Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2014 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from 2013—well, okay, all our favorites—and it's far less pricey than in previous years! For a limited time you can get it from Lulu.com for the discounted price of only $11.99.

Click below and buy now, and you can keep acting Ella-Phantile all year long.

Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar

Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar

But that's not all! If you just can't get enough of Ella, we've created an alternative calendar for 2014—actually, it's our 2014 Ella-Ternative 13-Month Calendar! Same great low price! Thirteen different super-cute photos!

2014 Ella-Ternative 13-Month Calendar

Ella says, "Get 'em both!"

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2013 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from 2012—well, okay, all our favorites—and for the moment we're offering it from Lulu.com for the discounted price of only $19.99.

But wait! If you order today, you can take another $3.00 off that price by using the discount code 18DEC at checkout. That makes it only $16.99 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!

Click below and buy now, and you can keep watching Ella-Vision all year long.

Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar

Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Hi, gang! The new Ella calendar for 2012 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of great collages of all your favorite Ella photos from 2011—well, okay, all mine and Laura's favorites—and it retails from Lulu.com for the low, low price of only $17.99.

But wait! For a limited time only, we're offering a 20% off discount. That's a whole year of Ella for only $14.39. But wait! Through tomorrow you can take another 20% off that already crazy price if you use the discount code BURIED at checkout. That's only $11.51 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!

Click below and buy now, and keep the Dog Lord of the Sith on your good side!

Ella Vader 2012 13-Month Calendar

Ella Vader 2012 13-Month Calendar
Laura and I go to McDonald's together, on average, once a year. Like many of you, I'm sure, we've both been lovers of the Shamrock Shake since childhood. It was hard if not impossible to find a McDonald's in New York City that carried those minty cold treasures, so one of the upsides of moving to Chicago was the realization that the advent of the St. Patrick's season once again meant Shamrock Shakes within reach of our greedy little mitts.

Still, we didn't intend to embark on Shamrock Shake Quest 2010 this past Sunday afternoon. My plan was to dedicate the full day to a small freelance programming project I'm working on, but a minor eyeglass-frame emergency derailed that. (Turns out it screws with one's ability to effectively view through progressive lenses when one of your earpieces breaks off.) We rushed down to Lincoln Square to order a pair of replacement frames. It was only as we were returning home that Laura spied the happy gospel proclaimed from a McDonald's sign on Western Avenue.

"Shamrock Shakes are back!" she exclaimed.

"Shall we stop?" I asked.

"Do you have to ask?"

We pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru behind three or four other cars. We giggled and bounced in our seats, anticipating the cool rush of wintery flavor, as we inched forward through the line.

According to the menu board, a small shake ran (if I'm remembering correctly) $1.99, a medium $2.59. When our turn came, I ordered one small and one medium.

"I'm sorry," said the disembodied voice from the speaker, "but our machine isn't working."

We felt so punctured and deflated that I think our tires even lost a few p.s.i. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed. "We may as well just kill ourselves now," I said to the speaker, "we're so sad."

The voice on the speaker laughed, and we drove away.

"Well, that was a blow," said Laura.

"There's another McDonald's over on Clark Street," I said.

"Where?" she said with breathless hope.

"Just north of Bryn Mawr."

She made a get-moving gesture. "What are we waiting for?"

We sped the mile or two northwest to Andersonville, our palates more primed than ever. But when we made it to the menu board at our second McDonald's drive-thru, we were shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that a small shake was $2.39 and a medium $2.99!

"That's crazy," I said.

"What do we do?" said Laura.

"What can we do?"

Who would have predicted such a price disparity such a small distance away? But we had come this far. I ordered us a small and a medium.

And the voice on the speaker threw us a curve ball. "Would you like whipped cream?"

Whipped cream? I looked at Laura. Who ever heard of whipped cream on a Shamrock Shake? It's a crime against nature! But Laura was nodding her head eagerly, so I answered, "Okay, whipped cream on the small, but no whipped cream on the medium."

"Pull forward please."

But there were more shocks to come after we forked over nearly six bucks in ransom for our frozen treats. First, the shakes came in clear plastic cups instead of the old familiar opaque paper cups. That was enough of a startlement, but second . . .

