Saturday, May 31, 2008


After Vinda put the corpse away and washed up, she wheeled her easy chair across the cement floor and sat back, looking out her little window at clouds passing before the face of the moon. She ate her peanut butter malt crackers and drank a Diet Coke, then opened her cell phone and called Arun.

When he answered, she said, “Can you see the moon?”

He paused and said, suspiciously, “Who is this?”

“You nabob,” she said, “It is seven in the morning for you. Is the moon visible?”

He laughed. “The moon is beautiful here. Half beautiful at the very least.”

“Like me!” she said.

“Only half like you; you are, quite naturally, all beautiful.” He continued without a pause, “Contracts should be signed next week, so I may see you next weekend. I cannot make reservations yet, but soon. It will be soon. How is your moon?”

She let her frustration show in her voice. “I could see it through my window now, if tonight were clear, as it was supposed to be. I would not even have to go up to the roof.”

“Scientific predictions gone awry? How could this be, oh Queen of Science? Oh! I forgot; you do not care for that name.”

“Queen of Science? No, you can call me that. I only object to ‘Queen of Death,’ Nabob lawyer.”

They chattered for five minutes, as usual. When she hung up, she sighed in frustration. She had hoped for their supernatural connection tonight—both gazing at the moon as they talked. It was so rare that they could both see the moon. She finished her snack and pulled her chair back to her battleship grey desk, issued by the city of Charleston.

The buzzer sounded. When she opened the security door, a hairy young guy in a black windbreaker and jeans showed her his badge. “I’m Mark Patton. I need to talk about Chaney—shot last night.”

She led him in. The door banged and clicked shut behind him. “I am Vinda Sharma. I performed the autopsy on Ms. Chaney. Detective Darbone was assigned to this case. What has happened?”

She motioned for him to sit in the metal chair across from her as she sank into her chair. He said, “Darbone’s got the flu. We can’t wait for him.”

“I imagine not,” she replied. “What information have you received thus far?”

He opened his cell phone, pushed a button, and read from the screen, “Celedon Chaney, twenty year old black female. Looked like a single shot to the right forehead with a large caliber bullet. Found at The Battery by a retired couple taking a walk at 9:00 P. M.. Her roommate said she was supposed to meet her boyfriend there. We’re working on him.”

Vinda tapped at her keyboard and her printer came to life. “I have completed my report. You do not have a murder, Mark. She was struck by a meteorite.” She waited for the papers to print out.

“You’re kidding. That can’t be right.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Would you like to see the body?”

“Well . . .,” he said.

She picked up the papers from the printer, handed them to him, pulled on a pair of gloves from her pocket, and wheeled a cart to the tagged locker. She had not heard of Mark before, so he must be new to his job. He had to learn like they all did that medical examiners did not argue the facts of a case with the police—though Vinda understood that he was not really arguing. Autopsy evidence usually instilled respect in the new guys even though they had seen plenty of bodies when they were patrolmen.

She adjusted the cart’s height and slid the drawer out onto the cart. She wheeled the cart to the spot before the high window, hoping it would add atmosphere for Mark. She crooked a finger at him and he walked over. She went to join him on the other side, so as not to obscure his view of the half moon—if the clouds should deign to thin! The lighting was poor, but the ambiance was perfect. In a similar situation, she had goosed a young detective last year, who had literally wet himself. She had instantly regretted that, since she had not meant to so terribly humiliate the man. The thought of that incident bothered her so that she decided to take it easy on Mark.

As the scent of the body began to waft up, she pulled back the sheet. Just as Vinda had left the woman, the right side of the head was caved in from the force of the object. Mark mused, incredulously, “A meteorite.”

Vinda said, “The force crushed the skull.” She rotated her finger around the area. “The projectile proceeded through the brain and lodged in the top of the spinal column. A slightly different angle and it would have made an exit wound.”

“He spoke softly. “I thought it looked like an execution by her boyfriend. No one heard a shot there in the park, so I expected to find a silencer on a gun. You’re sure that wasn’t a big piece of lead in her backbone?”

“The rock was quite aerodynamic. The lab is analyzing it. Perhaps they have filed a report, but it should not contain anything remarkable—more remarkable than what is already before us, I should say. Let me check.”

She removed her gloves and dropped them on the sheet that covered the body. She went to her desk, pulled up the lab’s information files, and read from the report. “. . . the composition of the interior of the rock . . . igneous . . . complete lack of water . . . trace of basalt lava . . ..” She straightened and saw him looking up through the window, probably to avoid looking at Celedon Chaney. She knew he would not believe her when she told him the rest. She could not disguise the tentative note in her voice. “They suspect that it is a piece of the moon.”

Mark turned around and looked at her. “The moon?”

She nodded, pondering the progressively eerie character of the death. “It is certainly the oddest case that I have been presented with.”

Mark looked around the room, then looked down at his fingers, which he had stretched out as if examining them. He said, “Last year. Something pretty big hit the moon. Remember the news about it?”

Why had that not occurred to her? “I do! Many were frightened by that, but the object was not large enough to harm the moon and from the best estimates, it was not at all powerful enough to cause any material to escape from the pull of the moon. This is fascinating. The earth must have just passed through debris . . ..” She realized she was chattering. She stopped.

