Friday, October 30, 2015

A brief planetary perspective

Venus and Jupiter, as seen from out back at where I work. Such a wonderful universe!

Bad Joke Friday

What happened when Satan lost all his hair?

There was HELL TOUPEE!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Oh yeah, today's Wednesday, innit? Sorry!

You're with some people, and you all chip in for pizza. When it comes down to a single slice you eat it? (I saw this question someplace else this week. Apparently this is one of those social conundra.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Hot on the heels of yesterday's posting of Chapter is Chapter TWO!!!

Go read it. Do it for the children. Do it for the trees. Do it for America, or for whichever country you call home.

The Wisdomfold Path launches two weeks from today!

The Buffalo News to Science: DROP DEAD

One of my favorite parts of the Sunday Buffalo News, for years, was its Science page. This page appeared on the back of the Viewpoints section, and featured the paper's only real science coverage: articles on the latest findings from the various sciences, and a weekly column by a local naturalist named Gerry Rising. As one of those people who reads the paper in the "my favorite stuff last" order, I saved the science page for one of the last things I read, and I actually e-mailed Mr. Rising a note of appreciation for his columns a while back.

A few Sundays ago, there was no Science page. Instead, the News decided to use that space to print facsimiles of its very first editions, from whatever year in the 1800s the News started publishing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't give two shits about this and I figured this would be a temporary thing until the Science page's return.

Well, I learned last night that the Science page is gone. Gerry Rising speculates as to why the page was axed in an article he wrote for a local weekly publication, The Public:

On October 4 my final Sunday Buffalo News column was published. The column, my 1,280th over a period of 25 years, was critical of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). On October 8 I was informed that the entire science page of the Sunday News would no longer appear so, according to my editor, “I do [sic] no longer have a place to run your column.”

On October 15 a rebuttal to my column from HSUS representative Brian Shapiro appeared in the News’s ”Another Voice” column. I find this coincidence interesting, because, as I pointed out in my original column, HSUS has a history of intimidation.

I'll spare the details (you can read them at Mr. Rising's article), but Mr. Rising suspects that the Science page was axed, at least in part, because of a column he wrote that was critical of the Humane Society. Now, I don't know how true that is or may be, and to be honest, I don't really care. If the News felt that a particular columnist was out of line or beyond the pale or whatever, that's one thing. But the decision to eliminate the entirety of the paper's science coverage is indefensible and stupid, and it angers me greatly.

I believe, very deeply, as Carl Sagan did: Our civilization's future will only be more and more dependent on science as it moves forward, and to the extent that we're successful as a civilization, it will be because of our respect for science. I am troubled by the increasing levels of hostility toward science in America today, and part of this is the general dearth of real science coverage in our major news media. What the News has done, whether because the Humane Society protested or because the News just wanted to fellate itself, is to tacitly endorse the idea that science is best left to scientists, that regular citizens have no real need to know anything about it or engage it in any real way, and basically, that it's OK to be dumb about science. Science is just an optional thing that we can live without just fine, as long as the scientists are off doing their thing...someplace.

Watching the increasing levels of arrogance from Buffalo News personnel over the years (especially from their sports department) has been pretty disappointing, but cutting the entirety of science coverage (even if it consisted of a single original, locally-written column and a bunch of stuff culled from the wire) is worse than that. The News has become a little less useful, and it's come a bit closer to being what it dreads: nothing more than a weekly delivery service for grocery coupons.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

CAVEMAN #1: What's your favorite sandwich?

CAVEMAN #2: Club.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Something for Thursday

My mother is currently fulfilling one of my life dreams and touring Vienna. Oh well, I'll get there someday...meanwhile, here's a bit of Strauss. "Tales from the Vienna Woods".

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Everybody has something that's less than two hours' drive from their home that they've never gone to see, even though they know they should. What's yours?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

May the SQUEEEE be with you!

So of course I watched it:

Random reactions:

:: Interesting how the first couple of trailers were about revving up the excitement level for the return of Star Wars, with money shots like the crashed Star Destroyer, the Millennium Falcon in combat, and Han Solo's line, "Chewie, we're home." This time the focus is on setting the mood that this is a new story and that our heroes of old are just that, heroes of old. We're into Star Wars: The Next Generation territory here.

:: First dialogue exchange in the trailer, via voiceover:

"Who are you?"
"I'm no one."

Was anyone else expecting the first voice to reply, "A lie!"?

:: I like the quiet mood at the start. Interesting choice. Muted music, the creaking of the rope as our masked heroine descends into what looks like an abandoned landing bay.

:: Setting up characters: an anonymous junk collector on a desert planet. A stormtrooper whose ship has crashed. A villain who seems to be worshipping Darth Vader (wonder how he got the mask -- was he on Endor at the time of the battle?).

