End of that Job

Iʼm actually finished with the Census. I turned in my badge and bag yesterday morning. I donʼt think my FOS had quite realized it was my stuff I had to submit, but she accepted it all, and so I am free at least, free at last (although the money was nice, and the work wasnʼt too bad overall).

I shouldnʼt explain in detail, but things had gotten a little messy with the LOC, leaving me and one of my crew hanging for an entire week on an importantly sensitive issue. We were both supposed to await a summons to the CR office over this problem, supposedly last Thursday. My crew member went pretty much sleepless about it all that Wednesday night and called me, still very much worried, after 10:00 on Thursday when no summons had yet arrived. Although I called my boss to ask, nothing happened Thursday, so we both hung on tenterhooks all day Friday, too. Again, absolutely no word of any kind. Finally, after seven days of noncontact, I decided it was time I truly had my time for myself, whether the issue was resolved or not. Now I can get on with my life without worrying about sudden phone calls to perform tasks unexpectedly and immediately (as happened even two weeks after the previous operation ended and before I knew I was signed up for the just-completed one). My boss was excited about two upcoming operations (I donʼt think she really had me in mind for either one, but…), and I think all that had distracted Cedar Rapids from my crew issue. I donʼt know. I am just glad itʼs over.

nowhere nearly as blinding as our drive Thursday noon

Unfortunately, I had an appointment in Mt. Pleasant at (or by) 11:00, and my FOS wanted to meet yesterday rather than Thursday afternoon, and at 9:00. You really cannot get from Maquoketa to Mt. P in two hours (well, maybe Janet could, but probably not even her). But I tried, driving mercilessly and boldly far faster than I am comfortable over the limit. Except for getting held up by road construction at the city limits of Lost Nation, not even a quarter of an hour beyond Maquoketa, for about ten minutes, I did the run down in maybe two hours and five minutes, having left town exactly at 9:00. With the hold-up, however, that meant I arrived at Kevinʼs about 11:15, somewhat late.

My appointment was to take him to the airport for his annual vacation in Maine, Dawn having left, as always — but more importantly this year with her fatherʼs condition — just after the Fourth of July. I had offered the same service last year as a way of celebrating my being retired (and making supposedly good use of my extra time), only that flight was out of the Quad Cities Airport. This year his plane left from Cedar Rapids at 1:30. So I essentially raced all the way northward as well, through really heavy rain that started pouring down sometime north of Ainsworth Corners (and north of I-80, into really heavy, slowish-moving traffic with lots of trucks throwing up blinding spray, even for my pickup). He leapt out at the arrival door at 12:25, so I hope he was early enough to get a boarding pass and clear security (with that rain, the plane might have been delayed anyway — good thing from my point of view).

I drove out of the rain into blue skies as I came around from Highway 30 to 13, heading up to intersect 151 to Anamosa and then back home, so even if there was a delay, it would not have been long. I bought gas at Wal-Mart on the corner of 13 and 151 and drove on home, at a more leisurely and comfortable pace, arriving in time to write this post during the afternoon (well, a piece of it) before Janet got home from work.

I also visited Andrew School on Wednesday (to drop off magazines: I donate my copies of the three major news weeklies, Archaeology, Astronomy and whatever else I thought the students might find useful; it saves the library several hundred dollars on subscriptions — and I donʼt think many students even touch most of those mags anyway). And I signed up for substituting again this coming year. At not yet $100 a day, itʼs pretty good pay, if I get many calls. Iʼm still on the wire about registering with Maquoketa or maybe Preston, but weʼll see (Maquoketa pays better). Of course, my teaching license runs out on my birthday this fall, so I will have to send for a Substituteʼs Certificate. I downloaded the form from the Department of Education (or maybe the Board of Educational Examiners) website last year, so all I have to do is fill it out and send it in. (And a sub certificate will cost a whole lot less than a new teaching license, even excluding the necessary hours of courses that would have been required for that).

The school sent me a form — new to me this year, but then the district has a new superintendent/principal (a very nice guy, by the way, as I got to meet him on Wednesday, and his wife as well) and a new superintendentʼs secretary (also a wonderful person, who seemed actually excited that I was registering to sub). Iʼll get it back Monday, probably in person as I have more magazines to deliver to the library.

School starts soon. Andrew has registration next week, with classes starting on, I think, the 19th (and I was told other area schools — well, at least one — begin on August 16). So I could be back at work, irregularly, I hope, within just a few weeks (he wrote with a somewhat worried gleam in his eyes). I also need to retrain myself to accomplish actual writing (in addition to blog posts) each day. I just read that some expert believes you can establish a new habit solidly after 21 days of repetition. Those days start now.

And I just hit that magical thousand-word mark, so this post is done, once I figure out what I can use for an illustration to this hodge-podge of contents…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Super Zuppa for Supper

The Lovely One and I have neighbors on each side of our home. We used to only have another house to our east, but then a few years ago, the Methodists, who originally owned everything out on this little street, decided to build a new parsonage. No problem there, except we had seriously considered buying half that neighboring lot and planting a near-forest of trees to maintain our privacy. Not enough money with an insufficiently clear plan brought that notion nowhere. However, we couldnʼt ask for nicer neighbors, although both sides probably find me too quirky and irreligious for their actual tastes. Except for the occasional heinous scream of fury as some inanimate object (like a computer) refuses to cooperate with my inexorable will, I hope the close proximity of this low person has not troubled either family too much.

