Thursday, September 27, 2018

Greetings--Permanent Payment Explanation

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Review: Hobberdy Dick

Title: Hobberdy Dick

Author: K.M. Briggs

Date: 1955 (U.K.), 1977 (U.S.)

Publisher: Greenwillow (U.S.)

ISBN: 0-688-84079-5

Length: 239 pages

Quote: "But he...had only known the Culvers for a little over two centuries. He would stay with the old place a little longer."

Fair disclosure: This is a book that  libraries across the United States added to their "children's" collections, and then discarded due to complaints from parents and teachers. And those parents and teachers were right: it's not really a children's story at all.

Not that it's a book that needs to be hidden from children, particularly. In fact it's almost free from sex and violence, certainly tastefully written, and a delightful read for anyone who likes English Literature--a suitable companion for other books Greenwillow was bringing to the U.S. at the time, notably Briggs' own Kate Crackernuts and Robert Westall's splendid Devil on the Road

But few modern children are likely to like it. They don't "get" it. Although Hobberdy Dick is a novel set in the world of the old English fairy tales that used to be told to children, it's outside the frame of reference of children who absorb more modern fairy tales from TV broadcasts. It may attract some middle and high school students to English Literature courses (probably the author's intention) but it won't make much sense to the students until they've taken the courses.

Even for adults C.S. Lewis's Discarded Image may be the best introduction to this book. Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising quintet is a set of young adult novels that may help introduce young readers to the medieval lore from which the speculative world of this story is made.

Briefly: this is not a story about the real world we know, past or present, U.S. or U.K. It's about the world as English people in the seventeenth century seem to have imagined it to be. And although that speculative world is bounded by Christian beliefs, in between the boundaries set for it by Christian beliefs it's full of traditional pre-Christian beliefs; things handed down to English Christians from their preliterate British Pagan ancestors, things that are neither supported nor specifically contradicted by the Bible or by modern science. English Christians took those things very seriously. Some believed very seriously that whatever wasn't Christian was of the Devil and must be untrue; others believed, equally seriously, that whatever wasn't specifically anti-Christian was likely to be true, and worth preserving.

For the folk whose lore Briggs made a career of documenting in scholarly books and recycling into novels, however, there was a third "spiritual" realm in addition to Heaven and Hell. There were longaevi, long-livers. The idea of these humanlike creatures was probably based on the idea of departed ancestors living on in some way, but the longaevi were thought to be a separate race, not humans, and certainly not the ghosts of dead humans (although many seventeenth century English Christians believed devoutly in ghosts, too). They were mortal but their lifespans were counted in centuries not decades. Probably the most thorough and sympathetic treatment they have ever received in literature was Tolkien's Rings books; there were lofty, poetic, glamorous longaevi like the Elves and small, homely, amusing, relatively short-lived ones like the Hobbits.

Although stories about them had been told before Britain became Christian, and several sources (like Cooper) maintain that they had their own alien purpose that was neither good-for-humans nor evil-for-humans, the longaevi were fitted into the Christian worldview by a tradition Briggs mentions in this story: They were that "host of Heaven" of whom one third were faithful to God and became angels, one third rebelled with Satan and became devils, and one third never made up their minds and became the various kinds of "wights" (faeries, elves, pixies, nixies, leprechauns, gnomes, sylphs, the Old Gods, the goblins...) found in British and European folklore. Depending on their individual qualities and characters some of them were glamorous and aristocratic, and some were humble and homely, perhaps even subject to confusion with ordinary mortals who might have been unable to find steady jobs and tried to attach themselves to households where they were allowed to work for food and shelter. In some stories some of the smaller, humbler ones, like brownies, were quite geriatric and had been condemned to live until they'd done something good enough to merit another offer of spiritual salvation.

So here is Dick, an ordinary decent hobgoblin, not exactly miserable but able to empathize with another bogle (from an older tale) who lamented, "Woe's me" that he thought he was many generations away from the reward from a human "that'll lay me" to rest with the hope of restoration to Heaven. He looks like a little old man, but he's not a man--closer to a Hobbit, or to a brownie. He's not hoping to be released from his life as a "hob," exactly. He's just determined to be the best little hob he can be. In this story we see him doing all of a hob's traditional jobs, as well as he can, considering his great age, small size, limited powers, and lack of sympathy from the dominant humans in the family that move into his home.

Though Hobberdy Dick was marketed as a story about the family being "unloving Puritans," that's not exactly accurate. All Puritans practiced a strict form of Protestant Christianity, some much stricter than others; like devout people today, they were supposed to be quiet, sober, modest, and frugal, but kindness, generosity, and even cheerfulness were encouraged. Briggs' Puritan family are portrayed as real Puritan families undoubtedly were: some easier to like than others. The young man Dick does most to help has a bossy but not unreasonable father, an unlovable stepmother, some witless but not unlovable stepsiblings, a wonderful grandmother whose closeness to Heaven intimidates Dick but also helps him, and a girlfriend who seems almost as perfect to Dick as she does to her admirer.

Medieval Europe was Catholic, of course. Medieval studies can easily become Catholic Studies (or, if determined not to be Catholic, Islamic Studies); that's what medieval literature was about, mostly. The English Civil War embodied the conflict between Catholic or at least High Church of England "Cavaliers" (the "conservative party" of their day, endorsing some traditional "revels" and rights for the lower class but mostly endorsing the traditional rights of the aristocracy) and Puritan or Low Church "Roundheads" (the "rebellious/progressive party," led by Oliver Cromwell, a man without an hereditary title, and often thought to represent a step toward egalitarian thinking). As usual when political polarization occurs, each side appealed to some people's ideals of truth, beauty, and honor, and to some people's selfish greed. In Hobberdy Dick Briggs does not actually assert that Cromwell's victory was a sad, bad thing; she lets some characters say that, and lets others find it a good thing.

In the end, for young Joel and Anne as well as for Dick, that "Puritan"/progressive/"Low Church" idea of a bourgeois family moving into a stately home and intermarrying with a "gentle" family seems quite satisfactory. The main difficulty Anne and Joel worry about is that, in the old Catholic system, that sort of thing was frowned upon; there was a strict hierarchy, in the physical as well as the spiritual realm, and a boy like Joel was supposed to be as far "below" a girl like Anne as Dick would have been below Titania, Queen of the Faeries. (That name...yes, Faeries were originally human-sized or bigger, and "Titania" was identified with the Greek Titans, who were giants.) In the new system, where people come from matters less than where they're going, and since Anne and Joel are presumably going to Heaven by the via positiva of good lives in this world, they have every right to marry each other.

Joel's stepmother doesn't seem to love her own children very much, and if she's too "Puritan" to want Joel dead, she certainly makes no secret of wanting him out of her way.  She is a classic example of an unloving person who happens to be a Puritan. Some of Dick's fellow longaevi, including the splendid old Grim "who had been a god" (in Norse lore Grim was a nickname for Odin), feel unloved by Puritans who don't want to notice or believe in them--or offer the traditional ration of bread that probably sustained some real homeless laborers in Merrie Olde Englande. Nevertheless Joel and Anne have to be considered "loving" people, over and above their chaste romance with each other. What Dick actually does, in this story, is help some "loving Puritans" overcome the baleful influence of some "unloving" Puritans.

