Archive for July, 2011

Into The Great Wide Open

Je t’aime pour ta sagesse qui n’est pas la mienne
Pour la sante
Je t’aime contre tout ce qui n’est qu’illusion
Pour ce coeur immortel
Tu es le grand soleil qui me monte a la tete
Quand je suis sur de moi

—Paul Eluard

Five Feet Four

How High The Blue

My way with words, generally, is to deploy several thousand of them, in hopes of thereby somehow arriving at something like what I want to say.

Results?

Meh.

I am envious of those who can say more with less. Such as Ezra Pound, in his poem “In A Station Of The Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Can’t beat that.

A couple days ago over in the Orange Place appeared a brief piece by Wee Mama that contains just about everything you need to know. I’m nicking it and reprinting it here because, well, people need to know it.

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How Now Loud Plow

this one’s for my brother

Thanks to Captain Science, we now know that the loudest noise in all the animal kingdom is produced by a penis—99.2 decibels, blares the thing, sounding forth from that wee beastie monikered the lesser water boatman.

And really—does this surprise anyone? Surely if human males were able to produce noise with their members, all the world would be deaf.

The lesser water boatman, which is known as Micronecta scholtzi to the Latins among you, creates what actual Science Men have termed “this colossal acoustic din” by rubbing his johnson against the ridged surface of his abdomen.

The entire noise-making assembly measures about 50 micrometers across, or roughly the width of a human hair. Which should provide fresh meat for the perennial “does size matter?” debate.

The little loud guy starts rosining up his bow when—you guessed it—mating time comes around.

[The dude] can create mating calls as loud as 99.2 decibels, which is the equivalent of sitting in the front row of a loud, full-blown orchestra, or standing 15 meters away from a hurtling freight train.

“Remarkably,” said Stratchclyde University’s James Windmill, “even though 99 percent of sound is lost when transferring from water to air, the song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river.”

The Science Men were at first Confused, but now are Sure. Says Windmill:

“We were very surprised. We first thought that the sound was coming from larger aquatic species such as a Sigara species [of] lesser water boatmen. When we identified without any doubt the sound source, we spent a lot of time making absolutely sure that our recordings of the sounds were calibrated correctly.

“If you scale the sound level they produce against their body size, Micronecta scholtzi are without doubt the loudest animals on Earth.”

The Science Men are rushing this discovery to a conference in Glasgow, where they “are now keen to bring together aspects of biology and engineering to clarify how and why such a small animal makes such a loud noise[.]“

Hell, the “why” of it is answered easily enough. Guy wants a woman.

George The Younger

Through the untimely deaths of his father and older half brother, George Washington had recently become the master of substantial plantation holdings in the Northern Neck and gained a somewhat firmer social footing. Washington’s connection with the greatest of the Northern Neck families, the Fairfaxes, had been strong enough to get him invited, five years before, to help survey Fairfax holdings in the Shenandoah Valley, and thus to begin acquiring the knowledge that had launched him on the complementary careers of surveyor and land speculator. Yet however highly Thomas, Lord Fairfax, may have regarded the young neighbor with whom he rode to the hounds, Washington never really amounted to more than a protegé.

His schooling had been haphazard, and much of what he knew beyond the basics that his tutors could provide he had taught himself by reading. He had always been, and would remain, an eager self-improver; but he lacked polish, and he would lose his sense of social unease with agonizing slowness. Certainly he had not lost it at age twenty-one, when he was still recognizably related to the adolescent who practiced his penmanship by copying out dozens of maxims from a comportment manual. “When in Company,” one admonished, “put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered”; “Spit not in the Fire,” warned another, “especially if there be meat before it.” He also found it necessary to remind himself to “Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, [and] if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it.”

—Fred Anderson, Crucible of War

Curly, Moe, And Barry

We are regularly confronted with evidence that that are many very dull knives in the American drawer: 20% of our fellows “know” that the sun revolves around the earth; 31% believe “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word”; 58% of Republicans aren’t convinced that Barack Obama is a United States citizen, while 52% identify as “true” the assertion that Obama “sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world”; and—brace yourself—46% of Americans believe that Adam and Eve actually rode dinosaurs to church, that is, that God “created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

For many moons I have considered this last stat the most depressing, for in this one sweeping statement nearly half the country more or less blithely rejects all of the arts and all of the sciences, all at once.

