30 June 2017

Picking on the Clueless pt. XXX [2010]

[Originally posted 30 June 2010]
ver at my other blog, Fake History, I get a certain amount of traffic, and even an occasional commenter. Yesterday some guy calling himself “David d” left a comment on my entry about a quotation falsely attributed to George Washington:
What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.
I pointed out there that the fake is based on something George Washington did say during a difficult meeting with a delegation of Delawares intent on preserving the peace with the Euro-American colonists:
You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.
Nothing here about students, American schools, or the like of course. As I pointed out in my entry it would be an unlikely topic for George Washington to have commented on, given the circumstances of his time and place. I noted that as the “American schools” quotation is fake, and apparently recent, I felt no need to research its actual provenance, beyond noting that the earliest source Google Books could come up with was a 2006 book by a guy named Bob Klingenberg.
Now this David d got all bent out of shape about this simple declaration, and he showed up crowing:
You really need to learn to perform some due diligence before you write of things you no [sic] very little about.
You misleadingly wrote, “The fake quotation is very modern, probably twenty-first century in origin. I’ve made no special effort to run down its history; the oldest reference Google Books turned up was from 2006, in a book called Is God with America? by Bob Klingenberg (p. 188)”
That set off the “truth alarm”. So I did just a little research NOT using google which many believe has a liberal bias programmed into its search engines. And found a reliable source going back over 70 years. Nice try.
Now I have to say that that would have been interesting. Not impossible by any means, but interesting. Some fake quotations do indeed lurk for long periods of time in obscure corners of the intellectual web, before springing out to ensnare the unwary. And reliable sources sometimes do transmit unreliable information.
But this was not such an example, alas. No, David d was so colossally inept that he got caught in a trap of his own making. His reference for the fake quotation? It was Fitzgerald’s edition of Washington’s papers, the very source I linked to in my entry, and it did not contain the fake quotation at all, but only the genuine one, as I’d already explained ad nauseam.
What the hell was David d thinking (assuming that that isn’t giving him too much credit)? Did he suppose that nobody would check up on him? Fitzgerald’s edition is actually online, so there is no difficulty in checking it out. I can only assume that our clueless clown was just making things up and hoping nobody would actually call him on his bluff. Clearly his claim to have done “just a little research” was a vast overstatement, unless his definition of “research” is “bullshitting”.
Now David d adds a crowning touch to his display of ignorance and incompetence. Allow me to let him hang himself with his own words:
You know a big problem I have with many skeptics and naysayers is their willful ignorance on many topic that they pretend to know something about.
Read the facts man!
Peace out.
Ah, yes, the infamous Wallbuilders site, the source of so many lies and misinterpretations. That’s really convincing.
But—and this is the cream of the jest—David d apparently never bothered to check out his own link. Because Wallbuilders does not back him up on this fake, not in the least. What’s given at his link is the same genuine quotation given by Fitzgerald and by my own site, and not the fake quotation at all.
Epic fail, David d—and, by the way, I don’t believe for a moment that you are really the homeschooling advocate whose name and email address you’re using. I took a brief look at his site and I doubt that he’d be either as incompetent or as, well, illiterate as your comment is.
Peace off, man.
[Ed Darrell added this comment to the original post:]
And the rest of the story . . .
Various Delaware tribes fought on both sides of the American Revolution, in the Ohio Valley. Washington was constantly working, as the leader of the Continental Army, to secure agreements with these tribes that would either keep them from aiding the British, or get them to help out the rebels.
Several of these tribes had converted to Christianity in the previous 100 years. One group wished to avoid attack by the colonists, the rebels, and so struck a bargain with the Americans. The bargain was sealed, the Delawares thought, with their sending their first-born sons to live and learn with the colonists.
The sad coda is this: Despite the agreement (and perhaps with some provocation, but probably not), the colonists set on this village of Christian Delawares in about 1782, and wiped them out—every man, woman, child, horse and dog.
Some Christians, those colonists. Some example to follow.

29 June 2017

Crippled Inside: John Lennon (11940–11980) [c1990?]

