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Archive for July, 2003

Because You Asked

Wednesday, July 30th, 2003

Copiously weeping cats today. This first is from Heinrich Hoffman’s sadistic children’s book, “Struwwelpeter” (c. 1845). It’s a very normative book – there’s some German word for this type of kinderbuch but I can’t remember it. This particular picture is from “Das Gar Traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug” or as Mark Twain translated it, “The Sad Tale of the Match-Box”. In which Paulinchen learns to her cost, too late, that matches are actually not fun at all. And she can’t even say the cats didn’t warn her.

“Come quick!” they said. “O sire.
Your darling child’s afire!
Me-yow! Me-yo! Me-yow! Me-yo!
She’s cinders, soot, and ashes, O!”

Twain’s translation is available wicked cheap as one of those cute little Reclam editions, #8983.
The unhappy critter below is one of Charles Robinson’s illustrations from Walter Jerrold’s 1903 “Big Book of Nursery Rhymes” – available these days as “Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes” from good ol’ Everyman’s Library.

Pussycat Mew jumped over a coal,
And in her petticoat burnt a big hole.
Poor Pussy’s weeping, she’ll have no more milk,
Until her best petticoat’s mended with silk!

Robinson is better known for his illustrations of Stevenson’s “Child’s Garden of Verses”, and a lot of the “Mother Goose” illustrations delve into the same art nouveau vibe as the “Child’s Garden”. One Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. has set out an interesting life of Robinson here, with pictures to look at.

The Story of Willow

Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

I like this information-packed sentence from here:

The character evolved to a powerful good witch, discovered her lesbian sexuality and (after her lover was killed in the sixth season) became a wicked humanity-hating sorceress before switching back again to a lovable best friend.

Fix Facts

Monday, July 28th, 2003

Recent research conducted at Oregon Health and Science University and published in the Journal of Chemical Research in Toxicology suggests that different brands of cigarettes are differently addictive based on different amounts of free-base nicotine. Quite intuitively, the researchers think that more freebase = more addictive. That would be why cigarettes have alkaline additives like ammonia and urea!

Camels rank quite low, at 2.7% free base. But regular Camel smokers have trouble quitting just like anybody else. Marlboros are at 9.6%, though obviously that doesn’t mean that they are anything like “four times as addictive” as Camels – the nicotine which isn’t in free-base form is still addictive. American Spirits are pretty hard-core at 36% free base. Take that, hippies!

(Addendum 7/30/03 – I’m not saying American Spirits have additives – certain kinds of tobaccy are just more alkaline and American Spirits must use those, or else it’s some other factor in the preparation…)

Climbing the Hill

Sunday, July 27th, 2003

I’m on the way to a party with L. & G., and J., and perhaps others. We’re following a narrow, but paved, path through thick woods. Someone has put clusters of large glow-in-the-dark stars on the ground along the path, and I feel my belly tighten in anticipation, followed by a wave of gratitude toward this path’s decorator.

J. & I pull ahead of the others and are walking together. I’m carrying a spiral notebook and an O’Reilly book (Webmaster in a Nutshell?) in my left hand.

The path starts to be sandy, and the impenetrable forest on either side is maybe just shrubs now – it’s not impinging on my mind like before. We’re starting to go uphill now, steeper and steeper. I’m reminded a bit of Chimney Bluffs by Lake Ontario — the sand is really piled up now, and our ascent is sharp. It’s feeling close to 45 degrees when we hear a car coming from behind us, and move to the side of the path to watch it drive up. J. is making fun of the car because it’s in some way a dumb variation on another model, but I’m impressed that it can drive up this slope – “I dunno, man, that thing’s got some moxy!”

J., always smaller and nimbler than me, is scrambling ahead; now he crests a false peak and is out of my sight. The others have been out of sight and hearing for a long time.

Crabwalking, face away from the slope but not at all aware of any view beyond my immediate surroundings, I slip a bit on loose sand but stop myself quickly — face the slope again and keep on crawling up.

It’s still steeper, I feel like we’re approaching seventy degrees here — I’m amazed that I can still climb this: normally sand this steep is impossible. But it is getting harder and harder, especially with the book and notebook still clutched in my hand, slipping around, hard to hold on to — and once again I envy J. his lightness.

