31 December 2013

Quotation of the Day

You cannot call yourself pro-liberty, even including the word in your name, if you are unwilling to recognize that the greatest oppressive force opposing freedom in America is unregulated greed. Libertarianism is a philosophy for the well-off, the privileged, and those who dream someday of being a wealthy boss with power over the peons. When capital is the measure of success, those who have it thrive at the expense of those who don’t; when we don’t have redistribution of wealth, we do not have equality of opportunity.

The US is already a libertarian paradise, and look what it gets us: a widening gap between rich and poor, a rotting infrastructure as the exploiters look for short term gains while neglecting services vital to those who can’t afford a limousine service, a corrupt and decadent privileged class, and thriving new political parties that are simply nuts. To use one of Ayn Rand’s favorite words, this country is infested with looters: only they’re not the poor, they’re not the mythical “welfare queens”, they’re bankers and obscenely overpaid executives and corporations that demand the right to buy elections.

And there stand the libertarians, the useful idiots who cheer them on.

A Xmas Tale (repost)

[[Eight years ago I launched Rational Rant with this post. Here it is again.]]

I must have left the windows open last night, as I see that news from the outside has somehow blown in and is lying in drifts on the rug this Seventh Day of Xmas of the Two Thousand Fifth year of the Common Era. The Seventh Day of Xmas (for all you Xians out there) … let’s see, what is that? Seven geese a-laying? Seven swans a-swimming? I know it’s not seven rings; those went to Tolkein’s dwarf-kings. According to folklore these seven, uh, geese or swans or whatever—birds, anyway, yeah, these seven birds stand for the seven deadly virtues or something. The seven sacraments. The seven evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, George and Ringo? No, that can’t be right. The seven churches the Elder John wrote to in his Apocalypse? They stand for something, anyway. It’s all a sort of cipher. Let me tell you how it all came to pass.

You see, back in the old days of once upon a time after Good King Wenceslas was no more, there came a king who knew not X and the ways of the Lord. And he sent a decree to all the land forbidding the practice of Xianity in all its glory, except for the one festival of Xmas. And Xmas, he decreed, must be celebrated with no mention of X, except in the word Xmas itself. And all the people groaned, for they felt sore oppressed.

How can we teach our children the true meaning of Xmas? the people cried. How can we teach them of the four evangelists, the twelve apostles, the two testaments, and the one X Himself? How indeed can we keep Xianity alive?

And a wise man among them rose and said, “If Santa and Frosty can boldly go forth this Xmastide, and only X dare not show His face, then we must craft a mask for Him. Let it be made of the fluffiest of Xmas nonsense, the nose of Rudolph, the kiss of the mistletoe, the lights of the Holiday Tree. But that will be only the outer face; inside will be the apostles, the evangelists, and even X Himself!”

“But how can that be?” exclaimed all the Xians in unison.

“Well,” said the wise man, “let us consider the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed, one for each of the twelve apostles. These are the points we must drum into the children. And what could be more exquisitely symbolic of these points than twelve drummers, each drumming away to beat the band?”

“Well, uh, maybe...” all the Xians said.

“And the eleven faithful disciples who carried the word to the eleven corners of the earth, are they not exactly like eleven pipers piping?”

And the people were silent, amazed by the words that came out of his mouth.

Now, somewhat nettled by the peoples’ refusal to understand, the wise man demanded of them, “Now, what about lords? What do they suggest to you?”

“The payment of taxes?” ventured one Xian cautiously.

“Loud drunken parties at night?” suggested another.

“No,” said the wise man impatiently, “Something to do with Xianity.”

“Our Lord and Savior Jesus X?” said another Xian.

“No no no no no,” said the wise man, “not at all. Lords, plural. Ten of them. Ten leaping lords.”

And there was a blank silence upon the crowd, and some began edging quietly away.

“The ten commandments,” said the wise man. “Do they not suggest the ten commandments, the lords of our conduct, leaping out like flames of fire to caution us?”

“Uh, yeah, okay,” said all the Xians in unison.

“Now think of ladies, nine of them, dancing—what do they suggest to you?”

“A Xmas ball!” exclaimed a Xian woman.

“No! Isn’t it obvious?” said the wise man, visibly striving to control his temper. “Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the spirit.”

“The what?” exclaimed the crowd, and some of them left quickly by the back way, for they were beginning to feel sore oppressed again.

“The nine fruits of the spirit—look it up,” snapped the wise man. “It’s in Galatians 5:22-3: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.”

“This is a key doctrine?” asked a Xian doubtfully.

“It’s in the good book, isn’t it?” replied the wise man.

“Now I get it,” called out one Xian. “When Rudolph and Frosty and Santa go forth, we will send with them twelve drummers and eleven pipers and ten lords and nine ladies to set forth the points of the apostles creed and the nine fruits of the spirit and they will drown them out with their noise and bedlam.”

And the wise man groaned and held his head, for now he was feeling sore oppressed. “No, I’m not suggesting street theater,” he said. “What I’m talking about is a simple Xmas song, a song we can teach the children, a song that only they will know embodies the most sacred principles of Xianity.”

“How would that work?” asked all the remaining Xians.

“Like this.” And the wise man found his pitch with a tuning fork and sang, “On the first day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And this has a secret meaning the children will recognize?”

“Yes, of course. For the outsiders this will be an ordinary secular love between one man and one woman, but the children will know that it is the love of X for the Church.”

“And the partridge?”

“The partridge is obviously Jesus X Himself.”

“And the pipers will play this and the drummers drum along with it, and the lords and ladies will sing it?”

“No, they’re part of the song. There’s more.” Again the wise man sang, “On the second day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“Oh, I see!” exlaimed a Xian. “The dove represents the Holy Spirit, and there are two of them to represent the two descents of the Spirit, at X’s baptism and at Pentecost!”

“Seems to me,” said another, “the two doves could just as well represent the two shoes we put on every morning before going to work.”

“No,” said the wise man, “the two turtle-doves are obviously the Old and New Testaments.”

“And the partridge?”

“I told you, that’s X Himself.”

“But that was the partridge on the first day—this is a second partridge. Are you suggesting that there are two Xs?”

“The partridge is always Jesus X. Now,” and once again the wise man sang, “On the third day of Xmas my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“Are you calling the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost three French hens?” asked one Xian incredulously.

“No, the three French hens are faith, hope, and love, out of First Corinthians 13,” said the wise man.

“You know, we’re going to need a special underground school to teach the kids all of this.”

“On the fourth day of Xmas,” sang the wise man doggedly, “my true love gave to me four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And the four colly birds are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?” asked a Xian.

“Now you’re catching on,” said the wise man, and he sang again, “On the fifth day of Xmas my true love gave to me five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And the five golden rings are?”

“The five books of the Pentateuch.”

“Oh, of course,” said a Xian. “And we’re going to keep this up for twelve verses?”

“Exactly.”

“So what about six, seven, and eight?”

“Well, obviously, we’ll have eight maids a-milking to represent the eight beatitudes, seven swans a-swimming for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and six geese a-laying to stand in for the six days of creation. What could be simpler?”

“Well, maybe setting up underground schools to secretly teach the kids the true meaning of Xmas and Xianity without all these geese and drummers and partridges. And by the way, I still don’t get how all twelve partridges can stand for Jesus X.”

“The point is,” said the wise man, “that this simple seemingly-innocent Xmas song will help drum the true meaning of Xmas into the children’s heads, and thus save Xianity from oppression by the secular overlords.”

