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Yeah, I did that NaJoPoMo thing last November. That's the annual madness when everybody's arms get twisted so they write a journal entry for every day of the month. Me? I haven't got that much to say, so I shared my Freebie Film Tips.
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It Beats Graffiti
I have been committing cartoons for a couple of years now – I will not call them art, nobody ever calls them that (they usually just make snarky comments). The cartoons exist mostly to fill up space, torment the artistically inclined, and annoy the good people of Brightling, Sussex. View them at your peril. You have been warned.
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Sociology and the Bobbsey Twins: Merry Daze
What can you learn from old children's books? Quite a lot, really.
This morning over coffee, Elektra and I got to discussing the Bobbsey Twins. I'm willing to bet you've never heard of the Bobbsey Twins, but in the 1950s, Bert, Nan, Freddie and Flossie weren't quite past their sell-by date. They were close, though.
'I don't think I ever finished the first book,' said Elektra. 'It was too boring.'
'I read them,' I said. 'They were as interesting to me as when I read Jack Finney's 'Time and Again' as a adult. The stories are a window into bourgeois life in 1904.'
'Ah,' she said. 'I guess so. But bourgeois life in 1904 was pretty boring.'
I agreed. Byt the sociological implications are interesting.
Here's a link, if you're so inclined. Laura Lee Hope's first Bobbsey Twin book, subtitled 'Merry Days Indoors and Out', is here:
A word about 'Laura Lee Hope'. She's a corporate fiction. The books were penned - well, maybe they used a typewriter - by a whole slew of people, half of them men, in the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Sound like a bunch of gangsters. I bet they were proud of themselves. These are the people who also inflicted upon us Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Tom Swift. These hacks made a fortune, even though libraries often banned their effluvia. As early as 1901, the Newark, New Jersey, Public Library banned Stratemeyer books. The reason? They made students stupid. Okay, they said they induced 'intellectual torpor'.
The first thing I noticed on re-reading was that this stuff was actually more interesting to an adult than to a child. The second was that the kids acted quite naturally - I mean, not the way adults want them to. Freddie in particular is a pistol. He's as pig-headed as any four-year-old could be. He breaks things, and is bossy, and bursts into tears when things don't go his way.
The next thing I noticed was that this book would not fly today - the cook, Dinah, is African American. That dialect has GOT to go. No book containing the word 'gwine' belongs on our bookshelves. It's insulting. Sigh.
You learn a lot about the material culture and social attitudes about life at the turn of the previous century, though:
- At the start of this opus, all four Twins are engaged in building houses out of shoeboxes. Bert makes what his baby sister calls a 'department' house. They model their interior decoration after what they see in relatives' homes.
- Next, they go out to play. Freddie and Flossie play horse and driver. NOT car and driver. Freddie is an obstreperous horse, but Flossie knows just what to do. She manages the reins and gives him water and hay. Different times, different technologies.
- Then comes the first thrilling episode of Major Crisis - the Great Jumprope Incident of 19-Aught-4. It seems Grace's mother has TOLD her not to overdo the rope skipping, but she's, er, 'headstrong'. She tries for 100 JUMPS. When she faints (quiet, exercise fans) a number of things happen.
1. The eight-year-old girls fear she is DEAD.
2. Nan is devastated, because she thinks she's an accessory to murder by virtue of being a rope-thrower.
3. Mr Bobbsey saves the day by carrying the unconscious child into her house.
4. Dr Briskett (!) is called, and advises rest. He also explains that TOO MUCH EXERCISE IS BAD FOR LITTLE GIRLS, so there.
5. The boys stop playing FOOTBALL to commiserate.
What have we learned from this? Apparently, in 1904, female persons were not supposed to do aerobic exercise. It would upset their systems, or something. You know what I found when I googled 'jumping rope health'? The next suggested key word was 'benefits'. I tried 'hazards'. Some clinic pointed out that it was better for you than running, because it was easier on the knees. Take THAT, Dr Briskett.
We have also learned that apparently, nobody worried about the boys playing American football. A sport that is known to cause serious injuries, sometimes with lifelong effects. Oh, well, Bert's tough, he can take it.
