Obligatory pet posting

A new combination of pets now exists at the new place.

There is Kota, of course, the stray I picked up four years ago. Her name is a double pun of sorts – she sounds like a MinnKota trolling motor, and I found her at the end of a long day. Kota tolerated H fairly well in the past, but now seems to actively hate her with a jealousy only female cats can muster. Here, she is glaring suspeciously at me, as I have disturbed a nap.

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There is also Bowie, H’s pionus. The maintenance guy who came by to check our heat today asked if Bowie could talk, which is an excellent question. Generally, no, but conversations can be had if you admit *squirk*, *squeegit*, *brak*, *en-n-n-n-n-n*, *swishit* or *ee-erk!* as meaningful phrases, which they are. As an escapee from a family of pets where the dogs can properly enunciate whether they want burritos or cookies, Bowie has picked up a few things. So far, I am still new, and regarded as an exotic toy/chaffueur that brings takeout. Why Bowie tends to look at us while upside down is not apparent, though perhaps we look more like parrots that way.

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So far the pair are doing fine, due to Bowie’s inaccessible cages and Kota’s sheer lack of ambition. They gaze at each other often to no result, without much understanding of what they’re looking at, which is a state I would like to maintain.

It’s the Oil

London Review of Books.

About the way I’ve been looking at it lately, though I am much more doubtful that those ‘super-bases’ would be successful in extending much power, completely dependent on airlifts as they are. I can see a scenario where the forces there end up trapped within the bases.

When the top Democratic candidates start getting national security briefings (do Clinton and Obama have these already, or it is after the primaries? I forget) we’ll see immediately if they’re willing to step away from the oil. Neither will, of course. Even Obama, for all his current bombast, would leave those bases in place, perhaps giving up one for show.

A brief period of gaming goodness

In the last few days, while actually getting some work done, I’ve managed to enjoy quite a bit of Orange Box goodness: Portal, Episode One, and Episode Two, to be particular. If I can get H to stop playing Sims 2 for a few minutes, I think she’d like Portal, which is to be quite frank, concentrated goodness, much like the vehicle sequences in Episode Two. But she is too busy at the moment trying to prevent one of her characters from abandoning her life goals in favor of eating 200 cheese sandwiches. A tough call, I’d say.

While I’m thinking about PC games, I should put in a quick plug for Mount & Blade, a great shareware game made in Turkey that I’ve been playing for over two years, even though it has still not been offically released in all that time. The current version is .894, a fairly major update. If you enjoy the thought of combat on horseback, something that no other game that I know of attempts even semi-realistically, you should check it out. TIt has a vibrant mod community, again quite incredible, concerning there is no official version and the game has always been charmingly bare-bones. The fanatical level of participation reminds me of Desert Combat, the old mod for Battlefield 1942 that was even more popular than the very successful game – but M&B isn’t even multiplayer. It’s just plain fun, the ultimate measure of any game.

Another book?

Occasionally I get in a ruminating mood and wonder if I’m doing everything in life that I really want to be doing. I read three of John Scalzi’s novels recently – he is a fresh, invigorating writer that writes very old school sci-fi, and I had one of these ruminating moods as an indirect result; I started to wonder why I haven’t written any substantial fiction in several years.

Then I looked around at the old – well, let’s call it mature – townhouse that H and I have moved into, and realized that I wanted to write another book, and write it here.

Since Elise Journey, I have started and abandoned two books in the last 4-5 years. Each still exists in the form of several chapters and perhaps 50,000-60,000 words in notes. One is the sequel to EJ, which I think would be remarkably easy to finish if I wasn’t constantly bogged down and discouraged with the knowledge that the first book remains extremely obscure and rather amateurish.

That’s not the real problem, though. The problem is the second project, something that remains so elusive that I have written at least 12 separate first chapters without much satisfaction from any of them. And yet the concept is so promising that I refuse to abandon it. The characters are all there, well developed and drawn, but I’m at a loss how to get the ball rolling. Part of my drought in production is surely due to my foolish twenties, and later on, my concentration on grad school and then the PhD, but most of it lies in my inability to successfully start this book, which I will henceforth dub Book X.

