The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why hasn't evolution bred out evil?

Anyone know Sarah Palin? McCain's VP. Governor of Alaska, five kids, Pro-Life, Pro-Capital punishment. Anyone think that's a game-changer?


The acceptance speech last night was just terrific. The only criticisms were from people who weren't going to like it going in--he did the job. Be very interesting to see what happens next. I DO think that it was a real mistake for McCain to talk about not knowing how many houses he has, or that "rich" starts at five million.

I think that the argument that whether you're rich at 250,000 "depends on where you live" is pretty lame. People could say the exact same thing at 2.5 million, or 25 million, or 250 million. Donald Trump could move in next to Bill Gates and say "I don't feel rich" or "my expenses overwhelm my income."

What they're really saying is: "I don't think I should pay more taxes than someone who earns less." That at least is honest, and debatable. Or maybe "I don't think people should pay taxes at all." Which is an attitude I find in lotsa people who earn enough that they can afford all of the services ordinarily provided by taxes: private police, private schools, etc. Again, that CAN be honest...but suggesting that if you choose to live in an expensive neighborhood, or to maintain a lavish lifestyle and therefore have a negative net worth this somehow means you aren't "rich"...I think that's crazy like a fox. They know what they're saying, and in my mind they're either deluded, or simply lying with a "I've got mine, screw you" attitude.

Or of course, we could just say that "rich" and "poor" are purely subjective. That would be pretty silly. The argument about how much tax, or even whether to tax, is a smarter, more honest and honorable one. Middle class extends up to five million? That is so out of touch its almost laughable. Perhaps McCain will offer clarification. I don't see how that helps him establish a position as a populist.


The question of why evolution hasn't bred out dysfunctions like child and spousal abuse popped up in response to an earlier post. Also human variations like homosexuality and so forth. I would think that, in the case of the negative, violent or self-destructive behaviors the simple answer is: for the same reason that diseases haven't been bred out, or that evolution hasn't made us immortal. We simply aren't designed to stick around forever. Get over it. Things wear out, stuff doesn't work "perfectly" from the perspective of an ego that wants to stick around forever.

I remember conversations with Sci-Fi types complaining that the human body is badly designed: bad backs, bad knees, etc. I was appalled. If they never changed the oil in a Ferrari and it killed the engine, does that mean that the Italians can't design a car? Hell no. It means the owner has some responsibility for minimal maintenance. I watched them stuff themselves with garbage, stay up all night, scoff at exercise...and then blame God when they start falling apart. That's sick.


Things like child abuse? Unfortunately, I suspect this might be connected with some survival values. The lion who takes over a pride and kills the previous leader's cubs comes to mind. It is known that there is more abuse between step-parents/step-children and blood parents/children. I would think mistrust between a husband and wife would exacerbate this. But for women? After all, they pretty much KNOW the kid is there. I suspect that there is, or was, survival value in rejecting children as certain resources grow slim. Including emotional resources? Not sure...but then there is the aspect that children are ourselves. We see in them our own beginning. The less our lives resemble our childhood dreams, the easier it might be to consider them symbols of our own lost potential. Anchors that hold us to an unhappy life. Reminders of a hated spouse. Or just representations of our own unloved selves.

There are so many ways that self-loathing manifests. In general, any culture that doesn't treasure children imperils its own survival. We can argue about exactly what evidence of such appreciation entails, but I know of no place where adults routinely place their young children between themselves and danger. You could operate that way for about one generation.

But the children of other groups? Hell, leaving the children of your enemies alive can just mean you have to fight them all over again in ten years. Better to bayonet the babies. And THAT ugly reality means that there will be a switch in the head capable of switching on a sociopathic reaction capable of cold equations indeed.


Homosexuality? The average gay person doubtless has fewer children than the average heterosexual, but the number ain't zero. Why shouldn't guys on the march, years from home, indulge in a bit of "back-door blossom beating" (as the Chinese expression goes.) And in tribal cultures where a strong male has multiple wives, gay relationships between men would be all that prevents perpetual bride-wars, kidnapping women from other groups.

