All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Message

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski was a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics.  He said, "There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or disbelieve everything. Both ways save us from thinking." 

I don't know if I believe that. 
I am of an age when it is most appealing to seek paths of least resistance. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes all my thoughts to slide right out my head. This makes me chuckle idiotically while those who love me smile a special smile that says, "Don't be alarmed; he has become an imbecile --it will pass."

There has to be some resistance or I'd be a full-time chuckle-head. But I am an admirer of Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski because he'd have to be very smart just to learn to spell his name. Then he fell out of my head so I turned to Norma and asked her to take a photo for me.

"Of what?"


She went into her workroom and took a Normaphoto of her radio:

Yes, we are having daffodils. They will follow rain and sunshine here even when it is quite cold out. They blossom in resistance. They have no brains. But I turned on the radio and heard an old song by someone who does. The old singer not only has brains but the gift of one of the prettiest voices in the world. The song, which he wrote, expresses perfectly the faith, hope and uncertainty that attends my still inaccessible thoughts about the new year. Listen:

                                                         [Gordon Lighfoot, "Too Late For Prayin'"]
And I guess that nails it. No matter what the sphygmomanometer around my head says my IQ is at the moment, I recognize the past five or six years have accomplished a hope. I began retirement in 2009 and hoped I could spend it in the company of good minds. With the kindness and encouragement of you, my blogging accomplices, I have done and hope to keep doing precisely that. So my message is, THANKS.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Great Detritus

In common usage, the word detritus is said to come from the French détritus, from Latin detritus, past participle of deterere, and this seems to satisfy most scholars. However, the etymology is seldom pursued to its source, the ancient Greek philosopher from whose name the word was abstracted.

Understandably, much of the philosophy of Detritus has disintegrated. It is the purpose of this essay to reconstruct it by reverse-engineering. Here is an example of reverse-engineering:

What you see is Jibboom Street Bridge, a truss bridge spanning the confluence of two great rivers. American River joins the Sacramento River at this location, much as the Electromagnetic Continuum merges with the Gravitational Continuum to compose our Cosmos. Jibboom Bridge was built in the 1930s with its central truss motorized to swivel on a central pivot of concrete and steel. This allowed tall ships to pass and worked fine for decades until  it got stuck and several vessels were reduced to detritus upon it.

If you peer under its right half, you can see the lower decks of the sternwheeler, Delta King, moored at the lower end of Sacramento City.  King is tall and cannot pass Jibboom Street any more. Its cosmos has shrunk, but has it deteriorated toward detritus? Here is another picture:

This photo was taken two days ago, Christmas Day, upon the gang plank boarding Delta King. In the foreground are Norma and our friends, Wendy and Dan. They are all two or three years my junior, yet there I am in the back looking like a multiple of their combined ages. Was I placed behind because I am, in the spirit of the great Detritus, a detriment to their youthfulness?

I suppose these musings might have to do with turning 65 years old this month, and having long worked outdoors which turned me to jerky, but secretly I look into mirrors with some satisfaction that I have aged every minute of my life. Away from mirrors, except for those employed for purposes of internal reflection upon the Cosmos, I delight in having made up the great Greek philosopher Detritus, and consigned him beyond either terminus of general existence, without the least detrimental effect upon my sanity or longevity --even though such a luminary would greatly simplify philology.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice and Eclipse

For this post, I have returned to another December 21st. Four years ago, I had the thrill of making a scientific discovery during an eclipse of the moon. I am still trying to determine which of Earth's moons it was, but no matter. It is time to post the thing again and try to get the recognition due its researchers by the scientific community:

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, 2010, when three men combined their intellects via email to discover an astronomical reality that had theretofore 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 a mile or two away. It'd have to be impossibly big to show up at the distance Jeff says. However, his earlier report that he saw the eclipse at 3 a.m. surprised me. Moon goes west and Jeff 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.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Sermon

I begin this sermon without particular aim, which may not sound sensible. However, experience teaches, it is prudent not to make overmuch sense because it annoys people. What experience?

In 1969, I was sharing a house near the college, on Deeble Street, with three other students. I woke late on a Sunday morning to rock music blasting from the communal stereo in the dining room. I looked about for my clothes until finding I was wearing them and shuffled out to investigate. The French doors giving onto the patio had been thrust open. Coffee and conversation was underway. My housemates were having a lively discussion about the future of the peace movement --which vitally concerned us all.

I shut off the stereo. There was immediate and general protest.

To which I replied: "Ten feet off our door is a Deeble. Ten feet off that, yet another Deeble and so on. This is an old and closely clustered street. No one who inflicts a disturbance that loud upon neighbors has any idea of what peace is, or the least interest in it."

