All posts by jkkblog

I'm a freelance editor and writer with a background in history and foreign languages.

Myths (and truths) about Ireland

I like Ireland, though not everything about Ireland, and not as much as my wife does. She would move there tomorrow if I were to let down my resistance for an instant. I think some of that is how much she has enjoyed travel there, but traveling in a place differs very much from living there.

One suspects that a part of her perspective still buys into a little of the mythology. It occurs to me that Ireland is a very mythologized country in the United States. Maybe I can clear some of these up by stating the myth or perception as I have heard it, and clarifying the reality as I saw it.

Ireland is dangerous due to sectarian and nationalist violence. False. Even at the worst times of the Troubles, as they are known, most of Ireland was far safer than much of the United States. To get caught in the crossfire, a visitor would have needed a) tremendous bad luck and the worst imaginable timing, or b) enormous stupidity. A sensible visitor would have been, and would now be, far more concerned about an auto accident on a narrow road. Nowadays, concern about Trouble-related violence makes about as much sense as avoiding Midland, Texas for fear of Comanche raids.

All of Ulster is in Northern Ireland. False. In fact, three counties of Ulster are within the Republic. None of Leinster or Connaught’s counties are in Northern Ireland. (Munster does not border Ulster, thus sparing us that question entirely.) Thus, when you say ‘Ulster’ to refer to the North, this is imprecise.

The Republic is Catholic and the North is Protestant. Partly false. Catholics form a large majority in the Republic, but are also a strong presence in the North, which is about half Catholic and half Protestant. Of course, a percentage do not identify with either religious direction from the standpoint of practice, but may still identify with one as a cultural factor. Every religion has its own culture. Just as I know nominally Mormon people who practice almost none of the LDS faith’s strictures (yet still describe themselves as Mormon), you could find atheists and agnostics in Ireland who come by Catholic or Protestant identify through family heritage and upbringing. I would say that the Irish are less religious than Americans, but since religion is so connected to culture in Ireland, it conveys something of a misleading impression to the observing outside world.

Gaelic is a dead language. False on two counts. In the first place, ‘Gaelic’ is inspecific as a descriptor, as it could also refer to Scots. With regard to Ireland, the the suitable term is ‘Irish.’ Irish is not a dead language, though it may be fair to say it might have died out but for strenuous efforts toward its preservation. In the first place, the Republic of Ireland’s Bunreacht (constitution, in force since 1937) states that the Republic has two official languages, Irish and English, and that an Irish citizen may receive all official services in either language. What is more, the Irish version of the Bunreacht is the definitive original. You should be able to see where this goes. Gardaí (police), many government officials, and so forth must be capable of serving the public in Irish, thus must be conversational. Irish is spoken as a first language in certain areas, mainly in Connaught and Munster but also heavily in western Donegal, called Gaelteachts.

In my experience, while one may function well in English in Gaelteachts, locals will welcome a sincere effort to speak Irish. One would have to search very hard for a part of Ireland where one would need to speak Irish in order to function, but I am sure they exist. Some in Ulster also speak Scots Gaelic, which is very akin to its Irish sister language. I can tell you from experience that an American speaking Irish in the Republic is considered something of a wonder, though that American should take a little care in trotting out his or her ability. I found that many Irish felt they should be more proficient in the language, and that it embarrassed them a bit for an American to be more conversant with it than they. It’s never good manners to embarrass one’s hosts, especially hosts as patient as the Irish.

Ireland rains all the time. More true than false. Ireland is fairly rainy even in summer (though they tell me that is changing), and very much so in winter. Drainage and flooding are always issues. I doubt any part of Ireland uses, needs, or wants irrigation, in much the same way that few equatorial nations spend much effort on central home heating. However, even in winter in Ireland, there’s a fair chance of a sunny day. And a sunny day in Ireland is something to treasure and soak up.

There’s a castle everywhere you look in Ireland. Partly true. Ireland is loaded with old buildings and ruins, some of which are or were castles or forts. Some are open to the public some of the time. Some are open to some members of the public who know the right way to pose the question, which in Ireland is often not in the most direct way. In my experience, the best way to search for anything in Ireland involves a pub and some patience. In a pub, some locals get the chance to size you up and decide whether to refer you onward or not, make a phone call for you or not, give you directions or not. Once they make up their mind about you, in their own time and in a positive way, they tend to look out for you. Attempts to rush the Irish only serve to annoy them.

The Irish drink a lot. Depends on perspective. In terms of per capita consumption, the Republic stands slightly above the UK (which includes the North) and Germany, slightly below Australia, and well below much of eastern Europe. The French and South Koreans drink more than the Irish, for example. So if your perspective is American, on balance, drinking is slightly more. If it’s Ukrainian, the Irish are relatively light drinkers. I have seen a lot of people drinking in Ireland, but I have rarely seen anyone sloppy drunk, and in those cases I saw clear evidence of general disapproval.

What is true (though gradually changing): the pub is a social center. While some pubs still have the old ‘snug’ (women’s area), it’s kind of an artifact. Nowadays women and children are more than welcome, and it is unremarkable to see an entire Irish family having dinner at the pub. A non-drinker is still welcome in most pubs provided, as in most hospitality establishments, he or she at least buys something. A recovering alcoholic, if asked, might explain that s/he has taken the Pledge (a religious vow). This is an acceptable excuse for declining to have a pint with someone, as is a strict religious observation. The Irish understand that some faiths (LDS, Islam) drink no alcohol.

