VERMONT ESSAYS: Volume Two
On certain sleepless nights in the quiet years after the much anticipated Millennium, I had a habit of jotting down the odd thoughts that form the hundred bloggy pages below, which you are welcome to browse at your leisure. I had even anticipated the BLOG furore before it hit the internet in '99, for which an interesting historical note.
The Men's Room in a restaurant gives the occasional visitor a curiously personal view of the male personality at work. We all attend to our business there in the most inconspicuous way, but it is impossible not to hear others using the facilities in their individual modes of behavior.
There is the sound of the intermittent dribble from the nervous gentleman who is wondering how long he can postpone seeing the urologist for a discussion of a prostate operation. Meanwhile a young fellow observing his own flow with pride wonders what is wrong with the old gent on his left. Someone in a booth emits a volcanic gust of wind which impels others to finish up and get out before it reaches their nose. There is the man with diarrhea who uses up the roll of paper and has to ask someone to fetch a roll from the next booth, very embarrassing on both sides of course. And there is the man who ate too much and has to throw up, but he finds himself retching up a yellow fluid which so disgusts him the he can't stop retching.
These are all traditional sounds which you can observe in an ordinary men's' room, but yesterday I observed a behavioral variant which I think is new. A man was comfortably seated in a booth while arranging a date for dinner with an unsuspecting lady whom he had met only a few days before at a partly. He seemed to want to know more about her, but was certainly glad she couldn't guess where he was or what he was doing. By sheer accident the toilet flushed loud enough for her to hang up on the instant, ending the seance.
There are always ways for technology to improve our communicative skills and enhance our lifestyle in exciting innovative ways. We can cram more information into each unused minute of our crowded daytime hours, we can take advantage of opportunities to enrich our personal lives. What is new and surprising now may become the standard of normalcy in a future generation, as the video capacity of the cell phone becomes a tool for an enhanced personal and emotional togetherness.
Returning from this brief excursion to Japan (next item below, we are in reverse time. . .) I want to tell you about the local robin who seems to have settled on my place, but I have to pause for a moment because an avian scholar in Staffordshire UK states that robin's eggs are white in color with at times a touch of brown or red at the larger end. But I know from years back that robin's eggs are blue, in fact such a distinctive hue that the expression 'Robin's Egg Blue' is widely used for the color more often than for the bird's egg. So it seems there are different robins in this global world, a matter of Evolution not the result of outsourcing, and having settled that I can now go on.
Earlier this year getting a ladder outside the barn, I had just touched it when something flew out in a rush and turned around to dive at my head. In a nest perched on the fifth step of the ladder, just far enough under an eave to stay dry and sited against the barn wall facing a brush balsam where no crow could dive in for a quick bird breakfast, there were three gaping yellow mouthed robins waiting for their mother with the next worm. She had smarts, that mother bird and out of respect for her I kept a distance and got another ladder for my project. A few weeks later the nest was empty, nice and clean but probably not to be reused. Would that be a bird's desire for something new, or a recollection of the hairy headed monster whom she had been able to drive off?
In July we were sitting at ease looking out at the garden through a wall of new growth lilacs against glass windows, when something in the leaves moved and twitched a bit. Then it was gone and back again, a pair of robins sizing up branches for something familial to construct. Hesitation past, the work began and She built a perfect nest in a very busy day's work carrying hundreds of minute sticks to weave a shape which she tested every so often with her rotund breast. When it was done she sat there a while admiring her work, then both of them were gone for so long that we thought the nest idea had been abandoned.
Why not? It was a foot from a glass window inside which two large shapes were continually peering. But on the other hand, it was under a deep eave, against a wall opposite tall dive-proof trees with a soft growth beneath to catch a fallen chick. What more could she ask?
Days passed while they were doing something private which humans are rarely privileged to see, and then she was back sitting while her husband brought flies and moths and worms for her diet. After many days
something had changed since she was out shopping on her own and we saw for a few minutes three robin-blue eggs before she returned. In those many days of waiting for him to bring a worm, she had patience to sit tight and finally one yellow beaked head cracked open its blue capsule, starting life as we all do, with an open mouth.
Soon there were three, one died and the others perched with beating winglets on the edge of the nest until they fell out to the ground where they waddled around getting strength till it was time to learn to fly. They may have learned something about flight from mother coming and going, but there was probably something in their being which told them what wings were for. A few days later they were scattered in the grass and soon the were winging on their way to the trees to begin life as full fledged Robins on their own.
The nest is there and so well made that it will probably be intact next spring when the birds return. They might use it again, that sometimes does happen, so we will wait to see. But who wants to live in the same house for your whole life? And if you can build in just one day on the wing for raising a family, isn't that a good reason to go on and try another place? But leaving the nest for use as a reminder of who was there raising an instant family, that was a very nice gesture and we thank those Robins for their cheerful one month habitation against the living room windows of our home.
HELLO out there! It's been three and a half months since I posted a new note on this eLOG, I just now caught up with some projects which have been occupying my mind since the start of May, and thought it would be a good idea to put in a few words to show that all is well here and that I am still alive. It has been a hard year so far, May was downpouring rain almost every day and a real disappointment after a pleasant and inviting springlike April. Then June got mean and hot and the garden was more accessible to mosquitoes than to us, so I stayed at the computer and did a lot of extended writing. When August finally arrived I could salvage part of a normal Vermont summer at last, and count my blessings.
Yes, we missed almost everything that had been plaguing the rest of the country. No raging wildfires in the Green Mountains, no flash floods beyond a few local rivers which overflowed for a day or two, we did have unusual spells of heat for a dozen days with record temperatures approaching 90F. while the country was in deadheat panic, and it seemed that Vermont was one of the very few states which didn't make evening weatherwise news. I even had to turn on the airconditioner for five days as a rare concession to the summer season, so I am almost embarrassed to discuss weather from our local point of view. It was fortunate and comfortable in a very bad national year.
Watching the evening news these past months was grim. Iraq now seems certainly involved in a civil war which nobody wants to admit, we lose our people over there daily and the costs of the war like everything else are going up. Then it was Lebanon which before that had been the name of a city over the river in New Hampshire where we had been going once in a while for dinner at a good Chinese restaurant in a state where there were no sales taxes. Rockets coming over from Lebanon to land in the forests of Vermont. . . . . ? No got the wrong location.
Just now we have got a questionable peace between Israel and the PartyOfGod, but nobody thinks that is the end of a bad situation, and our helping Israel while the right moral thing to do, puts us even more on the wrong side of the Islamic world. Having no exit strategy from Iraq, we can add to our list that we have no exit strategy from our status as an enemy of the Middle East. With a set of elections coming up in a few months, we are foundering in a sea of uncertainties, the Right staying an untenable course while the Left is too cautious to advise getting out of the Iraq war. So it has been a great year so far, and we are not done yet!
Maybe it would be a relief to turn away from bitching about our weather and the grief of a still unreconstructed Iraq, to a quick view of how things are going on in Japan. My friend Professor Lewis Ware just returned from a short trip visiting his son there, and came back with an informal report to his friends, which is so well written and insightful that I am going to include it here. A quick view toward the East may be a relief from the dismalness of our political businesses in the opposite direction.
We returned in late July from a long week in Japan visiting our youngest son and came away with many positive impressions of a culture that is both competent and highly adaptable. Nothing reinforced those impressions more than when we stepped off the plane in Detroit, sleep deprived for more than 12 hours, and were obliged to go through the new screening procedures dictated by the Homeland Security Department. It was not that we really objected to having a shower-like machine blow air at our bodies in order to detect the presence of explosives. What bothered us was that the staff constantly jived each other while they were supposed to be doing their jobs and in the airport shop clerks worked the cash register with one hand while discussing their love lives over the phone with the other. This would never have happened in Japan. People rarely talk on their cell phones in public places, and if they do, the tone is subdued; they send text messages instead. But if they must talk on their phones they stop‹they do not continue to walk and chat‹and find a doorway in which to conduct their business privately.
Apropos of things linguistic, I started to get the hang of Japanese and was able after nine days to mumble on beyond the usual niceties. No plurals but a series of "counter" words which express plurality and are used with categories of words that have spatial qualities such as flatness, roundness, and volume. For instance, I was able to buy two (ni) tickets on the train so long as I appended "mae" to "ni", the counter for flatness which replaces the word for ticket. Similarly, when asking for two bowls of udon I used the counter for volume "....tatsu" in this case "futatsu" where the cardinal "ni" also changes. I was totally fascinated.
I even found the pause words "ano" and "ito ne" interesting. Certainly more euphonic than "like", "you know" (or in black southern speech--you know what I'm sayin'") or the usual grunts, "ah," "um" "huh". I paid a visit to a friend of a friend, an antique dealer in Kyoto whose English was perfect but very deliberate and studied who broke his dialogue up with "ito ne". I think you know this type of language learned in school with little or no exposure to English as actually spoken by natives, whereas the language of one of the girls behind the desk of our hotel was fluent, rapid, and comprehensible but full of grammatical mistakes learned by living a year in Melbourne, FL.
Most charming was the expression "ah so", meaning "really" as you will remember from old Charlie Chan movies. This may be Chinese but I couldn't verify a kanji character for it. When used in "ah so des(u), ne?" it means "isn't that so? = n'est-ce pas? = verdad? =non è vero?, etc." I liked the expression so much that when I used it with my son he told me to stop bowing and imitating Werner Olin.
The Japanese are a private people which pleases me because I still make a distinction between my private and public personae. But they are at the same time friendly and, most appealing, attentive, a people who offer service without consideration of a tip which, at any rate, is not recognized in Japan as a proper transaction between server and client. This is not to say every Japanese serves willingly or even efficiently. But the culture of apology smoothes over tensions between employee and clientele. The Japanese may in fact hate their jobs; but they never 'get in your face' about it simply because the job, however lowly, defines their place in society.
The Japanese are also incurably polite almost to a fault. Thanking people, especially in Japanese, elicits effusive thanks in return and nothing is ever offered to anyone without proffering it with two hands. When the Japanese want to point the way for you, the hand gesture is unique. The palm is open, the fingers are pressed tightly together, the thumb is extended up at an angle to the fingers and the whole hand indicates the direction. Train conductors bow to the passengers upon entering and leaving the car, employees bow to their superiors, and even to the foreigner an inclination of the head is natural whenever one answers in the affirmative (hai). Proper bowing, I think, is more prevalent among women than men. I noticed in the department stores that there was a line painted on the floor separating the employees¹ areas in the back from the showrooms. And when employees walked out of his area into the public space they stopped at the line and bowed (the bow line/bowline?). The women made the complete bow, head lowered demurely, feet together, hands folded at thigh level. The men, for the most part, made a quick and incomplete obeisance, ranging from a sharp nod of the head to a causal shrug of the neck and shoulders. Alas, in Japan, it is obvious that women have to try harder. More than men, women appear to bear on their shoulders the weight of the company's honor and therefore must work harder to please. The sararyman (salary man=middle level functionary) in the corporate workplace wears the same dark suit, white suit and understated tie.
Women, on the other hand, and especially in those enterprises where they are obliged to meet the public, are defined by the variety of uniforms they wear. Behind the information counters of most important stores, for instance, they are obviously chosen for their looks and charm and are stylishly turned out in chic suits and matching hats. Young Japanese women, of any class including schoolgirls in pleated skirts, knee socks, white blouse and tie, are always nicely made up. Whether they are affecting the punk look or wearing the summer kimono called the yukata, they attempt to emulate a certain 'cool' depending on their means. This effort to 'prettify', my son tells me, is for the sole benefit of men who still remain the arbiters of social values. Japanese women, in point of fact, prefer 'pretty' men. This is a way of saying that the virile western type in an Armani suit, open collared shirt, with several days¹ stubble on his face and exuding heavy male pheromones is not attractive to them. They prefer men like themselves with the same delicate features, sweet smiles and demure personalities. Hence it is not strange to find men of this type who enhance their looks with a light touch of make-up. In a public toilet I saw a young fellow applying a light coat of gloss to his lips without raising the eyebrows of anybody at all. Alas, the poor 'gaijin' (non-Japanese foreigners), my son complains, is an exotic type destined for the attention of more adventurous Japanese women who, to believe him, are too few and far between.
In public the Japanese are subdued. We stopped in a Japanese businessman's hotel in central Osaka for Y6800 a night (a veritable steal for one of the most expensive countries in the First World!), neat, clean, and ultra-modern with all conveniences. The hotel quarters and public areas are efficiently designed for maximum use of space, but always small, small. Doors never slammed at night, nor did anybody talk loudly in the corridors except, of course, the few 'gaijin' at the hotel like ourselves. The possibility that the local visiting basketball team might choose to practice in the hallway while the guests are sleeping would never be permitted in a Japanese hotel. A small staff does everything, from manning the front desk to arranging the tables and chairs in the 'luncheonette' sized dining room for breakfast and then precisely at 9:30 AM rearranging the furniture as a sitting area. Our breakfast, which came with the price of the room, was quite good. One could choose standard western fare, coffee, rolls, croissants, butter, jam, yoghurt, fruit, dry cereals, etc., or opt, as I did, for the Japanese oni-giri. The oni-giri is a cold sticky rice cake in the shape of a triangle or log-roll seasoned lightly with rice vinegar and stuffed with bonito flakes (tuna), shrimp, crab, or seasoned pork.. One wraps the cake in a sheet of nori (dried laver) as one would the filling of a soft Mexican taco and then proceeds to eat it with one¹s fingers. With a cup of green tea, nothing could be more satisfying. Before departing Osaka I bought myself an oni-giri mold and just yesterday succeeded in making my first batch at home.
Arriving in central Osaka was like coming home to the urban landscape I recognized from my boyhood in New York City, only with less open space, little urban planning and therefore more arbitrary architectural clutter. The grid structure of Osaka streets forms a narrow one way pattern. Only the major boulevards accommodate lanes of traffic in opposite directions. But then the cars are half the size of ours and bicycles are the predominant mode of transportation. Pedestrians, like automobiles, walk to the left while, if there are no cycling lanes in the street, bicyclists weave in and out of the foot traffic. Whenever it rains, the cyclists will often hold an umbrella in the one hand and the handlebar in the other and pedal at full speed which makes walking the streets sometimes a harrowing experience. If you add to this the fact that bicycles are parked on the pavement congestion is inevitable.
This being said, Osaka is nevertheless friendly to the blind. Down the middle of every pavement runs a raised yellow three-ridged track designed to accommodate a blind person¹s cane. At the major intersections the track ends which signals a traffic light. A chirping noise is heard for about 40 seconds to a minute when the light turns green as a signal for the blind to cross. Apart from the occasional jaywalkers, everybody in Japan waits for the lights to change. I saw several blind people on the street and I asked myself the question why no seeing-eye dogs. And then it occurred to me that the Japanese urban space is much too constricted for large animals. The only dogs that the urban Japanese own are, naturally, the miniature lap dog breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas and toy poodles. The streets are clean because every corner has a variety of recycling bins for paper, glass, aluminum and plastic. One does not have to know Japanese to use them. Each receptacle is marked with pictures and an appropriately shaped opening for each type of trash. Not once did I see a Japanese throw waste into the street.
Still, it¹s not a pretty urban environment although people make every effort to create roof gardens and set out pots of greenery wherever they can. Tucked away in this environment are the places of historical and cultural interest. To reach them there is no need to drive or even take a bus; the Osaka subway system goes everywhere. The subway is clean, efficient and easy to use. Subway lines are color coded, all signs are in Japanese and Roman letters, and the stops are announced in both Japanese and English. If one knows one¹s direction it¹s hard to lose one¹s way despite the sometimes confusing shopping arcades that form an underground connective tissue between stations. On the subway one sees if one has an interpreter like my son‹posters warning women of the presence of gropers and that they may wish to travel in the cars set aside for women only. Similarly in our hotel there was a floor of rooms designated for women traveling alone. I wondered out loud to my son why women had to be warned of this obvious fact of life and travel in large crowds. He told me that Japanese women are still very submissive, so much so that they will allow themselves to be touched with only the protest of tears and faint-hearted attempts to put distance between themselves and their assailants. The last thing Japanese women would do, according to him, is to raise their voices and physically fight back.
Above ground the temples, shrines and castles of the city occupy the few green municipal oases remaining and sometimes one has to hunt for them among undifferentiated clusters of shops and residences. Many of the Buddhist temples are still in use and the Japanese appear to enjoy visiting them as much as the non-Japanese. The few that we saw in Osaka were not noteworthy for their grandeur or style and in fact were often spoiled, as were the more impressive shrines outside the city, by the overabundance, even within the temple precincts, of souvenir shops every twenty feet. But then the Japanese, like all First World people who have disposable income, spend a good deal of time shopping and like gewgaws of all kinds.
Outside of Osaka, especially in Kyoto, Nara and Himeji, the monuments are quite another thing. The Kansai prefecture of Honshu island is the locus of traditional Japan where Kyoto, the old imperial capital, is found. From Osaka Kyoto is a 45 minute ride on one of Japan¹s many excellent inter-city trains. We visited Kyoto three times without even scratching the surface of its cultural riches. There are famous temples such as the Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji and Kyomizu-dera from which one has a lovely view over Kyoto. But what caught my attention was the Nijo-jo, a Togukawa shogunate fortress-residence, Protected by two moats this 17th century single story residence still smells of the cypress wood from which it is constructed. As one walks along the interior corridor that encircles the cool central rooms the panels have been pushed back to reveal elegantly carved wooden transoms and wall screens painted by the early masters of Japanese murals. The gardens, which are all Zen in conception, encroach on the house from all sides, so that the view from any window looking outward offers a frame for the quiet contemplation of nature of which the house seems a physical extension. Similar but on a much smaller scale is the house of the Japanese potter Kawai Kanjiro, hidden away in the back alleys of the Gion district. This was the house of a poet and craftsman, a typical dwelling of the last century and more in the style of what we think of as Japanese where dark, well oiled timbers support reed and wattle walls, tatami mats cover the floors, and each room with its paneled doors contains a sufficiency of furniture to serve the purpose for which it was designed. The bourgeois Japanese house encourages serenity by abhorring excess. Not so imperial castles such as the one at Himeji an hour by train from Osaka. Sitting atop a pinnacle overlooking this seaside town, this huge pile is constructed in the form of a pyramid in six whitewashed stories, each storey crowned by a gabled tile roof. The majesty of the Himeji-jo is meant to be appreciated from afar and its impregnability carefully appraised by a would-be attacker.
Again I always found much more interesting what one sees in the interstices between these great and impressive sights. Looking at Japan from a train window, one realizes how mountainous the country is and how little land is actually arable. The towns spread from the valleys up the sides of the hills as far as building can be safely permitted and one would think, but quite wrongly, that a house on the hillside would be more expensive than one below. The Japanese, it appears, prefer to live elbow to elbow with their neighbors. And this they manage to do fairly well with little crime of the more aggressive type. Small houses press up against each other on narrow streets giving the impression of a landscape of roofs. Less than postage front and back yards are nevertheless carefully planted with a variety of ornamental trees and shrubs or an occasional rock garden. And then suddenly one sees a flat, open space of glistening green which turns out to be a communal rice paddy interlaced with beautifully tended vegetable patches where even in the wet weather there is always somebody laboring ankle deep in the water.
While we were in Osaka the typically hot summer rainy season had already gone on so long that people were beginning to remark about it. Mudslides covered roads and derailed trains in parts of the country, the Japanese face of global warming. We never left our hotel without an umbrella wondering whether the day would bring showers, drizzle, or a downpour. We saw the sun only twice in nine days and always returned to the hotel clammy and perspired which made us think of a soak in the tub. So we went to Spa World. The Japanese adore theme parks and Spa World is the theme park of public baths. A huge emporium of steam and sweat in the Tennoji district, Spa World claims to pump thermal waters from 800 meters below the city¹s surface in such quantity that it can accommodate a maximum of 5000 bathers at any one time. We were happy that there appeared to be no more than several hundred the day we took the baths. For Y1000 we purchased an entrance ticket and a computerized bracelet from a machine at the door, left our shoes in a locker and our valuables in a safe deposit box, took an elevator to the appropriate floor for men and women where we put our clothes in second locker, picked up a towel, took the required shower and then walked out to choose a theme in which to bathe. The Turkish bath had ogival arches and was covered in faux Arabic tiles, the Indian bath looked like the interior of a stupa with sumptuous statuary of the gods and goddesses, the Balinese bath was tropical in décor and the Japanese bath, which I chose, was out of doors in a garden and consisted of wooden tubs and rock pools. If you are taller than the average Japanese, bald, bearded, considerably more hirsute, and naked you stick out like a sore thumb. But the Japanese are a discrete people (except the children) and would never make you feel conspicuous by gawking. In fact, a very kind fellow showed me the proper Japanese way to soap and wash using a ladle from a bucket while sitting on a very low stool. Within the bathhouse there were extra services such massage by a masseuse, a swimming pool for which one rented as suit, a gym, a restaurant and the ubiquitous souvenir shop, all of which were registered on one¹s wrist band. When one dresses and descends to the lobby another machine reads the wristband and once one pays the additional charges, it spits out an exit card which allows one to pass through a turnstile and leave the spa. If the foreigner stumbles in this routine there is always an attractive uniformed hostess to help out. A very enjoyable‹and efficient‹Japanese experience.
A bath always makes one hungry. During my entire stay I didn¹t meet a meal I didn¹t like. I am sorry for the many people for whom Japanese food is bland and chopsticks too troublesome to handle. On the contrary, I found everything I ate tasty and quite varied. Who can argue with a bowl of udon or ramen noodles in savory broth with slices of roast pork and accompanied by pickled ginger and cabbage, or fried soba noodles (yakisoba) with shrimp, or yakiniku (Japanese barbecue) or my favorite, katsu don (a thin lightly bread pork cutlet in a bowl of rice with pickles and vegetables topped by a raw egg and served with a bowl of miso soup in which floats a large piece of fried tofu)! Bowls are lifted to the mouth and, while the Japanese think blowing one¹s nose into a cloth handkerchief over and over again is a disgusting habit, slurping one¹s food is encouraged. In the summer the Japanese drink cold unsweetened green, oolong or barley tea straight up. And when it comes to making refreshing concoctions from green tea and various fruit juices their inventiveness knows no limit. Our son took us to all of his favorite restaurants and if one is adventurous one does not have to spend much to eat well. In fact, Japan offers fast food from a large number of chain restaurants that specialize in the various traditional Japanese dishes. On the other hand, if you hanker for a variety of fruit of any sort other than Japanese apples or oranges you will pay an exorbitant price (Y300 = 2.55 for a thin and tiny slice of watermelon). Most fruit is imported and when produced in Japan under hothouse conditions it is grown for shape and color rather than taste. Hence, giving the gift of a single beautiful perfect peach at the cost of Y500 is a true token of esteem. With a diet such as this it is not likely that obesity will make much headway in Japan. Once in a while one might see overweight Japanese but the truly large, that is, the sumo wrestlers, can only be seen on the television screen.
