All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just This

Couldn't let the year end without mentioning this:

Last December I was hunting for a poem to help through the loss of a friend. I decided on Canteloube's "Bailero" (see "Shepherd's Song" Dec.16, 2010, this blog). I wrote to Willie about it and he introduced me into correspondence with his friend and neighbor, Warner Jepson.

It was Warner Jepson who suggested an old Madeleine Grey recording because he thought it had more life in it than the later version I had --by a different singer. He, a master musician and pioneer in modern electronic music, was right of course. One year has passed and, sadly, so has Warner.

This week I received a note from Warner's daughter, Kiira, alerting me to a January gathering in celebration of his life. I'm unable to attend, but thought this clip of him playing a very special composition would serve to express something of why I admired the man. I shall miss our discussions of music, reliable and repairable old cars, music, the vexations of computer blogging...and music.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Conversation With Anonymous #1

[Norma photo]

"We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need — just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn't be able to do in regular society. ...That's more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. ... There's a common phrase: 'we are doing it for the lulz (the joy of disrupting).'"
—Trent Peacock. The face of Anonymous, February 7, 2008.


The picture above is of a culture of moss found growing on a rail, here on this property, and I include it because it is the only subject upon which Anonymous has not yet ventured an opinion. This post deals with the general enigma of highly motivated personalities, compelled toward activism, who explain themselves at length but are not about to reveal themselves. They are rather like the moss in propagation, ubiquity and invisibly microscopic origin. Over a period of several months I have assembled a dialog with Anonymous drawn from their increasingly frequent comments on my three blogs. Here is a very small sample:


Anonymous: Dois dias atrás eu entrei Do-Siga Blog depois de ler um artigo postado aqui na Triond. Vimax Estou tão feliz que eu. Vimax Depois de apenas postando apenas alguns links eu ganhei cerca de 100 mais vistas, e elas continuam chegando. Melhor do que eu recebi mais comentários de pessoas fora da comunidade Triond. Vimax, Vimax. VigRX Plus


Geo.: Thanks for your comment on "Gooseboys In Mist" --a poem in "Gardening With Geo." I am happy you have 100 times the traffic on your unnamed site, if that's what you wanted, but I have written poetry for over 50 years and learned this: HARDLY ANYBODY READS POETRY. I don't write it because lots of people read it. I write it because it's what I do. Hope you don't mind my disarming your clickable blue product list --Triond. Vimax, Vimax and VigRX Plus-- as you seem to have neglected to do. It is my sincere hope they help you with your love life, but do see a doctor.

Anonymous:Planujac aranzacje pomieszczenia w meble dla dzieci trzeba skupic uwage na kilka waznych rzeczy, ktore wynikna w przyszlosci w zwiazku z dojrzewaniem naszej pociechy...Przede wszystkim meble dzieciece powinny byc calkowicie bezpieczne. Budowa takich sprzetow powinna byc porzadna.


Geo.: Excuse my radical abridgement of your comment; I couldn't understand how Polish children could need reliable furniture for the dozen reasons you set out. The solution is self-evident. Build better desks. And how'd you get to Poland so quickly? I thought you were somewhere Portuguese-speaking. However, I do commend your insistence upon "decent construction", especially after your first comment which left some outstanding moral questions.

Anonymous: Do you feel that Syria (is) spying on dissidents?

Geo.: My dear boy --or girl-- every country I've ever heard of spies on its dissidents and, although I know of no reason why they should, I also know of no reason why they should not. I do fail to see how your question bears on the poem "Athanor" in "Invalid's Workshop", which really falls outside the parameters of this problem. However, I commend and thank you for writing in English this time --and yet, and yet, I feel a growing sense of anxiety from our correspondence.

Anonymous: Most affordable and most powerful service for web traffic!!!! ...Your post will be published up to 100000 forums worldwide your blog will get instant increase in seo rankings just after few days your site will get targeted long term traffic from search engines. Order now!

Geo.: Thanks for your timely and sympathetic reply! I feel better already, but somehow doubt the miracle you outline, my poetry skittering off in 100,000 directions at once --energetically, like a spilled truckload of apples-- is feasible, nor would it draw much reward if it did fease. Relief that you're recovered from stress over love, Polish furniture and Syrian surveillance is reward enough for me. Best of luck, Anonymous --you've given me many, possibly useful, suggestions. In return I recommend, if you wish to further your excellent cause, that you reveal at least three letters of your name.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ayn Rand: Collective Individualism, Collidualism Or Not?

Every so often, like when I was a kid, then in my thirties, then in my sixties, there is a big buzz about Ayn Rand. It comes from her collective. My friend, Will, recently sent me an article: How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation, by Bruce E. Levine --AlterNet, December 15, 2011, Printed on December 17, 2011. I recommend it.

Mr. Levine reports that in the 1950s, Ayn Rand attracted and organized a “Collective” of young individualists. Quite a strong collective by all accounts. One wonders how much individualism is sacrificed to make one. The article furnishes examples of followers: Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Christopher Cox and a hive of lesser luminaries.

Then there's Nathan Blumenthal, who was so devoted he became Nathaniel Branden by sticking Rand into his name. Stuff happened, randy stuff. He broke up with her. She cursed him, beat him and banished him in front of the collective. Buzz! Buzz! Afterward, he worried about getting assassinated by Randites. Article caused the following deep guy discussion:

Geo.: Machiavelli cautioned that unless you totally destroy a rival you must always fear revenge. He and Ayn Rand would have got on devastatingly well. What a naughty woman! Did she do bachelor parties?

Al: I don't think she did the bachelor parties... but she did take the Social Security and Medicare.

Barney: The question that enters my...mind is what was so seductive about her. Maybe if I read her book I could find out but ...

Of course, Barney came up with the right question. What indeed was the draw there? I recall my daddy and our neighbor --then an Air Force lieutenant-- discussing "Atlas Shrugged" back in 1959. They talked grownup talk but I got the distinct impression they were troubled by it. And yes, like Barney says, "if I read her book..." , I might understand why the word, "bunk", emerges so plentifully from that old memory. Old memory. Old conversations heard by children. How do they affect us now?

Collectives, we know, are things one joins to spend half one's time wasting the other half. Individualism is advanced by those who consider their consciences subordinate to nobody. They don't have much in common except, as Al said, Social Security and Medicare. But it appears Ms. Rand is being invoked over tea service as good reason to vote against the general welfare and individual self-interest. So I don't know, I guess her seductiveness is iconic --like a religious figure. I have not yet heard of her face appearing on a grilled-cheese sandwich, but we found an excellent likeness in our eaves:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recombinant Construction

[Norma photos]

Recombinant is a word denoting an organism, cell, or genetic material formed by recombination --a geneticist's word reserved for describing living things. I use it to describe my house and detect no conflict in definition. For the past month and a half my wife and I have been repairing, rewiring, rebuilding and painting our house after calculating it was, after many decades, composed mainly of spackle and caulk. House and I share the same birth year, 1949, and some years ago it was found that I too was mainly spackle and caulk and had to be gone over. I'm all better now but it's the house's turn.



When we moved here we were a young family needing space to air out the children. We found an old farmhouse with tumbled walls and rotten roof, so we got to work and made it livable. It was a great ambition, full of light and hope. By and by it more closely resembled a dark passage lit by guttering cressets. Still, a photon is a photon. Photons are quanta of light, tiny violations of matter-energy conservation laws because they have no lower energy limit. Strong ones poop out quick. Weak ones carry information from one end of the universe to the other. They are anomalies, like thought, which must also have no lower energy limit because we thought we could finish the house in a year or two.



Thirty years later, we're still at it. We ran out of money oftener than energy. We'd stop and scavenge, happy to fossick around in other peoples' rubble to find what we needed. Or we'd whittle and embellish what we'd already done. I include photos, some examples of those whittley times, preserved under Norma's fresh paint, to mark our ancient progress like light from distant stars.



