Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Writing, writing, writing

So last night I threw myself into revisions on a story that's been languishing untouched for far too long: "Being An Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza: A Circumstance in Eight Parts." Catchy, innit? Just sort of trips off the tongue.

I knew the story needed two new scenes inserted--which isn't a great thing when you realize my stories are invariably too long to begin with. I knew exactly where a death scene would fit (I had it happening off-page before, and that undercut the dramatic tension), and lo and behold, it practically wrote itself. I was actually surprised at how painlessly it went down on the page. The second scene, between two secondary characters, I wasn't as sure of. I knew where it'd fit most naturally, but I felt that would place it too far towards the end of the story, whereas the narrative would benefit more if it occurred earlier. But there are specific events happening in the first half of the story that keep these two characters separated, and I can't justify the major restructuring that would demand--this scene isn't crucial to the plot, but adds some needed character balance. Ultimately, I erred on the side of caution and grafted it in towards the end. Something's still not quite 100 percent right with it--it's a tad talky, which is a sign from my subconscious that I haven't quite got a solid grasp on the scene--but overall I believe the story significantly benefits from the additions.

What struck me most about the writing session was how unaware I was of it. 'Round about midnight, when I hit SAVE and put it to bed, I was surprised at the hour. I'd been wholly focused on the narrative problems before me, as opposed to having problems with the process. After a long fallow period where the very thought of sitting down at the keyboard launched a nasty glob of bile up into my throat, experiencing a "normal" writing session was an extremely pleasant change.

And for better or for worse, some things haven't changed. I did a word count when after I finished the last new scene, and the manuscript tips the scales at 11,000 words. In case you're wondering, that breaks down to a 1:733.3 title/manuscript word ratio for "La Riaza." I immediately shipped it off, of course, to Interzone. It's not anything like what Interzone normally runs, but then again, it's not anything like what anyone normally runs. I'll let Jetse worry about it.

Now Playing: Steve Winwood Back In the High Life

Monday, January 30, 2006

A taxing weekend

Didn't get any writing done over the weekend... at least, not any writing that I enjoyed. I got my W2 form in last week, and so Saturday and Sunday were dedicated to Uncle Sam and his buddies running things over at the IRS. The entire affair was akin to a long, tedious bout of trench warfare. The good news is that by being a lowly writer of marginal success, I've somehow avoided all the higher tax brackets and have a significant amount of dollars coming back to me in the form of a refund check. Yay!

One thing baffles me, though. If the IRS is so keen on getting everyone to submit their taxes online, why then don't they make available a simple electronic fill-in-the-blank form for all the schedules and forms? Why do they leave it to TurboTax, H&R Block and the rest? The patronizing Q&A format is infuriating and counterproductive if, like us, you have multiple schedules to file that don't necessarily fit in one-size-fits-all pigeonholes. Lisa thought I was being a Luddite, I suspect, because of my disdain for the commercial electronic filing systems available. But after spending all evening online, she came away with as much contempt for them as I. It just boggles my mind how they've managed to take something that should be simple and straightforward, and made it complex and exasperating. Only in America...

Now Playing: Clannad Clannad 1

Friday, January 27, 2006


I'm not terribly comfortable with self-revelatory writings or conversation, mainly because I always feel like I'm coming across as looking for sympathy or pity or liquor. Well, apart from the liquor, I'm not. So I usually don't. But I also feel some small imperative of honesty with this blog. And by honesty, I don't just mean "Don't print lies." It also extends to deception by omission. So.

I am, presumably, just now coming out of an uncomfortable awkward period with my writing. And by "period" I mean "since Halloween." And by "awkward" I mean "didn't write." And by "uncomfortable" I mean "excruciatingly, horrifically painful and agonizing." There. Feels good to get it off my chest, don't you think?

I don't know how or why it started. Probably an accumulation of factors: The usual rejections I normally amass were in the mix, sure, but I also had some book proposals turn up DOA, including one that had actually been accepted and scheduled by a publisher before winds changed. Add to that the search for my replacement at RevolutionSF and non-specific workload pressures at my day job... Boom! No more writey-write for Jayme.

That's not to claim I developed a case of writer's block. I don't think I did--at least, not writer's block as I understand it. I still had ideas. I could still sling words as good as I ever done. The trouble is, I didn't want to. No, that's not right. That implies a simple absence of desire. That I deal with constantly--I'm the world's A-Number 1 champion of pointless research and procrastination. I can avoid writing with a passion rivaled only by Pac-Man at an all-you-can-eat dot matrix buffet. This was different. This was anti-want. Revulsion. Rejection. Pathological recoilment in horror. When I started to write, I got nauseous. Headaches. Physically rejecting the very act of writing. At times, even the thought of writing would make me queasy.

Strange, no? You haven't heard the worst of it: This applied to any kind of writing. I've always viewed my fiction and non-fiction as two separate entities. Sure, they share a lot of the same tools stored up in the old gray matter, but the overlap of the creative process involved in the writing of either one was minimal. That's the way it feels to me. Fiction writing's always been some sort of ordeal for me, a slow, tedious slog through blind alleys and vapid word choice. Non-fiction, on the other hand, was more akin to a rapid-fire Tetris game with a looming deadline. "Put the pieces in place! Hurry! I need a word, a word, a word! Hey, there's one that fits! Looks great! Move on!" Suddenly, it was like someone planted a stink bomb right amongst those wack falling bricks. So not only did my novel and short story work come to a sudden and screeching halt, but there were no book reviews. No articles. No essays. No intros for my interview follow-up. Releases from work came few and far between. My blogging slowed significantly, although I like to think I did a decent job of obscuring that fact. I even let emails languish for obscenely long periods simply because I'd have to write something in order to reply.

