Friday, July 31, 2015

The Square Peg - Road Construction - or "There's a hole in my pavement, dear Liza..."

Road Construction - or "There's a hole in my pavement, dear Liza..."
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

It's not like traffic is bad enough in good old San Antonio, they have to go and put up cones, divert traffic and generally make a mess of things here. I'm talking road construction. Road construction (reconstruction is probably a better word) never really stops here. It possibly never stops anywhere. I think it is an evil plan, myself... sort of like built in obsolescence in other products. Roads that were rebuilt just two years ago are pockmarked with potholes big enough to bury a Beemer. Residential roads are rutted with dually marks, and it isn't from Billy Bob's F-350. Nope... it's from all the heavy equipment and sand and gravel semis trucking down your local lane. Why? Road rebuilding. It's a racket, I tell you.

And can anyone explain to me why it takes two years to repave four miles of two lane road? That's a bit excessive, isn't it? I'd give them that two years if they didn't have to turn around and rebuild that road they built two years later. I recall when I was a kid in Denver they repaved a major one-way three lane thoroughfare from downtown to the city limits. It took them all of three months.They did most of the work at night and never had more than one lane closed during the day. Oh, you might have had to drive on gravel for a couple of blocks, but generally it was smoother than most streets down here. Of course, if you raise too many objections, your rumblerama road slips further back on the priority list and you wind up with a crumbling surface dotted with slap-happy asphalt patches for the next four years while they reconsider whether or not to reconsider paving your little stretch. It's nuts.

Take 281... it's a U.S. highway for crying out loud. Can anyone tell me why they end the six lane freeway just beyond that new cloverleaf interchange they built at its intersection of the outer loop? I can guess. San Antonians said a big "NO" to a toll road. After all, what commuter would like to pay $8.00 a day to go to and from work? So what did they do? They made the northern stretch of 281 into a "Super Street." Super my hiney. There are traffic lights about every four blocks through the business area and no frontage roads like they have everywhere else. And the lights are synched... so you hit every red light on your way out of or into town. That's efficient. Instead of widening that road, they should have installed frontage roads and put the lights on those. Bob the Builder could have figured that one out. Geez. 

At a cost of around $30 million, the Super Street supporters tout that it will pay for itself in a year. May I be the first to cry, "Bullsh^t!" Less than a year in operation, they already had the handy-dandy fix it crews out putting up cones and slowing traffic even further because things were breaking down. The Romans built better roads... by hand! And they did it faster. And they're still in use today. And they only needed one supervisor. Now, you have at least three supervisors for every worker. Tell me road building in America isn't a racket. 

There's a way around it... I've seen it on the Internet. Flying cars. Heck, baby boomers were promised those by the nineties. Now, they have some really innovative ones. I'm looking at Terrafugia's TF-XTM. I like it because you can pilot it or it can fly itself, and let's face it, that's not only really cool, it's probably a lot safer than turning everybody loose with one of those suckers. It's still in development and I do have a couple of fallbacks... either the TransitionTM, which isn't nearly as cool, or the Aeromobile flying car, which has some slick lines and you don't have to get out of the driver's seat to deploy the wings. At my age, those things are kind of important. I mean, who wants to stand out in the hot sun or pouring rain while converting your car into a flying machine? And even though it will be a few years, that just gives me time to lobby Congress for approval to put flying cars in every garage. That could bring the price of them down, and believe me, that is a consideration, even though I expect to be Texas rich when I find oil in my front yard. Hey... I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Square Peg - Tiny Tornadoes... OR Things that Suck

Tiny Tornadoes... OR Things that Suck
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

Having the house all to my lonesome during the day, I sometimes put the TV on for background noise while I'm working. I've got to get my computer speakers replaced so I can listen to music again. I prefer my music to be in the background and right now my speakers have one setting - earsplittingly loud (I'm not sure, but I think I just made up an adjective... the dictionary doesn't like it). That sucks! The speaker volume AND the dictionary.

Anyway, as I was working on my latest book, in the middle of the background babble, I heard the word "tornadoes." It got my attention. Not because I was expecting a twister this time of year or this far south, but because my youngest likes to chase the suckers (yes, that was a play on words... let it go... it's kind of what I do). That's one of his photos taken from the cab of his truck this year in Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, my boy started emailing Josh Wurman at the University of Oklahoma with questions when he was four... well, his Mom emailed them for him... we didn't let him play on the computer... they were expensive back then. For those who don't know, Josh is one of America's best known atmospheric scientists who now runs his own foundation, the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado. He has had documentaries made on his exploits and was on a running series called, oddly enough, Tornado Chasers. Now, the kid runs into guys like Reed Timmer (a one-time protege of Wurman and a noted tornado chaser and researcher in his own right) on the road, and keeps in touch with them by text and social media. So, whenever there's a show on twisters, I try to record it for him to watch when he visits. I don't get to take him out chasing anymore, so that sucks too.

You know what else sucks? I go off on tangents that have little to do with what my initial thought was. So here's the deal. When I rushed in to start the DVR, I discovered that they weren't talking about real tornadoes. I should have suspected. The announcer had an Australian accent. Nope... he was pitching a vacuum cleaner, but he sure made it sound like he was talking about twisters, with all that nonsense about vortices and the power of ten thousand tiny tornadoes (I think that was the number, but let's face it, my attention was waning). As I got my third cup of coffee, he droned on and on about the virtues of his vacuum cleaner; extolling its design, demonstrating it side-by-side with that other IMPOSTER cleaner, and showing off that new model with the sucker unit in the top that reminded me of an electric broom. And, he proudly declared I could have both for 24 easy payments of ONLY $39.99. Let's see... that's only  $959.76. SAY WHAT?! Now THAT sucks!

