In history, modernists argue that the course of human events is shaped by many trends, economic and social, enacted in the lives of millions of forgotten individuals; the historian’s task is to trace these trends. By contrast, traditionalists, now coming back into fashion, contend that history was shaped and dominated by a few great men, Caesar or Napoleon, Newton or Einstein, for example. In the first, mild view, the birth or death of no single individual is crucial to the story of mankind; in the second, wild view, it most certainly is. Another example: Under a microscope, the edge of a sharp razor blade looks a bit ragged. It has random pits and bumps, but they appear to be minor imperfections on an approximately straight edge. You can easily spot the dominant trend. This is mild variation. By contrast, consider the rugged coastline of Brittany: Does it really have an “average” outline, like that of the razor blade? Only from the very great height of a satellite, where the familiar map shape can be imagined; but from closer up, in an airplane or from a tower, the tortuous, random details of promontories and bays, crags and hollows obscure the image. This coastline is wild. Yet a third example, this time in electronics. If you run a steady electrical current through copper wire, you can “hear” it on a loudspeaker as a steady, white noise—the static of mild variation, due to the thermal excitation of the electrons. But if you try to run computer data down a very long wire, you will pick up irregular, intermittent “pops” and crackles on the line. Engineers call this 1/f noise, and it is the bane of computer communications, causing transmission errors. It cannot be predicted or prevented; it can only be accommodated, with error-correcting software. That is wild variation.
Wild randomness is uncomfortable. Its mathematics is unfamiliar and in many cases remains to be developed. It looks difficult, often requiring elaborate computer simulations rather than a quick punch on a calculator. Unfortunately, the world has not been designed for the convenience of mathematicians. There is much in economics that is best described by this wilder, unpleasant form of randomness—perhaps because economics is about not just the physics of wheat, weather, and crop yields, but also the mercurial moods and unmeasurable anticipations of wheat farmers, traders, bakers, and consumers.
and Richard L. Hudson
Benoit Mandelbrot’s Wiki Page
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Q. You really did look like a swan in that dress.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Thank you. I'm glad you got the point. I hope everyone else did (laughter).
Q. Do you identify with swans in some way?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: In what way?
Q. You made a point of it being a sort of a swan inspired dress.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It is, yeah.
Q. Do you feel some sort of kinship with the bird?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don't think that was the initial inspiration with the dress. Originally it didn't have as many pleats in the back. I wanted there to be more of a pleat effect in the back, and I think the end result made it look more like a swan. Even on a hanger, it doesn't look as swan-ish as it does on me (laughter).
I don't know. I just put reference to it because a swan is usually white, right, unless it's weird.
Q. They are a protected bird here.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Was that really necessary (laughter)?
Q. Do you think they have a hawk here?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: A hawk? It's a swan.
Q. They have a real hawk patrolling the grounds every day at 9:00.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Does the hawk usually bite the swan? I don't know, does it? Jesus, I might have to cut those pleats away.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
There’s a short, romantic interlude near the beginning of the movie “Ghostbusters,” in the fire station when Janine is sitting at her desk and Spengler is kneeling at her feet wiring up her computer:
Janine: You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
Spengler: Print is dead.
Janine: That’s very fascinating to me. I read a lot, myself. Some people think I’m too intellectual. But I think reading is a fabulous way to spend your spare time. I also play racketball. Do you ever play?
Spengler: Is that a game?
Janine: It’s a great game! You should play some time. I bet you’d be good. You seem very athletic. Do you have any hobbies?
Spengler: I collect spores, molds and fungus.
I don’t collect spores, molds and fungus like Spengler, but I have grown spores, molds and fungus sometimes like houseplants because the colors and shapes—in miniature—can be really beautiful. I’m also not as convinced as Spengler that print is dead, however I do believe monthly magazines as we have them today are dead. Most monthly magazines are printed many months before they appear on news stands to get the best deals from printers. With the internet updating news second by second in real time, who needs magazine content that was interesting three months ago?
But there are some magazines that I still routinely glance through when I see them at news stands or libraries. Once or twice a year they surprise me with something I never expected to see. This month I was surprised by a magazine called, “The Artist’s Magazine.” They have an article about the making of a classic contemporary painting. In brief, the story is:
Just before world war two, an art gallery in New York hosted an exhibition of classic European paintings. One of the paintings on display was Botticelli’s “The Birth Of Venus:”
A young painter named Edward Hopper and his wife attended the exhibit and the young painter was very impressed with “The Birth Of Venus.” The next day, Hopper told his wife he wanted to “meditate” on what they’d seen and get started on a new painting of his own. He walked around New York, and spent hours in the evening riding elevated trains and looking in the windows of office buildings the trains passed. His meditation led him to a series of test sketches and, finally, Hopper asked his wife to pose for a painting. He instructed her to wear a short, tight skirt that would show “a lot of leg.” He then created the painting, “Office At Night:”
Looking at these two images, I never would have imagined a connection between them. Heck, even knowing the Botticelli inspired Hopper, I do not see any correspondences between the images.
This strikes me as intriguing counter-point to my “Inca Roads” posts about coincidence. When we experience a coincidence we sense that there should be some kind of connection between two things but we can’t conceive of any. In the case of artistic inspiration, even when we know there is a connection between two things, the complexity of human consciousness and the infinity of ways concepts and images interact with consciousness creates a situation where, for all practical purposes, the connections are unfathomable without guidance from the artist himself.
Is the universe conscious? Are “coincidences” examples of the universe itself reacting to flashes of inspiration?
