Monday, December 31, 2007

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Because after all, what says "Happy New Year" better than guitar playing snow dragoons?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2008: Our Fearless Predictions for the Year Ahead

Latest Newspaper Column:

Another year gone by, which means another blizzard of retrospectives and ‘Years in Review” by the national press and punditocracy. Well, you know what I say: any idiot can look back on the year before, and I’m not just any idiot. So, once again, we bring you 2008: the year in preview.

JANUARY: In a nationally televised Presidential debate; Republican candidates vie with one another to see who can be toughest on illegal immigration. Mitt Romney advocates beating immigrants within an inch of their lives. Not to be outdone, Mike Huckabee calls for illegal immigrants to be beaten within an inch of their lives, then thrown into a pit of alligators. John McCain tops them all, however, when he stands on top of his chair and shouts that he personally will beat illegal immigrants within an inch of their lives, then throw them into a pit of alligators, then shoot the alligators in the head with bullets that have been set on fire. The impact on the Presidential race is minimal, however, since not more than three people are still watching the debates.

FEBRUARY: A leaked CIA report reveals a secret plan by Dick Cheney to incite war with Iran. The story is pushed off the front pages, however, when John Edwards breaks a shoelace while campaigning for the “Super Tuesday” primary South Carolina. Sunday news talk shows devote the majority of their coverage to the question “is someone who wears old shoelaces really prepared to be President?” The only exception is Fox News, which devotes two hours to people who swear that Edwards broke the shoelace on purpose because “everyone knows he’s a phony.”

MARCH: The Writer’s Guild of America strike continues when negotiations break down over the latest proposal by media conglomerates to settle with the striking writers. “We made a perfectly reasonable proposal,” sputters Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone. “all we asked was that the writers return to work, give up everything they asked for, and for every third member of the union to commit suicide.” Meanwhile, the networks desperately try to put together new “reality based” programming that doesn’t require writers, such as “World’s Scariest Cat Fights, ” “Fat People Running in Slow Motion,” and “Stuff’d,” a game show in which people compete for a million-dollar jackpot by seeing how many objects they can stuff in their mouths.

APRIL: George Dubbya Bush’s poll numbers finally go so low that even Presidential dog “Barney” runs away.

MAY: This month is canceled for budgetary reasons.

JUNE : Former First Dog “Barney” releases a tell-all memoir entitled “Bonehead: My Life With George W. Bush”. Right wing bloggers immediately launch a smear campaign in which they claim that Barney was actually thrown out of the White House for piddling on the rug, that he regularly sexually harassed fellow White House dog Mrs. Beezly, and further, that Barney is not actually a dog at all, but is, instead, a raccoon painted black and planted in the White House by the Clinton campaign.

JULY: President Bush announces that he will not be replacing Barney. “If I need a lapdog,” he says, “I have plenty of congressional Democrats willing to do the job.”

AUGUST: In a stunning upset at the Democratic National Convention, Dennis Kucinich wins the nomination. “Hey,” he tells a reporter. “Have you seen the woman I married? If a guy like me can land a woman like that, anything is possible.”

SEPTEMBER: The Republican National Convention is held in Minneapolis. For the first time in years, no one candidate enjoys a commanding lead, resulting in a so-called “brokered” convention. Delegates vote several times, finally resulting in the surprise nomination going to anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer. A re-vote has to be held, however, when the rules committee decides that, while the majority of the party may actually prefer to inhabit a fictional world, they cannot actually pick a fictional character to run in the general election. On the next ballot, the nomination goes to Chuck Norris. Norris refuses to pick a running mate, stating that he has no intention of dying or stepping down. Ever. No one dares to argue with him.

OCTOBER : In a televised Presidential debate, Republican nominee Chuck Norris states that America doesn’t need a missile defense system because he will just roundhouse kick enemy missiles out of the sky. When Democratic nominee Dennis Kucinich points out that this is impossible under every known law of physics, the national press brands him “not serious enough” on national security issues.

NOVEMBER: Chuck Norris wins the Presidential election in a landslide.

DECEMBER: President-Elect Chuck Norris demands that he be inaugurated in December instead of January. A few people try to point out that this violates the Constitution, but Norris glares sternly at them and they fall into line.

And so, we end with my traditional New Year’s greeting, a quote from Ogden Nash:

“Duck! Here comes another year!”

The Outfit

The gang-blog of Chicago writers known as The Outfit is one of my can't-miss stops in my jogs around the blogosphere, and it ought to be one of yours too, if it's not already. I mean, c'mon, where else are you going to get the latest musings by writers as talented as Sean Chercover, Barbara D'Amato, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Kevin Guilfoile, Libby Hellmann, Sara Paretsky, and Marcus Sakey?

In this recent entry, Sean has some very kind things to say about your Humble Blogger in the course of a meditation on the judicious use of detail. Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart. Sean's pretty amazing himself. His first novel BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD, knocked me out and it'll do the same for you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Those Wacky Kids

msnbc.com: Each class at the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training Academy is allowed to choose a slogan that is printed on its graduation programs, and the class of 43 graduates came up with 'Don't suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it.'

According to the Veterans Association, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers suffer from PTSD, which causes nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms that make sufferers feel as if they are reliving trauma, even many years later. Crime, accidents and other trauma can cause it in civilians.

Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, who attended the Dec. 14 graduation, pointed out the slogan to the academy's director, Jeff Black, minutes before the ceremony began, Raney said. A photograph of the program was e-mailed anonymously to news outlets throughout the state.

"That's not something we encourage or condone," Black said. "It shouldn't have been there. It was inappropriate."

Black said the class president was ex-military, and that the slogan "slipped in." He declined to identify the graduate. Black said future slogans would be vetted by academy leaders.


I admit, I laughed, aficionado of dark humor that I am. But I can see how this would rub people the wrong way. They should have saved it for their T-shirts.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ho Ho Ho!

I love getting (and giving) books for Christmas, and this year's selection is particularly tasty:
  • THE CLEANER by Brett Battles, which I just finished. Great debut novel. Think Robert Ludlum, but leaner and tighter, without Ludlum's florid prose and ridiculous dialogue.

This should last me a month or so. Thanks to all the folks who know what I want for Christmas..

So what'd y'all get?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Another Great Christmas Song...And My Wish For You



I wish you a hopeful Christmas,

I wish you a brave New Year,

All anguish, pain and sadness,

Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And Happy Solstice as Well!

Okay, it was yesterday...but here's a little Jethro Tull anyway.

Merry Christmas From the Family

My all-time favorite Christmas song, by Robert Earl Keen Jr.

Hallelujah, everybody say cheese!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Specials You May Never Actually See

Latest Newspaper Column:

Here it is, another holiday season. And with the season comes holiday TV.

Some of the specials, of course, are perennial favorites, like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." But every year, we also see some new offerings, and I've got to tell you, they get weirder every year. This year's offerings include:

-- "Senator Larry Craig's Toe-Tappin' Christmas": Live from the men's restroom of Minneapolis Airport (because supposedly the acoustics are amazing), this musical special includes appearances by Elton John, Melissa Etheridge and the San Francisco Men's Chorus. Special comedy routines by RuPaul, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell.

-- "A Very Special Ho Ho Ho": Radio Host Don Imus celebrates his return to the airwaves with this heartwarming special. Highlights include the Rev. Al Sharpton giving the invocation, the Rev. Jesse Jackson reading "The Night Before Christmas," and the stirring climax, in which the Rutgers women's basketball team stuffs Imus down an actual chimney.

-- "Rudy's Christmas" :This special, live from Rockefeller Center, features former New York mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani leading an all-star chorus in a medley of specially "updated" Christmas songs, such as "I Heard the Bells on 9/11," "Angels We Have Heard On 9/11," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Except None of Us Can Rest Because of 9/11."

-- "Christmas at the CIA": Unfortunately, we have no idea what was in this one and it will not be shown this year, because the Agency destroyed all the tapes.

