24 December 2006

A Grinch, But a Charitable One

Don't worry, this isn't all going to be me being grumpy about Christmas, but I have to get that part off my chest so if you don't want to read it you can skip the next few paragraphs.

First off, why the hell is Christmas a national holiday? It is the only national holiday with non-secular origins. Despite the fact that it has become a seemingly non-religious orgy of bling and material cravings, its very name "Christ-mas" betrays where it comes from. In the spring we've got spring break and a scattering of holidays that go along with it. Some people still refer to it as "Easter Break" and that's their right. But there is no national Easter holiday. I've got nothing against "Winter Break" or celebrating the solstice - a natural phenomenon - but I don't want my government giving legal standing to anything of religious origin, no matter how far it has travelled away from its creche. With all the current battling over the separation of church and state, it astounds me that Christmas has managed to somehow stay above the fray. Maybe that's because everyone's afraid if they say anything about it they won't get any presents under their tree.

It's hardly worth carrying on about the dreadful, oppressive music; the forced and often hypocritical good cheer and goodwill; the porcine greed of shopkeepers preying on the terror that parents and partners and nearly everyone else has of not satisfying the craven desires of those who expect gifts; or the traffic.

Well, maybe I will whine about the traffic. Where do they all come from? Does half the population avoid going out in public the rest of the year? It seems as if people who neither drive nor shop on a regular basis, suddenly emerge from hiding and hit the streets and stores in a tsunami that sweeps all before it. Addled by their daunting tasks, no less so than if they were on heavy drugs, they smash into each other on highways and roads, in parking lots, with shopping carts, careening down sidewalks laden with loot.

If you're a Christmas lover, it's safe to read from here on...

Okay, so now you know I don't like Christmas. The best Christmas I ever spent was in Dakar, Senegal. I ate a fantastic pepper steak and drank a great bottle of red wine. Then I went and danced and boozed the night away with a crowd of about three dozen prostitutes, one white girl from Oregon (my traveling companion) and a dozen or so men - eight of whom were in the band that played in a scrapwood barn of a place near the railroad tracks. We all went out to breakfast on the beach when the sun rose.

But still, it's that time of year and you've gotta give gifts or suffer the consequences. Luckily it's also near the end of the year when it makes sense to work out your tax deductions - a much more honest reason for giving this time of year then trying to promote the fiction that something about the season makes you feel more generous than usual. I'm not saying that my charitable impulses are entirely pure. I tend to donate money throughout the year whenever it occurs to me to do so, or it seems like it might be needed. I even donate to organizations such as the ACLU that do not bestow tax deductions on me.

It is a very good thing that there are charities who do a good job of doing our dirty work for us.

This year, as I tend to every year, I donated what I could to Doctors Without Borders. I'm not about to go to Darfur and get in everybody's way trying to help in a refugee camp. They are. And they do a great job of it without any political or religious agenda to promote. They also have one of the best ratios of program spending to administrative and fund raising costs in the charity biz. I made a donation in the name of the Stone Family and sent cards. The relatives are going to have to make do this year with some antibiotics and rehydration in Central Africa rather than another ugly sweater, book I know they won't read unless I buy it for them, CD of music I want them to like or the latest breakable toy or gadget.

Eva and I went to Heifer International on behalf of the nieces and nephew. They've now got some money with which they can pick out a farm animal to donate to a needy Third World family. It's a great idea and seems like the sort of thing that might get kids involved in charity in a fun sort of way. (We're kind of hoping they don't notice the part of the catalog where it points out that the cute little bunny rabbits make good eating.) But then the nine-year-old niece said: "Not another water buffalo." Apparently another set of relatives had the same idea. We'll show her. They're probably coming to visit next year. I think I've got a good rabbit recipe somewhere.

As for Eva, luckily she doesn't like bling and we've got a moratorium on buying any more wine for the house. She did love Cambodia when we were there. And she is adamant on many women's issues. A column by Nicholas Kristoff in today's NY Times (you might have to be a registered reader to use this link) gave me a good idea. I got her a year of school for a girl in Cambodia. I got one for me too while I was at it. With some extra money thrown in to help build and stock and staff a school. This was all done through an organization started by a journalist, called American Assistance for Cambodia. This group will be hearing more from my bank account during the coming year. My next book which will be published in Fall 2007, GRAVE IMPORTS, is about the smuggling of stolen Cambodian antiquities. It seems only fair that some of the proceeds will find their way back to that country.

That was the seasonal gift giving taken care of. Throughout the year I also coughed up bucks to a number of other worthy (IMHO) causes: The Emma Goldman Papers Project, The Center for Inquiry (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), Books for Laos, Fringe Benefits, and a few other things connected to events and local museums and NPR stations.

I am not writing all this to demonstrate how great and caring I am. But these are organizations that I think are doing important and good work and that I like to support. I'm hoping that at least a few of my readers might come across this blather of mine, be looking for a place to send some of their money, and might consider donating to some of these groups as well.

For your information, here's how I decide what organizations to donate to:

I'm an atheist, so they can't have any religious affiliation, much less agenda.

My politics are a complicated mishmash of things. I am not any sort of ---ist, (other than the previously mentioned lack of religious belief.) I don't believe in any sort of ---ism. (There was a time when I described myself as a "Groucho Marxist" but I won't even go that far anymore.) So if it is an aid organization, they can't have any sort of political affiliation or agenda either.

I don't think that professional do-gooders should be getting fat off my donations, so I do what I can to make sure that a much higher percentage of my money is going to the actual projects, than is going to administrative and fund raising expenses. In 2005, for instance, 85.71% of the money raised by Doctors Without Borders went to program services. That is a very high percentage. A good place to start figuring this out is Charity Navigator.

And sometimes I just donate to things that I appreciate for the fruits of their labors. The Emma Goldman Papers Project is an example of that. I think they are creating an archive of significant historical importance and interest, in a field that has been sorely neglected. (I've also loved reading the first two volumes of the four volume set that they're working to put out.)

So I guess that's my Season's Greetings to you all. Next Fall will see the publication of GRAVE IMPORTS (look for Chapter One, or an excerpt on the website sometime in the next few months), as well as the paperback of THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD. I'm currently working on a new novel that has nothing to do with my Ray Sharp series and I'm raking through the coals that make up my brain in an attempt to come up with a good non-fiction topic that will give me an excuse to travel.

Let's hope we all have a great New Year and that 2007 sees at least a little improvement over 2006.

18 December 2006

Mistress Eva is Dead


I knew this woman. I recently found out that she died. When Eva, my Eva, the one I now live with, first called me at my mother's house many years ago and my mother picked up the phone, my mother was most disappointed that she wasn't "Mistress Eva."

I met Mistress Eva when I lived in Los Angeles before moving to Hong Kong, I think around 1982 or so. I lived in the lower part of a duplex. One day I went upstairs at around 5pm to ask my neighbor a question. My neighbor, a witch who had coven meetings every full moon, wasn't home. But the front door was open and a tall blonde woman wearing a skintight black and purple leather body suit unzipped to about her belly button with, maybe, seven inch spike-heeled boots, was sitting on the sofa and drinking a Miller Hi-Life out of the bottle while listening to some sort of syrupy folk music.

I introduced myself. She introduced herself as Eva. She asked if I wanted a beer. I got a beer and sat on the sofa with her and we chatted about this, that and the other thing, mostly politics, art and music. I seem to recall that she liked John Irving and got annoyed with me when I said that he kept writing the same book over and over and over and I hoped that one day he'd feel like he got it right. I slowly worked the conversation around to what, exactly, it was that she did.

She whipped people, of course, and tormented them in various other ways as well. Mostly men, mostly powerful, rich men, but some women too. She didn't ever touch them, never. The closest she got to that was when something she was holding, like a whip or a cattle prod, touched them. And they certainly never touched her. And she charged a minimum of $300 per hour for this. She lived in New York and was visiting L.A. for the grand opening of a new dungeon in West Hollywood, and to visit some clients, and somehow or another she ended up staying with my upstairs neighbor.

So Mistress Eva and I became pals. Most days she'd get home from work and I'd be at home because I was writing and doing photography and worked out of my home, and she would more often than not change into jeans and a t-shirt and we'd get a bit drunk together and chat.

She finally invited my neighbor and I to the grand opening of the dungeon. It was on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. We walked in and were offered a tray with glasses of champagne, served by a middle-aged man in a French maid outfit. We wandered about the place, nibbling on canapes and sucking back champagne and good French wine and having casual conversations while all around us people were being whipped, sliced with razors, stuck in holes in the floor with only their heads poking out so that they could be more easily peed on, and any manner of other Sadeian sort of goings on, going on. Eva was too busy to talk much with us. At one point I brought her a white wine and a smoked salmon with creme fraiche and caper on toast, then briefly held her whip for her while she consumed them.

I lost track of Mistress Eva not long after that. But then a friend of hers, a beautiful crazy, brilliant Mexican filmmaker came to stay upstairs. One night I got a knock on my door at about 2am and it was Mistress Eva’s friend in tears. My upstairs neighbor had raped her, or tried to, or made very unwelcome advances, or something. I took her in. I gave her something to drink. I asked if she wanted to call the cops, take a shower, sit in a chair, whatever. She jumped my bones. We had about a one month fucked up, torrid affair that ended with my screaming at her when one night I was sick - 103 degree fever, throwing up, shaking and shivering sick - and we had a dinner date and I called to tell her that I couldn't make it. She showed up at my place a half hour later - she was no longer living upstairs - and practically tore down my door, stormed around my tiny little apartment demanding to know where I was keeping "the whore" and ended up scratching the hell out of me. She didn't believe that I was sick. Unfortunately I had already puked up everything I had in me, so I couldn't vomit on her to make her understand.

