23 July 2017

Colossal Gall Department [2008]


[Originally posted 23 July 2008]
Y
ou’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of it. Chris Mill, the attorney for two of the Camrose cat killers—those were the little psychopaths who tortured a cat to death in a microwave oven and left messages boasting about it for the owners to return to—actually asked for the court to expedite his clients’ sentencing so they could achieve “closure” before returning to school this fall. Words absolutely fail me. This guy is complaining, on behalf of his clients, about the need for them to undergo a psychiatric examination—because they want to get this whole thing over with.
I’m sure they do. Most of us, when caught in a crime, just want the prosecution to go the fuck away. There’s nothing new or amazing about that. Why that should be grounds a judge could act upon is totally beyond me. What the judge ought to be primarily concerned about is the issue of protecting the community from these creeps. The last thing on her mind should be whether the kids get to start school this year with a “clean slate”.
At least Chris Mill’s job is being the spokesmen for this pair of psychopaths. I don’t know what Camrose resident Linda Hugo’s excuse is. “It’s a terrible thing that they did,” she admits, claiming “but it’s now water under the bridge.” Nice of her to be so forgiving of a “terrible” crime committed against somebody else. She weeps for the poor persecuted torturers. “…the mental torment that they’ve gone through is enough” she feels. Wise up, lady. The next time these young Torquemadas decide to go on the prowl, you may well be their victim. When you embrace a scorpion, expect to get stung.

21 July 2017

Madness and Politics [2011]


[Originally posted 21 July 2011]
Y
ou know—just a thought. Jobs. Let me say it again—jobs. That’s what the people of the United States are looking for right now. Nobody gives a damn about this debt-ceiling nonsense. Most people are prepared for a certain number of program cuts and tax increases, but what they’re really interested in is getting back to work. Seeing the economy running again. Bromides like only the market can create jobs aren’t going to cut it any longer. People are tired of praying to a Market God that never seems to listen. This is something that both Democrats and Republicans need to deal with, but it especially applies to the Mad Tea Partiers. Sabotaging the economy in the hopes of winning elections is probably not going to be a winning strategy. People tend to re-elect when their personal finances are going well; folk who surf the wave of economic discontent are likely to crash on the rocks of broken dreams.

20 July 2017

A Note on Judas [1987]


[20 July 1987]
T
he Judas story is inconsistent. It is said that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, which implies an attempt to keep Judas’ part in the business unknown—but since Judas led the arresting offi­cials there, such secrecy was impossible. Make no mistake about it—there is no reason for the Judas kiss if Judas openly led the officers there. Conversely, if Judas betrayed Jesus with such a secret sign, then his coming with the arresting officials was fatal to the scheme.
Further, it is worth noting that in the synoptic account Judas never leaves the last supper; as far as one can tell he is pres­ent from Jesus’ announcement of the betrayal to the scene at Gethsemane. This at least is more consistent with the kiss; one might picture the officers lurking at the Mount of Olives, Judas giving the pre-arranged signal, the arrest and all that. Against this we may ask, could Jesus’ prediction of the betrayal be an added element in Mark?  In Mark’s source was Judas even at the Last Supper? (On the other hand, the direction of this element is away from having Judas present; witness John’s contortions.)
What about the kiss? Mark has it, Matthew has it, but Luke down­plays it. John has an entirely consistent story that omits the kiss altogether, and he makes sure Judas leaves the Last Supper directly after Jesus’ announcement of the betrayal, giving time for him to bring the soldiers and officers to the appointed place.
So the direction of the kiss element in the synoptics is toward its elimination. But John has no trace of it (or does it?). Is John an example of its final elimination, or is it a witness to a presynoptic version that lacked the kiss? Does either version have prophetic fulfillment significance?

