31 May 2007

Go Bears!

Thirty years ago I was a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. I was lucky. My parents loved me, supported me, encouraged me. I was taught that learning and scholarship were virtues, that a college education was a noble aspiration. The State of California built a university system that was the envy of the world. The parents of the post-WWII and post-Korea generations were determined to send their kids to college. If they were lucky enough to live in the Golden State they had a myriad of high-quality, affordable choices. Affordable. That is the point of public universities--to give middle class and working class kids a chance. I probably don't have to tell anyone that the cost of a college education has so outstripped the rise in wages that fewer and fewer kids get the opportunities that those of a previous generation took for granted. And no one gives a shit. Thousands of young people are convinced they will never afford a university degree. They have given up hope, that most precious of all commodities. They are wrong. They can still do it, it will just be harder and harder. The federal and state money so generously passed out in the 60's and 70's has mostly dried up. Kids and parents have to scramble more. They have to take on more debt. They have to start savings accoounts for college in utero. This is a national disgrace. Every deserving child in high school needs to KNOW, to KNOW, not to guess, that they will be able to afford a college education. Why in goddamned hell do I pay my goddamn taxes? I'll tell you why: so our schools can be the envy of the world again. So PUBLIC universities remain affordable for the general PUBLIC. I read the news and I see what people get pissed off about. They get pissed off about a lot of pointless shit. I'll tell you what I am pissed off about. I'm pissed off about our universities in California not being treated like the jewels they are. I'm pissed off that tuition rates are climbing faster than health care costs. I'm pissed off that no one else is pissed off about it! I didn't expect this to become a rant, in fact, I wrote about my alma mater because I had a wonderful opportunity last night. I attended a local event honoring top students, and presented a California Alumni Association scholarship to a young lady who is attending Berkeley in the fall. I was surprised by how important this event became to me. I shouldn't have been. Going to Cal was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met my beautiful wife there. I made the best friends I've ever had there. I turned my degree into a profession that has allowed me to live comfortably in a place I want to be. I grew up. I became a man. And I embraced the world of learning that Berkeley so vibrantly exemplifies. I want every kid to have that chance. "Fiat Lux" is what it says on the Berkeley motto. "Let there be light." Indeed.
prid. Kal. Iun.

30 May 2007

30 May

Before our national craze for turning holidays in to 3-day weekends, Memorial Day was on the 30th of May. One of the most admirable men serving in the Senate, Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, is an advocate for returning Memorial Day to a fixed date. The argument is that a 3-day weekend is a 3-day weekend is a 3-day weekend. A fixed date means people might actually notice the date and remember what it is for. As much as I like 3-day weekends, it is hard to argue the point. My only beef with Memorial Day is that a lot of innocent people are killed in wars, but Memorial Day is for honoring fallen soldiers. Never mind that thousands more civilians are killed than soldiers, and that soldiers, by definition, risk their lives performing their soldiering tasks. Obviously those who serve should be honored, but I cannot believe the victims of war deserve less. War has other costs, too. Specifically, dollar costs. I have generally avoided politics on this site, but dollars transcend that. Hell, everyone wants to spend dollars or have dollars spent on their behalf. The War in Iraq costs many dollars. Scroll down to "National Priorities Project" on the left below all my links. That is a lot of dollars. Enough dollars to fund almost 21 MILLION college scholarships. Like I said, that is a lot of dollars.

29 May 2007


Five years ago my list says I was reading The Hook by Donald E. Westlake. Not many writers have resume as accomplished as his. Melville's Moby Dick, which I never read in high school, was also there. Ten years ago I discovered that John Sayles wrote novels, not just screenplays. Los Gusanos was an engrossing read, filled with history, humor, tragedy and hopeless dreams. Norman MacLean's Young Men and Fire was also on the list The 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana changed the way smokejumpers and fire crews work today. The book is a poignant look at the individuals involved in the disaster and the combination of factors that led to the deaths of 13 firefighters. Fifteen years ago I finally made it all the way through Naked Lunch and actually 'got it.' I had attempted to read it before, and had found it bewildering. I tackled it again and this time I caught the wave and rode it all the way. It is a unique work--take a trip to the Interzone, you won't regret it. I can hardly match that with a more contrasting work: Gloria Steinem's Revolution from Within is also on my list from 15 years ago. She got her share of criticism for that best-seller. It is an obvious truth that a poor self-image leads to failure--I see it every day in my work. But how do we improve a child's view of himself? Can "self-esteem" be taught? Should it? I can say that it should be nurtured, that ultimately external sources of "self-esteem" are flimsy and don't stick, but how we go about it is as varied as the kids we work with. People aren't crops--you can't "mass-manage" them. What works for one is contraindicated for another.
a.d IV Kal.Iun.

