WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

It’s Thanksgiving day here in the States. Or, as I like to call it, the Feast of a Thousand Turkeys. So, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Go eat a shitload of food and get ready to spend a bunch of money tomorrow.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s on to the meat of the story.

I think we can all agree that there’s been a rise of white nationalism in the United States. You can shake your head and cluck your tongue and call me a dumbass libtard all you want, but when jackasses in polo shirts are chanting things like “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”, the evidence is right there in your face. A lot of people fought and died to wipe that scourge out decades ago, but hatred and pathetic losers have a way of lurking in the shadows like cockroaches.

Since punching Nazis in the face – a longtime American tradition – seems to fallen by the wayside, new ways of sticking it to them had to be invented. Oddly enough, this time by a Lebanese guy who bought up all the Hitler memorabilia at an auction in Germany just to keep it out of the hands of neo-Nazis.

You have to appreciate not only the will to do that, but also the sheer spite of it all. Abdallah Chatila spent €600,000 on ten items that he didn’t want, just to make sure that a bunch of jackasses who did want them couldn’t have them. That, in my opinion, is a good use of money. With a bit of luck, Mr. Chatila will film himself tossing Hitler’s hat in a fire and pissing on that silver-covered copy of Mein Kampf.

With an even bigger bit of luck, it won’t be long before the whole sick cult of Nazism is tossed into the ash heap of history.

Read the whole story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts of the month are: Damyanti Biswas , Lizbeth Hartz, Shilpa Garg, Peter Nena, Simon Falk

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

Cycling Made Easy

It’s springtime, that magical time of the year where the birds chatter, it’s windy as hell, and everybody is throwing up their lists of favorite “affordable” bicycles for the year. A few that have popped up in my newsfeed define affordable as under $2000. I don’t know about you, but $2000 is still a chunk of change even if it is affordable in a sport where a new frameset alone can set you back $7000 for carbon fiber or titanium.

So, it’s spring and you’ve got that itch to go for a ride. Unfortunately, that tax money you expected to get back turned in a huge liability, so you’re strapped. You’ve got a few options:

  • Go to bike store and get a bike loan. Yes, they’re a thing
  • Go to WalMart and get a bike that may or may not kill you
  • Do a little digging and find a decent used bike that will suit your needs

Another option is to build your own. I’ll cover that in a little while.

I was at one of the local bike stores here in Albuquerque a couple of years ago looking for bar tape and QR skewers for a bike I was building and there was a couple in there buying a pair of mid-range bikes (at $3500 each), shoes ($100-$200 a pair), helmets ($100 or so and up), car rack ($200+), and clothes (ungodly expensive). So, I’m wating for the salesman to acknowledge my presence and wondering who in the hell walks into a bike store and drops nearly 8K. It turns out you can get bicycle loans. They’re just like car loans, or any other kind of loan, only they’re for buying bicycles.

Okay, car loans I get. I hate them, but they’re a necessary evil and since I tend to keep my cars until the wheels fall off and the transmission falls out, there’s usually a significant amount of time where I’m driving but own the car outright. In a place like Albuquerque where the city’s so spread out and the mass transit sucks, cars are good things to have.

But the fact that bicycle loans are a thing boggles my mind. Especially when it’s a multi-thousand dollar loan for someone who just wants to get into the sport. You know, get their feet wet and see if it’s something they’ll enjoy. From the sheer amount of used bicycles out there, I’m betting most people get the loan, ride for a few weeks, find out it’s hard, and give up. That’s a lot of money to try out something you might not get into.

Of course, not every bicycle in the bike store is a multi-thousand-dollar beast. And, contrary to what the nice salesman is telling you, you don’t need a top of the line bike to get started. Find something affordable and functional and see if you’re even really interested in riding. If you are, great. Upgrade at some point. If not, well, a $500 investment is a lot less than a $3500 investment.

