Thursday, August 30, 2012

Big bad seven

HT to HT

This really crept up on me: the seventh anniversary of the launching of Halfway There. I started this blog shortly after completing my third and final stint in graduate school, needing to do something to keep my powerfully over-educated brain busy. Either that, or to sublimate my compulsion for keyboard pounding.

It's often been fun, although occasionally disappointing. How can certain segments of the world resist the rationality of my pellucid prose? Yet I strive to avoid the conclusion that people who disagree with me are either foolish or evil (although occasionally they seem to be both). Such a conclusion would be bad for amicable family relations, seeing as so many of my relatives insist on doing silly things like supporting the right-wing policies that suck the marrow from their bones. But I preach at them in vain just as they do at me (except, of course, that I use truth and they use falsehood).

In recent years the sublimation of my keyboard-pounding jones has taken the form of novel-writing, but one modestly successful publication is not likely to be the start of a burgeoning career in fiction. Perhaps after the movie rights are sold or the opera version has its premiere. We'll see. In the meantime, school is back in session and it's only a matter of time before a few more “weird student” stories are collected.

And maybe we'll make it to the 8th anniversary.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reviews are in!


Do me a favor? People have been asking me if there's going to be a Kindle version of my novel. The answer is a firm maybe. It will happen only if the publisher gets the notion that there's a significant demand for an e-book edition. Would you please go to the Amazon page and click on “I'd like to read this book on Kindle”? Thanks!

A few unsolicited reviews have trickled in since last month's publication of Land of Milk and Money. The good news is that they're positive. Right now there are three five-star reviews on Amazon, although one of them appropriately notes that it was written by a friend of mine. (Thanks, buddy!) The other two, however, are by people I have never met and don't know. I have to thank them for taking the time and trouble to post such positive reviews of my book. Muito obrigado!

 Here's what Karen Davis of Maryland had to say:
A "read straight through" delight, July 31, 2012

Disclaimer: I read the author's blog, but I don't know him. Still, his writing there is delightful, so I was prepared to enjoy the book. I just wasn't prepared to enjoy it quite so much. I started it on my commute to work this morning, and finished it this evening, doing little else but read. The story hooked me, the characters are vivid and convincing, and the narrative structure pulled me right in. At first I paid a lot of attention to the dates provided, but fairly soon I felt grounded enough in the family's life to be able to place when things were happening — what seems a bit haphazard at first is anything but. The huge family, bound together by the dairy farm, unravels in an inevitable and real way after the death of the matriarch, who knew that "land, houses, and cows" — and money — would come between them. Her attempt to prevent that serves as the spark, and we get to know them all before we learn how it all ends. (Or maybe not "all".) This book is a joy to read.
Jeffrey W. Hatley then weighed in with the following:
A Wonderful Book, August 6, 2012

Short summary: This is the best work of fiction I have read in a very long time, and you should absolutely read it.

Long Summary:

The first thing I should mention is that this is not the type of book I would ordinarily read. If I were browsing the book store, I probably would not have been gripped by the book's synopsis on the back cover. I bought this book because I'm a long-time fan of the authors blog, so I was familiar with his skilled writing.

This book greatly exceeded my high expectations.

Written in an episodic fashion, Land of Milk and Money uses short, non-chronological anecdotes to tell the story of several generations of the Francisco family and their dairy farm, as well as the legal battle that ensued when the family matriarch passed away. While this may sound like a slightly confusing way to write a story, it is not; the author uses it masterfully, creating three-dimensional characters and relating several decades-worth of incidents, resulting in a book which is a model of clarity. The author does helpfully include a Cast of Characters in the back of the book, but one quickly learns all of the major players and ceases to need this cheat sheet.

Despite being about a legal battle, Land of Milk and Money is light-hearted, and I often found myself chuckling at Candy's follies, Ms. Onan's ineptness, Jojo's ingenuity, and Paul's pedantry. By the book's conclusion, I had developed an attachment to many of the characters, and I can't help but feel that there are even more wonderful anecdotes that didn't make the cut. While I doubt it's in the making, I would certainly read the sequel!

Land of Milk and Money is an extremely fun read, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Please, read this!
Nice! How could I possibly quibble with that? (Although I admit that I did correct one misspelling because it's difficult for me to resist such things.)