I think about Book X and EJ’s sequel nearly every day. I especially think about them during long drives, where there is little to do but tell stories to myself. In this sense, writing is an antidote to a benevolent disease; I write to quiet this constant storytelling. Once the stories are written down, they shut up, having become memories instead of shifting, recurring snatches that refuse to pin themselves down. I have mercifully forgotten a lot of the plot in EJ because it’s all right to do so. It’s all in print; I don’t have to actively keep it alive by retelling it to myself constantly.

A sense of place is important to writing. I wrote EJ in several places in Tucson. For example, almost everything in the book that happens in winter was written on the steps of Old Main at the University of Arizona in the middle of the summer of ’98. For whatever reason, I also remember writing the first chapter of EJ earlier that year while sitting in a hallway in Modern Languages, waiting to talk to some professor about some short story I’d written. I wrote the bulk of the rest in a small rented room off of Campbell, on a cranky Pentium I, after classes and work, usually in the middle of the night.

My old apartment in Memphis, where I stayed for the last four years, never really had the right vibe. It wasn’t quiet, for one. The train on the Southern line went by every hour or so not a hundred yards away, and my neighbors were noisy. It was the biggest place I’ve ever rented, which isn’t saying much, but it wasn’t ideal.

This new (old) place is in a much quieter neighborhood, and we have made the larger of the two bedrooms upstairs into a reasonable office. I also have my shared office in Patterson.

I think I can write here, and that’s good, because I’m tired of having two books living in my head and wanting out. The interior of my skull is doubtlessly bruised. It’s time to give it a break. Can I write one or more of them while writing the dissertation? I think so. I don’t even think it would slow me down significantly. I sense a period of great productivity coming on.

Bad news

I almost never hear political news that I like. According to Fox, which has a certain interest in these things, Hillary is outpacing Obama:

The poll also dispels the theory that Clinton is considered too polarizing, even within her own party, to win in the general election. On every question concerning her standing among Democrats, she sails ahead of her opponents. Regarding Iraq, 52 percent of those surveyed trust her most — that’s compared to 22 percent who trust Obama on the war and 17 percent who trust Edwards. On health care, 66 percent are putting their trust in her leadership, compared to 15 percent for Obama and 14 percent for Edwards.

The Post-ABC poll is at least less suspect than Fox, but still – only 22 percent trust Obama on the war? Clinton’s spin machine is incredible. Apparently, having voted for the war and then recanting that vote years later is more trustworthy than having opposed the war from the beginning. I supposed I can understand that a little – I imagine quite a few American have felt tricked in the last few years, and thus there is more empathy for that situation than Obama’s professorial “I told you so.”

Then again, this is the presidency of the United States we’re talking about. We need someone who gets the decisions right the FIRST time. There really isn’t much margin for error or on-the-job training. And frankly, of all the major foriegn policy decisions made by presidents since perhaps FDR, not invading Iraq was the easiest call to make. At minimum, I think, presidental candidates should be able to hit the easy pitches, and while Hillary’s ability to schmooze in the Senate is unparalleled – she has allied with many senators who voted to impeach her husband – her desire to be moderate worked against her on that vote.

Either a President Obama or Clinton would be a huge bonus to our foreign relations, it’s true, but I have far more objections to Clinton. One is my desire to have a President that is not named Bush or Clinton, as we haven’t had one in 19 years. A second would be that vote on the war. The third is that I fear that she will be owned in the general election by Romney or Guiliani.

Shooting on campus

Last night, apparently, one of the UofM’s football players, Taylor Bradford, was shot in a car just off campus, possibly in the Central parking lot. He then crashed into a tree around Central and Zach Curlin, the northeast corner of campus, and died shortly thereafter, apparently from the gunshot wound. The police are characterizing this as a non-random shooting. The university has wisely cancelled all classes today.

The email to students went out around 3:45 am. I got on campus around 8:20 am, not having checked my email, and noted that Patterson Hall was as quiet as a mouse… no students, just a few professors. Word travels fast.

The U of M is near several dicey locales – Memphis is a strange patchwork city, racially and economically, where the ‘ok to walk your kids at night’ neighborhoods and the ‘bar your doors before sundown’ areas are often not a block apart. The area where this student, Taylor Bradford, was shot is better than most, between Central and Poplar, in front of gated student housing, and within easy sight of the Engineering building. I drive through that intersection at least once weekly.