Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'd tell you, but then I'd have to [REDACTED]

What's more frightening than the CIA coming clean about illegal activities in its "Family Jewels" report? How about the CIA "coming clean," yet managing to leave huge swaths of redacted material obscured from the public?

"Oh, yeah, we totally tried to assassinate Castro. That was pretty low. Our bad. But you really, really don't want to know what's on page 13, so we went ahead and blacked that out for you. You're welcome."

Some notable activities that we are allowed to read about now:

-Chicago's very own Sam Giancana--an "independent businessman"--was enlisted in the Castro plot. As a sweet quid pro quo, he got the agency to bug his cheatin' girlfriend's Vegas hotel room.

-Secret gadgetry, from poison pills to poison dart guns. The CIA loves it some poison.

-Covertly opening a quarter-million letters that had the misfortune of being sent to or from the Soviet Union or China.

So what secrets are there left to reveal? Well, for starters, there are entire categories of "activities" that aren't visible in the report. How many World Series were rigged? At what greasy spoon diner is Amelia Earhart working? Is Tony Soprano dead? Only Howard Hunt and the guy in charge of the CIA's Wite-Out supply know.

Maybe in another 40 years, when global warming makes a Cold War sound kinda refreshing, the rest of the details will come to light. In the meantime, Gen. Hayden: My name is spelled with a "G," not a "J," even if you're planning on whiting it out.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rik Smits' blond hair conceals tip of iceberg

As if U.S. basketball didn’t have enough to worry about, a study this week delivered some depressing news: Americans are getting shorter. The Dutch now are the tallest nationality in the world; apparently that whole regimen of red-light districts and bicycle commuting has paid off for them.

An excerpt from the study:

The study, conducted by the University of Munich and Princeton University, found that the United States had the shortest population in the industrialized world, and the reason may have to do with the way people live.

America's first president, George Washington, stood a commanding 6-foot-2. In Washington's day, our country's residents were the tallest in the world.

"It's well known that the Americans held the title for 200 years," said University of Munich professor John Komlos. "Ever since the colonial times, the Americans were the tallest."

The research suggests that kids aren’t eating as well as they did in the halcyon days when Americans towered over the rest of the world and regular bathing was still kind of a novelty. Back in 1850, the country was much smaller but its inhabitants were much larger—a full two inches taller, actually, than the Dutch.

But now the average American male is 5-foot-10... a Mugsy Bogues compared with the average Dutch male at a staggering 6-foot-1. First the Japanese start making better cars than us, and now this.

The good news, though, is that at 6-foot-3, I’m above-average no matter where in the world I go. That’s enough for me—at least until Germany surpasses us as the No. 1 barbecue sauce producer in the world or something. Then I’m moving to Canada.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No one can withstand flavor of that magnitude!

I loves me some science fiction. As a kid, it was anything my imagination could hold onto and ride off into deep space. As an adult, it's grittier, speculative stuff that is about people and not technology. Because I loves me some social metaphor, too.

But there's one canonical piece of science fiction that everyone can quote. Some people love it. Some people manage to just enjoy it without the costumes, the makeup and the strong desire to become a social outcast. That's right, I'm talkin' about Star Wars, which was released 30 years ago in May.

To celebrate the occasion, the too-much-time-on-their-hands geniuses at Robot Chicken put this together:

Part I

Part II

PART III (with 2:18 of overlap--sorry)

OK, now let's get to work building that reactor....

I'm terrible about remembering birthdays, too

I can't believe I forgot this anniversary.

Thirty-five years and one day ago, five burglars, a novelist and a future conservative pundit launched the most successful publicity campaign in history for the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. They did this, of course, by botching a break-in to the Democratic national headquarters.

Their efforts launched the reporting careers of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and turned the word "gate" into an overused suffix. It also had the side effect of pushing Nixon out the door, although the funny thing is, he actually was re-elected before he was impeached maybe 20 months later. You can tell this because he's still in office at the end of "All the President's Men." Sorry if that ruined the movie for you.

Like the fake moon landing and the invention of duct tape, it was a news event that changed American history. So how about a delayed toast... I'll make it easy for you:

Watergate Martini

(Gin to vermouth at 7-to-1 ratio)

Pour a small measure of vermouth into an ice-filled shaker, shake to coat ice. Drain vermouth.

Add gin to taste to vermouth-tinged ice, shake and serve.

Cheers! It pairs well with the oysters....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A swift kick in the...

Why do Americans, people who normally have the finest taste in just about everything, hate soccer?

