Archive for October, 2011

Life As A Man

He considered tucking his shirt into his pants, decided the President probably wouldn’t be stopping by that day, and shuffled out into the kitchen in his sock feet. The bright sunlight coming in the east windows made him squint.

—Stephen King, The Stand

By Any Other Name

Among the unacknowledged hazards of board games, is that one may suddenly feel compelled to leap across the table and repeatedly stab another player for perceived “cheating at Monopoly.”

A New Mexico woman repeatedly stabbed her boyfriend after accusing him of cheating during a Monopoly game early yesterday, according to police.

Laura Chavez, 60, and her boyfriend were playing the popular board game at her Santa Fe apartment when the dispute occurred. Chavez allegedly admitted stabbing her beau, Clyde “Butch” Smith, with a kitchen knife.

Police reported that both Chavez and the 48-year-old Smith appeared to be intoxicated. The man, who cops found bleeding heavily from wounds on his head and right wrist, was hospitalized yesterday in stable condition.

When cops arrived at Chavez’s building, she was sitting under the porch “covered with suspected blood.” Asked if the blood was Smith’s, she answered, “Yes, I fucked him up.”

Chavez’s 10-year-old grandson, who had been playing with the two adults, told officers that his grandmother began to argue with Smith because she thought he “was cheating at Monopoly.” The boy, who had gone to bed before the stabbing began, did not further describe the alleged cheating.

My first thought was: is this sort of thing now considered Normal in New Mexico? Seems unlikely. But then again, GOoPers are constantly on about the necessity for permitting individual states to become “laboratories of democracy.” And so it is possible that there in New Mexico people have returned to knives as necessary and proper items in conflict resolution.

My second thought concerned the name “Clyde ‘Butch’ Smith.” Yes, I understood almost at once, if one is named “Clyde ‘Butch’ Smith,” it is inevitable that at some point in your life you will be stabbed. Because such a name condemns one to the sort of earthly existence in which knives will feature prominently. You might escape stabbing if your name were limited to “Clyde.” Or “Butch.” Or “Smith.” But if you put them all together—Clyde “Butch” Smith—stabbing is your destiny.

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I Flew With A Zombie

In the November 2011 Harper’s, pharmacopeia correspondent Hamilton Morris recounts his journey to Haiti, there to attempt to duplicate the decades-old exploits of Wade Davis, and, like Davis, return with evidence of zombies and zombie powder.

Morris’ sojourn becomes a farce and a fiasco, though he does learn that that these days zombies are enslaved before computers—”they work on the computers,” he is told, “making accounts, like spread-sheets; they make Excel”—and that some of the island’s women will fly if presented with “six tubes of Ultra Strength Bengay.”

However, the most intriguing information Morris unearths may be that NASA was involved in Davis’ research, the agency seeking zombie powder in order to zombify astronauts headed for Mars.

Yes. This is Real. For details, follow along beyond the “furthur.”

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A Little Spin

So. NASA is now going to build gas stations in space.

That’s not what the NASAoids are calling them—”propellant depots” is the preferred euphemism—but that’s what they are.

Says the New York Times:

By considering a proposal to put filling stations in the sky, NASA is looking to accelerate plans to send astronauts to distant destinations.

The filling stations—NASA calls them propellant depots—would refuel a spacecraft in orbit before it headed out to the moon, an asteroid or eventually Mars. Currently, all of the fuel needed for a mission is carried up with the rocket, and the weight of the fuel limits the size of the spacecraft.

Next month, engineers will meet at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss how propellant depots could be used to reach farther into space and make possible more ambitious missions using the heavy-lift rocket that NASA is planning to build.

However, the space agency has rejected the study’s most radical conclusion: that NASA could forgo the heavy-lift and use existing smaller rockets, combined with fuel depots, to reach its targets more quickly and less expensively. Those targets, for the next two decades at least, include a return to the moon or a visit to an asteroid.

Oh hell no. Let’s not consider the cheaper and quicker alternative. Because what’s really important is the ability to drive big ol’ RVs around in space.

