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22nd December 2009
21st December 2009
Telling the wrong story.
I was just in a shop and I heard : a song which I assumed was a Christmas song. I mean it's the 21st December, and all the other songs were Christmas songs. I hadn't heard this one before, and it wasn't horrible on first hearing, fairly pleasant tune, which puts it well up on most Christmas songs I haven't heard before. It started off with the night wind telling a little lamb there was a star, the little lamb told a shepherd boy there was a song, the shepherd boy told the mighty king there was a child -- and I thought hang on, it was the kings who told Herod, not the shepherd, but OK -- and then:
Said the king to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light."
What is this about, the conversion of Norway? Krishna and Arjuna? Siddhartha? Some story from Papua New Guinea? An alternate history song? I mean fine if it is, but... it isn't.
How can anybody get this story wrong, my goodness that's not at all what the mighty king said in the story of Jesus, the mighty king Herod said "Send the soldiers, kill the baby" and the soldiers got there on December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents and killed all the babies in Bethlehem while Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus fled to Egypt.
Yes, it would have been much nicer in the version in the song, especially for all the other babies in Bethlehem and their parents, but nice is not what it's about. It would make a fairly interesting alternate history, too.
My objection to this is not religious -- I've mentioned before that Christianity is my ancestral culture religion but I don't believe in it. My objection is to getting the story wrong. There are any number of ways to tell a story, and any number of things you can change when you re-tell it, but you can't tell lies. You have to be true to the truth of the story you're telling, whether it's the nativity or Cinderella.
19th December 2009
And even cooler
I mentioned a little while ago that "Three Twilight Tales", my short story from Firebirds Soaring is going to appear in the Strahan and the Horton Year's Best volumes. :
I've now found out that Escape to Other Worlds With Science Fiction, which appeared on Tor.com and which is set in the US in the Small Change universe, is going to appear in the Dozois Year's Best. This is incredibly cool, partly because I very seldom write short stories and therefore it's lovely to have two different ones in three different Year's Best anthologies, and partly because I've been buying the Dozois anthologies every year for at least twenty years. So appearing in that is extra exciting because it feels... canonical. Also, in addition to whatever I get paid, I'll save the money I'd otherwise have spent on buying it.
So that makes me feel all happy and bouncy.
Acorns, trees, or possibly very obvious jokes
Yesterday, Z made the exact same joke that I made : in this post in 2003. "I don't know much about Art... except about the time he went off to Egypt and bought a bunch of papyruses," he said.
Also, he spontaneously made carandol's pun where I say "We need [something we happen to need]" and the response is "No, we knead bread."
Then there's a thing I read on the back of a matchbox when I was a kid. (Can you imagine being desperate enough for things to read that you'd read the back of a matchbox? Or if you did that it would have anything worth remembering?) The joke was two people on a pier. One says "Isn't it windy? The second says "No, I think it's Thursday." The first replies "So am I, let's have a cup of tea." I told Z this joke when he was a child of an age to appreciate it, and he took to it, and so occasionally when it's windy (though not usually windy enough that you can't hear what the other person's saying) and one of us remarks on it the other will respond with "No I think it's Thursday" and so on. The thing is that both his girlfriend and rysmiel have picked this up -- it's odd to think of this little bit of a matchbox joke lasting so well and gaining a wider audience after so long. You never know what people will remember, and take up. I imagine someone paid to write matchbox jokes and having six to do before knocking-off time scribbling that one down and being mildly pleased when it passed muster and was printed and never imagining that more than thirty years later it would be appreciated by a new generation. I mean it's not Shakespeare or Douglas Adams, it was only a matchbox.
15th December 2009
Snowy Tuesday update
We were supposed to have an electricity outage this morning for Hydro Quebec to do some work. I arranged to go over to Z's for breakfast. When I got there, his electricity was out along the whole street -- entirely unplanned by anyone. In addition, mine didn't go out after all, they're going to do whatever it was on Friday instead. Z and I went out for breakfast muttering about irony. :
It's snowing, and the piled snow on rooftops is the same colour as the sky, making it look as if there's no dividing line. The Olympic Tower, which is normally very visible from Z's street, was just barely distinguishable as a very slightly different shade of white, or whiter shade of pale. There's no wind, so the trees are all limned with snow and the fir trees look as if they're posing for a recitation of "How lovely are your branches". It's very very pretty, but very easy to miss it while trudging through it because you have to watch your footing and therefore your feet.
