An Ism

Odd how ethnocentrism (and other isms) can sneak into your thought processes and whap you upside the head.

Case in point: I was thinking about my favorite movies recently, and realized they had something in common.

Let me digress for a moment. My favorite movies fluctuate. My all-time favorite changes frequently, though it’s usually one of three, and I’d have a hard time coming up with a top ten list, because I don’t see enough movies to have collected that many that stay with me.

But, back to the point. Those top three actually have a fair amount in common. They’re all filled with digressions, and to a great extent they depend on an ensemble cast for their success. What struck me the other day is another similarity I hadn’t considered before. In a way, they’re all road movies.

Cold Fever is a weird Icelandic/Japanese road movie–in fact, it was billed as the “best Icelandic-Japanese road movie of 1995.” Yeah, that was done as a bit of a joke, but that’s beside the point. Everything happens on the way somewhere; the destination is almost irrelevant.

Tampopo is a weird Japanese road movie. Or, from one perspective at least, a movie about the road. Two of the main characters are truckers. Many of the diversions are related to the road, trains, or travel.

And Return of the Secaucus Seven is a weird little film full of comings and goings, travelings to and from, and even a nod to going around and around at the race track.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to call the latter two road movies, but there’s a theme there. Maybe not enough for a dissertation, but a dedicated critic in desperate need of an article could make something of it.

But, to get back to the original point of this post, did you catch the ism? Yup. “Icelandic/Japanese movie,” “Japanese movie,” “film”. Despite what Hollywood would prefer you to think, film is hardly a uniquely American creation, nor is American cinema the root stock from which all other countries have sprouted as twigs.

The mode of thought that says “the way we do it here is the only correct way,” is the cause of far too many problems. It’s disheartening to trip over it in one’s own thoughts.

Those Guys Again

All is not sweetness and light around the Backyard Bowl.

We put the food out for the cats, and we don’t particularly begrudge the occasional possum who drops by. They’re generally polite and usually only take a couple of mouthfulls of krunchiez.

Then there are the trash pandas.

They are not polite. They track mud in the water bowl. They empty the bowls and then shove them around looking for more food. And they’re arrogant. The stroll around and give us dirty looks as though they’re the property owners and we’re a bunch of ragged squatters. And the language they use! Well!

So it’s a great day when we catch them off guard and force them to tree themselves.

17-1

There was much rejoicing that day.

Feeling Lucky?

It’s raining here. I say this, not to evoke sympathy–after all, I’m inside, warm and dry–but to set the stage.

Rain is coming down, and Casey is under-caffeinated. A messy combination that usually leaves me staring out of the window at the rain instead of doing what I should, i.e. writing a blog post.

There’s a soggy crow on the nearest street light, an even soggier deer halfway up the hill across the road, and what looks like the paper wrapper from a fast food burger disappearing around the corner.

This is all fascinating when I need to make another mug of tea.

Suddenly, my idyll is interrupted. An unmarked white van pulls up across the street. No more than three seconds pass before the driver, who’s wearing a dark-colored hoodie with the hood up, leaps out and takes a single step toward the house.

He hurls something over the front fence, frisbee-style. Before the object touches down, the driver is back in his van and halfway down the street, chasing the hamburger wrapper.

Folks, earlier this week four people were shot less than a block away from here. The police believe they were targeted, but say they have no suspects and no motive.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I got the hell away from the window.

I waited a couple of minutes, and when nothing had gone boom, I figured it wasn’t a bomb and went to investigate.

Turned out to be small padded envelope decorated with the Amazon logo. Considerately, it had been wrapped in a large plastic bag to protect it from the rain. I’m fairly sure it isn’t explosive.

I’m not about to open it. Not because I think I might be wrong about its explosive properties, but because it’s addressed to Maggie. But it’s sitting on the dining room table. Who knows what it might do half an hour from now?

I hadn’t realized I was this nervous.

But, sleepy paranoia aside, the situation is ridiculous, and not in a humorous way. In today’s restive–I might even say “hair-triggered”–environment, how many people would have taken a shot at the driver? “I was scared! It could have been a bomb!”

How long will it be before someone does disguise an explosive device in an Amazon box?

Gig economy drivers are even less visible than salaried, uniformed drivers in trucks bearing corporate logos.

