The Smiths


Don't miss my latest couple-creators interview because it is awesome. http://www.motleyvision.org/2010/couple-creators-casey-jex-smith-amanda-michelle-smith/

Introducing Zed


He looks a lot like his American counterpart but this visitor from exotic lands ends his alphabet with a consonant severity lacking here, where we just drift off into an eeeeeee e e e e . . . . . uncertain where to stop.

Zed has an uphill battle on American soil, but his new reality show on Fox shows that he is serious about cutting into Zee's hometurf marketshare.

Share your thoughts on Z v Z! Who do you support in the coming rumble!


A note on next week's svithetacular


It is looking like, that, for the first time since beginning svithetaculars in 2005, I may not be able to catch every session. In fact, I could miss as many as two sessions on Saturday. And so, this week, for my svithe, from me, a plea to please take notes and either send them to me (email to theric[]thmazing[]com) or post them and I will then post or link your notes in lieu of mine (or in addition to or something).

This only comes twice a year and darn it if Thutopia doesn't have a record, it will be like it never happened. So please help!


General Conference Svithetaculars at Thutopia
176.0 176.5 177.0 177.5 178.0 178.5 179.0 179.5


General Conference Svithetaculars at The Weekly Svithe
176.0 176.5 177.0 177.5 178.0 178.5 179.0 179.5

last week's svithe


Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist has two feet: one good, one bad

The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel.

Good foot

I just got a review copy of The Lonely Polygamist and I'm both excited by it (in part because of his short story "Buckeye the Elder" which I finished reading moments before the book arrived in the mail) and partly because of this article.

Bad foot

From before the first page:

I am not a big fan of stories that require massive lists of characters or glossaries or maps or anything else. Not because those stories are necessarily bad (see for example Lord of the Rings and Dune) but because they are presumptuous. They assume that they are sooooo good that I will be willing to put up with needless complications in storytelling just because they are sooooo good. And I hate that presumption.

So I will read it. And I anticipate liking it. But I'm starting out grumpy. Win me over, Udall. Win me over.


We Draw the Lines (iiii)

We Draw the Lines.

(click for the first and second and third installments)


This is the first one I really ran out of space on. Ah vell.


Please describe the analytical skills you have that are relevant to serving on the Citizens Redistricting Commission, as discussed in Regulation 60827. You may include with this description any occupational, academic, volunteer, or other life experiences you have had that demonstrate those skills.

I will respond to as many elements of Regulation 60827 as will fit in the allotted space in order to give a sampling of how I meet this criteria.

* An ability to participate effectively in public hearings regarding redistricting by listening carefully and critically to the testimony of witnesses and formulating concise questions that will elicit relevant information.

- My experience as a reporter, having to attend public meetings and then relay the information in accurate digest form to my readers has, I feel, prepared me well to sit on the other side of the hearing divide. As well as prepared me to ask useful questions.

* Evaluating the validity and significance of the information gathered . . . in order to make sound decisions about the proper placement of communities in districts . . . .

- Although this requirement includes aspects of basic mathematical and computer literacy, the more important aspects are those connected to discerning the more important and credible data from the less. I'm particularly excited to "assess the relative strength of competing arguments" --- this is the real challenge the commission faces and it's a thrilling one to attack. Without this ability to parse facts, the complex problems the commission will face will be unintellgible, let alone solvable.

* Applying the appropriate legal standards . . . .

- Ah. This is what makes the puzzle a puzzle. Without the legal standards it's just problem solving. Add in the legal requirements and it turns into a game much like fitting all one's furniture into a seemingly too small moving truck. Understanding those standards is a simple-only-on-the-face task. Legal code is purposefully inscrutable, of course. But necessary. No matter how perfect the commission's work, someone will want to take the lines to court. So doing it right the first time is vital. This is where the soon-to-be-mentioned "receiving expert advice" will come in. Something I myself am expert at.

* Effective communication skills, including, but not limited to, basic writing skills. An ability to interact effectively with other commissioners to build consensus . . . through reasoned discussion and negotiation.

- Given the lotterylike odds of my taking this position, you may not be able to tell from the imperfect essays I am submitting, but I can communicate with words on paper like few can. (To wax unhumble for a moment.) I'll never be a good politician because I have little interest in being politic, but I can build consensus and work with others and make things happen. I don't get out of the way. I get things done.

* . . . a description of those skills and through occupational, academic, volunteer, or life experiences . . .

- As a missionary in Korea, I led teams of 20yearold kids in 80hour workweeks. That's not easy.

