28 June 2017

Untitled Novel: Mission to Egypt [1995]


[passage from an untitled novel, written 22/23 June 1995]
“I
n the end,” said the Baptist, “Egypt is going to be impor­tant.”
“Egypt?” Simon couldn’t see it.
“Yes, Egypt. Moses left Egypt, you know,” said the Baptist vaguely, “and the Egyptians pursued him, to bring him back. Of course they failed; they were trying to go against God’s will.”
“Were they?”
“Yes. The Lord’s will is not to be flouted.” The Baptist nodded. “No,” he went on, musing, “I must try to keep that in mind myself. The Lord’s will cannot be flouted. We forget that sometimes, become puffed up with our own self-importance. That’s why—” he turned abruptly on Simon—”That’s why Satan never real­ly succeeds. The most he can achieve is the brief appearance of success. There is a power that ties us all to the earth, and while we may attempt for a moment to escape it, the most we can have is the illusion of flight. Even the birds return to the earth to nest. Remember that, Simon. That power that holds us to the ground is the will of the Lord, and it will break itself for no man.” He turned away. “Not even for me; not even for the messiah.”
“But Egypt,” prompted Simon. “You were talking about Egypt.”
“Was I?” asked the Baptist vaguely. “Was I indeed? Yes, Egypt it was. Your people believe in Moses, do they not?”
“My people?”
“The remnants of the House of Joseph,” John said. “You have your own prophets, your own history, your own temple, broken though it may be, but with us you share the Law and him who brought it.”
“Yes,” said Simon. “What of it?”
“Moses led the people out of Egypt,” said the Baptist. “So the history books say. But it never was that simple, was it?”
“No,” agreed Simon. “Not all the people came out with Mo­ses, and many have gone back in the thousand years since his time.”
“Exactly,” said the Baptist. “The flock has strayed far afield. And who is to say that the Lord’s hand is not in this? Yes, the lost sheep of the House of Israel roam the four corners of the earth, and it is our job to gather them back into the fold. The Kingdom is for them also.” He trailed off, reflec­tively. “The Kingdom in the Sky is full of sheep,” he added.
“But Egypt,” said Simon. “What about Egypt?”
“Yes, that’s the point,” said John. “What about Egypt? The Egyptian branch office is no longer reporting, and somebody has to find out what is going on there.”
“Do you want me to recommend somebody to go to Egypt?” asked Simon.
“No, no, not at all. You’ve missed the point entirely,” complained the Baptist. “You, Simon. I want you to check it out personally, find out what’s happening there, and report back. Do you understand?”
“But—but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Simon. “The times are bad. Things are heating up here, and who can be trusted to keep the lid on it—”
“Simon,” interrupted the Baptist. “Egypt is important. You know that. I know it. Who else can I trust on this mission?”
“What about Dositheus?”
“You’re not serious,” said John, chuckling. “Don’t let your squabbles infect your judgment.”
“Squabbles?”
John moved a hand impatiently. “It is no secret to me that you two get along as well as two tomcats in the same backyard. You undervalue Dositheus; he is a competent administrator, and a positive genius at making arrangements for food and the like, but can you seriously picture him on a fact-finding mission? No, Simon, you are the one called for this mission.”
“Am I to report back to you, then?”
“Let’s just say that you are to report back,” said the Bap­tist.
“Not to you? Are you saying this through caution, or do you have some kind of prophetic insight?”
“I don’t know,” said John. “I really don’t know. But I have a strong feeling, Simon, that when you have gone to Egypt, I shall not set my eyes on your face again in this world. Not in this world, and perhaps not an any other.” His voice trailed off. “At least not until time itself turns back and the whole cosmic drama replays itself again. We are all puppets, Simon, dancing and jigging on our strings, and the music we dance to is the will of God. The will of God—there is no escaping it.”

