Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sunday morning music


I'd never heard of "Bardcore" until, quite by chance, I came across the Youtube channel of a lady calling herself Hildegard von Blingin' (an obvious play on the medieval abbess, musician and composer, Hildegard von Bingen).  She has this to say:

Bardcore for the discerning clergyman, noble, or muck-gathering peasant.

I am a Canadian singer/illustrator who started making Bardcore in the Spring of 2020. If you're new to Bardcore, it is a pastiche genre that takes modern songs and makes them "old-timey" through the use of Medieval and Renaissance inspired instrumentation, as well as Shakespearean-ish lyrics.

Unless otherwise credited, the majority of the instrumentals were created by me. They feature a mix of virtual and real instruments, including the Celtic harp, Irish whistle, and recorder. Several videos feature my brother, known here as Friar Funk. 

I've picked three of her videos at random to illustrate the style.  Where necessary, lyrics may be found on the track's Youtube page.  If you know of others who are performing similar music, please let us know in Comments.

Not knowing the Bardcore genre at all (if it can be called a genre), I don't know yet whether I really like it or not:  but it's certainly a different take on medieval and modern music.  I'll try to find more of it, to give it a fair shot.  What do you think, based on these few samples?


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Saturday Snippet: One of the finest historical novelists in the world is being republished


I was almost giddy with delight this week when I learned that the novels of the late Rosemary Sutcliff are being republished, and in e-book form, too.  She acquired worldwide fame for her children's, young adult and adult historical fiction, winning many awards in the process.  She published more than 50 books during the course of her life.

Her personal tragedy was also, I think, the wellspring for her creativity.  She suffered from juvenile idiopathic arthritis from an early age, which confined her to a wheelchair.  She lived with her mother for most of her life, and never married.  However, her very inactivity and confinement to her home gave her mind free rein to wander, and she developed a fertile imagination.  Without those tragic circumstances, one wonders whether she'd have achieved the greatness that she did.

Most of her books can be classified as young adult, but they're so well written that they've always appealed to adults as well.  I grew up with them, and decades later I still re-read them with enormous pleasure.  She was able to "get into the skull" of cultures, myths and legends, and portray the people of ancient and historical times in a way that captures the imagination and makes one feel a part of their lives.  Very few authors have that knack.

To introduce her work to those who don't know her, I've chosen the opening chapter of her novel "The Shield Ring".

It's set in the Lake Country of England, shortly after the Norman invasion of 1066, and illustrates the conflict between the conquerors and the natives of the land.  The blurb reads:

Bjorn and Frytha share a bond, both orphans and survivors of Norman attacks on their homes in the Lake country. Growing up together in Jarl Buthar's Norse stronghold, they become fast friends, with Bjorn dreaming of becoming a harper like his father.

As they come of age within this secret fortress, they hear word of the Norman attacks beyond their walls, drawing ever closer to the safety of their home.

Can they help protect their adoptive home and family, or will they lose everything all over again?

It's one of my favorite Sutcliff novels.  Here's the opening chapter.

The thing happened with the appalling swiftness of a hawk swooping out of a quiet sky, on a day in late spring, when Frytha was not quite five.

She had been out about the sheep with Grim, who had been her father’s shepherd in the old days before Norman William laid waste the North in payment for the massacre of his York garrison, and was now hind, ploughman and everything else as well; and they had made a wide cast through Garside Wood on the way home, to visit a flycatcher’s nest that Grim had found for her. Five speckled eggs the nest had in it, faintly and wonderfully blue. Now they were on their way home in earnest; little black hairy Grim and Frytha with her kirtle kilted to her bare briar-scratched knees and her honey-brown hair full of twigs, hand in hand, in companionable silence, for Grim discouraged chatter in the woods; it drove things away, he said. And just ahead of them, Vigi the big black sheep-dog, looking round every few moments to make sure that they were following. Vigi was as silent in the woods as his master, and never chased squirrels or ran yelping on the scent of the fallow deer, as more foolish dogs did.

They were late, for there had not really been time for such a roundabout way home. The last sunlight had flickered out among the tree-tops long since and as they came up the long slope toward the crest of the ridge, the day was fading fast and the woods growing shadowy about them. ‘I shall ketch it from thy mother, bringing thee home at owl-hoot,’ Grim said, grinning down at Frytha through the tangle of black hair that almost covered his face.

Frytha gave something between a gasp and a giggle by way of reply, for the slope was steep just there and full of pitfalls. She had an uneasy feeling on the edge of her mind that she also would ketch it from her mother, but most of her was still taken up with the flycatcher’s nest, and in her heart she knew that a possible smacking was no more than a fair price to pay for the round perfection of the moss-lined nest and the magic of those five eggs; so tiny, and so blue under the darkness of the ivy leaves.

They were almost at the top of the ridge now, and the white tip of Vigi’s tail waving plume-wise just in front of her was beginning to take on a faint shine of its own, as white flowers shine in the twilight. She climbed on, and on, her legs growing tired under her—and then all at once she knew that something, somewhere, was wrong.

All about her, the wood was uneasy. The little rustlings and flutterings of the woodland creatures had died away as though there were a storm coming. Vigi seemed to catch the strange unease at the same moment. He stopped in his tracks, his muzzle raised, the white star of his tail tip quivering downward. And when Frytha reached out to touch his back, she felt his coat rise under her palm, and snatched her hand away as though something had stung her.

‘Grim!’ She was suddenly frightened, too, as Vigi began to stalk forward on stiff legs. ‘Grim, I don’t like it!’

Grim said nothing, but his hand tightened over hers until it hurt her, and she had the feeling that his hairs were rising in the same way as Vigi’s.

A distant confused sound of shouting came dipping toward them over the crest of the wooded ridge.

And then they were on the crest, among the crack-willow and whitethorn of the woodshore, staring down the long curve of ploughland and summer fallow toward the home steading.

There were many men down there, a dark flicker of men all round the house-place and among the byres, and a saffron flicker of torches, and in the instant that they checked there on the woodshore, something like a flower—a rose—of flame sprang out on the house-place roof, and spread and blurred, sending out wriggling threads of brightness through the dark thatch.

Next instant Grim had a hand on Vigi’s collar, and the other round Frytha, scooping her up, sweeping both of them back into the shelter of the trees. ‘Bide you here,’ he said, setting her down among arching brambles between the roots of an ancient may tree, ‘and bide you still, until I come again.’ And to Vigi he said ‘Keep!’ as he did when he wanted him to hold a clump of sheep together. Then he was gone, slipping along the woodshore like a shadow, toward the place where the curving wind-break ran down toward the rick-garth.

Vigi lay down in front of Frytha, nose on paws, watching her with an unwinking gaze, as he would have watched a clump of sheep left in his charge, unmoving so long as they did not move. Frytha made no attempt to move. She sat where Grim had set her down, like a young hare frozen in the grass when a hawk hovers over, staring down through the brambles and tall-growing things of the woodshore. She saw the torches jigging to and fro; she saw the threads of fire spread and run together, until suddenly a sheet of flame leapt into the dusk, roaring up from the dry thatch. She heard cattle lowing and the frightened neighing of a horse, and saw the dark shapes of her father’s kine against the fire, as men drove them past toward the Lancaster road; and the shouting seemed to rise higher with the flames. The flames were pale and bright in the dusk. That was the thing that Frytha remembered ever afterward: the pale bright flame of burning thatch.

Behind her, Garside Wood began uneasily to make its night-time noises; bats flittered needle-squeaking overhead among the branches of the may tree, and the owls were crying, answering each other from tree to tree, and still Frytha sat frozen, waiting for Grim to come back. She was not afraid; she seemed to have gone through fear and come out the other side in a place where it was black and very cold. It seemed a long, long time that she waited, a whole night—many nights. And yet the dusk had not deepened to full dark when there was the faintest rustle among last year’s leaves, and the ghost of a whine from Vigi, and Grim was crouching beside her breathing hard as though he had been running.

