Wrap Your Mind Around That

From a ForbesLife profile of a wealthy dude:

ForbesLife caught up with him in his art-stuffed, highfloor pied-à-terre in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center, where the horizon-to-horizon views vie for attention not only with his collections but also with the 56-year-old’s own furniture designs, computer and light sculptures, and wildly pixilated, geometric floor painting, apparently of the cosmos disappearing down a black hole.

Pied-à-terre means, literally, foot on earth. So it would seem that a high-floor foot on earth is a bit of a paradox.

Book Report: Wild Horse Mesa by Zane Grey (1928, ?)

I have this book in the Walter J. Black edition, which is part of the Zane Grey series you find often in book fairs. It’s the second Western I’ve read this year (The Virginian being the first), and I can see the debt that Zane Grey owed to Wilson and to Frederic Remington, the artist. Grey writes a standard western plot and then fills the book with lush, at times too-lush, description of the landscape. It actually detracts from the pacing of the book, but it’s an eighty-year-old narrative, so it has that going against the pacing for a modern reader, too.

Within it, a horse wrangler named Chane meets some horse thieves and whips one of them before being driven from his camp by the gang. The one he whooped shows up at a large, Eastern-based wrangling operation and assumes a position of power, but not before drawing the ire of Chane’s young brother Chess who caught on with the same outfit. The daughter of one of the financial backers is along, and when Chess can’t win her heart, he promises that Chane will.

So you’ve got some romance, some Western violence, and whatnot. It’s not a bad read, but not something I’m going to make a habit of reading. I’ll have to try something from Louis L’Amour to see if that suits me better. As L’Amour wrote his work a little later than Grey and he has a pulp background, I’ll bet it’s more punchy.

And if you want to know what I was talking about when I mentioned reading a book about horse wrangling while watching Krull, there you go.

Marcia Muller and the Simple Art of Sucker Punch

In an article in Mystery Scene magazine #122 (not available online), Marcia Muller, creator of the Sharon McCone mysteries, explains that when in doubt, have a man come through a door with gun control in his hand:

“Every now and then I like to sneak in a little message about social issues and hope that the readers pick up on it. It’s funny, but readers will pick up on it if it is something they believe in, and if it is not something they believe in, they don’t even see it. So I am not influencing anyone. The current book I am working on is about gun control and I think the gun people will just ignore that part,” said Muller.

Well, no. John Nolte and the crowd at Big Hollywood call this a sucker punch. You’re reading a book and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a blatant political message that jars you from the story. In most cases, these sucker punches lean to the left, like illuminating readers on the importance of gun control.

Ms. Muller is mistaken when she thinks that people that disagree with the important PSA in the middle of the narrative don’t notice it. They notice it, and they stop buying the books.

Which explains why I personally got recent books from John Sandford and Robert B. Parker from the library when I bother to get the new titles at all: because sometime after 2000, these authors started making sure that the bad guys were conservatives and/or religious characters. Suddenly, the throwaway asides were insulting the president. The general disappointment with the system and the idyllic past that was lost morphed into anger at one party in particular.

I’ve not read any of Ms. Muller’s works to know how subtle her “social messages” are, but I bet they’re received more clearly by the people too unsophisticated to believe as she does than she thinks.

Personally, as a writer, I think it’s foolish to gamble with social messages that might alienate almost 50% of the country. But what do I know? I’m not influencing anyone, either.

A Conservative In IT? In Publishing?

Rob Preston of Information Week sounds all Tea Party when he talks like this:

The 11-month-long spectacle that is AT&T’s attempt to acquire T-Mobile is a microcosm of this country’s economic atrophy: billions of dollars set aside and countless man hours consumed to pander to regulators and special interests rather than create anything of value.

Unfortunately, it is producing something of value: pay checks and billable hours to the regulators, special interests, and all the attorneys involved, not to mention column inches to people who decry one side or the other or, in this case, the game, not the playas.

The real question is whether the end product of this dysfunctional system is producing anything of value to the citizen. That answer is no.

Remembering Albert

Not Pujols, Albert the Alley Cat.

When I saw this LP Cover Lover post, I immediately recognized Albert the Alley Cat.

Albert the Alley Cat record cover

He was still appearing on WITI-TV, Channel 6, in Wisconsin when I was a kid, a throwback to the 1950s.

Here’s a Web page with his history, including a Real Audio version of the songs on the record.

It’s nothing important, but sometimes one does find a bit of his youth out there in the Internets.