And between women? In those seraglios, where a single powerful warlord might have hundreds of wives, the ones who can catch his eye with their sensuality, and give him sons would gain favor. How do you maintain your sensuality when the only man it is safe to relate to sensuously must be shared with dozens of others? I would think that the best way to stay juicy would be to engage with one another.

Of course there's simply the fact that human touch is delicious. If we can love dogs and cats, why not other human beings of our own gender? I've been in spiritual communities where there weren't many men, and the women began turning to each other quite naturally. Many of them had been married, and had children. I would think that the reduced fecundity that accompanies homosexuality is the reason why the percentage of them is relatively low...but hardly reason for them not to exist at all.

But will we eventually breed out negative behaviors? I suppose I could make that case. But then...there isn't even universal agreement on what "negative" really means. For me, evil is what increases chaos, good increases a point. Taken too far, you get fascism. Freedom is messy. Then, not everyone agrees on how much freedom we should have.

Unless all human beings thought the same way, it's inevitable that there will be "evil" behavior simply because some will label it such. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing...but it's probably what we're stuck with.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Class act

Reportedly, McCain has already created an ad designed to be released after Obama's acceptance speech tonight. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume sincerity (while remembering that there are always personal motives). Still, I've never heard of anything like it, and wanted to say straight out that it is the kind of political discourse I pray for.

JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America.

Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations.

How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight Senator, job well done.

I'm John McCain and I approved this message.

A Note From Gramma...

This posting is not to encourage people to vote one way or another. It is just to share what I consider a wonderful note from Tananarive's mom, Patricia Stephens Due, sent to her daughters and her grandchildren concerning the events at the DNC. Whatever happens in the general election, whether you are Democrat or Republican, it is important for all Americans to understand what this means to one segment of the population--a great thing, a thing difficult even to understand without context.

My dearest Tananarive, Johnita, Lydia, Justin, Jordan, Jaxon, Jason and Jovana,

Forty-five years ago, Dad and I traveled from Miami on the Freedom Train to Washington, DC, to be part of the March on Washington. As we proceeded from Miami to DC, making stops all along the way, and singing freedom songs at each stop and as new passengers got on. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted, but the rainbow colors as we looked over the audience were exhilarating, so happy to see black and whites, Jews and gentiles, men and women, all coming together in the name of freedom and equality for all. Dad and I had been married less than eight months when we took this journey together and were so excited to be a part of history in the making.

I must admit that as I listened to speaker after speaker, my exhaustion at times got the better of me. We had been seated up near the front in a reserved section. I am sending you the card required to sit in that area. I am certain I'll write more tomorrow but it is time for us to honor that check returned with "insufficient funds." Tonight, after decades of trying to cash that check, Senator Barack Obama will receive those funds, giving millions the opportunity to share in the interest owed on that check.

We are in California, Texas, Georgia and Florida, but we are all still in that stadium in Denver. The energy of one to the other connects us as we are all suspended in time for this historic occasion.

How ironic that the continent of Africa has called on its own son to restore all that was taken from so many and to show by example how people should be treated. He is releasing us from those chains that shackled us from our motherland to this country--and others, as we were dropped off. Our ancestors are crying tonight because they are so happy and are finally being brought home, and by one of their own.

Now, I have begun to shed tears for Mother, Daddy Marion, Grandmother, Granddaddy, Grandmother Lucille, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Campbell, Ms. Daisy Young, Rev. Steele, Mrs. Steele, Mrs. Rosa Parks, Dr. and Mrs. King, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Robinson, Richard Haley, Calvin Bess, Velton Banks, William Larkins and the list goes on and on. Before us, we had stood on so many shoulders to get to this place tonight and they would all be so proud.
My heart is so full. Please allow the children to enjoy this with you and hug them tightly for me.

With love and gratitude,Mom/Grandma
(Patricia Stephens Due)

Why the ladies, not the guys..?

Having a good time reading through the Bible, but my conclusion is that I can't use it as a substitute for Shakespeare in terms of vocal practice and literary quality--although the stories collected in the Old Testament are just fabulous to understand much of our cultural attitudes, and it is tres useful to use them for metaphorical resonance.

