Friday, September 30, 2011

Chickening Out

So I wrote a few days ago about finding a new book around which I could construct a blog.

I'm backing away from that book.

Why? Well, a few reasons. First of all, the author is still actively selling the book. That tells me it's still popular enough that she'll be engaged in constant vigilance against future attacks, following the example of W.A. Thornhump.

So, what are the other possibilities?

Oddly enough, I've tinkered with a blog about Richard Milhous Nixon, of all people. He's a fascinating individual, and not just because of that film Oliver Stone made about him. Also, because of things like this:


I've read a number of books about the man and have several more to go in the collection. But the scope of such a blog seems limited and a bit outside my more flighty approaches thusfar. So I will continue to think. And search for a new subject.

A Writer's Life is Fraught With Peril

A few days ago, I was in the kitchen getting ready to wash dishes when I was struck with a sudden thought relating to the story I'm writing right now. So I grabbed a bit of notepaper off the fridge and scribbled out this note. I left it on the counter while I did the dishes, then forgot it. When I found it again, my wife had left this helpful note at the bottom. Such is the life of a writer.

At least this isn't like the notebook one of my nieces had. She wrote on the cover "This is the private property of" and then put her name. A few days later she picked it up to see her dad had written "Biff at Large" on the notebook underneath her name. Such is the life of a writer.

Unibrow

NOTE: Found this in my Big Box o' Written Crap. It is many moons old.

The scum of humanity. Or at least of the block.

That's what George Henderson thought of himself every time he noticed his reflection in a storefront window or in the bug-eyes sunglasses of the fiery redhead he sat across from on the bus each Tuesday afternoon on the way to the podiatrist. Why his corns flared each time he saw that particular woman was one of the mysteries Dr. Kling was trying to unravel, but George was not concerned with corns, or redheads or a doctor whose name made him sound as if he should be working as a fruit canner rather than as a physician. He was trying to think of a way to impress Charolette, a brunette who had just moved into his apartment building three floors down.

His physique would not be enough. At best it would incite a shoulder-shaking fit of donkey laughter; at worst a case of the dry heaves. A head roughly the shape of a sea buoy and scantily covered with a round the bathtub ring of stubbly black hair. The eyes and mouth smiled often and in tandem, but would Charolette be able to look past that wonky nose? He had the chin with a cleft, but his underdeveloped neck tended to de-emphasize the perfect chin and make it look rather like a tree that had been haphazardly hacked at by an epileptic lumberjack. The shoulders were scrawny, like a chicken's, and matched the chest. Ever since an intermittent companion made a snide remark inclining that his hands dangled a bit low and heavy at his sides, George had fretted over the possibility that they were too long and thus carried them bent wherever he went. The fact that he had no discernible funny bone in the left elbow might amuse Charolette, but how could he introduce his elbows into any normal conversation?

His left pinky finger was a show-stopper, but the scar that nearly divided it in two worked better to impress the gentlemen than the ladies. His legs and posterior resembled two grains of rice speared on the ends of toothpicks with the fat ends bent out a mere three millimeters for feet.

He dressed well enough as his budget would allow. He wore no cologne, due to irritable skin rashes, but kept himself very clean. George was not dumb, either. He taught English at the community college, went to all the plays and concerts, and shunned any event that involved any contraption with the suffix -saurus tacked on the end of it. Unless he was surrounded by sympathy laughers, he could consider himself rather witty, though far from being the life of the party. The building where he lived was not a slum. On the contrary, it enjoyed a view of a small, well-kept city park. And the halls, elevators and stairways were cleaned weekly by a rather corpulent and surly woman who rooted through the trash before throwing it out.

It's just that Charolette was into fads in a big way: this color and that hat and those shoes and that play and which cheese and how many earrings and how exotic the tattoos and how big the T-shirt with the recycled cartoon characters on it and how sporty the shoes and, unfortunately, how uni the brow.

Bert, the Muppet character famed for his removable nose and the shirt lacking in vertical control had inspired the latest and ugliest fad ever to strike the Planet, or at least the States, which is often regarded as the Planet by most who live there. Thick, afroed, braided, caterpillared, millipeded, frizzy and sculpted unibrows marched across the foreheads of the hippest of the hip, some of whom had two unibrows, one above the other. There were special ointments and dyes, clips and combs, teasers and treatments and implants for the many who were not graced with a natural unibrow in the first place. Some even dared to display rhinestones, whizzing whistles that burred in the breeze and even fully-functioning microcomputer chips that could play "Louie-louie" in sixteen different languages. Those were the novelty items that were molded to the wearer's psych profile. An unfortunate side-effect to the earlier attempts at implants resulted in the dying off of the natural brow, leaving the wearer with a Hitleresque bloc of fur hovering ever so out of place a few inches directly above the spot from whence it would look less out of place. Of course that sparked its own trend, but it had a smaller social impact than did the unibrow.

Suddenly, as if a comet wafting toxic chemicals bent on eroding the taste of a nation had crashed into the Earth, heavily hairily endowed men were the prizes sought in the beanery bars and the classier espresso stands in the garden shops in the outskirts of America. How long the fad would last no one could tell, since no one exactly knew when the next fad would come along, but the hairier members of society were set to reap the benefits of genetic popularity as long as the fashion vapors whispered kindly in their direction.

George studied his reflection in the glasses of the gum-chewing redhead. The bumps of the road under the bus and the vibrations of her head caused by her rather vigorous chewing made his purveyance rather difficult, but he was deft enough to grasp quick glances at the red lights and bus stops. His rather casual glances were enough to convince his cud-chewing mirror (at least for the time being) that his interest was mainly concentrated on the scenery flashing behind her personal burning bush.

"What have I got going for myself?" George asked out loud to no one in particular. Forgetting that people on public buses are always ready to answer any blurted rhetorical question that hits their ears.
"That breath of yours would wilt the wallpaper, honey," the cud-chewer snapped as she violently popped her gum. "And stop staring at me, ya pervert!"

"Young man," said the blue-hair with the death grip on her handbag, "you could be a little less frugal with the deodorant."

A jackbooted thug with a red white and blue button with the word GOP on it kicked George's foot and bellowed, "You look like a pansy, dude. A real wuss. Lose the sneakers and get a spider tattoo on your tongue."

"Go uni! Go uni!" shouted a small child wearing pants with tell-tale stains of bladder abuse on them.

"You guys suck just as much as I do," George said, forgetting to blurt it out this time. The bus rolled on without roll-on for a few more blocks, then George decided to get off and walk the rest of the way to the barbershop.

He perched rather nervously in the chair as his stylist outlined the options available to those wishing to go uni. He'd always hated barber shops; hated the assumption that just because he was in there to get a trim that he had to play Twenty Questions or listen to boring anecdotes about Aunt Nonie or Uncle Balford. Then they expect a tip, as if Monty Hall had awarded them the contents of the Mystery Box for being such a perky barber. So George refused to spin the wheel and kept his hundred dollar pocked tightly buttoned.

"Here's a nice clip-on model. We sell a lot of these to successful businessmen." his stylist Gloria said, pointing out a postage stamp sized swatch of black curly hair mounted on the little cardboard card she held in her hands.

"What is that? Velcro?"

"No, George sweetie, it's better. The army developed this supervelcro to reduce the noise. Seems those pesky hooks are the noisemakers. All you do is glue the supervelcro patch in place and put the unibrow patch on whenever you want. The velcro's see-through, and the package even includes this lint brush."

"Um, I don't think I want that. Show me something a little less, uh, moronic."

"We've got the punk collection. Those zinc studs are awfully popular. Then there's the Barnum and Bailey, The Garfunkel, The Carol Channing falsies and the Kissinger. . No? Perhaps something a bit more conservative for starters. Most people do. Let me show you the Bob Dole."

"Bob Dole?"

"Well, yes, it's the most popular model next to the Bert. Just can't seem to keep those in stock. It's not as uniform, but quite a bit bushier. Take a look." George looked at the card and remarked to himself that he'd pulled a wad similar to that out of the lint trap in his dryer just that morning. Worse than toupees.

"These things really turn on the chicks?"

Gloria giggled. "Yes, Georgie. That's why most of the fellahs buy them. Look what one did for Billy Joel."

"What else?"

