February 28, 2011

Which movies did you watch the most times?

Let's do our top three. For me, the movies I've watched more times than any other are:
  • The Big Chill
  • Alien
  • American Werewolf in London
This doesn't mean these are my three favorite movies. It's just that I watched them more times than others. What are your most often-viewed movies?

Religion is selfish

Religious people are so selfish that they are ghastly to look upon. They are abominations.

Think about it. It's all about them and their "salvation", isn't it? Nothing else in the universe matters except that they persist like the most virulent virus, all the way into eternity. Consider how repulsively self-important this endeavor is.

And all the people who don't believe in their little cult? They can go to hell, literally. So the religious not only get to go to heaven, they also get the thrill of knowing that everyone else will burn in agony for all eternity. Kids, too! Anyone can be thrown into hell. It's an equal opportunity kind of place. So it's a win-win thing for the religious -- splendor for them; suffering for eternity for everyone else. Oh, and their god is "love". Sweet, huh?

No, it isn't. It's sickening. These religious fools think the entire universe -- and the multiverse, should it exist -- revolves around them. Nothing matters except that they snag the grand prize. Reality is just a big mirror for these folks -- there's nothing but them and their goddamned salvation.

And when they finally do claw their way into heaven, they will live forever, alongside other, brain-dead beings just like them, folks who followed the same, pinhead path and never allowed one new idea to enter their brains. And for this selfish, dimwitted philosophy, they demand our respect -- and eternity.

Religious people are disgusting.

Xmas Carol update

I'm still toiling in the trenches. At the moment, I'm at the end of chapter seven in Xmas Carol. There are twelve chapters. It's looking good -- that's the short version. 

"But what are you doing on this fateful pass through the book, Keith?"

Thank you for asking. That was so sweet of you. Well, I'm reading it -- and this in itself is very important. I'm getting a good sense of how it sounds now, which is exciting. I'm satisfied with most of the scenes but I'll still have to rework a few, even after I finish this go-through.

What happened is I cleared away a ton of clutter on my last pass through the book. Things are so much more streamlined now, and this lets me see things that still need to be done. It's like when you clean a room. Afterward, you can easily see anything that's out of place. That's where I'm at now. There's nothing huge to fix but I do want to alter this and that.

So the game goes on and it won't end until I'm happy with every page of the book. This has been your report from the trenches of Xmas Carol Land.

February 27, 2011

Sickening arrogance

Reading the news, it horrifies me to see so many states trying to outlaw gay marriage. I mean, here is a group of elected lawmakers with virtually no gay members -- and they get to decide how my life should proceed and what rights I'm entitled to?

I mean, imagine if male congress-critters were trying to tell women whether or not they could have an abortion.

Oh, wait!

Let's get rid of the sportscasters

And they wonder why baseball isn't attracting new audiences. These two faces are one reason. No matter how great the baseball season, it ends in the black hole of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. How can this be? McCarver can't shut up for a second and has an opinion about everything. And Buck adds absolutely nothing to any sportscast. You don't even hear him. No, wait. You hear them both -- and it's unbearable. They ruin my enjoyment of the post-season, year after year.

But hang on, I've come up with a solution. Why can't there be many sportscasters to choose from? In other words, do it like YouTube, where everyone can try out for the job. MLB should set up a system where fans can choose who they'd like to announce the games. Think about it. You could choose teenagers, Cuban guys, minor-league players, some old guy at the retirement home, the guy at the corner bar, gay guys, women -- whoever the hell you want. 

They could keep their visual model (if they insist) but why not offer alternate soundtracks? I can choose Spanish or English now so why not make other live soundtracks available? They could even keep the commercials where they are so the economic model transfers to the new system. And once the new set-up takes off, they could eliminate video of the sportscasters entirely and focus only on the game.

People would jump on something like this. They're hungry for new choices because the pool of announcers is small, old and tired. MLB needs to rethink baseball so it incorporates excellent fan input during games. You might end up with hundreds of competing voice channels, which would be ranked by how often people chose them. More hits moves you up in the rankings. After a while, you'd have at least 20 excellent, alternate sportscasts to choose from. And those people could market their fame however they wished. (And the hottest ones would get a contract, of course.)

If MLB adopted this model, baseball would immediately gain a whole new audience of fans. This would liven up the game like nothing in the past 30 years.

Sunday music, nice and somber

I always liked this song by Kate Bush but it never got any traction in the real world. Too weird, I suppose. And you can't exactly dance to it. Anyway, I'm not sure who put this video together but I think they did a bang-up job. Give it a view and see what you think.

February 26, 2011

All hail Henry's hair

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance)
I see that Eraserhead is on the Sundance Channel tonight. Let us all hail Henry's hair. 

I think I'll tune in just to see the images again. Of course, a person can't actually watch this movie. But I'm glad it was made. 

Do you remember the avant garde films of those days?  I sat through many endless, boring-interesting Warhol films. I even watched John and Yoko's invisible balloon ride at the Guggenheim. Ah, those were the days. (And hey, I used to date David Lochary of Pink Flamingos fame. He ended up being a good friend.) I love weird movies.

Let us parse

Have you ever noticed how your brain reads? I was watching mine as I read the sci-news the other day and I came to some interesting conclusions. Let's use a story on physorg to illustrate the point. Here are three sentences, and I'll comment after each:
"A powerful solar eruption that triggered a huge geomagnetic storm has disturbed radio communications and could disrupt electrical power grids, radio and satellite communication in the next days, NASA said."
As you read that, note how your brain chooses sensible little groups of words to absorb: "powerful solar eruption" is the first; "triggered" is the second; "huge geomagnetic storm" is the next, etc. We see clumps of words that describe concepts, and then we string the concepts together to understand the sentence. Let's take another:
"A strong wave of charged plasma particles emanating from the Jupiter-sized sun spot, the most powerful seen in four years, has already disrupted radio communication in southern China."
Okay, let's look at this sentence in the same manner. It also gives a stream of word pictures, the only difference here being the insertion of the almost parenthetical "the most powerful seen in four years". With one simple interruption, we can still manage to grasp the meaning of the sentence with relative ease. (I would have broken it into two sentences to make it simpler, but that's me.) Now let's look at a final sentence from the same article:
"X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms," disturbing telecommunications and electric grids, NASA said Wednesday."
Okay, now that one was harder to understand. That's because it's somewhat recursive and you have to jump through various perspectives. First, "of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms" is not simple to track; it's recursive, referring back to "all solar events". And then come two changing perspectives separated by commas. First the result: "disturbing telecommunications and electric grids" and then "NASA said Wednesday." This sentence doesn't help the reader's mind to flow from concept to concept. It's passable but not a winner.

I found it refreshing to observe how my brain reads. It gave me another way to look at my sentences. For the next few days, I'm going to look for these small word groups in my own writing and see if they're strung together in a way that moves the reader through the sentence, easily and simply. It almost sounds too basic to be a useful observation but somehow going through this exercise made me see things a bit differently. I feel like I've understood something new.

Basic and wonkish at the same time, I know. But this is the kind of understanding that can help me as a writer. Sometimes the thing you really need is a way to look at your work with a fresh eye. (Especially after the 10th edit. Oy.)

People without history

That's pretty much the name of the great American disease, isn't it? We are a people without history. Our current population has nothing to draw upon other than pop culture and brain-dead religious rites. Reality escapes their notice.

