An exercise in presumption.
Background: There is a writers' blog I visit, According to Hoyt
. One of the things they do there (mostly for fun) is a weekly writing exercise called "Vignettes": given a one-word prompt, come up with a little sketch or scene; ideally in 50 words, but this is not a rule, merely an incentive to keep the sketch as compact as possible. I've been taking part for some time.One recent week my Muse (who must have been out on the town the night before) put it into my head to see if I could compose a sonnet using exactly fifty words (50 words / 14 lines = average of 3.6 words per line). The prompt was "woe"; two - three hour's effort resulted in the following Procrustean verse:
Heedest thou ambition's provocation
(Inflexible, relentless, merciless)?
Reckon on unparalleled success —
Or, despairing, self-defenestration.
Vignetteering versifier, fated
Preposterously to poeticize,
Laboriously striving, reifies
Variegated words, concatenated.
Madsome Muse maniacally taunting,
He (overstraining Reason's fragile tether)
Mortars polysyllables together,
Victorious vocabulary vaunting.
Woe! To this scribbling simian befel
Unmitigated, dogged doggerel.
UPDATE: Yesterday, April 12, my wife's mother died. Please pray for the repose of her soul.
Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
Could anyone who stops by please take a moment to put up a prayer for my wife's mother? She was hospitalized with pneumonia the week before Palm Sunday and now has to go into a nursing home. She is very frail, has congestive heart failure, and is only occasionally lucid; and we don't know how much time she has left. (Prayers for her family would also be appreciated: this has been a very difficult time for us.)
Many thanks and God bless you.
A loose-living fellow named Rollo
Said, “Who needs that stuffed shirt, Apollo?
I much prefer Bacchus,
Whose votaries caucus
For boozing – it’s Bacchus I’ll follow!
A lady who lived in Berlin
Caused her suitor no end of chagrin:
She would answer his ring
Wearing nary a thing,
And then scream when he tried to come in.
I have a job!
As of today I am employed again: a one-year contract position with a sister company of the one I had been let go from at the end of last August. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who prayed for us.
The Dick and Jane Version of "The Cask of Amontillado"
Many years ago I put up a post suggesting how Edgar Allan Poe might have written "Dick and Jane".
Today I was moved to create a companion piece:
The Dick and Jane Version of "The Cask of Amontillado"
Montresor is not happy.
Fortunato is happy.
Fortunato is very happy.
Fortunato is drunk as a skunk.
See Montresor and Fortunato.
Montresor says "Hello" to Fortunato.
Fortunato says "Hello" to Montresor.
"Listen, listen," says Montresor. "I have just bought some Amontillado."
"Silly, silly," says Fortunato. "It is carnival. You cannot buy Amontillado when it is carnival."
"Well, well," says Montresor, "I am not sure whether it is Amontillado."
"Come, come," says Fortunato. "Let us go and taste it."
See Montresor's palazzo.
No one is there.
The servants are all gone.
They are out getting drunk as skunks.
See Montresor's cellar.
Montresor's cellar is big.
Montresor's cellar is full of wine.
See Montresor and Fortunato.
Montresor and Fortunato are in the cellar.
Fortunato is happy.
Fortunato is not afraid.
Fortunato is still drunk as a skunk.
"Look, look," says Montresor. "Here is the Amontillado."
Montresor is playing a joke.
There is no Amontillado.
Montresor has chained Fortunato to the wall.
Fortunato is not afraid.
Fortunato thinks it is a very funny joke.
Hear Fortunato laugh.
Montresor is building a wall.
Fortunato is on the other side of the wall.
Fortunato is no longer drunk as a skunk.
Fortunato is sober.
Fortunato is not happy.
Fortunato is afraid.
Hear Fortunato scream.
Montresor hears Fortunato scream.
Montresor is happy.
"For the love of God, Montresor," says Fortunato.
"Yes," says Montresor. "For the love of God."
Montresor has finished the wall.
You cannot see Fortunato.
Fortunato is on the other side of the wall.
Montresor is very happy.
A mademoiselle lived in Nancy,
Who had an odd crotchet or fancy:
When asked out on a date,
She would show up too late,
So her marital prospects were chancy.
Said an OB-GYN, "Oh dear,
September's first Monday draws near;
It's long ceased to be fun,
For the same dreary pun
Happens year after year after year."