-- "The Democratic Congress is Coming to Town": This modern "re-imagining" of the classic Rankin-Bass animated Christmas tale tells the story of how Kris Kringle (played by Harry Reid) and Miss Jessica (played by Nancy Pelosi) come to Sombertown to overthrow the toy-hating Burgermeister Meisterburger. In this version, however, they end up doing everything the Burgermeister says because he threatens to say mean things about them.

-- "The Nancy Grace Christmas Special": In a hard-hitting interview, the outspoken CNN legal commentator puts Santa, Rudolph and Hermy the Elf on the hot seat, accusing them of covering up their involvement in a rash of L.A. residential burglaries. Tragically, the day after this show was taped, Hermy committed suicide by throwing himself off an ice floe.

-- "Christmas with FEMA": Stung by the damage done to its image during the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the Federal Emergency Management Agency attempts to repair its credibility with the American people by putting on the best Christmas show ever. Unfortunately, this one will not air until March because, according to FEMA "no one could have anticipated Christmas in December."

-- "Barack Obama's Really Really Christian Christmas Special": The Illinois senator's first yuletide event, broadcast live from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (where Obama has been a member for 20 years) includes Obama's wife Michelle reading the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, a rousing rendition of "Good Christian Men Rejoice" by Obama backed by the church's choir, and a special live Nativity scene featuring the Obama family. Running opposite the show on Fox News will be a special exploring "whether Obama's Muslim beliefs disqualify him to be president."

-- "Christmas in Crawford": We're really not sure what this special put on by George Dubbya Bush will contain. It was supposed to have featured a children's chorus singing carols, and a segment with Laura Bush reading to the kids from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Unfortunately, the President kept threatening to veto any production budget that provided the young singers and actors with on-set catering or first aid. Negotiations between the children's agents and the administration broke down when the children's parents discovered teams of right-wing bloggers lurking in the bushes, looking for evidence that the kids or their parents were socialists or that they opposed the Iraq War.

-- "Mitt Romney's Flip-Floppin' Christmas": Here's another one we're not sure of. At one point, we were pretty sure that Romney's special was going to include a visit from Santa Claus and the elves. But now, we're not really sure if he believes in them anymore. For that matter, we're totally confused as to what, if anything, Mitt Romney actually believes in.

The holidays are a time to be with family. A time to gather together, huddled around our common tribal campfire to celebrate the traditions of the season. And what's more traditional than TV?

Happy viewing!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Well, THERE's a Switch.....

HILLSBOROUGH — Chapel Hill police charged two women and a man with sexual assault and the attempted robbery of three UNC football players over the weekend, according to police and arrest warrants.

The players were not injured, but police said they found them bound with tape and that two said they were fondled without consent by at least one of the women early Sunday morning.

It is the policy of the News & Observer not to name complainants in sexual assault cases.

The arrested were Tnika Nomta Washington, 29, of Greenville, Monique Jenice Taylor, 28, of Durham, and Michael Troy Lewis, 32, of Durham. Bail for all three was initially set at $500,000 but Washington and Taylor’s bails were both reduced to $50,000 Thursday. Lewis’ remained at $500,000.

During a bail hearing Thursday afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Morgan Whitney said the three players had gone to a couple of downtown Chapel Hill bars to celebrate one of their birthdays.

They met Washington, Taylor and Lewis, who gave the players a ride home. Then the players invited the three up to the apartment.

One of the players was very drunk, and taken to his room, according to a police report that Whitney cited.

The other two apparently had some consensual sexual contact with the women, but became uncomfortable and wanted to stop, Whitney said.

At some point the players’ hands were bound with tape, Chapel Hill police said in a news release, and by the time police arrived about 3:30 a.m., two of the men were in their boxers. The third player was clothed.

One player said that when he asked a woman to stop touching him that both Taylor and Washington began to punch him in the head, Whitney said.

In one account given in court Thursday, one of the players said Lewis stood naked with a butcher knife at the player's neck while one of the women fondled him.

Okay, it's not really funny.

But it is a mite strange, don't you agree?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ya'll Are Going to Make Me Cry If You Keep This Up

Over at First Offenders, Karen Olson names SAFE AND SOUND one of her ten best of 2007. Thanks, Karen!

And check out Karen's own Sacred Cows, Secondhand Smoke, and the new one, Dead of the Day. I confess I've only read the first two, but they're great. Annie Seymour's my kind of heroine: tough and sexy, with a mouth on her that can blister paint if you get her riled up.

I Defy You Not to Laugh Out Loud

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wow.

January Magazine names SAFE AND SOUND one of the best crime novels of 2007.

I look at some of the others on their list and I am humbled beyond my ability to express.

I mean...dude. I'm on the same list as Barry Eisler and Megan Abbott? Not to mention Joe Lansdale, John Connolly and James Lee by-God BURKE?

Wow.

Thanks to Anthony Rainone and the folks at January.

In Which I Share the Spotlight With Paris Hilton

Well, sort of. The very funny Tod Goldberg graciously offered me the chance to participate in E! Online's Cool Stuff - The Books You Must Read: Picks for 2007, where I'm in such August company as Victor Gischler, Barry Eisler, and Brett Battles.

Since the piece had to be edited for length and, in Tod's words "the average E! reader's attention span," Tod posts the "Director's cut" over at his blog.

Thanks for letting me participate, Tod!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Modern Fable Updated

Latest Newspaper Column:

You may remember the fable I told a while back about the village and the shepherd boy.

After people in the village were killed in a wolf attack, the shepherd boy and his friends used the villagers' fear and sorrow to get them to attack the old bear who lived in the woods far away.

When some villagers tried to point out that it wasn't the bear who attacked them and they didn't think the bear was any real threat, the shepherd boy and his friends shouted them down and called them "wolf-lovers." Anyone who questioned their insistence that the bear was a major and growing threat to the village was branded an enemy of the village who wanted the wolves to attack again.

Well, you know how the story ended. As it turned out, the old bear really didn't have any teeth. He was no threat to the villagers, and there was never any evidence the bear had been behind the wolf attacks. But the shepherd boy still insisted he'd been right.

Unfortunately, in the years since the story ended, things got worse. More wolves moved into the forest around where the bear lived. Many more men of the village were killed, even more than had been killed in the attack on the bear. Some of the people who lived in the forest got tired of soldiers around all the time and started to turn against them. The villagers found themselves at war with the people they'd tried to protect from the wolves and the bear. The clans of the forest people even revived their old feuds and began killing each other as well. The forest was plunged into chaos.

None of this seemed to bother the shepherd boy and his friends.

"We're stacking up wolf bodies like cordwood!" the shepherd boy chortled.

"Yeah," the people of the village replied wearily, "but when does it stop?"

"When there's victory, wolf-lovers!" the shepherd boy snapped.

"And when is that?"

"When we win!"

Fewer and fewer people believed that the shepherd boy knew what he was doing. Some days only 28 percent of the villagers were willing to say they liked him, and some even wanted him replaced as shepherd boy. But he continued to act as if everyone believed him, and the cowardly village elders were still afraid of being called disloyal, so they sent more men into the forest to die every time the shepherd boy demanded it.

One day, the shepherd boy appeared in the village square.

"I have bad news to report," he said. "A new threat is growing in the forest."

"Oh, good grief," some of the people said, "what now?"

"The dragon that lives in the forest," the shepherd boy said in a dark, impressive tone, "is learning to breathe fire!"

"You mean the big lizard?" the people said. "Breathing fire? We know he doesn't like us, but... "

"If we don't do something," the shepherd boy yelled, "he's going to rain fire down on us!"

"Wait," the people said, "he can fly?"

"He might! And he's helping the wolves!" he yelled. "Do you doubt what I say? Wolf lovers! Wolf! Wolf!"

"Well, yeah," the people said. "We do kind of doubt you after the whole bear thing."

The shepherd boy was growing hysterical. "We need to stop the dragon from learning to breathe fire!" he said. "And we need to do it NOW! It's going to be the end of the world! Once the dragon learns to breathe fire, he'll give the power to the wolves! Wolf! Wolf! "

"What are you going to stop him with?" the people asked. "All our soldiers are busy fighting the wolves and the forest clans." But the shepherd boy ignored them. He and his friends continued to set up a huge noisy clamor over the fire-breathing dragon.