- As a student, as a reporter, as an educator, I have complied and deconstructed statistical and narrative sources of information. I've never drawn six figures by looking at papers and acting smart, but let's be honest: any reasonably literate person can do this and many can do it well. Compiling histories and original research on 19th c. publishing, for example.

- City watchdog.


Howard and Sandra Tayler


Today on AMV, as part of my Couple-Creators series, I interview Howard Tayler (the creator of Schlock Mercenary) and his wife Sandra (recent AML Award-winner for One Cobble).

Don't miss it.


Testing how obnoxious Amazon/Blogger integration might be


Backyard Alchemy: Poems



hmmm.....if you're not positive on the title, any good...? not really......
A World Without End (River City Poetry)

okay, that's good.....

A sane person would never actually post this.



Sexy Svithe


This week we have three women with wiles in starring roles: Tamar, Dinah and Potiphina.

I'm most interested in Tamar, but in passing let me see that Potopher needs to accept some blame for his wife's actions and that I'm far from convinced that Dinah was raped.

Tamar is, of the three, the most rounded and self-directed character. And while all three stories involve sex, only Tamar's sexual activities are in accordance with religious law. And while seducing your father-in-law is generally looked down upon these-a-days, Tamar's actions were, with validity, a means to save her father-in-law from his own sins. And thus, in a way, she is a type for Jesus. Who is born through her line.

Something to think about.

Tamar by Horace

last week's svithe


What I would like to do right now


Throw my eyes in the fridge, let them cool off and maybe depressure a bit. I need to soak my throat in a sink full of soapy water then maybe it will clean out a little easier. The inside of my skull needs to be scraped out and every muscle in my body needs to be stretched out. Most of the joints need to be relubricated as well.

Then I would feel better.


Little Lord Steed is growing up.


Yesterday he really grasped how to eat as he wolfed down the Irish stew Lady Steed made for St Paddy's. He loved the potatoes and carrots and mutton.

And today, as I left for work, he crawled as fast as he could in his jagged halting way to the front door, crying, aware that his father was leaving him. He's never caught on to that before --- what my walking to the door in the morning means. Adding his painful separation to my morning routine will lead to mutual daily heartbreak. And I just don't feel up to that. It's too hard.


At home with three sick kids (a svithe)


Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I guess that means I'll keep wiping noses and cease the strangling. But I have to tell you. The immediate cessation of that snotty breathing sounds pretty danged good.....

last week's svithe



We Draw the Lines (iii)

We Draw the Lines.

(click for the first and second installments)


3. Please describe your appreciation for California's diverse demographics and geography, as discussed in Regulation 60805. You may include with this description any occupational, academic, volunteer, or other life experiences you have had that demonstrate this appreciation.

California, at least as much as any state in this Union, was built on a variety of peoples. A long coast and an international border means we've a long history of welcoming those from climes other than the rest of the US. That said, I'm using a pretty liberal definition of the word "welcome" --- it seems a bit overstated to describe our history of welcoming as welcoming.

Days of separate school are passed. At the school I know teach at, the State of California records American Indians (0.3%), Asians (17.8%), Pacific Islanders (0.6%), Filipinos (2.3%), Hispanics (21%), African Americans (36.3%), Whites (18.4%) and the ever-mysterious Others (2.9%). Of course these categories themselves can mislead us into simplified the cultural diversity of the state. For a Chinese-American whose great-great-great-grandparents arrived in San Francisco in the 1860s to have the same categorization as a child just arrived from Laos is to miss the true diversity our state proudly exhibits.

Integrated schools were not a panacea though; human society is as subject to entropy as any other system and it requires a constant input of energy to maintain the openness and equality we have --- to say nothing of improving upon prior successes.

Which is why this redistricting project is so important. Having representation reflect the people represented mattereth much.

From when I lived in large cities of Korea to when I kayaked the Kern river --- from when as a child I saw my grandfather's rural Idaho ranch destroyed to when I went with my mother to purchase unguarded grapes from a farmer's garage refrigerator in Clovis --- from riding BART under the Bay to picking up a hitchhiker heading to Lake Isabella --- inside California and out, I have tried to be open to others' stories.

As a reporter, I interviewed my town's Sacramento representation. At the time, I was already writing columns about the need for districting reform. But my state senator told me I was nuts. That the rancor of the current system only seemed dysfunctional. That he and his fellow hyperpartisans must necessarily represent the people of California better than those who had to listen to their constituents in order to get elected. Madness.

Politicians must listen to those they represent.

But first the redistricters must listen so that the people will be fairly represented.


