This 3rd of July

America, tomorrow sate your lust
   for roasted flesh and trite casuistry
to remember what our independence cost—
   or stroke your patriotic vanity
instead. Rationalize your vices by Christ.
   How better sanctify your ministry?
But beware the wiles of science on illusion;
verifiable facts pose such an intrusion.
 
But there'll be no inconvenient truths
   tomorrow. Media outlets won't pull threads
that might unravel market economy myths
   of thriving individualist thoroughbreds
galloping gallantly right over groups
   intent on interfering with our heads
by eroding quaint American culture—
freedoms—and eating 'til our waistlines rupture.
 
So, staunch red-blooded Americans disport
   yourselves freely. Pretend the earth weren't teeming
with fossil fuels. Never attempt to thwart
   exploding populations. Keep on thumbing
your nose at scientific led reports.
   Go on—bury your head in magical thinking.
To bring to culmination your theocracy;
and spoils of abusing our democracy.

To a Feckless Colleague

Do you have qualities that don't offend
   the axiomatic principles conceived
by decent men? This I cannot defend
   without some irrefutable proof involved—
To read a book, you'll never condescend;
   and love for reason in you did not evolve.
And, while some seek redemption for your numbskullery,
I'm not saint enough to endure such drudgery.

Review of AHMM: 13 Tales of New American Gothic


17703880._UY400_SS400_Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents: 13 Tales of New American Gothic
by Elaine Menge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very enjoyable collection of ghost and weird stories that span several genres, everything from paranormal/science fiction to historical mystery. The highlights for me were “The Wall” by Rhys Bowen and “Ten Thousand Cold Nights,” by James Lincoln Warren. The latter is a Japanese themed ghost story that, while not a historical mystery per se, incorporates a good deal of Japanese history.

“The Gorilla Murders,” by O’Neil De Noux, also deserves honorable mention–a historical mystery set in New Orleans. It pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

View all my reviews

The Key to Altruistic Reciprocity: Religion?

I wondered back in grad school while reading about the evolutionary origins of speech and music if religion hadn’t played a role in the evolution of civilization, and more to the point, man’s desire to be charitable to his fellow man. I remember reading that evolutionary scientists had struggled to discover why people were charitable. Game-theory experiments result in a single selfish player adulterating the entire population within a handful of generations.

The idea really congealed for me several years back when I traveled to Japan for the first time. That was my first encounter with a Buddhist culture, and I saw that karma played the same role in a Buddhist culture that the concept of an all-knowing God does in western society—that is, it gave people a reason to be honest and play fairly. If our pre-historic ancestors developed a fear that they would be punished, either by karma or an all-seeing/all-knowing God, then even the selfish might have followed the rules in exchanges of altruism. And it’s precisely these rules that make society work.

A biological-wiring theory might explain the prevalence and resilience of religious belief around the world, even in light of overwhelming evidence regarding the inaccuracy of virtually every religious origin mythology.

It might also explain cultural phenomena, such as the fact that people, even the non-religious, statistically have difficulty trusting atheists.

Anyway, it’s fascinating to see that evolutionary psychologists are pursuing this line of reasoning.

On Trump’s Tweets . . .

If his tweets seem oddly and unintentionally comical, remember they’re not for you. Understand them the way you understand pronouncements from North Korea—that is, intended for a constituency that lives in a bubble—only receiving information from its leader and lacking access to reliable media.

The sad thing being that for Trump voters, the bubble is willfully self-imposed.

Moby Dick: The Royal-Clothing Test of Literature

Also at LitHub is a lengthy collection of different books that have been hailed as the great American novel (it’s Moby-Dick) and why they have been called such (it’s still Moby-Dick).

via The revision strategies of 12 different writers are revealing and totally fascinating – Vox

When I hear someone tout Moby Dick as the “Great American Novel,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is more interested in parading literary acumen and identifying with book culture than in evaluating literature or good writing. I mean, we’re talking about a book that has about 15,000 words of story sandwiched between multiple chapters on the technical aspects of whaling, with one chapter that is the 19th century equivalent of a musical theater number thrown in for good measure. The soupçon of plot in Melville’s novel could have produced a momentous short story, but fails spectacularly as a novel. As it stands, it’s an exercise in overwriting and, what’s more egregious, a waste of the reader’s time.

