May 31, 2004

Some people can't recognize Mayberry when it bites them on the, um, nose

Mount Dora, Florida is a relatively small town. Population 9418, according to the census taken in 2000.

The holiday-weekend news must have been slow yesterday in Orlando, because they decided to lead both the evening and late-night news with the same story of a police shooting in Mount Dora. Which was especially funny by 11:00 p.m., because it appeared that everyone had gone home except the reporters.

Linwood Davis, age 70, was pulled over by police for driving erratically. He shoved an officer and fled the scene.

Now, here's where the Mayberry angle comes in. Apparently, Davis had had run-ins with the Mount Dora police in the past. And like I said, Mount Dora is a small town. It relies heavily on weekend tourists shopping downtown, and there are a lot of pedestrian-friendly areas. So rather than engage in a vehicle pursuit -- the Mount Dora police just went to Davis's residence and waited for him to come home. Which he presently did.

When police approached Davis outside his apartment complex, he drew a gun, and shots were fired. Davis was shot in the thigh, but fortunately he should recover. No one else was injured. Guess what all the news types have to talk about? Yep -- police shooting.

Which is what happened, I guess. But I liked the first part better.

If you care, here's an 'official' account at the Orlando Sentinel:
Gunfire ends Mount Dora altercation
They'll make you register to read it. Give them fake information.

May 30, 2004

Five days 'till Harry

I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in advance of the movie release next week. So I know what's been left out, I guess. Part of the fun.

May 29, 2004

Midnight at the Well of Souls

A Bookcrossing book that I finished this week. The author is creative with alien species -- even sentient plants and silicon-based life forms are included in the mix. The cover art on this copy is fairly hideous. In any case, the original copyright date is 1977, and the book is still in print at Amazon, so it's outlasted poor choices at the publisher. Not a momentous work of fiction, but entertaining, with a nice twist at the end.

Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker


I like blackbirds.

John Nash published a lovely haiku about a blackbird this week. I think he likes blackbirds, too.

May 28, 2004

A Message to Garcia

A Message to Garcia: Elbert Hubbard wrote this short essay in 1899. The occasion of this story, the Spanish-American War, is a footnote in history now. But the point Hubbard makes is still relevant: competence and initiative matter.

Hubbard was an interesting character. In 1895 he founded the Roycrofters, a semi-communal community of artists and craftspeople in East Aurora, New York. He and his wife were lost at sea in 1915 while travelling aboard the Lusitania. The ship was struck by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat and sank. Most of the passengers and crew perished.

A quote attributed to Hubbard:
Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

May 25, 2004

Read Hugo Award Nominees (short form categories) online free!

All of the 2003 Hugo Award nominees (short-form fiction: short stories, novelettes, and novellas) are now available online, FREE. Good stuff: This year's nominees include a short story by Neil Gaiman, "A Study in Emerald", which previously appeared in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street. If you want to participate in voting but can't attend the conference, a voting-only membership is US $35.

This year's Retro Hugo Award nominee list, for fiction published in 1953, includes a link to online text for an Arthur C. Clarke short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God."

2003 Hugo Award Nominees Page (main)

May 24, 2004

So you think that's sailboat fuel you're breathing, hm?

Sailboat fuel: Reference used by truckers, pilots, etc., to describe an empty trailer or plane. "He's hauling sailboat fuel." Also can refer to someone’s intelligence. "He's got sailboat fuel for brains." Thanks to Buzzword of the Day... sign up here to get your own!

May 23, 2004

The God of Small Things

This book has won a lot of accolades (and even the Booker Prize), so I'll just say there are three specific things I liked about it.

A good part of the story is told from Rahel's perspective as a girl, including the mangled descriptions that come from a child's limited understanding. It's integral to the feeling of the place and the story.
"If you ever," Ammu said, "and I mean this, EVER, ever again disobey me in Public, I will see to it that you are sent away to somewhere where you will jolly well learn to behave. Is that clear?"
When Ammu was really angry, she said Jolly Well. Jolly Well was a deeply well with larfing dead people in it.
    *    *    *    *    *
"Where d'you think people are sent to Jolly Well Behave?" Estha asked Rahel in a whisper.
"To the government," Rahel whispered back, because she knew.
Invented Words
There are some wonderfully descriptive passages, and my favorites are the ones with invented and jammed-together words. Wordplay is always fun.
During the funeral service, Rahel watched a small black bat climb up Baby Kochamma's expensive funeral sari with gently clinging curled claws. When it reached the place between her sari and her blouse, her roll of sadness, her bare midriff, Baby Kochamma screamed and hit the air with her hymnbook. The singing stopped for a "Whatisit? Whathappened?" and for a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping.
The Story Isn't in Time Order, But It IS in Order of Importance
I get the impression that some writers move the last bit to the first just for the heck of it, to mix things up, maybe to confuse the reader on purpose or just because they think it's modern and hip to tell the story out of order. But while the story in The God of Small Things isn't told in direct linear order, in the end I was pleased with the story order because it was meaningful. A nice change!

