Sunday, May 27, 2018

Meme Sunday!

By long tradition, Friday was Meme Friday (okay, we did it twice) but now Friday is Fiction Friday! so it's Meme Sunday. Except for tomorrow's Very Important Meme (V.I.M.).


"Sun-dried" has a hyphen.



That's most of a busted-up play set.
P.S.: They apparently took it, because the next time I went by it was gone.


I

Whee!


Lucky hamster.



Okay, this one's not mine, but I love it:


Finally, life's eternal mysteries...


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Not just a fish story.

I didn't grow up in a Bible culture. We didn't go to church. We didn’t read the Book, but we had a couple of copies around. When I was a shallow, dumb kid, the Bible seemed to be an impossible combination of mysterious and boring. I've learned a lot since then.

I say that to explain, not excuse, the fact that my ignorance has remained so strong for so long. 

When I was a kid, all I knew about Jonah was that he was an Old Testament guy who got swallowed by a whale, then got out. Like that was the whole story. I had no idea or interest in what put the prophet in this sorrowful condition. Later I found out that it was because God wanted him to get the residents of Nineveh to repent, and Jonah refused to do it. He tried to escape God every way he could, even by ship. When God sent a storm to wreck the ship, Jonah manned up. He told the sailors that they should throw him overboard before God destroyed them (they had cast lots anyway and all signs pointed to him). So throw him overboard they did.

gulp!
The book of Jonah is only four chapters long, one of the shortest in the Bible, and is exceptionally concise. Jonah's in the fish's belly by chapter 2, verse 1.

Finally, Jonah agrees to do God's will even though he hates the people of Nineveh (key fact!), and is released from the giant fish (not a whale). I didn't know that Nineveh was the biggest city in the world at one point, but the Bible says it took three days just to walk through it. For comparison: If you're in okay condition you can walk the length of Manhattan in one day and still stop for lunch. Nineveh is also an enemy of Israel, so Jonah really doesn't want the Lord to spare his wrath. And yet he agrees to go talk to the city of jerks and get them to repent. And they do.

But I didn't know about the end of the story -- chapter 4 never came up at Mass. (As Kathleen Madigan says, "Protestants read the Bible, Catholics read the bulletin. Who died and what's for lunch?" Well, not really, but there's truth to it.) And when I read chapter 4, Jonah became my new favorite Old Testament prophet.

Jonah sits on a hill to watch God destroy Nineveh, and nothing happens. God forgave them and will not destroy them. Jonah is SO MAD that the Ninevehens (Ninevians?) have repented and been spared that he wants to die. He just can't STAND it. He just sits there and seethes. God even asks him, "Are you right to be angry?" For which he has no answer. He doesn't care if he's right, I guess.

God grows a plant to shade Jonah where he sits seething. Jonah likes that. But then God destroys the plant, which makes Jonah mad again. Now God asks if he's right to be angry about the plant dying.

Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.”

And God replies:

“You are concerned over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?”

And... and that's it! That's the end of the book. As far as we know Jonah just continued to sit there, furious, wishing an earthquake would swallow Nineveh.

This is outstanding.

Now, my pastor would probably tell me that Jonah must have repented again, because how would we otherwise know the end of the story? He must have told someone. God explained that the people of Nineveh didn't even know right from wrong until Jonah told them, but He loved them anyway, and that's why he needed Jonah to help save them. And then Jonah probably told God he was sorry for his anger and then told his story to the Israelites and became one of the minor prophets.

But I find the ambiguity of the ending fascinating. I can't help but identify with Jonah, furious that this city of lowlifes has been saved after all they'd done to his people, so furious that he wanted to die because this is intolerable. And I can imagine God loving Jonah all the same.

I can't imagine being as brave as most of the other prophets. I can certainly imagine being as angry as Jonah. His God is the God of love and forgiveness, so he cannot take a hand against Nineveh himself. For some reason he is the only man of God whom the Ninevehans (? oh, whatever) will listen to, because God spares no effort to get Jonah to do his will. But it doesn't stop Jonah from being mad.

