I Don’t Get It

January 10, 2014

Big Mac 2

Roy Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s into the purveyor of billions of Big Macs, Royales with Cheese, and reconstituted French Fries once said that “As long as you’re green you’re growing.  As soon as you’re ripe, you rot”.  Look at the photo above and meditate upon that metaphor.

That burger is about fifteen years old.  Recalling how my brother would drive and hour and a half to McDs when he was a geologist in a uranium mine in the middle of nowhere Wyoming I decided to give him one for his birthday many years ago.  Figured I should make sure preparation was up to snuff so took a bite before wrapping it up.

He was thrilled and I was pleased.  I’m older and have always looked out for him and taken pains with instruction related to the Golden Rule.  Imagine then how greatly I was moved when six months later I loosed a ribbon on a box from him and found the same sandwich!

Not to overdo a good thing and drain the exchange of its cathartic potential,  we don’t pass the two patties, special sauce,  sesame seed bun, et al back and forth more often than every several years.  I’d forgotten about it in fact and was thus thrilled to find it in a package for me under the Christmas Tree this year. J

Back to the metaphor.  From the one mouthful, I can attest to its original ripeness, but as you can see there was no subsequent rot to the rest.  No rodent, bug, bacteria, or bit of mold has ever paid it the least attention.  It is not at all fragile.  A recent incredulous visitor knocked it off of my desk by accident and reassembly was a snap.

I don’t get it.  Could McDonald’s have the key to immortality?

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D’oh!

January 3, 2014

I thought Homer coined that word and regarding that belief wagered with roommate who did not agree.  I lose virtually all competitions with said woman, but didn’t worry about this one, because knew that her confidence would render the notion of research ridiculous and thus it’d been long forgotten.

Imagine, then, my amazement and dismay having just come across that word in a poem written by Joseph Brodsky in about 1975.  From A Part of Speech:

…After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “doh”
only their rustle.  Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter.  What gets left of a man amounts
to a part.  To his spoken part.  To a part of speech.

So I guess to Brodsky “doh” is almost a moment of awakening.  Homer occasionally gets it, while most of  the rest of us avoid the risk of introspection. Not all. Brodsky elsewhere wrote that: “The real history of consciousness begins with one’s first lie” referring to an incident in a library of his youth.  Asked about his religion, he chose feign ignorance rather than respond with the Russian word for Jew which led to quite a stream of consciousness for a seven year old.

*Amazingly enough, I just recounted an incident of my youth in a library involving dishonesty.  10 18 13

Thought I’d Know More

December 13, 2013

Galesburg Rail Yard

Few days after Thanksgiving I dropped son off at train station for him to make his way back to work some six hours north.  We’ve had the pleasure of A fair amount of travel by rail and find it much the most enjoyable means by which to get from A to B.  You can move about, see the countryside, converse face to face, and get a neat nights sleep on longer journeys.  No TSA.

Depot is about forty-five minutes from our home and as per usual I used the time to share nuggets of my accumulated wisdom.   I could tell it was well received because son’s eyes were closed in concentration.   We hugged, I watched him board, and the bullet quickly departed on schedule having only stopped for ten or so minutes.

Wife knew of some sort of special repository in the vicinity and asked for me to find it and bring a load of stuff home.  I followed GPS to where I’d asked it to take me, but found that of the two related locations, I’d made the wrong choice.  Called the place and found that I was close and that the crow’s path would take me by the rail yard you see above.  It is huge.

In no hurry I stopped to survey the scene.  While so doing, for some reason, my mind went back to the advice I’d shared with son.  I remember thinking first that, like most of the time I hold forth, I should pay more attention to myself.  And then, while recalling the wizened faces of elders telling me how best to negotiate life’s labyrinth, realized that back then I figured that the nature of my consciousness would be different by this ripe old age than is in fact my experience of it.

Thought I’d know more, feel like a sage.

