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.

15 February 2019


 15 February 2019 is Galileo’s Birthday, which may not be an official holiday anywhere, but is an event I personally have observed since at least 1962. It is also Lupercalia and Susan B. Anthony Day (in California, New York, Florida, and Wisconsin). It may also be Liberation Day in Afghanistan, commemorating the withdrawal of Soviet troops from that country in 1989. On this date in 1933 Giuseppe Zangara murdered Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President-elect, thus setting off a chain of events leading to Allied defeat in World War II, according to Philip K. Dick’s alternate history in The Man in the High Castle.
In the news we read that the Mars Rover Opportunity has been officially declared dead, its mission terminated. Its last words are reported as being “It’s getting dark. My batteries are low.” Strictly speaking, of course, it didn’t say anything, any more than it sent pictures to Earth; what it did was transmit data including information about its immediate environment that showed it was getting dark and running out of energy. I saw somewhere somebody quarreling with this rendition of its last transmission, saying that it attributed emotions (fear? sadness?) to an object. I don’t know about that. The flat statements seem pretty emotionless to me. There is fear and sadness no doubt at the end of Opportunity’s mission—but those emotions belong to us, who have enjoyed the information it has sent us over the last fifteen years—not to the inactive mechanism.
In other news the new impotence of the US on the international stage was highlighted cruelly in the debacle that was Trump’s Warsaw summit. It was intended to solidify the forces opposed to Iran’s rôle in the Middle East, but instead only underscored America’s isolation and weakness in the region.
In fake news media outlets are apparently reporting that an attack on Jussie Smollett by racist and/or homophobic assailants is a hoax—this despite an ongoing investigation by the Chicago police. Smollett did note one correction to some media accounts—his assailants were not (he says) wearing maga hats. “I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.” Both the Chicago police and Fox Entertainment dispute aspects of the hoax claims. ABC 7 in Chicago stands by its reporting, claiming (without any substantiation) that the actor was about to be written out of Empire (denied by the network) and staged the attack for publicity (possible, but unsubstantiated).
And finally the sporting-goods store owner who refused to carry Nike products to show his solidarity (I assume) with the racist police who kill unarmed black men has gone out of business. Good riddance, I say.


14 February 2019

14 February 2019


 14 February 2019 is Valentine’s Day, remembering the death of a possibly mythical Christian leader whose achievements are known only to God. In modern times it is a day devoted to making those of us without “significant others” in our lives feel unwanted and unloved. And it’s Statehood Day here in Oregon and also in Arizona.
As Valentine’s Day falls near the old Roman festival of Lupercalia it is felt that the two must somehow be related. We are told that Roman men used to strip and don goatskin girdles before racing through town striking people with leather thongs—a startlingly similar custom to our present ritual of handing out cards, flowers, and candy to loved ones. No, wait. I meant dissimilar. A bit of traditional doggerel preserved in Gammer Gurton’s Garland alludes to a custom of selecting Valentine’s Day partners by lot:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it should be you.
According to somebody (online sources say Alban Butler) such a custom went back to Roman times, but was replaced by having girls draw the names of saints instead—but I haven’t found any evidence for it, and there’s a gap of at least a thousand years between the last celebration of Lupercalia and the beginnings of Valentine’s Day. Maybe Tim O’Neill will have something to say about the connection some time or other.
The historical Valentine—assuming there ever was such a fellow—was supposedly executed for his faith on 14 February 269. The feast commemorating his martyrdom has been celebrated apparently since 496. By then two centuries had passed and nothing seems to have been known of the guy or the circumstances of his martyrdom. Legend has added many details, all of them seemingly worthless. But that’s antiquity for you.

13 February 2019

13 February 2019


 13 February 2019 is not much of anything, as far as I can tell—I have nothing for it on my calendar anyway. Nor am I turning up anything in the news that catches my interest—I’m sure that there are items there, but I’m not that intrigued by anything I’m seeing. In 1998 on this date I had a frustrating meeting with a guy from L---- Construction—they were doing work on my then house, now demolished and replaced by some modern abomination. Actually I didn’t have a meeting—we were scheduled for a meeting to cover some areas of concern I had about things being done badly or not at all at eleven o’clock, but at 10:57 I found the guy’s card in my door and when I called his office they didn’t know anything. I waited around till 11:40 but he never showed up, though from the guys on site I learned that he had been there and talked with them—which was nice for them, but didn’t do me any good. I did eventually get the outside lighting restored and the basement door back to a usable condition—this by paying them more money, though in my view as they’d fucked these things up they ought to have restored them—but the downspout from the gutter remained precisely where I had said it should not be located because it put water into the basement, and they never did finish the work on the back porch.
Years later I learned that what they’d done with the line supplying the main power to the house was strictly illegal, and possibly a fire hazard.