Yesterday there was a stink over a "nude" statue in Queens. In New York City! That's it at the left. It's called "The Triumph of Civic Virtue". It is a statue of a male nude who represents 'civic virtue', standing atop the twin "Sirens" of "vice" and "corruption".

This is a statue that has graced New York for over a hundred years. It is history. Yet today our elected representative, Andrew Weiner, held a press conference in the park to denounce the statue as "sexist" and insist that it be removed. How dare a male statue stand on two female statues! 

Indeed. But of course these aren't depictions of women underfoot, but Sirens. And Sirens are female for the simple reason that Sirens are female. They are fictional creatures from the distant past, and here's the thing: you can't edit the past; it simply is. Shouldn't the context and meaning of the statue come into play when assessing its worth? No. It was a male standing on two women; end of story. 

(And then, of course, the idiot news-twits on local TV stations veered off into talk of whether the statue should be covered, what with it being nude and rude, and all. Perhaps a tarp was in order. Sigh. What really gets me about this is that it's taking place not in Sheboygan but in New York City. Horrors!)

Meaning is out of style. It is no longer a hot commodity. People don't have time for meaning. And certainly not for context, which is becoming a dimly understood concept, in any case. And this issue was raised by Anthony Weiner, a man who is generally considered one of our smarter elected officials.

People without history can't see the world around them because they don't know where it comes from. The world is basically a big, confusing blur to these unaccomplished souls. And in a world without context, you cannot recognize a treasure when it's standing right in front of you.

Little by little, American dimwits are tossing away our past. And until knowledge comes back into style and we push the know-nothings back into the woodwork where they belong, we will lose more and more of the past. It's heartbreaking. 

February 25, 2011

Tick-Tock and a certain, shapeless hat

The Golux.
You know what was a wonderful plot device for a children's book? The clock that ticked menacingly inside the crocodile in Peter Pan. I bet you're already thinking of Captain Hook and how frightened he was of the sound of that clock. It's the kind of image that stays with you. That's because it was a marvelous fictional device, sending chills up children's spines while remaining basic and understandable. If you hear "tick-tock", the threat is near. I love the simplicity of that.

Another device I loved in fiction was the marvelous hat worn by the Golux in James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks. That's an image of the Golux up there, wearing his fine example of haberdashery. The Thirteen Clocks is one of the most wonderful books ever written for a young audience. If you haven't read it, you should. It's out of print these days but you can still find used copies on the net. (And the fact that I refer to a "device" in reference to the Golux is an inside joke. At one point in the book the Golux says, "I am the Golux, the only Golux in the world, and not a mere device.") Thurber was so playful in this book. The language is fresh and interesting and there are great illustrations to accompany the text. (I remember reproducing them in pastels in my teenage years. These are magical illustrations.) Literate adults should enjoy the book as much as, or more than, adolescents. I'm sad it's out of print.

The Golux is a unique character in literature and if you do get a chance to read the book, I think you'll love his hat as much as I do. It was just a quirky addition to a character's outfit, but because it is quintessentially un-understandable (i.e., the hat makes no sense), it adds to the mystery surrounding the Golux. It is indeed a device.

I've used a few devices in my books. I hope at least one worms its way into the hearts of readers. That would be grand.

Funny kid photos

This is my favorite childhood photo of my nephews. We used to have so much fun together, and one of the things we enjoyed was sticking them into funny photos. Of all the strange photos we produced back then, this is the one that makes me laugh the most. Just thought I'd share it with the throng.

February 24, 2011

Coral reef made from "bodies"

Have you seen this video from National Geographic? It's been out for a month but I just stumbled on it today. So weird and so cool.

Guidry and Berra: a love story

There's a great story in the NYT today about the friendship between Ron Guidry and Yogi Berra. If you like baseball, you're gonna like this story.

Tempting talk of inks

That's Caran d'Ache ink on the left. The color is called Saffron. It's new. Doesn't it look delicious? I'm sorely tempted to buy a bottle. So I thought why not spread the temptation around? All you have to do is click on that photo and you'll find yourself at writersbloc, ready to purchase this great-looking new color. I think I have to buy it. On the other hand, I have Caran d'Ache's Sunset ink, which is a beautiful color but doesn't work well in my pens. That may be an omen. Buying inks is a dicey thing. Still, that color is to die for.

As for my own realm, it's time to report on my daring experiment. Amazingly, all my pens wrote readily after sitting idle for seven days. I was surprised. I thought surely a few would muck up. But no, they all wrote from the very first stroke. Now I won't feel compelled to write with each of them nightly. I'll probably still do it, but I won't have to.

Here are the inks presently in my pens. I approve of them all.

Aurora Black
Diamine Crimson (surprisingly fun, very bright)
Diamine Pumpkin
J. Herbin's Lierre Sauvage (a green)
Levenger Pinkly (no longer sold; Carmine scored one at a garage sale)
Noodler's Blue
Diamine Aqua Blue
Private Reserve Orange Crush
Noodler's Lexington Gray (I adore this one)
Diamine Chocolate Brown
Noodler's Red-Black
Noodler's Purple
Noodler's Baystate Blue
Private Reserve Tanzanite (a dark purple with slight blue highlights)

Just a little ink talk to brighten your day. It sure brightens mine.

OMD! It's Word and Phrase Derivation Day!

Oh, my dog! We're gonna have fun. Here's a fine selection of word and phrase origins. Enjoy! 

To beat the living daylights out of someone. To say "I'll let daylight into you!" to an enemy in day's past was to threaten that you'd open him up, make a hole in him with a sword, knife, or gun. The expression, in the form of its variant "I'll make daylight shine through you" is recorded in America as early as 1774 and is probably much older. Sayings like "I'll fill him full of holes" replaced the older expression when modern weapons like machine guns made wholesale ventilation easier, but it lived on in the form of "I'll beat the living daylights out of you." Unlike the old swordsman's words, this makes no sense literally. It is merely the ghost of an imaginative phrase. 

Echo. The Greek nymph Echo talked so much that Zeus and his wife Hera couldn't hear what any of the other nymphs were saying. Hera punished this nymph by depriving her of all speech save the ability to repeat the words of others, giving her heartaches -- she lost her love, Narcissus -- but giving us the word "echo". 

Left-handed compliment. The expression left-handed compliment, "a thinly disguised insult that poses as praise", apparently has its origins in the practice of morganatic marriage, widely prevalent among German royalty in the Middle Ages and even practiced in modern times -- Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, who were both killed in the assassination that set off World War I, were married morganatically. These were usually marriages between royalty and commoners, the commoner agreeing that she would have no claim to her royal husband's title or property, nor would any children of the marriage -- all she received was a morning gift (from the Latin morganaticum) on the morning after the marriage was consummated. In the special wedding ceremony held for these marriages, common up to the 17th century, the groom gave the bride his left hand instead of his right, and thus morganatic marriages came to be known as left-handed marriages. Since they were a thinly disguised insult, it is possible that they later lent their name to the deceptive left-handed compliment.

As usual, the above is taken from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson.

February 23, 2011

It's about effing time

AP today:
In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.
Now, was that really so hard to do? Jeez. It's about time! I mean, my government has been fighting to ensure that I don't have the right to marry -- in the year 2011, no less, and in a world where several countries are debating whether people should be killed for being gay.

The Obama administration has been awful on gay issues. I'm glad to see something (probably a political consideration rather than an intention to do the right thing; I'm not naive) finally changed his mind. However it occurred, this is a positive thing.