By the way, Jeffrey is completely correct. There were a number of omitted anecdotes. Here's a little list:

The voyage to Brazil
The wearing of the green
Alberto's wisdom
If I might have a word
Visit to the University Farm
I want to be a priest
A night at the opera
Want to be a teacher?
Walking past the church
The Einsteinian cow

All but the last of these episodes were written up and included in the manuscript at one point or another. The first one, The voyage to Brazil, was published on-line at the Comunidades site early last year while the manuscript was still under consideration at Tagus Press. During the editing process, the segment was flagged for its comparative length and for being too much of a distraction from the main plot. I had to (reluctantly) agree.

“The wearing of the green” is based on an old blog post from 2005. The time of red and green amused me enough to want to recycle it, but my editor deemed it peripheral to the plot. As he noted in an initial reading of the manuscript, “the story of Paul's evolution from child prodigy to mathematician is well-enough told and does present a focal point for an alternative assimilation narrative, [but] I'm not altogether persuaded it fully coheres with the rest of the book.”

Yeah, busted! He singled out several of the more autobiographical segments and recommended them for deletion. Of the ten deleted titles above, I see that fully seven of them were episodes of this kind.

What will I do with all of the chunks of text left over from the manuscript's slimming process? I don't  know. While most of them don't stand alone very well, neither do they form a coherent whole. Perhaps they are fated to go into literature's dustbin. Although crowded, I'm sure the literary waste receptacle can make room for these leavings. And who knows? With a little bit of patience, they might eventually be reunited with the anecdotes that survived the winnowing process, but ... on the shelf or in the dustbin?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Michael Voris vs. Bill Donohue

O brächten beide sich um! 

Sometimes it is impossible to choose sides. I mean, do we really care whether Mothra defeats Godzilla or vice versa? Does it actually matter whether it's the Wolfman or Frankenstein's monster who emerges victorious? That's the ambivalent feeling I have while observing Michael Voris locked in mortal combat with Bill Donohue. Both men are such perfect exemplars of shallow, sneering sanctimony that Mime's fervent wish from Act II of “Siegfried” comes to mind.

Voris has a well-honed more-Catholic-than-the-pope shtick working for him. He eagerly awaits the imminent Church schism that will drive out the insufficiently devout “cafeteria Catholics” and leave a small but fervent remnant of the ultramontane. Only then will the greatly reduced but greatly purified American branch of the Roman Catholic Church finally be cleansed of the taint of the heresy of Americanism—that vile doctrine of separation of church and state once embraced by the notorious John F. Kennedy but recently denounced by the virtuous Rick Santorum. (Yeah, that's right. There's a segment of modern Catholicism in the United States that regards Santorum as superior to Kennedy.)

Normally Bill Donohue of the Catholic League would not have much to say about Michael Voris. Donohue, after all, is much the greater public figure, a familiar face on television whenever he imagines that the Catholic Church is being unfairly maligned. If anything, Donohue might be inclined to give Voris a condescending little pat on the head (Don't muss the hair, Bill—or whatever that is!) and encourage him to keep up the good work. But recently Voris has been attacking Donohue, and sweet old Uncle Bill can't quite bring himself to ignore it. Those flea bites are getting itchy!

You can almost taste Voris's jealousy of Donohue's high profile as he describes the Catholic League's president as a member of the “Catholic elites”: “you see and hear them everywhere as they appear on and run TV, radio, newspapers, and many magazines.” [Subtext: And all I have is this lousy YouTube channel! And my greatest hit rates occur when Pharyngula readers come to mock me!]
Last week Mr. Donohue appeared on the Lou Dobbs show on Fox News and absolutely ripped honest Catholics who are concerned over the scandal of Obama having been invited by Cardinal Dolan to the Al Smith dinner in New York.
Hint: Voris numbers himself among those “honest Catholics.” This diatribe is just one small segment of a much longer rant titled “Obama and Peasant Catholics,” available on YouTube as part of the ChurchMilitant.TV channel (for all of your right-wing extremist Catholic enjoyment).