Besides, he wants to grow up to be a soldier. (You're going to get your wish, Bert. Good luck against the Hun.) Freddie wants to be a fireman, naturally. When informed of her career choices - mother or stenographer - Nan opts for office work. Flossie insists that she will run a candy-and-ice-cream shoppe, so there. Yay, Flossie.
By the way, Freddie and Flossie are described, approvingly, as 'fat'.
Why am I reading this? Well, I sort of had an idea: to write a story about these kids when they grew up. The Stratemeyer Syndicate's bible specified that the characters could never age (or marry), but Stratemeyer's dead, Aunt Rose, and the Syndicate's gone out of business. [Points for recognising the misquote there.]
The effects of a Lakeport upbringing should be examined in more sociological detail, methinks.
As Dinah says, 'Jess to heah dat now! It's wonderful wot
yo' is gwine to be when yo' is big.'
Elektra and I think Flossie will become a flapper and drive a flivver.
In the Pouring Rain, Very Strange
[I've decided to use my journal today for what appears to be its usual purpose. Going by other journals, it's supposed to be a sort of diary. I don't usually feel like a diarist, but hey, I'm willing to learn.]
Dear h2g2 Diary,
It has been pouring down rain all day. We waited until the thunder and lightning stopped, but we still had to go out into the downpour for groceries.
Some stray thoughts on a rainy day:
Stray thought number one: Don't you hate it when you're having a conversation and it's obvious that the other person is using the time when you're speaking to think about what they're going to say next? Don't you double-dog hate it when that's obvious in an online conversation? Go read a few posts and see what I mean.
Stray thought number two: Last night, we were watching 'Mad Men', which we enjoy very much. One very funny scene involved Don Draper, his wife the soap-opera actress, and Don's client, Herb from Jaguar, who is a pig (we know this: to get the Jaguar contract, Joan from the office had to sleep with him). Herb's innocent wife, the naive and chatty Peaches, was along for the ride, as was Megan Draper's arch, drunken French mother.
Peaches was nattering on about the dog having puppies, and how cute they were. Madame Calvet, who is oh-so-superior and pseudo-intellectual, started criticisng the woman in French. What got my nanny was that the discussion boards today found the subtitles of this conversation hilarious, and sided with La Calvet. If they had understood French, they would have found the subtitles even funnier - especially when she gave her daughter that vulgar advice earlier about how to keep her husband interested. Not me: Peaches was the only real person at the table. Me, I would have talked puppies with her till dessert came. Not that it did: Don 'fired' Jaguar and they all stalked out, leaving Peaches looking as if she were thinking, 'Was it something I said?' She doesn't know about her husband. She doesn't know much about Draper, or she wouldn't shake hands with him. Hell, I wouldn't shake hands with his mother-in-law - we know where they've been.
Stray thought number three: The big news today is that the FBI is proud of itself for nailing a domestic terrorist. This is good news, for a change, because they stopped the guy from doing whatever he was planning to do with the Romanian AK-knockoff and the IEDs BEFORE he did it. Good job.
They accomplished this by storming Buford's (that's pronounced 'BYEW-ferd') mobile home - a caravan, to youze - in Montevideo, Minnesota.
This is the point at which I lost it. Montevideo is pronounced 'Mont-eh-VID-e-o'. The lack of romance in domestic terrorism is depressing, really. Not a place name starting with 'Al-' in the account.
Stray thought number four: Over the weekend, we finished watching the miniseries 'Titanic: Blood and Steel', which aired last fall on the Encore channel, but is now on Netflix. We were wowed. Ignore Wiki-p, that's obviously a paid hatchet job.
Most US viewers, unfortunately, didn't get it. All they could think was, 'Chris Noth is wearing the world's ugliest moustache'. Which he is - but it's pure JP Morgan.
What US viewers didn't get was that this series - which portrayed life in Belfast during the building of Titanic - was a close look at Big Jim Larkin, Lord Pirrie, Winston Churchill, Edward Carson (boo), and other change-makers. Thomas Andrews comes out a real hero. NI Researchers might not be too excited: it was mostly filmed in Serbia. I thought Serbia stood in well for Belfast, myself, but that's an uninformed view.