So whose side is Briggs on? It's hard to say. She wouldn't have thought it was polite to dispute her publisher's decision about how to advertise her book, if she had disagreed with it. I suspect that she wrote as a detached historian. Dick, who exists in the old Catholic worldview but not in the Puritan one, would probably never have much to say in favor of the Puritans...but Anne and Joel might be considered a pro-Puritan statement, too.

And I suspect that seeing "unloving Puritans" in reviews and summaries of the book did much to prejudice people against it, to prompt librarians to discard it rather than reclassifying it--as they should have done--as a work of speculative fiction for adults.

(Briggs could hardly have been expected to foresee how much merely calling her protagonist "Dick" would do to prejudice people against this book. I've seen people who obviously had no idea what "Hobberdy" meant pick up a copy of the book and say "Hobberdy Dick? What kind of book is that for children?!" Relax, people. Even after the Nixon Administration, for many English-speaking people it's just a man's name. Briggs was English, and old, and probably didn't realize it was anything but a man's name.)

Dick has to be the most lovable of all his kind. The working-class longaevi, according to stories Briggs cited in her nonfiction books, preferred "wights" as a general term for themselves; one who was otherwise hard to classify considered, in snappy rhymes, words like "faery" and so on, and concluded "But if you call me 'seelie wight' I'll be your friend by day and night." Some of them were consistently friendly to humams, although the stories about them tend to be shorter than the ones about the nasty ones. Many stories about the friendly wights who attached themselves to prosperous farms sound like stories about homeless men, often small, elderly, and disabled or deformed in some way. Goblins, however, despite their gnomelike habits, tendency to live in caves and be able to find underground watercourses, mineral seams, or buried treasure, were often considered ugly, hostile wights. The Princess and the Goblins and "Goblin Market" are late stories, but some older goblin stories are nastier. Dick is, however, a real sweetheart, not only nicer than most goblins but nicer than some brownies and piskies. He prefer that humans not call him, but he is a friend to Anne, Joel, and their grandmother by day and night.

Ghosts, we learn, are part of Dick's world--boring little parvenus that come and go; Dick is pleased to help one of them fade out. Wicked witches, humans who have sold their souls to the Evil Principle, are real for Dick; they have little power over humans but considerable power over hobs, and since they are deeply nasty people it takes real courage for Dick and a few goblin buddies to rescue a child from one of them. (Wiccans, or "white witches" who had not sold their souls and had mutually respectful or human-dominant relationships with longaevi, were still part of nineteenth century folklore but are not represented in this story.)

If you agree with the Puritans that all beliefs not specifically supported by the Bible are antichristian, then you won't like Hobberdy Dick or much of anything that K.M. Briggs wrote. If you're either a folklorist or a Neo-Pagan, you'll love all of Briggs' thoroughly researched nonfiction and imaginative folklore-based fiction. I'm a folklorist and I enjoy Briggs' books...but I recommend them to adults who are, or are becoming, reasonably well educated, not to kids. I think this writer expected all kids to be as familiar with her material as the children she knew were, and they're not.

Because bad marketing made this wholesome little tale of Merrie Englande so controversial, it's a collector's item. This web site blushes to ask for $20 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment. Briggs' other books aren't much cheaper; Kate Crackernuts, the most successful seller in the U.S., is currently available at prices that force us to demand $10. And Briggs isn't even here to enjoy her 10% of those payments. However, you can add books by living authors, which are likely to be cheaper, to the package (three other books of the same size will ship together with Hobberdy Dick in one $5 package), and 10% of the cost of those books will be sent to those authors or their charities.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: A Gentle Spirit

A Fair Trade Book (?)

Title: A Gentle Spirit

Author: Ashleigh Bryce Clayton

Date: 1999

Publisher: Barbour

ISBN: 1057748-503-3

Length: 365 pages of text, 8 pages of acknowledgment

Quote: “This daily devotional book provides...helpful Scripture passages and Godly wisdom from dozens of well-known, Spirit-led Christian women, such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Ruth Bell Graham, Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot, Hannah Whitall Smith, Corrie ten Boom, and many more.”

That’s what it is all right...a Bible verse, and a paragraph or two (full-sized type, pocket-book-sized pages) from a vintage Christian book that relate to the Scripture in some way, for each day of the year. If you buy this book you’ll be celebrating Women’s Spirituality every morning or evening.

In, of course, a very gentle, bland, uncontroversial way. The selection here sacrifices scholarship to nondenominationalism, so don’t expect to learn more about the Bible than you’d learn by skipping through it at random. Each Bible verse is paired with a nice, uncontroversial reflection on, basically, niceness. 

Meditating on these pages should leave you in a pleasant emotional mood—and that’s as far as it goes. I’ve read it myself, and enjoyed it, but when I reread through it as a book I thought, “Could be used to support the claim that all religious practice is is coping, or trying to cope, with mood disorders.”

Because that claim is false, I feel free to recommend this book. Most Christian women are sane—even the ones who’ve bought into the cultural myth that controlling your emotions means concealing them, that if you say firmly and unapologetically “Don’t throw your trash in my back yard” (or "My body is my own") you are, horror of horrors, an Angry Person. Many of us do have some emotional hang-ups caused by erroneous thinking—for example, we may continue to belong to churches where we’ve been told that we’re supposed to not supposed to show anger. Nevertheless, basically, we do know whether a message that boils down to “Hush, lie down and go to sleep, there’s nothing you can do so just relax and feel good about it” is a nice thought to feed into our brains at bedtime or a thought to put out of our minds before getting to work.

During the daytime I would, of course, suggest to anyone who’s worried that she’s not always calm and bland that God gave some of us hyperthyroid metabolisms and the gift of passionate intensity for good reasons. We don’t fit into groups that move at a slower pace, and shouldn’t try. We work more efficiently on our own. The sooner we recognize that, when we’re told to "concentrate on social skills" rather than "wear ourselves out" finishing a job in the time it takes, we’re being told that Incompetence is the crucial “social skill” we lack and we should stop trying to climb the ladder in that organization, the better off we’ll be on our own, or as assistants to other people who think life’s too short for sitting around trying to look busy. In any corporation that has a Human Resources Manager with a degree in Business Administration, self-employment may or may not be worse on a résumé than a prison term. If God wired us to get things done when we’re awake and sleep when we’re asleep, that kind of absolute bar to future employment in an office where everybody sits around trying to look busy is not a bad thing, at all...and Cat’s Eye is a very valuable book for train and lunch reading.