27 June 2017

I Can't Cope [2009]


News in Brief
[27 June 2009]

Sri Lanka—Authorities have taken Chandrasiri Bandara, a popular astrologer, into custody to investigate one of his predictions. Defying the polls the astrologer says that changes in the alignment of the cosmic spheres on 8 October are bad news for the present government, signifying hard times ahead with rising living costs. (Economists have made similar predictions.) The prime minister, he predicted, would become president, and the opposition leader prime minister. The Criminal Investigations Department is looking into the basis for the prediction according to police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera. It is not clear exactly what they are looking into—do they think he had political motives, or are they merely suspicious of his astrological interpretation? The arrest is condemned by the opposition. (BBC)

Los Angeles—Noted Beatles collector Michael Jackson died Thursday of possibly natural causes. The owner of such coveted Beatles memorabilia as the rights to the bulk of the Lennon-McCartney catalog, Jackson has been the subject of much speculation recently concerning the disposition of these much-coveted sentimental treasures. One theory has it that he's left at least some of his collection to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. With the imminent re-release of the Beatles catalog in listenable condition for the first time since the advent of the CD, fans are concerned about the fate of these soon-to-be-lost tracks. Jackson's condition is unchanged. (NY Daily News)

Stockholm, Sweden—The Swedish Court of Appeals blandly ruled that Judge Tomas Norstöm, one of three judges who presided over the recent Pirate Bay trial, had no conflict of interest, despite his membership in two advocacy groups on the other side of the issue, the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Swedish Copyright Association. "For a judge to back the principles on which this legislation rests cannot be considered bias," appeals court judge Anders Eka said, apparently with a straight face. Four men involved in the operation of The Pirate Bay, which among other things makes it possible for smaller artists to share their work with others via peer-to-peer networking, were tried and convicted for copyright violations earlier this year, despite the utter worthlessness of the legal claims against them. Backlash against the verdict is considered responsible for electing a member of the Pirate Party to the European Parliament. (ZDNet, BBC)

26 June 2017

Chicken McNuggets Were Still New [1982]


[bus trip, 26 June 1982]
M
y cousin had gotten up late enough that we basically did nothing except go to the LA terminal; she drove me there so that I could catch the 11:00 bus to Portland, which I did. I arrived there within minutes of departure time and for a while it looked as if I would miss the bus regardless (which didn’t worry me because I knew I could just catch the 1pm or so bus, but which did worry my cousin) but with the help of (and sometimes in spite of the help of) my cousin I got on the bus and said goodbye to her and all that. There was only one seat vacant on the bus I could see (although it developed afterwards that there was probably one other vacant seat which I missed somehow) and it was occupied by a vast man of vaguely Mexican cast who it turned out spoke little or no English. Half-occupied, I mean; he had his own seat and sprawled into the other.  I sat beside him, and went to sleep. When getting on the bus I checked my other bag to Portland, so I had only my carryon piece to worry about.
It turned out that I was sort of surrounded by a family of five—two brothers, two sisters, and the wife of the oldest brother—who were going up to a small town in Washington which even I had never heard of which was about 37 miles from the Canadian border. They were going to visit their dying father whom they hadn’t seen in years (why I don’t know—the youngest of the kids must have been still in high school). They had left from Virginia the day before, or maybe the day before that—it wasn’t clear. They were appallingly ignorant of local geography; for some reason they suffered from the delusion that Portland was just over the California border and so were amazed at the extent of the state [of California] (an extent which is amazing enough with­out giving it most of Oregon as well), and they argued about whether Vancouver was in Washington or Canada.
I had drifted off to sleep quite nicely (although plagued by nausea and headache) when I was awakened by an appalling racket from the back of the bus. A little girl, maybe six years old, was singing at the top of her lungs a song about putting Satan in a box, and about how glad she was she had salvation from the Lord. She sang another song which seemed to be about sheep, and then the members of the family which was more or less scattered about my area began to call out requests. “Do you know ‘Jesus loves me’?” She didn’t seem to, but she did know a song about how Jesus loves the little children, and, delighted by the attention, drifted up to a point more or less in the middle of the family, which happened to be directly beside my seat, and sang that at the top of her lungs. This excruciating torment went on for—it seemed—hours, as the child had a large repertory of these numbers, which, it developed, were sung in her church. When she had gone through them all two or three times (with all joining in on some of the choruses) she got tired of it and went back to her seat. I drifted back off to sleep, and when I awoke again my head hurt less and my nausea had vanished.
Some time around three in the afternoon we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere which consisted mainly of a McDonalds. Most of us zipped inside to eat there including my seat companion, but I stayed on the bus, not feeling up to moving. I ate my tuna fish sandwiches—the half-eaten one from the morning and the other which I had made for the trip. The younger members of that family had gone in to the McDonalds while the older had gone to an Arby’s or something, and the younger came back complaining that the Chicken McNuggets were still new here and they didn’t have the McRibs at all … These disasters notwithstanding they had good meals of hamburgers and other hot sandwiches before the bus took off. Others ate similarly.
We next stopped briefly at Stockton I think it was but only to let various members of the troupe off. Among these were my seat companion and our humorist from the back section who had enlivened the trip by singing “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer” and by making wisecracks about everyone who came back to use the bus restroom.
At Sacramento I just missed witnessing a knifing and I ate two baconburgers and an order of fries from the local Burger King. Everything there was all screwed up. The bus waited there for about an hour, and I waited with it.
At some stop soon after—or perhaps even at Sacramento itself—I acquired a new seat companion. I had already stolen the window seat and now was watching as the new riders got on. I asked the gods to let the seat stay empty or to provide me with a lovely young lady if the former was (as I suspected) out of the question, and, after a fashion, the request was honored. The best-looking female in the bunch sat next to me. She didn’t talk, preferring to listen to an inaudible tape recorder, and she was too damn young, really—she couldn’t have been much out of high school, if at all. She spent part of the night sleeping with her head against my shoulder. Leg pressed against mine. Warm accidental contact.
Late in the evening we acquired a bus driver—he took us into Oregon—who was a kind of humorist, and at that hour of the night he was even funny. I think he got on at Orland or some such imaginary place.

