Monday, September 26, 2022

Book Review: Rita Hayworth

Title: Rita Hayworth (Portrait of a Love Goddess)

Author: John Kobal

Date: 1977

Publisher: Norton / Berkley

ISBN: 0-425-05634-1

Length: 279 pages

Quote: "I was never a girl."

After doing the research for this book Kobal interviewed the long-retired actress and proposed, as a title for this book, The Time, the Place, and the Girl. Hayworth's comment was that it ought to be The Time, the Place, and the Woman, because she was never a girl.

Why do I find myself humming the classic words..."Trying to be a hero, winding up at zero can start a man aching down to the soul...and all the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills, in somebody else's name."

Though descended from more aristocratic stock if you went back a few hundred years, Margarita Cansino was the daughter of mid-list live stage performers who trained their children for futures in musical stage chorus lines. Nobody expected her to become one of the legends of old Hollywood--she was a shy child, pretty but not glamorous, with less than perfect teeth--but nobody imagined her ever having a right, chance, or inclination to become anything but a stage performer, either.

Half Spanish, half English (Haworth was her mother's real name), Hayworth had the sort of face that "could be anything"--which, in misogynist Hollywood, usually meant a pretty girl in the kind of dreary, sexist "love" relationship that makes you think that if that's love there must be something to be said for indifference. Her real forte was dancing more than acting or singing as such; after all her grandfather had been a dancing master, her father and all the uncles and aunts had been known as dancers, and dancing was what Hayworth had been trained to do as a child. Her voice never was great, and in the movies where she appeared to be dancing and singing, someone else's voice was actually what the audience heard.

Her dramatic range was arguably even narrower than Ronald Reagan's; Hollywood allowed cute, dull young men much more active roles than it allowed cute, dull young women. Let Ingrid Bergman demand the right to play murderers or missionaries, let Julie Andrews have the wholesome family movies where the female star kissed babies rather than boyfriends, let Dale Evans play the perfect wife and mother, let Lena Horne be a real singer, let Hedy Lamarr be a real scientist; Haywood was willing to be cast, over and over, as the sort of young woman of whom nobody--not even herself--notices much more than the body. Well, like most dancers, she had a beautiful body. It was not enough to endear her to the women I know who remember her movies. She was cast as a bimbo, though usually a high-class bimbo. It wasn't her fault, they conceded, but...Hawks and Cukor and that whole crew of proto-Weinstein directors did not like or respect women enough to produce a lot of movies with scripts that made little girls of the 1940s think "I'd like to have a friend or sister like her, I'd like to be like her when I grow up." Hayworth as actress was marketed to men, by men, with the comment that she had a way of playing her dismal one-dimensional parts that brought out empathy from some women.

Co-workers remembered her as a disciplined hard worker. Some people, they said, got bored enough on Hollywood "sets" that they came in drunk or hung over, or got drunk while "working," or even sneaked off and had sex while on the time clock but not actually doing anything. Hayworth, they said, focussed. She looked as if that were the case. She was very pretty when she grew up and had her teeth "fixed," and also very serious about getting every dance and love scene just right. In some ways, especially the three divorces, she may not have been a "good" Catholic, but she obviously had learned good lessons from that church.

To curb the immature behavior of actors, the producers and directors circulated a claim that they made or broke their "stars." Kobal questions this. The great movie stars certainly were creations of the movie studios, but the studios tried to produce several stars who just didn't sell. Even some of the great stars of the silent movies, already branded and capitalized products, didn't sell as stars in "talkie" movies; studios invested a lot in John Gilbert and Ina Claire, separately and together, and both of them had real talent as mimes, but when movie technology demanded that they talk, even their long-term fans didn't want to listen. Hayworth was sometimes perceived as an example of the merely good-looking "starlet" made famous entirely by publicity. Kobal argues that Hayworth was a real trouper who could be made famous because, behind the glamorous mask of her 1940s Hollywood face, she had and was able to project a lovably earnest, hardworking, fundamentally introverted personality.

Also debatably, she generated more publicity in semi-retirement than she did in her acting career. Her first marriage, to would-be manager Ed Judson, crashed and burned as Hayworth declared that being managed by her husband amounted to "extreme mental cruelty." Orson Welles, who worked well with her on stage and tried to fill in some of the more glaring gaps in the academic education Hayworth never had, lasted a little longer and may have lost interest in Hayworth before she lost interest in him; they had a child together. Then came Aly Khan, for whose sake Hayworth didn't have to claim to be a Muslim, but her Catholic church refused to recognize this third marriage at all; it didn't last long. A fourth, more private marriage, in retirement, might have been about love.

Was she happy? A quiet, private person, she might have liked a relatively early retirement. Kobal, a fan, obviously hoped she had. For a dancer who'd never really aspired to be an actress, and showed no great talent for acting, she'd certainly done well as an actress. Kobal shares lots of male insiders' reminiscences that reveal how badly Hollywood treated the women it treated best; Hayworth was one of those. She knew she had less to complain of than thousands of other beautiful women, and she didn't complain. The comments she allows Kobal to publish are positively charitable. At the end of the book I'm left with the feeling that whoever Rita Hayworth really was when she was alone, whether that person succeeded at what she wanted in life, will never be known...and that's as she wanted it to be.

She lived out the dreams of millions of women, across generations, around the world. It's hard to imagine a real introvert really enjoying that life story, even as a fantasy, much less as a reality; but Rita Hayworth made choices that enabled her to have it. We can hope that, some of the time, she was having as much fun as her big grin and lively dances suggested.

Still, I find myself reading her success story as a bit of a cautionary tale. I suspect the old woman who talked to Kobal missed whatever it was she meant by "being a girl."

The Account of "Suzanne"

There's actually a magazine, called The Account, that specializes in publishing pieces of fiction or poetry together with "accounts" of how people came to write them. 

Writers tend unsurprisingly to be of two minds about this writing concept. Writers who spent their formative years among literary people who agree that "creative work" ought to stand on its own think the "accounts" are a sort of advertisement for the poems or stories. (If so they're not effective ones, since poetry, fiction, and memoir often appeal to three different sets of readers.) Writers who spent their formative years among unimaginative people who want to imagine that every "creative" idea is literally either a memory or a wish, however, like to do "accounts" to give such people a realistic idea of what actually goes into a piece of fiction. 

Last month this web site displayed a short story that I wrote years ago, then sat on because I didn't want people thinking it was either a wish or a memoir:

The account is probably overdue...

More than ten years ago, the writer known as Suzette Haden Elgin (on her book jackets) and Ozarque (online) hosted a discussion at her blog/forum of a character in some of her fiction who's confusing, intentionally confusing, to Anglo-American readers. The character's name is Troublesome. The discussion is worth reading, if you like philosophical discussions about the obscure, alien philosophy that went into the novels where Troublesome appeared. It started at:

The Navajo philosophy seems out of place on Planet Ozark, except that Elgin believed seriously in the communication rule of "Assume--without necessarily believing--that whatever someone says is true of something, and try to imagine what it could possibly be true of." In real life this rule helps us understand people whose behavior may be a reasonable reaction to some (irrelevant) memory or (misguided) belief or (pathological) symptom they have. It is also a great way to write fresh and startling science fiction.

Anyway, in that philosophical system as it was explained to Elgin, good and evil can be imagined as a continuum that is circular. A certain amount of evil has to balance the goodness in the world. In the story, the fictional planet is almost a paradise until two foolish people start tweaking at its 'equilibrium" with just a few stupid pranks. From that point on the amount of human evildoing increases steadily until two very good people who have accepted the duties of contemplating good and evil, respectively, to maintain equilibrium, meet and work together. The evil on the planet has reached such a height that the good person who has the spiritual duty of meditating on, channelling, and thus regulating, the evil principle there is free, and obliged, to appear in public doing good. 

