Saturday, December 15, 2007

When do students become threats?

When is student writing a warning sign? This question is debated singlehandedly by Chris M. Anson of North Carolina State University in Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors.

How about student role-playing? This past week, a Frostburg State University student was arrested, and his dorm room searched, because of comments he allegedly made on a live audio feed while playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on Xbox Live. Call of Duty 4, like countless other computer, card and board games, awards points for "killing" one's "enemies." Whatever this guy said in the heat of "battle" prompted police to swarm across campus the next morning, and lead the student away in handcuffs -- though police later conceded, according to a follow up Cumberland Times-News item, that he "did not have the means, nor the intent, to carry out the threats."

Once more into the wardrobe

Amid the tablid bonanza that is the faked death of John Darwin, the discovery of his secret passage through a wardrobe is leading headline writers to do plays on C.S. Lewis. The Sun had "Liar, witch and the wardrobe" Dec. 8, and ABC News had "The Liar, the Switch and the Wardrobe" Dec. 10.

Speakers for the dead

At noon every Tuesday during the semester, at the clock tower in the middle of the Frostburg State University campus, names, ages and hometowns of U.S. troops killed in the current war are read aloud by volunteers, a program organized by the United Campus Ministry. I was one of the readers on the last Tuesday of the fall semester; here's a photo Sydney took.There are far too many to name all in one session, so four readers take turns reading names, in alphabetical order, for a half-hour each week. During my week, we were in the D's. And so on, week after week.

"Excellent pen! Some issues ..."

Since graduate school I've been fascinated by fiction in non-fictional formats. Here's one I haven't seen before, a short story written and posted as an Amazon customer review ... of a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen with, apparently, Lovecraftian qualities.

I admire Robert Carlberg's comment, too.

Thanks to my hero Barry Johnson for passing this along.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Dracula Innocence Project

In the grand tradition of the Richard III vindicators, the learned Sherlockians and Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton universalists comes the Dracula Innocence Project, which is seeking contributors to help clear the name of you-know-who:
Was Dracula framed? Why did a small group of people chase a terrified Transylvanian dignitary through the streets of London, and fatally run him through with a blade? We'll examine the evidence. You be the judge.
This is the doing of Paul Bibeau, author of the non-fiction book Sundays with Vlad. I salute him.

Thanks to Elizabeth Miller for passing this along.

A fine phildickian T-shirt

Thanks to David Lowe for passing along this last minute Christmas-gift idea.

The Rapture Index

The current Rapture Index is set at 158, meaning "Heavy prophetic activity." Its author explains:
The Rapture Index is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture.

You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we're moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.
Note that the index refers to the European Union as the "Beast Government."

A Roman Catholic priest once said to me, during a conversation about believers in the Rapture: "We Catholics don't have to fool with that." He then looked heavenward and added, "Thank you, Jesus."

Thanks to David Lowe for passing this along.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

International logic

That Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons work in 2003, says Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is a very bad sign:
They had the program. They halted the program. It's a warning signal because they could restart it.

Review of "Unique Chicken"

Los Angeles Times columnist Ed Park lists Eclipse One atop his short list of "Favorite SciFi Books of 2007," but discusses only one story in the book:
Is it science fiction? Is it even speculative fiction? Andy Duncan's odd, mesmerizing short story "Unique Chicken Walks in Reverse" belongs on this list of my favorite 2007 books in this genre mainly because it kicks off "Eclipse One," a new anthology series edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade). Five-year-old Mary O'Connor has a chicken that does just what Duncan's title says; it's a "frizzled" fowl (feathers growing on the inside) that she has named Jesus. Sacrilege or homage? Father Leggett comes to investigate. Mary later went by Flannery, and Duncan's brisk little fiction develops into a sly variant of O'Connor's intense modern morality tales.
I'm delighted by this, but I must not have explained well enough in the story that "frizzled" actually means its feathers grew in backward -- and it's "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse." But if you praise one of my stories in the Los Angeles Times, I reckon you can call it what you want! Thanks, Mr. Park.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Good for Hannah

I read in the Cumberland Times-News that our next-door neighbor Hannah Llewellyn, who takes care of our cats when we're away, is earning all A's and B's in sixth grade at Mount Savage School. Go, Hannah!

Good advice

I enjoy Amy Dickinson's Chicago Tribune advice column "Ask Amy," syndicated in our local paper. Her Dec. 8 column has the pithiest advice yet:
Dear Amy: If the boy I like likes someone else, and she likes him back, and that someone is somebody I hate, and the boy ignores me, what should I do? -- Boy Trouble

Dear Boy Trouble: Your homework.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Gamecock centennial

Today I received a post card from one of my several alma maters, the University of South Carolina, telling me the student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, is celebrating its 100th anniversary Jan. 30, 2008, and planning a reunion celebration of former staff members Feb. 22-23.

Ah, nostalgia. It was just The Gamecock when I worked on it, fall 1984 through spring 1986, because it was published only three times a week, not five as it is today. If we had published five times a week, I'd probably still be struggling to graduate. My titles at the paper, in order, were staff writer, entertainment editor, assistant entertainment editor (yes, I was demoted), copy desk chief and columnist. I also drew a few cartoons and wrote a few editorials, including the Jan. 29, 1986, editorial mourning the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Since I graduated and left the Gamecock staff, more than 21 years have passed. That's more than a fifth of the age of the paper, and more years than I had lived when I first walked into its newsroom.

Here's the reunion webpage. It could use some copy editing, but what else is new?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A long-winded headline

The Cumberland Times-News runs some of the longest headlines I've ever seen. Here's a doozy from the Dec. 3 paper. If you make it to the end of the headline, there's no point in reading the story.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I laughed and was ashamed

I'm a year late, but I just discovered Flumesday.com's list of the Top 10 Dirtiest Names in Sports:

10. De'Cody Fagg
9. Homer Bush
8. Albert Pujols
7. Irina Slutskaya
6. Ron Tugnutt
5. Assol Slivets
4. Dick Butkus
3. Johnny Dickshot
2. Dick Trickle
1. Chubby Cox

Flumesday followed this list, inevitably, with Top 10 Dirtiest Names in Sports: The Sequel.

10. Gregor Fucka
9. B.J. Johnson
8. Pete LaCock
7. Danny Shittu
6. Harry Colon
5. Lucious Pusey
4. Dick Pole
3. Dean Windass
2. Misty Hyman
1. Rusty Kuntz

Edelman and the Legion of Monsters

I marvel, pardon the pun, that I'm now friends with one of the writers of the comic books I avidly read as a kid, in the mid-'70s. I refer to Scott Edelman, whose new blog I recommend, for example this post about wincing when he sees his decades-old work reprinted today. I sympathize, but mainly I'm impressed that his work is still in demand, still being read -- and still generating checks -- after so many years.

The Legion of Monsters cover that accompanies Scott's post reminds me of Satana, Daimon Hellstrom's villainous sister, whom I hadn't thought of in decades. I much admired her removing-the-soul-in-the-form-of-a-butterfly trick.

Their teams should meet in an annual Toilet Bowl

I'm always pleased when I encounter a real-life rivalry that reminds me of the one in Monty Python's Life of Brian between the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea. This AP story introduces me to a doozy. Just imagine the years of ill will that must exist between the World Toilet Association and the World Toilet Organization.

