From 'Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter,' a novel by Dale Messick
. . .

The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, A Cornish Man by Robert Paltock, 1751

Speaking generically

When he encounters an intelligent alien species, it's strictly from Star Trek, a human in prosthetic makeup and a stretch polyester pantsuit:

... she felt to my Touch in the oddest Manner imaginable: for while in one respect it was as though she had been cased in Whalebone, it was at the same Time as soft and warm, as if she had been naked. [...] When I saw her in that Attitude, her Grace and Motion perfectly charmed me, and her Shape was incomparable; but the Strangeness of her Dress put me to my Trumps, to conceive either what it was, or how it was put on.

But overcoming language and cultural differences takes a satisfyingly extended and motivated effort, with satisfyingly imperfect results:

I asked her twice or thrice more to name the Country to me; but not all the Art we could use, her's in dictating, and mine in endeavouring to pronounce it, would render me Conqueror of that poor Monosyllable, (for as such it sounded from her sweet Lips:) So I relinquished the Name to her; telling her, whenever she had any more Occasion to mention the Place, I desired it might be under the Stile of Doorpt Swangeanti; which she promised; but wondered, as she could speak the other so glibly, as she called it, I could not do so too.

And only thereafter do the pair go on to overcome their biological differences, in a revelation scene almost as punchy as Sturgeons's best.

Nothing written a century and a half prior to the establishment of a publishing genre can properly be called an example of the genre. But neither can I experience Robert Paltock's solitary work as anything but science fiction. What would I gain by denying the book the reading protocol most flattering to it?

A thought experiment: Let's publish a middle-of-the-genre science fiction story in 1750. How might we expect the critical establishment to react?

With bewilderment or dismissal, I'd guess. There was nascent realism, and there was satirical fantasy, and, this being neither, this would be a fiasco. You know, pretty much the same arguments the critical establishment used two hundred years later:

Here is a very strange performance indeed. It seems to be the illegitimate offspring of no very natural conjunction betwixt Gulliver's travels and Robinson Crusoe; but much inferior to the meaner of these two performances, either as to entertainment or utility. It has all that is impossible in the one, or improbable in the other, without the wit and spirit of the first, or the just strokes of nature and useful lessons of morality of the second. There are likewise many things in this work which appear to be derived from hints drawn from the Arabian nights entertainment. However, if the invention of wings for mankind to fly with, is a sufficient amends for all the dulness and unmeaning extravagancies of this author, we are willing to allow that his book has some merit; and that he deserves encouragement at least as an able mechanic, if not as a good writer.
- Monthly Review, 1750

And when our hypothesized monster began to be appreciated, we might predict a recognizably science-fictional sort of appreciation:

It appeals to the sense of wonder and curiosity which characterized the romantic movement.
- Rowland E. Prothero, 1927

I confess the second half of the novel, in which our hero modernizes his new culture-in-law, loses skiffy points. The contemporary reader may draw bittersweet quaintness from the ease with which metal-based technology, controlled trade, the abolition of slavery, deism, literacy, and a liberal empire are embraced by the populace, but any portent now is only of Heinlein's decadence. Still, even here there are a few hints of doubt:

I found by him, that all the Riches they possessed were only Food and Slaves; and, as I found afterwards when amongst them, they know the want of nothing else: But, I am afraid, I have put them upon another way of thinking, tho' I aimed at what we call civiziling of them.

And a few fore-minders of Stanley G. Weinbaum:

Tho' no body came near me yet, I did not care to be too inquisitive all at once, but I longed to know what they burnt in the Globes, which gave so steady a Light, and yet seemed to be inclosed quite round, Top and Sides, without any Vent-hole for the Smoak to evaporate. Surely, thinks I, they are a dullish Glass, for they hung almost above my Touch, and must be exceeding hot with the Fire so inclosed, and have some small Vent-hole, tho' I can't see it. Then standing on tip-toe to feel, it struck quite cold to my Finger; but I could only reach to touch that, or any of the rest, being all of one Height.