19 July 2017

Waiting for the Goddamn Bus [2015]


[Passage from my journal, 18/19 July 2015]
☉☾
 6:34 m PDT—The big event of the day (I guess) was catching the late bus up to the Burlingame Fred Meyer to stock up on coke the last day of the sale. I grabbed a couple of sacks full of bottles to return and headed up about sunset to catch the 12 going north—and waited forever for the goddamn bus. I probably hadn’t just missed one as there were a couple of other people waiting, unless of course they’d come just before me and had likewise missed the bus. There were people waiting across the street for the southbound 12 as well, so I began wondering about traffic jams somewhere on the route. Eventually, after around forty minutes of waiting, busses came simultaneously on both sides of the street, and I rode up to Burlingame. My transfer was good till after eleven so I figured I had all the time there was to finish my tasks, especially as my tasks were relatively minor. And then I ran into the first snag. None of the machines at the bottle return were working. I pushed the button to call for assistance, only to have the light go dark after a minute or so and no assistance arrive. I repeated the action with the same result. I started to go in, only to run into a guy headed out that way, so I followed him back. He apparently had not come to assist customers, however, but he did ungraciously accept my bottles and give me a receipt for them. And so with that in hand I went into the store. The rest was fairly easy, actually; I picked up six bottles of coke (saving four dollars), caramel, and broccoli for dinner. The machine at the checkout was reasonably cooperative this time, and it didn’t take too long to exchange my receipt for cash. The bus came only a few minutes after my arrival at the stop, and a young lady gave me her seat (probably because I was having obvious difficulty in staying on my feet). And the walk home was nothing and we had our dinner and watched the usual run of shows. And a bunch of Jon Oliver episodes. Eventually I got off to sleep.

18 July 2017

A Pointless Post


I am feeling unwell and have nothing much to say anyway, I guess, not that that’s ever stopped me before. I hope I’ll be back tomorrow, if not sooner.

17 July 2017

The Ultimate Sexual Perversion [1993]


[from my pre-weblog, 17 July 1993]
I
 can’t help but feel that the ultimate sexual perversion is sex without desire. We recognize this in our laws and customs, at least in a sideways manner. Rape and prostitution, both striking examples of sex without desire, are recognized as crimes. Mar­riages are broken up for “irreconcilable differences”—as often as not a code phrases for sex without desire. The idea of having sex with somebody for whom there is no desire is—to use no hard­er word—repugnant. And yet—interesting enough—this is exactly what is suggested to homosexuals (and other sexual minorities) all the time—that they should have sex without desire, or re­frain from sex altogether.

16 July 2017

Sing It, Fat Lady! [2010]