The Fob Bible: FREE


One week only, you can get The Fob Bible, in its entirety, as a free download from Peculiar Pages.

(Or you can still buy it.)

As a closing note, all author royalties from the Bible are donated to LDSHS. When you download the free version, please also consider leaving a donation using the PayPal button at the bottom of the page.

Thank you.

And enjoy.

The Fob Bible


2nd Five Books of 2009


Teen Titans Year One 010) Teen Titans: Year One by Amy Wolfram et al, finished March 7
    Lightweight stuff. Definitely aimed at younger teenagers. That's probably all you need to know.

    like twenty minutes

009) The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book One by Bill Watterson, finished March 6

Calvin and Hobbes
    This book's hugeness (over seven pounds) is one reason it took me so much longer to read than the old paperbacks used to. But Saturday, I sat in my bed to read and was joined by Big O and we finished the book together and, granted, though he's the same age as Calvin, he didn't get a lot of the jokes, but the visuals could slay him.

    What this teaches me is that NO WAY am I getting rid of my old paperbacks as originally planned. Instead, they need to come out of the garage and go on the kids' shelves where they can look at them like I used to.

    I discovered Calvin in 1987 when my family moved to California and started getting the paper, and I lived for the strip till it ended.

    Time to share with the kids.

    (And to keep the nice new hardbacks safely with the grownup books.)

    My Fob Comics review which is not, this time, identical.

    about three months

Thomas Lynch's fiction 008) Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch, finished March 5
    full disclosure: i received this title as an advance reading copy from the publisher

    "Catch & Release"

      I am becoming increasingly aware of the genre of fiction well exemplified by this story, viz. Person mourning death of loved one engages in physical activity interspersed with flashbacks. The best one I've read was "Clothing Esther." The oddest was Connie Willis's "Daisy, in the Sun" which is really about the protag mourning for herself and all earth life. So.

      Anyway, C&R is as good an example I've seen. Man mourning his father while fishing, till the end which was unprecedened and unexplainable. As if Lynch couldn't come up with a good ending so just went with something shocking. Pitty.


      Pointless violence from a mortician's p-o-v with a hint of sex and introspection. Just what one might hope for in a bit of Lynch fiction.

    "Hunter Moon"

      These are getting . . . samer. Lynch is clearly an old man, looking back at life, having spent the entire time in the casket business. And while any of these stories would be a happy addition to any literary journal, all pushed together like this, their sameness is tiring. I would love to have seen what fiction a young and lusty Lynch would have written. At this point in this collection, however, I am getting tired. This is a good story. It's just too much like others I have read.

    "Matinée de Septembre"

      More of the same, but this time from a female character's p-o-v. Sex, death and introspection. Another offputting ending, but otherwise, probably the best in the book so far.


      This novella is a beautiful work of art and I am so glad to have read it.

      A digression:

      Reading The Undertaking as a young married man introduced me to two concepts that had been lacking in my previous life experience. Death and divorce. The previous stories in this collection primarily concerned themselves with the latter. This one is about divorce.

      Adrian is a pastor whose wife leaves him. Their divorce inspires him to write a book about divorce, the success of which creates for him a new life.

      We see Adrian as he lives through the pain of separation and his gradual recreation into a new person. We see him live with his children's pain.

      The story is peopled with new characters. The foul-mouthed Catholic priest, for instance. And it offers a bright and --- to me, at least --- original take on human sexuality. It is bawdy and spiritual and strikingly original --- profane a a pagan brand of holy.

      Loved it.

    couple months

007) Stone Rabbit #1: BC Mambo by Erik Craddock, finished March 2

007) The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, finished February 23
    Here is an example of a blurb selling a book. I picked it up at the library. Looked interested. Flipping through it made me pretty interested. But it's an awkward size and had a 75% chance of being precious, a 75% chance of being pretentious and a 68% chance of being both.

    How to read this book

    But the quote from never-precious-or-pretentious Stephen King made me reconsider and I checked it out and brought it home and I am ohsoglad I did.

    T.S. Spivet is the next in a long line of literary wunderkinds. He is a budding cartographer. Although, as we quickly learn, he has more than budded.

    The book's wide margins are filled with TS's illustrations and maps. The illustrations/marginalia work with the main text in a way I've never quite seen before and which I am loath to describe. It would be better for you to simply check it out for yourself.

    And while this book is not being marketed to kids, has complex diction and syntax, and has one particularly foul-mouthed character, I'm planning on buying a copy for my shelves simply so my kids can discover it someday.

