26 May 2017

Crazy People Got No Reason to Live [2008]

[Originally posted 26 May 2008]
A
t least, that’s the opinion apparently entertained by one Kristin Butler, a proud graduate of Duke University. Duke of course is known mainly for its outstanding work in the field of parapsychology, the science of matter over mind. According to Kristin Butler a “mentally unstable” person—or “loony” as she apparently prefers—has no business receiving a diploma, whether she has completed the requirements or not. This is an interesting attitude, and I would really like to know exactly why having bipolar disorder—that’s the lunacy in question—disbars a student from receiving a degree. I got a degree, in spite of having undergone treatment for depression, and in spite of suffering from unreasonable fears and compulsions. And frankly, I take that kind of crack personally. I have a cousin with bipolar disorder, and while she’s never received a degree from a prestigious university like Duke, she is in fact one of the most outstanding researchers I’ve ever met. I personally have respect for people who make it in spite of drawbacks and disadvantages over which they do not have control, and I am very much unimpressed when some scatter-brained young know-it-all sounds off with a moronic screed like Summa cum loony. Grow up, Kristin Butler.

25 May 2017

Throwing Rocks at the Elephant's Tail


God said to throw rocks at the elephant’s tail;
He didn’t say monkey or rabbit or quail,
And so we throw rocks at the elephant’s tail
Because God told us to.—old song
I
 am having a lousy time of it at the moment, worrying about many things that I have no control over, such as whether my roommate will get to the doctor in time to have his feet removed or whatever horrible thing they’re going to do to him, or whether our tinhorn master-puppet will succeed in cutting off the food program that keeps me alive, or whether my heart is going to abruptly give out regardless of the work done to keep it going.
The outside news is not reassuring either. A candidate for the American House of Representatives, one of the two highest legislative bodies in the land, body-slammed a reporter for asking questions he apparently didn’t like. He belongs in jail, not in Congress, but I don’t suppose that’s going to make any difference now that the criminal class has officially taken over the country. (The guy in charge of “investigating” the case is one of his supporters, by the way. Should we say conflict of interest? Or is that off the table in our new streamlined political environment?)
At any rate, at times like this we can at least fall back on the old reliable nostrums that made the United States so strong in the past—an outsized military budget that accomplishes little, racist hypocrisy, that old-time ignorance, and empty bluster.

24 May 2017

Still Alive


I
 am now back from the hospital, considerably the worse for wear, but alive. Which I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t gone and had them install small devices inside me to hold my arteries open so that my heart could continue working. I want to extend my most profound thanks to the doctors, nurses, food suppliers, cleaners, technicians, administrators, and other unseen staff of Emanuel Legacy that made this possible. Thanks to their efforts there is a reasonable chance that I will continue to write and function as I have for at least a few more years. How I’m going to make the necessary lifestyle changes I don’t know, but at least I have the chance to do it.

