Friday, February 29, 2008

Too much February

I guess it's an interesting little anamoly, this Feb. 29 thing. It catches the calendar up and gives people who happen to be born on this day something to talk about.

But who really wants February to last any longer than it has to? And, for an added bonus, every leap year we get to see a bunch of people with messianic complexes competing for the title of benevolent dictator leader of the "free" world.

I like to look on the positive side of life, but darned if I can find something nice to say about Feb. 29. Bah! Humbug.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Election results accidentally leaked

Once again The Onion is the most reliable source of news in America.

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early


Fear is the mind-killer

Listening to: "Crawling Back to You," Tom Petty

A glance at the headlines reveals that the fear-mongers are out in full force. It would be hard to go through the news and not have a spark or two of alarm. Here's the list from My Yahoo:

"Clinton accuses Obama of inexperience abroad." Be afraid that the man most likely to be the next U.S. president can't handle the job.

"Controversial border fence hot issue in Texas primary." The fence is there because we should be afraid of people invading our country and taking our jobs an/or social service tax dollars.

"Iran dismisses nuclear weapons documents as fabrications." But be afraid that jihadists are plotting to blow up our cities.

"Number of U.S. homes facing foreclosure jumps 57 percent." Be afraid, you may be next to be tossed out of our homes onto the street.

"Gas prices reach highest level in more than eight months." Be afraid you won't be able to afford filling the gas tank — can't get to work, lose your job ...

"'Doomsday' vault to protect seeds from global catastrophe." European Union officials have placed millions of crop seeds in a vault on a remote Norwegian island so that when if a disaster kills most of us and ravages the land, humanity will be able to crawl out of the rubble. How's that for a scary thought?

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
— H.L. Mencken

"Most things I worry about never happen anyway."
— Tom Petty


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Richardson & Bluhm update

Listening to: Kingdom Comes, Sara Groves

As I told you last month, the plan is to release four books during 2008. The easy one, The Imaginary Bomb, is already available at, and why the bejeebers haven't you ordered your copy yet? You know you've wanted it ever since you finished listening to Uncle Warren's podcast of my inaugural interstellar romp. And thanks to those who've already purchased it to sweep The I-Bomb up to #34,223 at the Lulu marketplace!

The hard one has been the fourth one. Despite a promising start, all I had until a few days ago was a cast of characters — actually a small list of archetypes — and a general feeling that I wanted to write about freedom, revolution, nonviolence and the Zero Aggression Principle. This, my "Great Freedom Novel," is on the plan for release Oct. 15.

Then I realized something important about the early returns on The I-Bomb: Some of the people who really, really like it are bright young men (I know they're bright because they like the book) in that 8-15 age group. I started thinking about Robert Heinlein's so-called "juvenile" fiction — not that I compare myself to Heinlein, but it doesn't hurt to think about his audiences — and wondered what I would want to say to that "young adult reader" audience. Suddenly, as I wrote to a couple of these guys' moms, my brain exploded.

I didn't intend to return to the time of imaginary physics, but here I am. This is not going to be another story about Bob Whelan, Pete Wong and Baxter Hetznecker, but the novel is set in their universe, and it involves Sirius 4's declaration of independence, which plays a key role in The I-Bomb. The working title: The Imaginary Revolution. (A quick search turns up another book with the same name, but I'm guessing they would not be confused with each other. Still, I expect the writing process will suggest an alternative to me.)

A couple of quick notes about the other projects.

+++ Warren Bluhm's collection of short stories is still more or less on track. Working title: Wildflower Man, a collection of short stories. Maybe that'll be the final name, maybe not. Most of these are scribblings he created in the early to mid 1990s, with the major exception of a new short story he just started working on.

Another interesting highlight: Once upon a time he wanted to update and revive the concept of the dime novel, inventing kind of a hybrid between the old pulps and comic books — few or no pictures, but shorter stories. The farthest he got with this concept was a superhero named Myke Phoenix — he actually had two years' worth of stories plotted and several issues in various stages of completion. The book will include the two most fully realized Myke Phoenix stories: "Our Best Hope: The Origin of Myke Phoenix" and "The Strange Ultimatum of Quincy Quackenbos." Target release date: April 15. Gulp!