"OK," the people said, "lets ask the scout whom we send into the forest to look for threats. Can the dragon breathe fire? Is he about to learn?"

The scout shuffled his feet and looked down at the ground. "Um, no," he said finally. "He can't breathe fire. He shut down his whole fire-breathing program four years ago. Even if he started up again, it'd be 10 years before he could breathe enough flame to light a campfire."

"See! See! What did I tell you?" the shepherd boy said triumphantly.

"What? Are you nuts? Did you hear the scout's report?" the people said. "He said the dragon wasn't trying to learn to breathe fire."

"Which only goes to prove my point that we have to act NOW to stop the dragon from learning to breathe fire. Didn't you hear what I said about the end of the world?"

At that, the village elders had had enough. They worked up the courage to turn their backs on the shepherd boy and vowed that, no matter how much he blustered and insulted them, they weren't going to listen to him anymore. And they all lived happily ever after.

If only it were like that in real life. ...

Holiday Stress Gets To Everyone

Even Santa's Elves:

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's post office and police are trying to track down a "rogue elf" who wrote obscene letters to children on behalf of Santa Claus, a newspaper reported on Friday.

The Ottawa Citizen said at least 10 nasty letters had been delivered to little girls and boys in Ottawa who wrote to Santa this year care of the North Pole, which has a special H0H 0H0 Canadian postal code. Return letters from Santa are in fact written by an 11,000-strong army of Canada Post employees and volunteers.

"We firmly believe there is just one rogue elf out there," a Canada Post spokeswoman told the paper.

Canada Post's popular "Write to Santa" program -- which last year delivered more than a million letters to children in Canada and around the world -- has been shut down in Ottawa until the offender is caught.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm Not Saying I CONDONE It...But I Understand.

Man Drinks Liter of Vodka at Airport Line: "BERLINA man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing a liter (two pints) of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new carry-on rules, police said Wednesday.

I've always been a believer in the old Irish legend that when you die and stand before the Pearly Gates, St. Peter wheels out a big barrel filled with all the whiskey you wasted in life. If you can't finish it, down you go. Maybe this fellow felt the same.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gee, Ya Think?

I've never cared much for the work of documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. His Super Size Me was mildly amusing, but based on a fatally ridiculous central premise. (You're not supposed to eat Mickey D's three times a day every day, ya doofus.) So when rumors started making the rounds that Spurlock actually located Osama bin Laden while making his latest film, those of us who are not complete rubes immediately thought "publicity stunt" and put it out of our minds. When right wing blogger Debbie Schlussel titled one of her recent screeds " I Don't Believe Morgan Spurlock Found Bin Laden," my immediate reaction was "yeah, no shit, Debbie."

Schlussel is one of those hysterics who can work herself into a mouth-foaming frenzy at the drop of a hat, running around with their hair on fire and the spittle flying, shrieking about "jihadists" and "islamofascists" hiding around every corner and under every bed. She and bloggers like her are the perfect terrorist tools, because they live in exactly the state of mind the terrorists want us in: a state of constant paranoia, jumping at every sudden noise and spreading their fear far and wide. She's also the perfect patsy for a publicity seeking con man like Spurlock. Her outraged reaction is just what he was looking for.

Congratulations, Debbie. You've been played like a cheap violin and you don't even know it.

A Novice's Guide to the Writer's Strike

Latest Newspaper Column:

You may have noticed that there are a lot more reruns on TV these days. I mean even more than usual.

That's because the Writers Guild of America, which is the union representing the writers, is out on strike. Why? you may ask. Aren't all TV writers already rich and powerful? Don't they make enough money?

To understand the answer to "why," first you have to understand one of the ways writers for TV and movies get paid. Every time a show gets shown in reruns, the writers get paid what's called a "residual."

Movie writers get a percentage when a movie is released on DVD. It's the same principle by which a singer or songwriter gets paid a little bit every time his or her song gets played on the air. Yes, even the Spice Girls. And what cut do writers get on residuals? Two and a half percent. For every dollar the studios or media conglomerates like Disney or Viacom make, the writers get a measly two and a half cents.

Enter the World Wide Web. As Internet speeds got faster, and the equipment for viewing got more sophisticated, networks began rerunning their shows online, along with various other goodies. You've probably seen the blurbs at the end of your favorite show directing you to online content at NBC.com and the like.

Well, said the writers, isn't this exactly the same as a rerun? Shouldn't we get a residual on that, especially since you're running ads on these online reruns, just like on regular TV? Huh-uh, said the corporations. Because it's, uh, promotional. Yeah, that's it. Promotional. Not only do you not get your two and a half cents, you get zippo. Fuhgeddaboutit.

The corporations originally said they couldn't possibly consider any proposal having to do with online distribution because the Internet is so new. We don't know that we'll ever make money on it, they wailed. This is what is commonly described using a term that makes reference to the excrement of male bovines.

We know this because of a brilliantly put-together montage the writers put up on YouTube, which shows people like Bob Iger of the Disney Company and CEO Sumner Redstone of Viacom appearing on various business-related talk shows and practically rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the money to be made reusing content online.

You may have 20 million people watching "CSI" on TV and another five million watching it online, assured Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, "but we're going to get paid wherever you get it from." As the video caption following Moonves' statement dryly points out, "'We' does not include the writers of CSI."

Now, I may occasionally want to throw things at whoever the writer is on "CSI Miami" that comes up with David Caruso's cheesy one-liners, but I won't begrudge the man (or woman) fair pay for his (or her) labors.

The other reason that this "we don't know how much we're going to make on 'new media'" argument is suspect is that it's exactly the same argument the studios used 20-odd years ago when it came to the subject of home video sales. "We don't know if this VHS thing is ever going to make any money," they insisted, and the writers obligingly took an 80 percent pay cut to help grow the business.

The business grew. The pay cut stayed. Like our president says: "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

But wait, what about the argument that writers are already filthy rich and powerful? Obviously, people who ask this question have never heard the old Hollywood joke about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer.

But the thing is, writers on movies and TV shows don't really have what you'd call steady employment. When a show finishes its run, the writer's hitting the street looking for another job, and maybe not finding one for a good long while.

The WGA estimates that at any one time, 48 percent of its members are "between jobs." And all that time, companies like Disney and Viacom and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (which owns Fox and other outlets) continue to rake in profits by replaying and recycling the writer's work.

And that, right there, is the heart of the matter. When someone's making billions off your creativity, it's not greedy to ask for a little slice of the pie. But it is outrageous for companies like Disney and Viacom, which probably have more cash on hand right now than most countries, to chastise anyone for being greedy.

Rupert Murdoch's compensation over the past five years was 60.5 million bucks. But I'll bet if you sat him down in front of a computer and held a gun to his head, he still couldn't create so much as a single episode of "The Simpsons."

Friday, December 07, 2007

When Conversation Lags In the Bar...

Tired of arguing over whether Mary Ann or Ginger was hotter on Gilligan's Island or who'd prevail in a battle between Star Trek's Star Wars Federation and the Empire of ? Jaime Weinman opens a whole new can of worms over The Fonz vs. Captain Kirk.

And if you're not reading Jaime's excellent blog every day, you should definitely check it out.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

LISTEN UP! The Face That Was Made For Radio....Returns

The fabulous River Jordan hosts yours truly, as well as author Tito Perdue, on her radio show Backstory, carried live this Saturday from 4 to 6 CST on 98.9 WRFN-LPFM Radio (aka Radio Free Nashville) . For you folks not lucky enough to live in Nashville, I understand that Internet streaming is available here and here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tess Gerritsen, THE BONE GARDEN



Every now and then, a writer whose books I really like comes out with a book that kicks their work up to a whole new level. I'm talking about the kind of book where, instead of finishing it and going, "hey that was really good", I put it down and go "Whoa. THAT was freaking AMAZING." Robert Crais hit that kind of turning point with L.A. REQUIEM. Laura Lippman did it with EVERY SECRET THING. And now Tess Gerritsen's done it with THE BONE GARDEN.

