Elections Over

The Facebook pic in question. And I am… too poor to qualify as a Republican…

Election day was not my most productive, out of two so far, for the novel writing month. I let myself get distracted with politics (on Facebook). Once I had voted — first thing in the morning: although third to submit my form to get a ballot, first to send the ballot through the machine, and Janet was second on both fronts — I found a cute little picture of a button that said “I am too poor to vote Republican” which more or less summed up my view of the corporate money funneled into the party of No (as of today, I have been told by every source, the majority party in Congress, so we donʼt want to forget their established log of obstructionism). I think that when I put that picture up as my display pic, some friends were displeased. Oh, well, it will come down later yesterday (I am writing about noon on Tuesday) or early-ish today. And the resultant debate was interesting, too.

The more factual position…

Obviously, then, I donʼt know how the elections have turned out. The polls havenʼt even been open half their scheduled time yet here in Iowa. I am not optimistic, dreading that the disinformation spewed by blogiots and FoxGnaws may have had its intended effect. Democrats are no prize, either, too wimpy to claim the high ground or boldly advance genuine principles. When folks talk about entrenched interests, maybe we need to mean the two parties and their corrupted and ineffective system (completely extraneous to the Constitution, by the way). No more Republicans or Democrats!

But itʼs a new day as you read this. The elections are over, and I donʼt know how things have turned out.

I did notice that my sparring partner, Daniel, has attempted (off this blog, on his own) to answer our recent debate about undermining the Constitution (Article VI and the First Amendment) to gratify his personal so-called religious desires. He tries to misread Jeffersonʼs letter to the Danbury Baptists to support his unconstitutional notion that religulous ideas should dominate the federal government. However, Jefferson begins the content by saying clearly, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship…” He is staking the ground strongly: matters of conscience are solely matters of conscience, which is where, within oneself alone, oneʼs relations with God, if such, are constrained. In other words, religion has no more direct influence on government than government may infringe upon free practice of religion — utterly undercutting any nonsense about “Jefferson indicates that a man’s religious values are free to infiltrate the government…” Itʼs the precise opposite: Jefferson indicates first the principle that conscience is personal rather than public to reassure the cold-shouldered Baptists of (Puritanical) Danbury that government will never revoke the First Amendment by imposing a religion on all the minorities that make up the people of the United States.

But I already replied to him on his site (at least three times, in fact). You can read my comment here, even though some peculiarity of Danielʼs comment system stripped away my own link back to the “Faithful Facts” discussion last Thursday. (I added it in a second of my comments.)

And putting together this bit of writing, my Facebook observations, and the reply to Daniel should comprise enough of a post for now (especially since I have to actually write some on my novel yet Tuesday).

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

No Separation?

Todayʼs post is the direct continuation of the long essay I began yesterday.

I frequently wonder at the kind of mind (even soul) that must cling to a rock-solid, dead-certain set of irrational principles (if principles isnʼt too decent a term for extremist rigidity) at all costs, including violence to others who appear to threaten the comfy security of the believer. The current wildness of the Rightists in the U.S. and Muslim hatemongering jihadists worldwide leaves me jaw-dropped at our human abilities to deceive and blind ourselves. Most vividly of late is the Christine OʼDonnell debate gaffe (or masterly thrust and skewering of her opponent, if you are yourself an initated Rightist) about the First Amendment. If you watch the video, she clearly accepts the laughter at her denial of separation of church and state (terminology which, as she wished to assert, is not verbatim in the Amendment, true) as supporting her and undermining Coons. She sadly but goofily was wrong about the laughs, but Coons, not being a blinkered Rightized fundamentalist, didnʼt get her intended point about the exact words not being in the Constitution, accepting instead the valid and majority-held nearly 250 years of history and legislation that have defined the establishment clause to erect just that Jeffersonian wall of separation between religion and government. She didnʼt understand that her denial of separation made her appear a fool to the general public. She believed from her eight days of Rightist Constitutional training that Coons was the fool for expressing the key clause of the Amendment in the terms of “separation of church and state.” What we had there was a classic failure to communicate.

OʼDonnellʼs mindframe was so set in her rigidly Rightist terminology that she had forgotten or neglected that a larger history had not excluded separation from the Amendmentʼs nonestablishment of religion clause. I have found recently that in the narrow alterworld of Fundamentalist Christian Rightism, from which OʼDonnell spoke, the Amendmentʼs meaning has been sculpted to mean that Christianity is the foundation of the government of the United States (the goal these Fundies do want with their calls for established and required school prayer and all). And the establishment clause means that their presumed basic Christian foundation for the country should never be undermined.

