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Monday, December 27, 2010

Solstice and Eclipse



The internet was originally designed to facilitate free exchange of scientific information. This was never more graphically demonstrated than on the night of December 21st, last week, when three men combined their intellects to discover an astronomical reality that had heretofore eluded human knowledge. With two observers in California and one in New York, there was adequate separation for geocentric parallax view of complete lunar eclipse. In the form of a snapshot taken that night and transcript of attendant scientific discussion, I will lay the evidence before you:


Geo.: 11:40 p.m. Perfect night for viewing here. Hope Sonoma is clear too. When I was little my big brother, Frank, tried to convince me a lunar eclipse was caused by the sun passing between earth and the moon. Would be warmer watching tonight if he was correct.

Will: Sorry we were overcast here. Got any photos of the blood red moon eclipsing? Aren't big brothers great teases? I tried to convince Paul that his name should properly be pronounced to rhyme with Raul.

Geo.: That's hilarious! How long did Paul pronounce his name pah-ool?

Will: Probably as long as you believed Frank about lunar eclipses...

Jeff: Hey Will, from the right coast you could see a crazy red tint on the lower half of the surface and green along the top edge at about 3 a.m. Through astronomical binox it looked like a combination angry Mars and Christmas ornament. These celestial anomalies always stir awe, fascination and dread, yes?. I was quite prepared for this one and still something in me cried out for a human sacrifice to stop the dragon from eating the moon.

Geo: Nice amber earth-shadow now. Tried taking a picture but couldn't turn camera-flash off, so moon just looked bright as usual.

Jeff: Will, please tell Geo. he can get great photos with the camera flash turned on, but he was probably standing too close. You want to get back at least 1,261,164,966 feet, with the sun behind you.

Geo.: I'm attaching pic from around midnight [see above] to show I wasn't standing too close. Moon looked maybe miles away. However, Jeff's earlier report that he saw the eclipse at 3 a.m. surprised me. Moon goes west and he saw it 3 hours later. Only possible with a second moon! I will share credit for this discovery with you both.


---end of transcript.

I am reminded of the quote,"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human and nothing human is alien to me)," which, unless I misremember, came from Cicero or two centuries later from a tedious Roman playwright whose name escapes me. It is upon this sort of certainty I now believe our planet has two moons and don't know what can convince me I haven't seen the truth. When I boasted to my wife that this discovery was made without the help of women, she opined I might also find steady detective work sniffing out truffles. High praise indeed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shepherd's Song



Ten days ago an old friend died. He was 61 years old. When we were young, he looked a lot like the great composer, Joseph Canteloube. I have drawn a picture of Joseph Canteloube in my sketchbook. I took two turns at it.

The first muddied to where it looked like a cantaloupe, so I labeled it and left it beside the more successful likeness. That way I can always consult them when I need to tell the difference. The housefinch above both portraits was part of a flock visiting my yard last month and claims to have nothing to do with anything.

The song that helped describe what I felt is Canteloube's "Bailero", which is one of the folk tunes he collected from the Auvergne region in France. My poor translation: "Bailero, you're having a hard time; so am I. The stream runs between us and I can't cross it." That's a close description of loss.

I'm appending a recording of Madeleine Grey doing a lively version and you can make your own translation, which may easily differ from mine. But the melody nails pretty much everything all by itself.

Monday, December 13, 2010

OMGism and Holy War

OMGism is a panpsychological discipline drawn from the observation that, in an infinite universe, all possibilities are assembled --even those which are mutually exclusive. This leaves, as the only enduring and reliable constants, forces and ideas that are inconclusive.

The religious experience of OMGism occurs when the practitioner realizes humans are an expression of a universe designed to freak itself out. The only fixed doctrine of OMGism is, after epiphanies, you should probably go lie down.

It would be instructive here to address the difference between OMGism ("you ain't experienced nothin' yet") and another church, Jolsonism ("you ain't heard nothin' yet"). There was a holy war between the two factions, over which --because of huge doctrinal similarities-- neither side could work up much enthusiasm, resulting in no injuries but in Bachman Turner Overdrive ("you ain't SEEN nothin' yet") and a persistent stutter. Holy wars, like epiphanies, are bad for elocution and participants can all benefit from a nice nap afterwards.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Word List 4, Concepts


Airport Security:
It has been suggested to me that, as an alternative to undergoing a TSA --U.S Transportation Security Administration Dept.-- full-body scan or intrusive pat-down crotch searches, young people should find other ways of sending affection home besides flying themselves there. As a parent of adults --some even middle-aged-- I wholeheartedly agree with the idea. A note, call, gift, card etc. means a lot to us on holidays, or any day. Much as I love to see my kids, I don't want them to risk flying here over a dead --or in light of my poor cooking skills, badly injured-- turkey. If they do visit, I prefer they take trains, which, unlike airlines, accept a notarized xerox of your ass in lieu of a full-body scan. I should include Greyhound in transportation services that do not require full body scans. There IS a guy outside our local Greyhound Bus terminal with a cardboard sign that says "lick you all over for a quarter", and I suppose he would report explosives. I don't know if any of his earnings go to TSA but wouldn't be surprised.

