Tales from real life
|Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!|
It's that time of year again, and I just completed a poem, Dark Time, for The Solstice Poetry Contest . A couple of years ago, I wrote a story, Solstice Day for The Whatever Contest -- Closed for Now . In my story, I described a rationalized calendar that has 13 months with 28 days each (364 days). A holiday called Solstice Day would be inserted in mid-June to complete a 365-day year. Every four years, another Solstice Day would be inserted in mid-December to account for leap year. I knew this calendar wasn't original with me, the basic idea has been around for hundreds of years. What I didn't know when I wrote the story was that this calendar almost became reality exactly one hundred years ago.
Last month I read an article in The Washington Post about an effort to implement the very calendar I describe in my story. The International Fixed Calendar (IFC) was proposed in 1923 by The League of Nations. There was a burst of optimism after 'the war to end all wars' and the promise of science and technology seemed bright. They wanted to rationalize the months and days to create a perennial calendar. George Eastman was a fervent supporter of this idea, and his Eastman Kodak company actually used the IFC internally for many years. The only difference from my story is that the IFC inserts the 'extra' day between December 28 and January 1st.
The opposition to the IFC came primarily from the Jewish community. They hold the seven-day cycle as sacred law and objected to a 'nothing' day that would shift the Sabbath by one day every year. The traditional Hebrew calendar inserts an entire month every four years to align with the solar calendar, but it always maintains the sabbath on Saturday. Other traditionalists also objected and the IFC was never implemented by any world government. The effort was abandoned in 1937 when it failed to win final approval from The League of Nations.
John Donne wrote No Man Is an Island, yet many people feel isolated and cut off from the main. Paradoxically, Thoreau chose to live alone in the woods for two years to escape a life of quiet desperation. Simon & Garfunkel sang I Am a Rock. H. G. Wells (and many others) said that we are all one. Sartre said that hell is other people.
So, humanity. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. We're trapped in a continuous dance of reaching out and being rebuffed, coming together and drawing apart. It's an endless comedic tragedy and nobody gets out alive. I'll offer up an opinion that the pain we inflict on others becomes our own personal hell, and the love we give is our only glimpse of heaven.
My recent poem, Introvert, deals with these themes:
Some reviewers expressed concern for my state of mind after reading the poem. I suppose that's the risk of stating one's mind. Here's a multiple-choice clarification:
A. Poetry allows us to express truth without necessarily using facts.
B. Living in my own head is a lonely existence, but where else can I go?
C. At my age, I have to look in the mirror and say, "Maybe it's me."
D. Self-pity is a bore, but almost impossible to resist.
E. All of the above.
I didn't write Introvert out of deep depression, but from existential doubt. At age 66 I find myself wondering if there is any meaning to my life. I've done the things that people do: college, marriage, church, family, career, and now retirement. I've attained a measure of success in all of these, but what's the point?
We haven't been blessed with grandchildren and it doesn't look like there will ever be any. My grandfather was the only male Fisher of his generation and I'm the last male Fisher of my generation. I don't have any nieces or nephews, and not even any cousins named Fisher. In 60 years or so, my kids will be gone, and it will be as though I never existed. There won't even be anyone interested in their family tree who might look me up in the census.
Does this matter? Of course not. I'll join billions who have lived and died and been forgotten. And it won't make the slightest difference after I'm gone. But it still hurts.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” - Matthew 22:35–40
I was just a child when the Civil Rights Act was passed, but I do remember when the 'Summer of Love' and Woodstock were in the news. For a brief time, it seemed like humanity was poised for a great leap forward in equality, justice, and compassion. But the hopefulness of the 60's counterculture soon faded. Partly due to drug abuse and lack of direction, but mostly because of mockery from the conservative right. To love one's neighbor was considered unpatriotic, unamerican, and just plain ridiculous. For 80's conservatives, the business of America became giving Americans the business. Even then, there was a foul stench of Trumpism at the core of the GOP. In the 90's, Newt Gingrich abandoned the concept of a moral majority and turned the GOP onto the low road of wedge politics that led directly to Donald Trump and insurrection.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. - Acts 4:32-35
I grew up with the cold war and the threat of communism. We all knew for a certainty that 'commies' were bad guys who would rape our women, take our land, and destroy the American way of life. In reality, there was no communism, only fascism dressed up as 'the will of the people'. As I grew older and wiser, I realized that the conservative right was more opposed to the theory of communism than to its fascist implementation in the Soviet Union.
