Monday, August 27, 2018

A tale of two authors.

The girls and I just got home from a weekend trip to Philadelphia. In all the years I've lived in the DC area, I've never been to Philly until now. Which is crazy -- it's closer than New York City, which I've visited several times. So when a great hotel rate came together with an Amtrak sale, I figured it was time.

Philadelphia is known more as the birthplace of the United States than as a hub of literary activity. The Second Continental Congress was held there, after all, at which the Declaration of Independence was approved in July 1776. And the Constitution was adopted there as well, in 1787.

Present for both events, though, was Philly's homeboy -- a well-known and well-respected printmaker named Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is known best nowadays, perhaps, for flying a kite in a thunderstorm. But he started life in Boston as the youngest son of Josiah Franklin, a candle-maker and soap-maker, and his second wife Abiah Folger. Franklin the elder fathered 17 children by his two wives. That's a lot of mouths to feed -- and so young Ben was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer in Boston.

He hated working for his brother. At 17, he ran away to Philadelphia and worked for printers there. Eventually, he set up his own print shop and published, among other things, the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper and Poor Richard's Almanack.

In Franklin Court, not far from Independence Hall, the National Park Service runs a museum devoted to Franklin. There's a cool archaeological exhibit outside where you can view the foundations of Franklin's house (the house itself is long gone). And the NPS has also set up a printmaking shop, so you can see how Ben plied his trade. The most time-consuming part of printing is setting the type; once that's done, a printer who knows what he's doing can print a page using this printing press in maybe 20 seconds.

Later in life, of course, Ben Franklin got into politics. Besides signing all those founding documents, he was the first Postmaster General of the United States, and he also served as ambassador to France. In addition, he became well known for his witty sayings -- and for more practical inventions. If you wear bifocals, for example, you can thank Ben Franklin for inventing them.

But publishing was in his blood to the last. His last will and testament begins: "I, Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia, printer..."

And now we fast-forward about fifty years to another famous writer who called Philadelphia home: Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was also born in Boston, but his parents were actors; his father abandoned the family and his mother died the next year. John Allan and his wife in Richmond, Virginia, took the boy in and raised him, but eventually John and Edgar had a falling-out over money; Poe attended the University of Virginia for a year, until the family ran out of money to keep him there, and then joined the Army. Eventually he entered West Point, but he abandoned his military career to become a writer full-time.

He married his first cousin Virginia before she'd turned 14, and her mother moved in with them to run the household. In 1838, the family moved to Philadelphia, and there Poe wrote and published many of his best-known short stories: "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the first detective story ever published. He also worked as editor of several literary magazines -- and he battled melancholy, in part due to his wife's ill health (she died of tuberculosis in 1847). He also had a problem with drinking.


The Poes moved several times while they lived in Philadelphia, but only one of those houses survives. Today the National Park Service runs it as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The part on the right in this photo was a later addition, and now houses a small gift shop, some exhibits, and a room where visitors can watch an introductory video. The Poes' rooms are only partially restored, with wall murals standing in for how things might have looked in Edgar's time. The overall effect is somewhat creepy -- in keeping, perhaps, with Poe's writings.

Today, we'd put most of Poe's tales in the horror category, and shunt him off as a genre writer. But he worked for literary magazines, and his fondest professional dream was to publish his own literary journal -- which he did, briefly, before it failed. Financial problems were a recurring theme in his life; even then, it was hard to make a full-time living at writing. But Poe found acclaim for his poetry and literary criticism as well as his prose, and many authors have cited him as an influence on their work (Yours Truly included).

In early October 1849, Poe turned up, ill and incoherent, on a street in Baltimore. He was hospitalized that night and died a few days later, at the age of 40. No one knows why he was in Baltimore. His medical records and his death certificate are missing. In the end, his death was as mysterious as his works.

The Poe National Historic Site is away from the typical tourist trail in Philly, but it's within walking distance of the Liberty Bell, and it's well worth a visit if you're a Poe fan.

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These moments of historical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Behold, the Scroll of...um...

I kind of wish the news would quit giving me ideas for blog posts.

This week, it's a little gem of the-opposite-of-tautology uttered by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on one of the Sunday morning gabfests earlier today. A tautology, to refresh your memory, is a statement that cannot be false. "Bears are bears" is one example. "1 + 1 = 2" is another.

