From a Vermont Eyrie
On certain sleepless nights I developed a habit of jotting down the thoughts which you will find in the hundred pages below to browse at your leisure. I had even anticipated the blog-furor before it hit the internet in '99, for which an historical note. But these are Essays in the old-fashioned sense of the word, roving notions after Montaigne with an overall sense of time passing, of my location and something about who the writer is.
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 and can't stop.
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 automatic toilet flushed loud enough for hear; she guessed and hung up on the instant ending the seance.
I am reminded that there are always new ways for technology to improve our communicative skills and enhance our lifestyle in innovative ways. We can cram more information into each unused minute of our crowded daytime hours, we can take advantage of new opportunities to enrich our personal lives. We can even transact personal business with cell phone in hand, from the private comfort of a toilet seat, but now with the enhanced audio and video capacity of the cell phone, we are going to have to learn something about caution and something about restraint.
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. I am no Audobonite but I am learning a little bit by bit.
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! 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 say 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 thought I could salvage part of a normal Vermont summer at last, and count up 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 this time.
Just now we have got a questionable peace between Israel and the Party-Of-God, 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, 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! Who knows what is in store for us here? Looking forward to a bright fall season despite the usual sitcoms studded with overzealous ad clips on evening TV. Turn it off and maybe read a book of poetry, and there are still unread volumes of that nicely bound set of Dickens I bought at a yard sale last year.
In the spring of the 2006th year in 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.
Is this the way the story ends? Is this what the impeachment process finally comes to? I this what we really wanted?
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 Presidential desk:
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 chocolatey, 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 !
Once 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 from1857. 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 after1990 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 survives discussion and that is:
It is often very 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 back 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 of anger. 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.
It is now several years since that fate-ridden day, we know more now about imaginary nuclear facilities in Iraq, we know something about the foolishness of invading a country, especially Moslem country, and we still cannot see the end of the tunnel's light. We have learned a lot, but we have not learned that one critical lesson which is at the heart of our country's base. The Congress has the responsibility of running the country on a long-range and ongoing basis, it delegates the duties of operations to the Administration on a very short-term schedule, but the ultimate responsibility for everything of importance rests with Congress first and last. Shifting the balance of authority to the Administration, a process which has been in operation for some thirty years now, is against the very nature of the foundation of these United States of America. We have to think about this now, as the Roman jurist pointed out " Things in continual use do have the tendency to become the Law."
Searching the internet recently, I found a welter of ads for audio components at elevated prices, even 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 plant and flower and thicket except Pres. Bush, so 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 used five disc player (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 of things which lead from finding a 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 potentially global procedure, and can sit back and wait for some return effects.
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 whirr 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 early18th 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 war god Mars, but we know that in the ancient days he was originally an agricultural deity, and I must have had this in my mind when I found myself muttering to myself ENOS LASES IUVATE again and again as I plowed back and forth. Even if you had a couple years of high school Latin 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 which we have on a late 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 s almost a thousand years old at that time. Enacting the prayer and stamping feet thrice for each line and crying "triumpe (?)" at the end, the celebrants certainly did not understand the words they were speaking, any more than I would understand the sea weather 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 out 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 clearly aforesaid by the Arval Brothers. 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 by stamping thrice with me feet, before I go back to bed feeling that I have done my part in ensuring planting precautions for a good annual crop of tomatoes and winter squash.
TRI-UMPE TRI-UMPE TRI-UMPE
I think that the penetrating Greek scientist and social critic Theophrastus would have described Bibliomania as "An overdeveloped passion for the collections of books as beloved possessions, rather than tools for thought and information. And the bibliomaniac is one who will be seen at church sales and the back corners of barn sales peering shortsightedly into boxes which were just now assembled for the recycling bin, his eyes strained and his countenance aglow with anticipation of finding one more item to crowd, to his wife's despair, on the overloaded and never to be dusted shelves in his study.......".
I am one who has run the course. As a boy I was a true lover of books, my first rare volume was a copy of Sir Walter Raleigh's "Historie of the Woorlde" in the1634 edition (l612 orig.) in disrepair for five dollars, which I learned to resew, rebound and had in my office as college professor for fifty years. Hundreds and thousands of books clung to me in my teaching years, but as time went along I began to distrust this quagmire of printed paper into which one can dive never to return.
Back when I was about twenty eight years old, I was gathering armfuls of ten cent books in the dark rear of Ferney's bookstore in Walla Walla WA, when I looked out into the sunlight past the bookshelves into the street where people were passing, nodding to each other and smilingly sauntering along. I dropped the books, went out into the light and although a great deal of my life was spent with books and their contents, from that moment on I knew that books were tools for use in my trade, but not a good substitute for life.
Everyone complains that the boob-tube is wiping out our minds, we are becoming silent fools forever watching someone else's messages. They note that TV is not like life, which is interactive. But what can be less interactive than a book? As with TV, you sit silent and watch for hours, absorbed and absorbing, you are a cerebral sponge. I knew a scholar who said he knew Cicero from his ten volumes of Latin writings better than anyone else in the world, but soon after he gave up on marriage and his children and did not live long thereafter. Dust unto dust!
Clearing out and selling most of my books except a few which are still alive for me, like Finnegans Wake and Moby Dick, I tend to think a great deal more, and have time now for planning out the books I am involved in writing. I suppose the main question about books is this: How much do you want to take directions and instructions from other people, and how much of your life do you want to use planning your own thinking, from the inside out?
Often foolish old solutions to outstanding problems are more comfortable to deal with than new good ones, and I don't expect anyone to believe that I have solved the Riddle of the Sphinx, but let me proceed with a new view:
1) There is little question that the name of the Sphinx is associated with the Greek verbal stem "sphi(n)g-" meaning "tie fast, bind, choke off".
2) The Sphinx is always described as of Egyptian provenance, an import and not a native Hellenic item.
3) The standard answer to the riddle is "child, man, old-man", that is it includes all age groups gathered together as a social group.
Now if we put these three things together, we spell out clearly the well-known disease Diphtheria, which arriving from Egypt found the Greeks without protective immunity. It killed by developing a leather-like membrane (diphthera) which choked off the air supply to the lungs, and was equally likely to affect all members of Greek society from children to the aged. So there is my Solution to the Riddle, based on documentable data and not desiccated mythology or transcendental guesswork. The traditional explanation which the Greek subscribed to is without point, my view may seem "modern", but the Greeks were early into medical thinking, and fine clinical reporters as in the Hippocratic corpus. But if the argument needs further substantiation, note that Sphinx figures, either in relief or carved in the round, are found on many funerary stone, presumably marked death by diphtheria.
A few serious students in high school are still deciphering Vergil's' Aeneid in the Latin, and it is always something that has to be explained when they hesitatingly translate Vergil's word 'pius ' as Pious Aeneas! Yes, he is proper in relation to his deity, to his ancestors, obedient to Fate as Ordained....but a heel who loves and leaves lovely and generous Dido. So is there a better translation?
There is a standard formula for the name of a king, as Harold the Bold, Peter the Great, Richard the Lionhearted, and a century and a half ago the Classical scholar Conington saw that this fits Aeneas exactly: "Aeneas the Good". GOOD is such a multifarious word, and can even have a touch of light disbelief attached. Thomas Hardy saw further uses for such titling, his warrior against19th c. uptight conventions is named Jude the Obscure perhaps with a sense of sadnesses and irony. And Fitzgerald knew he had to do something striking with his Jewish millionaire-for-a-moment Katz whom he refashioned as Gatsby and then titled this book "The Great Gatsby", as if Gatsby the Great was in his mind but a little too royal for the crass American scene on the Long Island Sound. (By the way the ending -by on many English towns is Danish meaning 'farm', a mark of the ancient Danish invasions of England.)
We are all familiar with Greenspan's Law to adjust Interest Rates up or down in order to avoid inflation or stimulate business, which sounds perceptive and modern. In18th c. England, interest ran close to four percent, lowering it always accompanied a surge in new business, when it went higher things became static. In the Roman world interest could be as low as six perc. for special uses, it was normally twelve but could rise to eighteen or twenty-four for short term or risky loans, so it is remarkably similar to our scale. It may come as a surprise that in 111-112 AD, Pliny, then in charge of the Treasury in Asia Minor, discusses with the emperor Trajan the idea of lowering interest rates on accrued treasury funds which were standing idle, so as to stimulate investments, the interest from which would in return show a profit to the Treasury. He even suggests forcing municipalities to take out loans, a poor idea which Trajan scotches immediately.
The interesting thing is that whereas we have huge government deficits and pay interest on government borrowed money, the Romans found they had a large Treasury surplus in Trajan's time. In other words Roman government was in the tax and interest business, very profitably. Expanding empire meant more taxes and profit, so long as you didn't invest much in the new provinces beyond administrative supervision and the military. The USSR did much the same thing, squeezing funds back to the central Treasury and returning as little as possible. ----- We deplore our over-spending, but it may be that a democratic government which is directed to spend by representatives of a population which intends to live in the pursuit of happiness, will normally put out more than it takes in. The only question is how far the overspending should go, without a return to near par every little once in a while.
Let me give you a well entrenched example of something I would call Academic Perversity . The Roman poet Vergil is regularly called a Stoic, because he favors the image of Aeneas who is in a way stoical in parting from the hedonistic or Epicurean Lady Dido at Carthage. This view has been maintained for a century, is in all the books. But Donatus notes that Vergil planned after finishing the Aeneid, to devote the rest of his life to Epicurean philosophy, furthermore there are traces of Vergil's close reading of the clearly Epicurean Lucretius throughout his work, and he came to manhood on the very day that Lucretius died, an important date to note. And his biographer Donatus states that after finishing his great poem, Vergil planned to devote his life to the study of Epicurean Philosophy. So when I find scholars classifying an author on the basis of his attitudes in a book, rather than the historical facts of his life, I note this down on a scrap of paper as a reminder for one more case of Academic Perversity.
Speaking of Vergil let me try something which would be called outlandish, but seems to have a base in facts: Vergil's mother Polla Magia was daughter of one Magus, whose name is clearly not Roman and most likely Carthaginian/Semitic. Now Vergil was described in the Vita as being 'aquilus' or dark-complexioned, which suits the mixed Roman-Semitic population of Sicily even at the present time. So I could reverse the Stoic argument above, and note that in actual writing, the picture of Dido is far more sympathetic than that of Aeneas who is a tight-assed Roman through and through. WE feel this pretty clearly, he is an Empire Builder with all the coldness that goes into that profession. But Dido is lovely....Could Vergil be divided between being a Roman poet proud of history, but secretly a descendent of a Carthaginian deserter who settled in the north of Italy after Hannibal's troops passed through?
John Donne is probably best known for this short paragraph of elegant prose, often mistakenly taken as a poem:
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
What is not generally recognized is that Donne when a young man accompanied Essex's naval attack on Cadiz in Spain, that Cadiz is on a promontory stretching to seawards, that the bombardment was done in nighttime and the city bells tolled the warning. Even as late at1900 Cadiz was known as having a low-lying, unhealthy climate, and since Donne through later life had a chronic ailment which was probably malaria, it may be assumed that he contracted it then at Cadiz. The chronicle of his sickness from which this quotation comes appears to be in a malarial attack, with fever and hallucination, calling to mind the bells of decades earlier when the cannon fired on the city. Note that the unpoetical word feaver occurs four times in Donne poems. Walton's1640 biography of Donne gives the historical facts, the malarial attacks cannot be documented now but sound medically real.
The interesting thing to me is the way sickness can provide the thrust for artistic creativity, much like coffee in the17th c., alcohol since the early19th c., drugs in the 20 th c., more drugs since1950, and in a different way, meditation throughout the ages. Sickness can provide the same stepping away from one's habitual mind, and open the gates of the creative processes. I pass this topic to any PhD candidate for study and use in a thesis, specifically noting it as an important area : The Creativity of Disease .
In the history of American education, where Latin was the core and virtual body of study from the 17th c. on to the1920's, the war Commentaries of Julius Caesar were the standard fare for reading after mastering the basic grammar,. not in Europe but only in this country. Caesar's dry, compressed military style is a hard start for young students, it is only later when you can read him quickly that you can enjoy the flavor of his clean Atticistic style, as against the Ciceronian verbosity. Europeans have never used Caesar for beginners, and one might ask why he became to be universally used in this country.
I believe the18th c. Colonials saw the civilized and well armed Romans who were destined to subdue to uncivilized Gaulish tribes as a paradigm for their own situation. The European settlers adopted a parallel attitude toward to late Paleolithic Indians, and reinforced their role as carriers of destiny by making sure that every boy who would go out and lead a platoon of soldiers in the Indian Wars would have seen in his formative years how the Romans dealt with the Gaulish natives. Caesar became propaganda for war and domination, and the lesson was so well learned and reinforced that it was still operative well into the twentieth century.
This is a large and important area of study, I can only outline it here, and suggest that a serious examination of the role of Roman/Gaul as preface to European American/Native American should yield new, interesting and probably somewhat shocking results. It may seem odd that a Latin textbook became propaganda for the domination and control of the native American population, but what better way to get an evil message across than propagate it in the school system?
Hesiod in The Greek Farmer's Almanack" gives instructions to his errant brother about the proper way of conducting his life are tight, tough and small-minded. But that was in the 8th c. B.C. long before the lush days of Greek social and economic development, and certainly suited the hard farmland of Hesiod time. But in Theophrastus' tenth Character, we find The Penurious Man doing much the same thing, pinching pennies and a slave to his savings. But now this is humorous, in fact that Character is one of the most amusing. Why such a different treatment of the same theme? Simply put, we have here a clear index of four centuries of fast economic development in Greece, based on Athenian manufacturing and merchandizing, extensive shipping and trade, mining silver at Laurium and the widespread use of currency leading to banking. A parallel may be seen in the pinch penny advice of Colonial American almanac wisdom of the18th century, as compared with our current doctrine of entitlement to the goods things of life, made viable by bank loans and Credit Card overspending. We too have come the route from the hard land of New England farming society by the way of accelerated manufacturing and world-trading, leading to a world as rich as that of 5/4th c. Athens. But it now appears there are dangers in such a quick expansion, possibly because we did it in just a century and a half!
In the Sonoma desert there lives a burrowing bee which gathers pollen from the very short flowering season of certain cacti, storing it away in a foot deep tunnel dug in the arid earth as nest and food for its eggs. It mates with a male in the usual way, and seems a world apart from the highly developed bee-world as we know it. Most bees have established virtual factories for processing nectar-sugar from the flowering Compositae. Their hexagonal chambers of manufactured wax, their overwhelming sense of rigid social order, and above all their changes in the reproductive process, which outlaw Evolution by cloning all the working females as sisters from a single Queen, while males become the useless unemployed........this highly developed system has always seemed amazing to us as humans.
Against this backdrop, where do we stand? Some of us are as solitary as the burrowing bee, we are the hermits, the unsocial scholars, while many others work in thousands in towering office buildings devoted to an Insurance Company, or in an automobile assembly plant which can use tens of thousands of workers doing exact jobs forever. Now that biological cloning has come up as a possibility, it is one which frightens or repels many people, and people might ask how we arrange such complex worker situations out of Individuals who insist strongly on their personal individuality? We do it by Social Cloning, the mimetic practice of becoming like each other, so we can fit easily into our organized spaces in a world as highly organized as a bee hive. There are costs, there is loss of individuality of course, but coupled with gains in productivity. Still there is choice, and I can write this at my computer terminal as a completely individual, while tuning into the world wide web, a structure of communications now beginning to be as complex as anything in the biological world. It seems there may still be elbow room for reasonable diversity.
Pythagoras said two and a half millennia ago: First things is NUMBER and second putting words on things. In the new world of computer technology and DNA analysis, there is abundant confirmation of his first statement about number, since everything which exists, from the subatomic particles to a complex biological entity like myself is ultimately generated out of number relationships. In this century the solid fabric of our world, which still looks solid, is now known to be sets of numerical relationships.
What about the NAMES? For years I have had trouble remembering people's names, I have a good memory otherwise, it is just the names, and others have admitted the same. I have never tried to identify plants or birds by name, when the tag falls off the new nursery plant, it is still a plant. When I am talking with a fellow whose name I can't recover, we are still talking and making sense. All this leads me to re-consider the names of things and people as mere tags, an abbreviated interface which allows me to deal with much stuff summarily. I say Rose and the snapshot of an elderly aunt flashes up, or a red flower without mentioning sepals, division of flower by five, the family Compositae, nectar or fertilization by bees. Of course this is convenient, but it is also dulling, a way of handling something without knowing much about what you are handling.