The central theme of Marx's communist manifesto is clearly borrowed from the Acts of the Apostles. Demonizing communism allows the haves to ignore the example of the apostles and exploit the have nots. Today, the voracious right-wing politicians and Televangicals never have enough. They constantly beg for dollars while distributing pennies to the poor. These false teachers practice Christianity in much the same way that Stalin practiced communism.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. - John: 14:6
Today, we have the embodiment of dishonesty in the person of Donald Trump. He uses the words of fascist dictators to promote himself as the 'will of the people'. He calls his neighbors vermin and vows to 'root them out'. He misrepresents his business worth to commit tax fraud and bears false witness against judges and elections workers. He presents himself as a golden calf to be worshiped by the MAGA lemmings. The Televangicals even call him the second coming of the Messiah. Trump responds to multiple criminal indictments with a declaration that he has a constitutional right to lie, cheat, and steal. He places himself above the laws of man and even above the Law of God.
The January 6th uprising may have failed, but the conspiracy to illegally return Donald Trump to the White House is ongoing. James Comer's 'weaponization' committee is just one part of that conspiracy. Comer is blatantly abusing the power of his office to swing the 2024 presidential election to Donald Trump. House republicans have elevated an insurrectionist to the position of Speaker. And the stink of Trumpism is even attached to members of the Supreme Court who have adopted a 'me first' philosophy to justify taking bribes from right-wing political donors.
The Trump conspiracy has already been proven. Scores of conspirators have been sent to prison. And dozens of republican representatives and senators are also implicated in the conspiracy. They may very well face prosecution as the wheels of justice continue to turn. These desperate conspirators are already forming plans for a second insurrection with the ultimate goal of receiving presidential pardons. They are openly proclaiming a post-election reign of terror to purge their enemies and establish a Trump Reich. So, today we have a unique and terrifying situation. Anyone who works on Trump's 2024 presidential campaign automatically becomes a co-conspirator to commit insurrection.
Donald Trump's self-worship violates God's greatest law. His hatred of his neighbor violates the second greatest law. Trump's fraudulent business practices and his conspiracy to overthrow democracy violate the laws of man. And anyone who supports Donald Trump and follows his example is equally guilty in the eyes of God and the courts of man.
In the mid 1900's people used to gather and sit together at table for entertainment as well as food. Rectangular slips of heavy paper would be randomly distributed to guests who would rearrange them, then compete to lay them down in an orderly pile. This was called 'playing cards'. It often went on late into the night, accompanied by social drinking, laughter, and even the exchange of considerable sums of money.
Pinochle was a popular card game among middle-class families of modest means. Both my parents and my in-laws were fond of playing it. I learned the game early and was often pressed into service when there weren't enough adult players to make up a four-person game. I took pinochle cards to college with me and taught my classmates to play. Later, my wife and I spent many evenings ignoring the TV background noise as we teamed up against her parents.
A standard deck has 52 cards, but a pinochle deck has only 48. It uses the sequence of nine through ace in four suits, but there are two of each card. That means there are 8 nines, 8 tens, 8 jacks, and so on. Scoring is done both with card combinations in one's hand, and by taking tricks during play. Each hand begins with a round of bidding to determine which team will lead during the playing of tricks. The winning bidder selects a trump suit and then their partner passes them four cards to improve their hand before play begins. Any trump card beats all other suits and is beaten only by higher trump cards. A typical hand might score 300 to 400 points and the first team to 1500 wins the game.
The ace is the highest ranked card in a pinochle deck and nine is the lowest. One of the most rare and valuable hands is the collection of all eight aces. It's worth one thousand points and pretty much assures a win in any particular game. More common is a run of five cards in the same suit from ten through ace. That counts for 150 points. It's difficult to make one's bid without a run. If the player who wins the bid fails to make that many points while playing the hand, then the bid is subtracted from their score.
I was watching a game in the dorm one day when an unusual situation arose. My friend Mark and his partner Steve were bidding against each other. That's considered a breach of etiquette as well as a poor strategy for making the bid. It turned out that Steve was dealt a run in spades and understandably felt compelled to win the bid. Mark had the other seven aces in his hand, and he was determined to go for eight. He figured his odds were one in three that Steve would have the eighth ace. And he would probably never have that good a chance again.
Mark eventually won the bid and Steve was puzzled when Mark called spades as trump. What to do? He couldn't pass a five-card run. Four cards were exchanged, and Mark assumed an 'oh well' expression. He still had a pretty good hand, after all. He decided to be theatrical and led with six aces, saving the trump suit for last. He was flabbergasted when Steve played his only remaining spade, the ace, to Mark's lead.
"You had the ace!" Mark shouted. "Why didn't you pass it?"
"Well, only an idiot would bid without an ace of trump," Steve replied.
Mark struggled, red-faced, to find adequate words to express the extent of his frustrated rage. Finally, he threw the rest of his cards at Steve and stormed out of the room, followed by gales of laughter from the onlookers.
My wife and I went to an Oktoberfest fundraiser at our local parish last night. The menu was brats and sauerkraut, of course, and several local brewpubs donated their product for taste testing. The food was good, the beer was better, and the subject of preferred condiments came up.
