Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Good-bye Crystal Corral

You've drifted off the Interstate and into an alternate version of Americana. The two in the backseat, your son, Derrick and mother-in-law, Emily, have talked you into this little excursion down US Highway 26. You're somewhere in the far side of Oregon; the side with no tourists, passing little burgs like Prairie City and John Day and Moores Crossing. You never knew Oregon was this varied; pine forests and mountains and juniper and sage deserts. You wife, Susan wanted to visit the Painted Hills, and though you grumbled, you're glad you did.

Moving up the slopes, the snow became fierce. Crossing the Ochoco Summit was tricky and you almost wished you had an SUV like the rednecks. But you're on your way down now, and the day is grey and the snow has faded to patches.

You encounter the tail end of a lake that was probably hot stuff 40 years ago, but there are other better places, more lustrous ones now. Your boy has been whining about being hungry ever since Mark's Creek and Emily points out a sign: "Crystal Coral--restaurant 1 mile ahead". You're a man that doesn't like to stop for any reason, but you've got to pee like a big brown dog, so you say, "Okay."

The place doesn't look like much, just a tumble-down place, no gas station, just a sparse RV park and little attached diner. The place seems hopping and the sign out front says "Open". "Lots of cars," Emily says. "A good sign."

The inside is better than the out, walls of pure hand-milled pine that makes you feel warm. The family sits at a table and you look around expectantly for the john. No luck, so you finally ask. A stout woman with what seems like a perpetual grin tells out to head around out back. You wonder if she's kidding, but she isn't. The john is clean, but chipped and well-used. Old enough that your grandfather might have sat here when he was a young man.

Back inside, you order coffee, decaf, and the lady with the grin says there's not much call for decaf, but she'll brew some for you and you realize you're an unleaded man in a leaded world. You all order, you order a short stack just like your Grampa would. What seems to be a bunch of widow ladies are having a gay old time at the next table. Seems a granddaughter is there, or maybe a great-granddaughter and they sure are sparkling because of that little girl.

A man in a green uniform shirt and blue jeans wanders and Dexter says, "Look, a park ranger." "Forest ranger," the man says settling into the table next to us. He tells us his name is Dusty and he's headed back up to his station. Dexter and Emily want to go up there, but I say "enough is enough". Dusty tells us the snow is too deep and I like him a little more than I did originally. An old lady shuffles over and brings me my coffee. She seems as if she's in pain, and after she leaves, Dusty tells us she's got a back ticker and her Doc won't let her waitress no more. "Good you made it here," he says. "Place is closing up on March 8th." I ask how so, and he says that some big concern from over in Medford has bought the property and the owners will be moving out soon. "Too bad, this is a place where everyone knows your name" he says, "but the new folks don't want to serve food. They'll bulldoze this place." Susan says what a shame and for her, it is. The food is better than you expect, the pancakes lighter than IHOP. When the old lady comes by with more coffee, you ask for a refill and don't care if it's caffeinated.

The woman with the perpetual grin that seems to be forced now cashes you out and you're surprised that you get change back from your twenty. As you leave, you look back through the window and see the old lady leaning against the counter. On the road again, you son asks, "Can we go back there, again, Dad?" And you wish to God you could say yes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thou shalt not call the judge a knucklehead.

Ten Commandments for Appearing in Court.

1. Thou shalt not disrespect the judge. Do not tell her she looks like Curly Joe, even if she does.
2. Thou shalt not argue with the judge.
3. Thou shalt not lie to the judge. She can toss you in the slammer for a long time.
4. Thou shalt not crack wise with the judge.
5. Thou shalt not wear your fuck-me pumps, mini skirt or Hell's Angels' colors to court.
6. Thou shalt not gripe about the officer's behavior. The judge doesn't care. File a complaint with internal affairs if the officer was a jerk.
7. Thou shalt not chat loudly with the person next to you while other cases are being tried.
8. Thou shalt not fidget, moan, grumble or shake your head while the officer is testifying.
9. Thou shalt listen to the officer's testimony and take notes to use for your defense.
10.Thou shalt not scream " Ah, horseshit!" if found guilty.

Blog recommendation

Take a look at my friend, Wendy's, blog, wendy's opinion on just about everything. Wendy is a freelance writer, novelist and has fascinating opinions on just about everything.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Here comes the judge.

Okay Sparky, so you weren't able to talk your way out of that ticket. What to do you know?