The Irish remember everything forever. True–both the good and the bad. There is a monument in County Cork to the Choctaw, who in response to the 1840s famines gathered up as much money as they could find and sent it to help alleviate the famine. Roadside markers show the points where Volunteers fell during the struggles for independence. Even during the Troubles, it was remembered which families had bought their land many years before, and which had appropriated it. The Irish build monuments to historians; I have seen them myself. If a fairy mound happens to be in the way of a proposed road, workers cannot be found to bulldoze it. The road will simply have to go around. Do good deeds in Ireland, and be remembered for them. Do wrong there, and be remembered as well. Cromwell has been gone for nearly four hundred years, and they haven’t even begun making an effort to forget his deeds.

Irish time is ‘-ish’ time. Mainly true. Business hours, where posted, tend to flexibility. The most pointless thing one can do in Ireland is try to pressure anyone to do anything faster; they will not comply, and it will only irritate them. If a flock of sheep is blocking the road, it will continue to do so until the shepherd gets them where he wants them. Honk and you prove yourself a fool. Wave in a friendly way and be patient, and the shepherd will be prone to get the beasts moving a little faster.

Ireland has made it easier to get to its most famous destinations. True, but at the cost of making them unappealing. The Cliffs of Moher? Newgrange? Giant’s Causeway? Blarney Castle? Killarney? All generously equipped with tour bus parking, the dreaded ‘Visitors’ Centre’ (except Killarney, all of which is a de facto Visitors’ Centre, thus it needs none) and suitable entry fees. Sweater and other traps, of course, for your shopping pleasure. The Giant’s Causeway so saddened us that we coined the verb “to causeway”: to take an otherwise appealing and beautiful place and garbage it up for money. I understand that everyone needs to make a living, that it is their island to do with as they choose, and that they don’t want or need my advice on that subject. I also understand that most of them despise this trend. Look on the bright side: there are many locations just as appealing and special that are rarely overrun by huge green tour buses labeled “Paddy Wagon” and displaying a large Disney cartoon leprechaun. I very much doubt that every worthwhile place in Ireland will become causewayed in my lifetime. I do not think the Irish will allow that.

Bless them.

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What happened to your favorite author (or his/her kid)

If you follow enough authors long enough, some of them will turn to garbage.

Repetition. Gaping plot seams with stitches bursting.

Story twists that wring the neck of what was once great about the franchise.

Bad editing. No editing. Bad proofreading. No proofreading.

How could someone capable of such greatness now turn out this steaming garbage?

Very many people ask that question; few receive answers. In few cases will they ever learn which answers apply. In most cases, it will be one or more of the following:

Profitable Franchise Syndrome. Through careful promotion and at least some display of some form of talent at some point, a select few authors become cash cows. Any book with Cash Cow’s name on the cover is guaranteed X number of copies sold which will produce a profit of $ZZZ,000 at the minimum. Once an author reaches PFS, many publishers no longer give a damn what s/he writes. If the author also no longer gives a damn, there are no barriers to the publication of wretchedness. For obvious reasons, such a publisher will never sick a sharp-penned editor on said author, to tell the author what s/he needs to hear. No one will risk causing a bad case of mastitis in the cash cow, least of all the cow him/herself.

Writing is hard and ideaing is sometimes harder. Some writers loathe above all (even above “will you please read my ms?”) the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” When writers run out of original ideas, they recycle, or steal, or meander without aim. When writers get sick of sewing together mismatched plot points, correcting inconsistencies, and otherwise trying to reduce eventual scarring on the patient, they stop bothering. Why bother, when people will buy it anyway? The priority is not to write a great book this year. The priority is to get a damn book written this year, keep the milk flowing, keep the name on endcaps.

Dotage. Sometimes this combines with PFS. The Grand Old Author has written one more book, after years of not writing. How come these are so often like watching a former home run king hit .189 a year after he turns forty? Because the author is often, at this point, well washed up, and probably either wanted or needed money.

Freelancers. When PFS is reached, the writing may not even be that of the ‘author.’ I have seen books in which it was sadly clear that each chapter had been done by a different ‘lancer and no one had checked the stitching, resulting in a couple of dozen rehashes of the same background material as each ‘lancer felt obligated to make sure the reader knew the pertinent backstory. The author did not bother to remove these redundancies. This is how little they care.

Delusions of inherited writing talent. Just because Mom could write does not mean #2 Son can write. Just because Dad could write really, really does not mean #1 Son can write. This, however, may not stop the grown child of the Famous Author, because said grown child may be a career screwup who sees in Famous Author’s inherited glory and name One Last Chance For An Easy Living. By that time, Ma or Pa may be too old to care. He or she may feel that dues have been paid, and that if this will keep the kid out of debt hell, that is their business. And it is–except for the money that honest readers will waste on dishonest, substandard effort. That is their bad business.

Psychological rabbit holes. In fiction writing, and in particular with first-person fiction that is semi-autobiographical, at times the author reaches a Nietzschean moment. Remember his famous quote? “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Life has taught me that Nietzsche knew what he was talking about, and writing life has countersunk all the screw holes for that lesson. Imagine you’ve got a major inner bugaboo (for example, sexual bondage and domination), and that it’s always been complicated for you. That balance of desire and aversion, the tension between two points, can be a productive wellspring for fiction ideas. It can also become the abyss into which you gaze too long, taking you to a place from which you can not easily come back. Your writing may reflect that, and it may get away from what your readers liked best about your work. Most anyone can take a mental illness (or some lesser condition/neurosis/syndrome/disorder/dysfunction/bugaboo) and use it to write a book. To do so without making the condition much worse, and without having the condition consume the franchise alive–that’s the tough part.

