Monday, January 31, 2005

The Poor Relations

Dinner at the poor relations last night.

Is that so?

'Tis. They have a grand place now. And, meself, in little more than a cottage.

Go on with ya!

Sure, 'tis true. A great, grand house like the old manor use to be. With servants, like, an' all. Sure, you could fit ten of our little lean-to's into one of them. And, look at himself, now, as proud as peacock keeping us in little more than a shed.


Sure, the servants came in, just after serving dinner, with deserts from France and coffee. Not a drop of tea to be found.

Boy, that's somethin'. But, wait now, I taught you said they were poor.

Well, sure, they're poor in spirit, like. As holy as St. Brendan himself -- or even St. Kevin, like. And, they were poor in circumstances as well until lately.

And, did they come into some money?

Ah, they did indeed. Buckets of money. More pounds than a great pachyderm.

Did they?

They did. But, a course, I mean now euros.

Well, how did they come into it? Were they lucky at the races? Did they take the sweepstakes?

Ah, sure, no. She wouldn't wager a penny on Ballymoss. Sure, they made every bit of it in tech stocks.

What's that now?

Tech stocks -- you know, like, with the computers and all that.

Is that they way?

'Tis. "Twas himself that put all the money on the horses and never won a penny -- sure nothin' close to a euro.

Sha. But, sure, he's an altogether handsome man.

He is, at that.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Mistaken Mystique

Most of our gentle visitors believe that these pages are little noted and visited -- something like a wonderful little field they find themselves looking upon, having taken the wrong exit off the interstate and driven miles down a lonely state route and broken down, and now awaiting the tow truck. We have wanted to keep it that way: for their returns visits are a classic sign of instability, and we wish to spare them any unnecessary alarm or disturbance.

Truth is, however, on the clandestine, encrypted, and ciphered networks, these pages have created quite a stir. Some have suggested the your humble Contributors are members of the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Knights Templar, and even the Knights of Columbus. We've been able to keep most of these stirrings under wraps, with the occasional, minor eruption.

But, now, our Echelon-like surveillance service has uncovered this latest and most outrageous claim, which threatens to engulf the web: namely, that we are post-Soviet Fifth Columnists. So, we must respond -- and, of course, first to our gentle visitors.

The alleged reported referenced there is obviously a hoax. Note that it attempts to mimic the MI-6 style for such reports, but omits certain key phrases that one would expect to see, such as "tally ho", "jolly good", and "capital! old chap". The false report also makes much of your humble Contributor's names -- but, their true meanings (and their Christmas wish lists) have been covered exhaustively in a prior post -- with specific reference to English bricks and the Common Law. And, speaking of anagrams, it turns out that the name "Gone Away" (our flattering accuser) lends itself quite readily to the enigmatic phrase "Age? No Way!"

Think about it: the whole British connection is a bit suspicious, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Model Doughnut-Maker's Resume

We suppose our gentle visitors have seen every variety of doughnut-maker resume, but this one -- another in our series of model textual communications --- may take the cake.


B.S. Culinary Institute of Toledo. 1990.

M.S. Cleveland School of Fatty Foods. 1992.

Ph.D. Instititute for Advanced Tubular Studies, Akron, Oh. 1995.


Curator, National Doughnut Museum, Columbus, Oh. 2001 -

Associate Professor of Doughnut History, Dayton College of Obesity, 1998 - 2001.

Chief Beignets Chef, Tres, Tres Francais Patisserie, Shaker Heights, Oh. 1995-98.

Sous-Chef and Fellow, Boiling Oil Bakery, Canton (Oh.), 1994-95.

Nutritional Consultant, Youngstown (Oh.) Police Department. 1993.


"I Lost 50 Pounds In 50 Days!... Eating Nothing But Jelly Donuts!" Star Weekly, April 1, 1995.

"Donuts Without The 'O': Separation and Loss in Fried Cakes." Eating Disorder & Comfort Food Monthly. May 1996.

"A Warmer, Cruller World: The Long, Twisted Story." Annals of Fried Cakes. 1998.

"Eros and Thanatos in Pamiquay’s Creme-Filled Selections." Journal of Doughnuts in the Arts. Fall 1999.

"The Legacy of 'Krispy Kreme'; Or, Why Our Kids Can't Spell" in Essays in Eating and Education. Scholastic Cooking Press, 2000.

Librettist for Die Glazen Fritter; premiere, November 3, 2000. Chillicothe (Oh.) Opera Society.

"A Critique of Duncan’s Five Proofs for the Roundness of Doughnuts." Food & Philosophy. Winter 2002.

"Glazed and Confused: The Controversy Over 'No Sugar Added' Doughnuts." Doughnut Marketing News. September 16, 2003.

"Yeast Meets West: New Asian Influences in California Pastries." California Confections & Cuisine. February 2004.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Bonus - Aquinas on Extraterrestrials

Medieval philosopher/theologian/saint on the possibility of ET.

We ask you: where else can you find such otherworldly portals but hereunder?

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Contributor's note: The following taken from a recently discovered text, believed to one the lost parts of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. For a good example of his distinctive discourse, see here. (For the link-averse, this one might be helpful in deciphering what follows.)


Objection 1: It would seem that it is immoral to travel to St. Thomas in winter, because, as Scripture has it, "there is a time and a season for every purpose", and the purpose of winter is cold: for only by such cold can the fauna of the earth die in order to be revitalized in the spring; therefore, to leave the cold for the warmth defeats the purpose of winter, which God has made.

Obj. 2: Further, warmth tends to excite human passions; whereas, cold tends to inhibit them; since it is clearly better that such passions be held in check and worse to give them free rein, it is more virtuous to remain in a cold place in winter.

Obj 3: Further, to be cold in winter is to be mortified, because the flesh seeks warmth and rebels or suffers at the cold; such mortification is good for the soul as a kind of fasting; to avoid such mortification is to avoid what is good for the soul. Therefore, one should avoid St. Thomas in the winter.

On the contrary, the Lord said, "I will quietly look from my dwelling like clear heat in sunshine," and, again, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The Lord, who is Goodness itself, could neither describe Himself as clear heat in sunshine unless that were an aspect of His being, nor offer rest unless it were good.

I answer that it is not only licit but sensible to travel to St. Thomas during the winter, for several reasons.

First, if a person who travels to St. Thomas be unrepentantly vicious, then such a trip will be his reward during his life, and he can look forward, at death, to an eternity of punishment, which may be compared with the as yet unfounded city of Boston in winter; whereas, if a person who travels to St. Thomas be virtuous, then he will have a foretaste of heaven.

Second, any place named for a saint is, at least to that extent, a holy place, for to be saintly is to be holy: whence, one who travels to the place of a saint, knowing of such holiness, is a pilgrim, and to be a pilgrim is to be devout, and, therefore, cannot be vicious.

Third, any place named for the Holy Apostle Thomas doubtless is a wonderful place. That such a place is also called for your humble Theologian is merely accidental.
Fourth, if such a place be later discovered and associated with other places under the patronage of the Virgin, the mother of the Lord, then it cannot be a place to avoid, since she has been a refuge for saints and sinners alike in every season.

Reply Obj. 1: Many proofs fail from mere want of knowledge: this objection is no exception. Scholars of cosmology and certain travelers to uncharted lands tell us that, in the nether parts of the world, it is hot in winter and cool in summer: this is also what God has made, and it is good. Likewise, by the unreason of this objections, one could not find a cool place in the heat or else defeat the purpose of summer; whereas, as Scripture has it, "It will be for a shade by day from the heat."

Reply Obj. 2: The law of nature is written on the hearts of men: therefore, men seek warmth when they are cold, and coolness when they are hot; otherwise, they might perish. To hold as wrong that which is natural and good -- that is to say, necessary and proper according to the nature of a substance -- is without reason. Moreover, the mere absence or frustration of vice is not virtue; otherwise, to be very aged would be the same as to be very virtuous.