Then she went away and that was the last I ever saw or heard of her.

Until now. Many years passed. I’m now a guy with a website. You can see where this is going. So who do I get an email from out of the blue but Mistress Eva’s friend, the crazy, Mexican filmmaker. She is somewhere, I think in Mexico. She remembers me fondly. (I remember her fondly, with some reservations, too.) She remembers my "watery eyes" and thinks they had something to do with me being a Cancer, or is that a Gemini? (I think they must have had something to do with allergies.) Mistress Eva is dead, she writes, drowned in Mexico while making a film about a man with no arms. “She gave herself to [the sea], naked , free ... and stubborn. She was told the sea was too rough, she replied that she was an excellent swimmer.”

Once again, the wonders of the Internet. It is increasingly difficult to hide from one’s past. I’m not so sure I want to anyhow.

21 November 2006

Amnesia Needed & Some Other Stuff

What the world needs is a highly contagious, non-fatal, fast-spreading virus that erases memories. To be really effective, the disease needs to also infect books, dissolving those pages with records of historic conflicts.

Last week I was watching Ted Koppel on The Daily Show. He was talking about his new reportage on Iran. One of our primary bones of contention with Iran can be traced back to the taking over of our embassy in Tehran and the holding of American hostages for 444 days. Go back a bit further, to 1953, and the Iranians remember when we overthrew their democratically elected government and replaced it with the Shah - a brutal dictator. That's a relatively recent problem that some amnesia could help fix.

When I turned off the TV I turned to my reading: William T. Vollmann's Rising Up And Rising Down. (I'm most of the way through volume five "Studies in Consequences.") That night I read the opening chapters of the section on the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The grievances that everyone is fighting over in that part of the world go back to at least 1389. There was a slaughter. Then a retaliatory slaughter. Then one in revenge for that and so on up into the "modern" era when the ancient animosities led to everyone choosing up sides against each other in the Second World War and it's all still going on. (Okay, so there's a lull at the moment, but I would not take odds that it will last forever.) They could use some deeper amnesia in their part of the world.

The next morning I read the newspaper. The Israelis and Palestinians were swapping killings again in Gaza. Who the hell even knows who got to any of those places first? Israelis will tell you that they did; it's the promised land that Moses led them to and they've been there ever since. Palestinians will tell you that they were there when the Israelis showed up and they've been there ever since. Either the Israelis or the Palestinians and Arabs - depending on who you're talking to - tried to drive the others out of their homes when Israel was created by UN mandate. No one really knows who started it, who was there first, who killed who first, or anything that could possibly rely on history to resolve the questions of today. There's plenty of historic "evidence" to support all sides of the conflict.

Won't someone erase these people's memories and free them from the chains of their perceived histories?

There's an old saying that is all too often accepted as a truism: "He who forgets history is condemned to repeat it." But the saying itself is a good example of the problem of history. It's been attributed to Sisyphus, various French philosophers, Karl Marx, Winston Churchill and a slew of other notables. No one actually knows who first said it. It just sounds good.

But the other morning I was thinking it might be time for an update. Something along the lines of: "He who thinks he remembers history is condemned."

World Starts Fresh Day
If no one can come up with a biological fix for this memory conundrum, maybe it's time for an international holiday; the annual, perhaps bi-annual, "International - World Starts Fresh Day." At exactly 12:01am every World Starts Fresh Day, no one will be permitted to use any historical arguments to press their case about anything. They have to start fresh, as if they just woke up and found themselves, surprise surprise, in the situation that they're in, and now they have to make the best of it.

They'll be allowed to keep their history books only so long as they regard them as, and teach them as literature; no more, no less. Much as the Bible and the Koran and the Teachings of Buddha and all that stuff ought to be regarded and taught. Anyone who acts on their perception or interpretation of history will be rounded up and sent for re-education. If they fail to learn their lesson, they should be transported, isolated from the rest of us, so that we can live in peace. Australians, as a people, seem like they're concerned about world peace. They'd probably be willing to move elsewhere to make way for those who remember their history to be marooned on their island. It might even appeal to those who remember Australia's history.

Enough's Enough
Now I'm going to try and forget about what I saw, heard and read last week, other than the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale. It is the best Bond movie in a very long time. Daniel Craig is by far the best Bond since Sean Connery, maybe even as good as Connery. He has the air of menace about him that makes him seem a more likely killer. And best of all, the action is driven by stunts, not by gadgets and special effects. There's a chase scene that is worthy of the best of Jackie Chan. There's even a stunt person listed in the opening credits.

And lastly, I seem to have been getting a lot of spam email lately from people flogging bad stocks. There is one group, however, that sends them with truly wonderful subject lines. Here are some of my favorites:

Impudent statesmanship
Sadist assembly line
Manliness gratuitous
Good Book refugee
Very Woof
Realism sheepish
Protagonist detention
Garbage can voyage
Indisputable sadly
Mistook deadpan
Sticky democratic
Sickening yep
Eccentricity probe
Chicken feed alcoholic
Flatulence wide-eyed
Guy drunkenness
Insufferable champion
Strenuous vomit
Token prosperous
Perky coolness
Estranged pajamas

26 October 2006

Whores and Whoring and Elections, Oh My!

I guess it's an old cliche to say that as a writer, I'm a whore. I sell myself for money. Or at least I try to. Parts of myself at least. My readers, read "customers," get to buy what's going on in my brain. My body's off limits, usually.

The more traditionally acknowledged sort of whore, doesn't usually sell what's going on in their brain. If they do, they ought to think about getting out of the business.

Now this is on my mind today because of what I did a couple of nights ago. I drove 67 miles round trip to spend an evening with a book club. On the drive there, through rush hour traffic, I was thinking: "The things I do to sell my books. Am I out of my fucking mind?"

On the drive home, singing along with the radio, happy as a clam (I've always wondered how happy clams can be, really) I was thinking: "Hey, that was great. I oughta find more book clubs to hang out with."

What happened, of course, was that my ego got stroked and it was also an interesting, thought-provoking evening. There's an old saying about how whores shouldn't come (an aside here: most porn writers spell this "cum," but in my Oxford American Dictionary of Current English it is spelled "come") with their customers. In a sense I violated, happily, that maxim. (Or in my case perhaps, that canard.)

I spent the evening with 14 or 15 (I lost count) women, ranging in age from about my age to, perhaps, 80, all, or at least most, of whom had read my book THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD and were intrigued enough by it to want to know more about me, the story I told and the issues the book raised. It's a privilege to spend an evening like that, one of the perks of getting a book published. Last night I was one very happy hooker.

Speaking of which, one of the questions that came up, since the book deals with prostitution, was what do I think of it? Is prostitution good or bad? What should be done about it? Since this is my blog and an election is coming up in which prostitution isn't an issue, at least in terms of anything we're voting on, I'll answer that question here:

I think that whether prostitution is good or bad is irrelevant. It exists. It has, near as anyone can tell, always existed and in all likelihood it always will. Even in societies where it is punishable by death, it has continued to exist. Even in societies that aren't terribly impoverished, where women have full rights and where there are opportunities for other types of work, it continues to exist. So, it must, in some way fill some very elemental human needs.

To me it all boils down to issues of consent, coercion and exploitation. I think that every adult has the inalienable right to do with their own being, mental or physical, whatever they damn well please just so long as it doesn't harm or interfere with anyone else. I think they have the inalienable right to do whatever they please along with other informed, consenting adults so long as it doesn't harm anybody else. I think that right extends to things that other people might find morally reprehensible, just so long as they don't force those other people to watch what they're doing. That's a matter of privacy.

If a person, of their own free choice, decides to sell their sexual services, I think that should be just as much their right as it is mine to sell the fruits of my brain, fingers and computer keyboard. If you don't want to buy and read my books, that's your choice. If you don't want to go down to the corner massage parlor and have some sex along with your shiatsu, that's your choice too.

But this all depends on choice, and informed choice at that. Too much of the prostitution in the world is coerced. It is engaged in by people who have been kidnapped, enslaved, tricked or bullied into it. That sort of prostitution is, and ought to be, criminal. But it is not the prostitutes who have committed those crimes, it is the people who have trafficked them, tricked them or bullied them and those people should have the full force of the law brought against them.

Laws against prostitution get in the way of enforcement of the laws against the people who enslave and exploit prostitutes, the victims of those crimes. A woman who has been smuggled into the U.S. and bought and sold by pimps and is now working in an apartment brothel in Los Angeles, is afraid to go to the police because what she's doing is illegal. She's told she'll be arrested and deported and get in even worse trouble than she's already in. And for the most part, that's true. She has few, if any, legal rights or protections.

It is rare, nearly impossible, for prostitutes to get the services they need: health, social, police, financial, etc. Criminalizing their profession contributes to the AIDS and other STD statistics, helps to keep them impoverished, makes it difficult if not impossible for them to get police protection in matters such as rape and physical abuse and generally victimizes the victims, rather than the real bad guys.

In Thailand and China, where prostitution is rampant, open but technically illegal, the men and women engaged in it are fiercely oppressed by the legal authorities, pimps, traffickers and their customers, all of whom rely on the laws to assist their exploitation. The same goes on, less obviously but just as much so, in the U.S., with one notable exception.

