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Archive for February 2007

Valentine’s Day

Some people try to say that Christmas is no longer a religious holiday. I don’t buy it, not until the name of the holiday loses the Christ and the Mass, like Valentine’s Day lost the Saint.

I have no compunctions about taking part in Valentine’s Day activities – well, I wouldn’t if I weren’t an insensitive, anti-social bastard, but the principle is there. But don’t ever ask me to help you decorate your Christmas tree. Or go to mass.

While today allows me an excuse to whine, I write with news. Remember that love letter we thought was lost forever? Elvi did some cleaning this week and found my first draft of the letter, handwritten on three sheets of “Borland 1992 World Tour” pad paper.

The discovery thrusts me into an ethical dilemma. I could post this award-winning letter on this here blog and you all would marvel at my craft and some, I dare assume, would fall in love with me site unseen. And we can’t have that.

There’s another issue, possibly greater in scope. What I post here stays online more or less forever. If I post this wunnerful love letter, I’m helping hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of deadbeat men find a cool free love letter which which to impress objects of affection. All a lazy guy’s gotta do is Google “love letter” and this will pop up.

Some may argue that it’s my duty to help fellow men. Others would argue that I should not help lazy plagiarists.

So, readers, what do you think? Should I post it or not?

Bonus evaluation of the year:

At Concordia, students evaluate classes anonymously through a numeric scale plus two short-answer questions, one on the facilities and the other on the professor. One of my JOUR 202 students wrote “I think you’re very sexy!!”

On the one hand, I’m disappointed by the use of only two exclamation points. On the other hand, I showed my evaluations to the department head and now I’m known as “Mr. Sexy” in the office.

Of course, I do have to ponder who wrote it….

More on Lou Lenart

A couple of days ago, I mentioned an unusual coincidence of several circles of my life, and I promised more on Lou Lenart. Lou, one of Israel’s first fighter pilots and one of the first two co-commanding officers of 101 Squadron, has spent decades trying to get his story on film.

After my e-conversation with Peter Mersky, I did a little research. I found Lou’s latest project here. I recognized the name to which the Web site belongs, Lorin Roche. Lorin first e-mailed me in November 2005 with compliments about my Web site, although he hadn’t at the time mentioned his involvement with Lou.

I touched base with Lorin after I found his site and we corresponded a bit. He pointed me to a Hebrew article whose English translation can be found at Ynet news. Lou didn’t appreciate the journalism – from the headline down, it spotlights Lou’s accomplishments and all the men involved who I’ve spoken to profoundly appreciate the group effort (although I know Lou would make an exception for one particular supply clerk). Lou is aghast and apologetic about the headline “How I saved Tel Aviv….”

But read that article, and I dare you to disagree that this story is a natural movie waiting to happen.

Lorin’s Web site also pointed me to these:

That’s Lou, mostly, but the gentleman with the raspy voice and blue dress shirt is the late Aaron “Red” Finkel. I could, and often did, listen to him for hours.

Here’s my first draft of that attack.

One of the topics Lorin and I went back and forth on was the true size of that Egyptian invasion force. Lou says 800 and 10,000 men but I doubt it was that many.

The Egyptians invaded with about 6,000 soldiers and 2,000 irregulars. Some of these attacked toward Beersheva and held the central Negev, so the force at Isdud was smaller. I’d say 5,000-6,000 is a decent estimate, but these would have been strung out back to Majdal and/or Gaza.

In total, Egypt had about 200 tanks and armored cars, plus another 300 Bren Carriers. If we figure half of Egypt’s vehicle fleet were used in the attack (probably a gross overestimate), the 500-800 estimate (including trucks) might not be that far off, but I’d be inclined to guess 300-500 (including trucks).

Bonus advice on tools:

I’ve been using to help me brainstorm screenplay ideas. It’s a Web-based application that lets you create linked index-card like windows into which you can type anything you want. You can freely position the windows how you like, although you can’t shift the links between mother and daughter cards – although that’s a limitation of small practical importance. Registration and use is free.

MyIdeaMap looks similar, but I haven’t tried it.

Americans, watch “Studio 60” (again)

This week’s episode is an enthralling take based on, well, filler. The point of the episode is, I suppose, backstory on Matt, Harriet, and Luke, but the focus is on Matt and what might be his entry into a death spiral. The show tells the story in two timelines, past and present, and it does so engagingly.

Jordan gets some nice side bits, too, with Danny and with that blonde network lady whose name I’m too lazy to find.

Bonus computer update:

I went at the power supply fan with a brush and some WD-40. I got the fan working again, but only for a day.

