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September 30, 2006

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Three)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:17 PM * 4 comments

Okay, can’t leave that Particle alone …

English is the noise made by people who don’t believe you can use language but want your stuff handed over politely.

English is what happens when you can’t decide whether the Greeks or the Romans had the better civilization, so you ask everybody they ever beat up on to sort it out.

English is a language in which up has forty-seven dictionary definitions but antidisestablishmentarianism is considered a “hard word.”

English is a text parser’s way of getting faster processors built.

English is the inevitable result of repressing the gender of nouns.

English is ideographic, but it’s sneaky about it.

English was created to be the language of international air traffic control, but it got bored waiting.

English is the “universal Martian” used for interplanetary ditching instructions.

English is a tale told by an extremely clever and inventive idiot.

(Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Three))

Story for Beginners

Chapter 1: Yargh, a Giant Looming Me

Call me Dik’Mo. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely, but it was before Grunt*clicketyclick*whistle*grunt*whoooooo*Peggy Sue topped the charts — having few or no amphipods in my gullet, but a bellyful of those “Oo, aren’t we large” blue buggers, I thought I would swim about a little and meat-hammer any boats I came across into shrimp bordellos. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.


At this point someone should probably step up to the figurative lectern and riff on

Posable action figures of speech, which can fit into many situations but have trouble holding onto most things

“Precious Freakin’ Moments(tm)” figures of speech, of which “I wuv you this much, let me count the ways” is a relatively nontoxic example

Hummel figures of speech, still popular in certain categories of romance, fantasy, romantic fantasy, and tales of the World Wars in central Europe, especially ones where people sing

Lissajou figures of speech, which seem to wander all over the place but always end up right back where they started

And, of course figures of speech that don’t add up, or at the very least do not add to 100% due to synecdoche

… but there’s another wandering theme, of the idea that “this subgenre takes place in the alternate world where people act like they do in this subgenre,” which is to other schools of criticism what the Free Soil Correspondence University of Box 1, Pony Croup, IN is to (say) Magdalene College; it admits all purely on their own terms and merits, if any, and measures the work only against itself.

At last we see that, for instance, Allen Drury’s novels take place in a sociopolitical environment where the people and machineries in high places are, you know, just like that; that the later fiction of James Michener occupies a reality where history is far more interesting than any of the people who stand around watching it trundle by, and where Bret Easton Ellis is … uh, well, isn’t “is” its own verb of being?

This is a step forward, not into a larger universe, but into a whole lot of teensy-weensy universes. Time to cease to judge, and begin to catalog.


Time for Classic Quote Theater:

“A science fiction story is a story of a human problem, with a human solution, that would not have happened without its scientific content.” (Ted Sturgeon)

The same construction can apply with “fantastic” being substituted for “scientific.”

I’d add that the variant element does not have to be the origin of the situation (as in the sort of stories where an inexhaustible source of macaroni and cheese tilts the balance of world power), but can involve a good old-fashioned source of conflict to which the possible responses have changed because of the variant.

And — I think Ted would agree with this — “human problem/solution” doesn’t mean that the events of the story happen to human beings, or even posthuman beingoids, but that the situation can resonate with the human experience, if any, of the reader. By the time the story’s over, it ought to be understandable why the protagonist ultimately chose to spreeb the aikondu deemishly, even if the reader, faced with the same situation, might not have gillyhaied. The Utterly Incomprehensible Alien story is certainly a possibility, and has been done very well … uh, once.* (When they show up in the slush, “truly alien aliens” inevitably translates as “I needed totally BEMf*ck behavior to make my plot work.”)

*”The Dance of the Changer and the Three” by Terry Carr, but you probably knew that.


Do romance readers do this same sort of thing?

A by no means exhaustive reading of journals such as Romantic Times indicates that some of them certainly do (along with denigrating other genres). Same in the mystery/detective small press. And just to be double super secret difficult, the “literary community” (here imagine me pointing to it so you know who I mean) disagrees a lot about what the Actually Good Stuff is. Noisily and acrimoniously. Sometimes in complete sentences.