Our new neighbors to the west raise an amazing amount of garden crops every summer. And they learned that Janet and I enjoy squash and zucchini, which they have shared open-handedly. Unfortunately there are only two of us, and last summer we received so much generosity we didnʼt really know how to consume all our gleanings. I make a fine dish I call “scumble” that mixes garlic, onions, diced tomatoes, mushrooms (I would add mushrooms to anything!) and squash or zucchini in a large skillet with or without some shredded fish; we both enjoy that dish served over brown rice. And we like to grill slices of squash (or even microwave them with a little oil). But last summer we often only could eat four or six vegetables a week.

When the bounty began to arrive this year, we enjoyed scumble once, then The Lovely One got inventive, and we discovered a wonderful new dinner treat. Soup!

Although I used up most of Wednesday (and a bit of Thursday morning) responding both here and on Facebook to some disapproval on what amounted to the introduction only of my Sunbird lit-crit essay (you can check on my wit and wisdom here, and maybe Iʼll copy the Facebook transactions some time soon as a post, an effort I had imagined during former FB exchanges but elected through sloth to lie dormant and therefore invisible), I did have time enough late in the day midweek to make a new meal for our household. Discovered by Janet through simple websearching, we had truly delicious “zucchini” soup on Wednesday evening. I put the key word in quotes because we call what we used “yellow squash” as opposed to the narrower and green actual zucchini.

Janet found the recipe at EatingWell.com (actually a Fitness Magazine site). I think she chose that one because it was really simple and straightforward, requiring only chicken broth (preferably reduced-sodium), zucchini, tarragon or dill (chopped fresh or dried), reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. It sounded so easy, she thought I could handle it.

Of course, even when handing over the recipe printout, she suggested some additional improvements, which I incorporated. Her first idea was to initially grill the sliced squash, hoping to derive some of that smokiness for the final soup. So I sliced all three squash we had on hand and obediently grilled the slices, lightly brushing some olive oil on each side of each one. Some slices burnt, some toasted, some got soft, and some seemed still pretty raw (and some fell through the grill until I realized I should use our fish grate). Having pulled five or eight slices off the grill at a time, I stacked them up and then sliced across the pile of disks, halving them, quartering those by slicing in half the other direction, and then halving each set of quarters. Since the soup was going into the blender, I wasnʼt sure how small to cut the pieces, but this size seemed to work very well.

As I finished all the slices, I first sautéed a bunch of garlic (I let it get a little too brown in this process) and a whole onion, sliced and chopped. I started warming four ounces of broth (from a boxed product I bought at Aldi) into which I put the onion and garlic and then the chopped up slices of squash as I pulled them off the grill. I added salt (unnecessary) and pepper. I added some garlic powder and some onion powder. And then I could not find any tarragon. I did see our dried dill, but in receiving the recipe I had misheard Janet to say she thought tarragon would be better than dill (she had actually said the exact opposite), so I thought I had a problem.

However, I didnʼt panic. In grabbing through our spices, I found the curry powder, which it seemed to me would be a good flavor with squash. So I added some curry powder. I let the soup boil and simmer for about fifteen minutes (to cook the squash that might have come off the grill less than done). Then, as the recipe instructed, I put the hot stuff into the blender (it took two fillings) and let the machine crunch and munch to create a thick soup, which smelled great.

It tasted even better. We each had a huge bowl with some bread for dinner Wednesday night, as we watched a rented movie, Peter Jacksonʼs reimagining of The Lovely Bones (more on which another time perhaps), which was beautiful and spooky, a lot like the novel, only different. The film with the soup made for a fine evening, even though I got to wash up the dishes as well as making the food.

I am writing on Thursday/yesterday, and weʼre going to finish the soup with grilled tilapia and some 90-second rice tonight. It was/is that good.

Best of all — weʼre ready for more squash and zucchini any time.

Janetʼs Squash Soup

  • 4 cups of chicken broth (reduced sodium would be fine)
  • 3 medium to large yellow squash, grilled in slices then cut into eighths
  • Fresh garlic (a clove or four) minced
  • 1 medium or large onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of ground pepper (I didnʼt measure, but I put in a lot more than the ¼ teaspoon from the original recipe)
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • 3 or 4 (or ten) tablespoons of curry powder (Iʼll stick to the recipe we actually created, so no tarragon or dill) — suit your own taste on the amount
  • About a cup of reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (I used a mix of nonfat and regular shredded Cheddar)

Slice and grill the squash and then chop up the slices. (Next time I might skip the olive oil basting on each side of each slice.) Sauté the onions and garlic. Heat the chicken broth in a large, deep pan. While bringing the broth to a boil, add the onion and garlic and the chopped squash. Stir in the spices (pepper, garlic and onion powders, curry powder) to taste. Let the soup simmer for about twenty minutes.

