31 December 2015

Milestone


O
n this day, 31 December 12015 (H.E.), I have now been blogging for exactly ten years. It’s an arbitrary milestone, but I personally rather like them, so noting it would seem to be in order. On the other hand, I have absolutely nothing to say about it.
So, what the hell. Here there be hippogryphs and divers beasts. Remember the Maine. Look out for the horse cars. And so it goes.

09 December 2015

Out But Not Down


S
tatus update: I’ve been having a hard time writing recently at least in part from the pressure of what’s going on around me. Yeah, okay, that’s an excuse, not a justification, but events have been exhausting. Most notably I’ve had a cold-like disease that while seemingly minor drained my energy considerably, stressful (separate) Thanksgivings with two (shall we say) branches of my family not on speaking terms with each other, and finally just two days ago a flood in the basement rooms I rent. It wasn’t much of a flood, as floods go—just an inch or so of water running through my bedroom and bathroom, but the chaos is considerable. In addition to removing the water and throwing out masses of stuff that had fallen into it and become useless, I’ve had people coming through to rip out the baseboards and install loud electric fans to dry the place out—these sent by my landlord.
As far as I can tell I haven’t lost anything of significance. Somehow in the chaos two fragile dime novels I own (related to the Modoc War) fell into the filthy flood water and turned up while I was cleaning up, but the plastic envelopes they were in appear to have done their jobs. (I won’t know for sure until they’ve dried off sufficiently for me to safely open them and remove the contents, but they appear to be safe inside.) A mass of receipts I was saving to show that I have in fact paid rent and performed other significant cultural rituals likewise ended up a sodden mass of indistinguishable garbage, but (keeping my fingers crossed) there’s a reasonable likelihood I’ll never need them. My towels are somewhat the worse for wear, but none of them are new, and they should continue to serve their original function.
Jesus F. Christ, though—waking up to the sound of water cascading through my window and across the small table I pretend is a desk (the antique desk I had for over forty years was deliberately destroyed a year and a half ago by minions sent by a lawyer with instructions to clear the house out) is something I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget. It was startling, to say the least. And it woke me out of a sound sleep. And I haven’t really slept much since then, what with one thing and another.
So, please note—I’m not complaining, not in the least—just explaining. I had entry-drafts for St. Nicholas’ Day (6 December) and Pretend to be a Time-Traveler Day (8 December), but I’ve missed them, so I guess they’ll have to wait until next year. Sorry about that. Still, I haven’t lost that old holiday spirit. I’m trying, mind you; it’s just hard to shake sometimes.

05 December 2015

22 November 2015

Dumbasininity of the Day


T
he truth is that the study of evolution and creationism is historical science, not laboratory science. Some aspects of this historical science can be studied and analyzed in the laboratory, but how this actual science gets extrapolated back into history depends on one’s worldview. If you believe there is no god and that everything around us came from nothing, then you will be convinced that the laboratory science supports evolution. If you believe in God and the historical Genesis account, you will see clearly how this same laboratory science supports creationism.—Jim Hittepole
[“Letter: Science Supports Creationism,” in Statesville Record & Landmark, 11 November 2015]

20 November 2015

Quotation of the Day


I
f you want to understand US foreign policy, this is it: we are terrified of ‘foreigners’, so we build up a massive military that lets us bully everyone else, but when battered, fearful men, women, and children knock on our door and ask for mercy and understanding, we blubber in fear and add extra locks. We’re cowards. Understand that, you understand America.—P. Z. Myers
[from “Cowards,” Pharyngula, 20 November 2015]

05 November 2015

Quotation of the Day


T
he “culture of offence” absurdly implies that civility and manners are all that are needed to stop abductions and the slaughter of generations from Nigeria, Iran to Algeria. But the “culture of offence” is a smokescreen. It serves to legitimise Islamist terror and blame the victims. It misses the point. Being a woman, a freethinker, being gay, being unveiled, improperly veiled, an atheist, going to school, driving a car, having sex, falling in love, laughing out loud, dancing … “offends” them. Calling for civility, censorship, silence or “respect” for the “offended” is merely heeding the Islamist demand for submission at the expense of dissenters.—Maryam Namazie