* * *

Tommy, says I, what sort of Fire do they keep in these Globes? and what are they made of? Daddy, says he, yonder is the Man shifting them, you may go and see. Being very curious to see how he did it, I went to him; as I came near him, he seemed to have something all Fire on his Arm. What has the Man got there, says I ? Only Sweecoes, says Tommy. By this time I came up to him; Friend, says I, what are you about? Shifting the Sweecoes, Sir, says he, to feed them. What Oil do you feed with, says I? Oil! says he, they won't eat Oil; that would kill them all. Why, says I, my Lamp is fed with Oil. Tommy could scarce forbear laughing himself; but for fear the Servant should do so too, pulled me by the Sleeve, and desired me to say no more. So turning away with him; Daddy, says he, it is not Oil that gives this Light, but Sweecoes, a living Creature; he has got his Basket full, and is taking the old ones out to feed them, and putting new ones in; they shift them every half Day, and feed them. What, says I, are all those infinite Number of Globes I see living Creatures ? No, says he, the Globes are only the transparent Shell of a Bot, like our Calibashes, the Light comes from the Sweecoe within. Has that Man, says I, got any of them? Yes, says he, you may see them; the King, and the Colambs, and indeed every Man of Note has a Place to breed and feed them in. Pray let us go see them, says I, for that is a Curiosity indeed.

. . .


Today this venture begins its sixth year.

I've already reflected at length on la vita nuova (viz., etc.), so I'll simply note a few home-grown features that have yet to appear in more formalized weblogging products. (Perhaps now that some are open sourced, I'll eventually add them myself.)

Author-managed archive boundaries
All the weblog creating tools I've seen bundle items up by units of time, producing a weekly archive page or a monthly archive page. Since not many of us synchronize our writing energies with the calendar, this produces arbitrary divisions of arbitrary size, reminiscent of the mid-sentence page breaks enforced by early online newspapers. Any automated assistance with archive bundling and movement off the front page should be based on length rather than date.
Chronological re-ordering of archives
On the front page, most-recent-first ordering makes perfect sense, since steady readers and steady writers will be coming to there to see what's new. Off the front page, the continuity and context provided by normal temporal sequence are more important. Sometimes they're essential.
Full entries returned on search
Partly because I so often serialize my (admittedly loose-limbed) essays, I prefer that full, readable pages be constructed on the fly, rather than answering a query with a series of links à la Google. This can lead to fairly long pages. But the weblog format promotes browsing and bumping into things over directed search and directed marketing, and scrolling supports that goal better than clicking "More..." does.


Zed Lopez informs me that Movable Type now meets two out of three:
>Chronological re-ordering of archives

In Movable Type, at least, this configuration is trivially easy to effect. My archives are in chronological order. All one needs to do is add sort_order="ascend" to one tag in one template.

>Full entries returned on search

Likewise, this is the difference between <$MTEntryBody$> and <$MTEntryExcerpt$> in one template.

. . .

Dutch Tilt

Justice O'Connor tilting left?
USA Today becomes disoriented

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

"One Monkey Don't Stop No Show"
Big Maybelle, 1954

My baby jumped up this morning
And sat on the side of the bed
He said I'm leaving you baby
And this is just what I said

I said I can't make you stay if you want to go
But it's high time baby that you should know

One monkey don't stop no show
One monkey don't stop no show
So if you still want to go, go ahead
And I meant every word I said

My baby thought I was jiving
And he went right out the door
He left me about three in the morning
Hmm, I got me a man at four

Some women cry when their men leave 'em drylongso
But I found out something long time ago

One monkey don't stop no show
One monkey don't stop no show
So if he gets too big for his pants
Get a spring brand new one and give him a chance

I used to be chicken-hearted
And cry when he'd walk out the door
'Cause I was just young and simple
Ha! Ain't like that no more

'Cause I had a hard way to go 'fore I learned the score
But I'm here to tell you and I should know

One monkey don't stop no show
One monkey don't stop no show
I let him do anything he choose
'Cause there's a million men who can fill his shoes

One monkey don't stop no show
One monkey don't stop no show
One monkey don't stop no show
And you can tell them I told you so