I was roundly declared a self-righteous et cetera --which, of course, I was. I anwered with a quote from Bertrand Russell, a hero who --at the time-- still had a year's work ahead: " ' All movements go too far.' " -- then poured myself some coffee and repaired to my room.

By habit, I flipped on the light switch as I walked in, then remembered. When I had just turned four years old, my eight-year-old brother, Frankie, and I shared a room. One night, I was flipping the light switch on, off, on and off and he asked what I was doing. I replied, "When I shut off the lights, nobody else can see either, right?"


"So, when I close my eyes and can't see, is it dark for everybody else too?"



"Sure! Try it. Close your eyes."

"Ok, can't see. Can you?"

"Nope. Open your eyes so we can look at stuff."

Likewise, the peace movement sent me off to my own apartment where I could ponder such enigmatic questions that kept me awake when I should have been working. They are questions of another century but I am still plugging away at them. Indeed, in individual adjustment and raising new generations to a good idea, all movements go too far.
Good thing too. Go in peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

True Meditation

As illustration for this essay I am using a panel of our dining room sideboard that was particularly ugly and deserved what it got. It got several decades of kids, and their kids, growing up and pasting anything having to do with bicycles on it.

I considered this in two ways: it would decrease the resale value of the house and thereby keep me from getting snagged in real estate crashes; it gave kids something meditative to do while I meditated and Norma bounced off walls taking care of everybody. If you would like audio accompaniment as well, I suggest (because it renders me soundly meditative within 30 seconds) Olivier Messiaen's "Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps", in which Jesus is a broad phrase on the vionocello, a Word --Logos-- to express infinite slowness, which is how light experiences time.

In physics we learn the universe is composed of events. In philosophy we learn matter and mind are two ways of organizing events. Matter exists without biology; mind does not. We can safely infer the universe uses both organizational modes to communicate with itself. Because both combine in production of meaning, we assume the universe is getting to know itself in greater detail. It seems to be having a childhood. What further cosmic devices it develops by the time it begins dating are as yet unfathomable. Our job is to puzzle it out and help.

Eastern groups concentrate on the purposes of meditation, which are to live in the moment, pacify negative emotions, attain physical, mental and emotional health, live non-violently, purify consciousness, balance action, reaction and inaction. Modern medicine has ascertained this discipline improves the neuro-endocrine system, regulates emotions and hormones, reconciles subconscious mind and personality. Not bad.

Here's a generally Indian procedural list: Kayotsarg, relaxation and self awareness; Antaryatra, exploration of body; Svash Preksha, perception of long breathing; Chaitanya Kendra Preksha, perception of psychic centres; Bhavana, auto-suggestion; Asana; Pranayam, postures and breathing. The goal, briefly, is transformation of negative emotions into positive ones. Lot of terminology but simple enough.

Here's how it translates into Western Dialogue, at my house anyway:

She: Wake up! Wake up!

I: Mmmphh?

She: You're asleep in your chair.

I: I was meditating.

She: You were snoring.

I: Chanting sub-vocally.

She: People who sleep in chairs fall out and hurt themselves. You were about to fall out!

I: You know Norma, this is the reason monks don't usually have wives.

She: Nobody'd marry them because they're always asleep and falling over.

I: Meditating, prostrating.

She: So you'd rather be a monk than married to me?

I: Uh, I'm all enlightened now. Think I'll go outside.

And I do go outside, usually to think. In thought, one solves --but with each answer more questions present themselves. This makes life marvelous and frustrating, so many people wisely stop thinking before it gets out of hand. I, however, have learned to shuffle off to the pumphouse where, among other philosophical instruments, I keep a humidor. Nicotinic meditation tends to clarify facts at hand, even pull them out of thin air. It does not unify one with the universe or smarten one up, but it does calm one down during spousal bickers and successive attacks by descendants upon the paneling.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tide, Time and Poetry

Like all humans, I contain several tablespoons of salt. It is a ratio I share with seawater because both are made of things found on earth. Earth, in turn, was assembled by electric and gravitational attractions that various compounds exert upon one another. Throughout these compilations there remain attachments to forces shifting among the stars. Like sound aimed at a microphone, they stir oceans and make them speak. We hear it on the shore when currents collide into waves. We hear it when wind scrapes treetops. We hear it in our brains when we are very sleepy. Here is a little poem about that:

The ocean is always
In you and in me,
Where gravity dreams,
Fictitious forces swirl,
Marmoreal seams pitch
Into air.
What is too far
And ancient to see
Can at least be
Heard there.

Let's see what rolls out of the waves, shall we?