23 May 2017

Grand Tour


A
t some point in late May—not necessarily 23 May 1963—we sixth-graders took a tour of Lewis Junior High School. Let’s just say that at the end of the tour I was not looking forward to going.
Actually, although I don’t have the exact date of either event, both my mother and I got (separate) advance notices of the horrors of Lewis Junior High. Mine was a tour of the school undertaken by all sixth graders; Ruth’s was a “meeting for prospective parents of students at Lewis Junior High.” (“I am not a prospective parent, but I went anyway, because my son is in the sixth grade, and because he brought me an invitation; I thought they probably meant parents of prospective students. Now, of course, I realize that they did not know what they meant and that none of them would have been capable of making the distinction, so it doesn’t matter.”) My memories are faded and colored by actual experience in this institution; Ruth’s were fresh, but don’t always match what I remember as significant. Between them, however, I can sort of triangulate my impressions, both first and second hand.
The place seemed bewilderingly large at first, especially compared to John Rogers, but really came down to only three buildings—the original school building, with a design similar to our own school, the massive main building with the office, library, and cafeteria, which had two wings, shop on the one side and home economics on the other, and the small but modern-looking science building. I noted that there were two gyms, a crappy old building for the girls and a shiny new one for the boys. The band and choir rooms (in the home economics wing) were terraced, so to speak, for the convenience of the singers or player, depending.
What they couldn’t wait to show off, as I remember it, was the equipment. And my mother observed that “What they were chiefly peddling … and what they seemed to feel made all else right, was gadgets.” Her immediate notes match my half-century old recollections.
To start with they had a decent science wing, equipped with microscopes, test tubes, Bunsen burners, a van de Graf generator, a Tesla coil, an orrery, and I don’t  know what all. I will note that in practice these things were for the teachers’ use in demonstrations, and not for the students, but still—a big improvement over John Rogers, which had absolutely nothing in the way of lab equipment.
The audio-visual lab was actually fairly impressive, though I don’t think they did anything more than point it out to us on my visit. In my view it was definitely under-utilized; its main use was in language classes where tapes of (say) Spanish phrases would be played for students to repeat into a microphone, while the teacher randomly listened in on various students, possibly occasionally interjecting a correction or suggestion. Ruth says that her guide during her visit said that only he and another teacher used it as the rest of them were scared of it. That matches my later experience—only the German and Spanish teachers put it to any use.
The industrial arts wing was (as far as I can recall) very well equipped with tools, but I never took shop as such, so my experience was limited. The tools we students were allowed to touch, however, were pieces of absolute crap, unfit for any serious work, dull and broken. But the machines were lovely to look at—planes and lathes and saws and drills and I don’t know what all—and maybe advanced students got to use them or something.
From here it’s downhill. There was a fairly decent P.A. system as part of the stage that sat between the gym and the cafeteria. They used it for assemblies and to play horrible music at us during lunch. Ruth wrote about them promoting the “divider wall[s] that can be folded up to make two classroom size rooms into one lecture-auditorium sized room” in the science wing but in my experience they were seldom if ever used. Ruth also wrote about the overhead projectors that many of the teachers used instead of a blackboard. It does seem like maybe they showed them off, but without Ruth’s contemporary note I wouldn’t remember them as anything special.
One thing that was emphasized repeatedly is that we would not be seeing the same people in our classes that we’d been seeing in grade school; because of the size of the institution it was very unlikely that we would be in the same class with any of our old friends. (It was still all right for us to associate with them outside of school they assured us graciously and condescendingly.) No, we would find our new friends at Lewis among the classmates the authorities had assigned to us, and everything would be just peachy. (My mother doesn’t really say anything about this, though I suppose it could have been covered in the part she alludes to about “peer-group identification”.) And there would be many activities for us to perform, hoops to jump through as it were, that would let us get to know each other much much better.
There were, we were told, many activities we could take part in. There were inter-scholastic sports like football, baseball, basketball or track, as well as intramural sports like volleyball and softball. There were organizations like the Girls’ League, the Boys’ League, the Activity Council and so on, that performed various unnamed but important functions, and by taking part in them we could earn points towards a Citizenship Letter (parallel to the Letter given for taking part in the various sports). On a scale of one to ten my interest in this concept was less than zero, so I never really did get the hang of it, but it seemed to be important to the people showing us around.
Each grade had its own conslur, an official who would be there to help and guide us throughout our time at Lewis. That is, the seventh grade conslur this year would be the eighth grade conslur next year, and so on. According to the handbook he “is prepared to support teachers in their primary role of aiding individuals to learn efficiently and effectively. He is also prepared to help the students themselves discover and develop their learning potential and capacity for self-direction through the various levels of the educational program.” From the pronunciation—which was universal at Lewis—I thought it had to have something to do with the old Roman consuls, but no—the word was spelt counselor. To jump ahead a bit I will note that conslurs did not, regardless of the spelling, actually offer counsel or the like; you got sent to one when you got in trouble of some kind, and detention, suspension, or expulsion was in the offing. I think I once had a conversation with mine, possibly over the intramural thing. At least various authorities were constantly pressuring me to drop piano lessons in favor of intramurals, since I shouldn’t let “outside activities” interfere with school—but I’m not sure if my conslur was one of them. And to skip a bit further ahead, the position was abolished at the end of my seventh grade year, due to budget cutbacks.
One thing that was emphasized repeatedly to us was that we would have a great deal more freedom in junior high than we did in elementary school, and we would have to learn to use it wisely. As it turned out, this was true only in the Orwellian sense, but I had no idea what to expect on that front.
There are two things I remember my mother saying about her visit, both of which are confirmed in the letter she wrote just after. One was that somebody had said that he had “lots and lots of busy-work for those quick kids.” From the letter I gather that he meant that he had puzzles and games for kids to do that finished up quickly, maybe as a sort of incentive or something. I pictured it as still more assignments of the same goddamn crap if you finished up quickly—a sort of disincentive. The other was the story of the would-be Latin students who ended up taking shop and home economics because there weren’t enough people to fill a class. That exactly matches my experience, except that there was no “counseling” involved; you signed up for Latin and ended up in shop. And yes—I did want to take Latin, very much.
As a final stage in our orientation we were assembled in the cafeteria and given ice cream. I can’t stand the stuff, so I refused it, but they served it anyway. I thought glumly about this dystopian future, and consoled myself with the thought that if I did end up going to this hellhole at least Bruce and Wyn and Steve would be along for the ride. I watched the ice cream melt in front of me and listened to idiots babble about my future.