Mark said, “Yeah, my girlfriend—ex-girlfriend—said that it was a UFO crash.”

“Oh, I did not pay attention to any of those people. Someone will always say such things.”

As if in response, the clouds lifted. She pointed past him at the glowing whitegold face of the half moon, which now bathed the three of them in its light.

He turned and said, “Cool. Spooky.”

Vinda giggled.

From the cart, Celedon Chaney’s hand shot up and locked on the lapel of Mark’s windbreaker, tugging him down to her.

Vinda screamed and backed up against the wall, trying to make her legs take her toward the door. She shakily said, in Hindi, “Na. Na. Na!”

Vinda woke to the sound of a cell phone’s buzz. The policemen in her hospital room told her that she had been found wandering in Battery Park. Mark Patton was dead. No forensic evidence pointed to her guilt.

She told them everything, but they didn’t believe her. They thought she saw something—a savage attack on Mark Patton—and hallucinated her story, based on that attack and on the fragment of the moon that struck Celedon Chaney. The police concluded that whoever had killed Mark Patton had stolen Celedon Chaney’s body. By the time she woke again, the police had told Arun about the attack and he was on his way from India.

Her doctor sedated her and ordered psychological counseling. They regularly woke her to take her vitals. The psychologist recommended that she remain in the hospital until the end of the week.

She woke to the sound of Arun saying, “Vinda? Love? Can you hear me?”

She lurched up and locked her arms around him. She sobbed and began to tell him everything.

He interrupted her, “Vinda, I cannot understand you. Let me pour you some water. Speak more slowly.”

“Yes,” she sobbed, and reluctantly let go of him.

He walked to the wheeled tray and poured some water from the grey pitcher into the grey glass. She watched his every move, so thankful that he was here. He paused at the end of the tray and opened the drapes, exposing the dazzling light of the three-quarters moon.

Throughout the hospital, orderlies’ trays clattered to the tiled floor, patients gasped awake in their beds, and nurses rushed to examine their monitors, as Vinda’s shrieks filled the halls.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Some of My Favorite Lyrics

I got kicked off of Noah's Ark.
I turned my cheek to unkind remarks.
There was two of everything, but one of me.
And when the rains came tumbling down
I held my breath and I stood my ground,
And I watched that ship go sailing out to sea.

John Prine, Sweet Revenge

The rampaging sons of the widow James, Jack the Cutter and the Pock Marked Kid
Had to stand naked at the bottom of the cross
And tell the good lord what they did.

Tom Waits, Get Behind the Mule

You can't live in a home that should not have been built
By the bourgeoise clerks who bear no guilt.
When the wind hits this building, this building it tilts.
One day it will surely fall to the ground.

The Clash, Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)

Was it a millionaire who said "imagine no possessions?"

Elvis Costello, The Other Side of Summer

Happiness is emotional habit

Tom Tom Club, Say I Am

Every patron saint
Hung on the wall,
Shared the room
With twenty sinners

Steely Dan, The Royal Scam

There are ashtrays of emotion for the fag ends of the aristocracy.

Elvis Costello, Pills and Soap

Small time Napoleon's
Shattered his knees
But he stays in the saddle for Rose,
And all his disciples
They shave in the gutter,
And gather what's left of his clothes

Tom Waits, Diamonds and Gold

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Today was my wife's birthday. Over dinner, she asked if I remembered the first of her birthdays that we spent together. I did not, but she did not throw anything at me for forgetting.

We met in January of 1981. The semester was over in early May, so on her birthday I drove the 75 miles from my home to our college town where she lived. She, our friend, Joey, and I went out to eat. Then we went to shoot pool and share a pitcher. Those were the days when I still drank occasionally.

Two frat guys at the pool hall tried to hustle us for a pitcher. Neither Joey nor I were very good. We broke, one of them sank a couple of balls, then Joey sank half of ours. The other guy sank a couple, then I sank the rest of ours. It was about as probable as lightning striking for us to win so easily.

Joey was a good friend to both of us. A week or two later he had an epileptic seizure--his first grand mal, and smothered. We attended his funeral.

Julia had always told Joey that she'd name her first born after him. Nine years later we named our first born Joseph, and call him Joey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Freedom and Order

A friend and I talked about freedom and order in religion today. He was feeling somewhat frustrated with the church that he had attended for over a dozen years. The church, as a whole, does not have doctrine that it approves. They believe in following a set of scriptures, but ultimately the adherent is his or her own interpreter, so nearly any belief is permissible in the religion.

My religion is one of order. There is approved doctrine and where doctrine is initially unclear, church leaders clarify the doctrine. Many individual interpretations are possible, but not all are. For full participation, the adherent must hold a minimal set of beliefs and must perform a minimal set of prescribed duties. However, one can participate in many, but not all, of the church's activities outside of these minimal sets.

In the end, the adherent in either religion is free to do as they wish. In my friend's church, one has more freedom to believe and act and still be within the mainstream of his religion. In my church one can more easily leave the mainstream. Of course, one is free to do so.

