Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interview Meme

This one's from Lavender:

1. What is your biggest pet peeve and why does it bother you?

Tailgaters. Why do they assume they have the right to invade my space? I did a post about this here.

2. Why do you want to move away from Texas?

It's not so much wanting to leave Texas (except to get away from the blasted heat!), but wanting to go the same state where Tomcat's parents retired. We've been to North Carolina and it's gorgeous. It has two coasts, forests, and mountains, all in one easy-to-drive-to area, unlike Texas, where you have to drive forever to get to something. Oh, and did I mention the heat?

3. Name three things that you DO NOT believe in.

One: Magical beings like gods and goddesses, elves, and Santa Claus

Two: The so-called "nobility of man." Sure, there are exceptions, but that's the point. Noble people seem to be aberrations, because judging by the way most people on the planet are living, in abject poverty, and some under horrific conditions, the rest of the species sure doesn't have much going for it.

Three: Anything the Bush administration says.

4. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

Somewhere in childhood, maybe around age 10 or 11. I started writing short stories. Sure wish I'd saved them!

5. What are you most afraid of?



1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Okay, I'm Learning Chinese

"Women's town" to put men in their place

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese tourism authorities are seeking investment to build a novel concept attraction -- the world's first "women's town," where men get punished for disobedience, an official said Thursday.

The 2.3-square-km Longshuihu village in the Shuangqiao district of Chongqing municipality, also known as "women's town," was based on the local traditional concept of "women rule and men obey," a tourism official told Reuters.

"Traditional women dominate and men have to be obedient in the areas of Sichuan province and Chongqing, and now we are using it as an idea to attract tourists and boost tourism," the official, surname Li, said by telephone."

Tourism, hell - give me a condo!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Have you heard about this? Honeybees are disappearing - literally. Not even their bodies are left behind. Could it be ... RAPTURE?

Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Go to work, come home.

Go to work, come home.

Go to work -- and vanish without a trace.

Billions of bees have done just that, leaving the crop fields they are supposed to pollinate, and scientists are mystified about why.

The phenomenon was first noticed late last year in the United States, where honeybees are used to pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually. Disappearing bees have also been reported in Europe and Brazil.

I read a report about a week ago that some scientists think cell phones are the culprit. But that can't be right because this article says the problem was first noticed late last year. Cell phones have been in use for a long time. Besides, later on in the article, it says that this same phenomenon was reported in 1880.

Commercial beekeepers would set their bees near a crop field as usual and come back in two or three weeks to find the hives bereft of foraging worker bees, with only the queen and the immature insects remaining. Whatever worker bees survived were often too weak to perform their tasks.

If the bees were dying of pesticide poisoning or freezing, their bodies would be expected to lie around the hive. And if they were absconding because of some threat -- which they have been known to do -- they wouldn't leave without the queen.

Since about one-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination and most of that is performed by honeybees, this constitutes a serious problem, according to Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

"They're the heavy lifters of agriculture," Pettis said of honeybees. "And the reason they are is they're so mobile and we can rear them in large numbers and move them to a crop when it's blooming."

Honeybees are used to pollinate some of the tastiest parts of the American diet, Pettis said, including cherries, blueberries, apples, almonds, asparagus and macadamia nuts.

"It's not the staples," he said. "If you can imagine eating a bowl of oatmeal every day with no fruit on it, that's what it would be like" without honeybee pollination.

I hope they're right about this part, "It's not the staples." Otherwise, we'd be looking at famine. Can you imagine famine in the United States?

Pettis and other experts are gathering outside Washington for a two-day workshop starting on Monday to pool their knowledge and come up with a plan of action to combat what they call colony collapse disorder.

"What we're describing as colony collapse disorder is the rapid loss of adult worker bees from the colony over a very short period of time, at a time in the season when we wouldn't expect a rapid die-off of workers: late fall and early spring," Pettis said.

Small workers in a supersize society

The problem has prompted a congressional hearing, a report by the National Research Council and a National Pollinator Week set for June 24-30 in Washington, but so far no clear idea of what is causing it.

"The main hypotheses are based on the interpretation that the disappearances represent disruptions in orientation behavior and navigation," said May Berenbaum, an insect ecologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Here's the cell-phone usage hypothesis, probably. I wonder what else could be interfering? In the cell-phone signal scenario, the worker bees can't navigate back to the hive, so they die. Well then, where are their bodies?

There have been other fluctuations in the number of honeybees, going back to the 1880s, where there were "mysterious disappearances without bodies just as we're seeing now, but never at this magnitude," Berenbaum said in a telephone interview.