This was very disturbing to me. I'd never, ever encountered anything like this before. The strangest thing was that I still could write, and the quality didn't seem to be affected: I kept up with the minimal number of releases I had to do at work. It wasn't pleasant, but I could do it. I even forced myself to work up a few overdue reviews, but they took hours longer than normal.

And as quickly as it came, this strange psychological aberration seems to have lifted (knock wood). Forcing out a number of reviews last week resulted in very little force being applied--the words flowed smoothly with no ill feelings arising. I picked up an old story languishing for more than a year, awaiting a rewrite, and found the idea of working on it appealing--exciting even. Then I read the story, and experienced the joy of discovery. "I hadn't remembered I'd don't that. Hey, this section here is pretty cool!" It wasn't as crude and unformed as I'd believed. In fact--and I fear this will smack of narcissism--I liked it, because it entertained me. That was a pleasant discovery.

The long and short of it is that three fallow months of unintended and undesired unproductivity have hopefully come to an end. It was an unpleasant experience. I don't recommend it to anyone. But I post this confession so as to disabuse anyone of the idea that the writing experience at Casa de Blaschke is consistently sunshine and lollipops. Because it ain't.

The downside to all this is that I'm back to having to invent my own procrastination techniques again. Such is life.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Makes you view the old "sonic screwdriver" in a whole new light

I would say that words fail me, but that would be untrue. I've got plenty of words, but the ones that keep coming to mind would run afoul of pretty much every content filter around. So I'll let the quotes do the talking:
Estate director Tim Hancock said: “The reason the Daleks are still the most sinister thing in the universe is because they do not make things like porn.

“They weren’t ever intended to be sexual creatures. It’s simple, Daleks do not do porn.”

Look if you must (and I know you must), but if the quotes above haven't clued you in, this is NSFW. Blame goes to Science Fiction Blog for this one.

Now Playing: The Jams The History of the Jams aka The Timelords

Changing of the guard

RevolutionSF (www.revolutionsf.com), the online home of science fiction humor and commentary, proudly announces its new fiction editors, Steve Wilson and Matthew Bey. Wilson and Bey will take over for outgoing fiction editor Jayme Lynn Blaschke effective February 1, 2006.

Both residents of Austin, TX, Wilson and Bey are best-known for their work on the bizarrely subversive Space Squid (www.spacesquid.com/), aka "The 'zine Margaret Atwood warned you about." They have published the likes of Bruce Sterling, Jay Lake, Chris Roberson and Jessica Reisman, with plans to publish many more imaginative works for speculative fiction before all is said and done.

"We think of ourselves collectively as the (mid-career) Steve Martin of SF, a sort of 'Man with Two Brains'. We share similar tastes, and when we don't agree, our resultant bouts of great violence always serve the stories for the best, though they leave our bodies in shambles," Wilson and Bey said. "We're proud to fill Jayme's shoes, and don't intend to clean their soles of the rich, loamy soil of imagination through which they have tread. If anything, we intend to muck them up even more."

The new editors have also initiated a new "email-only" submission policy. Fiction submissions should be attached *.rtf files sent to revolutionsfsubs@gmail.com. "Submission:" and the title of the story should be in the subject line. The name of the attached file should be THE SAME AS THE STORY TITLE.

Blaschke, fiction editor since January 2003, is resigning to pursue the usual "other opportunities," which include chairing the publicity committee for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America as well as completing the follow-up to his 2005 interview collection Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak.

Shane Ivey, managing editor of RevolutionSF, said: "Jayme Blaschke has what anyone could want in an editor: courtesy, patience, unshakeable professionalism, and most of all a keen eye for talented writing. He's brought the best out of first-time authors and encouraged established, successful writers to show what they can do, and he fully earned the praise his writers and his own work have received over the past few years. Jayme has made an outstanding contribution to RevolutionSF."

Now Playing: U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Bill Crider had a post last week about Fred Pohl's novel Tommorrow Times Seven. As I so often do, I ignored the point of his post and instead asked about the cover artist.

The artist in question was Richard M. Powers (1921-1996). His stylized, surreal SF illustrations from the 60s had a huge impact on me as I was just coming into the genre. They came to symbolize the strange otherness fix I got from science fiction. His cover art was literally unlike anything else on the shelves. I found out he died in 1996, but lo and behold, there's a swinging online gallery of his ultra-hip graphical stylings. I don't think his cover above is anywhere close to his best work, but it still boasts those unique traits that make it instantly identifiable as a Powers piece. Check out the gallery. Lots of eye candy to enjoy.

Now Playing: The New World Renaissance Band Live the Legend

Hey! Look--I've got another one!

I know the following information has been circulating widely via email and blogs, but in truth, it hasn't officially been released to the media. Until I worked up this release and sent it out, that is:
SFWA names Grand Master, Author Emeritus

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have named Harlan Ellison Grand Master and William F. Nolan Author Emeritus for 2006. The pair will be honored at the Nebula Award Weekend® in Tempe Arizona May 4-7.

SFWA President Robin Wayne Bailey made the announcement after consulting with the SFWA Board of Directors and participating past presidents.

The 2006 Author Emeritus was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928. Nolan sold his first fiction in 1954 and his work has included a broad range of material, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, westerns and mysteries. He has authored over 150 stories and 75 books, including 13 novels. Among the best-known of his novels is Logan’s Run, co-authored with George Clayton Johnson, and later on his own, Logan’s World and Logan’s Search. His work has earned praise from such writers as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Joe R. Landsdale.