My awesome Caterpillar boots are beginning their eighth winter and are as solid and well-made as ever. They are a marvel of engineering and design and far and away the best footwear I have ever had. Women's footwear is generally designed to fall apart after a few months of regular wear, as if everyone has thirty pairs of shoes and only wears any given pair a handful of times. I think I've bought eight pairs of sandals in that same nine years, and they've had much less hard wear as summer isn't as rough on them as winter is on the boots. Caterpillar are amazing, long may they go on designing hardwearing earthmoving equipment and boots.
Tor.com posts recently:
Foolproof Holiday Gift Books. The prose version of the poem I posted here yesterday.
What has gone before? How I hate summaries at the beginning of books, with interesting comments by people pointing out ways in which they are better than some of the alternatives.
The Viscount of Adrilankha -- I did all three volumes as one post so that I can have 17 Dragaera posts altogether. This is mad, because I'd have got paid three times as much for three posts, but anyway.
(If you want to comment on any of these, please do it there, not here.)
In other reading, Marge Piercy's new poetry collection The Crooked Inheritance. It's weird to read new anti-war poems from her, I mean ones about ongoing war. I'm so familiar with her anti-Vietnam poems, and Vietnam is history to me. It's just weird. Some lovely poems generally, including one great one about pesto with a surprise ending.
14th December 2009
Dozens of books, grouped by theme, to help gift shoppers find just the right book for the readers on their lists Montreal Gazette, Saturday December 12th 2009. :
Books, yet, you remember those things
rectangular and full of words
we used to choke on them in school?
My friends don't want them,
but you can't choose your relations
and how much less your partner's family
(though why I have to buy for them I don't know)
the shops are all heaving,
I'd become a Jew in December
if it wasn't for bacon,
look at the length of this list
and in the snow too!
So this is a godsend,
letting me know what to buy
for geeky cousin Kevin
and weird Auntie Jo
I can duck into that book shop
(only in December!)
but handy in big piles by the door,
and they're an easy shape to wrap, of course,
though I can't think why they like them:
A Book of Christmas Miracles
The Secret Life of Grace Kelly
Canada's Olympic History
Diet Secrets of the Stars.
12th December 2009
I still don't think it was a decade
But IO9 have Tooth and Claw on their : list of 20 best science fiction books of the decade.
11th December 2009
Is this the kind of world you want?
One of the things that's making me angry about the : Peter Watts thing, beyond the fact that it's happened at all, is the way so many people in comments at BoingBoing and at Whatever and all over are saying that it must be his fault, that he must have done something to provoke it, that it wouldn't have happened if he'd been polite and done what he was told and if he had, in effect, cringed more.
This may well be the case.
But is that the world you want to live in?
When I was growing up, in the Cold War, we talked about the Free World. In the Free World you didn't have to present papers endlessly, you didn't have to cringe before authority, everyone was equal before the law, people didn't disappear. The Free World was better than the Soviet world that was the enemy in those days. Not fearing the police and the army and the border guards is part of that freedom. They are public servants, they are people doing a potentially dangerous job and they deserve respect, and so do we deserve respectful treatment from them. There might be circumstances in which they have to kill people, in which that's appropriate behaviour, but it should never be appropriate for them to behave as if they have arbitrary power and expect reactions of fear and cringing.
The thing about terrorism is that it makes you afraid. The thing about giving up liberty for security is that you can't get security that way. And once you've gone down that road it's hard to get back. It's possible to get back -- look at Spain, recovered step by uphill step from thirty years of fascism. Look at Eastern Europe, trying hard even now. But you've got to fight your way back, you've got to struggle to get it back, and you've got to face where you are and keep fighting for liberty all the time, for other people's liberty. It's so easy to go along with things, to get on with your life while awful things continue to happen in your name, because of course your life is your priority.
