Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Professionally bad sex

Remember our Le Bad Sex competition? It was inspired by Guardian Unlimited Books' Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Props to The Word Munger for feeding me this link to a Guardian Unlimited article providing full text of the firmest contenders. (Sarah beat me to it, but since one or two of you don't read the Smart Bitches, and since the above link is -- apologies, Sarah, but it must be said -- far more graphic, I decided to run with it.)
  • Buy the poster!
  • What is it about sex that drives such respected authors as John Updike, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Salman Rushdie to the absolute pits of literary whiffydom? Read the Guardian Unlimited article and savor the rank odor of truly bad writing. Sorry, Daisy, I know your piece won my contest, but it shouldn't have. It was far too well written. Take one of the shorter entries: The Olive Readers by Christine Aziz (Macmillan) We made our way to the summerhouse and hid in its shadows. We lay on the cool floor and I twined my legs around Homer's body, gripping him like a hunter hanging on to its prey. He made love to me with his fingers and I came in the palm of his hand. He stroked my breasts and neck. "Don't wash it away" he said. "I want to be able to smell you tonight." Like a hunter hanging on to its prey? And what's with the funky punctuation ("Don't wash it away" he said.)? My high school AP English teachers would have red-lined me to hell and back. As for content -- eeew. You wouldn't repeat this to your best friend, would you? For most people, this would qualify as too much information. If you wouldn't tell it to your best friend, why would you share it with your readers? Ah. I almost forgot the sole commandment of Serious Fiction: give us a glimpse of Truth. This also explains the following line from Marlon Brando and Donald Cammell's Fan Tan: It is the one drawback of fellatio as conscientious as hers that it eliminates the chance for small talk and poetry alike. Guys: next time you're gettin' some and your gal is reciting "The Red Wheelbarrow," tell her she's not being conscientious enough. See how far you get. D.

    A boner for Kate

    This one's just for you, Kate. From Pharyngula, we have a report on the genetic basis for the lack of a penile bone (baculum) in most male mammals. Fun and interesting penis facts:
    • Most men don't need that bone!
    • It is possible to fracture a penis. Top gals, the weight limit is 120 lbs. (I just made that up.)
    • Cat penises are barbed. Rrrrooowwrrr!
    • Foreskins secrete a neuropeptide which prevents complex synaptic connections in the brain necessary for any thought more complex than, Grog want woman. (Yup, I just made that one up, too.)
    • My nurse just told me she knew an anesthesiologist who claimed "his penis looked like Yul Bryner in a turtleneck."

    Open thread to discuss your fun and interesting penis facts.



    What I learned after 50,000+ words: 1. It took me 47,000 words to figure out what my story was about, 2. 32,000 words (or so) to realize I had no villain, and 3. the first 1,666 words to see that this whole thing was, indeed, possible. On the one hand, I increased my average productivity fourfold. On the other, the quality isn't comparable to The Brakan Correspondent . . . but Get Well Soon isn't total crap, either. My favorite bit so far: when my villain asks my protagonist the rhetorical question, "Do I look like an asshole?" my protagonist (who isn't human, but has a fondness for synthetic human prostitutes -- cyborgs, essentially) thinks to himself that he had seen his share of assholes, they really were quite cute, and, no, this fellow wasn't half as goodlooking as your average asshole. That should give you an idea of the overall caliber of this story ;o) A fun, clever, and exciting finish eludes me, but even with TBC, I didn't have all the details worked out until the very end. D.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Kra Dook, anyone?

    Tonight's dinner reminded me how much I love this sauce. Thai food rocks. Inspired by a similar recipe in Pojanee Vatanapan's Thai Cookbook, here's my version of Kra Dook Moo Tod: 4 pounds of pork ribs, cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup fish sauce 2 tablespoons soy sauce (black soy sauce preferred) Simmer the rib meat in mildly salted water for one hour or until tender. Drain thoroughly. Saute the onion in the oil until light brown. Add the pepper, sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Stirring constantly, cook the sauce over medium heat until sticky, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the rib meat and toss to coat. Serve over steamed white rice.
    I cannot think of a single meat (or vegetable, for that matter) which would not strut its stuff under this sauce. Poultry, fish, you name it. I'm betting even okra would taste good with a thick layer of salty-sweet-peppery-oniony goodness all over it. Emphasis on salty. The white rice is essential (although, Atkins junkie that I am, I skipped the white rice and I'm alive to write about it). For those of you not wise in the way of fish sauce, that's the source of the salt in this recipe. Oh . . . don't be put off by the smell. By the way: in the original recipe, the author recommends deep-frying spare ribs. Yes, this is superior (the crispiness makes the dish that much more . . . omigod I almost channeled Martha Stewart and wrote delectable . . . delicious -- ack! Yummy? Tasty? God in heaven, what words hasn't Martha ruined?) But my version is healthier and far less messy to prepare. Now: if someone can tell me where I can buy Szechuan peppercorns, my life will be complete. D.

    Neurosurgery for dummies

    During internship, I had a one month rotation on the neurosurgery service. Neurosurgery had a one night in four call schedule with no general surgery duties, so we all looked forward to this rotation. The ward was abysmal, but the neurosurgery ICU nurses had the best reputation in the county hospital. These nurses knew more about neurosurgery than I would ever know, and they rarely let me forget it. If you think this engendered a constant struggle for dominance, think again. Only a fool of an intern would go up against one of them, and he wouldn't survive. The neurosurgery residents had learned to trust them. They certainly didn't trust us. Neurosurgery is a different world than the rest of medicine. Your patient was discharged today? Huzzah! And you say he left on his own two feet? I'll buy you a drink. During my time at County, one of the superstars of neurosurgery became part of the faculty: Takanori Fukushima, a guy who seemed to have dozens of instruments named after him. At Grand Rounds one morning, he showed us slide after slide of his success stories, post-op patients in what he called the banzai position: arms raised high, standing on one leg. The clear implication was that these patients not only walked out of the hospital, they skipped. But most of our ICU patients did not leave skipping. Many left via the second floor morgue. I saw more death on my one-month-long neurosurgery rotation than I did throughout the rest of internship. (That's why any patient who could walk away -- regardless of mental status -- was considered a resounding success.) Like any young doc, I had a lot of romantic notions about the brain and the cowboys who worked on it. These guys (sorry, ladies -- back in '90, USC didn't have a single female resident in the program, to the best of my recollection) had superhero-like status in my eyes. That would change. One day, I scrubbed in on a trauma case with Jeff, my second year resident. "Motor vehicle accident, skull fracture, subdural hematoma," Jeff told me, which was all I needed to know -- that and the patient's Glasgow Coma Scale score, which was looooow. I held retractors as Jeff opened up a scalp flap. Then he cut away a window of cranium so that he could evacuate the hematoma. Jeff's chief resident was giving a presentation to the attending physician that afternoon, so Jeff was flying solo. It was, in fact, his first solo craniotomy, and he was nervous as a caged cat. Almost immediately after he cleared away the blood clot, he ran into problems. The patient's brain began to swell, bulging well past the bony window. No matter what he tried, he couldn't fit the plate of bone back over the craniotomy. He had the circulating nurse page his chief resident -- normally a nice guy, especially for a neurosurgeon, but oh boy was he pissed at being interrupted mid-presentation. The nurse held the phone to Jeff's ear and Jeff explained the situation. He returned to the table looking a bit gray. I asked, "What did he say?" "He said to cut stuff away until I could get it closed." Stuff? "He wants you to cut off part of this guy's brain?" "Yeah. He said it's probably dead brain anyway." Jeff did as he was told, slicing off gray matter like slabs of sweetbreads until the brain would fit back in place. The patient survived surgery, but I don't recall if he ever recovered from his coma. I've looked at neurosurgery, and neurosurgeons, differently ever since. Nothing personal guys, but . . . Stuff? As we say in the ear, nose, and throat biz, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to be a brain surgeon. D.

    Bob Herbert on Jack Murtha

    T r u t h o u t has reprinted in full Bob Herbert's NY Times Op-Ed piece on the Murtha debate. The drumbeat is getting louder, folks. When Condi Rice starts talking about troop withdrawal, you know the writing is on the wall. Herbert's conclusion is worth emphasizing (ah, but I fear I'm preaching to the choir): We need to cut our losses in Iraq. The folly of the Bush crowd and its apologists is now plain for all to see. Congressman Murtha is right, the war is not sustainable. Even Republicans in Congress are starting to bail out on this impossible mission. They're worried - not about the welfare of the troops, but about their chances in the 2006 elections.

