Archive for April, 2011

Disconnected

This is kinda sad. Somehow or other there doesn’t seem to be government money anymore to fund the Alien Telescope Array, a field of more than 40 radio dishes that scan the skies hoping to suss out chat from extraterrestrial beings.

These dishes are located along Hat Creek, which is up the road here some. It’s a nice area, and the dishes haven’t wrecked it any. I always found them kind of hopeful-looking, those dishes. Faces squared to the sky, mechanical expressions of the human yearning to not be alone.

Folks from the SETI Institute had planned eventually to scatter 350 of these dishes across some 90 square miles. But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Federal National Science Foundation funding for the Hat Creek project has been slashed to one-tenth its former level, and that delirious panhandler known as the State of California says it doesn’t have any Hat Creek money, either.

And so, the project has been put into “hibernation.”

“Effective this week, the [Allen Telescope Array] has been placed into hibernation due to funding shortfalls for operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory where the [array] is located,” wrote SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson, in an open letter sent late last week to project donors. “Unfortunately, today’s government budgetary environment is very difficult, and new solutions must be found.”

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It Is Accomplished

Place Of The Skull

“Profit motive” means very simply: you give less than you take. If you give less than you take, you grow mean and stingy. Everybody suffers. Morality is totally impossible.

—Lew Welch

Fukushima is still leaking and steaming and bubbling and melting, and will be, best guess, for at least another nine months.

And yet, the vultures are already out there, flying high, circling, “eager” to rake in the billions in profit they estimate will come their way, through decades of “cleanup” efforts, transforming the dead zone of Fukushima into a place where human beings may tread without fear that blood will immediately spout from their orifices, or tumors later sprout all over their bodies.

Both companies [Hitachi and Toshiba] have large nuclear-related businesses and appear to be eager to speak about endgame possibilities for a crisis that has heightened global public mistrust of nuclear power. Billions of dollars are likely to be at stake in the cleanup, which could help Hitachi and Toshiba improve their bottom lines.

Making money: I guess I get it. A primitive stage in the development of primates, as they evolve towards beings of light. But aren’t we there yet, to the place where there are at least some limits? Why should people be permitted to get fat off sealing a glow-tomb?

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Seasons Bleedings

Periodically appear here updates on the doings of my daughter, the well-known deviant, the award-winning deviant, the award-winning deviant poet. This is one of those.

She has written another poem, “Elegy Of A Lost Season,” published again to the deviant people, again winning a deviant award. And this one is devastating. As I told her, it’s a makes-you-want-to-shoot-heroin-in-both-arms poem. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Because, too often, it’s a makes-you-want-to-shoot-heroin-in-both-arms world. Which is why there are poppies in it.

On this Good Friday, it is well to remember that Jesus of Nazareth was not the only human being possessed of divine spark who suffered. Lots of other folks suffer, too. Though nobody writes holy books about them, casts them as idols. They just suffer. Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Four And Twenty

Yesterday, the 20th day of April, was Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

This is a bummer for other people born on April 20. Because it’s like you’re supposed to be sort of embarrassed, being born on the same day as Hitler. You can’t really, fully celebrate. For it’s just too shameful, sharing a birthday with Hitler.

I know somebody who was born on April 20. And throughout her childhood it was a happy day indeed. Because, well, it was the day on which she was born. Then Hitler showed up. Then he got bad. Then he got worse. Then he became The Colossus Of Evil Who Bestrode All The World.

Even today, 66 years after Hitler went up in flames, she has to hear every year that she was born on the same day as Hitler. It’s like she’s expected to be ashamed. To keep it secret. Like her birthdate is some mad aunt stashed up in the attic, or a peculiar porn collection burrowed away in a disused drawer.

Similarly, I know a guy who was born on November 22. And that was a good day for him . . . until 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Now he’s expected to hang his head in sorrow, to have been born on such a day. And I know a young one born on September 11, who had that day ripped away from her before she ever entered her teens: how can she now celebrate such a day, a day when America Was Attacked?

I myself was born on a date upon which occurred an event that, when I was young, was in this nation considered a Good thing . . . but is now regarded as Shameful and Wrong. I can’t tell you what that day is, because there are Mean People out here on the intertubes, some of whom Hate me, and, if they had my birthdate, together with my name (which some of them have), they might embark then on Great Wrongness. Hack and Ruin me. Destroy, say, my credit rating. If I happened to have a credit rating.