UPDATE: This is from the Times today:
He [Attorney General Holder] noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution's) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."

The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now. 
 What's wrong with this picture?

Espresso has less caffeine than regular coffee?

I don't see how espresso can be said to have less caffeine than regular coffee. Yet that's what it says on my bag of Aroma coffee.

I adore espresso coffee and for many years, I was perfectly happy with various (mostly Latino) brands. But then, as one, they lost their taste. El Pico, Bustelo, Cafe Caribe, Pilon and other espresso coffee brands now taste like brewed cardboard. This was a major bummer. I began to buy brand after brand, looking for something that tasted like espresso. I was very happy to find this brand -- Aroma -- at a local store. It's terrific and it revs you up to 300 mph with just one cup.

But it says the strangest thing on the package. Here's the copy:

"Espresso is regular coffee roasted darker and has less caffeine."

Indeed. Is that why I feel like I just shot speed after having a cup? This effect is due to the low level of caffeine? Anyway, isn't this a ridiculous statement? Espresso is what you use to wake yourself up after eating a ridiculously large meal. It's Caffeine City, and always has been.

I'm at a loss on this one. Any suggestions, opinions, jokes?

This song haunts me

Now, this may or may not be one of your favorite tunes but I've got a story to go along with it, so click play on the video below and read on. I want the post to have the proper atmosphere.

When "Midnight Cowboy" came out, I was a hippie in L.A. I wasn't living anywhere at the time. I just let the day take me where it took me. I must have been about 19 or 20. Naturally, since I was a hippie with no prospects and all, two movie stars' daughters took me to see "Midnight Cowboy" one night. L.A. was a fun place back then.

The movie had a huge impact on me. Voight and Hoffman were homeless on the screen, just as I was. And in the movie, things got desperate for them. This was painful to sit through because I was only just beginning to admit that my life in L.A. was less than ideal. I wasn't using the word "desperate" yet, but I soon would. So it wasn't hard to identify with the movie's characters, especially since we got really, really stoned before going into the theater.

The movie's theme song, created by John Barry, is an odd combination of things. It's got that wildly compelling melody but is also not far from being Muzak. Weird. It walks the line between the two, successfully for the most part (though let's face it, it was Muzaked to death in later years). There is so much longing in this song. I hear the pain and pleas, all wrapped up in that gorgeous harmonica. The song becomes a character in the movie. It plays a role, coming back again and again, each time with emotional impact. I think it should have gotten the Best Supporting Actor award that year.

By the way, the two young women who took me to the move were Schuyler Van Johnson, Van Johnson's daughter (when I peed in the bathroom at Schuyler's house, I saw they had a framed photograph of Van over the toilet) and Paula Burke, the daughter of then TV star Paul Burke, whose series, "12 O'Clock High" was a popular prime-time show. Paula let me sleep in the car in her garage that night. She wanted to do more but her parents wouldn't understand. In the morning her maid brought me coffee, for which I was very grateful. And then I returned to the streets with this song running through my mind. -- Thanks, Paula!

February 22, 2011

Old World monkeys are self-aware

By way of background, we came from Old World monkeys -- and they're aware of their own thinking process. This is a bright and shiny bit of information. New World monkeys are not self-aware.

Here's the story at physorg. It's not long. Very cool.

It's here!

I can't believe there's a Spring training game this Saturday between the Mets and the Braves! (1:10 PM on PIX and again at 7 on SNY, for local readers.) This is so cool. A real, actual game (that doesn't count)! I am so ready.

The sound of the first game will wash over me and cleanse my nonexistent soul. It always does. It's one of the truly magical experiences in my life. And it's free. 

As I've said before, I love Spring training because you get to see the new guys they might call up during the season. I find that pre-season experience enhances my fan experience tremendously. They're old friends by the time they come up. I can't wait.

Do you write in the margins of your books?

Obviously, I have to ask this question after pointing everyone to the Times article on "marginalia", writing in the margins of books as you read them. (By the way, here's a link to another Times article on the topic, written in 2001. It's a different take on marginalia.)

I'm ashamed to say that I've never written in the margin of any book that I've owned -- not once. I can't imagine writing in a book. I mean, how dare I influence the next reader? I don't have that right. Sadly, I have been totally co-opted by the "misguided teachers and librarians" mentioned in today's article, the ones who said only barbarians would do such a thing.

I do confess, however, an almost irresistible urge to correct the typos in a book. I can hardly keep my hands off the pens when I see a typo. I am a Master Hunter and it is my Quarry! An urge to make the correction appears in my mind along with a fuzzy plan to send the finished book back to the publisher when I'm done with it. In other words, to be a real smarty pants. So far I've managed to resist this urge.

Do you write in the margins of your books? If so, I commend your aggressiveness (but I'm still not doing it).

February 21, 2011

Another great Astronomy Pic of the Day

This is a smaller shot of the photo on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website today. Click on the site name above to see the larger version. (The home page for the daily photo is right here.)

It looks more like art than a photo, doesn't it? Yet this is a true photographic image of the Milky Way over Switzerland. It's just stunning.

Article about marginalia

There's a great article in the NYT today about "marginalia" -- writing in the margins of books. It's a good read (despite me being down on the Times lately). I recommend it highly.

Men are less responsible than women

I've been planning to write a post about this for some time. You know, it was hard to tell who was responsible and who wasn't, way back in the days when I lived in a largely gay community. Gay men weren't pushing to have babies in those days, or marry. Our lives were totally about fun. (Well, we worked too, but fun was a major driver in our lives.) So in that era, I wasn't aware of the differences between men and women.

But after I moved out of NYC and into the rural area in which I now live, I met a ton of straight people with children. And one thing that has come through loud and clear to me is the childishness of the men, and the responsible nature of the women. I don't know what to attribute this to, other than obvious child-rearing differences, but it's a stark fact. The straight men I've met up here are much, much less responsible than the women. They're children, really, and the wife or girlfriend is the only one who holds things together. In many relationships, it seems the men have a mommy rather than a life partner.

What prompts me to write today is an article in the New York Daily News today about a book that takes an absurd tack in analyzing this situation. Oh, no, it's not the men's fault -- it's the damn, uppity women. Mind you, the book is being excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, so it's not surprising that the book's message is warped. Here's an excerpt:
"Hymowitz's book, "Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys," is excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, and discusses the "novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance" that characterizes many young men in today's society. 

Though she attributes a number of elements to the notable emergence of this boy-to-man subculture, chief among them are financial stability and changing sexual hierarchies."
Uh, huh. "Changing sexual hierarchies." It surely has nothing to do with the stupid, irresponsible nature of the men themselves. Nope, it's the uppity women. Sigh.

Bad science names

I'll give two bad names, and then a fun one: 

Rhinoplasty. Seriously, guys. Did you have to call nosejobs rhinoplasties? And after someone chose this name, why didn't others call it back? It's mean.

Smilodon. That's him on the left. I just don't like this name for a sabretooth tiger. It's creepy. I don't want to think of a smile as that mouth comes at me. I just don't. I always have a negative reaction when I see the scientific name for these cats. Yuck. 

Draculin. This one I love. It's the anticoagulant factor in the saliva of vampire bats.

There are tons of silly names in science. Sometimes I applaud them, as in the case of draculin. But people should be very careful when they name things because names live on, and they have effects. Rhinoplasty indeed! The name is an extra burden for everyone who undergoes the procedure. Thoughtless twits.