In a word, Japan is a destination. And if you have the opportunity to visit, take it!
That should atone for my long silence on this website, now I can get back to an occasional message when the spirit moves. Looking forward to a bright fall season despite the usual pre-election bovine excrement on evening TV.
In the spring of the 2006th year of the New Era the word IMPEACH is verging from the lips of the political Left to the ranks of some in the middle states where dissatisfaction with the progress of the war in Iraq and the uneven economic growth at the high end, are all now eclipsed by what is nearest and dearest to the heart of all those who call themselves "Americans". The escalating gas prices touch the sensitive area of the American automobile, which is near the root of the American Way of Life. Touch that nerve ending and you touch pain and the populace responds with a frantic cry to IMPEACH.
That is an irresponsible response to which all thinking persons must respond with a word of timely caution. There may be reasons for political action, there may be personal antagonisms for a wrongheaded history of military ineptitudes in a foreign land where invaders have been swallowed up for millennia. One must think not of the past grievances but of the future and the possibility of something which may be far worse. Correct that line: Something which will be far worse. Do you understand why impeachment is a sheer impossibility, do you see what it means and where it can take us?
OK, you have been persuading the angry multitude, it is actually happening now and this is the week for the conclusion of the impeachment proceeding, which are to be finalized and revealed to the public this evening. We have heard the official reports from the Senate and the reactions of the amazed commentators, and this very evening I sit down after dinner with the family and turn on the TV. After much frantic repetition on all channels with the same information, we come to the denouement of the situation and see on our TV the camera shot from the far end of the Oval Office, slowly zooming in on the Presidential desk, beyond which stands the figure of a man with back to us, staring out the window over the city.
An aide steps in front of the desk to address the camera, speaking some official style words which nobody understands, as the standing figure turns and seats himself at the Presidential desk. As the aide concludes his last words of introduction and steps aside, we see the new shining brass nameplate on the desk:
PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY
We think of our Global Economy in large terms, with huge containers of cutting edge products going over the seas from here to there; but yesterday I found a very simple and low-tech product which I would not have thought worth selling on a global market. Let me explain:
Rummaging in my wife's private pantry, I found a fine looking classic style tin of cookies, described as 'chocolate flavored' (whatever that means) and labeled with a fancy French name as "BON SANTE". Maybe the designer of the artwork wasn't quite sure how to put acute accent onto the box, so he went with a bright red heart in that exact spot, figuring that it would satisfy the French grammatically and the American cholesterol crowd at the same time.
Wondering about that term 'chocolate flavored', I searched for the makers and found the cookies were made in China for a Soc. Anonyme. company in Switzerland, to be distributed in the USA by Foods International and in Australia by a branch. I would have thought that the cookies would be best made in Switzerland where there is a long tradition for fine Swiss Chocolate, and then Bon Santé would be a nice nod to a least one of the three languages which the Swiss use. But apparently it is cheaper to go the other route and ship be sea, although the lovely decorated tin container would not be not damp proof.
Now think of the economics and the accounting which such a venture must entail. I can see currency and value changes on docking, first for the Chinese bookkeeper, then for the Swiss parent company which keeps track of its worldwide cookie supply, instantly converting to US dollars with a final conversion way down under. Do they ship to Switzerland and then to Allied and then to Sydney, or has it occurred to them to send direct? Or does global mean the product has to go around full circle to quality? Why don't the Chinese cut out the middleman and send to Australia under their own name, whatever that might turn out to be. Perhaps something like "Chinese Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookie Factory", with the inference that the Chinese have been eating chocolate chip cookies for centuries.
I remember from an etymological dictionary that the word "chocolate" with the sound of its disguised glottal stop in the middle, came from the Aztec civilization where it had far more uses than a fifty cent bar of candy. So when I see something described as chocolate flavored rather than containing chocolate, I see a breach in the thread of global history. What would Moctezuma have thought of his subjects eating the national dish of chocolate flavored chicken with a flavored sauce? Surely the populace would have risen up shouting "Ersatz .... ersatz...!"
As you suspect, the cookies were not really rich and chocolaty, but they were not damp after their long pilgrimage in the name of international trade. But they did not survive their journeys intact and most of them were fractured in the tin, crumbled by the motion of ships tossing for two weeks on an irate sea. In fact they were quite dry, because there was a secret to this, which I discovered at the bottom of the tin. There was a little packet containing some yellow granules with the warning in large black letters:
Not For Eat.
It is difficult to distinguish Right from Wrong !
This is often a very difficult situation. Formerly it was easy when we answered our academic tests by checking a box for the right answer. Just mark the box firmly with a supplied pencil and that was it. In those days we has a simple binary choice, but when the multiple choice questions arrived things became a lot more complicated. It was no longer checking the right answer, since the range of possibilities could extend from 'most likely' through 'fairly likely' down to 'unlikely' with none of the clarity of a situation which is either right or wrong.
But the directions at the head of the test might ask us to check the least likely of four possibilities, which throws a curve into the situation as we progress cautiously through three pages of questions. And there might be a possibility of none of the options being acceptable, in which case you might think that you should not answer the question; but that would be wrong since empty check boxes are handled by the automatic grading machine in a different way. Some examinations have one item in the questions which appears so grossly simpleminded, that you would tend to pass over it automatically, but that is a trick since it is actually the right answer. Each of the other possibilities had a slyly embedded error, while the dumb answer was just dumb looking but free from error and hence right (or I should really say most "likely" not to be wrong).
But then the test might be skewed in the other direction, and instruct us to mark the least likely possibility, a great test for accuracy in reading instructions carefully. I remember an old professor who asked on a series of essay questions: "Answer the first question and not more than three others", which kept everyone frantically writing out four answers. I answered only the first question and handed the paper early to the waiting teacher who remarked as I left the room that he was glad I could read. The course was Logic 101.
As the SAT examinations developed, it became clear that the current generation hadn't read a lot and in fact knew next to nothing about everything, so testing was conceived as a way of estimating the student's sense of likelihood rather than his storehouse of fact. So an examination became in a sense just a practical guessing game, on the assumption that life after all is nothing but a series of educated guesses which may turn out to be profitable in the execution. Gone are the lists of things to read and memorize, gone are the names and dates, and finally even the arithmetical table for multiplication, which is nothing but addition done repeatedly. In the expression "three times four", the word "times" is not as most assume a verb of action, but a displaced term for iteration: "Four, three times." So why bother learning to multiply and take a chance on getting confused when we try to understand the logic of the process. Just drop your pencil and reach for the handy calculator, the way everybody else does it now.
In one of my least favorite TV shows "The Price is Not Always Right ", a contestant does have to make a choice involving some fairly tight monetary accuracy, and you would think he or she (now called "they") would snap out an answer and either receive a handshake as a sign to get off the stage, or get into the brand new red convertible car and drive away. But it is not so. Nothing is for right any more, now we are assumed to be living in a world of perpetual gray. The contestant turns an anxious eye toward the audience who in a murmur of mixed sounds directs the answer in a general but not exactly finite way. What the audience, representing something we call Public Opinion, thinks will be the decisive factor in answering the question, but this procedure is not restricted to quiz shows.
Public Opinion pervades our whole society by offering intuitive confirmation for everything we do, from saying the right thing to the right person at the right time, to surveying the nightly TV political polls which inform us if we fall within the eighty percent of the public who maintain such-and-such a notion. So long as we understand the direction that the polls are following today, we know what to think and do tomorrow and we know how to answer in tune with the majority. Isn't that what Democracy really means, being in tune and accord with what everyone else thinks?
That may suffice for the present time, but are there any situations in which there is a clear "right" to cleave to, or are we condemned to a Hades-like atmosphere of perpetual penumbra gray? Since words are the basis of thought in the new cognitive studies, we might hope to find some sense of security in our items of vocabulary, which are spelled in precise and accurate notation. Or so we used to think! If in question I always thought that I could look a word up in the dictionary, tell a friend who spelled it wrong, and rest my case. But here too it may not be that simple.
My friend referred me for a technical question to a website which have the word "guage" for a precision measuring device. I email back a message that the word was spelled wrong, although I had seen it years ago on a Taiwan made tool, which I recalled as a foreign error. I did check the dictionary and no such word "guage", so you can see that I was surprised when my friend reported that he had found on the internet some 90,000 uses of "guage" in document links, and five times that in the first scan of texts. I figured check with the monster collections Oxford English Dictionary as the supreme authority on the language, and found the word "guage" came up in bright red indicating a fault spelling, and the OED listed only one examples among its myriad citations, as dating from a shipwright's book from l857. As to other appearances of this variant, the OED was mum.
So is this another case of Public Spelling service as the rule for determining right-or-wrong? If you spell it wrong long enough and there are enough cases of the mis-spelling, does that in the long run make it right? Is that a right way to handle our language questions, by counting the tally of wrong uses and summarizing in a Spelling Poll, which replaces the old procedure of a spelling bee? There is a statement in the 5th century Roman digest of Laws under the name of Ulpian, which says that a matter which is conducted in a given way over a period of years, has the force of law: habet vim legis and that might seem to settle the case. So I am left with a right spelling GAUGE not to be confused according to OED with gouge which is sometimes spelled gauge, and not to be pronounced like the similarly spelled gauze with its -awh- sound. So why was the word misspelled as guage, was it influence of French or Italian where words we have in English like warrant come up with an ancient gu- as in guarantee. Interesting, but there is no etymological track here, so I have to admit on this single item of vocabulary, that there is no ostensible difference between the right and the wrong form. The best authorities have it so, although my spellcheck has been choking on guage every time I typed it out.
. When I was a boy, my teacher told the class decisively that "ain't isn't a word!" to which a kid in the back of the class remarked "Ain't it? ". Well it is a word, and I can even use it in educated circles as a marker of strong emphasis and nobody can tell me that ain't actually ain't a word! All us boys tried in those days to find the f.....k word in the dictionary, even the large F.....k and Wagnall's dictionary, but in vain. Yet after l990 it became such a common word in TV and movie use, that it finally lost its original sexual meaning and became a marker of strong emphasis, later passing emphasis, and finally no emphasis at all. Leaving it out one might get a more emphatic statement at the present time, since people would wonder why it is not there.
Does this lengthy diatribe come to any conclusions, is there a kernel of important information which we can deduce from the paragraphs you have just been perusing, in short, is there anything further which I should say about the situation of discriminating between questionable truth and the suggestive and often seductive false? Yes, there is one truth which survive discussion and that is:
It is difficult to distinguish Right from Wrong !
I don't have to be a skilled political analyst to get to the heart of many political situations. If we as watchful citizens look carefully and take time to weigh words and phrases, we should be able to figure out things which it takes the world months and years to decipher. But this is not a question of clairvoyance of intuition, it is just what our grade school teacher told us again and again. It is simply: Pay Attention.
When we heard the early words of George Bush at the time of the WTC catastrophe, only a few of us understood the ominous meaning of his words: THIS IS WAR ! I was not the only one to realize that a sudden Declaration of War of this sort, at this time and place, was something quite different from an emotional expression. It explained in two words why Congress had given the President the right to declare war on this own judgment and it was clear that this was the tip of a war iceberg which had floated underwater for the months since his election. Angered by thoughts of revenge, the public thought of pay-back, but didn't see the presidential message which was "THIS at last, is the excuse for WAR". You have to listen carefully and take time to understand flash messages of this kind.
Searching the internet recently, I found a welter of ads for audio components at elevated prices, including audio cabling at as much as fifty dollars a foot. At first I thought this was mere hype but as I searched technical papers further I saw there might be reasons for this especially at the low and high frequency ends of the audio spectrum. I have old equipment with old wiring but this set my top spinning. I re-examined the business of electric transmission through copper wire, with the discovery that my home system was under-wired with 18 ga. where the next gauge would be needed for the long runs around the house. So off to the store and home with spools of wire and after a few afternoons snaking lines through walls and even down to the workshop where I spend much time ("Why should it be silent down there with music afloat everywhere else...?") the job was completed. I even learned some interesting points on the way, and set a concrete block under each enclosed large stereo speaker in the living room to prevent vibrations being lost to the resonant wood floor!
Spring arrived at last in Vermont which is now warming to everything except George W. Bush, and I turned a large speaker in the garage to the garden where my wife and I were starting to prepare the back rock garden. I had just got a five disc player (see subter for more on this...) and for the first time heard Haydn's "Jahreszeiten" or Seasons out of doors with grand pleasure. Now a week later we are into serious garden work, and this afternoon it will be four hours of Seasons from Vivaldi, Haydn with the Pastoral Symphony in-between.
Note the fortuitous track from finding a chance Web note on audio wire transmission, to studying electricity in wires including the new "skin-effect" considerations, to rewiring my house and finally to hearing now in a Vermont garden a flood of music recorded three decades ago with music composed over two hundred years ago in Italy and Austria. I see all this as proof of the effect of one chance event on various engineering, psychological and intellectual spheres, as spelled out over space and time. Reclining on a lawn chair with a mint julep in my hand as I watch my wife digging out weeds among the rocks, I can contemplate at my ease the concept of The Butterfly Effect , with knowledge that I have been involved in some such procedure, and can now assure the reading public that it does exist.
I can just about remember those old 78 rpm. records which you had to turn over every eight or ten minutes, and I recall how slick and modern the new vinyls seemed with their half hour of music. So when the CD's appeared some years later with a full hour of clickless and humfree sound it seemed we had everything we could desire for our libraries of classical music. We knew from our experience in areas like food, money and sex, that human beings are never satisfied with just enough; but isn't a full hour of priceless music sufficient for anyone's musical appetite?
Standing last week in front of shelves of obsolete gadgets of all sorts in my favorite local recycling emporium, I found myself wondering why anyone would want a five platen CD player. Maybe a dentist's office would use calming day-long music to mask the gasp of momentary injections and the whir of carbide bits on teeth, or it might be soothing for the nervousness of the clinic's waiting room where the patients were anything but patient in their hours waiting for what TV commercials advise us, to "talk to your doctor". Maybe some use there but why would anyone want to program five hours of music at home, consuming the best part of a sunny spring day as we listen with one ear to see if the fifth disc is about to conclude? Is that what technology brings us in the final run?
My wife looked at the dusty black box, stated that I had just wasted three dollars schlepping more junk home, and since it wouldn't work it would end up in the back of the garage with the other electronic junk ready to go to the dumpster. Usually right, she had to admit she was wrong this time as a CD with Bach recordings in crisp CD sound filled the living room. Encouraged by my purchase, I smiled to myself and decided this was time to rewire the various house speakers with heavier speaker needed for long runs, and while at it why not wire up the cellar workshop where I spent much time. Now that I could program half a day of sound, I should be able to go down and get a screwdriver and trudge up the stairs again without missing a measure of Bach or Bartok or the classic Rock which my son was sending me in assurance that it was the core music of our time.
It was then that I made a discovery. I have never liked Haydn much, always felt he was sort of thin next to Mozart, so I thought this might be a good time to bring out all my Haydn and set up five hours of listening to see how it stood up in a long spring afternoon. I left the garage door open since it was warm and went out into the back yard where my wife was scrubbing up weeds and preparing the replant the rock garden. The first Haydn didn't sound so bad out there, but all of a sudden something different happened:
I had never paid much attention to Haydn's Jahreszeiten or "Seasons", which I knew as his last work with Van Swieten's poor German libretto but intellectually based on James Thomson's English book of poetry, "The Seasons" dating back from 1726-30. It is a remarkable poem in blank verse full of Romanticism as an early development in the field of Nature Poetry. Now Haydn actually despised Van Swieten's libretto, and he should have written his own with help from English friends; but he knew this was the last great new direction for his music, to produce a masterpiece. It so happened that this afternoon it was his Seasonal music that flowed from the twin twelve inch speakers out through the cavernous garage doors over the back garden redolent with fresh spring earth and water smells, where my wife and I were surveying our territory. And we were stunned.
It was not just the music which was open and freshly experimental, with oratorio-like voices against a symphony orchestra in a preview of Mahler's work a century later. It was not just the change from earlier symphonies with their perfect and perhaps prissy scoring, now opened up with reflections coming from his student Mozart's orchestral facility. It was the sound of this seasonally inspired music floating out of doors over the garden plot past the thick set balsams into the woods beyond, where it melded into the sound of branches rustling in the wind among bird calls. I felt I was back in the spirit of Haydn's last musical fantasy, back in Thomson's early l8th century foreseeing of romantic Nature, and this music continued during a two hours backyard concert to an enthralled audience of two.
This would be the beginning, later we would try the Seasons of Vivaldi, the man whom according to Stravinsky wrote just one piece but in a thousand ways. Yes, I can put together a long afternoon of Vivaldi for two hours, then some Mendelsohn from the Midsummer Night or Handel's Water Music, and at last as the afternoon grows dark for a shower the thunderous beginning of the Haydn Seasons. I have at last discovered out of doors music, a long open-air home concert without a break !
The musically fervescent 19th century seems to touch on the "beneficence of nature" in various ways, it evokes a resoundingly positive spirit even when it is in some part somber, and this pervades those very years in which the Western world was undergoing vast changes from a rural scene to a smoke filled world of crowded factory cities where the old quality of country life was about to disappear entirely. Beethoven's Pastoral music and his walks in the fields among streams would become a footnote in music history, as Art became a matter for the studio and the drawing board. Pierre Lunaire is natural to be played in an asylum, Wozzeck is conceived in an army camp to be played on a metropolitan stage, while Bartok's strong quartets will never be music for a rich man's party or reception. We can play harmonic music from 1860's in outdoors concerts for audiences drawn from the noise of their cities' streets, but where is the sound of a new music consonant with Nature - - - - the real nature-music and not our anticipation of what we think Nature should be like?
That does exist, here and there we hear sounds like those of the Japanese natural flute against a waterfall, or a chorus of frogs and birds in a recital from a Southern swamp. But excerpting sounds from the outdoors world does not make a New Music. Yesterday afternoon I put a set of five CD's of Bach onto my new changer, and we sat at a table in the garden hearing the most personal and intimate examples of indoors music composition, but in an out of doors venue. If I had any idea of Haydn or Vivaldi being exemplary natural nature music, that vanished as we heard five hours of Bach flowing, like his own river-name in the German, in a continuous stream over the half-acre of sound in the garden.
It was not that the music sounded better out in the world of grass and earth-smells and trees, it was something quite different. It was that we were being in our own persons somewhat better out there. Music helps us denizens of the new century, we can become at ease in this tight new world, and for me the theme of the afternoon may be more a personal attunement than just the right music. But the aim and the result of attention to the minutiae of the small world which exists in a little space of rocks with plants and flowers, where sounds of nature and sounds of the musical art are somehow much the same, is attaining a sense of personal quietude, of which our consuming world leaves us in the end small final residue.
And later being somewhat surfeited with music, I remember that there is also Silence, the antiseptic antidote to musical sound, in whose realm are hiding all the little micro-events which we tend not to hear at all. I am reminded of Sappho's poem on the bright shining disc of the moon, which causes the delicate stars nearby to modestly hide their light, while she dominates the nightbound sky. So here too, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto which fills the ear and mind with its wonderfully detailed articulations, the richness of the chalumeau resonance, all guided by the baton of this master composer, do somehow preclude the more delicate art of listening to the wind in the trees, the crackle of old branches falling and the art of the birds with their eternal art of personal improvisation. Half a century ago we would have begged for our present world of all around sound, of inexpensive and flawless CD's pouring out for us everything from the newest pop to the oldest masters, music on the telephone wires snatched from a thousand miles away and stored in a pack of cigarettes, and we would have proclaimed this as a musical Renaissance.
At a banquet where there is everything you could imagine, there comes a point when you find yourself replete, and begin to wish for the hunger to come back again. So now I will turn the TV to 'Channel Not Available' and 'MUTING', and leave it that way for a while as a reminder that I need a little empty space before I can enjoy another story. And I will put an unrecorded disc into the CD player to remind me not to put Vivaldi's Spring on this spring afternoon while I am working out in the garden. I need a good afternoon's worth of natural Silence before I go back to the world of man-made Music.
Now you ask me:
Why don't you just turn the TV or the CD off?
And I can answer you:
Because there is a great difference between a "nothing", which you are not aware of because it doesn't really exist, and SILENCE which is that special empty space which your ear reaches for, returning the message that it is still in a state of repose and quietude.
Sometimes I even mentally switch the old German proverb to : Mozart ist Silber, Schweigen is Gold
It is the afternoon of the last day of March and I am out in the garden turning over the earth in seasonal ritual with my ancient Troybuilt tiller. Many years we have been doing this together, and I have been meditating as I stride along on the Roman month of March which was the first in their agricultural year, which you can verify by September as the seventh. March is named from the god Mars, but we know he was originally an agricultural deity in the ancient days, and I must have had this in my mind when I found myself muttering to myself ENOS LASES IUVATE again and again. You may have taken a couple years of high school Latin but you won't know what these words mean:
ENOS LASES IUVATE
NEVE LUE RUE SINE INCURRERE IN PLEORES
SATUR FU FERE MARS
LIMEN SALI STA BERBER
SEMUNIS ALTERNEI ADVOCAPIT CONCTOS
ENOS MARMAR IUVATO
TRIUMPE TRIUMPE TRIUMPE
That is because they are ancient words on an inscription from 218 A.D. from the College of Arval Brethren, who were apparently a sort of pagan monastic order devoted to passing on the words of an antique farming ritual which was almost a thousand years old at that time. Enacting the prayer and stamping feet thrice for each line and crying "triumpe (?)" at the end, they certainly did not understand the words they were speaking, and more than I would understand the predictions in an Anglo-Saxon poem on seafaring. But modern scholars agree that behind the antique wording there is a meaning which is something like this:
Us, O Lares, help
Nor let ruin-plague come upon the many
Be sated wild Mars,
jump the doorstep, stand barbar.
He calls upon all the Sowing Spirits in turn.
Us, O Family Gods, give aid
(cry) Dance three-step (thrice)
Were the sowing spirits of the Roman Semunes calling to me over the ages as I plowed my field under the tutelage of Mars the Gardener? Why was I muttering to myself over and over words which I had read in some former time at my carrel in the university library, mysterious lines of magical import copied from an inscribed stone two thousand years ago?
It is now late in the night, just a few minutes before the stroke of midnight, on this last day of March, as I am hastening to complete this entry in the calendar of my annual rituals. It must be done tonight because tomorrow it will be April and I will have lost contact with the invocations to the Family Gods, and my planting may be destroyed by the 'ruin-plague' which was by the Arval Brothers clearly aforesaid. I have just time to go out to the chilly garden with a flashlight and perform in the dark the final terms of the ritual, before I go back to bed feeling that I have done my part in ensuring proper planting precautions for a good annual crop of tomatoes and winter squash.