Blackbird

November 23, 2013

Cresset

That’s a cresset.  A concave metal frame lined, in this case, with screening, fixed atop a pole, filled with combustible material, and set alight.  It is not difficult to imagine that a precursor apparatus was first developed not long after Prometheus and that the underlying motivation remained largely unchanged up to at least Colonial Williamsburg from whence came the model for what you see above.   It’s not ‘green’, but fun and was employed with great success to gain the attention of trick or treaters  a few steps more than the usual remove from our front door.

Thoughts of that flickering came to mind for some reason when reading about the findings recently released from NASA’s Kepler project – the search for earth like planets beyond our solar system.  Many questions are left to be answered, but, long story short, there could be a lot of ‘em out there.  Billions.  Programs like Science Friday on NPR had researchers arguing and foaming at the mouth by turns.  This here observer is left with the thought that it will likely be a long time till we will know if Goldilocks could really be out there.

Unless, that is, the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) transmitting/listening devices that have been reoriented as a result of Kepler yield something interesting.  One researcher said that the amount of space scanned up till now, relative to what’s out there, is analogous to the draft of a single cup from the rest our planet’s waters and that the effort will be greatly refined based upon Kepler findings.  So, assuming that ET’s not already been here and left bemused, perhaps the redirected signals will be perceived by some entity able to detect them and respond more quickly than the multi light year distance would have us think possible.

Hope they’re friendly.  Hope they help us all with our wood chopping and water carrying obligations, as opposed to, say, annihilating us.  Steven Hawking and others point to the fate of native peoples subsequent to contact with cultures more advanced.  Not pretty.  But what, me worry?  Na.  Just as I turned to see birds dart about against wispy cirrus bathed in the soft pink light of dusk, a Pandora DJ spun a string rendition of the Beatles’ Blackbird*.  It’s Friday and I’ll soon be home with wife and little black princess Nellie.  Who knows how things really work?  The only people I trust say that they don’t.  Louis Kahn said that a great question is far more important than attempts to answer.  Yep.

cirrus 2

*You should listen to it.  On Three Fervent Travelers by Time for Three.

Cheese Steak Jihad

October 25, 2013

independence-hall

If you don’t know what that building is and the role it played in the shaping of our country, you should be ashamed of yourself and in a way are partially responsible for the antics of the morons currently ‘governing’ us from television studios in Washington DC.  As Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be”.

It is Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the place where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed and where the incredible compromises were wrought that became our constitution.  Imagine what careful deliberation and contention and resolve must have characterized those proceedings.  And oh yes, compromise.

The Founding Fathers – a bunch of farmers and shopkeepers – decided to declare their independence from an empire upon which the sun never set and figured out how to craft governing principles upon which all could agree.   Sure there was (and is) imperfection of terrible sorts only some of which have been ameliorated by amendment.  Still, the Constitution that we have today is largely the same document as the one adopted September 17, 1787 in the space you look upon above.

Why am I all worked up about it?  Well, I just returned from about ten days in Philadelphia and my hotel was not far from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s house, and all the rest.  School’s in session so most of the guests in the hotel, and most of the tourists visiting the sites were foreign.  Sort of visiting the sites.  They weren’t open.   Imagine.  Imagine!   These educated people from around the world had chosen to take the time and go to the expense to visit the cradle of our democracy – in admiration – only to find it closed.

I watched a variety of displays of incredulity, dismay, and disappointment.  Imagine if you were from a newly democratic country on a pilgrimage anxious to genuflect and sing hallelujah only to find that the wealthiest nation on earth might not pay its bills.  Bills representing expenditures upon which there had already been agreement!

The religious metaphors in the previous paragraph are additionally apt for a reason likely not to have come immediately to mind.  I listened to several tour guides addressing different groups from disparate parts of the planet all using, one way or another, the word jihad to describe those who would let our government close for business and default on our debt.

You know what?  I’ll bet the only thing that comes to the minds of those f***ers when they hear ‘Philadelphia’ is cheese steak.