Education often seems to be a process of assembling lists of names of all sorts. The danger is clear, you may have a full dictionary of name-tags in your head and think you know a lot about the world, but at the end you have only the tags in mind, and have not penetrated deeply into the nature and being of the things to which the name-tags are attached. Now that we live in a computer conscious society, where all the data including the tags and names are assembled in complexes of a very few digits, we might recall Pythagoras' notion as being very important and perhaps nearer to the Truth than we had imagined. Yes, it may turn out to be that: FIRST IS NUMBER.
Schizophrenia is something we have had to learn to live with in the twentieth century. The man triggered to shoot half a dozen victims in a subway, the bomber slowly tallying up a series of death-dealing explosions, the guy with a semi-automatic rifle in a schoolyard. These are terrifying to the mind, and very puzzling. It would be simplistic to try to attach these criminal actions to specific childhood learning or repression targets. Much more reasonable is to consider them together as evidence of something going very wrong in human minds, something which we cannot really understand at the present time. Best call it schizophrenia, a splitting of some part of the mind from reality, at times surfacing as withdrawal, at times with violence.
This is nothing new in our relatively shallow file of Human History. The Greek Drama, or the little we have left of the hundreds of Hellenic plays, seems to have been fascinated with the edges of normal behavior, the very points at which something went wrong. Take the case of the Greek Schizoid Hero Ajax of the Trojan Wars, who like many war-heroes of a later date, was a victim not of spear trauma but of psychological overstress. He sits in his old army tent, mulling the dishonors from his leaders, endlessly.....A trigger outside starts off a violent schizophrenic session. Beyond the tent sheep are grazing, uttering their traditional "maaaaa....." peacefully. But in the tent, there is something brewing in the mind of this muttering Ajax.
(A linguistic aside: In the Doric dialect which Ajax spoke, "ma" means NO, ) So he hears outside his tent the words " no no no no . . ." and the trigger snaps. He grabs his sword and rushing outside slaughters the sheep, mistaking them for the Greeks who had shamed in public him at the end of the Trojan War .
Schizophrenia is nothing new, the only surprising thing is that generations of Classical Scholars have tried every possible way of explaining Ajax's situation, but have not understood this clear case of schizophrenia triggerable by that critically negative NO, a word which probably has also triggered some of our modern schoolyard schizophrenic catastrophes.
The Treatise On Airs, Waters and Places from Hippocrates the Father of Greek medicine, has been studied in such infinite detail, that it is surprising to find something new in that over-worked document. In his discussion of the waters which are healthiest for drinking, it is stated that water, which after being frozen overnight and thawed in the morning, shows an increase in volume, is the most unfit for drinking. Now this is very odd, and I had some advanced students work on it, with no positive results. Certain micro-organisms might release gases, or the cool night air might foster oxygen going into solution. I asked some of my students to work on this problem, we tried every impossible thought and came up with nothing. It may be that the increase of the volume of water on freezing was conflated with the idea of a test for purity, but the failed experiment is described very clearly.
On the other hand, I consider this passage very important in the history of science, because it is the first quantitative experiment in antiquity of which we have knowledge. The fact that the experiment does not yield results, is far less important than the fact that for the first time, a quantitative measurement is taken in a physical argument. It would not be until the time of Cavendish and19th c. science that quantification becomes the critical part of any scientific study. But here is a clear examination of change of volume, as part of a line of pre-scientific reasoning, a very early forerunner of one of our most basic scientific tools.
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 to the first millennium B.C., or the later Moslem rule against pork. These 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. All this makes sense in terms of the serious disease trichinosis, which even now appears in third world country and can be found in the USA where new immigrants do kitchen work.
This all became of interest to me when the wife of a college President banned the giant three inch shrimp that everybody loved from faculty parties on the grounds of shrimp being non-Kosher and hence unacceptable to be her servied in her garden party. Faculty who came to the parties for the shrimp if for nothing else, were shocked at this action in a non-Denominational college, some even tried to argue but in vain. I put together the following materials on the Philistine coastal fisheries to send her as a polite email with pertinent historical detail, but I figured it would be a long wait for the shrimp to reappear. And it is common sense never argue with a lady on points of diet, especially when conflated with religion. And the parties were pretty dull anyway.
But it got me thinking about the shellfish which are not Kosher. Clams and oysters come to mind first, but does this include the much evolved octopus who is related? Oddly this includes shrimp and lobster which are crustaceans and not shellfish at all. So whence this dietary prohibition?
If you look at a map of ancient Israel you will see that the strip bordering the sea belongs to the Philistines which had rich fishing and trading ports on that sea-front. The Jews are inland and as sheepherders and farmers they have little interest in the economy of their ancient enemies along the shore. But they have developed an inland fishing industry with the Egyptian Tilapia which can survive in the salty inland waters. Tilapia would seem to be farm-bred fish and were listed as clean or Kosher, partly because they represent a national industry, while the shellfish and crustaceans of the Mediterranean are the product of the Philistines who live along the shoreline with direct access to fishing and the sea.
Now it is very interesting that the Philistines do not appear to be a Semitic tribe. Modern archaeological opinion has suggested that these people were the "sea people" which the Egyptian documents mention appearing around 1200 B.C. as a wave from the Western Mediterranean. It seems that an invasion of western aggressors overtook all the cities of the populous 12th century East, destroying the cities and somehow retreating to whence they came. But the Philistines with their non-Semitic language seem to have settled along the Gaza coast, building fine cities and advancing in their pottery techniques and especially in the rising ironworking trade. In contrast the Jews lived further back away from the sea, their pottery is considerabley less developed and the Bible refers to coming to the Philistines for their iron tools.
National diet is one of the last refuges of people who are faced with foreign influences. Faced with change folks in foreign places cling to their souvlakia, their buckwheat groats, we to our grease-burgers and fries. I suspect that here too the Israelites saw their pool-bred fisheries as something they could be proud of, something they knew how to use in a varied diet, so why go spending money for exotica with purchases from the seafaring and pork eating Phislistines? Native food is enough for us, they said, and theirs is not needed so we ordain our own diet as KOSHER.
The phrase "How come. . . ?" is one of the best questions, if one with the least asnwers. 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 by the natural result of experience and tradition that things are as they are, and we never get down to asking that critical question of why people say and do that they do.
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. Why do they tell al that stuff?
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. Were they all making a living by all this hyper-activity?
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 the modern sense of going to Paris to study under Mme. Oubliere. Still 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 in score 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 that 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 a composition which sound like crap, causing people to leave the hall halfway through the evening vowing to stick to CD's for their musical edification. The fault may be the hall or the hour and 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 when someone asks me "How come . . . ? you dont appreciate Heifetz? . . .you don't like music?"
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 1917 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 developed. 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 1950's; so it was interesting to me to find in the back of a Harper's1965 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 as1953 was slipped into a folder of historic interest at a university site in1999, 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 in1999 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 the19th 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 after1867 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"1867, 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 in1834 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 10th1878) 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 year1879 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 in1845 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 after1880, 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 in1885 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 European19th 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 the19th 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 in1830, 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 in1830. It was only slowly and much later that Darwin brought his materials together to form his statement of evolution in the 'Origin of Special1859' and the 'Descent of Man1871' 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 year1588 ......... 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 - aham - karkara - 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's 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. It is just an electric light but it gives me a feeling of satisfaction and possibly enlightenment.
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 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 all right, 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 all right. 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 element 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.
And so, I said to him, 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 there seems to be 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.
Jonathan Swift on Technology.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....
But walking down to the mailbox, there can be another turn to it if I step off the road to investigate. a rash flush of curiosity about Nature leads 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 onto 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 passing by the garden 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 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 we hae become 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 indeed and a very dangerous one to play at! And when the legacy is finally assessed for this politically narrow thinking Administration, are we going to shift gears or just swing to the other side?
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.
We have passed the turn, now cry 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", in1888 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?
We are living in a critical period. W are writing, it seems unbeknownst to ourselves, a Final REQUIEM for the Arts. Considering 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 on his TV program 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.
Treading cautiously over the light snowfall, the black cat trails around west corner of the house, settling into a basement window recess to catch the last warmth of slowly disappearing sun. Soon it is night and she is gone to some home in some far stable's warmth, while we read the news after dinner until it is chilly, then turning out lights we go to bed. Crash of falling glass in the dark. We sit up shocked in an anxious flash sweating. Next morning it was water dripped ice on the lilac branches beside the window, which froze itself off the bark for us to find in surprise as sheared crystals next morning when by thin sunlight the black cat returning here ceremonially sees the morning up.
Some eager student is always going to ask that old academic question about: "Sir, what is the difference between prose and poetry? I need a definition for my term paper on The Intermedia in the Arts...". Instead of saying something inconclusive, which I will badly overtalk knowing just how inconclusive it really is, I just say: "Go back to the office door and read the (above) page tacked up on the inside. Open the door, go out closing it again. Then read the paper tacked up on the outside of of the in the hall. Yes, you can go now, that's all!"
Treading cautiously over the light snowfall
the black cat trails around west corner of the house
settling into a basement window recess to catch
last warmth of slowly disappearing sun.
Soon it is night and she is gone to some home
in some far stable's warmth, while we read the news
after dinner until it is chilly, then turning out lights
we go to bed. Crash of falling glass in the dark.
We sit up shocked in an anxious flash sweating.
Next morning. It was water dripped on the lilac branches
beside the window which froze itself off the bark,
for us to find in surprise as morning crystals sheared,
when by thin sunlight the black cat returning here
ceremonially sees the morning up.
It is midwinter, the days are near their shortest, everything is withdrawing back into itself. The piano has shrunk back from the cold and dropped its pitch a noticeable part of a tone, while the viola finds its fingerboard leaning a fraction of an inch toward the spruce belly plate. Some of the windows are so firmly locked in position that I know they won't open until the warm aura of April beckons them to let some air pass through. Places in my study which were firm and silent all through the summer now creak in protest at my footstep. In the cellar workshop which was dry even to start the season off, the shop door protests when I go down to work. I have to put the handle back on a chisel with a mallet blow before I can start work, and all the hammers wag their heads a trifle before aiming for the head of a nail.
Outside it is much the same. The pine needles have waxed themselves to prevent further drying out, while maples creaking their branches against each other as if to rub off a little warmth, have thrown up their arms in despair and let the leaves go to the reckless winds. Under the big boulder near the back door the frog who once croaked periodically is now quietly asleep. No crickets whirr outside but a sole mosquito as last survivor of his kind has discovered the questionable warmth of my bedroom and will dive at my ear every once in a while until I give him his last slap farewell. Winter winds talk to each other in sighs all thorough the night, as snow blankets the world into a winter solitude.
Keep near the wood stove where split logs crackle in their heat as passing wind sucks puffs of smoke from the chimney down across the yard. This is a time when dogs let out come back to scratch the door quickly to lie behind the stove, when barn cats lose their ears and some their tails to frost. In the old days men could hang themselves on a rope in the barn some midwinter evening rather than wait anxiously for the time of spring, while now they go to the doctor with their depressions and get a tranquilizing pill. Everything is waiting to breathe moist air and expand again, but it is still midwinter and there are many weeks til the days lengthen and the sun lingers longer in the south windows warming the room.
There is a purpose to all of this. We learn to wait in an age when everything is moving fast, where the polls of politics oscillate weekly and the stock prices daily. The blue light of evening TV flickers with thirty second ads themselves packed with two second shots. Each day brings a moment of news from a far distant war with a few more soldiers dead, before switching brashly to the last days of a car sale with a thousand dollars in the glove compartment if you hurry to the phone and act now. In the cities it is different, all busy hustle to the jingle of Christmas tunes, everybody going somewhere to buy something or greet someone before the old year runs out. But here in the deep countryside it is cold and quiet, because we are somehow drawn into ourselves just as the world around us contracts against the cold. The world outside is waiting for the springtime ritual of rebirth, and sitting this cold evening by the dying warmth of the black woodstove, I find I am in much the same frame of mind. I too am playing a waiting game.
Being in control is a basic instinct in human life, one which extends to almost every aspect of our being. Learning a musical instrument we practice scale and arpeggio endlessly in an effort to get control of the instrument; learning to ski we start from easy to harder exercises to control our bodies moving at speed; walking in a rocky area we carry a staff for security. In the dangerous business of driving a car at high speed on a two way road, the first rule will be staying in control of the vehicle. Brush your teeth to control placque, get a hold of yourself to control your anger, control your weight and be sure to control your drinking ---- the litany goes on forever. Our military forces control attacks from foreign terrorist just as our white blood cells control internal invaders. It might seem that our whole lives are centered about an effort to stay in control, one way or another.
Of course there will be a cost for all this. We become stiff in our gait, authoritarian in our family relations and uptight in our personality. Later becoming victims of a peculiar kind of emotional claustrophobia, we reach for a gasp of fresh air any way we can get it, some through drink or drugs, others through a mid-life crisis or an impulsive divorce. Overcrowded by the press of bills, responsibilities and duties, we freak out and leave our well arranged world to go on the road, to follow the lead of a dream or try to create another persona hoping that he will be free and joyful and comfortably irresponsible. We want to leave the hole in the roof open to let the rain in.
For some of us it ends in defeat and we never really face loosening up or changing the ruts in which our wheels have been spinning for half a lifetime. For others there may be not so much a loss of attention as a firm dis-attention to the constraints which have kept us in control for all those years. No wonder many of us get forgetful as we age, finally forgetting where we are going and even who we are, as a gentle way of dropping the reins and letting the horse go where he will. It is a revolt of the cerebral neurons which have got tired keeping it all together, holding on to everything and maintaining a housekeeping order for us.
The same struggle between order and disorder goes on in the society. We build with great care and energy a civilization designed to cover our needs, but it will continue to grow on its own impetus shooting out new branches in the sciences and the arts, with inventions beyond the scope of our wildest imagination, at the same time keeping all in order with a sense of overall purpose and design. A body of statute and regulation keeps all in control and we maintain with firm intent a kind of social homeostasis. Being successful in every venture we find we had created surpluses, which we could use to provide everything our citizens need, from education to health care to a proper debt-free funeral. They did this in Sweden and we were about to start it with the Great Society, believing that there was a responsibility of the state to take care of its people. But that was all premised on the assumption that we were in control.
Then things began to change. We began to wonder what would happen if things started to go haywire, if we found after putting it all together so carefully, the whole shebang was getting out of control? What if our national savings turned into a logarithmically expanding national debt? What if we took the military might we had prepared to defend ourselves, and losing control and sight of its purpose, we decided to use it for foreign attack and invasion? Finding ourselves converting our ploughshares into swords, our ammonium nitrate fertilizer into pipe bombs, our vials of biological agents into plagues, wouldn't we finally have to admit that we had forgotten the business of assembling a working society? Was there any aim in the new ideology which was enticing us into the idea of running the world on our terms? Or was it just that we had forgotten our mandate and along with all the imperial disasters which history has handed down to us, we were simply spinning out of control?
The Last Year of the Great Tetrade had come and, in manner dating from time immemorial, the people had spoken about their pleasure concerning the role of the Grand Leader and his Cabinet of the Interior. At last all the packets of yarrow straw with the red tip of approval had been gathered and tied in bundles with two knots of the official yellow string, they had been counted and tallied in the appointed centers and finally registered as the official word of the nation indicating that the moiety of the people were pleased with the work of the Leader in the distant war against the Sons of Evil and wished him to continue in office for the oncoming Tetrade of the Great People.
The Leader smiled as he walked with a springing step into the Hall of State and proceeded with the actions of the new era. First he removed the heads of groups speaking against him, appointing a new cabinet of friends from his home province, reaffirming close connections with those who had given gold bars for his election. The platinum pen used for signing official documents he raised in official approval, touching the shoulders of those he wished to mark for signal honor, sending them to far countries to represent the Nation. Judges ready to confirm laws touching matters of morality were appointed, and a new program for ensuring security, peace and prosperity was announced.
But there was great lamentation in the streets and gnashing of teeth as opponents of the Grand Leader recognized their failure. They were less grieved by the fraud by which the Leader had attained office in the previous Tetrade, than this willing vote which came with the blessings of the Moral Majority. Those who pointed to the rule for separation of church and state were informed that the original intent was to keep the State from invading the province of the Church, and the Rule was to be interpreted in this fashion. Large numbers of the disaffected were gathered at the frontiers ready to emigrate to the neighboring kingdom, while officials examined their papers to detain those evading conscription into the thinned ranks of the army.
For those who stayed life continued as normal although taxes were raised to protect the country against terror from foreign sources. The people were happy with their Senate's firm resolve to uproot national and international evil, and hailed the Grand Leader with cries of approval at his increasingly frequent public appearances. This was the beginning of the First Year of the New Tetrade.
Do you feel like some TV tonight, Dear? Might be something fun, Friday evening is often pretty good.
Sure, Jim, that will be nice and relaxing. It was a long day at the office and I'd like to simmer down before we go to sleep. Let's check the descriptions first so we get something we like, OK?
