Thursday, December 27, 2007

Unleash the Beast

For the past couple years the Buffalo Beast has raised cynical curmudgeonhood and hypertensive outrage to new heights with its "Fifty Most Loathsome People in America" list. This year's offering is as good as ever.

48. Carson Daly

Charges: Otherwise too banal for derision, Daly, who cut his shmuck-teeth warming musical Similac for tweens on MTV, acted as Writer's Guild strike breaker by returning to air without them.

Exhibit A: We didn't know his show employed writers.

Sentence: Forced to appear nightly on The Carson Daly Show.


30. Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman

Charges: Shocked a handful of innocents and turned into self-recriminating chum for Sean Hannity with the revelation that a redneck bounty hunter is-gasp!-a racist. Looks like an extra from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Married to a silicon-based life form. When a guy's own son intentionally destroys his career, you know he's got to be a singular fuckhead. Played at extraordinary rendition this year; got arrested for trying to physically extradite a Mexican national.

Exhibit A: "I'm not gonna take a chance ever in life of losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some fucking nigger heard us say nigger and turned us in to the Enquirer magazine." Yeah, 'cause not saying "nigger" is just out of the question.

Sentence: Neutered, dewormed, given to Michael Vick's buddies for sparring practice.


23. Bill O'Reilly

Charges: If judgmentalism were sugar, anyone in the same city as this paragon of intellectual overconfidence would lose their teeth within five minutes. O'Reilly is everything that's wrong with America: Won't ever admit he was wrong about anything (and will lie repeatedly rather than correct himself), accuses all who disagree with him of treason or insanity, attacks all who criticize him, and glories in his own troglodytic bluster. Anoints himself an authority on morals, despite common knowledge that he is a sexual harasser. Pretends to be an "independent" who just happens to look, sound, and act exactly like a Republican. Hasn't engaged in a valid exchange of ideas in his entire career, because he knows he'd be crushed in seconds by an average college freshman. O'Reilly wins by interrupting, shouting, and if all else fails, cutting off his opponent's microphone. A tiny, scared child of a man.

Exhibit A: "And this is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think that the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg." Gee Bill, where would they get that idea?

Sentence: Marinated, barbecued, and served at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, where the blacks eat just like real people.


17. Hillary Clinton

Charges: Began in politics as a teenage Nixon supporter -- that's twisted. Moved on to corporate law, representing Wal-Mart and bravely defending Coca-Cola from disabled employees. Married out of ambition. Failed miserably as the first lady of health care. Has spent whole of senatorial career as a hawk and a panderer. Would have no shot at becoming president if she didn't just happen to be married to one already.

Exhibit A: Has deftly avoided the flip-flopper label -- by never, ever answering a question directly or committing to a position in the first place.

Sentence: Victim of vast right wing conspiracy to shove a brick up her ass.


9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Excellent use of self defense principles

From comes this story:

December 20, 2007 06:51pm

A 95-year-old World War II veteran dared two knife-wielding home invaders to kill him.

Robert Taylor was sitting on the front veranda of his home in Liverpool, in Sydney's southwest, when two men tried to rob him yesterday afternoon.

One of them threatened him with a knife while the other went inside the house, cut the phone line and then rummaged through the elderly man's belongings.

Mr Taylor said the men told him to get inside the house or they would kill him.

He said he refused and dared them to carry out their threats.

"I said to them while they were standing there,'If you are going to kill me, kill me now','' Mr Taylor said on Channel 10.

The men fled without taking anything.

Mr Taylor, who served in New Guinea and Bougainville during WWII, had a message for the men.

"Wake up to yourselves and go and get a job, there's plenty around,'' he said.

Police described the incident as a "callous, cowardly attack''.

I really like this one. It demonstrates a number of important self defense principles that are easy to forget under pressure.

First, most people are lazy and prefer to do things on autopilot. This includes a lot of criminals. As long as things are going the way they want everything is good (for them, not for you). When something unexpected happens it takes time to refocus and do something else. Effective self defense rests on making things not go the way the criminal wants. Mr. Taylor made the lowlifes start reacting to him instead of the other way around.

Napoleon said "I might lose a battle, but I will never lose a minute." The earlier you mess with the bad guys' plan the better. This gentleman started his self defense the moment the criminals started their crime. The further along things go the more he's got invested in doing this particular crime right now.

Make them realize that what they want from you is not worth what they're willing to pay. Mr. Taylor guessed (correctly) that they weren't willing to kill someone in front of witnesses in the middle of the day. He gave them the choice of doing that or leaving. They left.

All of these are principles. When we taught self defense we had very few iron clad rules. One of the biggest was "Never ever allow yourself to be taken to a secondary crime scene or restrained. Nothing good can happen if you give a criminal the time and privacy he wants. If you let yourself be made helpless it just lets him get creative with the blowtorch and pliers." The defender refused to go into the house where g-ds alone know what the two thugs would have decided to do.

I suppose it could have been better. He could have shot them both between the eyes. The story is a beautiful example of the fundamentals of self protection.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A little good news with the bad - A real American Hero

A Muslim saves Jews who were being attacked by Christians for saying "Happy Chanukah." Sometimes things happen that give you a little hope for the human race.

A suspected bias attack on four Jewish subway riders has resulted in a friendship between the Jewish victims and the Muslim college student who came to their aid.

Walter Adler is calling Hassan Askari a hero for intervening when Adler and three friends were assaulted on a subway train in lower Manhattan on Friday night.

The altercation erupted when Adler and his friends said "Happy Chanukah" to a group yelling "Merry Christmas" on the Brooklyn-bound train.

The 20-year-old Askari said he tried to fight off the 10 attackers, giving Adler a chance to summon police by pulling an emergency brake.

"I did what I thought was right," said Askari, a student at Berkeley College in Manhattan, who was allegedly punched and beaten. "I did the best that I could to help."

Eight men and two women have pleaded not guilty to assault, menacing and other charges in the case. Prosecutors have said the charges could be upgraded to hate crimes.

According to this article

Four Jewish subway riders who wished other people "Happy Hanukkah" were pelted with anti-Semitic remarks before being beaten, police and prosecutors said. The incident was being investigated as a possible hate crime.

The four were on a train in lower Manhattan on Friday night, during the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, when they were approached by a group of 10 people who offered holiday greetings. The victims responded, "Happy Hanukkah," and then were assaulted by the larger group, police said Tuesday.


One of the men charged, Joseph Jirovec, pleaded guilty last year to attempted robbery as a hate crime and was awaiting sentencing, prosecutors said. Jirovec, who is white, was part of a group that yelled racial epithets and assaulted two black teenagers in Brooklyn, prosecutors said.

Jirovec's lawyer, Peter Mollo, said Tuesday it was very unlikely his client would attack another person for being Jewish.
Hassan Askari, you're an authentic American Hero. If you weren't Muslim I'd say "Drinks are on me." But as it is, you have my profound thanks and heartfelt prayers. You fought evil, protected the innocent and brought honor on Islam. That's Muslim Chivalry and American ideals at their best.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's.


I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early
onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I
expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Today's Martial Arts Topic: Affect

A long time back, when dinosaurs strode the Earth, before Martial Talk, before Instant Messaging, before HTTP, when e-mail addresses (if you were lucky enough to have one) had !s in them, I did Kajukenbo. Al Dacascos was in Portland. He'd moved his school from Murray Road to Highway 8 right across from the Lexus dealership and the Dairy Queen. One of the new features of the school was notebook pages and lists of requirements for every student at every level.

I couldn't stand the half handwritten half typewritten badly photocopied pages. So I typed them into MacWrite and printed out master copies. Strange things happened because of that. I ended up editing the IKF newsletter for a couple years and tried to make working class guys from Hawaii sound like college professors - a challenging job of editing. They also had me go to a couple of the yearly meetings and write them up making it sound like everyone got along swimmingly and peace, love and brotherhood were the orders of the day.