Many people value the freedom of my friend's church. My friend, though, asks, "what church? What does it mean to be a member of my church? Apparently very little."

Others value the order of my church. We know what it means to be a church member at various levels of activity. However, this is only possible by a willing sacrifice of our freedom to determine our own path.

Politically, however, I am an extreme proponent of freedom. Neither of the political parties' current conduct is harmonious with my beliefs. To find where I am, start by positioning at anarchy, then step a bit toward the center.

Further, I believe that with freedom in secular matters, individuals end up ordering their activities for the good of society. For instance, no one has to force manufacturers of keyboards, mice, and monitors to make their equipment compatible with the computer. No one has to force potato growers to sell the proper amount to chip manufacturers. No one has to force gasoline manufactures to use expensive and inferior ethanol in . . . no wait, we do have to force people to do stupid things.

I should really use ideas of freedom and order more in writing. I seem to have strong beliefs about them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Franklin's Machine

So here is the story.

The American Revolutionary War is going badly. Ben Franklin, reasoning about the effect that a division of rifles would have had on Spartacus's revolt, travels in his time machine to our present to see if he can bring super-weapons back to win the Revolutionary War.

After landing the the present, looking like a homeless guy with strange clothes, an accent, and no identity, he is shuffled into the bureaucracy. Eventually he escapes.

Then he decides . . .

I think the ending is obvious.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Blood covering porcelain
And cries of anguish--
Is this it?

Lamentation and bitter weeping,
A voice in Ramah.

A kitchen dipper,
A pickle jar,

And something else.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poison Victory

I have always enjoyed history. Among the many areas of history that I love, war is a favorite. From Thermopylae to Predator drones, I enjoy learning about war.

As a young teen, I read B. H. Liddell-Hart's Strategy, Rommel's memoirs, A Stillness at Appomattox, etc.

In elementary school and jr. high my friends and I enjoyed chess. In high school I quickly made friends who played wargames, mostly by Avalon Hill. We played Panzerblitz (German forces on the Russian Front), Third Reich (entire European/Mediterranean theater WWII), 1776, Squad Leader, and lots of others.

In July's issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Albert E. Cowdrey's short story, Poison Victory, brought back all those post-game discussions with my friends. What if Manstein had reached the gates of Moscow before winter? What if Rommel had not been on leave during the Normandy invasion? And so on.

Poison Victory is set in 1949 at a time when the Germans have conquered Russia and Hitler is on his deathbed. By the time Cowdrey delivered the extended war flashback, I was dying to know what elements of alternative history he had introduced.

Cowdrey puts a bright young officer in General Paulus's command at Stalingrad. Due to officer's knowledge and initiative, the battle of Stalingrad is won and the Germans win the war. All that remains is limited Russian partisan resistance supplied by America (I think Kruschev is a partisan leader, though the reference to him is scant).

Poison Victory is excellent. Cowdrey's background in history and the military, as well as a first class speculative fiction resume, qualify him to deliver this smooth, clean story. It is near perfect.

If forced at the point of a panzerfaust to demand more from Cowdrey, I would ask that he develop his leading female character more, so that I could have felt the weight of the fulcrum that lifted the protagonist up and over the climax of the story.

Thank you, Mr. Cowdrey.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Last night my Gang of Three met at our usual restaurant. They helped me with my short story, Killing Words.

Besides talking about writing, we talked about everything. We probably have disagreements over current events, since I am of the mindset that government should try to do only 5% of the things that it now does and (I think) another member thinks the government does not do nearly enough. Somehow we mostly get by without disagreeing.

I probably come off as being obnoxious around people with temperaments different than economists. We throw our opinions out there and are ready for someone to tell us we are wrong, and why, then we tell them why they're wrong, and so it goes. But other folks are into being supportive, not inquisitive and argumentative. In general, the supportive people could be referred to as "people," while economists and our ilk might be referred to as "nerds."

There is a special place in my heart for Killing Words. My favorite thing about the story is that it is "self-similar," though not in the strict mathematical sense.* The overall story contains a story within the story that is representative of the overall story. And the story within drives the main story as well as reflecting it. In fact, the story within the story contains a story within it, that is identical to the story that is resides within. BUT, even with all that complexity, Killing Words is easy to follow.

Or maybe my favorite thing about Killing Words is the protagonist's journey from being in a community that she hates to taking ownership of the community and loving it.

It is bad form for me to talk about all the great stuff in my story, but I already mentioned that I am a nerd. That does not excuse my bad manners, but maybe it explains them.

*A truly self-similar story would be infinite. I am considering writing one, but it would have to be a novel, not a short story.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I previously mentioned that I was an amateur magician. I was probably in fifth grade when a New Orleans in-law of some sort visited with my grandmother. He could make cards disappear and reappear, cut a rope and restore it, make your card come to the top of the deck, and the like.

I loved it. He showed me a little. I bought The Amateur Magician's Handbook and learned a huge amount about magic. My hands were too small and my fingers too slim to do many of the card and coin tricks. But I did everything I was able to.

