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Rants

Animated monologues and other over-the-top essays

Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of “real-world” ghost anecdotes. They weren’t stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: “There are lots of supermarkets where I live.” Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I’m all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But…lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn’t. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn’t Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America’s 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We’re right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I’m not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it’s just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It’s not like we’re hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry’s Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I’ve ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like…livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there’s covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don’t want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now…what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we’d pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn’t obsess on material goods. So who’s obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn’t like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don’t want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn’t allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry’s Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I’ve passed through middle age. I don’t like green vegetables, and haven’t now for 63 years and change. Along the way I’ve picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don’t see things their way, well, I’m a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry’s Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

SP4 Logo 500 Wid.jpg

After the appalling 2015 Hugo Awards ceremony (google “Hugo Awards asterisks”; I can’t bring myself to write about it) there arose a litany:

The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
(Repeat until purple.)

Except…they didn’t. The losers were the poor writers who would likely have won the award if the Worldcon Insider Alphas hadn’t decided to burn the award down rather than let people they disapproved of win it. The even bigger losers were the Hugos themselves, which are now proven to be political proxies for a bogglingly stupid culture war that most of us would prefer not to fight.

The biggest losers of all were the hate-filled tribalists themselves, Alphas down to their shitflinging Omega footsoldiers, who got their asses handed to them in a big way and threw the only tantrum that they could. Now, I don’t know precisely what to make of it, beyond my longstanding contention that tribalism will be the end of us all if we’re not careful. What I can say with fair confidence is that it isn’t over. (More on this later.) What I can say with complete confidence is that the Sad Puppies won big on several fronts:

  • They brought the cobwebbed machinery behind the Hugo Awards out into the open where everybody could look at it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • They made everyone aware of the curiously obscure fact that you don’t have to go to Worldcon to vote for the Hugos. All you need is $40 (soon to be $50, I think) and an Internet connection.
  • They exposed corruption that’s been going on for quite a number of years, and I’m not talking about inclusiveness, or diversity, or clever (if silly) experiments with pronouns here. (That’s a separate issue.) I’m talking about the fact that a derivative and mostly boring novel like Redshirts can only win a Hugo via corruption.
  • They alerted everyone to the fact that Worldcon and traditional SF fandom are rounding errors compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy SF and fantasy. Too few people nominate and vote for the awards to make corruption impossible and the awards themselves meaningful.

That’s a lot, right there. That would be enough, in fact, to persuade me that the Puppies won. But the Sad Puppies did something else: They created the nucleus around which a whole new fandom is crystallizing. People who took that lonely walk away from SFF suddenly realized that lots of other people were taking the same walk, and for the same reasons: Modern print SF is for the most part dull, dudgeon-rich message pie, and fandom is ideologically exclusionary and mostly under the control of a handful of high-volume haters. (I and many others have been called fascists one too many times.) If you have the unmitigated gall to have libertarian or (gasp!) conservative leanings, there is no place for you at that table.

Well, alluvasudden there’s a brand-new table.

In part (like most of everything else these days) it came from Amazon. The NY imprints have a powerful bias against fiction with libertarian or conservative themes. While they were the gatekeepers, there was little to be done. Now, with indie-published ebooks generating close to half of all ebook sales, authors can make fair money (or even a good living!) without bending the knee to Manhattan culture. They don’t even need ISBNs. They do have to rise above a pretty high noise level, but that’s a technical challenge: If you write well and understand the nature of the game, you will be noticed. The more you write, the more you’ll be noticed, and the easier it becomes.

What didn’t come from Amazon came from Google. The commotion generated by the Sad Puppies’ sweep of the Hugo nominations got a lot of attention. Commotion does that; it’s almost a physical law. People who hadn’t followed the SF scene for many years (if ever) discovered Web forums and new authors whose vision of SFF was far closer to their own.

Ironically, most of that commotion came from the Sad Puppies’ opponents, who could have strangled the Puppies in their sleep simply by keeping their mouths shut. But no: They had to vent their tribal butthurt, and in doing so recruited thousands of brand-new Puppies to the cause.

