Thursday, December 11, 2003

I, myself, had my own doubts about the coming holiday. Although there were already dozens of presents beneath the tree, I had not noticed a single one in the shape of the gift I most wanted: Tony Orlando and Dawn's Tie a Yellow 'Round the Old Oak Tree. If I did not get this album, I had no reason to live. And yet there were nothing flat and square under the tree. There were plenty of puffy things - sweaters, shirts with built-in vests, and the bell-bottom polyester slacks I loved, maybe even a pair of platform shoes - but without that record, there might as well be no Christmas.

Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors (277)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Without missing a beat, the taller man handed Dickie a beer (apparently it was not too early to drink), and began challenging his opponent to distinguish between the genuine ascetic and what he termed the conspiciously nonconsuming "poverty snob." Foley (for that's who he was) obliged, though he became evasive when Stubblefield (obviously) interrupted to ask on which side of the fence Christ would fall. Was Jesus an enlightened being who understood maya (the illusory nature of the material world) and the folly of seeking happiness through wealth, or was he merely a humorless, undersexed, masochistic proto-communist with an olive branch up his butt?

Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito (107)
So I picked up my pace and hiked as far ahead of the group as I could. I may have been one of the youngest in our group, but I wasn't the fastest. That title went to the movie mogul, my fiftyish roommate, who led the pack almost every day. I couldn't catch up with the movie mogul or pass him, but I could pace myself so that I was always between MM and the rest of the group. When I was fairly certain that I was alone and that I couldn't be seen by anyone ahead of me or behind me, I put my right hand down my shorts, cupped my enormous, salty scrotum in one hand, and lifted it up and away from my burning thighs. I hiked like that for most of the rest of the week: alone, balls in one hand, water bottle in the other. I didn't have to worry about looking like part of a cult or a work-release program anymore; I just looked like a pervert. It didn't help me get any closer to the rich folks, but it kept me from howling in pain with every step.

Dan Savage, Skipping Towards Gomorrah (200-01)

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Emotions of that complexion were responsible for her pestering Tanuki to arrange some kind of marraige ceremony. After all, he referred to her as his wife. He didn't particularly object to a wedding, he simply didn't know how to go about it. Finally, he consulted the fox. Kitsune thought the idea of a tanuki marrying a human grotesque and preposterous, but for that very reason it appealed to him. If nothing else, it would outrage both men and gods, and Kitsune, who had been known to promote human improvement and who served as the gods' principal messenger on earth, was well-acquainted with the far-reaching benefits and private joys to be derived from fracturing taboos.

Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito (30)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

“Sit down then, duck,” she said. “I’ll make you a cup of tea in ten minutes. I’m glad you’ve come though. Sunday afternoon’s the only time I get a bit of peace, and I like somebody to talk to. I like the house to be empty now and again. It’s a treat the way you look after your clo’es, Arthur. Every young man should, that’s what I say. But you know, it’s like living in a different house, when the kids aren’t fighting and running over everywhere. Eddie’s gone up Clifton with Pam and Mike, and they won’t be back till six, thank God. They lead me such a dance all week that I’m allus glad to get shut on ’em at weekend. Last night we went to’t Flying Fox and I had so many gin and Its I thought I’d never get home. Our Betty clicked wi’ a bloke, and he bought the whole gang of us drinks all night. He must a got through a good five quid, the bloody fool. He had a car though, so I suppose he could afford it, and he thought he was on a good thing with our Betty, but you should a seen his face drop when she came home wi’ us instead of going off with him! He was going to start some trouble, but our Dave – he was wi’ us as well – got up and said he’d smash him if he didn’t clear off. The poor bloke went deathly white and drove off in his car. ‘What a bleddy fool I was,’ Betty said when he’d gone, ‘I should a got ’im to drive us all home!'"

Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (75)

Monday, November 17, 2003

In spite of the increase in literacy, the numbers of books in country houses remained, by our standards, very small. Many country houses still had no books at all. Outside immediate government circles the doctrines of Sir Thomas Elyot and his friends only penetrated slowly. Many gentlemen, especially in the remoter parts of the country, still preferred to hunt and hawk; in Northumberland, in the 1560s, ninety-two put of the 146 leading gentry were unable to sign their name. In 1601 Bess of Hardwick, in spite of contacts with the Greys, Cecils, and other highly educated families, had only six books at Hardwick, kept in her bedchamber. Sir William Fairfax, who installed the magnificent great chamber at Gilling Castle, owned thirty-nine books. Only a dozen or so members of the upper classes (exclusive of clerics) are known to have owned more than a hundred books in the sixteenth century, and although this figure is based on fairly superficial research the real figure is unlikely to have exceeded a hundred. Only two great men – Lord Lumley and Lord Burghley – owned more than a thousand books.

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House (165)

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Marha looked tired and thirsty, but made no complaint, no request for hospitality. She fumbled at her throat and pulled out a wire loop that held a jingling collection of metal chits. "Spice tokens from offworlders. Naib Dhartha sent me out to work the sands, to scrape and collect it to be delivered to his merchant friends in Arrakis City. I have been of marraigeable age for three years, but no Zensunni woman – or man – can take a mate until they have gathered fifty spice tokens. That is how Naib Dhartha measures our service to the tribe."

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Dune: The Machine Crusade (60-61)

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Klaus smiled. “I was puzzled for a long time,” he said, “but I finally thought to look at the list of ingredients. Listen to this: ‘Vinegar, mustard seed, salt, tumeric, the final quatrain of the eleventh stanza of “The Garden of Proserpine,” by Algernon Charles Swinburne, and calcium disodium, an allegedly natural preservative.’ A quatrain is four lines of a poem, and a stanza is another word for a verse. They hid a reference to a poem in the list of ingredients.”

Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope (241-42)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Lutt looked around him at the office, all of it much as he had found it the night of his father's death. He thought he had uncovered most of the traps but the Listening Post still daunted him. There was a pattern to the traps, Lutt thought, but he could not put it into words. Still, there was satisfaction in the fact neither Morey nor his mother dared join him here, even though Hanson Guards waited outside right now with his mobile ZP squad. The guards flatly refused to enter L.H.'s premises.