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
There is a peculiar charm in the indefinable feeling of undivided responsibility to which the single-hand cruiser becomes a willing slave as he roams over the high seas in his wee barkie, free from care, far from the harassing annoyances of the world’s artificial life, his own master, in close relations with a boon companion, his ever-ready, trusty little ship. Though friends be left behind in dusty cities, he finds a fresh and congenial substitute in the intimate acquaintance of his boat, for soon he learns to invest his floating home with a personality, causing the boat’s character to appeal to his appreciation as though being endowed with actual life. He discovers the brave, sturdy qualities his ship may possess, and approvingly recounts them over and over to himself. He finds she is not perfect, and seeks to correct her weaknesses and caprices. He handles her tenderly and with care. She becomes the apple of his eye. There are no “guests” forever asking to be put ashore, wanting to catch an impossible train or boat, nuisances who no sooner board the yacht than their selfish thoughts are concentrated upon the best method of fetching up where they came from. There are no croakers, no nervous lubbers chafing at a few hours’ calm, fretting about getting somewhere in the least possible time, as though the yacht were a tiresome prison, and the sea and its ever-changing attractions tasteless for heroes of the barroom, billiard cue, or for the dandy knights of the carpet. There are no sideshows underway, no cards down below, no boisterous skylarking under the lee of the mainsail, no store clothes to mar the ideal of amateur life at sea, nothing to interfere with the devotion to the cause and the realization of the dream fancy has perhaps depicted to the longing tar through dreary months of waiting. His ship, his world—the rest of the world, his convenience.
That’s the opening paragraph
to an article that appeared
in 1887, in a magazine
called, “Small Yachts”
Monday, June 25, 2007
Some people suspect
there’s a disproportionate
number of werewolves
among pro golfers
because the conscious person
in non-werewolf form
remembers the fun
they had running wild around
the golf course at night
under the full moon
as a werewolf. Balls and sticks
let the human part
beat back the beast part.
Sunlight shines on the numbers,
pars, distances, scores...
Friday, June 22, 2007
Alan [Burgess] remains the consummate lowballer, a grand master of the art of getting by, living proof of Eric Beck’s oft-quoted dictum, “At either end of the socioeconomic spectrum there lies a leisure class.” Alan, observes his ex-friend Gordon Smith, “has no visible means of support; he never seems to do any work, yet somehow he always scrapes by. It’s a bit of a mystery how he manages it, really.”
One way he manages it is to spend most of his time, even between expeditions, living in Nepal with Sherpa friends. “I suppose I average about six or seven months a year over there,” Alan says. “It’s a lot cheaper to stay in Nepal between trips, living on three dollars a day, than to fly back to the West. Of course, to get by on that you have to be willing to eat the same things the Sherpa’s eat, and eating potatoes and lentils and kurd three times a day can get a bit boring. And that kind of money won’t allow you to drink beer...”
There aren’t two leisure classes—one among the rich and one among the poor—because there are lazy people with money and lazy people without money. Well, that’s not the whole reason. The more important reason is there are people passionately committed to various so-called “leisure” activities both among the rich and the poor. Such people don’t want to work a day job fifty weeks a year and then take two weeks vacation and devote themselves for just two weeks to the activity they love. Such people want to devote their whole life to the activity they love.
Of course, the traditional, “Establishment” advice is to get a degree in something “marketable” and then try to devote your life to whatever you love and you’ll always have your degree to fall back on when you need a “real” job. As “sensible” as such advice sounds—and actually might be—it seldom works out in the real world. Once a person has made the educational and financial commitment to getting a degree, it’s so much easier to take a serious day job than scrape by at the kind of low pay, grunt work that leaves you a lot of free time to pursue your dream that almost everybody ends up taking the serious job with the intention of pursing their dream in their “off” hours.
And for every Charles Ives who wrote great music while being a successful insurance executive there are hundreds—thousands?—of sad, failed musicians who discovered that there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in even the most passionate human being.
And for every Wallace Stevens who wrote great poetry while being a successful insurance executive there are hundreds—thousands?—of sad, failed writers who discovered that there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in even the most passionate human being.
So you get the two leisure classes, rich people with no jobs who use their freedom to pursue whatever their dreams might be. And poor people with no jobs who FIND WAYS TO SCRAPE BY while pursuing whatever their dreams might be.
The poor people who succeed always make great “success stories” in the pop culture press. So, mountain climbers like Alan and Adrian Burgess become legends among mountain climbers. Writers like Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick become legends among writers. Heck, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs become legends among business people.
But there’s a dark side to the poor leisure class. Among the rich, even people who fail have a safety net of capital that will catch them. William Burroughs wrote “Naked Lunch” after living a life that someone without the Burroughs family fortune almost certainly wouldn’t have survived.
Philip K. Dick wrote extensively about the dark side of the second leisure class, the poor who fail, the poor who make bad choices, the poor who don’t have a safety net to catch them and give them a second chance. He wrote with his eyes wide open and made no excuses and it’s all the sadder for his honest commentary. This is PKD’s afterward to his novel, “A Scanner Darkly:”
This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed—run over, maimed, destroyed—but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it. For example, while I was writing this I learned that the person on whom the character Jerry Fabin is based killed himself. My friend on whom I based the character Ernie Luckman died before I began the novel. For a while I myself was one of these children playing in the street; I was, like the rest of them, trying to play instead of being grown up, and I was punished. I am on the list below, which is a list of those to whom this novel is dedicated, and what became of each.
Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is “Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying,” but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory. It is, then, only a speeding up, an intensifying, of the ordinary human existence. It is not different from your life-style, it is only faster. It all takes place in days or weeks or months instead of years. “Take the cash and let the credit go,” as Villon said in 1460. But that is a mistake if the cash is a penny and the credit a whole lifetime.
There is no moral in this novel; it is not bourgeois; it does not say they were wrong to play when they should have toiled; it just tells what the consequences were. In Greek drama they were beginning, as a society, to discover science, which means causal law. Here in this novel there is Nemesis: not fate, because any one of us could have chosen to stop playing in the street, but, as I narrate from the deepest part of my life and heart, a dreadful Nemesis for those who kept on playing. I myself, I am not a character in this novel; I am the novel. So, though, was our entire nation at this time. This novel is about more people that I knew personally. Some we all read about in the newspapers. It was, this sitting around with our buddies and bullshitting while making tape recordings, the bad decision of the decade, the sixties, both in and out of the establishment. And nature cracked down on us. We were forced to stop by things dreadful.
