23 July 2017

Colossal Gall Department [2008]

[Originally posted 23 July 2008]
ou’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of it. Chris Mill, the attorney for two of the Camrose cat killers—those were the little psychopaths who tortured a cat to death in a microwave oven and left messages boasting about it for the owners to return to—actually asked for the court to expedite his clients’ sentencing so they could achieve “closure” before returning to school this fall. Words absolutely fail me. This guy is complaining, on behalf of his clients, about the need for them to undergo a psychiatric examination—because they want to get this whole thing over with.
I’m sure they do. Most of us, when caught in a crime, just want the prosecution to go the fuck away. There’s nothing new or amazing about that. Why that should be grounds a judge could act upon is totally beyond me. What the judge ought to be primarily concerned about is the issue of protecting the community from these creeps. The last thing on her mind should be whether the kids get to start school this year with a “clean slate”.
At least Chris Mill’s job is being the spokesmen for this pair of psychopaths. I don’t know what Camrose resident Linda Hugo’s excuse is. “It’s a terrible thing that they did,” she admits, claiming “but it’s now water under the bridge.” Nice of her to be so forgiving of a “terrible” crime committed against somebody else. She weeps for the poor persecuted torturers. “…the mental torment that they’ve gone through is enough” she feels. Wise up, lady. The next time these young Torquemadas decide to go on the prowl, you may well be their victim. When you embrace a scorpion, expect to get stung.

21 July 2017

Madness and Politics [2011]

[Originally posted 21 July 2011]
ou know—just a thought. Jobs. Let me say it again—jobs. That’s what the people of the United States are looking for right now. Nobody gives a damn about this debt-ceiling nonsense. Most people are prepared for a certain number of program cuts and tax increases, but what they’re really interested in is getting back to work. Seeing the economy running again. Bromides like only the market can create jobs aren’t going to cut it any longer. People are tired of praying to a Market God that never seems to listen. This is something that both Democrats and Republicans need to deal with, but it especially applies to the Mad Tea Partiers. Sabotaging the economy in the hopes of winning elections is probably not going to be a winning strategy. People tend to re-elect when their personal finances are going well; folk who surf the wave of economic discontent are likely to crash on the rocks of broken dreams.

20 July 2017

A Note on Judas [1987]

[20 July 1987]
he Judas story is inconsistent. It is said that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, which implies an attempt to keep Judas’ part in the business unknown—but since Judas led the arresting offi­cials there, such secrecy was impossible. Make no mistake about it—there is no reason for the Judas kiss if Judas openly led the officers there. Conversely, if Judas betrayed Jesus with such a secret sign, then his coming with the arresting officials was fatal to the scheme.
Further, it is worth noting that in the synoptic account Judas never leaves the last supper; as far as one can tell he is pres­ent from Jesus’ announcement of the betrayal to the scene at Gethsemane. This at least is more consistent with the kiss; one might picture the officers lurking at the Mount of Olives, Judas giving the pre-arranged signal, the arrest and all that. Against this we may ask, could Jesus’ prediction of the betrayal be an added element in Mark?  In Mark’s source was Judas even at the Last Supper? (On the other hand, the direction of this element is away from having Judas present; witness John’s contortions.)
What about the kiss? Mark has it, Matthew has it, but Luke down­plays it. John has an entirely consistent story that omits the kiss altogether, and he makes sure Judas leaves the Last Supper directly after Jesus’ announcement of the betrayal, giving time for him to bring the soldiers and officers to the appointed place.
So the direction of the kiss element in the synoptics is toward its elimination. But John has no trace of it (or does it?). Is John an example of its final elimination, or is it a witness to a presynoptic version that lacked the kiss? Does either version have prophetic fulfillment significance?