Frank Herbert and Brian Herbert, Man of Two Worlds (362-63)
Lou Reed: Andy Warhol told me that what we were doing with the music was the same thing he was doing with painting and movies and writing - i.e., not kidding around. To my mind nobody in music was doing anything that even approximated the real thing, with the exception of us. We were doing a specific thing that was very, very real. It wasn't slick or a lie in any conceivable way, which was the only way we could work with him. Because the very first thing I liked about Andy was that he was very real.

Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (7)

Monday, November 10, 2003

"Just who the hell are you to try to tell me what to do Ignatius?" Mrs. Reilly stared at her huffing son. She was disgusted and tired, disinterested in anything that Ignatius might have to say. "Claude is dumb. Okay. I'll grant you that. Claude is all the time worrying me about them comuniss. Okay. Maybe he don't know nothing about politics. But I ain't worried about politics. I'm worried about dying half-way decent. Claude can be kind to a person, and that's more than you can do with all your politics and all your graduating smart. For everything nice I ever done for you, I just get kicked around. I want to be treated nice by somebody before I die. You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being."

John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (427)

Sunday, November 09, 2003

In the country house one was expected to dress for dinner, which meant smoking jacket and black tie for gentlemen and an evening dress for ladies. Nowadays this only happens on special occasions. At the end of the stay there are two duties to be done. A tip has to be left for the staff, and on arriving home a bread and butter letter has to be written to say thank you.

Shelia Pickles, The Essence of English Life (31)
In royal houses the privy chamber seems to have started as a room between the great chamber, where the king was still sleeping, and his privy. It was probably the room in which he prepared himself for the privy. Privy and privy chamber were in charge of a minor official known as the groom of the stool or stole; the great chamber was under a much more important officer called the chamberlain. When the royal bed was moved out of the great chamber into the next room, the room was still called the privy chamber and was still in charge of the groom of the stole. In the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as part of the constant series of retreats that make up the history of palace planning, the bed was removed from the privy chamber as well. It became a private dining and reception room, with a suite of private chambers beyond it, all collectively known as the privy lodgings. The groom of the stole remained in charge of the whole sequence; an official whose original job had been to clean out the royal latrines had become one of the most powerful and confidential of royal servants.

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House (57-58)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Uromancy is divination by observing a person's urine. Practiced by the ancient Greeks, the uromancer would gaze into urine to see visions. Uromancy was sometimes used to divine whether a woman was a virgin, pregnant, or had a spouse. The Roman author Pliny spoke of "spitting into the urine the moment it is voided" to reverse a bad omen. Try it. You'll like it.

Clifford A. Pickover, Dreaming the Future (77)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The Ritz looked a great deal shabbier. I doubted whether it had been repainted at all since we were last here. The gold-painted plaster moldings around the stage were dusty and unwashed, and the curtain stained with the rainwater that had leaked in. No other play but Richard III had been perfomed here for over fifteen years, and the theater itself had no company to speak of, just a backstage crew and a prompter. All the actors were pulled from the audience who had been to the play so many times they knew it back to front. Casting was usually done only half an hour before curtain-up.

Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair (180-81)

Monday, October 27, 2003

During the nineteenth century, English Grand Lodge had continued to extend its lodges throughout the world. Lodges were established in Singapore by the daring and romantic Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of the city and a Freemason. It developed in Canada under the patronage of John Lambton, Earl of Durham. Lambton's political career in England, in opposition to Lord Liverpool's Tory government and as a member of Lord Grey's Whig government at the time of the struggle for the Reform Bill of 1830 was so passionately anti-Tory that he was given the nickname 'Radical Jack'. But when Palmerston appointed him ambassador to Russia, he was so captivated by the personal charm of Nicholas I that he became a virtual apologist for the foreign policy of the most reactionary 'Iron Tsar'. As Governor-General of Canada he pursued a wise and concilliatory policy after the rebellion of 1837. He was a Freemason, and encouraged the growth of Freemasonry in Canada. Afterwards the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, was also a Freemason.

Jasper Ridley, The Freemasons (219)

Monday, October 13, 2003

Then it was 1:20 a.m. but I hadn’t heard Father come upstairs to bed. I wondered if he was asleep downstairs of whether he was waiting to come in and kill me. So I got out my Swiss Army knife and opened the saw blade so that I could defend myself. Then I went out of my bedroom really quietly and listened. I couldn’t hear anything, so I started going downstairs really quietly and really slowly. And when I got downstairs I could see Father’s foot through the door of the living room. I waited for 4 minutes to see if it moved, but it didn’t move. So I carried on walking till I got to the hallway. Then I looked round the door of the living room.

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (123)

Monday, September 01, 2003

Brad Kvederis, a student at Claremont McKenna College, a private school in Claremont, California, learned this lesson the hard way. He published for his dorm a gossip newsletter called the Wohlford Free Press. Like many college publications, the Free Press included sexually suggestive material. Depending on which account of the relevant events one reads, the newsletter was either a relatively sober, albeit profanity-laced, publication that occasionally mentioned sex or a scandal sheet reporting on the drinking and sexual hijinks of dorm residents. In any event, three female students – only one of whom was mentioned in the newsletter – filed hostile environment complaints against Kvederis with the university. Fearing liability, the university suspended Kvederis for a semester and required him to undergo sexual harassment sensitivity training.

David E. Bernstein, You Can’t Say That! (65) [uncorrected proof]

Saturday, August 16, 2003

—it was the form of a woman, a kneeling woman, kneeling in front of the man, and she appeared, that is, she seemed to be—could it be?—fellating the man. Could that be right? Could his neighbour actually have a marble statue of a blow job on his piano? So that when he played, say, a Chopin polonaise, he could peer over the score and be inspired by the sculpted image of oral sex? Where, he wondered as he was ushered out the door, would a person get such a thing? He imagined all the people who had walked past this window and seen the statue without knowing what they saw: the children on their bikes and the little old ladies and the avuncular priests on their way to mass: the poor slobs, infected now with the subtle, subliminal germ of perversion. Would it one day metastasize, he wondered, colonizing the innocent with lewdness and bad taste? But that wasn't Albert's problem: Albert's problem was that his mission had failed.

