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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hamlet Under Almond Bough

"To be or not to be --that is the question:..." (Hamlet, act 3, scene 1). It seems insoluble, or so it has seemed to me since childhood. I began reading Shakespeare in 1963 and understood it was an important question. I turned 14 that year and was very fit --owing to the physical standards promoted in schools by the Kennedy administration. We were not strangers to tragedy, nor was Shakespeare. There comes a time at which one may become too fit. That is when we begin to think far beyond ourselves. A mere 55 years later, Norma showed me 3 of her photos, which resolved the question. Here is the 1st:

We are still invited to ask: To be or not to be? But are no closer to a solution. Therefore, under the almond blossoms we are tempted to repeat --perhaps with minds more opened... be?

It is at this point of enquiry we must examine the question itself. Is it phrased in such a way that it can be answered? Not easily. This is where semantics must be invoked. We must remove the object of the preposition in favor of an object of nature. "To be" must emerge into nature from its long tenure behind the Bard's brow. Given these grammatical modifications and simple addition, the answer is obvious:

                                      Two Bees.

Friday, February 9, 2018

In Advance of Lupercalia

I decided to post this in response to Robyn Alana Engel's  general invitation regarding opinions on the 2/14 celebration and, of course, chocolate.

This essay originally appeared in February of 2013 and was entitled
Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts but it seemed appropriate to trot it out again in observance of St. Valentine's Day. There are a few alterations  in  an  attempt  to "tighten it up" like I  was  taught to do in  school  but  they have largely failed. The serious questions and subject matter it deals with will doubtless withstand a few flaws in construction and research.

What is romance really, hah? Having got to another Valentine's Day, we still have little idea how it came to represent romance, especially since the saint it is named for didn't have any head --clearly not an ostentation of sentimentality. I am more inclined toward the Roman frolic it replaced, Lupercalia, which took place from February 13 through 15 and included the 14th --our modern Valentine's Day-- as a sort of recess reserved for apologizing to relatives and livestock and trying to stand up.
                                [The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing, circle of Adam Elsheimer : Luperci dressed as dogs, goats, Cupid etc.--source Wikipedia (public domain)]

Plutarch described Lupercalia: "At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs." The apt pupil of the human pageant has no difficulty understanding the decline of this strenuous recreation and its replacement by "romance books" --a very popular genre in our less aerobic modern culture.

One of my favorite romance books is The Romance Of Modern Engineering, by Archibald Williams (also author of The Romance Of Modern Inventions, The Romance Of Petroleum, etc.). It was published in 1904 and contains interesting descriptions of the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls Power Co. and the Bermuda Floating Dock. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

No. We must consider for ourselves what truly comprises the most Romantic technological and engineering milestones of all time. I would choose Velcro, gas-driven airplanes, two-sided paper and "even" numbers.

Velcro, still widely used, was invented by the Romans specifically for early horse-drawn elevators. They needed something to keep the horses' hooves stuck to the walls. It allowed horses enough traction to climb vertical shafts, pull elevators up from floor to floor, then back them down again.

Unfortunately, Romans failed to solve other modes of automatic ascension. Nothing short of propellers spun by internal combustion could lift the limitations of the horse-drawn airplane, which was confined to very low altitudes and velocities, but elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day.

Romans wrote everything important on scrolls, or a single long strip, which they rolled up onto spools and corded on library shelves. If you check a scroll's table of contents, you'll find all subjects, chapters, everything listed on page one. That is because a scroll technically only has one page. It was not until the invention of two-sided paper that modern books appeared and tables of contents made any sense. Mathematicians were called in to decide what to call the back of page one. They suggested "two" and the even number was born.

Now if that isn't Romantic, I give up.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Bark Bucket

A chittering in low branches caught my attention.
"Hello Earnest, what's up?"

"I am up, Geo. I am wondering what that purple roundy thing is."

"Then come down. You're welcome to see for yourself."

"Ok, but no funny business. Don't eat me or anything."

"Of course not, Earnest. I'm not even a bit hungry for raw squirrel."

"I will feel safer if I sneak down. Things have been swooping at me lately --screechy things!"


"I guess, coming down now."