TRI-UMPE TRI-UMPE TRI-UMPE
I have often wondered about of the ancient Western prohibitions against the eating of pork, whether they were really, as I had assumed, based on transmission of a dangerous disease like trichinosis, which can severely damage muscular tissue, or anthrax which we have been hearing so much about in recent years. In fact these were modern medical assumptions and quite different from the Jewish prohibitions which must date back into the first millennium B.C., or the Moslem rule against pork which appears a thousand years later. The religious views have their own theological and mythical etiology but I think there may be different ways of understanding this situation, which stem from an agricultural and economic base.
We know from Herodotus who was writing at about the same time as many of the Hebrew biblical documents, that the Egyptians considered the pig an abominable animal and considered anyone who dealt with pigs or touched one to be unclean and a social outcast. But we know there were certain lunar sacrifices and many of the poor had pigs which they use to trample seed into their garden plot and later to thresh out grain from the chaff by trampling. So it appears that pigs were not unknown in Egypt. Had they been carriers of a recognizable disease they would not have been kept at all.
The ancient Jews were sheep herders, while the Assyrians were involved with the early breeding of cows and probably exported bovine herds all over the Near East and even to the Mycenean cities in Greece. Both sheep and cows produce one offspring at a time with rare exceptions, and this limits the growth of herds to a conservative growth figure. But pigs will often produce a litter of near ten piglets, the sow is able to nurse most of these effectively, and by the simplest of Fibonacci calculations we can see that the pig can easily overproduce and dominate a region's other meat and cattle markets. In Egypt where careful cultivation of the silted Nile fields required a lot of hand gardening, pigs which uproot a field in surprisingly short time, would be an clear agricultural menace. To the biblical Hebrews who here socially adjusted to their shepherding as in the Psalm, a growing porcine population would compete adversely with the sheep.
I suggest that social and economic factors were at work in the ancient Near East, and that the prohibitions against eating pork were a secondary answer to the more serious matter of raising over-large numbers of pigs. If you can;' eat pork, you have no reason to have pigs around. But then the question arises about why the pig has survived throughout ancient history if he was so hostilely viewed. The answer is simple: Pigs put on weight very fast on a diet which is less than half of that required for a cow to achieve normal fattening. The poor who were in need of protein in their diet, would not be deterred by religious rule from getting the food they needed to avoid starvation, and it was probably among poor farmers that the raising and breeding of pigs continued throughout antiquity. As a fast-growing and highly edible animal, the pig could not be ignored in tight times, while a thriving economy could find it advantageous to suppress porcine breeding in the interest of protecting a traditional sheep and a growing bovine economy.
The phrase "How come. . . ?" "is one of the best questions, it sits you down squarely to ask the reason and rationale for some such-and-such matter, asking you to go down to bedrock and scratch for a really solid answer. We often assume that things are as they are, the natural result of experience and tradition, and we never get down to asking that critical question:
How come that musicians always give a list on their performance programs of all the teachers they have ever had, on and on from an adolescent experience with Ms. Georgine de la Pianola and on to Prof. Dr. I. Nobodny at Prag and Ivana Mischcatanova during the time she was living at Paris. It is not just a few names, but it goes on although many of the names are obscured in the dust of time and can no longer be recognized in this new age of music performance.
How about composers who list a few teachers, but note all the places where their music has been performed, giving a full if boring list from Tokyo to Berlin to Moscow and even on occasion Evanston, Ill. and Minersville ND. To make it look right, there has to be a full three inches of typescript on the current program handout, as a sure sign of international achievement.
But now I remember there was this fellow some centuries ago at the court of Koethen who was writing and performing a lot of music which is now much revered, and I wonder who he had studied with. Turns out he learned about music from perusing scores locked away from his adolescent eyes, ruining his eyesight but reinforcing his idea of going his own way. He did read Telemann scores and some of Vivaldi, but they were not his teachers in any sense. You will find him in the Grove Dictionary of Music, under the listing for J. S. Bach.
And there was another individualist around the beginning of the 20th century who played cello a little in home quartets, but learned somehow to imitate the full orchestralism of the late Victorian giants rather badly. With no teachers to back him, he turned to painting and did that for a while, until his idiosyncratic experiments in his own New Style music shocked the world into unwilling listening. Later he became famous and nobody remembered that he had never taken lessons from a French lady composer or studied with Brahms. I need hardly mention at this point that his name was Schoenberg.
There is a companion phrase which goes along with
"How come . . . ?" asking "What about. . . . ?" . What about a performance or composition (or both) which sound like crap, causing people to leave the hall halfway through the evening vowing to stick to CD's for their musical edification. I remember as a young fellow going to a Heifetz concert and falling asleep halfway through, not because of the music but because of the bad place in the hall away from the stage, because of the fellow behind me who had a bad cough and because on the other side there was someone who tried to conceal breaking wind by staring with his nose in the air at the man in the row in front of him . Also it was after dinner at the ungodly 7:30 musical hour when we all tend to snooze in the face of talent or not. So someone will ask why I don't sign up for a season's concerts like everybody else, why I sit at home listening to weak speaker sound when I could be hearing a full live orchestra in a great hall? Which brings us back to my original question: "How come . . .. ?"
If there ever was a time when the United States felt it could let the rest of the world engage in its internecine pursuits and keep our world safe and separate, that view disappeared with WW I in l1917 despite Pres. Wilson's efforts to keep us out. By 1940 it was clear that we couldn't let the Axis take over the world, as the remnants of a previous isolationism evaporated with Pearl Harbor. But since then, in an atmosphere of international trade and global inter-dependency, we have bit by bit assumed the role of an international policeman, still aiming at the kind of World Peace which Wilson had hoped would come from the League of Nations of his day.
But this is not just a matter of a peaceful world in which international trade prospers, there is a human component involved as well. We speak wistfully of declaring war on Poverty, but in the meantime we would like to go further and declare war on War. Of course we select which wars we would like to see ended, and if warring states are in an oil-rich area, we can see peace as both humane and also profitable.
If we wonder at times how far we can go in patrolling the world against violence, it might be eye-opening to see how the international Romans felt in a similar situation. Let me quote a few lines from Tacitus' little manual on Germania. He is talking about the virtual genocide of the Bructerii by a coalition of their neighboring tribes:
It was even vouchsafed to gratify us by the sight of the battle in which about sixty thousand souls fell without a blow struck by the Romans. But what is more wonderful is that it happened before our very eyes as an exciting show. I do hope that for these people it will last and continue so, that even if they do not love us, at least they will have hatred for each other. While our fated destiny of empire keeps moving forward, fortune can give us no better benefit than strife among our foes.
This sounds so outlandish from our modern point of view, that I feel I should give the Latin in the interest of authenticity:
Iuxta Tencteros Bructeri olim occurrebant: nunc Chamavos et Angrivarios inmigrasse narratur, pulsis Bructeris ac penitus excisis vicinarum consensu nationum, seu superbiae odio seu praedae dulcedine seu favore quodam erga nos deorum; nam ne spectaculo quidem proelii invidere Super sexaginta milia non armis telisque Romanis, sed, quod magnificentius est, oblectationi oculisque ceciderunt Maneat, quaeso, duretque gentibus, si non amor nostri, at certe odium sui, quando urgentibus imperii fatis nihil iam praestare fortuna maius potest quam hostium discordiam
As we read this passage, we see that we have progressed far on the long road of humanity with respect for human life. It upsets our philosophical and religious feelings to know that thousands are being murdered. We seem in recent years to have assumed that our role in the world must involve some policing and pacification of warring parties worldwide. We cannot state this formally at the present time because this is a costly procedure and not one which always results in success. But we have it on our mind.
Here is another comment from the Roman world about the way they did their pacification, with overtones which remind us of the U.S. operations in Iraq:
"When the armies have completely devastated and ruined a country, then they make a statement calling it PEACE."
We could use almost the same wording, but that last word has to be altered to suit our political temperament. We must change it to VICTORY.
In this fast changing world a person can easily wonder if he made the right choice of studies and profession, since there are so many options now open which we hardly dreamed of a few years ago. And the possibilities for a job, a position and a career have been so rearranged that what once was lead-in to a comfortable lifestyle may have evaporated completely in the course of a decade or two.
A few days ago I was an interesting position. Talking with a man who was interested in getting a few woodworking handtools from my workshop, we fell into conversation and I found that he had almost completed his doctorate in German studies when he found the job market was flooded and the best he could expect was an ill-paid "Adjunct-ship", which is the new title for an ill-paid temporary fill-in in Academe. But his former literary studies had verged onto Linguistics which is now critical in the new work on Neuro-Psychology and Cognitive Science as the only may into the mind and how the human brain actually functions. Looking back he might have gone that road, but it was not clear at the time how important that field was about to become.
My woodworking guest had brought a friend who as it turned out was a computer specialist at a major University, and he had a word to add. Not satisfied with computer technology for the rest of his life, he was thinking of a change but unsure where that might in this fluctuating market? Should to be a lateral move to computers in industry, or a clean break like woodworking or pottery, without regard to salary loss?
I thought of my younger son who had recently graduated form a good college but switched from Neuro-Psychology to a more amicable English major, only to find himself unemployed for some time until he found a desk job in a business. At graduation he was ready for an application to a grad school program in this nascent field, but stepped aside for some personal reasons of his own and I hope he has no regrets at the present time.
Since we were all being frank, I told a short story about my years at Stanford many years ago when as a new Ph.D. I spoke to the Research Club about some cautions in the reconstruction of the proto-Indo-European phoneme configuration and how it might have been based on a logical error. Nobody understood what I was talking about, I was quite tentative in my views and gladly ceded the podium to the man from the medical School who spoke about new developments in open heart surgery which were then being tested. As I look back I feel a slight regret that my field, which has somehow survived in small scale in major universities, but has been of little importance to the world at large; while the other speaker was on the edge of something new and important. Should I have devoted my studies to science and aimed for a wider target? Had I actually spent a lifetime with trivia of importance only to those in the academic field? This was something I thought about confessing for some time, guessed this was as good a time as any to bring it up .
One can never tell which way the career wind is going to be blowing in future years. Aeschylus said it succinctly some millennia ago: "The future, you will know when it has come, and in the meantime ..... forget it!" And then I think of the high-level high-profile surgeon who dropped out of the hospital in his middle years, saying that he owed some quiet and comfort to himself and couldn't face the continued pressures of the job. Training and skill were no assurance for his personal security. Had he taken a course in the Greek Drama in college, and noted the words of Aeschylus, he might have had a hint about how fleeting his projections of that planned career might become in the future. But if a "Satisfaction-Index" can be considered, some of us who avoided the foot wear on the high road might console ourselves now with ambling along on our own pathway, proceeding through a span of life which does not last forever, and does not permit the luxury of repeat performances.
According to the Zen book titled Mumonkan, compiled somewhere in the 12th century, an interview between a novice and his Zen master was recorded as follows. The novice asked the Master where the Buddha-nature resided, and the master pointing to a post in the corner of the room, said "It is there, in that post." The student said that he did not see it and the master told him to go away and think about if for a long time. Two years later the novice came back to the Master and after polite introductions, remarked that he still did not see the Buddha-nature in that post. Upon which the master said "Neither do I " and the student felt himself immediately enlightened.
In the same period in southern France, in the flourishing and gloriously productive Languedocian civilization, formal Inquisitors from the Pope began to inquire among the people about their religious beliefs, especially about their acceptance of the triple nature of deity in which God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost were taken to be different forms of the same being and can be interchanged in form and function in the usage of the faithful. This dated back to the heresy of one Arianus in the fourth century A.D. who stated that Christ was wholly mortal but possessed of a divine spirit which went back to his Father in Heaven who is GOD. Somehow this view persisted into the 12th century among the people of Provence, but when it was formally discovered, a blood bath was ordered at the hands of the Catholic hierarchy involving a virtual genocide of the heretical rebels.
Comparing these two historical episodes, one sees the wide range which can exist between enlightenment with intellectual freedom, and the role of a hard and coercive statutory religiosity on the other hand. But this is not a question of the relative humanity of the world of the Zen Far East in the Middle Ages, as compared with a similar theological question in the Roman Catholic West. This is the sort of confrontation which appears again and again in the history of the world, which some have categorized as a Manichean style struggle of the forces of Good as against those of Evil.
But the difference lies far deeper. It is the difference between acts of thinking in an atmosphere of inquiry and freedom, as against restrictions on thought in an atmosphere of static doctrinism. We would like to think, in this age of scientific discovery, that Thought is most invaluable in exact proportion to its absolute degree of freedom.
A man reached me recently to talk about his use of the convenient PalmPilot, which he demonstrated as containing hundreds of pages of the text of Homer's Iliad, in the original Greek along with English and a dictionary and commentary. Quite a job of stuffing all this into a few square inches of mini-monitor, and I told him politely that it seemed very remarkable but that this is not at all the way I like to read a book.
My desktop with 21 inch monitor is like the huge printed incunabula from 1480 which had to be read on a lectern, before most people went for a laptop size quarto to read on the desk at home. But then this clever fellow Aldo Manutio appeared on the scene around 1500 and set up a press to print 5 x 6 inch books, which could be slipped in your pocket and read anywhere at all. Very interesting idea in that day and much like the idea of reading text on a handheld PalmPilot. As a matter of fact for the classics I still find the little classical Loebs Library editions in true Aldine format quite convenient for carrying around, and paperbacks covering everything from textbooks to novels are part of our culture. Aldo Manutio set a real milestone in the development of the book.
Now what about the idea of a small 5 x 7 inch Windows compatible monitor with a huge memory, as chock full of text as the ubiquitous iPod is of music. This would be something to have with you everywhere to use anywhere in convenient moments. Music listening can be done while working, but reading unfortunately takes your full attention, so the use would be different until the iPod were equipped with an acoustic voice reader. The small hand held units on the market today use a very different technology from the PC/Mac, and cannot cross platform to be used on other machines, something which will end up as a terminal limitation. So a better technology would clearly be in order, no problem in these days of technological overflow.
But I like the idea of a iPod which has enough text memory to include a virtual library in a dozen areas and in as many languages, with built-in dictionary and commentary if needed. Add an acoustic reader to this and you have something the truck driver can listen to in his long hours on the road, or the commuting businessman on his two hour round-trip to the job. Learning a language you could have an interlinear French-English text to read out a Camus novel and learn your French vocab. and grammar at the same time in the so-called Direct Method. The old cassette taped novels for the blind were hard to make and in a technology we have long since left behind; but a similar device with a reasonably voiced sound-reader would be compact and sparing of memory, and complete the attractive circle around to the acoustic iPod.
Take a quick look at Bartleby which is just one of the many text sites now available on the web. Now imagine one of the new tPods with huge text memory, preloaded with a given library or loaded from the internet at will with available public materials. For the student or scholar, there is the world of .ftp materials on a thousand university based sites, as well as government documents from every online country in the world. And all of this compacted to the extent of something like an encyclopedia Britannica in size, but just small enough to go into a purse or jacket pocket.
Not a dream at all. I am waiting for someone to get the idea and see it into production. This is like the iPod which nobody was interested in - - - until it appeared. And then everyone wondered why they hadn't put it into production before. The iPod was a valid number one, here with iPod is the logical follow up.
In the first months of 2006 everyone was talking about George Clooney's film on Edward R. Murrow and the Communist panic of the l950's; so it was interesting to me to find in the back of a Harper's l965 paper edition of Kant's "Metaphysics of Morals"a letter from Murrow which I would like you to read. then let me continue:
Forty years ago we were in a position to export information about America and our way of life and thought, which might have done much good throughout the world to establish this country as an intelligent and peace-loving state. Now things have changed. We have exported warfare as our major national product and find ourselves tangled in a web of poisonous consequences. I wanted to know more about the United States Information Agency or USAI which I hadn't been hearing of for a while and found on the web this surprising note :
This web site is an archive of the former USIA site as it stood in September 1999, and is now maintained as part of the Electronic Research Collection of historic State Department materials by the federal depository library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Study of the U.S.
University Affiliations Program
Academic Exchanges: (Russia and NIS)
Electronic and Printed Materials
Speaker and Specialist Program
Information Resource Centers
Foreign Press Centers
All of this former activity dating from as early as l953 was slipped into a folder of historic interest at a university site in l999, indicating that we had moved into a different mode of presenting the attitude of the United States. The
Harper packets of information which Murrow spoke of are good academic studies from serious sources and not the kind of governmental propaganda which we have since used to dis-inform people about what we are doing. The sad thing is that we seem to have lost our touch with the outside world, something we once considered important and formerly had our finger on. Then was the time to send books to schools and agencies worldwide, then was the time to spread our image as peace-makers in a warlike world. Had Murrow known that the USIA was to be disbanded in l999 he would have been genuinely shocked, because he stressed throughout a long and distinguished career a firm belief in the liberating force of truthful information.
When Murrow wrote his letter forty years ago about sending books out to the world, there was still hope of the world listening. At the present time there would be little reason to ship books to the Near East, since we have played the wrong hand with an iron fist, and by now nobody is prepared to hear what we have to say.
Nobody likes the acrid taste of Listerine , but you are likely to have a bottle of the stuff around in the bathroom, and everybody knows that it was named after Joseph Lister, later Lord Lister 1827-1912, the father of antiseptic surgery. His work stands as one of the great discoveries of the l9th century and every medical textbook has a paragraph on him and his work. But it did not all come as a moment of truth, a single instant in which he made a 'discovery'. It was a curious learning curve which went back three centuries and then lurched forward in the years after l867 to develop a new idea ----- the antiseptic operating room. Let me trace our some details.
In his book "On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery" l867, Lister recorded his success in dealing with suppurating wounds by applying a solution of carbolic acid, which we now call phenol or C6-H5-OH, to the wound. Phenol is an organic compound found in the urine of herbivores and the plant castoreum, and was discovered in l834 as a aliphatic rhombic crystal soluble in water and alcohol, as a product of coal tar distillation. Phenol is the simplest example of a compound with an OH alcohol type ring. Poisonous if ingested, it was recognized as a powerful bactericide in a time when bacteria had not yet been identified as cause of disease. In his treatise, Lister gives examples of his use of phenol in pus generating wounds, by soaking a cloth in the aqueous solution and covering the wound with a tent to keep the solution confined and active while operating room air was excluded. The rag soaked in phenol was covered with a paste made up of "common whiting or carbonate of lime, mixed with a solution of four parts of carbolic acid in four parts of boiled linseed oil, so as to make a firm putty". This covered the phenol treated rag or cloth, and the whole was covered by a 'tent' of thin tin sheet, the only materials he could count on to resist penetration of bacteria from the air. This small closed environment was the first stage of Lister's improved surgical operation.
But this was remarkably similar to the work of Ambroise Paré in the middle of the 16th century. Paré was a surgeon attached to the French armies, he left a detailed account of his experience in the complicated war scene of his time, and about all of his successes in dealing with wounds caused by lance and gunshot. He speaks with confidence of the various organic medications which he employed, covering the well dressed sound with a "tent" to protect it and retain the medications, and assures the reader with actual cases that he had been successful in a large number of cases brought to him. In one case he describes what materials he had used:
The 'tents' were anointed with a preparation of egg yolk, Venice turpentine, and a little oil of roses......I put over the wounds a great plaster of dichylium, wherewith I had mixed oil of roses and vinegar to avoid inflammation. Then I applied great compresses of oxycrete and bandaged tightly....
Lister had certainly read Paré's account of his work in the French wars. The use of aliphatic oil of roses and the acid of vinegar with an isolating paste covered with a tent are too similar to be coincidental, and presumably this treatment was part of the medical art previous to the time of bacteriology and the new research. It was a dozen years after Lister's paper that Pasteur read a lecture before the French Academy of Sciences (April 10th l878) which was subsequently published as "The Germ Theory and its Applications to Medicine and Surgery". This was the first public announcement of the importance of recognizing airborne bacteria, which Pasteur had previously studied in the fermentation of beer, as cause of disease in a wound or any open surgical process.
If there were ever a critical year in the History of Medicine, it would have been the year l879 in which Pasteur's assertions came into actual hospital practice. Lister suddenly realized that the ancient isolation of a wound to retain medication and exclude "air", should be extended to the whole of the operating room and eventually to the hospital itself. The key to this was the use of acidic phenol with its germ killing potential, and he saw that it could be used to clean out a wound, clean the surgeon's instruments, hands, clothing, the operating room and finally disinfect the wards where the patient would be sent to recover. Lister finally perceived the Hospital as a totally antiseptic environment. Semmelweiss in Germany and O. W. Holmes in Boston in l845 had seen puerperal fever developing in maternity wards as contagious, but they had none of Pasteur's knowledge of the bacterial agents of contagion at hand. When Lister reformed hospital procedure by antisepsis after l880, he became the primary hero of modern medicine.
I mentioned Listerine at the start, just now went to the bathroom for a bottle of the stuff, to find from the label that it contains no phenol but a variety of similar aliphatics. The active ingredients are menthol, thymol, eucalyptol with methyl salicylate, all of which are structural isomers. First used as a dental mouthwash in l885 and elevated to six flavors by the present time, Listerine is only mildly effective in providing mouth antisepsis; but it was quite effective in creating a new word for the modern dictionary of social behavior. Listerine with its sales advocacy and widespread advertising, virtually created the notion of Bad Breath , formally listed in pseudo-neo-medical terminology as the formidable social disease we all know as Halitosis
Palestine and the Palestinians is so much in the news these days, that I thought it would be worthwhile to search out some background for the name itself. I came up with surprising returns. First of all take a look at an excellent online article on the ancient name from which Palestine comes. We know of the Philistines from the OT as enemy of the Jews, but there are two threads which alter the traditional view of Philistines as an empire of evil. (The modern use of the word Philistine as uneducated and anti-artistic came from European l9th century academicians, and is peripheral.)
The Philistines are now thought to be the 'peleset' or sea-raiders mentioned in Egyptians sources of the 2nd millennium BC, and connected with the West of the Mediterranean Basin. They may have been an offshoot from the Mycenean civilization, and there are suspicions that their language was Indo-European although the actual data is scant. But they were not speakers of Arabic or of any Semitic language, and were in ancient times clearly differentiated from the various branches of the Semitic speaking people of the Near East.
If you look at the map I mentioned above, you will see that the kingdom of Philistia lies along the seacoast running downwards from the port of Joppa, showing a series of ports on the sea, while the land of the Jews is all inland and land-oriented in location of its cities. It is clear that the Jews and the Philistines were of economic and culturally opposed character, with the Philistines involved in trading far beyond the Levantine shore. From an economic point of view, the Philistines had all the good land along the shore with abundant ports and harbors, which would set them on a different course of development from the inland Jews.