Reply Obj. 3: While fasting is good, it is by no means an exclusive mark of holiness: for the Holy Apostles never fasted while the Lord was with them, and no person or thing is holier than the Lord. Indeed, in the Lord's parable, it was the hypocrite that fasted. Moreover, since this day will be your humble Theologian's feast day, it would be unnatural and wrong to fast, since fasting and feasting cannot co-exist according the principle of non-contradiction. On the contrary, it is altogether proper today to party.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Peace in Iraq

The headline is nothing if not hopeful. I was trying it on, as it were, on the cusp of or at the nadir of anything hopeful in that troubled land. During petitionary prayers at church, I've noticed that we pray for the military personnel in Iraq(who desperately need it for obvious reasons) for our civil leaders (ditto!) and for soldiers who have recently been killed there. But I'm suggesting that we widen the petition and pray "For peace in Iraq" to include the millions of long-suffering people--innocent men, women, and children, who have, I'm afraid, become somewhat abstracted into potential voters of varying Shia, Sunni, or Kurdish stripes during the USA's well-intentioned attempt to bring democracy there.

Now getting back to the peace thing--I remember as a child that it seemed that we prayed "For peace in Vietnam" forever. It also seemed to take forever. (And then when "peace" came, it wasn't quite how we had expected it, but that's another story.) So I ask readers to pray for peace in Iraq, real peace for the people there. Think back to your school days when this Cradle of Civilization with its Tigris and Euphrates, and the Ziggurat at Ur fired your imagination, and believe that your good will and petitions can make a difference now for the people of Iraq.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

That Sinking Feeling

Bertrand stood slighty hunched, his sleeves half-rolled, his mind half-there -- a man obsessed.

I can't take it, he thought. Everything's going down the drain -- sinking -- and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I'm ready to throw in the towel.

Each night, the same dread exchange:

Him, pushing back the chair and standing up: "Tonight?"

Her, looking cruelly amused: "I think you know the answer to that...."
Was he surprised? Each night, the same bleak routine: Gather himself. Scrape the leftovers from the day -- he might better be lapping them up like a mongrel. Toss another poor fellow on the rack. Add another to the stack.

Is it me? he thought. Am I a fool? Or, a hypocrite? Cleaning the outside, leaving the inside unclean? He considered the mundane and soiled wares of his life.

No, he thought. No more of this stupid second-guessing. No more "is the glass half-full, is the glass half-empty" claptrap. THE GLASS IS EMPTY! I HAVE POURED OUT EVERY DROP.

He cast about, almost desparately, looking for something, anything that might reverse the terrible conclusion: but, everything reinforced what he already knew: he was ground down; he was beaten; he was toast. He could see the black coils reddening and feel their heat pressing in upon him.

Then, he saw the knife. He took it in his hand. Ah, the warmth and weight of it; its steely sheen; its dull, semi-serated edge. Could this be it?

Suddenly, he felt a presence nearby. Slowly, standing in place, his hands unshifted, he turned his head to the right. There she was. Their eyes met, and, for a moment, it seemed like a lifetime of feelings would rush out like an open faucet. Then, she spoke.

"Bert?" she said, in disbelief. "What 're you doing? Stop playing around, and get the dishes done."

He looked at the diminishing suds.

I was just finishing up, dear.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Uninspired Co-Inditors

Gentle visitors, what a patient lot you are. Your humble Contributor is just back from a meeting of those poets, philosophers, seers, savants, sycophants, dilettantes, and ex-cons whose singular and largely astigmatic vision led to the creation of the pages hereunder.

No doubt, at some time hence, historians and, probably, prosecutors, will sift through the unshredded documentary precursors to piece together the motive, means, opportunity, and mens rea of this group of uninspired co-inditers. Against advice of counsel, we believe that it certainly would be wrong to withhold these from our faithful visitors pending criminal proceedings.

Therefore, we offer one of the formative documents, with certain proprietary material and expletives expurgated.

December 1, 2004

Gentlemen --

Yesterday, Mr. * send me a typically provocative and offensive message. He noted that it was
Jonathan Swift's birthday, then quoted Swift to the effect that the Emerald Isle was a "vile" place. Of course, Swift, though an Anglican dean, was a hero of the Irish people for his insistence that their cross-channel governors treat them as human beings. I'm not sure whether Swift ever got outside of Dublin, but if he traveled to, say, the border of Limerick and Kerry (not the losing candidate), along the beautiful River Feale, he would have thought that he'd died and gone straight to heaven.

In any case, this was curious and serendipitous for the following reasons:

* My alma mater required a senior thesis for graduation. I did mine on Swift. That my first submission was deemed insufficient is merely a biographical footnote, such as that Mark Twain was unschooled and Thomas Aquinas was thought stupid. Having left off senior revels briefly, I did a passable second submission, which left me forever sympathetic to this giant of literature.

* Did you know that, in his day, Swift was a member of his own informal writer's group, known as the
Scriblerus Club, along with Alexander Pope, John Gay, William Congreve and occasional others. Unlike our own humble group, however, it was not tragically Sisyphusean.

* Yesterday, an infrequent pleased client came by to deliver a hand-carved chestnut pen to me. (I still have not decided how much to bill her for the time I spent admiring this gift.) In case you've forgotten, an ink pen is an instrument for what was once called handwriting. Those who are nostalgic can now purchase a digital pen, which will digitize your scribblings.

This leads me to the unavoidable conviction that we should undertake a blog. Swift was a blogger in his day -- a pamphleteer, a commentator on politics and culture, a poet, as it were. "Pen names", or more accurately, "handles" or screen names are common in blogs, just as they were in the Augustan Age and other ages. (I think Swift used the name "
Isaac Bickerstaff".) If the sniffling, bespectacled, vegan literati have not yet fully realized the brilliance of our writing, we should take it directly to the people. If we don't catch on, then we will have simply wasted our valuable time (and, I suppose, the valuable time of the unfortunate persons who actual bother to read it).

Here are the details of the proposal.


Group Activities -- We could continue our quasi-monthly meetings, of course -- but focus on what has become most important in these gatherings -- that is, quaffing ale.

What am I forgetting? It's hard to imagine that anything could improve on the plan I've set forth; but, anything is possible. Let me know your thoughts


There you have it, gentle Visitors -- the uninspired beginnings of it all.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Slippery Slope

Your humble Contributor corresponding slopeside today.

Gone are the halcyon days at Innsbruck and St. Anton, between assignments in Eastern Europe. Carving coded messages on the face of the mountain for the unseen eyes in the sky. Lounging fireside with the lovely but deadly snow vixens in their furry accoutrements. Prying a plank from a decrepit wood shed, and introducing the curious Austrians to the concept of riding the snow on a board.

But, that was many years ago, and time has weighed heavily upon our schussing skills. The summit, once a starting point for exhilaration, has become a death wish: unnecessarily elongated feet, a slick steep, biting winds, and old joints. Make a brief examination of conscience and push off: a small crowd will gather at the bottom, looking upon the frigid and rigid remains, the face literally frozen in horror, with the lost ski skidding down the hill like a frantic relative.

Better to make a name for yourself on the Bunny Buster, the Sissy Slalom, and the Easy Now. And, at the end of the day, count your bones, count your blessings, pack your gear, and head for home.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Tetherball Deniers

Gentle visitors, did I not warn you of the brooding presence of tetherball deniers? They're out there.

Your humble Contributor was recently reminded of this by a foreboding message from an old nemesis.

Dear Remainderman,

Well, well, well. So, we meet again.

You did not think you could hide from me forever, surely? Our resources are not what they were, but we have been methodically scanning the web for a sign of your re-emergence. When the key words "tetherball", "politics", and "intrigue" found a match, we knew we had found you.