I thought, "Interesting," and then a variation on the theme popped into my head. People wouldn't want to read a whole novel about someone who had the duty of immersing per mind in evil every day, but what about someone who meditated on the idea found in some schools of Buddhism that good and evil exist in balance? 

I didn't consciously think, "The character would be Korean," before I thought, "As a clue the character's name might be, not Unity--too obvious--but Eun Ha T...Taylor? Tripp? Thomas?" Then I thought, "Then she'd have to have at least some Korean ancestry. Well, that would be appropriate; that is the country with the symbol of that Buddhist balance on its flag." Then I thought, "Well, bing goes that idea for a full-length novel unless I find a Korean collaborator," and set the idea away for ten years.

Then I wanted to submit a story to a speculative fiction contest I hadn't won in other years. Sometimes it's the speculative premise of a story the judges don't like. I'd tried a story from a long-term favorite alternative world of mine, the "More Peaceable World" where people are still mortal and sinful, like us, but they at least manage to reduce pollution and war, because they pay due respect to women and introverts. You can see why I like that concept, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to like it. I'd also tried a story from the alternative world that's developed on this web site, where current technological trends continue until they've produced the sort of world where they can work as intended--a wealthy, high-tech, but very sparsely populated world. Why not something different?

I read some work the contest judges had chosen to publish. Some of their stories were set in what seemed to be our world, or one very similar to it, only with some fantastic element in it. Magic, ghosts, telepathy...

I was walking along Route 23, thinking of ways to introduce a fantastic element into a story about the real world. A big truck, the kind known as a semi (sem-tractor-trailor) or artic (articulated lorry), passed by. The young man driving it blasted the horn, then slowed down, waved, looked at me, and drove on. Possibly he'd mistaken me for someone he knew. I think "trucking" is an honorable occupation for young men in today's world, but in my ideal world, a Greener world, it would not exist. I think drivers who blast their horns from behind, when people are walking a good healthy distance from the road and the drivers are not about to run off the road, are annoying people who deserve a good warning.

What if one of those annoying people got his wake-up call...maybe a man seriously trying to pick up a woman who was older and smarter than he was. Maybe not just "smarter" in the sense of "more sophisticated," but magical? Maybe a Mountain Witch! I chortled, so maybe the contest judges would chortle too.

In traditional Mountain Witch tales of the Ozarks and Appalachians, some of the witches are thoroughly bad people. Mostly they're women, and often their badness has something to do with adultery or sexual perversions; sometimes they're men, in which case they may be even worse. But some of them are mostly nice people. Their magic is unchristian and therefore seen as basically bad, but it's bad in a limited way. Sometimes their badness is mixed with goodness. They tap into evil powers to achieve legitimate goals...

At that point the character who believes in that balance and blending of good and evil, who spends her life meditating on it, popped back into my head. What if she not only contemplated a mix of good and bad things, but worked a mix of good and bad magic? 

Korea has mountains too. A few Korean people, like the owners of a restaurant my husband and I used to frequent, have come to the mountains. Some Korean war orphans were adopted and brought up as Americans, some Korean war brides came in with their husbands, and some families legally immigrated after the war. Without consulting a Korean writer (the contest was not for collaborative work) I could invent a character whose long-gone mother or grandmother had been Korean, who'd been brought up American but was attracted to what she'd learned about Korean Buddhism.

Why would the boor keep his foot on the brake after he'd had a good look at the character? Well, of course she'd be a mixed breed who looked White, except that her hair stayed thicker and blacker longer than White people's hair usually does. She'd have an "American" first name. Eun Ha would be her middle name. Most of all, of course, she'd have the magical power to charm and attract people. Her first name might even be Suzanne, after the woman whose almost magical charm Leonard Cohen so famously couldn't forget. Suzanne would take him down to her place by the river. Pretty Suzie, from another old song, would charm the birds from the sky, the fish from out of the bay, or river, as the case might be.

So there was my little Mountain Witch. Other people see her as youthful and cute, but not to the extent that Bill the boor does. She's nice, for a witch. She uses her powers to tame animals, rescue them, or at least keep them comfortable before somebody eats them. She communes mystically with rocks and trees, too. She heals and protects but annoying her is still a very bad idea. Her powers have the full range of real people's emotions, only amplified, the way infantile magical thinking makes us wish for a few minutes that they were.

What are her intentions with regard to Bill? Who first reaches out with selfish intentions toward whom? Do we have to know? In real life it's often hard to tell. Bill, in hindsight, wants to believe Suzanne was controlling the whole thing. A more realistic understanding of the way some women "behave like witches" in the most pejorative sense of the phrase, in their personal relationships, would be that Bill's boorish attitude taps into a reservoir of resentment that all women have. She didn't choose to attract this boor's attention, or that of any other boor she's ever met, bit she mindfully chooses what to do with it as things go along. She considers some sort of sacrifice of Bill to rescue someone she thinks deserves better things. (How that would have worked, the story didn't require me to know.) Then her better self, or spirit guide, whoever, advises her not to do that and she ends up helping Bill become a better man, instead. But she's unpredictable, inscrutable, and not to be messed with. That's built into my working definition of "witch." 

If her story were going to be a full-length novel, would I want Suzanne to become a Christian? I would. A Korean and/or better writer might have thought of a way that might happen. I have no idea. I've known Buddhists in real life; some of them appeared to be better practitioners of kindness, mindfulness, right occupation, and so on, than others, just assome Christians do. I've not known a Buddhist who became a Christian. Amy Tan, the Chinese-American Presbyterian, could probably write a splendiferous novel about a Chinese Buddhist becoming a Christian; I find it instructive that so far she's not written one. I take that as an indication that Suzanne is likely to die unbaptized, unless she was baptized as a baby and doesn't let that count.

I don't believe that good and evil balance in the equal way they do in the ying-yang model. I believe human beings are a mixed bag of good and evil impulses; eventually, after our lives end, it will become apparent which of us have done more good or evil, but only God has access to that information now and even God may not necessarily choose to make any use of it. 

"But if she never becomes a Christian and repents of practicing witchcraft, doesn't that mean she's evil, in the end?" God knows. If God had chosen to create a world where witchcraft actually worked, there'd be valid reasons for many people to have recourse to it, probably believing that God wouldn't have given us magic powers if God hadn't wanted us to use them. Witchcraft would be seen the way technology is seen in our world. There are moral issues about trucking, too. It does make things easier that in our real world the kind of "witchcraft" that relies on gossip, deception, hypnotism, or poisons is possible, but the kind of "prse" magic Suzanne works is not.

Anyway, from that point, about all I had to do was write out the story. Details fell into place, as they often do, once I had the outline and started writing. I woke up remembering disconnected dream images, as I sometimes do: an animal had been run over, its hind legs crushed, and then in another image that seemed to have come later the animal was alive and well. The dream hadn't even seemed to connect the two images but connecting them fitted into the story. 

It fitted, too, to mention that someone else who annoyed Suzanne in a more intentional way gets away less easily than Bill. One form of harassment I'd encountered, as a pedestrian, was being offered a lift by someone who didn't seem violent, didn't seem hard to subdue if she'd become violent, and had no reason to threaten me with anything worse than boring conversation...but the person was in fact hostile and chose to act out her hostility by telling a blatantly false story about me to other people. Nobody took her story seriously and even she didn't try to take it very far; still, I thought that was worth throwing into a story about harassment of pedestrians. 

