Inhuman Swill : Page 32
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

I'm looking for some advice, friends. Laura and I will be traveling in France and Italy this summer. We are reasonably experienced world travelers, which of course means we have a small collection of electrical power adapters and transformers. Our last overseas trip, though, was three years ago, and in the time since our fund of small devices has proliferated. Between us we now have two iPhones and two iPads. We plan to bring those with us this summer instead of bulkier laptops and piles of books.

Instead of relying for power on a bunch of big transformers, I figured that Apple would probably make travel adapters that would be easier to carry and safer to use. It turns out that, yes, they do make a World Travel Kit with replacement adapters to plug your USB cable into. Unfortunately, they only seem to sell them in sets of six—one each for region of the world.

I need four European adapters, but I don't want to spend $160 to buy four full kits. Does anyone know of an alternative whereby I can purchase only the adapters I need? I'd prefer to buy Apple products, but that's not an absolute requirement.

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Rules for dog owners

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We often say, my wife and I,
that Ella is our first dog,
the one you make your mistakes on.
But for me, that isn't true.

My first dog was Jessie,
a runty black shepherd mix.
Some of the mistakes I made
with Jessie were things like

Don't scold the dog unless
you catch her in the act.
Don't let the dog bite you.
Don't ever hit the dog.

Don't buy a dog with someone
you don't like, let alone love.
All mistakes I wouldn't
ever ever make with Ella.

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The stumbling block

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I can't sit down
to write a poem

without hearing
Garrison Keillor's

voice, reading it
over my shoulder.

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Bin hidin', bin dyin'

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My first reaction this morning upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden is dead was elation. I wasn't in Manhattan on 9/11, but Laura and I were in Queens, and we rode our bikes to the southern end of Roosevelt Island in the East River from where we could clearly see the smoke pouring from both towers of the World Trade Center a few miles away. Bin Laden being shot in the head by special forces feels like justice, though inadequate justice compared to all the death, suffering and hatred he ignited.

But at the same time, I have to wonder about the timing and importance of this event. I know the operation has been in the works for a very long time, but it comes as Al Qaeda seems to be fading into irrelevance. The Islamic world, as evidenced by the Arab Spring, seems to have taken to the idea that protest and civil disobedience are more effective at bringing down oppressive regimes than terrorism, which has been demonstrated as entirely useless in that regard. Al Qaeda will soldier on, no doubt, but it's not the power it once was.

All in all, with the election season starting up, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and the U.S. letting itself be drawn more and more into the Libyan conflict, the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan seems almost like a distracting piece of theater.

But I do hope President Obama got George W. Bush on the phone and broke the news to him personally.

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When a man like Donald Trump says that he's not sure whether or not the president is really a natural-born citizen, you should pay close attention. He's telling you something very important.

What he's telling you is that he thinks you're stupid.

Yes, Trump has conceded that Obama's birth certificate "checks out." But the man is smart enough to know that there was never any serious dispute about the president's citizenship. Any credible politician—not to mention The Donald—who has repeated and amplified any "birther" claims has done it for one reason: to undermine the president's credibility in your mind and to weaken him politically. After all, if you're frothing at the mouth and calling for the president to be impeached over a citizenship issue, it's that much easier for those same politicians to pick your pocket. And if they think they can whip you into that state by repeating statements with no more than a tenuous connection to reality, what does that say about their opinion of you?

So listen closely to Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, and, yes, Donald Trump when they try to spin today's revelation to their advantage. Even now they think they've gotten away with something by forcing the president's hand, and every word they utter tells you they think you're as dumb as a bag of hammers.

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If you're in Milwaukee today, come out to Boswell's Books this afternoon for the book launch party for Bradley P. Beaulieu's debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo. It's going to be a great event, and the after-party at Cafe Hollander will include a rapid-fire reading featuring Brad, Kelly Swails, John Helfers, Matt Forbeck, and me.

Get all the details here. Hope to see you there!

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Woman in burqa
Pushing her grocery cart
Texting on her phone

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Upcoming appearances

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Tuesday Funk, December 7, 2010
I wanted to let you know about a couple of upcoming appearances of mine in the Chicago area.

First, coming up on Tuesday, April 5, I'll be reading at Tuesday Funk, the monthly series of which I'm also a co-producer and co-host. Our other readers that night are Robert K. Elder, Ian Belknap, J.H. Palmer, and Lisa Chalem. (See here for bios of all the readers.)

Tuesday Funk is an eclectic reading series that features all types of writing in all genres. It takes place at 7:30 pm upstairs at Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark St. in Chicago, and is free. The upstairs lounge opens at 7:00 pm. Arrive early for a seat!

Later that week, I'll be appearing on the public-affairs program Senior Network on CAN TV 19 as part of a panel discussion on contemporary science fiction novels and films. The panel also includes Jody Lynn Nye and Edison Blake and is hosted by Dr. Bob Blackwood.

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Laura Peterson is one of the most innovative choreographers at work in New York City, or anywhere for that matter. Her choreography is always supremely logical, whether rooted in organic forms or technological ideas or a hybrid of both.

Want to see Laura Peterson Choreography perform in Chicago? They've been invited to participate in an exciting throwdown at Links Hall called collision_theory, but they need your assistance to do it. They're trying to raise $1,700 for production expenses in just 30 days with a kickass Kickstarter campaign. Won't you please help?

KICKSTARTER: Laura Peterson Choreography is going to Chicago

Do it for the dancers.

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Of spiders and flies

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Laura and I were talking over some of the difficulties I've been having this week with my revisions of The Accidental Terrorist when she gave me the absolute perfect image for the central conflict in the book. The main character, in her view, is a fly trapped in a spiderweb, struggling to free itself with only the vaguest notion of the nature of its predicament.

(See, I'm the fly, and the LDS Church is... Yeah.)

This image is so spot-on, so apt to something I was struggling to articulate to myself, that I wish I could somehow work it into the book. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, since I don't want to be too heavy-handed about it), I'm pretty much constrained by the reality of my experiences during the six months of my life that the book covers, and those six months did not include any spiders.

No, the spider didn't become a factor in my mission until five or six months after the events of the book. I was serving in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, by then. My companion and I lived rent-free in a small house in the middle of a wheatfield owned by some local Mormons. We were a little bored in that town, and one thing my companion did to pass the time was adopt a little spider that lived in a web in the window frame of one of the empty back rooms. He would go around the house catching flies and dropping them into the web, then watch the spider kill them. This was the best-fed spider in northern Idaho. It grew so quickly that after about a month its web (which it unstrung and re-spun every day) was so strong that you could strum it like a guitar and it wouldn't break. The spider itself was as big as the first joint of my thumb.

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William Shunn