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Gut Check

This is interesting. Science Men have discovered that “human gut ecosystems may fall into distinct types.” That is, just as there are four different blood types among human beings, so too do there appear to be distributed among people three distinct bacteria-worlds roiling around in human innards.

As the New York Times archly put it: “blood type, meet bug type.”

And so we are reminded again that Western medicine is still in a primitive stage of development. Science Men and their sawbones adjuncts have been peering and pawing at guts for centuries, and yet they’ve just now figured this out.

Just as everybody once thought they knew everything there was to know about blood . . . until the early 1900s, when it was suddenly Learned that there is an A, a B, an AB, and an O, and that correctly typing a person’s blood would result in more efficient and beneficial medical treatment.

As it is now presumed that gut-typing will produce its own benefits. Such as designing diets or proffering prescriptions based upon a person’s gut culture. The new gut wonderment may even offer an alternative to the waning efficacy of antibiotics: “instead of trying to wipe out disease-causing bacteria that have disrupted the ecological balance of the gut, they could try to provide reinforcements for the good bacteria.”

There does not appear at present to be any official names for these three gut cultures. Instead of something boring like A, B, AB, and O, I suggest dubbing the variants Curly, Moe, and Larry. Or Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, with D’Artagnan reserved in case the Science Men happen to run across a fourth type.

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High Hopes

I grew up deciding the world was nothing but a sad, dangerous junk pile heaped with shabby gee-gaws, the bullies who peddled them, and the broken-up human beings who worked the line. Some good people came along, and they softened my opinion. So I’m open to any evidence they can show me that God’s not asleep at the wheel, barreling blind down the highway with all us dumb scared creatures screaming in the back seat.

—Michael Malone, Time’s Witness

The Sermon At The Stelae II

“The answer”—Father Egan was saying—”I think they have it on the prayer wheels. Do you know what it says on the prayer wheels?”

Most of them had gone to sleep. From among the group only the girl with the bandaged arm, the feverish girl and her boyfriend, the dark-bearded young man and the blond giant remained to listen. A few others had gathered around a fire at the base of the overgrown pyramid and were smoking marijuana and passing a bottle of colorless rum. Their laughter sounded a muffled echo off the ancient stone.

“On the prayer wheel it says, ‘The jewel is in the lotus.’ They turn the wheels round hundreds of times a day. The little flags flutter so the wind says it. The Jewel is in the Lotus.”

The feverish girl moaned and stirred in her lover’s arms. Egan stopped speaking and looked at her and saw that she had the dengue. He had had it himself several times. The girl, he thought, was like a lotus and the pain in her overbright eyes a jewel.

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Two Places At Once, And Nowhere At All

Once upon a time there was The Firesign Theatre, a group of cerebral smart-alec comics who in 1969 released an album—we still had albums in those days—called How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All.

I recalled that question when CNN in January posted a piece titled “Chernobyl: Environmental Dead Zone Or Eco-Haven?” Chernobyl is in fact both, as will be seen, but what it mainly is, is no place any human being would want to venture into, at least for the next several centuries. And yet, as indicated in that CNN piece, the Ukrainian government plans this year to start sunnily shepherding tourists through its Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

I’d intended to write about this sooner, but because my name is Molasses Stonecutter, I never got around to it. As it developed, I suppose that’s okay, because now that Japan is in the midst of carving out its own glow-tomb Exclusion Zone, the topic has become one of general interest, rather than just another of my own personal obsessions.

Human beings are majoring in hubris these days, what with genetically modifying organisms, tinkering with nanobots, monkeying with space-time at the Hadron Collider and its fellow facilities, and continuing to behave as if they can harness without consequence the power of the sun, at places like Fukushima. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Greek tragedy knows what hubris always gets you. But I think it may be more or less against the law anymore to consult Greek tragedy, or even to understand what “hubris” means. But this blog has never really been about following such laws, so we’ll go ahead and expend 11,000 words or so on Fukushima, Chernobyl, and whatever passing distractions might present themselves along the way.

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These Rules Were Made For Walking

Government nincompoops are attempting to separate a depressed Oklahoma woman and her disabled, brain-damaged kangaroo, because keeping a kangaroo at a home inside the city limits of Broken Arrow is apparently Against The Rules.

Christie Carr was a severely depressed woman when her therapist recommended that, as part of her treatment, she volunteer at a local animal sanctuary. There Carr met Irwin, a baby giant red kangaroo.

