24 November 2009

When Giving Thanks is Not Enough

As we move slowly into the holiday season I expect to be ruminating to some extent over the significance of Yuletide, and perhaps to be taking potshots at some of the seasonal inanities. For the moment, however, it’s still this side of Thanksgiving, the harvest festival the pilgrims stole from the Iroquois, and my mind is at least somewhat free for other sorts of meditations.

This was the year we picked, for whatever reason, to have Thanksgiving here again, in spite of being less than halfway through remodeling, and having a house filled with many and varied inconveniences. We actually had things halfway pulled together, at least till today. I've never got through a Thanksgiving without something blowing up, and this one turns out to be no exception. With out-of-town guests starting to arrive already, and the feast-in-embryo filling our refrigerators to overflowing, the plumbing under the sink picked today of all days to explode. Well, we managed to get that hacked together with a temporary fix, and I was just on the point of congratulating myself on getting through another holiday disaster unscathed, when the real disaster happened.

A mysterious hole opened up in the yard, and that turned out to be where sewage was escaping from a hole in the underground pipe that ought to be carrying it. Investigation showed that the bend that should have been directing the waste out to the sewer had shattered somehow—it looked as though it had been made of some sort of ceramic—and we had a really disgusting mess on our hands. And to make things really charming, while my nephew Brandon was out excavating the pipe, someone who shall remain nameless forgot and flushed the downstairs toilet, bringing the fury of Brandon down upon us all with a vengeance, and we now have to replace the downstairs toilet as well as repair the goddamn sewer line. So all in all Thanksgiving is off to a roaring start, and I'm thinking of heading to the hills till it’s over. We’ll see, though. It could be entertaining. Always assuming that I can stand the pressure of being around people.

17 November 2009

Quotation of the Day

Creationists are not the heralds of a coming paradigm shift; they are the rotting detritus of the old regime of unreason that has haunted the human race for far too long. There's a difference between maintaining an open environment that encourages fresh new ideas to emerge and tolerating the sloppy housecleaning that allows moldy scum to flourish.

08 November 2009

Quotation of the Day

Most people in the United States are far too weak-minded to contribute in a positive way to the political process as it stands and should be thanking the Christ Jesus for the fact that America freely allows functional illiterates and Elmer Fudd clones to vote on anything. But thanks to the wonders of our version of democracy, they are treated as equals and are therefore misled into thinking that the shit they have to say has more merit than that of a gopher on Ecstasy.

Today's Placeholder Post

Things are a bit fuzzy around the edges today; I had a bad attack of vertigo (or something like it) last night; I couldn't walk and kept falling over. It was probably pretty funny to watch, but not so much from my perspective. Then today I've had innumerable interruptions; the result is that I have a couple of posts started but nothing finished, and little work done. Maybe I will be able to accomplish something tomorrow.

A little uninterrupted time would be nice.

And I've got a couple of new books from the library I want to examine; maybe they'll give me something to write about.

Onward.

07 November 2009

If You Want To Know a Girl's Faults

Today I woke up rather abruptly to news, brought by my niece, that the electric bill was overdue; I paid for it, turning a comfortable balance in my bank account to next to nothing to get by on for the month. Ah, well, such is life, I guess.

While I was fumbling about online attempting to get my bearings, I checked out John Webbe's familiar saying about the privileges enjoyed under British rule:

Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value, if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?

You know, the one that's usually misquoted and misattributed to Benjamin Franklin as:

Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.

Well, the very first source that turned up for it was a quotation site called QuoteDB; and it had both the fake "Freedom" beginning and the misattribution to Franklin instead of Webbe. Okay, my first thought was that I won't be using it as a source of apt quotations any time soon. Of course, any site—or book for that matter—that doesn't give sources for its quotations should not be trusted. Having grown up in the pre-internet age, I first learned this rule about books, actually. It was kind of discouraging to learn just how fucked up the very books we were being taught from in school were. One time when my brother got called down for supposedly misclassifying some animal in sixth grade, and he brought in some current publication to show that his information was, in fact, well-based. In a subsequent parent-teacher conference his teacher said something that has stuck with me ever since: "If you can't trust the Encyclopedia Britannica, who can you trust?"