22 May 2017

Street Scene [1979]


[passage from a letter, 22 May 1979]
I
 am extremely burnt out today. Across the street the bar is emptying; downstairs the dogs are barking at the activity, as usual. There’s one major difference about living in a city—many nights at Fourthplainland I would hear the dog telegraph in action; it doesn’t happen here—the dogs all seem to go off at once. The window in front of me faces north, looking directly down Interstate. I can see four sets of traffic lights and at least half a dozen neon signs. Orange and blue appear to be the prevailing colors in the neon signs; they blink on and off, each with a separate beat. The traffic lights cycle from green to yellow to red and back to green. There is an incredible amount of activity down there, all of it inhuman, mechanical. An occasional car comes over the hill, or out from a side street, like a ball in a pinball machine. I have to admit, the whole thing is flashy, but it seems singularly pointless. Who, or what, is keeping score?

21 May 2017

Today’s Adventure in the Real World


A
nd I’m still here at the hospital. Tomorrow I’m (probably) going to have an angiogram to determine if I have heart damage and to what extent, or something like that. I can’t eat anything tonight, and I will have to lie quietly tomorrow while recovering from it. So that part I’m not looking forward to.
On the other hand today was relatively quiet, the main excitement being getting my roommate off to work successfully at long distance via Facebook messages, and making sure that somebody could walk my dog Harry while my roommates are at work. I am really tired and out of it. I have high hopes, however, that all will be accomplished in the long run, if not in the short. Selah.

Dying Happily Ever After [2015]


[Originally posted 21 May 2015]
W
ords continue to fail me, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write them, I suppose. It’s not as if anybody actually reads what I write. If I’m merely yelling into the desert winds, well, it doesn’t affect anybody but me.
At some point I have to come to terms with ruin. Actions have consequences. Misplaced trust leads to—what? Apathy? I know there’s a train of thought in there somewhere, if I could only entice it to come forth.
The followers of al-Baghdadi, neither Islamic nor a state by any reasonable definition, ride roughshod over their little piece of the world stage, and occupy an inordinate (and unwarranted) space in my mental terrain, along with such unlikely forms of life as mad tea partiers, libertarians, criminals and thugs of all descriptions. Hoodlums ye shall always have with you, as Jesus might have said, but ye shall not always have me. There’s the limit to it all, that ineffable wall there’s no reaching however many successive approximations are undertaken.
One of these days, should I live so long, I’ll have something to say again. In the meantime I’ll recycle old hits and spin gold cobwebs out of nothing.

20 May 2017

Still in the Hospital

5:00 a.m. or so--I'm in the cardiac unit now, being monitored 24/7 and wishing like hell I was home. They have managed to get my blood pressure down well within normal range--they actually overshot and had to bring it up a bit--and my overnight levels are looking good. As far as I know I still have an angiogram scheduled for Monday, but we'll see what else the fates have. I still can't access email or facebook or the like, and I still don't have my laptop, but things are looking pretty good as far as I can tell. I'll try to keep everyone informed through my blog, since I can get onto that, and we'll see how things develop from there.

Everybody has been really helpful here, and the food is actually pretty good. I had a breakfast scramble, a turkey sandwich for lunch, and (I think) turkey and mashed potatoes for dinner. There are sides of pico de gallo, grapes, a banana, dinner roll, even a salad, and blueberry muffins or chocolate chip cookies for desert.  (There are other options, but these are some I've had.

5:27 a.m. PDT--Somebody just came through to draw blood for some test or other; I think that's the only thing on my schedule for the moment, though breakfast should happen in a couple of hours. And somebody will check my blood pressure again, no doubt. No medications at the moment, since my blood pressure is in a reasonable range.

7:03 a.m. PDT--We've just had the shift change, and Lisa (I think her name was) will be replaced by Kim, who was running things yesterday. One encouraging sign from my point of view; Lisa asked me about my access to medications and whether my home situation would work out, giving me some hope that they are thinking about discharging me at some point. (I am still scheduled for that angiogram on Monday, however.) Breakfast should come soon, I think.

8:15 a.m. PDT--I've had breakfast (another scramble) and my morning medicines (aspirin and something given as a shot in the stomach) and it looks like that's it until eleven or so when there will be another drawing of blood. If things continue to look good that should be the last blood I have to have drawn.

10:07 a.m. PDT--Somebody came by to ask what I want for lunch, and I ordered another sandwich for noon. With luck I will have the blood-drawing over with before then. It's kind of dull here without people constantly coming by to give me tests. I guess I'll just have to see what happens.