These are martial artists we're talking about. Let's say that a bit of selective blindness and some out-and-out lying was required. Watcha gonna do

The first meeting was in a hotel. Tiel and I were supposed to direct everyone to the meet-and-greet as they arrived. It wasn't hard. A few people were wearing Kajukenbo t-shirts of one sort of another. But the rest? There was a look, an affect that was very common. We didn't miss many. There was a sort of walk, almost a swagger, that a lot of them had. There was also a certain sort of erect carriage and highly developed forearms that set them apart from everyone else.

I think Tiel had it pegged. She was talking about a group of the senior practitioners and said "They're Palama boys. They grew up on da Islands and some of them never did adjust to the mainland. Most of them [one group] except X and Y and Z are still kids. They take their martial art seriously, but they're basically tough guys, brawlers who are up for a fight on Saturday night." There's a quality to the way a lot of them move that reminds me (surprise, surprise) of a lot of Kenpo stylists. It's like the torso is a solid gun platform, and the arms and legs moving around are the guns. I don't know how to express it.

Now, that's not to say that all Kajukenbo practitioners are like that. Not at all. But when you compare a chunk of them to a lump of other martial artists it sort of stands out in the aggregate.

Just recently I was reading an Australian kids' book called "Toad Rage". That led to thinking about Cane Toads and the last thing I tried to put in the Kajukenbo newsletter. And that finally led to thinking about the Kajukenbo Look and what stands out in people from other styles.

Some. I don't know exactly what it is that screams "Cop" in a person's bearing, but Phil Messina's people all seem to have it, even the ones who are not in law enforcement.

The smug superiority and false politeness of just about every single Ki Society Aikidoka I've met never fails to set my teeth on edge. It's led to more than one unfortunate but amusing incident

When Tiel met three koryu practitioners who teach under the same instructor here in Portland she said "Thugs. Well behaved, educated amiable thugs." And she's right. They're not that sort of person, but they sure carry themselves that way.

Krav Maga was a special case. When I took it for a very short time I talked to the guy leading class, and we've had conversations with other ones. They all agreed that if you don't have the right affect you aren't going to make instructor. Now, that's a little extreme, and I think it's unnecessary. But it's their party, so they can do what they want to. I think it's interesting that they're aware of the fact and use it.

A few things really stand out in the Thai boxers we've hung with. They don't swagger. They don't tend to brag. There's a certain value placed on politeness and humility though not subservience. There's also a serious "Show me" attitude. You make a claim, you'd better be able to back it up. That and the sort of toughness that comes from knowing you're fit, strong and can take it as well as dish it out.

It's sort of similar to the MMA guys. They look and act like, well, serious athletes in an extremely demanding sport. Excellent overall muscular development and a certain confident grace in movement. You tend to find the arrogance of the serious competitor coupled with very good sportsmanship.

A lot of people who do FMA don't have much contact with Filipinos. Still, there are things that rub off. A few years ago I would have said "quarrelsome". To some degree I still would. Hey, I call 'em like I see 'em. And I see 'em like I was There's more at work. And I think I've figured out part of it. In a lot of the "Chopstick Culture" Asian martial arts - Korea, Japan, China - there's a very hierarchical tradition. You have a rank, a title and seniority. That tells everyone (including yourself) who and what you are within the group. Things and people move in well-defined ways.

Among the FMA there's a lot of organizations and some fancy titles and ranks. But it's more fluid. I swear that every guy who had a fight with his teacher moved to the other side of town, made up a new salute and became the Grandmaster of his own slightly modified system that had absolutely nothing to do with the guys across the way

It's less like a beehive than a wolf pack. In the hive your duties will change, but who and what you are is always rigidly defined. Among wolves it's all about respect. The respect you get and your position is always up for negotiation. Back down from a challenge, and you've negotiated yourself downwards. Make too many challenges and you're a troublemaker. Challenge too high or too low, and you're not to be taken seriously.

I think that's why there's a stereotype that eskrimadors will fight at the drop of a hat, and if one doesn't drop they'll throw in their own. It's not entirely or even mostly true, but it stands out compared to a number of other traditions. And I think that's a good part of why.

When we did more FMA we picked up on it. We took more things as challenges and were more ready to see how our steel was tempered. Of course, we were also almost twenty years younger. But that couldn't have anything to do with it. Nah Tiel definitely picked some of it up from Suro Mike Inay's group when she studied there.

Just to pick an example, we had a table at the Oregon Knife Collectors' show once years back. A guy who later made quite a name for himself started talking trash about Guro Inosanto. "He's got some sticks, but that's it. He doesn't have any real martial arts." Now, people talk trash about Guro Inosanto all the time. It's usually pretty clear that it's a reflection on the guy doing the insulting, so you let it slide. At the time Tiel took it as an insult to her teacher's teacher and therefore a challenge. She was more than half serious about grabbing her sticks and seeing how the guy's steel was tempered. No matter how that fight would have ended it would have been bad for him. "Famous martial artist whacked upside the head by 120 pound gal" or "Big strong martial artist beats up woman half his size"

The point isn't who would have won the fight. It's that she had that FMA attitude of "Don't make challenges. Never back down if you are challenged."

Or there was the story Sifu Tony Ramos told about when he was working as a cop in Vacaville. The PR-24 had just come out, and everyone was getting trained. When the instructor uttered the sneer "Well, I see you're still carrying a baton," it was like a Greek tragedy. A Greek tragedy right after the main character has insulted Blind Tiresias and gone against the Will of the G-ds. I knew how the story goes after that. It ends a short act later with the instructor laid out on the floor.

These are generalizations. Obviously. Obviously. Obviously. No doubt. But there's a surprisingly large kernel of truth in some of them. You can learn a few things from the exercise. It's hard to say how much is self-selection and how much is induced. That varies from school to school and person to person.

One thing that's pretty clear is that nobody is qualified to apply the lens to his or her own style. It's like trying to see the surface from the inside. And all of us know we've got a case of "What I do is great. If there were something better I'd be training in it," when we're being honest. I know there's a Silat affect or a couple of them. But I'm too close to see it myself.

So what are some of the things that strike you about different traditions or styles? What can you look at in the practitioners that stands out and distinguishes them from other martial artists?

Friday, December 07, 2007


Six wise blind elephants had heard of human beings and wanted to know more about these mysterious creatures. So they had a human being brought to them.

The first elephant touched the human being and declared "Human beings are flat."

The other elephants touched the human being and agreed. Human beings are flat.

Rare Exports - What It Takes

Warning: These clips contain graphic footage of cruelty, hunting, brainwashing, imprisonment and worse. But it's a sacrifice we must make to preserve our most Sacred Traditions. This holiday season tell yourself "It's for the Children."

Part I - Rare Exports

Part II - The Consequences of Failure

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kids' Martial Arts The Way it Should Be

Whenever people ask "What martial art do you recommend for kids?" I always answer "Judo. No question about it."

There's a lot of reasons for this. It's wrestling, and little apes love to wrestle. You learn to fall. Most people never get in a fight, but everyone falls down. It wears them out. It's great exercise and does wonders for balance and coordination. It develops fighting spirit in a good way. Striking is bad for young unfused bones and can lead to permanent joint problems in ways that grappling just isn't. It works just fine for schoolyard troubles with a lot less chance for accidental injury than kicking some kid in the head.

Most of all it was my own experience in the early 70s.

Saint Street goes from one side of Richland, WA to the other. It starts at the Columbia River and heads West past the water treatment plant. It goes up a hill and crosses Stevens Drive, right where Stevens merges with the Bypass Highway. The trees and grass end suddenly at the range of the last home sprinkler system and give way to bare dirt, tumbleweed and bunch grass.

