Archive for August, 2008

Gustav, the Mother of All Storms

August 31, 2008

Apparently there’s a hurricane called Gustav coming towards New Orleans.

According to the mayor, it’s “the mother of all storms”.

I find it very difficult to resist a Falwellian urge to shrillily (and sillily) shriek about the city of unspeakable abominations about to be flattened by the transsexual wind-fist of God.

The last time I checked Gustav was a boy’s name, dear mayor…

Back from Hell(sinki)!

August 31, 2008

Back from Hell…

Back from Helsinki, the ghastly capital of Finland, that is.

Come to think of it, I used the exactly same ghastly joke when reporting back from the previous conference there; oh well. I’ll try something about “the City of -Sin-” the next time.

High points of the trip —

1. Visiting the main branch of the excellent Finnish shop Fantasiapelit, which I cannot praise enough, and in one fell swoop getting both a DVD set of Azumanga Daioh: the Animation, and HPLHS‘s (relatively) new Dunwich Horror audio drama.

And then staggering back to my hotel, and noting that, one, though it had a TV, it had no DVD player, and two, though I had an mp3 player with me, it of course couldn’t play a CD.

2. Grinning slack-jawed as the final half of the third book of J.C. Hutchins’s 7th Son audiobook trilogy flew through my mind as the train flew towards Helsinki. Since, after your headphones finish the book, bolting up in a crowded cabin and hurrahing for five minutes isn’t quite approved of in Finland, I just sat in quiet for the same time and watched these two thoughts play ping-pong inside my skull:

“Wow.”

and

“Oh, wow.”

That’s the sign of good stuff. (Oh, and the non-spoilery also-ran thought of “But which thingamajic that was? And, more importantly, who?”)

3. Scrabbling a travel diary, and with a mixture of alarm and glee noticing that as the return train chuffed north and all was told, the last page of the sixty in the notebook was filled.

Just call me the Master of Timing.

Or Master of Science; for that I’ve got the official papers.

Now only the task of translating sixty pages of hurried chickenscratch (or, as I term it, “pictures of dead spiders”) into a digital form remains. I might translate some to English as well and share them here. Not the parts that read “Went to the loo. Small, wet brown pellets. Then watched TV. It was Bullshit. Ate a biscuit. Slept some.”; that’s a promise.

And then a low point —

Beggars. I didn’t see many; maybe six or seven over a week and a half. Even that was too many. Some seemed to be those foreigners that the papers used to worry about a few months back: Romanians that travel to Helsinki for the summer because they earn better begging there, or something like that.

I gave away a few five-euros and even one twenty (Americans, multiply these with one-half and you’ve got a rough guess at the dollars), since my maxim on this stuff is that a student (well, budding academician) can be poor (and often is), but stingy? Never.

Then again, not being stingy quite often leads to being poor, so these things go well together.

I, however, only gave to those that made an effort: street musicians and the like. I’m willing to give a hand-out now and then, if only the other chap’s willing to make some gesture. For all I know, a slumped form with with hat on the street could be a tired student or something.

Call me cold if you want. Since there are too many people in trouble for me to help them all, I have to choose. My money, my choice.

Away: Ranma 1/2 fan fic part 2

August 30, 2008

I shouldn’t be away at the conference any more, but I might be too wasted to write anything; thus this final auto-post, which continues on the subject of the previous one.

Namely, the problem with Ranma 1/2 fan fiction is that you can’t write just one.

Thus here’s another I wrote in the heat of devouring the series and the endless varying fan-forms and formulations most beautiful it had inspired, back in the sunny year 2003 — proceed below the fold to read.

I think this is better than the previous one; no great praise, but I rather like this piece. Think yourself back to the beginning of the series —

* * *

(more…)

Away: Ranma 1/2 and fan fiction

August 29, 2008

I’m still in the mathematics conference, or maybe slowly creeping away from it. Thus this auto-post, prepared beforehand.

This time the Thing from my personal archives is an old piece of fan fiction.

