Fiction

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Glass of Punch May Pack a Punch, But the Two Have Nothing in Common (Etymologically Speaking, Anyway)

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 6:21 PM

COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
I picked up Henry Fielding's novel, Tom Jones, once again after putting it down in the middle and moving on to other things. Back in April, I noted my surprise at finding that the phrases "ass kicking" and "ass kissing" were alive and well in the 18th century. In the part I'm reading now, our hero and others are on the move and stopping at inns along their way, and they frequently drink "punch" in the evenings. I wondered, is "punch" just a random alcoholic concoction in a punch bowl, or does it refer to something more specific? The answer is, it was a specific type of drink in the same way as, for example, a martini. It's of semi-exotic origins, as is its name.

Here are the basic ingredients, according to an online source, which are similar to ones described elsewhere.
In the beginning, punch was a simple mixture of five canonical ingredients: lemon or lime juice, sugar, water, "spice" (which could have been anything from nutmeg or tea to ambergris, a musky whale secretion now used only in perfume making), and, of course, liquor. Batavia arrack, a fiery but highly aromatic molasses-and-rice distillate imported from the Dutch East Indies, was the preferred spirit, but Caribbean rum and French brandy were right behind it. The earliest known reference to the drink dates from 1632, appearing in a letter to an India-bound merchant from an English colleague, who strongly warned against drinking it (if punch has a fault, it's the ease with which one can absorb too much of it).

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Cicero, Roman Statesman and Orator: Born, 106 BC. Alive, 1965 AD?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 10:00 AM

ILLUSTRATION FROM WIKIMEDIA IMAGE
  • Illustration from Wikimedia image
It's always wise to remember, if a quote is too perfect to be true, it probably isn't. Examples abound on Facebook and in viral emails. And occasionally you can find an example in the Star's Letters to the Editor.

The Star's editorial staff should have caught this one, and if they decided to publish it anyway, at least they should have included a note under it. The last letter in Friday's Star has a quote the writer states is from "Cicero, 55 BC." It's a beaut. And it's a phony.
“The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome will become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” 
That perfect-for-conservatives quote should have set off the editors' crap detectors—light flashing, sirens screaming. All it takes is a quick internet search to find the words didn't come from Cicero. The top three Google hits name the source. It's from a 1965 novel, A Pillar of Iron, by Taylor Caldwell. And even there, it's different from what's in the letter. The lines in the novel aren't spoken by Cicero. They're the fictional words of another character, Antonius, paraphrasing Cicero, meaning the wording in the Star "quote" had to be tweaked a bit. And the last sentence is a reworking of Caldwell's words, mainly for the purpose of replacing the Caldwell/Cicero/Antonius phrase, "the mob" with a more acceptable "people."

But I guess I shouldn't be too hard on the Star. Louisiana Representative Otto Passman read the phony quote into the Congressional Record in 1968. It appeared in a letter in the Chicago Tribune in 1971. And if you go onto the Forbes website, the bogus quote is at the top of the "Thoughts on the Business of Life" page.

According to a number of sites, there is an actual Cicero quote that Caldwell probably built on to create the passage in her novel: “The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.” The problem is, it's not nearly as sexy. Nothing about refilling the treasury, reducing public debt or getting people off the public dole. (BTW, I wasn't able to locate this quote on anything that looked like a scholarly site, so I can't be certain it's accurate.)

Bonus Bogus Lincoln Quote: In 2011, our once-state-senator Al Melvin put up a series of tweets quoting Lincoln making all kinds of conservative-friendly statements. The problem is, the quotes were made up in 1916 and 1917 and had been debunked long before they got into Melvin's hands. They were being quoted so often by Republicans over the years that the RNC warned its speakers, "Do not use them as Lincoln’s words!" Reagan, apparently, didn't get the memo. He included them in a speech at the Republican National Convention.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ass Kicking and Ass Kissing, 18th Century Style

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 8:19 AM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of Wikimedia
This post has nothing to do with the topics I usually write about. It's just that I started rereading Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, published in 1749, which I read when I was a college sophomore. It's one of those things old English majors, especially after they become English teachers, sometimes do. A few weeks ago, in a moment of boredom, I was thumbing through my free Kindle books, found Tom Jones and started looking it over, thinking I'd spend about 15 minutes there, then move on. Now I'm more than halfway through and enjoying it immensely. Very funny, very witty (Funny and witty aren't necessarily the same thing, by the way. As Alexander Pope once wrote: "True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd/What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd." [Old English teachers never die, they just lose their class, or something like that]).