Seem like a stretch into fantasyland to you? It did (still does) to me. Our dissenting, Deistic (not quite the good oldtime Christians the Right wants to paint them), freethinking, agnostic, revisionistic (think of Jeffersonʼs cut-and-paste collection of Bible quotes), frequently Unitarian founders would be startled, I am sure. Only an easy skim through the politico-religious biographies of the founders turns up the, to be gently mild about it, uniqueness of their possible personal connections to any established Christian religion(s). And, of course, contemporary Fundamentalism arises only just over a hundred years ago, chronologically far outside the scope of the original Patriotsʼ comprehension. But the Fundamentalist Right has whole tipsy tiers of rationalization to make it so. The statement “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” is contorted savagely to mean things that I find it difficult to follow. But weʼre going to try, in all fairmindedness, because I have experienced an eye-opening excursion, via the Internet, into the strange waters of seflRighteous selfjustification — from which I am going to utilize some of the most reasonable and least bilious sources.

Before exploring the issues I have recently learned about (you can tell how weakly nonFundie I am by that remark — actually bothering to acquire information beyond my own personal experience and prejudices), I would like to turn your attention to a very enlightening (although perhaps partisan, perhaps not) article in Newsweek, last week, on Rightist Constitutional Fundamentalism. Having the ideas I am exploring here drifting and throbbing through my consciousness for years, for me the reporter put some things into clarity and perspective. Some mindsets seem to need a document of absolute truth (the Bible, the Quʼran or the Constitution, for instance) on which almost thoughtlessly to rely, or they canʼt handle the real world. Unfortunately, it seems most of such fundamentalist believers also pick and choose what to notice/remember/use as weapons of attack from said document. (For instance, spouting uncontextualized Old Testamentary regulations on homosexuality with no regard for Christʼs actual message of brotherly love. Or so-called “Constitutionalists” who refuse to comply fully with the Census, citing only the documentʼs precise text on the required procedure, as if the final clause of Section 8, granting Congressional powers — “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof” — did not exist.) Even as the rocks that comprise the earth are forever shifting and drifting (viz. geological tectonics), our abilities simply to read are a sandy mire of consciousness and inter/contextuality (viz. literary criticism, which began, by the way, in Western civilization as efforts to clearly read and understand the Bible — and one of my heroes, Benedict Spinoza, was crucial in making some important advances therein). Selective emphasis from a text is not new nor particular to fundamentalist points of view; it is the uncertain and varying essential nature of the reading process, sorry to say, fundie friends. But I can discuss lit crit another time.

In order to propound the sorrowfully mistaken notion that the founders of this nation were establishing, deliberately and knowingly, a Christian nation, our contemporary fundamentalists have derived an interesting set of arbitrary (but for them very useful) distinctions. They begin by distinguishing between doctrinal religion and denominational religion (terms absolutely unknown to our Founders, who might have recognized “established religion” versus “personal conscience” — terms which donʼt help the contemporary extremistsʼ argument). The simplest discussion I found for this fundamentalist, Rightist argument is here, which tries to assert that first, somehow (perhaps through the effects historical migration from Europe into the colonial New World) Christianity is gifted with special status among religions (because it is ours/theirs, of course; but also because it was the established, dominant set of beliefs colonists imported from England — regardless of what were to them extremely important, life-shattering denominational differences), and second, that although the Founders clearly stated, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” they didnʼt mean exactly that. Supposedly what the Framers meant was that in this Christian nation (nowhere stated), no one denomination (of Christianity) could be established as the state religion (as the Church of England had been in Great Britain). But Christianity somehow is the religion of the nation…

Clever? But false, unfortunately (and perhaps deliberately so).

The arguers feel supported by various moves the government (federal and states) has made that do impose an almost Christian God on the State. Check the list on the bottom of this page. Or any of the other pro-Christian-nation sites I have referenced above (there is a strong tendency to quote from each other). Those points would be better taken if documented and correlated against strong religious ferment to push that agenda into government historically. Also needing some evidence is their “90 to 95 percentage of them were practicing, Trinitarian Christians,” a position I flat out discredit. Although many of the Founders and Framers were ordinarily Christian for everyday social purposes, the beliefs that filled their hearts and consciences were often anything but staidly traditional (as linked above).

However, having topped thirteen hundred words, weʼll have to save further investigation for tomorrow.

Please click the links. There you will find massive amounts of information, good and bad, from both ends of this argumentative spectrum, to weigh and ponder for yourself. Of course the Rigid Rightists wouldnʼt care for the notion of a spectrum these days; for them the realm of discussion is reduced to only a bipolar, conflicting segregation into the (extreme, unbending, blindly) Right versus the godless secular humanist/atheistic “libs.” And thatʼs a Lie of the First Magnitude.