You can also go to the local big box store and pull a bike off the rack for under a few hundred dollars. WalMart and Target both have bike sections filled with flashy rides with colorful paint jobs and fact sheets that advertise things like SiS! Disc Brakes! Super-light aluminum frame! Shimano! SRAM! Nearly 30 speeds!

What those fact sheets don’t tell you is the brakes suck, the components will break, and most people will never use that many speeds. Big box bikes are okay for toodling around the neighborhood. Just give yourself plenty of time to stop and don’t be surprised when the plastic brake levers bend and flex. But, let’s face it; that’s good enough for most people. If all you’re doing is casual rides around the neighborhood or along a trail, that $300 Schwinn is going to be perfectly servicable.

The only worrisome thing about big box store bikes is the components can be less than stellar. If you’re taking slow rides, no worries. If you’re planning on going faster or riding off road, or putting any kind of stress on that bike at all, bad components can be dangerous. Brakes that fail because the metal flexes too much or the pads are insufficient can kill you. Having to re-true wheels after every ride gets old fast. A frame that came apart at the seams because the welding was crap can end a ride quickly.

On the other hand, I had a buddy back in high school who broke a Specialized frame by hitting a rock on a trail. When he contacted the company about a warranty, they said, “You were riding off-road? That wasn’t what he had in mind. No warranty.”

It was a mountain bike.

Perhaps teh best way to find the new ride of your dreams is to do some digging. Those people that dropped all that money on brand new bikes so they could try out the sport? They probably dropped out and are selling those bikes at a fraction of the cost of new bikes. People who get really into cycling also love to upgrade constantly (guilty) and sell off the old stuff. You can find used bikes all over the place that, with a little elbow grease, can ride just as well as they did when they were new. Check your local Craigslist, sporting supply stores, eBay, Pinkbike, the classified. I can almost guarantee you, someone is selling a bike that would be great for you for far less than you’d pay new. Plus, it’s a kind of recycling (pun intended), so that’s pretty cool, too.

A final option that most people probably won’t go for is to build up your own bike from scratch. The upside is you can get exactly what you want and if you dig around Craigslist and eBay, you can build it for a lot less than buying a complete bike. It’s also a fun project, great experience, and teaches you how to maintain your own ride. The downside is you need some specialized tools like crank pullers, bottom bracket tools, headset presses, and things like that. Fortunately, those show up on Craigslist and eBay all the time, too. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve built three bikes now and I love the process of building and tinkering almost as much as riding.

For those wondering, here’s my latest creation. I found the frame on eBay for $250, components from Craigslist, eBay, and Nashbar before they went all weird. It rides like a dream and even though it’s got mid to high end parts and a carbon fiber frame, cost about $800 spread out over a couple of years. Still pricey, I know, but buying a bit a time over months made it easier. With cheaper parts and frameset and a little digging, a good bike can be built up for about $500 or so. Plus, when something breaks, you’ll know how to fix it because you put it on there in the first place.

ridley

I know people love their bikes. If you’ve got a pic or a story, put it in the comments. I’d love to see your ride or hear your story.

Book Review – Kiss Me When I’m Dead by Dominic Piper

kissmewhenimdead

I love gritty, noir stories where the bad guys are really bad and the good guys aren’t that much better. They serve as a reminder that it ain’t what you do that defines you, it’s why you do it. Such nebulous morality is on full-display in Dominic Piper’s debut novel Kiss Me When I’m Dead, a book about finding a missing girl that leads us into the dark heart of the sex trade in London with a heaping helping of twisted relationships thrown in just in case the sex trade didn’t leave enough of a bad taste in your mouth.

Back in the day, detective noir was a thing. It was a genre unto itself that spawned classics like The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, L.A. Confidential, and the Big Sleep. Literary greats like Spillane, Chandler, and Elroy stood at the top of the morass of human darkness and grinned like loons as they looked down and told us their depraved stories. They weren’t always for the faint of heart, nor should they be. After all, no one hires a private detective to find out the good things in life. Detectives are hired to dig through the detritus of the world and look for the stuff so odious no one in their right mind would leave it sitting out in the open like some black bird statue on a bookshelf.