Right across Stevens there's a gas station which used to say "Last Gas for 7o miles". In those days it was true. Back then there was a Coke machine instead of a mini mart.

Just beyond it are two WWII era buildings built by the government for some mysterious Hanford Project purpose. All that construction to the North and West in the picture came decades later.

The first one has a green roof and flaking white paint. It used to be a martial arts school. Sensei Rising taught Ju Jutsu, Aikido, Karate and a number of other mysterious things. Lord only knows where he picked them up. All I can say for sure is that he and a couple of the other teachers there had officially been frogmen during the Second World War. He had a signed picture of William "Wild Bill" Donovan in a place of honor and seemed to know a really strange array of martial artists. I'd still give a lot to know how to find the Ba Gua and Dog Kung Fu teacher he brought to the Judo school for a demonstration one evening.

Kids my age weren't allowed to study there. He sent anyone under 21 including his own sons next door to the building with the brown roof where a really great group of men taught Judo.
It's the standard by which youth martial arts should be judged. I've seen a lot of kids' classes - all the Karate/TKD/Kenpo variants, Kung Fu, and about a million "Little Dragons" and "Junior Ninjas" programs. Some of them are very good. The Richland Judo Dojo could hold its head up with any of them and outshines almost all.

The facilities were nothing much to look at. It was a mid-1940s military building, ugly and sturdy. There was some heat in the Winter, no air conditioning in the Summer, a kids' locker room, and adults' locker room, two rooms with tatami mats and a back room filled with dusty exercise equipment. Dues were minimal and barely covered the costs of the facility. A couple times a year one of the school mothers would do a group buy of gis.

The teachers were a collection of friends. Most of them had picked up their Judo in the Service. They were mostly steam-fitters, engineers, government employees and other people who worked out in the Hanford area. Many of them had sons in the classes they taught. Years later a lot of them quit Judo and formed an amateur soccer team. They had a refreshing faith that if everyone just went to the dojo three times a week and trained hard in Judo the world would be a better place. And do you know, I think they were right.

New kids were taught in a group in the back room. When they could fall without getting hurt and had learned a couple throws they were moved into the main class. There were classes for adults and advanced belts only, but for the most part everyone was taught together. Everyone did light randori together. Everyone lined up by rank together.

Competition was important. We worked extra hard and got a lot of motivation before big tournaments. But there were no display cases of trophies, and there was no special emphasis on the hot competition prospects (and there were some). The emphasis was taking part, fighting hard, and learning.

Looking back I'm impressed by the results. Over the four years I was there less than half of the students I started with left. Everyone progressed, but nobody passed a belt test who didn't deserve to. There was a group identity that extended outside the dojo. Effort was rewarded more than talent. A number of kids got things important things from Judo that they didn't get at home. We got good solid Judo training and had a lot of fun. You really can't ask for more than that.

Why was it so good? Can it be repeated?

It would be hard. It was a combination of time, place and people which made the school what it was.

There is a lot more martial arts now, and for better or worse people have expectations about them and what a school should be like. It is much harder for kids and parents to take a school on its own terms instead of in the light of Karate Kids, sword-wielding reptiles, Jackie Chan and the UFC. Judo classes were more an alternative to basketball or wrestling than they were to Karate or Ninjutsu. The only other dojo I had heard about taught Tae Kwon Do out in the wilds of West Richland.

Part of it was the teachers. They were an exceptional bunch. There was a most senior teacher, but he didn't run the school. A loose group of school mothers did that in one of those mysterious female networks what men wot not wot of. The fact that their own sons were in the class helped keep quality up. The fact that there were several prevented favoritism. They really believed in the benefits of Judo and felt that it was something bigger than them. They took a very paternal or at least avuncular role to the students. A lot of them had what I now see as a top sergeant's attitude. No nonsense, not soft, but dedicated to the people for whom they were responsible.

Another important thing was the students. Since there was no need to make money the teachers could take whom they wanted and teach the way they thought best. I'm sure a few kids never made it past the initial interview, and trouble makers shaped up or didn't last long. Bad behavior was not tolerated, and their response to the one ethnic slur I ever heard was grimly intolerant. They acted shamed that something so "against Judo" would happen in their school. They were there to get a workout and teach Judo. Part of that was turning out young people who would be a credit to the Art and their country.

The club didn't take any students younger than nine or ten. The childhood development issues that you get with the three-to-eight set just weren't there. It was a club that met in the evenings, not an unlicensed after school daycare program. And it was part of "family and friends life" for the teachers rather than a separate activity. All of this set the tone in a lot of subtle ways. Most of them were good.

I don't know if mixed-age classes were an official part of Judo at the time. That's the way it worked out. I think we were better for it. Most were at an age where they wanted to copy what adults were doing and were proud to be accepted into an adult activity as junior but definitely part of the group. We were all Judo players together. Obviously, a six foot four wrestler who had been to the Nationals was going to go easy on a skinny ten year old in light randori. Just the fact that they worked out together was valuable.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Loyalty Oaths

It was bad enough during the Truman and Eisenhower years. During the Red Scare University professors and anyone else the government deemed insufficiently patriotic and "soft on Communism" could be forced to take a loyalty oath. Not the Pledge of Allegiance but an affirmation that you weren't now, never had been and wouldn't be part of any subversive organization. The Supremes went back and forth on their constitutionality but finally came down against them. Colleges that refused to demand the oath lost government funding and even broke tenure for professors who refused to sign them.

In recent years the Republicans have revived the idea. If you want to attend an event where Bush is speaking you have to sign a pledge of personal loyalty to the Decider. Don't sign the Oath, don't go. This even includes active duty Servicemen and Servicewomen when he visits the troops. I suppose that billboards proclaiming him "Our Leader" were only logical.

Now it seems that the GOP has taken the next step.

Vote Virginia who want to vote in the presidential primary are now forced to sign an oath pledging that they will support the Party's nominee in next year's election. It doesn't matter who it is. It doesn't matter if you prefer the Democrats' choice. You can't vote your conscience and cast a ballot for the Libertarians. If you want to be part of the selection process you must either lie or sign away one of your most sacred civil rights to The Party.

The stated reason is that Democrats don't care who their Party throws up for the general election. They'll come in droves to vote for the Republican they believe will lose. It's a stupid solution to a non-problem. It won't survive the inevitable court challenge. But it does show the GOP's true values - rigid Party Loyalty, strict adherence to the Party Line and devotion to the Person of the Unitary Executive.

Even conservative papers like Reason and The Spectator are shocked at this one. The Weekly Standard barely raised an eyebrow saying that there's no evidence that voters cross over this way.

Me? I threw up in my mouth a little.

Quiz - How Insane Are You?

My favorite Internet Personality Quiz courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, creators of the musical A Shoggoth on the Roof as well as movies, Elder Signs and many fine products for Eldritch Investigations.

Your score is: 155

For easier understanding, the HPLHS SaniTest assessment algorithm converts your raw score to a scale of 1 to 10. This number is your INSANITY INDEX.

INSANITY INDEX 9.11 Well, that's a pretty high score. Science lacks an official term for your condition, but around the lunch table psychiatrists would doubtless say you're very dangerously mad. Other notable people who scored this high include noted horror film director John Carpenter and the conceptual engineer R. Buckminster Fuller.

