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Archive for October, 2009

A true ghost story.

Posted by Dirck on 30 October, 2009

I post this today because I generally don’t appear here on Saturday, and for all that our son is putting brakes on our usual efforts to creepificate the house, there’s still some tombstones to be set askew in the front yard and a pumpkin to vivisect.

Some years ago I was with a group of friends at a Scout Camp about an hour’s drive outside the city– all adults, this group, we’d just rented to place from the Boy Scouts for the weekend. The camp centers on a building erected in the late 1800s, and was reputed to have been the site of treatment for tuberculosis victims by the doctor who constructed it.

There is a camp-fire circle not far from the main building, and it being a fine night, many were gathered about the the fire. At one point, one of the company breaks away, takes a few steps out into a clear space before the building, then returns.

“I’m not sure I recognize the person looking out the upstairs window,” says he. “They don’t look too happy.”

Someone else goes for a look, also failing to recognize the woman at the upper window (the lower ones, by the way, were permanently boarded over against vandals). The action repeats until several have failed to recognize her. Finally, an enterprising person decides to go in and see who it is.

Upon entering the building, it is forcefully recalled to them that the upper floor was removed a decade previous. There is no one at the window, nor could there have been.

“Stuff,” you say? “Hooey?” A couple of years before this event, at the same place, a discussion was engaged, prompted by reminiscences of one of the people who had helped remove the upper floor, regarding the general eerieness and occasional manifestations during the reconstruction. ‘Stuff’ and ‘hooey’ were frequently called, culminating in one of the sceptics saying, “It would take an awful big something for me to believe in ghosts.”

Just at that moment, the heavy fire-doors which had been installed at the end of the place both banged open, suddenly and violently as the end of the swing of the hydraulic closers would allow, and then crashed back closed in a way a very heavy and strong person would have trouble replicating with one door (we checked, there being several heavy and strong people at hand), never mind both. The deck beyond was empty, and no one stood within ten feet of the doors within.

Proof? Of course not. The very nature of ghosts, theories regarding infrared cameras and elecromagnetic fields to the contrary, is that they defy proof. A dozen people saw each event, and half of them felt it proved nothing. But they all, in the latter case at least, jumped and shouted at the time.

I wonder how they’d feel about it if they’d seen the whitish transparent indistinctness drifting down the place where the stairs I’d removed the previous day had been? The absent upper floor was in part my doing, and I was the instigator of the door-crashing discussion.

Todays altogether canny and natural pen: Wing Sung 612
Today’s upsetting ink: Hallowe’en home-made special– on a base of Skrip red, small amounts of Herbin Lis de Thé and a touch of Quink black to make a nice not-quite-fresh blood colour. It’s the hit of the office (amongst those who notice).

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Jekyll, Hyde, & Co.

Posted by Dirck on 29 October, 2009

I have mentioned previously that I cannot stick to a single pen, through what might be called whimsy or a lack of concentration, depending your inclination, although I put it down to the joy to be had in variety. In this lead up to the best of all holidays, I wonder if the joy is not that which one gets from taking on, covertly, a different nature?

I was brought to this contemplation by the morning’s work with today’s pen. Roughly co-eval with the previous day’s pen, also with a fine point, and yet the nature of the writing is different. Not, I hasten to point out, just the way the ink is deposited on the page, but the actual form of the letters. Unlike Stevenson’s unfortunate doctor, I don’t have to disguise my writing through clumsy tricks when undergoing my transformation– the writing is the very manifestation of the change!

It’s very subtle. One might suspect that this was the work of two brothers, not far apart in age and taught in the same school. But it’s different. Picking up a new pen brings to the end of the hand a new persona, not unlike the Warner cartoon in which Bugs and Elmer are beset with a swarm of hats (Plop, a gangster! Whoosh, a bride!) and how far up the arm that amendment might extend is anyone’s guess….

Here is yet another reason to select fountain pens over ball-points! There’s no need to muck around with possibly incorrect tinctures of indifferently pure mineral salts, when one can merely dash off notes in a variety of guises, and no limit on the number of faces one might assume. A shaded mash note with a fine flexible 14k, a confident memo to the boss with a medium firm modern steel, a demand for payment with a fat stub, and no one reading them all would suspect the same mind lay behind them all.