In the spring of 2003 I was in a delicate state of mind, having just lurched out of the army and back into studying mathematics. Thus a fall was inevitable: and I fell into the clutches of a fiery and still continuing addiction, namely an insatiable craving for and appreciation of manga (Japanese comics, that is), and first and foremost I fell in love with Ranma 1/2, a martial arts romantic comedy — emphasis on comedy — by Rumiko Takahashi.

The plot of that series is, in typical manga fashion, such that one will inevitably end up feeling and looking like a total fool if one tries to explain it; thus I don’t and merely point at the Wikipedia article if you’re interested.

And if you need no explaining and know that excellent series, and the endless megabytes of fan fiction it has generated — well, maybe it doesn’t surprise you that I, too, wrote a few.

One is below the fold, one titled “THE HORROR”. It’s not very long, and not at all serious.

(If you wonder: I first met Ranma as the English translation by Viz, as this all happened shortly before the Great Finnish Manga Boom: and when it came I was really, really glad to see Ranma was one of the first titles to be translated.)

* * *

(more…)

Away: Cold

August 28, 2008

The blog-writer is in a mathematical conference in Helsinki, the cold capital of his dear homeland, and these auto-posts are just pieces from his distant writing past — say from 2003, five years ago, and from even older times.

This one is something very similar in mood to the pieces about Finland I’ve done on this blog, like the Guide to Finland.

If you need to know how I dashed off this little piece, years ago, note that I had to re-paragraph it, since it originally had only three paragraph divisions. (Brrr.)

* * *

(more…)

Away: Black ward and doom slog

August 26, 2008

The writer is away in Helsinki, out of easy internet reach; these auto-posts are a showcase of his ancient droppings, from around 2003 or older. (Five years already? Sheesh!)

This one needs no notes beyond those originally appended to it, here printed in italics.

Well, and a warning that when younger I was a bit more prone to flowery (or in this case overly gloomy) melodramaticism, which might irritate some.

* * *

(more…)

Away: Revolution

August 25, 2008

The blog-writer is still away in Helsinki (only until Friday!) and via auto-posting amuses you with ancient letter-droppings from his past and from his antique hard drive.

This one is one of those sudden things — you get a flash, an idea, a scene, and you scrawl it down — and at least for me it sometimes ends there. I look at the text, say: “Where the hell did that come from?” and then just forget about it.

No doubt I could have started digging, found a story for this random scene, but I didn’t.

I don’t know what this scene is about, or where, or how, or why, beyond the melodramatic moody moment that is apparent in it. Finding out would have been one part of the continuation.

* * *

“So”, said the prisoner. “This is it, then?”

“Quite so”, sighed the captain. “If you would place yourself against the wall…?”

Without any protest the prisoner did. The captain shuffled his feet and then finally managed to ask: “Do you want something… A blindfold? Or a last cigarette?”

“No”, the prisoner answered, with a slight smile. “I am not afraid, and I don’t smoke.”

“As you wish. Men, weapons ready!” the captain barked. His half-baked legionnaires loaded their rifles and formed a lazy row.

“I don’t really like doing this”, the captain tried. “But I have my orders.”

“Indeed. And I would despise you if you didn’t follow them”, the prisoner said.

“Very well.” The captain adjusted his glasses and then spoke, mostly to his soldiers because no one else was present to listen. “For revolution against the kingdom, death. As decreed by the king. Men, fire.”

A dozen rifles barked. For a moment the prisoner stood against the wall, and then fell to his knees, for some reason smiling faintly. If he had any last words they were left unsaid. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth, and then his eyes lost focus, and he fell facefirst to the ground. Behind him, a pattern of blood-specks ran down the wall.

“Squad dismissed.” The captain shook his head. “Send in the burial crew.” The firing squad departed, some of the men groping their pockets for a cigarette.