1. Decide if you want to beef the citation.

When the nice officer hands you your ticket, he'll tell you your options are listed on the back of the citation. Generally, your options are pay the ticket and forget it. Plead guilty with an explanation or plead not guilty and ask for a trial. Mailing in the bail will require the full cost on the ticket. If you go to the courthouse clerk's office to post bail, some jurisdictions will give you an automatic bail reduction, but don't count on it. If you appear for your arraignment date listed on the citation and plead guilty, most judges will cut you some slack and reduce the bail. This presupposes that you didn't curse out the officer during the stop. You can plead guilty with an explanation either by mail and posting the entire bail or by appearing for your arraignment. This may or may not reduce your fine. If you decide to contest the ticket, contact the court clerk well before your arraignment date to set a court date. If you wait until to appear on the date written on the citation, you'll waste a trip downtown.

2. Preparing for court.

The awful truth is that absent compelling evidence to the contrary, the judge will take the officer's word over yours. If you want to win your case, you can't just argue "That officer is all wet, I wasn't speeding." Bang. Guilty as charged.

Prepare your case.

Review your notes and photographs that you made immediately after the stop.

Read the law. You can be sure the officer and the judge know it backwards and forwards. The Oregon Traffic Code can be found here. Each traffic offense has certain elements that the officers must prove. These include establishing jurisdiction (the offense happened in a specific place), the officer's authority (duty status, was he in uniform and if not did he display his badge) and specific elements of the crime.

Read the citation. Officers make mistakes. A while back, I was cooling my heels and talking to another officer, Bill, in the courthouse hallway while we waited for our cases to be called. A defense attorney approached Bill and asked to talk about the upcoming case.

"Gosh, Officer Bill, help me out here," the attorney said. "Your signature appears nice and strong on the court's copy of the citation, but not on my client's copy. You wouldn't have forgotten to sign the citation before giving my client his copy, then signed it later would you? That would be considered false swearing."

Officer Bill stammered "Ah ... ah ..." and a puddle of yellow liquid pooled at his feet. Bill went into court and asked to dismiss the citation because it was issued in error. It was Bill's lucky day. The judge didn't ask why.

Unless the error is as grievous as Bill's, don't mention it to the officer before court. Hold your cards close. Also, ask the court clerk to review the court's copy of the citation. Most officers make notes on the back of that copy to refresh their memories. If you write a lot of tickets, they all merge together.

Gather your information, find weak spots in the officer's case and be patient. More on trying the case in the next installment.

3. Do you need a lawyer?

Depends. If you've committed a traffic crime, then yes, absolutely. If you were driving drunk, led the police on a merry chase through a couple of states, and rumbled through the D.A.'s rose garden. Just say hello to your new roommate, Big Dick Fuzzwalter. You'll be fast friends by the time you get out of the clink. If the ticket really cheeses you off, get a lawyer. Get a good one. Not one that your deadbeat brother-in-law Phil recommended. Don't use your family attorney. The best defense attorney is the slimey, pitbulls that the cops hate. Ask around. If you know a cop, ask them. Pay a visit to traffic court, watch some trials, see the attorneys in action. Pick one that you will be comfortable with. Face it, good attorneys aren't cheap, but then bad ones may not be either.

Next: inside the courtroom.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Say Hello to the Nice Officer

Officer: Okay, pal, where's the fire.
Driver: In your eyes, officer.
Officer laughs with evil intent.

Okay. What should you do when a cop stops you?

Rule #1. Don't be stupid.

When an officer stops you, don't reach under the seat while she's approaching the car. You may end up with a 9mm semi-auto screwed in your ear. Don't try to switch places with your passenger. Don't jump out of your car and run back to the police car while she's just getting out of hers. Wait in your car. Get out if she tells you, otherwise sit and be patient. Tell her if you need to reach into the glove box or the console for your registration.

Rule #2. Show respect
This doesn't mean you don't have to be overly nice, but do show the officer the same respect you think you deserve. You may not get it, but we'll have the discussion on handling rude cops another time. Two reasons for showing respect. First, cops are the masters of the one-liner put down. They sit in roll call, in coffee shops and in the locker room trading quips. You'll never win. Second (and more important), you've just committed Contempt of Cop. You will now discover it's exactly how creative this officer can be. Don't let your passenger be a knucklehead. If your passenger starts chipping his teeth at the officer, you're the one that will get the extra tickets, not him. Don't let yourself be punished because your buddy flunked the attitude test.