Purée in a blender (it will probably take two or three fillings of the blender jar) and return the puréed soup to the pan over medium or low heat. Stir in the shredded cheese. (I stirred the cheese straight into the hot soup in a plastic bowl, with no reheating).

We ate the soup hot, but the original recipe says to serve either hot or cold.

I sautéed in margarine, but butter would add flavor, I believe (we just never use it).

No, we are not vegetarians (note the cheese — which isnʼt actually a necessary ingredient, to my taste, for the information of any actually vegetarian readers), but vegetable foods do seem the most healthy choice, so we eat meatless a lot. And then other times we have steaks (or fish or pork chops, or — just thinking of a recipe I have yet to provide — beef stroganoff).

Once again, the source, the original zucchini soup recipe, is here.

Now bring on the summer squash!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Consequences of Discrimination

Hereʼs the rest of my quickly drafted little essay on Wilbur Smithʼs The Sunbird, continuing from yesterday.

My original copy of the book. Gotta love that ironically perfect Nazi golden eagle!

The black revolutionary is the core of the bookʼs meaning and focus of the racial theme(s), but then, at least from Smithʼs regular perspective, so is Xhai, perhaps for the conscious Smith even more so.

Smith regularly creates vivid and important characters of color, a couple with memorable personalities. I am confident he would say he is not racist because of these important black, brown and yellow figures. Unfortunately, his inherent racism shows clear in such charactersʼ attitudes, roles and behavior (and from book to book, predictable similarity). First, colored characters always fall into two groups — good guys and bad guys (of course, so do the white characters). The bad black guys, like most bad guys, are out for themselves alone and violent about it (these are action stories, after all); they are frequently creatures of passion who act in groups (masses or mobs). The “good” blacks dutifully and happily work for/serve the white protagonists and their friends, sometimes even singing as they go about their chores.

All the nonwhite African characters are somehow spiritually close to nature, as in the modern American myth of magically-attuned-with-nature Native Americans. (I especially enjoy, with irony foremost, the supernatural nature/tracking skills of the ancient Xhai, raised in the Opet slave pens, in civilized circumstances which would make it pretty difficult to acquire such skills, which must therfore be racially inherent, at least in Smithworld.) Likewise, the approved darkskinned people are all somehow childlike (characteristic of Xhai, either version) when not actual children (as is one of the key blacks in the current Assegai where the bad blacks are wild mobs and the good ones work as supernaturally talented trackers for the bwana hunter hero, who when he early helps his black sergeant-fated-to-become-head-tracker to safety can endure far more than the self-sacrificing black). See the stereotype? Bad blacks are uppity, while good ones know their servile place, and all coloreds are unsophisticated (animal-like) natural beings. At least in the imaginary worlds of Wilbur Smith.

Xhai is a typical good nonwhite (as are bushmen in all of the Smith stories, a people for which our author evidently holds some warm feelings but whom he sees as firmly in their natural place as the most primitive hunter-gatherers on earth). Xhai is loyal and faithful (“doglike” in one passage), childlike, and at one with nature. The modern Xhai, although elderly and chief of his clan, worships Dr. Kazin, who has troubled himself to learn the bushman ways and language. The ancient Xhai is even more devoted to Lannon Hycanus, and the wise Opetians, the king and his friend, send the little African away on a futile mission for his own safety when the end is near (like wise adults protecting a child with gentle deceit).

Timothy/Manatassi is the “bad” black. In modern times, he is a communist, agitating (wrongheadedly the narrative directly states) for his peopleʼs rights, unwitting tool of the fiendishly wily Red Chinese, recklessly violent and ultimately futile (although unresolved in the plot; perhaps actual history after the book was written tells his real role). Clealy we are meant to observe that he would have been better to remain the loyal, if mysterious, employee of his mentor, Dr. Kazin. His kingly historical antecedent, captured and abused horribly by Opet, finally uses his power and white-given knowledge (if we actually can define these former Phoenicians as “white,” as the book decidedly does) to create a continent-spanning massive army of uncountable blackness to overwhelm and destroy the civilization that he has come to hate (of course, his dark success requires him to utilize the wisdom of Opet against the civilization itself; thus native African power and ingenuity is reduced in the narrative to emulation of civilized foes and mere passionate hatred, resulting in destruction, not creation).

Smithʼs intended moral seems clear. Them poor natives needed the wise whites to guide them toward civilization, but their inherent black natures pulled them and Opet back down into primeval darkness. On the other hand, at least for Opet, the kingʼs decisions and the civilizationʼs enslaving characteristics caused Manatassiʼs unreasoning hatred. The native, black king was first captured and his people slaughtered when Lannon wished to impose a violent lesson by raiding powerfully the unruly black tribes to the north. The kingʼs action was cruel and set in motion the events that would destroy Opet. Gentle Huy unwisely tries to educate Manatassi, renamed Timon as a civilized slave, who is only too eager to reap what nuggets of knowledge will aid him in his lifelong quest for retribution. Later, Timonʼs unruly misbehavior earns him the punishment of mine labor, a killingly hideous, vile life vividly created in the story (and nicely parallel to the career of Spartacus, although Manatassi leads his slave rebellion without becoming a gladiator). Manatassi, captured, horribly witnesses his woman being dragged to slow, brutal death behind the kingʼs elephant, reinforcing the Africanʼs iron will to revenge. Freed but maimed as punishment by the kindly Huy, Manatassi replaces his hacked-off hand with an iron paw/claw and insanely builds his massive and terrifying army of mindlessly obedient myrmidons (really, the narrative compares them to ants as they unhesitatingly sacrifice themselves for the kingʼs purposes). Between Opetʼs practice of slavery, Lannonʼs thoughtless cruelty and Huyʼs excessive kindness, the fate of the lost civilization is sealed through the career of Manatassi.