11:58 p.m. PDT--It's still fairly quiet here; somebody did come by to draw blood (presumably for the last time barring adverse developments) and I've had my blood pressure checked. I have been informed that there will be a further test of some kind, but it hasn't happened yet. For the moment the main thing on  the horizon is lunch.

12:50 p.m. PDT--And lunch has come and gone. I don't know what happens next. I had a chicken sandwich and I still feel sort of hungry, but that seems to be how it goes here. My brother is supposed to come by with my laptop and charge cord for my phone, so maybe I'll be in a better position to get things done than I am now. I'm not counting on it, however.

19 May 2017

Update

I am in the hospital right now and unable to update my blog here as I would like. At the moment I believe that this is nothing too serious, but that may be my hopes and wishes rather than any reflection of reality. Even as I write this somebody came by to do an EKG, so things are happening. And I guess my doctor will be by relatively soon.

If I can I guess I'll update this as things progress.

8:47 am or so--Well, I've had another consultation with the doctor and things are still kind of up in the air.  I may need to stay here for a bit, apparently. We could be talking medication, minor procedure, and/or surgery. So I guess I'll just have to wait and see how the tests look.

And I've just been informed that they're moving me to a different room, so even this tenuous link with the outside world may be lost.

11:05 am PDT--I've been moved to a room in the cardiac zone of the hospital, and at this point I'm scheduled to be here at least until monday. I guess I'm going to try at least to get my laptop here so I can work on stuff, but how things will play out I don't know right now.

12:10 pm PDT--Well, nothing is happening while they try to get my blood pressure down. I think I've got something arranged to get my laptop here, and maybe to get my dog looked after. i feel like crap.

5:55 pm PDT--I've had two EKGs now and an ultrasound, and my doctor says the results of the EKGs are looking good. They've been trying to get my blood pressure down all day, and finally have it in the normal range. (They got it a little too low at one point, but have now brought it back up.) I gather that the results of the ultrasound are not in yet. I'm scheduled for an angiogram on monday. And that's where things are right now.

18 May 2017

Please Stand By


T
oday is the anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption, and I intended to write something about that, what with me and Mt. St. Helens having a sort of personal relation and all, but I’m feeling like crap, and I think I’m going to head off to the Emergency Room instead. I hope I’ll be back in some capacity soon.

17 May 2017

New Frontiers in Bureaucracy [2008]

[Originally posted 17 May 2008]
H
urricane evacuations will be delayed in the future for Federal authorities to make sure that all evacuees have their papers in order, border agents announced in McAllen, Texas. Immigration officials will be stationed at evacuation hubs in the Rio Grande Valley to prevent people without appropriate documentation from boarding buses.
A spokeswoman for the governor pointed out, “If there is any significant delay in having people move from harm’s way, then that could run the risk of endangering lives.” The governor wants the border patrol to put public safety first during an emergency.
A representative for the border patrol shrugged off such concerns. “Our local policy is checkpoints will not close, we will check for immigration status,” he said. “We have to do our jobs.” [Source]