And so it came to pass that every year when Xmas came, the little children sang of the twelve days of Xmas, and none but they knew of the secret theological significance that lay inside the twenty-two pipers piping, the forty-two geese a-laying, or the twelve partridges in pear trees.

29 December 2013

Xmas Reading: General Cessation Day by H. G. W*lls

[Max Beerbohm imagines how H. G. Wells might have written of a Christmas-like holiday celebrated in some utopian future. This version appeared in The Saturday Review on 29 December 1906. It is described as being Chapter V of “Sitting Up For the Dawn”.]

The re-casting of the calendar on a decimal basis seems a simple enough matter at first sight. But even here there are details that will have to be thrashed out….

Mr. Edgar Dibbs, in his able pamphlet “Ten to the Rescue”,† advocates a twenty-hour day, and has drawn up an ingenious scheme for accelerating the motion of this planet by four in every twenty-four hours, so that the alternations of light and darkness shall be readjusted to the new reckoning. I think such readjustment would be indispensable (though I know there is a formidable body of opinion against me). But I am far from being convinced of the feasibility of Mr. Dibbs’ scheme. I believe the twenty-four hour day has come to stay—anomalous though it certainly will seem in the ten-day week, the fifty-day month, and the thousand-day year. I shouid like to have incorporated Mr. Dibbs’ scheme in my vision of the Dawn. But, as I have said, the scope of this vision is purely practical….

Mr. Albert Noaks, in a paper‡ read before the South Brixton Hebdomadals, pleads that the first seven days of the decimal week should retain their old names, the other three to be called provisionally Huxleyday, Marxday, and Gorkiday. But, for reasons which I have set forth elsewhere,§ I believe that the nomenclature which I had originally suggested||—Aday, Bday, and so on to Jday—would be really the simplest way but of the difficulty. Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every other day. We must help the human units—these little pink slobbering creatures of the Future whose cradle we are rocking—to progress not in harsh jerks, but with a beautiful unconscious rhythm….

There must be nothing corresponding to our Sunday. Sunday is a canker that must be cut ruthlessly out of the social organism. At present the whole community gets “slack” on Saturday because of the paralysis that is about to fall on it. And then “Black Monday”!— that day when the human brain tries to readjust itself—tries to realise that the shutters are down, and the streets are swept, and the stove-pipe hats are back in their band-boxes! No writer has yet done justice to the horror and the deleteriousness of Sunday….

Yet, of course, there must be holidays. We can no more do without holidays than without sleep. For every man there must be certain stated intervals of repose—of recreation in the original sense of the word. My views on the worthlessness of classical education are perhaps pretty well known to you, but I don't underrate the great service that my friend Professor Ezra K. Higgins has rendered by his discovery¶ that the word recreation originally signified a re-creating—i.e.** a time for the nerve-tissues to renew themselves in. The problem before us is how to secure for the human units in the Dawn—these giants of whom we are but the foetuses—the holidays necessary for their full capacity for usefulness to the State, without at the same time disorganising the whole community—and them.

The solution is surprisingly simple. The community will be divided into ten sections—Section A, Section B, and so on to Section J. And to every section one day of the decimal week will be assigned as a “Cessation Day”. Thus, those people who fall under Section A will rest on Aday, those who fall under Section B will rest on Bday, and so on. On every day of the year one-tenth of the population will be resting, but the other nine-tenths will be at work. The joyous hum and clang of labour will never cease in the municipal workshops….

You must figure the smokeless blue sky above London dotted all over with aeroplanes in which the holiday-making tenth are re-creating themselves for the labour of next week—looking down a little wistfully, perhaps, at the workshops from which they are temporarily banished. And here I scent a difficulty. So attractive a thing will labour be in the Dawn that a man will be tempted not to knock off work when his Cessation Day comes round, and will prefer to work for no wage rather than not at all. So that perhaps there will have to be a law making Cessation Day compulsory, and the Overseers will be empowered to punish infringement of this law by forbidding the culprit to work for ten days after the first offence, twenty after the second, and so on. But I don’t suppose there will often be need to put this law in motion. The children of the Dawn, remember, will not be the puny self-ridden creatures that we are. They will not say “Is this what I want to do?” but “shall I, by doing this, be (a) harming or (b) benefiting—no matter in how infinitesimal a degree—the Future of the Race?”

Sunday must go. And, as I have hinted, the progress of mankind will be steady proportionately to its automatism. Yet I think there would be no harm in having one—just one—day in the year set aside as a day of universal rest—a day for the searching of hearts. Heaven—I mean the Future—forbid that I should be hide-bound by dry-as-dust logic, in dealing with problems of flesh and blood. The sociologists of the past thought the grey matter of their own brains all-sufficing. They forgot that flesh is pink and blood is red. That is why they could not convert people….

The five-hundredth and last day of each year shall be a General Cessation Day. It will correspond somewhat to our present Christmas Day. But with what a difference! It will not be, as with us, a mere opportunity for relatives to make up the quarrels they have picked with each other during the past year, and to eat and drink things that will make them ill well into next year. Holly and mistletoe there will be in the Municipal Eating Rooms, but the men and women who sit down there to General Cessation High Tea will be glowing not with a facile affection for their kith and kin, but with communal anxiety for the welfare of the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grand-children of people they have never met and are never likely to meet.

The great event of the day will be the performance of the ceremony of “Making Way”.

In the Dawn, death will not be the haphazard affair that it is under the present anarchic conditions. Men will not be stumbling out of the world at odd moments and for reasons over which they have no control. There will always, of course, be a percentage of deaths by misadventure. But there will be no deaths by disease. Nor, on the other hand, will people die of old age. Every child will start life knowing that (barring misadventure) he has a certain fixed period of life before him—so much and no more, but not a moment less.

It is impossible to foretell to what average age the children of the Dawn will retain the use of all their faculties—be fully vigorous mentally and physically. We only know that they will be “going strong” at ages when we have long ceased to be of any use to the State. Let us, for sake of argument, say that on the average their faculties will have begun to decay at the age of ninety—a trifle over thirty-two, by the new reckoning. That, then, will be the period of life fixed for all citizens. Every man on fulfilling that period will avail himself of the municipal lethal chamber. He will “make way”….

I thought at one time that it would be best for every man to “make way” on the actual day when he reaches the age-limit. But I see now that this would savour of private enterprise. Moreover, it would rule out that element of sentiment which, in relation to such a thing as death, we must do nothing to mar. The children and friends of a man on the brink of death would instinctively wish to gather round him. How could they accompany him to the lethal chamber, if it were an ordinary working-day, with every moment of the time mapped out for them?

On General Cessation Day, therefore, the gates of the lethal chambers will stand open for all those who shall in the course of the past year have reached the age-limit. You must figure the wide streets filled all day long with little solemn processions—solemn and yet not in the least unhappy…. You must figure the old man walking with a firm step in the midst of his progeny, looking around him with a clear eye at this dear world which is about to lose him. He will not be thinking of himself. He will not be wishing the way to the lethal chamber were shorter. He will be filled with joy at the thought that he is about to die for the good of the race—to “make way” for the beautiful young breed of men and women who, in simple, artistic, antiseptic garments, are disporting themselves so gladly on this day of days. They pause to salute him as he passes. And presently he sees, radiant in the sunlight, the pleasant white-tiled dome of the lethal chamber. You must figure him at the gate, shaking hands all round, and speaking perhaps a few well-chosen words about the Future….

† Published by the Young Self-Helpers' Press, Ipswich.

‡ “Are We Going Too Fast?”

§ “A Midwife For The Millennium.” H. G. W*lls. 1905.

|| “How To Be Happy Though Yet Unborn.” H. G. W*lls. 1903.