More lessons, then? Should we learn from Huyʼs actions not to be too softhearted? After all, he had repeated opportunities to simply kill the man who would end Opet, but the gentle poet-warrior refrained each time from the fatal stroke. In the modern plot, a commander observes that Timothy and his rebels should be ended quickly with a stroke of absolute power and coldness, such is the fate of communists. But I like Huy as we are meant to like Kazin, our narrator, and after all, we know from the beginning that the civilization of Opet was wiped out utterly and completely, literally drowned, we eventually learn, in the fatal pool of Astarte that seems so alluringly lovely when first rediscovered by Ben and Sally. The civilizationʼs tragic fate is preordained, foreshadowed by Lannonʼs ritual killing of the last gyr-lion (an evolutionary dead-end going extinct in the novel at the same time Opet nears its doom), symbol of the kings of Opet (and the beast for which Xhai is safely sent away to find near the end, but there is no gyr-lion as there will be no next king of Opet). On the other hand, tragedy must result from a flaw, and that flaw could be Huy Ben-Amonʼs softness with Manatassi. Even so, without the kingʼs cruelty (which appears in many forms through the second part, hurting Huy himself at several points) Manatassi would have no grounds for his savage hatred. Perhaps the tragic flaw is Lannonʼs own selfish disregard for the enemy natives, whom he and his people perceive as nothing but (potential) slaves. If so, the book becomes more interesting (for me), although I believe we are supposed to feel the ironic consequences of Huyʼs generosity of spirit. But the meaning goes further and descends not from niceness but from Opetʼs inherent cruelty, shown even in its human-sacrificing religion which Huy heads just as he is his societyʼs greatest warrior.

A deeper lesson hangs from one further parallel between the ancient past and the present. Those invading Phoenicians of Opet mirror the once-dominating white South Africans of modern times. It is not just the characters that align but the ancient and modern civilizations. Although not everything from the past equates with the present (antique Tanith dies while Ben and Sally marry successfully in the closing), Opetʼs doom drums a message for the nation of apartheid — white cruelty breeds black resentments (and in Smithworld, violence, which fortunately actual history has so far dodged). If the past and 1972-present correspond, then the book foresees a dark and dire fate for the “white civilization” in modern Africa, as long as apartheid-practitioners behave with cruelty like that of Lannon and his subservients in Opet. A society based on slavery cannot, should not stand.

I donʼt know if Mr. Smith intended the ultimate parallel, as he several times in his fiction overtly rationalizes racial distinctions in Africa. And I cannot defend nor accept his white-manʼs-burden vision of African cultures. However, his narrative does clearly and simply match Smithʼs invented past with the authorʼs then-reality of life in South Africa. Whether his conscious mind and emotions could accept the obvious lesson suggested, his imagination vividly understood the nature and consequences of enslavement and racial discrimination.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Whatʼs Race Got to Do with It?

With the deliberate distortion and manipulative release of wickedly edited video from a NAACP speech by an unassuming and eminently reasonable Department of Agriculture employee, former Iowa governor (and onetime resident of Mt. Pleasant) Tom Vilsack, currently Secretary of Agriculture, got to show the stuff heʼs (not) made of. The Tighty Righty liar behind the artificial, deliberate deception was “conservative” blogger Andrew Breitbart, a wilful activist self-annointed to “bring down” the “institutional Left.” (What does his behavior do now to the Rightʼs supposed presumption of moral decency? Destroy it? Fat chance. Be sure: the spin will come — his manufactured falsities Rightly will be presented as wholly ethical, already are on Fox News, unfair and unbalanced.) And the lie was spread by that loud voice of Rightist cock-and-bull, the already mentioned remorseless propaganda machine managed by radical Roger Ailes.

I bought this second copy in ʼ96, falsely believing that my original would not endure the rigors of being read another time.

The victim of the vile distortion of truth was Shirley Sherrod, whom gutless Tom, acting as dubiously obedient stooge for his boss, quickly fired (or as Jon Stewart had it, “vilsacked”). Once the truth was out, that the iniquitously edited comments presented the exact opposite of Sherradʼs gentle and honest plea for harmony, the Administrative reverse-pedalling and backfilling began. (No, spin-monkeys are not exclusive to the revisionist Right.) And for a day or two the media has pondered muddily the issue of race in the United States (except for the racists who blindly mis-see everything through their peculiar prescriptions of ethnic spectacles). Coincidentally, at the same time the synthetic brouhaha bubbled over, I finished reading a novel by an author often appropriately labeled as racist — The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith. I was intrigued at the undermining of his own stereotypes that the book posed.