16 May 2017

Two Trees


T
hinking about Eden again—the story of humankind’s beginnings as conceived by a bunch of babbling barbarians thousands of years ago (as the Reverend Mee puts it). You probably recall the main thrust of it—Yahweh plants a garden, creates the first man to take care of it, and forbids him to eat from a tree in the center. Yahweh makes him a wife, however, and a snake tempts her into eating the fruit; she gives some to her husband, Yahweh finds out, and all three—the man, his wife, and the snake, are punished and kicked out of the garden.
It sounds rather like one of those stories from North American or African tribesmen in the anthropology books, but is often treated with absurd solemnity even in today’s culture. There are a number of oddities, inconsistencies, and loose ends in the story. Consider:
·         The first man is forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (2:27)—but he is not expelled from the Garden for this—rather he is expelled from the Garden to keep him from eating from the Tree of Life (3:22-24).
·         The first couple make clothing for themselves out of fig leaves (3:7) but in the next verse hide from Yahweh because, as the man explains, “I was naked, so I hid myself” (3:10). What happened to their fig-leaf clothing?
·         The woman is twice given a name, first by the man after her creation (2:23) and later by the man just before the expulsion from the Garden (3:20). In the first she was named woman because she was made out of man, and in the second she was named Eve because she was the mother of all living.
·         Also, right by the second account of naming the woman we find an alternate account of the first clothing—where the first couple had made clothes from fig leaves for themselves (3:7) that mysteriously disappeared earlier, now Yahweh makes them clothes out of skin (3:20).
·         The talking snake is an oddity in the narrative; even in the J narrative animals don’t generally talk.
·         All three main characters in the narrative are punished in ways that explain the world (just-so stories)—but two of them are distinctly odd. The man, who was created as an agriculturalist (2:15), is punished by being turned into an agriculturalist, and the snake is punished by being turned into a snake.
·         The First Couple are twice expelled from the Garden.
Two stories seem to be intermingled here; one involves the Tree of Knowledge, and the other the Tree of Life. Based solely on the functional criteria we have the following: (1) a story in which a god commands the first couple not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they disobey, and (because of that?) are expelled from the Garden; and (2) a story in which the first couple somehow acquire godlike knowledge and to keep them from achieving immortality by eating from the Tree of Life they are expelled from the Garden.
It has long been noticed that the two trees do not play well together; the story is poorly integrated, and all like that there. Notably, nowhere does Yahweh say anything about eating or not eating from the Tree of Life—but then the first couple are expelled from the Garden solely to keep that result from happening.
The Tree of Knowledge story is relatively easy to construct. Yahweh creates the First Man and places him in the Garden to live. He orders him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He creates the First Woman as a companion for him. She eats from the Tree of Knowledge and gets the First Man to eat from it as well. They then realize that they are naked and make clothing for themselves. This catches Yahweh’s attention and he expels them from the Garden as a punishment. Men are condemned to agriculture, and women to subjection to men and pain in childbirth.
The Tree of Life story seems to be more fragmentary, but it must have gone something like this: Yahweh creates the First Man as a gardener (it is not a punishment in this version). Somebody enlightens him and he realizes that he is naked, so he hides when hearing Yahweh wandering about in the Garden. Yahweh is alarmed when he realizes that the First Man has become like a god, and he takes counsel with the other gods. They decide to expel the First Man from the Garden so that he does not eat from the Tree of Life and complete the transition to godhead by becoming immortal. Yahweh then helps the First Man out by providing him with clothing made from animal skins and a companion named Eve.

15 May 2017

Making an Impression [1996]


[from my pre-weblog, 15 May 1996]
S
omewhere in here comes that old black magic, that determi­nation to write something whether or not it makes sense, just in order to keep from drying up and withering on the vine—kind of like masturbation is supposed to be practice for sex, not that I would know anything about that. Right?
As always the notion is that if I put words down on paper, any words, sooner or later I will hit on something I actually want to say. As though determination can take the place of prep­aration, or resolution substitute for thought.
Well, that little burst of energy wound down fairly quickly, as I got stuck on a word for a concept. I remember that [my fifth grade teacher] Mrs. Allen always used to claim that if you couldn’t define a word, you didn’t really know it, even if you could use it correctly in a sentence and knew how to make it work with other words. What would she say about my problem, I wonder, where the meaning is clear in my head but I can’t find a word that has exactly the required meaning?
Yeah, poor Mrs. Allen. What was wrong with her, I wonder. What made her so neurotic and uptight? Bad toilet-training, unsatisfactory sex life, all the trials and ills on which we conventionally blame our misalignments with life? I don’t know. I will say this for Mrs. Allen: if she set out to make an impres­sion on her students, she certainly succeeded. With me, anyway. Maybe not with others—I don’t know. I haven’t talked to anybody who was actually in her class for years beyond number.
Obviously it must have been her intention to make an impres­sion—to know that her students would be talking of her and re­membering her and writing of her in later decades when grade school was only a foul gas in the tank of memory, a by-product of the decay of childhood. Why else the pointless rote-sayings: “Self-discipline is doing what you should do whether you want to do it or not”—and who, exactly, defines what you should do? And how are you supposed to know what you should do and when you should do it? “A noun is a person, place or thing”—in which case can I sit down at my noun, open up my noun and read from it a noun that was written a long time ago by a noun named Edgar Allen Poe? Those are the only two I remember, but as I recall she had a large number of them, and you had to be word-perfect or you were wrong. WRONG!
I remember when my friend Wyn, bless her, answered Mrs. Allen’s “What is a noun?” with “A noun is one of the seven prin­cipal parts of speech—” Mrs. Allen blew her top. “That is ex­actly the sort of answer I don’t want!” she shrieked. “A-noun-is-a-person-place-or-thing! A-noun-is-a-person-place-or-thing! I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too!”
Yeah, well, poor Mrs. Allen. She can’t have been a happy person. But influential—yeah. Maybe. I suppose she is proba­bly the teacher I was most influenced by, though not, perhaps, in any way she would have liked. If Mrs. Allen was in favor of something, I’m deeply suspicious of it to this day. It’s an emotional bias I can’t entirely dump; I’m sure she was right on some things, but she was wrong on so many that I lose count. She was against evolution, bad posture, drunkenness, drugs, people sitting with their heads propped up on their hands or with their arms folded, daylight saving time (actually I’m with her on that one), atheism (the only people who are not protected by the con­stitution which permits us to worship God in any way we choose or something like that), agnosticism (atheists who can’t make up their minds to be atheists), gum chewing, social drinking, smok­ing, daydreaming, and so on and so forth. She believed that Jesus Christ never made a mistake, that alcohol kills brain cells, that people think in words, that there was a time when I wanted to be a cowboy, that the most important thing a person will ever learn in life is how to write a business letter, that people who can define a word actually un­derstand it, that Emerson was the wisest man who ever lived (except of course for Jesus Christ who never made a mistake etc), that a noun is a person place or thing, and that self-discipline is doing what you should do whether you want to do it or not. Rest in peace.