Cockatiels make great pets

Long ago, in a distant galaxy far, far away, I used to breed cockatiels. I didn't want to but my birds were incredibly into it and there was no stopping them. Every time I turned around I had another six or seven babies. Now, cockatiels are some of the nicest birds imaginable and they are a barrel of fun to live with. But I learned there is such a thing as too many cockatiels. 
I sold the babies to pet shops at first but my birds outpaced the shops. They couldn't sell them faster than my birds churned them out. So I began to give them away.

Now, the problem with giving living things away is that no one is invested in it. Potential pet owners in this category don't prepare as well as purchasers. So I wrote a booklet to give to the people who adopted my babies. It explained everything you needed to know about caring for both babies and adult birds.

If you'd like this booklet, I can send it to you in PDF format. Just send me an email at the address listed on the bottom left of this blog. The booklet is not only informative -- it's very funny. The title is, "How To Operate Your Cockatiel Bird". 

It's sitting uselessly on my computer drive right now, which makes no sense because it's got a ton of sound advice for cockatiel owners. Just ask and I'll send one out to you.

February 20, 2011

Baseball peeve: that darn speed graphic

What is that up there?
When I tried to google the right graphic for this post, I found that not knowing the name of a thing makes it very hard to find. What is the word for the game-play summary graphic at the top of the screen when you watch a game? You see it at the top of the image to the left. I tried scorecard and ticker and other likely words but I never found an image of the graphic I was looking for.

Well, whatever it is, they've come up with a great new format for it. Last year a lot of the sportscasters used the new graphic. It lets you know instantly what's going on in the game, and in a very small format. I love the use of green, red and yellow balls to indicate strikes and balls. (I wish I could show you this; alas. Hopefully, you know what I'm talking about.) 

The only bad thing is that not every station has switched to the new format. Maybe they have to rent it on a per-show or season basis, and are unwilling to cough up the cash. That sounds just like baseball: cheap. (That's not it in the image above, by the way. I couldn't find a photo of the new whatever-they-call-it.)

Anyway, this is all just a lead-in to my pet peeve. Why, oh why do they use the space where the balls and strikes are listed, to show the speed of the pitch? Insanely, the balls and strikes total disappears while they show us how fast the guy's throwing. I don't care how fast he's throwing. I want to know how many balls and strikes there are. If they want to disappear something, disappear the station name -- the ESPN or whatever, to show the pitch speed. We never look at that anyway. But no matter what, why pick the only thing we need to know, and disappear it for the stupid speed information? Why? Take the team name, fer gawd's sake, and make it disappear so you can show the speed. Anything but the balls and strikes. Nitwits!

Next weekend, we'll be into Spring training. It's been a long, cold, hard haul but we're almost there. Yay!!!!!

Rich on Romney

In an Op-Ed today in the NY Times, Frank Rich says this about Mitt Romney at CPAC:
"Indeed, his appearance at CPAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11, was entirely consistent with his public image as an otherworldly visitor from an Aqua Velva commercial circa 1985."
Rich is the best pundit of them all. There is no contest.

Have you heard this?

This is Prince's lovely cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You". Good music for a Sunday morning.

His only copy

Ideas for stories pop into my mind. It's not something I consciously encourage -- It just happens. And sometimes it happens too much.

I can end up feeling stalked by my ideas. They're always percolating up from the depths and there are far too many of them. I feel compelled to write them down because I don't want to lose them, but sometimes it's almost non-stop ideas, 24/7, and then it becomes a burden. I'm always having to interrupt myself to write down a new concept. Sometimes I wish my ideas would go away -- not forever, but for a while. (Yes, I realize this is manic behavior. I am indeed manic. I love it!)

An idea is only truly fresh when it first comes to you. There is an actual bloom on a fresh idea. It's sticky, with all sorts of ancillary ideas attached to it. And when you fully unfold an idea, it can be huge. Now, it's never ideal to go back to an idea. You want to grab a new idea and rush to the keyboard with it -- you want to use it. And that's great as far as it goes. But it's not always time for an idea, especially when you're in the middle of writing another book. (Which is why every writer needs lots of notebooks.)

Although I fear losing my ideas, there's a certain kind that I just push back into my head, unexamined. It's not their time, you see. I also do this because I don't want to examine an idea closely and cause its probability wave to collapse. So I just shove it back into the depths, still fresh and filled with unplumbed promise. It's tricky to engineer this without losing the idea entirely, but it's possible and at times, necessary.

For instance, I don't want to have ideas right now about the third book of The Worlds. It's not time for those ideas. Although I've written pages and pages of notes for the third book, I don't want to look at anything too closely. I want to forestall the moment when my brain charges headlong into the story. So far I've been able to stem the tide of ideas for book 3. They're still safe inside my brain and they'll be fresh when I haul them out for the big unfolding. (Plus I did scribble this and that down, just in case.)

This reminds me of a friend from my college days. His name was Richard and he did a very odd thing. If, for instance, I asked him for the telephone number of that guy we met last night, a number neither of us had written down at the time, Richard would be able to pull it out of his memory and tell me. But dog forbid I didn't write it down, because if I asked him an hour later for the number, he'd say, "Sorry. That was my only copy and I gave it to you." And that was that. He was never able to remember the information again.

I think this has to do with short-term memory, the mind's scratch pad for information that we need in our daily life -- like our address and phone number and those handy key combinations we use at the computer. Eventually, if we don't use a bit of information that resides in short-term memory, the brain pushes it off the local scratch pad.  Richard's brain was just very efficient about this process. When it delivered information that it thought it would no longer need, it tossed it in the garbage. (You also have to wonder if his brain performed a "Move" operation instead of a "Copy". It's fun to consider these things.)

I point this out to show that our brains handle ideas in their own odd ways, and we have to respect this and work within our capabilities. As far as me shoving book ideas back down into my brain, I think the truth is that I don't want my ideas to enter short-term memory because they'll get get dusty and lose their luster there. Plus, they might get shoveled off to a distant corner of my brain when I'm not looking, and who knows if I'll be able to find them again. Richard couldn't. 

This has been a report from my brain. Please feel free to report from yours.

February 19, 2011

Writing is apparently hard work

I thought I had it made when I managed to write three books in two years. A wunderkind, right? (Never mind the age, smarty.) But there's still a ton of work to do after you finish writing a book. A ton!

Today and yesterday, I spent the whole day rewriting one scene (the same one). Even after I beat it up all day yesterday, I knew I'd have to return to it today, and I did. The scene, I'm happy to report, reads well now.

But wow, there's a ton of editing to do after you "finish" writing your book. I've read that great books aren't written, they are rewritten. And though I have no pretensions to greatness, I'm learning it takes many, many passes before a book reads well. (At least, the books I write.)

After all this time, I'm only on Chapter 5, scene 5. The book is 12 chapters so it seems I may miss my self-imposed deadline. When the first Spring training games occur on the 24th, I'm still going to be "reading" this book. Such is life. I'll do what it takes to get my books into final form. But jeez, it's a long haul!

The poor, poor things!

I'm in the middle of an experiment -- and the poor creatures at the heart of this callous venture are suffering intensely, even as we speak. Yes, I'm talking about my fountain pens.