For those who haven't read the book or seen the marvelous 1963 film starring a then-beautiful Albert Finney and an even more beautiful Susannah York, it's the story of a high-spirited-yet-moral young man who falls into no end of difficulties. And at one point, Tom offends the old Squire Western whose daughter he is in love with, at which time the country squire, a rough-hewn man who loves nothing more than drinking and hunting, says to Tom,
“I wull have satisfaction o’ thee,” answered the squire: “so doff thy clothes. At unt half a man, and I’ll lick thee as well as wast ever licked in thy life.”
The fight doesn't take place, but the squire keeps yelling at Tom. Until I read this passage, I was sure the phrases, "I'm gonna kick your ass!" and "Kiss my ass!" were reasonably modern, along with the term, "Ass kisser." Apparently not. Listen to Fielding describing, rather delicately (this is 17th century England, after all, not Chaucer's 14th century England), the phrases he says one often hears "among the lower orders of the English gentry."
"[Squire Western] then bespattered the youth with abundance of that language which passes between country gentlemen who embrace opposite sides of the question; with frequent applications to him to salute that part which is generally introduced into all controversies that arise among the lower orders of the English gentry at horse-races, cock-matches, and other public places. Allusions to this part are likewise often made for the sake of the jest. And here, I believe, the wit is generally misunderstood. In reality, it lies in desiring another to kiss your a — for having just before threatened to kick his; for I have observed very accurately, that no one ever desires you to kick that which belongs to himself, nor offers to kiss this part in another."

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pima Offering Creative Writing Weekend Workshop

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 2:00 PM

bigstock-write-your-thought-design-98843639.jpg

Tucsonans inspired by last weekend's Festival of Books, listen up: Pima Community College is hosting a creative writing weekend this Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. 

From the press release: 
What differentiates the impulse to write poetry from the impulse to write prose? Can that seed go either way?

These questions and other innovative ways of thinking about poetry, fiction, the essay and more will be explored during Pima Community College’s spring 2016 Creative Writing Weekend Workshop on poetry writing led by writer and editor Aisha Sabatini Sloan. We will look at literary models that hover – deliriously – between fiction, poetry and the essay.
The event will take place at Downtown Campus (1255 N. Stone Avenue, room AH 140) March 25-27. 

The workshop beings on Friday at 6 p.m. with a two hour session, and continues on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Pima students can enroll in the course (Writing 298T2, CRN 22557) as they do with regular classes. Non-students must fill out the college admission form before enrolling in the two-credit course. The cost of this three-day workshop is $177 for Arizona residents.

Visit PCC's website for more information. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Harper Lee's Mixed Legacy

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 2:30 PM

COURTESY OF FLICKR.COM
  • Courtesy of flickr.com
I taught To Kill a Mockingbird many times, and every time I reread it, I choked up. It's a wonderful, evocative piece of literature. As for the movie, forget about it. I lost it over and over as I watched; it's almost unbearably poignant during the last half hour. I would probably have a similar emotional meltdown with the book or the movie today, but that good, warm, self-satisfied feeling I used to experience at the end would be gone. Looking at Mockingbird from the perspective I have today, especially after reading Harper's first novel, Go Set a Watchman, which was just published recently, I find the book to be both paternalistic and misleading. If I were still teaching, more than likely, Mockingbird would not be part of my curriculum.

