anyone else's opinion is.

Because it's all subjective. There is no such thing as an objectively justifiable measurement of the worth of art.

But that's another argument.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So this is what they do all day in MI5!

Good Things Happen to Nice People

See here.

Okay, so that doesn't work as a general rule. Too often, nice things happen to nasty people and nasty things happen to nice people. But it's nice to see it work the way it should every now and then!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Most Stupendiferous Military That Ever Was!

I keep hearing this from Americans, including other liberals who hate our foreign invasions and occupations just as much as I do. They seem to have a need, almost an obsessive need, to couple their denunciations of those acts of aggression and imperialism with the proud declaration that we have the most stupendous, magnificent, competent, highly trained, just-all-around-awesome military forces the world has ever known. Ever. Bar none. No exceptions.

Better than the Roman legions at their peak. Or the armies of imperial Spain or Napoleonic France. Better at sea than the British navy when it ruled the oceans or the Phoenician fleet that served the Persian empire.

Better than those! Yes! By far! Really! La la la la, I can't hear you, betterbetterbetter!

What the hell does this even mean? What's the metric? Such comparisons are meaningless. The only thing that's meaningful is a relative measurement - the comparison of a nation to its contemporary rivals. Moreover, this comparison has to include not just military power but a great number of other factors as well - economic, social, mercantile, industrial, and so on. As I remember, this is one of the fundamental arguments of Paul Kennedy's great book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. If I'm remembering correctly, that's also where I read this interesting thought experiment. Imagine a smaller ship of today's British navy being transported back in time a couple of hundred years, to the era when Britannia ruled the waves. That modern ship could wipe that old wooden navy from the seas and dominate the oceans all by itself (at least until it ran out of fuel). Does that mean that the modern British navy dominates the world's seas? Of course not. What counts is the comparison to contemporaries - today's British navy to today's U.S. navy, for example, or the British navy of 1800 to the French navy of 1800.

Nor is the magnificent virility of our stupendous ships erecting their huge cannons the only factor to consider. Or equivalently our utterly awesome air armada that can drop more tons of explosive horror on terrified civilians than anyone else ever could. We thumb our nose at the WWII Luftwaffe. Hmph!

In spite of that, we lost in Vietnam. We're losing in Iraq and Afghanistan. We would lose terribly if we invaded Iran. And imagine if we invaded China!

Clearly, enormous military force is not enough. Other superpowers have encountered that reality, often at the height of their dominance. There were always places where they couldn't dominate, where local conditions or conditions at home or a combination of the two delivered a much-needed kick in the imperial teeth.

Even if there were a meaningful way to compare our military forces today to those important ones in the past, and even if that comparison did indeed show that ours are more stupendiferous than even the best of those were in their day, so what? That wouldn't change the fact that we lost in Vietnam and are losing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It seems to me that the need to keep asserting our military supremacy over the rest of the world now and over all empires of the past has nothing to do with an objective assessment that we really possess such supremacy. As I said, that assertion would be pretty much meaningless and irrelevant. I think something much sadder and nastier underlies that claim.

We are the old guy who used to be the tough guy. You know the type. He puffs out his chest to disguise the fact that his chest is sagging and his waist is expanding. He waves his fists in others' faces while wearing loose shirts that hide the shrinkage in his biceps and shoulders. He blusters and swaggers and threatens and talks too loudly. He tries desperately to mask his fading powers behind a bullying display, hoping to cow the younger, tougher guys into acknowledging him as top dog. He can pull this off for a while. He has money and retains his position of authority, and for a while everyone else is fooled. For a while, he can fool himself, as well. But in the end, reality always asserts itself, and the old guy is pushed aside and ignored.

There's a period between being convincing and being ignored when the blustering display is embarrassing and a cause for scorn. I think that as a country we're just starting to enter that phase now. Perhaps that's why so many of are yelling ever more loudly about the astonishing stupendiferousness of our military.

I do wish we'd all stop. I don't want my country to be evil. I also don't want it to be embarrassing.

Bush protecting us from zombies

The wonderfulness of Youtube:

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wanting Lightning to Strike

It's the monsoon season in Denver.

That's the North American monsoon, which in late summer brings water up from the Gulf of Mexico over the desert Southwest, triggering flash floods and washed-away SUVs in Arizona and, if we're lucky, rain in Denver. Unfortunately, we rarely get just rain. We get stupendous thunder storms, with blinding flashes of lightning and deafening cracks of thunder (especially deafening when you're downtown, and the thunder echoes off the highrise office buildings), and all too often violent, damaging hail.