But an odd thought occurred to me while listening to my Teaching Company CD this morning (morning workout: Tibetans, Djurus, and H2H drills using a 16lb Shot or Kettlebells, followed by Warrior Wellness joint rotatations). And it deals with that sticky question (pun intentional) about why female homosexuality is more accepted than male (judging by cultural imagery and reactions).'s a possibility.

There's no prohibition in the Bible. Yeah, there's stuff about "Man shall not lay with man as he lays with woman" and so forth. But there's nothing that says women can't snuggle up to each other. Ain't that interesting? There is a certain "chicken and the egg" quality to this: did the human tendency to approve more of one than the other lead to the Biblical injunctions (atheists would probably choose this, a Christian variant of the "Orientalist Fallacy") or did the Biblical rules influence human thought on the subject?

What do you guys think?

Oh...and the story of Onan? Doesn't sound to me like it's about masturbation at all. Sounds like it's about birth control, a very different question. Thank God. I have a chance for Heaven after all...


I'm sure there were damned good reasons, but after watching the Clintons perform at the convention, I wonder if Obama had second thoughts about not picking Hillary. I think that, positives and negatives combined, she would have made the best choice. After all, a prime reason they stir up the Right is that THEY ARE WINNERS. Underneath anger lies fear. I always figured she was a pro, and would perform like a good soldier. But no matter who he chose, Obama was gonna be excoriated. If he chose her, they'd say he was scared not to. If he doesn't, he's just scared OF her. Oh, please. What a game.

I think Biden definitely throws a monkey wrench in the possibility of McCain chosing Romney. Two guys worth over a hundred million each against a couple of guys with about 2% of that net worth turns the election into a struggle of Class as opposed to Race. Race is a losing position for Obama. Hell, he's got to have a 10-point lead to cancel out the 5-15% of whites who won't vote for a Black man. But Class? That one is a winner. Gonna be interesting to see who McCain choses.

As I've said, and will say again: all I really want is for the best person to be elected. My personal opinion about who that is is entirely secondary. If it is true that McCain voted with Bush 90% of the time, that disqualifies him in my mind...but I've been wrong before, and will be again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Busy Busy...

Bouncing around from one project to another requires that I stay seriously centered, and the last couple of months there's been too much movement. I can feel it. What I want now, for the rest of the year, is to travel as little as possible, spend as much time with my family as possible, get back into a regular martial arts training schedule, and just work for a while. It isn't always possible to maintain balance, but you try to recognize when you've lost it, and ease back into it as soon as possible...
Hillary knocked it out of the park last night. Oddly enough, she seemed more focused and relaxed and powerful than I ever saw her on her campaign. Reminds me a little bit of Al he seemed so much more presidential as soon as he wasn't running for President. Odd.
Apparently 5% of white voters say they wouldn't vote for a black man...but 18% of voters say that they have friends saying that. I suppose both of those numbers could be true. I'd estimate that about 10% of people have "very strong" racial feelings, but maybe only half of those would make race a determining factor in their vote. One thing is for certain: there are plenty of people looking for an excuse not to vote for Obama (and even more who have legitimate ideological reasons, of course). It's always interesting to see how people justify their prejudices. But you have to give folks the benefit of the doubt...don't you? Maybe not. Much more fun that way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

101 on the way...

Starting with the third circuit of Jeff Martone's "Kettlebell Circuit Training" DVD, it gets really, REALLY interesting. It is less like weight lifting or "exercise" than it is skill development, and that kicks into the "play" wiring in our brains. You are so involved with learning a skill that you don't notice that you're seriously taxing virtually every muscle and tendon in your body. Combine it with the Tibetans? You have a whole-body workout that takes 90 minutes a week, and applies beautifully to sports performance. And requires only a single kettlebell. An average of 15 minutes a day. Good stuff.


the 101 program is almost ready to go. It will happen like this: the minute Mushtaq tells me he's ready we'll have some kind of sign-up area, a button, or you'll send me your email addresses. PLEASE WAIT UNTIL THEN. You'll start getting the first of 101 daily emails, with PDF attachments, as well as entry to a members-only forum.

I'll be soliciting feedback on the daily emails. They'll be rough at first, but with your input will improve. As soon as we like the feedback, we'll start advertising the 101 as a commercial venture. There are several core goals:

1) To provide a doorway to methods of personal development that actually work.