And, in the case of "My body is my own"...if you say that and the other person doesn't leap back to a decent interpersonal distance, from which you have to reach out at the same time for him or her to shake your hand, but instead insinuates that you might be mistaken for an Angry Person, I say you're successfully intimidating the person--which is what it's going to take--and should run with it. Your next move is to shout, so the whole city block can hear it, "I SAID, HANDS OFF!" This will probably cause the person to jump back and shut up, but if it doesn't, slapping the offending hand may be what Jesus would have done, or it might better serve the good of all to strike harder at a more sensitive area. It is harmful to other women to pretend we're not angry about physical violation of our bodies.

So what happens at the end of a long day's activism? This soothing little book is ideal for bedtime reading, or, if you’re blessed with a commuter bus or train on which reading is normally possible, reading on the commute home from work, when it is appropriate to put the day’s unresolved problems in a box, mentally, and stamp “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” on the box, and stow it away somewhere out of consciousness.

Is that soothing quality really what “gentleness” means? (Christians can and do quibble about this.) Turning to the dictionary, we find that the original and “true” meaning of “gentle” was “having inherited land.” English “gentlemen” were, at one time, expected not to work except as military officers, but they were expected to spend much of their leisure time hunting and participating in peacetime “sports,” such as jousting, that weren’t intended to kill anyone but often did. Time and technology allowed the English gentry to expand into “the professions” as clergymen, scholars, and lawyers; it took a while for medicine, and even longer for writing and The Arts generally, to be added to the list of things gentlemen and –women could do without being accused of stealing jobs from the working class. In the nineteenth century we find people tending the injured or sick “gently,” but it’s hard to determine at what point the shift occurred from this phrase meaning “like a military officer, calmly, without panic” to meaning “with a soothing touch.” The feminization of “gentleness,” in general, can be traced to the Romantic School of French Socialism. In any case gentleness is not the same thing as blandness or softness, or what used to be called tenderness, and if some of the selections in this book didn’t specifically mention the distinction between what most translations of the Bible call “meekness” (and others call “gentleness”) and weakness, I’d say that “A Soothing Spirit” might have been a better title for this book.

"Soothing" verbiage has been used to oppress and discourage active women, in our time, just as some ideas that used to be accepted about "gentleness" were used to discourage people with vocations to medicine, arts, or crafts, in previous centuries. That didn't mean that there was no good use for the ideals of gentleness, or even of gentlemanliness; nor does it mean that there's no good use for soothing and relaxing. If you can find a use for "soothing" verbiage that doesn't trigger angry memories of those who've misused it, then you can find a use for this book. Gently used copies cost $5 per book, plus $5 per package (at least six more small paperbacks would fit into one $5 package with the copy I have) and $1 per online payment, from the appropriate address at this web site.

But is this a Fair Trade Book? Hard to say. People who spell the name "Ashleigh" are usually young, but I'm not finding information about Clayton in cyberspace. Is she still a living writer who just prefers to stay out of cyberspace? (To what extent is the compiler of an anthology a writer, anyway?) Is "A.B.C." a pseudonym, perhaps for "A Barbour Committee"? If you buy the book here, I will take the time to write to Barbour and find out whether Clayton is a real writer and, if so, whether she prefers to receive $1 from each sale of this book or forward it to a charity.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Morgan Griffith on Jerusalem as Capital City

Having no foreign policy, this web site hereby assigns all responsibility for the contents of his post to U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):

Friday, December 8, 2017 –
Disclaimer: This column deals with a Middle Eastern issue. It is dangerous to make any attempt to explain the Middle East in less than four volumes, but on the issue of our embassy in Jerusalem, I will attempt to nonetheless.
The city of Jerusalem holds a place of special importance in the story of civilization, and on December 6, President Trump acknowledged its unique connection to the people of Israel in particular. Standing in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on that day, he officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As a concrete result of this action, the American embassy to Israel will soon transfer from Tel Aviv, where it is currently located, to Jerusalem.
President Trump’s move grabbed headlines. I am surprised that so many consider it newsworthy, however, because the President is simply following the law.
Twenty-two years ago, Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed and signed into law by President Clinton in 1995. Further, the law declares as a statement of policy that “the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
Presidents who have served since passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act have exercised the law’s provision allowing him to waive recognition of Jerusalem as the capital every six months in the name of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
If Congress had any second thoughts about the soundness of the law, its Members haven’t expressed them recently; the Senate reaffirmed it in a resolution that passed 90-0 in June.
President Trump’s action is not one of unilateral lawmaking but one of faithfully executing the law, just as the office of president was conceived in Article II of the Constitution.
Critics have painted ugly pictures of the consequences that will follow the United States moving its embassy to the same city that currently houses Israel’s government. The Atlantic called it “a deadly provocation,” while a Washington Post headline suggested the move “could spark unrest.” The Post may not have noticed that plenty of unrest can be found in the Middle East already. There will likely be perpetual unrest while Israel’s enemies still deny its right to exist.
Israel has had to fight for its survival from the beginning. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began one day after Israel came into being as a state. During the 1967 Six Days War, Israel had to fend off all of its neighbors save Lebanon. Some of those enemies, such as Egypt, have since come to terms with Israel’s presence. But many haven’t.
When I visited Israel in 2014, we were able to download an app that would show us the trajectory of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, a territory controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Hamas is also a significant political player in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory, as well. Those shells came despite the American embassy being in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. When a country or group doesn’t think Israel should exist in the first place, as Hamas does, how can it possess the moral authority to tell the United States where it should place its embassy?
The peace process between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples has been stalled for a long time. Waiving the Jerusalem Embassy Act hasn’t brought them any closer to a lasting peace. Albert Einstein is famously attributed with defining insanity as doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result.
So that raises the question: has there really been any movement in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis since 1999? Is there not a time to acknowledge that keeping our embassy in Tel Aviv is not really the issue? Isn’t the issue Palestinians wanting Israel driven into the sea, and knowing that keeps Israelis from agreeing to a full-fledged Palestinian state?
As President Trump noted, recognition does not determine the American position on the details of a potential peace settlement, but recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shows all the actors in the Middle East that the United States follows through on its commitments embedded in law. It enhances our country’s credibility. It does not fundamentally alter the reality in the Middle East, since Israel is already governed from Jerusalem.
Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel carries out American law, respects one of our closest allies, and does not signal the outcome of the peace process. I believe it is the right call.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

Twitter Notifications Get Weird

When I joined Twitter, Twitter notified users of specific "likes" and "retweets." That was manageable, although I follow it only during down, down time.

But recently, in an attempt to streamline pages, Twitter has lumped "likes," "retweets," and "mentions" together...and "mentions" include eeeeverything.

For those who don't use Twitter, I can imagine this becoming a reason not to.

Suppose you, as a new Twit (meaning Twitter user), post a comment on a news item that a few thousand people are Twittering about. Keeping it simple...say it's a winter weather report, and you post something like "What a pretty snow picture."

You are now part of a "conversation" among a few thousand people you don't know, and Twitter will now "notify" you of all the other utterances in that conversation.

Juvenile Twit A: "that snowplow looks like yo mama @JuvenileTwitB"

Juvenile Twit B (posting ugly animal picture): "This is yr Mom."