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


I mentioned last week that I havenʼt thought in print about what I have been reading lately. So I will do so today. As if anyone is actually interested. I have been indulging in a lot of nonfiction.

First off, I still dabble in the fascinating (and well written) Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal, which I originally picked up at Borders in St. Charles, Illinois, back on March 14 and have mentioned a couple of times on this forum already. I have been reading it not so much because its message is so perfectly apropos in these hysterically Hitlerian paranoid days. (Did everyone hear about how, over the past weekend, Rightist-inspired arsonists attacked, predictably really, the Murpheesboro, TN, new mosque site? And I was supposed to feel abashed at lumping fundamentalist maniacs of every religious stripe together, huh? I hit that bigoted and partisan nail directly on the vacant cabeza.)

I did actually buy Menocalʼs book as research for the Judah-and-Søren story(-ies). I read two more chapters over the weekend, encompassing Sephardic Golden Age Hebrew poets (Samuel ha-Nagid in particular), Ibn Hazm and the origins of the medieval Cult of Love, and Andalusian qiyan (and their “ring-songs”) as the stimulative influence on troubador music and poetry. As a history fan of that period and of courtly love in general (via Arthuriana, Dante, Joseph Campbell — the second and fourth books of The Masks of God [“Amor” versus “Roma”] — and Denis de Rougemontʼs Love in the Western World), I was amused to connect back to familiar things to me (although having read about the Islamic influence on European rhyming verse and Sufi poetry on courtly love, I did vaguely realize the importance of al-Andalus already).

Thanks to her book, however, I may even have finally pinned down the era in which the two swordsmen live — as my sister Margaret had suggested a long time back, the taifa age after the fall of Cordoba. I have deeply enjoyed reading this book when I pick it up, which is very pleasant as I really only purchased it as a reference, to learn about the time and place in which I wanted to set my sword-and-sorcery adventures.

On the other hand, recent mosque nonsense has gotten me interested in information versus propaganda (particularly the insanely paranoid and terrifying ravings of the Fundie haters that permeate the Web). I think I mentioned that I used some Borders bucks to buy a 1934 translation with notes of the Qurʼan, and I have been reading it (along with, more particularly, a reorganized Penguin Books edition I had purchased in 1980). I have been amused and interested to check citations from other books against the Qurʼan (and against “the Koran,” although I mostly have just been reading that book), and to get the translator/annotatorʼs insights on passages and translations into English. It is fun (as my brother Paul learned way back in high school), even when you donʼt know a language (as I do not know Arabic, not even recollecting how to recognize Coca-Cola in Arabic nowadays, which I once learned while we were in Morocco), to compare translatorsʼ versions. For Paul that early scholarship has worked into his theological/Biblical studies becoming a Methodist minister. For me, it is still intriguing.

A few weeks earlier, poking through the cutout/discontinued books displayed at the Dubuque Borders (I really do shop at Barnes & Noble, too, just not so much recently, I guess — no trips to Cedar Rapids or Davenport), I found the large-format, softcover book, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Islam by Raana Bokhari and Dr. Mohammed Seddon (which at the time seemed possible for at least some background on al-Andalus/Sepharad-or-Sefarad and which now provides a reasonable tonic to the web delerium that has so provoked me the past two Fridays). Although only less than a third of the way into it, I have been learning (and clarifying) a lot. Its two-page spread format makes for easy reading now and then when I decide to pick up the book and peruse for a half hour. Every two open pages is one essay on a particular topic (i.e. the childhood of the Prophet, “Marriage to Khadijah” or “Applying Hadith”), with the book organized mostly chronologically but with chapters on beliefs, practices, life in the ummah and other issues/topics. Having covered chapter one, “Muhammad: Man and Prophet,” I am tackling “The History of Islam” next, including one single spread on Islamic al-Andalus (and from what I have read already, I am going to need a lot of supporting research to reach some understanding).

I have also gone to my ancient Time-Life series, picking out the Early Islam volume from the Great Ages of Man. Last Friday and Saturday, I read chapter one and the subsequent photo essay on the Life (and Legends) of Muhammad as verification and further reading on what I gleaned from the Bokhari/Seddon book up to then. Reading it made me check other T-L series, and I have pulled out What Life Was Like in the Lands of the Prophet and Crescent Booksʼ The Moors (probably the most on target for Søren and Judah) to read soon.

Lest the shade of my departed mother think I am now contemplating a recitation of the shahada (“la ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah” — “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet” — or “Messenger” as Bokhari/Seddon would have it; or click the link to see the various Wikipedia translations) instead of the conversion to Judaism she once feared back in the late Seventies/early Eighties, I have also been reading other books (and magazines and websites). I acquired Giles Sparrowʼs The Stargazerʼs Handbook from the cutouts, and I was skimming in that (love the pictures!) on some afternoons, although it hasnʼt been the source for my astrophotos illustrating the various pieces of Stars in Heaven. I also brought out the Norton Annotated edition of The Waste Land on a whim two weekends back to reread the poem and dip into some of the critical essays. The new Smithsonian still has a couple of articles I want to finish, as does Archaeology (which, along with Time, I have to renew now). I also have had The White Goddess out again, having worked through the first two chapters back in March.