Schmucks for Schmuck

Speaking of Mel Brooks, Gregory Frost passes along this lovely news item from The Onion. My favorite parts are the upcoming 5K Schlep for Schmuck Awareness and this quote:
"Today it's schmuck, tomorrow it might be toochis," said SFS volunteer Harry Steinbergmann, 82. "What's next, schlemiel? Putz? Schlimazel?"

Steinbergmann went on to classify this scenario as farcockteh.
This reminds me that years ago, during a conference in New Orleans, Myron Tuman gazed at my handiwork over dinner one night and said, "You eat like you got two toochises." I believe he meant it as a compliment.

My people, my people

F. Brett Cox reports that on this week's episode of Numb3rs, an artist at a comics convention surveyed the scene and said, "These are my people."

This was good for a laugh because Brett often has heard me sigh at science fiction conventions and say, "My people, my people" -- a phrase I lifted, no doubt tastelessly, from Zora Neale Hurston, who writes in Dust Tracks on a Road that the phrase "is forced outward by pity, scorn and hopeless resignation ... called forth by the observations of one class of Negro on the doings of another branch ..."

Two shout-outs to "Senator Bilbo"

At Crooked Timber, John Holbo hails my story "Senator Bilbo." Thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for pointing this out to me and, more importantly, for publishing the story in the first place (in Starlight 3).

Also, Mike Ashley reports plans to reprint "Senator Bilbo" in his anthology The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy (Robinson, 2008) -- as the first story, no less.

How 'bout more beans, Mr. Taggart?

In response to my suggestion that the Lee Van Cleef scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly may be the only sinister bean-eating scene in movie history, Arthur Hlavaty suggests Blazing Saddles. I knew someone would mention that (and I'm pleased it was you, Arthur), but I find Mel Brooks' bean-eating scene, however memorable, not sinister at all -- even though, come to think of it, the bean-eating is simultaneous with Taggart's plans to have Mongo "mutilate that new sheriff." Still, any potential for the sinister in the scene is, uh, undercut by Brooks, who provides an entirely different, uh, atmosphere.

Oz Whiston, meanwhile, says my bean-eating photo is more Mel Brooks than Sergio Leone, and that's a fair cop.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sinister bean-eating

Without a doubt, the most sinister bean-eating scene in movie history (indeed, perhaps the only sinister bean-eating scene in movie history) is in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as Lee Van Cleef holds off killing a man long enough to polish off a bowl o' beans, all the while pinning his intended victim with a cobra's gaze.

Not long ago, Sydney and I were polishing off a couple of bowls of Laurie beans (so named because we got the recipe from Sydney's cousin Laurie Steele), and we decided to see how sinister we each could be in the process. Sydney won -- she had the Van Cleef squint down pat -- but she won't let me post the photo that captures her in the act. Here are two of the photos she took of me. As you can see, I opted for the Eli Wallach approach: While Angel Eyes (Van Cleef's character) always knew exactly whom he was going to kill next, Tuco (Wallach's character) was never quite sure, so he'd be watching the exits and his fellow bean-eaters all the while, alert for any sign of treachery.I challenge others to share their own sinister bean-eating experiences, with photos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Irony hereafter, and after

This upstream comment from Richard Parks is worth highlighting:
Tom Lehrer once said that he knew that "Satire was dead when they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize."

I'm not sure if irony is dead yet, but this President is sure making multiple attempts on its life.
Have I lately plugged Richard's fine novella Hereafter, and After, from PS Publishing? Consider it plugged anew.

More World Fantasy photos

Isabel "Oz" Whiston writes:
Good photos. ... Proves to Sydney you were there and not off gallivanting about the countryside, not that you would, would you?
Indeed not! And here's the evidence that Oz and James Patrick Kelly weren't off gallivanting, either.Meanwhile, my Clarion West 2005 student E.C. Myers writes:
Hey, where's that picture of "Neil Gaiman"?
I believe this is the photo E.C. means.All I remember of the circumstances is that someone threw a leather jacket over my shoulders and said, "Hey, look, it's Neil Gaiman!" I then gamely tried to look suave (and you can see how that came out), and speak in a British accent (and you can imagine how that came out). All else, mercifully, is a blur -- but just in case, allow me here to apologize to Neil, to all Brits, to all owners of leather jackets, and to all truly suave people (you know who you are).

Names floating in air

Regarding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, my Clarion 2004 student Phil "Dr. Phil" Kaldon writes:
The first time I met the wall, it was at night and that shimmering glossy black lost in the tiny footlamps of the path into the ground had a power I'd not expected. The surface is so clean that in the dark the etched names stand out as if floating in air and you can't quite tell where the wall is. Went by the next day in daylight and it was a moving experience in quite a different way.

It is an amazing memorial.
It is indeed.

Quin's Shanghai Circus and Things Will Never Be the Same

I second Jason Erik Lundberg's recommendation of Quin's Shanghai Circus, the astounding 1974 first novel by the late Edward Whittemore. Jason writes:
One of the most uniquely original novels I've read in some time. Espionage around World War II, decadent circuses, exile and expatriation, conspiracies, and the barbarities of war. Whittemore's prose style is gorgeous in its simplicity and rhythms, and I could kick myself for not reading his writing earlier. Accomplished, daring, brutal, so good that it's difficult to believe that this was his first novel. Hard to find, but highly recommended.
Speaking of kicking oneself, I wish I had gone ahead and bought the Old Earth Books paperbacks of all Whittemore's novels when they came out in 2002, rather than just demurely buying Quin's as a sampler, and figuring I'd buy the others Oneday. Now they mostly seem to be Temporarily Out of Stock, alas. To partially atone, I highly recommend a brand-new Old Earth Books paperback: Things Will Never Be the Same, a retrospective Howard Waldrop collection that includes "Mr. Goober's Show," "Night of the Cooters," "The Sawing Boys," "The Ugly Chickens," "US" and other wonders.

More Lincoln hunters

Regarding the photo that may or may not depict Lincoln at Gettysburg, Mark Wingenfeld writes:
Of course we know that Lincoln was at Gettysburg ... what we really should be looking for is a photo of Lincoln at Frogmore.
Ha! I'd like to see that one myself, Mark. The only image I know of, painted long after the fact, is the late Sam Doyle's remarkable painting of the scene, which inspired my World Fantasy Award-nominated story "Lincoln in Frogmore." I can't find the painting online anywhere, alas. I first saw it in summer 1995 at the North Carolina Museum of Art, in the touring exhibition "Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present," my all-but-overwhelming introduction to the subject, and it's reprinted in the excellent catalog of that exhibit, edited by Alice Rae Yelen, from the University Press of Mississippi. It'll do until that elusive photograph comes along.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Religious scholars on the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Among its other charms, this fine article on Flying Spaghetti Monster scholarship tells me about a book I'd very much like to read: Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture by David Chidester (University of California Press, 2005).

The article also includes a great quote from graduate student Gavin Van Horn: "You have to keep a sense of humor when you're studying religion, especially in graduate school. Otherwise you'll sink into depression pretty quickly." Like, I would argue, the otherwise brilliant Bart Ehrman, whose advanced study of the Bible led him to swap one fundamentalist belief for another.