There is the question at the end of it all, though– if personality is affected so deeply by the pen in hand, what happens when the pen is put down?

Today’s influential pen: Esterbrook J fitted with a 9556 Firm Fine point (very film noir, leaving messages as if to a private detective from a friend in the police force in clear but slightly squared-off letters)
Today’s transformative potion: Skrip blue-black

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Boo! Blah! Ssss! Geek!

Posted by Dirck on 28 October, 2009

I am a couple of days early, or course, but it being the most wonderful time of the year, my thoughts are running irresistably towards Hallowe’en. Thanks to the now-cognitive presence of my son, my wife and I won’t be able to go as mad for the grand holiday as we could wish, making the house into a palace of terror (two years ago, clusters of children would stop at the end of the driveway, confer, and in half the cases not approach– many candies were the reward of the brave!), and watching horror films.

Note the last two words there. I nearly said “scary movies”, but I didn’t want to wander into territory defined by Scream and claimed by Saw and Rob Zombie. To my mind there is a difference between a movie which insinuates through mounting evidence that the world is other than one had believed it to be, and one which shouts, “BOOGABOOGA! This is what guts look like!” A horror film is the former, while the latter differentiates between Scream– or Saw-inspired by whether it’s making smirkingly smug references to previous films or not. Post-modern ironicism nor torture porn make for a horror film.

I will not discount the place of viscera in a horror film, mind you. The difference is that the whole point of the film is not to cause the viewer to cry, “Oh, ick!”, but to use the ick to underline the situation. A modern horror film, faced with the numbing effect of modern news, can hardly avoid some of it. The Ruins is an excellent example of the sort of thing I mean– the gore isn’t wanting, but it’s in service to the story rather than the goal.

They is another film that pleases me greatly, for the same reason that it offends a lot of on-line commentors; the monster is never clearly shown. Some details are displayed, but the whole of it remains murky and obscure, letting the imagination not only fill in its details, but fit it into the dark corners of your very own home.

My regular Hallowe’en viewing includes, almost invariably, Hallowe’en, the original outing from 1978. Dated as some components of it are, it was the first of that sort of thing, and possibly the purest– think not in terms of improving technology, but rather the rapidly diminishing payback of squeezing juice from a fruit. I also rather like The Thing which was made by the same director a few years after Hallowe’en, and which stands as one of the few examples of a remake serving any kind of a good purpose (although I’ll defend The Thing from Another World against all insults).

Were I in the mood for a nice little British tale of witchcraft, I’d certainly trot out Night (or Curse in the US edit) of the Demon— the monster is shown in this one, and quite early on, but it’s such a corker and the story between appearances is so good I can forgive it.

We have decided to dress my son as Edgar Allen Poe, as his hair works for the costume, and this brings me around to the fine… er, fun movies made by Roger Corman using Poe’s titles, and occasionally some story elements. The only two I can really recommend without comedy raising its mood-crushing head are Pit and the Pendulum and Masque of the Red Death, and the only thing to really recommend them is also what recommends The Raven— lovely old Vincent Price. He also raises Bert Gordon’s The Tingler to art, with his interaction with Patricia Cutts being a display of how two people can be terrible to one another without the movie stinking (a trick modern writers should try to figure out, since so many current scaries are populated entirely by jerks).

Price is also the only thing to recommend The Haunted Castle, which claims to be Poe but which lifts a Lovecraft story. If you want to find decent interpretations of the Old Man of Providence, The Resurrected is one of the best things going despite some ’80s cheese-effects towards the end. The only link I’m putting in is a plug for a very low budget Call of Cthulhu, which I urge the buying of– it’s a labour of love, and it’s very true to the material.

Finally, although my list goes much, much farther– as a Godzilla fan, I can’t let the giant monsters go without mention. Had I the time, it would be the original Burr-free Gojira, the very recent All Out Monster Attack (don’t be fooled by the title), or the remarkably good non-Godzilla Cloverfield.

Next year, he’ll be old enough to go to the Grandparents for the night.

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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The Mighty Sieve!