Rule #3. Don't argue.
State your case calmly and firmly. Save the arguments for the judge. Arguing will only get you in deeper doo-doo.

Rule #4. Don't talk too much.
As a driver, you're under obligation to answer questions to prove your identity, your right to drive a vehicle and that you have the right to drive the particular vehicle you're in. You don't have to answer questions like: "Do you know why I stopped you?" or "Do you know how fast you were going?" Most traffic offenses are infractions or violations and do not require a Miranda warning, but you still have a right against self incrimination. Exercise your right. Otherwise, the officer will note anything incriminating you say and use it against you in court. Be tactful, be polite, but don't talk yourself into a corner. If push comes to shove, tell the officer that your attorney has advised you not to answer that question.

Rule #5. Don't lie.
Seems obvious, but people don't think through the consequences before lying. If one thing will piss a cop off, it's having someone lie to her. Once she figures it out, she'll get writer's cramp filling out all those citations.

Rule #6. Take notes.
After the officer is finished with the stop, she will take a moment to note who, what, where, when, why and how. If you are cited, do the same. If you have a camera in your car, take pictures of the location to document the weather, the condition of the roadway, signs and anything else that might have a bearing on your case. Don't photograph the cop unless you are a sado-masochist. Tape-recording the cop? Depends. It's sure to piss the cop off, and in Oregon, you need to notify someone before you tape record their conversation. If you don't, you'll be wearing a nice set of stainless steel bracelets. But if the cop is a jerk, it might be worth the risk.

Optional tactic #1. Schmoozing
Generally there are three kind of cops that will stop you.
First are the ones that love chasing taillights. You can spot these officers by their mirrored sunglasses. They often ride motorcycles or drive unmarked police cars. They write 10-20 tickets a day. That's their job. Schmoozing won't work. They don't care if you're a nice guy. They're passionate about one thing: writing that ticket.
The second type (and the largest group) are those that can take or leave writing traffic tickets. Schmoozing may or may not work depending on whether they've had a fight with the old lady before their shift or if their sergeant is on their ass for poor production. Try it, why not.
The final group are the officers that don't like working traffic. You've probably done something exceedingly dumb to get stopped like running the red light in front of them or cutting them off. Schmooze away, chat them up, it'll probably work.

Optional tactic #2. Turning on the tears.
Every cop has had someone tell them how they got out of a ticket by crying. Maybe they did, maybe the driver was cute or reminded the officer of their mother, but it probably won't work a second time. Traffic cops (group 1) above, are used to tears. They don't care. Most other officers who have been on the street for a while are used to tears. No predicting how they'll react. I've written tickets while the driver sobbed away and I've cut people a break. It depends on the offense and how sincere I thought they wear. Some drivers swear by crying, but if the officer figures out what you're doing, he'll laugh his evil laugh while he writes that citation.

Next time: Dealing with the judge.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

Some good tips for aspiring and established writers. It's been posted around the Internet here and there, so I don't feel guilty putting it up again.

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.

Being a good author is a disappearing act.


These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I didn't inhale, your Honor, honest.

Actually, I did, but more on that in a moment.

A proposed initiative petition has been submitted to the Portland City Auditor's Office to "Make Adult Marijuana-Related Offenses the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority in the City of Portland". There could be a couple of effects of this. One could be that you could still get busted for being stupid enough to light up in front of a cop but that enforcement against large scale grow operations would be put on the back burner. The other possible outcome is that marijuana would become quasi-legal as it is now in Amsterdam and Vancouver B.C., and we might see the establishment of cannabis coffee houses. Denver recently passed a similar measure, but it's still too soon to tell how that ordinance will shake out.

I'm going to endorse this measure, but before going further, let me make the following disclosures:

1. I served as a police officer/sergeant/lieutenant for 28 years.

2. The last time I smoked marijuana was in Amsterdam, circa 1991. Hey, a young woman from my tour group knocked on my door and said, "Let's get stoned." What's a man to do? I did inhale, more than once, and by God, I liked it. (Though wandering around Amsterdam at 3 am, totally whacked out of ones mind is a bit overwhelming).

3. I haven't smoked dope since for a couple of reasons. First, being a cop, I drifted away from the marijuana subculture after leaving college. And since leaving the police force, I've become a Dad; that role isn't conducive to smoking dope.

