11 March 2019

11 March 2019


 11 March 2019 is Commonwealth Day for members of the Commonwealth of Nations (which is what we call the ghost of the British Empire today). Apparently it started as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday on 24 May, and somehow mutated to a celebration of the Commonwealth on the second Monday in March. If it keeps on backing through the calendar at this rate it will end up colliding with the Yuletide festivities in a century or so.

10 March 2019

10 March 2019


 10 March 2019 is Harriet Tubman Day in the United States, in honor of her work on the underground railroad and in fighting slavery generally. It doesn’t seem to have much of any other significance, and once again I’ve got absolutely nothing to add to a lackluster day. Well, “Sunday is the dullest day,” as the poet says, “treating | Laughter as profane sound, mixing | Worship and despair, killing | New thought with dead forms.” Maybe it’s simply what we have coming. Solis or dimanĉo, Κυριακή or Pazar, dimanche or Sonntag, it all comes down to the same thing—the day of preparation for the horrors ahead.

09 March 2019

9 March 2019


 9 March 2019 is Ornette Coleman’s birthday. It’s also Bobby Fischer’s birthday, as well as the birthday of P. Z. Myers. The day’s saint is Catherine of Bologna (1413–1463), patron saint of artists, against temptations, and of Bologna.
It snowed again last night in Portland, enough snow that the neighbors were building snow men and erecting snow walls. It is rapidly melting away, but I’m frankly amazed it had the temerity to stick around this long this late in the season.

08 March 2019

8 March 2019

 8 March 2019 is International Women’s Day. While it is a major holiday in much of the world, here in the United States it is largely overlooked, although it seems like a perfect opportunity for people to send cards or other tokens of appreciation to significant women in their lives—and thus keep our capitalist economy humming. Still.
In international news the failed peace talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have heightened the likelihood of conflict between North Korea and the United States—or more likely U.S. allies like South Korea or Japan. At any rate the North Koreans have not stopped building nuclear weapons at any point during this alleged peace process, and Trump (of course) has no plan in place for discouraging them. To the contrary, the only thing so far that has brought a sitting U.S. president racing over to pay court to the tinpot dictator is his possession of nuclear weapons. It is hard to imagine the circumstances that would induce him to give them up.


07 March 2019

7 March 2019


 7 March 2019 is, as far as my calendar knows, no holiday at all. It is Rik Mayall’s and Arthur Lee’s birthday, however, so it’s not a total loss. I’m feeling really crappy, which is but one reason this entry is so goddamn late in the day, and I’m sort of feeling that the end is somewhere up ahead almost in sight. Premonition? I don’t believe in them, but doom-shaped clouds lurk ahead, and my course is set, like it or not.

06 March 2019

6 March 2019


 6 March 2019 is Ash Wednesday. It is the birthday of Michelangelo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ring Lardner, and Will Eisner. And it is also the anniversary of the famous last stand at the Alamo. And today it’s snowing right here in Portland.
And that’s about what I seem to have today. The news is boring, and I don’t have the energy to put out anything of any substance. I’ve got to get some sleep before nightfall.
Had he lived, my father would have been ninety-four today. I suppose even if he’d beaten that giant cell arteritis a couple decades back something would have likely gotten him by now. Still, ninety-four is by no means out of reach. I don’t expect to see it myself, but almost certainly some people who were born when I was will.

05 March 2019

5 March 2019


 5 March 2019 is Shrove Tuesday, alias Fat Tuesday, a.k.a. Mardi Gras. In Vermont it is Town Meeting Day. It is the last day to live it up before the horrors of Lenten austerity descend.

04 March 2019

4 March 2019


 4 March 2019 is Casimir Pulaski Day, Idaho Day, and Maha Shivaratri. It’s Guy Wetmore Carryl’s birthday, too—he’s the author of the extraordinary Kipling parody that begins “As I was walkin’ the jungle round, a-killin’ of tigers an’ time…” And it’s Halim El-Dabh’s birthday as well. The Egyptian composer is responsible for the standout track on the 1964 Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center album, “Leiyla and the Poet,” one of my favorite compositions of all time. Beginning and ending with a piercing whistle, the piece sets two contrasting voices to work in an expression of desire for a possibly unattainable woman. Against a rhythmic background of drums and plucked strings the one chants of love (the poet?) while the other bellows the name “Leiyla” in an unearthly sort of howl that starts low, rises a couple of octaves and drops again. It is a disquieting, even frightening, piece.

