Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crazy Hot Teen Sex.

News flash - young people have sex. Even those young people who promise to keep their knees together until they're married.

Huh. Who could have guessed?

Who could have guessed that young people who, in the slow march of evolution aren't biologically in synch with the timetable of civilization, might forget their Sunday morning vows in the heat of a Saturday night?

Actually, anyone not blinded by ideology and wishful thinking.

People who push abstinence-only sex education, people like Sarah Palin because it worked so well in her family. People who will tell you with a straight face that comprehensive sex ed puts ideas in young people's noggins, like those noggins aren't already buzzing like Cujo's with the procreative pull of their naughty bits.

So here's another study that conservatives will ignore in their Doris Day fantasy. They'll cover their ears and sing la-la-la so they don't have to picture little Susie doing a reverse cowgirl in the back of the family van.

That would be fine except that Susie's boyfriend is a lot less likely to wear this ring,

if she's wearing this ring.

If the thought of Susie making the beast with two backs while Mom and Dad picket a production of Romeo and Juliet doesn't make the abstinence-only crowd burst into flames, get this: Teens who take the purity pledge are more likely to go anal.

Ouch. That's gotta hurt.

I've said for years that the social conservative movement is based soley on sex. They don't like gays because it makes them think about gay sex. They don't like sex education because it makes them think about teen sex. They don't like sex in movies or TV because it makes them think about sex and sex makes them uncomfortable. I don't know why.

Maybe they're not getting as much sex as they would like. Maybe it's not the kind of sex they like. Maybe they're not getting laid at all. I don't know. But sex makes them squirm and not in a good way.

Atrios over at Eshcaton has a more cynical take on this. He says:

While the fact that virginity pledges and abstinence-only sex "ed" don't stop teens from having sex is unsurprising, I doubt that even proponents are particularly surprised. They aren't interested in abstinence, really, they're interested in making sure "bad girls" get punished for having sex by being subject to the appropriate consequences. So it actually works as designed.

Could be. Again, I don't know. People's sexuality is so mysterious, I don't pretend to know what makes their tropical zones humid.

Jesus, didn't some lawmaker this year check out while dressed in a wetsuit and scuba gear? People got kinks.

And I'll wager the title of this post brings in a lot of social conservatives searching for a little illicit peek at cheerleaders getting their pom poms fluffed.

I'm not sorry that, as they did with this year's election results, they'll have to go away disappointed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Merry

Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, whatever you celebrate, even if it's nothing more than the discovery of distilled beverages, I hope you have a great time with friends and family.

And, if you can, think of those who need a hand up.

As we go into our fourth year here of pointless blather and meandering prose, I wish all of you the best for the holidays and the year to come.


Here's this year's card. It's a little late for the Postal Service, but just in time for The Planet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Once again, I scavenge content from Failblog.

I could not let this one go by without snagging it for the enjoyment and edification of those few of you who may have resisted the charms of Failblog.

This is such a perfect confluence of seasonal consumerism, cultural misunderstanding (assuming it was made in Taiwan or Vietnam), religious confusion, and just plain bone-headedness, that it made me laugh out loud in a real way, not in the Internet lol way.

I mean, someone, somewhere, had to say, "Hey! You know what would be a good idea?"

The same with the window card below. When I saw it on Failblog, I could not figure out what the hell it was. I knew it couldn't be what I thought it was, and still, the proper answer escaped me. Space shuttle? But what's it docking with? What's that squiggle? Is that someone's...?

I had read the comments to get it.

Can you guess what it is? The first commenter who gets it right (and no peeking) will get a paperback from Bleak House Books. Your choice. I'd swing for a hardback, but it's been a Bleak year for Santa.

Consider it a little gift to celebrate the Third Anniversary of A Dark Planet.

And to help you forget all about this picture.

Black fly in your chardonnay?

No, not so much.

But this story, yeah that's irony squared.

And this car sitting outside WalMart, that's irony, too.

In fact, it's my favorite kind of irony, the uptight sanctimonious kind, like when the anti-gay evangelical blowhard gets caught with his pants down in a public men's room.

That kind of irony. That's the best kind.

Mmmm, irony, perfect for the week running up to Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Welcome to Pottersville, Funtown USA.

It's that time of year when, if I'm lucky, I'll stumble upon It's A Wonderful Life and watch George Bailey see what the world would be like if he'd never been born.

I admit, I'm a sucker for the ending.

But the middle part, the part when the addled Uncle Billy loses the dough and George loses his temper is a dark dark place. Wendell Jamieson of the NY Times agrees. I thought it was just me, but he likes Pottersville a lot more than Bedford Falls, too.

All these years I thought I was alone in thinking Pottersville had it all over Bedford Falls. After all, I'd grown up in a town a lot like Bedford Falls and I could not wait to flee that cramped little hick village as quickly as I could.

But Pottersville. The hot jazz and boogie woogie. The nightclubs and high-steppers that made Main Street look like Babylon awash in Hollywood snow? Damn, that's where I wanted to spend the holidays.

