Friday, August 28, 2020

Shiver My Timbers

Q: What's a buccaneer?

A: A terrible price to pay for corn.

It may be corny, but my guilty musical pleasure these days is Thunderclash's version of "Shiver My Timbers" from Muppet Treasure Island.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Not with a bang

We are living in times which are both extraordinary and just plain dull. Nothing of any real interest is taking place even though recent events have been both dramatic and unprecedented.

-- William Wildblood

That about sums it up! I had not been prepared for just how stupid the apocalypse would be, how obscene, how inane. Nothing so romantic as an Armageddon, no grand Last Battle, no stern Götterdämmerung. No, the earthy expression turns out to have been nearest the truth all along: when the shit hits the fan.

And how interesting is that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Vegetarians don't think vegetarian food tastes good.

 There are several pretty good vegetarian restaurants in my city, and I get lunch there from time to time -- and virtually every time, one of the other patrons will say something like, "Wow, that's so great that you're a vegetarian!" ("老師很棒,吃素很棒!"; a direct translation would sound more childish than it sounds in Chinese.)

Back in America, I used to eat at kosher delis fairly often. Not once did anyone ever say, "That's so great that you keep kosher!" or even "I never knew you were Jewish." That's because everyone understands that kosher food is awesome and that there's nothing strange about a goy enjoying it. Vegetarian fare, on the other hand, is apparently understood to be so unappetizing that no one would ever eat it unless his moral or religious principles required him to do so.

Or maybe everyone did assume I was a kosher Jew (big nose, East European name, it wouldn't be surprising) but just didn't say anything -- either because discussing religion with strangers is taboo in America in a way that it isn't in Taiwan, or because vegetarianism is much more of a missionary faith than kashrut is.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Never fear, Energy-Saving Carbon-Reducing Tree Man is here!

I am sometimes tempted to congratulate myself on choosing to live in Taiwan, where common sense is only near-threatened rather than critically endangered and where people tend to be relatively laid-back about the Burning Issues of the Day.

Sometimes.

If the press is to be believed, the mild-mannered mayor of Changhua, the city which has been my home for the past decade and a half, has announced that he is (I swear I am not making this up) Energy-Saving Carbon-Reducing Tree Man -- and even has a snazzy superhero costume that makes him look a bit like Poison Ivy's male sidekick, Poison Ivan. (Not nearly as catchy a moniker as Energy-Saving Carbon-Reducing Tree Man, mind you.)

Energy-Saving Carbon-Reducing Tree Man went on to declare Changhua "the first Climate Emergency City" in Taiwan (summers on this subtropical island are, he astutely observed, "very hot") and to demand a green new carbon zero carbon justice extinction something something.

His speech was cheered by crowds of ivy-crowned maenads -- and, apparently, one heckler holding up a sign that said "How dare you!" (presumably a reference to ESCRTM's failure to wear a mask).

As I was saying, crowds.

You can read the original story here (in Chinese) if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Not the "fiery gospel" you might have expected

 I recently had occasion to read the original version of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" -- the American Civil War song written by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe to the tune of "John Brown's Body" -- as it appeared in the February 1862 issue of The Atlantic (jpg).

The first two verse are well known and strike the tone of righteous vengeance that one would expect from a "battle hymn."

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

The third verse, not much sung anymore, really surprised me.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

A "fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel" sounds appropriately wrathful, but it actually turns out to be about as far from smiting the wicked as it is possible to be: "As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal" -- that is, God will treat you the same way you treat those who show contempt for God. Smite the infidel, and God will smite you! How did a line like that find its way into a holy-war battle hymn?

I keep thinking that Howe must have meant something else by it, but I can't see any other way of reading it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Synchronicity: A parallel world with two moons in a book named after a year

Regular readers will know that I just recently read Whitley Strieber's 2007 novel 2012: The War for Souls. While it has a certain Strieberian charm that kept me reading to the end, it is basically a very poorly written book, and I can't recommend it. The story has to do with three versions of earth that exist in parallel universes. One of these is the earth we know. Another is a world in which the dinosaurs never went extinct but rather evolved into a race of (mostly) evil humanoid reptiles. The third is very close to our world but has several differences; they have McDonald's, for example, but it has "emerald arches" rather than golden ones, that sort of thing. (They also had no World Wars and no Communism -- but inexplicably somehow still had a Manhattan Project and have the hydrogen bomb! As I said, it's poorly written.) The most obvious difference, though, is that this parallel earth has two moons -- and "two-moon earth" and "one-moon earth" are used throughout the novel to refer to these two similar worlds.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it just so happens that NASA has recently discovered a tiny asteroid that has been orbiting the earth for a few years, and the press is hyping it a "second moon" despite its diminutive size (just a few meters wide). I discovered this a few days after finishing 2012 when Vox Day linked to a news story about it, titling his post (qv) "We're living in 1Q84."