This new fandom centers around a crew of writers who (I suspect) give the New York imprints nightmares: Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, John C. Wright, Peter Grant, Cedar Sanderson, Brian Niemeier, Amanda Green, Kate Paulk, Tom Knighton, R. K. Modena, Dave Freer, and many others whose work I’m only beginning to sample. Some have books from the tradpub imprints (Baen especially) but all are indies as well. I’m linking to their Web forums here so you can discover them too. Additional sites of interest include collaborative webzines like The Mad Genius Club, The Otherwhere Gazette, and Superversive SF. (Several of the above authors contribute to all three sites.)

At least one SF convention leans libertarian: Libertycon, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There may be more than that, especially among the smaller gatherings. I don’t know, but I’m always looking. I think there’s a lot of upside in smaller, in-person meetups held in local pubs and other gathering places, and if I can’t find one in Phoenix I may well start one. I’m intrigued by reports from the major Puppy authors who have attended various media cons around the country. Sarah Hoyt’s is instructive. The boggling crowds at events like ComiCon are more diverse by far than attendees at traditional literary cons, and much, much younger. There is way more interest in textual SFF at the media cons than I expected. It’s not all movies and comic books. Now, I’m not sure how much I’ll be attending media cons; Worldcon-level crowds make me a little crawly, and the media cons draw eight to ten times more people. What stood out in those reports for me was the fact that people at the media cons were actually having lots of pure freeform fun, not searching desperately for something to be offended about.

The bottom line is that a vast and mostly invisible network of new friendships happened as a result of the Sad Puppies phenomenon. I’m reading more SFF now than I have in a decade. The Paperwhite helps, of course, as does the “toss-it-in-the-cart” pricing that predominates in the Kindle store. I’m corresponding with other writers whom I’d not met before. I’ve learned that indie publishing can work, and work well. (Thanks, Sarah!) I’m hearing others saying more or less the same thing about the Sad Puppies universe: “It was like coming home.”

And it’s not over.

No sirree. Sad Puppies 4: The Embiggenning is well underway, run by Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green. These are formidable women; I pity the poor tribal troll who tries to call them “female impersonators.” The logo once again is from Lee “ArtRaccoon” Madison. Sad puppies Frank, Isaac, and Ray from last year’s logo have returned, this time bringing their new robot friend Robert with them. Robert isn’t the least bit sad. He has no reason to be.

His side is winning.

(More thoughts on this issue of a new SFF fandom as time/energy allow.)

Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up

Yes, I’ve been scarce in recent weeks, but bear with me: I’m off doing something difficult but important, which I’ll tell you about later.


Although it’s been going on now for three years, I hadn’t ever heard of the Sad Puppies phenomenon until a couple of months ago, and what brought it to my attention was an ongoing rumble raging up and down the social networks and blogosphere. The rumble was just a rumble until April 4, when the Hugo Award nominations for 2015 were announced. Then, ye gods and little fishes, the Puppies swept the slate and it became Hugogeddon. I’ve already described the Sad Puppies thing here as part of a series that I’d originally intended to focus on Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave SF manifesto. It’s a movement to bring new people into the Worldcon culture and perhaps get some attention for writers who for whatever reason are never considered for the Hugo Awards. The Sad Puppies 3 effort was all very much up-front and out in the open. The most powerful man in SFF publishing, Patrick Neilsen-Hayden, stated quite clearly that the group violated no rules whatsoever.

But oh, my, the dudgeon, the squealing, the bright purple faces, the curses and threats and slobbering on the floor. Writers of considerable stature, whom I had read and long respected, lost that respect instantly and went onto my Seventh-Grade Playground Tantrum-Throwers List. They seemed to think that anyone who put forth a list of recommended authors or works was trying to dynamite the awards, and (worse) that this was a brand-new thing that had never been tried before. Well…Mike Glyer, who belongs to the Anti-Puppy (AP) faction, pointed out that slatemaking has been practiced erratically since the very first Hugo Awards season in…1953. Apparently the difference between recommendations and a slate is that a slate is put forth by people we dislike.

Takeaway: Hugo Award slatemaking is nothing new, and does not violate the rules. You have a constitutional right to be upset about it. I have a constitutional right to think of it as a nonissue. I’m not going to argue that point any further in this entry. (I doubt I will argue that point further at all. Don’t even bring it up in the comments.) I have something else in mind entirely. Let me phrase it as a question:

How in hell could a couple of mostly unknown authors turn the venerable Hugo Awards inside-out?

