Cold Because Warm, plus Pathetic Denialism

I just read online that after forty hours below zero (Fahrenheit), temperatures in my region have at last risen to positive integers. Whoopee!

This event has only marginal significance, even for me. Weʼre supposed to exceed the freezing point finally on Saturday. That will mean something, as we may at last begin to melt some snow.

What stimulates me after some months to write on the blog again is a pathetic citation I noticed in my Facebook feed just now. You see, yesterday Scientific American instructed me via Twitter about the “polar vortex” that reporters in various media have been misconstruing. Supported by an interesting YouTube video, it reveals how climate change (“global warming”) has, by heating the arctic, caused us to suffer extreme “arctic” cold. No big deal, sure. Some basic climate science, really (just stuff I hadnʼt known before). But I posted the links on Facebook and tweeted the same. Another few seconds online, really. However, an old friend, of apparently dextreme opinion, felt it necessary to post a pathetic bit of deceptive rhetoric from the climate-science deniers at The Center for Research on Globalization (funded by whoever knows what excrement-load of Kochoildollars to deny deny deny at all costs whatsoever).

You should click on the link above to read the jumble of words presented as an argument now.

As poor argumentation, the page is worth deconstructing…

source — NASA

source — NASA

Faked “fact” 1 — Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it. Nonsense: no one, except delusional straw men, has ever claimed the climate never changed. What climate change science has shown is a stark rise in global temperature since the industrial revolution due to dramatically increased greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. exhaust from burring fossil fuels). I guess if you are a Koch stooge, unwilling ever to modify our energy sources, you may believe all one can do about what we have done to global climate is “prepare,” but thatʼs false, too. Deception technique = Straw man.

Faked “fact” 2 — Accurate temperature measurements made from weather balloons and satellites since the late 1950s show no atmospheric warming since 1958. In contrast, averaged ground-based thermometers record a warming of about 0.40 C over the same time period. Many scientists believe that the thermometer record is biased by the Urban Heat Island effect and other artefacts. Apples and oranges. But he is also merely reproducing a pseudofact about the weather-balloon data that I cannot find anywhere except from climate change deniers (and none of them present any source for the assertion, merely repeating in lockstep the same hot air). Is it merely a lie? I suspect so, and our “authority” proffers no evidence for us to think otherwise. His “many scientists” is just the old FoxNews “many believe” lie: who are these many? Nematodes? His “many other artefacts” is simply words without meaning — if there are “many artefacts,” name them. He doesnʼt; ergo, they donʼt exist.

Faked “fact” 3 — Despite the expenditure of more than US$50 billion dollars looking for it since 1990, no unambiguous anthropogenic (human) signal has been identified in the global temperature pattern. Invent your own terms (and moving goalposts). The denierʼs invented unfound”signal” goes undefined (and therefore unfindable, eh?) whereas science established decades ago a clear connection/parallel between human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and climate disorientation. The cost of research is irrelevant to the argument, no matter what (as it will be again later), even if his unsupported number is accurate, which we cannot tell because he offers absolutely no support to his statements ever, anywhere in the article, relying instead on the fallacy of authority (calling himself such).

Faked “fact” 4 — Without the greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature on Earth would be -180 C rather than the equable +150 C that has nurtured the development of life. Just another straw man — no one wishes there were no greenhouse effect ever on earth. The problem is how we have spiked its effects over the past 250 years (and morons who close their blind eyes and shout “No, no, no; I don’t want to hear” instead of working sensibly to do something about our greenhouse gas emissions, I suppose).

Faked “fact” 5 — On both annual (1 year) and geological (up to 100,000 year) time scales, changes in atmospheric temperature PRECEDE changes in CO2. Carbon dioxide therefore cannot be the primary forcing agent for temperature increase (though increasing CO2 does cause a diminishingly mild positive temperature feedback). Now I am getting bored, so letʼs just point out that there is no evidence presented for this assertion sequence — none whatsoever. And no one accepts what he says (well, 97% of scientists disagree).