A really loud storm passed over downtown this afternoon as I was leaving work for the bus. I used my umbrella, because it was raining buckets, but I felt nervous the whole way because of the blinding-and-deafening mentioned above. Lots of other nervous people scurrying around. I've read awful stories about people being struck by lightning. Many die, of course, but the survivors often suffer the strangest and most untreatable disabilities and lingering pain.

So no one in his right mind wants to be struck by lightning.

Unless he's a writer.

(Wotta segue!)

When we - or artists in general, or entertainers, or gamblers - speak of being struck by lightning, we're thinking of the brilliant light of success, the crack of, um, cash registers (okay, I'm reaching). In short, of fame descending from the sky like a slightly unnerving gift from the Olympian gods.

When I first started going to science-fiction conventions, I'd sometimes listen to panel discussions where the panelists were published writers who assured the audience that good work always gets published, that success is entirely a matter of quality and talent, and that luck is never involved. I had sold my first book, and selling the next two followed quickly and fairly easily, so I knew that they were absolutely correct. Lightning is simply not involved.

Then I had the rude awakening that awaits so many snotty young writers. My sales numbers weren't up to snuff, and my calls and letters (this was, gasp, before e-mail!!!!) suddenly went unanswered. And then I found myself looking for an agent and a publisher, and not having any luck. And that's when I realized: It is luck! Those panelists were just smugly mouthing self-serving claptrap.

And then I started getting published again, and I realized that it's only partially luck. And not all that much luck, really. No, come to think of it, it's really talent and quality, but it is true that even the talented quality folks can have rough patches.

And then once again ... And I realized that ...

And so on. The cycle repeated. Being published: luck is not involved! Can't get published: it's all luck, and mine is rotten, sob!

Anyway, I've settled on a balanced view in my battle-scarred late middle age. (Hey! CNN says that 60 is the new 40! Let's party! But not too vigorously.) It's a combination of luck and talent. There's certainly nothing novel about this balanced view, but I finally really believe it.

Just as with everything else, there'll always be the statistical outliers - people who can't write a coherent sentence but whose books are all bestsellers, and people whose work is brilliant but who can't get published. But still, you pretty much need to start with at least some talent, and you need to polish and nurture and train that talent, and you need to produce oodles of words, and then you need to contact every (good) agent in existence because that is the step that increases the chances that lightning will strike. That's the only way you can optimize the luck.

At least, that's my opinion now. If I sell Time and the Soldier and have a successful career again/after all, then it will be as clear as day that it's really all a matter of talent. Or maybe as clear as a lightning flash.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis

Horrible event.

Daniel left a voicemail message to say he was okay. He takes (took) that bridge to and from the campus. Today, he drove over it an hour before the collapse.

Update: I guess he must have said half an hour, not an hour. In his Live Journal, he posted that he thinks it was actually more like 10 minutes, and that he felt the bridge shaking as he was driving over it. When I told Leonore about that, she was even more upset than she had been at first.

Curiously, this sort of runs in the extended family. When the Loma Prieta earthquake struck San Francisco in 1989, causing, among other damage, the collapse of part of the Oakland Bay Bridge, the husband of one of Leonore's nieces (I guess that makes him my by-marriage nephew by marriage) was driving across the bridge, felt something, looked in his rear-view mirror, and saw the car behind him drop from view; he had just passed over the section that fell down to the level below.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Decline in Literacy

The country just keeps on going to the dogs, but fortunately it never seems to quite get there.

Perhaps the ancient Romans grumbled about the declining standards in literacy among the young. And the Greeks, as well. And everyone before them, back to the dawn of writing. Of course, the further back you go, the smaller the part of the population the question would apply to, but I bet people grumbled about the declining standards of literacy within that social group.

Ah, but it's worse now! Young people today, they don't know how to write a proper sentence. And they spell funetickly. And their music - ! Oops, sorry, that's a different post.

I don't say such things myself, despite being very much, er, not-young, and I find myself snapping at other not-youngsters who do say such things. The kids are al(l )right, I tell them. Why, I say, I remember that when I was a lad, most of my acquaintances couldn't write worth a damn. I'm not convinced that the percentage of serious, intelligent young people who can speak and write well is any smaller now than it was then. Let's face it: Most people, in every generation, don't give a damn about proper English usage, and most of them have always thought that the minority of us who do care are creepy weirdos.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that literacy really is declining and that communication in our society is suddenly and rapidly becoming based on video and sound and funetickly spelled, icon-filled text messaging, :). All that really means is that we're returning to our natural social and intellectual roots.