It’s a hell of a murder method. You don’t need to shell out for anything but a box: no uniform, no rented truck. And, unlike a mail bomb, you’ve got complete control over when it gets delivered.

Like Herding Cats is going out to the beta readers nowish. Maybe I should take advantage of my time away from it to write something cheerful. (Which is not to say LHC is a depressing book, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns either.)

But I can’t believe this hasn’t happened yet.

Feeling lucky?

SAST 09

With just a tiny bit of luck, this will be the last Short Attention Span Theater for a while. Barring unexpected events, Like Herding Cats will go out to the beta readers this week and I’ll be able to stop stripping my mental transmission by jumping back and forth among writing, re-writing, and copy-editing.

Which brings me to the first production on today’s program. I could use another beta reader. Now, before you immediately deluge me in requests, let me remind you what beta reading is and is not.

It is not an opportunity to read a book before anyone else. Well, okay, it is, but it’s also a requirement that you read the book critically. I’m not looking for “Hey, great book. I love it!” I want to know what doesn’t work. To that end, along with the book, beta readers get a laundry list of questions like, “Were all of the plot twists properly supported, or was there a point where somebody acted out of character in order to change the story’s direction?” and “Were there any jokes that just didn’t work for you?”

I don’t expect every reader to answer every question, but these are the things I need to know to make the book better, so the more you can answer–and especially, the more faults you find–the happier I’ll be. I want beta readers to find the problems, not agents and editors!

Still interested? There’s one more qualification: you must be familiar with modern urban fantasy, by which I mean you’ve read several works in the field which were published within the past five years. “Several” means “more than one, and by more than one author”.

If you’re still interested, drop me an email. Do NOT apply via a comment on the post, by Facebook Messenger, or by Twitter reply. Thank you.

Moving on.

And, speaking of jobs, I got a weird offer in email recently.

We bought our car from a dealership, and we take it in for maintenance every six months. They’ve got my email address because I like getting a reminder that it’s time for the next visit and because they send out occasional special offers. Yeah, imagine that, advertising done right: opt-in.

So then I got this latest note from them. “Join our team!” says the subject line. Uh-huh. Job listings. And not just sales positions. They’re looking for a mechanic and for a person to check cars in and out of the service department.

Apparently they consider recruiting to be a type of advertising. The email has their boilerplate at the bottom reminding me that I opted-in to receive occasional ads.

I find it slightly amusing, but also more than a trifle creepy. Imagine if the idea catches on. “Hey, I hope you liked the espresso you bought last week. How would you like to be a barista?” “Thanks for making your last credit card payment on time. Wanna join our team? We’ve got openings in the boiler room calling the deadbeats whose payments haven’t come in.”

There’s a place for everything–and that’s not the place for job postings.

Next time I take the car for maintenance, I’ll ask how many job applicants the email generated–and firmly request they remove my name from that list.

Moving on.

It appears our cats know there’s a place for everything. And once in a while, they take a vacation from playing “Gravity’s Little Helper” to put things in the right place.
14-cmf
We’ve taught them that fish comes in cans. So yes, that’s the current incarnation of Mr. Mousiefish, carefully place in a gooshy fud can–presumably so he can be eaten later.

Moving on.

14-psps
I can’t decide if this is so meta it’s hilarious or so clich√© it’s painful. Though I lean toward the latter.

Joe, ya shouldn’ta oughta done it.

House Work

We’re having a little pre-Winter work done on the house. It involves the usual construction noises: hammering, sawing, and the occasional random crash/thud.
10-1
Most of the cats have been conspicuous by their absence.

Watanuki takes his position as Head of Security seriously. He may look a little crazed, but by Bast, he’s on the job.
10-2
A little more crazed than usual, that is.

There’s always one weirdo in the bunch, though.
10-3
Somebody who shrugs and says, “Wake me up when it’s dinner time.”

SAST 08

First things first. Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, this blog is intended to showcase and sell my writing. That means you’re going to get an occasional commercial message.

I’ll be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento on Saturday, November 18. There’s no plan for a formal book signing, but the festival store will have copies of The RagTime Traveler, and I’ll be happy to sign them.

Moving on.

Thanks to everyone who voted Tuesday. As I’ve said before, here and elsewhere, we elect people to represent our interests, and elections are how we tell them what our interests are.