Yes, there was a lot of manufactured lurve-story stuff, and they implied that everyone was going straight from Belfast to New York, instead of the ship's spending months in Southampton. But other than that, it had a good story to tell. My thought was that it is amazing how your perspective on the decisions made is affected by your knowledge that this ship they're sweating blood to build is going straight to Davy Jones.
Stray thought number five: I wonder if that's how God feels.
Stray thought humber six: Speaking of how God feels, the radio preacher was at it again. This week only, he'll take whatever spare change you've got in return for his 20-hour (!) CD seminar on how to pray and get what you want.
I explained to Elektra, 'He's got a system. All the kinds of prayer are catalogued. I wonder if the angels have got the memo.'
Elektra, 'They're probably rolling their eyes and saying, "Stop bothering The Boss. It makes him cross all day."'
Stray thought number seven: I'm glad to be home and dry. I refuse to worry about it all any more today.
Sufficient unto the day is the absurdity thereof.
Weeding the Radishes from the Internet: Lesson from Thomas More
2 Weeks Ago
Radical: from 'radix' = 'root'. Yeah, that's where 'radish' comes from. Going to the root of things, as far back as the 1650s.
The word's been used - radical, not radish, pay attention - since 1802 to mean extreme political change - radical reform.
In the 1970s, Tom Wolfe talked about radical chic. He accused Leonard Bernstein of it, among others. Where did you get those cool camouflage trousers? And the black beret? Radical, man. Goes with your Che poster.
The OED hasn't caught up yet - at least, according to the scholars in Toronto - but this century, we have a new word. A word I'm not fond of, as you may easily guess.
Rad-i-cal-i-za-tion. I'm spelling it American, because it IS American. And it had better not become anybody else's.
What the bejesus do they mean by this? Well, to put it simply, as far as I can tell, it means:
'Let's figure out what makes people think things we don't want them to think. Then we'll figure out how to change that.'
That used to be called advertising. Maybe we should put Don Draper in charge of Homeland Security.
Is thought the proper subject of government study and action? Well, duh. Of course! We don't want people to think bad things, now, do we?
It's not enough to motivate people to decide - say, on their own - to start wearing their seatbelts, because a) it's a good idea, and b) it's the law...how much better if we rearrange their brains so they won't want to do anything else?
First order of business: study the process of radicalization. Break it down into steps. Beware of the early stages.
Note the 'hidden dangers of non-violent extremism':
(Ha! Thought I was going to show you a white Republican, didn't you? Fooled ya.)
In other words, too much of the wrong kind of thinking is a sort of gateway drug to violent action? (Did anybody ever tell H Rap Brown that? Or Marx, for that matter?)
The Toronto specialists have identified the 'Four Stages of Radicalization', Atarting with 'pre-radicalization'.
Mind you, there's nothing wrong with wearing military fatigues - as long as it's fashion. Radical chic is not necessarily radical. ..but if you're getting in too deep, there's therapy available. Good to know.
Is anybody taking this seriously? How about the White House?
'To more effectively organize our efforts, the Administration is establishing a new Interagency Working Group to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence, chaired by the National Security Staff at the White House and involving specialists in countering violent extremism, Internet safety experts, and civil liberties and privacy practitioners from across the United States Government. '
That's shocking. The US Government has 'civil liberties and privacy practitioners'? That's like finding out that Dr Goebbels employed fact-checkers.
I think these folks would have enjoyed comparing notes with Henry VIII, Defender of the Faith. You know, the guy who beheaded Saint Sir Thomas More.
Okay, wait. You may not have heard of Saint Sir Thomas More. You can spell jihad, but do you young folks know about the headline issues that bothered us old-timers back during the Reformation?
The King promoted More to Top Dog, because back then, they shared a world-view: they both despised Martin Luther and all his works and pomps. (Long story, but vulgar, over-educated Germans got right up their noses.)
His Majesty might not be keen on Protestantism, but he really, really needed a divorce to marry his latest squeeze. So he ditched the Church and made up his own. More, inventor of the word 'utopia', had a sort of one-track mind. He forgot to change his opinions when the King did. More wasn't a fool - although his buddy Erasmus used that as his nickname, pun on the Latin 'morus', etc. More kept quiet. It didn't save him, because they KNEW what he was thinking. And he was thinking it too loudly.