The captain sat down on a wooden crate and looked at the pitiful remains of yet another destroyed human being. Blood trickled from the corpse that until few minutes ago had been a breathing, speaking man, a firebrand, a revolutionary and an enemy of the established order. Now all that was left was a lifeless, bleeding carcass, the only future it would see a damp, dark rest in a grave dug by reluctant soldiers.

The pool of blood, a spreading ocean of red, so very much like the revolutionary himself had been when alive. A tide of something repugnant yet powerful. Something that seemed to stick to and stain everything it touched, making everyday things difficult and clear things obscure. Making kings appear tyrants, and making order seem oppression. Making honest soldiers into killers of their countrymen.

Such a wretched thing a revolution is that it stains both the rebel and his target, and creates wounds that easily fester, creating pain that never dies.

Away: Three half-jokes

August 24, 2008

I’m still away in Helsinki and auto-posting; and this festering droplet of old (say 2003) word-slinging needs a thought to explain its existence.

Sometimes a thought comes to you: a really, really bad joke, or some abominable little quirk that you have to write down, some shard of an idea, down just to get it out of your mind.

The following three thumbnails for half-formed eccentric characters are such.

* * *

Murray Kishmash

“Actually, it was originally Merry and not Murray… You know, like they named hippie children in the sixties? Didn’t sound very manly, however, and nowadays there’re all those weird new meanings to words… Well, I just prefer Murray.”

“Kishmash? No, it isn’t Jewish. Borderline Christian, maybe, but not Jewish.”

Kishmash was a fat man of indeterminate age — certainly over forty, but it was hard to say anything more exact. His beard was trimmed to some four inches, but bristled immensely to every direction, bright white and tangled. What little face was visible from behind it was ruddy and healthy-looking, and his eyes sparkled with vitality and good humour. Kishmash smiled a lot and chuckled like an avalanche in coming, and Fred had a feeling his laugh would be something to hear indeed.

Note: Pronounced ‘Merry Christmas’. Guess who’s trying to travel incognito?

* * *

Frank Stone

“Yes, I do have ancestors in Germany. Not so easily heard from my accent, what? Spent years practising it.”

“Yes, I’m a scientist of sorts… Of the old stock, if you so will. Don’t really understand all these quantums and quarks. I’m more of a chemist myself, with a tad of biology. It’s this fascination with living things.”

Mr. Stone was a tall, gaunt man — the very image of someone that spends too much time indoors, poring over books and papers. Maybe an accountant? There were some strange and decidedly un-accountantly greenish stains on his fingers. Fred didn’t think they could be any sickness. They looked more like permanent coffee stains or something — trademarks of slopping around with beakers and phials.

Note: Stone is “Stein” in German… Another disguised traveler here.

* * *

Eddie Currents

“Edward, Edward Currents. Everyone calls me Eddie, though, so you’d better too. That’s me: old Eddie Currents, Mr. Fixit for all your electricity needs.”

Note: Eh, eddy currents? A joke only a bored, bored, deeply bored ex-student of physics can think up…

Away: Abandoned Nazi story

August 22, 2008

As I am away in space (Helsinki) and unable to post, I give this pre-prepared post, which is a blast from away in time — a little scrap of a story I wrote somewhen between 2001 and 2003.

The reason why I abandoned it should be obvious — the idea of “an even more terrible concentration camp” isn’t very original. Had the story gone any further, meeting the Indiana Jones-lookalike would have been the next step, and the first actual chapter.

Since I’m not going to do anything with this piece, I’ve just fixed a few stupid spelling errors, and changed one name — if one wants to make up a name, Schmidt isn’t good, but it’s still heap-loads more believable than “Holzbein”.

* * *

The unoriginal blurb: Germany, 1945. After the Third Reich’s fall. A secret begins to unwind… A terrible secret of a concentration camp no one has even heard of.

* * *

The following is an excerpt from Michael Martin Green’s unpublished autobiographical novel, Interrogator Green. The work was left incomplete as Green died of tuberculosis in the summer of 1946.

“So”, the interrogator repeated, “you were an SS man, right?”