The 2006 Grand Master made his first sale, “Glowworm,” to Infinity Science Fiction in 1956, and since then Ellison has shaped and sometimes re-shaped modern science fiction. As a writer and as an anthologist, his influence--though sometimes controversial--has been vast. Ellison has won a remarkable nine Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, many script-writing awards for his television work, two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, two World Fantasy Awards (including one for lifetime achievement), and six Bram Stoker Awards (including one for lifetime achievement). His 1992 novelette “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” was selected from more than 6,000 short stories published in the U.S. for inclusion in the 1993 edition of Best American Short Stories

Ellison was one of the founders of SFWA and served as the organization’s first vice-president. Always a champion for writers, he led the fight against AOL with his “Kick Internet Piracy” campaign to hold internet service providers responsible for pirate sites. He also helped to launch the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

More details about the Nebula Awards® Weekend are available at http://www.sfwa.org/awards/2006/.

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

More to come. But that's pretty much a given, isn't it?

Now Playing: The New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights

Monday, January 23, 2006


New Braunfels author tapped to head SFWA publicity committee

New Braunfels resident and author Jayme Lynn Blaschke has been named to head up the publicity efforts of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

“I’m pleased to announce that Jayme Lynn Blaschke will be taking over the chairman’s duties for the SFWA Publicity Committee,” said SFWA President Robin Wayne Bailey. “When I asked Jayme to take on the job, I also asked him to consider a broader and more active role for the Publicity Committee. It’s not enough just to publicize awards and award winners--it’s time we started publicizing SFWA and the good, decent work the organization does on behalf of writers.”

Blaschke replaces the outgoing Sean Fodera, who will remain on the committee in an advisory capacity.

“I believe SFWA has a tremendous opportunity to position itself as a valuable media resource,” Blaschke said. “Our membership includes some of the brightest, most creative people in the world who are more than willing to discuss everything from human cloning controversies to the recently-launched mission to Pluto. We just need to take a more proactive approach to letting people know we’re here for them.”

Blaschke is the author of Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2005. The former fiction editor of RevolutionSF.com, he is currently working on a follow-up volume and has published short stories, reviews and essays in a variety of markets. A journalism graduate of Texas A&M University, he is currently on the staff of the Media Relations & Publications Department at Texas State University-San Marcos. Blaschke maintains his own website at http://users4.ev1.net/~jblaschke/ along with a daily web log at http://jlbgibberish.blogspot.com/.

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Now Playing: The New World Renaissance Band Live the Legend


My review of Damien Broderick's novel Godplayers is now up at RevolutionSF:
Godplayers author Damien Broderick sure likes him some classic Zelazny. He says so in the novel's afterword. He's also got a serious affection for old-school Leiber. That, too, is in the afterword. More importantly, though, is the fact that Broderick's love for nitty-gritty, classic SF is evident on practically every page of Godplayers. It's a book that's jam-packed with ideas and riffs on once-familiar concepts, taking such tropes as multiverses and immortality and twisting them in fresh, unexpected directions. If ever a novel begged for annotations, this one is it.

Head on over there and check out the whole review, if you're so inclined.

Now Playing: The Kinks To the Bone

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

Went and saw Memoirs of a Geisha tonight with Lisa. I found it an interesting movie. Not particularly great, but it held my interest and showed me new things. Some of the biggest criticisms of the film centered around it being over-simplified and reduced to a traditional Hollywood love story. Having not read the novel, I can't comment on its faithfulness, or lack thereof, to the book, but even I picked up on a superficial vibe running through the film.

To my eye, the film played like an amalgam of Spirited Away and Dangerous Beauty, with just a faint touch of Grave of the Fireflies. If you watch it, you can pick out specific scenes that are straight out of those other movies. That's not a good sign for a film touted early on as an Oscar contender. I did like Geisha early on, when it was bitter, cruel and wholly beautiful. It had an honest edge to it, and that made it real. The film lost its way, however, when it reached World War II. Remember the old adage of "Show, don't tell"? Well, suddenly the filmmakers lose their nerve, and have the characters constantly telling the audience how bad things are, but we never see anyone suffering. At this point, the plot derails and becomes a silly little romantic conspiracy fueled by the idiot plot. Which is a shame, because they had something good going up unto that point.

It think the biggest problem the movie faces is the limitations of a theatrical film. Mainly, running time. At two-and-a-half hours, the movie is both too short and too long. Too long because there are a lot of pointless scenes that don't do much to advance the plot, but are necessary to get the characters from point A to point B. Too short because a great deal is obviously cut to make the movie fit a time limitation, but those cuts undermine the film as a whole. World War II supposedly changes everything, but the entirety of the war is covered by a two-minute camera pan over a stream as a voiceover explains how traumatic life has become. I strongly suspect Geisha would've worked much, much better as one of those grand old miniseries in the Shogun tradition, with the episodes strung out over the better part of a week with which to give all the rich plot, character and detail the attention they deserve. Breaking the film down in my mind, I can already see how it would best unfold as four two-hour installments. Alas, that is not to be, but I'll bet it would ultimately be more fulfilling a show.

Now Playing: Rick Ocasek Fireball Zone

Friday, January 20, 2006

Godzilla: Final Wars

My review of Godzilla: Final Wars is now up over at RevolutionSF. And anyone who knows me knows I loves me some Godzilla. So, what'd I think of it? Here's the teaser:
As far as Godzilla movies go, this one's got everything--chaos, carnage, flying battleships and monsters galore. It's also got stolen plots galore, too. Seen a movie in the past decade or so? Chances are, it's here.

Or, here's another way of putting it: If you've ver been watching, say, King Kong vs. Godzilla and thought, "This is cool, but it'd really be great if it were more like The Matrix," well, this movie's the answer to your prayers.