The Lincoln hunters

Looking for Lincoln in this crowd shot taken at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication on Nov. 19, 1863 -- the venue, of course, of the president's famous speech -- reminds me of all those hours we've spent looking at even worse photos, trying to squint hard enough to make out a UFO, or Bigfoot, or Nessie, or someone's revenant grandma.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Flying the flags

This photo from the Veterans Day edition of the Cumberland Times-News shows three new flagpoles in front of a Lutheran church. The tallest is flying the U.S. flag, the other two the Maryland flag and what many Protestants call the "Christian flag."

As I ponder this photo -- and I've pondered it too much, this past week -- I wonder whether any possible arrangement of the three flags isn't problematic. If the U.S. flag is higher than the Christian flag, what are we implying? Or if the Christian flag is on the same level as the Maryland flag? Or ... ?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tasteless political remark of the week

"Now I know why they gave up on the march from Bataan. It's very difficult."

That's Michael Busch, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, saying the current legislative special session is just as hellish as the Bataan Death March.

I suppose if Busch has to wait in a long line at the Denny's in Annapolis, he'll know exactly what Auschwitz was like, too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

One at a time, please

"I spoke to President Musharraf right before I came over here to visit with President Sarkozy. And my message was that we believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform. You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time."
-- President Bush at a Nov. 7 news conference in Virginia
(Here's the transcript.)

In It Not Of It

I never saw an "In It Not Of It" T-shirt before I saw this photo in the Nov. 11 Cumberland Times-News.

Now I learn, thanks to Google, that the slogan is popular on merchandise aimed at the young Christian market, partially because of the 1999 song "In Not Of" by the Christian group Avalon -- since covered by Clay Aiken, of all people:
We are not like the world but we can love it
Come bring the hope to hopeless men
Until the lost are found in Him
He came to save the world
So let us be in it, not of it
I wonder whether anyone today wears this shirt in the spirit with which William Hazlitt would have worn it. His 1821 essay "On Living to One's-Self" reads, in part (emphasis mine):
What I mean by living to one's-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it: it is as if no one knew there was such a person, and you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it; to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world, but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, and such an interest as it might take in the affairs of men: calm, contemplative, passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not troubled by their passions, not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them.
For more on this radical son of a Unitarian minister, visit the Hazlitt Society website.

Born in Roswell

Reading about Demi Moore's birthday (Nov. 11), I was startled to learn that she was born in Roswell, N.M.

It's so easy to forget, given our ever-burgeoning popular mythology about the place, that Roswell is, after all, a city like most any other, home to countless mundane events. For a taste of those, visit the website of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, its slogan "Prominence in the Land of Enchantment."

I love the Wikipedia article on the Roswell UFO incident for beginning: "The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed." That disclaimer, friends, will never go away.

John Denver was born in Roswell, too. Don't laugh! I loved John Denver.

The Texas Rumble

Here's a lovely story by Baltimore Sun reporter Rob Hiaasen (brother of novelist and muckraker Carl Hiaasen) on the earthquake-like quarry blasts that all the residents of Cockeysville, Md., have taken for granted since the Civil War. Locals call it "the Texas Rumble," after the bygone name of the community. I was reminded of the mining town in one of the beloved farces of my childhood, Support Your Local Gunfighter, which was rocked with similar predictability.

Reflections and the Wall

I just learned today, via a Veterans Day article by Michael Sawyers in the Cumberland Times-News, that the famous painting Reflections, depicting a meeting of the living and the dead at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was painted in 1988 in Cumberland, Md. Self-taught artist Lee Teter used locals as models.

Teter gave the print rights to the painting to the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, which later bought all rights from him. Many of the chapter's good works have been made possible by sales of hundreds of thousands of those prints. Wind River Gallery in Riverton, Wyo., which sells Teter's Western paintings, calls Reflections "perhaps the most collected art print in the 20th century."

The chapter's website tells Teter's story and the story of the painting. Here's Teter's official site; he now lives in Wyoming.

What became of the original painting, I wonder, as opposed to the prints? Does the Cumberland VVA chapter have it?

Also in today's Times-News, a Scripps-Howard wire story usefully reminds us that Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (which the Yale undergrad created as a student project) was considered so unconventional, so controversial, that it almost didn't get built. Only the addition of traditional, predictable elements -- a statue and a flagpole -- made the project palatable to its many detractors, including many Vietnam veterans who now venerate it. Today, the statue and the flagpole are fine, but they aren't what draw millions of people to the Wall.

Jan Scruggs, who led the monument's fund-raising campaign, puts the Wall in its proper context: "This has changed the way America mourns, changed the way the public deals with trauma."

There's a lesson here about public art. The people who objected to the Wall's design are the same people, in spirit, who as residents of Paris wanted to scrap the Eiffel Tower once the world's fair was over.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

World Fantasy Convention photos: Solos

F. Brett Cox sees justice done.David Hartwell as Medusa.Convention chair Joseph Berlant, whose fault it all was.Nicholas DiChario.Gardner Dozois.Scott Edelman looks for himself (successfully) at Spa City Comics.Bernie Goodman.Cousin Hal Duncan.John Langan.Glennis LeBlanc.Mark Wingenfeld.Gordon Van Gelder makes an editorial comment.Ted Chiang.Byron Tetrick.
William Shunn.Darrell Schweitzer, rightly wary of being photographed by an interviewee.Allison Baker.Rani Graff.

World Fantasy Convention photos: Duos

David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.Carol Emswhiller and Judith Berman.Peter Halasz and Carol Emshwiller.F. Brett Cox and Judith Berman.Patrick O'Leary and Laurel Winter.Paul Cornell and Lou Anders.Eileen Bell and Bev Geddes.John Douglas and Rodger Turner record the delivery, without incident, of one more World Fantasy Award nominee pin. Onward!

World Fantasy Convention photos: Trios

Kathryn Cramer, David Hartwell and Carol Pinchefsky.Carol Emswhiller, Judith Berman and F. Brett Cox.Walter Jon Williams, Ellen Klages and Allison Baker.David Rivera, Alaya Dawn Johnson and Eugene Myers.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fear of Pullman

Sydney and I had been wondering when religious conservatives in the United States would get wind of what Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was actually about. We've long expected an anti-Pullman crusade to succeed the mostly defunct anti-Harry Potter crusade. Our wait seems to be over; according to Snopes.com, the e-mail crusade has begun.

Sydney read from The Amber Spyglass, the concluding and most overtly anti-religious volume of the trilogy, at the Oct. 8 Banned Books Reading at Frostburg State University, sponsored by the English department and the campus chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. Several folks said they weren't familiar with those books, and several who were said they never heard of any controversy surrounding them. That will change soon enough, with the movie of The Golden Compass coming out this winter.

Here's Pullman's website. Fantasy fans who haven't read His Dark Materials definitely should. It's a marvel from beginning to end, and as I read, I kept thinking, "He'd never get away with this in the United States."

Citizens for Smart Growth

On Nov. 29, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will hear oral arguments in a case brought by a group I support, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County, organized in opposition to a development called Terrapin Run.

Terrapin Run would be one of those developments we're all familiar with, in which the natural features for which the development is named are destroyed in order to make way for the development. No terrapins would run in Terrapin Run. But the issues before the court are whether developers have to follow a county comprehensive plan, and whether county officials have the authority to ignore their own comprehensive plan when wealthy developers come a-knocking. If the answers are no and yes, respectively, then what good is a comprehensive plan at all?