"I don't see any hawks, Earnest. Should be safe."

"What about the other swoopers --hooty things?"

"Owls? None in evidence during daylight."

"Ok, Geo. What is this?"
"It's a purple plastic pail, Earnest --half-full of bark."

"DOG BARK??!!"

"Tree bark, cedar and redwood. You've never seen them before because they come from far away, from the coast and from Lebanon."

"Geo., the scent is intoxicating, comforting. I want to get in this bucket."

"It's Norma's bucket, Earnest. She's been spreading these barks all over the planting areas, but I don't think she'd mind if you..."
"Oh WOW! This is incredible! Geo., I smell primordial mountain forests, trees a thousand feet tall, land-masses calving into continents so many million years ago! I feel coastlines collide and pitch mountains far beyond our little lives, far before my life on this property."

"My dear, beautiful Earnest, you made a very tough decision to sneak down from the trees --my species did the same-- a decision with severe consequences..."

"Worse than swoopers? I felt so frightened!"

"Yes, far worse than hawks and owls, Earnest. That is not cowardice. That is bravery."

Thursday, January 25, 2018

10 Things You Only Need To Know 1/10th Of

In keeping with my survey of other years and other posts this month, I've decided to tweak and repost this old plum from 6 years ago -- 8/3/2012, when I was only a boy of 62. So here it is trotted out from its shadow, full of stuff I don't quite understand because who knows what a kid that age is thinking?






 10 Things You Only Need To Know 1/10th Of

I am a serious man.

This is a self-assessment typical of my generation, which dates back to the 1480s when young princes, whose existences ran counter to established interests, were locked in the Tower of London. As we grew taller, stopped wearing blond hair and velvet and progressed politically in the 1950s, children were still legally required to give three-years' written notice before running, jumping or questioning their local draft boards. This was stern, but manageable.

The guide for childhood education used in the 1950s was compiled by King Henry VII of England, a standard reference book in schools until Dr. Benjamin Spock (a Vulcan) found its pages blank. This was because the author's son, Henry VIII, destroyed all records of his father except for the word "oodle" on page 56 and some enthusiastic promotional blurbs from Richard III on the back cover. VII and III, as they familiarly called each other, fell out for some reason before they got out of their 20's, I think. It's an awkward age.

VIII and III are really Roman numerals. Here is a picture of a Roman:
[Public domain etching,  Charlotte Mary Yonge, (1823-1901) - Project Gutenberg's Young Folks' History of Rome.]

He is a soldier, a centurion --even though he looks much younger-- and part of a unit of 99 other centurions. They did roll call like this: Sound off! "Aye!(one!)", Aye aye!(two!)", "Aye aye aye! (three!)", "Aye Vee!" and so on until "Cee!" at which number you have a full compliment of centenarians.

I remember, age 30, and sympathize with Henry VII and Richard III, when friends seemed to involute socially, withdraw and cling to their own rocks like whelks. It was an unpleasant surprise. But even that failed to prepare me for what happened 30 years after that. When I retired I thought I had scads of work friends, which narrowed down immediately to mere oodles, then none. Basically, when out of sight, one is also out of mind, heart and invitation rosters.

I might as well have got locked in the Tower Of London.

Now I just fart around wondering things like, how many oodles make a scad. Most of my friends have been around most of my life, and I love them, but I sure miss the ones that wandered mindlessly away. I guess the trick is to overstock early, like maybe 50 or 100 scads, then you might get an oodle in your 60s.

Or you can get to know new kids. Cool them off. Let them call you Gramps and like you. The world doesn't have enough serious old characters called Gramps, even though old movies are lousy with them.
Here I do a Gramps dance:
(My famous 16-second gravel dance)

  But as for raising kids, just let their minds stay healthy and they'll raise themselves. Each of them is all 10 things we only need to know 1/10th of and they want to be happy. Take it from Gramps. I'm Gramps and I'm a serious man.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Is Resistance Futile or Futility Resistant?