:: The music swells and suddenly we're seeing the Falcon as the old Love Theme from The Empire Strikes Back surges. Cool.

:: Han Solo is bearing witness about the events he witnessed. He is bearing witness about The Force. Remember how he was when we first met him, blowing off the Force as "simple tricks and nonsense"? Calling it a "hokey religion"? This is the weathered, wiser Han Solo.

:: And speaking of that, anyone now agreeing that Han should have died in Return of the Jedi can shut it.

:: Lots of interesting action shots....

:: Very brief shot of a droid that looks like a direct homage to the robots from Castle in the Sky. I'm interested to see this film's visual look. Might Hayao Miyazaki have been an influence? How awesome would that be, to see another Japanese master's work echoed in Star Wars!

:: "The Force is calling to you. Just let it in." I wonder who is hearing this?

:: No Luke Skywalker. We know he's in the movie, but he's been almost completely absent from the film's marketing. Obviously there's some kind of surprise in store regarding Luke.

:: The trailer ends, musically, with an ethereal chord and a single French horn sounding the Star Wars theme. Great moment.

Obviously, a trailer isn't a movie, so we won't know if JJ Abrams has delivered until December. But this trailer sure gave me the old familiar goosebumps. Man, what a great couple of months November and December are shaping up to be! James Bond, Star Wars, and The Song of Forgotten Stars all get new installments! Wow!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Oh, did I mention my new BOOK COVER???

I didn't mention that? Really? At least, I didn't mention it here? Sorry!

Head on over to to see the cover art (and the back cover, complete with blurby bits) to The Wisdomfold Path! It's awesome!

The book launches November 10. Beat the rush!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

Why did the mushroom get invited to all the parties?

Because he was a fun guy!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Something for Thursday

Late to the punch today, for which I apologize. Yesterday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of one of my personal heroes, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein. He was, in many ways, the Carl Sagan of music, able to explain and illustrate things about music in ways that have influenced my own ways of thinking about music ever since. He was also an astonishingly gifted musician.

Thank you for the music, Lenny!

Jar Jar is ORANGE, not GRAY.

The city of Niagara Falls, NY has decided that it wants to engage children in its push for recycling. To this end, they have created a mascot for this effort.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet...Totes McGoats.

Yes, this is real.

(photo credit)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

It's Costume Season! I saw this creative one on Facebook this morning:

Got any plans to do the costume thing this Halloween? And if so, what's the costume? If not, what's the best costume you've ever seen?

(Cubist photo via)

Monday, October 12, 2015

If we gotta honor a Christopher...

...let it be one of these guys, because American mythology isn't enough reason to continue the canonization of Christopher Columbus.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Stuff

Here's some stuff!

:: An article on "holloways". These are very old roadways, paths, and thoroughfares whose courses have been literally worn into the ground to the point where they are almost tunnels or walled passages.

:: Yet another hypothesis on the identity of Jack the Ripper. I'll be reading this book, because it sounds fascinating.

:: Sunset selfies. A guy lived on an island for a while, and he took the habit of making cardboard cutouts of animals or Disney characters or other things, with which he posed in front of the sunset, making wonderful silhouetted vignettes. Via Cal.

More next week. Unless there's not.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

Parallel lines have so much in common! It's a shame they'll never meet.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Last day of vacation: Do you try to squeeze in one last adventure, or do you catch up on domestic odds-and-ends before returning to work?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Pictures of my crimes.

Pouring the wine #wine #yum

Last night's dinner #capon #yum

The enormous fluffy doorstop that is my parents' cat #PersianCat

Red pen mornings #editing #amwriting

Ramen with an egg. Yummy...and now I will drink 4 gallons of water. #ramen #yum #salty

Don't ask. #PitOfRawSewage

My coffee is empty. THIS IS SHIT. #coffee #overalls

Suncat #Julio #CatsOfInstagram

Yes, I had pizza for the 4th of July. Sue me! #pizza #yum

Long walk at The Ridge today. Cane was glad to get to the stream. #Cane #dogsofbuffalo #DogsOfInstagram #ChestnutRidge

A rather magnificent old tree. #trees #ChestnutRidge


Hey! New stuff on the Official Site! In this case, a case study on characterization from the great old comic strip Calvin and Hobbes*. And if you're not paying attention over there, you should really start because pretty soon I'll start ramping up with content pertaining to November's release of The Wisdomfold Path! Check it out!

* Yes, I know "case study" sounds pretentious. It's what I'm going with, though!

Monday, October 05, 2015

And now, this.

