If I may bend your ear for just a moment

Nothing too unusual about this: high-school student writes to 150 men and women of letters, with four questions about symbolism and their use (or nonuse) thereof.

Except that it happened in 1963, well before email, and the surveys were mimeographed and mailed out. And this is what Bruce McAllister had in mind:

McAllister had just published his first story, “The Faces Outside,” in both IF magazine and Simon and Schuster’s 1964 roundup of the best science fiction of the year. Confident, if not downright cocky, he thought the surveys could settle a conflict with his English teacher by proving that symbols weren’t lying beneath the texts they read like buried treasure awaiting discovery.

Seventy-five of the authors queried did reply, and 65 of the replies survive:

The answers to the questionnaire were as varied as the writers themselves. Did Isaac Asimov plant symbolism in his work? “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?” Iris Murdoch sagely advises that “there is much more symbolism in ordinary life than some critics seem to realize.” Ayn Rand wins the prize for concision; addressing McAllister’s example of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter, she wrote, “This is not a definition, it is not true — and, therefore, your questions do not make sense.” [Jack] Kerouac is a close second; he writes, “Symbolism is alright in ‘Fiction’ but I tell true life stories simply about what happened to people I knew.” The apologies Bruce received from secretaries — including those of John Steinbeck, Muriel Spark, and Ian Fleming— explaining that they were traveling and unable to respond were longer than that.

Oh, and McAllister did make a career of it. His 1987 novelette “Dream Baby,” published in Asimov’s and later expanded into a novel, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards; he’s now a writing coach.

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Gimme a head with hare

Mr. and Mrs. Porretto engage in some conversation:

CSO: She gave a quiz in one of her Earth Sciences classes, and for one of the questions, one student wrote: “I don’t know the answer, but here’s a bunny.”

FWP: And drew a sketch of a bunny?

CSO: Yup.

This of course harks back to the classic Bunny Meme:

I have no idea what you're talking about so here's a bunny with a pancake on its head

Oolong, the original bunny in this meme, passed away in 2003, aged eight and a half, although his memory is honored by younger bunnies, other species, and college professors.

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A formula for mischief

As complaints about the Bowl Championship Series go, this is one of the better ones, based purely upon my opinion:

175 university elitists (the human voters) determine what 100 million consumers have to consume, and do everything possible to insulate themselves from feedback on their decisions. This is close to the ratio of the Politburo of the old Soviet Union versus the population of the USSR. These elitists suffer no consequences if they are caught taking bribes for votes and are thus easily corruptible (much like the Politburo), especially with all the money the SEC and ESPN have available to corrupt those voters.

Now remember what the NCAA says: it’s only corruption if the students get money.

College football is only one of two competitive systems who use opinion to determine a champion. The other? BEAUTY PAGEANTS. Both use little to no objective data to determine a winner, and both are rife with bribery for the “judges” so that power players get to earn and keep undeserved prizes.

Real athletes settle it on the field.

Anyone for a Miss Universe cage match?

Addendum: You know who else isn’t impressed by the BCS?

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Maintaining appeal

Bananas don’t grow around here no matter what the weather’s like, and there’s a lot of work involved in getting five or six of them to me every single week:

[I]n order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.

And then they’re ripened in a controlled environment until they reach whatever state is desired by vendors:

Banana colors by Chiquita

Since my usual routine is to polish off a single banana each day after work, I shop on Saturdays for bananas in the 3-4 range, expecting that Monday’s fruit will have made it nearly to 5. By the end of the week, I’m seeing solid 7s.

Of late, they’re ridiculously cheap: 50 cents a pound or thereabouts. I pay extra for the organics when they’re offered, since they seem to ripen a bit more slowly and carefully.

And because I can’t resist, here’s the late Harry Chapin describing what happened to several tons of them one day in the not-so-distant past.

(From the sidebar at American Digest.)