Cold Case File: A detective has worked for two decades on three fingerprints, which are now backed up by DNA testing, and hopes to find the group-sex rapists in downtown Sunnyvale
Maybe we've had enough of those crime scenes, Jim... ?
Docu Comedy in New Work 1930's as an out of work alcoholic leading lady fights depression and poverty, in vain
Musical revival of "Oklahoma" with new cast and newly composed score, in Spanish with upcoming Latino artists.
Maybe we should let that pass, dear. You know the original and this might be sort of a disappointment
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Everybody Loves Armand: A new episode when Auntie Noodle comes to visit for two weeks before Thanksgiving.
That sounds more like it, Jim. Those family sitcoms are so natural, real people just like us and they are so funny. Let's watch that one.
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Jim, might as well turn it off, some stuff at the bottom of the screen coming on. Can't follow the story with that stuff on.
FIGHTING CONTINUING AROUND RAMUJAH SIXTEEN MARINES KILLED IN CAR BOMB EXPLOSION TWO THOUSAND OR MORE INSURGENTS KILLED AND THE AREA IS DECLARED UNDER CONTROL
That new mattress sounds like something we should consider, Jennie. They say that a good night's sleep is really necessary for emotional health and sex drive, not that we have anything wrong, you know. Did you get (yawn.....yawn) that number.... ? Here's a pencil.
...and so to bed and a good night's sleep....
This afternoon we were starting the fall ritual of cleaning up the yard and getting the house ready for winter. It is amazing how much leaves three grown maples can produce annually, but not more amazing than the new crop which in just ten days will emerge from bare branches the following spring. Down to details of form and veining, each leaf is a perfect copy of a pattern stored somewhere in the DNA of the tree complex; I had almost said in its brain but remembered that we and trees have very different ways of doing things. As a boy in the outskirts of an old town I helped pile the lawn leaves in the roadway next the curb, just as the neighbors did all the way down the avenue. Lighting the piles one, the whole neighborhood stood rake in hand talking about the weather, town politics and Roosevelt's New Deal. The acrid smoke which clouded the air got in our hair and burned our eyes, but we thought this was a time honored ritual for initiating the Fall season, ignorant of pollution and the now revived garden art of composting.
After raking the leaves one thinks of putting the yard tools and the garage in order, some things going to corners and shelves and others to the dump. Once winter comes with its first blanket of snow everything gets fixed in place, so we were hastening to do the cleanup work now, when I found myself humming the words "bestelle dein Haus..." from one of the Bach cantatas. Yes, "putting the house in order..." is good advice and gives a good feeling, although it was only later in the evening that I remembered the following words: " denn du wirst sterben " (for you must die) with a feeling of regret. In the old Lutheran theology of Bach's Germany Death was an ever-present reminder and finally a joyful celebration. This is something quite different from my pleasure in literally putting my house in order for the purpose of continued living and enjoying my earned bonus of additional years.
Hard pressed by the squirrel's instinct for saving what you think you will be needing later, as against the need for clearing out and throwing away, I am always in a slight quandary. Is it really necessary to keep old parts for a long deceased lawnmower in case I have a similar model down the road of life? Must the half filled cans of paint take up space on a crowded shelf for some future project, to be opened finding it has all gone hard? Am I the custodian of a collections of supplies, tools, supernumerary furniture and assorted junk, forever re-arranging and re-archiving as a condition of my existence? Some time after my Dad died unexpectedly at age of ninety three, I received the sum of his earthly possessions in two large suitcases. He certainly knew how to get rid of things, an art which I have never managed to attain. We each of us go our own way by our own nature, and I would feel naked leaving this mortal world without my myriad diversity of possessions. I do know "you can't take it with you", but that is a needless piece of moralistic advice which is no more real to me than Bach's reminder right after his cleanup instructions, that I "...must die in order to become wise".
It is now midnight and I have just found the source of my German wording in Bach's Cantata "Actus Tragicus" BWV 106 which establishes the date in scholarly detail at 1707. I suspect that I will be raking leaves again in 2007 and humming the same words to Bach's melodic line. And if my memory fails to bring up this short article, I may lucubrate again about the leaves and putting the house in order, and again consider whether the process is organized as a prelude for Death or as a sensible cleanup for a snug and immobile winter when the snow packs down and we sit close to the woodstove again. Different as Dad and I were, neither of us had any leaning to thoughts about Death, which does not in fact need a welcome before the front door is opened. The Greek story about Tithonus who had infinite life but forgot to ask for youth to go with the package, tells the truth about things wearing down and finally wearing out. The American account of the One Horse Shay which lasted a hundred years until one day it fell completely apart, is a good paradigm for those of us today who have plans for being centenarians. We find nothing works as well as we grow old, and at the end there is always a pile of broken parts to be carted away. This is the final yard cleanup of myself and all my possessions, but one which I can cheerfully relegate to other persons to perform. In the meantime I rake leaves and cart to the dump, glad to be enjoying the fresh fall air after a sweaty summer and before the winter crispness in the air. There is a comforting rhythm to the words "Bestelle dein Haus..." and I just will go on raking.
We are all so familiar with the classic psychology study of Pavlov's dogs and Conditioned Response, that we ignore the psychology of the dogs themselves. Wouldn't it be distracting and confusing to be in the state of one of those experimental canines? Would they wonder why they were salivating with no tasty chunks of meat in sight? Would they wonder about their own sanity in such a situation? We can only speculate on the response, but I can cite a parallel case which may help answer some of these questions.
My wife is a dedicated coupon clipper, she takes this activity very seriously, and depends on the arrival of the Sunday newspaper which contains the coupon clipping section. So each Saturday night she sets out two dollar bills on the counter between the kitchen and the open-style living room, which I dutifully take down to the Mobil station before Sunday morning coffee to claim my copy of the weekly edition. I have been doing this for more years than I can remember, I do it regularly and in a sense automatically, sleepy and hardly thinking about what I am about until the cashier at the counter hands me back a quarter as change. Back home I call up from the workshop in the cellar "Here's the paper!" and fidget with some tools until I am fully awake. I have completed the cycle of my weekly duty and Sunday can now proceed at its own leisurely pace.
Seeing the two dollars for the Sunday newpaper, I picked up the bills and a few minutes later down at the station was staring at the paper which felt unusually thin,the way it does on a holiday weekend when they omit the Sunday coupon section. Glancing at the heading I noticed that it was Saturday's paper. Very curious of them, putting the daily edition in the place where the Sunday should be! When I asked the lady at the counter why they had the Saturday newspaper there, she gave me a strange look which made me feel odd, so I shuffled through the pile and sure enough there was a Sunday edition underneath. But that was not the end of it at all.
"Why in the world did you get last Sunday's newspaper, Bill? " she said.
"'Last Sunday's paper? Don't know why they had it out there, very funny. I'll go back and tell them and get it exchanged."
In the car I thought about it some more and tried to sketch out my explanation for bringing the paper back. "Well, you see, it was like this: I first got the daily Saturday paper, and then put it back and got the Sunday paper but it was from the previous Sunday. So I would like to return this paper and get the new Sunday paper, if you don't mind. My mistake but I really don't know why you left the old paper out there, nobody would want to be reading a newspaper which was seven days old, would they really?"..... I was saying to myself in preparation for the exchange.
I touched the car radio button idly, and got the weather report "...a bright and sunny Saturday morning, with only a very slight change of showers later in the day....". Turning the car around in the driveway I headed home in embarrasment, stood in the shop crumpling sheets of the paper as I inserted them into the glowing fire in the Round Oak wood stove. She said: Did you get your money back? and I replied: No, it got too complicated, and I decided not to. When I came upstairs I saw her silently putting two dollar bills on the counter between the kitchen and the open-style living room as usual for the Sunday newpaper. The next morning on seeing the bills, I went back to my habit fetching the Sunday paper, quietly re-establishing the Conditioned Response.
Fetch the paper, Bill, bring it here. That's a good dog, yes bring it over here. Very good boy, you are very good doggie you are. Great to have such a well trained and reliable dog around the house, now how about a little treat like we always do Sunday morning? Sit up! You want a bit of pancake with maple syrup...?
One of the least likely things to do when you wake up at four in the morning and can't sleep, is to read a chapter or two in a book on murder, but that is exactly what I found myself doing recently with John Douglas's book "Mindhunter" from Scribners 1995. Douglas was a FBI agent who early developed a profiling technique for criminal identification, he has no claim to being a talented writer but the book is interesting in the Sherlock Holmes tradition brought up to date a century later. It seemed to me that sex crimes are a peculiar result of the sexual preoccupation of our times, whether over-tuned from advertising and TV or movies with high sexual content, or as an obsession in people who fail to perform personally and sexually in our complex and confusing society. Sex crimes have the mark of our post-Industrial times, I was thinking.
But a short and quite incidental session with Chance gave me some second thoughts. It was in the 1970's that many of us became interested in the I Ching as a book of personal prophecy, and we spent evenings fiddling with yarrow stalks or pennies to give us numbers to check in the book of a thousand statements. Jung had shown this to be a way of opening the mind to its own inner tracery, and a similar process was historically attested through the Middle Ages with the Sortes Vergilianae to find a key word in the opened pages of Vergil. But chance can occur without this formal paraphernalia and quite by itself.
Reading Douglas one night at my desk, I propped up the book to an angle with the second volume of Jowett's translation of Plato, and when I finished reading and decided to go back to bed, I idly fidgeted with the book and cast my eye on the opened page. It was impossible to miss the meaning of the passage at Stephanus pagination S229:
Phraedrus and Socrates are walking on a summer day along the Ilissus stream, enjoying the gentle breeze and looking for a place to sit and talk in the shade. Phaedrus says: "I would like to know, Socrates, whether the place is not somewhere here at which Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus." Socrates answers: "I believe it is not here but a ways down further, where you cross to the temple of Artemis (the virgin) and there is, I think, a sort of altar of Boreas (Mr. North) at the place." Phaedrus continues: " I have never noticed it, but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?"
As the story unfolds, we see we have an account of an ancient sex crime. Orithyia (marked) was playing with her friend Pharmacia (drug related?) when she fell or was thrown over a cliff to her death. One man was accused, but maintained through the investigation that she was blown off the cliff by the North Wind called Boreas, and the account registered the death as caused by "Boreas". But there was another version of the story that she was kidnapped from the courthouse at the Areopagus, which would seem to infer that a trial took place there and Ilissus was not related to her demise. Socrates continues saying there are many complex stories of this sort verging into allegory or mythology which a person can investigate, but "if he is skeptical about them, and would like to reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy (investigation) will take up a great deal of time. Now I have no leisure for such enquiries..." and Socrates returns to his own personal investigation of what he can know and knowability.
So I have found, by an odd turn of Chance by opening a page of Plato, that sex crimes are outside our modern date and society, although this one which Plato touches on is not thoroughly investigated by modern standards. Still we have evidence of a sex-crime being committed between the Areopagus and the Ilissus, although the situation has been inaccurately investigated and clouded over by inclusion in the Records Office by Socrates' testimony under the Athenian category of Allegorical Reporterage. But now I wonder if at some time 2500 years from now, a reader in that future world will ponder this page copied from an old electronically coded disc, and find my comment on the detective John Douglas's method and his curious Scientific Profiling of the suspect as UNSUB with his typical MO or Signature, as strange and inconclusive as I find Plato's report of the Ilissus River case of Ms. Orithyia from the 5th century B.C.
It is always interesting and sometimes informative to note how interpretations of similar situations can vary when seen over a wide range of time. What is reasonable and socially acceptable as a statement of absolute Truth in one age, may appear outlandish and unthinkable at another time. We commonly classify many ancient interpretations of curious situations as Myth, while those which are embedded in our own social consciousness are easily accepted as reasonable, factual and provable, without tracing the stages of judgment which went into their formulation. In the following quotation from an arcane Greek source, we see a concatenation of events which was perfectly reasonable to members of that society at a time of great distress and insecurity. Let us read the translation with great care and assiduity:
The King of a great realm was much concerned about the safety of his people because he had received secret messages which he confided only to his close advisers, who agreed that the Despot of a distant country had acquired magic which he was intent on developing and using against members of the King's cities. It was not clear whence he had acquired the magical elements of his art, but it was stated by anonymous sources of great reliability that his intention was indeed evil, and that his formulations were able to wreak havoc on any enemy he chose to attack. Under these conditions the King decided to wage war on the Despot and pursued this design with alacrity, sending a navy of many-oared black ships with spear-carrying soldiers and an army of archers against the foreign enemy. They arrived in the distant land and attacked city after city in a ten years' war which was repeatedly announced as successful until a new outbreak of guerrilla resistance started it up again. By hiding all reports of the war, by means of a committee which was headed by a underling of Ares the Ferocious, nobody became aware of the progress of the campaign, even the almighty Gods who were reclining in festive banqueting night and day in Epicurus' Reformed Theological manner. The King maintained: "The War is an act of Retribution for the evil magic wreaked upon us!"
Now it happened that one messenger commissioned as head of the 'Internal Board of Informants' by Hermes left a papyrus account of the war in an unsecured location, and this was eventually brought to attention of the sea god Poseidon, who was wroth with the insult of a King who had transported a vast army across Poseidon's waters without regard to permission or even consultation. Poseidon thereupon raised a great tumult of the waters and cast a storm against the coast of the King's countryside, scattering trees and houses and chariots to distant locations, flooding the towns with deep inundations, and floating many dead bodies on the face of the waters. But the King said this was not a sign of punishment from the Celestial Deities, it was just another part of the Despot's magic and so he would continue in his plans. The Sea God thereupon threw an even mightier horrible hurricane against the coastal cities, and then another and still another, until the devastation caused the people to be frightened at the force of the Signs. The people knew in their hearts that this sea ravagement was retribution for the King's war.
However the King maintained that his attack on the country of the Despot was just, that the damage of the sea storms was merely a phenomenon of nature, and had nothing to do with his army fighting the evil magic. However many felt he should bend and change his mind in humility and fear before the wrath of the oceans. Some even dared to question whether there was really an Evil Magic at all, and asked how he could be so sure of his judgment when nobody had read the secret messages which he had received and nobody could aver if the magic did indeed exist. To which the King replied that he would continue with his plans of warfare which would rid the far off country of the spell of magic forever and give them the clear daylight of freedom which his people enjoy. Asked to produce evidence, he replied with self-assurance in this manner:
Behold, the evil magic which you ask about is real, we know their intentions and feel an early attack and eradication is always better than wishing we had done so later. And for evidence, I can give you this sure and secure information:
You see the two great Towers in our principal city, now lying crushed in the dust with thousands of our citizens buried. Ask no more questions. That is the evidence for the magic. That is the work of the Despot. If you are loyal to our country, no more questions and with me as Supreme Leader, let the warfare continue.
But such an ancient account, from an early period in the history of Civilization, must be read with an eye to the ubiquitous fear and superstition in which people in that era were living. We can smile at their illogical logic, their confusions over matters of Cause and Effect. We live in an enlightened age in which we are beginning to understand the encoding of Life itself, we know now that we can outlaw lawlessness and soon will be will able to extinguish disease and even study death as an unnecessary termination of human life. But the above quoted story is interesting as a reminder of the primitive logic of a bygone era, although it can still be read with enjoyment under the rubric of Ancient Mythology. But see how far we have managed to go, in just a few millennia of enlightenment and Progress!
Here we are on the evening of the day before the championship fight of our virtual nations, waiting for two men to stand and face each other on this fateful September Thursday and determine in a ritual of combat who is the better man to be King. Is it Hector and Achilles again playing out their contest in mortal combat? Is it a Norman Baron on his accoutered mount with lance in hand who is preparing to vanquish the contestor of his realms? Or Joe Louis against Max Schmelling? The country is watching the bout on fascinated TV. But wait, no! It will be the whole world watching, waiting to see who wins and whether it will be argumentative attrition or the hopeful knockout punch. It will be a great evening's entertainment for sure, each of them playing his role to the limits of his strength and endurance.
There seems to be something in our nature which looks for a Leader, a person at the top of the highest pecking order, a Guide through our troubles and a savior of our fates. For some it is God but he doesn't incline to meddle in our politics, correct imbalances in our capitalism or advise on matters of social egality. In his place we need a man of action, whom we can point to and say "That is the finest of our breed, one we can be proud of, a person of high mind and great character, one who puts truth above all other considerations and hears with attentive ear the wishes and aspirations of his people, all his people." If there is such a man, should we not respect him, even revere him, and hope that in this evening of contest he will be proved to be the best one to lead us in our march into a happier future?