+++ Our dual-bylined book Refuse to Be Afraid is more or less on track for its target release date of July 15. The main news on this front is UW continues to threaten to record a new collection of his songs for public release, some of which you may have heard on his "Uncle Warren's Attic" podcast. One song you have not heard would be the title song of his collection, which for obvious reasons would also be released July 15: "Refuse to Be Afraid."

The plan today is to sit down and map out a way to get all of the above accomplished by the indicated target dates. One important thing I've learned about goals is that when you make the deadlines public, it generates a real incentive. So as I write this, I have no idea how we're going to get it all done, but I'm telling you now to further my goal to have at least five items on the Richardson & Bluhm homepage eight months from now. Thanks for listening!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The making of a nutcase

I found myself in a frustrating tangle with a co-worker over the Northern Illinois shootings, which led back to the Virginia Tech shootings. The co-worker - a big fan of gun control - had heard a comment that such shootings justify the idea of allowing people to carry concealed weapons, and he thought it was crazy to use these incidents to increase, not decrease, the availability of weapons.

I tried the analogy of mutually assured destruction - when both sides have access to nuclear weapons, nobody shoots them off - but he wasn't buying. As long as there are crazy people, allowing concealed carry is crazy, he fervently believes.

What's crazy is focusing on the guns. The real question is what makes people misuse them. What disconnect has happened that makes these shooters use real live people for target practice? I'm going to mention video games here, not for censorship purposes, but to ask a more basic question. Clearly these campus shootings resemble video game scenarios: Here comes a person - it's a target - points for blowing it/him/her away. These games proliferate because they're popular.

There's my question: What mind came up with the idea that the killing, maiming and dismemberment of human beings is entertainment? Why are people drawn to these simulated killfests? Do we have some inherent attraction to blood and guts, or have we been trained to cheer on the hero with the biggest gun and the most efficient deathstroke with a sword?

And when we're all trained to enjoy watching imaginary slaughter, should we be shocked when the occasional mind fails to make the connection between fiction and reality? If you train a generation that blood spatter is entertaining, should you be surprised when a sick kid goes off to entertain himself?

The answer is not to ban guns - the weapon is a tool of defense. But these insane incidents are invariably used to advocate for further gun regulation. A better conspiracy theorist than I might theorize that the entertainment industry gave us this wave of violent games and movies in hopes enough sick kids would commit enough violence to make us susceptible to gun regulation, as sleight of hand moves the cause of the violence from the perpetrator to the tool.

I do know this much: Every thug (for example) Jack Bauer blows away in the average episode of 24 was a guy who was born, grew up, went to school, had a few girlfriends, got up that morning and had breakfast - probably had some thoughts about stopping for a burger that night and calling a lady friend or renting a DVD. A long story comes to an end with every flopping body, no matter how cool the manner of his death looks.

Yeah, I know it's a story, and the actors playing the dead guys drove home to their families that night. I'm asking why we think it was cool or amusing or exhilarating to watch those guys "die."
I'm thinking that question will get us a decent answer to NIU or Virginia Tech faster than blaming the guns.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The day the funny page made me cry

I spent a good part of my Presidents Day off browsing through Suddenly Silver, a collection Lynn Johnston produced in 2004 to mark the 25th anniversary of her comic strip For Better or For Worse, which has been a staple of my morning for as long as I can remember.

Johnston has done a remarkable job of making us care for Elly and John Peterson and their children within the confines of the newspaper comic strip - and never more so than in the telling of how goofy family pet Farley went out a hero. I am amazed how, to this day, reading the story brought a choke to my throat and uncorked the weepies. That's a tribute to Johnston's amazing storytelling ability. In this tale she reaches into the heart of every pet owner, grabs hold and shakes loose how it feels to say goodbye to a beloved companion.

Other stuff I found today - an interview with Johnston (first half, second half) and something nice called The Farley Foundation.

Make mine Pogo

Now here is an idea to fix what ails America: Recruit the next president from the comics.

Sadly, I found this great post from Tony Isabella while looking for more information about the death of Steve Gerber, one of the great comic book writers of our time. What they did to his brilliant Howard the Duck is still one of the great catastrophes of pop culture.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Heroes and 24 still way far away

Two of my guilty pleasures seem to have been knocked off the air for the duration, despite this week's settlement of the writers strike. Producer Tim Kring says don't look for Heroes to return before fall, and I read somewhere else (and now forget where) that 24 will be back in January 2009. On the upside this means Zachary Quinto, the evil Sylar, will be available for the show's third story arc, "Villains." He was going to be otherwise engaged in filming the Star Trek reboot this winter, where he is playing the pivotal role of Spock. It would've been weird to have a story called "Villains" without Sylar in it.