It is touching, really, that humans think they are going to be able to rumble through the universe in RVs. It’s not going to happen, of course, but they can’t see that yet.

The first reason that it’s not going to happen is because space doesn’t want humans in it. At least not as humans are presently constituted. The reasons why are made abundantly clear in this compilation of clips from the 1951 documentary film The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Put simply, space does not want humans in it, because humans do not know how to behave.

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“No, Those Are Next Door”

They are making some interesting humans in Egypt.

First we had Al-Sayed al-Essawy, the self-described “strongest man in the world,” who lives to enter cages and there fight lions (who, to date, have not been interested), and has vowed to “pull an airplane with my teeth, and I will pull an airplane with my hair[;] I will also be run over by an airplane.”

Now there is Ahmed Mohammed, a Cairo tour guide who recently escorted a writer for the journal Bidoun through the Egyptian Museum. Below is a partial transcript of their encounter. It’s Mohammed who kicks it off. The Bidoun seeker’s remarks are in italics.

You see this statue? Man or woman?

Man?

A man with breasts?

So it’s a woman?

A woman with beard?

I have no idea. Transgender?

It’s Hatshepsut. Better to say, Hot-Chicken-Soup. So complex. She’s the only queen that ruled the country. She married her half-brother. Her husband took another woman, so she poisoned everybody in the food. She presented herself as pharaoh, dressed as a man. She wanted to say there’s no difference between man and woman. In my opinion, she was a very successful leader, but she lost herself as a woman.

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Drive Me To The Moon

In a reluctant attempt to move into something resembling the 20th Century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently decreed that women will be allowed, here and there, to vote.

Driving, however, remains out of the question. Under Saudi law, women are prohibited from driving; it is forbidden for x-chromes even to ride a bicycle. And they’re pretty serious about it. One Shaima Jastaina was recently sentenced to 10 lashes for defying the nation’s driving ban; the sentence was not carried out only because 87-year-old King Abdullah intervened.

Jastaina is part of the intertubular Women2Drive campaign, in which uppity females get behind the wheel and go rolling across the desert, law or no law. Saudi mossbacks are getting active in return, gathering on oppositional Facebook sites to ululate about the Horrors and Dangers of women drivers. Below are some excerpts from their postings, which I nicked from the November 2011 edition of Harper’s.

I’m not against women driving so much as the chaos that’ll occur.

It women tried simultaneously to direct their family’s upbringing, guide the nation’s moral education, and, on top of all this, drive a car—this country would record the highest mortality rates in the world.

It is the Saudi man, with his intense love for his wife, who provides her with a chauffeur. And yet they reject this part of his charity and love.

It is obvious to any sane person that to empower women with driving will rob the man of his household role. This will increase the divorce rate—already high—and scatter families, children. Girls will be lost, trampled by extortion.

The economists say that money spent on car insurance for women will be at least ten times more than what is now spent on women’s transportation, private and public. And the notion is still raised! They say, “What does the West say about us? They’ve landed on the moon! Let’s catch up!” The West did not get to the moon with women’s driving!

It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Okay. This is a mighty magic mushbag story.

Norma and Gordon Yeager were married for 72 years. We are going to assume that it was good. Because: it was.

On Wednesday, they went driving. He was 94. She was 90.

They were hit by another car. They were transported to a hospital in Marshalltown.

In the intensive care unit of Marshalltown’s hospital, nurses knew not to separate Gordon and Norma.

“They brought them in the same room in intensive care and put them together—and they were holding hands in ICU. They were not really responsive,” said Dennis Yeager.

Gordon died at 3:38 p.m. holding hands with his wife as the family they built surrounded them.

“It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” said Dennis Yeager. “But we were like: ‘he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat?’ The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”

“They were still getting her heartbeat through him,” said Donna Sheets.

At 4:38 p.m., exactly one hour after Gordon died, Norma passed too.

So, what, really, is “life”? And what, really, is “death”?

More than by measurement, we can know.

So long as she lived, he did, too. Whether he was “breathing,” whether his own heart was “beating,” or no.

They lived, both of them, through desire.

Until, together, they “lived” no more.

And then: together they did float. Into the mystic.

