22 December 2008


You, dear reader, may have gathered by now that nature and I are not on the best of terms. Not that it has ever done anything all that dire to me. I have never been savaged by wild beasts - although a squirrel once nearly gave me a heart attack. Though my car has been dented by a rock slide - in Malibu Canyon - I have never had to try and swim for my life in an avalanche. I haven't died, yet, of exposure, dehydration, drowning, hypo- or hyper-thermia, starvation, falling from a great height, or altitude sickness (like my Cousin Ruth did) or any number of the multitude of other means by which nature is capable of bringing on my - or your - untimely demise.

In large part that is because I do not tempt fate. We have a mutual understanding, nature and I; for the most part I leave it alone, and it leaves me alone. Sometimes, in the guise of raccoons, it comes to my kitchen door begging for scraps. And sometimes I have been known to buy it off with offerings of cat kibble and water.

But, unlike my macha, woodsy girlfriend Eva who enjoys such risky behavior as snow camping - (Some relationship advice to all of those out there who are considering entering into relationships: it is best to avoid sharing all of your interests. It is far healthier for each of you to have some interests you can indulge with friends other than your mate.) - I am generally content to view nature out the window of my heated abode, where it belongs.

That said, we recently spent three days in Zion National Park. It had snowed there, but in spite of the fact that I have the same reaction to walking on snow that most people have to being in the vicinity of fingernails on a blackboard, we went hiking every day. Afterwards we retreated to the warmth and comfort of a well appointed cabin, complete with a gas fire, hot water and a bottle of good whisky.

And it was beautiful, as evidenced by the photos below:

Then we left Zion and drove to Tucson. Past some buffalo who were reasonably picturesque, ending up where there isn't any snow, but there are colorful cacti and trees. Tomorrow I shall head home where I will indulge myself in my two favorite Xmas traditions: Xmas Eve dinner of garlicky roast pork, black rice and beans at the house of a Cuban friend of mine where I will probably be the only straight man in attendance. And Xmas Day Chinese lunch and a movie matinee. Oh Boy!

Eva the girlfriend shall celebrate the holidays elsewhere, outdoors mostly, in the snow; indoors occasionally, engaging in yoga. I am very happy for her.

11 December 2008

SHANGHAIED is coming

You can click on the poster to see it BIG.

Carnivorous Tibetan monks

Corrupt killer bankers

A murderous, sociopathic veteran of the U.S. invasion of Grenada

Comely kung-fu bodyguards

A painful dumpling accident

Drugs, sex, rock & roll

The usual coterie of business moguls and hookers, friends and foes

And the return of Ray's Chinese-Mexican colleague and pal, Wen Lei Yue.

Set in Hong Kong during the 1997 Handover back to China, and then in Shanghai.

The manuscript will be back from my editor this week. Watch out for an excerpt on my website sometime by the end of the year.

Here's another picture of Shanghai to keep you amused in the meantime:

03 December 2008


In alphabetical order:

Airlines: Perhaps they are actually a lot smarter than I think they are and the reason they do everything they possibly can to make the experience of flying unpleasant, is that they're trying to discourage people from flying. If it was more palatable, the friendlier skies might be even more crowded and awful than they already are and then it would, perhaps, be even worse. Every time I fly anywhere these days, I take a very deep breath of relief that most of my travel in recent years has been by car.

Families: Break them up and assess their component parts individually, and often as not they are composed of nice, interesting, polite human beings. Put them together in one locale and often as not they turn into ravenous, vicious packs of snarling brutes whose behavior is informed by little more than the assembled lifetimes of perceived slights, insults, personal failings and betrayals. They are thrown together by genes, not by choice, and too many of them have no good reason for their unity.

Holidays: See families. Take that terrible dynamic and blend with enormous amounts of social pressure to have a good, cheery, warm and "familial" time - and what do you get? I don't have to tell you what you get. Most of you reading this have families. Most of you dread, for good reason, seeing them in large groups around holidays.
And don't even get me started on gift-giving. At least Thanksgiving doesn't demand loot. Sure, I like getting gifts as well as the next guy, but they're pretty meaningless when they're given in the context of obligation during a certain time of year. I would much rather have someone stumble across something they think I might like at any old time of the year and get it for me then. That has actual meaning. It isn't merely someone filling out their list.

Hotels: Why is it that the more expensive a hotel is, the more likely it is to nickel and dime its guests to death? At cheap hotels and motels across America, you get free internet access. Only in the expensive ones do you pay for it - $9.95 to as much as $19.95 per day. I get free bottles of water, at least one, in most of the cheap places I stay. At the W in New York City the bottle of water they put by the side of the bed is eight bucks. And you have to hunt around a little to discover they're going to charge you for it. At cheaper places they tend to quote you the actual price you're going to pay for the room, including taxes. At fancy hotels they quote you a price, either mumble or put in small print that it doesn't include taxes, and in places like New York and San Francisco you can end up paying twenty percent or more higher than the price you were quoted. I don't care if your hotel gets the tax or not, it's still part of the price I have to pay for the room.

Ivy-League Educations: There's been an awful lot of blather lately about the fantastic team of Ivy-League talent assembled by Barack Obama for his administration. They do seem like a smart crowd and I do have high hopes that they'll make less of a mess of running things than the Bush Administration has. But I'm really fed up with people equating the university that someone attended with their ability to accomplish great things. Hell, George W. Bush, arguably the worst president we've ever had, is the proud possessor of a Harvard MBA. The Unabomber graduated from Harvard, as did Hitler's foreign press secretary Ernst Hanfstaengl. The last president to assemble a group of the annointed "best and brightest" was John Kennedy. That was the crowd that gave us the Vietnam War and who achieved very little else of lasting significance. So shut up already. I'll judge Obama's team on what it accomplishes, not where it got its degrees.

Royalty Statements: I spent many years as a business and financial journalist. I'm not an accountant, but I'm not unversed in figuring out statements of accounts. I have seen a very wide variety of bizarre financial statements over the years. I have never seen any quite so incomprehensible - in uncharitable moments (which is most of them) I think it must be deliberate - as the ones I receive from publishers to account for royalties, or the lack thereof.

TV News: It's not news, it's chatter. In a desperate attempt to fill up the 24-hour cycle, it elevates the mundane to ludicrous heights, making people think that important, intelligent matters are being reported and analyzed, when they aren't. It's the dumbing down of journalism. I have actually had people tell me they like seeing "news they can agree with." Huh? I tend to agree with Rachel Maddow much of the time, but I'm sorry, she's no more a journalist than Sean Hannity. Keith Olbermann is no more a reporter than Bill O'Reilly.

There, glad I got all that off my chest.