Posted by Dirck on 27 October, 2009

I am, despite occasional evidence here to the contrary, literate. This is a status which I’m not at any pains to conceal, as certain sci-fi stories posit will be the case in the future. I am, in fact, reasonably proud of how broad my written vocabulary spreads.

There are drawbacks to literacy, though. The most constant one is the stream on people who appear asking “How’s this word spelled?”, which despite frequency is less noxious than the constant stream of people online who can’t or won’t bother to sort out the various spellings of words pronouced “your” and “their”. There is, however, a pitfall for the literate which can go unnoticed until one lands at the bottom of it.

Writing things down means you don’t have to remember them. Not having to remember them means your hippocampus may become whimisical and unbiddable, to the point where not writing things down essentially ensures you won’t remember them.

My current example and exasperation is a box of pens belonging to a client, including the one alluded to yesterday. As I sit at The Regular Job typing this, it sits happily on a chair about seven kilometers away, wanting only a trip to the post office to see it on its way to the Saint of Patience and Easy-going Nature to whom it is due. I did not write myself a note to bring it along today, nor did I place it where I would in fact trip over it on my way out of the house. Thus, my literacy leads to another 24 hour delay in the pens’ return.

I have made a note to feel very foolish about this for the rest of the week.

Today’s notable pen: Parker Duofold
Today’s memorable ink: Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

Post Scriptus: In a craven effort to win a free notebook, and thus garner for myself something in which to write down important things to remember (“3pm Friday: DUCK!”), I post a link to a reviewer who finds a surplus of nice notebooks present.

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Dry well.

Posted by Dirck on 26 October, 2009

I suspect I’m suffering from plethory after last night’s dinner at my parents’ place– they’ve been out of town for a month, and this reunion meal was perhaps too sumptuous (chicken stew and fresh biscuits seems pedestrian fare, but so much of it, and mom-made!). As a result, my thinking tubes appear to be clogged today.

I will merely, therefore, mention that I managed to dodge all attempted impediments to repair some pens over the weekend, including one of my own and a client’s pen which has been in my hands for an embarrassingly long time (a saint of patience and easy-going nature!). I will add to this another note of praise for Francis Goosens, who provided the necessary parts, and who is apparently affiliated with the Conid Pens effort you’ll notice in the links to the right.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Statesman, which has also received the Goosens Gizmo, or as it’s more usually known, the Fountainbel Cartridge.
Today’s ink: Pelikan blue-black

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I am not a number!

Posted by Dirck on 23 October, 2009

…unless one is using roman numerals, as in A.D. MMIX.  In that case, I  am 1 and me are silly.

I was in discussion lately with a co-worker on the nature of self-image as it relates to work. The persistent reader here will have noticed that I am rather cagey as to the nature of The Regular Job. In part this is a mode of defence, as there have been rumblings from Human Resources on the subject of giving away company secrets or heaping shame upon it via social networking, which this activity could be construed as. It is also, though, a means of maintaining in this forum the distance which exists in my own head between Me (Ego, Psyche/Pneuma, Spirit, whatever you prefer) and the employment that admittedly keeps roof and food in my life.

I’ve touched on this topic in a grazing manner when contemplating the idea of following one’s calling, but it’s more present in my mind now. I repeat that of all possible jobs, the Regular Job is far from the worst possible, in that it pays about enough for the food and shelter thing, allows me to ramble within my own thoughts, has a quite liberal dress code (not that the slight clash of today’s tie and vest would offend a stricter regulation), and involves not a single deep fryer. No one has ever said, “That has to be filled out in ballpoint.”

Still, when being introduced to someone at a party, in response to the inevitable “And what do you do?” I do not simply blurt out, “Oh, I’m a {CURRENT JOB TITLE}” because I don’t want to give the sense that this is what I feel myself to be, or that I inherently am that in the same sense that a toaster is inherently a toaster. My response to that sort of introductory question is generally a hesitation, followed by, “Well, I’m starting up a business repairing fountain pens, and I’m a craft bookbinder. Just at the moment to keep ahead of the bills I also {CURRENT JOB DESCRIPTION}, there being no serious call for a teacher of my current qualifications.” I suppose I could save a little time by just saying, “I extemporize a lot.”