It's a bit of a departure from Gerritsen's previous work, in that it's a least partly a historical mystery, set in 1830's Boston. I say "partly," because there's a modern-day investigation in which Gerritsen's Maura Isles character makes a cameo appearance. The main action, however, takes place in a past that Gerritsen renders in such perfect detail that you can almost see (and smell) it. There are some great characters, including a strong supporting role by Oliver Wendell Holmes--not the Supreme Court Justice, but his father, who later became the greatest physician of his day. Among the period touches are some truly harrowing descriptions of 19th century medicine, which Gerritsen (herself a physician) describes with the sort of chilling matter-of-factness that makes them all the more squirm-inducing. The plot, which revolves around a Jack the Ripper-esque character stalking the foggy Boston streets, moves along compellingly, with reversals, surprises, and heartbreaking sacrifices that keep you turning the pages right to the end. I couldn't put it down.

THE BONE GARDEN is Tess Gerritsen's best book so far. Check it out.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Slog, Slog, Slog

Latest Newspaper Column:

A little over four years ago, on Oct. 16, 2003, to be exact, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in a memo to his staff: "It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog."

So how's that slog going since then? Let's look at some highlights -- the Slog Report, if you will:

Nov. 6, 2003: President Bush signed a supplemental spending bill to spend $87 billion more on the Iraq War.

Dec. 14, 2003: American troops captured Saddam Hussein.

Jan. 17, 2004: U.S. troop deaths hit 500 since the invasion.

April 2004: American and Iraqi troops staged an all-out attack on Fallujah.

April 28, 2004: Released photographs revealed American soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

June 28, 2004: The U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraq.

Sept. 7, 2004: The 1,000th U.S. soldier was killed.

Sept. 15, 2004: $3.4 billion of an $18.4 billion Iraqi aid package had to be shifted from reconstruction work to improving security measures because of a worsening security situation.

Jan. 30, 2005: Iraqis formed a Transitional National Assembly.

March 3, 2005: The 1,500th U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq.

May 11, 2005: President Bush signed a bill for $76 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

May 30, 2005: Dick Cheney insisted that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes."

Oct. 26, 2005: The American military death toll reached 2,000.

Nov. 30, 2005: The White House unveiled a "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." It wouldn't be the last.

Feb. 3, 2006: President Bush requested another $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, for a 2006 total of $120 billion.

April 21, 2006: Iraq gets a new prime minister, Jawad al-Maliki, who formed a new government on May 20.

May 1, 2006: President Bush said Iraq had reached another "turning point."

June 15, 2006: The 2,500th U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq.

July 12, 2006: A White House budget document revealed that the administration needed another $110 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sept. 26, 2006: The Pentagon extended the combat tours of 3,800 U.S. soldiers by six weeks.

Oct. 6, 2006: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Iraq and said it was "making progress."

Nov. 5, 2006: Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, was sentenced to death by hanging, with the sentence being carried out by jeering Shi'ites on Dec. 30. Sunnis reacted with outrage and an upsurge of sectarian violence.

Jan. 3, 2007: The death toll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq reached 3,000.

Jan. 10, 2007: Bush announced another strategy for victory in Iraq: the "surge," in which he sent 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.

Jan. 19, 2007: The cost of the Iraq war reached $8.4 billion - per month.

Feb. 2, 2007: Bush requested another $100 billion appropriation for Iraq.

April 5, 2007: A total of 12,000 more National Guard troops were ordered to deploy to Iraq.

April 11, 2007: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced 12-15 month extensions for Army troops.

June 7, 2007: American troop deaths hit 3,500.

June 14, 2007: The Washington Post quoted a Pentagon report saying that despite the "surge," overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased. "Attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces," the paper reported.

July through November 2007: Violence has slowly decreased. However, the Iraqi government has failed to take advantage of the increased security and enact the political reforms necessary to govern. No progress is being made on sharing oil revenues or holding regional elections. New tensions have arisen between the Kurds in Northern Iraq and the Turks over Kurdish separatists attacking Turkey. American officials now see an alarming increase in Iranian influence in Iraq. Iraq still cannot support or defend itself.

So after all that slogging, all those deaths, all that money, what words do our leaders have to offer?

Well, on Nov. 24, 2007, Ryan Crocker, American ambassador to Baghdad, stated: "We are seeing encouraging signs of movement, but this is going to be a long, hard slog."

It's like déjà vu all over again. Or one of those nightmares where you run as fast as you can, only to end up in the same place. If it's all the same to you, I'd like to wake up now.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Legend Gone


Evel Knievel dies at 69- MSNBC.com:

In his honor, I'm going to go get my bicycle out of the shed, stick a playing card in the spokes, make a ramp out of a couple of boxes and a slab of plywood, and jump off it for the rest of the afternoon just like we all did back in the day after seeing George Hamilton play Evel in the movies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spinetingler Awards Shortlist

The fine readers of Spinetingler Magazine have placed Safe and Sound on their Awards Shortlist in the Best Novel – New Voice category, along with Megan Abbott's Queenpin; Declan Burke's The Big O; Allan Guthrie's Hard Man; Steve Mosby's The 50/50 Killer; and Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde.

Obviously, up against that competition, I'm going to get stomped like a narc at a biker rally, but in the spirit of "it ain't over till it's over," here are the voting criteria:

ONE E-MAIL PER PERSON ONLY. You cannot send another vote in, even for a different category – multiple votes from the same sender will not be counted. Take the time to consider your votes carefully. E-mails must be received by December 30, 2007 - authors, if you're putting this in your newsletter make sure you are clear about the deadline for voting. Many recommendations were not considered in the first round because they were sent late.

You may vote for one winner in each category as long as all votes are submitted in one e-mail. Simply state the category and your chosen winner for each of the eight categories. Any votes that contain more than one selection per category may be removed from consideration completely. No ties.

Send your e-mail to sandra.ruttan@spinetinglermag.com with AWARD NOMINATIONS in the subject line. It is not necessary to explain the reason for your vote.

Thanks to everyone who put me on the list!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Crosspostin' Time

Today is FOBSP day over at First Offenders where FO Alison Gaylin graciously allows us to flog our own wares. To that end, this crosspost:

Alex Sokoloff and I continue our barnstorming tour of Borders (with Stacey Cochran in the moderator's seat) this Saturday at 3:00 at the Central Raleigh Borders:
404-101 East Six Forks Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27609
Phone: 919.755.9424
Fax: 919.755.9484

And copyedits continue on my standalone, BREAKING COVER, which is scheduled for August 2008.

R.I.P. Kevin Dubrow

Quiet Riot lead singer found dead at age 52.

Somehow, a moment of silence just doesn't feel appropriate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's That Time of Year Again...

Latest Newspaper Column

It's that time of year again, my good friends -- the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

And what would the season be without one of its most beloved traditions: the Phony War on Christmas, or as I now call it, the PWoC? Like I always say, there's no better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than with paranoia, feelings of persecution, and bullying people over imagined slights.

Like Christmas itself, the PWoC seems to come earlier every year. This year's alleged opening salvo already seems to have been fired at, of all places, the PetSmart chain.

According to an "Action Alert" filed by the American Family Association, "Christmas doesn't exist" at PetSmart. The word Christmas, the AFA gripes, "is not to be found anywhere on the chain's Web site." AFA checked out some local PetSmart stores, and "there was no Christmas there, either." (This was, we feel obliged to point out, in early November.) Apparently, all they could find were references to that filthy secular buzzword -- dare I say it -- "Holiday."

While a check on the PetSmart Web site actually does turn up several references to "Christmas," the AFA insists that those don't count because they are "very misleading." When you click on "Christmas," they say, "you are directed to a page containing the same gifts you get when you search for 'holiday.' Of all the items that pop up when you search for Christmas, not a single one mentions Christmas or is identified as being a Christmas gift."