Nobody enjoys being told that what they like reading (or watching, or listening to) is junk, even if the consumer is entirely aware that a lot of the stuff under the label is junk. There isn’t a single art form that hasn’t at times been judged by its bad examples, and since this isn’t a logic-based attack there are no logical defenses (which is surely a reason the attack remains so popular). That leaves two obvious responses: to point out the bad examples of whatever the critic has held up as “better,” or to try and point out the good qualities of one’s preferred form. Both these approaches will inevitably fail with the initial critic because that wasn’t what the criticism was about.

It’s necessary — if and when it’s desirable to conduct a defense — either to find ground where the fight can be conducted, or to conduct it in a different fashion. With “fringe” arts — and I am saying this as carefully as I possibly can — it is important to remember that an insurgency wins the fight by not losing, but it does not win the war until it builds something permanent on the ground the other side vacated.


I won’t disagree that the Swedenborgians (who are still about) are “odd,” but hardly less so than them, and those blokes, and not a patch on you know who. Emanuel Swedenborg was a talented scientist (given his era, natural philosopher) and engineer who started having complex transcendent visions (which may have been schizophrenic in origin), and believed, among many other things, that humanity existed simultaneously on a physical and spiritual plane. He was influential — not necessarily in the sense of conversion — on a great number of people, including Emerson and Borges (those great contemporaries). A fantasy novel set in a Swedenborgian cosmos (possibly involving the man himself, just to keep a few more celestial spheres in the air) would be a very interesting thing, and I wonder if someone hasn’t already done it. Me, I’m busy this weekend.
Introduction to New Magics
There’s a little tag on the green scarf that reads:


Open Thread 47

Under the Boardwalk
Down by the sea
In a blanket with a thirty-eight
Is where he’ll be

The clue was there all the time.


Christo to Wrap Solar System

Nanotube Project to be Funded by Sale of Advertising Space, Walking Tours of Planetoid Belt, Cheaply Made Martian Tchotchkes

Littlewoods Offering Odds on Discovery of 11th Planet Before Artwork Completed

Open thread 48

The Middle Ages was a big place. Even bigger when you annex the Early Renaissance.

It’s only in fantasy epics that everybody on the continent, if not in the world, whose vocabulary is larger than “There be evil maunderings here” and “Ye hast yon visage of an protagonist about ye summat” all wind up at the same orc-B-que at the same time. And there it usually happens deep into the first volume.

“Red foreshadowings be afar off, and a great darkness on the land be to follow.”
“Amongst our people be that y-clept ‘sunset.’”
“Clepe it to thineself, then, lest fear come among the affrighting classes.”
“Yon aleful one with the clerkly hairdo look sayeth that, in a place far off, there be a new guise of yon verb, ‘to be.’”
“I think it be but another bloody foreshadowing, but when hast one of them pattens ever failed to drop?”

Uh, sorry. Too swiving easy.

The “couple of hours” is what makes this a challenge. (It takes obvious targets like the Strand Bookstore and the Metropolitan out of consideration, f’rinstance.)

I’ll guess you’re leaving from Penn Station. The Empire State Building is a couple of blocks east; this will also take you through Herald Square, with Macy’s, the Cylon outpost that replaced Gimbel’s, and bunches of streetlife. The ESB Observatory is open all day long; you can get an advance ticket online at and save a possible wait in line. I think, if you had time to do Just One Thing, seeing the city from that point would be as New York Experience as you could get.

Going eleven blocks south along Fifth Avenue from the ESB (short uptown blocks, fifteen minutes’ walk if you’re unladen and swift, or a short bus ride) will take you to Greeley Square and the Flatiron Building. (This is a less exalted stretch of Fifth than the area in the Fifties, where Tiffany and Saks are.)

I have always loved Rockefeller Center, though you may have to have a Deco/Moderne jones to love it that much. It runs from 49th to 52nd Sts. between Fifth and Seventh avenues. This is where the big gold Deco statue of Prometheus is. The object here would be to see that, and the RCA building, walk through the black and gold lobbies and the underground shopping concourse (which is now mostly familiar chains).

I think I’ll just stop, and let the people who still live there pick up the ball.

This week’s New Scientist has an article on reducing noxious introduced species by eating them. It has a recipe for nutria.