Juvenile Twit A (posting public outhouse picture): "This is your house @JuvenileTwitB."

Juvenile Twit B: "Also yr religion is insane."

Juvenile Twit A: "Well u voted for a fool." (References to voting and party loyalty do not necessarily imply that the Twits posting them are old enough to vote in actual elections; schools have mock elections too.)

Juvenile Twit B (posting garbage picture): "heres what @JuvenileTwitA had for lunch."

Etc. Etc. Etc. This kind of thing is not necessarily to be confused with bullying--the children involved may think it's fun, or even funny--but it's not interesting for you. And it literally goes on day and night. And unless they took the trouble to click a "Reply To" button and remove 599 news item readers' names, all of it is classified as "conversation that includes you," although it obviously doesn't.

And you have to scroll through it--all of it--to see your own notifications, to learn that, e.g., your e-friend "liked" that you replied to her "home, ill" post with "best wishes," and that somebody retweeted your link to the pretty snow picture. Well, that's nice, but was it worth scrolling through all those other people's blather? Probably not. You'd like to find out whether anybody answered a question you asked, or asked a question you need to answer...but Twitter does not make that easy.

An early post at this web site affirmed that I didn't do Twitter. Well, now I do. It's been a great source of links and news stories, an easy way to keep up with breaking weather disaster news, a way to communicate with people in disaster areas, a safer way to share links that might be mistaken for spam, and potentially a useful tool for bill readers...but the new notifications system is seriously annoying.

Let's just say I've not found any candidates for the sequel to this book, lately.

Twitterthoughts: How Much Do Youall Miss the Animal Pictures?

(Status update: It's a chilly morning with a snowstorm blowing our way. For the third week in a row weather's discouraged me from setting up in the Friday Market. Instead I've spent the morning processing another book deal: good news for any writer. But only a $300 e-book deal, not a big fat hardcover book with a big name on the back cover: bad news for any writer's aging mother. Writers' mothers want to get into geriatric poor-mouthing games with lines like "I'm still trying to finish my daughter's book, but it's a heavy one..." Writers' mothers say things to writers like "Such 'books' you're writing! All of them fit into one three-ring binder." You still need to support this web site; with snow on the way, I'm wary of steering you to online writing sites that are not set up to recognize a difference between writers in places where one patch of black ice somewhere shuts down the whole town, and writers who get drunk every time they sell a book. The Roberts Family Bakery Cafe is the ground floor of some family members' house, so doesn't shut down every time schools and libraries do--but the family do take well-earned vacations in midwinter.)

This web site's readership just took a sharp drop. Was it something I said? No; although I stuck my neck out last week--Candidate Moore's the one I've been following, but what really pushed me over the edge with that post was the hate people were dumping on Congressman Conyers in the hospital, people, get a grip already--U.S. readership has been steady. What this web site lost was two foreign countries where, although we've welcomed legitimate readers if any, a lot of hacking activity has been going on. We had thousands of readers in those countries; this week we have none. Well, who misses would-be hackers?

Earlier this year my Twitter "following/followers" numbers crashed. I'd been following a few hundred people, followed by a few thousands. Thousands of Twitter followers just totally disappeared, overnight. My actual Twitter experience did not change. Those thousands of followers who suddenly popped up and as suddenly blinked out hadn't been contributing any actual tweets to my Twitter stream. I never even knew most of their names.

What was going on at Twitter was that I'd picked up a few thousand "bot" followers. People build these automatic "robot" widgets, pure strings of code unconnected to any living human, and give them little names and accounts on Twitter, Facebook, other social media sites where follower-ship may count. Some bots are designed to spy on people, or annoy them--I remember one bot whose reason for existing was to correct the way people spelled a celebrity's name. Many are designed just to pump up people's page view or follower counts. Because there are people who judge a new e-friend by numbers, who assume a blog is good if lots of "people" seem to be "reading" it and a product may even be good if lots of "people" seem to be "visiting" the company web site, there is actually a brisk(ish) trade in bots. At that site where I hang out, people are constantly offering payment to anybody who can program a few hundred bots to retweet their tweets on Twitter. And for several months I had the "benefit" of all those bots free of charge.

The bots made me look good, as a writer, but I'm not planning to pay anybody to send them back. There is just something ineffably meretricious about a bot. However, I will say that most bots do at least have cute avatars. Bot builders usually gank images of beautiful models, adorable animals, or funny cartoons...

Back when Associated Content was a viable site that promoted the articles it purchased, I had a following of several hundred daily readers around the English-speaking world, with occasional peaks over a thousand. That's flattering to me, and good enough for the itsy-bitsy publishers, but the big-name publishers that really make a book pay off look for bigger numbers. Oh, they're realistic--they understand that writing about books, knitting, food, frugality, or even cute and clever cats, is not going to sell the way get-rich-quick books and celebrity memoirs sell. They also understand that one real blog reader who posts even lame "I wuz ere" comments is likely to mean more book sales than a hundred bots--or hackers. But they want thousands of daily views, not hundreds. So far, this web site as a "we" venture where I've done most of the work, and the Twitter account as a "me alone" venture, have frequently had thousands, but the thousands seem to have been mostly bots and would-be hackers.

As a writer I'm not happy about this, but it's only fair to note that this site attracted a few more real readers, along with those battalions of bots, when we were sharing images of adoptable animals from Petfinder.

I enjoyed finding those animal pictures; picking out the cutest picture of almost any type of animal you can imagine is like picking your favorite flavor (before glyphosate pollution) of Ben & Jerry's. Since I posted from the computer center during Heather's long months of loneliness, earlier this year, Heather actually saw very few of "her e-friends," but I saw them. I was delighted to read that people were rescuing them from shelters! It's impossible to tell, online, what the shelter experience has done to an animal or why it was taken to a shelter in the first place. (Shelter staff get ugly about those "irresponsible pet owners" who tick boxes on a form indicating that they can't keep the animal any reality the animal may, like "our" horrible Barnie, be unfit for keeping because it's hurt other pets or even a child. I've wondered whether beautiful Jade, the green-eyed tortie in Atlanta whose coat reminded me of Heather's, languished in a shelter because there really is a mean tortoiseshell cat somewhere and she's it.) It's always nice, though, to know that an animal has received a chance to live.

Grandma Bonnie Peters really doesn't like cookies. She tolerates Amazon and Google cookies, warily, since they work well together, but her preference would be that this web site never link to any other site that uses any cookies. She didn't like that I set up a Blogjob account. She periodically prods me to make sure that at least the cookies this site has picked up are the legitimate kind that crumble quickly. "I installed a cookie cleaner on that computer! Use it!"

"It cleans only this computer. It does nothing for readers, at all."

"At least, if the cookies you pick up give you problems, you can remove the links and warn the readers." gave this web site due notice that it was going to be using more cookies. I ran the cookie cleaner. Three Petfinder cookies failed the crumble test. So this web site no longer does Petfinder animal pictures.