    To continue sending people to their deaths under these circumstances is worse than pointless, worse than irresponsible. It's a crime of the most grievous kind.

    Amen. And, may I add, it would be nice to see the responsible parties punished for their crimes?


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    Monday, November 28, 2005

    Listen to the hand

    On average, an American man will fall in love with 8.6 women before he meets the one who will love him back*. We don't know the comparable statistic for women, since the male sociologist conducting the study fell in love with his statistician, who spurned his advances and left the collaboration before they could wrap up the work. Oh, well. Today's Smart Bitches Day post has a couple of inspirations. First, Deloney got me thinking about my time in college volunteering at Napa State Mental Hospital, where every last patient suffered from unrequited love (at least, those who weren't able to slip the watch of the psych techs and duck out into the shrubbery for a bit of "mush therapy"). The second inspiration came last night, when Karen and I were watching a bit of Four Weddings and a Funeral. You'll remember that Hugh Grant has a thing for Andie McDowell, and that a month before her marriage to some git in a kilt he stammers out in oh-so-cute fashion "I love you," which she counters with, "Oh, that is so romantic." And you'll remember how, at the wedding, Grant's ex-wife confesses that she still loves him. Hmm. All of this unrequited love. At the mental hospital, most of the guys whom I interviewed fantasized about (1) getting out of the hospital, and (2) hooking up with their girlfriends, and (3) taking care of business. That's when they weren't fantasizing about being an Elder God who wrote Robert Plant's music for him, although that became a muddy issue, because (didn't I know) there were many Robert Plants, at least one per generation, with at least eight or nine in our generation. Or something like that. Then there was the guy who had become mental at Cal Tech, who showed me pages and pages of densely scrawled mathematical formulae that looked like the real thing, and, omigod, I sure as hell hope it doesn't prove what he claims it proves, because if it does, we're all fucked. Back to unrequited love: Every week, five of us drove up to Napa: me, Debbie, Mike, Laura, and Tracy. Tracy had a boyfriend who lived far away, Mike had a thing for Laura (which was never reciprocated), and I developed a powerful crush on Debbie. She had the loveliest, softest cinnamon red hair, a wicked sense of humor, and a strong hint of pain in her eyes -- something that really used to hook me back then. She also had about six inches on me in height, but I wouldn't let a little thing like that stop me. Debbie lived with a couple of gay women, but she had a thing for cowboys. She told me she loved gushing about her male conquests to her roommates, just to gross them out. One day, she invited me over to watch Gone With the Wind with the three of them, which was a hoot, and after the movie, she invited me up to her room. I'd pulled a Hugh Grant on her earlier that evening. I hadn't exactly confessed my love -- I was still too bee-stung from GFv1.0 to use the L world lightly -- but I had made it clear how much I cared for her, and that I wanted to start seeing her, you know, that way. When she took me up to her room, saying, "There's something I need to show you," I figured, Ooh, this is progress. On her bedroom wall, she'd tacked up a pencil tracing of a man's hand on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 typing paper. The paper wasn't big enough to accommodate this guy's fingertips. Half of his thumb had gone off the page. "That's the kind of man I fall in love with, Dougie," she said. "Sorry." I'd never been put down more artfully. I've never forgotten her kindness.
    I don't know much about writing romance, but I imagine unrequited love is a powerful engine for engaging and holding the reader's interest. We can all relate to it. Each of us have a library of memories to draw from, wherein we can sit and wonder, What if it had gone the other way? Romantic fiction can be the ultimate in masturbatory fantasies. Through identification, we can play it through to the end, casting ourselves and our long-lost 'others' in the starring roles. We can see how it might have worked, how we might have arrived at that happily-every-after. Or not. Debbie, she would have left me for a guy in a pickup truck named Hoss. (The pickup truck, not the guy. His name would have been Ty.) D. *Totally made up bullshit. But you believed me, didn't you?

    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    Undersexed men of the world, unite

    You have nothing to lose but your woodies. Overheard at The Washington Note (who says Mr. Clemons only cares about politics?): this international sex survey by the good folks at Durex. A few moist facts for your Sunday brunch: The French claim to have the most sex (on average, 137 times per year), while the Japanese are having the least (46). Yet, knowing the Japanese national propensity for overdoing it, each of those 46 episodes no doubt involved multiple partners, mirrored ceilings, and toys so high-tech the rest of us can only watch Futurama and dream. The British spend the most time on foreplay (22.5 minutes). Thais spend the least (11.5 minutes). Americans match the international average (19.7 minutes). And I ask: why so little time on foreplay? Even the 16- to 20-year-old cohort spent, on average, a measly 21.6 minutes on foreplay. What's wrong with kids today? Italians are the most orgasmic (61%), Chinese the least (19%). Hope that's not genetic. 17% of men claim to have faked an orgasm. Huh? The Chinese have had the most sexual partners (19.3), Vietnamese the least (2.5), with the great melting pot, the American satan, once again matching the international average (10.3). Macedonians lead the world in spankings (42%), followed closely by the US of A (41%). I'll let you folks search for more tidbits. I've already tried trotting out the stats for Karen, but the wife? Meh. She's unimpressed by their statistical techniques. (Actually, what she said was, "Everyone lies on those things.") D.

    Your morning dose of Rich

    To Live and Shave in LA (great blog name, eh?) has reprinted NY Times' Frank Rich's Op Ed piece, Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt . . . It's behind the NY Times Select firewall, which I won't pay for (Judy Miller) on general principle (Judy Miller). Rich does his usual fine job summarizing the Administration's falsehoods vis a vis the run up to war. To someone who has been following the news, there's no new material here. Yet the punch line, delivered in the last two paragraphs, warrants emphasis. Quick snip: "No debate about the past, of course, can undo the mess that the administration made in Iraq. But the past remains important because it is a road map to both the present and the future. Leaders who dissembled then are still doing so. [My emphasis -- D.] Indeed, they do so even in the same speeches in which they vehemently deny having misled us then - witness Mr. Bush's false claims about what prewar intelligence was seen by Congress and Mr. Cheney's effort last Monday to again conflate the terrorists of 9/11 with those "making a stand in Iraq." . . . . These days Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney routinely exaggerate the readiness of Iraqi troops, much as they once inflated Saddam's W.M.D.'s." Did Cheney really think he could say, "We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history" and not expect it to get thrown back into his face? Those who forget history . . . On that last note, Rich offers up an interesting tidbit (which was news to me): As Scott Shane reported in The New York Times last month, Vietnam documents are now off limits, too: the National Security Agency won't make public a 2001 historical report on how American officials distorted intelligence in 1964 about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for fear it might "prompt uncomfortable comparisons" between the games White Houses played then and now to gin up wars. It wasn't that long ago that the victor had free rein to write its own history. Bush and Cheney think that rule still applies; but this is the Information Age, and history will not be written, rewritten, edited, or fabricated by the hands of a few dishonest men. More from me later, droogs. D. Technorati tags: , ,

