Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Number 500: a giveaway

Yup, this is my 500th post. I'd like to celebrate by giving away a copy of one of my favorite books, Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions. If you already own it, or if you despise Borges, let me know, and I'll send you a gift certificate instead. The rules are easy. In the comments, tell me how you found your way here the very first time. I know the answer for some of you (the BBSers), but for most of you, I haven't a clue -- and I'm curious. Tomorrow night at this time, I'll write down the names of the commenters and draw one at random. The winner will need to email me with his or her snail mail addie.
Coming Attractions
Karen reads Kate Rothwell's Somebody Wonderful . . . in one day! Little Green Fascists tests the waters of poor taste . . . and finds them warm and inviting! And . . . I finally explain why you should belittle your children at every opportunity! Plus . . . Too many exclamation marks cause fingernail cancer!!! And more. D.

My little humorist

More later. I thought I'd dash this off before fixing dinner. I've been teaching my son grammar from Strunk and White, and from Karen Gordon's books, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire and The New Well-Tempered Sentence. He finished reading Gordon's chapter on commas last week, so now I'm having him go back through it and write sentences demonstrating each of her major points. Here is what he has done so far, uncorrected by yours truly: Monday. He barfed, he heaved, he blew his nose. I barfed Sparky up, and I saw her half-digested tail wagging. Sparky didn't like being in Sam's stomach, but she liked his intestines. He wanted lunch and she wanted a heart. He always salted her before eating, but he thought she was bland all the same. [Eeeew.] I woke up covered in barf [I think I understand the theme of this composition] and said, "Let's go again! Let's go again!" Tuesday. Sam tumbled and splashed and rolled around in the radioactive waste. When the radio started saying, "Recently there has been a radioactive spill and we would just like to caution everybody from playing in it, that is all", he started drinking the foul liquid. Sam drank the water so that he would get 6 extra eyes. From the left, a boy rose up and Sam saw his tentacles. At dark he thought 30 tentacles were enough. Out of the murky water appeared a girl with 6 red eyes and 4 tentacles. I'll make him a blogger yet. D.

Too cute not to share

With this morning's mail, I received a card from one of my patients. She doubles as my surrogate grandma. Here's her note: Dear Dr. Hoffman, When I think of you . . . "Appreciation" comes in view. Thank you for your care. Sending medical samples is kinda rare, But then, so is a doctor who can serve up a wickedly delicious "Latker!"* P.S. My Yiddish is kind of kiddish. *Okay, you have to love this forced rhyme: doctor and 'latker'. She's referring to my potato pancakes (latkes). Here's the recipe. No one has ever written me a poem before. D.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Why is Bush so awesome?

Major tip of the hat to Jellio at YesButNoButYes for this hilarious video. Okay. Now I can get to sleep with a smile on my face. G'night. D.

Samuel Alito got me out of bed this morning

. . . at 6 AM. I guarantee you, if I had set the alarm for 6 with the intention of spending an hour editing, or perhaps working out at the gym, I'd have groaned, turned over, and gone back to sleep. Nope, it took Sam Alito to motivate my ass out of bed. Something strange is happening inside my head; the neurons are rearranging themselves, like one of those old mosaic puzzles where you had to scoot squares around in order to unscramble the choo-choo train. I'm becoming more political. Yeah, I've written political posts, I've donated to lefty causes and campaigns, and I've even emailed my representatives in the past, but nothing compares to the all-out blitz against Alito that I -- we -- took part in over the weekend. Sure, we lost, but we picked up 23 votes against cloture that we didn't have when this all started. We know who our friends are, and we know who the Vichy Dems are, too. We have some sense of the clout we can wield as citizens of the net. And we did it all without support from the established liberal groups, like People for the American Way. Quote from Kos: But say what you will about blogs and the netroots, we are not effective organizers for this type of large-scale effort, with an opposition wielding tens of millions of dollars. That we got this much accomplished in the fact of that is simply incredible. And a rallying cry from Meteor Blades that, I swear to you, brought tears to my eyes (but then, I cry watching sitcoms, too): . . . But a battle is not a war. And, disappointing as it was, and as devastating as Alito's tenure on the court may turn out to be, giving up is simply not an option.

No matter what the odds, and no matter how few of our elected representatives we can count on to stand with us on this matter, and a hundred others, we have to keep up the fight. The war against Big Brotherization is as crucial as that for abolition, for women's suffrage, for civil rights.

In every case, the warriors in those wars suffered immense setbacks, repeatedly so, and found it hard to get the politicians to speak up and stand up for them. Eventually, however, because they refused to surrender, and because they took the fight beyond the electoral arena, they won.

We will, too.

Read the whole thing. One more inspirational link -- Jane, at firedoglake: We shook things up. Oh, yeah.
It may sound weird to you, but I finally feel like a citizen of this country. The other day, my son asked my wife -- and I'm paraphrasing here, cuz I wasn't present for the discussion -- whether we were just watching the world go to hell, or whether we were trying to do something to change it. It feels good to show him that we do more in this family than write checks to politicians, Amnesty International, and the ACLU. I don't think this is a flash in the pan, either. I keep popping over at my favorite political blogs, looking for marching orders. I've already pledged money and phone-calling time to Ned Lamont, the one dude who looks like he has a chance to unseat Windbag Lieberman in the primary. I'm angry. I want to do more. And I'm not alone.
Yeah, yeah. I know I promised you more self-esteem BS yesterday, but I'm not sure anyone cares about that but me. Right now, I'm having a hard time firing myself up over what used to be one of my pet peeves, since I'm too fired up about other things. Off topic: go say hi to Balls and Walnuts's newest friend, Mark Hoeschletter, an 82-year-old gentleman who just began blogging less than one week ago. Today, Mark has some important words for the young people of today. Finally, my apologies to all of you in the blogosphere whom I haven't visited this week. I'll do better, I promise. D.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The merits of poor self-esteem: Part I

My mother, bless her labyrinthine heart, saved every scrap of writing and artwork I produced in elementary school, or at least she had saved every scrap until I moved out for college. Then, somehow, everything managed to fit into a single box in our garage. Some time between college and med school, I went through the box. It held no surprises for me -- I had been through it several times before, looking for answers that I hoped would be more palatable than the obvious ones I'd known from the beginning. Nope, nothing new. I saved the interesting stuff and tossed the rest. I kept my first grade report cards, quarter by quarter showing a teacher initially enchanted by me, ultimately exhausted. I kept a small folder of stories bound with three brass brads. And I kept another brad-bound folder from first grade, this one titled MY FAMILY. The frontispiece consists of a family portrait, hand-crayoned by yours truly. You know the type -- family in the foreground, names pencilled crudely under each, house in the background, smoking chimney, yatta yatta yatta. The smallest figure's legs are fused in one column, he's armless, and his head sits atop his body, an undifferentiated lump. That's me. I imagine any post-Benjamin Spock child shrink would have had palpitations over that drawing, and he would have been right. I was one fucked up kid. And look at me now.
Yeah, admit it. You missed that photo. (My son says, "You know, it's kind of obvious it's faked." To which I say: "What? What? What's fake about it?") I'm grappling for some image or memory to convey how self-hating I was as a kid, but you know something? So much of it was internal. I don't have it in me to be self-destructive, so I can't cough up any stories of drug abuse, insanely reckless behavior, or failed suicide attempts. Mostly, I stayed depressed. Fred Delse, my med school mentor I told you about in this post on ego boundaries, once said that it was nearly impossible to diagnosis major affective disorders in kids. I don't recall if he said, "It's impossible because they're all sick," but that's what I took home from that conversation. I thought: It's okay that you spent your whole childhood wishing you were anyplace but where you truly were. Other kids were undoubtedly more screwed up than you. Not surprisingly, I did have one addiction, schoolwork. I aced everything I touched. My one kernel of self-worth came from the knowledge that I was at the head of the pack. I earned this bit of self-esteem; I didn't have it foisted upon me by teachers eager to praise my every artistic, literary, or spoken turd. I clung to it like a life preserver, and in the end it did, indeed, save me.
Sometimes I worry that my son's childhood is too happy. I feel a little better after yesterday's brouhaha.
The fiction writer in me cringes. Show, don't tell, remember? But I can't show you, not while my parents are still alive and capable of reading my blog. Irrational as it may sound, my father's command to me in first grade still carries weight. I had blabbed to my first grade teacher. At our first open house, she asked my parents about the stories I'd told her. My dad denied everything, of course, but when he got me home, he laid down the law. Don't ever, ever talk about what happens in this house. So I can't show you. Some of these things you'll just have to take on faith. Besides -- when have I ever lied to you? But I'm still cringing. This is not effective writing.
I'm not here to whine about an unhappy childhood. In fact, my second choice title for today's post was, It's never too late to have an unhappy childhood. I never would have become who I am today if I hadn't been fueled by a ton of self-hatred. I couldn't continue being who I am and doing what I do if I didn't still have that hatred burning inside me, constantly requiring appeasement. My worst enemy is my best friend. And I am resolute in my belief that a groundless "high self-esteem" is a bad, bad thing. Tomorrow: Sociologists agree with me. D.