Faked “fact” 6 — The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acted as the main scaremonger for the global warming lobby that led to the Kyoto Protocol. Fatally, the IPCC is a political, not scientific, body. Hendrik Tennekes, a retired Director of Research at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, says that “the IPCC review process is fatally flawed” and that “the IPCC wilfully ignores the paradigm shift created by the foremost meteorologist of the twentieth century, Edward Lorenz“. Cherry-picking evidence: one climate denier has a single friend who may or may not agree with him (notice we have no link to the source of these clearly partial quotations, so we have no way of knowing what the old Dutch guy actually said in toto). So what? And that “main” before “scaremonger” (nothing but name calling there) is a weasel word — the real meaning is that there are plenty more sources promoting Kyoto or there could be no “main.” Of course, the UN panel isnʼt itself a scientific body (the UN is a political body); their political work, arranging treaties and protocols, relies on the science our denier ducks (the “scaremongers” this guy fears to address and so ignores).

Faked “fact” 7 — Having introduced his single variable, our densewit denier continues to run with it (and with further unsupported nonevidence). The Kyoto Protocol is easily attacked, being a result of compromise and therefore by definition imperfect in itself alone… The Kyoto Protocol will cost many trillions of dollars and exercises a significant impost those countries that signed it, but will deliver no significant cooling (less than .020 C by 2050, assuming that all commitments are met). The Russian Academy of Sciences says that Kyoto has no scientific basis; Andre Illarianov, senior advisor to Russian president Putin, calls Kyoto-ism “one of the most agressive, intrusive, destructive ideologies since the collapse of communism and fascism“. If Kyoto was a “first step” then it was in the same wrong direction as the later “Bali roadmap”. Once again, a single voice (who may or may not even be scientific himself) expressing merely an opinion — cherry picking and substituting opinions for facts. Likewise the false flag of the cost of Kyoto, quickly substituting that ball for the real payment issue — our hothouse future.

Faked “fact” 8 — Climate change is a non-linear (chaotic) process, some parts of which are only dimly or not at all understood. No deterministic computer model will ever be able to make an accurate prediction of climate 100 years into the future. The argument avoids acknowleging the utility of statistical projections (such as those meteorologists made to warn us of the current cold snap, duh). And crystal-ball-gazing (our denierʼs flatfooted prediction of future events) is as illogical as it comes, boys and girls. I bet heʼd have claimed weather people would never predict weather patterns with any accuracy whatsoever if heʼd been writing in the 1930s. Straightforwardly, Mr. Denier doesnʼt know the future and doesnʼt even have the guidance of computer models (unlike climate science, which does have models doing just what he says they donʼt).

Faked “fact” 9 — Not surprisingly, therefore, experts in computer modelling agree also that no current (or likely near-future) climate model is able to make accurate predictions of regional climate change. This is actually just number 8 repeated, sadly, and the “experts” go unidentified and therefore unreal. The lie is substituting regional climate for the actual topic; heʼs a wonderful three-card monte sleaze artist.

Faked “fact” 10 — The biggest untruth about human global warming is the assertion that nearly all scientists agree that it is occurring, and at a dangerous rate. Actually that statement is simply false. Nearly all scientists do so agree (just less than a hundred percent).

And now having faced down his weakest (but weirdly last) pseudo-facts, my boredom limit is achieved. The guy had nothing there, just subintellectual legerdemain, and clumsy sleight-of-hand at that. Our denier also later presents some”myths,” too, and I will address those if anyone insists or is interested (almost all are simply more straw men he erects himself to wobble with his own hot air).

Oh, yeah, I am mad (at such stupid deception and those who apparently fall for it), so thus my stylistic choices above — none of which invalidate my points but merely express my limitations as a human.

©2014 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

On the Other Hand… Good Stuff

While I was typing yesterdayʼs whining post about software intrusions hindering my efforts to actually use the computer, I was also eating my lunch. In yesterdayʼs case (actually right now, as I begin this new entry, intending it to auto-post itself tomorrow/today), I was consuming leftovers (a not uncommon practice, alternating with a Romaine salad). Yesterdayʼs deliciosity remained from New Yearʼs Eve* when The Lovely One made one of my favorite dinners (probably my most favorite and the subject of todayʼs post) — her own particular recipe (somewhat modified as time has passed) for Beef Stroganoff.**

Iʼll be kind and post the recipe (almost) right up front.