[Originally posted 16 July 2010]
T
oday’s question comes from a long-time reader (hi, Mom!) who wants to know where the expression “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” comes from. The expression has been around for a bit, at least since the empty eighties, and it’s roughly equivalent to the old proverb, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” attributed to the well-known cartoon character, Yogi Berra. It means apparently that nothing is settled until all the accounts are totaled up, or something like that.
It’s a good point. I remember years ago as a backgammon game wound down my opponent wanted to throw in the towel, seeing that I clearly had the game won at that point. Like an idiot I pointed out that things were really closer than they looked. “If you were to throw double sixes on the next roll,” I said (and boy have these words stuck with me), “and I were to say get a two and a one on my next, well you could easily win the thing.” And much to my chagrin (I should have kept my mouth shut) my opponent did in fact throw double sixes on his next roll, and I got a two and a one or something equally useless on mine, and I ended up losing. It really ain’t over till it’s, well, over.
But the fat lady—where the hell does she come in? Personally, I first remember hearing the expression shortly after I left college, during the reign of the late unlamented Ronald McReagan, Czar of all the Americas. It was a punch-line to a joke I no longer remember, but the set-up was rather like the old Homer and Jethro routine, where the pair wanders into an opera to get out of the rain thinking they were going to see a western, and instead forty-seven people sung without a horse in sight. Hekyll nudges his buddy during a pause and asks, “Is it over yet, Jekyll?” And his buddy replies, pointing to the soprano, “Nah, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
So, maybe, it was a bit of belated Green Acres style humor to enlighten the tedium of those dark days when nuclear holocaust lurked just around the corner. Poking fun at the rubes, as it were. Even those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead creeping into an opera house get the joke. But—but—how do sports come into it? Don’t we usually hear it in connection with some sporting event—a dramatic cliffhanger of a ninth-inning foos- or kickball spectacular? “And there he goes, [I hear this in Billy Crystal’s Howard Cosell voice] bobbing and weaving down the stretch, shedding backstops like ninepins into the goal zone and it’s all over!” “Well, Ed, [comes the reply] there’s still two seconds left on the clock and anything can happen. Remember, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
Okay, well, according to the nearest thing we have to absolute truth written by a roomful of monkeys hitting random keys (full disclosure: I too am a Wikipedia editor) it came about something like this. Ralph Carpenter (described as a Texas Tech sports information director) and Bill Morgan (presumably the nineteenth century baseball player) were calling a game of some sort “in the SWC tournament finals” early in 1976. The score was 72-72, and the dialog went like this:
Bill Morgan: Hey, Ralph, this … is going to be a tight one after all.
Ralph Carpenter: Right. The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
Bill Morgan still remembered the incident in 2006. He believed that Carpenter came up with it on the spur of the moment. “Oh, yeah, it was vintage Carpenter. He was one of the world’s funniest guys.”
A couple of years later it turned up again, after a basketball (is there such a game?) contest in April 1978 between the “San Antonio Spurs” and the “Washington Bullets”. Broadcaster Dan Cook observed after the Spurs victory that “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” meaning that a single victory didn’t determine the outcome of the series.
Now if you’re like me you may well be wondering, what the hell does opera have to do with sports? (Well, other than the fact that I personally detest them both.) Why would an opera metaphor end up as a sports cliché? And also, you know, the fat lady pretty much sings throughout the opera. It’s not like the soprano waits till the end before she sounds off. It’s sort of an ongoing thing.
Well, there is an alternative explanation out there, and in this one the fat lady has a name—Kate Smith. Yes, that Kate Smith, the songbird of the south, whose function in the world (if we believe the supply-siders) was to sell Studebakers and Jell-O, is supposed to be the fat lady of the cliché. She, goes the story, used to finish off sports events of some kind (something called the “World Series” is often mentioned) by singing Israel Isidore Baline’s patriotic hymn “God Bless America” to a no-doubt attentive crowd trying to beat the rush to the exits.
Smith, who weighed a ninth of a ton in her prime, could certainly have been described as a “fat lady,” so that’s one point in the story’s favor, but the rest doesn’t work very well. First, the singing, if any, is usually done at the beginning of sports events, and in fact on those occasions when she did sing for games (more typically a recording was used), it was before the game began. There was even an expression, a reference to the one under discussion, that “It ain’t begun till the fat lady sings.” And also—well, if she did sing at the end of the game, then “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings” wouldn’t actually be true, as the game would have ended before the fat lady sang. Truth may be expecting a lot from a cliché, but still, there are limits to artistic license, aren’t there?
Now I should warn you that this isn’t going to be one of those pieces where at the end I triumphantly announce Aha—it was Jacques Mallet du Pan, writing in The Virginian, and he did it with the Lead Pipe! No, on this one I’m as Clueless as the next guy. But I’ve got to say that neither of these explanations cut it. They both stink of folk etymology, after-the-fact retrojections into the unknown. Campfire stories. Legends.
Is there another option? Well, another story has it—and like the Kate Smith tale I picked this one up surfing the interwaves—that it’s an old Southern proverb that originally ran “Church ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” You see, this explanation has it, in Southern churches services ended with a song usually sung by choir members who (we may suppose) were specially selected for their weight. It was only when these ladies had warbled their best shot that the doors were opened and the parishioners allowed to finally leave, no doubt giving thanks to whatever God they still believed in after all that.
This explanation has at least one merit—church services do indeed use music to cue the audience as to when to stand, when to sit, and when to beat a hasty retreat. I personally examined many church services on this very point for a college paper I wrote for an anthropology class (Music in Culture), and that one fact stands out very clearly in my memory. Music was liminal, a delineator used to separate events. But I don’t see how the fat lady gets into it. Singing, sure, church choirs are even a cliché themselves. But unless, say, Southern Baptists have some special fat-lady tradition I don’t see how the saying is relevant. And again—in my personal observation music is used in church services throughout—not just at the end. It don’t fit—and if it don’t fit, you must acquit.
Apparently quite a few people have written on the subject, but nobody seems to have hit the nail squarely on the thumb. If anybody has something resembling evidence on the subject, let me know. Or write it up in Wikipedia. It has a whole article on the subject.

rfh left a comment to the original post:
Seriously, the more I think about it, the less the saying works in any context. Singing as a finale just doesn’t seem to happen, at least not so regularly and standardly that it would give rise to a Saying—a Saying as widely used and recognized as this one.
So I guess we’re still wondering.