Reading and writing are fairly recent innovations in human history, and their widespread use is much more recent. Surely there were always people who enjoyed them for their own sake, but their adoption was due mostly to necessity - a way of compiling, communicating, and storing lists and laws and contracts and royal orders. Verbal communication and storage by means of memorization became impractical once societies grew past a certain size, geographic extent, and degree of social organization. But now, thanks to technology, those old ways are once again practical even in a highly complex society spread across the surface of the world.

Marshall McLuhan talked about the global village and the ways in which the medium changed the nature of the message. We've pretty much reached the global village part. I'm not convinced that the medium is the message. Rather, I think that the old message has reemerged, not so much changed by the nature of the (new) media but enriched by it. We're moving back to being a village in which people communicate not with the writing and reading most of them always secretly, or not so secretly, hated, but instead with sight and sound, spoken words and playacting. It's enriched, for example, because instead of drawing a scene on a cave wall to show others, you can take a picture of it with your cell phone camera and send it to your zillion online friends electronically.

I do hope that great numbers of us creepy weirdos who love writing and reading hang around, though. And even though the kids are al(l )right, their music still sucks.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Clack Clack Clack Clack Clack Ding Zzzzzziiiip!

They were lovely sounds.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my computer, working from home, and a stray smell passed by. The window was open because it was delightfully cool and rainy outside - nice change from the baking desert Denver has been for most of the summer - and this smell drifted in. It only lasted a second, and I don't know what it really was, but for just an instant, it smelled like the unique combination of oil, metal, rubber, and paper of a manual typewriter.

Ah, sweet memories! I wrote my first few novels, and vast numbers of short stories on a portable typewriter that I bought in high school. I still have it, er, somewhere. The smell triggered wonderful tactile memories of striking the keys and feeling the letters being impressed onto the paper.

And of course of unsticking the keys, and trying to correct typos, and pages getting messed up and having to be retyped, and paper cuts, and changing ribbons, and that loose t that I had to keep pressing back into position so that that one letter wouldn't stick up above the rest of the line. Sure, it was an awful way to write, and I was daydreaming about some kind of computer setup long before those became practical. I'd never go back to using a typewriter. The idea is absurd.

Still, on some level, that's still real writing to me. I kind of miss the beautiful machining and engineering, the clacking of the keys, the ding of the bell, the feel of the carriage return lever, the zzzziiipclunk of the carriage being returned. Even the electrical typewriter I graduated to from that manual portable didn't have the character and tactile and sound pleasure of the manual.

Couldn't blog with it, though.

David's Definitions for September 2007


To be reticent is to be reluctant to speak. It comes from the Latin word for being silent. It can refer to someone who is taciturn - that is, simply doesn't talk much. Or it can refer to someone who is reluctant to speak about something specific. For example, a politician who is being cagey about his plans to run for President might be reticent on that one subject but loquacious (very, very talkative) on all others. Many people misuse reticent when they mean reluctant. They might say, "He was reticent to act." That should be, "He was reluctant to act." Reticent can only refer to speech, not to action.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Karen's Great Adventure

Check out this blog.

Until a few weeks ago, Karen was a fellow tech writer at Quark. She quit to go map trails in Alaska for a year. She created the blog so that people who know her could follow her adventures. The latest post has a link to a photo album she put up. There are some good shots of dry but dramatic scenery in Colorado and other Western parts, and then it ends with nice pictures from Victoria and Vancouver, BC. Sigh. I wanna go back.

Lahdeedah, I hope this doesn't make you too homesick for The Most Beautiful Part of the World.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Yeah, but What Have You Done for Us Lately?

When I sold my first novel, to Pocket Books in 1975 (I think), I was sure that my writing career had begun a smooth upward trajectory that would take it all the way to the Moon, baby! and would very soon take me out of the workforce. I don't remember if I said as much to any of the older and more experienced writers I met as a result of that book sale, but if I did, they would have been justified in snickering behind my back.

It's all in the numbers - the sales numbers. That's no surprise to anyone, but it's still painful when you learn that your numbers aren't good enough and your current publisher isn't interested in seeing new proposals from you. What has surprised me is how often this happens to writers I thought had solid, flourishing careers but who now can't sell their new books, or who are selling books but sense that they're on a downward trajectory. Understandably, people prefer not to talk about this when it's happening to them. When they do, the conversations are carried on in private places, online or not. In some cases, I've learned about the dormant state of someone's writing career from a third party. In every case, it's been a shock.