The Most Frightening Thing I Have Ever Heard

Take Two

The world was supposed to end on May 21, but things got fouled up, and it didn’t happen. However—take heart—the place is definitely disappearing, for good and for sure this time, on October 21. Which is, like, tomorrow.

So, whatever you wanted to do in this life: do it now. Time is definitely a-wasting.

I wrote of the previous end of the world, the May 21 version, at some length—length in fact commensurate with, say, War and Peace. Particularly those who are bedridden or imprisoned, and therefore have nothing much else to do, might want to go read the thing, here: should be time enough to peruse most of it, before everything winks out.

The world is ending because the deity according to 90-year-old electronic preacher Harold Camping is tired of the thing, and wants it to just go away. Said deity is in fact so sick of the place that, as Camping has explained, not only will the planet itself be vaporized, but also every memory of it, in every person, place, and thing. It will be as if it had never been.

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The Keystone Of The Whole Convention

Video footage showed Gaddafi, dazed and wounded, but still clearly alive and gesturing with his hands as he was dragged from a pick-up truck by a crowd of angry jostling group of government soldiers who hit him and pulled his hair.

He then appeared to fall to the ground and was enveloped by the crowd. NTC officials later announced Gaddafi had died of his wounds after capture.

The modern laws of war begin with the sympathetic consideration of wounded bodies. In 1859, at Solferino in northern Italy, the Austrians fought the French, and after the battle a young Swiss man named Jean Henri Dunant toured the battlefield. Some 30,000 men lay in the dust and mud—shrapnel wounds, gangrene, the violently dead—and in response to what he saw that day he went on to form the International Committee of the Red Cross. The first Geneva Convention was adopted in August 1864, for the “Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field”: it holds that casualties shall be cared for, whoever’s side they are from, and protects all those who treat them. In 1906, this provision was moved to the start of the Convention; in the 1949 Commentary, the ICRC called the inviolability of the wounded “the keystone of the whole Convention.”

—Daniel Swift, “Conjectural Damage,” November 2011 Harper’s

Wounded in both legs?

Sound like he took one in the nuts.

Rec’d for making me laugh.

“Lefties” who celebrate the death of Gaddafi are not different from Bushies who celebrated the death of Saddam. “Lefties” who celebrate the death of Gaddafi are not different from those who celebrated the plane flying into the Pentagon.

They are the same.

Bertold Brecht: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Yep. In heat in every heart that beats with joy, at the suffering and death of a human being.

Leaving Las Vegas

Ten times the GOoPers who want the American people to make them president in 2012 have appeared in nationally televised debates. And yet here it is, only mid-October of 2011.

Jeebus wept. All our trials, lord. When will they be over.

I had not viewed the first nine debates. But had begun to believe I should. Tune in to these people. At least once. For from what I had read, they are about establishing a new nadir in American political discourse. Too, as a person who has not yet returned to television, I had not actually seen several of these people in physical motion. And that can be vital. In determining whether or not a person constitutes a Menace.

I had a dream Tuesday morning set in Las Vegas. And Tuesday night’s debate would occur in Las Vegas. So. I interpreted that as a Sign. And so I watched. Here on my gnome computer. Below is what I experienced.

Act One

Things I notice right off. Newt Gingrich is fat. Ron Paul’s eyebrow toupees are, for the moment, properly affixed. Anderson Cooper is gay.

Cooper instructs the candidates to “take your podiums.” What does that mean? I assume it is some variation on “take your seats,” but it sounds stupid. Reminds me of when my brother and I would listen to baseball games on the radio, and the announcer would say “the runners are taking their leads,” and my brother would contort himself into the aspect of a rock guitarist blazing out a solo.

I would like it if the candidates would “take” their podiums and begin marching around with them through the audience. Like the time Desi Arnez took his congas out among the people on Saturday Night Live. That would be an interesting way to begin this debate.

But no. Instead there is the national anthem. I turn down the sound on my gnome computer, because it is against my religion to listen to the national anthem. The person singing it is apparently a veteran of Phantom Of The Opera, which seems appropriate: a play about a madman who terrorizes women and burns up in a fire.