I sincerely hope that the FEMA guys don’t read this. I can see the headline:

Chertoff Announces New Plan for Disaster Survivors to “Take Control of Their Own Sustenance”
Each 50 Internees to Be Issued Heavy Stick, One Can of Sterno, Five Reusable Plastic Forks
Strike “Internees”, new term is “TexTemps”
Doug, don’t write corrections on proof!

Urban Legends

It is an ancient Scrivener,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy glaz?d gleam, and that sweat-stained ream,
“Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

“The Consuite is open, my people within,
“And my liver is parlous dry;
“I have paneled and signed, but the day is behind,
“You had bloody well let me go by.”

But he’s held by a hand with a tonerish scent,
“I’ve a novel within,” quoth he.
“I will watch as it climbs up the list of the Times,
“I ask little enough from thee.

“It’s adventure, for sure, with a literate bent —”
The Convention Guest watched with unease;
“I’m on Draft Twenty-three, and it’s near as can be,
Could the wheels have a touching of grease?”

The Convention Guest gave him a cryonic laugh,
And the Devil was in his shout:
“Every Hamlet and Clown has a novel deep down,
The trouble is prying it out!”

Then distant he looked, and his finger was crooked,
“‘Tis the spirit of Nielsen Hayden!”
And the Author manqué stumbled quickly away
With his albatross awkwardly laden.

The Guest ducked in with a side-bent grin,
And the party improved with him in it;
“Dreaming’s hard work to do, and the dreamers are few,
But a sleepwalker’s born every minute.”

Uh, excuse me, wrong metaphor.


Tonight on Mythbusters: Jamie and Adam test how far into the manuscript you have to turn the page upside down, while the interns check out the legend of the misaligned Underwood and the deviled ham.

Preach it, brother

What I wish, is that Tor editors, when rejecting manuscripts, would note the Slushkiller category number somewhere on the form letter.
Or would that just lead to trouble?

Yes. But the key question — which is not quantitatively answerable, and I doubt has a qualitative one — is how much good it might do.

Actual responses to editorial suggestions accompanying rejected mss. fall into three broad categories:

— Those who are pleased to get the advice, or at least acknowledge that the editor has a point
— Those who send the ms. back, with some variant on, “I did what you said. That means you’ll buy it now, right?” (Sometimes it does, but the fraction is, in exact statistical terms, poofarooney.)
— Those who are outraged that … well, you know what they’re outraged at. (In my experience, the poets got the most outraged, but I worked at one of the few sf magazines in those antetelarian days that accepted verse at all.)

The “well, but” argument (at least, the immediate one), to the effect that “wouldn’t you rather just have everybody in the third class, and all but the sensor ghosts in the second, go away?” is spiritually foreign to the goals of the job, and carnally* doesn’t work. The slushpile is a Schr?dinger litter box, where the ms. is both alive and dead; as long as it’s out there, somewhere, the wave function springs eternal. And everybody knows that there’ll be another editor next week, because … uh, ask Jacob Weisberg, I’m sure he can tell you everything about it.

Back to the point, when the most basic hardware suggestions, like Your Artistic Freedom Does Not Extend to the Page Format, produce paroxysmal rage, suggesting that the novice read Slushkiller, tainted as it is by actual working members of the conspiracy (not to mention Peter Lorre-accented effete snobs like me) would only confirm what the earnest neonovelist already believes, and that’s never a tough thing to confirm.

Now, the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I have a cheese-deficient raviolus, so there are sure to be cogent dissents. This was just, well, you know.

*Another technical expression.

Fantasy Bedtime Hour

Okay, I understand. My sugar’s really low. I’ll have a slug of juice and a couple of glucose tablets, and everything will be reasonable again in a minute or two. I hate this bleeping disease.

I’m straight enough now* to know that Tim misspelled “indigestible.” Better.

*Kids, this word used to mean “not tripping.**

**And this word used to mean “on drugs.***”

***Insulin’s kinda like acid,**** only really mundane, and there were no colors, and you didn’t want to do anything interesting with anybody.

