Miskatonic University Press

Overheard

quotes

Overheard today, from a woman talking on her phone on the other side of the street: “You need to email him now, Brent. We need the money for the law suit!”

Dinosaurs and humans

vagaries

Did dinosaurs and humans coexist, as controversial Sask. textbook claims? We asked an expert. This CBC story is about recent events with the Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon, a fundamentalist evangelical school that uses the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. It sounds like an absolutely terrible school, as this earlier story shows. It’s Stockwell Day-type creationist nonsense.

The piece says:

The government opposition read from a biology textbook used at an independent Saskatchewan school that read, in part, “scientific evidence tends to support the idea that men and dinosaurs existed at the same time.”

A CBC radio host talked to a paleontologist, who gives good answers to a bunch of questions that don’t need asking.

But they both keep saying dinosaurs only existed in the past! Of course, we know what they mean, but one of the astounding things about dinosaurs is that they didn’t go extinct. They walk (and fly and swim) among us today! Humans and dinosaurs do coexist! We just call them “birds” now. It’s important to remember this, and that this understanding has only come about in the last few decades. Our knowledge of life tens and hundreds of millions of years ago continues to grow.

Quirks and Quarks

radio science

I doubt I’ll ever be interviewed on Quirks and Quarks, but I appeared on the special 29 October 2022 episode celebrating host Bob McDonald’s thirtieth anniversary on the show. About half an hour in, there’s a short clip of me saying how much I like the way Bob uses analogies to simplify and clarify what scientists say.

Quirks is excellent science journalism. I’ve been listening for decades and rarely miss a show. People all over the world can listen to the podcast. Anyone interested in science should try it if they don’t already follow it.

Libraries in Bottom Liner Blues

kc.constantine libraries

As I continued my rereading of all the Mario Balzic novels by K.C. Constantine, in the tenth book, Bottom Liner Blues, I came across something I’d forgotten until seeing it again: a long, long rant about copyright. It annoyed me when I first read it and it did again now. It starts on p. 142 and ends on p. 189. Forty-seven pages of a writer hectoring Balzic about how public libraries are ripping him off. Forty-seven pages of a bad argument from an angry writer who’s created an angry writer character to be his mouthpiece.

Cover of Bottom Liner Blues
Cover of Bottom Liner Blues

The writer character is Nick Myushkin, who appears here for the first time in the series. He’s written nine books. (Remember this is Constantine’s tenth.) Here’s a bit that explains his argument. Balzic, the police chief, has gone out to his house because he’s been shooting his gun in his back yard. Myushkin is dead broke and angry as hell.

“Then what’s your bitch with the libraries? I mean, if they buy your books, what’re you bitchin’ about? Sounds to me like they do the same thing I do, which you just said is okay with you. I buy the book, I read it, I give it to my wife, she reads it, she gives it to our daughters, so what do the libraries do that’s so different?”

“Hey, Balzic, next time you’re down the post office, you know? Turn around and look up at the words on top of the library. It says ‘Rocksburg Public Library.’ ‘Public,’ that’s the word. Man, that’s what changed everything. EVE-RY-THING! That place is supported by taxes. Taxes, get it?”

“So am I! So what? I’ve been supported by taxes all my life, since I got outta high school. I been a marine and I been a cop. Governments have been paying my way since I was eighteen. So what?”

“It ain’t just the fact that taxes pay for the libraries, man. It’s the way the taxes are collected, who pays ‘em and who doesn’t. It’s the fact that a place, a public place—remember the Fifth Amendment? ‘Nor shall private property be taken for PUBLIC use,’ remember that? When you finish readin’ the book, man, and you give it to your wife, and she gives it to your kids, the one thing that ain’t, the one thing that is not, is a public transaction supported by tax dollars—and I don’t care who pays you personally, so forget about where your salary comes from. But when it happens in a public library, man, that’s public use of private property without just compensation, think about it, really, man.”