Ah, yes. I have never forgotten my first sighting of you: September 1987 (just after the Harmonic Convergence, if memory serves); Bratislava; a wet and worn schoolyard on the East End, near Tranavka; you, still relatively fresh-faced, a flourescent orange tetherball tucked under your arm; you tying the ball to a rusted pole; the young school-urchins gathering around in curiousity; you speaking to them in your broken Slovakian, and punching the ball in a great arc; the ball appearing almost sun-like against the gray sky and drab stone; their laughter; their joy. Of course, I reported this to my superiors; but, they laughed, and went off to find some good vodka.

And, yet, I trailed you to Prague. More schoolyards; more luminous tetherballs; more delighted children. The smokey meetings with Havel. Then, you were off to Krakow. Indoor tetherball! My god, the genius of it. I can recall so clearly the dim-light Gdansk diner, the pungent aroma of keilbasa and kapusta, the laughter, and Walesa embracing you as you left. Yes, remainderman: I was that close.

Of course, I filed my reports; but, by then, it was too late. And, do you think I landed on my feet? Hardly. In two years, I was behind the counter at the new McDonalds in St. Petersburg. "Would you like fries with that,comrade?" The manager shooting me an icy stare: "Nyet 'comrade'".

But, times change, and new opportunities present themselves. Good to have one the old regulars at the helm. And, ironically, it appears that what we had sown a generation ago is now bearing some fruit in the West. Am I surprised that your enigmatic orb has suddenly re-appeared? Nyet.

We both know that the tetherball will make the difference: between the spiritual and material, freedom and slavery, light and darkness: but, the Olympics? Really, Remainderman, this is too much. It's bad enough that the former East German women no longer shave, but we will not let this stand.

Count on it! Yuri is back on the job.

Gentle visitors, fear not: your humble Contributor remains ever vigilant.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Supposing You.

Suppose that
Like the curd in your coffee cup–
The white, encurling speck
Arising from an unexpected
Turn of half-and-half,
And swelling on a brew of dark and rich
And flowing,
And with an ebbing flick of wrist
You toss him out.

Like the lint on your blouse's cuff–
The grey, enfibered jot
Emerging from a microscopic
Shift of weave and thread,
And clinging to a fold of dense and vast
And rolling,
And in a grazing pass of hand
You brush her off.

Suppose that
He or she supposed it–
This jot, this bright, ingrowing wight
Supposing you, and every dream, or
Fear or idle thought,
Or smile or cough or hiccough,
Twitch or tic or tiny geste,
Were tossed out, brushed off,
Passed away.

Supposing you...

Friday, January 21, 2005

Traffic Report, Monday, January 20, 2004

Gentle visitors, so much has happened since our last report, it's hard to know where to begin (though, having already begun, [see above, "Gentle visitors, so much has happened..."] -- a kind of, I want to say, conundrum; but, that's not really it: more of a 'paradox'; yet, that might be overstating it -- we continue). [;)]

The editorial offices, hereunder, were all a buzz a week ago about the sudden spike in visitorship. Did this signal the re-awakening of hibernant humankind? A deathbed recovery of the moribund masses? Was it, in fact, the SECOND HARMONIC CONVERGENCE? (The first, of course, occurring on August 17, 1987, when we reached "the point at which the counter-spin of history finally comes to a momentary halt, and the still imperceptible spin of post-history commences"?*) Was it mere coincidence that the second was arriving 6359 days after the first?

Well... it turns out, it probably wasn't. And, thank goodness, because the slight halt of history in 1987 and the slight post-counter-spin since has wreaked havoc on Gregorian and other non-diverse calendars and, consequently, commerce, except those trading in Mayan crystals and day-timers.

In fact, the spike was, in part, attributable to our discount offers on 2004 collectible pocket calendars. (Consisting, mostly, of the 15 pocket calendars received from real estate agents and others last year: "Considering a move? Let's make a 'date'. Call Bunny McAlister at Year 'Round Realty.")

As it happened, we sold none. To our gentle non-returning visitors, we can only say: "In 200 years, you will regret not having plunked down the future equivalent of a haypenny ($12.50 in current currency) for such a then calendar. Unless time has completely halted, or started going backwards, in which case you will probably not regret this non-transaction."

For those who continue to return, after the Discordant Spike, we applaud your determination to search through the tangled threads of text to find that hidden pearl of great wisdom.

*This is neither the time nor the place to debate whether the Harmonic Convergence was a point in time, a moment in space, or the entire 26-year cycle from White Galactic Wizard to Yellow Galactic Seed, 1987-2013, as some hold. I would simply note that if you're holding on to any timeshares, please be advised & call Bunny McAlister at Year 'Round Realty.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Gambit At Ikukura

Contributor's note: It is now apparent that our gentle visitors are too clever for these dubious mysteries.... But, here's another losing entry -- your humble Contributor still bummed over the loss of grapefruit and missed trip to Tallahassee. The enigma: what did the Japanese do? (Ethnic references are not intended as derogatory, but simply in keeping with the gritty prose of this combat piece.)

Blackwood gazed across the span and wiped the diamonds of cool sweat from his brow. Damn, he thought, I've been dealt a bad hand. The Japs have us.

To the north sat Gerber -- stretched out, hunkered, and pinned down. He had made a desperate bid; then, suddenly, he realized his position and rolled up tighter than sushi. To the east and west sat the Japanese: pulling off short bursts here and there; otherwise, biding their time. Blackwood had no way of signaling Gerber now. He had tried earlier; but, apparently, Gerber never got the message.

King leaned over Blackwood's shoulder, and whispered. "Cap. We're vulnerable as hell. We gotta pull back."

Blackwood half turned and gave his junior a sharp glace. "Don't you think I know that," he hissed. "There's nothing we can do about it now, but wait...and pray. Now zip it!" Geez, he thought, Hoyle would have my butt if he knew about this.

Blackwood again looked north and, almost imperceptibly, shook his head. He couldn't figure it. He was one to call a spade a spade: let's face it, he thought, Gerber was no ace, but he was no dummy either. So, what was he thinking? He should have stopped at the pass. Between them, they could have defended, but that's all -- it just wasn't in the cards. The stakes had doubled and re-doubled. Now, it would be some trick to pull this off. Blackwood felt his heart racing and the cool sweat returning. Settle down, old man, he told himself.

Then, he turned his attention to the Japanese to the east. Yea, he thought, it's this guy's move. Everything turned on that. Maybe, thought Blackwood, our Kawasaki cadet would blaze away, or put the squeeze on us, or, maybe, just maybe, he'd jump out on a limb. True -- the Japs were basically on home turf, but this kind of maneuver was not their strength. And, clearly, Blackwood was the elder hand at this: he had been taking Scheveningen when this guy was playing at war. And, in an odd way, Gerber had offered them the bait -- maybe they thought they could slam the Yanks -- maybe...but, Blackwood held the trump.

He found himself muttering, "I'd like to call this guy's bluff."

King leaned close to his ear. "You can't do that, Cap."

Blackwood again glanced back sharply. "It's a figure of speech."

So, they waited and watched. Gerber hunkered. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the Japanese to the east spoke up.

Blackwood beamed despite himself. Yes! We got 'em.

Model Second Inaugural Address

Hard to improve on this one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Man On Mars

[Contributor's Note: More craziness -- meds ran out on Sunday -- your humble Contributor cannot be held responsible.]

I must say, faithful companion, I am continually amazed how much the ceiling in the rec room resembles the surface of Mars: sharp peaks, serrated ridges, disturbed plains, abrupt valleys shadowed by local incandescence. Something like inverted and roughly synchronized waves and flows in stone.