Here's Thomas More's defence speech:
Those are More's words. That's not him, of course. That's some actor. He's been played by Paul Scofield, Charlton Heston, and a very serious Physics professor I once had the honour of sharing a stage with. Okay, I also had the honour of beheading him, but it wasn't for real, so that was okay.
Hey wait - is it okay? Have my ideas been radicalized? Better do a self-diagnostic. Do I wear camo? No. Whew.
In short: radicalization is a dangerous evil. It is apparently catching - like what the Nazis called 'the bacillus of democracy'. And it is spread on the internet.
In Robert Bolt's play, 'A Man for All Seasons', Thomas More says an interesting thing:
'What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.'
By the way, that was almost 500 years ago.
Personally, I don't think God is going to help the people whose statesmen walk this road. Because the first stage of radicalization is praying too much - that's what the man said.
As usual, the internet is to blame. Too much thinking going on around here.
Freebie Film Tip: Theoretical Physicists and Other Mass Murderers
2 Weeks Ago
'Still, you don't expect to be bright and bon vivant,
So far away from home...'
I had this song from Paul Simon in my head today, and I wondered why. If you listen to the words, you might have some ideas of your own about it. For me, I think it was the line about 'I don't know a dream that's not been shattered, or driven to its knees.'
'We come on the ship they called Mayflower,
We come on the ship that sailed the moon,
We come in mankind's most uncertain hour,
And sing an American tune.'
Today's Freebie Film Tip comes to you courtesy of Youtube. In other words, it's not free, but somebody posted it, and they don't seem to care. I don't blame them: this is a wonderful, award-winning documentary from 1980, and it deserves to be better known.
Even if you think 1980 was ancient history. Even if to you, nuclear annihilation is just a quaint bogeyman of history.
A few years ago, prompted by a literary experiment we have mercifully forgotten about, I wrote an essay that you can find here: A48861732. It's really short, and I'd appreciate it if you read it. You don't have to, but I was kind of proud of it. I was trying to capture the moment when the world changed out in the desert. I've linked to the original version in the AWW, because I later changed the last sentence in response to editorial feedback, and I'd like to change it back. That's what I meant to say.
Even if you don't know or care where the nuclear weapons are now - see http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/ - you really ought to be interested in the inventors of the things.
After all, everybody's fascinated by Hannibal Lector. They want to know why he eats people. He's made up.
J Robert Oppenheimer wasn't made up. He made himself up.
The Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army brought about the deaths of millions. When caught, the architects of those horrors were tried and executed.
The creators of the atomic bomb were lauded, mostly. Later, Oppenheimer was forced out of control of his invention by zealous anti-Communists. He was bitterly hurt, because he wanted to have a say in what happened next. But the genie wouldn't go back into the bottle.
The Los Alamos people - the finest minds in the physics world at the time - only managed to murder a couple of hundred thousand people, although they might have set a speed record (Hiroshima took about 9 seconds). Their handiwork destroyed some real estate and turned some cows' hair white.
Potentially, though, they could still be in line for posthumous prizes for 'worst scientific discovery of all time'. They could be destroyers of a world.
Here's the documentary, called 'The Day After Trinity', showing all the good times they had out in the desert:
I recommend a watch, even if you don't want to ponder atom bombs, because the original footage is interesting. You might also like the interviews with people in New Mexico who looked up one morning and noticed that 'the sun rose in the west that day'. Courtesy of an American professor in a porkpie hat.
How Shakespeare's Bacon Number Prepared Me to Write Guide Entries
3 Weeks Ago
Elektra sent me something about yesterday's 'Shakespeare' 'anniversary', and I had to laugh.
They're still getting vituperative at each other about the whole identity question, after all these years.
To begin with: accusing other people of 'hidden agendas' for believing in a theory is a rather poor way of debunking that theory. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to ask, 'cui bono?'
The Shakespeare identity issue has always piqued my interest, ever since the early 1970s. That was when a fellow student introduced us to it. This student was working his way through university by selling the Encyclopedia Britannica. Which I couldn't afford to buy, I told him.