The Jews have an ancient claim on the land now called Israel which is well documented from many references in the Old Testament, and the Zionist movement from the end of the l9th century would seem to have a reasonable historical background. Towns and rivers and boundaries are named and can be identified with modern geographical features, and this is what surviving Jews stated and maintained after the end of the War. The fact that the British held Palestine as a Protectorate from the old days of French and British invasion of the Near East, is not consequential, and the British were glad to leave this strip of land to the Jewish insurgents who were prepared to bomb the British out.
On the other side the Palestinian Arabs cannot produce a parallel pedigree for their claim on the land or on their ancestral heritage, since the ancient Palestinians are not to be confused with ethnic Arabs, and represent an entirely different culture. But their claim for the land is based on the principle of 'Continual Use Over Time' which is many legal frameworks is felt to have the force of law.
One might ask at this point if ancestral ownership is a real factor in determining current ownership in a national real-estate market. The Native American tribes have struggled for a century with this problem, and they often have certain legal treaties and sufficient paperwork to bring their cases to court. But a two thousand year lapse between the OT documentation and the taking of Palestine for a Jewish State seems legally untenable, although from a cultural and historical point of view if is for the Jews highly attractive. Just so a Palestinian claim that the people now there are descendants of the ancient Palestinian Empire would be stretched thin over such a long time span, and both would be questionable if presented as a legal case before a World Court.
So the situation as it stands between Jews and Palestinians must be seen as a case of 'Use', the Israelis stating that they have had over half a century of use and development of the land, while the Palestinians maintain that their 'Continuous Use' goes back with their real-estate paperwork for at least a couple of centuries. The question is whether the length of time in 'Past Use' is sufficient for stating a claim, or the shorter time span in 'Present and Current Use' determines ownership. And the present status of Israel as factually possessed of ownership by authority and force could be seen as having a quasi-legal status by this last half century of continuous process.
But of course there is more to the situation. The Arabic speaking Muslims of the Near East have been badly used by Western powers for two centuries, and the appearance of a 'European' Israel with Western based funding re-states clearly the history of old wounds. The triple counter claims on the Holy Places from Islam, from Christianity and from the Jews places an impossible tangle of contrary views and rights on this small strip of Levantine coastland. And the final solution may well have to be decided by a process of mediating Power on both sides, along with hopeful efforts at Arbitration.
In a situation where arbitration fails, it may be that force and power are the ultimate factors involved in a settling of the disputes, which is a sad commentary on the state of human intellectual evolution after millennia of thought and experience. An argument based on national self-interest is not in the spirit of a global terri-sphere. On the other hand national feelings which elicit pride in one's own and hatred for the foreign are still very much with us, and this may be a more tenacious human trait than our aspirations toward a more humane and comfortable world-order for the future.
There is so much interest in the work of Darwin these days, not only the new books which re-evaluate his importance as a man of science, but also the questions about teaching a questionable Intelligent Design in place of Evolution in the schools, that a few notes on the evolution of Darwin's "Evolution" seems in order.
It is surprising to a modern reader of Lucretius that he lays out a clear case for evolution and survival of the fittest in exact terms. He speaks of generations of myriad experimental life forms having all sorts of deviant limbs and forms, which disappeared because they were not able to survive in a competitive world. Darwin said late in life that he had never read Lucretius, another surprise since the Latin poet was a standard author read in the British schools of the early 19th century, and Darwin did go through a typical education of his class. He may have felt that his own Evolution was based on study and research, while Lucretius' account was drawn from lost Greek philosophical sources, which Darwin would have felt stood outside the scientific tradition.
Another thread which can be unraveled from the Darwinian fabric is Sir Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, the first edition of which appeared in l830, just a year before Darwin set out on his world travel with the Beagle expedition. Darwin had surely read this book with its clear statements about very small changes extending over long periods of time, as the formula for the evolving land masses. Lyell had made a strong case for countering the mystical and religious views of his day which spoke of Biblical Creation as more reliable than observation and scientific study. Darwin was about to go out for three years on the Beagle expedition, and I believe it set the framework which he slowly filled out in the next few years. In fact Darwin only hit on the notion of evolving species when he studied the Galapagos Islands, slowly extending the data from the changes he saw evolving there in recent time, to a general view of species evolving in a long time frame.
But Lyell had put into clear focus this process of continual change over long periods of time already in l830. It was only slowly and much later that Darwin brought his materials together to form his statement of evolution in the 'Origin of Special l859' and the 'Descent of Man l871' just four years before the death of Lyell who was twelve years his senior. Darwin matured slowly but with steady preparation, cautiously treading the complex biological pathway, which was the reverse side of the geological data collected and published much earlier by Lye. But Darwin was well aware of the importance of Lyell's work, as he notes in his autobiography:
The science of geology is enormously indebted to Lyell ----- more so as I believe, than to any other man who ever lived.
Was this "other man..." a reference to Lucretius, a statement that his debt was to Lyell whom he had read rather than to Lucretius whom he had not read (?). A Classical scholar will always point to Lucretius as the seed from which Evolution grew, but the scientist knows that without research and a database, it is good thinking and fortunate guesswork. But it is not science, and no scientific branches sprouted from Lucretius' elegant cuttings for a thousand years. Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin who died several years before Charles' birth, was a poet, physician and scientific enthusiast, and no doubt a follower of Lucretius' words; but his grandson merely noted about him that he followed Lamarkian erroneous principles. But from the influence of Lyell's work came Darwin, a new and enlightened world-view, and our scientifically based Evolution.
Lyell had done basic research on the geological levels, which he named and dated with approximate ages, he had traveled widely and encouraged a whole generation of scientists to examine the nature and the history of the earth's upper crust. He was a scientist of the first order in the new scientific spirit of the 19th century, and Darwin understands his fermentative importance. It is true Lucretius' statements were apt and largely correct, but they had no base of data; whereas Lyell was an investigator as well as a thinker, and it is from him and from Darwin that comes a whole new appreciation of the physical world and hints into the nature of Life itself.
This bright January morning I was reading over coffee "A Summary and True Discourse of Sir FRANCIS DRAKE"s West Indian Voyage. begin in the year l588 ......... by Master Thomas Gates" and by eye caught an interesting paragraph about the coconut, which ran as follows:
..... Amongst which the coconuts and plantains are very pleasant fruits; the said cocos have a hard shell and a green husk over it as our walnut, but it far exceedeth in greatness, for this cocos in his green husk us bigger than an man's two fists. ........ Within this shell is a white rind resembling in show very much, even as anything any do, the white of an egg when it is hard boiled. And within this white of the nut lieth a water, which is whitish and very clear, to the quantity of half a pint or thereabouts; which water and white rind before spoken of are both a very cool and fresh taste, and as pleasant as anything can be. I have heard some hold opinion that it is very 'restorative'.
Finishing my cup I idly picked up a newspaper for Dec. 13 2005 , laid out for lighting the wood stove fire in the morning, and found this note about post-tsunami conditions in Sri Lanka:
One obstacle was the heat and humidity. "You hot?" asked one of the Sri Lankans one day. "Yes, exhausted," the American said. The man shimmied 60 feet up a palm tree, grabbed a coconut, brought it down, and punched a hole in it. "Drink this" he said - - - and the sugar in the drink kept him going the rest of the day.
I knew both accounts were correct because as a boy a lifetime ago I had split open, punched and drank the liquid from a coconut on my uncle's lawn in Florida, formerly a Spanish possession. This is probably why I noticed these two references. But what surprised me was that while reading the 1588 account and then finding the 2005 account a moment later, was the accidence of these two pieces of information coming so close together, a real serendipity which coincides on a third level with my boyhood recollection.
Shifting from time to geography, I tried to lay it out in my mind in another way. Drake's account was at Santiago of Cuba, my first experience with coco was at another Spanish site, while the third point in this global triangle is the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian ocean. We used to speak academically about the Diachronic and Synchronic ways of arranging our information, meaning nothing more than 'historically' or 'simul-geographically'. But this was an unfortunate split. We should arrange data on a multi-dimensional plan, so that the historical is in the same presentation as the non-time-geo mode. We have always been thinking of geographical as x - y in a planar layout, while our historical data falls on a linear scale with one end in pre-history and the other at the present moment. These two approaches don't mesh well, and may constitute more of a problem that I can see at this moment as I take my coffee cup back to the kitchen for a refill.
As a test of another mind on this matter, I wanted to see what google could come up with. For 'coconut' I find 14.5 million returns, for 'coconut liquid' 2.09 millions, and for 'coconut + Drake' 232,000 citations, of which the first on my list is the Historical Sir Francis Drake site with the following information, which completes one leg of the triangle historically as well as geographically:
As a token of her appreciation, Queen Elizabeth gave Drake a gold and silver globe engraved by the famous Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator which depicted Drake's world circling voyage. The Queen presented this globe as a 1582 New Year's Eve gift to Drake and it
contained a silver decorated goblet which was made with a coconut that Drake had brought to the Queen after the famous voyage.
I want to compare google's search with mine, but I have no way to calculate the number of discrete entries in the information cells of my brain. It may well be in the same range as google's tallies, but in a way that favors my personal searches, while Google on the other hand favors its huge data array, searchable via an algorithm for frequency of use and site popularity. The main difference may be that when I find something curious, a light goes on and I say "serendipity" with enthusiasm, while google just plods on to the next item in a row of millions of possible connections. The bottom line is that I may be ranked as intelligent from time to time, while google doesn't really show much intelligence in the end. As time goes on Google looks a little like a "mind", but it is (after all) just a machine.
Now that we are speaking again of legal Euthanasia in the new millennium, it might be a good time to consider a quotation from Ambroise Paré the French Surgeon whose account of war conditions in 1537 in the area of Turin bears on this controverted topic. Entering the city where the dead were lying in the street, the doctor came upon a shocking scene:
"I entered into a stable thinking to lodge my own and my man's horse, and found four dead soldiers and three propped up against the wall, their features all changed; and they neither saw, not heard nor spake, and their clothes were still smoldering where the gunpowder had burned them. As I was looking at them with pity, there came an old soldier who asked me if there were any way to cure them. I said no. And then he went up to them and cut their throats, gently, and without ill will toward them. I told him he was a villain; he answered he prayed to God to do the same to him, that he should not linger in misery."
Now that we have good medical care on the line whenever we go to war in a foreign land, we don't have to resort to such drastic action. But there must be many cases when the doctor realizes that a soldier is dying so gives him a extra boost of morphine as an action of terminal mercy. Not legal and not recorded, but the humane thing to do.
There is current consideration of a legal way to end long suffering terminal cases where the patient is clear about his intent and formally advocates an end to his pain. We are considering legal use of a tablet of a strong barbiturate which will slow all body reactions, ending in sleep and a peaceful termination. This is much nicer than slitting the throat with a razor blade to open the jugular vein; no fuss or mess is involved, and although the final procedure is slower it is much more peaceful and less threatening to on-lookers.
But the Hippocratic Code dating from about 450 BC and formally subscribed to by students of all medical programs at graduation, says " I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel". But it is clear that the Code is speaking of poisoning with the word "pharmakon", which means either medicine or poison in Greek. Poisoning was a favorite method of assassination in the ancient Mediterranean world. This is quite a different proposition from what we are considering under "Eu-thania", the word coming from Hippocrates' Greek "good -dying". If you want to enforce all ancient procedures, maybe we should consider the sacrifice of a son as the Old Testament recounts, or waging war against the Canaanites because they don't follow our religion. Old documents are interesting but often involve misinterpretation if taken literally.
Naturally there will be opposition to Euthanasia, and it will come from various ethnic and religious sources. But what may attract the broadest attention is one which is based on solid medical and pharmacological data. We can question the appropriateness of this attack, but we cannot question the database of closely researched information on which it is based. Any barbiturate, it will be maintained by the opposition, as used and observed for at least eight decades in the last century, has one characteristic which makes its use inadmissible .
The Barbiturates are habit-forming.
- We - the - Bees - are - the - highest - form - of - intelligence - the - world - has - ever - known. Our - minds - are - as - one - purpose - they - are - firm - and - we - do - not - have - to - change - ever. When - we - find - a - living - strain - different - from - our - own - we - know - how - to - protect - ourselves - by - attacking - it - first. We - follow - our - leader - who - directs - what - we - are - as - what - we - can - think - and - do. Everything - is - perfect - and - we - have - no - reason - to - doubt - or - hesitate. We - push - doubters - out - in - the - cold - in - wintertime.
- We - believe - we - are - not - alone - in - the - world. Our - senses - are - very - accurate - and - we - have - established - odor - tracks - to - what - we - think - must - be - other - forms - of - life - even - forms - which - do - not - use - our - blood - chemistry - or - chitenous - skin. Sometimes - large - moving - objects - which - may - be - alive - in - some - sense - of - the - word - crash - into - our - world - crushing - one - or - another - of - our - kingdoms - which - we - speedily - repair. Some - of - these - moving - objects - seem - to - have - tried - to - destroy - us - intentionally - but - are - no - match - for - our - numbers - or - our - stings. - Internally - identical - and externally - formidable - we - are - in - charge. - In - the - trail - of- a - long - line - of - development - by - Intelligent - Design - we - have - outwitted - genetics - by - cloning - in - place - of - sexual - combination. - We - are - the - winners.
- Is - there - something - beyond - our - knowledge, - something - we - cannot - even - think - of - beyond - our - ability - to - count - and - plan - for - our - wax - storage - combs - in - the - many - thousands? - Is - there - some - other - kind - of - mind - out - there - something - unknown - and - perhaps - unknowable? - Is - there - an - unreal - space - beyond - our - range - to - fly? - Is - there - other - time - than - the - extent - of - our - lives, - and - another - place - where - the - knowledge - of - our - people - is - stored?
- NO. NO. Everything - we - need - is - established - and - we - are - the - people. Skill - and - assiduity - are - ours - but - beyond - that - we - have - an - intelligence - beyond - any - others' - and - can - accomplish - feats - beyond - imagination. We - regulate - our - world - with - the - hardness - of - a - stone - and - conduct - our - kingdoms - with - an - established - Rule - Of - Law. Everything - is - kept - in - order - and - we - have - no - reason - to - doubt. If - hesitation - arises - and - questioning - occurs - we - counter - it - chanting - the - one - word - of - our - traditional - meditation: "iti NO NO NO uvasa'
Back to bees in the humanoid perspective:
As with all interesting things, there always is an epilog in these days of post-privacy regulation, and this conversation was picked up by a ultrasonic probe which responds to hitherto unknown bee-resonance Language, or BUZZ as follows:
THE QUEEN: You know, there is something so remarkably detailed and effective in our world, the way we reproduce, our diligent work habits, our storing of wealth in Fort Melissa in secure and locked chambers, that it is a fair question to ask if this could all have happened by Chance. The Wasps have the right idea but are stupid with their stingers, the Ants have our industry but end up with a few aphid cattle but no capital product. It is only the Termites who have gone back to the botanical base, but they have missed the honey of the flowers and work with any old leaf to make some disgusting mold-rotten stuff to eat. Not really our kind, is it?
THE FOREMAN WORKER: You are right, Milady, we are in a special class of being. Some of our people inebriated with overdoses of pollen, might think we have (sort of) evolved from earlier species, but isn't a trilobite really a beast of another colour? No, I think we have to make a philosophical statement on our own, and I would not be surprised if it turns out to be something like a process of Intelligent Design. There should be nothing surprising about this intelligent force, it is just like us but raised to a higher power. And if the Creator Herself were as prolific of ideas as you are of eggs, the whole process might well be a fair paradigm for Life itself.
Do you agree, Ma'am, or shall I go out into the cold to die with the other workers who have proposed unacceptable ideas of their own......?
Let me give an example of the surprising stuff you can find out these days from a google search.
As a boy in school outside New York, I was taught French by one Adolphe Pervy, about whom I can give this factual shred of history. He was Belgian resistance fighter, at Dunkirk he was one of the thousands who went into the sea waiting for that heroic mission from Britain in which everything which could float was sent out to the continent to rescue thousands who had marched deep into the water to wait. Pervy was there but he was very short, and he would have sunk since he couldn't swim, had not a tall man next to him reached out every few seconds and pulled him up for a bit, until at last the boat came.
In New York with papers in hand but no ability to speak English, he was referred to a school on the Sound where he became the Professeur de Francais. This was of course the best possible teaching since we learned everything directly from his walk, his gestures, his pointing and joking, and we learned so much that a few years later when I found myself in the Army in France, I was the only one who could communicate with the French Capitaine about place for where to dig a departmental latrine. Every word I learned walking about the lawns of the school from M. Pervy I have remembered to this day. This was the heart of the Methode Directe which I found alive years later at Middlebury College. Au revoir, M. Pervy...
But just now I wondered if there were any trace of him anywhere. A google search this evening turned up this data:
Riverside National Cemetery
Riverside, Riverside County, California
* Records with an asterisk at the end indicates those that have not been verified as accurate by the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs. Please visit "The National Cemetery Administration Records Verification Project " for details on what this means. To report an error, please visit the Veterans Affairs website, click on "Contact the VA" and follow the instructions.
Pervy, Adolphe V,
b. 02/10/1907, d. 05/03/1994,
US Army, TEC5,
Res: Landers, CA,
Plot: 31 0 73, bur. 05/09/1994
So there was a shred of the personality of Adolphe Pervy floating around in our world, and now that we are in an electronic age and the Master Hunter GOOGLE can find anything that is properly (electronically) known, I can for a moment resume my acquaintance with my old teacher. He would have been about twenty three when I was fourteen as his pupil, and he died in his eighties a little above my present age. So there is an retrievable memory of him, just a bit about this curious short-statured, Resistance Belgian agent who after coming here took military service in this country and when dead was registered and buried in a Veterans' Cemetery. Memory is there but very thin, just a single fiber of information which has come through by pure chance. There is nothing notable about the name of Adolphe Pervy other than having been my teacher once upon a time. So if I now say "Au revoir, M. Pervy...." it is for good, because nobody else is going to be mentioning his name again, anywhere and at any conceivable future time.
I have been enjoying reading each morning with my cup of coffee a few pages of Donald Culross Peattie's book: The Road of a Naturalist, Houghton Mifflin 1941, for several reasons. It is the perfect browsing book to peruse at ease. Perched on the three footed adjustable mahogany reading stand I made last month, the book is comfortable to read with its lovely woodcut illustrations of flowers and minor floral decorations which make opening a new page interesting, if only to see if there is anything unexpected. But you have to read the right kind of book to read on a stand, the modern glued-back generation has to be held open with both hands and you can't lay it open to read without a firm grip. This old volume was beautifully laid out the way they used to do for a fine book, which would have sold for all of two dollars at the store. The paper has a nice feel, it folds accurately into the round hammered spine through which each section was sewn with linen thread before the flexible flue was applied, and it will open and close perfectly every time for a century or more. I once had a five hundred year old book printed on rag paper which laid open like this. Looking at what I find in the bookstore now, I must conclude that we have lost the art of book craft at last.
I recommend learning something about the basics of book binding as an interesting light-duty pastime for people who have a flare for books. There is very little equipment you need beyond a non-hardening flexible glue, some net-style binder's cloth for the spine, a good size pair of scissors although a used paper shear would be nice if you found one cheap. Thread and needle for some resewing if necessary are not worth mentioning, but if you want to do a new set of covers, you need board and cloth for that. I think it is better for a start to repair rather than renew, keeps the original look of the binding which is nice. A binder's press is not needed unless you are going to go in for binding, and can be made from wood and a large screw from the hardware store; but a good weight like a concrete block atop of flat board will do most of what you need in the way of pressing. For supplies I got materials from Demco Library Supplies but there are many sources you can find online.
Books printed from 1920-50 are generally on a good quality paper which is acid free and will not fox or deteriorate like many cheap 19th century printings. It's surprising what nice used copies you can get at surprisingly reasonable prices from Bookfinder or Abebooks . They sell books that look reasonable unless noted, but the glue inside the spine is often dry and fragile, and this is the place for a neophyte book repairer to begin. First slit the inner hinges to remove the book proper from the boards with boards and spine entire, then you can clamp the book between two boards, wet and scrape off the old glue, hammer the back lightly to restore a rounded spine shape and re-establish the micro-folds, and you are ready for the binder's cloth to be glued on and covered with a strip of newspaper. Leaving two flanges of the cloth on the sides, you use these to attach to the covers with glue, press and dry and you have a strong book which after drying a few days will last for a lifetime. - - - - Yes, there IS more to it than this, but I compressed it to get you interested. The best way to start is to dissect a book as I described above, look at the parts, figure out the rationale of the bookmaking process, and go from there. If you want a manual, there are several from Amazon or better from the used book people. I prefer going it alone. Have a try at it and best of luck!
Every human being has two side to his personality. one is natural and can be worn walking down Main Street nodding hello to everyone met in front of the Post Office. The other fellow is different, he wears a pressed suit, has horn-rimmed glasses and speaks authoritatively on subjects where he has no real competence. Such is the bivalent character of human nature, it was always the same and will not be changing in the coming generations. Here is a sample of a conversation between Just Plain Bill and his alter ego the reputable Dr. H.:
I've got a problem and want to ask your opinion about it. This afternoon I was taking a nap, got up suddenly and realizing that I was very hungry, I went to the fridge and grabbed a package of something labeled "4% Min. fat cont." ----whatever that means, and ate half the package before I realized I had consumed 240 calories. I don't mind that because I am not a calorie-freak, especially when hungry. But I found myself suddenly sweating all over, not just a little hot under the collar as they say, but dripping wet head to toe. I threw the wet clothes on the floor, went back to bed shivering under a sheet, and after a while I felt back to my usual semi-normal self. OK ..... Doc. What do you think?
Dr. H. taking a big professional breath before speaking:
Well, I think it is pretty clear that you have come down with a case of Idiopathic Hyperhidriosis, which may have been triggered by the infusion of a cold and fat-saturated substance like Cottage Cheese, affecting the sensors which govern the Sympathetic Nervous System, which in turn can (among its many other functions) activate the general array of the sweat glands over the entire hypodermatic surface of the body. Whether this is a symptom of a higher level pathology is not clear to me at the present time, but you might want to check in at the hospital to have them do the usual series of costly tests to determine a possible cause for this situation - - - which you say is unusual in your physiognomic history? Or you can do nothing, and just wait to see what happens, saves hospital bills and it may not be lethal after all.
You know, Doc, you sound pretty professional, but I checked on the internet for parallel cases, and find that I probably have nothing but a case of the "Cold Sweats", which can come from everything from sudden anxiety to menopause, and is generally termed harmless. That's what I think I have, Doc. and I can play the terminology game as well as you. So don't send me your bill this time, because I have my own diagnosis and I think I have come down with a case of Idiosyncratic Adiagnostopathy
Dec 31: It is New Years Eve again, happens every year, and every year I have some thoughts floating around which I haven't put in order. This time I find myself awake at three o'clock in the morning, there is something uneasy bothering me and it is more than a rumble in the stomach. It is a rumble in the jar of unsettled memories, and I might as well face up now. I'll be back in three hundred and some days to the same place, so might as well save myself trouble in the coming years. Yes, I do have some things on my mind.