As Mr. Jamieson points out, the only entertainment available to the average Joe of Bedford Falls was the Bing Crosby yawner The Bells of St. Mary's. Christ, I'd have thrown myself in the river, too.

Pottersville had life. It jumped. It danced. It had cops flinging hot lead down crowded Christmas streets, pedestrians be damned.

And what happened in Bedford Falls? A kid falls through the ice. An alcoholic pharmacist almost poisons a little boy. Dance floors open up and nearly drown a gaggle of high school kids. Barely legal Donna Reed is caught naked in the street.

Except for the naked Donna Reed, Bedford Falls was one horrible disaster after another.

But in Pottersville, a man could gamble, get a snootful and then get taken away in a Black Mariah full of strippers and call girls.

Now, that's what I call Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Things to do while commuting to work.

I have a commute that lasts, one way, between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on the number of jerks on the road besides me.

In just the past few weeks, I've had three 18-wheelers drift into my lane and two of them, I know were texting or dialing their cell phones. I saw them.

I also saw a woman eating and talking on her cell phone at the same time, something I'd find offensive in the food court, let alone barreling along at 65 MPH.

I used to work for a guy who thought he looked like some super-badass-busy executive guy if he read while driving. He didn't know it just made him look like a jerk.

I don't mean to imply that I don't have my hazardous moments. Searching for a CD under the seat, trying to read directions, changing your pants, rolling a joint, opening a wine bottle all could, in some quarters, be considered careless driving.

I even knew a girl in college who liked to...ah, you know where this is going.

Let's move on.

I've discovered something that has made my commute, if not heaven, at least not bumper car hell. They're podcasts and since I broke down and bought an iPod, I've downloaded a bunch, from Fresh Air interviews to a bunch of British kids blathering about movies they've seen or not but it doesn't matter because it's all bollocks, innit?

I've tried a lot of different movie talk podcasts, from Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment to a pretentious show about film noir that has two post-graduate dweebs in a snoozefest about the symbolism of earth tones in Chinatown and other such English-lit esoterica. No, I am not making that up.

It was excruciating. As much I want to hear intelligent people talk about Dark Passage or Gun Crazy, I can't listen to these two guys drone on without wanting to puncture my eardrums with a number two Ticonderoga.

I've got an Italian language podcast and a podcast about music called Sound Opinions that's pretty good. I've got This American Life, which is almost always terrific, and Harry Shearer's Le Show, which I enjoy.

But the podcast I've enjoyed more than anything is the New Yorker Fiction podcast. The magazine's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, askes a writer to choose and read a short story from the New Yorker archives.

So far I've heard:

1. Maeve Brennan’s “Christmas Eve” read by Roddy Doyle
2. "Dog Heaven" by Stephanie Vaughan read by Tobias Wolf
3. Jonathan Lethem reading Thurber’s “The Wood Duck.”
4. TC Boyle reading Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.”
5. Donald Antrim reading Donald Barthelme’s “I Bought a Little City.”

and, as they say on late-night TV, so much more.

The great thing, besides hearing writers read terrific fiction, is hearing the writers talk about it with Treisman. They discuss why they chose the story, what they see in it, maybe some personal story. It's so good. And the episodes last almost exactly the length of my commute.

Give it a try. The New Yorker Fiction podcast.

If you've got a podcast you like and think we'll dig it, here's the time and place.

Talk to me.

And here's something else to think about while behind the wheel:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another assault on American manhood!

Economic meltdown, nuclear war between Pakistan and India, terrorists with names you can't pronounce and Dick Cheney still the vice president. If those things don't keep you awake, this should.

It's the danger of falling toilet seats.

Yes, dear readers, the centuries-old debate of up or down has taken a dark turn.

According to this piece in the Times, little boys have been getting their wangers mashed by falling seats.

A pediatrician at Leighton Hospital in England, Joe Philip, writes in the letters section about four cases of little boys who were injured when a heavy toilet seat fell and crushed the tip of their tender parts. [Ed. - YOW!]

One of the answers is a lighter seat. Or, some have suggested, we train our little boys to sit when they pee.

What? Sit when they pee? Why not just hand out skirts and Barbies, too?

Alert Bill O'Reilly! This is a direct assault on the American male winkie!

This will not stand!

At least not after someone's dropped a heavy lid on it, it won't.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sometimes life just works out.

Getting a ticket sucks unless you have the right shirt and a friend with a camera.

This is still a great country.

I don't know why I think about things like this, but I do.

A conversation about sneezing and the whole ritual of blessing the sneezer and the sneezer thanking the blesser made me bring this up. It's something that I've thought about for years, but never really talked about it with anyone else.

Why? I don't know. Maybe because it's just an odd little thought that pops up every now and then that distracts me.

It's the whole action of applause. Think about it. We are trained from earliest childhood to slap these two bodily appendages together to make noise. When we do it in a crowd it makes a roaring sound that, if we're on the receiving end, makes us surprisingly happy.