I wonder now, though, if having finally trained up to the point where I might say, “I fix pens, like Ron Zorn,”(since I plugged Richard Binder yesterday) if I might still not pull the same non-specific act. I think there are very few people so focussed on their profession that they can be summed up by it. I’m not suggesting that those who might be are in any way shallow, as likely examples include both the Pope and Dalai Lama– but in both cases I suspect there’s other interests that might astonish the inquirer.

Last night, for example, I was almost entirely a writer; ten pages of manuscript in about a hundred minutes, never a thought about the pen and ink involved, and very little of it to draw cringes on a second look this morning. I’m looking very forward to seeing whether this ends up a novella or extends to full length. Likewise, when I’m engaged in this pursuit, I feel the ‘writer’ label inflating to take priority over the diverse other stickers I’ll accept (although this particular inflation comes with the sub-headings ‘pen-obsessed’ and ‘marginally proof-read’). If I thought I could devote the time to it, NaNoWriMo looks like it might be a fun diversion.

We are all, of course, the sum of our parts, but each of those parts has a different value depending on the time one examines them. It’s terrible to take a single facet of the gem that any human is and declare it the entirety. Even when the person in question is yourself.

I hear Rover bounding along the beach, so I’d best lay off spreading this sedition and hop on my penny-farthing.

Today’s protean pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s multidimensional ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit

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Me Vexat!

Posted by Dirck on 22 October, 2009

I am not fixing any pens today. Hooray!

Normally, this is a cause for lamentation, but not today. Today has been one of those horrid days when gravity seems something other than perpendicular, and when every inanimate hand seems turned against one. I’m enough of an animist to admit to it (you’re one too if you’ve ever glowered at a household appliance and shouted, “C’mon, work!”), and when shoelaces go into Dada-esque shapes because you picked up the shoe, you know something’s up.

I’m also a realist enough to know that a large part of this perceived effect is carry-over from an initial mischance. The tiny tremors of rage or frustration are amplified as they reach the distant finger-tips, and suddenly everything dances away, refusing to be grasped. It’s not just because the bread flexed violently on being put on the table-edge side of the plate, right?

So, no pen fixing today. I’m in a state where I expect rebellion from the things around me, and that’s not a state to be monkeying with things whose tolerances are expressed in hundredths of millimeters and are made of fragile materials. I referred yesterday to a Parker I was fixing on the weekend. In the course of the activity, the pellet cup broke (those who know what one is will cringe and nod– if you don’t know, just accept that it’s a fiddly bit in the filler). In the event, I said, “Aw, poop,” and went to find one of my own pens I could rob the filler from for a while. Had this happened this morning, I don’t doubt I would have been overcome with apoplexy, and either set fire to my house in the ensuing rampage or dropped over dead from intercranial bleeding.

I shouldn’t overstate the situation, of course. I got into The Regular Job without all the wheels falling off the van. I walked to get lunch and returned with my feet still attached and pointing in the appropriate direction. Things are looking up.

As long as looking up doesn’t reveal a meteor, that’s fine.

Today’s non-rebellious pen: Waterman Crusader (and since I wasn’t able to cobble even an under-construction page thanks to the various tiny disasters about the house before work, the link is merely an image lifted from Richard Binder’s elegant website. I’ll edit this into propriety eventually). EDIT: Four days later, the link is now all me.
Today’s biddable ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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Of a Feather.

Posted by Dirck on 21 October, 2009

My super-secret stats page gives me a sense I may have given offence on Monday. I’ll climb down off my soap-box for a little while and return to the contemplation of pens.

I use contemplation in the very most academic form, too. I was started on this road by a conjunction of two events that shouldn’t be particularly connected. I was fixing a Parker “51” this past weekend. I was also (but not at the same time) reading Pride and Prejudice.

The connections come as follows– in chapter 10, Mr. Darcy is writing a letter while being jabbered at by Miss Bingley, she thinking that keeping his attention as much as possible upon her will necessarily bring about a proposal, or at least keep him from settling his interest upon Elizabeth Bennet. At one point in the flow, she offers to mend his pen, which he declines, claiming to prefer to mend his own.