"There are the novelty items, but--"

"I'll take one of those. Surprise me." George had seen the Dole on nearly everyone, including some women he knew. Dime-a-dozen. "I'll be unique and follow this trend even if it kills me."

"--but they really are surprises. They morph into personality-revealing styles, George. Are you sure you're--"

"Install it already!"

"Fine. With this installation, you get free patch repairs and a monthly rotation for the first year of ownership. Rejuvex treatment extra, three dollars. Gets your own personal hairs growing bushier. Now, lean back, relax your facial muscles and let me go to work. Above all, don't sneeze."

"Sneeze? Why not?"

"Jack Nicholson wasn't born with that smile, you know." So George leaned back and thought pleasant thoughts (chicken pot pie) as Gloria poked, prodded and pounded the barren slope between his two heroic eyebrows. It didn't hurt as much as he thought it would, and since the operation was a tedious one, Gloria was uncharacteristically silent. "You've got a poor crop here. I'd recommend the rejuvex."
"Do it."

"Go easy with the rejuvex, Gloria." her boss yelled, momentarily taking her attention off the bald dome she was doctoring in a neighboring chair. "Remember what happened to Dick Gephart."

"Not my fault he had that recessive gene," Gloria snapped back.

George woke up a few minutes (or a few hours) later still in the barber chair. Before he could rub his eyes, Gloria shot over to him, grabbed his hand and chirped, "Goodness, George! You slept like a little baby. For about fifteen minutes. That's how long you slept."

"My eyebrow? Can I see it?" He felt at the bandage on his forehead with the hand Gloria was not clenching between her own.

"No George, it's still a bit tender, you know. It should stay under wraps for a few hours, preferably overnight." there was an odd catch in her voice, and the normally blanched patron of the shop was hovering in the corner, face red as a beet.

"How mu--

"Thirty-eight-fifty, not including tip."

Thirty-eight dollars and fifty cents later, George walked out of the shop into the autumn sunshine. Out of sight of the shop, he tore the bandage off his forehead and searched in vain for any reflective surface. The sun was low, glaring off the window fronts. Redhead would not be on the bus at this hour. The leaves were only beginning to fall from the roadside trees, so he decided to take a walk down the cafed and canaped promenade to the subway station, surveying the good looking wool and advertising his new social hipness to the chicks at the same time. A blonde sipping a mineral water at a sidewalk table gave him a long curious look. Charolette will be sore amazed, he thought to himself. George mimicked the television commercials for unis that he had heretofore mocked: My Charolette, would you like to go out to coffee with me and my uni? The blonde suddenly frowned in his direction. Two high-school girls gave him a double take, their dainty jaws dropping ever so unladylike to the floor. Maybe a bit too young, he thought to himself.

"Ooo-ee, mister! Gonna get some broads with that one, aintcha?" muttered the street derelict from underneath the cardboard boxes on the bench. "My old woman threw me out 'cuz her uni was better than mine."

George quickened his step and left the bum to mutter to himself, which he did so merrily. He hummed a tune and cockily waved at a pair of lawyer-type women gazing hungrily at a display of leather shoes. "Ooo-ee, mister! Gonna get some broads with this thing," he thought to himself. They chuckled and waved back. "Hi sexy!" one shouted, and the chuckling erupted into full-stage giggling. George strutted down the street past the work crew finishing up their day's work. Even they stared and pointed and seemed to react in jealous manners, or so he assumed by their mimicking of his strutting.

The sun was setting and cast a red glow across the avenue as George walked jauntily towards the subway. Down the steps and around the corner, into the red glow of the underground. "Funny, I thought they used white light down here," George thought. A few fellow subway stairway travellers gawked at George as he descended past them, whistling a tune and thrusting his head as high into the air at he could get it. He rounded a blind corner and stumbled into a rather burly gentleman making his way slowly towards the surface. "Outta the way, dork!" George muttered under his breath. The man stared at him fully and silently for a few seconds, not making eye contact but staring at his head, then grunted, "Watch where you're going yourself, dork! He left and George saw red. Literally. That red sunlight had followed him downstairs. He felt his forehead. The amorphous blob, his novelty uni implant, had changed. It was squarish, warm to the touch. The red glow he'd seen diminished as he felt around his new social accouterment. He ducked quickly into the bathroom and looked at his reflection in the dirty mirror. "What the hell is this? I've got a button sticking out of my head! He mimicked the women's voices in his mind: "Hi sexy. . .dense-o!" He started as he noticed for the fist time the words, spelled out nicely in white letters with a red background, reflected and magnified so as to be legible on the screen, which was his forehead. The letters scrolled slowly and backwards, so as to be read in the mirror:

HI SEXY. . .DENSE-O!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hypocrisy

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The older I get, the more tired I am of hypocrisy.

For example: Mormons who want to show immigrants the borders – taking a harder stand than is the church itself on the issue – are called on the carpet as unsupportive of the prophet by newspapers and by Mormons who espouse more liberal views on gay marriage than does the church hierarchy, and neither the papers nor the liberal Mormons see that they’re unsupportive of the prophet in any way. (In fact, they’re treated like forward-looking champions.)

I admit to this: I espouse the more liberal views.

I just hate the hypocrisy.

So following the racist bake sale at the University of California – Irvine this week has proved interesting. The bake sale – at which prices were charged on a sliding scale based on race, ethnicity, and gender; white males paying the most and Native American women paying the least – sparked an outcry among liberals on campus, who can see the racism (the college Republican group sponsoring the sale admits it is racist) in the sale but not in their own efforts to reinstate affirmative action, which would give similar preferential treatment along the same lines they decry in the sale.

From the CNN.com article on the story:
"We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender."

ASUC President Vishalli Loomba said many students who attended a community meeting Monday night expressed disgust that the bake sale would take place.

"As a woman of color, when I first saw the event, I was appalled someone would post something like this on the Internet -- not only a different pay structure, but also to rank the races," she said. "It trivializes the struggles that people have been through and their histories."

Lewis said he agreed a ranking system for races isn't fair -- not for bake sales, and not in other aspects of life.

"The purpose of the pricing structure ... is to cause people to disagree with this kind of preferential treatment," Lewis said. "We want people to say no race is above another race, or no race is below another one. Why put one over the other? Why rank them that way?"
Why put one over the other? Why rank them that way? I don’t know. The argument that such preferential treatment makes up for past and current abuse doesn’t hold water. In my view, that preferential treatment is as trivializing to past and present struggles as is any event as silly as a race- and ethnicity-based bake sale pricing structure. You don’t make up for racism or discrimination based on gender or ethnicity by turning the tables and making the oppressors the oppressed. You make up for it by looking at academic standing, financial need, and – dare I say it – the content of the character over the color of the skin.

This is Why YOU Can't Be President





This is Why YOU Can’t Run for President

Or me either, for that matter.

It’s not that we don’t have good ideas. It’s not that were’ not electable.

It’s because we’re dumb as rocks.

That’s probably a bit harsh. To the rocks.

I have no idea how to solve the jobs crisis aside from putting forth a catchy slogan. I’d have to rely on the advice of experts, and we’ve all seen, since 2008, what happens when politicians rely on the advice of economic experts.

This all reminds me of, what was that movie, with Kevin Kline, in which he is the doppelganger to the president and becomes the president after the president suffers a fatal boner? Don’t remember. I do remember Charles Grodin is in it. He’s the expert Dave the President brings in to solve the budget crisis. Which they solved in an afternoon poring over the nation’s budget. And the plan for which he got shoved through Congress in a manner of minutes.

This is why I will not run for president. I’d be scribbling doodles in the budget margins. I don’t know any financial experts I could smuggle into the Oval Office. And those Killbots, they do have some pretty good ideas.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adios, Nuclear Placement Services

You know you work for the government when your job stays exactly the same but the company that sends you your paycheck changes.

That’s what’s happening to me at the moment. As of Friday, I no longer work for Nuclear Placement Services, the company that has employed me for the past 5 ½ years. From then on until I get laid off, fired, or find another job, I’m officially an employee of North Wind, Inc.

What’s going on, you may ask? Well, the guy who runs NPS is retiring, and apparently decided to fold the business rather than try to sell it. We found out about that just about a week and a half ago. So it’s been kind of a scurry these past few weeks, trying to find a good fit with another company. Making the choice is kind of fraught with personal peril into which I won’t go. There are wrinkles and hiccups with any company I could have chosen.