E.T. Invasion:
Just got back from trip to pharmacy --which I do whenever asthma makes me sound like Dylan's "Blond On Blond". Something strange happened. There's an unofficial contest going on at the automated blood pressure machine there. These appliances have a "clear" button to erase readings but few use it. It's too fun to sit down to the last user's results and see if you can beat them. Yes, to my morbid shame, I am competitive blood pressure player. I usually test under 120/70, which compares favorably with other geezers sauntering away from the machine thinking they're hot stuff, but today was different. Today I read the last user's results and just sat there stunned: 65/35! I took a deep breath, composed myself and started my test --117/65. The machine was functional. I am not much acquainted with bp's of non-human creatures, but speculated 65/35 could not come from a human well enough to drag itself onto the machine. This had to be a large fish, amphibian, coelenterate or, because the drugstore staff exhibited no trauma, a convincing humanoid containing cold-blooded, godless jellyfish parts. We've been casting our gaze upward for e.t.'s, but the question is, could they be coming in at ground level?

Now:
The crackle of fire in the grate takes some time to reach me, not so much as light from the laptop screen; both consume a fraction of a second for me to notice. And it takes 13 billion years for some Hubble Telescope targets to enter my present. It's astonishing that we receive no information less than 4.22 years old (Proxima Centauri) about stars outside our sun. It's also possible we'll get a percentage of positrons sent backwards in time from tremendous operations at the end of our universe. Finally, it takes a moment for nerves to relay what confronts us, so our brains are always a little or a lot arrears of surrounding events. Imagine that and our sense of the present seems about as substantial as smoke. It's entirely possible we're getting subtle info about the past and future all the time, but it's preempted by local things more immediate to animal survival like predators, mates and beer.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Word List 3, Questions

[Somehow, my wife's impromptu garden assemblage, "Veggie Face", seemed appropriate here.]


Entropy:

When did I begin to dread August? The infernal heat, destructive grip on cars, appliances, pumps and human health caused irritation pretty early on. August is punishment, delay, a time to brood on what must be done but can't because of heat from a weatherless sky. I associate it with blacktopping, roof repair, broken cars and other entropic manifestations that threaten not only to run overlong but to become a way of life. August is an awful month valuable only to teach us entropy is always accompanied by heat. Why were so many lovely people born in it?

Treefrogs:

In Doyle's "Silver Blaze", Gregson remarks the dog did nothing in the nighttime, to which the detective replies, "That is the curious incident." We're using negative information here and its usefulness depends upon brain size. Where humans have brains, treefrogs have empty space. This allows treefrogs to colonize my air-conditioning fan box every year and have horrible accidents in there. They never learn. They are useful, gentle creatures who deserve better. They do no wrong, yet they are punished. Is it fair that creatures directed by peaceful, empty cranial space suffer more than those brainy enough to commit crime?

Natural Law:

The United States Of America was founded on the principles of Natural Law, specifically that its citizens are autonomously equal under it. But some people always abandon it for some deception that seems to elevate them. Is freedom impossible while we are still dishonest, or only good loans?

Beer:

Recently I have read several articles in which archaeologists opine that beer served to unify prehistoric savages into cohesive, diplomatic, social and political groups. The collection, cultivation and preparation of grains purely for food may not have been the entire object. Brewing and fermentation resulted in great parties at which intra-and-inter-tribal friendships were forged. Civilization followed.

Reverse could be equally valid. When humans discovered brewing and fermenting they needed the social stability in which to do it properly without having to move their crocks and vats around with every nomadic episode. Savagery is very aerobic and one's things are jostled. Getting civilized was the obvious solution.

We can imagine a typical prehistoric domestic exchange:

She: I'm having some neighbors over this evening for pot-luck.
He: Good! Oh wait, you haven't invited the Savages, have you?
She: You always ask that but you always compliment what they bring over.
He: Well, yes, I like roast enemy as much as any fellow but enough's enough!
She: Then you'll be pleased to hear the Savages have got civilized.
He: Great! They can help with the beer then.

So the question is: does the eons-long, astonishingly arduous ascent of humankind into civilization owe its success to the fact that guys will do anything, even become civilized, for a beer?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Country Seat


I have been communing with nature. Never one to neglect exercise I went outside an hour ago to sit on a bench and vigorously absorb vitamin D. I also took my New York Times crossword puzzle. Opposite of nocturnal. Yes, well, Twain said we are not quite sane at night, but it was daytime and the mind races from whatever night did to it. Then nature arrived.

An orange tomcat slunk under the gate. I didn't know him. He didn't know me. He looked freaked, wide-eyed and wary. He cowered, then sat. He was showing himself, trying to make friends. It is, after all, suddenly November and even California gets chilly at night. This cat was a creature of nature saying he'd decided against nightlife. Opposite of nocturnal. We shared a quest.

"Hello kitty," I said. "You seem troubled. Perhaps I can help."

"Help?" He replied,"What can you know about it? You're human, a silly bag of thoughts enslaved by the products of its own reasoning!"

"Well, that's quite an accusation. Is that what nature really thinks?"

"Cat's don't think, we arrive at that estimate instinctively. But yes, it reflects natural consensus."

"Nature hates us?"

"Nature is indifferent, but we cats hate you like anything..."

"I'm getting a beer. Would you like some cream?"

"Cats love you."

I went in to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of stout and bowl of cream. The cat was asleep on the bench but woke at my approach.

"Humans are noisy." He said.

"I know. And you hate and love us."

"Really? Why would I do that?"

"You don't remember our conversation before the cream."

"No need. Understand, you humans live incredibly long needy lives that are full of consequences. For us cats, life is short and full of hairballs. We may have had memory once but we're well now."