28 May 2007

Damn That Old Whiskey Trail

Heaven is a place where good men go
Maybe it's a place that I won't know
Heading down that whiskey trail
Mama told me not to run, 'cause I might fall
But never was the kind to listen much at all
Heading down that whiskey trail
Damn that old whiskey trail
Daddy drank his dinner from a paper sack
Made it out the door one day
And never came back
Heading down that whiskey trail
They say that I'm a chip off a son of a gun
With nowhere to hide out and nowhere to run
Heading down that whiskey trail
Can't you hear the engines wail
Damn that old whiskey trail
Can't you hear the engines wail
Damn that old whiskey trail

Los Lobos is one of my favorite bands, and I noticed this was song #13 on Kiko (an album of sublime beauty). The 13th--the Ides--of November, a Friday no less, is my birthday. Thus the 13th of anything attracts my attention. I have loved this music for a number of years, but failed to notice Whiskey Trail as Tune XIII, and also failed to appreciate the lyrics (David Hidalgo and Louie Perez share the songwriting credits). Whiskey, the "water of life," is so often associated with waywardness and dissolution in the minds of writers. I suppose the abuse of alcohol has such a bloody and destructive history that the beauty of the spirit is drowned out. That's a shame. TPP readers know that M.C. is a whiskey drinker: he makes no apologies despite the history of alcoholism in both his family and his heritage. Whiskey drinking is a lovely thing--I've shared too many joyful drams with friends and loved ones not to think so. In fact, holidays here at TPP are often celebrated with Irish coffees. Jameson Irish Whiskey reaches its apotheosis of expression when mixed with a fine cuppa java, a spoonful of sugar, and a dash of vanilla. Topped by whipped cream, of course. Not that I don't appreciate Irish neat--I do. But the cocktail is my favorite way to sample that delightful brew. The website also features Jameson Redbreast, my favorite of all Irish whiskeys. I will beat anyone with a large stick if I catch them diluting or polluting that particular spirit with anything but water. The larder is bereft of Redbreast these days. That deserves a beating, too! Maybe Los Lobos is right, I get talking about whiskey and I want to beat people! Damn that old whiskey trail!
a.d. V Kal.Iun.

27 May 2007

439 victims

He's not a serial killer, but he has four hundred thirty-nine victims. That's right. 439. CDXXXIX. The Biggest and Baddest of Them All, Barry Lamar Bonds hit number 746 today off Tyler Buchholz, the 439th different pitcher he has so victimized in his long and remarkable career. That is the most amazing of his accomplishments in my mind. You give Barry a chance to swing the bat and one day you will give up a homerun to him. That's the deal. Barry Rules. Unfortunately, the Giants are playing as predicted, and they lost the game. Playing .490 ball on Memorial Day Weekend is not something that inspires enthusiasm. Barry had gone hitless in his last five games, homerless in his last 14. Finally, he has a breakout day--a single and 2 walks in addition to the 2-run HR--but to no avail. Baseball is a beautiful game: hit the ball on the screws and make an out, but tap a dribbler and get the game-winning hit. You never know how the bounces are going to go, for you or against you. Bonds has played in 44 of the Giants 49 games, and has hit 12 HRs. If he plays 44/49ths of the 34 games remaining before the All-Star Break and hits HRs at a 12/44 rate, he will hit eight more. That would leave him at 754 going into the Break. I have said all along that he would break the record before then. He needs nine to tie Hank Aaron's 755, ten to set a new mark of 756. Don't bet against it.
a.d. VI Kal.Iun.

26 May 2007

Book Heaven

My list of "books to buy" is coming in around 200. Not quite there yet, but close. In 21 days, 20 after today, the blog stops and the road trip begins. One stop on the road trip is Powell's. The City of Portland has many charms, but Powell's is my raison d'etre for staying there. The website, of course, is for buying books, not cyber-touring the store, and it gives you no feel for the real thing. Five floors of covering an entire city block, open 365 days a year, with new, used, paper, and hardcover books together on the same shelves, Powell's is unique. You need a map. The floors are color-coded. They call themselves a "City of Books." I call it heaven.
a.d. VII Kal.Iun.

25 May 2007

Click on the chick getting beat with a stick

Out of the Gutter has updated their website and opened up submissions for issue number three. I expect to see my story in issue number two very shortly! So, "click on the chick" and order your copy today! I got pretty excited yesterday when I saw the theme for issue #3: "War is All Hell" (W.T. Sherman). I have been working out the intro to a war story in my head the last few days. Then saw that contributors to issue #2 are NOT eligible for #3. Bummer, but reasonable. I imagine they get a hell of a lot more submissions than they can ever publish, and since it is a non-paying gig, they want to spread around the opportunities. Regardless of what happens in the future with my writing, I will always have a soft spot for OOTG, they, and Muzzle Flash, jump-started everything for me. "Noir" seems to be riding a new wave of popularity, and I dived in at the right time. Funny how that "meme" was percolating in my brain at the same time as all these other guys. (I love the notion of a meme, even if it smacks a bit of pseudo-science.) Last night our whiskey of choice was a whisky, the Bowmore "Legend" single malt. Bowmore is a Hebridean whisky, one of several distilleries on Islay ("eye-luh"). It has an amazing balance of malt sweetness and peat smoke, a tantalizing mix of contrasting flavors. It was a nice way to celebrate. (I realize I've "celebrated" getting my story published to the point of nausea, but hey, deal with it.)
a.d. VIII Kal.Iun.