“Right”, the prisoner mumbled, broken. He had finally told he was willing to talk. There was no denying the blood-type tattoo in his left armpit.

“Your name?”

“Stellen. Antonius Gottfried Stellen, SS Rottenführer.”

“Corporal?”

So ich denke… Oh. I mean so I think. You should know. I can’t believe they gave me a… a talker who speaks no German.”

“No need, Herr Stellen, since you are so proficient with English.” And, no other possibility since we’re so short of staff, the interrogator silently added. “What were your functions in the SS?”

“I was… How do you say it in English? Parteiarbeitsleiter… Party work leader here in southern Bavaria. I was given to a SS garrison to maintain relation between them, and the local civilians. Talking. Morale raising. Then, when the war ended —”

“Which garrison would that be, Herr Stellen?”

“Klaffenbach, I think. Then, when we were overran, all of us were told to run as well as we could. My commanding officer gave me my pay for the next six months, since there soon wouldn’t be much chances for getting it paid, and I started walking.”

“Where?”

“I didn’t know.” The prisoner shrugged and laughed. “I didn’t even get new clothes. Then, when I see you Americans at the top of a hill, I suddenly remember I’m in a SS uniform, so I run… And of course you notice me. I rush into this old mine opening, and… disclothe myself, get out of my clothes, and throw them down a shaft. Then I run out, naked and clothesless, and then you notice and catch me. I told I was a civilian robbed by SS men, but — ah — they won’t believe.”

“You hardly can blame them for that, Herr Stellen. They saw you running into that mine.”

“Oh, they didn’t. They didn’t. I was running from ones that came from… from the road, and the ones that caught me were coming from the very opposite direction. Those that first saw me wouldn’t have caught me, but you were everywhere.”

“Ah. And, to return to your posting at Klaffenbach… Who were your superiors in that post?” the interrogator asked. The commanding officers of any “SS garrison” could be important indeed, especially if it was a “garrison” such as Dachau.

“Commanding officers?” the prisoner gulped. “I… I’m sorry but it seems I don’t remember.”

“How about other officers? Medical officer, for example?”

“I… I’ve always been a healthy man. I’ve never been sick. I don’t know. Only followed orders. Never asked names.”

“Your own commanding officer?”

“What?”

“How about the name of your own commanding officer? Surely you remember that.”

“I… He was… Lieutenant Schmidt.”

“Schmidt. And what was his exact command?”

“It was… Commander, civilian relations.”

“Indeed. A formidable post. Your garrison must have been sizeable enough. What was its function?”

“Function? I don’t know.”

“Was it a prison camp?”

“No!” the prisoner barked. “No. It was a pure military garrison.”

“It wasn’t a prison camp? An extermination camp? A killing camp?”

“No, no, no!”

“Would you care to tell me where that Klaffenbach camp is exactly located?”

“Located? I… I… You must have misheard me. I’ve never even heard that name. I was in… Landshut. Yes. The Wehrmacht garrison there. The SS section there was called Klaffenbach, after our commanding officer.”

“But you just said you didn’t remember his name.”

“Did I? I meant… I don’t. Klaffenbach was his nickname. I don’t know… I don’t remember his real name.”

“And you ran from there to… What direction?”

“To west, of course. I wanted to surrender to you Americans.”

“So why were you caught fifty kilometres east of Landshut?”

“I was… Oh! Of course. I wasn’t in Landshut at that time. I was in Kaltbach — it is a small village — in a public meeting. After it ended I was told to run.”

“Who told you?”

“My immediate commanding officer. Lieutenant Schmidt.”

“Did he give you anything?”

“Give? No. He just told me to run, since the war was lost. There wasn’t any time.”

“But you just said he paid you your six month’s salary.”

“Oh! I forgot. That was the money I had with me — I shall be wanting it back, it’s legally mine.”

“We’ll decide that later. For now it seems to me that we’ll have to keep you in detention for a time, Herr Stellen, until we’ve got some confirmation on the things you have told me.”

