Monday, September 29, 2008

It's turtles all the way down, young man

Terry Pratchett will be online on Wednesday to chat on the Post's website from 11:00 to noon. Michael Dirda mentioned reviewing Nation when I talked with him on Saturday, but I didn't expect the review to run the very next day. Now it seems even more certain that the man himself was at the signing, managing the neat trick of going undercover by not wearing one.

To fill the time before I get my mitts on The Graveyard Book and Nation, I've picked back up with Who Murdered Chaucer, a tasty popular history that underlines the idea that the Monty Python guys were smarter than the average sketch comics. As someone whose knowledge of medieval political affairs is drawn largely from Shakespeare's Richard II and the inimitable Geoffrey Chaucer Hath A Blog (currently being guest-hosted by H. Bolingbroke: "O, stop yower bullmerde about Chaucer and Kyng Richard. Kyng Richard will retourne whan it is good for the realm. I and the othir lords appellant are loial to the Crown of Engelonde and the Kyng who beareth yt. I haue no intencioun to evir taak the crown from Richard. I haue too much CRUSADING to do first."), I'm finding it a gripping tale of revenge, betrayal, and clerical skullduggery. The book ys, indeed, rad, a term rarely applied to discussions of the Lollard heresy. And its size makes it convenient for smacking elevator doors open with an authoritative whump, so it's got that going for it too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Heaven in a black leather jacket and 90% humidity

Notwithstanding the gharstly heat and humidity of the morning, I did make it to the National Book Festival this AM for the annual fix of hangin' with the bookfolk. Last year's mobscene around the Terry Pratchett reading was still in memory green, so I got there early enough to get a good spot and ended up hearing a couple of other authors speak. One, who writes picture books about historical figures in the African-American community, would be a first-rate presenter for little kids, but I get the squirms when someone demands that there be audience participation, especially if it involves singing. The second was more my speed; although he writes mainly for teens, he seemed to notice that the pavilion was rapidly filling with adults, so he ramped up the technical content about researching primary sources and Native American languages. I had never heard the term "agglutinative language," but now I know that Abenaki is one. ("Like German and Russian," said BK, who I was surprised to find sitting just behind me. "But Turkish is considered the classic agglutinative tongue." I hadn't expected to see BK at the Festival, still less at the Gaiman event, but it turns out that his girlfriend got hooked on Sandman at 16 and has been a hopeless fan ever since. Clearly a woman of taste and sophistication.)

The tent was entirely packed by the time Michael Dirda took over from Ron Charles (bah) and introduced Neil Gaiman, who despite the heat was wearing his usual leather jacket. In trying to describe his interaction with his fans to IE, I settled on saying that he's treated as our favorite uncle, who happens to be a rock star. He probably wishes he weren't so widely recognized, but he deals with it gracefully. He read a bit from The Graveyard Book and answered some questions. Best line, in talking about how he'd stolen a book idea from something his son had said, "I told my five-year-old son that he had to go to bed, and he said furiously, 'I wish I didn't have a dad! I wish I had a...,' and you could see him trying to think of things you could have. 'I wish I had...some goldfish!' And I thought, what a good idea. He has never seen any of the royalties." Best I-think-it-was sighting: Terry Pratchett, who without his signature hat can blend into a crowd better than Alec Guinness, but who I think saw me eyeing him.

We decided not to risk the storms just for the chance to stand in an endless signing line, but as the crowd was streaming away, I took the chance to thank Mr. Dirda for returning to his column at Book World and especially for his righteous ticking-off of Neal Stephenson's latest crypto-brick (for the record, I ripped through Snow Crash with glee, liked The Diamond Age despite its random ending, enjoyed Cryptonomicon but struggled with its overload of math lectures, and threw Quicksilver across the room after three pages). Technical material and research is all very well and good in its place; its place is not in 500 pages of your 600-page novel.

A very pleasant lunch at Brasserie Les Halles (baked brie with cracked black pepper and honey, and a salad with apples and sugared walnuts), and thence homeward. Neil is probably signing still.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crunchy spine

The stranger tides of the horse list last night said that Lear was back, and me without my tacked gloves. That horse puts a lot of effort into getting his teeth on, not just the bit, but also the noseband, his cross-ties, a dressage whip, my gloves, and—with lamentable success—my arm. Good thing he got mostly polarfleece (it's terrible, hearing a horse try to spit), but I still made him think that the wrath o' God was about to fall upon him. Not the right day to forget the tacks for the gloves. Pat, who saw me get nipped, sighed. She thinks, to coin a phrase, that the vet who did the gelding done it on the cheap and left a chip, because most geldings are nowhere near this mouthy. Stallions, on the other hand, are constantly looking for things to gnaw on. (Well, I mean, that's not all that they're looking for. But it's what's germane to this discussion.) If Lear is in fact suffering the effects of residual testosterone, he'll be the second such horse I've ridden; the other was less nippy but was head over heels in love with a mare who wanted nothing to do with him. He pined. I think I'd rather that.