24 May 2007

Perfect Thirty-Six

When I was a kid, I watched Channel 36 from San Jose. This was the miracle of cable television! Dozens of channels! At the time, the Carol Doda, the stripper, was a sort of Bay Area celebrity, and she did the ads for channel 36, calling it "the perfect 36." Never mind that her equipment was closer to 46, it was Carol Doda & The Perfect 36. Speaking of Thirty-Six, did you know there are only 36 plots in fiction? At least Georges Polti thinks so, and he claims neither Goethe nor Schiller could find more. I have a book I rescued from a dust bin somewhere called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, authored by the aforementioned Mr. Polti (translated by Lucille Ray), copyright 1916. Wikipedia has a nice little summary of the book and the XXXVI plot variants. (For all its flaws and frustrations, Wikipedia is a damned useful thing, and I'm on it all the time. One of these days I'm going to "author some content" for the site.) I find the book to be very helpful, not necessarily as a "plot generator" although it is a good one for that, but as a reference to the world of classical and Renaissance drama. All the dramatic situations, the Big XXXVI, are cross-referenced in the back of the book to actual examples. It was Polti who got me interested in Euripides and the Greek tragedians. Great stuff there for noir writers.
a.d. IX Kal.Iun.

23 May 2007

Sing, Muse . . .

. . . and through me tell the tale . . .
Homer had it right. The tale is there, you just have to open up to it. I keep trying to invent stories, and that is like inventing a vegetable. You plant the seed, nurture it, the vegetable grows. The stories are already there, you just have to help them sprout. I'm working too hard here, and am coming up with a whole lotta nuthin'. Just checking out the news this a.m. I came across a dozen stories. But I'm tone deaf these days, and Ms. Muse ain't singing in my ears. I keep thinking of my daily countdown (XII days until summer vacation), and that is not always the best thing. I need to work on my writing even when I'm making a living as an over-educated baby-sitter. Today is "Career Day." I wonder if there will be any writers speaking. I can hear the pitch already--work at home, work real hard, be under-appreciated, hardly make any money! As the other Homer would say: WOO-HOO! Funny what comes out when you stare at your keyboard long enough.
a.d. X Kal. Iun.

22 May 2007

M.C. at OOTG

The publication of my first short story, "Tweaker," must be imminent because I received an email from Matt Louis, editor of Out of the Gutter, for a "short bio." He meant 2 or 3 sentences. Now that's short! How do you sum it up in 2-3 sentences? Here's what I said:

M.C. O'Connor lives in Siskiyou County, California, and has contributed to Muzzle Flash. He writes about books, baseball, whiskey, and things noir at tenpoundpress.blogspot.com.

I decided to stay away from boring stuff like where I was born, went to school, what I did for a living, etc., and concentrate on my writing. It is not much of a resume, but it is truthful! I figure that is the best thing. To take a look at OOTG, just scroll down and click on the chick getting beat with a stick. "Tweaker" will be in issue #2.
a.d. XI Kal.Iun.

21 May 2007

M.C. Come A-Walkin'

After a long hiatus, I am walking to work again. Today I will leave by 0700 and WALK, unaided, from my home to my classroom. I had, until these last two months, only driven my car to work 2 or 3 times per school year. Otherwise I have walked for all of my 17 years in the school district, whether it be a blazing 100 degrees or a frigid 10 degrees. I have driven to work for almost two months now, ceasing the walks the week after St. Patrick's Day, when they became too painful. TPP readers might note that this blog started about the same time! Since the surgery, I have been very anxious to get back to normal. Normal for me is saying "no" to offers of rides to school. No matter how nicely I say it, people seem to be hurt or offended by my refusal. It is not like I don't appreciate the offers, it is just that I prefer to walk. Is that so weird? I LIKE TO WALK. In fact, it--walking--is deeply connected to my identity and being. I hope I can walk forever. (Apologies to John Shirley for 'stealing' his title.)
a.d. XII Kal. Iun.

20 May 2007


Eddie Muller is a man of many talents, more than just the author of DARK CITY. But that book is so engaging and so thorough that you can't imagine anyone else writing a better book on the subject. That subject, of course, is film noir. Without the movies, I doubt that I would have become a fan of crime fiction. My mother was a teenager in the 40's, and a huge fan of Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, Dana Andrews, Robert Mitchum and the other studs that populated the Dark City Streets of Hollywood B-movies. She shared her enthusiasm for tough guys in gray suits and felt hats with her three sons, and, through the magic of cable television, we were properly hooked at a young age. Give me a post-WWII, 90-minute, sharp-angled, shadowy black & white, with dialog snappier than an zoot-suited bandleader, and I'm happy. That brings us back to Eddie Muller and DARK CITY. Few books are as fun to pick up and leaf through again and again. The movies endure, and Mr. Muller has captured their timeless appeal with verve, humor and erudition.
a.d. XIII Kal. un.