Animal Styles

Animal styles have always been big in martial arts. In some ways it's a lot like the furry subculture. There are lots of tigers and dragons and praying mantises. Precious few moles or pangolins. In response to a thread on another forum here are my martial animal inspirations:

Martial inspirations from animals....
To start with, since I'm actually a large amphibian Here are some important lessons from The Way of the Toad
  • Kill and eat anyone smaller than you
  • Run away or hide from anyone larger
  • If you get into a fight with someone larger, poison them
  • Praying Mantis is over-rated
  • White Crane is terrifying
From my cats
  • You'll never stay in fighting shape if you don't get your 16 hours of sleep a day
  • Kill from ambush
  • Killing goes better with torture
  • Eat what you kill but leave the not-so-tasty bits all over the house
  • Learn knife fighting first
  • If you're not afraid of a German Shepherd you must be as big as a German Shepherd. If you know it, so will everyone else
From sloths
  • The best defense is being so still and covered with moss that nobody sees you
  • Haste makes waste
  • The most vulnerable time of day is when you climb out of bed to defecate.
From bonobos
  • Make love, not war
  • Make more love, not war
  • Make really inventive love with your friends and neighbors, not war
  • Make love swinging from trees, in large groups and with everyone except your mother, not war
From bees
  • Only the Queen uses her sex organs for sex
  • The rest of us fight with them
  • And then we die (bee stings are modified ovipositors)
From elephants
  • Size is everything
From amoebae
  • Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious creature on the planet
  • Eat your enemies
From plants
  • Plants give amoebae a run for their money
  • If you're not using it to eat, build, or have sex use it to kill something
  • Strangle your enemies
  • Starve your enemies
  • Poison the ground that they live on
  • Once you kill them, eat them
From skunks
  • If you have chemical weapons you don't need to be smart, strong or tough
From ants
  • Mindless ferocity and large numbers beat everything

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Does a Day Ever Go By?

Are there any senior Republicans who are faithful to their spouses or have steady (legal) boyfriends or girlfriends? Is that just too perverse for the Gay Old Pedophiles?

  • Larry "Wide Stance" Craig trolling for sex in public bathrooms
  • Mark Foley texting about his boy-parts to underage Congressional pages
  • Jeff Gannon, conservative gay whore and "press" cheerleader who threw softball questions to George Bush
  • Former head of Young Republicans gets five years for sexually assaulting a subordinate
  • Vitter hitting the hookers 2-3 times a week (doesn't his wife ever service him?)
  • Most recent former head of Young Republicans under indictment for sexually assaulting a sleeping (male) houseguest
  • Alberto Gonzales being investigated for covering up GOP pedophilia
  • The author of the Republican Adam and Steve campaign dies in lurid gay double homicide-suicide
  • Bob Allen comes up with remarkable response to presence of Black men - offer them twenty bucks and a blow job. It's just insurance against getting mugged. Honest
  • ...and more and still more

Today we find that an Assistant US Attorney has been arrested for soliciting sex with what he thought was a five year old girl.

The undercover detective expressed concern about physical injury to the 5-year-old girl as a result of the sexual activity. Detectives said Atchison responded, " I am always gentle and loving; not to worry, no damage ever, no rough stuff ever. I only like it soft and nice."The undercover detective asked how Atchison can be certain of no injury. He responded, "Just gotta go slow and very easy. I've done it plenty," according to detectives.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Cool Toy

I just ran across the Bayeaux Tapestry Generator. It's kinda fun. There's a small palette of animals, people, buildings and other stuff which you can move around on the screen. For stories, make several frames. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to save them as Flash or animated GIF. Oh well, that's what screen capture is for. Since I've been in a culinary mood lately....

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yo ho, yo ho a pirate's life for me

At least for a couple days.

Pirates are hot lately. It's not just because of the Disney movies. There's been something in the air for a good while. It could be the sense of freedom that the represent in an increasingly constrained and totalitarian world. It could be that the Great Heroes of Capitalism these days are looters and raiders rather than builders. It might be climate change. As we know, pirates reduce global warming. Maybe I didn't wash the dirty sweats after I spilled rum on them.

No matter what it is the Second Annual Portland Pirate Festival will be next weekend, September 22 & 23 right next to the beautiful St. John's Bridge in North Portland.

Last year's was a lot of fun. There were ships, Age of Sail recreators, rum, the guys who came up with Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19th) and some good bands like Captain Bogg and Salty. You'd be amazed how many of CB&S's "Eat a Lime" and "Yar" bumper stickers are around town these days. The only bit of poor planning was the food and drink. When you have small children standing in line for an hour to get a turkey leg isn't going to work. Oh well, the excellent Big Kahuna BBQ is nearby.

About this time last year we were driving back down I-5 from Silat class when we saw a pair of sailing ships firing signal guns at each other and maneuvering around. After a while they headed up the Columbia to the first PPF.

Oh, This is Going to be All Kinds of Good

Just when you think there's some hope for progress in the human race

Rapist agrees to castration punishment for sexual battery

The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - A confessed rapist has agreed to be castrated in a plea deal that could save him from a life prison sentence.

Bobby James Allen pleaded guilty Monday to three counts of armed sexual battery and various other charges involving attacks that happened in 1998 and 1999. Allen filed a motion requesting castration in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet agreed to sentence Allen to 25 years' prison on Sept. 20 if has the procedure in the next eight days. If Allen does not go through with the operation, he faces up to life in prison.

"You understand that this procedure is the removal of your testicles?" Overstreet asked Allen.

Allen said he wanted to be castrated.

"I have spoken with all the victims," prosecutor Larry Basford told Overstreet. "They agree that this sentence punishes him and would deter him and others from similar acts."

Allen would be classified as a dangerous sexual offender and must serve every day of his 25-year sentence, prosecutors said.

How much imagination does this scenario take:

Judge (to a White guy): "10-15 years"

Judge (to a Black guy): "You have been convicted of second dee gree sex y'all assault. That's going to be life, boy. But if we cut off you black balls we might let you out some day. Completely voluntary. Think about it, nigger.

That Should Work Better

Somewhere in the dim depths of time I screwed up the template. Comments didn't work. I've retemplated this blog, and everything seems to work better now.

Reality Malfunction, my blog for odder stuff and fiction, is up. It's just a shell, but there are some interesting links.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And that's the circle of liiiiiffeee!

Now I know a few things that I didn't ten minutes ago.

  1. Why the kibble bill is lower during the Summer
  2. Broadband is a highly optimized little killing machine
  3. She isn't one of those sweet kitties who brings her humans food gifts
  4. The selfish little fuck eats it all herself
  5. The dogs don't even try to take away her prey
  6. I'm really glad I'm not four inches tall.
The crime scene:
The alleged perpetrator:

Fortunately, all evidence points to the deceased being a house sparrow. We have too many house sparrows.

[Update] Tiel has just sent me a picture of the real Broadband:

Friday, September 07, 2007


From Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio
From Phil and Kaja Foglio's "Girl Genius"

Every Summer I make two pies. It's not for fun, Lord knows. It's serious business. You see, Tiel is an addict. She has a serious jones that can consume her. She's got the Cherry Habit.

It's good that we live in the Northwest. Both Bing and Rainier cherries were developed here, and prime growing areas like the Yakima Valley and Hood River are close at hand. During the early Summer we can keep the demon at bay.

A few years back we found the definitive treatment, Susie Bright's Eternal Cherry Devotion Pie. Ms. Bright is more noted for writing about sex, pornography, feminism and politics. "Sometimes," she says "you need to prepare a meal that will make someone fall in love with you." In Mommy's Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn and Cherry Pie she makes a good stab at it. This has as much to do with the over sweetened corn-syrup glop that passes for cherry pie isolated in a dry crust that passes for cherry pie as Chef Boy-R-Dee does with Escoffier. It has three pounds of cherries, a classic sugar crust, brandy and other wonderful things.

I don't know if it will make someone fall in love with you. If I haven't managed to do that to Tiel yet something has gone very wrong. What I can tell you is that two of them keep the Rosaceae Prunus Avium monkey off her back for almost a whole year. Somehow the combination of crisp Raniers and sweet Bings tastes more like cherries than the pure fruit itself.