It seemed to Frytha that the shouting was coming nearer, but she could not see what was happening, because now Grim was between her and the open land. But she saw the sheet of flame leap higher yet, rimming the bramble leaves with fire behind the dark bulk of his head and shoulders as he looked back. ‘That is thy home burning,’ he said in a grating voice that did not sound like Grim at all. ‘That is the Normans’ work, and never thee forget it!’

Then he caught her up, and began to run again, deeper and deeper into the wood. Once or twice he checked to listen, craning his chin over one shoulder or the other, and Frytha, clinging to him without quite knowing why, could feel the life-thing in his chest, where he was holding her tight against it, thud-thud-thud, very fast, like the hoofbeats of a stampeding horse, somehow more frightening than the torchlight and the shouting behind them. And then at last there was no more torchlight and no more shouting; only the night sounds of the woodland, when Grim stopped to listen. Only the bark of a dog fox in the distance, and the little night wind among the trees.

After that there was a time that always seemed to Frytha, looking back on it, to be a kind of cloud in which things came and went half seen and no more real than the things one dreams just before waking up. She thought that they went a long way, she and Grim and Vigi. There were days and nights in the cloud, and sometimes she walked until her legs gave out, but most often Grim carried her on his back or on his shoulder. Grim was very kind to her in this way, and spread his ragged cloak over her in the night time, when she lay curled against Vigi for warmth. But there did not seem to be any warmth in Vigi, no warmth anywhere. Sometimes there were things to eat—once Vigi caught a hare, and Grim cooked it in a fire that he lit from the little fire-stones he always carried with him; and once they robbed a hen’s nest that they found in a ruined garth, and sucked the warm eggs. And Frytha ate whatever Grim gave her to eat, and lay down and got up, and walked or climbed on to his back to be carried, just as he told her; and never thought to ask, or even wonder, where they were going, because she never really understood that they were going anywhere, only that the world had fallen to pieces and that it was very cold among the ruins.

Then there began to be mountains: grey and dun and purple mountains with mist hanging among their high corries, that towered above the tangle of forest and marsh and great sky-reflecting lakes; mountains so high that the upward rush of them made her want to crawl under something and hide. There were men, too, though which came first, the men or the mountains, she never knew; but clearly they belonged to each other. And after the men came there was more food—flat cakes of barley bread that looked as hard as millstones; but when Grim broke a piece off one and gave it to her, it was soft and sweet under the hard crust as bread newly baked. Once there was a steading at the foot of a great sweep of moor, and warm milk in a little birchwood bowl, and a woman who was kind. Frytha thought that the woman would have had them stay, but Grim would not; and they pressed on again, and the men with them—but whether they were the same men she did not know.

The mountains began to come down all around them; either that or they were climbing up into the mountains, further and further up until the world of men was left behind and they came into another world that belonged to the great singing wind of the emptiness. And then they came down out of the emptiness, down and down and down, and there was a grey lake shore in the twilight, and little wavelets lapping on it.

And at last, when she had fallen half-asleep in Grim’s arms, bursting on her unawares out of the gathering dusk, there was a great hall full of firelight and torchlight and hounds and men and a roar of voices.

With Vigi at his heel, Grim carried her straight in, thrusting through the thronging men and hounds, toward a golden giant who turned in the High Seat, midway up the hall, to watch them coming; and bent and set her down on the giant’s knee.

The giant put out an arm on which there were great golden rings twisted like serpents above the elbow, and crooked it about her lest she roll straight off again; and his eyes under their thick golden brows went thrusting from her to Grim and back. ‘God’s greeting to you, Stranger,’ he said, in a voice that matched his huge size. ‘What wind is it blows you and the bairn up here into Butharsdale?’

‘A wind from Normandy, Jarl Buthar,’ Grim said harshly.

‘So. What roused the wind this time? Deer-stealing?’

‘Some hungry fool robbed and slew a knight on the Lancaster road, half a moon since, and for that the whole countryside must pay wyrgeld in blood and burning. It is in my heart that my master knew who the robber was, and would not give him up. For that also there must be payment.’

A ragged muttering rose from the men along the walls, who had fallen silent to listen.

‘The North has paid over much wyrgeld in blood and burning for Duke William’s York garrison twenty summers ago,’ said Jarl Buthar, as though half to himself. ‘And so you fled up here into the mountains.’

‘Aye, as many a one has done before.’

The Jarl nodded, pulling with his free hand at his golden beard. ‘Aye, many and many a one; and none that was not heartily welcome.’ He looked down at Frytha. ‘Is the bairn yours?’

‘Nay, I was her father’s man, and his father’s before him, in the days when the farm was rich before the wasting of the North, with as many serfs on the land as there are fingers on my two hands. Of late years there’s been none but me.’

Frytha heard their voices going to and fro above her, but the words had no meaning. Just for a moment, as the light and the roar of voices broke over her, she had thought that she was going to wake up, and find herself in her own corner behind the bolster in the great box bed at home. But she had not woken up, and she was not in her own corner; she was in a place such as she had never seen before: a long firelit hall that must surely be greater than the great church at Lancaster where her father had taken her last Christmas-tide. Roof-trees rose out of the firelight into the dark beyond the drifting peat-reek overhead, like trees in the aisles of a forest, and everywhere there were men, crowding the benches along the shadowy walls, lounging with their legs outstretched among the hounds on the fern-deep floor, with the firelight flickering on their weapons and in their eyes. Her gaze scurried to and fro among them, searching frantically for faces that she knew, but they were all strange to her save Grim standing with a hand on Vigi’s collar; and Grim and Vigi were part of the bad dream in which she was trapped, so that they could not help her now.

And then her darting, terrified gaze found another giant, sitting close at the golden giant’s feet; a grey giant, this one, with nothing golden about him save the firelight on the strings of the harp he held on his knee. His mane of hair was striped and brindled grey and dark, with a great white wing in it so that it seemed to grin like a badger’s striped mask in the firelight; and long yellow teeth showed in the grey tangle of his beard as he smiled up at her, so that his face might have been the most frightening of all the faces there, but it made Frytha think of Bran, her father’s old brindled wolfhound, who she had loved, and somehow that made it a thing to cling to.

‘… I crept in under their noses for a closer look,’ Grim was saying, ‘but there wasn’t naught to do but bring the bairn away.’

And suddenly the faces were closing in on Frytha, all eyes and teeth, and terrible because they were strange. She sat rigidly upright on the Jarl’s knee, like a small proud figure carved in stone; but her wide terrified eyes were fixed on the grey giant’s face like a cry for help. The grey giant laid down his harp and rose to his feet with a harsh exclamation. She did not hear what he said, nor what the golden giant answered, but strong arms caught her and swung her up, up and away out of the confusion and the terrible crowding faces.

Food was being brought for Grim and the mountain men who had come with him, and room and welcome made for them on the benches, as the grey giant carried Frytha high against his shoulder up the Jarl’s Hearth Hall, and thrusting open a door at the end of it, into a place beyond.

Here there was softer, clearer light from a lamp, and women were gathered round the central hearth, combing and braiding their hair as Frytha’s mother had used to do when she made ready for bed; and one of them, who was tall like a spear, with a cloud of pale hair round her head, rose from a cushioned bench as they entered, and came quickly through the rest, saying, ‘Why, what is this that you bring us, Haethcyn?’

‘A girl-bairn,’ said the grey giant, ‘a small, very spent girl-bairn, with a long road and a burned home behind her, my Lady Tordis. A shepherd has just brought her in from beyond Lancaster.’

‘Her father?’

