“Who from what?”

Leftovers & Links #60 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wants you to know how to properly poop in the woods.

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“I always wanted to be Murray, but deep down inside I know I’m Ted.”

I was pleased with that mild wisecrack when I wrote it 27 years ago in Pathetic Life, reviewing of a zine about the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and pleased again as I retyped it a few days ago, posting the old entry online. 

So the next day, I typed that line again in a Skype chat with a long-time co-worker. Free wisecrack, right? No. She replied, “You mean Bill Murray?”

I said, “No, Murray from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Ted...”

She said “Who from what?”

My co-worker is in her mid-to-late 30s, and she’d never heard of Mary Tyler Moore, Murray Slaughter, Ted Baxter, Rhoda Morganstern, Lou Grant, Sue Ann Nivens, or Phyllis Lindstrom. Truly, everything is temporary.

But she can name all the friends on Friends.

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Amazon makes more and more of its billions by charging sellers for selling there.

Quote:  But today they must pay for ads to get their products in front of customers. This year, sellers will give Amazon an average of 4.6 percent of their sales revenue to pay for ad space, we estimate. That’s up from 3.4 percent in 2020, and 1.1 percent in 2016. This additional cost is not, as Bezos claims, a service; it’s a way to extract more from sellers. It’s price-gouging.

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Nude performance artist selling his police report for $13k.

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This seems interesting and optimistic, while also creepy and nightmare-inducing: Scientists think they’ve found a way to communicate with people previously thought to be in a permanent vegetative state. 

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Virginia statue of treasonmeister Robert E. Lee will be melted down by city’s African American history museum.

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This fellow says he’s tweaked a hundred settings on his mom’s computer to reduce the QAnonsense she can access. That's unethical and I want to disapprove, but it seems to be working so it's cool by me. 

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My problem is, and always has been, I don't want to eat one piece of pie. If I have one piece I want a second, and if I've had two pieces I want a third. I want to eat the whole damn pie. That's why I'm fat, and that's why I try real hard to resist buying pie.

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California plans to be abortion sanctuary if Roe overturned.

Quote:  With more than two dozen states poised to ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court gives them the OK next year, California clinics and their allies in the state Legislature on Wednesday revealed a plan to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care, including possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states.

For folks who can’t afford a vacation at the drop of a fetus,the best choice remains abortion by mail. If some women can make California a 'pop-in and get an abortion destination', like Nevada used to be for divorce, that could be a boon to the golden state’s economy, sure, but get real — even famously-liberal California isn’t going to pay for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states. 

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One-word newscast:

Good news:

Bad news:

Stupid news:

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UN wants to ban killer robots but US won't comply.

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Griffin Dunne talks about the making of After Hours, which, if you haven’t seen it (or if you have!) is one frickin’ terrific movie. Now I gotta see it again, and soon.

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This dude liked to dig tunnels, and cool and completely understandable obsession. More info at Wikipedia. 

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 Mystery links  — Like life itself, there’s no knowing where you’re going:


 Sing along with Doug:
"I Got Life," from Hair

Sincere tip 'o the hat:
Linden Arden • BoingBoing
Captain HampocketsFollow Me Here
John the Basket • LiarTownUSA
Messy Nessy ChickNational Zero
Ran PrieurVintage Everyday
Voenix Rising

Extra special thanks:
Clayton Barnes • Becky Jo
Name Withheld • Dave S.


Leftovers & Links 

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  1. My brother, halfway down today's column, Fran Lebowitz, who actually said that, is identified as Fran Lobowitz. You rarely misspell or make grammatical errors, but I'm not just being picky. I'm a fan of Ms Lebowitz. She's a terrific writer with terrific writers' block who has nonetheless managed to publish a few very readable books. Her worldview is not entirely different than your own.

    Jew, not wolf; Jew, not wolf. Just having fun.

    best wishes and see a doctor.


    1. I'm also a fan of Ms Lebowitz, and I'll fix this pronto.

      Half the illustrations on the site are found on the internet, but the other half are homemade by me, and this one's mine, typo and all.

  2. Doug, thanks for fixing Fran. I think she would agree she was broken. I see she was born the same year I was, so we both need fixing.

    Now go read Social Studies. Wanna start a book club?