Deb and I renewed our long running discussion (argument) about Dijon mustard. She thinks plain yellow mustard is boring, but I can't abide horse radish. And it isn't just that I don't like it, I physically cannot swallow the horrible stuff. And our discussion (argument) reminded me of a story that was perfect for a tableful of friends and acquaintances who were trying to enjoy their food.
Way back in 1980, I got involved with a project to integrate the Bandit CNC with an H. W. Ward lathe. A Computer Numerical Control allows a relatively unskilled operator to cut metal parts on a machine tool with almost perfect accuracy. It was a financial boon for industry, but traditionalists lamented the passing of the skilled machinist. H. W. Ward is a British company and I spent almost a full month in England as the project was winding up. My 'minder' was a fifty-something mechanical engineer named John Payne. He had his doubts about all of the new 'computer stuff' but was friendly toward me and supportive of my efforts.
Our schedule was tight and pub lunches were expensive, so John offered me tea and roast beef sandwiches one day in lieu of going out. I like roast beef and the pub food was mediocre at best, so I gladly accepted. What I didn't know was that John was a horse radish fiend. He slathered on a layer of the awful white goop as thick as the meat itself. I'm not much of a tea drinker and I was focused on adding enough milk and sugar to make it palatable to my sweet tooth. I didn't really look at the sandwich as I picked it up and took a big mouthful of pure horse radish.
To quote Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, "The horror, the horror . . ."
My reaction was immediate and uncontrollable. The bite of sandwich bounced, literally, and I barely managed to reach the waste basket as everything came up.
John, with perfect British reserve, didn't even flinch.
"If you don't care for roast beef, you could have just said."
|Reposted from Real Fake News:
Audubon Society Applauds Fall of the Trump Empire
by staff reporter Howie Cheatham
“The financial fraud case against the one-term, twice-impeached, failed ex-president will pay big dividends for America’s birds,” said Robin Redd, spokesperson for the Audubon Society. “Every year, millions of birds are killed when they collide with the phony facade of the so-called 'Trump Tower'. Migrating flocks seem to lose their better judgment and fly directly to their doom. It’s as though the Trump brand is intentionally designed to attract bird brains. Removing Trump from the environment will be a huge improvement and save countless lives.”
An inside source at the Trump organization confirmed that crews of undocumented workers have been secretly shoveling huge piles of dead birds into trash bins ever since the building opened for occupancy in 2001. “My dad is really smart,” boasted the anonymous source known only as ‘Eric’. “It’s all covered up with threats of deportation for anyone who talks, and he doesn’t have to pay union wages, either!”
A recent reviewer noted that I used a forced rhyme in my poem Aging Out. The comment was more tongue in cheek than critical, and I wasn't offended (or fazed). My literary misdemeanor was to rhyme mate with faith, and I plead guilty as charged. I prefer to use natural rhymes, but I won't let a little thing like a near rhyme prevent me from completing a poem, especially if I like the lines or if the poem is just a quick bit of fluff.
There's more than one way to force a rhyme, and we each have our own opinion as to what is and isn't acceptable. Here are some more egregious examples (in my opinion) for your consideration:
Singular/plural - One word ends in 's' and the other doesn't. This is a subset of the near rhyme, and I am sometimes guilty of this one as well. Near rhymes have to be judged case by case, some work better than others. In Aging Out I also rhymed sown with home, and it escaped the reviewer's notice.
Awkard word order - This usually means twisting a sentence to put the rhyme word at the end. I did this in my poem Seize Cruise : as the lash, my lessons it taught. This is a fractured sentence, but it places the word taught at the end of the line to complete the needed rhyme. Seize Cruise was an early effort, and I didn't even realize what I'd done. I may go back and try to improve that line someday.
Breaking meter - This occurs when the stressed syllables of the rhyme don't match, as in to sing and laughing. I try to be sensitive of meter even more than rhyme, so I don't do this unless it's by ignorance of proper pronunciation.
Irrelevant line - This is quite common for beginning poets who can't think of a good next line. Something like this early draft: Tiger, tiger burning bright, can't go on an airline flight. I hope I'm not guilty of this one, but critics may not find all of my lines to be relevant, either.
Sight rhyme - This is when two words look similar, but sound different as in rough and cough. There may be such a thing as visual poetry where this would work, but it doesn't work for me.
So, should we use forced rhymes? Of course not, but I won't 'should' on your poetry if you don't 'should' on mine. I think there's room for all of us to express ourselves in a manner that feels right to us. Even if it's 'wrong' per the critics.
As Mark Twain might have said (if he'd written poetry):
"It's a poet of poor imagination who can't think of at least two ways to rhyme a word."
My son sent me a tongue-in-cheek text to warn of the looming danger of Friday the 13th. Being contrary in nature, I replied that the concept of Friday is merely a conceit of Judeo-Christian culture. And that the number 13 is just an accident of using base ten to count the days of the month.