What a wonderful guy Atticus Finch is in Mockingbird! He's a lawyer who takes the case of a poor black man and defends him against a false rape charge. The loss in court makes his struggle to right the wrongs of society all the more noble. He's hated by the town's white racists and beloved by the black community, and by Scout, his very young daughter who idolizes her father and narrates the book through a child's innocent eyes. To me, the book always read like a parable for our time, about how good white people should act and how, in spite of all the losses, we must continue to fight until racism is no longer the written and unwritten law of the land.

But the book is not a parable of our time. It's a tale out of the 1930s. At the time, Atticus could defend the black community of Maycomb County and not worry that they might attend Scout and Jem's school or move in next door. His nobility was built on the well established arm's distance between Maycomb's black and white communities. I wouldn't have been able to say that for certain a few years ago, but Harper Lee told us it's true in the novel she wrote before she began Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman
took place in the 1950s when it was written, during the beginnings of the modern civil rights struggles. In that book a grown up Scout, who, like Harper Lee herself, had moved to New York and returned to her home town for a visit, is horrified to find that her beloved father has joined with the KKK, and he was one of many among the town's civic leaders. Atticus despises the NAACP and its lawyers for coming into southern communities and stirring up trouble. He doesn't want black children going to white children's schools. He wants things to stay as they were back in the 1930s when he could defend members of the black community and rest assured they would still "know their place." His depression-era style of tolerance and acceptance had little to do with the genuine social change which was being demanded by civil rights leaders in the 1950s.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Time to Write Out Your Captain Mal/Wash Fantasies

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 2:09 PM

Con Man Fanfiction Contest Launch Video from Con Man Web Series on Vimeo.


Ages ago
, we talked about Con Man—Alan Tudyk's long overdue Firefly spinoff/replacement/bandage. Tudyk and Nathan Fillion raised cash for the project through Indiegogo. Obviously, people were excited, all kinds of cash was raised and fan bonuses were added as the money came in.

One of those bonuses just took off, and it's even open to those of us who didn't put any cash into the project in the first place:
Alan Tudyk, star of "Firefly," "Serenity," and the soon-to-be released "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," is launching his own writing contest for his latest web series "Con Man!" The winner of the contest will have the first chapter read by Alan himself in a video personally addressed to the author!

Put on your fanfiction hats and get inspired by Firefly, Serenity, or Alan's latest show, 'Con Man.'

Start writing already, so you can submit as early as you can!
You can submit your creation (or peruse the others) online. The deadline is March 2!

And for the writers out there, here's a little Fan Fic inspiration: 

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Teachers (and Administrators) in TV and Film: The Final Episode (though there's always the possibility of a sequel)

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2015 at 11:56 AM

Last Monday I wrote about the way teachers have been portrayed in TV and film since the 1950s. I only looked at teachers of core subjects — English, math, science and social studies — because when people talk about how good or bad teachers are, they're usually talking about those folks. What I found was a general trend. Core teachers were portrayed as good to very good from the 50s through the 70s. Starting in the late 80s and early 90s, we had a crop of super teachers who weren't just good, they were great, transformative, life changing. At about the same time, we started seeing truly bad teachers who ranged from lazy to incompetent to evil. Here's that graph. (The circles with red centers are stories where teachers are the main characters).
core-teacher-chart-p-_-s.jpg
Portrayals of teachers reflect societal attitudes, especially in the popular arts like TV and film where the way the studios attract consumers of their products is by reflecting sense of what the world is like. We had a generally positive attitude toward teachers from the 50s through the 70s, so TV shows and films showed us competent, hard working teachers. Teachers and schools were considered part of the solution, not part of the problem. In the 80s, that began to change. Teachers and schools began to be seen in a more negative light. The Reagan administration made this attitude official when it published a document which declared that because of our failing schools, we were A Nation At Risk. The negative views of teachers were compounded by conservatives' anti-government ideology which turned "failing schools" into failing government schools. At the same time, unions were demonized, so union teachers turned into greedy, coddled government employees who only cared about their paychecks and perks, not the students. Those attitudes were reflected in stories with teachers who were anywhere from bad to awful. The super teacher portrayals during that same time might seem to contradict the general anti-teacher trend, but really, they were just the other side of the same teacher-denigrating coin. The super teachers created a perfect contrast to the run-of-the-mill lazy, incompetent teachers. "That's what all teachers should be doing," the super teacher films say. "If some teachers can make students learn, what's the matter with the rest of them?"