Yesterday was the last day at the old job (we had been offered a "stay" bonus and a not-too-bad severance package to work through the end of August). So it's time to take a week or so for vacation and then start looking.
Continued prayers would be appreciated.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone for your prayers. We've decided to stay here in Pennsylvania and try to find another job; so we would appreciate it if you could continue your prayers for this new intention. God bless you all.
We could use some prayers.
What do you do when life throws a curveball at you the size of one of the larger asteroids? Yesterday I learned that my job is moving from Pennsylvania to Florida at very short notice. I have two weeks to decide if I want follow it; and seeing that I'm 61 with a wife and two dependent children, and that while we're not in debt and have a 401K we're not in a position to retire yet, I don't know that I have much choice in the matter. We have just told the children and they are taking it hard. Prayers would be much appreciated.
I'm alive and well, and turned 61 yesterday. Continuing to scribble: working on a second juvenile murder mystery set in 1929 England. The Bride and I have taking up shooting and visit a local range every couple of weeks or so; for some reason I'm not surprised that she's a better shot than I am (at least I'm better at shooting than I ever was at golf, the only other sport I have taken up in my life - if my performance with a Smith & Wesson revolver was as bad as my performance with a set of clubs, they'd ban me from the range).
I didn't particularly want Trump to win - but oh, brother, I was glad that Hillary lost.
Hello. I'm returning just long enough to let anyone who still drops by that I'm still alive and observing (I really can't say celebrating) my 60th birthday today. I'm also still scribbling, but prose instead of verse; I've written a number of stories for children and have the first draft of a YA murder mystery near completion.
As to the general state of the world, I will only say that were it not for my family and friends I would welcome with loud huzzahs the arrival of a SMOD [edited to remove excessive gloom].
On this date, September 15, twnty-five years ago, God blessed me with a wife better than I could have imagined and far better than I deserved, and He has blessed our marriage ever since, for the both of which I thank Him.
Sorry I haven't been here. There are a number of reasons for this; perhaps chief among them is that I have been, and still am, engaged in a large-scale (for me) scribbling project.
As always, I will be very grateful for any prayers for me and my family.
God bless you, and
(and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!)
[The following is another idea which has been developing for quite some time.]
HOW I DEFEATED DEATH
My story begins after my own death.
In life I was nobody special - far from it (my name, in fact, is John Smith). From youth until my demise I worked as a librarian in a small and peaceful town in Pennsylvania. The job suited my natural tidiness and love of order, as well as my extreme diffidence and timidity. I was undeservedly blessed with a wife (who predeceased me by some years), and a daughter, who was still quite young when she was left an orphan.
Upon my arrival in the afterlife I was judged to be unfit for immediate admission to Heaven, and therefore sentenced to serve a term in Purgatory.
It is a custom there to assign certain inmates to assist the Intelligences and other angelic spirits who, under the authority of the Lord, govern the material aspects of His Creation. I was one such and found myself enrolled in the service of Azrael, also known as the Dark Angel, the Angel of Death, or just Death.
Death occupies an estate on that side of Purgatory nearest the World, as most convenient for coming and going. His house is a rambling manor, built in no particular style, but well-proportioned and solidly made. It stands in the middle of a green park densely planted with flowering trees, of which several are sure to be in blossom at any given time. During my time there, clouds rarely hid the sun during the day, or the stars at night, and autumn and winter never came. (I asked Death about this once; he explained that he saw little enough of beauty or peace when he was out doing his work, and so was determined to have plenty of both when he was at home.)
Beyond the park a grassy plain extends in all directions. Far off in the blue distance can be seen a boxlike structure of immense height and interminable extent, rather like a stupendous warehouse, the nature of which will be explained later in my account.
At first I was given the most menial tasks, such as mucking out the stables where Death's pale horses were kept, or scything the grass in the park (yes, Death has a scythe - in fact, several - and all they are ever used for is the grass; although when he's home on All Hallows Eve he will sometimes take one and carry it around, as a joke). But as time went on I was entrusted with greater responsibilities, until finally I rose the post of Death's principal secretary. As such I received the notices of those whom Death was to visit, tabulated and indexed them by name, date, place, and so on, and planned the itinerary of each of Death's journeys into the World. (Time in Purgatory is neither commensurate with nor parallel to mundane time, so Death can complete his work in one place before moving on to another, rather than leaping like a manic grasshopper from Timbuktu to Trebizond to Toronto.) At this I proved to be extraordinarily competent.
