. . . Tom Parmenter

. . .

Gosh, I like the Internet: Tom Parmenter, famous father of the Parmenter boys, easily identified one of my mystery MP3 files as "Troubles, Troubles" by Clarence "Frogman" Henry; on the same day, one of the alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.1950s habitués identified the "holler billy goat" song as "Hide and Go Seek" by Bunker Hill. Amoeba Records, here I come.

. . .

Tom Parmenter noted that the mysterious "Billy Goat" song, now identified as "Hide and Go Seek" by Bunker Hill (nom de secularism for a Mighty Clouds of Joy vocalist), sounds like "a compendium of schoolyard rhymes.... 'Went down the road, the road was muddy,' that has the jump-rope rhythm." In turn, I noted that, like some other of my favorite blues, rock'n'roll, R&B, and hip-hop songs, it blends a bit of dirty dozens into its kids games. Tom again:

"Toasts" are another member of the family. I'm surprised no one has put together an album of Titanic-related toasts and tunes. Supposedly, Jack Johnson was denied passage and the wreck was retribution. I also have a song by the Johnny Otis Show (under the name of Snatch and the Poontangs) on the alleged presence on board of the legendary Shine, who *could* have saved them all, but concluded "there's better pussy on yonder shore".

Strange that Frogman's hits should both be so peppy and so gloomy. Here's a cat so talented he can sing like a girl *and* a frog and he ain't got no home in the one song and he's contemplating suicide in the other, so deep are his troubles.

.... I'm listening to this hip folk balladeer jazz rocker street singer guy Hirth Martinez and two of these songs are so *damn* entertaining, one of them called "Mothman Samba", about said mysterious creature.

. . .

This past week, Tom Parmenter's far-too-sporadic emailzine Desperado issued an appropriate response to the "respect the US flag" constitutional amendment that's being cheered on through our do-nothing-and-proud-of-it Congress. One might think that our politicians' patriotism would be better expressed by eliminating tax shelters and offshore labor. But no, the greenback remains the most furiously guarded symbol of their country.

My reaction to flag-hagiographers is even more unmixed than Tom's, possibly because pretty much the only use I've seen the flag get put to is as a quick hiding place. I'm so glad I'm living in the USA because of the Bill of Rights, the unusually (if still insufficiently) permeable class system, and the achievements they've made possible. Forcing children to take daily oaths of allegiance to a piece of cloth doesn't seem so useful; it's also hard to see what benefits can be derived by the flag-hags' getting their red-white-and-blue panties in a twist over furriners' bonfires. The most pleasant association the flag has for me is as verifier of post office or embassy.

A couple of months ago, I read James Branch Cabell's These Restless Heads, which spends quite a few pages observing the USA flag at eye level from a high-placed summer cottage:

I note that those seven red stripes and those six white stripes are so alternated as to suggest the uniform of a convict.... That blue canton I know to contain some and forty stars; but for seven whole years I have tried without success to count them.... It may well reek with irreligion, in that it boldly attempts to improve upon the celestial plan by arranging its own stars in six parallel rows.... I recollect, in the nick of time, that those some and forty white pentangles were borrowed from the Washington coat-of-arms, in which they did not represent stars but the rowels of spurs.....

The patriot everywhere, it may be observed, remains always exceedingly careful lest his country's banner become besmirched by any touch of that bloody sponge which is his brain....

For any of antiquity's heroic standards a liquescent barber's pole seems a poor substitute.... Red-and-white-striped peppermint candy is a spectacle which, in itself, connotes rather less of high-mindedness than of an over-cloying and sticky saccharinity; and I imagine that in this aspect it may rhetorically mislead a great many patriotic orators. I wish, in fine, that both the flag and I were somewhat different looking.

. . .

What selfevident enigma pondered with desultory constancy during 20 years did Davis then, having extinguished natural obscurity by the effectation of electronic enlightenment, silently suddenly comprehend?

I'm very sorry to admit that I no longer remember which of my old Digital Equipment Corporation friends pointed this out to me in a Bloomsday email (Tom Parmenter? Dave Juitt? Mark Eaton?), but of course what Mr. Bloom intended to write in the Sandymount sand was:

I. AM. A. stick in the mud

. . .


A reader who wishes to remain anonymous queries re our most recent Science News:

Shouldn't that be "fnords"?
And Tom Parmenter wades into Election Madness with "a jump-rope rhyme for Florida's children by Montana Miller":
Butterfly, butterfly! Bush or Gore?
Count those ballots -- who got more?
My grandma went to the polls,
But she punched the wrong damn holes!
Who's the hero? Who's the goat?
How many times can grandma vote?
One, two, three, four. . . .
[If you mess up, recount: One, two. . . .]
He won't let go the apple

. . .