"You chose amnesia? That's insane!"

"I'm not the one talking with a cat."

He had me there. I decided to return to the crossword.

"Seven letters." I said.

"What's seven?"

"A mathematical term for the amount of letters in the opposite of nocturnal."

"Mathematics, like memories, are unneccessary. Can mathematics tell you how to vault something twenty times your height and land uninjured?"

"No, but it informs our vocabulary by allowing us to calculate what time it is. That's how we identify nocturnal animals."

"Some are nocturnal," he said. "Some are not. Scientifically speaking, it depends on when they get up."

He finished his cream in silence, and I my beer. I had hoped nature would communicate some more useful truths than those contained in this cat, so I waited. When he rose, I spoke.

"I've enjoyed our drink together, and our conversation. Did you?"

"I forget," said the cat as he slunk toward the gate. "But, just for winter, I've decided to become diurnal."

"Diurnal?" I cried, "That's it! Damned ugly word though."

"Now you're catching on, silly thoughtbag," he said, and was gone.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Word List 2

BRETON,ANDRE:
"Existence is elsewhere."— André Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto.

When my wife and I are shopping, I will go off and get chips, beer, coffee, select a dinner wine and thumb magazines while she remains in the dreary grain aisle. I'll go back and try to help.

"I'm looking for brown (something-something) basmati," she'll say, and I look too, then give up after ten seconds.

"There's no such thing." I tell her, "It does not exist."

I do not say, "existence is elsewhere", because that means another grocery store, another search, one that somehow becomes even more futile because she's added "jasmine" to the name of what is not.

Pretending to know an unknown allows me to go home, read my new magazine, refresh myself with man-groceries in a way Andre Breton could not.

M. Breton was married three times.


CAVEPEOPLE: Definitely, predators were a factor in our ancestors' shorter lifespans, but more numerous than predators were ecological competitors. Recently in South America, remains were found of a rat the size of a modern cow. You get one of those in your attic and it will eventually fall thru the sheetrock and crush you.

With every new expedition it seems we learn of some new monster. Our ancestors couldn't even send their kids into a petting zoo with any certainty they'd survive, which brings us to recreation --essential to quality of life. We know there was a shortage of reading matter but what hobbies did they have?

Probably some excellent rock collections, but anyone collecting anything else was doomed to lifelong disappointment. I wouldn't rule out support groups, but there were no solutions. Even those, if they were conducted by psychiatric doctors, couldn't have been much help. So little was known about anything a doctorate seldom consumed more than 15 minutes of college.

I think people just stood around saying, "Gee this is a long time ago!"

RELIGIOUS RIGHT: If a tree modifies somebody's house or car during a storm the court usually rules it an act of God. If judges collectively accepted the proposition that the religious right represents the Almighty's will, and held them financially responsible for His legal offenses, the religious right would disappear in an instant. Is anybody working on this?

TIME WAVE: The teleological attractor, best explained by Terrence McKenna in reference to a final purpose for all that exists, is currently getting much use by advocates of the 2012 singularity. In physics, a singularity is an irreducible field in which the laws of nature break down. This event is foretold by the Mayan Calendar. What remains unclear is, if time ends it means ALL time is gone, not just the future but the past as well. Time is a dimension and simply cannot exist without itself. What puzzles me about time ending in 2012 is why it is now two years ago.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ballet

When my kids were young I piled them into the bus --71 VW I still drive-- and went to a warehouse where we became volunteer assistants to our local community ballet company. We helped build and paint sets in return for comps, and we did good. Our work was acceptable --a great compliment-- and I drank nearly as much beer as the paid craftspersons. The kids loved the show and I was happy with our seats. Unfortunately, our effort and involvement failed to help me with a fundamental dysfunction where dance is involved. I appreciate dancers' grace and agility. I marvel at their beauty and skill. I have no idea what they are trying to express. Although fairly responsive to most art forms I have always had trouble interpreting ballet, then came Youtube.

I have repeatedly combed this medium for some clue, some inroad of understanding, usually without success. Then I found the attached clip. In this evening's endeavor to educate myself I think I've cracked this one. It's about an unwanted half-frisbee child, raised by pirates, who finally gets the right dress and nails the routine. At the end, we see the unsung hero in black trunks who threw her. I'd like to think he got his name on the program, but more likely he was a volunteer assistant.



Word List

This entry is devoted to those words that haunt conversation, correspondence and thought with clouds of virtual meanings. A cloud forms around denotations that can either enhance or impede communication. Indeed, many words and comments in the following list --which will be augmented via the editing function of this site-- are drawn from letters and discussions and will, for simplicity's sake, retain address form of "I" and "you". "You", where it appears, originally meant one or another specific person, but for our purposes now addresses anyone reading this blog. "I" remains a relatively unchanged quotient. In these textual divisions I is me. The idea is, meaning goes well beyond definition and I encourage you to pursue it too. In this sort of project, comments are especially useful and welcome.

ALIENS: Society in general has got so bad I consider good people and aliens as one thing. Those whose psyches subscribe to the extragalactic belt are our true relatives and seldom, if ever, number among our immediate kin. We are scattered across the universe! How do we find each other? Where are the aliens?

One good guess is ESL classes. ETs would go there to reconnoiter, plan the takeover of Earth and learn useful English phrases. Random audit is advisable. Special interest goes to students who give answers like "each thought is a prediction of itself" and "it's never been this late before". Real aliens are studious but do poorly on formalized exams. Also, we doodle a lot.