Let's begin with two opposing operations of the internet, a collective used for human relations. On one side we have the free exchange of information. On the other we have fragmentation, reorientation and conversion. I invite you to spend the next two minutes watching this clip of Star Trek The Next Generation --a tv series broadcast from 1987 through 1994. It prefigures our dependence upon digital interconnection for the advancement of  the human adventure but also the threat of being brainwashed into an inhuman (and inhumane) collective.  
(Star Trek NG Picard kidnapped by Borg)

An apposite quote;  Cicero (106-43 B.C.): "We are obliged to respect, defend and maintain the common bonds of union that exist among all members of the human race." Does this mean we should oppose sociopathic despots rattling sabres? Yes, I suppose so. Does it mean we should persecute people accused of legal offense without witness or evidence? You tell me. Laws are always under revision. What is constitutionally or legally actionable? When I think about it, it feels like the first digit of my I.Q. has fallen off --and I have been on juries!

When I think back to all the consensual energetic 1960s activities people were swept up in , I can assure you, the best-known names weren't the only ones making decisions that day or this day --one distributes culpability. Likewise, I have need of the internet because it's just too hard to maintain this high level of political stupidity on my own,  but I refuse to join a collective because they presume to be less exact than I am. 


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Uncle Eyeball Revisited

I decided to kick off this year with a repost --from 4 years back-- because it's late at night here and I was perusing old posts about hopes and progress --but found this and thought it came close. Please enjoy, and do your best to make this year wonderful too.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ask Uncle Eyeball

Having received today this artful creation of eyemuscle muttonchops from Daughter in Chicago, I decided to test a format I have not attempted since writing for the Kerr Courier in 1964, an advice column. It is New Year's Eve and I am not entirely in possession of myself, so I don't know where these questions are coming from, but I shall in all my best respond.

Dear Uncle Eyeball,
I don't usually consider myself old but lately I have seen my grandfather's face in the mirror --if you know what I mean. What should I do? --Boomer

Dear Boomer,
No, I don't know what the hell you mean but my grampa was born in 1872 and I had the same problem. I kicked the old boy out of the bathroom and told him not to monopolize the mirror. If, however, you are speaking figuratively and your mirror makes you feel old, just move it farther away until it conforms to your youthful self-image. I have done this repeatedly and successfully. My bathroom mirror is now located somewhere in Japan.

Dear Uncle Eyeball,
We are thinking of buying our first home. Please advise!--Normal Guy

Dear Normal,
If you really are normal, you should watch out for things realtors never tell you --like hardly anybody in any neighborhood they move you into is anything close to normal. In fact, current sociological studies show that every fourth house on Earth is full of creeps. In densely populated tracts you'll have neighbors borrowing  tools to permanently remove mufflers from their cars and motorcycles. This initiates tingo*, an Easter Island word defined as borrowing things until nothing is left. You may wish to save up until you can buy two properties on either side of you, or move out of town. Even in the peaceful panorama of the bucolic countryside, the statistic holds, there's just more room. I opted for the latter and you can see how happy I am.

Dear Uncle Eyeball,
What is New Year's really? --Janus
Dear Janus,
I thought you had this settled long ago. New Year's is an heroic annual attempt made by the Cosmos to bridge the awful gap between you, me and fabulous wealth. Each year brings promise and hope, hope for peace, prosperity, tolerance and understanding --but mainly for compassion and love. These may sound like magical qualities with little chance of success and proliferation, but I assure you it is at least more than what every fourth person in the world wants. Perhaps you could get with the other gods and narrow that down.

And so to business. Let's all treat each other decently and have a Happy New Year!
Best wishes,
              Uncle Eyeball

* I don't usually do footnotes but must give credit to my copy of  Adam Jacot de Boinod's excellent book, The Meaning Of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words From Around The World (Penguin Press, New York, 2006) for this Pascuense word.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

"Wishes" --Norma

The installation over this text is furnished by Norma's Yule overbaking and has been pressed into service as illustration of her worldview.  It also illustrates a view of Thomas à Kempis, who said, "First, keep the peace within yourself, then you can bring it to others." I consider the combination of Norma-installation and
Thomas à Kempis quote to be axiomatic. Let's not be deceived by warmongers and saber-rattlers whose methods increase alienation, threaten life, environment and futurity --all that sustains us. Norma's wish, my wish and I hope yours is peace on Earth.