Fetishism. Closely related to the above, of course, and with some overlap, but not the same. One good example was a writer of Westerns with an obvious girlfight fetish. Rare was the book of his in which a pair of women didn’t mix it up. Do I even need to mention that blouses never survived a single battle? Okay, so let’s consider this. Suppose that’s your fetish, and while it does not consume you, you write enough of it to develop an audience–and business is good. Then you decide, okay, I’ve done my time on the pole and I can now de-emphasize my little kink. And sales fall off; reviews scowl. Your audience doesn’t like you so well when it doesn’t get its accustomed dose of the fetish. Tired of writing about breasts flopping loose in a fracas? You are stuck, because that’s the audience you attracted and that’s your brand. You may or may not be able to redefine your brand. You may just end up churning ’em out, supplying the expected unrestrained dairy tackle, because making house payments beats missing house payments, and writing what you know is easier than seeking new horizons.

There may be other reasons (opinions welcomed), but those are some of what I’ve seen. Your favorite author is like a car. It may run for a long time, it may be the best one you ever had, but one day you won’t be able to get parts for it. You may keep it as a classic, a project, but it won’t be your daily drive. You’ll get something you can rely on. By the time your heirs get the old one, they’ll wonder why you kept it so long past its prime.

Amazon blacklists

In case you were hoping to see such a list, I want to make sure the first line tells you that you won’t find one in this post. Legal reasons. However, don’t fret; on the worst one, I’ll drop enough clues.

There was once an aspiring writer who sent his ms to a famous literary personage for comment. The cunning aspirant pasted a couple of his pages together, so that when he got his ms back (children, we used to create these things on typewriters, and copying was so expensive that we sent our originals out to publishers, accompanied by return postage since we did want them back once inevitably rejected), he could see if the personage had finished it. The pasted pages had not been separated, the personage panned the ms, and the aspirant wrote in to complain. “You don’t have to eat a whole egg to know if it’s rotten,” answered the literary personage.

On this philosophy I base a good deal of my life. If something is bad, it is not necessary to continue suffering with it. One ought to be shut of it without remorse. Be it a Facebook moron, a mediocre restaurant, or a crappy Amazon vendor, one may dismiss it. If one can, one probably should.

Amazon does not offer a feature to block or flag a bad seller. One can write a nasty review (and watch the bad seller get it removed), but might someday forget that seller’s name. In such a case, one might send that seller repeat business. We wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

What makes a bad seller? From my standpoint, it’s poor handling when something goes awry. I have learned that there is almost a small industry that rips sellers off: it requests returns and refunds for items where the shipping cost is rather expensive, and it becomes cheaper for the seller to refund the money and not ask for the item back. Disgusting that anyone would do business that way, but this is humanity, and in humanity, if there is a way to do something dishonestly, it will be discovered within seconds of the honest method’s invention.

What it means is that many sellers start out with chips on shoulders. They come to assume that anyone with an issue is angling for something free. Some have procedures they demand be followed, which may or may not be reasonable. They all know that you have them over a barrel, if you want to roll out said barrel, but they try to steer you away from that.

I decided not to make the same mistakes twice (although an infuriating one, noticed this very day, somehow got past me), so I created an Amazon blacklist. It’s a Word table listing the vendor’s name and why I placed them on a no-buy list. Since I try hard to shop with independent vendors rather than accept a 2¢ discount to get it from Amazon’s undercut pricing (yeah, they do that), I’m not the kind of customer the indies should mess with. Yet a few do, and they end up on my blacklist.

In one case, I learned that a whole bunch of idealistic-sounding book vendors were in fact branches of one larger book vendor. It took me some time to find and blacklist them all. Not only have they been jackasses both times something went wrong with an order, but they have the maddening habit of using barcode stickers on the exterior spine. These are usually very difficult to remove without damaging the dust jacket spine or actual spine. Their labels are so fiercely adhesive and persistent that it can take an hour’s soak with Googone to loosen them, and because they are on the spine, that is harder than it would otherwise be. All dozen-odd of their locations are blacklisted. I see them very often when book shopping, and I get a little bit of joy every time I cheerfully pay someone else fifty cents more.

Until Amazon comes up with a blacklisting system for us, I guess it’ll have to do.

The Social Grenadier’s Helpful Keyboard-Launched Grenade Assembly Guide

The descent of Facebook into its natural level–a place where no one can get the living snot whaled out of him or her for being just plain rude, thus people say things they would not say in person and expect no backlash–has led us to a new means of lowering the dialogue level. I call it the Social Grenade.

A social grenade is a statement that follows fairly close to the model: “If you disagree, you have no value.” I call it a social grenade because it catches everyone who sees it in the blast radius, sparing only those it imagines that it exempts. I thought of calling it the social mortar round, but a mortar (an indirect fire weapon) lacks the personal connotation of a hand-thrown or launcher-fired fragmentation grenade. A modern trip through Facebook feels like a trip through no-man’s-land in which both sides pitch periodic grenades and rarely look to see where they fell.

I suspect it is exhausting. People may be having difficult times coming up with suitably alienating and relationship-impairing social grenades. My initial reaction was to compose a post like “If you throw social grenades, please tie a garbage bag tightly over your head.” I am normally a believer in fighting fire with napalm fire, revenge doubling the wrong done, letting people see how it feels, making sure the lesson takes; however, blind adherence to past practice leads to dumb present practice. The brain is not obsolete, even if it may happen to be in disfavor. Don’t always go with your gut, for it is sometimes queasy.