You know about geology and Plate Tectonics of course, but I am now thinking about Date Tectonics and the curious way that dates have been getting shifted around throughout the year, sliding under and over each other and coming up at unexpected locations. Let me go back to September as a good starting point for my re-calculations. (But first I should say something about Labor Day which we always think of as an end-of-summer festival. There are other labor celebrations elsewhere which can be May the First as in the former Communist countries, but also in Europe. But this has nothing to do with my problem, so let's ignore it for the moment.)
Obviously "septem" is Latin for seven, but if you count the months backwards you don't get to January 1st at all. You come out with the start of March, which in the Roman Mediterranean world is early spring and the time for planting. So it is logical for March to be the beginning of a new year, although why should it be named after Mars the God of War? Well, he was originally a god of agriculture in the ancient proto-Latin hymn "ENOS MASES IUVATE" meaning something like: "So Help me Mars (with this seed I am planting...)", so that sort of makes sense if you agree that we are reading the hymn correctly.
Have faith in the Romans, who had many of the traits which we cherish, like going all over the world and putting down military bases, deriving goods and money from people where one can bargain or bribe, constructing great buildings at home and blowing them up in other countries on pretext of protecting us here at home. The Roman historian remarks that when the army has devastated a country so that nothing remains, then it is formally called Peace. Here is a notion which seems to have survived over the millennia as an optional part of our foreign policy. We are in subtle ways much like the Romans, so I suggest that if they called September the seventh month, we might well pay attention.
But it is February which is the real problem. First, everyone says Feb-u-ary, which loses the important connection with the word "febris" meaning fever. This was the month when people had just worn themselves out with the December (sorry: #10) Saturnalian festivities, and since it was winter there was less fresh vegetable in the national diet. So no wonder that people succumbed to the flu, for which there were no shots other than cups of weak wine to gulp as anodyne. Whether the story is correct that Santa got stuck coming down the chimley "flue" or simply came down with the Flu, has never been determined in a serious academic study. But the year for the Romans was clearly going out weak and sick, there wasn't even the proper number of days to count, with some fractions at the end which were bothersome and had to be tallied up every four years. So with all these problems, it seemed healthy and encouraging to say that the seedy old year was dead and could start anew with planting seed in the following month. We could March on to a fruitful if not always peaceful New Year.
Months aside, what about the seven (again!) days of the week, which are a curious mix of half a dozen cultures frozen in time. Here in the French "mardi" we have the old warrior Mars again, although English Tues standing before Whensday must be something else from a different strain. The French are so practical, after rolling up sleeves (manches) on Sunday as their Dimanche, the next day is usually wash-day for the same shirts, although the day is named for some odd reason after the Moon. Cooking fish in religious households on a pan might have suggested a better spelling for day five as Fry-day, but Saturday named after Roman Saturn and also the Hebrew shabbas gives the English Sabbath for Sunday. James Joyce had his own week, ending with Shatterday and Shunday, no doubt so named from boyhood experience in Ireland.
But the Romans had none of this nonsense, they split the month up into three ten-day weeks as best arrangement for both business and their serious obsession with holidays. But this could not stand up against the real religion of the ancient world which came down from the days of the Sumerians in the Near East, surviving today as the International Religion of the modern world. I am speaking of ASTROLOGY, which requires for its powerful calculations that special number seven, both for the planets and in the count of the weekly days.
The dawn will be coming up soon on a snowswept and lifeless landscape outside my window. I think I have not settled the problems which were bothering me earlier. I have not laid my mind to rest, but I have made it good and tired. I think the best thing I can do is to go back to bed, make a note to reconsider this whole situation after a lapse of three hundred and some days, and see if I can get some sleep before the New Year goes into effect in Times Square later tonight.
Humor is surely one of our strongest human characteristics. Although some tales and jokes are so local as to defy understanding out of their national context, other stories even though foreign in word and spirit, point to some of our curious eccentricities and social idiosyncrasies. You may find new light on the human condition in these two Korean Stories .
Speaking of Korea reminds me of a lecture which I offered to a Korean University on a visit many years ago. The professor who was Head of the English Department offered me an honorarium, which I declined as evidence than not all Americans are totally dollar oriented. That was my reason, but it spoke very differently to him, suggesting that I might be a political activist anxious to import communist propaganda into his classroom. I was forewarned by my friends, who assured the good Professor that I had no political interest whatsoever, and I went to the lecture in good spirits but with a hidden agenda of my own.
The students were fairly fluent in English but I kept my articulation clear, and after Dr. Cho brief if flowery introduction, I proceeded to define my topic as "Humor and Music as threads in American Culture", and asked my first question:
"You are probably fairly familiar with the names of Marx and Lenin....?"
There was a dead silence in the classroom. The students stared at me with anticipation, while Prof. Cho broke into such a strong cough that he had to leave for a glass of water. He was back in an anxious minute and I went on from my notes at the lectern:
"Of course I am referring to Groucho Marx and John Lennon......".
The silence evaporated in a flush of laughter, Dr. Cho put his handkerchief back into his pocket with a sigh of relief and the lecture proceeded as planned.
Some years ago I bought a pair of stanchion lights at a yard sale, nicely crafted pieces made in Italy, which I had put in a box on a back shelf in my shop for future consideration. This November I found them by accident and decided to mount them in the front yard before snowfall. My idea was to get light into the yard so on a cold December night I could watch the fluffy snowflakes descending in a back-lit show on a cold December night. We get a sense of being closed in by the early darkness, so I thought a peep into the lawn and woods might help to lighten a winter evening gloom. I got the light installed and wired up just before Thanksgiving eve, and just now replete with ceremonial dinner, I go to the door to flick on the electricity. Snow is falling and it was all just as I had planned.
Sometimes things look different when viewed from the outside, not just my house as seen from the lighted yard, but notions and ideas in the great world around us. I found myself on this quiet evening thinking in a new light about the Pentecostal revival which is spreading over a good part of the country. I think also about the atmosphere of rock music which my son and I were discussing before dinner. Rock music is a scene which affects many of the same mental states as the Pentecostals but in a different mode. Could there be any enlightening connection between these two very different phenomena, or was it all in my imagination?
What Pentecostal Christians want above all is a direct connection to a religious experience, a feeling of personal involvement and almost bodily contact with the core of the Christian body of beliefs. The volumes of commentary and the research of scholarship are of little meaning beside the internal feeling of being in contact with a Savior, with Jesus and the words of the biblical Testaments. When these things enter your mind, your body responds with a fervor and a rush which is different from sitting in church Sundays and hearing a serious sermons about right and wrong or the need for Christian forgiveness in an unforgiving world. The Pentecostal message carries afar and it works. This new turn of an ancient belief is expanding in crowded churches and halls where the temperature of abundant faith is fast rising.
A rock concert may be playing in the next town with a similarly overheated audience watching a fast-moving, brilliantly lighted and acoustically hammering Rock Concert. Why are these people here? Is it for the live music which is so different from a recording which many of them have at home? Is it the resonance of the large hall and its acoustic properties which fascinates them? Or is it the physical presence of a crowded mass of engaged men and women who are getting the impact of the music in their bodies, moving and swaying and absorbing the message of sheer life and gut excitement, which they can best find here in just such a crowded assemblage?
Personal involvements in the worlds of Pentecostal revival and Rock music are very different; one would hardly put them together in the same discussion. But both are committed to achieving a personal connection which goes beyond talk and rational discussion, reaching into the inner recesses of both body and soul. Both work with equal portions of faith and adrenaline, both are immediate and at the moment of contact totally absorbing. Both have mystical elements which cannot be discussed in the usual terms of religion or music criticism. To understand what each of these phenomena is about, you have to be there, you have to get into the swing of the words and rhythms, you have to be involved.
And what do you come away with? It will be a recollection of something very different from the daily work at the factory or the office computer. It will be something which you want to come back to, because it is in a sense psychically addictive. This experience will stay with you outside the daily routine and it will open a new door to a room where a different light shines.
We do things in different ways. I read my bible in the Greek like a scholar, I hear my music through Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. But I am aware of needing something outside my daily routine, in respect for which I will now go the doorway and turn on the light in the yard to see the falling snow covering my familiar world with a blanket of mind-clearing surprise. To keep my perspectives fresh, I felt I needed a new light on this one small corner of my world, a symbolic moment of enlightenment in the routine of dark winter nights. The snow was not expected for today, so the light flooding over the yard the evening was an unexpected surprise. I had little idea what enlightenment all this would evoke as I am now going to bed late on this festive eve.
It is interesting to note how an object usually has a double meaning, one for what it represents and one for what it actually is. If I am asked what the coin I you show is, I would say that it is a penny, meaning it has a value of about $.01 in U.S. currency. But I could take a different approach and say that it is a little portrait of Abraham Lincoln done in beautifully fine detail, and I could go further in describing the copper surface which hides a much cheaper metal base, the result of copper prices rising some years ago above the value of the coin itself. Or I can see a Christmas card as a message of timely good will, but I can also see it as a reproduction of a floral painting by a French master.
Let me give you the example that recently brought this matter to mind. I am going to place a picture on this eLOG to open right below this paragraph, and I will ask you to consider which way you interpret it. It will be your first impression of this image which is interesting. The picture is coming from Vermont in the fall of the year, to you wherever you are. Now let's see how it registers.
Reaction A: "That's a great pile of wood you have there, Bill, did you split it all yourself? Must be a nice cozy feeling to be ready for a rough winter with enough wood for the duration. There is nothing as heart-warming as a good wood fire in a big cast iron stove. . . . Thanks for sending this Thanksgiving greeting and the best to you and the family."
Reaction B: "What a nice composition, Bill, the half ton mass of the wood contrasted with the four pound ax leaning idly against it. That touch of the barn red wall at the top frames it nicely, and the hues of the wood with some fresh cut but other pieces slightly bluish from weathering - - - - very nice. I can see it is formal construction from the way the axe is set a few inches above the floor on a chunk of wood, a sign that it is arty not just happened to be there. Nice piece of work, but with the grain I see I don't think it will stand up to a twelve inch enlargement. I'll print it out larger for the wall . . . ."
Of course a person who stops to look carefully will take such a picture first one way and then the other, and at last both ways at the same time. I try to read a poem that way myself, first the message and meaning, then as closely connected with that as I can, the configuration of the words with the acoustics of each element. It's that same problem as my example of the penny, trying to get the two aspects of a situation in focus at exactly the same time.
A MODERN CHRISTMAS STORY
There was a glitter of light from new chandeliers in the grand salon where groups of formally attired people were beginning to assemble for the most elegant and socially elite party of the year. A butler came into the room to tell Richard Witherspoon that someone was at the front door, he received an impatient nod and went back to tell the visitor to have a chair in the anteroom and wait. It was an hour later when host was going into the library with two friends and saw the man was still there. He excused himself briefly saying he had a bit of business to conclude, stepping with the man into his private office he drew some papers and a checkbook from his desk drawer.
-----Yes, that new lighting worked out very well, I am completely satisfied, and I think we can finish it up right now. I have your contract here, Let me mark it paid and give you a check for the amount.
He handed the check to Giuseppe Renato, holding it archly with two fingers, adding that he was pleased the word had been done on time, and that he was adding a little something extra in consideration of the holiday season.
-----There must be something your wife would like, perhaps. . . .
. . . and he was striding back to the party, nodding with a smile to this and to that one of his associates and friends.
Maria was pleased with the check which she put with rest of the bookkeeping materials.
------You know, he could have given a little more, but this is enough for dinner at Dino's I guess. But didn't he ask you in for a drink, with that kind of a party there is always room for one more person, and you would have enjoyed seeing how the other half lives, wouldn't you Seppi?
------That's allright, I would have felt out of place there. You know if he hadn't put the tip for the work in with the check, like giving my a twenty or something, I think I would have told him that it's allright. He must have thought I looked poor: so here's a little something extra. And they mean that as goodwill, sort of Christmas charity I suppose. But it's OK, giving at Christmas is a nice idea, maybe we should do a little more, Maria.
She was thoughtful.
----- You know those jars of pesto your mother gave us three or four years ago, still on the back shelf and more than I need to keep. Why don't I pack one up in fancy paper and we give to someone for a Christmas present? Maybe that nice Jewish accountant who does your taxes, and I think his wife may be Italian.
------You know what came in the UPS this morning, Abe? It was a nicely wrapped jar with a Christmas note from somebody you know in business I think. On the top it was marked PESTO, I guess it is some sort of Italian sauce they use on a pizza. Very nice and thoughtful but I don't know what to do with it. What do you think? I don't know how to use it, maybe we should keep it or just give to someone else, like those wedding presents we got which we couldn't exchange.
Abe was talking with Jimmy Rodriguez about taking a truckload of trash to the dump Friday, when he got an idea.
----- You like pizza, Jimmy? Sure, homemade is best, and since your wife makes it maybe you could try some of this Italian pesto on it. Comes from Italy from one of my wife's cousins, take it along, Jim and . . . you know . . . a merry Christmas. And here's a bottle of Rosh Hashanah wine to go with it, my father gets a case each year for his friends and we have more than we need.
Jimmy was thinking to himself:
--------What am I going to do with the jar of green stuff, she's going to ask where I got it and maybe it's gone bad with that greenish . . . So here I am walking down the street with a jar and a bottle in the other hand, sort of embarrassing without a bag. Wait a minute, got to cover it up.
At every subway stop there is a grate where the air from the system is being pumped up and out to the atmosphere, nice warm air and every bum recovering from his daily dosage of cheap wine knows that is a good place to locate as evening falls. One disreputable older fellow stirred himself from his warm corner seeing Jimmy Rodriguez walking down the street slowly with something tucked under his coat, so he held out his hand for a Christmas handful of change. Jim saw his chance and said: how about a bottle of wine? which was in fact a better seasonal gift, and now all he had to do is get rid of the jar of green stuff.
Three Salvation Army musicians were wearily grinding our their timeworn repertory in front of the 13th Street mission. Their basket for donations was empty, it was not a good night to be out blowing a horn, and Jim felt sorry enough for them to put in a five dollar bill, when he had a second thought. It might blow away in the stiff breeze, so why not put something on top of it just be sure it stayed in place. The jar of pesto!
I have always had a special predilection for Shaker furniture. The sparseness of design, economy of material and elegantly simple craftsmanship come from a well considered way of life, and each Shaker piece does in its own way make a statement.
At the present time when we are concerned about detimbering the rainforests for exotic wood species, many people object vociferously to the use of imported furniture woods like rosewood and mahogany. Of course fire and changes of the climate will continuously change a forest's natural growth. But there is a point about stripping the forests of the world of their large trees, and those who object to wood imports are probably sincere in their effort to make a statement.
Last week I made for my wife a small table in Shaker dimensions, eighteen inch square top with tapered edges on a nicely turned post ending at the floor with four arched legs. It is Shaker design all right, right down to the clean design and economy of material, but there is a difference which strikes the eye immediately, because I made it out of mahogany.
You ask me why I did this? I have been thinking about wood resources and the global market for a long time and I don't see any reasonable way to balance wood resources as against the demands of a world market. So I suppose in my own private way, I too am trying to make a statement.
Invading a foreign land with strong military force is usually justified by some political motivation, a wrong which needs to be erased, a dangerous movement best crushed. But there is usually a hidden agenda everybody is aware of, which is not declared openly.
When Julius Caesar invaded Britain in the middle of the first century B.C., it was suspected that he had in mind access to freshwater pearls. Unlikely as this might seem to us, Suetonius (Life of Caesar 47) reports : "They say that he was led to invade Britain by the hope of getting pearls, and that in comparing their size he sometimes weighed them with his own hand; that he was always a most enthusiastic collector of gems....".
Cleopatra trying to impress Marc Anthony at dinner, crushed a valuable pearl, dissolved it and drank it down. The Roman guest Marc Anthony declined doing the same with the other pearl and admitted defeat. Pliny the world's first gemologist, writes in his Natural History that these two pearls were worth an estimated 60 million sesterces, or 1,875,000 ounces of fine silver ($9,375,000 with silver at $5/ounce).
A century later the historian Tacitus (Agricola 12) states: "The ocean, too, produces pearls, but of a dusky and bluish hue. Some think that those who collect them have not the requisite skill, as in the Red Sea the living and breathing pearl is torn from the rocks, while in Britain they are gathered just as they are thrown up. "
Ocean pearls from oysters and the highly colored freshwater pearls from mussels constituted a major industry in the pearl-crazy world of the late Republic and Empire. More than a temporary fad, pearls as part of clothing decoration as well in necklaces were of huge economic value, and whether Caesar invaded Britain primarily for pearls or for expansion of Roman frontiers is immaterial. Dealing with a hostile native population in a land which was totally unexplored, some market advantage would make an invasion much more reasonable. Could a Roman politician make a case for large-scale military action without a secondary purpose? Reason sufficient for such a large expense could be best stated for a country which had a known product - - - gems for the international pearl market.
When the Bush government decided to invade Iraq, it was the catastrophe of 9/11 that was the proclaimed reason; but it is obvious that considerations involving the international oil market were an undeclared and unconfirmed agenda. How could this be doubted for a country whose only serious product was crude oil?
I was some time ago, I was sitting in my office in the basement floor of an elegant college building, the usual room assignment for non-favorite persons throughout Academe, when I heard chairs moving and books being placed on the wall bookshelves in the office next door. Those were the days for experimenting with reaching students on their own level, I had installed a few seven foot high pieces of my red painted sculpture in the office, and was sitting cross-legged on the carpet with four students reading Sophocles in Greek, when the man from next door popped in. Of course he was surprised and withdrew with a mumbled apology.
At the time I was becoming interested in the history of technology of the Industrial Period. In the short winter term where they felt I could do little harm, I was permitted to teach an experimental course on Techonology, which focused on hundreds of items of industrial production that I felt should be seen as man-made devices of creative interest and interesting design. With a set of Craftsman wrenches we took apart mechanical gas pump meters, parts of a motor transmission, various electrical devices from motors to switches, and for the final exhibition, a genuine vintage steam-driven water pumping motor from the 187's, resplendent with its polished brass fittings over faded green paint on the iron parts. At that time such a course was an unique venture, now some years later it is a regular subject taught everywhere with a textbook, quizzes and a multiple choice final examination. For us it was eye-opening and fun, and when someone at the end stole the set of tools, I considered that a tribute to the enterprise as something relevant to the society at large.
I knew my neighbor was embarrassed at my un-academic office, so later that week I knocked on his door and went in to talk to him. Sometimes new teachers wonder why nobody talks to them, unaware that what in the Church is called Genuflection has an exact academic parallel, although not listed as such, called Proctobasiation. There are two groups to please, first obviously the student body, but second and more important is pleasing the Assistant-Deans as pathway to the Administration. This is the road to tenure, and in the meantime a new teacher can feel rather alone. I thought a good discussion might cheer him up.
He was in Sociology. I started off with some thoughts on the Industrial Revolution, which I felt had three initial components: First was the development new sources of sheer power, starting from explosive one-shot machines to drain wells in the 17th century, to the development of a working steam engine a century later. Huge drop hammers could forge large steel castings, power boats and railway locomotives in ways never before imagined. Second was an un-imaginable increase in speed. A self-regulating engine could operate on steam pressure at hundreds of revolutions a minute, and with the development of rotatory electric engines speeds could mount to the thousands. But the third elements in the development of the Industrial Reformation was one which would come much later, as a way of registering and handling the data which came from force-engines working at high speeds. This became in its due time the working heart of industrial economics, with new electronic equipment in the Computer Age. So abideth these three things, power, speed and computing, and of these the most important is computation.
I laid out this view briefly to which he asked : "Where did you get these ideas?" Of course I said they were my own, from my own thinking. "But from which source? Did you find this in a Journal article?" I asked why he would be interested in a journal source; after all an idea is an idea. "Well, if it came from somewhere like that, it would be more convincing academically, more important I believe." What could I say? Maybe don't visit there any more.
He left the college, went on to another position and published reviews of other people's ideas in Journals, accruing a certain distinction as a sociological researcher. A dozen years later he was invited back to give a talk on source material and did a standard lecture on other people's notions while avoiding any thoughts of his own. This (I finally understood) seems to be the normal high-road in Academe to tenure and an endowed Chair, and if you rate value by success, he was right to see himself as a handler rather than a generator of ideas. Thinking it over, I realized that I would never have hired a man like that. And in turn he would surely never have engaged me as a scholar who couldn't name in painstaking detail line and page of his sources. After all, ideas, what are they anyway but feathers floating in the wind?
Today in October it's Columbus Day in the United States, marking the day, month and year anniversary of Cristoforo Colombo the Genoese sailor navigating under the Spanish Crown, sighting land at the Bahamas. Of course he was mistaken in thinking that he had discovered a short trade route to the Indies, which was the reason for Spain supporting the costs of his voyage. In his honor several names in the new World were coined, the formal name of Colombia in Central America, and a poetic use in the United States e.g. in the song "Columbia Gem of the Ocean...". But somehow the country ended up as "The United States of America".
How did this happen? Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian who went to Spain for exploratory voyage funding and made his first trip under Spanish tutelage, reaching the coast of South America some six years after Columbus reached the Bahamas. In a second voyage after 1501 sailing under Portuguese flag, he explored the mouth of the Amazon, charted some six thousand miles of coastline, and devised a method of computing exact latitude in favor of the inaccurate dead reckoning. He realized that South America was part of a separate continent and not a piece of the world of the Indies. In short he was a better sailor and more important as an explorer than Columbus, although for a first man to touch land over on this side of the Atlantic,
he was not in the running.
Now here is the problem. For some reason it was decided not to name this country after the Revolution as "The United States of Columbia". Central American Colombia only received that name later so there would not have been a conflict in 1777. Could it have been that the Latin word "columba" meant 'a dove', a much less interesting bird for the winners of a War than a raptor like the American Eagle, and not a good figurehead for an aggressive political and economic program. Whatever the obscure reasoning, Columbia as the family name of Cristofero Colombo was clearly out of consideration.
We celebrate this day as Columbus's discovery, but in a country called America, although it was South America which Amerigo Vespucci explored and some eight years after Columbus sighted the Bahamas. Very strange indeed! If we wanted to honor his name, we should have named our country "The United States of Vespuccia". Perhaps that might have sounded too foreign to Anglo-Saxon ears. So cleaving firmly to his name as the right one, reasons unclear and not stated, they switched around to his first name. But naming a country for a private person's first name is most peculiar, you don't go naming a new colony or even a town by the founder's first name. It will be VanDemans Land in Antarctica or Briggstown in New York, although first names are permitted in the case of royalty, as Georgia after the Kings George I, II and III or the Philippines after the Spanish king. But naming an entire northern country on the basis of the first name of the Italian explorer of South America named Vespucci ---- that does seem odd and inexplicable.