03 March 2019

3 March 2019


 3 March 2019 is World Wildlife Day, a relatively recent observance intended to remind us of the intrinsic value of wildlife and the part it plays in our ecosystem. It is the one hundred forty-forth anniversary of the premiere performance of Carmen in Paris. Georges Bizet’s work did not go over well immediately. At least that’s what I remember from the Big Book of Composers that I had as a kid. When the composer died—and he was relatively young at the time—he had no idea his opera would become a standard work, known to millions. I suppose that’s what makes Enoch Soames’ deal so poignant—the sense that the success that might have eluded you in life might come—too late. The catch is—the odds are that if your work didn’t catch on in your lifetime it’s even more unlikely that it will catch on after your death. Death is only a good career move for those who had a career in the first place.

02 March 2019

2 March 2019


 2 March 2019 is Texas Independence Day, commemorating the moment when a flood of illegal immigrants into Mexico boldly seized control of a chunk of Mexican territory and declared it an independent nation. Nine years later the illegal immigrants completed their theft by joining the United States as the pro-slavery state of Texas. And today descendents of the illegal immigrants who stole the state fair and square nearly two centuries back worry about illegal immigrants from Mexico reversing affairs and stealing the state back. The wheel turns, I suppose.
It’s also Eddie Lawrence’s birthday. If you remember him at all—and you probably don’t—it’s for his “Old Philosopher” routine, where he juxtaposes hideous but comic disasters (“and your Uncle Harold came in as a big jolly bear, and your father shot him”) with hollow uplifting advice (“Well lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with dignity and stick-to-it-iveness and … never give up, never give up, never give up—that ship!”). My personal favorite character of his, however, is the noxious guy in the bar complaining endlessly about modern life—rock ’n’ roll, Christmas, New Year (“ring out the old, ring in the new—new what? New worries?”)—to somebody who periodically requests “Will you shut up?” Then there’s “The Visitor” with his obscure bits of wisdom (“The whole world’s patching up the same pair of faded blue jeans,”) that seem like they ought to mean something—but don’t. And his endless list of people to stay away from (“anyone who’d frame a Christmas card from a bank … anyone who’d play ‘knock knock’ on his honeymoon … off duty cops with attack dogs”). There was never anyone quite like Eddie Lawrence, anyway. He may be gone—but he’s unforgettable.

01 March 2019

1 March 2019


 1 March 2019 is Employee Appreciation Day, Read Across America Day, and St. David’s Day. Locally it is I Can’t Pay the Rent Day—the day I try to figure out how in hell I can continue to afford to contribute my share towards a couch in a basement that periodically floods. At least I have my blankets for warmth. And my dog.
Elsewhere idiots are attacking part of the key infrastructure that keeps all humanity afloat—our ability to deal with microorganisms that interfere with our ability to function. Some incompetent anti-vax loon in Texas thinks that measles is no big deal because we have “antibiotics and that kind of stuff.” Apparently he doesn’t know that antibiotics do nothing to stop measles. Dumbass Bill Zedler—who is a state legislator—claims to have had measles when he was growing up and “as far as being sick in bed, it wasn’t anything like that.” Bullshit. I really did have measles as a kid, and I was flat on my back for over a week and then had to fight off another infection thanks to a weakened immune system. That’s what happens when you really do get measles and aren’t merely faking it. And people do die of measles right here in America, as Bill Zedler would know if he wasn’t just a lying sack of shit sounding off about things he knows nothing about. He’s no different from those gibbering assholes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are setting fire to Ebola clinics for some asshole political reason. I’m not a big proponent of the death penalty, but as far as I’m concerned such traitors to humanity—I’m specifically referring to Bill Zedler and his pro-Ebola allies—ought to be lined up and shot sans ceremony. Toleration is no virtue for these criminals.