Perhaps this is poetic. Kring seems to be enamored of Trek, to the point of casting George Takei and Nichelle Nichols for his show. The second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was truncated by the last writer's strike, setting up one more little parallel for the pop culture history books.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

'Yep,' or something like that

It was a long journey. I remember talking with a friend along the way on the side of a big, sandy hill. It was a sunny day. He was for resolving it violently, and I argued that would not do.

Then I was in a meeting room, with tables set up on a faded solid-wood floor. People were sitting at the tables, back to the wall, facing the center of the room, and I was walking back and forth in front of them, stopping to talk to one old friend in particular. (Come to think of it, the room reminded me of the small rural town hall where I have been known to vote during waking hours.)

Then, in the corner of the room, I picked up a piece of parchment with writing on it, and my emotions began to well. Through the haze of the dream and my emotion, all I could see were the three big words at the top of the page: "We the People ..." I walked swiftly back to my friend and set the parchment down in front of him.

"This is it," I said with a huge smile. "This is what we worked so hard to achieve." "Yep" (or something like that), he replied, and he bent over to sign the document. I signed, too, and then my emotions got the best of me. I knelt in the middle of the room, overcome with joy, relief and satisfaction. (It was almost, but not quite, as joyful as I felt about 12 years ago when I — a tall, scrawny, unathletic person as a youth who never competed on a football field — vividly dreamed of catching a long bomb for a touchdown.)

I emerged from la-la land and found myself in a warm bed with a small old dog dozing next to me (No, no, she was awake and up; I'm talking about a real dog), leaving myself back there, crying with contentment on the old wooden floor. I decided not to remind my dream self that the spirit of the well-intentioned men who signed that document is endangered in my waking time. It was too good a dream to spoil.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

President Hillary at the wheel

"Obama's extraordinary wave fails to sink extraordinary foe," says the headline over at the Wall Street Journal today. Seems that Barack Obama's victories so far are still not enough to knock off The Hillary:
Stumping yesterday in Maryland, Sen. Clinton dismissed a reporter's remark that hers didn't look like a winning campaign. "Well, to the contrary, I think it exactly is," she said, noting big-state victories in last week's Super Tuesday sweepstakes, including in California and New York. "I am absolutely looking to Ohio and Texas because we know those are states that represent the broad electorate in this country."
Uh oh. Looks like the campaign may hinge on who has the Diebold vote in Ohio. Wouldn't that be ironic?

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

The joy of writing

This will seem a bit odd, but then I hope you've come to expect that from me: I forgot how much fun it was to write the adventures of Bob Whelan, Pete Wong and their mysterious new friend Baxter Hetznecker, until old buddy Wally Conger wrote a nice review of The Imaginary Bomb:
What’s this science fiction novel — at just 24,000 words, it may be more of a novella — all about? Well, it’s a comedic romp posing as an intergalactic political thriller. It’s an apocalyptic space opera told with a grin and a wink. Which isn’t to say that The Imaginary Bomb doesn’t have its share of edge-of-your-seat moments.
All during the last couple of years, since I pulled this old manuscript out of the basement and polished it up for the podcast and book versions, and as I tinkered with the aborted sequel, The Imaginary Lover, it was work. Satisfying work, I must admit, but work. Maybe that's why the sequel barely got beyond some minor tweaking. It took Wally to remind me it was also fun.

I just may slip into my old skin as the relatively omniscient narrator and see if I can find my way back to that "Are we having fun yet?" attitude. Thanks for the reminder, Wally!

P.S. Thanks to everyone for making The I-Bomb #38,157 at the Lulu Marketplace! We have nowhere to go but up ...

Cross-posted to B.W. Richardson's Imaginary Age

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

When the Lights Stayed Out

In the latest issue of Liberty magazine, "Storm Bound" by Jim Walsh gives a first person account of his community's several days off the grid after a big storm knocked out power. I found it spellbinding and educational.
Things were still eerie Tuesday morning. The kids didn't even expect to have school. They listened to the same DJ, who was reading about school closures, road closures, and warnings against risky behavior like a war correspondent. He announced that the storm's heavy rains were causing some local rivers to flood. Following the hard rules of nature, the worst of this flooding would come a few days after the storm had passed. Local fire departments were making sandbags available, though no one was sure whether the people who needed the bags most could get to the fire stations. A disaster-management Catch-22.
Definitely worth the read.