The decorative topography was no accident. This was before your time; but, how well I recall watching Mr. Stimple plunging his flat-faced brush into the cannister, drawing it out laden with joint compound, and tamping it, with some vigor, on the drywall overhead. As he worked, flecks of the plaster fell in a kind of mist, speckling his countenance.

“Mr. Stimple,” I said, as he inspected his work, “You seem to be a man who is always looking up, which I admire. I wonder, have you ever considered whether there is life ‘out there’, so to speak?”

He looked at me through his spackled goggles. “Out where?”

“You know,” I said, “Out in space. Among the starry realms, bright quasars, flaming supernovae, etc. Not little green men, of course. I mean anything that is vital – purposive energy forces, if you will.”

He gazed for a moment through the partitions, upon which paneling would soon be hung. “You know, I never really thought about it.” He removed his goggles, dropped his brush in the bucket, and said, “This should dry hard in a few hours. If you’re thinking about painting, I’d give it a full day.”

I once wished I had asked him what, in his mind, brought forth this otherworldly, topsy-turvy landscape. But, I realize that it must have been unconscious to him – some cosmic, Jungian inspiration in his choice of materials and application.

This would have been lost on my former wife. No-one is doing this anymore, she would say. No-one is doing textured ceilings and wood paneling in basements.

“Dear,” I said, trying to help her understand, “If we do not have texture in our daily environment, we will lose our feeling, our sense of touch, of matter, of difference. Is this not the very fabric of creation. Has it not been made for us to discover? Shall we smooth over our entire umwelt?”

What are you talking about, she would say. For too long, I attempted to explain, but it was like clarifying the dense, poisonous vapors of Venus.

But, now, lying supine on the rec room floor, I can see so clearly. The shag fibers, like a polyester grassland, providing a bed of contemplation – the rust of the brick hearth calling to mind the ubiquitous Martian hue, the knots on the oak veneer like black holes, the grain winding out and around like gigantic galaxies spiraling.

Yes, they may pass “Final Notices” under the door; but, the earthly has never set the course of the heavenly. And, yes, they may have their distant, saturnine, gaseous Titan with its noxious, methane rivers; but, I have the Red Planet right here, and the universe besides. And, of course, you, faithful Rover, looking on your master with a panting smile, then sniffing the extra-terrain for signs of vital purpose.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Your humble contributor knew that he should not have taken the simulated mashed potatoes from Kentucky Fried, but the free prize was too tempting. (It helped that the prize was probably made in Chongqing, where Kentucky Fried is now fried.) Anyhow -- it led to a largely sleepless night.

At 3:16 a.m., your restless Remainderman awoke to see a small creature standing at the foot of the bed. In the dim-lit gloom, its silhouette appeared as a trinity of wafers -- almost Jungian really.

"Yo, ho, top o' the morning to ye, matey!" A high, squeaky, familiar voice. It's gloved fist making a kind of heave-ho swing/salute.

"Who or what are you?"

"Well, gee willikers! If you don't know, you're the only one who doesn't. Last time I checked, I had the highest name/face recognition in the world. "

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice?"

"Hohoho. Golly me. Why, that was just a character I played."

"But, aren't you just a character -- a cartoon character at that?"

"Darn tootin'! Not only that, but a character without a character."

"That's true -- you have no character traits except.... relentless cheerfulness."

"'The great Unlicked and Uncontaminated. Ever aware of his transcendent destiny.' That's how Uncle Wally described me. An icon."

"Innocent. Transcendent. Iconic. Hmmmm."

"You betcha, golly, gee, whiz, I was made to be loved. But, you don't love me, do you?"

"Well, it's not that really it ... it's just... well, aren't you just a global sales pitch for expensive & worthless trinkets and hyper-real joy? Haven't you single-handedly created a simulated world?

"My, my my. Sounds like the talk of a few no-good pinkos... with the exception of our friends in the Youth Communist Mouseketeer Club. I'd be hoppin' mad if I weren't so cheerful."

With that it began dissolving back into the unconcious, warning, in a voice a few octaves lower: "I'll be back."

Fiddlesticks! Your humble Contributor meant to get it's autograph.

Acknowledgements to The Journal of Popular Culture Vol. 25 Issue 3 Page 91 Winter 1991 A Clean and Separate Space: Walt Disney in Person and Production Paul Jerome Croce. Not available for free on line.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Not Too Soon To Tell

“I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

“It is imperative to abandon the unconditional non-violent concept expounded by Dr. King and adopt the position that for every Martin Luther King who falls, 10 white racists will go down with him. There is no other way -- America understands no other language,” United Black Front chairman Lincoln Lynch --1968.

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. These are nice. Little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. It's the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savor of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d'oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons . . . The butler will bring them their drinks . . . Deny it if you wish to, but such are the pensées métaphysiques that rush through one's head on these Radical Chic evenings just now in New York. For example, does that huge Black Panther there in the hallway, the one shaking hands with Felicia Bernstein herself, the one with the black leather coat and the dark glasses and the absolutely unbelievable Afro, Fuzzy-Wuzzy-scale, in fact—is he, a Black Panther, going on to pick up a Roquefort cheese morsel rolled in crushed nuts from off the tray, from a maid in uniform, and just pop it down the gullet without so much as missing a beat of Felicia's perfect Mary Astor voice . . .” -- Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic

Following Martin Luther King’s murder in Memphis in April 1968, and fueled by the riots that followed across the nation -- in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C. -- many gave up on King’s “constructive non-violence” in favor of a different tack. For example, in 1970, composer, maestro, and painfully-relevant leftist Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia, threw a fundraising party, what we would now call a “meet-and-greet,” at their Park Avenue duplex apartment for the radical Black Panthers. Attendees were reminded that donations to the Panthers were non-deductible; generous donations with no tax advantage were a measure of the donor’s sincerity and dedication to the cause. It was a sign of those raucous times.

This division within a division highlighted a key crossroads in American civil rights history. The rednecks had to retreat or entrench. Those within the civil rights movement had to determine whether they would stay King’s course, or choose the violent route. Those who had previously remained aloof from the civil rights conflicts, or had considered it an intramural conflict between leftist rabble-rousers and southern rednecks, saw in the widening, violent conflict a need to enter the debate, at least in political terms.

When asked by Richard Nixon in the 1970’s to describe the impact of the French Revolution, Red Chinese Premier Chou En Lai replied, “It is too soon to tell.” But perhaps it is not too soon to tell the effect of Martin Luther King on the American civil rights landscape.

As it turned out, the racist rednecks turned tail, like the cowards they always were, and today are viewed as almost quaint and pathetic caricatured cranks, relegated to afternoon appearances on Jerry Springer, where they react with shocked, semi-toothless silence when confronted with a daughter who is dating a young black man -- an unsanitized, dirty-fingernailed version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

The Panthers chose fear and the threat of violence, and tried to settle scores and give vent to their hatred and anger. Some died trying, for a while, blowing up mailboxes or robbing banks or staging courthouse hostage scenes with sawed-off shotguns duct-taped to judges' necks. Others wrote Soul on Ice screeds or rotten poetry. Some now give speeches for $15,000 a crack or are in political office or may even be settling into tenured positions, or have turned to running corporate shakedowns, to the extent they can get the time of day from Sixties-stunned reporters.

The Radical Chic, of course, we always have with us.

Those who picked up the flag from King -- the Ralph David Abernathys, the Hosea Williamses -- are mostly gone now, or old and enfeebled. To their eternal credit, they set aside disappointment and anger, and chose a principled continuation of King’s most basic philosophy, even in the face of slurs from former allies and proteges.