    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    Atlantic Boulevard

    This afternoon, Jake and I had a slightly disappointing time tidepooling. Not much but snails, hermit crabs, and a few sad-looking anemones. This was only slightly disappointing since the sea was beautiful and, hey, on the North Coast, any sunny day after Halloween is pure gravy. On the drive home, I exercised a father's prerogative, attempting to inculcate similar values in my son. In other words, I played Soft Cell's Sex Dwarf for him, stopping periodically to make sure he understood every delicious line of the lyrics. Then I told him about the time in med school that Karen and I used a snip from the song, I would like you on a long black lead/You can bring me all the things I need, for our answering machine, figuring, "Hey, who calls us?" Our parents, our friends . . . either way, good joke, right? No. The first person to leave a message was my medical statistics prof. "Um . . . sounds like a fun party. I'm calling to let you know the time of the final has changed . . . " Yeah, whatever. Oh, how I hated medical statistics. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.
    I woke up this morning realizing I'd dreamt not once, but repeatedly, of my grandparents' house on Atlantic Boulevard. Carl Jung, who believed a house in a dream symbolized the mind, would have gone nuts for these dreams. My grandparents teensy one-story had been transformed into something labyrinthine, with hidden rooms, an attic, a basement, and a sub-basement. The rooms were cluttered with boxes, dusty books, my grandmother's tchotchkes, dysfunctional kitchenettes which would never be used, misplaced twin beds, and more tchotchkes. In short, exactly what my grandparents would have done with the place if they'd had four stories to work with. In real life, the house was a postage stamp, maybe 1200 square feet, if that. Stucco-sided, with Spanish architecture, it would have had an Old World feel even if my grandparents hadn't invaded it and filled it with their Old World detritus. I remember cupboards and drawers and cabinets full of things, tons of things, things I couldn't touch, things my grandmother didn't even want me to look at. Nowadays, she'd be a Lladro junkie. Back then, as far as I could see, she just collected junk. The front door opened onto a livingroom which was dark during the brightest days of summer. They had an ancient schmatte-bedecked sofa and an easy chair with knitted armrests designed to make it look like a giant pink poodle. No one sat in the chair. My grandfather sat in a worn down chair over by the tchotchke cabinet, and my grandmother rarely sat. She was always in the kitchen. God only knows what she was doing there -- the woman couldn't cook. Beyond the living room was the dining room, where we had our knock-down drag-out Seders every year. If Eliyahu ever came near this Seder, he'd keep on going. Way too much tsuris in there. Which didn't stop my uncle from eating the food and drinking the wine set out for Eliyahu. And why should good food* go to waste? The kitchen lay beyond the dining room. They had a cozy breakfast nook with built-in benches that overlooked my grandfather's beloved garden. My grandfather, a baker, would sit me down on the bench, and my grandmother would feed me slices of my grandfather's rye bread spread with margarine (yum), and give me watered-down no-name Cola to drink (not so yum). To the right of the dining room were the bathroom, my grandparents' bedroom (where my great-grandfather's portrait scowled down like a constipated and joyless Tevye), my uncle's bedroom (where he spent most every evening of his adult life, and where he died), and a mysterious room I Could Not Enter called the pantry. This was a junk room, which puzzled me, because it seemed to me all the rooms in my grandparents' house qualified as junk rooms. I think they were conducting a scientific experiment in there to see how many decades canned food could be kept before it crawled away on four legs. The house had no attic, even though my grandfather claimed it did and promised to some day show me his pet monkey that he kept there (I get the shpiel art from him). He also claimed he'd been born with horns, and would defy me to deny the scars on his shiny bald head (I get that from him, too). So why should there be an attic in my dreams? And a basement. And a sub-basement. I think it's because I handed my muse an ultimatum. I'm tired of writing schlock, I told her. Cough up something good for a change. So she went to the bank, the reservoir, the archive, and she dug down deep. This morning, I wrote about three thousand words, and they were good ones, too. I think a lot of my plot threads are ready to tie themselves up into neat and orderly knots, and at last I have a worthwhile (if rather silly looking) villain. In short, the NaNo is a wee bit less crappy today. I'm thinking it might even turn into something. D. *The attentive reader will note an apparent contradiction. But the contradiction is illusory. To my uncle, all food was good food.

    Friday, November 25, 2005


    I had a distant cousin Schlomo, long dead, who was such a bastard that all his kids left the farm and the religion. Seems he drove them a wee bit too hard. NaNoWriMo has become my Schlomo. Some thoughts: 1. Yes, I think I'm going to make it to 50,000. 7000 words in five days? Piece of cake. But that's not the point. The point is, 2. When you emphasize quantity over quality, you get trite material. My muse keeps falling back on stock images and characters. I've tried to compensate for this by setting my story in a make believe society that yearns to be like Earth, Hollywood-style, but the lack of originality is really starting to gall me. Muse, are you listening? Give me something really weird tomorrow, or . . . or . . . I'm airing all your dirty laundry on this blog. I mean it. And another thing, 3. Why must you make the plot ever more tortuous? How am I going to unknot this beast? I purposefully chose a single first person POV to keep your smorgasbord tendencies in check. And what do you do? You keep wrapping my protag in ever more layers of intrigue. This would be fine if the intrigue were truly intriguing, but see #2. Grrr. No, it's not crap, but I have serious doubts as to whether it will be publishable in any form. TBC, my numero uno NiP -- that's a keeper, provided I can find someone willing to do a Golden Age on it. (John C. Wright gave his publisher a whopping HUGE first novel. They chopped it into three separate books and marketed each one separately.) But, Get Well Soon? It'll be one of those novels that gets released when I'm as prolific and well sold as Stephen King, and my publisher says, "Oh, please oh please oh please, give us anything, even your funkiest piece of crap." So. NaNoScrewYou is a good thing why? D. Technorati tag:

    Mu Mu's secret message

    Yesterday, the New York times featured a story on Mu Mu, self-described "party-girl" and author of China's most popular blog. The 25-year-old goes on to say, "I don't know if I can be counted as a successful Web cam dance girl," that early post continued. "But I'm sure that looking around the world, if I am not the one with the highest diploma, I am definitely the dance babe who reads the most and thinks the deepest, and I'm most likely the only party member among them." Go Mu Mu -- that's what the blogosphere is saying. Given China's notorious reputation vis a vis human rights, Mu Mu seems like a breath of fresh air. . . . Or is she? Scientific image analysis reveals that Mu Mu may be yet another Communist Party apparatchik, a tool of PRC President Hu Jintao. Let's take a closer look. So far so good. We have a young, nicely filled-out lady in standard issue Communist brown pyjama tops, Beijing Beauty Sports Bra™, and freshly washed and bleached Party Panties™. Through a series of advanced steganographic techniques, including (but not limited to) Mankowicz depixellation and Rombergian delossification, we at Shatter have discovered that the image released to the New York Times has been modified by inverse digital watermarking. Subsequent Fourier transformation analysis of Mu Mu's panties reveals the following cryptic message (plainly visible to Communist China's horny blog-surfing males, but hidden in the jpeg image released to the Western press): Not only do we have a not-so subliminal message, but we discover that Mu Mu's image has been tamed down for Western eyes. For shame! I can't believe I just wasted an hour on this. If you're as disappointed by this morning's blog as I am, take a look at playwright Jim Sherman's version of Hu's On First. D. Technorati tag:

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Moore's Absolute Watchmen: a review

    In the November 20 New York Times Book Review, Dave Itzkoff has written an excellent review of the Watchmen reissue, Absolute Watchmen. Read it online. FYI: this oversized hardcover edition includes "preliminary notes of the illustrator Dave Gibbons . . . script pages, the original series proposal and other long-unavailable material," but it'll also set you back $75. D.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    The Joy of Duck