Monday, February 04, 2008

How bout dem Giants

I told you so. I just underestimated how good the defenses were.

In the previous two games the Giants had knocked off teams with a combined record of 27-6 and made the best quarterback in history look like a tired old man. There was a certain aura of destiny about this team - maybe not in September, but certainly in the last month when it was important.

A very entertaining diversion!


Sunday, February 03, 2008

B.W. At The Movies: The Bucket List

The first sentence spoken in The Bucket List tells you that if you sat down for a buddy comedy about two geezers, you was robbed. This is a movie about facing death, and cancer, with whatever dignity and good humor you can muster. So it's not going to be quite the light-hearted romp you might have seen in the commercials.

That said, I found this an unexpectedly moving and entertaining film. It's two legendary (may I say beloved?) actors — 70-year-olds Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman — at the top of their games and confronting a story about their mortality.

Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a quiet, intelligent family man who has led a comfortable if uneventful middle-class life. Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a flamboyant millionaire (Chambers asks several times, "How much money do you have?") who has married four times and led a comfortable but unsatisfying rich man's life. They meet as patients in the cancer ward of one of Cole's hospitals (Oh yeah, he's one of those evil health-care profiteers, too), and each learns his time on Earth is finite.

They take a trip around the world on Cole's dime (hence Chambers' frequent inquiry) to check items off a mutual "bucket list," a list of things they want to see or do before they kick the bucket. The TV ads focused on an amusing scene early on, when they go skydiving. The TV ads, as often happens, don't do the film justice.

Maybe it's because I have so many friends who are confronting the realities of The Big C right now (it's only a handful, but more than one feels like many), but this movie struck a chord — several chords, really — in me. One was unexpected: Chambers is portrayed as a man of faith, whose confidence in that faith can be tested but not broken; not what I'm used to seeing on the screen. The film challenges the viewer — this viewer, anyway — to examine what's happened so far and reflect on what needs to be done before the inevitable arrives.

And the last sentence spoken in The Bucket List ought to coax a satisfying laugh out of freedom outlaws everywhere.

This may not be the best movie I've ever seen, but it's a very good one, and it gets filed away with the ones that struck me deeply and lingered long after the closing credits.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Taking control of your TV lineup

Wally Conger is weathering the Writers Guild of America strike by revisiting some of his favorite shows on DVD - he and his significant other are currently winding their way through Veronica Mars, which is up there somewhere on my 10-greatest-shows-of-all-time list (at least I think so - I've never actually thought through such a list ... hmmm! But I digress).

On a somewhat related note, the folks at Starpulse have imagined a world where all TV shows ever made are currently in production, and they've drafted a seven-night primetime schedule of the best shows ever. It's a very tasty lineup and of course an irresistible conversation starter (WTF! Where's Veronica? TNG instead of DS9!? What about Wonderfalls? The Avengers? Homicide: Life on the Street?). I love their Tuesday nights best.


I got a crush ...

Although your humble servant finds Barack Obama a pleasant enough personality whose views qualify him more as premier of the late Soviet Union than the once-upon-a-time United States of America, I must say that his candidacy has spawned once of the most fun, free-spirited and downright catchy (unauthorized - wink, wink) campaign tunes I've ever heard.

Fair warning if you haven't heard this before ... it's very hard to get this song out of your mind ... "I Got a Crush on Obama" by the lovely Obama Girl ...

And now, Super Obama Girl:

Friday, February 01, 2008

Super Bowl prediction

I have no logical reason to believe this, just a hunch, and I don't want to spend a whole lot of time explaining anyway. As a football fan, I just want to know when the kickoff time is (allegedly, 6:18 p.m. EST Sunday), and I don't watch the pre-pre-game, the pre-game, the post-game or any of the shtuff in the days leading up to the game. I turn my brain off, watch the game and commercials, and turn the set off when the game ends. Oh, maybe I'll watch some of the joy and celebration if my prediction comes true. My prediction is based on what I saw during the games, especially on that freeze-dried field in Wisconsin.

New York 34, New England 21. The sun will come up Monday morning if I'm shown to be a horrid predictor of outcomes. It's just a hunch.