You know the good thing about this Peter Watts thing? They did it to the wrong person, they did it to somebody who knows people who can get the word out, and we are getting the word and we are appalled. Do you think he's the first person this happened to this year? Great comment at the end of Patrick's generally great post on all this at Making Light We should fight for justice in general—and we should have our friends’ back. So, he's our friend, or our friend's friend and we're hearing this and we're horrified. Being horrified is good, taking action is good -- give money, write to your representatives, object, stand up. Anything can happen, you can't stop awful things happening, what matters is how we all react when they do. If we roll our eyes and say cynically that what could be expected, this is where we are opening the door to evil, because once we accept that this is what happens, this is the new normal, and what happens next is worse.
Most of the people saying "he should have cringed more" are saying "It's his fault. He did something wrong. I wouldn't do that. It wouldn't happen to me." They're wrong. It can happen to them, to you, to me, to any of us randomly at a border or even (in the US) for up to fifty miles from a border at a checkpoint. They want to feel safe, even if that's an illusion. But some of those people are saying "Wise up, this is the way things are," and that is another step downwards on a road most of the rest of us are trying to climb away from, a road that has Maher Arar on it, and Guantanamo, and good people doing nothing.
I may go to Boskone anyway. The US is too big to boycott, and I shouldn't let them make me afraid -- and it does make me afraid. This isn't only an American problem, it's a creeping trend.
Peter Watts needs help, and why I'm probably not going to Boskone after all
: He got beaten up at the US border and now he's facing charges.
I've been saying that being white and middle class is like having civil rights, it's similar enough that I am probably safe enough going into the US when I have a good reason, going when I'm GoH, going when I'm nominated for something, going when I really really want to go to a convention or a funeral. I've been saying well, if I fly from Dorval I do security here, and that's OK; well, the land crossing people were really very nice when they fingerprinted me; well, as for the train, it's a train, isn't it. This is what they call cargo cult thinking. I've seen people dragged off that train. And if it can happen to Peter Watts it can happen to me. Obama may be elected but none of this stuff has changed at all.
Please donate to Peter Watts if you can afford to, please explain to your elected representatives that this is not the border policy you want if you are American and if it isn't.
What a nightmare.
Well, that's interesting
Sarah Weinman, the crime reviewer for the LA Times, has, : on her blog listed Farthing as part of her list of the best crime fiction of the decade.
I should say first that this is lovely, it's always lovely when somebody likes something. I'm very gratified.
But there are two odd things about this. One is that I don't really think of the Small Change books as being crime fiction -- I deliberately made the murder in Farthing over-complicated and absurd -- they're alternate history that's using the shape of cosy detective stories to do something else. Also, while I have read a lot of very old detective stories, I don't really read many new ones. I haven't read a single other thing on Weinman's list -- and I'd be surprised if any of those writers had read mine. So my books aren't really in dialogue with the crime genre, they're in dialogue with SF. So having someone who knows a lot about crime fiction think they're not only crime fiction but among the best crime fiction, is really surprising and cognitively dissonant.
The other odd thing is that I was surprised to see an end of decade roundup because this hasn't been a decade.
I said in 2000 when people started squabbling about what this decade would be called that it wouldn't be a decade, it would be ten individual years that happened to be consecutive, and I still think I was right. After the clearly delineated decades that came before it, this made a definite change. You can tell it wasn't a decade because we still -- in what would be the tenth year, had it been a decade -- don't have a consensus name for it. The naughties? The oughties? The 00s? The millenial decade? You see all these around, but they're names of desperation, nobody actually says them naturally, because we know it hasn't been a decade and people are only pretending it has. I'm still a little but sorry we didn't call each of these individual years "the Year", like Jack Aubrey. We started off promisingly with The Year 2000, and The Year 2001, but we never started to say casually that this and that happened back in the Year Three.
9th December 2009
Wednesday, snowing hard
The Baltimore City Paper, the best newspaper in America or anyway my favourite (they're the ones that reviewed Ha'Penny with an original illustration) have Lifelode in their : best ten books of 2009.
My recent Tor.com posts have been all Brust all the time Orca, Dragon, Issola.
AM is on her way home, and the weather, having belatedly noticed that it was very mild for November is busy catching up to the season, laying down snow and offering no temperatures above freezing.
1st December 2009
I'm awake ridiculously early because I'm excited because it's my birthday. I thought I was supposed to grow out of that, and I suppose I may, but not yet. :
AM is here, and we're going to meet Z for breakfast in Byblos and then come back here to open presents. Then we're meeting rysmiel and Z's girlfriend A after work and going to have dinner in L'Unique, all of which sounds like a lovely plan. I'm looking forward to it.