Letter to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

(Feel free to use this yourselves. The DSCC's email addie is info@dscc.org. Now, I'm off to post this as a Kos diary. See ya later!) Dear Sirs, I am a registered Democrat, and my wife and I contributed heavily to the last Democratic Presidential campaign. In the 2006 election, we fully intend to contribute both time and money to help defeat the Republican majorities in Congress. However . . . It has become increasingly difficult to support a party that fails to show spine in opposing the Republicans and their imperial President. I am opposed to the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito, because I feel he will push our country further from democracy, closer to fascism. Judge Alito has made clear his opinion regarding the unlimited range of Executive power. I feel that his opinions are discordant with my wishes and the wishes of a majority of my fellow citizens -- and even if most Americans wanted to be led down the path of fascism, I still don't think his confirmation would in any way be good for the country. It's the old, "If your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too?" routine. I will not donate my money or time to a Party of Lemmings. Actually, lemmings are not that stupid. This is a myth, but it is also a useful metaphor. In reality, humans are this stupid. Let me be very clear: at this time, more than ever before, I expect to see leadership and resolve on the part of the Democratic Party. This may be the last chance we have to oppose an Imperial Presidency. Please, for the health of our democracy, get our Democratic Senators to vote to oppose cloture, and to support Senator Kerry's filibuster. Thank you. Douglas Hoffman

Is there a dog whisperer in the house?

I had to share this with you. This morning, RaZen at YesButNoButYes brings us a video of a possessed dog. I think St. Francis needs a day or two a month, not just one day a year -- this dog needs to be blessed big time. You may not know this if you're sane, but dogs will acquire the psychopathology of their masters. I've seen it again and again. Mostly in my family. But I do have one family-safe story to tell regarding psycho canines. As some of you may recall, I volunteered at Napa State Mental Hospital for a few years, during my time at UC Berkeley. Napa had a halfway house on their grounds, a building that looked and functioned like a real home, nothing ward-y about it. Folks who were ready for the real world could spend a few weeks there, cooking in their own kitchen, using actual knives. The halfway house had a pet dog, one of those creatures that looks part poodle, part terrier, part chihuahua, and part Tasmanian devil, and this dog had a favorite pillow. After you've watched the possessed doggy video (linked above), imagine our runty little hero treating his pillow in just this manner. Just when you think he had given that pillow what-for, he would change tactics and hump the pillow. A minute or two of fruitless humping, and he'd back in full attack mode, snarling, biting, ravaging that poor pillow. I'd never met a dog with borderline personality disorder before, but I'm sure he had it.
For those of you who read my boogers blog, I've posted a long rant on ear wax. Just what you wanted with your Sunday coffee. D. PS: and this is partly a note-to-myself, so that I can find the links first thing Monday morning . . . Vichy Democrats has a one-stop resource in the fight against confirmation of Sam Alito: Senators' local phone numbers, fax numbers, email addies, web forms, plus where they stand on the cloture vote. Also, links to online petitions. For those of you wondering what all the fuss is about, Georgia at Kos says it better than I ever could. Many of us who oppose Alito do so because of his opinions regarding the powers of the Executive branch. In the context of the George W. Bush power grab, Alito is downright dangerous. This may be our best chance to block the Imperial Presidency, folks. Let your voice be heard, preferably over and over again. Tomorrow, I'll be getting up an hour early so that I can make lots of phone calls and send lots of faxes before my day begins. We can do this!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oy, what am I doing wrong?

Here's what happened: One of Jake's pet millipedes died. He fusses over these critters to no end, spraying them once or twice a day with water, giving them bits of lettuce. He didn't seem too upset by the death, but he kept talking about it. He wanted to show his mom the dead millipede, and she refused, saying it was a yucky, dead, decaying millipede (based on Jake's description of brown stuff oozing out of its body). Jake got insulted and demanded an apology. Karen wouldn't apologize. Meanwhile, he was supposed to be reading his biology, and he kept turning the pages with his feet. Or something like that. I wasn't there, didn't see it happen. All I know is, I came upstairs, saw wrinkly pages in his nice new biology textbook, and said, "Um. You know, I wish you wouldn't mess up your new book." No anger. I didn't realize Karen had already said something to him about it. Next thing I know, we're in Tantrum Central. Then he kicks me in the shin. Now, I've almost never hit this kid. One little slap on the butt to get his attention (at about 18 months old), nothing since, and he's ten now. So I sent him to his room and told him if he DIDN'T get down to his room right away, no computer for a day. For three days. For a week. (I'm upping the ante because he's standing there, refusing to go downstairs.) I think he misunderstood me, because he thought he had to go to his room AND was getting booted off the computer. Next thing I know, he pops out of his room with his pillow, blanket, and flashlight. He leaves the house and begins running away. Slowly. My parenting skills are exhausted at this point. In the old days, you were supposed to just let the kid go, right? Let him have his temper tantrum and wander back sheepishly. But this isn't the old days, and besides, we live on a street where folks barrel down in their trucks at 50 MPH. Nevertheless, I had Karen come downstairs (her pelvis has mended well enough that she can get around with a cane, but still) so she could see Jake running away down the driveway in slow motion. "Go after him," she said. "Bring him back. I don't want him walking down the road." I met up with him at the entrance to the driveway. Another 'don't you think you're overreacting' speech, to no effect. He wouldn't come back. "I'll carry you back if I have to," I said, and he said, "You can try." I lifted him up and carried him back, with him kicking me in the shins as hard as he could all the way. We put him in his room and left him there. That was about an hour ago. Karen's thinking we should punish him extra (for all the shin-kicking): no computer, no TV. But I don't think we've seen the end of this insurrection. Look, folks. My parenting skills are for sh*t. As a kid, I didn't get much of an example, and neither did Karen for that matter. Dr. Phil me, people (tell me what to do). Thanks. D.

Support the Alito Filibuster

Gilliard has coverage. Be warned: every Senate office number I called has the same message (this mailbox is full), so I had to resort to emailing as many Senators as I could. From Daily Kos, here is a great list of links to Senators' web forms. The main point to make, assuming this Senator is not your Senator: "My contributions of time and money to the DNC will depend on the outcome of the upcoming filibuster." Or words to that effect. Even if he or she is not your Senator, this message should still hit home. Update: here is the most recent action post from Daily Kos. We have 15 no votes for cloture -- up 3 votes from this morning. One easy thing you can do to help: sign the petition at SaveTheCourt.Org. D.

Your morning bwaahahahahaha

The BEAST brings us the 50 Most Loathesome People in America of 2005, including a special punishment for each one. Warning: if you think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are great, wise, and wonderful human beings, stay away from this list. This BEAST article may be old news, but I just discovered it this morning, by -- how else? -- snooping around Technorati. My take? Michelle Malkin deserves to be much higher in the list than #49; Michael Brown and Scooter Libby got off too easy; Terry Schiavo -- cheap shot, not funny; most chilling entry: #4; person most conspicuously absent from the list: Tim Russert. I mean, really. They put Geraldo Rivera on the list, but not Russert? Rivera's a has-been. Okay, Hoffman, stop goofing off and get to work. D.

