27 October 2018

The Daily Nighmare (1978)


[A passage from my journal, written 27 October 1978 at 8:17 am PDT in Crookshank 213.]
I
 was down badly yesterday for no good reason that I can see—perhaps because nothing repeatedly continues to happen. The idiom of despair—the small certainties comfort one: that sooner or later the sun will come up; that whatever one does, nothing fundamental is going to change; that eventually the daily nightmare will end, to be replaced in its turn by tomorrow’s nightmare; that one day in the not too distant future life will end, probably with one’s brains scattered over the blanket of the bed, but certainly by one’s own hand. What is there to say? We are aliens, strangers under one roof, and hostile at that. To play unpleasant games in one’s head is not the most comfortable way to spend the day—still, the time passes.
They say that time flies when you’re having fun—I’ve always found that time goes by slowly when you’re enjoying it. Last Thursday is a long time ago, last August an æon. It’s when you’re caught in routine, performing a daily ritual, that one day merges imperceptibly into another, and Thursday a month ago is separated from now by paperthin walls—the days are interchangeable, and eventually you look up and a year has gone by, and in your memory is nothing but the same day, repeated in more or less uninteresting variations.
—thus goeth my mind. This is the sort of crap I’ve been into for a week or so—which is to say I am depressed. Maybe it will go away sooner or later, maybe not.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to eat out sometime soon but the trouble is I want to get “home” to play the piano while I have the place more or less to myself. If I could go out in the evenings—but that’s probably bullshit also.
Speaking of piano, I’m currently working on the “Maple Leaf Rag,” the rest of “The Entertainer,” the twelve scale chords and various variations, and perhaps the second movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata (I started “The Entertainer” and “Moonlight” Sonata yesterday). I’m also working on piano versions of “Let It Be” and (tentative title) “Nothing is Real,” (Lennon/McCartney parody)—the last two are beginning now to go fairly well.
While I’m on the subject of current efforts perhaps I should mention again that I’m attacking the storyline/plot question by assembling stories by modern authors (who are taken seriously) as well as sf, mystery, and humor writers.
Class is about ready to begin—I think I’ll stop here and get a drink of water.

24 October 2018

Polycarp: John’s Disciple? (1999)


[Note written before 9:42 a.m. PDT on 24 October 1999]
I
 just got a couple of messages while I was online staring at the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Polycarp. I wonder whether religious types ever actually think about how their reasoning might appear to outsiders. One of the issues in the life of Polycarp is whether he was in some sense a disciple of John—presumably the John who was the brother of James and one of the inner three of the Twelve. One of the factors to consider is when Polycarp lived—or rather, in this case, the date of his death. (He was supposed to be 86 when he died—at least 86 actually—so if we have the date of his death, we have the date of his birth and hence the span of his life.) According to Eusebius Polycarp died in 166, so he must have been born in 80—which makes it difficult for him to have been a disciple of John, though he could have seen him maybe when a child. But wait—among a number of researchers (admittedly mostly conservative types, though that doesn't affect the argument) the date of 155 is favored for Polycarp’s death, based on the dates that various officials mentioned were in office, and so on. In this case Polycarp was born in 69, which makes it a lot easier to see how he could have been a disciple of John. But is this sound, or mere wishful thinking? There seem to me to be difficulties with both dates, and I see Helmut Koester simply has Polycarp martyred “after 160” which is probably about as much as can really be said, as the inconsistencies in the lines of evidence seem to me to show that either (a) we don’t know enough about the times various officials were in office to reach a conclusion, or (b) some of the data we are working with are simply inaccurate. Or both.
Anyway, the Catholic Encyclopedia article after reviewing the evidence as to date comes down on the side of 155 because “155 must be approximately correct if St. Polycarp was appointed bishop by St. John.” But this is the very point at issue! What I get from this is that the author was determined to reach this conclusion no matter what, and that the evidence presented is basically so much window dressing. And yet up till that point the argument followed an apparently impartial course. It kind of makes one wonder. [24 Oc 1999]

22 October 2018

M-x R-ff-rty on the Ills of Society (1969)


