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Odds and ends from the staff of the Lamp.


✥ For the second year in a row, The Lamp is sponsoring a Christmas ghost story competition in the spirit of Dickens and M.R. James. When we say “in the spirit of,” we do not have in mind wan pseudo-Edwardian pastiches of James and others; we mean stories that “succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours,” stories with contemporary or near-contemporary settings that achieve effects similar to those sought by the genre’s masters.

The winner of this year’s competition will receive one thousand dollars, and his or her story will appear in the Christmas number of the magazine. At least two runners-up will receive three hundred dollars each and have their stories published online during Christmastide.

The rules are as follows:

The contest is open to all writers aged eighteen and older. With the exception of The Lamp’s editor, any judges involved will not be aware of the identities of the authors before assessing their work; they will examine entries “blind,” without regard for previous publications, background, etc.

The prize is for stories no longer than ten thousand words. There is no minimum length.

Stories, while obviously intended to be frightening, must not contain obscene or indecent material.

Stories must involve the supernatural, however sensitively portrayed or faintly suggested.

Stories must be written in English.

Stories must be original, which is to say, they must not have been published previously, either in print or in any public online forum.

“Simultaneous submissions” are not permitted.

Only one story per entrant is allowed.

Entries may be submitted by email to (.doc, .docx, or .rtf only: .PDF attachments will not be read). Biographical information limited to a single sentence should be contained in a separate document.

Entries should be formatted in Times New Roman with single line spacing. Do not include tab stops, indents, headers, footers, page numbers, or illustrations original or otherwise. A title will suffice. Epigraphs are also permitted.

Submissions must be sent by midnight Eastern Time on October 31, 2022 in order to be eligible.

Both the winner and at least two runners-up will be notified at a date to be announced later. No other editorial correspondence related to the contest will take place. The decision of the judges is final.

✥ Earlier this year, twelve people in Malawi were found guilty of abducting an albino man, dismembering him, and selling his bones for their supposed healing powers. The practice is all too common in East Africa, where popular belief holds that he who possesses the limbs of an albino will be granted wealth, power, success, or good health. In this particular case, several government officials were implicated in the plot: a medical practitioner, a police officer, and the man’s own brother. Most shockingly, however, a Catholic priest headed up the body part trafficking side of the operation. Upon discovering his role in the plot, his diocese blandly critiqued his actions. “The diocese, like the rest of the Catholic Church in Malawi, has always strongly condemned the killing of our brothers and sisters with albinism,” his bishop said in a statement. “In recent times, as a diocese we have spoken out against the abduction and killing of persons with albinism. It is with much sadness that we have learned of these allegations against a priest of our diocese.” We have to wonder if the murder of a man because of his skin color merits perhaps a departure from the Church’s peculiar brand of bureaucratese.  

✥ Amazon, which has always been a forward thinking company, is offering a new health benefit for its employees: four thousand dollars in travel expenses annually for non-life threatening medical treatments. The new policy is a preemptive safeguard against states that in recent months have passed notably more restrictive abortion laws. (Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, many other companies, including Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft, have followed Amazon’s example.) It’s also a soft incentive to keep workers on the warehouse floor. The benefit was announced on the same day that Amazon stopped offering paid time off for employees who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, letting them have five days of excused unpaid leave instead. It’s no coincidence then that Amazon is happy to subsidize an abortion. A few days off for an out-of-state procedure doesn’t hurt the bottom line nearly as much as a potential twelve weeks of federally protected post-partum maternity leave. 

✥ A recent obituary in a financial paper began with this sentence: “During the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, stock prices dropped as investors contemplated the possibility of nuclear annihilation.” We like to imagine that several hundred thousand disaffected office workers called their stockbrokers with such pleas as these: “Sell! Dump it all. I’m contemplating my annihilation and simply must have an empty portfolio.” After all, you can’t take it with you.

✥ Many professional home organizers, it turns out, are completely disorganized. The videos they upload to Instagram and Tik Tok largely reflect their aspirations, not reality. One popular organizer revealed to a New York paper that sometimes she goes months without cleaning her children’s playroom. Another admitted that he hardly ever does his laundry when his camera isn’t rolling. These confessions reminded us of another self-proclaimed organizer, George McClellan, who, as Lord Charnwood remarks in his biography of Lincoln, never seemed to be in order when it really mattered:  

Did he ever do his best to beat the enemy? Did he ever, except for a moment, concentrate himself singly upon any great object? Were even his preparations thorough? Was his information ever accurate? Was his purpose in the war ever definite, and, if so, made plain to his Government? Was he often betrayed into marked frankness, or into marked generosity? No one would be ready to answer yes to any of these questions. McClellan fills so memorable a place in American history that he demands such a label as can be given to him. In the most moving and the most authentic of all Visions of Judgment, men were not set on the right hand or the left according as they were of irreproachable or reproachable character; they were divided into those who did and those who did not. In the provisional judgment which men, if they make it modestly, should at times make with decision, McClellan’s place is clear. The quality, spiacente a Dio ed ai nemici suoi, of the men who did not, ran through and through him.

✥ Since 2015, when Canada reversed its ban on assisted suicide, government policies have incentivized many impoverished people to choose to be euthanization over seemingly insurmountable financial obstacles. A woman in Ontario chose death because her housing benefits did not cover the cost of moving into an apartment which didn’t aggravate her severe allergies. Another woman chose death because, as she said, she “simply cannot afford to keep on living.” More recently, a woman picked euthanization over attempting to pay off debts related to a nasty case of the coronavirus. And there’s little incentive to more strictly regulate assisted suicide. In fact, the more people who kill themselves, the more Canadian taxpayers save on the country’s nationalized healthcare. Paying for the care of those with chronic illnesses can be monstrously expensive, but euthanasia is only about two thousand Canadian dollars per case, a recent government report found.

✥ Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home turns one hundred this year, and we leave the reader to determine if her valedictory encomium to American manners has stood the test of time.

It is no idle boast that the world is at present looking toward America; and whatever we become is bound to lower or raise the standards of life. The other countries are old, we are youth personified! We have all youth’s glorious beauty and strength and vitality and courage. If we can keep these attributes and add finish and understanding and perfect taste in living and thinking, we need not dwell on the Golden Age that is past, but believe in the Golden Age that is sure to be.

✥ One more contest while we’re at it: THE LAMP will send, free of charge, one of our newly designed tote bags to the person who submits the funniest elephant joke by midnight Eastern Time on August 31, 2022. Sixty years ago the elephant joke was one of the most popular forms of humor in the country, but as of late it has been unjustly neglected (except by the most pure-hearted popsicle stick comedians). Since it is an elastic form, so too are our contest rules. We only ask that participants follow Isaac Asimov’s prescription that submissions be “a type of shaggy-dog microjoke, in which ridiculous questions are asked concerning elephants, with answers which have to be even more ridiculous.”

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