Monday, August 3, 2009

If Other Government Services Were Run Like Private Health Care

What those who equate "government-run health care" with "socialism" seem to forget is that socialism already exists in America, and has for a long time. The government already runs all kinds of important services that people need every day.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at how these other "socialist," "government-run" services we depend on would operate under a pure, free-market system similar to American health care.

Without a job, you probably won't even have access to water. More and more companies can't afford to provide their employees with water. If you can afford it, you can buy water on your own. But you'll pay a much higher price than most people. However, that water can't be used for a lot of things, like showers or washing the dishes. And if you ever need "too much" water, the Water Department can cut off your supply.

The more children you have, the more you'll pay to send them to school. If one ever has trouble in a subject, like math or reading, their case will go before the school board, which is staffed by a bunch of twenty-somethings who follow a strict set of rules. They'll look at your child's report cards and decide whether his or her teacher can spend more time with them on that subject, or even get tutoring. If the school board can refuse extra help or tutoring for enough kids, they'll get a big bonus at the end of the year! Which you'll pay for!

The Department of Transportation would charge you a monthly fee to use your car, but do everything in its power to make driving inconvenient. After all, the more people who pay for streets and highways but don't use them, the more money the Department of Transportation has on hand to pay its executives and shareholders.
And if you do manage to take your car somewhere, the Department of Transportation will charge you more to use the streets next time.

If you've ever called the police before, you could never call them again for the same reason. That means if your neighbor is playing music so loud your bedroom walls are shaking at four in the morning, you'd better think long and hard before calling the police about it. Because the next time your neighbor plays music too loud, the police won't respond. They'll consider it a "pre-existing condition" and you'll be out of luck.

In order to have your trash collected, you'd have to fill out an application listing all the times your trash had already been collected, and all the things you threw away. If you ever needed to get rid of something you forgot to list, the Department Sanitation could refuse to pick it up. Even if you had listed it, they might refuse to pick it up anyway. See "The Police," above.

After calling the Fire Department, you'll begin receiving bills from the Water Department, the Police, the Fire Chief, the Sheriff, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Sanitation. They'll charge you for using the streets that lead to your house, and turning on the fire hydrant, and cleaning up the mess afterward, and for whoever else decided to show up and get paid for doing it. These are all things the Fire Department doesn't cover.

Without access to a lot of money, you won't be able to communicate with the people who've been elected to represent you in state and federal legislatures. Sure, they might set aside a night to meet you and a lot of other people for an hour in a church basement or high school gymnasium. They might even pretend to listen to what you say. But afterward, they'll be having a nice dinner and drinks with someone who's willing to pick up the bill. They'll listen to everything that person has to say, and probably do whatever they want.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Author and editor Vince Liaguno turned me on to this video.

What is it? The explanation on the video's YouTube page claims that it's an unknown life form found in the sewers of North Carolina.

Among those less gullible, word is that it's part of a viral marketing campaign for a soon-to-be-released horror film.

Me? I think it's the video from someone's colonoscopy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Bad

If one of this blog's main functions is to serve as a source of promotion for my (fledgling? off-and-on?) writing career, I have really fallen down on the job.

And for that, I blame my real job, which, as you might know, really believes in the idea of quantity over quality.

So cast your minds back to a few months ago, when I should have (enthusiastically? with false modesty?) written about the two anthologies to which I sold stories last year -- Unspeakable Horror, edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder, and Horror Library, Vol. 3, edited by R. J. Cavendar -- being nominated for Stoker awards.

The Stokers are the highest awards in the horror genre -- the Oscars of literary blood and gore. To be part of even one nominee for Best Achievement in an Anthology would have been cause for any new writer to shout from the mountaintops. To be part of two is good fortune that will probably never be equaled. At least by the likes of me.

But, because I was busy busting my hump for The Man, I let it go, thinking that I'd get around to posting about it some evening or weekend that I'm willing to bet was, instead, consumed by a Powerpoint presentation of some kind.

Worse yet, I didn't even attend the Stokers. I thought about it. I hemmed and hawed and even looked into making arrangements, but something inside me -- perhaps that small but powerful kernal of self-doubt that loves failure and prevents me from living a full and happy life -- kept me from pulling the trigger. It's a regret I'll no doubt take to my grave, and beyond, with good reason.

