Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In the lucky third

I read in today's paper that in any given year, only a third of the Earth gets any snow. We definitely now live in the lucky third.

Attentive readers will be able to guess where this snowball wound up.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The long road of George Jones

"I would have played for nothing as long as somebody would have fed me."

Sydney's faculty page

I haven't decided what to charge her for the photos.

The Assemblies of Yahweh

Also on my Sunday drive, I passed radio station WMLK in Pethel, Pa., which caught my eye because I wondered whether the call letters stood for Martin Luther King. But no; the billboard said this was the broadcasting arm of the Assemblies of Yahweh, which I looked up when I got home.

Based in Bethel, Pa., this is the largest church in the Sacred Name Movement, a Depression-era outgrowth of the Adventist movement that asserts the authority of the Old Testament, the observance of Jewish festivals and -- you guessed it -- the correct name of the divine. At the Assemblies of Yahweh website, the Statement of Doctrine reads, in part:
We affirm that it is necessary and most important to our salvation that we accept the revealed, personal Name of our Heavenly Father YAHWEH and the Name of His Son, our Savior YAHSHUA the MESSIAH. We affirm also that the most accurate transliteration of these Names from the Hebrew into the English is by the spellings employed above, Exodus 3:14-15; Psalm 68:4; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 52:6; Acts 4:12.
The Assemblies of Yahweh was founded in 1969 by Jacob O. Meyer, who was fed up with the other Sacred Name churches; since then, other Sacred Name churches have been created by folks fed up with the Assemblies of Yahweh. Such is the story of Protestantism.

Roadside America

While driving through Shartlesville, Pa., yesterday, intent on getting home before night and snow fell, I passed Roadside America. Next time through, I'll do my best to stop at this venerable attraction, a 6,000-square-foot miniature village that was the life's work of self-taught artist Laurence Gieringer. Here's the writeup at the invaluable (if unrelated) Roadside America website.

For a very different miniature-village experience, I recommend my hero Jeffrey Ford's excellent novella "Botch Town," in his excellent collection The Empire of Ice Cream.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

1 a.m. Feb. 3, 1959, 5 miles northwest of Mason City, Iowa

That's the time, date and place of the Beechcraft Bonanza crash that killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson.

Now Richardson's son Jay, who does tribute shows as "The Big Bopper Jr.," is having his dad's body examined by forensic anthropologist Bill Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee's "Body Farm." The younger Richardson says he hopes to put some longstanding rumors and doubts to rest.

With all due respect to a son who lost his father -- one whose grief is made even more complex by the fact that he wasn't born until after his father died -- it's hard to imagine what more there is to know, after all these years. The Sept. 15, 1959, Civil Aeronautics Board report on the crash concluded, on ample evidence, that the disoriented pilot, flying only on unfamiliar instruments, simply flew the plane into the ground.

In the decades since, conspiracy theorists have made much of the fact that Holly carried his handgun aboard the plane, saying he might have shot the pilot by accident while horsing around, leaving a bullet wound that the local coroner might have overlooked when presented with an obvious plane-crash victim. No evidence whatsoever supports this theory, which moreover contradicts all the evidence of Holly's previous behavior that evening, and on the bus earlier on the tour. Far more likely to assume that Holly boarded the plane and immediately tried to get some sleep.

The younger Richardson says he's also intrigued by the fact that his father's body was found 40 feet from the plane to the northwest (in an adjoining cornfield, actually), while Holly's body and Valens' body were found 17 feet from the plane to the south and southwest. (The full coroner's report is here.) He wonders whether his dad crawled free of the crash. But the plane hit the ground at full speed and tumbled until it came to rest against a barbed-wire fence, and investigators found that most of the seat belts had broken; surely that's explanation enough for the scattering of the bodies.

Sometimes -- indeed, most of the time -- accidents just happen. Even if the victims are famous.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

From the Land of Pleasant Living

This Baltimore Examiner article about the city's beer-brewing heritage introduced me to National Bohemian, a.k.a. Natty Boh, for generations the city's favorite home brew. Its irresistible slogan: "From the Land of Pleasant Living." The beer's mascot, Mr. Boh, looks like a German-American saloonkeeper circa 1885, the year the beer first appeared. He has a handlebar mustache and a single visible eye -- is he winking, perhaps, or did he break up one saloon brawl too many?

Natty Boh is no longer a home brew, alas; it's now brewed in North Carolina and shipped by Pabst to the die-hards in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and apparently nowhere else. Here's the official website, with a helpful list of distributors that carry the beer, and here's the Wikipedia entry. Mr. Boh merchandise is on tap at, while a fellow named Shayne has devoted an entire blog, and presumably much of his life, to all the cultural manifestations of Natty Boh.

Brazelton's mom

I was pleased to read on the wires that influential pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton is still going strong, age 88. I met Brazelton and interviewed him for the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., in the late 1980s, and I liked him a lot. What I did not know before this profile was published was that his mother founded perhaps the first abortion clinic in Texas. A 1996 profile in the alumni publication at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center says the year was 1940. It also says Mrs. Brazelton was the first woman elder in the Presbyterian Church. There are two resume items you don't often see side by side!