This is the question Citizens for Smart Growth -- a small group of locals passing the hat to pay its lawyer -- has asked from Cumberland to Annapolis. The group's persistence has greatly annoyed the developers and politicians who'd love to turn a wilderness valley into the second largest city in the county, despite it being a hundred-mile commute from the jobs that possibly would justify a 4,300-house subdivision. But Citizens for Smart Growth also has accumulated some influential backers along the way: the state Department of Planning, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the American Planning Association, all of whom have filed briefs with the court on Citizens' behalf.

Whatever happens, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County deserves a lot of credit for not going quietly, and for exposing the business-as-usual decisions of local politicians to scrutiny not only statewide but nationwide as well.

For background on the years-long Terrapin Run saga, see this feature by NPR station WYPR in Baltimore and this story in the Cumberland Times-News.

For more on the consequences of unplanned, uncontrolled development nationwide, read today's New York Times story on fire hazards in San Diego County, where development in the riskiest areas -- adjoining state forests, just where Terrapin Run would be situated -- has gone from 61,000 houses in 1980 to 106,000 houses in 2000 to 125,000 houses today. Or this Associated Press story on Atlanta-area sprawl outgrowing its water capacity. "There are concrete limits to growth," one environmentalist says, "and no one wants to admit that."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Building blogs

I just discovered two blogs by friends in Alabama who are chronicling their very different building projects.

Kristin Walters and her husband, Darwin, live in a 1902 Victorian in Eutaw, and her blog is appropriately titled 1902 Victorian, a.k.a. Home Renovation at the Speed of Sludge.

Olivia and Randy Grider, meanwhile, bought land on Lookout Mountain near Mentone and are building themselves a New Old Cabin. The goal, Olivia writes, is "to create a house that looks, inside and out, as if it's about 100 years old."

My hat's off to these folks, but I sure am glad Sydney and I moved into a 1970s brick rancher that didn't need much of anything done to it. Except we did have to replace the backyard fence. And the storm drain. And the upstairs floors. And, downstairs, the carpet and the light fixtures. And the roofers will be here soon, whenever it stops raining ...

Today's movie recommendation: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Ah, nostalgia

Re-reading this March 2003 debate in The Onion really takes me back.

"Folksy and dangerous"

Jeremy Jose Orbe-Smith at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show has a lovely review of the Wizards anthology, including my contribution:
"A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan is another decidedly unusual look at one girl's wizardry. Duncan takes magic out of the middle ages and puts it in the post-civil-war South in a story that manages to be hilarious and folksy and dangerous all at once. Pearl, the young protagonist, runs away from her freak-show of a life, pushing through a diorama and into a house full of ghosts; there are more memorable and eccentric characters in this short little work than a good many novels, and I loved every one of them, even the baddies. Heck, even the Devil's representative was a charming old rapscallion. But then, he would be, right?

Takahashi/Duncan fanfic

"The Afterlife," a fan fiction by BrownRecluse inspired by Rumiko Takahashi's manga series Inuyasha, references my story "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question":
And like the girl who stepped through a diorama into a ghost world, I too had to answer the Devil’s Ninth Question
-- and more ...
I even get a shout-out in the note at the end. How about that?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Larry Craig's Super Tuber

On the Congress Cooks! web page, the recipe contributed by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is for Super Tuber -- a weiner shoved through a cored Idaho potato, then baked. Craig introduces the recipe thus:
Super Tuber is a great snack that uses one of my favorite vegetables: the Idaho potato. Of course, I suppose any type of potato could be used, but I cannot guarantee that a Super Tuber made with anything but a true Idaho potato would taste as good.

The God-o-Meter

Beliefnet has provided us devout political junkies with a God-o-Meter, an ongoing rating of each presidential candidate according to how religious he or she is trying to sound lately. A note on pronunciation: "God-o-Meter" rhymes with "barometer."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A blast at the beach

So far this week, three blasting caps have washed up on the beach at Ocean City, Md. The theory is they fell from a boat off the coast, but no one knows where or how many of these things might be out there.

The Dispatch in Ocean City reports that the fire marshal originally told anyone who found a suspected blasting cap to call 911 immediately. The police department soon amended that, saying first get far away from it, then call 911. Someone remembered, you see, that these things can be detonated by cell phones ...

First sentences, first paragraphs

Since I'm participating in a Capclave panel on great first sentences and first paragraphs, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite openings.
The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm. In it were seventeen men, including a captain. The crowd at the Ohio field had shouted and waved their hands up into the sunlight, and the rocket had bloomed out great flowers of heat and color and run away into space on the third voyage to Mars!
-- Ray Bradbury, “Mars Is Heaven” (1949)

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
-- Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
-- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

1. This is a test. Take notes. This will count as ¾ of your final grade. Hints: remember, in chess, kings cancel each other out and cannot occupy adjacent squares, are therefore all-powerful and totally powerless, cannot affect one another, produce stalemate. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion; the sect of Atman worships the divine spark of life within Man; in effect saying, “Thou art God.” Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox on the corner. Not everyone tells the truth. Operational note: these sections may be taken out of numerical sequence: rearrange them to suit yourself for optimum clarity. Turn over your test papers and begin.
-- Harlan Ellison, “The Deathbird” (1973)

Eric was night, and Batu was day. The girl, Charley, was the moon. Every night, she drove past the All-Night in her long, noisy, green Chevy, a dog hanging out the passenger window. It wasn’t ever the same dog, although they all had the same blissful expression. They were doomed, but they didn’t know it.
-- Kelly Link, “The Hortlak” (2003)

We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.
-- Margo Lanagan, “Singing My Sister Down” (2004)

The first bar I ever went to was The Tropics. It was and still is situated between the grocery store and the bank along Higbee Lane in West Islip. I was around five or six, and my old man would take me there with him when he went there to watch the Giant games on Sunday afternoon. While the men were all at the bar, drinking, talking, giving Y.A. Tittle a piece of their minds, I’d roll the balls on the pool table or sit in one of the booths in the back and color. The jukebox always seemed to be playing “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin while I searched for figures, the way people do with clouds, in the swirling cigar and cigarette smoke. I didn’t go there for the hard-boiled eggs the bartender proffered after making them vanish and pulling them out of my ear, or for the time spent sitting on my father’s lap at the bar, sipping a ginger ale with a cherry in it, although both were welcome. The glowing, bubbling beer signs were fascinating, the foul language was its own cool music, but the thing that drew me to The Tropics was a thirty-two-foot vision of paradise.
-- Jeffrey Ford, “A Night in The Tropics” (2004)

The man’s head and torso emerged from a hole in the ground, just a few feet from the rock where Pearl Hart sat smoking her last cigarette. His appearance surprised her, and she cussed him at some length. The man stared at her during the outpouring of profanity, his mild face smeared with dirt, his body still half-submerged. Pearl stopped cussing and squinted at him in the fading sunlight. He didn’t have on a shirt, and Pearl, being Pearl, wondered immediately if he was wearing pants.
-- Tim Pratt, “Hart and Boot” (2004)

Henry asked a question. He was joking.
“As a matter of fact,” the real estate agent snapped, “it is.”
-- Kelly Link, “Stone Animals” (2004)

Capclave 2007

Sydney and I will be at Capclave, Oct. 12-14 in Rockville, Md. The Guests of Honor are Jeffrey Ford and Ellen Datlow, and you can't get better than that, can you?