I changed the channel. One of those ads for those ambulance-chasing lawyers was on."Have you been in an accident with a semi truck? We hold companies responsible! If you don't win, we don't get paid." All this as these exorbitant lawsuit settlements roll past on the screen, followed by a group of attorneys in Italian suits walking from a private jet to a stretch limo. Yeah, guess who's getting fat off those lawsuits. I hit the channel button on the remote. Sure enough, there was another ambulance chaser commercial, this one with satisfied clients declaring how much money they walked away with, " my pocket!" Members of that firm all wore big, white cowboy hats. They probably made money from the hat maker for wearing them on the commercial. And then there was another ad featuring a simpering, sympathetic female lawyer who assured me that, at whatever the name of her firm was, they "...understand and really care about..." their clients. Sure they do... how do you think they pay for those TV ads? Ambulance-chasing lawyers suck.

I came to a rapid conclusion. I need to get new speakers. I switched off the TV because... well... DAYTIME TV SUCKS!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Square Peg - Broken News

Broken News
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

The morning news show never ceases to amuse me... that's right, amuse, not amaze. I don't find anything amazing on the news shows anymore, but they are definitely a source of amusement. I particularly get a kick out of the Breaking News, the Weather, and, lest we forget, the On-time Traffic Report. But I can't help but wonder, who broke the news? Somebody had to... it wasn't like this during the Huntley-Brinkley and Cronkite years.

Take this morning. The Breaking News was that Omar whatever his name is, the reputed head of the Taliban and one of the most hunted men in the world, has apparently been dead... for two years. TWO YEARS! Bet that came as a big surprise to the CIA, DoD, and Homeland Defense. Oh wait... it probably did because it wasn't a Seal Team or Drone that got him... it was tuberculosis. Teach him to take up residence in a third world country with no universal healthcare plan. The Local Breaking News was that another "possibly gang-related" shooting happened on the south side. This isn't breaking news... this is routine on the south side. And the interviews they have with the neighbors and relatives. "He was a quiet guy... kept to himself and didn't bother nobody..." the neighbor said. Except, maybe, for the rival gang members. "He was such a good boy... loved everybody, and he didn't run with any gangs... I don't know how this could have happened," says a cousin. Then they show a mug shot of the victim from his last arrest... and there are all those tell-tale gang tattoos. Yeah, he was a "good boy."

The Weather also cracks me up. Every now and then one of the "meteorologists" slips in a comment about "climate change." We know he's talking about man-caused global warming, but since that has been attacked by scientists who know better, they have adopted the more PC term. They tell you that this is the "warmest year on record." Really? Not in Texas it's not. Here it is almost August and we have yet to see 100 degrees. Holy crap... we had 59 days of 100 + a few years ago and 49 in 2011. We almost had Stage 3 water restrictions last year because the aquifer was so low and the lakes were drying up, not so much because of the heat... but lack of rain. Then it started raining in December and it didn't quit until late June. The aquifer filled up, the lakes came back... Texans were happy. And if you've lived long enough you know what it is... a CYCLE... not the kind you ride, the kind that means there is a rhythm and rhyme to the weather. The breaking news today should have been the weather... we have a 30% chance of rain on Friday. YAY!

On-time Traffic remains my favorite part of the morning news, though. It's the only thing I pay close attention to, primarily because my lovely travels through one of the most congested intersections in the city... 281 and Loop 1604. She doesn't have that far to go, but a single idiot-caused wreck there can back up traffic for a loooong time. The other reason that I pay close attention to this segment is the traffic reporter. She is stunning, but I don't think they provide her with a teleprompter. For example, this morning, pointing at the scene from the sky copter (it was on the green screen, I'm sure, and that probably accounted for diverted attention if they did have a working teleprompter), she said, "And here you can see just how overturned that car is." Wait... wha...?  There are degrees of "overturned?" I don't think so... it either is or it isn't. It could be rolled on it's side, but if it is turned upside down and on its roof... it is overturned. Completely. But I'll forgive her... she has a nice smile.

So, until tomorrow, y'all have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What's in a dream? And should it be pursued?

What's in a dream? And should it be pursued?
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I woke up in the middle of the night some two months ago. I won't say it was because of a dream, but there was a dream and it stuck in my head. So what does a writer do when that happens? Yep... he fires up the old Dell, grabs a cup of coffee while the hard drive warms up, and puts what is in his noggin down on virtual paper. So here's my question... is this worth pursuing? Or is the just another of those random mental images that needs to be round filed? Anyway, here is the result of that midnight rambling:

 Gorsachi's Nightmare (working title).

 Viktor Vasnetsov, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Nightly I am attacked by a plague of dreams.  Dreams that fade in and out like near-spent light bulbs. Some are visions of what once was, others are but illusions of what might be.  Or are they illusions? So many of those illusions seem to have borne fruit of recent. At least more than I would like.

But before we get to that, let me introduce myself. I am Benet (I’m told that means “right hand son”)... “Ben” Gorsachi. I know. Weird last name. Somebody once told me where it came from, but I was young and I no longer remember. It doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is that I am here... still here. I should have been gone so long ago.  And that is my curse.  Agelessness is not a blessing, no matter what you might think. Oh, one has time to learn, to travel, and to experience many, many things. But as time passes, one comes to realize that there are repetitive patterns to life. People are born, they live, and then they are no longer in your life. Technology improves and regresses with the rise and fall of cultures, governments come and go, but the patterns remain. After the first four hundred years it begins to grow tiresome. At a thousand, it is positively boring.

