Saturday, September 24, 2005

50 Greatest Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time?

Here's the Boston Globe's list. Wonder Woman checks in at #24. I figure the photo of Lynda Carter at the left should put it about ten spots higher in the rankings. The bad news is that you have to register to check it out, or you can use bugmenot.

Galveston, Texas, September 24, 2005

Reuters: Robert Shumake, dressed in a God Bless America shirt, waves the U.S. flag along the seawall with the Gulf of Mexico in the background in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in Galveston, Texas September 24, 2005. Shumake was celebrating that the city was spared major damage from the storm. Hurricane Rita was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on Saturday with maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph (120 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) advisory.

Joe Lansdale and Rita

Joe Lansdale, a writer you've probably heard of and read, lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, a long way from here and supposedly well away from hurricanes. He'd been calling to check on me, worried that I'd be blown away. Now the irony begins. I just got a call from Joe, who has no electric power, who's had a giant limb come through the roof of his house, and whose driveway is blocked by a fallen tree. Here I am in Hurricane Alley, having a high old time. And there's Joe, far inland, suffering far worse effects from Rita. Start sending some of those good thoughts his way, please.

I'm Here

Well, the storm's effects in Alvin, Texas, have been minimal so far. We still have power, which is amazing, considering that we often lose power in just a little rainstorm.

We had high wind last night, but it never got near hurricane force, and we had some rain, but not a whole lot. We were very, very lucky.

And all the good thoughts and encouragement from people who read the blog were a big help to me. I was seriously worried at one point last week, thinking that I'd made the biggest blunder of my life by deciding to stay here instead of leaving. Now I'm feeling pretty good about my choice.

What worries me now is the future. Four major hurricanes in Florida last year. Two major hurricanes all too close to me within a few weeks this year. That doesn't bode well.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement. Believe me, it made a difference.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita Update #5

It just keeps on looking better. I'm going to bed and sleep through the night's storminess, I think. I don't see any need to stay awake and alert, as it now seems certain that the worst of the weather will be well to the north and east of us. That could change, but right now I'm feeling as if we've really lucked out. Thanks for all the good vibes, and keep 'em coming.

Hurricane Rita Update #4

The storm has taken another slight jog to the right. Every time that happens, I relax a little more because while this is very bad news for Louisiana, it's good news for us. According to the National Weather Service, Galveston is no longer in the "cone of uncertainty." Isn't that a great phrase? I'm reminded of Get Smart's "cone of silence." Anyway, this means that Galveston is no longer a candidate to wind up in the hurricane's direct path. Alvin, being a few miles up the road from Galveston, isn't in the path, either. This doesn't mean that the storm can't fool everybody and move back this way, but things are looking pretty good for us here. Wind? Rain? Sure, we'll get some of both. But the really nasty stuff is a lot less likely.

My Name is Earl

No, not my name. That's the title of a new TV series, the only new show I've seen. I liked it, which is probably the kiss of death. It'll be canceled within the month. Or sooner if the Coen Brothers decide to sue. The show's a direct steal from, er, I mean homage to Raising Arizona. Jason Lee plays Earl, which is the Nicolas Cage role, and even looks a bit like him. The idea is that Earl, a lowdown schemer and petty thief, has a mystical experience while in the hospital and decides that he has to change his karma by repaying everyone he's ever scammed, robbed, cheated, or hurt. He makes a list. It's a really long one. I got several good laughs from the opening show, and I'll be watching again, even if the rest of them have warm and fuzzy endings like the first one. There's enough other stuff to keep things down and dirty. And funny.

Civilization and Its Discontents

E-mail message from a friend whose daughters left town yesterday:

"When there is more time will tell you about the truck driver that got out -- hit my daughter's side window with his hand and told her to let him get in front of her to get gas as he was working and now evacuating. Scared her so much, since it was 9:30 PM, that I talked with her for 30 minutes. That was my second choice -- first was to get to the Teague exit and shoot the s. o. b."

