OCTOBER 21, 2020 5+7+5 MANIA
Japanese verses known as haiku often describe a lovely scene from nature. English imitations, however, lack musicality. Their only claim to being haiku is mathematical: there must be three lines of five, seven and five syllables. Once I actually wrote one myself.
A computer has parsed a large body of text, finding many sentences that can be made to fit this arbitrary pattern. Some might aspire to poetry. I've collected more than two dozen of these Found Haikus.
STARVING FOR RELEASE I never really understood why a prisoner would go on a hunger strike. He has already lost his freedom; for what purpose would he then refuse to eat, thus losing his health as well? Is he merely trying to be a martyr to draw attention to his cause?
Perhaps, but he might also be trying to get out of jail.
The current edition of Old News tells of the WSPU, a group of English women who agitated for the right to vote under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst a century ago.
On July 2, 1909, a suffragette named Marion Wallace Dunlop, who had been arrested for defacing a wall, decided on her own initiative to go on a hunger strike. After refusing all food for 91 hours, she was released from prison. Emmeline Pankhurst was delighted by this result, and she encouraged all WSPU members to imitate Dunlop by staging hunger strikes whenever they were imprisoned.
For several years, the hunger-strike tactic made it difficult for the authorities to jail any WSPU member for longer than a week. Prison authorities, reluctant to let them die, always released the hunger strikers as soon as their health seemed endangered. Christabel Pankhurst wrote: We are feeling proud of having destroyed the governments weapon of coercion. ...We have now learnt our power to starve ourselves out of prison and this power we shall use unless, of course, the government prefer to let us die. I hardly think however, that even they would adopt so extreme a course, if only for the reason that it will not pay them politically to do so.
However, every tactic has its countermeasures. The government had refused to give women the right to vote. The women countered by destroying property; the government countered by jailing them. The women countered by starving themselves. Now it was the governments move: prison wardens were ordered to force-feed hunger strikers.
Later the government passed the Temporary Discharge of Prisoners for Ill-Health Act: starving inmates were to be released, but once their health improved, back to jail they went. Over 18 months in 1913-14, Emmeline Pankhurst was released and re-arrested on nine occasions.
The WSPUs tactics generated publicity, but not legislation. The cat-and-mouse game ended only when World War I began and Pankhurst turned her organizations energies to that struggle.
good will engendered by the women during the war effort proved more
effective than their earlier civil disobedience. At the end of
the war in 1918, female property owners were given the right to vote,
and the WSPU was dissolved.
UPON WATERS Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days, we read in Ecclesiastes 11:1-2. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
This made little sense to me when I was a little boy. The only time it seemed practical to throw bread into the water was when my mother took me to Richwood Lake to feed the ducks. Now that I think about it, there were usually seven or eight ducks who swam up to get their portion of the bread crumbs. But we never miraculously found those crumbs again many days later.
Sometimes preachers use bread in its Sixties hippie sense of money to arrive at an allegorical interpretation. Give your money indiscriminately to the poor. Many days later, Karma will reward you for your good deed.
In other verses, the Bible frowns on alcoholic beverages. Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle, commands Leviticus 10:9. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise, warns Proverbs 20:1.
We know what wine is, but what does the Bible mean by strong drink? In the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael M. Homan explains that the Hebrew word shekar really should be translated beer.
In the ancient world, he writes, beer was often produced by creating a bread or cake made from malted barley or wheat. The bread was then placed in water, forming a sweet liquid known as a wort. In a few days, after adding yeast, the carbohydrates would be converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
This leads to a totally different interpretation of the passage from Ecclesiastes. I believe this is a reference to the cakes of bread used in ancient beer production, writes Homan. Cast your bread upon the water and it will return as beer. Much like the phrase carpe diem, the author advises making beer and drinking it with friends, because you dont know what evil might be coming.
OCTOBER 14, 2020 IT'S GOTTA BE AN ALIEN CRAFT
OCTOBER 8, 2020 EXTREME SOCIAL DISTANCING
The debate between the Vice-Presidential candidates last night attempted to deflect the coronavirus with Plexiglass screens beside each podium, which were 12 feet apart. Was that enough? Should something similar be used for next week's Presidential debate?
Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette included a letter to the editor from Tom Donatelli of Mt. Lebanon. His concept: a rotating carousel divided in half by a wall, with only one candidate on each side of the wall. A question would be asked to the candidate facing the audience. After his allotted time is up, the carousel would rotate to expose the other candidate to the audience.
As I'm sure you recall, during the campaign of 1960 there were four debates between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy, with no studio audience. For each question, a candidate was allowed 2½ minutes to answer and his opponent received 1½ minutes for a rebuttal. Displays atop the cameras kept track of the time.
I remember watching in black and white as the candidates disagreed about one topic in particular: Should the U.S. military block China's Mao Tse-tung from taking over Quemoy and Matsu, just off the Chinese coast but loyal to Taiwan? Nixon said we must fight the advance of communism at every step; Kennedy said these little rocks weren't worth risking American lives. (As it turned out, Taiwan still holds the islands.)
OCTOBER 4, 2020 LONG-LIVED MAILING LISTS
When my father passed away in 1999, I became the executor of his estate. His post office in Ohio notified charitable organizations which he'd supported that their letters should henceforth be directed to my address in Pennsylvania.
Twenty-one years later, his mail is still arriving, now with my updated apartment designation and Zip+4 code. On July 15 and September 16 of this year, Vernon M. Thomas received solicitations from the American Cancer Society. At some point a nonprofit included a sheet of 80 Vernon M. Thomas return address stickers. On August 4, there was a notepad from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. On August 11, Easter Seals sent a nice 2021 calendar; I'm going to hang it in my kitchen. And on September 22, there was an Important Notice addressed to the nonexistent Ms. Geri Thomas, offering to replace a window in this rented apartment (plus another for 40% off).
Yes, my letterbox receives mail for the whole Thomas clan: Vernon, Geri, and Tom. Only one of us has ever resided here. And only one of us has received a mail-in ballot which I filled out on October 1st and mailed back.
OCTOBER 1, 2020 GHOST GUEST
Ah, October! The stores are full of candy and decorations for the upcoming Great Pumpkin celebration on the last day of the month. It's not my favorite holiday. It's not even an official holiday, because employees don't get time off from work.
This year, of course, will be different. Many workers do expect to stay home, big parties are discouraged, and everybody should be wearing masks even on the job. A Pittsburgh comic featured a 2003 image of Dr. Fauci in her video warning that this will be the scariest Halloween of our lifetime.
Also, churchgoing people are uncomfortable when kids pretend to be Satan or his demons and witches.
I've also never been comfy with the idea of kids going door-to-door to take candy from strangers. Hey, what could possibly go wrong with that? I did it a few years when I was but a child because it seemed to be expected of me. I felt silly in the costume, and when we went to neighbors' homes and they remarked how cute we were ... well, I never liked to be cute in that way. People talk to you like you're a puppy dog.
Same here. Once when my family drove to Kentucky to visit my grandparents, we parked down the street and I was instructed to announce our arrival by putting on a mask and knocking on the door. Who's this? Doesn't look like any of the neighborhood kids. Oh, my goodness, little Tommy is here! All the way from Ohio! What a surprise! I too felt silly, Mark.
I never much liked pranks. There were guys at school who invited me to go along on Halloween when they threw eggs at people and overturned folks' trash cans and redecorated homes with toilet paper. One year, two friends of mine were laughing and bragging how they'd trashed some old lady's yard and I thought, That's not funny. It's just being an a-hole.
So you don't like the holiday.
I'm fine with every other holiday, just not this one. I do not believe there is a War on Christmas in this country; that's just something the Fox News folks dreamed up because they believe their audience needs to be kept in a perpetual state of outrage about something. But if there's ever a War on Halloween, I'm enlisting. And bringing the eggs.
I have already decided I'm not leaving my house. It's a leap year, and they're always a little weird. Halloween falls on a Saturday, so it will be rowdier with more parties and people partying 'til late in the night.
I'm with you, Mark. I always stay home with the lights off.
And there will be a full moon that night, so there will be real werewolves prowling about. And it'll be a night when we set the clocks back, so the debauchery and mayhem will last for an extra hour.