It was my successful tenure as Death's secretary which led to a remarkable and extensive new role in his service. One day Death summoned me and proposed a visit to the vast and distant structure which I had often seen, but the purpose of which I had never learned. On the long journey there (the building was further away, and hence of even greater size, than I had realized), he said nothing to give me any idea of what to expect, but there was a certain excitement in his manner leading me to believe he was looking forward to revealing something astonishing.
At the entrance to the building was posted a subordinate angel-porter, who at Death's command opened a pair of lofty and massive brazen doors and ushered us in.
The light flooding in through the open doorway illuminated a cavernous interior, crammed with a chaotic and heterogeneous assemblage of artifacts. Bottles of every conceivable size, shape, and color were ranged atop irregular stacks of crates. Lengths of metal and wood were strewn about the floor. Swords and javelins stood propped against a row of barrels, the nearest of which were labeled "Greek Fire", "Deluge", and "Spoiled Butter". A rack of stoppered test tubes balanced precariously on a heap of bricks, clay roof-tiles, and shards of pottery and glass. Beyond were artillery and automobiles, billhooks and boomerangs, a guillotine, a stuffed giraffe, and a myriad of other objects.
I turned to Death, who stood looking over the conglomeration with an air of prideful complacency, and asked, "What is all this?"
"The results of many, many years of activity," answered Death. "A long, long time ago I became fascinated by the infinite variety of means by which my presence can be required, so I started to gather mementoes. I began with only the most striking, but, as time went on - well," and suddenly Death looked a little embarrassed, "you know how it gets with collectors."
I did; but as we threaded through the narrow passes separating mountains of accumulated lethality, I realized that this was collecting on a more than titanic scale. William Randolph Hearst or Charles Foster Kane could not have envisaged, let alone acquired, a thousandth part of lay about us in heaps towering to the ceiling high above (but then, I reflected, they had neither the opportunities nor the time available to Death).
Eventually I grew fatigued by the overwhelming effort of trying to take it all in, and Death, seeing this, led me back to the entrance and out again into the sunlight and fresh air. When I had rested, he said to me, "I suppose you're wondering why I brought you here."
"I suppose simply to be treated to the spectacle," I replied. "What you have in there is surely not something to be secretly gloated over. Does everyone in your service get to come here sooner or later, or is it a mark of special favor?"
"I suppose you could say it is the latter," said Death. I was beginning to express my appreciation of the honor, but he stopped me. "In fact, very few have ever seen my collection, apart from those of my servants who have helped me to gather it. No, Smith, I didn't bring you here just to show it off. I brought you here to put you in charge of it."
Death took me back inside. "Look about you," he said. "I have realized that I have put all my efforts accumulating, when I should have been giving some thought to organizing. Why, Himself stopped by to see it once, many years ago, and remarked that He hadn't seen chaos like this since the beginning of the First Day... Your work as my secretary has impressed me immensely - I want you to catalog and arrange my collection. I want this to be a museum, not the greatest lumber room in Creation. And you will be its curator."
"You must be joking. I was a librarian - what do I know about weapons and germs and poisons and all the whatnot you have in here?"
"Think about it. Everything in here has a story. If, instead of each item, you had a book or an article or a monograph of which it was the subject, you'd know what to do with it, correct?"
"Of course. I said I was a librarian."
"Well there you are, then. The principle's the same, whether you have just the story or the thing itself."
I could not argue with this, but raised another objection. "This would take years!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, more than that - centuries. Well, I exaggerate - your predecessor estimated a hundred and fifty years or so - but come to think of it, there wasn't nearly as much to organize as there is now. Mankind has grown prodigiously inventive since he was here."
"Yes. You're not the first I have asked to take on the job. He was a naturalist - a disciple of the great Linnaeus, with a genius for taxonomy."
"He doesn’t seem to have gotten very far."
"I'm afraid he proved unsatisfactory. Unluckily, he started with the alcoholic beverages and found them rather too alluring. When I found out that he had entirely drunk up an irreplaceable amphora of Falernian wine from Julius Caesar's time, I had to ask for his reassignment. I believe he's now an undersecretary on the staff on the Intelligence governing the planet Pluto. I do feel sorry for him - not much scope for a naturalist on Pluto… One thing that recommended you to me was that you had been particularly abstemious during your life."