Hurricane Rita Update #3

We're starting to get some wind now, not much, but enough to let us know the storm's on its way. Thin clouds are coming from the Gulf. The serious rain and wind should begin in the middle of the afternoon, with the storm coming ashore early tomorrow. About 36 hours from now, things might be settling back down. I'm not sure how much longer we'll have power here, but I'll post more updates if I can.

The Flood Plain

In a comment below, Cap'n Bob says: "My main worry for you is flooding. Now that I know Hill St. is not on a hill, I wonder if you're above the flood plain. I assume you're furiously moving your books to the attic, or at least the high shelves."

Let's set the Cap'n's mind at ease. We're above the flood plain. When we moved here in 1983, we were told to ask only one question before buying a house: "Did the place flood in 1979?" Why ask that? Because 1979 was (and is) the year that made Alvin, Texas, famous (even before Nolan Ryan). Here's what The Handbook of Texas has to say: "In 1979 tropical storm Claudette dumped forty-three inches of rain near Alvin within twenty-four hours, a state record." Virtually the entire town flooded, but not the house where we live. Of course the drainage has changed over the years, but we don't think we're likely to get anywhere near forty-three inches of rain out of Rita. If we do, we might be in trouble. And if the roof blows off, we'll be in trouble. Otherwise, we'll be dry.

And Stan Burns e-mailed me some good advice: Put the most valuable paperbacks in a couple of plastic garbage bags and stash them where it's most likely not to get wet in any situation. Like in my car in the garage.


When I went out for a jog through the deserted streets of Alvin this morning, this thought occurred to me: What are these morons thinking?

This is trash pick-up day in Alvin, and the morons of whom I speak are the ones who've put out their plastic bags full of trash. Do they really think there'll be a garbage run today? Tomorrow those bags are going to become unguided missles in the big wind. The chief moron is the guy who put a twelve-foot pecan limb out for pick-up.

Other things I saw in yards: a traffic cone, four plastic lawn chairs, a TV set, a metal folding chair, a soccer ball, a metal garbage can.

And most of this stuff, including the filled garbage bags, was in front of houses that are boarded up and deserted.

Good grief.

Hurricane Rita Update #2

The scenes of the traffic outside Houston have shown the flaws in the big "evacuation plan." I don't know if anyone's to blame, and of course the intentions were good. (I have a feeling you could ask some of the many stranded drivers about "the road to hell.") Now a bus full of evacuees has exploded near Dallas, and it's far, far worse than anything we've seen so far. I'm watching the scene on TV now, and we're hearing that the bus was filled with the elderly and infirm and that there have been mulitple deaths.

Judy and I are quite hopeful that the worst of Lovely Rita's effects will miss us here in Alvin. If the storm continues the way the National Weather Service is telling us at the moment, that will be the case. Keep those fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Automotive Science Marches On!

DETROIT - Suffering from a rash? Drive a Toyota.

That could well be Toyota Motor Corp.’s next slogan, if the world’s second-largest automaker succeeds in offering cars with a medicated cloth seat cover designed to help heal rashes.

“It’s important for us to continue to push this envelope,” Jim Press, president of Toyota’s U.S. division, told the Reuters Autos Summit on Thursday, referring to a host of features being developed to enhance the driving experience.


Toyota is also looking at a steering wheel that could help diabetics by allowing them to measure their blood sugar levels by simply gripping the wheel.

Taking that a step further, the wheel, in conjunction with other technology, will also be able to gauge a driver’s temperament and blood pressure, adjusting the color of the headlights on the car to warn others of the driver’s mental state.

Hurricane Rita Update

At 10:00 a.m. Rita took another little jog to the northeast. Bad news for folks up the coast, good news for me. If the storm continues to track in that direction, we might be OK, after all.

The highways out of Houston look like a scene from a bad disastrophe flick. Every time I see a picture, I'm glad I stayed here.

Keep those good thoughts going.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Too Late To Run

Thanks to all for the advice, encouragement, and warnings. It's too late to leave, however, since the highways are parking lots and the drive from Houston to Huntsville, about 60 miles, is now taking 12 hours. If worse comes to worst, the community college here in town has a hurricane-proof room (it was once a vault, so it has very thick steel walls covered with brick). I've been in touch with the college president, who's as stupid as I am and is also still in town, and if the storm turns in this direction, we'll go to the college. I'm still confident that things will work out better than that, and that the storm will come in to the south of us, giving us rain and high wind, but nothing of hurricane force.

