All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

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.