Today, however, I am plunged further into gloom, because until this morning I had somehow managed to miss the results of this July 2006 survey, which revealed the following:

—while 77% of Americans can successfully name two of Snow White’s “Seven Dwarves,” only 24% could name two justices currently serving on the United States Supreme Court;

—some 60% of respondents correctly identified Krypton as the home world of Superman, but only 37% named Mercury as the planet closest to the sun;

—a similar 60% knew Homer to be the father of Bart Simpson, but only 21% could recall an epic penned by the Greek poet Homer;

—and 73% of fellow Americans could name all Three Stooges; only 42%, however, could identify the three branches of the federal government.

Jeebus wept.

Boys Will Be Boys

Sydney, don’t have a boy 16 years & 21 days old. He will go and enlist as a private soldier within a year after his older brother was killed in the front of battle. And he will hide in a city you don’t know of—& will conceal the name and number of the Battery into which he has fled . . . and thence will write you letters upon the patriotic duty of letting sons of pith and vim fight for their bleeding country &c &c &c—

And you will almost want to kill him.

—letter from Samuel Wilkerson to Sydney Gay, 1864

Trust

There is a squirrel here who didn’t get the memo. About species boundaries, and about fear.

Frequently now, when he happens to be in the neighborhood, and I come out onto the deck, he grabs an acorn, skitters about 30 feet up a tree, ventures out onto a branch, takes a seat, and nibbles away, while watching me. From about eight feet away. He seems to think I’m interesting. And I think he’s interesting, too.

No one seems to have informed him, or perhaps he just didn’t listen, that humans happen to be renowned squirrel-slayers. And so there are probably smarter things to do than skinny up a tree to watch one, at close-range, while dining.

His attitude seems to be that I personally have never done him any harm. And so he doesn’t expect me to.

Same attitude he evinces towards the young’un cat.

The turkeys and the deer aren’t around much at the moment, and he’s given up on the Something in the ivy, so the young’un cat is these days concentrating on the squirrels. He pretends to track them, like he pretends to track most everything; the squirrels respond with that chattering and drumming thing they do, to warn would-be predators that they’re on to the sneaks, and so they should bugger right off.

Not this squirrel. He plays with the young’un cat. He’ll scrabble up a tree a ways, then wait for the young’un cat to come up the other side. As the young’un cat begins to claw his way around the tree, to get closer to the squirrel, the squirrel will sidle up and away a bit, then wait some more. Till the young’un cat gamely follows. This goes on until the young’un cat, not really equipped by nature to be a squirrel, gets tuckered out, and drops down out of the tree. Then the squirrel will grab an acorn and race out onto his branch to see what I might be up to.

I tend to worry about people like this. Because although neither I nor the young’un cat mean him any harm, people who look like us might.

He doesn’t seem to worry, though.

Probably there’s a lesson there.

A Dangerous Country

Cartoons of a certain age would occasionally feature some sunny jim happily piloting a little animated airplane through the wild blue yonder.

Then, for reasons various, the craft would begin to come apart around him. Pieces of the plane would peel off, or just plain disappear. As this proceeded, discomfort, upon the visage of the sunny jim, would be expressed.

In the end, the sunny jim would be reduced to holding but the wheel, all other portions of the craft having vanished. Momentum would carry the de-planed creature forward for a bit, until the wheel too would wink out; shortly thereafter, all forward motion stopped: a moment of stasis.

Then, the fall.

That’s pretty much what happened with the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, once presumed the future successor to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

There they were, American prosecutors, breezily flying the friendly skies, towing a banner reading: “Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Gallic Monster: Ravenous Prevert Maid-Raper.” Until their own investigators determined that their complaining witness was a lie with feet.

The banner is gone now, and so is the plane. All that’s left is the wheel. And the prosecutors, their asses hanging out there in the air. The fall comes next. Soon.

Across the Great Water, the French, who know more about America, and American cinema, than do Americans, are now again confirmed in their belief that the United States can best be apprehended through the film roles of Richard Widmark and Jack Palance: here cackling delightedly as an old woman in a wheelchair is shoved down a flight of stairs, there shooting an unarmed man in the back; here babbling cornpone senilities around a campfire, there grabbing a rope to stretch the neck of some sadsack, mostly only because “the folks” Can, and Feel Like It.