Janetʼs Outstanding Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound beef sirloin (cut into quarter-inch strips — bite sized)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms (I recommend 2 cans)
  • ½ cup onion (half an onion, chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 2 or 3)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ cup beef stock or 10 ½ ounces concentrated beef broth
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream (we, of course, use fat-free)
  • 2 Tablespoons dry sherry (My Beloved has started using any dry white wine)
  • 6 ounces noodles (a couple cups of brown or brown-and-wild rice is better)
The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

Combine 1 T flour and salt. Coat meat with flour-and-salt mixture, then melt butter in a large skillet. When butter is liquified, add meat and brown quickly on both sides. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook 3 or 4 minutes or until onions are crisply tender. Remove meat and mushrooms, using a slotted spoon.

Then add 2 T butter to pan drippings and blend in 3 T of flour. Stir tomato paste in rapidly. Stir in cold stock/broth. Cook over medium high heat until thickened and bubbly.

Return meat and mushrooms to skillet. Stir in sour cream and wine. Cook slowly until heated through. Do not boil.

Serve over noodles (cooked, of course) or, better, brown and wild rice. [total prep time = 30-40 minutes, tops]

Lately, after our (for which read: “The Lovely Oneʼs”) tongueʼs awakening to the joys of paprika during the 2011 trip to Budapest, we spice with garlic (more than suggested above), pepper (just bought some Tellicherry black peppercorns, which we ground into the sauce) and both hot and sweet paprika. The paprika is a definite must — makes the dish wonderfully better, richer in taste, slightly more exotic. Sometimes (I donʼt recall right now what we did New Yearʼs Eve) we also add garlic powder and onion powder.

We usually have this dish only once or twice a year, almost invariably in the colder seasons. But it really is wonderful. More than well worth a try.

* Ah, with reference to yesterdayʼs justifiable criticism, the computer permitted itself to ignore the “v” I typed between the capital and lower case “e,” thus not creating “Eve.”

** And I deliberately made beef stroganoff (both above and here) a link so you could check out other, lesser recipes for this wonderful meal.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


Apparently, my youth, it turns out, is worth exactly $263.

Perhaps I should say my “sonic youth” (of sorts).

Our lovely new “media storage cabinet” that required the disposal of my youthful recorded-musical heritage

Recently, within less than the last year, My Beloved got us to purchase a new rotating “media cabinet” on which to store our CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes (and, yes, we do have VHS tapes and perhaps more remarkably the devices on which to play them — still functional). Although the item sat in its rather large, six-foot-tall (and better-than-three-feet-wide) box, leaned against one of my (numerous) overstuffed bookshelves in our basement, for an embarrassingly large number of months, we put it together sometime before Christmas and installed as many of the “media” as we could. Sadly, that left a lot of CDs still roaming our house in boxes (and some more or less neatly stored beneath the oversized boom box that serves as one of our stereo systems these days). All well and good and for the most part neat and tidy.

Unfortunately the media storage unit dwells in a spot formerly occupied by a knocked-together shelf unit rescued once upon a time from the disposal pile after some play or another.* And on those shelves were the remnants of our (mostly my) sonic youth — all of our vinyl record albums, roughly 400 of them.

Glorified boom-box stereo in “the office” and associated CDs in what Janet considers appropriate storage containers

In order to construct and place the media storage unit, we had to remove all of the records and locate the not-a-bookshelf elsewhere (itʼs still more or less empty and its destiny still in limbo). The records, lovingly acquired from my sophomore year in high school through college and early career and our marriage until the late Eighties (or whenever vinyl thirty-three-and-a-third RPM records went out of use), along with a few cases of the cassette tapes that took those recordsʼ place in our audio lives in the Eighties and Nineties,** filled seven boxes (each long-ago holding four six-packs of Guinness Extra Stout, long since consumed). We stowed the record-filled boxes in a small chamber off the basement we call “my room” (or in Janetʼs case, “your little room,” always said with a faint or strong tone of repulsion and disgust, as itʼs there in those overcrowded confines that everything I wonʼt throw away even when she finds it no longer desirable, in any manner, in our regular lives, goes to dwell in darkness — including most of my school clothes, even during the days when I was yet teaching).