    1. Who's gonna fix us?

      I'd politely decline a book club. There are about thirty books on my to-read list, and I'm a slow reader.

    2. I've read books my whole life, derived great pleasure from doing so, and maybe learned a couple of things along the way. I agree with Groucho that a book is man's best friend (and woman's).

      But I've never come within spitting distance of a book club. I'm not entirely sure what they do. Do they elect officers? Do they drink to the point of stupification? Do they admire each other's trendy shoes and go-bags? I'm pro-reading and pro-book, but for some reason I find the idea of joining a book club as attractive as joining an Elks' club. Hell, I wouldn't even join a 12-step club when I drank, although I admire their work. I was once 6th man on a 5-man bowling team, but that's a team, not a club.

      My only club experience was with Toastmasters, which officially organizes into clubs. I had a great time, got over a certain amount of my shyness, and met some really nice, bright people. If book clubs were like that, I'd consider it; but as I recall, in Toastmasters we each gave a different speech about something we cared about. If we'd all given the same speech, I guess that would have made it a book club.

      I want to be open minded about this, but obviously I'm not. So I'll politely decline to join my club along with our host.


    3. When I was much much younger I was in book clubs in school and at jobs. We all agreed on a book in advance, read it, and met up to talk about it during and after the read. It was, to be honest, kinda boring. Even reading a great book, I get a lot more from reading it than from hearing what other people got from it, or 90% of other people anyway.

      "It was really sad when the dog died." Yeah, it was, but I don't need a club for that.

      Also, being in the club sorta locked me into finishing the book, and sometimes the books weren't worth finishing.

      If that's still what a book club is, I'd pass. But I'd love to read book reviews - recommendations - summaries if you have some to share. I've been known to write an occasional book review myself, here.

      I am presently reading Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, a young adult novel about a plump woman. That's a common concept in life but rare in literature. I'm reading it for sort of political reasons, because I can't remember many books with a fat protagonist where the size isn't played for laughs.

      After that, I think my next book will be The Continental Op, by D Hammett.

    4. My brother, you can't beat the Continental Op, but after that, if you get a little lit up by detective stories, you might try some Rex Stout. He has two protagonists, one of whom is a 300 pound detective from Montenegro named Nero Wolfe. In his youth he climbed mountains and walked hundreds of miles, but in middle age, chose to sit at his desk and send his assistant Archie Goodwin out into the world to gather evidence. And eat. Wolfe's weight isn't played for laughs; it's just noted. Stout wrote about 40 Wolfe novels and dozens of short stories from 1934 to 1976 and I've read them all. I slightly prefer the early ones. They are well written. Stout was an intellectual in his time, which, in his time, was an actual avocation. Now it's a punch line. Just in case you're wondering why America is failing.


    5. I've read some Rex Stout, in the 1990s I think, and again a few years ago when I went on an extended noir and pulp binge.

      Stout is good, but my favorite pulpster was James M Cain. I like the plots, the dankness and dialogue, and I like that sometimes he launches it all over the top, like the tiger in The Postman Always Rings Twice. A frickin' tiger!

      I am not well-studied, but I know that several of the big names of the genre faced pressure, hassles, and blacklists for their leftiness, which surprised me. Before reading them and about them, I'd assumed if anything a right-wing bent would be waiting in the pulps.

      Hammett, of course, died close to penniless after refusing to name names. You may have told me that already, but it's also in the preface to The Continental Op...

    6. Just to be clear, I recommended Stout because you mentioned the lack of fat protagonists. I do think the books are quite well-written, but I certainly agree that there is a dearth of scale-tipping leading men and women. I should note that the few times that Wolfe is portrayed in action his muscle memory is activated and he kicks ass. In short bursts he can wallop criminals until they whimper.

      Also, while making my way through the oeuvre I learned how to properly prepare corn on the cob, game hens, and dozens of other dinner treats. There is, in fact, one short story in the Wolfe series called "Murder is Corny".


    7. Wait, there are recipes inside Wolfe's fiction? I don't remember that... but I don't cook much, maybe I just skimmed past that. It's been a long time.

      If I was including recipes in a work of fiction, I'd make 'em fictitious recipes.

    8. Yes, there are a few recipes in the books and short stories. They are in the text, so I'm not sure they are complete. But there's also The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, probably long OP, that you can find in used bookstores. That tome contains many of the dishes that are referred to in the books.