28 February 2019

28 February 2019


 28 February 2019 was Linus Pauling Day here in Oregon, in honor of the Oregon-born biochemist. It was also John Tenniel’s birthday.
In the news the peace talks between North Korea and the United States broke down when President Trump took umbrage at a North Korean demand for relaxing sanctions. Why the Dopey Don picked this moment to grow a backbone is anybody’s guess; mine is that he was disappointed the conference didn’t drive the House investigations off the (largely metaphorical) front page, and so gave it up as a bad job.

27 February 2019

27 February 2019


 27 February 2019 is International No Brainer Day, a day dedicated to fostering the illusion that there are simple solutions to every problem, and the best way of dealing with difficulties is to let things slide until it’s too late and no solution is possible any longer. That approach has its charms, I suppose, but they are largely invisible to me.
I spent today gathering bottles together to raise enough cash to get a few necessities for today and tomorrow and am now off for bed. (Well, I also transacted some library business too.) Sleep beckons. Hideous wakefulness is looming on the horizon, and I need to be fortified against it. Maybe things will work out somehow, but as usual I am inclined to doubt.

26 February 2019

26 February 2019


 26 February 2019 is another February day that seems to lack much significance. It is Theodore Sturgeon’s birthday, at any rate. And it was the day Christopher Marlowe was baptized, which is as close as we get to a birthday for most Elizabethan writers. In the news I see that Steven Avery, the convicted murderer of photographer Teresa Halbach, may get a new trial. I have mixed feelings on this one; on the one hand it is hard to see how the guy can be innocent; on the other the investigators seem to have really mismanaged things beyond all reason. I don’t see how a new trial is likely to improve matters any, what with key evidence being lost and/or contaminated and all. Still, it may be the best that can be done at this stage.

25 February 2019

25 February 2019


 25 February 2019 is doubtless some damn day or another, but I don’t have anything for it on my calendar. It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hebron massacre, at any rate, when an Israeli physician—possibly inspired by the story of Esther commemorated at Purim—opened fire on Muslims worshipping at the Cave of the Patriarchs, killing twenty-nine of them and injuring over a hundred more before being beaten to death. Whether the mass-murderer was acting as a patriot, a terrorist, or a lunatic is a matter of interpretation. It doesn’t matter much to the dead, I suppose. Some of them were mere kids of twelve or thirteen.

24 February 2019

24 February 2019


 24 February 2019 is Mexican Flag Day; also Edward Dickinson Baker Day. It is August Derleth’s birthday as well. And that’s what I have, and as far as I can tell all I’m going to have—and I’m having difficulty typing with three of my fingers numb for some reason. So I guess I’m just going to sign off for the day.

23 February 2019

23 February 2019


 23 February 2019 is Defender of the Fatherland Day in various countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. The saint of the day is Polycarp of Smyrna, who was probably burned to death on this date in 166 or so. The Martyrdom of Polycarp would have him executed a decade earlier, and also reports that the fire would not burn him and it was thus necessary to stab him. After that there was no difficulty in burning the body, it seems, and his followers collected his bones from the ashes.
Polycarp was one of the first Christian writers (outside of the New Testament) that I read in the original Greek—insofar as the original Greek is preserved. Thanks to a peculiarity of the manuscript tradition the extant copies of his letter abruptly turn into Barnabas 5.7 at 9.2. Presumably the ancestral copy of the present text was missing the pages containing the end of Polycarp’s letter and the beginning of Barnabas and the copyist never noticed but continued blithely on, indifferent to the change of author. There is a Latin translation of the whole extant, and some of the missing Greek is preserved by Eusebius, but the situation is unsatisfactory, to say the least. A further complication is the letter’s viewpoint on Ignatius’ martyrdom. Has it already happened? Or is it something Polycarp expects and wants to find out about? One possible solution to that puzzle is that two letters—one written while Ignatius’ fate was still hanging and the other when his martyrdom was safely in the past—have been jammed together, just as the entire letter got somehow attached to the Epistle of Barnabas. Other explanations are possible, but the lines of transmission are murky, and darkness lies in every direction.
But at any rate today is the anniversary of his martyrdom for atheism—for the crime of not believing in the right gods. When called upon to say “Away with the atheists” he did so—but made it clear that the atheists he was referring to were the members of the crowd come to see him murdered—the ones who didn’t believe in his god—rather than the ones like him, who didn’t believe in theirs. Rather like Columbus arguing with the native American over who discovered whom in the Freberg sketch, it’s all how you look at it.