I'm trying to see how long they can sit unused and still remain in working order. It's pitiful. Oh, how they cry out to me in the night! "Use me!" they wail. "Oh, please!" they add -- and not in an arch manner, you understand.

But it's all for naught. I will continue to ignore their entreaties in the name of science. It is a noble thing I do, and I am so very noble for doing it.

But the cries! The agony! The screams! Oh, the humanity! Still, I can't give in. I won't, I tell you! I won't!

February 18, 2011

Robot takeover begins

Hmm, so let's see. This week Watson the computer brain trounced two mere humans in a mental match. And now they've (don't you love "they"?) made a robot hand that's exactly like our own. Next step: adding something that looks like skin, feels like skin, and performs the essential duties that skin performs for humans (sensing heat and textures, etc.)

It seems Ken Jennings was right. It's time to submit to our new computer overlords. Well, almost. These are the beginnings of something fresh and new, folks. Take note.

Yay, it's word derivation time!

As usual, I've taken the following from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson. Here are two derivation stories to brighten your day: 

Catchword.  Catchwords are expressions caught up and repeated for effect. Because catchwords are often used by political parties, the term has become a contemptuous one, applied to insincere, misleading statements. Catchword, however, has an honorable history. Books were once printed with the word that began the first line on the next page directly under the last line of the preceding page. Such words, designed to catch the reader's attention and make him turn to the next page, were called catchwords. Then the term began to be applied to the last word, or cue, in an actor's speech, and finally to any expression that catches the attention.

To give short shrift to someone. To treat someone curtly, swiftly, and unsympathetically. Short shrift was originally, in the 16th century, the few minutes given a condemned man to make his confession to a priest before he was executed, shrift meaning "a confession".

Isn't that last one evil? Short shrift will have added weight the next time I use the phrase.

The worst part of being a Mets fan

It's not the team, it's the owner that's the problem. While we Mets fans are hoping for a comeback season for our team, everything so far has been about the low-life team owners -- "The Wilpons". I love the way the press refers to them this way -- as if they were "The Royals".

There's this absurd situation happening now where Bernie Madoff's victims are suing Jeff Wilpon for 300 million a billion dollars to get back some of the money they believe he scarfed up while knowing Madoff was involved in a Ponzi scheme. Doesn't matter what the truth of it is, it's ruining the beginning of the Mets season.

While the fans are worrying about whether they'll keep shortstop Jose Reyes (Yes!), whether Santana can come back from his injuries and be an effective pitcher again (?), whether Carlos Beltran screwed his knee up forever by getting an unapproved operation (No!), and whether R.A. Dickey really is a pitching god (Yes!) -- we have to see this nonsense plastered all over the news. This is a big story in NY.

The Wilpons have always seemed like creepy characters to me. I just wish they'd sell the team so we could get a normal manager. But it ain't gonna happen and even if the team did change ownership, we wouldn't be out of the woods. There's been talk of Donald Trump buying the team. Oy.

We are cursed but it has nothing to do with our players. I hope that the Mets can be a real team this year -- despite the damned Wilpons. And keep that Donald creature away from our team! That's all we need: a living circus as the new owner.

February 17, 2011

Have you ever liked the movie better than the book?

I asked myself this question the other day and I think the answer is a qualified "no". I've never liked the movie version of a book more than the book itself -- though some movies, like "2001: A Space Odyssey", certainly equaled the book. When a movie breaks new cinematic ground, as 2001 did, it's difficult to balance the heft of the movie against a simple story told in words. "The Exorcist" and "Jaws" also fall into this category, where the movie is so much bigger than life that it's virtually impossible to compare to the book. This is why I vote with a "qualified" no.

The other day, regular commenter Annie mentioned reading "84, Charing Cross Road" while watching the movie, and noted that it was, line-for-line, the same as the book. I've seen that sort of fidelity in a few movie adaptations. "Rosemary's Baby" is extremely loyal to the book. Even the visuals match what is described on the page. Although I love the movie, I can't say it's better than the book. Ira Levin, the author of "Rosemary's Baby", is one of the greatest masters of the English language, as far as I'm concerned. And Roman Polanski, who directed Rosemary's Baby, is also no lightweight, making a comparison of the merit of the two works no easy task. Still, I vote for the book. It seems I always do.

You don't see this sort of page-to-screen accordance very often. If you did, it would be easier to compare book to movie. In fact, many movies are so unfaithful that they sometimes lose the very concept of the book. The movie, "A Home at the End of the World", was a major disappointment. It's ending is so unlike the book's conclusion that I was shocked. It seems they excised the meaning of the story to avoid a slightly uncomfortable ending. I don't know how Michael Cunningham, who wrote the book (and is the best writer in America today), could have allowed this to happen. In any case, the book is far superior to the movie and I believe that's always the case (with a well-written book).

There's so much more in the language of a book than there can ever be in a visual experience like a movie. Cinematography is a far less exacting thing than language because visuals are an approximation. Words, on the other hand, are precise tools with exquisitely clear meanings. For this last reason, it doesn't surprise me that I can't think of any movie that seemed better than the book. Can you?

Writers' tools: a good chair

Time to talk chairs. Seems mundane, I know, but it matters. You can't write long in a bad chair.

"Oh, poo! Don't bore me with talk about chairs!" you say, oblivious to the issue on which you sit. If you plan to be a writer, you're going to spend an awful lot of time sitting in a chair. So why not get one that will help you write? A comfortable chair lets you forget your body so you can concentrate on what you're writing. That's the goal, and if a mere chair can help you get there, the matter deserves your attention.

I don't spend a zillion dollars on chairs. I got the one in the photo a couple of years ago for about $200 online. I'm not going to recommend the site because the instructions make no sense and they include a large part that has nothing to do with the chair. That's enough to kill a recommendation from me. Still, I love the chair.

It adjusts every which-what way: height, angle of seat, angle of back, arms in or out, or forward or back. It's a shape-shifter. Yet it's rigid once you fix it in a certain position. In other words, you don't lean back and find the chair leaning along with you. It's rigid in form factor -- but soft to the touch. I can't believe how happy I am with this chair and I say this after using it every day for more than a year. It's still soft and comfortable, and it's child's play to find the perfect angle and height for typing, browsing the net, or sitting at a table.

There's only one drawback to the chair. In the summer, leather chairs get hot. The heat build-up drove me nuts last year as I was writing Xmas Carol. So I saved my pennies and bought another one this past fall. This summer when one chair gets hot I'll be able to switch to the other, and let the first one cool off. I know it's almost rude to talk about such basic things but this counts. Now I can write for hours without discomfort. It's not a minor point.

If you're a writer or want to be one, think about the basics and do everything you can to remove barriers to your writing. Get a good chair, keyboard, pen, pad, notebook, computer, writing program, etc. And then, with nothing in your way and a clear view ahead, write your heart out.

February 16, 2011

Watson Conquers Planet Earth -- No Survivors!

It was fun, wasn't it? Much as I've always loathed Jeopardy, the show didn't bother me these last three nights. Let's face it: it wasn't Jeopardy -- it was The Watson Show.

For me, the best part was the second show. We went in knowing that a mere human was tied with Watson -- it was still a horse race at that point. Now, I don't know how you reacted, but for a moment at the beginning of the second show, I was irritated at Watson's obvious dominance. Seemed strange since I was rooting for the guy. But was he just going to answer every question and slam the humans like they were fleas? I felt this would put viewers off and I didn't want that. This was a great educational experience; I wanted it to be positive. Anyway, it was a silly feeling that soon passed.