If there was any “sin,” it was that these people wanted to keep on having a good time forever, and were punished for that, but, as I say, I feel that, if so, the punishment was far too great, and I prefer to think of it only in a Greek or morally neutral way, as mere science, as deterministic impartial cause-and-effect. I love them all. Here is the list, to whom I dedicate my love:
To Gaylene - deceased
To Ray -deceased
To Francy - permanent psychosis
To Kathy - permanent brain damage
To Jim - deceased
To Val - massive permanent brain damage
To Nancy -permanent psychosis
To Joanne -permanent brain damage
To Maren - deceased
To Nick - deceased
To Terry - deceased
To Dennis - deceased
To Phil - permanent pancreatic damage
To Sue - permanent vascular damage
To Jerri - permanent psychosis and vascular damage
... and so forth.
In Memoriam. These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The “enemy” was their mistake in playing. Let them all play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.
Philip K. Dick
afterword of “A Scanner Darkly”
Thursday, June 21, 2007
“There are not many people in the world who like my work. The market is not that big. I am not a large company like Playmobil or Nike. I’m very underground—not many people know about what I do. This is all my own work. I do not have any assistants or anyone helping me. So my productivity is very limited because of my resources.”
Lau refers to himself as a one-man band who not only creates the original design for his figures, but also does the sculpting, checks the factory models, designs the packaging, and organizes distribution. He has found that this is the only way to ensure that his vision remains pure and undiluted, and that he gets exactly what he wants at every stage of the process. “A lot of people fail to pick up on this point. It’s very, very important. If you want to create anything in your own style, this format is the best process for making things happen. And also, don’t be greedy. There is only so much money in the world and you cannot have all of it. Never. And you cannot spend it all either. Enough is enough. The most important things are freedom and fun. And quality.”
Michael Lau’s Wiki Page
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
A toy is an abstraction distilled into concrete form. A drawing that becomes real, that enters our three-dimensional world and leaves the two-dimensional surface behind. Our response to this solid expression of hypothetical concept is a powerful one: at a deep instinctual level our imaginations recognize a dream made corporeal—a magical translation of idea into object. The more faithful the translation, the stronger the toy. The ability of a toy to reduce, whether by being a scaling down of a much larger real thing, or by being a representation of an idea that couldn’t exist, is what makes it powerful: a hypothetical concept has become a tangible symbol you can hold in your hand.
Sometimes that means the most generic toy—baby, soldier, dinosaur, spaceman—is the most satisfying, because it is the closest to an ideal or essential state: it has been boiled down to its key identifying marks. The original, prototypical ur-toy.
The power of toys is not about regression or infantilism. It is the recognition of possibility. Toys are symbols that have a figurative power to embody thoughts and emotions that may have their origins in childhood, but are not childish. We recognize parts of ourselves—our secret, wishing selves—in toys. The part of us a toy touches is our unexpressed, dream(ing) self.
If a toy is a solidified concept, a journey from wishspace to reality, it also acts on the imagination to pull the user in the other direction, to complete the circle from real to unreal, by making the user identify with or through it. To play with a toy is to enter a representational space; the toy becomes an avatar—the embodiment of an idea.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
(This post contains spoilers. If you want to see “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” without hints, don’t read further.)
Imagine some film company released a re-make of the movie “Jaws.” In the re-make, you never actually see the shark and, toward the end, when something under the water is banging away about to destroy the Orca, Quint grabs his machete, dives into the ocean, and single-handedly kills whatever is down there.
Changes like that would be so bizarre that instead of being angry probably most people would react with a kind of consternation: What the hell would prompt anyone to make changes like that?!
That’s pretty much what’s going on in “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer.”
The Silver Surfer story is one of the most famous and most loved sagas from the silver age of comics. More than just being famous, however, it is actually interesting.
The original creators of the saga, principally legendary artist Jack Kirby along with Stan Lee and others, were aware at the time that they were crafting a story with a strong biblical subtext. (They were twisting it, of course, but that’s comics!) Jack Kirby, in fact, very actively sought to include elements of what he thought of as the “old” religions and re-work them into a modern mythology within the context of comics.
The original three issue story arc succeeds very well in dealing with abstruse “cosmic” and spiritual issues in terms of very human stories involving not just the Fantastic Four and their superpowers but also “normal” humans who become involved in the events.
The current movie release does away with all that.
The “cosmic” and spiritual issues are reduced to idiotic platitudes mentioned en passant. The interesting human stories are removed entirely. And the whole notion of sub-text—of any kind—disappears behind flashing lights illuminating nothing and squabbling voices bickering over inanities.
The audience I saw the movie with applauded at the end, and the film was the box office leader last weekend.
I often get the feeling that some real-life super-villain is succeeding at destroying the modern world and nobody is even noticing...
Monday, June 18, 2007
Yesterday I saw two live cicadas!
There’s a famous “special” effects scene near the end of the giant grasshopper movie, “The Beginning Of The End,” where half a dozen obviously normal-sized grasshoppers wander around on what is obviously a photograph of downtown Chicago and viewers are supposed to believe they are giant-sized grasshoppers invading the city.
Every seventeen years when the cicadas come out many people around Chicago hope to see real-life scenes similar to that with the bugs-from-space looking cicadas standing in for the special effect grasshoppers.
This cycle has been a bust in my suburb. I’d seen one cicada husk and two or three smashed on the sidewalk but not only had I seen no “outbreaks” where thousands of the creatures cover a tree or sidewalk, but I hadn’t even seen one live cicada.
I didn’t see any live cicadas in the forest preserves south of my suburb. I didn’t see any live cicadas in the trees along our local creek. And I didn’t see any live cicadas in the shrubbery along our local railroad tracks.
But walking past our local Radio Shack store on 95th and Cicero something big flew past my face, circled around and landed on my leg. I looked down and it was a cicada! There wasn’t a tree or grass lawn anywhere in sight yet there was my first live cicada of this cycle. I reached down to grab it intending to walk it over to a side street where I could put it on a tree, but it evaded my hand and flew up to the top of the Radio Shack window. I left it there, staring in at the electronics with its big red eyes.