Furthermore, I have been reading some fiction. First, having been inspired by the TV series that weʼve been watching Sunday nights, I am on chapter five in I, Claudius by Robert Graves (yeah, he keeps cropping up in this blog). I started Samuel R. Delanyʼs Nova, but then switched to his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, which is about half done, set aside for the spate of Islamic nonfiction briefly/sometimes. Leiberʼs Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are still in the stack by my bedside (I have moved on to Swords Against Wizardry, rereading the very fine “Stardock” so far), and Iʼve still got The Dain Curse to reread out of the complete Hammett. Plus Fred Hoyleʼs Ossianʼs Ride sits in my interior vest pocket for entertainment, if necessary, when I am out and about — just about half reread or a bit more. But maybe I will discuss the fiction some other time.

N.B. All my own scans today, and although begun and mostly written on Monday, I slated it for today to complement the previous Friday rants…

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

The Book Junkie

Whatʼs wrong with reading? I listed it among the vices that I enjoy, here on August 13. And I know that most of my readers (yes, including especially you, Colleen) may not understand why such a reading addict as myself would include reading as a vice. From the lessons of my personal experience, I should like to explain.

…if I ever would…

One of the least pleasant duties I had to endure as a teacher was lunch supervision. (I was also not overly successful or pleased with study hall oversight, hall monitoring, useless home-room touchy-feely time watchdog, standardized test administrator, rowdy school bus manager or dance chaperone. Can anyone see the pattern? I make a very poor unofficial cop, either inept and unintentionally overlooking what was supposed to be wrong action or too sternly stepping in unnecessarily. Standing around watching kids have “fun” in order to prevent and/or intervene against objectionable activities, of which I might personally not even genuinely disapprove, or worse, tolerate group mania that I found particularly obnoxious, struck me from the beginning of my educational career as the vilest waste of my time imaginable. Besides, in every one of those situations, the permissible/objectionable distinction on behavior was never particularly clear, and I always felt dirty when we monitors let some kid, or group of scoundrels, get away with what another got exiled for, inequality before the selfjustifying and selfimporant petty authorities being one of the most questionable aspects of education, public and private [which is often worse with the favoritism], that history and society have permitted to evolve.) Until the Nineties, all Andrew teachers had to serve periodic weeks regulating the students at lunch, and the weeks I had to serve were torturous tedium for me (and a waste of time that I could better put to reading/grading work or at least composing the next dayʼs announcements for the daily bulletin). Furthermore, the minutes I had to spend looming over the excited eaters seemed to stretch subjectively into protracted hours. At least, being unpleasant, the details of those tedious (nearly) halfhour sessions of timewaste I have mostly forgotten. However, a single incident from that extensive experience, inspired some periodic but valuable meditation.

At one time the older and younger kids must have been allowed to overlap their time in the (tiny) lunchroom, or else I was supervising early or otherwise in the lunchroom unnecessarily (me not ever eating hot lunch during my entire career, for no good reason, as the Andrew cooks were always top-notch). For whatever reason, I was present when various primary children/grades were in the lunchroom to overhear/witness a teacher reprimanding one of her pupils for a major eating-time sin: reading a book at the table! At the time, I was horrified. Getting our youthful charges to read (or by the age I encountered them, back to reading at all) was and is a horrendous challenge. To prevent one from doing what we cajoled/ordered/tricked kids into attempting seemed contrary to sense and our purpose as teachers.

I know the instructor was merely imposing an old tradition from many (if not most) families that mealtimes should be social experiences for the kinfolk. I believe my own mother wished us (an exquisitely reading group of kids and parents) to speak and practice the skills of society when eating (we are also an acutely unsociable group — if that is not an oxymoron — of intensely introverted shy people). However, being a reticently pensive, withdrawn and socially awkward person myself, I (who had my own book with me to read during the dull banality of my supervisory duties) took unexpressed offense at the rebuke, although the child dutifully and quietly put away the offending volume, and rather theatrically made an affected display of perusing my own tome (which I am sure no one noticed or considered in the least). I wanted to make ostentatious my preference for reading at any time and in any place or manner.