In response, Donohue deigned to notice Voris's existence, although not by name (perish forbid!). The Catholic League issued a statement attributed to Donohue, here excerpted:
It is customary, though not compulsory, for the New York Archbishop to invite the presidential candidates from the two major political parties to the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York City. This year both candidates will be there. Some are not happy with these choices, especially the decision to invite President Obama. Cardinal Timothy Dolan has not been shy about his criticisms of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, yet he decided to rise above the politics of the moment and allow the presidential candidates to partake in this charitable event.

On the August 9 edition of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” (Fox Business Channel), I vigorously defended Cardinal Dolan’s decision. I talked with him earlier that day about this issue and found, unsurprisingly, that the New York Archbishop wasn’t budging in his conviction that the HHS mandate must be fought with every tool we have. His resolve is unflinching. For me, that was the bottom line. But not for others.

If Catholics want to change the culture, they need to engage it.... Acting diplomatically may at times make for a hard swallow. But following protocol is not analogous to prostituting one’s principles.
I hope this makes it clear. If Donohue had any principles, this would not compromise them. Here endeth the lesson.

But I'm sure the noise will continue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hey, Idiot! Buy this!

Selling to sociopaths
It's a problem as old as gaming itself. Stay home and just keep playing, or get to work on time so that your coffee-breath boss doesn't ride you like a rented scooter. Who says you have to choose? Your PS/3 stays at home, but the game goes with you. Never stop playing. PlayStation Vita.
Have you seen the charming advertisement? Do you identify with the tragic sufferings of the poor gameplayer who has to decide between soothing recreation and gainful employment? Do you rejoice upon learning of Sony's brilliant solution to the dilemma? With a PlayStation Vita you can keep playing anywhere, even as you're strolling to work! Even as you cross busy intersections with never a care about speeding traffic! Even at your desk after you survive the trip to the office!

No doubt many hot tears of relief and gratitude were spilled when Sony unveiled its “Never stop playing” commercial. Anyone who was in fear of actually getting a life was now miraculously granted a new lease on irrelevance.

But perhaps I overstate the case. Surely you might still be considered relevant by the survivors of the victims of the multi-vehicle pileup at the intersection where you stepped off the curb without looking. These things happen. Hope you didn't lose your place in your game!

Anyway, there are more direct ways to hurt people than stepping into their path. You could get instead. It has an even more devil-may-care approach to the welfare of the unfortunate citizens of reality. With and a smart phone or other portable video device, you can watch commercial-laden movies for free whenever you want. Even while riding a bicycle! As the commercial demonstrates, you can happily bike through the middle of a picnic or outdoor wedding ceremony while your attention is riveted to the screen. Not even nirvana could be better than this! Besides, those people in the park were just being stupid when they failed to take into account the possibility of bike riders under the influence of Crackle. I mean, it's like all their fault!

Crackle marketing has yet to upload the ad celebrating the destruction of a picnic and disruption of a wedding, but an earlier promo spot is just as true to the theme. With on a portable video device, you can conveniently destroy your neighborhood from the comfort of your riding lawnmower. Now who wouldn't want to do that!?

Oh, right. Sane people.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Publicity coup of the century!

Of course, the century is young 

The cover of my novel has now been viewed more than 900,000 times on YouTube. Can one million be far behind? No doubt bestsellerdom is right around the corner!

Or perhaps not. This “publicity coup of the century” is certainly amusing and entertaining, but I fear that it's no guarantee that my book will be eagerly snatched up by titillated YouTube viewers. One is permitted to doubt that YouTube is teeming with readers of the modern novel. However, if only one percent of the viewers were to flock to their bookstores or order my novel on-line ... pause to do the math ... omigawd! ... that's six times the original press run! Let's get started on the second printing! (Yes, small university presses are parsimonious with their initial commitments. I'll bet that movie rights are still pretty cheap right now.)

Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox are two young men from the Sacramento region who in 2006 had the single most popular video on YouTube (with nearly 25 million hits). Their video channels continue to be among YouTube's most widely viewed. Their website offers merchandise, games, and third-party animations, all part of Ian and Anthony's burgeoning entertainment enterprise.