"That is so," I said. "My only addiction is to the works of P. G. Wodehouse."
"I think somewhere I have a case of them which fell on someone's head - please, just put them back when you're done with them."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
And so I moved from secretary to curator. At first, though, it seemed more like a combination of junk dealer, pawnbroker, and archaeologist. Fortunately, I was not required to work alone - Death had placed a crew of subordinate angels at my disposal, and they did all the heavy lifting - but even the intellectual labor was Herculean. It took several years just to separate everything into some sort of rough grouping, and then years more to work out a cataloging system, for Death's simplistic argument proved wrong and neither Dewey Decimal nor Library of Congress was at all suitable. And then more years to work out the floor plan of the museum. And then more years to construct it. And then, when we actually started to put things in place, a thousand weaknesses, oversights, and incorrect assumptions in the initial designs became evident, and much had to be done over again, or torn down and rebuilt.
Part of the problem, of course, was that even as we struggled with millennia of accumulated artifacts, more were pouring in all the time. As Death had said, Mankind had grown prodigiously inventive. Also, Death had broadened his interests from actual lethality to potential, and I had to determine what to do with things like weaponized chickenpox, cat-borne incendiaries, and ever more powerful explosive devices - I particularly remember Death enthusing over the Berserker, a prototype 500-megaton fusion bomb ("So elegant a design! And such a simple controller! Push button one to activate, push button two to arm, and when you push button three - kaboom! Not, of course," he added hastily, "that I'd ever actually want anyone to use it.").
And part of the problem was that things were not always what they seemed. Some examples:
A box of arsenic-laced cookies - poisoning? No - the wife who baked them with murderous intent burned herself badly while taking them out of the oven, and died of a resulting infection.
Three empty whiskey bottles - legacy of someone who drank himself to death? No - they were part of the kit of a street performer, a juggler. A passing motorist, distracted by his act, lost sight of where he was going and ran into a telephone pole.
The stuffed giraffe I had seen that first day - one of a stampeding herd which trampled everyone in its path? No - it had belonged to an eccentric millionaire and was quite gentle. It had died of a sudden heart attack and collapsed on top of its owner.
And then there was the paper bag of confetti. I had no idea what to do with it, so I took it to Death and asked him. He looked puzzled for a moment, then burst out laughing and said he'd forgotten about that one. He told me that he would keep it for now, but promised to bring it when the museum was finished and tell me the story then.
It is here that my account turns, I fear, rather melodramatic. I had perforce relinquished my secretarial duties to take up my new job as curator, and they were taken on by a series of new secretaries. There would sometimes be a gap between the departure of one secretary and the arrival of the next, and at such times I was asked to fill in. I welcomed such occurrences, as they provided a refreshing break from my endless labors at Death's museum.
It was during one such period, just before the museum was complete, when a notice reached my desk. As I said above, Purgatorial time is not at all the same as worldly time, so the reader should not be overly surprised to learn that this notice was of the death of my daughter, nor that she was still a young girl. That she was to die was upsetting enough yet might have been bearable, but when I looked at the details, and discovered how prolonged and how agonizing the event would be, I could not allow it. The notice went into a drawer at once, and came with me when I returned to the museum.
For days and weeks thereafter, as I put the finishing touches to my work and passed it in review to ensure that all was ready and in order, that notice was continually in my mind. Try how I might, I could not think of a way to convert the delay I had so desperately contrived into a permanent respite. And yet for all that time I had to keep up a bland and businesslike façade, concealing the frantic turmoil behind.
The day came at last when everything had been done. Death had planned the ceremony of a formal opening, but asked for a private viewing first.
I guided him for miles through halls and galleries, chambers and vaults, past thousands of cases, shelves, and mountings displaying instruments and mementoes of every imaginable immediate or proximate cause of someone's demise.
At last we reached the central chamber, wherein were ranged those devices which most elegantly combined ingenuity, intricacy, and concentrated lethality. For many minutes Death wandered through the room, inspecting its gleaming and glittering contents. Returning to my side, he was at first too overcome to speak. Finally he mastered himself, sighed, turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, "This is magnificent, Smith. This is an amazing piece of work. You have gone far beyond my hopes; you have accomplished more than I dared to dream. This is, simply, the completest thing."