These are supposed to be stories about hard people doing hard things, and Piper succeeds admirably at giving us a mysterious detective with a mysterious past, a flair for violence, and a host of willing ladies who fall for his charms. Kiss Me When I’m Dead is the full effect of wanton humanity laid bare and exposed with battery cables clamped to its balls and salt rubbed in its wounds.

Yes. It’s that good.

If you like your stories with a hefty dose of mystery that takes your hand and leads you through a world you didn’t know existed – and probably didn’t want to know existed – before kicking you in the head, this is a good book to read. It’s well-written, researched, and stands easily with some of the greats of the genre. If that’s not your bag, read it anyway, it’s a great tale and it goes to show you don’t have to write horror to come up with something terrifyingly fun.

The stunning debut thriller by bestselling author Dominic Piper, Kiss Me When I’m Dead introduces the enigmatic, London-based private investigator Daniel Beckett.

When Beckett is offered double his usual fee to track down Viola Raleigh, the missing daughter of a billionaire arms dealer, he has no reason to believe the assignment is not as it seems.

But his investigation is hindered as he discovers he’s being stalked by a professional surveillance team. As he learns more about Viola’s life as a drug addict and high-class call girl, he starts to realise that his wealthy client has been economical with the truth.

It isn’t long before Beckett himself is in danger, but his adversaries quickly discover that they are dealing with a formidable opponent with a far more sinister background than they might ever have imagined.

Get your copy on Amazon

Follow Dominic on Twitter

Book Review – The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5

I love short stories, especially clever sci-fi short stories. There’s something about the genre that lends itself to looking through at the world through the lens of what could happen and that makes for some amazing story-telling.

A number of years ago, I got interested in Japanese horror, primarily Koji Suzuki. I wanted to see what The Ring was like in its original incarnation. Awesome, if I may say so myself. I found Suzuki’s work to have a more subtle feel than a lot of traditional American horror. It was a breath of fresh air after blood, gore, and violence of our native horror stories.

None of the works in The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5 would be classified as horror, but that doesn’t mean that subtlety and sense of another culture was lacking. Maybe it’s just me, but that adds a lot to a story, especially a science fiction story where it should feel like there’s another culture at play. That’s where the magic happens.

As a collection of stories, some resonated with me more than others, but that doesn’t mean they were lacking anything, it just means they didn’t have the same impact as others because reasons.

All in all, if you’re looking for a good collection of sci-fi stories written by international authors and you’re willing to stretch your wings a bit, you might find some absolute gems in here. There are authors representing, among other countries, Japan, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Bolivia, and the US and each brings their own culture and ideas with them when they write.

The landmark anthology series of international speculative fiction returns with volume 5 of The Apex Book of World SF. Cris Jurado joins series editor Lavie Tidhar to highlight the best speculative fiction from around the world.

Cyberpunk from Spain, Singapore and Japan; mythology from Venezuela, Korea and First Nations; stories of the dead from Zimbabwe and Egypt, and space wonders from India, Germany and Bolivia. And much more. The fifth volume of the ground-breaking World SF anthology series reveals once more the uniquely international dimension of speculative fiction.