Prostitution is legal in most of Nevada's counties. Prostitutes in that state are licensed and regulated. They work in safe environments. They are given weekly health checks. (More than 10,000 legal prostitutes have been tested for HIV in Nevada and not one case has been found. That's a much lower percentage than the general population.) Their money is not stolen from them by corrupt cops and pimps. They have access to social and financial services that in many cases have helped women to get out of the business.

In nearly every place that prostitution is legal, the people who work in the trade are better off, healthier and have greater opportunities to get into other work if they choose.

People don't become prostitutes because they are bad people. They aren't like bank robbers. They get into the business because they dont have an alternative; because someone has forced them into it, or poverty has made it seem like a better choice than other work, or their society doesn't value women or gay men and makes outsiders of them in any event so why not. (There are undoubtedly a few who get into it because they actually enjoy the work or are curious to try it out, but my guess is that that's a pretty small minority.)

Laws against prostitution victimize people who circumstances have already fucked over. We ought to be voting to get rid of them.

We also ought to be voting to tax religious institutions. I just paid my property tax and it was a lot higher than it needs to be. One of the reasons is that the Catholic church is the largest private property owner in the County of Los Angeles. Throw in other churches, Jewish temples, mosques, etc, and there is an enormous amount of untaxed property in this county. That leaves the rest of us to pay for everything.

Recently, October 11, there was an article in The New York Times about the tax breaks given to religious institutions and their employees. For all kinds of things, even paying state unemployment or workers compensation benefits or sales taxes on religous books.

The whole thing disgusts me. Separation of church and state should mean that everybody, even religous leaders and groups, should share equally in the same rights and responsibilities. I wish we were voting on that too.

But we aren't. Instead we're voting on the usual passle of crooks, cretins and assholes and in California we get to pass judgement on the latest round of badly written, confusing and undoubtedly ineffective initiatives and referendums. I'm a great lover of democracy, but it sure does take a lot of work to maintain the relationship.

30 September 2006

Myopes at Bouncercon

"Myope" must be a real word, but I don't have my OED with me so I can't look it up. It was used the other night at dinner by Catherine Manning, better known to her reading public as Elizabeth Ironside, to describe herself; her vision, actually. While we may have had to fight a revolution against them, and their lawyers do look ridiculous in those filthy wigs and robes, and I must admit to cringing when confronted with all the lord and lady stuff, and the Windsors? well, enough said. The English did, after all, invent English, something for which I am deeply indebted to them. And a word as fine as "myope"? Sometimes you just have to give it to them.

Lady Catherine - I'm poking a little fun at her here because although she is apparently entitled to the honorific, it might embarrass her were I to use it - and her husband Sir David, the U.K. ambassador to the U.S. (who I think would have laughed me away from the dinner table had I called him by his title) were at Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin to help promote her books. The titles, previously out of print in the U.S. are being reissued by Felony & Mayhem Press, which is owned by my pal Maggie Topkis - also one of the owners of Partners & Crime bookstore in New York City.

This is all by way of saying that I had a grand time at a very small dinner party - five of us in total - with the Ambassador and his Lady - Catherine and David - who seem to embody just what you would want from diplomats. They were friendly, warm, easy going, smart, funny, well read, well travelled and well informed. The sort of folk anyone in their right mind would want to be friends with. I was very impressed when David told us about how he had gone to Dodge City, Kansas not long after being sent to Washington D.C. to become what is almost certainly Great Britain's most important ambassador. He wanted to get a sense of America away from the big, sophisticated cities. He picked Dodge because he had watched Gunsmoke many years ago and it was around the agricultural center of the country. He spent three days there, talking to everybody he could about whatever he could. He returned surprised, a bit horrified by some of what he came across and heartened by some other of what he encountered.

Perhaps it's the difference between the foreign (diplomatic) service and politicians, but somehow it gave me a vague sense of optimism that there might yet be hope for the world.

Bouchercon, the annual mystery writers and readers convention, struck me as a bit of a mess initially. No one seemed to have the slightest idea of what, where or when things were happening. There was a terrible, near-financially ruinous screwup with Maggie's new book by "Elizabeth Ironside". I was grumpy about the panel I was scheduled to be on. Overall, the early stages put me in a grumpy mood.

But then things turned around. They sorted themselves out. In large part due to the tireless efforts of Jodi and Kate - two of the organizers. Events happened as they were supposed to. People milled about and chatted each other up. Contacts were made. Books were sold and signed. People had fun in the bars. (We're writers, we drink, or we're sober drunks. It seems to be an occupational hazard.) I was almost constantly busy, on my feet a good 14 to 16 hours or more a day and found the whole thing enjoyable and useful.

It helped that this was my third one. The first one I almost swore I'd never come back. I didn't know anybody. I didn't have a book out yet. I moped in corners. This time I can't even keep track of all the people I know from previous years. It's like trying to walk down the street in Chicago with my sister Nancy - the world's most gregarious and friendly human being - it takes forever to make a block because she has to stop and chat with nearly everyone we come across.

Anyhow, it was great, just what I wanted from a conference. And on Sunday I got in the car and headed south, then west for home.

Before all that, Chicago, Barbara's Books in Oak Park was the last gasp of the Disoriented Express. It was a disappointingly small crowd, but a nice enough one as they always seem to be. I have yet to have a heckler. I'm looking forward to one eventually though. The bookstore people and the attendees seemed to enjoy the show. We had six total, not counting the bookstore employees, but counting my sister. I'd estimate them at a reasonable 1,005 lbs. That brings the tour total to a close at:

More than four tons of people, 8,915 lbs of readers (excluding bookshop employees) viewed the DisOriented Express!

From Chicago we took the back route up to Madison, along small, beautiful Wisconsin country roads, pausing to take photos along the way. What we were photographing was Colin's Dilys award: with a fish shaped mailbox, a red, white and blue cow for Bush - Cheney 2004, a refrigerator compartment of cheese, the Welcome to Madison sign and other things. Fun was had. We showed the entire slide show of our silly Dilys photos to a group of people who'd come to hear Colin at a luncheon and we had them rolling in the aisles. (The Dilys is awarded by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association to the author of the book they most enjoyed selling during the year.) Here's some pictures we took all along the way:

Driving across country, I was once again happy to be reminded of what a remarkably diverse and beautiful country this is. There are few places on the planet that offer as many different types of terrain, flora and fauna and in the Fall the color palette is just about overwhelming. That and despite all the carryings on about how America is becoming such an intolerant, fundamentalist Christian place, I encountered a whole lot less evidence of that (although I did come across some) than I did of the basic friendly, tolerant, good nature of most of my fellow Americans. I think if everyone in the country could drive across it once every ten years or so, and talk to a lot of the sort of folk that they don't usually talk with at home, there might be a lot fewer misunderstandings and fear of each other.

Does that sound Pollyanna-ish? Did Pollyanna ever drive 926 miles - North Platte, Nebraska to Mesquite, Nevada - in one day?

25 September 2006

The World's Largest Prarie Dog

wasn't all that impressive. It was made of chipped concrete and looked like an ill-informed attempt at an art deco prarie dog. The real prarie dogs, that kept popping out of their holes all around us, were much better looking although not nearly so cooperative for photographs. The highlights of Prarie Dog Town, somewhere near Hays, Kansas, were the snakepit - 55 to 60 rattlers that the guy who ran the place startled into rattling for us - and the postcard selection, which was the usual middle of nowhere traditional fare: jackalopes, cowboys herding cattle while riding enormous rabbits, oversized trout and corn and a very fine selection of monstrous prarie dogs. Once I get to my own computer and a scanner, I can post some of the photographic evidence.

The drive, as it always is across the Great Plains, was all about weather. Most people hate driving across the middle of the country because they seem to think it's featureless. I guess they're looking for mountains, or big lakes, or forests or cities or something - so of course they're disappointed. What they fail to take account of is that the weather is the primary geographic feature of the Great Plains. The roiling clouds, the puffy big clouds, the huge expanse of blue sky, lightning, thunder, rain, hail - all of it is every bit as much a part of the terrain as any mountain or river or lake ever is. I love driving through eastern Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. To me it seems as if I'm driving through a landscape that is in constant turmoil, that is undergoing far more change far more rapidly than almost any other I can think of.

We stopped for the night in Salina where I took Colin to the Vientiane Market - a small but surprisingly well stocked Lao-Thai market just about where you'd least expect one. The woman who ran it was Lao - not Hmong - which was unexpected as most of the people from Laos who have come to the U.S. are Hmong - they often fought with the U.S. side during the war, so they got out quick when the other side won. She said that they got customers from all over the area - pretty much any Asian family that needs groceries in Kansas or Western Missouri shows up there from time to time. Other than that, there wasn't much going on in Salina.

Heading east, we stopped in Abilene for breakfast. It was at the northern end of the Chisholm cattle drive trail and I figured it would be a well preserved wild west town. It isn't, not much at least. It's sort of a well preserved 1910 to 1935 town with a whole lot of Dwight David Eisenhower stuff there, since he was from there. Colin attempted to eat a healthy breakfast at the diner we found there - HAH! I know better and opted for eggs and biscuits with gravy. They did, oddly enough, have a bottle of Thai Sriracha hot sauce. They must have got it from the market in Salina. It doesn't really go well with eggs and hash browns, but I felt obligated to drench everything with it on general principle. We also dropped by the most modern, impressive, and largest if you don't count the grain silos, building in town: the Greyhound Hall of Fame. It wasn't open yet so we didn't go in.