ADVANCEMENT: On a subjective level, progress is a nebulous term. We may think we are advancing as a society but are sometimes proven wrong by a broader review of evidence. A case in point: political scientists have, since the late 1990s, been summarily replaced by primatologists.


DEATH: I think there is, in my original construction, a line of peel towers --like those in England when folks feared marauding Scots-- that marks the borders of what I can know. They are used for other things now, but could, I suppose --because it's miserable not knowing answers-- be quickly pressed back into service. What smolders in their iron baskets is a thought I had long ago and have accepted as axiomatic: we take from each moment the future that best includes us. Death is a moment, an exceptional moment, but no more exceptional than the life from which the axiom came. I have much to learn about quantum navigation, but if you see the fires brighten in my direction, it means the process doesn't end and I have seen the answer --or the Scots are marauding again.

INVISIBILITY: Invisibility is one of those things I won't believe until I see it. Consult illustration here:


LIFE: I am always relieved to hear a live-food enthusiast is a vegetarian. Aren't you?

NETWORKING: I've never understood networking, which seems to be an entrepreneurial term mainly. I mean, when I had jobs, I'd do favors and call them in --or not-- later, which was useful but not really networking because the exchange was neither immediate nor implicit. Favors were governed by a very loose, flexible social contract, with no need for further mediation. I do remember friends over the years asking me in on some "networking" enterprise or other --usually concerning investment or diapers in bulk. I'd say no and they'd disappear into manipulative churches with basements full of Dinty Moore. So what's the term for people outside the give-me-what-I-want-for-crap-you-don't-want continuum?

OBSERVATION: Most people would not think there is much to be learned from a hen's muddy tracks on a pile of sugar, but those who did developed the use of moistened clay for whitening sugar in refineries.

PARTICI GRIDS: They compare favorably with fundamentals of Yoga, Tai-Chi and Qigong --all of which have adapted to modern medical discourse and so survived the occasional totalitarian government. Tyrannies tend to shut off religion with other utilities in an ongoing mission to improve humanity by making life really miserable. However, I see some problems with Partici grids being described as smaller than photons. We receive no direct information about reality smaller than a photon. So, even the most impressive technical description of how these grids behave must be deputed to faith, not science. Lesser obstacle is peoples' difficulty learning new things and further difficulty seeing their beauty. Until an embarrassingly short time ago I thought Feng Shui was a martial art, a misconception reinforced by the way I keep house in the absence of stern supervision.


VON NEUMANN PROBES: An electric field is a cloud of virtual photons. Energy propagation depends on virtual photons passing between charges --chicken or egg. Photons become real when shaken or stirred. This creates an imbalance, a little violation of energy-conservation law, which is tolerated only briefly if the kick is strong or, if the kick is weak, quite a long time. This is why the energy level of info coming to us from distant sources is always very low. What we learn from it depends on our ability to perceive and reason in new ways.

So I have a big problem with von Neumann probes. Despite the wonderful idea of probes that can set up anywhere and reproduce, they still couldn't detect anything outside their original programming. This serves only to compound the unknown of unknown regions. Also, after they take their million years to explore our one little galaxy, it would consume at least that time to complete their reports --and again that long for us to receive them.

Our expansion into distance is unlikely to depend on a big gas-fired gadgets shouting imbecilities from deep space. We need to evolve, to do more with less and weaker, subtler, forms of information. When we see light, we detect massless particles, things that aren't actually things --particles that don't exist in the way we define our own existence. Ghosts. That's got to change before we can explore much beyond our solar system.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Secret Symbolism Of Chimneys


When I checked my Cirlot (Diccionario De Simbolos Traditionales) for chimneys there was a conspicuous absence between Chimaera and Choice. This will not do. It is a problem. As usual, we must rely on our own resources, minds and memories to solve it. We can thumb through the book to related things, things that have chimneys, like ovens. Cirlot includes Athanor --the alchemists' oven-- but its chimney is really a combined distillery and refinery, therefore another sort of thing.

Yet, we can't entirely dismiss Athanor. The gross tar from its lower regions has much to do with the mind. However much of mind is machine, you can't gum it up with shoddy ideas and expect it to work properly. Joel Chandler Harris showed how selfish, contentious characters can imprison themselves by attacking tarballs. British Petroleum and the US government are currently demonstrating this principle on our Gulf Coast. Certainly, to settle for something less than optimal mental function, when truth is available, is morbid self-betrayal.

Let us examine regular chimneys. Santa Claus comes down them and leaves some gifts, unless I am naughty --in which case he leaves a lump of coal. Coal is fuel for further combustion, symbolizing Santy's hope that next year I shall have been good. The Ifrit, of "1001 Nights", is summoned by writing God's name in Hebrew, and, like Santy, implies judgement. Mostly, these Genies rise from lamp chimneys to trick us if we're too selfish with our wishes. So there's some danger involved.

The greatest danger has to do with wicked demons like succubi. The succubus is a pretty girl-demon who has sex with guys and steals their immortal souls. Although guys don't usually mind, the church frowns on it. In fact, it's churches that promulgated the superstition that chimneys, unlike doors and windows that close, are particularly vulnerable to evil. Gargoyles and scary sculpture at cathedral chimneys are intended as apotropaic magic to keep succubi and other moogies out. Complete absence of sexual temptation in the church is unimpeachable evidence that these wards have held.