In some cases, beekeepers are losing 50 percent of their bees to the disorder, with some suffering even higher losses. One beekeeper alone lost 40,000 bees, Pettis said. Nationally, some 27 states have reported the disorder, with billions of bees simply gone.

Some beekeepers supplement their stocks with bees imported from Australia, said beekeeper Jeff Anderson, whose business keeps him and his bees traveling between Minnesota and California. Honeybee hives are rented out to growers to pollinate their crops, and beekeepers move around as the growing seasons change.

Honeybees are not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping. Other animals that do this essential job -- non-honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bats -- have decreasing populations as well. But honeybees are the big actors in commercial pollination efforts.

To me, this was the scariest part. They're "not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping."

"One reason we're in this situation is this is a supersize society -- we tend to equate small with insignificant," Berenbaum said. "I'm sorry but that's not true in biology. You have to be small to get into the flower and deliver the pollen.

"Without that critical act, there's no fruit. And no technology has been invented that equals, much less surpasses, insect pollinators."

I don't think this is very good news, people.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Handbag Porn

Francesco Biasia $335

Inge $450

Versace $1200

Cole Haan $350

I can't afford any of these, but as any porn addict can attest, it don't hurt to look.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Five Things

Pooks tagged me with this meme. It's called:

Five things you don't know about me and probably don't care to know about me.

(These are things most people in my tiny part of the Blogosphere don't know about me, although real-life friends and family probably do.)

1. My childhood was ... exciting. Mom was a multiple personality, Dad was an alcoholic. Both were abusive. Off and on, I've spent decades in therapy and have been hospitalized more than once for severe depression.

2. I have familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited disease that causes extremely high cholesterol levels. When I was 30, I had to have my abdominal aorta and femoral arteries replaced. I was lucky it didn't affect my heart. My brother wasn't so lucky. He had a quadruple bypass at 40, and died at 49. He never smoked, and he exercised regularly. I take 80 mgs. of Lipitor a day.

3. I have joined neither the Democratic nor Republican parties, but think of myself as an Independent. (In Texas, you don't have to register with a party.) The last Republican I voted for, in a Presidential race, was Nixon. In the last elections, I voted straight-ticket Democratic for the first time. Apparently, a lot of people did!

4. For some women, it's shoes. For me, it's handbags, although I've never paid more than $60 for one in my life. Not that I wouldn't want to! I just can't justify it, no matter how hard I try. Hm. The $1,200 Versace, or groceries and a car payment? But, that doesn't stop me from indulging in a little online handbag porn from time to time.

5. I get silly happy over some of the most mundane things - a quiet evening at home with Tomcat is bliss, cooking a meal for friends is fun, gardening on a nice day is heaven. Oh - and blogging. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

20,000 turn out for Obama
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 04/14/07

At what may have been his largest campaign event this year,* U.S. Sen. Barack Obama drew on a hometown hero's words at an Atlanta rally Saturday to voice his opposition to the war in Iraq.

Recalling the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words that the Vietnam War had become "morally and politically untenable," Obama said the war in Iraq has come to be about "an administration that is trying to preserve its own political viability."

"It is about stubbornness and obstinacy. And we have to keep ratcheting up the pressure every day and every week to tell the president that it is time to change course, that it is time for us to start bringing our combat troops home from Iraq," the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate told an enthusiastic midday crowd at Yellow Jacket Park on the Georgia Tech campus.

Read the full article here.

* The crowd in Austin, Texas, earlier in the year was estimated at between 15,000 and20,000.

A Colorful Story

This is my new storyboard for Gino's Law. The first row contains the scenes for Act I, the second row is Act II to the Midpoint, and the third row has scene cards for the rest of Act II.

I tossed the cards for Act III (not written yet) because what I had planned for the final Act was just too ... sucky. I'm still workin' on it.

This is a close-up of how the cards are used. The top of the card shows the location of the scene and the bottom is the name I've chosen for it. That way, if I later want to know where the "helicopter" bit is, I can find it quickly.

The middle of the card has the conflict, indicated by ><, and over on the far right, bottom, is the emotional arc the character goes through, indicated by + for positive, - for negative.

The cards can be flipped up to view the details of each scene.

The beauty of this system is that the cards can be shuffled around or even discarded until you get it just the way you want it. What is most helpful (to me, at least) is to actually see the whole novel plotted out in front of me.

