June 11th, 2007

Party Guy

Happy Birthday, hbar98!

For your present, here's today's Forgotten English (© Jeffrey Kacirck):

benefit of clergy
A felon could plead "benefit of clergy" and be saved by [reading aloud] what was aptly enough termed the "neck verse," which was very usually the Miserere mei of Psalm 51.
--William Hazlitt's Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles, 1870


Birthday of Ben Johnson (1572-1637),
English playwright, who was once cleared of a murder charge stemming from a duel by pleading benefit of clergy. This odd legal loophole was inspired by I Chronicles 16:22, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." In medieval times, church clerics alone could read and thereby qualify for exemption from prosecution for capital crimes. During the testing procedure, applicants were required to read "like a clerk," and the coaching of an accused felon to read for this purpose was considered and indictable offense. Use of benefit of clergy diminished over time but was not formally abolished in Britain until 1827. If the prisoner could not read the neck-verse, it was said that he must "sing it at the gallows," prompting these lines in Samuel Butler's Hudibras (1663):
   And if they cannot read one verse
   I' the' Psalms, must sing it, and that's worse.

Ben Johnson is also the guy who gave us "drink to me only with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine" -- much to the annoyance of cartoon baby owls ever since.

-The Gneech, who wants to sing-a about the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a
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Archie do

Fictionlet

When it comes to chewing the scenery when she's mad, Brigid makes Jeremy Irons look subtle and restrained. Unfortunately, we were rapidly running out of delicate electronic instruments to smash and she was giving my precious laptop a homicidal look. I was forced to come to its rescue.

"Well, look," I said, in as soothing a tone as I could muster, "family's always a pain. You have no farther to look than my Uncle Bob for confirmation of that. But in her own harpy-like way, your mother loves you. That's got to be worth something, doesn't it? Why not forgive the old biddy?"

Brigid, who had apparently been lost in a pleasant fantasy about the horrors she planned to inflict on my poor little Toshiba, looked over at me with narrowed eyes. "What did you say?" she said.

"I was just observing that your mother loves you," I said. "Surely you can get past this little estrangement with a little compromising, a little give-and-takeness."

"You were observing that, were you?" she said.

"I was."

"Well don't. Honestly, that's about the most fatuous comment since the technician at Chernobyl said, 'I wonder what this button does!'"

I had to stop and chew on that one a bit; by the time I'd come up for air, the little punk had hurled our last telephone into the kitchen, where it took out two cereal bowls and a mug that had been hiding in the sink trying to escape notice.

-The Gneech

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Kero class

Clever Phrase: A Novel

Besides just being in the mood for something to read, one reason I picked up Blue Heaven was market research. A Brigid and Greg novel, if and when it materializes, will be right there in that same "contemporary American fiction" category and be sharing pretty much the exact same audience -- with the slight exception that B&G are not likely to be listed under "gay lit".

It's no secret that the novel market is in a weird place just now, at least in the USA. Women buy more books than men generally, and a lot more fiction than men. Thus the boom in "chick lit," to the point where even stuff that isn't really chick lit is being marketed as if it were. Looking around the "new fiction" tables at the bookstore, everything has the same title (Catchy Phrase: A Novel), most things have a devil tail and high heels on the cover somewhere, and every third book is about funny vampires.

The humor fiction that isn't riding Bridget Jones's coattails, seems to be floating somewhere between Wodehouse, Woody Allen, and Will and Grace except that it's also allowed to talk about ecstacy, cocaine, and marijuana. The main recurring theme seems to be "skewering New York city high society / art scene / both" over and over again, which probably has more to do with editorial preferences than what the reading public actually wants.

So what does this mean for Brigid and Greg? I don't know at the moment. It has certainly been instructive in what not to do, because in almost every contemporary humor novel I've found there have been one or two glaring things that really made me want to stop reading, if not throw the book across the room and shout at it.

A preponderance of the idiot ball is one; an annoying tendency to delve into the seedy is another; completely unsympathetic protagonists is the third. Blue Heaven had all of these problems, but fortunately in relatively small amounts and I was able to get through it. The idiot ball and the unsympathetic protagonists overlap somewhat -- it's hard to care about what happens to a character when you want to slap him for being such a yutz. But it's not entirely a 1:1 connection because it's possible to still have sympathy for an amiable buffoon -- see also "Bertie Wooster". When you have a petty, small-minded, bitchy buffoon as your hero, it becomes a lot harder to maintain interest.

On the other hand, the reason the idiot ball is such a common device, is that it's often hard to write farce without it. In real life, when confronted with a ridiculous situation, most of the people I have any sympathy for at least will do their best to flee at the earliest opportunity -- whereas in a book the characters have to get deeper and deeper into it. So to write a humor novel without resorting to idiot ball use, is going to be quite a challenge. But that's one of the goals I'm setting for myself.

Not delving into the seedy is easy. What seediness that does show up, if any, will primarily be there in order to be spurned like a rabid dog by B&G. So that's taken care of. That leaves making sure to have sympathetic protagonists, which I'd like to think I've achieved with my particular pair of eccentrics.

We'll see!

-The Gneech
Leonard machismo

Monday Workout Report (Oh Yeah, These Things! Edition)

Tonight was the rebirth of the Bowflex routine, with the new, expensive, piece-of-crap Bowflex Revolution. I started to get the hang of it a bit, but it really is a total step backward from the original Bowflex. To any and all would-be Bowflex buyers, take it from me: go for the Ultimate or one of the other resistance-rod designs and avoid the Bowflex Revolution as if it were an overpriced, hard-to-use, badly-designed machine. 'cause that's what it is.

Anyway, with the new machine, and since I haven't really done any serious working out for six months or more, I decided to start at the beginning and work my way back up -- so some of these numbers are intentionally low right now and will probably shoot up in the weeks to come. I'm also going to be swapping exercises in and out until I get a routine I like. This one seems to be very heavy on the shoulders, while all but ignoring my chest, abs, and legs.

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The software recommended 45 lbs for the Cross Triceps Extension -- WTF? That's totally out of whack. I did 25 lbs and my deltoids are made of butter now. Tonight's routine took me 45 minutes, but it was my first time on the machine. I expect future workouts to be much faster -- to the point where I may need to add more exercises, this one seemed a little short.

-The Gneech
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