Sometimes I look at a huge beam in the barn roof, an added room on the house, or concave route of an underground pipeline and wonder, how the heck did I do that? Oh I know I was younger and full of strength and ingenuity but still, how the heck did I do that? In recombinant inquiry one thinks and feels, designs better ways to do a better job. One prospects for materials, strength and solutions. The same question applies to the mineral prospector who learns geology, engineering and technology. Does he or she have more claim upon success than the merely lucky prospector who just digs a heel into earth and finds gold? Precisely! I don't know either.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

With-It




Over this essay is a wonderful instrumental provided to YouTube by some kindly person. I suggest you listen --hopefully a little as I did when I first heard it on the radio so long ago-- as an announcement of something magical. A communications satellite was built by Bell Laboratories and launched over the planet. Its purpose was to reflect and direct telephone messages, television broadcasts and the futuristic novelty of faxes across distances previously served by submarine cables ruining in salt. Telstar was the apex of early 1960s technology, but it was only a beginning. Other end of the project is us communicating away 50 years later. The Ventures' recording was familiar to those who were "with-it", as is the digital resource of YouTube old stuff to those who are with-it now.

Certainly those of us who have always spent greater energy upon not being "without-it" find being "with-it" is a most perplexing social enigma. We learned the useful virtue of making do with a well-used minimum. Few things were thrown out. Nothing was discarded while it still served. There was even great public outcry against the idea of disposable ballpoint pens replacing lovely, ubiquitous and unpredictable Shaeffer fountain pens --same pen featured on the reverse of the two-dollar bill, upon which the founding fathers are shown signing the Ten Commandments-- and I remember it. You see, I was not always the silly man I am now; I was once a silly child. But let us digress into outer space.

Precisely 50 years ago I got my first telescope, a little 40x refractor, for my 12th birthday and it was enough to fill me with permanent awe. I had no schooling in astronomy but access to an old planisphere and a couple good books. My favorite one --which I still have, and consult-- is a 1953 paperback of George Gamow's "One Two Three...Infinity". It revised and intensified my childhood idea of outer space by presenting the universe as a coordinate system. In his second chapter, "Unusual Properties Of Space", Gamow furnished some simple mathematical devices by which the cosmos could be imagined. It wasn't long before I understood the universe employed the same geometry to imagine me.

When Edgar Mitchell returned from the moon, convinced the universe was a coordinate system possessed of intelligence, I was in my mid-twenties and glad someone else had noticed. What remained was learning what language the thing spoke --studying nature and interconnected arts. I'm not saying everybody would be awed or narrow-mindedness cured by teaching astronomy in k-12 schools, but it would get telescopes where kids could use them. Telescope sightings are nowhere near as impressive as big pictures on the Internet or in books; what they do is give the observer a sense of motion. You see things move across your field of view, feel yourself moving too. It was the motion of what I saw that got to me.

I no longer use my Shaeffer but, by typing here, tickle electrons into cyberspace. I believe this satisfies an important part of the five components of biological life, irritability, or response to stimuli. The other four are composition of basic units (cells or quanta), organization, metabolism or use of energy for growth and reproduction, finally homeostasis --a balance between maintaining stable conditions without sacrifice of adaptability. By the same criteria with which we identify life on earth, we must conclude the universe itself is alive.

Best definition I ever heard of being with-it: Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, whatever you got on, put your chin up, show a half-smile, raise one eyebrow and act like THAT'S the PLACE to BE! Forget where I heard this but assume the universe meant it to stick in mind. Should add, it's a good idea to have a lot of two-dollar bills and higher denominations in one's wallet --mainly for emphasis-- but, if these are in short supply, a slight shrug suffices to complete the effect. Try this at home in front of a mirror, in front of the universe, and you'll see I'm correct.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

OWS: An Autopoundical Dogmatic View



Today I received a dispatch from the ACLU about Senate Bill 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act bill, with which the Senate will deal Monday. It was drafted by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial. Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), says the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”

This is awful! Thing is, the military requires no modification to carry out this directive. All tools, equipment and methods for rounding up citizens in their own yards and carrying them to detention are on hand at animal control branches in every town and city. Nobody wants to die in the pound but this is the sort of legislation that makes me want to stand in my yard and bark all day --or the park or Wall Street-- and that's the kind of behavior they're after. Thinking some rich people will view the cages and take me home is just delusional. I'm simply not that adorable any more and I fart.

I will not even address the idiotic notion of a "battlefield".

Perhaps I overreact. One gets older and remembers less draconian directives. One insists upon treatment as a human. One finds it harder to express opinions without frequent use of the phrase "by cracky!". But, by cracky, we are under surveillance now by pilotless flying drones, furnished with joyless artificial intelligence, studying our little lives for sedition, insubordination and political outrage. This constitutes a metaphysical distress far beyond childhood's neatly packaged boogeymen.

Machines that promise conformity and enforce domestic obedience are surely the most saleable of modern technology. And what, do you think, will become of us poor products of natural selection under such stewardship? Where machines obtain there is invariably a scrapheap. Indeed, I overreact. Surely artificial intelligence may be trusted to recognize the harmless eccentricities of its biological precursor. There will be no scrapheap. But, by cracky, I'm still worried about the pound.

I realize this has been a departure from the sort of enigma toward which I usually turn my attention but I can't help wondering if our senators, nomographers and engineers might be swayed by discussion, by inquiry. So I use an increasingly unpopular word: humane. Is it more humane for our robot masters to round up old intractables like you and me --mainly raised in captivity-- and impound them, scrap them, or release them into the wild?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

10 Things


The insignia above was awarded me by Lady Austan. It charges me with the task of revealing 10 things about myself that never enter my blog and seldom intrude socially upon anything else. I have read her excellent treatment of the project and admire the general candor of the thing. I have to admit things, 10 things, which is hard but worth trying. Let's see:

1. Everybody has a favorite Marx quotation. I have two:

"I am not a Marxist." -- Karl Marx

"Outside of a dog a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." --Groucho Marx

2. Perhaps while watching a parade in childhood, I got the idea that if life got serious enough people would stand at attention ALL the time.

3. While governor of this state --and while president of all of them-- Reagan had a legal advisor named Meese. I always wondered if he was sensitive about it in grammar school. "Now Eddie, can you tell us the plural of 'moose'?"

4. I have always secretly and guiltily enjoyed watching a new boss come into a workplace and develop sick relationships with toadies.

5. No matter how accustomed I think I am to growing older, when someone asks my age my answer always feels like a slight exaggeration.

6. Best business advice I ever heard was: "My sole professional secret is to make profit agree with principle." I don't know who wrote it but it was delivered by the character of Paladin on "Have Gun Will Travel".

7. I have always thought jet planes sound like somebody is dragging them across the sky. When they were still pretty new, I remember being frightened of them. As a little boy I would run inside the house whenever one flew over. My older brother told me I was overreacting, that I should just stay outdoors and hide behind a tree like he did.

8. In a recent conversation with my wife the fact emerged that in our 30 years residency in this house neither of us has replaced the light bulb in our bedroom closet. It still works fine. This amazed us and we decided to talk oftener.

9. When our kids memorized their multiplication tables through 10s we gave them money.

10. My favorite cartoon strip is Mark Trail by Jack Elrod.


The second insignia means I should call upon 7 other people to write 10 things about themselves. I will simplify this task by inviting anyone who reads this post to do so. There might even be as many as 7. One never knows.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Word List #9: PAREIDOLIA

[Norma photo taken yesterday]
Pareidolia:

Thurber had poor eyesight but managed to use it to his advantage as a cartoonist. He'd imagine what things might look like beyond his limited physical ability to see them, draw them large then leave the printer to reduce them for magazine pages. This became communication, funny communication --true communication because it was accompanied by laughter-- and beautiful. For beauty we must consult Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." It is this same strangeness that makes you beautiful. But yes, it's the truth!

You know what truth is. It's what you learn as a child from your elders --like your big brother who took you to see "The Sword And The Rose" in the mid 1950s:

Me: So why'd they call 'im Eight?
Him: There were seven other kings called Henry and he was named after them.
Me: Why were THEY Henrys?
Him: They were named after each other.
Me: So who was the first Henry named after?
Him: The rest of them, I guess.

This makes perfect sense to me, even now. Truth is also what you learn from yourself in childhood, like imagining what Grampa was up to when he dressed up and drove his ancient Ford into town. I knew Grampa used to run a saloon in the Old West, and I followed westerns on the radio, the movies and our primitive TV set. I knew Grampa was off on high adventure, getting his dag nabbitted and horn swoggled, maybe drygulched or beheaded by an English king but would somehow triumph and bring me back a candy bar. And I could reinforce this truth by watching "Train To Tombstone" on TV.