I remember kids being incredibly interested and one kid being hostile; I never figured out specifically why. Magic seemed to infuriate him. Maybe he hated not being in on the trick. That was not his only problem, though. To no one's surprise, this kid was the only one at my small country school that was in a juvenile detention center before we started high school.

I performed at a church talent show when I was in the eighth grade--that was as far as the hobby went. When my kids were born, I showed them some tricks. I used to do a couple of tricks for my classes, but have not for quite a while.

The Prestige was an excellent novel that centered around magic. The movie was disappointing. One would think that the best thing that a movie about magic has going for it is that magic is fascinating--astounding. The Prestige destroyed all of that. The magic in the movie was beyond boring. Maybe the director of The Prestige did not see how stage magic could be engaging in the age of CGI. Perhaps this is not surprising because the writer/director also took an excellent book and turned it into a much worse screenplay.

The director of The Illusionist obviously saw exactly what could be done with magic. He told a more engaging story than The Prestige (movie, not the book), and used magic as an excellent plot device, preserving the wonder of the magic trick.

I should incorporate stage magic into a story. Hm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What I Did and Did Not Do

Ok, Ok, so I did not finish the story that I started reading yesterday.

I finished a first draft of an expanded version of my flash fiction piece, Tyrant's Dead Hand. I do not think I was able to build suspense very well in the 500 word flash. I guess you can be the judge of that. I have hopes that the expanded 3000 word version (still a small short story) will better build suspense.

I would rather finish writing a story than finish reading one. Maybe tomorrow I will finish Fullbrim's Finding.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I previously posted my poem, "Scholar." I have been both an amateur magician and a scholar (I have the publications to prove the latter). The two have something in common.

A magic trick may be fascinating to the viewer and may require the magician to be creative to achieve the effect. The viewer may ache to know how an impressive trick was done. If the viewer learns how it was done, though, the magic is dead. The trick is no longer . . . magical.

A similar thing happens with scholarship. We find a real-world mystery. We attempt to understand, but fail. The mystery is intriguing and, in its own way, magical. Finally, after applying thought and imagination, we solve the mystery. Then we look over our explanation and . . . "it's dead, Jim." We started with a living, breathing, puzzle. Then we cut it up and fully understood how the thing worked.

Before we harnessed fire, it must have been magical. When we became able to use fire, it became a tool and some of the magic was gone. Now we know that fire is created by rapidly adding the oxygen in the air to a substance. We killed the magic, bit by bit.

Unfortulately the alternative to killing the magic is shivering in the dark and eating cold raviolli.

It's all

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Nirvana Cat received Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.

I excerpted Nirvana Cat here.

I talked about where the idea came from here.

I used Nirvana Cat to talk about about atmosphere and point of view here.

It is nice to see that a professional speculative fiction writer thought I was among the top contestants in the most prestigious contest in the world, but I am not going out tonight to celebrate because I want to win. I am not satisfied with good. I want the best.

I already have some suggested revisions for the story, so it's time to see if I can sell it.

Wish me luck!

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm Going Door to Door to Make You This Incredible Offer!

Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine is one of the few top tier magazines in the genre. Right now the magazine is offering a special low price to bloggers like me. The price was right, so I bought it.

They also gave me permission to post the offer, so that readers of the blog can get the same offer. I get no reward from this. F&SF will not pay me anything for advertising. I post this so that my readers can get the reduced price if they want.

Regular offer:


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

I have eclectic tastes in music. I enjoy Hank Williams, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Wilco, Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Tom Waits, 80's funk, etc.

But I have never found any straight pop music that I liked. I hated hair bands, boy bands, pop princesses, divas (except a few soul divas), and the like.

Then there's Christina. It started with Fighter. I enjoyed the wild strength of her voice and the cadences of the music. I also liked the video where she spent most of her time looking hideous. Her spider garb said "Baba Yaga" to me.

But for a long time I did not hear anything from Christina that I liked. Beautiful? Hork! Get me clear of the furniture. Hatedhatedhatedit along with what I heard of the rest of that album.

Then Christina did James Brown's It's a Man's Man's World at the Grammys. I was dazed.


When I recovered from listening/watching I replayed her performance again on TiVo. And again. And again.


So, yeah, Christina has the powah to make me listen to an ex-pop princess/current diva.

I'm not proud of it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brush With Greatness

I get acquainted with each class that I teach by handing out a questionaire that asks where they are from, what good/bad/strange jobs they've had, what brushes with greatness they've had, and what can they say about themselves that no one else in the class can say.

That elicited the answers that I blogged about yesterday. Over the years I have had plenty of interesting students.

One met Justin Timberlake before anybody knew who he was. She worked at a food booth in an airport. Justin arrived early and bought something from her. He chatted with her, but she had never heard of him. He told her who he was and showed her their new (first) CD. By the time she took my course, he was famous.

One girl was asked by M. C. Hammer to join his entourage. Hammer's grandmother lived in a small town near the university town. This girl's and Hammer's grandma were back-door neighbors. She refused his offer.

A guy was the manager of a grocery store where Whitney Houston shopped. He said she was a mess, as expected.