Ten minutes later, a few blocks west of there, I was walking through the west parking lot of our local library when another big shape flew past my face, circled around and landed on my foot. My second cicada! I reached down, carefully, and grasped it by its wings and put it on one of the trees alongside the parking lot.
Our local news is saying this cycle’s “outbreak” is almost over. I don’t feel completely cheated. I didn’t see any science fiction type infestations. (A relative of mine who lives far to the southwest says his back yard had “thousands” of the creatures “completely covering” one of his trees.) But I have heard them, seen them and touched them. It’s not as cool as witnessing an invasion, but it’s cool enough. They’re pretty freaky looking.
Friday, June 15, 2007
...you have roads which start and end nowhere. Figures in the middle of nothing. Patterns with no context. And I believe that is the point. I believe the builders were expressing the belief—held either explicitly or implicitly—that real and meaningful ‘locations’ and ‘connections’ occur in the mind, in consciousness, and not in the three dimensional world around us.
A couple of weeks back, a young woman I know acquired a bassoon. You can see it here.
Now, a bassoon is a pretty cool instrument. But these keyboard and guitar days a bassoon is an unusual instrument. A young woman who plays bassoon got me thinking of other women who played unusual instruments. And that got me thinking immediately of Ruth Underwood.
Ruth Underwood was Frank Zappa’s marimba player.
The legend as I remember it is that Ian Underwood auditioned for Frank Zappa and Frank was impressed with his musicianship. Ian said, “Heck, you should see my wife play the marimba!” Frank had always loved percussion and had his own vibraphone. Frank said, “Well bring her on! Let’s hear what she can do!” So Ruth went in, auditioned and quickly became not just part of Frank’s studio band but also part of his touring ensemble. Ruth not only played Frank’s music, but became something of his percussion muse. Frank wrote specific pieces to showcase Ruth’s incredible skill, most notably, “Inca Roads,” off “One Size Fits All.”
So Angie got a bassoon and that made me think of Ruth Underwood.
I hadn’t thought of Frank Zappa or Ruth Underwood in many years but now I found myself wondering what Ruth was up to. I knew Frank passed away in 1993, but I hadn’t heard anything about what Ruth was doing. When I moved from the near north side of Chicago to a south suburb about ten years ago I’d sold almost all my CD’s to a used record store. Looking through what remained, I found I still owned only one Zappa CD, the double album, single CD, “Apostrophe/Over-nite Sensation.” I got fresh batteries for my Walkman and listened again to Ruth Underwood’s great marimba work.
And I wondered what Ruth Underwood was up to.
This wasn’t a strong imperative to me. The question wasn’t in the forefront of my consciousness. I didn’t write myself a note to search the web for her. I didn’t Google her or look up her Wikipedia entry. But I was curious. And for a few days I kept the Zappa CD in my Walkman and listened to the songs.
A few days in to this, listening to Zappa after many years, wondering about Ruth, I walked to our local library and checked out the new arrival shelf in the audiovisual section. There among the newly arrived slasher movies and full-season collections of old TV shows was a new arrival documentary. It was Matthew Longfellow’s documentary about the making of Frank Zappa’s double album, “Apostrophe/Over-night Sensation.”
So I took it out.
The main program featured Zappa’s family, friends and former musicians reminiscing about Frank in general and that double album in particular. And there, featured prominently among all the interview excerpts were long and interesting interview excerpts of Ruth Underwood!
Not only was Ruth featured throughout the main program but the DVD’s bonus features include an extended interview with Ruth where she recounts how Frank talked her into getting her marimba electrified.
So. Angie gets a bassoon. That makes me think of Ruth Underwood. I’m listening to a CD of Ruth playing and wondering what’s up with Ruth. Then a documentary about the album I’m listening to and featuring interviews with Ruth appears at my local library. (I was very tempted to write in that preceding sentence, “... magically appears at my local library” but I restrained myself.)
I’m not sure what to make of something like this. I’m not sure there is anything to make of something like this. It’s a coincidence. It’s a road which starts and ends nowhere. It’s a figure in the middle of nothing. It’s a pattern with no context.
(Reviewing things, I am struck by how I took no direct, active part in the sequence of events. I didn’t try to find out anything. I didn’t look for anything. I just indulged my curiosity by listening to some songs and letting my curiosity persist of its own accord. And somehow it resolved itself of its own accord, too. I wonder if there’s a gambling lesson here: Perhaps a key might be to acknowledge a desire for a jackpot and allow that imperative to persist of its own accord without attempting to create direct action, complex math solutions to the imperative myself. Hmmm.)
At the very least, however, something like this strikes me as a reminder that whatever the universe is—causal, associative, something different—there is something at work which presents all the appearances of magic. If we keep our eyes and ears open and let our conscious sense-of-wonder keep wondering.
Angie’s Blog: Sentimental Small Talk
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Everybody experiences coincidences. When we experience one, most of us think about it for a moment or two, maybe talk about it for a moment or two, and then move on.
But people interested in the Goblin Universe—or its variants—often have trouble letting go of coincidences. These people often make coincidences the center of theories about existence itself.
For instance, Paul Kammerer and Carl Jung researched coincidences extensively and created the notion of synchronicity. Synchronicity is the belief in an acausal connective principle. Reality is governed not just by cause-and-effect, but also by ephemeral and invisible linkages which generate effects without causes in the traditionally understood, three dimensional model of reality.
More recently a computer scientist turned UFO researcher named Jacques Vallee put forward the notion that we live in an associative universe. A computer recalls data by putting a pattern of ones and zeroes on a sequence of wires called the address bus and that pattern causes an associated pattern of ones and zeros to appear on a different sequence of wires called the data bus. Vallee and others suggest that perhaps reality is typically ‘ordered’ along temporal lines, but consciousness can sometimes, somehow put forward a pattern of some kind which acts as an index into reality itself and calls up, again somehow, an associated pattern. We become aware of these moments as ‘coincidences.’