Apotropaic --Greek for evil-averting-- magic needn't be architectural. The Nazar, or evil-eye, stone is common in Greece and Turkey, which brings us closer to the geographical origin of magical chimney infestations. Earliest written record being in Sumerian cuneiform dating back to 4000 B.C. I refer, of course, to the legend of De-dal Nita, "The Soot-Husband".

Unlike succubi, the Soot-Husband would come down the chimney into the dreams of unappreciated women, not to steal their souls but to praise them, massage them, and do for them in every kind and gentle way (Sum.:Gisdu-hili). There was, however, a judgement involved. At the end of these attentions, the Soot-Husband would curl up at the foot of the bed with the cheerful words, "Good-night, just kick me in the head if you need me!"

If the woman woke wanting more from the Soot-Husband and did indeed kick him in the head, she would be judged selfish and unworthy. The spirit would evacuate its base carbon body and the all the woman got was Salamu-sepu, or "sooty-footy". The story spread quickly through Sumeria and, because it reflected their shortcomings, men got upset about it. They created the story of Akhkaru, "Vampire", to defame Soot-Husband, but strangely, women sort of liked that one too.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Snow-Job, Realism And Perception

Although this will hopefully be a philosophical essay, I will begin with some remarks on punctuation. Quotation marks serve what are taught and thought to be dual and separate functions. They are often used to introduce an illegitimate concept --one that the reader is asked to accept for the moment. Quote marks also signify something said or written and reproduced on good authority. For the wily student, these functions are neither dual nor separate.

When I was a schoolboy I often used this interpretation in essays. I would write a sentence in quotes, in favor of my argument, and add "Hume" after it. No teacher ever questioned it. Any absurdity would do --observe: "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of passion." --Hume. Let us proceed.

In physics and poetry we observe the world strictly through its effects on us. We abandon naive realism. Naive realism is things are what they seem to be --a belief upon which we rely for survival. So it must be connected more securely to passion, to instinct, than to thought and reason (upon which we also rely for survival). Perception is tricky business.

Since naive realism leads to all art and science, which in turn fundamentally dispute it, it can be considered both true and false --or neither. It is simply necessary. It can also lead to bad things --abusive political and economic systems and some rather nasty religions-- so it definitely wants some ethical guidance. It's a stage we go through, a climacteric from which we emerge as blustering bullies and cowering idiots or as enlightened reasoners. It's really a toss-up.

This brings us to chance. Chance alone is not a reliable mechanism for personal advancement. Only in the presence of thought does it approach biased probability-- but without it there is no proof that thought furnishes any special advantage. From randomness, what chance furnishes, we compose for ourselves new possibilities of existence --or we lapse into a succession of irritable mental gestures induced by our senses.

We must ask who or what is qualified to guide us into rational thought. Because any recommendation amounts to presumption, I suspect this agent already exists but has somehow got suppressed in us --perhaps by anxiety expressed as original sin. It is a stage of development confounded in fear. There should be enough joy-oriented religions, benevolent governments, stable economies and life-affirming philosophies to shed light on this bugaboo and evaporate it, but it persists.

Personally, I blame Hume.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Man and Machine

When man is sent to clean up his shed, he will easily find the following items within seconds: cowl from an 1890s Holmes stereoscope; two matching 1940s Kodak lens assemblies; copper carb float from Briggs & Stratton engine; old Bell and Howell Super-8 camera-grip; trombone bits; poem written a few years ago about dogs and stuff; brass parts off an irrigation control box.

Suddenly, the items link up in man's mind and his tidying chore changes. Where he expected junk, was determined and ruthless against junk and dedicated to its abolition, man is now awed and hypnotized by possibility, by collocation. Collocation is junk that assumes character and purpose in the presence of man --cool junk.

Oddments emerge from three centuries to combine on a bench. Man builds a machine. He names it Hoots. It will do cool stuff: function (function is things man is no good at) will follow form. In this case, the machine is a demonstrably remarkable public speaker.

Hoots recites its little poem with all the finesse of its maker: delayed, jerky gestures and sporadic mouth-paralysis. It has equalled man and relieved him of suffering the focus of these particulars in public. But, most importantly, it has distracted man from any further silly ideas about cleaning his shed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Time Travel

[Lunching with Willie. Trying to remember the name Rasputin so I could order another stout. Hair highlights caused by misfiring synapses.]

Time travel, with its paradoxes, enigmatic loops and plot lines is a staple of science fiction. Wellsian machineries cast our thoughts swiftly back and forth through time. We are thrilled in incomprehensible forces. We should also be thrilled to know time machines actually exist.

Real time machines fall somewhat short of imaginary ones. They travel slowly and into the future only. They do last a lifetime, but tend to go to pieces before the journey's end. I refer to the normal process of ageing, which goes forward in reality but only virtually into the past. One recalls the past --a memory, a figment-- less precisely as time goes by.

This by no means presages mental weakness. I have devoted much work to getting older and can attest, the power of progressive memory loss should not be underestimated. Most of politics and all of public opinion are based upon it. With practice, we can persuade ourselves it is not always what we remember that interests us, but what we forget. And, of course, there are some experiences for which amnesia is simply the most accurate memory. Wisdom stirs.

