Thursday, July 31, 2008

But is it a Story?

I read a lot of "stories" nowadays, but many of them are incomplete. I am trying to improve one of mine from its current state--an engaging narrative with characters who overcome obstacles--to a finished story.

Some who have read Knickknack think that it is great. But the writers who have read Knickknack think that it does not have a good enough starting and ending point to work as a separate story--apart from a large story. I trust my non-writers. I think that Knickknack can take the reader into a different world for an adventure. I also trust the writers. Knickknack does not have a unified theme.

I usually find the theme during writing or after, not before. I previously found the theme in Knickknack and thought it was strong enough; but I never fully developed it. In revising Knickknack I have to be careful not to make it a sermon--that's not how the theme should work. I have to take the meaning that is there and lay it plain, through action and dialogue.

I started today. I found that I needed to begin the story earlier, to set up the way in which Jane Geist, the protagonist, changes. I wrote two short scenes, then went through, tweaking, highlighting where necessary, and, especially at the climax, reinforcing the theme. To give an idea about how little might be necessary, I added one phrase to the climactic scene and added one word to the climactic sentence.

I think it's a story.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Finally! My long summer, in which I did not get a decent vacation, is over. I turned the grades in for the second summer session after the final.

Now and then I have a student who is clueless. I had one this time around.

The student had some problems and did not attend the last two weeks of the five week session. I thought the student had grounds to file a late withdrawal with the registrar, so that is what I advised. But this student would have none of that. This student wanted to finish the course. I advised that the student might not like the results.

Then the student took a make-up test and scored low. Most people score badly on make-ups. Often, the dedicated students do whatever is necessary to take the test on time, so a large proportion of students taking makeups are not serious students.

On the day of the final I arrived at my office an hour early, at 10:15. My problem student had sent mail at 9:35 saying, "People who realize that I have not been there for weeks will think I got special treatment when I show up for the test."

I replied immediately. There are usually some students whom I only see at test time. Nobody says anything about them. With people sitting all around the room to get an empty desk in between them for the test, nobody notices exactly who is there and who is not.

The student's mail also said, "I will just take the test in your office on Monday. Let me know if this is OK."

I replied, "I will have grades turned in by then. You need to take the test in class today."

I figured that since the student sent the mail an hour and a half before the test and I replied an hour before the test, that the student would check the mail and come take the final.

The student did not show up.

I have seen things like this before. But it makes me shake my head. How presumptuous. The course is over. A student has a trivial reason not to take the final with everyone else, and sends an email naming the time and place that is acceptable. Be there, prof.

I think this student is in store for a learning experience.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Recycleable Movies

Some movies are for one use only and some are recycleable. I just recorded The Usual Suspects on my TiVo. It is highly recycleable.

The most recycleable movie that I know of is Pulp Fiction. I do not typically watch movies that far from church standards, but I did not know what I was getting into at the time and got hooked. Just one hit! I was hooked! It has so many great lines that you have to hear them again. And the jumbled chronology only makes sense the second time through.

I watched Gattaca twice and loved it twice. I am not sure it could hold up for a third time.

I have seen Unforgiven twice and could gladly watch it again. Almost all of Eastwood's movies are recycleable (unless they have apes or are Play Misty For Me).

Oddly enough, I am not someone that The Godfather works for a second time. I've tried. For me the pacing was too slow the first time through.

I recorded Mr. Holland's Opus for my son, since he was in the band (won the John Philip Sousa award). I zipped right through it a second time. A lot happens in that movie, and not much is cause/effect, so I could not remember much of it the first time through.

I have watched Forrest Gump a bunch of times. I can watch it every 3 years or so. In Savannah last year I saw the famous park bench.

Having small children revealed the dark side of recycling. After 50 showings of Disney's The Jungle Book, I heard it in my sleep.

Now and then a movie seems recycleable, but is not. I loved Contact. I enthusiastically started two recycles, but did not finish either.