      Remember, Wolfe has a full-time cook, Fritz, who prepares three meals a day. I know nothing about fancy cooking, but I would say that even though Fritz is Swiss, he cooks in the French tradition.

      By coincidence, my favorite Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe novel is Too Many Cooks (1938), in which Wolfe and Archie travel to a thinly disguised Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for a global meeting of great chefs.

      The book is available on Amazon, and maybe in your local library, but it is a little harder to find than most of the other early books because of its frank treatment of race in America. Stout was way ahead of his time as a writer for deploring racism in our crazy country. A first edition in DJ in good condition (not very good: good) goes for around $4,000. Christmas is coming and I'm looking for my Secret Santa.

      But I digress. Yes, food is a recurring topic, especially in the novels, but is likely described in insufficient detail (e.g., oven temperature) to actually prepare. For that you'll need the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. Bone appetite.


    9. With a few idle clicks, I've just learned that William Conrad played Nero Wolfe in a 1980s TV show from Quinn Martin Productions. I am oddly tempted to watch.

    10. OK, if you want to watch all 14 episodes of the William Conrad Nero Wolfe series, have at it. Then watch the whole Italian series from the 60s. . . it's much better. But then please watch all 20 episodes of the A&E Wolfe series with Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie. The A&E series was much better cast than the earlier ones top to bottom, and the layout of the house and Wolfe's office are true to the books. Of course, the best thing to do is to read the books, or, if reading has become a problem, listen to them on audiobooks. I've read all the novels and short stories a couple times and also listened to all the novels and shorts that have been read as audiobooks. The guy who does them is terrific.

      I can't think of a book I've read that's been made into a TV show, video, or movie in which the watching is a superior experience to the reading, but doing both works for me. (For example, Seven Days In May is a very good movie, but the book was a little better.) If you need to watch old TV detective shows, consider The Rockford Files, or even Maverick. They're not exactly detective shows, but at least they feature Jim Garner.

      Hell, Doug, you said I was likely to get on your nerves sooner or later. Welcome to hell. I still read everything you write and enjoy it, though. So I'm making out OK.

      best as always,


    11. It's projection. I get on people's nerves — intentionally, sometimes — so I expect it from others. You haven't gotten on my nerves yet, though. Try harder.

      It's difficult to find the time and quiet to read a book. For me, books are mostly at bedtime, and I'm lucky to get a few pages into my eyeballs before drifting off. When I'm wide awake, I'm more likely watching Mannix rips online or surfing my favorite blogs. It bugs me about me, but it's the new me.

  3. I was a business guy for 45 years, and I collided with someone almost weekly and never weakly. Once in a while something useful would emerge from those collisions. But more often -- much more often -- collaboration was a more effective human dynamics tool than collision. I don't mind the turmoil: collaboration just works better and yields more substantive and long-lasting results.

    I was at one company for nearly a dozen years, and I had a team of 16 hand-picked battle-tested swat-team software engineers who could pass as hardware engineers whenever they needed to. Our global phone switch blew up on a Sunday afternoon while we were upgrading it, and we dressed up as HAL* engineers, walked into a Fortune 100 corporate HQ and stole (borrowed) their backup phone switch with exactly nobody's permission. It was simply grand larceny, although we snuck it back when we got ours fixed a week or so later. We always said "do it with balls or don't bother to do it."

    But whenever possible I preferred, and continue to prefer to work together to achieve mutually beneficial results. Like orgasms if you were a girl. Sparks flicker and die. Lights sometimes show the way home.

    * Name of global vendor thinly disguised because I'm not entirely certain what the statute of limitations is for grand larceny.

    1. That's a better story than anything on my to-write list. Basket's 16.

      Why did you take it back, though? You had a functional backup unit, at a reasonable price...