Having a mind like a grasshopper, I began to think about other calendars and other number systems. Ancient calendars all seem to be based on the lunar cycle. Moon phases are obvious even to the casual observer, but the 29.53 day lunar month doesn't sync well with the 365.242 day solar year. So, you need 12.368 lunar months to equal one solar year. The Babylonians figured this out quite accurately. They used twelve 30-day months and added an additional month every few years to keep things in sync.
Pre-Babylonian calendars usually didn't name the months or days, and they didn't use the concept of weeks either. They simply counted the days from one new moon to the next. Some early cultures determined that the 1st, 7th, and 15th of each month should be a holy day. The Babylonians made every seventh day a holy day and they also named the months. The Hebrews borrowed some of the Babylonian concepts and the modern 7-day week is based on their calendar.
The Romans named the days of the week for their Gods. What English speakers call Friday was known as Venus' day to the Romans (it morphed into Viernes in Spanish). The English word 'Friday' didn't come into use until much later. The earliest references come from the 11th century CE.
The number 13 is rather arbitrary, too. It's based on humans having ten fingers to count on. But that hasn't always been the case. At least two Native American tribes counted up the spaces or along the knuckles in a base eight number system known as octal. I used octal back in 1985 when programming an early computer system. Octal uses only the digits 0 through 7. Today, computer languages use a base sixteen system known as hexadecimal. It uses A through F as digits in addition to the more familiar 0 through 9. The simplest system is base two, or binary, which uses only the digits 0 and 1.
Each digit (or bit) in binary is a power of two, 1 = 1, 10 = 2, 100 = 4, 1000 = 8 and so on. All digital information is stored in binary inside your computer and the binary representation of 13 is 1101 (8 + 4 + 1). Octal separates binary numbers into three-bit groups. So, 1101 is parsed as two digits, 001 and 101, and that's written as 15 octal. Hexadecimal separates binary numbers into four-bit groups. So, in hex, 1101 is parsed as one digit and written as simply D hex.
There are many choices from other cultures, but I can claim both Venus and D as part of my heritage.
So, happy Venus D!
p.s. My friend Gerry pointed out that we instinctively use base ten when counting on our fingers. But if we count in binary, with each finger representing one bit, then we can count up to 1023! (or up to 1,048,575 with our shoes off)
|Here's a sentimental ballad for Halloween. It's sung to the tune of Dream a Little Dream of Me:
Scream a Little Scream
Night closes in around you,
humid mist rises up to surround you,
fitful moans among moss dripping trees,
scream a little scream for me.
Stealthy steps and rustlin' of leaves,
a tingling sense of danger unseen,
strain your eyes but it's too dark to see,
scream a little scream for me.
You can run but there's nowhere to go, dear,
it's a round-trip flight.
Every path leads you right back to me, dear,
you're mine tonight.
Just scream until I find you,
won't take me long to sneak up and bind you.
Gasp in heart-pounding fright as you flee,
scream a little scream for me.
Don't try to run, there's nowhere to go, dear,
can't avoid the bite.
Your creamy neck is what I adore, dear,
it's mine tonight.
Glassy eyes roll back in your head,
soon you'll be waking among the undead,
feel the razor-sharp fangs sink in deep,
scream a little scream for me.
I recently wrote a poem, Just Sayin' , about filler words that can grate on the ear. There are a lot of different forms and styles, but they mostly boil down to being unable or unwilling to express true feelings. Stock words and phrases allow people to spend time together and share a conversation without really revealing themselves. They're a form of small talk, a way to make a connection without risking real intimacy.
One of my pet peeves is the casual use of profanity. Most of us have rather dull days at work and spend our evenings in front of the TV. We rarely have anything interesting to say. But if we dress up the dross with shocking words, it sounds more meaningful. I don't object to strong language when the situation warrants. I can use some choice words if I'm truly angry or when I'm really in pain. But how can a person signal real emotion when every third word of their daily discourse is an F-bomb?
The appropriate use of filler words, stock phrases, and profanity is a topic for serious consideration by an author. It's a matter of balance. The dialogue in our stories has to feel natural to draw the reader in. We have to use some filler words and casual profanity to capture a particular character's voice. But not so much as to annoy the reader. Too much boring, repetitive, or objectionable stuff will drive the reader away.
If I were to write dialogue from my real life, it would be a horrible mishmash. I often catch myself saying something that would make me cringe if I saw it in print. I have a tendency to speak half a thought and leave it hanging because the conclusion is obvious (to me). Or I'll feel unsatisfied about what I've said and start over, rephrasing the whole thing from the beginning. I'm sure my audience really appreciates hearing it twice! I thank God that I have the time to review and edit these blog entries before you read them. And you should too.