Sunday, February 18, 2007

So that's all right then

Since New Year's, in three separate cases, three schoolteachers in Howard County, Md., have been arrested on sex charges involving their high-school students. In response, the county school superintendent -- clearly a believer in the power of PowerPoint presentations, clearly defined meeting agendas, and stapled handouts to solve any problem -- vows that from now on, part of the orientation process for new teachers will include instruction on "how you maintain the appropriate distance between you and your students." So that's all right then, as Private Eye would say.

Marist Summer Writing Institute

I'm to be one of the instructors at this year's Summer Writing Institute at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Michael Ondaatje is the keynote speaker. I'm teaching the non-fiction track, thanks largely to Alabama Curiosities, and I look forward to it. The dates are July 31 to Aug. 3, and July 1 is the application deadline, so please help spread the word.

My photo on the faculty page is the one Jeanne Beckwith snapped of me years ago, one DeepSouthCon weekend, at the "Storyteller" fountain in Five Points in Birmingham, Ala.

Wizards cover

John Jude Palencar's cover for Wizards is up at Amazon. Click on the image to see a larger version.

I also learn from Amazon that the anthology's subtitle is Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy. I don't know about my being a master of modern fantasy, but I am pleased to have a story in this book, alongside a lot of my heroes. The Berkley hardcover is out May 1.

B&B Country Meats

Allow me to put in a plug for B&B Country Meats in the Wrights Crossing neighborhood of Frostburg, Md., where I stock up once a week on that marvelous local delicacy, Engle's Bologna.I am told that Engle's Bologna originated on the Engle farm just west of town. It tastes more like salami than bologna. It seems a shame to hide the taste by putting it on a sandwich with mustard and cheese; I eat it thick-sliced on Triscuits. In season, you can get deer bologna at B&B, too.B&B Country Meats is on Route 936, a.k.a. Upper Georges Creek Road, at the foot of Welsh Hill. From I-68, take the Route 36 exit toward town, then the first left onto Cherry Lane, then turn right at the stop sign.

A rainbow cloud

Sydney spotted this rainbow cloud over our house at midday on Feb. 11. I was able to capture two shots of it before it vanished. These two photos were taken nine seconds apart, at 11:42 a.m. Eastern.
By 11:44, the rainbow effect had all but disappeared.

Was our rainbow cloud a circumhorizontal arc, sometimes called the rarest sky phenomenon in nature? (See this National Geographic item.) I'm glad we saw it, whatever it was.

The governor's Gormenghastly green bag

I was mystified to read of Gov. Martin O'Malley's 145 "green bag" appointments to various boards and commissions, but lo, such appointments in Maryland actually are taken to the state Senate in a green bag! Here's the history, courtesy of the Maryland State Archives, official custodians of the green bag.

Like many "historical" and "traditional" customs, this one seems to have been invented within living memory. No one is sure there was an actual green bag before 1951, and the current one dates from 1983, when I was an undergraduate.

I am reminded of the equally useful customs enforced by Sourdust and Barquentine, the father-and-son Masters of Ritual in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

Baby Face

Thanks to Netflix and the Turner Classic Movies Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 1, we just saw the pre-release, no-holds barred version of Baby Face (1933), with the terrific Barbara Stanwyck as a woman on the make, armed only with her body and a secondhand volume of Nietzsche.

The first half is astonishing, a revelation, basically a series of sex scenes with ever-higher-status men, placed floor by floor up a phallic Art Deco skyscraper. The least interesting of Stanwyck's conquests is played by the 26-year-old John Wayne, then only beginning to make a name for himself in low-budget Westerns. Stanwyck herself was the same age as Wayne, but in their brief scenes together, you sure couldn't tell!

Stanwyck has one quickie in a boxcar, another in a ladies' room. She denounces her brutish (and possibly incestuous) dad for pimping her out from the time she was 14. Upon discovering the bodies of two of the men she's destroyed, Stanwyck's look of satisfied appraisal, on which the camera lingers, is colder even than anything she gave Billy Wilder's camera in Double Indemnity, 11 years later.