I notice that Mitt Romney is breathing through his mouth. Literally a mouth-breather?

Cooper announces that the first question is a twit received via Twitter, and jibbers something about “hashtags.” I loathe the term “hashtag.” “Hash” is a cretinous food I sometimes had to eat as a kid, and “tags” are sticky things in colors not found in nature that you put on your car license-plate when you register it. What they have to do with a medium of communication that limits itself to 144 characters, thus rendering it impossible for anyone to really get anything across, unless they are Heraclitus or Lao Tze, beats me.

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Desire

Buyer Beware

I am for sure believing that “a chaotic used car salesman, nicknamed ‘Scarface,’ with a string of failed businesses behind him,” is at the center of a Web Of Evil. The veritable vortex of a nefarious plot to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the US, as well as 120 or so other people.

Because this is just the sort of man I would want on my A Team, if I were about Big Badness:

“His socks would not match. He was always losing his keys and his cellphone.”

He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized.

Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

[H]e had no interest in religion or politics, and smoked marijuana and drank alcohol freely.

[H]e was hopelessly unreliable. Sam Ragsdale, who runs his own wholesale car business in Corpus Christi, had one word for Mr. Arbabsiar: “Worthless.”

[He] tried his hand at a number of businesses, selling horses, ice cream, used cars and gyro sandwiches, friends said. All of them appear to have flopped, and federal and state records show a trail of liens, business-related lawsuits and angry creditors.

But you know, in the intelligence biz, we just call this “good cover.”

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We Are Devo

The traditional notion that hunter-gatherers must carry on a solitary, unremitting search for food, that they supposedly wake each morning not knowing whether or not they will find the day’s supply, and that they usually die young from famine happens to be untrue. Hunter-gatherers, who are not solitary but live in small bands and observe many intricate social rules for the distribution of food, are far from impoverished. The San in the bleak Kalahari Desert forage for food for no more than a few hours a day on the average; moreover, the unmarried young people and those older than fifty do hardly any work at all. Medical examinations of the San have shown that their diet, both abundant and nutritious, has enabled them to escape many of the health problems associated with diets that are common in modern societies: obesity and “middle-age spread,” dental cavities, hypertension and coronary heart disease, and elevated levels of cholesterol. And far from being short-lived, many of the San live into their sixties and seventies. An important point made by studies of surviving hunter-gatherers is that their generally excellent nutrition extends to all members of the society and not just to a privileged few—simply because the prevalence of sharing insures that everyone eats the same way.

[I]t is a mistake to suppose that modern societies allow people to work less hard for their daily bread. Out of the 1129 hours worked by one Chinese irrigation farmer in a year, only 122 were needed to grow enough food to sustain that farmer. A blue-collar worker in the United States, on the other hand, spends 180 hours earning enough money to purchase a year’s supply of food. Notwithstanding Western notions of the Chinese peasant’s incessant labor, it is plain that they actually need to work less by a third than North Americans or Europeans to keep themselves supplied with food. Moreover, although a mechanized farmer in the American Midwest need put in an annual total of only nine hours of work for each acre to achieve an astounding six thousand calories for each calorie of effort, that figure ignores the enormous amounts of human labor that go into manufacturing and transporting the trucks, tractors, combines, fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, fence wire, and everything else used by the farmer, not to mention transporting the food itself. For every person who actually works on a Midwestern farm, the labor of at least two others off the farm is needed to supply equipment and services directly to the farmer—aside from the very many more whose labors contribute indirectly to the final product. Altogether, a total of 2790 calories of energy must be expended to produce and deliver to a consumer in the United States just one can of corn providing a total of 270 calories. The production of meat entails an even greater deficit: an expenditure of 22,000 calories is needed to produce the somewhat less than four ounces of beefsteak that likewise produce 270 calories.