If we watched critters and saw them, in unison, slap body parts together to express approval, we would marvel at the weirdness and the sheer raw animal-ness of it.

Look! They're making noise by slapping their fins together. Animals are so weird.

Yet we all do it all the time and think nothing of it. We hear music, see a show, or someone makes a great speech and as a group with beat our palms together to make this noise. People are so weird.

Just a thought for Monday morning. Carry on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hey, buddy, want a free book?

I just got myself a free book and you can too. It's a promotion from Bleak House Books and just in time for Christmas. What a concept!

Go get one and while you're there, buy a whole bunch more like I did.

Just click on through to Bleak House Books and fill up on tasty noir for the holidays.

Bettie Page died yesterday.

She will remain, however, permanently implanted in the libido of every straight male who came of age in the past 50 years.

The personification of the pin-up girl, Bettie Page made bondage gear de rigeur. Here is her obit from the Times.

The bangs, the curves, the leather, all came together in a style that still takes my breath away.


Wondering what to get your 8-year-old for Christmas?

May I suggest this H&K MP5, a fine weapon and the choice of terrorists and anti-terrorist squads the world over.

I was reading Stephen Blackmoore's fine blog LA Noir about an idiot shooting himself which, in America, is about as newsworthy as a white man dancing like a jackass at an office Christmas party.

But one of his readers commented on this tragic story, which is a high water mark for Firearms and Stupidity.

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) — With an instructor watching, an 8-year-old boy at a gun fair aimed an Uzi at a pumpkin and pulled the trigger as his dad reached for a camera. It was his first time shooting a fully automatic machine gun, and the recoil of the weapon was too much for him. He lost control and fatally shot himself in the head.

Captain Obvious of the Westfield police said, "It's not a toy. It's not something to play with."

What is it about guns and stupid? Why is there such a high correlation between morons and civilian firepower?

As some of you know, I've owned guns for years. I hit this target at 25 yards with a GI .45 while competing at Camp Butner. I placed in the top 5 against graduates of the military academies. Not bad for a hippie writer.

So, I'm not knee-jerk against firearms. They have their place. But giving an 8-year-old a full auto Uzi? I mean, WTF?

I've fired an Uzi on full auto. It's a fine weapon, but anything on full auto is going to ride up on you like Indian underwear, and if you're not prepared, you're going to lose control of that bad boy.

This was at a gun show. Supposed grown-ups were around. You'd think someone would have thought that 8 years old was a little young to be shooting anything bigger than a Red Ryder BB gun (with a compass in the stock). I mean, you could shoot your eye out.

But no. His father, high on cordite and testosterone, gave the kid the Uzi and switched it to full auto, grinned and told the tyke to give the trigger a tug.

Too bad the Second Amendment doesn't have a sanity clause.

But as Chico said, "Sanity Clause? You can't fool me. There's no such thing as a Sanity Clause."

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So my doctor wants to put me on an antidepressant.

"But," I told him, "I'm not depressed. Unhappy at times, of course. Discouraged? Sure. Not optimistic about the future? Have you been reading the news?"

He said, "I just think you dwell too much on the dark side of life."

True enough. But the world is a dark place. If it wasn't such a cliche, I'd quote Yeats' "The Second Coming." That I can recall Beckett's “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more," says more about my education than it does my world view.

Doesn't it?

Last year, when losing our daughter seemed darkly certain, yes, I was depressed. When I lost my job and our finances were desperate, I was depressed. When my father died, I was depressed. But being depressed when things happen seems natural, and to cushion yourself against these shocks is to deny your humanity.

It is the depression that has no reason, the black dog, that might call for a pill to muzzle the beast. But for me, that black dog is there to remind me that life isn't a comfort and that sadness and struggle are all part of this existence.

I told my doctor this, and explained that when I tried Wellbutrin (even the name suggests a mediocrity of emotion) it made me feel removed from the people around me, and I found it hard to engage because I just didn't care. I don't want to not care. In fact, I want to care more.

I suggested to my doctor that if he really wanted to know how I was doing day to day, he could read this blog. I think I'm pretty open here, and for good or ill, you know how I'm doing on any given week depending on what shiny objects are attracting my attention.

He was intrigued, pulled out a pad and pen and said, "I'll do that. What's the name of your blog?"

I told him.

"A Dark Planet."

He sighed and said, "Oh, David."

So, Dr. Evans, if you are indeed reading this, let me end on a brighter note, something in a major key.

Something like Party Time!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This makes me so proud.

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

I love North Carolina, my adopted home state, but sometimes it acts like the slow cousin who insists wrestling is real.

If you haven't been to failblog, you haven't taken a stroll through the detritus floating near the shallow end of the gene pool. It's great for a cheap laugh at someone else's expense and really, isn't that the true spirit of Christmas?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I was wrong. Apparently, everything is just swell.

Like our little friend up there, it looks like George Bush also defecates rainbows. Who knew?

