Thursday, September 28, 2006

Astronauts in Toe Tags until Saturday

This afternoon, I'll be on my way to Bouchercon, the annual international mystery convention that few have heard of, though that's slightly more than today have heard of influential critic and author Anthony Boucher who posthumously lent it his name. It's smaller in attendee numbers than the big scifi or comic cons (even though Boucher edited the early Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, so props, geeks!), but it'll still amount to thousands of mystery fans and authors and associated industry types.

Under pseudonym H.H. Holmes, which some ghouls may recognize as the name of arguably America's first serial killer, Boucher originally published the novel pictured. It's a locked room mystery starring nun Sister Ursula as an amateur detective helping out the cops, and it boasts perhaps the most awesome cross-genre title ever. Scroll down these reader reviews if you want to learn which of Boucher's pals, the golden-era L.A. scifi authors (including L.Ron H.) he lampoons in the book. Crime and the fantastic once frolicked hand in hand. Why now the estrangement? Ah well, I'll keep my bullhorn handy for conversions. For now, luxuriate in the pulpy coolness.

Due to the widespread and scandalous difficulties in finding hotel rooms, I'll only be in Madison, Wisconsin through Saturday afternoon, missing the awards banquet Saturday night and the wraparound panels Sunday morning. Still, during my brief stint, I'll be volunteering a couple places and attending parties both formal and cozy. I'll be gladhanding like a congressman and doing the Agent Rhumba like mad, trying to find someone receptive to and enthusiastic about my most recent complete manuscript. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tikis and Hoboes and Sherpas, Fer Cry-eye!

Artistic indulgence of inner tiki via Shag's Benevolent Idol.

I'm not tying them all together, forget that, but they will all be present, which is a darn sight further than anyone else has ever delivered on this hydra-headed subject, I'll wager.

Via Arts and Letters Daily, read the history of America's faux-Polynesian movement, a mental Xanadu of the mid-century, still much-beloved by me and known to the world as TIKI!
Note to visitors: Despite the waitresses' thematic bikini tops and hula skirts, Waikiki Wally's cement walls and floors either make it feel authentically like a basement bar, or chilly and

Via That Girl Who Writes Stuff, I found the blog Vonnegut's Asshole where Eric describes why one should not compare the taste of the wine to hobo balls. Read it in its delightful entirety, and then award yourself with the following bonus post. He feels about nefarious and crafty Sherpas the way I feel about the threat from wily Canadians.

The guy who plays the PC in the Mac ads- thankless butt-whupping, right?- is Johnathan Hodgman, and he's written a compendium of all worthy knowledge called The Areas of My Expertise. This pertains, because he includes 700 genuine hobo names like Fatneck Runt and Trixie of the East. Hodgman reads them aloud here with accompaniment, and cartoonists have submitted (multiple) illustrations for all the names at the 700 Hoboes Project at E-hobo.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Sniffly, Sketchy Sawbuck's Worth

The equine sawbuck's from Cowboy Heaven with details on how to outfit for a backcountry packtrip.
Seeing the paper kind, I'm still startled by the new orange.

It's happened again. I've collected so much dross that I have no recourse but a good ole fashioned link dump. Imagining myself reading the blue like a speeding auctioneer, here we go:

1) Via April, exercise your artsiness with Sketch Swap. There's a little pencil you drag around to draw, and after submitting your masterwork, you get one back atcha. The lizard I saw was way cooler than the test mess I submitted.

2) All things sniffly, via Willam Saletan's always-interesting Human Nature column in Slate. Page down through his link-rich environment to find news about cancer-sniffing dogs (perform great), bomb-sniffing pooches (decently), and bomb-sniffing wasps (read it yourself, lazybones).

3) George Washington, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, and Jerry Lewis? Proving why people ought to mock Congress' priorities.

4) Just when we've begun healing over Pluto's lost planetary status, 300 astronomers rip off the scab. These petition signatories disagree vigorously, and hope to bring the subject back up for the IAU's next general meeting in three years. How will closure ever be possible while the parasite of hope yet lives?

5) A scientist provides his explanation for the evolutionary development of superstition, using a murderer's cardigan.