It does not stir quietly. How distressing to find the wisdom of age predicated on a falsehood, not upon experience so much as just keeping one's mouth shut. One has something to contribute to discussion but exact names and places are on back-order. Time is not travelled uniformly, and prudence demands a dignified, alert silence. Happily, this can serve to sensitize us to truth.

Age quiets us into keen observers of truth. We tend not to view it as ultimate, absolute good but as something quite dangerous, best rationed out over a period of time. Time. As we recognize truth, especially in places where it is neither expected nor plentiful, possibly not even welcome, we gain some control of our time machine. If we keep our own counsel, we can explore undisturbed.

There is a freedom in restraint. Perhaps it comes from gradually concerning ourselves less and less with the good opinion of young people. The reasons we older people go about things need in no way trouble them. Let's consider that a prime directive.

Young people are in better repair than we are, mechanisms less encumbered by the past. I have said the past is virtual, and it is. It has no mass, no weight, yet if we dwell on it overmuch it can crush us. This new world, with a few jarring differences, is much like the world I was young in. I spent considerable resources learning how to have a past and am qualified to advise a policy of non-interference.

These new time machines are tuning themselves over our imperfect past, a dream in which the floor moves and the house keeps coming down. They have much to contend with, but it is more likely during their spans of operation than ours that the secrets of time will be solved and all our journeys explained.

Friday, May 7, 2010

More Opera, Lakme

On my profile page I list the Flower Duet among my favorite music. I like it because it causes me to levitate when I hear it, but there's another reason I'll get to later.

The story itself is set in India under British occupation so, in keeping with opera-logic, it is sung entirely in French. French is a beautiful language. After decades of study, I understand every seventh or eighth word of it. This may affect the quality of my interpretation in horrible ways --of which I am happily ignorant.

Lakme is a soprano. Mallika, her slave, is a mezzo-soprano, which means they can also be friends in an opera. The two ladies are on a riverbank and Lakme says the creepers are blooming. Mallika says that's very special and they launch into one of the most sublime barcarolles in human history.

They describe a dome thick with jasmine and roses, laughing flowers on the shore, spring sleeping on the other shore. They interrupt themselves only once to worry about Lakme's father going to town alone. Mallika wisely suggests they leave the old man to God while they go see swans and gather lotus. They do.

By my reckoning, the opera is mainly a romantic, cautionary tale about the toxicity of jimson weed. But this bit of it, this Flower Duet, is how I imagine angels sound discussing horticulture. That's the other reason I like Lakme, and to further illustrate this enthusiasm have appended a specimen below.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Operatic Therapy

We've become accustomed to the belief that the world of fact is, in some hidden way, harmonious with the world of sanity. Nothing could be further from the truth. By natural selection, those who couldn't bear this disappointment exploded, and those determined to live learned to dream. It is they who invented opera, for emotional survival.

Opera reminds us not to allow imagination overmuch rule by reality. You can attend "Le Nozze di Figaro"--based upon Beaumarchais's sequel to "Barber of Seville"-- by Mozart or its compounded pun, "The Nose" --"Hoc, Nos", reverse of "coh, son", Russian for "dream"-- by Shostakovich, and find the world connected by barbers, wordplay, musical phrasing, ingenuity --in fact, by everything but reality. There are constructs and procedures that come close to consciousness --marriage, haircuts, noses fleeing police, warfare, misrule. I don't know if there is an opera about plumbing but it couldn't hurt, could it?

The world has been dreaming a long time, so there are many operas, but it is also useful to make up your own opera, your own mind. I do this as therapeutic meditation and always feel better. Here is one currently under construction:

Don Fulano De Tal --Portuguese/Spanish variant of the American term "Whoever"-- (synopsis):

Jorge, a poor young plumber (tenor)
Papa, Jorge's father, also a plumber (baritone)
Don Fulano de Tal, a wealthy Portuguese and Spanish nobleman (bass)
Yolanda, his daughter (soprano)
Ragudo, an agent of the Inquisition --character is based upon a real person, a kid named Ragudo who, in 1960, would punch me and other kids in the stomach whenever we encountered him in the school halls. In 1966 he rifled my gym locker and stole my wallet-- (baritone)
The Pope (bass)


Story opens at Papa's house in a rustic village. Jorge sings about how poor he is --"Mis Primos y Yo". He was forced to wear the worn-out clothes of relatives, often while worn-out relatives were still in them. This embarrassed Jorge, especially on dates and upon it he blames his loneliness.

His father joins him in a duet. Papa expresses sorrow at the plight of his son and regrets his poverty but says it couldn't be helped. Someday, he assures Jorge, the reason will be known. He advises Jorge to leave their rustic village and go to the city, where he can practice his trade "where plumbing at least exists".

Beautiful Yolanda, delighted by picking wildflowers (with the assistance of elves and other magical Elementals), has wandered away from her father's castle. She sings about how happy, lost and worried she is because she has wandered quite out of her native country as well --an aria overheard by the evil Ragudo!

Ragudo jumps out of a ditch and demands Yolanda prove she is not a witch gathering herbs for wicked rites he might like helping with. She is horrified and they sing a duet in which her part consists entirely of the word, "no". Ragudo  steals her wallet, ties her to a convenient stake and builds a fire under it.

Jorge, off to seek his fortune with only a biscuit in his pocket, hears Yolanda's protestations and hurries to the scene. Ragudo punches him in the stomach and flees. Jorge uses a hacksaw from his plumbing toolkit to cut the smoldering stake away from the fire. Yolanda is unconscious. He carries her back to Papa's hovel.

