There were villages in the land then

“Duty, as well as inclination, urges the Lay Preacher to sermonize, while others slumber. To read numerous volumes in the morning, and to observe various characters at noon, will leave but little time, except the night, to digest the one or speculate upon the other. The night, therefore, is often dedicated to composition, and while the light of the pale planets discovers at his desk the Preacher, more wan than they, he may be heard repeating emphatically with Dr. Young, ‘Darkness has much Divinity for me.’  He is then alone, he is then at peace. No companions near, but the silent volumes on his shelf, no noise abroad, but the click of the village clock, or the bark of the village dog. The Deacon has then smoked his sixth, and last pipe, and asks not a question more, concerning Josephus, or the Church. Stillness aids study, and the sermon proceeds.” — Joseph Dennie, The Lay Preacher (1796)

Riddle me these

“Why do classical economists believe that free trade is good for everyone?  Why does the amount of gold kept in the treasury not make much difference to a country’s wealth?  Why don’t better machines for making pins eliminate jobs for good, instead of making more jobs of another kind?  Why, for that matter, does it not matter whether we’re productive in farming or manufacturing so long as we’re productive?  What does productivity even mean?” — Adam Gopnik, “Market Man”

It’s a zoo out there

“To better imagine zoo life, you might picture yourself living with your brother (if you are male) or sister (if you are female) in a department store’s window display that looks like a luxuriously furnished home.  Satin drapes shroud the French doors, white woolen upholstery encases the armchairs and the sofa, and a thick silk Oriental carpet covers the parquet floor.  But the doors lead nowhere, the books on the shelves are fake, the TV doesn’t work, the radio has no innards, and the only magazine, a copy of House Beautiful on the coffee table, is dated 1980.  Anyway, you have read it so often you now know it by heart.  Long ago you and your sibling have resolved all your differences.  You have little to say to one another and you no longer think of escape.  You have forgotten your freedom and have accepted your fate.  The building is your prison, and both of you realize that you will never leave it alive.  To forget the boredom and the crowds of people going freely wherever they please, who gather each day outside the glass window, oohing and aahing at the luxury that surrounds you, you and your sibling lie down behind the sofa, where you escape into dreams.  You don’t wake up if you can help it, not even when people in the crowd notice your feet poking out beyond the sofa and bang on the glass to rouse you.  You dream of the night, which you spend with three or four other prisoners shackled to the chairs in the employees’ lounge.  At least you and your fellows can talk all night without wild-looking faces staring at you.” — Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Tribe of Tiger

Make it maybe not so new

“Of all the criticisms that have been passed upon the Declaration of Independence, the least to the point is that it is not original. The material was at hand, the argument had been elaborated, the conclusions had been drawn. For originality there was as little opportunity as there was need. What was required now was a concise summing up of the whole matter, full enough to give a clear impression of completeness, vigorous and bold enough to serve as a national manifesto, and polished, dignified, and incisive enough to catch the ear, to linger in the memory, and to bear endless repetition.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

East is east

“King Dasaratha addressing his dearest wives said ‘I intend to perform a sacrifice in order to obtain sons. Therefore you also commence religious discipline.’ After listening to these excessively charming words, their lotus-like countenances endowed with brightness were resplendent like lotuses uncovered by ice.” — Valmiki Ramayana, Balakanda Sarga 8

the short of it

There was a time when I was writing everything in lower case.  Abandoning caps changed the way the words flowed together in a piece.  Every once in a while I still write a lower-case piece, but it’s mostly something I did in the mid-90s.

Another thing I did in the mid-90s and still sometimes do is write very short pieces.  Abandoning caps works better in shorter pieces, since total lower case is not just a little hard on the eyes, it’s also a little more challenging to the mind.  Have to be careful with all that.

But going deep campo for lower case wasn’t the principal reason I wrote short pieces.  I had it in mind to see how short I could get a story to go and still have a full and symmetrical piece.  It seemed about 350 words was the bottom limit.  Pieces also seemed to develop their own internal necessity of length, with around 450 words and 675 words being approximate “natural” lengths for my work.

My first published piece of fiction was in all lower case, and this week it’s the story I’m posting: “eleanor in uncertain way, pulling.”  It was published in NuCity in July of 1995.  (NuCity later became The Weekly Alibi and continued to publish my stuff from time to time.)

Mutatis mutandis

“No history of the American Revolution, or of the political literature to which it gave birth, would be complete without consideration of the loyalists. That independence was in fact the work of a minority, and that the methods by which the loyal majority was overawed and, in part, expelled were as high-handed and cruel as they were active and vigorous, must be freely conceded. Weighty as was the colonial argument, force and violence were freely employed to give effect to it.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

Clubbable

“A few years ago, a group of economists looked at more than a hundred Fortune 500 firms, trying to figure out what predicted how much money the C.E.O. made.  Compensation, it turned out, was only weakly related to the size and profitability of the company.  What really mattered was how much money the members of the compensation committee of the board of directors made in their jobs.  Pay is not determined vertically, in other words, according to the characteristics of the organization an executive works for; it is determined horizontally, according to the characteristics of the executive’s peers.  They decide, among themselves, what the right amount is.  This is not a market.” — Malcolm Gladwell, “Talent Grab”