19 May 2007

A Tale of Two Bourbons

Whiskey is the "water of life" according to the Celts. "Uisce beatha" is a rough version of the Scots Gaelic and Irish words that are the antecedents of our English name for this lovely spirit. Bourbon is a subset of American whiskey--it must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak. Jim Beam is the most popular bourbon in the world, its familiar white label is a feature of every bar. Aficionados of premium bourbons know that Jim Beam makes a quartet of delicious "small batch" bourbons, and M.C. spent a Saturday diving in to two of them. The first was BASIL HAYDEN'S, a golden drink with a minty nose and peppery flavor. At 80 proof, it was easy on the tongue, with a delicate, smooth, spicy character. The second was KNOB CREEK, a 9-year-old, 100 proof, amber dram of thick, chewy spirit. It had a grainy sweetness and a distinct oakiness. Two dangerously drinkable brews! The KNOB came alive with a healthy splash of "branch water" while the BASIL only needed a drop to release some of the aromatics. Both whiskeys had their own character, one mild and approachable, one robust and intimidating, but both were tasty and satisfying. A light-bodied whiskey does not have to lack flavor, and a full-bodied whiskey does not have to be overwhelming. These bourbons are both complex and balanced--obviously the product of master distillers. The Beam Family knows what it is doing, but after more than 200 years you'd expect that. Unfortunately, the Small Batch website is not very exciting, but we can live with that. The bourbon is too damn good to quibble over the small stuff!
a.d. XIV Kal. Iun.

18 May 2007

Blogging on

Blogs about blogs, or at least blog "clearinghouses" are another feature of the blog-o-sphere. Today I spent some time on Crime Zine. All the usual suspects are there. Now I know that lately I've spent too much time surfing and blogging, just dumping my cerebral cortex into cyberspace, really. As my knee heals--so far it is coming along fine--I will become a normal person again and stand upright in the sunshine. In the meantime, I came across a clever piece by Stephen Elliott called "Surviving a Month Without Internet." Good stuff, and suits me to a "T." In about one month I will take a blog hiatus, otherwise known as a vacation ("holiday" in Brit-speak). No electronics allowed for two blissful weeks! I am proud of myself for blogging every day (61st day in a row today), and will continue to do so until my holiday. Upon return, I will take a new tack. What that is yet I don't know, but I am determined to use the blog and the internet to HELP my writing, not suck my brain out. Mr. Elliott's thoughtful piece is found at Poets & Writers.
a.d. XV Kal. Iun.

17 May 2007

Wonderful things & speaking ill

Yes, it is BOING BOING! They call themselves "A Directory of Wonderful Things." This site is one of those internet time sinks where you say to yourself "what's up on Boing Boing?" and an hour later you have forgotten why you sat at the computer table. My hook this a.m. was the article about the death of the "Reverend" Jerry Falwell. I'm not sure it qualifies as "wonderful" to speak ill of the dead, but the "Rev." Falwell was an unusually polarizing character. I have a hard time assigning the title of "Rev." to someone who made a career of attacking people and cloaking his viciousness in the "respectability" of the cloth, but there it is. He was called "Reverend" and held three honorary doctorates in addition to a degree from a Baptist college. I'm an atheist myself, and that makes me a member of a distinct minority, a group of people who are classified by their "not-belief" as opposed to their belief. I mean, are you an "a-socialist" if you are a capitalist? Am I an "a-Dodger fan" because I root for the Giants? Ridiculous. I choose not to swallow the peculiar mythology of our culture, namely, the fellow on The Cross being a God, and suddenly I'm an "a-theist." Fine. I prefer to think of myself as rational. If you think there's an omniscient, immortal, all-powerful being somewhere who gives a flying fuck about your tiny little life (and who cares about everyone else, too, and manages to run the entire universe on the side) then more power to you. You and Jerry can have a grand old time sippin' Margaritas with JC, St. Pete & the Bhoyos when you get to wherever you get to when the rest of us are worm food. If heaven is where fuckers like Falwell wind up, I'm happy to wind up somewhere else. Life is wonderful.
a.d. XVI Kal. Iun.