[Surviving fragment of The Twelfth Millennium, probably written in the 1990s]
When Christ said, “It’s as easy for a rich man to get to heaven as to go through the eye of a needle,” I took it literally—that one has to dump possessions to get through to nirvana, or whatever you call it. But an intellectual has less chance of getting through than me. They’re possessed of ideas ... Most people are choked to death by concepts and ideas that they carry around with them, usually not their own but their par­ents’ and society’s. Those are the possessions you’ve got to get rid of to get through the eye of the needle.
John Lennon
archild, twisted and violent as the times he lived in, John Winston Lennon was born during an air raid on the docks of Liver­pool in the early stages of World War II. The fires that charred the rest of the world barely touched the young child as he learned to eat and take his first steps, and for him the war that had so affected the lives of his elders would always be something unfelt, unreal, distant as the memories of ancient Troy. During his entire life John Lennon would never be able to learn from the experiences of others; it was both one of his strengths and one of his weaknesses.
The world in which he found himself was now transformed; the flood-tide of war had retreated, and the landscape that emerged from the waters was entirely transformed. It was the world Noah must have seen on emerging from the ark. Such familiar entities as the British Empire, Colonial Africa, and French Indo-China blew away like cobwebs in a hurricane, and what was left was no longer familiar.
Dominating the scene now were the two surviving powers, each sporting its own style of government, as well as its own system of economics. It would be straight-across competition to see which setup worked better—or at least it could have been, if both sides had played fair. Neither intended to, however; both were prepared to do whatever it took to guarantee victory. Vio­lence, subversion, economic coercion—nothing was forbidden in the Cold War between the empires of North America and Russia.
Great Britain, like most of the rest of the West, was allied with the United States in this subdued but deadly conflict, and inevitably it was American culture that impressed and filled the young Lennon’s mind as he grew up. Along with the very British Lewis Carroll he read the American James Thurber; the all too American sounds of rhythm and blues, skiffle, and rock ’n’ roll filled his ears. Liverpool was a port town, and American records drifted in with the tides that carried the shipping of the world to its seven miles of docks.
A natural leader, always the center of attention, Lennon soon found that it was not enough merely to listen to the excit­ing new music that filled his imagination; he had to make music as well. A band was the natural consequence, one that was at first fairly makeshift as friends were drafted to fill out the parts, whether they could play anything or not. Gradually pro­fessionalism began to creep in. While playing at a church event a friend introduced him to a neighbor, one James Paul McCartney, who not only knew the words to songs Lennon was only vaguely aware of, but could also tune his own guitar. It was a tough call. Lennon recognized that this new kid

28 June 2017

Untitled Novel: Mission to Egypt [1995]

[passage from an untitled novel, written 22/23 June 1995]
n the end,” said the Baptist, “Egypt is going to be impor­tant.”
“Egypt?” Simon couldn’t see it.
“Yes, Egypt. Moses left Egypt, you know,” said the Baptist vaguely, “and the Egyptians pursued him, to bring him back. Of course they failed; they were trying to go against God’s will.”
“Were they?”
“Yes. The Lord’s will is not to be flouted.” The Baptist nodded. “No,” he went on, musing, “I must try to keep that in mind myself. The Lord’s will cannot be flouted. We forget that sometimes, become puffed up with our own self-importance. That’s why—” he turned abruptly on Simon—”That’s why Satan never real­ly succeeds. The most he can achieve is the brief appearance of success. There is a power that ties us all to the earth, and while we may attempt for a moment to escape it, the most we can have is the illusion of flight. Even the birds return to the earth to nest. Remember that, Simon. That power that holds us to the ground is the will of the Lord, and it will break itself for no man.” He turned away. “Not even for me; not even for the messiah.”
“But Egypt,” prompted Simon. “You were talking about Egypt.”
“Was I?” asked the Baptist vaguely. “Was I indeed? Yes, Egypt it was. Your people believe in Moses, do they not?”
“My people?”
“The remnants of the House of Joseph,” John said. “You have your own prophets, your own history, your own temple, broken though it may be, but with us you share the Law and him who brought it.”
“Yes,” said Simon. “What of it?”
“Moses led the people out of Egypt,” said the Baptist. “So the history books say. But it never was that simple, was it?”
“No,” agreed Simon. “Not all the people came out with Mo­ses, and many have gone back in the thousand years since his time.”
“Exactly,” said the Baptist. “The flock has strayed far afield. And who is to say that the Lord’s hand is not in this? Yes, the lost sheep of the House of Israel roam the four corners of the earth, and it is our job to gather them back into the fold. The Kingdom is for them also.” He trailed off, reflec­tively. “The Kingdom in the Sky is full of sheep,” he added.
“But Egypt,” said Simon. “What about Egypt?”
“Yes, that’s the point,” said John. “What about Egypt? The Egyptian branch office is no longer reporting, and somebody has to find out what is going on there.”
“Do you want me to recommend somebody to go to Egypt?” asked Simon.
“No, no, not at all. You’ve missed the point entirely,” complained the Baptist. “You, Simon. I want you to check it out personally, find out what’s happening there, and report back. Do you understand?”
“But—but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Simon. “The times are bad. Things are heating up here, and who can be trusted to keep the lid on it—”
“Simon,” interrupted the Baptist. “Egypt is important. You know that. I know it. Who else can I trust on this mission?”
“What about Dositheus?”
“You’re not serious,” said John, chuckling. “Don’t let your squabbles infect your judgment.”
John moved a hand impatiently. “It is no secret to me that you two get along as well as two tomcats in the same backyard. You undervalue Dositheus; he is a competent administrator, and a positive genius at making arrangements for food and the like, but can you seriously picture him on a fact-finding mission? No, Simon, you are the one called for this mission.”
“Am I to report back to you, then?”
“Let’s just say that you are to report back,” said the Bap­tist.
“Not to you? Are you saying this through caution, or do you have some kind of prophetic insight?”
“I don’t know,” said John. “I really don’t know. But I have a strong feeling, Simon, that when you have gone to Egypt, I shall not set my eyes on your face again in this world. Not in this world, and perhaps not an any other.” His voice trailed off. “At least not until time itself turns back and the whole cosmic drama replays itself again. We are all puppets, Simon, dancing and jigging on our strings, and the music we dance to is the will of God. The will of God—there is no escaping it.”