‘Nay, you must ask of the Normans concerning her father, and all her kin,’ the grey giant said meaningly.

The other women were exclaiming softly and bitterly as they crowded round. The one who was like a spear said: ‘Give her to me,’ and held out her arms. ‘Signy, do you bring milk and warm it. … Ah, poor bairn, she’s as light as a half-fledged tit.’ She asked no more questions. She had seen many fugitives from the outer world here in this Norse settlement of the Cumberland Fells, but she sat down again beside the hearth, and held Frytha close on her lap, and called her by the soft cradle names that Frytha’s mother had used.

Frytha sat as still and straight on the woman’s knee as she had done on the Jarl’s, not hearing the cradle names, and looked about her. The light of the low-set lamp scarcely reached to the walls, and the gloom seemed to move and deepen among the great carved kists and the furry animal darkness of bear and wolf skins piled upon the low benches; and there was something tall and skeleton-gaunt against the gable wall that might be a loom in the daytime, but was not quite a loom now, and a thing that glimmered pale behind the half open door of the huge box bed as though something were crouching there.

The women had gathered about the fire again, and Frytha’s gaze scurried to and fro among them, searching as she had searched among the faces in the hall. They looked back at her kindly, but they were not her mother; and the grey giant had gone, and taken safety with him; and she had lost even Grim now. A very old woman sat by the fire spinning; her hair was like rough silver in the lamplight, but her brows were black as feathers from a raven’s wing, and under them she peered at Frytha, half smiling, through the faint fronds of the peat smoke.

‘That is Unna. She will be very kind to you,’ said the woman like a spear, seeing whom Frytha was looking at. ‘She was my nurse when I was smaller than you are now, and she was very kind to me.’

The girl called Signy had come back from somewhere, with a pipkin of milk, and as she stooped to set it over the fire, her shadow leapt up and swallowed half the chamber, as though she had spread dark wings. Panic began to whimper up in Frytha, tightening in her chest so that it was hard to breathe; but the woman held her closer, and whispered, ‘Na Na, you must not be afraid, Tita, there is nothing here to be afraid of. Soon you shall have some warm milk, and then you will sleep. You shall have a little straw pillow, and a dappled deerskin to keep you warm; and in the morning when you wake, the shadows will be gone—all gone, you will see.’

But she could not reach Frytha through the nightmare.

And then there was a faint rustling somewhere in the far shadows, like an animal gathering itself to spring; and with a little gasp, Frytha wrenched herself round to face it. Something was humping and upheaving in the darkness of a closet that yawned blackly in the far wall. One of the women laughed half in exasperation, but Frytha never heard her. She was watching the humping and upheaving in a fascinated horror that left no room for anything else.

But the thing that shook itself clear of the shadows and the dark piled skins was neither wolf nor ghost, but a boy. He stood in the closet doorway, shaking the black hair from his face, and stared at her. Frytha stared back. He was a year or two older than she was, a very dark boy—as dark as Grim—with a long cleft chin, and eyes as tawny-pale as peat water and as bright as a wild animal’s. And something in his ruthlessly interested stare came piercing through the nightmare, and reached Frytha in the cold place where she was, so that all at once she drew a long breath, and let it go out softly, like a sigh.

‘I heard things happening,’ said the boy. ‘What does the girl-bairn here?’

‘You should be asleep,’ one of the women began. ‘The wolf out of the North Star will come and eat you if——’

But the woman like a spear said very quietly: ‘No, Margrit, wait,’ and her hold on Frytha grew lighter.

The boy completely ignored the interruption. ‘Why does she look like that?’ he demanded. ‘Has somebody hurt her?’

‘Somebody has hurt her, yes,’ said the woman like a spear, and her touch on Frytha grew as light as a leaf.

Without knowing it, Frytha slid off her lap, and stood wavering a little with sheer weariness, then moved forward. At the same instant, the boy moved forward also. They squatted down in the rushes, and stared at each other, tense and wary, like two small wild things, each unsure whether the other is friend or enemy, or perhaps both; while the women watched, and from the great hall beyond the door came the sound of voices and harp music to fill the silence.

The girl Signy was making a soft nest of rugs on one of the sleeping-benches; and when that was done, she brought a little bowl of blue earthenware, and poured the warm milk into it, and brought a piece of bannock thick with butter, and gave them to Frytha.

For the first time the boy’s eyes moved. He looked at the bannock, and put both hands over his stomach. ‘I am hungry, too,’ he said.

The old woman Unna gave a cackle of laughter. ‘Never think to feed one puppy and fast another in the same basket!’

So Signy laughed too, and brought more buttered bannock and gave it to the boy, who took it without again turning his gaze from Frytha’s face, and began to chew.

Frytha tried to eat her own bannock, but she was not hungry; and now that she was no longer afraid, she was growing desperately sleepy. Someone was coaxing her at least to drink the milk, and she managed to obey. Everything was turning hazy, and the warm milk seemed to make it hazier still; but even through the waves of sleep, she saw the pale bright eyes of the boy staring at her; and she stared back over the tilting rim of the bowl.

Then the voices were saying something about going to sleep, and somebody stooped over her as though to pick her up. But the boy swallowed his last mouthful of bannock with a gulp, and reaching out, caught hold of the tattered hem of her kirtle. ‘Na Na,’ he said. ‘She must come in-by with me’; and then, speaking to Frytha herself for the first time, ‘Come you.’

And wavering to her feet, unquestioningly, Frytha came, followed by the cackling laughter of the old woman by the fire. ‘He is the Lordly One! The Lordly One! “Come you,” says he, like as it might be the King of Norway!’

It was warm and dark under the skins in the closet, and Frytha and the boy burrowed together like a pair of puppies. She was too far gone in sleep to hear the women moving in the Bower, or the sea-surge of voices in the great hall where the men still sat; but she felt and heard when the boy rolled over against her shoulder, and whispered ‘What is your name?’


‘My name is Bjorn the Bear, and my father’s name was Bjorn the Bear, but mostly people call me “Bear-cub” yet awhile,’ said the boy, and flung an arm over her neck. ‘I shall call you Fryth, but nobody else must. And nobody shall hurt you again, excepting me.’

And then the quiet and kindly waves of sleep broke over her.

Evocative, isn't it?  You're drawn right into the heart and soul and mind of her protagonist.  Very, very few authors can do that well.  Rosemary Sutcliff was a master of the art.  I can't recommend her books too highly.

If you want a good place to start, her series on Roman and immediately post-Roman Britain is magnificent.  In order, they are:

The Eagle of the Ninth

The Silver Branch

Frontier Wolf

The Lantern Bearers

The protagonist of "The Lantern Bearers" is encountered again in her retelling of the Arthurian legend, "Sword at Sunset", although not as the protagonist.  "The Shield Ring" is the last of her books to mention the dolphin ring that was worn by the protagonists of all the above books, although it's set several centuries later.

As I said, I'm over the moon to see Rosemary Sutcliff's books being republished.  I have many in paper editions, dating back to my own youth.  I've already found several in e-book format that I didn't know, and I'm going to binge-read my way through them.  She's worth it.  Highly, highly recommended to all lovers of historical fiction, no matter what their age.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Don't raise the bridge - lower the river!


The headline to this post was a feature of a BBC radio Goon Show episode titled "The Sinking of Westminster Pier", first broadcast in 1955.  It was also the title of a 1968 British comedy movie.  Basically, both plots involved turning accepted wisdom on its head, with comically disastrous results.

Not so comical, but even more disastrous, have been the Biden administration's attempts to redefine words to mean something other than their historical, accepted meaning, in order to gloss over its failures, errors and mismanagement of this country.  The latest is their attempt to redefine "recession" as meaning something other than its traditional, universally accepted meaning of "two quarters in which GDP was reduced".  They're lying, of course:  but then, they almost always do.