In 1955 my father brought home our first TV set. It was a Zenith Portable, which meant it was about 100 pounds but had handholds on each side of its sheet-steel cabinet so two or three people could lift it. It was full of vacuum tubes and heated up half the front room when we turned it on. It got two channels, both would play the same old oater every day, "Train To Tombstone". My brother and I would watch that a lot and got to where we could blurt the actors' lines before they delivered them. Then, one strange day, something peculiar happened after we turned on the set, waited and chatted while it warmed up and got ready to recite the script. Cowboys were flying off the ground, getting shot then running away backwards! The whole movie was running backwards. I was horrified. "What is it? What is it?" I cried to my brother.

He replied in awe: "Train FROM Tombstone!"

These are examples of the human brain seeking ever-expanding regions of organization. We sublimate much of what we find. Visual part of this process is called pareidolia, psychological perception of random stimuli composing maybe a face in a cliff side, or a mountain looking like three presidents. We see, recognize, then seem to forget but recognize more readily later. The mind is constantly conducting a Rorschach test with disappearing ink.

Consider the photo over this essay. There is a tree and a roof line, but the mind insists upon morphing leaves and branches into a figure. Its arm and paintbrush are undoubtedly branches and twigs. Observe the face closely, especially the brow and nose, and you'll see the figure is really leaves and tricks of sunlight. Why it is wearing my hat is an enigma I shall address in another essay.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lost Civilizations

[Norma photo]

I figure if an essay goes three or four years without comment it is history, which as we all know, repeats itself. Today, Norma took her shovel to some artifacts of nanocivilization left in the eaves of our house by summer wasps. I will add the picture she took. I will also add a picture of Arizona, where the Clovis People were. It is a useful picture that came with this computer and I get a lot of use out of it. Sometimes it is Hamlet's castle. Sometimes it is sideways. This time it gets to be what it really is, Arizona.



Archaeologists from Oregon are examining tiny diamond fragments in Arizona and forwarding an hypothesis that these "nanodiamonds" are coincidental with the disappearance of the Clovis People 13000 years ago. They think the nanodiamonds were formed under heat and pressure of a falling asteroid. This calamity transformed the landscape, the flora, fauna and Clovis People into what scientists call smithereens.

What an enigma! Nasa scientists raise the obvious question: where is the impact crater? Until it is found, and the process fully explained, I will hold to my own theory that these tiny diamonds were brought from elsewhere --most probably mined by nanoAfricans, imported by nanotycoons, sold in microscopic jewelry shops and discarded as humans got taller. Research into lost peoples sometimes follows signs left by lost economic systems. It would be prudent, given the current financial climate, to pursue this approach.

The most popular theory of where the Clovises went has to do with the overpopulation of their territory by nanosociety, which wintered upon them and itched terribly. This drove them not only back into the sea but caused them to evolve into invisibility. They were not, however, the only invisible culture.

The Goths were, despite being uncouth and disorganized barbarians, able to invade highly civilized and well-defended Rome in the 3rd, 4th AND 5th centuries. This routine was compromised however when invading forces were drafted from the west. These were Visigoths, who were just like Goths except you could see them. They were less than triumphant and replaced by eastern or Ostrogoths, who only thought they were invisible but were really just sticking their heads in sand and were easily overcome by the Roman tactic, funestus cuneus, or "deadly wedgie".

Clearly such anomalies may be approached scientifically with some success. Invisibility is hinted at in disciplines other than archaeology and economics. Psychology admits to the Fregoli Delusion. Sufferers believe everybody is really the same person in various disguises. In its chronic stage, this is known as religion. L'esprit de L'escalier, or "stairway wit", causes one to think of a snappy comeback to a remark only when it's too late --indisputably a form of invisibility. Prosopagnosia renders one unable to recognize the faces of others. All these maladies could account for mass disappearances. But are the objects of such disorders truly vanished?

I think we must return to the economic approach, the only one that penetrates the mystery to any useful depth. If we follow the trail of devalued coinage, carbonized remnants of paper currency, IOUs chiseled in stone, we learn visibility decreases in proportion to solvency. Throughout the ages, in matters of visibility, personal and national, you get what you pay for.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wordlist #8




Response to my several installments into a projected lexicon of all human progress has been meager and encouraging --both, because I rather dislike progress; it usually turns into urban sprawl which my grampa died of. So I'd like to begin this segment with a salutation related to what Paul Tillich would call my posture toward existence: Happy Handwashing Day!

Global Handwashing Day:

GHD was created by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing in 2008 to foster and support a global culture of handwashing with soap. The main thrust of this organization is stopping the spread of virus E.coli, which comes from shit. It is celebrated on October 15th. That's today.

According to Thursday's Guardian, UK researchers said 16% of British cell phones are contaminated by E.coli. The study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, (not affiliated with the American School of Psychopathy and Sadism and the Bush Administration) also found Britons tend to lie about their personal hygiene. Dirty liars?

Perhaps, but I'm inclined dismiss emotional and unscientific summaries in favor of those drawn from careful observation. It is my conclusion that most public cell-phone E.coli contamination comes from proximity to users' brains.

Cryptomnesia:

When a forgotten memory returns without being recognized, it is sometimes believed to be new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration. Two quotations encountered in my reading today serve to illustrate:

"Anger so clouds the mind that it cannot perceive the truth." --Cato the Elder;

"Anger so clouds the mind that...what? You're kidding! Lemme see that. Oh shit, I give up." --Cato the Younger.

Shit:

This sprightly little hiss of a word sometimes, once it gets in one's thoughts (like a stubborn thought, idea or song), intrudes itself even upon scholarly discussion --leaving the author to make do with less effective expletives (as in "Oh do-do! E. coli is a bacteria, not a virus").

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fabulous Beasts 4: The Prime Fabulist


Recently, Luis Augusto Garcia Rosado, minister of tourism for the Mexican state of Campeche, said new evidence has emerged "of contact between the Mayans and extraterrestrials, supported by translations of certain codices, which the government has kept secure in underground vaults for some time."

Some time.

He also spoke of "landing pads in the jungle that are 3,000 years old." Being of somewhat sensitive nature, I became immediately alert for fabulous beasts. I do not know if these codices acknowledge any. They might. Nor do I know what Sr. Rosado meant by "some time". His government must have secured these documents at some specific date, and I am told by mathematicians that one may subtract such a date from the current calendar and get a specific span. I have used this trick to find out how old I am (you can too, amaze your friends!).

One is left with two possibilities: no one thought to date materials in these vaults; no one has made up a date yet. Of the two possibilities, the former is least certain. Underground vaults are dark and it's hard to see what one ought to be writing. The date could be illegible. If there was a lot of cataloguing, repetition may have run to carelessness, much as most people's signatures have degenerated into lines of L's or M's. My own has been described as an ampersand convulsing into a squirrel. Second possibility puts us on firmer ground. It also directs us to our fabulous beast.

It actually does live in a vault, the cranial vault --very dark in there. I have included an artist's rendering of this beast (see above) --not because of any shortage of photographs but because artists' renderings of fabulous beasts are customary and more believable than photographs. This creature sits motionless, all huddled up alone with its parts tucked in. My guess is it's some kind of frog.

One might ask what it does in its cramped and unlit cell. Oh, it sometimes casually mentions 3000-year-old landing pads to stimulate tourism, but it does much more. It dreams, performs grand magic, loves, learns, calculates, plans and remembers. It transforms itself into whole worlds, travels the stars, makes wishes come true. One might also conclude, and rightly, that it is the prime fabulist from which all fabulous beasts spring.

There are those who will dismiss the prime fabulist as nonsense, who say there is no such creature. These people are called skeptics, and I can only suggest they get their heads examined. I'm a skeptic myself and that's how I found the thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fabulous Beasts 3, The Loch Ness Monster

[Photo: Freefoto.com; Loch Ness. Run!]
On August 4, 1933, according to the "Inverness Courier", a London man, Geo. Spicer --while motoring around the Loch-- had seen "the nearest approach to a dragon... that I have ever seen in my life", trundling across the road toward the Loch carrying "an animal" in its mouth. He described the creature as having a large body, 4 feet high and 25 feet long, a narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant's trunk as long as the width of the road and with as many undulations in it. It lurched across the road towards the loch, leaving a trail of broken mucous-covered undergrowth.

The Inverness Shire Chief Constable penned a letter stating that, although a woman of that description was reported "strayed after domestic dispute" by her husband just that morning, the monster existed beyond doubt. He also enthusiastically implied serious thrill-seeking scientific parties could avail themselves of the many fine local inns and restaurants at a discount. The letter was released by the National Archives of Scotland on April 27th, 2010. That they received the letter only the day before indicates an alacrity not shared by the Inverness Shire Post Office since at least 1932.