Featuring:
Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Singapore) — “A Series of Steaks”
Daína Chaviano (Cuba, translated by Matthew D. Goodwin) — “Accursed Lineage”
Darcie Little Badger (USA/Lipan Apache) — “Nkásht íí”
T.L. Huchu (Zimbabwe) — “Ghostalker”
Taiyo Fujii (Japan, translated by Jim Hubbert) — “Violation of the TrueNet Security Act”
Vandana Singh (India) — “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”
Basma Abdel Aziz (Egypt, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette) — “Scenes from the Life of an Autocrat”
Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia, translated by Jessica Sequeira) — “Our Dead World”
Bo-young Kim (South Korea, translated by Jihyun Park & Gord Sellar) — “An Evolutionary Myth”
Israel Alonso (Spain, translated by Steve Redwood) — “You Will See the Moon rRse”
Sara Saab (Lebanon) — “The Barrette Girls”
Chi Hui (China, translated by John Chu) — “The Calculations of Artificials”
Ana Hurtado (Venezuela) — “El Cóndor del Machángara”
Karla Schmidt (Germany, translated by Lara M. Harmon) — “Alone, on the Wind”
Eliza Victoria (Philippines) — “The Seventh”
Tochi Onyebuchi (Nigeria/USA) — “Screamers”
R.S.A. Garcia (Trinidad and Tobago) — “The Bois”
Giovanni De Feo (Italy) — “Ugo”

I love this cover.

Get your copy on Amazon

Book Review – 13 Wicked Tales of Witches by Avrin Kelly

Proving yet again, that Twitter isn’t just a vast wasteland of racism and horsefuckery, I found this book – and its author – on Twitter in one of the many writerly communities that have popped up over time. Avrin Kelly is a horror author busily injecting her own style into a genre that can easily get stale and predictable.

At some point in the past, witchcraft was considered the most heinous of crimes. Religious leaders likened it to harlots cavorting with the devil and the mere idea that a woman could be a witch was enough to ensure her untimely demise. See Salem, MA for information on what can and has happened in the past.

Witchcraft has taken a nose-dive as an addition to the horror genre in recent years as more and more people have come to the realization that a bunch of women cavorting with nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing and – gasp! – some of that old-timey nonsense about being Satan’s brides might be total bullshit flung by folks who didn’t understand what was going on or didn’t like the idea that women might have some power.

Avrin Kelly has taken witches back to the bad side of the tracks and let them work their magic on an unsuspecting populace. While it would have been easy to write thirteen tales about women turning people into newts, she took it multiple directions with nary a newt to be found. In some of the best stories you don’t even see the witches, but you feel their eerie powers poking at you in the woods.

These are clever horror stories, running the gamut from creepy-but-kind-of-amusing to Lovecraft-would-dig-this-if-there-were-more-apostrophes-in-the-names. My personal favorite was the last story in the book, a nice slow-burn yarn that didn’t end where I expected it to, but there are plenty of good short stories about witches to be had in here.

Whether it’s around Halloween time, or one of the other 11 (boring) months out of the year; you are going to love these 13 stories from Avrin Kelly…

Dear Reader,
I present thirteen stories to horrify you, make you question existence, and even those around you. Thirteen tales of treachery, magic gone wrong and spells done right. Stories about people, just like you, who had a run-in with a Witch… or who are Witches themselves.
You won’t know who the villains are until the end. You won’t know who the monsters are until they strike, but isn’t that the best part about horror?
The unknown?
If you are feeling particularly brave, I encourage you to explore the uncanny world of Witches, with me as your guide. Snuggle down with this creepy read, and come with me into the depths of wickedness and strange magic. To a place where nothing is ever as it seems, where the danger could be lurking in the shadows behind you or right beside you, in the light.
Thirteen tales of terror; every one of them involving a Witch…

– A handyman recalls the horrifying details of a job he wishes he’d forgotten.
– An overly curious English teacher gets way more than she bargained for when she sets out to solve a mystery concerning her next door neighbor.
– A Witch out for revenge on an unfaithful lover, finds he may have beaten her to the punch.
– A veteran cat burglar underestimates a wealthy old woman in the dead of night.
– A young handyman tells what happened when he went to work with his father one Saturday afternoon.
– A Warlock in college is having issues with his unruly doppelgänger.
– And more… Read “Thirteen Wicked Tales Of Witches” and treat yourself to some twisty, turny (is that a word?) Halloween frights!!!
Signed Sincerely,
Your Guide

avrin

Get it on Amazon

Find her on Twitter

Check out her blog

Check out her YouTube channel

WATWB – Try Talking, It’s Easier Than Fighting

Victor Hugo once said something interesting about enemies. Most people think it was Winston Churchill, but there’s no evidence he ever said “You have enemies? Great. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” There is, however, plenty of evidence that Victor Hugo said something similar:

“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.”