My wife and I saw Dead Again, which was Kenneth Branagh's U. S. debut. It was an excellent movie. If you have not seen it, please see it. You will love it. Once.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jim Baen's Universe

I read Jim Baen's Universe's (magazine) submission guidelines sometime last year. I thought that the "new author" slots sounded squirrely. Posting a short story on a message board seems low class. Then last month I decided to follow the guidelines and submit (Killing Words).

I have to retract everything I ever thought about JBU's process. The stupid thing is that the submission guidelines, which outlined exactly the kind of thing that authors want, were staring me in the face all those months. The editorial staff reads the stories and offers comments to help improve the story. The author can then continue to work on the story, posting revisions and receiving more comments.

The new writer's problem is the form letter rejection from almost every magazine. Was the story not interesting? Did the magazine see this story as similar to something they published three issues ago? Does the editor strongly favor "idea" stories over "character" stories? Did the story have two adjectives on the first page that seemed excessive? Did the editor think that the story's Gods "Gader" and "Vozer" sound too much like Vader (as in Darth) and Gozer (from Ghostbusters)?

JBU is golden.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Concrete Directions

I have plenty of stories submitted to magazines. I have some that are not submitted that I think need some tweaking. Knickknack, for instance, is one story that I think needs a little work, despite the fact that it is my wife's favorite story and a trusted friend's favorite story that I have written.

But I have had trouble "getting up" for revisions lately. Today, though, I got a mail from a gang member about a new fantasy magazine that has a particular twist. Thinking through that twist--our world, but with some fantasy element added (not like the paranormal stuff, though)--has me moving toward a new story.

If I looked around more, I would have more concrete ideas about what to do next. Trying to answer, "What am I going to write next?" does not give me any ideas.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Every Breath

Today we talked about The Federal Reserve in class. I showed a video about the Fed, by the Fed.

The video was made in this millenium, but had a horribly drawn animated eagle in it. I was able to get a laugh when I commented on the fact that the Fed spares no expense with its state-of-the-art computer graphics.

After they laughed at the Fed's "serious" video, I showed them this video by Glenn Hubbard. Hubbard was chairman of Bush's council of economic advisors. Bush chose Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman instead of Hubbard, and Hubbard has not recovered. He is the dean of the Columbia Business School, but his bitterness shows.

Given Bernanke's insane antics, putting the Fed behind private companies, beginning to regulate them and backing them with our assets, one can only hope that Hubbard will gain the courage to live out the sick fantasies in his video.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Favorite Geek Joke

There are 10 kinds of people in this world.

Those who can count in binary, and those who can't.


If you don't like that one, you're not a geek.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


After the flash but before the roar
My eyes clear and He's there.
Born in the space between the airburst
And zero,

He stands, smiling with golden wind chimes,
His palms outstretched
Showing me two white stones. One is mine.

He dances; a priest, with wide eyes
Learning to speak his rites, between two Edens.
He laughs at my incomprehension.

He hands me my stone and my tears cut loose as
He launches into my chest;
Between two Edens.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blind Spot

Kids call each other names. When I was young, I would see kids become enraged after being called a name. I did not relate.

My brother, who is three years younger, would get upset when kids called me names. He got upset with me because I did not get upset--enraged at my point of view--like someone getting upset with a friend who does not see the need to work to support himself.

I chose the correct profession--academia. In academe, we work with ideas. We realize that some of our ideas are possibly wrong. We realize that our ideas explain some things, but not all things. We are often open to better explanations and are eager to incorporate our ideas into others' explanations and ideas. Few of us take it personally. Professors who do take things personally, lack the scholarly distance that allows one to effectively evaluate evidence.

This does not mean that I never get mad at anything. But generally words, alone, do not bother me.

It surprises me when my children take insults personally, since I raised them. Two of the three have pretty thick skins, but they sometimes get upset with "just words." One of them, though, at one time had multiple episodes per day in which the cause of his screaming/fighting was, "He called me a name!"

I tried to counter the thin skinned one in my reprimand to the offending party. "Think skin, you must understand that thin skin admires you. He respects what you say, otherwise, he would not care when you call him a name. If he thought you were a fruit loop, he would not care awhat you said. But he cares deeply. You hurt him deeply. This shows that he respects your judgement of him. So please, try to give him the deep respect that he gives you. Don't call him names."