Another false peak, or maybe the real one, and there’s just a few feet to it, but now my hand sets loose a wave of sand, gallons and gallons tumble down, a mini-avalanche and I’m worried about the people below — this is hard enough for me without my weight in sand bashing me from above, filling my mouth and eyes…

And now I’m slipping too, following the sandslide — I can’t get a grip with fingers, toes, knees or elbows and I’m on the verge of losing the books — sliding ever faster, amazed I’m not tumbling headlong, but I’ve slid down steep sand before and I sense that if I can keep calm and keep my heels from catching I won’t lose control entirely. Unrealistically, it occurs to me that if I could face outwards from the slope again I would be able to control myself better, but I’d have to let go of the books to pull that off and now it’s moot — something has caught and I feel the sickening lurch of my chest being pulled out into the air by my momentum, the beginning of a completely uncontrolled tumble, shit, this is how people —

And I’m awake.

If it’s not Scottish…

Sunday, July 27th, 2003

About this they were never wrong, the old balladeers and tale tellers: talking birds rule. We see this in the Arabian Nights (and of course Iago in Aladdin). I still remember Kaw, the crow from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, childhood faves of mine. O and I’ve seen it elsewhere too!

In ye olde border minstrelsy, people try to bribe these birds — it’s just one of those ballad things, like a rose and a briar intertwining as they grow out of the star-crossed (with prejudice) lover’s graves. Usually the bird has witnessed some sort of misdemeanor. F’rinstance, after Lady Isabel (b.k.a. May Colven) has turned the tables on that ill-intentioned Elf Knight (a.k.a. False John), killed him and snuck back into the castle:

She lap on her milk steed
And fast she bent the way,
And she was at her father’s yate
Three long hours or day.

Up and speaks the wylie parrot,
So wylily and slee:
‘Where is your man now, May Collin,
That gaed away wie thee?’

‘Hold your tongue, my wylie parrot,
And tell no tales of me,
And where I gave a pickle befor
It’s now I’ll give you three.’

For what it’s worth, I can’t think of any times when the bribe is freedom. Far more often it’s some variation on the following, from another May Colven:

So she went on her father’s steed,
As swift as she could flee,
And she came home to her father’s bower
Before it was break of day.

Up then and spoke the pretty parrot:
“May Colven, where have you been?
What has become of false Sir John,
That woo’d you so late the streen?

“He woo’d you butt, he woo’d you ben,
He woo’d you in the ha,
Until he got your own consent
For to mount and gang awa.”

“O hold your tongue, my pretty parrot,
Lay not the blame upon me;
Your cup shall be of the flowered gold,
Your cage of the root of the tree.”

Up then spake the king himself,
In the bed-chamber where he lay:
“What ails the pretty parrot,
That prattles so long or day?”

“There came a cat to my cage door,
It almost a worried me,
And I was calling on May Colven
To take the cat from me.”

“Streen”! I’d like to be able to use that.

I could pretty happily rattle on more about this — post more of my Child ballads — scour the ‘net for yet more versions — transcribe folksongs I have that incorporate this stuff — branch out into a full exploration of the “Pretty Polly” meme (“There came a black cat at my door / come for to devo-ur me / and I was a-calling my Pretty Polly / to sca-at that ca-at away”). The research, unfettered from worries about the output, is fun. But y’all can do it yoursils if you want. I’m going back to reading nursery rhymes and writing thank you notes. The only reason I even got on this stupid computer was to make note of this nursery rhyme, “Cock-A-Doodle-Do”, new to me today:

Oh, my pretty cock! Oh, my handsome cock!
I pray you, do not crow before day,
And your comb shall be made of the very beaten gold,
And your wings of the silver so gray.

Naw, wait, the rhythm is reminding me of what I consider the canonical goods in this bribe, given here from yet another May Colven:

Hold your tongue, you pretty parrot
And tell no tales of me
Your cage shall be made of the yellow beaten gold
And your door of ivory.