'That's okay,' he said. 'If you get a few friends together and listen to my pitch, I get paid.'
'I can do that, ' I said. Besides, I got a rare perk: my very own computer search. In 1973, this was a Big Deal. Computer information searches weren't available at your fingertips. They had to be ordered from somebody with a big database. The print-out was cool. So, after we all listened to the pitch, I got my search from the ones on the list: 'The Shakespeare Identity Question'. It amounted to a multi-page bibliography.
Two things came out of this:
1. Elektra was inspired to go to library school for her graduate work. Subject: computers and information.
2. I was inspired to learn about alternate theories of history.
Okay, Elektra's was more useful, I suspect.
What we learned about the Shakespeare question:
1. 'Serious scholars' started spluttering whenever the authorship question was mentioned. Could this be because they had already written a lot of books about the guy from Stratford? Hm.
2. Nobody cared much about the guy who allegedly wrote the plays, until David Garrick turned Stratford into a tourist trap.
3. As early as 1850, people were scratching their heads about the whole business.
4. About then, Mark Twain said that he had come to the conclusion that, while he didn't think Bacon wrote those plays, he was sure Shakespeare didn't. He didn't have an axe to grind, but like me, he thought it was a fun question. See his book, 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' If nothing else, you'll get a laugh out of it.
5. Different Shakespeare hobbyists had different takes on this:
a. People who supported Bacon were interested in ciphers, and made your head hurt. Their opponents once used the 'Bacon code' to 'prove' Bacon wrote the New York telephone directory.
b. Oxfordians like gossip. They can recite the whole soap opera of life in Elizabeth's court, and relate it to the plays. At least you get to read the plays. Derek Jacobi is an Oxfordian, if that's any help.
c. The Marlowe people are into spy novels. It's a fun idea, but I think they've disproven it. Marlowe was defnitely deader than a doornail before most of this stuff hit the stage.
d. The group authorship theory requires that you know a bit more about politics, and is a useful study in propaganda.
A few more factoids:
1. Shakespeare's history plays would make Goebbels blush in places. LOTS of propaganda. If you read them carefully, you can figure out whose side the playwright is on - besides the English side, natch. Makes the Tudors look better than they deserve, for one thing.
2. Just about everybody who objects to the whole authorship issue accuses ANYBODY who questions the 'sweet swan of Avon' version of...wait for it...snobbery. This is allegedly because they can't believe that just anybody could write that well without a decent education - or experience of the thing he was writing about, say foreign languages, law, theology, whatever. Whereas THEY, of course, are NOT snobs, because they know that any Englishman ever born is so naturally gifted as to be able to spout blank verse at the drop of a hat, such is the blessed quality of English country air.
3. The theorists themselves are interesting:
a. Marlowe: A man named Wilbur G Zeigler wrote an alternate history novel about Marlowe as Shakespeare in 1895. The lead Marlowe theorist was Leslie Hotson, who wrote about 1925.
b. Bacon: The first person to propose Francis Bacon was named Delia Bacon. We don't know what her Bacon number was, but she was born in a log cabin in Ohio. Here's her picture:
And yes, we think that's tinfoil under her bonnet. She once beat Edgar Allan Poe in a short-story contest, how's that for fame?
c. Gilbert Slater decided there were 'seven Shakespeares'. Me, I think this is a good argument - anyone who's performed this stuff knows the style is uneven.
d. The father of the Earl of Oxford theory was named J Thomas Looney. You have to be brave to put yourself out there with a name like that. I doff my tinfoil hat to Mr Looney. The 17th Earl of Oxford was a snappy dresser:
Want to learn more? Do NOT start with Wikipedia. Unlike my search pages of old, Wikipedia is neither scholarly nor reliable. It has been 'got to' by the Stratford cabal. Besides, as Stephen Colbert would say, all you'll find there is 'Wikiality' - the version of reality represented by random posters on Wikipedia.
Go hitchhike yourself. Figure out which theory you like.
Or make up one of your own. Who cares? The plays aren't going to go away. We'll still be arguing about them next year.
By which time, Danny Boyle will have staged a rock extravaganza version of 'Love's Labours Lost', starring Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones - with Madonna as Jacquenetta.
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