I first stumbled across them because they were local (and, no, neither ever enrolled in one of my classes, so I don't really know them). Their cracked sense of humor may be an order of magnitude (and a full generation) beyond mine, but I started to think of them again while pondering my situation. How does a first-time novelist get some notice for his book if his publisher is a small university press with no advertising budget? Hmm. The obvious answer is free publicity!

It hasn't gone too badly. For example, I got on local TV as a stand-in for Star Trek's William Shatner. (Nope. Not kidding. Go look up serendipity in your dictionary.) The next step, of course, was intergalactic fame. Or, at least, world famousness. That's where Smosh came in, the megahit YouTube channel. I knew that the boys had a recurring feature titled “Mail time with Smosh,” during which they would comb through the booty found in their post office box. Imagine how delightful it would be if Anthony or Ian were to hold my book up in front of their video camera and gush over its excellence!

No, I did not think of this during a drunken stupor. Honest. I don't drink. The idea came to me while I was stone cold sober.

So I sent Smosh a letter touting the glorious features of my book. Strangely enough, I omitted my book's title and mailed the letter anonymously. That's right. It was a teaser.

A week later, I did it again. There were a couple of new items added to the teaser list. Still no title or author name, though. I wanted Anthony and Ian to be aware that there was something to anticipate in their future mail. Given the tonnage of fan mail that Smosh receives, I figured it was worth investing some effort in gaining their attention. Finally, of course, I mailed them the book, including the final version of the teaser list:
Here now! A book full of Anthony & Ian’s favorite things!
  • Titties! (on the cover)
  • Milk! (passim)
  • Bullshit! (p. 78)
  • Frontal nudity! (p. 236)
  • Purple nurples (two!)! (p. 115)
  • Sarcastic Spanish! (p. 251)
  • Explosions! (p. 122)
  • Collisions! (p. 227)
  • The F-word! (pp. 25, 26, 38, 156, 203)
  • Penile mutilation! (p. 140)
  • Cows! (everywhere—including on the envelope this time!)
  • Gay bars [where straight boys secure in their masculinity can go because they’re cool]! (pp. 159-164, 178)
  • Lawyers in distress! (every chapter)
The only book in the known universe to contain the sentence “Jesus didn’t like having his dick shortened”!
My efforts were deemed worthy of Smosh's attention. On July 23, 2012, the boys posted another installment of “Mail time with Smosh” on their IanH channel. They devoted 30 seconds out of their six-minute video to my novel. Anthony started the segment (at 1:25) by effusively gushing, “Oh, my God, guys! We got the best book ever! It's a book full of all of our favorite things!” Tongue firmly in cheek, I'm sure, but one has to appreciate the cooperation.

Check it out for yourselves. (Then go out and buy copies of my fabulous Smosh-endorsed book!)

What's next? Well, I can't rightly say. (For one thing, I think the Vatican post office strictly screens the mail.)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Bedtime for banzai

Your afterlife is wrong!

PBS has been rebroadcasting “The War,” the multi-part Ken Burns documentary on World War II. Last night I watched the final episode, “A World without War.” As its situation became more dire, Japan ramped up its use of suicide pilots—the infamous kamikaze. One survivor of a kamikaze attack was Maurice Bell of Mobile, Alabama, who was a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis when a Japanese pilot crashed into the ship.

“They was trained to fly their planes one way and no return,” explained Bell. “And when they went out after a ship or something, they had their funeral before they actually left and they knew they was never coming back. They was under the impression that if they gave their life that way for their country they'd have a special place in heaven for them automatically—which wasn't true.”

Bell delivered that final phrase with an ironic emphasis, mocking the credulity of the kamikaze who was supposedly expecting to be ushered into paradise upon the completion of his mission. For some reason, the U.S. sailor seemed absolutely certain that the man who attacked his ship has not been enjoying the delights of a luxurious Shinto afterlife. I wonder: Does he similarly dismiss the dogma of a Christian afterlife?

I'm just curious how he can be so sure. Either way.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Stupidity in spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

Idiots write letters

There's nothing like a successful space mission to set off the smugly ignorant. “Think about the children!” they cry. They wring their moist hands over the millions and billions of dollars that they assume were wastefully blasted into space instead of used for charitable works. This morning's San Francisco Chronicle provided a perfect case in point:
But what about the hungry?