In a story from the LA Times, we're told that cabinet members and other high-ranking Bushies have been handed a memo titled, "Speech Topper on the Bush Record."

This "Speech Topper" gives people who might otherwise come up blank when asked what George Bush has done to America a few talking points they can pull out of their nether quarters to make it look like the ship's not sinking, the water's just rising.

Because what America really needs right now is another month of sunshine blown up our skirt.

I woke up this morning to NPR and the news could not have been more depressing if the anchor had shot herself on the air. But in the Bush world, his tenure has been one stunning success after another. What, the astute reader may ask, did W do right? Did he manage to find his ass with that flashlight? Did he successfully pour piss out of a boot?

Oh yes, and so much more, according to the official Bush talking points. Let's take a look.

1. He kept the American people safe after Sept. 11 unless you count those people in uniform who are still looking for those WMDs.

2. He lifted the economy through tax cuts. Times are good? Tax cuts. Times are bad? Tax cuts. Managing the economy is so simple even a monkey could be as successful as George Bush.

3. He maintained "the honor and the dignity of his office," the talking points say. Honor and dignity, yes. Competence? Maybe we should move on.

According to the Times, the "Speech Topper" presents the Bush record as "an unalloyed success."

Gee, and from here it looks like one major fuck-up after another. Boy, am I glad I read this story, otherwise I'd have thought the economy sucked, we were mired in two expensive wars, we had mortgaged our children's future to the Chinese, trashed our international image like a rented frat house, treated our ideals like a call girl's virtue, and viewed the Constitution as a list of suggestions best suited for duty in the White House bathroom.

Now I know better. George Bush has done one heckuva job.

"What we have in mind with these documents is we feel the president's many accomplishments haven't been given the attention they deserve and in some cases have been purposely ignored," said Carlton Carroll, a White House spokesman.

His many accomplishments, a plethora of successes as long as your arm, from the beginning of his term when we suffered the biggest failure of intelligence in our history, to the end of his term, when we face the biggest economic failure since the Great Depression.

But that's not failure, that's just success turned upside down. Thank you, George Bush, you've been a swell president.

Now, if I could only find my gun, I'm not going to put a bullet in my brain pan, I'm just going to let in a little sunshine and fresh air.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Gun Crazy

My mother bought every late-night item Ron Popeil and his colleagues have ever shilled between the hours of midnight and dawn. She had the bamboo steamer, the tomato-slicing ginzu knives, the Buttoneer and, the strangest gadget of all, the machine that scrambled eggs inside the shell.

This single gizmo saved mankind hours of back-breaking labor scrambling eggs in a bowl.

But Mom never had this, a form that lets you fry an egg in the shape of a classic Colt Peacemaker. So go ahead, eat your gun. And just in time for Christmas.

Damn, people are strange.

James O. Born, our hero.

He's a writer, he's a cop, he's our hero.

Jim Born takes a lot of ribbing from our little circle of crime writers. But when it comes to real crime fighting, Jim's the man.

Apparently, the state of Florida feels the same way. Thanks to Mary Stella for telling us about this because Jim w0uld never mention it himself.

Congratulations, Jim, I'm proud to know you.

This from the news:

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Life Saving Medal

The Life Saving Medal, also established in December 2007, may be presented to any FDLE employee who renders assistance to a person in need and saves that person's life. The Life Saving Medal was presented to FDLE Special Agents Thomas Bacon of Palm Beach and James Born of Lake Worth for rescuing a family from a car in a canal and a young girl who had been ejected from the car, August 3, 2008.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

From the Planet mail bag.

I pass this along without comment.

The young artist was, according to the email, attempting to show Mommy working at Home Depot selling a shovel.

I'll let you be the judge.

*Thanks, Chris.

Thank Cthulhu, some people are still fighting the culture wars.

I thought after the election of Obama, that we'd turn our serious attention to the big problems of the world like war, poverty, hunger and the seemingly limitless ability of our fellow human beings to behave like giant dicks. But apparently all that stuff's been fixed.

Because a lot of people have the time to complain about these transit ads paid for by The American Humanist Association. The message of the ads is shocking, I know. That people could be good, not out of fear of being cast into a lake of fire, but out of genuine concern for the people you share the planet with.

How dare they!?

There was a time in this nation when Thomas Paine, the voice of the American revolution, could question the existence of God without anyone wetting their pants. But not today. In these enlightened times just asking the question, "why believe in god?" has brought hundreds of letters in protest.

"That ad is obscene to me! I wouldn't want my children reading that," one letter said.

Really? You wouldn't want to use this as a teaching moment to enlighten your children not only to your beliefs but the beliefs of others, and how this makes America a better country than say, Iran? You wouldn't want that?


Another threatened to call the ACLU on the grounds that the ads violated a separation of church and state. The pretzel logic of that one makes my head hurt this early in the a.m.

According to a report from WTOP.com, "It's not clear how many of those who complained actually ride the Metro system, as all but five complaints arrived via e-mail. One signed an e-mail as a "D.C. resident, Metro rider, and 'BELIEVER' in God," while another writer acknowledged, "I have never had the privilege to actually visit Washington, D.C."

