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Friday, January 31, 2014

Venustraphobia, A Case Study

Of all social disorders that plague us, venustraphobia --the fear of beautiful women-- is certainly one of the most enigmatic. It is also called, in medical circles, caligynephobia, by those who are afraid to say venustraphobia. Those who suffer an inability to distinguish the first phobia from the other are, in scientific terms, referred to as bumfuzzled. In an effort to clarify the matter, I recently decided to spend 44 years scrutinizing a single sufferer. Here he is at a social function in the company of a beautiful woman in the year 1970:

To the casual observer, there is little to be learned from this photo. One might dismiss our subject's ulotrichous hair explosion to the fashion of the time, but in truth, just before this photo was taken he was entirely bald. Let us compare this physical response to those manifested at another social function a mere 19 years later:
Here we see the subject's outfit spontaneously transmogrify into a white dinner jacket --a compensatory psychosomatic reaction to the same beautiful woman suddenly being in color instead of black and white. He is giving her a strange sidelong glance, which indicates panicky subconscious inquiry: Why can he suddenly not perform simple tasks, like dining or straightening his eyes out? Why has reality suddenly assumed an aspect of anxious hallucination?  Perhaps skipping 23 years ahead to a more recent social function will offer some clue:
Or perhaps not. The jacket has evaporated and our subject has consolidated his symptoms into simply teetering out of his chair. The same woman impels him into a state of clinical gaga --a reaction to true beauty that includes vertigo, attempts to hide behind centerpiece floral arrangements of inadequate volume and a determination to participate in these studies forever.

As for myself, as researcher-in-residence, my duties have narrowed into a routine of giving my subject showers and brushing his teeth. I am always alert for new clues to solving the enigma of venustraphobia but, as yet --after 44 and hopefully many more years-- I confess myself bumfuzzled. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Advanced Art Appreciation

                                              [Image courtesy of Free Software Foundation]

Our previous post dealt with sculpture, specifically a somewhat holographic dissection of an explorer's life, from a snapshot sent to me by my kid. It created some political discussion which is not the primary purpose of this class.

Here, we are trying, simply and peacefully as possible, to satisfy the general education requirements of our eventual degrees toward which we can devote 60 semester units and no more. However,  politics make me jumpy and I had bad dreams stemming from genetic memory and seagoing Portuguese ancestry. I shouted maritime orders in my sleep --"Hoist the anchor! Anchor the hoist! Flush the poop deck! Channel your inner jib! Deploy the spanker!"  At which last order, instead of the crew unrolling the rearmost drive-(or "spanker"-) sail, a huge guy climbed on deck growling, "Here now, who's been naughty?"

After waking in mid-dive with my head stuck between bed and wall, I decided to proceed with a discussion of another sculpture. I chose this metalwork by Donatello Santino, deposited in our care by Daughter some years ago.

Santino produced this sculpture in the 1800s as a self-portrait, which he accomplished by holding a mirror in one hand and a hacksaw in the other. There is some dispute regarding the number of eyes in the statue's head. Those artists in the School of Realism contend the artist possessed a faulty mirror or his hand shook, causing him to carve four eyes peeking out of the visor. The Impressionist School opines Santino was unable to fully express the power and variety of light with only two eyes. Santino was himself a member of the Neoclassical School.

In the School of Neoclassicism, Santino was something of a bully stealing the other artists' milk-money and inflicting what he called funestus cuneus (deadly wedgies) on them. He was finally expelled for tardiness and moaning in P.E. But, as a sufferer (as I am) of presbyopia --an ocular lens rigidity caused by being raised in dimly-lit Presbyterian churches-- the one indignity he refrained from inflicting upon his classmates who wore glasses was the epithet, "four-eyes". It is this triumph of artistic restraint Santino was trying to convey.

This completes the second section of my course syllabus entitled, Advanced Art Appreciation or, as we here at the community college call it, Triple-A --hmm, which might shed some more light on an immobile sheet-metal-clad object with its hood up.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Photos Of Cultural Reconaissance

Received two photos this week. Let us begin with one from the excellent riverwalk along the Chatahochee which separates Georgia from Alabama.
It is a statue of Cristóvão Colombo, who was at least Portuguese if not Spanish (in which case his name was Cristóbal Colón) but was born in Italy under the name, Peter Falk. No, he was the actor who portrayed Kojak --I shall consult my early childhood memory:

                                          Back in 1492,
                                          Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
                                          Roses are pretty and so are you.

