Month: February 2003 Page 1 of 3


sciolist (SAI-uh-list) noun

One who engages in pretentious display of superficial knowledge.

[From Late Latin sciolus (smatterer), diminutive of Latin scius (knowing),

from scire (to know). Another example of the similar kind of word formation

is the name of the bird oriole which is derived from the diminutive form of

Latin aureus (golden).]

“Never was so brilliant a lecture-room as his evening banqueting-hall;

highly connected students from Rome mixed with the sharp-witted provincial

of Greece or Asia Minor; and the flippant sciolist, and the nondescript

visitor, half philosopher, half tramp, met with a reception, courteous

always, but suitable to his deserts.”

John Henry Newman; The Idea Of A University, University Life At Athens;


“On the other hand, judged strictly by the standard of his own time,

(Francis) Bacon’s ignorance of the progress which science had up to that

time made is only to be equalled by his insolence toward men in comparison

with whom he was the merest sciolist.”

Thomas H. Huxley; Harvey Discovers The Circulation Of The Blood;

History of the World.

From A.Word.A.Day.

Ramblings. I’m reading some more Michel Foucault, The Order of Things. Some pretty neat stuff, much more intelligible (maybe the translation?) than the collection of essays I have. Still pretty tough going, and I’m still not sure I’m picking up everything, or even a greater part of what I’m reading.

This is what I think I know: Underneath what we think of as separate disciplines are underlying themes, currents, impulses, paradigms, what have you. Using biology, economics, and language as examples, Foucault illustrates two different periods, Classicism and something that covers the period of the Renaissance, but that he doesn’t clearly name. In the Classicist period, people believe that the world was created by God. Thus, once there was a perfect language (the language of Eden) capable of naming things as they really are. After the whole tower of Babel incident, this language no longer existed, but because the Jews were God’s chosen people, Hebrew was considered the most perfect of languages. Underlying the disciplines of the day was the idea that every existence had a perfect name, and could be addressed by a language of symbols, analogies, and correspondences. For example, texts on “snakes” included not only biological information, but all the legends about snakes, what other authors had to say about snakes, etc. Since God existed outside time, everything that existed had already existed since eternity: the task of the educated was only to assemble what was known into a more perfect knowledge.

In the Renaissance period, the world was not necessarily created by God, or at least not predetermined by God. No perfect language existed. Instead of being a realm of symbols interpreting what was perfect, language became a system of analysis and taxonomy. All elements had to be reduced, analyzed, and organized, even in language itself: grammar was invented, where previously only logic had existed. The sciences as we knew them blossomed, because people searched for elements to fit the empty gaps in their grids of information.

Now, this may be something that’s revealed for certain at the end of the book, but the idea that I’m picking up here and there is that we’re in an entirely new area now…I think I agree. Self-referential language, modernism and post- in art and literature, relativity and beyond in physics, computer programming, fascination with psychology, and the like make me think that we’re no longer in an era that must organize and systemize everything into separate compartments, but sometimes destroys barriers and makes connections beyond what’s apparently true.

I’m trying to work this into the Grey Hill stuff. Working on the background stuff for the second day, I’m finding that I know very little about how all this magic works that’s so integral to the plot, and the idea of using typical ritual, symbolic, sympathetic, naming magic just turns me off. “As above, so below” really doesn’t do it for me anymore, and neither does four directions, four elements, four Goddesses, four yadda yadda yadda. Magic is starting to look more like a programming language combined with acupuncture and drugs — shamanism?_– than it is typical ritual magic.

What’s running through my head is the idea that people find serial killers fascinating now, where they wouldn’t have in Classical or Renaissance times. Why? What interest us? It seems like we have this idea that there are layers to a serial killer: the view that the public sees as a normal human being, Joe Schmoe; the killer aspect; and the wounded or sick person underneath the killer, the motivating factor. What motivates a serial killer, other than biological imbalances? Why, the things that happened to him during his childhood, of course. We believe that the things that affect a person in childhood influence that person throughout life–your formative years are important. Sometimes the smallest incidents change the course of a person’s life. OK. Now take the idea of string theory (what little I know of it…yet another research topic, I guess): any two particles that come in contact with each other have an affect on each other, regardless of space and possibly even regardless of time. Is it any coincedence that alternative medicine, usually something that looks ridiculous to someone with a strict system of organization, like homeopathy or acupuncture, has become viable now? Or that economics now uses nonlinear equations to help predict changes in the market, rather than a strict system of supply and demand? For me, what makes the most sense is the language metaphor: in the classical period, language was referential; in the Renaissance period (well, up to about the 1850’s or so, more than just the Renaissance) language was descriptive and analytical; in the modern period, language is influential.