(Unrelated link to LP Cover Lovers courtesy Dustbury.)

On the Belated Advice of My Attorney, Lance Burri, Esq…

When we bought our Packers stock, we couldn’t load download the stock owners’ agreement prior to our purchase because of the overwhelming Web traffic to the site.

Now Trog tells me what’s in it:

If the Commissioner of the NFL (the “Commissioner”) decides that a shareholder of an NFL member club has been guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the NFL then, among other things, the Commissioner has the authority to fine such shareholder in an amount not in excess of $500,000 and/or require such shareholder to sell his or her stock.

Oh, boy. So I cannot say “The Bears suck” any more, even though I know it to be true.

And there’s more.

Convenient Synonyms?

Reading this Wikipedia article on Benito Juárez and the various revolutions and reforms in the nineteenth century, I can’t help but notice that the word “liberal” is spread pretty thick to mean Good Guys and “conservative” means “bad guys.”

I don’t know that an evenhanded treatment of the this period in history would merit those modern, politically charged terms. But I was on Wikipedia, you know.

Says the man who was reading the article because he was thinking about writing something about how the progressive reforms of the liberal Juárez over one hundred years ago turned Mexico into the productive world leader it is today, and drawing some parallels to what the United States might look like in a couple generations if our political leaders manage to make those same reforms in the United States today.

Covetousness and that 1% of the 99%

On Facebook, a friend posted this billboard:

Thou shalt not covet.

That’s an abridged version of the King James version of the tenth commandment from Exodus. The full commandment:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

The New International Version looks like this:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

His photo posting brought a number of rabid responses in disagreement, some of which are along the lines of:

I’ll try to stop coveting a modest job at somewhat reasonable pay. I also covet health insurance, so I’d better watch out for that. I crunched some numbers lately and I guess I’m looking at coveting a home of my own in the not-too-distant future as well.

Note that this is a subordinate, looser definition of the word “covet” where “covet” simply means “want.” There is a difference between “covet” and “want” that you find in the complete commandment:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

In this sense, covet does not mean merely want something like what your neighbor has. It means you want that thing that belongs to your neighbor, and you want to take it. An awful lot of people have been brought up to believe that Keeping up with the Joneses, that is, working hard to earn and buy the accoutrements of the comfortable life or status symbols therein is a rat race and immoral, but that taking it from the Joneses is morally superior.

At the very base, this key difference is at the heart of the current differences. Whether it is right for the government to take from certain citizens to give to other citizens.

Obscuring the argument in the rubric of “fairness” (where the metrics of “fairness” are not consensual but are instead determined by either the people who will be receiving the redistribution or by those who will be doing the redistribution and taking their cut from the top, naturally) doesn’t do anything but try to build an inchoate moral base for the thievery.

Focusing on how Jones got that wealth also hides the key moral issue. If Jones didn’t rob a bank or do something outright illegal, his earnings are his. Whether Jones made more profit than some people think is, again, “fair” by producing or selling a product or service to willing consumers is irrelevant. Even if Jones was selling risky derivatives to people who did not fully understand them, it’s not Jones’s responsibility to completely educate each of his customers. Taking Jones’s earnings ex post facto is theft.

We have a President who actively plays into this covetousness when he says:

Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year.

This is the covetousness prohibited in the Bible. It is not merely wanting things like the rich have. It is wanting, and taking away, the things the rich have. Since the morally superior rabble can’t take it away from the rich on based on the strength of their sword arms, they want the government to sack on their behalf, and unfortunately the government is currently eager to help out.

Fred Worth Is A Bad, Bad Man

In October, I finished Fred Worth’s Incredible Super Trivia, and I found at least one error in it. I said about the book:

Incredible, as in you cannot believe any of it. Quick, what’s wrong with that entry?

Apparently, Fred Worth purposefully inserted incorrect information into his books and eventually sued the makers of Trivial Pursuit for violating the copyright on his creative writing endeavors:

In October 1984, Fred L. Worth, author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, Super Trivia, and Super Trivia II, filed a $300 million lawsuit against the distributors of Trivial Pursuit. He claimed that more than a quarter of the questions in the game’s Genus Edition had been taken from his books, even to the point of reproducing typographical errors and deliberately placed misinformation. One of the questions in Trivial Pursuit was “What was Columbo’s first name?” with the answer “Philip”. That information had been fabricated to catch anyone who might try to violate his copyright.

Wow. Just, wow. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a purposeful attempt to snooker his readers.