Seeing as I'm getting back into the workforce soon and never really mastered pie-baking it was time to kill two birds with one stone (cherry, peach or apricot); I've been on a bit of a pie kick lately thanks to copies of The Humble Pie by Teresa Kennedy (sadly out of print), The Joy of Cooking and Dessert Circus. So far they've been about half savory and half sweet. Peach, Mango Cream, Mango Mousse (Fred Meyer's has a sale on mangoes), Grape Clafoutis, Black Bottom (which spontaneously disassembled in the car), Key Lime, Leek and Sausage, Shepherd's, Pasties, Pirozhkies, Chicken, Koubielaka(sp?) and at least one other meat variety I'm forgetting. Still to go: Shaker Lemon pie and Shaker Fish pie, honest-to-goodness mincemeat pie this Christmas, Shoefly(dry variety), Tomato-Basil, Broccoli-Cheese and maybe one or two others. The freezer is pretty full, so that should do it for now.

I've tried a number of different pie crusts from old fashioned pie paste and whole wheat to shortbread. They're the tricky part of the process. It's taken over a dozen tries to get the gluten and moisture just right. I don't know what will happen when the temperature and humidity change. Well, that's why the commercial bakeries keep it all carefully controlled and why it's as much Art as Science in the home kitchen. Having the right sort of crust for the pie is important. The yoghurt crust really does add something to meat or mushroom pies. The clafoutis just wouldn't do with anything besides a rich, sweet crust. And black bottom pie that isn't encased in crumbled gingersnaps? You've got to be kidding.

Even for a novice like myself the results have been pretty good. The most expensive pie is the Eternal Cherry Devotion with three pounds of organic cherries at about five dollars a pound. A similar one in a reasonably priced bakery? At least half again as much, and they do cut corners for efficiency. With some like the key lime there really is no comparison on top of the lower price.

Savory pies other than pizza and one or two varieties of pot pie are essentially extinct in this country. Outside of the Upper Midwest you can't find pasties for love nor money let alone leek and sausage. They are tasty, convenient, store easily and are quick to the table. You can keep most sorts of crust dough in the freezer for a long while and whip up some sort of filling in almost no time.

About half way through the pirozhkies I ran out of dough. A few lasagna noodles and some cheddar to top and there was a dish which was recognizably lasagna although it had almost none of the canonical ingredients. No ricotta or mozzarella. No sauce. A layer of cabbage and egg, one of mushrooms in cream, another of meat with dill. It worked out pretty well. A cornmeal crust, an egg binder and whatever veggies were nearing their end-of-life and we had a vegetable pie - very simple and flexible.

It's puzzling that they have become so rare. Oh, I suppose that samosas and Hot Pockets are technically in the family, but the first are still uncommon, and the second is the inbred low-class distant cousin who's only in the family photograph out of a sense of completeness. Maybe the rise of the casserole, pasta, and other quickly prepared or pre-packaged dishes is to blame.

Or it could just be that we don't have to go to the extra trouble of making pies anymore. Back in the day pies were an important method of food preservation. in Fading Feast: A Compendium of Disappearing American Regional Foods Raymond Sokolov speaks of winter food in New England. For the most part a colonial farmer might get by on cheese, milk and apple pie for weeks on end. There was enough protein, minerals, carbohydrates and vitamins - especially C & D - on which to get by in forms which could be stored for months.

If you have a weekend to invest in saving time later on or if you would just like to try something that gives you control over the ingredients pull out a cookbook and make a few pies. Try sweet and savory. Or just make the dough and be ready to pull it out a few months later. You'll get something better and less expensive than you would buy in the store let alone a resta
urant. A lot of them you just can't buy. And you'll be reviving an art that might otherwise be lost.

And who knows? You might even come up with an amazing piece of Mad Science like
and this
courtesy of Phil Foglio's most excellent Steampunk Webcomic

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


There's been a bunch of trees dying in our part of the city, mostly oaks and maples. According to the city forester it's probably the weird weather. The ground has been saturated more of the year, and you get outbreaks of root-rot. The maple in our backyard didn't put out many leaves or seeds last year. This year there was no new growth. Late this Spring we finally admitted that it was dead. The maple was growing in exactly the wrong direction and was threatening one neighbor's garage roof, two fences, and another neighbor's garden.

So it had to come down.

The tree surgeons would have charged $300-400 to bring it down. I figured that it couldn't be that hard to learn how to use a chainsaw. I got some good advice from Brandt, Bobbe and Mushtaq - thanks guys - and rented a chainsaw from Home Depot for $30. This was the first full size tree I've felled since Boy Sprouts. The current project was a little over 20 feet tall and about 16-18 inches at the base depending on which way you measured.

It worked like a charm. Nobody hurt, nothing crushed. Everything fell the right way. Even gaged the depths of the cut well enough so that it was stable while I was near it but just took moderate pull to get things falling. We limbed it as high as we could, topped it at a bit over ten feet and brought the rest down at ground level. Cut a wedge out in the direction of fall. Make a back cut at 45 degrees. Use gentle tension with a rope to get it to fall, but not so much that the trunk kicks back.

It looks like there was almost no rot, so I'm going to get the wood under shelter, dry it slowly and use every bit that can be used. The big pieces will be cut into panels, cabinet doors and a couple newel posts. Limbs are going to become picture frames, balustrades and pen blanks. The chunks are slated to be practice bowl blanks. When we're feeling industrious we'll dig out some of the stuff below ground and see if there's any interesting burl. Ten pounds of paraffin should be enough to paint the ends to reduce checking. It'll be interesting to see how much of the wood becomes abstract art as I learn how to use the lathe.

So what did we learn today, class?

  1. You can do a lot with a sawzall. It takes a lot of time and effort. A chainsaw is much better.
  2. The rental Makita chainsaws at Home Depot are a pain in the butt. They flood, and they're hard to get started the first time. But they do the job and have good anti-kickback features.
  3. Brandt wasn't shitting me. The vibration as you make deep cuts through hard heartwood can make your hands and forearms seize up.
  4. Climbing a ladder with a running chainsaw is scary even if the blade isn't moving.
  5. Ropes are good. So are safety lines. So are gloves, steel-capped boots, face shields and hearing protection.
  6. Dogs don't like the sound of a running chainsaw.
  7. The guy in Army of Darkness would have had a wrist and arm like a tree trunk to wave one of those things around one-handed.
  8. Cutting down trees is fun.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jack and John Company or No, Pirates 3 Didn't Suck

Once in a while I remember why I still read Harper's Magazine. Sometimes it's the Index. Sometimes it's the articles. Once in a while it's a quote that skewers the truth. Long time back they had a roundtable about horror, movies and good writing and why the last two are so seldom found together. The panel tried to figure out how to make a movie out of Poe's The Telltale Heart. I hardly remember what they came up with, some sort of erotic/psychological thriller. But there was one deathless line. Robert Bloch said "It was a black day in Hollywood when producers discovered Roman numerals."

For the most part he was right. Sequels usually suck festering warthog hemorrhoids. That's why we were so surprised when three sequels - Spiderman II, Shrek II and Pirates of the Caribbean II - were all so good. We were looking forward to seeing the final installments but were prepared to be disappointed.

"Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed."

Spiderman III was lame, dog lame. The final (oh Lord I hope it's final) installment of Shrek tried to retread old jokes, play it safe and do everything safely by formula. It was set to be a Family Friendly Summer Blockbuster. And it did make a lot of money. Our low expectations were barely met, and we didn't quite feel ripped-off at three bucks a head.

With all the bad press that Pirates 3 got we weren't about to see it for full price. So we waited until it was playing at the Bagdad Theater.

For those of you not lucky enough to live in the North Wet the Bagdad is one of the McMenamin Brothers' chain. They pretty much started the brewpub revolution in this part of the country and have expanded from a couple pubs to hotels, old-style ballrooms with sprung floors, event locations, a winery and all sorts of other wonderful things. They specialize in taking old properties and converting them into really fun funky places. The Baghdad was a decrepit theater in the Hawthorne district. They added a bar and put in a cigar/pool/port bar around the corner. They also converted a lot of the seats into real chairs and sofas and ripped out a bunch of the rows to make room for tables. You can have beer and a pizza while you watch a second run movie.