Prescient, they call me, and sometimes a psychic, but I am neither. I am just experienced across the ages. Perhaps that’s why the illusions seem to bear fruit. Here’s the problem. My dreams have diverged from their age old patterns. That is at once exciting and terrifying.

Allow me to back up for it is important that you know from whence I came. I was conceived and born in a small village in the Pyrenees on what is now the border between Spain and France in 1015 anno domini. I’m not sure whether I was a Spaniard or a Frenchman by birth... only that by the time I was a small boy of five or six, my family had left the mountains and trekked to what is now southern France... and Poitevin and eventually French were the only languages I knew until much later. No one ever spoke Spanish in my family, at least not to my knowledge. We settled in a tiny village near the confluence of two rivers around 1020 where some 20 years later Pierre, Viscount de Marsan would found and build his capital, Mont de Marsan in the old Roman province of Aqutania, the Aquitaine. At the time, however, it was little more than a collection of rude buildings inhabited by farmers, woodcutters, and fishermen.

As a child I had my chores, of course, but when not engaged in those I was given free rein to roam about the village and nearby countryside. My father, who hired out as a mercenary soldier, was gone a great deal, often returning home only briefly, during which times he managed to sire two brothers and three sisters for me. Counting my older sister, that made seven of us left in the care of our mother and a spinster aunt.

... to be continued or not. We shall see.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Square Peg - The Coming Apocalypse... or Why Can't I Win That Stupid Trophy?

The Coming Apocalypse... or Why Can't I Win That Stupid Trophy?
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

"It's coming," Bingo Bob asserted. "You know it, I know it, we all know it."

I scratched my head and stared at Bob. "The ice cream truck?" I asked, listening to this afternoon's repetitive rendition of "La Cucaracha" wending its way toward us from two blocks away. "That guy needs to find a new tune."

Bob stamped his foot, raising a little puff of dust. It's amazing how quickly things dry out in Texas... shoot we just set a record for spring rainfall. "Don't be ree-dunk-you-less," Bob shot back (he uses that word when he's peevish). "You know what I'm talking about... the APOCALYPSE."

"Geez, Bob, last week it was Armageddon. The week before it was the Big Collapse."

"Same animal, different names," Bob returned. "But I'm ready... I have my 'go-bag' and extra ammo."

Here's the problem I have with Bob's preparations. Well, there are lots of problems with them, but this one sort of stands out. Bob was at my house asking to borrow some gas for his mower. What's that tell you? "That's great, Bob, but how do you plan on getting that go-bag to wherever it is you plan on going? You can't remember to get gas... you're car won't get you two miles."

"Don't worry... I got it covered."

I suddenly had a vision of Bob borrowing a gallon of gas from each of his neighbors and stashing it in an underground tank so he'd have plenty of gas when the time came. What a cheapskate... not to mention I didn't appreciate being used to facilitate his getaway. "This is the last time I'm loaning you gas, Bob... you owe me about thirty gallons right now."

"Uh... oh, yeah, well I'll get that back to you. Anyway, I have plenty of dried food and about a thousand rounds of ammo to ward off marauders. So I'm good," he mumbled, grabbed the gas can and beat a hasty retreat.

I didn't tell him I was more ready for the apocalypse than he was. I wasn't worried about having lots of modern ammo... I have black powder flintlocks with extra flints. I know how to make my own black powder and cast my own bullets... and I have a medium sized keg of old wheel weights on standby for that purpose. I own swords and knives and all manner of mayhem creating primitive weapons. I can go caveman on the suckers if need be. Which brings me to my current little project I'm working on in my garage. I was busy using a spokeshave on a chunk of oak when Duncan wandered into my workshop.

"What the heck you makin' today?" he asked.

"An atlatl," I responded.

"What in tarnation is an at-lat-al," he pondered. Duncan parses words he doesn't understand. "Looks like a stick to me..."

"Well, it sort of is. It's a primitive throwing stick to help propel a long dart at prey. Pretty effective, too," I grinned.

"Why not just use a bow and arrow?"

"They're a lot harder to make," I said. "You can make an atlatl and darts using a flint knife if you have to."

Which brings me to the second part of my tale. My lovely and I used to go to annual atlatl competitions. She won trophies three years running... two second place and one first place trophy... and she doesn't let me forget it. The best I could do was fifth in accuracy and fourth in distance. She does have great form when spear chucking, however, which probably accounts for those wins.

No trophies for me. No matter how much I practiced, somebody was always just a tad better. It was frustrating. It doesn't matter that my targets were at twice the distance of hers... after all, women aren't expected to have the strength that men do. Whenever I get too full of myself and point that out, she just points at her trophies, smiles at me and says, "And your trophies are where?". Geez...

I can still drive a dart with reasonable accuracy, but as I get older, my distance suffers a bit. I'm starting to understand why old cavemen got left behind, and that just sucks. Dart chucking is just one area where older and wiser does not make up for youth and enthusiasm... not to mention strength. This is why I have a backup plan that involves black powder and lead. At least I can keep ahead of the game that way... until my eyes give out. Then I'm toast. But back to atlatls... and for those intrepid four individuals who took my poll, at least now you know what an atlatl is... and it isn't a wooly mammoth... that's just the target. There may be one saving grace for an aging caveman, and that is skill in manufacture.