Or maybe I'm remembering Valentine's Day, 1956. No matter, you can't expect me to recall everything because I was raised by alley cats --much as Tarzan was raised by apes. Excuse me while I scratch ear-mites with my foot. Now, upon reflection I think it legally prudent to declare this opening paragraph in abeyance.

The statue depicts Christopher Columbus in several phases of his life. I can only detect three from the photo but can tell you this: he was much hectored by big birds and seems variously depressed and frantic over it. It humanizes the legend somewhat and likewise humanizes the world he lived in. Certainly, he was an explorer who made progress --paving prairies for strip-malls is also called progress but I won't go into that-- and we owe him a debt.  He declared, "I can do it!" That is an innovator, which however couldn't exist without those millions of people who said, "Who cares?" and did not stand in his way. So the statue's the other photo:
This being winter, the bench outside the back porch has furnished only cold comfort lately and we decided it wanted insulation. I collected all the old insulators I could find in the barn and lined them up on the seat. It may or may not warm anything but it keeps us from sitting there. Although the bench is located in California, I have hopes of an eventual commemorative statue on the Chatahochee River. Innovation should rightly have no borders.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Adventure On Kaboom

As you know, Earth was recently contacted by another planet, the planet Kaboom, an event that improvidentlly coincided with two celebrities wearing the same gown to an awards assembly and was eclipsed by the media. Then some kid got loose in its underwear while sticking its tongue out and all interplanetary confabulation was largely forgotten. However, I hope to correct that lapse of coverage by recounting here my experience among the Kaboomians. By dint of long experience in dealing with enigmas, and because my methods are my own, I was asked to undertake diplomatic relations.

I accepted mainly on the information that Kaboomians are a carbon-based life-form, as am I. I learned only later that, in addition to carbon, Kaboomians were also composed of sulfur and various ionic salts including potassium nitrate. The perceptive reader will recognize the formula for gunpowder. I also accepted upon assurance that all exploding inhabitants of Kaboom are committed pacifists who consider war a failure of reason.

We Earthlings are familiar with life being a controlled sort of combustion called metabolism, which is measured out in tiny units of heat and expansion called calories. Kaboomians have no such physiological restrictions and are, in the most complimentary sense of the term, living and sentient explosions.

Because our space program has succeeded only in touring our own solar system, a craft from Kaboom was sent to collect me. Its propulsion system consisted of one or another of its crew throwing open its back door, exploding a bit, then returning to other duties. I wore ear protection, as well as shock-absorbing armor, but still found it unnerving.

Upon arrival, I was enrolled in an ESL (Explosion as a Second Language) class at one of their many community colleges and learned of Kaboomian society and commerce. Their global economy consists of traders exporting their only manufactured product, smithereens, among communities which contribute their own distinctive smithereens in return.

I also learned of their designs upon Earth. For many years, Kaboomians have monitored our broadcasts --with special interest in movies. The predominance of explosions in films encouraged them to audition for parts in Hollywood productions. They accepted me graciously from Earth as a diplomat and wish to return me as their agent. I have reserved acceptance pending further information (fees negotiable above 10%).

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Superhero's Analyst

In this post, composed while hosting youngest grandchild yesterday, the subject of the superheroic psyche is examined. After some disjointed discussion with a three-year-old who insisted upon being addressed as Iceman, my notes became somewhat complicated, causing me to assume the dual role of analyst and analysand in this vignette. I admit to some uncertainty about the format but that's never stopped me before.

Therapist: Please, sit anywhere you like. You understand, Geo., because we specialize in treatment of superheroes, everything said in this office is strictly confidential.

Geo.: I'm counting on it.

Ther.: Good. Now, since I don't recognize you, I assume you are in your secret identity. If I'm to do my job, I must insist on full disclosure.

Geo.: Ok, let me just get up and turn my back on you.

Ther.: Oh my gosh! You're Ditch Man! Scourge of unsightly strife everywhere! What could you possibly need help with?

Geo.: You are doubtless familiar with my secret origin?

Ther.: From comic books but I'd rather hear you tell it.

Geo.: Well, some time ago...

Ther.: In a galaxy far away...

Geo.: No, no, out front of my house. I was trimming along the roadside fence when a contentious couple distracted me with their mutual abuses and I fell in the ditch. They stopped arguing and chorused, "That poor man fell in a ditch!", then dashed to lift me out together. Argument evaporated and I ran away. It was then I realized every event in the universe, even petty quarrels, is affected, however faintly or obliquely by every other event.