So armed with cider, Hammerhead Ale and a couple pepperoni slices we saw Pirates of the Caribbean III. We weren't expecting much. They'd already hit the three greatest monsters in the second movie - Davy Jones, the Flying Dutchman and the Kraken. What was left? Oh well, at the worst we'd get to see Keith Richards playing a decrepit, broken down drunken pirate outlaw. Definitely character acting for him, and barely a stretch.

I can see why a lot of people didn't like it. It wasn't a clever roller coaster like the other two. It was pretty damned grim. The pacing wasn't quite off. The dialog wasn't inspired. And the end just plain isn't going to satisfy people who want a light-hearted wrap-up where the Boy and Girl live happily ever after and everyone ends up singing happy songs. It's not that kind of Disney movie. In fact I think Disney might just have gotten a little bit of its soul back in the post-Eisner era.

That's the real thing that I think bothered a lot of people about this film. It goes against the grain. The movie opens with endless lines of wretches being hanged. As they march to the gallows an Officer is reading out an edict. There's a State of Emergency. The following rights are modified: The right of habeas corpus. Suspended. The right to assemble. Suspended. The right to trial by jury. Suspended. The right to an attorney. Suspended. For anyone convicted of piracy or anyone associated with a convicted pirate the penalty is to be hanged by the neck until dead. Little children not tall enough to reach the noose are thoughtfully stood on barrels so they can be hanged with the rest.

You don't have to be a wild-eyed revolutionary to get the message there.

And the Authority isn't even the British Crown. It's John Company, the E.I.C., one of the first and greatest of the multinationals with its own fleets, its own armies and no responsibility to anything but its bottom line. The pirates are the terrorists. Many of them are swarthy Orientals. They stand against the Company and against an Authority that controls the terrible power of the Sea Itself.

This is not a politically correct or even personally safe position to hold these days. The people taking away civil liberties are the villains. They all look alike with their uniforms and pale skins. The Corporation, Holy Avatar and Chosen of the Sacred Market (Laaa!) is evil. Every single evil-doer is a White Male Anglo-Saxon Capitalist. The Company honors no agreements. As its representative Beckett says "It's nothing personal. It's just good business."

A bunch of swarthy outlaws who cause terror including Frenchmen, Ay-rabs, armed Negroes *shudder* and Chinese are the Good Guys. They represent all the races of Man and include women in positions of power. They include the wretched of the Earth. They represent freedom. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are brave. Some are treacherous. The pirates quarrel. Get a bunch of them together, and a fight breaks out. "That's politics," quips Jack Sparrow. But when it comes down to it they all obey the Pirate Code to which they all signed on. They stand for freedom. The leader leads so with the consent of the electors and is first into battle rather than hiding in an undisclosed safe location.

Corporate rule is bad. Freedom is good. Those who stand against authority are the heroes. People can have flaws and still be heroic if they do what is right when the chips are down. And there are worse things than dying if you're doing what you really believe is right. These are not popular sentiments today. Our entire media machine and the political tenor of the day stands for submission to authority, mistrust of democratic institutions, the union of political and corporate power and the abandonment of all rights including habeas corpus, assembly, association, trial by jury and the right to an attorney, so that an English-speaking elite will make us feel safe from the dark-skinned Other.

Nope. The media people just aren't going to like this one.

And it doesn't have a Disney ending. The Boy doesn't quite get the Girl. They'll live ever after but probably not happily. His job is necessary, even sacred. But it's lonely, unpleasant and one he was never really cut out for. She has to do what the wives of sailors have always done which is wait and keep his heart safe.The man best suited for immortality sailing the seas gives it up. All the major characters betray each other, lie, and do bad things for what they consider good reasons. And nobody gets away unhurt. It makes for better drama and a much fuller story than we'd expected. It certainly isn't formula. It doesn't give the audience what it expects from a Disney flick. But it just might be the most subversive even courageous thing to come out of the Magic Kingdom in a long time.

And Keith Richards has hella stage presence as Captain Teach.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Steve!

It's Steve Perry's birthday today. We met him a number of years back at a writing workshop at Portland State where he was skeptical about Silat. "Oh, I've got all the martial arts I need already." Good thing, too. If he'd had those extra few years of Sera he might have been able to pass more on to, hmm, certain people.

We can probably put it down to his colorful past and youthful indiscretions

Happy sixtieth and many more, Steve. We're happy you stayed. And we're glad to know you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I Support the Draft!

According to the Pentagon the war in Iraq might take ten years. The Surge isn't stopping sectarian violence or the breakup of Iraq. The government, such as it is, is falling apart, and our glorious allies the Iraqi security forces can't fight on their own. At least they can't fight on their own as cohesive units. They do a bang-up job as members of various militias and gangs.

The President has outsourced his Constitutional responsibilities to General Petraeus. I've spent a long time looking at the Constitution and just can't find a description of the office and duties of "War Czar". But now that the good general is sounding less than optimistic about declaring victory he's being silenced.

We're rattling our saber at Iran and have declared that units in their military are terrorist organizations. The rhetoric coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sounds suspiciously like it did before the invasion of Iraq.

The only problem with this wonderful adventure is that we're running out of troops. The National Guard and Reserves have been used like the only cheap hooker in town when the Fleet is in. Our servicemen and women have been in the field longer and with less downtime than the whole of World War II. The Army and Marines are having real trouble meeting recruiting targets and keeping officers. To fill the hole we've got over 125,000 "private contractors" doing the jobs that soldiers used to do.

[Just a note on these "contractors". The Geneva Convention is very specific about what constitutes armed forces. It is equally clear about mercenaries. It even describes guerrillas, militias and the civilian population. Blackwater and Dyncorp fit none of these categories. They are textbook-perfect examples of "unlawful combatants". They have no rights under the Laws of War. If they have guns, they are fair game. And I don't shed a single tear when one of them is killed, maimed or captured and disappears forever. If they were wearing the Uniform it would be different. As it is? Screw 'em. They deserve whatever happens.]

How can we continue the adventure? I can only see a few possibilities. We can rotate Guard and Reserves in faster. We can cut downtime between deployments or increase the length of rotations. These aren't going to work. Our Armed Forces are already seriously fatigued. Training and readiness are suffering. The latest compromise in Congress promised them fifteen months on and a year off which the DoD itself doesn't consider sufficient to maintain the quality of the military.

Or we could suddenly discover a whole bunch of new recruits.

That doesn't seem likely. The recruiters have stopped scraping the bottom of the barrel and have commenced to kicking the bottom out of the sucker to see what might be crawling around underneath. Active gang-bangers, drug users, an unprecedented fraction who score in the lowest cohort on aptitude tests and even severe autistics are already getting in. In the last few weeks the Pentagon has mentioned the possibility of a draft a couple times. Quietly. And they've always immediately denied it. But I can't see how else they are going to deliver enough meat to the grinder. Otherwise the insurgents, the Shiite militias, Iran and everyone else in the Administration's sights is going to say "Yeah? You and what Army?"

So I'm foursquare 100 percent in favor of a draft. It will have to be a special draft. It will have to be a draft which unites the country in a spirit of shared sacrifice instead of dividing it like the Vietnam years.

I propose the Carthage Draft.

There's some controversy about the ancient Phoenicians. Some people say they regularly practiced human sacrifice. Some say it was blood libel by their Roman enemies. In any case they had a custom. In times of grave danger they would publicly sacrifice children to their gods by burning them to death in a hollow brass statue. Here's the important part. These weren't orphans or the children of the poor. They weren't slaves. They were the favorite little boys and girls of the rich and noble. All of the families had to pony up in front of each other.