"It's half whipped cream!!!" Laura exclaimed as I pulled away. "Look at this!"

Bitterly she held up her shake. Indeed, despite the fact that her cup (unlike mine) was capped with a domed lid meant to house the whipped cream without decreasing the volume of the shake, her cup was filled only halfway with the thick, treefrog-green elixir. The rest was whipped cream. Oh, yeah, with a mocking cherry on top.

"What a ripoff!" I said. "Do you want to go complain?"

Laura sighed. "No, it's okay."

"You can have some of mine," I said. My medium-sized cup was filled with shake right up to its properly flat lid.

"No," she said dejectedly. "I'll just look at it as portion control."

And that's the story of how McDonald's killed our joy. The irony is, we might not even have realized what a shuck they were pulling on us if they'd only stuck with opaque paper cups. Silly product managers.

Will we be back next year? I don't know. What do you think the chances are they'll come up with Shamrock Shake methadone in the next twelve months?
Having watched Valkyrie recently, I've been thinking about the intersection of art, commerce and religion. I know, that's probably not the kind of discussion the filmmakers intended to provoke, but here we are. Germany started it.

Every so often a big kerfluffle flares up in the media or the blogosphere about what famous entertainer is or isn't a Scientologist, and why. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes, Beck, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Chaka Khan, Mark Isham, Greta Van Susteren—we're supposed to avoid giving them money so we don't inadvertently support their reprehensible "church." Leonard Cohen, Paul Haggis, Jerry Seinfeld, Courtney Love, Gloria Gaynor—once were Scientologists, but now they're on the okay list. Neil Gaiman—wait, what's the controversy with him? I'm not supposed to read him because his relatives are Scientologists?

Frankly, keeping score like this is ridiculous.

As much as I dislike Scientology, discriminating against artists because of their private beliefs is a losing game. I hate the fact that there were Crusades, and a Spanish Inquisition, and institutional coverups of child sexual abuse, but that doesn't mean I'm going to deny myself the work of Catholic writers like Graham Greene or Tim Powers, or Catholic filmmakers like Kevin Smith. Will some of the money I pay for their stuff end up in Vatican coffers? Possibly, but I'm not naive enough to think that any of the money I give or receive is pure. We live in a pluralist society. We can't help the fact that our money is going to circulate through parts of the body politic that we don't like. The only judgment we can really make is how we respond to the art, how pure and universal and human it is, how ennobling or demeaning or thrilling or dull, how free from or full of agenda or polemic.

And let's face it, Scientology is no more ridiculous on the face of it than Catholicism or Zoroastrianism or Islam or Greek mythology. The claims of these other religions are just as extraordinary. The only difference is that the origins of the rest are shrouded in antiquity—as if mere age confers some kind of stature or holiness or untouchability. In historical terms, Mormonism is nearly as recent as Scientology, and in cosmological terms makes claims every bit as grand and silly, but how many of you Wheel of Time readers are going to boycott the new volume just because Brandon Sanderson wrote it?

The value of the work is in the work itself. If the work makes your life better or more pleasant, support it. Pay for it. It's that simple. Clint Eastwood's a libertarian who supported McCain? So what. I love his movies. Beck and Chick Corea give money to L. Ron Hubbard's successors? Big deal. I get a lot more pleasure from their records than from most Cruise or Travolta movies—hell, than from most Mel Gibson movies or Orson Scott Card novels these days—so I'm happy to give them my money. I, an atheist, have given money to causes devoted to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States, but that mere fact hardly makes my fiction superior to or more worthy of support than a Catholic like Gene Wolfe's.

As for Neil Gaiman, I'd be an awful hypocrite to avoid his books just because his father was a big muckity-muck in the Church of Scientology. I myself am a direct descendant of Edward Partridge, the first Mormon bishop. No, I avoid Gaiman's books because I simply don't care for them.

Artists, like most people, are more than just the religions they profess. So get down off your high horse and give the poor Scientologists a chance. The rich ones, too, if they're your thing.
I've been an eBay user since 1998, but today I posted my very first ever item for sale: a signed copy of The Heidelberg Cylinder by Jonathan Carroll.

I really don't know what I'm doing, so I'm curious to see how this goes.

April 2014

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