In her blog at I', Patricia Beninato says that in a talk in Richmond several years ago, Brazelton said:
If a baby isn’t going to be born to parents who will be passionately in love with it, then it has a right to be aborted.
To get to the quote, click here and search for Brazelton's name. I can't find online the write-up of the talk that Beninato is quoting, but I'd be keen to read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"The Chief Designer" on CD

I was pleased to receive in the mail today two copies of the new audio edition of my story "The Chief Designer," a two-CD set in the Great Science Fiction Stories series from AudioText Inc. The exterior of the package shows the real-life Korolev (pictured); inside, on the CDs themselves, are photos of Korolev, Gagarin and Sunrise One. The copy on the box reads:
This story, an alternate history masterpiece, is told from the viewpoints of Korolev, the 'Chief' who managed the most crucial years of the secret Soviet space program, and his assistant and eventual successor, Aksyonov. The story spans from World War II, when Korolev was released from a prison camp to design rockets, to 1997 and the Mir space station. This endearing story is many tales in one: an historical story that captures the true mood of the period; a science fiction story that resonates on multiple levels with plenty of technology and cosmonaut bravado; and finally, a ghost story as the tale fades away.
This 132-minute "unabridged reading by Jared Doreck" is the first audio edition of any of my stories. On our next car trip, I look forward to popping this into the dash and, in effect, listening to myself.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The woolly bear watch

Dr. Phil Kaldon writes:
We get woolly bears migrating across our driveway here in West Michigan. They tend to look like our cats, some are more orange and some are more black. The greater the number of darker ones you see, the more you know you are about to be screwed by the Gods of Winter.
Phil, did you see mostly dark ones this season, or mostly orange? We've had a mild winter so far, for what it's worth. And I haven't seen woolly bear One, but I haven't gone looking, either ...

In the buttocks, Bob

My hero Bob Devney -- eight-time Hugo Award nominee in the Best Fan Writer category, and author of the best convention reports ever written -- writes:
One of my favorite headlines is a golden oldie (though perhaps a falsie), supposedly from a British paper during World War II:

Eighth Army push bottles up Germans

You remind me, Bob, of the marvelous headline all of us at the Greensboro, N.C., paper so enjoyed circa 1990, mainly because it was published by one of our bitter rivals, the High Point, N.C., paper. During a drug bust, as the offenders scrambled to ditch or hide or otherwise distance themselves from their illegal goods, one brave fellow who had been smoking cocaine in its crystalline form shoved the "rocks" up his own rectum. The police, however, had brought along rubber gloves in anticipation of this ploy, and their search of each suspect was thorough indeed, so the contraband ultimately was found. The newspaper headline read:
Police find crack in buttocks
I can't say how the staff of the High Point paper reacted, but at the Greensboro paper this headline occasioned daylong merriment. Just as the newsroom had quieted down, some newcomer would walk in, be handed the headline, and everyone would erupt in laughter again. I'm surprised we got a paper out that day at all. Finally, after we settled down and got back to work, my colleague Stan Swofford stood, hitched up his pants and muttered: "I don't know what we're laughing about. Greensboro police couldn't even find that." And we all howled anew.

Ah, journalism!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fun with headlines

My hero Gwenda Bond had a good response to my confusion over this headline:
I think "mad" here is being used in the sense of wicked cool.
To which Dr. Phil Kaldon replied:
Why... YES!

Dr. Phil

"Everything is Physics"
Sharing my fascination with headlines is Charlie Ewers, who teaches journalism at Frostburg State University; he clips and passes me gems from time to time. For example, this:

It's a Hard Rock life

In reply to my post about the heyday of the Hard Rock Cafe, Jason Lundberg writes:
I was also caught up in the whole Hard Rock furor of the 80s and early 90s. It almost got to be like collecting baseball cards or comics among my friends: "You went to the one in Florida? Cool!" "Aw, man, everyone's got the New York one." "Dude, how did you get one from Bangkok?!"

I went on a marching band trip to Florida when I was in high school, and not only did we stand in line for over an hour just to get into the restaurant, we stood in line for another hour just to get our t-shirts. I think I had five of them at one point; I know that some lucky customers of Goodwill have them now.
While you kids were standing in line for T-shirts, I felt very smug and adult and aloof from the whole thing, being all of 26 -- an inexplicable attitude, since at the time I was spending most of my paycheck on Doctor Who T-shirts. I even referred to my Ford Escort as my "Tardis," as in: "I'll be right back, folks; it's raining, and I need to roll up the windows in my Tardis." My friends should have beaten me to death.

Multiplying rabbits

Regarding our family superstition that "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" must be said as one's first words on the first day of the month, Jeremy Tolbert writes:
In my family, we say "white rabbit" three times when smoke at a campfire is blowing your way to "make it turn away." I wonder if the superstitions are related?
I'm sure they are, like all the other good-luck superstitions involving rabbits, the proverbial "rabbit's foot" being the most famous.