Certainly technology-heavy genres have their distances and drawbacks. Although forms of considerable poetic sophistication, Heavy Metal and Rap always sound like tantrums to me --a parent shouting its wit's short end, a child stomping off, heart beating over foetal head. When the beat stops I expect to hear: NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM!!; a bottle opening; a door slamming. But that too is part of the poetry of our time, the rhythm of waves. We ignore it at our peril. I'd never been an avid e.e. cummings fan either, but discovering "i sing of Olaf" in 1968 impelled me to leave no authority unexamined and saved my life.

Next wave: 1969.  I drove a hop truck in the late summer harvest. When possible, I'd stop for lunch at Flora's place. She had a poster there of a Robert Frost quote, "Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive Thy great big one on me." Flora was a retired school teacher who knew poetry and I was a hick who needed to know more. Reciprocity opens minds and working hops without it was just hot and hard. I kept learning poetry.

I could go on anecdotally about how poetry redirected me in positive ways, but these two successive waves suffice. Thought is a very random enterprise, like the vast universe that sets it up and sends sunlight to fuel it. It also furnishes an ocean in our heads, portable oceans, which cuts down driving considerably. I am reminded of the old Masefield poem, which I learned over a half-century ago but can still garble from memory:

"I must go down to the sea again, to the Coney Island sand,
And all I ask is a traffic jam backed up to Disneyland..."

John Masefield, if I remember with my usual degree of accuracy, was a writer for Mad Magazine in 1960 who eventually became British Poet-Laureate in 1930.

I am still a hick.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Talking With Hilbert Space

A couple years ago, I posted a poem entitled "Planting In Hilbert Space". Nine people looked at it but none commented --not an unusual count for my poetry but I have come to suspect some confusion overtook the dynamic of delivery and concept. Nor do I understand what I have just written, so let us examine this enigma together. First, an examination of Hilbert is in order.

Hilbert space is named after David Hilbert (German mathematician, 1862-1943). It generalizes the concept of Euclidean space and extends the method of vector algebra from two- and three-dimensional space to spaces of any finite or infinite number of dimensions. Hilbert decided, "Physics is too hard for physicists", so he devised a kinetic geometry consistent with human imagination. Hilbert Space became a computational model universe that is mathematically complete and can be used to generate proofs of theoretical phenomena.

Hilbert kept it inside his really really big hat.

My success in duplicating this device depended upon carefully collecting the principal components over a period of many years. Normaphoto below shows the apparatus consists of two globes of Hilbert Space, one nickle-plated steel (1920's ice-cube shaver) and one plexiglass (so we can see the plasmoid flux inside), a 1900 Western Electric candlestick telephone, some wires and a bell.

I assembled these items into a unified philosophical instrument and waited...and waited...oh then I remembered to plug it in. Then the bell rang.


"Hello, this is Hilbert Space 1 and 2. What?"

At this point I hurriedly recited my poem:

Planting In Hilbert Space

Something wakes as from a dream,
Shakes itself and begins.
It is you, me, everyone who
Has been and will be.
It can see
Time, swim gravity,
Stretch its electric body
Over rises, bends,
To wonders where
Galaxies spin and what
Is born where all
Of it ends.
Every spark contains our
Hopes, sorrows.
As from a dream, I ask:
Tomorrows, please, can
You promise tomorrows?

To which Hilbert Space replied, "Oh sure, why the hell not?"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Genies, Courthouse Doodlebugs And Lunch Enigmas

                                          [Normaphoto: Robert Matsui U.S. Courthouse}]

I like to think our present selves are genies who grant wishes to selves we used to be, and continue to do so even while the present becomes fixed, certain, passes and turns to stone. Variables disappear. Present self becomes former and joins immutable history like stone doodlebugs.

We can pursue some certainty by asking questions that span time. I asked two of the many mischievous doodlebugs that infest our courthouse down by the river --a process recorded by Norma in the picture above. Doodlebugs are turning to stone. I am on their right, turning to jerky. Here is a transcript:

"Do our minds associate ideas or do ideas, aware of themselves, group out of affection?"


"Are more things far away than close up because there is more room for them?"


"After Galileo and Copernicus shattered Ptolemy's "Celestial Spheres" theory, did he ever let them play with his things again?"


"Is thought the only physical process exempt from the predetermined behavior of matter?"


"To future observers, what is the difference between an arrow shot into a bulls-eye and a bulls-eye painted around an arrow shot anyplace?"


"Why do all children, at a certain age, eat pitted olives off their fingertips?"


"Does zero, which reproduces itself mathematically by subtraction, prove its own absence?"


"If all players in a game of tag touch each other at once, who's it?"


"Can I hang a photograph of itself hanging on my wall?"