Maybe I'm nuts, but there's something in that image of Jonah watching Nineveh with fury in his heart I find appealing. It's sad, sure, but there's nobility in someone doing his duty when it's the last thing he wants to do. I hope he did find peace. My burdens are a lot lighter, but I'd like some peace myself.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bob the Mage, ch. 5

[Author's note: Fiction Friday! again, with the fifth chapter of our novel, Bob the Mage, which I wrote some years ago and have rescued from the ashcan of history. When last we visited Bob, our poor excuse for a wizard, in chapter 4 (see also chapter 3, here, and before that in chapter 2, here, then 1, back in April) he had nearly been captured by the Tegoran army, from which he had technically deserted, only to be pressed into service aboard a very suspicious ship....]


Bob the Mage

By Frederick Key


Chapter 5


Maybe you’ve noticed that many ships’ names are great exaggerations. The dirtiest and bulkiest cargo ships might be called Sprite or Lightning. A scow that handles like an anvil might be Lithe or Zephyr. This one was no different. It was called Seaworthy.
The Seaworthy was a three-masted caravel, so at least we didn’t have to row. I was immediately put to all other manner of menial chores, though, even before we’d left the harbor. I wouldn’t have thought they could find tasks for a man who didn’t know a capstan from a belaying pin, but they did. I’ll put it this way: In the annals of seafaring I shall ever be known as “Swabbo McBilgey.”
Something about the way we weighed anchor at night led me to believe that this wasn’t your average cargo ship. I hoped against all odds, like an idiot, that we might be some kind of exploration ship, which would be all right, until I saw Captain Bugsby (for that was the gentleman’s name) studying the stars with his sextant upside down. Also, I wasn’t taken in by the decorative potted ferns along the rail in front of a row of cannon. Something fishy about this enterprise.
As the sailors worked, they liked to grunt out charming sea chanties. My favorite went:

                                Pull up the anchor, let’s go, let’s go
                                Pull up the anchor, let’s go, let’s go
                                We’re not really pirates, we’re just honest sailors
                                And we aren’t at all into looting and breaking
                                So pull up the anchor, let’s go
                                Arr arr

I worked all night and all the next day, catching fleeting glimpses of the land as it dwindled and was gone. I’d never been so far out on the sea. I was still puking at every opportunity, so even when offered food I couldn’t touch it. Finally, at sunset, I was sent to a bunk belowdecks and allowed to collapse.
As I lay there, hoping to stop throwing up so I could sleep, I listened to the chatter from some of the boys. It seemed like they liked their work, but I got the feeling that they’d all been pressed into service as I had. Could that be? Surely somebody on board had started it, unless this was some kind of self-perpetuating bureaucracy and the Seaworthy had not been sailed by willing men since it was launched.
I wondered. Then I had to go use the porthole.

