Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A final hurrah in '08

This will be my 510th and final post of 2008, barring perhaps a Happy New Year blurb.

I hope you all had a great Christmas. Mine was, surprisingly, very good and may very well rank as the best ever. Nothing spectacular happened, and there were no grandiose presents, it was just a general . . . feeling of happiness, camaraderie, and peace. It was very nice.

Be assured, you will be swamped with boring photographic essays of the festivities. I won't disappoint on that score.

* * * * *

It's been a week since my last real post here, and even that was a rehash of my column. So let's catch up.

There was the holiday, sure, but there was also:

- a (part-time/seasonal) job that ate up hours [more on that at a later date]. And no, I wasn't Santa Claus.

- two big snowstorms, a patch of sub-zero weather, and a severe rainstorm that melted most of the snow and led to a small amount of water in the corner of my basement

- the kids, playing at gymnastics in the living room, collided with my big screen TV and smashed the speakers in, rendering the TV mute. I should have/would have been demonically angry, but I received the news at work and had six hours to cool off before returning home.

- The TV is still out of commission, pending the arrival of some money that can be spent on a luxury item, but it isn't so bad. There's a lot more reading going on here, and no one, not even the kids, seem to mind its absence. Mind you, there's a TV upstairs, but I can't stand laying in bed and watching television. The TV usage in this house is easily down 70% or more.

- I did want to watch football though, and Sunday night watched NBC while listening to the Westwood One radio broadcast. The two were out of sync, with the radio three to five seconds behind. Very annoying way to watch a game.

- While we're talking football, let's visit the better late than never department. It's a lousy injustice that Texas Tech's quarterback Graham Harrell didn't get more votes for the Heisman. Pure economics. The votes go where the money goes, and the cash goes to the network's favorite teams - cue Florida and the vastly over publicized (but damn good) Texas and Oklahoma.

- On the other hand, at least he was excused from listening to the sappy love-fest ESPN made of the Heisman presentation. It's not the Nobel Prize people, and I'll say it here: 2007 winner Tim Tebow may kick ass in college, but in the pro's he'll have no more sucess than Ty Detmer.

* * * *

I've also been busy writing. I've gotten 19 posts written here on Slapinions, all of them scheduled for automatic distribution throughout 2009, with more on the way before the New Year.

This way, no matter what -I spend the summer on jury duty, I get hit by a meteorite, I go and pull a Judge Crater - you'll still be treated to the wit and wisdom of the Dan.

Spooky eh?

Naw, the real notion is that I'd like to devote more time to getting paid to write, but don't want to neglect Slapinons in the process. This seems like the best way to make that happen.

* * * *

I was aggressive on the writing front this week, and I'm proud of myself. I laid my hands on an advance copy of a novel due out in January and thought:

"You know, it's not like I don't know an editor at the Journal. I should review this and send it in. Ah, wait. I don't know her that well. I should give her some more material to work with, just to make sure my name rings a bell, THEN send in the review."

Normally, a thought like that would occur to me and slowly escape into the ether.

Not this time.

In one night I hammered out three columns, each and every one of them livelier and more Danny-esque than the previously published piece, and sent them in to the editor.

I then read the novel in a single night. The next morning, in an hour I had to spare before work, I put together a coherent and (I think) publishable review and sent it to that same editor, boldly asking her to forward it to the appropriate party and thus bypass any objection to outside reviews.

I'm not sure it'll get in the paper. I'm not sure that the book editor will even read it. But damned if the op-ed editor didn't forward it on to her.

As London Tipton would say, 'Yea Me!'

* * * *

See ya in '09 folks. Keep it fun, but keep it safe. Thanks for listening for the last twelve months :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Wishes to All

All my favorite blogs are awash in Christmas related wishes, and if I have one small regret about this wonderful holiday it's that I won't have time to visit every one and share the blessings of the season.

To everyone who stops by this blog: Have a safe, happy, and memorable Christmas 2008.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Full text of my Column

Ok, I figure it's been long enough. Here's the complete text of the MJS column I wrote. It 'reads' better in print (not as dry), as there's a lot to the idea of tailoring your writing to the medium. That, or I was just entranced by a suprisingly good photograph of me that ran with the piece.

* * * *

As a new community columnist, one of the instructions I received from my editor was: "You must zealously guard your credibility." That means disclosing a personal stake in an issue you're writing about, and I certainly have one here.