Then there was Zazzle. I enjoyed Zazzle. Some of you, especially those of you who've put your cute pet pictures on coffee mugs and gift tags, enjoyed those Zazzle links too. Google does not like Zazzle. Getting Zazzle photo links onto this site was often complicated by cookie conflicts. So this web site no longer does Zazzle animal pictures either.

Readers said they loved the Petfinder and Zazzle links--but they were causing some sites' spam and cookie filters to classify this site as spam, which is disgusting. I don't use an e-mailing widget or service. You practically have to send me an e-mail to get me to send one back, and every e-mail that legitimately goes out under my name, or from my address, is individually hand-typed by me. I don't spam, but I have no control over whatever those Petfinder or Zazzle links may have allowed hackers to do.

So now animal posts have to depend on existing photos of resident cats, past or present, and one unflattering snapshot I took of a friend's dog, for eye appeal.

How bad is that, Gentle Readers? Do you want the cute photo links back here?

Should they go in a separate Blogspot blog--one that wouldn't link to my comments or e-mails, so other people's computers wouldn't tell them that I was to be blamed if they get spam?

Should they go on Twitter only, since Twitter has its own automatic relinking system just for the purpose of keeping yucky cookies or viruses from being spread when people unthinkingly share links?

Would you rather just send me some extra Tracfone minutes--it takes at least 5 minutes to upload a picture, and Tracfone minutes are obscenely overpriced if you buy fewer than 200--so I could at least post new blurry pictures of Heather, Samantha, Sydney, and other animals that are not up for adoption but are still cute? (Tracfone minutes can be purchased for cash at big-chain supermarkets, Wal-Marts, and convenience stores everywhere, on cards, and mailed to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City, Virginia, 24251-0322. A Gopro camera would also be appreciated, if you get a chance to mention it to Santa Claus.)

Book Review: The Big Family

Title: The Big Family

Author: Viña Delmar

Date: 1961

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company

ISBN: none

Length: 375 pages

Quote: “Historically, only one incident rests on a shaky foundation. There is nothing to substantiate that John, upon learning that he would be defeated in his first attempt to win a seat in Congress, then cleverly devoted himself to Andrew Jackson’s cause. However, it is true that after the election Jackson rewarded him with the position of United States district attorney at New Orleans.”

If you look up "Vina Delmar" online, with or without the tilde or old-style double N, the first thing you'll find is that it's the name of a city in Chile. The author really was married to a man whose stage name was "Gene Delmar," although his father's name was Zimmerman, and her parents really had named her Alvina. She is not remembered as a scholarly writer. Though first and best known for smutty novels and dramas (her first book was actually called Bad Girl), later on in life she wrote several family-friendly, relatively clean historical novels, only mildly Hollywooded-up. The Big Family is one of those.

I’ve written some harsh reviews of “family saga” novels about fictional families of unpleasant people; The Big Family is my kind of “family saga” novel. It’s about a real family, the descendants of Jane Mackenzie and John Slidell of New York, several of whom really did achieve distinction. John Slidell, Junior, advanced from being a district attorney at New Orleans to being a U.S. Senator for Louisiana. Jane Slidell was married to Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan. Alexander Mackenzie, John’s and Jane’s brother who chose to use the name of his mother’s (much richer) family, also commanded a ship, though not quite so successfully as Perry.

History has spared the Slidells from any documentation of some of the less impressive events in the family saga. These events Delmar has filled in, not always with the most felicitous results.

John Slidell, Senior, was a soap-boiler’s son with nothing to recommend him to the wealthy Mackenzies. He didn’t know who his grandparents had been, or, when the question arose, whether they had been ethnically Jewish or nominally Christian--they were not, in any case, religious. How did he ever marry into that family? A scenario that was not uncommon, in the nineteenth century, was the rich girl who had been deliberately kept so “innocent” of the facts of life that she didn’t realize that one of the stupid, childish gross-out games a boy friend proposed could lead to pregnancy; sometimes, by way of punishment, she was ordered to marry the boy. Another possibility, suggested by old portraits, was that Jane Mackenzie was considered so unattractive that she thought she had to marry “down” or not at all. Another possibility, suggested by the corresponding point in this reviewer’s family history, is that some rich American parents were taking democracy very seriously and thought it was fantastic for an heiress to marry a self-made man. All of those things really happened but Delmar ignores these possibilities and spins a 1950s movie romance for the couple, where a hormone surge leads straight to a happy-ever-after marriage. There was no need for that. The story is really about the next generation, and could just as well have started with the known facts of Jane Slidell’s marriage to her brother’s superior officer.

Delmar also admits having filled in some of the details of Senator Slidell’s early life in what seems to have been the most sympathetic way, and used an unverified legend about his daughter’s old age to wrap up the story. John Slidell was always, to put it mildly, a controversial politician. His alliance with Andrew Jackson may well have been based on similarities of character, and Jackson’s readiness to balance the budget by cutting it, as well as his loyalty to an unpopular wife, were admired (and still are). Slidell probably wasn’t all bad. He was not, however, the fiscally conservative egalitarian Jackson had been. About a politician remembered for his associations with James Buchanan, with slavery, and with the doomed Confederate Cause, it’s hard to find good things to say. Delmar tries.

I don’t know why she doesn’t turn to the Congressional Record for pro-Slidell material; whether she thought that would be too wonky for a novel, or whether the Congressional Record does not in fact record anything Delmar thought would work as pro-Slidell material. I suspect the latter.

The adventures of the naval officers in the family, however, were abundantly documented and are good stories. Those stories are told in a way that addresses adults not children, but won’t embarrass the adults if the children happen to try reading this book, and may actually appeal to the children. Perry succeeds by studying a situation and thinking creatively about the constraints of the problem set before him; Mackenzie doesn’t succeed so much as he survives by being fair and decent enough that one of the men who’ve plotted to rob and kill him feels obliged to warn him.

If you like family stories with ambitious, glamorous, human but not vile characters who owe at least some of their success to talent and effort as well as family connections, The Big Family is for you. It's available (for now) at the standard price of $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen; one more book of this size, and perhaps one or two smaller ones, would fit into one $5 package.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tim Kaine Documents Meeting Mark Warner and Two Young Veterans

From U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA):

Dear Friend,
Senator Mark Warner and I welcomed Virginia’s veterans to Washington, D.C. last week for coffee, donuts, and a conversation about the issues that matter most to them. We promised to continue our work in the Senate to increase job opportunities for veterans, expand access to health care, and improve the VA.
It was great to see so many of our brave heroes and I look forward to continuing these discussions with them as I travel throughout Virginia.
" [nice signature graphic]

Book Review: Cunning of the Mountain Man

Title: Cunning of the Mountain Man

Author: William W. Johnstone

Date: 1996

Publisher: Kensington

ISBN: none

Length: 315 pages

Quote: “‘Smoke Jensen camped here last night...Then he rode out to the west early this morning.’ He was wrong, but he didn’t know it yet.”

