24 July 2016

Lights Out


W
ell, my connection has snapped; my laptop is out except for emergencies, and I’m writing this on a strange word processor on a borrowed machine, with no telling whether or if the thing will work or go up the chimney like sparklers on Halloween. Or whatever I actually meant to say.
I’m hoping that this makes sense, and that I can still contact the outside world. I am not happy with the situation, but it should be temporary, Allah willing.
We’ll see what happens, I guess, using dummy text for a dummy entry. If all works out, then it’s hip hip hooray for Mowgli and the Seven Dwarfs and all God’s chillen that live in a shoe. Otherwise, well, selah.

21 July 2016

Absurdist Political Theatre


S
capegoat Ted Cruz played his appointed role on the political stage by heaping the sins of the Republican party on his own head and ritually expelling himself into the desert. It was a remarkable performance, and the party appears all the stronger for it. Mind you, it has something of the “Songe d’Automne” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee” quality to it, given that the iceberg has been struck, the crew has abandoned the ship, and the oblivious captain is passing out toy boats and candy lifesavers on the sharply-tilted deck.
Somebody isn’t thinking straight here, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me.
Inviting the Corruptor himself to take the wheel seems like an odd way to protest corruption in government, but I suppose the body politic, like the hidden hand, knows what it’s doing. Who knows more about sin than El Diablo, after all? It’s like fighting fire with fire. There are those that think one of the other elemental forces might be more effective—earth, say, or water, maybe—but what worth are such notions when the will of the people has expressed itself?
So was Ted Cruz’s self-immolation entirely in vain? Or will he, like the phœnix, rise from the ashes of his humiliation? Will Trump soar like an eagle tonight? Or will he sputter like the Thunderbolt Grease-Slapper before conversion? These questions, and many others, will be answered in the next episodes of As the World Burns.

17 July 2016

Breitbarting the News, Conservative Treehouse Style


W
ell, I finally took a look at that idiotic Conservative tree house site that Snopes mentioned as the source of that inept hatchet-job on Philando Castile I commented on the other day. It was about as inane as I figured it would be. I mean, it’s always a good idea to take a look at things for yourself if possible, and every once in awhile it pays off, but this wasn’t one of those times.
No, the article there is every bit as idiotic as advertised. The site turns out to be devoted to breitbarting the news, meaning that anything there would have to be checked against authentic sources before being considered, and a lot of disinformation is being passed on. For example it is stated as a fact (now disproved by the family’s release of the document) that Castile had no permit for his gun, and that it is a fact (now disproved by the officer’s own lawyer’s statement) that the car was not stopped for a broken taillight. I didn't bother with going any further; when a source gets things this elementary wrong it’s not worth my time and attention. Or yours either, I imagine.

