Friday, December 28, 2012

Occasional as a Heckler's Heckler

Oh go on then – heckle!
I love a good debate. Mrs Occasional generally can’t stand them. We have to agree to differ.
For me, the quickness of repartee and the swift put-down from either side makes for stimulating entertainment, even if both sides ultimately remain convinced of their original positions.
When I lived in London I used to visit what was called Speakers Corner. This was just by Marble Arch, where criminals had been executed a few hundred years before. Here, people of all persuasions – generally extreme – could stand on a soap box (literally) and sound forth. At the time, only talk of outright treason was banned. The crowds would “debate” with the speakers. There were political views from extreme right and left, wild-eyed evangelists predicting dire destinies for the boisterous crowd, an old guy tattooed from head to foot who claimed to have been Al Capone’s driver, and a sallow faced man with bad teeth who was adamant that the entire world’s sexual depravity was caused through eating too many beans. For a teenager, this was all good free entertainment.
It couldn’t really be called debate by any stretch of the imagination, but one of our favorites was the yodelling woman. She was short, rotund, of indeterminate age, and she just went from audience to audience and – well – yodelled. Nothing could be guaranteed to put an evangelist off his text quicker than the yodelling woman. Having reduced one to a gibbering wreck threatening hell and damnation, she would move on – and the bulk of the crowd with her – to see what the fate of the United Workers Liberation speaker would be. It would be similar.
You'd better not Say That Again!
Sometimes though, it is the quick witted put-down that stays in the mind. I remember at a folk festival listening to an earnest singer-songwriter from a remote Canadian fishing village. After one intense ditty on the human condition, he explained how, where he came from, there were only two choices – to become a musician or a fisherman... A drunken voice called out from the back – “So which did you choose?” I think “nonplussed” is the best word to describe the reaction.
Sometimes it works the other way, when a heckler is upstaged by the response. Back in the late 1960s when Britain was struggling with Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence for what was then called Rhodesia, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was explaining at a televised meeting what they were trying to do for the black majority. An angry voice cried out from the crowd “All you’re interested in is a load of ***** savages!” Quick as a flash, Wilson shot back on primetime TV – “Yes, and we even allow them into our meetings”.  You could almost hear the sound of horrible great skid marks as the heckler was silenced.
Today, we are probably all conditioned to live debate on TV from chat shows, including the bear-baiting kind associated with USA’s Jerry Springer or UK’s Jeremy Kyle. Back in the 60s the style was pioneered in Britain by a very young David Frost. They would get someone controversial into the studio for an interview, and fill the audience with their opponents. The armchair audience would settle back in comfort at home to watch the carnage. Only sometimes there were surprises.
Wafting back through the decades was a classic example featuring Sir Oswald Moseley. Moseley was a controversial figure in British history; he led the British Fascist party in the 1930s, his followers wore black-shirts, and his oratorical style owed a great deal to Hitler and Mussolini, as did his politics. He was locked up by the British authorities for the duration of the war. But here he was in the 1960s, a totally unrepentant old man who was still embroiled in far right politics. So the David Frost program loaded the audience with what could only be described as a busload of ardent Zionists. Historically, they had every good reason to hate everything Sir Oswald stood for. It should have been a TV massacre, what with Frost at his young incisive best. Only, for this viewer, it didn’t turn out that way.
Moseley dodged and parried with skill, and kept his cool, while the audience got increasingly heated, and Frost made the mistake for the era of not even attempting to appear fair and even-handed as interlocutor and moderator. One memorable moment – someone in the audience had been shrieking abuse at Moseley, and Frost’s attempts to silence them had fallen on deaf ears. Moseley turned full face to the camera. “You asked me why we had the black-shirts in the 1930s” he said. He gave a withering smile full camera and pointed a pudgy finger straight into it – “it was to throw people like you out of our meetings!” There was a shriek of anguish and rage, and the program ended with Moseley sitting Buddha like and serene while chaos continued around him. I hold no truck with Moseley’s views, but from a debating point of view, on live TV, he knew how to use the media – even better than Frost did at the time in my estimation.
Perhaps the debate I enjoyed most of all was a religious one. A member of the religious group I support was once invited to a live TV debate to represent their views before an audience made up entirely of theologians. The location was at a theological college in a university city. The program was fittingly called “Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” He was to explain his beliefs, and then defend himself from the combined efforts of the leading lights of the established Church.
The “lions” started off quite condescending and dismissive, but as “Daniel” got them down to specifics, it got rather interesting. He invited his audience to turn up and read a verse in Matthew 24 with him. There was a rustle of embarrassment – none of the theologians making up the audience had actually brought a Bible with them. So Daniel, laboring the point quite effectively, produced a stack of Bibles and helpfully offered to hand them out to the audience. Their condescending manner evaporated into something a lot testier as the debate progressed – Daniel reading verse after verse direct and his audience, wrong-footed, trying to quote from memory. It ended with the final comment Daniel was allowed (quoting from memory) – after extolling how his own faith had given him a purpose, and strengthened his relationship with God, he turned on his audience – “your belief has so weakened your faith that not one of you even bothered to bring a Bible with you!” There was howl of annoyance from the assembled worthies, and the program faded out to Daniel plying them with question after question machine-gun fashion, and refusing to let them escape when they didn’t answer to his satisfaction.  Yes, a memorable program.
On a personal note, about ten years after that program, I had the experience of visiting the same theological college with a colleague to represent the same religious views in another debate. This time it was with their third year students, moderated by a couple of teachers, and no, it was not recorded. This time they had Bibles. I concentrated on history – my subject even then – and we debated the finer points of translation for key proof texts from either side. It was amicable, there was tea and cakes afterwards, and it was moderated extremely fairly by a college official. I am sure we all went away as fixed in our positions as we had been before we started. And no – there were no memorable put-downs on this occasion.
I really did behave myself for once.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Treasure Hunting

