Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Got the Music in Me

My grandfather was the Music Director for Miami radio station WIOD from 1929 until 1952. He attended Yale's music conservatory and claimed to have graduated in 1924 although Yale seems to have forgotten about all but his first two years. He was a concert pianist, composer and crooner and evidently relatively famous as newspapers from his hometown of New Haven to Miami carried the locations of his daily whereabouts from where he played, to what he ate for dinner.
Earle Barr Hanson was a Star.

I met Earle about 3 years ago through Google's digital newspaper archives. It's a shame that they've cancelled the project because I still have so many questions. What happened to Earl's manuscripts? Did he publish? Did he record? According to the Miami Daily News, his career began with an Italian orchestra which somehow translated into spaghetti cravings, yet the photo from this article would lead me to believe that he'd still not mastered the fork. Maybe he was really hungry. Maybe he was a ham. That would follow as radio was live until the mid to late 1950s and to keep an unseen audience entertained day after day, you had to be funny. Funny Earle the Star. I like this guy.

Google also revealed that Earle was an early adopter. Before Gene Roddenberry, there was the Dixie Fantasy Federation. Earle was President and reportedly the largest collector of antique dime novels of his day.

Science fiction fandom made its appearance in the United States in the late 1920s in the discussions column of Amazing Stories, a science fiction magazine launched by Experimenter Publishing in 1926, and Weird Tales which began publishing pulp fiction in 1923.  Fans stayed in contact with one another through newsletters and professional magazines known as "promags" and "prozines." These early chat boards turned into local science fiction clubs who published amateur magazines and newsletters called "fanmags" or "fanzines." Some clubs held conventions. The Dixie Fantasy Federation's fanzine was called "Les Zombie" or LeZ for short. LeZ was published about once a month for five cents a copy or fifty cents for a year's subscription. You can find digitized issues here: http://www.midamericon.org/tucker/currentlez.htm.

My birthday was 3 weeks ago, but Tuesday a box came in the mail from my youngest daughter. Inside was a Luke Skywalker action figure. A replacement Luke as the original had been secured to a Estes model rocket engine and launched down the driveway in a father-daughter science experiment long ago. He's found a place next to my monitor where he guards Tron...in case Walt gets any more ideas.

Thank you to Bob Tucker from Bloomington, Illinois for digitizing and publishing Le Zombie on the web and to The National Fantasy Fan Federation for publishing "The History of N3F" which can be found here: http://www.n3f.org/N3Fhistory.shtml.

From "Le Zombie" Number 47, May-June 1942

Zombie (Al Ashley)

Out of the earth that covered me,
Streaked and pitted from heel to poll,
I burst, to shuffle eagerly
In pursuit of my errant soul.

But halted now my questing dance,
I cannot moan or cry aloud;
echoing thru my voodoo trance
the master calls. My head is bowed.

Past row on row of empty biers,
All staring-eyed and mould-arrayed,
I hast to toil thru voidfull years
With other slaves that he has made.

Nor can the cons liberate
Full charged with punishment my scroll;
No longer captain of my fate,
I am a Thing without a soul.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

High-Low

Today wasn't one of my better days; it wasn't one of my worst either, but as is the tradition in the Hanson-Hunnicutt household I thought we'd play a little round of internet high-low.

"High-low" refers to an end-of-day round robin with whomever happens to be at the dinner table. The object is to recount the best part of your day: your "high," and the lowest part of your day: your "low." Walt adds another dimension in that he asks himself who he was at his best and who he was at his worst and then strives to do better the next day.

Walt has better Karma.

It's 5:28pm CST as I write this and so my day isn't over but I'm not reading anymore email tonight, I have a nice cold glass of white wine within reach and there's a new episode of Gray's Anatomy on at 8pm, so the evening's likely to end on a high note.

Both of my high-lows came from something I read on the internet today. Silly, I know, but I spend quite a bit of my free time researching dead relatives (genealogy) and I've really become quite proud of them, their passion and beliefs, and the lives they led. Even the rascals. 

Through time, on every ancestral continent, there have been many consistencies but none so pointed as conflict. I've watched from a generational distance as families, communities and countries merge then fragment and merge again like lungs breathing in and breathing out new boundaries; new rules for engagement and cooperative cohabitation. Change is good. Change is life.

My low today was reading a CNN report stating that at last count, 20 of our States have constituents who've initiated and signed petitions to secede from the Union. I would like to say that I don't understand their line of reasoning, but I'm afraid that I do. I just don't agree with it.

I needed a "high."

One of my favorite quotes was from John F. Kennedy when, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he talked about making peace between the Soviets and the United States. It seemed appropriate. 

Five of my grandcestors fought in the war of 1812; one wore a red coat, the other 4 wore coon-skinned caps. Three fought on the same battle field and I thank my lucky stars that they couldn't shoot worth a hoot, or I wouldn't be here today. Six of my grandcestors were in the Civil War; most fought for the Confederates, but two fought on the Union side. 

I like the sound of that word: Union. Like marriage it denotes change, growth and compromise. Breathing in and out new boundaries; new rules for engagement and cooperative cohabitation.

Life.

So, thank you Mr. Kennedy for my happy thought tonight: for my "high."


[Exerpt from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961]


"So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us..."

"...let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah — to "undo the heavy burdens and to let the oppressed go free."

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor  not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Patience

"It's such an insult, thay dunt bauthr." David was born in north central England, but over the course of the past ten years working in Australia, his accent has morphed. He and Walt are stacking wood on the lower deck most likely chipping away at the presidential candidates, tomorrow's election and the electoral process as a whole as they work.

I can usually count on David to have an opinion: an opinion about Formula One racing, about the best hot sauce on the market, and about world affairs. He's fairly knowledgeable about current events and passionate about his position. I try to listen but often find the hairs on my arms tingle as I fight the urge to balance the equation with an alternate point of view, the success of which is doomed to failure. And so I shut up (which I might add is not the same thing as being silent).

The general election is tomorrow, but we voted early today and were delighted to find an hour and a half of our fellow constituents in line with us waiting patiently to exercise our right to complain.

I tend to look at the election process as an interview. Each candidate brings a resume full of party-backed opinions and promises, most of which I put in a mental bucket. My eye is on the candidate with broad shoulders. The candidate who looks at the greater whole and considers solutions that will stand the test of time. The candidate who pauses to consider the questions put before them and considers options from all sides; the candidate who chooses integrity over popularity. The patient candidate.

One of my high-school girlfriends shared a post on Facebook yesterday that pointed to the challenges that women faced before they were given the right to vote. Although the 19th Amendment had passed in 1920, only one of my grandmothers were of voting age and I'm pretty sure she voted for Harding. I'm not sure that this particular history lesson has anything to do with today's voters and I'm particularly annoyed by the group's catch phrase: "Don't iron while the strike is hot." Walt irons his own shirts.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas engaged in a series of seven debates: true face-to-face debates, with no moderator. They took turns. My guess is that there was a coin toss, followed by the winner opening with a one-hour speech on the topic of his choice. His opponent was then allowed an hour and a half to rebut, followed by a half-hour closing remark by opening speaker. Then it was the other guy's turn.

They listened: each candidate reflected on the comments of his opponent before responding. They showed respect: each candidate waited his turn, giving his opponent the floor to share his thoughts and opinions. And each speech was timed meaning that retorts waited until the full breadth of each man's bluster had expended itself across the crowd.

The first televised presidential debate was held on September 26, 1960 between US Senator John F. Kennedy (Democratic nominee) and Vice President Richard Nixon (Republican nominee) in Chicago. It's interesting to hear many of the same issues we rehash today. But I marvel at their discipline; their composure: a gentleman's debate. That took patience.

Thanks to YouTube and the JFK Library for this wonderful video: (http://youtu.be/gbrcRKqLSRw)






Friday, November 2, 2012

Old Dogs -- New Tricks

My current contract requires that I edit a technical manual using Adobe's flagship desktop publication application, InDesign. I'm a fairly good technical writer and over the years have become proficient in several text editors. InDesign is not a text editor.

In the last three hours, I've watched two how-to videos on Lynda.com, read three chapters in "Adobe InDesign CS6 Digital Classroom" and written one paragraph. The paragraph's content is artfully written but the format stinks because the previous author used 10,206 layers for each object in the document and so I'm having a mental margarita at 11:26 am, letting my thoughts flow effortlessly into the simple text editor provided by Google's Blogger application.