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Someday this will be a blonde joke

But for now, please note that the perpetrator is in fact described as male:

Screen shot from criggo.com - the sign at the pump said 24 hours pay at pump and he thought he had 24 hours to pay for the gas

Then again, the article doesn’t specify the guy’s hair color.

(Found at Criggo, which has several of these every day.)

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May, meet December

About half a century ago, Gerry Goffin and Carole King came up with “Go Away Little Girl,” a song perhaps as morally complicated as their earlier “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”: the guy is having to say no to jailbait, after all. Which makes Donny Osmond’s version from 1971, when he was all of thirteen, seem a bit off-center, though Donny was utterly unironic in his delivery and managed somehow to pull it off. You won’t see Justin Bieber trying a song like this. (And Donny, to his eternal credit, has never disowned the song.)

The premise would resurface a few times: see, for instance, “Young Girl” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. I’m not sure how young these girls really are, though Chuck Berry can be heard practically licking his chops at “Sweet Little Sixteen.” (Or, for that matter, “Little Queenie,” who’s “too cute to be a minute over seventeen.”) The Beatles opted for seventeen — you know what I mean? — as did, um, Joan Jett. Steely Dan apparently drew the line at 19. Later on, we’d hear from Weezer (“there’s rules about old goats like me hangin’ ’round with chicks like you”).

Women, Joan Jett aside, were not usually concerned with this issue, though there were a couple of instances where the younger guy coveted the older woman — see, for example, Paul Anka’s “Diana” (“I’m so young and you’re so old”), or, stretching it a bit, Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.”

Girls crushing on the older guy? Well, yeah, now and then. The most obvious case: the Poni-Tails with “Born Too Late” (“To you, I’m just a kid that you won’t date”). But the most heart-wrenching song of this sort, as least to the extent that my heart is subjected to torque, is right here:

I have, of course, mentioned this before:

“Wait For Me”, a smallish (#37 in Billboard) hit for the Playmates in 1960 — you may remember them for “Beep Beep,” the tale of a Cadillac driver’s scorn for a little Nash Rambler, a couple years earlier — is basically the logical extension of the Poni-Tails’ yearnfest “Born Too Late”, this time told from the guy’s point of view: he looks upon this young girl as mostly a pest, and by the time it dawns on him that maybe she was The One, she’s already spoken for. The song (by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance, whose biggest hit that year was Brian Hyland’s straight-faced reading of “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”) isn’t exactly on par with the saga of Abelard and Heloise, but it left me with a case of the shivers. Not that anything like this has ever happened to me, of course.

What prompted all this: “Wait For Me” coming up in the shuffle, and the death of Lee Pockriss a couple weeks ago. And maybe some other things I’d just as soon not go into.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes

I mentioned yesterday that Google’s available tool for checking malware didn’t find anything here. However, there are tools, and then there are tools, if you know what I mean, and Google has a better one: it allows you to browse a page as though you were the Googlebot, and see what it sees. What it sees, frankly, is not pretty.

So I called for backup — specifically, these guys. While I was deleting several hundred files, most of them innocuous but you can’t be sure, they were attending to the stuff I couldn’t reach very well. (You do not want to see me working phpMyAdmin; it’s like Dane Cook lecturing on quantum mechanics.) They have pronounced the place thoroughly scoured, and will monitor for changes. When Google comes back, which eventually they will, they will be presented with something that doesn’t insult the integrity of their database, or whatever the current explanation is.

We now return you to your semi-regular bloggage.

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Banished from Googledom

You may have already noticed the Yahoo! search box, a piece of pure 1990s code that’s now sitting on the sidebar. Hardly anyone uses a search function from here, except me, for quick and dirty cross-referencing of past posts. WordPress has its own search function, but there are upwards of 8,000 pages here that aren’t in any way connected to WordPress, which will never be seen. So I’ve been relying on Google to serve up my local stuff.