This infuriated my touchy son. Before long, he knew the routine. But I do not know if he ever understood.

In any case, I did not relate.

Monday, July 21, 2008


When I was three my mother was pregnant with my brother. I was an active child. She had problems keeping up with me while carrying a baby. She went to the doctor for help.

Back then when a pregnant woman needed energy her doctor prescribed amphetamines.

She sat on the bed one day and took her pills. I snatched the bottle and scuttled under my baby bed. It took a minute for my very pregnant mom to fish me out. She counted her pills. I had taken either one or two.

She called her doctor. He said, "Two won't hurt him. But he will be very active for two days."

Very active? She was taking speed to keep up with me, and I had upped the ante on her.

She sent me to grandma's for two days.

From all reports, I was "very active."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Month is Over

I previously talked about my son's best friend coming to visit for a month. We survived. And it was not nearly as painful as I expected.

The kids got along fairly well. The friend ate his Totinos pizzas, ramen, and the like. My son and his friend would gladly have spent another month yakking and playing video games.

We had the usual hitches in departure. The friend bought my oldest's bastard sword for $50. My oldest wanted to go to Warped Tour that badly. At the airport today I found that, yes, Delta charges $25 for each checked item over 1. The friend was broke by the time he left, so I paid $25 so that the sword that he had paid $50 for would get home with him. Add in $10 that I gave him to snack on if he got hungry, the $10 for the mass transit, and the $16 for gasoline both ways, and it was an expensive departure. Last time it was a $75 unaccompanied minor fee that we had been told could be paid on the other end (plus gas and mass transit).

Maybe I should blame my oldest son for the sword cargo fee. My oldest got me into a similar situation with regard to house sitting. A friend wanted him to house sit. He agreed. The friend asked us if $50 for two weeks was O. K. I said it was, without thinking. 14 days x $4 in gas per day to travel to and from the house = $56 in gas money that I pay so that my son can earn $50.

Ah well.

At the end of the day, it is clear whose fault it all is. I'm the adult here. Nobody's fault but mine.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Writing Hangup

I wrote Scythe of Silas and am now writing short stories that are related to the novel and to the world--the Arch of Time universe. Today I found myself too far into the minutae of the continuity of the universe to be fully effective with the short story, Killing Words.

At one point in Killing Words, there was a door in the Temple of Jared that would has no function in that story. I left it there. It confused my protagonist for a time. But it was not essential for the story. But that door is crucial for the novel and is right there in the protagonist's way.

In trying to cut the story by 400 words, I realized that about 150 words involved a door that served no function. The word count disciplined me to do the right thing for the story--to eliminate the door.

So what about the novel? Perhaps the issue will never arise. My mental picture of the Temple of Jared pinpoints the door. But a reader of the novel has no picture of where the door is. So the issue is likely invisible in the novel.

When I can put aside such issues without being prompted by word count limits, I will be a better writer.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Close One

I signed up for a writer's workshop to be held in August. I read the FAQ and diligently followed all preparation advice. I even looked at the website of the professional sci-fi/fantasy author who is teaching the workshop. I have heard of her, but have never read anything by her. I thought I should.

So I went to the library to check out books by the instructor and found plenty. I chose two recent books. I found that she is highly respected and has won top awards in the field. I started reading one of the books.

People going on a journey, plodding onward, the city in the distance, seemingly close, but deceptively far. And as they plod along they think about their pasts. And they think. And they think.

The action is plod, plod, squeal, complain, plod, plod, plod. Meanwhile, think, think, think. Oh, and plod, plod, plod. Throw in a lot of backstory. More backstory. Name of this village. Name of that ruler. They don't mean anything to me yet. Plod, plod, plod. Think, think, think.

I could not bring myself to read past page four or five. And I paid for this workshop?

I read a bit of another book and could not get interested. Then yesterday I picked up the confirmation letter she sent. I had checked out books by the wrong author! My workshop is being taught by Ann Crispin--not by the author I checked out.