That same month, a motorcyclist claimed to have nearly hit a monster while approaching Abriachan on the north-eastern shore, at about one a.m. on a moonlit night. He saw a small head attached to a long neck. The creature saw him and crossed the road back into the loch. A veterinary student, he described it as a typical hybrid between a seal and a plesiosaur, which glanced back at him with a look he could only describe as flirtatious. The motorcyclist said he dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples. Certainly, ripples in a lake can mean only one thing: a monster has submerged!

My own researches into this mystery took me into review of citizens on the south-western shore who approximated the Courier description and could swim really well. My efforts were rewarded with an inn listing, "Nessie's", that has not undergone ownership change since its establishment nearly 80 years ago. Its proprietress is described as a regional treasure who, although not particularly handsome, has a great personality.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fabulous Beasts 2, Barnacle Geese



According to Medieval bestiaries, the goose pictured above hatched out of barnacles. Nobody saw him do it but nobody saw one come from an egg either so that was one of two popular theories. Other theory was it hatched out of driftwood. What was on (what little there was of) everybody's Medieval mind was: since these must be fabulous beasts, are there any restrictions about dining on them?

At the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), Pope Innocent III explicitly prohibited eating Barnacle Geese during Lent, arguing that despite their unusual reproduction, they lived and fed like ducks and therefore were ducks. Herein lies the origin of the expression, "if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, must be a duck", proving the Pope might be innocent to the third power but not idiotic. He was, however, misinformed. The creature is technically a goose.

This did nothing to hinder all of catholicity from calling the goose by the French word for duck, "canard". Canard became synonymous with untruth. Because the Barnacle Goose, like all canards, could not offer a believable account of its own existence, it was rejected by church, state and rabble and all tall tales were subsequently blamed on canards, ducks who were not even ducks. Here are two of them:

Because typing is almost like work, I shall condense the two selected specimens into one. You are invited to enjoy the invention of the compound canard. When Geo. Washington was a little boy, he chopped down a cherry tree. His father caught him at the scene and thundered, "Who did this?"



Geo. replied, "Father, I cannot tell a lie. It was I." At which admission, his father had him arrested and the boy spent his life in jail. This was a blow to all of us dissatisfied with governments based upon kings and rabble taking turns beheading each other. We were hopeful Geo. would've grown up to be president, perhaps even of a democracy. The tree was really cut down by Abraham Lincoln who needed to split it into rails and build the log cabin he would later be born in.


One is tempted to speculate the cherry tree was not felled purposely by any of the fabulous creatures mentioned but accidentally by Paul Bunyan's giant blue ox, Babe. However, this would try sober credulity and suggest a country thrashing belligerently around the world without the slightest idea whom it should be thrashing at. It would also strain the myth of the Barnacle Goose and quite possibly constitute an injustice.

According to its statistics page, this blog is visited 15 times daily by a Maylaysian company offering "onlinelawdegrees". Perhaps this outfit knows if defamation of fabulous beasts is actionable. I hope they will comment and settle my uncertainty.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fabulous Beasts 1

I do not know if fabulous beasts reward inspection but have decided to try. This is intended as the first of a series of essays dealing with the monsters of myth, legend, and allegory as well as those actually hiding under my bed trying to reach me with their slender white fishy fingers. Since the latter are easily foiled by declaring one's blankets magical before nodding off, I shall deal with the former. Let's examine the Beast --or Beasts-- of Revelations and see how that goes.

In the New Testament, from Revelations 11 through 17, there was a spate of monster sightings on the island of Patmos. Saint John the Apostle was there and he took notes. His account details the most alarming creatures emerging from the earth, sea and sky, but most attention is given to the one pictured in the tapestry below:

[fig. 1: Tapestry]

The picture shows a seven-headed creature ridden by a woman. Some say the number 666 was printed on her forehead but the tapestry omits it --conflicting accounts. Possibly, some witnessed spit-curls and took them for numbers.

[fig.2:spit-curls]

But St. John was a keen observer and saw it somewhere. He made a note of it, reproduced in fig.3 on a scrap of ancient parchment. Unfortunately it is in poor shape. Sometimes one jots something important on a matchbook then runs it through the wash because one --not me, of course-- forgets to check one's pockets. It produces a distinctive damage pattern:
[fig.3:Parchment]

Some believe the number conforms to magical systems of calculations, such as Thelema, and points to things incomprehensible to the sober essayist. I agree. Others identify it with the 666th letter of the alphabet. Since I come from a time when there were only 26 letters, I shall reserve comment. Theologians, however, identify the rider as a harlot because she is drinking from a big goblet and acting all sexy. From this and other clues, they endorse St. John's opinion that she represents adulterated governments in apostasy, powers that have deserted their good principles and defy God's commandments.

There is, incidentally, another interpretation, not necessarily or intentionally in conflict with any aforementioned. The number, 666, especially if painted on cardboard and taped to the rider's back, indicates a rodeo and distinguishes this contestant from all the other harlots riding monsters. It also means, assuming there were not more entries, that about 50 of these things occupied every square mile of Patmos, which is only 13 square miles. Clearly an infestation of Biblical proportions.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Venus And Cage Crinoline

Having addressed three specific years in prior essays, 1892, 1964 and 1510, it would be apposite to expand beyond them and examine an epoch. An epoch is an interval memorable for extraordinary events --the historian's way of tying up loose ends. For this purpose I have selected the subdivision of time between one million B.C. and seven P.M.

It was during this period that humans made art. Art is an objective expression of thought and feeling and is mostly about stuff we like (or it doesn't sell). Sometime in the stone age people realized we were human and full of consequences. This had the aesthetic effect of scaring the hell out of us. So we decided to emphasize desirable consequences over undesirable ones. We invented beauty! Because I type slowly and have other things to do, this study will be limited to the evolution of Venus and the abolition of cage crinoline.

Nearly any human activity can result in art, and whittling a clod is stretching it but that is precisely what happened in the stone age. It resulted in The Venus Of Tan-Tan:


We could examine prehistoric Venuses --all of which epitomized feminine beauty in later ages-- of Berekhat Ram and Vaussel but they were still hip-and-bosom-heavy fertility figures unlikely to happen in nature or last long if they did --especially since they didn't always have heads or arms to do anything useful with. Despite the beauty they conveyed in their times, they all look like pocky rocks to us. It is at this juncture we must proceed to Venus de Milo. Unlike most of her predecessors, she had a head and, before they fell off and got lost (and let this be a lesson to everybody), arms.

This Venus was sculpted around 100 B.C. She looks like a woman. Archetypes were changing. An artistic and creative faction had ascended to the idea of reality and settled for it, but they were in a minority. Revolution ensued. Lots of people didn't want the paradigm of beauty to look anything like a real person. Opposing sides of this conflict were occupied by idiocy and truth. For a long time, idiocy won --as an examination of underwear attests. I refer to cage crinoline.

Here I will draw liberally upon an article in a back number of Stereo World magazine (from 1996) because I wrote it. Crinoline was a stiff, heavy fabric of horsehair and linen. Worn as a petticoat, it satisfied fertility configuration by exaggerating female contours beyond nature. Lighter cotton crinolines emerged in the 1800s. Gathered, bunched, bound, glued and sewn to other tackle, they equaled the original in strength and unlaunderability but didn't surpass it until 1856.

A patent was issued that year for a crinoline cage of steel hoops rigged to a waistband by tapes and wires. It not only looked like a big birdcage but posed the same problems in mobility and hygienic access. In the 1870s, after improving only from irritant to insult, crinoline departed the world of fashion. Its end was not peaceful.

The National Women's Suffrage Association formed in 1869 to challenge laws that denied women authority equal to their responsibilities. When, in 1872, Susan B. Anthony got arrested for voting, the cage crinoline became an especially effective metaphor.

This thrusts us forward to seven P.M. One hour before the traditional curtain time of musical theatre, I am standing beside a modern Venus, about to go out. She has a head and arms and normal contours, which I have appreciated for a good portion of human history and, I can attest, constitute a modern archetype. She also votes.