When I recently discovered that the boxes, stacked in two once-moderately-neat piles, had begun to rip at the corners (from the burdensome weight), it was decided*** that I must soon take them to Half-Price Books to sell. Now the nearest Half-Price Books is Cedar Rapids, roughly an hour away, but that destination for our (mostly my) once-beloved recordings seemed the most profitable possible (as I had no interest whatsoever in listing each record for sale on eBay).

Box Sets of CD music kept near at hand in the office, along with, of course, books

On Sunday I lugged the (amazingly heavy) boxes, one at a time (I said they were astoundingly weighty), to the bed of my truck and called the number for our nearest Half-Price Books store to be sure they did indeed have interest in purchasing a load of 400 vinyl records (I counted 56 cardboard sleeves in one box, one of which was George Harrisonʼs three-album set, All Things Must Pass, ignoring the plastic container of audio cassettes that really served just to keep everything stable but which were going to be gone as well). They did (uh, have an interest in buying my record library — in case we lost the track of that thought).

So this morning, having sent The Lovely One on her way to work, I clambered into the cab of the truck and drove off into the glorious day (highs in the seventies all week and into next — globally warmed, shortsighted bliss for mid-March, indeed) for the trip to the big city. Upon arrival I carried the seven boxes, once again (staggeringly ponderous) singly to the purchase counter, where an attractive young lady observed, as she got my name and my government-issued photo ID, that I had a lot of pop/rock,**** which is what sold well, and that was good. Then she sent me to wander the stacks while they assessed my auditory existence in seven Guinness boxes…

assorted CDs unable to fit in suitable storage elsewhere — including some in, unsurprisingly, a Guinness box

I had left about 8:30, and in just three hours I was back at home (an hour each way for the drive and an hour in the store as the lovely young ladies***** behind the purchase counter appraised my hoard). I got my seven Guinness boxes back, and I found seven books to buy myself (a complete OʼNeill in three Library of America volumes; Richard Wright in two LOA books; a DK guide to eastern American birds — at Janetʼs request, as we have observed some unidentified little eaters at our birdfeeders this early spring, not house sparrows or cardinals, red-wing blackbirds or crows; and volume one of the Mark Twain Autobiography).

And I got paid $263****** for all my vinyl Beatles, Clash, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Bob Seger, The Who, Yes, Warren Zevon and all the other bands and individuals whose music we (but mostly I) had acquired, enjoyed, endured, and sometimes forgotten during our teens, twenties and thirties.

Farewell, youth.

* (we have totally forgotten when or how that long-suffering servant of our storage needs was originally acquired)

** (but decisively not the compact disks that took the place of those former recorded-music formats)

*** Please note that evasive and nonaccusatory use of the passive voice…

**** We had decided that we would retain the relatively slim collection of classical and jazz we had on vinyl for future ditigization to iTunes (our turntable is still connected to the computer, along with the cord for another boom box for cassettes) and possible later discard to H-P Books.

***** None of whom, I observed instantly, had sufficient years to even recognize Savoy Brown, Brewer & Shipley, John Sebastian, King Crimson, Mason Proffit, Gypsy, Starcastle or Uriah Heep (just to pick a few not utterly obscure albums). Moby Grape…

****** (roughly a lousy half-dollar per album, gratuitous cassettes included — such is the price of [this oneʼs] juvenescence, in actual fact)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Joining the Hall of Shame


Screen capture taken at 3:25 CST Thursday, 12 January 2012 — click to enlarge

Today we pay off our mortgage. $932.05. The escrow returns to us in about fifteen days, a deliberate delay by Wells Fargo that stinks of greed — sucking additional profit through interest from our 27-year loan servitude). Of which Wells Fargo only inherited the loan about five years ago, acquiring it, if I remember rightly, from Fifth Third (but they may have owned my truck loan).

The worst owner was the insurance-cum-banking scum in Des Moines to whom we were enslaved until the big hailstorm (2001?), Allied Insurance and Mortgage. You see, their insurance arm would not pay us directly for our damage, insisting the cash had to go to the mortgage holder (themselves — Allied) but only after we had made the approved repairs/improvements (kind of a classic Catch-22). The worst part was getting paid for two sides of the house, siding damage, but having to replace all four (so as not to reduce the value of the property). Tight-assed, greedy bloodsucking bastards. Pardon my honesty.