6) I forgot to follow-up here before, but Mayor Daley of Chicago isssued his first veto in seventeen years against the embarrasingly ridiculous big-box minimum wage/benefit ordinance voted by aldermen. There wasn't enough subsequent support to overturn the veto, some aldermen having had second thoughts due to, I assume, the earfulls from their constituencies as well as shellackings by economists and the national media.

7) Another friend forwarded me of an e-mail purporting to be a victim of sharia law enforcement, an 8 year-old having his arm run over by a truck for stealing bread. The pictures were shocking, but didn't look quite right to me, the kid's age seemed off for one thing, and I've become dubious of so much. Anyway, turns out it's a circulating fraud from pictures of a mid-eastern magic act, which was one of my guesses.

9) Still, there are plenty of authentic tragedies at the hands of the anti-modern, anti-civil extremists, such as the sad killing of an Afghan woman who was an outspoken advocate and organizer of women's education and enterprise programs. She was not given bodyguards or physical protection, though she requested them against the many violent threats she received, but she persisted in her work and the Taliban now take proud credit for assassinating Safia Amajan. If societies truly want to see greater opportunity and human rights advancements, they (we) have to take care of the bravest people doing the advancing.

10) I avoid all these meme tag things that propogate like chicken pox in a playground. I won't forward chain e-mails either, no matter how sincere. My view is that some of my best well-wishing for those I know is manifested in my respect for their time and for their own predilections about what to do with it. Still, when Tim Worstall got tagged, I'll admit to being convinced why everything I'll ever want to know can be gleaned from The DaVinci Code.

And this isn't even the whole landfill's worth. I've got at least another latrinefull for tomorrow.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Triangle, Be Damned!

Map image from Mysteries Zone. Good debunks, but also many, nice links to the entertainingly full of bunk.

Can it be the worm has turned? That the months of career silence have just been the warm-up for a building roar? Maybe not, but a couple nice things have happened.

First, I got a rejection from a magazine to which I'd submitted a short story. How's that nice, you ask? First, it came quickly, so I can get on the stick rewriting and/or resubmitting. And, they actually responded with grammatically correct, courteous words on official letterhead, flourished with a human's signature at the bottom. Unbelievable.

It's become the laughable norm that. for some reason, I seem to get blown off completely by people with prestigious professional careers in publishing. We meet, I say please and thank you, we seem to be getting along fine, I send the query package, then my SASE's get harvested for postage (I suspect), and I never hear from them again. Ever. Not after polite follow-ups. Never. I'm treated like an invisible non-entity, undeserving of even a photocopied rejection stub or an e-mail with those three little words: Not For Me. This Bermuda Triangle treatment, sadly, has been common even from nice-seeming people to whom I've been personally introduced, people with whom I've conversed at length about my manuscripts, who asked pertintent follow-up questions and specifically asked me for chapters and everything.

To get a prompt, professional rejection is at least an acknowledgement of receipt (and my existence), and also means I didn't waste the stamp on that SASE at least. I'm going to keep buying copies and will submit to that magazine again. I like the cut of their jib, I do.

In the second nice thing, and this is more obvious, I've finally been published online in an e-literary journal. I announced a while ago that this site had accepted a flash fiction piece of mine, but before it appeared, the site went dormant. For several months. Reverse Bermuda Triangle this time: I didn't disappear, they did. However, surfing today, I discovered the site's been enlivened with two fresh issues, and has also included my little effort.

The second issue of The Angler had a suggested theme of Hallucination. My few hundred words are from the perspective of a trustafarian, or the kind of young celebrity better known for her appearance and ubiquity than substantive talent. It's called Lunch at the Hotel.

And it turns out to be true that late is way better than never. Thanks much, Donovan.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Burgers and Black Tattoos

1) Another review of mine posted at Fantasy Bookspot, this time of Sam Enthoven's young adult novel, The Black Tattoo.