As for me, I once talked about dog genetics with Rue McClannahan's (actress on Maude and Golden Girls) sister. Rue's sister was a biology professor at the university that I attended. I did not know until years later that she was Rue's sister.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Here is what I can say about some of my students.

One killed an alligator with a flashlight. He caught the gator while fishing and it would not get off his line.

One is 21 and owns her own home.

One is afraid of horses.

One walked past Paul Newman at an airport. Newman saw that he was recognized and got nervous. The student said he was much shorter than she expected.

One owns over 500 DVDs.

One was named after an Allman Brother's song.

One met Andre 3000 at a football game.

One is Hellen Keller's sixth cousin.

One is related to Robert E. Lee.

One is related to both Audrey Hepburn and Booker T. Washington.

And one met and talked with Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer. They talked about the weather and about the differences between the U. S. and the U. K.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Long Strange Summer (Gripe Session)

At the first university where I worked as a professor, summer pay was good and professors generally taught two summer courses. Then summer pay started getting worse and summer courses were limited.

At my second university, summer pay was lousy. So I took the whole summer off. I gave up a bit of income, but gained a lot of family time.

At my current university, summer pay is excellent. But the administrative bureaucracy harbors strange ideas about summer schedules. So I have been asked to teach one course during each summer session. This gives me zero time to take a vacation with the family. By the time I am done working, the kids will be back in school.

I am moving within the city this summer, though, so money will come in handy. I cannot afford to teach only one course. So this summer will be a long, sad grind. I will have to paste a smile on and force myself to be enthusiastic for my students.

I tried to correct the administration's strange ideas last summer. One administrator, in particular, has the idea that students want to take a particular combination of courses to knock out some much-needed requirements. And this combination of courses guarantees that I cannot have my preferred schedule. I'll call this combination of courses "the knock-out option."

Last summer, after teaching a combination of courses that I did not enjoy, I checked and found that of my fifty students, two were using the knock-out option. Then I checked those two students' fall registrations. The first student took zero courses in the fall for which the knock-out option would help. The second student did take courses for which the knock-out option would help, but had about eighteen hours of sophomore courses that he could have taken--and that advisors always strongly suggest that the student take first. So the administrators would have preferred that he take courses that made his knock-out option irrelevant.

Hence, I had gathered data that showed that sticking me with a course assignment that I did not want ended up benefitting zero students. But some administrators are not impressed by evidence. After all, they have their preconceived notions, in which the world works so much better. I will do more research after this summer and see if anyone benefitted by the knockout option and, if not, present this evidence. It probably won't help, though.

None of this would be necessary if the university just did not pay so well for summer courses! I am trapped by abundance!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Terrible Ideas

People have plenty of terrible ideas. Sometimes they seem like good ideas at the time, but they turn out to be bad. Generally, when people have bad ideas, they abandon them. If I decided to turn corn into fuel for my car, I would quickly find that I was spending more on corn fuel than on petroleum fuel. After a while I would stop.

But government is not usually able to stop. Bad governmental ideas can keep going and keep getting bigger and bigger. Ethanol is a great case in point.

Make fuel from corn!

People like me are skeptical from the start because if it was more efficient to make fuel from corn, people would be doing it. Companies would voluntarily organize and make fuel from corn and people would buy this great, inexpensive stuff.

At this point, someone could propose that it is environmentally more sound to make fuel from corn. They can do a thousand studies to show that it is the case. So, even though it is more expensive to make fuel from corn, it's good for us, overall.

But now that we're actually making fuel from corn, people realize that ethanol is even bad for the environment. You use a lot of environmental resources to replace one of the oil pumping units that my crew used to eat their lunch near. After all, the environmentalists never liked the agricultural industry either.

Oh, so maybe we make ethanol because we can have less dependence on foreign oil. 30% of our corn crop adds 3% to our fuel supply. We are not exactly close to kicking the habit. And that dislocates a LOT of our food production. So now we have rapidly inflating food prices.

If it was more efficient to drive corn than to eat it, we would find it obvious to do so. When the government forces ethanol production and subsidizes it with my tax money, then it is obvious that eating corn is more efficient than driving it. After all, they don't have to mandate and subsidize cookie manufacturing to get people to make and buy cookies.

When government makes a bad decision, though, it can take a long time and a lot of damage to reverse the decision. A few politicians are waking up to the evidence that ethanol is a disaster. I'm not sure what got their attention--food riots or high inflation at home. But maybe there is some hope that our government will give up on their bad idea.

By the way, economists who believe in markets objected to ethanol on these grounds even before the laws were enacted.

It's not rocket science. It's common sense.

Friday, May 9, 2008

On Life's Haiku

I posted Life's Haiku yesterday.

What does the poem mean to me? For me, it is the essence of my world view. I call myself an optimistic realist. I believe that good things are possible and that we should strive for them. I have the ability to be happy even though things could be better than they are. I am not sure that one can make the choice to be like me--some say they are not able to be happy.

I also know that bad things happen. I know that I have an excellent life, compared to most of what humanity has gone through. I was not in Europe during the Black Plague, seeing my family suffer and die, one by one, knowing that their suffering may soon be mine. I have not gone through Chairman Mao's "Great Leap Forward," as one of my previous graduate assistants did, on the verge of starvation, losing most of his family to famine. And, as a Christian, I know that I cannot be called upon to endure what Christ endured because my body would expire before I had endured those pains.