And Ed Darrell also left a comment:
Memory is a flawed source, but I recall Dick Motta coming up with the line in 1974 during the NBA playoffs. I think this history giving Motta the line is 1978 is a bit off.
So, you gotta go with the documents, eh?

15 July 2017

A Doomed System: A 1972 Essay Revisited


I
n the 15 July 1972 issue of Saturday Review appeared one of the most idiotic godawful articles I have ever wasted my time on. The title was “Chic Bleak in Fantasy Fiction” and the author was listed as Bruce Franklin, described as a former professor of literature at Stanford. The article’s description read “Why do science fiction writers scare themselves with visions of a brutal future? A leftist critic dismisses such Chicken Little visions as mere capitalist despair and sees a bright future in which workers—and  writers—are heroes.” Sadly, that is an accurate description of the article—something that is not always the case with those brief prose snippets intended to drag a reader into the piece.
Franklin’s basic difficulty is that he fails to recognize the problems posed by mankind’s dominance over the earth (in line with the doctrine that most leftist thinkers of the time espoused). A paragraph towards the middle of the piece makes this transparent:
When you get right down to it, we are dealing with a ridiculous question: Is the world really coming to an end? This is not the place to argue fully theories of ecology and population. But we should be aware   that scientists throughout the noncapitalist world recognize that there is now more food and available resources per capita in the world than ever before, that the average standard of living is rapidly rising, and that the means of production are developing tremendously faster than the rate of consumption.
This childish view (which is shared by present-day oil company executives and global-warming denialists) was de rigueur in the bad old days of the early seventies, but it was crap then and it is crap now. In Franklin’s ideology (shaped by the idealistic fantasies of the now thoroughly-discredited Maoist “thinking”) human beings are the be-all and end-all of the universe, its consummate triumph, the goal of all its strivings, and it is therefore unacceptable to even imagine a world in which insects vie for dominance.
And his examples of this mind-excursion are revelatory of the limitations of his research: The Hellstrom Chronicle and Them. He complains (with as far as I can tell a straight face) that the “notion of insects conquering and replacing people” is “totally preposterous”. “The plain truth is that insects have never posed a threat to man’s existence, and we now have unprecedented means for controlling them.” And this he apparently considers a deep thought and a serious objection to a screwball documentary—an excuse for showing off spectacular photographs of insects—that nobody is supposed to take seriously. He considers Mary Shelley’s 1796 “literary fantasy of universal plague” to be absurd since smallpox and bubonic plague have “been virtually eliminated”. The trouble is, according to Franklin, that bourgeois critics … can’t conceive of anything interesting to do in a decent society”.
And what does he think fantasy writers should write about? Rather than the Burgess/Kubrick dystopian vision of youth run amuck, what about a film depicting “a Puerto Rican street gang transformed into a revolutionary party, setting up a drug program and a medical clinic, and organizing and educating their people to win”? Wouldn’t that be more fun than watching a movie about “the transformation of people into living zombies as their bodies are taken over by vegetable beings grown in giant pods seeded from an alien world”? (Personally I’m not that taken by either vision, but if I had to choose one I think I’d go with the living zombies over the revolutionary street gang. Is this what TV is like in hell?)
The trouble is, Franklin thinks, that “[w]riters inside the empire … identify with a doomed system and ruling class and then imagine the possible forms of their own doom.” But the objective reality, according to Franklin, is that capitalism is dying and “the people are winning, from Vietnam to Lordstown, Ohio.” Well, we’ve seen how that played out in the four and a half decades since then. And the people of Lordstown, Ohio—those “makers of cars, typewriters, clothes, movie cameras, houses, and bourbon” that you so idealized—they voted for Donald Trump.
[Note: According to Wikipedia Howard Bruce Franklin “has written or edited nineteen books and three hundred professional articles and participated in making four films. His main areas of academic focus are science fiction, prison literature, environmentalism, the Vietnam War and its aftermath, and American cultural history. … He helped to establish science fiction writing as a genre worthy of serious academic study.” It does not mention this blitheringly idiotic article among his accomplishments.]