In the graph below, I added TV shows and films that focused on administrators (usually principals), in green, and teachers in the arts and coaching, in yellow. Here, are all three categories together.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Complete Your Summer Reading with this Sci-Fi Classic

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2015 at 11:00 AM

"The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli - the probable inspiration for the cover art of certain editions of the sci-fi novel "Venus on the Half-shell" by Philip Jose' Farmer using the pen name Kilgore Trout (a character from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut).
  • "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli - the probable inspiration for the cover art of certain editions of the sci-fi novel "Venus on the Half-shell" by Philip Jose' Farmer using the pen name Kilgore Trout (a character from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut).

My friend Ron was halfway through a Kurt Vonnegut novel when he decided to reach out via Facebook for assurance that his particular book would get better. I replied, "It doesn't." A while later he replied saying that I was right. The subject of Vonnegut reminded me of one of his recurring characters, Kilgore Trout. Trout was himself a science fiction writer who could only achieve publication as filler for pornographic books and magazines (no internet in the 70's). Kilgore Trout, in turn, reminded me of a hilarious, wildly imaginative, and sometimes disturbing 1975 novel Venus on the Half-shell, by Phillip Jose' Farmer, originally published under the pen name "Kilgore Trout".

If you have yet to read it, Venus on the Half-shell makes for an absorbing, fast paced, escape from our crazy times. I told Ron as much.

Most authors will start a novel by painting a picture of the setting, then begin the introduction of the characters. Farmer starts Venus with the protagonist, Simon Wagstaff, having sex atop the Great Pyramid of Giza. Next came the great flood, literally. An alien race called the Hoonhor traveled from planet to planet checking out the state of evolution. If the state was not well, they cleansed it. Earth was one of these. The Hoonhor caused all the water vapor in the atmosphere to precipitate at once, washing the planet, and giving evolution another shot. 

Our hero, Simon Wagstaff, managed to float around long enough to float by an abandoned Chinese spacecraft which he boarded shortly before running aground on, where else, Mount Ararat. After learning how to fly the craft, Simon left Earth and traveled the galaxy far and wide to find the answers to unanswerable questions, like, "Why are we created only to suffer and die?"

The novel starts out with a bang, but that is only the first in a number of sexual adventures. There was, for example, the planet Dokal where all the people were identical to humans with the exception of possessing a five to six foot long prehensile tail, naked, save for a tuft of fur at the end. The Dokals insisted on fixing his lack of tail problem, and after the installation, he found it to be quite useful. Useful, he found, in ways he had not imagined, like when the King's young daughter named Tunc (an anagram) seduced him and... well, I'll leave it there.

Occasionally the humor could be a bit disturbing. As it turned out, faster-than-light travel was made possible by sucking energy from a parallel universe to feed the engine. Unfortunately, the globs of energy were actually living beings. They died in the process. The engine, in fact, transmitted the sound of their wailing death cries - the faster he went, the louder they became. Simon found it terribly unnerving.

Farmer was a great admirer of Vonnegut, and through the persona of Kilgore Trout he was able to take the Vonnegut style to far higher level of humor and creativity. Writing Venus was a joy for Farmer, and it shows in the writing. He speaks of laughing out loud while typing it, and concluded, "What a blast it was!"

Venus is a great escape novel for the science fiction buff, and the joy of the author in its creation touches you. Finish your summer reading with this!

Oh yeah, Ron's book that did not get better was Slaughterhouse Five.

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Carnaval d'Avant-Garde

The past & future collide in this performative & interactive event presented by Creative Tucson and Sugar… More

@ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Tucson Fri., Sept. 30, 7-11 p.m. 265 S. Church Ave

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