We stopped in Mission, Kansas to visit I Love A Mystery bookstore. It has recently moved into new digs and is one of the biggest, most comfortable, really pleasant specialty bookshops either of us have ever been in. They were very pleased to see us - especially Colin as he is one of their current big sellers and their reading groups have been consuming his books. But, they remembered my books from last year and might now order some more. We spent a while in there chatting with Karen, the owner and the other people who work there. I highly recommend it if you are near Kansas City.

Afterwards we dropped by Rainy Day Books, the major independent general interest bookshop in town. It's also a grand place to meet and chat with people and get information on all sorts of things. I gossiped plenty about the book business with one of the managers. It's a nasty business, what more can one sayA?

Then it was off to the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum and Hall of Fame, which is conveniently located in the same building as the National Jazz Museum. I wish I'd had the time to go to both, as from what Colin tells me the jazz museum was excellent. But, I had my priorities, and communing with the spirits of Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell, has long been high on the list. It's a very well done museum, an in depth look at black baseball from a social, cultural and historic perspective. I sat for a while in front of a film loop of the amazing feats of Willie Mays and reminisced with a guy who was maybe ten years older than me, about the times we'd seen Mays play - when I was a kid and he was a teenager.

I'd been looking forward to Stroud's Fried Chicken ("We Choke Our Own Chickens") for lunch, but they've closed down their funky old, roadhouse location and reopened in some distant neighborhood in what used to be a mansion. I was fearful of disappointment, so instead we walked down the block from the museum to the Peachtree soul food restaurant, where I had fried chicken that was nearly as good as Stroud's, along with utterly perfect collards and a dish of okra stewed with tomatoes. So lunch was not at all a disappointment.

Finally it was off to St. Louis where we were greeted by a blinding display of lightning that went off with near strobelight frequency as we drove into town. The rain, luckily was elsewhere. We arrived at Helen Simpson's big, beautiful rambling house near the big, beautiful rambling park in the center of the city. Visiting authors could hardly hope for nicer accomodations - our own guest rooms, comfortable beds, beer and wine in the refrigerator, a Cardinals game on TV and best of all Helen who is funny, smart, charming, welcoming and one of the best people anywhere to talk baseball, mystery books and politics with.

So a good time was had by all, although the turnout at the store was somewhat disappointing: as for strangers, there were three of them - two of them brought their kids so I don't know if I should count them or not; Susan McBride, a good friend, and a good local St. Louis writer, came along with her newish sweetie Ed - they've just bought a house together and seem near disgustingly happy. In any event, we had a nice time, although no one was going to have to call out the riot squad to beat back our legions of crazed fans. It was a mostly skinny crowd too, so it didn't do a whole lot for our pound counting, still, if I count the kids I can pretty safely estimate about 1,015 lbs. Bringing our event total thus far to: 7,910 lbs, just a runway model shy of four tons!

Helen was disappointed as we left after the event and headed north. We were determined to take the remnants of Highway 66 all the way from St. Louis to Chicago. Getting out of town on it proved a problem due to bridge construction, so we had to take the freeway far enough into Illinois to hook up with it later. The old highway is surprisingly well marked, with signs pointing the way to different segments from different decades. Unfortunately a lot of it is frontage road along Interstate 55, so it wasn't exactly as quaint and scenic as we had hoped. Although it did have moments when it veered into small farm towns along the way.

As we approached Springfield we started looking for a motel, hoping for an old-fashioned roadside courtyard place. But none were to be found. We drove into Springfield and still couldn't find any. We finally had to stop and ask at a cocktail lounge where they kept the motels. They were south of town on I-55 and that's where we ended up for the night, drinking too much and shooting bad pool (well, me, Colin was reasonably good) for a long while in a nearby collegiate sports bar that we'd walked to. College kids, even white ones, sure do listen to a lot of hip hop these days. I can't say that I've developed much of a taste for it myself.

We'd had a tough time getting our hotel rooms. They might have been the last two in the area, as the home of Abe Lincoln was hosting the annual Route 66 Car Show and the whole county was loud and proud with highly polished jalopies and classics. I guess no one ever simply trundled down 66 in a regular old car or a beater. The mystique has far outstripped the reality of the thing. I do wonder though, why there doesn't seem to be a highway that actually ran all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast that has the same sort of cache? Maybe it's the song. I was trying to think of all the people I could who have covered it over the years and it's just too many.

Yesterday, Sunday, we continued our slow crawl up toward Chicago, through endless fields of dry brown looking corn and soybeans, past tiny little towns with little to recommend them - although we did come across a giant man holding a giant hot dog not too far past Normal, Illinois. What could be more normal than that? Unfortunately Normal seems a little shy about its name, we were hoping for a lot of pictures of things like the Normal Bakery and the Normal Gun Shop, but most business don't seem to be using it in their name.

We also stopped at the St. Anne Pumpkin Festival, but it seemed as though we missed the parade, which is apparently the highlight. By the time we got there the whole town was reverberating to the torrent of decibels emerging from the town dump where they seemed to be holding a tractor pull or some sort of automotive event. We needed to continue on to Chicago so we didn't stick around to watch.

Driving into Chicago from the south - we took old Highway 1 which turns into Halsted and runs north all the way through the city - Colin was astounded and shocked, and I was somewhat surprised, by the lack of racial mix along the way. For something around 75 blocks we didn't see one person who wasn't black. Not even in other cars. Colin had heard about the defacto segregation that still exists in American cities, but wasn't prepared for how overwhelmingly obvious it can be. I was a bit surprised since Watts and Compton, the black parts of Los Angeles, are also home these days to a lot of Latinos, some Asians and some working class whites as well.

We talked for a little about why that might be - beats me in this day and age - and why the U.S. is so willing to spend billions and billions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to solve both real and imaginary problems overseas when there are still such massive inequities here at home. I figure it's because it's easier psychologically when you can fight an external enemy. Here in the U.S. we are our own enemy and few people, or countries, are much good at constructively fighting themselves.

20 September 2006

Tons of Readers

Denver, CO

I hadn’t really forgot what book tours are like, but I guess I’d forgot enough to embark on this one with the usual stupid optimism.

It helps to think about the "crowds" differently. Colin and I have talked about buying a scale and weighing everyone who comes to our events. The number of pounds would certainly be a lot more impressive than the number of people.

In Tucson, at Clues Unlimited, we had six, five of them friends of mine or friends of their’s. Somehow people you know and who know people you know, just don’t seem to count as much as total strangers when it comes to book events. Still, add all six up and that was probably in the vicinity of 845 lbs. Not a bad start. (It’s good that we’re in the U.S. rather than Asia where people tend to be a lot lighter.)

After the event Colin went back to the hotel and I went out to drinks and dinner with some of the friends who were there and some friends who weren’t there but showed up later. We went to the Congress Hotel in downtown Tucson, a fun venue with several bars, good outdoor places to sit, mediocre trendy food and okay cocktails. It was a mostly nice time, although the two couples I was with both have young children and so, at least 75% of the conversation was about children; a subject that is of little or no interest to me. I sucked back some whisky and returned to the hotel where the internet didn’t work very well, despite the hotel’s assurances.

It is nearly impossible to pass a motel these days that doesn't advertise high-speed internet. I had pretty good luck with it last year. This year it's proving to be a problem. I'm writing this in a motel lobby - as the internet in the room doesn't work - and evesdropping on the desk clerk's conversation with a friend about how she can't live on a thousand bucks a month and certainly can't afford to go to college on that. Makes me feel pretty good about even the underpaid writing biz.

In Phoenix, at the Poisoned Pen (Scottsdale really), we had ten, count them, ten actual strangers. That is a very good turnout on a Saturday afternoon. Although I would have thought Colin would have roped in more – his books sell very well and are very well reviewed. It’s a great store though, and the staff there really liked our “soundtrack album” and played it often - much to the chagrin of one or two patrons who mistook it for "noise." So, let’s see, ten people, averaging about 165 lbs per person; that’s 1,650 lbs.

That evening we went to a baseball game. Colin is something of a total sports fan. Throw a ball into the middle of a bunch of people and have them do something with it leading to one group winning, and you can get his attention. He likes baseball, something which pleases me no end. We had fantastic seats thanks to the Diamondbacks; right behind the third base dugout in the second row. Shame it wasn’t much of a game. There was plenty of sloppy play, not much of elegance to be seen on the field, and we ended up leaving after twelve innings when it seemed as though neither team was capable of winning. (Eventually, I heard, the Diamondbacks won in the bottom of the 16th on a sacrifice fly.)

Then it was off to Sedona and The Well Red Coyote; a charming little bookshop, near as I can tell the only one in town that doesn't specialize in new age books. It's run by Kris Neri - a fine and fun writer on her own - and her husband Joe, who used to play in a blues band in L.A. We had two people for that event. One for each of us. And they weren't fat. The woman might have weighed in somewhere around 125 or so; the man at, perhaps, 170. So I'll be optimistic and give them each two and a half more pounds bringing their total to 300.

After the event we drove from Sedona to Bluff, Utah; probably the only town in the whole state without a Mormon majority. Some 300 people live there, six of them making their living as writers. It's very near Monument Valley and on the edge of the Navajo reservation. There are rock paintings on the cliffs by the river, plenty of hidden away cliff dwellings, rock so red it could parade on May Day; and we stayed with Win and Meredith Blevins, two old and close pals of mine and excellent writers. (I've known Meredith since 8th grade; and Win since she took up with him a number of years ago.) We drank, we ate, we walked around, we watched baseball (Win is a St. Louis Cardinals fanatic) and had a good, relaxing time.

Then yesterday we drove north. We stopped for breakfast in Cortez, Colorado. I recommended huevos rancheros to Colin - he's a vegetarian - and for the first time in my experience they came with meat. America outside the big cities is not an easy place for non-omnivores.