I love this, and wish I could totally take credit for the system. But no, it's adapted from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat (for screenwriting,) and from one of the people in my writer's group who came up with the accordian-style card arrangement. For a screenplay, you'd have only one card in each spot, but for a novel you need to group them in sets (for the obvious reason that a novel is much longer than a screenplay.) The black foam board was Pooks' idea. The multi-colored cards was something I chose. Some people color-code elements of their stories, but I didn't do that. I just thought the colors looked great against the black background.

There was an ongoing discussion about how best to group the cards. The guy in our group who came up with this uses little pieces of masking tape for each card. I experimented with a glue stick, but after a while, the cards started falling off. Pooks uses push pins, which is fine because she's writing a screenplay and doesn't need to have the accordian-style groups. Push pins won't work for that. Tomcat came up with the brilliant idea of using thumbtacks! I'm surrounded by genius.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

One of a Kind

Counterculture writer Kurt Vonnegut dies

You may enjoy reading this article Vonnegut wrote after being named American Humanist of the Year:

Why My Dog is Not a Humanist
by Kurt Vonnegut

The 1992 Humanist of the Year ponders the many meanings of "humanism" Kurt Vonnegut is honorary president of the American Humanist Association. On May 1, 1996, in Portland, Oregon, Vonnegut accepted the American Humanist of the Year Award. What follows is the text of this acceptance speech.

I was once a Boy Scout. The motto of the Boy Scouts, as you know, is ''Be Prepared'' So, several years ago I wrote a speech to be delivered in the event that I won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It was only eight words long. I think I had better use it here. "Use it or lose it:" as the saying goes.

This is it: ''You have made me an old, old man''

I think I got this great honor because I've lasted so long. I dare to say of humanism what Lyndon Johnson said of politics. He said, ''Politics ain't hard. You just hang around and go to funerals.''

Forgive me if I am not solemn about my award tonight. I am here for your companionship and not any award.

Nicholas Murray Butler, the late president of Columbia University, was said by H. L. Mencken to have received more honorary degrees and medals and citations and so on than anyone else then on the planet. Mencken declared that all that remained to be done for him was to wrap him in sheet gold and burnish him until he blinded the sun itself.

This is not the first time I have been accused of being a humanist. All of 25 years ago, when I was teaching at the University of Iowa, a student all of a sudden said to me, ''I hear you're a humanist.''

I said, "Oh, yeah? What's a humanist?"

He said, ''That what I'm asking you. Aren't you getting paid to answer questions like that?''

I pointed out that my salary was a very modest one. I then gave him the names of several full professors who were making a heck of a lot more money than I was and who were doctors of philosophy besides--which I sure as heck wasn't, and which I am not now.

But his accusation stuck in my craw. And in the process of trying to cough it up so I could look at it, it occurred to me that a humanist, perhaps, was somebody who was crazy about human beings, who, like Will Rogers, had never met one he didn't like.

That certainly did not describe me.

It did describe my dog, though. His name was Sandy, although he wasn't a Scotsman. He was a puli--a Hungarian sheepdog with a face full of hair. I am a German, with a face full of hair.

I took Sandy to the little zoo in Iowa City. I expected him to enjoy the buffalo and the prairie dogs and the raccoons and the possoms and the foxes and the wolves and so on, and especially their stinks, which in the case of the buffalo were absolutely overwhelming.

But all Sandy paid any attention to was people, his tail wagging all the time. What a person looked like or smelled like didn't matter to Sandy. It could be a baby. It could be a drunk who hated dogs. It could be a young woman as voluptuous as Marilyn Monroe. It could have been Hitler. It could have been Eleanor Roosevelt. Whoever it was, Sandy would have wagged his tail.

I disqualified him as a humanist, though, after reading in the Encyclopedia Britannica that humanists were inspired by ancient Greece and Rome at their most rational, and by the Renaissance. No dog, not even Rin Tin Tin or Lassie, has ever been that. Humanists, moreover, I learned, were strikingly secular in their interests and enthusiasms, did not try to factor God Almighty into their equations, so to speak, along with all that could be seen and heard and felt and smelled and tasted in the here and now. Sandy obviously worshipped not just me but simply any person as though he or she were the creator and manager of the universe.

He was simply too dumb to be a humanist.

Sir Isaac Newton, incidentally, did think that was a reason able thing to do--to factor in a conventional God Almighty, along with whatever else might be going on. I don't believe Benjamin Franklin ever did. Charles Darwin pretended to do that, because of his place in polite society. But he was obviously very happy, after his visit to the Galapagos Islands, to give up that pretense. That was only 150 years ago.

As long as I've mentioned Franklin, let me digress a moment. He was a Freemason, as were Voltaire and Frederick the Great, and so were Washington and Jefferson and Madison.