In short, present-day agriculture is much less efficient than traditional irrigation methods that have been used by Asians, among others, in this century and by Mayans, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Chinese in antiquity. The primary advantage of a mechanized agriculture is that it requires the participation of fewer farmers, but for that the price paid in machines, fossil fuels, and other expenditures of energy is enormous. A severe price is also paid in human labor. Once the expensive machines have been manufactured and deployed on the farms, they are economically efficient only if operated throughout the daylight hours, and indeed farmers in the United States often labor for sixteen hours a day. The boast of industrialized societies that they have decreased the workload is valid only in comparison with the exploitation of labor that existed in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution. If the prevailing forty-hour work week of North America and Europe were proposed to the San, whoever did so would be considered to be exploitive, inhuman, or plain mad.

—Peter Farb, Consuming Passions

Make It Stop

People in this town are controlled by the impulse to festoon the exterior of their homes and yards with lavish, often outsized holiday decorations.

Generally, by the time Christmas rolls around, I am used to this. However, Halloween annually arrives as something of a surprise.

The other night I had already been unnerved, accosted in the discount grocery store by first a cackling witch, and then some sort of moldering dead person. Both of whom felt it necessary to rumble and screech dire imprecations at me, as I wandered the aisles in search of foodstuffs.

It is true that these beings were most probably inanimate, come alive via motion-detection. But still. One never can tell.

So what I did not need, driving home in the dark, was a humungous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Looming over some hedges. Towering into the trees. Gazing insipidly right at me. Moving a little, in the breeze.

At least, I hope it was the breeze.

Ron’s Rugs

I wouldn’t want to be on television. The tube that makes people appear wider and heavier than they actually are, the harsh and pitiless light meanwhile tending to lend a corpse-like pallor to even the healthiest person. Humans who appear on television with some regularity become accustomed to slathering themselves down with heavy makeup, so as to appear something like a human. Some even come to rely on serious body modification.

So I have some sympathy for GOoPer slave-holder and Hebrew-fearer Pawn Rawl. Who, for the occasion of the most recent televised GOoPer clown-car confab, felt it necessary to appear onscreen with a pair of eyebrow toupees. One of which proceeded to very publicly fall off.

The collapse was first broadcast by David Magee of the International Business Times. Who wrote, even as the GOoPer debate was still in full jabber:

The Republican debate on Bloomberg is underway at Dartmouth, and the focus is on something critical to America: the economy. But I’ve barely heard a word said in the first 18 minutes of the debate because I’m so concerned about Ron Paul’s fake eyebrow, which is falling off.

[A]s Paul kept talking in his first turn to answer a question at the roundtable-style debate, it was clear that he was wearing fake eyebrows and that his right eyebrow—showing up on the left on TV, was falling off.

It was crooked, almost upside down, and revealing his real, much thinner and lighter-colored eyebrow underneath. He looked like a clown, I’m sorry to say.

Paul talked, but I barely recall a word he said. It sounded like blah, blah, blah, my fake eyebrow is falling off.

Magee then pronounced a massive and final judgement on the Pawn candidacy:

I’ve got a problem with a person running for president wearing fake eyebrows. All of the candidates are wearing heavy makeup for the lighted stage. Of course. They’ve got hair dye, hair spray, layers of makeup and more. But a fake eyebrow? That’s too much.

Ron Paul is wearing fake eyebrows, and I can never take the man seriously again as a candidate for president. Paul is entertaining—especially tonight—and he’s got some interesting positions, like the one that the Federal Reserve is America’s anti-Christ. But we can’t have a man in the White House who wears fake eyebrows, and poor ones at that.

In a previous debate, Paul was criticized for wearing a suit that was too big. It swallowed him. He needed a good tailor. Instead, for this debate, he got a bad makeup artist. I feel for Paul, in a compassionate sort of way—but the fake eyebrows are too much for a serious presidential candidate.

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Let’s Dance

Gun Rites

The nonsense with the bodies: it just won’t stop.

Recently I wrote of the Doritos inventor who was buried with his corn chips scattered on and around his corpse. Which followed the special dispensation granted to the inventor of Pringles, so he could be compacted and laid to rest in a Pringles can.

In that piece, I worried that such a someone like Edward Teller, “father” of the hydrogen bomb, might now decide he needs to be interred in a ceremony in which a thermonuclear bomb is detonated on his grave.