14 May 2017

Nothing Worth Reporting [1980]


[passage from my journal, 14 May 1980]
6:00 pm PST—I’m taking a break while the news goes on—what is the news? (1) Carter is removing diplomats from the embassy in Cuba on account of an anti-American campaign going on there. (2) The Cuban sea-lift is being called to a halt by Carter on account of the fact that Castro is supposedly dumping mental patients and criminals into Florida. (3) J. B. Stoner is found guilty of bombing a church in 1958 (Alabama). (4) The automobile industry is suffering from bad times at the moment. (5) The House and Senate are wrangling over different version of the budget. // Local: (1) The LA city council wants a review of police practices concerning gays. (2) I missed it. (3) I missed it. (Both were about the police.) (4) The weather report.
Well, enough of that. Since it’s been a while since I’ve written in my journal, I figured I’d do a little catching up. What’s going on at the moment is finals week, but my only final is Greek (tomorrow). Electronic Music is finished formally, Greek will be tomorrow, when I hand in my Native American Religions take-home final that will be finished, and Q is a bitch on accounta the fact that I haven’t even begun writing the paper (I’m still bogged down in research…).
What else is worth reporting? Nothing, I guess. Fuck it—more later.

13 May 2017

Faith-Based Logic [2007]


[Originally posted 13 May 2007]
The United States is an overwhelmingly faith-based nation—a March 2007 Newsweek poll showed that 91 percent of the country believes in God.
Is anybody else bothered by an obvious difficulty with this statement? The conclusion (the US is an overwhelmingly faith-based nation) does not follow from the premise (91% of the country believe in god). Something is missing here. It reminds me of a time when I saw a guy on TV claim that 95 percent of the people of the United States wanted prayer in school. How did he get this figure? I wondered. When I looked up his source—he had cited a recent poll—I found his 95% figure—but it was not in connection with prayer in school. (As a matter of fact that topic was not addressed in the poll.) It was the number of Americans who claimed to believe in god.
This is a trick that has always irritated me. If you can't prove something, cite something different and move on. Quickly. J. A. T. Robinson, the Bishop of Woolworth’s, was fond of this sort of hit-and-run argument, which is the basis of his oddball book Redating the New Testament. My health sciences teacher in junior high—a coach who majored in public speaking—used to use it when teaching the required anti-drug propaganda. It always bugged me, and left me wondering what was being covered up.
So here, the question strikes me—what is a faith-based nation, anyway? It would be the opposite of an evidence-based nation, I guess, but that doesn’t get us very far. For the most part Americans seem to rely on a mixture of faith and evidence to make daily decisions. We trust that our food providers aren’t going to poison us with tainted tuna, for example—but we have the FDA and usually some kind of food inspectors to back it up. We have faith that our employees aren’t robbing us blind—but we audit the books nonetheless. We are, as a people, credulous while priding ourselves on our skepticism.
Now when I look around on the internet I find that “faith-based” is apparently being used as a weak synonym for “religious.” This is lame, and apparently politically motivated. It also displays a Christian bias. In Christianity belief without evidence—faith—is exalted. Remember the story in the fourth gospel about the unbelieving disciple Thomas? This was the fellow who refused to believe that Jesus had in fact been raised from the dead until he felt the body of the reanimated corpse for himself. Thomas required evidence, you see. The author of the gospel, however, has Jesus condemn Thomas for this. Faith without evidence is superior to evidence-based faith—at least in Christianity. This is one reason why people speak of the Christian Faith.
But, on the other side of the same token, it is incorrect to speak of the Jewish faith, or the Buddhist faith, and so on. When anybody refers to world faiths, they are—whether they know it or not—restricting themselves in essence to the sects of Christianity and Islam (and the latter, as far as I can tell, appears to be little more than a heretical offshoot of the former anyway).
So if faith here is being (mis)used as a weak synonym for religion, then apparently “faith-based” means simply “religious.” But if that’s what the author meant, why not just say it? I suppose the fact that 91% of the people claim to believe in a god proves that they are religious, though that leaves out the possibility of philosophical belief. But why gibber when you don't have to?
In this case I suspect that it has to do with the fundamental dishonesty of the article in question, where the issue is not “faith”—dragged in arbitrarily—but bigotry. A small community of god-believing bigots tried to drive out an atheistic family rather than practice the virtue of tolerance, but you’d never gather that from this piece. The truth is, in most instances Americans are hostile to faith. Faith-based medicine or faith-based accounting gets its practitioners jailed, and rightly so.