Okay, so I found this on ebay. It was listed as an albino cut square from Brazil. I was the only bidder. This isn't an albino cut square (prepaid envelope corner). And it's not from Brazil. This as the embossing proof provided to the Mexican government for a series of prepaid envelopes. This, dear hearts, is very rare. Nice huh?

The reverse embossing at top is a notation from the Paris-based printers.

The finished design is below.

Naples, Italy - Magic Lantern Slide

The Taxi

The American Exchange, seen in the background, plays a minor part in our work in progress.

Bare butt poetry

So … I’m still living in dark days. I’ve taken a lot of personal time off the last three weeks, spending most of my time in my feeted jammies, vegetating in my comfy chair. The doctor is trying a new medication. … or tried it. It didn’t exactly work out. It gave me nose bleeds. I had to stop taking it. I have a quilt soaking trying to get the blood stains out of it. I gave up on the sheet and bought a new set. 

Did I mention that I like feeted jammies? They’re snuggly, come off easily when the mood strikes and well … they’re comfy. …. Especially when my body temperature drops.

There are hazards though.

For instance, a day or so ago daughter five was following me up the stairs chattering rapid fire about a book of child’s poems. (She is still in a poetry mood. See earlier post.) She’s asking question too quickly for me to frame an answer but wants then all answered yesterday. So … she tugs on my jamma bottom. And swish! They’re around my knees, then ankles.

“Annie!” I shout.

Unabashed, she giggles. “Sorry, Mom,” she manages.

Now this wouldn’t have been so bad, except most of the rest of this household were at the foot of the stairs.

Events happened more or less in this order:

Knobby knees snickers and mildly scolds Annie while repressing snickers.

I reach for my pants which seem unaccountably resistant to my grasp.

Liz, who thinks of herself as my personal body guard, scolds Annie.

Daughter four has her hand over her mouth.

Daughter one scolds Liz for scolding Annie so harshly.

I’ve managed to get my pants up to my knees where they seem to be stuck.

Daughter three wiggles around her sisters and helps me free my pajama bottoms.  “You’re standing on them,” she says. “Here, lift your foot.”