Friday, January 27, 2006


I've given you balls up to your ears; now, at long last, I shall deliver on my promise to give you walnuts. By necessity, I've learned how to cook ethnic. I can bake pita bread (since our grocery stores consider this too exotic), fix a mean baklava, do a delicious baba ganouj or hummus. My Chinese stir fries are passable, yet better than the local fare, and my Indian cuisine is excellent. One of our favorite dishes is leftover tandoori chicken stewed in a sauce of onions and cream. Tonight, I felt like doing something special with duck. Cassoulet takes days to prepare, and Peking duck at least a full day, so that meant either pan-seared duck breast or fesenjan. Karen opted for fesenjan. Ninety percent of the labor comes from boning the duck, so if you want to substitute boneless chicken thighs and breasts, be my guest. Fesenjan 1. Skin and bone the duck. (Use the carcass to make a quick stock, and render the fat from the skin. Fried duck skin is great all by itself, but it's also yummy on salads. Duck fat can be substituted for butter or olive oil for any savory dish. I use it to make chopped chicken liver.) Chop the meat into one-inch pieces and sprinkle the pieces with salt and freshly ground pepper. 2. Meanwhile, toast 2 cups of walnuts in the oven at 350F until, erm, toasty. Don't let 'em burn. Do let them cool, then grind them in a food processor. You want the mixture to be a little coarse. 3. In a heavy-bottomed pot (a Dutch oven works great), brown the duck meat in two or three tablespoons of butter. Set the browned meat aside in a glass bowl to catch the drippings. 4. Chop a large onion -- fine, coarse, doesn't really matter. Fry the onions in the leftover butter. If you'd like, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the onions towards the end of the frying. You want the onions to be golden, or a little darker. 5. Add to the onions the duck and its drippings, the ground walnuts, about 1 cup of pomegranate paste, and 1 to 2 cups of stock. Start with one cup of stock, stir the ingredients, and add more stock until you get the desired consistency. (You know -- like stew!) Here's an online Persian Grocery that sells pomegranate paste and oh my heavens zereshk berries, too! Now I can make zereshk polo. 6. Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar, and adjust the salt to taste. Add more pomegranate paste if you'd like your stew a bit more sour, or (if you're like my wife) you just love pomegranate. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. 7. For tender meat, you want to brown the meat as quickly as possible, and then simmer as gently as possible. Remember, dark meat doesn't toughen up nearly as readily as white meat, so if you're using chicken, you may want to use nothing but thigh meat. 8. Serve over basmati rice. (Yes, that Persian Grocery sells basmati, too.) Best basmati rice: rinse a cup of rice, boil the rice in LOTS of salted water until it is not quite tender, then strain the rice. In a non-stick or heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter. Layer the rice on top of the butter. Put the lid on the pot. Now, let the rice steam by keeping the pot over a very low heat for, I dunno, 15 to 30 minutes. It will be done long before 30 minutes, but that doesn't matter. If you do it right (and believe me, this is an art I still haven't quite mastered) you'll have a delicious golden brown crust of rice at the bottom of the pot. Any questions? D.

When Chihuahuas attack!

First killer bees, now attack chihuahuas hungry for human flesh: The officer suffered minor injuries including bites to his ankle on Thursday when the five Chihuahuas escaped the 17-year-old boy's home and rushed the officer in the doorway, said Fremont detective Bill Veteran. Nor is this an isolated incident. According to this professional consultant who dresses his chihuahuas in camo gear, "Before they've had their morning coffee, attack Chihuahuas are not to be trifled with." Fortunately, for $44.95, you can warn neighbors and passersby that your attack Chihuahuas are on duty. So -- what do you think -- Worst? Photoshopping? Ever? More later. The Du Bist Deutschland campaign has given me ideas. D.

Will Gabriele or Darla . . .

please come over here and tell me about the significance of and ? They are both top search terms at Technorati, but I can't find much of an explanation in English. I feel so out of the loop. D.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Late night variety pak

It's late, I'm tired, and this is all ya get. Helen Wheels left one looooong response to my Sunday blog on the rise of fascism in America. I thought about reprinting it here, but it turns out Helen posted the more detailed version on her blog, yesterday. She quotes Lawrence W. Britt's article on fascism at length, to chilling effect. Here it is. Consider that a mighty shout.
Many thanks to Kate and her hubs for turning me on to Campbell & Reece Biology, Seventh Edition. Looks like this is going to be a great experience for my home schooler AND his dad. This beautiful textbook includes a CD with useful material (how rare is that?), and the online resources rock. Tests! They have tests! They sure know how to make home schooling easy. Jake dove into it with both feet. Right away, the book stimulated a useful discussion on embryogenesis, haploidy, diploidy, gastrulation, and neurulation. We had to backtrack a bit to talk about gametogenesis and fertilization, but I didn't mind. Damn it, if there's one thing I'm qualified to teach, it's biology. No, really, I have a PhD in this stuff (didn't know that, did ya?) I warmed to the discussion, eager to share my knowledge of meiosis and mitosis, spermatogenesis and seminal vesicles, ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Then, suitably enlightened, I guided Jake back towards the subjects of fertilization, implantation, and early embryonic development: initial cell divisions, morula (what the Germans call zellballen, IIRC), blastula, morula, gastrula, neurula, embyro. Me: Any questions? Jake: I still don't get how the sperm get up there. Me: Their tails spin round and round, like little motorboat propellers. They swim up there. Jake: But how do they get up there? Me: Well, during orgasm, muscular contractions in the uterus help draw the sperm upward. Jake: But how do they get up there? This clearly called for a visual aid. Moral of the story*: never take anything for granted. D. *That part of the story is false. Of course my ten-year-old already knows the basic mechanics of intercourse. He's my son, for heaven's sake. Moral of the story: never discount my willingness to pounce on a cheap visual joke.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A timely Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about Doug And, dammit, you'd better play this time, or next week, I'll tag your ass.
1. Goethe, not Nietzsche, said, "What does not kill me makes me stronger." Three intervals in my life put this to the test, but I was not so much tempered by them as torn apart and put back together. 2. As a four-year-old, I was traumatized by a cantaloupe (AKA musk melon). This was not one of those desperate, ego-formative moments. I got over it. 3. My first memory: I'm two, nearly three, and my brother and sister are helping me get dressed in the back seat of my dad's car. (A blue Chevy, Sis?) It is the first day of my first Voyage of the Damned: summer vacation, driving from LA to Boston to see the rest of the family. It would not be my last such voyage. 4. I liked to get up when my parents got up. They would eat breakfast, drink coffee, and not yell at each other. I hid in the hallway with my back against the wall heater, listening to them talk. My mom didn't like this. She thought the wall heater would give me "arthuritis." 5. On that first Voyage of the Damned, we stopped for breakfast in Needles. I saw a red firetruck I dearly wanted. My mother wanted to buy it for me, but my father didn't. Much psychodrama ensued. 6. We took the southern route that year. One night, in a motel room in the Deep South, we woke up to find the room infested with giant water bugs. Trust me: you really don't want to click on that link. 7. Bliss for five-year-old me was a day at the beach . . . although I hated it when my mom would towel the sand from my back. Ow. 8. I had my first mathematical epiphany in kindergarten. I told my teacher, Mrs. Biyotch, "One and one are two!" and she replied, "One plus one equals two." Talk about buzz kills. 9. I loved my pediatrician, Dr. Johnson. Or maybe I just loved ripping off all my clothes as fast as I could. 10. I didn't like my next doctor, Dr. May. To this day, I don't understand why a doctor would feel the need to do a rectal exam on a ten-year-old boy (or younger) at every visit. Actually, I do understand, and I don't like it one bit. 11. Among other childhood fears, I was afraid of the dark, and of mysterious strangers coming into our house. My sister knows why. I didn't get over my fear of the dark until med school. 12. My grandfather groped me once, but I didn't hold it against him. (Hah! I love that gag.) No, this wasn't one of those ego-formative moments, either. 13. To some degree, I live in a constant state of breath-holding, waiting for the next traumatic interval.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens! (leave your link in comments, I’ll add you here!) 1. Dariana 2. Jona 3. Jeni 4. D.C. Roe, a Varley fan 5. Kate 6. Caryn 7. Sapphirewriter

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Guess who's coming to dinner!