Unlike Americans, the French are not real big on horror films. This is because they understand what horror really is. And watched it play out in real-time, with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In what Bernard-Henri Levy aptly characterized as “the cannibalisation of justice by the sideshow.” The “perp walk.” The daily dueling press conferences. The leaked photographs. The ludicrous “security arrangements.” All designed to mock and humiliate and diminish and demean. The ham-handedly planned street-theater. The endlessly talking heads, on all manner of tubes, serving as self-appointed insta-voting judges and juries and executioners. The hooting knuckledraggers, in the tabloids and on the streets, snickering about “Chez Perv” and “Frog Legs It.”

And, further, Levy: “the Robespierrism of the sideshow,” wherein “we are compelled to observe that, regarding the Strauss-Kahn affair, America the pragmatic, that rebels against ideologies, this country of habeas corpus that de Tocqueville claimed possessed the most democratic system of justice in the world, has pushed [] French Robespierrism, unfortunately, to the extremes of its craziness.”

From Dominique Moïsi:

The case does damage to the image of America and recreates negative stereotypes that existed before. Now this feeling is reinforced—that the United States is not a fully civilized country, with a police that behaves like that, that wants to humiliate. There is a sense that it’s a dangerous country.

Gee. Ya think?

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Rain Check

Almost Independence Day

Logic Bomb

Like they said, he had an impressive career. Maybe too impressive. I mean: perfect. He was being groomed for one of the top slots in the corporation. General. Chief of staff. Anything.

—Apocalypse Now

Before David Petraeus could assume his most recent top slot in the corporation—that of Director of Central Intelligence—there must first commence the kabuki of confirmation hearings.

While generally hailed by the Examiners and the Limbaughs as “our most successful general in a generation,” “a general who’s turned around two wars, [] the most successful general of modern times,” Petraeus has in the past peeved such people with his perceived reluctance to run with the torture crowd.

Heretofore, Petraeus has been of the torture “turned around and bit[] us in the backside” school. Following the assassination of Osama bin Laden, fantasists—Rubio, Cornyn, DeMint, that crew—fanatically devoted to the delusion that torture had cracked open the secret of the dead man’s whereabouts, vowed to publicly drag their knuckles through the Petraeus hearings, hooting that the nominee must endorse employment of the prod and the generator and the bastinado, lest he face Trouble.

But, as it developed, it was a senator from the Democratic branch of the corporation, Mark Udall, who broached the subject. Asking the soon-to-be spook-chief: “do you see torture any differently in a CIA context than in a military context?”

Well, as it happens, Petraeus does. Seems he is now deeply concerned with the following hallucination: a “special situation” involving an “individual in your hands who you know has placed a nuclear device under the Empire State Building. It goes off in 30 minutes, he has the codes to turn it off.” And so, said Petraeus, he would like Congress to fashion a Law, one that will guarantee that any of his new charges who fall into such a hallucination, and therein begin wailing on people, will be Protected.

So. It has come to this. The new Director of Central Intelligence wants enshrined into law a figment. Fiction from television. Pixels. Vapor. Something that does not now, never will, never can exist.

Seeing what isn’t there, it really pays these days, at least for some people. Thursday the Senate voted 94-0 to promote Petraeus to his new top slot in the corporation.

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How We Got Here

When Strife had fallen to the lowest depths of the vortex and Love had reached its very center, then all things came together so as to be one single whole. This unity was attained not all at once, but according to the wishes of the things that were uniting, as they came some from one direction, some from another. Yet along with the things that became mixed and unified there were many things that remained unmixed—all, in fact, of which Strife retained possession; for Strife had not yet retreated entirely from them to the outermost limit of the circle, but he had departed from some things while in others he remained. But in the same degree that Strife was flowing out a gentle immortal stream of blameless Love was pouring in. Straightway what had previously been immortal became mortal, what had been unmixed became mixed—an exchanging of paths. And as the mingling went on, innumerable kinds of mortal creatures in great diversity of forms were produced and scattered forth—a wonder to behold!

—Empedocles


When I Worked

July 2011
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