That first letter writer must be a better person than you or me, because they're not only a believer, but a BELIEVER. I'm impressed by their command of the caps lock key, aren't you?

But if some of the letter writers don't live in DC, how did they hear about the ads? Why, from FOX News, of course.

Actually, I'm happy that people are obsessed with bullshit like this. Without them, I might actually have to write about important stuff. And really, what fun is that?

*Thanks for this story to Jen, a strong woman with patience and a finely wrought sense of the absurd.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A couple of posts that sadly are still relevant.

A few days ago, our friend Dusty Rhoades wrote about the latest missive from the front lines of the War on Christmas, a completely bogus annual event designed to boost Fox ratings and incite faux outrage against anyone who has the good manners to wish strangers a happy holiday this season.

I'll let you read about it here.

Three years ago I posted this:

Fun with Photoshop. I also wrote this about a real event:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A group of 40 people dressed in Santa Claus outfits, many of them drunk, went on a rampage through Auckland, New Zealand's
largest city, robbing stores, assaulting security guards and urinating from highway overpasses, police said Sunday.

The rampage, dubbed "Santarchy," began early Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars from an overpass, said Auckland Central Police spokesman Noreen Hegarty.

(I love the smell of pine trees, gingerbread cookies and urine in the air. That says Christmas to me.)

And wrote this about a made-up event:

Undercover police stepped up the War on Christmas by busting dealers and confiscating illegal plants yesterday in a seasonal sweep code-named Operation O'Reilly. The head of the task force, Sergeant J. D. Rhoades, said, "These dealers set up on any vacant corner, even next to churches. It's disgusting."

The police burned hundreds of the offending shrubbery and accompanying paraphernalia. "There were glass balls, lights, and tinsel," said Officer Duane Swierczynski. "Doesn't anyone think of the children?"

Mayor Jeff Shelby vowed that the crackdown would continue throughout the Solstice. "Miscreants who sell wreaths and misteltoe will find no place to hide in our community," he promised.

In another story, police raided Northpointe Mall and found Polaroid photos of young children, some in tears, sitting on an old man's lap. The children had been enticed into the seasonally explicit pictures by the promises of candy canes and toys. Police also confiscated a list of alleged "naughty" boys and girls. The man in the photos, an S. Claus, address unknown, and several diminutive assistants were taken into custody in what police suspect is gang-related activity.

I look back on it now and think it was pretty lame. But isn't that the truth with all of our work? Will there ever be a time I can look back on something I wrote a few years ago and not think, "Jesus, what was I smoking when I wrote that?"

I think it was Stravinsky that called this constant dissatisfaction with our work "divine discontent," a state that forces us to work harder and yet, like Sisyphus, still be stuck with that same damn rock at the borrom of the hill every morning.

Or maybe a different rock. I heard an interview with Philip Roth the other day and the interviewer asked him, after writing more than 50 novels, if it hasn't gotten easier. He answered no, because each book is a different book and that means each book's difficulties are new.

One of the reasons this WIP is taking so long is that I'm trying to write a bigger book than Panamanian Moon. Not bigger in size, perhaps, but in points of view. Panamanian Moon was written in one person's voice, that of John Harper's, and if you've read this blog for more than a day, you'll recognize that Harper's voice is very close to my own, which made the actual writing easy. The plotting not so much.

Not that I'm John Harper. He's much cooler and smarter and tougher than I am. But he has the benefit of rewrites. I'd be a lot cooler if I had the benefit of rewriting some days. Or months. Or years.

By the way, the first picture up there is from a site called Scared of Santa. You can see more here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

There's always that one guy.

A while back, the Typhoid Mary of American economics, Phil Gramm, chastised America as "a nation of whiners" and suggested that our economic woes were all in our head.

Jesus, what an asshole.

But, as we all know, he's not the only asshole on the block. Hell, the GOP wouldn't exist as a party without the flaming assholes they call their base, as personified by Joe the Plumber.

From Japan we get the comforting (?) news that the quality of being an asshole respects no international boundaries. That smiling man is Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso (pronounced ASS-ho) who has a history of stepping in the shimogoe.

In the past he's made fun of physicians, the mentally ill and much like Rush Limbaugh, another notorious asshole, he thinks wartime torture and brutality are all just part of the fun, like fraternity pranks.

Recently, this Aso wondered just what the fuck old people were good for. He called Japan's seniors "hobbling malingerers" and wondered why he should pay taxes to support a bunch of people "...who laze around eating and drinking and never do anything...”

Sounds remarkably like today's GOP base, doesn't he?

In an interesting parallel, this Aso may have done for his political party what George Bush did for the Republicans. See, one out of every five voters in Japan is over 70 and there's an election coming up. And just to make sure he'll never be able to find refuge in Florida, he suggested Japan would be better off spending its time attracting "rich Jews."

What an Aso.