A little less punchy than the supposed Churchill quote, but also more eloquent. Such is Victor Hugo, I guess. On the other hand, Churchill stomped Nazis, so he gets a pass if he was less eloquent than a professional author.

On a somewhat less than related note, I got my first Twitter block last week. I don’t know if that counts as an enemy, but since I’ve only got one, I might need to step up my game.

Anyway, enemies are a part of life and everyone just needs to get cool with that because you can’t please all the people all the time. Even if you manage to find a way to agree with everyone to their faces, you’ll still have enemies; they’ll just smile warmly as they drive daggers into your back. At least with the angry enemies you know they’re coming.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a dick to everyone you don’t agree with.

I think it would be an understatement to say there’s a crisis of communication in this country. While it would be easy to point fingers at the Tweeter in Chief, I think he’s just a symptom of a long-buried disease that’s been festering under the country’s skin. Not getting along with each other has long been an American tradition. Sure, it’s gotten more and more out of hand, but here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be that way.

Now, I’m not going to whine about getting along and not making waves. By all means, make waves. Make your voice heard. Speak your opinions. Just realize that not everyone is going to agree with them. And you know what? That’s okay. We don’t all need to share the same thoughts just like we don’t need to make everyone else think the same mad thoughts we have. It’s okay to disagree. It’s actually good to disagree.

In a small room in New York university, researchers are studying how people have difficult conversations on topics ranging from abortion to the Israel/Palestine conflict in the hope that their research will eventually teach people how to talk to each other without ripping throats or resorting to childish Tweets.

Eventually, the research should give us a better understanding of how to have a conversation with someone with strongly-held opposing beliefs. Because, like it or not, we’re all stuck on this rock and need to learn how to get along with each other.

Except Nazis. Fuck those guys.

Read the whole story here

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our co-hosts for the month are the lovely and talented:
Simon Falk, Mary J Giese, Dan Antion, Shilpa Gargand Damyanti Biswas

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

aroo

Arooooo.

Word Up, Yo

Here are some fun (if disputable) facts for you. The total number of words in the English language – at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary – is 171,476. Apparently there can be some dispute about what constitutes a word, so that number is just the total number of words they have listed in the dictionary.

Of that 171,476 words the average person knows between 20,000 and 35,000. Average is the key word here. Not everyone knows what fustian means, let alone cares, so most people tend to avoid that style of writing and speaking. Compared to 171,476, 35,000 seems like a small percentage, but it’s still 35,000 words rattling around in the average person’s skull. Some, like fustian or pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis are just hanging out waiting for an excuse to make the user sound smart, others like instantiate or concatenate pop up frequently in specialized jargon or argot but aren’t used in regular speech or writing.

So, how many words does the average person use during the average day? Anywhere between 1200 and 2000.

That’s it. It’s also been estimated that 95% of writing and speaking can be easily understood with just 1 3/4% of the available words in English. With a vocabulary of only a couple thousand words, anyone can usually get by on a day-to-day basis.

And, to make things even more fun, there’s a theory that most writing should be capped at about the 7th grade level. Why? Because it’s easier to digest information when it’s presented in a simpler format. I’ve read books that rely on complicated sentence structure and flowery prose. While I applaud the author’s linguistic skills, the resulting book is exhausting to read. The reason is because it takes time and effort to parse out the language to get to the heart of the meaning. And, ultimately, it’s all about the meaning. Without meaning, a book is just a bunch of pretty words.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, there’s a little program called Pro Writing Aid that, among other things, analyzes the level of writing in your manuscript. My recent one is showing a 7th grade reading level.