We have paid for our home (but with some “improvements” in the second mortgage we took out with our friendly, local bank, who then sold us on to larger, greedier incompetents) thrice over — probably not even counting “points,” “fees” and other financial thievery.

Wells Fargoʼs corporate greed blew its public relations, at least with me (and perhaps now with you, too, Gentle Readers), three times over since Friday. 

First, after more than half a decade of handling our payments nearly perfectly — no delays in check-cashing to force late fees, as I had suffered under other institutions — on our penultimate payment, they somehow ignored the amount for which I had made out the check and cashed it for the monthly payment only, without the additional thousand of additional principal. A mistake? The probability of driving up our final payment by a couple of bucks a day made the coincidence of this “error” seem overly convenient to me. So I called the company (with three motives in mind — to complain about their deliberate error and get it corrected; to verify the final payment procedure and, after the “error” correction to determine the appropriate timing of our payoff; and to investigate our acquisition of the funds in our [currently rather hefty] escrow account). 

Check the incomprehensible bookkeeping from yesterday

Their second PR goof occurred there — not once I got to human customer relations agents, but in their labyrinthine and totally annoying voicemail system. All corporations should realize in these web-presence internet times that no one calls a corporation to deal with a machine. No one. And these foolhardy corporate managers, who insist on erecting these voicemail barricades against providing service, are making their customer-contact workersʼ lives far worse than necessary by automatically outraging each caller with the completely unnecessary barrier and frustration of voicemail (not to mention the addition of time-wasting and annoying advertising with the endless voicemail menus). 

Obviously, four menus into my (wasted) time, when I finally could dial zero for a human, I was raging, and poor Keisha, who answered, had to accept the burden. Nor was I interested in her long waits online for me while she “brought up” my check, nor her subsequent apologies. I wanted the correct amount credited toward paying our loan on the correct, original day. She could not do it; Wells Fargo could add the thousand the day I called, a weekend after (three daysʼ of interest later) but not retroactively. I kept insisting their “mistake” was not my problem. I had paid the amount I wished already. She passed me up to a “supervisor,” Carmen Kearney, in, as it turned out, “another state.” 

Carmen and I went round and round (and round and…) as well, although she almost immediately was able to postdate (predate?) their additional draw, as per my original check, on my checking account. Carmen apologized profusely (and pointlessly), too. It really got ugly — okay, I got ugly as she stoically stonewalled — when I got to my second and third topics, paying off the mortgage (delayed, thereby forcing several daysʼ more interest, by Wells Fargoʼs little “error” with my monthly check-plus-additional-principal) and acquiring our escrow account. Nothing could be done about the payoff delay (me: “Why should your incompetence be my problem?”), nothing, but she was “facilitating” the fastest possible acquisition by Wells Fargo of my additional thousand. And Wells Fargoʼs standard policy is to retain all escrow accounts for fifteen days after receipt of final payment to ensure sufficient funds in the payerʼs account to cover the payoff — no exceptions. (Me: “Yeah, Sure. Lets you collect fifteen unearned daysʼ interest on my escrow account.” No response to my repeated assertions of fraud. Me: “So are you going to pay me the four percent daily interest I could have been earning on those escrow funds if you had transferred them to my account with actual efficiency?” No acknowledgment of that idea.) 

And third, Wells Fargoʼs insistence on me (in this circumstance) having to follow their penny-ante regulations blew any respect I might have for this bloated, incompetent, cheating and deceptive, dis-serving and abusive financial giant stomping clumsily and viciously on the lives of its victims. They had mismanaged my payment, but I had to serve and obey humbly their inflexible regulations, to my detriment after their rude error. “Third” means that they cheated me. Is it fraud? I say, “Yes.” After all, they supposedly erred. They owe me reparations, not their selfserving regulations-as-usual. 

Wells Fargo joins the ranks of corporate malfeasance with Qwest/CenturyLink, DirecTV, Fox News, Allied Mortgage/Insurance, and whatever customer-abusing companies I have already mentioned here on the blog for the Hall of Shame in business (mal)practice. 

I actually wrote this (as dated above) yesterday. Janet did overnight the check via UPS, which showed it arrived, signed for at 9:54 this morning, Thursday, 12 January 2012 (as I had verified would happen, per a Wells Fargo note on the website, 24 hours in advance with their “Quinn” yesterday about 8:40 AM).