14 July 2017

Sufficient Unto the Day Are the Horrors Thereof


W
ell, it looks like the Daily Howler screwed up again, mistakenly identifying an overgrown blog entry as a peer-reviewed scientific paper. And there appears to be confusion over the fate of the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who apparently has died once again. (I’ll believe it when I see his head on a pike in some suitably public venue, thank you very much.) And houses in Florida are disappearing into sinkholes for whatever unholy reason. Arab citizens of Israel murdered two police officers at the Temple Mount, Turkish authorities continued purging government workers, Liu Xiaobo was cremated in China, and two tourists were murdered at an Egyptian resort.
And these are merely the headlines. Allah knows what horrors I would find if I read the actual stories attached to them. When ignorance is bliss, as they say, ’tis folly to be wise. For the moment I believe I’ll cling to my ignorance with both hands, thank you very much. Maybe tomorrow will bring better headlines.

13 July 2017

Familiar Superstitions [2011]


[Originally posted 13 July 2011]
S
o Friday the thirteenth comes on Wednesday this month, as Churchy La Femme used to observe, and the consequent madness surrounds us. (Only a full moon rivals the thirteenth for lunacy, and we’re not going to have one of those until, let’s see, uh, tomorrow….) At least two Republican candidates for the most powerful office in the world signed a pledge observing that African-Americans had been better off in some ways under slavery, in that at least slave-children were raised in two-parent families. I suppose that could be regarded as true, in a perverse dysfunctional sort of way, in that many enslaved children were the property of their biological fathers, who likewise owned their biological mothers. The historical idiocy is breathtaking, though at least the candidates had some sort of excuse—this language was part of the preamble, not actually part of the pledge itself.
I already expressed my opinion of any candidate who would sign this vile vow, and I’m glad to see that several Republican candidates are backing gingerly away from it—though I’d rather they denounced it as anti-American in no uncertain terms. I mean, this lunatic leaflet complains about “non-committal co-habitation”, refers to “innate traits like race [!]”, worries that people may think “against all empirical evidence, that homosexual behavior in particular, and sexual promiscuity in general” are not unhealthy, and claims that “robust … reproduction is beneficial to … health and security.” And this thing was presumably written by adults living in the twenty-first century. Does this nest of loons have other candidate oaths supporting leeches for healthcare, opposing interracial marriage, or promising to find the philosopher’s stone so we can solve our economic problems by turning lead into gold? When I first saw this I was half expecting it to turn out to be a piece from The Onion or the like, but apparently these guys are serious. It’s a little late for April Fools, anyway.

12 July 2017

As Thyme Goethe Bye [2009]