When I first ran the analysis and found that out, I was a bit pissed off. I’ve got a damned Master’s degree after all. How did I manage to write something at that level? Shouldn’t it be at least High School? I mean, sure, I’ve got a penchant for sophomoric humor, but I thought I was presenting it at a higher level. After a little research, I felt a little better because, as I pointed out earlier, the more complicated the sentence, the longer it takes to read and you don’t want to leave a reader feeling exhausted after reading your book. Enthralled, ecstatic, elated, or eviscerated, sure. But not exhausted.

How do you keep writing at a 7th grade level when, unlike me, you’re actually trying to? It turns out a lot of the “rules” we accept as writers wind up dropping us into that magical realm. Short, punchy sentences, avoiding passive voice, keeping things simple instead of going for the complicated words. All these tips to increase readability inadvertently drop the writing level to right around 7th grade. And that, as it turns out, is a good thing.

goodjob

Just for a lark, I ran this post through Pro Writing Aid and let it work its magic. It turns out this post contains 568 words, 274 of which are distinct. The most unique words are:

  1. fustian
  2. pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
  3. punchy
  4. sophomoric
  5. concatenate

It’s got seven easy-to-read paragraphs and one slightly difficult-to-read paragraph. The average sentence length is 15.4 words (good) and two long sentences (over 18 words, bad). It’s also written at somewhere between a 7th and 8th grade level, which is a little higher than it could be, but that’s probably just the evil effects of fustian and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

There you go, your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day. There’s a very good reason for keeping thing simple: It makes it easier to read and easier-to-read stuff sells better.

Further reading:

Oxford dictionaries

The Economist

Quora

BL Copywriting

If At First You Don’t Succeed And So Forth …

Know any youngsters that like to write? Have I got an offer for you…

Raspberry Sassafras

A couple of weeks ago I had one of my brilliant ideas when trying to think of ways to liven up my website.  The site is centered around a series of children’s books I’m writing, so really the only time anything would change would be when a new book was released. Not the most dynamic stuff out there.  What I decided to do was feature writing from young people (high school and under), because what better way to mix things up on a site dedicated to writing for children than writing from children. I called that part of the site Storytellers and have been spreading the word about it, waiting for submissions to roll in.

As my mother would say, it’s gone over like a lead banana.

Never before have I been ignored for so long by so many.  And frankly, I’m a little surprised. I’ve been reaching out to…

View original post 440 more words

My Style Is Better Than Yours

brucelee

I actually saw this in the theater. It was awesome seeing Chuck get his ass kicked.

There’s a saying in the martial arts, “It’s not the style, it’s the stylist.” The gist of the saying of the saying is there’s no one system that’s inherently any better than any other. They all focus on different aspects of fighting and emphasize different theories. Some people are drawn to the high kicks of Tae Kwon Do while others like the joint locks of Jiu Jitsu. Some people, myself included, appreciate the varied approach systems like Kenpo, Krav Maga, and the various forms of Kung Fu take to fighting.

So, why are there so many martial arts styles out there? It has more to do with the practitioner’s preferences and predilections. I’m not a stellar kicker, so Tae Kwon Do is right out the window and Jiu Jitsu just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve always gravitated toward the hand arts because they appealed to some part of my brain and I had a measure of skill with them to begin with. That’s not to say the other systems are inherently flawed, they’re just inherently flawed for me.

The masters that developed these various systems had certain things they were good at – stuff that worked well for them. For whatever reason, those systems prospered and grew into what we have today. Although, new systems pop up all the time and some of them catch fire. Kenpo was born in Hawaii in the 1940s. Krav Maga grew out of the ashes of World War II. Heck, even Aikido was born in the 1920s.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there are dozens – if not hundreds – of various martial arts out there and they’re all pretty good at what they’re trying to do. In the final analysis, though, it really comes down to artist more than the art.