Less than a week after Carr began volunteering, Irwin ran into a fence, fracturing his neck, and suffering serious brain damage. Carr offered to take Irwin home, and there care for him as he recovered. This she did. The two developed a bond. And so Irwin was certified by Carr’s therapist as a therapy pet under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Today, a year after the animal’s accident, Carr daily dresses the kangaroo in “a little boy’s shirt cut and sewed to accommodate his neck, sometimes a tie, and jeans or slacks with a hole cut for the tail—[] necessary for therapeutic reasons and to protect him against germs, Carr said.” She changes the guy’s diapers several times day, and feeds him salad, raw veggies, kangaroo chow, popcorn, and sometimes Cheetos. He rides in a car seat; Carr also carries him around on her body, inside a pouch.

Anyone who thinks that this sounds a but much, should reflect some on what people do with their dogs.

Irwin weighs 25 pounds, and cannot stand or walk without assistance. Your usual giant red kangaroo can grow to seven feet, weigh 200 pounds, and cover 25 feet in a single bound. Irwin is never going to get there. His vet, Dr. Lesleigh Cash Warren, has told the Broken Arrow City Council that Irwin will not weigh more than 50 pounds, that “[h]e is a unique animal due to his disabilities and will require a lifetime of care and concern for his welfare.”

And yet, for reasons that passeth understanding, howling imbeciles in the city government would stubbornly hew to The Rules, and thus heave Irwin right out of Carr’s life.

Now, if Carr was some mumbling hoodlum, raising a thuggish gang of surly seven-foot-tall kangaroos, creatures taught to leap over her fence and go out onto the streets to wantonly Beat and Rob, that would be one thing. But she’s not. Irwin can’t even stand, much less walk.

The council is scheduled to meet April 19. At which time it will either Do The Right Thing, or Live In Infamy.

Why Orwell Doesn’t Want To Meet People

You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you. I don’t know that I had exactly attacked you, but I had certainly in passing made offensive remarks abt “parlour Bolsheviks such as Auden & Spender” or words to that effect. I was willing to use you as a symbol of the parlour Bolshie because a. your verse, what I had read of it, did not mean very much to me, b. I looked upon you as a sort of fashionable successful person, also a Communist or Communist sympathiser, & I have been very hostile to the CP since about 1935, & c. because not having met you I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction. Even if when I met you I had not happened to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet anyone in the flesh you realise immediately that he is a human being & not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken to anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel like I ought to, like the Labour MPs who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more.

—George Orwell, letter to Stephen Spender, April 1938

Science Men Go “Beyond God”

Science Men playing with fire out at the Tevatron particle-accelerator have announced they have found something “beyond the ‘God Particle,” though they don’t know what it is, and aren’t sure it’s real.

Such is the state of Science Men-ness these days.

At the Tevatron—a word that sounds like some sort of metallic mutant who would engage in fierce battle royale with Superman—Science Men whirl atoms around very fast, and then smash them into each other, in order to See What Happens. As we will discover beyond the “furthur,” it is possible that these experiments could someday go completely off the rails, and result in an Oops of such magnitude that it would swallow all of space. A lesser, but more likely boner, would transform the earth “into an inert hyperdense sphere about one hundred metres across.”

But the Science Men can’t be concerned with any of that. Because they are Having Fun, and they are Learning.

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Ride ‘Em, Cowgirl

When you’re a kid, and you see on television people jumping horses, it looks pretty cool. And you think maybe you’d like to try that, too.

And you live on a farm, and so you ask your parents if you can have a horse. And then, for some monstrous and inexplicable parental reason, they say no.

Now, many a young person, confronted with such a stunning, incomprehensible, autocratic pronouncement, would retire to their room to pout. And then go into town, there to do drugs, shoplift, buy booze through winos.

Bristol Palin, as we know, would get pregnant, and then rake in more than $250,000 from advising teens, in the words of “House Of The Rising Sun, “not to do what I have done.”

But not Regina Mayer, now 15, of a farm in Laufen, Germany. When her parents rudely decreed that she could not have a horse, she decided that she did have a cow—one Luna. And knowing from the wisdom of Mother Goose, from the immortal “Hey Diddle Diddle,” that a cow is fully capable of “jump[ing] over the moon,” Regina resolved first to ride Luna, and then to teach her to jump. And that is just what Regina has done.