    Guess what we had for dinner tonight. Will someone please tell me what they've done to this bird? I'm imagining CIA interrogators at one of our Eastern European prisons (one of the ones that doesn't exist) : Tell us al Qaeda's next target. Quack! Dimitri -- use the nipple electrodes. Quaaaack! Yes, I know ducks don't have nipples. You know what I love best about duck? Whatever chicken does, duck can do better. Whether you're talking breast meat, liver, fat, skin, or stock, duck rules. A while ago, I promised I'd share my secret for killer chopped chicken liver. This is most certainly not the Jewish version of the dish -- it's based on the Commander's Palace recipe (one of my favorite cookbooks). Skip to the second *** if you don't give a damn about chopped chicken liver.
    Coarsely chop one large yellow onion and a bunch of garlic cloves (it's hard to use too many. If you simply must have a number, six. Or ten. That's a good number, too). Fry in 2 tablespoons of butter until golden. Rinse 1 1/2 pounds of chicken livers (if I could find enough duck livers, believe me, I'd use them) and pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add them to the onion/garlic mixture and fry over low heat until mostly done -- the livers will look pink if cut in half. This takes 8 to 10 minutes. The livers will give up a lot of juice. Push them to one side of the pan and let the juice reduce by half on the other. Now add a few grinds of nutmeg, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon of hot sauce. Transfer to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of good quality brandy, beer, or tequila. Cook off the alcohol, then add the liquid to your livers. Chill thoroughly. Here's where I differ from Commander's Palace. They process their livers with TWO STICKS (1/2 pound) of butter. You'll end up with liver-flavored butter and, yes, that's as gross as it sounds. Instead, use the rendered fat from a roasted duck. This has a lower melting temperature than butter fat, so your chicken liver spread will be much lighter than the Commander's Palace version, and far tastier, too. I puree the mix in a food processor until smooth. Keep it well chilled; garnish with crispy duck skin, chopped chives, onions fried until brown, you name it. Listen: I've had foie gras at The French Laundry (more on that some other day). This chicken liver spread kicks foie gras right in its livery hiney.
    Great moments in cinematic poultry history: Remember chicken dinner at Henry's in-laws? I don't remember the movie well . . . something to do with too much Olde English 800 and certain other substances which would prevent me from ever becoming a candidate for the presidency . . . but there was this roast chicken, see? And as Henry cut into it, it began moving its legs and wings, and a black oily substance spilled out of its cavity. You knew I had to like this movie, didn't you?
    Don't tell me you can't prepare duck. What follows isn't the best technique, but it's almost foolproof. (What is the best technique? To optimize the skin, Peking Duck. Best duck breast: carve out the raw breast. Season with salt, pepper, and some finely chopped rosemary. Pan sear, serve rare. Oh man oh man oh man.) Rinse the cavity of the duck and pat dry. Put the duck into a plastic garbage bag along with one cup (or more) of good quality soy sauce and several slices of fresh ginger. You can add more stuff, but this works well as a simple marinade. Seal the garbage bag, trying to squeeze out as much air as possible. Put the bagged bird in a bowl (hey Daisy, like that line?) and stick it in the fridge overnight. Turn it at least once. Pat the bird dry. Prick the skin all over, especially in the fatty areas. Put the bird into a pot along with chopped celery, onion, and whatever other vegies strike your fancy. Root vegetables work well. Add water until the bird floats. Simmer, covered, for forty minutes. Make sure you simmer the neck & giblets, too, except for the liver, which would be overcooked by this technique. Remove the duck and allow it to cool for 30 minutes. (I forgot to do this today. It worked out okay, but the skin wasn't as crispy as I'd have liked.) Flip the bird (hah!) over -- breast side up. Put it on a rack in a casserole dish and roast it at 425F until crispy. You may want to put a layer of liquid in the casserole dish to catch the fat and reduce the overall mess. Cook to an internal temperature of 165F. SAVE THE FAT. So you don't want to make chopped chicken liver? Use duck fat in place of butter for any savory dish, and you'll have a phenomenal experience.
    Great moments in cinematic poultry history: That's Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart (1987), which is my favorite Rourke and my favorite De Niro movie. Detective Harry Angel is hired by ultra-creepy Louis Cyphre to locate 40s crooner Johnny Favourite. His investigations lead him to New Orleans, where he encounters mean dogs, the to-die-for Charlotte Rampling, an almost underage Lisa Bonet, and chickens. Harry's got a thing about chickens.
    My finest duck moments: Pan-seared duck breast at Hoppe's. I've gushed about this before (that link isn't work-safe; it's the one with the naked Tahitian girl popping out of the birthday cake). Pan-seared duck breast at Bill Weinberg's wedding. Hey, Bill -- if you google yourself (and I know you probably do that once a week) and find this post, come by some time and say hi. Peking Duck at Quan Jude in Southern California. The home restaurant in Beijing is world famous for Peking Duck, and just about any other duck dish you can imagine. Once, we had duck tongue aspic -- a genuine Trimalchio moment. No, we never ordered it again.
    That's it. I'm all ducked up. D.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    Writer's kid with demonic cats

    From left to right: Jake, Emerald, and Melantha. One of these days, I'll figure out how to use this damned digital camera.

    The Science Fiction Top 10

    Over at the Science Fiction Writing Yahoo group, folks are posting their top ten favorite SF novels. This was a toughie; how could I leave out Vance (Demon Princes), and Varley, and Zelazny, oh my? But I have to start somewhere. I reserve the right to yank my choices when Pat J. inevitably comes along and sez, "But you forgot . . ." Silverberg's To Live Again, that'll be the first to go. Here's my (current, soon to change) top 10 list. NOVELS, mind you. We'll do short stories some other day (Varley's "Bagatelle" -- number one -- read it now!) Here we go, in no particular order: 1. Frederick Pohl's Gateway. Hop in an alien ship, pre-programmed to take you to your violent death, hideous lingering disease, or fantastic treasures. It's a crap shoot every time. Sure, the computer shrink gets on my nerves to this very day, but the harsh realities of Gateway itself more than makes up for Sigmund. 2. Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. This is one of my favorite anti-war novels. Maybe it isn't as famous or as funny as Catch-22, but I like it much better. Clean writing, great story, great message. 3. Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music. Metcalf is a futuristic gumshoe with an evolved kangaroo after him. This is THE best marriage of Raymond Chandler with science fiction, bar none. 4. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Computer nerd as Samurai hero; listen to Reason. Nuff said. 5. Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. Smilla's only friend is a six-year-old boy who lives in her apartment complex. When he dies, she refuses to believe it's an accident. The ending makes it SF, but Smilla is as hardboiled as they come. Another superbly written novel. 6. Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide. How can a novel with lots of sex and allusions to Heart of Darkness not make my top ten list? Speaking of Heart of Darkness . . . 7. Alan Moore's Watchmen. I don't know what to say about Watchmen. If anyone out there hasn't read it, beg, borrow, or steal a copy. Better yet, buy it. 8. Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The Axis has won World War II (wait a sec . . . is this fiction?), and America has been divided up between the Germans and the Japanese. Bob Hope is the only comedian whom the Nazis let live. This is Dick's masterpiece, in my opinion, although the Valis trilogy also has a warm place in my heart. 9. Robert Silverberg's To Live Again. The recorded knowledge and personalities of great men and women are available to the living, for a price. This is my favorite of Silverberg's body of work. I'm not sure how well it holds up over the years, but it stuck to my ribs for the last few decades -- more than I can say about a lot of books. 10. Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night. In the far, far future of Earth, a kid goes on a journey of discovery, leaving behind everything familiar. One of the first SF paperbacks I bought with my own money loooong ago. I read it many times as a kid. I hesitate to read it as an adult, because I'm afraid the magic will go poof.
    Okay -- your turn! And if you're one of those Luuuuuurve™ junkies who has never read SF, make it your top 3 or 4 or whatever favorite SF movies. D.

    Harry Potter spoilers.

    I saw the new Harry Potter movie last night* and I'm sad to say, yes, religious fundamentalists have a legitimate gripe on this one. The scene in which Harry and Ron kidnap newborn twin girls from Brighton, take them to Stonehenge, and sacrifice them to "the Dark Lord" went a wee bit over the top. Add to that the scene in which Professor Snape tells the Archbishop of Canterbury, "Your God is dead, you silly, silly man," and I think we're seeing some definite antireligious bias. Of course, the ire of the religious right might have more to do with the now famous date rape scene in which Harry waves his wand over Hermione, incanting the magic words, "Damnitall Rohypnol!" But I choose to interpret that scene somewhat differently than most viewers. Did you notice that Hermione winked at the camera when Harry cast his spell? In this viewer's opinion, this lent the scene a delicious ambiguity. The fact that Witchcraft played in the background also suggests Hermione's complicity -- and we all know who the most 'talented' witch at Hogwarts is, don't we? The love scene itself was the epitome of tameness, but do you expect more than tongues in a PG-13 movie? I think not. In any case, the story has been building up to this point, and I'm happy to see Harry get a little satisfaction, especially considering the fact he dies at the end of the movie. Oh -- I almost forgot: Warning! Spoilers! Technorati tag: , D. *Not strictly accurate. Actually, I saw that "Harry Potter" had top billing on the Technorati hit parade, and realized wistfully how long it had been since my last spell of Technorati whoredom.

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    Sharper image

    Yup, it took me all of about two days to get sick of that buff-me photoshopped image. I've replaced it with a cute poison dart frog. Look at the full-sized image here. Gradually, it dawned on me that folks wouldn't take me seriously if I looked all 'roided out. On the other hand, if I look like a venomous frog, they'll surely pay attention. We'll see how long this lasts. D. Note added in proof: Hmm. That "No, you may not breed with me" bit has taken on new layers of meaning.