We continued on to Durango, Colorado which is a splendid town. If I were looking for a mountain community to live in, it would definitely be in the running. Part of what makes it good is Maria's books, which is an excellent bookshop where you wouldn't expect one.

But then we turned north on Highway 550, rising into passes above ten thousand feet, surrounded by snow covered craggy peaks and bright yellow aspen trees accenting the green trees. It was one of the more beautiful drives I've ever been on. We took nine and a half hours to drive what would normally be a five or so hour drive. All the stopping was well worth it. We ended up in Gunnison, Colorado for the night where I had an excellent, very reasonably priced steak - it is the middle of cattle country - and Colin had nothing other than a bite of my baked potato and a beer. Afterwards we went to the rather rundown Alamo Bar, where we were greeted warmly by locals, one of them, Claire, an englishwoman who had settled in Gunnison a few years ago and was delighted to be encountering Colin, an englishman. Her boyfriend didn't seem overly pleased, but he warmed up when we posed him with a pool cue for a picture at the pool table.

Something, however, didn't agree with Colin and he spent the morning in the very same medical clinic where a woman died a couple of days ago from eating spinach. Vegetables kill, apparently. He had food poisoning of his own, although not fatal, but very uncomfortable. He managed to sleep somewhat on the drive today to Denver, and he rallied to do a good job at tonight's event at Murder By the Book in Denver.

It was an excellent event: nine strangers and Heidi Mack - my truly splendid webmistress. The store presented us with a cake decorated with our book covers. The baker had done a great job with the dragon on Living Room of the Dead. The people there were interested, friendly, interesting and bought a bunch of books. I think they bought a dozen or more of Living Room - which is pretty unusual for a book that is a year old. So, let's see though, it was a pretty wide range of sizes, maybe averaging out around 150. 1500 more lbs of people.

Where do we stand so far:

The Mystery Bookstore - Los Angeles - 20 people, a very rough estimate of perhaps 2,600 lbs.

Clues Unlimited - Tucson - 845 lbs.
Poisoned Pen - Scottsdale - 1,650.
The Well Red Coyote - Sedona - 300
Murder By the Book - Denver - 1,500

Total approximate pounds of people so far = 6,895

More than three tons of fans! Now that's impressive.

16 September 2006

DisOriented Express on the Road

The naked bookseller has been one of the highlights so far.

We left L.A. a little after eight this morning and encountered no traffic to speak of. I wasn't even sideswiped by a truck this time like I was in my first attempt to leave town on the last book tour. The radar detector did the job and we made very good time to Quartzite, Arizona where we stopped for lunch.

Colin, being English and a fishetarian, ordered the daily special at the small diner in the very small desert community - fish and chips. It didn't, apparently live up to its counterparts in the UK, although he implied that he's had similar served in his native land. He was, as is the usual case with foreigners in America, flummoxed by the enormous portion that was put before him. Quite sensibly he didn't eat it all. I ate all of my club sandwich, but it was smaller and not fried.

Then we went to visit the naked bookseller. I first heard of him on Lee Goldberg's blog and had been awaiting my next opportunity to pass through Quartzite to visit his store. There isn't a whole lot to say beyond this picture of Colin and Paul Winer the naked bookseller:

Next time you're passing through Quartzite, I suggest a visit. The store has an eclectic and interesting mix of books as well.

We did finally make it to Tucson. I always forget what a long drive it is. Our event at Clues Unlimited was fun. We enjoyed putting it on, Chris Acevedo the bookstore owner enjoyed it, and the crowd (okay, six people - what do we authors have to do to get more people to book events? Maybe if we were naked? Nah!), anyhow, the crowd enjoyed it too and they also enjoyed scarfing up all the Asian snacks that we'd brought along - as well as drinking up some Beer Lao - quite possibly the best beer in Asia.

Earlier in the week we kicked off the DisOriented Express with an event at The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles - sort of my headquarters mystery bookstore. We had about 20 people who also seemed to enjoy our extravaganza. It was our first show and we had a few minor kinks that we worked out. Good to do that at home before hitting the road.

Tomorrow - later today I guess - it's on to Scottsdale to Poisoned Pen, then a baseball game at night. Sunday to Sedona - The Well Red Coyote - where we will present a workshop on researching exotic locales. Basically - go there, have fun, be observant. Well, there is more to it than that, sort of.

Eventually we will make it to Madison, Wisconsin for Bouchercon, where among other events, Colin will be presented with his Dilys Award - for having written the favorite book to sell of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association last year. He doesn't know it - and unless he reads this I probably won't tell him - but I was handed the award in a box and asked to deliver it to Bouchercon. It's currently sitting on the floor of the backseat of my car, right behind where he has been sitting.

I'm tired and tired of fixing my typos - even in blogging, neatness counts - so I'm afraid I will have to shut down for now and come up with pithy statements and fascinating observations some other time.

07 September 2006

The Ugly Stupid Season Kicks Off

Here we go again, it's 62 days of idiocy until the mid-term elections, then it will be at least another 62 of recriminations and chest thumping afterwards. The Republicans are getting nervous and that's going to make things even worse than usual. You don't corner a rattlesnake and expect it not to strike.

It burns my ass to say this - because I tend to agree more often with Democrats than Republicans - especially these days - but Republicans are better at playing politics than Democrats. That's because they're more ruthless, better organized and more unified.

The big push started yesterday. They are going to force a congressional vote on establishing legal military tribunals of the sort that President Bush already had shot down by the Supreme Court. Nevermind that the proposed tribunals stomp all over many of the very same rights that we're supposedly protecting from the bad guys. Nevermind that even a lot of Republican congressmen and senators get queasy feelings in their guts when they think about giving the President what he wants.

It's an election year. If dumbing down the debate over how to deal with terrorism to the President's level of, "you're either with us or you're against us," and hammering away at the Constitution helps the Republicans to keep control of Congress, well, that's all that really counts. Isn't it? Republicans stick together better than Democrats do when it comes to the really important things; like getting re-elected.

Keep in mind that this is a mid-term election; one in which voter turnout is traditionally very low. The party that wins this election is going to be the party that gets the most bodies to the polls. There's been an awful lot of speculation that GW Bush won Ohio - and thus the 2004 Presidential Election - because Republicans cheated. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that the Ohio vote would not have been close enough to steal if it hadn't have been for the Republicans mobilizing voters to come out in droves to ban gay marriage.

The Republican Party has perfected the art of confusing the important issues in elections with hot button, emotional issues that rally their natural supporters. People flock to the polls to vote against gay marriage or medical marijuana (or civil rights ballot measures in the South in the 1960s and '70s; which is when and how the South started voting Republican). Since those people are in the voting booth anyway, they might as well punch another couple of holes for Republican candidates.

The problem is, how do the Democrats combat that? Fear, negativity and simplicity almost always have greater emotional resonance than anything positive or complicated or intellectual.

Unfortunately politics in the U.S. isn't so much a battleground of ideas as it is of personalities. The Republicans have succeeded in recent years because they've managed to scare people shitless; over taxes, over terrorists, over drug-crazed homosexuals coming for their kids. They've managed to pass themselves off as the nation's protectors from these terrible scourges.

The only way to fight that is with reassuring charisma. FDR talked Americans into believing that the only thing they had "to fear, was fear itself." JFK oozed charm and smarts and strength (which was a pretty neat trick for a guy with all his medical problems.) Jimmy Carter was comfortingly honest and fatherly and his timing was good; any Democrat could have defeated Gerald Ford, the guy who was appointed by and then pardoned Nixon. Bill Clinton wanted to hug everybody, and there was something about him that made people want to hug him back. LBJ was the exception. He rode in on the coattails of the even-more-popular-after-his-assassination Kennedy and he also played the fear card nearly as well as the Republicans do today. He cast his opponent, Goldwater, as the crazy guy who was going to blow us all up.

I don't know what's going to happen in this mid-term election campaign other than that it will be gruesome and stupid and brutal and by the end of it anyone with a lick of sense will be even more fed up with politics in this country than they are already. Two years from now though, it's going to be even uglier. And the Democrats either need a candidate with charisma, a lot of it; or they need to find a way to scare the pants off voters about four more years of a Republican president.

19 August 2006

My First Special Guest Blog

I've got a friend who's a writer and a cop. She works for the CSU division - CSI for you TV viewers. She's been working the graveyard (bad joke in that) shift and sending me the occasional email about her night at work when she gets home in the morning. It's interesting, sometimes gruesome, sometimes funny, sometimes sick-funny stuff. She's given me permission to occasionally use some of her emails here if I want.

I want. I'm going to put them here verbatim. Keep in mind that my friend is a very careful, good, polished writer, but when she sends me these emails it is after a long, hard overnight shift at work. Here's the first one, from yesterday:

Nobility & Nitwits
It was a busy night. We had 5 calls last night, four deaths and one aggravated sexual assault suspect. I had no sooner arrived at the office than the phone rang and we were rolling out on a suicide. This was a stark contrast to the idiot from last week who shot himself after an argument with his wife. Last night's call was about dignity. The gentleman was a 74 year old cancer patient who had just signed up for hospice help. He was on morphine and had asked his wife when he would get his next treatment. She told him that it would be 15 minutes and she went back to clipping coupons. Then she heard the shot. I guess he was tired of waiting.