And so, to learn this past weekend, that Unspeakable Horror won the Stoker for Best Achievement in an Anthology, was a bittersweet occurrence. Mostly sweet, because I think Vince and Chad have put together a terrific collection of stories, and they deserve it, and I was a small part of it. But bitter, too, because R.J. put together an equally impressive collection. And also, of course, because I wasn't there to enjoy it and bask -- even if just a little bit -- in the reflected glow of their success.

We new authors -- time allowing -- will soak up all the limelight we can get.

So congratulations to Vince and Chad. Their queer horror anthology shattered a "pink ceiling" in the genre that will forever after be wide open thanks to their vision and faith. And congratulations to R.J. and all the other nominees, too, who also put their heart and soul into projects that deserve all the success in the world.

And me? I'm going to keep writing -- on morning buses downtown and evening buses headed back, during early mornings and late nights, whenever and however I can -- and submitting when I feel the end product has reached a level that doesn't make me cringe. As it turns out, I'm a dreadfully, painfully slow writer. But, at least this time around, I've got to believe in the power of quality over quantity.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Neighborhood Mystery, Solved

A few days ago something purple appeared high up in the trees overhanging Birchwood Street.

At first, it was easy enough to dismiss as a shopping bag that had been lifted by the breeze and been tangled in the branches. But today, on closer inspection, it revealed itself to be something more.

It appears to be made out of corrugated plastic. I'm not sure if it's a purple box, or a some sort of lampshade, or something much more odd and strange.

Whatever it is, you can see that it didn't get there by any kind of accident. It's been attached to the branch with a twisted length of wire, by someone who obviously went to great trouble to do so. It has to be at least 20 feet above the ground.

Stand beneath it and you can see some kind of metal frame inside, and a few pieces of paper that have writing on them.

The whole thing is a bit bizarre, to say the least. I'd love to know who put it up there and why. But I can't exactly go door to door and ask. The purple thing in the trees is weird, but doing that would be interpreted as downright crazy.

So instead, I'll have to make up my own explanation. It goes like this: The purple thing is a talisman of some kind, installed late at night by a practicing witch living in one of the buildings close by. She -- or he, no point in being sexist, after all -- put it up there to trap a malevolent spirit that has been creating trouble for some time now. The spirit is now caught inside, swirling around, growing more and more enraged with each passing night. Soon, the spirit will break loose, and wreak havoc on us all as revenge.

Or maybe I'll just call the alderman and ask to have it removed.


UPDATE -- I wrote the following email to the alderman's office:


I'm a resident of the 49th ward, living at XXXX N.
Sheridan, Unit D.

The other day I found a strange object attached to
one of the branches of a tree overhanging
Birchwood Avenue, at approximately XXXX W.
Birchwood. A photo is attached.

The object is purple and appears to be an open-
ended box of some sort made of corrugated plastic.
It has a metal frame inside, and several pieces of
paper or cardstock with writing on them hanging
from that. It's been purposefully attached to the
tree branch with a length of twisted wire.

I'm curious whether the object was put there by
the city or a utility, and if so, what its purpose
might be.

I'd really appreciate a response with some kind of
answer if at all possible. Frankly, the mystery of
it really has me wondering. I have some additional
photos if you'd like them, but this is the best.

Thanks for any information or help you can provide.
This evening, they replied:
These are traps for the emerald ash borer, which
is preying on ash trees in certain Midwest and
Atlantic Seaboard states. I beleive it is to test
whether or not there is a problem in our area.
There was a sighting of them in West Rogers Park.
So. I was right about the purple things being a trap of some kind, but for evil bugs, not evil spirits. Too bad.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but a lot of times it isn't.

Previously on "C Michael Cook"

Back in March I made what was to be my last blog post for two and a half months. If someone had told me this at the time -- if they had gently taken me aside and whispered that things were going to change pretty radically for the foreseeable future -- I might have written something a bit more eloquent than bitching about how greedy AIG is and the screwed up state of America.

