Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fair Baltimore, the Beautiful City

This is the Hot Corn Band's excellent version of The Baltimore Fire, commemorating the devastation of that city in 1904. H L Mencken escaped becoming a crispy critter by a whisker. I first encountered this song on the awesome US/Canadian collaborative folk album, The McGarrigle Hour.

There is some doubt traditionally pretended as to whether the conflagration directly killed anybody at all; but although the death toll was remarkably low, the 'no dead' claim turns out to be very much of the "But few of any sort, and none of name" variety. No prizes for guessing the race of the charred corpse later pulled from the harbour - presumably dead of fright, or suicide, or independently spontaneous combustion, or something like that. Bah!

The great tragic fault shown up by this fire was the complete lack of standardization in firefighting equipment specs, so that neighbouring forces couldn't fit their equipments to Baltimore hydrants when they arrived to help. As I understand it, this seems to have been chiefly an issue of every local government laying down different specifications, with a side-helping of patent law abuse by certain equipment providers who thought their interest lay in mutual incompatibility with all competitors. After the resulting visit from Nemesis, a national standard was installed.

I know of nothing so numbingly fair and savagely terrifying as wildfire, and this song has always hit me at the very base of my spine.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Last Courtship

Kateverse folksong, whose protagonists are extremely loosely based on those of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland, at the very beginning of that story. This one grew purely out of its music, as I came into work this morning. It seems to have been written some generations later, as its heroes begin to unravel into archetype and folk-memory.

Since my vocal rendition of it would be no kindness, I've embedded Emmylou Harris's version of Love Still Remains instead. The original and sublime version of that song is, by one of those phenomenal coincidences that would be scoffed at mercilessly in any story, due to a late great folksinger actually named Kate Wolf. Anybody less like Katherine the Golden of Alland - the Kate on this mountainside, later called the Grey Wolf in the Red Gloaming - it is very nearly impossible to imagine.

The Last Courtship

Kate was a beggar that housed on the hill.
The cold wind did whip her and the dewdrops did chill.
Up come a young man so strong and so fair.
He said, "Oh my Kate of the shining gold hair,
Come away, come away – come with me today!
For too long I’ve been gone, and too short did I stay.
Fly the years, fall the tears - nothing constant has proved
But your beauty, the same
As the first day I loved!"

Kate made her answer in mortal surprise:
"The long desert roads have flung sand in your eyes!
Steeped in old sin am I, shrivelled and tanned,
And my chaplet is changed for a murderer's brand.
I am old, I am grey, and my joints creak today,
And the damsel is dead that a prince bore away.
Full of years, dry of tears, little children I scare –
But the brave boy I loved
Has not changed by a hair!"

"Kate," cried the soldier, "how can you not know
My sinews are shrunken, my stride rusted slow?
Scar-striped and bloody from every foul feast
Of ravens, I'm grown less a boy than a beast.
Never say – never say, you are like me today!
You are all the light left, since my feet ran astray.
Full of youth, full of truth, is the ring in your voice –
And the rash lad you knew
Is repenting his choice!"

Kate led the soldier away by the hand.
Together they roved to a red sunrise strand.
Damsel undaunted took prince to her mate,
And his arms were unwithered that held golden Kate.
Gone away – gone away! Where they wander today,
By the bright stream or the black stream, no mortal may say.
Each to each, all in all, by the light of his eyes,
And the spring of her strength
Till the last of Spring dies.