J. Robert Lennon, “Five Cats and Three Women,” in Granta 82 (96)

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Hollinger's morgue. We're a full-service morgue. A person couldn't pick a better place to leave a stiff. We're not only a storage facility/incinerator, we also prepare the body for burial/incineration. One of the things I do over there is to make sure that all the bodies that come in are dead. Here's my test: I just do things to them that no living human would allow, and if they don't react, then I know they're dead. And if they react, well, the severity of the test usually makes that moot. A lot of people have a fear of being buried alive. But I am here to tell you that if you ever have the good fortune to pass through Hollinger's place, you may not be dead when you come in, but you'll be dead when you leave. You can bank on it."

Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert, Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not (68-69)
I wonder what it is, he thought. They were in every combination of attire, formal and informal, from one severely elegant woman in her sixties dressed in a Grecian-style gown of pure white, through uniforms of every rank in the Domination, to a few who had just come up from the lake in nothing but the glistening water on their skins. Sitting on the benches, strolling, talking, one even in a wheelchair. ... There was a sickness to them, he could feel it, a rot somewhere within, but it had not seemed to weaken them. Instead they fed on it and it made them strong. ... You could see it in their eyes and movements, a consciousness of power. Power of life and death over other human beings, power held since birth by hereditary right.

S. M. Stirling, The Domination (430)
Incidents like this seem to run together in the panorama of an average ride. Cyclists are seen as "bonus points," targets for motorists to focus their sexually repressed psyches on. Being as asshole becomes confused with being empowered. Ironic, I'd say, because there is nothing more emasculating than having to hire a machine to do a simple chore for you. If you are choosing to live surrounded by supplementary machinery (as opposed to beign forced to live this way), you lose more respect in my eyes for willfully relinquishing the power you were granted simply by being born a human being blessed with an able body and good health.

Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class (293)

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

After a lengthy table dance interview, with full release, I sat down at the bar to replenish my fluids. The publican was a dense-browed, heavy lipped, thick-necked gentleman who served my drink with menacing detachment. Behind this shark-eyed barkeep was a wall of fame, or at least of photos: a who's who of who's nude here at Tit Time. The Polaroids had been stapled to the wall with care and emblazoned with the dancers' names: Shy-anne, Pebbles, Ginger Snaps, Stormy, Misty, and Dusty. While I sat there, lost in admiration of these sirens of the runway, I was joined by the club's well-worn doorman. He offered to have me buy him a drink, or, failing that, share the one I was drinking. I declined his request for an offer, and introduced myself and my mission. He seemed excited to speak about the town he lived and worked in.

Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert, Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not (31)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

For example, Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs. One can look at Las Vegas from a mile away on Route 91 and see no buildings, no trees, only signs. But such signs! They tower. They revolve, they oscillate, they soar in shapes before which the existing vocabulary of art history is helpless. I can only attempt to supply such names - Boomerang Modern, Palette Curvilinear, Flash Gordon Ming-Alert Spiral, McDonald's Hamburger Parabola, Mint Casino Elliptical, Miami Beach Kidney. Las Vegas' sign makers work so far out beyond the frontiers of conventional studio art that they have no names themselves for the forms they create. Vaughn Cannon, one of the tall, blond Westerners, the builders of places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, whose eyes seem to have been bleached by the sun, is in the back shop of the Young Electric Sign Company out on East Charleston Boulevard with Herman Boergne, one of his designers, looking at the model thay have prepared for the Lucky Strike Casino sign, and Cannon points to where the two great curving faces meet to form a narrow vertical face and says:

Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (7)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Among the most amazing discoveries at Anyang was a massive burial tomb, some 60 feet square and 40 feet deep, entered by a sloping ramp some 150 feet long. Apparently the pit had been the final resting place for a great king. After his body had been placed in its casket and surrounded by cases of the finest jewels, food, silks, and exquisite bronze sculptures, an entire regiment of soldiers (either faithful followers of the king or hapless prisoners of war), plus horses and chariots and even dogs, were marched down the ramp, lined up around the casket and beheaded.

James Cornell, Where Did They Go?: Lost Cities and Vanished Peoples (44-45)
The link between marijuana and violent crime was first drawn by local law enforcement officials. In a 1917 report, an investigator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture quoted a Texas police captain who said marijuana produces a “lust for blood.” The captain claimed habitual users “become violent, especially when they become angry, and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn.” He added that they “seem to have no fear,” are “insensible to pain,” and display “abnormal strength,” so that “it will take several men to handle one man.” According to a 1925 account from a U.S. Army botanist, the superintendent of the prison in Yuma, Arizona, having observed inmates who used marijuana, reported that “under its baneful influence reckless men become bloodthirsty, trebly daring and dangerous to an uncontrollable degree.” The botanist also cited an American diplomat in Mexico who said marijuana “causes the smoker to become exceedingly pugnacious and to run amuck without discrimination.”

Jacob Sullum, Saying Yes (200)
A black kid with short hair and a blond beard rode up and piped in “It’s like we’re being told you can be anything in this country but creative, anything but different, and but genuine. We are not forced into slavery. We’re forced into minimum wage and we live in ghettos, left to fight over little pieces that are left for us like rats in a can. That’s why the middle class drives cars and lives in the ’burbs. It’s protection from the dirty and the poor and the people that are different. They put sanctions on the city, man!”

Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class (74-75)

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Pavanes we danced. A pavane is an ideal dance for lovers, because it’s slow, you can flirt or talk without losing your step. My very favorite pavane was “Belle Qie Tient Ma Vie” (the one from The Private Life of Henry VIII, Romeo and Juliet, the Leslie Howard version, and Orlando, both the 1993 version with Tilda Swinton and the 2150 remake with Zoë Barrymore), and it has just begun when Nicholas said: “Thy father will not give consent for me to wed thee.”