27 June 2017

I Can't Cope [2009]

News in Brief
[27 June 2009]

Sri Lanka—Authorities have taken Chandrasiri Bandara, a popular astrologer, into custody to investigate one of his predictions. Defying the polls the astrologer says that changes in the alignment of the cosmic spheres on 8 October are bad news for the present government, signifying hard times ahead with rising living costs. (Economists have made similar predictions.) The prime minister, he predicted, would become president, and the opposition leader prime minister. The Criminal Investigations Department is looking into the basis for the prediction according to police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera. It is not clear exactly what they are looking into—do they think he had political motives, or are they merely suspicious of his astrological interpretation? The arrest is condemned by the opposition. (BBC)

Los Angeles—Noted Beatles collector Michael Jackson died Thursday of possibly natural causes. The owner of such coveted Beatles memorabilia as the rights to the bulk of the Lennon-McCartney catalog, Jackson has been the subject of much speculation recently concerning the disposition of these much-coveted sentimental treasures. One theory has it that he's left at least some of his collection to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. With the imminent re-release of the Beatles catalog in listenable condition for the first time since the advent of the CD, fans are concerned about the fate of these soon-to-be-lost tracks. Jackson's condition is unchanged. (NY Daily News)

Stockholm, Sweden—The Swedish Court of Appeals blandly ruled that Judge Tomas Norstöm, one of three judges who presided over the recent Pirate Bay trial, had no conflict of interest, despite his membership in two advocacy groups on the other side of the issue, the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Swedish Copyright Association. "For a judge to back the principles on which this legislation rests cannot be considered bias," appeals court judge Anders Eka said, apparently with a straight face. Four men involved in the operation of The Pirate Bay, which among other things makes it possible for smaller artists to share their work with others via peer-to-peer networking, were tried and convicted for copyright violations earlier this year, despite the utter worthlessness of the legal claims against them. Backlash against the verdict is considered responsible for electing a member of the Pirate Party to the European Parliament. (ZDNet, BBC)

26 June 2017

Chicken McNuggets Were Still New [1982]