31 October 2015

Poem Page

I
n October of 1962 there appeared in the Halloween issue of The Star a short poem in honor of the season. It read (more or less):
     A Halloween Poem. Copyright 1961
You’re looking at a post
When suddenly a ghost
Jumps out and gives a very frightful BOO!
A witch goes riding by
Away up in the sky
And suddenly a black cat howls at you.
The goblins have begun
To have a lot of fun
And then you think “Good grief! It’s Halloween!”
The Star was a short-lived periodical put out by a couple of grade-school kids (me and a friend, actually) from late 1961 to mid-1963 with a brief revival in early 1965. There were perhaps a dozen issues, with no more than fifteen or twenty copies made of each. We sold them to friends, family, and classmates. Only a handful of scattered copies survive.
The poem was mine (I say with reservations), and I wrote it in fifth grade—for what purpose I’m not sure. I wrote stuff like this constantly, often takeoffs and imitations. (I burlesqued Sara Coleridge’s “The Months” for one, by featuring the drawbacks of each month; and I transformed Jane Taylor’s “The Star” into a celebration of artificial satellites.) Most of it had no purpose except to entertain my friends and family, and to some extent to relieve the frustrations of school.
Fifth grade was particularly irritating, what with having a teacher who began the day with prayer and fire-and-brimstone preaching, before launching into a program of rote learning and copying paragraphs off the blackboard or out of books to be handed in and never seen again. (Mrs. Allen didn’t believe in creative writing or returning papers.) Definitions had to be memorized exactly; deviate from the text as handed down by Mrs. Allen by as much as a single word and that answer was wrong. None of this new-fangled nonsense about the idea being the important thing for her; no, memorization was the key whether you understood it or not.
It was in Mrs. Allen’s class that I wrote a poem about Halloween, a poem that my friends at least found amusing enough to hear, recite—and in at least one case, remember. It was not quite the poem as given above, however. You may have noticed something off about the second verse—it is half as long as the first, and is missing a rhyme for the word “Halloween.” As originally written it was a full verse, and there was a rhyme-word—but I have no copy of it from that time, and have to rely on my aging memory. The missing first three lines should have read:
From somewhere up the street
You hear a “trick or treat,”
And a yellow jack o’ lantern can be seen.
In spite of the lapse of time I’m actually quite certain of these lines, although I suppose it could have been down the street rather than up it. At least when I turned this paper up a few years back the other lines were all as I’d remembered them. But even with that the story is a little more complicated.
As I said, I don’t know why I wrote this—but I must have intended it for something, because I gave it to my mother to edit, which I normally did only for something I was submitting to somebody somewhere—a teacher, an editor, whatever. It wouldn’t have been for my teacher; Mrs. Allen had no tolerance for creative efforts by children. (Her light reading, she told us repeatedly, consisted of the Bible and Emerson’s essays.) We didn’t have any sort of literary magazine at the school, as far as I can recall. I might have planned to submit it to a contest or something—but if so that detail now escapes me.
It might have been intended for the first issue of The Star. I was definitely working on it in late October 1961, and I might have planned on including it. I probably didn’t, since the issue actually came out in early November (the last item I added, which I had to make room for, was the death of James Thurber on the 2nd), but that might have been my plan. As far as I know no copy of that issue survives; there were only three of them (since I did it with typewriter and carbonless paper) and I sold them all. But anyway, if I was planning on including it that might explain why I submitted it to my mother.
And that’s where I ran into a problem. You see, the final three lines originally noted that what with things looking as peculiar as they do, you exclaim Good God—maybe it’s Halloween. My mother said that the piece was fine as it stood except for one thing—the expression “Good God” had to go. She suggested “Good grief” as a replacement.
That was all very well and good, but as originally written God was my rhyme-word at the end of the fifth line, probably rhyming with odd at the end of the fourth. (I remember the sense of the thing, but not the exact wording.) Changing God to grief necessitated rewriting the fourth line as well. And, although the original lines had come easily to me, now I couldn’t think of anything that worked.
Abruptly a couplet—the one about goblins given above—popped into my mind and I threw it out at my mother. That’s fine, she said, but how are you going to finish it now? Well, it was easy enough. I didn’t like it, but I truncated the original line about it maybe being Halloween to a sudden realization in half a line, and the verse was done. And my friends seemed to like it as well as the original, so I just let it lie. And a year went by.
During that time my best friend took over as publisher and general manager of The Star (so the surviving issues say) while I held the position of editor. Other friends and relatives are listed as artists, reporters, and so on. We were now using a hectograph (or rather two hectographs) as our printing press. And I seem to have been losing interest in the thing. The Halloween issue of 1962 appears to be almost entirely my friend’s work. Page 3, the poem page, begins with the piece as noted, defective second verse and all.
You see, my friend had memorized the poem—but had forgotten part of it. (Years later he reprinted it in the same defective form for a school paper—also from memory.) It was flattering, I suppose, but I would have been a lot happier if he had managed to remember the whole damn thing—or better yet given me a chance to fix it.
Well, sic transit I guess. Time has passed on, and so has the publisher of The Star, and its chief reporter as well. But I survive, and even if I don’t give a damn now, I feel as if I owe something to the kid I once was. So here, as an act of belated justice to the ten-year-old who would have liked to see his poem published the way he wrote it, I will give it as best I can, allowing for the limitations of my sources and my memory:
You’re looking at a post
When suddenly a ghost
    Jumps out and gives a very frightful BOO!
A witch goes riding by
Away up in the sky
    And suddenly a black cat howls at you.
From somewhere up the street
You hear a “Trick or treat”
    And a yellow jack o’ lantern can be seen.
Since things are looking odd,
You stop and say, “Good God!
    I think perhaps it might be Halloween!”

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