The nice man at Microscott, a shop I recommend highly, says he can replace the fan for $35 (Cdn) labour. That beats $200 (US) for a new power supply.

Puzzle pieces

If my life were a puzzle – the cardboard kind, that is – I’d have many more pieces in place a the end of these last two weeks than I had before.

As you might know, I’m obsessed with an amateur historian who focuses on Israel’s 101 Squadron, the country’s first fighter squadron which flew and fought in the War of Independence.

I got into the lucrative field of screenwriting when 101 Squadron veteran Aaron “Red” Finkel told me, “You know what? You should write a movie.” My friend Red passed away about a year ago.

A week and a half ago, I mentioned that Peter Mersky wanted me to sell his book on my Web site (see ad below). I agreed, and we started chatting about books and and efforts to make a movie about the events.

(Two older movies cover the period, the famous but somewhat melodramatic “Exodus” (1960) and the less known “Cast a Giant Shadow” (1960), which had Frank Sinatra as a bottle-tossing pilot with, I must admit, the right panache.)

Peter told me he chats often with Harold Livingston, who flew transports to bring vital supplies to Palestine/Israel during the war. Harold wrote “No Trophy, No Sword” about his experiences, and I’ve spoken with him myself in the past – you may know him as the guy who wrote “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. (The accompanying photo shows Harold, sitting, with Gene Roddenberry.) Peter briefly mentioned to me that Harold has tried to get Stephen Spielberg to make a proper movie made about the pilots who flew in 1948 (well, 1947-1949).

I’d heard that Dreamworks SKG has in the past optioned the first chapter of Ehud Yonay’s “No Margin for Error“, which covers the air operations and pilots of the War of Independence. I’ve also mentioned that David Mamet sent me a copy of his take on the era.

I asked Harold what he knew about the Dreamworks project. Harold kindly allowed me to reprint his response (n.b. Machal is a Hebrew abbreviation for “Foreign Volunteers”):

Yes, for some twenty years now I’ve nagged Spielberg re a Machal film. He responded kindly, albeit obliquely, to my own book, “No Trophy, No Sword,” something to the effect that he “wasn’t ready” for the project. Some such bullshit, I don’t remember. I had worked closely with Jeffrey Katzenberg when I wrote “Star Trek,” and when he and Spielberg started Dreamworks, I immediately hit him with not only “No Trophy,” but my long-ago very first novel, “The Coasts of The Earth,” same genre. No cigar. In the meantime, over the years, my information is that someone at Dreamworks paid David Mamet a fortune to write a Machal script, based on what I haven’t the slightest idea. I never did see the script, which apparently died a fast death. (My own take, since as I say I never saw the script, is that Mamet writing an Israel Air Force story is akin to me writing a biblical epic.) As far as I know the project is in limbo and I suspect will remain so, at least with Dreamworks. I think they got burned with it and desire no more.

Some years ago Lou Lenart sold the story of his 101 experiences to a small-time producer named Zev Braun, who had a script written by a tyro writer. Braun was dumb enough to show this script around, and finally asked me to look at the work, which earned me Mr. Braun’s everlasting antagonism when I told him that this was a comic strip, not a film script. Understandably, therefore, he expressed no interest in my suggestions for a page-one rewrite and for sure none in my agent’s suggestion of payment for another crack at it. So that project bit the dust, although I think Lou has never given up on it.

One of these days someone will do the story, but only when a top director such as an Eastwood or a name actor is willing to do it. And, always, there are the political ramifications to be considered. In a word, it’s a tough – if indeed not possible – sale. I’m even encountering trouble publishing my biography of the founder of the Israel Air Force, Al Schwimmer, so much so that I may have to settle for a University Press.

I have no objection to your using this with my name, and if I can be of any further assistance, please don’t hesitate.


Harold Livingston

The Mamet script is apparently the one Mamet sent me, “Russian Poland”. I had no idea this Mamet script was involved in the Dreamworks effort I’d heard rumors of.

Half of Mamet’s story takes place in a Polish shtetl. One of the old Jews from the shtetl turns up a century or two later an Italian airfield, where he boards a transport flight to Israel. The transport runs into trouble, but manages to make it to Israel, and when it does the old man has disappeared.

It’s a read that’s, uh… introspective and spiritual. It’s not bad, but it’s not a movie. Too much action takes place in a cramped airplane and the screenplay opts for a small rationalization for Zionism over the larger story that should be “Saving Private Ryan” meets “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World“. Pity.

When Alex Epstein interviewed me for my assistantship 18 months ago, one of the things we discussed was Lou Lenart (who produced “Iron Eagle” among other jobs). As Harold touches on, Lou has spent 20 years trying to get a biography filmed. A long time ago, Alex worked on an unsuccessful project about Lou.