Three Memorable Fancies
  1. On July the Fourth, 2004, I heard Big Maybelle, and she seemed to me Lady Liberty proclaiming a new Battle Hymn for the Republic.
  2. From comments at Wealth Bondage:
    Go to those countries and see, unless like Cambodia the ordnance stays live. But when it's truly over, especially once the generation that carried it out is gone...things look up, birds sing, roses grow where the dead were laid, the grass is greener over the battlefield especially. That too is how we got here. The knee-jerks see that telling as moral too, but that's the point, that morality came out of that, there never was any first peace. Never. Except that three-quarter season inside the womb. That's what you remember.
    The retooling society owes whatever peace it finds to the war it found prior to that. We don't like the implication so, as you say, we ignore it; 'til it won't go away, then we get mad at it.
    It's all work.
  3. My hands were sticky and wet, and my feet gluey in tall galoshes. And it seemed to me I saw an ochre-smeared statue of Hope, and beneath it carved the ambiguous message:


Monkey boy likes Big Maybelle! - Renfrew

The bastard was just using her, seems to me. Well, he'll get his —Big Maybelle tells me so.

. . .


Whereof one can speak, thereof one must natter on and on until everyone is sick of the subject.


Well then natter, for Pete's sake!

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

Language and Creativity: The art of common talk
by Ronald Carter, Routledge, 2004

An affable celebration of the formal qualities of informal conversation, backed by two big assets:

The book is therefore recommended to one and all, although it suffered a persistent limp after its first misstep into "Creativity," the gopher hole.

What Carter means by creative seems something more exactly named non-semantic, and better approximated by aesthetic, prosodic, performative, hedonic, ludic, or even politic.

What a difference a bad word makes.

For starters, and harrumphing as a math major and computer programmer, it's kind of offensive to presume (as Carter's forced to) that there's no creativity in semantics. Where do new abstractions and techniques come from? Yeah, I know some people think they're just lying around in the cave waiting for us to trip over them, but some people think that about alliteration too.

Attacking on the other front, prosodic patterning relies on formula. Tags, well-worn puns and rhymes, simple repetition, are all aspects of conversation that Carter wants to bring out, but calling them "creative" stretches the flavor out of the word.

CANCODE documents the impulse to self-consciously draw attention to the material units of supposedly transparent communication: a social need to undo meaning in favor of surface. That's worth documenting, all right. But Carter's "creative" slant gives preferential treatment to idiomatic metaphors when virtually any non-core aspect of speech or gesture can be fucked with: a proper name, for example, or an instruction manual.

Here's Carter's example of language which thoroughly "lacks the property of literariness":

"Commence by replacing the hub-bearing outer race (33), Fig. 88, which is a press fit and then drop the larger bearing (32) into its outer member followed by oil seal (31), also a press fit, with lip towards bearing. Pack lightly with grease."

Only a little earlier he had transcribed a group of friends making double-entendre hash of the job of drilling a hole in a wall. Imagine what they could've done reading this aloud. Imagine it in a political poetry anthology under the title "White Man's Burden". It doesn't take much effort to re-insert "literariness" into writing.

Re-insert the literary into writing.... That has a peculiar sound, doesn't it?

Writing, in our current origin myths, was designed to carry an ideational burden, starting with ledgers, shopping lists, and rule books. If that's the case, then it would require special writerly effort to reinstate the non-semantic balance conversation achieves so effortlessly. That special effort, which we might call "literary," would then receive special notice. When the social cues that hold conversation together changed, so would "literary" style, and, for example, the current fiction-writer's hodgepodge of brand-and-band names wouldn't be a sign of fiction's decline, but of its continued adaptability. (Man, I wish I felt this as easily as I argue it.) In a focus-driven reversal of perspective, the written, having gotten such abundant credit for its efforts to mimic ordinary prosody, would eventually become the norm for prosodic effects.

And so we end up here, praising quotidian conversation for possessing the very "poetic" qualities that originated in it. Carter's use of the term "creative" (as in "Creative Writing Department") reinforces this confusion while his evidence clears it up.

Finally, the positive self-help connotations of "creativity" somewhat obscures one of the most intriguing trails through CANCODE's walled garden: the extent to which playful, euphonic, and memorable language is prompted by hostility. Or, more precisely, how the verbal dance between meaning and surface mutually instigates and supports the social dance between individual aggression and communal solidarity.