The memes are flowing about how the Biden team constantly, incessantly attempt to say that something is when it isn't, or isn't when it is, by redefining words.  Here are a couple of current examples.

When an administration lies so incessantly (and so unsuccessfully), but we can't (yet) replace it with a better one, what's left to us but to laugh at it?

As James Bovard notes:  "Stay tuned for the Biden White House’s official redefinition of 'going to hell in a handbasket'."


My wife's latest book is published!


My wife's latest book - her sixth, and the fourth in her "Combined Operations" series - has just been published.  It's titled "Between Two Graves".

The blurb reads:

He swore he wouldn't be back while his parents lived...

Now, almost thirty years later, AJ is going home.

Ordered to attend his mother's funeral in the rugged northern border of the Empire, AJ is baring old wounds to his new wife, and burying familial feuds.

But the past won't die that easily, and grave secrets will threaten all the survivors and the women they love. Because the Feds are after AJ's unwanted inheritance...

And they're willing to risk a war to get their hands on it.

It's available in e-book at present, with a print edition to follow very shortly (as soon as we can sort out a couple of technical issues in converting it between formats).

I've watched this book take shape over several months.  Dorothy battled to fit a number of disparate elements together, and was very frustrated sometimes over her slow progress, but I think she did an outstanding job of battling through the creative process and coming up with a book I really enjoyed.  (I enjoy all her books, of course - I think she writes very well.  Of course, I might be just a teensy bit biased about that . . . )

Recommended reading.


No, we can't save the planet - it'll do that on its own


The late George Carlin left us (among many other performances) this eight-minute rant on "saving the planet".  It had me in stitches.  As always, he releases numerous F-bombs, and is rather blunt-spoken, but he's very much to the point.  If you can stand the profanity, I highly recommend watching this video clip.



Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fire-fighting with a bang


I was startled to read this article.

A wildfire is consuming Slovenia and as the blaze moves across areas that were once battlefields during World War I, it’s meeting century-old unexploded ordnance with deadly results. According to the Slovenian press, fire swept across a WWI-era bomb on July 22 and detonated it while firefighters worked nearby. Shrapnel buzzed the firefighters but no one was hurt. It’s just one of many such bombs that have exploded due to the fire; officials have stopped counting detonations due to their sheer number, local news reported, only marking ones that explode near roads.

As first spotted by Task & Purpose, unexploded ordnance from World War I and II are a major problem in Europe. More than 1,000 firefighters and portions of the Slovenian military are working to contain the blaze, which has spread to almost 5,000 acres of land. “The problem is that because of the unexploded ordnance firefighting units cannot penetrate into the fire but can only act on its edges. This is why the fire is being intensively fought from the air as well,” Slovenian defense minister Marjan Šarec told the press.

The area where the fire rages was the site of 12 battles during World War I. More than 200,000 people died and untold numbers of explosives were used. It’s a major problem across Europe that lingers to this day. The Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe during World War II alone. Seventy years later, those bombs are still killing people.

There's more at the link.

I have several friends who are, or were, members of Volunteer Fire Departments.  I also know a couple of professional bush firefighters out west, who call summer "fire season" and work for several months non-stop to prevent wildfires getting out of hand.  I'm not sure how many of them would be willing to volunteer for work where unexploded ordnance could kill them in a heartbeat, with no warning and no possibility of reducing the risk.

Some of that unexploded ordnance is pretty big stuff, too.  Remember the 12,000-pound "Tallboy" earthquake bomb discovered in a Polish canal a couple of years ago?

A lot of those were dropped over land, too.  I'd hate to be close to one when it decided to let go!

Even though they aren't filled with anything like as much explosive, smaller bombs can send shards of their metal cases screaming in all directions for hundreds of yards.  I'm glad I'm not a firefighter in Slovenia right now . . .


No wonder the criminals are winning


I was startled to see these figures.

A retired Chicago Police Department Chief of Detectives, Eugene Roy, describes the situation.

... police in Chicago are understaffed and under supported by leadership, which has led to plummeting morale and skyrocketing anxiety.

"The suicides and the current climate go hand in hand," Roy said, explaining that police officers are no longer viewed like they were in Norman Rockwell’s iconic 1958 "The Runaway," the painting of a young boy and a police officer that has become synonymous with the "protect and serve" aspect of law enforcement. 

"We’ve gone from that vision to the police being vilified at every turn," Roy said. "Officers are the subject of vilification, disrespect, false claims, and they’re not being supported by the government agencies that employ them."

The police staffing situation in Chicago is dire, Roy said, and the hostile climate has resulted in a mass exodus of police officers, including 2,600 who have retired over the last four calendar years. 

"What’s really telling is that during the same time period, 632 officers have resigned," Roy said. "That means they’ve left the Chicago Police Department before they’re eligible for a pension. The vast majority of them are being employed by other police agencies and they are leaving the Chicago Police Department in droves."

The mass retirements and resignations, which the city has not replaced as part of a plan Roy calls a "stealth defunding," has created a nightmare scenario for officers patrolling the streets.

"They're canceling days off and putting people on 12-hour shifts to make up for this personnel shortfall," Roy said. "You have people that are working through horror stories like 18 straight days without a day off. You can’t function that way."

There's more at the link.

It's the same in almost every big "blue" (i.e. Democrat-controlled) city these days.  Crime is increasingly out of control, the police are increasingly blamed by their political bosses for being part of the problem rather than the solution, and the people of the city are left in the lurch, to endure rising crime, violence and anti-social behavior.  The politicians don't care.  They're marching to the beat of their own politically-correct, progressive, quasi-socialist drummer.

I can only repeat what I and many others have said for many years:  Get out of big cities.  Now.  It's your only way to protect yourself from these problems.  If you've been fortunate enough to have been insulated from them until now, be very sure that won't last.  Sooner or later, the social breakdown in our country is going to get to the point where they come after you, too.

The numbers don't lie.  Mathematics is inexorable, and undeniable, and unavoidable.  Reduce your law enforcement numbers, and your criminal numbers will go up.  Vice versa also applies . . . but nobody's willing to do that today.  Our so-called "leaders" will make sure they have enough police in protective details to be spared the consequences of their failures.  The rest of us won't have that luxury.


Whackadoodle, much? Florida Man strikes again!


I had to laugh at this report.

A Florida man has been arrested after he was accused of stealing a pickup truck and driving to a Space Force base to warn the government about extraterrestrial and mythical creatures.

Corey Johnson, 29, was arrested Friday at Patrick Space Force Base by local deputies after he "attempted to get on base," according to an arrest citation.

Johnson reportedly explained to authorities "he was told by the president" to warn "the government there was US aliens fighting with Chinese dragons."

Johnson allegedly took control of a Ford F-150 several days prior to arriving at Patrick Space Force Base and he didn't know who the owner was, according to local authorities. He was charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle.

He told authorities the president had also instructed him to take the truck.

There's more at the link.

You just knew this had to be Florida, right?  Florida Man strikes again!

I wonder what the "Guardians" thought about that particular call to action?  I have visions of a miscreant E-4 being ordered by a senior NCO to prepare to interrupt warring dragons and aliens.  "Er... I don't see that listed in my job description, Staff Sergeant. How's about you show me how it's done?  I'll make the popcorn!"


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Quote of the day


Courtesy of Matt Bracken on Gab (clickit to biggit):

True dat.


Why do business with China when they do things like this?


Well, we do business with China because they've become the world's manufacturing hub, and they've bribed so many Congressional representatives and Senators and businessmen that they've bought their way in . . . but that doesn't mean we have to put up with this sort of thing.

China tried to build a network of informants inside the Federal Reserve system, at one point threatening to imprison a Fed economist during a trip to Shanghai unless he agreed to provide nonpublic economic data, a congressional investigation found.