    2. Oh, Doug, the story gets a little wild here, and I'm seriously reluctant to recount the whole thing. The reason we returned it is that we weren't, in our hearts, felons -- more like petty thieves with a $500,000 piece of equipment with a digital serial number that was pretty tamper-proof. About eight of us were pushing it along a fairly quiet sidewalk (it was Sunday) in the downtown area of a northwest city on three equipment dollies bungied together to facilitate a reasonable turning radius, with a forward scout with a broom, sweeping aside pebbles and rocks that could have broken a dolly wheel, or stopped it entirely too quickly and a forward scout with one of every security card and passkey we could think of and wedges to hold doors open. We had to make it a little over two blocks with no cover; the rest was inside two corporate HQ buildings. There were a couple curbs along the way, which is why there were eight of us. If you've seen a modern digital phone switch, multiply the size by about 10 and the weight by about 15 for a 1995 model; that's what we were pushing and pulling up the sidewalk of a downtown street that would be bustling in about 18 hours.

      It was a big deal because, without naming the company I was working for, it was an enterprise that traded about 1% of all NYSE trading volume, most of them by phone. We managed funds for many of the biggest companies on every continent except South America and Antarctica. Somebody would have noticed if our phones were not working Monday morning.


    3. Basket's 17. I love all of it. Were there no consequences ever, for you or anyone involved? No commendations, either, I assume, from your employer?

      Seems to me you absolutely saved the day, saved the firm's bacon and reputation. You should've at least gotten an IKEA gift card from your boss.

    4. I called my boss at home and he made it clear I was on my own. Had we been busted, I probably would have been sent to Antarctica to seek out new customers. Once we got the device back home I was sort of in the clear, but it was a nervous week. Doing the right thing is sometimes a dangerous undertaking in corporate America.

      I've had one or two nightmares about that two block trip on wobbly wheels. Had our strategy not worked I suppose the ensuing market meltdown might have been known as the johnthebasket market crash of 1996. Nice to be remembered for something I suppose.

    5. It sounds worthy of arrest and prosecution, maybe unless your employer was a subsidiary of HAL. I love the idea of lawbreaking with co-workers. What little lawbreaking I've done has usually been solo work, not nearly as cool as all this...

    6. Nope, just the coincidence of two significant American companies headquartered a couple blocks apart in a slowly dying American city with dead Sunday sidewalks. They're both gone now, as am I.

      I met a traveller from an antique land,
      Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
      Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
      Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
      And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
      Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
      Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
      The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
      And on the pedestal, these words appear:
      My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
      Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
      Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
      The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


    7. Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley, says Google. It's poetry beyond my limited comprehension, but that's an easily attainable height.

  4. Doug,

    I know that poetry has a reputation as some kind of masturbation for the over-educated, but that's not my experience. I was fortunate to have a mother who read poetry to my sister and me; she never saw the inside of a college or university. She got her love of poetry from her father who was born in Scotland where real men learn to love poetry without compromising their manhood. He was only around for the first seven years of my life, but I still remember him in his Scots Gaelic accent reciting the poetry of his homeland.

    You're a very good writer, and some of your stuff has an echo of poetry to it. If you ever want to get turned on to some poetry of the people let me know and I'll send you some fun stuff. If not, that's OK too. A lot of poetry IS elitist crap, but some of it is just a fine use of language. No big deal either way.


    1. There’s poetry worth reading, and even some I’ve read… Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg, a smattering of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. Lyrics count too, so don’t forget Simon and Donovan. Also among my favorites, There was a young girl from Nantucket…

      Poetry is supposed to float through my eyeballs or eardrums into my brain and say something that adds up to more than the word count, and sometimes that happens. Not often, though, so by habit I don’t give poetry the attention it (sometimes, maybe) deserves.

      I have poetry injuries, like a soldier after a war, because I published a zine about amateur writing. We reviewed whatever amateur writing anyone sent, and lots of anyones sent amateur poetry by the metric ton, and it was often worse than even a poet could describe. Or, possibly it was excellent but I simply couldn’t grasp it. What I grasped, though, I often wanted to crumple.

      Reading lots of amateur poems did not make me more appreciative or understanding of poetry. Instead it reinforced my misunderstanding of it, and led to jokes about bad poetry. What do I know? I’m an amateur writer, too. I can’t create poetry worth the bother, and most amateur poets can’t — and yet they write poetry, and that’s beautiful. That’s me as a writer, too — I can’t do it, and yet I do it. Everyone should do it, whether they can do it or not. There’s no point having a mind if you never say what’s on it.

      So I respect poetry, certainly, and hell, I have no manhood to compromise. Hit me with your favorites, John, please. The poems might bounce off my head, but you might surprise me.