I know that this life is part of a larger life that always was and will always be. But, for now, I choose the best things for long-term happiness and concentrate on the good.

The tragedy is the person who knows what he wants, but cannot commit to one thing because he might miss another thing. I initially wrote the haiku about a friend who wanted a family, but could not commit. My view was that he was seeking perfection and could not get on with living an imperfect, but joyous, life.

It is almost surely the case that every theme has already been explored, and this one has, too--carpe diem.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Life's Haiku

Tender shoots encased
In an age of ice. The hare
Picks the best trap's bait.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Building Windmills

I read Steven King's The Dead Zone when it was released. One thing I remember from the book is a quote from Chairman Mao of China. I remember it this way. "When the winds of change begin to blow, build windmills, not wind breaks." On the Internet the quote is credited to Confucius, Anon, and Chairman Mao.

The reason that the quote came to mind involves my writing. I recently wrote a piece of horror flash fiction, The Tyrant's Dead Hand. I liked it and decided to turn it into a full short story--right after I completed a fantasy short story I have been working on. I kept trying to push the fantasy story along, but I could not figure it out. Meanwhile, the horror story was aching to be written.

It seemed my heart wanted the fantasy story, but my head would only allow the horror. (The horror, the horror) After two days I gave in. I built a windmill. I zoomed ahead on the horror story.

Probably a better quote would be, "Don't push on a rope."

I think that quote is by Anon, too. That woman has so many quotes, everything she said must have been a quote. Or maybe Anon is a guy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Mom died two years ago, but her figures of speech live on.

People have drowned in horse tracks!

When my brother and I would ask to go swimming without an adult escort, we would promise that we would go to a shallow swimming hole, such as Little Buttermilk (Big Buttermilk was, of course, bigger, as was the Gator Hole). One of us would say, "Nobody can drown in Little Buttermilk," since it was, at most, chest high. Mom would reply with her frustrated admonition, "People have drowned in horse tracks!" She never could name one casualty, though.

Where are we ever going to get another little tiller like that?

This applies to about anything that breaks. That is, "Where are we ever going to get another little truck like that? Where are we ever going to get another little clothes pin like that? Where are we ever going to get another little bag of potato chips like that?"

Here is how it started. The city had run sewer lines--the first ones run through out little town--a couple of years before. Now, they had mandated that everyone hook to the new system. They had not marked the line well and we were trying to find it. The line might be four feet down and it is a LOT of work to dig that far. We took a few shots at it and missed. We tried softening up the ground with water. We eventually got dad's Troy Bilt tiller to further soften the ground. At one point the tines were spinning furiously and one of us leaned hard on the handles, digging them into the ground. The tiller leapt forward into the pecan tree, knocking the muffler off. Mom exclaimed, "Where are we ever going to get another little tiller like that?"

It was obvious to dad and us boys that the damage was minuscule so we died laughing. She was not amused.

I guess Mom got the next expression from the previous generation, but I do not remember hearing anyone but her say it. If someone moves from inaction to sudden action. Like when someone is sitting talking, then remembers something important and bolts up and rushes out, they acted as if they were shot in the butt with a hot cracklin'.

For those of you not of the southern U. S.. A crackling is the fried skin of a pig. Pork rinds are like mass marketed cracklings. A crackling, just out of the grease is hot.

We still use these figures of speech in the family. They bring Mom to mind. She loved us and worked very hard to make the family work and to properly socialize us.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bryton Wyld (Excerpt)

Ragal Tak stood so close that Bryton’s nose was poking into the big man’s scarred, dirty breastplate. Bryton looked up at Tak’s paralyzed half-sneer that pulled his mouth down as he caustically blustered, “I said no! You must have my permit to use a handcart on Godsway. This going to cost you five copper drop, sailor.”

Bryton wondered if in another twenty years he would be as sour as Tak. Bry took a step back, pushed the two handcart handles down onto the cobbled surface of the road, stood on a handle so that the tapestry in the cart would not touch the street, and dug in his pockets for something. A horse had relieved himself somewhere a few paces back and Bryton had barely seen it in time to avoid it. Tak smelled worse than the horse apples, though.

As the foot traffic on Godsway parted for the halted cart, Tak held out his hand for the copper. Bryton, instead, handed him a vine-covered disc of the goddess, Aerin. A vine from the disk instantly grew up around Tak’s little finger and sprouted leaves. Bryton said, “Sir Tak, I already got a permit for today. Of course, I’m grateful that one of Baron Navee’s men is here to keep the streets safe.”

Tak’s face screwed up more than usual. “We gonna’ see if this is real, sailor. We gonna’ go to Aerin’s house and see.”

Bryton wasn’t a sailor, but Tak called everybody sailor. Tak crowded him with his chest plate as he started berating him again. Bryton warned quietly, “Whoa, whoa, Sir Tak.”

Tak crowded him more. “You know you show me this permit before you go onto Godsway. Godsway is my . . .” Tak bullied Bryton a step back—a step off the handcart handle. The handle swung up and caught Tak solidly in his crotch.