I am one of those people who always has a book on my person. No matter how dark the party or eyeshatteringly distracting the activity, I come prepared, by reading, to cope with the possible boredom the artifice of social situations invariably imposes. (I also come prepared to write, thus my — now infamous — notebooks and the geekish, multipocketed vests I perpetually wear. Evidently, any selfcontained activity short of video games or cell phoning is preferable to shy-boy than relentlessly commonplace conversations.) Those imaginary folks within the covers of my publication are somehow better than the real people among whom I find myself. Always. Without fail.

from the Dictionary program, standard and preinstalled on my iMac

And thatʼs one (perhaps the most important) of the negative issues about reading. The habit withdraws farouche individuals even more than otherwise into themselves. (And I just used, thanks to the digital thesaurus, a word entirely new to me!) This quibble against reading may seem petty, but any number of other people in my life (weʼll use The Lovely One herself as a single example) have suffered embarrassment and indignation at my self-centered public behavior. And I have undoubtedly missed out on all kinds of possible human interaction (and personal growth and satisfaction therefrom) by hiding behind/within a book instead of talking to people. Thatʼs sad.

Moreover, reading is addictive, no joke. At least for me (I hope in times past only) my interest in the fictional events of a novel (or the interestingly philosophical issues of a nonfiction treatise) could cancel any awareness of the actual, exterior world around me, and I would (okay, often still do) pull out the book in preference to completing or even remembering my actual, mundane responsibilities. We reading addicts (I wonder if there even could be a twelve-step program for such isolates by nature, choice and preference) share lots of behaviors and attitudes with junkies, alcoholics and other antisocial obsessives. I have had to take myself in hand and force me to regard reality and real duties as significant, and my selfish withdrawal into fiction has made life miserable for poor Janet (hey, just Friday I neglected to call a guy about replacing our furnace because I got enthralled with finishing The Thin Man, and Nick Charles, by the way, like his creator is clearly an alcoholic).

Probably, that elementary teacher had more right on her side in preempting that child from a life of literary addiction than this poor reading fiend could admit at the time.

…Hello. My name is John, and I — …am a book junkie…

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

Neighborhood Envy

Hereʼs another post, like yesterdayʼs, composed while it drizzled on Saturday afternoon and Janet conversed with her sister on the telephone. The downpour was just a light drizzle and even almost nothing through most of the afternoon. I had the window beside the computer open, and the strong breeze wafted not raindrops but the heavy scent of lilac in to me. Our big lilac right there outside the window has leaped about a foot taller, it seems, since last year. All the rest of the plants have done well, too, except for the dogwood, which the rabbits gnawed to shreds except for two stalks that are heavy with leaves now (and the stubs the rodents left are also sprouted lushly). Janet and I put in six new bushes two weekends ago (waiting until Sunday in case the predicted frost Saturday night arrived; it didnʼt). The rotten rabbits got to a tiny sand cherry within forty-eight hours, but Iʼve shrouded it in rabbit fence, and we hope the sticks remaining might recover. Rabbits make me want a gun (although firing arms within the city limits is not permitted) or better yet, an effective slingshot. Whereʼs King David when you need him?

Does anyone know a good rabbit poison?

Anyway, we planted two more lilacs on the east side of the house (raising our lilac count to four), the sand cherry in the northeastern corner as one more contribution to concealing the urban slumland of Gasser True Valueʼs butt-end from view, and three wigelia bushes on the western side of the house where Janet had all previous years planted annual flowers (geraniums and petunias). Like my friend Kevin (and his wife Dawn), I believe I have come to desire my yard to resemble a foresty wonderland. But letʼs preserve the bushes and plantings for a future post.

Right now I expect my neighbors think so, because our grass is long and unkempt …

my own much-abused copy of Burroughsʼs first novel

It rained all weekend, staring about 10:00 AM Friday morning. Both of my neighbors on either side heeded the weather forecasts, getting their butts outdoors to mow their lawns before the deluge. I had hoped to do so Friday morning, but the rain doused that plan (and I really didnʼt mind, I think). However, on Sunday morning, as all those Methodites drove to church, they had to endure the untidy mess of our untended and shaggy greensward (I have loved that word ever since I first encountered it in Edgar Rice Burroughsʼs A Princess of Mars as a preteen in Rock Island, devouring my sisterʼs books; I guess it became common knowledge that I was borrowing and reading and rereading hers so that my maternal grandmother was given the hint to make all eleven Ballantine Barsoom books my Christmas gift our first year in Olivet, Michigan, 1966 [?]. To be honest, I donʼt really know nor can I calculate how many times I must have reread those books and most of the rest of Burroughs — dozen[s].)