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

May 22, 2004

What Time was meant for

Rahel's toy wristwatch had the time painted on it. Ten to two. One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place).
from The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
Rahel is seven when she makes this observation. I like the idea of being able to set one's watch and thereby adjust the world. A nicely Nextian device. I mean really, what's the point of assigning names and numbers to every year, month, day, and hour if you can't pick and choose among them as you like?

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

Take one high-school reunion being held on a floating oil rig in the process of being converted to a vacation resort, and hosted by a classmate that no one seems to remember. Add a poorly coordinated group of mercenaries being paid to assault said oil rig, some of whom are former terrorists -- from opposing sides. And include the (involuntary) participation of a just-retired police detective who can't seem to avoid running into evidence of Very Bad Things happening in the neighborhood and offshore.

And the dark humor is great... from the first paragraph when I read about "liquidised mercenary raining splashily down" on Connor, and thought to myself, Huh? Is that what I think I just read? Yup. "He reached up reluctantly and wiped the gore from his eyelids..." Not for the squeamish. But if you can appreciate black humor, this book will have you laughing in your chair.

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, by Christopher Brookmyre
Author Christopher Brookmyre's Web site - look under Books for the first three chapters online!

Seventeen Ways to Eat a Mango

It's 1962. "J" is sent by his employer, a food-packing corporation, to investigate the mangoes on a remote island. His employer's interests are mercenary; J is a recent college grad, new to commercialism. So -- you've already guessed? -- this is a book about what's REALLY important, living in the present moment, enjoying daily pleasures....

I like treatments of this theme, which is why I couldn't resist pulling this little volume from my local library's shelf. It's roughly the size of a child's picture book, a little thicker, a little less tall, and very out of place in the adult fiction stacks.

But my favorite part of the book was J's frustration with losing track of the time and date as he attempts to journal his experiences.
Tuesday 11:43
I had to reread yesterday's entry just to make sure I didn't dream it last night. Last night? Has it only been two nights since I arrived here? My time is all messed up. I woke up today and the sun was high. I looked to see what time it was: 11:43. It took me hours to realize my watch had stopped. I shook it. Whacked it on my knee. It will say 11:43 until the end of time or until I get it to a watchmaker. A little while ago I stopped just short of pounding in its face with a coconut.
and later:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- pick any one of the above. I give up on dating this thing.
That part just cracked me up. My husband's watch has been losing time for about a month now, and it's driving him nuts.

I went through "watch withdrawal" some years ago. I finally determined that watches kept breaking on me because we're just not compatible with each other. It's something about my skin in contact with the watch back that hoses up the innards. A cheap Timex lasts a year. A nice Seiko lasts about two years. Replacement batteries have diminishing returns with each successive round. I guess I have a magnetic personality, ha ha.

Seventeen Ways to Eat a Mango, by Joshua Kadison

May 21, 2004

tinywords: a daily hit of haiku, FREE

tinywords e-mails a haiku a day to subscribers around the world. It's FREE, and a nice little pick-me-up that usually arrives during the average US business day. You can even have it sent to your cell phone if you prefer... haiku are so tiny, they work well in text messages.

and did I mention it's free?

May 20, 2004

To whom do we write?

If I do not write to you I will write to no one, and if I write to no one then you see I write to no one. It is a very sorry state of affairs when there is no one on the other end. If a man pens a letter in the forest and no one reads it, has he written it?

from Disobedience, by Jane Hamilton
It's a question I ask myself, as I write this letter to no one. Everyone's blogging, but is anyone reading?

Well, yes -- I am. In the end, I write for myself, whether it's here on this Web page, or on the moist handmade-paper pages of the journal my sister gave me. The cover is made from a recycled purple sari, and when I angle it sideways in the lamplight, just the right way, it suddenly turns orange and gold like sunset.

And if you are reading this, maybe you find it interesting. Or not. ;-) Maybe I'll improve over time, and the newer entries will be visibly more entertaining than the old ones. Maybe, someday, I'll have found a new voice, or a new vocabulary, or given up prose altogether and devoted myself to off-color limericks and ale-drinking songs. Whatever it is, I hope I like it.

May 19, 2004

Homesick in an amputated landscape

I missed the shape in the near and far distance, of mountains, what was so grotesquely absent in the Midwest. I could never shake the idea that there must have been some kind of mutilation, an amputation, to reduce a countryside to such awful flatness. The clouds over the lake could only do so much for so long in a day to masquerade as landforms.
  *     *     *     *     *
I wanted to know if, after all the years away, she felt the same, if she missed the comfort, the safety, of the mountains.

from Disobedience, by Jane Hamilton
Disobedience is a Bookcrossing book -- an exercise in serendipity and literary addiction -- when I've finished with it, either I'll give it to someone else in particular, or just leave it in a public place to find its next reader on its own. I haven't decided yet.

I like Hamilton's description of the Midwestern plains as something mutilated -- as they are from the perspective of the narrator, a Vermont-born teen. For Henry, it isn't just about physical safety, living in the city instead of smaller, wilder places. What really scares him is seeing that his family is changing, and the safe, child's world he lived in as a boy is slipping away.