Kage Baker, In the Garden of Iden (203)

Like most of the men in Century A, I knew that Sophie was as lusty as a cat in heat. She preferred men to women, but would take women and if she couldn’t get women just about anything would do. I’m not kidding – the stories about her role in the girl-and-pony show at the Legion Hall were common currency back then. I understand that the politicals considered going after her for it, but she hadn’t broken any laws but those of good taste.

Jane Lindskold, “The Big Lie,” in Drakas!, edited by S.M. Stirling (165-65)

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Sue, of course, was at least a dozen years his senior, and her sexual tastes didn’t incline to men of any sort, must less bashful young physicists who thought a lengthy chat on the subject of mu-meson interactions was an invitation to physical intimacy. Sue had explained all this to him a couple of times. Ray, supposedly, had accepted the explanation. But he still have her mooncalf glances across the sticky cafeteria table and deferred to her opinion with a lover’s loyalty.

Robert Charles Wilson, The Chronoliths (79)

Roman Catholics, whose church sanctioned moderate drinking, were much less likely to support the crackdown on alcohol. Indeed, Prohibition has often been viewed as a cultural conflict between rural Protestants and urban Catholics, many of them recent immigrants. Support for the temperance movement certainly was reinforced by suspicion of, if not outright hostility toward, immigrants whose cultures accepted alcohol. These included Eastern European Jews and German Protestants as well as Catholics from countries such as Ireland and Italy. For their part, the immigrants were puzzled and irked by the black-and-white views of the so-called temperance movement. “For many immigrants,” writes historian Thomas R. Pegram, “prohibition revealed a strain of American fanaticism that dismissed the moderating influences of tradition, family and individual self-control and insisted on the humiliating restrictions of legal compulsion. Such feeling prompted [an] Iowa German in 1887 to complain that ‘a few fanatics who indicate that they themselves don’t have the moral backbone to look at a glass of beer, or pass a saloon without getting drunk, come along and tell me that I am incapable of behaving myself or keeping sober, and so they propose to take care of me by law.’”

Jacob Sullum, Saying Yes (80-81)
This was my America, a lost America where men were slaves to silence and inadequacy, where poverty was a condition of failure. My father, out of shame for our modest means, could hardly bring himself to talk to me. He hid away like a piece of furniture, watching the ball game on TV and eating Cheez-Its from the box. His problems seemed heavy and hard to bear. He never gave me the opportunity to understand. He was just looking in the other direction. And while he was, I was hanging with Gil.

Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class (41)

Friday, June 13, 2003

The dimpled bone hilt of a throwing knife showed behind her neck, from a sheath sewn into the field jacket, and she was wearing warsaps – fingerless leather gloves with black-metal insets over knuckles and palm edge – secured by straps up the forearms. For the rest, standard gear: lace-up boots with composition soles; thick tough cotton pants and jacket, with leather patches at knee and elbow and plenty of pockets; helmet with cloth cover; a harness of laced panels around the waist that reached nearly to the ribs, and supported padded loops over the shoulders. A half-dozen grenades, blast and fragmentation. Canteen, with messkit, entrenching tool, three conical drum magazines of ammunition, field dressing, ration bars, folding toolkit for maintenance, and a few oddments. Always including spare tampons: “If you don’t have ’em, sure as fate you gonna need ’em, then things get plain disgustin’.”

S. M. Stirling, The Domination (73)

I can do anything. I can impress a client with a smart-ass comment or a nasty weather report delivered in good humor. I can hang out and curse about politics with the stockholders. So long as I am forthright and honest, I can pull a CEO out of a crowded elevator, take his place, and let the doors close between us. It is as if there is a certain space around me, like a force field, that human bullshit just can’t penetrate. It protects the urgency of my deliveries by telling people to get the hell out of my way. When the force field’s up, I am untouchable, and everyone knows it. It is a matter of respect. Moving at the speed of commerce, shoveling through all the scales of humanity at once, saving a little bit of the world all day long, I deserve at least that much respect.

Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class (31-32)

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The Hebrew Bible specifically praises the mood-altering effects of alcohol. A parable in Judges has the trees asking the grape vine to be their king. The vine is not interested in the job, saying “Have I stopped yielding my new wine, which gladdens God and men, that I should go and wave above the trees?” Psalm 104 cites “wine that cheers the hearts of men” as a blessing from God. Proverbs speaks approvingly of alcohol as a comfort to the downtrodden: “Give strong drink to the hapless and wine to the embittered. Let them drink and forget their poverty, and put their troubles out of mind.” Wine figures prominently in the poetry of the Bible, perhaps most tellingly in the Song of Songs, where the lovers repeatedly declare that their mutual affection is better even than wine.

Jacob Sullum, Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (58)

The effort of rage exhausted him; he fought the temptation of a collapse back onto the four-poster bed. Instead, he forced his muscles into movement walking to the dresser and splashing himself with water from the jug, pouring more from the spirit-heater and beginning to shave. Sometimes he thought she was more trouble than she was worth, that he should find a good orderly, and only send for her when he needed a woman. You expected an untermensch to be stupid, but it was that, five months now since he had grabbed her out of that burning schoolhouse in Tula, and she still couldn’t speak more then a few words of German. His Russian was better. And she was supposed to have been a teacher!

S. M. Stirling, The Domination (63)

While these masses groan over the decisions they have made and the responsibilities they have undertaken, I float above. I am free of their ideas of good and bad, rich and poor, right and wrong. As an uncommon laborer I may not amount to much in their eyes, but I am free of their judgment. I am sometimes seen as a social misfit, a freeloader, a junkie, but I am also envied for the color, the vigor, the picture of America I can find while they push their way through the weekday treadmill routine.