At least I still have a job. I’m glad of that.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thus Ends the First Chapter

And with that last post, thus ends the first chapter of "Yershi the Mild."

I don't know where this is coming from. Partly, it's inspired, I think, by the non-Prydain writings of Lloyd Alexander, and a bit by the works of Avi. I'll continue working on it, but in the interest of preserving publication rights, it'll take place at the Targhee Writers Blog -- which you can still join if you'd like to read the rest of the story and help me improve on it.

I get the name Yershi, by the way, from Alec Baldwin. A few months ago, he announced a program by the New York Symphony Orchestra featuring direction by Yershi somebody-or-other, and I liked the name. It sounded like someone Peter Lorre would talk to, so all that evening I called our youngest son Yershi and spoke to him a la Ugarte.

In the book, however, he's modeled more after Gru from "Despicable Me" than Mr. Lorre. I don't know why.

It'll Do You A Blessing Some Day

The white with the prominent ruff shook its comb at me as I entered the coop. I ignored it and moved towards a hen roosting in a box in the corner. I gently pushed my hand underneath, feeling for eggs, all the while watching the rooster out of the corner of my eye. It knew I watched and was wary. I pulled two eggs from the nest, moved on to the next hen. The rooster stood still, staring.

When I was within arm’s reach of the rooster, I lunged, grabbed it by the neck. It screeched and the hens in the coop set up a loud burst of squawking. Gently clutching the five eggs I had gathered against my chest, I walked from the coop, the rooster crowing and flapping its wings. I gave its neck a squeeze.

Yershi watched from the back of the hut.

I walked toward him. Wordlessly, he took the eggs from my grasp and placed them in a bowl. He turned and walked into the house. I followed, the rooster still in my grasp, still flapping its wings.
“Wait outside,” Yershi said.

I waited.

He emerged. Stopped three feet from the back door, and waited.

“Kill the chicken,” he said.

The rooster flapped. I killed it with a quick twist of the neck.

“Fine,” Yershi said. “There is a bucket of hot water there, on the bench,” he said. “I assume you know how to pluck a chicken. Be quick about it.”

I doused the dead rooster in the hot water, let it soak, then began pulling feathers. It was a handsome beast, with a long, flowing tail. The tail feathers reminded me of the quills the monks used to illuminate their manuscripts when I remembered to fill their pots with ink. I remembered stroking the quills, bunching them up and running them through my fingers, when I brought the ink and the monks were at lunch.

I also remembered sleeping on a thin mattress stuffed with straw and feathers, crawling with lice, in the mining camp where the lucky ones were allowed to sleep underneath the stars, rather than in dead shafts below. I shuddered. Surely, I thought, pulling feathers, Yershi the Mild will take me on as an apprentice. Then, I thought, I can really begin living.

I brought the chicken to him, where he sat at a rough table in the hut’s back room. He took it gently, cradling its naked body in his arms. “Wait here a moment, and do not attempt to follow. I will know if you do, and if you do, you will be shown the door,” he said. He marched not to the pot boiling in the fireplace, but to a trap door in the room’s floor. He opened the door and walked down a steep flight of steps, closing the door behind him. I heard the snap of locks and rattle of chains.

“Mind the water,” he said. “Don’t let it boil over and put the fire out.”

I swung the pot on its arm from the fire as Yershi worked in the odd darkness below.

I have good hearing. I was always the first at the mining camp to hear the owls calling to each other from one edge of the clearing to the other. I could always hear the thunder long before the rest heard it, and was the first to the best shelter.

From below, I heard the clinking of glass jars, the pop of corks, and an odd, sizzling sound that made the air taste faintly of tin.

After a few more minutes, the chains and locks rattled at the door again and Yershi emerged with the chicken, clean, ready for the pot. He put the bird in the pot and pushed it back over the fire. He walked heavily to the table and sat with a thump.

“Ginger-root and mandrake, with an infusion of lavender and sage,” he said, half to himself, half to the hands with which he covered his eyes. “Activated with St. Elmo’s fire. Still nothing,” he said. “Still nothing.”

He muttered to himself quietly. The pot boiled gently.

I cleared my throat. “Yershi,” I said, “Or master, my name . . .”

“Quiet,” he said. “I am calculating. I need quiet when I calculate.”

Guard your name, I remember Jans at the mining camp telling me. Guard your name, young one, and those in power can never have power over you. He was a stupid, superstitious man, but a man you wanted on your side at the mining camp because he made the others leave you alone. He did not want to know my name, but called me Hoot, after the owls I could hear so well. No one at the camps used their real name except for Jans and except for Ilkwhite, the camp master, who prowled the perimeter at night and never seemed to sleep and lived to capture a hapless miner trying to escape under cover of darkness and the coal dust we never completely washed away.

But I have a name. An important name, my father said. “It’s the name of kings, that one, lad,” he said. “Never be ashamed of your name, and it’ll do you a blessing some day.”

So I fantasized I was the forgotten son of a king, sent to dwell with a simple peasant family so some unnamed duke or earl could not find me and kill me, the rightful heir. Boys will fill their minds with all sorts of wild thoughts when the nights are long and cold and hungry and when their fathers leave to hunt and do not return, even long after the last embers of the last fire they light have burned out and the cold rays of the winter sun peek in through the thin thatch of the roof to shine on a boy curled in the corner, waiting for the father who never returned.

“It’ll do you a blessing some day,” he said.

He and I shared the name. It was ours. It was also his father’s.

It had not done any of them any bit of good.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Book to Blog About?

Wouldn't you know it - the week I find a new book to blog about is the same week we give away the computer the scanner was attached to and now I'm having trouble getting the scanner working again. Oh well. The world will have to wait a little while longer for my mediocre genius.

The blog will be blue and white, I do know that.

And the book?

This one.

I'll have to tread carefully. Or at least under the radar. For the author, Daryl Hoole, is still out there and very much active on the Internet, if this site is to be believed.

She sells the original book on her site for $7, so I'll definitely have to tread carefully. She may look matronly and nice in her photos, but given she's still charging $7 for a book published in 1969, I can't doubt she's got the drive and will and the high-powered lawyer to back up her copyright claims. And with followers like this, I might have much to fear if my mockings aren't perceived in the correct light of parody.

Fair use law in regard to parody might protect me, though. Still, I'm scared of that little lady under the curly hair.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

That's How School Is


You know what, that is how school is. And that is how life is, at least so far. I haven't finished either school or life at this point, but I am at the point now where I realize that maybe finishing something will mean I might eventually be kinda happy with it. Thank you, Mr. Thompson, for a good metaphor of life. This is exactly why I enjoy Cul de Sac so much.

How Are My Pores?

More mayhem from Scooter, this time visiting Yellowstone National Park.

You Smell of Pig

“You want to be a killer,” Yershi said. His words were slurred, his hair askew, his pyjamas buttoned through the wrong holes. He had recently completed an assignment. He had been out drinking the night before. That is how I knew he was home. I followed him from the inn.

“Yes, I do,” I said. I kept it at that. Even sober, Yershi prefers the direct answer. If he wants to know why, he asks.

He looked me from bare toes to tow head. Probably not a pretty picture. It rained all night and the haystack I slept in was old, moldy, and leaky. I cleaned up at the creekside before I walked to his door, but when one has slept in a haystack all night, creeks don’t provide enough cleaning opportunity.

“You smell of pig,” he said, sniffing loudly then snorting the air out of his nostrils hurriedly. “Can’t abide pigs. I don’t even eat bacon. Go away.”

He closed the door.

I stood there a while, chickens pecking at my feet. I did not knock. I did not whistle or otherwise make noise that might disturb Yershi the Mild.

A breeze blew in the smell of wet hay.

It started to rain.

Yershi shoved the door open at a pop. I heard him coming and stepped back, the door missing my nose by not even a handsbreadth.

“Well,” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips. “You’re still here! The chickens! See the chickens,” he shouted. “They’re smart enough to go in out of the rain. Yet you. You stand here.”

“Yes I do,” I said.

He growled.

“A parrot has more words than you do,” he said. “Do you speak at all on your own, or does someone else pull the strings?”