14 July 2016

Half-Jelled Goods


M
y ability to communicate with the world at large seems to be getting thinner as my laptop flickers fitfully in the darkness. How long before the strained connection snaps is anybody’s guess. But, in the meantime, rather than go down without a fight, I’ll put up some half-jelled goods in the store window, in the hopes of getting back to them later on.
And speaking of half-jelled goods, it’s been quite interesting to watch the evolution (shall we say) of certain recent stories in the new from half-baked rumor to three-quarters baked narrative. We’ve seen a story about snipers coordinated in the fashion of certain terrorist groups morph into another lone-shooter item, for example. And that shooter’s death change from self-inflicted gunshot to the far less plausible-sounding blown up by a robot.
History starts off moist and fluid, and only gradually hardens to a definite form. Eventually that definitive form may be hacked at, refashioned, chipped and broken—and then, still later, mangled and lost in the remorseless stream of time—but in the early stages it is still plastic and formless, ready to assume any shape that the artist desires.
Once it has assumed a form—or often several forms, depending on the teller—it resists change. Not decisively, necessarily—the return of the Shah to Iran by popular acclamation held the stage for a decade or so, before being replaced by a narrative of his being forced on an unwilling people by a CIA plot, now apparently considered to be a solid Truth, unchangeable and unchallengeable. That the ancient Greeks were incapable of higher flights of mechanical fancy is challenged by the finding of a single device in a long-forgotten shipwreck, and history gets reshaped. Discoveries, revelations—and the changing requirements of political and social movements—cause the historical plates to shift, the chronological stars to realign, however you want to look at it.
Did the underlying stuff of history, the actual sequence of events change? Presumably not, though I’m not a philosopher and I don’t pretend to play one on the internet. What changes are the uses to which we put the past, its coherence and relevance to the present moment. The way we perceive its actors and participants. Accounts of the wars of extermination against the native American peoples changed in the mid-twentieth century at least in part because contemporary movements for social justice forced a reexamination of policies of the past and the histories that implicitly supported them. Historians now deliberately sought out previously-overlooked evidence of the motives and tactics of the target population, and the narrative changed in consequence.
Were the old accounts of the pioneer historians false, then, and the newer accounts true? Not necessarily. I mean, yes, there are things that made it into the history books that never happened, sure—but most of the time it’s more a matter of what got emphasized and what didn’t, what got included and what got left out. Whose accounts were considered reliable and whose were looked at with suspicion.
As a classic instance let me cite the question of whether pioneer Indian-fighter Ben Wright attempted to poison a Modoc peace delegation in 1852. The rumor surfaced in print some twenty years later—but all historians rejected it without even considering it, noting it only as an example of the sorts of defamatory statements made in the heat of a controversy. But as such things go it’s actually fairly well documented. We have the statement of one of Ben Wright’s men that he bought strychnine for that purpose. We have the statement of the druggist that he had sold strychnine to Ben Wright’s representative for use in poisoning the Modoc delegation. We have the admission of another of Ben Wright’s men that a member of their expedition warned the Modoc delegation not to eat the meat Wright sent them for a feast. Not surprisingly some more recent books have switched sides and now report the attempted poisoning as a fact. What changed? It wasn’t the available information; it was the willingness of the historian to consider the possibility that a pioneer hero might have acted in a frankly despicable fashion.
So, anyway, for the moment it seems that we have to accept that a lone gunman, babbling threats like a cartoon villain, killed and wounded a dozen officers before being taken out by a robot bearing a bomb. There’s nothing plausible about that scenario at any point—but that’s history for you. And plausibility be damned.

09 July 2016

A New Low in Victim Vilification


V
arious idiots writing about the police shooting of Philando Castile have made mistakes rising to the Peter Hasson level, though lapses of logic rather than misunderstandings of English. It’s all about wishful thinking—obviously if a police officer killed somebody, he must have had it coming. Troglodyte logic. So, it’s claimed, Philando Castile must have been up to no good. His gun, they say, was illegal. Where do they get this notion—I mean, besides pulling it out of thin air in a really unconvincing conjuring trick? Well, a local county sheriff noted that Castile had not applied to his office for a concealed carry permit—therefore, according to troglodyte logic Castile didn’t have one. Never mind that there are eighty-seven counties in Minnesota, and therefore eighty-six other counties that could have issued it. So far such evidence as we have is that he had such a permit; according to the Star Tribune “a source confirmed Castile was issued the permit when he lived in Robbinsdale” and as of this moment at least no official source has claimed otherwise. Time and new evidence (of course) could change this, but there is no reason to suppose that these idiots have anything of the sort.
These same idiots are claiming that Philando Castile was a suspect who was wanted for armed robbery—this on no basis whatsoever except pure speculation, as far as I can tell. It is possible—based on a recording of unknown origin that may document the rationale of the officer that pulled Castile over for a broken taillight—that Castile was targeted because an officer thought his nose resembled that of a man wanted for armed robbery—but even if we consider the information as valid, that’s a far cry from the claim that Castile was wanted for armed robbery. Apparently—and I haven’t seen this for myself in the wild so to speak—people are claiming that Castile’s girlfriend smoked Newport cigarettes—the very brand that was stolen during the armed robbery—and that this somehow constitutes evidence of malfeasance or whatever. This doesn’t even rise to the level of troglodyte logic. By that line of argument anybody who has a twenty-dollar-bill in his possession could be considered as a suspect for any bank or convenience-store robbery in which twenty-dollar-bills were among the loot.
According to Snopes this dumbassary goes back to an article in Conservative Treehouse, whatever that may be. It figures, I suppose. There are a lot of people out there with no brains and too much time on their hands. I’m not in the least surprised that people are trying to vilify the victim of a police shooting—that’s just par for the course these days. I am surprised, however, by the poor quality of this hatchet-job.