    One thing about the marketing of this book: what's up with the website? It's pretty and all, but too fancy (read:slow) for your average browser. The info on the Amazon page is much more accessible and therefore interesting. Pity.

    Plus, the author's not easy to run down. All authors should have an easily discovered online abode. I was going to write Mr Larsen a gushing letter, but, well, where is he?

    But those complaints are unrelated to the book.

    More than half way in, suddenly a fantastic element is introduced into the book and incredibly it does not ruin the book. Normally, you can't pull that prank. And this book breaks all sorts of seeming rules with aplomb (like the no-endless-tangents rule, the no-book-within-a-book rule, the freakin' no-child-prodigies rule).

    This book is Something New.

    Celebrate it.

    You must read the first twenty pages of this book. If you can stop at that point, God help you.

    forty-some days

Previously in 2010 . . . . :

First Five


The sky as I walked home today


was a mess. I walked out to brilliant sunshine, but the air was filled with streaking rain which, though highly visible even without my glasses on was not so much that I needed to close my book.

Half the sky was a brilliant blue with wildly friendly white puffs. The other half was a menacing nearblack, its tendrils reaching and pulling away.

Half a rainbow connected the two halves.

The light cast every vista into absurd colors, as if I were in Photoshop fiddling with saturation.

The houses brilliant in the sunshine, with the black clouds and half-rainbow behind them.

The high school football field rundown yet shining in saturated glory.

Made it hard to read and walk at the same time.

Rejects: The Subject Steve


I picked this book up for a dollar in 2006 and I've been trying to finish its 256 pages ever since. I have given up and it is now the first in a new series I am beginning called, Rejected Books (click the tag at the bottom of this article to see all Rejected Books posts).

Lady Steed and I have thousands of books. And we've reached a point where we're ready to get rid of some of them. This shall be one of them.

So. The Subject Steve. Where to start? It's supposed to be clever, first of all. Kind of a Vonnegut sort of satire. Only, you know, it totally sucks. I hate saying this where Sam Lipsyte might hear me, but there was really nothing in this book that asked me to care.

No one in the book is likable, least of all the eponymous Steve who is dying of, well, being mortal, I suppose. And his "hijinks" at the end of mortality of dying of nothing and his daughter and his friend and his ex and the sex and the booze and the doctors and the endless string of stupidity.

I just couldn't take it any more.

I decided a couple weeks ago I was going to quit trying. Hadn't touched it in months (probably only twice in the last three years) so who was I kidding anyway? Thus, Lady Steed took it off the shelf tonight where Little Lord Steed yanked out the bookmark and started sucking on it. And that was that.

No more The Subject Steve.

Anybody want my copy?


Abraham and Isaac (postview svithe)


As I mentioned last svithe, my Abraham and Isaac thought for Sunday School were inspired by a list of art Bored in Vernal provided over on Mormon Matters. I ended up not getting into much of the art, although many of the rabbinical traditions surrounding the story and alternate versions came up in our discussion. (Note that some of those came up in the MM posts's comments and not the post itself.)

One thing I had not intended to bring up but very nearly did because it was apropos (but telling it would have been much like sharing This Funny Thing happened when You Really Had to Be There) was this:

Something I printed off and had with me but ended up not using was this from Woody Allen:

    And Abraham awoke in the middle of the night and said to his only son, Isaac, "I have had a dream where the voice of the Lord sayeth that I must sacrifice my only son, so put your pants on."

    And Isaac trembled and said, "So what did you say? I mean when He brought this whole thing up?"

    "What am I going to say?" Abraham said. "I'm standing there at two A.M. I'm in my underwear with the Creator of the Universe. Should I argue?"

    "Well, did he say why he wants me sacrificed?" Isaac asked his father.

    But Abraham said, "The faithful do not question. Now let's go because I have a heavy day tomorrow."

    And Sarah who heard Abraham's plan grew vexed and said, "How doth thou know it was the Lord and not, say, thy friend who loveth practical jokes, for the Lord hateth practical jokes and whosoever shall pull one shall be delivered into the hands of his enemies whether they pay the delivery charge or not."

    And Abraham answered, "Because I know it was the Lord. It was a deep, resonant voice, well modulated, and nobody in the desert can get a rumble in it like that."

    And Sarah said, "And thou art willing to carry out this senseless act?" But Abraham told her, "Frankly yes, for to question the Lord's word is one of the worst things a person can do, particularly with the economy in the state it's in."

    And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham's hand and said, "How could thou doest such a thing?"