[Originally posted 12 July 2009]
When I did a series a while back on “Forsaken Roots” (or whatever you want to call it) I ended up establishing a text for it, mostly because there was no authoritative source, and I’m picky about my texts. If I’m going to take the time to write a commentary on something, I want to be sure that I have something resembling a definitive text to work with, else what’s the point? For my purposes at the time I simply picked four texts sort of at random—but not quite. I looked for older examples, and I wanted examples that were textually divergent. If the textual tree had branches, I wanted samples from as many as possible.
Actually I already knew that the tree had at least two branches, a longer recension and a shorter one. I’d picked that up pretty quickly when I went to Ed Brayton’s commentary with questions from the longer recension only to find he didn’t cover them; his commentary was based on the shorter recension. I suspected the most likely explanation was that the longer recension had grown by accretion from the shorter recension, but I didn’t assume anything, which was just as well, as that hypothesis proved incorrect.
Since for technical reasons (the width of my screen mainly) I wanted to restrict my comparison to four versions, I decided to pick two from the longer recension and two from the shorter. If I could construct something resembling a reasonable text from them then I’d be off and running with my real purpose—doing the commentary. Close enough for jazz.
When my laptop died one of the things I lost—I’d never bothered to copy it—was the “Forsaken Roots” synopsis I’d used to construct the text. I figured I was done with it. But as I see new versions of it surface again like a goddamn hydra my textual sleuth keeps being activated—there’s another one of those, I say to myself, noting the missing word “Supreme” in front of “Court” and the telltale period after “first” and before “Harvard”. Where are they coming from? Idle Googling produced some answers (those missing-Supreme copies for example all go back to a website published by one Mary Jones), but I kind of wanted to know a bit more. I didn’t particularly want to repeat the work I’d done, but I wanted something. I decided to see if I could establish a text for the longer recension.
So I went back to hunting for these things, examining example after example, looking for particular textual characteristics. Most examples turned out to be either from the shorter recension or from the Mary Jones family, neither of which were any use to me. A kind of sadness came over me as I examined these things in their original context, often a blog entry or a comment thread. First the text itself would appear, typically cut-and-pasted from the Mary Jones or some other familiar site. Next would come the admiring comments. This one is pretty typical:
Thanks for sharing. This was very informative. Neither in my secondary or college education, do I recall this information be read, taught or discussed. It shines a brighter light on the foundation of America for me.
(If you're wondering about the text of the version immediately above this comment, it's from the longer recension, but not part of the Mary Jones family, which, if the date is correct, had yet to be established.) All the elements are there—gratitude, admiration for the research, enthusiasm for the Christian light on early America, and curiosity (or anger) about why this information had been suppressed. Missing is the clear light of common sense which, for some reason, nobody ever seems to think to switch on. Is it bloody likely that these guys would have said or written the sorts of things attributed to them here? Would Patrick Henry really refer to this “great nation” before it had been established? What conceivable set of circumstances would have prompted Congress to pass a resolution recommending the Holy Bible for use in all schools? (The “1782” is a particularly nice touch on this one.) What on earth does it mean for the Bible to be quoted 94% of the time?
Sometimes the next question will be, Did you write this? And the reply comes (if at all) No, I got it from the internet. From the internet. Words from on high, I guess, supplied by the Internet Genii for the benefit of us lesser mortals. What do you mean, you got it from the internet? You might as well have said you found it blowing in the wind alongside the road one day, or you found it scurrying through the fields of Elysium. The internet? Somebody wrote those words, and somebody did the research behind them, and, you know, that somebody deserves credit.
Now, in all fairness, in this case not a lot of credit. The writer/researcher here has simply bundled together a clutch of remaindered misinfo, and retailed the package to the gulls. He or she may even be quoting from memory for some of them; there are pointless variations in them from the authentic text (though speaking of the authentic text of a forged passage seems a bit on the paradoxical side). The fake Madison is a case in point:
We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments
sounds more like a fuzzily-remembered
We have staked the future of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God
than a poorly-copied one. (It is quite possible that a skip of the eye from the first capacity to the second caused the omission of the one genuine bit of Madison in this whole farrago—the capacity of mankind for self-government; that wouldn’t explain the mangling of what follows, however.)