20 June 2016

Clueless Clown Blames Others for his own Ignorance of English


S
ome clown writing for something called the Daily Caller (shouldn’t that be the Daily Howler?) is so ignorant of the English language that he thought the common expression for good meant for the better rather than forever. I know English is hard, but I’d have a lot more respect for the guy if he simply admitted that he’d screwed up, rather than attack the people who pointed out his idiotic mistake.
Let me just say this to this Peter Hasson guy—look, I don’t know how long you’ve been in this country, or where you’re getting your English-as-a-second-language instruction from, but you need to work harder at it, especially if you intend to continue writing in our language. Don’t blow your top when you make a dumbass mistake, but rather make an effort to learn from others who actually know how the language is spoken. And don’t attack people who point out your stupidity—it just makes you look like even more of an idiot that you did already.
Oh, yeah—you owe the person you attacked based on your own fucking error a heartfelt and abject apology. That’s just for your credibility, by the bye. Always assuming you give a shit how you look, of course.

15 June 2016

A Look Ahead to 1973


[The following piece appeared in the San Francisco Post on 8 April 1873. This is the only installment to appear in the extant issues.]
“C
an you come and dine with me?”
“Impossible, I assure you. I have an engagement in Fifth avenue at 5 o’clock, sharp, and it is now close on 3 by the electric clock of the floating tabernacle.”
The above conversation took place at the World Exchange, California street, in the month of May, in the year 1973. The youth who required his friend’s presence at the dinner table was one of those gay sons of fortune, who owned half a dozen balloons of various patterns, steam and air, and who one day speculating in the mining stocks of the newly discovered mines of Japan, and the next buying easily into aerial navigation shares in New York, and the double speed howitzer Postal Transfer Stock, the central depot of which was located in the Floating Sea Bathing and Resuscitation Resort, just half way between London and New York, and situated in a sequestered quarter of the Atlantic ocean, found himself in a few months a millionaire.
Augustus Henry Cacklton, however, consented to neglect his engagement at the house of a wealthy Knickerbocker to enjoy a quiet dinner, five thousand feet above the land level, with his friend Charles Spoonwell.
The fathers of both young men had speculated in the Flash Package Express Company’s shares, which sent ore, baggage and other light articles to European ports by submarine Atlantic stations.
Young Cacklton, when quite a boy, and just having graduated from the General information and foreign Historical Acquisition College, entered into the business of his parent with enthusiasm, and soon became an expert in submarine surveys. His chum Spoonwell was often invited to join in the favorite pastime of the period, namely, discharging iron bolts at the bellies of the leviathans that frequently came so near to the submarine stations as to endanger the safety of the freight that was passing and repassing on the rolling tracks of the company.
It was a gala day in San Francisco. For many hundred yards above the city, floated balloons of various colors and patterns, and the air was dense with the forms of flying traders, who, laden with burdens of wine and sweetmeats, proffered their dainties at every poised dining palace. Occasionally an Asiatic or European mass of holiday seekers floated by, many miles above the ordinary level, and sometimes the occupants of those gorgeous resorts recognizing an acquaintance, dropped down parachutically to exchange a few words of greeting with their California friends. Sometimes, one of the many beautiful island kingdoms of the period, changing its resting place from tropical seas to a more temporate clime, glided by in the soft evening air, supported by thousands of willing winged subjects, and followed by the careless idlers from all quarters of the globe, who had dined, or who were endeavoring by this exercise to acquire a good appetite for the principal meal of the day.
As Cacklton and his friend sat together, enjoying a course of tonno, which had come a few moments before from the Adriatic, the latter seemed to be under the influence of a profound melancholy.
“What is the matter?” asked Harry, carelessly shaking the ashes of a cigarette into St. George’s Channel; for the young men, having been caught in a strong current of air, had imperceptibly floated some five miles above those waters.
“I could hardly explain it to you, my dear fellow,” rejoined the other; “but I assure you, it is nothing serious—merely one of those unaccountable affections of the heart which proceed from unknown sources. Well, to be candid, a few months ago I became enamored of—now I know you will smile—of a mermaid waiting girl in an eating saloon on the submarine route, just fifteen hundred miles from New York. Of course, my dear boy, I was careful not to make any demonstrative display of my affection; but then, you know how a fellow will trip sometimes. I brought with me to the station a fancy submarine Patent Floater and Water Foamer, and as society was very flat down there, why we often had a quiet ride together.”