    And Abraham said, "But thou said ---"

    "Never mind what I said," the Lord spake. "Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?" And Abraham grew ashamed. "Er - not really … no."

    "I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it."

    And Abraham fell to his knees, "See, I never know when you're kidding."

    And the Lord thundered, "No sense of humor. I can't believe it."

    "But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?"

    And the Lord said, "It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice."

    And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.

I want to step back here and point out that, usually, I feel very strongly that lessons should be grounded in the actual scriptures under discussion. In fact, I started the lesson by reading the entire darned Genesis account. But this story is horrifying and demands more effort than that. The Bible, Nephi tells us, is missing many plain and precious parts. And this story seems to be one example of that. The popular interpretation that the sacrifice of Isaac represents the sacrifice of Jesus is extrabiblical already, so why not go even farther abreast.

When I was pressing the class to decide what the story means to them, someone through the question back at me. I started by talking about Master Fob's "Abraham's Purgatory" (note, it's not unsvithey to suggest you buy a Fob Bible as all proceeds go to LDS Humanitarian Services) and how in researching this lesson I learned that in many traditions, Abraham was not intended to sacrifice his son at all. Perhaps he got the wrong idea in his head, perhaps God expected him to say no (thus fulfilling the promise of Knowing Good and Evil) --- but the point is, perhaps he was never supposed to accept that he should through with it.

That version of the story has a lot of meaning for me. Granted, verses from the Book of Mormon and D&C (which we read) suggest that is not the true version of events, but it seems a version that has more applicability in my life. I have the power to say no --- to live my life in a way that can take Isaac off the alter. (Of course, no matter how well I live my life, I cannot take Christ off the cross --- I still need grace. But I'm sure you get the point.)

Anyway. Even though it wasn't as wild and crazy as threatened*, it turned out well and I at least learned a lot during the lesson. I hope it worked out okay for others as well.


* I don't usually post these, but three or four lessons a month and every other lesson for Sunday School (as long as I'm doing it --- it's still not my calling or anything) I shoot an email off to the ward as a preview of coming attractions. The reason I'm posting this one is because for the first time people talked to me about it. So I'm using that fact to think about how to write future emails.

    Dear Brothers and Sisters:

    This Sunday please be prepared to sacrifice one of your children to the glory of almighty God. Bring your own materials for building an altar, as well as a knife and wood for burning the offering afterwards in the ward parking lot. Consider fasting for at least two meals beforehand that you might better be prepared to worship through this ancient and holy practice.

    In choosing which child you will sacrifice, consider how you distribute your love and affection among your children and be sure that you give unto the Lord that which you deem your best.

    If you do not have a child or your children are no longer living at home, bring a pet. If you have no pets, I'm really not sure how you intend to stay on God's good side.

    Upon completing the sacrifices and watching the sweet odours drift heavenward, we will return to the chapel and discuss Father Abraham's experience with our new understanding.

    See you then.


    ps: should Sunday be declared a Spare the Air Day, we will instead eat Twinkies in holiness


last week's svithe


Oscar Wisdom Frothing


I cut down the number of categories this year which means more films are in categories I will disagree with in twenty-five minutes than usual. So it goes.

    Black = have seen
    Red = gotta see
    Rotten Apple = slightly more than just willing to see
    Turquoise = "ambivalent" is putting it nicely
    Green = no clear feelings either way



      The Blind Side

      Bright Star

      Burma VJ

      China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

      Coco Before Chanel


      The Cove

      Crazy Heart

      District 9

      The Door

      An Education

      Fantastic Mr. Fox

      Food, Inc.

      French Roast

      Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty

      Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

      The Hurt Locker

      Il Divo

      The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

      In the Loop

      Inglourious Basterds

      Instead of Abracadabra


      Julie & Julia


      The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)

      The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner

      The Last Station

      The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant


      The Lovely Bones

      A Matter of Loaf and Death

      The Messenger

      The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada)

      Miracle Fish

      The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

      Music by Prudence

      The New Tenants


      Paris 36

      Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

      The Princess and the Frog

      A Prophet (Un Prophète)

      Rabbit à la Berlin

      The Secret of Kells

      The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

      A Serious Man

      Sherlock Holmes

      A Single Man

      Star Trek

      Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


      Up in the Air

      Which Way Home

      The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)

      The Young Victoria


"Young Hagoth Plays It Safe"


Now that anonymity is no longer required, check out my short story.

Now that it's had a week to sit, I'm much less happy with the opening than I was. But overall I am happy with it and I'm brainstorming the possibilities of turning it into a YA novel series. Not that I don't have a million other projects running already, of course.