I Love You Madly Madam Librarian

September 28, 2013

 

When I was in the fifth grade, I think it was fifth grade, I cheated.  The class was library and we were supposed to commit the Dewey Decimal System to memory.  I loved (still do) the Dewey Decimal System but since there was a big poster with the details on the wall, I saw no reason to waste time memorizing and I wrote it in pencil on my sleeve.

  Kindly librarian liked me even though I hadn’t been that great of a student and so when I aced this test she made much of it.  I felt a twinge of guilt which grew to immense proportions came the weekend.  I went pheasant hunting with my father and several of his friends.  One came up and introduced himself as the librarian’s son and proceeded to tell the assembled group about my perfect score. 

  Dad beamed and later told me how proud he had been.  “Keep it up son and you’ll go far.”  Well, I never felt worse in my entire life.  Dad’s favorite aphorism was “honesty is the best policy” and I had just cheated and abetted an implicit lie, and to this day I remember averting my gaze as he looked into my eyes.  I’ve done wrong since, but I don’t remember cheating at school again.  And, funny thing, I began to work harder at my studies and got better grades.

  The episode rekindled a fondness for librarians that began in Chicago about five years prior when my folks took me to The Music Man at the Schubert Theatre.  Librarians.  Marian was beautiful, could sing, and had a tender heart.  Anyway, the research project currently occupying my time has brought me up to speed as to the nature of modern librarians and an even more profound admiration and respect.  Few examples: 

  First, I found myself in need of something from the Buckminster Fuller archive at Stanford.  (Fuller was the guy who invented the geodesic dome).  I looked through the online Finding Aid (basically a detailed outline of the papers and objects) and located the folder in which was the stuff of my interest.  I emailed a request and sort of forgot about it for a few days when an envelope arrived in the mail with copies and a bill for six bucks.  Six bucks!

  Later I found that in a library at Harvard were copies of letters between various members of a certain family written over a period of seven decades.  On the site I found mention of a student research assistant service.  For fifteen dollars an hour I could engage a student to look through files under my direction.  So, using that Finding Aid I narrowed the huge trove down to the correspondents and time period that were pertinent. 

  The person looked through those files and without going into great detail told me what he thought he’d found.  Sounded interesting and so he had them scanned and sent and interesting isn’t the word.  Fascinating is more like it.  New details, corroboration, and different points of view – all from the comforts of my office.  Right here in River City.  Got out my binoculars as I waited for the download. 

  Emboldened, I began a search at the National Library of Australia.  Similar but different.  The Finding Aid held tantalizing clues and Canberra is even much further than Palo Alto or Cambridge.  No research assistants there, but  there is a society of professional historians and several responded to my query.  One was such a perfect fit it was scary.  I must be piggybacking my roommate’s karma. 

  But everybody isn’t involved in research and one might think that Amazon could  have wrought the same sort of havoc in the public stacks as it has with bookstores.  Not so.  They always seem busy.  There are all sorts of reference materials, scads of periodicals, wi-fi, and of course books.  Recently I asked a librarian friend in New England about the books.  “Do people still come in to read yours?”  I asked.  She chuckled and replied “The large print editions are very popular.  We had 200 people on the waiting list for Fifty Shades of Grey when that first came out.”   And that’s in a town of 6,600 fine souls.  The building is only a few years old, but they’re already in the process of doubling the size of their parking lot.  Hmmm.  I wear glasses.  I’ve wondered.  And I’m headed east in the morning…

It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun…

September 3, 2013

  American Queen

  Ok, sorry, third time’s a charm.  Three posts in a row I’ve addressed my idiosyncratic combination of OCD and attention deficit disorder.  I easily (obviously, duh) get distracted from the principle task at hand and then commend a hugely disproportionate amount of energy and resource to whatever it was that diverted my cerebrations.   Today I was fixing to respond to a message from the Administrative Director of The Fleet Air Arm Officers Association (the FAA is the Naval Air Force in the UK)(for a current project) when I noticed The American Queen making for port.   Oh well, at least both involve boats and water…

  And at least I’m looking out the window.  A recent article in the Economist (8/17/13) was entitled: “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?”  Seems that “America’s national parks struggle to attract young visitors”.   The piece ends with a brief interaction between the reporter and a twelve year old.   Kid was waiting in line for a roller coaster ride at Dollywood.  He’d visited the place four times yet had never heard of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through and along which he’d had to drive each time.