Thursday night will be remembered. But it will not be a duel at High Noon with smoking guns on Main Street, it will not be a contest of flashing wit and incisive thoughts which cut to the core of what is on the nation's mind. It will probably not be more than a tongue tied incumbent repeating the same droning phrases again and again with expectation that we will at last believe what we have become accustomed to hear. This is a good lesson in popular psychology which was used so well to bring down the Weimar Government in Germany; it is so simple that educated people can't believe it is being used here. But the tragedy of the situation is that it works, it really does work.
On the other side is a man who years ago had the balls to attack the President who refused to give up an un-winnable war, who spoke against a military expedition which had few qualms about slaughtering enemy civilians. But now he seems to have lost his tongue, he can't seem to get out the words his supporters are urging him to say: "Sir, I hold you responsible for starting a foreign war, occupying another country by force, deceiving the people by hiding the truth, and leading us from nowhere to nowhere." He must be thinking all this, but the words choke in his throat, and he will try to hold out in the fight by sidestepping and avoiding direct punches. Or will he come out with the spear of anger in his right and attack?
I have no idea who will be the winner, and I have little hope that there will be any sort of a real Victory at the end. Putting too much power in the hands of one man is the danger of our times, something which we should have learned to avoid from a century of evil experiences worldwide. The Senate which represents a country must be in charge by its considered consensus, and it must tell the President and his Administration what the country wants them to do. Having got it backwards, we are now trying to see which leader is less likely to lead, so we can check him off and go back to our One Single Person leadership of state and see if we can live with that concept for another four years.
The contest took place at the appointed time and place. As usual in such formal duels, there were clear and exacting specifications laid out as to conduct, deportment, time for statements and replies, and the Rules were followed meticulously. This has been the way things are done in the course of history, with David's stone unexpectedly hitting an oversized Goliath between the eyes as an exception, and looking back, probably something not done in the best taste. There must be a carefully preserved balance before the Contest can begin, all preparatory slings and arrows are now put aside so the duel can proceed from a zero level of advantage on both sides. We are very particular about this formality, which we think has something to do with the justice of the outcome, whatever that may turn out to be.
In contests of this kind, where parties are fairly well matched by their selection, it will usually not be the sheer skill of one contestant that detrmines the outcome, but a slight shift in the balance of the situation which initiates an accumulation of advantage on one side of the equation. When Hector throws his spear and misses, that is the moment when he starts to lose his edge, and his loss is immediately added to Achilles' total of points. The girth strap not pulled tight under the belly of the mount slips and the Knight swings sideways for just a second, and it is at that exact moment that the course of the duel is determined. When Miyamoto Mushashi rushes forth with an oar instead of a sword he adds an unsuspected element of shock from which his opponent can never recover. And just so in a battle of words, when one man hesitates a second time and looks down to his notes a third time in a row, the chunk of energy which he loses is automatically added to the opponent's drive, and from that moment on there is a weighting from the one side to the other. This is the nature of such contests, where the elegance of the performance or the weight of the words is secondary to the speed of the attack and the way the accelerating acceleration continues to pick up speed. If the opponents are perfectly matched, we call it a poor performance, two tired boxers hugging each other while the umpire tries to wedge them apart ---- nobody likes this at all. As it turned out we had a good show this long-expected Thursday night, and although few viewers will be inclined to abandon their political opinion or voting options, we all appreciated the characteristics of a properly maintained heroic contest.
But this is like the elegance of two dress platoons competing for perfection of their drill technique. It is a great Show much applauded by the grandstand of viewers, but it has very little to do with the conduct of the War. When this is all over and we find out who will be giving interviews in the Rose Garden, and we will come back to the daily business of one man appointing at cabinet of directors who will be going to advisory committees and international conferences and drawing information of all varied sorts from sources of all varying reliabilities, while trying to make sense of the imploding data which is flooding their attention. Here is where the work is done, where strands of information are embroidered onto the web of intuition, and a cloth more intricate and more important than any National Flag is being planned and woven. This process is largely invisible to the public, its scale is so overpowering that the only test of its efficacy can come years later in the afterview of history.
In the meantime we want something to look at, something in a scale we can understand, and the two-man Debate is probably just what we need. Trade routes around Troy and cultural confrontations can be thrown to the winds, what we want is Hector and Achilles on the field of battle. Unraveling the politics of a century of feudal Japanese militarism is the work of a specialist scholar, we prefer two men with costume and flashing swords representing in Manichean-style the contest of Good with Evil. So this Thursday evening, now reviewed in the light of a cloudy Friday morning, comes into focus as part of the range of human expectations, the kind of clear and direct confrontation which we are comfortable with.
And the only regret a thoughtful person might have is that this Debate was so clear and balanced, and not at all representative of a world in which nothing is well defined and most things hardly comprehended at all. There seems to be no clear and simple course of action which we can possibly take to satisfy the maze of requirements of a world in turmoil on every front. We have not yet been successful outlining a way to put together that ancient dream of the philosophers, which is a humane way of getting along with each other, under the umbrella of what we would like to call "Civilization".
We are hearing too much these elections days about The NRA and Constitutional Right to Bear Arms and everything has got blown completely out of proportion. As to the assault rifle, which can spew out a clip of thirty rounds in a couple of seconds, that is almost the same as the 35 cal. machine gun I remember from WW II which at 600 rounds per minute or ten a second, matching pretty well the assault gun's clip finger-triggered in three seconds. Limiting access to such a weapon has almost nothing to do with the "right to bear arms", which the Constitution remembered was the key to having just won the Revolutionary War against Britain. Without guns and guerrilla warfare we would have remained a set of the King's Colonies, in the same position as the various parts of British India.
But today we are in no mind or position to try an armed revolution against our government, even if it became wicked and dictatorial and corrupt. Those days are long gone and guns are for targets and game and to some slight degree for personal protection, although we will soon have to explain to ourselves our twelve thousand gun deaths a year which are ten times more than most civilized European countries or our gun carrying neighbor Canada. It shouldn't have taken an election year and Michael Moore to warns us about a dangerous trends in our society which hasn't become public knowledge yet. We don't have to watch out for the bad guys half so much as watching out for ourselves.
But the bearing of arms is nothing new to the Western tradition, and in Classical Greece the historian Thucydides Book I, Ch 6, speaks pointedly of the Greek experience with arms-bearing. He calls it "carrying iron" or in Greek quite literally 'sidero-phorein', which is a curiously similar phrase to our "packing a rod" or the "toting iron" of the old Westerns. But Thucydides puts the practice into a proper social context, remarking that iron is still carried in his day in the rural areas far from cities, while in the metropolis it has long since vanished as unsuitable to a civilized city-state way of life.
We might feel that having a gun around the house is understandable if you live in a remote area as protection against a break-in or robbery, but we had far too many shootings of a neighbor in Vermont in the old days when all he wanted was a glass of water or use of the phone. Do you really want to kill someone who is stealing your TV? Wasn't there a someone who talked about turning the other cheek...... telling him to take the silverware too? Must be his followers have lost their Bibles, or take the message in a loose and figurative way.
Target shooting is fun, having a well made and piece of equipment in your hands and using it in a deliberate and controlled manner is an interesting hobby. I have an old Colt single shot Magnum which has a lot of punch for a small gun, with a scope I can get a rabbit in the eye at a hundred yards if he does too much damage in the garden. I enjoy getting it out each spring and thinking of myself as the great hunter of rabbits while I plink targets. But when I see a real live rabbit and think how clever he is surviving a cold winter in his hand dug hole, snug with his family down there and coming up in April to sniff the spring air just as I do, I always put the gun away feeling that I have had my fun, and let him have his. I am, as Thucydides said, a deep countryside inhabitant. I might have to shoot a wounded deer or dog on the highway to save it misery, but that is the sum of it and if I lived in one of the developments in town where there are kids around and bellicose drunks reeling home Saturday nights, I would not have a gun or a machete or a high power bow around at all. It is not a matter of Rights, as I see it. It is simply a matter of Common Sense.
It was a great time to be in New York, and a good place for a young woman just graduated from a traditional New England College, majoring in Art and Music with a few thoughts about new winds stirring in the tress, to head right on to the City downtown and look for a job as a waitress in a far out hip conscious cafe. Jamie was suddenly there, where the action was, with a job waitressing in a place where a pinch was a compliment on her figure, and a proposition a proof of the new morality, where pill and antibiotics reified the idea of the New Freedom. Here was a scene where as it were, everything went....
Jamie had her introductory run of fun, a number of young studs could nod to her in the crowd and say to a friend he knew her pretty well, and she was known more as a broadminded young woman of the new persuasion rather than a sleep-around broad. Later that year she was serving a beer to a gentleman who was different from the rest. He was portly, very well dressed to the point of seeming fastidious, somewhat self conscious and he was black as only an African gentleman knows how to be. He had dinner, came back a few times and finally asked to take Jamie out to dine at a fine place, just as a change of scene from the grub of downtown. She was delighted, he was articulate and worldly, and accompanied her back to her fifth story apartment for an appropriately dark Kahlua nightcap, when he asked her a question:
He had to think a bit before he could get it out, surprising for a man whose words were as clean and measured as his deportment. It finally emerged, with the finality of something long considered but only now dared to be stated:
I would like to ask you one question. Do you have a color preference?
She wasn't surprised, after all her art classes had been founded on a course in Form and Color, and she had always felt that the basics must be established early before you went on to the next stage. Well, earlier she had been entranced by blue in its varying shades, from deep almost-purple to the baby-blue of Cadillac convertibles of the fifties, but that seemed superficial beside the blare of red hues which could be toned down with blue to a mauve which eventually seemed sort of sickly. White was out, too much of that in the pasty white villages of self-conscious New England townships which painted red brick houses white by order of the Community Council. Screw white! Brown like barns suggests manure and the outhouse, so after yellow (which is less a color than a cast of thought despite VanGogh and his oozy tubes of jaune), there is little left to choose from an esthetic point of view.
Yes, I do have a color preference, I really prefer...
There was a long pause in which she thought she had said the right word, while he gathered up his dignity to rise slowly from his sling-chair, find his cane-umbrella and step carefully toward the door, which he opened and closed soundlessly, proceeding down the stairs in a manner which nobody but a tribal Monarch could match for style and perfectly controlled bearing. He never knew what she had meant, and she never understood why he departed so abruptly in the middle of a perfectly polite and civilized conversation.
In a couple of weeks we go into the Vermont foliage season and everyone
rushes up to our country as if leaves didn't go red elsewhere in the same
hue. Of course what it is really is the lack of signs and billboards
which are illegal in this 'country' which only became a state after much
forethought in1791 with the first anti-slavery clause in its
constitution. Yesterday we went over to NY State for dinner, same kind of
countryside but it looked different and coming back we felt a sigh of
relief to see the meadows without "Eat This Hamburger" or "Drink this
Whiskey" in between. End social commentary on a bright Saturday noontime.
There has been much speculation about why Mr. Shakespeare of the Globe Theater, at what seemed the height of his creative powers,left writing and the world of London, retreating to his home town to become an local citizen interested in trade and real estate in a minor way. It is true that writers can become stale, but Shakespeare shows consistent growth and power just before the retreat. Could there be another reason which we have simply missed?
Near our middle forties the eyes go through a stage in which the point of focus changes inconveniently, which we call presbyopia. An modern author at this point gets a pair of reading glasses, and in Shakespeare's time glasses had been available for more than a century and a half. Less convenient and without our ear supports, they would have been a bother but still usable if you were a writer intent on what your pen was scratching out. In short, presbyopia would hardly have incapacitated Shakespeare, but another ailment which can appear as early as a few years later awaits a certain part of the population: I am speaking about Macular Degeneration. Here a tangle of enlarged blood vessels on the retinal surface begins to affect the "point vision" of the macula, which we need to see small objects and to recognize the characters in written or printed text. Macular Degeneration is progressive but clearly recognized when the letters on a page begin to scramble, and I suspect that if Shakespeare suffered this effect, he would have known that sooner or later he would have to give up writing for the theater. But this does not mean blindness, since the larger area of the retina still gets visions back to the brain, although without the point-oriented vision which we need to thread a needle or to read printed characters in a book.
I have noticed that in the chronology of his plays, there are many references to sight in the later plays, with a culmination (quite naturally) in Lear, followed by Macbeth and Hamlet. After his great period, he begins to write plays with collaborators, plays which show less of his mark and temperament. A critical date for change might be around1607 with Timon of Athens as a play with problems of construction so great as to seem to some critics to have been a draft for an intended production, after which Pericles seems clearly not all written by Shakespeare. These plays which are drawn from printed texts may show the crux of his problem, while Winter's Tale of1611 and The Tempest of1613 rely more on imaginative invention than a historical text and could have been composed with the help of an auditory transcriber. The Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII are clearly less and less from the master, with only touches here and there to vivify others' very pedestrian writing.
But macular loss does not normally affect the rest of the retina and a person can get around well enough with vision based on the rest of the retinal apparatus. Living in Stratford Shakespeare could be quite at ease, now a gentleman of the town and no longer a theater based playwright, and this is exactly what his later history does point to. When he was dying the signature to his will is thought to be have been guided by another's hand, which may point to weakness of sight rather than weakness of the body. Of course there is more to be studied carefully before this supposition about Shakespeare's later years can be considered as a reasonable supposition, and I leave the tabulation of sight-words in the Glossary of his writing for someone else to formulate in a dissertation, while retinologists should be able to confirm the progress of the vision loss and see if fits this 16th century author's reconstructed case history.
Academicians can sometimes do the strangest things in the world. For example: Since1800 Latin has ceased to be a serious means of communication in the world, while Greek which has been a language for literary study since the Renaissance, was never used for communication in the Western scholarly world. But both languages have been used for the creation of new terms, often mixing the one classical language with the other to create a curious vocabulary of mongrelized terminology. We can't turn the linguistic clock back at this late date, but can wonder why Lat. bi 'two' and Gr. cyclos 'wheel' were combined to name the Bicycle, while an all Greek Dicycle would have been just as good and woven out of one linguistic fabric. The French did it in all in Latinate style as "veloci-pede" or Velo, which refers to the speed of the pedal action, but oddly omitted the wheels completely. We got the Automobile from the Gr. auto 'self' with 'Lat. mobil- 'moving', but the Modern Greek word Avtokinetos (autos 'self' with kin- 'move') is perfectly clear with the advantage of being understable to the Greeks, if Greek to the rest of Europe..
There are cases where two cultures met and it was felt advisable to make a two-part combo word which could be read in both languages, like the place name Mongibello which has nothing to do with a pretty mountain, but represents Lat. mont 'mountain' plus Tyrian/Semitic gibel 'mountain' for yjr Roman and Carthaginian populace in ancient Sicily. Just so we have BossyCow as an old kids' word, from Lat. bos 'cow" with Germanic 'cow', and even the Gaulish Latin Silva-buxana which would in French be an unnecessary "sylvain des bois". These "bi-nominal translating compounds" are clumsy yet in a clumsy way they do make sense; but the Vermont roadside warning of a deer-crossing with a picture of a leaping animal (instead of a message in English, French and Algonquin) is much more to the point.
People write to me regularly asking how to put into Latin things like "eye for an eye" and "First Class Dry Cleaning" or "Hit 'em hard" for a soccer team to go on a T shirt. I tell them sometimes that there are things you can't say that in Latin, like our Vermont advice to the tourist that you can't get there from here. But when we turn to science, writing new ideas out of the vocabulary of old Greco-Latin is no problem. Perhaps it even seemed attractive to think that the doctor or researcher knew both Latin and Greek, whereas he probably knew little of either and went to a Professor of the Classics and humbly asked for a neologism to express such-and-such a new Idea. Scientific nomenclature has burgeoned to the extent of requiring specialized Scientific Dictionaries, and will obviously continue to grow with the annual crescendo of new notions.
I always knew that a Pediatrician dealt with children as Gr. paides, although I would have spelled it Paidiatrician, so I was surprised to find, when I went to a specialist for a problem with my foot, that he called himself an Ortho-paedist or "child-straightener". In my ignorance I thought he was an Ortho-pedist (Gr. ortho 'straight' and Latin ped 'foot') meaning "foot straigtener", even if he slid up the leg to the hip and back as his secretary assured me he did. (Note. 1) She said maybe I should go to a Pod-iatrist who at least had an all Greek title, for my foot but remarked he was not licensed for surgery, so I went to my Pharmacy (Gr. pharmakon meaning both "medical drug" and "poison") and got an Anodyne" or NoPainPill deciding to follow the Hippocratic advice to follow the course of the ailment and let the body heal itself, which it promptly did. I found what was wrong with my foot was probably connected with the Navicular bone, which is so named from its boat-shaped form and Latin navis 'boat', but I think my improvement probably stemmed from the change from O.T. to New Terminology when the bone was renamed Scaphoid, after the Gr. word scapha 'boat, skiff'. After that it was all clear sailing.