“The strings are cut,” I said. His eyes widened, slightly. “My father died when I was a boy. I never knew my mother. I never knew the cruelty of orphanages because there were none in the district. But I have worked on many farms. I have worked in mills. I have chopped many logs. I have hewn lumber. I have mined coal. And now,” I said, and swallowed, “I want to be a killer. For hire.”

Raindrops dripped off the end of Yershi’s enormous nose.

“Do you eat chicken and dumplings,” he asked.

I stared at his face. He stared back, eyes not even twitching as raindrops dripped from his eyebrows.

“Yes I do,” I said.

“Pray enter.”

He turned and walked into the house. I followed. “My name,” I said, “I am called . . .”

“Wait!” he shouted. I stopped, rain from the thatch dripping onto my head. “First,” he said, “fetch us a chicken. One of the whites will do. There is one white, a cock, with a bit of black on his head and a rather prominent ruff. He is a troublemaker, a fighter, a vicious bird. I would not be disappointed to eat him today. He kept me up half the night with his fighting. Capture him,” he said, “but bring him to me. I want to watch you kill him, you who want to be a killer for hire.”

The chicken yard was a mess of feathers. Despite the thickening rain, there were two rather bedraggled-looking cocks standing outside. They clicked wearily at me as I unlatched the door, but they did not do so loudly, perhaps out of fear of alerting their rival inside.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yershi the Mild

NOTE: This popped out of my head on the bus Thursday morning. I couldn't go to sleep until I had it typed into my iPod Touch. It also helps if you read it with a Peter Lorre accent.


What you need to learn about Yershi is that Yershi is a killer. Not the romantic, roguish kind who kill only the bad people oppressing the good, but the kind who quietly cuts your throat if someone pays him enough groats to do it.

You should know as well that he is not an impulsive man. He will not kill you, or even glare at you, if you happen to jostle his elbow and spill his beer. If you offer to buy him a round to replace what was spilt, he will be gracious. He may play darts with you if you buy him a bowl of nuts to go with the beer. But even if you ignore him, he will do nothing. He does not mind spilled beer. There is no profit in a bar killing, he says, though the bartenders are usually kind enough to ignore the body.

He is a tender man. He does not kick dogs. He does not speak harshly to the beggar children. At his small house, he keeps cats and grows marigolds.

But he also knows how to sneak up behind a man to kill him with s quick jab that always reaches the heart, whether through the ribs or up through the stomach. He is fastidious that way. A slit throat may be easier, but a slit throat is messy.

He does not give lessons, by the way. A good killer, he says, does not want competition, because competition among killers means killers killing other killers and that is selfish. “There are plenty of groats to go around for those who are good,” he says, “but why give groats away just because some imp wants to learn the trade?”

He is generous. Widows who knock on Yershi’s door do not leave without a few silver groats knotted into their hankies. Bumpkins waylaid by highwaymen know they will find a sympathetic ear in Yershi if they have enough pennies hidden in their shoes to buy him a beer. They know the pennies will be returned to them, plus what was stolen, plus a little more. And, more often than not, the ears of the man who stole the money in the first place. All done up in a nice leather pouch. Yershi is a great friend of the tanneries.

Yes, the mayor and the aldermen know Yershi lives in town. They know everything I have just told you, and so much more. Yet they do not know it because Yershi is a braggart. Yershi is humble. Yershi is quiet. His clients know the job is done only when Yershi arrives to collect his leather bag of groats, not because ethe news has traveled from Yershi through the bar maids and hangers-on who live to spread such news among the populace hungry for the news of who was killed the night before.

No, they do not mind that Yershi the Mild - for that is his name - calls their town home. There is a certain cachet in bragging to officials in competing cities that yours has a quiet, accomplished assassin as well as a street of cobblers, another of apothecaries and wine merchants, and a garrison of soldiers of the Duke Rampant.

How do I know all this?

I listen at the bars. I listen to the men talking in the dark street corners, in the smoky tents at fairs. Yes, I have been beaten for such eavesdropping. But when you are an orphan who has slept with the pigs to stay warm as you wander the countryside in winter, you do not much mind an occasional beating if you get the information you want.

I have come to Alderny to ask Yershi the Mild to take me on as an apprentice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ugh


Yah, it’s double unconscious gong facepalm time.

Good news is I’ll go in tomorrow to fill out paperwork for an employer who offers full health and 401(k) benefits.

Bad news is the markets are so stinky at the moment I’m wondering if I’d be better off investing in pumpkin futures. (Homer, you knucklehead! I told you to sell your pumpkin futures before Halloween. Before!)

Of course, you have to think as a long-term investor. You have to, as my father-in-law does, leave the mail from your investment folks generally unperused in a down market so you’re not depressed at the amount of money that you’ve lost. (He checks things out generally, but doesn’t dwell on the negative numbers. Good thing, since his negative numbers are waaaaay bigger than mine.) My only consolation with putting money in the market now is that things are a bit cheaper to buy, in general, than in the past, because not much is worth the paper it’s printed on. Part of me still feels like, however, I’m throwing good money onto a bonfire.

Maybe we need to get serious with certificates of deposit . . . but returns on them are depressingly low. We can’t afford to be that conservative at the moment.

[Spoiler Alert]


This song is a pretty accurate description of the creative process. Really felt like this writing my first novel. And still feel like this in many ways. Especially considering my legs are too short to reach the brake.

The Alamo


I have stopped going to the Alamo.

The Alamo: A slab of rock perhaps left over from an asteroid strike, perhaps popped out of the moon’s surface like an enormous green-grey zit. It is blockish, with dark portholes and a roundish peak that does indeed make it look like the building in Texas. Ice and dust sublime down its surface, creeping pillars dribbled like candle-wax.

I have stopped going to the Alamo.

But the song follows me. The song follows me. A song of old San Antone . . .

Deep within my heart lies a melody,
A song of old San Antone.
Where in dreams I live with a memory,
Beneath the stars, all alone.

Well it was there I found, beside the Alamo,
Enchantments strange as the blue up above.
For that moonlit pass, that only he would know,
Still hears my broken song of love.

Enchantments strange as the black up above. As Patsy sings, they come over the horizon. The squirrels in cowboy hats, riding saddled steers, their horns wider than the arc of Saturn’s rings there, in the black up above. The pour over the horizon, whistling at their mounts, pulling on the reins, pirouetting and dancing beneath the Saturn-shine. When they see me, they tip their diminutive ten-gallon hats. And wink. And when the steers defecate, their dung leaves fresh craters on the blasted soil.

Moon in all your splendor, known only to my heart,
Call back my rose, rose of San Antone.

Cacti spring from the dung-craters and their needles grow longer than the steers’ horns, longer than the great horn in the black sky up above. They are thick, ghastly things, yet the steer rub against them.

They do not pop.

They inflate, and soon the sky is filled with steer satellites, each mounted by a ten-gallon-hatted squirrel, riding rodeo-style, as their mounts careen and buck and cavort and drop more bombs, more bombs, to the surface, where the cacti blossom into roses.

Lips so sweet and tender, like petals falling apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own.

Broken song, empty words I know,
Still live in my heart all alone.
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo,
And rose, my rose of San Antone.

Broken song, empty words I know,
Still live in my heart all alone.
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo.
And rose, my rose of San Antone.

Now the steers are dancing and the squirrels are screaming in delight as the rodeo numbers on their backs flap in zero-gravity. Occasionally, one of the squirrels loses its grip and flies off into the black, drifting among the other steers and still-riding squirrels to float across the face of Saturn, to occult the stars shining above, to eclipse the sun to cast their furry shadows on the surface of the moon where the Alamo lies, slowly melting, slowly melting.

The roses on the cacti sing along.

They sing along.

They sing along.

And rose, my rose of San Antone.
And rose, my rose of San Antone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flush Yourself to Safety

Amid all the rhetoric spiraling out of Washington and the major news networks, emerge these truths about the so-called “Buffet Rule”:

1) On wages earned, Warren Buffet does indeed pay less in federal income tax than his secretary.
2) In the aggregate sense, however, your average millionaire pays just under twice as much, percentage-of-income-wise, as do those who are firmly and solidly in the middle class.