Our journey out was slower than our journey in, for Death was forever noticing one or another item particularly memorable and we would pause while he spoke to me of its history and significance. It was when we were nearing the exit, in the Hall of Gunpowder Weaponry, XIXth Century, North America, that the blow fell. Death had strolled across the hall, his attention caught by some souvenir, and as he did so he spoke casually over his shoulder, "By the way, Smith, I need that notice you took."
To my astonishment, I head myself say, "No."
Death gave no sign of having heard. He went on a few paces, stopped, and took down from the wall a Colt Navy revolver. Looking fondly at it, he said, "This one has a very interesting story. I was at the Battle of - "
"No," I said again, more loudly.
"- Cedar Creek, in 1864, when - "
"No!" I said again, louder still.
"- the 93rd Pennsylvania - "
I happened to be standing by a mounted Spencer seven-shot repeating rifle. I seized it and fired into the air. The sound of the shot echoed and re-echoed through the hall while a cloud of dust and plaster flakes floated down from the ceiling. Death stopped talking, looked at me quizzically, and resumed studying the Colt.
I fired another shot into the air, and when Death looked up again fired a third past his ear. He turned and looked at the hole the bullet had made in the wall. But all he said was, "You need to be more careful, Smith - you might have damaged something."
I felt at this point that I might as well damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead. Taking aim this time, I fired three more shots. Two connected: one smashed the lock of a Model 1861 Springfield rifled musket, while the other left a deep score across the shining barrel of a mint-condition Napoleon twelve-pounder.
This finally got Death's undivided attention. But as he started to cross the hall back toward me, I shouted, "Stop! I've got one bullet left, and I really don't care where it goes!"
Death chuckled. "Are you threatening me? Do you actually think that you can injure, let alone kill, an angel?"
"No," I replied, "but do you see that powder barrel? What do you think would happen in this room if a slug of hot lead hit it?"
For the first time Death looked a little discomposed. Putting his hands in the air, he said, "Let's not get carried away and do anything we might later regret. Say what you have to say - I'm listening. What do you want?"
"You know what I want. Leave my daughter alone!"
"I'm sorry," said Death, "but that's impossible." And he turned to go.
"Have it your way," I shouted after him. "Let's find out how loud the bang is." And I raised the Spencer and aimed it at the powder barrel.
Death stopped and turned to face me again.
"It really is impossible, Smith," he said. "There is, quite literally, nothing I can do about it."
"What do you mean? You go to her, she dies; you stay away, she lives. Listen," I pleaded, "I'll do anything - anything. Name the price, I'll pay it."
"It doesn't work like that," answered Death impatiently, "so stop this foolishness and come along. I tell you, there is no price you can pay for your daughter's life."
Inspiration came to me. I exclaimed, "All right. But there's a price you'll pay for her death!" I leapt to a pyramid of roundshot and, using the Spencer as a lever, pried out one from the bottom. The pyramid melted into a tide of iron balls clanging and ringing over the floor between Death and me. As it did so I turned and ran back again, deeper into the museum.
Death followed me as fast as he could. But I had the advantage of knowing the plan of the museum; and also, I knew exactly where I was headed. By the time Death found me, I was ready.
Once again we were in the central chamber. But this time I was standing beside the Berserker, holding the controller. The tell-tale light on the spotless white housing was glowing a steady green, and a soft, ominous hum filled the air.
"I've pushed button one and button two already," I said to Death. "Shall I push button three and find out how loud a bang this makes? And what will happen to your precious collection if I do?"
"Stop!" cried Death, now paler than any of his horses. "Let's - let's talk."
"What's to talk about? If you tell me that my daughter lives, you get to keep your collection. Otherwise, I start a very short countdown."
"It's not that simple! I say to you again that I have no authority in this - those above me do. They tell me to come, and I come; they tell me to go, and I go."
"Then I tell you to go - go to them and tell them what I want. And if they deny me, then - what was it you said once? - Kaboom!"
Death departed hastily and I settled down to a wait of unknown duration. But I was exhausted, and drained; the hum of the Berserker grew less ominous and more soothing; and I fell asleep.
The sound of my name being called broke into my dreams and roused me. Before I was fully I awake I realized that I was no longer holding the controller. I groped about madly but could not find it. Finally I looked up and saw Death standing over me, the controller in his hands. The sickening knowledge of failure swept over me. And then Death spoke.