After giving it about two seconds of thought,  I thought I would light a candle rather than curse the darkness. I would offer something proactive and helpful: a handy social grenade assembly guide to smooth and assist in the complete deterioration of all worthwhile dialogue. If the goal is to wreck the maximum number of relationships, let’s streamline the process. Why make alienation harder than it needs to be?

To use this quick-assembly tool, when you come to bracketed items, choose the option that best fits. Please remember that these are only suggestions; if none of the given choices are sufficiently fanatical, invent and insert your own. (If they are all too fanatical for you, you are not the type to throw social grenades, so this is unhelpful for you. When all the social grenadiers have blown up all their relationships, look around you: the survivors will be those who did not participate. They may be very fun people.)

The social grenade begins with your statement of opinion (or absolute truth, if your view does not allow for any remote possibility of differing views qualifying as opinions). So:

My

  • [opinion]
  • [belief]
  • [thesis]
  • [truth]
  • [personal hobbyhorse]
  • [monomania]
  • [objective reality]
  • [divine revelation]
  • [horoscope]
  • [meme]
  • [{other} ________]

is that [{expound your viewpoint here}______________________] and that this view is

  • [divinely revealed, that’s why I called it a damn divine revelation]
  • [fundamentally perfect]
  • [way cool]
  • [duh, winning]
  • [too obvious to explain to idiots]
  • [Zen master wisdom]
  • [the best ever]
  • [eternal truth]
  • [bae]
  • [the only valid perspective]
  • [woke with a mighty waking]
  • [obvious to anyone who was not randomly trepanned in infancy]
  • [directly from the {Bible/Qur’an/Talmud/sports section/bathroom graffiti/________}]
  • [{morally/intellectually/genetically/_____ly} superior]

[{./!/!!!/!!!!!!!!!!!!!!}]

If you disagree, your

  • [perspective]
  • [delusion]
  • [Cthulhu worship]
  • [baffling lapse in reason]
  • [opinion]
  • [conclusion]
  • [tragic mental deficiency]
  • [raving]
  • [idiocy]
  • [psychological incontinence]
  • [cretinism]
  • [ideological perv]
  • [demonic evil]
  • [drug-induced foolishness]
  • [laughable standpoint]
  • [dipshittery]
  • [warped reality]

  • [is wrong]
  • [sucks real hard]
  • [would embarrass a lobotomized tree sloth]
  • [is actively leading us to degeneracy]
  • [makes me puke]
  • [makes me prolapse my stomach, I took selfies as proof]
  • [is cray cray]
  • [makes a strong case for whacking one’s head against a bridge abutment]
  • [admits liking Justin Bieber]
  • [wrote in Kim Jong-Un during the last election for all the offices]
  • [saddens me for humanity]
  • [poaches baby elephants]
  • [would drive a living saint to opium addiction]
  • [is worse than Hitler]
  • [is worse than Hitler and Himmler combined]

Therefore, if you feel this way,

  • [hang yourself]
  • [unfriend me now]
  • [unfriend and block me now]
  • [unfriend, block, and sue me now]
  • [unfriend, block, and ambush me now]
  • [consume a sack of penises]
  • [I will burn your name over a purple flame mounted in a virgin’s skull at midnight]
  • [auto-euthanasia is worth exploring]
  • [you suck]
  • [add some tinfoil to your next pizza]
  • [add some drano to your next pizza]
  • [please get cancer]
  • [I hate you]
  • [your feelings are invalid]
  • [in the garage is a running engine with your name on it]
  • [never speak to me again]
  • [you are such a fuckhead]
  • [you deserve a fatal yeast infection]
  • [I will hunt you down with a nailgun and a bad attitude]
  • [you need mental help]
  • [you need mental health institutionalization]

[./!/!!!/!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!/]

There. Hope that makes it easier!

The book chiropractor

Lately the title has described me. I come across a book with a spinal injury, and I give it care.

The descriptor feels somewhat odd thanks to my real-life experiences with chiropractic, neither of which inspire me to try it again. The first guy felt everyone should go to the chiropractor for everything, as the first point of medical contact. He was very entrepreneurial. The second guy was pulling a flim-flam on the insurance company; he also was very entrepreneurial. I know there are people who swear by chiropractic, and I am happy for them, but I probably will not be joining them soon. Feels too MLM.

What does make me happy is that I’ve figured out how to fix most broken paperback spines. It requires book tape, care, book glue, patience, waxed paper, a cutter that will make a very straight cut, q-tips, care, and great patience.

Why you should not…

Why you should not just use packing tape: because it will more easily crinkle, will age badly, will be completely unforgiving if you happen to begin sticking it down wrong, and because it’s not as thick. If you are serious about doing this, go to Vernon and get the right stuff.

Why you should not just use rubber cement, or Elmer’s, or some other glue you have laying around: because none of those will combine the properties found in book glue, and everything will work worse. If you use some other glue, and it screws things up, remember that I told you that would occur. Get it from Vernon.

Why you should not just use scissors: because the line must be absolutely straight, and you cannot reliably do that with scissors.

Getting going

There are two very common types of paperback spinal breaks. In the first, you can see the gap between portions of the pageblock (that’s the pages; the part you read). In the second, the gap is so wide you can get a clear look at the inside of the spine (which is probably badly creased and may be coming apart. Sometimes pieces of the pageblock are fully detached, or just individual sheets.

Before you start, cut off several 1″ wide strips of waxed paper. You will be wanting these and won’t want to mess with cutting them in mid-job.

The first order of business is to shore up the spine’s exterior. This must be done: to hold the thing together while you fix the pageblock connections, to confine any glue that could otherwise leak through, and because you would be having to do it anyway, so might as well do it first. A line of book tape down the spine, properly slicked down, will at least give you a bit of support.

The potentially messy part

Next, turn to the worst break in the pageblock. If there are several, go for the most hideous ones starting from back. Gently spread the block apart; for the milder sort of break, a line of glue along the middle third is probably enough. For the bad ones, be more generous. If there are several adjacent pages with breaks, start with the bottom one. Then take a q-tip, supporting the book with the other hand, and run it along the break to distribute the glue and push it into the break.

Don’t be too sloppy. It is almost inevitable that you’ll leave residual lines of glue above the q-tip on both sides of the break; take another and clean that off as best you can. You can’t get all of it off, but it is very important to remove all possible glue that is not down in the break; that is where you’re going to put the waxed paper. Your theoretical perfect glue line is way down in the break, just obscures its edges, shows little shine on the paper and no lines above where you ran the q-tip, and doesn’t leak out either end.

Why so fussy? Isn’t this waxed paper? Doesn’t waxed paper come right off? I’ve experimented and made the mistakes. It’s not true that book glue won’t stick at all to waxed paper; it is true that waxed paper can very carefully, very slowly be detached from small amounts of book glue. Do it too soon or too fast and the paper will tear, leaving tabs of it deep down in the crack where you’ll have to tweezer them out. You just fixed that crack; therefore, shoving a metal object into it, which will partly separate it again, runs counter to your entire intention. What is more, if you think about it, you’ve just cut the waxed paper. You’re shoving the unwaxed cut edge into the middle of the glue; the edge is the part to which the glue can take hold. And there’s no way around it, as there is no reasonable way to re-wax the cut edge. The glue will attach to its fibers and you will have to ease the paper loose or end up with a lot of remainder.

Would clingwrap work better for this? I think it’d be a pain to keep straight. I can barely even get a bowl of guac covered with that stuff. Foil would most surely tear at exactly the wrong times, as it always does.  I suppose if money were no object, one could use gallon ziplock bags without opening them, pushing them in bottoms first. I would certainly test them beforehand, lest it turn out they form a real bond with the glue that waxed paper does not. Book glue looks like Elmer’s but dries to a rubbery solid.

Anyway, with all that well in mind, and with excess glue mopped up, take a strip of waxed paper and slide it gently into the break almost as far as it will go. If there is a loosened page at the break, work it back into proper position. Close the book, which should now look as if some oddball decided that waxed paper would make a wonderful bookmark.

If there are more breaks, continue to fix them this way from bottom to top. How you decide which side is which, that’s up to you; what is important is that you don’t jump around the pageblock, but start from the lowest side and work to the highest (if the front cover was up, that would be from back to front). That way you will not need to disturb the breaks you have already glued.

Patience

When done, set the book someplace where nothing will mess it up, put a paperweight on it, and leave it.

If you let the glue dry at least three days, the waxed paper will be fairly easy to work loose. Open gently to the spot with the fixed break, and use a plastic tool like the back of a picnic knife to move back and forth along the inside, separating the waxed paper from the pageblock on both sides. When you sense that any further pushing on the plastic knife will begin to undo your repairs, stop and begin to ease the waxed paper out starting from one end. Be kind, and pull it upward where possible (almost directly away from the spine, slightly angled). Try not to let any pieces get detached, but it often happens near the middle.

Repeat all this for the next break you fixed.

Examine the book now as if you hadn’t fixed anything. Anything that still needs fixing, repeat the fixing steps and three days of subsequent waiting.

I told you it took patience.

Achieving dominance over book repair space and time

When you’ve fixed them all, though, the best description of the feeling is that one has resurrected a book. It was doomed, on its way to fall to tragic pieces. Now it can be read, enjoyed, studied, laughed at, scowled at, disagreed with, and passed on to other readers. And as you keep at this, you will get defter at all of it.

It may fall apart someday, but that isn’t going to be today or next year.

My current Firefox no-saying suite

One of my theories about humanity is that, in many areas, people divide into two natural or conditioned inclinations. One of the simplest is the question: what’s your default answer? Do you fundamentally prefer to say “yes” or “no”?

I believe that most people prefer to say “yes.” I believe that more people find it harder to say “no” and easier to say “yes.” People, companies, police, etc. take advantage of this to bully information out of the average person.

As a solid “no,” this does not mean that I cannot cooperate, that I cannot assent, that I cannot sometimes just go along. It means that, without a reason, the answer is a default “no.” For example, nearly anything my wife asks of me is perfectly reasonable. She’s my wife and it’s my job to help her in every way. Thus, her answer is nearly always “yes.” The post office, Amazon, my grocery store, telemarketers, and so forth do not enjoy her privileges. I don’t want to help or cooperate with them unless I have a good reason, such as “I would like my mail delivered correctly,” or “Amazon needs to know this information in order to ship me these cans of duster.” Will I put my grocery cart back in the collection space? Sure, because I think it’s a positive contribution. Can they compile a dossier on everything I eat and drink? Not with any help from me.