16 May 2007

Jack Reacher, action hero

Just finished the first three Lee Child "Jack Reacher" books. (Thanks NOC, they helped me pass the re-hab time!) EC Comics used to run a series of action stories back in the '50's subtitled "he-man adventures." You don't hear the term "he-man" much anymore. Like Tom Clancy's John Clark, or Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, Jack Reacher is a modern he-man, that is, an action hero. Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) of TV's 24 and John McClane (Bruce Willis) of the Die Hard film franchise give you a few other examples. An action hero is skilled in both armed an unarmed combat, mostly due to his previous military and/or law enforcement background. He is also an expert in surveillance and interrogation techniques, again having experience in some "legitimate" service. The action hero, most importantly, is a "he-man," that is, unusual strength and stamina are de rigeur. These guys are bad-asses, way tougher and more determined than your average Joe. They have to take on terrorists, neo-nazis, gangbangers, hit men, psycho-killers and all the other creeps and violence freaks the world throws at them. They are hard-boiled. They aren't enamored of the usual rewards like wealth, comfort, or fame. In fact, they shun these things, and just want their cup of coffee at their desk the next morning after they save the damsel in distress (or the world). They are cynical, but not so disillusioned that they cross into noir territory. The action hero is usually a quiet patriot. The hard-boiled "anti-hero" is perhaps less so, but is distinctly apolitical. The noir protagonist is outside the entire scope of "heroic." He may perform deeds of great courage and bravery (part and parcel of the action hero milieu), but they are for immediate, short-term consequences. The noir protagonist (Robert Mitchum in the wonderful film Out of the Past) is a man adrift from the normal social ties, an intuitive existentialist. Jack Reacher is a drifter, and even a loner. But his long military background binds him tightly to the fabric of America, and the risks he takes for love (of his brother, of his mentor's daughter, etc.) are heroic. He puts the larger ideals of society above his personal gain. That separates him from the characters that populate the stories of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and many others.
(a.d. XVII Kal. Iun.; that is, ante diem septimus decimum Kalends Iunius, or 17 days--inclusive-- before the Kalends of June)

15 May 2007

Beware the Ides

Willy the Shake and JC were worried about the Ides of MARCH, obviously, but today is Ides Maius, nonetheless. And it is my return to the working world after arthroscopy. I bought a cane at Ace and called it "Matt" in honor of the ace himself, Matt Cain. A cane is a a nice psychological tool--people see you with a cane and say stuff like "oh, let me get that for you" or "don't get up, I'll do it." Healing is a long and steady process and every little bit helps. I suppose I could have taken the week off (I've scads of sick leave) but I need to get up and out and back to some kind of routine. My writing has suffered despite having time on my hands at home. I think my legs are connected to my soul. Time to get them both going again--Beware the Ides!
Id. Mai.

14 May 2007

prid. Id. Mai.

The cryptic abbreviations above are a bit of Latin, pridie Idus Maius or "the day before the Ides of May." The Romans had a funny way of reckoning dates. They based them on Kalends (the 1st), Nones (5th; or 7th of March, May, July, October), and Ides (13th; or 15th of March, May, July, October), and all dates are expressed as so many days before the named day. TPP readers will get to know this well as I intend to include the Roman date at the end of each posting. "In March, July, October, May, the Nones are on the 7th day." Rita Mae Brown once told an audience of aspiring writers to "learn Latin" and I have dabbled in the lingua antiquitas ever since. Thanks, Rita! And thanks to old pal BRZ for dragging me to see Ms. Brown speak 20-plus years ago. Nowadays BRZ is in to some very cool stuff, you should check her out here. Sharp-eyed visitors will note a new addition to TPP, "sitemeter." This service allows M.C. to collec data on blog traffic. If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Of course! But no one will notice, eh? Sort of like blogging. It's there, but that doesn't mean anyone notices it!

13 May 2007

Happy half-birthday!

That's right, kids, today is my "half-birthday," I'm halfway between XLVII and XLVIII. I understand the Romans used S to designate "semis" or VI/XII. Curious fellows, those Romans, they used base X (decimal) for whole numbers, but base XII (duodecimal) for fractions. Probably because it is easy to divide XI by III and IV. Works great for XII month calendars, since VI/XII is halfway. So I'm XLVII S today. Normally, I would take this occasion to celebrate, or conjure up some fun association with the 13th of May, and get completely involved in some silly self-indulgence. But today is Mother's Day. Now I know that Mother's Day is an insidious marketing scheme created by florists and kept alive by greeting card and telephone companies, but it is hard to be too curmudgeonly about that. After all, we are talking MOM here. You don't mess with moms. Happy Mother's Day, Peggy-O, and likewise to all the other moms in the world.

12 May 2007

Crap detector redux

There was a time before the internet, when eager listeners twiddled a knob on a shortwave receiver and tuned in a station. Someplace other than where you were. Exotic or prosaic, it didn't matter. Tweak the tuner and there you were. Sometimes you get that feeling on the world wide web. You scan the range of frequencies and something drops in your lap. My crap detector must have been set to "sensitive" because that is what happened. I detected a bunch of crap. More specifically, poop. As in the Poop Report. Of course, it didn't just "drop in my lap." That's metaphor. A bad one for this site. Think about "dropping one." Last place you want it dropped is your lap. But enough of that. Back to the Poop Report. The tag line on their website is Your #1 source for your #2 business. I like that. This kind of crap cannot be explained, it must be experienced. So go. Get a load of poop.