Dear Mom and Dad1, I didn't know quite how to break this to you, so I'm sending this picture instead. I've met someone new. You'd like her; she's ambitious (a nurse, as you can plainly see), and she wants a huge family, at least twelve kids. This shouldn't be as difficult as it sounds, though, since she already has eight! I can't tell you how excited I am by all this. I've always wanted tall children, and my gal will surely provide. You see, she has crouched down about six inches so that we could take this photo cheek-to-cheek. Isn't that awfully sweet of her? Jacob is thrilled as can be at the thought of so many new brothers and sisters to play with. Karen is taking it as well as can be expected. It's not as bad for her as you think, since we will all be moving to Utah and converting to Mormonism to take advantage of the bigamy thing. We're counting on your blessing! Love2, Doug 1. I don't want you to get the impression that my parents are racist. They're not. They are, however, 80 years old (my dad) and approaching 80 (my mom) and their ability to roll with the punches ain't what it used to be. 2. As for the cruelty factor here, (1) they don't read my blog, and (2) let's just say I dish it to 'em every chance I get.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Taste of L.A.

Remember the nuclear devastation of Los Angeles in Terminator 2? Karen and I saw that movie in L.A., and we were the only two people who chortled over Linda Hamilton's dream of mushroom clouds. That's how much we liked L.A. Of course, that was before we lived in Texas, and that was also before we lived in the land of "Oh, God, please let that be a new restaurant, because our town really doesn't need a seventh auto parts store!" Without further ado, here are eight things I miss from Los Angeles, all food. (Sorry, Beth & all those other vegetarians out there, but I like meat.)
Mr. Creosote
1. Baci D'Alassio from Il Fornaio restaurant in South Pasadena. Think of Baci as two chocolate-hazelnut macaroons fused base-to-base with a dollop of semisweet chocolate. Here's the recipe, and here's a picture. 2. Fried smelt at Cafe Santorini in South Pasadena. Oh how I love my little fishies. I really, really don't want to look up the mercury content of smelt on Fanatic Cook's mercury chart. (Hah! They're not on the chart. They must be mercury-free.) Imagine a huge dish piled high with lightly battered smelt, fried to a golden crisp, sprinkled with finely chopped Italian parsley, and served with no shortage of lemon wedges. You eat these bad boys whole -- head, tail, fins, bones, everything. The crunch is part of the experience. Oh, lordy lordy lordy lordy. 3. Creme brulee at Cafe Santorini. Perfect creme brulee should have a warm, flawlessly crisped top, and a smooth, cold center. No damned bubbles. If there's bubbles in the puddin', the cook don't know WTF about creme brulee. Here's the Cook's Illustrated recipe -- I haven't tried it out yet, but I will very soon. My beloved has a yen. Karen, a creme brulee purist, hates to discover funky flavors on the first bite (Funky = anything other than vanilla). But I like a surprise. My favorite-ever creme brulee at Cafe Santorini featured a strong hint of bay leaf. 4. Basturma at Sahag's Deli on Sunset. Basturma is the king of cold cuts, the ur-pastrami. Food critic Jonathon Gold called it "less a foodstuff than a force of nature." It has the beefy intensity of bresaola, but the spice rub (hot paprika, fenugreek, and garlic) packs a wallop. Eat some basturma and give your unsuspecting Dearest a deep, deep kiss for a food sex memory that will last a lifetime. Here's Sahag's address. 5. Peking Duck at Quan Jude in Rosemead. World famous for their Peking Duck, Quan Jude sports photos of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon dining at their Beijing restaurant. You can eat any part of the duck here -- they even have duck tongue aspic on the menu (trust me -- stick to the Peking Duck). Here's the address. If you've never had Peking Duck, this needs to be on your list of Things I Must Eat Before I Die. The whole point of Peking Duck is to render the duck skin of its fat and elevate it to crispy snips of heaven. The skin is served with a bit of meat, a bit of green scallion, and a dollop of plum sauce (or is it hoisin?) all wrapped in a thin, rather tasteless pancake. The pancake ain't the point. 6. Pommes frites at Benita's Frites on the Santa Monica Boardwalk. Pommes frites are the basturma of French fries. 'Nuff said. What's so great about Benita's Frites? Not only do they get the frites just right, but they also have the greatest dipping sauces. My favorite was the sundried tomato aioli. Here's a write-up and a recipe, but I can't believe it's that easy. 7. Vietnamese iced coffee . . . anywhere. This stuff is ubiquitous. You can't walk into a Vietnamese restaurant and not get perfect iced coffee. Here's the idea: aqua regia-strong espresso combined with sweetened condensed milk, served over ice. Take a look at this pictorial essay. True fact: my evil wife once got my office staff addicted on this stuff to increase productivity. Who needs coca leaves? 8. Banh mi at any Vietnamese restaurant. I can think of many fine sandwiches: beef tongue on rye; hot pastrami on rye; Philly cheese steak sandwich. They all have their place in the Great Order of Sandwich Being, but even the best Jewish deli pastrami can't compete with an average banh mi. They're that good. Banh mi come in a variety of styles, but they all consist of a French or Italian roll slathered in mayo and/or liver pate, layered with cold cuts (thinly sliced roast pork is my favorite) and produce. It's the produce that makes the banh mi: cilantro, thinly julienned carrots and cucumbers (lightly pickled in nuoc cham), and a few julienned strips of hot green peppers. Assemble the sandwich and heat it up so that the crust gets crusty. Like great creme brulee, a perfect banh mi will be warm to hot on the outside, cool on the inside. Read more about banh mi at this link. You know what all of these things have in common? I can't eat any of them. (Well, I could eat the basturma without any bread, but where's the fun in that? And Peking Duck without the pancakes . . . the Chinese already think we're barbarians.) While living in L.A., I got up to my all-time max weight, 178 lbs. Take home message to me: be happy you're not living in L.A., or else you'd have ended up like poor Mr. Creosote. D.

Cry Baby Cry

Wi'w Biww O'Weiwwy, he not happy wid dose mean weft wing bwoggas. On the January 23 O'Reilly Factor, Bill felt it necessary to attack "far-left websites" for "put[ting] out a fatwa against him" and Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, further claiming the websites engage in "organized terror." (See Media Matters link, above.) O'Reilly's hyperbolic rhetoric takes its place alongside Chris Matthews, Pat Buchanan, Tucker Carlson, and Joe Scarborough, who are trying to equate opposition to Bush with support for bin Laden. O'Reilly, however, adds a distinctly personal spin to the affair. O'Reilly is the target of the fatwa; O'Reilly is the victim of a terrorist campaign. Hey, Bill? Um, the same Bill who invited Al Qaeda to strike San Francisco? Tell you what. You send me your address, and I'll send you a box of tissues. Hat tip to Robot Buddha. D.

Support Jill Carroll

I'd like to follow Blue Gal's lead and ask that you all give some thought (and prayer, if you're so minded) to the plight of kidnapped American reporter Jill Carroll. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, the Muslim community has been vocal in their support for Ms. Carroll: A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations arrived in Baghdad Saturday, adding its voice to what is described as an unprecedented outpouring of Muslim support for the release of American reporter Jill Carroll.

"The kidnapping of Jill Carroll does not benefit the kidnappers," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based group that represents US mosques and Islamic associations. "She has been friendly and respectful of the Iraqi people, not an enemy," he added.

