Time Crunch

“The madly complicated modern world was something I took little interest in.”

– Bob Dylan, Chronicles


Believe me, Bob, when my check for SEK 8,000,000 arrives, I’m out of here too.



Now then.

For me, the defining problem of the modern world – apart from Doom – is this: you sit down to do something, and while trying to get it done you uncover subsidiary tasks, and by the end of whatever time you’ve allocated to have gotten something done, nothing is done and there is now more to do.

There is, of course, no hope. But I just learned this word, which helps:





Editor’s Note: This post was nearly titled “The Unbearable Biteness of Chronophagy,” which, while clever, is undeniably dreadful.



Horizontal Bopp


Up until last week, had you mentioned New Horizons, I’d have figured you were talking about day care or something.

Turns out it’s an interplanetary space probe launched ten years ago. I really need to quit skipping my NASA briefings.



This short New York Times documentary on its mission is both fascinating and cheering.

Plus, it clears things up if you’re wondering whose are the first human remains to leave the solar system, or how to qualify as a planet.



Unhappy Birthday 2


With lots of preliminary throat-clearing about how humor is subjective and etc, this is kind of a funny story.

So, for this other thing, I had searched Twitter for the young adult author Walter Dean Myers. Which brought me to this:



Tweet 1: Just found out that my uncle was killed yesterday night. Now I’m devastated. Not really in the party mood.

Tweet 2: My bday is so rough today because of my uncle’s death.

Tweet 3: Dang, my party is all messed up. But rest in peace Uncle Lee.

And that’s it. Three tweets to the account.


My first thought was: “Some poor soul [for the account was obviously not the author’s] took to Twitter, of all places, to voice grief, and met with the void’s embrace.” I found this saddening.


Second thought was: “This is the Twitter version of Hemingway’s six word novel!”


In fact, I even considered publicly directing attention to the account, I found it so remarkable.

Then I thought, ashamedly: “Good heavens, Peter, this is some poor soul’s grief, not a curio.”


Now, though, I think it’s the latter.

The next day – my mind moves as Earth rotates, if at all – I remembered I’d once taught (!) Walter Dean Myers’ Bad Boy, in which he recounts the above incident.


So, some teacher had probably said: “Today, kids, we’re going to use technology! Tweet thrice The Sorrows of Young Walter!”

N.B. in the event I’m wrong this is not at all funny.


P.S. here’s the first Unhappy Birthday. And the one before that:



Hell’s Bells

1. Apart From That, Mrs. Lincoln

Years ago there was a missile test the Pentagon touted met 16 of 17 objectives. The one it missed was the target.

The ballot I filled out in last week’s election met with similar success.

For whatever reason the one I missed keeps bugging me.



2. La Liberté éclairant le monde

The students I teach this year are immigrants. Wednesday morning I told them they are always welcome in my classroom, and always welcome in our school.

As for beyond, well, I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.

You’d think with that big green statue out front this wouldn’t be an issue.


3. The Fall

Gentle Reader, you come here not only for wisdom and guidance, but also moral elevation. So, uh, here goes:

  • We are not (yet, anyway) so benighted that we are without autumn. And man alive, the way the light’s hitting the leaves this week…
  • My buddy Owen became a father!
  • One of my students was wearing an AC/DC t-shirt, so we had a lovely conversation that consisted – given his English and my Spanish – of almost entirely song titles and grins of approving delight. The subject then switched to Guns N’ Roses, and I was even able to use my illusion to conceal that anything not on Appetite for Destruction is a considerable step down.

Gentle Reader, I leave you with the uplifting words of W. Axl Rose:

Nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change.

Flag Salute

Per (the Rt Hon.) Lord Steerforth, I was prompted to contemplate why Americans love their flag.

Personally, I love it because it’s one of the better looking flags out there.



Yeah, this one swings so cool and sways so gentle:


And respect to Nepal for thinking outside the box:



But global standards are generally pretty lame.

A good first step – indeed, perhaps the first of my planetary reign – would be to forbid tricolors. They look like coding for office folders.

Plus, quick: Ireland or Ivory Coast?


And don’t even get me started on those two-stripers.


Vexillographers of the world, improve! You have nothing to lose, most of you.