Thoughts on a Matter of Extreme Importance and Relevance

After listening to one of my regular podcasts recently, I realized that there exists a deeply important topic about which most people seem to be deeply confused. As I have a good deal of understanding pertaining to this particular issue, I have decided to use space in my blog in an attempt to clarify things, so that discussion of this deeply important subject can move forward, freed of misconceptions and the errors that those misconceptions can create. These are matters of deep import, and my blog is a wasted opportunity if I do not use it to help the world in its ongoing grapples with this issue.

I speak, of course, of the plot of Octopussy.

The podcast in question was the James Bonding cast, of which I have written before. Octopussy is actually one of my favorite in the series of films featuring the adventures of British secret agent James Bond (code-number, 007). It’s not the first James Bond movie I ever saw – that was Moonraker – but Octopussy was the first one I ever went to see by myself, when I was twelve years old. One shouldn’t discount that: it’s generally my view that what one is into when one is twelve is likely what one is into for much of the rest of life. And that’s not a bad thing.

So, if you remember Octopussy, it’s likely as the one with the ridiculous name, the one where James Bond dresses up as a clown at the end, the one where Bond flies a tiny jet plane in the pre-credit sequence, et cetera. If you remember the plot at all, you likely recall that there’s a Russian general with a plot to detonate an atomic bomb on a military base, and that somehow the story involves Faberge eggs. It is, admittedly, not the easiest plot in the world to follow.

But having listened to the James Bonding guys struggle to explain things, I realized first that the story isn’t that hard to put together, and second, that enough is enough. Let’s get this over with, shall we?

After the opening credits end, we’re in East Berlin (remember, this was 1983), and there’s a clown on the run from two identical twins who are expert at throwing knives. The clown is no slouch, very nearly pulling off the escape before getting a knife in his back and falling into a river. This clown staggers to the British embassy, where he tumbles through a glass door as he dies. Something rolls across the floor to the feet of the Ambassador: a Faberge egg.

Next, Bond is briefed in London. It turns out that someone is auctioning Faberge eggs and other rare Russian treasures, someone unknown and shadowy. MI6 has no idea why, but they suspect that the Russians are raising money for use in intelligence work. The reason this is all relevant to MI6 in the first place? The reason some shenanigans in the jewelry market is on their radar at all? Because the egg in the clown’s hand is a forgery of an egg that’s about to be auctioned, and because the dead clown is actually Agent 009.

Meanwhile, a Soviet general named Orlov is trying to sell the Soviet High Command (or whatever they call it) on his plan to steamroll Western Europe, but they are having none of it, with General Gogol (a recurring character in Bond movies in that period) pointing out that the West will respond to a Soviet invasion by nuking the Soviet Union. So here’s Orlov’s problem: he wants to overrun the West without risking nuclear reprisal.

Next comes a pretty odd scene: Orlov is called to the bowels of the Kremlin Art Repository, which looks like the Soviet equivalent of the giant warehouse into which the US government stashed the Ark of the Covenant in 1936. There’s a guy down here working on forging jewelry pieces, and also there is one of our knife-wielding twins. The jewelry guy, named Lenkin, informs Orlov that his superiors have announced an unscheduled inventory of the Repository holdings, and that the fake egg has been lost. Orlov says that “their man in London” will have to get the original egg back. So here’s the first plot point: these characters are replacing treasures from the Kremlin Art Repository with fakes and auctioning the originals in the West.

Now, one might wonder how long such a plot can go on. Sooner or later, someone is going to do an inventory and discover that a lot of priceless art objects in the Kremlin Art Repository are actually fakes, and they will find that the actual items have been auctioned off to Western collectors. So what could possibly be the point of all this? As M later asks Bond, “Why would General Orlov participate in a jewelry caper?” Bond replies that the jewelry is merely “the tip of the tentacle”, and it really is. The key here is that General Orlov doesn’t give a shit about the jewelry.

We’ll come back to that. In London, Bond goes to the auction and antagonizes the eventual buyer, an Afghan man named Kamal Khan (played, in nice 1980s whitewashing, by Frenchman Louis Jourdan), buy forcing up the price and, we later learn, actually switching the real egg for the fake one. Bond knows that he was at no risk of winning the auction: Khan had to make the purchase, but Bond doesn’t know why. Off he goes to New Delhi to find out why.

And what does Bond find out in India? Well, among other things, he learns that Orlov and Khan are working together. Orlov shows up at Khan’s palace with a cask filled with jewelry, and he overhears the men talking about something to do with the town of Karlmarxstadt in East Germany. Bond also learns that there’s a connection of some sort between Kamal Khan and a mysterious leader of a women’s cult named “Octopussy”. He learns that her cult is a front for a crime organization, albeit a fairly small-potatoes one, whose activities include using her circus’s travels throughout Europe for...wait for smuggling!