[picture credit: Daughter]

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1510

["La scuola di Atene" by Raphael - File:Sanzio 01.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_scuola_di_Atene.jpg#/media/File:La_scuola_di_Atene.jpg]


Over this text is a fresco. Fresco is painting in wet plaster. Not freehand, that would admit too many variables even for Raphael, who did this one between 1509 and 1511. One starts with sketches and incorporates their primary lines into a cartoon. Cartoon is a drawing on stout paper, same size as the projected fresco, which one goes at with a pounce wheel --bigger than tailors use on patterns but same principle-- then the image is transferred to the wall by puffing charcoal through the holes. After that, one tries to get the painting done before the wall dries. Tricky work.

Around 1510, Raphael produced this fresco entitled "School Of Athens". It was intended to decorate the Stanza della Segnatura, or Popehouse, for Julius II and Leo X, whose careers coincided so closely it's pardonable to assume they were roomies. The fresco is in a chamber dedicated to human intellect. That means there were intellectual things in there. Leo kept a pet named Hanno. I don't know if Hanno was an indoor elephant or an outdoor one --or if it was housetrained (lack of housetraining is why I became a gardener), but suspect it was the reason Julius moved out.

The fresco was Raphael's idea of what a college should look like: philosophers of all ages lounging around on the steps of fantastic architecture, learning and teaching, fiddling with stuff like kittens do. He's got everybody on those stairs from Socrates to Sartre --even Zoroaster and himself! When I first saw a slide of this thing in college, I looked down at my hard desk, my unlaundered jeans, sensible shoes and despaired. How much easier it would be each morning to simply roll out of bed in one's sheet and wear that all day.

Togas were a pre-Christian-missionary invention. You didn't have to make outfits to clothe the naked. You just tore off a bit of your sheet and let them spin into it if they wanted. I remember college and know many of the naked didn't want to be clothed. Students used to make friends among the naked and would not dream of insulting them with a whole industry designed to cover them up. But the composition has other points of interest. It includes Epicurius, Pythagorus, Xenophon, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato and Euclid. The central, reclining figure is Diogenes --but in the cartoon, which now reclines among the treasures of Milan, Diogenes is a talking duck in a sailor suit.

Point is, these boys all had two things in common. They all devoted their lives to a calm inquiry into existence. They valued existence especially because they believed in a universe that is geometrically closed. That means it only has a certain amount of energy in it, subject to laws of conservation. Because the universe is a closed system --that is, there's nothing until it gets there-- all energy can be traced back to its beginning. The energy I use to write this, and the energy you use to read it, connects us to the beginning and ends of time. In college we sometimes got off the stairs to protest war, which we considered poor use of the universe's finite energy.

Other thing the philosophers had in common was room in the imagination of Raphael, who was a good use of the universe's energy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

1964


In keeping with a somewhat irritating recent preoccupation with dates, I am going to examine 1964. Hadn't intended to, but I was in the pumphouse  and found an old uniform patch in a disused humidor --as one does. I picked it up, ran my thumb over its stiff threads and thought of old chums --Tom, Jack, the boys we used to be. The embroidered patch measures about one and a half inches by two and depicts our first president, Geo. Washington, on bended knee proposing to a lily.

The lily is a fleur-de-lis, a heraldic flower that does not occur in nature. It represents royalty, in which case it's unlikely Gen. Geo. was proposing marriage. It also represents north, which makes Washington's pose even more improbable. However, the patch was one I wore on my Boy Scout uniform that year and fleur-de-lis was on everything scouty. Also, north is a favorite direction of mine so I gave it benefit of the doubt.

Doubt.

I just made a long arm and fetched my Handbook For Boys --39th printing-- and found this: "You probably know there is a huge chunk of iron in the earth, up north, that attracts the magnetized needle of your compass -- that this iron deposit is known as the magnetic north pole." --page 162. I have never had reason to challenge this idea. Even now, the symbol attracts my memory like a big magnetic brain-chunk.

I am in my 60s now and highly suspicious of brain-chunks. I do not like to think my hairline is receding so much as my mind is expanding, but one cannot rule out brain-chunks. I was only 14 for most of that year and thought no more of them than I did of dingleberries on livestock.

In the summer of 1964, last half of July, I was one of 50,000 Boy Scouts camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. You probably know about Geo. Washington's awful winter there in 1777. It was all snow and blizzards and the Continental Army ruining in ice. If you were in a high school marching band in the 1960s, you probably know that's where your uniform got donated from. Here is a slight exaggeration of what Valley Forge looks like in summer:

It was hot. It was very hot and my chums, Tom and Jack, and I tried to do all the things Boy Scouts are supposed to do. We were, after all, young Americans with vigorous bodies, hearts of lions and the digestion of goats. We hiked and tied knots, worked on merit badges, cooked and puked. But usually we'd give in to the heat, find a little shade, share cigarettes and discuss the future. We liked discussing the future --there was so much of it back then-- and as our stay proceeded we got excited about it. President Johnson was going to visit the Jamboree on its final evening and give a lecture about the future.

That evening arrived, unfortunately not without incident. One scout, in a dash to catch up with his troop, was hit by a bus. Word spread and we all reflected negatively upon our illusion of immortality. Jack led Tom and me in a prayer over our little supper. Jack was very religious, even though he laughed when I once asked him why the Pope dressed like a hand-puppet and considered the symbolism instructive. He responded by asking why we dressed like circus chimps. There were no answers.

Doubts.

Doubts were forming even as we made our way to three hills that served as rough seating for 50,000 boys. Three slopes converged upon a dingle and we arranged ourselves like berries around it. There was a little stage and microphone down there. Lyndon Johnson arrived! We clapped and clapped.

The president began by assuring us we were "the hope of Amurricah", then outlined what we might expect of our country. He said: in the next 50 years tremendous progress would be made in medicine, the puzzling out of biological mysteries; space exploration would take us closer to the stars and advance earthly technology, especially in communication. From this remove of a half-century, I must admit he was correct. We clapped and clapped. But still, there was doubt. Jack and I looked over at Tom. He was not clapping.

"Come Tom," I said."Clap for Lyndon!"

He clenched his teeth and said, "Do you have any idea what that s.o.b. is going to demand we do in four years?"

Having learned sufficient wilderness survival skills to decide against a career in homelessness, I left the Boy Scouts shortly thereafter. Jack also quit to pursue an interest in sociology, then psychology and finally theology. Tom stayed in Scouts longest, well into high school and his teeth remained permanently clenched. Years later, I asked him why.

"Brown shirts," He said through teeth. "I like the brown shirtssss."

Tom became a neo-Nazi. Jack became a Catholic priest. As usual, I became a gardener.



Thursday, July 28, 2011

1892



In these complicated times one must occasionally return to 1892 to get one's bearings. Grampa was 20 years old, clerking in a general store, days, and bar tending at night in the wild west. Life was simple and horrifying, like now. People got happy, mad, drunk, rich, poor and enlightened, like now, and some demonstrated the fundamentals of pacifism to subsequent generations. I return to 1892 for two good reasons --an inherited custom. One is, that is the date stamped (after the name Remington) on the breechblock of Grampa's shotgun --which was kept unloaded under the bar. Its stock was broken and mended with a brass cuff. It was unloaded because Grampa swung it by the barrels and didn't want it going off while he was defending himself. I consider it an artifact of enlightened pacifism. The other reason I return to that year is it was the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's famous voyage and there was a World's Fair about it.

That year, Grampa was not in attendance. As might be expected of a man who originated a family tradition of having two good reasons for things, Grampa had two good reasons. The World's Columbian Exhibition of 1892 was in Chicago, 2000 miles away. Secondly, it wasn't open until 1893. Why a year late? Because people were calmer back then and not so nervous about details. So let's forget about 1892 and proceed to 1893. There was a Ferris Wheel! You can see it in the picture above.

The Ferris Wheel (from which the word "Wheee!" is derived) was designed by Geo. Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for two good reasons. He wanted to devise a technological marvel that people could climb into --people who craved technology in a vigorous age. These were people who had seen Thomas Edison light their cities safely with electricity. Before that, Alfred Nobel had tried unsuccessfully to light them with his own invention, dynamite, and created many pacifists in the attempt, hence the Nobel Peace Prize. People found the glare of dynamite unnerving, especially in libraries, but strangely, not in some bars. Second reason: Ferris was upset about the Statue Of Liberty.

Not about the whole statue, just the inside --the framework, the iron armature that holds up Liberty's soft copper shell. Administrators overseeing the transformation of Bedloe's Island said Ferris's design would damage Liberty and endanger tourists as it spun her over and over from her waist. The contract was awarded to Gustave Eiffel instead. I'm not sure what effect all this had on Grampa, but he seems to have followed technology out of the bar. By the late 1920's he'd started a service station. Here he is, at left, standing at the gas pump with his son, Daddy, who became my father.



This brings us into the 20th century, in which I started a family and found young folks far more technology-savvy than I, even though I'd been to more world fairs and always had two good reasons for doing so (unfortunately, this is now the 21st century and I no longer remember the reasons). My main contribution to tradition was to stop naming people things like Grampa and Daddy and I hope my offspring appreciate it. I have four children: 40, 39, 31,and 27. By uncanny coincidence, those are also their ages.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Enigmatic Bullet Train

[photo: Practical Electrics, Hugo Gernsback, publisher]


Went through old stuff and found this back-number of Practical Electrics prefiguring the magnetic bullet train proposed years ago for California. The high-speed railroad is to connect San Diego with San Francisco. An ambitious undertaking and referendum for which I remember voting in 2008. Project got passed but is, given the current financial climate, surely on hold now. Maybe we could make the whole unit cheaper by modeling it after the one in old Hugo's magazine. Imagine an open-air rolleycoaster half the length of the state --a coastal coaster, from which we could wave our hats and scream.

At the time I thought it would cure road rage, the anxiety, the madness.

Recently, researchers in psychology discovered anxiety is linked to pining, which is composed of equal parts wanting and liking. Interesting as it is to learn wanting and liking are linked to separate neurotransmitters, I still wonder why anxiety is considered a neurotic response to modern life. We've seen the operation of homeowners' associations, churches, workplaces, local and federal governments fall into the hands of predators and two-bit tyrants. Everybody else is either hanging on for dear life or joining street gangs. No wonder our nerves are shot. Nobody sane is sane anymore.

When anxiety becomes our social norm we respond as cornered beasts, clawing and biting our ways to some imagined safety. Nowhere is this more keenly felt or easily observed than on roads. Freeways and surface streets become stages for a special sort of aggression. We find our homes, businesses, obligations and recreational interests connected by a gridwork of war. It involves mindless competition, tension, anger, intimidation and assault conducted with cars, which police rightly classify as deadly weapons.

Police called in consultants, urban planners, traffic engineers, psychologists and psychics, to analyze the problem. Their conclusion was unanimous: bad vibes. As always, "bad vibes", as an analysis, failed to penetrate the problem to any useful depth. Police resorted to a study of literature.

Around 1840, poet Wm. Channing wrote to Thoreau: "I see nothing for you on this earth but that field which I once christened Briars; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see no alternative, no other hope for you." Afterwards, Thoreau planned and conducted his effort to "front only the essential facts of life" , to go into the woods and live deliberately.

California law enforcement used to be unclear on what Channing meant by "devouring" one's self, but now see it as having to traverse combat zones that separate all locations --peaceful enterprises divided by rolling artillery. Clearly, one can digest and eliminate those qualities that interfere with happiness, self-worth and a useful place in nature, but the process hasn't progressed beyond individual adjustment. This is not to say mechanized society is not devouring itself at large, but what will remain after it feeds would probably not write "Walden".

Things seemed at an impasse.

But fate and chance intervened. The word, surrealist, was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire and first appeared in the preface to his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias. In 1917 M. Apollinaire was walking home from the premiere performance when he fell through a hole in his shoe into the 21st century. The opportunity was seized and police retained him as the first consulting surrealist in traffic management.

His recommendations were simple: "These cars, with their headlights squinting like wicked little eyes, their grimacing grills, make them angrier! But yes, the huge SUV with its predatory teeth and sedans crouched to dive into underground dens --make them look more than evil. Make them fanged, squat and mad enough to curl up and devour themselves. No car can change the world by looking merely upset!"

Recently, our governor released news of M. Apollinaire's return to 1917. We were told the poet had climbed back into his shoe after a series of brilliant recommendations. Cars will get increasingly cannibalistic and psychotic-looking until they are consumed and even the most adrenaline-addicted drivers give up in disgust to help lay track along the California coast.

Personally, I'm still hoping for a rolleycoaster.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rhondism In World History



There are several theories regarding the origin of Rhondism, all mainly philological, and, until recent archaeological progress, all were given equal consideration. They were based upon the nasal alveolar N following a fricative R. Let's consider the two most popular phonological sources.

The first, Crayonism, refers to an artistic school whose members worked exclusively in that medium. It was a controversial movement because of its age requirement, which children considered unfairly discriminatory. At the time, to the horror of those of us old enough to remember, crayons still had bones. Crayons left too long in the sun lost their cylindrical shape, leaving finger-like skeletons in melted wax. This frightened us. It was not until manufacturers found means of raising boneless crayons that children ceased having nightmares about them.

The second theory focuses on one of many prominent forces in the French Revolution, the Girondins. Although a less tightly organized political faction than the Jacobins, Montagnards and Communards, the Girondins attracted much attention worldwide. They were a loosely affiliated group of French nouns who desperately wanted to become verbs. Political commentators everywhere were sympathetic. Thomas Paine is credited with solving the problem in America. He found he could, by adding "-ing" to any person, place or thing, create a verb --thus inventing the (Anglicized) gerund.

It was not until the science of Metaphysical Anthropology reached its current stage of sophistication that a proper history was restored to Rhondism. Archaeologists combing the sand of southern California beaches found an enigmatic disk which, if spun under a stylus at 45 rpm, produced an ancient hymn to the combined forces of Egyptian folk-goddesses Sekhmet, Bes and Thoueris, but mainly addressed the deity in charge of the Nile River's yearly inundation, Hap or Hep.

Hep was usually depicted as a bearded lady attended by a retinue of goddess frogs, all of whom were named Rhonda. In addition to maintaining the river, this subpanopoly defended humans against infestation by annoying spirits and memories that behave badly --which explains the hymn's deviation from the 6/8 meter tempo of the traditional barcarole. The supplicant flatters ("...you look so fine..."), confesses ("...been out doin' in mah head..."), then asks a divine favor: "Hep me Rhonda, Hep Hep me Rhonda..."

The rest is history.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cosmos

[Son David photo, St. Malo, Fr.]


Cosmos, briefly, is that part of the universe we understand. It is growing.

One end of the universe is an irreducible spark. Other end doesn't. It is a shape, pattern and process echoed in nature, in lives. It's hard to imagine every particle, every physical event both big and small, as central to every eventual particle. Harder not to, once we have. Universe seeks ever-expanding regions of organization, so does thought.

How big is this thought? Not very. It fits in a spider.

It fits into mystics and physicists less easily; they ask questions. The universe is made of time and space. If the future doesn't exist until the universe gets there, but unfolds from singularity, then time contains all reality in an ever-inflating bipolar field. Everything happens in it.

That too fits in a spider.

If time involves Now as an effect and enlargement of Then, then Then is a diminution of Now. But, on the other hand, if light modulated by the event of my birth is now 61 light years out in space, in all directions, I exist Now as a tiny possibility of my nascent self while he's humongous. Think of the diapers! We need an experiment that is safe to try at home.

Spiders live in the middles of webs.

Humans wander the earth. Colette thought this: "The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time." So let's compose an experiment. It is a sunny morning. You decide to hike west into your shadow. I predict you will reach its head at noon. It doesn't matter what time you started off. Nor does it matter if you sit down, drink French wine and read La Vagabonde (1910), you'll still reach your shadow's head by noon. How do I know this? I am a prophet, give me all your valuables.

Spiders ignore me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Helsingør And Word List #8

Castle:
It's been brought to my attention that the photo used in the previous post is not of Hamlet's castle in Elsinore (Helsingør) but a crumbling butte in Arizona. I can only say my choices were limited in the matter. This computer came with a few sample pictures in its files, maybe five, of stock subjects like a koala and an Arizona desert scene. Rather than go a quarter way around the world for a snapshot of Kronborg Castle --where the story played out for real-- I thought I could use what was on hand. After consulting a globe to see how a castle in Denmark would look from California I corrected the image thusly:



Questions:

1. If the middles of all things were lined up end to end, how long would they be?

2. If time is less fathomable than space, how come we get predictably older as we go futureward but, as we move farther away, stay the same size?