When we arrived the first thing I noticed was that except for the gaping hole in his head, our complainant was immaculate. There was no nursing home smell, and the house spoke of a lifetime of care. The walls bore evidence of better days, and I couldn't help but note the proud smiles that gazed down at me from old photographs. Yet it was the single item on his dresser that said the most. Dated August 8, of this year, a card was propped open so that our old gentlemen could still read it. Happy Anniversary, 50 years. The oxygen tank stood like silent sentry beside the bed, a necessary, but unwelcome visitor. A partially filled urine container whispered a reminder of the cruel injustices that come with aging. His room told a story, but a bit of gentle probing yielded even more.

I offered to call someone for his wife, but she said that even though she had a daughter, she didn't want her to see him like this, and so she patiently waited until we were through. The bullet blew a gigantic hole through his fragile temple and went out the back to lodge in the pillow behind him. The blood spray on his hand left little doubt that he had fired the gun he still clutched.

Although hidden in the dark, on a trip back through his front yard for my camera, I discovered three of the largest lemon trees I had ever seen. Lemons as large as grapefruits dragged against the branches. Later, a talk with his wife revealed that our gentleman had smuggled the seeds for these trees back from a trip to Mexico. She told me the story, and then grimaced and begged forgiveness when she realized that she'd just spilled the beans, or in this case, the lemons, to the police. Despite the somber circumstances, I had to laugh at her. This earned me a smile.

Every time I walk into someone's home, it speaks for them. This home spoke of a life well lived, with love, care, and dignity.

My next call was to the jail to process a suspect in a high profile aggravated sexual assault case. We had to take DNA cheek swabs and hair samples. This is where your suspect stands naked on a sheet of white butcher paper and you inform him that either he can pluck the samples or you will. This is more effective if you're holding a pair of pliers. The samples must be taken from 5 different spots on the scalp and groin. Lovely mental picture....... And this guy was a real winner. Fortunately, no one had bothered to tell him that he was staring at a life sentence, so he wasn't too much of a problem. Just nasty, and stupid. A class A nitwit...... such a stark contrast from our first call. I wonder what his home looks like.

14 August 2006

Guns and More Guns

Yesterday I went to the Glendale Gun Show. I am not what anyone would call a "gun nut." I don't own any guns, although there was a time when I did. But, I don't have any tattoos either and sometimes I go to tattoo shows. Then again, I find some tattoos kind of sexy. There is nothing sexy about guns. People who think there is, well, they scare me.

There were some scary people at the Glendale Gun Show. But mostly there were a lot of misguided regular folk like my kindly neighbors. The kind of people who think that if they have a gun in their house, they are going to be safer. They think this in defiance of every single statistic that shows they are way more likely to shoot a fellow family member, or the meter reader, or the UPS guy than they are to actually blow away a bad guy trying to break in and do them any harm.

There is that famous slogan: "When guns are banned, only criminals will have guns." It sounds okay at first, but the fact is that criminals kill and wound a whole lot more innocent people with their guns than the other way around. And "innocent" people kill and wound a whole lot more other innocent people with their guns than they do criminals.

I'm sorry, but people without a very specific reason to, and the training to back it up - like, for instance, "a well regulated Militia", as stipulated in the Second Amendment to the Constitution - should not be allowed to own guns. In most "civilized" nations, they aren't. There would be a whole lot fewer dead spouses, children, parents, meter readers and UPS dudes if there were fewer guns in the hands of the public. Cops, just trying to do their job, would be safer. This is particularly true of handguns.

Okay, so in a rural area let people own rifles - not, however, assault rifles. They might need to take out a marauding bear or something, or even fell a buck to fill the freezer with venison. (There oughta be a law though that makes them eat what they kill.)

But pistols just plain make it too plain easy to kill the wrong person. They should be banned for possession by the general public. The ones that are already out there ought to be confiscated.

There was a target for sale at the gun show.

If I'm ever the hostage in this situation, I'm going to feel a whole lot better about it if there's a highly trained cop with a gun trained on the bad guy, than my sweet, well-intentioned, shaky-handed but well-armed neighbors.

As a matter of fact, I worry about where my neighbor's bullets are going to end up if they ever wake up in the middle of the night scared and decide to start shooting. Luckily my bedroom is at the opposite end of my house from theirs. I'm hoping the walls in between will prevent any mistakes.

Most gunshows also have a lot of other stuff for sale. Russian nesting dolls, for some inexplicable reason, seem to be popular; as are a great many little geegaws and doodads. My friend who went with me bought a telescoping, stainless steel dentist's mirror. The guy who sold it to him for two bucks cautioned him, with a wink, to not use it for the purpose of peeking up women's skirts.

There was a table selling an astounding array of right wing bumperstickers. Those people do seem to be afraid of an awful lot of different things. And for "Christians" they don't seem very charitable toward anyone who isn't white, straight, christian and American. It was horrifying to see how many of the bumperstickers longed for the "good old days" of the Confederacy. There were black people in attendance. Some of them were buying guns. Some of them were probably christians. Wonder what they made of that? I was pleased to see that, at least in the time I was there, no one seemed to be buying any of the bumperstickers.

There was some good stuff too. I bought several different types of jerky. I imagine the elk jerky was the product of a hunter with a gun. I don't suppose the beef jerky was. I also bought, I couldn't resist, "The Official Axis of Evil Currency Collection." It was a bargain at twelve bucks. (It came with a bonus Taliban-era Afghani and a current Iraqi Dinar, but they aren't so impressive looking.) Here it is:

So now the guns in Lebanon are supposedly silent. What's been accomplished?
1. The stablilizing, relatively peaceful, increasingly democratic country of Lebanon has been pulverized yet again and set back many years in its development.
2. The democratic, independent government of Lebanon has been severely weakened.
3. Hezbollah has been made to look heroic to people all over the Muslim world and has been strengthened politically in Lebanon.
4. Syria, which had mostly been booted out of Lebanon, has probably regained a great deal of influence.
5. Iran, through Hezbollah, has probably gained more influence in Lebanon and more allies throughout the Middle East.
6. A largely peace loving population that was increasingly showing signs of a willingness to live and let live with Israel has been radicalized. (Having your neighborhood flattened and your children killed will do that to you.)
7. Well over a thousand Lebanese - more than 90 percent of them non-combatants, the majority of them children - have been killed; and over a hundred Israelis.
8. The kidnapped Israeli soldiers haven't been returned. Even if they had, was all the carnage worth it?
9. Gaza has also been pulverized - although that doesn't seem to be getting much attention. That's strengthened the radicals in Hamas and undermined the moderates in the Palestinian authority.
10. Israel is less, not more, secure than it was before because it is now surrounded by people who are even more pissed off and determined to destroy it than they were before, and they're living in less stable places with governments that are less able to function diplomatically or control militant groups within their borders.

What is there to be said about Israel? Can anyone say: Their own worst enemy. (And, of course, the U.S. is happy to assist in Israel's self-destructive actions and policies.)

03 August 2006

The Fallacy of "Corporate" Taxes and What That Has to Do With Campaign Finance Reform

On paper, taxing corporate profits sounds like a good idea. We, individuals, get taxed on our income, why shouldn't companies pay tax on their's? The problem is that in the real world the corporate profits tax is just another sneaky way of taxing us - you and me.

Who do you think pays corporate taxes? We all do. Like every other cost of doing business they are simply factored into the prices that companies charge for their goods and services. And, thanks to simple mathematics, we pay corporate taxes - on behalf of companies - at a higher rate than the companies are charged.

Here's how it works: Acme Widgets makes a pretty good premium DooDad. It costs them one thousand dollars to make, distribute and sell the gizmo. Included in that cost is the physical cost of the materials, worker's salaries, rent, utilities, advertising, insurance, delivery, etc. - and taxes. You don't think they're going to leave out taxes as part of the cost of making their premium DooDad do you? Now Acme's management has decided it wants to make ten percent profit on its premium DooDad, so they charge $1,100 for it.

But now someone comes along and thinks it's a good idea to raise Acme's taxes to pay for something worthwhile. And the great thing is that they'd be raising taxes on a company, not on voters like you and me. So they raise the corporate profit tax rate, say, 0.2 percent. What that means is that Acme now has to pay twenty cents more (0.2% of its $100 profit) to make and sell its premium DooDad. If it wants to maintain its ten percent profit per DooDad, it has to raise the price by 0.22 percent.

But wait, it doesn't stop there. Acme makes its premium DooDad out of aluminium, plastic, oyster shells and polyester thread. It buys the machinery it uses from eight other companies. It buys packaging materials from three different companies. It ships via two different trucking companies and one airline. It pays rent to a company. It uses a law firm and an accounting firm. All of those companies are now paying twenty cents more for each hundred bucks of profit. If they all want to make ten percent - which is not an unreasonable profit margin - they've all got to raise their prices to Acme.

And guess what? Acme passes all those price hikes along to its customers. By the time the smoke clears it is now costing Acme $1,020 to make its DooDads and to maintain its ten percent profit margin it has raised the price to $1,122 per DooDad - a price rise of 0.22 percent to the consumer, caused by a tax hike of 0.2 percent to the company.

Acme's biggest customer buys 10,000 DooDads a year, so that raises their cost of doing business $220,000 per year. What it really raises is your cost of buying from them.

What This Has to Do With Campaign Finance Reform
Here in California there is a proposition (#89) on the November election ballot. It is yet another attempt at campaign finance reform. I'm all for campaign finance reform. I think it's one of the most vital issues in any democracy - especially ours. I'm even willing to pay a little more in taxes to pay for the reforms.

One of the big selling points of the bill is that it will finance its reforms by a 0.2 percent increase in corporate taxes. The supporters of the bill are trying to make voters believe it won't cost them anything because companies are going to pay for it, not them. That's utter bullshit. (See above.)