The only defense available to stone doodlebugs against human questions is a U.S.Court-Approved Silence Act to minimize annoyance to them. So I left  and joined some family and friends aboard the Delta King, an old sternwheeler docked off Front Street and stocked with food and beer. We all asked each other many questions over the table. I found interrogatives dispel all concept of a stagnant universe and make lunch more fun.

                                                [Delta KingCC BY-SA 3.0  by J.smith ]

Another question did occur to me aboard the riverboat. I thought of Heraclitus, who said, "It is impossible to step into the same river twice." I hoped it would at least be possible to have lunch on it again. I wanted to ask someone about it but my company had already seen me talking to statues and framed their own interrogatives about my sanity, so I refrained. Such an inquiry might defeat its own motive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Clouds Fly Now


A popularly accepted sign that an older person is about to garrulate are the words, "Young people nowadays..." and "Time was...".  It is a pattern, just as children extend their thoughts beyond available data, just as I often say things I haven't thought of yet. We progress in life from free playground repartee to underwear arguments with college roommates, then brittle tête-à-têtes with colleagues, to finally leaning close and asking, "eh!? what was that?" But there is no really reliable forecast of impending garrulity. That is a myth.

Young people nowadays have it way harder than my generation. Time was, I remember, 40-50 years ago, we had a huge number of young people who wanted, above all, happiness --happiness for everybody. Then it attenuated to happiness for themselves because not everybody could be happy about everything. Then they grew into very loud churches and subcultures that desired their own happiness over the unhappiness of others and paradise was lost. Sorry stuff, but kids now fear for their lives.

Young people nowadays aren't safe. They'd like to be. They'd like to achieve the same safe, sustainable society all generations want. But we are stuck on Heraclitus who observed, "All beasts are driven to the pasture with blows." This does not improve the disposition of new Utopians. Young people are not beasts, they are human. We are human. Humans possess a capacity for nonsense, for imagination, qualities that can thwart designs of corporate voices in the head and brutalities of misrule. Imaginative nonsense can lead us places for which defensive logic is sometimes too ponderously awkward.

Young people nowadays, to them I suggest, consider the clouds. Consider herds of them making their way inland from the sea. They are heading toward distant mountains to resolve into streams, join rivers, enrich the land then return to the sea once more. An ongoing cycle, but it too has changed since I was young. Clouds fly now. Time was, clouds had to walk inland. I'd see them plodding along lonely roads with gravel and weeds sticking to their foggy feet. They moved slowly, wearily, often minus parts that snagged on fences or got sheared by a passing truck. They had dangerous work.

In the evening you could always tell when a cloud was knocking on the door. There wasn't a knock so much as a chuff-chuff, which was all their soft fists could manage. They'd ask for a glass of water. Sometimes they'd want directions to a nice pasture to lie down in, which was sad because they never got up --but it was how we got vernal pools so we accepted it. Then, by and by, something changed.

Somewhere, maybe out on the ocean, a cloud leaned forward and fell in a certain way and, as you and I sometimes do in dreams, began to fly. Clouds, like young people nowadays, are natural rubberneckers and once they get the principle of a thing they do it too. Before long, all clouds got to flying, like the ones in the picture above, and they arrived whole and safe upon high ranges of the earth. Young People Nowadays, go thou and do likewise.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

All I Seem To Do Lately

Above is a Normaphoto of me on the phone to far away offices with strange-sounding names, cheerfully demonstrating an astonishing degree of ignorance. Mercifully cropped from the frame is a drift of brochures and forms --paper forms because I don't understand electronic contracts-- that have occupied my every spare moment for two months, and promise to occupy more months. I remember a time when a series of simple insurance transactions were accomplished in minutes and did not stretch out so and threaten to become a way of life.

Times change, of course, and progress demands electronic intimacy between personal accounts and providers, but I don't like it. I still have two dollars I don't want them to know about. So I decline this brash new technological efficiency for fear I'll disappear in a puff of logic, and tell them so. They doubtless have some coded category in Boolean algebra for my species of idiot but it cannot be entirely defined --it's in the Bible: "The perverse are hard to be corrected and the number of fools is infinite"(Ecclesiastes 1:15, Douay-Rheims American Edition).

Infinity is so big and various that I have used my mental remains to design protection for their residue. I'm not talking about aluminum foil hats here. I'm talking about tinfoil, which is alloyed with lead to keep it from cracking. A hat of leaded tinfoil would deflect all sorts of quantum incursions that aluminum lets right in like a moose through a hole in a window screen.