Well, I don't trust reference sources, not even the all-wise and all-knowing repository for common knowledge that is Wikipedia. I mean, I'm a Wikipedia editor—a distinction that means about as much as being a minister in the Universal Life Church (which I also am)—and believe me, the common wisdom of the masses is just as likely to be wrong as the specialized wisdom of experts. Especially when you have to take into account the whole Neutral Point of View (NPOV) thing, which places Baconian and Oxfordian loons on the same level as qualified scholars who have actually studied the subject. If every opinion is equal, then common knowledge is a howling babel of discordant voices devoid of any standard for making a qualified judgment.

But yes, when a quotation site makes such an egregious blunder, especially in these internet days, it opens it up to some questions. As QuoteDB only contains 4099 quotations from 631 authors, you'd think they could at least get them right. So, anyway, I got curious about what else they might have off, and I checked out their Benjamin Franklin page. I didn't make any systematic attempt to examine them, but the two I looked at couldn't be found in Franklin's writings. (These were:

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

and

Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.)

The one that set off alarm bells in my mind, however, was right there on the first page. It read:

To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girl friends.

WTF? How could anybody on earth think these were Franklin's words? The underlying concept could have been his, maybe, but the language? It's moments like this that make me despair of our educational system. How can anybody grow up thinking that this was the language of the eighteenth century—and of Benjamin Franklin at that? Is his autobiography not required reading in schools any more? What gives?

Well, I just made a trip out to the library yesterday, and (given my limitations on actually leaving the house) I didn't feel up to making another trip today, but this old dog has been learning some new tricks, and I decided to go to Google Books first, this time, and see whether I couldn't find out there what I wanted to know. I was not in the least surprised to find that there was not a single eighteenth or nineteenth century source for this one, not attributed to Franklin, or to anybody else. When I got to the twentieth century, however, I found this, in a book available only in what Google calls a snippet view:

To a friend, who asked him how to find out a girl's faults, he gave the sage advice to praise her to her girl friends. Another friend asked him how to prevent thieves from draining a barrel of beer which he kept in his yard; Franklin told him to leave a barrel of wine near the barrel of beer.

This came from a 1938 book by Edwin Lillie Miller, volume 2 p. 28, published by J. B. Lippincott. Please note that this, the oldest source turned up by Google Books, does not give it as a quotation, but only as a paraphrase. So this looks like one of those cases where somebody's version of something Franklin said has been turned into a direct quotation.

So what on earth did Franklin actually say, that could have been turned into the quotation as given above? I couldn't find anything that actually matched the description as given by Miller—that is, an answer to a friend on the subject. But Franklin wrote a lot, and he was written about a lot, and I (for one) certainly haven't read every word written by or about him. I did, however, find something that could easily have been the source for the paraphrase, and it does show that the underlying concept is, indeed, Franklin's. It comes from one of the letters he used to insert into his own paper under a pseudonym as if from a reader. Writing under the name of Alice Addertongue, "a young Girl of about thirty-five" who lived with her mother, he had this to say:

If I have never heard Ill of some Person, I always impute it to defective Intelligence; for there are none without their Faults, no, not one. If she be a Woman, I take the first Opportunity to let all her Acquaintance know I have heard that one of the handsomest or best Men in Town has said something in Praise either of her Beauty, her Wit, her Virtue, or her good Management. If you know any thing of Humane Nature, you perceive that this naturally introduces a Conversation turning upon all her Failings, past, present, and to come.

This appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 12 September 1732. (I got it here, from Albert Henry Smyth's 1905 edition of the Writings of Benjamin Franklin, volume 2, p. 193.) Now this actually is the language of Franklin's time, and at least for the moment, pending some further correction, I'm going to go with this as the actual source for the bogus Franklin quotation.

So as it stands this appears to have been one of those quotations that got simplified over time, to turn something a bit wordy into something more concise. Just as Walt Kelly's "Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us" turned over time into "We have met the enemy and he is us", so Alice Addertongue's comment as given above transformed into "To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girl friends." It should however be noted that the words in question are Miller's, not Franklin's. And, I would also note, they were originally written by a creation of Franklin's; this Alice Addertongue is not Franklin in drag, far from it. She is as much a character of his, and not an admirable one, as Iago is Shakespeare's, or Simple J. Malarkey is Walt Kelly's. Words written for a character, or paraphrasing somebody else's views, are not the same as words the person wrote or said on his or her own behalf.