Now Playing: The Kinks Misfits

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Best Related Book

Somebody just emailed me asking if Voices of Vision was Hugo-eligible this year for the awards to be presented at the 64th annual Worldcon. And, son of a gun, it is... in the "related book" category:
Best Related Book
Any work whose subject is related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time in book form in 2005 and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text. (Formerly Best Non-Fiction Book)

Not that I have any delusions of even getting on the ballot. Not with such great books as Jack Williamson's autobiography Wonder's Child, Samuel R. Delany's On Writing, Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller and Thomas Disch's On SF also eligible--and that's not even scratching the surface of all the cool books Monkeybrain published this year... Wow. Looking back, 2005 was a fantastic year for genre-related non-fiction. And even though I know I'm not worthy of being even mentioned in the same sentence with those folks, there's still a little thrill that comes with seeing my book's title sharing a sentence with "Hugo Award."

Now Playing: Wilson Pickett The Best of Wilson Pickett

Pluto bound!

We have liftoff!
Launch! NASA's New Horizons spacecraft and its Atlas 5 rocket have launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the first mission to Pluto.

Liftoff took place at 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT).

About one minute and 33 seconds after liftoff, the booster's five strap-on rockets are expected to separate, followed by jettison of the protective fairing shrouding New Horizons about three minutes and 23 seconds into the flight. It should take the Atlas 5-New Horizons combo about four minutes to reach space and separate from its first stage.

The first of two planned burns of the Centaur upper stage is planned for four minutes and 43 seconds after launch.

Fingers still crossed. Too many things can go wrong. But, yes, it's up!

Now Playing: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band

Newish reviews

I've got a new review up at Green Man Review. Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction is a collection of essays published by Palgrave in 2000. There's some cool stuff contained therein, including fascinating essays by Ken MacLeod and Damien Broderick. There's also an illuminating one on the phenomenon of "Battleship Boys" novels from the turn of the century--last century, when Teddy Roosevelt was bully on everything and nobody knew what a World War was. There are also a bunch of droning academic pieces in there that read like, well, droning academic pieces.

I've also go a review up over at RevSF on The Phoenix and the Carpet DVD. It's a pretty bare-bones release of the BBC miniseries version of the E. Nesbit book, and I talk about what works and what doesn't in my review (which, come to think of it, is pretty much the definition of a review, isn't it?).

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chargers, Chargers, who's got the Chargers?

To follow up on my post the other day about the San Diego Chargers flirting with San Antonio, well, the Chargers have gone into panic mode and are denying any kind of amour for the Alamo City:
The San Diego Chargers sent a letter to Mayor Phil Hardberger on Friday to inform him they are not pursuing relocation sites outside of San Diego, the city's newspaper reported.

The Chargers' announcement last week that they would not ask San Diego voters to approve a football stadium proposal in November led Hardberger to say Thursday he "wouldn't be surprised" if the team considered San Antonio as a relocation option.

But Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said the team has not analyzed the South Texas market.

"We're not exploring San Antonio, and we've had no contact with anyone in San Antonio," Fabiani told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, if you run that through the NFL coachspeak translator, it means the Chargers have their bags packed and airling tickets reserved for a move up the coast to Los Angeles:
Sports consultant Dean Bonham said relocating a professional sports franchise is not easily done. In most cases, he said, a team contemplating a move decides to stay put after analyzing the costs and benefits.

Bonham said the Chargers don't have many relocation options. The Los Angeles-Anaheim area, San Antonio and Norfolk, Va., are the top potential sites, he said.

"The NFL is already in substantially all major markets that could support a team," Bonham said. "Los Angeles is the most likely candidate for the Chargers."

Personally, I still think the best course of action for the NFL is to seriously start planning for a two-team expansion in the 2010-15 timeframe. Anything else is merely ignoring the obvious, and encouraging these team movement rumors to crop up ever couple of months.

Now Playing: Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

Bible, Bible, who's got the Bible?

Last night, the New Braunfels ISD board of trustees approved a new elective Bible class for the 2006-07 school year:
New Braunfels Independent School District trustees voted 6-1 in favor of adopting an elective course based on the textbook "The Bible and Its Influence" during Monday's board meeting. Trustee Paul Fisher voted against the decision.

"I respect every opinion that has been presented tonight," Fisher said. "I view this as a subject that, if we address it in public schools, should be in the form of comparative religion."

People packed the board room at the NBISD Education Center on Monday, waiting to have their say on the controversial class, which was proposed last month. When asked for a show of hands, about one-third of those in attendance showed support for the Bible class.

Although we live within New Braunfels city limits, our kids go to Comal ISD schools, so this won't affect us. But the proximity, obviously, has captured my attention. I initially got a skin-crawling sensation, since New Braunfels is overwhelmingly conservative. And news reports in the paper and on television hyped the "controversy" and ignored anything of substance. So I did some digging and was surprised to find out that the textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, published by the Bible Literacy Project, isn't that bad. In fact, it might be pretty good. I don't know if it could reasonably be characterized as secular or non-sectarian, but that seems to be the intent of the Bible scholars who put the work together.

Personally, I don't have a problem with a Bible studies class in high school (although I agree with Fisher, above, that a comparative religion course would be of much greater benefit to students). The problem comes when conservative Christian interests try to use said courses as a Trojan horse with which to insert their own particular brand of faith into schools. I took "Study of the New Testament" in college (mainly because "Study of the Old Testament" kept filling up too fast) and while my prof, Richard Stadleman, was quite conservative in his views (he belonged to Disciples of Christ) he kept the course on a very even keel. So, the Bible can be taught in public schools, and taught effectively, as long as the literary and historical contexts are respected, as opposed to associated dogma. I really, really enjoyed that class--particularly when Stadleman shot down some of the vocal Biblical literalists in the class as he effectively pointed out how different books often had multiple authors whose works were compiled and edited into the forms we know today, not to mention the various known translation errors and ambiguities. Great class.