[bus trip, 26 June 1982]
y cousin had gotten up late enough that we basically did nothing except go to the LA terminal; she drove me there so that I could catch the 11:00 bus to Portland, which I did. I arrived there within minutes of departure time and for a while it looked as if I would miss the bus regardless (which didn’t worry me because I knew I could just catch the 1pm or so bus, but which did worry my cousin) but with the help of (and sometimes in spite of the help of) my cousin I got on the bus and said goodbye to her and all that. There was only one seat vacant on the bus I could see (although it developed afterwards that there was probably one other vacant seat which I missed somehow) and it was occupied by a vast man of vaguely Mexican cast who it turned out spoke little or no English. Half-occupied, I mean; he had his own seat and sprawled into the other.  I sat beside him, and went to sleep. When getting on the bus I checked my other bag to Portland, so I had only my carryon piece to worry about.
It turned out that I was sort of surrounded by a family of five—two brothers, two sisters, and the wife of the oldest brother—who were going up to a small town in Washington which even I had never heard of which was about 37 miles from the Canadian border. They were going to visit their dying father whom they hadn’t seen in years (why I don’t know—the youngest of the kids must have been still in high school). They had left from Virginia the day before, or maybe the day before that—it wasn’t clear. They were appallingly ignorant of local geography; for some reason they suffered from the delusion that Portland was just over the California border and so were amazed at the extent of the state [of California] (an extent which is amazing enough with­out giving it most of Oregon as well), and they argued about whether Vancouver was in Washington or Canada.
I had drifted off to sleep quite nicely (although plagued by nausea and headache) when I was awakened by an appalling racket from the back of the bus. A little girl, maybe six years old, was singing at the top of her lungs a song about putting Satan in a box, and about how glad she was she had salvation from the Lord. She sang another song which seemed to be about sheep, and then the members of the family which was more or less scattered about my area began to call out requests. “Do you know ‘Jesus loves me’?” She didn’t seem to, but she did know a song about how Jesus loves the little children, and, delighted by the attention, drifted up to a point more or less in the middle of the family, which happened to be directly beside my seat, and sang that at the top of her lungs. This excruciating torment went on for—it seemed—hours, as the child had a large repertory of these numbers, which, it developed, were sung in her church. When she had gone through them all two or three times (with all joining in on some of the choruses) she got tired of it and went back to her seat. I drifted back off to sleep, and when I awoke again my head hurt less and my nausea had vanished.
Some time around three in the afternoon we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere which consisted mainly of a McDonalds. Most of us zipped inside to eat there including my seat companion, but I stayed on the bus, not feeling up to moving. I ate my tuna fish sandwiches—the half-eaten one from the morning and the other which I had made for the trip. The younger members of that family had gone in to the McDonalds while the older had gone to an Arby’s or something, and the younger came back complaining that the Chicken McNuggets were still new here and they didn’t have the McRibs at all … These disasters notwithstanding they had good meals of hamburgers and other hot sandwiches before the bus took off. Others ate similarly.
We next stopped briefly at Stockton I think it was but only to let various members of the troupe off. Among these were my seat companion and our humorist from the back section who had enlivened the trip by singing “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer” and by making wisecracks about everyone who came back to use the bus restroom.
At Sacramento I just missed witnessing a knifing and I ate two baconburgers and an order of fries from the local Burger King. Everything there was all screwed up. The bus waited there for about an hour, and I waited with it.
At some stop soon after—or perhaps even at Sacramento itself—I acquired a new seat companion. I had already stolen the window seat and now was watching as the new riders got on. I asked the gods to let the seat stay empty or to provide me with a lovely young lady if the former was (as I suspected) out of the question, and, after a fashion, the request was honored. The best-looking female in the bunch sat next to me. She didn’t talk, preferring to listen to an inaudible tape recorder, and she was too damn young, really—she couldn’t have been much out of high school, if at all. She spent part of the night sleeping with her head against my shoulder. Leg pressed against mine. Warm accidental contact.
Late in the evening we acquired a bus driver—he took us into Oregon—who was a kind of humorist, and at that hour of the night he was even funny. I think he got on at Orland or some such imaginary place.