Travis Hugh Culley, The Immortal Class (7)

Saturday, April 26, 2003

An excellent feeling came over Kramer, in every cell and every neural fiber. In that instant, the instant of that little swallow, his scuffed attaché case meant nothing, not did his clodhopper shoes nor his cheap suit nor his measly salary nor his New York accent nor his barbarisms and solecisms of speech. For in that moment he had something that these Wasp counselors, these immaculate Wall Street partners from the universe of the Currys & Goads & Pestersalls & Dunnings & Spongets & Leaches would never know and never feel the inexpressible pleasure of possessing. And they would remain silent and polite in the face of it, as they were right now, and they would swallow with fear when and if their time came. And he now understood what it was that gave him a momentary lift each morning as he saw the island fortress rise at the crest of the Grand Concourse from the gloom of the Bronx. For it was nothing less than Power, the same Power to which Abe Weiss himself was totally given over. It was the power of the government over the freedom of its subjects. To think of it in the abstract made it seem so theoretical and academic, but to feel it, to see the looks on their faces – as they stare back at you, courier and conduit of the Power – Arthur Rivera, Jimmy Dollard, Herbert 92X, and the guy called Pimp – even them – and now to see that little swallow of fright in a perfect neck worth millions – well, the poet has never sung of that ecstasy or even dreamed of it, and no prosecutor, no judge, no cop, no income-tax auditor will even enlighten him, for we dare not even mention it to one another, do we? – and yet we feel it and we know it every time they look at us with those eyes that beg for mercy or, if not mercy, Lord, dumb luck or capricious generosity. (Just one break!) What are all the limestone façades of Fifth Avenue and all the marble halls and stuffed-leather libraries and all the riches of Wall Street in the face of my control of your destiny and your helplessness in the face of the Power?

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (615-616)

Seldon was staring thoughtfully at the man across the table, wondering if, in any way, he would give some sign that he was less than a man – or more. He said, “Where Aurora was in question, one robot was spoken of as a renegade, a traitor, someone who deserted the cause. Where Earth was in question, one robot was spoken of as a hero, one who represented salvation. Was it too much to suppose that it was the same robot?”

Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation (420)

Thursday, April 24, 2003

He surveyed the crowd and immediately sensed a pattern … presque vu! presque vu! almost seen! … and yet he couldn’t have put it into words. That would have been beyond him. All the men and women in this hall were arranged in clusters, conversational bouquets, so to speak. There were no solitary figures, no strays. All faces were white (Black faces might show up, occasionally, at fashionable charity dinners but not in fashionable private homes.) There were no men under thirty-five and precious few under forty. The women came in two varieties. First there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (“women of a certain age”), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirrs on the bias were too extreme. They were the social X rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second, there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, and fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X ray had). What was entirely missing from chez Bavardage was that manner of woman who is neither very young nor very old, who has laid in a lining of subcutaneous fat, who glows with plumpness and a rosy face that speaks, without a word, of home and hearth and hot food ready at six and stories read aloud at night and conversations while seated on the end of the bed, just before the Sandman comes. In short no one ever invited … Mother.

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (347-348)
“Jimmy,” Andriutti said to Caughey, “did you know that Jewish guys – Larry, I don’t want you to take this personally – did you know that Jewish guys, even if they’re real stand-up guys, all have one faggot gene? That’s a well-known fact. They can’t stand going out in the rain without an umbrella or they have all this modern shit in their apartment or they don’t like to go hunting or they’re for the fucking nuclear freeze and affirmative action or they wear jogging shoes to work or some goddamn thing. You know?”

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (106)

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

“The tales of robots probably originate from one master legend, for the general theme is the same. Robots were devised, then grew in numbers and abilities to the status of the almost superhuman. They threatened humanity and were destroyed. In every case, the destruction took place before the actual reliable historic records available to us today existed. The usual feeling is that the story is a symbolic picture of the risks and dangers of exploring the Galaxy, when human beings expanded outward from the world or worlds that were their original homes. There must always have been the fear of encountering other – and superior – intelligences.”

Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation (221)

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

It made no sense! Somehow, for no explicable reason, Judy had always had his number. She looked down on him – from a wholly fictive elevation; nevertheless, she looked down on him. Still the daughter of Professor Miller, E. (for Egbord!) Ronald Miller of DesPortes University, Terwilliger, Wisconsin, poor stodgy Professor Miller, in his rotting tweeds, whose one claim to fame was a rather mealy-mouthed attack (Sherman had once plowed through it) on his fellow Wisconsinite, Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the magazine Aspects in 1955. Yet, back there in the cocoon of their early days together in the Village, Sherman had validated her claim. He had enjoyed telling Judy that while he worked on Wall Street, he was not part of Wall Street and was only using Wall Street. He had been pleased when she condescended to admire him for the enlightenment that was stirring in his soul. Somehow she was assuring him that his own father, John Campbell McCoy, the Lion of Dunning Sponget, was a rather pedestrian figure, after all, a high-class security guard for other people’s capital. As to why that might be important to him, Sherman didn’t even know how to speculate. His interest in psychoanalytic theory ended one day at Yale when Rawlie Thorpe had referred to it as “a Jewish science” (precisely the attitude that had most troubled and infuriated Freud seventy-five years earlier).

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (72-73)

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

But what are the practical possibilities of improving a people by conscious selection? The lack of knowledge concerning heredity and the composition of the chromosomes of prospective parents is undoubtedly an obstacle, but breeders of livestock have accomplished results without this information. The obstacles lie rather in obtaining the necessary control, in the lack of agreement as to which combination of traits is desirable, and in the difficulty in mating of combining sentimental and spiritual values with biological values. The problem is one of research from which in time higher eugenic ideals may emerge.

