Tuesday, July 31, 2007

for Lizzie

Into the family room strode a dapper young man in a sack suit and a bowler hat. He tipped the hat and marched toward Trace with his hand extended. “Sheriff Paulson?” he asked.

“No,” Trace said, “I’m—“

“Oh, you must be Mr. Lombard,” the young man said, nodding at Boz. “And this must be your hired man, Aenard?”

“No, this is my partner, Boz,” Trace said. “And I don’t know any Lombard. Who are you?”

“Rex Reynolds, reporter for the St. Louis Times,” the young man bared his teeth cheerfully. “Were you a friend of the deceased?”

“We knew him,” Trace said.

“Didja?” Rex Reynolds pulled a tattered notebook and a stub of pencil from his pocket. “What was his name again? Hershel, wasn’t it? Was it just him or all of them? Looks like a slaughterhouse in here, don’t it?”

“What are you doin here?” Trace asked pointedly.

“Searchin’ out the truth, mister. People got a right to know when there’s a murderer in their midst.”

“There ain’t no murderer,” Trace protested. “He’s dead in the well with the rest of ‘em.”

“Really? I heard there’s a young girl down at the jailhouse with blood all down her dress. Did you know Miss Anna Hershel before she killed her family?”

“That young girl didn’t kill anybody,” Trace said in disgust. “Hershel was a decent fella with two proper-raised daughters and somebody did for them in a bad way.”

“Mind if I quote you on that, mister…?”

“Tracy. Jacob Tracy. And if you’re here to search out the truth you might ask some questions before you start jumpin to hare-brained conclusions.”

“How did you know about the murders?” Boz interrupted.

“It’s all over the streets this end of town,” Reynolds said.

“You mean you read it in the Voice this morning like everybody else?“

Reynolds sucked his teeth. “Hey, that neighborhood rag may’ve been first with the story, but the Times has got the readership, we’ve got the resources, and this reporter is gonna break the case wide open long before Anna Hershel faces a jury. Now stand aside, gentlemen, I need to see the bodies.”

The young man flipped his notebook shut, shouldered past Boz and strode out the kitchen door. It seemed only prudent to follow him.

They stepped into the back yard just in time to see one of the women hauled up out of the well, dripping wet and dangling from the hook that had caught under her arm and neck. Her head was thrown back, her stringing hair partially covering the gaping white-lipped wound at her throat. There was so little blood left in her that the flesh was white as a trout’s, but her clothes were stained a uniform rusty shade from the saturated water.

“Get her down!” one of the men snapped, and two of them reached to catch the body and the line from which it hung. Together they wrestled the sodden corpse over the lip of the well and lowered her to the ground. She still had her shoes on, which struck Trace as somehow inappropriate.

Rex Reynolds gave the pitiful thing a cursory glance and then barged up to the man in charge. “Sherrif Paulson, I’m Rex Reynolds, from the St. Louis Times, what can you tell me about the situation here?”

Sherrif Paulson swayed away from the young man with a wave of his hand, like an ox flicking at a horsefly. “Nothin’ to tell, son, got three dead bodies and a hysterical young girl watched her father go mad.”

“So you believe her story that the father was the killer,” Reynolds said, jotting in his notebook. “How’d he end up in the well, then?”

“She says he slipped and fell,” the sherrif said. “Easy, there! Don’t go tearin’ up the clothes until Doc’s had a chance to look at em.”

“He was a big strong man, wasn’t he? Is that the body over there?” Without waiting for an answer, Reynolds marched over to the quilt-covered figure on the grass.

“Now you just get away from there,” the sheriff began, and was distracted by a shout from the men at the well. The rope and hook jerked up, suddenly slack, and flung a disembodied arm in a gingham sleeve onto the grass.

They all looked at it in varying degrees of dismay. “So tell me, sheriff,” said Reynolds, “you think a fifteen-year-old girl could swing a kindling-hatchet with that kind of force?”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

a Potter-free post or, tournament adventures

We went to Dallas (Plano) Texas last weekend for the annual Chin Woo Association's Tai Chi Legacy Tournament. It's a big one, maybe the second-biggest in the country.

A lot of stuff happened. We did workshops. We did forms. We did push-hands. We ate a lot of good food. Strangely, I haven't felt like reporting any of it. The competitions were not bad, but not very good, either. Both of us have improved since last year, but neither of us had trained for this tournament. I did all right in my first ever push-hands competition, I got bronze, and I think I could've gotten silver if they'd had everybody do two fights instead of using the "bye" system. The chick I fought was kind of wild. She kept breaking contact, which is a no-no and she was warned about it. She was real steady in her low stance but her upper body was easy to move. I was starting to get her figured out but I ran out of time. Final score was 10-5, but I learned a lot and kept my cool. The woman who got silver was actually knocked down twice, and I never lost my footing, hence my thinking that I could've beaten her.