25 June 2017

An Eocene Critter

[Mostly reminiscence of 25 June 1963; Camp Hancock, near Fossil, Oregon, when I was twelve]
p at reveille again, in line for breakfast, mail call and announcements. I probably got letters from home today and I ate a couple of pieces of toast. We went to the Mammal Beds, where forty million years or so before a river had piled up small bones in silt, to be left relatively undisturbed until Lon Hancock had discovered the site.
They were currently in the process of excavating the ribcage of some extinct mammal about the size of a small pig; as this was the opening of the season they spent most of the time unwrapping the layers of canvas put there the year before to protect the fossil bones from weathering. We were given this explanation before being set to work chiseling out material from the side of the exploratory pit. I looked at pieces of discarded matrix, splitting them open to see if I could find anything.
For the most part there was nothing, but finally, in one of them was the remains of a small mammal. It was just a tooth and a jaw fragment, or something of that sort. I wasn’t even sure that it was real at first, but when I showed it to one of the counselors he confirmed that it was a tooth.
I stared at the remains of the little critter, marveling how it had been born, spent its small life, and died so long ago, and no one else had known of its existence until me, some sixty million years later. As far as I can recall, nothing else of interest turned up during this particular expedition, but I was so blown away by my fossil fragment they could have discovered a mastodon and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
This being a science camp, when we got back I was set to work identifying it, and I went through the books in the library (a big building with lab equipment, instruments, and books, with one side entirely open to the elements). There was a guide to fossils there that you could use to quickly narrow down what you’d found, but it led me nowhere. The tooth looked odd; there was nothing quite like it in the guide, or in the books there, as far as I could see. Seeing I was in trouble a counselor said he thought he could help me out, and brought me one of his own books from his trailer. I looked through it, turning page after page, until I found a tooth that looked similar to mine. I showed it to the counselor, and he agreed with me that I had found it.
It was, as I remember it, something in the Multituburculate order, a long-extinct group of mammals. Although I’ve retained a fondness for this group over the years on the strength of that identification, I am now dubious about it, since as far as I can tell nothing of that sort has ever turned up at the Hancock fossil bed. Possibly I misidentified it, or possibly my memory is off, and I identified the fossil tooth as something else, and only later confused it with the multituburculates. Nobody thought it was anything amazing, anyway—just a neat find. I’d planned to do further research on it when I got back to civilization and had the resources of a full library.
Next year—I note parenthetically—when one of my tentmates found a fossil amphibian apparently unknown to science all hell broke loose, and the thing was carefully packed and sent off to the Smithsonian for further identification. My tentmate was upset as hell—what was the point of finding the thing if he didn’t get to keep it for his own collection? I didn’t say this, but I would have given one of my own teeth to have discovered an unknown amphibian and had my fossil end up at the Smithsonian.
The fate of my little multituburculate, if that’s what it was, is unknown. I had it tucked away in a box with some other nice specimens—a couple of perfect leaves, a conifer fossil, a bit of purple zeolite that was striking in appearance—that I kept under my bunk. I don’t know exactly what happened, but one day midway through the camp session I went to put something in the box—and it was empty. Everything in it—gone. The only conclusion I could reach—and I came to it very reluctantly—is that one of my fellow-campers had stolen it. I searched the entire area of my bunk without success, and eventually had to give up on it.
That doesn’t affect the base narrative here—that some small seed-eating critter lived and died forty million years ago or so during the middle of the Eocene, and that enough of her bones washed up in a silt formation to be fossilized and recognized on a June day in 1963. I would have liked to nail down her identification enough so that I could form some idea of what she had looked like, how she had lived, and how she might have died—but the awe and mystery of that moment of discovery remain regardless.

24 June 2017

Running a Few Simple Errors [1980]

[passage from my journal, 24 June 1980]
 spent the day running a few simple errors—I mean errands—with my ex-brother, but I ended up accomplishing absolutely nothing. I couldn’t find Aresti’s dictionary of aerobatic maneuvers in any standard reference source (not Books in Print, not the Union Catalogue, not CBI—nothing. And yet it’s supposed to be the standard for all aerobatic pilots to work with—well, whatever); I lost the card and phone number of the person I’m supposed to call to see about getting a xerox of a rare book; the recordstore folk had never heard of Walter Carlos (or Wendy Carlos either—“Well, if we have any I guess they’d be in the electronic music section, but I never heard of the Brandenberg Concertos in an electronic version…”).  And people kept asking me dumb questions—“Have you tried the Cumulative Book Index?” “You realize the lyrics are in English—only the jacket is in Italian?” “Do you really want it in Latin? We have good English Bibles you know.” A day in the life of sbh, ace researcher, or something. Fuck it, is all I got to say. Of course my horoscope warned me. Do whatever you’re going to do in the early hours it said—just what I want to hear when I’ve gotten up at one in the afternoon after having worked until five or so writing. My parents are supposed to be in Spain or something and I guess I’m supposed to look after their pseudoapartment while they’re gone but I don’t know because when my mother called to give me the final word on the arrangements I was at the airport not-flying with my other ex-brother who has become so good flying aerobatics that I was unable to remain aloft with him even with the aid of Dramamine for more than about fifteen minutes.