. . .

The report doesn’t say whether any sensitive information was compromised. Access to such information could provide valuable insights given the Fed’s extensive analysis of U.S. economic activity, its oversight of the U.S. financial system, and the setting of interest-rate policy ... The report’s findings show “a sustained effort by China, over more than a decade, to gain influence over the Federal Reserve and a failure by the Federal Reserve to combat this threat effectively.”

. . .

China has mounted what U.S. counterintelligence officials say is among the broadest campaigns to obtain U.S. government information and proprietary business secrets and scientific and technology research. In doing so, it has frequently used talent-recruitment programs, which often include lucrative appointments at Chinese research institutes and which U.S. counterintelligence officials say offer an incentive to steal secrets.

The Chinese government denies that it conducts espionage and cyberhacking operations and has accused the U.S. of criminalizing normal academic exchanges.

. . .

After Congress began its investigation, the Fed began banning officials from accepting compensation from certain countries including China, the report said. The policies, however, don’t require employees to disclose membership in talent recruitment plans, the report said. Despite known ties to talent plans or relationships with members, committee aides said that four of the five people cited in their report retain access to confidential Fed information.

The congressional report details multiple instances involving “P-Network” individuals including one who gave economic modeling code to a Chinese university with ties to the People’s Bank of China, the report said.

Another attempted to transfer large volumes of data from the Fed to an external site on at least two occasions, the report said. This person had also previously received a request from a person linked to the Chinese government for nonpublic information on three Fed bank presidents’ views on rate increases, the report said.

A committee aide said he didn’t know if Chinese government officials received any of the information.

. . .

The most extreme example cited in the report involved the Fed economist who traveled to Shanghai in 2019 after the U.S. and China had levied tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods. Chinese officials detained the economist on four occasions during the trip, the report said.

The economist later reported to the bank that Chinese officials initially approached him at his hotel room “making the atmosphere frightening” and told him that they had been monitoring his phone conversations, including those involving a previous divorce, the report said.

There's more at the link.

This fits a pattern, of course, from buying land overlooking or near US military bases, to installing hardware on cellphone towers that can intercept US military communications, to constructing a garden on a high point in Washington D.C. that could gather electronic intelligence, to so-called "Confucius Institute" branches on all major US university campuses.  China's appetite for information about US policies, practices and procedures appears gargantuan and unending.  That fits in with Sun Tzu's famous dicta, of course.  For example:

  • If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  • Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
  • Those who are victorious plan effectively and change decisively. They are like a great river that maintains its course but adjusts its flow...they have form but are formless. They are skilled in both planning and adapting and need not fear the result of a thousand battles: for they win in advance, defeating those that have already lost.
  • Those who do not know the plans of competitors cannot prepare alliances. Those who do not know the lay of the land cannot maneuver their forces. Those who do not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground.

All of those things depend on learning all one can about the enemy before hostilities break out.  I submit that the reason China is so hell-bent on discovering our every secret is that it's preparing for war with us, and making sure it knows our every weakness before that happens.

The trouble is, we're letting them do so.  We're letting them get away with it, and not doing enough to stop them.  Sun Tzu foresaw that, too:

The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

We're providing China with the opportunity to defeat us.  We're handing it to them on a plate.

President Trump saw this coming, and clamped down as far as he was able, but the Biden administration is doing just the opposite.  "10% for the big guy", remember?  The Biden family is alleged to have made millions out of China.  If those allegations are correct, it's not surprising that they won't do anything to anger their paymaster.  Indeed, one of the current administration's first actions was to undo the measures President Trump had put in place.  I'd say that demonstrates the Chinese have got value for their money.


"I want to put drinking beer in the Olympics"


I'm sure many readers have indulged in Wiki-wandering from time to time.  That's what happens when you look up something on Wikipedia, and something on that page catches your eye, and you click through to find out more about it, and that leads you on to something else, and so on, and so on.

Well, I was doing some research for one of the books I'm currently writing, looking up information about a dish called a Lancashire hotpot (which my mother used to make from time to time, and which I enjoyed - I'm going to try making it myself soon).  To my surprise, Wikipedia said there was also a British comedy singing group of that name, using Lancashire dialect in their songs.  I clicked over to the group's page on Wikipedia, and was highly amused to read this paragraph:

The group were contacted by the International Olympic Committee in August 2016 over their 2008 song "The Beer Olympics". The IOC claimed trademark rights over the word Olympics stating that Hotpots' use of the word was a breach of their trademark. To avoid further problems, the band subsequently retitled the song "The Beer International Non-Profit, Non-Governmental Sporting Quad Yearly Event".

That's quintessentially British working-class humor, that is - cocking a snook at authority on every conceivable occasion!

To my further pleasure, Youtube has a video of the song.

I had to laugh.  Youtube has more songs by the Lancashire Hotpots, and I'm going to listen to some when I have time.  It's nice to have something to smile about, now and again.

That brightened up my day.  I hope it does yours, too.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

That's telling them!


I have to admit, Rep. Matt Gaetz can aggravate, agitate and discombobulate progressive leftists like few other politicians can, when he puts his mind to it.  His latest is a doozy.

On Saturday, Gaetz spoke to college students at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, saying women protesting abortion access are less likely to get pregnant because they aren't attractive.

"Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions?" Gaetz said. "Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb."

. . .

He gave this explanation when asked about Saturday's comments:

"I'm very pro-life and I make no apology for it. I'm grateful that Roe has been overturned and that Dobbs is now the jurisprudence on abortion. I find these people that go out in these pro-abortion, pro-murder rallies odious -- and just, like, ugly on the inside and out. I make no apology for it. I don't believe that every person who disagrees with my perspective on life is an ugly person. But the ones that are out there protesting and marching on Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh's home, trying to threaten the court, trying to impose a 'night of rage' on our nation's Capitol -- which us what they advertised -- that's just pure ugliness. I see that ugliness on the inside, I see it on the outside. Even in the horrible circumstance where an abortion may happen, it is nothing to celebrate and it is nothing to cheer."

Channel 3 then asked Gaetz two follow-up questions:

Channel 3: Is it safe to say that, based off your comments, you're suggesting that these women at these abortion rallies are ugly and overweight?

Gaetz: "Yes."

Channel 3: What do you say to people who think those comments are offensive?

Gaetz: "Be offended."

There's more at the link.

Whether or not one agrees with Rep. Gaetz's comments, it's very refreshing to find a politician who speaks his mind without fear or favor, and stands by what he says.  One could wish there were more of them, on both sides of the aisle.  At least we'd know for sure where they stand on various issues.


When "going green" means an energy drought


Mish Shedlock sums up Germany's energy dilemma.

  • Angela Merkel mothballed nuclear power plants to appease the Greens.
  • The Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline is ready to deliver gas but is totally shut down due to sanctions.
  • Nord Stream I needs repairs but sanctions limited availability of parts.
  • Rather than put the nuclear plants back in production Germany is resorting to more coal but supply constraints hinder getting the coal to the plants.
  • German Greens would rather use more coal than nuclear.
  • Sanctions have driven up the price of natural gas so much that Germany is discussing rationing natural gas.
  • Coal is the single largest method of generating electricity in Germany, 32 percent in the third quarter of 2021 up from 26.4 percent. It's use is undoubtedly higher today.

Well Done Germany! ... This is what happens when you mandate green energy and have no legitimate plan to get there.

There's more at the link.

One wishes that someone had repeated that last sentence to the Biden administration on the day it took office.  The pressure in and from Washington D.C. to move away from fossil fuels is immense, but it utterly fails to take into account that a replacement infrastructure is not yet in place.  Restricting or shutting down older fuels and systems is all very well if they can be replaced at once;  but if they can't, the interval between ending one system and ramping up another is undoubtedly going to be painful as hell, for the economy, for business and commerce, and for individuals.