( and my publications while I was forty-four )
30th November 2009
It's the first real snow of the year, and I don't suppose it'll stick as we have rain forecast, but nice anyway. :
My aunt is here, which is also nice. We had breakfast out and went to Jean Talon market and then Z's apartment Saturday, and then to the botanical gardens and Chateau Dufresne yesterday. Today she's shopping with Z and I'm trying to get a bit ahead on Tor.com posts.
Which reminds me, Athyra, Robert Holdstock, 1948-2009 The Phoenix Guards, Phoenix.
I found out last week that "Down to Earth" also known as "the Dortmunder in space story" and "the squirrel story" was published in SF Chronicle in 2006 -- I now have copies of it and have been paid for it. As I don't expect many people saw it, I may put a copy online (probably here) at some point when I find a copy -- it's backed up somewhere, and if the worst comes to the worst it's on my 286, which I'm seriously thinking of setting up again for everyday use. I wrote "Down to Earth" in 2001.
In other good short story news, "Three Twilight Tales" which was published this year in Firebirds Soaring is going to appear in two Year's Best anthologies, which is especially nice because I almost never write short stories. Poetry, yes, and also novels, but I seldom have short story size ideas.
28th November 2009
Another moon poem
: nineweaving had spam this morning containing the phrase "submersible moonphase" and asks for poetry or flash fiction.
To the Aegean she tosses the moonpath,
rippling highway of silken silver
if you could walk it, if you could
take that first step, if you could
keep your balance as she rises
you could dance with Artemis
beside Apollo Eleven.
Our oceans are her cloak
tossed over her arm,
dragging behind her
shot through with silver
tugged by her tides.
Still she stands poised
rising full over the mountain's rim
a great silver coin
as if a push would roll her
splashing coldly down at Kythera
27th November 2009
Raspberry muffins, very easy
Pre-heat oven to 180 C. :
Put paper cases in muffin tins.
Melt 2 oz (50 g) butter or marge.
Put 6 oz sugar in a mixing bowl.
Whisk in the melted butter, then add 2 eggs, a slosh of vanilla (teaspoon) and half a pint of milk, while continuing to whisk well.
Fold in 6 oz SR flour.
Pour a little batter into each of the 12 cases. Then put four (fresh or frozen, I used frozen because it is November) raspberries on top of the batter in the cases. Then put a spoonful of batter on top of the raspberries.
Melt 2 ounces of butter or marge. Add a handful of oats, a handful of ground hazelnuts and all the brown sugar that's left... probably a tablespoon or so of brown sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until it's like crumble. Distribute this over the tops of the muffins. (It's this faffing about with a topping that makes things muffins instead of cakelings as far as I can see. Well, also the milk.) If you were organized you could make it first and have it ready to put on.
Bake in the top of the oven for just over 20 minutes until done.
Having so little fat, these won't keep long. Make them on occasions when they don't need to. I made 12 and there's one left, which is going in rysmiel's lunch. I'd have predicted four or five left.
This started off with a couple of online recipes, and then wandered far away when I realised the first one hadn't done their conversions properly and that I hadn't enough milk for the second one and just thought "OK, I have six ounces of sugar in a bowl and 2 ounces of melted butter, the oven is on, let's just improvise." The bit with putting the raspberries in the middle of the batter was from the second one, and definitely worth it, if fiddly -- you end up with the raspberries totally surrounded by cake in a layer, not at the bottom, but the muffins well risen. The topping was from a banana muffin recipe I found online ages ago, well sort of, as I vaguely remembered it, except for the hazelnuts, which I just thought of yesterday. The results were so deeply appreciated that I can see that these are something Z is going to want again, which is why I'm writing it down, because otherwise there's no way I'll remember.
25th November 2009
22nd November 2009
: Poll #1489041 How old are you, or is fandom really greying?
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 433
How old are you?
Do you go to Worldcon?
Yes, when I can afford it
No, because I don't like Worldcons
No, because I can't afford it
Do you go to other cons?
It depends what you mean by cons, as I will explain in comments
In my opinion, reading this LJ makes you a part of fandom. Do you consider yourself a fan?
