Monday, December 31, 2007

Can vegetables! First come first serve!

Not to mention license daycare.

This seems to be the latest fad mangling of English sweeping America. Am I imagining that at one time stores advertised canned vegetables? That daycare was licensed? That those who came first were served first? What happened to the final ed?

And do supermarkets have a special aisle for can't vegetables?

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Is a word I would gladly see removed from the English language. Of course that would mean the elimination of disrespect as well.

The word has its uses, but it's so often misused as a rhetorical club that the bad outweighs the good, and we'd be better off without it. What I mean by "rhetorical club" is that people use the word to keep you from attacking silly people or silly ideas.

The silly ideas tend to be religious ones - specifically, the standard, accepted religious institutions. So you can advocate something real, such as evolution, or something made up, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and idiots all over will have no problem attacking you for it. But if you dare to sneer even slightly at Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and so on, you'll be sternly upbraided and lectured about how important it is to respect the beliefs of others. Or they'll murder you. Which isn't very respectful on their part.

The silly ideas may also be ethnic folkways. If you jump up and down ten times at noon every day, moaning "Groo!" with each jump, you're an obsessive-compulsive weirdo and an eye should be kept on you. If I do it because it's a custom of my people and dates back a thousand years, you'd better not disrespect my culture by saying anything negative about my jumping.

The silly people tend to be George Dubya Bush, and occasionally other, equally revolting Republicans. During the Clinton presidency, Republicans felt free to spout the most outrageous, scurrilous, lying nonsense about Bill Clinton, but during the 2000 election, when someone (I think it was Bill Clinton, in fact) dared to question Dubya, Republicans screamed in falsetto and sought their fainting couches, while protesting that the questioner was being disrespectful.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I have this week off, and I'm using the time to write a synopsis of Time and the Soldier for an agent who asked for a partial. It's snowing like mad outside. And then Leonore got cabin fever.

So we set out sloooowly on the snowy, icy street, headed for the only Middle East restaurant we could find that's open today. Just south of our house, the street curves to the left through a right angle. As I was approaching that curve slooooowly, an SUV came barreling along from the other direction. I could see that it wouldn't make the curve, so I stopped and waited to see how serious the disaster would be. The SUV driver realized she was in trouble partway through the curve. She apparently stepped on the brakes, making matters worse. We sat there and time sloooooowed down as we watched the SUV sliding toward us. I was wondering whether she'd pass in front of us and into one of the houses, or if she'd manage to make it past us on the left. Neither. She slid into us.

The damage was minor, but of course we had to wait for the police. The police car made a wrong turn on its way and got stuck in the snow a couple of blocks away. After an hour or so, two more police cars showed up to help get the first one out. (Some neighbors and I offered to push the first car out, but the policewoman driving it refused.) Sort of amusing, in retrospect.

Eventually it was all ironed out and we got our lamb shank and hummus and all that stuff. And now we're back, and it's still snowing like mad. I wish I'd stayed at home.

And what have we learned from this, kids? How about, when it's snowy and the streets are icy, always drive sloooooowly, especially around curves. Yes, I do believe that we did learn that. Rather, that the other driver learned it, since I already knew that.

Friday, December 21, 2007

David's Definitions for February '08


(Will appear in the February 2008 issue of Community News

Those of us who are old enough remember when frock was used to refer to a woman's dress. It's a much older word than that, going back at least to the 14th century. In those days, it could mean any item of clothing, for men or women, that was long, loose, and had full sleeves. Over the centuries, frock was applied to various types of clothing, from women's dresses to men's frock coats to various items of sailor's clothing. The clothing worn by a priest was called a frock. If a priest was thrown out of the priesthood, he had to give up his priestly clothes, and he was said to have been defrocked. Because the robes worn by judges are commonly believed to have evolved from the clothing of priests, a judge who is expelled from the bench is also said to be defrocked.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

They Really Are Illegal Aliens

It’s hard to keep up with the phrases we leftists are supposed to avoid. The Secret Liberal Euphemisms List keeps growing, and terms we’ve been using for years suddenly get added to it. Recently, the word went out (Memo #3322745A-32) from Secret Leftwing Headquarters that we shouldn’t refer to illegal aliens because NO ONE IS ILLEGAL!