Of course, that doesn't matter to the Biden administration.  The pain is part of the plan.  They want to crash the American economy - and they're succeeding.  They've followed Germany's policies, and now they're reaping the same disastrous harvest that Germany is reaping.


From "Why We Fight" to "Nothing Is Worth Fighting For"


During World War II, the United States sponsored and produced a series of seven movies titled "Why We Fight".  Originally intended for US soldiers, President Roosevelt ordered their release to the general public as well.  They were propaganda, yes, but they tried hard to be objective in presenting reasons why the USA was in the war and why it was essential that US values triumphed, rather than be defeated by the forces of totalitarianism.  All seven films have been preserved, and are available from the National Archives or on YouTube.

The thing is, those films were made for a nation united behind its leaders and their stated war goals.  People were patriotic.  They were prepared to fight, prepared to make sacrifices in the name of ultimate victory.  In the extreme, they were prepared to die for what they believed in.

Nowadays?  Not so much.

The American military is having trouble finding new recruits these days. The problem isn’t just that young Americans have more lucrative options and serious health and legal issues—it’s also that they have a fundamentally different view of the country and military service than in ages past.

. . .

It’s all a matter of perspective. Justice is artificial and conditioned by subjective bias. In this view, patriotism is a form of affection experienced only by the unenlightened who do not understand their love of country is a hollow extension of historic chance itself. The proper response to this chance isn’t patriotic zeal but relativistic acceptance. This is how they arrived at the conclusion there is never a “right side” in a war, never a “higher” moral precept, never a reason to die for a political cause. Among progressive activists today, many of whom are young Americans in their 20s, only 9% say that their American identity is “very important” to them; compare this to the US average of 48% and the whopping 92% for devoted conservatives.

It would be foolish to assume this trend is not somehow connected to the fact that the American military is now experiencing severe shortfalls in meeting its recruitment goals, shortfalls that haven’t been this severe in half a century. To be fair, there are also significant structural reasons including COVID and the attractiveness of the current job market.

But dig a little deeper and the reasons for paltry recruitment numbers are utterly deflating, symptomatic of a generation whose lifestyle and values do not bode well for the country’s future success, much less its security. Only a small percentage of young Americans today can meet these two qualifications: being physically fit and having no disqualifying criminal record.

One in four meet the qualifications. A staggering 75% aren’t able to serve in the American military because of high levels of youth obesity, drug use, and inadequate education. But buried inside this reality is a disturbing trend that speaks to the perspective so many young Americans now possess, a perspective voiced by my students just a few years ago that is now becoming more mainstream: in just the past few years the number of young Americans willing to serve has dropped from 13% to 9%. That is a 31% change and reveals not just a health crisis with the presence of a pandemic and frustration about perceived failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a generational pivot in the way they look at the country and the nobility of defending it.

It is a bit reductive and hysterical to merely conclude young people have been taught by their teachers to hate the country and despise our history. While that attitude is certainly more present and powerful than it was a generation ago, my argument is that it is symptomatic not of national self-loathing, but naive individualism.

. . .

We should not be alarmed if declining enrollments are a symptom of a booming economy. But we should be concerned if it is tied to a fashionable disdain of the nation and to a fundamental misunderstanding of the work the American military does in the world.

There's more at the link.

Part of this is, to be sure, our own fault as a society in general.  Too few of us have tried to inculcate in our children a fundamental patriotism, a commitment and a loyalty to our country.  It became unfashionable, almost primitive, to think and speak in those terms.  That's partly because of a blind patriotism that refuses to acknowledge faults and failings, something that was evident in much of the older generation during the Vietnam War and afterwards.  The younger generation, that was actually doing the dying there, rejected that.  However, there was no immediately apparent fix for the problem - and nobody tried very hard to find one, at least not then.

However, it's also uncomfortably true that we've allowed our young people to become indoctrinated by community organizers, university professors, politicians and rabble-rousers.  Too many of them have been taught to believe that "America was never great".  For example:

This, from a disgraced Governor who was forced to resign in the face of overwhelming evidence of malfeasance.

In the name of free speech, we've allowed such views to be propagated and popularized - but we've done little or nothing to counteract them by propagating and popularizing alternative views, ones that are more faithful to our Founding Fathers and their vision for this country.  It's an ancient truism that "The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing".  I suggest the truth of that aphorism is demonstrated by the sea-change visible in our young people's reaction to patriotism and service (military or otherwise).

An equal part of the problem, I suggest, is the 1960's counter-culture.  The mantra of that era was "If it feels good, do it".  That's very different from President Kennedy's call at the beginning of that era:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Fundamentally, essentially, Kennedy's call was to serve, rather than be served.  Today, that's a joke among most of our young people.  Therein lies a great deal of the problem.  We haven't raised our young people to serve;  instead, we've told them that they can be anything, do anything, without putting in any effort first.  They got prizes at school for simply being there, for existing, rather than for achieving.  They've been brainwashed that they can have others serve them without first having to serve others, without having to learn what it means to put others ahead of oneself.  The parents born and raised in the "If it feels good, do it" generation have all too often put that principle into practice in raising their children, and their children have done likewise in their turn.  The results, we see before us.

Ironically, even those most opposed to all that America stands for have been suckered into the same corruption.  Can anyone forget Black Lives Matter and the millions it raised from gullible, panicked, liberal businesses?  How much good did that do for the people it was meant to benefit, versus buying luxurious residences for Patrisse Cullors, one of the top leaders of BLM?  It's become a standing joke that the movement's initials actually stand for "Buy Large Mansions".  How many other leaders of BLM and movements like it have become rich (or, at least, better off) through the funds raised by and for their groups?  Inquiring minds would love to know...

With leaders like that, and examples like Andrew Cuomo, and educators who are out to brainwash them into compliance with extremism, and parents who all too often abandon them to such influences rather than trying to "bring them up in the way they should go", it's no wonder that our young people have lost their roots and their way.  It's no wonder that they don't see service in general, let alone military service, as an obligation to be taken seriously.  They've been served all their lives, in many cases without deserving it;  and they've never been asked to return service for service.

And, in the end result, that's why the US military can't find enough people ready, willing and able to satisfy its recruitment needs.  Its recruitment techniques and approach are set up for a society that no longer exists.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Don't send up the Bat-signal for this nightmare!


I was astonished to see this mask, representing an ancient, evil bat-deity named Camazotz.  The resemblance between it and the comic-book figure Batman is uncanny.

Collective Spark reports:

Camazotz, (meaning ‘death bat’ in the Kʼiche’ Mayan language of Guatemala) originated deep in Mesoamerican mythology as a dangerous cave-dwelling bat creature. A cult following for the creature began amongst the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico and the figure was later adopted into the pantheon of the Maya Quiche tribe and the legends of the bat god were later recorded in Maya literature.

. . .

In the Maya culture, the bat god Camazotz is linked to death. Camazotz is also the name of a monstrous creature which inhabited a cave called “the house of bats” in the Popol Vuh. Most scholars believe that Camazotz was inspired by the common vampire bat, but others have suggested that it was based on a giant vampire bat that (probably) went extinct sometime during the Pleistocene or Holocene periods.

In the Popol Vuh, an ancient Mayan mythological text, Zotzilaha was the name of a cave inhabited by the Camazotz, a monster with a roughly humanoid body, the head of a bat, and a nose that resembled a flint knife. The monster was said to attack victims by the neck and decapitate them. In the Popol Vuh, it is recorded that this creature decapitated the Maya hero Hunahpu. Camazotz is also one of the four animal demons responsible for wiping out mankind during the age of the first sun.

There's more at the link, and very interesting reading it is, too.