Modesty regained, I frown. “You!” I point to knobby knees, “You’re going to buy me Chinese take out. Take some of these rude children with you.”

“I could help you up stairs,” he suggests.

“No. Go. Buy food. Take children.”

Among shouts of “I want to go!” I hear Annie say, “Mom, about the poems …”

The rude people who live in my house more or less dissipate. Annie resumes her chatter as if nothing happened, following me into my bedroom and plopping on the bed.”

“See, here,” she says, “I don’t understand why ….”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Note ...

I'm allowed to be rude and crude. It's my blog. You aren't.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This came in the mail today ...

I'm trying to complete my Bavarian postal stationary collection. Some to go for that. ... But this is a nice addition to my collection.

Snow, Desk top sex, and frustration

This post hasn't got any reference to desk-top sex, but it's an idea. ....

I’m sick, and I don’t LIKE being sick. ….

I’ve had to measure each movement and each thought by its worth, which means I’ve spent a lot of time in my comfy chair trying not to move. I’ve moved into my workroom, because I’m dizzy enough that climbing the stairs is like climbing the North Face without equipment. As I’ve said somewhere on this blog, I keep a queen bed in there for days like this. …. Except this time it’s been more than a few days.

So if you’ve gotten even minor attention from me in the last two or three weeks you should be flattered that I’ve found you important enough to respond. Sick pixies do not like to move. We molt and pout instead.

I’ve managed to teach my classes. That made things worse. One of my students came with strep, and guess who now has it.

In a fit of madness, I agreed to teach an additional class next semester. ….

I still have the strong sense that we’re missing important themes and that our research is incomplete. I don’t mean that we’re missing detail. There’s always more detail. I mean that we’re ignoring or haven’t found what motivated key players in this history. Incidental to that is an absence of documentation for the primary sects expansion into the American west. We can document a presence from the early 1870s, but what we have is so sparse that we can’t tell a connected story. Most of what I’ve found dates from after 1900, leaving a considerable gap. We know of individuals and groups in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and California – but with no really helpful details.

One brief, though really important, article comes from one of the California newspapers. It recounts C. T. Russell’s convention visit in 1904.It’s import rests in a reference to Russell’s connection to Methodists. Still, this is “iffy” because it was said in connection to a Methodist conference that occurred at same time as a Watch Tower convention, and that calls into some considerable question the statement’s value.

A newspaper notice tells us the Millennial Dawn people in Los Angeles were using the name Gospel Church (Millennial Dawn) in 1899. I can’t date this to an earlier time, though I suspect its usage is somewhat older. Within a couple of years they had renamed themselves “Millennial Dawn Readers” and somewhat later as Millennial Dawn Friends.

It snowed briefly this morning. That might have led to true depression, but it turned to rain. I’d rather it was summer. I’d rather be dressed in a skimpy bikini absorbing the sun’s heat. Maybe I’d race around the swimming pool. Maybe I’d be setting on Knobby Knee’s lap whispering things into his ear. Maybe we’d go camping for a night or two, or just sit outside all night and watch the universe spin.
This might get Anthony's attention ....
Speaking of KK, he’s going back to Salem for a week in January. Salem, Oregon, that is. Not that place that had the witches and stuff. He wants me to drive the girls down to Lincoln City and spend the rest of the week there. That depends on me feeling better and on how many school days they’d miss. The Pacific Ocean takes a dramatic turn in the winter. Watching the storm tossed waves is hypnotic. We’ll see.

I think mermaids really exist. Don’t you? But I’m sure if you kissed one, they’d taste like sushi. Besides, while being part fish they may be well schooled, they’re not particularly hygienic creatures.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

From Harry

Domestic violence. When I was a member of the local volunteer rescue squad I saw it. Our dear deputy pixie has seen it. Sadly too many of us have seen its brutality.

I wasn't expecting to see it when I arrived in the school parking lot this morning. A couple of minutes earlier and I would have witnessed the attack on one of our teachers. Her assailant had assaulted her in the parking lot. Two other teachers, a husband and wife went to her aid and struggled to stop what was happening. The assailant left, but not before battering his victim, leaving her laying in a pool of blood.