“Confirmation? You can’t — you must not! The entire garrison must have been killed in battle. There’s hardly anybody left. I wasn’t stationed there for long. They may not even remember me. And we burned all of our records. There isn’t anything left to tell I was there. You must believe me!”

“Indeed. And would you want to elaborate on where you were assigned before you were transferred to Landshut?”

“I was…”

“In fact, we have this confession from another SS man who saw you in Münich in the summer of ’44… You told him rather interesting things on the place you were assigned to.”

“I didn’t! No! I mean… I was drunk. Very drunk. I must have talked… talked air. Nothing. Drunken stupidity. Boasts.”

“These are hardly ‘boasts’, Herr Stellen.”

The prisoner blanched. “I don’t recall meeting him. He must be lying. I demand to know his name.”

“You are hardly in a position to make any demands, Herr Stellen. Were you stationed to a concentration camp named Klaffenbach in the summer of 1944?”

“No!”

“Where, then?”

“It was… it was…”

“Well?”

The prisoner slumped, cradling his head in his hands.

“Where is this camp Klaffenbach located? Who was its commanding officer?”

The prisoner began to shudder and softly cry.

“You should co-operate. It will make things much easier.”

After a long silence, the prisoner finally raised his head. “I will tell. I will tell everything, but you must believe me. Nobody ever will. We were there and we hardly believed what Doktor did. It was awful, he…”

“Begin from the beginning. Who was the commanding officer of the camp?”

SS-Gruppenführer Horst. Doktor Opfel ran the medical half. He was a SS-Brigadeführer. He.. he did it all. He and his helpers. We didn’t do it. We only looked. We were soldiers. We had orders.” The prisoner suddenly lunged for the interrogator, screaming, “We lost half of our guards because of selbstmord! The killed themselves because they could listen at it any more!”

“Help!” the interrogator yelled. The door crashed open and soldiers poured in. The prisoner continued his raving, shaking the other like a rag doll.

“We couldn’t listen to the things Doktor did! They kept… they kept speaking! I escaped because I couldn’t take it anymore! They — kept — speaking!”

One of the soldiers — a sergeant — raised his gun and shot. The prisoner dropped, a bullet through his head.

“A violent type, huh?” the sergeant asked.

“Yes…” the interrogator gasped. “What on earth did they do in that camp?”

“You know”, the sergeant sniffed. “Slaughter and starvation, and all that.”

“No. I mean that one camp… Camp Klaffenbach.”

“Go and look.”

“I can’t. We don’t know where that camp is. We haven’t found it. It’s somewhere here in southern Germany, but we haven’t found it.”

“Found? How can you not find a bloody camp?”

The interrogator sighed. “Maybe it was dismantled, or something. We don’t know anything about it except the name. And now the only man that we had that was in there is dead.”

* * *

The following excerpt is from A Dictionary of Nazi Germany’s Unsolved Secrets by Josef Grünberger, published in 1978. Most of the book was based on wild guesses and unverified rumours about all kinds of crimes made by desperate and out-of-touch with reality NSDAP and SS leadership during the Second World War.

Klaffenbach : One of the so-called ‘Hidden Camps’, K. was apparently located somewhere in southern Reich, and dismantled shortly before the area fell to the Allies in 1945. The most curious part of the camp’s legend is that only three names have survived the cloud of oblivion ringing it — SS-Gruppenführer Horst, SS-Brigadeführer Opfel and SS-Rottenführer Stellen — and, according to the surviving SS files, all three were reported dead in accidents in the summer of 1941! However, Stellen was caught by the Americans in 1945, being quite much alive. He reported that Horst and Opfel were still alive as well, but committed suicide before further questions could be asked.

* * *

And that’s where I stopped. I didn’t know what there was to be found, but I was pretty certain it wouldn’t be new enough to be worth working my way to it. Probably a hidden mine full of corpses and terrible monsters, genetic mutants, maybe trapdoors, anyway more Indiana Jones than Hannah Arendt.