One has to wonder whether artist Bob Kane, who developed the image of the cartoon Batman, ever saw that mask, or any other images of Camazotz or related beings in South American mythology.  The resemblance is so strong as to convince me he must have had a previous memory in mind when he first drew Batman.  What say you, readers?  Does anyone know for sure?


"We cannot get back to normal because normal is not allowed"


That's from Neil Oliver, whom we've met in these pages before on several occasions.  Usually a transcript of his comments is available on GB News, but for some reason this past weekend's commentary hasn't been put up there in anything but video form.  Nevertheless, it's (as always) wisdom worth hearing from an incisive observer of current events.  I urge you to take ten minutes to watch and/or listen to his remarks.

He calls it "nothing less than evil".  I concur.


Memes that made me laugh 118


Gathered from around the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sunday morning music


This one's for the British version of "flower children".  How many of you remember Lindisfarne?  They're a British group that started strong (some called them the "1970's Beatles"), but fell out of the limelight quickly.  Allmusic comments:

Lindisfarne barely command more than a footnote in most rock reference books. During the early '70s, however, Lindisfarne were one of the hottest folk-based rock bands in England, with chart placements on two of their albums that rivaled Jethro Tull, and had them proclaimed one of the most important groups of the decade. With a sound that mixed plaintive folk-like melodies, earthy but well-sung harmonies, and acoustic and electric textures, the group seemed poised for international success, when a series of unfortunate artistic decisions, followed by a split in their lineup, left them bereft of audience and success.

They were never very popular in America, so many of my readers probably haven't heard of them.  Nevertheless, they had their moments, and I enjoyed some of their songs very much.

Let's start with a live recording from 1976 of probably their best-known song, "Meet Me On The Corner".

Another early hit was "Fog On The Tyne".

Here's a live performance of "Winter Song".

And, to close, "Born At The Right Time".

Not to everyone's taste, but an interesting blend of electric blues and folk rock, coming out of the industrial heart of Scotland, that made a mark in the 1970's in the British charts and spread through many former British colonies.  I enjoyed their music.


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Saturday Snippet: Early artistic tribulations

Former doctor Donald Stewart studied all the way to graduation as an M.D., then fled the medical field to become an artist.  He wrote about his journey in an amusing and interesting account titled "Past Medical History".

I've chosen an early chapter from the book, wherein the author describes early, faltering attempts at art in elementary school.  I can only sympathize with all concerned, particularly his straight-laced teacher!

First Grade, First Day

Following Mrs. Brown’s instructions, we reached into our school bags and got out our new Big Chief blue-lined manila paper tablets, along with our giant first grade pencils - the fat ones intended to fit snugly into clumsy first grade fists - each fitted with a bubble-gum pink eraser the size of a gumdrop, anticipating an abundance of first grade mistakes. These we placed in front of us, the pencils laid to rest in smooth grooves cut neatly into the tops of our desks. We would need them later, Mrs. Brown said. For now, we would use our colors, big cigar-sized crayons in the standard eight-pack of primary and secondary hues, plus brown and black. Take out the red one, and do as I do.

Open your tablets, she said, her taught straight back turned to us, her hand raised to the blackboard, her voice as crisp as her starched plaid cotton dress. We were going to learn to write today. We were going to learn to pay attention. I did so, or tried to, distracted as I was by the stunning display unfolding before me.

Mrs. Brown was writing in red. And she wasn’t writing words, either. I knew that much right away. She was drawing a picture. In colored chalk!

Crayons I understood. Chalk, too. We’d seen it in kindergarten, and at home in the sewing room. Sometimes Grandma let us use it to make hop-scotch squares on the sidewalk. Chalk was white, sometimes light yellow in grown-up grades, but never in colors so rich and vivid. And now Mrs. Brown was writing, drawing a long red box in the center of the board, bleeding deep, shiny lines as bold and tangy as strawberry Kool-Aid.

Do as I do, she said again, and I did, mimicking her bright chalk shapes on my page with pale, waxy imitations in red Crayola. Mrs. Brown was drawing a wagon! Red rectangle. Black circles for wheels. Brown shaft. Green handle.  I was drawing a wagon, too. My picture looked like hers. 

Mrs. Brown wrote a large red S at the top of my paper. Satisfactory, she said. That meant Good, she said. It didn’t look as good to me, though, not any more, now that she had written right on the front of my nice drawing. I looked back up at the board. Nobody put a big S on her picture. Now they didn’t look the same at all.

Lisa, the girl who sat in the space next to me, had drawn a glorious picture, far better in my estimation than my own. Hers was a dark black rectangle filled with circles and triangles and spirals of yellow and green, with a zig-zag red fringe border, blue-purple wheels and a bright orange handle. Lisa was very pleased with her work. Her wagon was different from everyone else’s. It was very different from the one in the middle of the blackboard.

Mrs. Brown did not think it was Good. She marked Lisa’s paper with a broad, cursive U, looping like a deep red cut across the middle of Lisa’s wagon. Unsatisfactory, Mrs. Brown said, making a big frown. Lisa explained that her picture was prettier than the plain red wagon on the chalkboard. Mrs. Brown said that Lisa would have to learn to follow directions. That’s what first grade is for.

Lisa took her paper back to her desk, buried her face in her arms, and cried for the rest of the school day. She earned many more U’s that year.

I liked Lisa. I liked her very much.

Organ Donor

My second grade teacher was an educator’s educator, veteran of more than twenty years’ experience maintaining order in front of an elementary school blackboard. Mrs. White’s signature maxim was “buckle down and work”, a nonsensical directive that inexplicably involved the association of a fashion accessory, a gravitational direction, and an undefined activity. I knew from the first day I was in big trouble.

I wasn’t the only one. Mrs. White had no idea how much of a professional challenge she was in for. For years she had lobbied the principal to be assigned an “accelerated” class, believing that this was the next logical step in an already noteworthy pedagogical career. That year she got her wish.

Finding no buckles in Mrs. White’s classroom, I resigned myself to the drill of daily activities as a monotonous continuation of first grade, with an added sense of disappointment, a feeling I had somehow been lied to, just a little bit. Second grade was as boring as the previous year had been, and just as hot. The long, un-air-conditioned Texas summers lasted well into November, and the clanking classroom radiators that were always turned up too high through the gray winter season kept us sweaty and miserable year round. Fashionable velour pullovers (the first mass-market spin-off from the new Star Trek TV show) and itchy knit dickies that Stepmother tucked into the front of my button-down shirts made things even worse.

As the semester wore on, we grew tired of replicating lower case letters in endless rows of circles and lines, and adding up pictures of pennies, nickels and dimes on the pages of our math workbooks. In reading group, we argued convincingly that all cats, even kittens, say “Meow”, and everybody knows it, and therefore the new word “mew” that appeared in our readers was simply mistaken. We howled with laughter when the word ‘b-u-t’ was added to our vocabulary, and no, we could not be bothered to get back up into our chairs and face forward and stop giggling, even when threatened with a whipping.

We longed for the day when we would be allowed to read real chapter books, and write in cursive like grownups, and why couldn’t we just dispense with all of this humdrum stuff and start today? Why couldn’t we all sing, or act out a play, or draw pictures, or build a boat?

Mrs. White responded with Divide and Conquer tactics: Seating arrangements were shifted daily, and any unauthorized camaraderie was instantly rewarded with a trip to the Principal’s office, or the promise of after-school detention. One empty student desk was moved to the front, next to the teacher, so she could keep a jaundiced, watchful eye on whomever became the Offender of the Day. In a grand show of public humiliation, one student or other would be singled out and force-marched to the front of the class, where he (it was almost always a he) would sit in shame and dishonor, or at least far enough away from the other students to minimize class disruptions.