3. Has Mercator Projection ever been tested on humans?

4. If one is subjectively the center of one's universe, what is the polite response to someone else who needs to use it?

5. Are dog noses an untapped source of rubber?

6. Are great hardships more edifying than little soft ones?

7. When two adults hold hands with a child between them, why does it always lift both legs?

Prince Hamlet:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alas, Poor Yorick

[Photo: Hamlet's Castle and lush grounds, Denmark]

Couple years ago a dear friend and great voice-over artist was cast as Yorick in an online Hamlet production. Among my Shakespeare folios is one that has a few lines for poor Yorick, which I copied out in anticipation of his performance. Parenthetical notes are the bard's:

{Hamlet squeaketh in strange voice and moveth Yorick's mandible}
Yorick:

Yea, 'tis I, a head of bone in earth whose
Flame, mirth, endeth not in conflagration,
Headstone or service, save imagination,
Must return unmarked: Yorick passed. Yorick,
Whose last caper calleth only, "Alas".

{Here Hamlet drinketh a glass of water whilst he ventriloquizeth}

Alas, Hamlet, thou didst know me indeed--
I, an orb of holes and hinges that clack and
Flute in eternal eddies was in sooth
The fool who had the king's ear, and thine,
None of mine, (uh) won't you be my Valentine?

{Hamlet delivereth closing couplet whilst he grinneth and lighteth a cigarette -- thus getteth big hand!}

We now know the entire play was based upon legal loopholes to the custom of tontine inheritance during highly competitive activities of the Hanseatic herring trade. The folio in my possession includes commentary on this subject that was meant to be included in the play. Hamlet was supposed to stick Yorick's skull over a chicken and let it run around the castle uttering incriminating one-liners about his uncle. However, ventriloquism was nowhere near sophisticated enough to make this feasible. Another example of how far Shakespeare was ahead of his time.

The theme was picked up some time later by Rimsky-Korsakov in Золотой Петушок, an opera in three acts based on Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, commonly performed in French under the title Le Coq d'Or, in which the evil king is killed by a chicken.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Word List #6: Greater And Lesser Enigmas



I should mention the photo, taken probably by me or Dan, reflects this entry's title. The lesser enigma is why the gate is only half painted. Greater enigma is what possessed Norma --red shirt at left-- and Wendy --at right with purse-- to befriend me in the '60s and remain nearly 45 years --and hopefully counting. They have have heard my questions down the years and I appreciate it, so at the end of this post I shall include a sentimental poem. This word list will contain puzzles in the form of questions --tests even-- which Willie might appreciate as a half-century compilation toward my own personal pop-quiz. These will be numbered. But let's begin with 2 enigmas from his and my recent personal correspondence:

DUST BUNNIES:
Scientists believe that the planets grew from material pulled together by electrostatic charges - the same force that's behind the "dust bunnies" under your bed. I hadn't wondered about the cohesive force behind dust bunnies since I was little and am amazed and delighted to see it explained in a single sentence. I mean, to suddenly see an answer to a long-forgotten question is like the universe is keeping some sort of promise. And, in context of the principle, we are living on a grown-up dust bunny! As we sleep, new worlds form under our dreams.

PSYCHOPATHS AND SOCIOPATHS:
A brief consultation of The Yellow Pages shows sociopaths and psychopaths to be poorly advertised compared to homeopaths and osteopaths. My insurance brochure doesn't list them at all. I suppose if I come down with anything requiring a sociopath or psychopath I could ask my family doctor to recommend a good one. Otherwise I don't know how they get any business.

THE QUIZ:

1. In life, a test creates its own course of study. Is the reverse true only in classrooms?

2. Bubbles have centers. Do suds?

3. What effect do our adult lives have upon our childhoods?

4. Why can't I use my measuring tape to measure the distance between any given point and where I lost it?

5. A sundial measures the roll and orbit of Earth. Mechanical clock measures its own face. Which is more accurate? Why do both work best at night?

6. Is the future where an event is broadcasting itself or where it will broadcast itself?

7. If every particle of matter comes from everywhere equally and goes everywhere at once, how long can I believe I'm not everybody else?

8. Are we the thing that looks out at the universe or the thing into which the universe looks or all three?

9. If each step takes you no closer to the edge of everything, where is its middle?

10. If we had not named Nothingness and defined it, would it exist?

11. Could God build a better eternity if He had the time?

12. Can too much self-denial make us envious of people who never heard of us?

13. How well each cell knows its neighbors is evidenced by how well you are. Does this acquaintance stop at your body?

14. Has reward meaning beyond events that include it?

15. Why does the wake behind a duck on a calm pond resemble a big feather?


There are hundreds, if not thousands, more of these collected questions found in a shelf Norma made me sort out, and I shall post them by and by. But now the poem:

Laughter ripples
At my hat-brim.
A half-painted gate
Attracts angels.
They sing.
Infinity is sudden.
What surpise
They bring!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Universal Holography And The Gates Of Ishtar

[Norma Photo]



My own posture toward existence is mystic-panpsychic, spiritually an excusable hyphenate of my time. Whether we were evolved or created to participate in the intelligence of the universe is a subjective matter. Sometimes I feel like I was created for the Job Of Mankind but most mornings I feel thrown together at random. This ambivalence, like hay fever and occasional flatulence, sometimes sets me back socially but, in the subject under discussion, affords me special objectivity and neutrality.

The subject is how huge, spooky and full of tremendous operations this universe is. Why, it hardly seems manageable! Sometimes the best we can do is tease a code out of it and try to solve that. The universe rewards calm, methodical inquiry from small observers, us, instructs us. We think: Yes, I can do this; the world is not so baffling after all! Silly, of course, but without it we get a great wall-less sack of dreams and who knows where to grab hold of that? As examples of this process, let's examine two scholars.

I'm glad to see Harold Camping is finally involved in tempering young Armageddonists. I've tuned in to his open forum show, off and on, for well over 20 years and always learned something interesting about the Bible. But mainly I've admired his unfailing courtesy to every caller on his show, even those who are antagonistic or insulting --and he always cautions people away from religious extremism, especially in politics. I was recently, however, surprised to learn Camping is only 89 years old. His impressive scholarship and knowledge of the Bible led me to assume he'd written it.

I must also add that Harold Camping is something of a regional treasure here. His study of the Bible is confined to what is in the Bible and he considers it his obligation to alert people to the temporal coordinates of Judgement Day. He has long been California's beloved "get-ready!" man. I remember back in the mid-'90s, he said Jesus would return. When Jesus excused Himself from that engagement, Harold Camping pretty much just said "oops" and returned to his calculations. Camping is a no-drama sort of guy. I don't know where all the billboards and press-packages came from this time, but I suspect his company has picked up some younger members full of energy and strange enthusiasms.

I have also followed Richard Dawkins --British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008-- who is absolutely frantic with brains.

In September I watched a speech he made in the street. The Pope was coming! Dawkins, an Atheist, extemporized beautifully --delivered an address full of good sense and sound British scholarship-- and I was all attention! Police were in evidence but the crowd was extremely well-behaved, which is why I am glad I wasn't among them. Dawkins was fine until he said "ignominious expedient" without fumblemouthing. I can't and might have thrown something out of envy. Then, in an interview with the Washington Post this week, Dawkins was asked about Camping's latest prediction of the Rapture and used an unfortunate epithet, "loon". Those familiar with Camping know he would never use such an impolite term in return, so Dawkin's talk about him being a raving loon indicates an understandable unfamiliarity.

And maybe the Post interviewer sandbagged him into the word. I find it strange and interesting that Dawkins should be at odds with Camping. They are men of comparable scholarship and dedication to seeking order in the universe --according to the information before them. Dawkins, as an Atheist, and Camping, a Theist, have made equal leaps of faith and, as regards their separate researches, arguments of equal depth. But, before proceeding, let's examine Ishtar.

Ishtar was the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. She was the counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate north-west Semitic goddess Astarte. It requires no great linguistic convolution to associate her with Asherah who, according to the Book Of Kings, was once worshipped along side of Yahweh in Israel. According to ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed in ancient Canaanite coastal city Ugarit (now Syria) Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess. Asherah's connection to Yahweh is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert. She was Nature and considered His wife: Mrs. God.

That Asherah was mainly edited out of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is understandable given the political climate of the past 3000 years. Nomography, the drafting of laws, grew into an art form --so did punishments. The world forgot the simple and forceful yard-duty of Mrs. God: Sit on the bench until you learn to behave! Things became complicated. That is why I have discussed two contemporary views of the universe with a very old one. People are not generally disposed toward goddesses. Dawkins is opposed to Camping. Camping proceeds where his calulations call. That is what you may expect of a world that grew up without a mama.