Well, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting close. Because out of Alabama comes word that a couple of good ol’ boys have commenced to cram cremated human remains into shotgun shells and rifle and pistol cartridges, so that people can be involved in shooting and killing shit, even after they’re dead.

The ol’ boys, Thad Holmes and Clem Parnell, call their company Holy Smoke LLC.

“This isn’t a joke. It’s a job that we take very seriously,” [Parnell] said. “This is a reverent business. We take the utmost care in what we do and show the greatest respect for the remains.”

The company, launched in July, shipped out its first two orders on Sept. 16—one from Florida and one from Kentucky—Holmes says.

It has established www.myholysmoke.com to promote the service and traffic on it has been growing, Holmes says.

Tim Godwin, a Montgomery landscaping company owner and avid hunter, says he sees no problem with the practice.

“People have had their ashes sprinkled in rivers and the ocean, there have been ashes spread out of airplanes,” he said. “If you love hunting or the outdoors, this really isn’t much different.”

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Time Out

The Said Admiral Is Dead

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fuku americanus, or more colloquially, fuku—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fuku of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best, the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fuku, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours.

No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not . . . . 

—Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Much about the Admiral is not known. Where he was born, and when: these are not known. The arc of his early years, when and what he studied at the University of Pavia: these, too, are not known. Where he obtained his ideas of geography, this is not known. The Admiral, it developed, did not know geography: he believed, to the end of his days, that where he landed in 1492 marked the far eastern fringe of Asia.

What is known is that when the Admiral stepped ashore on Hispaniola, he brought Original Sin to the New World. The policies he pursued there exterminated that island’s people, the Taino. Every one.

All the Indians of these islands were allotted by the Admiral . . . to all the settlers who came to live in these parts; and in the opinion of many who saw what happened and speak of it as eyewitnesses, the Admiral, when he discovered these islands, passed sentence of death on a million or more Indians, men and women, of all ages, adults and children. Of this number and of those since born, it is believed that there do not survive today, in this year 1548, 500 Indians, adults and children, who are natives and who are offspring of the stock of those he found on arrival.”

Today, “the Taino survive in the shape of one’s eyes, the outline of one’s face, the idiom of one’s language.” All the rest, is gone.

From Hispaniola, the Admiral and his works brought destruction too to all the native peoples of all the rest of the Americas—north, central, and south.

And to replace the falling bodies of the Taino, who died extracting gold and silver for him, the Admiral birthed the transatlantic slave trade, bringing to the New World in bondage people from the place where human beings were born.

Wrote the Admiral to his sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella:

“We can send from here, in the name of the Holy Trinity, all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold. If the information I have is correct, we can sell 4000 slaves, who will be worth, at least, 20 millions, and 4000 hundred-weight of brazil-wood, which will be worth just as much . . . I went recently to the Cape Verde Islands where the people have a large slave trade, and they are constantly sending ships to barter for slaves, and ships are always in harbor . . . Although they die now, they will not always die. The Negroes and the Canary Islanders died at first[.]“

The Admiral also loved him some pope, another of his sponsors. And wanted to help him flog their god to other parts of the globe, there to kill and convert people. In his journal of December 26, 1492, the Admiral writes that he hopes to gather up from the New World gold “in so great quantity that the Sovereigns within three years would undertake and prepare to go and conquer the Holy Places.” In a letter sent directly to the pope, the Admiral offered to himself lead a crusading force of some 110,000 men.

But that was not to be. The Admiral was eventually returned in chains to Spain, accused of misgoverning his New World. Fallen from favor, he spent his declining years in litigation against the king, seeking to regain lost wealth and titles. Further, he thought he should receive 10% of all profits Spain derived from the New World, and demanded same; the king told him to bugger right off. In combating the crown, the Admiral became a nonperson. And when he died, the official chronicle of the inland northern town where he expired, Valladolid, did not acknowledge his passing. It was not until several weeks later that a town document noted simply: “the said Admiral is dead.”

Change In The Weather

When one first masters the art of magic, it is not uncommon that, at least for a time, one’s powers increase exponentially.