23 June 2017

The Crappiest Tent in Camp [1963]

[retrospective passage from my journal for 23 June 1963]
e headed out to OMSI for me to catch the Camp Hancock bus. We met a girl named Ruth. My family had planned to stay until the bus left but KXL unexpectedly went off the air and my father had to go see to things. I boarded the bus and got a seat by a window toward the back. The trip was long but the scenery was interesting and I kept making mental notes of things to tell when I got back home. There was one section where the rocks as the road cut through them appeared in squares and oblongs, and I was reminded of a cubist painting. We stopped somewhere, possibly at Mt. Hood, to eat, and I had most of the lunch I’d brought with me. (For whatever reason I saved the banana, either for later or because I didn’t like its looks, I don’t know.) I think it was at this stop that Barfy got his nickname by throwing up—but I didn’t see it, just heard about it later on. At one point I accidentally got into a staring contest with some other guy at the back of the bus; getting tired of it I deliberately broke if off by looking away.
Eventually we got to camp. The first order of business was picking our tents, which this year was optional—our choice, I mean. A group of us first-year campers decided to bunk together and ended up with Tent 2—the crappiest tent in camp. It had a gaping hole in it larger than the door on one side. We went to dinner in the dining hall—a huge structure open on three sides—where the food was inedible. This turned out to be a camp tradition, by the way—the inedible food I mean. Things were made from powders mixed with the alkali water from the artesian well, and the result was indescribable. This time it was some sort of pasta with sauce I think. I didn’t have any, but there was some sort of lemonade-like drink and maybe bread or rolls or something. I wasn’t worried—but the people who ran the camp were.
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, “Steve got back from the beach [wrote Bruce] and my father said that It was just beginning to be peaceful.” He added a parenthetical explanation “without the phone ringing”. And after dropping me off at OMSI the rest of my family “went straight to the station and as we turned in the driveway of KXL, they came on the air; we picked them up on the transistor. They still have a really feeble signal, but [my father] got them some parts from KKEY this afternoon and they are okay.” Also my morning glory had reached the top of the trellis and was spreading along the top of the living-room roof.

22 June 2017

The Twonky [2008]

[Originally posted 22 June 2008]
 read in the news that China is blocking still more websites in honor of the Olympics, and I see that ERV is still at war with the semicolon, so nothing much has changed. My brother’s macaw has quit squawking now that I figured out that she wanted food in her dish, which quiets things down some here. I spent the time today I would have written something trying to figure out where much of the internet had gone. I tried to check out CNN—nothing. I tried to read something in National Review—gone. Yahoo was still operating, and most of the blogs seemed to be up and functioning, but virtually all news sources (except FOX, for some reason, if that counts) had disappeared.
Being me I quickly jumped to the conclusion that right-wing terrorist militias had taken over the news outfits of the world and that from now on we would be forced to rely on government handouts for our alleged information. It wasn’t at all reassuring to find that Comcast appeared to be broadcasting a news show where CNN Headline News was supposed to be on the TV. One of my nephews, however, suggested that I should try accessing CNN through an internet proxy, and sure enough, that worked. CNN was still there; I just couldn't get to it from my usual point of departure.
Feeling a little like a character in that recent episode of South Park—the one where the internet disappeared—I sent my nephew down the street to his father’s house to see whether they still had the internet up there. (This is my other brother's house—not the one who left his macaw here with me for the week; he’s in Pendleton for an aerobatics competition. This is the brother who keeps fish, brews beer, and cooks the most amazing Chinese food.) A few minutes later my nephew returned, reporting that there was still internet a mere three blocks away, so whatever was keeping us from CNN et al was only targeting us, seemingly. (Okay, that’s generalizing from very selected instances, but still—it’s a straw in the wind, an augury of the cosmic powers.)
“It’s got to be the router,” my nephew explained, launching into a short dissertation that conveyed to me little except that apparently tiny demons live in our router and one of them had got lazy and was refusing to do his job. A high-ranking demon, apparently, or there wouldn’t be so much of the damn internet missing. A few minutes and a couple of resets later the internet was back up and running again, and I was back at my keyboard launching data into cyberspace.
So I guess there were no terrorist right-wing militias clamping down on my news—this time, anyway. And it wasn’t an evil corporate plot to destroy the internet either. Still, I’ve got used to living my childhood fantasy of having all the news of the world brought to my doorstep and available at my command—The Guardian, the Times of India, The Podunk Gazette and Cross-Time Wanderer—and it’s downright unnerving to have it taken away from me at the whim of some internet demon. What if next time it’s my ISP making decisions about what I should or should not be reading or listening to over the magic intertubes? Or some anonymous functionary in the depths of the great bureaucracy that passes for the free enterprise system here? The Department of Appropriate Content has decided that your choice of information is not acceptable by the community standards established by Free Information Act of 2007 and from now on you will abide by the Decency Provision (Subsection 3A, Paragraph 72) as determined by a committee of your peers….
A million years or so ago, in the golden age of sf, a fellow named Henry Kuttner wrote about a futuristic record player that took it upon itself to censor its owner’s choice in music, books, and—well, everything. It ended badly. The day that the machines that bring us content, whether it be food, music, or news, start telling us what to eat, listen to, or read, is not yet. Still—
I can’t help wondering, what the hell is it like to live in China?