As you’ve undoubtedly realized, I was very stupid at this juncture, so the next morning when Captain Bugsby strolled by as I was swabbing away on deck, I asked, “Begging your pardon, Captain, but what’s our mission?”
Before I knew what was happening I was laid out on the deck with the tip of the mop handle on my Adam’s apple and the captain holding it there. “Swabbo,” he said, “all ye need ever know about this fair vessel is that ye must never look in the first mate’s cabin. Am I understood?”
Great, another overbearing authority figure, I thought, but I said, “Urk, urk, cptn,” which was about all I could say with my throat a hair away from being crushed.
The captain, satisfied by my cringing, said, “Ask me questions again and I put this yar mop handle up yer nose and into the space where yer brain should be.” He allowed me to get up without further harm.
The one bright spot was that I was starting to get my sealegs. I only threw up twice an hour or so, and even choked down some blueberry soup at one point. Then I gnawed some hardtack and threw up again. But aside from that, the sea life wasn’t so bad. Was it my hard work at swabbing, or fresh salt air, or just nasal fatigue that made the ship smell less horrible as I went on? I’m not sure. But it beat army life.
The crew were more repulsive than the Tegoran recruits had been, but none of them bothered me. They were impressed with my little magic tricks. Maybe they left me unharmed because they enjoyed my act, or maybe they feared I might have some real scary magic hidden somewhere.
The captain was a friendly enough scoundrel as long as we obeyed orders, always slapping people on the back and then helping them up. The first mate, an old salt about whom I learned little, wandered about in a daze and said “Um…” a lot. He never checked the stores of grog for pilfering, and we abused said stores mercilessly, so we liked him. He slept below with us, before the mast.
Which made me wonder… Where was the first mate’s cabin? And if he wasn’t in it, what was?
I ought to know better than to follow my curiosity, but it’s a streak as broad as my cowardice. It’s how I got mixed up with the Famous Mages School, in fact. I was a waif, running with a vicious gang of waifs when I wasn’t doing scullery work. One day we mugged this mage—well, actually, they never let me mug anyone; I was their cheerleader—and this mage put a curse on our leader that gave him the runs for three weeks. I needed to know how the mage did that. I’d still like to, actually. It wasn’t in the curriculum at the Famous Mages School. But as my curiosity led me to enroll with Simon the Unsteady, so too did my curiosity lead me to wonder what was in the first mate’s cabin.
Then again, I didn’t want to go through life with a mop sticking out of my nose.
One evening, after I’d helped the fellows with some light bailing, I noticed that Bugsby was going down to the hold to catch rats with his teeth, a pastime to which he credited his robust health. With no one looking at the moment, I sneaked into the officers’ cabins under the poop deck.
The first mate’s cabin was locked, bolted, and chained from the outside, but there was a slot at the bottom of the door that looked pretty fresh. I assumed it had been cut there to slide food to an occupant. I put my face to the floor and peered through the slot, but all I saw was the opposite bulkhead. Then I heard something strange.
A woman’s voice, alto and mellifluous, was singing. She wasn’t singing a sea chanty, either, but a song of yearning and love. She sang:

                “I wish I could be at home again
                And not in this stinking old ship
                The food is atrocious, I don’t feel too well
                And I have this big sore on my lip.”