Tak yelled, “Aiieee!” and fell over in shock and pain, dropping the house of Aerin’s disk on the cobblestones.

Bryton grabbed for the handcart handle, hoping that the tapestry would not splat in a pile of horse dung on Godsway; but an instant before Bryton could grab the handle, the handcart’s rear end bumped down onto the cobblestones. He shoved the handles down, stepping back away from the groaning Tak, hoping that the tapestry had missed the pile. He scooped up Aerin’s token, but did not know what to do next.

A young male incense vendor with two smoking splinters of lanawood sticking up from his hat put his hand to his mouth at the sight of the groaning baron’s man and a woman cried happily, “Someone’s killed Tak!”

Bryton’s mind raced for just a heartbeat. Tak might kill him on the spot. Tak might throw him into one of Navee’s Cliffwall Cells. Maybe Tak would be too embarrassed to do either? Not likely. Run? It might be worse. Assist the growling baron’s man? How?

Aerin’s house was just down the street. Bryton shouldered aside a black-and-white garbed Adept of Rovish, who had a trail of novices following behind, and shoved through traffic as quickly as he could, mechanically repeating over and over, “Pardon, sir, pardon, apologies, ma’am,” only once pausing in his apologies to mutter to himself, “Don’t baron’s men have protection ‘down there?’”

He heard Tak yelling and glanced behind to see the crowds being jostled around in his wake. But Bryton was already under the Mother Oak’s branches. He turned the cart onto the path to Aerin’s grove archway and saw two women standing in his way.

The Mother Oak’s limbs would not allow him to take the cart around the women and he dared not leave the handcart with the valuable tapestry for Tak to expropriate. One of the women was elegant, tall with white gold curls spilling onto the shoulders of her grey sheath dress. The other woman was dressed as one of Tistrin’s nobility, bearing a gentle smile—but she was no noble. She was Jemmin Well. And that was good. Bryton made a note to flip a coin to Rovish, the God of Luck, if he survived the next minute.

Bryton reached up with one hand and doffed his floppy black hat to the women, thinking, “Manners, manners.” He half-bowed and said hurriedly, “Good day, fair ladies of Tistrin. I have an urgent appointment with Elsa Lesenstock, the Priestess of Aerin.”

He expected them to move out of the way, but the lithe woman in grey only turned to him and coolly said, “I am a priestess of Aatar, tradesman.” Jemmin, still playing the part of a noblewoman, scoffed and fluttered a peacock-eye fan.

Bryton heard Tak scream from too close behind, “Out of the way, you holy idiot!”
Bryton stepped closer to the women, straining to smile more widely as he grew more desperate. “I am delivering this to the House of Aerin, kind ladies, may I have the path?”

Jemmin heaved a sigh and they began to stroll back to where the path led through the grove entrance. Bryton looked back and saw Tak was only a dozen steps behind, his armor clanking above the hum of voices on Godway. Bryton looked to the lackadaisical women who casually strolled on. His frustration boiled at Jemmin and he said, suggestively, “You might make haste. I have heard there are pickpockets about on Godsway today.” Jemmin threw an acidic sneer over her shoulder at Bryton.

He knew he was not going to make it to the grove before Tak caught him. Bryton turned around, reversing his grip on the handcart handles and swung it to one side, blocking Tak’s path. Tak smacked into the side of the cart, and staggered, but did not fall. Behind Bryton, Jemmin screamed. Bryton knew that there was no chance that she was really frightened; she was probably providing a distraction so that she could pick the lithe woman’s pocket. Bryton trotted backward on the path, pulling the cart toward the women, hoping that Tak was stunned.

Tak scrambled around the path, crawling under the canopy of the Mother Oak as he huffed and growled. Bryton yelled frantically, “Sir Tak, this is Aerin’s House. The Goddess won’t like it if you kill me here and neither will Elsa Lesenstock.”

But Tak was not listening. He bulled onto the path, short sword in hand and stabbed at Bryton, who jumped back, turning the cart to parry Tak’s sword with the cart’s handle. The sword slid along the handle, slicing into Bryton’s hand. He yelped, dropping the cart and lurching backward holding his hand, which stung as if on fire. Tak pursued him as Bryton fell back onto one of the women. In a horrifying instant, Bryton realized that in his uninjured hand, he held two fingers of the other hand, severed or nearly so. And that was when Tak’s sword stabbed just above Bry’s hands into his abdomen. He hunched forward, his hands now pressed against the wound in his gut. He moaned, “Oh, I’m gonna’ die. I truly hate this.”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Making the Grade II

I once taught a student who got a four-year accounting degree from our well-accredited university in two years. She said she could only afford two years of school. Besides being a student, she was a mom with two kids.

She tested out of every course that she could and took 21 hours per semester. She may have taken some summer courses, as well.

Accounting is a rigidly structured discipline and the department head did not want to make an exception or two along the way so that she could take courses in an order in which he did not advise taking them. The dean reasoned with the department head on those points. Naturally, she made an "A" in my course. She had to give up everything except for school and kids.