"You've won, Smith," he said, smiling. "They changed their minds. Your daughter will live. Let's go home."
When we got home, Death informed me that I was being reassigned, adding that if he had any say in the matter, my successor would have no living relatives closer than a fifth cousin once removed, or maybe even twice.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
It's very peaceful here on Pluto. There's not much for a second deputy assistant undersecretary to do, so I have a lot of time on my hands. I've taken up acrostics and indoor croquet, and Death was gracious enough to give me the case of Wodehouse as a going-away present.
My only regret is that I never found out about the confetti.
Inspired by William Luse's painting of a bird at Apologia
Merciful hunter -
Quarry taken and mounted,
Yet alive and free!"
On Father Z's blog
, responding to Father Z's objection to split infinitives:
Infinitives I love to blithely split -
You may wish to pedantically object,
Or rashly throw a nutty (spittle-flecked) -
Rage how you will, I plan to never quit.
Contemplating advancing age:
I don't rove with the lusty young studs,
Or carouse with the dashing young bloods;
All such days gay and fast
Now are long in the past -
I just fud with the other old duds.
Oh dear. Not only did I miss announcing my 58th birthday on April 26th, I also missed announcing my 10th blogiversary. Preoccupation with other matters, advancing age, inertia, just plain sloth? Probably all of them.
As long as I'm here, I shall mention that tomorrow will be the 25th anniversary of the day on which the Bride and I "met" each other. We were members of an organization called Single Booklovers (still around)
. I had just joined; I had looked through the list of thumbnail profiles they had sent and compiled a list of possibilities (that sounds rather bloodless, but it really wasn't), and then went through it again and added a few more - she was one of the afterthoughts. I called her on May 17, 1989 (I was in New Jersey, she was in Houston); we were talking marriage in July, I flew down to Houston in August, we got engaged Christmas Eve, and were married the following September. (Impetuous folly or two people old enough - 33 and 30 - to know their own minds? Subsequent event would seem to indicate the latter, although where we would have been without also benefiting from great dollops of God's grace, I don't
Sorry to bore you with trivia. I may have another bit of scribbled oddness up soon - it's still being edited & we'll see how it comes out.
[The idea for the following came to me a long time ago, and gradually took form until finally the Muse hit me upside the head and told me to stop lollygagging and write it down.]
THE LAST QUESTION
Armageddon was over, and a great peace filled Creation. Most of the Heavenly host had departed, but many still remained, cleaning up the battlefield. There were, of course, no bodies - all the combatants being angelic spirits or immortal souls - but there were great mounds of armor and weapons, broken or dropped in flight, and uncounted myriads of feathers.
Lucifer lay in chains, waiting until the time came to be thrown with his legions into the Pit. He called out continually, until finally the Archangel Michael came and asked what he wanted.
"I want to speak with the Marshal of Mankind," said Lucifer. "I want to ask him a question."
So the Archangel Michael summoned the Marshal of Mankind and brought him to Lucifer. "What do you want to know?" asked the Marshal.
"How did you do it?" asked Lucifer.
"How did I do what?"
- the Army of Mankind. How did you do it?"
"I'm sorry," said the Marshal, "but you'll have to explain."
"Look," said Lucifer. "Before the battle, I was certain that your army would be of no account. In all my dealings with Mankind, you have proved pathetically weak. I never got anywhere, try though I might, with any of the ninety and nine righteous peoples of Creation, but you
fell into my hands from the start. Three times I almost won, forcing Him to adopt the most desperate expedients: the first time, He had to wipe out almost all of you and start over; the second, He had to make Himself manifest and work innumerable miracles in order to free His Chosen People from the sentence of slavery and death which I had imposed upon them; and finally, He had to sacrifice His own Son.
"Going into this late battle, I had almost as many of you on my side as He did on His - and they were useless. Half of them were shirkers and skulkers, and the other half turned and fled at the sound of the opening trumpet.
"And when we arrayed our forces for battle, there you were, far out on one flank. I had expected as much - even He had the wit to keep you well away from the real fighting.
"But what happened? As soon as battle was joined, you smashed through the legion facing you, turned and flanked the next, and began rolling up my right wing. You forced me to commit my reserves early, and you broke them as well. You fought your way to the very center and there you met the ninety and nine righteous peoples, who combined got there no faster than you did alone.
"How did you do it? What secret weapon did He give you?"
