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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wit and Wisdom of Churchill 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis is rather apocryphal, but I love it. Here Churchill is responding to accusations that he has not given the Royal Navy its due.

Addressing the Sea Lords: "You say that I am ignoring the time-honored traditions of the Royal Navy? And what might they be? I shall tell you in three words: rum, buggery, and the lash! Good morning, sirs."

If I ever get a boat, I am so naming it "Rum, Buggery and the Lash."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Booty Call *69 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI was trying to find this page turner in the urban fiction genre on Amazon for a patron. The title wasn't coming up in Amazon, and then it dawned on me that the asterisk was acting as some sort of truncator or wild card and it was throwing the search off. I left the asterisk out, typed in "booty call 69" and voila. Publishers really should consider these sort of things when coming up with titles.

Amazon search tips.

Children of the Damned 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA little girl, no more than eight years old, quietly approached the desk. She reached into her Powderpuff Girl’s backpack and pulled out Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall.

“Hello. I’m looking for the short story "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov.”

“It’s not in that book?”

“I'm looking for the short story. This is the result of collaboration with another author, Robert Silverberg. Together he and Asimov and expanded the short story into novel length. I am only interested in the short story.”

Her poise was beyond preternatural and her voice was as carefully modulated as HAL the computer or Nurse Ratchet. It was all my colleague and I could do not to stare at her like she was channeling some sort of demon.

I searched the catalog and found the story in a short story collection on another floor. I wrote out the book and gave her the call number. She thanked me and twirled around and left.

After she was gone my colleague and I almost clutched each other in fear. Who at that age is into Asimov?

Friday, November 10, 2006

From the Annals of Creative Executions 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhen fed-up natives captured Pedro de Valdivia, a conquistador infamous for his rapacious cruelty and lust for gold, they pried open his mouth and poured molten gold down his throat. As ghastly a way to die as that must have been, it still beats how Edward II was dispatched: with a glowing hot poker up the ass. (He was suspected of being gay and had been promoting too many of his lowborn 'favorites.')

The Mongols liked their executions colorful, practically elevating them to an art form. From John Dolan's "Missing the Mongols":

"They (the Mongols) poured molten silver in the eyes and ears of traitors--a visual joke. They could be compassionate: when Genghiz Khan captured Jamukha, his closest friend, he did Jamukha the honor of killing him by rolling him up in a carpet and crushing him with boulders, so that the blood would remain in the body. They had their own sense of righteousness: when the small Slavic town of Kozelsk, near Kaluga, resisted them for months, they dubbed it "the wicked town." So upset were they with the scandalous behavior of Kozelsk that they not only killed all the inhabitants (which went without saying), but drowned the child-prince, Vladimir, in human blood."

Want more, you sick little devils? List of unusual ways to go.

Hmmmmm. What else. I’m still immensely enjoying Pox: Genius, Madness and Syphilis. The author's theory why 15th - 17th century Spaniards were such dicks:

"The Spain that Columbus left behind was already one of great carnage. Seven hundred years of warfare to take back Spain from the Moors had formed a warrior culture rooted in the values of the conquistador. The Inquisition sought out heretics and non-believers to torture and murder at the stake or on the gallows, to burn or hang, behead or flay. Columbus, very much a man of his times and culture, used these same violent methods against the people he found in the New World."

As I’ve written before, no two cultures deserved each other more than the Spaniards and Aztecs, because what disgusting torture one hadn’t invented the other one had. I have great admiration for the Aztecs, what with their culture's blend of cannibalism and dazzling achievements in astronomy, but I don’t pity them or romanticize them as helpless innocents. The inhabitants of Hispaniola, Columbus’ first stop, however, were peaceful and gentle and Columbus and his men abused their hospitality egregiously. After the natives welcomed them with singing and flowers, Columbus and his men entertained themselves by raping, sport torturing, feeding native infants to dogs, burning natives alive, amputating native limbs, etc. Too bad for Columbus, his men and the rest of Europe, though - the natives were teeming with syphilis, and had their revenge by infecting Columbus’s crew with a virulent new strain to which the men had no resistance. This strain, or some new super-strain that resulted when it mixed with Old World syphillis, had its first major outbreak in Naples in 1493 and before this strain burned itself down those infected would die in as little as two weeks in such agonizing, odorous and grotesque ways that even the lepers shunned them. I’ve always thought that the disease exchange between the Old and New World was rather unfair so it’s heartening to learn that syphilis balanced the scales a bit.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tony Montana Word of the Day: Llello 