Modern language is meant to sway us: look at literature. The earliest novels were meant to sway opinion. Even “naturalistic” novels described social ills. Even the most harmless entertainment now is meant to give us a certain perspective–ask anyone who hates what fantasy novels has done to their kids’ lives (or role-playing games, for that matter). In science, we know the effect of the observer on the observed. In biology, we change the genetic code of creatures on purpose. Language is meant to transform, change, reprogram.

Hm de hm. Hwo to work that as a system of magic…?


The Foucault that can be named is not the true Foucault.

Blog. The science fiction writer Will Shetterly has a blog. One of his stories, a fun little thing called “The Princess Who Kicked Butt” is online. –He’s one of the famed Scribblies, a group of former Minneapolis writers (including Stephen Brust and Emma Bull) who have all apparently moved to the Southwest. They also have a handy dandy writer’s site–and have taught at Clairion’s West in the past.

Book reviews. Smoking Poppy, Graham Joyce. White Apples, Jonathan Carroll.

Smoking Poppy.

When a baby is born the fontanel at the top of the head yawns open. You fill the hole with shimmering, molten, free-running love, where it sets and hardens over the hole with something like bone. But for the first few weeks of a baby’s life, you are intoxicated by the extraordinary scent of its head. […] After the first year this perfume thins out, but it never deserts the child entirely. So you keep hugging. Every time you pick up that infant you look for an opportunity to get her hair under your nostrils so you might get a hint, a hit, once more, of the perfume of heaven.

And it gets better from there. In brief: not a fantasy novel, but one that should appeal to fantasy readers. If you haven’t read Graham Joyce’s Tooth Fairy, you’ve missed one of the most fascinating fantasy novels written recently–both books are the opposite of epic fantasy. They’re a mixture of light-dark, like an organic, intimate, familiar (and both about families) M.C. Escher drawing. Amazing, just amazing writing.

Graham Joyce’s website.

White Apples.

I’ve never done acid. People used to ask me all the time: Have you done too much acid? Are you on acid now? Is this what an acid trip looks like? Well. That’s just the way my head works, folks. Apparently, there are other people out there whose heads work in a similar fashion. Jonathan Carroll is one of them…you saw where that was going, didn’t you? Well, no, you didn’t. Like anything that’s an alternate state of reality, the described cannot approach the experienced. So what I’ll give you here aren’t descriptions, but enticements: Plot is this man’s plaything, his love slave, his cruel toy. But that’s all right, you won’t mind being dragged around, even when the end of the book leaves you wondering when the beginning of the book was supposed to have begun. The characters involve you, delight you, contradict themselves, fall apart–as characters–and come back together again. Unlike Smoking Poppy, this book isn’t a classic fantasy so much as a fantastique, sharing more with movies like Moulin Rouge and Open Your Eyes than The Lord of the Rings or even Legend. Dizzying and wonderous: if the man’s name wasn’t Charles Dodgson, I’d say the two were related…

Jonathan Carroll’s website.

Word of the day:

ugsome (UG-suhm) adjective

Dreadful, loathsome.

[From Middle English, from uggen, from Old Norse ugga (to fear). As in many

typical stories where one child in a family becomes well-known while the

other remains obscure, “ugly” and “ugsome” are two words derived from the

same root — one is an everyday word while the other remains unusual.]

“The grandmother is at times ugsome …”

John Moore; 3 Women, 3 Generations, Clever Word Play; Denver Post;

Mar 7, 2002.

(Via A.Word.A.Day)

Duh. After several mix-ups, my review of James Howe’s children’s books, Tales from the House of Bunnicula, is up at Banshee Studios.

Review. The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson

I’m still not sure what to say about this book. I finished it about a week ago. It was good.

I normally hate this sort of book, in which the plot moves through a long period of history. Why? Nothing ties the sections of the book, set in completely different eras (or even countries, as in this case) together. What if the Christians mostly died out in the Black Plague, leaving Islam and China as the dominant cultures remaining? Who cares? The characters I care about are gone in sixty pages or so…

Except they’re not. The main characters in each section of the story reincarnate; in fact, they stay together throughout the ages, providing some much-needed character development through what could have been a cultural study of epic, epic, epic proportions.

So I liked the book. I recommend it to history buffs and alternate-history buffs. And I’ve finally read the guy that sits next to Spider on the shelf, and he’s not bad. Hm. Too literary, though, or not “literary” enough to provide yours truly with true delight.

Grey Hill, Chapter one.

The first draft of chapter one is done. Woooooo!

Description of my day, for posterity.