My part of the program schedule includes a 1 p.m. Saturday panel on Jeffrey Ford (moderated, interestingly enough, by Jeffrey Ford), a 3 p.m. Saturday panel on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, an 8:30 p.m. Saturday reading (most likely of my Eclipse One story), an 11 a.m. Sunday autographing and a 1 p.m. Sunday panel on great first sentences and first paragraphs.

Other scheduled attendees include Catherine Asaro, Kathryn Cramer, Dennis Danvers, Michael Dirda, Scott Edelman, David Hartwell, Klon Newell, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Swanwick, Andy Wolverton, etc. Y'all come, too.

China moon

Michael Griffin, head of NASA, in a September speech quoted by The Associated Press:
I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are. I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.
Cue Billy Bragg's song "The Space Race Is Over":
It may look like some empty gesture
To go all that way just to come back
But don't offer me a place out in cyberspace
Cos where in the hell's that at?

Andy's Dandy


At the end of July, we bought a 2007 Prius. Sydney's dad, Bill Bowling, has the job of naming all the cars in the extended family, and he's named this one Andy's Dandy.

In these parts, buying a Prius isn't as easy as buying, say, a Camry. We had to drive 60-plus miles to Johnstown, Pa., to test-drive one, then wait several weeks for our local dealer, Shaffer Toyota, to track down the color and options package we'd requested. Shaffer found exactly what we wanted and made us very happy, but we couldn't help wondering why Toyota doesn't put more of these on the market, if it's really committed to the technology.

Speaking of which, the car is a dream to drive, has acres of storage, keeps surprising us with its well-designed electronic extras -- today we discovered the "memo" function on the dashboard calendar -- and, most importantly, gets great fuel economy. Our worst fuel economy to date, on a tank we burned driving the steep streets of Frostburg, was 46 miles per gallon. (As my brother said, with unimpeachable logic, "You have to drive uphill half the time.") Our best fuel economy, while Sydney was visiting her parents in the relative flatlands, was 52 miles per gallon.

Though Sydney has bought several new Subarus through the years, this is the first new car I ever bought. Smiling strangers keep walking up to say, "Nice car! How do you like it?" It's a welcome change of pace from the previous conversation-starters I've owned. Those conversations typically began "Get that piece of crap off the road, buddy!" and went downhill from there.

I knew them when

Rachel Swirsky, one of my Clarion West 2005 students, writes of the upcoming Fantasy: The Best of the Year:
One of my CW submission stories is also being published in the anthology. I dunno if you'd remember it -- "Heartstrung" which is about a woman sewing her daughter's heart to her sleeve.

I'm pleased to share a TOC!
This is excellent news, and I well remember reading that amazing story in manuscript. This may be the first time I've ever shared a table of contents with one of my former students. "Heartstrung" first saw print this year in Interzone. Rachel has others coming up in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales and anthologies from Night Shade Books and Subterranean Press. Here's her blog.

Another story I well remember reading in manuscript is John Schoffstall's marvelous "Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery," first published in Strange Horizons in 2006. John was one of my Clarion 2004 students. The first print publication of "Fourteen Experiments" is in the new Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 20th Annual Collection, as a Kelly Link-Gavin J. Grant selection. John's fine story "Bullet Dance" was in the July 2007 issue of Asimov's and is online at the Asimov's site.

And when I opened David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF 12, I was tickled to see "Just Do It," a Fantasy & Science Fiction story by one of Rachel's CW95 classmates, Heather Lindsley. Cory Doctorow calls "Just Do It" a "doozy," and he's right. I also commend to your attention Heather's laugh-out-loud "Atalanta Loses at the Interpantheonic Trivia Bee," in the September 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the impressive collage of famous Janes at Heather's blog, Random Jane. Heather's Jane-quilt reminds me of Karen Joy Fowler's "The Elizabeth Complex."

A number of my former Clarion and Clarion West students, not just these three, are on their way to becoming very well known in the field. I claim no credit for the success of any of these people. I'm just privileged that I got to hang out with these folks for a week one summer. They inspired me then, and they inspire me now.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fantasy: The Best of the Year

Sean Wallace at Prime Books sent me this distributor's-catalog mockup of the front cover for the 2008 Fantasy: The Best of the Year anthology, edited by Rich Horton. He thought I'd like it, for some reason.

Seriously, I'm delighted to learn that my story "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question," from the Gardner Dozois-Jack Dann anthology Wizards, is included in the book. I don't know the rest of the contents yet, but I suppose we can infer two of the other authors.

Make that three: David Barr Kirtley says on his blog that his story "Save Me Plz," from the October Realms of Fantasy (which I haven't read yet), also will be in the book -- his first appearance in a year's-best volume. This tickles me because I met David 10 years ago at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts when he won the Asimov Award for undergraduate sf writing (since renamed the Dell Magazines Award), and I've been rooting for him since. He's now a grad student in the writing program at the University of Southern California.

Eclipse One cover

Check out the cover of the anthology Eclipse One, imminent from Night Shade Books, at the blog of its editor, Jonathan Strahan. I'm delighted the anthology contains my story "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse."

Night Shade has the table of contents and the ordering information, but not the cover yet.

Publishers Weekly gives the book a starred review (scroll down), calling it "superb" -- Yay, team! -- so I can't decently complain about PW not mentioning me, can I?

Letters to the editor

Two more of my occasional letters to the editor got published in the Cumberland Times-News recently.

Here's my Sept. 6 letter, a reply to a letter writer who implied that terrorists attack the United States only when Democrats are in the White House.

Here's my Sept. 21 letter, a reply to a letter writer who said the answer to our health-care problems is to deregulate insurance companies and leave them in charge.

I'm not sure I ever posted here a link to my first letter to the editor of 2007, published June 13, so here it is. It's about mountaintop development and the Johnstown Flood.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Wrong Man

Railroad Fever: Songs, Jokes & Train Lore, a highly entertaining 1998 compendium by Wayne Erbsen of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., includes this short-short horror story worthy of Jorge Luis Borges or Philip K. Dick:
The train stopped at a small depot and down stepped a man carrying two heavy suitcases. He finally found his way to the only hotel in town but was disappointed to hear that all the rooms were full. Having no place to stay, he pleaded with the clerk, who found a good-natured retired colonel who let him sleep in the extra bed in his room. Before he went to sleep, he asked the clerk to wake him at 6:30 a.m., as he had an early train to catch.

The next morning the bellhop greeted him with, "Good morning, Colonel." To his surprise, the doorman said the very same thing.

When he finally got on his train, he made his way to the washroom and looked in the mirror. "My God," he said, "they woke up the wrong man!"

Snakeheads

After more than a thousand Northern snakeheads were discovered in a Crofton, Md., pond in May 2002, the state Department of Natural Resources alerted everyone to be watchful for this invasive alien species of carnivorous fish that eats other fish, amphibians, birds and small mammals and can breathe air for days while walking from pond to pond.

So successfully did the state spread the alarm that man-eating snakeheads enjoyed a brief vogue in straight-to-video monster movies: Night of the Snakehead Fish, Snakehead Terror (starring Bruce Boxleitner and Carol Alt), Swarm of the Snakehead, Frankenfish.