    The Gorjun is . . . um . . . riding a giant vibrator?

    Boo-yah (or, as my ten-year-old says whenever he wins a game of chess*, "Huzzah!") My first non-electronic publication, which is to say PRINT publication, is in PRINT, in Continuum Science Fiction, a PRINT science fiction magazine. "The Gorjun is Free" is a story about a dysfunctional family, an alien artifact that looks like speckled poop, and several not-so-random changes to the fundamental constants of the universe. Former title, "All Change", which no one liked but me. So I'm leafing through, admiring the speckled poop illustration**, when I noticed this eye-popping breach of Strunk and White: Like any true wonder, I couldn't take my eyes away. The opening phrase refers not to the sentence's subject, but to the object of the narrator's gaze. Well, you can bet I'm not going to read any further. Other neat stuff: Editor Bill Rupp put my story first, wham, right there on page 2. In the table of contents, my story and byline are in larger font than the other stories. You would think I had a hand in the editing. D. *Yes, we are all geeks in the Hoffman household. **In fairness, I did describe the artifact that way . . . but, did the artist have to take me so seriously?

    Sunday, November 20, 2005

    *sob* Not one of you has mentioned my award!

    You'd think winning People's Sexiest Man Alive award would do something for my prospects, wouldn't you? But bam's only taking calls from Scott Speedman, and I overheard Miss Snark hollering, "If it ain't Clooney, I'm not here!" Or maybe that was Sheila . . . the women are all blurring together right about now. No. What do I get? A bunch of teeny-boppers screaming at me while I'm trying to shop for groceries. (Overheard in Produce: "Doug, what do you think of these musk melons?") All the attention baffled me until I saw the cover of People. Then I was like, "Girls, girls, I'm a happily married man, although if you truly value my opinion of fruit, I am willing to check for ripeness." Fame has its downside, as I am rapidly discovering. Rufus in Hardware pounded my face a few times, saying, "I'm gonna do something about the alive part." Seems he came in second place and was none too happy about it. William from Home and Garden came to my rescue, but as he helped me to my feet he used a most unusual handhold. Now that I am safely home, I find myself waxing philosophical about my award. How can any one man be THE sexiest man alive? Don't we each embody the masculine ideal in our own peculiar ways? And is it really fair for People to subject me to such intense public attention, just so they can sell a few more magazines? I'm also wondering whether this will alter my personal life. Karen seems to be treating me no different than usual; maybe she doesn't know yet. I left a copy on her pillow, just in case. D.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Stamper's paradise

    This one's for my sister. (For the rest of my readers, skim through to the end. I won't disappoint you.)
    I missed her birthday this week, which I would like to say is a rare occurrence, but my memory says otherwise. I remembered to call (see? there have been worse years) but it's still rather slovenly to forget like this. I mean, she never forgets my birthday, or Jake's. I made it down to the rubber stamp store today and found her some fun stamps, but I feel I owe her some extra effort. Sis, consider this payback for missing your birthday, and for all the times when I was a kid (who, ahem, was old enough to know better) I mooned you. Was my ass hairy back then, too? Since I know how adventurous you are on the computer, I've done some work for you. Here's a list of GREAT stamper sites. The Stamper's Mall has, among many other things, a jumbo list of stamping technique tutorials and a link to the Yahoo Stamper's group, Stamper's Corner. Rubber Stamping Links is the most extensive links list I could find. You'll want to check out their LONG list of stamp companies which sell unmounted stamps, and I know you could spend hours following links from their list of personal stamper websites. They also have an active forum. Speaking of forums, you'll find an incredibly busy one at Splitcoaststampers,
    "A gathering place for stampers - meet and talk with other members of the community, check out the gallery where you'll find tons of categorized samples, share your own stamping creations, catch up on the latest news, tips & techniques, or find out about upcoming events and happenings."
    You probably won't think the Beyond Cards Art Gallery is as cool as I do, but check it out. I always knew defunct CDs could be put to good use. FindaStamp is an alphabetic directory of rubber stamping websites rated by users. And because this is, after all, my blog . . . Fifteen minutes into searching for pornographic rubber stamps, I began to wonder if you stampers never think about stamping the nasty. But here are some tame male nudes (work safe). Physicians use anatomical rubber stamps to help them draw diagrams of a patient's pathology; you could, if you were so minded, buy those stamps here (sorry, no pix). Onward, onward in my search for rubber stamp penises. Did you know Rasputin's penis was allegedly thirteen inches long, and is currently owned by the Russian Museum of Erotica? While you're at that site (the Museum of Hoaxes), check out this story:
    Penis-Melting Zionist Robot Combs
    The phrase 'penis-melting Zionist robot combs,' while not widely known, does seem to be growing in popularity. The phrase refers to a mass panic that swept through Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in September 2003. The people of Khartoum feared that a Satanic foreigner was going around shaking hands with Sudanese men and thereby causing their penises to melt upwards inside their body. In one case a man reported that he was approached by a stranger at the market. The stranger handed him a comb and asked him to comb his hair. "When he did so, within seconds... he felt a strange sensation and discovered that he had lost his penis." The Sudanese journalist Ja'far Abbas interjected a note of scientific rationality into the growing hysteria by making this observation in his column in the Saudi daily Al-Watan:
    No doubt, this comb was a laser-controlled surgical robot that penetrates the skull [and passes] to the lower body and emasculates a man!! I wanted to tell that man who fell victim to the electronic comb: 'You jackass, how can you put a comb from a man you don't know to your head, while even relatives avoid using the same comb?!' ... That man [i.e. the mysterious stranger], who, as it is claimed, is from West Africa, is an imperialist Zionist agent that was sent to prevent our people from procreating and multiplying.
    Go, International Jewish Conspiracy! I love you guys. Happy belated birthday, Sis. D.

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Quick shout (politics)

    . . . to Jeff Huber for a fine run-down of the Friday news. Thanks to NaNoWriMo and that other time-consuming November activity, MyDamnedJob-o, I don't get to surf the news as much as I would like. Thanks to Jeff, I don't have to! High points: *Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam vet and retired Marine colonel, has called for the withdrawal of all American troops within the next six months. Speaker Dennis Hastert's response: "They would prefer that the United States surrender to terrorists who would harm innocent Americans," Mr. Hastert said. Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of squawking chickenhawks. Read the NY Times story here. While you're at it, check out Jurassic Pork's commentary, too. *Renewal of the Orwellian Patriot Act may not see smooth sailing, thanks to a possible Democratic filibuster. We have Russ Feingold to thank for this (from the NY Times story):

    "This is worth the fight," Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.

    "I've cleared my schedule right up to Thanksgiving," Mr. Feingold said, adding that he was making plans to read aloud from the Bill of Rights as part of a filibuster if necessary.

    Go for it, Senator Feingold! Hell, make all the bastards miss Turkey Day. It's worth it, all right.


    Shout for my wife:

    Karen has written an interesting post on her late father's rather odd past. His life story seems like something out of Vonnegut (a la Mother Night) or John Irving. Check it out.


    Technorati tags: , ,

    Who's my fugwy wittle Secwetawy of State, hmm?