****Lysergic … OH, NEVER MIND!!


All better now, except now I want to be in the Bay Area, wearing jodhpurs and a scarf,* directing some of this stuff in mine gutsten von Sternberg akszent.

I could explain about General Ted Cogswell, but … no, I couldn’t. Maybe when you’re older. Go home. Nothin’ to see here. I’m watching Fabray and Levant play Comden and Green as Nielsen and Hayden in The Band Wagon’s Incredible Trip to the Mushroom Planet, and no, that’s not another drug reference, exactly. G’night.

Folksongs Are Your Friends

If you leave your sweetheart back at port to marry a mermaid, remember that she’s a fish from the waist down.

I went down to the Norfolk harbor
That’s where my baby lay,
She was stretched out on some ice and lemons
And her gills were turning gray.

Throw her back, throw her back, god bless her
She won’t come back to me
In a better world than this my baby’s swimmin’ around
Ceramic castles in the deep blue sea

Now when I die, throw me in the ocean
Tuck a lure in my Stetson crown,
Put some solid gold sinkers on my watch and chain
So the water will ease me down

Now some men’s loves turn fickle
And some men’s loves lie bleedin’
But it wasn’t hate nor jealousy that left me alone
It was another case of overfeedin’.

“The sailor was gone at first light. And there … on the dresser … was a hook.”

Whoops, crossing threads again.

A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the night
The producer’s wife came to the Blue City Bar, and blinked hard in the light
And when the raving it was done, and everything got dim
The lady she saw little Matty Groves, and Instant Messaged him
“Come home with me, little Matty Groves, why not come home with me,
“Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and know me casually.”
“Oh, I can’t come home, I won’t come home and be stereotypical,
“By the ringtones on your Razer I can tell you’re a big shot’s pal.”
“But if my guy has bought a share, he’s not my CEO,
“He’s somewhere up in Aspen, nose- and tail-deep in the snow.”

And a flunky crouched beneath the couch pulled out his camera phone
He swore he’d find advantage, whether truth be hid or shown
And in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his tricked-out ride
But the airbag fired, and all inspired, he logged on from inside …

Ballads from the Blue City
Coming this fall to HBO.

Lessons from the Folksongs of Tomorrow:

You load sixteen gig, and whaddaya get? A formatting error and a system reset.

The fair young maid will answer thee,
Through bitstreams slowed by traffic,
But there among the spam you’ll read,
“Young man, you’re holographic.”

You shall have a download, you shall share a file,
You shall dupe the things you bought in any sort of style,
Get up from the monitor, politely turn your back,
Whistle something public while the crackers run their hack.
(Yes, I know that’s not actually “folk.”)

People shouldn’t remind me of things.

No, that’s just shifting the blame, and it’s unavoidable anyway.

One (heh) from the vaults:

You’ve coiled your braids around your ears and put your gun away
Leia, are you contemplating going EVA?
The speeder bike is revving and she’s gonna run around
Oh Leia … don’t take the Force to town

It wasn’t me that started this whole crazy Rebel show
And when I got involved it was entirely for the dough
And certainly that R2 droid’s got better moves than me
Oh, Leia … you just spilled beer on me

It’s hard to love a man who’s just a great big paperweight
And after all this run-and-gun I’m sure you want a date
But my head’s fixed just loose enough that beeping makes it pound
Oh Leia … don’t take the Force to town

She’s through the lock, ‘cause I just heard the hissin’ of the seals
She ain’t got no idea how a carbon cowboy feels
And if my drives would motivate I’d put the hammer down
Oh Leia … don’t take the Force to town

Oh Leia … For god’s sake not with Chewie!

There’s also a version of John Henry* that starts with “The Central of Georgia Railroad/Gonna be the death of me.” The C&O’s Big Bend Tunnel has the strongest historical associations, though in this context, when you say “historical,” shaker, you better pray, ‘cause if those cites don’t hold up strong, Department gonna throw you away, oh lordy, Department gonna throw you away.

JH also has at least three women in his life, dressed variously in red or blue (and sometimes, at the end, black), one of whom, Betty Ann, took his place during an illness and “Betty Ann drove steel like a man.”