I suspect that something like this will eventually come to be understood as the ‘real’ meaning behind the Nazca Lines. I believe they were an ancient culture’s understanding and expression of the associative nature of reality. So you have roads which start and end nowhere. Figures in the middle of nothing. Patterns with no context. And I believe that is the point. I believe the builders were expressing the belief—held either explicitly or implicitly—that real and meaningful ‘locations’ and ‘connections’ occur in the mind, in consciousness, and not in the three dimensional world around us.
Tomorrow I’m going to tell a story about a bassoon player and a marimba player and a walk I took along one of those Nazca Lines in my mind to a very weird coincidence.
The theme song for today’s post and tomorrow’s is Frank Zappa’s “Inca Roads:”
Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Just to land in the Andes
Was it round
And did it have
Or was it
Did a vehicle
Fly along the mountains
And find a place to park itself
Or did someone
Build a place
To leave a space
For such a thing to land
Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Did the Indians
First on the bill
Carve up the hill
Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there
Just to land in the Andes
Was she round
And did she have
Or was she
At the Armadillo in Austin Texas
Or did someone build a place
To leave a space
For Chester's Thing to land
Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there
Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there
Did the Indians
First on the bill
Carve up her hill
from “One Size Fits All”
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Champ and his aquatic brethren are hot right now
When strange blobs of rotting animal flesh wash ashore, Sidney Pierce usually gets a call.
Pierce, a University of South Florida biologist, has analyzed "sea monster" samples from Chile, Tasmania and Bermuda, plus one piece of carcass found on a beach in St. Augustine, Fla., that spent more than a century in storage at the Smithsonian Institution. But in every case, DNA analysis has revealed the mystery mush to be highly decomposed whale blubber.
"It's getting a little tedious now because it's always the same thing," Pierce said. "I keep hoping for it to be a monster, but it hasn't so far."
Sea monsters may or may not exist, but they definitely have captured people's imagination.
An amateur scientist caused a stir recently with his video that purports to show the Loch Ness monster.
Last year's South Korean film "The Host," which features a sea monster that emerges from Seoul's Han River to terrorize the city, became the country's highest-grossing film to date.
In October, National Geographic will release an IMAX film about sea monsters that lived in western Kansas millions of years ago. U-Haul has decorated the sides of its moving trucks with colorful images of a giant squid, a 15-foot-wide marine turtle from the time of the dinosaurs, and Champ, the resident sea monster of Lake Champlain.
The lake, where sightings date back to the 1600s, is just one of the many bodies of water that have their own sea monster myths. The Chesapeake Bay has Chessie, whom witnesses claim is dark gray, humped and about 30 feet in length. The Kraken, which had a cameo role in last year's film "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," is a giant squid thought to be 150 to 200 feet long and lurking in the waters off the Bahamas.
Cadboro Bay in British Columbia claims Caddy, or Cadborosaurus willsi, a serpent-like creature that to this day remains the only monster ever described in a scientific journal. And, of course, there's Nessie, the famous monster of Loch Ness, whose existence many scientists consider doubtful, but which still attracts tourists to the remote lake in the Scottish Highlands.
"From a scientific standpoint there has never been a shred of proof for any of these things," says Robin O'Keefe, an assistant professor of biology at Marshall University in West Virginia and an expert on plesiosaurs, sea monsters that lived during the age of dinosaurs.
As for all the sightings, "After a few beers, if you're not a marine biologist and don't know what your looking at, it could be anything," O'Keefe says.
Still, monsters can be good for business. At Burlington's Centennial Field, you might see the Vermont Lake Monsters' furry green-and-purple mascot skydive onto the field or be pulled in by huskies while riding a wheeled sled.
Fans of the single-A baseball team can snack on the Monster Dog, a quarter-pound hot dog. At the team's gift shop, Champ piggy banks, kickballs, foam visors and bobblehead dolls are all for sale.
"Baseball is boring," says C.J. Knudsen, the team's general manager. "One way for us to market toward families is Champ."
The team, not wanting to reveal Champ's true identity, instead refers to the person inside the mascot's costume as "Champ's trainer." For the past 11 summers that job has gone to 35-year-old Jeff Moulton. "The job is pretty fun," Moulton says. "You can act as goofy as possible."
Ellen Marsden, a fisheries biologist at the University of Vermont, has become the default expert on Champ, but she says that most of the more than 300 sightings can be attributed to something else. Possibilities include oar fish, giant eel-like ocean animals that could have gotten lost and ended up in Lake Champlain. Sturgeon are common to the lake and can grow up to 6 feet in length and look strange when breaking the surface. Groups of smaller fish like carp can darken the surface when swimming together, making schools appear like one large creature when seen from afar.
"The (sightings) that disturb me," Marsden says, "are when it's the ferry captain, because you think he would know something."
And just what have the ferry captains seen?
"I've seen some big fish," says Heather Stuart, a skipper with the Lake Champlain Ferry Service who has more than 20 years of experience, "but I've never seen Champ." However, she says another company, Lake Champlain Shoreline Cruises, has reported sightings of the monster. Their skipper was unavailable for comment.
Marsden has had her own experience with an unusual sighting. She once momentarily mistook a spinning illuminated sign at a grocery story for a UFO.
"It's more fun if it's a monster," Marsden says. "I would be thrilled if somebody came up with something completely unknown to science that's living in this lake. I think the probability is close to zero."
Times Argus, Columbia News Service
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
THE WORLD'S FIRST LIFE FORM
Can a long-extinct species be resurrected? UGOBE designers and engineers studied the long extinct Camarasaurus, a dinosaur from the Jurassic period. Pleo, a UGOBE Life Form is the authentic recreation born from that study. UGOBE's designers and engineers recreated Pleo's physiology from the fossils of the original. His height and weight are consistent with that of a one-week old infant Camarasaurus.