4. I'm a 'if you do the crime, you do the crime' sort of guy. If you murder or rape another person, you should go to jail for life. If you rob or hurt someone, you should go to jail for a long time.

I could start my argument saying that studies have shown that legalizing marijuana doesn't increase use among the population, or that marijuana enforcement costs a whole bunch of money spent better elsewhere:

The societal costs of propagandizing against marijuana and marijuana law reform, funding anti-marijuana 'science', interdicting marijuana, eradicating domestically grown marijuana and industrial hemp, law enforcement, prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana smokers costs U.S. taxpayers in excess of $12 billion annually.

But the bottom line is that the war against drugs doesn't work. The current approach of interdiction and incarceration has never worked and never will. All it does is create a large subculture of people with criminal records. That's not to say that people who commit crimes under the influence of drugs should get a free pass. They need to take responsibility for their behavior, break some rocks in the hot sun. That includes people who drive under the influence of intoxicants.

All this money we spend on fighting marijuana would be spend much better on drug treatment, drug education and putting more cops on the street fighting real crime. A couple of years ago, I facilitated a creative writing seminar for a group of men at a residential drug treatment facility. Most were committed to the facility by the court and most had done hard time in the state pen. They weren't the kind of men I'd like to meet in a dark parking lot after the bar had last call. The strange thing I discovered in this seminar was that when these men were free of drugs and when treated with respect; they were intelligent, forthright, engaging and damn good writers. One that struck me the most was Porter. Porter has to be one of the best natural born story tellers I've ever known. He's also been in prison for most of his life, probably for as a result of his addiction to drugs. In another place, and in another time, he would have become a great writer. The last time I saw Porter, he had a sleeping bag slung over his shoulder and was looking for a place to crash under the Steel Bridge. I would have stopped, but I was driving my daughter to school. I've never seen him again. The State was gracious enough to give Porter the opportunity to get clean and sober, but after that he was on his own. I like to believe that he found a way up and out, but my cynical side tells me he's back in the pokey or worse.

Critics say that marijuana is harmful. The Drug Policy Alliance disagrees. In my opinion, two other legal drugs, alcohol and nicotine, are more damaging to the human body and cost society more in terms of money and suffering. That's not to say that marijuana is harmless, but if we're going to outlaw a harmful substance, let's start with tobacco. (And yeah, I'm an ex-smoker).

Right now, the current drug laws regarding marijuana don't work. Let's try something else.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Changing Template

I'm fooling with my template, trying to find something I like. Comment if you like, otherwise, tough.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Meme: 50 Things

1. What year was the best year of your life?1969
2. One animal or insect that Noah should have left off the ark? Mosquitos
3. Do you make a wish before blowing out your birthday candles? Absolutely!
4. Do you generally open your bills on the day that you receive them? Yes.
5. How many pillows are on your bed? Five
6. Favorite ice cream flavor? Chocolate Mint
7. What is the most dominate color in your wardrobe? Blue
8. Have you ever seen a ghost? No9
. Would you rather go to a carnival or circus? The circus, I love the trapeze
10. Favorite meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Lunch
11. Your favorite fictional animal? Tigger
12. Have you ever flown first-class? Yes, Miami to PDX, Hong Kong to SFO
13. Would you go on a reality show? Are you nuts.
14. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Generally Optimistic
15. Pancakes or waffles? Pancakes in a walk.
16. If you could own a home anywhere in the world, where would it be? Paris or Tuscany, it’s a toss up.
17. Your favorite Soup of the Day? French onion
18. What site is a must see for all visitors to your city? Columbia gorge, especially Triple Falls.
19. Can you recommend a good restaurant in your city? Bombay Cricket Club
20. You go to the zoo; what is the one animal that you want to see? Polar bears
21. Potatoes, rice, or pasta: which is your favorite? Pasta
22. What is the best movie that you've seen this year? "Capote"23.
One of your favorite books when you were a child? "Wizard of Oz"
24. What in your life are you most grateful for? My daughter.
25. You are home alone and use the bathroom; do you close the door? Yes, old habits die hard.
26. What is your favorite small appliance? Electric toothbrush.
27. Salty snacks or sweet treats? Salty.
28. Are you usually a little early, a little late, or right on time? A little early
29. What is the most daring thing that you have ever done? Fighting range fires during summer break in college.
30. Have you ever met someone famous? Bob Hope.31.
What was one of your favorite games as a child? Life
32. At what age have you looked your best? 30-something
33. One person that never fails to make you laugh? Margaret Cho
34. What was the first music that you ever bought? Purple People Eater
.35. If you could change one thing about your family life when you were a child, what would it be? My father’s drinking.
36. What is the one thing that you cook that always receives compliments? Irish Stew.
37. From what news source do you receive the bulk of your news? The internet.
38. In the last calendar year, how many people have you told that you love them? 2.
39. Who received your first kiss? Her name was Gail and we were both extremely drunk.
40. The single most important quality in a mate? Intelligence
41. What do you value most in a relationship? Honesty
42. What do you sleep in? Boxers and a t-shirt.
43. Do you consider yourself well organized? Only in rare moments.
44. On average, how many times a day do you look at yourself in the mirror? Three
45. Did you ever make a prank phone call? Oh yeah, is your refrigerator running . . .
46. What one quality do you seek in a friend? Loyalty.
47. Have you ever killed an animal? Yes, to my great regret.
48. When you were twelve years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? Captain Midnight or a doctor.
49. Do you believe in an afterlife? Heck if I know.50.
What would you like to accomplish with the remaining years of your life? Write the great American novel, help my daughter be the best person she can be and stay happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pandora vs. Last.fm