While they don't eat people, the real-life snakeheads are still a problem -- hence an upcoming Trout Unlimited symposium on the topic, July 20 at Big Run State Park.

All in the Madison family?

DNA testing confirmed the centuries-old rumors about Thomas Jefferson fathering slave children with Sally Hemings. Now The Dallas Morning News reports that Jimmy Madison, a prominent African-American business leader in Fort Worth, Texas, wants to use DNA testing to confirm the claim passed down in his family for generations: that his line of Madisons is descended from a slave fathered by James Madison, another plantation-owning president from Virginia.

The first hurdle will be to find an official Madison family member willing to contribute DNA to the cause. It will have to be a descendant of President Madison's brother, because the president himself had no children -- that history has recorded, anyway.

Betting on thirst

USA Today reports that the first "water fund," created for investors betting that water will become an increasingly scarce and lucrative commodity, debuted in December 2005. By the end of July 2007, there will be seven such funds.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What my brother saw

My brother got mentioned in The Twin-City News, published weekly in our hometown of Batesburg-Leesville, S.C. Harriet Householder's column of news from the towns of Ridge Spring and Monetta (where my brother now lives) included this:
Allen Duncan was riding down Highway 23 last week, and down near Watsonia Farms he saw something he never saw before -- a large coyote ran across the road at full speed in front of him, and a mockingbird was flying just above his head, striking at the coyote every few seconds. That bird was really mad at him.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Eclipse 1

Jonathan Strahan has announced the final lineup of stories for Eclipse 1, and I'm still delighted to be included. Alphabetically by author:
  • “The Last and Only, or Mr Moscowitz Becomes French” by Peter S. Beagle
  • “The Transformation of Targ” by Jack Dann & Paul Brandon
  • “Toother” by Terry Dowling
  • “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” by Andy Duncan
  • “The Drowned Life” by Jeffrey Ford
  • “Electric Rains” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  • “Up the Fire Road” by Eileen Gunn
  • “In The Forest Of The Queen” by Gwyneth Jones
  • “Mrs Zeno’s Paradox” by Ellen Klages
  • “She-Creatures” by Margo Lanagan
  • “The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large” by Maureen F. McHugh
  • “Bad Luck, Trouble, Death and Vampire Sex” by Garth Nix
  • “Larissa Miusov” by Lucius Shepard
  • “The Lustration” by Bruce Sterling
  • “Quartermaster Returns” by Ysabeau Wilce
  • Monday, June 25, 2007

    "We Baptists don't save chickens"

    From Zev Chafets' appreciation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell:
    One of the country’s leading Pentecostal figures broke off relations after Falwell publicly sneered at her effort to heal a chicken through faith. “We Baptists don’t save chickens, we eat them,” he told her.
    I really wanted to work this into my story "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse," soon to appear in Jonathan Strahan's Eclipse anthology, but as the story mostly takes place before Falwell was born, I finally gave up.

    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    By George!

    Maryland institution George Prettyman Sr., weekly columnist for the Cecil Whig for 50 years, died June 11 at age 94. According to the obit in The Washington Times, Prettyman must have known the end was imminent, as he submitted a resignation note to the paper only a week before his death:
    I've had a good time writing my columns, but it is time for me to sign off now. I cannot put the words together anymore. I want to thank you all for reading my columns, week after week, for a little longer than 50 years. It has made me many friends and, as far as I know, no enemies.
    An even better epitaph may have been the last sentence of Prettyman's last column, published May 31: "I am a very fortunate old geezer, by George!"

    Forget the memorial

    I was reminded this week of an apocryphal journalistic story, retold in the opening paragraphs of Dan Simmons' novel A Winter Haunting and countless other places. Here's the brief version, as told by Roger Ebert:
    There is a famous journalistic legend about the time a young reporter covered the Johnstown flood of 1889. The kid wrote: "God sat on a hillside overlooking Johnstown today and looked at the destruction He had wrought." His editor cabled back: "Forget flood. Interview God."
    I was reminded of this when I read the lead of a front-page story in the June 20 Cumberland Times-News:
    The Irish responsible for the construction of the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad finally will get the memorial their ancestors believe they deserve.
    My first thought was: "Forget the memorial. Get us an interview with those dead ancestors!"

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    The cat knocked my Sturgeon Award off the end table

    We didn't see which cat, but it was almost certainly Hillary. The award now has a tiny scuff mark and the floor a tiny dent. Sydney suggests I move the Sturgeon to the basement, where the sharp edges will be cushioned by carpet next time. I'm sure literary awards have been involved in worse accidents.

    A story in Eclipse

    I'm delighted to report that Jonathan Strahan has accepted my new story "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse" for his original anthology Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy. The first in a new series, the book will be published by Night Shade Books in October, just in time for the World Fantasy Convention.

    A few people at the 2005 World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, Scotland, heard me read a few pages of this story, which I just had begun that week in Sydney's rooms at Wadham College at Oxford.

    Jonathan reports that the Eclipse lineup thus far includes new stories by Peter S. Beagle, Terry Dowling, Jeffrey Ford, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eileen Gunn, Gwyneth Jones, Ellen Klages, Margo Lanagan, Maureen McHugh, Lucius Shepard and Ysabeau Wilce, plus a collaboration by Jack Dann and Paul Brandon. I'm in great company!

    SCI FICTION's vanishing act

    On his blog, Eugene Myers points out that while SciFi.com has announced it's no longer hosting the old SCI FICTION pages, the zine's archive page, with story links, is still working -- for now. So collect all those stories while you can. (Full disclosure: Two of those stories, "The Pottawatomie Giant" and "Zora and the Zombie," are my own, and I'll always be proud of having two stories published in one of the best sf/fantasy magazines that ever was.)

    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    The Ridgeley, W.Va., mayoral election

    Just when I was beginning to get nostalgic for colorful (if regrettable) Alabama politics, along comes the 2007 mayoral election in Ridgeley, W.Va., just across the river from nearby Cumberland, Md. Here's the story thus far, as covered by the Cumberland Times-News.

    A month before he hoped to be re-elected, two-term incumbent Mayor Mitchell Reeves was arrested on a charge of driving without a license. He said he just forgot to renew it when it expired years ago.

    A month later, on the Friday before the Tuesday election, Reeves was arrested again, on fraud charges, and this time was sent to jail. He was charged with loading a trailer with personal belongings in an attempt to hide them from his creditors and from the county officials who planned to sell them to satisfy a $200,000 lien against Reeves.

    From the jail, the mayor allegedly called Ridgeley Police Chief Mike Miller and told him to bring him a manila envelope the mayor had stashed in a filing cabinet at town hall. With the help of town clerk Melinda Liller, the chief found the envelope, which he said contained $6,800 in cash.

    Instead of delivering the cash to the jailed mayor, the chief said he made some phone calls soliciting legal advice, and decided the cash -- like all the mayor's property -- was the county's and not the mayor's until the lien was satisfied. So he handed it over to the magistrate instead.

    All that happened Friday. On Sunday, during a phone call he allegedly placed from jail to Councilwoman Faye Lemley at city hall, the mayor fired both the police chief and the clerk, apparently for not bringing him the $6,800.

    "I came down and opened up the file cabinet," the ex-clerk told the Cumberland Times-News. "That's why I was fired."