Yeah, but verbal shorthand is common and awfully convenient. Moreover, the substitutes that are proposed for the terms on that list are usually awkward, ungainly, unaesthetic, and ill chosen. For example, some prefer undocumented immigrant to illegal alien. But let’s say that someone who is in this country without the proper legal permission is caught and is handed a card stamped ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT and ordered to have it on him at all times while he’s being processed for deportation. Then he’d be a documented immigrant! But also still an illegal alien. (I don’t think such cards exist, but it’s depressingly easy to imagine the dweebs at Homeland Security inventing them.)

(Admittedly, one problem with my otherwise stunningly logical and admirable position is the presence of xenophobic jerks among us - many of them on my side of the political spectrum. Hack, ptuie. There: I lob a gob of sputum at them. I suppose that such people are unaware that there was no such thing as an undocumented immigrant or illegal alien before about 80 years ago. Odds are their own ancestors entered this country without any kind of papers. Before the 1920s eruption of xenophobia and racism – a reaction, I assume, to a wave of post-WWI immigration – anyone who wanted to come to America simply came. Zillions did, and few were turned away. But who expects logic and historical awareness from xenophobic jerks? More to the point, I refuse to stop using a logical and accurate and convenient phrase because it’s misused by a bunch of xenophobic jerks. I’m not going to let them control me or define the terms of the discourse.)

Some of the euphemisms on the Secret Liberal Euphemisms List are unintentionally insulting or degrading. Wheelchair user, for example. That implies that people in wheelchairs are there by choice and because they like having to use wheelchairs to get around. Sure they do.

Fortunately, not all of the euphemisms on that list catch on. Years ago, there was a movement not only to ditch the word disabled (that succeeded, apparently) but also to label the rest of us temporarily abled (didn't succeed). Well, I’m doing my best to keep myself permanently abled, and I also intend to permanently use the term illegal alien.

If I were feeling pugnacious, I might even go so far as to add that I speak as a legal immigrant and also as a white African-American.

Friday, December 14, 2007

He Made a Mistake

Some politician just resigned from office because an affair he had was exposed. (He's married, and so is the woman.) In his resignation, he referred to his "mistake".

Man, I'm sick of deliberate, vile acts being referred to as mistakes. Sometimes it's what amounts to treason, as in the case Iran-Contra. In that case, Ronald Reagan, that slimy bastard, even pushed it all off into the fuzzy world of the passive voice: "Mistakes were made." More often, "mistake" is used to refer to a personal transgression - cheating on one's spouse or robbing a Seven Eleven. Relatives and supporters will even tell us that the slimeball in question "has learned from his mistakes."

Well, no. He hasn't. Not if he's still calling his evil actions "mistakes".

A mistake is an oversight, like dropping a letter in the mailbox without having put a stamp on it. Or it can be an action based on misinformation, like showing up at the theater on the wrong day or time because you saw an out-of-date showtime listing. "Mistake" doesn't apply to walking into a convenience store with a gun in your pocket. And you don't slip your willy into someone else's receptacle, or vice versa, by mistake. You do it on purpose, usually with planning or at least a few minutes of foreknowlege, and always, unless you're astonishingly stupid, with full knowledge of the terrible injury you're doing.

But maybe it depends on who's evaluating the actions. Relatives and friends of the holdup man or cheater may be willing to minimize the transgression as a mistake. Republicans are remarkably willing to excuse the actions of Republican officeholders.

Friday, December 07, 2007

That Night Is Not Good

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
   -- Dylan Thomas

The topic of fearing death seems to have popped up again in atheist publications and online areas, as it does occasionally. It seems to be the conventional wisdom that a real atheist shouldn't fear death but should anticipate it with a calmness and equanimity that I find creepy. Carl Sagan while dying, supposedly told his wife that he didn't fear the death he knew was near, and his fellow atheists are supposed to admire and emulate that attitude.