2) Forget the self-serving hype, people know what crap is and is not. Largely (ha!), they want the real junk from their fast food purveyors (bolding mine):

Hassan Ahmed, the manager of the Burger King on Martineau Way in Birmingham, said that his customers were not interested in using the restaurant to pursue the “healthy, balanced diet” endorsed on the company’s website. “We buy in three cases of salad each week. I only order them in because I have to. But we bin most of them at the end of the week because they don't sell... A new generation of “indulgent offerings” for the hungrier American has culminated in the Burger King Stacker Quad: four beef patties, four slices of cheese, four strips of bacon and no vegetables in a bun. It contains 1,000 calories and as much saturated fats as one person should consume in a day and a half, according to US government recomendations...

We listened to consumers who said they wanted to eat fresh fruit,” a spokesman for Wendy’s, an American burger chain, said. “Apparently they lied.”

IMO, Hardee's is the place to go if you really want Suicide on a Bun. May I suggest beating that wimpy BK Quad into submission with a Monster Thickburger? 2/3 pounds off the hoof, heaped with bacon and cheese. We're talking 2740 mgs of sodium and 45 grams of saturated fat. John Wayne's colon will have nothing on you. Coincidence that the Monster was voted City Search's best burger of 2005? I think not. My last huge Hardee's cheeseburger came topped with an extra pile of luscious, onioney cheesesteak. MMMmmm. If only they'd batter-dipped and fried it.

3) People's soft, podgy kids want the crap, too. Not just tastier, but often cheaper than the filings from the cafeteria ladies' nails. Outrage abounds in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I Still Heart DDT (and Pirates) More Than Ever

Check NPR's article and glossary, and naturally, some are already fretting that TLAPD's become too embraced by the masses to retain its integrity. Pirates are for the people, elitist scurves!

Well- I've gotten some of my housekeeping stuff done-just in time for Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Also, in fantastic, life-saving news which one of you was also kind enough to e-mail me (though, ya'll know I was on that development like a bum on a hoagie), the World Health Organization has reversed itself on DDT! Enough sensible countries bucked the propaganda and uses the chemical, creating such amazing amelioration in their malaria rates that even the most hide-and-fear-bound bureaucrats had to reconsider its efficacy and safety and finally look at the data. Now, the international health community is advocating its careful (duh!) interior spraying along with other eradication measures like bed nets and public hygiene measures- Yay! This should loosen up aid funding for anti-malarial programs and, I believe, will advance life and progress for Africans immeasurably once young minds and bodies are not being systematically stunted by dysenteric malnutrition.

Why do American-born children of second and third world immigrants score higher on IQ tests and get so much taller and stronger than their parents? Nutrition and public health improvement (general sanitation). If I take care of myself and Providence decrees, I should be alive 50 years from now to see the incredible transformation in less-developed countries, and I can't believe the relentless online drumbeat of scientific and contrarian voices and their collaboration didn't matter at all.

But what if the mosquitoes adapt? Well, they undoubtedly will, but hopefully, not before we get beyond the current state of inescapable, chronic, endemic infections. Besides, given time and an explosion of locally educated scientists, the humans will be ready and able to adapt, too, once they're not handicapped by illness and ill policy. Just look what we're doing with ants!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Housekeeping Week

This week, I've got a lot of cleaning, rearranging, and clearing of the administrative decks to do. I've also got to write and post a backlog of book reviews for Fantasy (et al) BookSpot, because I have new books panting with anticipation to be denuded by my eyeballs. Not to mention the ones I'm supposed to be writing....

So, I hope there'll be many more review notes offloaded here and intermittently spattered with the usual junk.

Click here for my review of K. Osborn Sullivan's young adult fantasy Stones of Abraxas.

Via Tim Blair, the story of Thailand's dedicated Buddhist teachers packing heat.

And the tiniest albino marmoset baby monkey pictures. Awwwwww.

Monday, September 11, 2006

For a Neighbor I Never Knew

Today is a lovely and bright day on Trump Island, but that just makes the dim, surreal feelings stronger. Some kind and loyal person, as has done every 9/11 that I've lived here, posted a photocopy of a victim's face and an interview with his fiancee on the tree next to our sidewalk and at the end of our awning. This notice, with candles and bouquets encircling the trunk, commemorate one resident and former neighbor who died in the World Trade Center. From my aerie high above, I hear bursts of multiple sirens in their everyday normality, but today I wander out to the balcony to survey for missing landmarks or columns of smoke.