Note I: Checking with the ultimate authority for words and etymologies, which is the 28 volumes second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, I found that P(a)ediatrics did originally come from the Greek word paid- 'child', and was originally used in the early 19th century for the repair of deformities in children. (Note 2.) First used in France in1741 in Hatzfield-Darmsteder's Dictionary, it is documented as : "orthopædia, f. Gr. - ORTHO- + child, rearing of children. The curing or correcting of deformities in children, or in persons generally; orthopædic surgery. " The 18th and early 19th century interest in correcting problems in children probably is connected on the one hand with the educational speculations of Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel who turned public attention with the KinderGarten system to the emotional and learning side of child development. On the other hand physical "child-correction" of posture and deformities with diet, braces and some minor surgery would suit the stage of medical art in a period before the time of serious surgery with the discovery of chloroform in1840 and Pasteur-Lister germ-theory after1860.
Note 2: But there is also an etymoplogically more convincing origin in the OED listing of the word "orthopod" or 'foot-straightener' mentioned as slang (?) in use since 1960. as follows: " R. GORDON Doctor in Clover ix. 76: We were interrupted by the surgeon himself, a big, red-faced, jolly Irishman. Most orthopods are, when you come to think of it. 1966 I. JEFFERIES House-Surgeon vii. 131 We had two male beds and one female, and the orthopods had two spare beds. 1969 D. FRANCIS Enquiry xii. 164, I telephoned to the orthopod who regularly patched me up after falls. 1978 New Yorker 13 Mar. 82 The problem now was to persuade the orthopod to go in and remove the screws". But this is a brand of Orthopedist, not to be confused with a Podiatrist which is a bird of a different parchment.
Since Pediatricians work with the bones of the musculo-skeletal system, why not use the Gr. word osteo 'bone' which seems entirely appropriate, and come up with Osteopathic Surgeon? Well, there is a reason for avoiding that since Osteopathy, Chiropracty and Homeopathy, each with a long history, have been separated from the mainstream of what the A.M.A. considers acceptable modern medine, so the term is simply not available. Could Chiropodist be a useful term, since its 'chiro' goes back to the Greek "hand" which ended up in disguise in English "surgeon", which was earlier "chir-erg-eon"? No again, the word is taken, as documented in 1914: "VON OEFELE in M. J. Lewis Text Book of Chiropody i. 50 "We should prevent the possibility of such a ridiculous misunderstanding by substituting the word Podiatrist (physician of the foot) for the unssupported chiropopdist."
For my personal hyper-tension, which is again a mongrel term, I had a temporary preference for trying another aide via the Greek-based Auto-hypnosis, but it made me sleepy since Gr. hypnos means 'sleep', and then I was advised that Bio-Feedback (Greek plus English, very nice....) would be something to try out; but I found that moderated Hypo-Ventilation was cheaper and no less ineffective. Writing my will I was advised to check a box for Eu-thanasia if I were interested, but refrained since I never thought of Death as nice (Gr. eu) before, and I am not interested in the undertaker's saleman's suggestion of buying a New Orleans type mausoleum a la King Mausolus, or considering a cenotaph or 'empty-burial' since that would seem to be a waste of both space and money. But if Cenotaph came from Gr. kaino 'new',which is often transliterated as 'c(a)eno', then a Caenotaph might mean the "New Funerary Style" of the Romans, which was Cremation ----and that might be the best buy overall.
Homosexual is a most curious word, since it is as ambivalent in its construction as is its meaning in sexual preferences. It is a badly mixed combination of Gr. homo 'same' (not homo 'man') with Lat. sexus, which in Latin refers to a biological state rather than an personal activity. Looking to the current general social scene, there are the familiar Pederasts who are pure Greek at least linguistically if felonious in the modern era, their name coming from paid 'child' and 'Eros 'love'. Why didn't the Romans say this is Latin? Well, the Puritanical Romans used Greek words regularly for topics which their habit of mind didn't want to hear in Latin, so they figured to hide all the deviant words in Greek while pretending strict Roman family values. A Roman could say to the bitter winter wind "laecasin" in Greek, a rare word the meaning of which we don't exactly know, but I assume it is something like Goethe's "leckt mich am Arse". And a Roman poet could remark in mixed Greco-Latin about a fat lady on a hot day who was having trouble extricating undergarments from her sweaty buttocks with the comment "vestes te pedicant", which I will leave you the reader to figure out for yourself.
As I said at the start, we Academicians are some of the oddest people in the world and we leave behind us in the trail of history a curious kind of composite vocabulary which although illogical in its origin and composition, is perfectly at home in the illogical world where we live and somehow manage to conduct our daily business.
Dr. Josephson and Dr. Harris are full up, but you might go upstairs and ask scheduling if Dr. Worthington has any room open, that is one possibility. Or you could consider another area, over there it is sometimes less crowding in September in the annex. Some people find Dr. Tagliabue has a good sense of humor and is easy to relate to, or his assistant Dr Gloria Munday who is new with us but very well qualified. In any case, when we get you settled with a firm schedule and all the required forms filled out, you will feel much better; right now it is a little hectic around here.
You might think you were in a busy city hospital, but it is actually the start of the fall semester in an upcoming Liberal Arts College where everybody has a doctorate in something or other and each faculty member expects to be addressed by his formal and hard-earned title. Once upon a time a Freshman asked the secretary on the second floor for the number of Mr. Worthington's office, to be told in a sharp tone "You must mean Dr. Worthington....... (long pause) In 103 at the end of the corridor!", and the word got around among the students that if you wanted an answer you had better use the right nomenclature. That is the way things are done around here.
A decade or two earlier it would have been different:
Professor Josephson's section of Genetics 195 is signed full up and waiting, but old Dr. Harris usually has room for a few more. But you might phone his wife at home and ask if Doc Worthington has any room open in his seminar, that is one possibility. Or you could consider another area, over there in the Foreign Languages it is sometimes less crowded in September. Some people find Prof. Tagliabue has a good sense of humor and is easy to relate to, or his assistant Ms. Gloria Munday who is new with us but very popular with the students. In any case, when we get you settled with a firm schedule and all the registration forms filled out, you will feel much better, right now it is a little hectic around campus for you Freshmen.
Back then the students always said Professor automatically as if it were a part of the name, slurring the three syllables deftly to get on with their business. When a Prof. was elevated to a position as Dean his title was changed, but when back to teaching he was a Dean forever in the community consciousness. The President, formerly referred to as Prexy behind his back, couldn't be referred to as "Mr. President" again and again, so he got the familiar Dr.(Fn. 1) address like his faculty members, although everyone knew he was of a different breed since he alone could speak with the Trustees, none of whom had more than a B.A. or a stand-off-ish M.B.A.
Footnote 1: The word "Doctor" is worth examining acoustically to see if it has any special sound configurations which might connect with emotional and psycho-acoustic responses in the casual hearer. The initial dental "D-" sets the tone of the word firmly, with a snap of the tongue against the alveolar ridge as a throat voiced micro-growl vanishes in the explosive release of this dental stop-consonant. But the middle of the word contains the secret of it inner message, with unvoiced and very abrupt stop-consonants "-p-" and its associate "-t-" virtually proclaiming: "Business and no fooling around here". The final syllable with its rounded vowel sliding into a possibly resentful "-r-" can be held for a double length duration, with a murmur which makes it clear that this Doctorrrrr is a man not to be trifled with. We may not be conscious of the acoustics of commonly used vocabulary, but with a word of Title and Honor aural sub-meanings are always to be treated with respect. If "Doctor" is to be set beside words of similar acoustic display, it might be acoustically compared to words with internally harsh and jarring sounds, like Procto-scope and Rectum.
There was always one elder and highly respected faculty member who had published more articles in the juried Journals than anyone else, who didn't have a doctorate at all; but he was always referred to as Doc, and the college resident physician was also Doc since he looked like a character from a Norman Rockwell painting. But the title "Prof."(Fn. 2) was much more usual back then since it connoted someone who had something to profess, in other words a teaching-teacher primarily, while "Dr." was a man with his eye on his national reputation at the annual Meetings, and was probably more of a researching-teacher at heart. Formerly it was about even-steven for the doctoral and non-doctoral Profs., but as the M.A. Profs. were replaced by the upgraded versions on a doctoral faculty, the envied title of Doctor came to the fore, and stuck fast.
Footnote. 2: There is a soft and gentle sound to the word "Professor", when you examine it in terms of its acoustic characteristics. Starting off with pursed lips around the prefix "pro-", it invites you casually to the airy sound of breath passing between upper teeth and the lower protruded lip, a "f- sound" which when used internally has little ressemblance to the roughtly aggressive initial sounds of the "F-word" which has so recently appeared from nowhere into standard English usage. Further air-sounds of the double "-ss-" on which the words is centered, lead to the thoughtful and ruminative final "-r" with its neutral and inoffensive vowel. All in all the word Professor is a relaxed and inviting word, perhaps even lightly reassuring although a formal title in fact. It has something of the sound of the word "persuasion" if you listen carefully, and the Prof. does work by persuading students rather than forcing them into Wisdom.
It was in the1880's when this country began to send serious scholars to Germany for advanced studies in medicine, physics and various facets of the Humanities, that the Doctorate began to be seen as a requirement for a first rate Professorship. Herbert Weir Smyth's (l857-l937) Greek Dissertation at Gottingen was printed up there hardbound in1895 in English. something the German practice required. Soon he went from Bryn Mawr to Harvard, favored by the degree but rejecting the Germanic title of "Herr Professor Doctor...." in favor of plain U.S.: Mister. Scholars who went to England came back with a better M.A. than our Ph.D. in many cases, but couldn't be called Dr. and were unwilling to be called Master. Harvard's iracund Joshua Whatmough was the best known British teacher of historical linguistics in the States for decades. When questioned by one of his grad students about not having a Doctorate, he tartly answered: "Well, who would there be who could examine me?" Harvard solved the problem of having a Dr. and famous non-Dr. mixed faculty long ago, by referring to everybody as Mr., a genteel and aloof practice which avoided the show-off snobbism of prestigious titling entirely.
From student days I was used to the Harvard manner, and as a teacher I always felt uneasy when a student addressed me as Dr. Harris, which I felt had a tone somewhere between a covert sneer and an ass-kissing smile. I could look annoyed but that didn't effectively change the mode of address; but in the last wave of the social revolution of the 1960's, when everyone who was hip seemed to have no last name at all for social purposes, I decided to be called Bill, probably thinking backward in time to Wild Bill Cody's reputation and unwittingly foreshadowing some of the excesses of Bill Clinton. A colleague asked me in a confidential tone if I didn't think it would be difficult for a student to have respect for me with such a familiar mode of address, but I stuck to my guns and he to his even when a former student asked over a drink shortly after graduation if he could at last call him Harold. The answer was NO!
Bill stuck with me permanently, my son and wife referred to me as Bill, and even the dog called me Bill, as I discovered when my wife said "Bill, take the dog out..." and he appeared right before me with leash in mouth. Rover didn't like the title "Dr.", since when she said "Take him to the Doctor for his shots..." Rover was nowhere to be found.
Appellations downtown were similar to those on the Hill but with a subtle difference. I was a good household carpenter known to the men in the lumberyard, and to mechanics in the shops since I did some of my car repair myself and supervised them familiarly when working for me. There common sense prevailed, everyone knew the Doctor's business was curing people, while mine was probably more in the direction of intentionally confusing them. I used to jest that I didn't cure anything more than a case of bad grammar on occasion, but on the other hand I didn't have to carry malpractice insurance for situations which got out of hand. I often went downtown in jeans and a T shirt, hoping I would be taken as one of the many, in my own mind just Plain Bill, but people knew differently. The man who ran the hardware store always addressed me formally: "Morning Perfess'r, how's the weather up on the Hill?" and when I told him this bothered me and my name was Bill, he would respond automatically: "Sure, no problem, Perfess'r." After I grew a beard one summer and kept it on permanently as a populist mark, the waitress in a restaurant in the next town thought I looked like a Canadian lumberjack and brought me a Quebec newspaper, which pleased me greatly as I read the editorial about secession. But as soon as I opened my mouth, substituting "doesn't" for the socially correct "don't" it was clear I was nothing but an academician, high on false respect in town and low on pay on the premises of the campus on the Hill.
Now a whole generation of people has arisen with no last name at all, just Joe and George and MaryLouise, and asking for a family name is often taken as some sort of insult, or an infringement on the rules of privacy. The Army on its paperwork had a place for the middle name which all Americans were entitled to bear, and when in the service I was listed as "William nmn Harris", when nmn meant No Middle Name. Could someone go further and claim as a legal name something like "Bill nmn nln" for no-last-name, and what would the IRS make of his forms submitted with that signature? Probably someone from South East Asia, a confused operator would tell his Manager; but I would prefer my Army Serial number and be known to the world as Bill 41205584, the way people do with AOL on-line. We have to remember that the world is moving forward, and like the snake get used to shedding unnecessary paraphernalia, to lunge into the future as bare as we came into the present, sans titles, ranks, honors and degrees.
Meanwhile we go to college to add up course credits, accrue vast student loans with far pay-off dates, add "degrees" affixed to our name as we become skilled in one thing or another, and finally come to rest after a protracted period of medically supervised aging with just one title to mark that we have been here at all:
Old Joe Jones, R.I.P
I woke this morning thinking of the 9/11 report which is just out and our world fearing the dangers of foreign terrorists bringing down out skyscrapers, when it occurred to me that Robert Drews' book on the Near Eastern general terroristic "Catastrophe" of the world of 1200 B.C does not fit well with Homer's Trojan War. This was a traditional two-nation struggle for position in the trade route between West and East, and not the kind of "slash-and-burn" terrorist style attack on the cities of the East which Drews' carefully prepared study on "changes in warfare" describes. I therefore suggest that we consider referring the Homeric War back to an earlier position in the 2nd Millennium.. and see if it offer a good historical match with materials which we can document from the records of the Hittite, Assyrian and Egyptian chronologies.
If as we have always thought, Homer's memory can hypothetically stretch back three centuries to 1200 B.C., it can also reach back a few centuries more. Further research will show if that can be supported and substantiated by cross referencing to the abundant surviving materials from other facets of the Near Eastern Empires. If this seems to fly in the face of established historical tradition, we should remember that the worst kind of scholarship is produced by cleaving to a tradition on the basis of familiarity, while ignoring possibilities which lie in another direction. The art of History is less a summarizing of Facts than a matter of Interpretation, and as such it must be continually re-examined and in some case eventually revised. A longer study on this is also available, but I wanted to suggest the possibility of a misdating here since there is such an interest in the Trojan War at this time.
It was at the end of WW II that I, as a bookish young fellow who had been fascinated by the wit and judgment (viz. Locke) of Sterne's Tristram Shandy, found himself standing on the very parapet between the confluence of the two rivers where Uncle Toby had received his disabling wound in the campaign of1704. Everything was fresh in my mind from perusing the book in the previous year, I had been delighted by the idea of a novel which was not a novel, a story which was not a story, and a line of thinking which went back and forward, up and down, into one mode of speaking and without warning into quite another. And here was I at Namur having just brought a thousand exhausted German prisoners to a POW camp, again soldier in another war in another century.
In the town I was in an empty sparsely furnished beer hall, drinking some of that excellent Belgian beer you find only in small towns from traditional breweries. I asked in my weak school French about the wars in the old days, and the old men nodded and said there were terrible wars with the English who took everything good from the country and left it bare. Walking back to the fortified heights, I mused on this scrap of rummaged history, thought it was all less clear than Uncle Toby's view of Namur, because that was vested in art whereas the old men's memories and the ancient parapets were ordinary since they were just remnant bits of life.
Counting decades on the fingers of one hand, I am reading Sterne over once again, with the same enthusiasm I felt as a lad, but now I have complaints. Looking over the fringes of the vast scholarly literature on Sterne, I see serious studies on influences from Rabelais, from Cervantes, from Locke again and again, and marvel how the university scholars can bore themselves so well with bits and pieces from Sterne's abundant table and never manage to say anything about the actual Words. I revel in those words and the tumble of artfully piled phraseology, the Baroque quality of contrapuntal themes running into and out of each other with repeats and variations, and the constant decorations which do mordants endlessly on little clusters of sounds. Sterne had told us already enough about his influences, but where it all came from is something which came from Mr. Sterne's peculiar cast of life and demoniack way of living with the vanished Skeltonites ---- but even more from something inside his mind which was constantly playing tricks with his tongue. Joyce started off saner, ended up more recondite, but it is that same fast-paced mind-twitching which we find in both of them. Meanwhile the critics look for political influences, for preludes to a growing pre-Romanticism, to the Gothick, to anything on which you can write a dull paper to print in a dull Journal that nobody but colleagues in your field will ever read.