I knew that 1Q84 was a novel by Haruki Murakami, and that the title is equivalent to 1984 (the Japanese word for "nine" sounds like the English name of the letter Q) but had not read it and knew nothing else about it. (I read A Wild Sheep Chase years ago and enjoyed it, but not enough to try anything else by the author.) A bit of Googling revealed that, just like Strieber's 2012, it is about a parallel earth that has two moons.

Reading the Vox Day post so shortly after finishing 2012 was a coincidence, but it's also a coincidence that two novels were written within a few years of each other -- by very different authors in different countries -- but each with a year as the title, and each featuring a parallel two-moon earth. Strieber's novel was published in 2007; Murakami's in 2009 and 2010 in Japanese, with the English version following in 2011. Therefore, any direct influence would have to have been from Strieber to Murakami rather than vice versa, which seems highly unlikely.

It occurs to me that the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact -- released in 1984, just as the final volume of Murakami's 1Q84 was released in 2010 -- also has a plot that revolves around two moons, in this case two of the moons of Jupiter, not those of a parallel earth. Coincidence, or deliberate homage?

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Synchronicity: Feelin’ Peachy

Today, following a link from the Junior Ganymede, I read an essay (qv) by the presumably pseudonymous Peachy Keenan. I liked it enough to read a few other essays by the same writer, who I’d never heard of before today. The name is obviously a reference to the dated slang expression “peachy keen.”

Right after that, I went out to buy some things and saw someone on the street wearing a T-shirt that said (in English) “Feelin’ Peachy.”

How can these books not exist?

I dreamed that I was walking down a street in Taiwan and saw that a new convenience store had opened. It was called Blue Harbor and had very unusual architecture -- something along the lines of a geodesic dome. The exterior walls were a deep indigo color and were covered with a sort of crust of white crystalline material that I understood was "bitter salt" and had been applied to the walls as a birdemic prophylactic. There was a window in the front similar to a drive-thru window at a fast-food place, and under the window was a large computer screen. Six or seven teenagers were standing in front of this screen playing some sort of video game using a controller that looked like a ping-pong paddle. They looked very happy, and the staff on the other side of the window were watching and laughing. Everyone was having fun.

Across the street from Blue Harbor was a place that I understood to be a "club," though in fact it looked exactly like a 7-Eleven. A young woman, apparently intoxicated and/or mentally disturbed, had wandered over from the club to Blue Harbor and was making a nuisance of herself, trying to talk to everyone who came near the entrance. She was holding a few little things that she was trying to sell to passersby at grossly inflated prices -- including, among other things, a pack of "cheese nabs," some tickets to the opera, and perhaps an ice cream sandwich or something of that nature.

Thinking someone ought to do something about this, I took the things away from her (easily done, as her mind was not at all clear) and pointed her back in the direction of the club she had come from. I then went into Blue Harbor to put the things on the shelves there.

Inside, Blue Harbor was rather dimly lit and in general felt more like a nightclub than like a convenience store. However, it plainly was a store, with shelves stocked with snacks, drinks, magazines, and such. I put the snacks the woman had been selling on the shelves that seemed appropriate and then wandered around looking for someplace to put the opera tickets.

I discovered a corner of the store where there were a few shelves of books, and I commented to someone (not sure who I was with), "This is a pretty big place. Look, they even have bookstores!" (not sure why I used the plural). Coming closer, I saw that there was even a small English-language section -- only 10 or 12 books, but I thought I might as well take a look. One of these was a "round book" -- that is, its pages were circular rather than rectangular -- and I wanted to look through it but couldn't because it was shrink-wrapped. The others were ordinary books and didn't look very new. I perused the spines and noticed these three titles:

  • Things Soon to Come
  • Britain as Another Planet
  • I Tried to Be Parents
I was pretty sure that Things Soon to Come was the first in a series of Christian apocalyptic novels along the lines of Left Behind; Britain as Another Planet was a travelogue of the Bill Bryson type; and I Tried to Be Parents was a humorous memoir about parenting. Nothing I was interested in.