We are going to have a small celebration in my country town today, there will be a parade of two police cars in the afternoon followed by agricultural machinery, and in the evening some singing by the high school choral society in the Town Hall. I am to conduct the singing, and have made arrangements with the lead tenor to start off solo against a light instrumental background, reading from a score which I have rewritten with new wording, which he says he will sing just as written:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Katharine Lee Bates wrote the original version in 1893. She wrote the 2nd version in 1904. Her final version was written in 1913.
Here is a note from Katharine Lee Bates:
"One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."
I have a printed handout for the audience at the town hall with the two paragraphs above, to set the record straight and re-establish the veracity of our national hymn in the minds of our school children. After all we wouldn't want them to grow up with a secret notion in the back of their minds that they were really alien Vespuccians.
In a fast changing world where things are supposedly getting better all the time, it is very easy to feel outmoded. Writing this note on a Mac G3 from 1997, typing the message out with Word 5.1 from 1992, sending it to my account at my college with a slow 28000 baud modem which transfers the file via Dartmouth's old Fetch 3.0.3, it would seem that I am not only on the slow side of the rotating planet, but operating in the dark age of the early computers. My son who is broad-band of course remarks that this is glacially slow, but I like to stop and think what I am about every little once in a while. Do I have to be in a rush because the world is rushing? Do I have to buy the newest high speed equipment as a sign of being compatible with our high-performance, high-hype world? Do I have to have a car with a 260 HP motor to go up a gentle hill at legal 50 MPH?
It is reassuring to know that some things don't have to get better if they are made right in the first place. I spent a long day adjusting all the little actions screws on my Steinway Grand Model L from 1927, which my friend and technician Oleo Hansen assures me is better than what Steinway has been making since. Some even prefer models from before 1912 when they say crafts began to go downhill. I was sharpening some woodworking chisels this afternoon to a hair-cutting razor edge, when I noticed the half inch gouge was made by W. Butcher in England well over a century ago. It takes a finer edge than the new Stanleys from China which I see at Home Depot. Some collect these for the name, others for excellence in use.
I don't favor the old because it's vintage, only if good and as good as it can possibly be. There are still good old books to read, some even printed on fine paper with a hard cover binding and sewn spine which will lay flat open on the desk while I read. People tell us that reading will soon all be on the computer screen, but we know that is wrong because it will actually be on cheap paper with inflexible spines. Nobody reads whole books on a monitor, just snippets and selections, bits and pieces. Can you imagine reading War and Peace on screen, all those hours glued upright on an office chair?
I will have to get a new computer one of these days. I have a spare G3 I bought for fifty bucks to tide me over until Apple decides if it will go Intel at last in 2006 or devise something from elsewhere. I have always resisted Dell as made up from bought parts with a weakly integrated central system, and I suspect that if they can sell a whole computer system for $350 they can't be very serious about their quality. In the meantime I can survive with what I am using right now and maybe let the future decide whether I am going to continue being a mental retrograde, or shape up and begin to live in the Digital Lifestyle. I am not sure what that really means, and I am not sure if it is important; but I am aware than there is a lot of change in this new millennium. Still, do I have to join up .....?
I may be obsolete on my local level, but I am fully in tune with the global world of information. Hardly a day passes without using the internet for something important or interesting, or some connection to things I just need to know. My website which you are now using, is a good example of doing more with less. Its more than two hundred and fifty working files were all constructed with equipment as above and they are in a format which I think will stay interesting because they follow the format of books from the days of Aldo Manutio in 1500. But without digital technology, of course there would be no website, so I think my final thought is to find a way of combining the old with the new in such a way as to bring out the best capabilities of each on its own terms.
That sounds abstract, so maybe it needs an example: Now after shutting down, I am going to live-compose some short piano pieces on the venerable Steinway, and record them with an couple of electrostatic mikes into a dual-tube type pre-amp, later move this sound-file through an analog-to-digital converter into the computer to be edited, adjusted, and finally converted to a universally usable .wav file. Putting this new composition on my music web-page with my obsolescent computer equipment, I can plug into a globally listening public. Maybe someone will hear and like what I did and send me an email with a few words, completing the cycle from what I am doing here with what someone else is hearing over there. I am doing a lot, assuredly, with very little equipment, and that can be part of the nature of the new electronic world. And so, I rest my case of intentional obsolescence, while I wait for something to happen which will change the quality of what I want to get done. That will be the time to upgrade.
I have always felt that autumn is the finest time of the year. The sun's slanting rays penetrate a longer stretch of air to give a warmer color to the forest, which itself is about to change hue and go into its short-lived resplendency. Everything is cloaked in a special light, which is richer because we know that it won't last very long. Grab the days while you can, the year is slipping away fast.
This reminds me of a time a few years back when I was in an email correspondence with a young man who was in his second year of medical school, unsure about this as the direction he wanted to follow for the rest of his life. He spoke of himself as in the early spring of his time, asking advice from me as one in his autumnal years. In fact I was shocked. I had never thought of myself as autumnal or Novemberish in any way. I have a long list of things to do before time runs out, and I was in a curious way slightly outraged. Now two years later I find autumn quite comfortable both for the year and for me personally; he was right measuring me against almost four score years, and I accept the notion although still somewhat stiffly.
When I was a boy living in New York, I had cut out from some illustrated calendars for my wall two colored pictures which attracted my eye again and again. One was a country lane with over-arching trees in a cathedral formation, disappearing around the curve into gentle woodlands. The other was of a cow barn with an inclined dirt ramp to walk the herd in; on the near side the boards were aged with many winter storms and had a tone which only long years can patinate. Watching these pictures evening time as the light went down, I little thought that years later I would be living on that road down half a mile from just such an identical barn.
As it turned out, it was not just the appearance of a scene in the fall light that was important. Behind that lay the quiet of evenings when I could be alone with the world. Here was relief from those fifth-of-a-second bursts of TV images which were screwing up my mind. I could survey with a wide retinal image feeding my mind, while the needle point of foveal vision could dwell on a leaf, on a bent branch, on the silhouette of a tree against the orange sun. Autumn was a good time to go walking on that road.
It is only in later years that you can afford to take yourself seriously. Earlier it was all rushing to an achievement, fulfilling some pressing priorities. Now I find I can take time to look around, enjoy the quiet corners of the house where there are plants in the window looking outwards, shelves of little objects garnered from years of rural yard sales, and the sound of a chainsaw down the valley where my winter supply of hardwood is being cut this afternoon. It will be a cold winter this year everyone says, so I am getting my woodpile and my priorities stacked up right straight. Because for both of them, this winter is going to be the time to turn up the heat.
Right now in September 05 there is a rush of interest in ancient Rome, and I have had queries about Vorenus and Pullio, the famous Sergeants in Caesar's army. Having found it in English for a fellow, I include here this rousing good story from Caesar's Commentaries Book 5, Chapter 44:
In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pullio, and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity. When the fight was going on most vigorously before the fortifications, Pullio, one of them, says, "Why do you hesitate, Varenus? or what [better] opportunity of signalizing your valor do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes." When he had uttered these words, he proceeds beyond the fortifications, and rushes on that part of the enemy which appeared the thickest. Nor does Varenus remain within the rampart, but respecting the high opinion of all, follows close after. Then, when an inconsiderable space intervened, Pullio throws his javelin at the enemy, and pierces one of the multitude who was running up, and while the latter was wounded and slain, the enemy cover him with their shields, and all throw their weapons at the other and afford him no opportunity of retreating. The shield of Pullio is pierced and a javelin is fastened in his belt. This circumstance turns aside his scabbard and obstructs his right hand when attempting to draw his sword: the enemy crowd around him when [thus] embarrassed. His rival runs up to him and succors him in this emergency. Immediately the whole host turn from Pullio to him, supposing the other to be pierced through by the javelin. Varenus rushes on briskly with his sword and carries on the combat hand to hand, and having slain one man, for a short time drove back the rest: while he urges on too eagerly, slipping into a hollow, he fell. To him, in his turn, when surrounded, Pullio brings relief; and both having slain a great number, retreat into the fortifications amid the highest applause. Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succor and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other.
Now we are at war again in a foreign land, but there is a difference in the conduct of the buddy system. The Roman soldiers were keen on competition for absolute bravery, they threw themselves into impossible situations and each somehow survived by the other's timely aid. Our soldiers in Iraq are much more cautious, their orders are to do dangerous missions but never with a show of bravado. It is completion of the mission that counts, and bravery is reckoned later in retrospect. But the care and respect of the two-man fighting team remains, and every soldier then or now has an absolute responsibility to bring back his buddy alive. The team notion goes back far beyond the Romans into the days of the Trojan War, but with a difference. There the two-man team shows a leader and a follower, as with Achilles and Patroclus, or even in further antiquity as Heracles and his helper the young Hylas. Two equals would each have his own camp, his own status and would bristle fighting the enemy side by side. I am reminded of a modern carpenter or plumber on the job, who is the experienced expert in charge, regularly aided by an apprentice who fetches tools and parts and defers to the boss. Some human relationships change, others persist through the ages.
Warfare after 1200 with high technology from the use of gunpowder and cannons, was well established before the start of the 18th century, when Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver's Travels in 1724, tried to describe common European power practices to an imaginary King of a far distant realm, one who had never heard of what the Europeans had been doing for centuries. Swift started out as clerk for Sir William Temple whose letters he edited in 1700, he published the famous Gulliver in 1725 as the only book for which he was ever paid, and died in 1745 declared "of unsound mind". But that was the only mind which spoke out against the evil seams of European society, he was a writer of great imagination and one of the few who foreshadowed the work of James Joyce. Here is what he said about an item we have been accustomed to think of as one of the necessities of Civilization, in his interview with the King:
To confirm what I have now said, and further, to shew the miserable Effects of a confined Education, I shall here insert a Passage which will hardly obtain Belief. In hopes to ingratiate my self farther into his Majesty's Favour, I told him of an Invention discovered between three and four hundred Years ago, to make a certain Powder, into a Heap of which the smallest Spark of Fire falling, would kindle the whole in a Moment, although it were as big as a Mountain, and make it all fly up in the Air together, with a Noise and Agitation greater than Thunder. That a proper Quantity of this Powder rammed into a hollow Tube of Brass or Iron, according to its Bigness, would drive a Ball of Iron or Lead with such Violence and Speed, as nothing was able to sustain its Force. That the largest Balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole Ranks of an Army at once, but batter the strongest Walls to the Ground, sink down Ships, with a Thousand Men in each, to the Bottom of the Sea; and, when linked together by a Chain, would cut through Masts and Rigging, divide hundreds of Bodies in the Middle, and lay all waste before them. That we often put this Powder into large hollow Balls of Iron, and discharged them by an Engine into some City we were besieging, which would rip up the Pavements, tear the Houses to pieces, burst and throw Splinters on every Side, dashing out the Brains of all who came near.
That I knew the Ingredients very well, which were cheap, and common; I understood the Manner of compounding them, and could direct his Workmen how to make those Tubes of a Size proportionable to all other Things in his Majesty's Kingdom, and the largest need not be above an hundred Foot long; twenty or thirty of which Tubes, charged with the proper Quantity of Powder and Balls, would batter down the Walls of the strongest Town in his Dominions in a few Hours, or destroy the whole Metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute Commands. This I humbly offered to his Majesty, as a small Tribute of Acknowledgment in Return of so many Marks that I had received of his Royal Favour and Protection.
The King was struck with Horror at the Description I had given of those terrible Engines, and the Proposal I had made. He was amazed how so impotent and groveling an Insect as I (these were his Expressions) could entertain such inhuman Ideas, and in so Familiar a Manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the Scenes of Blood and Desolation, which I had painted as the common Effects of those destructive Machines, whereof he said some evil Genius, Enemy to Mankind, must have been the first Contriver. As for himself, he protested that although few Things delighted him so much as new Discoveries in Art or in Nature, yet he would rather lose half his Kingdom than be privy to such a Secret, which he commanded me, as I valued my Life, never to mention any more.
Doing More with Less does seem a very attractive proposition in the face of a world which is getting more complicated at every turn. In fact, I am writing this paragraph on an obsolete computer which is eight years old, employing a word processing program so old that it is totally ignorant of the Internet and of html, dating from 1992, the year that there were less than a hundred websites on the nascent internet. It has the versatility of three previous decades of book trade markup, is poised the top of a wave of publishing skill just before the trough of the new flow into writing words not for a paper or book, but as global words for the world. What I am writing here on this humid August afternoon will be readable in an hour in Australia and Lithuania, and sooner or later someone will trip on my notion of "More..." and email me back a comment pointing out that although I think I am on the Less side of the equation, whether I realize it or not, I stand firmly on the More. I should remember the telephone, TV, internet access .... let alone Benz's internal combustion invention in my Japanese car which is fueled by desert oil from the other side of the earth.
It is no longer possible to be simple in our ways. We can create myths about getting rid of unnecessary encumbrances and image ourselves living in Ralph Emerson's transcendental world, hoeing a part of an acres in a meadow like his and surveying the little world we have fenced in around ourselves with a deep breath of satisfaction. I bought an ancient Ariens riding lawnmower five years back for fifty bucks, kept it in order and rode around my acre of lawn perched on my regal moving throne. I could do as much as the neighbor with a two thousand dollar bright red mower, I said. Takes a little more time but the grass was the same and I had time to spare. But then I discovered that I could mow the same area in the same time with a Briggs and Stratton push mower which I got for twenty five dollars, and the exercise was of course good for me. Congratulating myself on moving down the scale toward simplicity, I was surprised to see the ancient reel-type push mowers I knew as a boy going used for high prices, their excuse being even more exercise and no pollution of the air. Of course I could let the grass grow long and cut it down with the scythe I have in the back of the garage, but this question presents itself:
At what cost is this simplicity coming? Am I just complexifying my life by trying to throw out the complications? Should I get rid of my woodworking saw, do everything with a Disston 5 1/2 point handsaw and work boards flat with a wood bodied 32 inch jointing plane? It may sound simple and like the old days, but the skill level goes up a hundredfold when you go back to hand labor, and your thoughtful leisure time disappears fast.
There is a man who says that all you need to write a book is a pencil. Maybe some paper made by a wood processing chemical factory would be a useful accessory for his writing activities. Maybe it is enough to assemble thoughts and not write the book at all, just think about it. Maybe it would be nice not to do anything at all. We all have at the back of our mind a feeling that it would be good to empty ourselves of our activities, the Zen achievement of Mind-No-Mind or the Eastern Church's kenosis as purging of the soul.
One can go this way for a while, but then for most of us that old urge to do something returns, and after writing with pen and paper we begin to think of the word processor again as possibly useful. And if the ideas are really interesting, why not share and do the html markup and shoot it over to my internet service provider and see it mounted on the wires of the Internet as a sharing experience for humanity. I can balance the personal side of the equation by wearing work clothes in countryside manner, grow a beard and feel I am a part of the life which Emerson left behind a century ago. I can split wood for the winter stove myself, pile it against the shed and shovel snow to get out there in January. I can do all these simple things which bring me back to a little piece of a vanished world.
But when I finish this page, I think I am going to go pour myself a drink and look out over the lawn to the forest dark and deep, and think about how I stand beside the world of trees and rabbits and raccoons, and whether I am really any different in the long run from other living things. And then when I have had a chance to enjoy being pure and simple and mellow, I am going to go back to the computer which I left running on purpose, and I am going to push one button on the finger-smeared keyboard, and what I have just written out is going out in a flash to be a part of world consciousness on the vast realms of the Internet. I won't even open the browser to see my page in its verbose glory, I'll just smile to myself and remember that I did do something more than I had thought this afternoon, and I did it with old tools at less cost and less effort than I would have expected. Quod erat demonstrandum!
Walking to the mailbox I pass with some surprise a patch of new growth where the road verges away from the house , because here just a few years ago was a barren jumble of broken rock. When the blasting of the ridge for cellar hole was done, there were piles of material which had to be dumped somewhere and this was a place beside the road where it could be thrown. For years it was bare here, then a few cedar got their roots involved and quickly that ubiquitous climbing ivy clambered up the trees, choking everything but crowning its victory with a delicate petunia-like flower. Pulling the tendons of the ivy down to their underground rooting, I had the area cleared two years ago, or so I thought.
This summer afternoon I realized how well the whole patch had developed with a wild variety of bush whose names I can't guess. The varied leafage is so thick that it looks at first like one bush, but I see a different leaf every two feet apart, and now I can hardly remember the rock underneath. Picking up bits of earth from the wind and some compost from previous growth, there has appeared a natural garden which has done its own arrangement and tidy-keeping.
If first of all there is some space , and then a slight dusting of earth composed of clay and sand washed off rock over eons, and if there is also a supply of water through the growing year, this will be a place where blown seed from every direction will settle down to a mixed batch of plants. But it will be crowded, because territory is a valuable commodity for anything that grows, and there will be competition until later one species comes to dominate the area. This is the rule for all life forms, I see it clearly in the botanical world because there everything stays still, but it will be true of mice and vegetarian rabbits and the fox who eats meat. The same rules apply.
What struck me was that this little local spot of growth in this unlikely place is a perfect paradigm for humankind. If there is space, it will became someone's territory under conditions of sunshine, water and mineral value of the land. Population will overspill onto the next acres by purchase, coemption or quite indifferently with war. If a spot has this trinity of basics requirements of sun, water and soil, it will be the site of human activity. Soon there will be over-growth and then a slow invasion of the next plot or the next country or the next continent.
This will no more be halted by a League of Nations or a U.N., or any powerful peace-keeping military force - - - any more than the growth of my rock patch will be halted by the crushed shale roadway on its east side. Already dust is settled there in the center between the tire tracks and a smaller growing garden of new species is declaring its territorial identity on my property. We call it competition for survival in the plant and animal world; while in our spread of populous Civilization we find it appearing as civil unrest, creeping invasion and of course sooner or later as warfare.
We speak lovingly of Mother Nature as the comforter and healer, our natural Alma Mater; we picture Beethoven striding through fields and meadows to go home and write a pastoral masterpiece; we drive summertime hundreds of miles to behold the purple mountains in their majesty, all in the fervid belief that Nature is friendly, accessible and a balm to the troubled modern soul. If we stop to wonder where the word "Nature" came from, we find a tangle of clumsy derivations by way of the Latin natus, natura which somehow relates to being born, once supposed to translate Greek physis which means "coming into being" and stands as an obscure philosophical term indirectly describing the book of Genesis without God. Even the etymololgy is tangled, which is not surprising at all, considering....
Walking down to the mailbox, a rash flush of curiosity about Nature leads you away from the road and off thorough a stand of sapling growth over rotting branches on decades of leaf mold. It goes slowly because the branches, which were just seeking sun in vain, now seem to be actively grabbing you at every step, kicking your hat off and narrowly missing your eyes. Stepping on a log you find it is all crumbled and you fall in pain over a rock on your knee. Is that a snake over there.... ? No just a bent branch which only seemed to rattle. Half an hour later you come on open space with a sigh of relief, you hurry forward toward the road, but it turns out wet under the tall cattails and your left leg sinks down to the calf leaving the shoe stuck in a green mud. Getting it out and on again makes you wonder why you are standing down there beside the algae pool, but since the only way is forward, you start to scramble up over the broken shale pile which slants to the road.
Marching wet and bedraggled on the road again, you reach the mailbox, try to get the three day newspaper accumulation bunched under your wet armpit, and hobble back to the house. You have had your expedition into the heart of Nature, now you know what she has in store for you, and you have learned the valuable lesson of viewing her from the roadway and leaving the tangled woods to the rabbits who are better suited to going off there. Yes, there was a lesson to be learned:
The woods are ugly, damp and dark
Better to stroll in Central Park...
Director of Operations
Farm Animal Rescue League
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Underland
I have your letter about the cow which has wandered and settled into the woods on your land, and want to inform you that this kind of lost animal is very much within the frame of our humanitarian operations. We will be contacting you shortly, and hope that together we can work out a satisfactory solution to your problem.
Arnold V. Tagliabue
Director of Operations
Farm Animal Rescue League
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Underland
I understand your impatience about concluding the cow rescue operation, but I must remind you that we have a long list of such situations to deal with each summer, and hope you will be understanding.
Director of Operations
Farm Animal Rescue League
Dear Mr. Tagliabue:
We know you are concerned about the problem with the wandering cow which we brought to your attention, and believe you are currently considering how to deal with the situation. However even the best of intentions can have bad results if they lead to delay, and I must remind you that time is of the essence in such a case.
We are concerned that you take our cow problem seriously because until it is studied, arranged for and concluded, we are unwilling to bring to your attention another more serious problem which has been appearing on our estate in Salisbury. The old adage "One thing at a time" does have virtue even in our fast moving global society. After the cow problem has been taken care of to our mutual satisfaction, we can consider the more serious problem which looms larger in our consideration.
We have been noticing that our fishpond is losing about half its water each night without any explanation. Watching through the evening as best we can, we have strong suspicion of what is going on, and are positioning our video camera on slow setting to see if we can get a picture of what is happening at the pond. Until we get a picture our visual sightings of the situation are not sufficient to call for your serious and humane attention.
So if you can take care of the cow situation in the foreseeable future, we can then reach you back with information about the elephant which is wandering in the woods and coming down to our fishpond nightly in search for drinking water.
Ron and Dottie Underland.
September and back to school thoughts....
Remembering the exact details of what one has read is a problem for everyone, and it is no surprise to find students coming down with a compulsive onset of "note taking " on entering high school, with symptoms which can continue through to the end of college years. Students feel that unless they do something which might almost be called "interactive" with their pencil, what they hear or read will be instantly effaced from memory. The result will end up as reams of hand-scribbled sheets which will probably never to be read through, and textbooks scarred with yellow marker stripes so thoroughly that the words can hardly be discerned. This activity does have one practical effect, it can serve as evidence that the student was there that day in class and that he did make an attempt at reading the required assignments. But whether these markings and wordings will be read and found valuable in those critical five days before final exams, is questionable. Yet the practice continues and is felt to be one of the rungs on the ladder to academic success.
There is the story about the student sitting with pencil poised at the first meeting of the course's first class who asked, when the Prof. said "Good morning...", if he would repeat that. It seems that note-taking arises initially when a student has to read something he considers either uninteresting or unimportant, yet he tries to convince himself that there are valuable bits of information hidden in the maze of the words. Copying key words or hiliting seems to bring things into focus for the moment, and suggests that when looking back later some sort of meaning will evolve. I have just been reading over a short history of the physical sciences in which someone underlined heavily all the personal names, but made no notation of the ideas, a sort of telephone book mentality which I felt missed the aim of the book.