Consider improvements in human communities that resulted from early plumbing, which was all lead. Yes, lead has a toxicity that lowers the intelligence of those repeatedly exposed to it but many things that advance civilization make us a little stupid --like tinfoil hats and electronic contracts. Excuse me, I have just confused myself.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

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 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 stuff 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 from suffering these particulars in public. But, most importantly, it has distracted man from any further silly ideas about cleaning his shed.

{Clip: Hoots On Dogs And Humans}

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I Have Married Once

"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.
 Forgive me for posting so late at night and so sketchily --a word? I no longer know. At 10 p.m. I found my computer had been hacked. My fingers have been flying like enraged  hornets for an hour and a half. At least 100 Normaphotos are missing from my files and replaced by a mediocre seascape. Yet, I have not given up! I shall type faster than the malfeasant miscreant who authored this outrage. I have cleared the monster from my computer but it required the sacrifice of a folder to do so, as well as 2 deep circuit scans of all my poor old HP's systems.

Ah, I have recovered her photos! You are safe to view, yes, to read this bit of triumph. All scans turn up negative as I write and retrieve. The machine is clean. Surely, M. Breton, surrealist as he was until I was well into my teens, predicted such outrages. My fingers are tired. I triumph! It is almost Dimanche --my sermon! Go in peace!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Beeing An Individual

I was admiring a zinnia when I heard a tiny, buzzy sort of snore. I leaned closer.

"Hello Bead."

"Huh? Wha? Oh, it's you. Did you call me Bead?"

"Yes, I know you're a bee but my daughter used to call bees "beads" when she was little and I guess it stuck."

" 'Sokay. Charming. I was just resting my eyes. Gimme a moment."

I stepped around the flower bed and admired its progress, but kept glancing back at Bead to see if he was all right.
He fluttered and flapped and propped himself up onto 3 elbows to look at me with sleepy curiosity.

"What?" He said.

"Well, I was just wondering if honey is really bee poop."

"Ha! If it was, we'd teach you how to do it and human cities would smell a lot better. But no, it's an entirely separate process --nothing to do with our digestion. You can see --yes come close, I won't sting..."

You sure?

"Of course! If we sting, we die, a system most conducive to tolerance and pacifism, I assure you. Observe my fur."


"Yes, and practical. It gathers pollen from flowers and transfers it to other flowers. No flowers, no horticulture, no vegetation without us furry bees. But that's hardly half our job. We gather nectar to make honey, remember where we got it, then fly it back to the hive to store it in cells. Other bees evaporate its water content down to 18% by flapping their wings, then seal it up to cure for a while."

"To feed us?"

"Secondarily, yes, but first to nourish our young. Not really feeding either, as honey is not digested by anything that eats it, not even humans. It goes right into the bloodstream without modification."

"Wow! Who figured that out, Bead?"

"Well, uhm..."

"Name's Geo."

"Well, Geo., it was really a corporate development. I mean, look at me --yes, look at my head. Do I look like I have enough brains to think that up?"

"Geo., I'll say it for you: I have a brain the size of a grass seed. It's under this black shiny cap in front of my wings. Foraging bees solve traveling problems every day, visit flowers at multiple locations and, because we use lots of energy to fly, we find a route that keeps flying to a minimum."

"And you say this is due to a corporation consolidating your species? Good heavens, Bead, what of individualism?"

"Geo., the strength of individualism is in taking a nap in a flower and telling the corporation whatever I want. Meanwhile, I get to meet people like you and have adventures on the job. You're human and only beginning to understand the rise of corporate evolution and corporate ultimacy. A million years hence, you too will be snoozing in the nearest zinnia and discussing your private thoughts."

"You mean?"

"Yes, I mean individualism requires no more brain than a grass seed, and maybe someone to call you 'Bead'."

"Instead of bee?"

"Precisely, but tell nobody, Geo."

"I will compose myself in silence."

"Thanks, Geo., silence is good but it's ok to buzz a little bit."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Great Beer Question!

I have read several articles in which archaeologists and anthropologists combine to 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 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 jostle and chip. Getting civilized was the obvious solution.

We can imagine a typical prehistoric domestic exchange:

She: I'm having 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 always compliment what they bring over.
He: Well, yes, I like roast enemy as much as the next fellow but enough's enough!
She: Then you'll be pleased to hear the Savages have lately got civilized.
He: Great! They can help with 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 for a beer, even become civilized?

Friday, October 3, 2014

How We Dream

As I gain in age and experience, I find myself getting more polite in dreams. Do you? Why is that?
Above is a Normaphoto of a sunbeam entering our garden. What is a sunbeam, really? It is a visible wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is made of photons, irreducible packets (quanta) of electromagnetic energy that carry a kick. They kick leaves and cause them to make plant food. They kick solar cells and make them produce electricity. Photons with a big kick defy the static idea (Law) of Matter-Energy Conservation and don't last long. Photons with a little kick can travel real far, which is why we see distant stars. Photons are what we see when light subtends the eye and kicks electrons in our retinas.