One other thing gives me heart. While Googling the book, I came across this critique of The Bible and Its Influence:
Does the celebrated new textbook -- produced by the Bible Literacy Project -- really teach Biblical literacy? Or does it immunize children against the actual message of the Bible? Does it help children to understand God's written message to His people? Or does it train students to view that message from the world's perspective? Does it help students to know God? Or does it suggest that our sovereign God is merely one among many gods?

The fact that the book is already viewed by fundamentalists as a threat boosted it immediately in my view. After a good chuckle, I continued searching and found this more substantive review from the Society of Biblical Literature:
It goes without saying that the task set for itself by the BLP is a formidable one — to produce a textbook that satisfies the legal requirement of not advocating a particular religious viewpoint while still passing muster with different faith communities. It should also be observed that this text is a significant improvement over similar efforts, such as the one in Texas by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which Mark Chancey has campaigned to change (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Chancey_Bible_Curr_Revised.htm). The way in which BII accomplishes this task is by adopting an "attribution" approach, which is, in nuce, study about the Bible rather than study of the Bible. Such an approach may, for instance, attribute an interpretation to a particular religious perspective or faith community without endorsing it.

Not surprisingly, then, the best parts of this book are those that discuss the Bible's influence and importance for modern culture. Its pages are richly adorned with images of persons, documents, works of art, and the like. Most chapters have one or more boxes devoted to cultural connections — references or allusions to biblical texts in art, music, theater, and other, especially American, cultural expressions. There are also frequent boxes reserved for "The Bible in Literature," typically with quotations from well-known literary works that make use in some way of the Bible's content or themes. Another prominent feature of the book is a series of small boxes in the margins of the pages with the heading, "into everyday language." These trace the origins of familiar English phrases to the Bible or correlate them with their use in biblical texts.

But fundamentalist concerns aside, no work is perfect, and The Bible in Literature appears to ignore some of the aspects of Biblical study that I found most fascinating in my college course:
The "down side" of the attribution approach is that this textbook does not engage in what most SBL members would consider academic study of the Bible. There is no real critical analysis concerning such matters as authorship, date, and historicity of biblical books. The treatment of the biblical material is essentially a superficial summary of content. Statements in the text are, for the most part, accepted at face value without the recognition that such acceptance is in itself an interpretation. Thus, Gen 2:4b-25 is referred to as the second part of the Genesis creation account (p. 31). Similarly, there is no reference to source division of the flood story or to Mesopotamian parallels.

Be that as it may, on the surface, at least, this does sound like a text appropriate for public high school study. It at least tries to avoid dogma, even if it fails on occasion. And it's intrigued me enough so that I'm likely to add it to my Amazon wish list...

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile

Fingers crossed...

...and holding my breath. The New Horizons mission to Pluto is scant hours away from liftoff:
The first spacecraft ever aimed at the planet Pluto is hours away from launching into space on a nine-year mission to the distant, icy world.

A Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket is poised to launch NASA’s Pluto-bound probe New Horizons at 1:24 p.m. EST (1824 GMT) today from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. If successful, today’s space shot will begin a more than nine-year trek to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt for the piano-sized spacecraft.

I've hardly dared believe this could actually happen, thinking back to the cancellation of the Pluto Express and the Bush administration's repeated attempts to kill the program over the years. Not to mention the disappointment I felt as a kid when I learned that neither of the Voyagers would be flying by Pluto (there were good reasons for this, but even so, that decision bothered me for years). But now--provided all the switches were installed correctly and all the systems were properly tested during pre-flight tests--we may finally, possibly, eventually be on our way to Pluto.

Now Playing: Stu Phillips Battlestar Galactica Original Soundtrack: 25th Anniversary Edition

Friday, January 13, 2006

Adios, New Orleans! Hola, San Diego!

Just because the New Orleans Saints are committed to playing the 2006 season in Louisiana doesn't mean San Antonio is out of the NFL business. Far from it. After averaging more than 62,000 fans in the Alamodome for three games with negligible promotional efforts, and corporate giants in town such as AT&T, Clear Channel and Toyota willing to pony up big bucks for sponsorships, it seems like a number of folks in the league are making goo-goo eyes at the Alamo City:
San Diego's fiscal and political uncertainty has prevented the Chargers from finding development partners for a new stadium and an adjacent residential and commercial project, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

As a result, the team says it cannot meet a Feb.8 deadline to put a measure seeking approval for the stadium complex on the city's November ballot.

"I have followed those events with interest, but there has been no contact" between city officials and the Chargers, Hardberger said. "But that's as of today. It wouldn't surprise me if there weren't some conversation in 2006 with the Chargers."

If that is the case, the talks would need to be held secretly. Under terms of their lease agreement with the city of San Diego, the Chargers cannot explore relocation until Jan.1, 2007 and would be not be able to leave San Diego until after the 2008 season.

But city leaders are confident the Chargers are already exploring San Antonio as a relocation option, especially after the Saints averaged 62,666 fans for their Alamodome schedule.

I didn't want the Saints to move here. Swiping that team from flood-ravaged New Orleans would be in bad taste. But the Chargers are another matter. San Antonio's already got a world-class zoo and a SeaWorld, plus it seems like half the countryside surrounding the city is on fire at any given moment, so the Chargers should feel right at home! Don't believe me? Heck, even Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune agrees:
San Antonio is New Orleans, without the sleaze. It isn't San Diego – no place is – but there are similarities, minus a whole lot of water. It is a big city with a small town's ambience and it would do very nicely, I am convinced, in the NFL.