Casual readers may have wondered if I was assassinated by a shadowy cabal of angry corporate and political interests, so sudden and unexplained was my departure. This is not the case.

The truth is much more boring. Simply put, time flies when your life is being chewed up and swallowed by a new job. First they lure you in with promises of a steady paycheck and health insurance, then they tear you away from everything you hold dear.

Fortunately, the workaday world seems to have calmed down -- so much so that I've gone from feeling like I'm going to quit to fearing that I'm going to be laid off. It seems that the happy middle is only a point I pass on my way to one of the extremes at either end.

So. I'm back. And the picture above came from the middle of the second page of results when I searched for "two and a half months" on Google Images. How've you been?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Further Tales of Corporate Irresponsibility

News today that corporate welfare queen American Insurance Group has just paid out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives.

The self-destructive insurance conglomerate has received more than $170 billion dollars over several rounds of corporate bailouts since September of 2007. Last quarter, it posted an astonishing $61.7 billion loss -- the largest in corporate history.

And yet, the very executives who surely bear some responsibility for that loss and AIG's current financial state are being rewarded with more money than many taxpayers -- who are now footing the bill -- may make in a lifetime.

AIG claims the bonus payments are contractually obligated, which makes me marvel at what must be some pretty remarkable contract terms dictating generous bonuses even in the face of catastrophic losses.

One wonders what kind of gravy these executives would be taking home if the company was actually making money.

AIG Chairman Edward Liddy -- that's his smugly satisfied face on the left -- defended the bonus payments in a snipply worded letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses, which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers - if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."

To which I say, if this mess is what your "best and brightest" is capable of, I'm willing to fire them all and let the night-time security staff take a crack at this thing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Don't Ever Push the Red Button

Last week Hillary Clinton went to Geneva, Switzerland to make nice with the Russians after eight years of George W. Bush making double-plus un-nice.

During her meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary Clinton presented him with a "reset button" to symbolize a new beginning with the United States.

Much was made of our translation of "reset." During dinner Clinton said, "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?"

Mr. Lavrov, apparently not one to overly worry about hurting others' feelings, replied, "You got it wrong. 'Peregruzka' means 'overload'."

(As an aside, they worked hard at this? Isn't the U.S. government supposed to have some people who speak really good Russian on staff? And they still got it wrong?)

To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, neither Lavrov or Clinton made any mention of -- or even gave much thought to -- the button's appearance, which looks to me like the sort of thing you might push when you want to blow something up.

Or overload it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Close Call

Last night while we slept, an asteroid zoomed by within 48,000 thousand miles of earth.

That's just twice the distance of some communications satellites, and about a fifth of the way to the moon.

Its size is estimated to be about the same as the one that blasted Siberia in the Tunguska Event back in 1908.

That's scary enough. But here's something more to keep you away tonight: that asteroid is just one of over 6,000 near earth objects. Of these 769 are asteroids with a diameter of approximately 1 kilometer or larger. Also, 1028 of these NEOs have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).

Watch the skies.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Salvation for Sale

The complete PTL Club tapes are going up for auction. The estimated value is $8 million.

Whether you consider this horrifying depends on how you feel about Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker, the spectacular fall of their evangelical empire, and heavy make-up.

The show ran from 1974 to 1987, capturing over 15,000 hours of pathos and greed in the name of the Lord. The Bakkers sing and preach, raise money, build churches, campgrounds and theme parks. Later, everything is consumed in the smoke and flames of a sex scandal, fraud conviction and prison sentence for Jim while Tammy-Faye tries and fails to keep a smile painted on her face. Seen in its entirety, PTL may be the longest-running reality -- or surreality -- show in television history.

You know some network, somewhere, is going to get those tapes. After that, it's just a matter of time before they hit the airwaves -- what a charming, inaccurate phrase -- once again.

Just a word of advice to the winning bidder: Find a good editor, one with a lot of time on his hands and a sharp eye for both the absurd and the tragic.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Much Too Much

The image on the left is not a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. (Though it is inspired by one.) It's by a Seattle-based photographic artist named Chris Jordan, and it's made up of cigarette packages.