This might help explain the peculiarly bickering or bitchy tone that emerges in the extended nonsense of Lewis Carroll, Walt Kelly, Krazy Kat, and Finnegans Wake, and why many a delightful bit of fluff begins life as vicious parody. (Also for the record, I think how the fluff ends up is just as important a part of the story as how it began. May all your unintended consequences be little ones.)


Now that's nattering!
Recognizing the essential truth of adaptability doesn't mean you have to like or even think well of the Thing, Adapted. (The eohippus was sweet, after all: was it too high a price to pay for the horse? Can't we all just get along?)

Danged good point. Almost fell into prescriptive grammarian hell there.

You were a math major?

The hows and wherefores have been mentioned here before, but, to my surprise, the whys have not, although they might be guessed at easily enough by more general remarks. In brief, given an apparent choice between paying more lip-service to my pleasures and being allowed to keep them, I preferred the latter.

But where does it all come from?

I ask the same thing every time I have a sinus infection.

"Pack lightly with grease" has such a delicate feel to it . . . very nice, very literary.

The always rewarding Tom Matrullo has found a particularly challenging angle to strike his flint against. May sparks fly high and wide.

John Holbo (aided by Vladimir Nabokov) combines the topics of abstraction, art, and aggression in a lovely meditation on chess.

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

For years now, while marching to work or performing some low-grade chore, I've had this little song occasionally pop into my head.

Well, more of a chant. A really lame 1978 British punk band attempt at ska sort of thing, or a really lame garage band attempt at a Joe "King" Carrasco polka.

"Guilty Party Time"

(No MP3 available at any time)

Party time
Guilty, guilty, guilty
Party ti-i-ime
I'm guilty
It's party time

(Repeat with pronoun variation)

It could be worse, but still I wish my subconscious would find a safer message to simmer.


Atomized junior's tenacious subconscious has provided what might have been the source material for my tenacious (and derivative) subconscious's work.

. . .

Hell is the Absence of Wienie King

Being a decent little chappy, I properly joined my voice with John Hogan's to defend the honor of Mary Astor's performance in The Palm Beach Story. But was it proper, I wondered later, for me to have described her character as a "nymphomaniac"? "Horny," yes, but why be so clinical? Intense self-analysis suggests I was influenced by second-time-as-tragedy Written on the Wind:

Joel McCrea = Poor but righteous hunk = Rock Hudson
Claudette Colbert = Practical glamour girl = Lauren Bacall
Rudy Vallee = Feckless rich kid = Robert Stack
Model airport on a table = McGuffin dreams are made of = Model oil derrick on a desk
Mary Astor = Worthless sleeparound sister = Dorothy Malone

From this we learn:

  1. Marry the poor righteous hunk first.
  2. Weird wizened indulgent old guys make better inexplicable strangers than they do fathers.


Juliet Clark writes, although I hesitate to guess about which part:

Suddenly, I'm completely convinced!

. . .

With, Around, or Over?

Etymology all round humps fecundity and pleasure together with smacking, fidgeting, flicking, scratching, messing up, and sweeping across. Only Old English seems to have prioritized the homey fuckbuddy (which I admit warms me towards Tolkien), and only French the kiss.

Even a preposition isn't always enough to disambiguate. Is the fucking off we confess to the same fucking off we demand of others?

* * *

I see chess as an allegory for life. The point is it's a contest between two opponents.
- Weldon McDonald
Because problems are the poetry of chess. They demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, harmony, conciseness, complexity, and splendid insincerity.
- Vladimir Nabokov

Journalists call them both chess "masters". But as I remember Vladimir Nabokov considered himself more problemicist than competitor, whereas by all accounts Marcel Duchamp played a vicious semiprofessional game.

Could that be why chess supplanted Duchamp's artistic career but nourished Nabokov's?

* * *

There are at least two ways to get a game wrong:

  1. Refusal to stay within the bounds of the game.
  2. Inability to see outside the bounds of a game.

The second mistake is more dangerous, since it's more often made by winners, and their rewards usually come from outside the game's bounds and the players' expertise in a large nonrenewable fee after a boxing match, for example, or in journalistic attention after a bestselling novel, or in governmental control after an election.