The police and ambulance had already been called when I got there. I helped with first aid. and assisted the rescue squad when they arrived on scene. Luckily none of the buses had arrived at this time, and when they did the children were unable to see what had happened.

Soon it was over. A fellow teacher, a member of our school family, was on her way to the local trauma center and the police were taking statements and gathering evidence including a large knife that thankfully was not used.

Teaching was difficult. I still, five hours later, have a hard knot in my stomach. Middle school age kids laughed and made jokes not knowing what had happened. I wanted to scream at them, but managed to remain professional.

Finally we got two bits of good news. Our collegue had a clear CAT scan and would be release later today, and her assailant has been arrested and is behind bars. The school day goes on and we can pray for a better day tomorrow.

Note from the Pixie:

Last Monday one of my students threatened me. I'm not giving details for obvious reasons. No one else witnessed it, but he is on his way out of our school. Even though I'm small, I'm perfectly capable of cooking his goose. But it's still an upsetting experience.

Update: This young man was expelled from school as of 10 pm this morning.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Re-writes are a pain in the butt

I’ve temporarily suspended work on one chapter to re-write another. Over the last few months we’ve gotten drips and drabs of things and a more complete name for one of those we mention. We lost the digital file to a crash, but I have it all as hard copy; so I’m re-typing and fact checking as I go. I needed to know what the uses of white lead were. A gentleman who was a key player for a few months in 1881 was a sales agent and partner in a company that made the stuff.

Coryton, who posts here and does magic with old photos, found interesting bits of biography for a Methodist Connexion believer. I’ve included that material. I’m still dissatisfied with the detail. I’m dissatisfied generally.

We have endless and interesting detail for the chapter that precedes this one. It explains the distribution and reaction to a small book freely circulated in the United States. We’ve found photos, not all of which we’ll use, and we’ve found significant press discussion. The chapter I’m working on discusses the book’s circulation in the United Kingdom. We have one pitiful mention of the work in Ireland. The basis for the story as it unfolds in the UK is scattered comments from a religious magazine published in the United States.
We can’t tell the story with anything like the same detail. We don’t have many names. We have one photograph. …. I don’t know how to remedy this. I know of a significant number of writers on this subject who’d just make stuff up. We don’t do that.
I am fascinated that Lewis Carroll of Alice fame had a copy of the book in his library. The Charles Dodgson (his real name) papers are not available to us. We’d have to travel to England and plow through what papers there are with no expectation of finding anything significant. But, I’d like to know why he kept the book. Dodgson’s relationship to Alice L. is not a factor in this chapter. All the pertinent diary pages and letters were destroyed by his family anyway. That reminds me of another personality in this story whose family had sequestered most of his diaries, because, so one said, their release might give him a bad name.

Some things will never be known. Though people like Edmund Gruss who wrote on the same subject as we do felt comfortable manufacturing things, we don’t. Another who made things up was Vandenberg. (My WP knew him. The relationship was frosty.) On a few occasions we explore possibilities. We limit that. And we do not present our speculations as firmly established fact. It amuses and puzzles me that “Christian” writers do that. Hatred overcomes ethics. Bearing the name of Christ does not make one Christ-like.

I do not have a happy relationship with most of these writers anyway. One can disagree with the doctrine of this group, but what one writes should be honest and based on quality research. This is almost never the case. A man using the name “Terry” makes sweeping and unfounded statements that his readers swallow without thought. I find the man dishonest. I see no value in contacting him. My writing partner knew Richard Rawe. Rawe was an accumulator. I’d like to know what happened to his files and papers and books when he died. Rawe fostered improbable comments in other’s work but published nothing of his own. I don’t know whom to blame, Rawe or those who cite him. Citing Rawe as an authority is bad practice. He did not represent original source material. He wasn’t a contemporary of anyone he discussed. And, according to Bruce, he was wildly speculative even when he was favorable to the groups we discuss.