Pleo is a 'designer species'. He incorporates all the basic traits of autonomous life. He is specifically engineered and enhanced to mimic life and relate to his owner on a personal level.
Pleo is equipped with senses for sight, sound, and touch. He learns as he explores his environment. He will exhibit genuine reactions to sensory stimuli. Every Pleo begins life with certain tendencies but, interaction with his environment has subtle effects on his behavior. Every Pleo eventually exhibits a unique personality.
Pleo is capable of expression. He can feel joy and sorrow, anger and annoyance. When Pleo is tired, he will become drowsy and go to sleep—even dream. Two or more Pleos will recognize one another. Be careful though. They can transmit colds to each other. Achoo! Pleo even sneezes!
FRIEND AND COMPANION
Pleo is a one-week old infant Camarasaurus from the Jurassic period. Camarasaurus were born and raised in giant fern forests. They evolved camouflage that allowed them to blend with their environment of ferns, moss and ruff, the detritus that littered the forest floor. The first Pleo created is a Fernback. His markings help him to survive by hiding among the giant fern fronds in his habitat.
Pleo is an authentic Life Form. Treat him gently like any other living thing. Your Pleo will let you know how he feels at any moment. That's because he is capable of actual emotions including joy, aggression, sorrow, and fear. He can also yawn, sigh, sniff, sniffle, snore, cough, hiccup, and sneeze.
Pleo wants to explore his environment. He will be cautious when he walks to the edge of a table. He may cry when he is frightened. Pleo will stretch when he first wakes up. He may stomp his foot for food when hungry.
When Pleo grows tired, lay him down and attach his 'dream cord' so he can sleep, dream, and gather energy for more exploration.
MORE ABOUT CAMARASAURUS
CAMARASAURUS (KAM-ah-rah-sawr-us) "Chambered Lizard" (Greek kamara = chamber + sauros = lizard, referring to the holes in its vertebrae)
Also Known As: Morosaurus
Description: Herbivore, Quadrupedal
Height: 23 feet (7 meters)
Length: 60 feet (18.3 meters)
Weight: 40,000 lbs (18,144 kg)
Period: Late Jurassic
Camarasaurus is the best-known sauropod found in North America and the most abundant of fossils in the Late Jurassic. It also lived in Europe, where it survived into Early Cretaceous times. A complete, nearly perfect skeleton of a juvenile, 17-feet (5.2- meters) long, was found in Utah. Its head was short and box like with nostrils set above the snout and in front of the eyes. The weight of its backbone was lightened by holes in its vertebrae. Its neck was shorter and thicker than most sauropods and it possessed a short and somewhat flattened tail. The fore limbs and hind legs of Camarasaurus were about the same length.
Monday, June 11, 2007
'Extraordinary' number of species discovered
By Paul Eccleston, Telegraph Media Group
Last Updated: 7:01pm BST 05/06/2007
Scientists exploring remote South American rainforests have found 24 species previously unknown to science.
They include a remarkable two-tone frog with purple fluorescent hoop markings.
The team also found four other new frog species, six species of fish, 12 dung beetles and a new species of ant.
The discovery of so many species outside the insect realm is considered extraordinary and underlined the need to survey little-known regions, said Leeanne Alonso of Conservation International, which led the 13-strong group of scientists which found the new species.
"When you go to these places that are so unexplored and so remote, we do tend to find new species... but most of them are insects," she said.
"What's really exciting here is we found a lot of new species of frogs and fish as well."
The previously unknown creatures were discovered in the Nassau plateau and Lely Mountains region about 80 miles southeast of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. It included areas with enough clean fresh water sources to support abundant fish and amphibians.
Suriname and its neighbours Guyana, French Guiana and northern Brazil, on the Guayana Shield are home to the largest expanse of undisturbed tropical rain forest on the planet. Nearly 20 per cent of the world's water runs through the region.
They also found 27 species native to the Guayana Shield region.
One was the rare armoured catfish, (Harttiella crassicauda) which conservationists feared was extinct after gold miners contaminated a creek where it was last seen 50 years ago.
The results of a 2005 expedition confirmed in a 2006 follow-up survey were revealed yesterday.
Including the new species, the scientists observed a total of 467 species at two sites, ranging from large cats like panthers and pumas, to monkeys, reptiles, bats and insects.
"This is a totally unexplored area: lots of new species, with many more still to be found, Our study will be a vital component in determining how to promote economic development while protecting the nation's most valuable natural assets," said Leeanne Alonso.
While the places are remote and far from human civilization, they are totally unprotected and Suriname's pristine forests are increasingly threatened by small-scale, illegal gold mining. If the mining is uncontrolled it can damage fragile ecosystems by degrading water quality within the region's extensive system of rivers, streams, and reservoirs.
"Where current economic imperatives dictate mining, our responsibility is to ensure that operations are kept within the bounds of our benchmarks," says Conservation International's Suriname Executive Director Ambassador Willem Udenhout.
The expedition which found the new species was sponsored by two mining companies in partnership with Conservation International. They have agreed to fund follow up research aimed at protecting Suriname's rich diversity.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Even in grade school, I’d noticed that history books would sometimes take a different approach to this or that historical incident than autobiographies of individuals who’d participated in the actual incidents. And I noticed that in the entertainment world people often discussed the changes that get made between books and movies based on the books. For many years I simply accepted these various kinds of changes—these revisions—as more or less random expressions of different personalities reacting to the complexities of the world around us.
The first time I began to think about revisions more deeply was after I read Bram Stoker’s great novel, “Dracula.” Of the endless vampire movies I’d seen, I was struck by the fact that whether the films were made in Europe, Britain or America, whether they were big budget or low, highbrow or low, the filmmakers seemed to pick very similar things to change and very similar things to retain when they adapted Stoker’s vampire story as a film. At that point, however, I didn’t really have a clue about what kind of dynamics might be shaping these strange similarities in revisions.