I support much of what the bill is trying to do and even some of how it's trying to do it. I'll probably vote in favor of it. But I'd appreciate some honesty from time to time. I know there's no free lunch. I can take it. If you want me to help pay for something worthwhile, just ask. Don't try to disguise it as something else.

22 July 2006

Lunatics, They're All Lunatics!

There will not be peace in the Middle East in my lifetime. And probably not in yours either. There are so many reasons for this that it really doesn't make any sense to analyze them. It's "whack-a-mole." You bang one of the reasons on the head and push it back into its hole, and another one pops right up. None of the principals involved in the region - not one of them - is reasonable. So, there's no understanding their reasons and there's no reasoning with them.

I can make some observations though about the most recent round of carnage. Why not? Everyone else is.

1. There's a difference, or at least there ought to be, between soldiers and civilians. If, during a raid in an area where hostilities exist, soldiers are captured, kidnapped, whatever you want to call it, that's a shame, but it's part of their job. Being a soldier in an area of hostilities puts you at risk. When you signed up, or were drafted and didn't resist, you signed up to take that risk. That doesn't mean that your government, in this case Israel, shouldn't try to protect or defend you, or respond to the provocation in a manner that might prevent the same thing from happening again. But it does mean that your status as a soldier, and the inherent risk in that, must be part of the equation in figuring out what the response should be. In any event, the response must be measured so as to avoid making the situation worse.

2. Israel's response is making the situation worse. This is in part due to internal Israeli politics, which is a terrible reason to go to war. The Olmert government does not have a military track record to call its own. Unlike the Sharon government, which responded to nearly identical provocations in a far more measured fashion - because with Sharon's reputation it had nothing to prove - the current Israeli government feels the need to show how tough it can be. Hundreds, possibly thousands by the time the smoke clears, of civilians are paying the price for the Olmert government to make itself look manly.

It seems to me that if you're killing non-combatants over combatants at a ratio greater than 10 to 1 - which is what Israel is currently doing - I don't care what the rationale is, you're undermining the legitimacy of those actions.

3. Israel's response is also destroying any progress that had been made toward a more stable Lebanon, something that Israel was benefitting from and would have benefitted further from in the future. Hezbollah was launching its attacks on Israel from a small area near the border, a long way from Beirut. Yet Israel has attacked Beirut, stopping its recovery in its tracks, destabilizing and undermining the weak, but strengthening, Lebanese government and wrecking the fast recovering Lebanese economy.

So now, rather than an increasingly prosperous, politically stabilizing Lebanon on its border, Israel is going to have a basket case for a neighbor. Since Hezbollah is apparently better organized, and possibly even better funded, than the actual Lebanese government, who do you think is going to benefit most from all this chaos?

On the one hand I can understand what has long made Israel so touchy. It's a tiny little nation, surrounded on three sides by people who for the most part hate it, and a strong defence is seen as a matter of life and death. So, with its back against the wall, Israel needs to be as strong as it can militarily. But as a long term survival strategy, that isn't nearly enough. Sooner or later someone who hates it is going to find new, more devastating ways to attack it. Sooner or later its few allies, for their own internal reasons, might abandon it. Masada was seen as nearly impregnable. It was as strong a defensive position as the Jews ever held. That didn't end so well.

Israel also needs to be as strong diplomatically as it possibly can. And first and foremost that means trying to make friends and partners with its neighbors. And to do that, the neighbors need to be at peace within their own borders, their governments need to be stable and their economies need to be at least providing hope for their people. Trade, economic ties, cultural exchanges, cooperation on all fronts is the only long term defensive strategy that is really going to protect Israel. The current ruckus is hurting, rather than helping that effort.

And One More Thing - The Free Market Solution to the Problem of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is one of the world's major bones of contention. Take it out of contention. Take it away from all those snarling brutes. Declare it an international open city. Move the U.N., the World Court, the WTO, all the international groups there. Contract out the running of all the religious sites to Disney. Let them build "Religion World." Use the proceeds to help fund the international groups there and to give good paying, secure employment to the religious nuts who will provide the local color in the same way that employees in Donald Duck and Mickey and Minnie Mouse suits do at other Disney theme parks.

06 July 2006

Whatever Happened to Hollywood?

When I first moved back to L.A. after an absence of 14 years, there was an after hours club I'd hang out in near the rather insalubrious intersection of Western and Santa Monica. It provided nearly everything anyone could possibly want. Patrons could order cocaine, pot, ecstasy and occasionally some other drugs, from the waitress. They were all high quality and came with the necessary accoutrement for indulging in them. There was a good selection of booze, at very reasonable prices, available long after bars were supposed to be legally closed. There was poker and blackjack and a couple of slot machines. There was a craps table, although I never saw it in use.

My fellow customers were a diverse crowd. I recall sitting around one of the large low-lying tables one night with a nuclear physicist from CalTech, a stripper, an elderly bartender from a big name hotel, a young guy from the Israeli consulate, a wannabe rock star and his silent girlfriend, a grip (I've never quite known what they actually do), a high-priced "escort," a cook and me, an ex-financial journalist just then turning to writing books. The physicist was buying us all lines of coke and the more lines he bought the closer the escort sat to him.

Across the room, at another table, there were a couple of lower level - low B or C list - celebrities, sitting with a fairly well known local musician and a minor celebrity chef. Someone said that they'd seen - I'm not dumb enough to insert any names here - a very A-list celeb in the company of an even higher A-list rock star there a few nights back. It's good to be back in L.A., I thought to myself.

Not long after that night the place closed down. I never got the whole story. Either it was raided, or the operators decided it was getting hot and moved to avoid a raid. In any event I wasn't enough in the loop to find out where it moved to. (If anyone out there knows...be discreet.)

This morning I was hit by a small wave of nostalgia for the after hours club. That was thanks to a regular column in Thursday's L.A. Times: "My Favorite Weekend." (This nostalgia has absolutely nothing to do with the specific content of today's column or the person it is about.) I skimmed the column. I usually do. I don't know why. I think it's little more than a dull P.R. excercise on behalf of B or C-list celebrities, almost none of which I ever recognize.

As usual, today's subject's favorite weekend seems to be engaging in a variety of wholesome - or mostly wholesome - and healthy activities that are guaranteed to give offense to no one. I have the impression that fully 90% of the people profiled spend part of their weekends at Urth Cafe drinking some sort of hideous, organic soy-milk faux coffee concoction on their way to or from the gym, or some sort of vegetarian, organic (or often overpriced and undergood Westside Italian) meal. They also shop a lot. I guess even low-level celebs have more money than they know what to do with. (At least today's celeb - Russell Mael of the band Sparks - goes to the track to bet on horses. I'll try to ignore the fact that he picks up a salad on the way.)

For some reason this morning's column irritated me more than usual. The guy's in a rock band! Soy cappuccino? "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?" Play-reading at the Getty? Salad?

Whatever happened to the Hollywood that so warmly welcomed me back home after 11 years in the hinterlands of Asia, a year spent bouncing back and forth between the Old World, isolated small towns of Chicago and New York, and two years surrounded by the young ravening dot com hordes of San Francisco?

Just once I want to read a "My Favorite Weekend" column that is admirably, cheerfully, gloriously, unrepentently unwholesome. That would be refreshing. Not that I ever had any real faith in Hollywood, but I could use a little something to help crack through the unrelentingly dull and flavorless image it's trying to foist off on us.

I know that the sleaze is going on out there, unabated, ugly, illegal.....human! Having aged a few years since returning to Los Angeles I'm not even certain that I still want to be a part of it. But I want to be comforted by knowledge of its accessibility. The L.A. Times isn't helping. Can't someone?

03 July 2006

Thrills and Chills at Thrillerfest

I'm safely home in L.A. where it is merely in the mid-90s. One day in Phoenix I passed a bank thermometer that read 116 and that seemed about right, if not erring on the cool side. In all I liked Thrillerfest well enough. It was the first one and I imagine it will improve with age.

It was mostly authors, wannabe authors and fans, which is not a bad crowd to spend some time with. But, one of the things I particularly appreciate about, say, Bouchercon (the big mystery event every year) is the wide range of people from the entire industry: publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, publicists, reviewers, fans and authors. While I don't believe that I already know everything there is to know about writing, I do know a lot more about it than the other parts of my chosen field. So I like spending time with people who do other things; especially booksellers who I think of as being on the front lines.

The panels were entertaining and even interesting, but by and large not all that useful. Sure, I love seeing someone demonstrate fighting techniques or a gory video about forensic medicine; but it's not as if I'm going to take notes then file them away on the off chance that I might need them some day. I know how to look that stuff up, if and when I need it, or who to call to find out.

I did spend a lot of time at the bar, which is where the real action tends to be at any conference anyhow. Not having an office with colleagues and a water cooler that I go to every day, conferences like this are as close as I get to that, and it's very welcome.

What wasn't welcome was the appearance of an old foe on Saturday night. I spent my 40th birthday in the jungles of Central Borneo. Among the gifts I received, was malaria. It wasn't a particularly horrible case. I spent about a week in bed in Jakarta, feverish and miserable, but I got over it. Still, every two or three years it decides to pay me a one or two day visit. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Saturday night I was with some friends at a very pleasant blues bar in Phoenix - the Rhythm Room should you ever happen to be in town - when I started to feel something coming on. I got back to my hotel room in time to be overcome by near convulsive chills, followed by someone sticking my body into a pre-heated oven, followed by every last drop of liquid in my body oozing out of my pores. This process was repeated several times through the night.