But if we come back to the words and the configurations of the curious phrases which jostle each other into long-line Baroque sentences, we find an undiscovered meadow for probing. I hate to mention something as formal as phonetic analysis, or the complexities of cascading configurations of sentences as they roll off one of the little 12mo pages onto another and expire on the verso. It is the art of words which Sterne professes, it is his ability to string out lines with his customary ------ dashes ------ and (spaces) which make his pages so easy to read even when we are not quite sure what he is talking about. His dear Jenny and Madam are not chauvinist marginal markings waiting for a Feminist Critic to pounce on a few centuries later. His crit on Locke's notion of Wit vs. Judgment has nothing to do with Locke, but a great deal to do with Sterne. But beyond all topics of reference, we have here a remarkable tableau of word-painted images the like of which the passing centuries were not the see for a long time.
One critic said Sterne's language was "conversational" in style, another went a step further and classed it as "conversationalistic". Critics to the Devil! We need time spent in close reading to find ways to read pages aloud with an intonation that suits the page. It may have to be one of those nervous and twitchy Brit accents which go from a musical pitch to the next peak, somehow disappearing as the UK goes flat in its speech patterns following the New World fashion and trans-oceanic commercialism. Becket could have translated some passages into French and read them better there, but Tristram Shandy is still an English language experiment and has to be tested out on whatever English we have in use now. Sioban McKenna read Joyce brilliantly, now we want a reader who can do justice to a few passages of Sterne so we have a proper sound in our ears before we open to book to read on a quiet summer's evening as the sun sets once more on the world of great literature.
There is something lovely about the late afternoon ambiance of a summer's day, that short time which so easily escapes us in the hurry of our dawn to dusk scheduling. The day must be just right for this, warm but not hot with a light haze starting to gather as prelude to an afternoon shower. Walking half mile to the mailbox to exercise my stiff right knee, I am in no rush to get there and back; I can loiter along the yellow flowered road, stopping to see strange leaves not seen before. The forest of flora is a little jungle of activity, a mad competition for another gasp of sunlight warmth before evening lunges and the blossoms close to sleep. In this racing growth I stop and stand for a moment to stare, unnoticed alone because I am a newcomer in this ancient biological world, here for a moment in deep time and soon gone while new experiments in reaping sunlight go through their generations hardly seen. Here in the woods I find an alienation I don't feel at home or in a crowd on a city street, because this is where I came from long ago but have not been back for aeons, until just this moment now.
Morning is time for attending the plans deferred from yesterday, duties like answering mail and writing an unnecessary list of things to do someday, later going to get gas for the lawnmower as promise to cut the overlong grass today, tomorrow perhaps just as well. Another cup of coffee as the medicine for lethargy, I await lunch not because I expect to be hungry, but because it will be lunch time and what do we do then but munch a BLT with slices of garden tomato, which I had best go get now. Tired after all that work, a nap in the hammock under the maple is in order to smooth out the afternoon for action later, since that mowing job is still on my conscience. Then she says: Bill why don't you go and get the mail? and I am walking down the crushed slate road, around the steep bend and out onto what was a generation ago still meadow, now young forest in the making for my older years. I can't walk there anymore in the tangle of grappling branches, but some heir will march through a colonnade of oak and maple avenues in whose shade nothing green grows anymore. Succession of my property is much less imaginative than the on-marching forest succession of the trees.
Walking back home I stop more often, watching for the right kind of a dry bent branch for an ambling cane, or some fallen trees which I just might cut up for a winter fire to warm the parlor. Behind the crawling junipers is a secret place where a rabbit could hide and dig himself in for the wintertime, but this year no rabbits dart out on my daily walks. Last fall there were wails of young fox voices and the rabbits are nomore; but as the fox family moves to better hunting grounds, some new ones will come in to find old burrows and again leap across the road in horror as I advance. I know the opossum is still around but he is cautious unlike the raccoons who raid the corn patch unafraid. Old toad under the big rock at the doorway, snakes in the garden, and so life goes on everywhere at an even rate.
Mail delivered home, I have a habit of sitting in my reserved chair looking out over the trees which are in constant motion like the micro-intonations of a Mozart symphony with more rests than notes, but yet is never still. I wouldn't call this quiet time alone with myself, a meditation which is something you have to stop to do, but rather turning off the clock and letting the second hand rest for a while. All that internal mechanism which is keeping me alive, heart pulsing for blood to flow, a section of my biological computer putting out requests for a little more potassium from lunch, too much salt so get it washed out soon, fix that cut with the chisel from last evening's woodwork job and a few anti-biotics to clean up the mess. I like to let that all continue working on automatic cycle while I just do nothing. A machine works best when you don't interfere.
It darkens and a shower begins to drip tentatively, after a while it's a burst of clean water flushing down dust to dirt and making the world smell like itself again. Birds which have been at their building with twigs and fur all day now make long sweeping flights in the cooling air and soon will settle down on a branch or nest to enjoy the evening air with me under the short life of a rainbow.
An acrid whiff of gasoline brings me back to the world of grass to cut, some weeds to pull here and there, and then it will be supper and whatever people find to do in the long lingering summer evening hours. Turning the lights off at last, I see the glow-bugs finding their way around the yard. Then the slightly rancid smell of deep darkness and at last the day is done. Goo'night all.
If Words are the building blocks out of which strings of sentences are fabricated, then we might like to think of words as verbal molecules holding a handful of related associations. If you were designing a new language that would be the way you would go about it. But as soon as Time enters the process, everything starts to go awry. We find our dictionaries have to be continually revised, brought up to today's date, and enlarged from the handy desk reference book to the twenty eight volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, now in its second edition and planning a third before the second is done. One might think that the OED is the authority which "has the last word", but that is not true at all.
It is not only new words for new items in an expanding world which we have to deal with, but words which have been tampered with and sometimes given entirely new meanings. I always thought of the word Liberal as a good word with a positive meaning. After all aren't the "Liberal Arts" the foundation of our educational system? And wasn't "liberal" coined from the Latin word "liber" referring to a free man who could think for himself, in a society which had slaves denied the luxury of social thought? I think most of us still find "illiberal" an unpleasant term, calling to mind Scrooge or a tight-minded antagonist to new ideas like equality at the polls for blacks and women. So if "Illiberal" is bad, its cousin Liberal should have a pretty clean bill of cultural and social health, or so I would have thought until a recent political party did some cosmetic surgery on it. After 1980 in the new Ronald Reagen vocabulary, "Liberal" was spoken with a sneer, it became attached to pork-barrel easy-spending Democrats who were letting our national wealth slip through greasy fingers in thoughtless handouts. So a new Reaganite pejorative was concocted out of one of the best and most thoughtful terms in the English language.
But this is nothing new. We have been here before, and when such a shift of meaning takes place, it tends to stick. "Bad coin drives out good coin" is a phrase which lost its original meaning centuries ago, but the idea persists in new form. The Spanish "negro" meaning the color black, has little meaning for English speakers, but "nigger" is recognized everywhere as spiteful. We speak respectfully of the Hebraic-Christian tradition, but "Jew!" pronounced hard is hatefully Anti-Semitic, while "faggot" or "fag" is no longer a WW I term for a cigarette or a stick of firewood or the bass woodwind member of an orchestra. And so I can't expect the word "Liberal" to be exorcised or laundered sufficiently to be comfortable again as a good word in a fine free-thinking tradition. Pollution whether verbal or social leaves long lasting stains.
All this switching word meanings might seem......well, sort of.....like.... "heavy", despite our respect for a politician's "gravity" and the grave guru's deep meditation. So let's look for a moment at a few of the idiomatic phrases which we recognize as giving a certain color or zang to our language, although we may have lost the key to what they originally meant.
What is meant by "backing up the wrong tree"? Asking various educated friends, I find no answer other than the way a cat which has climbed too high on a tree has to back down carefully to reach terra firma. But backing down (ignore other meanings for the moment) is not backing up the tree; so why use a phrase which you don't understand, I ask them.
Answer: We are dealing with a local Eastern MA based phonetic loss of the sound -r-, producing "pack" for the Boston Park, along with a packing ticket for your car near the hydrant. Correcting the sound shift, we get "Barking up the wrong tree", with the angry hunter despairing of his fool dog doing just this, while the raccoon is watching from high in another tree down the road.
Henry is in trouble with his job, his wife and now begins to show obvious signs of deterioration. Someone even remarks that "he is going to the dogs...". Turning into a dog perhaps? Or moving to the matriarchally enforced isolation of the family doghouse? But none of this makes sense, does it really?
This phrase comes from the kitchen and the cook, who has too much food left over after the family dinner. "Eat it now while it's fresh, left over it won't be any good, it'll spoil and end up going to the dogs." The family dogs were better off in the days before airtight plastic containers for the fridge or the freezer; in the old days they waited patiently outside the farm kitchen for a much tastier fare than modern dry dog-food in hundred pound bags.
Then there's the run-down fellow who looks so weak when he totters along that we say that "he's on his last legs". I can picture his uneasy gait without his cane, pathetic old guy ready for the geriatric home. But wait a minute, we are bipedal animals, and there are no front and last legs like Fido's, whose trick of walking on his last or hind legs is a sign of fitness not futility. Whatever can this curiously encrypted phrase possibly mean?
The phrase was used in the old times of hand patched knickers and work pants worn to a frazzle in the days before designer rips and loose threads became a sign of being modern and cool. When the pants were finally really worn-out and ready for a hooked rug or patchwork quilt, Mom might say as Abner put on his patchy pants to go out to the field to mow hay, that "those pants are on their last legs". So we have here not just a question of threadbare pants, but a complete loss of the threads of meaning which once held a proper phrase together.
Most of us have heard about Winston Churchill's famous WW II speeches to the British public, and we all understand what Churchill meant when he said of the Nazis:
"They thought they were going to wring our neck like a chicken. (.......pause......) Some chicken (.......pause......) Some neck "
Over here we might have said "some nerve", but we know what he meant. But "nerve" is not the same figure as "neck" so what did his figure come from?
It was the arrogance of people who walk around with a stiff neck, head up while striding ahead arrogantly, goose-stepping legs with stiff chest marching military style; but it is the uppity-ness of the "neck" which represents that slant and stance of assumed self-importance and social pride. The very "neck" of them....
In the US we have always disliked someone who is "putting on the dog", and we recognize right off the tone on social snobbery which these words mean. But why the dog, perhaps the most agreeable and least snobbish of our animal friends? Well, it means walking around with your nose up in the air, another one of the unpleasant uppity stances of the human animal. And the dog? They walk around less interested in looking than sniffing, nose up; and it is this natural sniffiness in the dog which suggests social sniffiness in his human counterpart. "Putting on..." is an old-fashioned term for adopting or assuming, and together the words define the social snob in action. Koreans have the same thing in mind when they say someone "has a high nose", which doesn't refer to the anatomical bridge of a man's proboscis, but that same dog-like manner of sniffing the environment.
There are more of these arcane idioms by the hundreds. You can find them popping up every once in a while, but why not look for the roots of the wording which surely represent something once common but now vintage rare? If man is above all The Talking Animal, and we live in the web of verbal history, it shouldn't take a word-archaeologist to reconstruct a vanished phrase back into its original setting. Unlike many lessons in History involving nothing more than names and dates, this study of lost meanings is surprising and often enlightening when they are solved. And beside that, it's a lot of fun.
Herodotus, the earliest serious historian in the West, recounts a story which has a peculiar ring today, that I would like to quote from Book II 119 ff. There is a myth abroad that history is especially important as a serious study, since if we pay attention to the facts, we can actually learn from History.
After the abduction of Helen there came a large army of various Greeks to help Menelaos, and when the army had come out of the ships to land and had pitched its camp there, they sent messengers to Troy, with whom went also Menelaos himself. And when these entered within the wall they demanded back Helen and the wealth which Alexander had stolen from Menelaos and they demanded satisfaction for the wrongs done. The Trojans told the same tale then and afterwards, both with oath and without oath, namely that in deed and in truth they had not Helen nor the wealth for which demand was made, but that both were in Egypt, and that they could not justly be compelled to give satisfaction for that which Proteus the king of Egypt had. The Greeks however thought that they were being mocked by them and besieged the city, until at last they took it. When they had taken the wall and did not find Helen, but heard the same story as before, then they believed the former tale and sent Menelaos himself on to Egypt.
My opinions is this: Priam assuredly was not so mad, nor yet the others of his house, that they were desirous to run risk of ruin for themselves and their children and their city, in order that Alexander might have Helen as his wife. And even supposing that at first they had been so inclined, yet when many of the Trojans were losing their lives as often as they fought with the Greeks, and several of the sons of Priam himself were slain when a battle took place (if one may trust at all to the Epic poets), ----- when, I say, things were coming thus to pass, I consider that even if Priam himself had had Helen as his own wife, he would have given her back to the Greeks, if at least by so doing he might be freed from the evils which oppressed him.
In truth however they lacked the power to give Helen back; and the Greeks did not believe them, though they spoke the truth. I declare my opinion, that the Divine Power was purposing to cause them utterly to perish, and so make it evident to men that for great wrongs great also are the calamities which come from the gods. And thus have I delivered my opinion concerning these matters.
There is a well known Greek tradition that Helen went to Egypt, probably the Greek trading port at Naucratis, and was never at Troy at all. Of course Homer did very well with Helen at Troy and the wonderful familial scenes with Hector at the Wall, high points in a literary masterpiece. But the historian Herodotus pointedly notes variations in the story, which explain the above quoted passages. Now consider this same story with a few changes of names, leaving the thrust and intent of Herodotus' words intact.
After the calamity of 9/11 there came a large group of politicians to help the President's "coalition", and when the army had come out of the ships to land and had placed planes in attack locations, they sent messages to Saddam Hussein, with whom went also representative of the Military Command itself. And when these contacted Saddam Hussein they demanded the " Weapons of Mass Destruction" and the biological warfare factories, which Saddam had got from the international black market, and they demanded satisfaction for his many wrongs done. The Iraqis told the same tale then and afterwards, both with oath and without oath, namely that in deed and in truth they had not WMD nor the rest for which demand was made, but that both were in another country, and that they could not justly be compelled to give satisfaction for that which another government had. The Americans however thought that they were being mocked by them and besieged the country, until at last they took it. When they had taken the defenses and did not find WMD, but heard the same story as before, then they believed the former tale and sent the CIA to search elsewhere........
My opinion is this: Saddam assuredly was not so mad nor yet the others of his house, that they were desirous to run risk of ruin for themselves and their children and their country, in order to retain weapons which did not actually exist. And even supposing that at first they had been so inclined, yet when many of the Iraqis were losing their lives as often as they fought with the Americans, and several of the sons of Saddam himself were slain when an attack took place (if one may trust the reports of the Media), ----- when, I say, things were coming thus to pass, I consider that even if Saddam himself had had some secret weapons stored underground, he would have given them back to the Coalition, if at least by so doing he might be freed from the evils which oppressed him.
In truth however he lacked the power to give them back. And the Bush Administration did not believe him, although he spoke the truth. I declare my opinion: that the spread of Empire was operating to cause the Iraqis utterly to perish, and this makes it evident to men that for great plans for global expansion, there are also great calamities which come from the idea of greed and expansion of Empire. And thus have I delivered my opinion concerning these matters.
When one examines an ancient text from over two millennia away, it is often necessary to add footnotes for details and a general commentary to make the sense of the cited material coherent. In this case I think no comment is required, since the situation speaks for itself, incidentally making it clear that we have not learned much from past events, and probably may never learn much in future ages from the academic pages of History.
It seems that there is a certain stage in which things get smaller to become more efficient. Once it was the giant mastodon turning into its pygmy cousin the African elephant, which somewhere along the line of evolutionary history designed the even smaller Buick sized "Pygmy elephant". An early 20th century typewriter had a cast iron frame and weighed some forty pounds, later miniaturized into the electric portable of eight pounds, then the lighter word-processing typewriter and it finally disappeared into the works of the computer as nothing more than a coded memory of what a typewriter once had been.
We still marvel at what can be put into a chip. Now a mini-chip holds a hundred internal mini-chips and is so small you could never find one if you dropped it on the floor. Imagine dust specs which are actually complex chips relaying information about the heat, humidity, furniture and moving occupants of a room. But these intelligent computer mites will someday be significant contributors to a world of international economic growth. From so little we grow the potential for money, banks, capital venture and the ponderous effect of billions of units of whatever currency our national system uses. In this fantastic new world, we might pause in astonishment and wonder how such a sophisticated future could ever have generated itself out of a raw and uncompressed historical past.
But that would be wrong! Consider the miniaturization or the parts of the bloom of the biological Compositae, which contain microscopic amounts of sugar which the bee searches to carry home mouthful by mouthful and mile by mile of round-trip flight. If you ask what is the size of a droplet of honey, you have to ask next what is the size of a bee's mouth! But then when the flowering season is done, a pound of bees has somehow accumulated a hundred pounds of wealth and stored it in hexagonal bank vaults of perfect apiaric design. Here is miniaturization too, two hundred millions years of it in fact.