    Props to Pat for finding the Condoleeza Rice is Ugly blog. The goal of this site: "Here at Condoleeza Rice Is Ugly, we feel that our Secretary of State has received far less parody and hostility than other major players in the Bush adminstration. The time has come to mock with equality." An honorable purpose indeed, and yet I fear this blog will bring out the trolls, racists, and misogynists of the 'osphere. Condoleeza Rice is Ugly seems to invite the Least Common Denominator of humor. For that reason alone, I'm going to reserve judgment. As you all know, I like my humor to be witty to the point of erudition. And that is why, for my contribution, I made a poopy joke. D. Technorati tag: ,

    Early morning driftwood

    Remember how vibrator afficionado walking neocon talking point ripe dingleberry TV commentator Bill O'Reilly recently smeared the people of San Francisco for exercising their right of political dissent? "If Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it." Now, O'Reilly's trying to wriggle out of his mean, nasty, beady-eyed comment by claiming the uproar was due to "far left internet smear sites." He wants to honor the memory of his hero, Joseph McCarthy, by publishing a blacklist of these sites: "Now we can all know who was with the anti-military Internet crowd. We'll post the names of all who support the smear merchants on" Arianna Huffington wants to help. If you'd like to be added to Bill O'Reilly's enemies list, click here. Sure, it's symbolic, but if it helps Arianna goad Bill, I'm all for it.
    Phone call from the Emergency Room at 1:30AM. "Hello, Dr. Hoffman?" "Yeah." "Sorry. We called you in error." "What?" "We called you in error." Click.
    One last thought about dreams: Over the years, I've had several dreams which provided worthwhile images for fiction. Not stories, mind you; those invariably suck. (Each time, I would wake up thinking, "Wow, what a story!" but within a half hour, the glee has faded, and I can't imagine why I found the tale so captivating.) But the images: crisp and dripping with archetype, screaming to be incorporated into a short story or novel. As I was driving in this morning, I thought about the stories I've written which used those images. None of them has been published. This failing, I think, has nothing to do with the images, but with the additional crap I've layered over them. Here's an example. Several years ago, I dreamed about a trio of white explorers who conspired to witness a native ritual forbidden to outsiders (a la Sir Richard Burton). In this ritual, the tribesmen wore huge, brightly painted papier mache heads meant to represent their old gods. Thus adorned, they would dance and parade for hours as they climbed to the mouth of an inactive volcano. There they would fling the heads down into the volcano and race back to the city, unencumbered by their old gods. In the dream, the explorers are discovered, and they are thrown into the volcano, fake heads and all. I love two things about that image: first, the notion of shedding one's superstitions in such a graphic way, and second, the idea that the explorers (representing the more wicked aspects of the modern world) would be shed with equal joy. When I wrote the story, however, I added a bunch of crap about missionaries with a phony religion based on corporate-American ethics and baseball (their martyr was pelted to death with hardballs after delivering his famous Sermon on the Mound). Killer of killers, I fell back on one of Strange Horizons' notorious "plots we see too often": my villain was crazy, and much of what he imagined in the course of the story turned out to be either delusion or dream. Feh. I should start over from scratch and pare it back to the core image . . . once NaNoWriMo is over and done with.
    One of these days, we should all take a look at that Strange Horizons page and come up with a list of counterexamples: stories that incorporated these trite plots and did so with spectacular results. Someone once said to me, "Things are trite because they work." Trick is to make the trite feel fresh . . . D.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Dream a little dream

    Jona has been messing around with her dreams lately, trying her best to remember them. Sounds innocent enough, huh? BUT (cue scary organ music) that's how it starts. Dreams are a risky business, but I'm not sure any of you will believe me. We humans have been fascinated by our dreams for thousands of years, of course, but the idea of stepping in and messing with them is, I think, a product of the New Age culture. The pinnacle of this might be lucid dreaming, a cute idea turned big business by Stanford psychologist Stephen LaBerge. Why be the passive recipient of dreams, when you can author them? That's the essence of lucid dreaming. The only reason a guy (hell, probably most women, too) would go to the bother of learning lucid dreaming would be the promise of unlimited, endlessly varied sex with whomever (or whatever) strikes his fancy at the moment, with no risk of disease or consequences. Overcoming nightmares, my ass. In fairness, in his FAQ, LaBerge hints that most people do this as a rather sophisticated means of jerking off. The roots of lucid dreaming predate LaBerge, who has been futzing with dreams at least since the 80s. I first encountered the idea in Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan books. The Yaqui brujo Don Juan has Carlos (a UCLA anthropology grad student) work on finding his right hand in his dream. There's no significance to the right hand; if I remember correctly, Don Juan tells Carlos he could find his dick, if he preferred. The point was to exert control. Once Carlos could do that exercise every night, Don Juan instructed him to try to return to his dreaming body, turn his back on it, and walk away. I gather the overall plan was to induce some sort of out of body experience. As a kid, I ate this stuff up like cotton candy. I tried my best to look at my hand, and achieved a shabby degree of success. Whenever I did it, the rest of the dream became grainy, like a poor print of an old black-and-white movie. If I persisted in trying to control the dream, I lost it altogether and woke up. On the other hand, I could relax back into the dream, and lose the lucidity (that essential awareness, "this is a dream"), but what was the point of that? Then high school happened, and I had GFv1.0, which meant I no longer had any motivation to mess with my dreams. I didn't rediscover Castaneda until my last year of college. That's when all hell broke loose. Not at first, of course. At first, I had a lot more of those silly hand dreams. Then -- gradually at first, but with increasing frequency -- I began having dreams of flight. Now we're talking, I thought at the time. This was worth doing. Strange stuff began happening. In my first year of medical school, I dreamed I was in my bedroom, hovering near the ceiling. Something popped and I felt myself flung backward into cold darkness. I woke up in bed (where else?) thinking, What a rush! I'm not dippy enough to consider this an out of body experience, although I suspect many people would. No, I think it's far more plausible that my dreaming mind managed to recreate my bedroom in every detail, then gave me a little jolt. Mess with me, eh? I'll show you a thing or two. Not content with cheap theatrics, this same entity -- call it the subconscious, if you want to get all Freudian about it -- pulled out a new stunt. I began having waking dreams. I would wake up, go about my business, and only gradually realize from the oddness of my surroundings that this world wasn't quite real. The lights wouldn't turn on; the bathroom taps wouldn't work; my roommates would be hosting a huge party at 7:00 in the morning. That sort of thing. Meanwhile, the cool dreams continued: dreams of flying, or of soaring just a few feet over the ground, moving as fast as a car without any muscular effort. Also, I continued to have the occasional out-of-body dream, or dreams where I seemed to perceive reality from an unusual perspective (as a tiny speck, or a floating dust mote, and so forth). And so I kept scribbling in my log, relishing the fun stuff, dreading the scary stuff. I began having nested waking dreams. I'd wake up into a waking dream, eventually realize things weren't quite real, and then wake up into another waking dream. These dreams became more and more frequent, and the nesting became more and more complex. The night I had an eight-fold nested dream and spent the rest of the day metaphorically pinching myself, that's when I decided enough was enough. Why? Because it was becoming increasingly clear to me that my dreaming mind could create such a thoroughly convincing faux reality that I couldn't tell the difference. The difference, if there was one, had more to do with quantity than quality. Reality lasts longer. I don't think any bit of this was supernatural. No, I think my dreaming mind is just that clever (devious, vindictive, and/or bored). I have a vague, academic curiosity as to what that critter would have come up with next, but I'll leave that to someone more adventurous than I. D. Technorati tag:

    Wednesday, November 16, 2005

    A liberally dirty joke

    Long O.R. day today, plus two trips to the ER, so I find myself short on energy, creativity, and time. Soon, I hope to write a post on this little feller, the blue poison dart frog, Dendrobates azureus. Hard to believe I've been blogging since April and I've made scarcely a mention of our frogs. Maybe later. For now, here's a joke I heard in the O.R. today. Stop me if you've heard this one. Um . . . any of you who are still in that 36%-who-still-like-George-Bush demographic might want to sit this one out.
    George W. Bush dies and goes to hell. Given the magnitude of Dubya's iniquity, Satan himself meets him under the Abandon Hope, Yatta Yatta* archway. "George, there's no room in hell --" "Cool!" "But for you, we'll make an exception. I'm going to take you to see a few different torments. All these folks are less evil than you, so when you find someone whose place you'd like to take, just speak up, y'hear?" First, they visit Richard Nixon. "Dick has a modified Sysiphus," says Satan. They watch as Nixon pushes a large brown ball up a mountain; before the peak, he loses strength, and the ball and Nixon roll back down again. "What's that smell?" says Dubya. "All the bullshit Dick dished out during his life. Would you like to take his place? Naturally, your ball would be three times as big." "Weeell, I don't know. Bad shoulder, don't y'know. I think I better look at the next feller." Next, they visit Osama bin Laden. Two demons hold bin Laden's head under water until he has nearly drowned. At the last moment, they let him up for a few breaths of air, and then they start over again. Satan says, "They're waterboarding Osama in a pool of the tears shed by his victims' families. Naturally, your pool would be far deeper." "Nope, can't do it. You might say I'm a Texan. No water in Texas, nosirree. Couldn't stomach it." "Very well. I'm afraid you have only one other option." Satan takes Dubya to a lavishly decorated bedroom. The ceiling is mirrored, and in the center of the room is a round bed with lavender satin sheets. Bill Clinton lies spread-eagled on the bed with Monica Lewinsky kneeling between his legs, doing what she does best. "Now we're talking!" says Dubya. "I could do this for all eternity, no problem!" "Very good, sir," says Satan. "Monica, you may go now."
    This is one of those days when I really, really hope my brother (who is, sadly, in that 36%) reads this blog. D. * All architectural structures in hell exist solely through the output of negative psychic energies known as Ralph. Hell's demons hate wasting Ralph on objects which do not inflict painful punishment. Hence the abbreviation of hell's archway, which merely told the damned what they damned well knew already.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Ox tail stew for the muse