At any rate I don't think the judges were very strict in that ring. Even before I went up, I noticed a lot of grabbing that wasn't being called. But it doesn't matter. I was in a good frame of mind for the fight, empty and ready to learn. I know a couple of things to work on for the upcoming year. The SP and I both received compliments on our form; we were both trying really hard to do "correct" push-hands (I was really trying hard to stick to the rules, especially) but we got beat by people doing rather rough and tumble push-hands. Obviously we will have to help each other practice by doing rough-and-tumble attacks, so we can practice deflecting them softly.

Other things happened, all the little petty scandals and dramas inherent in a gathering of special-interest parties. Remember the Wookie, the sometime-attendee of my Wednesday night class? He met us at the tournament, attended no workshops, did no forms, just sat around for three days waiting for push-hands. In the meantime, somehow he met up with a snake of a master who decided to sic him on another visiting master. So the Wookie approaches this 70-year-old Chinese guy who probably weighs what I do, who came out of retirement to teach workshops at this tournament. The old master is a nice guy, so he invites the Wookie to touch hands with him, and the Wookie lays him out on the pavement. The old master is mortified, of course, and asks who is the Wookie's teacher, and guess what he says?

Sit gave him what-for, in his own quiet way. "I didn't teach you push-hands," he said last night in class, "so don't tell people I'm your teacher. Especially after you push someone down."

The Wookie is either mortified or sulking, I can't tell which. He's not the most expressive human being I've ever seen. I've never seen Sit actually kick anyone out of class, but I've never seen anybody as clueless as this big lump, either. He's wasting the time of the rest of us. The SP refuses to talk to him or even look at him, in part because he had met the old master and liked the guy. I can't quite find it in my heart to be cruel to a big dumb animal, but I may say something to him if the chance presents itself.

If that weren't enough, the Wookie invited along a friend to the tournament, another big lump I'll call Charlie because of his resemblance to Manson. Disheveled, dirty, holey clothes, wild hair, wild look in the eye. This guy claimed to have 30 years experience in Akido ("Maybe he do Akido thirty years ago," Sit snorted.). He, too, came just for the fighting, and he spent the three days before going around the tournament picking fights with guys smaller than him. I saw him wrestle a skinny 17-year-old to the ground and put an elbow on his throat before the kid's teacher intervened. Eventually Charlie picked on the wrong guy, a Chinese named Huong, I think. Huong evidently wanted to start a school in China and came to the U.S. tournament to win himself a grand championship--which he did, very handily. He entered 19 forms divisions, and won most of them. That would've been impressive enough, but he also fought in the light contact sparring and won that. At some point early in the weekend Charlie ran into this guy and started some shit, and got a nosebleed for his trouble. After that Charlie went to the registration board and asked to drop his enrollment in the sparring competition.

Ironically, I never met the guy during the weekend but we all knew who he was, thanks to his tenuous connection to our group. I hope I never do meet him.

Oh, and he lost at push-hands, too. The Wookie won in his division, which prompted Sit, on Wednesday, to suggest he start his own style. "Then you can teach people like you. Hard-style push-hands. Nobody else do that. That's a good idea, actually. You should go do that."

It was very hard not to laugh aloud at that. But Sit was careful to say to the SP and me, privately, "Don't think he's not good. He's very good at what he does. That's why he wins. That's why the old master make a mistake, he think he's not good, because he's a white guy and he talk slow, so the master is not prepared. You can never underestimate somebody. Especially if you going to let them touch you."

At any rate, we are back, and life marches on. The SP bought me a decent metal sword from one of the vendors, and Sit told us we'd resume sword form on Saturday. I'm glad. I like the sword form and I'd like to compete in it next year. Despite my lackluster performance over the weekend I can tell I'm still learning and growing. Sit's been overall quite positive about my application work. I can't do everything just right all the time, but the successes are coming with more ease and more frequency.

In other worlds, I have a wedding dress to wrap up and a bit of writing to do. Miss Fairweather is quietly furious that I have neglected her for so long, and she is demanding an outlet. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Abney Park

Ferris Bueller said a person should not believe in an ism, but occasionally one already believes in an ideal and just doesn't have a name for it. In my case, it appears I've been a steampunkist for a couple years now.

I'd always kind of turned up my nose at Steampunk as a fiction genre, because I didn't care for alternate history and the authors best-known for writing Steampunk were the types I always considered purveyors of techno-porn; I'm simply not interested in all the gears and gadgets. But maybe the time just wasn't right for me. Maybe the movement just needed time to evolve out of prose fiction and into an aesthetic. At any rate, after researching the links for my last post I found myself feverishly surfing for examples of glowing glass, brass, and leather.