Here in 21st Century America those who rule do not suffer the same as those who serve. Hawkish Senators don't have children in the line of fire. The powerfully connected get to join the Air National Guard and go AWOL or get half a dozen deferments because they have "other priorities". It breeds resentment from the Lower Orders and removes the cost from those who reap the benefit. The only way they will stop making war is when it just isn't fun anymore.

So let them pay. Let them pay in a coin which can not be covered with money or political pressure. Let them pay with something that costs the same whether you are rich or poor. Let them show how much they support the war by paying with the lives of their own children.

Every Congressman, every Senator, everyone in the Executive Branch above a certain level and everyone in the Cheney Branch gets to contribute. Hell, let's go all out and include the wealthiest 1% of families and the board members of the Fortune 500. All of them contribute a child. By preference it should be a son or daughter. If there isn't one a grandchild, a niece or nephew, a younger sibling or a spouse will do. The chosen will be in for the duration. There will be no deferments, no exemptions, none of that. If they suddenly discover that they're gay then "unit cohesion" will just have to suffer for the good of the country. They go in as buck privates destined for frontline units with really dangerous specialties like Rifleman or Cavalry Scout. There won't be opportunities to get out of danger by going to special training, Officer Candidate School or one of the Academies. They're in the thick of it as long as it lasts. The ones who are disabled or killed get replaced by someone else in the family.

So the rich and powerful can have their wars. The President can surge all he wants, but Jenna or Barbara will be dodging bullets. The Democrats can rubber stamp everything - they do anyway. But they won't be able to "triangulate" on their wives and husbands when their only child comes back in a box. Halliburton really will have to trade blood for oil. But their own flesh and blood will be included. They can have all the war they want. But they'll have to endure whatever their families throw at them. They'll have to suffer the same sleepless nights and cry at the same funerals as the Little People. And they'll have to convince themselves and their loved ones that it was worth it every day for the rest of their lives.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lineage and Fallen Houses

Over on Steve Perry's blog there's an article about the politicking in our branch of the Silat family tree and attempts to end it. The squabbling has gone on for a long time and will probably continue until all of the old generation has passed away. Maybe not. The biblical precedent is a little bleaker

“For I the LORD thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation”

-Exodus 20:6

The strife has gotten to the point where my wife and I have a joke: "Indonesian Brain Rot strikes four out of five. Please give generously." Look at the American Silat population - I hesitate to call it a community - from the outside and it seems ludicrous. Long-time students tossed. Strangers venerated. Odd superstitions. Conflicts that would embarrass a herd of fourth graders let alone grown men and women. Teaching certification and fancy titles given for favors and withdrawn at real or imagined slights. Wannabe-Wahabites saying that only the right sort of Muslim can do Silat while they ignore its Chinese and Indian roots. Histories rewritten to make the tellers the heroes of their own imaginary dramas. Young people stopping fights among their elders instead of the other way around. In the words of the Great Sages of my people "Oy vey. What meshugas." Maybe it's something in the water. Maybe it's a curse from the Clue Fairy who has turned her back on us.

If you haven't read Mark Kurlansky do yourself a favor and pick up a couple of his books. I strongly recommend Salt: A World History, The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation, A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (with the Dalai Lama), and Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing From Around the World and Throughout History. Whenever he writes you'll find the Basque, the Jews, the Caribbean and food.

A few years back I read The Basque History of the World and was struck by the expression "the house would vanish".

When asked for the antique recipe for her family's gateau Basque, Jeanine Pereuil smiled bashfully and said, "You know, people keep offering me a lot of money for this recipe."

How much do they offer?

"I don't know. I'm not going to bargain. I will never give out the recipe. If I sold the recipe, the house would vanish. And this is the house of my father and his father. I am keeping their house. And I hope my daughter will do the same for me."

The Dutch-Indonesians who brought Silat to North America certainly weren't Basque. But there's a very similar feel to their situation. They mixed more with the local peoples for a longer time than almost any colonialists except maybe the French-Polynesians while remaining a distinct population. They were landowners, government officials, the professional classes and very close to minor nobility for generations. Then everything was taken from them. The Japanese put them in concentration camps. After World War II when they were just beginning to get things together Indonesia achieved independence. Their lands and property were confiscated. They were driven out of the new nation because they were Dutch. When the surviving refugees moved to the Netherlands they weren't really Dutch. They were "coffee beans", half-castes. Some moved to places where their old skills could be used. Some ended up in the United States where everyone was an immigrant and almost anyone could become American. The weren't outcast, but they were just another group of immigrants.

Their house had vanished.

What was left of what they had been? The communities were gone. The physical property had disappeared. Their children might speak some Dutch and Indonesian at home, but their grandchildren wouldn't. About the only thing remaining was knowledge, especially when it had been passed down in the family. How do you keep knowledge? If you hoard it and don't teach it to anyone it dies with you. If you give it away to everyone the last thing you have that makes you what you were is worthless. If you show it to someone it becomes his as much as yours. In many martial arts, famously the Chinese ones, the solution has been to destroy the Art. You only teach your inner students 80% of what you know and keep the rest, especially the parts that make it particularly good, for yourself. You encourage cult-like devotion to your style and discourage the next generation from interacting with other people who have different strengths. After seven go-rounds nobody knows more than a fifth of the original system, and that's gotten fragmented.

You couldn't call what happened in America a solution although there seems to have been a greater willingness to thoroughly train selected students. Let's say it's the way things worked out. There's been a lot of jealousy tied up with the transmission of the family martial arts and a desire to hang on and keep control while passing it on to the worthy. Any rational person could see that you can't do both, especially after you pass away. But we're dealing with fundamental threats to identity here. People are rarely rational about that.

That's where the obsession with "lineage" comes from. In the everyday sense of the word it's where you come from, your ancestry. In martial arts the meaning is a little different. Someone is designated to maintain the organization, settle disputes and generally be the guy in charge. In Silat in this country it has mutated into a full out hemiptera-conjugating chiroptera-feces barking madness. The Lineage becomes something with an independent existence. It can be bestowed in a moment and removed on a whim. If you have it you are the Fair-Haired Boy, the Annointed of Heaven, possessed of some invisible supernatural legacy. If you don't have it or had it taken away you are suddenly diminished.

With those sorts of stakes riding on something completely arbitrary strange things happen. He who has The Lineage guards it jealously. It comes with status and the assumption that he is the best around. Those who don't have it but think of themselves as contenders politic for it madly. If you or your teacher has it you must be "real". Anyone who doesn't is suspect. Someone who had the magical prize but had it taken away must not have had the martial art to begin with. Obviously, neither do his students.

On the face of it it's insane. Knowledge once given can not be taken away. Skill is skill whether the practitioner is a saint or a 24 karat brass-plated jerk. An administrative title just doesn't signify.

If you look at it another way it makes emotional (although not rational) sense. The Lineage is more like a patent of nobility or chieftanship. It can be given and taken back. It is a mark of favor, the sign of who is entitled to the family lands. Of course only one person can have it. It's a unique legacy that represents the continuation of one's family and ideals in a single body.

The problem is that understanding is not like a farm. It is not diminished or divided if more than one person has it. Quite the contrary. If there are more good people who understand something there is less chance that the knowledge will be lost. Idolizing The Lineage will simply cause dissension and backbiting as people scramble to be The One and resent it if they aren't. Whole groups of students will have a reason to look down on or resent others depending on who is associated with the extra special teacher. The system as a community is designed to tear itself apart from the top down.

This is closely related to the habit some teachers have of withdrawing certification and recognition. If the Art is a thing it can be lent, sold, given away and taken back at one's pleasure. You can give someone a title or a certificate. It's yours to do. If he falls out it can be taken away in the way that the king can ennoble or debase someone. The honors are his and are no more or less than a mark of his favor.