21 June 2017

Without Purpose or Function [1986]

[Letter, 21 June 1986]
y goddamn typewriter’s broken, by the way, which is why I’m slowly and painfully writing this instead of typing it, as I would infinitely prefer to be doing. I’m waiting for the shop to report back on it—getting it fixed seems likely to cost as much as buying a new typewriter. But I have a massive half-finished project that I am terrified of having to re-do—it should be finished on the same typewriter if at all possible. (At least on the same model, but they’re not that common.) Complicating things is the fact that my brother has taken the word-processor to his shop to write a shop manual with, so I don’t have any fucking tools to work with. Makes me feel totally useless, absolutely without purpose or function.

20 June 2017

Who, Exactly, is Anti-Life? [2009]

[originally posted 20 June 2009]
ome days it doesn’t pay to put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. I’ve started and trashed at least a dozen openings for this current entry, and I still don’t know what the topic is supposed to be. Am I gibbering about obscure Portland-area DJ Wee Willie Nelson? or about slogan-stealing? or what? My resources are inadequate to doing justice to the topics that cross my mind at the moment. I had files of documents relating to the history of Portland radio, and copies of books like Summerhill and Catch-22, that might have been helpful in one or the other, but I don’t have them any longer, and it feels like part of my brain is missing. I used to know where to go for stuff; one of my most valuable assets in writing was my file of notes taken over the decades on a variety of topics that interested me at one point or another. And just as my memory is increasingly failing me I lose a big chunk of my external memory storage, so to speak. It is goddamn frustrating.
One thing I had notes on was the use of the term “pro-life”. I can’t find a goddamn thing on the innertubes about it. I know the term was kicking around before the anti-abortion crowd got their hands on it, but I can’t find dates or specifics anywhere. As I remember those of us who were interested in the environmental movement before there was an environmental movement used the term “pro-life” to identify our position as protecting and defending all life everywhere, as being opposed to extinction for any species. (I remember concerns whether the “pro-life” movement should support extinction for organisms that cause smallpox or polio—would this not be anti- rather than pro-life?) And earlier than that I seem to recall some D. H. Lawrence types using the expression to mean a healthy open attitude toward sexuality, or something like that.
As I remember it there was a kind of split between those who preferred the save-the-planet sort of rhetoric (probably borrowed from the anti-nuclear folk) on the one hand, and those who focused on the species-in-danger approach on the other. The one direction leads directly to Earth Day, the latter perhaps to the Endangered Species Act. Speaking only for myself, I never cared for the Earth Day type of language; the planet Earth is in no danger—its sister planet Venus gets on just fine without the thin film of life on its surface Earth boasts of. It’s living things that are in peril. Hence the designation pro-life.
I do remember being irritated when I first heard the term “pro-life” used to mean “anti-abortion”. I regarded it as theft pure and simple, and not even a good theft; pro-life is utterly inadequate as a slogan for their position. It fits them about as well as a Frederick’s of Hollywood evening gown fits the average linebacker. “Pro-life?” Don’t make me laugh. And don’t for God’s sake give me that incredibly lame line about being pro-innocent life—the slogan you anti-abortionists stole says nothing whatsoever about innocence, only about life. If you didn’t mean it, why steal it? Yeah, I know, you liked the sound of it—never mind that it made no bloody sense at all.
Now somewhere in the vast wilderness of the interwebs I saw some anti-abortion type claiming that pro-life was an accurate description of the movement because it focused attention on the important thing—that the foetus, no matter how undeveloped, is already a separate human individual entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with that status. Now personally I don’t get that meaning from pro-life; something more like pro-foetal-personhood would seem to fit the bill. But really, what was wrong with anti-abortion? It’s succinct, and it’s accurate. Oh, I suppose from the “pro-life” viewpoint it only covers the conclusion, without giving the grounds for it. It’s quite conceivable for someone to oppose abortion without believing that the foetus is a separate human individual entitled to life at all costs. Such a person would be anti-abortion but not pro-foetal-personhood—or something like that. I’m not a believer, and I don’t play one on the internet either. I’ll leave it to them to explain.
The people opposed to the ban on abortion, on the other hand, had a real problem with the movement label. Pro-abortion is only accurate in the sense that supporters were against its prohibition, not in the sense that they were in favor of abortion itself, or even what opponents like to call “abortion on demand.” Many felt there should be strict restrictions on the practice, favoring it only in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life was in danger. The uneasy compromise in this case was the weasel term pro-choice, which focused on the issue as they saw it, which is that the choice should exist, but leaves wide open the basic question of who should do the choosing, and under what circumstances. Also, like the term pro-life, pro-choice is way over-broad in its implications. Pro-choice in regard to what? Just one narrow issue—whether a woman chooses to bring her foetus to term. And pro-life in regard to what? Again just one narrow issue—whether a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.
If you didn’t already know what these labels applied to you’d have a hell of a time figuring it out. Pro-choice? Choice in regard to what? What profession to go into, what recreational drugs (if any) to enjoy, what church (if any) to attend? And pro-life? What does life mean here? We could be talking anti-war (as I believe Joseph Heller used the term), anti-pesticide, anti-death penalty, or anti-vivisection. Fuzziness seeps in when sloganeering replaces thought.
I suppose they’re no more inane than the labels given to groups in the past. Free-soilers, abolitionists, know-nothings, nullifiers, roundheads, levelers, and other extinct forms of life once walked the world stage, and the people then knew what was being abolished, or leveled, or nullified. It’s just some of us can’t keep from poking the phrases with pointed sticks.