About the time I was fifteen or so, however, Susan Brownmiller wrote her amazing feminist study of violence against women. When I read her brief discussion of Gilles de Rais, I realized revisions really are a part of our entire world, and I began to get a handle on at least some of the psychological and social forces at work that drive reality revisionism.
Here is Brownmiller on Gilles de Rais:
...Another Chivalric fifteenth-century figure whose personal life-style was so truly shocking that history gave him a new identity and modified image is Gilles de Rais, the original Bluebeard. A French nobleman and soldier extraordinaire who served as Joan of Arc’s lieutenant on the field of battle, in his later life Gilles indulged a fondness for small boys to extravagant proportions. He abducted, raped and murdered between forty and one hundred (estimates vary) peasant youths at his Brittany castle. After a notorious trial he was executed in 1440. In his final confession Gilles admitted to having been influenced by the life of Caligula and other Caesars who “sported with children and took singular pleasure in martyring them.” The most amazing part of the Gilles de Rais story is that the legend of Bluebeard’s Castle that we know today has metamorphosed from a terrifying account of a sex-murderer of small boys to a glorified fantasy of a devilish rake who killed seven wives for their “curiosity.” It is almost as if the truth of Bluebeard’s atrocities was too frightening to men to survive in the popular imagination—but turned about so that Bluebeard’s victims were acceptably female, the horror was sufficiently diminished (but not, of course, to women). Charles Perrault, who included the heterosexual version in his tales of Mother Goose, probably deserves the credit for the turnabout of the Bluebeard legend, which had its most recent incarnation in the form of a Richard Burton movie widely advertised with pictures of seven pretty, young women, each in the throes of a different, terrible and violent death.
“Against Our Will”
Thursday, June 07, 2007
“Mudd’s Women” Original Series, episode #4, from season one. Teleplay by Stephen Kandel. Story by Gene Roddenberry.
The Enterprise rescues con man Harry Mudd and his ‘cargo’ of three beautiful women.
The first season of Star Trek often brought up serious issues. “The Conscience of the King” dealt with mass murder. “Space Seed” dealt with eugenics. “Mudd’s Women” brought up the combo platter of drug trafficking and slavery. Harry Mudd is a criminal who, in back-story, approaches vulnerable women on planets without opportunity and gets them hooked on a drug which makes them think they are beautiful and empowered. Then, using access to the drug as his control, Mudd ‘persuades’ the women to allow him to sell them to men on planets where women are in short supply.
Pretty awful stuff, especially considering that here in the real world activity very similar to this goes on every day, creating almost unspeakable tragedy for women and their loved ones.
But this post isn’t about the somewhat dubious handling of these themes by this episode. The episode brings up the serious issues and, by the end, they are more-or-less resolved and Harry Mudd is on his way to prison, as you’d hope such a criminal would be.
But season two brought the return of Harry Mudd:
“I, Mudd” Original Series episode #41, from season two. Teleplay by Stephen Kandel.
Harry Mudd returns, now the ruler of a planet of beautiful androids. Mudd plans to use the androids to capture the Enterprise, but the androids have other plans.
This episode is one of Star Trek’s tongue-in-cheek excursions. Lots of funny facial expressions and music cues underscoring the laughs. They introduce a robot version of Harry Mudd’s wife, a cornball shrew who apparently ‘drove’ Harry to his life of crime.
Even as a kid I was struck by the juxtiposition of the first episode with its serious introduction of drugs and slavery, and this comedy episode in which by the end, Mudd, drug pusher and slave trader, is working with Captain Kirk and the crew to defeat evil robots.
There must have been some story conference where producers and writers discussed bringing back Mudd. Someone must have pointed out that Mudd trafficked in drugs, got women hooked to control them, and then sold the women to men. Someone else must have said, “Oh, yeah, but that’s not sooo bad. He didn’t kill anyone. We can just make him a lovable rogue...”
And there you go. Reality revisionism.
Quotes from: The Star Trek Encyclopedia
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Many books have been published about pirates. So many that you may wonder, why write still another?
For one good reason. Much of what you may have read about pirates has more to do with romance and fantasy than with reality. Long John Silver, Captain Hook, and their ilk are fun to meet safely in novels or plays, in movies, and on television. But to encounter pirates in real life meant unbearable suffering—beatings, torture, rape, mutilation, execution by strangling or sword or bullet or drowning. Not to mention piracy’s main objective—robbery, plunder, loot, ransom, enslavement—whatever could be gained at the victim’s cost.
Yet pirates have been so romanticized that a major-league baseball team has no qualms about calling themselves the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those athletes probably don’t realize they bear the name of thieves and murderers.
This book aims to tell the true story of pirates and piracy. Readers will find, I think, some unexpected revelations in these pages. Here are the real Blackbeard and Captain Kidd and many other notorious pirates, and here, too, are their crews, women as well as men, who sailed the ships and did the dirty work.
Why and how they became thieves and killers, the lives they led on sea and on land, the harm they did, and the fates they suffered are the stories told here.
“Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business”
I’m interested more in the “romance and fantasy” pop culture builds up around some grotesque realities than I am with pirates in particular. This kind of weird, reality revisionism happens frequently and it is very strange.
Although pirates are still around, notably in the Caribbean and the waters of Southeast Asia, their heyday was about four hundred years back. Today, they are figures of fun. Johnny Depp plays a “lovable rogue” in the most popular movie in the country. Just this morning I saw an ad for a Christian summer camp that would build their play activities around “pirate” themes.
How does a lifestyle built around lawless violence, brutality, rape and murder become a focus of fun and childhood play?
I certainly don’t know the answer, and I don’t even know if I believe there is an easy answer. “Pirates” is one example of this kind of pop culture revisionism. For the next few days I’m going to look at others. Tomorrow will be an example from Star Trek.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Susannah Johnson, who was released Saturday after a one-day stay at the jail, said inmates were angry at Hilton, believing officials were making room for the starlet at the expense of other inmates already coping with crowded conditions in the 2,200-bed jail.
"The only advice I could give her when she comes is to shut her mouth and do the time," said Johnson, 35, of Claremont.