"I'll tell you," said the Marshal, "but you won't believe me."
"Try me," said Lucifer.
"Very well. Yes, we had something which the ninety and nine didn't have, nor did any other army in His host. But we didn't get it from Him. We got it from you."
"Impossible. I inspected my armory myself before the battle. Nothing was missing."
"We didn't steal it from you. You gave it to us freely; in fact you insisted on doing so, and would not take 'No' for an answer."
"The ninety and nine could not have been better prepared for the battle than they were. They had studied, they had trained, they had drilled - they were flawless. But they had never been in
battle: they had no idea of what it really is, and it took time for them to come to grips with it.
"But Mankind had been in constant battle with you from the beginning. In the course of time you struck at us with every weapon in your arsenal. You used every ruse, every tactic, every maneuver you could imagine. And so we were forced to learn how to counter each of them. By the time the trumpet sounded, there was not a stratagem you could try which we could not anticipate and foil before it started. Moloch, Mammon, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles - they were old acquaintances.
"Thanks to you, we were veterans before this battle started. Armageddon was just another day's work for us."
After the Marshal had finished, Lucifer lay still, buried in thought, for a long time. Finally he said, more to himself than to the Marshal,
"What a mistake I made. I should have scouted that flank more carefully. It's clear enough to me now what He did: He disguised His best soldiers as you, and hit me where I was wasn't expecting them. A clever trick, but an ignoble one…I would not have thought it of Him…"
The Marshal gazed sadly at Lucifer but said nothing.
After a while, Lucifer spoke again, "And now He's stuck! He's so concerned with His reputation, He can't ever let it out that He stooped to a trick! So to cover it up, He has to let you take the credit…Oh, I can hear already the boasting and bragging you'll do! And the ninety and nine - will they put up with that? They fought bravely and well, and they see poltroons and skulkers making off with their glory? No, they will boil over with jealousy and injured pride…There will be war in Heaven again!" His eyes blazed. " And one side or the other will be wanting allies…and they'll have to turn to me
...oh, yes, I'll come back, I'll have learned from my mistakes, and I'll win! I'll win!!"
"I told you that you wouldn't believe me," said the Marshal of Mankind.
And he went away.
Yes, I'm still alive.
Hat tip to lines and colors
(for the painting).
Regarding one of the current kerfuffles, a slightly edited version of a comment I had made:
All the talk about health insurance - all of it - is a distraction from the basic issue, which is what can be done to help those who are genuinely too poor to afford needed medical treatment. This is a problem best addressed outside the box of health insurance, especially the distorted and perverted system which we have today.
Forcing the rich to subsidize the non-rich for any reason is always wrong and imprudent. For starters, it takes the virtue out of charity. If Tom sees his poor neighbor Dick in need and helps him out, then all's right with the world: Tom makes the sacrifice of his own free will and deserves merit in Heaven and Dick's gratitude on Earth. But if Harry decides that Tom isn't doing enough and holds a gun to Tom's head to make him help Dick, then Tom deserves nothing because he didn't give voluntarily, but neither does Harry, because he sacrificed nothing. Dick's gratitude will be misdirected to Harry instead of to Tom, even though Tom made the sacrifice. Furthermore, Tom's dignity suffers because his autonomy is infringed upon, and because he is merely being treated as a means to an end. Finally, there is no guarantee that Harry knows better than Tom what to do, especially since Tom is probably closer to Dick than Harry is.
And then, inevitably, fallen human nature enters the picture. Tom, perpetually browbeaten by Harry and ignored by Dick, will grow to detest them both, and in fact the very concept of charity.
Harry, realizing that the more he browbeats Tom, the more he will gain the applause of the world, will continually increase his exactions. Looking in his mirror and seeing what a fine fellow he is, he will think he deserves some recompense for the time and effort he's putting in - after all, guns are expensive - and will start skimming to get a better car (because it would be terrible if the help didn't get there in time!), and a secretary to make sure he doesn't lose track of all the money, and a new overcoat lest he catch a cold and have to spend a week in bed instead of being out there helping Dick, and so on.
Dick, finding that all he needs to get through life is to go to Harry every so often and ask for more, will grow to think that he's entitled to all he can get. He will see any complaint by Tom as the start of a move to take away what is rightfully his. He will be encouraged in this by Harry, who will loudly and publicly accuse Tom of callous greed and selfishness.