12 February 2019

12 February 2019


 12 February 2019 is Darwin Day. It’s also Lincoln’s Birthday (US) and Georgia Day (US state of Georgia). It’s the date of Thomas Campion’s birthday (“When Laura Smiles,” “I Care Not For These Ladies”), though I assume that was on the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar in use today.
It appears that the U.S. Congress has reached a deal with itself to prevent another partial government shutdown, though I haven’t seen the details. That’s where the devil likes to hide, according to proverbial lore, so I suppose we’re in for some satanic rumbling, but I’d like to think that our elected leaders can rise above it. I don’t believe that, please note; I’d just like to think it.

11 February 2019

11 February 2019


 11 February 2019 is National Foundation Day in Japan, commemorating the moment in 9341 HE when the emperor Jimmu ascended the throne. I don’t actually know how we know this, or even how we know that the emperor Jimmu ever existed, but that’s what I’ve got. It’s also Garbage Morn locally—the day you put the garbage cans out on the street for pickup during the day, assuming that you hadn’t already put them out on Garbage Eve. (Customs differ from house to house on that point.)
My roommate and I watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs last night, a collection of six short tales of the American West of wildly uneven quality. The title sequence looks like a machine or maybe Family Guy’s manatees tried to write a singing cowboy movie—the elements are there, but they’re put together wrong. The second piece—“Near Algodones”—is what you might get if Samuel Beckett tried to adapt a Saki short story about a bank robbery set in the American West. “All Gold Canyon” has a sort of Jack London quality to it, and in fact is based on a 1905 Jack London story. (It’s fun seeing Tom Waits as a prospector.) “The Girl Who Got Rattled” is also based on a short story, this one by Stewart Edward White, whose work I am not at all familiar with. Anyway, the film was fun, and I didn’t feel totally ripped off for watching it, so there’s that in its favor. On the other hand if it had stayed in that drawer the project apparently lurked in for decades it would have been no particular loss to the film world.

10 February 2019

10 February 2019


 10 February 2019 is the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, commemorating, I suppose, the moment in Acts 27 when the passengers interfered with the crew’s attempt to save the ship they were on and forced it to run aground—or whatever really happened. I feel strongly that it’s somebody’s birthday or the anniversary of some significant event, but nothing is coming to mind, so I guess I’ll just let it lie.
In the news I see that we can all relax a bit as both Russia and the United States have suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—a step in the direction of bringing back the halcyon days of World War III, when we all were building nuclear weapons with insane abandon. Those were the days, my friend; we thought they’d never end—and damned if they aren’t back. I really miss the old threat of imminent nuclear annihilation—don’t you?

09 February 2019

9 February 2019


 9 February 2019 is the 78th birthday of Sheila James Kuehl, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay California legislator. She was the actress who played Max Shulman’s character Zelda Gilroy on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a rare instance of a positive portrayal of an intelligent girl in the eternal wasteland that was television when I was growing up. On the opposite end of the spectrum it is also the birthday of Garner Ted Armstrong, whose The World Tomorrow was a low point in my week as a kid, forcing me to either get out of bed and turn the radio to something less deranged, or sit through fifteen minutes of excruciating drivel. And it’s also the birthday of Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda), Samuel Tilden (who won the 1876 U. S. presidential election but wasn’t seated due to election chicanery), Tippecanoe, and Thomas Paine too.
It’s snowing here in Portland, and I’m wondering how, or if, I’m going to be able to take the dog for a walk. I guess I’ll just have to take my chances.

08 February 2019

8 February 2019


 8 February 2019 is the anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968, in which three people protesting segregation were killed by police in South Carolina. The authorities (maybe the governor himself) blamed the event on “outside agitators” contrary to all the evidence. It’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in half a century—today you’d never read about an unarmed black man being killed by the police. (It’s really nice living in this isolated little bubble and having the luxury of not seeing color and all. Yeah, they’ll have to pry my white privilege out of my cold dead hands.)

07 February 2019

7 February 2019


 7 February 2019 is apparently Independence Day in Grenada, but I only know that through rumor and happenstance. It may also be the date that Mississippi abolished the institution of slavery, way back in 2013. Bring the jubilee, everybody, and lets all get in line for our forty acres and a mule. It’s high time in my book.

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