  I’m greatly interested in consciousness, its individual development and continuing evolution.  I don’t think the quality or pace of either can be maximized without a bit of fresh air and a good slap from mother nature once in a while.  As I’ve frequently mentioned, all this looking at life through screens of various sorts reminds me of research undertaken during the Middle Ages in Europe.  Instead of going outside to investigate, say, certain wildflowers in a forest, the scholars would refer to texts written by Aristotle a thousand years prior.  Others tried to turn lead into gold.  The center of intellectual foment moved to the Arab world.

  And regarding a slap or backhand or more from Mother Nature,  think first how you would feel in the aftermath of a real thunderstorm while cowering in your basement watching the block by block TV coverage.  Then recall or imagine a storm of equal ferocity experienced from inside a tent, at sea, or maybe just caught out in a nearby field.  You feel alive.

  Like alpinist Mark Twight once remarked about finding oneself thrive in extenuating circumstance: “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun”.

 

 

Woe is me

August 12, 2013

Nina 1

  Jeesh.  Sharpened my pencils, sat down, and just as I was going to put point to paper, something caught my eye.  I forced myself not to look, to not let myself get distracted.  Again.  To no avail.  Couldn’t believe what I thought I’d seen.  Something even older than Col Davenport’s house.  I got up and looked out to see the Nina and Pinta (well full scale replicas…) tying up just down river from my window.  Had to investigate.

  Making my way over I encountered a couple of young geniuses.  Their caps were backwards, pants riding low, and they smelled like burning leaves.  Standing well back they evinced a twinge of fear.   “What’s that, man?”  one said.  “Ya” said the other.  “They’re models of the Nina and Pinta” I said.  I loved helping my kids with their homework years ago and was happy to be of service to the two young fellows.

  “Huh?”  “Ya, huh?”   “Well, you know – two of the three caravels upon which: In fourteen hundred and Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Blank stares.  “They’re boats” I said.  “Ooooooh” they said in unison.  Guess I’ve lost my touch.  I let them marvel as I paid the modest admission fee and walked toward the gang plank.

  The boats are small, the Nina only sixty-five feet in length and eighteen feet wide.  Below deck is storage – only.  The crew spent the whole voyage on deck, virtually unprotected from the elements.  That is really mind-blowing to consider even though they did know that there was major landmass a good deal west of their point of departure.  A body of knowledge that began with the Vikings made that fairly plain.  They were though, of course, wrong with their thoughts of what it was.

  Which brought to mind an interview with alpinist Voytek Kurtyka that I’d just read.  “But hell, I’ve had several great things happen in my life against all reason.  What’s even more interesting is that if you manage to do something is spite of reason, the level of satisfaction is even greater – downright divine….  If something is happening inside us, there can be no boredom, and life is beautiful.  I create therefore I am.”*

   A conflation of recollections of my own past escapades with thoughts of the mindsets of Columbus and crew upon their return home was tough to extinguish.  Who gives a shit about gold?  I needed though, badly, to get some work done and headed back toward my office when I noticed something else making fast to the seawall.  It was huge.  Damn.  “Wonder what that is…”  After I’d figured that out, it was time to take my friend Nellie for a walk in the woods. 

  Sure hope I figure out how to turn plan B into even a modest revenue stream before my little pile of precious metal runs out.  Woe is me.

  *Alpinist 43 Summer 2013 Interview by Zbyszek Skierski 

Nina 2

Nina 3

Proud to be from Davenport, Iowa!

July 19, 2013

  Col D 1

  Well, for a variety of excellent reasons, I haven’t been able to accomplish much this week and was looking out my window while trying to think of what to do next.  I noticed something white across the river and took up my binoculars to investigate.  White pelicans.  There were never any such birds around these parts when I was young, but now there is a healthy breeding population.   