This all takes place, of course, in the era of the quill pen (‘pen’ itself being etymologically related to the Latin word for ‘feather’), when a long writing task would see the implement slowly worn to nothing by the acidic ink, the relative hardnesses of paper and feather-shaft, and the knife weilded in an effort to keep something like a sharp point. Plenty of opportunity for pen mending.

“Wouldn’t he be happy to have a steel pen?” I thought, and read on, while a small corner of my mind mused with the fashioning of pens in that era. Yes, I have made a few, from curiousity, and if you want to try it there’s some decent directions here. As the memory unrolled, I kept getting inserted images of the “51”.

The traditional fountain pen point is shaped to mimic the finished shape of a quill, which is shaped as it is to get a combination of strength and flexibility. For all that, what more closely mimics a feather shaft is the point of a “51”– both are tubular, right?

Even more interesting, given the century and more of pen development between the appearance of the steel point (and thus the slow waning of feather pens) and the introduction of the “51”, is the shape of the modern pen’s hood. Withdraw or ignore the point and feed, and the profile of the hood is very much that of the end of a feather awaiting conversion to pen. It’s three or four times the size, but the shape it there.

Conscious decision? Subconscious influences in Parker’s designers? Pure coincidence? I cannot tell.

Today’s Pen: Sheaffer Stateman vacuum filler
Today’s ink: Skrip blue-black

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I am not a Martian

Posted by Dirck on 20 October, 2009

I was reading yesterday’s number of Ink Quest, and followed an alarming lnk from there to this review of some triclosan-coated pencils. The review is sensible, but the product itself comes very close to unhinging my sanity. Fortunately, a throat raw from horrified screaming doesn’t prevent one from typing.

I’m astonished that there hasn’t been a general ban on this sort of thing. For those who aren’t hip to the whole terror of anti-bacterial products and their role in the current worry about resistant infections, I’ll explain in terms suited to the meanest understanding (that is to say, my own):

Your skin is and always has been home to a countless multitude of tiny organisms, the vast majority of which are entirely innocuous, swarming about their lives with infinite complacency and unremarked by their wearer. There are a few villains in the crowd, as there are in any crowd, but the very numbers of the non-harmful creatures keep them down.

Picture the back of your hand, or the top of your kitchen counter, as a beach upon which is set a buffet. A few ruffians are amongst the citizens, wearing leather jackets and contemplating acts of aimless destruction (graffiti, arson, that sort of thing). The leather jacket is, metaphorically, what gives these thugs the ability to ignore antibiotics. This is not your standard buffet, though, since all the other guests are variations on Bruce Willis and John Wayne characters– they’re not looking for trouble, but woe to the trouble-makers who tangle with them. When the thugs seek to push their way through to the buffet, we find that they are very small creatures, actually oppressed by the weight of their jackets. Such food as they get is the mere leavings of the upright citizens, who eat well, wax strong, and go to produce more generations of decent and law-abiding folks.

Introduce an antibacterial product to this picture. You suddenly remove everyone except the leather-jacketed thugs from the buffet. They may eat and breed without impediment, and suddenly you’re a-swarm with scofflaws who don’t mind burning down the house they’re living in. You must have noticed, I’m sure, that these products speak of killing 99.99% of bacteria on a surface– which sounds impressive, until you consider how large a number .01% of several billion is.

Where this analogy breaks down is in the leather jacket department. Perhaps I should have spoken in terms of “get out of jail free” cards, as bacteria will swap their genetic material the way kids swap cards. It’s not just the leather-jacketed layabouts that you need to be worried about. There’s some one-celled Charles Mansons that might find themselves immune to things that we’d rather they weren’t.

Like the author of the review, I advocate washing your hands rather than relying on the static defences of triclosan and similar chemicals. The flood washes away the good and the bad alike, and the good are better at rebuilding. An alcohol-based sanitizer is a decent stop-gap measure, but it doesn’t really remove the ick from your hands (also, alcohol is not a friend to many pen-barrel materials). By the way, if you’re worried about catching something from a writing implement, neither a borrower nor a lender be, and take comfort in the notion that most pens don’t provide much of a harbour for germs– there’s not much there for them to live on.

For counter-tops, I’m a fan of vinegar or lemon juice. Kills microflora, removes grease, and contains absolutely no stinky Febreeze.