And the bulk of the American public -- black and white -- put aside personal disputes over their own hardships and affronts, and paused in their debates over King’s personal flaws -- his plagiarism, his marital infidelities, his association with radicals and communists -- long enough to debate in the mainstream of the political process. They made common cause, in a broad sense, in order to have an equitable peace. They have pursued, over the intervening 35 years, a generally peaceful course. It has been, and is today, by no means perfect, but we, as a society, have broadly common goals, and have a degree of racial harmony that would have seemed very unlikely in 1968. By any reasonable, objective standard, it is admirable progress less than four decades after colored-only water fountains.

In the end, these last two groups -- not the bigots, or the radicals, or the radical chic -- most clearly and intuitively understood King’s importance and greatness, and the monumental message behind his faith in the American system. What they accepted, and based their consensus on, was what King was saying all along: that the ideals and the inherent, transcendent moral strength and goodness of the American system is powerful enough to join disparate political elements of goodwill in order to acknowlege the essential value of each human life and to dwarf and render impotent powerful forces of self-interest, raw ideology, and hate.

That, in black and white, is why King really matters.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Tenth Life

Contributor's Note: Since some of our gentle visitors imagine themselves amateur, if anonymous, sleuths, we offer the following knock-off, re-tread, dead-beat mystery. There is one twist: we will allow our gentle visitorship to offer the last few words, which will solve the real mystery. If you have it figured, please post a comment. For extra credit, please tell us what all of the characters have in common. Elementary, really.

Felino blew out the last puff of smoke, glanced at the diminished butt, and flicked it in to the wide circular drive. He looked over the ornate stonework surrounding the door. At each end of the lintel, a relief of a lion’s head. Maybe something smaller. A civet? he thought. Hard to tell. He rang the doorbell again. In a moment, a white-haired, refined specimen in a dark coat appeared. Something out a mystery book, Felino thought.

He flashed his badge. "Agent Felino, San Bernardino CID."

"Oh. Come in, officer. We’ve been expecting you."

The butler led Felino across the marbled foyer and into an expansive parlor. The decor was exquisite, if dated; the upholstery elegant, if slightly yellowed. A grand Balinese vase stood near the window; Tiffany lamps on the end tables; beside one, a Siamese figurine. Felino, who suffered from allergies, sniffed once. He detected fine particles in the air. Molds, maybe. Mites. Whatever. Something didn’t smell right.

"Here she is officer," said the butler, gesturing toward the floor. And, there was the body, stretched on the Persian rug, between the sofa and coffee table. Felino crouched down. Elderly female; gray hair; no pulse.

"When did you find her?"

"Not an hour ago, sir. She didn’t come for breakfast. Sometimes, she would sit on the chaise by the window – just sit there, in the sunlight. But...I ... I found her here. I phoned immediately."

She had seen better years, for sure. Still, it looked like foul play. Felino examined the corpse closely. She was already stiffening and cold to the touch – a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth. And there, on her chest, a small, puncture wound – looked like between the fourth and fifth rib. By her head, a stray, mismatched hair.

"Who else was here?"

"Well, besides myself, only the maid, the cook, and her nephew, Tom."

"Get 'em in here."

Felino rubbed his nose and looked again at the decedent. One open eye – gray-green and fixed – gazed back at him. Poor thing, he thought. Never liked these pure-bred types, but she didn’t deserve this. He straightened himself slowly and stiffly. But... hey, one day your luck runs out. Hell, he’d been shot at, stabbed at, knocked down a flight of stairs, hit by a truck, nearly hit by a train, and almost poisoned back during the Birman affair. One day it would come for him. But, not today. Too bad, babe: your number was up.

The butler cleared his throat, and Felino turned to watch the suspects file in: the maid – Somali, probably undocumented, frightened; the cook – Russian, blue hair, surprised; the nephew Tom – American, long hair, contemptuous; the butler – British, short hair, drawn. Felino stifled a sneeze, then motioned for the butler.

"What was her name again?"


Felino frowned and wiped his nose.

"All right," he said, pacing back and forth, attempting to look as fierce as he could. " Which one of you killed ____ ____ ____?"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Model Honey-Do List

Contributor's note: What with the complexity of contemporary society, many visitors (who shall remain Anonymous) have implored us for some models or templates of written discourse that might aid them in various social situations -- whether at home, at work, in the marketplace, or in the larger world. We are happy to oblige with this, the first in a planned series of models. (Your further suggestions -- pathetic and bizarre though they may be -- are welcomed.)

Honey, while I'm gone, just a few things for you to attend to.
  • Re the items on my last list -- cleaning the gutters, repairing the roof tiles, scraping and painting the eaves, repointing the chimney, insulating the attic, cleaning the garage, re-sealing the driveway, rebuilding the porch, laying stone for the patio, laying tile for the kitchen, caulking the bathtub, installing bookshelves in the den, sanding and finishing the floor, etc. -- well, if you feel like starting on any of them, fine; if not, that's fine, too. All things are passing: if you do any of these things now, you'll just have to do it again before you know it. Will it matter in 20 years? I don't think so.
  • I've left some laundry to be folded and ironed downstairs -- but, don't touch it! This work is far more suited to "gatherer-nurturers", not "hunter-protectors". This is true even if you're not hunting, you haven't dragged in any meat recently, and you haven't fended off any attackers except that bug that was crawling on my blouse last year. I don't want you to loose your edge.
  • I left the place pretty clean and neat, but I certainly don't expect it to remain that way -- it's a small price to pay for just living. Oh -- and by the way -- I'm really getting into the chaos theory you told me about -- profound order in apparent disorder -- wow! it's so true!
  • I left some paint samples on the dining room table -- No! I'm not asking you to give me your opinion on them. You're so sweet, you'll just tell me they all look fine. Besides, you're so color-blind you couldn't tell a carmine from a crimson, and I love you for that.
  • There's plenty of cold beer in the fridge -- pale ale and stout -- did I get that right? Also, fixins' for meatball subs. Don't worry about any spills -- the sauce will simple add an indelible and delightful splash of color to the counters.
  • Lots of football on this weekend -- don't miss a minute. I know they say that it's violent and just a vicarious experience of power and physicality for guys who would otherwise be winded and wounded after 5 minutes on the field -- but, I don't want to see my big Teddy Bear hurtin'.
  • Absolutely have the guys over. I know what I said about "Monster", Bubba, and "Wild Man", but I just know that, deep-down, they're good guys, and what's a home but a place of hospitality. (Tell Monster for me thanks for replacing the plate glass after last time.)
  • Above all, chill out, kick back, take it easy -- for goodness sake, you work too hard as it is.

Love 'ya,


Friday, January 14, 2005

A Broken Record

Honor isn't about making the right choices.
It's about dealing with the consequences.
-- Midori Koto

Well, here I go again.

It was recently revealed that conservative columnist and television show host Armstrong Williams took a $240,000 fee from the Department of Education to run an ad on his program supporting President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program and to write a syndicated column supporting the initiative.

In an open letter published Monday, Williams apologized for his conduct and promised it would never happen again. He pointed out, however, that he had long supported such school choice initiatives and that his support for this program was co-incidental with the fee paid to him by the Education Department.

He also indicated that he accepts “full responsibility” for his lack of good judgment, and that he is “paying the price” for his actions. “Tribune Media,” he writes, “has cancelled my column.”

Of course, having a well-deserved beating forced upon you is not the same as taking “full responsibility.” But Williams at least is honest enough to recognize that his actions breached whatever shards are still standing in the increasingly oxymoronic “wall of journalistic ethics.” Williams sees that his behavior compromises his credibility as a journalist.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out again recently that, on the other side of the political street, two prominent liberal bloggers, Daily Kos and MyDD, took monthly payments from Howard Dean’s campaign in the months prior to Dean’s embarrassingly puerile self-immolation in the Democratic primaries. This fact -- the payoffs, not the self-immolation -- has been substantially overlooked in the media.

In any event, these incidents again prove two things: (1) the improper behavior exists on both sides of the spectrum; and (2) neither side is willing to be truly accountable.