200,000 cigarette packages, to be exact, which is the number of Americans who die of tobacco-related causes every six months.

This image -- and many others -- make up Jordan's Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait exhibition and upcoming book of the same name. Each depicts an aspect of American life and politics in all its enormous and awe-inspiring magnitude.

Thirty-two thousand Barbie dolls are transformed into a portrait of female breasts, depicting the number of breast augmentation surgeries performed each month. One million plastic cups -- the amount used on airline flights every six hours -- stack and swirl like a complex set of pipes. Eighty-three thousand photos from Abu Ghraib -- the number of people imprisoned at U.S.-run detention facilities during George Bush's war on terror -- coalesce to form the preamble to the Bill of Rights.

The results are impressive, beautiful and horrifying. Faced with the amount of cell phones retired every day (426,000), aluminum cans opened every thirty seconds (106,000) or the 60,000 plastic bags used every five seconds, the natural response is to wonder where all that stuff comes from and, more important, where it all goes.

And then, to ask where we're headed as well.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weird News

I haven't posted in a while. But it hasn't been for lack of material, since the news has been full of real-life horrors lately.

In New York, a van dragged a (hopefully) dead body for 17 miles before the driver noticed anything was wrong.

In Michigan, a 93-year-old man froze to death when the electric company shut off his power.

In Ohio, a transexual woman has plead guilty to exercising her 73-year-old husband to death in a swimming pool; she received just five years for the crime.

In Georgia and Texas, a sloppily run peanut processing company that sickened hundreds with salmonella and killed eight has filed for bankruptcy. (If you need a URL for this story, you're at the wrong blog.)

In California, a single, unemployed mother of six gives birth to octuplets. Even more distressing, Joaquin Phoenix is acting strangely, too.

In Nigeria, people are claiming a car thief transformed himself into a goat and it looks like the police are buying it.

This time of year -- and this economy -- seem to engender these types of stories. It probably won't be long before we get news of another school shooting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Stewmaker

A "body disposal expert" for a Mexican drug cartel was recently arrested in Tijuana.

Dubbed "El Pozolero" -- after a traditional Mexican stew of pork, hominy and chilies called pozole -- Santiago Meza Lopez has confessed to dissolving some 300 bodies in vats of caustic liquid.

After receiving each body, Lopez would fill a drum with water and two sacks of caustic soda, then heat the mixture over a fire. When it began boiling he would add the body. After cooking for eight hours, only teeth and nails would be left. Once the liquid had cooled, Lopez would burn the mixture with gasoline in a nearby empty lot.

For this, Lopez was paid $600 a week. A solid spot in Mexican folklore was never part of the bargain, but I imagine Lopez has earned that as well.

During his prison stay, stories will pass from one person to another, rumor and speculation added to each new telling. After Lopez's own death, his legend will only grow. I can imagine children whispering tales to one another about the terrible "pozolero" and his grisly concoctions. Parents might frighten their errant sons and daughters with threats that the stewmaker will come and take them away if they don't behave. Ultimately, anyone -- or anything -- that goes missing will be ascribed to the evil stewmaker.

Conversely, I can also imagine the popularity of pozole reaching record lows.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eight-Year-Old Boy Lives with Dead Mother for 10 Days

Sad and scary and, for me, a story idea.

Boy, 8, Lives with Dead Mother for 10 Days

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) - An 8-year-old boy lived for more than a week with the body of his dead mother before anyone discovered his situation, police said.

The woman, 41, apparently died Jan. 9 in their apartment in the Detroit suburb of Romulus, and the boy survived in part by eating dried rice, butter and flour, authorities said.

The boy came into Romulus Liquor in recent days wearing pajama bottoms and buying snacks, store owner Sam Saco told The Detroit News.

Saco said his brother Lee, the store's co-owner, became suspicious Monday when the boy tried to buy soda, flour and doughnuts with his mother's expired credit card.

Lee Saco asked to talk to the boy's mother, his brother told the newspaper, and the boy replied, "My mom's in a better place right now." He also said, "I tried to wake her up every day. I wanted to talk to her," Sam Saco said.