It doesn't make any sense. Soccer--or football, if your country A) doesn't have a president or B)does have a president, but his name isn't George Bush--should appeal to everyone. Whether you like strategy, fast-paced action, physical contact or just good-looking athletic types with strong legs, it's right there on the field. To wit:

Yet even though soccer is popular with the kids, most adults, the same people who gleefully wear cheese on their heads because... well... cheese comes from Wisconsin and so does Green Bay, are indifferent to the sport. If not outright hostile.

Is soccer too European? That can't be it--how else can you explain the popularity of hockey? Maybe there's not enough scoring... wait... no... everyone loves a no-hitter. It's not like we're talking about a difficult game to understand, either: Two teams, one ball and two goals into which it is kicked. Basically, if you don't use your hands, you're golden.

Yeah. I'm at a loss here as to why soccer is the red-headed stepchild of the American sports fan. "But Gerry," you say. "There are LOTS of things you don't understand. Why blog about soccer?" Well, the U.S. beat Panama today in a Gold Cup match, 2-1.

So there.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Brown Dawn

There is little justice and even less poetry in Washington D.C., yet this week, someone—or, even more frightening, a determined team of someones—delivered a healthy mix of both to the Capitol building.

Originally reported in Roll Call (which, unlike Read Ink, requires you to register and pay and stuff), here’s a snippet from Raw Story:

"On Wednesday, several large piles of actual, nonmetaphorical 'No. 2' found their way into the Capitol, and the source isn’t yet clear."


"Capitol Police cordoned off a section of the hallway on the third floor of the Senate side of the Capitol, where at least three piles of the stuff were causing a stench — and a stir. At first, the word circulating among the staff was that a visiting child had fallen ill while in the gallery. But then the prevailing theory was that the foul stuff had come from an adult or group of adults making a yet-to-be-determined political statement."

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s true. This historic event means that for perhaps the first time, a single common phrase is both the figurative and literal description of the Senate’s contents. God bless America.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Collar" and "caller" really DO sound the same. Honest.

Ever tried to write in dialect? It's tough, or, if you live in Boston, wicked hahd. You find yourself talking to, uh, yourself as you muddle through odd concoctions of consonants in an attempt to make a character sound "authentic."

The obvious pitfalls are, A) Turning your character into a caricature, or B) Turning your character into a mushmouthed moron. Note that Pitfall B has the collateral effect of impugning the writer's intelligence as well.

The easiest way to overcome this is to give a sympathetic, dialect-speaking reader some samples of what you're trying to do. From the Valley to the North Woods to the Deep South, expert advice from a native can save your words from disaster, don'tcha know. If you don't have a British Minnesotan handy, though, another tactic is to describe your character's speech patterns in the narrative--i.e. "His drawl stretched every word to its breaking point"--and then writing the actual dialogue in standard form. That leaves it to the reader's imagination, which often can summon up a more vivid picture than you can write. Yet they buy books anyway. Suckas.

And just in case anyone asks you what dialect you're an expert in, here's a little quiz. I apparently have mastered the accent-less Midlands dialect. If you want any pointers on how to say things the way they're spelled, let me know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Super-bad, and not in a good way

Apparently some TV executive in the mid-'90s decided that a Super Friends live-action show was a good idea. Soon after it was shot, another TV executive in the mid-'90s apparently decided that, you know what, on second thought, this is incredibly stupid.

I think exec No. 2 was right on this one. But hey, decide for yourself, noting with pleasure the obligatory "save the old woman's cat" scene and the "vaguely gang member-esque" bad guy.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Fido gets the exercise--so you don't have to!

Tired of moving your legs when you walk? Annoyed with the pesky “pedaling” action your bike requires? Can’t afford a Segway?

Then cash in a little bit of your dignity for one of these babies:

You can be the first one on your block to cruise down the street as your neighbors stare in awe. And then dial Animal Control. Or 911. It would be a tough decision, I think.

Now, as the owner of a dog...

(not actual size)

...whose favorite pastimes are chasing, fetching and sniffing randomly, I can only imagine what would happen to the rider if his or her “engine” spotted a squirrel or something. You would quickly part ways with the scooter, the dog and a probably good bit of your epidermis.

Of course, if you’re too lazy to, you know, walk your pet as our ancestors have for millennia, maybe vehicle stability isn’t your biggest problem.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Excerpt from "From the Depths"

Author's note: Here's the first of several slices of my novel that I'll be posting over the next few months. Enjoy--and I'd love to hear your comments, even the mean ones.

Lights flickered ahead. I had been transported so far back into my past that I hadn’t realized how far I’d come in the present. The gatehouse emerged, ghost-like, from the fog that had coalesced as I got closer to the naval base.