After I read Harold’s e-mail, I asked Alex if he knew of Zev Braun. Turns out that Braun was the man who brought the Lenart story to the company Alex was working for at the time, and Alex, although not the “tyro” Harold mentions, worked on a treatment for Zev, as did several writers.

That’s what I mean by puzzle pieces. I’ve found two pieces that link two huge chunks of the puzzle together. Dreamworks, Alex, Mamet, 101 Squadron – they all tie together as one neat package now.

More on Lou and his recent efforts in the next post, with a guest appearance by Red.

Bonus book ad:

Israeli Fighter Aces, by Peter Mersky.
Specialty Press: Ocean, N.J., 1997. ISBN 1883809150

Click here to see Israeli Fighter Aces at

Use the Amazon link above and you’ll discover that you can only find one used copy of this book on sale, for $50. Peter Mersky has contacted me and has agreed to sell new, autographed copies of this book for $24 (USA; $40 overseas), postage included. That’s well worth the price – e-mail me if you want to take advantage of this offer. Mersky is known for his award-winning books and articles on US Navy and Marine Corps aviation. He devotes the same skill to thi
s book, in which he focuses on the men who flew and fought for Israel. Despite the cover, this is not a guide for modelers. Through interviews and research, it’s a look inside the events and minds of the pilots who have found themselves tangling with the enemy. Aerial tacticians have a saying: "It’s the pilot, not the plane." That also describes the intention of this book.


So I’m in the shower, thinking of, yes, “Sheep’s End” and trying to improve it. reviewers have tossed several points at me, some minor, others requiring brain time.

It occurs to me that the story brings to the heroes what they need. It is a happy ending, as their needs are fulfilled in the script. The problem is that it’s not all that clear what they want before they learn what they need.

I know what they want. They know what they want. The wants are there, but while the heroes pursue their desires, they never get them.

Because they never get what they want, the story seems to take them somewhat passively to what they need.

What I need to do is carve the difference between want and need more prominently into the story. And a way to do that is to have them find what they want – then reject it, discard it as they realize that they must instead pursue what they need.

It’s a nifty realization, and may just lead places I’ll enjoy going.

Bonus comment on the state of the Internet:

Yes, it is slow lately. Have you noticed that e-mails that used to take minutes to deliver now arrive hours after they’re sent?

Blame the networks of zombie Windows boxes. Something has gone awry.


I’ve been driving myself nuts with my computer.

The loud noise was, I now think, not the new 40-GB hard drive, but my power supply fan, which has stopped working altogether. My Mac works fine, but it starts to smell like melting plastic. The smell comes from the power supply. Temperature inside the case rises to a toasty 57 degrees C – not in the danger zone, but I worry about losing the power supply completely.

For now, I’m running the computer with the case open and as long as no child or dog or wife steps on it, it should be fine.

I could try to replace just the fan in the power supply, but while I’m comfortable working with computer components, power supplies have potentially lethal lessons to teach, so I’m not going to crack that open. I’m trying to find a replacement for a reasonable price on eBay. I don’t feel like spending $150 or so for a new one.

I replaces the 40-GB drive I thought was noisy with a new 80-GB drive. (Never buy used hard drives – they move and they wear out. And new ones aren’t that pricey.) I burned back-ups to DVD, then built a new RAID of the two 80-GB drives I have.

It took me a while to put a operating system on there. For some reason, the OS 10.4 DVD I have now chokes on installing the Spanish Language Kit. It worked fine last week. Maybe the heat damaged it. The heat definitely affected the DVD drive, because I got a kernel panic one time I tried to boot from the OS 10.4 DVD. That’s when I opened the case for good, and all was fine eventually. The Spanish Language Kit problem preceded this.

In my haste, I copied my user folders to the new RAID overnight. When I rebooted after installing OS X on that RAID, the operating system asked me if I wanted to migrate from another system. I said yes, and it copied over my applications and users.

What a mess. I had two copies of my user folders – Webs and Webs 1, Kids and Kids 1, etc. – and the permissions on them were entirely screwy. I tried to fix things, and sort of did, but “sort of” isn’t adequate. I wound up deleting all users and starting fresh.

This has taken two and a half days. I’m not getting any writing done. I have Reader’s Digest work that has sat untouched since December (not on deadline, just “do when you want” work). The S-199 book files should be here next week. I’m barely making any money (see bonus note, below), and these computer ordeals are starting to affect me.

All I’ve done today is sit and search for a proper power supply. I need a shower, I need to brush my teeth, and I need to eat. It’s not healthy.