Here, residents of the Sunshine State give Aso their votes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Annual Post Where I Get All Mushy Like Peas and Mashed Potatoes.

Once again, I have so much to be thankful for, including the people who read this blog.

No one makes you come here. No one quizzes you on the topics week to week, although that doesn't sound like a bad idea. I think some of you aren't paying close enough attention to my life.

And yet you return, and when life tosses the inevitable spanner and knocks your interlocutor for a loop, you give me a hand up and a dusting off. For that I'm grateful.

I'm also grateful for other people's hard times because without them, we wouldn't have email like this from a coworker's mom this morning. This is the whole thing:

Happy Thanksgiving! Don't know where you will be or who you have chosen to spend Thanksgiving with, but hope you have a safe holiday.

Hug the children for us. Love, mother

And another thing to be thankful for is YouTube because, on a whim, you can watch the great and greatly missed Mitch Hedberg. The reason I'm including this bit comes around minute 7:00.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving to all. See you next week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Welcome to The Planet, member FDIC.

I've decided to become a bank.

Don't believe it? Open an account and I'll send you a toaster.

Sometime, when I get around to it.

In the meantime, I will reluctantly be forced to charge you a handling fee, a storage fee, an accounting fee, a cash-touching fee, a free gift fee and a vodka surcharge in order to process your account, which you can rest assured is completely protected by real locks with keys, a barking dog and an old man with a .45.

Why, you may ask, would a perfectly sound blog (caring for you since 2004) want to become a bank just when our financial system is looking less like Hamilton's dream, and more like an Amway pitch from a guy who used to sell car insurance?

So I can line up for that sweet, sweet government cheddar the Treasury is shoveling into banks with abandon. And I'm not alone.

American Express, the credit card company, is no longer a credit card company. Now, if you please, they are a "bank holding company" so they can get in line for their share of taxpayer bucks. Now, you could argue that credit card companies loan money and banks loan money, so it's not that big a stretch to morph from one to the other.

But insurance companies are also getting in line, their hands out. All these hardened free-market capitalists need to do is buy an old bank or S&L and then they're magically eligible for a slice of that tasty socialist pie.

Some of the largest life insurers like the Hartford, are buying up tiny savings and loans on the cheap. It's probably a coincidence that just as the Hartford bought a threadbare Florida bank, they applied to become a bank holding company and, again, another conicidence, asked Treasury for their slice. So, by spending $10  million for a saggy old bank, they're now eligible for as much as $3.4 billion in shiny federal aid. It's like a bank hold-up, in reverse.

Another insurer, Lincoln National, is buying Newton County Savings and Loan (with a full-time staff of three people who will most likely be laid off before New Year's), for just over $7 mil. In return, they could get up to $3 billion in Bernanke Bucks.

Three billion could make Daddy's Christmas a whole light brighter.

So, from now on, I'm a bank, not a blog. And, as a Grand Opening invitation, send me a thousand dollars and I'll send you a free calendar. It'll probably be for 2008, but I don't care. I don't have to. I'm a bank.

Now where's my money, bitch?

An apology:

Sunday's post scared a lot of people and I'm sorry for that. I'm trained to hold off the resolution to the end, and for several paragraphs I had readers thinking the worst. That was unfair, and while I'm touched, and more than a little amazed that so many people care about my health, that was wrong.

So, I apologize and promise not to be such an insensitive ass in the future.

(Yeah, like that's going to happen.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Yesterday I woke up around four, got up to head for the head and the room reeled as if I'd been aboard ship for days. Still half in a dream, I figured it was just the unsteady foot of too much darkness and too little sleep. But deep inside my cerebral sponge lived the word - stroke.

Three hours later I awoke again, this time reeling toward the bathroom for a single aspirin. I said to Jenny, "I need to go to the hospital."

All the debaucheries, the drink, the meat, the late night rambles that have beached my carcass on this aging shore, swam through my head as Jenny drove me toward the ER. The fat that swirled throughout my blood became a living thing, and not merely numbers on a printout. My family history, let free from its resting place, swirled around the car whispering one word - stroke.

Kinder choruses sang optimistic caveats of ear infections and lesser dires. But all the angelic voices eventually spiraled down and, after clearing their throats whispered - stroke.

Without cataloguing my past, I assure you that I have been places and endured things that have scared me to the marrow. I have wrestled with panic and beaten it, and know that I have the courage, if not of the warrior, than at least as much as most men.

But that single word - stroke - scared me more than any outward threat I've ever known.

The hospital took me in quickly. It was early and the ER was barely populated. The nurses questioned me, took my blood pressure and made me comfortable. The doctors asked more questions, all while probing and tapping my corpus with trained fingers, listening for the untuned tympany of disease.

They whisked me into a mechanical room where they took deep soundings of my interior. The technician, an aspiring writer, plumbed my brain with rougher instruments and it was a welcome diversion.