My answer: adverse attention. For a definition, let me quote from a textbook that I made up just now: Zoftnoggin & Wiggout’s Fundamentals of Sociometry.

Adverse attention is a rise in the attention profile of a previously obscure phenomenon caused by the actions of an entity that opposes that phenomenon. In the vast majority of cases, the triggering force is outrage, though it sometimes appears through the action of envy, pride, lust, asshattedness, butthurt, or other largely emotional psychopathologies.

This being sociometry, adverse attention may be quantified, and there is a standard unit for expressing it:

The fundamental unit of adverse attention is the streisand, defined as one previously uninterested person achieving a degree of interest in a phenomenon sufficient to compel them to email, share, or retweet information about that phenomenon to one other person in a social network. As the information propagates across a social network, the connectedness of the network influences the total amount of adverse attention that arises. For example, if each of ten previously uninterested persons receiving the information passes it on to only one previously uninterested person, eleven streisands of adverse attention have been created. If one of those previously uninterested persons has 200 followers on Twitter or 1000 Facebook friends, the number of streisands increases rapidly. In a sufficiently dense network, the rate of increase can become close to exponential until the number of previously uninterested persons asymptotically approaches zero.

I’ve seen evidence for this in the comment sections of many blogs that have criticized or condemned the Sad Puppies. A common comment goes something like this: “Wow! I never knew that you could vote for the Hugos without going to Worldcon! And I just downloaded the free preview of Monster Hunter International. This is way cool!” Zing! The world gets another Puppy.

The emotional tenor of the criticism matters too. I’ve seen a few comments that go something like this: “I’d never heard of the Sad Puppies before. I’ve been trying to figure out which side is right, but the sheer nastiness of the Sad Puppies’ critics makes me think they’re just sore losers. I’m more or less with the Puppies now.”

Then, of course, there are the hatchet-job articles (all of them roughly identical) in what most people consider legitimate media, like Entertaintment Weekly, which later retracted the article once it became clear that it was libelous. The Guardian wrote another hit-piece that fell short of libel but still misrepresented the phenomenon. These are not just blogs. These are significant publications that have a lot of readers.

And those streisands just keep piling up.

It’s something like a sociological law: Commotion attracts attention. Attention is unpredictable, because it reaches friend and foe alike. It can go your way, or it can go the other way. There’s no way to control the polarity of adverse attention. The only way to limit adverse attention is to stop the commotion.

In other words, just shut up.

I know, this is difficult. For some psychologies, hate is delicious to the point of being psychological crack, so it’s hard to just lecture them on the fact that hate has consequences, including but hardly limited to adverse attention.

My conclusion is this: The opponents of Sad Puppies 3 put them on the map, and probably took them from a fluke to a viable long-term institution. I don’t think this is what the APs intended. In the wake of the April 4 announcement of the final Hugo ballot, I’d guess the opposition has generated several hundred kilostreisands of adverse attention, and the numbers will continue to increase. Sad Puppies 4 has been announced. Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have lots of new fans who’d never heard of them before. (I just bought the whole Monster Hunter International series and will review it in a future entry.)

To adapt a quote from…well, you know damned well whose quote I’m adapting: “Attack me, and I will become more popular than you could possibly imagine.”

Or, to come closer to home, and to something in which I have personal experience: “Feed puppies, and they grow up.”

Actions have consequences. Who knew?

Elves ‘n’ Dwarves

I just finished walking to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,which is the third or fourth time I’ve seen it. I have some grumbles: The damned thing came to 181 minutes long; did we really need atolkienic rock giants starting a rumble with dwarves clinging to their pants legs? On the other hand, it was visually startling and lots of fun, and I give Jackson points for working in some of the appendices’ material, especially Radagast and Dol Guldur. Sure, Goblin Town was over the top, as was the Goblin King (“That’ll do it”) and the whole Goblin Town episode reminded me of a side-scroller video game.

All that said, what I really like about the film is its depiction of the dwarves. We didn’t see much of them in Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, beyond Gimli and stacks of decayed corpses in Moria. From his own text, Tolkien clearly didn’t like the dwarves much, both explicitly and implicitly. I figured that out over 40 years ago, once the Silmarillion was published. Unlike elves and men, the dwarves were tinkered together after work hours by Aulë, the Valar demigod of tinkering. Aulë was out of his depth there, so Eru (God) fixed their bugs and archived them until the elves got out of beta and were RTMed.

