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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year-End Chat

Dear readers, I have consulted the calendar and determined a temporal climacteric is at hand. In the words of the Immortal Bard --which I quote from memory-- the character of Crab in Two Gentlemen Of Verona exclaims:                  "I have studied Time and of needs maintain,
                                   A bygone year now circleth round the drain."

Crab is one of two dogs in the Shakespearean canon, and is still a welcome stage presence. Unfortunately, in Shakespeare's time --as it is now-- there were serious problems finding dogs who could bark in iambic pentameter.

Of course there were other dog-references, like in Julius Caesar: "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!" But they were references only and no dogs were harmed in these productions. Crab, on the other hand was a real dog-actor and reported what he had divined from reading the enigmatic vortex of his favorite drinking bowl. So passes a year, in winter.

You may notice from today's Normaphotos that winter morning has, upon my hair and backporch roof, a similar influence:
There are two reasons for that: we, yes we in California, are having frost today; also, I built the backporch myself 35 years ago and, in the absence of more sensible blueprints, the effort resulted in my head and backporch being oddities of identical construction.

So, as the year circles to closure, and because I can't think of much to write about just now, I will close this post with an enigma, which I invite any and all to solve. I still buy newspapers --mainly for the puzzles and funnies-- but have noticed something since childhood that amazed me. Big deals are covered on Page One. "Headlines" is a word that will long outlast the newspaper in this electronic age, but answer me this: why is the last page of every newspaper section an even numbered one?

Oh, that's too easy. Tell me this: why did Abraham Lincoln, a decided eccentric, never doff his hat or stand for the "Star Spangled Banner"? It is, after all, our national anthem. 

Looking forward to replies, and new enigmas in the coming year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Enigma of Time

The experience of time is in part subjective. There is a constant accrual of information --organization of fluid events-- in the mind. Time is also physical. Relativistic time is a product of tremendous operations in the universe, involving propagation of electromagnetic waves --most visibly, light-- and the motion of all matter that has ever existed in combination with all that will ever exist. Our thoughts themselves are part of a frenzy of matter and energy that extends from the irreducible to that which cannot be exaggerated.

Is there, in this endless ultimacy of motion, a point of rest? That is the question I address in this philosophical inquiry, this essay. My experiment begins with a Normaphoto:
It was taken a couple weeks ago of our seasonal decoration, a European Pine I bought and which Norma arranged threadbound balls around. She did this while stripping our reference books from the shelves and painting things. I was unmoved.

It did not stop there:

Some books disappeared into the pantry, others into Goodwill Industries. The shelves went from orange to white. A week is an interval of enigma, time. A week had passed. I was unmoved. According to experience and astrophysics, yet another week has passed and, except for refilling my wineglass...

...I am unmoved.

I have collated the data. There is only one possible conclusion, and it too is a question: Am I the one true fixed point in a chaotic universe? Not a chance, I only think I am (after enduring Norma's energetic paintbrush) and you should think you are too. After all, how long can the spirit of humankind ask itself, "What the hell am I doing in all these bodies?"

So, upon this astronomical and personal advent of winter solstice, so sacred to so many, I invite you and our upwards of 7 billion kindred --despite havoc others conduct around you-- to declare yourself a true fixed point in this chaotic universe as well...and to all, a good night.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Chance and a Favorite Song

Let's consider a song and a conversation. It was over 30 years ago. My kids liked the song, so did I. The song:

"Karma Chameleon", The Culture Club
We parsed it out:
"'...I'm a man without conviction,
I'm a man who doesn't know
How to sell a contradiction...
You come and go, you come and go.'

"In a biological sense there are tremendous odds against any individual getting born at all. Zygotes succeed under heavy competition, then undergo gestation, birth. Character begins. But what of preconception? Do we exist as certainty or possibility?"

"Maybe both?"

"Very good!  But let's not separate the idea of beginning from end."

"Perception of time?"

"Before getting born, we were at most only slightly inconvenienced by nonexistence. Then..."

"We get born and become ourselves, who we are. Then we die. That's awful."

"Not sure nonexistence would trouble us more after existing than before, but I get your point. We work hard on our whos."

"I'll say!"

"But what about, 'You come and go, you come and go.
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams:
Red, gold, and green, red, gold, and green.' Where does that come in?"

"Well, you're studying for your DMV test so you can drive the car. At an intersection, what do red and green lights mean to you?"

"Stop and go. What about gold?"

"Meter of the lyric needed one syllable, not two. The color is yellow, which means...?"

"Proceed with caution!"

"Exactly! Now you tell me, how would that change the world according to the song?

"'Ev'ry day is like survival.
You're my lover, not my rival.'
It means we shouldn't fight over things but get along and share what's good in our lives and in the world."

"And this unified factor of sharing? What's that?"

"You say it's love. You say we shouldn't fight over dumb stuff. You say nobody's influence ever ends. The song says we shouldn't consider others our rivals, but our companions in existence. So what about the video?"

"Well kids, video says there are cheaters and thieves in the world, and it's up to us to beware of them. They don't accept that the odds favor the house. What do you learn in physics class?"

"That the law of averages sooner or later produces extraordinary events."

"Precisely, go thou and do likewise!"

And they did!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Matchbook Mystery

Let's begin with a favorite tune, performed by the incomparable impressionist, Guy Marks:

video:Guy Marks, "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas"

The central phrase of this moving song is absquatulated from the obverse of  matchbook covers:
Ok, they used to say "close cover before striking", but "strike gently" is good too, especially if someone uses matchbook literature in future song lyrics. Gentleness is a strength in this modern world and one hopes everybody, if stricken at all, will be stricken gently and emerge wiser, kinder. Or it could refer to some aspects of martial arts like Kung Fu and Feng Shui, but I am not sure. I am content to live with the mystery, but this I cannot understand:

I have been a father since 1970 and a grandfather for 10 years, so the caution under the reverse striking strip is impossible. Decidedly there are certain children one should keep away from: ones with crazy business in their eyes who head-butt when they hug; those that leap up onto your lap with one knee out. But on the gentler side, I spent many years walking back and forth at all hours with babies crying into my left ear and singing "Old Man River" to them.

Video: Robeson, "Old Man River"
Daughter says she still gets unaccountably sleepy hearing magnificent Paul Robeson recordings or any tunes from "Show Boat".  The crying is probably why my left ear failed first --left-handed parents probably have the right ear go. I mean, they're right there on your shoulder. But high frequency hearing loss and tinnitus eventually claim both ears, which is why I left a fortune at a hearing doctor's office this week. There's no economy in a cheap audiologist.

By no means should the new matchbook warning be taken as absolute. Yes, protect your hearing, but never deprive children the privilege to screech in your ear. They need that to grow good. If you want to raise them up to good ideas, better futures, you must make auditory sacrifices and, when they come round to thanking you for being a good parent, remember to smile, nod, twinkle at them and say, "Hah?"