2) To help facilitate the state we've called "Human Adulthood"--taking responsibility for your own life and emotions, as well as the results we get.

3) Practical results for the average person: less stress, weight loss, more personal efficiency, deeper connection to your emotions, greater empathy for others, self-love, increased energy. There are others, but as they said in Babe, "that'll do."

4) We want to identify web sites, books and courses that offer genuine value in the arenas of physical health, financial security, and emotional connectedness. Suggestions will be noted and investigated. If I approve, links will be offered.

5) Examples of these principles operating in all major religions will be noted. As well as references for atheists and agnostics. This is non-sectarian as can be.

6)While awakening and adulthood are important parts of this program, "enlightenment" is not--but a person who is integrating these lessons in a balanced way would be a better candidate than most.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Death Race

So I took Nicki and her boyfriend Mike to see the re-make of Roger Corman's classic. I kinda liked it, in a REALLY dumb way. It delivers the action goods, and Jason Statham is a terrific action star. If you can put your brain on hold, a "B"

And there are two black racers. One dies. The other (Tyrese Gibson) seems to be gay: at any rate, he is CALLED gay, and is the only driver without a female navigator, and has no discernable reaction to a female presence. The film makers suggest that maybe he isn't gay, maybe he's just too violent to be around women. Wow. That's deep.
"Hey! You! Jungle Bunny! Out of the gene pool!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sex and the Olympic Athlete

A terrific article discussing something I've heard whispered about for years: that the most intense sex on the planet takes place in the Olympic villages. Perfect male and female bodies colliding in erotic sport. Yow. In relation to our discussions on this board, note the comment that female Gold Medal winners are considered no more desirable than the losers. On the other hand, male Gold Medal winners are chased like crazy. One can consider this a neutral phenomenon (ain't that interesting?) or as negative toward either men or women ("Men are intimidated by powerful women!" "Women are just power-chasing gold diggers!") or any mixture that appeals to you. I just crunch the data. What do you guys think?
I have to admit that my "One Step Down" idea comes directly out of my teaching experience. It is a way to encourage students to improve their reading, to visit art museums, to get out and live. As Steve Perry so rightly points out, it needs to be labeled "In general..."

Comparative Deaths in Television and Film

Erich sent me this, and it's hysterical. Actually, there are a number of people who have noticed this. I'm just the one who has a theory linking this to crime and mortality stats, sexual images, and Obama's chances of winning in November...

Hi Steve,

Apparently, you're not the only person who's noticed this stuff.
But I think even you will have to gape in amazement at how ...
*systematically* this Web page has categorized it:


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Darker Mask Signing

I'll be signing copies of the "Darker Mask" superhero anthology today, from 3-5

at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046,
(323) 851-7223.

See you there!

Friday, August 22, 2008

An Oddly Perfect Film

The real point of the "One Step Down" idea is twofold:

1) To encourage writers to read at the highest level possible. Too many aspiring writers neglect their reading, and suffer as a result.

2) To encourage writers to connect with their own lives as deeply as possible. You will be limited by the quality of your perceptions--YOUR perceptions--of the world. If your understanding of life is filtered through the words of other writers and philosophers, regardless of their skills, you are missing the point. What you really have to offer the world is an original vision, based in an honest assessment of your own existence. All else is just borrowing someone else's life and ideas.


Saw "Pineapple Express" last night. Reminded me of a Cheech and Chong movie, and not in the best of ways. There was a lack of sharpness there that made me suspect a LOT of pot was being smoked during script development. But then, it might well have been aimed at an eventual home audience that would be chiefin' their lungs out, and howling deliriously. I'd kinda hoped for a pothead "Midnight Run" but nope. Basically, we have James Franco and Seth Rogen as a pair of pothead slackers, one of whom witnesses a murder. And, we're off. That's basically all there is to the movie, and illogic abounds, while there actually is an easy amiability to the whole thing, and Franco actually seems committed to the part. Rather liked his Dealer character. Grade: C. If you're high, bump that up to a B+, probably. But then again, enough pot would make Ewe Boll look like Tarantino.