I awoke feeling quite sure that these were titles of real books, and searched the Internet for them. Astonishingly, none of them exists. While I suppose it's not too surprising that there is no book with the ungrammatical title I Tried to Be Parents, I find it absolutely unbelievable that no one has ever written a book called Things Soon to Come. I mean, really, how is that possible? (The closest I can find is a Ron Nyberg book published last year, called Revelation Revealed: Of Jesus Christ and Things Soon to Come.) Britain as Another Planet also strikes me as an inevitable title -- someone simply must have written something called that, or if they haven't yet, they will soon -- but the phrase turns up not only no books but no Google hits at all.

This is in stark contrast to my usual book dreams, where the titles (Pyramids and Sphinxes from A to U; Angry Man, Angry Hog; A Kind of Shoe; There Are Monsters on the Land, Too) have a distinct whiff of dreamland about them and could hardly be expected to exist in the real world.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Synchronicity: Crop circle in Charlton

I have been reading Passport to Magonia, Jacques Vallée's seminal 1969 book on UFOs and fairy lore, which I have known about for ages but somehow never actually read until now. There is a bit comparing fairy rings and "saucer nests" (the now-familiar term "crop circle" had yet to be coined), and one account of the latter is introduced as follows:

July 16, 1963 will long be remembered in the annals of British ufology. Something appeared to have landed on farmer Roy Blanchard's field at the Manor Farm, Charlton, Wiltshire. The marks on the ground were first discovered by a farmworker, Reg Alexander. They overlapped a potato field and a barley field. The marks comprised a saucer-shaped depression or crater eight feet in diameter and about four inches in depth. . . .

Shortly after reading this account of one of the earliest crop circles (dubbed "the Charlton crater"), I checked Bruce Charlton's blog, as I do almost every day, and read a post called "Experiencing the animated world - what, specifically, do we need to Do?" In the post, he refers repeatedly to a lecture by Stanley Messenger called "Crop Circles: gateways to new worlds." As you can see in the comments on the post, Bruce has little interest in crop circles, and it's not the sort of thing he often writes about.

The coincidence, of course, involves crop circles being mentioned in connection with both a town called Charlton and a person called Charlton. Keep that in mind, because here comes a meta-coincidence.

Returning to the Vallée book, I read of how one Everett Clark, of Dante, Tennessee, reported that creatures from a UFO had attempted to steal his dog on November 6, 1957. After recounting this strange story, Vallée writes,

In another of the extraordinary coincidences with which UFO researchers are now becoming familiar, on the same day [November 6, 1957] another attempt to steal a dog was made, this time in Everittstown, New Jersey.*

The asterisk takes us to this footnote: "In yet another coincidence, the name of the town in the second case is similar to the name of the witness (Everett) in the first one" (italics mine).


Monday, August 10, 2020

Whitley Strieber's prophecy checklist in The Secret School

Much of Whitley Strieber's non-fiction book The Secret School has to do with mental time travel. He recounts a vision of Rome around 50 BC, one of the world around 10,000 BC, and one of the near future (when he himself is an old man -- i.e., around now).

In an appendix, he writes, "I have assembled a short list of prophecies and predictions for the near future. I intend it to be used as a validating tool for my work, and trust that I have been sufficiently exact for this to be possible." There is no indication at all of where these prophecies came from; they do not overlap at all with the vision of the future reported in the body of the book. This vision would, I think, make a better validating tool, since it includes some very specific events (such as Air Force One being grounded in a sandstorm in Los Angeles) and also has a very specific deadline (the death of Whitley Strieber). At any rate, here are the prophecies from the appendix, with my comments. I have added numbers to what is in the original a bulleted list but have made no other changes. It's been 23 years since the publication of The Secret School, so at least some of these "near future" prophecies should have been fulfilled by now.

1. Our present system of government, made unstable by debt, public disaffection, and the vast chasm between its secret and public sectors, will change radically in the context of economic disruptions brought on by serious environmental difficulties of various kinds.

I guess the global birdemic coup of early 2020 sort of fulfills this, though "environmental difficulties of various kinds" weren't really a factor.

2. Specifically, I see problems with a food supply disrupted by violent weather: great storms in some places, horrendous drought in others.

Uselessly vague. There are always storms, droughts, and food-supply issues somewhere in the world.

3. I see huge clouds of smoke over a great city -- Mexico City. Popocatépetl is erupting.

This is one of the most specific predictions on the list, but unfortunately turns out to be worthless. According to the Smithsonian Institute's Global Volcanism Program (click on "Eruptive History" here), every year since 1994 has seen at least one eruption of Popocatépetl. If we count only "catastrophic" eruptions (VEI of 3 or higher), the most recent was in 1996, and the last before that was in 1663. The Secret School was published in 1997.