I don't know how the other name became imprinted on my mind. Both are female sci-fi authors that I have heard of, but have not read.

What a numbskull.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So Proud

As I walked to work, I had to wait on some light traffic to cross the street in front of the bike shop. The last two that I had to wait on were bicyclists. But then they turned into the bike shop parking lot beside me.

One of them pulled up close by and said, "Hi." I turned down Everclear on my iPod. It was one of my former students--one of the university's cross-country cyclists.

This student had, at one time, asked me if he should try to find a more "businesslike" job to advance his career in preparation for eventually entering the workforce. He said he was working in a bike shop and did not think that would be impressive on a resume.

I said that he could get a job as a bank teller and that would help little toward getting a higher job in a bank after he has a degree, but not much. I said that the fact that he holds a job for a long time and gets a solid recommendation will put him in good standing for going to another job.

He is still in school, still working in the bike shop, and loving it. No, he does not own the bike shop. But he made me quite proud while I spoke with him.

The bike shop opened about three weeks ago. I asked if that was a new job for him. He said, "No, we were across from Wal Mart and moved into this place that has a lot more room. Now we can use economies of scale."

I was so proud.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Lake And The Law

Our economy is a lake. The lake's level is down. We need to put more water in the lake. So we build a pump beside the lake. Unfortunately, the only place that we can get water from is . . . the lake. So we pump water out from the lake, and back in. This is how politicians try to fix the economy.

I got a check in May that was supposed to help the economy. Where did that money come from?

The government took it from someone, either through taxes or borrowing. They took it out of the lake, then put it back in--my check.

Republicans, Democrats, and the President quickly got together and passed the "refill the lake with lake water" bill. They could all say, "We care."

We ask the Wizard to help us, though it is impossible, and he gives us a phony solution.

Is there any way that we can make the economy better?

Here is my answer. Figure out how to make the economy worse and do the opposite.

If we pass a law that says everyone can only use one hand at work, we will not produce as much--even you computer nerds won't be able to type as fast. So, if we currently have "one handed production laws" we should axe them.

Any law that regulates how business must be done is a left handed law. Deregulation lowers costs, creates more business opportunities, more jobs, more competition for labor, higher wages, and better working conditions.

Taxes are "one handed laws." Lower taxes mean that more businesses can thrive, more employees can be hired, etc. etc. etc.

These ideas are common sense. Frederic Bastiat formulated the "one handed" criterion in the mid-1800's. It takes a lot of effort to forget this simple principle, but we try hard, so we do.

Freedom comes naturally to individuals. But, to collectives, like the state, freedom makes no sense.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Leaving the Aquarium

A friend gave a talk in church yesterday. He started by saying that his wife wanted to go to the aquarium for her birthday, so they did.

When they left the aquarium, she directed them onto the highway and toward home. Fifteen minutes later, they were back at the aquarium. She had directed him in a circle.

My friend asked his wife, "How can you be so beautiful, but so dense?"

She said, "I'm beautiful, so that you will be attracted to me. I'm dense, so that I will be attracted to you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Difference

Julia and I went shopping yesterday. On the way back we passed a huge lake. People often fish from the bank and some people fish from boats. For the first time we saw a pleasure craft--an open kayak, paddling near to the raised bank that we drove along, so that we could see the two rowers quite well.

The kayak was rowed by a man and a woman. We did not notice the guy. The woman was very big, wearing a skimpy bathing suit in a small kayak.

Julia said, with awe in her voice, "That woman is so brave . . ."

I mentally finished her sentence, ". . . she's so big, but chancing riding in that tiny kayak."

Julia finished her sentence, " . . . she so big, but wearing that skimpy bathing suit."

For me, the fact that the woman risked death, since the kayak could tip over and she could drown, made her brave. But from Julia's point of view, being seen wearing that bathing suit was worse than death, so the woman was brave.

And that is the difference between men and women.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Root Beer And The Pizza Dance

My ten year old believes erosion is a winning technique in argument. He will ask endless variations of the same question, hoping to erode my resolve.

"Dad, can I have some chips?"

"No," I reply. "Dinner will be ready in less than an hour."

