Phlogiston Always Makes Me Smile

Kage Baker pretty much hated current events. She loved history – but until events were sufficiently aged to be history, she frankly didn’t care much. In fact, they depressed her.

She thoroughly detested Current Events classes in school. We all had to read a glossy little rag called The Student Outlook, which nowadays is an email program – but back in our distant girlhood, it was a 4-page newspaper full of news about Vietnam and the space program and the slow death of monarchism across Africa … Haile Selassie was in there every week, it seemed like, along with the growing piles of bodies in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

It all horrified Kage. She ignored it as much as possible, and did her best to forget anything she accidentally learned. For her, modern history ended in the 1940’s. I used to point out that she had excluded her own birth date with this philosophy, but she averred that it just meant she was  born in the future.

As an adult, she refused to read the newspaper. The only news she got was whatever she glimpsed on television or the Internet: if it intrigued her, she would track down more information, but usually she just flipped resolutely past it. It was my job to keep abreast of interesting news – technology advanced or remembered, archeological finds, brand new animals re-discovered living amid some plant presumed to have died out in the 17th century. The only current events she was actually interested in were the increasing numbers of police chases on telly – but those were like her childhood fondness for Roller Derby, an attraction to vulgar but largely hypothetical violence …

I’ve got to admit, there are times when keeping abreast of the news sends me spiralling into the Slough of Despond, as well.  The Internet is the home of so many depressing idiots; you can’t kill them, and they usually manage to say something ugly before you can turn them off. People love posting disasters. They love getting into fights. And the electronic distance gives everyone invulnerability, so ugly scenes are de rigeur.

It gets me so down …

This has led to my giving up all the daily newspaper’s offerings except the comic strips and the crossword puzzle; I try to ignore the network news as well. It’s gotten to the point where the best coverage of things that really matter is more likely to be heard from professional clowns than “real” newsmen. Colbert and Stewart I can still stomach – but other than them, I cherry-pick my way through the science news, and as much of current events as I can take from BBC and Al Jezeera. They’re still serious journalists.

Foreigners and satirists. That’s all I can manage. There’s a moral there, I’m sure.

Sometimes, for something approaching comfort, I go look up what happened on this date in the past; who was born or died, what was good or bad news long enough ago to actually be history. It’s both satisfying and informative. Even if the news was dreadful, at least it’s over! Cosimo de Medici has long ago settled that conspiracy plot by Luca Pitti which was discovered this day in 1466.

Captain Cook set sail from England in the brave Endeavour, sure of glory and with no idea he’d end up on the menu. Krakatoa began the wind-up to its final eruption and ultimate destruction. The English and their indomitable longbows won the Battle of Crecy; Michelangelo won the commission to carve the Pieta.

Today is the birthday of Lavoisier, who disproved the existence of the hilariously-named phlogiston while discovering oxygen; and also of Montgolfier, who didn’t give a fig what air was made of, as long as he could get it hot enough to float his balloons. Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert was born – Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who invented microscopes and first identified microbial life, died. So did Reginald Bartholomew, but since he was a successful diplomat, I am sure he was no relative of mine …

And it’s the feast day of Saints Simplicius, Victorinus and Zephyrinus, who sound like a liturgical music hall act.

And behold! Already I feel better. Perusing the rich pickings of the past is so satisfying. A lot of nonsense, lies and public displays of appalling character flaws is exhibited there, but 4th grade-level name-calling has not been preserved. It’s undeniably  funny that oxygen was discovered while looking for something with as silly a name as phlogiston, but at least no  career politician is stating that Canada is not a foreign country. Or that Islam is a country at all … History is a grand mood elevator.

More and more do I understand Kage’s refusal to commit to any age between 1603 and 2450. I think I’ll go re-read Sky Coyote. And maybe watch Duck Dodger in the 23rd & 1/2 Century.

I like the ways those stories turn out.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Phlogiston Always Makes Me Smile

  1. Miz Kizzle says:

    The internet is both a curse and a blessing. There’s just so much STUFF on it, some of which is highly entertaining (the Comics Curmudgeon and the Pay Phone Project, for instance.) The comments section of any news story just makes me depressed. Most of the commenters are racist, sexist, homophobic and/or completely nuts, although I kind of like the ones who believe in The Secret Government.
    And yes, Current Events was dreadful, right up there with New Math in terms of awfulness.


  2. Kate says:

    Oh, dear heavens – New Math. I haven’t thought of that since I was 13. And you know what? I don’t miss it in the least!


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