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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.