The land rover Curiosity arrives on Mars safely. What a feat!

But $2 billion to find water on a planet when hundreds of children go to bed hungry, when teachers, police and firefighters are dismissed? Where are our priorities?

People might say, “But look what we get from our space travel.” When a child says, “Mommy, I'm hungry,” does her mother say, “I know honey, but isn't it wonderful we have Teflon”? What a country.

RMS-O, San Francisco
Damn! The stupid is strong in this one. Did you catch the “hundreds of children”? The ignorant letter-writer doesn't even appreciate the scope of the problem she is decrying. There are millions of children in the United States alone who lack adequate supplies of food, without even taking into account the more severe problems elsewhere in the world. Totally clueless people should not be giving others advice.

That, however, is not my main point. I want to underscore the stupidity of blaming NASA's budget for our failure to ameliorate social ills. As Isaac Asimov pointed out decades ago, it makes no sense to take money from one worthy cause to fund a different worthy cause when so many unworthy money-pits are right under our noses. The cost of the Curiosity mission was reported at approximately $2.5 billion (which the Associated Press foolishly cited as “budget-busting”). That total amount would barely have covered three days of the misbegotten war in Iraq. And you may recall that war did last a little over three days.

That sheds a slender ray of perspective-giving light on the subject, doesn't it?

In the meantime, quite apart from the exciting prospects of scientific discovery and exploration, Curiosity's budget supported (and supports) teams of engineers, scientists, and technicians. These people are a key component of the nation's tech base and infrastructure. Should we outsource all of their jobs to China or India? Besides, they pay mortgages and feed their children just like everyone else. None of the Curiosity budget dollars were simply blasted into space. They were spent on the ground, adding to the economic contributions of our technological and scientific endeavors.

Let's take up a contribution to shoot the San Francisco letter-writer into space. She'll be right at home in the vacuum.

Monday, August 06, 2012

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy, ...

Ma Bell always rings twice

First she came for my Internet service. Then she came for my cell phone!

Okay, I know it's anachronistic to refer to AT&T as “Ma Bell.” Those good old days are mostly gone, even if the company with the Death Star logo has gobbled up a number of smaller operations in the years since the big break-up. (Apparently we don't mind monopolies nearly as much as we used to in olden times. Life is much simpler with only a few phone companies and a handful of banks. I mean, what could go wrong?)

In my case, AT&T solemnly informed me that my DSL service was being discontinued. Not to worry! I would be offered a wonderful opportunity to upgrade to fiber-optical U-verse! My speed would increase and my costs would stay the same. Furthermore, I could sign up for all kinds of new digital television and music services. Yippee.

The bulky new modem showed up (way bigger than the compact little DSL modem), complete with instructions for user installation. They informed me that my Internet connection would go dark at approximately 8:00 in the morning, after which I should replace the DSL device with the new U-verse modem (is it even correct to call it a modem?). I was told that my service activation would be at 8:00 in the evening.

Okay. I guess I can survive a day without the Internet and e-mail. Surely I would be back on-line before the withdrawal cramps and hallucinations became too debilitating.

By the excellent good fortune of being a teacher on summer break, I was home when the AT&T technician started messing with my home's external phone box. I nonchalantly strolled outside to say hello: “Hi! Whatcha doing?”

He had made short work of it.

“You're all set. Your twisted-pair DSL connection is now fiber-optical U-verse.”

“Already? The instructions said I'd be back on-line this evening.”

“Nope, you're ready to go right now. You received the equipment? Yes? Go ahead and fire it up.”

Apparently AT&T prefers not to tell its customers that the connection is ready to use as soon as the technician's visit is finished. Good thing I bothered to say hello to him.

Sure enough, I set up the U-verse “modem” and returned to the land of the digital. Are things faster? Not that I've noticed. Did I sign up for lots of wonderful new entertainment options? No, not a one. Is the cost the same? So far.

Yippee. Serenity returned to my life.

Then AT&T struck again:
AT&T is constantly upgrading the [wireless] network, and we're not done yet. When the network is improved certain older-model phones, like yours, will no longer be able to make or receive calls or access data.
Apart from that, though, my phone should be just fine.