    2. Ok, since I offered and it's five in the morning, almost time to go to sleep, how about a nice short one? Yeah, I know, Robert Frost, yuck to some, and I don't like all of them, but the man had a way. You might have run across this before. It's probably useful to know that this was written 20 years before anybody tried to build an atomic or nuclear weapon. Or maybe it's not useful. Frost is a little tricky that way.

      Fire and Ice
      By Robert Frost

      Some say the world will end in fire,
      Some say in ice.
      From what I’ve tasted of desire
      I hold with those who favor fire.
      But if it had to perish twice,
      I think I know enough of hate
      To say that for destruction ice
      Is also great
      And would suffice.

    3. That poem is new to me, and made me smile. It's short, well assembled, and even rhymes. That's honestly some dang fine poetry.

      You're a good teacher, so I suspect you wanted to get my attention with something easy and accessible, and it worked. You have my attention, sir. Next one's going to be a bit more work?

  5. I suspect that one man's work is another man's recreation.

    You've been known to review a movie or two. There's a screenwriter named Tom Schulman who ought to be shot or badly insulted. He wrote the screenplay for Dead Poet's Society, which is supposed to be a movie at least partly about poetry that knows nothing about poetry. Here's a brief clip:


    Fine, but that's not what the poem says. This is what it says . . .

    The Road Not Taken
    by Robert Frost

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Twenty lines of poetry. The most esoteric word is "diverged". But prep school teachers and college professors frequently butcher the living shit out of this short poem. It's all in the text. All you have to do is answer the question, "Which road is more worn?" Then the nature of the poem, and much of Frost will open itself to you. I'm not saying it's easy. Took me 30 years and more, but I didn't have anybody to tell me what question to ask.

    1. Frosty Bob's Road Not Taken is one of the most famous poems in the English language, but just now was the first time I'd read it. Also the second time. I didn't even know it rhymed.

      More poetry, please. I'm enjoying this.

      DPS was all the rage when it came out, but I've always been lukewarm about it.

  6. Ah, it's nearly 0500 and bedtime once again, but before I put on my nightcap and before we can move on to Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and The Emperor of Ice Cream, I need to know which road was more worn and which was less trod in The Road Not Taken. As you can see, poetry is not drudgery and quite the opposite of boring, but we want to make sure that along the way we're picking up the breadcrumbs the poets left for us. I would be a pisspoor teacher and a lousy traveling companion if I failed to make sure you were standing right next to me on this journey.

    This isn't a quiz; if you want to ask questions or talk about the idea of roads and paths, that's fine. I just want to make sure we're more or less on the same page.

    1. It isn't a quiz? Feels kinda like a quiz, Prof — but I signed up for the class so no complaints.

      Frosty Bob never tells us whether he's going left or right, or maybe up the hill or into the valley. He's even a little vague on which path is more traveled — says one trail has more grass, but then seems to backtrack and says they're both worn about the same.

      Speaking of backtracking, that's also his intent. He's going down the second trail today, but hoping to come back and try the first trail next time.

      I saw no mention of breadcrumbs, or anything along the path but the words. Is there more I should've read into it, than meets my fading eye?

    2. I think your summary was really good. I assume you know that for a hundred years teachers and clerics and revolutionaries and, apparently, Robin Williams, have been telling students that Frost is urging them to choose the road less taken -- the road less traveled by -- and carve their own path rather than, in effect, make the choices everybody else makes.

      Of course that's not what Frost is telling the reader. He's saying that choice is mostly illusory and generally only exists in retrospect. And here comes the key word: the word that isn't mentioned in the poem . . . When we look back we *think* we've made a series of choices and we are frequently filled with REGRET about those choices. We force ourselves to live with REGRET about illusory choices which causes us to value less the life we're currently living.

      Please read the Wikipedia page for "The Road Not Taken". It's written better than I can write and is a two minute read. Frost lost his dear friend -- the guy who inspired him to write the poem -- but his friend will live as long as we speak English in the poem The Road Not Taken.

      A couple more brief points:

      This poem is filled with other messages and allusions, but the key is in the title: it's not about the choices we make -- it's about the choices we *don't* make: the road not taken.