That’s a pattern in Tolkien’s universe: Aulë’s guys were always digging stuff up and doing stuff with it, causing lots of trouble in the process. Fëanor made the Silmarils, and before you know it, we’d lost half a continent and the rest of the First Age. The dwarves in Moria dug too deep and struck Balrog; the dwarves in Erebor unearthed the Arkenstone, which made Thrain go nuts and hoard so much gold that Smaug sniffed it half a world away.

Oh–and Sauron (disguised as as a sort of evil Santa Claus) gave the clueless dwarf kings Seven Rings of Power. Worst. Idea. Evah.

Ok. They were nerds. You got a problem with that? By contrast, the Elves just sort of sat around inside their own collective auras, eating salad and nostalgia-tripping. The elven makers like Fëanor and Celebrimbor all came to bad ends, leaving behind the elven New Agers, who made a three-Age career of doing nothing in particular while feeling like on the whole, they’d rather be in Philadel…er, Valinor.

Screw that. I’m with the dwarves. They had an angular sort of art design that I envy (see any footage set within Erebor) and a capella groups long before the invention of barbershops. (See this for a bone-chilling cover.) We haven’t seen them in the films yet, but Weta concepts indicate that dwarf women are hot, irrespective of their long sideburns. And only a celebrity dwarf could tell you why mattocks rock.

Metal is fun, and craftiness is next to demigodliness, especially with Aulë as your demigod. The dwarves are basically Tolkien’s steampunkers, and if they didn’t have airships it was solely because they didn’t like heights. Sure, they were maybe a little slow on the uptake at times. Playing with minerals requires an intuitive grip on chemistry, and out of chemistry (given metal plating for motivation) comes electricity, as the Babylonians showed us. After three Ages, the dwarves still didn’t have AA batteries? Sheesh.

Still, they did real damned fine with iron, bronze, gold, and mithril. Makes you wonder what they could have done with ytterbium. Eä, the Final Frontier? Fifth Age, fersure!

Thirty Lessons I’ve Learned in 61 Years

  1. Defy convention.
  2. Question authority.
  3. Keep your promises.
  4. Nothing is simple. Simplicity is bait on somebody else’s hook.
  5. Never wear anybody’s advertising but your own.
  6. When you think you’ve heard too much Gustav Holst, play some Madonna.
  7. Friends are a revenue center. Enemies are a cost center.
  8. Never believe anything an angry person says, especially when they’re not angry.
  9. Fat makes you thin. Sugar will kill you.
  10. Political parties exist to take everything you have and hand it to psychopaths on a silver platter.
  11. Fathers matter.
  12. Time shatters what cannot hold, and perfects what cannot be broken.
  13. If you can still wear a shirt thirty years later, you know you’re doing OK. This is a good reason to keep a shirt or two for thirty years.
  14. Join a political party and you’re selling youself into slavery.
  15. Evil is the root of all evil. There is no middleman.
  16. Love matters way more than who’s got a plug and who’s got a socket.
  17. Don’t try to make a bowling ball out of 2 X 4’s.
  18. You’re not really an adult until you can run around the house in your underwear, reciting Dr. Seuss at the top of your lungs.
  19. Certainty is a species of mental illness.
  20. Self-esteem is confidence without calibration.
  21. Think outside the box. Then make something out of the box.
  22. If you see a pinata, remember that somewhere close by is a blindfolded person swinging a stick.
  23. Pitch can be useful. It’s politics that defileth all it toucheth.
  24. Don’t settle for an iron will. Gram for gram, aluminum is stronger.
  25. A dog is a fingertip of the Almighty, thrust briefly into our lives to measure the breadth and depth of our kindness. Remember Whose fingertip it is.
  26. Dance, especially if you’re not good at it.
  27. Stand by your spouse no matter what.
  28. They build too low, who build beneath the stars.
  29. Kick ass. Just don’t miss.
  30. Think!

Man, But I Miss Knobs

avh-x2500bt_hero_large.jpgThe six-disc changer in my 4Runner’s console stereo dropped dead late last summer, after serving me well for eleven years. Considering the mechanical nightmare the damned thing was internally, I’m a little surprised it lasted as long as it did. So for about ten months now, I’ve been reduced to listening to the radio, in a town where radio is not a priority. (Irony, however, is a Colorado Springs delicacy: With just about every other town and county but Denver voting to ban legal marijuana, the home of Focus on the Family looks like it will soon be the highest city in the state.)