"Can I have a Coke?"

"Drink some water. You need to eat the meals we cook."

"Can I have . . ."

"No. Nothing. Nothing until dinner."

Eventually he goes away.

Three minutes later, "Dad, can I fix some ramen?"

I derive ways to detour him, besides wailing the tar out of him.

"You can have a boot rear," I say.

He asks, "A root beer?"

"No. A boot rear. There's one over there." I point.

He turns. I playfully kick him in the butt.


"That was a boot rear. Want another or are you full?"

"No, dad. I want something to eat."

"Well, we have boot rear ice cream. That's where I boot you so hard that you scream. Or a boot rear float. That's where I boot you so hard that you float off the ground. Maybe you'd like a boot rear sundae, where I boot you until it's Sunday."

The boot rear game has been going on for a long time.

One of my more shameful debacles in the boot rear wars was the "pizza dance." He had been eroding, and I had been boot rearing. He had been trying to get revenge, but I was too nimble for his clumsy boot rear techniques. Finally, he asked, "What are we having for supper?"

I said, "Pizza."

He said, "Oh, boy! Let's do the pizza dance."

He took my hands and we did a little twisting dance with a kind of a samba rhythm while he chanted, "Pizza, Pizza, PizZA." After the last syllable, he had me twisted to one side. He used his grip to get past my guard and boot reared me.

It is hard to take being outsmarted by a ten year old.

The pizza dance lives in infamy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Welcome to Oz

In politics, some obvious lies must be told--the truth would be political suicide. No, I am not talking about, "My secretary and I have a strictly professional relationship."

I am talking about the emperor's new clothes. Every advisor of every candidate must lavish praise on the emperor's clothes, though everyone can see that he is not wearing any. They must tell baldfaced lies.

Phil Gramm, a PhD economist, former U. S. Senator, and current advisor to McCain pointed out that we are not in a recession. He said that though the economy is not strong, the only recession is in people's minds. He also said we are a nation of whiners and, by the way, the emperor is buck nekkid.

John McCain had to quickly rush out and disavow Gramm's remarks, reassert that we are in a recession, and that the emperor's A-line skirt is breathtaking.

McCain could not tell the truth here. Straight talk would have been suicide. Obama was quick to pounce on Graham, saying that it shows that McCain does not see that there are economic problems and that people are suffering. Obama acted as if it were Gramm who was not living in reality.

I certainly do not blame Obama for his fiction. The "out" party must always say the ins have messed everything up and cannot fix things. And with a news media that loves a tragic story, economic bad news is always exaggerated, so the out party has an ally.

Everyone must lie! Gramm did not get the memo. But Gramm is an economist (that is, a nerd of the highest order). We economists often forget to pick up our memos from the inbox. No one gives us a clue and we forget to buy them while we're shopping.

I am well aware that the economy is not in great shape. The latest figures tell us that economic growth was an anemic 1% in Jan-March. Were we in a recession then?

The most common sense economic definition of recession is clear cut. A recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Note: 1% is not negative. Hence, we have no clear evidence we are in a recession.

My own sense of the economy is that the second quarter exceeded the first, so that we will get through this period was a stumble and not a fall. If we are in recession in July 2008, we will probably find out in October 2008, when the second and third quarter growth numbers are in. Gramm's statement reflects our best evidence. *

I previously wrote about Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In particular I wanted to amplify this: The wizard says to himself, "How can I help being a humbug [fraud], . . . when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done?" That is the politician's problem. The people demand that the government solve all their problems. The politician can solve hardly anything.


*Sometimes you do not know that you were in a recession until long after it has ended. In 2001, the first quarter had negative growth, the second quarter slight positive growth, the third quarter (9-11) had negative growth, but since the fourth quarter, growth has been positive. Because the first and third quarters of negative growth had a positive second quarter sandwiched between, the period did not meet the usual definition of recession. BUT later the Bureau of Economic Analysis revised the second quarter numbers from slightly positive to slightly negative, so we went from a near recession to a three quarter recession.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A friend emailed me the other day, saying that she saw me walking home toting my huge laptop backpack. She remarked that it was an excellent activity for my physical fitness as well as for doing my part to save the Earth.