      When I say "breadcrumbs" I'm referring to clues the poet leaves us as to explicit and implicit meaning. In this case, the title is a pretty big breadcrumb and there are others, more subtle, in the text.

      How the hell did a hundred years of educators fuck up the meaning of a 20-line poem? Frost had a pretty good sense of humor, and he must have laughed about that often, and in doing so celebrated the memory of his good friend.

      And I don't kiss ass with my friends: Not one in a hundred people would have or could have written a better summary of this poem than yours. For a century people have written what they think the reader wants to hear about this poem rather than what the text says: Thank you for reading it afresh and taking the time to understand what Frost was saying.

      And thanks for completing the non-quiz. It would have been easier to blow me off (lord knows I'm no authority on anything). But you not only provided an interpretation, you provided one that any outstanding graduate teacher of literature or poetry would return with a bigass "A" on the top.

      Coming up later tonight: A Christmas poem.

      Thanks again, and best wishes,


  7. I'd like to try one more poem in this cycle before taking a break because I have a favorite Christmas poem and Christmas is three days away.

    The first poem, Fire and Ice, was "Poetry is accessible and fun" and can convey some kinds of information better than other forms of communication can.

    The second poem, The Road Not Taken, was "Poetry has structural advantages" and can convey complex, contradictory ideas more effectively than other communication modes can.

    The third poem, Karma, by Edwin Arlington Robinson is "Poetry, exactly because of its imposed structural constraints, can open up our language and our mind to new ideas."

    Karma is a sonnet in the form of an Italian sonnet (14 lines (8+6) with the rhyming scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE). I don't like the idea of an assignment, but if there is one here, remembering that this is once again hundred year old writing, it is to enjoy the poem. I'm going to introduce it.


  8. Karma, a sonnet written in 1925 by Edwin Arlington Robinson, is a story about a man who, because of business circumstances was "forced" to put a friend of his out of business in the normal course of running his own business. The writer's friend then either committed suicide or did something equally fatal by business standards, like becoming a garbage man or going to work for somebody else: in any case, his friend was gone and he would see him no more.

    I don't know what "In divers of God's images" means; I've always taken it to mean "In diverse forms representing God", but I could easily be way off. I am a certified graduate of a reputable Vocational School, but my vocabulary isn't infinite. I do have a favorite word that appears later in the poem, but you might not feel the same way. I hope you enjoy the words, if not the story.

    I will be interested in your comments.

    by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Christmas was in the air and all was well
    With him, but for a few confusing flaws
    In divers of God's images. Because
    A friend of his would neither buy nor sell,
    Was he to answer for the axe that fell?
    He pondered; and the reason for it was,
    Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
    Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

    Acknowledging an improvident surprise,
    He magnified a fancy that he wished
    The friend whom he had wrecked were here again.
    Not sure of that, he found a compromise;
    And from the fulness of his heart he fished
    A dime for Jesus who had died for men.

    1. There's more here than I can funnel into my mind before a day at work. Funnel I shall, but it'll be tonight, maybe tomorrow...

    2. How the hell did a hundred years of educators fuck up the meaning of a 20-line poem? My best educating came without much help from educators.

      I dropped out of high school, and often say that I have no regrets about that. I hated everything about the school environment — the rigidity of learning (it seemed more like programming), the teachers (most of whom seemed as bored as I was), and especially I hated the other kids, because they tended to punch me in the head. If there is a regret to dropping out, though, it’s that I perhaps could’ve enjoyed and profited from exposure to better literature, if only I could’ve found a teacher willing to teach it. Maybe I’ve finally found that teacher? I’ll send you an apple.

      You’ve thanked me for reading the poem afresh, but I had no choice since I’d never read it at all before. It’s just twenty lines, like you said, and they’re short lines with no big words, so how did I make it all these years reading only a few clipped words out of that?

      It made me smile when Wikipedia said of ‘The Road Not Taken’, “The meter is basically iambic tetrameter, with each line having four two-syllable feet, though in almost every line, in different positions, an iamb is replaced with an anapest.” I know I’m Bubba Scratchnuts crashing a meeting of the Kerouac Club, but I will never be curious enough to decode that much poem-speak.

      As for ‘Karma’, by Edwin Arlington Robinson, I will bless you (gesundheit) with my very first impressions, as again it’s a poem I’d never heard of, and this time from a poet I’d also never heard of.