25 June 2017

An Eocene Critter


[Mostly reminiscence of 25 June 1963; Camp Hancock, near Fossil, Oregon, when I was twelve]
U
p at reveille again, in line for breakfast, mail call and announcements. I probably got letters from home today and I ate a couple of pieces of toast. We went to the Mammal Beds, where forty million years or so before a river had piled up small bones in silt, to be left relatively undisturbed until Lon Hancock had discovered the site.
They were currently in the process of excavating the ribcage of some extinct mammal about the size of a small pig; as this was the opening of the season they spent most of the time unwrapping the layers of canvas put there the year before to protect the fossil bones from weathering. We were given this explanation before being set to work chiseling out material from the side of the exploratory pit. I looked at pieces of discarded matrix, splitting them open to see if I could find anything.
For the most part there was nothing, but finally, in one of them was the remains of a small mammal. It was just a tooth and a jaw fragment, or something of that sort. I wasn’t even sure that it was real at first, but when I showed it to one of the counselors he confirmed that it was a tooth.
I stared at the remains of the little critter, marveling how it had been born, spent its small life, and died so long ago, and no one else had known of its existence until me, some sixty million years later. As far as I can recall, nothing else of interest turned up during this particular expedition, but I was so blown away by my fossil fragment they could have discovered a mastodon and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
This being a science camp, when we got back I was set to work identifying it, and I went through the books in the library (a big building with lab equipment, instruments, and books, with one side entirely open to the elements). There was a guide to fossils there that you could use to quickly narrow down what you’d found, but it led me nowhere. The tooth looked odd; there was nothing quite like it in the guide, or in the books there, as far as I could see. Seeing I was in trouble a counselor said he thought he could help me out, and brought me one of his own books from his trailer. I looked through it, turning page after page, until I found a tooth that looked similar to mine. I showed it to the counselor, and he agreed with me that I had found it.
It was, as I remember it, something in the Multituburculate order, a long-extinct group of mammals. Although I’ve retained a fondness for this group over the years on the strength of that identification, I am now dubious about it, since as far as I can tell nothing of that sort has ever turned up at the Hancock fossil bed. Possibly I misidentified it, or possibly my memory is off, and I identified the fossil tooth as something else, and only later confused it with the multituburculates. Nobody thought it was anything amazing, anyway—just a neat find. I’d planned to do further research on it when I got back to civilization and had the resources of a full library.
Next year—I note parenthetically—when one of my tentmates found a fossil amphibian apparently unknown to science all hell broke loose, and the thing was carefully packed and sent off to the Smithsonian for further identification. My tentmate was upset as hell—what was the point of finding the thing if he didn’t get to keep it for his own collection? I didn’t say this, but I would have given one of my own teeth to have discovered an unknown amphibian and had my fossil end up at the Smithsonian.
The fate of my little multituburculate, if that’s what it was, is unknown. I had it tucked away in a box with some other nice specimens—a couple of perfect leaves, a conifer fossil, a bit of purple zeolite that was striking in appearance—that I kept under my bunk. I don’t know exactly what happened, but one day midway through the camp session I went to put something in the box—and it was empty. Everything in it—gone. The only conclusion I could reach—and I came to it very reluctantly—is that one of my fellow-campers had stolen it. I searched the entire area of my bunk without success, and eventually had to give up on it.
That doesn’t affect the base narrative here—that some small seed-eating critter lived and died forty million years ago or so during the middle of the Eocene, and that enough of her bones washed up in a silt formation to be fossilized and recognized on a June day in 1963. I would have liked to nail down her identification enough so that I could form some idea of what she had looked like, how she had lived, and how she might have died—but the awe and mystery of that moment of discovery remain regardless.