El Paso Times, 06/03/2007 11:42:40 AM MDT
There is a much-derided economic theory called “Trickle Down.” At its most general, in a nutshell, this theory holds that allowing individuals to accumulate vast amounts of wealth without harsh, confiscatory impositions—i.e., taxes—the consequent economic activity of the wealthy individuals will result in greater benefits to society than the taxes would have generated. A wealthy person assured of wealth, wealth, wealth won’t hesitate to spend, spend, spend and all that spending sends money “trickling down” to everybody else in society.
Right now, with Paris Hilton in jail, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review are missing a great case study of the reality of trickle down economics.
I’m not talking about the obvious corporate hucksters at work, the magazine and book sellers, and television. I mean regular folk.
Paris Hilton is serving 23 days in Lynwood’s Los Angeles County jail, which hold 2,200 inmates. Every day this prison releases one or two inmates. Normally, these released inmates will try to return to their family, loved ones, co-workers, whatever, and just get on with their life. For the next 23 days, however, every day when the prison releases an inmate, representatives from every media market on the planet will pounce on the newly released ex-con and pay big bucks for every scrap of Paris Hilton news or any random Paris Hilton reference they can extract.
Over the next 23 days, Los Angeles County ex-cons will pocket thousands of dollars just to stand in front of a camera and say things like, “I saw Paris take a drink of water from the water fountain!” or “I saw Paris give a guard an autograph in exchange for a Three Musketeers bar!”
Sure, pop culture corporations and their shareholders are going to get richer. But what could be more democratically cool (or Republican cool, since this is trickle down talk) than enriching and celebrifying that real cross-section of our modern society that is the inmate population of Lynwood’s Los Angeles County jail?
That’s Reaganomics, Tinkerbell!
Monday, June 04, 2007
I had a (hopefully) interesting topic all set for this week that was going to encompass all sorts of weird things, from pirates to Star Trek to feminism, but Paris Hilton took me by surprise by checking into jail early and I realized that I probably should make some kind of comment about her jail time since I’ve written about Paris once or twice. (Okay, ten times!)
So, in honor of Paris going to jail, here’s my comment about her going to jail, and a complete index of all my Paris Hilton entries.
My comment: Hey, Paul McCartney spent a week in a Japanese jail for drug possession, remember? Had he stood trial, he could have been sentenced to seven years in jail. Everybody loved Paul. Everybody still loves Paul. Even Japan let Paul return for a concert.
So Paris has done time. Blah.
My Paris Hilton index:
Is Paris Hilton A Superhero?
Is Paris Hilton A Supervillain?
Paris Hilton And The Butterflies From Atlantis #5: The Butterflies From Atlantis
Paris Hilton And The Butterflies From Atlantis #4: Atlantis
Paris Hilton And The Butterflies From Atlantis #3: Fons Et Origo
Paris Hilton And The Butterflies From Atlantis #2: Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton And The Butterflies From Atlantis #1: Et In Arcadia Ego
Bras, A Werewolf And Paris Hilton
An Angel, Another Angel And Paris Hilton
Golfing, A Butterfly And Paris Hilton
Friday, June 01, 2007
In 1859, Paul Cézanne wrote a letter from the small but ancient rural city of Aix in the south of France to his friend in Paris, Emile Zola. The unremarkable text of the letter simply is a request for Zola to correspond more frequently. However, at the top of the letter Cézanne has drawn a sketch or cartoon that is striking. He has titled the image, ‘Death Reigns In This Place.’
The image depicts a room with a small table. Two well-dressed men are sitting at the table, facing each other. Their hands are flat on the table and in the middle of the table, between the men, is a skull. There’s a painting on the back wall. There are three figures behind the table. The three figures appear to be children with blank faces and they appear to apparitions, because although we can see the table legs beneath the table and we can see the legs of the two gentlemen facing each other, the three children are drawn above the table but have no corresponding bodies or legs beneath the table. Off to one side of the image there is an open doorway with two men entering the room and pointing toward the table.
The exact iconography of the cartoon—the clothing, the gestures, the expressions—is probably lost on anyone except French historians. However two gentlemen sitting at a table with a skull is almost certainly a reference to something like a seance. The apparitions visible above the table but not below seem to confirm that reading. (Cézanne was not a master draftsman, but he was bluntly competent, not someone like Caravaggio who sometimes apparently simply forgot to draw legs under tables.)
Now, there is nothing in Cézanne’s mature work which directly deals with the occult. Cézanne often painted skulls, but they are typically interpreted as examples of the classic still life genre of Vanitas—life is passing, death is certain, think to the after-life.
But around 1890 Cézanne painted quite a few images of card players. This is twenty years after the sketch or cartoon on the letter to Zola, but there are remarkable similarities between some of the card player images and the sketch. Here is one of Cézanne’s paintings of card players:
Two gentlemen seated across from each other at a table. In the back are two children, one playing, one looking on. The child looking on has an oddly white face. There’s a painting on the back wall. To one side, a gentleman stands watcing.
This image raises some interesting questions. I don’t know the answers, but the questions are still interesting. Was Cézanne consciously recreating an occult, seance scene but substituting the more acceptable image of card playing in place of the skull? Card playing in the form of Tarot readings has always been linked to the occult. And, Manet aside, we know artists of that period and place were very conscious of some forms of propriety—Georges Seurat, for instance, painted over his one self-portrait rather than have his image linked to that of his mistress. If Cézanne wasn’t consciously creating an occult scene, why did so many elements of the seance image from twenty years earlier re-surface in a seemingly simply card player image?
Art historians have noticed the similarity between the sketch and the late paintings, some calling the sketch a ‘precursor’ to the card players. But I’ve never seen any writer explicitly discuss the content of the images.
Was Cézanne creating images with deeper meanings than surface structure obsessed interpretations of modern art historians give him credit for? Was Cézanne the man obsessed with occult issues? Why else would elements of the seance image remain in his mind for more than two decades?