[written 22 October 1969]
E
verybody see how clever I am! Boy am I exposing all those dope pushers, pornography peddlers, and all the other evils that beset your children.
In the first place, only I, M-x R-ff-rty, am right—accept no substitutes. Oh, there are some smart people, some clever people, who try to oppose me with logic. They claim they want facts. Let’s knock this crap out here and now. Logic is behind all the ills in our society today. If we didn’t have logic, we could clean up the movies, hang the smut salesmen, and destroy the pot pushers. Oh, he’s a glib one, the logic monger. He’ll sell his mother for a syllogism, and with every word he gnaws away at the foundations of all Morality. He’s the pinko professor urging hairy kids to dodge the draft, and anything else he’s afraid to do. He’s the smut pusher who sells Lysistrata in the bookstores. He’s the “entertainer” who plays pop music that blows kids’ minds. He’s the scum of society, the lowest of the low, and he’s gotta be stopped! We can’t have our kids’ minds corrupted by logic! How could I manip—I mean, how could they be safe? We are beset on every side by dangers. Why don’t the courts do anything about this? For the same reason they let criminals go free all the time.
[I broke off with a bit of bad prophecy: “I could write like that for hours. Max Rafferty, Ronald Reagan, Al Capp, and their ilk, are simply nothing. Unintelligent mumbling from men who can’t tell truth from lies, or fact from fiction. Their names will be buried as part of the shameful past of filth and savagery from which we are slowly emerging.”]

21 October 2018

I Hope I Never Come Down (1979)


[passage from my journal, written 10:37 p.m. PST on 21 October 1979]
I
’m behind in everything, facing a disastrous midterm to-morrow (no, Tuesday rather) and now have two papers upcoming in Christian Origins assuming I revise the first—a project I worked all day on. Oh well. To-morrow is another day and maybe I can get a little ahead. Maybe I should just write up my Christian Origins first paper as it stands (I feel fairly confident of what I’m doing there). And I have rent due again all too soon and I need money for food and books and such (though if I live on bread and water I think I can make it to December…)
Anyway, I’m not depressed, I can’t think why. I’m so fucking glad I’m not depressed—in fact, I’m in this nothing-can-bring-me-down phase, fundamentally out of touch with reality. It’s great; I hope I never come down. I’m a little afraid right now—I’ve got that grungy corrupted dirty feeling, that often precedes a crash, and I can’t afford a crash now, not at all. It’s been so good; I don’t want it to end.

20 October 2018

The Day They Knocked Down the—Liquor Store? (2009)


