Saturday, August 6, 2011

On rereading Hammett: Red Harvest

I've talked with Dave about these observations, because at first I assumed no one else would be interested in them, but other recent conversations have convinced me that at least some other people would like to hear them.

About a month ago, I decided to reread all five of Hammett's novels. I'm mixing them into my reading flow so I give each one room to breathe in my mind, but I'm definitely going to visit them all again. I first read them as a teenager, so though I rarely read a book a second time, I wanted to see how the adult me would react to them.

If you haven't read Hammett, by the way, rush out, buy a collection of his novels, and enjoy stories and writing that paved the way for much of modern mystery (and other) fiction.

I'm enjoying the books, of course, but I what I want to address in these occasional blog entries are observations that I missed the first time.

Red Harvest, if you don't know it, is the story of a detective from the Continental agency who is hired to do a job in a town riddled with corruption and decides to stay and clean up the place. Hammett never gives him a name, but readers generally refer to him as the Continental Op. The Op takes out the various major corrupt groups by turning all of them against one another, so that one by one each kills the other's leaders and key troops.

Many movies have borrowed this plot, notably A Fistful of Dollars, Last Man Standing, and, possibly, Yojimbo. In all of these films, a lone, violent stranger enters a corrupt town, plays the fighting factions against one another, and leaves when all of them have fallen. I've watched and enjoyed all of them.

What struck me in reading the book this time is that all of those films share a key trait that the book does not: their protagonists are always loners, men who may make friends but who are fundamentally acting on their own. The Continental Op, by contrast, has the power of a big detective agency behind him--in a time when that agency's real-life basis, the Pinkertons, would literally take over towns by force.

The plot importance of this difference is huge. Major characters who might quite reasonably kill the Op rather than put up with him dare not do so, because they can't risk the agency's wrath. When he needs help, he makes a call, and two other operatives appear. If a meeting gets too tense, he drops the agency's name as a reminder that though he might be standing alone just then, he has a small army behind him.

The effect is to make the book far more realistic than the films, but to make the films more dramatic--exactly the sort of trade-off one would expect from filmmakers.

As a young reader, I missed the importance of the agency. As an older reader and writer, I greatly appreciate the way Hammett uses it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ask Dr. Efficient, the Love Guru:
Dr. Efficient Answers All, #7

Warning: The following is an adult entry. If you are underage or simply do not want to read about sex-related topics, stop now.

All opinions are those of Dr. Efficient.

For Dr. Efficient's seventh guest column, we had to interrupt him in the lab, where he was conducting sexual stimulation studies on willing volunteers. He graciously took a break from that grueling work to answer a few questions for us.

As usual, the questions he answers originated with U.S. women who chose to remain anonymous.

What positions are most effective to achieve the greatest orgasms for both partners? (No chandeliers should be involved.)


What do you consider the most effective sexual positions for attaining an orgasm for either a man or woman?

Well, for starters you're going to need about fifty feet of hemp rope, a block and tackle, and a master of Shibari, the Japanese art of bondage. You should be able to find all those things at Home Depot.

Or you could just ignore all that, because position doesn't matter.

Let's assume, for the moment, that any necessary foreplay has been dispensed with; both partners are in a relaxed and receptive state; and they've got the basic rhythm to do what needs to be done. They're down to the short strokes. It's business time. And when it's business time, it doesn't matter where their elbows are. It doesn't matter which way their feet are sticking. No, boys and girls, when a man gets his junk all up in that special someone's honeybox, what matters is: angle of entry.

Let's start by considering things from the woman's point of view, because getting a man to orgasm is trivial while operating a set of ladyparts is as complicated as the cockpit of the fucking space shuttle. Reduced to its barest basics, taking a woman to orgasm requires stimulation of at least one, and preferably both, of the G-spot and the clitoris. The key to hitting these spots isn't any particular position, it's fine-tuning whatever position you prefer to hit the angle you need and applying supplemental stimulation as necessary. Basic missionary position isn't great, but if a woman puts her hips up on a pillow that should provide the angle her man needs to get his shaft up into her G-spot. This is basic high school trigonometry, people. Add a little thumb-rub on the clit, and we have liftoff.