So far, although I post late in the afternoon, nothing shows to change our account status to zero. Way to suck, Wells Fargo.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Forgotten Inspiration

This one is for Janet, mostly because I wrote it about her once upon a time. And also because as of today, she has survived the big birthday party that I mentioned a while back…

The setting is our first apartment together, the one on maple Street that my father enjoyed so much (and which I donʼt think my mother ever visited).

forgotten inspiration

The house resounds with your noises
(and sometimes still your silences)
subtle often but also definite—
floorboards creaking with footsteps
doors opening and closing
upstairs down
stair steps too
running water, coffeemaker gurgles

Found in a notebook 1/10/99


©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Christmas? Elementary…

The snow seems so utterly appropriate today…

As Christmas Eve arrives, I remember that this festive time of the year is connected emotionally for me with Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps not for the reasons one might suspect. Yes, there is “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” with its seasonal setting (December 27, for the uninitiated) and even seasonal themes (not the robbery part, but the forgiveness element). But that story came later than my original tying of the great detective to Christmas.

When I was a child, we seemed always to make great journeys for Christmas, visiting both my maternal grandmother and my fatherʼs folks over the break (since my dad was a teacher, as I have reported before, we enjoyed the ten days to two weeks off that education provides). Both sets of grandparents lived in Iowa, about two or three hours apart originally (later my Grandma Fischel moved to Traer, where she died, a location that put the two sides a little closer for travel purposes). And, as I remember things, we always, invariably, tediously for me, had to be at both households over the holidays. Sometimes actual Christmas arrived at my momʼs motherʼs, sometimes at my paternal grandparents (and even sometimes the holiday was at “home,” then we would get on the road to Iowa). The problem was that we werenʼt living in Iowa for much of my remembered childhood, not returning to this state until my sophomore year in high school (the big move to Mt. Pleasant), so our family had some long drives to get away from home for the holidays.

I told about those drives for Thanksgiving. The pilgrimages at Christmastime were simply snowier, on worse roads, freezing even colder in the back of my dadʼs car. (I am, by the way, certain that my attitudes as a child made those drives just as unpleasant for my siblings and parents. Apologies at last.) It seems like it was always either dark or snowing to me now, although I know better — just one or two events remaining as the only relics of those visits.

My Burrow grandparents lived in an old farmhouse, later a new ranch farmhouse, across the road from my Uncle Bill and his family, who had taken over running the farm. I dimly recall the old farmhouse, which by the way had no running water (meaning we used an outhouse), but the new home is the realm of most of my memories. They had old-fashioned bubble lights on their Christmas tree, which some of my siblings still think is the only kind to have (although I do remember hearing those were about as dangerous as any kind of tree illumination). The whole clan, four big families, would gather at that place for Christmas Eve when my grandmother would make her notorious oyster stew (notorious among us younger cousins who didnʼt like the slimy oysters), and in hilariously overcrowded conditions we would eat, us kids usually being discharged to the basement, which was fine with us as we had developed many games to play down there, including one involving the clothes chute (a novelty, I believe, to all of us, something found only there, at the grandparentsʼ house). Presents were on a draw-a-name system, at least by the time I got old enough to understand, so we didnʼt have too many gifts awaiting us at this celebration, but it was still great fun.

And you probably expect me to say I got a Sherlock Holmes book for Christmas one year. But I didnʼt. Well, I didnʼt back then…

However, it was at my grandparentsʼ home, perhaps not even at Christmastime, that I first read one of the tales. It was in a book of stories for children that the old folks owned, probably just for us grandchildren, and sometime between about fifth and seventh grade I devoured whatever was in that book, including the excitement of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” That story was my introduction to Arthur Conan Doyle, a pleasure I have never outgrown.

That wasnʼt my first encounter with Holmes, however. One summer at Spartan Village, when my dad was getting his masters, or some further training, through Michigan State University, I think as part of some other kidʼs birthday celebration/party, many of the boys and girls in our area went to the movie theater to see the Peter Cushing Hound of the Baskervilles. It mesmerized and terrorized me, and I know I had dreadfully, delightfully technicolor dreams for weeks after involving the scenes and settings from that movie. (I am pretty sure that reading the other story came later.)