What seems automatic decisionmaking for most people is not automatic in my world, but it still produces a lot of “yes.” If I don’t make sure my recycling is clean, it’ll cause problems for something worthwhile, so it gets rinsed out. “Yes.” If my trash cans are not in a feasible spot, the trucks will not be able to get to them; “yes.” Lots of life circumstances come with good reasons. The bank wants to see my ID to let me into my account? “Yes.” I should hope they always do. However, the grocery store wants me to create a record of my purchases with a ‘loyalty card’? “No.” But we’ll give you a discount! No. I choose to view it that you impose a surcharge in order not to have this dossier created. I will mostly choose to shop someplace else. Thus, “no.” Every supposed discount can also be viewed as a surcharge for those not qualifying for that discount, which is not how our precious corporations hope you will think.

Because the default answer is no–let’s call me a no-sayer–I do not make it easy for random organizations to get information about me. Why do I care? They aren’t entitled to know why I care, either. That’s how the no-sayer thinks. If I were suddenly exposed to media attention, I would first ask myself whether I were in a position to manipulate them for my benefit. After all, they seek access for their own benefit. If I were in such a position–if I had a reason–I’d consider it. If not, “no.” Why not? No answer. Don’t you want to tell your side of the story? No answer. Do you have cut vocal cords? No answer. Even a negative answer beyond “no” would provide information, crack the door open. Only “no” followed by silence is a complete zero for them. They are not entitled to an answer, nor are they entitled to know why they are not entitled to one and will not receive it. Nothing.

“What do you have to hide?” “None of your business.” “Why?” “Also none of your damn business.”

Car dealers hate no-sayers. The sales rep starts asking questions, and gets very annoyed if one won’t answer them. Most of the people who have no right to information will eventually obtain it because yes-sayers are afraid to be thought rude or uncooperative. I saw it all the time with collection agencies, as I inherited a Boise deadbeat’s phone number (and a lot of people in Boise end up broke, so that probably isn’t rare). A couple of these calls came in per week. The collection agents all felt entitled to answers to their questions about this indebted person. They did not enjoy being told that they weren’t entitled even to ask questions until they answered all of mine. They persisted in trying to ask the questions and acted as though I were very mean by insisting on my basic right. They were used to hammering down resistance through repetition, which suggests that it works. Far as I was concerned, they’d initiated the call; they could either answer me to my satisfaction, or get nothing. And since I had no reason to help them, my questions would never end; they would never get anything. Collection agencies provide a perfect example of where the no-sayer produces an unwanted consequence.

This brings us to the Internet, a place where it seems someone is always asking for our private information–and mining it without telling us. What other websites have you visited today, hmm? Fascinating! Browsing the Web involves expecting salvo after salvo of information requests, many of which one’s browser will answer accurately by default. This, of course, is inimical to the no-sayer. The firm no-sayer will tend, to the limits of his or her free time and technical aptitude, to seek out new ways to say “no.”

NO TREK. No: the final response. These are the voyages of the starship Neverprise. Its continuing mission: to refuse companies permission to explore my data; to seek out new ways to say and enforce “no”; to boldly “no” where no one has said “no” before…

Some of my readers may be interested in better no-saying for fun and privacy. I use a crapload (ten of which compose a crapton) of Firefox add-ins, most intended to assert my right to control the answer and direct it toward “no.” If I’m going to say “yes”, I’ll be needing a good reason. And if the add-on can allow me to give false information, when true information is not my obligation, that’s even better. I consider myself within my moral right to lie at will to any question I consider inappropriate (or where lying is dangerous). My car insurance company is owed an answer about what car I drive, where I park it, etc. Some random agency is not entitled to know that. I’m entitled to tell them I drive a circa 1910s Stanley Steamer that runs on virgin macadamia oil.

If you would like to say a whole lot of “no” to nosey websites, I’m here to help you. Here’s the current “no” lineup, a work in progress:

Adblock Plus, and Adblock Plus Pop-Up Add-On: one of the most basic ways to avoid seeing advertising. I will disable it on certain pages if I feel that is deserved.

Cookie Monster: this enables me to accept or reject a site’s cookies. There are limits to how well this can work, because most sites that require a login will require cookies. Nearly every other site includes a bullshit statement that “by using this site you agree to use of cookies.” I block the cookies anyway. Since they can’t enforce that, it means nothing; I don’t morally recognize any supposed agreement or contract with a stupid basis, such as ‘reading this means you agree.’ If the site won’t work without them, I decide how much I care about it. If I care a lot, I either accept the cookies for session only, or just do it from a browser that has no add-ons installed. That way, at least their cookies are in a jar that gives limited information. If a no-sayer cannot simply say “no,” the next best answer is this electronic noncommittal grunt. Call it numph-saying.

Disconnect: blocks most third-party tracking. No single add-on can be trust to block everything one dislikes, so it’s okay to double up if you don’t mind the performance impact. For me, it’s worth it to say “no.” The no-sayer’s obvious default answer to all tracking is “oh hell no.” One has to enable Disconnect’s content blocking on a site-by-site basis. So far I have not run into a site where blocking the tracking content impaired the site for me.

DuckDuckGo Plus: at this point, I am not sure I need this. DuckDuckGo itself, as a search engine, doesn’t track me. (For this reason, I turn off my ad blocker while using it. They asked politely, so I didn’t mind saying “yes.” It’s amazing how nice and cooperative I get when asked politely with a good reason.) The add-on claims to do a lot of privacy-related stuff. Maybe it does. If so, great. If not, it doesn’t cost me much performance (if any).

FB Purity: rearranges Facebook to one’s liking, enabling various garbage to be blocked and other aspects of it less odious. There is, of course, a limit to how much of FB’s data hydra activity one can prevent while being the product for its marketing (and make no mistake, you aren’t the customer; you are the product for sale). Most people just throw their hands up. As a stolid no-sayer, my response is “then I’ll block what I can; if I’m out of weapons, I’ll claw with my fingernails; if all I have is an eyebrow hair, I’ll slug ’em with that.”