I wrote her back that the trip home was much harder than the trip into work every morning. Going to work is mostly downhill and the temperature is nice and cool.

I also said that as far as saving the Earth goes, perhaps I would expire from heat exhaustion, which would shrink my carbon footprint to zero. In fact, I think I would become a net producer, as opposed to being a consumer, of the Earth's services.

The only good human is a dead human?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Paul Volcker, appointed Fed Chairman by Jimmy Carter, said, " . . . inflation is bad [and] the primary job of a central bank is to prevent inflation. That's taken for granted."

Alan Greenspan, Fed Chairman after Volcker, tinkered with the economy to be "pro-growth" and not strictly "anti-inflation."

Ben Bernanke, today's Fed Chairman, is off the charts.

Bernanke worried that the investment firm, Bear Stearns (BS), was too big to fail (TBTF)--that if BS failed, the economy would take a huge hit. So Bernanke put the Fed's assets on the line, backing a sale of BS.

This created a horrible problem. Now, other big companies have incentives to take huge risks because the Fed will bail them out if they are TBTF. One of the Fed district banks just released a publication in which that bank's president explores the crazy can of worms that Bernanke opened.

Bernanke continues to spin out of control. Recognizing the TBTF problem, he now recommends that the Fed be given power to regulate large financial companies. Since the Fed will bail out the TBTF's, the Fed will regulate those companies and make sure they do not take risks.


Under a capitalistic system, people assume the risks of their enterprises. Under a socialistic system, papa government says, "I know better."

History has shown that capitalism works much better than socialism. When individuals attempt to excel by trading with others and competing with their rivals, our well-being steadily improves.

Papa government is big and slow and dumb. Papa G.'s money is not on the line. Papa G. is self-interested, too, but his self-interests do not align well with the public interest.

Perhaps Congress has two choices. If they decide that socialism is best, they should hire Mikhail Gorbachev to find an old-line commie to take Bernanke's place. If they decide that capitalism is still viable, they should hire Glen Hubbard, who predicted all this would happen and made this excellent video.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Suzie P.

The Hunter slowed his Fed Ex van and looked for just the right kid. The dashboard clock read 06:45, so Suzie P. should have come through this neighborhood already. She always took a different route to the house on Price Street. This was his third pass.

His breathing quickened in frustration. Suzie P. looked like she was twelve or thirteen with light brown hair that hung down over the top of her backpack that had pictures of horses on it. Two days ago he had been close enough to hear her singing “Skip to My Lou,” whatever that meant. He knew she didn’t know what it meant either. He imagined he could smell her bubble gum shampoo. He nearly seized up with nervous energy to be so close, but still not be able to take her.

He couldn’t wait at the house on Price Street or take her while she slept. She had a dog. There were dogs at most of the nearby houses too, and dogs seemed to have something personal against the Hunter. Maybe they didn’t like his smell. At least he didn’t have to worry about adults—Suzie P. was alone, living in a cold, vacant house. Some of his past Suzies had been well protected by idiot adults. The first time he tried to take Suzie K., a bald headed guy had nearly brained him with a golf club. He hated killing the guy. Killing adults saddened him—such a waste. But killing the bald guy made killing Suzie K. that much more satisfying. He appreciated the things he had to work for.

He was working hard for Suzie P., so this would be good. He should have seen her by now. She must have slipped past him. He was at his limit. He would have to drive back to the old power plant and sleep. He scanned for dogs and pulled over to the curb. He put his trembling fingers over his face.

But as he lowered his hands, there she was. She walked on this side of the street wearing a beautiful Suzie smile. He would take that smile. Her backpack bounced as she pranced along the sidewalk toward the van. This was too good.

She might see him at the wheel. He ducked. He carefully crept to the side door of the van. He pulled the shocker from his holster. It would knock her out quickly, so he could do his work slow and right. If only she didn’t cross the street. If only a dog didn’t traipse by.