August 21: One year later

August 21, 2008

One full year ago I started blogging. Now, one full year of blogging later, I’ve blogged for a year.

As you can see, I haven’t lapsed into saying the same thing over and over and over again yet. A little over 300 posts, a few dozen views per post (more for some, less for others), a handful of comments, and generally a good aftertaste. (Or maybe that’s just the cola drink.)

My main fear about blogging — that it would become a chore — has proved quite unfounded. Happily enough, the knowledge of “Someone might read this!” has been just enough pressure to get me writing something regularly, and the results have been better than I expected. It has been just pressure enough, not too much or too little, and since this is a blog of mine, I’ve had free rein to write whatever I’ve wanted, and I’ve always found something to write about.

I think I’ve fallen in love with blogging. (Or maybe that’s an effect of the cola drink again.)

I know I haven’t tried all the rushes and ups there are — partly cowardice, partly lack of opportunity, partly inability to change gender at will — but of those that I know, the sweet burn of flowing writing is the best. It’s like lightning shooting through you, like a stranger slipping into your skin and dancing better than you ever did, like a wind from within you and beyond you. Having this self-chosen obligation of sorts to write (can’t let the blog die!) is just what I need; just like a commute that takes me again and again past the pusher’s haunts, and gives me an excuse to sample the drug-like rush of words again.

Aw, these poetic fits of mine. Pardon the paragraph above.

I’ve only taken a couple of slow periods — the November of last year, when I did a NaNoWriMo novel (in Finnish; sorry!), the Christmastime (visiting relatives; unwieldy internet connection), a week-long spring conference (no internet! he gasped! and thanked timed posting!), and a month of slow summer posting (due, again, to sporadic internet access).

Three hundred posts over a year average to around 0.82 posts per day; not a bad average considering I’ve chosen to avoid the “Hey! Too busy to write!” postings some do.

* * *

Over this year, I’ve written a lot of stuff. Some of those that hit the spot are listed and linked below.

I’ve unleashed a lot of griping and moaning about the abomination which is religion — say the grandiosely titled “My problem with all religions”, which devolves into a lengthy digression about truth, “Immanentizing the Z-Eschaton”, a bit of fiction where the skull-crowned lord of Golgotha truly returns, and “The weird parts of religion, part 2”, a play of sorts where an angel, the king of Franks, and a rather icky relic all play a part.

I’ve also talked quite some about Finland, half humorous and half realistically glum, like all talk of that place has to be — like the only half-tongue in cheek “Things Finns don’t want you to know”, or my selection of “Finnish proverbs” with translations (“Idiots are not plown or sown; they grow of their own.”).

I’ve done a few university-related posts, too — a grad student, Master going for Doctor, can’t avoid that — like the jesting “Professors and dentists”, and the encyclopedically silly “You and your PhD advisor”.

Then there are random tangents: like “Liverwurst: A Fairy-Tale”, which no description could better describe than the mere title, “Dead bodies”, where I channel the late great George Carlin (curiously, at the time of its writing still a current great) to the best of my mild abilities, and “Of the Golden Apple”, where I tell the genesis of the Trojan War in a truly Discordian way.

Well, I’m a regular blog carnival of my own. (He said with a frown.)

Then there’s the Guide to Finland, which is still a going project; just swamped a bit by other interests. See the ready chapters, wonder over the descriptions of those that are coming. There’s an almost ready chapter for it, waiting, one that’d pick up history from 1809 and get the meandering, half-humorous story to 1917 and Finland’s independence.

* * *

And now, just when I’ve blathered on about how I like blogging and will keep doing it: I’ll disappear for a week and a half to a mathematics conference in arctic Helsinki, the capital of Finland — hundreds of kilometers sunwards from the piece of Finland where I am.

There’ll be auto-posting, though: various jewels — okay, shiny stones — okay, pebbles of curious shape — for that time, and from another time: old things I’ve written long before even conceiving of this blog, all from 2003 or earlier. (Geez: has it been five years already?)