Myushkin’s argument is about the Takings Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the last clause in this:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Balzic is always a good interlocutor, but he’s not prepared to argue intellectual property law or get into first-sale doctrine. I don’t know exactly what an American copyright librarian would say about all this, but I’m sure they would dismiss the argument on legal and moral grounds.

Libraries can lend the books they buy. Every country should have a Public Lending Right that gives a decent income stream to writers based on library circulation of their books, but whether or not they do, libraries can lend the books they buy.

This novel is by far the weakest of the series up to now. Regardless of the content of the forty-seven page argument, it bogs the novel down interminably. The anger about the Gulf War still hits, and Balzic and his wife figuring out how to live with each other now that his mother is dead is compelling, but in the end there is no resolution to the criminal matter that is one of the other main threads of the novel. It’s an angry novel by an angry writer who hasn’t turned his anger into successful fiction.

Billy and Rose: Forever Friends

kady.macdonald.denton

Cover of Billy and Rose: Forever Friends
Cover of Billy and Rose: Forever Friends

There is a new book out illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (my mother), written by Amy Hest: Billy and Rose: Forever Friends (published by Candlewick). It’s available through all bookstores, in your neighbourhood (my preference) or online, and should appear in your local library soon. If not, ask.

It’s an early reader with four short stories, aimed at children aged six, plus or minus a year or two. This is the first of two books about Billy (a sheep) and Rose (a pig). The second will be out this time next year.

The illustrations are excellent.

Bureaucrats

anthony.powell kc.constantine quotes

“I mean, bureaucrats get pissed when you tell ‘em they’re bureaucrats. I mean, bureaucrats are the people who think bureaucrats are the people who work across the hall.”

Nick Myushkin, the Mad Russian, holding forth at Muscotti’s in Bottom Liner Blues (1993) by K.C. Constantine. (In any comparison of the Mario Balzic series to Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, put Myushkin with X. Trapnel.)

Similar practice described in Powell and Constantine

anthony.powell kc.constantine quotes

I just read K.C. Constantine’s The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes (1982), the fifth in the outstanding Mario Balzic series. An anecdote reminded me of something from another book.

Here Balzic, chief of police of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, goes to talk to a woman who’s husband hasn’t come home.

Aside from cheap copies of wintry landscapes and still lifes of fruit and flowers on the walls, the only object to disrupt the tone of the room was the mounted head of a white-tailed deer on the wall above the dining area.…

Balzic had nothing against hunters in general—he had hunted birds all his adult life—or deer hunters in particular. There was something he just couldn’t understand about boasting about it, and having a deer’s head mounted and left on a wall was a boast without end. It reminded Balzic of a marine he’d met coming back to San Francisco after World War II. The marine had an envelope in his wallet and in the envelope was a strand of pubic hair from every female who’d allowed him to bed her. It was a meager collection, but the marine was extremely proud of it and Balzic could not think of him without a special sadness. Balzic could not explain why. It was just sad.

Any regular reader of Anthony Powell’s twelve-book sequence A Dance to the Music of Time will remember a scene from the eleventh book, Temporary Kings (1972). Here Pamela Widmerpool, who had had an affair with rich American playboy Louis Glober, meets his new girlfriend, Polly Duport. The narrator wasn’t at this incident, but has heard about it from Odo Stevens and Hugh Moreland. Pamela Widmerpool is speaking to start.

“Quite a lot of people have loved Louis.”

“They couldn’t help it,” said Polly Duport.

Pamela laughed softly.

“I expect you know,” she said, “Louis’s stuffed a charming little cushion with hair snipped from the pussies of ladies he’s had?”

Stevens said afterwards that “he recognized that inquiry as signal for trouble starting.” Both he and Moreland, in whatever other respects their stories differed, stood shoulder to shoulder as regards those precise words of Pamela’s.…

Pamela laughed quietly to herself, giving the impression that thought of Glober’s whim amused her. She turned towards him.

“You have, haven’t you, Louis?”

“Have what, honey?”