So we have a trucker harassing a pedestrian, a truck sliding down a cliff into a river, a car sharer harassing a pedestrian, and an animal being injured by a car, which adds up to quite an anti-car story. I am not, in real life, altogether anti-car but I do think North Americans have abused God's gift of the ability to build motor vehicles. Most of us need to drive less and walk more. I did not consciously sit down to put together four bad things about motors and motorists, but if I'd sat down to skewer our car culture in the way Ruth Ozeki does with our beef industry in My Year of Meats, I could easily have put in forty bad things about motors and motorists. I don't think banning all use of motor vehicles is feasible now, or even desirable in the future. Some combination of foot and solar power must eventually replace the internal-combustion engine, and the emphasis must inevitably be on the foot power, but "ordering and forbidding" is not the best approach to any desired change in human behavior.

I do think we all need to be mindful about how much use of motor vehicles we can avoid. There are situations in which I think using motor vehicles is ethically justified, but it pays, even just in terms of money, to sit down and think about how we can avoid those situations. Suzanne is harassed on the way to and from the local college, probably a five-mile walk, not too long for a healthy little old lady to plan on walking regularly but long enough for anyone to appreciate a lift in unfavorable weather. I was harassed on the way to and from my local college, which was closer to a thirty-mile  walk; I refused to be discouraged by the harassment but, after noting how car sharing arrangements and cell phone signals inevitably broke down in the most unfavorable weather for walking, and how narrow the shoulder of the road is along the steep cliffs in Lee County, I did decide that it made more sense not to try to work there regularly. I don't imagine that God is any more likely to throw people out of Heaven for driving too much, in this life, than an indignant witch is to crumble a cliff around their heads. I do believe that God is pleased when people mindfully work out ways to avoid using motor vehicles when possible.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Book Review: The Road to Bithynia

Title: The Road to Bithynia

Author: Frank G. Slaughter

Date: 1951

Publisher: Peoples Book Club

ISBN: none

Length:327 pages

Quote: ":Of all the many odd customs of the early Christian faith, none is stranger or more startling than the true history of men living with virgins, as husband and wife in everything except a physical sense."

I've found stranger ones. In the history of the early church many questions arose about which groups could fairly be called Christians. The first few centuries after Christ's time were a time of great religious and philosophical ferment. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, African, European, and Asian Pagans each had their own reaction to what they had heard about Christianity. Much was denounced by the core of the early Church. Protestants say that, especially in the case of Europe, more should have been.

It's not particularly strange that ancient Rome was overcrowded, like a modern city. Several ancient cities were. Though the world as a whole had a low human population, walled cities were places where people who felt unable to defend land outside the walls huddled inside the walls in filthy slums. Many people believed their prospects in the afterlife depended on having grandchildren to remember them in this world. Many people were, as they are in cities today, claiming sexual aberrations that exempted them from the duty to give their parents grandchildren.

Some Jews at this period thought their best prospect for survival lay in proselytizing, making people honorary Jews, but as Judaism has no single clear doctrine about the afterlife, the proselytizing did not affect the young people's reluctance to add to the local population problem.

But Christianity positively preached a different sort of hope for the afterlife. The apostolic church also quickly became known for its communal care of the disabled elderly. For young people literally feeling the local population problem in their unwillingness to become parents, those features of Christianity provided solid, selfish reasons for some people to declare themselves Christians when what they were was closer to our current image of "gay." Any expression of "love" other than making babies seems to have been allowed in some "religious communities. The Bible specifically forbids anal intercourse but it seems, if anything, to favor same-sex kissing and embracing--and these "Greek Christian" communards had not necessarily read the Bible. (The Bible had been translated into Greek, but scrolls were expensive.) In some groups women who renounced marriage and motherhood were said to have "made themselves men." In some ways historical descriptions of these early Christian heretics reminds the modern reader of descriptions of 1960s communes--most of which didn't even last long enough to annoy people, while a few rose above the promiscuous sex and welfare-cheating to become really Christian communities and accomplish good in the world. Early Christian communities are remembered as the homes of great saints, but some of them were also the homes of badly mixed-up kids.

So, for practical reasons that appealed to many people who took some of Jesus's warnings literally, a compromise Paul endorsed was for a couple to contract a legal marriage with the understanding that they wouldn't have babies. This gave Christians with incomes a way to help Christians without incomes, and also gave the couples a way to find out whether they really wanted to be marries in a more traditional sense after a few years as intimate friends.

It may have been startling to Frank Slaughter but it's not so to people who grew up in the 1960s. Unlike the communal sex groups or the castration cults (Paul recognized Christians as having "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom," though it seems to have been more common in the cults of some Pagan gods, notably Vulcan), the "Josephite marriages" actually worked for those who contracted them.

In fact, though Paul emphasized that Christianity did not forbid marriage, some subsequent leaders of the early church wanted to make the church a cult of lifelong virginity, claiming that marriage was tolerable only "for the sake of producing virgins." A little later, of course, pressure from oldfashioned Roman parents persuaded the Roman Church that marriage, as early and with as many babies as possible, was the duty of those not called to a life of absolute abstinence, with self-flagellation and other "mortifications of the flesh" to discourage impure thoughts.

In the Roman Empire people knew about many so-called birth control techniques, though what they knew would probably have been that the ones that worked did so by making people too sick to have babies. Then as now, the technique that worked was, well, abstinence from the specific act that makes babies, The early Christians recognized everything else as an expression of love, though those of Jewish heritage still believed, as Paul did, that "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" outside of marriage. Only after the papacy had reached what Protestants consider to be a blasphemous level of arrogance did early popes presume to tell people that safe sex was a sin because every sexual act was meant to produce a baby.

This history is not hard to find today, though in Frank Slaughter's time it may have been suppressed. Today you can find discussions of sexuality and birth control in the ancient world in any public library. The most succinct is in Philippe Aries' History of Private Life. In historical fact, Roman elders' greed for grandchildren failed to destroy their civilization. Nature has other ways, and the contributors to Aries' series discuss those, too.

Slaughter's Road to Bithynia draws on this detail of apostolic church history and on the extrabiblical record that St. Luke died in Bithynia, a rural area in the section of land in between the European and Asian ends of the continent. To give shape to his novel, Slaughter invents an older friend who took Luke to Bithynia, showed him a beautiful landscape, and confided that his goal was to retire to Bithynia. Slaughter imagines Luke internalizing this idea of Bithynia as the ideal place to settle down, own a farm, rear a family, and grow old, in order to give Luke something to give up for the sake of his Christian practice, during the events of the story.

But I suspect Slaughter's real purpose was to write a novel about Christianity addressed to a skeptical generation. In the early twentieth century a Secular Humanist was the trendy thing to be. To admit you took being a Christian seriously invited taunts about the neurotic fantasy of God as a father figure, and what had gone wrong in your "psychosexual development," and so on. If you believed in a better world to come, wouldn't that be sure to distract you from the important business of tis world? and so on. Slaughter perhaps presumes to give those intellectual doubts to his fictional vision of St. Luke.