Only moments later, I was at the other end of the spectrum -- I had goosebumps! I was literally filled with awe as I realized, "Watson is doing it! He's winning a natural-language contest!" This is a new thing on planet Earth, people. We didn't have one of these before. And sure, he's still got a few bugs. Hey, even Star Trek's computers were cranky at times. But it seems we're not far from the day when we will be able to ask computers questions in natural language, and get the answers we need. This is so amazing.

Of course, the second show was also notable because that was when Watson wormed his way into our hearts -- with those odd little bets! The $927 bet on Toronto made me roar with laughter -- and feeling! It made me like him. Did that happen to you, too? 

Great, great idea to have the computer on the show. If everyone was as creative about bringing science to the masses as this IBM crew, maybe we wouldn't have a country of boorish known-nothings. So kudos to IBM, Jeopardy, and everyone involved. That's David Ferrucci, IBM's lead researcher on the Watson project, in the above photo with Watson's avatar. Seems he's the main guy on this one and deserves a goodly portion of the praise. Well done! A marvelous achievement!

Great bird book

I got this book at Amazon for four bucks. It's terrific. There are tons of color photographs inside, and not just in one little section -- they're peppered throughout the book. For four bucks!

I'll soon know what kind of birds I'm feeding. There have been lovely new additions to my wild menagerie and I plan to look every one of them up. However, my sister Maria snatched the book the moment she saw it! Looks like I'll have to wait for her to finish it first. 

Drat! (Nah, I love Maria. She can do whatever she wants.) Very cool book, though. I guess you can get one of these field guides for any area of the United States. I highly recommend the series.

Things swooping out of the sky

Speaking of the birds (and squirrels) that I feed, I experienced a first the other day. I was just opening the curtain to see who was eating at the Bountiful and Fertile Feeding Ground, when . . .

All the creatures scattered for their lives! In an instant, they disappeared into the shrubbery. And in the femtosecond after they disappeared, a huge, winged shadow passed over me as a hawk swooped down and, having missed his prey, shot back up into the sky.

Nature red in tooth and claw! And I seen it fer myself, maw! It's brutal out there, just brutal!

But back to fun and games -- I'm getting a kick out of the squirrels, all eight of them. Most scatter when I open my door but one heads right up the stairs to meet me, and then he sits up and begs. I can actually hand him a peanut! Now, this may not seem like news from outer space to some of you non-city-bred folks, but to me it was like feeding Godzilla a raptor. It was way jungley. I liked it!

Guess I'd better come up with a name for him, huh? Rocky? (As I've mentioned here before, I'm not good at naming animals). Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

February 15, 2011

Did you watch Watson last night?

I forgot to post a heads-up yesterday about Watson, the IBM supercomputer, being on Jeopardy last night. There's lots to say here.
First, this is a great way to popularize science. I only wish they'd done more and better promos for the show. From my informal survey, not too many people were aware of it. It was a big event -- Machines v. Humans, round 1. (I know, I know: Big Blue beat Kasparov in 89 but that was merely chess; this is a game of knowledge and language.)

PBS had a show last week about how IBM created the computer. It was not a simple task. Jeopardy's questions are often double entendres, and computers have a very difficult time understanding human language even without that complication. They used machine learning to get over this hump. 

They gave Watson all the past Jeopardy questions and all the correct answers, and let it find the patterns within the information. In other words, it learned what sorts of answers work for what sorts of questions. No one taught Watson this trick. It taught itself. After this sojourn into machine learning, the computer's ability to understand the questions jumped from really bad to damn good.

As for last night's show, it was fun. Watson ended up tied for first place with one of the contestants, and the match continues tonight and Wednesday. There's still time to tune in, even if you missed the first show.

It's interesting to note that Watson's answers were wrong a lot of the time -- though not that often when he actually answered a question. (They showed you onscreen what he would have said, even when another contestant took the question. So you could see that he got a lot of the answers wrong -- but it didn't count since it wasn't his turn to answer.) This means the end result is truly a matter of luck. Watson could get two-thirds of the questions wrong and still win if his actual responses to questions happen to fall into the third of the answers where he guessed correctly. I like that. It really is a game, despite everything.

The thing that was most fascinating to me was when Watson got an answer sort of right, but in a way that showed he didn't really understand what he was talking about -- and didn't even grasp the exact nature of the question. And that's because there's nobody home inside Watson. He's a Chinese Room. Nonsense going in; nonsense going out -- and in the middle, only a set of rules, no intelligent entity of any sort. There is no comprehension in Watson. There is only pattern recognition, sorting and ranking. Kinda fun.

Anyone else watch the show? What did you think?

Gimme some visuals

Speaking of the vast wasteland that is TV, I've been thinking about something. Since there's nothing on, I wish they would add a hundred stations that showed atmospheric scenes -- no talk, no music, just real-life scenes.

One channel could show a snowy country street in late afternoon. On another channel you'd find a drizzly rain falling on a city street at night, neon colors smearing the wet street surfaces. There should be streams of these channels to choose from. They'd be like attractive screensavers but much more detailed because they would be actual recordings of reality. HD, of course.

Flip the channel and you see a waterfall and hear the sound as it crashes to the water below. Flip again and there's an underwater cam of tropical fish at a reef. Or a night view of a froggy pond, complete with those wonderful, nighttime pond sounds. The possibilities are endless.

Wouldn't this make sense? I mean, they're not showing us anything we want to see. We have zip interest in 99% of what's on TV, and there are no signs that the situation will ever improve. So why not show us some interesting scenery? They could offer the stations for a fee so they wouldn't have to burden us with commercials. For instance, fifty or so visual channels could be offered within a certain tier of satellite or cable pricing.  Me, I'd watch the snowy and rainy scenes. It would be like getting a new window with a great view.

I want this. Do you hear me, TV people? Gimme some visuals. And god forbid you don't already understand this: do not add cheesy music!

February 14, 2011

Blogging reminds me of literate friendships

You don't understand blogging until you actually do it. There are so many side issues that come up, and they're a big part of the experience. One of those is relations between your blog and other blogs. Now that's something I never even considered before I began to blog.

People comment on your blog and you comment on theirs. It just happens. On the one hand, it creates a relationship between you and the other bloggers -- but it also proves to be a relationship between the blogs themselves. Their commenters see your comments and visit your blog, and your commenters see their profiles and visit their blogs. It just grows.

In the end, your blog becomes friends with other blogs. They're different, of course; no blog is a mirror of your own, and really, you wouldn't want that, would you?. The differences are enjoyable. "Ah, my friend thinks differently about this. Interesting." You do indeed develop a relationship with the other blog, and it colors your comments. You try to comment in a way that will fit their blog -- which is not always an easy thing to do. For instance, they may not be out as gay or atheist. You find yourself trying to conform to their blog's parameters. Now, doesn't that sound like a relationship?

These considerations bring to mind a book I read long ago and loved. "84, Charing Cross Road" is a bibliophile's dream: a book about books, at least in part. It's about the author, Helene Hanff, an American, and her actual written communications with a gentleman bookseller in England. They wrote to each other for many years.

As Hanff wrote about the books she was interested in buying, and expressed her pleasure at the volumes he'd already sent, the two developed a relationship that became more and more meaningful as the years passed. Their relationship is exquisite, and their words are a joy to read. In her letters, Hanff often stated that she planned to visit England to meet her correspondent. Alas, he dies before she can make the trip. 