Doggy-style also generally offers good stimulation of the G-spot and is convenient for reach-around clitoral stimulation. Side-saddle can be good for G-spot contact if the gentleman's poon pounder hooks left or right. (Be sure to choose the appropriate side to match his political persuasion.) Cowgirl, Reverse Cowgirl, or Lap Dance (seated in a chair facing one another, as I'm sure my readers are well aware) all provide some contact with the G-spot and give the female partner an opportunity to, in a ladylike fashion, grind her clitoris into the nearby available manflesh. If all else fails, girls, just grab stud-boy's hand, put it on your clit, and in a clear, firm voice instruct him to "rub here."

Men, on the other hand, are easy. And by easy, I mean total sluts. If you want a man to orgasm, you can do pretty much anything you want with his purple piledriver and he'll skeet all over you. For that matter, you can do nothing at all with his manly pleasure pickle and eventually he'll spooge. Men are like that. But men are also fundamentally lazy creatures. So the "greatest orgasm" for a man is just one in which he doesn't have to put forth any effort. To give your man the best possible orgasm, gentle readerlady, mount up into cowgirl or give him a blowjob. Don't worry, he'll let you do all the work, just like in the rest of your life. He'll be happy to lie back, close his eyes, and ride the orgasm train all the way to Spunksylvania. And remember, nice girls swallow.

So, is there a line between attentive and clingy that's somewhere discernible? Should I err on the side of ignoring boys if I'm uncertain where that line is?

Here's a simple two-step test for determining if you're being too clingy with your man:

1. Are you in his company?
2. Are you blowing him?

If you answered those questions "yes" and "no" respectively, then you're doing a good impression of Saran Wrap.

Men and women want different things from relationships, and in general women want a lot more commitment than men are willing to offer. Psychologist David Buss writes in The Evolution of Desire, "Roughly 41 percent of newlywed women and 45 percent of women married for four years complain that their partners do not spend enough time with them. The analogous figures for men are only 4 percent during the newlywed year and 12 percent during the fourth year of marriage.... [On the other hand, a] common complaint of married men, far more than of married women, is that their spouses absorb too much of their time and energy. Thirty-six percent of married men, in contrast with only 7 percent of married women, complain that their spouses demand too much of their time." Emphasis mine.

During our caveman days, women benefited greatly from having their men around to share food and provide protection. Male companionship meant that their children didn't starve and that they didn't get raped to death by neanderthals. For the men, the benefits of paleolithic date night were somewhat more limited. Hence the difference in biological imperatives. Even your question about the "line between attentive and clingy" betrays a lack of understanding of the male psyche: Why would a man care if you're being attentive? Is that going to help him get food, shelter, or sex? No. Your man wants to hunt, kill, roast his meat over an open fire, gorge himself, fuck you, and go to sleep.

On the other hand, this doesn't mean that you have to ignore boys, either. You just have to ignore the one you actually want. You see, luckily for you there's an evolved behavior that runs counter to the male desire not to be tied down, and that's sexual jealousy. As biologist Robin Baker explains in Sperm Wars, "World wide, it has been calculated from studies of blood groups that about 10 per cent of children are in fact not sired by the man who thinks he is their father." In evolutionary terms, this is an Epic Fail. Prehistoric men who failed to be vigilant and deter other men from their women suffered a double whammy: they failed to pass on their own genes and wasted their food and protection raising the children of other men. So find some other guy to flirt with. You'll find that your regular squeeze is suddenly much more...what's the word? Attentive.

On the other hand, there's always some small chance he'll choose to murder you and Mr. Flirtypants with an axe. That's a chance you take when you try to manipulate men by making them jealous. Good luck!