The Hunter peeked up so he could see how close she was to the van. Good. She was just where she was supposed to be. He had to open the door and sweep her through in one motion, then shock her with one hand while the other slammed the door behind. His hands shook as the adrenaline built. She was even with the side mirror. Now.

Door opens. Hand snakes through. Grabs her arm. Sweeps her in. Applies the shocker. Static bursts and light flares. Door slams.

He breathes out a sigh of relief and breathes in bubble gum shampoo and ozone. She twitches as he drops the shocker and turns her over. Good.

Her delicate hands lock on his lapels.


She is awake. He must have applied the shocker to her backpack and now she is fighting him. He gropes for the shocker. Squealing, she pulls her face up to his and bites through his eyeball. Pain erupts. He grabs her hair to yank her away.

Her symbiote slithers through his socket and into his skull cavity. That is the last sensation he feels.

In the host brain, he waits for death. The Suzies cannot yet inhabit adult humans, but in this kind of combat, they cannot lose. The Suzie is encasing and digesting him and will then return to the little girl. He has killed fifteen Suzies. He has done well. Some hunters die without killing one.

As the Hunter feels life seeping away, he hopes that others of his race will be able to stop them on this planet. Because that way his death will mean something more than a feast for another Suzie.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Suppose I decide to vote for Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, who will assuredly lose the presidential election this year. Further suppose that my least favorite of the two major candidates wins the election by carrying my state by one vote. I guess I would regret my vote for Barr.

What are the odds that I would regret my vote for Barr? In the tightest election in decades, a few hundred votes in Florida separated Al Gore and George Bush. If any single voter had switched his/her vote . . . there would have been no difference in the outcome.

My vote this will almost certainly not matter.

But, you say, what if everyone felt that way? If no one voted, I would want to vote, so that I could decide the election. But that event in a presidential election is equivalent to a thermodynamic impossibility--about as likely that I will spontaneously combust.

So my vote is entertainment. I enjoy voting. Voting gives me a sense of community--of being a part of something old and large and good. Republicans and Democrats do not form the same kind of community for me. I do not get a thrill from voting for either.

But I do enjoy voting in favor of freedom. So if a candidate stood for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (property rights), I enjoy voting for her.

(No candidate would be crazy enough to do that. The press would take an axe to someone who was actually in favor of the right to free speech/religion/association/etc.)

So if I enjoy casting my vote, then it has done its duty. It doesn't have to make a difference.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fading Out

When political news is interesting I watch lots of it. Election years goad me into intermittent news overloads, like I had last month. I was burnt out. Nothing interesting was happening.

Then came last week.

While McCain was as boring as watching my students take a test, which I am now doing, Obama got interesting.

I never found Obama personally very interesting. I am not that kind of guy, I guess. Obama was for "change." What is that? Dumping you in hot oil is change. So is winning the lottery. I am in favor of winning the lottery and against being dumped in hot oil. But I could not be in favor of "change" any more than I could be in favor of "ice," which is good in my drink but is bad in my bloodstream.

But now, Obama is really the candidate of change.

He hated the North American Free Trade Agreement--pinned it to Hillary's dress like a scarlet letter, crafted by Bill. Now it is clear that President Obama is probably going to do nothing about NAFTA.

He was in favor if the Washington D. C. gun ban, but agreed with the U. S. Supreme Court's decision to strike it down.

He went from being a champion of tax-financed elections, going so far as to sign a pledge to take public money, to opting out of that system because he can get more campaign money on his own.

He would withdraw troops from the failed war in Iraq now. Except that he is refining his position and will listen to his commanders on the ground.

He would personally filibuster giving the telecommunications companies immunity from privacy lawsuits resulting from their cooperation with the government in the wake of 9-11. Now he is in favor of immunity.

He even says that mental distress is not sufficient grounds to meet the "health of the mother" exception to abortion restrictions, which would take us from having 100% of early-term abortions legal to having 2% of early term abortions legal.

Don't get me wrong. I am not stating a political opinion on any of the above issues. I am saying that Obama went from being the boring champion of "change," which is the same as being the champion of nothing, to being the candidate who has no idea what he is in favor of--which is fascinating.

