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Monday, May 26, 2014

Causality And Sorcerers

"Why, where be oi and what be oi a-doin'?" --Gilbert&Sullivan

A young man is obsessed with idea of love transcending all  social barriers, creating equality. He contracts a sorcerer to brew a love potion.  The whole village falls into enchanted sleep, then each falls in love with the first person seen upon waking. This results in a crowd of mismatched couples. In the end, the sorcerer must sacrifice his life to break the spell and let it sink with him into the flaming red heart of  the world, where it presumably endures in diluted form. It is, of course, a Gospel metaphor. That is, W.S Gilbert wrote it [as a short story, An Elixir of Love] for the Christmas number of The Graphic magazine in 1876. When he teamed up with Sullivan, it became The Sorcerer:
     [from film, "Topsy Turvy"]

This brings us to the enigma of causality. What causes events to combine in such a way that new events are created, and from those collisions other events to radiate through time and space? We meet, make friends, fall in love, make homes together and, in turn, cause exponentially more mischief. What forces cause in combination the meanings and meetings of our lives? Here we see the the universe reacting to itself in an early photo taken by Norma and turned sideways --for special dramatic effect-- by me:
It shows the cosmic plenum cascading from a nozzle in nothing at the beginning of time. The bright shiny matter parts from dark matter and expands into protogalaxies, stars, planets, us.


Couple days ago --by which I mean our PLANET spun twice in relation to a STAR only seven LIGHT-MINUTES away!!!!!-- Norma and I were visiting friends before they left for Spain --by boarding a jet and SPEEDING through THE SKY!!!!-- discussing the events that brought us together over 40 years ago. Wendy said if she'd not met Norma in the mid-1960s, she would not have met me, nor would Norma have met me years later and married me, nor would Dan have even later met Wendy and married her. They wondered how things might have gone had causality been diverted. Someone said, "We'd be sitting around this table eating your pretzels without the slightest idea who each other was."

And deep within me, from the firey heart of earth, I heard a chorus: "Why, where be oi and what be oi a-doin'?"

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Things You Don't Need To Know You Know

I didn't know I'd ever need this photo. Norma took it in the dark when she was watering  plants. She liked how water looked flying out the hose so she fetched her camera and took a picture, got all wet too. I thought it might fit an essay about enigmas because it has a nebulous aspect to it, but at the time I had no idea how it would illustrate anything I knew about. So that's one.

#2.  When I turn this computer on, it opens to a typical news site,  typical in that it's full of sensational headlines that read like titles of bad dreams. It also usually has a couple pieces headed 10 Things You Need To Know!... about this and that, which contain useful information my brain retains for whole nanoseconds --after which I continue to demonstrate prodigious and astonishing ignorance. For example:

#3.  You share 55% of genetic information with a banana. You and a potato have about the same number chromosomes. But what happens at family picnics? You EAT them! I don't know about you but I don't need to know that I know that. If you're an omnivore, like me, you may also not want to know you share 90% of your genotype with beef. Happily, in addition to my reliable amnesia regarding this culinary outrage, advertisers of beef know I am half banana and will believe anything.

#4.  If you are a morning person, there are many 10-reason articles telling why you are healthier and saner than I am. Because of work [from Proto-Germanic wurkijan and Old English wircan, meaning exhaustion] I got up before dawn for forty-five years and never got used to it. So I retired and now cannot endure morning sun until late afternoon. Do you need to know that? Certainly not before noon which, in times more enlightened than our own, came much later in the day.

#5.  I can't think of another one--maybe 10 reasons we should be glad poop is heavier than air and we aren't blundering into it as it drifts around. Or maybe there are 10 tips answering questions in important job interviews like these: Can you foretell the past? Remember the future? Make a sound like glass shattering? Possibly I could examine administrative announcements from the Federal Reserve and U.S. government regarding investments in more bridges for people to live under. Ah, Norma just got home!

#6.  I'm ok alone, if you don't count whimpering at the back door and the hole I chewed in the couch. She went out to shop with Christina, who I've only known since 1968, so who knows how reliable she is? No, that is one of the things I do know that I know, which indicates an end to this list. However, in keeping with the theme of Ten Things, let's consider our remainder and how it might address the whole of human knowledge. If there are three or four more things we don't need to know we know, won't stopping at #5 or #6 do? I DON'T KNOW.