The boy was home-schooled, has no siblings and his father died several years ago, authorities said. The two had moved to Michigan from Louisiana after surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Police did not release the names of the mother and child. Foul play was not suspected in the woman's death.

The child is in foster care while police try to locate his other relatives, Romulus police Lt. John Leacher said.

Sam Saco told the paper Tuesday that he felt guilty he had not called police earlier.

"The things he went through," said Sam Saco. "I'm shaken. I'm almost about to cry. I've been thinking all night about the kid."

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Miracle Mile"

1988; written and directed by Steve de Jarnatt

My first experience with Miracle Mile came some time during the close of the 1980s. I remember watching it on a rented VHS and being blown away -- no pun intended.

Back then it was little more than a surprisingly effective low-budget thriller about two star-crossed lovers who finally meet mere hours before the end of the world.

Twenty years later it's still a surprisingly effective low-budget thriller, one that still shocks with the strength of its convictions. But the passage of two decades has added a sweet nostalgic ache to the thing that only ratchets up the film's tragic aspects.

Anthony Edwards plays a jazz trombonist who accidentally intercepts a panicked phone call from a missile silo employee. The bombs -- yes, those bombs -- are about to drop. After convincing himself it's no joke, Edwards first tries to warn a motley collection of diner customers about the impending disaster, then rushes through the city to rescue his new-found love, the spiky-haired Mare Winningham.

All the fast-paced action takes place in a pastel Los Angeles of palm trees, monumental architecture and flashing neon lights that feels like spending a long night inside Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In addition to its throbbing soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, the film is a showcase of perfectly preserved Reagan-era collectibles.

Denise Crosby shows up as an executrix with a cell phone the size of a Wii. A television station signs off at the end of its broadcast day to waving flags and the national anthem. Eyeglasses and earrings alike are big and round, red shirts are paired with blue suit jackets, dresses are purple and teal. Two people meet and fall in love and run from disaster through the streets of an eerily sleeping Los Angeles. It's hard to believe we once lived in a such a strange and candy-colored time.

When time finally runs out -- and it does -- two worlds are gone forever: de Jarnatt's sleek nightmare of stylish annihilation, and the version of it many of us lived in back then.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Has It Been Almost Two Weeks Already?

Time flies when you're in the shit. It's been almost two weeks since my last blog update, because I've been dealing with some horrors of my own.

Work horror, for starters, which can really eat me up. I'm always amazed at how quickly, how completely, work situations can consume me, body, mind and soul. It's a wonder more writers don't set horror stories in offices. Perhaps it's just too close for comfort, and editors, upon seeing a submission with that setting, would simply consider it a "dog bites man" story and consign it to the dustbin. Still, I think there's rich ground there for the right person at the right time, which would be me now.

Then there's weather horror, for that extra miserable flavor. Have you heard how cold it is here in Chicago? And snowy? This kind of deep-freeze always seems to set in some time after the holidays, a meteorological reminder that the fun is officially over and it's going to be a few months before anything changes for the better. If it's the least bit warm, you can bet the skies will be low and gray. If the sun is shining, it only heralds the arrival of a brilliant, biting cold. I've lived my entire life in the Midwest, and I'm used to this, but every year it seems a little bit worse, a tiny bit longer.

The steady drum beat of economic horror from every news source is also ratcheting up the tension. I think we're all wondering how long this will last, how bad it will get, how much more we can take, and how in the world we got here in the first place. Rightly or not, I blame a large, mostly faceless group of bankers and executives, and I carry a generalized but seething pot of anger with their name on it everywhere I go. For the first time in my life I understand what those bumper stickers that say "Eat the rich" are talking about.

Which leads me back to my work horror.

A good example of the national mood came as an aside during this morning's CNN broadcast. They'd just finished an update on the USAir crash into the Hudson River. The anchors were remarking once again -- and deservedly so -- on Captain Sullenberger's heroism and what a miracle it is that all 155 passengers and crew survived. Then, just before going to a commercial break, one anchor said to the other, "It's something, isn't it, when a plane crash can brighten the nation's spirit?"

It sure is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Horror of Insomnia

Until a few years ago I never had trouble sleeping. I could sleep anywhere, at any time, and for as long as I liked. It was something I took a certain pride in, like being able to play the piano or making a really good spaghetti sauce.