Well, my heart sang with her words, and suddenly I wished I could be home in Snyrgg. I said, “Hi.”
She said, “Hi.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Suzy. Who’re you?”
“A friend. You sing beautifully.”
“Thank you. You eavesdrop beautifully.”
“Yes, it’s a gift. So, how long have you been a prisoner?”
“Oh, for a while. Ever since I got out of school it’s been one kidnap after another. My father’s a prince, you know, so I’ve got connections.”
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
“They don’t kidnap just anybody.”
“And how do you like it?”
“Well, the work is easy but the hours are terrible.”
“Aye. So, ransom?”
“I suppose. All I know is I was doing a little shopping when someone put a bag on my head. And here I am.”
“Being a princess I imagine you’re gorgeous.”
“It is part of the job description. I’m five-eight, strawberry blond hair, amber eyes, and in as good a shape as I can be considering my constant captivity. I used to be thirty pounds overweight but kidnappers have terrible food.”
“I’m sure it’s the same stuff we eat, so don’t take it personally.”
“And what do you look like, sailor boy?”
“Young, scraggly, average height. Motley beard to cover my weak chin. Dressed in the ragged remains of army-issue wizard robes. It’s nice to meet you. I don’t meet many friendly people in my line of work.”
“And what line is that?”
“Survival.”
“I see. Well, if we ever get out of here we should do lunch. What’s your name?”
“They call me Bob. They also call me Swabbo, Spellboy, and worse, but I answer to Bob.”
“Bob it is.”
“Well, thank you for your time, Suzy, but I must go. People are moving around amidships and I’d better go pretend I’m working. But I’ll be back.”
“Oh, please do.”
“One last thing: Would you mind terribly if I effect an amazing and highly improbably escape for you, bring you home, and marry you?”
“Well… I suppose. But I’d hate to think you were marrying me for my money.”
“Mmmm… nah. Not really. I like you.”
“Good, because I’m the eighth daughter of the prince and I’m likely to inherit nothing but some cheap silver plate. And I think my dowry’s gone for ransom.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I’d marry you anyway. Put me in your appointment book. Bye for now.”
“Bye for now.”
Call me a romantic fool, but I was smitten. Not surprising, considering most of the women I’d known in my life were crones or brutes or charged hourly rates. The men, too, come to think of it. But now I had to come up with an amazing rescue for her. All I had was meager magic, and I was completely out of Frog Liver and low on Eye of Newt again. I thought about it all night on my bunk, until I decided I should just lie low, go about my business, and look for an opportunity.
Instead of opportunity, though, trouble arrived. I was swabbing the deck as usual a couple of days later when Murray in the crow’s nest yelled “Ship ho! Ship to starboard!”
Captain Bugsby burst from his cabin, shouting, “Avast ye, mates! Shiver me timbers! Arr! Can ye not smell the booty, the gold? Arr! Where be my parrot? To the guns!”
No one had told me what I should do in these circumstances. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood. I had this sinus headache, the really annoying kind that just doesn’t quit. Some of the men were knocking over ferns and readying cannon; others were trimming sails or bringing up weapons. Someone handed me a short sword and yelled “Arr!” at me.
I’m afraid I didn’t acquit myself too well as we prepared for battle. I just ran amok on the deck with the sword in one hand and my mop in the other. I tripped over a box someone had left out that was labeled: In case of shivered timbers, break glass. I did, and inside was a flintlock, powder, and shot. I’d never used a firearm before, but I could figure it out, right? Besides, better I should have it than one of these other buffoons. I’d been in situations like this, violent confrontations of the undisciplined, and mostly what would happen is a lot of running and screaming and people bleeding, and I was not planning to be one of the bleeders. Hiding was out of the question, as we were drawing close to the other ship, and it didn’t seem to be a good idea anyway. If we won and the pirates found me cowering in the galley pretending to be a piece of hardtack, it would not go well. I mean, I got along well with my shipmates, but it wasn’t the kind of relationship I could push. So I decided to stand outside the hatch to the lower decks, try to shoot the gun, and run away screaming like a ninny if anyone got close.
If only it had been that simple.
My comrades were snarling and preparing to light the cannon. It was a clear, hot day, the kind where your sweat dries immediately. We were almost in range. The general insanity turned to torturous waiting. The only sound was the moan and creak of the ship and the first mate saying “Um…” as the seconds ticked on. My heart thumped so hard that each beat shook me like a hammer blow.
Then Bugsby yelled, “FIRE!”
The cannon roared, and everybody coughed on the smoke. When it cleared my eyes greeted something horrible.
The ship was pulling up the colors of the royal fleet of the city-state Tegora.
With the sudden realization that I had a stake in this fight I started to fumble with the gun, messing around with gunpowder and getting it everywhere. Some pirates were getting ready to board the Tegorans, but no way was I going over there. I had been captured a lot lately and it was getting to be a habit.
But we were all taken by surprise by what happened next. Row upon row of panels cleverly disguised along the side of the Tegoran ship flipped open, revealing more firepower than I even knew existed. All those big guns suddenly blasted, and the Seaworthy lurched. I’d heard rumors of pirate-hunters while I was in basic training, but I didn’t know they were real.
Moments earlier there’d been a handful of unarmed sailors on the deck of the other ship; now the place was flooded with armed Tegorans. They shot grappling hooks on arbalests, arresting our ship as we tried to change tack. As soon as the two ships got close, Tegorans swung over the gap and boarded us, clubbing and stabbing any pirates who showed any fight. One grabbed Kevin’s peg leg and beat him on the head with it. Talk about embarrassing.
If we’d had a lifeboat I’d have run for it. Such frills were not found on the Seaworthy. If I hid now, I’d just go down to the bottom when they sank the ship, which was probably taking on water already.
Down to the bottom? Suzy!
I had to get her free; the pirates were too busy, and would they add kidnapping to the charges against them by admitting she was on board? I threw down my gun, skirted the skirmishes, and passed by the first mate; he was squinting at the Tegorans and trying to pull a dagger from its scabbard. I jumped over an unattached arm (ick!) and dodged a cannonball and crashed through into the cabin area.
There was the door I wanted, locked up tight as ever. I knew of spells that could open locks, but of course those required magical supplies. And knowledge. And talent. But I had something better—the keys I had just lifted from the first mate. I tried each one in turn—there were at least a score—and one by one the bolt, the chain, and the lock gave way. Then, praying she’d put in a good word for me with the Tegorans, I yanked open the door and saw Suzy.
She was all she’d said, and more. Her light red hair was the gossamer of angel’s wings, her figure fair and sweet, her eyes, serene pools of amber, and her mouth—
Screaming.
“It’s me, Bob!” I said. “I know I don’t look like much, but really, I think you’re overreacting—”
Then, as if to clarify her screaming, she pointed at me.
“Well,” I said, “If you want to be insulting about it, I—”
Everything went black.