Idiot Winds



“Giscard considered the Americans ‘a little naive in an involuntary way.'”

Jimmy Carter in Africa, Nancy Mitchell


I read the above and thought “Voilà le shade!” For whatever reason it recalled this verdict on la condition humaine:


“Yet we are chemosensory idiots.”

The Meaning of Human Existence, Edward O. Wilson


Sorry? What does either have to do with anything? Well, you see:


“One way to sum up the stupidity of this phase of my life, a phase I’m afraid is ongoing, would be to call it the phase of insights.”

The Dog, Joseph O’Neill

The Pugilist at Rest

“For me it was easy: Produce text that was so good, an editor could not reject it,” he said.

Every couple years I search the internet to see if there’s any news from A Girl Called Eddy or Thom Jones. Tuesday’s obituary unhappily halves this task.

I owe much to Thom Jones. Although today regarded as astonishingly erudite, there was a youthful spell where I read no fiction. Then one day I was instructed – by a good woman who did what she could for my improvement – to read his short stories. Now not a week passes without me reading made up stuff.



Years ago I had the great fortune to attend one of his readings. He began it by apologizing for his (perfectly fine) appearance and dedicating the event (with raised fist and no explanation) to his “homeboys in Attica.”

The line for book signing afterward was long, and the slowest I’ve ever seen. Thom Jones was talking to – as in “having a conversation with” – everyone. When my turn came, I was struck by how genial he was, and how interested he seemed. I don’t remember what we said, except that we talked about Africa, where we’d both spent time.


I met Thom Jones as a reader. Later, when I decided to try writing stories, he was my discouraging inspiration: half “You know, maybe I could do this,” and half “Yeah, but it ain’t gonna be this good.” I’m still right.

Rest in peace, sir. Glad I met you.


PS Erin, if you’re reading this, pretty please: we want You Get the Legs You’re Given, not your obituary. Or at least one well before the other.

Man and Zimmerman

Recent news – and that’s “recent” in both the hebdomadal and geological sense – recalls this exchange:

Cliff: I’m ashamed God made me a man.

Carla: I don’t think God’s doing a lot of bragging about it either.


I haven’t heard all men talk, but I’m inclined to take a Menckenist view: No one ever went broke underestimating the decency of men.



Other recent news has been poetry for the ear.

Granted, when it comes to Bob Dylan, I take a Remnickist view: “I will concede that there are imperfections on the Christmas album.” But as far as I’m concerned, He could be awarded the Stanley Cup and all objection would be idiot wind.




The Unforgettable Fire

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

The above quote is probably a metaphor or something, which should have occurred to me before I started lighting matches in the classroom.

I had, you see, intended to vividly demonstrate that “igneous” is related to the word “ignite.”


With characteristic attention to safety, I’d had on hand a cup of water in which to douse the burned-out matches. But the thing is, it’s kind of a small classroom, and the matches produced a surprising amount of smoke. I very quickly began to wonder how sensitive the fire alarms and sprinklers were. I flung open the windows and ordered a student to swing the door back and forth.

Mercifully, nothing happened. The last thing I need is people going around wondering if I’m an ignicolist.

You know, a fire worshiper.

Preparing for the lesson, you see, brought me to this most rad page of the the New Shorter Oxford Dictionary:


Igniferous! Ignipotent! Ignis fatuus! How had I been unaware of these words?

My head must be full of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.


PS Speaking of ignipotentates, it was 43 years ago today that the guy on the right met with The All-Powerful Warrior Who, Because of His Endurance and Inflexible Will to Win, Goes from Conquest to Conquest, Leaving Fire in His Wake.

“Le rat-QUOI?”




Phantom Power

Valentine Strasser seized power in Sierra Leone when he was twenty-five years old.

At that age I ruled nowhere, perhaps because I was busy listening to Super Furry Animals’ Radiator.


Its track “Placid Casual” discusses the coup:

Freetown rocked in Sierra Leone / When Valentine Strasser danced his way to the throne / Gunpowder smoke took a heavy toll / But they weren’t placid casual and so they lost control.

This might not be the most perceptive analysis of Strasser’s reign, but it’s probably the best in modern Welsh psychedelic rock.



Continue reading “Phantom Power”