¶ “Words About Words.” By Ezrah K. Higgins, Professor of Etymology, Abraham Z. Stubbins University, Padua, Pa., U.S.A. (2 vols.). 1906.

** “Id est”—“That is.”

[Note: This also appears in a different form in A Christmas Garland (1912).]

28 December 2013

Xmas Reading: How Mr. Chokepear Keeps a Merry Christmas by Douglas Jerrold

[Mr. Chokespear is thought by some [whom?] to be an inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge]

Mr. Chokepear is, to the finger-nails, a respectable man. The taxgatherer was never known to call at his door a second time for the same rate; he takes the sacrament two or three times a year, and has in his cellar the oldest port in the parish. He has more than once subscribed to the fund for the conversion of the Jews; and, as a proof of his devotion to the interests of the established church, it was he who started the subscription to present the excellent Doctor Mannamooth with a superb silver tea-pot, cream-jug, and spoons. He did this, as he has often proudly declared, to show to the infidel world that there were some men in the parish who were true Christians. He has acquired a profound respect for Sir Peter Laurie, since the alderman’s judgments upon “the starving villains who would fly in the face of their Maker;” and, having a very comfortable balance at his banker’s, considers all despair very weak, very foolish, and very sinful. He, however, blesses himself that for such miscreants there is Newgate; and more—there is Sir Peter Laurie.

Mr. Chokepear loves Christmas! Yes, he is an Englishman, and he will tell you that he loves to keep Christmas-day in the true old English fashion. How does he keep it?

It is eight o’clock, and Mr. Chokepear rises from his goose-down. He dresses himself, says his short morning thanksgiving, and being an economist of time, unconsciously polishes his gold watch-chain the while. He descends to the breakfast parlour, and receives from lips of ice, the wishes of a happy Christmas, pronounced by sons and daughters, to whom, as he himself declares, he is “the best of fathers”—the most indulgent of men.

The church-bell tolls, and the Chokepears, prepare for worship. What meekness, what self-abasement sits on the Christian face of Tobias Chokepear as he walks up the aisle to his cosey pew; where the woman, with turned key and hopes of Christmas half-crown lighting her withered face, sinks a curtsey as she lets “the miserable sinner” in; having carefully pre-arranged the soft cushions and hassocks for the said sinner, his wife, his sons, and daughters. The female Chokepears with half the produce of a Canadian winter’s hunting in their tippets, muffs, and dresses, and with their noses, like pens stained with red ink,—prepare themselves to receive the religious blessings of the day. They then venture to look around the church, and recognising Chokepears of kindred nature, though not of name, in pews—(none of course among the most “miserable sinners” on the bare benches)—they smile a bland salutation, and—but hush! the service is about to begin.

And now will Tobias Chokepear perform the religious duties of a Christian! Look at him, how he feeds upon every syllable of the minister. He turns the Prayer-book familiarly, as if it were his bank account, and, in a moment, lights upon the prayers set apart for the day. With what a composed, assured face he listens to the decalogue—how firm his voice in the responses—and though the effrontery of scandal avows that he shifts somewhat from Mrs. Chokepear’s eye at the mention of “the maid-servant”—we do not believe it.

It is thus Chokepear begins his Christmas-day. He comes to celebrate the event of the Incarnation of all goodness; to return “his most humble and hearty thanks” for the glory that Providence has vouchsafed to him in making him a Christian. He—Tobias Chokepear—might have been born a Gentoo! Gracious powers! he might have been doomed to trim the lamps in the Temple of Juggernaut—he might have come into this.world to sweep the marble of the Mosque at Mecca—be might have been a faquir, with iron and wooden pins “stuck in his mortified bare flesh”—he might, we shudder to think upon the probability, have brandished his club as a New Zealander; and his stomach, in a state of heathen darkness to the humanising beauties of goose and apple-sauce, might, with unblessed appetite, have fed upon the flesh of his enemies. He might, as a Laplander, have driven a sledge, and fed upon walrus-blubber; and now is he an Englishman—a Christian—a carriage holder, and an eater of venison!

It is plain that all these thoughts—called up by the eloquence of Doctor Mannamouth, who preaches on the occasion—are busy in the bosom of Chokepear; and he sits on his soft cushion, with his eyelids declined, swelling and melting with gratitude for his blissful condition. Yes; he feels the glorious prerogative of his birth—the exquisite beauty of his religion. He ought to feel himself a happy man; and, glancing round his handsomely-appointed pew—he does.

“A sweet discourse—a very sweet discourse,” says Chokepear to several respectable acquaintance, as the organ plays the congregation out; and Chokepear looks round about him airily, contentedly; as though his conscience was as unseared as the green holly that decorates the pews; as though his heart was fresh, and red, and spotless as its berries.

Well, the religious ceremonies of the day being duly observed, ChokePear resolves to enjoy Christmas in the true old English fashion. Oh ! ye gods, that bless the larders of the respectable,—what a dinner! The board is enough to give Plenty a plethora, and the whole house is odoriferous as the airs of Araby. And then, what delightful evidences of old observing friendship on the table! There is a turkey—“only a little lower” than an ostrich— despatched all the wayfrom an acquaintance in Norfolk, to smoke a Christmas salutation to good Mr. Chokepear. Another county sends a goose—another pheasants—another brawn; and Chokepear, with his eye half slumbering in delight upon the gifts, inwardly avows that the friendship of friends really well to do is a fine, a noble thing.

The dinner passes off most admirably. Not one single culinary accident has marred a single dish. The pudding is delicious; the custards are something better than manna—the mince pies a conglomeration of ambrosial sweets. And then the Port! Mr. Chokepear smacks his lips like a whip, and gazes on the bee’s wing, as Herschell would gaze upon a newfound star, “swimming in the blue profound.” Mr. Chokepear wishes all a merry Christmas, and tosses off the wine, its flavour by no means injured by the declared conviction of the drinker, that “there isn’t such another glass in the parish!”

The evening comes on. Cards, snap-dragons, quadrilles, country-dances, with a hundred devices to make people.eat and drink, send night into morning; and it may be at six or seven on the twenty-sixth of December, our friend Chokepear, a little mellow, but not at all too mellow for the season, returns to his sheets, and when he rises declares that he has passed a very merry Christmas. If the human animal were all stomach—all one large paunch—we should agree with Chokepear that he had passed a merry Christmas: but was it the Christmas of a good man or a Christian? Let us see.

We have said all Chokepear’s daughters dined with him. We forgot: one was absent. Some seven years ago she married a poorer husband, and poverty was his only, but certainly his sufficient fault; and her father vowed that she should never again cross his threshold. The Christian keeps his word. He has been to church to celebrate the event which preached to all men mutual love and mutual forgiveness, and he comes home, and with rancour in his heart—keeps a merry Christmas!

We have briefly touched upon the banquet spread before Chokepear. There is a poor debtor of his in Horsemonger-lane prison—a debtor to the amount of at least a hundred shillings. Does he dine on Christmas-day? Oh! yes j Mr. Chokepear will read in The Times of Monday how the under-marshal served to each prisoner a pound of beef, a slice of pudding, and a pint of porter! The man might have spent the day in freedom with his wife and children; but Mr. Chokepear in his pew thought not of his debtor, and the creditor at least—kept a merry Christmas!