I’ve seen black belts in Karate that couldn’t win a street fight. I’ve also seen Karate students break 2x4s over their shoulders. I’ve seen Tae Kwon Do students who can do amazing kicks get slammed to the ground by one punch, but I also saw one break someone’s back with a side kick. It’s all about the student and the way they approach the art. If you walk into a school hoping to look good throwing high kicks, you’ll probably be less successful than the student that looks at the system as a way of getting out of life or death situations more or less intact.

None of this new thought, though. So, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing it up. Funny story, really. The other night, my son and I stopped off at Walgreen’s to get milk after Kenpo. We’d just spent the last hour learning to deal with multiple attackers. We were both sweaty, tired, and sore. So, as we get to the checkout counter, the guy running the cash register mentions that he had done some Kenpo back in the day. He then continued on to tell a story about worthless it was and how he only learned to fight once he joined the army.

Nice. Thanks, asshole. Not only did I not need your life story, I didn’t need you to shit all over the last twenty years of my studies. I just needed milk.

But, his feigned badassery got me thinking. There’s a pervasive belief that most traditional martial arts systems are useless for real fighting and only things designed from the ground up for actual combat are any good.

Here’s the thing: Army combatives are designed to be simple and effective. I believe the Army is currently using a system that they’ve put together over multiple years. It’s called the Modern Army Combatives Program and it’s derived from various martial systems around the world. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the Marine Corp Martial Arts Program. Both are tough, effective systems and, at least according to a Marine buddy of mine, all stem from a single night during the Vietnam war.

Back in the day, military fighting was limited in scope. It incorporated a handful of things like punching and stabbing people with bayonets because that’s what most people could adapt to. It was something that had to be taught effectively during the six weeks or so of basic training so soldiers would have a measure of survivability on the battlefield. Of course, some soldiers already came in knowing some classical fighting styles. Michael Echanis, for instance, was skilled in the little-known Korean art of Hwa Rang Do (Hwa Rang Do was born in the 1960s, by the way) and used it effectively during his stint with the US Army Rangers and later as a soldier of fortune.

Anyway, according to my Marine buddy, there was a particularly bad night where the Viet Cong were desperately trying to overrun a gun position. The Marines guarding that position couldn’t let it fall, but they ran out of ammo. They held that position all night long using hand-to-hand techniques cobbled together from various systems. The brass noticed that and thus was born what would eventually become the various US military martial arts programs.

All born from classical martial arts.

And there’s nothing magical or special about the way the military is training these arts. Someone does this, this is how you respond. Don’t be afraid to get mean, there’s no such thing as a cheap shot. All things that are common in Kenpo. Sure, we have some people who are just there for the belt, but most of our students are pretty damned effective because the instruction is still based on the idea of not pulling punches.

When you look at martial arts through that lens – surviving the encounter – they take on a whole new meaning. Sparring isn’t so much about how to get the point as how to take the hit and find the targets. Bowing and being respectful are just good things to do. But, ultimately, it’s all about how to break an attacker with a minimal amount of effort and keep yourself alive.

So, Mr. Walgreen’s Badass, the problem was never the system. It was always you.

How about you? Got a favorite martial art? I love talking martial arts.

Could It Be…Satan?

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going to stop you right here: nothing untoward happened, so if you’re looking forward to a juicy rape scene or something, it didn’t happen. He was a nice, if strangely devout guy.

The moon that night was so full you could walk across the mesa and see every speck of dust. So, we just kind of wandered away from the group and talked. In time, he guided the conversation to the church and ongoing war that Satan was waging against the world. He told me a story that’s stuck with me over the years. It seemed some concerned parents had brought their son to his church because they were worried he was falling into Satan’s charms and were hoping this guy’s church could bring him back to the light of the Lord. “This kid,” he told me, “wanted to curry favor with Satan so badly that he sacrificed a rabbit by putting it in a box with a bunch of maggots. The maggots ate the rabbit alive.”