Those heathen swine! How will my Golden Retriever learn about the Nativity of Our Lord if his new squeaky toy isn't designated specifically as a Christmas gift after you click through the word "Christmas" on the Web site? If we're not careful to designate those fuzzy fake mice as Christmas gifts rather than holiday ones, the cat might even turn Muslim! She's already showing terrorist tendencies.

No dispatch from the front of the PWoC would be complete without some mention of Bill O'Reilly. In the PWoC, O'Reilly is like the berserkers of old, ready to throw himself wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth against the nearest adversary.

His latest target was the city of Fort Collins, Colo., whose principal crime seems to be using symbols like penguins and snowflakes in their holiday decorations along with "items such as Christmas trees, crèches, menorahs and other winter holiday symbols," according to the local newspaper, the Coloradoan. Not only that, O'Reilly sputtered, but those Fort Collins commies are using white lights instead of colored ones!

I'm not sure what O'Reilly has against white lights. I'm rather partial to them myself as Christmas decorations. They're pretty. But the white lights in particular seemed to drive O'Reilly and his guest, right-wing Denver talk show host Dan Caplis, utterly ballistic.

"You have this arrogant minority," Caplis said, "that wants to go to the point of stripping away Christmas trees and colored lights. I mean, this sounds like something out of the old Soviet Union." Because we all know how Stalin used to send people to the gulags for colored Christmas lights.

O'Reilly, not to be out-crazied, chimed in with a typically over-the-top persecution fantasy: "I mean, I think you get put in jail now if you go in there and say 'Merry Christmas' in Boulder, right?"

Paranoia over an alleged assault on Christmas isn't new. As far back as 1959, the John Birch Society took time off from issuing dire warnings about Communist plots to put fluoride in the water to warn us that the "godless U.N." was plotting to remove all religious symbolism from American life during Christmas.

"Department stores throughout the country," they warned, "are to utilize U.N. symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations."

Now, I wasn't even born then, so maybe my older readers can fill me in: Did armies of blue-helmeted U.N. troops storm Woolworth's and forcibly replace all the Nativity scenes with the U.N. symbol? If there is a War on Christmas, it's apparently been going on a long time, and it apparently hasn't been very effective.

The hysteria over the PWoC becomes self-sustaining: "Sorry, kids, we can't say 'Merry Christmas' or the ACLU will sue us. I saw it on Bill O'Reilly." So then the story becomes "kids can't say 'Merry Christmas' because they're afraid of being sued," and around and around we go, generating more nuttiness -- and more bucks for people like O'Reilly.

I'm thankful for one thing, though. When you're a columnist on a tight pre-Thanksgiving deadline and you're looking for blowhards and nut cases to make fun of, the PWoC crowd, like PETA, is a gift that keeps on giving. Ho Ho Ho, y'all!

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. He reminds his loyal readers that his three novels "The Devil's Right Hand," "Good Day in Hell," and "Safe and Sound," make excellent Christmas gifts.

Get a Grip, Woman

From PatriciaCornwell.com

We have reason to suspect that someone (or a group of someones) might be mobilizing people to attack me through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, etc., to hurt my sales and reputation...Over the past week there were about fifty bad reviews posted for a book that has gotten the highest reviews for any book I have ever written. If you see what I am saying. Interestingly, this all started right after a Pentagon high official tried to get me to make a pro Bush, pro war appearance on an aircraft carrier and I refused, politely, a photo opportunity to contradict what is in my novel! Not to mention my battle over Ruth Graham's burial. Suddenly, I am getting a barrage of reviews discouraging people from buying my book, though there are some good ones as of today because my supporters are chiming in.
Right now I need my supporters. I am not asking you to write anything you do not mean. But why should hateful people be the only ones heard?
You and your friends can help by reading the book, encouraging others to read it, and posting their feelings about it - honest feelings.With appreciation, Patricia


A few observations:

(1) I have not read Ms. Cornwell's latest book, so I will not comment on its quality. I will leave that to people who've actually read it.

(2) With all due respect, Ms. Cornwell, blaming bad Amazon reader reviews on the Bush Administration and/or the Billy Graham family is bloody insane. You really think the Bushistas looked at all their critics, including your Humble Blogger, and singled out a thriller novelist, however many NYT bestsellers they've had, to destroy, when there are so many juicier targets to go after, rather than, say, Glenn Greenwald or Larry Johnson? I guess paranoia really IS a form of narcissism.

(3) Amazon.com is a site on the Internet. It is open to the public and any old asshole can post there anonymously. Many of them use the cloak of said anonymity to post nasty and hurtful things that would get them punched in the mouth if they said them in person. This is known as "trolling." Troll swarms are an established fact of life on the Internet. If that bothers you, Ms. Cornwell, then may I respectfully suggest that you just unplug your modem, because the kind of screed you posted will only attract more of them, like hyenas gathering around a wounded oryx. Trolls sense weakness, and you just rolled over and showed them your jugular.

I say this in all love and respect Ms. Cornwell: get the fuck over yourself and get a fucking grip.

Yours in Christ,

Dusty

Update: Tess Gerritsen addresses this topic as well on her excellent blog. She is much nicer about it. This is because Tess is a much nicer person than I am.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Charlotte NC Hellions, REPRESENT!

Tomorrow's the biggest shopping day of the year, so my homegirl Alex Sokoloff and I will be signing books and talking to the Write to Publish Meetup Group of Charlotte at the Borders in the Morrocroft Village Shopping Center . Signing is Friday at 5:00 PM, program's at 7:00 and the public's invited.

After your long day of shopping, drop by, take a load off and listen to Alex being charming and informative while I nod sagely in agreement.

(Hat tip to Stacey Cochran as always for setting this up)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYBODY!

Off to the in-law's for food and merriment. Hope your holiday is full of the same.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks, Bill Crider!

Bill Crider has some good things to say about SAFE AND SOUND. Bill's frequently updated blog is always worth a look, despite his somewhat unsettling fixation on the Perils of Paris (Hilton).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My New Hero

Latest newspaper column:

My friends, I am pleased to announce that today I have a new hero. Her name is Anita Esterday.

She's a waitress at a Maid-Rite restaurant in Iowa, where she serves up some of that chain's famous "loose meat" sandwiches. (I've always thought "loose meat" sounded vaguely disgusting, but Midwesterners apparently eat them by the truckload, so maybe they're good).

Anyway, Ms. Esterday was working behind the lunch counter at the Maid Rite in Toledo, Iowa, when Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff rolled through. Little did she know that, when she was assigned to wait on the group, she was on her way to becoming the center of the kind of much-ado-about-nothing kerfluffle that has become the trademark of the so-called "liberal" media's coverage of Democratic candidates.

The day after Hillary mentioned Esterday, a single mom, in her stump speech, National Public Radio reported that she'd said in an interview that Clinton didn't leave a tip.

I have to confess: When my wife and I heard the story on NPR's "Morning Edition," we looked at each other and winced. "Ooh," we said, "that's gonna hurt." I even opined that that was going to be 2007's version of "the Scream," that endlessly hyped, over-the-top oration that served as the death knell for Howard Dean's campaign. Not because I thought it meant anything, but because I know the media.

After all, what do a candidate's positions on the issues really matter, so long as he or she did something to give the guys on late-night TV something to make fun of? Let's not bicker and argue about Clinton's constant attempts to have things both ways on subjects like withdrawal from Iraq and immigration. The real issue is how good or bad a tipper she is.

I mean, if she wins, how are we going to be able to have any international credibility if we invite Vladimir Putin to a state dinner and Hillary stiffs the waiter?

With depressing predictability, the story spread like wildfire, being picked up immediately by online scandal monger Matt Drudge. Soon ABC and NBC were carrying the tale, because God forbid some right-wing shill on the Internet should cover a story and the major networks not flock after him, bleating like sheep.

Even The New York Times got into the act, calling it a "potentially embarrassing mini-scandal." The only thing that surprises me is that some idiot hasn't dubbed it "Tip-gate."