Research Committee on Social Trends, Inc., Recent Social Trends in the United States [1933] (xxiii)

Monday, March 31, 2003

African countries have police forces and judiciary systems but in many cases the police are themselves highway robbers and the judges crooks. According to The Post Express, based in Lagos, Nigeria, former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha ‘is believed to have siphoned more than $8 billion of Nigeria’s foreign exchange into fictitious accounts in European, Asian, American, Caribbean and Arab countries.' When Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as Nigeria’s president in 1999, he launched a highly public campaign against corruption and vowed to recover the loot stashed abroad by Abacha. By March 2000, government officials had declared that $709 million and another £144 million had been recovered from the Abachas and other top officials from Abacha’s regime. But this recovered loot was itself quickly re-looted. When the Senate Public Accounts Committee looked more closely, it found only $6.8 million and £2.8 million in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Said Uti Akpan, a textiles trader in Lagos commented, ‘What baffles me is that even the money recovered from Abacha has been stolen. If you recover money from a thief and you go back and steal the money, it means you are worse than the thief.’

George B. N. Ayittey, “Why Africa is Poor,” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (62)

Virtually all contemporary experts on sustainability assume that traditional economic development was characterized by a linear approach in which materials and energy were extracted, processed, used and dumped in a linear flow into, through, and out of the economy. Much historical evidence, however, indicates that industrial resource recovery was much more widespread than is currently thought. To understand the basic error underlying current assessments of past practices, we must realise that our ancestors did not expand their economies by simply doing more of what they had already been doing, but by inventing new kinds of goods and services and by creating wealth out of what had hitherto been considered valueless things. It therefore seems fair to say that all of today’s recyclable products were considered waste at one point in time, before value was created out of them through the use of human creativity and entrepreneurship. The market process is, of course, not perfect and some potential linkages certainly were and currently are overlooked on occasion. In the end, however, it may be that in today’s economies, regulatory barriers and price-distorting subsidies are more serious obstacles to creating value out of by-products than traditional market incentives.

Pierre Desrochers, “Does It Pay to Be Green? Some Historical Perspectives,” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (53-54)

Thus, trends in real wages measured in dollars per hour would show an even more dramatic improvement than the income growth shown in Figure 6. However, even these trends would substantially underestimate the true improvements in wages because methods to convert current dollars in one year to real dollars in another are not robust when there has been a vast technological change between the two years. Goods and services available in the year 1950, for instance, were vastly different from those available in 1995. Personal computers, cell phones, VCRs, and instant access to the Library of Congress’s electronic catalogue, to mention a few, simply were not available in 1950. Today, for a few hundred dollars people can buy goods and services they could not buy for all the money in the world a generation or two ago.

Indur Goklany, “Economic Growth and Human Well-Being” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (31-32)

Sunday, March 16, 2003

There was violence by the strikers. Strikebreaker Pedro Armijo was murdered near the Aguilar tent colony. A mine clerk named Herbert Smith, scabbing in a Colorado Fuel and Iron mine, was brutally beaten near Trinidad. Strikers fired on the Forbes mining camp, where strike-breakers were living, and were dispersed by an infantry company. Four mine guards were killed at La Veta while escorting a scab. And on November 20, 1913, George Belcher, the killer of Lippiatt, was leaving a Trinidad drugstore, stopped on the corner to light a cigar, and was killed by a single rifle shot by an unseen gunman.

Howard Zinn, “The Ludlow Massacre,” in Everything You Know is Wrong, edited by Russ Kick (263)

Monday, March 03, 2003

Since the 1970s, the ‘found’ photograph has been a popular accessory for conceptual artists, and in 1990 I found myself in the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, at an exhibition of works by the French artist Christian Boltanski, standing in front of a wall of small black-and-white photographs not unlike the ones of my own family. In Boltanski’s case he had taken them from the albums of a family he identified only as family ‘D’ (later revealed to be that of his dealer). It was impossible to be unaffected by these small re-photographed snapshots of uneven quality which showed mothers and fathers and small children in all the groupings, formal and informal, familiar to anybody who had grown up, like Boltanski, in the immediate post-war period. I believe none of the visitors I stood next to at the Whitechapel at that point knew of the existence of family D, let alone had any relationship to them. But there was a sense of recognition that brought with it a powerful mix of emotions: love, fear, sadness, amusement, dread. Boltanski understood the effect these photographs would have. It was a shared experience – we recognized our own childhoods, we recognized a past when the future was full of promise, people we had lost and never would find again, times and places we had been happy, times when we had believed we would be safe, or successful, or were blessed. They reminded us of when we believed that friends and marriages and principles would endure for a lifetime. And they told us that once we had been loved unconditionally, and know those unconditional guardians and their protection were gone for good. It was a simple device, but at the end of the century Boltanski had identified its subjects: memory and death.

Liz Jobey, “Snaps,” in Granta 80 (34-35)

Saturday, February 01, 2003

The dispossessed King Edward II was killed by a red-hot iron poker shoved up his anus. This savagery partly reflected hostility on the part of the church and other opinion-makers to the king’s homosexuality and his favoritism toward his young French male lover, but it also reflected the general malaise, anger, and pessimism of the new age of global cooling.

Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague (75)

Yet the first estate rarely played an important role in politics, legislation, and law. Contrary to the anachronistic liberal dreams of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians, the great aristocracy in the fourteenth century did not accomplish much in politics and legislation. Whenever they bestirred themselves to take an active role, after generating a momentary crisis by impeding the royal administrators and drawing up some sonorous oligarchic reform placing the government in their own hands, they very quickly lost interest. The only issue that could truly engage the House of Lords for a few months was the hateful pursuit of some royal favorite, usually gay. That normally ended in violence and the great men then dispersed to their country estates and resumed their well-tilled behavior of feasting, drinking, hunting, and sex.

Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague (60)

The passing of the vast Lancastrian holdings and the ducal title to John of Gaunt destabilized the Plantagenet family, because John of Gaunt, now duke of Lancaster, could command as much property and as many soldiers as the rest of the royal family. Almost inevitably Henry of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s heir, threw out his gay cousin Richard II and seized the crown with parliamentary approval. Henry IV had Richard II taken to a bleak castle and probably starved to death.

Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague (56-57)

Sunday, January 26, 2003

On the night Roland signed the pardon, Flagg went to his gloomy basement laboratory. There he donned a heavy glove and took a deathwatch spider from a cage where he had kept her for twenty years, feeding her newborn baby mice. Each of the mice he fed the spider was poisoned and dying; Flagg did this to increase the potency of spider’s own poison, which was already potent beyond belief. The spider was blood red and as big as a rat. Her bloated body quivered with venom; venom dripped from her stinger in clear drops that burned smoking holes in the top of Flagg’s worktable.