I think I'm going to make one of those fancy atlatls... the ones with the double dart rests on it and the fancy nock point. It might not get me more distance, but it should improve my accuracy. Besides, if I do some careful wood carving, inlay it with walrus ivory, and use primo sinew, I stand a chance of winning a trophy for best craftsmanship. Maybe. In any case, I will be able to go caveman on any marauders or zombies that think they can take advantage of me... as long as they get in range and close enough for me to see them clearly. I wonder if there's a trophy for zapping a zombie?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Square Peg - I get hate mail...

I get hate mail...
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

With a lot of help from my minions, I wrote a humorous blog yesterday... a real tongue-in-cheek response to the Fangirlie Nomination sent by Adele Archer. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the gesture... it's just that I tend to be a real smarta$$ and my minions are even worse. It's what we do... and we're not very good with awards of any kind. Besides, I was tired of saying, "Aw shucks," blushing and stubbing my toe in the dirt. So I did what I always do in such situations... yep, I screw it up. Sigh. How do I know this? Hate mail... you tell me how they got my email address... I think the CIA, NSA, and MI6 all released my private info across the net. I don't know about the KGB... Vlad's email was a bit of a surprise. I didn't think I'd slighted him at all. More about that later.

Just a few examples. Laura Bush indignantly told me she didn't read romances... she's into cookbooks and flowers. Then she said she was going to have a bill introduced in the Legislature to have me kicked out of Texas for "being impertinent." I'm glad the legislative session is over, and I hope she forgets by the time the next one rolls around. I was tempted to write her back and ask her who knows more about Dubya than her, but I was afraid she'd pull strings and have our Governor call a special session to deal with the "internal threat" to Texas' reputation, so I didn't. I may have to write George and Babs for moral support if they aren't too busy helping Jeb.

Hillary was equally offended. She demanded to know how I knew about her secret meeting with Putin and told me she could "hold her own" with any male leader out there, although she did confide that she liked Cinderella and was a big fan of The Art of the Deal. On the other hand, she did not appreciate my implication that she had issues with the truth and told me it was immoral to mislead the American public that way. I think, rather than taking issue with her in an email battle that will simply wind up getting me subpoenaed by the House Committee on Idiot Affairs, I'll just hack her account and leak all those messages to Karl Rove on election strategy.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II was a bit more gracious in her response, saying, "It is not Our policy to respond to such enquiries from Colonials." She went on to say that an inquiry would be opened on my "abuse of the Queen's English with a possible suit ensuing over my libelous comments regarding the use of 'u' in such words as favourite," leading me to believe I might be our of favor with Her Majesty. Well, nuts, there goes my dreams for a tour of Buckingham Palace and a royal audience. I guess I shant be having spotted dick at the royal table after all.

Most surprising of all, Vladamir Putin sent a scathing email demanding that any reference to him meeting with either Hillary or the Queen be purged immediately or he would issue sanctions against me and send his minions to recover my copies of the Gulag Archipelago and War and Peace, but said nothing about my Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik volume, go figure.Then he had the audacity to tell me I wasn't perfect, that he was the only one who could make that claim, and if I continued to try to usurp the title he would "go Baltimore" on me. That's a frightening thought.

Then there were the letters from feminists that called me "a sexist pig," demanding to know how dare I "stereotype women" with such outrageous claims that they might prefer romances over more substantive works? I have just one thing to say in that regard... look at the best sellers on Amazon... I don't think guys are buying those. Yeah, I know I'll just get more hate mail on that comment, but statistics don't lie, do they? And, frankly, what's wrong with a little escapism? Men read thrillers for that reason, so to each his/her own, I say.

And Hillary supporters... don't even get me started on that bunch. Good thing I set up my spam filter on those venomous wretches. They filled my spam folder up in less than two minutes... and I have a lot of memory in that folder. It dang near crashed my computer. I'm gonna shoot whoever gave them my email, if I can find out who it is. And, boy, are those folks liberated... at least their mouths are... can anybody lend me a bar of soap? Better make that a train car load of the stuff. We're gonna need it. Oh crap... I used "shoot" in a sentence... now I'm going to be on watch lists for the CIA, NSA, FBI, and ATF. I'm already on the,, and lists as a gun nut. I'm really not, but some labels you just can't shake. And honestly, I don't really care. "Durn, tootin'," Duncan said, reading this last sentence, "let 'em come. I'm locked, cocked, and ready to rock." Yeah, you're not really helping here, Duncan.

Well, I guess I have two days worth of blogs for which I need to thank Adele Archer, but can you please help me put out the fire? I mean, seriously, I'll try to be good... I'll try to limit my sarcasm and be a kinder, gentler blogger. Oh  H E double hockey sticks... no I won't. I'd have to give up blogging.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Square Peg - Fangirling Blogging Award Nomination?... Why? And where can I hunt down the dirty rotten....

Fangirling Blogging Award Nomination?... Why? And where can I hunt down the dirty rotten....
S. Bradley Stoner

I'm not even going to copyright this... because I have no freaking idea what a blogging award is, far less what Fangirling is. In fact, I think I'll delegate the response my minions because whatever it is, it's probably illegal in Texas and there are a thousand guys lined up to shoot at that target. But wait... I'd better read the rules... okay.. minions can handle this... nothing in the rules precludes delegation.