Could the old superstition be one of the reasons that Lewis Carroll has Alice encounter the White Rabbit first, among all the denizens of Wonderland?

Why should rabbits be associated with good fortune, I wonder? Must be their reproductive skills.

For a very different take on rabbits, read Kelly Link's brilliant story "Stone Animals" in Magic for Beginners.

Dick Cavett's "death episode"

On the subject of on-air deaths, my hero Jeffrey Ford writes:
Do you remember the old guy who died while Dick Cavett was interviewing him on TV?
I did not know about that, Jeff, so I looked it up. Thanks! Publisher and organic-farming advocate J.I. Rodale did indeed die on the set of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. According to the invaluable Snopes website:
While Cavett was discussing politics with journalist Pete Hamill, Rodale's head dropped to his chest and he was heard to let out what sounded like a snore. "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?" asked Cavett. There was no response — Rodale was dead. The show was never broadcast.
In the Peter Jackson version of this scene, Cavett's quip would prompt Rodale's ghost to swoop down from the rafters and bellow, "Yes ... bored unto DEATH!"

The Snopes people have a grim but fascinating page devoted to others who died -- or were fatally injured or stricken -- on the air, on camera or onstage. Though several of the deaths involve radio broadcasts, I count only one on-air death of a disc jockey: Jack Spector on WHLI in Garden City, N.Y., in 1994.


Of the on-air death of local disc jockey Chazz Offutt, my fellow Frostburg resident Jeremy Bruno writes:
Do we ever get any good news in this area (aside from the foundation of FSFS, that is...)?
By FSFS he means the Frostburg Science Fiction Society, which I declared into existence on New Year's Day. So far there are three members: Jeremy, Sydney and me. There will be others.

I guess "FSFS" would be pronounced "fiss-fiss," but maybe a better short form would be (FS)2, or FS squared.

(Thanks to undergrad math major Tricia Shore and her engineer husband for pointing out my mathematical typo earlier.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Death on the air

Veteran Cumberland, Md., disc jockey Chazz Offutt died on the air, during his morning show, the Tuesday after Christmas. A listener told Michael Sawyers of the Cumberland Times-News:
He had just said the time, 20 minutes after 8, and all of a sudden I heard a noise and then there was just nothing. The mike was open, and I heard somebody say "Chazz," then I heard them say "Call 911."
How many times has this happened in live radio, or live television, I wonder?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hail, cannons?

California farmers, desperate to ward off hail, are buying hail cannons again.

The best recent newspaper article on hail cannons is by Joe Garner in the July 10, 2006, Rocky Mountain News. Garner writes, in part:
The October 1919 edition of Popular Science magazine had a cover story on "Hail Fighters and Their Strange Devices," complete with an illustration of cannon barrels pointed skyward.

"By 1919, hail cannons had been discredited, but people intent on changing the weather refuse to give them up," the magazine headlined almost 90 years ago.

Today, Mike Eggers Ltd., based in New Zealand, is the principal manufacturer of hail cannons used in the United States for "horticultural protection." The sticker price is $50,000 a unit to provide coverage over a radius of one-third of a mile, would-be purchasers said. Eggers declined to talk price.

Ultimately, Eggers is selling hope, which history has shown is more potent than any cannon ...

Spreading out

The federal government, expecting the worst, is beginning to move out of Washington, D.C. We were talking about this at the 2002 Campbell Conference at the University of Kansas: The less centralized our government, our economy, our electrical grid, our population, etc., the better off we are. Why haven't we been doing more of this, the past five years?

A boy and his sword

You may have read about the lawsuit filed by the high-school senior in Rhode Island who wants his yearbook portrait to depict him wearing chain mail and carrying a sword. (He's a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.) What you probably haven't read is that the decision not to publish the photo was made not by the principal's office, but by the student staff of the yearbook. Thanks to the invaluable Student Press Law Center for pointing this out.

Had this been a case of the principal overruling the student editor, I'd have sided with the editor. As it's apparently a case of the principal backing the student editor, I still side with the editor.

I can't understand why the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the chain-mailed teen. Going to court to force journalists of any age to publish or not publish anything is downright ... medieval.

Rabbit rabbit rabbit

One of the Giles County, Va., superstitions that Sydney inherited from the Stafford side of the family is the good-luck custom of saying "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" as your first words on the first day of the month. Most months, we forget to do this until we've said several hundred other words, and upon realizing we've forgotten "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" yet again, we get annoyed and say another word.

I'm pleased to say, however, that we did start Jan. 1, 2007, by saying "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" at midnight, before we even said "Happy new year," because Sydney's mother had reminded us earlier in the day. We missed the actual Times Square ball drop on television because we were watching the tail end of the Absolutely Fabulous marathon on BBC America (while snacking on the excellent Gouda cheese made at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Crozet, Va.), but remembering "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" is the important thing. And now it's the first thing I've "said" on the blog this month, too.

As for where "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" came from, and why rabbits, who knows? More on the superstition here.