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Llello
1) A white powder that pollutes your womb, so that you can't even have a leetle baby.
2) Cocaine powder.

Courtesy of urbandictionary.com

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Larceny 

A Japanese tourist approached me while I was puttering around the shelves of new books with a tale of woe. He had that he had left his bag unattended in the express internet line while he went off to the bathroom and when he returned it was, predictably, gone. I glanced over at the queue. In line, there was an old wino who was muttering to himself, swatting at the air. There were two hippies with matted dread locks chanting softly, their legs folded on the chairs swami style and their eyes closed. An old African American man was expounding on a passage of the Bible to a throwaway teen. The way to describe the rest of the people in line in one word: sketchy. I looked over at the queue for the internet and it looked more like the waiting room in the central intake unit of a county drug treatment center than a line for the internet.

The unfortunate Japanese tourists seemed genuinely bewildered that someone had taken his bag. I know that this sort of larceny/property crime is quite rare in Japan, but I still think he showed appalling cultural naivety by leaving his bag unguarded. He wanted to know if we had security cameras and I told him we did not. I suggested that he leave his name with security so they could contact him if the bag was turned in.

I myself had my wallet stolen from my backpack while I was in the university library back in graduate school, so I was disabused of my notion of a library being a hallowed, safe place of learning then. It's more like a den of thieves, perverts and deviants AND a palace of learning.

Visitation 

While I was conked out asleep E heard some sounds from the kitchen that caused her alarm. She went to investigate and heard glass bottles being moved around and knocking against each other. There was also the sound of shuffling feet. My cousin and his girlfriend live below us so she thought they were returning us a favor and making a retributive midnight liquor cabinet raid. (We keep a shotgun filled with rock salt for just such an eventuality.) Their blind black lab, Dixie, also known as the Black Marauder, also makes occasional forays into the kitchen to see if we happened to have left the dog bin unlocked. Because she is blind, she has the advantage at night and usually is as quiet and stealthy as a ninja, so E didn’t think it was her. She flipped on the light and screamed, “Aha!” There was no one in the kitchen but she did see out of corner of her eye a face peeking through the flap of the dog door. She screamed and the head withdrew in a flash like a snapping turtle into its shell. This is a sketch based on E’s description of the intruder-

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Since we don't have any Lucky Charms she allowed herself to be hypnotized and this is the result, a much more accurate description, I believe. It looks like our urban raccoons are back, and they have a taste for liquor, since that’s where they headed first.

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E recently viewed this news report and it must have made her a little suggestible.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When Piglets Fly 

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Billy Jack
at the beach with the tennis ball, his teacher/mother/secret lover.

Don't Activate the Prey Drive 

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Not long ago I tried to intervene when Spoon caught and killed a mountain mouse while we were on a hike together. When I grabbed her head to stop her from shaking the little creature to death I was horrified to discover that Spoon had been transformed from my little fuzzy lovebug angel into a killing machine. Terrier instinct had taken over and she was in the full grip of her prey drive and there was no stopping her. Her facial expression reminded me Tom Berenger’s in the final battle scene of Platoon, an expression that I have never forgot. In the heat of the battle Berenger has gone completely beserker and tries to strangle Sheen, whom he doesn’t recognize or discriminate from the enemy because he's in a blind, dead-eyed, instinctive killing rage.