I haven’t listened to pop radio in the car for maybe 25 years, since I started recording mix tapes off vinyl. I expected to develop (however unintentionally) an appetite for recent pop music. Hey, it worked with Madonna in 1986. Not this time. I found one band worth investigating further (Owl City) and bought four, count em, four MP3s. A couple of Owl City tracks, Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath,” and Two Door Cinema Club’s moody song “Sun,” which I bought because it contains the word “drumlins.” Just that, based on ten months of mostly cringing and reaching for the volume knob.

Now I can’t even do that.

After punting for far too long, I went down to Car Toys earlier today and had them install one of these. It had a Bluetooth phone feature I wanted, since I don’t like manhandling a phone in the car. It plays MP3s from a thumb drive, and every MP3 I have that’s worth hearing will fit on a thumb drive. (Not a big one, either.) It looks for all the world like a smartphone held sideways, complete with the little four-square menu button. All it lacks is a volume control knob. It has a mute button, which will come in handy, just like it does when The Weather Channel plays that excruciating commercial about the poor woman who’s been falling on her kitchen floor and failing to get up since before they tore down the Berlin Wall. It has firmware to update, God help us, and…cripes, I wasn’t ready for this…a remote.

At the risk of sounding like an MP3 on autorepeat, well, all it lacks is a volume control knob.

I’ll get used to it. (I got used to Madonna in 1986, after all.) Mostly what I want out of it is hands-free phone calls and MP3 playback. I know why it doesn’t have a knob: Knobs take room on the panel that you could otherwise fill with icons. And a knob would add another 85.67 cents to the UMC. Besides, knobs are just so 1952.

Just like me.

Rant: The Real Problem With Clerical Celibacy

Black smoke. I guess we try again tomorrow.

I had intended to post a couple of pertinent entries during Pope Week, as some are calling this, but got involved in a new book proposal I’m working on. I genuinely expected that we’d have a new pope by now. Not so.

Anyway. I haven’t done a rant for years. Here ya go:

I’m reading a lot about clerical sexual abuse being rooted in clerical celibacy, as though it were obvious. This is not a new argument, nor does it have much grounding in reality. Abusers abuse not because they’re celibate but because they’re abusers, and I don’t think the Roman Church has any more of them than any other large organization. We pay the scandals more attention because the Church and its people ought to know better. We’re right to demand higher standards of conduct from church people than we do from politicians or TV reality show stars. Marrying off every priest and bishop in the Roman Catholic Church would not stop sexual abuse. I’m honestly not sure what would, though we need to continue the search with everything we’ve got. No, we need to eliminate mandatory clerical celibacy for a deeper reason: It selects for dualists.

The more I read of Church history and theology, the more I distrust ascetic theology and its real-world implementation, monasticism. Monastics make much about being “in the world, but not of it.” Excuse me? If you’re in the world, you’re damned well of it, because God gave you a meat suit and put you here. You will be of the world until you’re no longer in it, and what happens then is a whole separate discussion. Deal with it.

The deeper meaning of the mantra “in the world but not of it” lies in a theological system that arose in Persia in ancient times. Spiritual reality to the Persians was an unending war between Good and Evil, with the two being a pretty even match–hence the term “dualism.” There was a high, all-good God who had little to do with physical reality, and a grouchy creator God who had brought physical reality into being and trapped immaterial souls in material bodies that suffered and committed evil. Cooked down to essentials, this meant Spirit Good, Matter Bad.

Dualist thought of this sort crossed over from Persian mysticism into Christian theology several times in Christianity’s early centuries. Some of these threads were eventually declared heresies and suppressed, while others (especially the Great Dualist, Augustine of Hippo) became mainstream, to everyone’s sorrow.