They came to know one another through words alone. This reminds me so much of how we bloggers relate to each other. Through our words we come to know each other, and I think that's a fine thing.

So: a shout-out to all the bloggers I've met during these three short months of blogging. (And in case you don't notice, this is the closest I'll come to saying Happy Valentine's Day.)

PS: This morning, I accidentally deleted this post, which sounded fabulous last night. I just cobbled this together from memory. I promise the original one was much, much better. Grrrrrrrr!

February 13, 2011

Reading Xmas Carol

I'm continuing to have a pleasant experience reading Xmas Carol. I'm somewhere in the fourth chapter (of twelve) and I'm enjoying the time I spend with the book. It reads well. Am I Charles Dickens? Definitely not. But the story works. I'll settle for that.

I had a nightmare time editing one of the scenes a couple of days ago. I rewrote it again and again for the better part of a day.  But I haven't encountered another like that. I think I must have missed that one scene during last month's huge edit of the book. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

So Xmas Carol sounds good. This is such a nice thing to be able to report. I want to complete the reading (or edit or whatever it is that I'm doing) before the start of baseball's Spring training. I use baseball as my writing clock -- I have to have such and such done by Spring training, another thing done by the playoffs, etc. I'm happy to report that I'm on schedule.

Then during the regular baseball season, I'll try to finish up my first sci-fi book, The Worlds. The sci-fi trilogy (of which The Worlds is the first book) is my real baby. Xmas Carol was fun to write but the main act is definitely The Worlds. It's exciting to think about getting back to it.

Christianity vs. Creativity

Christian creativity at work.
Ah, Sunday! You can smell the blasphemy in the air. Lovely, isn't it? So what shall we discuss on this holy day? Oh, I know.

Lately, it seems people can't stop talking about whether christianity and science can co-exist. As far as that question goes, they can't. Science obliterates all notions of gods.

But what about christianity and creativity? Can they co-exist? I mean, think about it. Let's see . . . Ann Rice wrote fabulous fiction until she discovered Jesus. Have you read any good books by her lately? Hmm. What about Whitley Strieber, the excellent writer of "The Hunger"? He went to Jesus but his talent didn't go along for the ride.

Seriously, is something up? Consider the twaddle that passes as "christian rock" or "christian rap" or any other christian anything. Ever see any talent from this crew? Are there even great Christian actors? Stephen Baldwin and Chuck Norris come to mind -- giants among Thespians, indeed. Jesus even tainted Dylan for a while though he had so much talent even Jesus couldn't extinguish it.

Can you think of any christian who is wildly creative? Got a favorite christian painter? Architect? Sculptor? Movie maker? (Mel Gibson? Ugh.) There are undoubtedly many more people who discovered Jesus and lost their talent, but I can't think of them offhand and can't figure a way to Google the information. Even in normal, everyday life, I've known quite a few people who were interesting and curious about life until they discovered jebus and the light went out in their eyes. Creativity dying?

If you've got a different take on this, enlighten me. Dang, I shouldn't have used that word! I must be a'hankerin' for a fight. Oh well, it's done now. You cain't call yer words back offa these here intertubes once you type the damn letters into the confabulator. Dang!

David Gray: Babylon

David Gray is talented singer, musician and songwriter. That much you knew. But he's also a great performer. I'm sure everyone remembers Babylon. This is a live performance of the song. I wanted to show him in action because his personality really comes through. When I heard him speak on a TV show, I was struck by his honesty and directness. This guy has a fresh take on everything. (The drummer who does the vocals with him is great too, and totally weird.) One last thing before I close the subject. David Gray is cute.

February 12, 2011

However . . .

There's always the 1976 White Sox uniforms to consider in the Worst Uniform of All Time contest. Now that was a bad year for the Sox.

Again, how do terrible decisions like this get made? Don't you love the collars? I mean, if the uniform was for a kids' team, they might even be fun. But not for an adult team. I don't get it. These MLB guys have money. Why not shop around before letting your cousin Tillie design them?

Huh? Why?

Worst uniforms ever?

I did finally get to watch a baseball game. It was a Mets game from 1986 against the Astros. Whoa! Are these the worst uniforms you've ever seen? I mean, to paraphrase Fran Liebowitz, what did they turn down before choosing this design?

You can tell Major League Baseball has never met a gay man. Their TV shows look so bad -- like a high school kid put them together (no offense intended to high-schoolers). And the uniforms mostly suck. A few are nice, usually because they're simple, but there are tons of bad uniforms out there. However, nothing like these.

If they grabbed any gay man off the street and asked him for a design for a uniform, it would look better than what's out there today. Methinks they don't talk to gay people much. Anyway, it was fun to watch a game (but they're way more fun when you don't know who's going to win).

Only about two weeks till spring training! Woot!

The black hole that is TV

Nuthin' on.
I mentioned the other day that was excited because I recorded an old Mets game from 2000, against Atlanta. I was really looking forward to watching it. But last night I tried to watch it and found yet another example of the Great American Decline.

The game began normally and continued for about three minutes, at which point the recording screwed up and the screen went black. After a moment they went to commercial. After at least six minutes of commercials, they came back to the game, beginning at the same point where it began the last time. And it continued for about three minutes, screen went black, and they went back to another slew of commercials. And then it came back on and did the same thing again!

At this point, I realized nobody was home at the station. This was being robo-presented and they didn't even have a staff person watching to see how things were going. It probably continued that way for the entire game, with the computer seeing black screen and automatically switching to a commercial. The robot didn't know anything was wrong, and with no one monitoring the robot, it just continued along the same loop of failure. I deleted the game without going any further because of the hopeless nitwits that run the MLB station.

This is one of the reasons why TV is such a black hole: nobody's home.

Dylan: Visions of Johanna

To my mind, "Blonde on Blonde" is Dylan's best album.  There's something so comforting about the sound. I think it's the organ. It wouldn't Blonde on Blonde without it.

As always with Dylan, half the show is his lyrics and he painted some gorgeous word portraits here. My favorite thing as I listen to the album today is the way it brings those days back to me. I was a hippie living on the streets in L.A. when Blonde on Blonde came out -- a real-life rolling stone. Each night I'd end up smoking dope at one house or another in the Hollywood Hills, and it seemed people were always playing this album. I remember listening to the words and identifying so strongly with them. It lifted my spirits and made me feel less alone. In fact, I ended up feeling like Dylan was my companion on the road. The songs bring all that back for me.

One of my favorites from the album is "Visions of Johanna". Since there's no such thing as a Dylan YouTube video, you'll have to settle for the lyrics. Here they are:

Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman's bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the "D" train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it's him or them that's really insane
Louise, she's all right, she's just near
She's delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna's not here
The ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He's sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I'm in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it's so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, "Jeeze
I can't find my knees"
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who's pretending to care for him
Sayin', "Name me someone that's not a parasite and I'll go out and say a prayer for him"
But like Louise always says
"Ya can't look at much, can ya man?"
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev'rything's been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.

What a great body of work Dylan will leave behind him when he finally arrives on Rue Morgue Avenue. The most meaningful life is the one that leaves lasting art in its wake.

February 11, 2011

Italic text: enough already?

Do I use italics too much? Seriously, I'd like your opinion.