Or–to put it in terms the current administration should understand, given their focus on business–elections are their annual review, where we, the employers, tell them how well or poorly they’re doing their job, and what the prospects are for a raise next year.

Tuesday’s election suggests that they’re running a solid “Failed to Meet Expectations” and even a cost of living adjustment is iffy.

My Google News feed is still toxic, but at least I feel like someone’s distributing hazmat suits.

Moving on.

The other big news Tuesday was, regrettably, the death of Roy Halladay.

I’ll admit up front I didn’t know him or follow his career. But by everything I can see, he was one of the good guys, on the field and off.

“Any man’s death diminishes me,” and Mr. Halladay’s death diminishes us all more than most. I love to see anyone, especially someone as visible as Mr. Halladay, working to help others. He was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award multiple times during his playing days, and he continued his charitable work after his retirement.

And finally, just to end on a cheerier note, I see that Pope Francis has banned the sale of cigarettes at the Vatican. The statement announcing the move says “the Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people.”

It’s interesting that he didn’t also ban the sale of alcohol, but I still like the tobacco ban. I don’t support a world-wide total ban on tobacco products–prohibition doesn’t work–but if this is the first step in a program to encourage Catholics to give up smoking, it’s an idea I can get behind.

How Cheery

You know, back in the old days, if I didn’t have a clue what to blog about, I could always count on Google. The top searches were an almost guaranteed source of inspiration. And on the rare occasions where that didn’t help, Google News filled the gap.

But that was in the long-ago, happy days of 2015.

Now, not so much.

Google News is a disgusting pool of mass shootings, nuclear dick-waving, racism, sexism, climate change denial, and petty aggravations elevated to the level of national disasters.

And the top searches aren’t much better. As I write this, Number One, the only search term to top 100,000 searches is “Sia”. Apparently, someone is trying to sell nude photos of the singer–so she’s giving away her own nudes to depress the market. Oh, and to advertise her upcoming album of Christmas songs.

How inspirational.

Other uplifting items from the top ten:

Elizabeth Smart is filming the story of her kidnapping.

Kristina Cohen has gone public with rape allegations against Ed Westwick.

A shuttle bus driver in Texas has been arrested for shooting at a co-worker.

The third “Fifty Shades” movie is coming out in February.

The only thing that gives me any hope is that people are searching for election-related information. “Voting Day 2017” and “Where Do I Vote” are both in the top ten searches.

Please, if there’s an election today where you live–there isn’t one in my county–get out there and vote. Send a message that the world needs fixing.

So I can find something in the news we can share a laugh about.

Expressions

Rhubarb may be the house champion at loxing out, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. But Yuki’s no novice at relaxation either.

Ever see a puddle of floof?
03-1If he was any more relaxed, we’d need to squeegee him out of the carpet.

That wasn’t an easy picture to take, by the way. Somebody has decided that if pictures are going to be taken, there’s only one possible subject.

So I got a lot of shots like this:
03-2And that’s actually one of the best shots of Yuki.¬† Most of them have a substantial portion of his body hidden by Rufus’ butt.

Don’t believe me when I say he’s doing it on purpose?

Is there any other interpretation of this expression than “how can you cheat on me with another cat?”
03-3

Darkness Descends

Two thirds correct, but it’s that remaining thirty-three and a third percent that’s the important part.

So, yeah, as I said Tuesday, I did predict one of the two World Series teams. Unfortunately for my reputation as a scientific prognosticator, that team was the Dodgers. I also correctly called them as the ultimate losers.

Oh, heck, I’ll even give myself credit for predicting a “tight, high scoring, seven game World Series”. Game Five aside, it wasn’t that high-scoring, but it certainly was tight, and it did go seven games. Call it an overall seventy percent success rate.

But in the final analysis, I picked the Twins to win it all. Yeah, the Twins. The team who squeezed into the playoffs as the second AL Wild Card and proceeded to get slaughtered by the (pfui!) Yankees.

It was a great series, even if it didn’t get extended to nine or more games. And, despite the disappointment of the fans of the twenty-nine teams that didn’t win the World Series–especially the twenty teams that didn’t even make the playoffs–it was a good year. Because even a year of losing baseball is better than a year of no baseball.