One could be excused for believing "Truth is truth" would be another tautology -- but according to Giuliani this morning, truth isn't truth. Social media derision immediately followed. The phrase reminded a number of commenters of George Orwell's Newspeak -- specifically, what he referred to as doublespeak: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and so on.

What Giuliani meant to say, though, I think, was this: People remember things in different ways. Two people can be at the same meeting, say, and remember the events of the meeting differently. Another way to put it would be to say that truth is relative.

Except it's not.

For everything that has ever occurred, there exists somewhere an objective account. That's the capital-T Truth. But people have faulty memories; in addition, they bring their own beliefs and points of view to situations, and those may color the way they remember the event. And as time passes, people's memories become fuzzy. Moreover, sometimes the spin doctors get busy and the "official" account of the event in question gets bent out of shape. By then, we've gotten pretty far from objective Truth.

Which is why we have investigators and lawyers, judges and juries. Their job is to find and/or listen to all the evidence -- all the different recollections of the event from everyone involved. From that mountain of evidence, they reconstruct the capital-T Truth to the best of their abilities and mete out justice, if required.

I don't want to get into how "truth isn't truth" is awfully close to the concept of "alternative facts," because -- all together now -- This Isn't a Political Blog. You've gotta admit, though, the two concepts appear to be very similar.

Anyway.

The show's host, Chuck Todd, suggested Giuliani's statement would instantly be turned into a bad meme. Here at hearth/myth, we are nothing if not helpful.


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I swear I'm gonna write about writing next week.

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These moments of truthy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Maybe hate won, after all.

You may have heard that we were anticipating a little dust-up here in DC today. Thank the gods that things didn't get out of hand in any way. But I don't believe we got off scot-free.

As you may know, this weekend is the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, just a few hours away from DC. The event was organized by a bunch of white nationalists and fellow travelers, ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue showed up to protest and to counter the protestors, sparking numerous violent incidents while police basically stood by and watched it all happen. Then on Saturday, August 12th, a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Police arrested James Fields, Jr., and eventually charged him with first-degree murder and several hate-crime-related counts. His trial is set to start in November.

Things have not gone all that well for white supremacists since then. Many of them lost their jobs back home after being identified as participants in the rally. One fellow, Christopher Cantwell (no relation, thank goodness), became known as the "crying Nazi" when he posted a video of himself freaking out after learning the police were after him for the trouble in Charlottesville. Cantwell turned himself in shortly thereafter and has been in jail ever since. Last month, he pleaded guilty to assault and battery, and the judge reduced his sentence to time served; however, he is barred from entering the commonwealth of Virginia for five years.

More infamous white supremacists have also had a rough year. Rally organizer Richard Spencer, who last year moved into Old Town Alexandria, VA, to the horror of his liberal neighbors, has apparently broken his lease and moved out. And the host of InfoWars, Alex Jones, lost the vast majority of his social media platform when Facebook, YouTube, and Apple banned his accounts for violating their terms of service.

But the other organizer of last year's Charlottesville rally decided to do it again anyway. So Jason Kessler applied for a permit for an anniversary rally in Charlottesville. When city officials there were less than accommodating, he decided instead to move the rally to Washington, DC. Perhaps he thought a big rally in Lafayette Park, in full view of the White House, was just the shot in the arm the movement needed (never mind that the President wasn't going to be home). At the same time, organizers went ahead with plans for a commemorative march in Charlottesville, and counter-protestors again made plans to show up and shout them down.

Here in DC, we have seen our share of protests over the years. Besides the big marquee events -- the Million Man March, the Women's March, and so many others -- rallies and protests are practically a daily occurrence in Lafayette Park. The city had to issue Kessler a permit -- and they had to issue a permit to the coalition of counter-protestors who intended to demonstrate against Kessler's group. And then they had to figure out how to keep the two sides from killing one another. Extra security was scheduled; road closures were announced from Foggy Bottom to the White House. A proposal by the board of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Agency to reserve a special train for the Unite the Right ralliers fizzled when the transit workers' union, whose membership is 80 percent people of color, refused to run it.

In the end, it was the rally that fizzled. Fewer than 30 people showed up. Facing a heavy police presence and thousands of counter-protestors, Kessler stayed just long enough to make a speech. Then, as rain began pouring down, they left -- half an hour before rally was originally scheduled to start. The counter-protestors gave them a hearty chorus of "Na na, hey hey, goodbye" as security officers loaded them into vans and drove them away.