Who is right – and whom you believe in this mess – says more about your politics than your ability to do math or understand tax law.

President Obama is obviously interested in tapping into the middle-class (and liberal) rage against the so-called fat cats who in some instances, depending on what figures you look at and how hard you squint, appear to pay less in taxes than their middle-class compatriots. Such a stance paints a caricature of the situation, not allowing for the complexities of tax law that make, for many millionaires, a higher tax burden than what even President Obama seems willing to admit.

Are there loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay less in income taxes than middle class wage-earners? Yes there are. But if unbiased entities such as the Congressional Budget Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Tax Policy Center are to be believed, what Obama and the media are selling the American public is true for a minority of millionaires, untrue for the vast majority.

It makes as much logical sense to me as does Rush Limbaugh’s claim that there are more National Forest lands in the United States now than there were when Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. The statement is true in one literal sense: There was absolutely no land at that time designated as National Forest. So it is true, depending, once again, on that squint and what figures you use.

It is demeaning to the public you claim to be serving and intellectually dishonest to state the case for the minority is the case for all. And no matter how much you might blame media spin or the passion of a political moment for such dishonesty, that the claims being made are dishonest to begin with does not change.

As an independent voter who “voted for change” in 2008, I’m disappointed. The intellectual dishonesty is much more appalling to me than any political circus divided along party lines. I’d like to think that anyone earning an income in the United States and benefitting from government services is paying a fair share of tax. It appears that most people are. I don’t know much about the tax loopholes that are benefitting those minority of millionaires, but before I go screaming on about that, I probably should quietly consider whether the child tax credits and lifetime learning credits I’ve legitimately taken over the past several years (eliminating entirely my federal tax burden) are as correct and right and justified as those millionaire loopholes we’ve heard so much yet know so little about. The circus is inevitable. The lies shouldn’t be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Hate Waiting


Some moron scheduled a drill for 2 pm today out at work.

I don’t mind the drills. I’ve been doing them for years and they’re not all that bad. Frustrating, but over fairly quicly.

But why 2 pm, of all times? I hate waiting.

I am a very patient person when it comes to waiting for pleasant times to arrive. But those aggravating times, I’d much rather have them over with as soon as possible. Ordinarily, the drills are schedule for the am, so to have this drill in the pm just boggles the mind. And makes me wait. I hate that. I’d much rather get the unpleasant stuff over with, then move on.

Follow-up: Drill went well. We have another one on Wednesday, followed by the official graded drill on Oct. 19. Fortunately, given that it's a month away, it's far outside my anxiety sphere at the moment. I'll check back in when the date is closer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Heliopause

NOTE: This is the start of something that was itching in my brain until it finally had to come out. May add more later.


The rattle, I sense, will be fatal.

But I have been wrong before. There have been other rattles, other aches, other bouts of blindness and deafness that have come and gone, cured on their own or by the messages that came from the sun-kissed shore.

There is a rock nearby. It is small, roughly the shape of a hen’s egg. Pocked with holes, smelling of wet dust, alley dirt, pencil shavings, beach sand from a high mountain lake.

I see the rock. I have not seen the things it looks like. But I know them. Those on the sun-kissed shore shared their knowledge with me, and during the long, dark passages between the planets, I have perused the golden record, listening to the sounds of a place I do not know.

I see the rock. It is close by. It seems we will be bedfellows for a while. Its course is roughly parallel to mine, deviating by millionths of a degree. I see the rock. It will be my companion for perhaps a minute, a minute and a half. That is a long time, in this neighborhood, at these speeds, in this darkness filled with dust and shadows and light.

They discuss me, those of the sun-kissed shore. They talk about me as if I am not there, as if I am not listening. Once and a while, one of them remembers where I am, that I do listen. I hope they feel embarrassment. It is rude to discuss someone’s fate when they hear you but you think they do not.
An horror of great darkness.

And when the sun was going down, Moses wrote of Abram, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo; an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

The sun is going down.

I feel the sleep approaching.

The horror of great darkness. I live in it. I and the rock shaped like the hen’s egg.

A hen. I would have liked to have seen a hen. I saw sea-birds, mostly, where I lived briefly on the sun-kissed shore. They fly and scream and fight and search out things to eat. Sometimes the rockets strike them. I watched one. I watched one soar, then strike, then fall.

I would have liked to have seen a hen.

They do not fly, hens. Oh, they fly in a panic. They may make it to the top of a fence, to the top of the coop, but they do not fly great distances. They are ground-dwelling birds. And when the sun sets, they do not face the horror of the darkness. They return to their roosts, their nests, to lay the eggs that resemble the rock soaring through the darkness beside me.

When they rattle, the end comes cleanly, a chop of the head with an axe.

This rattle, I sense, will be fatal.

There is no axe here. No axe. Only rocks and dust and atoms, atoms, atoms.

I do not fear atoms. There are atoms inside me, feebly producing electricity. Heat. Heat enough, perhaps, to hatch a hen’s egg.

My Kids Refrigerator: 200 Posts

As we celebrate the 200th posting at My Kids Refrigerator, I ponder what to post today. I could post a photo of our (nearly) drawing-free refrigerator, or the secret stash of drawings our oldest has in his bedrooms (which is likely to be declared a fire hazard any day now).

Then I realized the best way to celebrate would be just to keep on posting. Things like this:


Bonus points to anyone who can identify the scrap paper this one is drawn on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eek

Got one of those good news/bad news announcements from my employer today, one that’s going to shape our future for the next little while.

Nuclear Placement Services, the company I’ve worked for over the last five years, is going to shutter at the end of the month. The guy who founded it is retiring, and has decided just to close the company, rather than pass it on or sell it or whatever. That in of itself doesn’t surprise me, as it’s not the biggest company in the world. I have no complaints about working for them. They’ve treated me well.

So what does that mean for the future? Well, as of Sept. 30, NPS is shuttered. We (there are four contracted employees for CWI) have the option of either going with North Wind (the company with whom NPS has the contract) or with another similar company doing work with CWI. I’m taking the simpler North Wind route, as one of my co-workers, Bill Leach, works for North Wind and speaks highly of them. I don’t know what all has to take place to get this contract transfer done, but I’ll know more when I get the human resources contact information for North Wind and communicate with them.

Bad news, of course, as it’s never pleasant to make this kind of move, especially as quickly as this. Good news, though, because as an employee of North Wind, it appears I’ll get some health and retirement benefits. We’ll have to see what happens there, but I’m optimistic that things will go good with making the move. That is if North Wind wants me, But why wouldn’t they want me? I’m terrific. Right?

Thanks, Son

Our oldest son has a nasty habit of carting stuff around with him – mostly books and LEGOs – and then just kind of plopping it wherever he ends up and leaving it there.

More often than not, the “wherever he ends up” is my desk in the study, so I come home from work a lot to see random stuff piled around my computer keyboard. I don’t get mad; I actually do the same thing myself, with the dresser and the piano – and occasionally the workbench out in the shed – as my favorite dropping-off spots. I do ask, of course, that he come retrieve his stuff.

This time, however, I made off with it.

It’s a book, “How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space,” by William R. Pogue, Astronaut. I’m not really all that interested in the titular question, having already read these instructions from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But as I’m writing a book set in the near-zero-gravity environment of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, I thought reading this little volume would add to the verisimilitude I’m trying to create. (Add to that my reading of Roald Admunsen’s Antarctic exploration journals and you’ll see what kind of eclectic research I’m going through to write this one.)

I’m not going to rely on low-gravity trickery to create this novel, but picking a few select items from this book in building character, setting, etc., will be worthwhile in creating the overall effect I’m looking for. Who knew, for example, that in low-gravity environments where air flow is scarce, that people are quickly overwhelmed by an ever-expanding bubble of their own body odor, or that you can inject air into a water globule with a hypodermic needle, thus creating hollow balls of water that would make Clumsy Carp weep with envy? This is fun stuff. So I will read onward.


My “hermit” on Iapetus is joined by a son at the conclusion of the novella. I’m thinking this’ll be my next book, so I’m thinking about how to expand this little universe. Having the hermit’s son use this book as his sole preparation for his trip to Iapetus is tempting. But we’ll see.