Most of us here, I guess, would be honored if it was said that such great human beings were our spiritual ancestors. So why isn't this a gathering of Freemasons?

Can somebody here, after this speech, if you don't mind, tell me what went wrong with Freemasonry?

This much I think I understand: in Franklin's time--and in Voltaire's--Freemasonry was perceived as being anti Catholic. To be a Freemason was cause for excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

As the Roman Catholic population of this country grew by leaps and bounds, to be anti Catholic--in New York and Chicago and Boston, at least--was political suicide. It was also business suicide.

None of my real ancestors, blood ancestors, genetic ancestors in this country--every one of them of German decent--was a Freemason, so far as I know, and I am the fourth generation Vonnegut to be born here. Before World War I, though, a lot of them took part in the activities of a highly respectable but not impossibly serious organization much like this one, which they called ''the Freethinkers.''

There are a few Americans who call themselves that still--some of you in this room, no doubt. But the Freethinkers no longer exist as an organized presence of which communities are aware. This is because the movement was so overwhelmingly German American, and most German Americans found it prudent to abandon all activities that might make them seem apart from the general population when we entered World War I. Many Freethinkers, incidentally, were German Jews.

My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut, an immigrant merchant from Munster, became a Freethinker after reading Darwin. In Indianapolis, there is a public school named after him. He was head of the school board there for many years.

So the sort of humanism I represent, to which I am an heir, draws energy not from the Renaissance or from an idealized pre Christian Greece and Rome but, rather, from very recent scientific discoveries and modes of seeking truth.

I myself at one time tried to become a biochemist--as did our darling, terribly missed brother Isaac Asimov. He actually became one. I didn't have a chance. He was smarter than me. We both knew that, incidentally. He is in heaven now.

My paternal grandfather and father were both architects, restructuring the reality of Indianapolis with meticulously measured quantities of materials whose presence--unlike that of a conventional God Almighty--could not be doubted: wood and steel, sand and lime and stone, copper, brass, bricks.

My only surviving sibling, Dr. Bernard Vonnegut, eight years my senior, is a physical chemist who thinks and thinks about the distribution of electrical charges in thunderstorms.

But now my big brother, like Isaac Asimov near the end of his life, surely, and like most of us here, has to admit that the fruits of science so far, put into the hands of governments, have turned out to be cruelties and stupidities exceeding by far those of the Spanish Inquisition and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible and most of the demented Roman emperors, not excepting Heliogabalus.

Heliogabalus had a hollow iron bull in his banquet hall that had a door in its side. Its mouth was a hole, so sound could get out. He would have a human being put inside the bull and then a fire built on a hearth under its belly, so that the guests at his banquets would be entertained by the noises the bull made.

We modern humans roast people alive, tear their arms and legs off, or whatever, using airplanes or missile launchers or ships or artillery batteries--and do not hear their screams.

When I was a little boy in Indianapolis, I used to be thankful that there were no longer torture chambers with iron maidens and racks and thumbscrews and Spanish boots and so on. But there may be more of them now than ever--not in this country but elsewhere, often in countries we call our friends. Ask the Human Rights Watch. Ask Amnesty International if this isn't so. Don't ask the U.S. State Department.

And the horrors of those torture chambers--their powers of persuasion--have been upgraded, like those of warfare, by applied science, by the domestication of electricity and the de tailed understanding of the human nervous system, and so on.

Napalm, incidentally, is a gift to civilization from the chemistry department of Harvard University.

So science is yet another human made God to which I, unless in a satirical mood, an ironical mood, a lampooning mood, need not genuflect.

© Humanist, Nov 92, Vol. 52:6.5-6.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shh - Don't Tell Scruffybutt

These little darlings belong to Grace, the artist's, daughter.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"It Might Have Been Otherwise"

Insider: Missteps soured Iraqis on U.S.
(copyright AP)

NEW YORK - In a rueful reflection on what might have been, an Iraqi government insider details in 500 pages the U.S. occupation's "shocking" mismanagement of his country — a performance so bad, he writes, that by 2007 Iraqis had "turned their backs on their would-be liberators."

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order," Ali A. Allawi concludes in "The Occupation of
Iraq," newly published by Yale University Press.

Allawi writes with authority as a member of that "new order," having served as Iraq's trade, defense and finance minister at various times since 2003. As a former academic, at Oxford University before the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq, he also writes with unusual detachment.

The U.S.- and British-educated engineer and financier is the first senior Iraqi official to look back at book length on his country's four-year ordeal. It's an unsparing look at failures both American and Iraqi, an account in which the word "ignorance" crops up repeatedly.