Oh! This may be my last chance, I could die tomorrow without having transcribed “Henry Lee”. It’s the very first song on the Harry Smith Anthology, performed by Dick Justice (what with him and that nursery rhyme there’ll be no reading me in public libraries, I’m afraid).

“Get down, get down, little Henry Lee
And stay all night with me
The very best lodging I can afford
Will be fair bed around thee.”

“I can’t get down or I won’t get down
And stay all night with thee,
For the girl I have in that merry green land
I love her better than thee.”

She leaned herself against the fence
Just for a kiss or two
With a little pen knife held in her hand
She plugged him through and through.

“Come all you ladies in the town,
A secret for me keep
With a diamond ring held on my hand
I never will forsake.

Some take him by his lily white hand
Some take him by his feet
We’ll throw him in this deep deep well,
More than one hundred feet.

Lie there, lie there, loving Henry Lee,
‘Til the flesh drops from your bones,
The girl you have in that merry green land
Shall wait for your return.

Fly down, fly down you little bird
And alight on my right knee.
Your cage will be of purest gold
And need of proverty.”

“I can’t fly down or I won’t fly down
And light on your right knee
A girl who’d murder her own true love
Would kill a little bird like me.”

“If I had by benden bow,
my arrow and my string,
I’d pierce a dart so nigh your heart
Your warble would be in vain.”

“If you had your bended bow,
Your arrow and your string,
I’d fly away to the merry green land
And tell what I have seen.”

My transcription, I know, is but ill — I haven’t the ear — this one has the legal terminology I missed in the important part. But I writes ’em how I hears ’em.

This song is much corrupted in Nick Cave’s version — now I know how Charles Kinbote felt when he saw that all the best parts of John Shade’s poem had been excised.

More Cheerful

Friday, July 25th, 2003

And presto, Miranda Gaw‘s Dean button has me out of my funk:


Miranda, literally, means “she who ought to be marveled at”. But what kind of name is Gaw? Scottish? I bet it means something.

Heads on Poles

Friday, July 25th, 2003

I’ve been sickened at seeing pictures of Uday and Qusay’s split skulls everywhere on the news. And the pornographers are talking about distributing a video now. “Faces of Death – Special Democracy Edition”

Fie on it! Pfui!

I had always understood that we were past this sort of casual brutality. That we had some sort of moral development beyond, for instance, the English of 250 years ago, who actually wired together a hanged man’s bones after the buzzards had picked off the rotting flesh, that the gibbeted skeleton might serve as an example to the uncivilized Highlanders.

Or past the Romans of ~2000 years ago, who might leave a crucified man tied to his instrument of agony long past his time for learning lessons. Because really it’s the others you want to teach – his shocked and blasted children, anyone else who might consider petty or High crimes.

Fah! Foh!

What about the children? Won’t somebody think of the children? But maybe it’s good for them to see stomach-churning images of gruesome violent death on the front pages and the TV. We aren’t past impaling enemy’s heads on the city walls – why should they think we are? Maybe a return to public executions would help too, out with it all.

Salam Pax‘s take on the matter is interesting…

Conning can

Friday, July 25th, 2003

Just in time to supplement a recent discussino about modal auxiliaries and their many combinatinos, I see that Scots, at least as Stevenson writes it in Catriona, can do a nifty thing with “can” which I’ve felt the lack of many a time. I’m stuck with the lame “be able to” in these situations… Examples:

“But I will be honest too,” she added, with a kind of suddenness, “and I’ll never can forgive that girl.”

“I canna lee, Alan, I canna do it naitural,” says I, mocking him.

“The more fool you!” says he. “Then ye’ll can tell her that I recommended it…”

“If it is so – if it be more disgrace – will you can bear it?” she asked, looking upon me with a burning eye.

It was Catriona that spoke first. “He has sold you?” she asked.

“Sold me, my dear,” said Alan. “But thanks to you and Davie, I’ll can jink him yet.”


That “jink” in the last quote is awful close to “juke” as in football. Our American dictionaries are losers here. DARE doesn’t even have it, but I guess it’s not Regional so I forgive them. The American Heritage Dictionary thinks “juke” comes from a Middle English jowken, “to bend in a supple way”, but doesn’t adduce a word of support for this. So much for them.