I know this sort of thing is not uncommon in out-of-copyright reprints and translations, but in a book of erstwhile facts to find such willful mendacity really further erodes my belief in human integrity.

But, on the other hand, I have an excuse if I get the chance to blow my turn on Jeopardy!: Fred Worth made me do it.

(Tidbit originally seen in Mystery Scene magazine, but it doesn’t provide its tidbits sections on the Internet, apparently.)

Unfortunately, The Breakfast Part Is Bangers ‘n Mash

Between the ostentatious watch ads and emaciated models displaying fashions from an H.P. Lovecraft story in WSJ Magazine, this month we find an article about English manors run like bed-and-breakfasts:

Some of England’s peers have found more creative solutions. They not only inhabit their ancestral piles, but run them as businesses too, dangling their glittery goods like fishing lures to attract much-needed cash. “In the United States, we tend to have a romantic view of owning a great British estate,” says Tom Savage, the director of museum affairs at Winterthur, the 175-room Delaware estate of the late chemical heir Henry Francis du Pont, which houses the foremost collection of American furniture and decorative objects. “But often the veil falls when you see inheritors to whom collecting is not a choice but an encumbering obligation: Out of economic necessity, they’re doing everything in their power to hold on to what they’ve got.”

For more than 20 years, Savage has been hooking up connoisseurs of the decorative arts with the owners of England’s great estates, where most of the finest antiques are to be found. He regularly takes groups of 12 to 16 Americans on private tours of British homes and country houses, even having them stay (as paying guests) for a night or two. Not in the old laundry or the converted stables, but in the mansion itself while the owners look on, content in the knowledge that the visiting Yank is helping to keep their homestead humming.

If I’m going to England for a vacation, I’m going to have to consider staying overnight with nobility, werd.

Surviving 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy Week

As we entered the Christmas season, the “one-for-someone-else, one-for-me” buying protocol took effect. I was startled at how much streaming media and Blu-Ray have driven down the price of new mere DVDs. Under ten dollars for most, and like five bucks for many. Suddenly, I had Amazon-Primed myself a collection of remembered films to watch. And I did this last week, one at a time.

Monday. The Last Starfighter
Hey, you already can guess what I think about this.
Tuesday. Krull
I had never seen this film before, but it was a recommended purchase for The Last Starfighter, and I’d seen the pinball game at the National in Fenton, Missouri, in the era in question, and who could forget the Glaive? It was the Chinese star (a staple of 80s films) smart bomb.

Well, it’s got a science fiction vibe, as the invaders have bladed weapons that shoot lasers out of the butts and whenever the good guys strike with their bladed weapons, red electricity tingles. But.

I thought the film might be trying to capture some of the surreality of Legend, but Krull precedes it. I dunno. There’s a poorly seen Beast ruling the aliens who come down to defile the planet Krull and a damsel captured by it who wanders its surreal castle. Strange that Legend got this right, but this film did not.

At any rate, the film has a lot of similar tropes from 80s films that just sort of miss. It also features an early appearance by Liam Neeson and a scene where the protagonists who have to capture some firemounts, horses that can travel 1000 leagues in a day, and they do so by driving them into a canyon–much like in the Western book I’m currently reading. So I appreciated that.

If I had watched this film over and over in the 1980s on Showtime, I would have a greater affection for it, I think; however, even in this late date in the next century, I’m happy to know I have watched it. But it won’t be in regular, semi-decadical rotation.

Wednesday. Conan the Barbarian

On a recent time-killing trip to Barnes and Noble, I saw a volume of the Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard, so I took a look at the films on Amazon, and I saw they proffered as a recommendation Red Sonja, so I told my wife she was lucky I didn’t order the films. She said something along the lines of that it would be okay, I hope, because I did. Which explains the latter bit of my week.

I’d never seen Conan the Barbarian except for bits, and I’ve quoted parts of it, so I watched it (finally) to restore my credibility. And, wow.

Where Krull had a story, it lacked the framework of epic. Conan the Barbarian has that, from the frame story to the score to the scenes of riding horses. Oh, yeah, it has James Earl Jones as the bad guy, and a lot of bastard swords being swung.

I understand the remake is just gore poured into a template. I have to wonder if, as our culture becomes less literate in the sense of books and only whatever in the terms of films (a la Quentin Tarantino) we lose a depth that makes the splatter relevant.

Thursday. Conan the Destroyer

This film picks another Conan adventure, wherein he goes out to… Erm…. Excuse me, I’ve written this after the whole week, so it’s a bit swirled. Conan is promised by a queen that she’ll resurrect his love, Valeria, if he accompanies a virgin on a quest to get a mystical horn. Conan agrees and gathers his band together, and they retrieve the horn which the queen then uses to reanimate an evil god.