But back to the yard…

Taking a break from my work preparations on Saturday to whip out both yesterday and todayʼs posts — feeling uncertain how creative I might be after training days — I felt that with the rain not actually falling, perhaps I should get out and slog through the wet yard with the lawn mower, reducing the overgrowth in the (wait for it: here it comes again) greensward. However, as you can tell by my predicted/now-past perceptions of the churchgoing Methodists (there, this time Iʼll prove that I do know the true name of the religious persuasion into which I was born, baptized and twice confirmed — thereʼs a whole ʼnother post ahead someday on my religious upbringing and experiences), I am not intending to fulfill that guilty obsession.

It is too wet, and even the acquisition of Bingʼs much lighter mower (than our previous duck-taped and otherwise jerry-rigged dinosaur) wonʼt prevent me from making mower-tracks in the wet sod. Even walking around the yard, as Janet and I did returning from lunch/grocery-buying to check on things and acquire some lilac cuttings for her to envase for the living room, put shoe prints some places. No, we really could not mow on Saturday before the churchgoers would pass by.

So the yard remained longhaired and natural rather than civilized and trimmed (that reference is for all fans of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s Wind, Sand and Stars, particularly the brief essay “Oasis” — which I made so many Andrew students read from my very first year in the district, latterly in Advanced English — in which the so-called princess gives her heart, yearning for the dream of near-perfection, to an imbecile “who loves only trim lawns”).

I really should encapsulate all my thoughts on Saint-Exupéry in a lit-crit essay for the blog…

— Maybe I need to create a post on our old lawn mower. It really is quite a wreck that I have wired and taped, twisted and kicked into a kind of functioning order (that scares Janet). It has been interesting, even if only for the first time so far, to have to hold one of those levers again to keep the engine running on Bingʼs machine.

Maybe I need to close this out for today, having wandered my way well past a thousand words. Enjoy your greenswards, one and all!

I said “jerry-rigged” in the post. I believe I have mentioned before that I first met that lovely word/phrase in a childish adventure book about a lone man scaling the Himalayas to avoid evil Chinese communists. Thereʼs a memory I would love to revisit if anyone could suggest what novel that might be… I have more or less decided that the Genghis Khan-and-his-Mongol-hordes book I had read to me in fourth grade might have been one of Harold Lambʼs.

If you try the link on “jerry-rigged,” you will learn what I didnʼt know, that itʼs a bastardized blend of “jury-rigged” and “jerry-built.” I like the triple-combination meaning myself over any of the single ones. I blush that my word is such an illegitimate thing, but I have always felt that “jerry-rigged” carried all three overlapping sets of meanings. (And, if you check back on the Pockets post in which I first discussed both books, the term in the adventure tale was “jerry-can.”)

— I had an idea for my Sepharad story. Søren and Nathan sound too much alike to me. How about Judah (or Yehuda) for my Jewish character? I think that because of his bipolar schizophrenia he will be known as Tahmid (“flame”) or maybe Uryon (“flame” or “light”) as a kind of nickname (much as Conan was called Amra, the Lion, from his pirating days with Bêlit). Reactions?

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

More Reading

I cut myself off yesterday, having made the post long enough already. But I had already gotten into more recent reading, so we will continue with that topic today.

Click for an uncritical take on what made these versions great

In other reading, I have two Robert E. Howard collections going — The Horror Stories (trying to stimulate some developments in Quetzal County; letʼs see what Census work does for that) and El Borak, whose Middle Eastern adventures did spark me actually starting to write about Søren and Nathan (and I am still unsure about that second name). And de Camp and Carterʼs revising some of the El Borak stories into Conan adventures has got me to pick up the original Lancer Conan series again (currently in book 2, Conan of Cimmeria, partway through “Queen of the Black Coast”). As I keep going (and itʼs already happened once), I am going to end up reading the Conanized version of a story I have read or am reading in El Borak in its original version. Even though the current Howard experts consider the deCamp/Carter revisions bastardizations, having read them while young, I still hold them fondly in my heart.

There you have it, unimpressively escapist in content but what I am reading these days (and escaping from my new job feels just about right). Anybody need your fingerprints taken?

As fantasy series are on my mind, I realized a month or so back that I had never finished the Michael Morcock Elric collections I had acquired (having reread the original stories and novels as Moorcock had revised them about eighteen months ago), so I am most of the way through The Fortress of the Pearl, with The Revenge of the Rose to follow. I find as an adult that I just get bogged down in Moorcockʼs dreamscapes/allegories, sadly. As a youth, he was my first fantasy reading while I lived in Olivet (Elric in The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer — both Lancer Books, now that I think about it, and both of my copies, like my original Lovecraft books [also Lancers], in horribly unreadable shape, thanks to that publisherʼs bad glue bindings), and I proceeded to snap up every Moorcock book I could find during high school and college. Maybe someday Iʼll finish the series with the new books the author has written in this century.