11 May 2007

The Big Bam

In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, George Herman Ruth hit 54 home runs and changed baseball forever. There were 16 teams in the major leagues then. The Babe had more homers than 14 of them. His nearest "competitor" (George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns) had 19. By the 1930's, "sluggers" were on every team, and guys like Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig would obtain baseball immortality by following in the Babe's footsteps. Leigh Montville's engrossing new biography, The Big Bam: the life and times of Babe Ruth, is a sensitive and sympathetic portrait of this larger-than-life American character. Mr. Montville knows that many of the stories about Ruth are legend, myth, and outright nonsense, and is careful to point out what was actually witnessed and documented as well as what was lost in the fog of history. He gives us a look at the times, and like all good biographers, sees his subject in that context. He fortunately avoids romanticizing "the good old days" and does his best to give us an unvarnished view of the era and the man. The Big Bam is an enjoyable read, and students of noir would benefit from a look at it. After all, George Herman Ruth performed his exploits during the heyday of the pulps, and his impact on the public imagination has all the earmarks of an action hero. For better or worse, he really was such a character to his legion of fans, and he has left a legacy impossible to dismiss. I wonder if school kids would enjoy history class more if they got to read stuff like this.

10 May 2007


All went swimmingly at Fairchild Medical Center. We are lucky in our small town in faraway Siskiyou County to have a great local hospital staffed by quality professionals. Everything about my experience yesterday was first-rate. I feel good today, on the road to recovery. I got to watch the surgeon poking and prodding my knee on a TV monitor. It was like that Raquel Welch sci-fi flick Fantastic Voyage. The arthroscope showed me a world right out some Discovery Channel documentary. Except it was my knee! My synovial fluid, my blood, my meniscus, my ligaments, my bones! Very cool, highly recommended. Get yourself a knee injury and take an E-ticket ride on the 'scope. The surgeon was pleased with the outcome, praised me for being fit and healthy, and told me my recovery would be 100%. Now that's what I call customer service. Alert TPP readers will note I've dated myself: Ms. Welch is now 67, and Disneyland gave up their A through E ticket scheme a long time ago. My last trip (in 1981) to Walt's Weird World was just that--a "trip" (if you know what I mean and I think that you do, sorry Joe Bob). I won't go back. That place is too twisted for anything but hallucinogens. But I'd happily get together with the still-stunning Ms. Welch. Lookin' good, babe! I'm off my feet the next few days, give my agent a call and we'll do lunch.

09 May 2007


Or perhaps "A-Day" would be better. I go under the arthroscope today. Just doesn't have the same feeling as "go under the knife" which always sounded noir-ish. The modern world has many benefits, and getting 'scoped is one of them. My meniscus is getting the surgical equivalent of a Zamboni on a hockey rink. Shaped and smoothed. I'm looking forward to it, I'm weary of being gimpy. I'm in shorts and a T-shirt, un-shaved, un-fed, un-coffeed. A hell of a way to start a work day. I'm out Thursday and Friday of course, and probably Monday as well. Thank goodness for sick leave. I've enough accumulated to take the rest of the school year off, maybe I ought to. (Just kidding, boss. I don't think she reads my blog.) I have 48 hours of an immobilizing brace and ice packs to look forward to! Report time to hospital: 0630. 'Scope time: 0730. Time now: 0613. Time to go!

08 May 2007

Crap detector

Ernest Hemingway is reputed to have said that every writer needs a "built-in, shockproof crap detector." I see this attributed to him in lots of places, but I never bothered to do the research to find out if he actually did say it. Nonetheless it is part of Heming-lore, and it is as connected to our image of him as are bullfights and big-game hunts. I think it is a lovely phrase, and terribly truthful. Sometimes I look back over stuff I've written and a loud, grating CLANK goes off and I think--did I say that? I know my crap detector doesn't always work, but when it does it is like eating something nasty from an hors d'ouevre tray at a party. You have to maintain your cool, but you want to spit the stuff out. And you can't believe you didn't have better sense. The internet is a wonderful thing, no? The information density we have at our fingertips is astonishing, and if I think about it too much I get woozy. But M.C.'s Law sez that Bullshit flow is directly proportional to Information density, or BSf/Id = constant. We need bigger and better crap detectors in the 21st century because much of the fruit of the Information Age is rotten. This brings me to one of my favorite websites--Snopes. These guys are the Crap Warriors of Cyberspace and they are doing important work. I'm sure they get things wrong, but I love their thoughtful skepticism and their passionate desire to get the facts straight. M.C. sez "check 'em out."

07 May 2007

The Big Five-Oh

This is post number 50 for TPP. I'm proud of myself for coming up with something to say for 50 straight days. Now that I re-think that a bit, it should surprise no one that I can think of something to say for 50 straight days. People might be more impressed if I shut up for 50 days! Regardless, the blogging experiment is moving forward and leading me somewhere. This weekend I finished Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward. The moral of the story? If you plan for a war, the plan will take on a life and momentum of its own. Something that big is like Godzilla, or maybe The Blob. Unpredictable. You might think you are just preparing for contingencies when suddenly you find yourself in a quagmire. A sobering read, to be sure. And people wonder why I like fiction. I get 'scoped on Wednesday--not soon enough!