    How's that for a book title? Forget chicken soup; even the best leaves me hungry. Ox tail stew, on the other hand, is the quintessential meal in a bowl. Give the muse a bit of metaphorical ox tail stew and she'll be good for a week. I want to share with you the one book on writing which really set me in motion. To set the scene: I'd written short stories galore as a kid, but college closed the door on my muse, and med school turned the key. Fine gal that she is, she wouldn't stay down. I began the Medical Consumer's Advocate site in '98 and expanded it over the next two years. In 2000, iVillage gave me a paying gig as their ear, nose, and throat agony aunt. I wrote a weekly iVillage column for a full year. When they let me go, the muse had nothing left to do but write fiction. My first book on craft: John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. This book may not be for everyone, but it was the perfect book for me. It singed the hairs clean off my ass and got me writing every weekend. Here is a quote from Chapter 2, wherein Gardner first lays out the idea of fiction as a consensual dream. Let your muse drink this in: If we carefully inspect our experience as we read, we discover that the importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind. We read a few words at the beginning of the book or the particular story, and suddenly we find ourselves seeing not words on a page but a train moving through Russia, an old Italian crying, or a farmhouse battered by rain. We read on -- dream on -- not passively but actively, worrying about the choices the characters have to make, listening in panic for some sound behind the fictional door, exulting in characters' successes, bemoaning their failures. In great fiction, the dream engages us heart and soul; we not only respond to imaginary things -- sights, sounds, smells -- as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge. We act out, vicariously, the trials of the characters and learn from the failures and successes of particular modes of action, particular attitudes, opinions, assertions, and beliefs exactly as we learn from life. Thus the value of great fiction, we begin to suspect, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are nobles in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations. No one recommended Gardner's book to me. The muse herself picked it off the shelf at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. Strong work, Elvira! D.

    Alien psychology

    In case you missed it, PBW had a wonderful post on the "don'ts" of writing fiction (Paperback Writer: How Not To). Pearls galore. Some time soon, I hope to blog on my own list of don'ts. In the comments, one of F. O'Brien Andrew's "don'ts" struck me. Paraphrasing: in science fiction, make your aliens physically bizarre but psychologically human. This is a don't, mind you. This is an interesting "don't" because it gets at the root of an interesting dichotomy in the science fiction audience. Some folks read SF exclusively for the wow factor. These readers go into ecstasies over authors who can deliver extraterrestrials who are alien body and soul. And then there are folks like me. I don't like alien aliens. I want to have a clear picture of these critters in my mind, and I want to understand their motivations. I want to empathize with them. Example: consider Larry Niven's Ringworld. Niven's Kzin are the fighters among us, the folks who barely restrain their violence in order to Get the Job Done. Niven's puppeteers are the manipulators -- the politicians and administrators whose goal is to shape the destinies of vast numbers of souls. These characters are fun because they are so understandable. We don't have to struggle to recognize them as human archetypes. Counter-example: Niven and Pournelle's moties (from A Mote in God's Eye). I remember the moties as shambling asymmetrical critters with one-dimensional characters. It's been more than a few years since I read Mote, but that's all that sticks with me -- in contrast to Ringworld's aliens. PBW didn't respond to this particular "don't", but I suspect from my reading of her book Afterburn that she's in my camp. PBW's aliens are easy to picture, and their motivations are intensely human. They have much the same fears as we do, and they love, lust, and feel despair and loneliness just as we do. It's easy to like her characters and care about what happens to them simply because they are so understandable. I like science fiction not for the wow factor, but because SF writers find unique ways to tell me more about human themes. (No surprise, then, that P. K. Dick is one of my favorites.) Does that mean I want my aliens to be humans-in-costume? Nah. In the best stories, there's always a little something which gives the aliens a unique perspective on life. Vernor Vinge's pack-mind doggies (A Fire Upon the Deep) come to mind. Yes, they're alien, but they share enough psychology with humans to be three-dimensional characters whom you can empathize with, like, or hate, as the case may be. The few of you who have read my stuff know how this relates to my fiction. Bare Rump may gobble mates like Twinkies, sucking out all the gooey goodness, and she may be a primo-bitchin' fighter, but she's a romance-loving softy at heart. Hearts? I never did make up my mind about that. D.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me

    New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks might tick me off as an Op-Ed guy, but he writes a provocative book review. In the November 6 NYT Book Review, he looks at Jerome Karabel's scholarly work, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Karabel's book focuses on a quiet revolution which occurred on Ivy League campuses over the course of the 20th century. In the early 1900s, non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestants didn't bother to apply to these schools; yet "Jews, for reasons that are not clear, never got the message. They applied to Harvard, Yale and Princeton even though they weren't really wanted. And because many were so academically qualified, they increasingly got in." Yes, "Chosen" is code for my fellow lantsmen. Over the first half of the 20th century, Jewish numbers rose in the Ivy Leagues, much to the chagrin of certain alumni. Here, Brooks quotes a passage in which Karabel cites a "Harvard alum [who] wrote to the university's president in 1925" -- and, oh boy, is this citation precious: "Naturally, after 25 years, one expects to find many changes, but to find that one's University had become so Hebrewized was a fearful shock. There were Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me, in fact they were so obviously everywhere that instead of leaving the Yard with pleasant memories of the past I left with a feeling of utter disgust of the present and grave doubts about the future of my Alma Mater." Ah, yes: we all know how Harvard tanked in the latter half of the 20th century. What struck me most about this quote: the naked, unvarnished antisemitism. One of Adolph Hitler's many evils was to make this sort of antisemitism uncool. It's still out there, naturally, but folks have to hide their opinions and frame them in code. If you're not paying attention, it will fly right over your head. . . . Which brings me back to Brooks's review. By the end, I had the sense that Brooks longed for days gone by. This is Brooks, not Karabel: "Those old WASP bluebloods may have been narrow and prejudiced, but they did at least have a formula for building character. Today we somehow sense that character matters, and it still vaguely plays a role in admissions decisions, but our thoughts about character--what it is and how to build it-- are amorphous and ineffectual." Guess it all depends what you want from your universities. Personally, I'd like to see them concentrate on education and advancement of knowledge. But then, I'm part of the problem. Brooks again: "The main beneficiaries of the new admissions policies, Karabel notes, were 'the children of families that, while lacking the wealth of the old upper class, were richly endowed with cultural capital.' In 1956, the sons of business executives outnumbered the sons of professors by four to one at Harvard. By 1976, there were nearly as many freshman from academic households as from business households. "All of which suggests that human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own . . ." Really? Are these children from academic households the recipients of favoritism, as Brooks clearly implies, or are they better educated and more scholastically oriented than children from business households? Brooks himself notes that SAT scores of incoming freshmen have "shot up." Which is the more plausible hypothesis? You know something? Brooks ticks me off as a book reviewer, too.
    My son's current favorite expression: ass hat, vying closely with assclown. Thanks, JurassicPork! D. Technorati tags: , ,

    I'll take a winged Eros, please

    You think I'm lazy? Me, lazy? We did this last night: The Piledriver from Sexual Positions Free.Com . . . and we used real wooden mannequins. Somehow, sex looks more fun when genitalia-free mannequins get it on. Rent the uncut version of Team America and tell me I'm wrong. D.

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    Ubersexual -- so that's what I am!