We receive no information  about the universe smaller than a photon.

This is not a subject upon which I can deliver a professorial lecture with a closed mind. Nobody can talk about atoms with a closed mind. So I won't. I will doodle:
I doodle a sunbeam of visible light above. It has a wavelength of about 10 centimeters peak to peak. It arrives at the eye after about 7 minutes travel --big kick-- and kicks atoms in our retinas, which send electrical cascades up optic nerves to the brain and we see things.

But here's the enigma: we are what we are --omnivores who eat plants and animals that eat plants-- and see what we see because of photons, photons in the visible light part of the spectrum. What  about when we're asleep and our eyes are closed? Visible light can barely get through a piece of paper, much less closed eyelids. What are we seeing when we dream of light? When we dream of anything, it is as though we see it in light. Is dreamed light light, and if not, what? Observe doodle:

There are light wavelengths that pass through paper, eyelids --like x-rays-- but I shall go for something stronger, quanta that pass through bone, roofing, Tupperware --if you sleep in Tupperware for its preservative qualities like I do-- and even lead. Our grandchildren all went through a stage of calling Norma "Gamma Namma" --which not only evokes memories of 1950's giant city-destroying-monster movies but also suggests Gamma Rays. Gamma rays go through everything, especially our brains at night. Compare upper and lower doodles:
Gamma rays have a much tighter wavelength and travel any old distance pushing themselves to a mighty kick. They get in your head at night and your brain perceives them as light. Why? Because they bypass retinas, bones and kick off electrons in your visual cortex. These are some badass photons. The sleeping brain processes them as light.


They induce an electromagnetic charge which, like all charges, is surrounded by virtual photons. These are photons that exist for a short time after virtualization, unreality. Your brain responds by navigating the images they create, and that is your dream self --accommodating the disturbed verges of reality.  Is it real? I can only quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek [season3, episode6, "Spectre Of The Gun"]: "Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not apply, there is no reality." This, of course, forces us into accountability even in the virtual photons of dreams*. Another enigma for another time, possibly when I am awake.

                 *Click for further discussion on the OK corral on prior post.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

You DO Lakme, Don't You Mallika?

Because there was a big concert in Paris this year, at which one of my favorite Léo Delibes pieces was performed under strobe and party lights in the garden of humanity that Paris is, I decided to trot this old post out from a few years back and add a clip of the recent performance. If you've never heard the Flower Duet in its entirety, I envy you the experience. It also has peripheral bearing on something I've thought a lot about lately and intend to write about soon: the effect of gamma rays upon atomic nuclei and why we dream. Please enjoy:

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 servant, is a mezzo-soprano, which means they can also be friends in an opera --no hair-pulling, no tears, opera friends. 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 illustrate this enthusiasm have appended a specimen below.

[As an afterthought, I should mention the name, Mallika, means "jasmine" in Sanskrit, which is fitting. Lakme is also of Sanskrit origin and means "born in milk". I do not know what this has to do with anything except the role has always been awarded to mammals.]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Poppy Again



"It's me, Poppy. Is this a bad time?"

"I've been busy with paperwork and phone calls and suffering a degree of ambivalence, but no."


"It means I'm of two minds about something but welcome the break."

"Then it is a bad time to contact you."

"Not at all, it's just 2014, an election year between election years. When are you, where are you and what's going on?"

"It's 1517, Geo. I'm in Italy at the house of Francesco del Gioconda."

"Ok, that rings a bell, two bells in fact. But why are you using a computer instead of a telephone or telepathy?"

"Because no telephones and our telepathy splits up at your end lately."

"It'll pass. On second thought, how are you using a computer in 1517? "

"I brought my iPad, and it seems to connect to the internet when the artist is around.


"Uh huh, he's been painting Mrs. Giocondo's portrait."

"Lisa del Giocondo?"

"They call her Mona here.

"Poppy, Mona is a contraction of  'mia' or 'ma donna', like we shorten 'my dame' to 'madam' to 'ma'am'. It's a title of respect, of rank. But about the artist..."

"You mean Leo? He's really good but getting impatient, I think."

"Leo as in Leonardo."

"Uh huh."

"He's a time traveler, Poppy, and he's packing temporal electronics. That's how your iPad is connecting."

"Leo. Geo. You guys all abbreviate your names!"

"I'm nowhere near his class, Poppy, but that's pretty much it. Why is he impatient?"