19 July 2017

Waiting for the Goddamn Bus [2015]

[Passage from my journal, 18/19 July 2015]
 6:34 m PDT—The big event of the day (I guess) was catching the late bus up to the Burlingame Fred Meyer to stock up on coke the last day of the sale. I grabbed a couple of sacks full of bottles to return and headed up about sunset to catch the 12 going north—and waited forever for the goddamn bus. I probably hadn’t just missed one as there were a couple of other people waiting, unless of course they’d come just before me and had likewise missed the bus. There were people waiting across the street for the southbound 12 as well, so I began wondering about traffic jams somewhere on the route. Eventually, after around forty minutes of waiting, busses came simultaneously on both sides of the street, and I rode up to Burlingame. My transfer was good till after eleven so I figured I had all the time there was to finish my tasks, especially as my tasks were relatively minor. And then I ran into the first snag. None of the machines at the bottle return were working. I pushed the button to call for assistance, only to have the light go dark after a minute or so and no assistance arrive. I repeated the action with the same result. I started to go in, only to run into a guy headed out that way, so I followed him back. He apparently had not come to assist customers, however, but he did ungraciously accept my bottles and give me a receipt for them. And so with that in hand I went into the store. The rest was fairly easy, actually; I picked up six bottles of coke (saving four dollars), caramel, and broccoli for dinner. The machine at the checkout was reasonably cooperative this time, and it didn’t take too long to exchange my receipt for cash. The bus came only a few minutes after my arrival at the stop, and a young lady gave me her seat (probably because I was having obvious difficulty in staying on my feet). And the walk home was nothing and we had our dinner and watched the usual run of shows. And a bunch of Jon Oliver episodes. Eventually I got off to sleep.

18 July 2017

A Pointless Post

I am feeling unwell and have nothing much to say anyway, I guess, not that that’s ever stopped me before. I hope I’ll be back tomorrow, if not sooner.

17 July 2017

The Ultimate Sexual Perversion [1993]

[from my pre-weblog, 17 July 1993]
 can’t help but feel that the ultimate sexual perversion is sex without desire. We recognize this in our laws and customs, at least in a sideways manner. Rape and prostitution, both striking examples of sex without desire, are recognized as crimes. Mar­riages are broken up for “irreconcilable differences”—as often as not a code phrases for sex without desire. The idea of having sex with somebody for whom there is no desire is—to use no hard­er word—repugnant. And yet—interesting enough—this is exactly what is suggested to homosexuals (and other sexual minorities) all the time—that they should have sex without desire, or re­frain from sex altogether.

16 July 2017

Sing It, Fat Lady! [2010]