I don't think Blue Gal will mind if I shamelessly steal the rest of her post:

So here is my idea. Tell your blog readers you support Jill Carroll and link to the Monitor, just like I did. That's it. Not too dramatic but drama is not what we need or want right now, no matter how much it might serve the interests of the 24/7 news universe. Update: one reader had another good idea--to link to one of Jill's own articles. A leader of Hamas called for her release today. The Muslims are united on this. Amazing.

Let's keep Jill Carroll in the forefront of our web-consciousness until she is released. Thanks!


Monday, January 23, 2006


I don't know what I enjoy most about this photo-booth portrait. Is it the Hawaiian print shirt with the plunging V-collar, or the pencil lead-thin moustache, trimmed off the Cupid's bow to match the fashion of my Hispanic high schoool friends? Is it the stoner eyelids (I've never been able to keep my eyes open for a flash), the full head of hair? No, man. It's the 'tude. July, 1977: you're catching me between my Sophomore and Junior years. I had not yet hooked up with GFv1.0, which means you're looking at one very depressed, lonely adolescent. Yeah, yeah. Aren't they all. You're also looking at a chameleon. Here I am in stoner mode. I could also be a brainiac among brainiacs, a cholo among cholos, a stoner among stoners. Many of the stoners I hung with had more wits about them than the brainiacs. They were well fumigated wits, but still. I didn't smoke much pot in high school. My best friend Sophomore year, he smoked a bushel, and I chose to learn from his example. Besides. I didn't enjoy smoking pot, and if I could fit in with the stoners without doing so, I did. They didn't mind if I passed -- more for them -- and they never challenged my credentials for hanging with them. Sure, they knew I took Advanced Placement classes, but they didn't care. They didn't pay attention to social status; they didn't pay attention to much of anything. I think that's why I liked them so much. It felt good to belong, and they made it easy. What made me unique, I think, was my ability to shift from one group to another. In P.E.*, I learned how to blend in with the Hispanic gangstas and the Asian ninja-wannabes. Having the right friends made bully-avoidance much easier. (And yes, Sis, the fact that Marvin had a crush on you helped, too.) But don't get the idea that self-preservation was my primary goal. I liked these guys. As far as I was concerned, for the 55 minutes we spent together in the weight room every day, they were my people. And then the bell would ring, and I would find myself in Trig with the smart kids who were supposed to be my peers but wanted nothing to do with me . . . with one exception. I sat behind a Junior, a Japanese girl who didn't seem to mind if I slid forward in my chair and gouged my knee into her ever-cushy butt cheek. Ah, forbidden love. I was a Sophomore, she was a Junior, and a cheerleader to boot. We never said a single word to each other. No matter how many times I revisit these memories, I can't get over it. Trig, Calculus, AP English and American History, Chemistry and Physics -- that's when I felt truly discombobulated. I looked at the other bright kids as though they were extraterrestrials. Sure, I had a few friends in those classes, but it was difficult. I was their competition, and they were my competition. But even that is too simplistic. My chameleon skills failed me. Somehow, the only type of kid I couldn't imitate was the kind I actually was. You would think, wouldn't you, that adulthood had frozen my mutability; but it hasn't. I see it happening with every patient who enters my exam room. My vocal inflections, diction, and mannerisms change. I suppose this makes me a more effective clinician, but it is far from intentional. There are times when I would dearly love to suppress it. Just ask my staff how I get when some needy depressive darkens my office. (We call 'em brainsuckers.) Like any photo-booth picture, the one you see above is part of a trio. Wouldn't you know it? I'm someone different in all three.
It's Borges, the other one, that things happen to. -- Jorge Luis Borges, "Borges and I"
D. *Physical education -- do non-Americans call it P.E.?

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I wrote a synopsis of my first four chapters today. It took me 2,168 words to synopsize 23,177 words. A question for the more experienced writers in my li'l crowd: WTF is wrong with me? Should I keep it more concise, or is this 10% ratio typical for a synopsis? Long-winded explanation: I'm hoping this synopsis will make it easier for me to restructure book one. In other words, if I can boil things down to smaller, more easily grokkable units, I may be able to shuttle chapters this way and that, reshuffle things to obtain a prettier whole. I want to move one of my major storylines to book two. This will make book one tighter, and book two more of a unique experience (since readers will be introduced to a new cast of characters). I can do this because the two major storylines only intersect at the end of book three. Bottom line, I'm writing this synopsis to help me edit the trilogy, but I think it would be foolish not to create a document which, with a little massage, could serve as an agent-ready synopsis. If it were just for me, I wouldn't give a damn how big this thing is. I'm only wondering if it's too bloated for agents. Why, why couldn't I have had an idea for a 90K-word story? Yeah, I know there's no answer to that one (except, perhaps, inexperience). D.

Phone call for Al Coholic

Hat tip to Sean Coon for this great slam on Bill O'Reilly. If, like me, you're slow . . . check out the correspondent's name. For more help, check this site. D.

On truthiness, propaganda, and the rise of fascism

Today's NY Times Op Ed piece by Rich, "Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito" (reprinted in full by Nevada Thunder) will be his last for a few months: To my readers: Starting next week, I will be on a book leave, writing nonfiction about our post-9/11 fictions. See you in the spring. Ah, me. What will I do without my regular infusion of Rich? Maureen Dowd may be the funnier pundit, but Rich is the more accurate marksman of the two. Today, he draws parallels between faux memoirist James Frey and faux salt-of-the-earth, regular guy Sam Alito. He begins with an allusion to Stephen Colbert's neologism, truthiness (thank heavens Rich knows the proper attribution for this word!) and moves on into more serious turf: It’s when truthiness moves beyond the realm of entertainment that it’s a potential peril. As Seth Mnookin, a rehab alumnus, has written in Slate, the macho portrayal of drug abuse in “Pieces” could deter readers battling actual addictions from seeking help. Ms. Winfrey’s blithe re-endorsement of the book is less laughable once you start to imagine some Holocaust denier using her imprimatur to discount Elie Wiesel’s incarceration at Auschwitz in her next book club selection, “Night.” In reality, some bright lights out there really are suggesting that Wiesel's dark, haunting Night is a fabrication. Let's all thank Oprah (never thought I'd write that) for drawing attention to one of the best Holocaust memoirs ever written. But, back to Rich. What’s remarkable is how much fictionalization plays a role in almost every national debate. Even after a big humbug is exposed as blatantly as Professor Marvel in “The Wizard of Oz” - FEMA’s heck of a job in New Orleans, for instance - we remain ready and eager to be duped by the next tall tale. It’s as if the country is living in a permanent state of suspension of disbelief. He continues with an analysis of the fictionalization of Sam Alito's history by Republicans and Democrats alike -- even by Alito himself. For the fiction-writers in my crowd, however, Rich's most resonant message comes early on (emphasis mine): Democrats who go berserk at their every political defeat still don’t understand this. They fault the public for not listening to their facts and arguments, as though facts and arguments would make a difference, even if the Democrats were coherent. It’s the power of the story that always counts first, and the selling of it that comes second. Accuracy is optional. Propaganda, that's what it's all about. Remember Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will? I can imagine Hitler (an unofficial executive producer of the film, according to Wikipedia) briefing Riefenstahl during the film's creation: "Give 'em a story they can believe in." Fascism does not emerge from a vacuum. It thrives on nationalistic sentiment, which in turn depends on powerful and convincing propaganda. Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and George W. Bush wouldn't exist if there weren't widespread hunger for their message: that we are Number One, that we stand for freedom worldwide, that we are beset by foes on all sides, that the enemy lives among us. People want to believe. But the message of Bush, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh is not for all Americans. As the recent 'War on Christmas' proves, it's not Americans who are beset on all sides, but Christian Americans, and, I would argue, White Christian Americans. Those of us who are not Christian, or who are gay, Liberal, or have the wrong pigmentation, are left wondering: Whose country is this? Hitler manipulated the German nation with the tools of fear and hate for many years before becoming its Führer. He had a simple message for his people: you are great, superior to all others; what keeps you down are those who are different. The Jews. The gays. Socialists, Liberals, Communists. Foes that live among us. It has become unfashionable to draw parallels between the rise of Nazism and present day America. Some folks think it's a non-starter, something which silences further debate (see Law, Godwin's). I think it's a conversation we must have if we are to avoid any further movement into Nationalist America. For example, we should consider whether September 11, 2001 was our Reichstag Fire. Let's ignore the many domestic conspiracy theories, and assume the official version of events is wholly accurate. Nevertheless, 9/11 led to the Patriot Act, our version of the Reichstag Fire Decree. As a Jewish kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, I lived and breathed the Holocaust. I was taught -- no, that's putting it lightly. I was lectured to, berated, shaken like a rag doll, and made to never forget that we must never forget. Remember Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Can't happen in America? Remember the Japanese internment camps. Remember Guantanamo. My wife, Karen, has a chilling angle on all of this: the Nazi analogy is inappropriate because Bush's America isn't all that different from business as usual. Compare President John Adams's Alien and Sedition Acts to President Bush's recent actions; we haven't come very far since 1798. Add to that our record vis a vis American Indians, immigrant Asians in the West, slavery, post-Civil War oppression of black Americans, and the abuses under Joseph McCarthy, and Bush & Co. begin to take their appropriate place in American history. Unfortunately, Americans are poorly educated in American history, never mind world history. It is no accident that our children's education lags way behind other developed nations. It makes it that much easier to write propaganda. D. Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Various and Sundry