[Originally posted at Rational Rant on 20 October 2009. The largish 1910 house that was then my home has now joined the liquor store in oblivion.]
E
xhaustion lingers, but I ventured outside today, making it as far north as Lombard to pick up a few grocery-like objects. I had second thoughts as I stood unsteadily at the MAX station, debating whether to commit myself by actually buying a ticket. Something didn’t seem to be right in my immediate environment. There was something wrong, something missing.
It took me a second to figure out what it was. Across the street, where someone is leveling a city block to build an apartment-and-retail complex, a single earth-moving machine stood, claw uplifted. Most of the houses were now gone, even the debris and the naked chimneys that had marked the sites where they had stood for so long had vanished. And that’s when I noticed.
The Ice Cream Store was gone. It hasn’t actually been an ice cream store for decades, but it was one for a long time, certainly throughout my childhood. The old-timers remember it for its fifty-nine flavors; what I remember primarily about it is waiting in the car while my father zipped inside to pick up magazines. The Scientific American, Mad, Galaxy—all these came from there, and I’m sure other magazines I’ve forgotten. When he returned, however, he would come bearing ice cream for my brothers, and a Hershey bar for me (I detest ice cream and always have). It was a treat; it was something we enjoyed, a ritual that rounded off an otherwise-mundane trip.
The geography of childhood is funny. The Safeway I remember as being a bit of a walk from our (then) home is actually just down the block and across one street, though it’s a Harbor Freight today. The Ice Cream Store is—no, was—only a couple of blocks further on, but I remember it as being a long way off. And frankly, most of my memories of it do in fact come from a time when we no longer lived anywhere nearby; we would stop there on our way back from Portland to our home across the river in Vancouver. Maybe that affected my sense of location.
I can remember vividly sitting in the car, the huge neon sign across the front of the store flickering and buzzing, while waiting for my father to return. Looking out across Interstate I could watch cars stopping for gas at a station there. Up from it was an auto repair shop (the sign said it had been in business since 1924); in my memory it is always closed, but of course we stopped by the Ice Cream Store in the evenings. I can’t help but think that I must have some time looked at the largish 1910 house to the other side of the gas station, but I have no memory of that. I certainly never imagined that that was the place I was going to someday own, that my brother’s kids were going to grow up thinking of it as the traditional gathering place for Thanksgiving, that it would become by default the family center.
Now by the time we actually moved here the Ice Cream Store had become something else—I’m not sure what any longer. For awhile it quit being a store of any kind; the display windows were bricked up and the doors turned from glass to steel. For some of that time it was a distribution center for the Portland Oregonian, and most of the activity there went on in the early morning. For the past few years it was a liquor store. Then, this immediate past year, it was a vacant building awaiting destruction. And now, as I stood there at the MAX station, it was just—gone.
“Excuse me, sir, but I'm sixteen cents short for a ticket, and I need to get home.” Real life in the shape of a rather shabby-looking guy, one half of a couple, intruded on my recollections.
I groped in a pocket for change, trying to hold on to the mood, to savor the liminal moment, and thrust a few coins blindly into his hand.
“I’m not a panhandler,” he said, affronted, plucking out an offending dime and nickel too many, and shoving them back at me.
“Okay, whatever,” I said. I really wasn’t feeling up to this. I was committed, though; I’d bought my ticket and was ready to face the consequences. Sort of.
So, yeah, the Ice Cream Store. We didn’t always wait out in the car; that was only when my father was in a hurry and just wanted to pick up a couple of things. Sometimes we’d go inside and look around.
The periodicals there were many and varied. Along the north wall was a rack of magazines my mother always encouraged me not to look at, bearing stories of true crime and degradation, desperate tales of survival, and pieces involving the deaths of large animals. I seem to remember one that advertised in large letters, “The Night Jackie had to Say No To Lyndon.” (I’m sort of hoping that was a takeoff, but at this distance, who can tell?) Under the windows facing Interstate were a variety of puzzle magazines, children and teen stuff, glamour, TV, all like that there. Science magazines, Popular Electronics, that sort of thing seemed to move about more; you had to kind of guess where they would end up. The New Yorker, Atlantic, Saturday Review
“Excuse me, sir, but here's your four cents.” The shabby Intruder from Reality was back, giving me change from the two dimes he had deigned to accept from me.
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” I said, or words to that effect. I put the coins in my pocket, and tried to disentangle my thoughts again. The Ice Cream Store—old memories—there was nothing there. Literally nothing, in a way—a socket in the ground where Something used to be. It wasn't the Day They Knocked Down The Pallais, exactly, but still—
“Thank you.” It seemed the social transaction was still not over; my new acquaintance was shouting at me halfway across the station. I peered around myopically (I’ve got to get new glasses). “Thank you,” the shout came again. The guy was standing with his lady, glaring at me. His tone demanded a response.
“You're welcome,” I said weakly. Screw it—let the dead past bury its own. “You’re welcome,” I said again, a bit more firmly, and that seemed to satisfy him. The transaction was closed. He turned to face the street where his train was about to pull in and I likewise turned to face my soon-to-arrive train. In the here-and-now I had groceries to pick up.

19 October 2018

A Deep and Profound Silence (2002)


O
ne of the things I find absolutely fascinating is the bizarre reaction of the public and media to announcements just made by the Bush White House—it seems that Al Qaeda has reestablished itself, that the war in Afghanistan was “counter-productive”, that the US is as unprepared to meet a possible terrorist threat as it was before 11 September 2001. Please note—this is not election-year propaganda by Bush’s enemies; this is being announced by his own people. There is even an odd note of pride to this accomplishment. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives have been expended for what? Apparently less than nothing. (Not that I necessarily believe this stuff—nothing that comes from “President” Bush and his associates has been reliable in the past—why should this?) So you would think people in authority—or at least the news media—would be asking some pointed questions. But so far there has been a deep and profound silence. The news is reported, and allowed to die. Something is off somewhere. [19 Oc 2002]

18 October 2018

Greetings from Ephesus (or Maybe Rome)