22 February 2019

22 February 2019


 22 February 2019 is Yukon Heritage Day. It’s also George Washington’s actual birthday, as opposed to the holiday named after him. It was always a school holiday when I was a kid, but that may have been because it was the day that Grover Cleveland signed the bill that allowed Washington (where I lived) to be upgraded from a territory to a state.

21 February 2019

21 February 2019


 21 February 2019 is International Mother Language Day; in 2019 indigenous languages are featured. It is also the ancient Roman festival of Feralia. This is the anniversary of the first issues of the Cherokee Phoenix (1828) and the New Yorker (1925), and of the death of the last known Carolina Parakeet (1918).
In the news—well, nothing very interesting is going on. I could make something up, I suppose, like Jussie Smollett (allegedly), but even that’s too much effort. It’s a bleak cold day here in Portland, and I can’t sleep, and I can’t wake up, so there’s nothing to do but put one word after another and hope that when I’ve got enough of them piled together they will turn into a blog post. Or an essay. Or a novel. Words are like that.
Well—I see that rasPutin is trying to get another Cuban missile crisis up and running; how will America respond to the Russian Menace? I vote for ignoring it—but in the long run that way lies nuclear annihilation. Are we really ready for that? I’m old, and I no longer give a damn, but some of the younger folk might have second thoughts.
Will the Iranians join the Nuclear Club? I honestly don’t see what’s to stop them now. The hope would be that the Europeans can come up with some workaround that keeps the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action afloat—but really, what’s in it for the Iranians? North Korea has the bomb, and we see the American President tripping over himself to keep them happy and satisfied. Iran doesn’t—and it gets the shaft. The conclusion is obvious. In the words of Tom Lehrer—who’s next?

20 February 2019

20 February 2019


 20 February 2019 is the World Day of Social Justice in celebration of the “principles of justice, equity, democracy, participation, transparency, accountability and inclusion.” It is also Kurt Cobain’s birthday.
In the news I see that the White Privilege Poster Child is now suing the Washington Post over having his little feelings hurt by coverage of his encounter with an Omaha tribal leader last January. The lawsuit is long on political invective (“the mainstream and social media mob of bullies which the Post sought to lead to further its biased agenda”) and short on substance (the kid “is 16 years of age, is 5’ 9” in height and weighs 115 pounds”). It also directs a number of inappropriate racist remarks towards the Omaha tribal leader involved in the incident. I very much doubt that the little snowflake’s going to get his two hundred and fifty million dollar payday. If there’s any justice he’ll end up picking up the Post’s legal fees as well as his own. ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

19 February 2019

19 February 2019


 19 February 2019 is Mexican Army Day, commemorating the date of its foundation in 1913. It is also the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, famed for devising the quantity theory of money (whatever that is). As Copernicus was born in 1473 before the Gregorian calendar had been invented his birth is given on the Julian calendar; on the proleptic Gregorian calendar it is 28 February. His feast day in the Episcopalian liturgical year is 23 May.
Authorities are investigating two fraudulent nominations of Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize; I assume these are separate from the nomination by the Japanese prime minister that Trump was crowing about. And there is no doubt that the man deserves the peace prize as much as former recipients Mother Teresa and Barack Obama—which is to say not at all—so I say why not? Irrelevance never forgets.

18 February 2019

18 February 2019


 18 February 2019 is the Third Monday in February and so in the U.S. is the Holiday that Shall Not Be Named. It is referred to euphemistically as Presidents Day, or Washington Day, or Washington-Lincoln Day, and maybe celebrates America’s first president, or its first and twelfth presidents, or all its presidents, or something else altogether. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the sun moves into the wishy-washy sign of Pisces today, when indecision and uncertainty rule.
In the (fake) news it turns out that a Van Gogh fake, “Still Life With Fruit and Chestnuts,” is in fact genuine, being like other still lifes belonging to late 1886 and actually listed in an 1890 inventory. And it is being reported that the Dopey Don requested that Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, nominate him for a Nobel peace prize, and the prime minister obliged. And in Florida a sixth-grader was arrested after exercising his first-amendment right by not standing for the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The school authorities insist he was not arrested for refusing to stand; rather he was arrested for “disrupting a school function”—a distinction without a difference as far as I can tell, since the “school function” in question was standing for the pledge of allegiance. The substitute teacher who created all the uproar turns out to be woefully uninformed; she was not aware that the U. S. constitution’s protection of free speech includes the right of children not to participate in forced speech that violates their beliefs. Where do these people come from, and how do they get into our schools?