06 May 2007

Lazy Sunday

TPP readers will notice that I spruced up the site a bit, adding some color and re-organizing the links lists. What a time sink this stuff is! One minute I log on, the next thing I look up and see an hour has passed, maybe two. Yikes! I'm spending my life in cyberspace. Although I have been laid up with this damn knee injury, I'm finding it difficult to write. I thought having all this home time on my hands would allow me to get some of my new story ideas together. Alas, I've been reading, blogging, listening to ballgames, and watching pointless TV. No excuses, just not delivering the goods. The end of the school year is always stressful at work, and I'm feeling oddly detached because of my impending surgery. Wednesday is D-Day, and I'm taking that day off, of course, and Thursday and Friday as well. After that, who knows? I've got enough accumulated sick leave to take as much time as I need. The orthopedist scoffs at my worries about "rehab," claiming I'll be good as new very shortly. My friends who've had similar arthroscopic treatments concur. We'll see. Time for some sitting in the sun and reading more of Lee Child's Killing Floor.

05 May 2007

Derby Day

Street Sense, the favorite, won the Kentucky Derby today. I couldn't tell you anything about it, but it was exciting to watch the race. The horses are magnificent, who doesn't like watching them run? As a sporting event, it is marginally better than those 10-20 second Olympic sprints. At least you get two minutes worth of excitement at the Derby, and because it is horse and rider, you don't get that "lab rat" feeling that track and field events always evoke. The hype associated with this event is nauseating, the broadcast unwatchable. And who would watch it? The race doesn't last as long as a commercial break. Post time was listed as 6:04 EDT, but the gates opened several minutes later. I suppose that not enough of the rich and famous were lauded and "interviewed." One thing the Derby has going for it is bourbon. This is Kentucky, land of bourbon. Naturally, we toasted post time with a glass of bourbon. In this case Maker's Mark. Now I suppose it should have been Woodford Reserve mint juleps, but I'm a "whiskey neat" kind of guy. Even better, the Giants won today, and Barry hit number 744, his tenth of the season. It will be fun to watch Bud Selig squirm when Barry is introduced at the All-Star Game (in SF this year) having already broken Aaron's record. What will be even more fun is the Giants in first place. We'll see. The phenom gets to pitch tomorrow, Tim Lincecum. When you are a fan for a long time, you see prospects come and go, and there are very few who actually become veteran major leaguers, let alone stars. Will Clark was a special prospect, his rookie year was 1986, and he was a bona fide NL star from 1987 to 1993 for the Giants. He spent very little time in the minors because he clearly didn't need it. Tim Lincecum generates the same buzz that "Will the Thrill" did. He has spent very little time in the minors because the only people who can hit off him are major leaguers. It has taken more than 20 years for the Giants to have a "sure thing" prospect, a true phenom. On the flip side, young Mr. Lincecum (does he shave?) has probably already been over-hyped, and if he isn't the next Tom Seaver, we'll all be disappointed! Regardless of how the team hits this year (anemically, so far, with signs of life), the pitching will be fun. Zito-Cain is a great 1-2 punch, curveball lefty and power righty. We saw another tough youngster today--Noah Lowry--beat a good hitting Phillies lineup despite atrocious fielding behind him. Old Morris has been cool and crafty and very effective. Now we get Tim Lincecum, the Next Big Thing. I'll raise a glass of bourbon for your first pitch tomorrow. Go Giants!

04 May 2007


I'm now a member of the "technological literati." How's that grab ya? We all have to be members of something, what? Actually, it is a website, and a new feature of TPP. Look down at the end of the postings and you will get a link to my "profile" and other features of technorati. I'm a reasonably verbose fellow, but I find it hard to write these "profiles" about myself that all these websites want. I'll have to do a better job, get some pets, give them cute names, post pictures of them, something like that. After all, the point of technocrati is to help you get your blog noticed by others. It lets you know who else is linking to your site. Ultimately, that is the point here in cyberspace--linkage. While it is fun to write a diary, if no one reads it I might as well just scratch it on paper. This experimental foray into web-logging is supposed to help my writing, by getting readers tuned in to what I'm doing. Ultimately, writers are show-offs. We just have to have folks seated and silent and paying rapt attention! Sounds like teaching. Or, at least, an idealized version of teaching. Seated, silent, and paying rapt attention is a rare event in a classroom these days. Speaking of classrooms, I noticed that one of my fellow Muzzle Flashers is a school teacher and has a blog named for her PI character, Bo Fexler. So in the spirit of technoliteratic harmony, I'm adding Bo to my links list. Plus they are fun stories! One of these days I'll have to sort that list of links by categories--it is only going to get longer. I could spend many hours on blogger, tweaking and customizing the look and layout, fiddling with html code and whatnot, giving my site all sorts of style points. Maybe after I get my knee 'scoped I'll be bored enough to do that. I worry I'll spend all my time twiddling with my blog instead of actually writing. Countdown to knee slicing: 5 days. Countdown to summer vacation: 35 days (only 25 work days).