------------

[What's happened to our hero now? It's always something, isn't it? Adventure -- sheesh. Better come back next week for Chapter 6 to find out happened!]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Some cross words.

DOWN
1. Homer's object   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
2. Ray's Famous _ _ _ _ _
3. John Montagu was the 4th Earl of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
4. "That's a ___!" _ _ _ _
5. "I've got a ____ with you."  _ _ _ _

ACROSS
1. "Smile! Say ____!" _ _ _ _ _ _
2. Schulz's gang _ _ _ _ _ _ _
3. Levinson film _ _ _ _ _
4. Where Izmir is _ _ _ _ _ _
5. Justice Felix _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

"Please don't take this the wrong way, Chris, but I'd rather you
didn't write clues just before lunch."

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Six haiku for a Wednesday morning.

Time to be brilliant
Because I know you must be
Counting syllables

Raining in my soul
Buckets of rain in my soul
Have to change my socks

Haiku is the plu-
Ral of Haiku says Webster's
Those jerks would say that


Some ink and a quill
May write deathless poetry
My Acer did this

Wednesday is Hump Day
Halfway along to Friday
My weekends suck too

I'm breaking the rules
I'm just that kind of badass
You Japanese poet guys can't stop me from running as many syllables as I want, so stuff it in your pipe and smoke it. Ha!

A bonus haiku:
What has monster wheels and flies?
Monster garbage truck


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Water.

Here's a bit of the ol' forest primeval, where I took little dog. Afternoon sun filtering through the pines...


Bit of a pathway by an old duck pond...


And just inside a chain-link fence...


Everything about this scene is man-made, or at least man-moved. Nature or Nature's God made the pines, but they were planted there by men. The duck pond probably was not there until it was put on the hill as a means of dealing with runoff, and under our feet is the giant concrete system to keep every house on this large hill nice and dry.

I've talked about this kind of thing in the past, mostly about water towers, but I'll say it again -- we don't appreciate how terrific we have it in America thanks to quality engineering. When bridges fail or a natural disaster wipes out a town it's awful, but we also know that poor municipal budgeting and sometimes stupid ideas make things worse. Systems require upkeep, and bridges need to be built with long-established math stuff. States racked by drought shouldn't have to rely on century-old systems designed for much smaller populations because the politicians spent all the money elsewhere. What I'm saying is, we have excellent and often unseen engineering going on all around us, and we ought to demand it all the time and appreciate it too.

And I really mean that. If we did appreciate it for the modern miracle it is, promoting health and prosperity, people would really celebrate the opening of a new wastewater management plant rather than find it an occasion for mockery because it's BORRRR-ring. If we were grateful for things like well-constructed overpasses and upgrades to roads, our political class -- which never misses a chance to run between a project and the cameras -- would fund them adequately, and spend less money on vote-buying and monorail-type schemes.

As it is, it's a miracle we have such fine work being done. Software engineering is probably the only kind that can make the engineer rich overnight, and even famous, but we really need engineers of water systems, roads, bridges, and electricity more. Things would be a lot messier around here without them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

10 adjectives to kill.