In Mt. Pleasant, at the public library I found the Christopher Morley one-volume edition of all 56 stories and the four novels (which Janet kindly gave me for Christmas many years later and many years ago, 1986) in which I first read all the stories, particularly The Valley of Fear. I believe I was reading that book while waiting for the dentist at least once. (I actually have the feeling I was reading Holmes while in a dental waiting room one time in Michigan, earlier, as well.)

My Sherlockian enthusiasm was rekindled in my adult life, me having given way to more literary reading in my late college and early teaching years, by acquiring the two volumes of Baring-Gouldʼs Annotated edition about 1979 or ʼ80 (by mail from Barnes & Noble, only a mail-order catalog house in those days, or Scholarʼs Bookshelf, from which I also acquired a complete Arden Shakespeare and a complete Shelley), once I was in Jackson County and living in the apartment on Matteson Street. I really enjoyed his quirky notes and the game of pretending the characters were real (the Irregular practice of which I had previously been innocent). I also got aroused by his rearrangement of the stories in his own chronology, which gave many of them a freshness, out of order.

As a teacher at Andrew Community School, I eventually incorporated Holmes into the curriculum, once I realized that I was instructing kids who had never read any of the stories. An old textbook had “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” in it, and because it was usually late December when we would read some Doyle (either before or after Dickensʼs A Christmas Carol, perhaps my first favorite piece of literature), I also included “The Blue Carbuncle.” Over the decade or so that we included Holmes in Advanced English, I acquired some old videotapes of the Jeremy Brett series, particularly, although not a favorite story for me, “The Resident Patient.” I hope the students enjoyed that unit; I meant for them to. They should. The tales are pure storytelling, done pretty well, and Sherlock Holmes is, like Tarzan, one of the few literary figures mythically larger than the literary oeuvre in which he actually resides.

I have lots to say on Holmes, but I have wildly exceeded my thousand words, and perhaps a genuinely literary post isnʼt the thing for Christmas Eve. Later will do fine. I will conclude merely by adding that the current updated Sherlock on PBS (from Britain) gets it very right and works well. Robert Downy Jr. wasnʼt bad at all, either.

Happy holidays!*

* Weʼre supposedly getting up to seven inches of snow overnight and today.

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

REH, Take 2

Yes, no post at 5:05 this morning, although I was out running (having put in at least a whole mile by then, by the way). Yesterday evening I did a little research on publication options and got fairly depressed thinking about acquiring agents one of these days, once a complete novel is in the can. Sorrowfully self-pitying, but true. I also think that a full day (mostly out and about) had gotten to me just a bit. Anyway, when Qwest interrupted service yet again (for the fourth time, and I hadnʼt been online until after 3:30), I just shut down about 6:00 and made Janetʼs lunch and yesterdayʼs supper. So now I get to churn out something this morning.

the old one, the Ace edition I read first, too many years ago

I wrote about Robert E. Howard a while back, reminiscing about early fantasy reading from my days in Olivet, before I got hacking on the November novel project. During November, having purchased a copy from back in May or June, I also reread my least favorite Howard book, Almuric, his only foray into the Burroughsian interplanetary-traveling-Earthman side of planetary romance, and a pretty noticeably bad book. I didnʼt hate it as much this year as when I first finally read the whole thing about twenty-five years ago, having bought the Ace edition back in the late Sixties or earliest Seventies — some time when my proprietorial signature was more legible than itʼs been in decades and I hadnʼt yet begun dating and locating my book purchases in the front.

the new edition from Planet Stories (thanks to whom I now own the complete Northwest Smith)

As Howardʼs only real venture into science fiction, Almuric is not the best, although I think it had an unconscious influence on my choice to strand Hunter on his own for a few months on Tsyriel (which is why I wanted to reread the book, to avoid unconscious thefts). All the Texanʼs flaws are on parade — including sketchy background detail, too much self-praise for the brawny muscles of the protagonist (itʼs also in first person, unlike Howardʼs best stuff) and unbelievable fights and heroic victories. The girl is even more sugary-lame and pathetic than usual (truly a thing to be rescued and thatʼs it). The book reads like an anti-intellectual tract (Esau Cairn, our brutal hero, knows he has no books, art or intellectual pursuits, and thatʼs the way it should be; the “humans” on Almruic are hairy beasts, whose women are supernaturally unhairy lovelies, every one, doting on the “protection” of their brutish male masters), as if Howard were trying to convince himself a lot too much. The book has bird-people, too, so that was another issue I wanted to avoid borrowing unintentionally. However, it was considerably more readable than I had thought the first time around (of course when last I reread the first three of Burroughsʼs Martian books, the three “good ones,” about ten years ago, I wasnʼt too enthralled, particularly with Princess, which I enjoyed a lot last month — moods and other interests determine so much).