So, by the time Bond arrives in East Germany, he knows that Octopussy is smuggling the jewelry, with Kamal Khan acting as the “middle man”. Orlov gives the jewelry to Khan, who has it duplicated "according to Lenkin's specifications". Then Khan keeps the genuine jewelry, while Orlov returns the fakes to the Kremlin. Octopussy then smuggles the jewelry into the West; there, Khan sells it and, presumably, keeps the money. Or so it seems.

But remember what we established above: Orlov doesn’t give a shit about the jewelry. He has a huge doublecross in mind. He’s arranging this shipment of jewelry, well enough, but the only reason he’s participating in the jewelry caper is to give him a way of smuggling his real goal into the West: an atomic bomb. As the train is setting out, Orlov’s men switch the cask full of jewelry for a cask loaded with the bomb. The idea is that when the bomb detonates, on a US Air Force Base in West Germany, everyone will assume that it was an accidental detonation of an American bomb. This will enable Europe to demand that all nuclear weapons be removed from their countries, allowing Orlov to send his armies into Western Europe without fear of nuclear retaliation.

Octopussy is to die in the blast, because you always sacrifice your co-conspirators, if you can. She has no idea at all of the bomb plot, remember. As for Kamal Khan? He stands to make a ton of money, and Orlov will be, as he says with his dying words, “a hero of the Soviet Union.”

I always loved this plot, to be honest. It’s complex, like any good spy thriller plot should be, and it employs the conspiratorial activities of people who each want different things. It’s just plausible enough, by Bond film standards, to be a bit scary as Bond’s race against time in the film’s last act plays out. There’s some real edge-of-the-seat stuff that goes on in that last part of the film as Bond races to get to the bomb before it goes off, and the scene in the train car between Bond and Orlov is as good a Bond-confronts-villain scene as there is. It’s the only time Bond and Orlov are on screen together, and those who think Roger Moore a lesser actor should watch this scene again. Bond, having realized that Orlov plans to detonate a bomb on a USAF base, says, “What happens when the US retaliates?” Steven Berkoff as Orlov, who has been wildly overacting through the entire movie (to this day, my sister brings up his goofy enunciation of the word Czechoslovakia – “Czech-o-slo-VAKIA!!!”), goes understated right here to look at Bond, smirk slightly, and simply say, “Against whom?”

I love that scene.

I’m not sure why the James Bonding guys apparently had such a hard time following all this. Admittedly, there isn’t really any scene at which all the dots are connected, so it’s easy to lose sight of how the jewelry-smuggling caper fits into the larger, “Tilt the geopolitical scales” scheme. But the connective tissue is there, and when one is trying to piece together a complex plot, I find that the best way to figure it all out is to first keep in mind what the villain, or villains, are trying to achieve. What does the bad guy want? That should inform all the things that happen. In the case of Octopussy, you have two outright villains and a villain/ally who are all working together but who all want different things.

So, when one of the James Bonding guests asks how they expect to get away with switching real jewels for fake ones (or something like that), the answer is: They don’t care. That’s not the objective. By the time the fake jewelry is discovered, the world will have bigger fish to fry, the real jewelry will either be sold or in Kamal Khan's collection.

Thus concludes our lesson. Tune in next week when I either propose a comprehensive plan for solving global warming, or post pictures of the cats and the dog!

Sunday, October 04, 2015


Some links of a questionable nature:

:: I had to check to see if this is a real thing, and apparently it is.

Yes, that is a Christmas ornament, by Hallmark, depicting Kirk and Spock bidding farewell as Spock dies at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Kind of amazing that someone thought this scene, iconic as it may be, needed to be styled as a Christmas ornament.

Hey, why stop there, Hallmark? Why not an entire line of such things, so we can have an entire tree of depressing scenes from movies and pop culture? We can have the kid shooting Old Yeller! Spider Man cradling Gwen Stacy's dead body! The little girl in the red coat from Schindler's List! Brooks's suicide from The Shawshank Redemption! Merlin Olsen's wife shrieking helplessly with Mary Ingalls's baby in her arms as the flames engulf her in Little House on the Prairie! The Red Wedding from Game of Thrones! Come on, Hallmark! Let's have the Depressingest Little Christmas Tree ever!

::  Here's a fascinating article about how the maps in fantasy novels get made. I tend to be really militant about this: If you give me a fictional world, then you'd better give me a map.

::  Take this with a really big grain of salt, but I love stuff like this anyway: an underwater "Stonehenge" that may point to a civilization ten thousand years gone. I have big doubts on this, but the notion of a massive society flourishing that long ago, and having fallen so long ago that virtually all evidence is gone, is an idea that really appeals to me. Among other things, I could use it as part of my backstory for a future series of space opera novels! There would be this ancient Galactic empire that...oh wait. Did that already.

More next week, maybe! Or maybe not. I'm capricious.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Something for Thursday

I really love John Williams. That is all. Here's a little John Williams.