Wilbur Smith isnʼt exactly one of my favorite authors, although I have enjoyed his novels, and I do own all of them, acquiring new ones even after the vast disappointment of The Quest. The book blurbs lately quote Stephen King citing Smith as the best historical novelist, and he is good. The Courtney novels (I also loved the later tall-ship prologues to that series), and the four Ballantyne novels gave me a vivid picture of Victorian and early twentieth-century southern Africa — from the colonial perspective, of course. Smith, an African by birth, a white African, effectively lost his American audience for decades because of the inherent racism in his novels, during the course of the long boycotting of South Africa for apartheid policies. In fact, after encountering one Smith book during my college days, his work vanished from our booksellersʼ shelves until the Nineties and the ending of apartheid.

I first read a Wilbur Smith novel in 1974, picking up a thick purplish paperback slotted among the science fiction and fantasy novels at Newsland in Mt. Pleasant, where I found so many richly varied books to buy, including my introduction to the poetry of Shelley. (Interesting that so many of those books were published by Signet, including my volume of Shelley and the book about to be discussed.) The Sunbird appealed to me for many reasons. I have a weakness for lost-civilization stories (thanks for the addiction, H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs) and also for African adventures (viz. my renewed enthusiasm recently for Tarzan, who also had a weakness for lost civilization, not so coincidentally). As a middle-schooler I had picked up one of my motherʼs Readers Digest Condensed books (which until today I believed contained a colonialist espionage adventure in a fictitious banana republic and the first of the Rabbi David Small detective stories, too — but both were actually in the companion autumn volume for 1966) in which I read (and multiply reread) the adventures of Jean-Pierre Hallet in Congo Kitabu (a book I later had to find, and did, in used bookstores; now I think I need to locate those old RD Condensed volumes — I  owe them so much), and Iʼve been a sucker for wild exploits on the Dark Continent ever since (and possibly before). Of course, Africa is the home to Lost Civilization adventuring anyway, so Smithʼs Sunbird was an obvious choice for me, one which I devoured quickly and reread at least twice later, then for a fourth and now fifth time since rediscovering Smith in the Nineties.

Perhaps the least popular of Smithʼs novels, The Sunbird is divided into two parts. In the first section, deformed Jewish archaeologist Dr. Benjamin Kazin tells of his (fictitious) discovery of a lost ancient city, thereby proving grandiosely and gloriously his own theories of Phoenician influence dominating cultural developments in southern Africa (indeed throughout the continent). Not inconsequentially, he also narrates his ardor for an employee, Sally, who is also desired by Kazinʼs closest friend and his financier for the dig, fabulously wealthy and utterly handsome Louren Survesant. The love triangle of these South Africans complements and confuses the archaeology. Further confusion, and several vital crises, are fomented by another (former) employee of Kazinʼs Institute of African Anthropology and Prehistory, hulking black savant (and quickly communistic revolutionary — but then thatʼs also the repudiation of Nelson Mandela in the later Courtney books), Timothy Mageba, who brutally betrays his mentorʼs trust, revealing himself as a Zambian Red Chinese-directed rebel, and who later with companions in ambush slays (among very many) the other important African, Xhai, Kazinʼs beloved bushman companion. By the end of the first part, Kazinʼs archaeological reputation has been made, but his heart has been shattered to discover the affair between Sally and Louren. At the climax, he and his wealthy but now estranged friend personally discover the tombs of the ancients, only to succumb to (fictitious) neuromyces, inhaled during their mutual great discovery. In his fungoid delirium, Kazin evidently hallucinates the second part, told through third-person narrative — the events of the reign of Lannon Hycanus, final king of the lost city of Opet, and his best friend, hunchbacked high priest of the sungod Baal and Axeman of the Gods, Huy Ben-Amon.

Yep. The (possibly imagined, possibly actual) ancient events resemble and mirror the present, either because Ben Kazinʼs fevered dreams construct a vision of his discovery, especially the personal scrolls of Huy Ben-Amon, and the utter (and otherwise utterly mysterious) destruction of Opet, the influence of which covers about two-thirds of Africa and thereby evidently inspires Zimbabwe and all other African cultural progress. Lannon Hycanus  is the earlier incarnation of Louren Sturvesant, as Huy is the counterpart of Ben Kazin. Is all this a psychic, metempsychotic connection between the characters and situations of the different ages (for even Sally has her parallel in the past, Huyʼs beloved mistress, the Oracle of Astarte, who actually does darkly prophesy the future, the end of their civilization)? Or is this section just Kazinʼs hallucinations as the fungus grows in his lungs, nearly killing him, as it does indeed (conveniently) kill Louren? The book simply presents the second part as events, explaining Kazinʼs discoveries and building to the extinction of the no-longer-Phoenician citizens of Opet.

However, not everything is perfectly parallel. The king has no relationship with seeress Tanith, although upon discovering her amorous connection to his best friend, he does jealously have her killed, a sacrifice to the gods on the eve of destruction (a running but essentially unconfronted and therefore unexplored theme for many Smith novels is questionable, potentially gay, male friendship — quietly here, openly in disparate-but-oddly-equal/equivalent brothers of the Courney and Ballantyne clans, one a classically alpha male, the other not necessarily homosexual but socially awkward, hiding secrets, and intellectual). Xhai has an earlier incarnation, too, but in his primeval version not slaughtered by black rebel king Manatassi, the moving force of the eventual destruction and onetime eager pupil to Huy — Timothyʼs alter-ego.