Sometimes my bouts of recurrent malaria come complete with hallucinations and vivid dreams. That at least makes it more interesting. This time it didn't. It was simply nasty.

The next morning, thanks to aspirin the wonder drug and espresso, another wonder drug, I managed to shiver and sweat through the panel I was on at Thrillerfest - "Killer Settings." It seemed to go pretty well, thanks to the moderating of Sarah Weinman - who runs the excellent blog: Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. Then I drove home in a chilled one moment, sweating the next daze. My car has a thermostat on its air conditioner / heater. For a bit it was turned up to 85, then down to Cool, then back again. It was one of those sorts of drives.

29 June 2006

Thrills at Thrillerfest

I'm in Phoenix, Arizona for Thrillerfest, the annual jamboree of the International Thriller Writers, of which I'm a member.

What is a "thriller" anyhow? Let's start there. I'm told that I write them, as opposed to "mysteries." That seems reasonable to me, there isn't much real mystery in my books. They are more "don't do its" than there are "who done its." I guess that's as close as I can get to describing a thriller. In a mystery something happens early in the book and the rest of the book is spent trying to get to the bottom of it. In a thriller, something is going to happen and the book is spent trying to prevent it, or alter it or fix it. It's the difference between a bomb going off in the first chapter and then the detective trying to find and bring down the culprit. And someone finding out that a bomb is going to go off and spending the book trying to find the bomb and stop it before it explodes.

So, that's why I drove from L.A. to Phoenix yesterday. It takes about 5-1/2 hours, or would if it wasn't for the bottleneck that is built into Highway 10 just as you start entering Phoenix. On the way I passed the truckstop restaurant near Palm Springs that for years has featured lifesize statues of dinosaurs. Now it features statues of humans running around with those dinosaurs. That might seem entertainingly silly until you find out it's because the truckstop has been bought by Christians. The sort of Christians who believe that the world is no more than 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and people used to wander around together. It is now a truckstop with a mission; an idiotic, science-denying mission. I couldn't bring myself to stop there and give them my business.

So I got to Phoenix where it was 109 degrees and threatening thundershowers. I checked into the Arizona Biltmore - an architectural masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is great to look at, but it demonstrates a lot of the all too typical arrogance of big architects. Here, in the middle of the desert, it is an oasis of manicured lawns, non-native trees and bushes and low-lying, low-ceilinged buildings that don't take much advantage of the views, the desert light or the occasional evening breeze. My room would be fine if it were in a Motel 6 where I was paying $49.95 per night. As is I'm paying $130 per night, or something like that, because it's off-season and I'm part of the conference. Usually it's somewhere in the $400 per night range - which would be an utter outrage.

It is certainly a popular conference locale. There is a gigantic group of women here who belong to some national sorority. They are all carrying pink carnations and wearing a lot of makeup. There are Avon ladies. There are us thriller writers and readers.

And best of all there are the Christian fundamentalists who have taken over the ballroom next to the lobby. They are yelling and screaming and flailing and falling on the floor and talking in tongues. The background noise in the lobby is: "Praise Jesus, praise him, hallelujah, praise God, praise Jesus, oh lord..." It does seem something of a mistake on the part of the hotel to have put the bible thumpers right next to the lobby. Maybe they'll take a field trip to the dinosaur truckstop. They haven't brought out any snakes to handle yet, but I'm hoping they will.

It's likely to be 109 or so again today and unfortunately there is no air-conditioned path from the lobby to the conference center.

27 June 2006

Cracks in the Pot With Age - This Morning's Reading of the Paper

Okay, so maybe that headline is a bit of a stretch, but I'm beginning to see why becoming something of a crackpot seems to be one of the perogatives, if not requisites, of age. I turned 54 a week ago and have already written two letters to public officials. Emails really, is that somehow less crackpotish than snail mail?

With the years has come some knowledge, experience and an apparent increasing level of crankiness. All that turns many a morning into a roller coaster ride, prodded along by reading the newspaper. Here's what this morning's L.A. Times did to me emotionally:

Column One: "Fond Computer Memories." Ah, a bit of nostalgia. I never had a Commodore computer of my own, but I used one. I remember the very primitive computer in the basement of the library at my college and then my first computer, the one with two 5-1/2 inch floppy drives and no hard drive. I fondly recall XyWrite, my all time favorite word processing program, now long gone.

Just below it: "Study Links Male Gays, Birth of Older Brothers." Yet another study linking biology and sexual preference. On the one hand that's always welcome; it's a whole lot harder to discriminate against someone because of their biology than their choices. On the other, why should anybody care whether it's nature or nurture? Who someone has consensual sex with, and how, ought to be a mere personal matter and of no interest to anyone else than the people having sex. So this story has some ups and downs for me. I'm pleased this study might make it harder to discriminate against gay people. I'm displeased that it should matter in the first place.

"Private Philanthropy Shifts Outlook of Governments." Ah, that Warren Buffett, what a mensch. Those Gates'. It makes me proud to be using a PC. It's a shame that governments would rather spend their money killing people or giving their pals big, unnecessary development contracts while leaving so much of the good guy stuff up to private foundations, but it's very nice to see some rich people doing some very good things. I wish I was rich enough to give a bunch of it away.

"Gov. Calls for New Spending on Prisons." I'm sorry, but FUCK YOU ARNIE! Go back to making movies. I liked the Terminator flicks. Hell, I even have a soft spot for Kindergarten Cop. (I don't know what's wrong with me.)

Don't worry, I'm not going to go through the paper story by story. Those were my highlights on the front page. There were a few other thrills elsewhere:

Page A8, "Coffee May Cut Diabetes Risk." Oh boy, I love coffee. Think I'll make another double espresso.

A14, "Supreme Court Rejects Campaign Finance Limits." I don't know enough about this particular law to know enough about the decision, but these days I'm skeptical of nearly anything the court does. And campaign financing is one of the most important issues we've got and something needs to be done about it and soon. I can see the argument that says people ought to be able to donate as much as they want to a campaign. Then again, who was it that said something along the lines of "Freedom of the press is for those who own the presses." Well, it ought to be for the rest of us too.

Poor Bruno the Rambling Wild Bear. I'm always comforted, just a little, when I read about Europeans doing stupid things too. It isn't just us Yanks! I feel less alone.

"Insurgents Planted Bomb With Bodies." Of course they did. Why wouldn't they? It's a war isn't it? I feel terrible for the soldiers who were killed, for their families, for the other soldiers - on both sides, they're all just pawns in someone else's fucked up game - for the Iraqis and for us in the U.S. who are having a big chunk of our country's future hocked to pay for all this bullshit.

Dodgers lost, stockmarket was sort of up, sort of down, I didn't bother reading about the new Superman movie, I probably won't go see it anyhow.

Okay, so now let's skip over the rest of my newspaper reading for the morning and get to the part that got me all riled up, caused me to write a letter to a public official and set off this blog entry.

The middle edtitorial, "The case for flag-burning." Yet again, what the hell is wrong with California Senator Diane Feinstein? Is she trying to make it so that I can't even hold my nose long enough to vote for her in November. She supports the constitutional amendment that would, in effect, ban flag burning. Is she insane? This is another good example of why it makes no sense to simply support one party or the other no matter what. There are plenty of fucked up Democrats out there too. (The governor of Louisiana for example.) The L.A. Times editorial made the case against the amendment very well. Here's what I've got to say:


Here's what I wrote to that cretin Diane Feinstein. I don't know how I managed to remain polite.

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I implore you to reconsider your suppoort of the so-called Flag Burning Amendment. The idea that burning the national symbol in protest is tolerated, speaks far louder to what makes this country great than the symbol itself. At a time when so much of what America stands for is under threat by its own administration, amending the constitution in a manner that will even slightly open the door wider to those threats is a very grave mistake.

Earlier in the week, my other letter went to Tom LaBonge, the city councilman for my district. That letter was in opposition to the new city law that will force catering trucks - mostly taco trucks - to move every hour to a new location at least a half mile away. Here's what that letter had to say:

Hi Tom,

As your neighbor, a second-generation native of Los Angeles and a long time afficianado of eating at taco trucks, (a habit I learned from my mother), I am displeased with the city ordinance regarding food trucks that is scheduled to become law in July. I have long felt that taco trucks provide a real service to working class communities around town - as well as to their fans such as myself. The people who enjoy eating at them need to know where to find them and when, or they can't adequately provide that service. I have seldom, if ever, seen taco trucks parked in residential areas or any other sort of place where they were causing any nuisance. The only objections I have ever heard to them have been voiced by brick and mortar restaurants who were unhappy with the competition.

But then, isn't competition what business here is supposed to be all about? Making the trucks move every hour strikes me as unfair restraint of trade, and likely to put a lot of the trucks out of business. If that happens, where are Eva and I and our friends going to find good al pastor? Tijuana is a long way to drive for a good taco.

So, here's an email from at least one constituent asking you to help stop the impending ordinance.

That's this morning's roller coaster. I think I'll have to make another cup of espresso and settle down. At least that will help stave off diabetes.

Update at 4pm Pacific Time
The onerous flag burning amendment lost by one vote, no thanks to the equally onerous Senator Diane Feinstein (Democrat - California) who voted in favor of it. Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator from Kentucky and the senate deputy majority leader, who I normally have little truck with, was one of three Republicans who voted against the amendment on the grounds that protecting the first amendment was more important than protecting the flag. Good for him. So at least this stupidity is tabled for another year or two until the next election year.