Onward into the Great Darkness.

Free agents can begin signing with any team next week. The Winter Meetings are next month. Spring Training is about three and a half months away. And Opening Day is March 29.

Interesting note: Every team’s first game will be on Opening Day in 2018, thanks in large part to the Players’ Association bargaining for a few more off days during the season. That might make my job of predicting the winners a little easier. Not more accurate, mind you, but easier.

In any case, we do have a few baseball matters to occupy ourselves with during those long stretches of No Baseball. Aside from the usual “What’s Manfred going to do to ‘make the game more exciting’?” discussions, it’s beginning to look like expansion is a real possibility.

There are a lot of potential advantages to adding one team to each league, not the least of which is the chance to realign the divisions. Nobody seems to think keeping the current three divisions in each league is a great idea; that would mean two five-team divisions and one six-team division. Awkward.

So the hottest discussion in baseball right now (after whether the ball has changed) is whether to go with two eight-team or four four-team divisions.

I’ll have more to say about expansion and realignment later, but it’s sure going to be nice to have a distraction from arguments over computerized umpires calling balls and strikes.

SAST 07

Happy Halloween!

We’re not planning to give out any candy this year–although we do have a couple of emergency bags in case someone shows up despite our best efforts to look like we’re not home.

There’s no particular reason we’re being anti-social, just a general lack of holiday spirit.

Beyond that, I am a little distracted at the moment. I’m neck deep in the third draft of Like Herding Cats–I’m hoping to finish before Thanksgiving–and I’m starting to run into the places where I got lazy in Draft 2. See, Draft 2 is written with a pen. On paper. So if I need to add a lengthy stretch of new text, I’ll often just make a note to myself: [Hey, Fred needs to explain why painting City Hall blue was a good idea.]

It’s not that I don’t know why it was a good idea. I just don’t want to have to read and transcribe half a page of my scribbles. And so I defer it to Draft 3, which gets done on the computer.

The downside is that it’s kind of like freeway driving at rush hour in a car with a manual transmission. Cruising along at twenty mph, transcribing the Draft 2 changes. Come to a complete halt while I check my notes–was it robin’s egg blue or sapphire blue–and then creep along at ten mph while I write the scene.

And then get off two exits down the road and circle back because I just came up with a great line that has to go into the new scene.

Anyway, distraction. So you get a bit of a Short Attention Span Theater for Halloween.

Moving on.

Am I the only person out there who got a scam spam of the 419 type from “Jeff Sessions Attorney General” recently?

I know the Trump administration is, shall we say, a trifle challenged, ethically-speaking. But really, Jeff, there are faster, easier, and–dare I say it–even legaler methods to separate fools from their money.

Now, you may say it’s probably not Mr. Sessions sending out these letters, and you’re probably right. Perhaps it’s some flunky in the Justice Department trying to curry favor–or line his pockets at the boss’ expense.

But there’s an more likely explanation. Read the letter I got:

Now ask yourself: who in the current administration is well-known for cranking out dozens of grammatically-suspect, logic-deficient electronic missives in the middle of the night?

Yup.

Donald, put down your phone and go play golf.

Moving on.

A sneak peek at Thursday’s final summation of how I did in predicting the playoffs: I got one of the two World Series teams right. Go, me!

As others have pointed out, it’s far too soon to anoint this the Best! World! Series! Ever! But it’s not too early to say it’s been a great one so far. Close games, mostly not decided until the final inning. Lots of home runs, some interesting strategic decisions to argue about, and a fascinating sideshow in the Yuli Gurriel and Bruce Maxwell stories.

We’re getting Game Six tonight and, if the Dodgers do us a solid, Game Seven tomorrow.

But.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having so much fun with this series, I don’t think even seven games will be enough. I’m hereby petitioning Commissioner Manfred to extend the World Series to twenty-three games. If we alternate two games in each city with a travel day in between, that’ll wrap it up with Game Twenty-Three on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

Let’s not forget that Los Angeles and Houston are warm weather cities. No worries about games getting snowed out. And really, isn’t twelve a much more satisfying number than four?

And the best part: consider the advertising tie-ins! Everyone can watch that climactic Game Twenty-Seven on the new TV they picked up that morning in a Black Friday sale.

What do you say? Who’s with me?