Wakened after midnight by husband and daughter coming to bed. Daughter has been a spaz all week, doesn’t want to sleep and/or sleep alone. Everyone crowded into bed. Wakened approximately 3 a.m. to move to floor with pillow and blanket. Wakened approximately 3:30 a.m. to nurse daughter. Dreamt vividly of coin-operated laundry machines, and other things I don’t remember. Wakened 5:30, hit snooze alarm twice, turned off alarm, crept into bathroom, turned on the light without closing eyes first. Used citrus-ginsing Suave shampoo and Ivory soap (There’s a dirty doggerel poem that goes with Ivory soap that a little old lady taught me…”She’s young and fresh and full of hope. She washes her privies with Ivory Soap. She’s old and stale and got not hope. She don’t wash with Ivory soap.” I may not have that exactly. I’ve started wearing perfume again recently, “Very Sexy” by Victoria’s Secret. I’m writing this all down, by the way, for future amusement. Dressed with red button-down shirt, spaghetti-shirt bra, black jeans, black socks. Nevermind about the underwear, but yes, wearing some. Pulled hair back with hair tie. No makeup, no hair products. Used toothpaste and deoderant.

Turned off the light, sneaked out of the bathroom, I think Ray crawled back into bed with Lee. I think they were asleep. Tripped over cat at end of hallway, apologized. Turned on kitchen lights. Packed plastic grocery bag with notebook (first draft of Grey Hill), clipboard, banana yogurt. Put on black, clunky boy-shoes, black pea-coat, found purse and keys, left. Drove to different gas station, on Academy, because the one I used to use refused to help me out when I tried to get the car jumped. Mileage along Academy is about eight miles, mileage along Union is four. Bought gas at $1.65/gallon (cheap kind), two Krispy Kreme donuts, and a container of orange juice. Drove to work, five minutes late due to longer route. Oh, well.

Six thirty-five. Someone in a military-seeming uniform with a chevron on the shoulder, a very tall man, standing in the lobby with his arms crossed over his chest. The usual receptionist not present. The usual security guard, who generally is talking, present and silent. I let myself through the three doors using an electronic (?) key card with a current photo of myself printed on it, with my name. Decorations for Valentine’s Day were still up here and there, with each department differing. Quiet morning, it seemed like many people were gone. This is President’s Day. We’re open, but we can’t wire anything because the Fed is closed, and the right of recissions are pushed a day out. I sat at my desk without taking off my coat and logged in to the computer. The other person who works QC, Megan, started telling me about what had happened so far that day. She is a “blue,” one of the details of which means I have to listen to her go off about things, or she may become emotionally upset. She is also a “gold,” one of the details of which means she needs structure. I note this because I had to sit there and listen to her plan out the morning for me, and I was irritated. I like her and consider her a friend, but when she becomes agitated first thing Monday morning I just let her go off for a while and try not to let it drive me nuts. There were several details that had changed over the weekend; the mainframe system of record had been updated without any prior notice, causing a couple of changes that affected our process. By the time I arrived, the workaround had been figured out, but Megan was still upset about it. I confirmed that this wasn’t something that had been in place on Friday and walked a couple of people through the process.

Ate donuts, drank juice, read mail, answered, organized work for the day for about half an hour. Work for the day dominated by work we shouldn’t be doing, i.e., QCing someone being trained by someone else and QCing someone proposed as a candidate for nighttime QC by a lame-duck department manager, someone who is inappropriate for the job. Supervisors both out, one to Iowa for a funeral and I’m not sure about the other. A frustrating day, working very hard not to accomplish what we should be doing. Cleared most of the smaller tasks off my list for the day, cleared out my queue, with Megan’s help. I’m not sure when we’re going to get the time to achieve even half of what we’re committed to for QC, and I don’t know when we’re going to get the time to start on any other project we’ve been committed to, and I was told two weeks ago that I may not claim any hour for working the newsletter from home, so I don’t know when I’m going to get that done. We have no department manager, two of the three supervisors are transition supervisors, the night shift is short-staffed, mismanaging its time, and leaving a ton of carryover (100 files/night)–with a commitment of zero carryover. My opinion is that things would be fine if we had leadership.

Took a break at nine-thirty, wrote. Interrupted twice by people with issues that didn’t need to be addressed by yours truly. I was really in the mood to share some sarcastic comments with a sarcastic friend of mine, but she was out for her birthday. Bitch. Mostly kept to myself, in a black Monday mood. Obviously.

Eleven-thirty, packed up and went home. Sunny day, a little chilly, rapidly getting warmer. Joe’s day off, decided to go to Zorbadillo’s and run errands for the afternoon with him. He’s a very social person, and I try to make a point to go run around with him to do little stuff sometimes. And I love going to Zorbadillos. Lee brought the car seat in for me and I made him sandwiches for lunch. Changed and dressed Ray, put on her shoes and coat. Packed a bag with a bottle of water, a board book (Old McDonald Had a Farm…with Ducks), a plastic elephant, and notebook. Installed carseat, baby, diaper bag, and bag o’stuff.

We went to Zorbadillos….did errands…took a nap…and here I am. I’m tired of typing. TTFN.

Mmm. I brought Lee to Zorbadillo’s today.

As it turns out, if you don’t go from the brunch menu, you can order saganaki.


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