In college you soon learn that many a teacher has a way of finding out if you have read the assigned text, by picking out samples of discrete detail and working them into questions in the quiz or exam. If you haven't fixed firmly on those chunks, you will be at a loss. So after figuring out what kind of questions the teacher is most likely to ask, and on what kind of minute clause or phrase those questions are likely to be based, you do have a serious reason for taking notes. On the other hand, I advise avoiding teachers who use trick questions excised from the reading for their exams; but that might lead you into the ethereal world of pure idea courses where note-taking is almost impossible, and then were would you be?
I found in my years as a student that if I took courses which interested me, and read the textbook as a source of interesting knowledge, I didn't need to take notes at all. I do have an excellent memory, but that may be more from the habit of remembering without notes than from any inherent ability. But I know that there are places where you must do the fastest scribbling you can , because the Prof. is giving material which you cannot find in any book other than the one he is going to publish in the next five years. As a sophomore I took a course in Indo-European Linguistics from a world-class expert whose lectures were the best statement of the data of the field, accompanied by his curious and pithy commentary. Harvard's Professor Joshua Whatmough was a round, ruddy faced man with a British accent, who lectured at a furious pace, writing forms from a dozen languages on the board with his right hand while the left was poised with eraser to make space for more forms. The trick was trying to keep up with his pace. Each moment wasted looking for another pencil lost a section of Verner's Law or the declension of an Armenian noun. I remember not quite getting the point of what he was after, lecture after lecture; but re-reading the crabbed pile of notes a few days before the final exam, I found it all fell elegantly into place and I got a better grade than I expected. Yes, there are times to write it all down, but these are special lectures from special teachers, and we live in a world where the words of gold are often over balanced by the sheer weight of the leaden load.
Some of this worry about remembering continues throughout life. There used to be a habit of dog-earing the corner of a memorable page in a book by folding down the corner of a page, after the colored marker tape disappeared from bindings a century ago. But now as we read our books on the screen, we can "bookmark" spots of interest electronically. Yet finding the bookmark may be more trouble than remembering an interesting word or phrase, which you can retrieve with a search command and quickly come back to where you were. I recently tried to find the location of a lost thought with a Google search, and to my surprise found it turning up on the internet in something I had written myself. Memory has gone global! With more public memory available, our micro-note-taking may soon be something of an obsolete activity, as everything becomes instantly available in the giant memory bank of a fact factory in Silicon Valley.
What we have stored in our mind will be important at some future date, because it can be instantly recoverable and also because it is selectively filtered by our learning curves. There is a great portion of what we have read and heard which stays with us, if we assumed that it had some valid importance. It may reside at a lower level than our conscious vocabulary of ideas, but it does not vanish entirely. For some people the accuracy of recall from memory is amazing, like those contestants on quiz shows who seem to have read and remembered everything. Are their mind just built that way, like intellectual flypaper for data? Or was it that they found the world infinitely interesting and mentally noted everything as worth remembering. Accruing a million dollars of prize money, a recent winner might feel he was right about having found everything interesting from childhood on.
But conversely, if we assume that what we are lectured on or told to read is a bore and a chore, of course we will remember very little. If one's life is generally routine and uninteresting, there is probably not much reason to spend a lot of effort on remembering. But if remembering is an act of recording points of interest, then you develop a good memory and will know a lot of things in various unrelated areas, which you can summon up on the spot when needed.
If not sure about what is important to recall, then one might as well go on taking notes. I have recently been taking notes on little yellow stick-ups, and I put them in places on the door or wall or some likely site all over the house. But I can never find them to see what it was I wanted to remember. So I think I will throw them in the basket and go back to the old trick of remembering from back in the days before we had hiliting or bookmarking. I'll tie a string around my little finger, and since that will be with me night and day, all I have to do is try to remember what I forgot I wanted to remember. The effort of that search should stir up the mud in the water and I will find lots of things floating to the surface, which I can then decide to remember further, or just go on with my life and forget.
Disburdening the mind of unnecessary accretions of detail is a part of good intellectual hygiene. It could be erasing old files from your hard drive to make more room available, or clearing the shelves of books you had in school but won't be reading again. Or it could be the symbolic act of throwing handfuls of old school notes into the maw of the recycling dumpster, as an act of liberation from the responsibility of having to remember everything.
Conversation in the Garden: Overheard
It was August and the corn was still growing when I overheard Ray say to Rachel "Wait a bit dear, it may not be fully ripe...." and she replied "Yes, but those people in the house are real pigs and they might eat all the good stuff." To which Ray replied: "Well, that's the cost of being born a raccoon, but at least I won't wind up in Iraq. I'll just stay here and continue as a volunteer in the Natural Garden Guard."
It is early August and an odd time, when the heat is really on, for the government to go into aestivation for a month off. The President needs that month's vacation from the hard work he has been doing promoting world dissatisfaction. So in a sense it is a relief to have a month in the good old summertime to turn off the evening news and spend more time in the garden where there are hidden lessons waiting to be learned. For some of us the vegetable garden is mainly a source of fresh produce, the lawn is an extensive carpet to be mowed weekly riding on an expensive red machine, and the rest of the summer will be a mix of barbecues and visits to mosquito laden lake-fronts. We keep to our summer schedule of outdoor living knowing that soon it will all be gone and then moving into fall and frost and the woodpile.
The summer schedule of easy living is very simple, but I find it contrasts with what is going on all around my house. Walking down the quarter mile road to the mailbox, I see the annual succession of different growths which each year strive to take over the two foot strip along the shale road which I mow twice a year with my vintage sickle bar walking mower. First it was plants with tall purple spires, the next year a compact strip of dense tangled yellow flowers appeared, while a few years later the Queen Anne's Lace did a strong comeback but will be overtaken by something new next year for sure. At the turn where the road descends to become level there is an active colony of a new kind of flies which I have never seen before, whirring little fellers with moth-colored wings who don't bite but seem to go instinctively for my hair. For a while they prospered, then thinned out and a few days later were almost gone. Of course they left their eggs somewhere in the rotting wood back from the road, where moss covers fallen logs and the ground juniper still strives to reach out sideways for a little more light.
I peer into the woods beyond the road where the footing is unsure on rocks and holes, I don't go in there where the tangle is dark and deep because I have promised to bring back the mail. One could get lost observing the thousand ways nature is recycling itself bacterially, with layers upon layers of years to be peeled down to the earth where worms do their daily escalations. There are hidden kingdoms down there, like the levels of ancient cities built on previous cities' ruins.
My lawn is small, I can mow it in lees than an hour riding on an ancient 1973 Ariens machine, circling the edges while trying to figure out the best Cartesian patterns for dealing with the areas under the curves. I start edging on a sort of parabola, but as I mow further it turns into a circle tighter than my mower can handle and I have to go out and come back again and again for that last tuft or two. Last week the mower went dead, I spent time with the float and needle in the carburetor but it never recovered. And as I was thinking maybe its time was come when my neighbor came by to sell me some wood. As we were talking I was thinking that maybe the key in the flywheel was sheared. when he said "It's the key... the old ones go sooner or later." I wondered how we both had the same idea at that same moment, something we humans think coincidental or inexplicable. But I thought later that the whole biological world around us is full of such synchronies, the yellow flowered creepers and the short lived fly colony must be all somehow connected in the time span of a summer season.
I'll pull the flywheel and replace the key next week, I thought to myself, but best get the old push Briggs and Stratton out and get the grass down before it grows unmanageable. There was something on the internet about a man of my weight burning five hundred calories an hour pushing a powered mower, and I thought the exercise would do me good. Yes, now I am back to hand mowing and I do enjoy the work which calls forth a light sweat; but the real surprise was that the hand mowing is faster than riding royally on the throne of a machine. All those problems with areas under curves have disappeared, I just go straight after the grass in rows and the calculations are done with. Like the cornfields in Ohio, everything is done straight and rectangular, none of your New England land cut up by winding roads with lost gores which are the desperation 0f surveyors.
If I don't watch the edges, nature will grow back quickly, it is at this very instant planning an invasion on my lawn or my wife's garden area. There was that path to the back woods which was so lost that yesterday I had to mow through the growth to find the way to the further forest. The ten acres down under the hill toward the road and mailbox were pasture land some forty years ago; when I came there were signs of thin regrowth, now fifteen years later it is hard to find a way through the overgrowth between the saplings. This is a vibrant growing reclamation of lost forest down there, very different from the older growth past the house where the big hardwoods have tamed down the action so you can walk on grass pathways. Between these two areas of new and old growth stand the house and yard, where tentative encroachment is kept at bay only by my work with mowing and pruning. If I stopped and just went away, in ten years it would all be covered like the old graveyards I used to discover when a boy. Everything we do to keep things in order will eventually be overturned, which is the nature of the world we have inherited, and a sobering thought for our overweening pride in the manicured garden in which we live, which we call ..... Civilization.
We are getting so used to the practice that we forget how dangerous a process Party Stuffing of the Supreme Court actually is. We seem to have forgotten that Supreme court appointments are defined as falling under a specific "advise and consent" clause in the Constitution, which means that the President is expected to reveal and discuss suggested appointments with Congress and only then get consent if the discussion is fruitful and favorable. Under the Bush Administration there doesn't seem to be any focus on the word "advise"; discussion is resented and called obstructionist, while it is assumed that the Presidential prerogative to appoint Supreme Court judges is traditional and absolute.
When President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren to the Supreme Court, he had no questions about his appointee having a very different attitude from his own. But after sifting the options, he decided that Warren was the best man for the position, despite personal and political differences. When Warren went full tilt into the framing of the Civil Rights Movements, the President had moments of questioning the wisdom of his appointment. He believed in a slower process of civil legislation as fairer to the entrenched social habituation of the old South. But the idea of appointing an ultra-conservative opponent to the Civil Rights notion as a way of slowing down the processes of change, was unthinkable as a part of his political thinking.
In a period leading to major social change, a stacked Supreme Court will often be the voice of the past ruling the progress of the present with an iron hand. Franklin Roosevelt, who ushered into our society dozens of programs which have become essential parts of our national program, had his measures denied over six hundred times by a rigid Court which could not understand the idea of political and social change. It couldn't even deal with considerations of economic change in the time of the Great Depression. Here was a stacked Court damping the very Idea of Progress.
Under the present Bush Administration in the year 2005, we are so unacquainted with extra-party Court appointments, that we are likely to say with an air of resignation that party stacking is "the name of the game". Some game! And when the legacy is finally assessed for this politically narrow thinking President, some name !
A generation ago those of us who were completing our various Doctorates, went through the routine of applying to a roster of colleges for a teaching position, expecting to find a position somewhere as Asst. Prof., if not Instructor, with expected advancement through the academic ranks.
The title of Adjunct was unknown and nobody would have thought that by the end of the century two thirds of American University students would be taught by an adjunct rank-less and temporary semi-staff. Working by the ill-paid course in different colleges, an Adjunct may be able to eke out a living to cover costs, but there will be no hope at the end of this academic blind-tunnel.
If you are an Adjunct teacher in one of the over-crowded fields like English or, say the Classics, you may find a story written by De Maupassant around 1876 to be very interesting. His story "A Question of Latin" deals with the desperation of an Usher in a high-class French academy, a well trained man in a single line of study who is as much exploited by the French educational system as our Adjuncts are by our modern Universities. If you are an adjunct Humanist, especially a Doctoral Candidate in Greek or Latin, read this story carefully and pay special attention to the words in the closing sentence.
Spring comes late in Vermont. April is a time we often call Mud Season with a certain resigned grin while we wait for the real spring season to emerge. This year we had a good dousing of days of dripping showers, and I decided to do something about the bumps the earthworms have been piling up on the front lawn for many years. Can't play badminton on a pebbled surface and even worse it's futile to walk out to the garden furniture with a drink in each hand and hope to get there with a full glass. So I figured it was time to roll the lawn.
I got the roller from an aged lady's yardsale, she had all her husband's tools and equipment laid out on the lawn and remarked she had no need for them anymore. The roller was heavy, she noted that Hank had filled it with sand to make it heavier. I smiled to myself thinking that water weighed 62.5 lb. per cubic foot, and when I got home I shook out the sand and filled with water and a tight whittled plug. Each year I had to drain for avoid freezing but water was cheap and I figured worth the trouble. This year I thought maybe add a saturated solution of chloride the way farmers did with their tractor wheels, and did some checking on the internet for weights and solutions. But chloride was a mess, likely to leak and not that heavy after all.
Sometimes it takes a bit of time for an idea to percolate through. I wondered idly about the relative weight of water and a fine sand, checked some test containers and found that sand was about fifty percent heavier than water. So the old guy was right after all; a heavier roller was better with sand, and you didn't have to drain it and fill in spring. So here I was fifteen years later following the instructions of a man I had never met and was not like to be meeting for a while yet.
The moral of the story is about being pig-headed. But I didn't feel too bad because I remembered that Thomas Edison, who always scoffed at theoretical thinkers and insisted on going it on his own uneducated guess, was also a congenital pig-head. How else could it happen that when questioned for a patent conflict about the filament of his electric light bulb, and asked if he could explain Ohms Law, he said he did not understand it at all? His way was to test out every possible material for a filament, and if you wanted to deduce Ohm's Law at the end, you could go ahead and do that. Going his own way, he developed a working carbon filament light bulb against all the skilled engineering opinion of his time. Now Hank hadn't calculated weights the way I did, but he had a better sense of materials than I did, and as I filled the last scoop of sand into the roller, I figuratively tipped my hat to his memory. Then go ahead and hook up the roller to the garden tractor and at long last give the lawn a proper rolling while the earth is soaked .
"What that Aprille with her shoures soote,
The drought of Marche hath pierced to the roote",
Then is the season for a him who guideth all around
A roller with Sears tractor on the rain soaked ground....
Spring will be flush out soon and the gentle atmosphere will again invite lying in deep new grass, hearing the birds' many chirps while watching the clouds float aimlessly by. Here is the sign that the year has renewed, that Osiris has again returned with the warmth of springtime showers, and I am reminded of someone I once knew.
"Mrs. Rat" was a strange little dog with a gray ruffled coat and a tapered tail which gave her instant name. Looking more like Toto of the world of Oz than was reasonable, she had some incarnation of a high spirit from another age and was is the full sense of the word a real person. As she aged she tended to fall asleep wintertime behind the woodstove each afternoon, as if dreading the cold of evening darkness' fall. But days when spring was nurturing the grass into a height as tall as her modest build, she would go out and find a soft patch in which she could roll around a bit before settling down to rest her chin on the warm earth while hearing the birds and watching the clouds move by. It was a time of entrancement, but I think I could read in her attitude another rubric, one which I too had come to learn as the years were passing by.
Strophe in Doric mode, sung by a reduced chorus of two voices:
Behold, now chilly Boreas' gone away
now as before springtime has returned its balm.
Waiting the cold turn of the revolving year,
asking if this is last time around or just penultimate.
Still we have passed the turn. It must be cried aloud:
"Rejoice because we have made it through to here."
A short time after writing an article on College Plagiarism in which I reviewed the various degrees and levels of what is generally taken today to be one of the more serious academic matters, I came across this curious information about college activities at Harvard in the year 1820. Edward Emerson was writing a memoir of his father, "Emerson in Concord", in l888 for members of the Concord circle, and had no hesitation about telling this story which a classmate relayed to him about Ralph's brother Edward who was in college with Ralph in the same years. The Emersons were poor boys and had to make money to cover their college keep, and this seems to have been one of the ways of making ends meet.
"I (John C. Park) and some others used to make a little money by writing themes for others who found it a little harder. The way we used to do was to write out any ideas which occurred to us bearing on the subject, and then, having cut the paper into scraps, to issue it to the various buyers to use in their themes, condensing and using all the best of it for our own." One of the boys, a friend of Ralph's brother Edward, demonstrated a paper which he had received in this way, which was so condensed and lowered for acceptance to the student's own style, that he waved it about while reading it in front of Hollis Hall, asking the others if they thought it was really worth half a dollar.
This humorous story would have a different outcome at the present time when every college student is bound by an sworn statement not to give or receive aid on any college work, and to faithfully report to the Dean any infraction he knows of. Despite complaints by many faculty members about this "snitch clause", the rules remain as if engraved in stone, and a student convicted of furnishing another with written material, let along accepting pay for it, would face instant suspension.
We now have on-line businesses which will supply college students with papers on any subject, written to any level of college year or personal expertise, for a good healthy price. This black market of term papers prospers and only rarely is a student found out using bought paper material, since detection is difficult in the anonymous and cleverly designed libraries of bought paperwork.
What is surprising in the Emerson case is that there is no apparent moral taint in the identical procedure, and a son can tell the story half a century later, even in print, without qualms. This points up the possibility of a social variability in moral standards, which can easily occur in a century and a half. And it raises the question about the need for our students to take an "Oath of Honesty", signed on each exam and implicit in all written paperwork. Isn't honesty a matter of personal conscience after all, something a person has to deal with on a private and personal basis?
Considering the Concord philosopher's story, perhaps we are becoming overzealous in pursuit of literary fabrication. Remember that college plagiarism does not fall under Copyright Law, which is itself a complex code with many subordinate questions which have to be answered in a civil trial. Are we, as a society which half a century ago ferreted out academic Communists in the MacCarthy reign of terror, again being fascinated by a new academic witch-hunt, as a way of declaring the moral purity of Academe in what is often berated as a largely immoral age?
It is hard to imagine the world of 1940 when no decent woman would smoke a cigarette or drink a glass of macho-style beer in public. The business people were quick to put a lot of money and effort into changing all that by pressing movie makers to display drinking and smoking at every quiet moment in a film, which we are now paying for with widespread alcohol, cancer and liver problems. There are treatments and "cures" but no genuine way back to a national standard of health. Ah well, society does have a need to progress.
When in the Army in Germany years ago, I brought back a little stein coaster which said in effect: "Wo Man bier trinkt , / then friendly laughter (lachen)/ But if the harder stuff / then bad problems after (boese Sachen)". Coming back after a while quaffing German tankards between the bar and the wall-urinal, I got a taste for beer and soon learned to brew using Pabst's large can of unsavory wort mixed in a twenty gallon crock of water, to be re-capped with a Crown capper in empty brown quart bottles.
But I am not here to tell you about the art of brewing, although I must interject a comment or two as I go. America then had its local breweries, from Krugers which invented the art of canning beer in NJ in 1934, to Boston where the huge brick Haffenreffer fortress at the end of Bismarck Strasse once ruled as a local brand of choice, and even on to Seattle where Olympia beer with its weak hype about "It's the Tum Water..." tasted less like beer than a good glass of unchlorinated tap water. By now the old names are all but forgotten, now it is Sam Adams and Otter Creek and scientific brewing copied from Belgium with laboratory quality controls, which stock the cooler section of the supermarkets.
But there is more to come out of all this and here is a very curious story:
Years ago, putting brown quart bottles of home brew in a cardboard case in the cellar to settle, I found one day that one corner of the box was dripping wet on the angle, so I took my spaniel over there to his dumb amazement showing him what he had done, and firmly said: No boy! Next week another corner was wet, and I tried to reason with him, even offered him a plate of beer as inducement to good behavior, but he sniffed and walked away imperturbed. Another dog some time later, a Norwegian elkhound loved beer and got high on even a few sips, then ran across the carpet back and forth on his ear, but that is another tale.
So I decided to keep the dog out of the cellar at least at night. But then another corner was dripping. So I opened the case to scrap the precious brew, and found I must have put too much re-activating sugar in the bottles before capping. Bottles were simply exploding from an astronomical Co2 buildup. Of course I felt bad and took the spaniel out to the grundgy antecedent of our ubiquitous MacD's and gave him a whole burger by way of apology. He said it was OK, he did understand and felt I was a good guy after all.
So far as I can see, the big percentage of Americans think of music as Country in of one of several colors at 80% of listening population. A large segment will like commercial jazz or rock with 60%, with less perhaps near 20% going for purist jazz, and maybe an fraction college educated people at 10% going for traditional classical. In this last group perhaps 3% are up for Stravinsky through Webern, and half that for the new post-l960 Boulez-plus as acceptable to listen to, if "different".
All the above have their commercial sides. They sell recordings, promote staged concerts of wild rockers or symphony players in black suits, they arrange releases of old vinyls on CD, stack up radio time with PBS and also produce a lot of background music for cinema and TV, even with traces of grad school "modern" taste here and there. All these involve sales of something and are financially active if not profitable dollar-wise. Foundations which have to give away money rather than pay taxes throw in funding here and there for some special musical interest. Advertisers know that messages go better with music which becomes a commercial side-tool for their trade, functioning in the background behind spoken and visual imagery.
What is being written and played at the present time as the new nonPop is a minute fraction of the overall musical scene (size), and in a disadvantaged position because it costs to write and play but doesn't bring in returns (money). Small and unprofitable in statistical terms, it would seem to be insignificant in the world musical scene.
Artistically however it is of prime value, since it works with new thinking. Like many obscure research projects in the Sciences, it houses the dynamics of what the field of the future will be doing. Most of the new work will be lost soon enough, just as most 16th century Italian experiments were laid aside or lost before they got into the public ear. But the fractional residues of the fractionally small activities of the creative processes have a way of registering at some later date, when people become dissatisfied with the dominant percentages which have finally become trite from overuse, as people begin to look around sideways and backward in time also for new sources of intellectual energy.
There is a lot of junk floating around in our musical planetary system, some of it quite well constructed but overworked and no longer fresh, which is a common result of clinging overly to the canons of the past. But there are threads from the past which can be renovated, and bits from the crap of the brash popular present which can be reclaimed for re-use. I recoil at adulation of Mozart as music-Hero, but still hear the G minor's strains as fresh. Reich is finally boring while Tallis is still experimental. Anyone can grind out a score from his years of training or a performance from his daily practice, but there is an excitement which you feel when you have done something so interesting that you can't even tell why it is good.
Heraclitus stated it well: "Miners dig up much earth for little gold", and composers write many pages of score for that bit of the precious stuff which is all that the Arts of music or poetry or painting are really about. So I don't complain about what I find dull or trite or artistically obscene, because I am looking for the golden flakes at the bottom of a day of looking or listening , still thinking out my own music tentatively on paper or instrument and expecting a moment of artistic enlightenment at the end of the afternoon or the week or the month. The old rule nihil expectare, omnia sperare is still pertinent here.
It seemed years since I was in that back section of Boston where the little storefronts with all sort of odd merchandise were lined up before the trolley tracks. I couldn't remember the name of the street, but as I came around the corner it looked familiar and I was sure I could find the shop where I had bought that old washing machine motor and the little machinist's marking gage last month. It was down a ways, the owner's son was starting to take boxes off the boards on the sidewalk as he always did at closing, and if I hurried I could still fumble on the shelves inside for something for my box of tools and parts. I was glad the shop was still open.