03 May 2007

Happy 83rd, Bill!

One of my major inspirations as a writer is my father-in-law, William S. "Bill" Rothwell. He is 83 today--HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Bill was a real-live rocket scientist before he took up novel writing. We use that phrase all the time, "it ain't rocket science," or "smart guy, huh, what are you, a rocket scientist?", or "you oughta be a rocket scientist, kid" or somesuch. Just another bit of cultural detritus, tossed around like "hey, dude" or "my bad" or "whazzup." Think about it a bit, and you realize that rocket scientists are a pretty rare breed. There was a period in history--the mid 60's through Apollo--when rocket scientists and the engineers associated with them were a sort of archetypal American brain-iac. Pressed dark slacks, short sleeve white dress shirts, Brylcreemed hair, slide rule--all these things said "Space Race." After Neil Armstrong, the fickle American public lost interest in rockets, and the end of the Cold War was the final blow. Never mind that a major impetus to the fall of the Soviet Union was their genuine fear of American space technology and its ability--potentially--to defend against the armada of ballistic missiles pointed at U.S. targets. Americans, of course, still launch rockets. Rockets for defense, science research, commercial broadcasting, even an occasional astronaut ride. But the glamour is gone. Nowadays the smart kids work for computer and wireless phone outfits, or biotechnology startups. And, despite having the best universities in the world, the U.S. of A. is no longer the Science & Technology Center of Gravity. Places like Sweden and Korea are now innovation leaders, and this trend will continue. But that is another rant for another time. This post is a tribute to Bill. When he retired from Lockheed, he did something he always wanted to do--write. He wrote a loosely-connected trilogy of science fiction novels exploring a future both promising and terrifying. I think loyal TPP readers should take a virtual jump to Author House Publishing and do a search for William S. Rothwell. You'll find The New Life Clinics, Hide Me in the Grave, and Lethifer. Click the "Add to Cart" button and get to work! I've always had a hankering to write myself, and I always thought it was no more than that, an amateur's hankering. It dawned on me after a while that I would either write or I wouldn't, that one had to DO what one imagined doing. Bill did that. And that was one hell of an inspiration. Thanks, Bill.

02 May 2007

On round holes and square pegs

This week I get to participate in one of the most enduring public and political myths--the standardized test. Thousands of citizen-voters believe that exams can tell if a student is learning and if a school is "good." "Good schools" are what everyone wants. Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates, Greens, Independents, etc., they all want "good schools." Since no one has ever bothered to define exactly what a "good school" is, the convenient political solution of "test scores" fills that need and requires no further study or analysis. I love muddle-headedness! I particularly enjoy poorly thought-out answers and knee-jerk responses! I work in an "alternative" school. A silly name, to be sure. We do indeed provide an alternative to the "traditional" high school--smaller classes, more independence, greater accommodations to different learning styles, multiple ways to demonstrate learning, you get the idea. Are we required to administer the state exams? Of course! Do our students do well on them? Typically not. Does this mean they are stupid and we are a shitty school? Of course not. Granted, many of my charges are woefully under-educated despite our best efforts, and I have no doubt that a commitment to higher "standards" would improve things. But such "standards" are arbitrary. Too often, some bureaucrat makes a copy of the Table of Contents of a textbook and declares "here are our standards!" An army of Ph.D.'s in Sacramento can make a list of stuff that a college freshman needs to know to give him a good shot at success in the university setting, but beyond that I'm unconvinced. When this army of "doctors" can tell me what a good citizen is, and how we nurture that, I'll start listening. In the meantime, the taxpayers need to know that millions of their dollars are being flushed down toilets all over California this week. What do you say to that, Ah-nohld?

01 May 2007

13 and 11

The Giants finish April at 13 wins and 11 losses (with 3 rain-outs), 1-1/2 games behind the 16-11 AZ 'Snakes. When you go to AZ and lose all three games, you have to figure it is going to hurt you in the standings. I can remember many, many losing Aprils over the years so I suppose I am happy we are over .500. Barry Bonds got zero hits last night but walked 3 times and scored twice. What Bonds does is make the fewest outs. This keeps innings alive and creates scoring opportunities. He "turns the lineup over" is another way to think about it. Outs are the most important thing. Like three strikes, outs are a limit. Each team only gets 27. So making outs is the cardinal sin of baseball, once they are gone the chance to win is gone, too. HRs and RBIs are wonderful of course, but they don't always reflect the relative importance of an individual's contribution to a game. Rickey Henderson and Tim "Rock" Raines were two of the greatest players ever, but they never led the league in slugging. But they did make the fewest outs on their respective teams even though they typically led that team in plate appearances. Their ability to get on base combined with their legendary speed made them invaluable. Someone has to score all those runs your sluggers drive in. Bonds is not just the best slugger, he can do what Raines and Henderson can do as well, get on base and make the offense go. Two players in one! Now if only the Giants could come up with another hitter . . .