      It’s cool. Glad I’ve read it. Beyond that, this high school dropout flails about a bit...

      I am intrigued that it’s titled ‘Karma’, a concept borrowed from Buddhism, though the poem is rife with Christian imagery — very cosmopolitan, and I do enjoy the smorgasbord approach.

      The rhymes are spaced so far apart that I barely noticed them, and I wonder how many readers miss the rhymes entirely? Perhaps they’re more plain when the poem is read.

      Coming from a lifelong appreciation for prose, I read it as a very short story. In such, habit tells me to sympathize with the protagonist, but by the end I didn’t. Dropping a dime to quiet his guilt over some unspecified misdeed carries a whiff of budget-priced hypocrisy. 10¢ in lieu of an apology — dude’s a fuckwad. It’s self-deception that’s familiar to me, being a scumbag myself. I judge the character to be rather like me, and thus I don’t like him.

      It’s well-written, though I wish it *was a short story or perhaps a longer poem, because I’d like to know more about what wrong had been done to the departed ex-friend, and what other ways this dude disappoints himself without facing it.

      I would’ve written it as a story instead of a poem, and resolved my wondering about whatever was neither bought nor sold, and how exactly the axe fell — and in the process I’d have made it a boring and muddled mess. It’s better the way Edwin wrote it.

    3. Hi Doug,

      I'm writing a less frequently because I've been pummeling you a little on poetry, so I'm gearing down. But not much.

      As usual, in your above message from yesterday, you were all over insightful commentary on the matter of communication as art. You dropped out of high school and I dropped out of college, but our brains didn't drop out of learning and, more importantly, curiosity. You make these great arguments for the short story form and for the poetry form, back and forth, that would be applauded in an upper-level college literature class.

      You dance all around the general observation that prose makes assertions about human needs and foibles and patterns and that poetry asks questions, or causes them to be asked. In any case, I found your discussion about prose versus poetry to be insightful and probing.

      The question of whether we can buy our way into Heaven (or buy our way out of sin) is a millennia-old question in the great monotheistic religions, and you take it head-on.

      Even though I'm a dropout, later in life I was invited to present some lectures in a couple of universities, a global macro-economics symposium in Canada, and annually for several years in a local community college on Global Economics and the Information Technologies That Enable Them. Big words and a lot of fun, but it didn't pay much. In most of the symposia, I asked each student (as a favor, not as an assignment) to give me a one-pager about the evolution of human communication. Your comment above would have done well next to those submitted by post-grads and several PhDs: a little rougher, but also a little more insightful.

      You are filled with curiosity and insight and the courage to employ them (and deploy them) even when you aren't certain you're on firm ground. That is commendable: that is also how human knowledge moves forward. Thank you for being willing to risk being wrong in order to find a more interesting way of being right.


    4. I have not felt pummeled. The conversation is interesting. Not sure I’ve said anything worthy of such complements, but one should never argue when someone else is being kind.

      > ...prose makes assertions about human needs and foibles and patterns and that poetry asks questions, or causes them to be asked.

      Is that the accepted definition? It’s not something I’ve given much thought to, but there’s so much shitty prose and shitty poetry, I’d want to add ‘good’ before making such an assessment. Maybe good prose is about telling a story or conveying information, and good poetry is about conveying a feeling? Exceptions abound, probably.

      And also, you might be pleased and I’m amazed to report that a few ‘poem a day’ sites have been added to my regular surf cycles. It might broaden my perspectives. I like this one, by Walt Whitman...

      No labor-saving machine,
      Nor discovery have I made,
      Nor will I be able to leave behind me
      any wealthy bequest
      to found hospital or library,
      Nor reminiscence of any deed
      of courage for America,
      Nor literary success nor intellect;
      nor book for the book-shelf,
      But a few carols
      vibrating through the air I leave,
      For comrades and lovers.

      The word ‘comrade’ rings odd, because political opponents of comradeship have mocked it for a century, but absent that it’s a beautiful concept, ain’t it? It’s a word almost without a synonym.

      Walt, to me, has only been the high school on Room 222 and a clue in the bathroom on Breaking Bad, but possibly he deserves more of my attention.

      Anyway, hurry back, comrade.


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