On the other hand, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", starring Tommy Lee Jones, is just superb. Released a couple of years ago, I've had a screener of this sitting around the house for months, and just never popped it in. It deals with concepts of justice, love, friendship, sex...death, illusion, and redemption. And the title says it all. A man is killed, and another man struggles to give him a good burial. That's it. Filled with sharp, small, crystalline observances of life along the border, "Three Burials" features another brilliant performance by Jones, and is an oddly perfect film. An "A."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Place We Belong

Tananarive is out of town, in Dallas visiting her sister Lydia. It's a yearly ritual, where Jason gets to play with his cousins. T wants him to have the same sense of family that she grew up with. I think that when it's healthy, there is probably nothing better than the sense of family. That's something I never had much of, and I honestly grieve about it. I wish...I wish so many things, sometimes. Sigh. But it makes me treasure my friends.

Going to SF conventions used to be about connecting with friends and colleagues. Oh, there's still some of that, but not as much as there used to be. I feel more like an outsider now than I did twenty years ago...but there are moments when I encounter people I've known for years or decades, and they're doing well..and I feel like all is right with the world.


I contrast that with the Silat gathering in Vegas. Wonderful. Lots of old friends, and not one of them seemed to have stepped backwards in their lives. I loved seeing that. Sigh. I never wanted to feel more comfortable in that world, but that's where I am right now.


An old friend came to visit on Monday, helping me with some research. He doesn't live around here, and feels like L.A. is a strange land to him at this point in his life. He feels a bit like a stranger in his own life. Considering the life that this good man has lived, I hope that he has a place, somewhere, where he DOES feel totally at home. If not in the outer world, in the inner.

We all deserve that. Somewhere that belongs to us, that no one can take away, ever. It can be hard to find, but it's worthwhile.


For most people, the first 10-15 minutes of meditation are a cavalcade of negative internal monologues, twitches, and itching. Only after this does the mind begin to settle down, the waters calm, and a sense of peace emerge.

Those of you who have attempted meditation AND found your way through the noise to a peaceful place:

1) what noise did your head throw at you

2) How did you work your way through it?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Downhill Fast

Tananarive and I did a full read-through on the "Good House" script last night. Two of Nicki's friends came by including Lizzie Welles, who I've known since she was about five. Great to see them, and it was terrific for them to take their time to help out. It really helped us isolate problems, and hear the dialog through new ears, see the description through new eyes.


I bought Mushtaq a copy of Jeff Martone's H2H Intervals DVD. I wanted some insight into what I was seeing there, and his opinion is that the DVD is the best expression of the entire kettlebell community. I know that I love Steve Maxwell's videos, but they are "exercise" whereas H2H is "play" or "skill." You're not going to reach your VO2 Max--for that, you'd have to use a simpler movement pattern: coordination degrades with fatigue, so no complex movement is gonna get you close to your limit. However, you CAN approach the edge of your USEFUL endurance, that is, endurance that can actually be used in complex motion. One thing for certain, you can't do H2H drills without total mental focus. When a 16-36lb. steel ball is hovering at about the level of your head, it sharpens the mind marvelously.


Dark Knight is now the #2 film of all time, beating out Star Wars. That's definitely higher ticket prices and saturation bookings and showings. No denigration of a terrific film, but there is no way it's having the cultural impact Star Wars had. But then again, neither is the new Star Wars anime. I probably won't see it until DVD, but heard it was pretty bad. Maybe Lucas went to the well once too often. Some would say that he went there four times too often. The general opinion is that "Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the lot. I agree--thematically, writing, SFX (especially the unbelievable, pre-CGI asteroid mote sequence.) and one of the niftiest plot revelations ever ("Luke, I AM your father!") make it exceptionally tasty.


Question of the Day: What were the most and least rewarding sequels in your memory? Personally, I thought "The Matrix" went downhill so fast you'd think it was shot in flight. Yuck. You?

Monday, August 18, 2008

New NPR piece airing tonight

On All Things Considered.