By the way, is anyone in the "liberal" media following Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson around and recording how much they tip? I certainly haven't heard anything about it if they are. Is it because when a prominent Republican treats a working-class person like dirt, it isn't news, it's what everyone expects? Seems a bit unfair to the Republicans, don't you think?

I'll give the Clinton campaign this, though: They're savvy enough to realize that there is no charge that's too silly or too devoid of substance for the national media to spin up into an issue that dogs a candidate for weeks. And rather than make the Kerry mistake of hoping the stupid thing will just dry up and blow away, they've decided to wade right into the mud and fight back.

To that end, they've established a "rapid response" team, complete with its own Web site called The Fact Hub, to debunk stories like this.

Hillary stiffed a waitress? Not so, they said. The bill was paid by a campaign staffer, who did leave a tip. In fact, they said, the staffer left a $100 tip on a $157 check, a whopping 64 percent. So, of course, Fox News' E.D. Hill found something to criticize about that. Calling Clinton a typical "Learjet liberal," Hill sneered about how the alleged big tip showed "what people say about the Democratic Party -- that it's out of touch with reality."

Let's review: Hillary didn't leave a tip, she's a hypocrite and mean to working people. Hillary tips too much, she's a "Learjet liberal" out of touch with reality. Maybe Fox should change its motto from "We report, you decide," to "Heads we win, tails you lose."

Then the hard-hitting investigative journalism really began. The manager acknowledged that a tip was left, but didn't say how much. Esterday insisted in a followup call that she hadn't seen any of it. (One wonders if perhaps the manager may have pocketed the cash).

But then, my friends, is when Anita said something that made her my new hero. "You people are nuts," she told one of the dozens of reporters who'd been plaguing her. "There's kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now -- there's better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn't get a tip."

Anita, you rule. Maybe NPR should put you in charge.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Copy Edits

The copy edited MS of BREAKING COVER arrived today.

I've done a quick review. Jesus, how did I MAKE some of those mistakes? Not only did I make them, I missed them in THREE SUBSEQUENT DRAFTS.

Repeated words and phrases, dropped punctuation, etc. etc.

Apparently, I am no longer competent to write in my native language. I need to learn to lay brick or something, because I sure as hell can't put a sentence on paper anymore without embarrassing myself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writer's Strike: Take This Video Viral

So the networks say they won't make any money off the Internet to share with the writers? Funny, that's not that they said in these interviews. The Les Moonves quote at the end is is especially devastating.



Spread this video far and wide...

Hat tip to Tod Goldberg

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quote of the Week

George P. Pelecanos, quoted in Patrick Anderson's Triumph of the Thriller:

"All the novels, to some degree, attempt to humanize and illuminate the lives of people who are typically underrepresented in American fiction. I mean to leave a record of this town, to entertain and to promote discussion. My method is simple: to present the world as it is, rather than the way readers want it to be."

Damn right. I'm putting this up above the computer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Dusty Awards, Part II

Latest Newspaper column:

We're back, my friends, with Part 2 of the nominations for the Dusty Awards.

As you may remember from last week, I hope to establish the "Dusties" as a sort of anti-Pulitzer Prize, a celebration of the truly ridiculous, absurd, and just plain wrong in media.

This week, we have the nominations for a category I've named the Princess and the Pea Award.

This one is named after the fairy tale of the princess who was so sensitive that she couldn't sleep on a stack of mattresses and bedding because a tiny pea underneath the whole pile felt like a boulder to her royal tushie. "They saw at once," the story goes, "that she must be a real princess when she had felt the pea through 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds. Nobody but a real princess could have such a delicate skin."

This award goes to journalists or commentators whose thin skin and delicate constitution leads them to try to create the most mortal insult to truth, justice and the American Way from the smallest incident.

The first nominee is, once again, our old friend Glenn Beck of CNN. Ol' Glenn managed to work himself into a lather over, of all things, the upcoming G.I. Joe movie, because Joe, says Glenn, "has now been discharged from the American military, and Hollywood now has him answering to some bullcrap international force like the U.N. We all know that the U.N. is a toothless bunch of pansies. They don't deserve somebody like Joe, even the little plastic version."

Glenn, Princess, there's something called a "life" you might look into getting. It's G.I. Joe, Glenn. It's a stupid movie based on a stupid cartoon based on a stupid -- OK, well the toys weren't stupid. In fact, they were pretty awesome. But still, lighten up. Joe's made of plastic. You can't insult plastic people. Well, maybe Paris Hilton.

The second nominee is the right-wing "news" Web site WorldNetDaily.com. WND founder Joseph Farah, among others, got his knickers in a wad over a Google Doodle.

What's a Google Doodle, you may ask? Well, the online search site Google occasionally puts up little lighthearted pictures -- "doodles" -- into its logo: a pumpkin for Halloween replacing the "o" in "Google," a shamrock for St. Patrick's Day, etc.

When the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik rolled around, the folks at Google put a little picture of the cosmic traveler in the logo. Shouldn't be a big deal, right? The launching of Sputnik was a historical event of major significance. It jolted the U.S. out of complacency and kick-started the space race that led us to eventually put men on the moon. So why not commemorate it, however whimsically?

Enter the Princess Farah, his tender sensibilities bruised beyond his ability to bear. Why, he sputtered, should we "honor" the accomplishment of those dirty Reds, especially since Google didn't put up a doodle for Veterans Day or Memorial Day?

"When they ignore Veterans Day and Memorial Day," Farah writes, "I think they're telling us something about the way they view America."

This ignores the fact that Google always puts up patriotic Doodles for the Fourth of July. Not to mention the fact there are no real cutesy pictures to put up for somber holidays like those, at least not without sending the Princesses into another fit of high dudgeon.

Nominations for this award, by the way, will stay open until the end of the year. After all, November and December are the prime months for conservative pundits to lash themselves into a teeth-gnashing frenzy over some store putting up "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in its window.

Seriously, what is wrong with these people? Why the obsessive need to take minutiae and try to inflate them into national crises?

Well, I have two theories. The first is that the 24-hour demand for news, and the proliferation of commentators, means that people like Beck and Farah are desperate for something, anything, that will provide them with material to fill those long and empty hours. The other theory is that they're all just a bunch of weenies. You make the call.

Meanwhile, the Senate just approved a nominee for attorney general who says he can't decide if waterboarding is torture, even though we called it a war crime when the Japanese did it.

Oh, and said nominee for the nation's top law-enforcement official also thinks the president can simply ignore laws that Congress passes, so long as he can claim it's for our own good. Haven't heard Messrs. Beck or Farah issue a peep over this real outrage.

But hoo-boy, let Barack Obama fail to wear a flag pin in his lapel, and listen to the Princesses squeal.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Limbaugh Gets Punk'd

Daily Kos:

Breaking news: "proof" that global warming is entirely a natural event published in a definitive looking (okay, at first glance) site with The Journal of Geoclimatic Studies. (The links are down. Great Beyond has links to the cache material.) According to a paper on the website, rising volumes of CO2 are actually produced by "saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans." In other words, humanity had no role. Well, this paper began to run the lines of the Climate Denier branch of the Flat Earth Society. DeSmogBlog has a run of some of those who chose to run with this fantasy. Well, for these Flat Earthers, one problem: none of the authors existed.....

Well, add Rush to the list of Flat Earthers caught, well, caught flat-footed. Yes, "America's Truth Detector" has such a good nose for fraud that we can expect that Brooklyn Bridge salesmen have had a good time with him.

Let's see...Dan Rather broadcast a story that contains a memo regarding Dubbya's suspicious early departure from Texas Air National Guard service. Wingnuts cry that the memo was a fraud. No expert source ever actually calls it that, as far as I know, but that becomes the conventional wisdom. Rather loses his job over it, and every time someone brings up Bush's walking away from his duty under cover of Daddy's influence, the cries go up from the howler monkeys of the Right: TANG MEMO! TANG MEMO!

So Rush gets punk'd by a paper that's admittedly faked. By normal logic, therefore, Rush should lose his job and everyone who questions global warming and its causation by humans should be greeted with derisive smirks of JGS PAPER! JGS PAPER!