The lovely and Demented Michelle is giving away two signed copies of Maureen McHugh's Mothers and Other Monsters. Hurry on over and throw your name into the virtual hat. Thanks to Blue Gal for cluing me in that the faux Alan Rickman and Mel Gibson now have competition from the Pope himself. Go, Joey the Ratz! Think I'll ask Professor Snape to go say hi, and Bare Rump, too, if she's up to it. (Note added: done and done. They both replied to His Holiness's Holy Sweat post.) In the last few days, Fanatic Cook has written several fine posts about the value of omega-3 fatty acids and the hazards of getting them from fish, mercury levels in fish and shellfish, and alternate sources of omega-3s. Since one of my New Years resolutions is to lose weight and eat healthier, I greatly appreciated Fanatic's posts. As long as I'm in "public service announcement" mode, please be on the lookout for the following wanted criminal. If you decide to attempt a citizen's arrest, please be warned: he doesn't go anywhere without a small army of dark-suited thugs. From glassgiant.com. D.

Early for Valentine's Day, but I'm not complaining

Coming soon from fabu romance publishing company Glassgiant.com: Gee -- thanks, Kate! It's only fair to mention that Kate found the site from Merry. By the way, as flattered as I am to have Summer write a whole novel about me, I'm not sure I understand the back cover. At least I'm still above Creationists. D.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Woo-hoo! I totally rock with the ladies!

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Via Tamboblog. Think about it. You always knew I was Kirk. Consider the similarities: Kirk: wears a hairpiece. Doug: needs a hairpiece. Kirk: prefers to be the center of attention. Doug: ditto. Kirk: hammy enough to appear with Ricardo Montalban and still be the hammiest actor present. Doug: in first grade, I owned the role of Chicken Little. (Shaking fist: "Skyyyyyyy!") Kirk: made women, humans and green-skinned aliens alike, melt out of their spandex costumes. Doug: just give me a chance! Yeah, I could go on. D.

Thursday Thirteen, a day late

Thirteen Things about Doug
1. For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty distinguishing Thursday from Friday. 2. I also had trouble telling my left from my right. My usual response was, "What difference does it make?" Fortunately, I learned the difference before becoming a surgeon. 3. I named my first frog Cyrus Molybdenum. 4. By the end of third grade, I had memorized the symbols for all of the chemical elements (103, at the time). Despite this Badge of Extreme Geekdom, I still had lots of friends. 5. My grandfather, a Polish immigrant, claimed he'd been born with horns. He often showed me the scars. He also claimed he kept a monkey in the attic, but would never let me see him. 6. Pre-1970, my favorite film was Mysterious Island. I can imitate giant bee noises to this very day. 7. At age two, I developed my first crush on an older woman. She was six, and I kept losing to her when we played King of the Hill. She wouldn't let me stand at the top of the hill, ever. Bitch. 8. The first dirty joke I ever learned was the Gomer Pyle joke. Gomer: Daisy Mae, can I put my finger in your belly button? Daisy Mae: Why, sho you may, Gomer! Dramatic pause. Daisy Mae: Gomer! That ain't my belly button! Gomer: Well, surprise, surprise! That ain't my finger! Yes, the exclamation points are all necessary. 9. In the early years of elementary school, with the Apollo missions all the rage, I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up. Astronaut was the conventional response. Later, after I'd read a bit of science fiction, I decided I wanted to be a cryobiologist. Nobody knew what that word meant, and that was cool. 10. I used to fantasize about the Men in Black long before it became fashionable. Sinister men in dark suits and sunglasses would appear one day in our school's auditorium and whisper things to our principal. He would say, "Doug Hoffman? Can you come to the front of the room?" and I would comply. "These men say you're extremely important to our nation's security," he'd say quietly to me. "They want you to leave with them." And I'd say, "Heck, yeah!" This was well before the era of extreme rendition. 11. I also had sexual fantasies long before I knew a thing about sex. In one, I stood on a pier and noticed that the Girl of My Dreams was drowning. I jumped off the pier, rescued her, and carried her dripping body back to shore. She would revive in my arms and say, "Oh, you are so special." The End. The fact that I didn't know how to swim never entered into it. I was special, after all. 12. I haven't wet the bed since age two, I never set fires, and I never tortured any animals, large or small (unless you count tormenting red ants). I am thus better qualified to be President than George W. Bush. 13. And yet I have never, ever fantasized about becoming President of the United States.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens! 1. (leave your link in comments, I’ll add you here!)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here! The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Editing: How I do it

Believe it or not, one of y'all emailed me questions about writing. Me. The guy who has only published stories in e-zines and one, ONE, print mag, Continuum. I felt flattered, and more than a little like a charlatan, but then I remembered how many books I have picked up and put down because of inferior writing. Why should I have to be a published author to pontificate, when so many published authors so clearly suck at their craft? And I mean suck. Not naming any names, mind you. Then I realized: in surgery, we do this all the time. Folks with no academic experience whatsoever publish "How I Do It" articles, because the rest of us enjoy reading about a different perspective. You don't have to be Josef McBlough, III, PhD, MD from Haaaahvaaaahd to write one of these articles, and in fact, none of us private practice guys would listen to Joe McBlough because we all know he has residents to Do It. He couldn't take a tonsil out to save his soul. Before I launch into the How I Do It portion of our program, don't forget to check out PBW's Ten Things for Editing Novels, which includes links to Holly Lisle's articles, and PBW's article, too (her method is close to mine, with a few neurotic quirks on my part . . . more below). I haven't read all of those articles, by the way, and I'm not sure I will. (Frankly, Elizabeth Lyon's Can Your Novel Pass this Test? made me want to scream by question #2.) But, at least now you have a quickie link to other resources. By the way, don't forget to buy Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This is one of my most-thumbed resource books. But back to my favorite subject (as Maureen likes to point out), me. How am I editing a 306,000 word manuscript? I never meant it to be that big. Really. I blocked it out on three-by-five cards, wrote out a modestly detailed outline (by chapters, not by scene), began writing, and promptly strayed from the outline. Halfway through the novel, I felt like Wile E. Coyote did when he raced out past the cliff's edge, paused, and realized gravity had something to say about all of this. With my ending riveted in my brain -- without that, I would have gotten lost -- I plunged on, trusting my muse, and she didn't fail me.
Edit as you go
I'll never be able to write a "fast and dirty" rough draft. Misspellings, grammatical errors, tortured sentences, and even repeated words caused me physical pain. Once I noticed them, they HAD to be fixed. I reread every chapter after it was written, but by the time I'd finished the chapter, most of the basic errors were gone. Most of 'em never found their way onto the page in the first place.
Notes, notes, notes
As I wrote the first draft, problems surfaced which I knew had to be corrected. For the most part, I kept a To Do list for these items. In some cases, however, the problems were so irritating I had to go back and fix them NOW, DAMN IT! because the muse insisted. Lots of folks will tell you this is bad, that you must work through until you are done and then go back to the earlier material. I'm telling you different: it's far worse to piss off the muse.
Write for an audience
This may have nothing to do with editing, but it has everything to do with my method. I had a real, live audience for this novel, folks who stayed with me to the very end. Knowing that I had to keep them interested forced me to focus on narrative drive and a steady increase in tension. My audience kept me writing through the dark times. If I failed, I'd be disappointing more than just me. Jona, for one, would fly across the pond and do unspeakable things to me.
Before the first read-through
Working from my notes, I fixed what I thought were all of the major problems. Done, right? Hah!
The first read-through
I got twelve different-colored highlighters . . . Just kidding. I worked from a hard copy and corrected as I read, circling problems, writing notes here, there, and everywhere. I kept a new log of Major Problems (65 of 'em, at last count*) which I did not try to fix right away. I tried to identify consistency issues, which scenes I would slash, which scenes were missing, what didn't work, and what could work better.
The second read-through
That's where I am right now. Simultaneously, I work from the edited hard copy, and I read/edit on the computer. I call this a read-through because yes, I really do read everything (I'm not just skipping down to the next circled word or underlined sentence). I correct the 65 Major Problems as I go, but I also keep my eyes open for new problems I may have missed the first time through. Yes, I realize I could edit this to death, but I promise you: this is the last read-through. Ach, I'm tired. I'd tell you what comes next, but I haven't made it there yet. Wish me luck. D. *These vary from the trivial to the complex. For example: 39. Naka hunt: keep all the numbers straight! 44. Think about where to break into separate novels. 45. Change Mora's name at the end (the janitor). That #44, man. It's a bitch.