But it seemed different. Two college students in their insignia-marked jackets were sifting through the remaining boxes outside, apparently hurrying and glancing up at the sign in the window CLOSING OUT. This might be last chance to get something of the war surplus parts, a DC wing adjustment motor from a plane or a magnet used on a Radar sensor. I brushed past them and went in the door where the owner stood peering out into the afternoon sun through his thick glasses. The color of his face was as dry parchment with a pinch of red high on the cheekbones, a face that had seen desperation in the relocation camps and retained the attitude of forever waiting for something. I told him I was sorry to see they were closing, shook his hand and suddenly thought that I would never see him again. "Yes, there are a few things left; you can look over there; take what you want; no charge today; we are closing and........." He said he needed a rest.
No more coming down the avenue looking for the store front, it would all be different with other stores run by men who bought new style merchandise for window display. This was the last stand of Memories of the War, the detritus of surplus goods and a surplus populace. I looked into Mr Jacoby's face again, shook hands and left the store with a feeling of sadness and regret, for which I couldn't find a reason. Then I noticed the closing date of July 2 1948 in the window, and saw with surprise that the student still poring over the last box outside, the one with the dark hair and glasses, was of course myself. It was right time for a moment of unexpected regret, not real sadness but a mild mist recalling time flown by, as I realized that the storefront, the avenue with the loud trolley line, the pale tight-lipped refugee owner and the young fellow outside musing over the boxes ---- they had all vanished into the after-wake of time. Where had that former world gone, and how was it that I now some sixty years later, I was still holding this one dreamlike slip of memory so fresh and clear?
A REQUIEM FOR THE ARTS
We are living in a critical period in which we are writing, it seems unbeknownst to ourselves, a Final Chapter for the Arts. Assembling together a few TV discussions which came to my attention recently, I think we can see the problem more clearly in financial terms, and would like to expand on three interesting TV discussions.
Charlie Rose showed recently a 1995 interview with the late Arthur Miller, who stated flat out that theater was dead as a living medium because of cost restrictions for production and ticket costs for the very people who would want to see his work. When admission costs a hundred dollars, teachers and philosophers can't go and theater becomes a minor medium for the wealthy who are mildly interested in supporting theater art. Miller said England with a state funded theater was surviving well in theater, here there is little hope even for the famous writers.....like Miller who fifteen years later is now gone.
Rose also interviewed Dr Polisi who is the head of the Juilliard School and as such closely connected with the dozen arts schools which comprise the Lincoln Center. Same thing here, admission is overpriced for the public, tickets go to NY tourists who want to see a famous show, and even there funding is so restricted that the Lincoln can only produce work which will ensure a full house. Nothing experimental of course. Polisi had a desperate wish that President Bush would somehow in a public statement give encouragement for funding of the Arts, just a token show of interest in a financially restrictive period. He and Rose grinned and the subject was dropped.
Another evening Rose was interviewing a set of three enthusiastic panelists who were discussing popular music, where "artists" were getting a lot of public attention, actively selling shows and albums to a ready and willing market. They were talking about great record sales of albums in a period where a youth market was spending lavishly, where new faces and voices were continually appearing with success as others lost their freshness. I could not help wondering at the difference between their "artists" and the Lincoln's dance and symphony performers who were in fact the real "artists" of our time, not merely stage and concert "performers". I don't mean to be uppity about popular "throw-away" music, which has a place in every society, but when this succeeds while the other veins of the arts shrink to a point of desiccation, don't we have a serious cultural problem? Maybe our High Art was too narrow in its reverence and attention to the great work of our past, perhaps not sufficiently attuned to Art as something for today's needs, something designed to sharpen today's artistic edge.
Or perhaps it is just a question of what sells to a society which is steered by the hype of its Best Sellers, with small money for a few CD's jingling in its pockets along with $.99 downloads to the iPod for its daily fare. A broad base like this is what any economist will note as economically viable, while the Lincoln and the Met and the Julliard are really failures in economic terms, since they have to be funded from the hoards of the Foundations in order to exist at all. Consider the cost of a season's program of all the Mahler Symphonies with the immense expenditures from theater venue to arrangements for production to director and sound engineers and recording.... oh yes, and the "artists" who play the instruments, they have to be mentioned too. Who is going to fund this in a society which is at war in the desert, anxious about attacks on our cities, unable to arrange medicine for the poor and a modest living for the aged?
Maybe the formula for the Arts has to be measured by the success of those who are financially solvent, those who can support themselves selling shows and albums while bringing accessible music to youthful public ears. It would seem that you have to be an "artist" with your agent's hype too, your accountant's and taxman's books, your auditorium's light and sounds technolgists too, with critics pushing the envelope of what is popular enough now to bring in the money.
After all, we have to remind ourselves: This is America!
Those of us who have studied the Greek language and specifically the Corpus of Hippocratic Medical Writings will be aware that the Greek word "pharmakon" has a threefold set of meanings. It can mean a drug used under medical supervision, for example the extract of willow bark used to ease pain in the manner of aspirin as a Non Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drug or NSAID. It can also refer to a hallucinogen derived from various plants and fungi to induce religious or sexually altered states of consciousness. And it can also be used for a Poison, which was in the ancient world the favorite instrument for committing civilized murder. All three uses employ the exact same word, which might seem curious to modern ears, since we know the related terms "Pharmacy, Pharmacology and Pharmacopoeia" as medical and curative disciplines which aid us in attaining good health and long life.
So it might be a surprise us to find that the commonly used drug Aspirin with its hundred year use in the West, is even now listed in various places as a dangerous substance. Whether it would be able to pass FDA examination for introduction at the present time might be questionable, faced with reports like the following"
Damage to the lining of the stomach, prolonged bleeding time, wheezing, breathlessness, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, chronic catarrh and runny nose, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, GI upset, GI bleeding, ulcers, rash, allergic reactions, hives, bruising, abnormal liver function tests, liver damage, and hepatitis. If you take too much, the toxic effect is kidney damage, severe metabolic derangements, respiratory and central nervous system effects, strokes, fatal hemorrhages of the brain, spleen, liver, intestines & lungs and death
But this is mild when compared to a listing of adverse and dangerous reactions from a material which I will call "Drug X" in the interests of anonymity. If there were any need to emphasize the possibility of the terms DRUG and POISON being used interchangeably in a percentage of uses, this quotation should serve to alert an unsuspecting public to the chance of imminent danger:
In the studies on Drug X, the following spontaneous adverse events occurred in more than 0.1% to 1.9% of patients treated with Drug X regardless of causality: Body as a Whole: abdominal distension, abdominal tenderness, abscess, chest pain, chills, contusion, cyst, diaphragmatic hernia, fever, fluid retention, flushing, fungal infection, infection, laceration, pain, pelvic pain, peripheral edema, postoperative pain, syncope, trauma, upper extremity edema, viral syndrome. Cardiovascular System: angina pectoris, atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, hematoma, irregular heartbeat, palpitation, premature ventricular contraction, tachycardia, venous insufficiency. Digestive System: acid reflux, aphthous stomatitis, constipation, dental caries, dental pain, digestive gas symptoms, dry mouth, duodenal disorder, dysgeusia, esophagitis, flatulence, gastric disorder, gastritis, gastroenteritis, hematochezia, hemorrhoids, infectious gastroenteritis, oral infection, oral lesion, oral ulcer, vomiting. Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat: allergic rhinitis, blurred vision, cerumen impaction, conjunctivitis, dry throat, epistaxis, laryngitis, nasal congestion, nasal secretion, ophthalmic injection, otic pain, otitis, otitis media, pharyngitis, tinnitus, tonsillitis. Immune System: allergy, hypersensitivity, insect bite reaction. Metabolism and Nutrition: appetite change, hypercholesterolemia, weight gain. Musculoskeletal System: ankle sprain, arm pain, arthralgia, back strain, bursitis, cartilage trauma, joint swelling, muscular cramp, muscular disorder, muscular weakness, musculoskeletal pain, musculoskeletal stiffness, myalgia, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, traumatic arthropathy, wrist fracture. Nervous System: hypesthesia, insomnia, median nerve neuropathy, migraine, muscular spasm, paresthesia, sciatica, somnolence, vertigo. Psychiatric: anxiety, depression, mental acuity decreased. Respiratory System: asthma, cough, dyspnea, pneumonia, pulmonary congestion, respiratory infection. Skin and Skin Appendages: abrasion, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, basal cell carcinoma, blister, cellulitis, contact dermatitis, herpes simplex, herpes zoster, nail unit disorder, perspiration, pruritus, rash, skin erythema, urticaria, xerosis. Urogenital System: breast mass, cystitis, dysuria, menopausal symptoms, menstrual disorder, nocturia, urinary retention, vaginitis. The following serious adverse events have been reported rarely (estimated <0.1%) in patients taking Drug X , regardless of causality. Cases reported only in the post-marketing experience are indicated in italics. Cardiovascular: cerebrovascular accident, congestive heart failure, deep venous thrombosis, hypertensive crisis, myocardial infarction, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, transient ischemic attack, unstable angina. Gastrointestinal: cholecystitis, colitis, colonic malignant neoplasm, duodenal perforation, duodenal ulcer, esophageal ulcer, gastric perforation, gastric ulcer, gastrointestinal bleeding, hepatic failure, hepatitis, intestinal obstruction, jaundice, pancreatitis. Hemic and lymphatic: agranulocytosis, aplastic anemia, leukopenia, lymphoma, pancytopenia, thrombocytopenia. Immune System: anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reaction, angioedema, bronchospasm, hypersensitivity vasculitis. Metabolism and nutrition: hyponatremia. Nervous System: aseptic meningitis, epilepsy aggravated. Psychiatric: confusion, hallucinations. Skin and Skin Appendages: photosensitivity reactions, severe skin reactions, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Urogenital System: acute renal failure, breast malignant neoplasm, hyperkalemia, interstitial nephritis, prostatic malignant neoplasm, urolithiasis, worsening chronic renal failure. In 1-year controlled clinical trials and in extension studies for up to 86 weeks (approximately 800 patients treated with Drug X for one year or longer), the adverse experience profile was qualitatively similar to that observed in studies of shorter duration. Rheumatoid Arthritis Approximately 1,100 patients were treated with Drug X in the Phase III rheumatoid arthritis efficacy studies. These studies included extensions of up to 1 year. The adverse experience profile was generally similar to that reported in the osteoarthritis studies. In studies of at least three months, the incidence of hypertension in RA patients receiving the 25 mg once daily dose of Drug X was 10.0% and the incidence of hypertension in patients receiving naproxen 500 mg twice daily was 4.7%. Analgesia, including primary dysmenorrhea Approximately one thousand patients were treated with Drug X in analgesia studies. All patients in post-dental surgery pain studies received only a single dose of study medication. Patients in primary dysmenorrhea studies may have taken up to 3 daily doses of Drug X , and those in the post-orthopedic surgery pain study were prescribed 5 daily doses of Drug X. The adverse experience profile in the analgesia studies was generally similar to those reported in the osteoarthritis studies. The following additional adverse experience, which occurred at an incidence of at least 2% of patients treated with Drug X , was observed in the post-dental pain surgery studies: post-dental extraction alveolitis (dry socket). Migraine with or without aura Approximately 750 patients were treated with a single dose of Drug X 25 mg or 50 mg in two single-attack migraine studies. Approximately 460 patients in the 3-month extension phase of one study treated up to 8 (average 3) migraine attacks per month. In single attack studies, the following adverse events were more frequent in the Drug X treatment groups (25 mg and 50 mg) compared to the placebo group, and occurred at an incidence of at least 2% of patients treated: dizziness, nausea, somnolence and dyspepsia. In the 3-month extension phase of one study, the following adverse events occurred at an incidence of at least 2% of patients treated in the Drug X treatment groups (25 mg and 50 mg): dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting. Clinical Studies in OA and RA with Drug X 50 mg (Twice the highest dose recommended for chronic use) In OA and RA clinical trials which contained Drug X 12.5 or 25 mg as well as Drug X 50 mg, Drug X 50 mg QD was associated with a higher incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, epigastric pain, heartburn, nausea and vomiting), lower extremity edema, hypertension, serious* adverse experiences and discontinuation due to clinical adverse experiences compared to the recommended chronic doses of 12.5 and 25 mg. Pauciarticular and Polyarticular Course Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis In a 12-week study, 209 JRA patients, ½ 2 years to £ 17 years of age, were treated with rofecoxib; 109 and 100 patients were treated with lower-dose rofecoxib and higher-dose rofecoxib, respectively. In a 52-week open-label extension, 160 JRA patients, ½ 2 years to £ 17 years of age, were treated with higher-dose rofecoxib for up to 15 months. No new adverse experiences were identified other than a single case of pseudoporphyria (a photo-induced blistering reaction), an adverse event that has been seen in patients with JRA treated with non-selective NSAIDs. In this 12-week study, the most common adverse experiences (at 0.6 mg/kg dose) were upper abdominal pain, nasopharyngitis, diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infection, abdominal pain, headache and rhinitis. Rash was also reported. An adverse experience that resulted in death, permanent or substantial disability, hospitalization, congenital anomaly, or cancer, was immediately life threatening, was due to an overdose, or was thought by the investigator to require intervention to prevent one of the above outcomes.
One might well ask why such a drug is permitted to be sold on the pharmaceutical prescription market, a most reasonable question to which there is a clear and resounding answer. After fifteen years of widespread international sales, it actually was removed from the market, so we can now rest assured that the above symptoms, distresses and dangers will not be available to use via the infamous Drug X.
But do not rest easy yet. If you open your Internet connections and browse via google.com in the forest of medical information and mis-information, under various brand names you will find equally alarming disclosures galore. In the light of such a predicament we might find it well to return to the standard 6th c. BC Hippocratic method of treating an ailment or disease, which was to make the patient as comfortable as possible and "attend on the natural course of the ailment" as the best medical practice. Now if we were to follow this advice, many a doctor might lose many a modern patient, but there would be a reverse side to this situation. The patient might understand that he might die from the disease, that is entirely possible. But he would know at least that he was become disabled or dying
g from the disease itself , and not from the poisonous effects of the cure.
Somewhere the 7th century AD on a damp and chill English night the venerable church historian Baeda wrote a note in his arthritic Latin about the Christmas celebrations, adding a cryptic word about ancient Pagan practices anteceding our holidays which he felt were better to suppress than relate. And so we lost an invaluable chapter in the history of religious practices, while Baeda with a smile finished his page and closed the book on another passing year
But far to the south and for a thousand years before, the Romans had a different idea for annual dates. Since March was the beginning of the planting season, what would be more natural in rural 6th century BC than starting off with March as Number One, then leading into the sunny month of April (Lat. aprilis 'sunny') and further on with typical Roman lack of imagination to Septem-ber, Octo-ber and Decem-ber. Logical for the orderly Romans who named sons in numerical order: Secundus, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus and Octavianus. Counting on your fingers you see September is wrong for us, but the names got stuck in the cracks of history.
Starting the year off with an energetic and healthy farming March, the Romans ended it with the chills and ills of the Month of the Fevers, a.k.a. February (Lat. febris 'fever') a more Roman name than a Hellenistic-sounding Pneumoniary. And of course that solves the mystery of why the extra day of Leap Year is tacked onto February, the correct place at the end of the Roman year.
People avoid omens and the Romans were as omen conscious as any who ever lived, a historical trace of which I believe can still be heard in the standard News and Weathercasters' pronunciation of our second month as "Febuary". Some would call this wrong pronunciation, others a dialect turn which became standardized, some would point to "Dissimilation of two Liquid Consonants in Successive Syllables", as an adaptation of Grassman's Law. But I am sure it is just a change designed to avoid getting a fever and a chill. Nobody wants to hear the morning weatherman saying: " This Fever-ary morning wrap up well when you go out, since it was ten below last night and the chill factor will be. ". Stay by the fire wrapped in your blanket, check your temperature with the inconvenient digital thermometer, not to be confused with the mercury one reserved for the dog, and if you do have a FEVER do what all the TV medical ads, thinking of Norman Rockwell Days, still advise: "Talk to your doctor..."
Now that we are starting the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, it might be a good time to reconsider the psychological role of the CULT of the SKYSCRAPER in American corporate culture. Once steel was established in the latter half of the 19th century as an available, useful and cheap material, it became the building block of modern architecture, beginning with the startling Flat Iron Building in New York, which you can see in photographic stages of construction in the classics 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. As the real-estate footprint in the City became costly, up seemed the cheaper way to go, and the Empire State Building of the mid-thirties, outstripping the Chrysler Building, was a good exemplar for the future.
But there is question whether the compacted city as center of business and industry makes sense in the computer age. There was a time in the early 20th century when you went to New York to order products from the wholesalers, trucks or train bringing your purchases to your store in Vermont or North Dakota. First telephone lines appeared everywhere and you could order more easily, now with computer connections most ordering now takes place digitally with even greater ease and speed. So the question is whether it is necessary, or even advisable, to bring together dense communities of buyers and sellers, marketers and invoicers, pollster and statisticians in a dense location. Everything can be done anywhere in our simultaneous global age. Just yesterday I was returning something to a large company and noticed that the lady who was taking down my order number spoke with a familiar accent. Yes, she was in India and when I told her I had studied Sanskrit we touched for a moment on a personal level before confirming the entry of the critical return number. This is the New World, and there is no reason for our business conglomerations to locate in one city or mega-office complex any more.
When my Credit Card is checked on-line at a purchase desk, where does it go? To South Dakota in a sparse area of population, but there is a fast and secure communications line going there. When one of the super connectors in Sunnyvale CA goes down for a brown-out, they are considering moving to an area where power is 24-7 available without question. A connected string of buildings placed in any convenient location makes sense in terms of doping modern business, and it is safer than the city tower with 50,000 workers marching in daily. Safer in terms of electric failure, tsunami, earthquake, and of course terrorist attack. The more dense and compact the site, the better target for the terrorists, who tried the WTC basement first before learning that a high-rise amidships is weaker. A skyscraper is always an attractive target, the taller the better.
When the WTC was first planned in '62 and started up in '74, I had these thoughts in mind, and quite unconsciously began to do welded steel sculpture on the general pattern of a WTC Tower. This became a preoccupation and bothered me over the years. I did my last such piece (4 inch footprint with 13 foot height) in 2000. I don't claim to be clairvoyant, but am probably one of many who wondered about ultimate skyscraper elevation, and you can take a look at my Sculpture and Comment which record a thirty year apprehension which strangely turned into reality in 2001. For the future we seem to being up again rather than out and around the countryside, having learned little about the vulnerability of tall buildings in crowded urban settings.
Last night there was hard wind after a warm and melting January day; later it rained and as always on rainy nights I found it hard to sleep and went to get another half of a sleeping pill before trailing off in the early morning hours. Waking groggy before Aurora had yet spread her rosy fingers over the pale grey world, I had coffee by the fire, did some paperwork of no importance and went back to bed for an uncertain nap before facing the reality of a drifting snowy day. If that was a staging for a dull nap before another dull and ordinary day, I was in for a good surprise:
Waking from that second sleep, the world was entirely different. Where had I been? It was a spring time atmosphere in the bright air which tingles your eyes as well as your nostrils, when the light greenery of new leaves is resplendent for these few weeks only, before verging into the hot days of stolid summertime. It was at the old house where I had lived some decades before, but now transformed into a fine country mansion which expanded here and there with secret stairways and hidden descents into new cellars, as the imagination of the script required. Along the plain country road people were walking up for the party in pairs, waving gaily as they came u to the front door where everyone stayed mingling and introducing before trailing off into the sunfilled interior rooms. Here was some spirit of festivity but with no special reason for celebration; no birthday or engagement, yet everyone was garbed and accoutered and spirited in a special manner, because it was all in a dream.
We all watched as a pair of especially bushy-tailed squirrels bounded in starts on the lawn, he pursuing and she stopping a few jumps ahead of him to look over her shoulder with bright eyes to then jump again away. They reached the tree and went spiraling hide-go-seek up the ladder of bark and into the privacy of their tree-life home. Their brightness of eyes and agility of movement were contagious and somehow seemed to set the tone for the rest of that perfectly charming springtime afternoon. The couples came as pairs of lovers but entering the social stream of this most curious uninvited party, they moved out of their married privacy into the activity of various others who were playing a game of musical chairs in some new and imaginary mode.
Everyone felt the match of the young man with smart sports attitude and a fine trimmed beard, with his lady of the straight brown hair and the round-faced smile. They seemed indeed ideal together, but as they moved apart in the garden with drink in hand, others adding each of them to their separate group, they became different persons for the moment and now part of others' societies. The slightly older couple just today free from their kids at home, smiled at remembering early walkings arm in arm, while those in middle years finding themselves standing separately became parts of some newfound amities. All were going around in different circles, for this one day the stable connections of one to one were suspended because here was a new happening glomerule of vernal leafage good for just one afternoon.
I was coming out of a shower half wrapped in a large towel standing on the landing of a stairway half way up, when the young girl started the steps, stopped and smiled up to me. I motioned to go past me up the upper room for privacy and I went down just as the man with the tennis racquet stepped up, went past me and closed the door. Meanwhile her husband was swimming in the pool under the willow trees with two ladies whom I had not met, intent on telling an episode of something that had happened long ago. On a bench two were chatting, a third came and sat between them, then they all went off with a flutter of light laughter toward the house to refresh their glasses. Everybody was talking energetically but nobody seemed to be saying anything, because on such a fine afternoon in such a sequence of dreamlike encounters there is no need for anyone to make a point. Talk is just talk, as the afternoon is just the afternoon and the sunlight just the sun.
The springtime mating dance of the squirrels set the scene and everyone knew that there was something of that spirit in the air. Although the conversations were vivid and exciting , there was no thrust for privacy or need for the intimacy of bedding, although all smiled at the idea of this one apart from that one and separately bedded down. It was a comedy of matching and mis-matching, to see if one thought could touch another's waist, what these chance alignments of the mind would turn out to be like, and what thought could evoke a flair of newness lost in the trammels of time. In life this would be difficult or dangerous, but in a party at the invitation of a dream it was all bright, clean and refreshing. When standing in the garden we heard the sprinkle of happy laughter from the privacy of the upper room at the head of the turning stairway, we knew some passion had been revived in joyfulness, and we smiled nodding to each other knowing that in the land of Dreams that is the way it is supposed to be.
Waking in January snowscape, I felt the lingering drama of my imagination with me still, I could still see the green slate terrace where the chatting couples ambled, the dark pool under the bright leaves, the rooms leading into other rooms at the touch of a button of imagination. I was glad to be have been invited to this party, it was a reminder that even in a cold afternoon as the sun is early going down, there is still anticipation of the warmth of spring and the possibility of people walking and talking on the lawns and living-rooms. That will come in a few months, but will be in the ordinary frame of our daily reality, and never approach the velvet luxury of charming people in an enchanted world appearing in unexpected encounter, as reminder of a magic world that we do not have but would like to dream about every once in a while. And so ended my wintertime Midsummer Night's Dream.
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Prof. Em. Middlebury College