4. In the United States, there will be a struggle for control, fierce but not very bloody. The power of the military/industrial complex will end, and with it official secrecy. What will take the place of the old system will be freedom in the form of a republic that is real.

Just how wrong is it possible to be? (To be fair, some Trump supporters still hold out hope that this is just about to happen.)

5. Despite all the chaos, science continues to move from success to success. We begin to understand our deepest selves. As we unlock the meaning of our genes, we will discover that human beings and human lives are constructed in such extraordinary detail that the presence of a level of super-conscious planning prior to and hidden within our lives, as suggested by the secret school, must be seriously considered.

Trivially, science is cumulative and thus "moves from success to success"; barring total societal collapse, it never actually moves backward. However, no spectacular scientific discoveries about "the meaning of our genes" or anything else have been made since the publication of The Secret School, and in fact science seems to have been treading water for several decades now. (The Human Genome Project was in progress when The Secret School was written, and perhaps Strieber believed the hype surrounding that.)

6. Fusion is perfected as an energy source and we will want to mine the moon for fuel, but there will be an obstacle to this that will be overcome only through profound personal and social evolution.

Fusion power is about 50 years away -- always has been, always will be. Mining the moon for helium-3 for use in fusion was first proposed by Gerald Kulcinski in 1986.

7. Antimatter will be successfully created, contained, and studied. It will offer us the ability to devise weapons of appalling destructive capacity and small size, but also the chance to use it for the greater good in mega-engineering projects that will need power on an undreamed-of scale. Given the explosive power of antimatter weapons, we will also become able to deploy a meaningful system of defense against asteroids and large comets. In understanding how to contain antimatter, we will also discover how to gain access to parallel universes and eventually to traverse the universe at speeds bordering on the instantaneous.

Antimatter was first created in 1955 and first successfully stored in 2010. Only tiny quantities (nanograms) have been created. No military or engineering applications so far.

8. A man presently working inside a classified program will reveal knowledge of how psychic power works. Many research programs now secret will become public, whereupon the work will proceed with explosive energy. Average people will gain access to their own enormous psychic abilities as they realize that we all possess them and can learn techniques to make them work. Effective methods of teaching them will come into general use.

The Stargate Project was declassified in 1995, just before The Secret School was published. Effective methods of teaching psychic powers have not come into general use.

9. Memory and prophecy will be understood to be tools of the hyperconscious level of mind, and people will begin to use them as such.

Too vague.

10. Time will also come to be a tool, and travel in time will become practical. As mind frees itself from time and thus approaches singularity of consciousness, nations as we know them -- directed by power, politics, greed, and lies -- will end. They will be replaced by the only valid form of government that has any meaning to the truly free: one that is founded in love and organized around compassion.

Time travel has not become practical. Nations are still directed by power, politics, greed -- and, above all, lies.

11. We will meet people from other worlds, the barrier between the living and the dead will collapse, and it will become possible for the individual to store and process huge amounts of knowledge.

This has apparently been going on for a long time, as Strieber knows from his own experience. No special developments in this area since the publication of The Secret School.

12. We will throw off the bondage of assumptions that we are small, weak, and frail, and discover ourselves a rare and precious creation, immensely talented and bearing upon this tiny scrap of stone called Earth a powerful responsibility to survive, to grow, and to partake of all knowledge in full consciousness. As we do this, we will also find that others on the same quest reveal themselves to us, and we will join hands with them.

Rather than discovering "a powerful responsibility to survive," the human race is more suicidal now than it has even been before.

13. As science becomes increasingly honest, open, and powerful, it will begin to detect the presence of deity in an incontrovertibly factual manner. At that point, a Niagara of joy will flood the world as the species consciously joins the companionship for which it was created.

Or consider the polar opposite: "As science becomes increasingly dishonest and collapses, atheism and nihilism will be taken for granted, and a Niagara of despair, anomie, and alienation will flood the world." Which better describes the world you see around you?

Verdict: Epic fail.

I have a suspicious mind

In a comment to my previous post (qv) I mentioned an apparent additional synchronicity: Shortly after writing the post, which uses the phrase "Sister of Mercy" several times, including in the title, I went to YouTube and played a couple of Leonard Cohen songs, and YouTube suggested a third -- a 1967 release called "Sisters of Mercy." Though I know a handful of Leonard Cohen songs and listen to them fairly often, I can't say I'm all that familiar with his work; I never knew that he had written a song with that title, and YouTube had never suggested it before. (As a longtime reader of Strieber, I would have noticed.)