It’s a pretty good piece of epic filmmaking.

Friday. Red Sonja

This film features Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja, a woman whose family are killed by an evil warrior queen. A priestess sister tasks Sonja with finding and destroying a talisman that might be powerful enough to destroy the world.

The film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the guy behind the Conan films, so it stars a number of the same people (Schwarzeneggar and Sandahl Bergman) and hits a lot of the same themes. Still, I liked it a lot, although it gets a lot of negative reviews on the Internet. Perhaps it’s because this was one of the films I watched over and over on Showtime.

The film also features Ernie Reyes, Jr., the karate kid from the Gil Gerard television program Sidekicks. It seems like I’ve seen a number of things with him in it, but maybe I just saw commercials for Sidekicks and this film over and over to make him seem more ubiquitous in the 1980s than he really was. Also, he’s older than I am. That didn’t seem the way back in the day, but Ralph Macchio is 50, so I guess the time warp of older actors playing younger characters explains it.

So that’s how I spent my week: immersed in old timey films, and enjoying them for the most part. I’ve promised my wife this won’t become a regular occurrence, though: she loses me enough to football on Sundays.

Where Do You Go When You Need A Gun Sales Anecdote?

Black Friday Best-Seller: Guns:

The numbers, first reported in USA Today, reflect the experience of gun-sellers on the ground. “It was the biggest rush we ever had. Some of the people at the gate sent their kid running to the gun counter to get in line,” said Tom Ritzer, store manager at MC Sports in Springfield, Mo., which opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Gun buyers had to wait until NICS opened at 7 before they could leave with their purchases, he said.

The store sold 70 guns, a mix of rifles and handguns, with big sellers including an $85 World War I replica rifle that is a collector’s item and a$219 Smith &Wesson .22 handgun. Last year the store, which only started carrying guns in 2009, sold 41 on Black Friday.

Not to mention there’s a gun show at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds this weekend.


Brainstorm of the Day

Hey, you know what NASA should do? If it’s planning on a Martian mission but it’s concerned about the conditions in small enclosed spaces for long periods of time and the effect on a person, NASA should just recruit young Manhattanites who might even pay for the privilege of doubling the size of their apartments to 300 square feet.

They’re used to the cramped conditions. Also, it would be a lot of Manhattanites blasted into space. A win for everyone involved.

UPDATE: Thanks for the links, Trog and Charles.

Freedom Update: Slaughtering Horses Now Okay, 100 Watt Incandescent Bulbs Not So Much

Obama, Congress restore horse-slaughter industry:

President Obama last month quietly signed into law a spending bill that restores the American horse-slaughter industry, just a few months after a government investigation said the ban on slaughtering was backfiring.

The domestic ban didn’t end horse slaughter but instead shifted the site of butchery to Mexico and Canada – which meant increased abuse or neglect as the horses were shipped out of the country and beyond the reach of U.S. law.

The ban had been imposed in 2006 when Congress defunded the government’s ability to inspect plants that butchered horses for consumption. Without inspections, the meat couldn’t be sold, and the industry withered.

But the Agriculture spending bill Mr. Obama signed the week before Thanksgiving dropped the prohibition on inspections, and the administration said it now stands ready to conduct them should anyone open a horse-slaughter plant.

Congress is in the pockets of Big Horsemeat!

Actually, not so much. On the whole, I don’t see why horses differ from other livestock that prompted this ban except some people like horses as more than an animal.

But Congress managed to restore a freedom opposed by PETA and the HSUS through and signed by the President. A bit of how it really happened:

This year, the House version of the Agriculture spending bill maintained the slaughter-ban language, but the Senate did not. When the two chambers reconciled their bills, the language was not in the final version.

Mr. Obama signed the spending bill by autopen on Nov. 18. He was traveling in Asia at the time the bill was presented to him, so he used the automated signature machine for the second time in his presidency.

Make no mistake: this restoration of freedom was not brought to you by the Republican-controlled House, but by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Cynically, one could posit that the Republicans in the House are not that eager to start restoring freedoms and overturning bans, whether they’re esoteric issues like slaughtering horses or more everyday-life-affecting decisions to compel usage of little glass mercury bombs throughout your home. Maybe that’s a good question for your Republican Congressman if you have one.

(Link to the Washington Times story seen on Instapundit.)