Then this weekend, Google informed me that they were de-indexing the entire site for a minimum of one year, as punishment for not blocking injections of malware quickly enough, or something. (One such event is described here.) Their own malware tool doesn’t find anything here, but the Master Control Program will not be denied.

I filed for reconsideration, which may or may not work. In the meantime, traffic here will drop by a third, which doesn’t bother me a great deal, and search traffic will drop by two thirds, which does, since it means I’ll probably have to suspend the search-query roundup on Monday mornings for lack of material.

Google Reader subscribers should not be affected. People who have ridiculous work filters and get here by typing the name of the domain into the Google search page will no longer be getting here.

Update: On the basis that I can’t assume I found everything myself, I have called in a white-hat guy to look over the site and make recommendations.

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How’s your gorge?

Automobile reports that the two “most overused words in our car reviews” in 2011 were “gorgeous” and “badass.”

The question of whether these two qualities overlap to any great extent is left as an exercise for the student.

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Notes she wrote

When I was very young, I learned how to read with my head tilted at odd angles, the better to comprehend rows and rows of shelved library books. One that caught my eye Saturday was Women Composers of Classical Music, hanging out in 780.922, and I started running down my own internal list: Hildegard of Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach — and then I drew a blank.

So I had to pick up the book, by Mary McVicker [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2011], which has over 300 biographies, sorted by time frame and then by location. Better yet, there’s an LP discography, since many (most?) of these composers are not yet represented on CD. And yes, a few more names I’d known popped up, often of women I’d thought of more as performers than as composers: Wanda Landowska was perhaps the most prominent.

Inevitably, it is mentioned that men had an easier time of gaining acceptance, but as McVicker notes:

“[A]t various times in various countries between 1550 and 1900 good economic times and somewhat better acceptance for their music have coincided, and there have been brief windows of opportunity and sunshine for women composers.”

Whether the window is more open today will likely be judged by the author of a similar collection a hundred years from now.

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Strange search-engine queries (305)

There’s a fine line, they say, between Honored Tradition and mere habit, and on Monday mornings we straddle that line and hope for the best.

buy “evisceration fork”:  It’s normally supplied as a matched set with the knife. (There is no spoon.)

blue drive not green:  Neither is it yellow, nor red.

bottom of automotive food chain:  Um, a Yugo with a salvage title?

douchebags with nice cars:  Amazingly, they’re not any less douchey as a result.

e k gaylord saw a russian submarine in lake hefner:  Which probably turned out to be a car driven off the boat dock by some douchebag.

kc and the sunshine band soy tu hombre boogie:  That’s “I’m Your Boogie Man,” if you happen to be getting down to Chile tonight.

hype is the death of all sub-culture:  Well, it’s certainly taking its sweet time.

Dress code for national christmas tree lighting:  In general, don’t wear anything that’s flashier than the tree itself.

pursuit of awfulness:  Claimed in the Declaration of Dependence, endorsed by roughly half the population of late.

love can make you happy on you tube:  I’d settle for links that work most of the time.

are people from iowa stubborn:  Didn’t you just pump a couple of gallons of ethanol into your tank?

no wonder im broke.com:  Reserve this domain now for only $15,500.

are there alligators wandering around the neighborhood of 33455:  Southeast Florida? Probably not. They’d get mugged.

now i need a verse recalling pi:  Should I have saved this until installment #314, maybe?

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Blast furnished

A word-usage note from Patrick at Popehat, derived from his reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick:

I still don’t understand how, in the English language, “blast” became a euphemism for “damn,” a reference that struck me on my second reading. Moby-Dick, as do many others written before the 1960s, contains a wealth of “blasted” people, “blasted” ships, “blasted” storms, and “blasted” whales.

But, blast it all, while the people, the ships, the storms may be damned, the whales technically weren’t: they acquired their blastedness in a different manner altogether. Quoting Melville:

As we glided nearer, the stranger showed French colors from his peak; and by the eddying cloud of vulture sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped around him, it was plain that the whale alongside must be what the fishermen call a blasted whale, that is, a whale that has died unmolested on the sea, and so floated an unappropriated corpse. It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the departed.