Williams will apologize and he won’t cry "unfair treatment," but apparently will not do much else. He certainly won’t return a quarter of a million dollars. He may be sorry about all this, but he’s not that sorry.

The two Dean bloggers are even worse than Williams. They, like many liberals today, believe they are beyond good and evil -- their cause is just -- and they need not even acknowledge that they did anything that might have compromised journalistic standards.

They argue, instead, that their hands are clean because they disclosed their financial ties to the Dean campaign to their readers. In other words, everybody knew they were bought and paid for. You know, a sort of red light in the cyber-window.

They also try to distinguish their own hired gun status from Williams’ by arguing that the money they took was not taxpayer money, as was the money paid to Williams. That, of course, is a stinking red herring, a distinction without a difference, inasmuch as the key issue here is journalistic integrity and not the appropriate use of tax dollars.

No one -- in this case, neither Armstrong nor the Dean blog mouthpieces -- is willing to do much to illustrate that they are serious about taking responsibility for improper behavior. Williams will only apologize; the Dean folks won’t even do that. This unwillingness to take the consequences is probably predictable in an age much more familiar with Hari Krishen than hari-kari.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Feast of St. Hilary

Yes, you heard me right -- a St. -- don't try to tell me otherwise. Hilary (and, for that matter, Monica) a saint, fervent in faith and heroic in virtue.

The latter day saint, with the extra 'l' and without the 'y' chromosome, has been every bit as fervent. I'm not too young (unlikely) or too old (more likely) to remember way back in 1993 and the "politics of virtue" -- the notion that only government could make you good -- that "connection" and a "sense of meaning" can be given to the people only through the intervention of the state. This great insight nearly found it's fulfillment in the caring, comprehensive government acquisition of health.

Pity it didn't work out; but, the cause continues to make strides. Yesterday, new "authoritative dietary guidelines" from our nurturing government. The Old Guideline: be grateful as, say, a Sumatran, that you have food on your plate; the New Guideline: you're never really free unless your fat-free and sugar-free. Old adage: It's not what you put in your mouth, but what comes out of your mouth, that makes your heart unclean. New adage: the reverse. Thus, Mom's direction to "eat your vegetables" is fast becoming transcendental diktat.

And, courage! The saint may yet have her day -- perhaps in 2008. Then, we might all be made good -- like it or not -- starting with our bodies, which are apparently all we have. Just take a page from old Jon Edwards, switch eternal for temporal, wickedness for unhealthful behavior, devil for Big Tobacco, Big liquor, Big Sugar, Big Fatty Food, Big Mac, and God for government: it renders something like a "Sinners in the Hands of a Stern Governess."

U.S. Department of Virtue
Office of Compliance
January 13, 2015

BAGLEY: Mr. Jones, we've reviewed your physio-psycho-social health profile, a digital copy of which I've provided to you. Just reviewing a few points, it seems you still like your cigars -- contraband...

JONES: Well, I know that's still a touchy subject with our Good Leader, but...

BAGLEY: ... and your high-carb ales -- also contraband. High caffeine intake -- beverage source. Let's see... very fond of your trans-fatty foods, especially doughnuts -- contraband. Low plant matter intake.

JONES: Well, I don't....

BAGLEY: Seldom meet minimum authoritative guidelines for exercise. "Chubby" on revised/simplified BMI.

JONES: I may have put on a few pounds, but ...

BAGLEY: On Diversity Toleration Index scored in "intolerable" range. Below acceptable standard on Environmental Awareness Measure. "Repressed" on the Kinsey Psycho-Sexual Survey. Report of an affiliation with an unapproved group from the Licenture of Religious Freedom. Report of unauthorized domestic birth from Division of Genetics and Children's Affairs. Field report... "Subject displays no close connection with government and denies that he derives any sense of meaning from Department." It goes on and on.

JONES: Listen, I can explain a lot of this....

BAGLEY: Mr. Jones, we're here to help. You're "unfit" under the definition at 99 CFR 1423.A.2. I'm serving you with a digital original Notice of Vice with your due process rights. You have 60 days to bring yourself into compliance. Failure to do so may result in limitation or termination of federal benefits. Continued failure for a period of 120 days may result in fines, confinement in a health re-education spa or ranch, or suspension of domestic partnerships and associations, disarticulation of bodily members, or even termination of autonomous biologic processes.
JONES: This is so wrong, I....

BAGLEY: Please remember, Mr. Jones, we're-here-to-help-your-life-is-important-to-us. For more information, see our virtual presence at

Now, Mr. Jones, if you will turn with me to face the VR panel. Let's say together:

"Thank you, Good Leader. 'It takes a village!'"
JONES: "... Thank you, ... Good Leader. 'It takes a... village....'"

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Case of the Uncertain Thing - Part II

Young Chan paced back and forth pondering the mystery that confounded him. His sharp senses, normally his forte, had gone flat. Was it the beauty of Madame Wu that befuddled him? Was she playing him for a fool? She seemed like a most upright woman.

"Young Chan," she said, gripping her fan tightly, "You must take action!"

Then, Young Chan heard the tiny voice in his head again: Questions are keys to door of truth.

"Madame Wu," he asked, "Do you not know the name of the thing or how it appeared?"

"I do not know the name," she said. "I never saw it, only heard it. Grandfather told me that he received it as a gift from a foreigner with whom he traded many years ago. He has kept it hidden in his parlor since the Cultural Revolution. He said, it was to come to me when I marry. But, this morning, he ran out of his parlor crying and saying, 'No more chopping! No more back!' I did not know what he meant. But, he showed me the empty space in his parlor."

"What did you do next?"

"I ran outside."

"What did you see?"

"Four men pedaling a cart far down the road. But, I did not know what I was looking for."

"Do you know which direction they were going?"

"Mai Wei."

"Probably by Bing," said Young Chan to himself, as he made for the door. "No time to lose, Madame Wu. I'll explain later."

* * *

An hour later, Young Chan appeared at Madame Wu's home, leading four bruised and limping men in chains and a cart with the prized possession. Madame and her grandfather came out to meet them, and Grandfather smiled and clapped his hand. "Chopsticks!"

"Madam Wu. Honorable old man," said Young Chan, "These bandits will move this back into your parlor, or I will see them bruised much worse. Then, I will take them to the magistrate. You see," he continued, "They took your possession in order to take it apart, see it's inner workings, then use this knowledge to build many more like it to sell back to foreigners very cheap. They are part of the notorious Pearl River Gang."

"Oh, thank you, Young Chan!" said Madam Wu. "I knew you had the skill of your uncle -- a great sage of China."

Yes, thought Young Chan as he bowed to Madame Wu, thank you, Uncle: I now see how wise you were in many things, such as dropping the "g" from our sirname to conceal our Korean heritage.

Yes, honorable nephew. Reverence for ancestors most commendable.

Grateful acknowledgements to Aphorisms 0f Charlie Chan.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Eye Winks

After reading this space last Friday, CBS Chief Leslie Moonves today broke silence and “took responsibility” for CBS’ discredited story on President Bush’s national guard service by firing three CBS news executives and the story’s producer. Those directly responsible for the airing of the piece -- CBS anchorman Dan Rather, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, and Moonves himself -- all remain in their respective positions without official censure or consequence.

Some questioned Moonves’ failure to hold Rather, Heyward or himself accountable for the false national guard story and particuarly for his unwillingness to acknowledge the longstanding anti-Republican political motivations of CBS, Rather and others in breaking the unsubstantiated story. But Moonves denied such bias and sloughed off the criticism, saying, “What kind of boss would I be if I started to blame other people for every tiny little thing that goes wrong? Who do I look like, Joe McCarthy? Warren G. Harding? Herbert Hoover? William Casey? Lee Atwater? Newt Gingrich? Richard Nixon?”