* * *

Mixed emotions and two left feet. This is a peculiar dance, and like everyone else I step it peculiarly.

As spectator of aggression, I love the graceful conviction of martial arts films, but I can't fill the imaginative gaps left in superhero comics or pro wrestling.

As actor, "I like it but it don't like me." I get the kind of kick from public elocution that people other than Cole Porter get from cocaine, but the rebound's fierce. Between the crush of doubtful conscience, a low boredom threshhold, and a hair-trigger temper, I'm worthless or worse at anything but the smallest-scale cannon-fodder political actions. Similarly, despite my self-evident pleasure in pontification, I'm unable to teach when coercion or grading are involved.

In both cases, skills relevant to a game are more than offset by my distracting awareness of conditions outside the game proper.

Which makes me a very unprofessional player.

It doesn't make me a player hater, though. Our society depends on good politicians, good teachers, and good propagandists. What makes Tom Matrullo's shylockia ridiculous is his implication that political games are novel, rather than an inevitable aspect of representative republics.

What makes him outrageous is his acquiescence to game-for-game's-sake: the refusal to acknowledge that a game is more than a score and that a life is more than a game. Whether a reporter is "partisan" or not hardly matters when all the pages are sports pages, when a voter's job is not to save themselves but to pick the most attractive contestant, when a senator's job is not to avert a health care crisis but to beat Clinton. All three branches of federal government are now made up of high-fiving high-scorers. The destruction of my country simply doesn't register except as winnings.

I led such a quiet life. Then somehow I woke up and found myself married to Mike Tyson.


kari edwards draws an unpleasant connection between this unpleasant post and the unpleasant image on the title bar:

your gender graphic seems to be the same cheap "trans" gender joke that shows up in the mass media, such as sheik 2... this is a cheap joke as the expense of a population that is the target of hate crimes.

and if it is so so funny.. replace it with a person of color, or someone with a disability-.. and if not, why not? why is gender the joke? are you not just reenforcing gender stereo typing from a phallocentric gaze...? some on.. this is on the same level as george bush's ruse on gay marriage..

Another reader, another correction:

The destruction of the idea of your country. Right before Grandmasters comes Ghosts. Wasn't Parcheesi the one where you could let other kids play too?

Or, more cautiously still, the destruction of my idea of my country.

The destruction of our idea of our country. I need the reminder at times. Other times I need a minder. Matrullo is calling you "Ray" as familiar or opponent? I couldn't get that from either context. Things are heatin' up. Get that belt on.

I hardly ever wear a belt. But it's easy enough to give me one.

And here to do the job is another nightmare husband:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the weight lifter and Hollywood actor turned California state governor, accused the state legislature of being "girly-men" and called on voters to "terminate" those that oppose his budget plans at the polls, California news media reported Sunday....

Key provisions of the Governor's budget proposal include school distribution of steroids and Viagra, new subsidies for L.A.'s plastic surgeons, and mandatory sexual harassment insurance.

A sheik joke for John le Bischop, finding his own corrupt flesh remembered long after its integrity got relinquished; who, filled with whatever that is, used his position to generate steam of a kind, the unnatural repression of natural inclinations, dubbed un- while he indulged them. Love the sinner hate the sin; love the baby, hate the act that brings it into being. Flicking is suggested for the mosquito, after smacking, as the smear so common among the thoughtless causes release of bodily fluids, hers, which can be pathogenic to the smearer, as the dermis is breached immediately prior, being the cause of the smacking itself. And remember, she's just trying to feed her kids.

Impressed by the cut of my gormlessness, Candida Cruikshanks offers me a chance at a capon gown.

As if I wasn't already having a bad hair day, another reader pours scorn upon my head:

Natterless bumpkins.

As we both know, we don't come here to watch me bemoan what we call "personal life." In default of anything better, here are a late addition to the Milly Bloom discussion and a warning to avoid installing Yahoo Messenger 6.

An anonymous grader at the School of Love gives me:

amores 3.7

No more summer sessions, hurrah!

Adam Kotsko approves.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .