✔ Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was a perfectionist and labored over his journalistic prose. One night he was unable to make his notes cohere by deadline, so he faxed his raw drafts to his editor, expecting to be fired. They published the draft as was, complete with crossouts, circles and arrows. It created a sensation. Thompson thought, "Heck, if they're going to pay me for my drafts, why ever agonize again?" It was a turning point in his life. He got away with it.
✔ We spoke with a young man about whether he had ever learned to write cursively, what we call "script" as distinct from "printing." He said that as he rose through grade school, some classes learned it and some not. His class did not, so he did not. We asked if it mattered to him, and he said mostly not, because he had little occasion to write by hand, but that when he had to read script written by another, it was usually difficult or impossible for him to do so.
✔ Halloween is a bigger deal than the day of which it is the eve. So is New Year's Eve.
✔ What Confederate general was called "Old Pumpkin Guts"? None that we know of; just liked the name.
✔ In some ways, Benjamin Franklin is the Founder closest to modern speech and thought. He said, for example, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." That could have been written yesterday, and indeed was, but not for the first time, and not by Franklin.
✔ After David Foster Wallace died, his literary executors took the drafts of the last novel he was working on and selected and assembled parts of them into something they thought approximated how he would have completed the book. The result was published as "The Pale King," which some have said is about life inside the Reagan-era Internal Revenue Service.
✔ We don't get out much, so it was only this week we noticed the slogan on the North End cupcake place: "The Little Shop of NoRa's." We're a sucker for allusive wordplay.
✔ The distinction between cursing and swearing is not difficult. Cursing is calling down evil upon one or more persons or things, while swearing is taking oaths, or in a way, calling down evil on yourself if what you say is not true. As a boy, we learned a distinction between slander and calumny. Slander was telling negative untruths about another, and calumny was expressing bad things about another, truthfully but without good reason to do so, thereby violating charity. We have not seen this distinction expressed since. In law, libel is written defamation and slander is spoken defamation. Calumny seems not to be a "legal thing."
✔ Peter the Great ate with his fingers. No tableware. He and his court used bread as we would napkins. The business of eating with knives and forks and spoons was an Italian innovation of the Renaissance, if memory serves, for which other Europeans mocked the Italians as fops.
✔ A person from whom a demon is expelled has to be very careful, because one thing that is certain is that he or she was once a congenial home for a demon. Therefore there's a chance the same demon might come back, or another, worse demon move in. There's also the possibility that a whole lot of demons will take possession, and instead of reciting all their names if questioned by a powerful enough exorcist, they will say only, "Our name is Legion." Don't say we never give you useful tips.
✔ In Ireland they don't name their daughters "Colleen," because that means "girl." "Colleen" is an Irish-American thing. Also, they don't consider leprechauns cute or funny. Leprechauns are bad news; you'd cross a turf bog to avoid one.
✔ A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, a joke?"
✔ "Cynthia" is actually a nickname for the Greek moon goddess Aphrodite, huntress and sister of sun god Apollo. Some parents name their daughters the nickname instead of the real name, because the nickname doesn't rhyme with "nightie."
✔ The interest the United States pays to China for China's loans to the U.S. pays the entire Chinese military budget. Mideast oil increasingly goes to China. Europe gets its energy from Russia. North America will soon be energy-independent. Goodbye Israel! We say give the Israelis the whole bankrupt city of Detroit to move to and make blossom. In five years, they'll be selling cork to New York, shoes to Toulouse, ham to Siam, nails to Wales, tangerines to New Orleans, coals to Newcastle, software to Redmond, apples to Apple, dybbuks to Lubbock, pants to France, pearls to girls, and Ping Pong to Hong Kong. But when they get back on their feet, things will pick up.
✔ The death of C.S. Lewis on November 22, 1963 was completely overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy the same day. Lewis's was a mind alive. He said things like (quotation only from memory), "We are so wonderfully made that if you could see another person as he was, you would be tempted to fall down in worship, thinking you had seen God." (Also from memory:) "If prayers are answered, they are answered as of the beginning of the world, with God arranging things in foreknowledge of our prayers." Lewis eschewed reading daily newspapers as so much mental clutter. Maybe his best book was "The Abolition of Man," which argued, among much else, that if geneticists ever gained the power to determine what individuals believed was right and wrong, those geneticists would be the last humans. Less known than the Narnia series is the so-called "Space Trilogy" of novels: "Out of the Silent Planet," "Perelandra," and "That Hideous Strength," of which "Perelandra" stands out. His best novel, however, is mostly forgotten: "Till We Have Faces." He was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, but the men grew apart, the Catholic Tolkien believing that Lewis had somehow reverted to Belfast Protestant bigotry. Lewis was 64 when he died. One reason for loving him is that he never pretended to be anywhere near perfect, but never let his distance from perfection stop him from offering what he had to give. He was a great letter writer, a species that soon followed him into extinction. The 115th anniversary of his birth and 50th of his death both occur next month.