The black revolutionary is the core of the bookʼs meaning and focus of the racial theme(s), although the conscious Smith might have preferred me to emphasize Xhai (both of him).

Over 1300 words already, so that will more than do it for today. Iʼll finish soon, presumably tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

True Americans

I had a post all ready for today, but a slight incident on Monday morning prompted a little rant, which follows. Apologies in advance, if necessary. But as I have nothing wrong (or wrongheaded) to say, that expression of mild regret shouldnʼt be necessary. On my part.

(…Just Specify Which Continent)

The Great Seal of the United States of America

A former student, currently in Mexico, recently noted on Facebook that s/he would be “back in America” soon.

Having frequently been perturbed by “real Americans” wanting to “take America back” (from whom, I wonder — the Unreal Americans? The French? The Zombies of Doom? Fox News, false and biased? Oh, oops, the last two seem to be repeats), this innocent remark from abroad drew my attention. And rather than quickly and simply post a reply to the aforementioned FB status, I naturally decided to make a big, huge honking deal out of it and create a new post for today.

So what am I reacting to? Hereʼs what I did not post as a reply to the status-in-question: “Oh, no, sorry. You are in America, North America, just not currently in the United States.”

When I was little, we lived in Texas, Colorado and (although I donʼt recall my birth state) California, among other places out west. While residing in El Paso, border town that it is (and which begins my early coherent memories, including the Christmas recorded in a memorable photograph of Paul and me in play cars we received for the holiday), I learned from somewhere/someone (possibly my older sister Margaret) that when returning to the U.S. and being asked your citizenship, the proper answer was not “American” because, after all, everyone living in the western hemisphere/New World is an American, North or South, so you arenʼt really distinguishing United States citizens from Mexicans. Besides it seemed rudely proprietorial to stake a claim to two continents with your citizenship-identity. I clearly remembered the lesson, and I still answer “U.S.” at border crossings and customs checks.

Lest the Tighty Righties in their jingoistic fevers quibble, I found the same notion repeated in Donald Hamiltonʼs certainly not unpatriotic (in fact, classically gung-ho anticommunist) spy series about Matt Helm from the Sixties (hmmm, maybe I should reread some of those again for old timesʼ sake; I recall clearly one about an RV trip across Canada for espionage purposes; and those godawful Dean Martin movies did the character and series no justice, although we hope Mr. Hamilton got lots of bucks for selling the books to the movie producers). Once again the polite (and correct) principle arose in connection with not ruffling foreign feathers at Mexican border crossings.

As with genuine flag respect and etiquette, evidently those honorable days are over. Beck and Hannity and OʼReilly may yearn with inaccurate (even false and deceptive) nostalgia for the unreality of what they have invented was the U.S. in their youths (or as they insist on saying, “America” in those good old days when “things” were “better,” which they certainly werenʼt), but nowadays those whack jobs have decided to either ignore the rest of the hemisphere or sneakily stake an imperialistic claim to the two continents. In the realm of the hyper-”patriots” (laughably so-called) itʼs become a political sin to refer to the United States. To be politically correct on the Rightist Right (and boy, you had better step right in line or you are suddenly labeled and ostracized, a Righty reject), it must be, incorrectly as always, only “America.” (And of course, everyone must contort the flag into disrespectful jewelry that any Right-thinking/appealing candidate/politician invariably wears prominently. Because they are after all “conservatives” who wildly reject all the actual national honor and flag eitiquette that has been enshrined in our heritage — rather like rewriting the Pledge of Allegiance in the Fifties to make it Righty “right” religionwise, in unnatural direct contradiction of the First Amendment, as I guess real “patriots” get to cherrypick which parts of the Constitution to respect — certainly not that troublesome first clause of the Second Amendment). And all these years I had thought “conservative” meant “one who conserves,” one who holds onto the past in preference to radical and unfounded change like throwing out the established “American” flag etiquette. Now the word must simply mean “selfish wholehearted change-monkey,” much as those same revisionists have redefined Nazi to mean Lefty, in contradiction of history and their own racist Right skinhead fringe believers.

Oh well. I ask too much for those radically subversive voices to make sense. Nowadays weʼre just Americans (generally mispronounced unnaturally as something like “Amurrikins”) turning our  broad backs on the rest of the world. The young person whose status prompted my twinge of thought is certainly not to blame, as one simply adopts the discourse in which one grows up. Pity that confabulation apparently is so devoid of sense. On the other (possibly the Right) hand, maybe these newfangled Unconservatives have resurrected a preferably dismissed and dead shibboleth out of our dark past, wishing to make us all into The Ugly American once again.

And since another Rightist twitch has annoyed me lately, the use of Latin merely to sound profound (appearances before reality, always), evidently without being intellectual (as thatʼs a “sin” of the Left in their Tight view) —

Ave et vale, unum et omnes!