In a way, it's even more shocking when I see this happen to someone who came up the ranks after me than to someone who was already there when I first got published. With the older writers, I just assumed that they had grown tired of writing, or age had interfered.

But there was a long period when the realization was sinking in that my career had stalled. "That's all the power there is, Captain! Mah puir wee bairn engine's canna deliver any more!" "Our orbit is starting to decay, Captain. We will impact the planet's surface in approximately 5.287111965493 hours." Meanwhile, I was watching the rockets of Hot! New! writers taking off and heading for the Moon, baby! They were the buzz. They were brilliant. They were changing everything. I was filled with envy and poisonous resentment that I didn't want to feel but couldn't purge myself of.

And now, some years later, I'm hearing sad laments from some of those very writers. Few of them are still well known - or even being published.

What a depressing post this is! The point I want to make, to the extent that there is one, is that if you sometimes wonder what happened to X, a writer you really liked a few years ago, and why hasn't X written anything lately, don't assume that he hasn't. Don't assume that X got bored with writing. Assume that publishing got bored with X. Assume that he's still writing, but to the publishing biz, he has become a non-person. He's yesterday's Hot! New! writer, and now he's cold and old. It's even possible that, in despair, X has given up writing entirely. Now, that's depressing!

Oh, there was another, related point. Back when I used to whine to friends about the state of my writing career (I learned not to, finally), some of them would protest that I had proved myself. I had so many published novels I could point to. I was a proven professional. Yes, but what I had proved was that my books didn't sell lots and lots of copies. Oopsie. On the bright side, if you're a newcomer, you haven't yet published books that didn't sell lots and lots of copies. Therefore, in the eyes of the publishing biz, you still have the possibility of becoming one of the Hot! New! buzzthings. They're actually more likely to take a chance on you than on someone they know is cold and old.

So write on. You'll have two or three books to prove yourself. And you might well be one of the ones who makes it to the Moon, baby!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dumped the House. Sob.

Not Daniel's house. A fictional house, in Time and the Soldier.

This house has been there since the earliest outline for the novel, as I remember. It was a nifty and niftily mysterious house. I really liked it.

But it just didn't fit into the plot. In fact, keeping it would have required all sorts of extraneous stuff added to the story, for no other purpose than to justify keeping the house. So tonight I gritted my teeth and girded my loins and bit the bullet and wrote the house out of existence. Oh, the iron demands of aaahhht! Sob!

On the bright side, some stuff gets blowed up real good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Absurdly Complex World

Is all this shit really necessary? I mean, really, really necessary? Or is it the case that our laws are created by lawyers as a way to keep the lawyering business humming? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Because Daniel is still in Minneapolis and his house closing was scheduled for last Friday, he signed a power-of-attorney form, and I did the closing stuff in his place.

I've only been through one house closing before. That was in 1971, for the house we still live in. Back then, Leonore and I were somewhat befuddled twenty-somethings, new to Denver and a bit frightened by what a big commitment we were making, and we thought we were just going to a title company office to, as the realtor had said, sign some papers. Holy cow! By the end of that loooong day, we were two stunned, bewildered, terrified, disoriented, broken-down sixty-somethings! No, wait, that's now. But we felt pretty stunned, bewildered, etc., then.

Closings have not improved in the last 36 years. Oh, of course there has to be paperwork. What's being bought and sold has to be properly described, and recorded for the state for tax purposes, and the details of the transaction have to be specified, and so on. And the same for the mortgage. But, being blessed with not being a lawyer, I cannot see why all of this requires so God-damned many pages and signatures and versions of the same thing. It's effing ridiculous.

It's nothing new, of course. I was reading a history of the Persian empire recently (cool stuff!), and it's remarkable how much of our knowledge of those ancient times comes from detailed contracts and lists recorded in clay tablets. Christ, I shouldn't complain. Those ancient guys had to do it all in cuneiform! Anyway, so if all of this survives, it will be of immense value to future historians from some alien civilization visiting the ruins of this one and trying to piece together how we lived. "Great Ungi, look a this, Grzlb! This is just as bad as the stuff back home!" "Yeah. You know, disgusting as these creatures were, it's hard not to feel sorry for them." "Oh, I wouldn't go that far."

Nonetheless, it sucks with teeth and it should all be done away with. We're not ancient Persians, and we're not record keepers for hypothetical future alien historians. A half-dozen succinctly worded sheets of paper should be sufficient. The current situation isn't proof of how advanced and complex our society is; it's evidence of how primitive and clumsy we are.