A few years ago, I managed a property that was the site of a pool drowning. It was a horrific day, for the victim's family most of all, and there has never been a day since when it hasn't weighed heavily on my mind.

Having seen the dangers of a pool firsthand, I was happy to hear of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

In 2002, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker died when the suction from a spa drain trapped her underwater. The law enacted in her name specifies that by today drain covers must meet specific anti-entrapment requirements. Locally, that means most of the 193 licensed public pools and spas in Milwaukee must have upgraded their equipment. (The Bush administration said this week that public swimming pools and hot tubs must shut down after today if their drain covers don't meet the requirements.)

I have no objection to the law, which seems like a reasonable attempt to prevent injuries. But some statistics raise questions. Between 1997 and 2007, suction entrapment resulted in 74 accidents, including nine deaths, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Nine deaths in 10 years are nine too many, but consider this:

According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation, about 800 people drown each year in swimming pools or spas in this country. On average, 283 of those deaths involve children under age 6. That same age bracket produced more than 2,700 emergency room visits for pool injuries.

I have four children age 7 and under; small wonder I remain skittish about having them go swimming.

It's that last statement that reveals a serious problem. We can protect our children with all the legislation and physical barriers imaginable, but we can't forget the surest way to limit water-related injury: teaching them to swim.

An AP report from May revealed the results of a USA Swimming survey: 31% of Caucasian children couldn't swim, while a staggering 56% of Hispanics and 58% African-Americans couldn't swim.

Smarter people than me can sort out the reasons behind those numbers and the racial divide it demonstrates. I can tell you that I've heard fewer complaints about the proposed closing of Milwaukee County pools - the only structured water play for many children - than I have about locked restrooms in the parks.

I've taken my children to swim classes that were half full, and I've heard the instructor tell a girl that she could have a private lesson because no other student bothered to show up that day.

For a city located near a huge body of water, we seem woefully ignorant of the value of teaching our children to swim.

Here's hoping we change our priorities before another tragedy prompts a law to do it on our behalf.

*** ****

As far as feedback: I had a great letter from a cousin of my Dad's, one from an old co-worker, one from Beth at Nutwood Junction (thanks!), and two from strangers who read the piece and wanted to give me their two cents. All were positive, and if I ever obtain permission from them to do so I'll repost them here.

Smiley and KayKay

From the jam packed St. Nick's weekend, here's Smiley horsing around with his cousin KayKay.




Monday, December 22, 2008

The Artificial Man by L.P. Davies

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is to venture over to Half-Price Books and dig around in their clearance sections. [FYI to management: your recent decision to raise the cost of hardcover clearance books to $2 just cost you a whole lot of business from me, buckaroo]


Aside from my obsessive habit of buying any copy of Salem's Lot and The Stand I see, I also enjoy picking up old sci-fi paperbacks. I like the genre, sure, but far more importantly they were considered worthless examples of pulp fiction back in the day and priced accordingly. That means that by the rules of Half Price books I can pick up an old paperback for as little as a quarter - or in the case of The Artificial Man, originally sold for sixty cents, a mere quarter and a nickel.

I'll admit I bought the book for nothing more than the price, as I'd never heard of it or its author, but I was quickly and happily surprised. Within a chapter I was struck by how smooth and eloquent a writer Davies was, and thought to myself - yes, I think in such terms - that it was like 'buttah, pure buttah'.

The book concerns a man in 1966 who is recovering from an auto accident in a small English village. Over the course of the book it becomes apparent that neither the man, his situation, or the village is exactly what it seems. He is a creation of the future State, a tool and agent of intrigue in the dictatorship of 2016's Britain.

The plot is interesting, although it rushes headlong to a climax that feels hurried, and the characters are strong and three dimensional. The writing itself is smooth and undated, and impressive start to finish.

Pick up a copy at your secondhand bookstore or look for it at your local library.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Gingerbread House

One of the gifts the school St. Nick gave us was a gingerbread house kit. That weekend (I think right after we bought our tree) Lisa and my sister C. set to work on it with the kids.









Not the prettiest gingerbread house ever, but it sure was tasty!


St Nick's 2008

That weekend of the Breakfast with Santa was a busy one. The morning prior was St. Nick's, and as is often the case our friend Chris stayed over with her kids.