1. Read Award Post - Okay Duncan Donutz did that, and he reports back that the author(ess) has completely bollixed up the American language and ought to be arrested for "Assault with a deadly writing implement." I think that carries five years in the pokey (that's gaol for you British types). I told him it would involve extradition, to which he replied, "Well forget it then... too damn much paperwork."

2. Thank nominator - I assigned this one to Bingo Bob... it's about all the intellectual activity he can handle... and the way he spelled Adele's name... well, let's just said he should probably be shot, but Archer's arrow probably won't fly that far. Suffice it to say that his "Thank you," was about the most backhanded groveling gratuity I've ever seen.

3. Answer their book related blog questions - I might have to handle part of this myself... two of my minions reported back with the comment, "What's a book?" and more importantly they complained about all those extraneous "u's" in words. They want to know what's wrong with the writer's spell check... and if it really does cast spells.

4. Invite 3 other cool bloggers - Pete the Pilot wants to know why you would want to choose "cool" bloggers when there are so many "hot ones" out there.

5. The minions have opted to delete numbers 5a - 5c because of its wussy approach to life. Irish Ed says if the wee people don't want to read a blog, "feck 'em." At least that's what I heard through that thick brogue. And there was something about leprechauns not hiding at the end of every story. I'm still not sure what that was supposed to mean. Finally, Howard Humbugger said, "If you didn't have sarcasm, you wouldn't have anything... no wonder you don't get many nominations." Shut up Howard.

Now to Adele's questions: First off... what's with the ©? Are these really worth stealing?

1: My least favourite book is ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’. If my bed was a little wonky, I would probably prop it up with that. Which book would you prop your bed up with? I handle this one... My first thought was Fifty Shades of Grey, but then I remembered the last time I picked it up, it burst into flames, so that one is out. Then I thought about Tatterdemon, but that was fascinating in a sick, twisted sort of way... and it was an e-book, so I would be propping my bed up with electrons... Nope... If I had to choose, it would probably be Windows 8 :: Migrating to Windows 8: For computer users without a touch screen, coming from XP, Vista or Windows 7... Like I'm ever going to get rid of XP.
2: You’re only allowed eBooks OR real books for the rest of your life (now, don’t be pretentious), which would you choose? Arthur Ablewriter took this question. He was a bit confused and sent back this response. "eBooks are real books, aren't they? I mean they have copyrights and ISBNs and all the other things necessary to make them real... Or did she mean traditional bound paper books... Ms. Arrowaimer really needs to be more specific." That's "Archer," Arthur... don't be such a prig.

3: ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Quiddich’, which is the suckiest sport? I gave this one to Sammy Sportsnut who declared, "Please... those aren't real games... and everybody here knows soccer is the suckiest sport to ever hit the planet. Run around, kick a little ball, butt it... yeah that's one butt ugly excuse for a game. At least rugby involves physical contact and blood." You tell 'em, Sam.

4: If your life story was made into a biography, what chapter would you ask them to leave out? I gave this one to my biographer, Edward Edifier, "Are you kidding me?" he said in his email. "What kind of false modesty is the Fangirling award looking for... and how did they find out about the book and movie script?! I just finished the scene on Mac Davis' rendition of that song about you, 'Oh Lord it's hard to be humble...' You can't leave out anything when describing perfection. Tell Ron Howard if he tries to alter the script, he and I are going to have words."

5: Bloggers are renowned for being a peaceful peoples, but which character from which book (other than Bella Swan from Twilight) would you most like to slap? Who made that false claim? Peaceful? I don't think so. Have you read... oh never mind, you probably haven't. Okay, I'll answer this one. It's Dracula... someone needs to slap the shiznick out of that blood sucking pervert.Where the hell is Van Helsing when you need him?

Now I guess I'm tasked with nominating three other unlucky saps for this goofy Fangirling award. They're all of the female persuasion since this award is definitely a feminine one. And curse you, Adele Archer, for implying that I might fit that category!

Nominee number one: Laura Bush... because there are some unanswered questions about Dubya and I think we all deserve to know

Nominee number two: Hillary Clinton... because she's a master at writing fiction... and she does it with a straight face. You taught her well, Bill.

Nominee number three: Queen Elizabeth II... because, well... Inquiring Minds Want to Know. Oh, and you're not allowed to delegate this to Charles... he'd just muck it up.

Now, here are the questions:

1. What is your favorite romance book? Aw, come on... we know you don't curl up with stuff on macro-economics and international law.

2. You're stuck on a bus with Vladamir Putin. Do you pull out Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Tolstoy's War and Peace or Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik? No fudging... you have to be completely honest.

3. Politics by Aristotle, The Prince by Machiavelli, Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson or Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm? Be honest.

4. What unlovable male lead character would you like to seduce... and why?

 5. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth or Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal. Yeah... we all know you'll lie about this one.

So there you go... I'd like say, in all humility (although I don't have that affliction) this has totally screwed up my Saturday protocol, thank you very much! I had a really important subject to write about and instead I got roped into this nonsense. Well, what's good for the gander is good for the goose... or gooses as the case may be... so get to work girls, I dare you to take up the challenge!

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Square Peg - Summer Games... Or Where Have All the Children Gone

Summer Games... Or Where Have All the Children Gone
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I went out and mowed the lawn this morning. Bear in mind, this is summer... and Texas. It isn't exactly cool, nor is it dry. Eight o'clock in the morning and it was already 79 degrees and 80 percent humidity. Humidity makes it feel hotter. Still, it was cloudy and there was a nice breeze blowing from the southeast (which probably explains the humidity since it's coming off the Gulf of Mexico). I usually go out and putz around outside or work in my garage in the morning. It's just what I do... and I've been doing it a long time. One thing I've noticed this summer, though, is that there are no kids playing outside. It isn't that we don't have kids in our neighborhood, there are a whole passel of them.