17 February 2019

17 February 2019


 17 February 2019 is the Day of Giordano Bruno’s Martyrdom for Science according to one popular interpretation of events. The philosopher, mystic, and convicted heretic was in fact burned at the stake on 17 February 1600, and he was certainly accused of believing in the plurality of worlds in an infinite universe (or something of that sort)—but what exactly he was burned for is not clear, since the specific charges have been lost. Since he apparently did not believe in the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, or the transubstantiation, there was plenty of fuel for that fire without getting into his cosmological beliefs. That he believed in magic, and that both Moses and Jesus were magicians, probably didn’t help his cause any. That he died a martyr for the freedom of belief is beyond question—at least in the general sense that anybody who was executed for holding opinions contrary to the authorities of that time and place is such a martyr—but he was not really a martyr for science, as such. My views on Bruno were formed decades ago, when I still had access to a real library, and doubtless much has happened since then. For a reasonable current perspective I suggest Tim O’Neill’s “The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno Was a Martyr to Science” and “Giordano Bruno—Gaspar Schoppe’s Account of his Condemnation.” I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with all the details of his interpretation—I’d have to reacquaint myself with the evidence and catch up with current scholarship to be certain of where I stood, honestly—but I am saying that his presentation matches the evidence that I am aware of and should serve as a decent starting-point for anybody who is curious about Bruno.

16 February 2019

16 February 2019


 16 February 2019 is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska, recalling the decisive testimony of the Tlingit civil rights leader before the Alaskan territorial senate that resulted in passage of America’s first anti-discrimination law. It is also the Day of the Shining Star in North Korea (celebrating the birth of Kim Jong-il).
And in the news America’s Fake President has declared a Fake Emergency to let him get his grubby hands on public money not intended for his vanity wall. Like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court it is obviously unconstitutional, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to take effect; my party has decided that the Constitution is of no more value than used toilet paper. It should be remembered that the Constitution only exists as long as people are willing to abide by it; there is no mechanism to compel allegiance to it. When the Dopey Don and his little pal Gutless Mitch choose to ignore it, all bets are off. Maybe some day there will be a reckoning and heads will roll—but Samuel Tilden’s supporters probably felt that way in 1876, and the juggernaut rolled on.

15 February 2019

Harboring Refugees: A Nightmare (1975)


[Dream, 15 February 1975]
T
ime: ca 1944. Place: Nazi occupied Oregon (more or less). I am acting as a front for a bunch of Jewish refugees who resemble uncannily certain members of the Fourth Plain gang and some of [my step-brothers] and who are hiding out here. I am trying to fix myself something to eat. There are four eggs; I begin scrambled eggs and immediately my refugees turn up and appropriate them as I finish. I fix bacon with the same result. We are about out of all food. I am considering attempting a stew with dog food as the principal ingredient, while the refugees hold a drunken party, turning the house into a shambles. I locate a box of muffin mix and have just got the stuff into the oven when a sleek black car pulls up the driveway. It’s the SS. Quickly I sound a warning and the refugees vanish into the false back to the closet (Note: I was never able to figure out where they hid. I couldn’t find the false back and when I paced out the house I couldn’t find any place unaccounted for that they could be hiding in. But no matter.) A single figure gets out of the car and comes in. It is Joseph Goebbels. He thinks I’m harboring refugees. I can’t imagine what gave him the idea in view of our circumspect behavior. He eats my muffins, the last food in the house. I lecture him about intellectuals and explain why a true Machiavellian will have nothing to do with an intellectual (like Goebbels) while he demands to know where the refugees are. Munching on a muffin he paces the house, looking for the hiding place. I explain that I already tried that and it didn’t work. Goebbels explains that Teutonic thoroughness will pay off where Anglo-Saxon slothfulness fails. Somewhere in here I woke up.

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