Kindling was different then, but pickles were the same

“Advertisements of merchandise in all the colonies throw a good deal of light on the customs of the time, and, incidentally, also on the popular taste in reading. We find that Peter Turner has ‘Superfine Scarlet Cloth, Hat Linings, Tatlers, Spectators, and Barclay’s Apology’; that Peter Harry imports ‘Head Flowers in Boxes, Laces and Edgings, Psalm-books, Play-books, the Guardians in 2 vol., Women’s Short Cloaks, Men’s Scarlet Great Coats’ and other apparel. The ship Samuel, from London, brings over ‘sundry goods, particularly a very choice collection of printed Books, Pictures, Maps and Pickles, to be Sold very reasonable by Robert Pringle.'” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 7

Plato’s ghost

“An old-time classification of the human faculties will serve to explain the development of American thought in the eighteenth century, a development which led to the overthrow of high Calvinism. As there were three divisions of the human mind—intellect, sensibility, and will, so were there three divisions among the enemies of orthodoxy. Those who followed the intellect were the rationalists, or deists. Those who followed sensibility were the “hot” men, or enthusiasts. Those who followed the will were the ethical reformers, who emphasized the conscious cultivation of morality rather than a divinely wrought change in man’s nature.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 5

Hamlet’s question recidivus

“On his attaining to nirvana, Sakyamuni became the Buddha, and had no longer to mourn his being within the circle of transmigration, and could rejoice in an absolute freedom from passion, and a perfect purity. Still he continued to live on for forty-five years, till he attained to pari-nirvana, and had done with all the life of sense and society, and had no more exercise of thought. He died; but whether he absolutely and entirely ceased to be, in any sense of the word being, it would be difficult to say. Probably he himself would not and could not have spoken definitely on the point.” — from The Travels of Fa-Hien, Ch. XII (trans. Legge)

Geo. Washington slept here

“There is a tradition that when Buddha came to North India, he came at once to this country [Udyana], and that here he left a print of his foot, which is long or short according to the ideas of the beholder on the subject. It exists, and the same thing is true about it, at the present day. Here also are still to be seen the rock on which he dried his clothes, and the place where he converted the wicked dragon. The rock is fourteen cubits high, and more than twenty broad, with one side of it smooth.” — from The Travels of Fa-Hien, Ch. VIII (trans. Legge)

A kind of desert

“Mourning: a cruel country where I am no longer afraid.” — Roland Barthes, 1977.

The Center for Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University publishes an annual litmag called The Healing Muse.  In their most recent issue (#10) they included my short piece, “The Take-Out,” which is the story I’m posting this week.

You can depend on it

“If a people is to be judged solely by its crimes and its sins, all the people of this planet are utterly damned.  Such judgments can produce only the deepest kind of anarchy.  The civilized judgment, on which depends all the possibilities of a decent human life, requires that men, while condemning and resisting evil deeds, should be unfaltering in their faith in and their response to the healing impulses of their fellow men.” — Walter Lippmann, 1933

Is this why American schools are a dysfunctional mess?

“In every State it should be a fundamental maxim that the education of youth should be particularly formed and adapted to the nature and end of its government.” — Thomas Sheridan, 1756 (from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. 14)

Job security

“The history of diplomacy is the history of relations among rival powers, which did not enjoy political intimacy, and did not respond to appeals to common purposes.  Nevertheless, there have been settlements.  Some of them did not last very long.  Some of them did.  For a diplomat to think that rival and unfriendly powers cannot be brought to a settlement is to forget what diplomacy is all about.  There would be little for diplomats to do if the world consisted of partners, enjoying political intimacy, and responding to common appeals.” — Lippmann, The Cold War

Oh, come on, let them eat cake

“Laissez-faire is dead and the modern state has become responsible for the modern economy as a whole.  The task of insuring the continuity of the standard of life for its people is now as much the fundamental duty of the state as the preservation of national independence.” — Walter Lippmann, Godkin Lectures, 1934.

Now for something completely different

The story I’m posting this week, “The Congenital Fiance”, first appeared in Caketrain a couple of years ago.  I wrote it some years back, not long before the Umpteenth World War started.  The world wasn’t any younger or more innocent or necessarily safer or nicer in those days, but part of the world that ended on the bright autumn day when the towers came down–ending in the unpredictable way in which worlds end–was the world in which an American could casually engage in street photography with a 35mm SLR without being suspected of being either a terrorist or a government agent.

Which is neither here nor there and has practically nothing to do with “The Congenital Fiance”.

Bargain prices in the Potemkin village

“In an earlier era men like John Milton and John Stuart Mill had argued that liberty depended on a press free from censorship and intimidation.  They were concerned primarily with freedom of belief and expression.  But in modern democracies the problem was different.  The press could be ‘free’ and still fail to do its job.  Without accurate and unbiased information the public could not form intelligent decisions.  Democracy would be either a failure or a sham.” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Or about anything, for that matter?

“Most political theory assumed that the average man could, if presented with the facts, make reasonable decisions.  But what if access to the facts was blocked by propaganda, ignorance and willful distortion?  How would this affect the assumption that the average man could make intelligent decisions about public issues?” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century