It's tempting to be giddy over Nazis turning tail and running from a crowd of thousands arrayed against them. But I'm reminded of some of the cautionary comments made in the days after 9/11, when security measures were being ramped up all around the country: The point of terrorism is to terrorize -- not just to blow things up, but to make people afraid. One guy gets aboard an airliner with an explosive in his shoe, and suddenly all of us are unpacking and undressing in order to get on a plane -- or paying the government a hundred bucks for the privilege of not having to undress and unpack. The goal isn't the bomb. The bomb is only a means to an end. The goal is to make people afraid.

This weekend, in both DC and Charlottesville (where the police seemed more sympathetic to the Nazis than to the counter-protestors), city officials scrambled, platoons of police were mobilized, money was spent on security, and normal people rearranged their lives -- and in the end, it was for no good reason. Sure, we had to be prepared. But no matter how few white supremacists showed up, they still got what they wanted. Even before the event was over, the damage was done.

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These moments of bloggy incitement have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Knitting is like - say what?

Dana Loesch, who shills for the NRA, said this week that 3D-printing -- even 3D-printing a gun -- could be a fun hobby. You know, like knitting.

We'll return to her comment in a few moments. But hey, how's that for a topical segue?

It appears I haven't done a knitting post since February. That was six months ago. Going so long between crafty posts seemed unlikely to me, until I remembered how hectic our spring was, what with the unexpected move due to construction woes at the old apartment building. (By the way, I stopped by there yesterday to check out a package receipt notification that I had received in error. Nothing's changed. I'm still glad we got out when we did.) I got rid of a ton of stuff in preparation for that move, including some yarn I knew I'd never knit up into anything. So while I was doing yarny things, I wasn't doing a lot of knitting.

In addition, we'd had a problem with moths at the old place. Actually, we'd had all sorts of weird problems with bugs at that place. The first time I turned on the bathroom light, a cloud of gnats flew out of the exhaust vent, circled a few times, and then all died at once. Then there was the time I found a daddy longlegs hiding in the shower curtain. I never did figure out how he got in. Lest you think the bathroom was Weirdness Central, we also had a plague of ants for a while; how they got up six floors and into our dining room still mystifies me.

Anyway, the moths. In an effort to kill them, we bagged up all our fiber in vacuum bags before we moved and left everything in those bags for several weeks after moving to the new place. All of which goes to explain why I left on vacation in June without a project in my carry-on.

Not to worry, though; they had yarn shops where I was going. And the first shop I stopped in -- Longmont Yarn Shoppe -- was a winner. As I browsed the pattern books, a clerk asked if she could help me. I told her I was on vacation and had left home without a project because things had been a little nutty before I left. I believe that was when she suggested that I have a seat at the table to look at the book further, and even brought me hot water and a basket of teas from which to choose. Talk about service!

After that, I could hardly leave without purchasing anything. So I picked up the pattern book -- aptly titled Road Trip -- and materials for the Rivulet shawl in the book. The pattern was not at all complicated, which suited me for that trip. I made it bigger than the directions called for. Here's the result:


The yarn is a soft silk/cotton blend. I'm looking forward to wearing this shawl when it cools down a little.

I was glad to have a simple project to work on because my previous project was definitely not simple. The pattern for this sweater is the Killybegs, designed by Carol Feller. Believe it or not, the hardest part of this was the I-cord cast-on at the bottom, which took me three sessions to finish. (For those of you who don't knit, I-cord is short for "idiot cord," a term coined by Elizabeth Zimmerman for a super-easy knitted cord made on double-pointed needles. She said the process was so easy that even an idiot could do it.)

Anyway, here's the sweater.


I took the photo in the bathroom at work, hence the tunnel-mirror effect.

As usual, I couldn't leave well enough alone; I installed a zipper instead of the gazillion hooks and eyes the pattern called for. Getting it in place took some trial-and-error. But it zips, and that's the important thing.

Since finishing the Rivulet, I've cast on a couple of projects and set them both aside. I'm thinking now that I may wait until it cools down before I pick up one or the other to finish it.

Which brings us back to Dana Loesch, who says she "knits all the time." I get how it might be fun to use a 3D printer to make stuff. But I just don't see how printing a gun would be like knitting. Knitters do kid around about how they're armed with sharp sticks, but needles aren't nearly as lethal as a firearm.

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I did a thing today: I posted last week's post at Medium. This is the first time I've ever posted anything there, so I'd appreciate it if you would stop by and give me a clap. Thanks!

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These moments of stabby blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.