Of course, just as much as anyone else, atheists fear the nasty end of life. During his agonizing final hours, the atheist Charles Darwin said to his very Christian wife, "If I could but die!" Dreading the suffering that's so common is natural enough. Where the conventional atheist position differs from the conventional monotheist one has to with the attitude toward what comes after.

The standard argument against fearing death seems to be that, since we won't exist and thus will have no consciousness of being dead, what is there to fear? How can you fear nonexistence? A couple of hundred years ago or so, Jeremy Bentham put it this way: "People who do not believe in life after death do not fear being dead, but believers fear punishment more than they hope for bliss." A century earlier, Francis Bacon said something similar: "Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other." So you see, if you don't think there are bogeymen in the dark, if in fact you think the darkness is simple oblivion, you will have no fear of it.

To which, Francis and Jeremy, I am compelled to reply, "Bullshit." And I also wonder just how many of my fellow atheists really do contemplate their own deaths with calmness and equanimity and how many dread and fear it and anticipate it with utter horror, as I do.

Now, by that I don't mean that I secretly fear that the monotheists are right and I'll find myself, after death, facing a terrible judge who will condemn me to hell for not going to weekly religious services. That's the idea behind Pascal's wager, and it's logically foolish. No, the problem is that the reasons given not to fear death miss the point: what I, and surely others, fear is precisely the loss of life. I love life and don't want it to end.

Nor does it work to say that when I'm dead I won't know that I'm not alive and therefore I won't regret not being alive. The point is that I know about it now, and the anticipation of life ending fills me with horror now. I can't understand why anyone who loves life doesn't feel the same way. The light is so beautiful. How can you not rage against its dying? We should all see death as an affront.

Oh, and it's also not good enough to say that we'll live on through the fond memories of those we've touched. That's nice, but I want to be there to keep interacting with them. I'm also not comforted by the hope that I'll live on in some way via some general effect on the world. Of course I'd like to think that people will be reading my written works far into the future, but even if that happens, that won't change the fact that I won't be there to enjoy it. I love the way Woody Allen put it: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

This isn't a feeling that's come over me with advancing age. I've felt this way since I first understood mortality and realized that it applied to me. Immortality in various guises shows up in my fiction from the earliest stuff I wrote. It's been an obsession of mine for decades. Actually, I shouldn't call it an obsession. It's a sign of mental health. After all, I'm the only me I've got!

Another argument I've heard, what you could call the Just Who Do You Think You Are argument, says that death is natural and applies to everyone. Live your life and get out of the way. What makes you so important? Why should you keep on living and using up resources? That is in effect an argument for immediate suicide. It's certainly an argument against modern medicine and tornado warning systems. Emphasize the naturalness of death and the position becomes an argument against clothing, houses, agriculture, eyeglasses, and so on.

Of course, people say, we all want to protect ourselves against premature death. But what constitutes a premature death? Even putting aside murder, accident, and disease, we can expect longer lives and a less unpleasant old age than people in Darwin's or Bentham's or Bacon's times. Based on family history and my own health, I can probably expect to live into my nineties, possibly even to 100. If tomorrow medical science were to come up with a daily pill that extended that by ten years of mentally vigorous life, would any fellow atheist tell me it would be wrong for me take it? What if next year the pill were improved so that it added twenty years instead of ten? And then Version 3.0 added 30 years, and so on. At what magical point would the extension of life become unnatural or in some other way undesirable? Choosing such a point would be magical thinking, to my mind.

Well, if you feel obligated to die in order to free up resources for future generations, then go right ahead. As for me, I want that magic pill, and I want it now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Time for Sherlock Holmes Pages Updated

It's only taken ... a few years.

I've updated my Web site pages dealing with my Holmes pastiche Time for Sherlock Holmes with cover images and lots of frightfully amusing background information. Well, background information, anyway.

It's here.