Once I'm in Lear's saddle, at least he can't bite. Pat had us doing a sadistic exercise at the trot: post for two strides and sit for one, or the reverse. Getting into a balanced three-beat rhythm during a two-beat gait is, and let me phrase this carefully, very very difficult for those of us with limited natural grace. Her point was that we could, by doing the waltzy beat, learn to control the speed of the trot, but what I mainly learned is that I still do not post very well. It needs much practice to keep my legs from woggling about.

Pat also had us work on half-halts, which are used variously to tell the horse to rock back onto its haunches, to slow it down, and/or to ask it to pay attention before something new happens, by having us go from trot to walk and back ten or twelve times, then go from trot to almost-walk and back. Tricksy work, requiring very delicate hands and seat, not to mention a horse who can remember where he put his feet half a second ago. Lear did pretty well, all things considered.

The be-saddled low point was when we worked on the canter. I hadn't done any canter work with him at our previous session, and I certainly didn't know that he has a ticklish spot a about half an inch behind where the standard canter go-button is. If a foolhardy rider lets her leg slide back there, she gets to hang on through an extraordinarily balletic (or so say witnesses) kick-to-the-four-winds equine flail before Lear gets down to the business of cantering. The immediate adrenaline rush masked any soreness in the short term, but the compromised integrity of my erector spinae showed up with a big shit-eating grin and a suitcase this morning. I'll live, but I'm-a whine.

The barn's been doing a trick-or-treat event ever since 2002, when the DC snipers made people nervous about letting their kids go outside at night. It's continued since, mostly because it's enthusiastically silly. Over the years, the costumes—evil Grayson in a pink tutu, pinto QC as an Oreo cookie, Sterling as a plumber (complete with XXXXL butt-revealing jeans and a pair of boots)—have raised the bar to the point where plans among the private boarders are closely guarded secrets. The sugar is almost secondary to the giggling. Pictures, we hope, to come.

Two years

And still I miss Mike Ford, despite the minor fact of never having met or spoken to him. I eventually forgave him for naming a madam in The Last Hot Time Chloe Vadis, though getting to that point took a certain amount of agonized writhing on my part. Let's hope that wherever he is they appreciate him. In the meantime, fire up the heavy artillery in his memory: Infernokrusher Romeo and Juliet!

Ro-Mo. Your windows are still mirrored; taunt me not,
But show your colors, dare to challenge me,
These lips are two shaped charges, primed and hot,
That wait the go-code for delivery.
J-Cap. The flag is to the deadly, not the loud,
Yet aim as well as posing shows in this;
The worthy throwdown's always to the proud,
And hammer down is how the hard girls kiss.
Ro-Mo. My draft is stopped; I struggle toward the clutch.
J-Cap. And would a charge of nitrous make thee run?
Ro-Mo. Too much; but what else is there but too much?
Let me take arms, and elevate the gun.
J-Cap. Small arms but hint what demolitions say.
Ro-Mo. Then, gunner, gimme one round.
J-Cap. On the way.
[H/T, of course, to Making Light]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zelda looks lonely

Short notice, but for anyone who's free and interested tonight: Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and A Primate's Memoir, will be speaking at the National Geographic tonight, the better to introduce a film called "Killer Stress." Tickets are $18 for nonmembers, show starts at 7:30, and if his iTunes U podcasts are any indication, it'll be worth the price of admission.

[ETA: ALERT ALERT ALERT: The Magnetic Fields at the Lisner on October 28. I have neeped before about how Stephin Merritt's sad mean angry awkward funny regretful ugly beautiful love songs rock my socks, and it goes without saying that ticketing for this show is already in the works.]

[ETA2: The ETA-ening: Neil Gaiman will be chatting on the Post's website from noon to 1:00 PM today. Ask about the bees.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Do we rage or do we lol?

Cognitive dissonance: econocrushboy Paul Krugman catches one scary-ass quote. Is the correct reaction to swoon or to curl up in the fetal position and shiver?