Occasionally—not often, but occasionally—somebody will question the item. Once I noted somebody actually asking the key question—what are your sources? More often it will be a remark to the effect that this can’t be true, since the Founders were all deists, and anyway, what about the treaty of Tripoli? or something like that. And then maybe somebody will contribute a story about some kid they heard of from a friend of a friend who wasn’t allowed to bring her Bible to show-and-tell, or some such idiocy. (Okay, I made that one up, but it’s always something in that vein.)
But the thing that really gets me is the pitiful sense of gratitude emanating from these comments. Children picking up pretty pieces of broken glass and telling themselves they are diamonds. Playing with them, passing them around. The pathos of it all starts to overcome me. I almost want to depart from my rôle as observer and help out. The “Forsaken Roots” I could write for them! Oh, it probably wouldn’t have Madison in it, but there are many famous names among the Founders, and I can cherry-pick with the best of them. Of course that would only be what Archie Goodwin calls fancy lying, rather than Forsaken’s plain lying—a matter of taste, really, I suppose.
But, getting back to the textual issues at hand—the one thing that really bothers me, and for which I can see no answer whatsoever, is—what on earth created the shorter recension in the first place? Some horrible and malign force, early in the transmission history of this bagatelle, blew two large holes in it, seemingly at random. And yet, and yet, the disseminators of this savagely shattered version went right on distributing it, never noticing its broken condition, as mindless as those ants who, upon running out of food, start cutting off the back ends of their larvae to try to keep the front ends fed. And the hosannas of joy were just as heartfelt, regardless of the presence of palpable nonsense like
Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed … to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments?
(And that question-mark is part of the original text.) Did they not read what they were writing? How do you go about instructing a student to lay Christ as a foundation for our children to follow anything at all, let alone the moral principles of the Ten Commandments? It’s madness—but nobody seems to notice.
And the other hole that makes it look as though Thomas Jefferson, rather than John Quincy Adams, was an officer in the American Bible Society—this is greeted as a welcome new discovery, rather than as a sign of the corruption of the text. And they say random mutation can’t generate new information! Tell Jefferson! He never would have made president of the ABS without it.
The whole thing reeks of corruption. Fake quotations, themselves misquoted, and then further mangled through copying errors. False interpretations given new false twists, without anybody apparently bothered enough by any of it to even check the goddamn internet, their source for it all. Random holes fixed by random guesses—
Seriously, how much trouble is it to Google something? No, it looks like it’s easier to just plain guess. Here’s an example. The original text read:
However, in 1947, there was a radical change of direction for the Supreme Court. It required ignoring every precedent of Supreme Court ruling for the past 160 years. The Supreme Court ruled in a limited way to affirm a wall of separation between church and State in the public classroom. In the coming years, this led to removing prayer from public schools in 1962. Here is the prayer that was banished: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen.”
The Mary Jones version dropped a piece of it here, producing:
However in 1947, there was a radical change of direction in the Supreme Court. Here is the prayer that was banished: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen.”
(Note also the change of “direction for” to “direction in”; this is one of the seven distinguishing characteristics of the Jones text. Of course the omission that follows is another.) And here’s how one transmitter “fixed” the problem:
In 1947, it all changed! The Supreme Court removed the prayer that had been used for over 100 years at the opening of each session of the Court. “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen.”
Again, is it likely that the Supreme Court began each session with a prayer begging the blessings of God upon parents and teachers? Doesn't this sound more like a school prayer? Hello? Is nobody awake in there? And this version is supposedly reprinted from the February 2005 edition of the Liberty Tree newsletter. No checking, even with the quasi-immortality of print in view? Just guesswork?
I guess. Sometimes my sense of exasperation overcomes my feelings of pathos. People this unreflective deserve to eat garbage.
But nobody deserves this. Not even those poorly-informed clowns who blather on about how Jefferson invented the concept of separation of church and state when he wasn’t even in America at the time the Constitution was being written—how would he know anything? And besides, wasn’t it some unknown justice named Hugo Black who decided to pull it out of an old forgotten letter written to the Danbury Baptists, of all people, and foist it off on all of us as settled law?—yeah, not even these crackers deserve this kind of treatment. Even canonical critics and flat-earthers deserve better.
Well … maybe not canonical critics.