New Crimespree

The new issue of Crimespree has landed here at the Crider Manse & Hurricane Shelter, and it's a nice diversion. News, reviews, and interviews. Not to mention essays and fiction. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lovely Rita

It seems that Hurricane Rita is taking aim at the Texas Gulf Coast, and panic is in the air. Nobody really knows where the storm will come to shore, but our neighbors to the right have already left, and the ones on the left will be leaving tomorrow. The ones on the right have metal storm shutters, so their windows are safe enough. The ones on the left have boarded up their windows. Judy and I, on the other hand, have done nothing. We have plenty of water and food, so the main inconvenience will be lack of electricity, assuming the windows and roof hold together. We're almost certain to lose power for at least a couple of days if the storm comes in nearby. So if blogging suddenly ceases on Friday or Saturday, you'll know what happened. Otherwise, I'll be here as usual.


I was looking through some of my Ace books the other day and enjoying the covers, so I scanned them and posted them here. Be sure to click on the covers to enlarge them. They look even better that way.

Gold Medal Corner -- John McPartland

This is a little essay I did for Steve Lewis's Mystery*File. I'm reprinting it here because Duane Swierczynski recently read a McPartland book and wrote about it in his blog. Now Ed Gorman has joined in the fun with a reprint on his own blog.

Gold Medal Corner
by Bill Crider

If people of a certain age (that would be my age) remember John McPartland at all, it’s probably because of his 1957 “breakthrough” novel, No Down Payment. But the truth is hardly anybody remembers even that. (Try a google search if you don’t believe me.) Probably even fewer people remember that both before and after the publication of his “big” book, McPartland published novels with Gold Medal. And they were good ones.

Probably my favorite is The Kingdom of Johnny Cool (1959). Written years before Mario Puzo thought of The Godfather, this is a crackerjack novel about the Mafia (McPartland calls it the Outfit). The title has a couple of meanings, as there are two Johnny Cools in the novel, one young, one old. The young one is the killer, the man who’s going coast-to-coast to kill five men in one day. How he does it, what he becomes in the process, and what happens to him are just a few of the things the book is about. Although there are only 160 pages, this novel has enough details about the Outfit and the way it operates to make even Puzo blink. I seem to recall that Puzo said he made everything up. McPartland may have done the same, but it certainly sounds authentic, as do the all the details of police procedure that are introduced after the murders. The book had at least two Gold Medal printings, and they probably weren’t small ones, but I’m surprised it didn’t do even better.

Maybe it would have, in a different time. McPartland was restricted by publishing conventions of the 1950s, so he couldn’t be nearly as explicit as Puzo was able to be later on. For example, after a young woman with the unlikely name of Dare Guiness is raped, Johnny takes revenge on the killers by stabbing them with a knife from Dare’s kitchen. And then: “There was a tradition for bodies like these two, a tradition that required the use of the knife once more on each of them. Johnny did this and left the bodies where they lay on the gray sidewalk near the garage.” Readers these days (and probably those days, too) knew what it was that Johnny did, but specificity in that sort of thing seems mean bigger sales. McPartland did his best. And even with the restrictions, this is a brutal book, maybe even a little shocking for 1959, and the ending is a real downer.

But there are a couple of lighter moments, including some snappy patter that wouldn’t be out of place in an Arnold Swarzenegger movie of a few years ago. After a couple of killings in Las Vegas, Johnny gets on a package tour bus and sits down next to a guy counting his winnings. The guy wants to talk:

“Boy, I murdered them here,” he said. “How did you do?”
“I did all right,” said Johnny.

McPartland’s books are well worth reading if you like hardboiled action, as I do now and then, and the writing’s fine, too. The Wild Party is another good one, as are the others I’ve read.