There were hand drillers on a great number of projects, both in tunnel building and hard-rock mining (which is a whole other snappy revue of high explosives and lung disease), and the songs are naturally going to pick up variants, particularly variants that add some corroborative detail to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. The earliest known version, which you can read here, doesn’t give a location or railroad at all.

He may have come up from Georgia
He mighta hailed from Kokomo
But I think I’ll say he’s from the USA
And make a buck wherever I go.

*Or “Jawn Henry,” depending.

While one is pleased for Janet, it’s something of a loss that she wasn’t Zoë. We could have had an illustrated lyric book in the Gorey fashion, The Carterhaugh Cuties.

On the other hand, perhaps There is a Story Behind This:

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And a ragin’ Queen was she:
“Sing not a’ she, ye balladeers,
And let yon rootkit play,
For she’s taen awa the bonniest verse
Since Leonard Cohen’s day.

“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” she says,
“How craftin’ gaes agley,
I wad hae taen my pencil blue,
We fain had stopp’t at J.”

A is for Ann, who a grey eye attracts
B is for Betsy, unclear on the facts
C is for Chris, who at least argued well
D is for Daisy, who never did tell
E is for Ellen, who’d never been close
F is for Fay, who bought rings by the gross
G is for Gilly, whose smile was a candle
H is for Hilda, who got quite dismantled
I is Isolde, who went down with laughter
J is for Jill, who was tumbled right after
K is for Kay, who was certain and sure
L is for Lynn, who strayed off the coach tour
M is for Molly, untied from her beau
N is for Nora, who never said No
O is for Olive, whose caution was small
P is for Peg, who liked Ewan MacColl
Q is for Quinn, who was startled but pleased
R is for Rosie, whose kirtle got creased
S is for Susan, who went with a nod
T is for Tessa, who woke feeling odd
U is for Ursula, old for her years
V is for Vicky, who dates balladeers
W is for Wanda, who asked and who got
X is for Xenia — well, X marks the spot
Y is Yolanda, who needed some force
While Z’s clever Zoë, who bet the right horse.

You’re right; I’m going to feel terrible in the morning.

The otters return, and they’re on fire
A few days ago, I said this privately to Teresa:

… but there was a moment, watching the radar, when I really wanted a helicopter to dump Mr. “Jury is still out on climate change” Bush in the center of the Vieux Carre with a sou’wester, a liter of fresh water, and three MREs. If he broke an ankle landing, awww; he shoulda finished his bailout training.

The thing is, of course, that the way the majority of people are, somebody would have picked the drowned rat up and hauled him to the Superdome, where he could have had a nice cup of coffee and a Red Cross donut. Can’t tell if he would have been able to get on with his life then, but there probably would have been some interesting questions before morning.

At the time, I asked her not to quote it; it seemed, after it had been typed, to be crude and hateful, written with the stupidity of anger, that no one is helped by wishing someone else ill.

Which is all still true, but there’s a point at which one ceases to mind sounding stupid.

A natural disaster threatens! People might be at risk, or something bad like that, but pundits disagree on details!

Richard Cheney, bad-mannered Vice President of a greed-motivated kleptocracy, says the mystic word “GOBEPOHESO!*” and becomes …

Unbid Contract Man!

*Gotta Be Pork Here Someplace

Dives and Lazarus
“Now lithen, thon, I’m tellin’ you that there’th a giant mouthe thittin’ right nextht to Mithter Thcratch over there.”

“My father, on the verges of the Styx,
His fur gone white with what he knoweth not,
Pape Silvestre, canst not slay a mouse?”

“I see I’m not gettin’ through to you. Hey, you! Poetic tour-guide guy! Gimme thome help over here.”

“Ehhhhh … what’s up, Dante?”

Up much too late. Much, much too late.

Virgil is laughing and shaking his head
Can you point out the way through the land of the dead?
‘Cause this all was commanded where what’s said is said
To the very last stop out of town
On the Northern Line train going down.

The guard with the pitchfork does not fear the sack
“You are still on the Circle Line, there is no way back;
You must change at Embankment, your colour is black,
The alternative’s once more around,”
To the Northern Line train going down

Satan is chewing on paisley and cress
Please keep Damnation tidy, let’s not have a mess
And there’s no absolution at St Pancras’s
Don’t the mice make a murdochy sound
On the Northern Line train going down

Okay, it’s not that late.