In the end, as in all sappy endings that go on far too long ( think Lord of the Rings, a movie ending that overstayed its welcome like a broke in-law), the answer was an anticlimax. Vertigo was the word. The cause unknown, fitting for one who lives with mysteries. Tomorrow I will see another doctor, and quite possibly another on Tuesday.

Later, as I lay dazed by drugs, I spun around the TV dial and just as a fated roulette player who has put his last chip on double-aught sees it come up roses, Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak came up on the screen. How could I not watch?

It had been a while since I'd seen this movie, and remembered fevered pre-psychedelic camera work and Bernard Herrmann's usual high-drama Hitchcock score. I also remembered all the great shots of San Francisco. The movie, and the city, were a welcome tonic for an afternoon on the couch.

I learned that Vertigo was a flop when it came out and critics had an almost casual dismissal of the film. But later critics have taken a shine to it, some lifting it to the top of the Hitchcock canon. The AFI places it as #9 in the best 100 films of all time and tops in mysteries, a height that causes my head to spin a bit.

Or maybe that's just the vertigo talking.

Tomorrow, our correspondent drives himself to the doc's and to work, all the while hoping a cop doesn't pull him over and ask him to walk a thin white line.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Clothing the bones.

Wednesday night I was not in a good place. There's something really wrong with my ears, I don't feel good, Jenny's car broke down, work is stressful and when I sat down to write, nothing was happening.

No, that's not exactly true. Something was happening. Words were getting put on the screen but nothing felt right. The scene was flat, with cardboard people saying uninspired things. I felt like I'd seen this scene a gazillion times and I was just typing. There was no writing going on, nothing original was being said and the story was becalmed in a sea of noir cliche.

Part of the problem is the time frame of the novel. It's 1941 in Washington DC. Needless to say, I've never been there. So I have to make up everything. Yes, the streets are still there and I've done a lot of research on the time, but all the viscera of life, the smells, sounds and energy of the period is something I have to imagine whole.

So here's the scene: A man walks into a nightclub before it's open. He's stopped by a bouncer and asked questions. His boss overhears the interaction and let's the man in. You've seen it before. I've seen it before. And it probably won't stay this way for long.

But last night, I went back to it and suddenly the three men were talking, and acting, like real people, and it felt great. I'm still sick, my ears still hurt, Jenny's car is still in the shop and work is still stressful.

But the writing went well and that makes everything else worthwhile.

I've been doing this long enough that you'd think I wouldn't have to relearn these lessons. Some days are going to suck. Some days aren't. Some days you just write down the bones of a story and later, you get to dress up those bones with original clothing, and then the skeletons start to take on flesh and dance on their own.

I'm impatient. Beneath A Panamanian Moon came out four years ago. Other writers who had their debut alongside me, writers like our friends J.D. Rhoades and Stuart MacBride, are on their fifth or sixth novels. Not that it's a competition. I celebrate their success and try, in my own small way to support these guys.

But it does remind me that I'm not holding up my end. So I get impatient to get this manuscript done and out. I'm too slow and take too much time with the work. On nights like Wednesday, I wonder if I'll ever get this, or any other book, done and published. Then on nights like Thursday, I relax and just enjoy the fun of creation.

I know I'm not alone in this frustration. In fact, if you're going through some tough times, here's the place to vent.

That's it. No punchline. No revelations of epiphanies. Just a story of a writer writing. This is why movies about writers are usually boring.

So, in the interest of entertainment, I leave you with this great little dance. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A lazy man's post.

I've never done one of these memes before, mostly because of #37, but they also remind me of those giggling sex surveys we passed around in middle school (Have you kissed? With tongue?) that taught me how to lie boldly and without shame.

But someone sent this to me and I thought it might amuse while I recover.

So, here ya go:

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Yes, King David of the Bible. (Actually, I don't have any idea.)
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? This morning when I woke up and realized I had not been embraced by sweet sweet death while I slept
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I prefer cutting letters out of a magazine and pasting them onto the note paper
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Unfortunately for my daughter, yes
8.. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS No, I donated them to science.
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Depends. Which, coincidentally, is what I would wear to bungee jump.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? My strength lies in sarcasm.
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? If they look like they could lend me money.
15. RED OR PINK? Red, as in Commie Red.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My father.
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Only if their answers are revealing, entertaining or embarrassing.
19. WHAT COLOR SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Red, as in Commie Red.
23. FAVORITE SMELLS? Baby heads.
25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? I’m madly in like with the person who sent this to me.
27. HAIR COLOR? Elvis black.
28. EYE COLOR? Red, as in….
30. FAVORITE FOOD? I am Omnivore, see me consume.
31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Depends. Which is what I wear watching scary movies.
35. HUGS OR KISSES? Inappropriate touching.
36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Vodka tonics.
37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? People with too much time on their hands.
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Reverse of #37.
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? Charlie Opera by our friend, Charlie Stella.
42. FAVORITE SOUND? Childrens’ laughter.
43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Depends. (Make your own geezer joke here)
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I have an amazing ability to annoy people.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Donora, Pennsylvania, a steel town with air so toxic it killed 19 people on Halloween night, 1948.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What happens when one lone jackass tackles too much.