As usual my parent's supplemented our goodies with scads of trinkets they bought for the kids. Unlike some other grandparent's I know they never seek credit for such things, preferring the kids to retain the illusion of the Easter Bunny or Santa or whoever. I think that's cool.

We'd also been surprised - genuinely so - by a huge stocking of goodies left on our door by 'St. Nick' aka a family from school we count as friends.


Lisa tried to have the kids go to bed in matching pajama's, or pajama's at all, because she knew I'd be snapping pictures and was 'tired of seeing half-naked babies on your blog'.




Listen, those kids went to bed super-late because of the sleepover and then got up at the [bleep] of dawn. They look like rough? Tough Judgemental Future YaYa and LuLu - you should have let us sleep in and purty ya up.

On to the show:










Sorry about the red-eye on these next few. I don't know why Photobucket doesn't seem to accept and save edits. Sigh.



A very nice morning, and very relaxing.


More pics from dance class

Of no interest to anyone but me and Lisa, here's some more pics I snagged from the kids dance classes.



That's Smiley in the black shirt, third from the top of the picture.


Midnight Mass by F Paul Wilson

You've heard it here before: I don't like vampire stories. I think they're a weak excuse to indulge lame sexual fantasies and a yawn to boot. In their place give me a decaying but mobile corpse anyday.

[sidetrack #1: Happy Jan? I didn't call them Zombies :)]

[sidetrack #2: In response to a question about Dracula; It didn't bore me, but it didn't excite me either. It is what it is, a product of the Victorian era, where sexual desires could only be discussed by rationalizing them as the result of a physical Evil. The bones of the story were ok, and the format was cool, but it didn't rock my world or anything]

Ok, where was I? Ah, vampires. Don't dig 'em. But I do like F. Paul Wilson, and so when Smiley and I were rummage sale shopping this summer and I saw Midnight Mass for sale for a quarter, well I picked it up lickety-split.

It's the story of a vampire invasion, a successful one actually, that spreads from Europe and into the eastern United States. Humans are divided into three camps: the rare survivor of the attacks, 'Cowboys', who are the hired henchmen of the Vampires, and 'cattle', humans bred and maintained in large 'ranches'.

Cue the resistance, reluctantly led by a disgraced Catholic Priest, a chaste Nun who loves him and is good with explosives, a crucifix wearing Rabbi, and the Priest's militant Lesbian niece.

Not quite the Founding Fathers, I know. But they get the job done.

This is no soft romantic treatment of vampires. They are treated as what they are: vile parasites feeding off of mankind and fueled by nothing short of pure Evil. I enjoyed that aspect of the book, and the fact that there was no soft and gentle leadup to battle. The action starts and it doesn't stop until the last page.

I'm unsure of Wilson's religious beliefs (he describes himself as a 'recovering' Catholic, so he could be a Christian, agnostic, Atheist, or a follower of Thor) but the book is full of religious imagery, specifically Catholic, and it was nice to see the beliefs of the Church treated with respect.

Wilson's not so kind to Islam. He takes care to point out that the vampires wiped out that religion completely. The character who states this doesn't exactly mourn its passing, labeling it a hodgepodge of adolecent fantasies. That's a bold statement to make, even if you hide it behind the words of a character. Nowadays they'd cut your throat for that in Denmark Mr. Wilson, or arrest you for 'hate speech' in France. Oh, wait - that killing bit is only if you're a filmaker.

For authors they just issue death warrants and drive you into hiding.

A good book, bleak but with flair. Recommended for horror, vampire, or Wilson fans.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Link to my Column

Wouldn't you know it, my first column for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel hit the stands on a snow day, with ten inches of white stuff on the ground and more in the air.

That means until I shovel out I can't lay my hands on a copy of the paper, and thousands of MJS subscribers will probably miss their delivery and, more importantly, their first chance to read my spiel.

The column is entitled 'The Surest Way to Keep Kids Safe in Water' and is more or less as I wrote it, with some last-minute editorial add-ons to keep it current and duly identify my sources in the body of the text.

(It was accepted November 13th but published today to coincide with a law it discusses.)