And I didnʼt have to look any of that up.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

More Kitty

As I have started again to attempt a more-or-less regular journal, I thought I would finish the series of old entries that I had posted earlier, here and here. If nothing else, trying to compose a daily record (well, more or less daily) has gotten me to use MacSpeech Dictate more regularly, again.

We left off at the end of February/early March, so here are the remaining entries from those early attempts. I am amused just how fast the regularity fell off as substitute teaching increased and then I got the job with the Census.

Tuesday, March 3, 2010

Subbed today, all day, Mr. Mac. All went well, some classes were even fun and enjoyable. During his lunch/sixth hour prep I churned out 7 to 8 pages of Mantorville. Was going to dictate it now, after school, but I took too long checking mail and Facebook and getting Turner Classic Movies to send me e-mail reminders of March movies I might want to watch. Thank goodness tomorrowʼs blog post was already done. All I had to do was add in a new paragraph or two and make one change I forgot to change yesterday.

Currently reading: Moorcock’s The Fortress of the Pearl, Howard’s El Borak, and Kuttner/Moore collection Two-Handed Engine.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Watching two of the neighbor children play in their backyard on Monday evening, I was enchanted by the two young girls. They were using sticks as play swords. And I was interested that the older one was so caring of her younger sister, instead of using her greater size to simply dominate the play combat. With her long dark hair caught in a flowing ponytail, her body enbulked in a red, puffy thermal coat, as she bobbed and weaved and accepted thrusts from her sister, she never simply overpowered the littler child. In my own youth my younger brother Paul and I frequently played combat games in the yard. For hours. For entire days. Unfortunately I never showed the tender care of this lovely girl, seeking myself always to be the top dog, the dominant figure, the star in our little narratives. It was always The Adventures of John and Paul, me first, notice, never Paul and John. I have a lot to learn, and it makes me sad, even today.

Yesterday, I was proud when the House passed the healthcare reform bill! Today I took the test to apply to be a census taker.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Just discovered Scrivener, in association with an update to PDFPen. As of right now, it appears to work well with MacSpeech Dictate! I’m excited.

Substituted both Monday and Tuesday. Monday was my experience with third graders. Although I was nervous, not really knowing what the procedures of elementary were, it went very well. I really liked third-graders, and they at least pretended to like me. I wanted to take their picture at the end of the day, but I only had my cell phone, not my camera. I see them again on Monday, April 12, for Art fifth period, and I intend to shoot them then.Yesterday, was my first time teaching Art. Except for one class of 14 later in the day, it was a breeze — just two or three students each period. I wrote five pages of my Sepharad story, getting Søren and Nathan into the Red Tower and down to the floor where they expect to find the jade statuette. Also gave blood after school.

Sent Stephen his birthday card today.

Have been awakening at 5:00 AM to run. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday last week (since I had to substitute all day on Wednesday — and took the tests to be a census taker Tuesday morning). Monday, Tuesday, and today — so far — this week. Just 4 miles still, but I’m doing it, and it feels better to have it done at 7:30 than have it looming ahead of me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clearly I haven’t written any of these in a long time. I did keep subbing, but of course the Census called, and I had to drop subbing for that. Last week I drove daily to Eldridge for crew leader training, Monday through Thursday. This week I have been desperately trying to get organized and prepared to train a crew of enumerators. I just got off the phone from calling 17 people scheduled for my session at the Maquoketa Community Center. Unfortunately most of those calls ended in a message on their machine, which means I’ll probably have to call them all back soon.

The Census is still the big news. Not much to report otherwise, except that yesterday in connection with my Census work I decided to buy a GPS for the truck (which can also be transferred to Janet’s car). So far I like having it a lot.

Please notice how MacSpeech incorrectly prefers digits to words (“4 miles” instead of “four miles”). It also made me laugh on Saturday, while dictating new journals, that the program knew Kahlúa (right down to the correct diacritical marking, as I just made it insert here as well). Funny what the programmers think is important to include automatically.

Sadly, no one has attempted to guess why “Kitty.” Have the Holocaust Deniers won so much of the day (wrongly and vilely)?

I quit (at least so far, with a bookmark in place) partway through the Morcock novel (it got dreary and dull for me, sorry Mr. Michael), and the El Borak and Kuttner books are short story collections (novelettes or novellas for Howard), so I can read one or two and put the volume aside for awhile, as I have done with both. I also acquired via used books on the internet  — amazon.com, ebay or barnesandnoble.com (I donʼt remember which one) Howardʼs historical stuff, so I have also been dipping into that, even as I have also been working my way through the Leiber Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series again (good to investigate what I donʼt want to unconsciously use for Judah and Søren, whose adventure I must update here soon).

Right now, as of the past weekend, I am finishing a third-reread of Wilbur Smithʼs old The Sunbird, the book I first bought in 1972 that introduced me to his stuff. As with Tarzan, I may just have a literary essay to post on that book.