Who was the author of the Gospel According to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, anyway? He was a self-effacing, private gentleman. What we know about him from the Bible record is that he was a "physician" who had studied what was known about medicine in the first century of the Christian Era, which wasn't much. The Twelve Apostles were young enough to call a man in his early thirties Rabbi. It's easy to imagine Luke being younger than they were, though it's also possible to imagine him being older, one of the Seventy who were sent to prepare the way for Jesus ad the Twelve. He addressed his books to somebody called Theophilus, which means "lover of God" in Greek. His own name seems to have meant "man from Lucania in Italy," though people in the Roman Empire were mobile enough that an individual might be known as having come from a place other than where his ancestors came from. We don't really know St. Luke's age or ethnicity, whether he ever was married or had children, whether other members of his family were Christians. It was prudent not to make people easy to identify in the ancient Roman Empire, especially if they were Christians. Scholars who hope to be rewarded for nitpicking say that we can't even e sure that St. Luke actually wrote his books, since it was fairly common for students to write things in the names of their teachers--either submitting their work for the teachers' approval, or selling it after the teachers were dead and couldn't complain.

Slaughter imagines Luke as Greek. He gives Luke a brother called Apollonius. (A father called Theophilus might have been a lover of any god, perhaps Apollo.) Greek physicians were considered the best, possibly because of the fame of Hippocrates. Greeks were also the ethnic group most likely to express a sort of sophisticated skepticism that resonated with early twentieth century skepticism. It was easy for a Greek of real spirituality and intelligence to say, "I know this world must have been intelligently designed, but I don't believe God is a cannibal" (Zeus supposedly ate his father) "or that God has a wife and abuses her" (Zeus supposedly married or at least raped all the major goddesses worshipped in places the Greeks brought into their empire) "or that God, even a lesser god, wants us to get drunk and run through the streets terrorizing the people" (Paul admonished the church ladies at Corinth not to let themselves be mistaken for the cult of Bacchus). It was possible for Greeks and Romans to read the teachings of Jesus on human relationships and think that Jesus was merely a human philosopher who had annoyed the Jews, whom Greeks and Romans saw as stubbornly hostile barbarians, by telling the Jews to be nice to one another in the same way various Greek and Roman philosophers had taught them to be nice to one another. Jesus said much more than that, but nice manners could have been a comfortable resting point for students of Greek or Roman origins.

The real St. Luke was familiar with more of Jesus' teachings than the parts that sounded like common-sense Greek "philosophy" about how to live with other people, but Slaughter imagines his Luke in the years before he wrote his books, a politely skeptical, sophisticated Greek, not interested in the afterlife but impressed by the influence Jesus had on His Jewish disciples. His Luke worries that Paul's teaching about the afterlife goes beyond Jesus's., and thinks the only benefit of preserving what fictional Luke didn't recognize as Jesus's vision of the afterlife must be to gain the sympathy of the majority in a group of Jews.

I'm not enthusiastic about the wide differences this element of Slaughter's writing puts between his Luke and the little we know about the real St. Luke, but it's not really impossible. The historical St. Luke included more material than any of Jesus' other biographers but seems to have been a meticulous fact checker, rejecting stories other "apocryphal gospel" writers let in. Probably he was good, even in youth, at listening with reservations, making a distinction between what someone else seemed to believe and what he believed.

Slaughter's Luke falls in love with Mariamne, who turns out to be related to Mary Magdalene, but after they've been separated for a few years she's more attracted to Apollonius than to Luke, so Luke happily becomes her brother-in-law. Then he meets Thecla, an apocryphal saint who was miraculously delivered from martyrdom and impressed by Paul's advice to preserve her virginity. Uncomfortable with this idea, Slaughter has Thecla fall in love with Luke, who becomes, shall we say, the physical means of her miraculous deliverance. In Slaughter's version, Paul likes Thecla too, and, recognizing that she prefers Luke to him, advises Thecla to preserve her virginity even in marriage since she's determined to marry another man. Slaughter's Luke doesn't like this idea of marriage but loves Thecla enough to agree to a few years of it before Thecla admits that she really likes babies. Slaughter has the good taste to keep this decision a sub-plot, at least, and not allow it to take over the Bible story he is retelling. By this point in the story Luke and Paul are having some of the adventures described in the Acts.

Whether Slaughter's imagination ran out or the scope he'd planned for the ovel cuts off the story, we never see Luke actually separating from Paul and the others and taking his own "road to Bithynia." He and Thecla dream of settling down there but, for the duration of the novel, there's always one more adventure to be had along with the other apostles.

And what about Slaughter's Luke's scanty information about Jesus? Yes, scholars think it's likely that before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John completed their studies, this was the way early Christians remembered the words of Jesus. He didn't publish a book. They would have gathered to repeat and remember the words they'd heard Him say, and second-generation Christians might or might not have had access to a scroll containing some part of what Jesus said to this or that congregation, or only to what the older people could repeat to them. Scholars refer to those first-generation scrolls as Q, or Quelle, "the source"; no Q-scrolls exist today but Q-scrolls seem likely to have been the source for the material the first three Gospels share,

What Slaughter seems to be trying to do, and succeeding in doing, is portraying how a man who has doubts about the afterlife or about God's ever supernaturally intervening in human affairs can still accept the teaching of Jesus about how to live in this world, follow that advice, and be considered a good Christian. Christians who do believe in "the supernatural elements" in Christianity, as the real St. Luke evidently did, might reply, "Of course the thing can be done, but why?" Jesus did not promise worldly benefits to those who practice Christianity in this life, nor do people consistently find any. Some people are impressed by being treated better than they treat others; some people are merely encouraged to go on treating others badly, since that is what the "nicer than thou" Christian seems to like. (Christians really have to work on making sure we are, in fact, accomplishing good when we do good to those who have not been particularly good to us, and not merely playing "nicer-than-thou" games that don't actually do any good to anybody.)

Overall the result is a nice, wholesome story about the early Christians, good for train or bedtime reading. Fiction often diverges form history and the real St. Luke's real books are easy to compare with tis novel.

What Have You Done Online? How Do You Know?

[Note to spammers: Although it mentions pornographic videos, and although this web site is anti-censorship, this web site does not endorse, recommend, or promote the use of images of living persons on the Internet even in fully clothed and wholesome scenes unless those people are fully compensated for the inconvenience of being "celebrities." This web site does not encourage using the Internet to share graduation, wedding, or retirement photos. If you want to post any pictures of living humans online for profit, move right along, there's nothing for you to see here.]

Are you a porn star? How can you tell?

If you're the typical person who friends/follows/reads my content online, outside of my family, you might answer the question in the title the same way I would have done last year: "Of course not. That's ridiculous. For one thing I'm a Christian/Jew/Muslim/feminist/introvert (or some combination of those) and for another thing I'm over age thirty...or sixty...or seventy..."

I certainly didn't pose for even any "artistic studies of the nude form" and haven't seen the videos in which real-world acquaintances claim my real-world image appeared. I've heard different stories about what the image that looked like me was supposed to have been doing. I told the police I wanted to press charges if they found a video involving any unwholesome images that appeared to connect me with "little girls." I've not heard from them so I've been guessing that either that claim was just bait, or the really vile videos have been suppressed. I have been teased with invitations to go to some man's house and see the video in which I appeared to be getting naked with a man, or men, whatever. I just say, "People can do anything with Photoshop these days, can't they?"

I've seen a relatively tame web site that purports to show all the best loved celebrities who died in the twentieth century, hanging out, surfing, and drinking on some subtropical island. "President Kennedy has divorced Jackie now and is married to Marilyn" was a typical caption. President Kennedy was in pretty bad condition even while he was looking youthful and chipper seventy years ago. I believe it's just possible that someone who might have played him in a movie, or even doubled for him while he was living, might still be alive. My guess would be that, if so, that old man wouldn't look as perky as the alleged President Kennedy at that web site, either.