"Critique & Proposals" by Chandler Davis

By far the best available introduction to the nonmathematical work of Chandler Davis is Josh Lukin's interview with him in Paradoxa 18. Among many enticing but unavailable texts, it mentions an informal piece of argumentation from 1949. Hearing of my curiosity, Dr. Lukin very kindly lent me a copy. And, hearing of my interest in sharing the work, Professor Davis very kindly lent me permission to publish it online. I thank them both.

You'll have your own reasons to find it interesting. Here are a few of mine:


Kip Manley notices:
You're back!

Which means I get to spend some time, at least, musing on how comics does something similar to SF (yet again)--

"From birth, science fiction has been defined (and bounded) by a community whose ambiguities of consumer, critic, and producer more resemble philosophical schools or high art movements than commercial publishing genres."

Though there's far more of a distrust of the critical enterprise in comics than in SF. --Artists, you know?

Anyway: there's as vibrant if more brief a history of APAs in comics, too. Scott McCloud lists his inventions in the field of comics, which include such notable creations as Five-Card Nancy and the 24-Hour Comic; he used to include the Frying Pan, a comics APA he founded back (I think) in the early '80s. But he doesn't anymore, because who knows from APAs?

I think he's still got them in a box somewhere in Thousand Oaks. At least I hope so: lots of comics history in there, in a raw, unfiltered form. But formalists are lousy packers, and they've moved a lot in the past few years.

I should feel ashamed that mere dayjob (backed up by a bit of illness and hardware trouble) kept me offline longer than a hurricane and homelessness have Tom Matrullo. But I'm too relieved to build up a good head of mea culpa.

Yes, the critical distinction is why I didn't mention comics myself. But it's true that American comics are another "commercial art" built on uneconomically passionate emulation and argument, with similar adolescent fans, similar reliance on self-publishing, and Dan Pussey as son of Jonathan Herovit. And I suppose one might make a case for some ambiguity even in the realm of criticism, albeit more among the pros than the fans or one could bring up the ambiguous role of the collector....

That ol' renegade Tom Parmenter is interested too, although I suspect he has stories of his own to tell. And I see that during my recent exile from good fellowship, The Mumpsimus appreciated Phil Klass.

The Happy Tutor reunifies compliment and complement.

David Auerbach returns, and very welcome he is, too:

I guess what I think of is how, with the regularly occurring exception (what comes to mind is that EC comics story where the astronaut takes off his helmet at the end and...he's black!!!) specifically designed to appeal to racial and cultural issues, science-fiction went for a casual universalism, at least in its "golden age." What I remember of reading old-style genre sf were characters with purposefully vague or unnatural names (Jermbo Xenthos, e.g.), which had little to no bearing on their position in the story. Since genre sf tended to revolve around the conceptualization of a single (usually recycled) idea, attendant aspects of character were incidental at best; I haven't read it in years, but I believe this even applies to the Asian protagonist of Delany's "Babel-17". Even something like Heinlein's racist "Fifth Column" is not "about" the race of its characters qua characters. The Asians might as well be aliens (and the story would have had slightly firmer scientific grounding if they had been).

With gender, it only partly applies. The same dichotomy--women are either indistinguishably "one of the guys" with their anatomy switched around, or else a brainless love interest whose role is determined wholly by their gender--usually applies, but the love interest is considerably more common and incidental because of the more common presence of a secondary love story. I remember thinking this when I read Asimov as a kid. It also seems that as male authors grow older, the ratio gradually tilts away from the former. I got more compelling portraits of, for instance, farmers (in Clifford Simak) and manic-depressives (in Theodore Sturgeon) from sf than I ever did of women or minorities.

This is evidently not what Davis wanted, as he says, but the failure of sf to meet his expectations seems more grounded in the agreed-upon restrictions of the genre rather than the failed imaginations of the authors. The generic restrictions of plot, character, and ideas would have made a socially progressive agenda stick out like a sore thumb. I always found "Stand on Zanzibar" very difficult to get through precisely because he approaches Davis's issues from the standpoint of problems to be solved through ideological architecture rather than areas meriting in-depth exploration. In the same way, you wouldn't go to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a revelation of the social relations of the immigrant community. They're just too goal-directed.

Chandler Davis himself provides some additional thoughts:

I think it's true that the spirit of our APAs lives on electronically, without the health effects of inhaling hektograph solvent. As to my then simplified spelling, if that doesn't live on I won't mourn it.

My post mortem on my essay of 55 years ago is just what I told you I thought it would be: it's not all just what I would say today, but it was worth saying.