All predators, humans included, have what's called a prey drive and it's a good policy to avoid inflaming it. Recently I felt my own prey drive stirred while watching that horrid movie Failure to Launch. In one scene, Sarah Jessica Parker's character is dragged off to be an unwilling participant in a paintball tournament. During the battle she acts like a completely helpless ninny, and her mouse like squeaks, which I’m sure she thought were adorable and girlish, made Spoon stare at the television hungrily and made me, normally a non-violent creature, want to hunt her down and empty a clip of paintballs into her, and then follow that with a vicious titty twister for good measure. Her acting and making noises like such rodent prey under the circumstance of battle, even a mock, paintball battle, brought out the predator in me as well as Spoon, who I'm sure wanted to grab her by the neck and shake it until it snapped.

I have especially noticed the prey drive in action on my bike. I ride my bike to work, as do many of my colleagues, and we all have a tale about being chased down by an angry driver. Usually this was in response to a road altercation between the biker and driver. If there is any sort of words exchanged, or rude gestures made, etc. and the bike takes off, sometimes the driver will have an instinctive reaction to chase the biker down like a greyhound does a rabbit. There is something about the biker, maybe his or her vulnerability, or the way it seems that the car is overtaking the biker with speed, that makes the biker seem like quarry, and occasionally their primitive instincts overide their common sense and civility. When I ride my bike I now never try to escalate, engage or even make eye contact with drivers. When I formulated my car/bike as prey/quarry theory, it dawned on my that doing the FUH2 while on a bike is a very foolhardy idea. I know that I’m dealing with powerful instincts here.

As Josef Goebbel, Hitler's master of propaganda, remarked, "Man is and remains an animal. Here a beast of prey, there a housepet, but always an animal."

One night a colleague and I sat talking on our bikes right outside the employee door. We didn't notice a deranged, hulking man who had been stumbling through and screaming at traffic approach us. All of the sudden he was upon us. As he lurched menacingly toward us he and opened his mouth to say something, I locked eyes with my colleague and we both instantaneously scattered in opposite directions, a common prey evasive tactic. I hadn't even realized consciously what we had done until I was 100 yards away, pedaling furiously. My colleague and I were operating on pure instinct.

While I was digging around for this Goebbel's quote I found this one.

“If the German people lay down their weapons, the Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, would occupy all of East and Southeast Europe along with the greater part of the Reich. An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered.” I never knew that it was Goebbels who coined the term 'iron curtain.' I always thought it was Churchill.

Although for me, the most memorable Goebbels quote was that said by his wife, Magda: "Sleep tight, children."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Problem of Susan 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI just read Neil Gaiman’s "The Problem with Susan," a short story whose title is a play on Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. Susan is a character in Lewis’s beloved Narnia series, while The Problem of Pain is a treatise in which the Christian apologist tries to explain that pain is a good thing because it brings us closer to God. Lewis proposes that God makes us suffer because if we didn’t we would just be these obstinate, free willed beings who would never know the glory of God because we would never need him; therefore, suffering and unspeakable pain are good for our souls. (Not so sure I agree with that premise, Clive. That’s a little too much of “My daddy beats me ‘cause he loves me” school of thought, the kind of conclusion a bewildered, abused child draws to explain why the person who should love and protect him most is brutalizing him. In fact, the more I think about it, that’s some pretty sick shit.)

In both the Chronicles of Narnia and "The Problem of Susan" Susan is an English girl, the oldest child of the Pevensie family. The children are sent from war bombed London to an eccentric relative’s estate to ride out the war. Once at the estate, the children discover a wardrobe that is a portal to Narnia, a magical kingdom populated by talking beasts and figures from Greek, Norse and Arthurian myths and legends. In Narnia, the children find danger and adventure and plenty of Christian allegory. Of course the religious symbolism, as heavy-handed as it is, completely went over my head when I was read the stories, but it still resonated, and I adored the books. The Chronicles of Narnia were and remain the most treasured books from my childhood, and I reread them every couple of years or so with the exception of the horrid Last Battle, the final book in the series.