    Thanks to Beth for pointing me towards Sandy Oakes's Romancing the Blog post, Ubersexuals. At last, I find someone who understands my true nature. Let's see how I stack up. According to Marsha Saltzman's book The Future of Men, the Ubersexual
    • "embraces his masculine qualities (the M-ness factor) which includes confidence, leadership, passion and compassion." Yup, that's me, all the way. Just ask Karen.
    • "is passionate about causes and principles." Check.
    • "treats and respects women as equals, but considers other men his best friends." But my wife is my best friend. Does that make me (gasp!) a metrosexual? Am I less uber for my choice in friends?
    • "is sensual and not self-conscious." Sensual, yes, but . . . does worrying about my belly blubber count as self-consciousness?
    • "knows 'the difference between right and wrong and will make the right decision regardless of what others around him may think.'" Check.
    By my conservative estimate, this makes me at least 70% ubersexual. That's good enough to overturn a Presidential veto -- ubersexual it is! Yippee. This sounds like a good (albeit vaguely Third Reichich) thing. One problem: I don't like being on top. Does that make me an untersexual? D.

    The Political Cusack

    John Cusack has written a somewhat rambling political rant over at the Huffington Post: On Bush, the Dems, Jon Stewart, Hunter Thompson, Bill Moyers, and King (not Don) What the essay lacks in focus it makes up for in passion. Great quotes from Thompson, Moyers, and MLK, but Cusack's commentary on Jon Stewart puts into words something that has been bothering me for a long time: ". . . when Republicans, who were the ones who led us into this war, and the ones whom he's so rightly skewering every night, sit across the table from him -- there is some kind of unspoken message being given that they are not part of the problem, that they can wink and laugh with Jon and the things he is making fun of. That they are not them, when in fact, they are . . . And they are getting a free pass to sit next to someone who speaks truth to power. They get reflected hipness just by sitting across the table from him, and the irony is that they share a laugh over the same things that he rails against. As an example, look at the jokey appearances by Bill Kristol, or David Frum. These are not dutiful soldiers standing by their president (which would be bad enough), these are the intellectual architects of the the invasion. Bill Kristol, the editor of the neocon house organ The Weekly Standard, came on and could barely keep a straight face when he said that Bush was a good president. And as anyone knows, reflected hipness on these types of men is a truly ugly thing. I would suggest each Republican must face a press conference, or a gauntlet perhaps, of Daily Show correspondents...or at least Lewis Black." I suspect Stewart would counter, "But this is comedy, people," but surely he understands the responsibility of his position? As Cusack points out a bit earlier in the essay, Stewart is all we have -- one of the few people with an audience AND the clout to get these guys to show up on his program. I suspect if he didn't give these guys a walk, they'd stop making appearances. What to do, what to do . . . D. Technorati Tags:

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    A prayer for Pat Robertson

    LORD, Given that one of thy most precious qualities is MERCY; And that thou hast forgiven Pat Robertson for saying 9/11 was YOUR punishment for gays, abortion, and anal bleachings; And that thou hast forgiven him for calling for the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; And that thou hast forgiven him for calling all feminists "child killers"; And that thou hast forgiven him for a lifetime of hubris, in claiming to know YOUR will; Respectfully, LORD, I request THOU DROPPEST THE MERCY CRAP and remember one of thy other divine qualities, namely, JUSTICE, And when thou, in thy divine wisdom, weighest the merits of Robertson's recent call for a natural disaster to plague all of the men, women, and children of Pennsylvania, sinners and innocents alike, thou shouldest remember the Pharoah of Egypt: for you hardened your heart (sorry, LORD, but those thous and thys have become quite taxing of my puny mortal patience) and punished Pharoah for his sins, oh, how you punished Pharoah -- that was truly righteous, LORD, good one! -- but can we please, oh please, oh please, have some of that JUSTICE now? When an ass clown calls for death and hardship for thousands of your faithful, and claims to do it in YOUR NAME, does that get your attention, LORD? I'm sure you will choose a worthy and just punishment for PAT ROBERTSON (common name, LORD, so I gave you a photo above to help you find the right PAT ROBERTSON), but in case you're busy and need some help, might I suggest you revive an old favorite -- the ten plagues of Egypt? For extra zest, you might add "in his ass" to each of these plagues: BLOOD in his ass. FROGS in his ass. Come to think of it, hold off on that one. I like frogs too much. LICE in his ass. FLIES in his ass. A HERD OF DISEASED CATTLE in his ass. BOILS in his ass. LORD, you could do that one in your sleep. A HAILSTORM in his ass. LOCUSTS in his ass. DARKNESS in his ass. Huh? DEATH OF THE FIRSTBORN -- no, you can stop there, LORD. I always thought you went a wee bit too far on that one. Instead, might I suggest A GOOD-SIZED, YET NON-LETHAL EXPLOSION in his ass. Amen. D. Technorati tags (thanks to Rob for doing the work for me):

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    If Amanda can procrastinate, so can I

    Besides -- it's after 11. Too late to write anyway. Also, I'm bummed. Amanda's character has far better boobage than me. Just as well; if I were Amanda's character, I'd never get anything done. grassroots activist You are a Grassroots Activist. Anti-capitalist, anti-patrist, anti-authoritarian, whatever, you're just fuckin' anti. You probably tell people you hate postmodernism, but that assertion elides the complex interdependencies among academic poststructuralism and street-level activism. You don't bathe regularly (like hell I don't!), and know at least one person who has scabbies (that's scabies, Nimrod). What kind of postmodernist are you!? brought to you by Quizilla D.

    Life with Fred

    In my library of books on writing, none is more idiosyncratic than Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction. (My favorite book on writing, in case you're wondering, is John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. That's where I go whenever I need reassurance that it's all worthwhile.) You may remember Knight as the author of To Serve Man ("It's . . . a cookbook!") Creating Short Fiction is his first person/intensely personal compendium of advice for novice writers. He gives the reader lots of snarkworthy passages, not least of which his annotated story "Semper Fi." I don't want to indulge my snark glands, however. I give Knight a hell of a lot of credit for throwing himself into this book so wholeheartedly. My favorite bit shows up early on. Knight refers to his muse as Fred. Mind you, he doesn't call Fred his muse. Fred is his unconscious mind -- or not: "Unconscious" is a lousy term, by the way -- it isn't unconscious, it just has trouble communicating. "The silent mind" would be better, or maybe "the tongue-tied mind," but I prefer to call it "Fred." Knight gives the reader much good advice on nurturing the relationship with Fred. You don't have to accept all of Fred's ideas ("Remember that learning to write is just as difficult for Fred as it is for you"), but At some point, you must begin to use at least part of what Fred sends up. If you don't, he will become discouraged and indifferent, just as you would if nobody answered your letters or adopted your suggestions. Knight adds that writers need to be faithful to Fred. If you promise him you'll write tomorrow morning, you'd better be at the typewriter. Jilt Fred too many times and he'll stop providing you with good material. Knight's best advice, in my opinion, concerns feeding Fred. To be productive, Fred needs a lot of stimulating input -- odd facts or fancies to knock together, insights, specimens, interesting data of all kinds. I think Fred needs a hell of a lot more than odd facts or fancies. Fred needs you to keep your eyes open: pay attention to pop culture, watch movies, listen to different kinds of music, and READ. Could Alan Moore have written Watchmen if he'd never read Conrad's Heart of Darkness? How about Richard Adams's Watership Down, AKA The Bunny Aeneid? I don't think Adams's book would have had such staying power if he hadn't been a good student of epic literature. But I don't think Fred enjoys force-feeding. I'm thinking of Christopher Vogler's much-touted The Writer's Journey, which might be subtitled, The Applied Joseph Campbell. Do I really have to study mythology to write a powerful hero-centric novel? Despite Vogler's argument that his approach is "a form, not a formula," I find the conventional "Hero's Journey" story path to be as artificial and constraining as a Twelve Step Program. At what point will Fred rebel and cry, "Enough already. Let me tell the damned story MY way!" So, yes, you ought to feed Fred, but don't make him sit in a lecture hall listening to boring sermons day in, day out. Fred likes a varied diet. The only genre I haven't read is the Western -- and I'm getting there. Give me time.
    I can't help but think my Fred is a chick. And not just any chick, but a lusty bitch with an evil temper and a wicked sense of humor. I'd call her Wilma, except Wilma was always such a milquetoast. I'd rather call her Elvira.
    Oh, yeah. That's my muse. D.