Here’s a list of things I might use. I put them here so I don’t have to hog the book and clog it with bookmarks:
  • If you floated over to a panel, inserted a screwdriver into the slot of a screw and twisted your wrist, the screw wouldn’t turn. You would!
  • The worst mess was in the area where we ate. Small drops of liquid from our drinks and crumbs from our food would float around until they stuck on a wall or in an open grid ceiling above our food table, and it became quite dirty. Although we could see into this ceiling area, we couldn’t get our hands in to wipe it clean. Near the end of the flight it began to look like the bottom of a birdcage.
  • One of the most fascinating effects with a drop of water was injecting air into large water drops, using a hypodermic syringe. Starting with a drop of water about two inches across, I injected air into the center – it became a hollow ball. I tried to make it larger by squirting more air into the center but missed the center and injected it into the water shell surrounding the hollow core. It formed a second hollow ball joined to the other with a flat surface between them.
  • Ed Gibson frequently snacked during his tour at the telescopes, so I looked around for old food packages but couldn’t find anything that might have caused the odor. The odor persisted and it soon became obvious that it was my own body odor. It was clinging around my head like a cocoon of smelly air. There is no convection in weightlessness (warm air around the body doesn’t rise). There wasn’t good air circulation in this location, so I was being enveloped by my own body odor.
  • The head congestion or stuffiness. This was a minor problem on most space flights, but I seemed to have it worse than my two fellow crew members. In space, the sinuses don’t drain as readily as they do on earth; there is no post-nasal drip in space.
  • As I looked out into space, I was overwhelmed by the darkness. I felt the flesh crawl on my back and the hair rise on my neck. I was reminded of a passage in the Bible that speaks of the “horror of great darkness” [Genesis 15:12]. Ed and I pondered the view in silence for a few moments, and then we move made comments totally inadequate to describe the profound effect the scene had made on both of us. “Boy! That’s what I call dark.”
  • The Great Galactic Ghoul is a half-joking term for a fictitious or make-believe spook that haunts the region between the Earth and Mars. Several unmanned spacecraft have experienced unexplained problems ranging from systems and control failures to minor temporary communications problems while crossing this region on the way to Mars and the outer planets.
  • Sometimes the presence of radiation can be detected. When we were sleeping or when our eyes were dark-adapted, we could tell when we passed through zones of high levels of radiation. You begin to see light flashes even though your eyes are closed. As you first enter such an area, the light flashes are infrequent and are “seen” as streaks, point flashes, and occasionally as bursts. It’s like watching a miniature fireworks display. Then, as you approach the more intense region of this zone, the flashes become more frequent and varied. The area where this occurred was called the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA); it is a depression or low spot in the radiation belts that are created by the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • We got a lot of sweat on our backs when we pedaled the bicycle. It didn’t drop off like it does here on Earth. The sweat on the back collected in a large puddle. By the end of half an hour of exercise, the puddle was as large as a dinner plate and about a quarter of an inch deep. It sort of slithered around on our backs as we pedaled the bicycle. When we were done, we had to move carefully to avoid slinging off a large glob of sweat.
  • Our launch had already been delayed a week for the fin replacement, and when we were told about the stress corrosion cracks. I remarked to Jerry Carr that we ought to name our booster rocket Humpty-Dumpty because they were finding so many cracks in it. The next morning we were atop the rocket in our spacecraft waiting for launch. Finally, the launch director said, “I have one final message,” and Jerry Carr said “Go ahead.” The launch director read it slowly: “To the crew of Skylab 4, good luck and Godspeed. Signed: All the King’s horses and all the King’s men.”
Not Shakespeare (we have yet to get a poet into space, as Steve Dallas was supposed to be) but good enough for a few ideas to foment in my brain box.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Godwinning, Well, Anything, Part II

You’ve got to be careful, I think, when quoting a book describing the “social revolution” in Nazi Germany and making any parallels to today’s society.

Yes, I have blogged about that caution before.

Nevertheless, after reading David Schoenbarum’s “Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany 1933-1939,” parallels will be made. I don’t want to be accused of Godwinning anything, so just let me say that these are the parallels I see between what I read in Schoenbaum’s book and what I see in society today. I’m not calling anyone a Nazi, I’m just marveling at how society repeats the same errors and flubs made by those who went before them.

Two of Schoenbaum’s general observations just jumped out at me as I read. The first, from page 199:

The Third Reich was a state of bureaucratized charisma, and no less than a state of permanent improvisation.

The second, from page 275:

The Third Reich proved that a house divided against itself can stand, provided at least, that the occupants have no alternative place to go and that the landlord pays attention to the wallpaper, if not to the walls.

I’m struck, as is Schoenbaum, how much social Darwinism played a factor in the Third Reich, with social moves ranging from deifying the farmer to reforming civil service and labor organization ebbed and flowed with which direction the popular winds were blowing, where easily exploitable institutional weakness was found and where support from high places encouraged further movement.

We see the same kind of Darwinism at play today, as governments and political parties vie to be the one force that effects change when that change is only window dressing – or wallpaper – leaving the underlying woodwork in varying states of repair and fitness unchanged. The political back-and-forth we get today – and I blame both Republicans and Democrats for this – leaves us with a government more interested in the wallpaper than the walls. And we as a public have no alternative direction to head as third parties are marginalized and our attempts to democratize the republic for which it stands gets lost in the noise.

Monday, September 12, 2011

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Enthusiasm


I had a telescope when I was a kid. Got it for Christmas, after a year of serious begging. It was great. I remember setting it up in the living room so I could catch a view of the moon rising over the back yard through the picture window (it was freaking cold outside, you see).

I must have stared at that moon for hours, moving the telescope occasionally to keep up with its movement through the sky, counting craters and watching the edge of the moon wriggle as its light came down to me through the atmosphere and that picture window glass.

Then I put the thing away and, as I recall, never got it out again. Ungrateful little kid that I was.

Now I have a son about that age, and for his birthday this year, we got him a telescope. We’ve had it out several times. Just this weekend we trained it on the moon and counted craters, watched as clouds drifted between us and that shining orb and lamented that I skimped and didn’t buy that moon filter to reduce the eyestrain.

But we got it out several times this year. And the year’s not over yet.

Enthusiasm. Maybe that’s all it takes.

Dad didn’t do this kind of stuff with me. Not that it matters – we did lots of other kinds of stuff together. But getting out that telescope with Liam and looking at the moon through it – and reminding myself that we’re looking at a flipped image; that explains why Crater Tycho was on the top right quadrant of the moon, rather than the lower left – was fun. We did it together. We were both excited.

Excitement is kinda like nuclear criticality – you need a lot of it to keep things going.

Accident Inspires Incorrect Headline, Incorrect Juxtaposition


An explosion that killed one worker and injured three or four others at a French nuclear waste treatment site is inspiring headline writers all over the mass media to write incorrect headlines that blow the accident out of proportion.

The stories do generally a better job of explaining what occurred at the Centraco site Monday, but the fuzzy use of the pejorative “nuke plant” in the headlines is misleading readers and likely fueling fears of another Fukushima-style disaster, rather than what has actually happened.

The Associated Press headline (shown here at TIME.com, but Google searches show the “nuke plant” shorthand is being used legion elsewhere, so my assumption is the headline comes from the AP) screams “1 Dead, 4 Hurt in Blast at French Nuke Plant.” Where a photo accompanies the story, more often than not it’s of your typical nuclear power plant’s cooling towers.

I understand what’s going on here – it’s all due to shorthand. “Nuke plant” is shorter than “waste facility” or even “waste plant,” and conjures up a more concrete image – who cares if there’s an explosion at a French landfill, for instance. Throwing in the cooling tower photo makes the nuclear connection even more clear. Unfortunately, this kind of shorthand, as easy as it is in conjuring up pictures in the minds of readers, is inaccurate. Only by reading the story do readers understand – and then, only in a klunky fashion – what has occurred. And in this age of Twitter and instant praise/condemnation based on as few words (and facts) as possible, saying an explosion and death occurred at a “nuke plant” is going to get more attention and more negative reactions toward nuclear power, even though the accident did not, as a point of fact, occur at a nuclear power plant. (That it occurred in the mere vicinity of a nuclear power plant (experimental ones at that) is even more exciting to the fearmongers.)