As long as you keep sending in questions, Dr. Efficient will return soon! Email your queries to me or send them via the Contact page on my site.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 4

I'm rarely going to love a day that starts with me waking up at six a.m., but today went surprisingly well. The morning could have been far worse, because I did manage almost five hours of sleep. The usual process of showering, checking out, returning the rental car, and riding the train to the airport consumed the usual unreasonable amount of time, but every step went smoothly. American flies out of the new Terminal 2 at SFO, and it's a lovely place as airports go, so the time there was as good as it could be.

After moving through the security sludge, I stopped in a bookstore just to browse briefly. I was pleasantly surprised to see a book of mine in an airport bookstore for the very first time.

(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

Of course, my greedy self would like to have seen a shelf full with a complete selection of my novels and anthologies, not just a single copy of the first book, but still, it's a start.

I worked in the Admiral's Club, where the bandwidth was decent and the soda free. What more could I ask?

I enjoyed first class seats on both legs, which was awesome. The first had no bandwidth on offer, but they gave me a breakfast/lunch with recognizable parts and adequate taste, so I didn't have to scramble between flights for lunch. Instead, I went to the O'Hare Admiral's Club and--you guessed it--worked. How exciting my life is!

I'm writing most of this on the plane home, which did have bandwidth for sale. I do love that and wish every plane had it.

I arrived home to a huge stack of mail and packages, plus unpacking and all the usual work. To it I go!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 3

Wow, do these sales trips lead to long work days! I don't do much other than work and sleep a few hours, but the days are crammed nonetheless.

Today's food highlight was lunch at my favorite local burrito source, the Pancho Villa Taqueria in San Mateo. Their burritos are awesome, particularly the super burrito with carnitas, and they also serve my favorite sweet drink, the mandarina. I'm glad I can't obtain that beverage anywhere near me, because it's full of sugar and I could drink it all day.

Tomorrow, a long day of flights home!

Now, to pack, work more, and then crash.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 2

Today was a very long work day of in-person and phone meetings, with way more time on the 101 than I would prefer. As usual, of course, I can't discuss any of it.

Dinner was at a local place where I've eaten many times over the years, Kincaid's. My entree was the halibut cheeks, which were absolutely delicious.

Because I'll be seeing them on August 31, here's a track from a great band. Enjoy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 1

The travel gods ate today whole and barely noticed the snack.

The first leg of the flight, the shorter one, was almost as pleasant as it could be, courtesy of a first-class upgrade and a mostly quiet seating companion. I did have to explain to her how everything in first class worked, because this was her first time there, but that was fine. Less acceptable was her reading of my email over my shoulder, a practice she abandoned when I requested that she do so.

The second leg proved to be an American Airlines 30th Anniversary Celebration Flight. Half a dozen AA folks mingled among the passengers, attempted to spread good cheer, and gave away gift bags that contained certificates for thirty thousand free AA miles. What they didn't give us was our upgrades, so I'm afraid that Bill and I were rather less chipper about the presents than they would have liked. Still, the extra miles are a treat, and we thanked them.

Our seats on this flight were in an exit row, which is good, but wow, was it cramped. Working was rough, so for much of the four and a half hours we were on the plane I just sat and tried to doze, my shoulders rolled inward because they didn't fit in the space available between the bulkhead and the very pleasant and fortunately small guy in the middle seat. My back is only now beginning to un-kink.

Dinner was at a nearby Max's, which makes the best patty melts I've tasted. (I always email a picture of my meal to Elizabeth, who loves those greasy concoctions as much as I do, to torment her. When you work with me, it's all about the love.)

Work itself, of course, is not on the table for discussion; confidentiality is at the heart of our business.

Tomorrow, client meetings and a lot of time on the 101!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My favorite trailer from last night's theater visit

How could you not want to see this?

I am so there.


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