How many shivering wretches pass Chokepear’s door! How many, with the wintry air biting their naked limbs, and freezing within them the very springs of human hope! In Chokepear’s house there are, it may be, a dozen coats, nay, a hundred articles of cast-off dress, flung aside for the moth—piles of stuff and flannel, that would at this season wrap the limbs of the wretched in comparative Elysium. Does Mr. Chokepear, the respectable, the Christian Chokepear, order these (to him unnecessary) things to be given to the naked? He thinks not of them; for he wears fleecy hosiery next his skin, and being in all things dressed in defiance of the season—keeps a merry Christmas.

Gentle reader, we wish you a merry Christmas ; but to be truly, wisely merry, it must not be the Christmas of the Chokepears. That is the Christmas of the belly: keep you the Christmas of the heart. Give—give. Q

[from Punch, 25 December 1841]

27 December 2013

Quotation of the Day

Bad arguments don't get better when you use Latin.
Jeffrey Shallit (“More Philosophical Silliness)”

Xmas Reading: Christmas and the New Year, by Ambrose Bierce

In our manner of observing Christmas there is much, no doubt, that is absurd. Christmas is to some extent a day of meaningless ceremonies, false sentiment and hollow compliments endlessly iterated and misapplied. The observances “appropriate to the day” had, many of them, their origin in an age with which our own has little in common and in countries whose social and religious characteristics were unlike those obtaining here. As in so many other matters, America has in this been content to take her heritage without inquiry and without alteration, sacredly preserving much that once had a meaning now lost, much that is now an anachronism, a mere “survival.” Even to the Christmas vocabulary we have added little. St. Nicholas himself, the patron saint of deceived children, still masquerades under the Spanish feminine title of “Santa” and the German nickname of “Claus.” The back of our American coal grate is still idealized as a “yule log,” and the English “holly” is supposed in most cases fitly to be shadowed forth by a cedar bough, while a comparatively innocuous but equally inedible indigenous comestible figures as the fatal English “plum pudding.” Nearly all our Christmas literature is, longo intervallo, European in spirit and Dickensish in form. In short, we have Christmas merely because we were in the line of succession. We have taken it as it was transmitted, and we try to make the worst of it.

The approach of the season is apparent in the manner of the friend or relative whose orbs furtively explore your own, seeking a sign of what you are going to give him; in the irrepressible solicitations of babes and cloutlings; in wild cascades of such literature as Greenleaf on Evidence, for Boys (“Boot-Leg” series), The Little Girls’ Illustrated Differential Calculus and Aunt Hetty’s Rabelais, in words of one syllable. Most clearly is the advent of the blessed anniversary manifest in maddening iteration of the greeting wherein, with a precision that never by any chance mistakes its adjective, you are wished a “merry” Christmas by the same person who a week later will be making ninety-nine “happies” out of a possible hundred in New Year greetings similarly insincere and similarly insufferable. It is unknown to me why a Christmas should be always merry but never happy, and why the happiness appropriate to the New Year should not be expressed in merriment. These be mysteries in whose penetration abundance of human stupidity might be disclosed. By the time that one has been wished a “merry Christmas” or a “happy New Year” some scores of times in the course of a morning walk, by persons who he knows care nothing about either his merriment or his happiness, he is disposed, if he is a person of right feeling, to take a pessimist view of the “compliments of the season” and of the season of compliments. He cherishes, according to disposition, a bitter animosity or a tolerant contempt toward his race. He relinquishes for another year his hope of meeting some day a brilliant genius or inspired idiot who will have the intrepidity to vary the adjective and wish him a “happy Christmas” or a “merry New Year”; or with an even more captivating originality, keep his mouth shut.

As to the sum of sincerity and genuine good will that utters itself in making and accepting gifts (the other distinctive feature of holiday time) statistics, unhappily, are wanting and estimates untrustworthy. It may reasonably be assumed that the custom, though largely a survival—gifts having originally been given in a propitiatory way by the weak to the powerful—is something more; the present of a goggle-eyed doll from a man six feet high to a baby twenty-nine inches long not being lucidly explainable by assumption of an interested motive.

To the children the day is delightful and instructive. It enables them to see their elders in all the various stages of interesting idiocy, and teaches them by means of the Santa Claus deception that exceedingly hard liars may be good mothers and fathers and miscellaneous relatives—thus habituating the infant mind to charitable judgment and establishing an elastic standard of truth that will be useful in their later life.

The annual recurrence of the “carnival of crime” at Christmas has been variously accounted for by different authorities. By some it is supposed to be a providential dispensation intended to heighten the holiday joys of those who are fortunate enough to escape with their lives. Others attribute it to the lax morality consequent upon the demand for presents, and still others to the remorse inspired by consciousness of ruinous purchases. It is affirmed by some that persons deliberately and with malice aforethought put themselves in the way of being killed, in order to avert the tiresome iteration of Christmas greetings. If this is correct, the annual Christmas “holocaust” is not an evil demanding abatement, but a blessing to be received in a spirit of devout and pious gratitude.

When the earth in its eternal circumgression arrives at the point where it was at the same time the year before, the sentimentalist whom Christmas has not exhausted of his essence squeezes out his pitiful dreg of emotion to baptize the New Year withal. He dusts and polishes his aspirations, and reerects his resolve, extracting these well-worn properties from the cobwebby corners of his moral lumber-room, whither they were relegated three hundred and sixty-four days before. He “swears off.” In short, he sets the centuries at defiance, breaks the sequence of cause and effect, repeals the laws of nature and makes himself a new disposition from a bit of nothing left over at the creation of the universe. He can not add an inch to his stature, but thinks he can add a virtue to his character. He can not shed his nails, but believes he can renounce his vices. Unable to eradicate a freckle from his skin, he is confident he can decree a habit out of his conduct. An improvident friend of mine writes upon his mirror with a bit of soap the cabalistic word, AFAHMASP. This is the fiat lux to create the shining virtue of thrift, for it means, A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted. What need have we of morality’s countless ministries; the complicated machinery of the church; recurrent suasions of precept and unceasing counsel of example; pursuing din of homily; still, small voice of solicitude and inaudible argument of surroundings—if one may make of himself what he will with a mirror and a bit of soap? But (it may be urged) if one can not reform himself, how can he reform others? Dear reader, let us have a frank understanding. He can not.

The practice of inflating the midnight steam-shrieker and belaboring the nocturnal ding-dong to frighten the encroaching New Year is obviously ineffectual, and might profitably be discontinued. It is no whit more sensible and dignified than the custom of savages who beat their sounding dogs to scare away an eclipse. If one elect to live with barbarians, one must endure the barbarous noises of their barbarous superstitions, but the disagreeable simpleton who sits up till midnight to ring a bell or fire a gun because the earth has arrived at a given point in its orbit should nevertheless be deprecated as an enemy to his race. He is a sore trial to the feelings, an affliction almost too sharp for endurance. If he and his sentimental abettors might be melted and cast into a great bell, every right-minded man would derive an innocent delight from pounding it, not only on January first but all the year long.

[from Tangential Views (1911)]

26 December 2013

Xmas Reading: The Feast by J*s*ph C*nr*d

[Sir Max Beerbohm imagines how Joseph Conrad might tell a Christmas story]

The hut in which slept the white man was on a clearing between the forest and the river. Silence, the silence murmurous and unquiet of a tropical night, brooded over the hut that, baked through by the sun, sweated a vapour beneath the cynical light of the stars. Mahamo lay rigid and watchful at the hut’s mouth. In his upturned eyes, and along the polished surface of his lean body black and immobile, the stars were reflected, creating an illusion of themselves who are illusions.