Instead of waiting around, jumpy, for something which I hope will be nothing to happen, I think I'll go buy some flowers myself.

Friday, September 08, 2006

106 Years Later

In what seems to have become a season of remembrance, I wanted especially to note the often overlooked anniversary of the greatest natural disaster in America's history, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 that killed over 6,000 people on this date.

Last year, I read a fantastic book about it that augmented my own thoughts about Katrina without overwhelming me into catatonia with fresh miseries. The non-fiction account, Isaac's Storm, which reads like a novel through Erik Larson's talent, has several amazing and meaningful parallels with current events, and illuminates what we've since learned about killer storms within the context of a fascinatingly turbulent era and its personalities. I thought the book was so captivating and good (and such a terrific way even for scaredy-cats like me to confront the painful subject of Katrina and her human costs), I wrote a review for an outlet that declined to use it, the fools. I repost it here for your edification, and to commemorate this anniversary.
Keep your powder dry!


Common wisdom would dictate the larger an event, the more hindsight is required to tell its story with clarity. However, that prudence won’t satisfy our urgent curiosity or help inform our immediate decisions. As a cataclysmic hurricane season closes and we mourn the Gulf Coast’s ravaged beauty, culture, and commerce, we begin discussing as individuals and as a nation how best to live amid the potential for the worst. Looking back a century, Isaac’s Storm offers an excellent vantage point from which to begin the conversation.

Erik Larson became a national bestseller with his non-fiction narrative, The Devil in the White City. Published earlier, Isaac’s Storm is also non-fiction set in the Gilded Age, but its topic is a hurricane, the deadliest storm in U.S. history that killed over six thousand people in the boomtown of Galveston, Texas in 1900. Here, Larson has crafted another compelling, true story of technological hubris, miscalculation, and consequential tragedy.

Lest we imagine the world of a century ago as a simple, idyllic place, the author reminds us of the contemporary context: the Boxer Rebellion rages in China; Britain is embroiled in the Boer War; Italy’s King Umberto has been assassinated by an anarchist; the Bubonic Plague has reappeared; and American life is being inexorably, irreversibly transformed by new technology, communication, and electricity crackling from coast to coast.

Isaac Cline, ambitious student and fan of Jules Verne, seeks a scientific career where he can “tell big stories and tell the truth,” so he joins the U.S. Signal Corps, today the National Weather Service. In 1882, there is popular skepticism about the possibility of ever reliably predicting weather, ongoing debate about the mission of the Corps, and its financial manager has embezzled a quarter million dollars, escaped from custody, and still roams at large. Into this maelstrom of controversy and scandal arrives a fledgling meteorologist who’ll have to drill on horseback with a cavalry saber before they’ll let him near a barometer or telegraph transmitter.

At his various weather station postings, Isaac is frequently burdened with lazy and corrupt staff, yet he distinguishes himself while also graduating from medical school, teaching Sunday school, and confronting the real Wild West. After marrying, he becomes the chief meteorologist for Galveston, the nation’s third busiest port. His brother, another meteorologist, is also stationed there, creating a thorny, professional rivalry with fateful results. Undeniably intelligent and industrious, Isaac is prone to dandyism and vanity. He asserts with unconditional confidence, and despite ominous precedents, that Galveston is invulnerable to extreme weather and requires no protective seawalls. His opinion, bolstered by the prevailing science and his own popularity, is proof enough for the city’s leadership.

The book’s quick pace is maintained by interleaving the biographical with explanations of hurricane formation, the strange and fantastic history of weather science, and a litany of incredible cyclones. Anecdotes are fascinating and smoothly integrated, and Larson’s descriptions are richly evocative, as when Isaac’s hurricane is born in a late summer sunrise over the African highlands:

The air contained water: haze, steam, vapor; the stench of day-old kill and the greetings of men glad to awaken from the cool mystery of night. There was cordite, ether, urine, dung. Coffee. Bacon. Sweat. An invisible paisley of plumes and counterplumes formed above the earth, the pattern as ephemeral as the copper and bronze veils that appear when water enters whiskey.

Appallingly, advance storm warnings are withheld as the weather bureau politicks and feuds over turf with Cuban forecasters. Meanwhile, the most chilling event unfolds, the evolution of a monstrous hurricane charting an unexpected course. Isaac is surprised. The unwary city is deluged.