Suggestion to readers: Don't even bother watching videos that appear to be of yourself as a porn star, especially not on an Android or similar phone. Those devices have camera apps that are easily hacked and can be used to get more realistic images of your face for future use in videos that might be used to discredit or even blackmail you, later on.

Someone shared an experience on Facebook. The man does have a nice face. He is about sixty years old and spends most of his time working to pay for a recent surgical operation. On Facebook he had occasionally chatted with people who posted pictures, allegedly of themselves, of attractive younger women. "But not often," he said, because he was usually at work. One day a co-worker confronted him, wanting to know not even so much why as how he managed to be doing all those things with younger women all across the length and breadth of North America. I don't know what he looks like naked, but I'd guess the pornographer grafted his face onto a young, unscarred body. I'm sure the porn videos of me don't show the deterioration of my figure since the salmonella-aggravated glyphosate episode, either. Not that a person who wants to discredit another person wouldn't use images that would make the victim less marketable as a porn star, but that the pornographers don't actually know their victims and don't have those images.

It's likely to be happening to us as more of us use Android-type phones, which are always snapping "selfies" programmed to focus on what appear to be human faces in their surroundings. (Frustrate them by storing them in a drawer, putting on gloves and a full face cover before you take them out. That should be easy: obviously the things aren't built for use as phones.) 

Recently Twitter users have reported their accounts being hacked, presumably by apps they allow to post and follow for them. "Suddenly," a Real Twit says, "I'm following two thousand people who all seem to be Chinese and I can't find the people I actually do follow--mostly news reporters and a few close e-friends--in my Twitter stream any more." 

Another Twit reports, "Five thousand Chinese bots are following me and I have no idea why." Person's concern is that having a large following in China may be used to discredit per U.S. political opinions. Regular readers may recall that, back in the Obama administration, this web site picked up some followers from the federal government who were interested in why I had a lot of Russian readers and my Yahoo e-mail had been used to send out spam from Turkey. I named the two completely innocent trusted readers whose e-mail had been used to worm into mine, and wished the government success in getting the Turkish hackers chained up under the jail somewhere, as the disgusting dastards had "updated" my e-mail format and Yahoo refused to undo the damage. I still don't know about the Russian readers, except that they seemed to be attracted to my LiveJournal, which was of course based in Russia, because "Priscilla King" was the name of a character in some online game they played...I am glad that, in the current state of relations between our governments, Google seems to have stopped publishing the Russian edition of this web site. 

If you follow "celebrities" on social media you know how easy it can be to lose sight of them. They delete and purge one official account, then start another under the same name, and although you're a faithful fan you're not following them any more. I liked some of Melania Trump's outfits and followed at least three different Twitter accounts, at different times, all with the Twitter name FLOTUS and the blue check, but for whatever reason she didn't seem to keep one account as FLOTUS for a month at a time. 

One man has a theory. Pursuant to this web site's consideration of a hypothetical Worst Friend a middle school kid might have, he named his own worst school friend. "He grew up in the same small Southern town where we live now, but after graduation he lived in a big city up North. Had a good job before he was convicted of a violent crime and sent to prison. He can be cruel and vindictive. He and a man who was drinking with him made passes at me; I dodged. I'm 90% sure they are the ones who 'cloned' my picture on the Internet."

It would be nice if all the hacking of online accounts were being done by people's rejected admirers, and probably some of it is. When I first heard about "my" career as a porn star I thought it might be another thing the Professional Bad Neighbor would be able and likely to do. But as this kind of thing is becoming a pandemic, I find myself suspecting a more sinister motive. 

Most of us who are active in cyberspace, other than as employees of electronics companies, like the Internet because of the freedom of communication. Anybody can say anything to anybody, and in most cases--where crime is not involved--the worst consequence is that you might damage your relationship with a reader, or readers. You might harm your brand. And if you do that, of course, you can always e-die and return to e-life with a different brand. An amateurish move, but what the bleep? It's the Internet. A lot of us are amateurs. 

Having alienated potential customers is not, of course, the only reason why Internet impersonality is so valuable. Another reason is that people have different brands for different enterprises. People who want to read your publications don't necessarily want to see your jewelry, or vice versa, so it's nice to have separate accounts with separate names. 

Another reason is personal security--no matter who you are, you do not want criminals to know when you're planning to travel, receiving payments, receiving any deliveries of anything; and if you do anything worthwhile, you also have haters, whom you want to keep in confusion about which side of town you live on. 

A big reason for some of us is the classic, "On the Internet no one knows you're a dog," Nobody knows what you look like. I didn't push it with the sixty-year-old man chatting with the thirty-year-old women, but why would those women want to talk to a sixty-year-old man if they really were thirty? Well, if he were writing a blog, of course, there'd be all kinds of non-sexist, non-sexual reasons. If you blog about furnace repair, you could receive messages from anyone who has a furnace. But this man wasn't writing a blog; he was using Facebook mostly to keep in touch with relatives, and after his Significant Other died, these cute chicks popped up on his page wanting to chat and get acquainted. Hello...sixty is not old enough to attract real gold-diggers who prefer men over eighty, but it is too old to attract real thirty-year-old women who can get dates with men their own age. Some of those "young women" may be phishing, maybe some of them have some sort of obsession with grey hair, but the most likely profile is a woman who is sixty or seventy and has assumed all the attractive male faces on Facebook belong to thirty-year-old men who want to chat with thirty-year-old women. That would be the type who appreciate a face that says "I'm a nice, kind, cheerful grandfather." 

That one's obvious, and should be a deterrent to anyone looking for dates on the Internet. There are other reasons why people post disinformation about themselves. The Internet has always been good for sociological experiments. People who fear discrimination may try, like the Bronte sisters, publishing under names that suggest they might belong to the dominant group. I've known several Black people who wanted to find out just how racist White people really are, so even on the phone they would try to "put out feelers" by trying to sound like White bigots. People who are gender-confused, or think they might be, try to "get in touch with the side" of their personality that they think is closer to the other gender stereotype. Recent studies of interpersonal psychology have focussed on the social penalties certain behavior and personality traits incur when some people display them, but not when others do: a woman who wants to vent anger may be more acceptable with a male-sounding pseudonym, a man who wants to verbalize grief may be more acceptable with a female-sounding pseudonym, a person who's into online games may find it easier to relate to other players with a younger-sounding pseudonym, and so on.

What about women who have no trouble finding dates in real life? We've been wanting the rest of the world, including other women, to "look at us less, and listen to us more" for a long time. On the Internet you'll find some of us, baby-boomers who feel that our looks are gone forever, using our graduation pictures as avatars while we blog about being grandmothers or cultural dinosaurs. Others use flowers, animals, objects, brand logos, or images from the distant past. Because, well, when some of my e-friends used actual recent pictures showing that they're well preserved middle-aged modern women, their Twitter streams filled up with pictures of pathetic, desperate men. 

Men really should know that, until a very intimate and very passionate relationship has formed, images of naked male bodies do not excite women. To young, timid girls they look like threats. To women who've been around long enough to know how fragile those parts of the male body are, they look like pleas for mercy. Seriously. Guys. If you want any actual female to be attracted to a little flat picture, you'd probably have better luck using a picture of your car. The bodies might still be diseased but at least they'd be female rather than trans,

But even men have been known to weigh in on the bottom line: Even when the "look at you" messages aren't "I'm a sex maniac," they are boring! For so many of us in cyberspace, if we never hear any of the following remarks in another conversation, it'd still be too soon:

"Are you all right? You look tired."