In any case, it is clear to me at least that QuoteDB should not be used for anything whatsoever. If you should find an apt quotation there, try to run it down to its source. Clearly QuoteDB has no standards of any kind, if they let this kind of crap by. And crap that's so easily checked, at that. Words are all I have, and they fail me now.

06 November 2009

"Everyone is Suspect, and There is No Peace"

We talked about the rage and the ways in which it steals your peace. I have been so angry that my whole body shakes and my vision blurs. It’s a rage that consumes you. You want to lash out but where. You have questions but what answers can ever fully explain why? You sleep without dreaming and move through the world like a zombie.

I'm not a regular reader of Womanist Musings, but I stop by occasionally (there's a great blog roll, for one thing), and today Renee has up a powerful piece that everyone ought to read. "My Friend Called To Say She Was Raped." There's a title to conjure with. What do you say? I've been there myself, actually, though not on the front lines like this. There's a sense of inadequacy, combined with absolute rage. The desire to somehow make things better combined with the knowledge that there is nothing that can ever put things right. And I have nothing to draw on, no comparable experience, no basis to offer any comfort or hope...

You see, you can theoretically understand rape but living with the after effects is another story entirely. Rape is evil. It is fucking evil. I don’t think you really know it, until it happens to you. It makes you sick inside...

Exactly. This is one of those things you really have to have been through to know how to deal with. A rape survivor—somebody who's been there—maybe she'd know—

I don’t know how to deal with this. She was talking and I kept flashing back to my own rape. People tell you that in time that you get over it, but I don’t think that is the case. In time you may learn to put it beside you, however; I don’t think that you ever put it behind you.

Oh, wow—but—but—surely—

Each day that I walk through this life, I feel his hands on my throat, I see his face, and feel his breath on my skin.

But—well, there's the transformative effect, the opportunity to use an experience, however horrific, to help somebody else? to make a change for the better?

I want to live in a world where rape is non existent. I want to live in a world where women matter. Thing is, I don’t even have the courage to write about it. ... God help me, I’m still scared.

No, there's no lemonade here. Read the damn piece. It's not going to make your day, and it may make you cry (I did anyway), but—well, just read it. It's worth it.

05 November 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

We see no reason why gunpowder treason should e'er be forgot.

03 November 2009

Running on Empty

Ed Brayton calls attention to this website devoted to the campaign of George Hutchins, a Republican from North Carolina. From the appearance I can only assume that the guy is both color-blind and insane. He has two mottoes that he features prominently; the first is:

Anyone who is not part of the solution, is part of the problem.

The unnecessary comma is his, by the way. I have not attempted to duplicate the eye-numbing colors. His other motto:

America is a Great Nation, due to our Diversity; but only when, This Diversity is voluntary.

Again, I have made no attempt to capture the clashing colors of the motto. And the random punctuation is all his.

And here is one last gem of wisdom from this character:

We must use all of our resources NOW, to prevent ALL future U.S. Generations from suffering under the same bondage which were forced upon all of us, due to the so-called 1964 Civil Rights Act.

02 November 2009

Another Placeholder Entry

It's Monday here, which according to the old rhyme (well, it's not that old, as my nephew Brandon made it up a couple of years ago) means we should be having moose, but we're actually falling back on Saturday's menu, and going for soup. In theory we should have three or four different soups and/or stews going soon, but in practice time has been eaten up with racing to the store for ingredients and getting out the good serving implements in honor of upcoming Thanksgiving. Anyway, the upshot is that I don't have a blog entry ready for the day—not the one on Edward III I've been trying to get out, nor the follow-up on the Halloween book-burning, which somehow got eaten by the internet while I was trying to work on it. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.

01 November 2009

A Python in the House

Well, today's excitement is that we have a new household member—a Children's python named Solid Snake. Wikipedia tells me that Children's pythons come from Australia, but Solid came from Clackamas. He seems to be alert and lively, and he came with his own environment and food. Apparently he eats frozen mice, though where he finds them in the wild I'm not absolutely certain.

Well, fortunately Solid's not my python. He belongs to Tummler, a fellow householder and part-time boarder who's studying to be a veteran. Or maybe a veterinarian. It's late for me, and the words are blurring in front of my eyes and there's only so much that spell checking can accomplish.

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