Right?

I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Regional"?

Over at J. Carson Black's blog Novel Investigations , the fiercely talented Lori G. Armstrong muses on a subject near and dear to my heart: the frustration of being typed as a "regional" writer.

Lori sets her mystery series in South Dakota, and her love for the place is in every page. But hell, that girl could set a novel in an empty room and make you want to go there. She's that good.

Some People Will Believe Anythng

Presenting Jenkem, the newest drug craze in our middle schools. (warning: gross out potential is high)

Quick! Convene a Congressional committee!

But not until you read THIS.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News From the Writer's Strike

United Hollywood: Steve Carell, star of The Office," informed NBC today that he is unable to report to work on the show "because he is suffering from 'enlarged balls.”

Heh. Go, Steve.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Think Progress:

Q: Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, Scolding Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf

Are you fucking kidding me? This administration has sought to restrict: the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures, as well as the "probable cause" standard contained therein; they've tossed aside the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause like used Kleenex; they've thrown down and danced upon the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a "speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury," to say nothing of the right "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

Do these people even listen anymore to the bullshit that's coming out of their mouths?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Presenting the Dusty Awards

Latest Newspaper Column:

We all know about the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism. They're the Oscar, the Emmy, the Gold Medal for excellence in the reportorial arts.

But what about the opposite end of the spectrum? Where's the journalistic equivalent of Hollywood's "Razzie Award," given out to commemorate the truly awful in American Cinema? Where, you may wonder, is the Anti-Pulitzer for journalism?

Well, my good friends, wonder no more. Where a void exists, your Humble Columnist rushes to fill it, in the spirit of public service. That, and the spirit of trying desperately to make his column deadline. I hereby establish the first Dusty Rhoades Awards, or "Dusties," for truly egregious "accomplishment" in American journalism.

Now, there are still some details to work out, such as how often the awards will be held. There are an awful lot of news sources these days, and Sturgeon's Law ("9o percent of everything is crap") has never been more eloquently demonstrated than in the cow-pie-covered field that is journalism.

I could easily

give one out every month. But when it comes right down to it, I'm just too darn lazy for that. It's never too early, however, to start thinking of some categories and some nominees.

The first category is the "Wait, What?" Award, given to the American reporter who says something so mind-bogglingly stupid that you feel like you need an instant replay just to confirm that your ears aren't deceiving you.

The first nomination goes to CNN's Glenn Beck.

Beck, a C-list right-wing talk radio host, was apparently brought on board by CNN on the theory that the best way to refute charges of liberal bias is to hire a mindlessly vicious bigot, prop him up in front of the camera, and let him babble to his shriveled little heart's content.

Beck wins the nomination for his remark during his coverage of the Southern California wildfires. Beck started off all Obama-esque: "Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean you hate America and I love America. We all love America. We just disagree on how we should function." So far, so good. But then Beck blurted out, "I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today."

Wait, what? Who, exactly, was he talking about? There were a lot of people in the way of a lot of fires -- rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, etc. To which of these fire victims was Beck referring? Does all of Southern California hate America, even the ones in the upscale Republican enclave of Orange County? Beck remains inscrutable.

The next category is the "Memento" award. This one is named for the movie about a man with short-term memory loss who couldn't remember what he did from day to day, which posed some real challenges for the man in solving his wife's murder. This award is given to the journalist who can't seem to remember what he did from day to day, which poses some ... wait, did I already say that?

Anyway, the first nominee for this award is Fox News' John Gibson.

Gibson is best known not only for his bizarre televangelist hairstyle, but also for his bloodthirsty gloating over the killing of an innocent man after the London subway bombings ("Five in the noggin is fine"). He gets the nod for his recent comments decrying "liberal journalists." He took MSNBC host Chris Matthews to task for "advising" Barack Obama about what he "needed to say" to Hillary Clinton.

"Is it legitimate," Gibson huffed, "for one news anchor to publicly advise one candidate on how to beat another, and still try to pretend he's objective and neutral? My friends, fair and balanced this is not."

Gibson apparently had forgotten that the day before, he himself had said, "I think if Obama is going to close the gap with Hillary, he needs a new attack." Hypocrisy? Brain damage? You make the call. It's admittedly hard to tell with Gibson.

Third, we have the "You Got Served" award, given to that journalist who asks a stupid question, only to have his or her subject strike back and leave the questioner with egg on one's face. This nomination goes to CBS' Lesley Stahl, who sat down for a "60 Minutes" interview with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

When Stahl got into questions about Sarkozy's relationship with his wife Cecilia (from whom he was divorced two weeks after the interview), Sarkozy, in an admirably calm voice, said, "If I had to say something about Cecilia, I would certainly not do so here." Then he got up and left, with a dumbfounded Stahl gaping after him. Awesome.

Well, I see we're running out of space. We'll have more later. In the meantime, feel free to suggest nominations to me, care of this newspaper. And in case you were wondering, Dusty Rhoades and his staff and employees are not eligible.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Can I Be Attorney General Now?

FOXNews.com - Bush: No Mukasey, No Attorney General - : WASHINGTON — President Bush sought to save Michael Mukasey's troubled nomination for attorney general Thursday, defending the retired judge's refusal to say whether he considers waterboarding torture and warning of a leaderless Justice Department if Democrats don't confirm him.

"If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general," Bush said.

Hey, wait a minute. I can meet that standard. I can say, unequivocally, that waterboarding is torture. Especially after reading this article by a guy who actually does it. Malcolm Nance has the unenviable job of waterboarding candidates for the US Navy SEALS. Why? To teach them how to resist...say it with me...TORTURE. His assessment of the technique?

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Nance recalls meeting a victim of the technique from Cambodia:

He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered “the Barrel” version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

So, again. I can say it clearly. Waterboarding is torture. Ask the guy who does it.

Seeing as how I can meet the standard the Congress has set, I am ready to take my position as Attorney General of the United States.

Your move, Mr. Bush.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Great Moments in Badassery, III

Tequila!

Chow Yung Fat. John Woo. What more needs to be said?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eric Clapton Might Be a Redneck

If you've ever been too drunk to fish....you might be a redneck.
-Jeff Foxworthy


"Clapton," book review from Salon Books

His drinking was now out of control, and almost killed him: An ill-advised attempt to go cold turkey for the weekend led to his having a grand mal seizure. But even that didn't stop him. What did, tellingly, was a fishing mishap. "I'm a country boy, and I've always thought of myself as a reasonably good fisherman," Clapton writes. When some professional fisherman witnessed him fall drunkenly onto a brand-new reel, breaking it in two, "That was it for me. The last vestige of my self-esteem had been ripped away. In my mind being a good fisherman was the last place where I still had some self-esteem." Shortly afterward he checked into Hazelden, the world-renowned clinic for alcoholics in Minnesota. It was 1982 and he was 36 years old.

Happy Hallowe'en!


And in the spirit of sharing that makes the season so special, let me offer you a book recommendation: Alexandra Sokoloff's THE HARROWING. I've been running a bit behind, reading-wise, but I really wish I'd gotten to this one sooner. I picked it up while hanging out with Alex at the Cape Fear Crime Festival this past weekend. (Full disclosure time: Alex is a friend, and we do a lot of events together. It's still a great book. Trust me.) Lynn got to it first, and stayed up til 1:00 reading it...and she NEVER stays up that late reading. I started it on the drive back, and couldn't put it down either. Damn, this book is good.

The plot's a classic one for Horror...several college students are stranded by circumstance in a creepy old house. The house in this case is an old mansion converted into a dorm, and the kids, for their own reasons, are staying there over the Thanksgiving break. Of course there's a storm, of course the lights go out, and scariness ensues. Not gore or splatter-type scariness. I mean REAL creepy-crawly, gathering-dread, check-over-your-shoulder-and-go-to-bed-with-the- lights-on scariness.

For purposes of mystery fiction, you can call it a "What Dunnit."Is there really a supernatural baddie out there or is someone in the group screwing with the others? The climax of the book, when the students face the answer, is breathtaking.