Back From Vegas

Just back from an incredible weekend in Las Vegas at the 2008 Silat gathering. Stevan Plinck has done a terrific thing here, and the quality of both instructors and participants was wonderful. Tired after a long drive listening to Steven King's "Cell." Got some very special stuff to do today, so this is short...but more tomorrow.
I usually blow twenty bucks in the hotel casino...but the new machines don't even take coins! That takes a huge amount of the fun out of it. Loading up a magnetic card and then having the machine make 'Ping" sounds is kinda lame. But I bet its more profitable for the Casino that way, somehow.
Personally, I miss those ridiculous little machines with all the coins on shelves, and the mechanical pusher-arms shoving them at you, as they defy gravity and refuse to fall. God, that's fun. I don't mind losing my money, but I expect a bit of entertainment along the way. Have they no respect for tradition?
Those of you who gamble...what aspect of it do you find most fun?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Not as gut-bustingly funny as I'd hoped, but still VERY funny, this tale of five hapless actors trapped in a war movie that becomes "real" is outrageous, deliberately offensive, and dead-on accurate in many ways. Ben Stiller might have made his best movie...maybe. Hard to say, but there is a lot of real heart hidden under the clown make-up, and Robert Downy Jr.s performance as a gonzo method Australian actor who undergoes skin darkening surgery to play a black man is one of the most interesting performances of the year. Yeah, there are some very irritating things, but I'm going to give Stiller the benefit of the doubt, and say that he did them deliberately. If that's the case, well done. I'll give this move a "B" and wish I'd spent more time rolling in the aisles.


The only black female character (briefly glimpsed) is obese. The only black male character is gay. Somebody please tell me this was done deliberately. And even if it was, I'm not entirely certain I like whoever thought it was funny.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If You Don't Respect Yourself...

The industry won't, either. I've recently turned in a script for a company that seems badly mismanaged. Their contracts and payments are late, and it seems that honesty is not their highest value. I knew none of these things when I started working for them, but over the months it became increasingly clear that they didn't have their act together. There were two other writers working on the project, and if I read between the lines, they were not treated well. And they wouldn't have treated me well, either, except that I didn't need their money, and could afford to tell them "No. You will absolutely not treat me in a manner you yourself would not want to be treated. Period. End of story." Because of that, I got everything I wanted in our negotiations: I had the script they wanted, and until I got what I was promised.

Things weren't always like that. Whenever people have a power position over you, they will be tempted to take advantage. It's just the nature of the beast--nothing personal. How can you combat this? How can you hold your head up when the television or film studio holds all the cards?

By realizing that they don't. By remembering that your sweat and work has value, and that they actually need your product more than you need their job. Regardless of the fact that they have the office and the millions, you have a unique vision of the world, filtered through your unique experiences, and your unique preparation. By remembering that there never was, and never will be, another artist quite like you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Any Volunteers?

Finishing a long-delayed project today. Don't want to bad-mouth people who give me money, so you'll have to read between the lines. They pissed me off, but hey, I knew the job was dangeros when I took it. Anyway, the "101" project is planned to debut next month. I have to get the first thirty days (at least) of lessons ready, so I'll actually be running the the rough drafts past you guys here on the blog, I think--threby slaying multiple dragons with the same sword-stroke. That might start next week.

The idea is to create a space of discipline that will create a balanced rise of energy, contained within a goal matrix. The three core disciplines will be:

1)The Five Tibetans

2) The Body/Mind Diet (either pure or modified Intermittent Fasting)

3) Five Minute Miracle goal setting (five microbursts of proper breathing and Heartbeat meditation combined with Triangle Visualization)

So far as I can see, this is the minimum configuration that will root the instincts. Given a connection to core survival and animal drives, plus an opening heartspace, a growing sensitivity to your own internal cues, and attention on the way daily actions impact future goals, everything else should develop naturally. There is more, of course, but everything else comes out of this. I'm not at all certain I can affect change with LESS. And the fewer moving pieces, the smaller the chance of misunderstanding or subconscious sabotage. Even with just three pieces, I'm gonna get people saying "well, I decided not to do X..." when "X" is the precise thing they needed the most. If I have four or five pieces, it would just get worse. Sigh.

Anyway, the current approach is going to be to charge a dollar a day (!) for a hundred and one days of daily coaching and access to a membership only forum. I don't know how I can be fairer than that.