But speaking of crushboys, don't forget that this Saturday is the Library of Congress Book Festival. No word that I've seen on whether Michael Dirda will be introducing, though it seems like he rarely misses the event. It's not a terribly strong roster this year, unfortunately, but hey, Neil Gaiman. For added random points, the black-flowered feather-in-the-hat crowd will be smushed in around the Children's pavilion this year. In what appears to be an effort to keep the man's feng shui powers of coolth from focusing too hard in any single tent, they shuffle him to a different area each year—fantasy/SF! fiction/mystery! children/teens! DIY shoggotheterica!—which to date has done nothing from keeping his signing lines from outshowing every other author's by orders of magnitude. Sure, size doesn't matter in theory, but tell that to the seven hundredth person in the Gaiman area looking wistfully at the 50 hardy souls fidgeting in the Rocco DiSpirito queue. We'd repine but it's me legs except that so many of the hardcore fans are at least worth chatting to. Wear the right button and you could even get a date out of it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A return to old habits

Wot an embarrassing lack of horsular posts lately. I haven't been riding quite as much, having decided not to re-up on the Western front for this semester. There are two main frustrations that drove that call. One is that the teacher and I are too much alike, and we end up amplifying one anothers' worst traits, in some kind of negative phase amplification that in a Star Trek universe would call for serious pursed-lips engineering fixing in the episode's fifty-fifth minute. The other is that none of the barn's school horses are dedicated Western horses, so their work is inconsistent and can be frustrating.

Dressage, though, is where I continue with the dorky levels of enthusiasm. At the last session, I went out on a limb and tried Dylan, the barn's dark little Connemara pony. He's still scared of one end of the ring (the haunted end, of course) but is otherwise an admirable creature, and why not try as many partners as possible? I got over the strangeness of how short he was, the lil lowrider, and found that we didn't do too badly together. Early in the lesson he indulged in a brief leaping spook at the evil corner, skittering sideways and then cantering several strides back up the ring, but it was almost...comfortable. I could feel the scare coming, the jump went where I'd expected, the canter was easy, and he calmed back down in time for me to take him back through that corner and show him that it wasn't going to eat him. He reserved the right to prick his ears at it for the rest of the lesson, but he never freaked out again.

We had our second little scramble when we worked on trot-to-canter transitions. He resisted the upward shift, so I squeezed again and added a tap with the dressage whip. He objected vehemently, leaping into a kick that took both hind feet off the ground, but again, there was no problem riding it, and he settled back down to a smooth easy canter with good transitions. All discussions should be so quickly resolved.

I will never be one of those fearless little barn rats who'll get on anything with hooves and can cling to the saddle as though they'd been glued in place while a horse tries to samba in the front and cha-cha in the back. But thanks to Cappi, and Lear, and even Mr. Smouti (a duck flushing from a stream would startle anyone), I'm starting to learn to sit out the easier bolts and frights. Have insurance; will ride.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bell-bottomed trousers, shirts of navy hue

The planet it be a-warmin' and our seas no longer swarm with dashing swarthy bands of sea-dogs wi' ships' sails a-bellyin' in the hurricano winds. But yet in our hearts does burn the hunger for adventure, for a savvy captain, and for the best togs one can sling together for to make a fearsomely handsome outfit.

So now everyone who has promised to steal my "Obama: Agent 008" shirt can give the merry lass who made it their hard-scavenged dubloons and receive their own version of said tunic, and I can stop threatening to cutlass the scallywags across the knuckles if they so much as lay a finger on mine. Arrh.

Clap on, me hearties

Tes International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so it is, wi' a wannion, an' I'll be wishin' all me crafty mates a fine jolly time of it. Arrh.

Zeppelins ahoy!

Canadians beware!

Monday, September 15, 2008

We all scream

Sunday morning, six hours after I finally fell into bed—omitting even a perfunctory curse in the direction of airports and the air transit system generally—I hauled myself back up, grabbed a coffee, and jumped the Metro heading downtown. DC's typical September weather is cool and beautiful, but on the day that IE was going to do the Nation's Triathlon, it was 90 degrees and hideously damp. Not ideal triathling weather.

I emerged from the stygian depths of Metro Center and found my way south toward the Mall in time to hear someone else walking toward Constitution say, "Hey, isn't that Fenty?" We waved vaguely in the direction of the mayor-shaped blur. A few weeks ago he took a bad spill when his bike wheel got caught in a road groove that took a sudden turn he couldn't follow. (IE noted that he missed his chance for eternal fame by not shrieking, "Ditch set me up!") He looked good cruising along toward the finish line, though, so apparently any perfidious declivities had been surmounted.

I set about the job of hunting down the rest of the Scream Team, who had arrived somewhat more promptly to see off the swimmers. We finally met up, realized that we had probably missed seeing IE blast past on the bike, and settled in on the curb to cheer for the runners and anyone in a Team in Training jersey.

Y'all, we cheered a lot. It turns out that even on the hot humid slimy days of DC's overlong summer, yelling encouragement to gutsy triathlers is a thrill. We tried not to sound like demented gym teachers, especially since some of the runners looked like death might come as a relief, and focused keeping the yelling happy. All the TNT people got "Go Team!" which we had been told was the officially approved cheer. Other people got variations on the Chicago "alright alright alright," hollers of "you got it, you got it, finish just like that!" or, for the guy in the rockin' SuperGrover singlet, "GO TEAM GROVER!" If we could see numbers, we called out those too. IE, wearing her Cubs hat, reported getting calls of, "Yo, Chi-town, this your year?" ("Hell yeah!") There was also epic cowbell, courtesy of Papa IE. In exchange, we got thumbs-up, weary grins, fist pumps, and a few prized—albeit clammy—high-fives. We gave some of the biggest cheers to the people who were walking when they got to us, heard the noise, and broke back into jogs. It must've felt like a squintillion degrees to the people on that course; we'd have been cheering even if they'd crawled. Totally great.