19 June 2017

A Study in Contrasts [2007]

[Notes, 19 June 2007]
dmond Malone and Samuel Ireland—a study in contrasts. Both were roughly of the same generation, with Malone being a bit older than Ireland. In other respects they were very different. Ireland was self-made—or so we may assume; his background is actually shrouded in mystery. Malone came from a family with some money—solidly middle-class I guess, though in English terms I suppose he came from the gentry. Both were Shakespeare enthusiasts, but how different were their enthusiasms. Malone pioneered the serious study of Shakespeare, becoming versed in contemporary writers and leaving no stone unturned to illuminate a passage. Ireland, on the other hand, lacking either the temperament or the training of a scholar, exclaimed over the beauties he found in the bard, attended the plays, and so on.

18 June 2017

Taking Stock [1981]

[18 June 1981]
’m beginning to wonder if everyone else has lost touch with reality, or if I’ve lost my mind. Something is rotten, that’s for sure. The news keeps telling of horrible things, of fantastic nightmarish happenings, all as if they were the most natural things in the world; and they aren’t even worth a man in the street interview segment like many supposedly lesser things. However. First—the local events. Living here is like—no it isn’t like, it is—living in a perpetual disaster area. It’s like living on an alien planet, or after a nuclear holocaust. We hear of first-stage smog alerts, second stage smog alerts (air quality unhealthful [!] for just about anybody), sulphate alerts—this is not the air of earth, but of some other place. The atmosphere of hell. Fires rage out of control in half a dozen places, some started accidentally, some started by human agency deliberately. And we hear that the first death of this year’s fire season was—I mean, it’s a fucking award presentation, a game show. And we hear that the rape rate has risen dramatically in the hot weather—and of course there are the constant background noise of death by violence—automobile accidents, plane crashes, and ordinary murders. And nobody even thinks it’s unusual. It literally takes more energy to hold this thing down here together than is available—and the only conclusion I can see is that it’s going to come flying apart in the not too distant future. I mean not merely starvation and riot—but all the rest of the bullshit—mass destruction that will leave a million dead and the mega-city in ruins. But Maybe I’m Wrong.  God I hope so. Even more amazing to me is the more of the same solutions being proposed to solve the problems, when they are perceived. Give the police more money and more power. Build more prisons. [Well, I sort of agree with the last, in view of the state of things as they are.] Look for more gas and oil. Strip mine more land [and what are we going to do when we start running out of food?]. Destroy more wilderness. More, more, more. And it’s already been shown that these “solutions” don’t work—they haven’t worked in the past and there’s no reason to show that they will work in the future. Are these people actually crazy? Screwed up? What is wrong with them? We are on the verge of imminent collapse, possibly even war (and not only us—so are the Soviets—look at Poland and Estonia and Afghanistan—events that aren’t being covered in the news either. Oh, yeah, for future reference, if there is a future, this is the time of the Israeli threat to take out Syrian missiles in Lebanon. Okay?).
Copyright © 2005-2017