Can't wait to see "Tropic Thunder"--sounds like an absolute hoot, and Robert Downy Jr. is having a hell of a year, isn't he?


And the question of the day is: I'm going to be looking for 101 beta-testing volunteers for the "101" program. Free of charge, of course. Any hands?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Many Do You Know?

Recent news about a material that bends light around objects, rendering them functionally invisible. I remember the invisible car in "Die Another Day" and how the fanboys were complaining about how ridiculous that was...Hah! Turns out it was closer to current reality than the laser in "Goldfinger."


So...apparently part of the confusion in the Clinton campaign was people like Mark Penn urging Hillary to go more "negative" on Obama, paint him as "Foreign" and "Un-American"...and if I read correctly between the lines, this was something that she was very, very reluctant to do. Kudos to her, even though it may have cost her the election. There is a sobering reality here, that race is boiling under the surface of this election, and every time someone can bring it up--sideways if possible--Obama will take a hit. Just yesterday an old friend was talking about how she was visiting Conservative relatives, and the consensus was that McCain would win because "white men won't vote for a black man." Meaning, of course, that THEY wouldn't vote for a black man--but they wouldn't say it like that. Few people are that honest. What an interesting election.

As I've said before, America is going to get the president it deserves. Make of that what you will.


Somehow, and I'm not entirely sure why, I found myself pulled into multiple conversations on that old debbil "What is the Meaning of Life?" There is indeed an answer, but it can't be put into words. All one can do is point in the direction of the reality and let those with the will and courage find it for themselves. It's kind of like someone asking: "what's the taste of Prime Rib?" Well...there's the restaurant. Go taste it for yourself. A few people wanted to engage me in the "it's all a machine. There is nothing. There is no meaning." How interesting, especially considering that there appears to have never really been a "nothing" that the universe came out of to begin with: intellectual concepts of time and space kinda break down. I find those who would argue for nothingness to be fascinating. Must be a pay-off somewhere, but aside from avoiding the negative aspects of organized religion, I'm not sure what it is.


Someone wondered if I prefer people to be dishonest, specifically on the issue of race relations. In other words, if they think that blacks are inferior, would I prefer they keep their opinions to themselves, or pretend to believe "all men are created equal." Hmmm. With me, in private conversation? I would prefer scathing honesty. I like to know who I'm dealing with. And I've had friends who believed in "The Bell Curve," and they were still my friends. If they were good and honorable people, who treated other human beings with kindness and courtesy, then their belief that, on average, whites are superior to blacks doesn't have much to do with their quality as men and women, and I can admire them while disagreeing.

All other things being equal, would I rather spend the majority of my time around people with my own beliefs and values? Who wouldn't? But not all of it. How else do we grow, and understand the world through the eyes of others?

On the other hand, would I want them passing their beliefs on to their children? No. But I wouldn't want them to be dishonest, either. Something like "this is the way I see the world. This is what I believe. Now, it's your turn to go out into the world and decide for yourself. I've been wrong in the past, I'll be wrong in the future. I may be wrong about this...I don't think I am, but I may be."

THAT would be honest. Few people have that level of clarity, however. Consider how very much I love Musashi's principles, and that the very first principle is: "Do not think dishonestly." Lying isn't a good idea. It is best to avoid situations where one must lie, because it fosters the tendency to self-deception, and subsequent distortion of the reality map.

But in my experience, the average member of any group thinks their group is better . I had a cousin express disbelief that I could respect someone who considered whites superior. I laughed at him, and pointed out numerous comments he'd made clearly implying he thought blacks were superior. There is, in my mind, no difference. Men do it to women, women to men. Straights to gays, gays to straights. Christians to atheists, and vice-versa. It's just the default setting of human consciousness. Those who don't have that tendency are unusually awake, and I hold them precious. I don't denigrate people for having the tendency. Those who are honest enough to admit it, despite the call of "political correctness," are actually laudable, even if their beliefs are, in my mind, mere self-serving hierarchical core social wiring. It's no big thing. So they're asleep...what else is new? How many awakened, adult people do you really know, anyway?