I see dualism very clearly in the emergence of monasticism. Monasticism is more than just living off by yourselves somewhere. Nor does it describe a community simply working toward self-discipline in a systematic fashion. (In our dreams!) Early monastics were powerfully driven by the dualist assumption of Spirit Good, Matter Bad. The human body was a bundle of yukkh that not only had to be controlled but also humiliated, starved, and as often as not beaten and tormented through physical pain. Until Vatican II every Jesuit was given a little whip called the disciplina, and part of the Jesuit Rule specified that a Jesuit must beat himself with the disciplina every night. (Former Jesuit seminarian Garry Wills recalls this vividly in Why I Am a Catholic.) Because Spirit is the only godly part of a human being, torture of the body in the service of God was no big deal. Diocesan clergy certainly had a role in the torturing and execution of heretics, but it was monastics (particularly the Dominicans) who systematized it and made it a science. And over the centuries monastic thought seeped into diocesan thought, until clerical marriage was formally forbidden throughout the Western Church in the eleventh century. (It had been forbidden locally in some areas since the time of Leo the Great, circa 450.)

Monasticism isn’t about torture anymore, but its dualist view of the cosmos remains: Matter is of no great consequence, and the human body is simply a temporary vehicle for a fully spiritual soul. All physical desires are at least suspect. The world is a vexing source of temptation that cannot be redeemed and is best ignored. Sex, in particular, is fallen and unnecessary for anyone with a spiritual inclination. This attitude goes back to Paul, who thought the world was about to end and saw marriage as nothing better than a means of avoiding sexual sin until it did.

Some modern writers (including Garry Wills, whom I otherwise admire) think that clerical celibacy is a good thing because it focuses clergy on matters spiritual. My experience with married priests and bishops in the Anglican Communion (most but not all of them American Episcopalians) and many in the Old Catholic Church points in an entirely different direction: Finding peace and balance with the physical world is not surrender or even accomodation. It is part of our task as Christians. If God created the Universe, the Universe is sacred and cannot be dismissed as unimportant or (worse) evil. Married clergy have a sense of groundedness about them that is not impossible for the celibate, but harder work to achieve and tougher to maintain. (Those who succeed are spectacular clergy indeed, however rare.) This may not be due to marriage itself, but perhaps to an attitude that the married, to succeed in marriage, must maintain: The Other matters as much as the Self. Life is not just me and God hanging out in a private garden. It’s me and God and everyone else sharing a God-given world that must be consciously shepherded for the use of all.

Obviously, not all celibates are dualists, nor are all dualists celibate. That said, celibacy, especially when pre-emptively imposed on all clergy, tilts the graph toward dualism because dualism considers sex unnecessary and the physical world as less important than the spiritual. Those who are willing and able to embrace celibacy are more likely to lean in a dualist direction, with a preverbal if not fully perceived impression that the physical is sundered from the spiritual and the two parts set against one another.

No. Give me a priest who dances with his (or her) spouse, who will raise a glass to the health and success of all present, and who understands the rocky road on which Carol and I walk because he (or she) has walked that road too, with a loved one close at hand. Give me a priest who faces the east at dawn and shouts, like Patrick, “I arise today by the power of Heaven!

I want a priest who celebrates the unity of all creation because all creation is of God, and all men and women are of this, His singular, glorious and undivided creation.

The War on “Moist”

I have heard the angry voices (particularly God’s and Stephen King’s–or maybe it was just Stephen King’s) raised against the spreading curse of words that end in -ly, with particular emphasis on dastardly constructs like “only” and “early.” Today, for the first time, I’ve seen lexical blood spilled on a new front, against the horror of the word people are said to revile above all others…

moist.

Well. I’m a cultured individual, long steeped in the ways of the world, and no stranger to the pleasures of the mind and the senses. I have tasted anchovies. I have drunk sweet wine. I have read Barry Malzberg. I have danced the Invisible Horse Dance with my nieces and nephews. I have cocked an ear to what was either interstellar noise or leaky capacitors. I have gazed upon the jade sculpture on my tall bookcase until I became…well, you know what I became. I signed up once to pet a naked mole rat, but the line was too long and we had to go home. Genuine WTF moments have gotten thin in this, the seventh decade of my life. But the war on “moist” caught me up short.

I thought it was the primary virtue of cakes. If not, well, what do you call a cake that isn’t dry? Wet? Damp? Sodden? Moldy? (HuffPo takes on this crucial question with elan.)

I see that this is nothing new. The war on “moist” began a long time ago, at least as long ago as 2009. I missed it somehow. The Colorado Springs Gazette did not run the story under a 500-point rendering of “WAR!” Nobody mentioned it on Slashdot, nor Ars Technica, which posts on lots of things it knows nothing about. The war on hated words was highlighted in the New Yorker in 2012, and while there was a long line leading to the word gallows (with “phlegm” and “fecund” fidgeting while waiting their turn) the word eye-to-eye with the Lord High Executioner was “moist.” Men who use the word “moist” are undateable. There is even a Facebook group called “I HATE the word MOIST!” (Well, that certainly nails it.)