Now I know when I was a kid older folks used to tell us, "Kids are to be seen and not heard," which I always thought was narrow minded. It didn't work anyway. We were loud. From early in the morning until our moms called us in to go to bed. There was always something to do... things to explore... trouble to get into. It was expected. It was a right of passage. Mornings were reserved for racing about on two wheeled street rockets with playing cards fixed to the forks so it sounded like a real motorcycle... or at least it did to us. When you're a kid, imagination makes up for a lot of deficiencies. The street in front of our house became a drag strip... and there were the inevitable wrecks with tangled handlebars, bent wheels, and skinned knees, much to the delight of the raucous cheering section of little girls who didn't like to skin their knees. Yep, it sounded like an arena filled with mayhem and fans until somebody stuck their head out of a door and yelled, "Keep it down! I'm trying to concentrate." On what, we never knew. Adults were sort of a mystery.

On the other hand, adults were kind of handy to have around. They kept kids supplied with things like badminton  sets, croquet sets, Louisville Sluggers, baseballs and mitts, toy guns, cardboard boxes, scrap wood, wagons, roller skates, and lawn darts, all of which we put to good use, although not always to the purpose for which they were intended. More often than not, the net for the badminton game wound up on the ground and those little feathered shuttlecocks became deadly racquet-launched missiles when we chose up sides and went to war. And those croquet ball grenades hurt if they happened to hit you. And lawn darts... ooh... I can see why those things finally got banned... although I kind of miss them. Those new ones with the blunt ends just aren't as much fun... and they really don't teach you situational awareness and escape speed.

The Louisville Sluggers were responsible for more than one broken window in the neighborhood. You see, we didn't have organized baseball fields and all too often the school yards with their backstops and gravel fields were off limits to us. So, the opposing team's baseball mitts became bases when they were up, as did ours when we were up. I say the Sluggers were responsible because we all were pretty good hitters and it was only the odd duck who couldn't throw a ball straight.

We got pretty inventive with roller skates... they were the steel wheeled gems that clamped onto your shoes. If you wore Ked's or PF Flyers, or some off-brand of high-topped black sneakers, they kind of pinched your toes, which is probably why we took the skates apart and made scooters or "skate boards" out of them. I'm pretty sure the kids in my neighborhood should own a piece of the patent for skateboards, but we didn't have a patent attorney.

Most of us had chores too. You could always tell when somebody had failed in their tasks before hitting the playing fields. The dreaded three name yell from one of the mothers would result in a hung head, slouched shoulders, and a horrible grimace as the offending child dragged his feet through the dirt, leaving a little dust cloud behind as he trudged home. That never happened to me... much. My brother and I had to do the morning dishes, take out the trash, and tend the vegetable garden. And we didn't have things like rototillers when I was a kid. It was all spade and hoe work. That'll get you blisters until they turn into calluses. But, there was fresh lettuce for salads, corn on the cob, radishes, yellow squash, and, come fall, there was fresh chili sauce made from our tomatoes and peppers. Yep... fresh veggies brought to us by Burpee's and the sweat of our brow.

All of this brings me back to my initial question. Where do all the kids in our neighborhood go in the summer? Camp? I don't think so. I think they're all inside in the air conditioning sleeping, watching TV, and playing video games. Every once in a while, one group or another will come outside, jump on a trampoline, have a water fight, or ride a bike for an hour. I figure their parents must have just seen a TV ad for "Play 60," because that's about how long the kids last before they return to their troglodyte's existence in their brick caves. I'm working on a machine that will jam all the WiFi signals on their video devices though... maybe that will drive them out of their houses. I have a few tweaks left before I can test it. I'll let you know if it works.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Square Peg - Renaissance... Fair or Not?

Renaissance... Fair or Not?
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

My old friend, Charlie Chainmail, called me up the other day. Charlie's into Medieval reenactment and Renaissance Fairs. He and I used to go to them when I lived in Manhattan, Kansas... the Little Apple. He was a mechanic when he wasn't making mail suits and armor. I worked for the Army at Fort Riley. I don't even recall how we met, but I suspect it was at a local Renaissance Fair. My lovely and I went to those to look at the arts and crafts done in true Medieval style with the old methods. Well, that's why she went. By the way... if you go, give the soap making demonstration wide berth... that stuff will blind you. Whenever I could get away, I checked out the weaponry and blacksmithing. I like weaponry.

In any case, Charlie told me there was a big Renaissance Fair near Houston starting in October and running for eight whole weekends. It's called the Texas Renaissance Festival. Apparently it's a big deal in Texas and draws people from all over the country. I told him I'd look it up. "I need you to help me get ready," Charlie said.

"Huh? What do you mean, 'get ready,' Charlie."

"They have competitions," Charlie said eagerly. "I want to enter the jousting and personal combat contests."

"So, you want to get knocked off a horse and then sliced and diced?" I asked. I remembered the last time Charlie and I practiced the art of skewering your opponent. "Did you ever fix the dents in your armor?"

"Got a new suit!" Charlie declared eagerly. "I made it last year! It's really fancy... engraved and everything. You ought to see my helm!"

That ought to be interesting, I thought. The last piece of headgear Charlie had looked like a giant soup can with eye holes plus breathing holes that made the thing look like it had a bad case of acne. I don't think he spent much time on that one... even the welds were a bit sloppy, and Charlie is a pretty good welder. "What did you do, rework that old can of a helmet?"