The book is basically Armagedon for Narnia, and in the course of the book Lewis sadistically destroys everything the reader holds beloved. There is a particularly painful and detailed scene in which the traitorous dwarves shoot arrows into all of the talking, sentient horses, something that was particularly horrible and distressing to me as a child. Even worse, at the end of the book he kills off all of the Pevensie children in a train crash except Susan. The reader is supposed to take some consolation in that although the children die horrifically, they end up in heaven, a place even more glorious than Narnia. Susan, however, is denied and ‘has’ to go on living because she stopped believing in Narnia and became too "too fond of lipsticks and nylons and invitations to parties.” Nice. What kind of message is that? You can be an intolerable brat and be reformed, as in the character of Eustace, or you can betray your family, like Edmund, and redeem yourself, but if you acquire the natural, normal tastes of a your woman then you’re denied heaven? What kind of message is that? Was C.S. Lewis really such a fussy, misogynistic old confirmed bachelor (he wrote these before he married stalker fan Joy Gresham) that the worst sin a person could commit was to like what a normal teenage girl would? I guess you could argue that Susan committed the worst sin by losing her faith that Narnia existed, a chilhood game she has outgrown, but I still think her punishment is harsh and unfair.

The only explanation I can find for the The Last Battle is that C.S. Lewis went completely off his rocker. I have also found the biographical details of his life to be very illuminating, especially his relationship with death. It seems most wounding event of his childhood was the death of his mother when he was a nine. Before he could even begin to process this tragedy, he was sent off when to boarding school, where, in the grand English public school tradition, he was beaten, brutalized and buggered. As a young man he served in the trenches in WWI, where he witnessed first hand the wholesale slaughter of his chums, and after being wounded returned to England to finish up his education at Oxford. He also went on to fulfill a promise he had made to a slain comrade. What follows might explain some of his problems with women.

From The Narnia Skirmishes, a New York Times article by Charles McGrath:

"For more than 40 years, he lived with the mother of a friend named Edward Moore, with whom he had made one of those earnest World War I pacts: if anything happened to either of them, the other would take care of his friend's family. In the event, it was Moore who died, while Lewis came down with trench fever and was later wounded, not severely but badly enough that he was sent home.

The exact nature of their relationship is something that many of Lewis's biographers would prefer to tiptoe around. But Lewis was far from a sexual innocent, and the evidence strongly suggests that, at least until he got religion, there was an erotic component to his life with Minto. Did they actually sleep together, this earnest, scholarly young man, conventional in almost every other way, and a woman 26 years his senior? Walter Hooper, the editor of Lewis's ''Collected Letters,'' thinks it ''not improbable.'' A.N. Wilson, the best and most persuasive of Lewis's biographers, argues that there's no reason at all to think they didn't, leaving us with the baffling and disquieting psychological picture of C.S. Lewis, the great scholar and writer and Christian apologist-to-be, pedaling off on his bicycle, his academic gown flapping in the wind, to have a nooner with Mum. What Lewis saw in Minto is another matter. No one else could stand her. Warnie once described her association with Lewis as ''the rape of J's life.'' He wrote in his diary at the time of her death in January 1951, ''And so ends the mysterious self-imposed slavery in which J has lived for at least 30 years.'' Minto said of Jack, ''He was as good as an extra maid,'' and she subjected him to a kind of domestic slavery that Wilson says he thinks amounted to sexual masochism on Lewis's part. His servility grew worse toward the end of Minto's life, when she slipped into an angry and querulous senility, and he spent most of his waking hours caring for her, for her ancient, incontinent dog, Bruce, and for Warnie, who eventually became a six-bottle-a-day man and was now stumbling around in a stupor all afternoon."

Interesting food for thought relating to Lewis’ problems with death and women. In any case, I love the Chronicles of Narnia enough to forgive C.S. Lewis for The Last Battle. I basically just ignore the book. Neil Gaiman doesn't forgive so easily, however, and The Problem with Susan is an eerie response to Lewis’s idea of God and Christianity as allegorized in Narnia.

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