Then it occurred to me -- because I have a suspicious mind -- that this might not be a coincidence at all. YouTube is Google, and Blogger is also Google, so perhaps YouTube knows what I have recently posted on Blogger and takes this into account in its algorithm. So, by way of testing this hypothesis, I'm writing this post about what a suspicious mind I have. Yessirree Bob, if you were to ask me, "What one word best describes the sort of mind you've got?" I would have to say "a suspicious mind." Most people who know me would say the same thing -- or at least I suspect they would, because I'm just suspicious like that. My mind is, I mean. It's what you might call a suspicious mind.

Now I'm off to YouTube to play "Hound Dog" and "Burning Love" and see what it suggests I play next.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Synchronicity: Dancing with the Sister of Mercy

Late last night I was sitting in a McDonald's drinking coffee and reading The Secret School, Whitley Strieber's 1997 book about his childhood memories of attending -- as you may have guessed -- a nocturnal "secret school" with other children. These lessons took place in the Olmos Basin in San Antonio and were presided over by the "Sister of Mercy," a strange nun who did not appear to be entirely human. (For parallels in Strieber's fiction, see the secret school in The Night Church and the Sisters of Mercy in Cat Magic.)

Here is some of what I had just read, from pp. 157-160.

The result [of struggling to recall some suppressed childhood memories] was a total blank, and a return of the feeling that had worried me from the beginning, that this was nothing more than an act of the imagination, an interesting but essentially worthless exercise. [. . .]

I sat listening to the sighing leaves of the old live oak and trying to evoke memory without also bringing my imagination to bear.

I closed my eyes, thinking of the Sister of Mercy. Immediately, I remembered [. . .]

I remembered that I saw inside her wimple once, and it looked as if a giant moth was staring out at me. My whole being rocked with terror.

We would get up and go round and round, dancing. The sister danced with us, her habit whooshing in the dark. We danced the backward dance, going past the ages, deep into time. And as we danced in 1954, we joined to our dance in Rome, and to another dance, longer past.

Everything is dance, she would say -- dance of time; dance of life; dance of fate; dance of air, water, and light; dance of fire and future; history dance. Evil, love, good, hate, holy, cruel -- all the dances are the dance.

As I read that last paragraph -- dance dance dance -- I suddenly became aware of the background music that was playing in the restaurant. The line "Will I dance for you, Jesus?" caught my attention, both because of its incongruity (since when does McDonald's play religious music?) and because it synched with what I was reading. The song was soon over, but I looked up the lyrics on my phone to see what it had been, and it was "I Can Only Imagine" (2001) by a Christian pop band called MercyMe -- apparently a cover, since the vocalist had been female but MercyMe is an all-male group.

The synchronicity goes beyond the reference to dancing. A female cover of MercyMe syncs with the Sister of Mercy; and the name of the song, "I Can Only Imagine," reflects the concern repeatedly expressed by Strieber that his apparent memories may in fact be "nothing more than an act of the imagination." The song also contains the lines "I can only imagine / What my eyes would see / When your face is before me" -- which reminds me of Strieber's looking inside the Sister's wimple and seeing something very unexpected!

A Three Nephites story

I was listening to Louis Armstrong on YouTube, and somehow or other this showed up in the sidebar. I found it compelling enough to listen the whole thing (quite unusual for me, since my tolerance for video is generally very low), and so I pass it along to whoever might happen to read this post.

The lady in the video is apparently a member of one of the "Restoration Branches" of Mormonism -- a Missouri-based conservative movement which broke off from the RLDS when that denomination began to become converged in the 1980s. (The RLDS, a never-polygamous sect of Mormonism which followed Joseph Smith III rather than Brigham Young, has since degenerated into a "liberal Christian" type group called the Community of Christ.)

As someone who takes both Mormonism and close encounters seriously, I should mention that the person this woman and her friend encountered does fit the traditional folklore about the Three Nephites -- but also that about the so-called Nordic aliens (no suitable link suggests itself, but you know the guys I mean). I'm not trying to explain-away either tradition in terms of the other; just noting the similarity.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Whitley Strieber and the sinister serpents of luck and joy

Tired of Whitley Strieber posts yet? That's too bad!