"You're not sick! You don't look sick! You just want time off to go to the lake!"(To which the ideal response would be, "Think so? Thank you....BAAARRRRFFF.")

"Listen! You were not listening! You weren't looking at me!"

"Sit up straight!"

"So basically you're saying your grandmother died. Sorry. Y'know that shirt's not the best color for you." 

"You look angry. Was it something I said? Why deny it? The body cannot lie! Maybe you were suppressing a sneeze because you were angry!" (To which the ideal response is, "Right. Now I'm angry. At myself, for wasting time talking to you. Now get out of my life.")

"You do too like it when I talk dirty! Your face is flushed!"

"Well I don't want to talk about it. You look as if you're not going to listen."

Really. I don't share the autistic blogger's reaction to even printed images of eyeballs, to which I linked last year, but I can see how the way some people distract themselves with all this looking would instill that kind of phobic reaction to anything resembling one of those looking people's faces. Anything else about them, really. If you are a looker, and you catch the words "you look" plopping out of your mouth, my advice is to wrap black tape over a pair of sunglasses, completely covering the plastic, and put them on before you attempt to make conversation. Or do your conversation by phone. Or Internet.

What all those obnoxious "you look" comments have in common is a single message: "I'M NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU SAY. INSTEAD, I'M STARING AT YOU, AS A HOSTILE DOMINANCE DISPLAY."

(Introverts' relationships aren't as hierarchical as extroverts' relationships are. Many of us don't make dominance displays, or make them only in anger, but that's not to be interpreted as acceptance of other people's dominance displays. Rather, to us, all dominance displays are hostile. When we want to make a good impression we display respect; and extroverts who want to make a good impression on us need to study the ways we do that, so they can display respect to us.)

The Internet blocks that whole relationship-killing habit. All you see is the words, or pictures or music, people choose to post. It's not possible to block out the message by staring at the person, even at the person's eyes. (And any time anyone is saying anything but "Look at me," a lot of people feel that it is rude to stare even at our eyes.) Your choices are to respond to the content or not to respond to the content. 

Thousands of people enjoy our e-friends for that very reason. They may not like what we're saying. They may not want to answer our questions. They may be confused. They may not read the entire post. They may miss a post because they weren't online, or were doing something else with their online time, that day. But in any case they will never dismiss our words, or pictures, or music, with one of those "look at you" idiocies that make us think that really God gave some people more eyeballs than they ought to have.

For us, it's about boundaries. For Google, Bing, Twitter, and the other corporate interests who decry the impersonality of the is not about security. We've all seen, recently, that when a criminal is incompetent to post evidence of his crime on Facebook, that helps the local police find him and lock him up. The rest of us didn't need to know the lunatic's name in order for that to happen. The police didn't even need the images of himself the fool was sending out. All they really needed to know was that a criminal was active on such-and-such street, and there they were. All they had to do was find the address and look for the fool with the gun and the Android. Online anonymity helps fight crime.

No, corporate babble about anonymity enabling bad things online won't hold water. That's not the corporations' concern. What they're interested in is profit. They imagine that if they just knew a little more about you and me, they'd be able to sell us more stuff and/or at a higher profit. 

Well, what they need to know about me, from their point of view, is that I am totally turned off by "personalized" marketing. In real life I don't mind that so much--if there's no aggressive "selling" involved. I don't mind walking into a store and having the storekeeper say, "That book you were asking about? It's come in." But I instantly don't want to buy something if the company directs me to a web site that demands any information about me before displaying a price. I don't want other people to be getting a better price than I am, nor do I want to be getting a better price than other people. I want to know the price that is fixed, equally applicable to everyone without discrimination. If there's not such a price, I prefer to do business in a place where there is. 

"Marketers" need to know this about people: Probably about as many of us are hard-wired introverts as are positively extroverts. The claim that three-quarters of humankind are extroverts rests on outdated tests that confused introversion with social phobia, which is a different thing. Accurate data gathered by testing for conscience, perceptivity, precision, etc., has yet to be gathered but I'd guess that brain wiring forms a bell-shaped curve, something between 30-40-30 and 40-20-40. You make a good impression on introverts by showing respect. One way you show respect is that you don't ask for more information than you're given. If you want to sell more flatware, you don't want to know what I eat or what color my kitchen curtains are; you need to tell me about the quality and/or the distinctive look of your flatware. 

But after all "marketers" do know that the money is most easily gathered from the pockets of stupid people. Stupidity is a choice, not an I.Q. score and not a disability; we all have moments of stupidity but extroverts have more of them than other people. So the marketers want to be able to pin down, e.g., which people would be likely to rush out and buy whole sets of new flatware if it were advertised in a picture with food that activated their appetites enough. That you and I might want to make sure we never buy anything from anyone who'd try to sell us flatware with irrelevant images of food is the kind of data Google et al. think they want to gather. Their fantasy is that advertisers can "target" the most susceptible people and get them to mortgage everything they've got in order to rush out and buy every kind of rubbish the advertisers are being paid to sell.

So they want to use the Internet as a "social credit system" where it's possible for those who pay enough to learn everything about any given individual's shopping, reading, viewing, and listening behavior. If the person uses the Internet only two or three times a year and only from public places, that makes it more interesting for them to know what the person does in that scanty Internet time. 

And of course the result of losing Internet anonymity would be...turning the nice impersonality of the Internet into Gossip World. The people who built the Internet would abandon it in droves. Sometimes I think that would be a good thing. 

Anyway my suspicion is that, by making it possible--or even paying--hackers to tamper with our nice impersonal social media and e-mail accounts, the corporations are building up a demand that the nice impersonal Internet become completely personalized. Everything would have to be activated by biometric scans. If someone who was paying enough didn't like what you were saying, nothing electronic would ever work for you again, or at least the sites that person was paying never would. If a corporate employee sold your information to haters or criminals, the burglars could reach your house before your plane took off, the hired gun could be waiting to meet you at the rent-a-car lot. The totally personalized Internet would implode the Internet itself and would temporarily produce a major reset on civilization. In some ways even that might be a good thing, but I still prefer that it happen after my lifetime's over. 

"If I knew for sure that those two 'gay' 'friends' of mine did that..." the man who suspected them of having hacked his account indulged in a few fantasies. It's important to understand that this is not a hater. This is a goodnatured, easygoing fellow, one of a minority of men our age who ever use "gay" and "friend" and a first-person pronoun in the same sentence. He is reacting to what he perceives as a personal attack that could endanger his career, if he weren't so close to retirement already, because in our town that's what it is, and what he knows the "gay" friends who've lived in big cities are likely to see as a joke. His privacy has been violated, in any case, even though it's probably not his nakedness that's been displayed to the world on Facebook. His anger is understandable and justifiable. And I have faith that, in real life, what he'd do would be to spread the word that they defamed his character because he rejected their advances. In a small Southern town that's probably still a serious punishment.

But I recommend that people learn to laugh off this kind of attacks on the Internet. Find those web sites that nobody's going to believe, the tabloid-type content (I don't recommend doing this with a device you use for serious online work) that shows Howard Hughes partying with Jimmy Hoffa. If anybody finds an image that looks like you doing something you never did, or an account somebody's using to post things you wouldn't say in your name, or even a bot army of followers you know nothing about, shrug and say, "People can do all kinds of things with Photoshop these days." 

Do not take it seriously. Taking it seriously will only feed the actual "marketing" monster, and the potential "social credit as a means of social control" monster. 