Papa helps Jorge lay Yolanda onto their rustic chaise longue while singing praises of his son's heroism. "Leave her here and I'll get you another biscuit, a second and better biscuit for your pocket!", he sings. They repair to the kitchen. Jorge leaves home again. Unfortunately, he and Papa forget to remove the smoldering stake tied to Yolanda's back and the hovel burns down.

Years later, at the castle of Don Fulano de Tal, there is excitement in the courtyard. The Pope is coming to visit! In honor of this occasion Don Fulano will give his daughter in marriage to the most worthy and deserving guest. Wine flows and the guests are jubilant but soon need to relieve themselves. Don Fulano is compelled to make the recitative announcement that although his castle boasts a thousand rooms, only one is a bathroom --and it is broken, "La Cisterna de Water No Funciona!"

The guests form a chorus, "Pista de Baile", and perform, upon the courtyard --now dance floor-- a rousing peepee dance to ease their discomfort. Ragudo enters laughing evilly with a broken sewer pipe in his hand, punches people in the stomach and steals their wallets.

Jorge, the simple plumber, arrives disguised as a complicated plumber. He vows to repair the bathroom and ascends the stairs toward Don Fulano de Tal. He stops in surprise midway because he recognizes Yolanda by the smoldering timber still roped to her back. An impassioned trio establishes true love and closes with Don Fulano's promise to bless the union if Jorge can fix the toilet.

The Pope arrives and demands to know why Ragudo is still acting as agent of the Inquisition, which ended centuries before. They argue, but hush at a moan from the top of the stairs. Jorge has repaired the loo, but cannot accept Don Fulano's blessing because he is poor and can offer Yolanda only love and the other biscuit.

With dramatic fanfare, Papa runs up with a duffel bag, which he opens with a flourish and reveals his secret. He has distrusted banks since the Great Depression, and so refrained from cashing his paychecks for 80 years. After the hovel fire he got therapy, did his banking and now has a duffel bag of cash.

Jorge, learning he is of moneyed family, embraces Yolanda. The Pope declares he will personally conduct their wedding ceremony. He also forgives Ragudo, re-Christens him Count Impetigo, presents him with friendly dinosaur --handled by three more Jorges-- and leads a joyous chorus, "Ha Llovido Mucho Desde Entonces", all water under the bridge! Count Impetigo (Ragudo) punches the Pope in the stomach, steals his wallet and tries to run away but is tangled by a festoon to the dinosaur, which runs to Scotland to live in the Loch Ness. Everyone laughs and dances.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Language In Thought And Action

Who knows what gestures mean? Some seem definite but are they? Are they really? To illustrate, I shall post a short film taken by my wife. It was made last year of me performing a private retirement dance. My son posted it on Youtube and called it, "Geezer dances until told to stop". They thought it might make me a famous dancer, which I considered optimistic over a career of only 16 seconds.

Turns out the 16-second gravel dance gathered over 180 views, which is famous enough for me, but recently I was told I could sensationalize the title and greatly expand my audience. I am uncertain of the process, but consider "Geezer convulses and hoarks up a hip-bone" a strong favorite. It wouldn't be truthful, but those expert in dance gesture assure me no one could tell until the end of the clip.


Friday, February 5, 2010

The Narrowing Of Collective Will

Collective bargaining on the part of unions and capitalists makes it possible for employers to know just what the workers think on matters of mutual interest. So, whether you spend your working life in mines or pharmaceuticals --or both, digging deep underground for aspirin-ore -- and want some government by discussion, you're screwed without a union.

Without opportunity to discuss bad policy, management is untroubled in its inequities, disparities and draconian injustices. It knows nothing because it brooks no discussion. After all, when you don't know anything there's no point in changing your mind.

You're likewise screwed without a cohesive, cooperative assembly of nations. If we enlarge our mine to include the finite, fossil-resources of earth, we find them not renewable, only inheritable from current and prior exploitations. When we lose discussion we lose inclusion. We also lose innovation. Powerful heirs close ranks. They become a tontine, armed against each other, a deathwatch circled to guard a donkey-engine chugging in a hole.

Outside this hopeless, humorless, belligerent inner crowd there forms a wide margin of disenfranchised populace. Theirs is a world of tumbled walls, disused doors, their infirm dying in wheelbarrows and, because they have no aspirin, suffering constant headaches. A dismal realm, but historically one from which discussion reemerges. Innovation struggles from want and eventually human progress flourishes anew.

In stamping mills where ore is crushed and in sweatshops where it is fashioned into aspirin tablets by children chained to their anvils, opinions are born. The unwashed, downtrodden peon asks, 'If I have this one opinion, might I not have another as well, and another and another?'

It is happening right now in internet discussion groups. What confuses me is why some group moderators expel members whose opinions or styles fall outside the narrow norm. Clearly, if discussion is prerequisite to liberty, throwing out its most hopeful extremes is counterproductive. There is a tyrannical element, I suspect, that senses threat in discussion.

Moderators may quite honestly reject those comments they are unable to appreciate or understand, but doing so suppresses in themselves an important human quality, the will to expand appreciation and understanding. The will to discover has many obstacles, ignorance certainly, but the greatest obstacle of all is the illusion of knowledge.