"Well, Mrs...I mean Mona is really nervous. She smells smoke all the time (women do) and dashes to shut doors in case of flames in the house. She worries that the kettle's boiling over,  faucet's dripping or the garden behind her doesn't look good enough. She's so worried she can't smile for the painting. Leo says it would help if we got a musician to amuse her, but...wait, he's pointing his brush at my iPad and making hissy noises."

"I understand. Give me a moment and play this for her: 

{clip: Richie Havens performing "Hole In The Future"}
Any better, Poppy?"

"Oh my gosh, Geo.! Just look!"
"Wonderful, Poppy! That enigmatic smile will grace even more timelines, more histories. You did good!"

"But Geo., are you feeling any better?"
"Well, yes and no. Either Norma's experimenting at my expense or I really need to go lie down."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How To Know Everything Else

I should begin by dedicating this post to my dear friend, Willie, who visited this town over the weekend and continued our 49-year-long conversation about what can and cannot be known and beer:

Having previously dealt with the subject of How To Know Everything, I thought it apposite to discuss methods for knowing everything else. It is probably kindest to begin by saying there are no fixed methods in philosophy for knowing everything else short of a complete survey of the entire universe, but we can derive some oblique inferences from everyday life and art. For our purpose, music will suffice.

First, let's examine the ancient Greek noun, odeion, which means "roofed theater."  Thousands of years later, the etymology and meaning remained intact, even with the advent of  Nickelodeons, theaters that could be entered for a five-cent fee. Then came Teresa Brewer, who confounded that solid definition with jukeboxes and orchestrions --coin-operated music machines. What was known became something else, but no one minded because the song was really fun and the singer, cute as a button. One cannot argue successfully with fun and cute-as-a-button because the combination is philosophically unimpeachable. Observe:

{clip of Teresa Brewer singing "Music Music Music"}

Odeion is sometimes confused with the Latin word, odium, which is an ancient Roman mechanism into which one could drop a coin and really really hate. It was quite the rage until rage went out of vogue and gum machines were hurriedly invented.

This brings us to our second gnostic insurrection, Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. "Express Yourself" is a personal and family favorite. When it played on the radio in the '70s, our little ones would dance and join its exuberant refrain (from L. refringere =to repeat) as they interpreted it, "Sprash yourself!" Norma and I would tell them the singer was encouraging them to express themselves and they would assure us they understood, then go back to dancing and yelling "sprash!" They are great big men now and happy in their arts. We are glad Mr. Wright came along and owe him bigtime.

[clip of Charles Wright performing "Express Yourself"]

Expressing yourself is not a knowable enterprise. Society may balk, it may not understand. It didn't understand Einstein for a long time. Einstein said, "I don't need to know everything, I just need to know where I can find it when I need it." And we cannot neglect the go-to authority upon whom we relied so heavily while raising our offspring, Doctor Benjamin Spock --a surprisingly compassionate man for a Vulcan: "You know more than you think you do." In conclusion, it would appear the key to knowing everything else is to simply have fun doing it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How To Know Everything!

Ever since I was a little boy, if I wanted my imagination informed, I would go find this book:

It is the 1914 edition of Our Wonder World. Although I have never read the text, I found it full of great, scientifically accurate pictures. I still have it, and when I want to know stuff I just look at the pictures and imagine what they're about. For instance, when I need to know anything about the solar system, I consult this illustration captioned, "Off for the planets!":
As you can see, in 1914, space travel was not conducted with rockets, capsules, robot explorers or telemetric probes. It was conducted by crop duster. Carburetors were choked to run rich, pilots took a deep breath and held it, then flew out of Earth's atmosphere to solve interplanetary enigmas. One of the questions they solved was the difference between a solstice and an equinox.

As you can see from this detail of the illustration, there were two people in the crop duster:
One, of course was the pilot. The other was either a naturalist or naturist --no way to tell because everybody bundles up in outer space-- whose task it was to determine what extraterrestrial life-forms eat. Because he found no creatures in the void, he decided they were either omnivores (which eat anything when they can get it --and there wasn't anything) or carnivores (they eat only carnival  food --candied apples, peanuts and such-- when the circus is in town, which it wasn't). But let's return to the enigma they did solve.

Solstice is taken from the Latin "Sol", meaning Sun, and "sistere", meaning to stand still. It means the day is much longer than the night because the sun seems to get stuck --except in countries closer to the North Pole where the sun just flies around in a circle and is still thought to be a comet. For Equinox, I had to consult a more modern authority, Norma, who said "Equus means horse. So equinox is when we all turn into horses?"

I disagreed: " Silly idea. You're neglecting "nox", obviously from the Latin "noxa", meaning toxic or dangerous."

"So," she said. "Twice a year we turn into very unpleasant horses."