This brings us to the holographic universe. What is that? It means the whole is accessable from any given point in space and time. Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin --Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, b.1873 d.1897-- who was a very smart kid, reliably intuited the following: "Each small part of everyday life is part of the total harmony of the universe." It means we are in this together; that we cover the same phenomenon from different times and angles; that there's no other way to view a holographic universe; that we are united in continuum.

True, even in this eternal and infinitely divisible moment, that is the universe, there are those who cannot appreciate, who even feel threatened by, opposing views. They cannot accept biological invitation to participate in the collective intellect of all histories, futures, worlds. Maybe they grew up wrong, endured childhoods inappropriate for adult recital, couldn't expel blockages to open hearts and minds. In this, together. Collective. Neighborhood sports coaches say there is no "I" in "team". There's a rather important one in recital. Lest we become
counterproductively retentive, I suggest we explore that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Clouds Fly Now

[Norma photo]


A popularly accepted sign that an older person is about to garrulate are the words, "Young people nowadays..." It is a pattern, just as children tend to move their thoughts beyond available data, just as I often say things I haven't thought of yet. We progress in life through free playground association, underwear arguments with school roommates, brittle tête-à-têtes with colleagues, to finally leaning close and asking, "what was that?" But there is no really reliable forecast of impending garrulity. That is a myth.

Young people nowadays have it way harder than my generation. Why is that? I remember, 40-50 years ago, we had a huge number of young people who desired, above all, happiness --happiness for everybody. Then it attenuated to happiness for themselves because not everybody could be happy about everything. Then they grew up into very loud churches and subcultures that desired their own happiness over the unhappiness of others and paradise was lost. Sorry stuff, but kids now fear for their lives.

Young people nowadays aren't safe. They'd like to be. They'd like to achieve the same sustainable, egalitarian society all generations want. But we are stuck on Heraclitus who observed, "All beasts are driven to the pasture with blows." This does not improve the disposition of new Utopians. Young people are not beasts, they are human. We are human. What humans possess is a capacity for nonsense, for imagination, qualities that can thwart designs of corporate voices in the head and brutalities of misrule. Imaginative nonsense can lead us places for which defensive logic is sometimes too ponderously awkward.

Young people nowadays, to them I suggest, consider the clouds. Consider the herds of them making their way inland from the sea. They are heading toward distant mountains, on which to resolve into streams, join rivers, enrich the land and return to the sea once more. An ongoing cycle, but it too has changed since I was young. Clouds fly now. Time was, clouds had to walk inland. I'd see them plodding along lonely roads with gravel and weeds sticking to their foggy feet. They moved slowly, wearily, often minus parts of anatomy that snagged on fences or got sheared by a passing truck. They had dangerous work.

In the evening you could always tell when a cloud was knocking on the door. There wasn't a knock so much as a chuff-chuff, which was all their soft fists could manage. They'd ask for a glass of water. Sometimes they'd want directions to a nice pasture to lie down in, which was sad because they never got up --but it was how we got vernal pools so we accepted it. Then, by and by, something changed.

Somewhere, maybe out on the ocean, a cloud leaned forward and fell in a certain way and, as you and I sometimes do in dreams, began to fly. Clouds, like young people nowadays, are natural rubberneckers and once they get the principle of a thing they do it too. Before long, all clouds got to flying, like the ones in the picture above, and they arrived whole and safe upon the ranges of the earth. Young people nowadays, go thou and do likewise.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Word List #5

[For this installment of Word List, I selected as illustration a map painted by son David, depicting the character of his town, San Francisco.]



PRETTY:
This week, a friend in Sonoma wrote to inform me the Forbes Company had named his town one of the ten prettiest in the nation. As a parent, I disagree in principle with Forbes naming his town prettiest. It can only create resentment in other towns and cause them to grow up wrong. Nor does it help to divert admiration from Sonoma and say,"Oh, and here comes our dear little Bakersfield --she's at that oily, awkward stage, but such a nice personality." Also, showing off Sonoma while Cotati suffers a weight problem and her brother, Auburn, peevishly collects guns in the hills will just make her smug and give up on academics.

MYSTIC:
Unlike the example set by Sonoma's uncommunicative cousin, Richmond, not all mystics smell funny. That is a myth promulgated by his bookish, picayunish brothers, Berkeley and Davis, neither of whom gets out much. In truth, mystics seek the extraordinary experience of all-inclusive reality and bathe often as anybody else.

MYSTICISM:
As a belief or practice, mysticism forms around an enraptured, ineffable state --an ecstatic identification of the self in relation to all things, all events. This sense of totality is expressed by such phrases as,"All is one" and "One is all." You may recognize this as the motto of Alexandre Dumas's THE THREE MUSKETEERS --"tous pour un, un pour tous!"-- a novel demonstrating the need for mystics to be really good swordfighters.

DOES:
Of course, pretty is as pretty does, which is generally pleasant and I have exaggerated its schismatic potential. But what more effectively causes regional schism is political misbehavior seeking divisions along sectarian lines --a problem that cannot be exaggerated. Where that happens I, like Richmond, go mystic: There is only one religion and it is all of them. Then I hightail it before answering Jeremiads start their signatory rumbles. And maybe I smell a little funny too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Unaided Human Flight Or ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

The title of this essay is also its illustration. It is a rainy day --not the title, the title is the upper-case alphabet. I mean I am in a rainy day-- and what happens on rainy days is I can't go outside and fix something on the world. I used to, no matter what the weather, go out in storms and do vigorous things. I had measureless confidence, immunity to discomfort and the figure of a discobolus. Now rain inspires me to hole up with fluency, ease and artistic fervor. Such is the changing intellectual climate of age and the lure of comfort. With age also comes reflection, sometimes in so many directions it makes no sense, so I will limit this discussion to two distinct streams of thought.

Not an easy prospect. It is late March, usually a time for sitting in the sun thinking of nothing while woolly-ants trumpet and gallimaufry blooms. I believe I have just described idiocy, but that is my approach to clear-minded meditation. However, it's raining and I am in here, doing this. What is this? A response to friends' oft-repeated scolding that I ought to seek wider readership. I figure people read what they want and don't what they don't, but maybe if I offered something sensational they would gain in number. Unaided human flight sounds good. I just added it to the title. Let's try that.

First, let's talk about architecture. Too much coverage is given these days to international belligerence, elitist power-grabs, scandals, social upheavals and too little to architecture and the upper-case alphabet. One can be full of good intentions and mechanical know-how and still accomplish nothing because of architectural ignorance. Consider the Golden Gate.

There is a strait in California defined by headlands of the San Francisco and Marin peninsulas. When it was discovered, in 1769, by Jose Ortega, he wisely turned his party back until a bridge could be built. They circled nearly 170 years, which seems a lot until we consider what went into the project. Schools of mechanical know-how had to be built and operated until they produced architects. Meanwhile, Sgt. Ortega hiked all over the state founding things named Ortega. My Stunt Double grew up on Ortega Street, which I mention only to show we were born much younger than people are now and weren't so nervous about details.

Point is, mechanical distribution of gravitational force through the science of architecture saves many lives. Motorists who tried to drive across the Golden Gate before there was a bridge pretty much lost everything. Those who survived blamed their calamity on fog or misinformation, but make no mistake, gravity got them. Then came architecture, a beautiful orange bridge, and millions of lives get saved every week. Similarly, literature has been saved by the invention and arrangement of the alphabet.

The basic mechanics were there, and the know-how, but literature escaped us for eons. Chief reason humankind was so late to it is each letter had to be forged individually by blacksmiths. They were heavy, cumbersome and a lot of them couldn't stand up by themselves, nor could the letters they forged. But there are certain details that cannot be detected at ground level. You need an overview of the whole alphabet to see why it begins and ends as it does.

From this vantage, you can see that A and Z are the best choice for containing the thing. Neither letter will tip easily, even when Y topples or C heaves back. Midway, you'll notice sturdy-looking M, N, R, and a businesslike boot under Q to keep P upright, especially after O rolls into it. T, U and V are so inherently unstable it takes both W and X to keep them off Y, which, as we've seen, has its own problems. From a bit higher up, we can see F will never stand on its own and I will fall off anything, given the opportunity.

If you leave off admiring the sound architectural principles of the alphabet --which held it still long enough to serve literature-- you'll notice you are flying. Don't be alarmed, but as I write, the rain has run to thunder and lightning and it's best we land now and go indoors. Age seeks its own comforts, and I think it's time for a good cackle in the chimney corner.