"Nah... I couldn't get that crease you put in the crown out. I made a new one."

Let me explain. The last time Charlie and I got together to practice, he showed up in full armor, carrying a big shield. He had a big, single handed broadsword and a dirk in the broad leather belt that secured his tunic over the plate armor. He squeaked when he walked, which I thought was more funny than intimidating. He had looked me up and down and frowned. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers... no armor, no shield, just my wicked looking fantasy broadsword that my sweetie bought for me.

"You can't use that," he said. "It isn't regulation." He squeaked back to his car and brought his spare sword for me to use. It was a big, two-handed thing that weighed about five pounds. At least I was going to get a good workout, I thought. "I didn't bring a shield," he added, "you're on your own for that." Somehow, I didn't think I was going to need one.

We positioned ourselves on the field of battle (a.k.a. my backyard) and prepared to engage. I took a high guard. Charlie tried to position his sword, but had to stop and pry one of the lapped armor plates loose from another before he could proceed, but as soon as he looked ready, I swung that big broadsword. CLANG! A big dent appeared in the skirt armor and Charlie staggered sideways.

"I didn't say en garde, dang it! I wasn't ready."

"You looked ready," I replied.

"Well, I wasn't... you gotta follow the rules," he said, repositioning himself.

"There are rules in a sword fight? I just thought the object was to maim or kill your opponent... rules kind of go out the window when that's in play."

"This is tournament combat, there ARE rules," he assured me. "En garde!" he yelled and rushed me, the point of his sword aimed square at my midsection. Okay, it was more like he lumbered at me with the point of his sword kind of pointed down a little and wavering unsteadily.

I sidestepped and struck the top of his blade with mine, driving it down to the ground, where it buried itself, causing him to somersault over the hilt. I smacked on the butt with the flat of my sword as he arched in the air. He landed with a thud on his back and just laid there for a minute, gasping for air.

"Foul!" he cried when he finally got his breath back. "You can't hit a guy in the back with your sword, it's against the rules!"

"You're kidding! Who makes up these rules?"

"They're in the Tournament Combat Rule book. You can only attack from the front."

"You were attacking... I was parrying."

"Still... no hitting in the back."

'It was your butt, not your back,' I thought, but I shrugged, helped him to his feet, and we resumed. After the customary, "En garde," Charlie swiped at my side with his sword. From the high guard, I easily knocked it away, came around in a big loop and brought that big sword he'd loaned me crashing right down in the middle of his flat-topped helmet. Charlie sat down... hard. "Are you okay?"

"What?" Charlie yelled. I guess it gets noisy inside that helmet when you hit it with a big piece of metal. He removed his gauntlets and reached up to take off the helmet. He studied the crease down the middle and frowned.

"Charlie, I think we better stop before somebody gets hurt... and by somebody, I mean you."

He nodded and said, "Yeah... my helm is too damaged now. You kinda had an unfair advantage. You wouldn't be so fast if you were wearing a suit of armor."

When I had reminded him of that last time we had "practiced," the phone went silent for a while. "Well, I'm better now," he finally said. "So when can you come up?"

"To Kansas?"

"Well yeah... I don't have time to come down there... I'm still working. You're retired."

"And smarter," I returned. "Frankly, you'd be better off going as a blacksmith... or a jester. Nobody tries to beat them senseless with a chunk of steel. And I'm not driving to Kansas to prove the point."

The last fair I went to, a girl trounced a bunch of guys in the personal combat display. I think it was orchestrated though. No knight would hit a girl... would he? If I go to the Texas Festival at all, I'm going for the exhibits, to enjoy the food, and maybe buy another sword. Yeah... that's why I'd go.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Shadows Fall - A Tag Blog - Part 08

This is a Tag Blog, which hops from blog to blog depending on who is willing to carry the tale. You can catch PART ONE HERE, you can catch PART TWO HERE you can catch PART THREE HERE you can catch PART FOUR HERE, you can catch PART FIVE HERE, you can catch PART SIX HERE, you can catch PART SEVEN HERE.If you want to read PART EIGHT then just continue reading. The instructions for taking PART SEVEN follow the story below. Thank you for reading!

Yossi ben Avrim’s shoulders sagged just a little. The debrief had been brutal. Ari Netanyahu, a distant second cousin of the hero and former president of Israel had been angry with him. Yossi didn’t blame him... he was angry with himself. The chance to eliminate a key link to the unholy future they new lie ahead had been missed. Hans Bruchmann, whose family traced its origins to before the middle ages and considered themselves among the purest of Aryan blood, was the tip of the spear for von Schumman’s Reich Auferstehung (Reich Resurrection, now more commonly called the Fourth Reich), charged with protecting its secrets and eliminating its enemies. Had Yossi been able to eliminate Bruchmann, von Schumann would have been exposed and the Reich would have folded like a house of cards. But now that was beyond their reach.

He was stopped as he approached the exit. There was urgency in the guard’s voice. “You’re to report to Director Netanyahu immediately.”

Yossi knew better than to ask the guard why. He wouldn’t have any idea. He turned on his hell and marched back down the lit hallways until he came to Netanyahu’s office. The Director’s secretary said nothing, just motioned toward the partially open door. ben Avrim crossed the room quickly and slipped through the door into the spartan, windowless office. “Director?”

“Sit,” Netanyahu motioned at the chair in front of his desk. “We have encountered a problem,” he stated matter-of-factly. “One of our operatives has been identified and captured. We need to recover him.”