Breakfast sausage

. . . the kind that come in links. Pat brings us a spectacular link from the Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA. So many beautiful images here, I don't know where to begin. Make sure you check out the Cat's Eye Nebula. Here's the Orion Nebula (per the site, okay for public use provided we give attribution to STSci/ESA): In case you missed yesterday's discussion in the comments, Mel Gibson is threatening to sue Mel Gibson. Head on over there and offer your support -- and advice, too, if you happen to be a lawyer. Jesus' General has lent a helping hand by reprinting a letter from an Angel of the Lord (Avenging, First Class) to the real Mel. Seems Jesus is none too happy with The Passion, and when Jesus is unhappy . . . firedoglake gives us the latest in Bill O'Reilly photoshopping goodness. Think Chippendale's. Have you missed the fuss over Kate O'Beirne's book, Women Who Make the World Worse? Ms. (I just know she would love that Ms.) O'Beirne's diatribe against feminism is taking it in the pink lace panties over at Amazon thanks to the efforts of Jesus' General, Crooks and Liars, firedoglake, and others. Even the New York Times Book Review (Ana Marie Cox in the January 15 NYTBR) slammed her book, although politely: Feminism isn't always pretty (see: underarm hair). Without it, however, Kate O'Beirne would have been unlikely to have this book published -- and most women would not have their own money to waste on it. Guess I should try and get some work done today. Don't forget to watch Jon Stewart's and Ed Helms's taint routine over at Crooks and Liars, and if you missed my post yesterday on Fractales, scroll down a few centimeters and keep reading. D.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fractales: the ending (and rules)

Flora held the Critter Keeper up to her eyes, shook the cage, and clucked softly. “Li’l feller’s kinda cute.” “Not a chance,” said Bob. He peeled back the foil from his Big Mac and polished off the burger in five bites. In the Critter Keeper, only a pink smudge remained. “You can try again,” said Flora. He patted his hands against his belly. “Yeah, better luck next time. So, Skinny -- how would you like to make love to a fat man?” Her mouth twitched into a smile. “You mean it?” “I’ve been itching to see you in that Cat Woman outfit for the last three weeks.” “You got a deal, Doughboy,” Flora said, and plastered him with sloppy kisses.
In case anyone's curious, these are the last 119 words of my short story "Sprouts," which hasn't sold, and is currently not out for consideration. I reserve the right to publish my own version of the story, which I completed in February 2005.
The Rules
1. Read the whole story chain before deciding how you wish to continue the story backwards. 2. Write however many words you please describing what happens before this snippet. I recommend 150 words or less. 3. Post your contribution on your blog. At the end of your contribution, write "Read what happens next!" (or something similar) and hyperlink it to this blog entry. 4. Cut and paste these rules to the end of your blog entry. It's that easy!
For those of you who are coming on board at the very beginning, rule #1 is irrelevant. If you've read this far, you've read the whole story. You'll notice I'm not tagging anyone, nor am I giving you a "tag so-many people" rule. If this is a crappy idea, I'd like it to die a natural death, without me flogging it along. Besides, if other folks think this idea is fun, it should take off on its own power -- like the blonde joke. Ready, set, go! D.

Fractales: here's the idea.

Image produced using DavW's fractal tree generator -- cool toy!
Remember that dumb blonde joke? It led me to realize the power of the internet*. As blog memes go, the blonde joke possessed humor, originality, and minimal sting to its host -- all you had to do was post a bloody link, for heaven's sake, and rave about the joke. Easy**. Consequently, like any catchy meme, it spread like wildfire. But what did that meme produce? A single joke. I thought: you know, with a little extra effort, we might have had our own version of the Aristocrats gag, but it wouldn't have been one joke -- it would have been hundreds of them. Thousands. What we ought to do is tell a story. Tell a million of 'em. It will be just like a story chain, only we need to start at the end, not the beginning. If you think about that fractal tree image, you'll see the logic in this, since folks will want to follow the story forwards, not backwards. If we (the writers) work backwards, your audience will get to read the story forwards. Of course, some of them will want to add to the story, and they will do so by continuing the backwards writing process. I'm going to call this a fractale. Catchy, eh?*** This meme may die a cold, lonely death, but what do we have to lose? Go on, do it! Leave your mark on the tree. Above, I will post the end of the story and the rules of the game. The rest is up to you. D. *No, really. Why must you always assume I'm joking? **Not like some memes that ask you to name one hundred things you want to do before you die, your one hundred most favoritest songs, and so forth. "Item 99: I would like to finish this meme before I die." ***A cursory google tells me that 'fractale' is French for 'fractal.' I don't see anyone else using the term in this fashion.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Smell the taint

I haven't blogged about sex in ages. Kate has shamed me into it. Blame her. Jon Stewart had me in tears tonight. He played straight man to Ed Helms's extended double entendre on the 'taint in Washington.' If I can find a link to the video tomorrow, I'll post it here.
Here it is, at Crooks and Liars. Enjoy the taint -- it's there to give you pleasure, after all. Hmm? What's the taint? Oh, you know what the taint is -- it's the gooch, the durf, the chode, the grundel. Must I explain everything? By the way: if the odd hand gesture at the end of that skit looked unfamiliar to you, don't check the Urban Dictionary for shocker, especially if you're the kind of person who is easily offended by graphic descriptions of off-the-beaten-track sexual practices. I'm warning you, don't do it. And if you do, I can't be held accountable.
In other breaking news, CNN.com reports that an African grey parrot cued his owner in to the fact that his girlfriend had cheated on him with a guy named Gary: The African grey parrot kept squawking "I love you, Gary" as his owner, Chris Taylor, sat with girlfriend Suzy Collins on the sofa of their shared flat in Leeds, northern England.

But when Taylor saw Collins's embarrassed reaction, he realized she had been having an affair -- meeting her lover in the flat whilst Ziggy looked on, the UK's Press Association reported.

Ziggy even mimicked Collins's voice each time she answered her telephone, calling out "Hiya Gary," according to newspaper reports.