After years of procrastinating (although “all my friends were doing it”), I finally acquired my first cell phone in 2000. I signed up with AT&T Wireless and got a nice Ericsson A2638SC phone. I stashed it in my car and there it mostly remained. Eventually AT&T sold its cell-phone business to Cingular, whereupon I ended up with a new Motorola V180. As you may know, AT&T later changed its mind and bought out Cingular. Hence I began with AT&T Wireless and I returned to AT&T Wireless all without moving a muscle.

I've had the Motorola for several years (eight, I think) and it still starts up with the Cingular logo. AT&T has not reprogrammed it remotely to herald its borgian renascence. Perhaps the new phone I'll get will be “smarter” and more willing to acknowledge its master. I will find out when I go into my friendly local AT&T store for customer service. It will be fun to watch the young pierced and inked employees as they reach out timorously to touch my old phone, afraid that it will crumble into ancient dust. They will desperately try to puzzle out the details of my calling plan, now mostly lost to the ages and bearing no resemblance to anything they now offer (and long past any contractual obligations).

The youngsters may well give me the same reaction that my father gave me the last time we discussed cell phones. (Wrong word: say, rather, when he interrogated me about cell phones.) How many minutes do you have? Do they roll over? Is weekend calling unlimited? How about international numbers? Blah, blah, blah. At least AT&T's minions will be more interested in extolling the virtues of today's spiffy new calling plans than in decrying my old one. Dad, however, was just fishing for information, wanting to compare notes. He grew quite exasperated as I expressed in detail my ignorance: How many minutes? More than enough. Roll over? Beats me. Weekends? Doesn't matter; I never use up my minutes anyway. International calls? I guess; we called Ukraine on it a couple of times.

The funny thing about it is that I am the numbers person, but I am not just pretending to be blasé about my phone plan. I actually don't have any reason to give it much thought or care. It's cheap and I never exhaust the minutes. I'm certain I average less than 10 minutes per month on the thing. No, really. This summer it jumped up a bit more because I've done a little traveling to book events and stuff. Hmm. Perhaps I should take my phone more seriously.

So what's going to happen at the AT&T store? Will I give in to the impulse to acquire a smart phone and be plugged into the world at all times? I wonder. If the phone is going to sit in the car like my current one does, it won't much matter, will it?

Blah, blah, blah.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Corporations are people

My sense of irony is rusted out

I find the pratings of Dennis Prager to be particularly difficult to listen to. While he is not overtly obnoxious like some other right-wing talk-radio hosts (e.g., the ebulliently nasty Limbaugh), Prager exudes a smug pseudo-intellectualism that is quite irksome to those who are not under his spell. Immodestly taking all knowledge as his province, he soothingly offers his expertise on every topic. He labels different segments of his program as such things as the “Ultimate Issues Hour” or the “Male-Female Hour.” His acolytes lap it up with a spoon.

As a non-acolyte, I do not linger when he pops up on my radio. Recently, however, I listened long enough to catch a sample of his wisdom and ended up laughing instead of groaning. (It's difficult to do both at the same time, but it would be convenient if I  listened to Prager regularly.) He was apparently defending the Citizens United decision and arguing that statism was a greater danger than corporatism. He does not fear the prospect that corporations can now spend unlimited amounts of money to complete their takeover of our political system. Prager fears control by the state instead (even if the corporations own it?). He wrapped up a broadcast segment by declaring to his listeners, “I don't fear control by companies as much as I fear control by the state.”

Then the bumper music came on and provided a transition to the next batch of commercial messages. I began to chuckle. Then I began to laugh. The music? Ernie Ford was singing “Sixteen Tons”! Do you know it? It's a protest song that rails against corporate oppression! Did Prager choose this himself in a moment of callous irony? Despite Tennessee Ernie Ford's upbeat delivery of the catchy song, the lyrics carry an unvarnished message of hopeless bondage, referring back to the days when some companies paid their workers in script rather than money. The script could be redeemed only at company-owned stores and markets—where, of course, the company set all the prices. It created a system of debt bondage.
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go:
I owe my soul to the company store!
If Prager did this deliberately, he was mocking workers everywhere. If he did it accidentally, then he's an idiot. I'm sure his corporate masters are pleased with him in either case.