Many variants (notably Killer-Kate Came Courting, in which she takes the initiative; The Spoilt Lovers, which leaves out the last verse; and Willy and Nancy, prevalent in the western counties, in which they are well on the way to becoming Generic Folksong Couple) are known in its native setting. A clear fossil of the original events is preserved accidentally in the ambiguous lyric

...And the damsel is dead that a prince bore away

which, read rightly, refers to the incident in The Deed of Katy Elflocks twenty years previously, where the Margravine Katherine carried the young Prince away a-horseback from an ignominious death. The reverse and more conventional reading of this line never, despite the dearest wishes of both heroes, in fact occurred.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Gods in the Heather

The bonny, bonny heather - by Aqwis at Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.A Kateverse folksong, of Morgan the Man and his struggle with the would-be gods of Cassander's Diadochi. Bold, brilliant, insanely loyal and intoxicatingly charismatic; riddling and maddening; something like his culture's King Arthur, and just a bit like its Robin Hood... I still haven't got much more of a handle on him than his inheritors have twenty generations later. I did discover yesterday that the hostile and severely ill nation next door to his Morgander was founded by his favourite son, Rhuvawn. Morgan's pronounced allergy to deity seems to have taken an unfortunate turn there.

This song hints at where it came from.

The Gods in the Heather

August Lord Summer with piper and drummer
Preached he was God, at the point of his spear.
Otho Lord Winter said "Stick it right into
The place where no Sun shines, 'cause I'm the God here!"

Grey geese are flying, wild harps are crying.
Summer or Winter, to bow or to ban?
Sailor or Singer or Thunderbolt-Flinger?
Who will you worship now, Morgan the Man?

Morgan said, "Worship's in deeds that are manful.
Prayer is for ears that are dear in the night.
Who'd be a God, when the World-Winner would not?
I'll send 'em word with the goose-feather's flight!"

Red swords are falling, wild horns are calling,
Summer and Winter are trampling his tents.
All Gods together, they hunt him through heather -
Manhood in men must be mortal offence!

Morgan defeated, each God stabs his fellows,
Backwards and sideways, like such fellows do.
Deep in the valleys, mortality rallies,
And men come to Morgan in comradeship true.

Grey geese are flying, wild harps are crying.
August we reap, and old Otho we scan,
Flying through heather from grey goose's feather,
And good men together with Morgan the Man -
All men together with Morgan the Man!

Diadochi references:

August Lord Summer is the would-be Octavian/Augustus figure, the successor to Cassander's legionary general Romolo Aquila. He claimed to be the New Apollo.

Otho Lord Winter is an interpretation of the northern warlock-king associated with Mercury and Wednesday. This episode is conspicuously absent from his own myth-cycle.

'Sailor' is certainly the Navarch Phaon, alias Sailor Flash, who claimed to be the son and heir of Neptune.

'Singer' is probably Stateira Hetaira, alias Stacey the Singer. Famous poet and briefly tyrant in the far West, who loved Venus but never claimed to be Her. Long dead before the events of this song took place.

'Thunderbolt-Flinger' is Anthony Fulmen, alias Tony Thunderbolt and Ranty Tanty, who claimed to be Jupiter incarnate. Defeated by August, he fled far away to the South shortly before August, Otho, and their unspecified allies launched their holy alliance against the impertinently mortal Morgan.

Monday, 11 April 2011

"My Prince, We Are Coming."

"Bill and scythe! Bill and scythe, and the grey wolf in the red gloaming!"

One of my hardest chapters has come to its end, and Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland is drawing to its close too. The next chapter is the fulfilment of the Rising arc, with the great and grievous battle before Castle Carrowglaze.

I'm not so happy with this first sketch of the way Kate rouses the demoralized rag-tag rebel army to its last fatal effort. The run-up to it was better than I'd hoped - Kate has changed so much, and she kindles such a different quality of loyalty now that she is herself such a blaze of it. She won over somebody I'd thought impossibly fireproof, almost by the way.

But precisely because she has changed in the living and the telling, the climactic scene stumbled for the vision I first had of it three years ago. Part of her rôle now belongs to Fiery Younger Sister, and there's another character who's hefted a much bigger part of the burden onto her slender shoulders than I'd looked for. Still, in the end, Kate's terrible speech lacks the clarion directness I need from it. It is divided and diverted between my new vision of it and the old ingrained one. There is no amending that until the whole tale is completed, and redrafted from the start in full knowledge of what she is and what she must become.