I really do have  to discuss my pleasure with Scrivener one of these days as well…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Of Wind, Trees, Mirrors and Stars

With a title lifted vaguely from David Frieberg and Robert Hunter (“Harp Tree Lament”) off a personal-favorite Paul Kantner Jefferson Starship album (in those halcyon days before that name became an actual band), hereʼs a girlfriend-lost poem from those early years teaching (poorly) in Ft. Madison. I left JA (and JS) behind me for a long time once I moved to Maquoketa, even though Kantnerʼs roaring, lyrical (sci-fic) marches have polished an eternal spot in my soul (and amidst the constant, cicadic, scratchy ringing in my ears, which that same music  — played utterly too loud in my youth and loudly nowadays, too, to overcome the tinnitus  — probably caused, at least in part). However, I acquired my first Walkman shortly before Janet and I went to Fiji in 1986, and I got reinterested in my old albums by making tapes from the vinyl originals for the portable player and for our cassette deck. Two ninety-minute mixes were a carefully programmed sequence of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship Kantner/Slick music, heavily falling on those first three non-JA albums  — Blows Against the Empire, Sunfighter and Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. We returned from the cannibal islands to Los Angeles for a two-night stay before flying home (and a necessary recovery after the twenty-hour flight it was). I listened on the headphones to those tapes flying home and in a wholly exhausted state (and jokingly-possibly yangona-hungover  — more on that adventure one day) falling asleep in the dire hotel where Janet had placed us. (I really should recreate the sequence of those tapes as an iPod playlist; I wonder what hearing all those songs in the appropriate order might do to my head these days.)

I donʼt think I appreciated or recognized much Jefferson Airplane before the Woodstock album (my copy of which came from an abortive Spanglish haggling session in Mexico City while on a Presbyterian Youth Fellowship mission trip and which we played to arouse the troops for “morning maniac madness”  — yes, an inext quotation, and deliberately so — by playing “Volunteers” on a creaky church phonograph in an Oklahoma City church basement; later that day I purchased my first Osibisa album — and theirs, too  — because of the Roger Dean cover art, such is the cleverness of record-industry marketing). Kantner cemented his place in my musical mind with the Blows album the year I graduated from high school  — all those songs (thank you, Jerry Garcia on pedal steel) still rouse me in a strange (but now faded) manner.

And I only bring up all this personal musical-history summary to admit that if one were fully versed in all the music I listened in those high-creative years of the mid-Seventies (lots of Yes and Who and Rolling Stones in that unconscious mental mix, too), you could probably spot my interpretations of the song rhythms that I was hearing as I wrote (and my interpretation of rhythm is an amusingly personal and idiosyncratic thing, indeed  — just ask Janet). So it is strange that once I had a rhythm (undoubtedly stolen because I really donʼt think I am all that inventive or creative), I could usually create a poem, like the sonnet below.

Aeolian Harp Song

What you get when you search for “wind moon”

White air disturbs trees, dancing the leaves.

The wind passes, dark air wet with wonder, a spirit,

fraught with eyes, telling lies: here the wind weaves

a fabric of oaks, vines and reeds. You can hear it

whistling the sundown, surfing the sea while it heaves

up the moon (a many-faced lady). You must fear it

when moonlight rips holes in the air — then the wind deceives

mortals and hushes the trees. Do not come near it

then, when birds sought the south, safety and sun:

silence too dreadful to touch, when the white moon breathes

blackness and stars burn without twinkling. You must shun

forests then, seeking mirrors. Moonlight sickles reeds

in that season as women make blood. Remained then and you

will see wonders unwritten in trees but the hawthorn, elder and yew.

evidently after losing the lady and reading The White Goddess

23 April 1976

I must have found incredible solace or inspiration (or steal-able imagery anyway) in The White Goddess because it pushes to the front in nearly everything I wrote for about two years, including of course this poem. The list of trees at the end (and the earlier trio inline 4) is directly referring to Graves (and reading the book would help understanding why those trees in those trios, too), and I think his goddess is behind the menstrual image, as well. The sickle is also lunar and therefore Gravesian, I guess, and therefore the moon has to be “white” in line 10). On the other hand, the mirror is more personal (check back on earlier poem-posts  — hereʼs just one example, and another — for some of my other uses of that imagery) and does tie in my mind with knives, so therefore the moonlight ripping “holes in the air.” As for stars, well, theyʼre hiding over, under, around and within the currently posting story.

I like the tight rhyme scheme, more Italianate than English  — abababab (only two sounds for the octet!) cdcdee. I donʼt think I have any meaning in that pattern, however. It just sounded cool to me (more or less still does).

Although I have already taken note of what I decided to record in my own note to myself (the green line above the composition date), I kept it in because I havenʼt remarked that those lines are on the original typescripts as notes to myself (to help me remember what I probably should recall anyway, right?). Although I am sure I remember which girlfriend, I appreciate my own delicacy in the maladroit (and so Seventies-Romantic) wording of the notation. I also just noticed that I wrote the poem on Shakespeareʼs birthday.

And, yes, now I remember: I do owe apologies to Samuel R. Delany (and Vonda McIntyre) for ripping off your title styles (I was thinking of McIntyreʼs “Of Mist, Sand andGrass” when I devised this postʼs title, but it may really owe more to Delanyʼs little essays that adhere to his later science fiction novels)

(I really do have a good time using old poems to hocus up a post…)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.