That’s the kind of thing that belongs in a horror story somewhere, so needless to say I was shocked. But the story got better.

He was driving the kid to a church somewhere to drive the Devil far from him when he put some clean Christian rock in the car stereo. The kid, probably used to heavier fare, was apoplectic. Without warning, the tape erupted from the tape deck and flew across the car! The power of Satan had flooded this young man and the Christian music was painful for him to hear.

When you’re sixteen and walking through the desert under a huge full moon with a guy who’s not supposed to lie – ever – stories like that take on an amazing gravitas.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way any of this happened. It has to be just another story I made up to sell books or something, but I assure this conversation took place. I can’t vouch for the events in the car or the existence of the kid, but this pastor actually took me aside and told me this story. It ended with a warning about the power of the Devil and an admonition to go his church and be safe.

I never did find out what happened to the kid. I suspect they read the Bible at him until he cracked. Fuck his religious rights; those only count if you’re following the right religion.

In retrospect, with thirty years of experience under my belt, the whole event was nothing more than the usual brainwashing attempts. Get someone separated from the pack, feed him some scary stories, and get a quick and dirty convert.

But at the time, it didn’t seem all that out of place. The whole country was nuts about Satanists. They’d become the new commies now that great Communist empire of the Soviet Union was cracking at the seams we needed someone to be scared of. Someone, somewhere, trotted out the old standby and started blaming everything that went wrong in the world on devil worshipers. It probably wasn’t a difficult thing to pull off. This was, after all the heyday of hair metal and plenty of bands were turning to evil for the shock value.

What? You thought Marilyn Manson was the first person to use shock music? Fuggedaboutit.

Satanists were even the main antagonists in movies.

The threat, back then, was very real and in deeply religious Farmington, New Mexico, we actually had school gatherings about the dangers of Satanism. Our dress codes at school extended to ban shirts that were evil or in any way promoted Satan. Basically, any shirt Iron Maiden ever made.

Nowadays, in the enlightened 21st century, most people have forgotten those time and Satanism has faded into the background noise. The idea of sacrificing animals to the Devil to get favors is pretty much gone, and if you tried to tell the story of a Christian rock tape getting pushed out of a cassette deck people would think you were bonkers.

Except Jack Chick; he’d think you were totally onto something.

All that mania, all the paranoia, and the sheer bonkers madness of the time has stuck with me over the years, even as I over-analyze the meaning of it all. Sure, it was another power grab by the religious right, but it was a fascinating time and it got me wondering what the world would be like if all that craziness was real. If sacrificing a rabbit – in an admittedly gruesome way – would net you the power to forcibly eject Stryper cassettes, what other things could be lurking under the covers?

A few years ago I scrounged up a copy of the Satanic Bible and actually read the damned (get it, double entendre there) thing. It was interesting – a bit over dramatic, but it had some good zingers in it.

Don’t try this at home. It’s impossible to get the smell of brimstone out of your drapes.

The Satanic Bible, 80s hair metal, and the general mania of the time all congealed late last year into a story. Any of you following me on Twitter have probably seen the tweets about Roadside Attractions; that book is a direct response to all of those things I grew up with.

It also got me thinking about the way we tend to blame groups for our problems. No jobs? Must be the Mexicans. Things seem out of place and scary: Liberals. Anything bad happens in the world? Smells like Muslims. I’ve lived through the ever-present threat of Communism, the existential agita of Satanism, and enough made-up threats to know it’s all just another bullshit power-grab by someone or another. Keep people scared and you keep them in line.

Or maybe it’s always been Satan. He is the father of all lies, after all. All I know is, I’ve got a kick-ass book in the works and I learned to avoid blaming The Other for all my problems.

Got any good stories of the 80s? Let’s hear those comments.