So eventually we did see IE, made sure she heard us screaming like mad things, and then we gave up our spot, ducked up 15th, and found a space along the rail leading toward the finish, where if possible the people-watching was even better. One runner swooped up his three-year-old and set her on his shoulders for a sprint over the line; another guy's daughter ran out in pink Crocs to keep her dad company in the last 100 yards. And then we saw IE, moving steadily, so we set up as mighty a hullaballoo as our shredded voices would allow, and you guys, she hauled ass that last 300 feet, grinning all the way. We went maybe a little nuts, it was so fantastic.

The aftermath was all Powerade and family hugs and surprise friends who had come in to cheer, and maybe a little bit of crying (okay, and perhaps juuust a bit of ogling of the more sleekly toned finishers, because you don't often see people that fit wearing so little in downtown DC). Everyone who crossed the line was feted as a champ even as they were being shuffled to various lines to check in, get bottles of water and slices of free pizza, and moved out of the way so that yet more finishers could move in.

Next year, same bat time, and I hope to hear everyone there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And now for the BIG question

CERN, who in their wisdom brought us the Web and therefore hallowed be their funding, switched on the Large Hadron Collider yesterday. If you did not hear about this, you are not even peripherally a geek, don't listen to the news, or both, since there was a tiny but non-zero chance that the experiment held in the 17-mile apparatus would, er, destroy the space-time continuum, generate a black hole somewhere in the vicinity of Switzerland, and generally make life as we know it a little hairy. On the up side, it would also spare us further Sarah Palin and that old dude who keeps hugging her before she repeats her convention speech, so that might've been a plus.

But since CERN was, as I mentioned, the originator of the Web, they're On It. We will know if anything bad is happening. We can keep up with subatomic quantum life-devastating events, because now there is a site: Please note that the source code (Ctrl+U to all my Firefox buds, and who cares what in IE) covers all contingencies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A brief important question

Have you loved your internet lately?

I mean, have you reaaaaally loved it? Because baby, the internet just wants you to be happy. Really. That's all it wants.

See? Look what it's done for you.

And honey, that's not all.

And baby, that ain't even the best part. (H/T Pandagon)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The first rule of Ride Club

Grooming and tacking up last night, we were chatting about what's been on the teebee lately. This is, of course, politics, and we are, of course, leaning the way that you expect. El Bandito sighed and said, "Can't we make the barn the one political conversation–free zone in the city?"

He got a long level stare from the three of us. (Possibly also from the horses, who might've been wondering what kind of naif expects anywhere in DC to be such a peaceful oasis.) "No," said Pat carefully. "I don't think that you can expect that." Come on, buddy: a barn run by and mainly patronized by women, in a city so blue it practically fluoresces, with an insanely important election looming, and you want people who see each other once a week to step around your political fatigue? Good luck, man, but it isn't going to happen.

Although, to be fair, sometimes we may just skip the polysyllabic words and go straight for dolphin-like squeaks of glee. Would that be better?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Management principles

On the grounds that if you get work done well and quickly, you will be rewarded with more work, IE has been challenged to go above and beyond with her fundraising efforts for the Nation's Triathlon. If you've got some spare change rattling around and think that it would be peachy to improve the chances for people diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma, pop over to her site and make a donation.

As regular readers and friends know, I was a teenage lymphoma patient, which involved many aspects of craptacularity. I was also insanely, ridiculously, play-the-lottery-today lucky in my doctor. Il Padre one day asked him how, since we could call Dr. G at 3 AM and always get an answer; he did rounds every day, including all the holidays; he took as much time as patients and their families wanted when there was information to share; he never missed a chance to comfort someone who needed it; he ran four miles a day; he had a family of his own; and he attended services for any patient who died, he stayed in the field without burning out. Dr. G looked at him steadily and said, "When I started in practice, the death rate for pediatric lymphoma and leukemia was about 90%. Now it's 45% and falling. That's why. And that's how."

Help IE fight the good fight, y'all. Small changes matter.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Transcription of the bookplate in my father's copy of Quo Vadis:

On the Return of a Book Lent to a Friend

I give humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.

I give humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor to use it as an ashtray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething ring for his mastiff.

When I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never though to look upon its pages again.

But now that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.

Presently, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed.
I do not particularly care for the book, but I desperately covet this plate.