And, before beating up old school friends with sick senses of humor, be aware that the harassment may be coming from servants of the Evil Principle in a Chinese sweatshop. If corporate interests are paying foreign students with computer skills to harass us, you know those students are clever enough to think of things that look like something an old friend of yours might have thought would be funny. If you give an old friend a couple of beers and, without further prompting, he volunteers a confession of having hacked your account, then blame him. Otherwise, assume it's a corporate-paid, desperate foreign hacker.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Morgan Griffith's Commitment to America

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith, R-VA-9. Editorial comment: None, yet. I'd like to see readers click over to read their full page, then tell me what youall think.

The Commitment to America

In less than two short years, unified Democrat control of the Federal Government has diminished our country in ways that would astound even a pessimist.

Inflation has risen to levels not seen in forty years. Gas prices hit record highs earlier this year. More than two million illegal immigrants have been encountered at the southern border this fiscal year before it has even ended, not counting the significant number that have evaded detection.

Each of these crises has been created or made worse by policies promoted by President Biden and his party’s majorities in the House and Senate.

President Biden and the liberals in Congress wreaked havoc on the economy by pouring trillions of dollars into it. Too many dollars chasing too few goods is the classic formula for inflation, yet Democrats persisted.

The good news is that these problems can be solved with the right policies and the right congressional majorities.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have been working on a plan to improve the economy, lower costs, unleash the potential of our people and resources, and secure the country. Our plan is called the Commitment to America.

The Commitment to America contains four planks:

  • An economy that’s strong;
  • A nation that’s safe
  • A future that’s built on freedom; and
  • A government that’s accountable.

The Commitment to America calls for reducing wasteful spending to bring costs for essentials like housing and groceries under control. It also calls for tax and regulatory reform to grow wages, create good jobs, and stabilize the economy. After the pandemic and the Biden-created cost of living crisis, Americans are ready for a return to economic normalcy, and the Commitment to America would deliver it.

As part of the Commitment to America, we would unleash America’s energy potential by encouraging domestic production and cutting the time of the lengthy permitting process for projects. More energy produced here would lower gas and utility prices. We would also promote manufacturing in our country and seek to bring our supply chains closer to home. These moves would insulate our economy from the whims of foreign powers.

The primary job of a government is to protect its citizens, and the Commitment to America demands that the Federal Government do this job better than it has under an inept and ideologically driven Biden Administration. We would give immigration enforcement officers the tools they need to secure the border, including money to finish the wall. We would also take aim at the perverse incentives in government policy that encourage illegal immigration, such as “catch and release” letting apprehended migrants stay here.

In the Commitment to America, law enforcement officers are supported with no risk of defunding them, and threats to public safety like fentanyl are treated with appropriate seriousness.

As part of the Commitment to America, we would expand the freedom and choices open to Americans. This includes health care. Access to telehealth would be improved, offering more opportunities for care in rural and remote areas like many in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District. We would focus on bringing transparency and competition to health care, driving down costs without sacrificing medical innovation.

Finally, the Commitment to America would bring much-needed accountability to the Federal Government. Despite Congress’ constitutional obligation to conduct oversight, Democrats have chosen to look the other way no matter how incompetently or dishonestly the Biden Administration behaves. That would end under Republican leadership.

The Commitment to America is a straightforward, focused plan to improve the way Washington works in order to better serve the citizens of our country. President Biden may oppose it, but he will have to explain why his approach is the better one despite the various failures under his leadership.

You can learn more about the Commitment to America by visiting

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.


Book Review: Wasp Where Is Thy Sting

Title: Wasp Where Is Thy Sting

Author: Florence King

Date: 1977

Publisher: Stein and Day

ISBN: 0-8128-2166-1

Length: 214 pages

Quote: "The only thing more Wasp than owning horses is riding horses."

Ethnicity was "in" in the 1970s. "Ethnic" was sometimes used in opposition to "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" but, as King observed, Anglo-Saxons were an ethnic group too weren't they? So she set out to study them from within. The result was hilarious. It would have been even funnier if it hadn't started out with some short articles written for Cosmopolitan and Playgirl, where the dirty jokes were encouraged. As it is, readers should pick a place where they feel free to laugh out loud, especially as they may be asked to share the jokes.

The difficulty about studying Wasps was not that many of the Eastern States' "Waspiest" families are in fact of Irish and German descent. (Irish and German people who reached North America early enough were Protestants, often attracted to radical denominations, and registered English family names. You have to trace an individual family name like "Williams" back to find out whether it was originally Williams or Wilhelms or MacUlliam.) No, it was that those who immigrated from other countries were almost all from the working class, at least at the time of immigration, whereas Americans of English (and Scotch, and Native American) descent are a nice cross-section of every social class. Most immigrants from continental Europe, and those Irish Catholics who came during the potato famine, inherited one basic family story about being poor and oppressed in the old country and coming to America for the opportunity to get rich. With "Wasps," especially in the Southern States, there are family stories just like that, and then there are the stories about the ancestors who were rich but were banished from the peerage for political reasons, or became rich in the nation's early days but lost fortunes in the Great Depression and/or the Civil War and/or the collapse of the market for Great-Grandfather's product. You find rich Wasps, upwardly mobile Wasps, downwardly mobile Wasps, upper-middle-class Wasps, lower-middle-class wasps, and also welfare-class Wasps, although King doesn't seem to have studied them. She has, however, studied the financially viable Wasp types and written a little story about a few fictional Wasp families of different socioeconomic types. Being written to illustrate points in a nonfiction book, it's not a very dramatic story, but it's an entertaining read.

Wasps of different types don't always hate each other, as King suggests, but they don't understand or relate to each other very well either, because within a single culture they manage to maintain different family subcultures. If your British ancestors were aristocrats, there is a high probability that you wash with a rag, hang a roll of toilet paper on the wall, at least pay close attention to the studs or bitches with whom your pets breed, and will think people who object to those words are not very bright until they haul you away in a coffin. If they were servants or shopkeepers, you just might wash with a cloth, tuck your bathroom tissue under some sort of silly piece of "decor," have your male or female dog or cat fixed (and if you ever did own a mare and allow her to mate it'd be with a horse), and will think people who use the other words are not very nice until you're laid to rest in a casket. That's a starting point--referred to but not spelled out in this book, because the Mitfords had listed the most typical "U and Non-U" words in Britain and the subject was familiar to readers of this book.

We follow the typical different Wasp families through the different behaviors their word usage connotes: the Jonesboroughs don't have to belong to an Episcopal church, since they travel a good deal, but "Piscop" is where they're most at home; the Baileys are "Baptodisterians" (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or a similar denomination), and Sister Effie Lee Pringle steals Bibles from bookstores and donates them to Brother Bascom, the founder and sole minister of the Holier Than Thou Reformed Church, so he can give them to people he thinks need them. Mrs. Jonesborough, who did charitable work only, in the 1970s, drank a lot of alcohol and was a sloppy cook and housekeeper. Mrs. Bailey, who didn't think married women should work outside the home, made cooking and housekeeping into a full-time job but never learned to do them according to Mrs. Jonesborough's standard of taste.

These things have been elaborated further...for instance, in Deborah Tannen's elaborate study of how Mrs. Bailey's upwardly mobile daughter (Norma Dean, in the 1970s; Jennifer, in the 1980s; Brandi or Brytanni or Brooke, in the 1990s) could spend hours talking with other young women without stating a solid fact or dissenting opinion. Tannen went so far as to imagine that Norma's yuppie conformism reflected femininity, for pity's sake. Nobody who knew Mrs. Jonesborough would have made that mistake. Mrs. Jonesborough learned to swear, yell, argue, and very likely shoot ducks and play poker, from her father, and if, like Elaine Risley in Cat's Eye, she never quite fit in with a little group of girls, she tells herself her husband and (when she went back to work in the 1980s) the stockholders are more important than a lot of girl friends in any case. Mrs. Jonesborough is popular because she sponsors charities and throws expensive parties.