So what’s the deal?

The question came up recently on the Facebook wall of a writer friend of mine. A woman whom I don’t know explained: “Just imagine your 65-year-old mother reading it aloud as she reaches a pivotal sex scene in a romance novel. Enough said.”

Enough indeed, especially if you knew my mother, who would be 88 this year if she were still with us. She spent a considerable chunk of her life keeping parts of her house from becoming a little too moist with spilled milk, dog vomit, and thrown cream-of-mushroom mushrooms, which are moist squared. I’m guessing she didn’t have to read sex scenes aloud to be moist-averse. Small children and dogs were plenty.

My view? This has already gone too far. The word “moist” has not been seen in actual use in several months, though many have spoken passionately about it. Alas, its parents “most” and “mist” have unearthed a suicide note. We bludgeoned it, we drew and quartered it, we broke it on Little Orphan Annie’s code wheel, and we mopped up the gore with a towelette. We will not have “moist” to push around anymore. Who will be next? Who? Who?

The New Yorker says: “Slacks.”

I’m in.

Rant: The Bumperstickerization of Facebook

Maybe I just hit a statistically inevitable bad stretch. I don’t know. But last night, it seemed like every other entry on my Facebook friends feed was a photo that was nothing more than an image of words. I won’t embarrass anyone by citing a particular example; I’m pretty sure that anybody who’s on Facebook knows what I mean.

I do not mean visual puns like Imperial Walker, which at times border on brilliant. Nor even the genre I guess we call “demotivational” posters, which bring a painful grin now and then. I’ll gen up an example of my own:

youngquote.jpg

Why is this better than:

“They build too low, who build beneath the stars.” –Edward Young 1681-1765.

I have to grin: Here’s Jeff Duntemann, the Visual Developer guy, arguing for plain text against graphics. But hey, it’s text, and nothing more than text. If quotes had OK buttons (or, better yet, Cancel buttons) I might feel otherwise. They don’t. Text is sufficient.

There’s another problem: In no case was the text in the image the words of the person who posted it. They’re all well-worn platitudes or slogans or political nanorants, just as you’d see on a bumper sticker. That, in fact, is what they remind me of the most. Last night I realized that I was seeing the bumperstickerization of Facebook.

I did not sign up for Facebook to drown in a sea of virtual bumper stickers. They call it a “friends list” because, theoretically, the people there are friends. I like to hear what my friends are thinking, feeling, reading, writing, coding, making, or otherwise doing. I don’t mind pictures of your cats, your dogs, your kids, your vacations, or the stuff you’re building in the basement. That’s what Facebook is for.

Are your daily travails more important than quotes from Abraham Lincoln, FDR, or Oscar Wilde? Damitall, yes. I already have Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I used to read it like a novel. (I’m nutty that way.) If you must quote someone, quote yourself. And do it in text. Pixels Are For Pictures.

Now, weren’t you making cannoli last night? Or calling CQ on six meters? You’re my friend. If I didn’t hear about it, well, it’s not for lack of wanting.

Dancing with Diction

Today is the birthday of Dr. Seuss, without whom I would care nothing for poetry. One of the great bonding behaviors I shared with my baby sister was running around the house reciting snatches (sneeches?) of kid-book poetry at the tops of our lungs. “This one has a little star! This one has a little car! Say, what a lot of fish there are!” The king of that castle is and will always be Theodor Geisel 1904-1991. Circa 1960 our parents had signed us up for what amounted to the Dr. Seuss book club, and every month we got one of his books or another book that was clearly written in his style. There were some outliers not written in verse, like Look Out for Pirates! but who remembers those anymore? (Go, Dog, Go! may be one exception.)

On the other hand, I only have to recall the title of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and my poetry-reciter is off at a trot. Gretchen’s even better at it than I. Don’t get us started if you’re one of those lit’ry types who feels that any poetry with rhyme and meter is worthy only of folding into the center of a Hallmark card.