Derbyshire, England -- not the planet Abaddon

In his non-fiction book Breakthrough (1995), Whitley Strieber recounts an experience in which he and one other person took a wrong turn off Route 17 in New Jersey and for several minutes found themselves in what seemed to be another world, before eventually finding their way back onto the highway. Strieber describes the scene:

The houses were set back from the street, in lawns heavily planted with shrubs and emerald-green grass. The house I could see most clearly was one story and had no visible roof, which made it look like a huge box. It appeared to be made of tan stone deeply etched with carvings of large serpents. [. . .] I observed another one just the same, then took a turn. The place was sinister, to be frank, and I really did not want to attract the attention of whatever it was that thought images of giant snakes were attractive decorations for a home.

In Strieber's novel 2012: The War for Souls (2007), Whitley Strieber stand-in Wiley or Wylie Dale (both spellings are used indiscriminately throughout this poorly edited novel) visits the Union, a little corner of the evil reptilian planet Abaddon where the reptilians are good -- or are environmentalists, anyway, which for Strieber amounts to the same thing. (In most parts of Abaddon, "mentioning global warming drew a death sentence," but in the Union, I kid you not, "it was illegal not to mention global warming"! Sound familiar?) Here Wylie describes one of the houses there. (I won't say whose house, lest I spoil what passes for a plot, but they're good guys.)

Wylie [. . .] watched the rich green Union land speed below them. [. . .] They came down on a pebble driveway before a modest old sandstone, its worn carved serpents of luck and joy barely visible in its ancient walls.

This is obviously the same sort of house described in Breakthrough, but now the carved serpents symbolize "luck and joy." Much like Tolkien, Strieber seems to work with memorable images which can be interpreted in more than one way. (Tolkien's Black Riders evolved out of a scene that originally featured Gandalf rather than a Nazgul.)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Swearing like Strieber

Note: This post contains lots of swearing and lots of Whitley Strieber. If that offends you, you might want to read something else instead.

Well, fuckaroo!

Those who see the film version of Communion first and then read the book will no doubt be disappointed to discover that, unlike Christopher Walken, Whitley Strieber never actually refers to his alien visitors as "little blue fuckers about that big." (Nor does he ever say "Oy vey, what a day, what a schmear!" Walken's a legit New Yorker; Strieber, a Texas transplant.) However, his books, at least the fictional ones, do contain plenty of cussin' -- and, like everything else Strieber does, it's just a tad idiosyncratic.


Sonembitch

My God, Rollo, Rollie boy, hey, you are one sinister sonembitch.
-- a story anthologized in Murder in the Family, 2002

Bats. In your belfry, squeaking like sonembitches 
-- 2012: The War for Souls, 2007

Tough sonembitches.
-- Ibid. 

I've never liked executions. Some poor dumb sonembitch, every damn time.
-- Hybrids, 2011

He's a smart sonembitch.
-- The Wild, 2015

Seemingly endless variants of son of a bitch exist, but this one seems to be unique to Strieber.
  • son of a bitch (14,200,000 Google hits)
  • sonofabitch (549,000 hits)
  • sumbitch (261,000 hits)
  • somebitch (31,100 hits)
  • sumabitch (31,000 hits)
  • sombitch (20,500 hits)
  • sonabitch (18,800 hits)
  • summabitch (11,000 hits)
  • sonbitch (8,520 hits)
  • somabitch (2,860 hits)
  • sonobitch (2,360 hits)
  • sonamabitch (1,940 hits)
  • sonembitch (68 hits) -- all from Strieber
The standard plural, of course, is sons of bitches, but often enough sonofabitch is treated as a single word and pluralized accordingly.
  • sons of bitches (1,870,000 hits)
  • sons of a bitch (656,000 hits)
  • sumbitches (209,000 hits) -- apparently a kind of cookie, not a swear
  • sonsabitches (122,000 hits)
  • sons of a bitches (64,100 hits)
  • son of a bitches (52,000 hits)
  • sonofabitches (13,500 hits)
  • sombitches (10,100 hits) -- half cookies, half swears
  • summabitches (5,320 hits)
  • somebitches (4,560 hits) -- also cookies
  • sonabitches (1,990 hits)
  • sonbitches (793 hits)
  • sumabitches (789 hits)
  • somabitches (273 hits)
  • sonamabitches (182 hits)
  • sonobitches (54 hits)
  • sonembitches (14 hits) -- all from Strieber


God-for-damned

"It'd ruin somebody's day, for sure."
 