And the members of Harry's fan club, who don't do anything but sit in the bleachers cheering Harry and booing Tom, will congratulate each other on their public-spiritedness and virtue because, after all, they're on Harry's side.
You want to help the poor get medical care? Become a doctor and open a clinic. If your talents don't lie that way, find a doctor who's running a clinic and help him, even if it's nothing more than sending him a little bit - out of your own pocket - every month to help cover expenses. Help pay the tuition of a medical student so the doctor can have an apprentice who may someday open another clinic.
Do what you can do and don't worry about what your neighbor may or may not be doing; he may be doing a lot and just not talking about it; and anyway, it's not your business.
It's not the Federal government's business either.
Surfacing just long enough to pass along a question asked by commenter "Michael D" at Midwest Conservative Journal
which epigrammatically illustrates the Zeitgeist:
Why should abortion rights apply only to people who are pregnant?
Still alive. Still very busy at work. Still very gloomy about the state of the world, especially my country. Muse still on vacation - don't know where, haven't even gotten a postcard.
Today is the ninth anniversary of Trousered Ape, and my 57th birthday.
Sorry I haven't been posting lately: my job has been unusually fatiguing, and the Muse has departed for an extended vacation; given the current uncertain and depressing state of the nation and the world, I don't blame her.
Update: Anthony Esolen puts it more eloquently than I could.
God, bless Your servant Francis; keep him safe and well; give him the grace and virtue he needs to feed Your sheep; and protect him from his enemies and confound and scatter them.
Just performed another long-overdue update to my sidebar. I decided to drop the Latinity, since in fact my Latin is not good enough for such pretension.
I don't know why the archive list changed.
Just because (a) we're losing a great Pope and (b) the current times have a whiff about them of Rome of the 2nd century B.C., or perhaps the Weimar Republic, it doesn't mean we can't engage in a little buffoonery:
The Ballad of Donovan's Brain
I've got Mister Donovan's brain, ha ha!
I've got Mister Donovan's brain:
It will keep nicely, stored
In this potion I've poured;
And I don't care a rap for the Medical Board.
I will study, record, puzzle out and explain
All the workings of Donovan's brain, oh yes -
Of Donovan's singular brain.
I feel rather odd in my brain, I do -
I feel rather odd in my brain:
I'm not sure where I'm at,
But it seems like a vat,
And I sense there's a doctor who's wanting to chat,
And I'm pretty sure that he will take every pain
To be very good friends with my brain, indeed -
He'll get very close to my brain.
What is it with Donovan's Brain, I ask -
What is it with Donovan's Brain?
I fear that he'll stifle
My ego; my life will
Be his to control to the tiniest trifle;
My poor little wife will think I've gone insane,
When I'm under the sway of his brain, oh dear -
Of Donovan's masterful brain.
It's great to be Donovan's Brain, it is -
It's great to be Donovan's Brain!
The good Doctor and me
Will go out on a spree
(Though I'll have to enjoy it vicariously),
And I think you'll agree that it's perfectly plain
That it's grand to be Donovan's Brain, hurrah!
To be Donovan's wonderful Brain!
Oh, how I hate Donovan's Brain, I cry -
That horrible Donovan's Brain!
I must bow to his will,
I must march to his drill,
Now this kooky experiment's lost all its thrill -
So I'll battle until I am free from the rein
Of tyrannical Donovan's Brain -
I challenge you, Donovan's Brain!
The Doctor's resisting my brain, he is -
The Doctor's at war with my brain.
If he's after a fight,
He will find that despite
All his efforts, he's bound to my cerebral might.
For his pitiful plight I have only disdain,
He can't stand up to Donovan's Brain, oh no -
He's no match for Donovan's Brain!
To Hell with you, Donovan's Brain! It's down
To Hell with you, Donovan's Brain!
I've unraveled your tricks
And got out of my fix,
And to all of your boasting and threats I say nix!
Your special elixir has gone down the drain,
So it's farewell to Donovan's Brain, it is -
It's farewell to Donovan's Brain!
It's the finish for Donovan's Brain, alas,
The finish of Donovan's Brain.
It's a terrible toss,
But the Doc is the boss -
Success brings you brickbats as well as applause -
And I guess that my loss is humanity's gain,
So it's farewell from Donovan's Brain, it is -
It's farewell from Donovan's Brain.