Those who try too hard to remove all agents of infection from their surroundings face the prospect of not only being left with only very ugly microbes in the house, but also of letting their immune system get out of shape. There’s speculation that the increasing incidence of asthma and allergy in the population is a result of an over-sanitized childhood– the immune system, deprived of play-time, becomes bored and looks for something to do.

H.G. Wells was aiming his pen at colonial attitudes towards the colonized rather than at hyper-sanitization, but the conclusion of War of the Worlds is still worth reading from home health point of view. I’m all in favour of the eradication of smallpox, but there’s some low-key pathogens that it’s probably not that bad an idea to keep around, just to keep our immune systems on their toes. The smallest creatures that the creator put here are not without utility, after all, even if you don’t like wine and cheese.

Today’s slightly musty pen: Parker Vacumatic (a newly-revived Emerald Pearl Major)
Today’s infection-free ink: Herbin’s Lie de Thé

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Historical Errors

Posted by Dirck on 19 October, 2009

I am going to have a political moment. If you’re here for pens today, I don’t have a lot to offer.

Actually, it’s not political. It’s historical. I am, at my core, a history teacher (with a Professional A certificate and everything– sadly, there’s not much call for that sort of thing ’round here, so that’s not The Regular Job). I heard an item on CBC radio last week that’s been troubling me, and I’m going to have a brief rant about it.

The item itself is laid out on CBC’s website, but as is usual I will synopsize– there’s an exhibit on in Vancouver about the politicization to the Olympics in 1936, when they were hosted by Germany… which at the time was under the control of Adolf Hitler.

The thing which got up my nose was the mention of a picture showing some Canadian athletes apparently enjoying themselves while within touching distance of one of the top monsters of human history. The reason this got up my nose is that there was a tone of condemnation for the athletes.

Now I step out onto dangerously thin and slippery ice. I am second to very few in my condemnation of Hitler– one of the few I am second to is my father, who had first-hand experience in occupied Holland, while my opinion is ex post facto. However, as a student and teacher of history, I think it’s important to be fair to those who at some points in the past might have failed in this condemnation.

In 1936, there were very few people who had a word to say against the stubby brute. At that point, he was just the guy who had pulled the German economy out of the deepest pit anyone had ever seen, a trick which most of the rest of the industrial nations were fairly anxious to learn at the time. To be a young athlete standing beside him at that time was to be a young person (i.e. not very wise, easily impressed) standing next to a celebrity. Of course they look jolly.

The CBC article also mentioned a Jewish-Canadian boxer who declined to attend the games, as it was evident even at that point that the Nazi regime was bad news for those of that faith. He was true to his principles, but apparently he undid his boxing career (this is missing from the online write-up, so I can’t offer any better detail). Fair enough, and good on him for seeing where the path led. The problem here is that it doesn’t mean that the others who still chose to participate were participating in Hitlerian evil… at least, no more so than the rest of the world at the time.

In 1936, sad to say, anti-semetism was pretty much status quo. In 1939, after it was clear that part of Hitler’s economic revitalization program was empire-building in its bloodiest manifestation, Canada was still willing to turn away ships full of refugees… because the government of the day felt there were already plenty of Jews in Canada, or thought that it was poor policy to encourage refugees in general, or some similarly horrid reason. It’s unfair to cast aspersions upon participants in the 1936 Olympics just because they held the common opinion of the day. At least, it’s unfair to cast any more aspersions than we would upon anyone else alive at the time.

Besides, if anyone who wasn’t a serious supporter of the Third Reich and its aberrant, abhorrent policies had stayed away from the 1936 Olympics, we’d have been denied the jolly and ironic spectacle of the celebration of blond, blue-eyed superhumanity having to hand a gold medal to Jesse Owens. It’s comedy bought at a very high price, I’ll grant, but how much worse would the whole episode have been without the occasional leavening?

My point is not that one shouldn’t condemn people for foolish acts in the past (13th Century Europe, you’re still grounded!), but it’s important to understand what you’re condemning them for. Standing beside a bad person doesn’t necessarily make one a bad person.

Today’s yet-to-be-contextualized pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s reconciliatory ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit (see– French and German can get along nicely!)

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