Following individual survivors, the storm’s fury is relived in scenes as freakish as wrenching. Placid beaches become menacing, venomous snakes fill the treetops, those accused of hysteria are proved unhappily prescient, and those gleefully spectating realize the severity of their peril. The terror is heartbreaking as families struggle in rising water that fills their attics, forcing them onto torn doors and porches as rafts. Roaring winds propel shingles that slice like scimitars, and people are battered and punctured by the wreckage of broken households. We glimpse intimately the harsh penalties for even small mistakes in hazardous times. Copious public and private accounts bear witness to the grievous aftermath of catastrophe.

The disaster of 1900 caused reassessment of many meteorological assumptions and the acknowledgement of the danger of tidal surges. Though huge seawalls were eventually constructed, Galveston never recovered its previous stature. The millionaire entrepreneurs and national firms had relocated to oil-rich Houston.

It may be decades before we understand all of the effects of 2005’s hurricane season, but if today you’re interested in a thorough, well-written, and gripping book on the general topic- one that’s almost eerie in its resonance with current themes- I recommend Isaac’s Storm.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Dirty World of Obese, Necrophilac Carnivores

I guess a necrophiliac carnivore would be a scavenger. Here's a convention of 'em.

So often, it's a greedy criminal that gets caught. That's why I try to alternate my post thefts enough to lull suspicion. That said, it's been so long since I've stolen from Althouse, that today she gets a perfecta.

1) First and creepiest via Althouse (lovely Ed Gein poem in the comments thread): twin freaks and a friend bought jimmy hats at Wal-Mart and then headed to the cemetery intending to follow-up with biblical knowledge of a departed 2o year-old with a super cute obit picture. I agree with the commenters in not being sure that the identity of their proposed victim is essential to publish. On the other hand, I think these guys should be known and mocked by everyone in their town until they move to a where more enlightened about implied sexual consent of the deceased. Bonus link to Smoking Gun mugshots. (I hate to make snap judgements, but does it look to you like someone has a "Goth issue"?)

2) Althouse finally echoes the question I've been asking for years: When a person's become morbidly obese enough to be incapacitated from normal movement and a shut-in, how do they keep getting the ginormous quantities of food required to maintain their hugeness?! She's essentially asking why a giant man needs surgery when, if his family would just play daily keep-away with a veggie Hoagie, he'd get enough exercise and caloric reduction to make a big difference to his health and mobility. Once again, from the comments section, are revealed the role of spineless or equally dysfunctional enablers (the kind who always congratulate themselves on being so nice) who see this man dying before them and still can't say no. I'd say no plenty, just to get out of the bedpan duty.

3) If the previous stories haven't stifled your appetite, here's an interesting proposal from Slate's William Saletan. In order to avoid the moral and health hazards of being hungry carnivores, why can't we start growing steaks in the lab? Clean, predictable protein without the cruelty downside? I haven't thought through all the implications, but I'm having fun with the question. One step for animal rights and another toward Trek food replicators.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fake Birds, Bridals, and Folksy Brilliance.

Not chiffon...Charmin. For image link, see item 3.

1) Being subtle thinkers over hyar, we know there are some things, unlike news, that are false but good. What about when decoy birds save a town's tourism and flocks from bloodthirsty seals? Who says you can't fool Mother Nature? But should we....

When the seals realize how they've been played, it's gonna be ON, ya'll!

2) Included in the shocking's addictive Mad Science biography section (check cults, too) is this one including the Dr. Phil Automated Wisdom Generator. When I entered the deepest dilemma of my soul into the question line, it replied with common sense and heart:

You don't need Huey Lewis to tickle a Gypsy.

So true. Sometimes, I just need that dose of Get Real tonic.

3) Via Dress A Day: If you're looking for a contest to make a faux version of something where winning won't reward you with enough cash to buy the real version, start strategizing for Cheap Chic's next year's Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest. I liked the runner up, too. (DO I have to point out the advantage of not having to have bridesmaids holding up your train in the public stalls at the banquet hall? As long as it doesn't rain, you're quilted-soft, absorbent, and self-wiping.)