Taken on its own terms the whole thing makes sense. Unfortunately, there is an expectation that the piece of paper and the title are supposed to say something about the quality of the person who has them. From that point of view it makes no sense at all. If someone really was a qualified teacher or a Master of the craft that is supposed to have some meaning outside of the personal relationship between him and his teacher. One could say "He and I no longer speak to each other," or "I recognize that he has these skills, but I can no longer trust his character," or even "He was up to par then. I don't know about now."

To say "He never was" or "He was but I take it back" is a different thing. None of the alternatives makes the teacher look good. One possibility is that the teacher is lying. Who would want to trust a liar? Another is that he has no interest in quality control. The honors are worthless. He could be in denial. He could have very poor judgment. Or he's subject to flattery and pettiness which makes the recipient suspect; the implication is that a teacher is one who can curry favor, not someone who can teach.

I'm afraid Steve Perry is right. A number of the last generation will have to pass away before things get better. We can only hope that when that happens people will act more sensibly. In the meanwhile let's try to treat each other kindly. Judge people on what they are and what they do more than who happens to be popular with the higher ups this week. Don't take the ornate titles seriously. Don't even ask about them. Especially, forget about who has The Lineage. Just ask "Can he fight?", "Can he teach?", "Does he have good skills?", "Where did he learn it?" and "Is he a decent person?" Those are what's important. The rest is rubbish.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blogging and the Beeb

On Thursday morning I went through my morning web trapline - New York Times, the Guardian, Raw Story, previous day's 9 Chickweed Lane, Girl Genius, the CJR and CSM, Slashdot and Fark.

One of the daily Fark links was to a BBC story. The Commission or Racial Equality wanted to ban Tintin in the Congo, the 1930 adventure's of Herge's famous character and Belgium's national hero. The book's certainly dated. Tintin exterminates animals wholesale trying to get his man. The locals are caricatures. They don't speak well. They aren't bright. They look about like you'd expect. Herge was embarrassed by it in later years. It's never been heavily published or promoted and is mostly forgotten by his fans.

That obviously wasn't good enough for the British government. They wanted it to be banned from sale because the depictions of Africans are pretty distasteful by modern standards.

The BBC had a comment form, so I entered one hoping that it would be accepted for publication on the website. It was a little surprising to get a call half an hour later asking "Are you Dan Gambiera? I'm from the BBC World Service. Would you like to be on BBC World Have Your Say?"

Yes. Certainly.

At 11AM they called back, and I got to speak for a couple minutes. It was nice to see that almost nobody wanted TTitC to be banned. Moved to the adult graphic novels section, maybe. But most saw official censorship as heavy-handed even for today's UK.

So what did your Faithful Amphibian have to say? It's hard to remember exactly, but I recall a couple points....

  • "As a Jew whose hijab-wearing Afro-Asian Muslim wife loves Tintin..."
  • Prohibition won't work, especially in an age where information is freely available. What the CRE did manage to do was catapult it from obscurity to fame. It jumped from somewhere around 30,000 on to 9th place in overall sales in a few hours including a copy that is now heading for Oregon by Royal Mail.
  • If it is so patently offensive to various groups that it must be banned we will also have to include the Quran, the Gospels and anything written by any Jew anywhere. Various members of the Abrahamic faiths find all of these offensive and blasphemous.
  • While we're at it we'll have to ban H. Rider Haggard, P.G. Woodehouse, Damon Runyon, Gone With the Wind, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Mein Kampf just to start with. All of these are available in high street shops.
  • Other racist material is readily available. How many kids are going to spend the equivalent of two hours' pay for a Midlands carpenter to buy any book these days?
  • Dangerous ideas are good. With another turn of the Wheel the CRE's own white papers might be banned. And we wouldn't want that to happen. I mentioned the McLibel lawsuit as a case where commercial interests found a pamphlet to be offensive and objectionable and tried to crush the authors in what turned into the UK's longest trial. I may also have brought up the fact that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring would probably be illegal today under American Food Disparagement Laws.
That's all I can remember saying. Someone else made the point that it should be a matter of parental responsibility and that context is important. It was a different age. People thought differently, and it's dangerous and dishonest to revise history to make it more palatable.

Come to think of it, Herge turned pretty much everyone who wasn't a Belgian into a caricature. Look at Tintin in America or any of the books that take place in Russia or the Orient.

So it was a good day. Thanks to Rustin Wright for reminding me about the McLibel incident.

Update: It looks like the book will not be banned. Barnes & Noble will be reclassifying it as an adult graphic novel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Am I a callous prick or is it a sense of perspective?

There was a story which started off on the wrestling websites, made it to fark and then to the mainstream media. It seems that a popular actor/entertainer in the WWE by the name of Benoit has died along with his wife and seven year old. At first the wire services wouldn't touch it. It might have been a publicity stunt by the wrestling industry. Nobody wanted to be the first dupe.

It seems that the report was real. Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel really are dead, and the police are treating it as a murder-suicide. Investigations continue, but they're working from the hypothesis that he killed the woman and child over the weekend and himself today.

This is a tragedy. No doubt about it. I'm certainly sorry for the needless deaths of his wife and seven year old. I'm reserving judgement about the man himself. If he did the crime he deserves nothing more and nothing less than any other man who murders his family which is to say the thin end of nothing whittled down to a point. What disturbs me is the reaction of a number of people on tha Intrawebs. This sort of thing happens every day to people in their communities, sometimes people who they knew personally. Those deaths raise not a tear. But let someone who has been on television and played a popular character be the centerpiece of such an event and it's a cause for all sorts of mourning and grief. And according to some of them I'm seven separate sorts of soulless shitheel for treating these celebrity deaths with the same sort of measured regret that I do in all such cases.

These were not people I knew. I know nobody in their families. Their lives didn't touch mine, and mine didn't touch theirs. The fact that they were on television means somewhat less than nothing to me. Is there any reason why their passing should have more impact than that of humbler people who met the same sort of fate?

I think not. If you don't value those closer to you than complete strangers your love and sympathy aren't worth much. If you're deeply affected by every bad thing that happens you can't function. And if an industry creation - an acting persona - is a good reason to treat a death with particular concern, then a portion of your soul has been branded, bought and sold.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When You're Pack

Today, instead of heading out to Michigan for the Gathering of the Tribes I'm sitting in bed recovering from a really nasty fever that came on suddenly and has decided to settle in for a while. At least they say the ravings were interesting when in the ER. Dunno. I wasn't there at the time.

What's interesting is the way the dogs have been acting. They've always been Good Dogs, better than we've been good masters. They protect us faithfully from the three guys who are up to no good - Fred X, The Man in Brown and Usmail With the Bag. They're German Shepherds. It's their job.

Since I got sick they've stepped it up a notch. When I'm in bed one of them is right outside the door or on the landing. The other is on the landing or at the front door. Dogs they'd normally bark once at for form's sake get a real bark or two. Packages get left far away from the front door. When I'm in some other room they lie down in the doorways facing out towards danger instead of towards the people in the room. Their ears stay up, and it takes them a lot longer to go into the special power saving mode that dogs do so well.

It's really sweet. One of the Pack is sick. So they go all out to protect him. I'm only glad that they see I have food and water. If they didn't they'd probably provide some, pre-softened and easy to chew and digest *bleagh*. They don't seem to like the sick smell and try to wash it off me. If they knew how they could probably tell the doctors exactly what was wrong with me. Those noses are amazing.

That Shepherd guarding instinct is very strong. And I do feel safer having them around. Whoever said it was right, if there's a heaven most dogs will earn it and darned few of their masters.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Real Truth

Bobbe has come up with a decent cosmology, later corrected by Jay Carstensen and further extended by Mushtaq.

They're close, but didn't quite get it right.

Here's how it really works:

It's all about Tsathoggua.