Reuters – which in general does a lot better at technical and science reporting than the AP – does a better job with its headline, “Blast at French nuclear site kills one, no leaks” shown here.

CNN.com, too, does a fair job at reporting the facts without exaggeration.

It’s fair to include nuclear in both headlines, of course. But the image of a “plant” versus a “site” in many minds conjures up power plants, which in turn conjures up images of Fukushima and Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and C. Montgomery Burns buying another $1,000 ivory-handled backscratcher.

Why is this such a big deal to me? Well, I work at an American site that is processing nuclear waste. If an explosion occurred here and the news were saying it was at a “nuke plant” there’s be a lot of howling at the press in my work neighborhood. It appears the explosion occurred in an oven being used to melt metallic low-level waste, which is less dangerous than the stuff being processed where I work. (Per World Nuclear News and the American Nuclear Society, the furnace that exploded was being used to melt scrap metal, pumps, tools, etc., lightly contaminated with short-lived and low-level radioactivity) So again, the headline – and the images being used with this story in some places -- do not fit with reality.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back When I Thought I Could Write Like Richard Adams

Come ye prophets, mages wise
porters of peeping stones
Oracle bearers, come hear the tale
of Second Ourscielfurr's bones

On green hump near the Willow
deep in aspen black glade
In a hut made of thatch branch and twig
reeds (1) delivered blue-furred babe

To a brown-hued corn farmer
Tugarraf, pink-furred mate
Blue larks burst forth singing, bells ringing
Friend Sun shone bright at the gate

Hail, hail tiny wee blue-fur!
Bears' great battles lead on
Peasants, warbears, prophets paid homage
To savior, black burlap wrapped

Aspens d'or, flowers bedecked
Silvergrass weaved and twined
Crown on the blue brow-festival light!
Fire Feast sprung up on the Hump

Starfire bright, pinhole light
Silvery crescent moon
Smiled on the hump glade, Ourson (2) stood guard
Yet sparrows clouded the wood

Firetorch lighting! Mourn, cry!
Gold ones! Black hoods! Red eyes!
Spears marched like raindrops, surrounding glade
Hellclouds grew thick in the sky

Silver moon dimmed by lightning
Hellclouds veiled Ourson's eyes
Feasters ran panic, brave warbears stood
dark blood slaughter struck the glade

Crows and sparrows fought and squawked
warbears groaned bleak and fell
Confusion Master, cries in the night
Hump opened dark gates of Hell

Cry of anguish, Voice of Death
screeched out from thatched hut
Ourson! Ourson! Family forsaken!
wee blue-fur lay streaked with blood

Treason! Treason came the cry
Rally warbears, hie! Hie!
Blue-fur, pink fur, brown fur, all lay dead
Wee Ourscielfurr babe is gone!

Birdcall ceased, clouds shuddered still
Pale Eye shone down on the Hump
Tugarraf, Cornear, blue-fur lay still
Wrapped up in each others' claws

To avenge dark sin treason
Prophet called to the sky
Ourson, Fair Ladies (3) hear ye this cry!
Of these dead, form ye thy skies!

Fair Ladies wept, descended
took up blue and his kin
of their bones formed them Wee One, Big One
To the heavens made them kin

Watch and learn tiny young ones
O, remember ye old!
Wee One, Big One, with Cornear around
Heed tokens, shining stones

Heed ye prophets, mages wise
porters of peeping stones
Oracle bearers, remember the tale
of Second Ourscielfurr's bones

(1) Cattails
(2) Orion
(3) The Pleadies

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Have I Done?

So in less than a week, I’ll have 45 students – and counting – to take care of through BYU-Idaho.

Yes, I did agree to take on two online sections of FDENG 101 this semester. But watching the student count climb from two this time last week to 20 just a few minutes ago is bringing the reality crashing in.

I’ve got to remember a few things:

1) I’m building a possible new career here. Keep doing well teaching online at BYU-Idaho and they might consider me for further, full-time employment down the road. Once I have a doctorate or can chew crackers and whistle “Yankee Doodle” at the same time.
2) I’m helping students with my unique look at the craft of writing. Wow. I managed to type that with a straight face. Even sans-serif. A little nerd joke there.
3) Money, Mr. Burns, money. Just under $5,000 for teaching the two courses, which end Dec. 12. That money will make Christmas – and paying Michelle’s tuition for next semester – that much easier. I’ll have to pay taxes on it, though. That’ll cut into the refund.

I talked to my Coworker Ed who also teaches online courses at BYU-Idaho, and he too has two sections (of ENG 201) to teach. He doesn’t feel stressed out. But then again, he’s got the doctorate and the cracker/Yankee Doodle thing down pat.’

I have the bus ride on which I can grade papers, leaving only the data entry once I get home. Midterm conferences will likely not be pleasant with that many to get through, but then again I remind myself of the 25 students I had last semester, barely half participated in a conference, so what are my chances that all of my students this semester are going to be geeks who want to talk to the ubergeek?

A few goals: I’m going to be meaner. I’ll help my students enjoy the course, but I’m going to be meaner, especially at those midterm conferences and they’re falling behind.

No extra credit this semester, either. Those who did the extra credit offerings last semester were exactly the students who did not need the extra points. So it won’t happen this semester.

Also: I hope to get an iPad out of this, with the cash. But we’ve got that tuition. And a new computer to buy for Michelle. And this and that. So we’ll see. Plus, I think I’m going to get a generator or solar panels for the camper for Christmas anyway. Maybe I’ll turn the table and get them for Michelle for Christmas. That would be a treat.

That Lonely Road


Photo borrowed from here.

NOTE: Until the Uncharted story uploader is working again, I'll be posting stories here, then directing my readers to Uncharted for photos. Hopefully, this will be a short-lived solution.

The world is our Mandelbrot set; infinitely revealing, yet always concealing the wonders that lie within unless we’re willing to follow our noses and plunge into whatever seahorse valley we may find.

Seahorse Valley is a popular destination for those who explore the mathematical Mandelbrot. I don’t pretend to understand the mathematics, but I do understand the set’s beauty: Hidden within this graphical representation of numbers plugged into a simple mathematical formula lie endless swirls and whorls of detail that never stop no matter how close you get to them.

I felt the same as we drove US Highway 14 and 14A through Wyoming’s lonely Big Horn Mountains where, at any time, I could have stopped the car, left kith and kin behind, and wandered off into those mountains peppered with rock and pine, never to emerge again until I had explored it to the sand grain and pine needle.

There is simplicity in sand grain and pine needle. There is simplicity, too, in what’s called the Laramide orogeny, a period of time 70 to 80 million years in the past, when great plates of the earth’s crust slipping beneath the North American plate caused layer upon layer of sedimentary rock to uplift, forcing what is now the Rocky Mountains to rise. As those layers rose, they tilted, then broke, with their more jagged edges thrusting ever further into the sky if the rock were hard enough (think the granite of the Teton range) or tumbling to the earth in great landslides as the softer rock, exposed to weather, time, and gravity, succumbed.

That part of the Rocky Mountain Mandelbrot is the Big Horn Range, where jagged rocks tumble from the tops, where layers of rock lie exposed where man and nature have cut, and where bold outcroppings of rock thrust through the greenery, taking on the fantastical shapes of layered cakes and Muppets.

The Big Horns are a spur branch of the Rockies, broken off from the main thrust of mountains by the Big Horn basin. We drove through the mountains from east to west, climbing a spaghetti noodle road as our in-car GPS went through general distress as the road has been realigned since it was last programmed. The mountains thrust thousands of feet up from the surrounding basin, so the road necessarily curves and bends as we climb. Our passage, from one side of the mountains to the other, took three hours. Ideally, we should have spent a day there, exploring. Well, next time. We know where the mountains are now.

It’s a lonely road. In full summer, we saw a total of two other vehicles. There are easier ways around the mountains to Yellowstone National Park on the one side, the plains of Wyoming and the distant Black Hills of South Dakota on the other. You can take the interstate north into Montana, or state and US highways south in Wyoming. But something about that red squiggle on the map – and the small writing next to it (“Closed in Winter”) called out to us in the July heat. So climb we did. And it’s no gradual climb. From valley floor to tallest peak is over 8,000 feet, and we drove about half of that, swiftly – in less than twenty miles. So once in the mountains, you are in the mountains, following glacial valleys to the north and west as you go.