Here's a link: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/36404399.html

Per MJS I can republish the text in full here, but won't do it until the article itself gets its due :) Please feel free to email the article, via MJS's 'email this' link, to whoever you like. I have no proof, but I'd imagine MJS keeps track of such stats and a little publicity never hurts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I'm always worried, when discussing Joe Hill, that people will assume that any praise directed at him will be poorly disguised affection for his father (Stephen King).

Not true, of course. If he sucked, I'd say so. Not to worry, tho' - he doesn't. As a matter of fact, while I'd say his Pop has the advantage in novels, Joe (dare I say it?) gets the nod in short story writing.

Not every story here is 'horror', not by a long shot. 'Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead' has nothing whatsoever to do with physical death, focusing instead on regret and the mourning for a romance that slipped away. 'The Widows Breakfast' reads like something out of Steinbeck, and 'My Father's Mask' and 'You will Hear the Locus Sing' are . . well, arty I suppose (which translates to: I didn't understand or like the pair very much).

DNA being what it is, horror and the macabre does have its place in his work. 'Last Breath' was short but powerful, 'Abraham's Boys' was a solid homage to Dracula, 'The Cape' had a wicked twist at the end, and 'The Black Phone' was a great, frightening piece about a child in danger.

The best story, the one that left me literally saying 'wow' and securing Joe Hill as 'one to watch' in my eyes? 'Pop Art'. It's the story of an inflatable boy and his flesh and blood friend . . .yeah, I know. It sounds like a farce or absolute dreck. It isn't. It's warm and touching and darn near a tearjerker. A wonderful, wonderful story.

Not only do I recommend this book, I think you're a fool if you don't already own it. Why are you wasting time here? Jump over to BN.com and order it already. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hump Day News

I am ticked at Smiley. We had one more box of chocolate to distribute from LuLu's Daisy Scout sale, one more box.

A moment ago, just as I was prepping YaYa to go with me to make the delivery, he brings me the still sealed box which he had bitten through. He'd managed to grab a few pieces, sure, but he was dissatisfied with the results and was bringing it to me to open.

&*^@#. Yeah. Just what our finances need, a cash refund to some stranger a few blocks away. Swell.

* * * *

In the good news department The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote me today to say that my column will be appearing in the Friday December 19th edition of the paper.

By all means, scoop up ten copies each. I'm interested to see what my picture turned out like (awful, I'd wager), if it still lists my old occupation (I should check on that) and what email I'd listed in my 'blurb'. I created that account just for the reader responses, but it's been so long I don't even remember where it was hosted.

Anyhow, check it out.

Question re: Photobucket

I'll erase this post once I have an answer. I can log into my account but cannot access any of my albums, or for that matter get past the initial 'home page' of the site. All my pictures are operating normally, but again, no full access. This is true both in IE and the AOL client software.

Does anyone else have the same problem?

Picking out our Xmas Tree 2008

After Breakfast with Santa (which included only cookies and milk, not an actual meal. Don't ask) we headed to a bookstore and then out to lunch at Solid Gold McDonald's. It features a lot of rock n' roll memorabilia, sort of like a Hard Rock Cafe only with Mcnuggets on the menu.




That blurry top pic is of a Buddy Holly case in the restaurant. It features, among other things, an actual shirt worn by my favorite rocker.

After, a new tradition: post-Breakfast with Santa we go and pick out our tree. This was only the second time in my life I've had a real tree, and so we wanted a good one.

Yeah, two 'my bads' on this score: 1. everyone had been dressed for the Breakfast, not for galloping around outside in December 2. It was cold. Damn cold. 1 Degree (F) cold with a fierce wind. Yikes.

We still tried to put a brave face on things


But after the second unsuccessful stop LuLu and Lump were left in the car with my niece; Smiley could not be dissuaded from joining us.

The third stop was the charm, the same roadside stand where we'd purchased last years tree.




Surprisingly, it went into the tree stand plumb on the first try (to be then knocked this way and that by the Terrible Four, never again to stand perfect)





The decorating shots you see took place a day later, but YaYa wasn't home to do it. When she returned she was furious, bringing up alleged slights in each of the last two holiday seasons.


Finally I had enough of the moaning and groaning (she blogged about it for pete's sake!) and removed some items from the tree so that she could then return them to glory.




I am never happy with how Christmas trees turn out in photos, as I think they lean to garish or cluttered when reduced into a 4x6 and stripped of their context. But I think ours turned out pretty darn sweet.