I don't think I told Josh or you one of the striking responses to my essay. Isaac Asimov remarked that when he wanted to make his character Preem Palver as harmless as possible (so that it would be a surprise when he turned out to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy), he gave him the accent & mannerisms of his father, an East European Jewish immigrant. (Didn't call him Jewish, though, I guess.)

. . .

Time of the Season

That a certain excitement of the intelligence is necessary even to revivify ideas we have already had is amply demonstrated whenever open-minded and knowledgeable people are being examined and without any preamble are asked such questions as: What is the state? Or: What is property? Things of that kind. If these young people had been in company and for a while the subject of conversation had been the state or property they would by a process of comparison, discrimination and summary perhaps with ease have arrived at the definition. But being wholly deprived of any such preparation they are seen to falter and only an obtuse examiner will conclude from this that they do not know. For it is not we who know things but pre-eminently a certain condition of ours which knows. Only very commonplace intellects, people who yesterday learned by heart what the state is and today have forgotten it again, will have their answers pat in an examination.
- Heinrich von Kleist

I've enjoyed delivering my couple of guest lectures and teaching my couple of adult ed classes. But knowing that students are there by coercion rather than desire? and then, after slowly torturing these unfortunates, having to punish them for their lack of interest?

An education consists of observing, thinking, and doing, with dialog. What do grades have to do with that? Nothing, directly and nothing indirectly after the trick's known. Grades are there to balance those in school for reasons other than education. As is the way with our breed of ape, we expend immense labor (or labor compacted as money) thumbing that balance. Which is its own learning, I guess, and I guess probably more valuable in the long run.

I remember Tom Parmenter writing that you do best on tests such as the SATs by consciously playing the part of the sort of person who'd do well on those tests. (I think his exact words were "a boring white guy.") And I remember people saying that was nonsense. But I remember it was always how I managed, when I managed, despite my lack of education, despite my lack of discipline. It is not our knowledge that does well on tests but pre-eminently a certain role of ours which scores.


The one thing I was ever consistently good at - SAT's, Wechsler-Binet, Stanford-Binet, and, in another less conditional but far more exciting modality, the MMPI - attacked, attacked, rendered moot spurious and no-account. It was all I had, pretty much.

If there are any no-'counts in this post, I'd say they're me & the Von. "Do best" in Parmenter's formula means "do better than I'd do otherwise", not "do better than anyone" he's talking, I think, about what in other sports is called "game face". Me, I don't even like Trivial Pursuit.

The question of grades is different from the question of tests, anyway. The ability to score high on intelligence tests shows a quirky talent of some sort (I have a bit of that one myself), and the ability to score high on tests of knowledge is something I look on with awe. But to make them the singular point of education, something to train for and haggle over, as parents, governments, and a sclerosing class system increasingly do, misses what's valuable in education.

Joseph Duemer points out that "students" need to be on that list as well. Silly of me to leave them out, since that was my jumping-off point....

Tom Parmenter himself:

Yep, that was me all right. I was giving advice to my Number One Son about the SAT's, etc. I told him not to use any imagination, whatsoever, because it would lead to wrong answers. With imagination, any one of the multiple choices can be made to fit the question. Thus, go for the answer that would be given by a boring white guy. He received a full National Merit Scholarship without actually becoming a boring white guy. Number Two Son, on the other hand, was so disgusted by the process, he only applied to schools that didn't use the SAT.

I sussed these things out when I took the PSAT as a junior in high school. A joke played by sort of smart people on other sort of smart people. I placed on the National Merit too, but no scholarship. To hear people brag about their SAT's . . . well, ha-ha-ha! See the book None of the Above. The author so completely groks the way the tests are put together that he manages a high score on the French test without knowing any French.

It's all reminiscent of the story about quizzing junior-high students on how to use a barometer to measure the height of a building. One non-boring kid supplied twenty or so answers, such as:

- Use the barometer as a measuring device. Get the height in barometers.
- Drop the barometer from the top of the building and use the formula for gravitational acceleration to determine the height of the building.
. . . and so on, winding up with the final suggestion:
- Knock on the door and tell the person who answers, "I will give you this fine barometer if you will tell me how tall this building is."

Kid got an F (even though, in fact, it is not likely that the answer the teacher wanted would have returned a useful figure for the height of most buildings).

. . .

Land of the Dead (2005)

I'm sorry that "Mr. Tambourine Man" wasn't played over the closing credits. Even Dylan's harmonica would've been contextually justified!

Otherwise a near perfect Fourth of July movie, complete with fireworks and everyone wanting to move to Canada.


Re your "Mr. Tamborine Man" suggestion --wouldn't that have been PERFECT!!!? and so in keeping with the sensibility that produced the opening shot ("EATS >>").

I thank that fine newspaper man Tom Parmenter for copyediting.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.