T
oday’s saint is Luke, according to the Roman Calendar, anyway. “The glorious Evangelist Saint Luke was natiue of the city of Antioch, son to noble and rich parents, and from his childhood inclined to the study of good learning, and all vertue,” according to Pedro de Ribadeneira (The Lives of the Saints, St. Omers, 1669). “His perseuering all his life a Virgin, was a signal testimony of his honesty. He studied much eloquence and other sciences but more particularly Physick which he practised: and Saint Paul calls him the most beloued Physitian.”
There’s a lot to unpack in these claims, especially considering that the only historical fact we have about Luke is that Paul of Tarsus mentions him in a letter to Philemon as one of five people sending him greetings. Everything beyond this belongs to hypotheses piled on top of rickety foundations.
The first notable addition came late in the first century, when somebody took it upon himself to write a letter in Paul’s name ostensibly to the Colossians. Taking the letter to Philemon as model, Paul’s imitator expanded on it in its conclusion. Where Philemon has:
Epaphras, who is my fellow prisoner for Christ Jesus, sends you his greeting; and Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers, send theirs
Colossians reads:
My fellow prisoner, Aristarchus, sends you his greeting, and Barnabas’s cousin, Mark, sends his. (You have received directions about him. If he comes to you, make him welcome.) Joshua, who is called Justus, also sends his greeting. These are the only converts from Judaism who have worked with me for the kingdom of God; I have found them a great comfort. Epaphras, who is one of yourselves, sends you his greeting. He is a servant of Christ Jesus, and is always most earnest in your behalf in his prayers, praying that you may stand firm, with a matured faith and with a sure conviction of all that is in accordance with God’s will. I can bear testimony to the deep interest he takes in you, as well as in the followers at Laodicea and at Hierapolis. Luke, our dear doctor, sends you his greeting, and Demas sends his.
Are these new items of information about Epaphras, Mark, and Luke derived from solid tradition? Or are they just corroborative details, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing production (to borrow from Pooh-Bah)? Personally, I lean towards the former possibility, given that the new composition was probably created within living memory of the original, but there’s no real way of telling at this distance, and the audacity of forgers knows no bounds.
So we now have Dr. Luke rather than just plain Luke. For what that’s worth. I suppose we could examine what a physician in the Roman era might be expected to know, and from that build a generic picture of the good doctor. I don’t say it’s a waste of time entirely—but it is guesswork built on an uncertain basis. The other element—ἀγαπητὸς—could mean anything. It could be as meaningless as the word “esteemed” often is in English—the esteemed Dr. Luke sends his regards—or an indication of high regard—the extremely popular doctor, Luke, salutes you. Assuming that Paul’s imitator intended these new details to resonate with his readers, we may suppose that they believed—or would be gratified to learn—that Luke was a beloved figure.
With the next development of this historical snowball we are clearly in artistic verisimilitude country. Some second-century author, whose style suspiciously resembles that of a distinguished pillar of the Great Church, took it upon himself three letters in Paul’s name—two of them addressed to Timothy, and one to Titus. In 2 Timothy (4:10–13 to be exact) we find the following wonderful farrago:
Do your utmost to come to me soon; for Demas, in his love for the world, has deserted me. He has gone to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. There is no one but Luke with me. Pick up Mark on your way, and bring him with you, for he is useful to me in my work. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. Bring with you, when you come, the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
I love the mentions of the cloak and the parchments; Polycarp (or whoever it was) had a delightful imagination. “There is no one but Luke with me” he has Paul say with some pathos. So Dr. Luke, the much-loved physician, stayed with Paul when Demas, Crescens, and Titus had all deserted him.
Our next stop in this trip is Irenaeus, writing late in the second century. He tells us that “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” This is the first reference to Dr. Luke being a writer as well; he is presumably the author then of the two-volume work addressed to Theophilus that appears in the New Testament as The Gospel According to Luke [volume 1] and The Acts of the Apostles [volume 2]. (If there were subsequent volumes they have not come down to us.) Raymond E. Brown in his introduction to the New Testament gives this description of the author as determined from his work:
An educated Greek-speaker and skilled writer who knew the Jewish Scriptures in Greek and who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. … Probably not raised a Jew, but perhaps a convert to Judaism before he became a Christian. Not a Palestinian.
There is nothing in this description that would either confirm or contradict its attribution to Dr. Luke, which is about where Raymond E. Brown leaves it. If Luke and Acts are his work, however, we are in a position to deduce quite a bit about him based on his own writings. But again, it is worth noting, to do so we put ourselves in the position of piling conjecture upon conjecture.
Our final stop on this tour will be a prolog written to the gospel, possibly as early as the second century, but more likely a couple of centuries further on down the road (considerably abridged here):
The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit. He … in parts of Achaea wrote down this gospel…. And indeed afterward this same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.
So, there you have it. That’s not really the end of the road; in later centuries we will learn that Luke was also a painter, as well as a close confidant of Jesus’ mother Mary. Not bad for a guy whose only real claim to fame is that he sent his greetings to a fellow named Philemon a couple thousand years ago. It’s better than you or I are going to do anyway.

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