But Moonves did acknowledge that the entire controversy “raises questions about accountability at CBS News - questions that will have to be addressed both by Andrew Heyward and me. We intend to do so.”

Related to this, sources inside CBS indicate that Heyward and Moonves plan to terminate at least two cafeteria workers and a night watchman in a second phase of firings to follow the independent investigation. “Almost no one is completely innocent,” Moonves said, as he left CBS offices today on his way to his bi-monthly retreat at his Bahamian winter home. “If people think that they’ll be able to hide behind their aprons or brooms, for example, to avoid responsibility for this, they’ve got another think coming.”

News of the firings came as reports surfaced that Rather had been held off Monday’s CBS Evening News broadcast as punishment for his role in the Bush attack piece. CBS denied the story, saying that Rather's absence was attributable to the fact that Rather was too exhausted from his trip to Indonesia to handle the broadcast. Rather had been in Asia reporting on the recent deadly tsunami, during which time, internal CBS news leaks reveal, he received documents from refugees indicating that President Bush, while AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard in 1972, took part in underwater nuclear tests in the Pacific basin region that caused microscopic cracks in the earth's geological plates and led to the recent tsunami.

Meanwhile, following the release of the independent commission's report and the harsh criticism focused on his news division’s ties to the Kerry campaign , Moonves appears aware of the treacherous line he must walk to prove the extent of his dissatisfaction: he must fire as many underlings as possible, without actually ridding the company of those most responsible for creating and perpetuating the culture that engendered the irresponsible, politically-motivated attacks that led to the crisis in the first place.

“Let me repeat,” said Moonves, as he climbed into the back seat of his company limousine: “Nobody is safe here.”

Monday, January 10, 2005

Krakatoan Observations

During a trip to the beach this summer, I picked up Simon Winchester's book Krakatoa--a fascinating read about the 1883 volcanic eruption that destroyed the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, created tsunamis that killed more than 40,000 coastal residents, and, incidentally, spewed enough ash into the earth's atmosphere to give Victorian artists and the rest of the world some startling sunsets in weeks that followed.

Recently, since a devastating tsunami again rolled through the East Indies killing nearly four times as many people as the Krakatoan aftermath, I ran into an acquaintance who happens to be a volcanologist. I mentioned Winchester's book, and my friend, while admitting it was well-written, asserted that he couldn't buy the author's theory that the eruption brought about a bloody Muslim uprising against the Dutch colonial masters that ignited the re-emergence of radical Islam. At least one reviewer in the Bali Advertiser believes Winchester makes a compelling case.

I mulled over the volcanologist's taking exception with Winchester, and coincidentally later read news stories that mentioned how radical Islamic groups in Indonesia are taking a break from burning churches and hunting down and killing Christians to do their part in the relief effort. Well done! What I find odd, though, is that local imams in Aceh say that the tsunami's devastation is a sign from God that Indonesian Muslims are not being faithful enough to the tenets of their faith, e.g., when Muslims kill Muslims, etc.

Without presuming to know the mind of the Almighty, I venture whether imams might consider interpreting this oceanic act of God more broadly?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Case of the Uncertain Thing - Part I

Young Chan sat listening to the staccato of rain striking the thin roof. His desk was clear, and his fingers were busy tapping on the smooth luan. No telling when something would happen: another Shanghaied princess, another marauding Guygang, another Peping Tom -- no Fuling. He would be ready.

Just then, the beautiful Madame Wu burst through the door. "Young Chan, come quick! Someone has stolen my prized possession!"

Young Chan lept to his feet, forgetting to bow, and pounded the desk with his fist. "This is an outrage," he said, hoping to woo the beautiful Wu with his strength and determination. "What have they taken?"

"I do not know," she said, with a note of sadness.

Young Chan, who had just been ready to chase down the wicked thieves and apply the deadly art of kung fu on their villianous persons, suddenly grew still, as if he had been frozen by by some evil, invisible sorcerer.

"But...," he said, "Madame Wu, how is that you know that something is stolen when you do not know what it is?"

"That is just it," she said, "It is a mystery. They say your uncle Chan taught you the secrets of detection. So, I have come to you. You must help me!"

"Yes," said the younger Chan, hanging his head briefly, "My uncle has gone to the ancestors -- his only shame was his poor grammar. But, he taught me much:, as he said, 'Even wisest man cannot answer until he knows question.' So, again, I ask Madame, how do you know something is missing?"

Madam Wu walked slowly toward him in her silken, floral cheongsam, her fan held lightly against her chin in contemplation. "Because," she said, "My house has grown silent, and I no longer have chopsticks."

Young Chan turned to look through the window at the gathering mist. Never before had he encountered a mystery of such scale. Uncle, he thought, you must help me.

Then, he heard a tiny voice in his head saying, Sometimes most essential clue very difficult to find.

Ordinary Time

We've settled back into ordinary time, according to certain canonical calendars. Do not adjust your clocks. It's simply this: Advent came; Christmas went. The festive decor is just taken down and put up.

The stores have long since cleared out the tinsel and false pinery in favor of hearts and more hearts. This is just as well -- the batteries of the laughing, animatronic Santa had run low, and he sounded as if he were in the last stage of some dread disease.

Donees have run the queue to return or exchange precious gifts. But, this is odd: can one have too many holiday-themed mugs or bulky, electrical devices to keep one's beverage either hot or cold (for, if it were lukewarm, I warrant, the imbiber would spit it out)? Even that small lump of coal may provide a tiny, momentary ember of heat before the wrath of global warming reduces us (counter-intuitively) to a vast gallery of frozen statuary.

Your humble Contributor is padding around in slippers from the Christmas before, early a Sunday morning -- unshaven, but without the shock of hair that had frightened little children and caused others to question their faith. Still, all is returning to normal. The reddened coils are rendering crackling rashers; the flat cakes are forming from the beaten batter; the water is erupting into a dark, aromatic brew. The other Householders begin to shuffle in like generally well-behaved zombies.

Now, for a time, all will be standard, same, normal; par for the course; run of the mill; ordinary. Be thankful for that which is routine against that which is cataclysmic.

Friday, January 07, 2005

I Feel So Responsible

The Senate Judiciary Committee took up yesterday the nomination of White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General. With this action, the Judiciary Committee again gives the American public an opportunity to see craven grandstanding and hypocrisy at its worst.

In one such example, Committee Democrats apparently even considered resurrecting at the committee hearing the photos and other images related to the torture of Abu Ghraib.

Aside from the genuine issues raised by these claims of torture (i.e., e.g., whether the torture was as widespread as claimed, whether certain actions are really even torture, whether Gonzales really tried to shield such actions from being disclosed) and the Democrats' willingness to make political gains based on empty but inflammatory posturing, the issue of the torture of terrorists and terrorist suspects brings before us again the concept of “responsibility,” more specifically, what it means to “take responsibility” for something, whether in the personal or political context.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield indicated last spring that he took responsibility for the torture. Does he really? Sure, his blame taking might have resulted in a loss of personal stature and perhaps some political fallout for the president, but what did it cost him? What actions accompanied his “taking responsibility”?

The Democrats, of course, jumped all over Rumsfield's essentially painless mea culpa as a hollow gesture. But it in no way absolves them and their consort of leftwing phonies (the ACLU,, e.g.) for their own actions or inactions when their side has been faced with similar allegations.