12 May 2017

The Stationer's Register and Love's Labour's Won [1981]


[12 May 1981]
O
ne of the projects that have been distracting me in here is the whole question of Love’s Labor Won. The thing is—no-one has paid attention to the Stationer’s Register evidence, which is fatal to certain ideas. If there was a quarto in 1603 then the plays entered in 1622 or 1623 or whenever it was cannot be Love’s Labor Won in any form—which rules out for instance an early draft of All’s Well that Ends Well—T. W. Baldwin’s choice. Much Ado About Nothing could be Love’s Labor Won only if the 1603 writer in this single instance gave a play a title not found on the title-page. The Taming of the Shrew is possible on the assumption that a good quarto of the play was issued after the 1594 bad quarto (if it was) and was then lost—but in that case, why did the Folio editors prefer the title of the bad quarto over the good? My suggestion is that the play is indeed lost. Why then wasn’t it included in the first folio? Either (a) because it was not by Shakespeare—but the fact that all the other plays mentioned by Meres were included makes this at least unlikely—or (b) LLW was a bad quarto and the editors lacked a good text to replace it. In support of this second conjecture may I point out that (1) Love’s Labor Lost was not entered in the SR; (2) It was issued as having been augmented or enlarged or something like that; (3) LLL was printed in the Folio exclusively from the quarto; (4) LLL seems to cry out for a sequel. It has often been suggested that LLL was first issued in a bad quarto, like Romeo and Juliet, which has been lost. What if LLW was also so issued, but was not replaced by a good quarto? What if LLL and LLW were in effect two parts of a piece? or whatever. Anyway, the only real problem I see with this is the question of why no good text would be available for the play. No text apparently available for LLL, but that could be explained on the assumption that the quarto had made a ms unnecessary. And so on and so forth. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been playing with.

11 May 2017

Improbable Tales #231 [May 1972]