The roofs of the congested trees, writhing in some kind of agony private and eternal, made tenebrous and shifty silhouettes against the sky, like shapes cut out of black paper by a maniac who pushes them with his thumb this way and that, irritably, on a concave surface of blue steel. Resin oozed unseen from the upper branches to the trunks swathed in creepers that clutched and interlocked with tendrils venomous, frantic and faint. Down below, by force of habit, the lush herbage went through the farce of growth—that farce old and screaming, whose trite end is decomposition.

Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything else, only more so. Flying squadrons of mosquitoes inside its meshes flickered and darted over him, working hard, but keeping silence so as not to excite him from sleep. Cohorts of yellow ants disputed him against cohorts of purple ants, the two kinds slaying one another in thousands. The battle was undecided when suddenly, with no such warning as it gives in some parts of the world, the sun blazed up over the horizon, turning night into day, and the insects vanished back into their camps.

The white man ground his knuckles into the corners of his eyes, emitting that snore final and querulous of a middle-aged man awakened rudely. With a gesture brusque but flaccid he plucked aside the net and peered around. The bales of cotton cloth, the beads, the brass wire, the bottles of rum, had not been spirited away in the night. So far so good. The faithful servant of his employers was now at liberty to care for his own interests. He regarded himself, passing his hands over his skin.

“Hi! Mahamo!” he shouted. “I’ve been eaten up.”

The islander, with one sinuous motion, sprang from the ground, through the mouth of the hut. Then, after a glance, he threw high his hands in thanks to such good and evil spirits as had charge of his concerns. In a tone half of reproach, half of apology, he murmured—

“You white men sometimes say strange things that deceive the heart.”

“Reach me that ammonia bottle, d’you hear?” answered the white man. “This is a pretty place you’ve brought me to!” He took a draught. “Christmas Day, too! Of all the— But I suppose it seems all right to you, you funny blackamoor, to be here on Christmas Day?”

“We are here on the day appointed, Mr. Williams. It is a feast-day of your people?”

Mr. Williams had lain back, with closed eyes, on his mat. Nostalgia was doing duty to him for imagination. He was wafted to a bedroom in Marylebone, where in honour of the Day he lay late dozing, with great contentment; outside, a slush of snow in the street, the sound of churchbells; from below a savour of especial cookery. “Yes,” he said, “it’s a feast-day of my people.”

“Of mine also,” said the islander humbly.

“Is it though? But they'll do business first?”

“They must first do that.”

“And they’ll bring their ivory with them?”

“Every man will bring ivory,” answered the islander, with a smile gleaming and wide.

“How soon’ll they be here?”

“Has not the sun risen? They are on their way.”

“Well, I hope they’ll hurry. The sooner we’re off this cursed island of yours the better. Take all those things out,” Mr. Williams added, pointing to the merchandise, “and arrange them—neatly, mind you!”

In certain circumstances it is right that a man be humoured in trifles. Mahamo, having borne out the merchandise, arranged it very neatly.

While Mr. Williams made his toilet, the sun and the forest, careless of the doings of white and black men alike, waged their warfare implacable and daily. The forest from its inmost depths sent forth perpetually its legions of shadows that fell dead in the instant of exposure to the enemy whose rays heroic and absurd its outposts annihilated. There came from those inilluminable depths the equable rumour of myriads of winged things and crawling things newly roused to the task of killing and being killed. Thence detached itself, little by little, an insidious sound of a drum beaten. This sound drew more near.

Mr. Williams, issuing from the hut, heard it, and stood gaping towards it.

“Is that them?” he asked.

“That is they,” the islander murmured, moving away towards the edge of the forest.

Sounds of chanting were a now audible accompanient to the drum.

“What’s that they’re singing?” asked Mr. Williams.

“They sing of their business,” said Mahamo.

“Oh!” Mr. Williams was slightly shocked. “I’d have thought they’d be singing of their feast.”

“It is of their feast they sing.”

It has been stated that Mr. Williams was not imaginative. But a few years of life in climates alien and intemperate had disordered his nerves. There was that in the rhythms of the hymn which made bristle his flesh.

Suddenly, when they were very near, the voices ceased, leaving a legacy of silence more sinister than themselves. And now the black spaces between the trees were relieved by bits of white that were the eyeballs and teeth of Mahamo’s brethren.

“It was of their feast, it was of you, they sang,” said Mahamo.

“Look here,” cried Mr. Williams in his voice of a man not to be trifled with. “Look here, if you've—”

He was silenced by sight of what seemed to be a young sapling sprung up from the ground within a yard of him—a young sapling tremulous, with a root of steel. Then a thread-like shadow skimmed the air, and another spear came impinging the ground within an inch of his feet.

As he turned in his flight he saw the goods so neatly arranged at his orders, and there flashed through him, even in the thick of the spears, the thought that he would be a grave loss to his employers. This—for Mr. Williams was, not less than the goods, of a kind easily replaced—was an illusion. It was the last of Mr. Williams’ illusions.

[from A Christmas Garland (1912)]

25 December 2013

Xmas Reading: Christmas Afternoon, by Robert Benchley

Done in the Manner, if Not the Spirit, of Dickens

What an afternoon! Mr. Gummidge said that, in his estimation, there never had been such an afternoon since the world began, a sentiment which was heartily endorsed by Mrs. Gummidge and all the little Gummidges, not to mention the relatives who had come over from Jersey for the day.

In the first place, there was the ennui. And such ennui as it was! A heavy, overpowering ennui, such as results from a participation in eight courses of steaming, gravied food, topping off with salted nuts which the little old spinster Gummidge from Oak Hill said she never knew when to stop eating— and true enough she didn't—a dragging, devitalizing ennui, which left its victims strewn about the livingroom in various attitudes of prostration suggestive of those of the petrified occupants in a newly unearthed Pompeiian dwelling; an ennui which carried with it a retinue of yawns, snarls and thinly veiled insults, and which ended in ruptures in the clan spirit serious enough to last throughout the glad new year.

Then there were the toys! Three and a quarter dozen toys to be divided among seven children. Surely enough, you or I might say, to satisfy the little tots. But that would be because we didn't know the tots. In came Baby Lester Gummidge, Lillian's boy, dragging an electric grain-elevator which happened to be the only toy in the entire collection which appealed to little Norman, fiveyear-old son of Luther, who lived in Rahway. In came curly-headed Erne in frantic and throaty disputation with Arthur, Jr., over the possession of an articulated zebra. In came Everett, bearing a mechanical man which would no longer dance, owing to a previous forcible feeding by the baby of a marshmallow into its only available aperture. In came Fonlansbee, teeth buried in the hand of little Ormond, which bore a popular but battered remnant of what had once been the proud false-bosom of a hussar’s uniform. In they all came, one after another, some crying, some snapping, some pulling, some pushing—all appealing to their respective parents for aid in their intra-mural warfare.

And the cigar smoke! Mrs. Gummidge said that she didn't mind the smoke from a good cigarette, but would they mind if she opened the windows for just a minute in order to clear the room of the heavy aroma of used cigars? Mr. Gummidge stoutly maintained that they were good cigars. His brother, George Gummidge, said that he, likewise, would say that they were. At which colloquial sally both the Gummidge brothers laughed testily, thereby breaking the laughter record for the afternoon.

Aunt Libbie, who lived with George, remarked from the dark corner of the room that it seemed just like Sunday to her. An amendment was offered to this statement by the cousin, who was in the insurance business, stating that it was worse than Sunday. Murmurings indicative of as hearty agreement with this sentiment as their lethargy would allow came from the other members of the family circle, causing Mr. Gummidge to suggest a walk in the air to settle their dinner.