Stephen King, The Eyes of the Dragon (22)

Friday, January 24, 2003

Constantia nods as she continues to play on the konghou, her fingers moving like lemmings over the thirty-six strings. Suddenly her fingers slow down. “Can you make an infinitely rigid rod?” she says as she gently strokes the moist instrument.

Clifford A. Pickover, Time: A Traveler’s Guide (124)

Monday, January 20, 2003

Rand and her followers were, in their own time, accused of being a cult, a charge that, of course, they denied. “My following is not a cult. I am not a cult figure,” Rand once told an interviewer. Barbara Branden, in her biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, stated, “Although the Objectivist movement clearly had many of the trappings of a cult – the aggrandizement of the person of Ayn Rand, the too ready acceptance of her personal opinions on a host of subjects, the incessant moralizing – it is nevertheless significant that the fundamental attraction of Objectivism … was the precise opposite of religious worship” (1986, p. 371). And Nathaniel Branden addressed the issue this way: “We were not a cult in the literal, dictionary sense of the word, but certainly there was a cultish aspect to our world. We were a group organized around a powerful and charismatic leader, whose members judged one another’s character chiefly by loyalty to that leader and to her ideas” (1989, p. 256).

Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (119)

My first day on the patch, I put it on as soon as I woke up at 7 am. I resolved to pack as many hours of analgesia into my day as possible. I got ready for work, ever alert for the first signs of the drug’s effects. In 45 minutes, the first subtle waves of warmth spread throughout my body. When I arrived for work at 8:30 am., I was getting quite stoned. It had been one-and-a-half hours since I applied the patch, and the effects were equal to about two Percodans. By 9:30 am., I was getting a little concerned – the high was increasing dramatically and an unavoidable somnolence was taking hold of me. By 10:30 am., the high has lost some of its euphoria and became sinisterly heavy and stuporous. My co-workers were giving me suspicious glances as my movements became exaggerated and simple tasks like hanging up the phone became a real challenge. My desk, with its usual office accoutrements, became an obstacle course that required a dexterity that I was rapidly losing. By 11:00 am., it felt like I had four Percodans coursing through my bloodstream. Visions of an unwelcome coma coming to claim me became evident and I’d decided I’d better attempt the unsteady expedition to the bathroom to remove the now job-threatening patch. Just then, my supervisor burst in, telling me I was late for the department meeting going on down the hall. I looked in the direction of his voice but found it difficult to focus on his face. I told him I needed to go to the bathroom first and he replied that was out of the question. The president of the company was in attendance at this meeting, and arriving any later would qualify as a serious faux-pas. I lurched to my feet, my head felt like it was full of wet cement, and my body anesthetized. I steadied myself along the desks toward the door, and my supervisor, noticing the difficulty I was having with the simple task of walking, asked me what the hell was wrong.

Will Beifuss, “Sailing the Fentanyl Seas,” in Pills-A-Go-Go, edited by Jim Hogshire (139)

Blacktooth gave up. He was in the abbot’s trap, and to get out of the abbot’s trap, he would have to force Jarad to acknowledge a distinction he knew Jarad was deliberately avoiding. There was a kind of “scholarship” which had come to be a form of contemplative religious practice peculiar to the Order, but it was not the head-scratching work of translating the venerable historians. Jarad, he knew, was referring to the original labor, still practiced as ritual, of preserving the Leibowitzian Memorabilia, the fragmentary and rarely comprehensible records of the Magna Civitas, the Great Civilization, records saved from the bonfires of the Simplification by the earliest followers of Isaac Edward Leibowitz, Blacktooth’s favorite saint after the Virgin. Leibowitz’s later followers, children of a time of darkness, had taken up the selfless and relatively mindless task of copying and recopying, memorizing and even chanting in choir, these mysterious records. Such tedious work demanded a total and unthinking attention, lest the imagination add something which would make meaningful to the copyist a meaningless jungle of lines in a twentieth-century diagram of a lost idea. It demanded an immersion of the self in the work which was the prayer. When the man and the prayer were entirely merged, a sound, or a word, or the ringing of the monastery bell, might cause the man to look up in astonishment from the copy table to find that the everyday world around him was mysteriously transformed, and aglow with the divine immanence. Perhaps thousands of weary copyists had tiptoed into paradise through that illuminated sheepskin gate, but such work was not at all like the brain-racking business of bringing Boedullus to the Nomads. But Blacktooth decided not to argue.

Walter M. Miller, Jr., Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (6-7)

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Over the past century dozens of historians, anthropologists, and theologians proffered theories to explain the medieval witch craze phenomenon. We can dismiss up-front the theological explanation that witches really existed for centuries prior to the medieval witch craze without the church embarking on mass persecutions. Secular explanations are as varied as the writer’s imagination would allow. Early in this historiography, Henry Lea (1888) speculated that the craze was caused by the active imaginations of theologians, coupled with the power of the ecclesiastical establishment. More recently, Marion Starkey (1963) and John Demos (1982) have offered psychoanalytic explanations. Alan Macfarlane (1970) used copious statistics to show that scapegoating was an important element of the craze, and Robin Briggs (1996) has recently reinforced this theory by showing how ordinary people used scapegoating as a means of resolving grievances. In one of the best books on the period, Keith Thomas (1971) argues that the craze was caused by the decline of magic and the rise of large-scale, formalized religion. H. C. E. Midelfort (1972) theorizes that it was caused by interpersonal conflict within and between various villages. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (1973) correlated it with the suppression of midwives. Linnda Carporael (1976) attributed the craze in Salem to suggestible adolescents high on hallucinatory substances. More likely are the accounts of Wolfgang Lederer (1969), Joseph Klaits (1985), and Ann Barston (1994), which examine the hypothesis that the witch craze was a combination of misogyny and gender politics. Theories and books continue to be produced at a steady rate. Hans Sebald believes that this episode of medieval mass persecution “cannot be explained within a monocasual frame; rather the explanation most likely consists of a multivariable syndrome, in which important psychological and societal conditions are intermeshed” (1996, p. 817). I agree, but would add that these divers sociocultural theories can be taken to a deeper theoretical level by grafting them into the witch craze feedback loop. Theological imaginations, ecclesiastical power, scapegoating, the decline of magic, the rise of formal religion, interpersonal conflict, misogyny, gender politics, and possibly even psychedelic drugs were all, to lesser or greater degrees, components of the feedback loop. They all either fed into or out of the system, driving it forward.

Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (103)

The national holiday Yaum-e-Takbeer celebrates Pakistan’s first nuclear test on May 28, 1998. The nuclear test took US intelligence by surprise. Goldberg describes how monuments to the test have been built throughout major cities, complete with eerie lightshow recreations of the fiery blast. Celebrants worship the radioactive fragments as religious artifacts that can bestow their powers upon families and country.

Alex Burns, “A Canticle for Osama bin Laden,” in Everything You Know Is Wrong, edited by Russ Kick (237)

Saturday, January 18, 2003

The day he died, Elvis Presley’s body contained Valmid, Quaalude, and codeine in therapeutic concentrations and trace levels of chlorpheniramine, Demerol, Valium and morphine (possible metabolized from the codeine). Also found were Placidyl, pentobarbital, butabarbital, phenobarbital and several unspecified barbiturates. In 1981, Presely’s doc, George Nichopolous, went before the Tennessee Medical Examiner Board because it was found that during the last two and a half years of his life, Presley received more than 19,000 doses of narcotics, stimulants, sedatives, and anti-depressants. Nichopolous lost his license in 1995 when the state of Tennessee finally decided he had overprescribed not only to Presley, but to Jerry Lee Lewis and other patients as well.

Jim Hogshire, Pills-A-Go-Go (85)

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Do ghosts exist? Do scientific laws exist? Is there no difference between ghosts and scientific laws? Of course there is, and most scientists believe in scientific laws but not in ghosts. Why? Because a scientific law is a description of a regularly repeating action that is open to rejection or confirmation. A scientific law described some action in nature that can be tested. The description is in the mind. The repeating action is in nature. The test confirms or rejects it as a law. The law of gravity, for example, describes the repeating action between objects, and it has been tested over and over against external reality, and thus it has been confirmed. Ghosts have never been successfully tested against external reality (I do not count blurry photographs with smudges on them that can be explained and replicated by lens distortions or light aberrations). The law of gravity can be considered factual, meaning that it has been confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. Ghosts can be considered nonfactual because they have never been confirmed to any extent. Finally, although the law of gravity did not exist before Newton, gravity did. Ghosts never exist apart from their description by believers. The difference between ghosts and scientific laws is significant and real. Pirsig’s Paradox is resolved: all description is in the mind, but scientific laws describe repeating natural phenomena while pseudoscientific claims are idiosyncratic.

Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (33)

Thursday, January 09, 2003

The selection of directors and the control of a nonprofit organization are of particular consequence in a single-purpose organization that is started by one individual or a close-knit group. The people who launch a nonprofit organization do not want to put their blood, sweat, tears, and dollars into the organization, only to watch others assume control over it. Yet these founders usually want a “representative” governing board, which, if created, would clearly put them in a minority, without control.

Bruce R. Hopkins, A Legal Guide to Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization (19)

Thursday, January 02, 2003

The two-headed woman and her six-legged dog waited with an empty vegetable basket by the new gate; the woman crooned softly to the dog. Four of the dog’s legs were healthy legs, but an extra pair dangled uselessly at its sides. As for the woman, one head was as useless as the extra legs of the dog. It was a small head, a cherubic head, but it never opened its eyes. It gave no evidence of sharing in her breathing or her understanding. It lolled uselessly on one shoulder, blind, deaf, mute, and only vegetatively alive. Perhaps it lacked a brain, for it showed no sign of independent consciousness or personality. Her other face had aged, grown wrinkled, but the superfluous head retained the features of infancy, although it had been toughened by the gritty wind and darkened by the desert sun.

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz (271)

“Everyone sure is quiet tonight,” Colette said, contorting her head underneath her armpit to look around the table. “Hugo and Kevin, you haven’t talked much, and I don’t think I’ve heard a single growl from Chabo, or heard a word out of either of your heads.”

Lemony Snicket The Carnivorous Carnival (170-71)

An associate of mine named William Congreve once wrote a very sad play that begins with the line “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” a sentence which here means that if you are nervous or upset, you might listen to some music to calm you down or cheer you up. For instance, as I crouch here behind the alter of the Cathedral of the Alleged Virgin, a friend of mine is playing a sonata on a pipe organ, to calm me down and so the sounds of my typewriter will not be heard by the worshippers in the pews. The mournful melody of the sonata reminds me of a tune my father used to sing while he did the dishes, and as I listen to it I can temporarily forget six or seven of my troubles.

Lemony Snicket, The Hostile Hospital (37-38)

“Don’t be silly,” Mr. Poe said, as if the millions of people who lived in Africa were all ridiculous. “That was the city government on the telephone. A number of villages just outside the city have signed up for a new guardian program based on the aphorism ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Orphans are sent to these villages, and everyone who lives there raises them together. Normally, I approve of more traditional family structures, but this is really quite convenient, and your parents’ will instructs that you be raised in the most convenient way possible.”

Lemony Snicket, The Vile Village (13-14)

The relativity of simultaneity is one of the most important and profound concepts of physics, and a revolutionary insight into the nature of time. The notion of an absolute cosmic time, with absolute simultaneity between distant events, was swept out of physics by Einstein’s equations dealing with the nature of space and time. In fact, it makes little sense to ask questions like “What happened on a distant star at the precise moment President Kennedy was killed?”

Clifford A. Pickover, Time: A Traveler’s Guide (11)