[Written May 1972]
N
o-one who saw him on the street would have taken him for anything but an ordinary comic collector. And he was a comic collector. The comic he carried under his arm was a long sought prize, an early issue of All-Star Comics which he had possessed previously solely in a coverless copy.
Finding it filled a gap in his collection, and he hoped to get home before darkness made it impossible to savor it. In this he failed.
The characteristic retching struck while he was still within the city. He fell to the sidewalk, writhing.
In a pause between attacks he fumbled for his neutronium capsules, and swallowing one, was transformed. The symptoms passed away and he stood shakily.
He picked up his magazine and examined it closely. It was undamaged. Smiling, he surveyed the superheroes depicted on the cover. He had them trapped and safe in an invincible plastic prison, trapped as he had trapped many before them. He remembered them. Batman, Plastic Man, Aquaman, Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain Midnite, Captain America, the Vision, the Spirit, the Skull, the Hulk, the Heap, the Flash—he had them, friends and foes alike, classified, organized and labeled. Trapped.
Again he smiled, for no-one knew that he, mild mannered comic collector, was in reality the Improbable Sadoman.
His body reacted to the transforming effects of the neutron­ium, and he felt the need for action. He climbed up the wall of the building, his suction-cup hands gripping stone and cement with insect-like sureness. Then, spreading his cloak, he glided away from the building.
Rapidly he combed the city. There was no-one. Nothing moved. Sometimes he strode the streets, bold and unafraid, for he was the Improbable Sadoman; sometimes he leaped from building top to building top. He met no-one. There was only him and the shadows.
Abruptly a familiar figure caught his eye. Caped and cowled, there could be no doubt of who it was. No sooner had Sadoman seen the figure than it had melted away into the dark­ness.
A foe at last! Triumphant, Sadoman howled his challenge.
“Batshit! Show yourself, you skulking flea-carrier! It's me, Sadoman. Remember? I beat you once and I'll do it again!”
There was no answer. Nothing disturbed the shadows in the street below.
"Come on out, damn you! I know you’re down there! You can’t escape me! I’m your master!”
Sadoman paused, and then launched himself into the shadows. “I’m coming, Batshit!  Don’t try any tricks with me!”  The streets were empty. There was no sign of the caped superhero. “Damn you! You’ve cheated me of my triumph! But we shall meet again, Batman! I promise that!”
A shadow crossed the moon. Sadoman scanned the skies. Yes, there was the object. For a moment he strained his eyes, then he remembered. There was no doubt about it. That was Steel Man, out of the pages of Archon Comix. As he swung into action he recalled what he could of the silver superhero. In reality An­drew Undershaft, wealthy munitions maker and helpless cripple, only when he donned his armor did he become the nearly invinci­ble—and highly improbable—Steel Man. But no one was more im­probable than Sadoman. Laughing, he scaled a building, spread his cloak, and launched himself into space, using a concealed jet assist he had improvised for the purpose.
“Steel Man!” he shouted, feeling the air whistle under his arms, “Steel Man! Turn and fight! You’ve met your doom at last!” As he followed the armored crime-fighter he exulted, feel­ing the keen enjoyment of the anticipation of battle. There was no doubt of who would be the victor; he had all 52 issues of Steel Man, and his adventures in Improbable Tales before that, locked in the iron vaults of his collection. “Undershaft!” he called, “Turn and meet your master!”
Slowly the steel figure in the distance swung around to face his antagonist. Moonlight glinted silver on his armor, and the light from his propelling jets vanished. For a moment Sadoman felt fear of the conflict he had so lightly thrown himself into, fear of the silent superhero who was to confront him, but he shook it off. Instead he considered tactics. Unarmored, he was surely no match for Steel Man—and he was unarmored and unarmed, save with his own natural abilities.
A ray leaped forth from the steeled figure's glove. It hit Sadoman with the force of a ten ton truck and sent him plummet­ing. He had forgotten Steel Man’s most famous weapon, the force rays that were his to command at the change of an electron in a transistor.
Shakily he dived into a window of a conveniently abandoned apartment. If he couldn’t go after Steel Man, then Steel Man would have to come after him.
“Andrew Undershaft!” he shouted. “Your precious secret’s a secret no longer! All your enemies will know that the invincible Steel Man’s a helpless cripple without his armor! You’ll have no place to hide! No place that’s safe! You’ll—”
The Improbable Sadoman dived for cover as a Force Ray tore the side from the building. Hiding in the hallway he watched the superhero alight in the room he had just occupied.
How do you fight an armored foe? wondered Sadoman. He had fought them before, he remembered. There was Dr. Doom, whom he had defeated in a dank Latverian castle by the mere expedient of reversing the polarity on one of the Doctor’s own weapons. And surely there were others, but somehow, no method he had used seemed quite appropriate. As usual, he must improvise.
With heavy clanking steps, the superhero turned and blasted the room wall. But Sadoman was already gone. Stealing a trick from another superhero he clung to the ceiling as the armored Steel Man passed below.
With a cry of triumph, Sadoman leaped from the ceiling and wrapped himself around the back of the departing figure. They toppled heavily to the floor. With the pressure of his suction cup fingers he pulled loose a section of steel plate where the power supply was hidden. But Steel Man was swift. With a power­ful swing he drove his iron fist into Sadoman’s face, hurling him into a brick wall. Spitting out some superfluous teeth, Sadoman staggered weakly to his feet. The stark figure of his opponent raised his armored arm.
It took a mere fraction of a second, but to Sadoman it was all the time in the world. It was the end, he realized. A force ray, or deadly laser beam, would lash out and remove the Improba­ble Sadoman forever from the face of the earth. Sadoman would die. It seemed incredible that he, who had defeated Superman himself, should be destroyed by a second-rate superhero like Steel Man.
Without thinking he activated his jet assist and began to shoot forward. Slowly, it seemed to Sadoman, the steel figure fired where he had just been, and then off guard he was thrown off balance by the collision as the two met. Like a human bullet Sadoman drove the other into the brick wall opposite.
With his powerful grip the Sadoman crushed the exposed power unit. Steel Man flailed helplessly and then, unplugged, was still. Sadoman ripped open the armor, throwing cogs and wheels down the hallway. The steel corpse lay half-rotted under his suction-cup fingers. The Improbable Sadoman rose.
“You bastard, Undershaft!” he shouted to the empty city. “You sent a robot against me! You robbed me of my victory! But” he promised, “We’ll meet again, Steel Man, we’ll meet again!” He plunged out a window, down a wall, to the streets below.
After the conflict he felt drained, empty. It was past the peak, he realized, and time to relax in his room. The experimen­tal hallucinogen that had kept him alive when all other people had died of a mysterious plague, and had made him the last super­hero on earth, was wearing off.
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