Having sex with some other guy in her #1 boyfriend's flat? That is low. No wonder Chris Taylor has made certain that everyone else in Leeds (and the world) will know, and tremble at, the name SUZY COLLINS.

Can you tell I ain't got bupkes tonight? Feeling cruddy, whine, whine. All I want is to take a shower and go lie down. See you tomorrow, fiends. D.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sheila gets medieval on my . . .

Blog. What did you think I was going to say? Thanks to PBW's liberal use of pliers and a blow torch, I hunkered down and did a good bit of editing today. I'm one chapter away from finishing the edit on book one, but that sounds like I'm closer than I really am. I still have the task of turning this into a stand-alone novel. That means either adding scenes or tweaking scenes to give book one at least a partial sense of closure. And that means finding resonance at every opportunity, and loading it into my final chapters. In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein devotes a whole chapter to resonance. He doesn't provide much of a definition: Resonance is a term borrowed from the world of music, where it means a prolonged response attributable to vibration. In writing it has come to mean an aura of significance beyond the components of a story. Stein gives examples of different ways of giving your work resonance: . . . by names, by reference to religious sources, by naming the parts of a book, by the use of aphorisms and epigraphs, and ideally by the writing itself, by the writer's skillful use of similes and metaphors. Perhaps I'm using the term incorrectly, but for me, resonance is an echo. Something in the novel makes me resonate -- perhaps by the techniques Stein lists, but more often through the author's use of repetition. Thoughts, dreams, lines of dialogue, and imagery introduced in the novel's earliest scenes reappear near the end, horribly, tragically altered*. For example, John le Carre used it to great effect in Absolute Friends. In the chapter I edited today (book one's penultimate chapter), I used a myth to achieve resonance (I hope). The night is a dome of blinding white light, but we see only darkness, for the sky is full of the shadows of those who came before us. Starlight peeks through between their crowded forms. Only on a moonless, windless night, can you hear their wings rustling**. My character has heard this all his life from his mother and father, but he never believed it. When tragedy befalls him, everything changes: Flying eastwards, he fought to keep his eyes open. Every time he closed them, the rustling noise built to a furious crescendo. Mother, Father? I hear them now. I hear their wings. You were wrong about the night sky. Any darkness will do. Chokes me up every time. Remains to be seen what it will do to the rest of you. Resonance by repetition may be a magic trick, but it's charged with power. Closure by return. If I do a respectable job of it, my readers will feel that sense of completeness even when faced with one whopping great cliffhanger. D. *That assumes you are writing tragedy. Comedy need not work so hard, but those of you who read Terry Pratchett might agree with me that his strongest novels are the ones which harbor, if not a grain of tragedy, then at least a bushel of poignancy: Night Watch, Feet of Clay . . . **These characters are intelligent black birds. Guess I should have mentioned that earlier, eh?

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968

The Seattle Times has a huge feature, including student essays, civil rights quizzes, and a time line. Better, though -- shorter, punchier, and more moving -- is ReddHedd's tribute at firedoglake. Read it. It's impossible for me to disconnect my liberal-self from my writer-self, and so, as I read firedoglake's quotes from Dr. King, I can't help but admire the strength and beauty of MLK's writing. Parallelism is a powerful tool. I can only think of one other writer who lives on in this ethereal plane: Winston Churchill, who used parallelism, command of the language, and wit to make his point. D.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Note to self:

. . . put this guy on your blogroll. And not just because he posts about spider-sex. It's because I still have a thang for Lois. D.

Wish he could have been my writing coach . . .

Here's Nathanael West, author of Miss Lonelyhearts, The Day of the Locust, A Cool Million, and The Dream Life of Balso Snell, writing about writing: Forget the epic, the master work. In America fortunes do not accumulate, the soil does not grow, families have no history. Leave slow growth to the book reviewers, you only have time to explode. Remember William Carlos Williams' description of the pioneer women who shot their children against the wilderness like cannonballs. Do the same with your novels.
-From Some Notes on Miss L., in the Library of America collection.
Some writers* provide the know-how you need to get the job done; others, like West in this passage, or like John Gardner in The Art of Fiction, light a fire under your ass and demand that you get the job done. Both are useful. Right now, two days into my three-day weekend and not a single page edited, I'd take the pyromaniac over the technician. That's why I'm reading and rereading West's war cry. West and his wife Eileen died in a car accident in 1940. West was 37. D. *Writers who write about writing. Eh, you know what I mean.

Name dropping

Okay, be honest: how often do you google yourself? I suppose I have a gargantuan ego, but it's a house built two stories too high, with umpteen code violations, termites in all the major supporting posts, and a cracked foundation. Thus, I think I've only googled myself a handful of times, and only to find out how easy it would be for old friends to find me. Because, you know, I want to be found. Google Douglas Hoffman, and top dude on this list is this Maui photographer. (Now, why couldn't I have thought of that? Sigh.) That Doug also takes the number two spot, and number three is a software guy. Of the next seven entries on page one, I have three. Okay -- so if my old pals google Douglas Hoffman, they shouldn't have much trouble finding me. Google Doug Hoffman, and the top dude is this race car driver. Okay, I'm glad I'm not that Doug Hoffman, even though I'll bet he has lots of groupies. Groupies are a Good Thing. Anyway, further down the list we see lots and lots of Doug Hoffmans that aren't me, including this really cool artist's website (check it out!) I show up near the bottom of page two, and again near the top of page three. Even if my old pals are googling Doug Hoffman, they would have to have an exceptionally tiny degree of resolve to miss me. I have to conclude that none of my old pals are looking for me. (Well, one of my friends from high school found me through this blog, and I've been bad about getting back in touch with him. I realized I didn't have much to say to him, and couldn't work up the desire to call.) I've decided I need to be more proactive. I'm going to hope some of you folks are out there googling yourselves. You'll find your way to this post, and then you'll stop in and say hi. Here are the folks I'd like to hear from: Sharon Albright. Best circulating nurse ever. Sorry, Sutter Coast nurses, it had to be said. When you see a nurse respond to gunshot wound after gunshot wound quickly, efficiently, without ever breaking a sweat, you build up a lot of respect. Besides that, Sharon Albright and I go way back to kindergarten. Old friends don't get any older than that. Jackie Smith. Remembering how you looked in 9th grade, I'll bet you became one hawt adult. Jackie falls under the category of Exceptionally Beautiful Girls Who Were Nice To Me And Didn't Have To Be. Lilli Sznaper. My on again, off again crush, Seventh through Ninth Grades. I'd like to know that you're okay. Sue Youmans. I never got you back for this, but it's never too late to try. Lest you think I only miss the women, here are the guys I'd like to hear from. My elementary school friends: Dan Baudino, Frank Howarth, and Jim Fonte. Even though I sucked at sports, and they were all about sports, they still liked me. My best friend from junior high and ninth grade, Bob Dean. We lost touch soon after I changed high schools. I hope you're doing well, Bob. Mike Imlay -- did you ever become a priest? Fellow scholars Brian Oherin and Kevin Wolf. Brian Oherin and I took informal Russian lessons from Mr. Grindell. Kevin Wolf and I go way back to kindergarten. I know you became a podiatrist, but I don't know much more than that. If I've forgotten anyone, I'm sorry. (But you won't find this post by googling your name, so there!) In case you have trouble remembering me, I used to be this guy: D. PS: I'm taking down the Michelle Malkin post. No one has complained. It's just . . . oh, heavens. She is too hideous to look at. Every time I pop open my blog and see her there, it makes me sick. I have to take it down.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Do you miss Candid Camera?

Arkansas Gal at YesButNoButYes brings us this clip from the Jay Leno Show. If your computer can handle a hefty video, check it out. Here's the set-up: a photo booth at Universal Studios offers free portraits, provided you follow the Control Voice's instructions. The old Candid Camera had a cruel streak. It was the Fear Factor of its day. This skit, on the other hand, mines humor from the quirks of human nature, and only stoops to cruelty once or twice. . . . Or maybe three or four times. Depends on your definition of cruelty. D.