Hurrah for simplicity.

I graduated from high school in 1971. Although Benjamin Franklin's kite and key experiment in 1752 set the stage for electrically-powered devices to become rampant across the planet, electric typewriters hadn't quite made their way to my high school Typing 101 classroom. The tap-tap-tap-ching! of our Royal manual typewriters filled the first-floor hallway, softened only by the occasional shuffle to the principal's office for carbon paper or replacement ribbons.

SR Model 33 Teletype
In 1971, typewriters were a luxury. Term papers through my junior year in college were handwritten on college-ruled paper in black pen. Liquid Paper, originally called "Mistake Out," was invented in 1956 by a Dallas housewife named Bette Nesmith Graham who used her kitchen blender to mix tempera paint which she bottled and provided to her co-workers to correct typing errors. The invention was a lifesaver as professors wouldn't accept a paper with crossed out misspellings or edits. The alternative, of course, was to re-copy the paper which took time. Any attempt to hurriedly re-print a paper always resulted in a fumbled crisscrossing of constants or a forgotten word. College typing labs were available to day students, but for those of us who worked during the day and attended school at night, the labs too were a luxury.  Rarely did you find a student with a personal typewriter.  The telltale middle-finger dent and ink stain from our ballpoint pens clearly distinguished the haves from the have nots.

My my first year in college I worked as a data input operator for Brooks Uniform Company, a subsidiary of Blue Bell Industries and sister company to Wrangler. For the first three months, I used an SR Model 35 Teletype machine: a 110 baud terminal that transmitted keystrokes onto paper punch tape. Completed reels of tape would be stored and then loaded one-by-one onto a DX paper tape reader that would send batch transmissions to a mainframe computer for processing. Any more about the SR Model 35 would yield another "uphill in the snow" story that I'll cover at another time; suffice to say that it was only a step up from the manual typewriter. Corrections made to a typed error required scissors and a tape splice.

One morning, an IBM sales representative walked into our little data room at Brooks Uniform and explained that we were all transitioning to a cutting-edge product that used magnetic media to store data versus paper tape: the IBM 3741 Data Station -- code name: IGAR.

The 3741 was cool in that if you made an error, like a manual typewriter, there was a backspace key. No Mistake Out; no scissors were required to correct errors. At the end of each day, our 8" floppy disks were loaded into a high-speed station (1200 baud) and transmitted as a batch process to a System 370 mainframe for processing.

We were in heaven.

Technology improved rapidly and by 1996, my primary workstation was a Sun Microsystems Sparc server; a respectable UNIX server in 1996. And when I look back over this technological landscape, it makes me sit up a bit straighter having been part of this evolutionary transition.

So why am I having so many problems with layers.

Thanks to the Internet Archive for posting this wonderful video: http://archive.org/details/basic_typing_1


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Samhain


Dia de los Muertos (Barrie/Howard)
This morning I launched Facebook to find that my cousin Lee had posted a photo of a "Dia de los Muertos ofrenda" honoring our deceased relatives. I thought it a beautiful tribute and wondered if he had gone all out with the drums and 3-day costume-laden party that typically accompanies the celebration. Since the shrine was in his dining room, I rather doubt it.

Although we don't have Hispanic roots that I've been able to locate, I wondered if the Celt's day-of-the-dead celebration paralleled "Dia do los Muertos," All Saints Eve and our current version of Halloween. I found a jackpot written by Jack Santino which can be found through the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center (www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html).

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows -- Jack Santino (1982)

"Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.
Niece Anna's Halloween costume 2012

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread.

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshipers.

As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshiped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.

In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John's Day was set on the summer solstice.

Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshipers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell. The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches.

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions.

The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day--a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.

All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en--an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year's Day in contemporary dress.

Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called "Allison Gross" tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch's spell on Halloween.

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower


the ugliest witch int he North Country...
She's turned me into an ugly worm
and gard me toddle around a tree...

But as it fell out last Hallow even


When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,
the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank
Not far from the tree where I wont to lie...
She's change me again to my own proper shape
And I no more toddle about the tree.


In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went "a' soulin'" for these "soul cakes." Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day.

Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like Mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinning, carved, candlelit jack o'lanterns, re-enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.