The guard checked my ID and inquired about my business with an expression of stern indifference. Another soldier stood near the gate, his M-16 held barrel-down at an angle across his broad, camouflaged chest, while two other men used illuminated mirrors to check the underside of the Cherokee.

I focused on a spot in the mist about twenty-five feet beyond the gate and tried to pretend the man in the gatehouse wasn’t staring at the side of my head.

The search took a couple of minutes, and when it was over I had a laminated ID badge and a card to stick on my dashboard. Before he raised the gate, he handed me a map of the base with a route marked in red felt-tip pen. At the end of the crimson trail, he told me, was General Patterson’s building.

I hadn’t known that Patterson had an office at the naval base, but it didn’t surprise me. Branch of service didn’t seem to be an issue with his work. Not that I’m certain what his work is. All the times I’ve encountered him, however, he has been giving orders as something unusual, dangerous and covert is unfolding.

The drive through the base was surreal. Blocky buildings came and went, just gray, ephemeral shapes in the mist. Deuce-and-a-halfs and Humvees squatted in long, perfect rows. I seemed to be the only source of motion in the entire installation.

Using the map as a reference, I knew I was nearing my destination, but the light from Gen. Patterson’s office still surprised me as its diffused glow colored the mist. I never had been to the two-story, nondescript concrete structure I now was approaching. Its neighbors were hard to see but probably featured the same bland, gray color. At the top of five or six concrete steps lay the only obvious entrance, a pair of steel doors with windows inset. There was no sign telling visitors what they might expect inside.

I parked in a "guest" spot, grabbed my bag, and walked around the side of the building to the steps. The right-hand door swung open as I was on the third step, revealing another fatigues-clad soldier.

"Dr. Myers? I’m Lieutenant Weeks, General Patterson’s aide. If you’ll follow me, please?" He managed to smile at me, although it seemed an awkward expression for his pale face.

He held the door open as I walked through, then hurried around me and trotted down the hall. He looked at least six and a half feet tall, and it was tough for me to keep up. When he stopped in mid-stride and turned, I came within a few inches of plowing into his chest.

"Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. I just . . . can I carry that bag for you?" he said.

I took a step backward. "Um, sure," I said, handing the duffel to him. My first instinct had been to say "I’m fine" and continue down the hall. But he seemed earnest and almost desperate to follow decorum, and it disarmed me, just for that instant.

He hoisted the strap over his shoulder, turned, and began walking again. The slapping of his combat boots on the tile floor echoed through the empty corridor.

Patterson’s office was in a corner, of course, on the second floor. Weeks opened the door for me, allowed me to walk in, saluted, then closed it behind me.

Patterson was sitting at a battered oak desk in a short-sleeved khaki uniform dotted with pins and medals. He managed to look crisp and dangerous despite the smudges of black under his eyes and stubble on his angular face. There was a dime-sized divot at his hair line, right in the middle of his head. It came, I suspected, from a glancing collision with something fast-moving and hard, possibly a bullet or a gun butt. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the mark, but it always jumped out at me.

I keep track of faces that way. It’s reflexive. Blame it on medical school, blame it on professional obsession, but when I meet someone, I catalogue their features. Without the skin. In the two sentences it takes to be introduced, bone structure, scars and teeth all get jotted down in a mental file. I’m fairly certain I could ID most of my friends’ bodies, no matter how they died. But I don’t tell them that.

The room’s white walls were home to constellations of framed pictures and awards. His desk, two chairs and a U.S. flag in the corner were the only furniture. A motionless, wood-bladed fan hung from the ceiling.

"Dr. Myers, have a seat," he said, gesturing at an overstuffed brown leather chair across from him.

I complied.


"No thanks. I’m fine."

He leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper buzz cut. I could hear his neck pop as he clasped his hands behind his head.

"This is a tough situation, Dr. Myers, and I appreciate your assistance, as always. Your agency always has been discreet and helpful."

I nodded.

"It’s fortunate that we have someone with your expertise nearby." Without waiting for me to respond, he continued. "You’ll be on the boat with sixteen men, all SEALs. Lieutenant Daniel Larsen is in command. He understands your mission and you will have great latitude in what you can do, but ultimately he is in charge. Do you understand?"

"Yes," I said, resisting the urge to add a "sir."

"The crew will submerge the sub as quickly as possible and then continue to a submarine bay here. The ship will be shadowed at all times by a Los Angeles-class attack sub, the Hyman G. Rickover. You know your job. Do you have any questions?"

I refused to blink as his brown eyes bored into mine. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his desk, which was empty except for a calendar blotter, a telephone and a manila folder in front of him.

"How long had the submarine been at sea?"