THE HARROWING rules. Check it out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

You Want to Leave Decisions on Torture to THESE Guys?

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Boy, those Republicans do love their torture.

Of course, they don't call it that. President Bush insists that "we don't torture" -- and backs it up by the simple expedient of redefining the word.

"Oh, simulated drowning? That's not torture! That's, uh, enhanced interrogation! Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket."

Anyone who thinks so-called "waterboarding" isn't torture, by the way, is invited to try it. Let's start with the Republican presidential candidates who, in one debate, seemed to be trying to outdo one another in claiming how far they'd go to emulate Jack Bauer, the torture-happy government agent on TV's "24."

I'm not sure why they have this fixation on "24." Despite all the finger-chopping, plastic bags on the head, and such, the bad guys in the show still seem to manage to pull off stuff like detonating a nuke in Valencia, Calif. Seems to me, the message of "24" is that torture doesn't keep us safer.

The problem with all this torture mania is that it assumes that everyone who's in custody is actually a terrorist.

Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian studying engineering in America, is the classic example of a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- specifically, the Millennium Hotel, across the street from the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001. During the attack on the WTC, Higazy and the other guests were evacuated, leaving their luggage behind.

Later, as hotel staff were inventorying guests' belongings, they found, supposedly in Higazi's room safe, a radio which could be used to communicate with airliners in flight. When Higazi came to get his stuff, he was taken into custody by the FBI.

Higazi at first denied owning the radio or knowing anything about it. So the FBI ratcheted up the pressure by threatening his family. If he didn't come clean, the agents said, the U.S. would "make sure Egyptian Security gives [his] family hell." Everyone knew exactly what that meant, including the agent doing the questioning, who later stated that he was talking "yeah, probably about torture."

Higazi's parents are in their 60s. He has a young sister in Egypt, and Egyptian security is reputed to be particularly creative with female prisoners. Faced with that threat, Higazi broke. He confessed and signed a statement written by the FBI saying he'd stolen the radio from the Egyptian military.

Three days later, an airline pilot showed up at the hotel. He wanted his radio back.

The FBI verified that the radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazi. The hotel began backpedaling about the radio being found in Higazi's safe. The government released him after 34 days in custody and dismissed all charges.

Where does all this information come from, you may ask? Some liberal blog? Nope, the above information is taken directly from the text of the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which dismissed some of Higazi's claims in his lawsuit against the agents and the hotel who'd originally reported the radio. Not, it should be noted, because the claims were untrue, but because the government, even if dead wrong, is entitled to "qualified immunity" from consequences for some of their actions in the case.

At least that's what the original opinion said. Later the court issued a so-called "redacted" opinion that took all the details of Higazi's ordeal out for "national security" reasons, replacing them instead with a bland "the government has stipulated that the confession was coerced." Guess threatening an innocent man's family is some sort of top-secret government technique we can't let the bad guys find out about.

In some respects, Higazi was lucky. At least he got a lawyer, a bail hearing, and some reasonable chance to contest the charges, something that suspects were still entitled to at the time, before the Bushistas started asserting that the government could lock anyone up for national security reasons.

He's certainly luckier than Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was picked up while passing through Kennedy Airport, then "deported" -- not to Canada, but to Syria. There, he was tortured for months by being lashed with steel cables, then released without ever being charged. A Canadian investigation found no evidence that Arar had any ties to terrorists.

Here's the thing: Jack Bauer is fictional and thus is never wrong. But no government is infallible, and this one is much less infallible than most. When you're thumping your chests and talking about how you'd be tough like Jack Bauer, you might think of Abdallah Higazi and Maher Arar and wonder how many others like them are undergoing "enhanced interrogation" right now, without ever having done anything wrong.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hell By the Sea

I'll be in Wilmington NC (home of Jack Keller) this weekend, doing many panels and such at the Cape Fear Crime Festival. Also there will be my good friends Katy Munger, Alexandra Sokoloff, and the two hardest working men in show business, Stacey Cochran and Joe Konrath.

They're gonna need more beer.

And, on Sunday at 2:00, Stacey, Alex, and I will be at Pomegranate Books on Park Avenue in Wilmington. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sam Spade's Apartment-For Real

Mystery writer Mark Coggins takes you on a virtual tour of 891 Post Street, and the apartment where Dashiell Hammett lived and did some of his best work--the apartment that served as the model for Sam Spade's in The Maltese Falcon.

It's tiny, much smaller than I remember Spade's apartment being shown in the film. The tour definitely gives a new, claustrophobic feel to some of the scenes in the novel, especially the one where the cops visit Spade after Miles' murder.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Gadget Column


Latest Newspaper Column

I love gadgets.

The endless variety of things that the human brain can devise has always fascinated me. But I'm also fond of gadgets that you look at and go, "Who the heck thought THIS was a good idea?" So, for your amusement and mine, this week's column is about stuff you never knew needed to be invented.

Always wanted to get into a fitness program, but knew you'd never do it unless you had someone to nag you? And, since you're carrying all that extra weight, it's unlikely you'll ever find a significant other to do the job? Well, fear not, lonely tubby guy. That Catch-22 has been solved by the Japanese cell phone company NTT DoCoMo and its new "fitness phone."

In addition to all the normal things you use a cell phone for, like playing games, taking candid photos, and listening to music, the Wellness Phone, as it's called, uses tiny sensors to record how much walking, running and climbing stairs you do and how many calories you burn during the day. Hold the tip of your finger to it, and it records your heart rate.

"Hold the phone with outstretched arms," reports the China Post, "and it turns into a mini body-fat calculator." (I'm still not sure how that last one works.) It even checks you breath. Blow on it, and a breath analyzer tells you if you need a mint.

All the while, the perky phone bombards you with advice and encouragement. "Don't worry," one message said, "tomorrow's a fresh new day. Keep your chin up!" Hopefully, it's built sturdy, because I have the feeling that the temptation to throw the thing against the nearest wall, then go have a doughnut, is a powerful one.

Then there's this: The desktop clock meets existential despair with Computergear's $24.99 "Rat Race Clock." Behind the clear Plexiglas clock face, a little mechanical rat on a treadmill runs endlessly as if he's the one making the clock hand go round and round. It's the perfect gift for the working man or woman in your life who needs reminding of the utter futility of his or her existence.

After staring at that little rat running all day, you're going to need a drink. Probably several. And if you like to imbibe in the great out-of-doors the way God intended, the folks at The American Tailgater company have got just the device for you. The "Daiquiri Whacker" is a heavy-duty blender powered by a two-stroke gas engine. According to the catalog, it is "powerful enough to whip up a batch of your favorite blended drink faster than you can say 'Dos Margaritas, por favor!'" If, that is, you're ever inclined to say such things. And if you are, please go drink with someone else.

When you're making toast in the morning, do you ever get worried that it's getting too brown? Or not brown enough? Is the preparation of breakfast an anxious time in which you're wracked with apprehension that, when the toast finally pops up and reveals itself, it won't be what you expected?

Me neither. But apparently someone feels that there are enough people like that in the world that we needed a transparent toaster. The idea, says the Website inventables.com, "is based on a transparent heating glass technology." Note that they don't know how to get it hot enough yet to make actual toast, but they're getting there. I think a large government research and development grant is in order here. If we can put a man on the moon, etc.

For years, man has been plagued by a scourge that has defied all his attempts to eradicate it. I'm talking, of course, about ear wax.

Oh, sure, you can clean your ears, but how do you know you're getting it all? Well, now, the science of fiber optics comes to the rescue with the Ear Wax Camera and Cleaner from King's Idea. It features a tiny camera on the end with the "cleaner" part and a handheld screen at the other so you can look into your own ear while you work and see your way around. "Now you don't need the help of another person," promises King's Idea.

Ummm ... OK. I suppose that's a plus, although I have to say, it never occurred to me to ask another person for help in cleaning my ears. Guess I'm just a rugged individualist.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It's helped us live longer, communicate better, and go places we never imagined we'd ever go. Milwaukee, for example. Sometimes, however, technology is just plain weird.