And then arose such a chorus of protestations as has seldom been heard. It was too cloudy to walk. It was too raw. It looked like snow. It looked like rain. Luther Gummidge said that he must be starting along home soon, anyway, bringing forth the acid query from Mrs. Gummidge as to whether or not he was bored. Lillian said that she felt a cold coming on, and added that something they had had for dinner must have been undercooked. And so it went, back and forth, forth and back, up and down, and in and out, until Mr. Gummidge’s suggestion of a walk in the air was reduced to a tattered impossibility and the entire company glowed with ill-feeling.

In the meantime, we must not forget the children. No one else could. Aunt Libbie said that she didn’t think there was anything like children to make a Christmas; to which Uncle Ray, the one with the Masonic fob, said, “No, thank God!” Although Christmas is supposed to be the season of good cheer, you (or I, for that matter) couldn’t have told, from listening to the little ones, but what it was the children’s Armageddon season, when Nature had decreed that only the fittest should survive, in order that the race might be carried on by the strongest, the most predatory and those possessing the best protective coloring. Although there were constant admonitions to Fonlansbee to “Let Ormond have that whistle now; it’s his,” and to Arthur, Jr., not to be selfish, but to “give the kiddiecar to Effie; she’s smaller than you are,” the net result was always that Fonlansbee kept the whistle and Arthur, Jr., rode in permanent, albeit disputed, possession of the kiddie-car. Oh, that we mortals should set ourselves up against the inscrutable workings of Nature!

Hallo! A great deal of commotion! That was Uncle George stumbling over the electric train, which had early in the afternoon ceased to function and which had been left directly across the threshold. A great deal of crying! That was Arthur, Jr., bewailing the destruction of his already useless train, about which he had forgotten until the present moment. A great deal of recrimination! That was Arthur, Sr., and George fixing it up. And finally a great crashing! That was Baby Lester pulling over the tree on top of himself, necessitating the bringing to bear of all of Uncle Ray's knowledge of forestry to extricate him from the wreckage.

And finally Mrs. Gummidge passed the Christmas candy around. Mr. Gummidge afterward admitted that this was a tactical error on the part of his spouse. I no more believe that Mrs. Gummidge thought they wanted that Chrismas candy than I believe that she thought they wanted the cold turkey which she later suggested. My opinion is that she wanted to drive them home. At any rate, that is what she succeeded in doing. Such cries as there were of “Ugh! Don't let me see another thing to eat!” and “Take it away!” Then came hurried scramblings in the coat-closet for overshoes. There were the rasping sounds made by cross parents when putting wraps on children. There were insincere exhortations to “come and see us soon” and to “get together for lunch some time.” And, finally, there were slammings of doors and the silence of utter exhaustion, while Mrs. Gummidge went about picking up stray sheets of wrapping paper.

And, as Tiny Tim might say in speaking of Christmas afternoon as an institution, “God help us, every one.”

28 November 2013

Quotation of the Day

We should treat others well because we wish to be treated well. We should seek justice for others because we want justice for ourselves. We should protect the rights of others because we want our own rights protected. Our shared humanity demands it.

11 November 2013

Quotation of the Day

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.
Walt Kelly (Ten Everlovin' Blue-Eyed Years With Pogo, p. 100)

14 October 2013

Quotation of the Day

To project modern day standards of morality and conduct onto those of the past is akin to contaminating a crime scene. Our desire to play Monday Morning Quarterback with Columbus' legacy actually does more to distort true history than anything. In the same way that each individual is to blame for his/her own tobacco addiction, we must judge Columbus by the standards of his time and according to the world as he saw it.

29 September 2013

Quotation of the Day

Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo – they were interesting, and they got involved. But “God”? Blegh.

That’s why Jesus, you know. People got bored, and they wanted a god who could put bums on seats, one with some good lines. Jesus can be pretty entertaining, in a rebel without a cause way. He’s uneven, but he has moments.
Ophelia Benson (Holy Holy Holy Yawn)

14 July 2013

Quotation of the Day

Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn't like the look of him.

The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year was tragic. But in the age of Obama the acquittal of George Zimmerman offers at least that clarity. For the salient facts in this case were not in dispute. On 26 February 2012 Martin was on his way home, minding his own business armed only with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman pursued him, armed with a 9mm handgun, believing him to be a criminal. Martin resisted. They fought. Zimmerman shot him dead.

Who screamed. Who was stronger. Who called whom what and when and why are all details to warm the heart of a cable news producer with 24 hours to fill. Strip them all away and the truth remains that Martin's heart would still be beating if Zimmerman had not chased him down and shot him.

There is no doubt about who the aggressor was here. The only reason the two interacted at all, physically or otherwise, is that Zimmerman believed it was his civic duty to apprehend an innocent teenager who caused suspicion by his existence alone.
Gary Younge
("Open Season on Black Boys after a Verdict Like This")

14 June 2013

Quotation of the Day

It is one thing for rich people to believe intellectually that everyone depends on them. In reality, it is they who are the moochers and looters, who depend on an entire system of low-wage workers for their luxurious lifestyles.
Mano Singham (“Threatening to Go Galt, Again”)

11 June 2013

Last Republican on Death Bed and Other Predictions

I’ve been amusing myself by scanning issues of The Portholer, the shipboard publication of the U.S.A.H.S. Marigold during World War II. The Marigold, a hospital ship, is mainly remembered as the first Allied ship to arrive in Japan; according to my father, who served on it, crew members were ashore playing baseball as the surrender was signed.

One particular page, a humorous look at the Post-War World, dated January 1, 1999, caught my attention. The first story, titled "Last Republican on Death Bed":
Dead Pan, Nevada: Mr. Lemuel K. Olegard, 103 yrs old, known as “the vanishing American” today lay on his death bed. For a full century he voted the straight Republican ticket. In his delirium he muttered a name like “Wilkie”, no one can place it.
Other stories note the discovery of vitamin Z, the unionization of the presidency (President Ickes has joined the P.O.T. [Presidents of Things] branch of the C.I.O), and the accidental destruction of the earth by the “newest cosmic bomb”. (I’m not sure how that last story, datelined Metropolis, Mars, squares with stories from Washington D.C. and Off the China Coast, but then, you know what they say about consistency and hobgoblins.)

Anyway, this is what the future looked like to somebody or other circa 26 August 1945. Enjoy.


15 May 2013

That Old Benghazi Spirit

You can’t help but be impressed by the industry with which Congressional Republicans try to whip up a scandal soufflé from a handful of revised talking points and some cherry-picked emailed phrases. It’s an uphill battle, as Sisyphus could attest, but just like him, the Republicans can surely eventually succeed. It’s a matter of having high hopes—those high apple pie in the sky hopes.

Take some inspiration from the men’s rights activists. They’ve been having a lovely month, all things considered. A man’s right to sex on demand has been asserted by none other than Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka. Holding women captive as sex-slaves is sometimes necessary, he says, “[t]o maintain discipline in the military”. Men have their needs, after all. “For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That’s clear to anyone,” Hashimoto explained. I bet it would be clear to Ariel Castro.

There’s a man who lived the men’s rights dream. “I don’t know why I kept looking for another,” Ariel wrote, adding “I already had 2 in my possession.” Young women, that is, women he kept locked in his basement on account of his need for sex on demand. Two women weren’t enough for those needs, though, it turned out, and he had to kidnap a third girl, his daughter's fourteen-year-old friend whom he thought for some reason was a lot older. And what business did they have walking around freely anyway? Ahmad Shafi, leader of the Bangladeshi political party Hefajat-e-Islam gets it.