Finally pulled Freedom and Rain off the shelf, where I’m sure it was getting very impatient, and the lyric there is:

Hell is dark, Hell is deep
Hell is full of mice
It’s a pity that any poor soul in Hell
Should be barred from a second rise.

Now, this version also has “Dives” as “Di-ver-es” (long i, same scansion as “Lazarus”) throughout, which As We All Know, Mr. Lomax, is a perfectly acceptable folk tactic, especially when the audience is blocking the exits. But it is also a Useful Reminder that anybody who speaks of the O-verbal-infix-riginal of Ane Folke Lyrick is talking through his liripipe.

What we obviously need is a new lyric that puts the wee timorous-my-aunt-Gracie beasties in some kind of neofolky context.

Hell is small and the lighting’s poor
Hell is awfully cold
The mice all gray are allowed to stay
For Hell is rent-controlled

Too urban.

Some dwell here for their mortal sin
Some for lying or rage
And hungry mice eat the gluttons thin
While Dives runs in his cage

Way too specific.

Hell is dark, Hell is deep,
Hell is full of mice,
And Nixon’s underneath mousie dung


Will no one tell me what she sings?
She’s coming ‘round the mountain,
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings,
Down by St. Agnes’s fountain.
I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair,
Everybody’s out on the run tonight, but there’s no place left to hide;
He whistled a tune at the window, and who should be waiting there —
Jeannie needs a shooter, a shooter on her side.

— The Magnetic Palgrave:
Now, You Too Can Move Rigorous Lines in an Unknown Power’s Employ!

Annals of deniable plausibility
Dear American Official:

I am Vassily R. Potemkin, Minister of Information for the late Voivode of the Week G. G. Limpopo of the Former Soviet Republic of Partsfabriky 128.

As part of his job, our Beloved Dead Leader accumulated 5,000,000 (Five Gazillion) International Blame Transfers, valid in all countries under IOC Blame Game Rules. Having been declared Officially Dead by his own hand, our Leader has no more use for these instruments. Therefore we of the Ministry are looking for a way of shifting our blame onto the international market. We found your name and sinecure on the Internet, and are approaching you with an offer to exchange these transfers for an outsourcing contract of some kind. No actual outsourcing will be required, just the bucks, and assuming you are the person we seek, those will not be yours anyway.

Yours in Strauss,
V. R. Potemkin

And watch out for them subversive pastries
“And now, the news for elevators. No elevators were injured when a robot maid, as yet unidentified but from reports one of the “Hoverskirt 3000” multiroom models, stole a flying car and used its wireless access to rob a series of online stores. She is currently circling the Interboro Zeppelin Mast, threatening to drop what our Live Breathing Reporter describes as “jelly for god’s sake beans” on the crowd below. Our reporter advises all robotic pedestrians to clear the area and organics to find a bucket. The maid is apparently demanding a set of mechanical upgrades unsuitable for liftcast, a date with Cory Doctorow, and a cziltang brone. Keep following this story, as if you had any other option.”
Listening to habaneros
“We brought the scallions back to the ship. That’s when Padrig went near mad. He said, ‘The leeks, man! Duw prid, think of the leeks, will you?’
“Dr. Musgrave gave him a shot of something — Lagavulin, I think — and then we sat down to think. It was three months till the launch window, and the biggest grater aboard was, what, six inches long. The Engineer said he’d try to rig up a mandoline, but how much time would that buy us?
“Finally the Doc, very quietly, said, ‘There’s something we haven’t thought of.’ I asked her what.
“Mushrooms, Captain. Mushrooms from the id.”

— from Planet of the Aromatics by “Cecil Beeton” (apparently a pseudonym)

“Redbook magazine’s attempt at a science fiction serial remains inexplicable in all dimensions of the word. Even copies of the magazines seem to have vanished from the Earth, though now and then one is spoken of at a fan gathering, in tones of mingled disbelief and awe. After all, these days anybody can see a flying saucer.”
— William Atheling III, Issues Out of Hand, the Lost Papers (Mirage)

Isn’t “spice burns” from Comidas Criollas of Dune?
Open thread 49
Do not worry, Lucy;* your condition would at least imply that you have only just encountered Richard Thompson. There are worse things.