24 June 2017

Running a Few Simple Errors [1980]


[passage from my journal, 24 June 1980]
I
 spent the day running a few simple errors—I mean errands—with my ex-brother, but I ended up accomplishing absolutely nothing. I couldn’t find Aresti’s dictionary of aerobatic maneuvers in any standard reference source (not Books in Print, not the Union Catalogue, not CBI—nothing. And yet it’s supposed to be the standard for all aerobatic pilots to work with—well, whatever); I lost the card and phone number of the person I’m supposed to call to see about getting a xerox of a rare book; the recordstore folk had never heard of Walter Carlos (or Wendy Carlos either—“Well, if we have any I guess they’d be in the electronic music section, but I never heard of the Brandenberg Concertos in an electronic version…”).  And people kept asking me dumb questions—“Have you tried the Cumulative Book Index?” “You realize the lyrics are in English—only the jacket is in Italian?” “Do you really want it in Latin? We have good English Bibles you know.” A day in the life of sbh, ace researcher, or something. Fuck it, is all I got to say. Of course my horoscope warned me. Do whatever you’re going to do in the early hours it said—just what I want to hear when I’ve gotten up at one in the afternoon after having worked until five or so writing. My parents are supposed to be in Spain or something and I guess I’m supposed to look after their pseudoapartment while they’re gone but I don’t know because when my mother called to give me the final word on the arrangements I was at the airport not-flying with my other ex-brother who has become so good flying aerobatics that I was unable to remain aloft with him even with the aid of Dramamine for more than about fifteen minutes.

23 June 2017

The Crappiest Tent in Camp [1963]


[retrospective passage from my journal for 23 June 1963]
W
e headed out to OMSI for me to catch the Camp Hancock bus. We met a girl named Ruth. My family had planned to stay until the bus left but KXL unexpectedly went off the air and my father had to go see to things. I boarded the bus and got a seat by a window toward the back. The trip was long but the scenery was interesting and I kept making mental notes of things to tell when I got back home. There was one section where the rocks as the road cut through them appeared in squares and oblongs, and I was reminded of a cubist painting. We stopped somewhere, possibly at Mt. Hood, to eat, and I had most of the lunch I’d brought with me. (For whatever reason I saved the banana, either for later or because I didn’t like its looks, I don’t know.) I think it was at this stop that Barfy got his nickname by throwing up—but I didn’t see it, just heard about it later on. At one point I accidentally got into a staring contest with some other guy at the back of the bus; getting tired of it I deliberately broke if off by looking away.
Eventually we got to camp. The first order of business was picking our tents, which this year was optional—our choice, I mean. A group of us first-year campers decided to bunk together and ended up with Tent 2—the crappiest tent in camp. It had a gaping hole in it larger than the door on one side. We went to dinner in the dining hall—a huge structure open on three sides—where the food was inedible. This turned out to be a camp tradition, by the way—the inedible food I mean. Things were made from powders mixed with the alkali water from the artesian well, and the result was indescribable. This time it was some sort of pasta with sauce I think. I didn’t have any, but there was some sort of lemonade-like drink and maybe bread or rolls or something. I wasn’t worried—but the people who ran the camp were.
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, “Steve got back from the beach [wrote Bruce] and my father said that It was just beginning to be peaceful.” He added a parenthetical explanation “without the phone ringing”. And after dropping me off at OMSI the rest of my family “went straight to the station and as we turned in the driveway of KXL, they came on the air; we picked them up on the transistor. They still have a really feeble signal, but [my father] got them some parts from KKEY this afternoon and they are okay.” Also my morning glory had reached the top of the trellis and was spreading along the top of the living-room roof.