Glober was absolutely relaxed. Stevens, again fancying other people as scandalized as himself, supposed him taken aback a moment before. If so, Glober was now completely recovered.

“Stuffed a cushion?”

“Sure.”

“As well as the ladies themselves?”

“Sure.”

Something needs to be written comparing Constantine’s Balzic series and Powell’s Dance.

Mario Balzic and libraries, from The Blank Page

kc.constantine quotes

I’m rereading the great series of Mario Balzic crime novels by K.C. Constantine. He was never as well known as he should have been, and mostly forgotten now, but damn, he’s good. They’re mysteries, but that’s just one part of the books, which are social histories of working class Pennsylvania from the seventies on through the decline of the mines and mills.

Here’s a quote from The Blank Page (1974) the third in the series. It’s after two in the morning, and Balzic, chief of police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, can’t take dealing with the state police any more, so he heads to Muscotti’s for a drink. Father Marazzo is there; he’s done playing poker for the night. They have beers.

“I was around all them state guys and I was looking at their uniforms, the color, and the words that kept coming into my head were shale and slate. Coal miners’ words. And—ah, this is a load. You don’t want to hear this.”

“Go ahead and say it. Get it out”

“It’s not important. Doesn’t matter a damn to anybody.”

“All right,” said the priest. “I won’t coax you.”

Balzic stared at his beer, running his finger up and down the side of the glass. “We found a girl tonight, Father. Up in the Summer house. Been dead since last Wednesday. Strangled. And I’m really involved with that since maybe ten, ten-thirty, and all of a sudden, I can’t stand to be in the same room with state guys. And one of them is a very good friend of mine. And you know why?”

The priest shook his head.

“My father is buried in Edna Number Two. Summer’s mine.”

“Your father?” the priest said. “You never said anything about that before. I don’t know why that surprises me, but it does.”

“I was three years old. I have no memory of him at all. None. I mean, except what my mother told me. And tonight, just being there, it’s funny how I managed to put that out of my head until three or four hours later when I find myself in a room with four state guys … you know, my mother had a real fit when I told her I was going to be a cop. She wouldn’t talk to me for two or three days. And I couldn’t understand it. I kept asking her what was so bad about being a cop, and she wouldn’t say a word. And when she did finally decide to talk to me again, the first thing she said—and I’ll never forget it—she said, ‘If your father was here, he’d spit in your face and throw you out.’ The look on her face, God …”

“Did he hate cops that much?”

“He was a miner, Father, and all he knew when he was in the mines was the Iron and Coal Police, the Pinkertons, and the Pennsylvania Constabulary. The Pennsylvania Constabulary became the state police. You know what the miners used to call them? The Black Cossacks. I thought my mother was exaggerating, but I did a lot of reading about it in the big Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. There’s another joke for you. I had to read about it in a library set up by one of the most heartless bastards who ever lived. But I found it, pictures and all. You ought to read about that time in this part of the state, Father. It’s unbelievable.”

The dialogue in these books is some of the best I’ve ever read. I was struck by this bit because of the mention of the Pinkertons, Carnegie and libraries, but no matter if Balzic’s talking to his mother, his wife, other cops, Mo Valcanas the drunken lawyer, local politicians, suspects, witnesses, anybody, he’s listening closely, sometimes speaking thoughtfully, and the conversation will be interesting. People take time to tell stories. Sometimes they break out into monologues. All through, Mario Balzic is very humane and very human.

Pobox

email

I’ve used Pobox since 1998. It was time to renew my account again, and this time I paid up until 2028.

Paid up at pobox.com until 2028
Paid up at pobox.com until 2028

Next year it will be thirty years since I first saw the internet, and for twenty-five of them I’ve had my email with Pobox. Its services are absolutely reliable and support is fast and helpful. I fully recommend it. If you want to get away from Google or other “free” email hosts, try it out. (It’s not private—Pobox can see all my email—but, for now, I’m okay with that.)

NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim

art toronto

Graffiti saying NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim
Graffiti saying NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim

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