Ah, the code of the Old West as enshrined in paperback novels, where nice guys are always having to shoot it out with bad guys and somehow the nice guys always win.

In this installment of the Mountain Man series, a whole gang of evil land speculators want to blame the improbable Smoke Jensen for the murders of as many as possible of some ranchers who just happened to have signed deeds transferring property rights to them. To get those signatures the baddies think nothing of torturing or killing children; one sub-gang of them are pedophiles as well. Jensen has found it necessary to kill enough evildoers, in earlier books, that he doesn’t even bother carving notches on his .44, although he likes being kind when he can. Many baddies will bite the dust in this story. Jensen will even personally beat up an especially despicable baddie before killing him. However this book differs from some other books in the series by featuring more pranks Jensen plays to stall for time, improve the odds, and give readers a laugh at his enemies’ expense.

Whether he vents another sort of feelings is left to the reader’s imagination. A young, pretty widow, who just happens to have enough sense of justice to challenge the claim that Jensen killed her husband, frankly lusts after his body. Jensen heads her off with a very proper speech about his love for his wife. An ideal nineteenth century hero would have actually slept alone and remained faithful to his wife. Far too many real nineteenth century people slept together, in situations like this, and never mentioned it. The novel can be read either way.

Few women ever liked this kind of thing. I’m not among the few. I’m too conscious that The West Was Won by an unjust, immoral war. Never mind that several Cherokee and Iroquois people agreed with European immigrants that the native population of the West were inferior, degenerate barbarians. Never mind that some aspects of some of all of the cultures involved were degenerate. And never mind that, in Cunning of the Mountain Man, Johnstone tries to ameliorate the ugly facts by confiding to us that Jensen privately admires the Apaches’ “harmony with the land.” Jensen is an anachronism anyway, but warbling about “harmony with the land” was a twentieth century thing. I enjoy the scenery in "western" movies and TV shows, but the stories? Strictly for guys.

However, those who like paperback “westerns” agree that Johnstone writes them well. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief in Jensen’s luck and grant Jensen a right to kill about twenty (I’m not inclined to go back and count) bad guys, in this book, you’ll probably enjoy Cunning of the Mountain Man.

This book has gone into the collector price zone. To buy it here, send $10 per copy + $5 per package + $1 if paying online to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen. (The post office collects its own "surcharge" on U.S. postal money orders and envelopes; Paypal makes online sellers do it.) You can get copies cheaper on Amazon, or (maybe) at a charity sale organized by people who don't look up the market value of "westerns," but if you buy it here you could probably add seven more paperbacks of this size to one $5 package, which might make our price more competitive. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bad Poetry: Tea Party Forever

(Status update: I was seriously contemplating a post about how long it's taken to receive the advance payment for my Bible study book when that payment was delivered to me, here in the cafe, by someone who was obviously afraid I was going to mention some things I've just now decided not to mention. For the first time this year my weekly income has reached a figure--$135--that looks to me like an income on which a person could reasonably expect to survive, as a regular weekly income. I'll soon be reopening my post office box and paying that three months' electric bill ($48 and change). Lovely, and you still need to support this web site, which you may do with one of these options:

* Use the "donate" button in the Greeting post if it works for you (it should be visible at , always, and it has worked for some e-friends, but it does not work in my part of the world). "Donate" is what Paypal puts on buttons for web sites that don't use Paypal daily. It does not mean you have to feed the Gimmee Monster! Paypal should prompt you to add a message; you can use that to propose a book or topic you'd like to see discussed here. If for some reason you're not prompted to send the message via Paypal, feel free to send it to the e-mail address at the bottom of the screen. (This is the site processing the e-book projects. So far it seems to be the most efficient of these writing sites.) 

* Or mail a U.S. postal money order to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City, Virginia, 24251-0322.)

This locally funded post has been sitting in a computer file for some time now, although it's being revised and updated as it's being posted...The words "The Tea Party is dead" have been popping up in my e-mail longer than some Tea Parties I know have existed. Since there never was one, but were hundreds, of Tea Parties, some groups that used that name really have "died," as groups. Some "Tea Party" web sites are dead. Yet I still get e-mail from other Tea Parties; this web site has never used "Tea Party" as an official name, but fiscal conservatism is one thing on which all of its members have always agreed, and still do.

"Fiscal conservatism" is the correct bipartisan term. "Tea Party" was an acronym a lot of people agreed was cute and apropos in 2011. I've been challenged on this, and yes, the first Tea Party web site I found was maintained by and recommended to Democrats; no, it's no longer active. A lot of people, claiming disagreement and/or embarrassment with other Tea Parties, are back in the Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian Parties, identified there as fiscal conservatives. No Tea Party was ever an organized national party; most Tea Parties had no direct connections to the others, many never were on speaking terms, and many lost interest in the "Tea Party" movement as such. Many Tea Parties were not and have not become activists; many individuals who identified with Tea Parties in 2011 obviously had no idea what long-term, serious activism means. I don't give a flyin' flip whether people want to preserve the "Tea Party" name (this web site will, but other things I do in cyberspace don't use it). I do try to encourage people to remain active in support of fiscal conservatism.

This web site is still reminding Republicans: Fiscal conservatives are a majority, an especially pronounced majority among people who read current nonfiction. Fiscal conservatives agree that Americans are Taxed Enough Already. Fiscal conservatives, sometimes identified as the T.E.A. Party, are found in all of the major political parties. They disagree on other matters (and yes, some of them even quibble with the current Republican tax compromise, although the position of this web site is that @RepMGriffith should save some time and money by accepting it for this year and move on to a better, tighter budget next year). They agree that the United States needs to break the habit of supporting feel-good, tax-and-spend policies. 

Fiscal conservatives are not necessarily Republicans. Some of them are positively flaming "liberals" on some "social" issues. This web site generally avoids supporting the homosexual lobby as such, but I think we all know more about Gary Johnson and Peter Thiel than some of us wanted to know. We respect their fiscal conservatism in any case. We are we, and they are they.

This web site has no foreign policy and takes neither side in any conflict between foreign countries. This web site supports its own country's military policy to the extent that we want to avoid giving aid and comfort to our official enemies during war. This web site does not really approve of any war. This web site concedes that people like Hitler need killing, but suspects that, even in the case of Hitler, if the right people had set their minds to it sooner they would very likely have found a way to deal with him without killing all those decent human beings first. This web site's main concern about immigration is that illegal immigrants won't find what they're looking for, if they sneak into the United States, and should try to work online from home.

Some Tea Party groups we respect are very concerned about immigration or other foreign policy issues. This web site has displayed some of their arguments, but we are we, and they are they.

This web site is not especially concerned with the personal choices other people make. Well, actually, this web site is mostly written by an aunt who wants to recommend the best kind of personal choices to The Nephews, but this web site does not think public policy needs to add extra punishments to what nature dishes out for making personal choices. People who sleep around pick up nasty diseases, and people who don't walk become obese, and people who don't buy into insurance plans have to pay their own bills, and the best way government can help is to let nature run its course.