And so it is with my neighbor, Burning Man.

Last winter I noted here that this man possesses the power to generate rain, by igniting in his yard little fires consuming branches, leaves, boards, and such.

He was not aware of this, until I pointed it out to him.

Yet the conclusion was inescapable: for every time he made one of his little fires, it would commence to rain within the next 24 hours.

At first I believed his powers to be localized. But as the season went on, I noticed that his firestarting could cause the skies to open all over the nation. I did not comment on this at the time, because I did not want to be Credited, or Blamed.

Now, this fall, he doesn’t even have to start a fire, in order to bring rain. He only has to think about it.

A week or so ago I heard the sound of him heaving boards off his deck, clanging into a little pile below. I knew from experience what this sound meant: a fire is a-comin’. And, thus, rain. Except, this time, he was never able to actually build the fire. Because within 12 hours mountains of clouds came marching in off the ocean, to dump down a deluge.

He’s clanging around out there again right now. So, be notified, people: somewhere out there, the rain is gonna fall.

Yum

Humans will swallow almost anything that does not swallow them first. The animals they relish range in size from termites to whales; the Chinese of Hunan Province eat shrimp that are still wriggling, while North Americans and Europeans eat live oysters; some Asians prefer food so putrefied that the stench carries for dozens of yards. At various times and places, strong preferences have been shown for the fetuses of rodents, the tongues of larks, the eyes of sheep, the spawn of eels, the stomach contents of whales, and the windpipes of pigs. Italians symbolically cannibalize the most respected figures in their culture by eating such things as “nun’s thighs,” “the Pope’s nose,” and “nipples of the Virgin.” Nor has there been a shortage of unusual combinations, such as the Scottish haggis—a cow’s lungs, intestines, pancreas, liver, and heart, seasoned with onions, beef suet, and oatmeal, all cooked together in a sheep’s stomach—or the favorite dish of the Roman Emperor Vitellius, whose ingredients were the tongues of flamingoes, the brains of peacocks, the livers of pikes, and the sex glands of lampreys.

People in every society regard their own preferences as sensible and all deviations from these as perverse or even loathsome. In the central African country of Chad four tribes who live in close proximity have different attitudes towards the beans, the rice, the millet, and the many other kinds of food that are grown in the area. Each group ridicules the others about what they consider edible. One object of raillery is the rotted meat which one tribe not only devours, but in fact holds in special regard as appropriate for rituals. Most North Americans and Europeans are revolted by hearing that certain Mexicans eat fried grubs, that dog flesh has been esteemed in China since antiquity, and that the fox was once considered a delicacy in Russia. Yet their tastes are often regarded with equal repugnance by others. Perhaps a third of humankind would rather starve than consume the bacon, ham, and sausage that are relished in North American and Europe, and many would be nauseated by the milk that is drunk in such large quantities.

—Peter Farb, Consuming Passions

Eternal Recurrence

To everybody’s amazement old Bonnemort could be seen standing on a log and holding forth in the midst of the uproar. Until then he had stood there absorbed, appearing, as he always did, to be musing on far-off things. Probably he was overcome by one of those garrulous fits which suddenly came and stirred up the past so violently that his memories welled up and poured out of his mouth for hours. A deep silence had fallen, and they listened to this old man, this ghostly spectre in the moonlight, and as he was telling things with no obvious bearing on the discussion, long stories that nobody could understand, the amazement grew. He was talking about his own young days, the death of his two uncles who were crushed in a fall at Le Voreux, then he went on to the pneumonia that had carried off his wife. But through it all he clung to his point: things had never gone well in the past and they never would in the future. For example, they had had a meeting in the forest, five hundred of them, because the king would not reduce working hours; but then he stopped short and began the story of another strike—he’d seen so many of them, he had! And they had all finished up under these trees in the Plan-des-Dames, or else at the Charbonnerie, or further off still, over Saut-du-Loup way. Sometimes it was freezing, sometimes it was blazing. One night it had rained so hard that they had gone home without saying anything. And the king’s soldiers arrived and it ended up with shooting.

—Emile Zola, Germinal


When I Worked

October 2011
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