In my fiction writing, I italicize fewer words than I do here. This blog is not a literary endeavor; it's just for fun. So I feel free to italicize all I want. But I do have concerns about it. For instance, am I making my words harder to read? That's the last thing I want. My intent is to make the sentence seem more like a person's voice. It seems to me we speak in italics. Hopefully, this works. For instance, it's fun to quote some stupid thing the popey guy said, and then add, in italics, "Indeed." I get a kick out of that sort or thing. Have you had any italic fun here? I hope so.

I have an additional concern. While readers with a literary background will read italicized text and understand what is meant by it, is this true for less literate readers? Do they understand what italics mean? Or is an italicized word just another snarl on the dyslexic road, a series of curves with no meaning?

I don't know if I should lay off the italics or perhaps lessen my use of them. Anyone hate the way I toss them around? Be honest and let me know. Thanks. 

Detective novels? Meh.

I confess I've hardly ever enjoyed a detective novel, otherwise known as a who-done-it. It's like playing computer games -- I don't see the percentage in it.

I prefer watch-em-do-its. I want to know exactly what the evil character is doing, right from the get-go. The suspense comes in as the reader wonders if the victim will catch on in time to thwart the evil-doer. In this genre, there's nothing to figure out. The reader knows everything, going in. We hover over the scenes and watch the evil deed unfold. Now that's interesting.

The only way a who-done-it could be interesting for me is if it was a real-life story told in a who-done-it style -- in other words, a true crime novel. That it's real, makes it interesting. I've read my fair share of true crime novels. In the able hands of Capote, or even a contemporary like Ann Rule, these tales can be gripping.

In a who-done-it, you're only trying to figure out where the writer hid the Twinkie. How is this a challenge? It's arbitrary and meaningless. (I have the same reaction to crossword puzzles. I've never understood their attraction. It's about the talent of the clue-provider as much as the puzzle-doer's perspicuity. And really, what are you accomplishing? Now, if the aim was to figure out a new, real-life Rosetta Stone, I would find this interesting. But some guy's puzzle? Nope.)

A who-done-it is just a shell game. What do I care where the novelist hid the salami? It's a boring exercise because it doesn't matter. You haven't figured out anything except what some guy thought late one night in his darkened living room. I don't get the attraction of this genre at all. In real-life stories, when you figure something out, it means something. Who-done-its? Nonsense. There's no there there.

But, you say, "There's the writing to consider! How could you not even speak of the writing! You cad, you!"

This only reminds me of religious apologists who insist that atheists read the more "sophisticated" theological texts. Get bent. These "sophisticated theological texts" are philosophical musings about nothing. Again, there's no there there. So no, the writer's talent doesn't make reading a who-done-it meaningful. It's a who-done-it, which means it's nonsense, no matter how pretty the words are.

(I fully expect several million commenters to disagree with me on this. I'll probably get 160 or so comments in the thread. Dang. I'll be deluged!)

February 10, 2011

Reason for hope

I just found out Cenk Uygur (pronounced Jenk You-ger) is taking the 6PM slot at MSNBC. This is so great. Jenk is the smartest guy around and a truly powerful progressive voice. There's an interview with him on Alternet today. Here are some excerpts:
"I think defeating Fox -- and more importantly, getting the rest of the media to understand they do not do legitimate news -- is very important. I hope to do that through pointing out their hypocrisy, propaganda and general foolishness. But I also plan to beat them in the ratings and make them fear me."
And his take on Obama is spot-on:
"The only hope we have is that Obama is a much more progressive person when he is running for office than when he is actually in office. So, perhaps as he is pretending to be a strong progressive on the campaign trail he will accidentally beat the Republicans on some issues he didn't even expect to win on."
I love this guy. He created The Young Turks, the most popular news show on the internet, and now he's branching out into "classic" TV. He'll be on weekdays at 6 PM on MSNBC. Give it three thumbs up and start watching the show. (I'm not sure if he's on yet or this is a future development. I guess I'll find out tonight. The guide doesn't specify who's doing the 6 PM hour today.) I'm very hopeful about this development. Cenk's way better than Olbermann. Net gain here, not loss.

Update: Seems he got bumped by Tweety, because you really need a guy like Tweety when Egypt goes wild. Sigh. This man doesn't know up from down. Let's hope they let Cenk near the microphones tomorrow.

Horror movies and violence against women

For the past two weeks the Chiller Channel has been showing non-stop bloodfest movies where all the victims are half-naked women. The movies run on the same formula: turn camera on, point at half-naked woman in vulnerable situation, stab, stab, strangle, stab.

In addition to movies about fictional psychos, they're showing serial killer movies: Ted Bundy, the BTK killer, all sorts of women-hating psychos. It's woman-killing season at the Chiller Channel. And not only has this been going on night after night for weeks but I just looked in the guide and it seems the stab-athon will continue into next week. This is not okay.

Five female students lost in the woods, ten female researchers stranded on an island, two women locked in a basement, a bunch of girls in a broken down car on a lonely highway, young women sleeping in a dormitory -- and a blade-happy maniac on the loose. Sure, a guy gets killed now and then but that's just affirmative action. It's all about the babes.

These aren't horror movies though they are horrible. The only genre that applies here is sadistic, anti-woman garbage. Now, I don't think there should be a law against this kind of movie. Censorship sucks. But violent misogynistic movies should get a triple-X rating -- to move them off a general-audience channel like Chiller and push them to the shadier areas of the listings, where normal people won't have to bump into them.

It's not responsible to show stuff like this night after night to a country of nincompoops. Who do you think is watching this? Male, beer-stoked, women-hating losers, that's who. It's sickening.

The Xmas Carol saga

I read the first chapter of Xmas Carol and it sounded fine. Was I still changing things as I read it? Of course; anything can be improved. But the changes I'm making are minor. The last big edit seems to have done the trick.

I plan to read the rest of the book at a leisurely pace. Because of all the editing, I'm painfully familiar with every sentence in the book. This is not helpful when you're trying to get a sense of a novel. If only I could read it cold, but that's impossible. On the other hand, you will get that opportunity. It's weird but I envy my readers because I will never know what it's like to read Xmas Carol, not knowing the story beforehand. I never noticed this before. It seems to be a hidden penalty for authors.

It's been a slog but I'm almost there. Pretty soon I'll write the cover letter and synopsis and send it out. Then my poor little book will be on its own in the world, utterly alone and quite vulnerable. You try to raise them right but you never know how things will turn out for them when they finally leave home. Still, you've got to kick them out sometime.

February 9, 2011

Why many men lack empathy

"Extra testosterone reduces your empathy" is a story I found on physorg today. The title pretty much tells the tale.

Read the whole thing if you like. It explains why women can understand another person's intentions better than men -- in other words, why they're more empathetic. This finding makes you wonder why in hell men run the planet, given this huge defect. Here's a takeout from the story:
A new study from Utrecht and Cambridge Universities has for the first time found that an administration of testosterone under the tongue in volunteers negatively affects a person's ability to "mind read", an indication of empathy.
What they mean by "mind read" is the ability to understand another person's motivations by watching them. In other words, the thing autistic kids find it so hard to do: understand others. And when we say women are "intuitive", we are again referring to this skill.

It was obvious without the study but it's good to nail this stuff down. I wonder if you can extend this further. Men who have hairy chests and go bald have more testosterone than men with hairless chests who keep their head hair in later life. Does this mean you can fool the hairy guys more easily because they won't understand your intentions? Interesting question.