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Denver Worldcon

In Denver at the World SF Convention. Seeing old friends (that term takes on additional meaning as the years pass...) and just had lunch with two of the sweetest folks in the world: writer John Maddox Roberts (former Green Beret and now crackerjack historical mystery novelist) and his beautiful wife Beth. After that, lunch with my agent Eleanor, where we discussed all kindsa great stuff, including Tennyson, Shadow Valley, the third Lion' s Blood book, and a potential sequel to The Kundalini Equation. Good times. Last night, I had dinner with Greg Bear and Fred Pohl. What wonderful, brilliant gentlemen, the both of them. I feel honored to walk among such giants, and am happy just to listen to them discourse. Life is very, very good indeed. Talk to you when I'm back!


Saw Costner's "Swing Vote", about a slacker who finds that his vote alone will determine the outcome of the national election. I liked it more than I thought I would, and it operates nicely as a parable about personal responsibility in a democracy. A "B".


Mild "Sambo" alert. Only one black male with dialogue. Very effeminate and gay. Thanks a bunch.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

If you can't stand the heat...

Hidden lesson in "Ratatouille"

I love that Pixar movie, which, as I've said, holds one of the great visual moments in cinema: the moment in which the food critic takes his first bite of our hero's prize dish. But there is a lesson that is important to life. While I may be stretching a bit, here goes:

Art is messy. Craft is messy. There are two sides of the "line" for something like writing, acting, martial arts, cooking...anything where the finished product looks "easy." I remember a friend who whipped on a Shaolin Monk a few years back (by mutual consent) said that the amazing things those monks can do aren't magical: they are the result of constant discipline, every day, over decades. And in truth, I can think of almost nothing in life that will not yield to such discipline, and know of no one who has applied it and not excelled.

But most people who want to succeed see only the finished product: they see the meal, but not the kitchen. The heat, the mess, the clutter, the bustle, the politics, the trivial tasks. They eat the wonderful meal, and think "I want to be a cook!" Their shelves are filled with menus from great restaurants, but not cookbooks. They want to be martial artists without being willing to put in the sweat and blood, the early morning runs, the sacrifice, the fear and toil...but they WILL watch Bruce Lee movies. They crave money, but won't develop any real skill at anything, won't save, won't put in the extra hours at work, won't give the extra measure of value. The ONLY way most of us make more money is by making more money for our boss, and then negotiating to get a portion of it. If you are a government employee, far from the money stream, you might find yourself advancing based only on time in grade. Chances are you have a low ceiling, but a high safety net--a choice you made and now must live with. Want to make more money? Take risks, and get closer to the money stream. Be in a profession where your gifts and flaws can be clearly demonstrated. Or do as many others have done: use your "safe" job as a safety net, and develop something on the side where there IS risk and opportunity to shine.

Life is messy. I talked to two people who served internships early in their lives: one at a major paper company, the other in the entertainment industry. In both cases, there was no glamour, no money, nothing but boredom and scut work. And in both cases, most of the other interns resented it, and fell away. My two friends went the extra mile. They FOUND things to do at work. Offered to go above and beyond. Every day they found things to ask their employer what they could do to make money for the company. And while the other interns bitched and moaned, they wormed their way in. THAT is the attitude that works.

Many years ago, before I was produced or published, I had a producer offer to pay an absurdly small amount for a script. I asked a woman I knew at CBS television if I should take the deal. She said "yes." It didn't matter if I was getting ripped off. What mattered is that, once I had a deal, ANY deal with a real production company (which it was) I would be on the other side of an invisible "line" separating amateurs from professionals. If I was smart, she said, I would take the money.

She's right. There is a line between those who consume and those who produce. The line is at the door between the kitchen and the restaurant. In the kitchen is sweat and labor and craft. On the tables in the dining room is Art. Art conceals Art. You can't learn to be a chef by eating food. You have to roll up your sleeves and DO IT. And success will go to those who are willing to do Whatever It Takes (within morality and values) to achieve their goals. Those who pick and choose while still on the "consumer" side of the line had better be geniuses, I kid you now. For the rest of your butt off, keep your mouth shut, provide twice the value you're paid for, and tell your ego to shut the hell up.

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.


The Question of the Day is:

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product? How have you seen others get confused about the goal and the cost of achievement? Where have you ever made this mistake?