[Originally posted 16 July 2010]
oday’s question comes from a long-time reader (hi, Mom!) who wants to know where the expression “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” comes from. The expression has been around for a bit, at least since the empty eighties, and it’s roughly equivalent to the old proverb, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” attributed to the well-known cartoon character, Yogi Berra. It means apparently that nothing is settled until all the accounts are totaled up, or something like that.
It’s a good point. I remember years ago as a backgammon game wound down my opponent wanted to throw in the towel, seeing that I clearly had the game won at that point. Like an idiot I pointed out that things were really closer than they looked. “If you were to throw double sixes on the next roll,” I said (and boy have these words stuck with me), “and I were to say get a two and a one on my next, well you could easily win the thing.” And much to my chagrin (I should have kept my mouth shut) my opponent did in fact throw double sixes on his next roll, and I got a two and a one or something equally useless on mine, and I ended up losing. It really ain’t over till it’s, well, over.
But the fat lady—where the hell does she come in? Personally, I first remember hearing the expression shortly after I left college, during the reign of the late unlamented Ronald McReagan, Czar of all the Americas. It was a punch-line to a joke I no longer remember, but the set-up was rather like the old Homer and Jethro routine, where the pair wanders into an opera to get out of the rain thinking they were going to see a western, and instead forty-seven people sung without a horse in sight. Hekyll nudges his buddy during a pause and asks, “Is it over yet, Jekyll?” And his buddy replies, pointing to the soprano, “Nah, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
So, maybe, it was a bit of belated Green Acres style humor to enlighten the tedium of those dark days when nuclear holocaust lurked just around the corner. Poking fun at the rubes, as it were. Even those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead creeping into an opera house get the joke. But—but—how do sports come into it? Don’t we usually hear it in connection with some sporting event—a dramatic cliffhanger of a ninth-inning foos- or kickball spectacular? “And there he goes, [I hear this in Billy Crystal’s Howard Cosell voice] bobbing and weaving down the stretch, shedding backstops like ninepins into the goal zone and it’s all over!” “Well, Ed, [comes the reply] there’s still two seconds left on the clock and anything can happen. Remember, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
Okay, well, according to the nearest thing we have to absolute truth written by a roomful of monkeys hitting random keys (full disclosure: I too am a Wikipedia editor) it came about something like this. Ralph Carpenter (described as a Texas Tech sports information director) and Bill Morgan (presumably the nineteenth century baseball player) were calling a game of some sort “in the SWC tournament finals” early in 1976. The score was 72-72, and the dialog went like this:
Bill Morgan: Hey, Ralph, this … is going to be a tight one after all.
Ralph Carpenter: Right. The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
Bill Morgan still remembered the incident in 2006. He believed that Carpenter came up with it on the spur of the moment. “Oh, yeah, it was vintage Carpenter. He was one of the world’s funniest guys.”
A couple of years later it turned up again, after a basketball (is there such a game?) contest in April 1978 between the “San Antonio Spurs” and the “Washington Bullets”. Broadcaster Dan Cook observed after the Spurs victory that “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” meaning that a single victory didn’t determine the outcome of the series.
Now if you’re like me you may well be wondering, what the hell does opera have to do with sports? (Well, other than the fact that I personally detest them both.) Why would an opera metaphor end up as a sports cliché? And also, you know, the fat lady pretty much sings throughout the opera. It’s not like the soprano waits till the end before she sounds off. It’s sort of an ongoing thing.
Well, there is an alternative explanation out there, and in this one the fat lady has a name—Kate Smith. Yes, that Kate Smith, the songbird of the south, whose function in the world (if we believe the supply-siders) was to sell Studebakers and Jell-O, is supposed to be the fat lady of the cliché. She, goes the story, used to finish off sports events of some kind (something called the “World Series” is often mentioned) by singing Israel Isidore Baline’s patriotic hymn “God Bless America” to a no-doubt attentive crowd trying to beat the rush to the exits.
Smith, who weighed a ninth of a ton in her prime, could certainly have been described as a “fat lady,” so that’s one point in the story’s favor, but the rest doesn’t work very well. First, the singing, if any, is usually done at the beginning of sports events, and in fact on those occasions when she did sing for games (more typically a recording was used), it was before the game began. There was even an expression, a reference to the one under discussion, that “It ain’t begun till the fat lady sings.” And also—well, if she did sing at the end of the game, then “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings” wouldn’t actually be true, as the game would have ended before the fat lady sang. Truth may be expecting a lot from a cliché, but still, there are limits to artistic license, aren’t there?
Now I should warn you that this isn’t going to be one of those pieces where at the end I triumphantly announce Aha—it was Jacques Mallet du Pan, writing in The Virginian, and he did it with the Lead Pipe! No, on this one I’m as Clueless as the next guy. But I’ve got to say that neither of these explanations cut it. They both stink of folk etymology, after-the-fact retrojections into the unknown. Campfire stories. Legends.
Is there another option? Well, another story has it—and like the Kate Smith tale I picked this one up surfing the interwaves—that it’s an old Southern proverb that originally ran “Church ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” You see, this explanation has it, in Southern churches services ended with a song usually sung by choir members who (we may suppose) were specially selected for their weight. It was only when these ladies had warbled their best shot that the doors were opened and the parishioners allowed to finally leave, no doubt giving thanks to whatever God they still believed in after all that.
This explanation has at least one merit—church services do indeed use music to cue the audience as to when to stand, when to sit, and when to beat a hasty retreat. I personally examined many church services on this very point for a college paper I wrote for an anthropology class (Music in Culture), and that one fact stands out very clearly in my memory. Music was liminal, a delineator used to separate events. But I don’t see how the fat lady gets into it. Singing, sure, church choirs are even a cliché themselves. But unless, say, Southern Baptists have some special fat-lady tradition I don’t see how the saying is relevant. And again—in my personal observation music is used in church services throughout—not just at the end. It don’t fit—and if it don’t fit, you must acquit.
Apparently quite a few people have written on the subject, but nobody seems to have hit the nail squarely on the thumb. If anybody has something resembling evidence on the subject, let me know. Or write it up in Wikipedia. It has a whole article on the subject.

rfh left a comment to the original post:
Seriously, the more I think about it, the less the saying works in any context. Singing as a finale just doesn’t seem to happen, at least not so regularly and standardly that it would give rise to a Saying—a Saying as widely used and recognized as this one.
So I guess we’re still wondering.

And Ed Darrell also left a comment:
Memory is a flawed source, but I recall Dick Motta coming up with the line in 1974 during the NBA playoffs. I think this history giving Motta the line is 1978 is a bit off.
So, you gotta go with the documents, eh?
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