I’ve been going through my enormous stack of Cropredy Festival photos, with the intent of posting a set on Flickr (don’t run over there now, there’s almost nothing up yet). I should probably check the shots of Thompson playing cricket, though I think they’re all from a safe enough distance that nobody’s really recognizable without a scorecard.

*which of course sounds like the first line of a folk song, in which Worry is only a stanza or six away from descending, followed after several more stanzas, a couple of choruses, a rickety bridge, and a catastrophic loss of string geometry by the arrival of Fell J. Death (as Jay Ward and Bill Scott would have called him) with his long black coat and his red incarnation, his Midnight Special on a .44 frame, and his invitation to come dance (nothing too Fosse, all Arlen in the night) under the pale white moon.

She likes the promise they don’t quite define
She stops the taxi at Greenwood & Vine,
Of course her Blahniks are size number 9,
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
She’ll leave her bedroom at any old noise
Won’t marry fops who are Daddy’s first choice
Walks into graveyards and raises her voice
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
She’s got a beau who’s dead, truth to tell
But his boat’s swell
What’s worse? Next verse!
Short but eventful, is that life so bad?
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s trad.

She’ll follow crooks for the whole crooked way,
Won’t stay indoors for the whole month of May,
Ignores old wives’ tales on her wedding day,
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
She won’t get fooled by the High or the Low
Enchants a token and buttons her beau,
Knows seven hundred expressions for No,
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
At some oh-dire-oh ‘ccasion of sin
She’ll get done in
Stone dead, ‘nuff said
She’ll come back Doleful and spook out the cad
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.

Can’t turn away from a guy on a horse,
She falls for riddles, though rarely to force,
And he’ll be gone in the morning, of course
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
She likes the Army, their triggers are set
But then the Navy gets so friggin’ wet
There’s not a service she hasn’t served yet
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.
She’s got the [Your Shade Here] sort of eyes
Sees through disguise
Nice dogs, cute frogs;
True Love will be the unlikeliest lad,
That’s why the lady’s lyric’s Trad.

… there must be reams of traditional folk songs involving motorcycles and tragic deaths …

He coughed up his spleen and he tossed her the horse
He said, “It has right-hand drive, of course”
He gestured theatrically and died
And she ran down the constable outside.

Something like that?

This just in:

This message is to inform you that due to recently fraud attempts that targeted our costumers, we have upgraded our internet banking system.

When you think about it, a concerted attack on cosplay could upset the global balance of payments in unforeseen ways. Imagine seeing an investor reduced to nothing but the Hello Kitty outfit s/he is wearing. A frightening thought, I know, but it gets worse if the Final Fantasy characters get involved. (The Dirty Pair, on the other hand, would probably track these people back to their secret base — according to the non-fake URL, their secret base is in Poland — and beat their ASCII bad.)

Recently fraud must be stopped at all costs!

The “can a [insert descriptor here] cope in a crisis” taradiddle is, like all such forms of NotThemIsm, absolutely fraudulent. There are people with Y chromosomes who have shown by example that they can do useful and important things in times of crisis; there is also G. W. Bush (and Herbert Hoover, not to pick too much on one guy). When was the last time you saw the question “Can a man handle a crisis situation?” (Not that it hasn’t been said.)

In warfare, which is on the Approved Short List of Calibrations for Human Okayness, there are people who do things that are both fiercely brave and intensely thoughtful (the first without the second sometimes works and sometimes really, horribly doesn’t), and there are people who lose all ability to act independently and much of the ability to act under direct command. While there are a few broad indicators of where on the scale a single individual will land, there’s no infallible predictor, and every predictor based on a general classification — race, gender, gender preference, political leanings, fondness for John Wayne movies — has been conclusively proven worthless in practice. (Of course people still lie about all these bogus determinants. People lie about everything, especially their agendas.)