11 July 2017

A Setback for America: Good Work, Trump


W
ell, the disastrous meeting with Putin should put paid to the notion that the grinning dunce we elected to be our nation’s leader is anything other than the grinning dunce he appears to be. Behind the idiot mask is, well, an idiot. The guy’s actually boasting about a cease-fire in Syria—the very thing Putin’s been playing us for to give his puppet a free hand at the expense of our allies. What a fucking joke. Does the guy not realize how badly Putin’s played him? Or has he been working to undermine America all along?
Mind you, a weakened America may be a good thing for the world for all I know. I don’t think so, but then as an American myself I’m biased. But one thing I’m sure of is that a weakened America is not good for America, and Trump’s foolish grin is no substitute for a strong foreign policy.

10 July 2017

Interim Report

I
 still feel shaken up after my second visit to the emergency room the other day; I am increasingly dubious about the shelf life of that small mass of muscle that keeps me alive and up till now has not let me down for over six decades. Today’s visit to cardiac rehab went fine and everybody but me seems optimistic about my future ability to get around, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I guess. More later, if I hold up.

09 July 2017

Fake Quotations: Patrick Henry and the Worth of the Bible [2009]


[Originally posted at Fake History 9 July 2009]
Did Patrick Henry say
The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed
toward the end of his life?
No. Probably not, anyway. It’s another quotation based on a second-hand story, though better than some.
Ultimately the account appears to go back to George Dabney, one of Patrick Henry’s neighbors. (I say appears because there is an element of inference still, as we’ll see.) Captain George Dabney fought in the Revolutionary War, and afterwards was an associate of Declaration-signer and Virginia governor Thomas Nelson. According to a newspaper clipping reprinted in a Dabney family history,
Patrick Henry was his intimate friend and neighbor, and from him Mr. Wirt obtained much of the information which he has embodied in his life of Patrick Henry.
William Wirt (1772-1834) was the prosecutor in Aaron Burr’s treason trial, Attorney-General under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, and the author of Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817). From its introduction we learn that George Dabney was Patrick Henry’s friend during his childhood and youth, and that William Wirt got his information from him through Nathaniel Pope, as he himself was not acquainted with George Dabney.
In this book the story first appears.  Wirt tells it like this:
Mr. Henry’s conversation was remarkably pure and chaste. He never swore. He was never heard to take the name of his Maker in vain. He was a sincere Christian, though after a form of his own; for he was never attached to any particular religious society, and never it is believed, communed with any church. A friend who visited him, not long before his death, found him engaged in reading the bible: “here,” said he, holding it up, “is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed: yet it is my misfortune never to have found time to read it, with the proper attention and feeling, till lately. I trust in the mercy of heaven, that it is not yet too late.” He was much pleased with Soame Jenyns’ View of the internal evidences of the christian religion; so much so, that about the year 1790, he had an impression of it struck at his own expense, and distributed among the people. His other favourite works on the subject were Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul,” and Butler’s “Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed.” This latter work, he used at one period of his life, to style by way of pre-eminence, his bible. The selection proves not only the piety of his temper, but the correctness of his taste, and his relish for profound and vigorous disquisition. [pp. 401-2, links added]
William Wirt gives no source, but when William Wirt Henry (Patrick Henry’s grandson) wrote his 1891 Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence, and Speeches he retold the same incident:
One of his neighbors going to see him found him reading the Bible. Holding it up in his hand, he said: “This book is worth all the books that ever were printed, and it has been my misfortune that I have never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of Heaven that it is not yet too late.
His source for this is “Statement of George Dabney, MS. Letter to Mr. Wirt, Wirt’s Henry.”  And as he notes in his introduction that he had “access to nearly all of the material used by Mr. Wirt, including most of the communications received from the contemporaries of Mr. Henry,” it seems a reasonable assumption that both versions came from the same source.
So on the plus side, assuming that the George Dabney connection to be correct, the story emanates from a person close to the alleged source. On the minus side we still don’t know whether Dabney was the “friend” or “neighbor” who supposedly heard this, or whether he was only reporting what somebody else had told him. And, distinctly on the minus side, this is a familiar sort of legendary embellishment, the story about the man near death who seeks comfort from the Bible. If it never happened, somebody probably would have invented it.
Also, and I may be a little hyper-critical here, Henry seems to have been well-acquainted with the Bible. Certainly his reading matter (as described above) is extremely heavy-going without familiarity with the Christian scriptures, and I personally find it difficult to believe that Henry had “never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till” shortly before his death. To me that has a strong flavor of legendary embellishment.

08 July 2017

Pondering Unanswerable Questions [1984]


[8 July 1984]
I
’m lying here sleepless, pondering unanswer­able questions—and not even big unanswerable questions, just puzzles like why do standard Beatle discographies insist that there are no cuts from the movie on the album Let It Be when it is obvious that at least two and more likely three cuts are found on both? or What possessed J. A. T. Robinson (the late Bishop of Wool­worths) to claim that the church’s condemnation of a narra­tive about Paul proved that the early church objected to the common Hellenistic practice of pseudepigraphy (the narrative was anony­mous, after all)? or why don’t any two Persian music theo­rists agree on the actual intervals used in Persian music?
It’s been a good day here, today, I mean. We went to a private screening of Return of the Jedi this morning, which was okay, I guess, and talked afterward with (well, listened to mostly) this character whose hobby is restoring old film projectors—mon­stros­ities from the 20s mainly.  It was a warm day, sunny and clear. Last night I dreamed about a lost tooth and a girl I haven’t seen in fifteen years.
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