  They are beautiful to watch in flight, particularly when in flocks.  (I looked it up, groups of pelicans aren’t flocks, they’re pods…)   The birds’ moves are coordinated, mostly, and are slow and elegant.  Not as exciting to watch hunt as their grey cousins however.   When fishing, the former sort of just bob.  The latter, collapse their wings upon spying quarry, point their beaks at dinner, and crash through the water’s surface in pursuit.

  They don’t live around here though and I soon bored watching the white ones lounge about and began to scan upstream.  Came to the house you see above.  It was built by Colonel George Davenport in about 1833 near the site of his first residence, a double wood cabin.  Davenport, after whom the largest city in our metro area is named, had an interesting method of organizing a family.

  He was about twenty-two in 1805 when he married the widow Margaret Lewis who was seventeen years his senior and had two children, William who died shortly thereafter, and Susan who had been born in 1800.  In 1817 Davenport and Susan had their first child, George Jr and in 1823 their second son, Bailey.   Colonel Davenport was also blessed with a daughter, Elizabeth, born to him in 1835 by, uh, one of the family’s indentured servants.

  Like I said, interesting.  Next time I get distracted and look out the window I’ll have to imagine what might have been the nature of dinnertime conversation over there.  Would have been a confusing eight plus place table, with Dad, four children, and everyone else named Mom.   

Nothing Is Less Real Than Realsim

July 5, 2013

Woods 2 

  One foggy morning (cerebral that is, not atmospheric) a while back I was doing my usual AM ablutions while following (sorta) Despierta America on Univision.  Means “Wake Up America” and man do they have fun.  None of that starched jocularity found on the major gringo networks.  Lathering up while waiting to see what the attractive newsreader would be wearing that day, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a new mole on my chest.

  Had to fetch my glasses for a closer look.  I’ve never worn a shirt outside when I didn’t have to and as time has marched on I’ve wondered about the ramifications of lots of sun and what, if any, protection I can expect to enjoy from the Moor in me.  Not to have worried.  Once bespectacled, I watched the mole move.  It was a tick – soon to be holding its breath on its way to the river courtesy of indoor plumbing.

  My Lab friend Nellie and I frequently explore the woods behind my mother’s house and I’m well aware of the presence of all sorts of creatures that you won’t find inside.  We love poking around out there and continually find interesting stuff like the fence post you see above.  How would you like to have been in charge of that project?  If you’ve ever stretched barbed wire you know how much work that is, but to also have to sink posts like that?  Wow.

  Anyway, many years ago, living out west, I took ill and went to a doc who said that the symptoms pointed to leukemia, but asked if by chance I’d found an embedded tick recently.  I had.  Tick fever.  So I’ve been careful since and have taken the usual precautions in Mom’s woods – long sleeves etc -but obviously to no avail.  I thought about it and figured the thing just rode home on my jeans, hid till the coast was clear, then made for a sanguine dinner.

  A little research informed me that the tiny arachnids (yep) need to be attached for at least twenty-four hours and very probably thirty-six to transmit tick fever, Lyme disease, or whatever so I rethought my approach.  Now, if it is warm enough, I just wear running shorts and shoes when Nellie and I are out there.  Once home, I throw the clothes right in the wash, undertake a visual inspection with the help of roommate or mirror, and then and take a hot shower.  Potential problems are thus averted with the added benefit of nettle stings up and down my legs tingling beneath my desk all afternoon.  No need for a PM caffeine fix.

  Made me think about something Georgia O’Keefe said:  “Nothing is less real than realism”.  She wasn’t, of course, referring to anything like my idiosyncratic idiocies, but I take her point.  Reality TV I don’t get.  “It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we can get at the real meaning of things.”  The berries you see below were a bit bitter, yet unripe.  They’ll get there though and Nellie and I’ll be back when they do…

Woods 1