“So, so,” laughed the auditor of this romance. “I can imagine the rest. She accompanied you on the shark hunts, of course, and together you looked for pearls in oysters.”
“Well, something of that sort,” acknowledged Spoonwell; “but the climax of the affair came to pass when one day, while I was spearing sword fish, my air pipe, which you know was always connected with the main reservoir, broke; and, I assure you, my friend, I would have been inevitably smothered but for the presence of mind of my companion. She connected the broken portions at once, and carried me on her tail fin, half fainting, to the depot.”
“Quite a romance, indeed,” laughed the other; “but, hallo! who have we here?”
At that moment an elegantly constructed air chariot drew up by the veranda of the dining saloon, where the two young men were seated. Both vehicles were at this time immediately over the Sea of Galilee, and the white walls of Jerusalem gleamed in the distance. A lady in the prime of life, and with a parachute attached to her ankles, in case of accident, stood up on a beautifully embroidered cushion and said, in a clear and liquid voice:
“Your pardon, gentlemen, but having several hours ago departed from a broken arch of London bridge, from which I was engaged in sketching the ruins of St. Paul’s, and having in the meantime been overcome by sleep, I am completely bewildered as to my whereabouts. May I inquire if that sheet of water some miles below us is the lower lake of Killarney, as I am inclined to believe, or the Mediterranean, as some of my attendants would persuade me?”
The young men, bowing gracefully, informed her that it was the Sea of Galilee, and the gorgeous balloon pursued its way.
“Suppose,” said Cacklton, after a long pause, “we change our course, and run into yonder cloud. My supply of electricity is running rather short, and I want to get this tube charged in case we should run across an eagle.”
“As you like,” responded his friend, and in a moment they were in the center of a dark nebulous mass, from which the active attendants of the youths, rapidly extracted a large supply of sheet lightning for the popular sport of eagle shooting, a common amusement of the young bloods of the day.
 As they passed from the gloom, the sun was just setting over the imposing minarets of Constantinople.
 “In an hour,” remarked Spoonwell, “we shall be in San Francisco. But, hallo?” he added, as a newsboy, with the clipper constructed wings of the period, flew by, flinging dexterously into their car, as he passed them, the last edition of the evening paper.
 “I am anxious to see that sparring match between the wives of two of our excellent townsmen. They tell me Mrs. Judkin has been a long time in training.”
 “Dear me, and what an excellent muscle she has. Her husband is one of the best milliners in town, too.”
 As the gorgeous dining car hovered over San Francisco, Cacklton settled the bill, and the young men, arranging their parachutes, dropped swiftly down through the several thousand feet of space between them and the earth. Already the citizens of that gay town were preparing to enjoy the delicious moonlight. Some on gayly colored wings with silken lanterns pendant on each side, poised themselves on the housetops, or found amusement in making descents through skylights into the dwellings of their familiar friends. Others, in hired air cars or fancy balloons of their own, awaited impatiently the coming forth of the damsel whose presence was to make the ride so agreeable. And then as the evening wore on and the air cars shot upward, the sky seemed traversed by innumerable comets, and the whole scene was one of wonderful splendor and vivacity.
 As Cacklton and his friend picked their way through the ropes that held the swelling balloon to earth, a city messenger flew up and descended by the side of the former gentleman.
 “Mr. Spoonwell?” he inquired, with a respectful shake of his rear steering tail.
 “The same; what is it?”
 “Just by the shores of Goat Island Cemetery, where all the great monopolists of antiquity lie buried, a lady who just arrived from the Gulf of Tartary, awaits your presence.”
 “A sea lady, I understand you to say?”
 “Yes sir; but,” added the messenger, knowingly, “with the most beautiful eyes and scales I ever beheld.”
 Spoonwell scowled at this impertinence, and stopped to take leave of his friend.
 “Can you believe,” he said, on parting, “that our ancestors were so lamentably ignorant, as to consider the glimmering of truth then beginning to dawn on them as the grossest superstition, and to regard the idea of submarine beings with almost similar forms and similar tastes to ours, as the wildest of myths? But, farewell. If my suspicions are correct about this rendezvous, I shall have to travel all night in order to breakfast on the banks of the Amour river. Adieu!”
 What befel him shall be made the subject of the next chapter.
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