In the old story, this is the place where kindly sensible Katy Elflocks was wrong, and fell heroic Golden Kate was right at last. No longer so. This Kate knows that not only is Katy her true cause, but is enormously wiser than she is, even in this matter - and yet, because the people and times are what they are, the only way to save anything from disaster is her own cockeyed way. And this Kate is not grimly and righteously vindicated, but burning inwardly that it is her own stupid old tricks that must save both her new loves and her old.

So it is unexpectedly like Katy in the first of all their tales that she fares down into Langdale at last, with neither hope nor pride remaining, nor any need for either.

And to the Dull Tower Kate Fireguard came.

And the devil whistles the marching-tune, over the blue unremembered hills.

Three chapters and one epilogue to go.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Whene'er I Bib the Wine Down

Bacchus fair to see - by Caravaggio, via Wikipedia - public domain

Whene'er I bib the wine down,
Asleepe drop all my cares.
A fig for fret,
A fig for sweat,
A fig care I for cares.
Sith death must come, though I say nay,
Why grieve my life's days with all affaires?

Come, bib we then the wine down
Of Bacchus faire to see;
For alway while we bibbing be,
Asleepe drop all our cares.

- Anacreonta xxv, translated for Duke Corsus's use in The Worm Ouroboros by E R Eddison.

PUBLICK HEALTHE ADVERTIZEMENT! A Doctor of Physick Saieth: This evill Counsell schol bring yowe naught but swift Frenzie, long sicknesse, and soddeyne DEATH with small Lamentation to yr Neighbors. Nor thinke to escape the Rioters' Penaltie through vild Sotte-Weed nor yet those mad Reefers! Yt is scarce endurable, livable, nother Sosteynable, O Prince, that sich Poysones be nott Taxed and Tayled to the arse-bone, for the better sustenaunce of Mee and my Leechis!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Revolution, Baby!

Shocked by the power of Charlie Stross's recent pithy debunking of libertarianism -
Arguments from libertarianism are as flawed as arguments from Leninism. (Both ideologies prescribe behaviour based on an elegant and consistent model of human behaviour and relationships ... which is, unfortunately, wrong.)

I have been forced to re-assess my beliefs from the ground up, and have ended with an even stronger conclusion than his. Leninism and libertarianism must be considered, in any really rigorous visualization of the Cosmic All, as the very same meta-ideology of social rationalism, with different starting assumptions. How shall we test these starting assumptions against one another? Obviously, in the marketplace of ideas. Now, Leninism in various forms has enthralled - and I do mean enthralled - literally billions of the world's bodies and minds over the last short century. Libertarianism is lucky to get three guys, no gal, and the pub cat to discuss easement rights over a pie and a pint at the Bricklayer's Arms every third Wednesday.

Clearly, then, if I believe in the power of rational self-interest as expressed by revealed preferences, I must concede that people reasonable enough to accept social rationalism more freely choose Leninism. So Leninism is more libertarian than libertarianism is, and if I am a real libertarian I must accept Leninism. But now I am a Leninist, I notice that social rationalism is an inviolate scientific historical truth, and that bourgeois revisionist attempts to undermine it must be tirelessly rebutted by megabytes of tiresome blogposts and truckloads of dialectically material machine-guns. So the inevitable political synthesis is for my recent leftward drift to culminate in the absolute subsumption of bourgeois libertarianism into proletarian democratic centralism with digital characteristics!

For the revolutionary, class consciousness only exists as expressed in decisive political action. Accordingly, this morning I joined the 2ting Popular Front Online, and we shall just be rallying the digital proletariat to seize the commanding heights of the New Economy, as soon as we have thrashed out the process for oversight of elections to the Svoburo's Standing Orders Committee.

We is in ur MMORPGs, organizin ur AIs.

Monsters of the Web, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dungeons!