And before you trot out that line about the differences in readership attention between Melville’s time and our own, I’ll draw your attention to Melville’s contemporary (and friend, for that matter) Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose work is tightly-plotted and well-edited, as good writing should be.

So please, spare me your specious accolades for a book you only pretend to like because your schoolmarm told you it was good literature. Try reading it again, but this time, open your eyes and evaluate it for what it is. In other words, think for yourself—just a little bit.

Wintry Ruminations

So, the winter break is coming to an end, and I’ve been meaning to post to my blog since New Year’s Day, when I was still in Paris. If I had a New Year’s resolution, it would be to update this blog with more regularity, so that is ironic, I guess. But rather than spending the 11 days since my return enjoying free time, my body decided it would be a better idea to catch a cold, so that has put a damper on things. Truth be told, at least this cold had the decency to wait for my return. Traveling while sick is dreadful.

But enough on that.

I spent both Christmas and New Year’s in France. That was both delightful and exhausting. The sights and experiences were exciting, but there were long lines and cold temperatures to deal with.

I’ll enumerate some of the highlights from that trip:

dscf4868
The gate to Mont Saint Michel

We spent the first day on a four-hour bus tour to Mont Saint Michel, which is in Normandy. This was the easiest part of the trip, and it gave us a chance to see some of the rural French countryside.

Apparently the monastery is a favorite sightseeing location for Japanese tourists, and the bus on which we traveled was owned by and operated for Japanese.

 

 

 

 

20161226_162407
A street inside Mont Saint Michel
img_1488
The entry corridor in the catacombs of Paris

The next day, we went to the Paris Catacombs, which was one of two primary destinations on my itinerary. This was also the beginning of waiting in long lines in the cold, however. We waited 4 hours in nigh freezing weather to get in.

I can’t say it wasn’t worth it though, and I would have been sorely disappointed if we hadn’t stayed.

The catacombs were everything I imagined.

20161227_153141The length of the passages into which tourists are led comprise a fraction of the tunnels. It’s illegal to trespass into most of it. I read that homeless people have set up communities in some of the abandoned areas, nevertheless. I thought this was great material for fiction, and it reminded me of something from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

 

 

The Palais Garnier (Paris National Opera) was an unexpected highlight of the trip. We’d planned to visit it, but we almost skipped it due to a press for time between the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Louvre. It would have been a great oversight, however. It was some of the most impressive architecture.

dscf5026
Main staircase from the foyer of the Palais Garnier

dscf5043The florid ornamentation on every part of this building has to be seen to be believed. It’s like something you would imagine that only exists in the world of CGI—only without the CGI.

Unfortunately, there was no sign of Erik, for the Gaston Leroux fans.

img_1550

img_1553
The chandelier and ceiling in the opera hall
dscf5321
Oscar Wilde’s grave marker

And of course, I couldn’t call myself a writer and not pay a visit to the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise cemetery, on the eastern border of Paris. Père Lachaise was itself a highlight—easily the most gothic cemetery I have visited, complete with dead, wintry trees and crows flittering about. Moreover, Oscar Wilde is not the only famous person buried there. Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas and others call the burial ground home.

 

img_20170109_000505_499We visited Notre Dame on one of the final days of the trip. It was so cold they’d closed the towers, so that was a bit of a let down. Nevertheless, the architecture of the church was magnificent. The very definition of a gothic cathedral.

 

Anyway, getting back home was a bit of an episode. There were horrible quandaries at both airports. In France, they told us the flight was overbooked, even though we’d reserved our seats in advance. They put us on standby, and we had to run to catch our flight,  without the seats we’d reserved no less. This inconvenience was mirrored back in the States by a national computer outage in the customs department that resulted in a 3-hour wait to get back into our own country.

We’d scheduled the trip back in September, so I can’t take any credit for it, but in light of the events back home at the end of 2016, it struck me as fortuitously apropos to welcome the new year in Paris.

What better location to usher in 2017 than at the place where corrupt oligarchs were brought to justice just over two centuries ago after a successful revolution?

So in keeping with that sentiment, here are two pictures of the Place de Grève:

dscf5366
The site of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror
dscf5363
Square at which enemies of the Republic were executed by Guillotine during the French Revolution

 

 

Oh, and of course—here’s the obligatory picture of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre:

20161228_164425