22 June 2017

The Twonky [2008]


[Originally posted 22 June 2008]
I
 read in the news that China is blocking still more websites in honor of the Olympics, and I see that ERV is still at war with the semicolon, so nothing much has changed. My brother’s macaw has quit squawking now that I figured out that she wanted food in her dish, which quiets things down some here. I spent the time today I would have written something trying to figure out where much of the internet had gone. I tried to check out CNN—nothing. I tried to read something in National Review—gone. Yahoo was still operating, and most of the blogs seemed to be up and functioning, but virtually all news sources (except FOX, for some reason, if that counts) had disappeared.
Being me I quickly jumped to the conclusion that right-wing terrorist militias had taken over the news outfits of the world and that from now on we would be forced to rely on government handouts for our alleged information. It wasn’t at all reassuring to find that Comcast appeared to be broadcasting a news show where CNN Headline News was supposed to be on the TV. One of my nephews, however, suggested that I should try accessing CNN through an internet proxy, and sure enough, that worked. CNN was still there; I just couldn't get to it from my usual point of departure.
Feeling a little like a character in that recent episode of South Park—the one where the internet disappeared—I sent my nephew down the street to his father’s house to see whether they still had the internet up there. (This is my other brother's house—not the one who left his macaw here with me for the week; he’s in Pendleton for an aerobatics competition. This is the brother who keeps fish, brews beer, and cooks the most amazing Chinese food.) A few minutes later my nephew returned, reporting that there was still internet a mere three blocks away, so whatever was keeping us from CNN et al was only targeting us, seemingly. (Okay, that’s generalizing from very selected instances, but still—it’s a straw in the wind, an augury of the cosmic powers.)
“It’s got to be the router,” my nephew explained, launching into a short dissertation that conveyed to me little except that apparently tiny demons live in our router and one of them had got lazy and was refusing to do his job. A high-ranking demon, apparently, or there wouldn’t be so much of the damn internet missing. A few minutes and a couple of resets later the internet was back up and running again, and I was back at my keyboard launching data into cyberspace.
So I guess there were no terrorist right-wing militias clamping down on my news—this time, anyway. And it wasn’t an evil corporate plot to destroy the internet either. Still, I’ve got used to living my childhood fantasy of having all the news of the world brought to my doorstep and available at my command—The Guardian, the Times of India, The Podunk Gazette and Cross-Time Wanderer—and it’s downright unnerving to have it taken away from me at the whim of some internet demon. What if next time it’s my ISP making decisions about what I should or should not be reading or listening to over the magic intertubes? Or some anonymous functionary in the depths of the great bureaucracy that passes for the free enterprise system here? The Department of Appropriate Content has decided that your choice of information is not acceptable by the community standards established by Free Information Act of 2007 and from now on you will abide by the Decency Provision (Subsection 3A, Paragraph 72) as determined by a committee of your peers….
A million years or so ago, in the golden age of sf, a fellow named Henry Kuttner wrote about a futuristic record player that took it upon itself to censor its owner’s choice in music, books, and—well, everything. It ended badly. The day that the machines that bring us content, whether it be food, music, or news, start telling us what to eat, listen to, or read, is not yet. Still—
I can’t help wondering, what the hell is it like to live in China?
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