(It deserves saying that my husband and I were already leaning in a direction that might be considered steampunk in the look we were designing for our house: rich wall colors, lots of wood shelves and cabinets built-in, pigeonholed storage and so on. But now with the SP bringing out his old metalworking tools and cutting holes in sheets of nickle and brass, suddenly a whole new medium for crafting and decorating has opened up for me.)

Eventually my travels led me to Abney Park. No, not the cemetary in England, the band. They dress like airship pirates from a Wells/Verne novel and they weave techno rhythms and Middle-Eastern wails through their music. It's just damn cool. They've sampled bits from a number of diverse sources and come up with something utterly original that feels like a sound I've been waiting for my entire life. Yes, I am drooling like a fangirl, but just last week I was trolling for a soundtrack to kick-start my Trace writing again, and it seems I have found it.

Here's their MySpace page. Start with "Stigmata Martyr." I'm gonna go scour the antique stores.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ah, that library smell

Here's a fun little project. I found a book at Half Price Books, The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould. I was perusing for a good witchcraft reference in the Magick section (the modern crap is awful) and I spotted this one and picked it up because the author's name was Sabine. Appealing coincidence, eh? Imagine my delight when I cracked the cover and found it had been originally published in 1865! This copy's a paperback reprint, of course, but the text setting appears to be original; at least it's in a style that I've seen in other 19th-century books. Since it was only five bucks, I bought it, figuring I could recover it in a nice cloth or leatherish hardcover. And after three minutes of Googling, I found a library site on how to do rebinding. Cool, huh?

At least, if you're a geek, it's cool.

Even more cool, and supremely inspiring are these macabre art installations from Alex CF. Last time I checked he had a werewolf research collection up for sale on Ebay; now he's got a Vampire hunter's kit, as well. These are very like the little bits I've built for Miss Fairweather's collection, but on a grander and more comprehensive scale. I especially like the bone fragments molded from resins. I've been thinking of trying something similar. Hell, I'd like to do a LOT more of this sort of thing, but writing and remodelling, alas, take priority.


For further coolness and inspiration, Brass Goggles, a hub for all things Steampunk.

...An online museum exibit to make you really glad you didn't live in the Nineteenth Century....

Shoot, now I found these really cool apothecary jars in all shapes and sizes. Hmm. The SP is making a new hilt for his sword this week, I wanna play too.... No! NO! Write, dammit!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

more reasons to be wary of soy

From The Institute for Responsible Technology, who, among other things, are opposed to genetically modified foods.

Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 rats (55.6%) from the GM soy group died compared to only 3 of 33 (9%) from the non-GM soy group and 3 of 44 (6.8%) from the non-soy controls.
The FDA does not require any safety tests on genetically modified foods.[...] The rationale for this hands-off position is a sentence in the FDA’s 1992 policy that states, “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” [1] The statement, it turns out, was deceptive. Documents made public from a lawsuit years later revealed that the FDA’s own experts agreed that GM foods are different and might lead to hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases or nutritional problems. They had urged their superiors to require long-term safety studies, but were ignored. The person in charge of FDA policy was, conveniently, Monsanto’s former attorney (and later their vice president).
There have been less than 20 published, peer-reviewed animal feeding safety studies and no human clinical trials—in spite of the fact that millions of people eat GM soy, corn, cotton, or canola daily. There are no adequate tests on “biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology, gut function, liver function and kidney function,” [3] and animal feeding studies are too short to adequately test for cancer, reproductive problems, or effects in the next generation.

Just soy you know, Monsanto is not only the creator of the pesticide Roundup, they're also the patent-holder on a soybean that's resistant to it. That means they can sell you their seeds, to be planted in fields which can then be doused with their chemicals, whereupon the beans will survive to be harvested and made into everything you, your pets, and your meat animals consume everyday, complete with the chemicals from the pesticide! Ain't science grand!

I'm reminded of a line from Judge Dredd: "Eat recycled food! It's good for the environment... and it's not bad for you!"

Oh, but it is, kiddies. And it's not just for tofu-eaters anymore. Check your labels. I challenge you to find a condiment, chocolate bar, or loaf of bread in your supermarket that doesn't contain either soy lecithin or soybean oil. Go on. Try it. I'll wait.

Oh, and in case you're interested? Monsanto has as many enemies as Wal-Mart. Even if only half of what they've been blamed for is accurate, that's some scary shit they're getting away with.

Now I'm reminded of a line from Jurassic Park: "You guys were so eager to find out if you could do it, you didn't stop to wonder if you should."

Monday, July 02, 2007

My Little Pony never had one of these

Funky-looking horse-zebra cross born in Germany.

Looks like something out of Neverending Story or some CGI fantasy flick. Or P.T. Barnum's collection.