May 18, 2004

so the tree grows -- let there be blog

"Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree--and there will be one."
Aldo Leopold, conservationist (1887-1948)
and the nerd typeth: let there be blog -- and there was blog, and it was good.

Is writing poetry hazardous to one's health?

The New York Times | April 24, 2004, Saturday
Going Early Into That Good Night

ABSTRACT - Article on study of 1,987 dead writers conducted by California State University's Learning Research Institute director James Kaufman, which concludes that poets tend to die younger than other types of writers; study finds that, overall, poets lived average of 62.2 years, compared with nonfiction writers, who lived longest at 67.9 years; photos; chart (M)

Not everyone is impressed with Mr. Kaufman's findings. Maxine Kumin, 79 and the former poet laureate of New Hampshire, said, ''The suicide rate among poets is not nearly as high as it is among dentists.'' As for her own ripe old age, she said, ''Well, I'm not depressed. I am relatively solitary. I was in my 30's when I started to write, so I don't think I peaked early.''

May 17, 2004

from the Anti War Haiku Wall

spring 2003 ~
not enough dandelions
for all the wishes


Welcome to England, where's your gas bill?

A must-read by cede... who has turned his bemusement with British bureaucracy into a lovely essay on his blog. My favorite line:
How preposterous would it not be if a "person", i.e. the moisty fungus that grows around an utility bill, for instance tried to open a bank account?

May 16, 2004

Beyond the Nova: Ugly old women and small...

Remember the Nova? It didn't do well in Spanish-speaking countries, probably because Nova was too close to no va (doesn't go). Recent twists on this story, from BBC News:
Buick 'masturbation' car renamed
Red-faced officials at General Motors in Canada have been forced to think of a new name for their latest model after discovering it was a slang word for masturbation.

GM officials said they had been unaware that LaCrosse was a term for self-gratification among teenagers in French-speaking Quebec.

They are now working on a new name for the LaCrosse in Canada. The car will go on sale next year to replace the Buick Regal.

More recently, Mitsubishi had to change the name of its Pajero model in Spanish speaking countries, where the word is a slang term for "masturbator".

While Toyota's Fiera proved controversial in Puerto Rico, where fiera translated to "ugly old woman".

And Ford didn't have the reception it expected in Brazil when their Pinto car flopped.

They then discovered that in Brazilian Portuguese slang, pinto means "small penis".

Story link

John Steinbeck on historical markers

thebiblioholic noted this quote from John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America. I like it too.
I am an avid reader of all signs, and I find that in the historical markers the prose of statehood reaches its glorious best, and most lyric. I have further established, at least to my own satisfaction, that those states with the shortest histories and the least world-shaking events have the most historical markers. Some Western states even find glory in half-forgotten murders and bank robberies. The towns not to be left behind proudly announce their celebrated sons, so the traveler is informed by signs and banners--Birthplace of Elvis Presley, of Cole Porter, of Alan P. Huggins.
The upstate New York town of Canastota proudly calls itself "Title Town USA" and houses the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Population: 4,425 as of 2000.

May 15, 2004

Duct tape, Duck tape: Same difference

Another one of life's little mysteries. Turns out both names are -- or have been -- correct. Check out William Safire's column in the Times Magazine: the original product was made from cotton duck cloth.
The original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive product was duck tape, developed for the United States Army by the Permacel division of Johnson & Johnson to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. The earliest civilian use I can find is in an advertisement by Gimbels department store in June 1942 (antedating the O.E.D. entry by three decades -- nobody but nobody beats this column), which substitutes our product for the ''ladder tape'' that usually holds together Venetian blinds. For $2.99, Gimbels -- now defunct -- would provide blinds ''in cream with cream tape or in white with duck tape.''
In 1945, a government surplus property ad in The Times offered 44,108 yards of ''cotton duck tape.'' The first citation I can find for the alternative spelling is in 1970, when the Larry Plotnik Company of Chelsea, Mass., went bust and had to unload 14,000 rolls of what it advertised as duct tape. Three years later, The Times reported that to combat the infiltration of cold air, a contractor placed ''duct tape -- a fiber tape used to seal the joints in heating ducts -- over the openings.''
Here's another amusing factoid, this time from Wikipedia:
The name 'duct tape' comes from its use on heating and air conditioning ducts, a purpose for which it, ironically, has been deemed ineffective by the state of California and by building codes in most other places in the U.S....

May 13, 2004

Survivor All-Stars - America's Tribal Council

Rupert: You're the man! I'm so glad you finally won a pirate's booty!

Richard Hatch: Still the only one who really gets that it's a big darn game. Bite that shark!

May 12, 2004

books just wanna be free

Bookcrossing - Check it out! You can share books with friends, exchange with other Bookcrossers face to face, or let chance take the reins, set your books free in some public place, and see where they turn up next. Don't be shelf-ish.... after all, they're just sitting on your bookshelf, aren't they?

May 11, 2004

This is True®

Get weekly proof that truth really is stranger than fiction at Basic e-mail subscriptions are free -- and you just can't make this stuff up. Really.