Modern universities crank such out by the pallet load. Years ‘n years ago, at one damned cocktail party conversation or another (I think associated with the Book Expo America trade show) I made an energetic case that good poetry can have both rhyme and meter. A well-credentialed tribalist immediately jumped on me, steam jetting from every orifice. “So,” he jetted, “all poetry should be doggerel?”

Whoo-boy! Note the well-worn tribal tactic: I suggested that something the tribalist hated should be allowed. The tribalist immediately misrepresented me as saying that everything except what he hated should be forbidden. I called him on it. I basically humiliated him in front of several of his peers. How did I humiliate him? I dared him to begin reciting blank verse from some author who would be taught in college literature courses. He couldn’t do it. I turned the knife by immediately beginning to recite “The Hollow Men.” I stopped after eight or ten lines. I then asked him which poet had written the following:

mighty guest of merely me
–traveler from eternity;
in a single wish, receive
all I am and dream and have.

He shook his head. “You did.” Heh. Don’t I wish. It was e. e. cummings. I offered to recite the rest of the poem. The dork said “No thanks,” and slunk away.

Now, I may be a better memorizer than he was. But I had a secret advantage: Structured poetry is easier to remember. And a secret vulnerability: I had recited all of Eliot that I could recall, and I remember Eliot today largely because I used to make fun of him so much. (I wasn’t singling Eliot out–Dr. Seuss himself did not escape.) Give me Macavity any day, even if the sophisticates dismiss it as children’s poetry. (It’s a cat poem. Dare ‘ya to call it doggerel!) I can recite a great deal of that. It contains irony, subtlety, and much merriment.You can dance to it. I give it a 10.

Note that I don’t “hate” blank verse and freeform poetry, nor do I dismiss it simply because it lacks rhyme and meter. I studied it. I studied Walt Whitman, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, and all those guys of that era and that school of poetry, which has basically won the day. I still recall why my profs thought they were significant. The problem is that the poems themselves I have utterly forgotten. Lowell has a great line somewhere about ’59 Chevies rolling past like fish in a tank, in finned servility. But that’s all of him that I can remember, having read an entire book full of his stuff and discussed it at length in a 300-level class. I’m sure it was carefully crafted. I’ll grant that it was important. But in no way on this or any other world could it ever be fun.

For that you have to go back to poets like Vachel Lindsay, who opened “The Santa Fe Trail” in an eminently memorable way:

This is the order of the music of the morning-:
First from the far east comes but a crooning.
The crooning turns to a sunrise singing:
Hark to the calm-horn, balm-horn, psalm-horn.
Hark to the faint-horn, quaint-horn, saint-horn…

Damn, not only can I see that, I can feel it! It makes me want to run around the house with my baby sister (now 55) yelling “Ho for Kansas land that restores us! When houses choke us and great books bore us!” Eventually we collapse on the couch, breathless from laughing so hard and glowing from feeling so good. Kid stuff? Sure! At least for kids who haven’t yet sold their kidness for a pot of message.

Poetry is about laughter, especially laughter that comes of wishing we could be in Kansas so that we could get away from all those Great Books that are so ponderously self-important they they undergo lexical collapse and vanish into their own navels while everybody stands around scratching their heads trying to understand what the hell they were attempting to convey.

And about dancing, yes. Poetry is dancing with diction, doing the polka with participles, spinning an allemand with adverbs. It’s cutting loose from grim reality for awhile and letting language just take us. “He thought he saw an elephant / That practiced on a fife: / He looked again and found it was / A letter from his wife.” What does it mean? You’d be surprised. I’ll tell you in a minute, but…the music isn’t over yet.

If I’d had to jump straight into Lowell and Roethke I would have tossed it all overboard. But Dr. Seuss had gotten to me first. He taught me that you could dance to words, and from that dance it was a short step to Chaucer and Pope and Longfellow and Tennyson and Lindsay and Robert Frost and e. e. cummings. Having danced to the edges of rhyme and meter (cummings is a great transition) I could go the rest of the way, and watch the fins go by with Robert Lowell.

Did poetry classes leave a sour taste in your mouth? Grab a Dr. Seuss book, and find your sister if you have one. Run around the house spitting iambs and trochees until you collapse laughing on the couch. That’s how you reboot your poetry sense. Then, if you want, you can take it all the rest of the way to Walt Whitman and beyond.

But I personally wouldn’t blame you if you stopped right there.