Every single human being old/competent enough to think about it wants to believe that he or she would rise to a crisis if it happened. Lots of them run through mental scenarios of what they would do if, to pick a typical example, giant Communist mud turtles crawled out of flying saucers and began eating … hmm, it’s hard to think of a group everybody would protect, but you get the idea. Popular entertainment makes a rule of providing a character the audience can “identify with,” who may be fallible and frightened but never fails in the clinch. We have all observed the recent attempts to blame absolutely anybody and anything within reach for the failure of persons who have had nothing to sell except their skill as autoharuspices, relying on their Guts O’ Wisdom for infallible judgement, to do anything that did not worsen the situation.

One other point: there is a difference between failing some kind of emotional standard for a job — falling apart under stress — and knowing damn-all about what the job is. I think Condoleezza Rice would be a bad POTUS for the same reason I believe she is an inferior Secretary of State: she has no diplomatic background (arguably in any sense of the word), and just in case anybody forgot, the Secretary of State is the nation’s highest-ranking diplomat. Her chromosome count is irrelevant. The fact that she buys shoes is irrelevant; it was the fact that she was conspicuously buying conspicuously consumptive shoes at a moment of national emergency, when anybody a sense of public presence — Dolly the sheep, for god’s sake — would have been aware that she would be under public scrutiny, that was, to use the term, undiplomatic.

We now return you to your thread, already in progress.

I have, on more than one occasion, seen the phrase “tackle box gun” in sporting publications.

I’m sure it has some perfectly simurational explanation, involving defense against escaped criminals, rogue game wardens, or International Piscine Terrorists who have constructed their Secret Rebel Base* near your favorite bluegill spot. Though one also imagines an attack by a bear convinced he has eminent domain over the salmon,** or a puissant northern pike.

The principle of “with your dry flies, or on them” may also apply in certain situations. One can certainly imagine an Arthur Miller play ending with the curtain falling quickly, followed by a boom, a splash, and a Greek chorus of raucous ducks.

*This phrase loses much of its potency without Peter Cushing’s rs.

**”Don’ be silly, Boo-Boo! That’s a Smith & Wesson, and he’s, like, had his six!”

Oh, the hagfish, she is a multifarious beast. They have four hearts, for instance, and so would make lovely Valentine’s Day gifts, if you happen to be dating a Charles Addams character. But the distinguishing feature I always thought was most famous is that hagfish were (and may still be) the principal source of medical heparin, the Wonder Anticoagulant.

In the opera The Swan Sexer,* the eponymous Hrnstrgl** is banished from the Emperor’s court for refusing to splander die Böhnen aus about the supposed mating pair in the palace’s Schniegelgarten, and wanders the earth until he finds the Parliament of Curiously Designed Birds, and Lucille the Swan Babe leads all in the rousing choral “Alle Schwanen Tango tanzen, wo die heiße Sax klagt Weh” and gives him the Magic Bunny Slippers with which to return in triumph.

*”Who? What? Go away, I have a baritone pistol, and this time signature makes me unafraid to use it.” — Howard Goodall
**Popular with Vowelentferner since 1743.

“I’m sorry, Ollie, I thought it was a water slingback.”


“If you wanted Chinese food, why are we here looking for pirate treasure?”

“Stanley, we are fishing.”

“Arr, fishing. I’m glad it’s Talk Like an Astronaut day again.”

Comments on Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Three):
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 01:25 AM:

English is a text parser�s way of getting faster processors built.

... and dammit! My processor just isn't fast enough!

#2 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Dives and Lazarus and Folksongs are your friends were the best threads ever. Those threads helped me keep it together last year while I was watching my employer (the company I founded) slowly fall apart, and waiting to be laid off on the planned schedule.

Mike was a catalyst; everyone wrote better and more wittily, trying to come up with something like he would write, and then he'd come along and top it.

#3 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:44 AM:

Holy schemoly, I loved that guy's off-the-cuff brilliance. Wasn't there a handy forum he had where he posted tips for aspiring writers? Can anybody point me there?

#4 ::: miles c ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2006, 07:20 PM:

I died by lysergic . . . oh nevermind

Literally. My gut exploded from laughter like a polish sausage tragically left in a malfunctioning microwave. Oh what a wonderful way to go! Laughter is wonderful.

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