We love adjectives in the word business -- we find them helpful, handy, illustrative, connective, important, and indispensable. (SWIDT?) But let's face it, there are some that have overstayed their welcome. I mean those adjectives that have risen up in the popular culture and dominated it, becoming the lazy lingo for magazine, TV, Internet, and pop novel writers. They have generally become meaningless from overuse, or ruined from improper use, and need to be killed. Some could be put on ice for a few decades while to recover their strength, but others must die.



Here's ten that need to go away for a long, possibly permanent, sleep. Feel free to add more in comments.

Awesome -- A particular weakness of mine, I'm sorry to say, but one that is well overdue for a big sleep. Comedian Bill Engvall had a whole bit and even a song about the use and abuse of awesome 18 years ago. It's a great word but come on... no more awesome for a while.

Badass -- I've written at some length about the horrors and stupidity of badass, as a noun and an adjective, and yet it persists. It sullies the person using it and the subject of the use, especially if they are one and the same. Grow up and drop that word.

Kickass -- Just another badass. Unless you're actually going to apply your foot to the behinds of your enemies, which I will remind you is a felony in most states, don't use kickass.

Woke -- As I wrote beforehonestly, "woke"? Are toddlers leading this thing? Webster's has allowed it now but that's because they have no standards at all anymore.  The people still using it seem to want to be taken as serious and intelligent, but that's hard when you sound like an addlepated dimwit. 

Sexy -- A favorite of the least-sexy people working in industries like magazines, marketing, and probably mausoleums, and in general for a lot of things far removed (one hopes) from sex. Even when used for things supposedly connected to sex, they are often used in a way that makes the potential people who would react to such sexiness utterly repelled. "This 96-year-old great-grandmother of 35 is still super-sassy and downright sexy." No, she's not, and neither is her 98-year-old husband. Thanks for ruining a perfectly good word. (While we're at it, let's kill sassy too.)

Dope -- Maybe it sounded cool when used by genuine poor kids in bad neighborhoods, but it's being used by middle-class blockheads in graduate school. Let it die. Besides, dope (the noun) kills. I've buried a couple.

Bloody -- Do real British people use this anymore as an intensifier? If so I suppose they may continue, but no American should be caught using it. Not because it's cultural appropriation but because it's pretentious.

Fake -- Nothing wrong with fake except its current popularity with the noun news. Often fake news is just news I don't like. But really there is plenty of news reporting that is not grounded in truth, and for those cases a more descriptive adjective should be used. It could be misleading, if truth is used in a misdirected way, or does not give a complete picture (it could also then be cherry-picked). If facts are not presented properly it could merely be inaccurate. It might be poorly researched if based on spurious information, or for that matter spurious. Or it could be a fabrication or false if it has no basis in truth at all. Fake is just a playground word.

Racist -- Orwell wrote, "It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless" because by 1944 it was being applied all over the place as a pejorative. "Racist" is trending that way, and then some. Until recently, racist meant someone who hates others of a different race, which is an incomplete definition but is an accepted meaning. Now it is used for people suspected of disliking any class of people. People who dislike or distrust Islam are racist, even though the people who follow that religion are of all races. People who notice that there are different races among the children of men are racist, unless they are using race distinctions for identity politics or self-segregation, in which case they are not. In other words, racist essentially means someone I don't like. Better let it rest for a while and look for more accurate words. (-phobe is another disaster, but that's a suffix, so I'm not touching it today.)

Implicit -- "Capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed," says Webster's, which has led to its misuse as an adjective. Implicit is the lash used to strike the innocent, frequently seen in the company of racism. "You are racist, even though you do nothing explicit to demonstrate it, but you have implicit racism" -- despite the fact that there's no "something else" from which this racism may be "capable of being understood." I refer you to Andrew Ferguson to dismantle this construction as it deserves. Good words ought to make things more clear, but once they are used mostly to make things murky, it's time to let them lie fallow for a while.

These are my findings; you may certainly disagree, and you may have plenty of other adjectives you think should be smothered with a pillow. Feel free to contact me in the comments or via frederick_key at yahoo dot com. That'd be awes... nifty.