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Thursday, July 28, 2011


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 (" 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


[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.