my edition

Howard gets a lot of credit these days for his “realism.” I am not a scholar, although I have read just about every Howard story published in book form since 1967, including the boxing-sailor and Western tales, and realism is not a quality I have particularly noticed. Hammett, even Chandler, have it all over Howard in style and language, characterization and plot (and weʼre not even talking about actual realists here, like Twain, Howells, Crane, Dreiser or even London* — the last of whom, being one of Howardʼs literary heroes, leaves the pupil in the Texas dirt, realistically). Even in the boxing stories, and the author was a practiced combatant at the ungentle science, the level of realism is pretty bookish on settings (our writer had never been much farther than a couple of hundred miles from home, although massively well-read in a certain kind of second- and third-tier range of fiction and nonfic, a lot like me in that) and events; even the fights, though violently well described are generally narcissistic fantasies, which is what I enjoyed, I bet. The same goes for his historicals (personally some of my favorites — discovering Sowers of the Thunder in the mid-Seventies was wonderful in many ways, and reinvigorated my Howardolatry, me having dropped even rereading Conan for five or six years then), but even there the story lines are always improbable and glamorously self-aggrandizing — both for reader and author, I think. The perfect adolescent escapism.

The Howard-as-realist doctrine is probably trying to defend/exalt the writerʼs violence (and he is good at violent action, enviably and worthy of emulation). For the Thirties, Howard was as bloody and gory as they got, at least in my limited experience, and at least for me he did a fantastic (careful word choice there) job of making it real to my imagination. He also had a relatively stripped-down style, for all his sometimes paragraph-long passages of imaginative (or borrowed and “improved”) description and lapidary deployment of adjectives and adverbs (both parts of speech I think the Hemingway — now thereʼs a realist — school of critics has improperly made modern and contemporary writers coltish about wielding sufficiently). Howardʼs defenders intend realism to mean/substitute for juicy violence, which of course is nonsense — in that case every Hollywood action flick of the last several decades is a rough gem of realism in gritty and gore-splattering violence (but of course if that were actually true, as it is decidedly not, one could avoid injury in any massive explosion by simply leaping, as all action heroes always/invariably and totally unrealistically do). Howard splashed blood liberally and successfully, but not I think realistically.

His defenders also want to praise Howardʼs lushly teenaged “tragic vision.” Yes, the writer had and expressed a dark and brutal** view of life, but quite simply, boys, the heroes always survive to fight another day. Your author (that secretly self-deceiving mommaʼs boy) may have shot himself, tragically, but the story ainʼt a tragedy when the hero wins and wins and wins impossibly again. Howard was a better poet than my adolescent self, but the “darkness” expressed in his verse matches perfectly the stuff I imposed on the Mt. Pleasant High writing club meeting after meeting — itʼs teeenaged angst and not much more (which is secretive and self-deceiving, perhaps the origin of just that melancholy).

Howardʼs forte is improbability, romanticism, fast brutal action and escapism (pencil-armed, bespectacled nerds imagining themselves into the indomitable brawn of Conan, Kull, Kane or any other REH protagonist), which is what drew me to the stories in the first place, lured me back over the decades, and attracts me still. Realism has its own appeals, but they are not those of Conan. Or even Almuric.

* If I really wanted to compose a thorough and effective lit-crit analysis/critique of Howardʼs unrealism, I would contrast him against the equally romantic (and sometimes equally escapist) but actually realistic Jack London.

** …the best word for Howardʼs writing, I think. “Brutality” is much preferable to the lie of “realism,” and much more adolescent, too.

most, but not all, of the Howard books (I really, truly, really own too many — a pity that the author got nothing from my investments); nice contrasts with what else is on these shelves, too

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