An added bonus to any proposed move is the fact that the Charges have been known to win actual NFL games on occasion...

Now Playing: Violent Femmes The Blind Leading the Naked

Thursday, January 12, 2006

So how warm is it?

I saw a turtle crossing the road near my house earlier today. It was a little red-eared slider, maybe five inches long. It's shell was thick with mud and algae. It was crossing from a field with a couple of stock tanks to a creek/drainage. At least, that's what I assume it was trying to do. I pulled over and helped it across the road, because really, turtles roaming the countryside in the middle of January can use all the help they can get.

And walking to work from the parking lot, I saw dozens of damsel flies darting around. At home, my apple and plum trees haven't shed all of their leaves yet. Right now it's 74 degrees, cloudy and breezy with 57 percent humidity. It feels more like March or April than the dead of winter. Thank goodness Fox News keeps reminding me that global warming is just a figment of the liberal media's overactive imagination, otherwise I might express some concern.

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan The Real Deal: Greatest Hits vol. 2

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who was that Man of Mystery?

Scott McCullar's a long-time buddy of mine. He's one of the co-founders of Shooting Star Comics and we did the now-defunct Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite together for a lot o' years. Probably my favorite creation of his is Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery. Yellow Jacket's a sort of glorious amalgam of Depression-era pulp heroes that I love. Obviously, there's some strong Green Hornet influence as well, but I've been reading the character's adventures since day one, and really get into the bleak, dust-bowl sensibility of the run.

Unfortunately, Yellow Jacket's stories have thus far only been published in the pages of Shooting Star Comics Anthology, and those have been hard to find--even when I specifically request them for my pull file, my local comics shop has been loathe to place an order. But now you're in luck, because Scott has launched an all-new online web comic at ThrillSeekerComics.com:

I really like Scott's work, and suspect you will, too. And by you, of course, I mean Bill Crider and his gang. Although I've yet to see much cheesecake in any of Yellow Jacket's stories. Unless you count that one chica in that Mexican bar. But she ended up dead, so I'm not sure that counts after all.

And yes, I pinched one of Scott's panels and Photoshopped it a bit to make it more blog-friendly. But hey, what are friends for, if not to manipulate your copyright artwork in a brazen attempt to boost the fanbase?

Now Playing: Eric Clapton Alpine Valley

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Infinite no longer

Eileen Gunn has announced that she's putting Infinite Matrix out to pasture. This is sad news. The webzine was originally launched in the heady days of the dot-com boom out of Austin, if memory serves, but the dot-com bust happened about the time the first issue appeared. The sugar-daddy tech sector financing dried up, and the Infinite Matrix has lurched along ever since, financed by PBS-style fund drives. That it's lasted as long as it has is something we should all be grateful for.

So, before it goes poof into the digital aether, Eileen has published a heck of a lot of new articles and fiction. And there are new blog entries from Howard Waldrop as well. Very cool stuff, indeed. Go read yourself up a mess o' stuff, and tell Eileen how much you're going to miss her when she's gone.

Now Playing: Eric Clapton Unplugged

Monday, January 09, 2006

On the shelf #4

Here is the fourth installation of my semi-occasional feature cleverly dubbed “On the Shelf.” Going column by column, I’m working my way bottom to top, left to right until I’ve cataloged my entire library, or lose interest, whichever comes first. Part one can be viewed here, part two here and part three here. Today’s installment examines the contents of the fourth-from-the-bottom, leftmost shelf:

So, this shelf sees us moving out of the astronaut/space science books and into the realm of astrobiology, cloning and biosciences in general. I wonder what interesting titles the top shelf will hold? That’s right--we’ve almost completed the first vertical stack!

Now Playing: Ace of Base The Sign

Friday, January 06, 2006

What you can do

The big issue is to stop Rick Perry, and his ID insanity. But how? Well, first and foremost, you can hook up with the Texas Freedom Network and Texas Citizens for Science. Both of these groups are working to keep the religious right from taking over our schools and government and imposing their own narrow, fundamentalist view on everyone else.

Secondly, and more directly, you can vote for candidates opposing Perry to show him that this polarizing issue will hurt him more than it helps. Taking it a step further, contribute cash or volunteer to help out the campaigns of those candidates opposed to both Perry and intelligent design:

Democrat front-runner Chris Bell has a history of opposing ID. Last November at the University of North Texas he called ID "A load of crap," and has said "Things we teach kids in science class should have a scientific basis. Based on everything I have seen and heard, I fail to recognize the scientific basis for intelligent design."

Another Democrat candidate, Bob Gammage gave the Austin American-Statesman the best quote on the matter: "There is a difference between physics and metaphysics, and I believe that we should teach the first in schools and the second in church."

Independent candidate Kinky Friedman also speaking to the Statesman, had pretty much the same sentiments: "I'm agin it; there's nothing intelligent about it."

Notably absent from this list is our current state comptroller, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent candidate for governor, Carole Keeton/McClellan/Rylander/Strayhorn. That grandstanding opportunist is suddenly nowhere to be found, ducking this particular issue and trying to play both sides against the middle. Typical. Don't give her jack--she's a waste of space, and would be as bad a governor as Perry, if that's at all possible.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Up

Governor Rick Perry has gone bugfuck insane

As Kansas and Dover, Pa., have struggled with religious right-wing nutcases taking over their school systems, imposing warmed-over creationism in the science curricula and calling it "intelligent design," I've been sitting back in a self-satisfied way thinking, "No matter what they say about Texas, at least we're not as medieval as those buffoons."