“I can be prepared to fly in an hour,” Yossi returned, eager to be back in the good graces of the Director.

“It’s not quite that simple,” the Director sighed. “I wish it was. This mission requires you to travel through time.”

ben Avril just stared at Netanyahu, not knowing quite what the Director was proposing.

“Don’t worry, it’s been done many times before. You will be flown to a secret installation outside of Ar-arat BaNegev. For security’s sake the helicopter compartment is blacked out. That way if you and your team are caught and tortured you will not be able to reveal its true location. You, and your team have been chosen for a very simple reason... all of you are blond and blue eyed... and you speak fluent German. Where you are going, that will be extremely important.”

Yossi started to speak, but the Director waved him off. “You will be fully briefed on-site. Now go... there is a helicopter waiting on the back pad.”

Deep below the Negev sands 80 kilometers outside of Ar-arat Ba Negev, David ben Zaken and his team clustered around the Continuum Interrupter. It had worked as planned, damaging the control mechanism on von Schumman’s machine, but not destroying it as had been hoped. The communicator on David’s belt buzzed impatiently. He stepped away from the group to take the call. “Yes,” he answered. The call was short and to the point. Preparations had to be made. The Interrupter would have to wait. He summoned the crew and moved to another secure room. It was much larger with an oblate torus at its center. While part of the crew went to attend the device, ben Zaken and the senior staff made for the conference room adjacent to the control room. The travelers would arrive within the hour and a full briefing had to be prepared and delivered when they got here.

In Berlin, Rebecca sat in the small cafe sipping coffee. The paper’s headlines blared yet another warning about the possible collapse of the EU and fall of the Euro. von Schumman would greet such news with eager anticipation. It would make his task much easier and the installation of a puppet Fuhrer much simpler if the collapse of Greece fulfilled the doomsday predictions of the political pundits and resulted in that domino effect that would ruin Europe’s economies. It would play into her plans as well. She didn’t even look up when the handsome blond athletic specimen of a man sat down opposite her and said softly, “guten Tag, Fraulein. Wie ist de Nachricht.”

“The news is bleak,” Rebecca responded quietly, and laid a two Euro coin on the table. “Soon this will be worthless.”

The handsome stranger picked up the coin and studied it. The coded response had been correct. Nonchalantly, he flipped the coin, caught it and slipped it into his pocket. “You may well be right,” he said, then steered the conversation to more pleasant items. When he finished his coffee, he politely said, “Danke, verfehlen , für das Gespräch.” He tossed a two Euro coin to the waitress as he left. She returned his smile and pocketed the tip.

Rebecca nodded and continued with her coffee and newspaper. When she finished, she carefully folded the paper, put it in her bag, and casually left the cafe without glancing back at the man who tailed her. She had seen him right off, following her in when she had entered the cafe and she recognized him as one of von Schumman’s minions. She had grown accustomed to being followed... von Schumman trusted no one.

Once Rebecca and the two men were gone, the waitress turned in her apron and left the cafe. She would rendevous with Moshe, pass the coin, and perhaps engage in a little flirtation. Moshe was, after all, a very good looking fellow and quite fun to be with. She knew, however, it would lead to nothing. Moshe and the coin would take the El Al flight to Tel Aviv within three hours.

Yossi reflected on the briefing as he changed into the uniform... a symbol of everything he despised, but absolutely necessary for this mission. Why, he had wanted to know, couldn’t he simply return to the time Hans Bruchmann had been in his sights and finish him off before all this had begun?  The time line, he was told only went back two years with this machine. They could go to the future and come back from there, but not very far into the past. That didn’t make any sense to Yossi, and when he pursued it, ben Zaken had pulled up the formulas and calculations on his tablet, which only served to give Yossi a headache. Math was not his strong suit, so he let it drop. His specialty was covert ops and weapons. The latter, he had been informed would be in the room in which the team would arrive. Teleporting weapons into the future apparently wasn’t possible either. Yossi began to wonder if teleporting people was possible, but dismissed the thought. He had his orders. When he and the five members of the team dressed in the dreaded SS uniforms were in the chamber, a slight hum pervaded the space... and then they were gone.

von Schumman sat at his office desk in the complex finishing his review of progress reports on the repair of the machine. His impatience grew with each passing day.The machine needed to be operational... and soon.  He looked up sharply as his aide marched sharply into the office, clicked the heels of his boots together and snapped the fascist salute. “Wo ist der Gefangene?” von Schumman demanded.

The aide was puzzled. “Sir, the Obersturmfuhrer collected the prisoner over an hour ago. It was confirmed by the intelligence officer that he had released him to SS custody for transport.”

“So... where are they?!” von Schumman brought the cane down hard on the desk top and it cracked like a pistol shot. The phone rang at that moment. “Ja. Wer ist es?” he barked. It was one of his special agents. He listened quietly for a moment and then exploded. “GOTT IM HIMMEL! What do you mean DISAPPEARED?!” von Schumman sat down heavily and rubbed his forehead. This could mean but one thing... To be continued.

Place this message at the end of your completed blog entry, and wait for someone to accept the challenge of taking this story on as you did. Once the next post is in place on your blog page, post another comment below, with link, to let me know and I will re-post my part with that link to your next part of the story. If someone has already offered to take the story from here, please feel free to leave a comment saying you would like to play too, and should we run out of volunteers we can go back and beg you to take over where the chain ends. Thank you and we shall be interested to see where you take it.