 Obviously the women Florence King knew and generalized about, in this book, belonged to the generation that's disappearing now. Baby-boomer Wasps, younger adult Wasps, and teen Wasps have their own subcultures. Cultural change had taken place between the years, 1600 to 1800, when most Wasps' ancestors were immigrating, and 1971, too. King knew her Wasp friends and, afaics, sketched them with great accuracy and elan. Similar generalizations about their baby-boomer children and Generation X grandchildren were published, mostly in the 1980s, as the "official handbooks" and "official style guides" that were marketed strictly as humor; the genre started with The Official Preppy Handbook and went on from there.I have seen a "Hipster Handbook" but, otherwise, the field for studies of distinctive millennial styles remains open. 

After Animal Remembrance Day

Some people, like Mudpie's human, chose to burn candles yesterday in memory of all the animals who've been "humanely" slaughtered in Humane Pet Genocide Society shelters.

The last time I went into a shelter and came out carrying a cat, years ago, the cat was Dusty. Dusty had just been picked up beside a road that morning, and when I stroked her so much dust came out of her fur that I wondered whether her coat would even be gray underneath It was gray, but a different shade. I wasn't looking for a pretty cat, though, but for a nursing mother cat who could adopt the kittens Graybelle had left behind. What got Dusty out of the shelter fast were (1) that she was still a nursing mother and (2) that she wanted very much to be taken out of the shelter. 

It was the oldfashioned kind of shelter, with four tiers of cages along either side of an aisle, so all the cats' nerves were strained to the breaking point, and fleas and infectious diseases circulated freely. Many paws were poking out of cages, waving, even grabbing as humans passed by. "Meow," the cats who had had human friends were all saying, "meow. Meow!"--obviously meaning "Get me out of here!" The dogs, caged in a different room, heard the cats meowing and joined in, barking and howling, "What about me?" The oldfashioned city and country animal shelters were always noisy when any potential adopters came in.

Dusty wasn't louder than all those other animals and didn't try to be. She just looked at me, nonverbally saying, "You are going to get me out of here, aren't you? I'm a good cat. Well, most of the time."

Dusty's story has been told elsewhere. She didn't adopt the kittens, nor did she stay with me very long. She moved on to her Purrmanent Home, where she lived for seven years. She had looked like a year-old kitten when I met her; she never looked any older. She always seemed to recognize me. A few months before she died I finally found the time to sit and pet her for as long as she wanted--about an hour and a half. She was a good cat, most of the time.

Nowadays adopting a shelter animal can be very different than it was in my youth, when if you'd rented a room in a house that didn't already have cats you just loaded your housemates into the van (some resident of those group houses for single yuppies always had a van) and went to the city shelter and paid ten dollars for a kitten. 

Mindful that the oldfashioned shelter experience is traumatic enough for humans, let alone cats, today's private shelters often try to offer better situations for the cats. Many of the Petfinder pages linked here mention that all the shelter's animals are in foster homes, and in order to meet a stray animal you must first pass a background check so that the foster family feel comfortable about bringing you into their home. They may want to visit your home, too. 

People who "volunteer to foster" animals, thus getting temporary pets at no charge, can easily bond with their "foster" pets and actually try to discourage adoption. Even more easily they can succumb to the Deadly Sin of Avarice, screaming about how horrible it is that commercial breeders sell animals for profit while they themselves are selling animals of lower value, or even petnapped animals, for the same high prices. A show-quality pedigreed animal might legitimately be valued at $500 because its offspring will be sold for high prices. An animal that looks a bit like the pedigreed one, but has been neutered, may be advertised by a shelter with an "adoption fee" of $500. Several things are wrong here and the position of this web site is that we should avoid encouraging either control freaks or greedheads. 

However, it's also possible that adopters and "foster families" will become friends, and continue to visit each other even after the animals are gone. 

Either way, animals are likely to stay in "foster home" situations longer than they stayed in oldfashioned shelters. Shelters traditionally killed anmals when they ran out of cages to keep new arrivals in. Many animals died of infectious diseases in shelters. Some may have died from what they must have experienced as the sheer horror of being in an oldfashioned shelter--a completely unnatural, unhealthy, hostile environment. 

Some animals who are listed as being in "foster homes" may, as far as they're concerned, have found their fur-ever homes. Sometimes animals know when someone wants to take them away from a place where they'd rather stay, and they make themselves as unadoptable as possible. If an animal like Jade from Atlanta, whom this web site picked as the most photogenic twice before e-mailing the shelter to ask why Jade hadn't been adopted already, wants to stay in its "foster home" forever, and its foster human wants to keep it, well, at least the two of them agree.

Eventually, however, a point of saturation may be reached. If a rescue organization really stands by a "no-kill" policy, even if the organization releases every animal to the first person who offers it a home, the organization will run out of "foster homes" as surely as the oldfashioned shelters ran out of cages. Then what happens to homeless animals?

We saw what happens, a few years ago, with the antisocial cat Barnie, a gorgeous Himalayan-type fluffball abandoned near the Cat Sanctuary. Seeing Barnie some distance from the road, I said to it, "If you can get along with my cats you're welcome to stay with us." Barnie, however, preferred to get along without my cats; it started sneaking around the house at night and attacking them. At least it attacked the lttle spring kitten, Violet, and the sweet old homebody cat, Irene. It avoided Queen Cat Heather, who could at least look mean although I don't think she ever did anything unkind, and her sons. I'm quite sure Irene never did anything unkind, so when I saw that Barnie had injured Irene, I wanted to do something unkind...something as cruel as putting wretched Barnie in a shelter. But the shelters were full. Nobody had room for Barnie in a "foster home." A city shelter would be obliged to take Barnie if it was reported as anuisance by residents of the city. I loaded Barnie into a duffel bag and started walking to the city, planning to dump Barnie outside a house where it would be reported as a nuisance...and someone came along and gave me forty dollars for that horrible kitten. 

Barnie was not a normal animal and may not have had a normal experience, but Barnie's story suggests to me that shelters may need to do more to offset the intrusiveness of "application forms" and home visits.

 Gentle Readers, I invite you to consider the good and bad aspects of "foster care" from the point of view of these photogenic foster pets:

1. Lucy from New York City

Web page:

Lucy looks like a Tortie from here, but shelter staff describe her as a brown tabby. On one side she's mostly a sort of cocoa-heather-motttled mix with faint tabby markings. She is thought to be about ten years old, and has had minor health problems. Shelter staff are guessing that she'll do best as an only pet and, of course, having been declawed, she'll have to live indoors all the time.

2. Lotta from D.C. 

Web page:

Don't you have to adore the way her stripes line up? Lotta had a son, who's been adopted. In foster care she's been described as "Velcro Cat" because she clings to her foster human. She's thought to be about two years old and in good health.

3.  Bandele from Atlanta 

Web page:

Bandele is described as a lovable little old lady cat, active and healthy, with no interest in going outside, happy to snuggle with humans when she feels like it and get up and leave when she feels like it. She's in a "foster home" and, to be perfectly fair, you can sign up to be her "foster home" for two weeks to see how she fits into your family.

Do you think "foster care" will serve these cats better than an oldfashioned shelter would? What about the cats who will still be kept in a shelter, or who may be euthanized, if these cats aren't adopted?