"About a month."

"Did it have a history of accidents?"

"No. The sub’s history is in the material I faxed you."

"Then I believe I’m ready to go," I said. That was true, but I already knew I’d think of more to ask him once I was onboard.

"Good." He pushed a button on the telephone. "Lieutenant, Dr. Myers is ready to leave."

I heard the door open behind me. "Lieutenant Weeks will drive you to the staging area," Patterson said.

He opened up the manila folder and began leafing through its contents. I was dismissed.

McBooks Press
"From the Depths," by Gerry Doyle, available November 2007

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pepsi vs. Coke, but with more explosions and fewer calories

Friends, it’s a question that has to be asked: Voltron or Transformers?

Be prepared to reach deep into your souls this summer for the answer. Transformers will be making its case on July 4, a day of great significance for Americans, Chinese and Wisconsinites. Although Michael Bay has a predilection toward blowing stuff up real good and indulging in heroic slow-motion shootouts (a move he totally stole from John Woo, may Inspector Yuen have mercy on his soul), it’s pretty damn hard to screw up giant robots—or are they cars!?—fighting in what appears to be real life. To wit:

On the other hand, there is a soft, if poorly animated, spot in my heart for Voltron. First of all, you’ve got five giant mechanical lions—or are they cars!? Lioncars! No? OK, sorry—that combine to form an even gianter fighting robot. Second of all, you had a great theme song. Don’t pretend you couldn’t still hum it on demand. And third, you had actual drama: The princess as a source of unspoken sexual tension; the death of a major character; and a resolution to the overarching plot that involved resurrection, betrayal and more death. Yes, of course I looked all this up on the Internet. My memories of life as a 9-year-old aren’t that clear.

I don’t know whether there’s any way for us non-robots to settle this. If there were any justice in the universe, Voltron and, say, Optimus Prime would fight for our enjoyment and we could declare a winner. Until that glorious day, all we can do is wait for July 4 and... an unspecified date in 2008?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lindsay Lohan, Role Model

Look, people, I know I'm not the most dark-skinned guy in the world. Quite the opposite, I'm all too aware that I grew up in the middle of the United States, far from beaches and pretty much anyplace you'd want to lie around outside and provide a nice target for ultraviolet radiation. What tan I do get often takes the form of what some people call a "farmer's tan," but what I prefer to call a "spend a lot of time outside, but wear clothes tan."

But this post stems not from jealousy. It's more like curiosity. Because I would like to know what planet these folks live on:

Huh. After closer examination, it seems the answer to my question is "Los Angeles." Which is odd, because I know a lot of great people there and as far as I know, none of them want the Lindsay Lohan Special.

Maybe if you people are lucky I'll dig up some of my old school pictures and show you how we did it Midwest-style. Represent!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

All your life are belong to Google

Just when you thought that the giant money-making entity known as Google couldn't be any more connected to the most remote corners of the universe, they unveil this: Street View.

Ignoring for the moment the innate hilarity of a software engineer wearing several bright-orange cardboard boxes, think about what this project means. Now you can not only quickly find porn, buy useless junk, browse blogs, plagiarize a term paper and find directions to a new bar... you can zoom Google Maps all the way down to street level and stroll through the slightly blurry neighborhood like a really boring first-person shooter. Without the shooting, of course.

Right now they've only got it set up for San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, New York and Miami (no Chicago? Where's the love, Mountain View?). But clearly it's only a matter of time before Google is reminding us that our lawns need mowing and, by the way, we can totally see you through the bathroom window.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hey, how many I's are there in "idiocy"?

This week in Washington D.C., throngs of brainy preadolescents are gathered to spell each other into submission. When the vowels clear, one of them will be crowned the champion of the National Spelling Bee.

An admirable thrill-a-minute event that any red-blooded American would applaud, right?

Not quite, apparently. A group calling itself the Simplified Spelling Society has descended on the terrified linguiphiles--pretty sure I just made that word up, by the way--in protest of how difficult English-language spellings are.

Read more about it here.

Their beef is that the language includes too many "rules" that really are just a big jumble of exceptions. No argument here. But they continue on to say that because learning to spell is so difficult, the U.S. experiences more illiteracy than it should, and thus more crime than it should, meaning that if we just took the "ough" out of "coff," you'd never have to worry about being mugged!

Although I think this idea has about as much merit as a Space Shuttle made out of lint and Scotch tape, maybe we should give this a shot. The entertainment value of trying to spell something like "ophthalmosauridae" phonetically is, as far as I'm concerned, off the charts.

Alternatively, it's possible this is all a big joke and I'm just guh-la-bull.