It will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see where Obama ends up in discussing the issues.

Meanwhile, McCain is the bleh pragmatist that he always was, having a tin ear with regard to principles and ideals. He is most interesting when he is going off-script, saying things that no candidate should say, like, "Let's stay in Iraq for 100 years," or "I don't know anything about economics," or "O. J. is innocent."

O. K., McCain never said that O. J. is innocent. But wouldn't it be interesting if he did!

Friday, July 4, 2008


We did our patriotic duty on the 4th of July. We ate lots of pig.

There was pulled pork barbecue from a pork roast and there were pork ribs cooked long and slow. There was baked beans and corn on the cob. Our friend, Jeff, brought excellent potato salad. For dessert we chose between two kinds of cake--red velvet or chocolate fudge cake.

We sat and talked afterward, then we drove up into the mountains to show Julia's visiting brother and sister-in-law some of the sights. Then we sat and talked more. I and my youngest lit fireworks after dark while everyone watched from the porch.

This was the first time Julia has seen her brother since her father died, over ten years ago. They do not often speak on the phone. It was an excellent visit. We found that we got along quite well.

Even my dog got to visit--with Jeff's dog.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Intertropical Convergence Zone

Chiaroscuro's issue 37 contains Nadia Bulkin's Intertropical Convergence Zone. ICZ puts us in the position of the assistant to the General who takes over a Pacific Rim country. The narrator travels into familiary literary territory--from seeing the General as the only hope, to seeing the General as only being somewhat better than the opposition.

But the story is really about how the assistant begins as a believer and is sucked into grey areas until he has fully crossed into the black. It is about losing one's soul in a cause that seemed good at the time. And, in fact, though the end result for the general population may still be preferable, the individual sacrifice (in the most literal sense) required is much too great.

**The Spoiler at the bottom goes here***

ICZ is an excellent journey into a living hell, by one who had only the best intentions.

My favorite parts of the story were the images of innocence and corruption. Under the guidance of a shaman-type the general eats a bullet that killed a powerful enemy. He eats a powerful talisman that the assistant killed an innocent person to obtain--in the heat of combat. He eats the liver of an animal that the assistant coldly obtained by murdering a helpless innocent. Finally, he eats the assistant's daughter's heart.

When the general begins to draw pictures for the narrator that the daughter previously drew, the narrator's sense of damnation is palpable.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Orson Scott Card gets most things right. One of the many things he got right for me was the development of theme in a story.

Uncle Orson says that stories written to expound on a theme tend to be sermons, not stories. Stories rely on chains of causality. Theme arises during the process of writing the story.

That is how it works for me. When writing a story I concentrate on the characters, the action, the dialogue, and the setting. I generally know the direction in which the story is going and approximately where it will end.

Then, somehow in the characters' striving, a theme will arise.

I did not set out to make Suffrage about how bitterness about the past spiritually kills us and must be put aside in order to live.

I did not set out to make Nirvana Cat about how adoption of a strictly rational world view kills the spiritual world view.

I did not set out to make Killing Words about how we feel more a part of our community when it is threatened; and how defending our community can give us a stronger love for that community.

Once the theme arises, I rewrite, emphasizing the theme in action and symbols. C. S. Lewis once said something like this. If we concentrate too much on getting to heaven, then we won't make it. We have to look to heaven, but live here on earth, day to day. I think if we concentrate on theme we do not develop the strongest theme we can. To build our strongest themese we write a story, and find the theme.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Missed One

There are millions of details in a story that has much less than a million words. Some of the details are implied by the setting. I likely miss a few.

I know I missed one on Suffrage, which I have submitted. The quarter moon is visible on one day. Around a week later, the half moon is visible. But if the quarter moon is waxing, a week later the moon would be at three-quarters. If the quarter moon is waning, a week later it would be back at a quarter.

If the moon were not important in the story, that would not be a big thing. But, it is, so it is.*

The problem is easily fixed, though. In the story, a week passes in a paragraph. There is no problem with making two or three days pass, instead.

Here's hoping that the judges are lunarstupid, like me.


*Comment designed for your confusement.