Then again, should you introduce some form of ignition to the gases rising from such an ex-whale, you’ll see all the damned blasts you could possibly want.

As to how “damned” and “blasted” became sort of synonyms, this is, I suspect, an artifact of shifting levels of word acceptability: one commenter cites “bloody,” a term once thought blasphemous in Britain, now almost innocuous, and wonders if the F-word will some day be similarly laundered.

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On the mummy track

Tam watches footage of things that are happening to unsanctioned border-crossers in the American Southwest, and issues the following advice to those who would follow:

[W]hat I learned from all this is that hiking for days in the desert with just a couple gallon jugs of Gatorade between you and a really convincing Amenhotep IV impression is incredibly stupid and dangerous. You would think that this would be blindingly obvious, but apparently it’s not.

Reminds me, vaguely, of my brief sojourn in California, which necessitated a few automotive trips across the Mojave. (One does not simply walk into that part of San Bernardino County.) Behind the back seat were several jugs of engine coolant, one for me should it be necessary, and others to bail out stranded motorists for a small fee. (Miles from nowhere, Prestone sells quite well at twice what you’d pay at AutoZone, another example of supply and demand at its finest.)

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You have to work so hard to be good

Andrea Harris figures out Bella Swan’s motivation in the Twilight series:

The author wanted her heroine to be a “good” person so people would admire her, but she (the author) is neither a good writer or a person with more than the shallowest insight into human relations. Thus, she thinks that the way to show the goodness of her character is to make Bella “humble” and “unpretentious” and that the way to do that is to show how much Bella hates shallow, ostentatious things like parties, expensive cars, and people being nice to her. Really. Of course, the author wants it both ways, so she has the heroine take these things anyway, but makes sure that the heroine is not happy to receive them.

This may be why I don’t connect with the series premise: I may be humble, but I’m not particularly unpretentious. Nor am I, um, crepuscular.

On the other hand, some songs from the soundtracks of the various Twilight films have earned my attention, so at least there’s that. (Example: “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence and the Machine, which runs under the closing credits of Eclipse.)

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Accessorize with matching valve caps

Two years ago, the Obama administration slapped a stiff tariff on Chinese tires, a move that was viewed with some concern by the two remaining US-based tire manufacturers; one of them, Cooper, actually came out in opposition to the tariff, though you have to assume that this is because they have fresh new Chinese production facilities. (And don’t forget, China is now a bigger auto market than the US.)

The tariff is scheduled to expire in 2012, though it may be extended. Either way, I don’t expect to see any of these here at home:

Rainbow Tires from China

In this case, I suspect, black is the new black. Though I admit I’d crack a smile if someone showed up with blue tires — especially if they were whitewalls.

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Digitally remastered, so to speak

Artie Wayne may have uncovered a big fat conspiracy:

After watching the VH1 Video Countdown this week I noticed an alarming trend. Four of the female divas in the top ten are a little overweight and three of them are using special optic effects to make them look slimmer. Britney Spears has gone to the extreme in her new video “Criminal,” and at times I thought I was watching Taylor Swift! Katy Perry uses the same thinning effect in “The One That Got Away,” and Adele uses it on “Someone Like You.”

[YouTube links added by me.]

I watched “Someone Like You,” and I don’t think it’s post-production finagling. Artifact of the lens, maybe: you can see some distortion around the edges here and there. And maybe it’s the shadowing that makes her look a little more gaunt than she did in “Chasing Pavements,” three years ago.

As for Britney, she’s gained and lost so many pounds over the years that I don’t think she actually has a default size anymore.

Still, Artie Wayne pays way more attention to these things than I do, so I am not about to dismiss his concerns out of hand. As he says: “I’ve seen candid paparazzi photos of them all.”

Oh, and the fourth, unprocessed diva? Kelly Clarkson.

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