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That Remains In Africa

The sacred grove took my breath away. I had expected only more myth-making, something calling once more for a suspension of disbelief.

But the grove was real and it was beautiful: a piece of tropical woodland which had been left untouched for some time, and where no animal or creature was to be killed. That was what we had been told; and that was what we found.

Through the wilderness of tree-trunks and hanging lianas inside we had glimpses of the river that ran through the sanctuary. It was a muddy tropical river, and no attempt had been made to beautify or soften the turbid water; the scalloped melting forms on the wall were intended to match the bounce of the fast-moving river, narrow at this point.

It was all very moving to me, especially the idea of the grove as an animal sanctuary. It was said to be a hundred and sixty acres in all, a quarter of a square mile. I wished it was ten times the size.

A big gate opened into a short lane—this was for the procession at the time of the river festival. The lane led down, past a number of small home-made shrines at the foot of trees, to what was said to be a pavilion, just where the yellow river curved. It was an open pavilion, thatched, with timber uprights. To one side of the pavilion was the big shrine. The shrine was also thatched, and had mud walls decorated with figures in white, chocolate, rust and black. The priests and the soothsayers lived within those walls. The legend was that the pavilion stood on the site of the first Oba of Osun. At the time of the river festival, as people said, thousands of people of the black diaspora came here. There were morality plays in every corner of the wood.

The event had now taken hold; and the people of the diaspora who came for it would understand that though they had taken many of the Yoruba gods across the water, and though the whole apparatus of the supernatural had also travelled with them, reminding men of the precariousness of their hold on life, and though they had taken much of this Yoruba magic to the New World, making that difficult world safe, they could never take the sacred grove with them. That remained in Africa.

—V.S. Naipaul, The Masque Of Africa

Some Thoughts On The Common Toad

(I like occasionally to post here crabby private missives from George Orwell, because they gently amuse me, in a fond sort of way; they humanize him, revealing him to be just another guy grumpy about the cold seeping in through the holes in his socks; they’re not the sort of things people normally associate with the flowings from his pen.

(But I have received complaints about these pieces, from people wondering if Orwell was always an Eeyore, whether he ever once enjoyed anything. And of course he did. Sometimes he even wrote about it. One of my very favorite Orwell essays is the one reprinted here, “Thoughts On The Common Toad,” which appeared first in Tribune on April 12, 1946, and is a very fine paean to the coming of spring, one that could be considered positively rhapsodic.

(It is really spring here now, all of a sudden, in the wake of the 80 days of rain. It took me by surprise, it took me hard. So I am offering up now the spring Orwell, illustrated with some says-spring-to-me photos I’ve recently found amongst the tubes, and closing with a spring incantation from Van Morrison.)

Before the swallow, before the daffodil, and not much later than the snowdrop, the common toad salutes the coming of spring after his own fashion, which is to emerge from a hole in the ground, where he has lain buried since the previous autumn, and crawl as rapidly as possible towards the nearest suitable patch of water. Something—some kind of shudder in the earth, or perhaps merely a rise of a few degrees in the temperature—has told him that it is time to wake up: though a few toads appear to sleep the clock round and miss out a year from time to time—at any rate, I have more than once dug them up, alive and apparently well, in the middle of the summer.

At this period, after his long fast, the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice, what one might not at another time, that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-colored semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

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Para Mi Tesoro

Two Hearts

Darth Cheney has no pulse.

I’m going to eschew here the easy, inevitable swipes; I’m not in the mood, and anyway it’s not like I haven’t indulged in that sort of thing before. Truth is the man is very sick, and is without a pulse only because that’s the last place the doctors can go short of removing and discarding his pretty-much-finished heart, and fitting him with a new one. And Darth doesn’t know yet whether that’s where he wants to go.

Even before I read the news I had known that something not very good at all was up with the man physically, because I had come across recent news photos of a shockingly shrunken, reduced Cheney. This was not the full-bodied, smug, sneering Cheney, who for so long had simmered there in my mind. This was, quite clearly, a truly failing corporeal container, preparing to expel the spirit.

I can’t bring myself to believe in an afterlife, so I can’t remain indifferent to the suffering and end of any person: because this life is all that any person has. Cheney has also no doubt benefitted from the fact that, when I read about the removal of his pulse, and the failing of his heart, it was around the same time as I encountered a piece on the last moments of the heart of Christina Green. And when I’m reminded of that little girl, I can’t feel animus towards anybody.

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When I Worked

April 2011
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