    "The mayor has been acting above the law for years," the ex-chief told the Times-News. "He never did have a West Virginia license."

    That Tuesday, Reeves was still sitting in jail when the citizens of Ridgeley went to the polls and voted 5-to-1 for Reeves' opponent, veterinarian Richard Lechliter, a member of the Town Council. Lechliter got 185 votes to Reeves' 34.

    One of the likely anti-Reeves voters was Mae Schartiger, who came to the polls on her 100th birthday. Schartiger, who said the first vote she ever cast was for Herbert Hoover, voted this time around to restore respectability to her hometown, she told the Times-News.

    Also voted in was Liller, the fired clerk, who was elected town recorder.

    Voted out, meanwhile, was Councilwoman Lemley, despite her diligence in reporting to city hall on a Sunday to receive vengeful instructions from a jailed mayor.

    The mayor-elect pledged to give both the chief and the clerk their jobs back and to clean up city hall.

    While all this was going on, I happened to be reading, and hugely enjoying, They Love a Man in the Country: Saints and Sinners in the South by Billy Bowles and Remer Tyson, a 1989 collection of colorful anecdotes about mid-century politicians and other power brokers. If there's ever a sequel, someone should interview Mitchell Reeves, soon to be ex-mayor of Ridgeley, W.Va.

    A Star Trek confession

    This weekend in FYE in Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Va., I stumbled upon a sale of Special Collector's Editions of Star Trek movies for $10 each. I bought seven of them -- all I didn't have already -- from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) through Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Yes, I even bought the one Shatner directed, telling myself it was for the sake of completion. Had the cashier been a woman, I never could have gone through with it.

    Saturday, June 09, 2007

    Sometimes we miss Alabama

    One Alabama legislator recently punched another one on the Senate floor in Montgomery -- something we always expected to happen, the 10 years we lived in the Yellowhammer State.

    My favorite part of the story is the little speech the legislator who threw the punch gave his colleagues afterward:
    "I love every one of you. Most of all I love this chamber. I'm going home, and you all have a good day."

    A Japanese "Super-Toy"?

    Sydney sent me this link with the subject line "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long."
    "Teddy -- I suppose Mummy and Daddy are real, aren't they?"
    Teddy said, "You ask such silly questions, David. Nobody knows what 'real' really means."
    (Years ago, Brian W. Aldiss cast Sydney and me as Teddy's parents in a performance of his 1969 story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" at the International Conference on the Fantastic in Fort Lauderdale. We were, of course, much better than the actors in A.I., the eventual movie made of the story.)

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    Charles Nelson Reilly

    I was sorry to hear of the death of Charles Nelson Reilly, and sorry, too, to see that most of the published obits omitted (for me) the high point of his acting career: playing the tart-tongued writer Jose Chung in the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and the Millennium episode "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense." That second outing, which features the funniest Scientology parody to date (yes, even funnier than South Park's), earned Reilly the second of his three Emmy Award nominations. Alas, writer Darin Morgan killed Chung off at the end.

    Reilly was a fixture of my childhood thanks to his roles on two Saturday-morning kids' shows: He was the villainous green-skinned magician HooDoo on Lidsville and the snarling title character on the seriously subversive, short-lived and now impossible-to-find kids'-show parody Uncle Croc's Block -- sometimes referred to (when it's referred to at all) as an ahead-of-its-time forerunner of Pee-wee's Playhouse, but really far more cynical and disturbing. The whole point was that Uncle Croc hated kids, his colleagues and his show; I now wonder whether the role had some personal resonance for Reilly, a respected stage actor, director and teacher who was known to millions only as the No. 2 wacky gay man of '70s TV game shows -- No. 1 being the genuinely self-loathing, and tragic, Paul Lynde.

    Why not a Nutria Rodeo?

    The Baltimore Sun reports that the effort to eradicate nutria from Maryland's Eastern Shore is costing the federal government about $1 million a year. Maybe the locals should consider an annual Nutria Rodeo, like the one formerly held on Mobile Bay.

    Weight for Height

    While watching the Weight for Height competition at Saturday's Highland Festival in McHenry, Md., I was most impressed by the contestants' nonchalance after throwing. If I were able to heave a 56-pound weight straight into the air, I would not just stand there waiting for it to come down again. I would run out of the way, probably with my hands over my head, and likely squealing -- all probably frowned on at highland games.

    That's Deep Creek Lake in the background.

    Dignity, always dignity

    Sydney and I took these photos of one another at Saturday's Highland Festival in McHenry, Md.

    Our backyard rhododendrons

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    All animals are equal, but ...

    A recent Associated Press story called the departure of two executives at Pfizer, the world's largest drug manufacturer, a sign that "even those at the top aren't immune to an ongoing companywide transformation."

    What those at the top are immune to, however, is anything like the financial hardship faced by the 10,000 rank-and-file Pfizer employees slated to lose their jobs. According to Bloomberg, one departing executive is getting $3.3 million in severance pay, another $2 million.

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
    -- George Orwell, Animal Farm

    To the moon, Alice

    According to a new survey of 4,824 Americans:
  • 75 percent view the manned space program as vital to the international prestige of the United States.
  • 71 percent oppose any cuts in NASA funding.
  • 63 percent believe humans will establish a permanent lunar colony someday.
  • 39 percent believe that will happen within 50 years.
  • 41 percent would be willing to travel to the Moon if they could afford it.
  • 32 percent would be willing to travel to Mars.
  • Chef Taylor, age 9

    I love this May 20 Roanoke Times photo, by Eric Brady, of 9-year-old Taylor Maddox at the Young Chefs Academy in Salem, Va., but it doesn't seem to have made the online version of the story. Nice use of supplemental audio and video, though.

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    I know just what he means

    "So far, it's been a long, short season."
    -- Brian Cashman, general manager of the struggling New York Yankees, quoted in an AP article

    "A deceased person" in an air duct

    It's not quite the old urban legend about the dead Santa in the chimney, but students at an elementary school in Phoenix were sent home when a dead man was found inside an air duct. The letter sent home with the kids said authorities had discovered "a deceased person." Do you suppose the avoidance of the word "corpse" made it easier to take?

    Zoning against windmills

    As New Scientist has pointed out, backyard windmills are obvious household-by-household answers to the problems posed by fossil fuels. But The Associated Press reports that the biggest obstacles to these gadgets are local politicians and zoning ordinances. Mayor David Dorman of Melissa, Texas, for example,
    said it might be unfair to allow some people to have a technology that is not available to others who do not have the money or the yard space.
    Do you suppose the mayor also opposes every other sort of home improvement, however beneficial to the town as a whole, that might make the neighbors jealous?

    The "monster hog" of Lost Creek

    When Sydney and I first saw the published photo of the "monster hog" shot by an 11-year-old at Lost Creek Plantation, a commercial hunting preserve in Delta, Ala., our immediate reaction was, "The photo's fake." A knowing photographer could have placed the boy well behind the hog to create a trick of perspective that would have made the critter seem much bigger than it actually was. But there may be additional reasons to be skeptical of the photos posted by the kid's dad at MonsterPig.com, according to this exhaustive (and arguably exhausting) analysis.