Facebook Tracking & Ad Removal: I would like this just for the sake of its icon, which is a flipped bird. Gets rid of at least some Facebook garbage. Might be overkill combined with FBP. I’m willing to accept that possibility. I operate on the assumption that Zuckbook is forever re-engineering itself to defeat all ad blocking and self-customization, and that any add-on may cease working at any time without notice until it receives an update, so the more, the merrier as long as they don’t overload the browser and cause it to collapse.

Fakespot: this can be used to assess the bot production level of product reviews. If one suspects that a given product has a lot of bogus puff reviews generated by automated means, it’s worth running.

Flashstopper: halts video autoplay. I hate video autoplay. If I want to see or hear the video, I’ll elect to play it myself.

Forecastfox: a good weather add-in. Worth whatever tracking is caused by having to give it a location. (Since it cannot tell you the weather unless you tell it a location, the request is reasonable.)

Ghostery: another tracker blocker. The fact that it usually finds some tells me that the overlap with other add-ins is worthwhile. The interesting here is what it tells you. Wonder how come FB seems to know so much about your online habits? There’s a tracker called Facebook Connect that is found all over the place. This lets you put a stop to that. I just block every single tracker; if something doesn’t work, I’ll consider some selective enabling. So far it never has. When you win a bid on Ebay, for example, instead of the normal Ebay Stats tracker, you get about ten others that can only want to know what you bought. Blocking them all doesn’t impair your purchase, so this is just the corporate world continuing to compile its dossier on your shopping habits.

GoogleSharing: this is just delicious. This add-in mixes up your Google requests with others and sprays them at Google, thus peeing in the data mining pool–and there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do about it. Anyone who read the preamble will understand how little I like the idea of Google forming a neat little profile about me.

Honey: this digs up discount codes for online shopping. Haven’t saved any money so far, but haven’t had it long.

NoMiner: it seems cryptocurrency ‘miners’ (who need a lot of processing power in order to make money) are using our machines to do some of the processing. No. This is my most recent add. I think cryptocurrency is pretty questionable anyway, but even if it’s completely smart and good, my clock cycles are not public property.

NoScript: this one is among the few that can cause pains in the ass. Most websites use many scripts from many sites, a good percentage of which are designed to feed data hydras. One by one, I will enable these for this session only, until the portion of the page I care about begins to work. Some I just have to set it to accept all the time. Using this means that I sometimes have to use a clean alternate browser. I can’t fault the pages in question for not working when I block some of their functionality, but I can at least reserve the right to decide when to allow them to work.

Here’s a key part of the no-sayer’s code: one must understand that this has its consequences, especially with websites. Developers set all that stuff up to work together. They can’t prevent you from taking out pieces, but it’s like a vehicle engine: all the pieces do something, and if you take some out, some things will not work right. If you just want to drive during the day, you can disconnect your headlights, but you then cannot complain if you forget to reconnect them come dusk, and if you cause an accident through your neglect, that’s your own fault. Own your “no.”

PriceBlink: something like Honey, but will dig for alternate and better prices on online shopping. Good referent.

ReminderFox: my personal calendar. It’s how I remember to make that grocery run, or someone’s birthday, etc. Essential.

Remove Cookies for Site: this is what we do when we had to enable cookies in order to proceed, but want them gotten rid of afterward. If it doesn’t find any, then great; someone actually meant it when they said the cookies were session only. I never take their word for that. If it does find some, also great. I don’t use it that often, but on some really cookie-filthy sites it makes me feel better.

Remove Google Tracking: says it removes tracking from Google searches. Now and then I end up using Google to search, though not often. This makes me feel a little less nude about it.

Tab Memory Usage: kind of nifty, tells me how much data the current tab is using. Nice to know which sites are the most porcine.

The Camelizer: this thing rocks. You use it for an Amazon item you consider too spendy, and tell it your email and what you’d like to pay for the item. When you get your price, it notifies you, and you can proceed to purchase it if you wish.

TrackMeNot: something like GS, barfing out a steady stream of spurious search requests. Gives the data hydra something useless to suck on.

View Cookies: want to know what the current page’s cookies are? Good prelude to deleting them.

Web of Trust: this will flag search results with a little circle: green, yellow, or red. One that is red has been reported by enough users as malevolent in some way. Not all ways are relevant to all people; for example, one thing that will get reported is child-inappropriate stuff. You can check the reason and make your own decision.

Yahoo Mail Hide Ad Panel: self-explanatory. Yes, I know that Yahoo funds itself with these ads. No, I do not care. Yahoo has its problems and I have mine.

Does all of this slow Firefox down? Maybe. Is all of it necessary? Maybe not. Does it all make me feel like I am properly noncooperating with nosy people to the greatest extent possible? Yes–and some of you may find one or more of these useful.

Black History Month: Jerry LeVias

Why have a special Black History Month? From this history buff’s perspective, the answer is simple. Because traditional history teaching has tended to downplay black Americans’ achievements and stories, black children have too often grown up thinking there weren’t any. When Nichelle Nichols appeared in the original Star Trek series (1966-69) at her communications station on the bridge of a proud starship, one person later summed up the impact (quote inexact) on his youthful perspective: ‘It was the first time anyone had made me think there would be black people in the future.’