Some students do what is necessary and some make excuses. I interviewed at a private university in Alabama. One of the professors told me the story of his "no excuses" policy. He assigns a paper that is due three months into the semester--no excuses. If you were in the hospital the week before the paper was due, then you should have done the paper before that. But he allows students to turn in the paper until midnight, slipped under the door of his home.

One year he got home and looked in his mailbox, finding a paper submitted by Jim with a note attached. "I apologize for delivering my paper like this. My mother died yesterday so I was not able to submit it in class or at your office."

The professor winced. "Jim's mother died. I might have made an exception for that."

Then the day after, Bob came by his office and said, "I'm sorry I am handing in my paper a day late. See, Jim's mother died . . ."

Sometimes students have tragedies that are so large that they cannot complete their coursework. I have found that universities always make exceptions, allowing students leeway to withdraw or take incomplete, "I," grades. But some students hope to ignore the tragedy and continue.

Once a student told me that his wife had given birth to premature twins. They were taken by helicopter to a hospital 3 hours away. They would be there all semester and his wife would be there with them. He would travel back and forth. Since the student's major was one for which few students did well in the course anyway, he was marginal to begin with.

I advised him, "You should withdraw. You will not have time to work enough to pass the course. And even if you find the time to put into the course, you will be so distracted that you will not be able to pass."

He said, "I can't drop the course. I need to graduate and take the job that I have lined up."

I said, "You will almost certainly fail. Then you will have to re-take the course. So save yourself the bother--think about your wife and kids for now. Don't put energy into school. When you break your leg, it's not your fault, but it's best not to try to run the race on it."

He stayed in. He failed badly. He complained to the dean. The dean usually did not have much of a spine in dealing with students, but this time, after speaking with me, told him, "You were strongly advised to drop." And he had to retake the course.

My heart goes out to students who experience these terrible events. I have experienced my share of them. But I cannot bring myself to pass a student who, for reasons beyond his control, earned a 30%, while failing another student who earned a 52%--who might have had a tragedy that I knew nothing about.

I cannot calculate the appropriate curve for tragedy. I make allowance for tragedy by working hard as I can to help the student make a painless break and a clean start.

And I can pray for the student.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Making the Grade

My years of teaching have led me to conclude that no student performs poorly because of limited ability. Students perform poorly because they do not work hard to learn the subject.

I have plenty of good students and even some great ones. But many students are not interested in the university. Some students must work at a job full-time and try to be a student in their spare time. I could not have done what they are trying to do--and many of them cannot do what they are trying to do. Here is my analogy. If a marathon runner has to interrupt his race in order to work for a few hours, he is not likely to win.

Other students are not serious. They just graduated from high school. They may not even realize that someone can study enough to learn what they are expected to learn. (I did not understand how much work was necessary when I first arrived at the university.)

Others may just be lazy.

The student with the lowest intelligence that took a course from me may have had real brain damage (I'll call him Trajan). He spoke slowly and had a dull look to him. He did not seem to "get it." It could be that at some time I taught students who were even less mentally able, but, if so, they kept quiet or never came to class, so I did not know how disadvantaged they were. Trajan had the lowest intelligence of any student that I knew.

Trajan would ask a question during class about a concept and I would explain and give an example. Trajan would still not understand, so I would break the concept into smaller parts and come up with another example. He still would not get it. I would continue in this vein. The other students in the course were frustrated because Trajan was so slow.

Trajan often visited me during office hours and asked questions about the material. He took every study-help that I gave and poured over it. I explained and re-explained and drew pictures and gave examples for hours.

Trajan made an "A." It was an honest "A"--I did not fudge the average because of his limitations. He worked so hard that he could answer questions on tests. I am not sure if he actually learned the concepts in the way that an "A" student should, but he did the work.

The real punch line of this story is that Trajan made the only "A" in his section of the course. I have never had a student work harder than Trajan. I have had one student work as hard, but she was brighter than Trajan.

Very few students work hard enough to get my attention, by asking lots of questions during office hours, but those students always make excellent grades. Some students think they are studying hard. The ones who really are studying hard always make the grade.

I do not know what happened to Trajan. Did he get his degree and put his persistence to work for an employer? Did he have to drop out for financial reasons? Did he encounter a field of courses that he could not work hard enough to pass? I still think about Trajan fondly and would like to know how he is doing.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Database and Search Engine

I found an excellent way for authors of fantasy, science fiction, and horror to search for outlets for their work. The search and display options on this engine are excellent. But the best thing is that the information seems to be fresh.

Most lists I find for outlets are out of date, but this one is fantastic (pardon the pun). As of May 2008, its last update was at the end of March 2008.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Violet Rose

The earthen bowl is smooth
From wear
And empty.

Your life has been drunk from it
And shared with me
And the potter's handprints
Can still be seen
Through a life of wearing down the edges.

The bowl, Violet Rose, was made to serve a purpose
And now the function is gone, leaving the empty form
For us, six sober men, to bear away.

You chose me.
I never knew.

If I'd known I'd have asked to drink from your sweetness
A little more.

My duty helps me to remember
Your taste, which goes well with everything

Except regret.