    There may be excellent reasons to be skeptical of the entire hunt, for that matter. The Anniston Star, one of the best small newspapers in Alabama (or anywhere else), reports that the hog's name was Fred, and it was farm-raised and pampered by Rhonda and Phil Blissitt of Fruithurst, Ala. Though Phil Blissitt denies it ever was a pet, he and his wife do say Fred liked to snack on canned sweet potatoes and play with the Blissitts' grandchildren.

    The Blissitts recently sold all their swine, and Fred was bought by Eddy Borden, the owner of Lost Creek Plantation. Only a few days after Fred left the Blissitt farm, he was pursued by a pack of armed Lost Creek customers who paid for an exciting, authentic hunting experience. The adults with their high-powered rifles let young Jamison Stone have the honor; he shot Fred repeatedly with a .50-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 500 Revolver (which the manufacturer calls "the most powerful production revolver in the world") over the course of a three-hour chase, before finally delivering the coup de grace.

    Readers in other parts of the country will marvel that a student at a private school called Christian Heritage Academy would pump a farm-raised hog full of .50-caliber bullets in the name of sport and Southern manhood, but I'm from South Carolina, so this doesn't surprise me at all.

    Reliable witnesses

    The next time I read about someone who sincerely believes he saw something uncanny in the sky, I'll remember this story from the May 31 Cumberland Times-News. A U.S. Navy pilot spooked locals by flying low over the area so that his dad, who lives in Frostburg, could get a good photo of his plane. Here's the crucial paragraph, emphasis mine:
    The appearance of the aircraft set off a barrage of telephone calls to the airport, law enforcement and the Cumberland Times-News from concerned citizens, some of whom reported seeing two aircraft when in fact it was only one.
    I'm sure at least some of those folks will continue to insist they saw two planes (or, as the years pass, three or more planes), despite the official government denials.

    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    Cause of death

    This obituary in today's Cumberland Times-News includes a cause of death I've never seen in an obit before:
    BEDFORD, Pa. -- Jessica R. Sellers, 24, of Bedford, died at 11:35 a.m., Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at home after a courageous battle with anorexia.
    Amid their grief, Jessica's relatives did an admirable thing in publicly declaring what she died of. The more open we become about this all-too-common illness, the closer we come to eradicating it.

    Reading further, I see that Jessica played on the Frostburg State softball team, so I hope the student newspaper, The Bottom Line, does an article about her. That, too, would help.

    The Hotts check in

    Megan Hott of Keyser, W.Va., last seen here wearing a "No one cares about your blog" T-shirt, writes:
    this is too weird...
    Whether this counts as evidence that she now does care about my blog is open to debate, of course.

    Meanwhile, Trent Hergenrader's insistence that "There's no way a long-haired blond in high school has the last name 'Hott'" prompts Megan Hott's sister to write:
    There is a Megan Hott because I am her sister :) ... Amanda Hott ... Just wanted to inform everyone that there are girls w/the last name Hott and they do go to high school, although I recently graduated. ;)
    (Megan, you're also on my hero Barry Johnson's blog, and you're the subject of this follow-up post on my blog as well.)

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    My family connection to Vonnegut recedes, alas

    In April, I posted this:
    My family owns about 80 acres of woodland in Saluda County, S.C., acreage on which -- I grew up being told -- U.S. Army troops performed battlefield maneuvers as part of their training before being shipped overseas in World War II. The cabin used as a command headquarters was still standing in my youth, and we'd stay in it for a week or more each summer.
    I found out this week that I had misremembered the family story. The battlefield maneuvers took place not in the mid-1940s but in the late 1950s, because my brother, Allen, born in 1944, remembers visiting the encampment with our father, and seeing the camouflaged soldiers emerging from the woods like ghosts. (My brother also reports the cabin is still standing, and in surprisingly good shape.)

    So those maneuvers couldn't have been the ones narrated by Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, as I speculated earlier. Yes, the Trafalmadorians would say my sequence-of-events obsession is naively linear -- but the fiction vs. non-fiction distinction is a stumbling block, too.

    I see now that my original post appeared April 1, but I didn't realize I was April-fooling, honest.

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    More on Jamie Bishop

    Here's Paul Di Filippo's report from the Georgia memorial service, with information about a second fund that's accepting contributions.

    Here's Michael Bishop's letter to Locus.

    Here's a tribute by Jack Slay Jr. It concludes with a years-old poem by Michael about Jamie -- which has a new resonance now, alas.

    Not-so-amazing coincidences

    Perennially popular before the Internet, and downright inescapable since the Internet, are lists of "amazing coincidences," such as this one recently posted at OddWeek.com. Seldom are any objective sources provided, other than Ripley's and the like, but sometimes a quick Google is enough to render the supposed amazing coincidence not so amazing at all, and maybe not even coincidental. For example:
    Months after the Titanic sank, a tramp steamer was traveling through the foggy Atlantic with only a young boy on watch. It came into his head that it had been thereabouts that the Titanic had sunk, and he was suddenly terrified by the thought of the name of his ship -- the Titanian. Panic-stricken, he sounded the warning. The ship stopped, just in time: a huge iceberg loomed out of the fog directly in their path. The Titanian was saved.
    The Encyclopedia Titanica, however, points out that ex-sailor William Reeve's account of his "amazing" premonition, written 32 years after the fact, flatly contradicts newspaper accounts at the time that put the Titanian's brush with the berg quite a ways from the spot where the Titanic went down. It was "thereabouts" only in the sense of "also in the North Atlantic." (Incidentally, the Titanian incident was not "months after the Titanic sank," but in 1935, which was 23 years after the disaster.) Given the frequency with which ships encountered bergs in the North Atlantic in the 19th and 20th centuries, is Titanian's encounter a generation later so remarkable? Here's another:
    In Detroit sometime in the 1930s, a young (if incredibly careless) mother must have been eternally grateful to a man named Joseph Figlock. As Figlock was walking down the street, the mother's baby fell from a high window onto Figlock. The baby's fall was broken and both man and baby were unharmed. A stroke of luck on its own, but a year later, the very same baby fell from the very same window onto poor, unsuspecting Joseph Figlock as he was again passing beneath. And again, they both survived the event.
    This one seems to be partially true, as Time magazine actually mentioned the incidents in a roundup column in its Oct. 17, 1938 issue, saying the second fall occurred "last fortnight." But according to Time, the falls involved two different children, two different windows, two different buildings, two different streets -- which renders the story much more plausible, if considerably less amazing. I wonder how many small children did fall from high-rise windows, in the days before day care and air conditioning. (It occasionally happens still.) Moreover, Time reports that Mr. Figlock worked as a street sweeper, and that both incidents occurred while he was on the job. Someone whose job requires him to be in the street all the time is clearly at greater risk of being hit by anything that falls from windows; one wonders what else landed on Mr. Figlock during his career, other than these two celebrated kids.

    In a useful essay on coincidence, Dennis McFadden of the University of Texas (and of the Austin Society To Oppose Pseudoscience) writes: "Generally, people tend to underestimate grossly the probability of any event that happens to them, especially one perceived as 'strange.'"

    Yes, Mr. Figlock's twofer is remarkable even without the embroidery, and yes, it's fun to learn that the victim of cannibalism in the celebrated 1884 case of the ill-fated yacht the Mignonette had the same name as the victim of cannibalism in similar circumstances in Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Chapter 12), published 46 years earlier -- but one still must point out that Richard Parker is a fairly common name in the English-speaking world, and that cannibalism among desperate seamen long predated Poe.