This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 7, 1991

August 7, 1991 - Charles Fort

"Conservatism is our opposition," wrote Charles Fort.

"But I am in considerable sympathy with conservatives. I am often lazy, myself. It's evenings, when I'm somewhat played out, when I'm likely to be most conservative. Everything that is highest and noblest in my composition is most pronounced when I'm not good for much. I may be quite savage, mornings: but, as my energy plays out, I become nobler and nobler, and lazier, and conservativer. Most likely my last utterance will be a platitude, if I've been dying long enough. If not, I shall probably laugh."

You'd don't find writing like that very often. I had to go to Santa Fe to find this particular sample. I was combing through the shelves of a used book store on E. Palace (the establishment of Nicholas Potter, if you're ever down that way), when I saw a hardback entitled "The Books of Charles Fort." I bought it on the spot. It cost fifteen bucks -- but that got me 1,062 pages of outrageous writing and a 62 page index with entries like "Wheat, mysterious appearance of."

I've been talking about Charles Fort ever since, and reading him to anybody who will sit still long enough to listen.

But I read him when I was a kid, too. On the crammed bookshelf by my bed, nestled next to "Stranger than Science," I had a paperback version of "Lo!", one of Fort's four books. "The Book of the Damned," "New Lands," and "Wild Talents" were the others. All of them are out of print now.

Nobody I've spoken with seems to know anything about Fort. That's a shame.

Charles Hoy Fort (born in Albany, New York in 1874, died in the Bronx in 1932) was a collector. But he didn't collect things; he collected what he called "the widest possible diversity of data." His idea was to find relationships among apparently unrelated facts, and thereby, perhaps, to stumble across or invent a new cosmic order or law or formula.

And some of his data were pretty peculiar. Quoting extensively from everything from international scientific journals to small local newspapers, he produced story after story of rains of live frogs, clouds of exhausted insects that suddenly appeared from nowhere, inexplicable disappearances of people that -- coincidentally? -- coincided with inexplicable appearances of other things.

In his writing, Fort amassed staggering quantities of odd stuff, phenomena that just can't be reconciled with anything reasonable. Then he came up with explanations so patently unreasonable -- but compelling -- that you can't tell if he was serious or not.

As he admitted, "I can't quite define my motive, because to this day it has not been decided whether I am a humorist or a scientist."

Fort has often been cited by science fiction writers as a major intellectual influence. He had a freshness to his insights and his thinking, a willingness to view the universe from every conceivable angle. On the one hand, his gathering and description of data was orderly, succinct, and objective. On the other hand, his theories were just too entertaining, and his attitude too irreverent, for Fort to be well-regarded by the general public. Experts are, or are supposed to be, serious.

His recurrent theme was that everything is inter-related, that coincidences are anything but coincidental: a belief that he sometimes called theological, sometimes scientific, and sometimes, just an idle fancy that he could, or could not, support with confidence, depending on his mood and the direction of the immediate paragraph.

One of the things that bothers me most about this age (and most others) is the blank incuriosity of too many people about almost everything. We don't want to hear about choices that upset too many of our prejudices. So instead, we ignore information that doesn't confirm what we already believe.

Charles Fort still provides a rollicking antidote to intellectual complacency. He was a man who would have heartily endorsed the sentiment attributed to Yogi Berra: "When you come to a fork in the road -- take it."

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