Too often, opinions and people are discarded because they conflict with what another believes he or she knows. The group decides discovery is not worth the effort of disabusing itself and tightens around illusion. In internet, unions, government and life it is poor policy to throw chances away. When moderators, chairpersons, public officials do this the chugging echo from the hole can heard more and more clearly.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Boccherini Enigma

Over the course of long association, marked by near complete absence of argument, a dear friend and I have seldom agreed on anything. We do, however, both like music, its bearing upon history and the world at large. For instance, I am listening to Boccherini music right now. My friend probably isn't, and if he was, he wouldn't draw the same inferences as I.

Bach invented the Boccherini, a type of Italian Kazoo, hence the similarity of names. So I must challenge custom by inferring another favorite composer, Offenbach, was not only a convincing Bach impersonator but was often Milton as well. Milton was a poet, not a musician, but the Mirliton --a flute with a paper reed, yes, a kind of Kazoo-- was named for him. Or was it? Could it be a ruse by Offenbach who was also Offenmilton? A French composer born in Germany might easily wake up in Italy and not be quite himself.

Italy, in turn, was invented by Romans, from whose language comes the word Vocaphone. The Vocaphone is yet another kazoo that has trombone features. It is still used in high-class music everywhere --unlike its sibling, the Eunuch Flute, a predictably unproductive invention. But these are the building blocks of the symphony, which, while important, do not further our investigation.

We need to examine the opposite of symphony, cacophony. The Cacaphone was created in Portugal by flushing a bag of kazoos down a commode which made a noise that was heard in Spain. Queen Isabella, a monarch of refined sensibilities, was so repulsed she financed a mission, in 1492, to export this art farther away than could be imagined at the time. In the New World the Kazoo was enlarged and sealed at both ends to where it issued not music but Eskimos, and was called a Kayak.

While this investigation brings us no closer to the real identity of the genius who was so offenmistaken for other geniuses, it has given me the fun of expressing the sort of opinion my friend can't stand any more, which brings us to another rare point of agreement. Even though he and I must maintain it in different ways, we both value our sanity.



Monday, February 1, 2010

Sense And Census

Census is people and, having been one since childhood and a bigger one later, I believe any consultation of reference works on the subject would only serve to dilute personal experience. I did read, however, that we are heading into a census year. They happen every decade because nobody knows why but sort of remembers the last one. I sort of remember the last one too and will address it later on, but first a general history is in order.

Confucius advised, "If we're going ahead with this civilization thing it's going to involve people and we really ought to keep track of them." Thus the earliest cogent comment on the subject came from China and they devised a workable system, by which --because it involved math-- I confess myself baffled. But there are other countries.

Other countries have their own peculiarities and problems. The population of Italy underwent confusing fluctuations under the Borgias. The Portuguese --my own ethnic locus-- suffer an overly complex diversity. We were invaded by everybody. Romans got us bathing to where we couldn't recognize each other. Moors set us on a permanent genetic struggle with ulotrichy. Northern countries bred us for our wool and descended periodically to shear us. Even now, unshorn Portuguese are oft mistaken for bears or large moths and impounded --there are lawyers who subsist entirely upon such cases.

North has its own problems, as we shall see, but it is there, toward Germany, that I will direct this history. Renaissance Germans were a fairly untroubled population but we must begin somewhere. They were mainly stable agrarians whose number was only disturbed by boys wandering away after Rhine maidens and by guileless girls exported to sinister cabarets. Census began in a small town composed entirely of people named Geiger.

The census-taker hiked up its single, linden-lined, thoroughfare registering each person in sight on an ingenious device called a Geiger-counter. The whole process consumed, according to public record, about fifteen minutes. The method was so successful, in fact, the neighboring town of Roentgen --named after its most prominent and prolific family-- purchased all the tabulating machines soon as the Geigers were done. Recalibration was so complete and reliable that, to this day, Geiger counters will only detect and respond to Roentgens.

So, we are heading into another census year. I remember the last one being somewhat personal in its inquiries, and some people resent the government gathering overmuch information. There are laws and punishments attached to citizens who withhold it. I was able to regulate this presumption by demonstrating an astonishing degree of ignorance. I got very vague about who lived in my house and what their incomes might be if they existed. No question was simple enough for me and finally the census-taker marked a special form, under all the others on her clipboard, indicating the resident is an idiot best left undisturbed.

It is my sincere hope that this essay will allay any fears the reader might have regarding census --allay them or confound them into insignificance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Love And Fear Of Cities

Cities are places where lots of people can live in each other's pockets and everybody can buzz the hell out of everybody and, yes, I believe they're alive. Some jump up and lick you like big friendly dogs. Others rub against your legs. Always wear pants in cities. They are populated by people who are busy making money, laws and disease. I like cities and cheerfully did these things too.

But always I felt the call to see out, and responded to it. I'd leave the city's heart, ooze through its suburban adipose tissue and find space. You can't really escape its circulatory system because roads connect all cities, but you can get pretty far. Cities, like opossums, grow all their lives. A few years go by and and there's the city at the door wanting stuff --new taxes, zone revisions and a wider road out front. This indicates cities are organisms of protracted adolescence.

We must never forget we are the parents of our cities and always be ready to listen. This is not easy at my age because of all the times I had to hold infant cities and sing "Old Man River" until they stopped crying and got to sleep. I am right-handed, which is why I can't hear so good in my left ear. Other parents will understand.

And we must remember we are also objects of affection and security to our cities. We are like stuffed animals deformed by a million hugs. There are worse ways to end up. I don't know what they are but I fear them like anything.