The second half of the movie, alas, is downright dull, as Stanwyck's character has an inexplicable change of heart thanks to the never-very-interesting George Brent, the 1926 hit "Baby Face" is played about six times too many (minus the Al Jolson vocals), and a sorta-conventional "happy ending" is trundled in like creaking scenery. But that first half, everything pre-Paris, is something! I was reminded of Nicole Kidman's character in To Die For, or Myrna Loy as the daughter of Fu Manchu.

Alfred E. Green directed Baby Face, but I suspect what credit doesn't go to Stanwyck goes to Kathryn Scola, who co-wrote the screenplay. She specialized, for a time, in tough and sometimes scandalous dames; her other early-1930s credits include The Lady Who Dared, Wicked, Midnight Mary, Lilly Turner, Female and Night After Night -- which was Mae West's movie debut, in a supporting role.

I thought of Baby Face this morning, when I read in Ellen Goodman's column that Anna Nicole Smith "made a name for herself the old-fashioned way, using the only thing she had." Smith was one down on Stanwyck's character; she didn't even have Nietzsche.

Quotes in the news

"You do not want a varmint up in the wiring areas and what-have-you on an airplane."
-- American Airlines spokesman John Hotard, on the stowaway Eastern gray squirrel that forced a trans-Pacific flight to make an unscheduled landing in Honolulu.

"People who celebrate Valentine's Day should be pelted with shoes!"
-- Chanted by Hindu fundamentalists during their annual Feb. 14 protest in India.

"Uh, I, I can only tell you what people on the ground -- It's hard for me, you know, living in this beautiful White House, to give you an assessment, a firsthand assessment."
-- President Bush at his Feb. 14 press conference, in response to ABC's Martha Raddatz, who asked him of Iraq, "Do you believe it's a civil war, sir?"

A coal statistic

According to the cutline beneath this front-page photo in the Cumberland Times-News, a single high school in Cumberland, Md., burns about 700 tons of coal a year.

According to the "Coal Train" chapter of John McPhee's latest book, Uncommon Carriers, a typical rail car holds 115 tons of coal.

That means Allegany High School requires a bit more than six rail cars full of coal per year to keep the pipes (and kids) from freezing. Let's pull a seventh car onto that (imaginary) siding behind the boiler room, in case of a hard winter.

Keep that once-a-year seven-car coal train for a single building in mind, the next time you hear coal touted as America's energy salvation.


I enjoy reading the daily celebrity-birthday roundup in the Cumberland Times-News, and Saturday's prompted an interesting breakfast-table discussion: Who is the more talented actor, Jim Brown (age 71) or Denise Richards (age 36)? My opinion, which I unwisely expressed to Sydney, was, "Jim Brown clearly has the edge in gravitas, but Denise Richards clearly has the edge in ta-tas." This will haunt me for some time, I'm sure.

Among my faithful readers ...

... I am pleased to hear from Donovan S. Brain. The quote at the bottom of his/its blog is worth the click.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fuzz bunnies

Phil "Dr. Phil" Kaldon writes:
Were you in Greensboro during the era of the famous Greensboro police department "fuzz bunnies"? They actually made a national ad for the relevant company, Dr. Phil writes coyly. (smirk)
Given your smirk, Phil, I sense another conversation coming on that I will have to distance myself from, but nevertheless -- Tell me about the Greensboro, N.C., "fuzz bunnies." I'm clueless.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A harsh truth

I'm sure the T-shirt worn in this photo by Megan Hott, winner of a high-school Voice of Democracy contest in Keyser, W.Va., speaks for millions.

Friday, February 02, 2007

And such a bargain

Little did I know, when I bought a Handy Can of WD-40, just how handy it was! Look at the grand claim on the back.Shoot, we ought to send cases of it to the White House, to Capitol Hill, to the Pentagon ...

The Southern model

The Taliban say they will open private schools in defiance of their nation's government. That sounds familiar.