I spent much of the second grade sitting beside Mrs. White in this manner, picking at the archaeological specimens of chewing gum that had fossilized on the underside of the desk, and peeling perfect sets of fingerprints from hands dipped in shallow pools of Elmer’s glue spilled into the desktop pencil groove. Why waste time reading here? We had books at home.

Our home library included a healthy collection of Dr. Seuss and Golden Books, a couple of dictionaries, Dad’s student annuals from high school, junior college and university, and a handful of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books for grownups. (We had yet to acquire our shining new edition of the 1967 World Book Encyclopedia.) This motley collection also included a small but instructive Guide to Home Health, complete with chapters on basic human anatomy and organ systems. This was a foreign book, brought into our home by Stepmother, herself a professional educator. Each chapter was illustrated with a classic pen and ink rendering of the organ in question, a detailed cross section of The Heart, The Lung, The Kidney, etc.

I loved ‘reading’ the Guide to Home Health, flipping through the pages and counting the growing number of two- and three-letter words that I actually knew: on, it, the. But. Of course I had not developed enough as a reader to interpret any of the text. I had barely learned to hold the letters of the alphabet together in my mind, or comprehend a sentence of four words. But these illustrations captured my attention day after day, for all the afternoon and evening hours that I was supposed to be studying arithmetic. I was enthralled by the lines, and the science they represented.

Here were the secrets of the human body revealed in pictures, diagrams of what people looked like underneath their skins, what you could see if x-ray vision glasses really worked. I studied them endlessly, running my tiny, seven-year-old fingers along each line again and again, as if to Braille the information into my brain. After a while I tried to draw the pictures myself, using a fat elementary school pencil to recreate the illustrator’s perfect curves and hatchings on scraps of Big Chief newsprint, or expensive sheets of typing paper borrowed from the box in Dad’s desk drawer.

These initial graphic experiments ended quickly in failure. The lines were much too thick, the curves were wrong, and soon everything turned into a muddy grey mess.

After some puzzling over the problem, I decided that a project of this magnitude required superior materials, and forbidden techniques. Yes, I would attempt to trace these pictures. (Everyone knew tracing was cheating, but it was the only way I could possibly reproduce these splendid images, and study them at my leisure.) To do so, I would need skinny, grown-up pencils, and special see-through paper. These, too, I pilfered from Dad’s desk, hoping the loss would not be noticed. It had been a long time since Dad or Stepmother had typed anything. I counted on that trend continuing. At least I had my very own pencil sharpener, with openings for fat and skinny pencils. If I took extra care not to break the points, I could keep my materials in working order for a long time without asking for help.

The Heart. The Kidney. The Knee Joint. The Eye. I dutifully traced each of these, line by line, onto carefully scissored half-sheets of onionskin – complete with a curious starburst of narrow, straight lines leading outward in all directions from the organs in question, each ending in a horizontal rule with a big, grown-up word perched above it. These words were beyond my comprehension. I left them off of the pictures.

Not wanting to get caught with expensive pieces of purloined typewriter paper in my possession, I tucked each of the drawings into the inside pocket of my faded blue, cloth-covered snap ring binder, and smuggled them into my desk at school.

Where Mrs. White discovered them. “Donald, did you do these? Did you draw these pictures?” Mrs. White looked very serious, as she glanced from my eyes to the papers, and back again. I was caught. I might as well admit it, and assume my usual position in the desk at the front of the room.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I answered sheepishly.

“My Goodness!” she said. “How long have you been drawing pictures like this?”

I didn’t want to say for sure, thinking that if I told her how long I had truly been at it, my punishment would be compounded. An offense of this magnitude might even earn me a trip to the Principal’s office. I resigned myself to the inevitable. “I dunno… A little while, I guess.” Take me away.

“Why, they are magnificent!” She exclaimed.  “I had no idea you could draw so well!”

Rather than take my pictures and throw them into the trash as I expected, she climbed up on the step stool and thumbtacked them, one by one, onto the long cork border above the blackboard, where everyone could see. She even called the class to attention, to show them all what excellent and unexpected work I had done.

Some time after, Dad and Stepmother came home from an evening Parent-Teacher conference, amazed that for once they had received a positive report about me. They could not have been more surprised than I was. They weren’t even going to punish me for stealing their expensive onionskin paper.

For a while I was really happy, delighted that something I enjoyed doing this much was actually earning me some positive attention. It still felt a little creepy, though. My usual behavior seldom ended in accolades, and experience had taught me that bad news was waiting for me somewhere, around every corner.

No telling how far away that corner might be, though, so I decided to keep up the good work. I got out my pencil and tracing paper, and started in again. The Lung. The Hand. I was busily tracing the metacarpals, holding my tongue steady to keep the lines from overlapping when Stepmother looked in on me.

“What’s that you’re doing now? Oh, for heaven’s sake – Are you marking in that book!?”

“No,” I replied.  “I’m drawing.”

“No, you are not! I can see from here. You are writing directly on those pages!”

“No!  I’m…” Frustrated, I moved aside to show her that I was in fact drawing on the onionskin, not the book page itself.

“Oh. I see now…  So you’ve been tracing these pictures all along?”

(Of course I’ve been tracing them! I’m in the second grade, for God’s sake. I’ve never had an art lesson in my life. Who do you think I am, Michaelangelo? Jr.?)

“Y…yes.” This was it.

“So, you lied to us,” she hissed, squinting her eyes menacingly, sighting down the length of her index finger, pointed straight at my nose. “And to your teacher, who was so proud of you. And to all the other children, too!”

She paused for a moment, while I crumpled inside.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, shouldn’t you? Why, you made everyone think that you actually drew these pictures yourself! And on your father’s good typing paper, too. Wait ’til he hears about this!”

She hurried from the room, leaving me to wait for a repeat performance when Dad arrived. I figured that if I had to wait for the worst, I might as well keep drawing. An hour or more passed, time to finish The Hand, and start on The Bladder, with its confusing collection of attendant structures. Linear spokes extending from this illustration were labeled with the usual array of complex terms: Urethra. Scrotum. Penis. Testicle. None of these words meant anything to me, even if I had been capable of reading them.

By bedtime I had yet to hear from my father. I brushed my teeth and tucked myself in, avoiding the potential wrath of good-night hugs.

* * *

The next day I presented my latest efforts to Mrs. White, so she could post them along with the others above the blackboard. She was greatly impressed by The Hand and The Lung, but when she got to The Bladder, her expression changed completely.

“Does your mother know you are drawing these things?”

“Sure she does. You talked to her about it during your Parent/Teacher meeting. She saw me drawing those in my room last night.” Well, she did.

That day Stepmother made an unexpected visit to our classroom.  She did not come to see me. Mrs. White disappeared with her into the Teacher Conference Room, where they spoke quietly among themselves. When Stepmother went home, she left quickly, and took my latest drawing with her.

The next day, the rest of my pictures were taken down from their place of honor over the blackboard, replaced with a decorative strip of colored, corrugated cardboard. I never saw them again.

Back home, my beloved Guide to Home Health was moved onto a high shelf in Stepmother’s closet. Any anatomical curiosity I had was met thereafter with cold imperatives to wait until high school, when I was told I would be old enough to ask such questions.

The experience convinced me of a number of Truths, one of which has lasted into my adulthood: Drawing is Hard. Tracing is Cheating. Artists Don’t Get Any Respect, and Forbidden Fruit Tastes the Best – even if you don’t know it at the time.

By the time I discovered the Anatomical Man illustrations in the World Book Encyclopedia, complete with full-color, see-through overlays, I knew how to read most of the words – and I knew to keep that information to myself.

I had to laugh at the thought of a Grade 2 teacher discovering such drawings not only in the possession of, but actually drawn by one of her students.  Precocious, much?