How dare you claim me for fandom! I shall unfriend you forthwith!
You did another poll! I can't believe you did another poll. How long before you're doing memes?
I live in Outer Mongolia, and only wish we had cons near me
Your definition of fandom is very broad
I'd go to Worldcon if it had lots more irrelevant crap and a million more people
I wouldn't go to Worldcon unless it shrank to the size of Farthing Party
Oh I do like to be beside the ticky-box!
20th November 2009
I went last night with Z and A to the Montreal launch of Claude Lalumiere's collection Objects of Worship at Paragraphe. During the question period afterwards, Claude mentioned that he believed that all writers are trying to tell part of the ur-story, and sometimes they get closer than others. Afterwards, walking back to the metro Z disagreed with this idea at length -- and I have to say it isn't what I feel as if I'm doing either. "Anyway," Z concluded. "If there is an Ur story, it has to be Gilgamesh." :
Recent Tor.com posts
: Noodles, self-help groups and airplane parts: things to avoid in making up fantasy names, Jhereg, Re-reading Dragaera, What is it with coffee?, Fred Pohl's The Way the Future Was.
More Dragaera posts will be going up soon.
In other interesting reading this week, Anne de Courcy's biography Snowdon about Tony Armstrong Jones is brilliant, as I'd expected. She is definitely my favourite biographer, she always gets the balance just right.
18th November 2009
New coat! Well, also old coat.
One day in the autumn of 1996, I bought a five pound bus pass that, in those days, enabled one to take buses all over the north-west. Since Kendal had a shoe factory, it was cheaper to take the bus to Kendal to buy shoes than to buy shoes in Lancaster -- about half the price in fact. I did this -- I went to Kendal and bought a pair of sandals. Then I got on another bus and went to Keswick. Feeling a little chilly, I went into an army surplus store and bought a dark gray Swiss army surplus greatcoat for ten pounds. I hadn't been planning an expedition to buy a coat, but I felt smug that I had bought sandals, a coat, and had a walk around Derwent Water all for less than the cost of buying sandals in Lancaster. :
The sandals have long since disintegrated, but I've worn that coat every winter for the last twelve years. All the buttons have fallen off at different times and had to be reattached. The cuffs have torn. It's horribly shabby, the way things are when you wear them in all weathers and every day for years. But it's also long and wonderfully warm, and in its own odd way stylish -- it has been described as Stalinish chic, but there you go.
The last two winters I've been thinking I ought to replace it. On occasions where I've wanted to look less scruffy I've worn my gorgeous microfibre leaf pattern coat that james_nicoll gave me. That's warm, but it's also short -- my greatcoat comes down to my shins, and also buttons up to my chin. But every time I've thought about replacing the greatcoat, I've failed to find anything that's as nice. Everything I have looked at fails to match it. So I've kept on wearing it as it's got older and shabbier, because even with ragged cuffs and non-matching buttons (some usually hanging by a thread) it was just better than anything else.
Today, when I came back from going to the bank and shopping, my downstairs neighbours had decided to use loud machinery outside my study window to tear out the parking spot. I'm generally in favour of it being returned to grass, but I would have liked some warning. I put the shopping away and went straight out again, as it was too loud in here to hear myself think, never mind think about Brokedown Palace. I didn't actually have anything sensible to do, but I went round in a loop to CocoRico to buy some Portugese barbecue for dinner.
On the way, I passed the army surplus shop on St Laurent. I went in. Now I do try not to replace everything with an identical thing, because left to my natural inclination this is what I would always do, and it's easy to get obsessive about it and it isn't healthy. I'm bad enough with DOS computers and denim bag. I hate buying clothes, and I always tend to buy the same kind of thing, while trying to vary it a bit. Z's girlfriend A, when shopping with me, despaired that I wanted something different but I wouldn't buy anything that wasn't the same because I didn't like it. Yeah. Problem. I know some people love buying clothes, and buying clothes that are different from their other clothes, but not me.
Anyway, I have looked in plenty of army surplus shops between 1996 and now, without seeing my greatcoat including the one by St Laurent metro -- last winter they had some but only in very small sizes. But today they had one in my size -- slightly different lining, and the buttons look more securely fixed, otherwise identical. I bought it. I didn't hesitate. My coat. My coat, new, renewed, reborn, risen again hosannah.