I still recall myself, on an evening trip to Lansing, huddled in our familyʼs car over Stealer of Souls, reading to whatever light there was, continuing in a parking lot while the family went somewhere — shopping? — without me, such was the power of encountering a (watered-down) Byronic hero for the first time. The revisions of those stories just donʼt grab me quite as strongly, and the intervening adventures off into the Multiverse between the short stories and Stormbringer, break the spell as well for me. Of course,I have grown up a little in the last forty-plus years.

I also remember reading the first of Jack Vanceʼs Planet of Adventure books on a similar but daytime trip to the state capital or maybe Battle Creek. I had never read anything quite so exotic (the result, I believe, of Vanceʼs famously esoteric style, so completely unlike the workaday prose of Asimov, until then the god of my science fiction idolatry). Vance taught me, among many things, the word “fey.” He richly deserves to share Delanyʼs company in the online essay I linked to yesterday (and just now).

I wouldnʼt encounter Heinlein, I think, until the family moved back to Iowa, and I found his juveniles in the Mt. Pleasant Public Library. I still want to sit down for about two weeks and reread all those kid/teen books. Citizen of the Galaxy, although only read once (maybe twice) still holds a place of special honor in my science-fiction rankings. But I loved all of them, with only Rocket Ship Galileo feeling too dated even in ‘68 or ‘69. Itʼs funnny these days, but thanks to Heinlein and Alexei Panshin, I found myself thinking libertarian from a leftist perspective (so peculiar for todayʼs staunch wingers of the Right) as a young man [there is a post on these themes coming one day — unfortunately for us now, after my Census tour of duty concludes].

And I seem to have wandered far from reciting what I am reading today, rolicking back into the watercolors of memory instead.

At present, I am also periodically forging my way through the new translation of Kafkaʼs The Castle (thanks to our trip to Prague and my fading concept of a huge Castle project/book/website of my own). Right now, K has just hooked up with Frieda, so I am starting chapter four — not a very impressive reread so far, but I really have jumped into fantasy in April as part of developing the new story(-ies). I first read Kafkaʼs book (and The Trial, which I thought I liked better at the time) sitting on the floor of the dishwashing room at The Copper Kettle in Mt.Pleasant — actually serving as the substitute dishwasher for my basket-playing brother Paul, who kindly got the boss to consider using me, the unlikely longhaired social reject. It may have been the first honest money I earned other than detasseling corn and bailing hay. Today I cannot recall if I started during my senior year in high school or as a college freshman; high school seems more likely because by college I was running stage lights at Wesleyan and working for Tom Thatcherʼs Where Itʼs At (un)head shop (where, as I still shudder to realize, we spent one idle late afternoon making lighter-fluid trails on the concrete floor and setting them afire: youth, a curable disease).

I have one last book residing for my reach: The Continent Makers by L. Sprgue de Camp — the short stories of his Viagens Interplanetarias series, which Iʼve dabbled in from week to month to week (and it has been four stories so far). I picked up, two years ago on eBay, all the books in the series (one which I had amazingly ignored back in the Seventies and Eighties as they came out from Ace, but then I drifted far from sci fi and fantasy into richer realms of nonfiction for many years, nearly two decades before the allure of escapism resurfaced — interestingly about the same time that I got interested again in the Grateful Dead [Jerry Garcia was a huge reader of all kinds of things, including most of what I read — a word which in this case you can interpret in either of its pronunciations, past or present tense]).

I also have H.P. Lovecraft out, along with Karl Edward Wagnerʼs Kane short stories, to try inspiring ideas (either to copy or avoid) in the Quetzal County narrative and for Sepharad. But I havenʼt read anything of either author (both in the reread category — Lovecraft in the re-re-re-re-re-re-read category, like Howard and Delany) at least since the middle of March. So perhaps I shouldnʼt count them. I also keep carrying around a translation of Villonʼs poetry — which version varies — but havenʼt made any advances on my François story in nearly six weeks (although you may be getting a taste of that soon — it being the one Janet told me was to artsy-fartsy literary to be interesting, so I would be interested in othersʼ opinions), so maybe Villon doesnʼt count either.

Th—th—thatʼs all, folks! (So appropriate, that.)

I did finish “Queen of the Black Coast” Monday night (just to keep you absolutely up to date). —At least I had fun with these two posts, including (or in particular) making and finding the cover art pictures.

I have an embarrassingly honest poem slated for tomorrow, since I should be working all I can on my Census preparations today, but weʼll see if I stay comfortable with that. It was originally scheduled for Mondayʼs post.

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

Recent Reading

All sorts of short stuff for today and tomorrow (and possibly Thursday and Friday as well) as I try to learn how to fingerprint people (for the Census Bureau and my training of enumerators). I guess anything is better than me turning two nice little ancient sonnets into some kind of rant (yesterday, actually developed Saturday afternoon). For now, a little check on what I am reading lately.