Some of our Tea Party and Republican contacts are very concerned about issues like abortion. We are we, and they are they. 

(Though we will agree with those who say that Alabama's Candidate Jones, who supports abortion as the "choice" to be urged upon pregnant teenagers, seems more likely to hurt those not-so-little-any-more girls we love than is Candidate Moore, who apparently dated teenagers for more years than a "more likely to succeed" young man would have done, and probably bored and/or disgusted and/or offended some young girls, but is not even being accused of having physically hurt any young girls...Women who've had surgical, spontaneous, or hormone-pill-induced abortion agree that it hurts, Mr. Jones. Some correspondents are expressing a wish that you could only experience what they did, Mr. Jones. And no, this web site does not think what I can see of your campaign looks less embarrassing to Virginia gentlemen than Judge Moore's campaign, as of today, Mr. Jones. Probably "women's issues" should be left to women.)

This web site actively deplores race prejudice, debunks ethnic stereotypes, and supports the positive contributions of members of groups that have been victims of bigotry. Ethnic (or other group) pride, and positive bias (as in the self-evident truth that your own grandchildren are the cutest and cleverest the world has ever seen), are different things from bigotry. This web site loathes bigotry. This web site celebrates the diversity of fiscal conservatives. This web site ridicules the bigotry of  ignorant left-wingers who claim that fiscal conservatives have ever had anything to do with Germany's Nazional Sozialist party—socialism being what fiscal conservatives do not want. (Some fiscal conservatives sympathize with the socialist ideals of the Christian Left; fiscal conservatives believe those ideals can be better served by different means.)

Some Tea Parties we respect think it's most helpful not to mention “race” at all. When a consideration of the available evidence shows that this is because they grew up with a single solid racial identity and live in an ethnically homogenous community with others like themselves, but that that community is not bigoted or exclusive, I respect that decision. Grandma Bonnie Peters is White and can credibly write in a way that presupposes that everyone else is White; that's true for many older, rural, and small town Americans. It's not true for me. I'm biracial and spent much of my formative years in the more multiethnic parts of a majority-Black city. I intended, and would like, for this web site to contain more of GBP's vanilla content than it does, but she is she and I am I.

Most of the juvenile social media flamewars that can make social media sites off-putting to visitors are pure bluffing as adolescents go through hormone surges. Kids say and write things like “We all hate Brooklyn, the armpit of the universe” when they mean “That new kid from Brooklyn needs to prove himself if he wants to be part of our crowd.” The strategy of this web site is generally to ignore flamewars and reward the kids with attention if and when they post something of interest to adults.

I do see conservative White people reacting to left-wing verbiage with “What about White history? What about White pride? What about my own (Southern) State?” The position of this web site is that all of us can learn from the study of all human history, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to study your own ancestors first, or be proud of them. All mentally healthy individuals are proud of their own kind; even Koko the gorilla affirmed “Fine animal gorilla.” English, Swedish, Polish are fine things to be.

I often see reports that White people are objecting to removing material with which they identify from history and literature books or public displays. That is not hate. It's rude, and it's aggravating problems, to pretend that “My ancestors were interesting and historically significant” has anything to do with “I hate you,” or even with “I despise you.” It's downright stupid to pretend that "Moving big, expensive objects on which previous generations spent a lot of money would waste a lot of money" has anything to do with "I hate you" or "I despise you." Money that is being wasted to change church windows or move statues could be used to improve inner city schools! What actual observation of the Tea Party and conservative Republican community showed, in 2016, was that a lot of people who wave Confederate flags also supported candidates Ted Cruz and Ben if an “us against them” thought process is going on, it's defined by ideas rather than ethnicity. Or regional bias. Or even religious bias--and that is progress.

The position of this web site with regard to wary, what-about-me White-type conservatives is generally sympathetic. History is not a narrow little field that has to be taught the way Mrs. Snodgrass taught my fifth grade history class or not at all. History is a vast field people can explore for pleasure and profit all through their lives, and perhaps the best thing a fifth grade history class can do is give the kids the idea that more good stories are still waiting for them. There's no such thing as too many stories.

Real haters are perhaps as likely to feel that they're Taxed Enough Already as anybody else is, but they have no place in the Tea Party or in any other “party.” Well, they don't; they are party-poopers. Some of them are just very angry people who can benefit from backing away from public work and spending some time working through their anger, and some of them are violent criminals who belong behind bars. 

One thing conservatives, right-wingers, and libertarians have always had in common is a belief in law and order. Right-wingers at least talk extremely hard lines on crime. If anybody out there who knows how to read does want to hate and harm other people, and left-wing stereotypes have given you the idea that “conservative” web sites are a safe space for you, they have misled you. The main difference between “liberal” and “conservative” Americans' reactions to Nazis is that “liberals” may think they're supposed to convert Nazis, whereas “conservatives” favor capital punishment. Clearly haters should go and infest the Left if they want to live. There are still a few old veterans out there who went to Germany, as my father did, in order to act out their feelings about Nazis, and when they got there they found more pitiful little widows and orphans and old people than real Nazis, and what they did in Germany was act like the nice guys they really were--but they are very old by now, and American "neo-Nazis" should be very wary about triggering any residual feelings they may have.

Only just recently I saw some documentation of who the alleged “right-wing” haters are, who claim to represent Southerners, conservatives, and/or “the” Tea Party. Wow! They exist! They don't seem very Southern, conservative, or Christian to me. David Duke's claim on Louisiana is based, I have heard, on his having gumbo for brains (if not literally true, that explanation is at least abundantly documented), while that guy from Alaska obviously doesn't even know which end of a map is up. Anyway the alleged “Uniters of the Right” were NONE OF OURS. Who invited those characters into Virginia, I don't know; I trust that person has learned to investigate his or her e-friends more carefully before inviting them here, now.

Anyway, this song came to me as I was working a flea market one day, inducing the sort of smile that makes people wonder what I'd been up to. In my mind the song sang itself in a voice that belonged to something born about 2011—this web site itself:

I'm a little Tea Party, staunch and stout.
When I take in lots of data, then I spout.
When I get all steamed up, then I shout:
Vote your conscience and throw the cheaters out!

Book Review: Yardbird Myers

Title: Yardbird Myers

Author: Martin L. Myers

Date: 1944

Publisher: Dorrance

ISBN: none

Length: 230 pages

Quote: “I have learned...that a real Marine knows there is nothing on this earth as great as being a ‘Leatherneck.’”

In 1944, this comic novel about boot camp was part of the War Effort. Myers set out to communicate to young people that, although the purpose of boot camp is to turn fun-loving kids into tough soldiers by exposing them to as much of all kinds of stress as can be arranged, the ones who complete Basic Training can be proud. He did this with a reminiscence about the Basic Training experience of “Yardbird Myers, the Fouled-Up Marine,” who among other things spends a whole afternoon re-cleaning his rifle before it occurs to him to remove a dab of grease from the head of a screw.