Glacier activity is evident everywhere, from the erratic boulders tumbled down the hillside to the scars scraped on the sides of the range’s many U-shaped valleys. What mountain bones lie exposed here not in the road cut are exposed by ice and water.

Fresh water. About halfway through the mountains, right to the side of the road, is a mountain spring someone has fitted with a pipe. The water is clear, cold, and mineral refreshing. We stopped at the spring for a few moments, drinking the water and reveling in the quiet of the surroundings. Not a car roared. A few birds whispered from the distant trees. Cool breezes blew off the still-present snow banks further up the mountains. Even our kids, normally a rowdy bunch, noted the quiet and added to it, whispering as they scampered around the spring.

We’ll come hiking here, when the kids are older. They love to hike, once they know what lies at the end of the trail. And I like the solitude of that lonely road, where the mountain man that lies deep within can fantasize about heading off into the wild to carve a life, until the softy without reminds him that winter isn’t all that far off. My inner mountain man doesn’t much like snow either.

Descending the other side of the mountain toward Lowell is as close to automobile rappelling as I want to be. The road hugs the mountainside, occasionally hiding in the folds so the distant basin floor below is invisible. But the road is long and near the cliffs and steep mountain slopes, urging caution. Belay is on as I drive cautiously down. Seahorse Valley lies somewhere below, waiting for me to come examine every gully, every break, every grain, every atom.

 More photos at www.uncharted.net here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trying to Get "Le Grille" Working Again

You may have noticed (in fact, we hope you have; that means you’re a regular Uncharted visitor) that we’re having a little difficulty at Uncharted.net.

Our photo uploader works, well, kinda, and you have to treat it like an old pickup, whapping it here and turning up the radio to drown out the noises there. The story uploader, well, that isn’t working at all.

We’re sorry.

We’re working on a solution that includes rewriting some of the programming that lies behind Uncharted.net, and doing so on a shoestring budget. We’ll try to do a better job of keeping you up to date on our progress so your visits to Uncharted.net are fun, not frustrating. Although sometimes it’s fun to watch someone be frustrated, as Homer Simpson here:


Rest assured that the experts we have working on Uncharted.net’s woes are much better at their jobs than Homer is at masonry.

In the meantime, we’re working on a few solutions that’ll keep us all sharing our photos and adventures until we’ve got the site working as we’d like.

1) The photo uploader is still working, but you just have to be patient with it. If you get an error message, just reload the page, or open up Uncharted.net in a new browser and try again. Most of the time (and trust me, I’ve done a lot of trial and error on this ) your photos will be there, waiting for more to join them or for your muse to help you write captions.

2) If you’ve got an itch to write a story, simply post it to your blog, on Facebook, Google+ or whatever space you’ve got and send us a link at Uncharted’s Facebook page, which you can find here.

3) If you’d rather leave the hosting to us, contact us via our Facebook page and we’ll work things out.

4) If you have any suggestions, want to make a donation so our site upgrade goes faster, absolutely let us know.

Thanks for your patience. We love seeing your photos and reading your stories. We hope this interim solution in keeping your enthusiasm alive will, well, keep that enthusiasm alive. Let us know what we can do to do better.

To Alan Murray. We Hardly Knew Ye.


Good luck old chum. Good health. Good bye . . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2001


"Even More Fembots," my friends, represents the 2000th post on Mister Fweem's Blog. Hoping this celebratory video is appropriate.

Even More Fembots

Brian Hudson

Because of checking through the world wide web
and seeing strategies which are not powerful,
I assumed my life was over.

Babbling About the Hermit


Mars, they said.

Maybe Mars. The imp in me would have me climb that famous butte – the one that looked like a human face in those photos from the 1970s – and deface it so it looks more like a chicken.

True, there used to be wilderness on Mars. Dry canyons full of dust and tumbled rocks. Craters exposing the sedimentary rock that Mars’ ancient rivers deposited before leaving ghosts of deltas and gravel bars. And the scoops, the tracks, the gouges, the debris, left by the mechanical explorers who came and roamed and wandered and withered on the surface before mankind came to place reverential diamond crystal domes over their dusted remains.

There was wilderness. Now there is Wilderness. From the first bounce mark of the gasbags that protected Opportunity to its last visible tracks the rover made, protected Wilderness. They do not even want footprints there; one must visit in hovercraft or on individual jitneys that cannot leave a mark on the landscape below. There is nowhere for man to set a bare foot. There are cities on Mars. Actual cities, with names like Lowell and Bradbury and Heinlen. They are full of steel and concrete the same iron oxide color as the Martian soil. Plexiglas-topped planters of marigolds – some early settlers’ joke – fill the streets of Bradbury with alien greenery.

Mars is no place for explorers.

We have to think small, explorers today. Steig Hartvigsen, settler of Ida, King and Tyrant of the Asteroid Belt, is our inspiration. Hartvigsen settled on Ida’s gently rolling surface and defied the International Astronomical Union from dethroning him after he declared his king and tyrantship to the solar system in a dispatch he radioed to supporters on Mars. Seventeen years later, the IAU still does not recognize his sovereignty throughout the belt, but his followers distribute his royal proclamations and send him tributes of rose petals and music recorded by Mel Torme or Bing Crosby.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Delta on Mars


The funny thing is not that scientists keep finding water landforms on Mars, but that we keep acting surprised that they do.

Here, in the center of this picture from the European Space Agency's Mars Express, shows a typical water delta -- a spot where water suddenly reaches a relatively flat plain and simply disperses, rather than forming a single channel -- exiting a crater. There's more information on the find here.

Is it crazy of me to still want to go to Mars? Really. I'd love to go there, wander around a bit. I think that's part of the reason I've written "The Hermit of Iapetus," and want to work it from a longish short story into a novel. I know I will not set foot on Mars in my lifetime. It ain't in the technology nor the budget. I may only get to see it the way Ray Bradbury got to see it: By writing about it. And to do that, first I have to finish writing a story based on one of Saturn's moons. But that's okay. At least I'm out in space somewhere.

Distance Achieved


I am here to testify that writing the first draft of a novel is easy.

How can I say that? Well, I've done it, for one. And now that I'm beginning the first deep editing of the thing, I can say safely that the editing process is going to be a lot tougher. And I'm not just talking about the 20,000 or so words that are going to be cut out of the novel. I can do that in swathes and sections, so it'll be pretty easy and I won't hurt the continuity of the story at all. But figuring out how to make the other 90,000 words sing, while also augmenting the story in parts and making things more cohesive in general, that's going to be the tough part.

Percolation is helping. I've been gathering little ideas, impressions here and there, things that I think, wow, I should add this to the story. What's also helping is this: Walking away from it and coming back to it with a dispassionate eye.

This is an old trick, one I've applied many a time before. Walking away from a bit of writing, then coming back to it, even after 48 hours or so, lets you see its many warts and bumps and faults. That's a critical tool for any serious writer to have in his or her toolkit. But this is the biggest by far bit of writing that I've walked away from.

Trick is now I'm seeing it as a whole, not as little bitty sections as I wrote them. Sitting down to read this as a story, not as blog posts, is helping me to get a more omniscient overview of the story and characters, and how I need to do a lot more structuring to make all the little pieces fit together better to make the story overall more enjoyable. I realize there are plot elements I can extend, some that I need to drop entirely, and others that need to be explained just a bit more to help the reader -- and myself -- understand why I included them in the first place. Right now the plot and storyline is a little crooked road. I need to straighten the spine up a little bit and then trim the branches to make sure I can see the tree for the forest I've hidden it in.

So what's next? Well, with winter coming on, my goal is to have the first deep edit of this novel completed by the end of the year. I know I'm going on three years working on this novel, but the distance achieved this year by setting it aside (technically longer than I intended to at first) is going to be time well spent because I can see more the things that need to be fixed. With a good deep edit done, I'll feel better shopping this around in 2012.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bad Poetry: On the Inland Sea

Wind drops
ripples.
Not on water.
On the inland sea.
Wind whips
waves
pulsing
fanning
on the inland sea.
Whiskers waving
heads drooping
dripping green
on the inland sea.
Wind whips
the green ship
green ship plying
on the inland sea.