I havenʼt admitted yet in this forum that I am one of those people who reads lots of books at once, especially when some/many of them are short story collections, so I can read a story and drop the bok until I want to delve into that kind of writing again.

Reading Update

First off, I excitedly started rereading one of my all-time favorite sci fi novels while I took a break from studying/preparing to train (for the Census) yesterday. As my copies of Samuel R. Delanyʼs books are mostly antiques, I decided to make use of the really cheap prices most amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com resellers ask (eBay was just too much trouble a few weeks back) and acquire the current reprints of his stuff (some of his books anyway). And I started in on Babel-17 (my, Wikipedia has a much nicer image of the original cover than I was able to scan from my own copy, and mine is a reprint, too), charging all the way through the first part in somewhat less than a half an hour. Amusing to be reminded of why I continued so interested in phonics and linguistics (and the International Phonetic Alphabet once Marilyn Vincent introduced us to it in drama or speech class back in high school; thanks [for so very much], Vince!) as I reread Rydra Wong explaining the phonetic distinction between voiced and voiceless th (like the same distinction between v and f—the example used by Delany in Rydraʼs mouth in the book). Delanyʼs novel established in me a deep interest in the nature of language and its relationship to our ability to think. And it is still a heck of a great sci fi adventure as well, besides being elegantly well written.

(Too bad that original cover captured so little of poet Rydraʼs exquisite and fascinating beauty, and the current one — keeping in line with the rest of the Delany sequence is comparitaively dull — still better than other intermediate junk [try clicking on each of those three links to see bad SF cover art, each purportedly showing Rydra Wong, whose eyes Delany has the General think resemble “astonished wings”]).

When I first read the book in ‘69 or ‘70, it overwhelmed me, unlike anything I had read before — with the bohemian and wild Transport culture and Rydraʼs strange and agile mind. Reading today, Delanyʼs vision (in Babel-17 and in Nova) has clearly and definitely influenced science fiction since — especially modern space opera, whosee practitioners owe far more to that source than I see admitted in general.

I also reread over a week or so, finishing last night, The Maltese Falcon, and I was amazed, having read it again only a few years ago, how much more it contains than the film and how differently Huston and Bogart skewed the Spade character from Hammettʼs original. The book holds up too well to be discarded as out-of-date (and my big omnibus of Hammett books rejected as a donation by the Andrew School library a while back for being uninteresting to the kids; I find it sad that libraries have to cull the older stuff from their collections to make room for new books—even if I aspire to writing some of those new books myself). I really enjoyed The Maltese Falcon, and having read it again, I may have come up with what I wanted to say to wrap up my little series of posts about the movie. —Oh, and hereʼs a bonus from making the links today: from the Wikipedia references, here is an interesting look at one of the settings, Sam Spadeʼs apartment (and Hammettʼs).

Fritz Leiber — click for more information

Click to check out the source

I continue also with both Fritz Leiberʼs Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series and The Ornament of the World — both for pleasure and as research for the Sepharad story. I donʼt want my Nathan and Søren to just be medievalized versions of Leiberʼs great duo, so I picked up my hardback omnibus editions to recall clearly what had influenced my imagination (since picking up the Ace paperback of Swords in the Mist in ‘68) but that I wanted not to simply copy. And heʼs such a great, smooth writer; Iʼd like to avoid comparisons there at all costs. So far I am holding at “The Sunken Land” while the Census and some other things take my attention — like Hammet, whose The Dain Curse I just started last night after I finished with the falcon. Fortunately, so far, my dip into Nehwon hasnʼt made me decide my own writing is just too poor to continue (my usual reaction in former years).

In Ornament, I stalled for a while at page 59, having realized that the era I want for my stories is probably the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth centuries, either after the Almohads arrive in Iberia or earlier during the period of the Taifa kingdoms. Fortunately my first story, tentatively entitled “Mistakes by Moonlight,” doesnʼt require me to make much about the time period clear. Now if I could just find the time or energy to finish that story…

Perhaps I should provide a glimpse here to see what you think, faithful readers. (And that would give me at least a post or two, even just the beginning of the roughest draft.)

an Almohad minaret in Safi — click for more on Safi, Morocco

I also flipped through T. Carmiʼs The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (one of the first books, a hardback, that I got while a member of The Readerʼs Subscription back in the Eighties) and another Penguin collection, The Jewish Poets of Medieval Spain (sorry, no link to that book itself, but hereʼs a list of Moorish Spanish poets), to give me some feeling for Nathanʼs character and the world of Sepharad.

And having told you that, I excise what I have written beyond those words to save for tomorrowʼs post, since this one has already gotten right at a thousand words. See you then!

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