For example, those screaming about the hollowness of Rumsfield’s actions in “accepting blame” related to Abu Ghraib were completely silent when Janet Reno made the decision to incinerate the Cranks of Waco. Certainly she bore much more direct responsibility for the deaths of the Texas holdouts than Rumsfield does for the torture of POWs in Iraq. And while she shed tears, allegedly, over the literal immolation of the Branch Davidians, she certainly took no action that imposed any cost on herself or her Department, leading to the following clerihew:

Waco Janet Reno
Began the Great Inferno
Took responsibility
But stayed with us eternally

Perhaps there is no real solution to this tendency to such empty and painfree sorrow. But it is not surprising that most sensible people smell hypocrisy when politicians and officials claim to “take responsibility” without paying any real price. I, for one, would take such blame-grasping more seriously if it were accompanied by some of the political hari-kari we see on occasion in Japan’s political arena.

Until politicians get the stomach for such meaningful political shiv diving, maybe the process as a whole, and the American public’s cynicism quotient in particular, would benefit from a little less empty rhetoric. Officials would earn more respect if they would stop using phrases like "taking responsibility" unless they actually mean it -- and are prepared to act as if they do.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Traffic Report, Monday, January 03, 2005

Gentle visitors, we are ashamed to say that we're a day late with this latest report -- but, no matter. It's like the mail coming late in Nameless, Tennessee -- no-one notices.

Traffic here has been greater than in Nameless, which is virtually numberless. But, it's the internals that fascinate.

You see, gentle visitors, our tracking of you has gotten rather sophisticated, such that we now have more or less complete profiles on each of you who have strayed off the beaten path and found yourselves -- to your great alarm -- hereunder. These profiles include geographical, physiological, chronological, financial, and pyschological data.

Thus, we can report visits by one obscure Aleutian, a husky Siberian, several loud Thais, profound Malays, cozy Afghans, sour Kurds, and, of course, the usual young Turks, ancient Greeks, a particularly bright Cretan, yapping Maltese, salty Sardines, dusty Venetians, temperate Bohemians, greasy Poles, great Danes, poor English, as well as some delightful 15 year old Scotch.

There is the odd aloof Peruvian and decadent Dominican; but, our data is largely insufficient on these folks.

For all the world, it seems that this crowd would fit right into Eclectic, Alabama.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Ravished Curl*

Sam, seated at the edge of the chaise longue, leaned forward, catching his chiseled chin in the palms of his strong but gentle hands, his muscular frame slightly hunched, his bronze skin momentarily paled.

"I guess I need to get my hair cut."

Dee slid next to him, running her delicate fingers through his golden, manly locks. "Oh, no, baby," she said in a feigned pout, "I won't let them touch a single strand."

"Yeah, well, the guys at the agency are, like, are giving me a hard time. They say things like: "Hey, Sam, with that mop, you couldn't get a modeling job with a third-tier romance publisher.'"

"Oh, baby, don't let those philistines get to you," Dee said, "You could take all of those guys on at once in a shoot."

"Maybe..., I don't know," he said, stroking his jaw bone. "If it would just lay down a little, I could probably live with it -- but, it just stands up. Every morning, I stare in the mirror and think: 'Man, you look like Bozo on steroids.'"

Dee drew him to her ample and womanly self, still stroking his strong but gentle curls. "Oh, that's nothing, baby. You don't have near that clown's pattern baldness. We'll get you some relaxer and fix that right up. Then, you'll be a dead ringer for Fabio."

Sam looked up at her from her nurturing embrace. "I heard that he has, like, prostate issues now."

"Nooo, baby. You heard wrong. He might have lost an inch or so off his pecs. But, hey, he's forty-something."

Sam straightened up. "Look, tomorrow morning, I think I'll run over to 'Hair It Is'" and just get a trim."

Dee smiled. "That place closed up years ago, silly."

"How about 'Hair-Em'."

"Closed, too. You just haven't gotten your hair done for so long, baby. You're looking at either paying $200 for some guy named Sebastian to fuss and snip for half an hour, or paying $15 for some guy named Tam to clip you quicker than a Ho Chi minute. " Sam sank back in his seat, his crystalline blue eyes cast downwards.

"Baby, you're way too upset about this," she said. "Here. Finish your wine and get to bed. Sleep on it. You'll feel better in morning."

"I heard Fabio doesn't drink wine," he said, regarding the vintage pinot grigot.

"More talk," she said, plucking a bit of golden dandruff from his rugged head. "I mean, the guy's Italian!"

"Alright," he said, standing up with his sparkling goblet in hand, looking every bit David in the hands of Michelangelo, then walking, in his Adonic gait, down the hall.

"Goodnight, Delilah," he called.

"Night, Sam, I'll be along in minute" she replied over her elegant shoulder, already rummaging through the lower cupboard drawer and drawing out the dusty, cigar box.

She opened it and removed the scissors, still cold and sharp to the touch; ran her fingers along the steely teeth of the thinning shears; and, caressed the crusty, ancient bottle of hair tonic.

A dark grin came over her face as she whispered, "Oh, Fabio -- tinted and blow-dried god of romance -- I will do your bidding. This guy's history."

* Apologies to Alexander Pope.

Why We Keep the Mutts Around

Selvakumar -- the Tamil version of Lassie.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Screen Time

Oh, for more time before the screen. Any screen: TV, DVD, video, monitor, display. At home, at work; in car, plane, train; on lap; in pocket, hand; eye.

Ah, yes. You can almost feel the blue phosphors tickling your iris, working up a rather aqueous humour; the cathode rays gently massaging your corneas, reaching back relaxation to the retinas; the little light-emitting diodes dancing and gliding like floaters in vitreous.

Then, in time, you might advance in the devotion to passive reception: moving to the thin, healing powers of liquid crystals or to flat-out plasma -- aye, man, good for the blood -- filled as it is with rare and noble gases. Whatever the means of manifestation, it is the demigod phosphoros, the "light bearer" (Lucifer, in vulgar tongue), bringing virtual apparition to this otherwise vacant, lazy pupil.

Think of all the hours you might have wasted in the dull, "real" world: the same 100 million aspects to things we've all seen before: the rose lamp, the mottled conch shell, the Eiffel Tower off its paper-weight base, the paper clips at odds, the dusty stapler, the near-empty cup -- "40 Years & Over The Hill" -- the coiled phone cord, the soccer plaque -- "Dear Leader & Coach for Life" -- the young, smiling faces -- Hornets, Panthers, Pythons, all -- the muted speakers, the demented mouse, and... yes, the screen.

Unless... you were to look up into the light-invaded night and find the morning star at its rising. And, wish upon it? Well, no. Maybe, wonder at it, take it as sign, and strike out as pilgrim. To the Magic Kingdom? Well, no. To do as the magi-kings did -- travelling far, coming upon a bright tableau, with the glittering gifts reflected in the infant eye.

That might be something to see -- an epiphany.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Great Arc of the Tether

Your humble contributor confesses that he has now abandoned the project of condensing the history of tetherball into mere morsels, when it is best served as an elaborate feast. It's like trying to explain the formation of lint, its many varieties and uses, lint collecting, and efforts to wipe out lint, all in a few words.

We have already noted the influence of the sport on science, arts, and life in general. Suffice it to say that anyone who witnessed the ball descending from the pole at Times Square early this morning has some sense of the universal appeal of tetherball as symbol. The image is clear -- the ball tightly wound at the top of the pole, slowly uncoiling and dropping down; and, indeed, the message is clear -- the game is over, let the game begin anew!

Despite its compelling nature, we should be careful to avoid a metaphysical misinterpretation of tetherball, as did Conrad:

"It is hard to believe that you will ever look on these lines. God seems to have forgotten me. I want to see you--and yet death would be a greater favor. If you ever read these words, I charge you to begin by thanking a God merciful at last, for I shall be dead then, and it will be well. My dear, I am at the end of my tether."

(from "The End of the Tether")

Or, seeing in the tether a support for certain pagan cyclical notions, such as Yeats -- "Turning and turning in the widening gyre" -- though, Yeats seemed to have been influenced more by falconry, a far less noble sport.

We should, rather, simply wonder at the mystery.