Ther.: You mean...?

Geo.: Yes! If I could stop an argument, might I not also stop a crime, a riot, a war, an apocalypse by the same method? So I did. I'd see wrongdoings of all magnitudes, fall into a ditch and all differences dissolved as I was lifted out and ran away.

Ther.: Then what brings you here, a super-arch-enemy?

Geo.: Huh? No. Yeah, I guess so. I got old. Age is my arch-enemy. I can't run away faster than the jogging, healthy-eating, exercise-gym-going, people I have to rescue these days. They're a new breed of distress. If they catch up, my cover is blown.

Ther.: You mean people only see Ditch-Man's back, while he's in the ditch or running away?

Geo.: Yes! My front is my secret identity and it always worked as well as Clark Kent's glasses. Sure, sometimes people come up behind me and want Ditch-Man's autograph but I turn around and they excuse themselves. It works now but I'm in my mid-60s and soon, instead of pausing and reconciling in nicotinic meditation, the people I rescue will chase me with sheer stupid dog-like instinct and discover who I really am! I'm struggling with the idea of retirement.

Ther.: Can't you compensate by flitting away on some super device, something fleet that would ah ditch them?

Geo.: You don't understand. There's pavement and development everywhere. Old guy falls in a gutter, no ditch, who cares? People only help you out of ditches, not gutters. Fewer and fewer ditches. I'm a relic.

Ther.: What do you think would be a positive solution?

Geo.: Just what I have done, train a replacement. I been working with a kid named Iceman.
Ther.: Iceman can freeze things?

Geo.: No, Iceman's his given name. He's three. His super power is like this: People can be really grumpy and have quarrels and wars and apocalypses and say the most awful things but he can toddle up and say,"You can't do that around me; I'm cute as a button!" I've been coaching him on that line.

Ther.: So how's that going?

Geo.: Slowly. He needs even more snacks and naps than I do, but I'll keep at it. I'll be as strong as I need to be. We're making progress.

Ther.: Well, Geo., I think we made some progress here too, but our hour is up and we can continue next session. If you'll just turn around and let yourself out... OH MY GOSH it's Ditch Man! Where's my client? Where's Geo.?

Geo.: (Sigh).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Anthropological Tour Of Insulo Merdo Amaso

Geo.: First, I'd like to thank Tetrarch Lafo Forgxiston for personally conducting me on this tour of Merdo Amaso Island here in the...

Tetrarch Lafo Forgxiston: Please! Don't mention our location specifically. We are a nation of philosophers. We survive in privacy.

Geo.: May I say that we are guests in an uncharted spot among the outer Azores?

Tet.: Yes, but not a Portuguese possession. We are independent. Our national language is Esperanto, mainly derived from Galatian, thousands of years ago.

Geo.: Excuse me Tetrarch, Esperanto was a language invented by L. L. Zamenhof in the 1880s.

Tet.:  We do not disagree here, nor do we argue, but your understandable misinformation was widely spread from this island to illustrate a point made by our greatest philosopher: "Kelkfoje ŝajnas ke ni estas ne tre brila."

Geo.: Which means?

Tet.: "Sometimes it seems we are not very bright."

Geo.: Profound. Who is this "greatest philosopher"?

Tet.: Me.

Geo.: I see. Is this saying repeated often?

Tet.: Almost constantly, but is expressed only by shrugging. One cannot argue a shrug. Since we are all philosophers, it was considered a conversational courtesy of minimal social disruption.

Geo.: What can you tell me about your cultural legends --your Creation Myth?

Tet.:  According to myth, the Colossus Of Rhodes waded away from his foundations in a panic induced by volcanic distress and dropped igneous excretions here, and that's how Merdo Amaso came to be. A sad tale and, in consideration of all sufferers, we do not elaborate upon it. 

Geo.: And the universe?

Tet.: Direct your attention to our Capitol building. The question mark on top refers to the Logos, the causal Word of all things. In the beginning, there was nothing. Nothing was divided by an interrogative. All that exists is the quotient.

Geo.: I see. And what of the inscription over the entrance?

Tet.: It is a concept, an instruction that has spread over the entire world, appearing in every language in every nation. Buildings of all sorts, public edifices and private businesses, display it to keep the flow of humanity safely unimpeded through their doors. You may consult the lexicon in your guidebook to translate it.

Geo.: Oh my! I certainly recognize it!
Tet.(shrugging): Quite.