We talk with wonder about our robots putting tiny components into electronic circuit boards, working faster and more securely than any human could do, let alone imagine. But what is a Robot when compared with a Bee, which has not only speed, accuracy and the required repeatability, but also onboard intelligence to map out best search patterns, select the best sources of the raw material while in flight, and signify at the terminal depot azimuths and distances as instructions for fellow workers? What Robot has the least intimation of these advanced features, what robot designer can think of robots which clone off new robots with accuracy down to the smallest details?
If there were a competitive comparison between our miniaturization and that of the bees, the little flying fellows would have the victory hands down. But if they themselves could somehow contemplate the circuitry of genes and DNA encodements, wouldn't they pause in winged astonishment and marvel that anything in the world could be so small, in comparison to themselves as virtual monsters in their compact biological world. An idle Worker with his hands in his pockets might ask his comrade: "Honey, do you really think this micro stuff they are discovering these days is what the whole wide world is made up of? Isn't serious reality the basic business of getting the sweet stuff from the flowers into market-value barrels? I think this new talk about pistils and stamens and gametophytes is a lot of air, all theory and no substance. Everything made out of nothing..........? Just a few numbers at the end of it all, and nothing more?"
You might remark that after all it is just a matter of relative scale, what size you are and what your limited view of the world registers as big or small. That would be a reasonable point of view, one which you can learn in school and rest easy with as a working hypothesis for getting along with your life. But we are intellectually tempted into fascination by size. This ranges from the incredibly small new telephones which reach out anywhere in this huge planet, to the emails I get every day telling me that something small which is very important to me can be made larger and better with an all natural pill.
We live in a scale relative to our size, and most of what we deal with in daily intercourse will be of a size which is manageable by our vision, our arm-reach and the nimbleness of our fingers. I cannot help but feeling that the sun rises in the east and that the plowed field to the west of my town are flat. I am nearsighted and cannot see Mars even with a home telescope, so I don't have to worry how many light seconds away it is, and the origin of the so-called Universe is not of close concern to me in establishing my place in this world. So if my engineering friend tells me they are putting whole worlds of data into the new super-chips nowadays, I say I think that's wonderful and intellectually most interesting, but not surprising or new in a world which was originally put together out of just Nothing at all.
In the meantime I am content to live in my own niche of six feet height, having four feet of which I use two to pick up things, with a weight of about four cubit feet of water comprising most of my body mass. I have a cousin who is an ape and some distant green relatives who hop around my garden snatching flies. I can do a few things, some of them fairly well, but I like thinking about all sorts of things which I cannot do and most of which I cannot fairly understand. In this class of considerations I note computer chips, mini-chips, micro-chips and small sizes which I can only consider with mathematical notation. In the meantime I follow the bee, maintaining that accumulated money is less sweet than honey, realizing that my data about life comes more from who I am, than from what I distill from the varied world around me. Our world is always saying "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick......", but Jack had better relax and take it easy for a while. Stop dropping pills for psychological peace, and enjoy living in his own time-frame and body-space, as a reasonable scale for a proper personal sense of reality. My size, standing somewhere intermediate between the big and small, is the right size for me to live in after all.
There seems to be a minor craze these days for translating things into Latin, which is a surprise since it is now some two centuries since Latin served the world community as a lingua franca of international communication. When Isacc Newton put his researches into Latin it was so it could be read outside the narrow range of the British Isles, but when a soccer club in Texas wants something on its T shirts, we must be dealing with something quite different. I get a request to Latinize something every once in a while, but just yesterday checked on a web search for people who have Latinizing services. I was amazed at the display of Classical talent, usually furnished at a robust cost, and my fifty first choices hardly finished the list.
But there are problems! Words in different languages often have different shades of meaning, and words from different dates and cultures often can't be properly translated at all. A current college logo saying VIRTUS ET SCIENTIA will probably be taken to mean: a) Morality (religious, financial, sexual, restrained drinking and no dope) plus b) Science (serious work in the Science Center, career planning). But to the college founders in1800 "Virtus" meant Manly Character from the word for man (vir), and Scientia meant the whole range of knowledge since "Science" in our terms was only beginning to take form. But to a Roman like Caesar around 50 BC. VIRTUS would have meant "courage" pure and simple, while SCIENTIA meant philosophy in the non-hedonistic Epicurean tradition. Caesar's two exemplary soldiers in the Gallic War reporterage showed a style of virtual Courage, while Lucretius the deep thinker on philosophical Scientia died age 44 from a recreational drug overdose, in a very un-Roman and unmanly manner. We might call this mixture of overlapping and under-signifying wordage a linguistic "can of worms", but to a Roman the translated phrase "capula vermium" would have meant nothing at all. Translate or not to translate ---- that is the question!
But there is a special use of classical Latin as "capped quotations", or phrases which any of the few remaining persons who really know their Latin will immediately recognize as coming from an ancient source in a rather special modern light. Anacreon's Greek "O Boy who smiles a girlish smile....." might be used for a transvestite queen or a transsexual, while a professor I knew years ago who was dating a student saved his neck by quoting to the classically trained President four words from a poem of Horace: Integer vitae scelerisque purus.... "he who is pure of life and free from crime...". Capped quotations are a pithy way of sending messages sub rosa. Would an AARP official get the meaning of Horace's famous "Eheu fugaces...." as sadness for the years slipping by inexorably? But we don't cap quotations much anymore because of the extinction of the generation of classically literate readers.
It is amazing how much time and thought it takes to get even a few words properly Latinized. Should it be done in classical Ciceronian wording, or the Neo-Latin style of the great18th century European writers of literary Latin? Or maybe for a business logo Latin words which just look like their English cognates so a person who knows no Latin at all will get the drift visually? But the overriding consideration to all this transmogrification seems to be a yearning for status, a feeling that something written down in Latin is better than in your native tongue, perhaps closer to Truth or even in the tradition of Christian hymnology, a little "nearer to Thee".
It is always with a certain degree of surprise that I find myself taking down from the shelf a fifty year old textbook by Edmund Sinnott's "BOTANY: Principles and Problems", 5th ed. 1955 and spending a few evenings coursing from the Algae and Bryophytes down to the Gymno- and Angiosperms which dominate the woodland around my house in rural Vermont. All the older and earlier forms of plant life and here too, you just have to look harder and spend more time searching to find them on the cold side of a rock or in a wet marshy tract you might never have noticed. But it is in the company of Sinnott that this becomes interesting, since he has been manicuring and re-editing this book since it first appeared in 1923, as one of the endangered specialists who thinks broadly and writes elegantly clear English while outlining biological minutiae. This book is less a course textbook than a treatise on botanical life, and I am not surprised to find that Edmund Sinnott1888-l968 was an lead man in his field, before his later years as Dean of the Graduate School at Yale.
I recall that my friend George Springer who was Assistant Dean under him for some years before 1960, spoke with reverence of Sinnott's fastidious research into the qualifications of each new appointment to the Graduate School, not only the papers and studies but also the whole field reviewed with ancillary developments in related areas. For weeks he re-examined everything which might be related to the new appointment, and when he finished he was sure he had made the best professional recommendation. Are there still Deans who can take time from desk work to do this kind of research, or does it go to a pile of references to be digested by a committee?
I had perused Sinnott's "Botany..." for some years before I discovered that he was the man my friend spoke of with such respect, and when I looked further into his life's work, I was not surprised to find that in 1950 Sinnott had stated in his book "Cell and Psyche", a surprisingly metaphysical approach to biology, asking what was man's nature, place, and significance in the universe. He attacked the problem of organism as a sum of parts, processes, and history with an integrated wholeness. Matter enters and leaves, but the fundamental organization remains unaltered. Living matter pulls itself together into integrated and organized self-regulating patterns. Let me give a few quotations from the book:.
"The position which I propose to defend--the thesis I am nailing to the cathedral door--is briefly this: that biological organization (concerned with organic development and physiological activity) and psychical activity (concerned with behavior and thus leading to mind) are fundamentally the same thing."........... "Body and mind are simply two aspects of the same biological phenomenon."......"The theme of my argument has been that a continuous progression exists from the biological goals operative in the development and behavior of a living organism to the psychological facts of desire and purpose. What reason is there to exclude from this progression these highest of desires, these most exalted of aspirations?"
"This is the true cause, I believe, of man's upward climb, is his persistent yearning for those values which to him seem higher and more satisfying and to which he instinctively aspires. These emotions must be anchored in the chemistry of protoplasm, the physiology of the nervous system.
"Most biologists will not approve of mixing their science so thoroughly with philosophy, of complicating the discussion of organization and regulation by introducing overtones of psychology and metaphysics"...."The study of life--regulatory, purposeful, ascending--begins with protoplasm in the laboratory, but it can lead us out from thence to high adventure and to 'thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls.' In form of leaf and limb and in the beautiful coordination of their powers we see the first steps in that great progression which has long been marching upward from the first bit of living stuff toward some dim final goal, as yet but dreamed of, which the poet sings:
"One God, one law, one element
And one far off divine event
To which the whole creation moves"
"......... as clear a picture as the scientist can draw of God Himself and our relation to Him?"
But it not Sinnott's ultimate thoughts on the meaning of life which drew me to write this out-of-date book-review of a 1955 textbook, but a detail on a now forgotten use of plant cellulose as a common material in the early 20th century. I am speaking of the clear Cellophane wrapping material along with cellulose based Rayon, which have been replaced by cheaper and stronger oil-based "plastic" film and thread. (Botany: p.40)
"What stops the further association of cellulose molecules after the fibrils have reached this (same) diameter and how they become arranged in the woven patterns of the primary and secondary walls are still unsolved problems........The secondary wall is of much economic importance, for it forms most of the fiber produced by plants, such as cotton, flax, hemp, and many others, and it constitutes the bulk of all wood. From it are manufactured rayon, cellophane, nitrocellulose, certain plastics, and many other important materials.
A friend once showed me the handle of a knife which has been in his family for generations, once owned by a grandfather in the1880's, which was made of an archaic ivory-colored material called "Celluloid". You have to be fairly old to remember these once common names, which were the trademarks of major wood and cotton based industries in another generation.
Now we have begun to come full circle as we start thinking and talking about Renewable Resources, at last recognizing that our oil supplies which are being used up globally, can never be replaced. One car company has developed experimentally a car body and interior which are almost entirely based on corn products, and hence will become completely bio-degradable in a known life span, without reprocessing or factory recycling. I think of the now fashionable turn toward renewable resources in a world which has suddenly becomes aware whence our materials come and where eventually they must go. Our present emphasis on "recycling" as a way of re-using materials is important, but not as important as the natural cycling of materials from growing organisms to products and then to be bio-degraded back again to re-fertilize the world of growing things. This kind of recycling is a natural factor in the evolution of the plant and animal world, one on which biological life ultimately depends. Our new dual idea of Recycling is economically based as a way of re-using materials to save part of the cost of processing, as well as getting rid of garbage we don't want to have around.
Each time I struggle to rip open a plastic pouch of some foodstuff, or have to get shears to slice off the resilient plastic cover around a part from the hardware store, I remember how obligingly tear-able the old Cellophane wrapping was. And if I find my neo-plastic shirt stiff even after a no-drip washing, I harbor a secret wish for a shirt of silk or antique-rayon as softer and more conformable. But we are locked into a global market which runs on oil, from our clothes to the fuel for our cars to the plastics which seem intent on replacing steel worldwide. What started a century and a half ago in the discovery of oil oozing from the ground in Pennsylvania was the start of our Oil Based Economy, first using oil for heat, then light, then for motor fuel, then for the macromolecular plastics, and now as an excuse for global domination of the oil fields and a pre-emptive excuse for War.
But the oil will run out one day, and then we will be back to the biological sources for our raw materials, turning away from swords to the world of plowshares with which we institute a new energy-based agriculture for our growing needs. We may not go back to Cellophane as a wrapping material because we can now make something better. But we will have to make it from biologically grown raw materials, and the course of our global societies will have to go in a new set of directions. That will be a good time start thinking about doing our homework on the evolution of the plant world, where the future may well depend on how well we understand the nature of plant protoplasm, the structure of plant cells, chlorophyll and metabolism, before venturing upscale to the algae, fungi and finally the vascular plants which are the base for animal life and human society. When I have read through Sinnott's book once more, I will be ready to study what we have learned in these last fifty years, the new world of DNA and micro-genetics which have ushered in new realms of perception. But the plant morphology of 1950 is still the field-based experience on which new work rests, so I will put Sinnott's "Botany..." back on a shelf where I can find it again next year.
We have a bad habit of selecting as "Wonders of the Ancient World" things which are large, costly and totally useless. I am thinking of the Colossus of Rhodes which stood for a whole over the harbor, like our Statue of Liberty, until it fell into the water and was cut up for scrap. Or the pyramids of the Egyptian kings which were probably built under the questionable belief of royalty as immortal in another world, a matter which was not testable since the tombs were opened and filched by robbers in just a few centuries. Hanging gardens which no long hang should be less interesting than the sluice ways which washed the manure out of the Augean Stables onto planted fields, but we seem to have followed the Hellenes in their dislike of handwork, crass labor and plumbing. But it is water and the regulation and use of water which was the base on which the Nile civilization of Egypt and the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates was founded, and there is more art and science in the engineering, as well as the social implementation of these achievements than the sixty foot gold and ivory statue of Athena in the Parthenon. Things which spread a better standard of living and resultant wealth to all members of a society are the real wonders of civilization, but since they involve a high degree of social interaction and much political planning, they have a curious way of disintegrating in a time of change and even disappearing from the pages of history.
Among the Wonders which we don't hear of, I would rank the waterworks and irrigation system of ancient Ceylon, now properly named Sri Lanka, as one of the most complex and effective water engineering system every developed. It is especially interesting because there is full archaeological evidence for the giant water retaining tanks, the sluice ways and tunnels which conveyed and distributed water, and it answers the geographical problem of Ceylon which had an abundantly wet side separated by mountainous ridges from the dry side which originally could not support agriculture. Here is a very brief account of the irrigation system condensed from various sources:
In the mid 2nd century B.C. a large part of north Sri Lanka came under the rule of invaders from South India. From the beginning of the Christian era and up to the end of the 4th century A.D. Sri Lanka was governed by an unbroken dynasty called Lambakarna, which concentrated on the development of irrigation. The authentic history of Ceylon, so far as it can be traced, begins with the landing in 543 B.C. of Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhalese dynasty, with a small band of Aryan-speaking followers from the mainland of India. The Sinhalese introduced from the mainland a comparatively high type of civilization, notably agriculture. The earliest of the great irrigation tanks, near Anuradhapura, was opened about 504 B.C, by the successor of Vijaya; and about this time was established that system of village communities which still obtains over a large part of Ceylon.
The native rulers covered the whole face of the country with a network of irrigation reservoirs, by which Ceylon was enabled in ancient times to be the great granary of southern Asia. Wars, and the want of a strong hand to guide the agriculture of the country, led to the decay of these ancient works, and large tracts of land, which were formerly highly productive, became swampy wastes or dense forests. The remains of some of the larger irrigation works are amongst the most interesting of the memorials of Ceylon's former greatness.
This system of irrigation has necessarily involved immense labor. For many miles the water is conducted from the mountains through dense forests, across ravines, round the steep sides of opposing hills, now leaping into a lower valley into a reservoir, from which it is again led through this arduous country until it at length reaches the land which it is destined to render fertile. There has been a degree of engineering skill displayed in forming aqueducts through such formidable obstacles; the hills are lined out in every direction with these proofs of industry, and their winding course can be traced round the grassy sides of the steep mountains, while the paddy-fields are seen miles away in the valleys of Ouva stretched far beneath. At least eight out of ten of these watercourses are dry, and the masonry required in the sudden angles of ravines, has, in most cases, fallen to decay. Even those water-courses still in existence are of the second class; small streams have been conducted from their original course, and these serve for the supply of the present population.
From the remains of deserted water-courses of the first class, it is evident that more than fifty times the volume of water was then required that is in use at present, and in the same ratio must have been the amount of population. In those days rivers were diverted from their natural channels; opposing hills were cut through, and the waters thus were led into another valley to join a stream flowing in, its natural bed, whose course, eventually obstructed by a dam, poured its accumulated waters into canals which branched to various localities. Not a river in those times flowed in vain. The hill-sides were terraced out in beautiful cultivation, which are now waving with wild vegetation and rank lemon grass. The remaining traces of stone walls point out the ancient boundaries far above the secluded valley now in cultivation.The nation has vanished, and with it the industry and perseverance of the era.