Pandora and Last.fm are two streaming music services. Both are free and both claim to help you discover music you're gonna like. I've tried both.

Last.fm is the flagship product from the team that designed the Audioscrobbler system, a music engine based on a massive collection of Music Profiles. Each music profile belongs to one person, and describes their taste in music. Last.fm uses these music profiles to make personalized recommendations, match you up with people who like similar music, and generate custom radio stations for each person.

Last.fm is based on a social network model and requires that you install the Last.fm player. To get full benefit from the system you also need to install the Audioscrobbler plugin which monitors your computer media player; i.e. Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc., and uses that information to compile a playlist for you.

Pandora requires no programs to be installed on your computer as it is a flash program that runs in your browser. Pandora picks tunes for you based on the Music Genome Project.

We set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.
The strength and weaknesses of each program arise from their basic concept. Last.fm is a social network. I found that I liked to explore and discover music that other people enjoy. There are groups and forums and journals. The service identifies other users with tastes similar to yours and lets you listen to their personal stations. One of the downsides is that you have to install their player on your system and to get full benefit install the Audioscrobbler plugin which monitors your listening habits. Call me paranoid, but that's a little creepy to me.

Pandora is a simpler system to use. You can create up to 100 personal stations based artists and/or tunes. There are no forums, groups, journals. There's no way I've found to interact with other users. On the upside, the music is great.

At this point, I've been using Pandora more for a couple of reasons: First the system is more stable. Last.fm tends to drop out and at times the system has gone down for extended periods of up to a day. Second and more important, I've found that Pandora's music selections are more to my taste. Who knew that my passion for Ry Cooder would lead me to Thin Lizzy? Better service, better music. That's it.

Here are a few of my Pandora stations if you're interested in giving the system a whirl: Ry Cooder, Paul Revere and the Raiders (don't laugh, see where it will lead), Richie Havens, The Killers, and Wes Montgomery.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Superbowl: A Cultural Perspective

This year's Superbowl was the first football game I've watched beginning to end this season, and the first Superbowl I've watched in at least ten years. The games are boring, blowouts usually decided somewhere in the first half. This one was a little better, the drama lasted until the third quarter. My friend, Bill, asked if I wanted to watch with him. Sure, it had been a while and being provincial, I rooted for the Seahawks. They lost, but I was only mildly disappointed. The Seahawks are from Seattle. Portland folks don't cotton to Seattle sports team very well.

The Superbowl just isn't about the game of football, though. It's a uniquely American celebration that American commerce. Commercials for the broadcast cost $4,000,000 dollars a minute. People talk about them for months. Hell, the commercials were more captivating than the game. Truth be told, I liked the one about the Clydesdale colt pushing the beer wagon. The Superbowl celebrates the consumer culture. American has 5% of the world's population and consumes 50% of the resources and we're damn proud of it.

The Superbowl is also a reflection of our society. The aging Boomers are top dogs in our society and our icons, the Rolling Stones, played at halftime. Of course, the Stones aren't the bad boys that they used to be; they labored under a five second tape delay and 'mild' censorship. Folks over 40 weren't allowed in the pit on the field (not energetic enough for the television moguls it seems). Boomers are in charge, but youth is sexy.