He’s gone to the mat to defend Abdul Quader Molla and his fellow war-criminals who in 1971 were involved in the mass rape of the women of Bangladesh. Calling for the execution of anybody wanting the war criminals punished, he demands the end of such “alien cultural practices” as “free mixing of the sexes”. We see where he stands on this issue. I can only assume that he would give his blessing to Ariel Castro’s solution for keeping women apart from the rest of society, given his passionate defense of those who separated young women from their families and subjected them to sexual abuse that—assuming they weren’t murdered and left in mass graves—scarred them for life.

And apparently it is all the fault of feminism. As one Groot comments “What feminists fail to see is that as men are driven more and more by their agenda to the bottom of the power and privilege scale, more and more crimes like this will be committed. Unchecked hypergamy ensures that men like these have no real chance for healthy relationships and often take through criminal efforts what alphas and the elites have access to; that being multiple women.” There, you see? If only women voluntarily chained themselves in men’s basements, there would be no need for men to do it for them. Or something.

Yeah, keep on working on that sow’s ear, boys—you’ll get a silk purse out of it some day. There’s nothing quite like that old Benghazi spirit.

13 May 2013

The Mysterious Stranger: The Forgotten Version

I’ve written elsewhere (Dubious Documents: The Case of Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger) about the editorial chicanery involved in the original publication of Mark Twain’s The Chronicle of Young Satan under the title The Mysterious Stranger and the baleful effect it has had on the interpretation of these texts. What’s bugging me today, however, is another annoyance. I see the Wikipedia article on the story repeats a mistake that others (some of whom should know better) have made, in that it states there were three manuscript attempts at the story. According to the piece the three were (1) The Chronicle of Young Satan Schoolhouse Hill, and (3) No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger. (I also find it annoying that the author says the “first substantial version is commonly referred to as The Chronicle of Young Satan”, in that it is commonly referred to by that title because that is the title Mark Twain gave it.) But actually there were four “substantial” versions of the story. The missing version here is Mark Twain’s very first attempt at the tale, title unknown, but referred to as the Pre-Eseldorf version by John Tuckey and as the St. Petersburg Fragment by William M. Gibson. It is listed as Version A and described on pp. 4-5 of the original publication by the University of California Press in 1969.

Mark Twain, as was his wont, destroyed much of the manuscript, and we probably wouldn’t even know it had existed if he hadn’t reused some of the pages in The Chronicle of Young Satan. Nineteen pages survive, altered and refitted to serve the purposes of the new story. The original story was set (apparently) in St. Petersburg, the fictional town in which Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the slave Jim lived. The first surviving page (12) starts in the middle of a speech by Satan telling the three boys who are the main characters to “Sit still and say nothing.” The narrator (whom we later learn is named George) continues:
We looked up and saw Mr. Black approaching through the black walnuts. We three were sitting together in the grass, and Satan sat in front of us in the path. Mr. Black came slowly along with his head down, thinking, and stopped within a couple of yards of us and took off his hat and got his silk handkerchief out of it, and stood there mopping his face and looking as if he were going to speak to us, but he didn’t. Presently he muttered, “I can’t think what brought me here; it seems as if I were in my study a minute ago—but I suppose I have been dreaming along for half an hour and have come all this stretch without noticing; I can’t account for it; but it is no matter, it is pleasant out, to-day.” Then he went mumbling along to himself and walked
We will soon learn that Mr. Black is a former Presbyterian minster now fallen on hard times since he became a Universalist, and that the three boys are George (the narrator), Pole, and Huck. (George is referred to as Tom Sawyer in the notes.) After a gap of several pages, the narrative resumes with a connected sequence that takes us to the end of chapter 1 and through the beginning of chapter 2. In it Satan speaks disparagingly of mankind and its possession of the moral sense, promises to return, and vanishes like a soap bubble. Mr. Black returns, observing that he has lost his wallet, and while it only contains four dollars, that is the only money he has. The boys offer to look for it, but Mr. Black finds it almost immediately, but it turns out to be stuffed with money, over a thousand dollars. The boys realize that Satan is responsible for this, but are forced to remain silent; they urge Mr. Black to take the money. Mr. Black says that some enemy might be responsible, but Huck tells him, “Mr. Black, you haven't a real enemy in the village—nor Margaret, either. And not even a half-enemy that’s rich enough to chance eleven hundred dollars at one dash to do you a mean turn. I’ll ask you if that’s so, or not?” The boys sign a paper attesting to the way that Mr. Black found the money.

Chapter 2 begins with an account of the improvement in Mr. Black’s fortunes:
It made immense talk next day, when Mr. Black paid off his mortgage in gold and bought nine hundred dollars worth of ten percent county scrip and deposited it in the bank; and lots of people called at the house to congratulate, and a heap of cool old friends warmed up and got friendly again; and Margaret was invited to a picnic, and the piano scholars that had deserted her began to book for lessons again.

And there was no mystery; the old gentleman told the whole circumstance just as it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was the plain hand of Providence, so far as he could see; though the Presbyterians didn't take any stock in that, a body couldn't expect it. One or two said it looked more like the hand of Satan; and you know that seemed a surprisingly good guess for ignorant people like that. Some came privately and tried to get us boys to come out and “tell the truth;” and on honor promised they wouldn’t ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction, because the whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy the secret, and pay money for it; and if we could have invented something that would answer—however, we couldn't; we hadn’t the ingenuity, so we had to let the chance go by, and it was a pity.
The boys are afraid that the gold will turn to dirt, like fairy gold, but it doesn’t, and they seek out Mr. Black to ask him about the moral sense that Satan had denigrated. This essentially brings us to the end of the surviving sequence.

There is a single isolated page further on, which reads:
through the garden, there was Tom Andrews sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge of the evening, and he would be asking Margaret to take a walk along the river with him when Peggy was done making the piano sorry the peace hadn’t been signed before the Battle came off. He was a young lawyer, and talented; and he had had a good practice and a thriving one, but it was all gone, now. Drink—that was his trouble. He got a start at it and it beat him. He was seedy, now, and he was always so prim and gentlemanlike in those other days; and proud, too, for he was of good Kentucky stock; and back of that, Virginian — F. F. V., in fact. He had been courting Mar-
Where the story went after that, if anywhere, is impossible to say on the available evidence, but several things jump out. Mr. Black, whose unfortunate change in theology proved so costly to him, is clearly another caricature of Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens; when he metamorphoses into Father Peter (in Young Satan) the connection is less obvious, though Father Peter may still have had universalist tendencies:
But the Bishop suspended him for talking around in conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there was never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it …
And there is no sign of the villainous Father Adolf, inspired by an Austrian politician Mark Twain loathed, Dr. Karl Lueger. When Mark Twain adapted Huck’s claim that Mr. Black had not a real enemy in the village, he had to add the key phrase “with the exception of Father Adolf” to fit the new situation.

So, then, I guess the question is, why has the notion that there were only three versions of the tale taken such root? The answer is more or less obvious: the first version was not printed as such in the definitive 1969 edition put out by the University of California press. It is there, after a fashion, in that it can be reconstructed by carefully going through the textual commentary on The Chronicle of Young Satan and noting the MS alterations (which is how I arrived at the description given above), but that is not entirely satisfactory. I suppose the fact that the MS has not survived independently may have influenced the editor, but if it had been up to me, I would have preferred that the few pages it would have cost to present it had been used for that purpose.

10 May 2013

Quotation of the Day

DC is the heroes you want to be, Marvel is the heroes you would probably be. You want to be Superman, but chances are you will be the Hulk and struggling with his rage…

11 April 2013

Warriors for Peace

One hundred forty years ago today, just south of the line that divides Oregon from California, tense negotiations were under way. The United States (represented by General Canby) was at war with part of the Modoc tribe (under the leadership of Captain Jack), and people on both sides thought that with a little effort further bloodshed could be averted. They were wrong, in hindsight, but the attempt seems worthy, noble even, something that could have paid off.