And then, something changed.

Until I experienced it for myself, I didn't understand insomnia. For me it's not so much the inability to sleep -- though Lord knows that's the horrid end result -- but the inability to quiet my mind.

In the vast emptiness of night's dark middle, thoughts repeat and echo in mad, broken-record rhythms. Long-buried memories unearth themselves and take on new, vivid life. Fears and worries creep out of the shadows and crawl into bed beside me. Would-haves, should-haves and could-haves moan and rattle their chains. Often, I swear I can hear the far-away, nautical sound of fog horns somewhere outside.

Insomniacs are haunted. Not by ghosts -- though a poet or storyteller might make an effective case for that -- but by our own lives.

(Though it's been years since I've read it, Stephen King's Insomnia was a disappointment to me in this respect. His protagonist, though plagued with a lifetime of regrets, wasn't troubled so much by his own thoughts and memories as by the things he witnessed during his late-night vigils.)

The cartoon above by Roz Chast made me laugh out loud when I saw it yesterday. (Click the image for a larger version.) I cut it out and put it on the refrigerator, and I've looked at it again several times since. It's hysterically funny, because it's so frighteningly spot-on.

Sleep well.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Thanks for Mentioning It

Writer and reviewer Martel Sardina professes a weakness for Pepsi. I should send a case of it to her for this mention in her review of Horror Library: Volume 3.
"In 'The Living World,' C. Michael Cook explores the motivating force behind one woman’s eating disorder, and caused this reviewer to suffer a loss of appetite herself. The scariest thing about this story was the realization that the patient’s logic is true."
Check out the rest of the review at Dark Scribe Magazine. And buy the book!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy Whole Year

My Grandma DeMoss was a superstitious person, and she passed that quality on to me.

It's probably fair to say that superstitious people live in a state of constant, low-grade fear, and that all their lucky tokens and protective rituals are aimed solely at keeping that fear at bay.

New Year's Eve and Day always find me at my most superstitious. The enormity of one year passing -- with all its victories and defeats -- and another one arriving -- with all its unknown promise and peril -- kicks both my hopes and fears into their highest gear.

For instance, I like to have the Christmas tree and all the decorations taken down by New Year's Eve, to keep from dragging the old into the new. This is why I go through any unprocessed mail and make sure all the trash has been taken out as well.

And because I believe that what you do on New Year's Day you end up doing all year long, I try not to wake up hungover, to eat healthy meals, reconnect with an old friend, write and exercise and perform a good deed or two.

For the past several years I've also observed a New Year's Eve ritual of my own making, one designed to purge everything bad from the previous year. Using a clean white piece of paper or index card, I make a list (in black ink -- it matters to me for some reason) of all the things I want to leave behind. Bad habits, negative qualities, toxic people and situations... whatever's brought me trouble gets written down. Some years the list is long and very specific; on others it's relatively short and general. This year's was somewhere in the middle.

I seal the list in a clean white envelope and write the year on the front (black ink again), then I gather a large tin can, a bottle of lighter fluid, a book of matches and a dollar bill, and take it all out to the shore of Lake Michigan, which is just a block from my house.

After inserting the envelope in the can and dousing it with lighter fluid, I set it on fire. As it burns, I mentally say goodbye to all the items on my list. Some years it takes a long time for it to turn to ashes. Occasionally it needs to be lit more than once. In the frightened, hopeful world of the superstitious, these things all mean something.

Once the fire has died and the ashes have cooled, I toss them into the lake, being careful not to get any on me. Then I release the dollar bill, as a way of saying thanks for all the good things the year has brought and bringing a bit of good luck to whoever finds it later on.

On my way back home, I get rid of the can somewhere away from the house.

For me, 2008 has been a year of much extended good and only a little bad, all of which arrived in short, sharp doses, and for that I'm grateful. I hope you can at least say the same, or something even better.

Another little ritual I observe is not wishing people a happy new year, but a happy whole year. After all, why should our good wishes for health, happiness and prosperity be limited to just the first few days of January?

Happy whole year.