No longer. This being an election year, Texas Governor Rick Perry has decided that the Texas school system isn't broken enough already, so he's now going to mortgage our children's education in order to placate the right-wing religious fringe:
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has made outreach to Christian conservatives a theme of his gubernatorial portfolio, thinks Texas public school students should be taught intelligent design along with evolutionary theory, his office said Thursday.


Perry "supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design," spokeswoman Kathy Walt said. "Texas schools teach the theory of evolution; intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well."

Fortunately, the inmates haven't completely taken over the asylum. Some of the people in power here apparently haven't gotten the memo that they are to embrace the governor's newfound "old time religion":
Tincy Miller of Dallas, chairwoman of the State Board of Education, called intelligent design a nonissue in this year's elections. Board members voted in November 2003 against endorsing only biology textbooks that presented the most qualified characterizations of evolution, with words such as "may" or "could." Publishers at the time refused to make major changes to the evolution sections of the books.

"We had a huge discussion; it was just put to bed," Miller said. "We teach evolution in Texas." The board is slated to consider revised biology textbooks in 2008 at the earliest.

Miller calls it a non-issue. I hope that's not the case. I hope every single challenger--Democrat and Independent alike--hammers Perry on this. Hammers him hard. Makes him look like the ineffectual incompetent he is. He's been governor for six years now, and in that time he's failed to support education at every conceivable level. It's time he's held accountable, and this latest effort to pander to the religious right is going to turn around and bite him in the ass.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel US

Thursday, January 05, 2006


So USC goes and chokes when they had two chances to put the game away. First, needing two yards for a first down--which would enable them to run out the clock and thus win the game--they opt to run the ball up the middle, a middle which was stacked with Longhorn defenders expecting USC to do just that. The runner is stopped short, ball goes over on downs. Then, with 30 seconds left in the game and the 'sips facing their own fourth down try in the shadow of the goalposts, the Trojans inexplicably neglect to put any containment on Vince Young. Un. Frelling. Believable. At the end of the game, when it mattered, USC looked nothing like the two-time defending national champs that had won 34 straight. Sigh.

The worst part of this deal isn't all the ugly roadside kiosks selling even uglier burnt orange clothing that are popping up across the state like mushrooms (although that's bad). It's not even all the t-sips like Bill Crider that will strut and prance around in celebration like Mick Jagger on parade (although that's bad, too. Especially if you've ever seen Crider prance). No, the absolute worst aspect of a t-sip national championship is the fact that thousands upon thousands of bandwagon fans who've never, ever so much as set foot on that Austin campus will take it upon themselves to get in the face of anyone not on said bandwagon and offer such intellectually stimulating conversation starters as "We kicked your ASS!" and "Aggies suuuuuuuck!" Although, to be fair, that last one isn't reserved specifically for A&M grads. Depending on the situation, the clever 'sip wannabe can substitute Trojans/Sooners/Buffaloes/Cornhuskers with little or no advance planning. They're clever that way.

And yes, if you're wondering, I am wearing black today.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Of maps and tiaras

I've already talked about Pope Saint Gregory the Great's Reliquary as well as a couple of chalices that made an impression on me, but I want to point out two more items I found interesting at the "Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes" exhibition I visited last week:

"Terra Australis Quinta Pars Orbis" dates from 1676, and is the oldest known map of Australia. Pretty cool, huh? Not something you'd expect from the Vatican archives. It was drawn by Vittorio Ricci, a Dominican missionary who was conducted a number of missions into China. He never actually visited Austraila, apparently, but based the map on accounts he took from captive natives (ie slaves) and Dutch traders/explorers/slavers while based in Manila, in the Phillipines. Ricci's goal was to convince Rome that Manila was the best location from which to launch a mission to the unexplored southern continent.

And, lest I fall short of the bejewelled quotient required of all writings regarding Vatican treasures, I offer the famous tiara of Pope Pius VII:

A gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Pope Pius VII in 1805, the irony is that the tiara was made of treasure looted from the Vatican eight years before when French troops invaded the Papal States. Ostensibly, the gift was a gesture of atonement from Napoleon for the plunder nearly a decade earlier, but the base was so small Pius VII could not wear it--an intentional slight by Napoleon. Most of the original jewels adorning the tiara were replaced with cut glass during the 19th century, but the huge milled emerald supporting the diamond-studded cross at the top--the Emerald of Gregory XIII--remains (and had actually been mounted on several different tiaras used by Pius VII's predecessors). Also stripped from the tiara were three engraved bas-reliefs that depicted scenes of Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of France, re-legalization of public worship in France and the signing of a treaty between the Vatican and France. I think it's safe to say that even without the original jewels and engravings, this is still and overwhelmingly opulent piece. Even if nobody ever got to wear it.

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto radio

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Brushfire redux

Okay, I'm back. Immediately after my previous post, I left for home. I could see the cloud of smoke all the way from San Marcos, so I knew the fire was pretty big. This is the view that greeted me when I turned into our subdivision (four emergency response trucks whipped past me as I was turning in, and a New Braunfels Fire Department pumper truck was set up right to the left of this picture):

Turns out the fire was set by a moron burning trash--despite the fact there's been a burn ban in effect since before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the main blaze started about a mile farther back than I initially reported, otherwise it would've reached our homes before I could get there. As it was, there was an emergency evacuation of the subdivision going on when I arrived. I quickly loaded my computer and some clothes into my car, while Lisa gathered photos and negative and the girls grabbed some favorite toys. Then we loaded the dogs and cats--the birds went with a friend of ours--and went to ride out the evacuation at a local McDonald's that had a playland to entertain the girls. We were able to return home about two hours later, once the fire was brought under control. Fortunately, the fire didn't approach much closer than you see above, so our home was never in imminent danger.