By many accounts Captain Jack believed in peace between the Modocs and the settlers. His people lived on the fringes of civilization, so to speak, hunting, gathering, and fishing on the one hand, while working as ranchhands and selling small items on the other. Some accused them of extortion and prostitution as well. The point is, they were part of the economic system, and for the most part they lived quietly on their traditional lands. It was to his advantage to keep the peace, and he usually succeeded in keeping things under control.

General Canby took the peace policy announced by President Grant seriously enough to pursue it past the point that many observers considered prudent. If there were any two men who could have reached some sort of agreement between the two sides, you would think that it would be Captain Jack and General Canby. Which, when you think about it, makes it all the more surprising that one of them should shoot the other under a flag of truce.

The thing is, the Modocs and the government were not on the same page when it came to two key issues: amnesty for all, and relocation of the Modocs. They were actually the same issue, and went back to the circumstances of the Lost River Fight, when a small detachment of soldiers and a handful of local citizens took on two villages on either side of Lost River. Modoc casualties on the side attacked by settlers inspired retaliation, and of course, as might be expected, the injured didn’t do anything halfway sane, like go after the settlers who had attacked them. No, they took their revenge on unsuspecting neighbors along the lake, murdering people who had no idea what was going on or for what cause they were dying.

At least two of the participants in the revenge attacks were men of influence—John Schonchin, spoken of as a chief among the Modocs, and Hooker Jim, who was married to the daughter of an influential shaman. Absolutely core to the Modoc position, then, was a general amnesty for all involved in the hostilities, including the settlers who had killed during the first attack, and the Modocs who had killed in revenge for it.

It would appear that the Federal authorities had no trouble with this as a concept; the trouble was that such a general amnesty was beyond the reach of their authority. Murder was (and is) an offense handled at the state level, and Oregon fully intended to prosecute some Modoc or other for the murders committed along Tule Lake in November 1872. Governor Grover made it quite clear to the Federal authorities that he had no intention of signing off on any deal that left those who murdered the settlers free and unpunished. (He was, however, apparently indifferent to the issue of justice for the Modoc dead.) Further, he was opposed to any peaceful solution to the Modoc Difficulty anyway.

Military officials had an alternative plan that would accomplish much the same thing, though without any legal amnesty. If the Modocs surrendered as prisoners of war they would be under military jurisdiction, and Oregon couldn’t touch them. They could then be transferred somewhere outside of Oregon’s reach, and so go free. The catch was that bit about going out of Oregon. The country the Modocs were fighting for lay in Oregon. The whole point of the exercise was not to give it up.

The Modoc leaders may have been willing to go further than their followers on the issue of moving. In a conference in early March, attended by both Elijah Steele (a local lawyer Modoc leaders looked to for advice) and John Fairchild (a local rancher who often employed young Modoc men as ranchhands), the two men brought back opposing reports. Steele, who had spoken mainly with the Modoc leaders, said that they were prepared to move to Arizona rather than surrender their men to settler justice. Fairchild, who had spoken mainly with the rank and file, said that the Modocs had no intention of leaving Oregon.

So, on the one side, amnesty was out of the question because of the intransigence of the Oregon authorities—faithfully reflecting the attitude of their constituents, as far as the available record shows. And on the other side relocation was out because of the intransigence of the Modoc leaders—apparently reflecting the will of their constituents. The impasse was perfect.

General Canby believed he had a way through that impasse. The Modoc leaders had to be aware that they would not do well in any all-out conflict with the troops; while they had driven them back from their stronghold in January, there were a great many more troops now, and they were much better armed and equipped. Canby decided to opt for a show of force. He moved the troops closer to the Stronghold, and kept them there. This policy of gradual compression, as he called it, was bound to bring the Modocs to their senses.

The thing is, if you put too much pressure on something, it may blow apart. The Modoc Difficulty blew apart fairly spectacularly on 11 April 1873. Negotiations seemed to be making some sort of progress; Captain Jack gave up all claim to the Modoc traditional lands in Oregon, but argued that the Modocs should retain the lava beds in California. Talks resumed that morning; present were General Canby, A. B. Meacham, the Reverend Thomas, and Commissioner Dyar, representing the Federal government, along with Frank and Toby Riddle as translators. On the other side were the Modoc chiefs, Captain Jack and John Schonchin, along with such prominent leaders as Boston Charley, Hooker Jim, Black Jim, and Bogus Charley. Negotiations lurched along slowly, with General Canby trying to emphasize his role as a peacemaker. Abruptly Captain Jack gave a signal, pulled out a gun, and fired at Canby. His first shot misfired, but the second was successful. Canby died on the spot, the only regular general to be killed in action during any of the Indian wars. At the same time Boston Charley killed the Reverend Thomas, John Schonchin shot Meacham repeatedly, and Black Jim and Hooker Jim took shots at Dyar. Dyar escaped and Meacham was left for dead, but ultimately recovered.

Postmortems would go on for at least a hundred and forty years, but neither General Canby, who died abruptly in what should have been his retirement, nor the Reverend Thomas, who had the briefest of walk-on parts in this war, would take part. The two of them died nobly, perhaps, warriors in the cause of peace. But I can’t help but feel that they didn’t have to die, that, you know, common sense might have warned them, as Frank Riddle did, not to trust any in them Indians.

08 April 2013

There Might Be Something to This

A commenter at Butterflies and Wheels observes in a discussion of FGM:
We don’t want to be imperialists and go all culturally colonialist and stuff so that leaves us with the only other option – being condescending and paternalistic.

Maybe what we need to do as the world becomes more educated and modern and egalitarian is set aside places where footbinding, FGM, stonings, beheadings, lynchings, slavery (sexual and other), shame killings and other valuable cultural traditions can be preserved.

Like maybe special World Brutality Heritage Parks or something.

23 March 2013

Quotation of the Day

It’s when things blow up that it becomes impossible not to notice that women get treated scarily, threateningly and very specifically worse. And THAT’s what SendGrid capitulated to. Their actions have been cowardly and intellectually dishonest. They could learn something from the employee they just cut loose.

28 February 2013

Quotation of the Day

I came from nothing and will die with nothing but my dignity. So why not use my life for good?
attributed to Marco McMillan

21 February 2013

Observation for the Day

… rather than making things better, our current method of handling economic problems—this Reagan-esque belief that if sufficiently pumped full of cash, businesses will explode into wealth for all—is making the world worse for us, not better. The longer we continue to delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep ruining things more, then somehow it’ll come full circle and start to improve, the longer it’s going to take us to pull out of our nosedive, and the further apart the haves will get from the have-nots.
Crommunist (“Driving us apart”)

07 February 2013

Asininity of the Day

I think it’s important to remember, when we talk about the economy, that a private sector job and a public sector job are not the same things. They’re not equivalent. I’m not saying public sector jobs aren’t important. But a private sector job pays for itself.
Carly Fiorina
(quoted in “Paul Krugman Destroys GOP’s Talking Points On Government Jobs” by Jeff Spross)

05 January 2013

Quotation of the Day

The question everyone's asking is this: On whose backs should we balance the federal budget? One side wants higher taxes; the other wants spending cuts. And while that debate rages, the right question is being ignored: Why are we worried about balancing the federal budget at all?
Stephanie Kelton (“Forget the ‘Fiscal Cliff’”)
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