The usual trouble with buying something excellent and long-lasting is that when it does eventually need replacing the company who made it have gone out of business because they couldn't keep going all that time without my support. I've been seeing this recently with kitchen things -- a lot of my better kitchen things I bought in 1987 when I bought my house in Lancaster, and they're wearing out. But the Swiss Army, having designed what's close to being the platonically ideal greatcoat, haven't changed it, and are still selling off their surplus. It cost $65, which is more then ten pounds but still incredibly cheap for a new Montreal-winter-quality coat.
In another ten years or so I'll buy another, unless we've invented nanotech clothes by then, in which case I'll buy Ellen Mae's Swiss army coat from The Cassini Division, the one that changes into a spacesuit or a balldress. But when I go out in winter, this is what I'll have it set for.
16th November 2009
The Grief of Orpheus
I just realized this wasn't actually online anywhere. I wrote it in January 2001. :
They may not call this music.
This is the air of anger.
This is refusal made palpable,
cast in chords as bells are cast in bronze.
Each step down is inexorable.
This is the necessity of the lyre.
Earth opens by the logic of these notes.
I insist there is a way down;
a long, tiled, sloping passage
towards the ferry, the waiting dog,
the marble halls, the king, the queen,
the seven hard rivers of hell.
This theme everyone knows.
Nobody has gone down alive;
nobody has come back before.
This time my will
demands there is a way back up.
I have not come to plead.
I have not thought of grief.
(Since she fell, I have not stopped singing.
This is neither grief nor music.)
I have alloyed anger and art together
to make the world the way I will have it.
While I am singing,
she is dancing through long grass,
crowned with poppies and cornflowers.
Our eyes meet and joy touches her
she is light on bare feet,
turning towards me.
While I am singing,
she is looking with love, and dancing,
there is no next moment
no snake in the grass,
no fear, no falling,
no fluster of folk and useless fuss.
While I am singing,
I am walking the long way down
to Death's dark kingdom.
When I come singing up
through hell's seven rivers,
she will be behind me.
I need not look back,
since I am singing.
By sheer necessity,
that wrings each word and note to follow
the word and note that came before it
she follows behind me.
We pass the dark thrones,
and the path turns upwards.
Towards the growing lands,
towards the earth, the sea, the sky,
towards the meadow where she is dancing,
towards the waiting wedding breakfast.
By the power of my lyre
by the power of art to bend hearts,
by the power that makes and unmakes,
by the undeniable power of love,
she is bound to be behind me
while I am singing.
We make our way up,
one measured step at a time.
I lead the way upwards,
out of this hell, in which she is dead,
in which I may not stop singing,
towards the memory of light.
15th November 2009
Water on the moon
The moon answers me back, saying: :
No, you imagined that lonely goddess
shining huntress of chilly night
solitary sister to owls.
I circle you all the time,
night doesn't fall in my orbit,
I dance with gravity.
And as for water, well,
haven't you noticed the tides?
13th November 2009
How to sharpen and shape.
: Read this which is Jennifer Crusie first draft of a scene, and then read this which is her analysis of how she's going to fix it.
This is a kind of writing about process that people don't do enough, and which people learning to write could really do with. I said in comments there that this isn't the way I work, but in a way it is. I don't formally ask those questions, but this kind of shaping is what I do when I go back through what I just wrote. It's how I stop things being flabby and heading off in the wrong direction. In a way I'm constantly doing this -- that's why I have the whole file open when I'm writing, so I can go and put in the tightening or the set-up where I need it when I figure that out.
12th November 2009
11th November 2009
And what shall we remember? :
That war is horrible?
People, young men traditionally,
get marched off to die,
in ugly futility
or destined glory
on a naval expedition to Constantinople
or Wilfrid Owen
slogging across years of broken bodies.
Parade them out sadly,
the ghosts of the Great War
who have not grown old
and would be dead anyway.
Shall we remember the real forgotten
who left us no poetry
who fell in the morass they did not make
so very young, saluting,
going one more time over the top
to face the carnage, the guns, the bombs,
far from their homes,
their email, their iPods,
in far Iraq, Afghanistan,
the ghastly crop of this year's dead?