If McPartland was so good, why didn’t he make a bigger impact on the crime field? One reason might be that he died at the age of forty-seven. He was already dead by the time The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was published. Too bad he didn’t stick around longer. A lot longer.

Gold Medal Media Bonus: In 1963, The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was made into a movie with the shortened title of Johnny Cool. It starred Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery, and it made a big impression on me and my date (who’s still my date to the movies, by the way). I thought it would make Silva a big star. He was a brat-packer at the time, and Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., make cameos in the movie. The real revelation, though, is Montgomery. Wotta performance! After you see her in this movie, you’ll never be able to think of her as that cute Samantha again.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #1: After you see Johnny Cool (which will be next to impossible, as I don’t believe it’s available), you should watch Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999). Supposedly it’s based on some French film, and I might be the only major movie critic who noticed that it’s sort of a remake of Johnny Cool. Forrest Whitaker is the star, but the old Mafia guy is (a great touch) Henry Silva.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #2: And after that, see if you can find the movie version of No Down Payment. I’m betting you can’t, but give it a try. It’s one of the better “lost” movies of the 1950s, with Joanne Woodward and Tony Randall, who proves here that he could do a lot more than just play the comic sidekick in movies with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. This is one of the best portrayals of suburbia ever, or at least of what people thought suburbia was like in the 1950s. I’ve never read the book, but I really should, one of these days.

Monday, September 19, 2005

According to this, Lou Ford Could Have Been a Zillionaire. Or at Least a Top Lawyer.

LONDON (Reuters) - "Wanted: psychopaths to make a killing in the markets."

Such an advert will not be appearing in the world's newspapers any time soon, but it may have a ring of truth after research revealed the best wheeler-dealers could well be "functional psychopaths."

A team of U.S. scientists has found the emotionally impaired are more willing to gamble for high stakes and that people with brain damage may make good financial decisions, the Times newspaper reported Monday.

In a study of investors' behavior 41 people with normal IQs were asked to play a simple investment game. Fifteen of the group had suffered lesions on the areas of the brain that affect emotions.

The result was those with brain damage outperformed those without.

The scientists found emotions led some of the group to avoid risks even when the potential benefits far outweighed the losses, a phenomenon known as myopic loss aversion.

One of the researchers, Antione Bechara, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, said the best stock market investors might plausibly be called "functional psychopaths."

Fellow author, Baba Shiv of Stanford Graduate School of Business said many company chiefs and top lawyers may also show they share the same trait.

Arrrrrrrr, Me Hearties!

It's International Talk Like A Pirate Day: "Media, entertainers, the Internet embrace Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Art of Dr. Seuss

This weekend Judy and I drove to Thornton, Texas, for a short visit with Judy's mother, who was celebrating her 93rd birthday. We should all be in such great shape, mentally and physically at 93!

On the way home today, we stopped by our daughter's condo in Houston, and the three of us went to an exhibit of Dr. Seuss's art. (Here's a review of the show.) I figured I'd get sued if I used any of the photos we took of the artwork, but I'm sure no one will mind if I use the one of me seated outside the entrance to the show.

The exhibit was arranged chronologically, beginning with Dr. Seuss's earliest work: cartoons and covers for Judge magazine. His characteristic style was already well established. I'm sure you know that he did a couple of cartoons making fun of an insect spray called Flit. The maker's wife saw one, showed it to her husband, and Seuss was hired to do do ads for the spray. And the rest, as we love to say, is history.

My favorite Dr. Seuss book is McElligott's Pool, but I like many of the others almost as well. If I Ran the Zoo, for example. And of course that one about the Grinch. And the two about Horton. And, well, most of the rest of them, too.

My great-uncle, Everett Gee Jackson, was an artist who lived in San Diego, and he and Theodore Geisel were good friends. One of my regrets is that I never asked my uncle for an introduction.

50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs : Shows : 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs...Ever : Countdown: "It was tough listening but here they are - #50 all the way down to the #1 worst song...ever. Click on song title or speaker icon to listen to clip. Click on artist name for bio, CDs & more."

It's official: I'm and old fogey. I haven't even heard half of these.