Maybe it's the post-election blahs. I've got 'em so bad that news scorches my retinas the way holy water burns a vampire.

Maybe it's the full days here at work.

Maybe it's the novel I write after work.

Maybe it's this mysterious illness I picked up while traveling.

Maybe it's the nearly three years here at The Planet with a new post, on average, every day and a half.

Whatever it is, I'm tired.

Give me a few days. I'll be back.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to fuck up an industry, a city and a country, all in record time.

If you want to sabotage an entire sector of the economy, start at a time when the largest cohort of car buyers are entering their 20's. This is when they'll be looking to make their first big purchase. This is also when buyers will begin to form brand preference, even loyalty.

Then offer them crap.

Start with the Pacer, the Gremlin and the Pinto. You know, cars that rust right on the showroom floor. Forget reliability, style, safety and fuel economy. That's for suckers who speak with funny accents.

And if you are "the Cadillac of cars," make sure you coast on your laurels until your loyal buyers die off or are lured away by BMW and Mercedes.

Then, when good sense suggests you invest in breakthrough technology like you used to, roll out big ugly SUVs instead so you can cash in on those big profit margins. Sure, it's short-term profit, but you'll be sippin' Pina Coladas in Boca before the real feculence smacks the ventilator.

Along the way, make sure you outsource as much of the work as possible to places where they have no minimum wage or environmental standards. And don't forget to appeal to your buyers' patriotism with phony "Buy American" ad campaigns. Hell, the rubes will never know that they're SUV was made in Juarez.

Screw 'em.

Finally, as the city around you dies and people get wise to the crap you've been pushing for two decades, go on a last ditch quality campaign and complain when the buyers you so arrogantly fed shit all those years refuse to come back.

And when they don't come back, and you're going broke, that's when you appeal to the last customer who will listen - the government. And all the taxpayers who got stiffed with a rusted-out Fuckmobile will be forced to pony up for decades of bad management.

Thanks, auto executives. I didn't think it was possible, but you actually pulled a George Bush on an entire industry. Way to go. Make sure you give yourselves a big bonus on your way out.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unexpected things that end up changing your life.

Like the young man with the sign, a casual encounter convinces him that he'd really, really like a wing from that other young man's bucket and so spins his life in a whole new direction, one without a girlfriend or place to stay, but a fondness for those eleven herbs and spices that cannot be denied.

We all have them, turning points that, at the time, seem trivial, but end up taking us places we never expected.

The biggest for me was when I answered a classified ad for actors and joined a theater group where I met Jenny. That was nearly 30 years ago.

A few years later I was sitting in a hotel room in Cincinnati. I turned on the TV and caught the Maltese Falcon for the first time. I was 35 or 36 and had never read any of the greats. I had been taught, unintentionally in most cases, that mystery fiction wasn't worth my time, that I was better off reading Donald Barthelme and John Barth.

It took John Huston's Maltese Falcon to convince me that I was a bonehead. I figured (duh) that if I liked the movie that much, I'd like the book. And from Hammett I went to Chandler and McDonald and then to Dutch Leonard.

When I had the time and temperament to write a novel, it was my love of crime fiction that was my foundation.

Why bring this up?

Because this weekend, Jenny and I watched Gun Crazy. I had seen it before, years ago, but this was Jenny's inaugural ride with Bart and Annie Laurie. Man, I love this movie. (Jenny liked it, but doesn't have the same affection for it that I do.)

Originally titled Deadly Is the Female, the movie tanked on opening so they renamed it Gun Crazy, a title so great that it reminds me of Victor Gischler, the writer whose Shotgun Opera and GoGo Girls of the Apocalypse are the gold standard in great titles, in my opinion.

But, as much as I love Gun Crazy, what attracted my attention was the actor who plays the judge in the beginning of the movie, the seemingly kind judge who callously sends young Bart to a reform school for a little B&E. The actor was Morris Carnovsky.

Carnovsky's movie career was interrupted for a decade or more by the blacklist. According to his Wikipedia bio, he was one of the actors named by Elia Kazan for being a commie and because a free country can't possibly have actors with unorthodox political views in its movies, Carnovsky was banned from the big screen.

I guess it made sense at the time.

I saw Morris Carnovsky on stage when I was in college. He played King Lear. I had never seen a Shakespeare play before. Not one. I had read them, never really appreciating their greatness. But when I saw the action and heard people speak the lines, the scales, as they say, fell from my eyes. I was in love, and that love continues. Given a choice between seeing Lear or Hamlet for the hundredth time, or seeing just about anything else, I'll go with Big Bill.

Small things. Answering a classified, watching a movie, seeing a play, these are the things that make unexpected changes in life. And I love that, how seemingly inconsequential things can shape your life in ways no one could have predicted.

Think about the small things in your life that changed everything. And if you want to go public with that one time in band camp, or the time you smuggled hash in from Turkey, I'd love to hear about.

Talk to me.