#7 through 10.   Mice and humans both have 30,000 genes, of which only 300 are unique to either species, so they are 99% related. Yes, let's stop here and have some cheese --with which we share only distant kinship.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Enigma Tutorial #1

It is mid-May, far too early for the pumphouse thermometer to read 97 degrees. To readers accustomed to the metric system, that is 36 degrees Celsius or 4 degrees above freezing (32) in Fahrenheit. On the Kelvin scale, it is 309.61, the temperature recorded by probes punched through the roof of Perdition (so be good). I did not mean to begin this essay with a confusing paragraph on my understanding of meteorological measurement, but sometimes it is impossible not to take the weather personally. This essay is intended to set out certain methods, developed under strict empirical standards, of identifying enigmas. An illustration:
It is a rendering done on plywood showing, with oscilloscopic precision, changes in auditory magnitude and potential across a screen caused by a rackety chicken laying an egg. As evidenced by what scientists call "wavy lines", we learn humans --supposedly creatures highest on the evolutionary ladder-- are not the planet's most ostentatious ovulators.The evolutionary ladder is a scale quite as confusing as international temperature conversions. If we invoke logic, it would appear other life-forms on the evolutionary scale are neither higher nor lower than our own --or the ladder simply does not exist. That is all I know about biology, but there are other enigmas. Observe:
This specimen of human endeavor is located five miles from here and is called a strip-mall. We go there to drop off furniture, books, electronics and other reusables at the Goodwill Donation Station. Sometimes we go get a pizza too. But between those excellent enterprises is a mysterious establishment that promises threaded eyebrows. Where are they getting them? Why do they thread them? I can only speculate the eyebrows are donated next door by folks who don't want theirs any more. Are donors subjected to carding and worsting? Should I check the pizza menu for side orders of threaded eyebrows? Enigmas!

Yes, we create human mysteries enough, but nature vigorously compounds them. I recall another hot day in May when the north wind swept down and blew the eyebrows off everyone in Sacramento. They were deposited by that same wind upon people in Fresno and Salinas, but inside out and unthreaded. No matter where we woke up this morning on the evolutionary ladder, the awesome power of nature is ready to equalize our status. Please advise! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ballet Theory: The Enigmatic "Russian Joke" Play

Today we will examine "Scherzo à la Russe" by Igor Stravinsky, which translates (Italian scherzo=joke, French Russe etc.) into English as "Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead" by Harold Arlen. If we listen carefully, we will detect cadences and snatches of melody that evoke happy Munchkins, but the discerning ballet aficionado will immediately see the story is about American football.

The action takes place at the 50-yard line, which we are invited to imagine bisecting center stage, front to back.  As a demonstration of Cold War Detente, an American Football team is invited to compete in an exhibition game in Russia. The athletes arrive in Moscow but their luggage is held up at La Guardia, so they are given tiaras and nightgowns. Meanwhile, upon realizing their country has no football team, Russian officials secretly place a 160-foot-long mirror on the 50-yard-line.

The American team tries everything to intimidate the opposition. They stand on tiptoe to appear taller. The ruse is instantly copied by the team in the mirror, as are all their tactics. Strangely, this causes little concern because nobody can find the football either. They dance around looking for it but nobody gets upset. It becomes obvious the contest will be a draw and captains of both teams will receive bouquets. Which is precisely what happens.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Answers

Human knowledge has greatly expanded in the past 130 years, easily tripled. Pictured above is the final volume of the series, Knowledge, which, in 1884, only went up to I.  The letter was invented that year specifically for use in the declarative sentences, "I don't know" and "I don't understand." Here is an example in which both phrases are employed:
     "Getting dark again."

     "I don't know, seems to happen every day."

     "I just don't understand it!"

We can peruse earlier volumes and find words like Audience and Cat and answers like, "Cats make very poor audiences because when they clap, no sound comes out." The set contains answers, only answers, because it is the Teacher's Edition. Questions, because they start with Q, had not yet been invented so all student texts were blank.

Alphabet goes clear up to Z now, so we can have Questions like: "What's it like outdoors today?" Then go out there and observe:
Those of arithmetical mind may point out I is the ninth letter of the alphabet and multiplying by three would give us 27 where there are currently only 26 letters. To them I caution, do not neglect what is yet to come. One might as easily step outdoors tomorrow --or a century hence-- and observe: "Wow, this is really a long time ago!"