There have been many speculations about the deterioration of this remarkable irrigation system, which obvious required a high degree of organization and supervision. Political changes would very naturally involve changes to the system's administration, but Arnold Toynbee suggested that an initial stage of high challenge which produced the irrigation system, was followed by a plateau of success in which Ceylon became the richest food producing county in South East Asia in its time. But the effort of maintaining the system itself, while also administering the trade connections required for dealing with the outside world, and at the same time maintaining control over the internal politics of a country on the absolute razor's edge of continued performance, presented a degree of Challenge which the country could not maintain. In Toynbeean terms Challenge followed by Success can lead to distress if the terms of commitment are too strenuous for endurance, and this may well have been what happened at ancient Ceylon.
Consider the waterworks which feed the giant and growing city of Los Angeles, which is continually demanding more water from the shrinking capabilities of the Colorado river tapped at a great distance. If other stresses should affect the L.A. area, for example a major break of the landmass on a well known fault line, so as to cause major damage to the city as a complex functioning operation, what would be the first area for distress and failure? I suggest the waterworks would be a prime candidate for trouble, and this could make living in the L.A. area untenable for future generations. Unthinkable, you will say, naturally! But consider the documented fate of the opulence of ancient Sri Lanka.
We probably think of serious Recycling as the invention of the modern world, but the Persians had already before 500 B.C. put into practice an international recycling system of remarkable cleverness, not only as a way of re-using expensive containers, but furthermore as an important function of international trade. Herodotus tells the story in his Histories I, 8 as follows:
Throughout the year, not only from Greece but from Phoenicia as well, wine is imported into Egypt in earthenware jars. Yet no a single empty wine jar is to be found in any part of the country. The obvious question is what happens to the jars, which I will explain as follows: The major of each town has orders to collect all the jars and send them to Memphis, and the people there fill them with water and send them to the desert areas of Syria. In this manner each fresh jar of wine imported into Egypt, when emptied of its wine, is filled with water and finds its way to Syria where other water jars are being stored. It was the Persians after their conquest of Egypt who devised this system for storing water in the desert, thus making travel in that area practicable....
On the first level of economics, the ceramic wine jars are expensive to make. Although the base material of ceramic clay is found everywhere, the fire required to bring them to a firing temperature of near 1600 F. with a wood fire is too costly to allow them to be smashed for road fill. We have the same situation with our aluminum cans, which come from a cheap bauxite raw material, but require a large amount of electricity to elicit aluminum metal from the clay base. But in this case, which differs from the case of the Egyptian jars, we melt and reuse the aluminum as material for more cans. Glass bottles might be more analogous to the Egyptian situation, since the better annealed 'bar-bottles' used for beer are recycled for re-filling here and generally in Europe, while cheaper un-annealed bottles are crushed for reuse as raw material, since glass as produced from siliceous sand is costly.
But the idea of refilling a container with another liquid which has an entirely different use and purpose in another country, is far more sophisticated. It would perhaps be like thoroughly washing out our gallon plastic milk containers and refilling them with spring water, which we ship to our military in Iraq where water is in short supply. Whether this would be more expensive in terms of transport costs than converting sea-water to drinkable water on site is another matter which would have to be calculated with a sharp pencil. But the circular trail of wine jars from Greece or the coast of Asia Minor to the table of wine-bibbers in Egypt, then refilled and shipped to depots in the Syrian deserts thus opening caravan trails which had been difficult or impossible, and then shunting the jars again back to the viniferous areas of Greece for filling and shipping to Egypt again ---- this indicates an economic cleverness coupled with secure international trade and shipping which is beyond anything we have in this modern age. So it turns out we not discovered recycling anew, we have just picked up one something which the Persian Empire had done several millennia before, and this may be one of the best reasons for us to continue with the meticulous study of Ancient History.
There are few words which will bring a person up as short as "Mind your own business !", which of course has nothing to do with your own business, but by inference keeping your nose out of my business. This may seem an impolite phrase, but it is a lot nicer than many other things a person seeking privacy might say, ranging from imprecations to the traditional obscenities. In any case, the meaning is pretty clear and generally cuts off further attempts at pressing unwanted advice.
But the same words might be taken in a financial sense, perhaps from the commercial phrase of "Minding the store....", and it wasn't long before some financial adviser turned up with a neat do-it-yourself computer program for managing your monetary affairs, called "Mind Your Own Business". The words seem the same but there is an accent on "own", which changes everything. Now you are a minor league businessman, and you are taking the responsible step of taking control over your costs and earnings. Good for you! And good for the people who wrote the program and good for their sales office. MYOB
But there is another turn to this familiar phrase which has been running through my thoughts as I sit in my living room with a thoughtful drink in my hand this spring evening. All morning I was pruning old growth from the lilacs and pinching off unnecessary buds which would go where I didn't want them to go, and now in this evening hour I am still trying to clip off old growth of thoughts which have turned into tangles in my memory. There are uneasy things which weren't done but should have been, others done and regretted, and above all the little packets of refused advice I had offered friends, along with advice from friends who were not friends at all. Unfortunately my mind doesn't have a receptacle like my computer's "Trash" which can be loaded and later reviewed, then emptied with a keystroke.
No! I don't really want to unload everything and open my eyes tomorrow morning with a clean slate. There are a lot of things I want to have on my mind. My projects and communications and commitments are very important to me. But feeling the exuberance of Spring all around me in this placid evening light, I am reminded of the year's passage with a bleak December at the end of the course. I remember that I have many things to get in order, things which pertain to my personal life as it is running through ifs assigned hours. After sweeping trash out, I realize I have to spend more time minding the store.
This brings me back to considering what is the important business of life. For some of us it is tithes and church services, for others it may be anonymous helping or solacing others, or spinning the threads which hold together friendships or a family. But for each of us there is a private compartment which holds our most personal business, our sense of being put down here for a short time in a very large and impersonal world. We all must reckon with "Our Own Business" at some time and it had be best put in order between April and August, since by the time November announces the dead chill of year's end, it will be too late to do much rearrangement of the columns in the ledger. Doing other peoples' work all our lives to earn a living, we sometime forget that we have our own business to put in order, which brings me back to the start of this train of thought about whose business it is which is to be minded.
A last word and a serious reminder beyond that irate order to keep out of my affairs or the accountant's MYOB, just a quiet warning to find out what the center of our own private and personal business in life actually is. Life can slip by unheeded, so we must be sure to take it seriously and go about minding what is personally important, what really counts. "And just what is this central core of your being ?" you will ask. So I have to tell you once again something which I thought you would have remembered from our previous discussions: Mind your own business !
A few hundred yards down from the house there is a dense thicket in the middle of which stands a tall dead tree so blackened with age that it looks like a flat silhouette against the bright morning sunlight. It looks less like the skeleton of a tree than a cardboard cutout which could be pushed over with a strong thrust of hand or wind. But it has been standing there for years and is favored by a certain tribe of crows which appear each morning. to use the tree for some special purposes which are best understood by authentic Crows, or members of the genus Corvidae
One old feller always takes his perch on the top crinkum-crankum branch, where adjusting himself for best view of the surrounding countryside, he gives forth a few tentative caws. The lesser members of the family move from branch to branch establishing a proper pecking order, then become silent for a minute or two as the full warmth of the sun strikes their shiny black vestiture, before starting the chorus in full swing. Nothing suits a crowd of any animal sort better than hearing how much noise they can generate all together, and they probably know someone in the near vicinity is paying attention to their matutinal reveille, which I probably misinterpret as morning revelry. Cheerful it is and a new kind of atonal music to my ears.
One swoops down over the house to check the kitchen-middens, otherwise known as the family compost pile, for anything worth reporting to the group; soon is back to the perch and with a few insouciant caws seems to signify negative. Another flies high over the yard disturbing a few robins grubbing for worms and the neighbor's white cat stalking the birds, three caws as they flee for cover. Then one by one in some secret sequence the crows fly off to somewhere where they have better business, probably checking the road for car tenderized meat warming in the morning sun, or some other matters we know nothing of. Now they are gone and the black tree stands alone with its bare arms stretched upward waiting for the next morning's conventicle.
I have a habit of cawing to them, I usually get an answer in the same rhythmical format as mine, but then we both introduce variations to test the others' talent with numbers. I can almost hear old patriarch thinking to himself that this large upright animal who has such a bad voice may be able to be count the way we do up to the number five; and we both do small number theory on the other, confident of our own superiority of mind. Is the sequence based on nothing more complex than five fingers or three claws, each gripping his own thoughts firmly?
It was that way for many years, the tree in the thicket and the crows each morning checking the landscape and voicing their opinions, and I came to look each morning out the kitchen window after coffee to see that all was consistent and right in the immediate world, my daily Early Morning Show. But a few years back there was a strong wind one springtime night, and the tree had disappeared into a tangle of broken branches and scattered remnants of rotten wormy bark. After that there were never any crows in my backyard, no chorus of strident voices, no responsive readings from the morning hymnal, no shadow of black forms flitting over the front lawn anymore. Caw as I might, I could never induce any member of the genus Corvidae to frequent my place again. Now it was all still, a threatening silence for me as I put the coffee cup down in the kitchen sink and toted the garbage pail out to the compost. Maybe my uneasiness came from a sudden breaking of a long habit. Maybe it was a slim experiment in cross-species communication which ended up by going nowhere. Maybe it reinforced some inner suspicion in my mind that this was another friendship which had vanished into thin air, leaving me a little more isolated in this grinning and globally engorging universe.
If I think back to the spring of the year 2000 when the economy was booming along with investors expecting a reasonable twelve percent return with the dot-com world of venture capital promising a brave new future, and someone would have told me that a year later the market would have been broken, investments questionable or gone and the future unclear, who would have believed it? Equally unbelievable in the spring of 2001 would have been the September crash of the WTC and declaration of war on Iraq. And many of us certainly didn't believe back in the spring of 2002 that the war was over, a suspicion that the events of 2003 confirmed. Now in 2004 as I write late in the night on the Sabbath between Good Friday and Easter, I see no quiet in sight in Iraq and the possibility that there may be a major uprising against the US occupation of the country, and at last I have something I can assume for the near future. That is something that is believable!
It is the year 1951 and I am working in the basement of a small house in the Pacific Northwest constructing a table for my study. I bought an eight foot long mahogany veneer door stock, cut it down to a seven foot long table top, and have just finished putting a seven degree angled mahogany molding around the edges, attached with hidden screws from pockets in the underside. It was while making the tapers for the four legs that I nipped off the tip of the third finger on my left hand. There was a painful moment while I searched for the missing tissue in the sawdust under the power shaper, but in vain. Yet with a few aspirin and a bandage I went back to the work the next morning, and finished the leg assemblies with their endward lean of five degrees and a front-back tilt of seven degrees, a nice touch of careful design work as I thought when reviewing the completed project that weekend. In finishing the surface I somehow got a stripe of grime worked into the grain in the middle and being unable to get it out without sanding through the veneer, I just went ahead with the amber shellac and wax finish. I figured put a book over that spot and I'll never notice it again. Now, I thought to myself, I am all set in my first college teaching position to do some worthwhile research and writing, with my wall of ancient texts and reference books at my back and my new resplendent table before me as I sit with my pen poised over a sheet of white paper preparing for a long future as academic scholar and thinker.
It is suddenly the year 2004 and I find myself noticing how scratched and darkened with age the surface of my mahogany table has become. I remember with exactitude how pleased I was while making it, how bright and rich the surface had once seemed, spot and all. Closely inspecting that third finger, I feel I have done pretty well with it over the years, I wasn't destined to be a first violinist after all and the finger does its job on the piano without complaint. Yes, I and my finger and my table have survived all these years together, but today is the day to sand down the table top and restore it to its former gleam. I am down in the workshop with a jittery little electric sander in my hand going down through shellac to wood and thinking about the course of all those years. That table accompanied me well when I trucked it with my books to the Great University, and a few years later we went across the country to the small college where I settled in for the duration of my tenure. I had students to dining room dinner over that table, later moved it back to the study where it reminded me every once in a while of the important projects which I had started but never finished.
So many sheets of typed paper in unsorted piles, so much hesitation about which learned Journal to approach as an outsider whose name the jury had never seen, such unwillingness to memorize the twelve pages on the use of the comma in the mandatory Manual of Style. But then the age of the Computer arrived, and everything fell into place as I became my own writer and editor and publisher, with hundreds of pages laid out on the table for proofreading and.html coding on their way to the server for my own global niche on the Web. Yes, old table, you have served me well, and seeing you this afternoon in your glory of wax on classic shellac, I can compliment myself on the two counts of nice craftsmanship and fortunate longevity. At an age when most of my former students have retired, and many have passed on to another world, I must say I am a lucky survivor still able to refinish my ancient table, even grinding out the black spot in the middle, and this time doing it without having to go look for a bandaid.
There was a silly joke which I heard when a boy from an uncle who would have been my age around the beginning of the 20th century, and it went like this:
The Teacher says:
"Can someone give me a sentence using the word "delight"? Yes Sammy.... "
And little Sammy replies:
"Da wind blew in da window and blew out da light."
I remember this being told with the boy's "colored" accent, now called black, and am aware that this story may be criticized as an example of racist humor. Of course it is racist in terms of what we have done to the social and legal consciousness since the days of social and educational segregation in the South, but I suspect in 1905 there would have been little virulence of a racial nature in telling a joke about local pronunciation of the Article "the". After Hans Kurath's mid-century work on the geographical linguistics of the English language in the United States, we find local and social differences in sound and word academically worth tabulating and quite interesting as well. The PA word "toot" for paper bag and MA "tahnic" for mid-Western pop sody are hardly items for opprobrium, but these are all white words. As soon as we cross the pigmentation line we get nervous.
But do black people talk differently? Yes but that is a matter of social class and education, so Sammy would have fallen into a class along with young children and French speakers who find the aspirated "-th-" very difficult to pronounce. And this sound IS difficult to say, it is a rarity in all the languages I can think of at the moment. It goes back to the days of Beowulf in the Germanic level of English but isn't found in any of the other Germanic base tongues. Language naturally gravitates to ease-of-pronunciation, and Sammy was quite right in saying "da" for a pseudo-correct "-th-". Remember that the year 1905 meant segregation. His black teacher in correcting him would have said : "Sammy, it's 'the wind'. No, say it like 'thee wind...' as she hyper-corrects in an effort to reinforce her educated speech.
And there are more details to be drawn from the story. Why does he talk about a wind blowing out the light? I go into a dark room and turn on the light, hardly remembering that button "turning switches" had disappeared some time before 1930. So blowing out the light must refer to candles, since gaslights were found only in cities and kerosene lights had glass shields. Recreating the world of Sammy, I understand that a for him "a light" was candlelight, to be lighted with a match, and not "lit" since that was a was a word reserved for the inebriated.
But when I go to the building supply and ask about a replacement window, the man asks me how many "lights" do I want. He is talking about six lights as against four lights, and I have to translate for myself to see that he is talking about panes of glass. In an earlier world where homes got dark around eveningtime, the window with its glass "lights" was the basic source of illumination. Candles manufactured out of stove ashes cooked down with grease were special and not cheap, or the 18th century naturalist Gilbert White would never have estimated savings from use of grease soaked rushes in place of fancy candles.
A century later many things have changed. A black politician can slip into a dialect for effect, a professor can say "ain't" for emphasis, and mechanics still swear when fooling around with a part that don't fit. But one word which as a boy I could never find in any dictionary large or small, seems to have survived especially in its present participial use, and has finally become so ubiquitous that unless it is replaced by an automatic beep in a TV show, you might never notice it at all. Social and political connections aside, what continues to surprise me is the basic phonetics of the situation. That sound "-th-" which my French colleague still finds hard to pronounce by blowing air past his tongue raised against the row of his upper front teeth while trilling the vocal cords, is not much different in difficulty of articulation from pushing the lower lip against those same frontal teeth while blowing an unvoiced stream of air through. The "-f-" sound as in English "tofu" is unthinkable in most Oriental languages, but there seems to be no problem in English with the "f-word" which is now found in the whole range of English usage from the city street to the evening TV media. If there were to be staged a battle between those who find the "-th-" sound difficult against those who find the "-f-" sound suggestively easy, it might be summarized in the following story:
Some rough looking workingmen are quaffing their mugs of beer in a bar and looking around for some source of amusement, when one of them spies a quiet looking man sipping a small glass of beer at the end of the bar. Asking if he is new around here, and then "where you came from feller", he finally discovers that the quiet man is a member of the Society of Friends.
Always up for a gross laugh, he asks with a sneer:
"OK feller, so you are a Quaker. OK, say something in Quaker!"
The answer is clear, concise and neatly combines the aspirated dental "-th-" and "-f-" consonants which I have been discussing:
" Fuck thee !"
Prof. Em. Middlebury College