Maybe someday we’ll do a better job of telling all the stories. For now, I’m glad we have a month that emphasizes those less often told. And I like college football, and Jerry LeVias is not well remembered today, so it occurred to me to tell his story.

Born (1946) and raised in Beaumont, Texas, LeVias (leh-VYE-us) starred as a football quarterback in then all-black Hebert High School. As he came of age in the mid/mod-1960s, the nation was in a ferment of change. It may be helpful to understand that full backdrop, which also coincides with my early childhood.

Vietnam had not yet heated up, but the civil rights and women’s rights struggles were well under way. It was not a time, like ours today when civil rights marchers might just get tear-gassed if things got a little rough. It was a time when peaceful marchers could expect to face water cannon, attack dogs, look-the-other-way Klan assaults, baton charges, and lynchings. In most of the places where civil rights demonstrations occurred, hospitals were segregated, so those who were injured might have limited and lesser options. Recourse to the law was rarely even minimal, considering that the law had turned a blind eye toward the violence–if it was not itself the perp. These marchers were warriors, young and old, male and female, and they were getting the hell beaten out of them for what they believed in.

American sports had followed different integration paths, but the college football world might have had the unwieldiest. For decades its governing bodies were weak, regional conference leadership held all the cards, and things were different in East Lansing, Pullman, and Tuscaloosa. In football, most of the northern and western schools practiced a form of segregation called “stacking.” This meant putting all the black players at a couple of positions (wide receiver, defensive back), to avoid a general takeover on the basis of raw talent. My own alma mater, the University of Washington, stood accused of this–and justly, I believe, to our lasting embarrassment. The amount of talent on the table can be estimated if one imagines a modern major college team without black players and with maybe only a couple of Polynesian players.

Think they’d be nationally ranked? Maybe in the ESPN Bottom 10, which in my view is one of the few really good things that emanates from the Eternal SEC Promotional Network.

Many southern universities remained segregated–these were the Wallace days–and many that were not segregated did not recruit African Americans to play football, nor take the field against them. Quite a few northern and western schools enabled this discrimination by benching their own black players (usually just one or two) out of ‘respect’ for the southern schools when matched up against them. By the 1960s, at least, some northern schools began to face student unrest at this enablement of racism.

The Union had won the Civil War, but lost the civil peace.

In 1965, Jerry LeVias was a senior star at Hebert, and had appeared on the national stage when he traveled to Ohio to play with an integrated all-star team of Texas footballers. This was a first, and it helped crack open doors in one of the nation’s biggest football markets–not least when LeVias caught two touchdown passes from roommate and fast friend Bill Bradley, a white.

Over two decades before the NCAA “death penalty” would inflict lasting damage on its program, Southern Methodist University’s football success was a point of pride in Dallas. With a natural crosstown rival in Texas Christian University, Dallas/Fort Worth was a football center in a football-crazy state. The Southwest Conference (now defunct) was in essence the Texas Conference. SMU Mustang football spared no effort or expense to recruit and compensate the best athletes it could find. As of 1965, the majority of black college football players played at historically black colleges/universities such as Grambling, Howard, Alcorn A&M, and many others. More than ever were moving on to play professionally in the AFL, which was just beginning to appear competitive with the old guard NFL, and where black athletes were more welcome and prevalent.

By the spring of 1965, the racial door was letting in a ray of daylight. SMU coach Hayden Fry was ready. Jerry LeVias accepted Fry’s offer of an athletic scholarship, becoming the first African American scholarship player in the Southwest Conference. (He was not the first black football player to appear in an SWC game, it seems. John Westbrook, who debuted as a walk-on for Baylor in 1966, saw the field one week before LeVias’s first appearance. In those days, freshmen simply did not play, so LeVias would not appear in a 1965 game. Westbrook almost surely deserves his own article.)

American life has never been easy for black pioneers, and LeVias took a great deal of abuse on and off the field. Imagine being eighteen or nineteen, and putting up with that while trying to get good grades and improve in sport. Some blacks on campus called him an Uncle Tom. You can guess what many whites called him, though he had Coach Fry’s unbending support. Did the abuse from some of his teammates (those are supposed to have one’s back, as a rule) hurt him more than the blatant personal fouls, spitting in his face, and stunts like when the Texas A&M cadet corps released a black cat onto the field? I’d think so.

How many times have you seen an athlete claim to use an insult as motivation? Believe it. In one infamous 1968 incident, a TCU player spat in LeVias’s face. He threw down his helmet and said he quit. Coach Fry came over to talk with him, convincing him to keep playing. When the conversation was done, and TCU’s punt team took the field, LeVias took his customary station to return it. He carried the punt return for an 89-yard touchdown with eleven tackles broken or dodged, giving SMU the margin of victory over its arch-rival.

As he went through hell, LeVias excelled. In his case, long before AA meant African American, it meant All-American. An electrifying runner, LeVias rewrote the Mustang record books while leading SMU to a conference championship in 1966 and a Bluebonnet Bowl victory in 1968. As Coach Fry told him–meaning it in the best possible way with reference to the public reaction–the more touchdowns he scored, the whiter he got. LeVias went on to a six-year pro career in the AFL and NFL, earning all-AFL honors in 1969.

A gentle-hearted, religious man who always resisted anger, Jerry LeVias would pay for those early days of endured cruelty with years of internalized pain. The price of leading the way for southern sports integration was high. He has succeeded well in life, and nowadays gets some of the recognition he deserves, but I don’t think that many younger fans have heard of Jerry LeVias. All of us who love college football might justly take a moment to give a brave man some respect.