"The God-for-damned enemy's day"
-- 2012: The War for Souls, 2007

It's much harder to confirm via Google that this is a unique Strieberism, since lots of irrelevant hits come up ("the love of God for damned souls," "a god for damned near everything," etc.), but I've certainly never come across it anywhere else.

I assume this has something to do with the German word for "goddamned," which is gottverdammt, not far at all from God-for-damned. (Keep in mind that German v is pronounced /f/.) Although Strieber's people have apparently been in Texas for several generations, the surname is obviously German, and perhaps this German-influenced way of swearing has been handed down as a sort of family heirloom.


Fuckaroo

Hideous stuff [absinthe], but it did pack a pop. He got it out now, unscrewed the bottle, and chug-a-lugged.
 
Fuckaroo.
 
He went down to dinner, and ate in silence.
-- 2012: The War for Souls, 2007 

"This man isn't dead! This man is breathing!"

. . . "Fuckaroo, he's right."
-- Ibid. 

The word fuckaroo is not unique to Strieber, but as far as I can tell, everyone else uses it as a noun -- meaning, variously, a fuck-up ("a real fuckaroo"), bullshit ("doesn't give a shit about trivial fuckaroo"), or a fuck ("the best fuckaroo I've had so far"). A Google Books search also turns up a Nicholson Baker novel that includes the line "I surveyed the scene for a moment and said, 'Fuckaroo banzai'" -- whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. Only Strieber (and possibly Baker?) uses it as an exclamation.

Yes, lizard people are Mayincatec

TV Tropes is one of those sites where it's very hard to keep from just clicking and clicking and ending up very, very far from whichever page you started with. Thus it happened that the other night I found myself perusing the article on Lizard Folk, with no very clear memory of the trail of links that had led me there. (Do not click that link unless you have a few hours to kill!) The article was illustrated with the following picture and caption.


Naturally, I had to click on Mayincatec, too (don't do this!); the word is a portmanteau of Maya, Inca, and Aztec and refers to the lumping together of the various ancient civilizations of Mexico and Central and South America. The caption is apparently referring to the serrated weapon one of the lizard blokes is holding, which looks a bit like an Aztec macuahuitl -- though the latter weapon was lined with rectangular obsidian blades rather than spikes.


The next day I was reading Whitley Strieber's 2007 novel 2012: The War for Souls (bizarre, disjointed, and not particularly recommended; reading this stuff is just one of those things I have to do), which features evil shapeshifting reptilian aliens à la David Icke. The character Wylie Dale (a badassified version of Strieber himself) visits the parallel universe where these lizard folk come from and observes some of them walking down the street:

One had a New Sex Pistols T-shirt obviously from home, another a shirt with a big green fruit on it in the shape of a bitten apple, and in the bite an image of a squeezed human face. This one carried a brutal weapon, an Aztec sword made of steel with obsidian blades jutting out of it. The squeezed face was instantly familiar. It was Adolf Hitler.

They watched him with their brilliant, dead eyes, their heads moving with the clipped jerks of lizards. As he walked, he saw that the street was made of wood -- in fact, of cut tree trunks fitted together with an Inca's skill.

("New Sex Pistols"! And an evil reptilian alien with one of their T-shirts! This is the sort of inspired lunacy that keeps me coming back to Strieber.)

So here's another lizard man with a macuahuitl. (Fitting obsidian blades to a steel sword seems odd, but in fact, according to this site, an obsidian blade can be made 500 times as sharp as a steel one.) The Mayincatec concept -- the smooshing together of various ancient American cultures -- is also present, with both "an Aztec sword" and streets made "with an Inca's skill." The Maya are implicitly present as well, since the whole idea of a 2012 apocalypse comes from the Maya calendar.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The only one for me is you, and you for me

I don't know how many times I've heard the Turtles song "Happy Together" (one of radio's all-time most played tunes) without ever noticing that that line is a trick. The word order creates the illusion of reciprocity -- me for you, and you for me -- but in fact it really just says "you for me" twice.

I somehow doubt many of my readers -- mostly Christian, mostly musically sophisticated -- will be in the market for a Satanic-sounding remake of a lightweight sixties pop song, but one of the principles I follow on this blog is never to assume I'm the only one. (I have it on good authority that at least one other person enjoyed my discursus on the dead owl in the suitcase!)


Making a "dark" version of non-dark source material is the oldest trick in the book for the pseudo-profound -- but in this case I think they're actually on to something. Go back and read the Turtles' original lyrics, and it's pretty clear that the song (much like the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood") was dark all along.