But Merriam Webster must’ve farmed this one out to their most junior lexicographer:

Main Entry: juke
Etymology: probably alteration of English dialect jouk to cheat, deceive
Date: 1967
transitive senses : to fake out of position (as in football)
intransitive senses : to juke someone

It seems much more likely that the source of “juke” is the Scottish “jouk”, which has been around for a huge long time. The first citation in OED is from 1512, Douglas (he’s also the first citation for lots of other Scots words): “And jowkit in vnder the speyr has he.” Aw yeah, that’s how you brawl! In 1894, one “Crockett” has “Every sodger at first tries to jouk the bullets.” And so on.

It would also be a confidence-builder if M-W could get straight on the respective meanings of “transitive” and “intransitive”.

Incidentally, “webster” originally meant “weaver”. Like pollster but with a webs instead of polls. Hooray! “Oh what a tangled web we weave…” And since you asked, no, “spinster” doesn’t have anything to do with “sphincter”.

A word which rhymes with “weave” is “deave”, more Scotticism and yes it’s in Catriona, meaning “to deafen”. It usually shows up paired with “din”, as in, “Eh, shutuppa you face! Yer deavin’ me with yer din!”

Graffiti Entenditi

Monday, July 14th, 2003

In which the author explains a few enigmatic and largely unknown graffiti

1. At Bard College, next to the ol’ abandoned swimming pool by the Sawkill waterfall. The pumphouse has an inscription somewhere: “Dean Levine is a dustcovered fuckhead” This has been transcribed elsewhere as “Dean Levine is a dustlove red fuckhead”, which is just the kind of dustlove ravings that you might see on that building. But still, I always read it as “dustcovered”.

2. On Cruger Island, on the ol’ shootin’ wall at the ruins, laboriously scratched in between the shotgun patches and bullet craters, “What’s a Skeezer?”. This is obviously a reference to the L.A. Dream Team’s 1987 hit of the same name. “If we list to speak” we could say who put the graffito there but we listn’t.

In March 1996, possibly before I had ever used the internet, Rudy Pardee posted to alt.rap, saying that he and Snake Puppy had come up with another album. He apparently died in 1998 in a scuba diving accident. Peace, Rudy. I liked your song.

U.T.F.O., the Untouchable Force Organization, had an entire 1986 album, “Skeezer Pleezer“. I only ever knew one song of theirs — I don’t even know its name but the main refrain is “If Everybody in the Place Wanna Party, Clap Your Hands”. Can’t find anything about this song on the internet so maybe someday I’ll transcribe what I remember of the lyrics.

3. In the parking lot of the “Pittsford” Barnes & Noble. I think this store is actually in Brighton, but Pittsford is richer and whiter than Brighton, and the store is near the border, so why not call it “Pittsford”?

Anywho, you can see “¡Vi” scratched in to the back of a stop sign there. Only I know the truth about this one, since I put it there. It has nothing to do with text editors. It was going to say “¡Viva Len Riggio!” — I had a plan of scratching one line in with my key every couple days until it was completed. But I got a job as a supervisor at the Greece B&N before I finished this plan. The customers were nice at Greece.


Tuesday, July 1st, 2003

Luc Sante on Arthur Kempton’s new Boogaloo: “Kempton’s second major subject, Sam Cooke, emerged from quartet culture and made himself into a bridge, not just between the sacred and the profane but between the black and the white nations, between the ‘chitlin circuit’ and the Copacabana.”

There’s a picture of Cooke, captioned “Sam Cooke performing at the Copacabana, New York City, December 11, 1964”.

Golly! Until today I never realized that the Barry Manilow song is about the nightclub in NYC. Despite the clearly heard lyrics, “the hottest spot North of Havana”, I had always envisioned some sort of tropical beachside resort – someplace like Rio – certainly in South America.

By the way, there are plenty of Copacabanas in South America too. Also by the way, despite its très classy ring, “Copas Cabana” is unattested in The Corpus. “Copacabanas” gives several results in Portuguese, Danish and Swedish.