You know, I never meant this to be a screw-around-with-Macs blog. I have other information waiting in queue. I have to get back to the relaxed state of last week.

Bonus “paycheck”:

As a favour to my sister-in-law, I signed up with a Web site she’s working for. It’s meant to be a collection of personal stories – blogs for non-bloggers. I published one of the first personal essays I wrote there, sort of like the post above in that it describes an unpleasant few hours.

With no nepotism involved, I won a prize for my story: a $100 gift card at Starbucks. I hope it works in Canada.

This is the second time my fiction has won me a prize. The first was a love-letter contest run by the Interactive Fantasy Network ( at the time). My love letter won Elvi and I a weekend in Malibu, Calif., where we met with IFNet host Tim Conway, Jr.

We can’t find a copy of the winning love letter.

Maybe I should enter a third writing contest. My screenplays aren’t grabbing any awards.

Clemens mystery solved

My mom called this morning to tell me that she gave me the Roger Clemens ball.

She worked with Clemens’s sister at the time and got a signed ball as a 50th birthday present for her nephew-in-law in Toronto. Clemens pitched for Toronto at the time. All the men at his party went ga-ga over it, so my mom asked for and received another ball for each of her three sons.

I have absolutely no memory of the gift.

Bonus “Futurama” tidbit:

TV Squad has an interview with Matt Groening on the show’s rebirth:

“We have a really funny run about being cancelled; it’s a metaphor for being cancelled; it’s very funny.”

(Wow, what cool blockquote code.)

Baseball fever

It’s February, which means that pitchers and catchers will soon report to spring training.

I have two housefuls of guests – another eight people shoved in here – so this will be a brief post.

The Fates conspire to tease me with baseball coincidences. First, in our never-ending organization of papers and boxes and shelves, Elvi presented me with a baseball in a baggie. It’s an official American League baseball stamped with Gene A. Budig’s signature. More curiously, it’s been signed in ballpoint, with a signature I could not read or recognize:

(I could not scan the ball. I didn’t even try. But the above is the same signature. I added the number, which is on my ball. Bow before my l33t Photoshop skillz.)

The Budig stamp dates the ball to 1994-1999, but I was stymied. I couldn’t read more than a letter or two. One of my houseguests took a look and said the first name was Roger.

Yup. It’s a Roger Clemens. He wore #21 on the Red Sox (till 1996) and the Blue Jays (1997 and 1998) so I can’t determine the year. Oddly, I have no recollection of getting this ball signed or from someone as a gift. Or even of stealing it.

It reminds me of another treasure I found. I was back in Montreal with my dad, 1989. We had furniture that we’d had since I was a baby, which been through two moves. I was looking through an end table drawer and at the back I found a Reggie Jackson rookie card from 1969 in perfect condition. There were no other cards in that drawer.

I can only imagine that I was a screaming three-year-old, and my mother bought me a pack of baseball cards to play with. Somehow that one pack contained a Reggie Jackson rookie card, and somehow that one card survived, somehow in near mint condition.

At the time, the heyday of baseball card speculation, I appraised the card as worth $400-$800. I gave it to my card-collecting little brother as a Bar Mitzvah present.

The second baseball coincidence of the last few days is a clip from “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, which you can view here. “Some say a waste of time, others say an incredible waste of time.” Funny stuff. Love that banjo.

I can be an idiot

So, you remember that my Dell laptop cord frayed last summer. Hmmm, maybe you don’t. I didn’t blog about it.

Last summer, the power cord to my Dell Inspiron 8100 frayed just behind the plug that goes into the laptop. I bought a replacement, off eBay I think.

Last week, the cord started acting wonky and I’d only have power half the time. The problem was at the connection to the adapter. I secured it with tape, which worked fine until it started making electrical noises and smoking.

I unplugged it and made sure to e-mail myself the two files I was working on, “Sheep’s End” and “By the Book” – I thought. I only sent “Sheep’s End”. But that’s not the idiot part.

I went online to hunt for a third PA-6 power adapter. Lots of people sell these adapters, at prices ranging from $15 to $90. You’d think I’d have clued in to something amiss after two died. I admit I had a nagging suspicion that all was not right, but I didn’t look into it.

Only through viewing a two-year-old message in an online forum did I discover that, yes, Dell did indeed recall these faulty adapters.

A new one, one less likely to set my couch on fire, should be here in a week or two.

Bonus admission:

That hard drive is driving me crazy. It shakes the whole house. I must get rid of it, even if it means no RAID.

UPDATE: I switched positions of the drives inside the computer and now the thing is quiet – well, as quiet as it used to be. Ahhh….

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