First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.

What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders:

• The Americans disbanded Iraq's army, which Allawi said could have helped quell a rising insurgency in 2003. Instead, hundreds of thousands of demobilized, angry men became a recruiting pool for the resistance.

• Purging tens of thousands of members of toppled President
Saddam Hussein's Baath party — from government, school faculties and elsewhere — left Iraq short on experienced hands at a crucial time.

• An order consolidating decentralized bank accounts at the Finance Ministry bogged down operations of Iraq's many state-owned enterprises.

• The CPA's focus on private enterprise allowed the "commercial gangs" of Saddam's day to monopolize business.

• Its free-trade policy allowed looted Iraqi capital equipment to be spirited away across borders.

• The CPA perpetuated Saddam's fuel subsidies, selling gasoline at giveaway prices and draining the budget.

In his 2006 memoir of the occupation, Bremer wrote that senior U.S. generals wanted to recall elements of the old Iraqi army in 2003, but were rebuffed by the Bush administration. Bremer complained generally that his authority was undermined by Washington's "micromanagement."

Although Allawi, a cousin of Ayad Allawi, Iraq's prime minister in 2004, is a member of a secularist Shiite Muslim political grouping, his well-researched book betrays little partisanship.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of `success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

For their part, U.S. officials have often largely blamed Iraq's explosive violence for the failures of reconstruction and poor governance.

The author has been instrumental since 2005 in publicizing extensive corruption within Iraq's "new order," including an $800-million Defense Ministry scandal. Under Saddam, he writes, the secret police kept would-be plunderers in check better than the U.S. occupiers have done.

As 2007 began, Allawi concludes, "America's only allies in Iraq were those who sought to manipulate the great power to their narrow advantage. It might have been otherwise."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Our little writers' group, Pooks' Peeps, just had its first anniversary. We celebrated by wearing little funny hats and having lunch at Cozymels, a Mexican restaurant specializing in seafood. (Okay, we didn't really wear the hats, but we did have lots of fun. )

Although we've had a couple of rough spots, I'm pleased that now we have a group that is functioning just as I envisioned and hoped for over a year ago. There are three of us who are still together since the first meeting. A fourth member is a former critique partner of Pooks who fits in extremely well, and now Pooks herself has joined us.

It's such a joy to get face-to-face feedback from people who sincerely care about you and your work. I know I'm a better writer because of them, and I'm profoundly grateful.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Time Is On His Side

There's a joke that every time The Stones go on the road, it's the:


Yes, he is. And here's proof that he's immortal:

Keith Richards snorts dad's ashes

‘I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow,’ Keith Richards said of his father's ashes.

Now see, right there? That's why I love this guy. If you live life like Keith Richards, then ... you've lived, man.

A Tragedy

I started taking another class from Pooks yesterday. This one is Blueprinting Your Novel. She divided us into two teams for an in-class assignment which required us to write six major plot points based on a ballad she'd played for us on a CD. In 15 minutes. My teammate said she didn't realize we'd be required to think. :) We came up with a story involving a Hells Angel, who wore leather pants without a wrinkle, and chains all a-twinkle. (The hero in the ballad wore doe-skin breeches with never a wrinkle, and his pistol butts and rapier hilt were a-twinkle, you see.)

Anyway, we decided that the damsel was a preacher's daughter. They meet at a wedding where her father presides and she plays the piano at the reception. I love the Inciting Incident scene my teammate wrote: The Hells Angel plunks a beer and a 20-dollar bill on the piano and says something like, "Jesus! Play something with a beat. How about Louie-Louie?" The deacon (who is madly in love with the damsel) snatches the bill off the piano and says, "Sir, she does not play for money!" The damsel, almost simultaneously, batts her lashes and asks, "How does it go?"

Here I must borrow a brilliant scene card from the other team in the class: Time Passes. Finally, the damsel, having been forbidden to ever see our hero again, runs off to be with him at a Hells Angel rally. The deacon calls the cops, there's a shootout, and our hero is killed. Not wanting to live without him, and vowing never to return to her old life, our damsel commits suicide-by-cop. It was way sad.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tomcat Locks Himself In To Do The Taxes

Dr. Frankenstein: No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door.

Inga: Yes, Doctor.

Igor: Nice working with ya.

[A few minutes pass]

Dr. Frankenstein: Let me out. Let me out of here. Get me the hell out of here. What's the matter with you people? I was joking! Don't you know a joke when you hear one? HA-HA-HA-HA. Jesus Christ, get me out of here! Open this goddamn door or I'll kick your rotten heads in! Mommy!