Imagine me and you, I do

The relationship exists only in the narrator's imagination.

I think about you day and night, it's only right
To think about the girl you love and hold her tight

Given that they're not actually in a relationship, "and hold her tight" is decidedly creepy.

If I should call you up, invest a dime

If I should -- strictly counterfactual. He's never called her up, and the idea of doing so is as much a fantasy as everything else in the song.

And you say you belong to me and ease my mind

Because his mind is not at ease right now.

When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
For all my life

Notice the future tense. He's not talking about how he feels when she's with him (because she's never with him), but how he imagines he will feel when they're together (as, he feels sure, they are destined to be eventually).

The only one for me is you, and you for me

As I've already mentioned, this is just literally saying "You're the only one for me, and you're the only one for me."

So happy together
How is the weather

Is this just a random line inserted for no other reason than that it rhymes? Or is asking about the weather -- the canonical example of the sort of meaningless small talk in which perfect strangers engage -- the only real, non-fantasy, interaction he's ever had with this girl he's so obsessed with?

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Done with Wikipedia

I will no longer read, link, or publish comments linking to Wikipedia, and I encourage others to adopt the same policy.

Update: This turned out to be too strict a constraint. And as much as I would like it to be otherwise, Wikipedia still tends to be more reliable and more up-to-date than the alternatives, at least for less political topics.

The meaning of birds

Augury -- interpreting the behavior of birds -- is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of divination. It still survives in 21st-century Taiwan; I have seen a night-market fortune-teller interpret the hops and pecks of a tame sparrow.

Is it just an old superstition, or is there something in it? Are birds, those enigmatic little creatures with the blood of ancient dragons in their veins, perhaps a little magical?


We once experienced a very clear bird-omen. My wife was at the home of a family whose daughters she tutored, and after one of these classes she was standing in the courtyard chatting with their mother. While teaching, she had felt that there was a "weird vibe" in the house, though everything seemed outwardly normal.

While they were talking, a large night heron suddenly appeared out of nowhere, flew full-speed into the concrete wall of the house, and fell down at their feet dead, its neck broken. There was no apparent explanation for this behavior. Birds flying into windows is normal, but concrete walls?

Days later, that family just imploded. I won't give any details here, but it was very, very bad.

Was the suicidal heron just an example of the broader phenomenon of omen or synchronicity, or is there something about birds as such? When my wife reported a "weird vibe," had she just subconsciously picked up on subtle changes in the behavior of the family members, or was it really something more like a literal vibration -- some ambient energy-like field that had become (to borrow a delightful word from those zany Scientologists) "enturbulated" -- something that birds, a sensitive lot, would react to?


And what of the Spirit that descended "like a dove" on Jesus? I was taught in (Mormon) Sunday school that there was no actual dove involved, that the Spirit had merely descended "as gently as a dove" or something like that -- but I no longer believe that. Do doves have some specially distinctive way of descending? Spirits as such are not visible, but John the Baptist must have seen something, and the plain meaning of his words is that what he saw was a dove. Was the dove a hallucination induced by the Spirit as a means of communication? More likely, I think, an actual flesh-and-blood dove descended on Jesus, and John -- a prophet living in a culture that accepted ornithomancy as a matter of course -- interpreted the auspices correctly.


Just after writing an earlier version of the above paragraph, I went out to get my motorcycle. As I approached the machine, a red turtle dove suddenly fluttered up from it, circled me once, and flew away. I'm going to play auspex here and call that a confirmation of my thoughts.


A further synchronicity: While I was in the process of writing this post, I checked Bruce Charlton's blog and found this comment from one Tom Hart (see this post):

You cannot underestimate how far people are trapped in modernity. I once watched a nationalist pagan Youtuber who, while talking about population genetics on his computer, noted that an owl had landed on a branch outside his window the night before. For an ancient pagan this would have been an event of enormous import, the only thing worth talking about; the birds were messengers from the gods and augury was central to paganism. But the Youtuber, despite identifying as anti-modern and totally primal, rejecting even Christianity as too modern, mentioned the owl in passing--as if it were a curious and mildly interesting fact. The population genetics on his screen were much more important and real to him, and so he spurned a divine messenger.

Even people who have taken a conscious step out of modernity are still consumed by its frame of reference; when they see a bird, they don't see a sign--just a wildlife fact.

Another unremarked milestone

According to the latest figures , the pecks have now killed more than two-thirds as many people in Taiwan as the birdemic has, and that rat...