Part of the comic effect comes from an early twentieth century tradition in which writers worked hard to communicate that a character was using words that most publishers just refused to print. Many early twentieth century speakers of English actually did use phrases like “son of a feminine canine” to express a milder degree of anger, or anger defused with humor. Then again, part of the ongoing stress tolerance test in boot camp was having to listen to a lot of fighting words from people the recruits weren’t allowed to fight.

In 1944 vaccination was a less exact science than it is today. The risk-benefit analysis of some vaccines that is still going on was still being applied to the whole idea of vaccination. Some vaccines in use in 1944 are no longer in use because they proved to do more harm than good. Children often weren’t vaccinated--for health reasons. Another part of the stress of boot camp was that, whether a recruit had had any vaccinations in childhood or none, he got all of them as a “boot.” “After each ‘shot,’ our [drill sergeant] gave us a nice work-out on the drill field for an hour or two...On minute you were standing at attention just as ‘chipper’ as could be and the next minute you would feel yourself swaying gently back and forth and then the first thing you knew your face hit the ‘deck’” in a reaction to this deliberate challenge of the immune system. Apart from the basic immune reaction to each vaccination, most soldiers thought they were “good as new” after the course. In historical fact, some of those vaccines did permanent damage to some bodies.

Then of course there’s the basic academic, mechanical, and physical training...As a child I remember looking at my uncle’s boot camp “yearbook.” Dad hadn’t taken to Army life or saved a photo album of his time in boot camp, but his younger brother was a career recruiting sergeant. I saw pictures of Big Kids running, climbing, doing stunts on structures of bars much more interesting than the little “monkey bars” occasionally offered to children, and I remember thinking, “That looks like fun! I want to do that, too, when I grow up.” The yearbook didn’t show the frantic, preparation-for-mortal-combat pace at which the exercises were done, or the supervisors watching the recruits with loaded weapons. It was a few years before adults explained to me that, although in boot camp those Big Kids learned to do all the stunts Little Kids like me were seldom even allowed to try, the learning process was meant to be anything but fun.

That’s the point Myers makes, repeatedly, for the middle school or high school boy readers to whom this book was primarily addressed. “Drill,” a sort of sex-free alternative to line dancing in which kids do synchronized body movements to march music, was something Little Kids did for fun (and some still do). Marine boot camp drill exercises were different, “an important part of the training for...when you get into the thick of” trench warfare. “[S]ome guy...failed to execute the movement and plunged headlong into the man in front of him... ‘Somebody is gonna get killed doing ‘to the rear march’ before you guys get wise...I’m gonna have you fix bayonets...if you don’t wake up then, you’ll get your blasted heads cut off.’ The D.I. never carried out that threat...but...he sure had us plenty scared.”

Some things Myers describes were criticized, and changed, over the years. Because “Suzie Rotten,” the prototypical disease-ridden hooker on a mission to infect enemy soldiers, was a real threat, Myers says that the Real Marine “is respectful to good women, but hates the fast and loose type with a vengeance.” I’ve read other things about how Marines, especially, were trained to identify just about any woman outside the immediate family of anyone present as Suzie Rotten, and how deliberate training to detest Suzie and all her ways led to confusion when young men realized that not only their wives and daughters but even their mothers had probably thought about sex. One thing that made changes necessary was the spread of AIDS in the 1980s; Suzie Rotten, our military learned fast, could be male.

It seems necessary here to mention something an editor got wrong with a book review I wrote for Associated Content long ago. Reviewing a work of feminist humor that men weren’t meant to like (Mary Daly’s Wickedary) I’d mentioned that even in the 1960s homosexual men had been attracted to military men. My Significant Other, a macho military type, said that was when he was taught to turn homosexual admirers away, laughing, with the line (uttered woefully) “I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body!” A recognizably, not tediously, homosexual male e-friend commented on that review, “I’d like to meet him.” I wasn’t sure what the e-friend intended to say—that he liked being rejected? that he was persistent? that he wanted to see whether a sixty-year-old man, however macho, still had any use for that joke?—until I reread the article. The AC editor had changed a joke into the cliché, “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body,” which of course was not what the U.S. Army found useful to deflect homosexual admirers. Obviously the homosexual reader just wanted to know how it might have been possible to make that line work as described! I don’t believe any man I’ve ever dated has ever claimed to be a woman trapped in a man’s body. Before Lyme Disease, however, my Significant Other was competent at wearing “low top” boots and at several other Things Lesbians Do.

Anyway—that line about women is all Myers has to say about sex. Really? A lot of males in their twenties and late teens...don’t even talk about sex? If readers doubt that that’s literally true, we can at least understand how it might be useful. During any period of abstinence, the less you talk or think about what you’re abstaining from, generally, the better.

Myers does, however, talk about gender roles. In 1944 some people were still infatuated with the old French Socialist notion that women might be conditioned to prefer being “angels in the home” to having any civil rights or money of their own, although women were already dismissing this notion as something that happens when people ingest too much cheese and wine. Men were being told that cooking and cleaning were beneath them. Spoiled sons of “career homemaker” mothers ran smack up against military reality: soldiers do their own cleaning. “First, you fill your bucket about three-fourths full of water. Then you dump your clothes in and let them soak...pull out a piece of clothing, lay it flat on the cement rack, rub the bar of soap over it a few times and then manhandle it with the brush.” One of the boots says, “Some of the guys say that when they get out of here they’re going to get a gallon of whiskey...the first thing I’m going to do is to hunt me up a good laundry woman,”  but they all become independent, self-cleaning, Real Men in the end.

And in the we have a pleasant little book about a part of contemporary reality that was, in reality, unpleasant. Every nation needs a well trained, well equipped army, and although a sound biblical case can be made that it’s immoral (and stupid) to send anyone into combat without confirming that he’s willing to die for his country, a sound case can also be made that all young people’s education should include some level of military training. (Even if they don’t get into the actual military service, yes. The U.S. Army doesn’t have to cater to food intolerances or work around odd religious rules in order to defend the country. Let’s hope it never does. That does not, however, mean that young people who have food intolerances or live according to odd religious rules can’t benefit from some level of basic training.)

The perennial question arises: But when we-as-a-nation train and equip armed forces, doesn’t that create pressure to justify the expense of those armed forces by fighting wars?

The answer: Switzerland has had an army and avoided using its army to fight wars for hundreds of years.We in these United States,too, have at least an ideal of “Don’t start a fight, but don’t lose one.” But in 1944 nobody wanted to pursue the question of how the United States might, in this one way, be more like Switzerland.

Yardbird Myers has become a collector's item, and although I'm willing to sell the copy I physically own for less in cash, under current conditions a copy sold through this web site will cost $20 + $5 per package + $1 per e-payment. (Sometimes when I post collector prices here, readers are motivated to offer books they own on Amazon for less...yes, if this web site gave a price that exceeds the current price on Amazon by more than $5, in the past, and you want to buy a cheaper copy or reprint, salolianigodagewi @ yahoo is willing to negotiate.)