Early reports say that 200 acres were burned, which is far less than that which burned here last week, as well as those big ones north of us that wiped out Cross Plains and other small Texas towns in recent weeks. I can tell exactly where the fire burned, and the road to take to get back to where it started. I'm more than a little inclined to drive back there tomorrow, knock on the door of the fool who started the fire, and plant my foot about 18 inches up that moron's ass.

Now Playing: Grateful Dead In the Dark


Lisa just called. There's a brushfire to the southwest of our subdivision. There's a dry creek bed over that direction, with lots of--wait for it--"tinder-dry" cattails and trees, grass and, yes, brush. The temperature is 83 degrees right now, the humidity is 20 percent, and there are wind gusts from the southwest of 22 mph. Joy. If you want to see what's burning, take a look here. See that pasture and brush land between the Cherokee loop and Doppenschmidt Lane? That's where the smoke and sirens are coming from.

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto radio

Gregory's reliquary

Pope Gregory I, otherwise known as Pope Saint Gregory the Great, is without a doubt one of the most influential popes in the history of the Catholic Church (not to be confused with Pope Gregory XIII, who's name is forever associated with the Gregorian Calendar), but is most widely known to modern society for Gregorian Chants. So it's no surprise that there were a number of displays related to him at the Saint Peter and the Vatican show. But this one really stood out:

I had no idea what it was when I first happened upon it. It looked like a model of an extravagant funeral procession. Then I read the description, and realized that it was a reliquary. One of the oddest quirks of the church is the fixation on relics of saints--preserved fragments of the body, usually a piece of bone or somesuch. This ancient practice goes a long way toward explaining the Kutna Hora Ossuary. The bone fragment resting within the reliquary on a velvet bed is a skull fragment. The hand of the king at the far left of the image is curled, as if to hold a staff or a sword, but whatever he once held has been lost and the catalog makes no mention of the absent piece. Of particular interest, however, is the fact that the reliquary is composed of colored stones, glass and gilded metal. Despite its treasure-trove appearance, its physical value--as opposed to its historical value--is actually quite modest. I found this more than a little surprising, considering all the solid gold and silver on display elsewhere. Particularly in relation to a saint so revered. Can you tell I find this stuff fascinating?

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto radio

Monday, January 02, 2006

The dreary depths of winter

It's 82 degrees and sunny today in San Marcos, with only the faintest whisps of cloud in the sky. There's a 15 mile an hour wind blowing from the north and--get this--humidity is 11 percent. It's dry, dry, dry. A grass fire burned a thousand acres and a barn less than a mile from my house last week. A church burned across the street from us on Christmas eve. There's a statewide burn ban in effect because it's hot and dry, dry, dry.

I like to tease my snowbound friends up north that I get to watch the college bowl games in shorts while they're busy shovelling the drive, but come on already. Even for Texas, this weather is ridiculous.

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake and Palmer Return of the Manticore

Saint Peter and the Vatican

On Friday, for my Christmas present, Lisa sent me in to San Antonio to see Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes. I'd been drooling at the prospect of seeing this ever since is was announced way back when. Visiting Rome and Vatican City to take in all the architecture and museums has long been a cherished goal of mine, and this was the next best thing. Since the San Antonio engagement was ending January 8, though, I had resigned myself to missing it. But my dear wife came through, and it was a fantastic experience. Sensory overload, in many ways. The attendance was very high, and it took me three hours to work my way through the entire show. Unfortunately, cameras weren't allowed (protecting some items from the damaging effects of light from the flashes was one reason) but unlike the Lord of the Rings exhibit in Houston, the Vatican show included some very impressive souvenir merchandise, including this massive, 521-page exhibit catalog:

Catalog is something of a misnomer. It's lavishly illustrated, and exhaustive in its nearly encyclopedic discussions of the objects on display--their historical, theological and liturgical context. It's like National Geographic on steroids. It contains answers to all the questions I had during the exhibit, and many more I hadn't even considered.

There were many, many displays that were moving, overwhelming or just plain dazzling. The recreation of the "Street of Tombs" beneath St. Peter's Basilica leading to St. Peter's tomb is interesting in and of itself, but it isn't given context until after the fact, at which point it becomes much more impressive. The well-publicized "Mandylion of Edessa," the oldest-known painting of Christ created sometime between the third and fifth centuries is powerful in its simplicity as well as its age. The life-size mockup of Michaelangelo's workspace atop the Sistine Chapel wasn't as impressive as I'd anticipated for some reason, but it was intriguing in that it showed some of the processes and techinques the master had used to transfer his vision to the frescoes of the ceiling.

Of course, when people think of the Vatican, the first thing that often comes to mind is opulent wealth. And there was bonafied treasure on display, make no mistake. Thanks to the chalice of Pope Pius IX (below, scanned from the catalog above) I now know what "jewel-encrusted" truly means:

A gift from Sultan Absul Medji to Pope Pius IX in 1846, it is incredibly dazzling in person. Gold with green, blue and red enamel along with a thousand diamonds, it flashes and sparkles like a living thing in even the subdued light of the exhibit space. It is a beautiful and marvelous example of excess. It was used by Pope Benedict XVI during his first mass after election as pope. As overwhelming as that chalice was, it paled in comparison to this one:

The goblet is simple, plain glass, and the plate atop it is the lid from a tin can. But these simple artifacts were used by priests to celebrate mass while imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. After the camp's liberation, the survivors presented them to Pope Paul IV, who gilded the foot of the cup with gold, added an inscription, and placed them in the Treasury of the Papal Sacristy.

The tour began in Montreal last June and after it closes in San Antonio, will wrap up its North American run in Milwaukee from February to May.

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake and Palmer Return of the Manticore