A couple of years ago, Janet Jackson popped a tit at halftime and our puritan right went bananas. I suspect the rest of world was amused by their reaction. The Italians tsk-tsked her costume, the Brits claimed that Benny Hill did it first and did it better, and the French missed the whole thing. They sat at a local sidewalk cafe smoking Gaulloises, drinking expresso, and watching the world meander by their table.

As the rest of the world catches up with the United States, American football remains one of the last sports to which Americans can claim superiority . . . We regularly get shellacked in Olympic basketball and a large proportion of Major League Baseball players are from other countries. Of course, lacrosse and roller derby are all ours, but for how long?

Actually, I did have a good time watching the commercials, the halftime, bullshiting with Bill, drinking beer and eating pizza. Oh yeah, the football game was okay, too.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lost in Iraq

Jill Carroll is still among the missing, kidnapped by Islamic militants. Abby Frucht, one of my MFA advisors and a stunning literary talent, suggests that writers send blank books to Aljazeera in an effort to have Jill released.

A quote from Abby at Readerville:

Okay. Here's what we'll do. We'll each send, to al-Jazeera, instead of our books - an empty journal, an empty notebook, or even a small sheaf of paper if you don't have a book. On the first page, write a letter like this one: To Al-Jazeera News. I am one of a group of readers and writers sending you this blank book in the hope that Jill Carroll might soon be able to fill it. Please do your best to convey this message to her captors: Let Jill Carroll go, so that she might continue to write about the things that have made you so eager to claim our attention. Through Jill's work, and through the gesture that you will make by setting her free, we other readers, writers, and thinkers will better understand the differences, and the vast similarities, between our corners of the world. Please set this cycle of understanding in motion by letting this brave young writer take her place in it again.

Send the blank books asap to: Al-Jazeera International, P.O. Box 23127, Doha, Qatar

and forward this to any writers and readers you know, as well as to any organizations of writers and readers to which you have connections. I wish I knew how to post it all over readerville; if someone else knows, please do so. thanks. ab

Yeah, you'll probably end up on one of George Bush's secret lists for this, but I think the effort is worth it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Confessions of a Draft Dodger

Hello, my name is Mike and I'm an unrepentant draft dodger.

Many young men spent the years during the Viet Nam War scheming on how to avoid the draft. Some because they had no desire to shoot at young Asian men in black pajamas; and some because they felt the war was illegal and immoral. I felt a little bit of both and after my student deferment elapsed, I decided I wasn't going to step forward when they called my name. My parents surprised me. My father, a World War II vet, said that he'd do whatever was needed to get me to Canada. We talked about my going to jail instead. I was leaning in that direction, but it never came to that. The draft lottery in 1972 passed me by. They selected young men with numbers up through 125. My number was 131. My life continued, but that was the most stressful time for me up until my father passed away.

With that history, one might find it incongruous that I advocate reinstatement of the draft. I do so for two reasons. First, our military is stretched beyond their capacity to handle their duties. My protest had always been against the war, not the military. Now, young men and women are asked to enter combat understaffed, ill-equipped and untrained. We fight a war on two fronts and are losing both. The Taliban is steadily regaining control of Afghanistan. Our troops are basically limited to garrison duty in Iraq. Troops, citizens and journalists can't even move freely around the 'safe' parts of the Baghdad without being kidnapped or killed. The military college warned Bush that more troops were needed, but he ignored them. Today, our military clunks along, manpower is stretched to thin to be effective; parts and equipment are in short supply. The situation is dire.

The second reason I advocate reinstating the draft, is other than for a narrow segment of our society, this war has little impact on our everyday lives. Oh, gas is a little more expensive, but there is no rationing. With all volunteer armed forces, the burden falls on the lower socioeconomic classes, the poor white, African American and Latino kids who see the military as a way out of their poverty. A draft would spread that burden into the upper classes. How long would this war last if children of dentists and lawyers and Republican senators were losing their lives and limbs to roadside bombs and midnight ambushes.

I believe that this war, too, is illegal and immoral, based on shoddy intelligence, if not outright lies, but reinstating the draft may be the only way to end it. I would also advocate that no young American take that step forward. Civil disobediance is a right and an obligation.