I closed and reshelved Our Wonder World, satisfied the time to read its text has not yet come.

Monday, September 8, 2014


It has been some time since I addressed the mysterious connection between hummingbirds and electrical engineering, but have lately gathered some apposite insights. These come after Norma's recent (Saturday's) photos of flying surveillance devices --mainly this one:
The bright red spot on what naturalists call the "neckal area" cannot be anything other than a l.e.d. (light emitting diode) diffused by feathers but still indicating a spying device is running. Consider also this schematic from DIY House Wiring And Hummingbird construction with special attention to the addition of a spy camera:
Ok, I know I've overreached the purview of the naturalist, or do I mean naturist? I think you have to be naked for one or the other but forget which (note to readers in community colleges: if your prof. is reluctant to specify the difference, do not participate in class field trips) . So let's proceed with Norma's photos of this device. Here, the l.e.d. light is less in evidence:
And why are my paragraphs and illustrations no longer justifying on this page register? I've tried to fix it but can't and it's late. Let's continue on the premise that technology is fundamentally flawed. I mean, there is nothing complicated about putting one paragraph or picture directly under another, yet this computer in all its 10-year-old sophistication is unable to do it tonight --even though any human 10-year-old has no such problem.

I am left with a series of pictures of this surveillance device that follow its personal preference for aerial convolutions and the freedom they epitomize --liberty from the illegitimate interests of snoopers:
You can see him rising over the pumphouse, climbing the sky and diving back again in sheer joy.
Resisting the invasive machineries of paranoid governmental agencies finally dedicated only to (and funded toward) their own perpetuation is a stubborn enterprise, but the universe is a tremendous thing. How could it install such pluck, enterprise, independence and joy into a bird no bigger than a sparkplug and be less?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Phlomis Fruticosa And Other Questions

In addition to vegetables --which support many wild rabbit families-- my wife grows herbs. Rabbits seem to leave herbs alone. Why is that? I decided to investigate. Here is a photo of some sage:
Much fuss is made over lovely sage blossoms but nobody says anything about sage seed pods. This is probably because they are astonishingly ugly. A few flecks of color can turn one into a crazy ogre head:
Now the seed pod is indistinguishable from how I look in the morning, so I reflect no disturbance. Wild animals run away from me too. We have answered a question. But what about the many other questions we ask in solving enigmas? These are the questions that keep me awake when I should be working. Solving, dissolving, diluting....

Here's one:
It is a doodle of a Noria, an ancient kind of Persian Wheel for raising water out of a stream and pouring into plumbing. It is then piped to everybody. What makes water so important? Easy question so far. Water is chemically considered the Universal Solvent, even though it isn't. It does, however dissolve more kinds of substances than any other known solvent. We clean with it, inside our bodies and out. We irrigate with it because all life-forms need it. In fact plants and creatures are biologically bags of mostly water. But there is an enigma attached to this solvent that can dilute just about anything. How does one dilute water?

There are other questions. You may breakfast at a diner and order a poached egg, as I have often done, but we would never consider ordering a poached deer, a poached rhino or elephant. Why is this still a problem? Can governments do nothing to stop the poaching of things that are no good for breakfast? And speaking of governments --specifically governmental parties-- wouldn't affiliation be more fun if these parties rented inflatable bounce-houses? If parents can afford them for their kids' enjoyment, certainly political parties can... excuse me, I just started wondering whether my ancestors are in prisons or zoos and must go lie down. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Enigma Of The Sailing Stones

I'd been puzzling over recent pictures of stones sailing on Death Valley playas, such as this one by Dan Duriscoe, for the U.S. National Park Service, considering the viability of a new theory.
The theory, which has been recently tested and shows promise, proposes that ice-sheets on thawing puddles break up and push stones before them under wind. As I considered this notion, Norma came indoors with a photo from the woody end of our yard. It was a picture of what she calls "the bunny trail" --not sure why-- with a stony lump in the distance:
She then showed me a second photo, in which a slight but definite change was evident:
The stone had shifted! It had gone from point A to point B.  I hastily labeled our data and suggested we repair to the bunny trail where, by stealthy combination of creeping and hopping, we gained a closer view of the moving stone.
It stood stock still for a moment --long enough for me to identify it as a rare, long-eared sort of desert granite-- before it called me "Puny Man!" and ran away. But I heard it exclaim, ere it dove out of sight—“Happy Labor Day to all, and leave beer on the porch!”

There are, of course, many theories regarding the enigma of California's sailing stones but I conclude our friend Tyrannosaurus Cottontail succeeded in retrieving his bunny suit, that dinosaurs are still among us disguised as rabbits and rocks --and nothing can convince me that I have not seen the truth.